I’m still really tired and quite removed from the total weirdness of the current Beltway antics. From my groggy eyes, it seems like some odd, abstract dance done to music with an oft-repeated, dissonant theme. I’m very much lost in a world of books and games right now and catching up with things around the house. Oh, and sleep. I just can’t seem to get enough of that. Who invited all these tacky people and why hasn’t some one taught them how to behave properly at a national cotillion?
So, the journalistic dance theatrics orchestrated by the right wing appear to be spinning out there in a place that no one cares much about. However, it should be noted that while no one real seems to care, the press is still tap dancing to the jingoism. Have the little republican boyz cried wolf so many times that only the villagers listen and no one else? Cue the polls and the pols,
President Barack Obama comes out of what was arguably the worst week of his presidency with his approval rating holding steady, according to a new national poll. But a CNN/ORC International survey released Sunday morning also indicates that congressional Republicans are not overplaying their hand when it comes to their reaction to the three controversies that have consumed the nation’s capital over the past week and a half. And the poll finds that a majority of Americans take all three issues seriously.
“That two-point difference is well within the poll’s sampling error, so it is a mistake to characterize it as a gain for the president,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Nonetheless, an approval rating that has not dropped and remains over 50% will probably be taken as good news by Democrats after the events of the last week.”
The CNN poll is in-line with Gallup, which also indicated a very slight rise in Obama’s approval rating over the same time period. And Gallup’s daily tracking poll also indicated a slight upward movement of Obama’s approval rating over the past week. But as with the CNN poll, it was within that survey’s sampling error.
More than seven in 10 in the CNN poll say that the targeting by the Internal Revenue Service of tea party and other conservative groups that were applying for tax exempt status was unacceptable. While the White House and both parties in Congress are criticizing the IRS actions, congressional Republicans are depicting the controversy as a case of the federal government gone wild.
But more than six in 10 say that the president’s statements about the IRS scandal are completely or mostly true, with 35% not agreeing with Obama’s characterizations. And 55% say that IRS acted on its own, with 37% saying that White House ordered the IRS to target tea party and other conservative groups.
It’s nice to see that a lot of real folks are not taking all these conspiracy theories very seriously. How can any one take them seriously with idiots like Senator Aqua Buddha pushing them? Why does any one give this whackadoodle air time? Not every US senator deserves national face time. This one should be placed in a carnival sideshow in a Scheherazade costume. However, this crackpot may try to take on Hillary Clinton for the presidency next time out so it’s a way for the press to rattle the Clinton cage. Rand Paul’s trying to spin his little tail and tale into something credible. Good luck with that!! It all come off as fundraising theatrics to me. A little snake oil music from the maestro please!!!
Sen. Rand Paul continued with his charges from earlier this week that former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton had “her fingerprints all over these talking points” on the Benghazi attack and claims that she never “really accepted culpability” because she failed to resign shortly after the tragedy. When CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Paul if he was worried about appearing to politicize the controversy by making his remarks in Iowa and other presidential battleground states, Paul dismissed the notion that his remarks were based on politics.
It’s laughable that anyone expects us to believe that Republicans care one iota about this trumped up Benghazi story for any other reason than to muddy up Hillary Clinton, because they all assume she’s going to be the front-runner for the next presidential election.
And I’d say it’s safe to assume Rand Paul is going to take up his father’s mantle and make a career out of perpetually running for president as a fundraising scheme. It worked out pretty well for his dad and the press is already propping him up because of it — with this being the latest example — so why not?
Meanwhile, the choreography of the supposed liberal bias in the press came apart when ABC’s Jonathan Karl was caught telling right wing whoppers and had to apologize. Actually, he kinda sorta, sashayed towards an apology. Here’s his anti-mea culpa. Oh, and you gotta laugh about exactly who got to read it on air yesterday!!!
Jonathan Karl, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, addressed criticism of his reporting on the Benghazi talking points controversy, saying in a statement to CNN that he regrets the inaccuracy of his report.
“Clearly, I regret the email was quoted incorrectly and I regret that it’s become a distraction from the story, which still entirely stands. I should have been clearer about the attribution. We updated our story immediately,” he said in the statement to Howard Kurtz, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”
Earlier this month, Karl reported that he obtained emails by White House staff that indicated they had a dramatic role in altering the talking points that were later used by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on Sunday morning talk shows to explain the attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
From those talking points, she said the attack spurred from a spontaneous demonstration outside the compound, while the Obama administration later stated the violence came from a premeditated terror attack.
Questions soon arose over how the error took place, as reports showed that initial drafts of those talking points included references to extremists but were later changed to attribute the incident to protests over an anti-Islam film.
Karl reported on May 10 that, based on summaries of the emails, the White House had a leading role in the editing process and had scrubbed vital information from the talking points.
But CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper, host of CNN’s “The Lead,” reported days later that the actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told a different story.
Karl’s high profile at ABC demonstrates that conservative messages can find a comfortable home inside the so-called “liberal” media. Karl channeled former ABC corporate cheerleader John Stossel with a segment (3/5/11) complaining that regulation of the egg and poultry industries was “almost embarrassing,” since different government agencies regulate different aspects of the industries. “Got that?” Karl asked. “Fifteen separate agencies have responsibility for food safety.”
During the rollout of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, Karl (1/26/11) gushed that the Republican media darling was “a little like the guy in the movie Dave, the accidental president who sets out to fix the budget, line by line.” And while Democrats were saying Ryan “is a villain,” Karl was clear about which side he was on: “Ryan knows what he sees…. Paul Ryan is on a mission, determined to do the seemingly impossible: Actually balance the federal budget.” (Actually, even with its draconian spending cuts and absurdly optimistic economic assumptions, the Ryan plan still foresees a cumulative deficit of $62 trillion over the next half century—Congressional Budget Office, 1/27/10.)
On a This Week roundtable (2/20/11), Karl declared that state budget debates were “the Tea Party’s moment” and “also the Chris Christie phenomenon. Will politicians be rewarded for making tough choices—again, something I don’t think we’ve ever seen happen?” Of course, it’s hard not to conclude that the “tough choices” made by Christie and other Republicans are the ones that ought to be rewarded.
And in one World News segment (2/14/11), Karl likened the federal budget to stacks of pennies in order to demonstrate that deeper spending cuts would be necessary in order to balance the budget. Karl concluded that “the bottom line, Diane, is unless you’re willing to talk about cutting entitlements or defense or both, really, there’s no way you can even think about balancing the budget.” This is not actually true—one could raise revenues by increasing taxes on the wealthy—but it is how Republicans want to frame the budget debate.
Just think of how horrible things are going to get when the Koch Brothers take over media outlets. Eric Alterman–writing for The Nation–things that they could make Rupert Murdoch look good. May the wisdom beings protect us all!! Talk about your odd dance partners!! Could Murdoch actually step in to take over the Trib and could that make us all actually breathe easier? Well, not really.
But chill out for a minute and consider the following: should they enter the newspaper publishing business, the Koch brothers would be King Midas in reverse. Their commitment to producing disinformation designed to defame liberals, moderates and, indeed, all manner of sane individuals would result in the destruction of the professional purpose of their purchase. A Los Angeles Times or a Chicago Tribune answerable to Koch ownership would soon lose most of its serious journalists and all of its credibility with readers. This would vaporize the value of their investment and leave them with extremely expensive propaganda sheets to publish and loads of legacy costs to assume. Other publications would jump in to fill the vacuum, though it’s unlikely that any of them would be able even to approach the scope and reach of what will be lost. Ideally, the Koch brothers will soon recognize the folly of their ambitions and withdraw.
The scenario that should truly alarm and depress the rest of us is the one that many have posed as the salvation of these papers: a Tribune Company takeover by Rupert Murdoch. While one group of Los Angeles businessmen is interested in buying the LA Times, they have no interest in the package of eight. That leaves Murdoch. And while resistance to a Koch purchase among editors and reporters is strong enough to convince the new owners that they might be buying an empty shell, the attitude toward a Murdoch takeover is quite the opposite. When, during a meeting of the entire staff, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez asked those assembled to “raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch,” only a handful reportedly did so (compared with about half of the staff when the Koch purchase was proposed). Similarly, one member of the Baltimore Sun staff wrote Jim Romenesko that “Murdoch, at least, is a newsman,” a view that was echoed nearly word for word by a Chicago Tribune journalist: “Murdoch, for all his flaws, is a newspaper man.”
True, but by the same logic, Jack the Ripper was a lover of the ladies. Murdoch may be a “newspaper man,” but he is surely not a man who respects honest journalism or even the laws of society as they apply to it (or much else, for that matter). Just in the past few weeks, Murdoch has been making news in the following ways:
He paid out $139 million to settle a class-action suit by News Corp. shareholders, who accused the board of directors of putting the Murdoch family’s interests above those of the company with regard to both the British phone-hacking episode—one of the most egregious criminal scandals in the history of journalism—and News Corp.’s sweetheart acquisition of his daughter Elizabeth’s television production company. The lawsuit alleged that the board “disregarded its fiduciary duties” and allowed Murdoch to run News Corp. as his “own personal fiefdom.”
So, want the worst example? Guess who was on MTP yesterday? Dancing Dave managed to embarrass the entire journalistic bordello in one short hour.
GREGORY: And we’re back. For our remaining moments, joining me now, author of the new book Rumsfeld’s Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, the Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mister Secretary, welcome back. You have such an interesting distinction here because I remember President Bush who I covered called you a matinee idol and now you’re soon to be a great grandfather. That’s a pretty good combination.
MR. DONALD RUMSFELD (Former Secretary of Defense/Author, Rumsfeld’s Rules): Think of that. It’s exciting.
GREGORY: I want to ask you first about a very disturbing subject within the military that of course you’ve worked over for so long and that is sexual assaults in the military. Some of the reported cases going back to when you were Defense Secretary and reported and then the estimates is that much larger number and the alarming rise between 2010 and 2012. And the issue at hand here is what should the military do about it? Does it have to change the way these crimes are reported at the chain of command and go outside of that to a special prosecutor? What would you do?
MR. RUMSFELD: Well, I don’t know that a special prosecutor is the answer, but there is an argument that can be made for handling them in a way different than they’re being handled because they’re serious. And– and I would suspect that an awful lot of them don’t even get reported.
MR. RUMSFELD: And– and that’s probably true in the public sector, in private citizens as well as in the military.
MR. RUMSFELD: But– but it’s a terrible thing. There has to be zero tolerance. And it– it appears that– that something different is going to have to be done and I wish I knew what the answer was. I don’t. But– but it had– people have simply got to not tolerate it.
GREGORY: What about the culture in the military? Is that a part of what’s contributing to this? Is it a major part of what’s contributing to it?
MR. RUMSFELD: Well, people talk about that. The military– they talk about athletic teams and– and male environments. I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think– there’s certainly nothing about the military that would contribute to it in terms of– of the purpose of the armed forces. The– but I don’t know the answer. I– and I think they better– they better really land all over people that are engaged in any kind of abuse of that nature.
GREGORY: There’s so much happening in Washington and you are a veteran of so much controversy as even in your most recent incarnation as defense secretary in the Bush administration. You write this from the book, Rumsfeld’s Rules, “If you foul up, tell the boss and correct it fast. Mistakes can usually be corrected if the adminis– the organization’s leaders are made aware of them and they are caught up early enough and faced honestly. Bad news doesn’t get better with time. If you have fouled something up, it’s best to tell the boss first.”
MR. RUMSFELD: That’s true.
GREGORY: Accountability. Whether it’s IRS or the questions about Benghazi, who is accountable? How do you assess that in these cases?
MR. RUMSFELD: Well, in these cases, I don’t think they know yet. Clearly, the president and in the case of Benghazi, the Secretary of State. That’s the way life works. But what bothers me about it is that two things really concern me. One, you think of a manager, a leader. When something like that happens, you call people in, you sit them down and you let them know that you intend to find ground truth fast. And he seems not to have done that. The other thing that’s worrisome is, as they say, truth leaves on horseback and returns on foot. What’s happening to the president is incrementally trust is being eroded because of the different messages coming out. You know, it’s important that you avoid the early reports because they’re often wrong, and you have to get people in, find ground truth, and then communicate that as fast as you can to the extent information goes out that’s– proves not to be accurate. Presidents and leaders lead by persuasion and for persuasion to work, they don’t lead by command. You have to be trusted. And to the extent trust is eroded, as it is when stories get changed and something more is learned and– and it kind of incrementally destroys your credibility, I think that clearly is a problem. I was worried, for example, I came back from being ambassador of NATO when President Nixon had resigned and President Ford was in office. And the reservoir of trust had just been drained during the– that– that experience that we went through.
Yes. I saved the best for last. Dancing Dave asked Donald Rumsfeld about how to hold the federal government accountable for made up scandals. Hasn’t this man been put in jail for crimes against humanity yet? And, aren’t you glad I didn’t quote the rest of the damn panel?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Thursday Reads: Villagers Turn On Obama, Texas Tornadoes, West TX Investigations, and Boston Bombing NewsPosted: May 16, 2013
It’s beginning to look like Obama’s second term is pretty much over before it begins. We’re facing years of Republican scandalmongering and “investigations” of a president who won’t fight back or even fight for his own favored legislation or judicial and government appointments.
What is Obama actually doing every day? Does he spend the time he isn’t fund-raising or doing meaningless public appearances deciding which “extremist” to drone strike next? Because he certainly doesn’t seem to be governing.
Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. All I know is that the Villagers are finished with him. We got the news yesterday from Politico’s top gossip mavens Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen in one of their trademark “Behind the Curtain” posts: D.C. turns on Obama.
The town is turning on President Obama — and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.
Really? if powerful Democrats weren’t “big fans” of Obama, why did they work their asses off to hand him the nomination in 2008 when they could just as easily have chosen Hillary Clinton?
Of course the “establishment Democrats” that Vandehei and Allen choose to quote in their piece are hardly current insiders, as Charles Pierce pointed out:
Not to minimize the inherent political savvy of Chris Lehane, one anonymous former Obama aide, one anonymous “longtime Washingtonian,” or Vernon Jordan — who, I admit, I’d thought had long gone off to peddle influence in the Beyond — but I think they’re pretty much camouflage here for the fiery tantrum summoned up by the authors.
(And, not for nothing, but “longtime Washingtonian” may well be the beau ideal of TBOTP sourcing. They should make it the company motto. And the two presiding geniuses are going to be shocked one morning when they look in the mirror and see Sally Quinn staring back at them.)
Nevertheless, the Villagers certainly pay more attention to Vandehei and Allen’s pontifications than Pierce’s. Here’s a little more of their venom:
Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system. “It feel like they don’t know what they’re here to do,” a former senior Obama administration official said. “When there’s no narrative, stuff like this consumes you.”
Even Greg Sargent acknowledges that Politico probably speaks for the DC establishment, particularly the corporate media.
We’ve known for years that the Feds are tapping phones, reading e-mails, checking on which site we go to on the internet, all without warrants. This afternoon the news broke that the DOJ subpoenaed two months
of phone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
Naturally AP reporters and executives are outraged and President and CEO Gary Pruitt has sent a letter of protest to Attorney General Holder.
The government would not say why it sought the records. U.S. officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
The story in question was about the successful foiling of the so-called underwear bombing plot. There’s much more at the AP link. So the feds are enraged because of a leak about a successful counterterror operation. Imagine if it had been unsuccessful? Maybe those reporters would be headed to re-education camps by now.
But that’s not the whole story, according to Think Progress. The reason the feds were so nervous about that AP story was that the CIA stopped the underwear bomber rather than the FBI.
Why that drew the attention of the Justice Department, however, is that the CIA was the one who foiled the plot, which the AP report made clear:
The FBI is examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security and brought down an airplane, officials said. They said the device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it.
The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or bought a plane ticket when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said. It’s not immediately clear what happened to the alleged bomber.
AP learned of the plot a week before publishing, but “agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately” due to national security concerns. But, by reporting the CIA’s involvement in foiling the plot, they put AQAP on notice that the CIA had a window into their activities. The AP’s reporting also led to other stories involving an operative in place within AQAP, and details of the operations he was involved in. That operative, it was feared, would be exposed and targeted by AQAP as retribution for siding with the United States.
John Brennan, who is now the head of the CIA, said at his confirmation hearing that the release of information to AP was an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”
The AP knew they were being investigated–the shock came when they realized the breathtaking extent of the federal intrusion.
The DOJ issued a statement claiming that “because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the free flow of information and the public interest”
Okay, if you say so….
So now what? Will mainstream reporters who have been accepting of government surveillance as long as it was directed at us “little people” now begin a real pushback? We shall see.
Could there be a less appropriate advocate for U.S. intervention in Syria than Bill Keller, Judith Miller’s editor at The New York Times during the runup to the disastrous war in Iraq?
Has this man ever been right about anything? Remember when he told us the baby boomers were responsible for the fiscal crisis and we should give up our hopes of a dignified old age because our selfishness has caused the U.S. to have “a less-skilled work force, lower rates of job creation, and an infrastructure unfit for a 21st-century economy”? Because obviously the costs of the Iraq war had nothing to do with the country’s current economic troubles.
Today Keller had the unmitigated gall to lecture us about the need to get involved in Syria. He isn’t really sure what we should do, but he’s positive we need to do it and he has a list of reasons why getting into another war in the Middle East is the right thing to do.
Of course even the monumentally “entitled” Bill Keller understands that lots of people are going to read his op-ed and respond by either screaming bloody murder or laughing hysterically at the spectacle of one of the architects of the Iraq War having the nerve to pontificate about another obviously insane foreign adventure.
So he tries to convince us that this time it’s different: “Syria is not Iraq,” he says.
Of course, there are important lessons to be drawn from our sad experience in Iraq: Be clear about America’s national interest. Be skeptical of the intelligence. Be careful whom you trust. Consider the limits of military power. Never go into a crisis, especially one in the Middle East, expecting a cakewalk.
But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.
“Be careful whom you trust,” he warns. Then why would we trust the man who allowed a once-great newspaper to be given over to neo-conservative enablers like Judith Miller and Michael Gordon who lapped up and printed every lie the Bush White House fed them?
But Keller brushes our doubts aside and offers four reasons why Syria is different from Iraq. But some of his arguments sound awfully familiar to me.
First, we have a genuine, imperiled national interest, not just a fabricated one. A failed Syria creates another haven for terrorists, a danger to neighbors who are all American allies, and the threat of metastasizing Sunni-Shiite sectarian war across a volatile and vital region. “We cannot tolerate a Somalia next door to Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey,” said Vali Nasr, who since leaving the Obama foreign-policy team in 2011 has become one of its most incisive critics. Nor, he adds, can we afford to let the Iranians, the North Koreans and the Chinese conclude from our attitude that we are turning inward, becoming, as the title of Nasr’s new book puts it, “The Dispensable Nation.”
Weren’t we trying to keep Iraq from being a “haven for terrorists” too? And weren’t the neo-cons afraid of having the U.S. be perceived as weak?
Second, in Iraq our invasion unleashed a sectarian war. In Syria, it is already well under way.
This one is just ridiculous. We should invade because things are already worse than when we invaded Iraq?
Third, we have options that do not include putting American troops on the ground, a step nobody favors. None of the options are risk-free. Arming some subset of the rebels does not necessarily buy us influence. The much-touted no-fly zone would put American pilots in range of Syrian air defenses. Sending missiles to destroy Assad’s air force and Scud emplacements, which would provide some protection for civilians and operating room for the rebels, carries a danger of mission creep. But, as Joseph Holliday, a Syria analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, points out, what gets lost in these calculations is the potentially dire cost of doing nothing. That includes the danger that if we stay away now, we will get drawn in later (and bigger), when, for example, a desperate Assad drops Sarin on a Damascus suburb, or when Jordan collapses under the weight of Syrian refugees.
Huh? This one starts out sounding like an argument for staying out of Syria, so Keller throws in one of the neo-con arguments for invading Iraq–things could get worse if we don’t go in. Remember the warnings about “smoking guns” becoming “mushroom clouds?”
Fourth, in Iraq we had to cajole and bamboozle the world into joining our cause. This time we have allies waiting for us to step up and lead. Israel, out of its own interest, seems to have given up waiting.
What kind of argument is that? We should get into a war just because our “allies” want us to “lead?” Meaning they want us to provide the money and manpower.
Sorry, I’m just not convinced. Let the other guys do it for a change. If Israel wants to go to war in Syria, let them. In fact, let Bill Keller go if he’s so gung ho. Maybe he can convince some of his superrich pals to go along with him.
And what do you know? Along with Keller, Judy Miller’s old partner Michael Gordon, who still has his job at the Times, and has been writing story after story pushing U.S. involvement in Syria–as has op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman (I can’t provide links right now because I don’t seem to be able to circumvent the paywall). But here’s Greg Mitchell at The Nation:
Hail, hail, the gang’s nearly all here. Michael Gordon, Thomas Friedman, now Bill Keller. Paging Judy Miller! The New York Times in recent days on its front page and at top of its site has been promoting the meme of Syria regime as chemical weapons abuser, thereby pushing Obama to jump over his “red line” and bomb or otherwise attack there. Tom Friedman weighed in Sunday by calling for an international force to occupy the entire country (surely they would only need to stay one Friedman Unit, or six months).
Now, after this weekend’s Israeli warplane assaults, the threat grows even more dire.
And Bill Keller, the self-derided “reluctant hawk” on invading Iraq in 2003, returns with a column today stating right in its headline, “Syria Is Not Iraq,” and urging Obama and all of us to finally “get over Iraq.” He boasts that he has.
The Times in its news pages, via Sanger, Gordon and Jodi Rudoren, has been highlighting claims of Syria’s use of chem agents for quite some time, highlighted by last week’s top story swallowing nearly whole the latest Israeli claims.
Please go read the rest. Michell makes much more coherent arguments than I can. I’m still just sputtering from rage and trying to keep from banging my head on my keyboard.
Okay, so I was torn between using Hello Kitty Diary and Hello Kitty Litter Box in the title of this thread because I am so tired of seeing hacks get money and column space in what used to be the world’s great papers. Let’s face it! My cats’ litter box is a better use of a newspaper that’s filled with the inane ramblings of the likes of Ross Douthat, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, George F. Will, and well, you get my drift. There were op ed writers with whom I disagreed but whose arguments, evidence, and writing style made for compelling reading and arguments. The group that’s left to us now should still be doing penmanship exercises in second grade.
So, obviously I was inspired to write this. I use the world ‘inspired’ loosely because it was more like I was influenced by the painful awareness of cats screeching in the alley looking for attention from other heat-seeking cats. The primary source of screeching came from MoDo today who Charlie Pierce promptly diced and sliced in “In Which MoDo Loses A Fight With James Madison” in his Esquire blog
Maureen Dowd has fashioned herself another Chronic Ward of a newspaper column today on her now-regular theme of what a wimpety-wimp-wimp Barry Obama is, and why she never should have let him take her to prom instead of the hunky Andrew Shepherd from The American President who, while admittedly fictional, never would take this guff from actual human beings like John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Louie Gohmert, to which latter we give the benefit of a considerable doubt on this score. From the available evidence (again), and for all the relevance her insights have on what’s actually going on in American politics, Dowd once again seems to be writing from an assisted-living facility on the far side of a world Beyond The Planet Of The Ultra-Vixens. First of all, she, along with Jonathan Karl, seems to be overly concerned with the condition of the president’s “juice,” which she seems to feel is less fortified with essential vitamins and iron than the juice of a president should be. And, somewhere in the Beyond, Freud gives up the business entirely and opens a cigar store.
Pierce offers this more succinct explanation.
Look, I make the same criticism of the president from time to time, but mine is based on what I believe is the obvious empirical fact that the Republican party has gone insane and that the president has been painfully slow in coming to realize that he is dealing with lunatics. I don’t find this “professorial” or “high-minded.” I just find it wrong. But, then again, I don’t measure politics by the inseam, either.
What is it about reality that most of the op ed writers don’t appear to get these days? Well, I stumbled across an equally good take down and explanation over at NY magazine written by Jonathan Chait called “David Brooks and the Role of Opinion Journalism”. David Brooks is the nearly the best example of an op ed writer that is a waste of good reading time. He has the dial set to 11 for vacuity nearly every day.
Brooks likes to veer frequently from the beaten path of topicality. He wants us to associate this habit with intellectual honesty. But why should we? One could just as easily think of it as an evasive tactic designed to spare him from confronting the uncomfortable pathologies of his own side.
Brooks goes further, smuggling into his schema notions not merely unrelated to but actually at odds with intellectual honesty. The detached writer, he argues, “sees politics as a competition between partial truths.” Well, yes, sometimes it is. On the other hand, sometimes politics is not a competition between partial truths. If you’re committed a priori to always seeing politics as a competition between partial truths, you will render yourself unable to accurately describe the times when it’s not and find yourself writing things that are provably untrue. Writing things that are provably untrue — rather than, say, being irritating — ought to be the central thing to avoid.
It’s a shame Brooks has done such an injustice to the topic, since the question of standards for opinion journalism is a pretty important and underexplored one. Straight news reporters tend to lump opinion writing of all forms into the same bin — punditry, essays, agitprop — and to therefore shy away from holding it to any defined standard. (This is why, for instance, the Washington Post blithely lets George Will misstate facts about climate science on its op-ed page.)
So, I would like to say that the standard for op ed “journalism” is there is no honor among thieves, but given their platform, it’s hard to just write off 99.99% of them as hapless hacks and ignore them. Chait actually offers up some common sense advice on how to make an argument instead of publishing your dreamy-eyed Potomac platitudes. Most of them are common sense like don’t set up and attack straw men and avoid reflexive equivocation and black-and-white moralism. These last two are staples of op ed pages today. Douthat is a lousy writer who specializes in his own specious form of black-and-white moralism to the point that I wonder if he ever leaves his house or was actually weaned by his mother. This glib last bit from Chait sums up the state of op ed writing today for me. I’ve edited it to what it should be.
If you’re going to write
a guide toopinion writingthat’s completely self-aggrandizing, you should probably own up to it.
Not only should you own up to it, you should stop pretending it’s anything else but self-aggrandizing twaddle. I’m tired of seeing endless self-pleasuring in high circulation papers. I am so not into that!!!
But, I see this as the main stay of today’s opinion writers. It is always about them and never about their topic, the actual good of the country or an idea, or the greater search for truth. WAPO and NYT excel at placing free range WATBs on their op pages who only engage in self-aggrandizing and who never see the world outside the thunderdomes of Manhattan and the DC beltway. Most of them are so comfortably snuggled into their socio-economic status they probably couldn’t tell a homeless person from a fireplug.
Thankfully, there are now blogs and there are blogger/writers like Pierce and Chait or I would be one very depressed Kat who would consider reading Romance Novels or Pop! Star Magazine in lieu of David Brooks or Maureen Dowd. They are all about on the same level of intellectual discourse and reality. And for that, the NYT put up a paywall and WAPO wants to still think of itself as the paper of investigative journalism. Douthat belongs on the pages of Catholic Voice or maybe some nice rag promoting the return of The Inquisition. None of these folks are the serious human beings they presume themselves to be.
Here kitty, kitty!!! I just changed your litter box and its nicely lined!!!