Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Readers of the Times could be mistaken for thinking it’s 1992.  What with Ross Perot back in action and a Bush leaving Washington, you can practically bust out the House of Pain.  Sir Thomas Friedman, bearer of the Mustache of Understanding and inspiration for the eponymous Friedman Unit (FU), takes this nonsense to its logical conclusion:
Op-Ed Columnist

China to the Rescue? Not!

Published: December 20, 2008

The prominant pundit on all things has unearthed the 1992 Word of the Year.  (The ADS lists are actually fascinating:  “snail mail” did succeed, “ethnic cleansing” earned its stripes immediately, and “Munchhausen’s syndrome by proxy” made Law and Order.)  He’s taking us back to a more innocent time, a time before 9/11 and unspeakable Nirvana covers, a time when men were men and sheep were nervous.  I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone use the Gingrich-era Wayne’s World negation.

Friedman could have gone with “China: PWNED,” or some variant on “fail,” both of which are at least marginally more current.  But he didn’t.  Why?  Because Friedman is dope, that’s why.  Because Friedman is da bomb, all that and a bag of chips.  From now on, that’s Thomas WaterfallsFriedman to you.

(Drop some retro slang in the comments, win an Ace of Base cassette.)

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Mark Halperin is editor and chief political analyst of Time magazine, as well as a political analyst for ABC News.  He writes “The Page,” a graphics-heavy, blurby sort of newswire on Time’s website.  All his titles place Halperin firmly among the Very Serious Journalists in Washington, those with the platforms to reach broad audiences with opinions that circle through the discourse.  Problem is, he’s a hack.

A little backstory:  Halperin was ABC’s chief political analyst during the 2004 election.  In this capacity, he wrote a memo warning ABC News staff not to “reflexively and artificially hold both sides ‘equally’ accountable when the facts don’t warrant that.”  While Kerry’s campaign “distorts, takes out of context, and mistakes all the time,” those efforts were not “central to his efforts to win.”  Following a month of Swift Boat Veterans ads, Halperin characterized Bush’s campaign as trying to “destoy Senator Kerry at least partly through distortions.”  At the same time, Vice President Cheney was attacking the New York Times for front-paging the 9/11 Commission’s finding of no ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda.  In this atmosphere, the memo closed by reminding reporters to “help voters evaluate what the candidates are saying to serve the public interest.”

Enter shitstorm.  Matt Drudge, purveyor of the frequently wrong Drudge Report, runs the memo.  (Drudge’s major accomplishment is breaking the Monica Lewinsky story, mixed in with the usual libelous crap about Democrats’ private lives.)  Right-wing blog Powerline grabbed the memo as an example of Bush’s media martyrdom.  Mark Finkelstein of the right-wing website Newsbusters put two and two together and concluded that Halperin’s father was to blame.  Soon, every mention of Halperin was tied to the memo, with lunatics like Frontpage dragging up his childhood to testify to H.U.A.C.

As a smart, powerful, well-connected journalist, could Halperin take this lying down?  Could he let his demand for simply objectivity be skewered by politically-motivated attacks?  Could he allow partisans of the right to determine his political coverage based on the volume and vitriol of their attacks?

Fuck yeah, welcome to Washington! In 2006, Halperin co-authored The Way to Win, a blueprint for the 2008 Presidential  campaign.  The book praised Karl Rove as an “ideas man,” (Rove in turn continued attacking the media,) and presented the noxious Drudge as the most important journalist in America.  This intellectual abortion was aided and abetted by John F. Harris of The Politico, another Very Serious Journalist who used to work for the Washington Post. If the book was bad, the PR tour was worse.  Halperin called Drudge “a visionary” and “the Walter Cronkite of his era”; told Bill freakin’ O’Reilly that the “old media” was “too liberal”‘ and pleaded for the approval of Hugh Hewitt. (To paraphrase Woody Allen: “If Cronkite knew what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.“)

The shameless Halperin isn’t alone in pandering to our new overlords. And it isn’t just about Drudge; it’s about full-scale, ideological war against objectivity.  Halperin is moving wheelbarrows of this shit at half-off.  At one point, his “advice” to John McCain was so fetid, so cankerous that he had to run a disclaimer explaining that suggestions to race-bait, raise Obama’s college drug use, and present the Democrat as “a Manchurian Candidate” were simply “analysis of what is likely to happen, not advice or endorsement.”  (If it wasn’t advice, he shouldn’t have headlined it “What McCain can do…”)

A few days ago, at a forum in Los Angeles, Halperin ripped the media for “extreme” and “disgusting” pro-Obama bias.  He called campaign coverage “the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war.”  (Funny, since Halp failed to discuss the pre-war record of the network at which he was political director.)  In case you still thought he had any grounding in reality, Halperin gave the entire McCain campaign team a “B,” a solid report card for a crew that basically lost by 200 electoral votes and went all William Golding even before the election was over.

Halp particularly blamed the New York Times for running what he considered an unfairly negative profile of Cindy McCain compared to their stuff on Michelle Obama.  Of course, the McCain team responded to the piece on Cindy by doing what Republicans do – what Halp knew they did back in 2004 – by attacking the messenger.  A McCain spokesman called it “trash” and “gutter journalism.”  The difference in the coverage style reflected some basic differences in reality.  Only one of those two women had an affair with her husband when he was still married to another woman and stole prescription drugs through a charity.  Michelle Obama was also busy catching flak for the non-existent “whitey tape,” an unsourced rumour that Harris’ Politico dismissed as having “zero credible evidence” even while covering the story.

Obama ran a better campaign, and the American public knew it.  Problem is, the traditional media wanted balance.  While pundits scored debates for McCain, snap polls of actual voters gave Hopey 15 point wins.  Yes, the Republican campaign was filthy (and no, they aren’t over it.)  Losing late, McCain went all negative.  He ran close to 100% attack ads, in contrast to Obama’s approximately 35%.  On one hand you had a campaign scoring record numbers of donors, running an unprecedented, people-powered ground game, and busting out new methods for reaching young voters.  Against them, a campaign with exactly zero positive messages and no internal coordination who trailed consistently except for a short bump following a convention in which they attacked the media, people who live on the east coast, and community organizers among others.  In Halpernistan, these two political efforts should be reported as equally commendable.

What’s his deal?  Maybe Halp is a closeted leftist now terrified for his job security.  Maybe he’s a rightist finally free to do as he pleases.  Maybe he’s a valueless hack trying to sell books.  We’ll never know. “Jed L” over at Daily Kos did some research and pulled this up:

Number of references on Mark Halperin’s website, thepage.time.com, for each of the following, according to Google:

That’s a 6 to 1 sourcing ratio for the right; worse yet if you exclude Olbermann, who is primarily anti-Bush rather than an actual ideological liberal.  This from someone constantly twitching about media bias.  For the love of Christ on a sandwich, Rush Limbaugh is the man’s top source.  Rush who referred to 13-year old Chelsea Clinton as the “White House dog” Limbaugh.  Rush Michael J. Fox was faking it Limbaugh.  I guess Halp just likes defending drug addicts?

The fact that any (gag) respected, “mainstream” journalist could rely on such people to drive the political discourse is astonishing.  Greg Sargent importantly reminds us that these are editorial choices, not simply the product of something in the ether.  When Drudge reports something that doesn’t fit the narrative, traditional media sources don’t lead with it.  The pictures of Obama dressed all Mooslem-like, which Drudge sourced to an “unnamed Hillary staffer,” slunk into the mainstream news cycle. In reporting the story, Newsweek’s Andrew Romano reaffirmed how desperately the traditional political media clings to the “reload” button on Drudge’s website.

It’s a sick, sad game, and it’s about time this gutless political media either grew a pair or died off.



*Update:  And, as if on cue

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The Obama effect

For months we heard rumours that Obama was some kind of closet Panther, hiding his afro pick while plotting revolution.  Starting around 11 PM on November 4, the same people who made these claims suddenly decided he was actually a center-rightist, that his victory reflected America’s inherant conservatism.

Obviously, this put actual black nationalists in a weird spot. Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured a piece by Muhammad Yungai, a Decatur, Georgia artist and self-identified member of this group:

“As a black nationalist I have considered myself an American only as a technicality or an accident of birth. I’ve never hoisted the red, white and blue, only the red, black and green. I gave up on the American dream a longtime ago. I have worked and looked forward to autonomy and self-determination in our communities. I never imagined that I would live long enough to see an African-American president. I never even believed that I would live to see a black Miss America. But America fooled me! Even as I predicted an Obama nomination and then a presidential win, the reality of what happened on Nov. 4 still has me totally stunned.”

Yungai, whose excellant website is as aesthetically threatening as a puppy wrapped in a blanket, goes on to express his optimism at this development:

“And now we have a President Obama! The mold has been irrevocably broken! The possibilities of opportunity in American life have been exponentially expanded.”

The ongoing structural inequalities in American socioecomics keep Yungai appropriately skeptical.  However, he describes the election as “psyche-shattering” and, as per the title, is “revisiting [his] stance.”

The article is here.  The cynic notes of course that the Journal-Constitution would never have run this piece of Yungai had attacked Obama as a race-traitor; it’s much more palatable as an inspiring conversion to Americanism.  That said, it’s a notably unique perspective.  I will paypal $2 to any commenter who can find another mainstream editorial featuring the phrase: “As a black nationalist…”  So good on Yungai and the Journal-Constitution for expanding the discourse on the op-ed page beyond the usual suspects.

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Dan Rather and media bias

Way back when Bush’s approval rating was above freezing, CBS News’ Dan Rather got himself canned in a controversy over the President’s National Guard documents.  In case you somehow missed “Rathergate,” which also involved the firing of producer Mary Mapes, the Wikipedia summary is enough background for the more recent news.  Since being tossed out unceremoniously, Rather has filed a lawsuit against the network claiming that CBS’s investigation into his work was politically biased.  He has spent upwards of $2 million of his own on the case, and is carrying out much of the research himself.

Whether or not he ultimately wins, Rather is digging up gold.  Armed with subpoena power, the old newsman is discovering that the panel was indeed a sop to the political right.  The New York Times reports:

“Some of the documents unearthed by his investigation include notes taken at the time by Linda Mason, a vice president of CBS News. According to her notes, one potential panel member, Warren Rudman, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, was deemed a less-than-ideal candidate over fears by some that he would not “mollify the right.”

Warren Rudman, last of the “Yankee Republicans,” was unacceptable.  With the right working the refs, CBS was pandering furiously for the approval of the ideologues.  Rather’s legal team recently dug up a stunning, horrible list of people who received consideration as panalists:  Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge, Pat Buchanan, and Roger Ailes.  Read those names again.  And yes, a major news network actually considered the head of Fox Agitprop as a potential judge of their own journalistic ethics.

CBS’s concern was not finding an accurate explanation of the case; the real goal was to alleviate right-wing criticism.  Former network President Andrew Heyward testified that he wanted a panel acceptable to conservatives:  “CBS News, fairly or unfairly, had a reputation for liberal bias,” and “the harshest scrutiny was obviously going to come from the right.”  With this in mind, the network “balanced” mainline journalist Louis Boccardi with well-known Republican and former Reagan Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.  (Center) + (Right) still = (Right), which is exactly what CBS was going for.

Here’s a summary of recent developments, and here’s a longer New York magazine feature on Rather’s crusade.  Good on Dan for taking this on.

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Before I take off for canvassing, the Washington Post reports this morning:

“The Department of Homeland Security is investigating whether its privacy policy was violated after a news organization reported that an aunt of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama is an illegal immigrant from Kenya, officials said yesterday”

The AP’s original story cited an unnamed federal law enforcement official.  Whoever he was, his action was illegal:

“Federal privacy law restricts U.S. immigration agencies from disclosing information about citizens and permanent residents, and DHS policy similarly limits disclosures about the status of legal and illegal immigrants. Asylum-seekers are granted greater protection, because of the sensitive nature of their claims and the risks of retaliation.”

The matter has been referred to the Immigration and Customs agency’s “Office of Professional Responsibility.”  (Any Bush administration agency with a nice-sounding title has earned the scare quotes.)  So kudos to the Post for pointing this out; too bad the illegally leaked non-story was leading their website yesterday. With two days left, here’s hoping that’s end of the November surprises.

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I read the news today, oh boy:

CHICAGO (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he didn’t know that one of his relatives was living in the United States illegally and believes the appropriate laws should be followed.

The Associated Press found that Obama’s aunt had been instructed to leave the country four years ago by an immigration judge who rejected her request for asylum from her native Kenya. The woman, Zeituni Onyango (zay-TUHN on-YANG-oh), is living in public housing in Boston and is the half-sister of Obama’s late father.

So this is our October November surprise.  The Obama campaign has released a statement denying knowledge of Onyango’s legal status and stating that “any and all appropriate laws [should] be followed.” Senator Obama has met Onyango literally a handful of times in his life, once in Kenya and once in Chicago, and she attended his Senate swearing-in in 2004 without visa assistance from Obama’s staff.  She’s mentioned in passing in Dreams of my Father, but has played no role whatsoever in the campaign or the public discourse.

We have a sick, sick media.  Ms. Onyango is the half-sister of a father that Barack Obama barely knew, a father who left when his son was two years old, and who subsequently saw his son a grand total of one time after returning to Kenya.  The Senator’s childhood, teenage years, adulthood, all of it was spent with his mother’s family, with no connection to Onyango or any of the rest of his father’s family.

This is personal.  My biological father was an alcoholic who was functionally out of my life from the moment it began, and physically out of my life by the time I was three.  For close to 20 years I had no contact with him, no child support, nothing, until I exchanged literally two letters with the man something like three years ago.  My entire life has been a product of my mother’s family (and my stepfather,) and when Senator Obama writes that he “was probably shaped more by [his father’s] absence than his presence,” this speaks directly to the experiences of both myself and others who’ve been through such situations.  He speaks directly to everyone who’s had to hear some so-called friend proclaim: “well if I was in your position, I’d be curious to know what my father was like.”

So let’s do a hypothetical.  Let’s pretend I was electable for a moment, (somewhere other than Kerala,) and running for some public office.  Obviously biography matters.  Both candidates have made this about their personal stories.  Family stories are relevent to the extent that they shape the person’s values.  (I recently received the 91-page FBI file on my great-aunt, so you can file my political chances…)  The problem is, Barack Obama’s father’s side of the family is exactly zero part of his life, and has been such for decades.  He’s no more answerable for his father’s half-sister than I am for my biological father’s sister, whose name I can’t even come up with offhand, but who, I was once told, lives in an Orthodox community in Monsey, New YorkMazel tov for her, but for all I know she could be Chairwoman of the Aryan Brotherhood Jewish Women’s Auxiliary.  What that has to do with the price of hash in Herat, let alone my hypothetical Senate campaign, is unclear; and any journalist who decided that this woman’s personal life was a front-page story three days before the election could consider himself expelled from the press room the day after I won.

It is fair game to profile a relative who the campaign has cited to help their candidate’s chances.  Scarborough might be a douchebag, but Senator Obama did turn his white grandmother into a public figure when he mentioned her in his speech on race.  Just the same, Joe McCarthyCain matters because he had been working on his brother’s campaign in between the red-baiting and abuse of emergency services.  Onyango’s composite contribution to Senator Obama’s campaign, let alone his life, amounts to something like $200 worth of campaign cash.

The context makes this story even nastier.  Going on two years, the press and the political right have debated everything from Senator Obama’s birth certificate to his childhood education to his alleged Arab heritage.  The Very Serious Media has alternated between giving equal time to and debunking smears on his patriotism including the flag pin flap and the national anthem story, while the Know-Nothing McCain-Palin ticket slices America into real and fake segments.*  The press frequently presents both sides of every story with equal weight, even while partisans of the right bring outright white nationalist perspectives.  (Sorry Kathy, but “blood equity” is a bit too Ein Volk, Ein Reich for my taste…)

And so, into this foreigner-smearing, patriotism-questioning, race-baiting, not-like-us discourse, the entirety of our big media chooses to excrete a story about the illegal immigration status of Obama’s distant aunt some three days before the election.  The Washington Post, MSNBC, and Fox News are all running this as the second story on their websites as of 3 PM Saturday.  Jerome Corsi would be proud.

*(New York and northern Virginia become “Real America” on occasions upon which they are attacked by terrorists.  Offer not valid after 30 days.)

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Yes, they’re racist, chapter 53

Here’s an actual headline from Fox News…

“Hip-Hop-Dancing Colin Powell Fuels Speculation He’ll Endorse Obama”

And in case the meaning was unclear, the explanatory sub-header…

“Colin Powell showed off his hip-hop moves at an ‘Africa Rising’ celebration in London Tuesday, fueling speculation that the former secretary of state is about to endorse Barack Obama for president.”

…followed by the shuck-and-jive intro paragraph:

“Colin Powell has his dancing shoes on, fueling speculation that he’s gearing up to do the Obama Two-Step.”

Which part makes him an Obama voter?  The recognition of his African ancestors?  The dancing?  The hippity-hop musics?

Colin Powell is a former Secretary of State, and an extremely well-respected one at that.  An “I’m bored so let’s do meaningless hypotheticals” poll asked voters in August who they would pick in a Presidential match up between Powell and Senator John McCain:

“Powell, the best-known African-American in the Republican Party, beats McCain more than two-to-one, 54% to 26%, with 21% of voters undecided.”

Yet, Fox reduces this man and his long, prominent, (and checkered) career as a public servant to minstrelsy.  It’s a good thing the network lacks a functioning shame reflex.  (If there’s anything redeeming to this, it’s that the comments are largely negative.)

Fox News is basically an auxiliary of the Republican Party.  Which brings us, for the third time in the short life of this blog, back to Auric Goldfinger:

“Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.”

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