Mark Halperin and ABC News: How the refs are worked

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new "Think Again" column here, "Oh Never Mind, Mr. President," and a new Nation column here, "The End of Times?"

"There is some strategy to it [bashing the 'liberal' media]. ... If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is 'work the refs.' Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one." Rich Bond, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, here.

ABC News political director Mark Halperin has embarked on the most shameless self-publicity campaign I've ever seen to sell his co-authored love letter to Karl Rove titled The Way to Win. (Before the campaign began, I stupidly contributed to it here.) Part of the campaign involves plugging the book every day for three weeks straight on ABC's The Note -- to a degree, I'm guessing, no ABC employee (or employee for any genuine news organization for that matter) has ever exploited the company before for personal gain. (If anyone wants to collect all of the plugs in a row to prove my point, I'll happily run them here.) A second more worrisome track, however, has been to travel through the right-wing media and basically suck up to them, promising to do what he can in his capacity as ABC's acting political commissar to "to make sure we do better, so conservatives don't have to be concerned" (here). Never mind that even the craziest conservatives admit that the idea is nonsense: (Ann Coulter: "We have the media now." Bill O'Reilly: "Don't believe the right-wing ideologues when they tell you the left still controls the media agenda. It does not any longer. It's a fact.") Halperin wants to sell books.

Well, cause and effect is a trickier concept than it often appears. Perhaps George Stephanopoulos would have been just as warm and cuddly to George W. Bush if last week if Halperin weren't running things, but the evidence is amassing that ABC News is trying to make good on Halperin's promise to "do better" on behalf of right-wingers. Look, for instance, here:

In a report on how recent campaigns advertisements are "getting ugly," ABC News, unable to point to a single instance of "nasty" attacks from Democratic candidates or their supporters, suggested it is only a matter of time before "the left" begins to "unleash its garbage as well." ABC News offered no evidence to back up its allegation that Democrats might soon resort to distasteful, negative advertising.

ABC News had no problem documenting ads, currently airing in campaign across the country, attacking Democrats, including one from the Republican National Committee about Democratic Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. In it, an actress playing a ditzy blonde bimbo says: "I met Harold at the Playboy party. ... Harold, call me." Critics, including one prominent Republican, have called the ad borderline racist.

At the conclusion of its report on attack ads, ABC News insisted that "Democrats aren't necessarily running clean campaigns." Unable to cite any examples, ABC News reported, "As the races tighten in the next couple of weeks, the left will likely unleash its garbage as well."

(See below for more on the most disgusting ad in recent memory...)

I wonder what could possibly be next: Will Halperin go on Limbaugh's show to say what a pathetic faker that Michael J. Fox is?

Trolling around the Think Progress website after finding the above, I came across this casual list tossed off by someone in the comments section:

Let me just toss out a few topics the (republican owned) "liberal media" under-reported or never reported that have a HUGE effect on our lives and liberties. In no partcular order.

1) Downing Street Memos
2) Media Ownership (deregulation)
3) Disappearance of Habeas Corpus
4) Fairness Doctrine no longer enforced
5) Freedom of Information Act ratcheted up
6) Bush family close relationship with Bin Ladins
7) Bush family close relationship with the recently departed (yeah right) Ken Lay (Enron)
8) The strategic importance of running that oil pipieline thru Afghanistan
9) Congress working to draft legislation to strangle internet (net neutrality)
10) Military Bases in Iraq
11) All the old Iran-Contra players currently working for Bushco
12) The scummy manner which the medicare prescription bill was passed that has allowed drug companies to make off like bandits
13) Journalists targeted in Iraq
14) The danger posed by a 6 trillion dollar national debt
15) The danger posed by unregulated hedge funds
16) Why labor gets almost no TV time and management dominates the airwaves
17) Oil executives secretly meeting to write our energy policy (fascism)
18) Bankers allowed to write bankruptcy bill (fascism)

If I went thru my notes I could've easily found 100 more stories of great importance the "liberal" media hasn't touched.

[...]

20) Voting Integrity (a few stories hitting airwaves now weeks before election..too late)
21) Purging of voter rolls..see GregPalast.com for info that'll make u sick!
22) Depleted Uranium from the hundreds of thousands of shell casings in Iraq
23) Delay and Abramoff running sweat shops/prison camps in Marinas Islands and forcing young Chinese girls into prostitution then abortions
24) Fake, gay (not a fake gay but a fake reporter) reporter Jeff Gannon sleeping over at White House multiple times.
25) Sibel Edmonds being silenced and what she knows about 9/11, Denny Hastert and illegal arms sales.
26) Bill Frist sneaking legislation into a Defense bill to protect big Pharma from lawsuits.
27) Choicepoint collecting data on you perhaps even your DNA.

as I said I could go on and on and on and on. But you don't need to worry your pretty little head about these stories. That damn liberal media bias! lol... After all, Tom Cruise is getting married next month!

Comment by Larry+from+C - October 25, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

If you've got the time, The Washington Post has about 10,000 words on Altercation hero, and I used the word both sparingly and advisedly, Garry Trudeau.

From the Benton Foundation:

BUSH, REPUBLICANS TURN TO TALK SHOWS FOR HELP [SOURCE: Reuters, AUTHOR: Andrea Hopkins]

American radio talk-show hosts have become frontline warriors in a drive by President George W. Bush and his Republicans to pull off a surprise and maintain control of Congress in November 7 elections. In the face of opinion polls favoring Democrats and bad news from Iraq, Bush turned to the powerful hosts of talk radio two weeks before Americans a new Congress. Radio personalities and programs play a political role in many countries. In America, they have become largely a powerful ally for conservatives, even as the rise of Internet blogs has broadened the spectrum of voter voices being heard. Analysts said the rise of other populist media -- most notably the Internet -- along with growing schisms among conservatives over immigration, the Iraq war, budget deficits and social policy will make it tougher this year for talk radio to help Republicans chalk up an election win.

IN TIGHT RACE, AD ON BLACK CANDIDATE STIRS FUROR [SOURCE: New York Times, AUTHOR: Robin Toner]

The Tennessee Senate race, one of the most competitive and potentially decisive battles of the midterm election, became even more unpredictable this week after a furor over a Republican television commercial that stood out even in a year of negative advertising. The commercial, financed by the Republican National Committee, was aimed at Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., the black Democrat from Memphis whose campaign for the Senate this year has kept the Republicans on the defensive in a state where they never expected to have trouble holding the seat. The spot, which was first broadcast last week and was disappearing from the air on Wednesday, featured a series of people in mock man-on-the street interviews talking sarcastically about Mr. Ford and his stands on issues including the estate tax and national security. The controversy erupted over one of the people featured: an attractive white woman, bare-shouldered, who declares that she met Mr. Ford at a "Playboy party," and closes the commercial by looking into the camera and saying, with a wink, "Harold, call me." Critics asserted that the advertisement was a clear effort to play to racial stereotypes and fears, essentially, playing the race card in an election where Mr. Ford is trying to break a century of history and become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction.

The Altercation Book Club:

Philip Roth's Rude Truth: The Art of Immaturity by Ross Posnock (Princeton University Press, 2006)

Uncle Asher, as readers hardly need to be told by now, is Roth's most reverberant character in my view, and thus perhaps an inevitable figure to help conclude this study.We have just heard his plea for openendedness. It turns out that his celebration of the "flow" rather than the "bottling" of experience is part of a larger effort: "What I'm in favor of is getting back in tune a little bit with nature," he tells his nephew Paul Herz (LG 429). Asher waxes cosmic about his gospel of serenity: "I'm talking about taking a nice Oriental attitude for yourself. . . . Ungrasping. Undesperate. Tragic. Private. Proportioned. So on down the line. . . . Nobody owes nobody nothing. That's the slogan over the Garden of Eden. That's what's stamped on all our cells. . . . The first principle you should never forget" (429-30). Invoking a "nice Oriental attitude," Asher seems almost to be pointing to Buddhism as the source of his view that looks beyond local and "circumstantial thinking" to what he calls "universals." To Paul, his twenty-three-year-old anguished, guilty nephew on the verge of divorce, his uncle seems to be advocating a "withdrawal of people from people. A kind of moral isolationism."

Murray Ringold makes more or less the same accusation against Nathan at the end of I Married a Communist. Murray asks his ex-student why he lives alone up in the Berkshires: "why don't you have the heart for the world?" He doesn't buy Nathan's answer that he prefers solitude -- "I don't think for a moment the exuberance is gone," Murray retorts -- and urges him to "get out from under whatever's the problem. To give in to the temptation to yield isn't smart" (315). For Murray, to submit to the "temptation to yield" is to lose oneself in the "utopia of the shack in the woods." But yielding also suggests something other than rustic oblivion; it echoes the perennial aspiration in Roth that Uncle Asher first announced -- of letting life flow, becoming ungrasping and undesperate, in attunement with nature. As if (once again) heeding Asher, Nathan reanimates this cosmic context in the novel's final pages. If letting go begins in bodily release, it ends in the starry firmament.

After leaving Murray for the last time and with their final exchange -- " 'tell me what it is.' 'What what is?' 'Your aloneness' " -- lingering in his mind, Zuckerman settles on the deck of his house and remains there till dawn, reflecting on his new fascination with astronomy. His implicit answer to Murray is that his "aloneness," his yielding, is not a stunting of life but its vast enlargement, a letting go of "everything but what was needed to live on and to work with," and attainment of a perspective sub specie aeternitatis. He has learned to chart "antiquity's great constellations" with the help of the "Sky Watch" column in the Sunday New York Times: "soon that was all I cared to look at in that thumping loaf of newsprint and pictures," and soon he discards the rest of the paper and then the daily Times as well (321). Untethered to man-made temporal markers, he spends each night, weather permitting, lost in the stars, looking at them before going to bed. He recalls anew that as a boy his mother told him when people die they go up to the sky and live forever as stars. Recollecting this fantasy of immortality triggers the epiphany that comprises the novel's final paragraph; Zuckerman inventories the novel's main characters, nearly all of them tormented and deluded and resentful when alive, and now all dead. In death, they are "free of the traps set for them by their era."

Then he turns to the stars:

Neither the ideas of their era nor the expectations of our species were determining destiny: hydrogen alone was determining destiny. . . . There is no betrayal. There is no idealism. There are no falsehoods. There is neither conscience nor its absence. . . . There is no discrimination or lynching or Jim Crow, nor has there ever been. There is no injustice, nor is there justice. . . . There is just the furnace of Ira and the furnace of Eve [his former wife] burning at twenty million degrees. . . . What you see from this silent rostrum up on my mountain on a night as splendidly clear as that night Murray left me for good . . . is that universe into which error does not obtrude. You see the inconceivable: the colossal spectacle of no antagonism. You see with your own eyes the vast brain of time, a galaxy of fire set by no human hand. The stars are indispensable.

This passage -- lyrical, cosmic, tender -- is unlike any in Roth's oeuvre, a moment of equilibrium and calm, of "getting back in tune a little with nature," to borrow Asher's words. The moment crystallizes into powerful relief Nathan's mood of self-surrender and release that presides over the American trilogy. And it anticipates the "pure and peaceful" wintry tableau that concludes The Human Stain. But unlike that later scene, where murderous intimations bubble beneath the serene surface, this is neither an ironic nor a pastoral moment. Here Nathan gains access to a vision in which error and antagonism have ceased, avoiding pastoral's regression to harmonious oneness, because among the stars he transcends the human and the anthropomorphic, leaving behind any comforting semblance of one's own image engraved on the nature of things.

[...]

The Spinozist quality of Zuckerman's solitude and his epiphany that I have been arguing for is not what critics had in mind when they dubbed Roth early in his career the Jewish American Spinoza for betraying the Jews and being excommunicated by "self-appointed Guardians of the Jewish heritage" -- Irving Howe among them (Omer-Sherman 193). In Operation Shylock George Ziad, a Palestinian intellectual and formerly a suave graduate school friend of Roth's now given to mammoth rants, says to the novelist that "the conspiracy against you in the Jewish press began at the beginning and has barely let up to this day, a smear campaign the likes of which has befallen no Jewish writer since Spinoza. Do I exaggerate?" (OS 136). In The Facts Roth describes his Yeshiva debate (which Ellison attended) as his "excommunication" (F 127). Roth's alleged crime, beginning with "Defender of the Faith," was said to be the propagation of vicious anti-Semitic stereotypes worthy of the Nazis. The reasons for Roth's excommunication turn out to bear rich Spinozist affinities in ways ignored at the time. As his hymn to the stars suggests, Roth is compelled by and salutes the philosopher's equanimity in the face of cosmic indifference. As well, Spinoza's radical thinking set him outside the moderate mainstream Enlightenment of Newton, Descartes, Locke, and Leibniz. Spinoza and his followers "sought to demolish the foundations of Revelation, authority, and tradition while at the same time consciously undermining the legitimacy of monarchy and aristocracy. The ultimate goal of its endeavors, its very raison d'etre, was to emancipate society and the individual from bogus bonds of authority and by doing so reinstate human liberty" (Israel 703). Throughout Europe, Spinoza's naturalism was a scandalous, forbidden philosophy whose ethical relativism was eagerly adopted by a panoply of thinkers to sponsor philosophical and erotic libertinism. For those grappling with such questions as "why live in dread of divine retribution for profligacy, adultery, and debauchery if one can live entirely free of remorse and dread of the day of judgment?" Spinoza's philosophy of freedom proved invaluable (Israel 66). Roth's sexual outrageousness and pleasure in effrontery is born of this rude severance from authority.

The preceding claim is not as exaggerated as it sounds. For Spinoza's influence was pervasive thanks to his status as not simply a philosopher but as a cultural icon. As Steven Smith remarks, he was an icon "on whom novelists and poets could project all the aspirations of modernity. . . . From Bialystock to the Bronx, Spinoza came to symbolize the emancipated or secular Jew, free from tradition and authority, determined to live life on its own terms" (xxv-vi). Particularly avid Spinozists were those whom Isaac Deutscher famously described as non-Jewish Jews -- Heine, Marx, Freud, among others. Roth belongs to the American branch of this party, as does Saul Bellow, whose Herzog writes to Spinoza.

Spinoza's naturalism also underwrites (unlike Nietzsche) the commitment of his political thought to liberal democracy. He was the first philosopher, notes Leo Strauss, "who was both a democrat and a liberal" (155). Unlike Hobbes, who views nature as the violent antithesis of civil society, Spinoza regards nature as a model of democratic equality; in nature no one is set above others. And "democracy is declared better than monarchy and aristocracy because it is the 'most natural form of state, approaching most closely to that freedom which Nature grants to every man' " (Israel 271). The liberal state will be neither Christian nor Jewish. In his eloquent preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion, Leo Strauss sketched the consequences for culture and religion in the late eighteenth century under the impact of Spinoza's naturalist democratic liberalism:

He showed the way toward a new religion or religiousness which was to inspire a wholly new kind of society, a new kind of Church . . . whose rulers were not priests or pastors, but philosophers and artists. . . . The new Church would transform Jews and Christians into human beings -- into human beings of a certain kind: cultured human beings, human beings who because they possessed science and art, did not need religion in addition. The new society . . . emancipated the Jews in Germany. Spinoza became the symbol of that emancipation which was to be not only emancipation but secular redemption. (156)

Spinoza's cultural ideal of Jewish emancipation, later called bildung, is not one that Strauss is endorsing; indeed the ideal became intensely controversial in light of its hideous betrayals in Germany of the 1930s. But from his summary we can discern the lineaments of the modern secular ideal of cosmopolitanism that abolishes hierarchy and invidious contrast and the rival clash of identify claims. This ideal is partly why Karl Jaspers called Spinoza "the first human being to attempt to become a citizen of the world" (Jaspers and Arendt 139). In other words, Spinoza adumbrates for the liberal state something approximating the "kingdom of culture" ideal of equal access and free appropriation that is precious to Ellison and to Roth. Comprising that global literary space, to recall Roth's phrase about the Newark library, was "property held in common for the common good," and he regarded "the idea of a public library" as the most "civilizing" of notions (RMO 217). Those wags who branded the novelist after Portnoy the "Baruch Spinoza of the spermatozoa" spoke more than they knew.

For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Christopher Barnes
Hometown: Studio City, CA

I can only shake my head. According to today's Wall Street Journal and other MSM news outlets, the administration's new line to Iraq is that "They need to do more." In yet another stunning display of their missing sense of irony, the administration is basically telling a teetering pseudo-government that "We came in uninvited, smashed your infrastructure to bits, disbanded your army and police, killed tens of thousands of civilians, created a hotbed of terrorism and empowered your enemies to take advantage of you. Now clean up this mess." Is this how America sows democracy abroad?

Name: Glenn Klepac
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Last Saturday I canvassed about 50 homes in Allegheny County, PA on behalf of a Democratic candidate. I distinctly recall 2 registered Democrats volunteering that they had not seen my candidate's commercials on television. My candidate's Republican opponent is outspending him on local television by about 2:1 including non-candidate sponsored ads.

Last Saturday's experience may be merely anecdotal, but it does support your thesis and thoughts expressed in the Barron's article.

Name: Dr. Richard R. Lodge
Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI

Eric:

I take great issue with reader Robert Fredian when he said, "Just what do these people expect from any freshman senator? Can they point to other freshmen senators who have "accomplished" something during their first two years in office?"

Mr. Freidan obviously knows nothing about American Political History, and as a Professor of the subject for the last 33 years, I would like to point to the following U.S. Senators who were very "accomplished" after two years. As a starter, and just to name a few, I suggest Mr. Fredian read about the following U.S. Senators:

1) John Henry
2) William S. Johnson
3) James Monroe
4) Aaron Burr
5) John Q. Adams
6) Henry Clay
7) Charles Tait
8) Josiah Johnston
9) John Tyler
10) Augustus Dodge
11) James Nye
12) Zebulon Vance
13) Philetus Sawyer
14) William Sewell
15) James MacMillan
16) Benjamin Tillman
17) Boies Penrose
18) Charles Culberson
19) William Dillingham
20) James Clarke
21) Frank Brandegee
22) William Borah
23) William Bryan
24) Albert Cummins
25) Wesley Jones
26) James Reed
27) Key Pittman
28) George Moses
29) Arthur Capper
30) Henry Keyes
31) Lynn Frazier
32) David Walsh
33) James Davis
34) Carl Hatch
35) Theodore Green
36) William Langer
37) William Fulbright
38) Guy Gillette
39) Estes Kefauver
40) Lyndon Johnson
41) Mike Mansfield
42) Stuart Symington
43) William Proxmire
44) Thomas Dodd
45) Barry Goldwater
46) Robert Taft
47) Wendell Ford
48) Daniel Moynihan
49) Dianne Feinstein
50) Chuck Hagel

Thank you.

Name: Mike
Hometown: Wharton, NJ

Dr. A.,

I would suggest that people not forget a certain freshman senator named Hubert Horatio Humphrey if they want to see what could be done in that position. So far Obama has run for cover on most issues where he could really show what a person who stands for doing the correct thing, not the politically expedient thing. I am especially thinking about the Connecticut senatorial race. He, along with the Clintons and Upchuck, have been noticeably absent. Originally they were backing Joe LIEberman, but now they are keeping a very low profile. It looks to me that Obama simply wants to fit into the comfortable DLC Republican-lite mode. Actually working to better the people's representation takes second place to maintaining the proper (i.e. well connected) people in place. Until Obama shows more courage and leadership than a few words, I will not consider him as a leader. This is not to say that I want Ms. Triangulator because I don't.

Name: Lou Cabron
Hometown: Alameda, CA

How nasty will the campaign ads get?

Apparently, pretty nasty!

Name: Pat Healy
Hometown: Vallejo, CA

Hi Eric*,

I've seen Paul Simon half a dozen times, from "Graceland" to "You're the One", and I have to say, it seems like he's loosened up quite a bit over those years. I believe I have a theory to explain this:

A few years back, Simon toured with Bob Dylan. To me, there was a marked difference in his manner onstage in the shows I've seen after that tour. I think Bob showed Paul how to loosen up a bit, and while the perfectionist in Simon still rules the overall performance, there was some definite loosening of the joints after that.

Coincidentally, I think the same thing happened to Dylan after his mid-80s tours with Tom Petty and the Dead.

*That phrase always makes me think of the Bonzo Dog Band. And a ukelele.

Name: Gary Seckinger
Hometown: Wethersfield, CT

Unfortunately I will miss the Duhks on their East Coast swing due to an illness. But if you want to hear how much great music you can get for $15 (they're the best musical bargain around), check out Joe's Pub on Nov 7th in the greatest city on Earth. I'm 56 yrs old for crying out loud and this is the closest I've been to being a groupie! I know the Altercators have very good taste, so just letting you know. My feet are still tapping from the last time I saw them.

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