Step Right Up

Somewhere, I suspect, there’s a summer intern who can kiss off ever getting a job with the Washington Post. Mike Allen writes,

Washington Post Publisher and Chief Executive Officer Katharine Weymouth said today she was cancelling plans for an exclusive “salon” at her home where, for as much as $250,000, the Post offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to “those powerful few”: Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff.”

Weymouth is saying the fliers weren’t vetted before being released and that they misrepresented what she had intended. Everyone is appalled that WaPo tried to sell “access.” Chris Good at The Atlantic explains how it’s normally done:

The business of media-organized conferences, roundtables, seminars, and presentations works, in most cases, similarly to the everyday sale of newspapers and magazines. The editorial staff has something to offer in the way of content–information, expertise, relationships with prominent sources who will talk about health care in front of an audience (booking power), good questions for the experts and an ability to moderate the discussion–and the business side sells that content to advertisers or attendees.

Still too cozy if you ask me.

More Manufactured Outrage

I don’t know what’s more amazing: that the powers that be on the Right would even think up a stunt like this, or that so many righties are such sheep — nasty blood-sucking sheep, but sheep nonetheless — that they unthinkingly go along with it.

Here’s the basic story — Wednesday next week ABC News will devote much of its program to the Obama Administration’s proposed health care policy. On that day, “Good Morning America” will originate from the South Lawn of the White House and will include an interview by Diane Sawyer with President Obama. That evening, President Obama will take part in a moderated discussion in front of a live audience on ABC. The moderators will be Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer, and questions will come from the audience, according to ABC News.

One might say, Good for ABC! Unless, of course, you are a Republican.

The GOP officially complained that “opposing voices” will be left out, namely that they won’t be able to plant one of its usual trained goons next to the President to interrupt incessantly with absurd talking points so that no one can have a sensible discussion. ABC promises that people with diverse opinions will ask questions from the audience. One also hopes that Sawyer and Gibson will ask substantive and challenging questions.

Righties are screaming about an “ethical firestorm” because news will be “anchored” from inside the White House. A sampler of reactions:

This is the stuff of apparatchiks and Politburos, not a healthy, ethical free press. ABC will become the Obama network to sell his health care plan for an entire day. … [link]

Dr. Goebbels would be so proud… [link]

As far as I am aware this has never happened before in any administration – Democrat or Republican.

A free and independent press is one of the legs on which all representative governments rest. If we have lost it, The American Experiment’s remaining time is short indeed. [link]

One must ask, in what universe would news reporting from inside the White House, or a President taking questions from a live audience whose members he did not personally choose, be considered subversive of democracy? Beside Bizarro World, of course?

And the answer is, a world of people who think of the place from within the White House as enemy territory that must not be allowed legitimacy.

Update: See Bob Cesca at Crooks and Liars.

Disagreeing With Turley?

Interesting article by Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent, in which Eviatar reviews the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and other law involving threats to abortion clinics and staff. Courts have ruled that “Nuremberg Files”-type expression, such as wanted posters and lists of abortion providers with the names of murdered doctors crossed out, constitute threats and are not protected speech. This is true even though the sick puppies who create the posters and the lists generally avoid making explicit, specific threats.

Under the FACE Act, doctors and clinic workers don’t have to wait for government to act against extremists making threats; they can sue those threatening them. However,

Some civil libertarians, however, have concerns. George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley on the Rachel Maddow Show on Monday cautioned against prosecution or lawsuits against even those who promote violence. “We have this difficult line to walk between free speech and preventative law enforcement,” he said. “The Supreme Court has said that violent speech is protected . . . and it is in fact protected to say all abortion doctors should be killed.”

I found the transcript of the Monday Rachel Maddow program, and Turley doesn’t dismiss the FACE act entirely. He says that when speech amounts to “an imminent threat of violence” legal action can be taken.

To me — and I’m not a lawyer — FACE is akin to anti-stalking laws. Twenty years ago, a woman might be hounded by a stalker who obviously intended to harm her, but as a rule police could do nothing until an assault occurred. “Even when the suspect had followed his victim, sent her hate mail, or behaved in a threatening manner, the police were without legal recourse,” says this U.S. Justice Department document on stalking laws.

One such stalked woman was Rebecca Shaeffer, a young actress who was stalked for two years before her “fan” shot and killed her in 1989. After that, states began to provide stalked women some legal protection, although those laws also have been challenged on First Amendment grounds.

Florida anti-stalking law, for example, calls out “any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another … engaging in conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress.” This is harassment, the law says, and the target of the harassment can take legal action to stop it.

Anti-stalking laws aren’t perfect and don’t always stop the stalking. A lawyer quoted in Eviatar’s article speaks of the “delicate balance” between protected speech and incitement to violence. Reasonable people can disagree about whether a particular expression falls on one side of the line or another.

To me, if the inflammatory speech is directed at a particular person, it’s crossed that line. It’s one thing to say that “all abortion providers should be killed.” It’s another to make a “wanted” poster of a particular physician and provide directions to his home. Even if the latter expression doesn’t explicitly direct people to shoot and kill the doctor, the implication is clear.

(If you think about it, what is the point of protesting outside abortion clinics except to harass and intimidate patients and staff? The clinics don’t make law and policy. If you want to change the law, don’t protest the clinics; protest Congress. And I feel the same way about anti-war protests at recruitment offices and other military facilities, btw; it’s misdirected and potentially dangerous. If you don’t like war policy, protest Congress and the White House, not the troops.)

This leaves us with the problem of people in national media who whip up enmity against specific abortion providers, as Bill O’Reilly did against Dr. Tiller. O’Reilly pretty explicitly told his viewers and radio audience that Dr. Tiller was wantonly murdering healthy, viable fetuses for frivolous reasons, which all evidence says is a lie. O’Reilly’s audiences didn’t hear the stories behind the decision to terminate a third-trimester pregnancy, nearly always heartbreaking, nearly always made by women who genuinely wanted the baby.

Surely reckless speech such as O’Reilly’s contributes to sense among extremists that they are entitled to murder abortion doctors. I still cannot think of a remedy other than civil suits filed by people who have been injured by anti-abortion extremists, or their survivors. I’m not sure if there are legal grounds for such a suit, but if there were, a couple of successful prosecutions would make the O’Reilly’s of the world tone down their rhetoric, I suspect.

On Request

Patterico wants all bloggers to embed this video. So I watched it, and said yeah, sure.

You’ll recognize reporter Susan Roesgen of CNN from an earlier post. Roesgen’s work as shown on the earlier video was clumsy. She was over her head, I think, and obviously got rattled. I felt a lot more sympathy for her in the video above.

The thing is, righties are linking to this video as if it vindicates them somehow. I think it makes them look worse. Don’t stop the vid until you see the guy delivering the speech about how Hitler was a socialist. Classic.

Roesgen is getting the Dan Rather treatment now, btw. The righties are digging for everything they can find on her so they can smear her.

Update: Glenn Reynolds is bragging about how genteel, polite, and multi-racial the “tea parties” were. Yes, and I’m Prince Charles.

Update: See also No More Mr. Nice Blog.


Steve M has a great analogy in the title of a recent post — “AIG is to righties’ economic theories what George W. Bush is to their political theories.” So true.

Of course, as Steve says, to righties nothing is ever the fault of rightie ideology. In many ways George W. Bush was more Reaganite than Reagan, but as soon as he became overwhelmingly unpopular the Right suddenly discovered Bush was not a “real conservative.” Just so, in their minds the financial sector gurus who drove the economy off a cliff are traitors to free market theory, not the naturally selected consequence of it.

More fascinating — Greg Sargent reports that rightie politicians and rightie media are going separate ways on the AIG scandal.

GOP Congressional leaders have roundly condemned AIG and its executives, as part of a strategy to position themselves as heroic defenders of the taxpayers and to paint the Obama administration as weak and ineffectual. … But increasingly, leading conservative media figures are moving in a different direction: Defending AIG.

Rush Limbaugh recently said: “I am all for the AIG bonuses” and attacked the Obama administration for trying to undo them. He also blasted Dem efforts to get the names of the AIG bonus recipients as “McCarthyism.”

Fox News followed suit, also comparing Dems to “Joe McCarthy.” And Sean Hannity has now derided efforts to tax the execs by saying: “In other words, we’re going to just steal their money.”

If you were a Faux Nooz viewer, exactly how stupid would you have to be to agree with Hannity?

It gets better. Today there’s a story that the House plans to slap a 90 percent tax on the bonuses. Actual title of a Michelle Malkin post in response: “First They Came for the AIG Bonuses.” You can’t make this up.

As I said, this is fascinating; the sort of thing social psychologists ought to be studying. Put the Right under a bell jar, or better yet, on a dissecting table.

Editorial Pencil Alert

Before it scrolls into oblivion, be sure to read Fareed Zakaria’s latest column at Newsweek. Then notice the slight editorial change made in the same column at the Washington Post.

Newsweek version (emphasis added):

Two weeks into Obama’s term, Charles Krauthammer lumped together a bunch of Russian declarations and actions—many of them long in the making—and decided that they were all “brazen provocations” that Obama had failed to counter. Obama’s “supine diplomacy,” Krauthammer thundered, was setting off a chain of catastrophes across the globe. The Pakistani government, for example, had obviously sensed weakness in Washington and “capitulated to the Taliban” in the Swat Valley. Somehow Krauthammer missed the many deals that Pakistan struck over the last three years—during Bush’s reign—with the Taliban, deals that were more hastily put together, on worse terms, with poorer results.

Many normally intelligent commentators have joined in the worrying.

WaPo version:

Two weeks into Obama’s term, Charles Krauthammer lumped together a bunch of Russian declarations and actions — many of them long in the making — and decided that they were all “brazen … provocations” that Obama had failed to counter. Obama’s “supine” diplomacy, Krauthammer thundered, was setting off a chain of catastrophes across the globe. The Pakistani government, for example, had obviously sensed weakness in Washington and “capitulated to the Taliban” in the Swat Valley. Somehow Krauthammer missed the many deals that Pakistan struck with the Taliban over the past three years — during Bush’s reign — deals that were more hastily put together, on worse terms, with poorer results.

Even liberal and centrist commentators have joined in the worrying.

I guess at WaPo one is not permitted to imply that Krauthammer is an idiot.

How to Be an Expert

Yesterday the blogosphere was buzzing about the Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer smackdown (if you missed it, see James Fallows). Via Memeorandum I found this article called “How much money would taking Jim Cramer’s advice have cost you?” The title pretty much tells the story.

Even when times were good CNBC and other “money” channels depressed me, so I’m far from a regular viewer, and I’ve seen only occasional blips of Cramer. But yesterday I wondered, “where does this guy come from?” I checked out his bio, and he did in fact make a lot of money as a hedge fund manager. He also has some background as a reporter. But his hedge fund success, I noticed, came during the late 1990s. You didn’t have to be a genius to make money in the late 1990s.

I put Cramer in the category of “unexpert expert.” These are people who somehow gained reputations in something and are considered experts, but if you check out their backgrounds, and what “wisdom” they actually offer, there’s nothing there. Most political “pundits” are unexpert experts, of course.

The prototype of the unexpert expert is William Bennett, who is considered an “expert” on morality in spite of his gambling addiction and the fact that his ideas about morality never advanced beyond Sister Gertrude’s third grade class at Our Lady of Perpetual Chagrin. All you need to be an expert is (1) your own certitude that you are one; and (2) an ability to project an aura of knowing what you are talking about (see Dick the Dick Cheney). Actual expertise is, of course, not necessary.

Polls: “Stop the Insanity”

Glenn Greenwald looks at polls to shred apart the “Americans want bipartisanship” myth. In polls and in the voting booth, the only time Americans are expressing a desire for bipartisanship is when it is applied to Republicans.

Let me suggest that what Americans long for is not “bipartisanship,” but sanity. They’re tired of the clown show.

People allegedly want “bipartisanship.” The nation’s political and media powers translate that to mean people want both parties to have an equal say in government, and that policies should be crafted to the “center” of the current political spectrum in Washington.

But I do not think that’s what most people want at all. What most people want are politicians to stop squabbling like children and get serious about governing. They are tired of childish partisan games sucking all the energy out of government. They want real problems addressed in a real-world way. They don’t care which party is in power so long as that party is behaving like grownups.

The GOP continues to behave like 2-year-old stuck in the “no!” phase.

I think what people want from Washington isn’t “bipartisanship” as the villagers understand the word. What they want might more honestly be called “post-partisan” or “anti-partisan” or just plain “not-partisan.” They want the games to stop.

That doesn’t mean they expect Congress to be of one mind. However, they want opposition to the administration to come from somewhere else than Mars. They want opposition that comes from an honest desire to solve problems and make America better, not from whatever pathological character disorders propel right-wingers to grab power, by any means, that they clearly are not responsible to hold.

If you look at today’s headlines, you’d think President Obama is somehow failing the people on “bipartisanship.” For example, the Washington Post: “Obama Gets High Marks for 1st Month, But Survey Finds Sharp Erosion in Bipartisan Support

Large majorities of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll support his $787 billion economic stimulus package and the recently unveiled $75 billion plan to stem mortgage foreclosures. Nearly seven in 10 poll respondents said Obama is delivering on his pledge to bring needed change to Washington, and about eight in 10 said he is meeting or exceeding their expectations. At the same time, however, the bipartisan support he enjoyed as he prepared to take office has eroded substantially amid stiff Republican opposition to his major economic initiatives.

In other words, everyone but bitter-ender Republicans approves of Obama. Then the pathological intransigence of the GOP is framed as Obama’s failure and not theirs.

For ABC News, Gary Langer reports — “A Strong Start for Obama – But Hardly a Bipartisan One.”

Barack Obama’s month-old presidency is off to a strong start, marked by the largest lead over the opposition party in trust to handle the economy for a president in polls dating back nearly 20 years. But the post-partisanship he’s championed looks as elusive as ever.

Again, when people express a desire for “post-partisan” government, this does not mean they want right-wing lunatics to have an equal say in government. They want the insanity to stop. Cenk Uygur explains:

As DougJ at Balloon Juice says, “villager” opinion and public opinion have rarely been so far apart.

Whose Denial?

In his column today, Frank Rich correctly points out that America suffers from chronic denial.

One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly “changed everything,” slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable. Obama’s toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized G.O.P. but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door.

Bad news after bad news — the mortgage meltdown, the financial crisis, steroid use in professional baseball, that we went to war in Iraq over imaginary WMDs — are disasters some saw way in advance, Rich writes, yet most Americans were late to notice them and were caught completely off guard. Yes, but …

I’ll put aside the question of how much Frank Rich knew and when he knew it. I propose that Frank Rich and others who spend their lives in national news media leave their newsrooms and spend some time purely as news consumers. Pick some nice “heartland” community at random — maybe Cedar Falls, Iowa, or Talking Rock, Georgia — and live there for a year. Then they should cut off ties to buddies still working in the news biz and get all of their information from the same sources their neighbors use. That, probably, will be mostly radio and television.

I think then they might get a clue why Americans don’t know what’s going on. Mass media truly is a vast wasteland in which one might occasionally stumble upon factual information about substantive issues, but I wouldn’t count on it.

For example: I don’t often watch daytime television, but from what little I have seen it appears daytime cable news currently is obsessed with some child battering or homicide cases, and the few public details of these tragic stories are repeated incessantly. One might occasionally see a headline crawl like “Expert says millions of Americans will lose their homes.” But for the most part, viewers are shown the same little bits of video of the suspects, over and over again, and invited to speculate whether the girlfriend done it.

Remember “bread and circuses”? Well, bread is getting pricey, but we’ve got plenty of circuses.

Nighttime cable has its little windows of sanity (e.g., Rachel Maddow), but for the most part the producers still lack the imagination not to interview Ann Coulter whenever she publishes more of her pathological projections about liberals. And, of course, we still have wingnut talk radio and Faux Nooz, where right-wing shills like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity sit in front of cameras and make shit up.

Most people, busy with the details of their own lives, don’t have the time or resources to separate wheat from chaff. Especially when there’s so little wheat and so much chaff.