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Quote of the Week
"I mean, you know, I think these civil rights leaders are nothing more than racists. And they're keeping constituency, they're keeping their neighborhoods and their African-American brothers enslaved, if you will, by continuing to let them think that they're -- or forced to think that they're victims, that the whole system is against them." -- Mary Matalin
A few weeks ago, we noted that The New York Times editorial board -- once so quick to demand special counsels to investigate the Clinton administration -- has been strangely willing to trust the Republican-controlled Congress to investigate the Republican-controlled executive branch in connection with the Bush administration's secret warrantless domestic spying operation:
Now, The New York Times denounces, as it did in a December 18, 2005, editorial, "illegal government spying on Americans." It asserts that "Nobody with a real regard for the rule of law and the Constitution would have difficulty seeing" the program as a violation of civil liberties. It concludes "[W]e have learned the hard way that Mr. Bush's team cannot be trusted to find the boundaries of the law, much less respect them."
Yet the Times does not call for a special counsel. Instead, it declares "Mr. Bush should retract and renounce his secret directive and halt any illegal spying, or Congress should find a way to force him to do it."
But what gives the Times reason to believe that Congress would do so even if it could? Five days later, another Times editorial described the relationship between the Bush administration and Congress: "Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney are tenacious. They still control both houses of Congress and are determined to pack the judiciary with like-minded ideologues."
Why on earth would the Times dare to hope that a Congress under the "control" of Bush and Cheney would "find a way to force" Bush to do anything? Just this week, the Times reported that the Bush Administration "declines" to provide the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee documents it has requested as part of its investigation of the administration's handing of Hurricane Katrina, and refused to make administration officials available for sworn testimony. What makes the Times think the Republican-controlled Congress will want to "find a way to force" Bush to do anything? Or that it would be able to even if it wanted to?
What explains the Times' refusal to call for a special counsel in the case when it believes the Bush administration, led by the president himself, is acting illegally? Why was a special counsel more justified in 1994 than now?
The Times hasn't answered these questions; nor has it called for a special counsel. Presumably, the paper continues to put its faith in the Republican Congress to investigate the Republican president -- even as evidence of the naïveté of that position mounts. This week, the Associated Press reported:
[Rep. Heather] Wilson [R-NM], [Rep. Jane] Harman [D-CA], and other [House Intelligence] committee members want to hold hearings on that law to review whether it should be updated. [Committee chairman Rep. Peter] Hoekstra [R-MI] said he was open to hearings on the law but said such a review should [have] "nothing to do" with the president's program.
Once again: Why would any news organization that thinks the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping operation should be investigated trust Bush's allies in Congress to do the investigating?
After two speakers at Coretta Scott King's funeral, longtime civil rights activist Rev. Joseph Lowery and former President Jimmy Carter, made comments that some have interpreted as critical of President George W. Bush, a chorus of journalists and pundits have denounced the supposed politicization of the funeral, as Media Matters detailed:
- National Review Washington editor Kate O'Beirne said, "Liberals don't seem to be able to keep politics away from funerals." [MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, 2/7/06]
- Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that "the Democratic party now crashes funerals ... trying to pick up votes" and said, "I think Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King -- if there was to be any anger from above looking down at that -- it would be from them." [Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, 2/8/06]
- Fox News host Sean Hannity said the comments were "inappropriate" and "designed to stick it to George W. Bush and to embarrass the president." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, 2/7/06]
- MSNBC host Tucker Carlson described the comments as "rude as hell" and "completely graceless." [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 2/7/06]
- National Review Online editor-at-large and Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg noted Carter's "mildly ghoulish exploitation of Coretta Scott King's funeral."
- MSNBC host Joe Scarborough deemed the remarks "unfortunate" and claimed Democrats "exploit[ed] a funeral to make partisan attacks." [MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 2/7/06]
- Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin described Carter and Lowery's "Bush-bashing sermons" as "absolutely ungodly."
- Radio host Mike Gallagher called the funeral "one of the most despicable displays of ugly political partisanship that we have ever seen" and claimed that liberals "think a memorial service is an opportunity to eviscerate Republicans and condemn this current administration." [Fox News' DaySide, 2/8/06]
- Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes said, "[T]his happens to be Jimmy Carter's style right now. He is a cheap partisan, very petty man, picking at George Bush." [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 2/8/06]
It isn't hard to understand comments made by Limbaugh, O'Beirne, and the like. They were simply doing what they do -- mindlessly attacking progressives using any means necessary.
CNN's Jeff Greenfield and Miles O'Brien, however, have no such excuse (we hope). But they weren't bashful about scolding the funeral speakers:
- O'Brien asked: "Do these speakers need to go to eulogy school or something?" [CNN's American Morning, 2/8/06]
- Greenfield asked, "Do you really do this at a funeral?" then answered his own question: "I think on appropriateness grounds, you probably would be a lot more subtle. ... And probably if you want to make your political points about the president, there are other venues to do it. ... [L]ook, one of Robert Kennedy's greatest speeches came when he told a crowd in Indianapolis that Martin Luther King had been shot. That's an iconic moment. But there was no politics in that speech. ... There was a quote ... about tragedy. And maybe that was a more appropriate way to talk at a funeral."
As we said: Greenfield and O'Beirne aren't Rush Limbaugh and Kate O'Bierne. They presumably aren't just cynically using any available reason to bash progressives and defend the president.
Which leaves one question: Just who do they think they are? How dare they tell Coretta Scott King's friends and colleagues -- people who stood by her side as they literally risked their lives fighting for what they believed in -- how to remember their friend, their compatriot, their inspiration? Why do Greenfield and O'Brien think it is their role to tell anyone the proper way to memorialize a loved one?
Greenfield's audacity didn't stop at simply presuming to tell others how to grieve the loss and celebrate the life of Coretta Scott King. So sure was he in his self-appointed role as arbiter of appropriateness that he didn't even bother to offer a reason to back up his assertions:
GREENFIELD: I think on appropriateness grounds, you probably would be a lot more subtle. I mean, this -- the idea of civil rights in America has become now a consensus. There is nobody arguing that Martin Luther King was on the wrong side of history. And probably if you want to make your political points about the president, there are other venues to do it. ... [L]ook, one of Robert Kennedy's greatest speeches came when he told a crowd in Indianapolis that Martin Luther King had been shot. That's an iconic moment. But there was no politics in that speech. ... There was a quote ... about tragedy. And maybe that was a more appropriate way to talk at a funeral.
Notice that Greenfield didn't bother to explain what was wrong with a specific quote from a specific speaker at Mrs. King's funeral. Presumably, he is referring to Lowery's comments about weapons of mass destruction. But what was wrong with those comments? Mrs. King opposed the Iraq war, which is among the central issues of our time. If Greenfield is going to scold Mrs. King's close friend for stating a fact about one of the central issues of our time - a fact that is consistent with her own opposition to the war -- shouldn't Greenfield at least offer a reason for doing so? And no, asserting that the comments lacked "appropriateness" isn't a reason -- it's a characterization.
Again: Just who does Jeff Greenfield think he is?
For his part, O'Brien had trouble even bringing himself to acknowledge that Coretta Scott King opposed the Iraq war:
Let's listen to the Reverend Joseph Lowery, of course a contemporary Martin Luther King, with him founded the Southern Christian Leadership Congress, a legend in the civil rights movement. He making a link between weapons of mass destruction and Coretta Scott King's non- support for the war in Iraq. Let's listen.
"Non-support"? King opposed the war. O'Brien's Orwellian newspeak downplays the strength of King's position -- and, thus, obscures just how appropriate Lowery's comments were.
Even some reliable conservatives have noted that the purported outrage about Lowery's comments is overblown. The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto wrote:
After reading about it on the Drudge Report, we expected to be appalled by the Coretta Scott King funeral, which, according to Drudge, "turned suddenly political as one former president took a swipe at the current president, who was also lashed by an outspoken black pastor!" More on the "former president" in a moment; the "outspoken black pastor" was Joseph Lowery, a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Lowery is a civil rights hero. ... He is also a lousy poet and a worse foreign-policy analyst. Hey, nobody's perfect. But when we watched a TV clip of part of his poem, we just could not be offended. This is one of those cases in which tone is more important than substance, and the tone of this funeral, from what we've seen, was largely a high-spirited and celebratory one.
Taranto went on to describe Carter's mention of the fact that the Kings were the targets of secret government wiretaps as a "moment of true malice" because it was "clearly a swipe against President Bush's terrorist surveillance program." Taranto is arguing that previous questionable government activities should not be mentioned because they may remind us of similar current questionable government activities. This is a strange argument at best, but, as Taranto says, "Hey, nobody's perfect."
Even Wall Street Journal contributing editor and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan understands what Greenfield and O'Brien apparently do not: The funeral of a woman who risked her life to help give millions of Americans a political voice is no time to criticize her friends and colleagues for using theirs. Noonan wrote:
Listen, I watched the funeral of Coretta Scott King for six hours Tuesday, from the pre-service commentary to the very last speech, and it was wonderful -- spirited and moving, rousing and respectful, pugnacious and loving. The old lions of the great American civil rights movement of the 20th century were there, and standing tall. The old lionesses, too. There was preaching and speechifying and at the end I thought: This is how democracy ought to be, ought to look every day -- full of the joy of argument, and marked by the moral certainty that here you can say what you think.
There was nothing prissy, nothing sissy about it. A former president, a softly gray-haired and chronically dyspeptic gentleman who seems to have judged the world to be just barely deserving of his presence, pointedly insulted a sitting president who was, in fact, sitting right behind him. The Clintons unveiled their 2008 campaign. A rhyming preacher, one of the old lions, a man of warmth and stature, freely used the occasion to verbally bop the sitting president on the head.
So what? This was the authentic sound of a vibrant democracy doing its thing. It was the exact opposite of the frightened and prissy attitude that if you draw a picture I don't like, I'll have to kill you.
It was: We do free speech here.
That funeral honored us, and the world could learn a lot from watching it. The U.S. government should send all six hours of it throughout the World Wide Web and to every country on earth, because it said more about who we are than any number of decorous U.N. speeches and formal diplomatic declarations.
A moment for a distinction that must be made. Some have compared Mrs. King's funeral to the Paul Wellstone memorial. It was not like the Wellstone memorial, and you'd have to be as dim and false as Al Franken to say it was. The Wellstone memorial was marked not by joy but anger. It was at moments sour, even dark. There was famous booing.
The King funeral was nothing like this. It was gracious, full of applause and cheers and amens. It was loving even when it was political. It had spirit, not rage. That's part of why it was beautiful.
Her gratuitous swipe of Franken and the Wellstone memorial notwithstanding, Noonan also grasps something many of her colleagues don't -- or don't want to: The supposedly inappropriate comments were about four sentences out of a nearly six-hour funeral.
Focusing on a few sentences -- sentences we have yet to see disputed on factual grounds by anybody -- out of a six-hour funeral for the purpose of attacking "liberals" and "the Democratic Party" -- now that's the real politicization that has taken place here.
It's also worth noting that Greenfield, O'Brien, Limbaugh, and company didn't object to the "politicization" of Ronald Reagan's funeral, despite the fact that Democrats were excluded from speaking at the funeral, those who did speak made reference to Reagan's political positions, and Republicans and conservatives used Reagan's death for political and electoral purposes.
Has any political figure ever been the beneficiary of the kind of relentlessly positive, often-sycophantic media coverage Republican Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has enjoyed for as long as we can remember?
McCain's favorable treatment is particularly glaring whenever ethics and government reform come up. While other politicians face regular media second-guessing and cynicism about their motives and consistency, McCain is presented as a paragon of virtue, tirelessly and selflessly toiling away to make America a better place. His "years of work" for lobbying reform are mentioned; his refusal to investigate Jack Abramoff's ties to lawmakers is not. Lobbying reform is described as a "very personal issue" to him; his own reliance on campaign cash generously provided by lobbyists with business before his committee and his frequent use of corporate jets is ignored. And when his involvement in the infamous Keating Five scandal is mentioned, it tends to be by way of explaining why he is so passionate about reform - the fact that the Senate Ethics Committee found that he had "exercised poor judgment" in the scandal is less often mentioned.
Nor is McCain as consistent on campaign finance reform as his publicists in the news media would have you believe. Think Progress explains that McCain has now flip-flopped (don't hold your breath waiting for the media to use that phrase to describe McCain) on public financing of elections:
In December 2002, appearing on PBS' NOW with Bill Moyers, McCain spoke enthusiastically about expanding public financing of elections, saying Arizona's public financing law could "absolutely" be used as a model for the whole nation.
Now, he is refusing to even discuss public financing and attacking others for even considering it.
But McCain's uniformly positive press extends beyond mere questions of policy. Media figures like MSNBC's Chris Matthews genuinely appear to swoon whenever he walks in the room; news organizations make editorial decisions that amount to an in-kind contribution to his prospective 2008 presidential campaign.
During a McCain interview with Matt Lauer, NBC plastered McCain's 2000 presidential campaign slogan across the screen, declaring: "Straight Talk from John McCain." Try to imagine an NBC interview with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) that included an onscreen graphic blaring "John Kerry: A Stronger America." Yet when it comes to McCain, this sort of media treatment -- which would be inconceivable in the case of nearly any other candidate, Democrat or Republican -- is the norm. On his Daily Howler website, Bob Somerby described a February 6, 2005, McCain appearance on ABC's This Week, during which McCain was interviewed by host George Stephanopoulos:
Try to believe -- just try to believe -- that a major host actually said it:
STEPHANOPOULOS (2/6/05): Okay, let's turn to Social Security. Two straight-talk questions right at the top...
Good God! Two "straight-talk" questions? Knowing McCain's favorite term of self-praise, Stephanopoulos started by pimping it for him!
[A]s Stephanopoulos pandered, the situation kept going downhill. Try to believe that this occurred even after McCain's first misstatements:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final straight-talk questions: What kind of benefit cuts should future retirees expect?
Good God! Even after McCain's original misstatements, Stephanopoulos was still pimping his "straight-talker" slogan for him.
Do you see why it's easy to disinform voters with "journalists" like Stephanopoulos around? Try to believe that we saw what we did -- that we saw a major TV host pimping a major pol's favorite slogan, pretending he was getting "straight talk" even as his "straight-talking" guest was making weird misstatements.
And on February 7, Matthews interviewed McCain about the senator's public exchange of letters with fellow Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL); Matthews promoted the segment by announcing, "We'll get the straight talk from Senator McCain himself in just a moment," then went on to ask McCain a series of fawning, leading questions, leaving little doubt whose side he took. And, sure enough, McCain picked up Matthews' cue and twice described his own comments as "straight talk."
In an article about supposed ties between Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Associated Press omitted several details that undermine the premise of the article. And the AP apparently didn't bother to contact a former Abramoff colleague for comment, despite writing extensively about his contact with Reid's office.
The AP article suggested that Reid and Abramoff coordinated about legislation that would have applied the minimum wage to the Northern Mariana Islands, an Abramoff client that opposed the legislation. But the AP left out one rather significant detail: while Abramoff opposed the legislation, Reid supported it. In fact, Reid was a co-sponsor of the legislation and argued for its passage in a speech delivered on the floor of the United States Senate, as Media Matters detailed. Including that information would have painted a far different picture of the contact between Abramoff's associates and Reid's office -- one in which Abramoff may have wanted to influence Reid, but was unable to do so.
The AP article also reported that Reid "went to the Senate floor" to oppose a bill that would have harmed an Indian tribe represented by Abramoff, saying the legislation was "fundamentally flawed." But the AP failed to mention several important facts. Coincidentally, each of these omitted facts undermines the suggestion that Reid took his position at Abramoff's behest.
In quoting Reid describing the legislation as "fundamentally flawed," the AP bizarrely clipped Reid's comments to omit his reason for thinking it was flawed. Here's what Reid actually said:
The legislation is fundamentally flawed because it allows Bay Mills to establish gaming facilities under the guise of settling a land claim.
The land claim is simply -- and everybody knows this -- an excuse to take land into trust for off-reservation gaming.
The AP devoted more than 1,700 words to this article, but didn't include among them Reid's full sentence opposing the bill. At absolute best, this is stunning sloppiness.
Reid's opposition to the bill was entirely consistent with his longstanding opposition to off-reservation Indian gaming. As early as 1988, as Media Matters noted, Reid supported the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which generally prohibited Indian gaming on non-tribal lands. One reason for Reid's position on this should be more than obvious: Reid represents Nevada, the gambling capitol of the United States. Of course he would oppose off-reservation Indian gaming, which constitutes competition for the casinos that employ so many of his constituents.
Most amazingly, the AP article made much of contacts between former Abramoff deputy Ronald Platt and Reid's office -- but the AP didn't bother to contact Platt for comment.
National Journal reported this week:
Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records.
Libby specifically claimed that in one instance he had been authorized to divulge portions of a then-still highly classified National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to correspondence recently filed in federal court by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.
Yet, despite increasing indications that Fitzgerald's Plamegate investigation may touch on inappropriate handling of classified information leading all the way up to the Vice President, many major media outlets remain silent about Fitzgerald's recent revelation that numerous White House emails from 2003 are missing from White House computer archives -- emails that could be classified as evidence in a criminal investigation.
As Media Matters has explained, at least three Time magazine reporters involved in an October 2003 article knew at the time that the article was misleading and contained a false assertion by White House spokesman Scott McClellan -- yet they omitted from the article any indication that McClellan's comment was untrue.
Now, one of the reporters -- John Dickerson, who currently writes for Slate.com -- has answered questions raised by Media Matters' item. As Media Matters wrote:
Dickerson did not deny the central point of the item -- that he and his colleagues knowingly participated in the publication of misleading articles that contained statements they knew to be false. Nor did Dickerson offer a single relevant explanation or justification for the knowing publication, without rebuttal, of McClellan's false statement.
Instead, Dickerson repeatedly argued that he and his colleagues were unable to report that they knew that Rove had outed Plame, because doing so would violate Cooper's confidentiality agreement with Rove. But even if true, this is entirely irrelevant. Neither Media Matters -- nor anyone of whom we are aware -- has suggested that Time should have done anything to break that confidentiality agreement. Media Matters and others have simply suggested that Dickerson and his colleagues should not have published unchallenged statements they knew to be false and that they should not have misled Time's readers. During his Al Franken Show appearance, instead of answering Franken's question about the February 7 Media Matters item, Dickerson suggested that those who have criticized the Time articles do so because they "hate Karl Rove" -- precisely the sort of irrelevant misdirection that journalists scoff at when utilized by politicians.
Dickerson now writes for Slate.com, which is published by Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. Neither Cooper, nor Duffy, nor Time magazine has addressed the questions Media Matters has raised about the October 2003 article.
There seems to be a general consensus that columnist Robert Novak did something wrong in connection with the outing of Valerie Plame. A question for Time and for the nation's media ethicists: Where is the criticism for what Cooper, Duffy, and Dickerson did, participating in the publication of an article that they knew contained false statements without challenging those statements in any way? We understand why Novak is the subject of widespread criticism. But we don't understand why Cooper, Duffy, and Dickerson are not.