Thursday Reads: Gray Lady Down and Other News

reading nyt1

Good Morning!!

News broke late yesterday afternoon that New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson had suddenly been replaced by Managing Editor Dean Baquet. Here’s the New York Times’ own report: Times Ousts Its Executive Editor, Elevating Second in Command.

Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the paper and the chairman of The New York Times Company, told a stunned newsroom that had been quickly assembled that he had made the decision because of “an issue with management in the newsroom.”

Ms. Abramson, 60, had been in the job only since September 2011. But people in the company briefed on the situation described serious tension in her relationship with Mr. Sulzberger, who was concerned about complaints from employees that she was polarizing and mercurial. She had also had clashes with Mr. Baquet.

In recent weeks, these people said, Mr. Baquet had become angered over a decision by Ms. Abramson to make a job offer to a senior editor from The Guardian, Janine Gibson, and install her alongside him in a co-managing editor position without consulting him. It escalated the conflict between them and rose to the attention of Mr. Sulzberger.

Ms. Abramson did not attend the afternoon meeting at which her dismissal was announced.

2010 Matrix Awards

The Times won eight Pulitzer Prizes under Ms. Abramson, and she won praise for journalistic efforts both in print and on the web. She had previously served as the head of the Washington bureau, and before coming to The Times was an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal. She co-wrote, with Ms. [Jane ] Mayer [of the New Yorker], “Strange Justice,” a book about the confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.

But as a leader of the newsroom, she was accused by some of divisiveness and criticized for several of her personnel choices, in particular the appointment of several major department heads who did not last long in their jobs.

With Mr. Sulzberger more closely monitoring her stewardship, tensions between Ms. Abramson and Mr. Baquet escalated. In one publicized incident, he angrily slammed his hand against a wall in the newsroom. He had been under consideration for the lead job when Ms. Abramson was selected and, according to people familiar with his thinking, he was growing frustrated working with her.

Let’s see . . . Abramson was “polarizing and mercurial,” “was accused by some of divisiveness,” and her male second in command didn’t like taking orders from her, have I got that right? Is it just me, or do those sound like code words?

Now let’s see what people who don’t work for Sulzberger are saying.

reading nyt2

From Ken Auletta at The New Yorker: WHY JILL ABRAMSON WAS FIRED.

At the annual City University Journalism School dinner, on Monday, Dean Baquet, the managing editor of the New York Times, was seated with Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the paper’s publisher. At the time, I did not give a moment’s thought to why Jill Abramson, the paper’s executive editor, was not at their table. Then, at 2:36 P.M. on Wednesday, an announcement from the Times hit my e-mail, saying that Baquet would replace Abramson, less than three years after she was appointed the first woman in the top job. Baquet will be the first African-American to lead the Times.

Fellow-journalists and others scrambled to find out what had happened. Sulzberger had fired Abramson, and he did not try to hide that. In a speech to the newsroom on Wednesday afternoon, he said, “I chose to appoint a new leader of our newsroom because I believe that new leadership will improve some aspects …” Abramson chose not to attend the announcement, and not to pretend that she had volunteered to step down.

Apparently, the real problem Sultzberg had with Abramson was that she was an uppity woman.

As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson, who spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, had been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, which accounted for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”

The other issues Auletta mentions are similar to those described in the NYT article: she had problems with Baquet and those who worked under her sometimes complained she was “brusque” (as opposed to Mr. Personality, Bill Keller?). Again, it sounds to me as if Abraham’s biggest “problem” was her gender. Mr. Baquet sounds pretty “pushy” too, but for him that was acceptable, I guess. Josh Marshall at TPM points out that:

The Times article notes in passing that Abramson reached a settlement with the Times, which makes pretty clear that whatever might have happened with disparate pay or a connection between her pressing the matter and her firing there will not be a lawsuit.

Hmmm . . . Sounds like Sultzberger thought Abramson might have grounds to sue if he didn’t settle with her.

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At Business Insider, Hunter Walker calls attention to the Times’ past problems with gender disparities in pay (also mentioned by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker piece linked above):

Auletta claimed other Times staffers were concerned about the pay disparity between Abramson and Keller. He said it brought up “ugly memories” of a 1974 lawsuit female employees made against the paper due to allegations of sex discrimination in hiring, pay, and promotion.

On Twitter, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik subsequently confirmed Auletta’s report. Folkenflik also noted unspecified “figures at Times wonder what role gender ultimately played in (Abramson’s) ouster.”

Finally, Politico describes how the announcement impacted other New York Times employees: Invitation to a beheaading: How Times editors learned of Abramson’s ouster:

“Please come to a masthead/dept head meeting at 2:00 p.m. today in the page one conference room/3rd floor.”

That was the note top editors at The New York Times received this afternoon summoning them to an abrupt gathering in which publisher and Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would inform them that executive editor Jill Abramson was being replaced in the No. 1 masthead spot by one of her deputies, managing editor Dean Baquet….

[T]he news…came as a shock to most of the assembled editors. There had been none of the drama or widespread discontent that led up to the famous firing of Howell Raines in 2003. In fact when they arrived in the room, their first inkling of what was about to transpire was the fact that Abramson was not present.

Sulzberger gave the same vague reasoning for the change that would be relayed in a company memo and at a full newsroom meeting shortly thereafter—that the decision had to do with Abramson’s newsroom management.

Not everyone was buying it. When Sulzberger said he was sure it doesn’t “come as a surprise to you,” video editor Bruce Headlam spoke up in Abramson’s defense, according to a person who was present. “It does come as a surprise to me,” the source recalls him saying.

Two other editors also voiced their concerns, sources with knowledge of the meeting told Capital. National editor Alison Mitchell suggested that Abramson’s firing wouldn’t sit well with a broad swath of female Timesjournalists who saw her as a role model. (Abramson became the Times‘ first female executive editor in 2011, after Bill Keller stepped down.) Assistant managing editor Susan Chira seconded that notion.

Read more at the link.

So . . . draw your own conclusions. My guess is we’ll be reading and hearing quite a bit more about the Times and its history of gender discrimination over the next few days.

reading NYT3

In other news . . . links to some stories that interested me:

The Hill: US using drones to find kidnapped Nigerian girls.

Yahoo News: Missouri lawmakers pass 3-day abortion wait period.

TPM: Christie Predicts BridgeGate Will Have Zero Effect On His Political Future.

NPR: Election-Year Politics Dooms Energy Bill, Averts Pipeline Vote.

Politico: Snowden Is The Kind of Guy I Used to Recruit—in Russia (by former CIA director of operations Jack Devine).

io9: The Ultimate Proof That Keeping Orca Whales in Captivity is Monstrous.

Digg: Gone Girls — The Female Sociopath.

CNN: 9 wildfires spring up around San Diego, more than 9,000 acres burned.

CBS News: Turkey mining accident toll nears 300 as anger at PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan boils over.

NYT: Captain and 3 Officers Charged With Murder in Korean Ferry Sinking.

What else is happening? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Bill Keller wants us to “get over Iraq” and “get Syria right”

Keller.Miller2

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.


Tuesday Reads: The Poor Pitiful Press Corps

Meret Oppenheim fur lined tea cup

Good Morning!!

Yesterday Politico published one of their bizarre pieces about the trials and tribulations of the whiny Village media. According to Dylan Byers, the White House press corps experienced ‘Extreme frustration’ over ‘having absolutely no access’ to Obama during his brief golfing vacation over the long Presidents’ Day weekend.

Ed Henry, the Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association, released a statement Sunday evening in which he said the press corps had been given no access to the president, who was joined on his outing by star golfer Tiger Woods, and that the WHCA would fight for greater transparency in the days ahead.

“Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend,” Henry said in a statement, relayed in a White House pool report. “There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.”

Has Ed Henry ever complained about the White House press not getting access to information about drone strikes? Has he released any statements about the White House not being “transparent” about the DOJ defending Bush’s torture policies or involvement by the administration in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz?

Ed Henry with Kim Kardashian

Ed Henry with Kim Kardashian

No, it’s only when the press corps sees an opportunity for star-fucking. Obama goes golfing with Tiger Woods and wants a little privacy–probably requested by Woods–and the press corps goes nuts over lack of “transparency.” Here’s the White House response to the kerfluffle:

“The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings,” Earnest said. “It’s also consistent with the press access promised to the White House Press Corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening.”

Excuse me if I don’t see this as a major issue. But for Politico, it’s earth-shaking. This morning they’ve posted another of their “Behind the Curtain” exposes by Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen, and, as usual, it’s hilarious. Get this–the headline is “Obama, the puppet master.”

President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.

Not for the reason that conservatives suspect: namely, that a liberal press willingly and eagerly allows itself to get manipulated. Instead, the mastery mostly flows from a White House that has taken old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting). And it’s an equal opportunity strategy: Media across the ideological spectrum are left scrambling for access.

No, this is not a gag post from the Onion. Vandehei and Allen are deadly serious about what they see as a scandalous situation. They are horrified to report that the Obama administration likes to use new technologies like e-mail and social media to communicate with the American people instead of just letting the DC media filter their message for them.

The results are transformational. With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly. And future presidents from both parties will undoubtedly copy and expand on this approach.

OMG! Scandalous!! And that’s just the beginning of a four-page article. Because this isn’t just about an outing with Tiger Woods. Oh no! It’s a vital national security isssue . . . or something. Turning to another related piece at Politico–this is obviously the issue of the week for them–Ed Henry says “This isn’t about a golf game.”

White House Correspondents Association president Ed Henry is standing by his complaints about the lack of press access to President Obama, pushing back against critics who say he and his fellow White House correspondents are just “whining” and don’t respect the president’s privacy.

“This is a fight for more access, period,” Henry told POLITICO late Monday night. “I’ve heard all kinds of critics saying the White House press corps is whining about a golf game and violating the president’s privacy. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“We’re not interested in violating the president’s privacy. He’s entitled to vacations like everyone else. All we’re asking for is a brief exception, quick access, a quick photo-op on the 18th green,” Henry continued. “It’s not about golf — it’s about transparency and access in a broader sense.”

Sure, Ed. Back to the “Behind the Headlines” piece:

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” said ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every president back to Gerald R. Ford. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”

So why doesn’t the press complain during and after those big meetings then? And then there’s this:

“White House handout photos used to be reserved for historically important events — 9/11, or deliberations about war,” Kraft said. “This White House regularly releases [day-in-the-life] images of the president … a nice picture of the president looking pensive … from events that could have been covered by the press pool. But I don’t blame the White House for doing it, because networks and newspapers use them. So the White House has built its own content distribution network.”

Armstrong Williams

Were any of these people around when the Bush administration was actually paying writers and pundits like Armstrong Williams to get their version of events into the media? From the NYT, January 29, 2005:

The Bush administration acknowledged on Friday that it had paid a third conservative commentator, and at least two departments said they were conducting internal inquiries to see if other journalists were under government contract. The investigative arm of Congress also formally began an inquiry of its own.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed having hired Michael McManus, who writes a weekly syndicated column and is director of a nonprofit group called Marriage Savers. Mr. McManus was paid $10,000 to help train counselors about marriage, an arrangement first reported in USA Today, but officials said he was paid for his expertise rather than to write columns supporting administration policies.

At the same time, the Government Accountability Office told the Education Department it was investigating a $240,000 contract with the commentator Armstrong Williams that came to light earlier this month, requesting that education officials turn over any paper or video materials related to the case. Another conservative writer, Maggie Gallagher, admitted earlier this week having a $21,500 deal with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Besieged with questions about contracts with outside public relations firms and columnists, officials at the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services said they were conducting their own inquiries…

Judith Miller, Dick Cheney puppet

Judith Miller, Dick Cheney puppet

Not to mention the supposedly legitimate reporters like Judy Miller who helped Bush/Cheney get us into the war in Iraq with the willing assistance of their editors and publishers. Here James C. Moore at Salon, from May 27, 2004:

When the full history of the Iraq war is written, one of its most scandalous chapters will be about how American journalists, in particular those at the New York Times, so easily allowed themselves to be manipulated by both dubious sources and untrustworthy White House officials into running stories that misled the nation about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The Times finally acknowledged its grave errors in an extraordinary and lengthy editors note published Wednesday. The editors wrote:

“We have found … instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been … In some cases, the information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge … We consider the story of Iraq’s weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.”

The editors conceded what intelligence sources had told me and numerous other reporters: that Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi was feeding bad information to journalists and the White House and had set up a situation with Iraqi exiles where all of the influential institutions were shouting into the same garbage can, hearing the same echo. “Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources. So did many news organizations — in particular, this one.”

The reporter on many of the flawed stories at issue was Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and authority on the Middle East. The Times, insisting that the problem did not lie with any individual journalist, did not mention her name. The paper was presumably trying to take the high road by defending its reporter, but the omission seems peculiar. While her editors must share a large portion of the blame, the pieces ran under Miller’s byline. It was Miller who clearly placed far too much credence in unreliable sources, and then credulously used dubious administration officials to confirm what she was told.

That’s hardly ancient history, is it?

Here are a couple of good reactions to the Politico articles, while we wait for Charles Pierce to write about how he could barely keep himself from gargling anti-freeze this morning.

Annie Laurie at Balloon Juice:

Eight years of accusing the Clintons of every possible crime, up to and including large-scale drug running and multiple murders, followed by eight years of dutifully promulgating whatever bullshit and phantasms the Cheney Regency invented, and the Very Serious Media is shocked, shocked that President Obama would rather “spend way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities”. Or that “Obama’s aides are better at using technology and exploiting the president’s ‘brand.’… [T]hey are obsessed with taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and every other social media forums, not just for campaigns, but governing.”

Digby at Hullabloo:

The good news is that the Villagers don’t waste a lot of time and energy worrying about transparency when it comes to trivial information that is only interesting to gossip columnists. For instance, nobody’s issuing any ultimatums over silly issues like this:

For a country exhausted after more than a decade of war, remote-controlled drones—unmanned machines that deliver swift death to terrorists—are undeniably tempting. President Obama has ordered hundreds of strikes on “high-value,” as well as medium- and low-value, targets in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The administration says these killings have decimated al-Qaeda’s top ranks and done significant damage to the Taliban but refuses to say much more. Obama has yet to explain the basics of the broader policy: how decisions are made to send drones across sovereign borders; how officials determine a target is dangerous enough to merit assassination; what oversight is in place; and what is done to limit civilian casualties

I’m awfully relieved that the fourth estate has its priorities straight.

So…that should get you started on your morning’s reading. I’ll have some links on other topics in the comments section. Now, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Will Mitt Romney Go Down in History as a Joke?

It’s beginning to look that way. Mitt’s dad, George Romney, was ridiculed because of an offhand remark he made about being “brainwashed” by the military on a trip he took to Vietnam. By the time he ran for President in 1968, George had decided the Vietnam war was a mistake. He explained his change on mind on the war by explaining that in hindsight he realized he had fallen for propaganda.

Ironically, George Romney’s change of heart apparently was an honorable one: he had changed his mind and wasn’t afraid to admit that he had made a mistake previously. As we’ve heard endlessly over the past couple of weeks, George Romney also released 12 years of his tax returns, because he believed it was only fair to let the American people see what he had earned and what he had paid in taxes over an extended period of time. But George Romney is mostly remembered for the “brainwashing” comment and the ridicule surrounding it.

Now George’s son Mitt Romney is following his father’s footsteps in running for President. Mitt Romney, too, has become known for changing his mind–not just one issue, but on practically every issue. And after a bruising couple of weeks of damaging articles about his career at Bain Capital, he is facing more and more questions from the Obama campaign and from the media about his personal finances and why he will not release his tax returns. Even Republicans like Bill Kristol, George Will, and Matthew Dowd have called for Mitt to get it over with and release more years of returns.

People are beginning to speculate about why Mitt is being so stubborn about refusing to release any of his tax returns before 2010. George Will suggested on ABC’s This Week that that Romney is fearful that whatever is in his returns will make him look worse than he does in insisting on keeping them secret.

“The cost of not releasing the returns are [sic] clear,” Will said. “Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

Also on This Week, Matthew Dowd was, if anything, harder on Romney than George Will was.

Political strategist and ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said “there’s obviously something there” in Romney’s tax returns that he doesn’t want to release publicly, adding that Romney’s refusal to produce his prior returns was a sign of “arrogance.”

“There’s obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it,’” Dowd said. “So there’s obviously something there that compromises what he said in the past about something.”

“Many of these politicians think, ‘I can do this. I can get away with this. I don’t need to do this, because I’m going to say something and I don’t have to do this,’” Dowd added. “If he had 20 years of ‘great, clean, everything’s fine,’ it’d all be out there, but it’s arrogance.”

Now it’s the beginning of a new week, and Mitt Romney is still stubbornly refusing to expose his tax records to examination by the press and the public. This is killing his candidacy, and yet he won’t give in. What is he hiding?

At the New Yorker, John Cassidy offers four possible reasons:

1. Romney’s income before 2010 was “extremely high.”
2. “More offshore accounts” beyond the ones we already know about.
3. “Politically explosive investments”
4. “A very, very low tax rate.”

(You can read the details of Cassidy’s speculation at the link.)

Could it be any of those reasons? We already know Romney is very wealthy, and we know about a lot of his offshore accounts. We already know that Bain invested in Stericycle, a company that disposes of aborted fetuses. Might Romney have more embarrassing personal investments? I suppose it’s possible that Romney could have paid no taxes for several years, and that is what he’s hiding. But I think it has to be something more. Why else would Romney and his staff allow him to sustain so much damage his campaign–especially because the questions won’t end until he release the returns. What is it that he doesn’t want us to find out?

Even The New York Times editorial chastised Romney today.

After three days of Mitt Romney complaining about attacks on his record at Bain Capital, it’s clear that President Obama has nothing to apologize for. If Mr. Romney doesn’t want to provide real answers to the questions about his career, he had better develop a thicker skin.

Mr. Romney’s descriptions of when he left Bain have been erratic and self-serving. In 2002, when he needed to show he was still a Massachusetts resident, he denied he had quit in 1999, saying he had taken a leave of absence to run the Olympics committee. A series of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Committee show that Bain certainly didn’t describe him as absent after 1999.

There’s only one way to deal with this.

The right way to respond to Mr. Obama is to release his tax returns from that period, or open up Bain documents. But Mr. Romney told CNN he would not release more than the one year’s return he has already released and the one for 2011 when it is finished. “That’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances,” he said. It’s not even close.

I think it’s likely that Romney has longed to run for President in order to achieve the goal his father failed to reach. I’m sure that Mitt wanted to avoid the kind of ridicule his father suffered for an offhand comment. But let’s face it. Mitt’s situation is much more embarrassing than what happened to his father. Mitt looks incredibly weak at this point. He’s starting to become a joke. The Obama campaign has successfully painted him as an out-of-touch rich guy, a tax evader who may have committed perjury in SEC filings. As John Marshall wrote on Friday, in a post titled “Weak, weak, weak,”

There’s a meta-politics Obama is playing by slashing at Romney with suggestions he might be a felon. He’s wounding Romney, who is clearly rattled and angry about the charges, but just as clearly can’t defend himself or strike back. As I’ve noted many times, a thick layer of presidential politics (in a way that’s distinct from US politics at really every other level) resides at the brainstem level of cogitation — with gambits to assert power and demonstrate dominance. Obama looked in control of this situation; Romney didn’t….

This is and will remain a low single digit race. But the President’s team is making Romney look shifty and silly and weak. (I half expect them to start goosing surrogates to call him Slick Willard.) And they’re well on their way to defining him in a way that will be difficult to undo.

Romney supporter David Frum responded to Marshall’s column at The Daily Beast:

Marshall’s column is titled “Weak, weak, weak,” and it puts its finger on a core weakness of Romney as a candidate. It’s not just his arguments that are weak. For the past year, we have watched him be pushed around by the radical GOP fringe. He’s been forced to abjure his most important achievement as governor, his healthcare plan. In December, he was compelled to sign onto the Ryan budget plan after months of squirming to avoid it. Last fall he released an elaborate economic plan. On the eve of the Michigan primary, he ripped it up and instead accepted a huge new tax cut – to a top rate of 28% – that has never been costed (and that he now tries to avoid mentioning whenever he can). Romney has acknowledged in interviews that he understands that big rapid cuts in government spending could push the US economy back into recession. Yet he campaigns anyway on the Tea Party’s false promise that it’s the deficit that causes the depression, rather than (as he well knows) the other way around.

Frum originally had high hopes for Romney as someone who could help reverse the descent of the Republican party into ultra-right wing craziness:

A big majority of this country is rightly frightened and appalled by what the congressional Republican party has become over the past four years: a radical cadre willing to push the nation over the cliff into utterly unnecessary national default in order to score a political point.

But Romney has simply capitulated on every issue. Weak.

Late last night, Josh Marshall wrote that Romney is in serious danger of simply turning into a joke.

The Obama campaign is hitting this so hard to take a series of associations and embed them so deeply into voters’ consciousness that they become inseparable from the mention of the phrase ‘Bain Capital’. Those are ‘joke’, ‘liar’, ‘felon’, ‘retroactively retired’, ‘SEC filings’, ‘Caymans’, ‘whiner’, ‘buck stops here’, ‘hiding something’.

You can spin these out forever. But beyond all the specific accusations, they’re painting a picture that makes Romney look ridiculous, like a joke. They’re making Romney look stupid and powerless on the front where he believes he’s one of the standouts of his generation. And that’s plain lethal for a presidential candidate.

Marshall says it they haven’t quite succeeded yet, but they’re getting there. I agree with him. Whatever is in those tax returns must be very bad. The only other alternative I can think of is that Mitt Romney is incredibly stupid and arrogant.

What do you think?


Fact Checking 101 and the Role of the Media

One thing about the media that has truly alarmed me is the way that it parrots lies asserted by politicians and public figures without any context. Today, the NYT asked for feed back about this.  The question is  weirdly put, but is still worth a response. Fact checking isn’t being a “truth vigilante”  imho.  It’s about providing context to the story and it’s about informing your reader.  Reporters should not just be parrots of political convenience.  They should report more than verbatim comments.

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas “misunderstood,” and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

Yes.  I think that’s appropriate.  I think a lot of people read it in print and assume it wouldn’t be printed if it was a baldface lie.  What do you think?