It's not as if journalism was ever a pure and noble profession in selfless service
to the people. It's had its moments, of course, and there have been many journalists through the years who have done excellent
work. But there have also been lazy and incompetent reporters and media owners who imposed their biases on
what was published or broadcast. This isn't new.
And it's not hard to see the forces corrupting news media today. Ownership of media
is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, eliminating competition. In television and radio, the news departments were merged
into "entertainment" divisions. The "pundits" covering Washington politics move in the same social circles as the politicians
they cover. All of this has given us political reporting that is bland and superficial at best and deliberately misleading
at worst. And it is often worst.
Still, when I consider the quality of journalism so far in this election cycle, I
wonder -- do these people not realize what schlock this is? Those at the top of the profession, the famous faces
who do the big interviews and conduct the "debates," do little more than try to trip candidates into misspeaking to
get easy story hooks. Younger reporters can't seem to see past the spin du jour and who is up or down in the polls.
Kay McFadden of the Seattle Times wrote this week about the dismal reporting of the Iowa caucuses. John Kerry's victory
was not only an "occasion for trotting out comeback clichés. It also vindicated the media's obsession with electability as
chief plank in the Democratic platform."
And this, writes McFadden, "gets television off the hook. It enables the blow-dried battalions to emphasize their greatest
strength — handicapping — and veer away from complicated issues." And coverage of
Howard Dean's third-place finish "
fulfilled TV's need
to shape news events into high-pitched drama, while lessening the burden of dissecting a candidacy in terms more complex than
My chief concern about the dismal state of journalism is that it is corrupting
the political process. The way stories about candidates are shaped affects the way the public perceives those candidates.
And I do not doubt the ceaseless emphasis on poll numbers causes undecided voters to go with the guy who's got the "mo."
And it is a wonder to me, even though I know the reasons for it, that the old timers
like Peter Jennings or Ted Koppel can't see the corruption they are part of.
I started blogging in 2002 out of sheer frustration with the quality of what passes
for "journalism" these days. I wanted a diversity of perspectives. I wanted political coverage with substance. And there were
hard questions I wanted asked. And I thought, dammit, if the "mainstream" press won't do it, I'll do it myself.
Alone, there are limits to what I can do. I have no insider information
or access to important people. Instead, I try to provide a "macro" view -- fill in background the "professionals" miss, make
connections they don't.
Other bloggers are able to provide "micro" reporting; for example, many
people blogged real-time from within Iowa caucuses. And when you put the micro-views together -- several bloggers in
several different precincts -- one could get a more detailed, more nuanced, and more accurate view of what happened in Iowa
than "mainstream" press provided. I hope to see more blogging like this in the weeks ahead.
Blogs are published without going through an editorial filter, which leaves
them vulnerable to error. But more and more, blogs edit each other -- a blog-generated story that is inaccurate is quickly
slapped down by other blogs.
And I think it's the raw and unfiltered quality of blogging that gives it its
power. Kevin Drum spoke to this recently in Calpundit. He examined a newspaper account of something Wesley Clark said about rival John Kerry.
One of the problems with print journalism is that there are certain stylistic
constraints on how stories are written, and this one is a good example: in order to sound like professional writing, it weaves
around the story in an oddly circuitous way, starting with a quote fragment, then an opinion, then a longer version of the
quote, then an aside about Kerry's Vietnam service, then another piece of Clark's statement, and then finally a passing reference
to the question that this was a response to.
This is typical of news writing, in which it is somehow forbidden to just
flatly get to the point and explain exactly what happened (a problem, by the way, that is especially acute in any story with
numbers in it).
Most of all, though, bloggers speak freely in ways that journalists rarely
do (and when they do, it's nearly always in print, not on television or radio). After the recent State of the Union Address,
did any television pundit actually say -- "Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities? What the hell?" But bloggers were all over that howler like ticks on a hound.
Just as citizens are using the web to try to take the nominating process from party
insiders, I hope that blogging will become influential enough that the "mainstream" guys have to deal with us. The blow-dried
brigades may have to start doing news reporting again.
There is an old saying: "People will blame you if you say too much; they
will blame you if you say too little; they will blame you if you say just enough." No one in this world escapes blame. (The Dhammapada, 17:227)
Last week Michael Moore looked forward to a Clark versus Bush debate
as "The General Versus the Deserter." Moore, of course, was referring to the FACT that George W. Bush played
hooky from his National Guard duties for several months during the Vietnam era. When reporters asked Clark about the
AWOL charges, Clark said simply that he didn't know if they were true or not.
Since then, much of the "establishment" press has skewered Clark for not distancing
himself from Michael Moore and these "reckless" charges. For example, at the Thursday night debate, Peter Jennings brought
"That's a reckless charge not supported by the facts," said Jennings. "And I
was curious to know why you didn't contradict [Moore], and whether or not you think it would've been a better example of ethical
behavior to have done so."
"Well, I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about
this," Clark answered. "I don't know whether this is supported by the facts or not. I've never looked at it. I've seen this
charge bandied about a lot."
The press whores are demeaning Clark for not repudiating Moore. But at the same time,
I've bumped into some Democrats on the web who are pissed at Clark for not acknowledging the charges are true. These people
are, of course, politically tone-deaf. The press whore corps will not look at the copious evidence of Bush's
derliction of duty. They would not look at that evidence even if it fell on their fat heads. And if Wesley Clark were to have
agreed with Michael Moore, the press whore corps would have had him hooted out of the race for the nomination within hours.
This is exactly the same kind of crap that killed Al Gore's campaign, you know. The
Press doesn't investigate. The Press doesn't attempt to separate fact from fiction. The Press exists to present to the world
reality as Karl Rove sees it.
And if Peter Jennings were to ask a substantive question during a Democratic debate,
would his lips fall off? Why don't you email him and ask!
Michael Moore himself doesn't blame Clark one bit. Check out Michael Moore's web page for his reaction, and links to articles and other evidence about Bush's National Guard "service.". See also Josh Marshall on Peter Jenning's question: "I’ve already said that much in the debate struck me as laughably tilted toward criticism
not so much of the particular candidates as criticism of simply being Democrats. But this question signaled a certain hypersensitivity
about criticizing the president at all."
That's the real catch, of course. In the "mainstream" press, any criticism of Bush
is treated as gingerly as a loaded hand grenade. And those who criticize Bush, like Democrats, are by implication reckless,
dangerous, and maybe crazy.
Wesley Clark is scheduled to be on Meet the Press with Tim "Leave the Money on the
Night Stand" Russert tomorrow. Want to bet that at least ten minutes of that interview will be taken up with the flap
over Michael Moore and the Bush "military" record? (I may attempt some real-time commentary, so check back tomorrow.)
I first got disgusted with the way the press covers presidential
campaigns during the Bush-Dukakis race in 1988. But I can be slow about some things. It probably went sour much sooner.
Michael Dukakis, who couldn't catch a break in that campaign, tried to raise an alarm
on the coming crisis in health care. But the crisis hadn't hit yet. In those days, most people with full-time jobs paid a
piddly little (if any) payroll deduction for full fee-for-service coverage, so what was the problem? And of course there was little
meaningful discussion of the problem in the press.
Dukakis was hounded by a small group of anti-abortion rights activists who
made noisy demonstrations at most of his speeches. And the television news would show footage of the demonstrators, then
mention in passing that Dukakis had delivered a major policy speech on thus-and-so. This would be followed up by man-on-the-street
interviews of random voters, who complained they had no idea how the candidates stood on the issues.
Even then, it didn't hit me that most journalists were nothing but cheap streetwalkers
until the the race for the Democratic nomination in 1991-1992. I watched a particularly lively debate among Democratic
candidates featuring sharp exchanges on several critical policy issues. Immediately after the debate, the cameras
turned on a gaggle of pundits watching from a television studio. As I watched, expecting analysis of what had just happened,
an obviously bored Cokie Roberts turned to the others and asked if they thought Mario Cuomo might decide to run.
The whole pack of them spent half an hour in gossipy chatter about Mario
Cuomo, who wasn't there, ignoring the actual candidates, who included the future Presdident of the United States, Bill
And the quality of political journalism keeps getting worse.
The Gaffe: when a candidate on the campaign trail takes a pounding
in the press for something that just isn't said to the press on the campaign trail.
The Expectations Game: when a candidate "wins" by losing but
doing better than the press expected, or "loses" by winning but doing worse.
The Horse Race: when the press centers its coverage around shifts
in who's ahead, based on poll results the press says are bound to shift.
The Ad Watch: when the press converts political advertisements--and
the strategy behind them--into political news, and then analyzes that news to advertise its own savviness.
Inside Baseball: when the press tells the story of politics by
going to insiders, the "players" who know the game because they play the game and get paid to know it.
Electability News: when the press shifts from reporting on a
candidate's bid for election in the here and now, to the chances of the bid succeeding later on.
Spin Alley: when, after a debate, the press shows up in the spin
room to be spun by stand-ins and spokespeople who are gathered there to spin the press.
Here's a paragraph from Knight-Ridder that combines several of the above:
With Dean faltering as the perceived front-runner, President Bush's campaign is thinking
about how to run against the other Democratic contenders. If Dean rebounds, they'll cast him as an unstable liberal. If it's
Edwards, they'll highlight his inexperience with national security issues. If it's Kerry, they'll paint him as a Massachusetts
liberal. Said Grover Norquist, an anti-tax activist with close ties to the White House: "Kerry is a taller version of (former
presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Michael) Dukakis. He's a slimmer version of Ted Kennedy." ["Hot Off the Trail," Knight-Ridder, January 23, 2004]
How about telling us something about what sort of men Dean, Edwards, or Kerry actually
are? Naah, too much work.
So, in 2000, we were subjected to catty remarks about Al Gore's earth tone suits,
or Al Gore misrepresenting the price of dog medicine, and endless chatter about who was up or down in the polls and what strategies
the candidates would use. And hardly anyone -- nobody on television, for sure -- actually did the work of investigating the
candidates and their proposals.
Kay McFadden of The Seattle Times gets it:
Television news' yearning for the easy life — one where everything can be categorized
with a single theme or adjective — was apparent in Tuesday's coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address.
Paula Zahn of CNN played host to a variety of guest commentators, including conservative
William Bennett, to whom she nodded in apparent blank agreement with everything from "He's a big president" to "He's not afraid
of the third rails" of office.
More hilariously, Zahn asked about Bush's near-endorsement of a constitutional amendment
banning gay marriage. "Can that play both ways with the electorate?"
I don't remember that television news was this insipid during the Vietnam
and Watergate eras, although perhaps I am romanticizing the good old days. Surely a comparison of TV campaign coverage then
and now would make a great theses for some enterprising student.
About a month ago, I bumped into commentary written by a Dean supporter
that suggested we should cancel the primaries and just get behind Dean. And the reasoning was that, since Dean was so far
ahead in the polls and would most certainly win Iowa and New Hampshire by landslides, it would be good for the Party to get
behind the inevitable nominee early.
Now that the Dean Bubble has burst, other commentators are writing off Dean entirely
and preparing to crown Kerry. To which I say, not so fast.
I think the race is wide open and will be a roller coaster for the next four weeks
or more. Certainly, the cream is rising to the top -- in alphabetical order, Clark, Dean, Edwards, and Kerry. It's going to
be one of those four. But I don't think we'll know which one until well into February, and maybe not until after Super Tuesday
So, as the guy in Jurassic Park said, hold on to your butts.
I'm zero for two this week, having missed most of the Democrat debate.
I caught the end of it, and endured a few seconds of the smarmy Fauz Nooz whores and their post-debate debriefing. Yuck. Calpundit did a blow-by-blow blog. Daily Kos has a scorecard.
But here's something of a scoop, I think -- the Republicans seem to have moved into
the 18th Floor of 2 Penn Plaza in Manhattan, which is part of the Madison Square Garden complex, to prepare for the 2004 Republican
Convention. The 18th floor lobby is very plain and very beige, and there's no indication of who or what is using the floor.
But there's an officer of the NYPD manning the desk, and other residents of the building are convinced it's Republicans.
Of course, we don't want people barging in and causing trouble, do we? So don't think
what you are thinkin'!
In post-Iowa tracking polls, Zogby and AGR both say that Dean is still on top in the New Hampshire race, but only
by a couple of points, followed by Kerry, followed by Clark. Lagging about ten percentage points behind Clark is Edwards,
who is barely ahead of Lieberman. And Sharpton and Kucinich continue to bump along the bottom of the pack.
The New Hampshire primary is January 27. This week will be a test of
character for Howard Dean. If he can pull himself and his supporters together, make adjustments, and put out a strong
and optimistic message, he can still win New Hampshire (or at least tie Kerry). If he lets the defeat in Iowa get to him,
then Kerry will overtake him, and possibly Clark also. This would be sad, but this is what the primary contest is for -- winnowing
out those who can't go the distance in the general election.
I don't think Edwards will be much of a factor. I don't see that he offers
anything that will bring up his numbers significantly in the coming week.
Full disclosure -- I didn't watch the speech. I told myself I ought
to, for the sake of the blog, y'know? But I just can't watch the monkey face struggle with human speech for
more than a few seconds. Don't ask me to sit through an entire address to the nation.
However, I've skimmed through the transcript. So far, my favorite paragraph is this:
But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power.
We are seeking all the facts -- already the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program
activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act,
the dictator'sweapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day. [link to text; emphasis added]
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but weapons of mass destruction-related program
activities will never hurt me.
What's remarkable about the speech to me is the degree to which Bush ignored most
of the electorate and spoke to his base. He offered himself as the only man who protect America from the horrors
of gay marriage and the machinations of swarthy foreigners and their weapons of mass destruction-related program activities,
and defiantly told the nation that We, the People, don't dare question where he is taking us.
Since we're starting off an election year, you'd think the President would have
had a more inclusive message and offered soaring rhetoric about better days ahead. Yet this speech seemed defensive and snippy.
For clues, check out "Poll Position" at Mother Jones. While independent voters are increasingly impatient with Bush, especially on his domestic "policies,"
many on the Right are getting tired of his act, also.
The religious right is unhappy at the administration's less-than-categorical condemnation
of gay marriage. And many conservatives are lamenting Bush's ever-expanding spending extravaganzas. The Wall Street Journal
ran an editorial Tuesday entitled "The GOP is spending like a drunken sailor," and a new study by the conservative Heritage
Foundation is sounds the alarm about current levels of federal spending: ...
Conservatives also are mad about Bush's big-ticket space plans [Note: the Man to Mars initiative was not mentioned last night.] and his immigration
reform proposal, a move designed to court the Latino vote, but which, as conservatives see it, rewards law-breaking. [I don't believe he mentioned his new guest worker "immigration"
program either. (On edit) OK, he did, but he called it a "temporary worker program" instead. ] The State of the Union address, timed so to take media attention away from the beginning Democratic primaries,
cannot manage to gloss over the fact that Bush may have serious problems getting re-elected -- especially if one of the more
moderate Democratic candidates like Kerry or Edwards wins the presidential nomination. ["Poll Position," Mother Jones, January 21, 2004]
The New Republic web site this morning has several reactions, if you want to go there. I'm still pissed at them for endorsing Lieberman.
One more Kucinich post today, and this one will be more about Dennis
Kucinich than about his followers.
I think Kucinich is right on several issues. In an ideal world we'd stop
messing around with health care and go right to single payer, for example. He's probably right about America's trade agreements
(he wants to withdraw the United States from all multilateral trade agreements and seek bilateral trade treaties conditioned
on labor and environmental standards and human rights protections). From what I've seen he's excellent on environmental issues.
However, it should be obvious even to him that he's not going to get the nomination.
He's been bumping along at 1 or 2 percent of likely Democratic candidates, at the bottom of the pack, for the past several months.
Even so, Dennis Kucinich could be playing an important role as the conscience of
progressives. He could be using the campaign as a pulput from which to preach progressive ideals, at the same time making
himself more visible -- perhaps paving the way for a Senate run or a place on the cabinet of the next Democratic president.
It often happens that a politician will fail to get the nomination but still have
an impact on the political landscape. Nut though he was, Ross Perot showed America charts and graphs to demonstrate why
the Reagan deficit really did matter. Paul Tsongas's ideas outlived him and his 1992 bid for the Democratic nomination. John
McCain commanded more respect in the Senate after 2000.
And maybe, someday, a presidential candidate can run on a platform of providing universal
single payer health coverage -- and win. Wouldn't
that be glorious?
Kucinich is screeching his differences with Dean. Dean says we need to stay and clean
up, Kucinich says we need to leave. Dean wants incremental health care reform, Kucinich wants single-payer. These are differences,
but they are not differences of conscience. Were Kucinich a viable candidate, this debate would make sense. But he's not.
...This is a bitter attempt to fame grab, to derail the candidacy of Howard Dean.
Kucinich is in his 50s. His political career could last another 20 years
or more. Why the scorched earth? The answer may have more to do with Kucinich's inner demons than politics. I don't
know the man, and I am not a psychologist, so I have no answers. However, check out this article about Kucinich from his
boy mayor phase, "Kucinich on the Couch." It might explain something.
"President" Bush and House Speaker Dennis Hastert say they will oppose
granting more time to the Independent Commission on September 11.
In other words, having played a delaying game to prevent the Commission
from learning anything, they are now sitting on the ball and running out the clock.
A growing number of commission members
had concluded that the panel needs more time to prepare a thorough and credible accounting of missteps leading to the terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But the White House and leading Republicans have informed the panel that
they oppose any delay, which raises the possibility that Sept. 11-related controversies could emerge during the heat of the
presidential campaign, sources said. ...
The statute that created the panel in 2002 requires it to complete a report for the
president and Congress by May 27, with 60 days available after that to tie up loose ends, officials said. The commission has
been beleaguered by organizational problems and fights with the Bush administration and New York City about access to documents.
The White House, of course,
claims that the commission was given an "unprecedented" amount of cooperation. Yeah, right.
(The Republicans spent how much
time and money investigating Whitewater? But an investigation of September 11 has to be cut off after one year because ...?
Well, of course, we know the reason, don't we?)
Today's Boston GlobeOp-Ed Page features an article on each of the Democratic candidates, written mostly by well-known supporters. For example, Rob Reiner
and Martin Short endorse Howard Dean; Senator Edward Kennedy speaks for John Kerry. I haven't read all of them yet, but I want to comment on a couple.
Easily the lamest article is the one written on behalf of Joe Lieberman. The author is the mother of a national guardsman in Iraq, and Lieberman is lauded for supporting the troops. That's it.
Like the other candidates don't support the troops. I wonder if the Boston Globe had trouble finding a Lieberman
The other article that deserves quick mention is by Ben Cohen on behalf of Dennis Kucinich. As I've said before, I've come to dislike Kucinich, mostly because some of his followers are a little too devoted.
And Cohen loses me on the first couple of paragraphs:
MOST WOULD agree with this modest request of the next president of the United States:
Please waste fewer of our tax dollars on special interests and instead spend more on our schools, health care, the environment,
the poor, and the hungry at home and abroad.
There's only one candidate running for president who has a practical plan to do this.
That candidate is congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Oh, please. I spent most of yesterday updating my "Democratic Candidates" page. Nearly all of the Dem candidates are eager to put our nation's resources into improving schools, health care, the
environment, and helping the poor and hungry. On most domestic issues there is little difference among them. And whether Dennis
Kucinich offers a greater degree of practicality on any issue is very debatable.
And if I hear "Dennis Kucinich is the ONLY CANDIDATE who (will get us
out of Iraq, will get tough with polluters, is kind to children and small animals, etc.)" one more time I'm going to scream.
Regarding priorities, I am reminded of an article by Matt Stoller on BOP News.
Kucinich: "I will issue an executive order to..."
Shut down the School of the Americas! That was the first thing that Kucinich brought
up in his speech, as if Iowans' number one concern is the School of the Americas.
Stilted, conspiratorial, charming, and surrounded sonically by the ugly refuse of
the hippy generation, Kucinich criticizes the administration and somehow comes off as the absolute wrong guy for the job.
His points are basically fair; stop the war, don't privatize Iraq, health care for everyone, and yet, I suspect he's only
making sense because of the current politically extreme environment. It's a sort of alliance of 'Everything political sucks'
people and moderates, but only because, well, everything political sucks. That's just not inherent to politics. It's Kucinich's
moment to shine, or maybe, sparkle tepidly. He's the wrong man for the job, but it's now as right a moment as there will ever
be for someone like him.
It's a caustic article
that offended many, but as my web pal Sterling Newberry wrote in the comments,
Kucinich failed to do what he was supposed to in the race: be the conscience of the
party. Instead, when the chips were down, he, and his followers, joined the "Bash Dean" party very, very, very hard.
Proving that he's just a politician after all.
The Kucinichistas cannot so much as walk across a linoleum
floor without bashing the other candidates. I want them to go away now.
The web page presentation is muddled, but the Boston Globe editorial section today features responses to a questionnaire sent to the Democratic candidates. Scroll down to "Today's Op-Ed Columns."
On the Blogosphere today -- Devin Drum at Calpundit has a blog entry called "Reality vs. Fantasy" that you'll want to read. See also "Bragging Rights" by Billmon at Whiskey Bar and this untitled article comparing Wal Mart to Triangle Shirtwaist at No More Mr. Nice Blog.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the
president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is
morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918
The War Prayer
I come from the Throne -- bearing
a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be
your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like
unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.
"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has
he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of
Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered
part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you
in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these
words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into
those pregnant words.
"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also
the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our
hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved
firesides to smite the foe.
"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody
shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown
the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their
little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the
sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of
the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter
pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded
feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset,
& seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor
& glory now & ever, Amen."
(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire
it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."
· · · · · ·
It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic,
because there was no sense in what he said.