The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tony Coelho: the Dem Tom DeLay?

Not a name I'd heard of - tipped off by chance by a stray Washington Times Abramoff piece.

The Cliff Notes version provided here dates the GOP's push for a money-gathering structure to its post-Watergate dive in support in the 1974 Congressional elections:
Two conditions were important to the new push: (1) conservative and business fears that the Democrats were about to embark on a new round of liberal economic and social policies, and (2) GOP fears of permanent minority status. The party's concern reached fever pitch after the Watergate hearings and President Nixon's resignation. Guy Vander Jagt, named chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1975, grasped the nature of the perceived crisis and understood that it could be turned to advantage.

Thence a boom in corporate and industry group PACs.

Skipping forward,
Stung by their loss of the presidency and control of the Senate in 1980, the Democrats decided to seek corporate PAC contributions aggressively. Rep. Tony Coelho (D Calif.) persuaded big Democratic financiers to contribute to the party's congressional fund and at the same time helped the Democrats to organize more effectively to solicit corporate PAC donations.

Both major parties and politicians within each party established "clubs" to facilitate interaction between wealthy contributors and politicians.

It cites the DLC as an example.
"Access. Access," [Coelho] told columnist Elizabeth Drew, "that's the name of the game. They meet with the leadership and with the chairmen of the committees. We don't sell legislation: we sell the opportunity to be heard."

Comparing the take between the 1984 and 1986 elections,
...Democratic challengers and candidates for open seat races greatly increased their share of contributions from corporate, trade, and "nonconnected" PACs, while maintaining their near monopoly on labor PACs. Democratic candidates' share of corporate contributions rose from only 8 percent in 1984 to 28 percent in the 1986 off-year elections.

It seems that Coelho took a starring role in Brooks Jackson's 1988 book Honest Graft, and then resigned over the acquisition of some junk bonds (officially through ill health) before becoming chairman of the Gore campaign in 1999 and then resigning (ill health again) [1].

And he dissed Kerry's 2004 campaign, too.

Such a large footprint for a guy whose existence I'd never registered before. Not the first, won't be the last...

(There's much more besides, evidently; this is merely for possible future reference.)

  1. There was also a criminal investigation into his doings as commissioner general of the United States Pavilion at the 1998 World Expo.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Excellent piece on Murrow

Noted for future reference: Nicholas Lemann's piece in the New Yorker (off the George Clooney movie, mostly) about Edward R Murrow (oft mentioned here).

A useful debunking of latter-day gilding of the lily: the liberal wet-dream of Saint Ed slaying the McCarthy dragon, for instance.

It points out that Murrow's anti-McCarthy pieces came after the Tail-Gunner had already cut his own throat by going after the Army; and were vastly more overtly political than anything possible from today's network news operations (eg the Killian memos).

And says that Murrow's TV journalism was essentially offered as a sop of quality to the FCC - though how realistic the threat was of FCC retaliation in the 1950s, I know not [1].

Vox clamantis in deserto, poor old bugger!

(He did, it seems, get to boff Pamela Churchill during the war, though. Not all gloom and doom, then...)

  1. Lemann says Murrow made the point in his speech to the RTNDA on October 15 1958. I've skimmed the speech: he refers to
    the fact that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission publicly prods broadcasters to engage in their legal right to editorialize.
    but the prodding was clearly ineffective:
    It is much easier, much less troublesome, to use the money-making machine of television and radio merely as a conduit through which to channel anything that is not libelous, obscene or defamatory.
    In a largely despairing effort (this was pretty much the height of the quiz craze), he says, on the predominance of dross on screen,
    The only remedy for this is closer inspection and punitive action by the F.C.C. But in the view of many this would come perilously close to supervision of program content by a federal agency.
    Rather a sad valedictory.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Herb Morrison Hindenburg recording

A page full of facts. (At least, they look like facts; though they could be just truthiness...)

Apparently, excerpts from Morrison's recording were played on the NBC Red and Blue networks (once each) on Friday May 7 1937, the day after the accident - and not played on either network again.

And these broadcasts were the first recordings that NBC had allowed to be played,
and I can count on my fingers the other times that NBC broadcast recordings--knowingly and unknowingly--until the middle of WW II.

(I remember from the Ed Murrow bio Prime Time reference to CBS's mania for exclusively live broadcasting. One can see the point that recording equipment was expensive and cumbersome. But, if you've actually got the kit...)

Which leads one to ask, why, if recordings were verboten, was Morrison making a recording in the first place? His station, WLS Chicago, could play it in its own time, presumably. Would they have been planning to 'syndicate' it to other NBC stations to spread the cost?

Much geeky goodness in the piece. (And, on old-time US radio, on the site in general, that I can see.)

(Morrison only died in 1989, apparently.)


Democratic skeletons: William Jefferson?

Clearly, the GOP will be looking to visit blowback on the Dems for piling on on the Abramoff business. (Though this indicates that the ethics truce is still in operation, according to La Pelosi.)

Rep William Jefferson (LA-2) is a clear candidate. This suggests that his argument against a Federal bribery or gratuity charge (18 USC 201(b) and (c) respectively) may well be that the deal in question was a private affair, and that there was no official act of his that can be linked with the benefits he received (a key element of both offences [1]).

That may do him some good in court; but will surely cut little ice with public opinion [2] which the usual GOP suspects will be playing like a violon as the Abramoff thing hots up (with White House photos threatened, and more, no doubt, to come).

The Swift Boat-ers managed a tidy coup with outright lies against poor old John Kerry; Jefferson looks as if he's a genuine sleazebag, even if he does manage to wriggle off a Federal charge.

There always was a reason for the Dems to cleave to that ethics truce...

  1. The leading case on the point is, I think, the Mike Espy case, Sun-Diamond Growers v US.

  2. I'm pretty sure that salience is damned low at the moment for Congressional ethics scandals in general and Abramoff in particular. Which may explain why the VRWC hasn't yet majored on the Jefferson case.


Truthiness - 'sup?

Frank Rich has combined Stephen Colbert's t-word with the name of arch-hatee of the left in a behind-the-wall piece (helpfully archived here) under hed Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito.

He contrasts the successful efforts of Alito's GOP handlers to clothe him in a truthiness of Horatio Alger rise from adversity with the failure of the Judiciary Dems to make the Concerned Alumni of Princeton bigotry thing work for them. (A dire warning that truthiness will give way to evidence, if you're not careful: better not be truthy about stuff where the evidence is handy!)

(And, natch, Rich mentions that Oscar-winning blub of Mrs A.)

Rich says we live in the age of truthiness. But when didn't we? (As ever, with Golden Agers, there's no haste to identify a comparator period. Even more so when the Golden Age is merely alluded to, as by Rich. So much truthiness there...)

Doesn't the idea of truthiness go back, at the very latest, to Walter Lippman's Public Opinion? I've yet to get to the end of the etext - but, from what I gather, his thesis is that truthiness is the best we can get in mass communication.

Viewers and readers interpret the news they consume by reference to schemata formed of social conditioning to create stereotypes that they can handle without an actual appreciation of the facts of the matter in question.

Of zillions of examples, one famous one is the first Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960. There, radio gave us the truth, TV the truthiness. Kinda.

Can they sell truthiness as being a new concept? Wouldn't that necessarily involve some - lying?

[I suspect this may be a case of a transpondian just not getting the gag. In which case...]

Saturday, January 21, 2006

LBJ and the FCC - still just scraps

If someone's written the story of that long and profitable (to LBJ) relationship, I've yet to track it down (even on the new, tantalising Google Books).

There a snippet in Radio Reader: Essays in the Cultural History of Radio by Hilmes and Loviglio (p372):
Citing alleged interference with San Antonio's clear-channel WOAI at 1200 and Texas A&M station at 1150, KTBC, backed with Johnson's political clout, sought and obtained a reallocation from the [FCC] to an uncluttered area at 590 AM, and in the late 1940s it increased its power to 5,000 watts, making it the most powerful station in the Austin area by far, with a daytime coverage area that blanketed thirty-eight countries, extending from Dallas to Corpus Christi.

That's a tad over 400 miles, according to Mapquest.

GB also flags a passage (p140) in Erik Barnouw's Tube of Plenty:
During the closing months of 1952, a number of new stations received a go-ahead. Among the first was KTBC-TV, Austin, Texas, licensed to Mrs Lyndon B Johnson, wife of the US Senator from Texas; before it even reached the air, advertising sales were such that Broadcasting magazine reported: "AUSTIN'S BRINGING IN A GUSHER."

Johnson's pocket was bulging with peckers...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

That Diem closing still elusive

It seems simple enough: to track down exactly when, why and how USG decided to greenlight our friend Ngo Dinh Diem as leader of SVN. I noted on January 10 that Seth Jacobs' book on Diem says the papers on the decision are not yet declassified. But that's no necessary bar to there being decent steers on the record (Uncle Bob Woodward fills shelves-full of books with that sort of stuff!).

It's not, of course, enough to point to the goodly number of important friends that Diem had garnered during his sojourn in the US from 1950 on (Spellman, Mansfield, Kennedy, etc); these folks had nuisance value, but, so long as the Eisenhower administration found a puppet with staunch anticommunist credentials [1], it could surely have fought the Diem groupies off (the leading lights of the AFV, if that's any guide, were mostly (?) liberals and Democrats).

Or to the fact that Diem was top of the list of sixteen discussed at the May 10 1954 State Department analysts meeting (January 10 piece mentioned above).

Morgan in his Vietnam Lobby (earlier pieces - via Google Books) gives the initiative in the choice of Diem as that of Bao Dai, of all people (p9):
He instructed his representatives in Europe to contact American diplomats, and he decided to appoint Diem as the SVN's prime minister since "Washington would not spare him its support."

He goes on to say,
[State Department] records make no mention of direct American involvement in Diem's selection until May 1954. At that time, Ngo Dinh Luyen, a brother of Diem who claimed he was acting on behalf of Bao Dai, told American diplomats in Geneva of the emperor's intention to appoint Diem as premier if the United States supported Bao Dai's decision.

Following this approach, Douglas Dillon, ambassador in Paris,
...met with Diem in the following weeks and told Washington that Diem's "apparent sincerity, patriotic fervor and honesty are refreshing." He nevertheless expressed doubts about Diem's abilities, calling Diem a "yogi-like mystic" who "may have little to offer other than to reiterate that the solution to the Vietnamese problem depends on the assumption of increased responsibilities by [the] US."

Quite how well placed Dillon was to make an assessment of Diem's abilities I know not. I tend to doubt whether he had the materials by which to compare Diem with the other candidates for the job! An evaluation in the abstract might be thought less than useful - unless it was merely to give cover for a decision already made.

He goes on,
Members of the Eisenhower administration nonetheless favored Diem's candidacy. A military cable in early June reported that "Diem has received support and encouragement from American official quarters and this may be a reason why Bao Dai is considering him for the post."

Pretty thin.

There is some anecdotage in support of Dulles as Diem's main champion:
John W Hanes, one of Dulles's assistant, later claimed that the secretary of state's support for Diem was "rammed through single-handedly, through our intelligence and military communities." In his memoirs, Bao Dai mentioned a conversation he had with Dulles before asking Diem to act as premier, and in The Lost Crusade, Chester Cooper writes of a meeting between Dulles and Bao Dai that dealt with the role Diem would play in preventing a Viet Minh takeover of Vietnam.

And some more fingering the CIA:
Robert Amory, who served as the CIA's deputy director of intelligence in the 1950s, asserted that Justice Douglas had initially sparked the agency's interest in Diem. Another senior CIA officer, Richard Dissell, later recalled that the VIA was "deeply involved" in winning support for Diem. A few accounts have noted that Ambassador William J Donovan, the founder of the OSS, and Lieutenant Colonel Edward G Landsdale, a CIA operative, appeared in Saigon shortly after Ngo Dinh Nhu, another of Diem's brothers, organized the Front for National Salvation [2], a group that promoted Diem's candidacy.

Nhu as another of Diem's brothers indeed!

All in all, barely more than gossip.

The striking thing is how late, according to what I'm reading, the US started to contemplate a Plan B to deal with a French withdrawal from Indochina. The stuff that I've seen - the Pentagon Papers commentary, for instance - on the discussions (mostly in April 1954) within USG of possible US military intervention in support of Dien Bien Phu does not suggest that a twin track approach was then in operation. I find that hard to believe.

The May 10 meeting at State supports the idea that, whether or not a Plan B was in contemplation during the DBP discussions, actual decisions assuming a French loss had been put off [3].

The altogether weak and unsatisfactory treatment of question in Vietnam Lobby [4] suggests the Who chose Diem? question is currently beyond answering. I rather doubt that - but I think, for the moment, I'll leave it there.

  1. Someone who had actually fought against the Viet Minh, for example!

  2. No sign online of this organisation; or National Salvation Front or Front de salut national either, as relevant to Vietnam in 1954.

  3. It's interesting to note that NSC 5405, United States Objectives and Courses of Action with respect to Southeast Asia dated January 16 1954, contemplates the possibility of the French suing for peace, but (so far as I can see) suggests no action to take if US persuasion against that course chanced to fail. I'm not clear at what date NSC 5405 ceased to be operative.

  4. The Jacobs may have better information on the subject, but GB deems I've seen too much of the book already, and has barred me from looking at it!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

China Reporting interesting but mostly off the point

I've skimmed it (link downpage); it's mostly an oral history memoir of a great communal journalistic experience.

(Our friend from the Albert Colegrove saga, the Times' Tillman Durbin turns up, for one. Harrison Salisbury. A good many I'd never heard of.)

It's very much a reporter's eye view. There's stuff toward the end on relations with HQ which suggest that, a lot of the time, editors were convinced Joe Public wasn't that into China as a breakfast table topic.

(John Paton Davies, one of State's lost leaders (sez Halberstam in Best and Brightest), figures as a member of the Foreign Service in Hankow and Chungking; the Foreign Service and press guys seem to have been pretty pally until John Service got winkled out in the Amerasia farrago through having trusted in a journo.)

It's rather more relevant to another perennial topic here, the history of journalism. Limited nourishment here for any seeking to locate a Golden Age of American Journalism in the years leading up to Mao's victory in 1949!

For general interest, well worth a read. Rather a flavour of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. They don't make them like that any more...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The American China romance - the Madame Chiang factor

I'd forgotten about this piece, which gives a flavour.

Many more pieces of the puzzle to come, I'm sure.

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