Welcome, my son, to the Machine ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

The real meaning of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from Army Times.

Does it matter that Marty Peretz has sold off his entire interest in The New Republic? Hard to say ... The New Republic under Peretz has long been an interesting, often exciting magazine but a horrible burden to liberalism and -- if you're smart about these things -- really, really bad for the Jews.* Going biweekly after nearly a century as a weekly is both an admission of failure but also a perfectly rational response to an Internet-driven media world. The magazine will improve as its influence wanes -- both good things in my book.

Anyway, Peretz says he is retaining control. Remember the last time that happened? I do. From Sound and Fury:

The Peretzes purchased the magazine from owner/editor Gilbert Harrison in 1974, with the understanding that Harrison would remain editor for three years. That arrangement lasted ten months. One day Harrison entered the stately Nineteenth Street townhouse to find his Queen Anne desk and John Marin paintings in the hallway and Martin Peretz sitting in what had until the day before been Harrison's office. The New Republic's era of "unpredictability" had begun.

In the beginning, there were the words. Upon taking over the magazine, Peretz would frequently subject the holdover staff to profane verbal abuse before firing them, says Philip Terzian, an editor whom Peretz fired and whose recollections may be colored by his unmitigated hatred for the man. Harrison's staff feared Peretz would turn the New Republic into a liberal version of Commentary, with all issues decided on the basis of what was "good for the Jews." Peretz went so far in this direction, says Terzian, that he instructed his editors to pick up material from the Israeli embassy that he would later run as New Republic editorials. "It was a very wild place," recalled Henry Fairlie, who remained close to Peretz until his death in 1990, "run by a sort of Jewish cowboy with an open shirt."

Will this happen again? Almost certainly not, alas, but I'll have about 4,000 or so words to say on this topic one of these days ... One thing to point out, however. Not only is TNR no longer a weekly; it is no longer independently owned. That's sad. This Canadian conglomerate ... how do we know they really, really hate Arabs?

One last thing: How come nobody will clue the readers of TNR's website into this news? I've not seen a word.

Another significant development in the media this morning is the apparent contamination of the news pages of The Wall Street Journal -- which, when they are good, are the best in the business -- with the nutty ideological extremism of the editorial pages -- something that should send a shiver down the proverbial spine of everyone who works there. Of Tunku Varadarajan The New York Osberver quotes one Journal staffer noting, "He writes opinionated, right-wing columns. ... It's hard to see how the news pages benefit from someone like that." And another: "The people that move tend to be the ones that share the extreme right-wing views of the editorial page," adding, "Once they move, it's hard to go back to the news side and claim to be unbiased. You've already shown your colors."

Disclosure: I see from my files, he once attacked MSNBC.com "for conferring mainstream legitimacy on Eric Alterman, a nakedly leftist ideologue who has just been given a daily 'blog' on MSNBC.com?" I see he's written a few times about me otherwise, but I don't feel like paying the $2.95 each to find out what he said.

The Observer adds this:

Among his opinions: New Yorker editor David Remnick "purveys the standard New York Times, New York liberal or New York bien-pensant consensus on everything." China-courting Rupert Murdoch is "a master practitioner of the corporate kowtow." On the Fox News Channel's Journal Editorial Report, he described James Baker as "Jimmy Baker, a man with not a single idealistic bone in his body," and Russia as "a nuclear-armed fascistic, unitary, imperial state that's working to frustrate the U.S. interests everywhere."

What a catastrophe it would be if we were to lose the Journal's news pages to the people who gave us thousands of pages about Vince Foster's career as an undead blood-sucking vampire ... or something.

(Speaking of companies buying once-venerable print publications: Hello, Google guys? I hear the board of Dow Jones is very unhappy ...)

Frank Bruni hates me, but not because I wrote that he was gay in What Liberal Media? I had his permission to do it. It was germane, but I asked anyway because I don't out people. That's how I know he hates me. In any case, since I was given permission, I think it'd be OK to wonder if it's some sort of plot to have a gay guy to review a restaurant where the main attraction is naked girls. Isn't this a kind of parody of what right-wingers say about The New York Times? They're so evil they send gay guys to write about naked girls, or something. I'm sure O'Reilly's got a theory.**

Forward Thinking:

Suck-up worry watch: Obama to address AIPAC Friday.

Did you hear the one about the Jewish Democrat posing as a Republican who might one day become an independent criticizing the Jewish independent who was a Democrat and might one day become a Republican? Read this article.

From our sponsors:

Richard Cohen: I hate myself.

KSFO program director retracts Soros Nazi smear: "These statements are not accurate, and KSFO regrets that they were broadcast"

From the Benton Foundation:

BUSH ADMINISTRATION FOIA REPORT CARD HITS NEW LOW [SOURCE: Editor & Publisher, AUTHOR: Mark Fitzgerald]

Back in December of 2005 with the White House coming under increasing criticism for its secrecy, President George W. Bush ordered federal agencies to speed up their responses to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A new FOIA report card by a coalition of journalists groups makes it clear that Bush's directive did not produce a "surge" in the response rate by the agencies. The study by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government concludes the Bush directive did nothing to speed up responses by agencies that have been systematically cutting back the personnel assigned to FOIA work, even as backlogs of requests grow and the cost of fulfilling requests increases.

And finally:

Damn, we really are an interesting people, here.

* Excluding Leon's book review section, which is both good and good for the Jews, but not so good that it can overcome the stigma of where it appears. (Then again, nothing -- not even the belly lox at Barney Greengrass -- is that good.)

** "Why was it germane, and why does he hate you when you're such a nice fellow," you ask? Here's the paragraph in question:

The mere fact that three of the top political reporters for The New York Times in recent years have been openly gay men is mistaken as evidence of bias by some in the conservative media establishment -- and no doubt by some Americans as well. Not long ago, Brent Bozell III attacked the New York Times for appointing a gay man to a top editorial position, suggesting that this "signals that [Times editors are] promoting their newspaper as an aggressive liberal lobbying tool not only to prevent Republican campaign victories, but to pave a smooth and silky path for cultural relativism as well." [1] In fact, one of the Times' openly gay reporters, Frank Bruni, became something of a joke to his colleagues owing to his enormously sympathetic coverage of George W. Bush. A quick perusal of his book on the 2000 campaign, Ambling Through History, provides ample evidence that Bush could not have asked for a more generous Boswell from the Newspaper of Record.[2] Bozell apparently, like President Bush, does not know many openly gay individuals, hence he has trouble believing that one might be able to separate sexuality from professional commitment. (The president is quoted in Bruni's book announcing "An openly known homosexual is somebody who probably wouldn't share my philosophy.")[3]

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles

Dr. A., I went to bat for your council idea on Bloggingheads.tv comments section, using a scientific comparison:

In science you can propose any theory you like. I could propose that tobacco actually CURES lung cancer. And nobody can stop me. But then the questioning begins and I have to show how I came up with that theory, and also show that I followed the proper scientific method before anyone will accept my theory as "good science." Phillip Morris would certainly buy into it for obvious reasons, but the community that actually matters (scientific professionals) would not. And after too many hare-brained theories, the scientific community would "condemn" me by branding me as someone who routinely fails to meet the requirements of good science. This is how science assures its quality control and keeps un-scientific theories like Intelligent Design from muddying the waters of pursuit of empirical knowledge. ID may be embraced by every person in the country, but until it meets the requirement of qualifying as a scientific theory, it doesn't get admission into serious discussion.

I know this is an imperfect analogy, and the realities of reporting vs. blogs vs. op-eds have a lot of gray area, but the point is that if peer review works in science, law, medicine etc., why can't a similiar idea be used in journalism and blogging?

Eric Alterman is not asking you to submit your ideas for his approval, he's suggesting that if you take the news-breaking approach to blogging where you start to cross the line into "reportage", then you should be held to journalistic standards, especially if you get a high-profile gig like Time or Newsweek. And if the big boss man at the paper doesn't want to enforce the standards, then perhaps the journalistic community should. The blog could still be read, but it would be stigmatized by the fact that a "council" had found that the author could not, or refused, to back up his/her assertions. I don't see how any speech is stifled by that. It's MORE speech, after all.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

I'm not sure I agree with your council idea, but I share your concern about the proliferation of fabrications on the web that lead to a widely misinformed public. The Al Gore Love Canal thing started as an error by a print journalist but was replicated ad nauseum on the web despite exposure of the error. This problem with information integrity not only harms politics but justice as well. The innocent-till-proven-guilty principle seems to have evaporated into the ethernet.

How about instead of a council, we have slander and libel laws that make the dissemination of false information actionable. The test should not be that one knew that a charge was patently false, but that the defendant didn't bother to find out that the information was true and accurate. That would give the victims of swiftboating an opportunity to have their day in court. If smear merchants knew they'd face legal consequences, they'd be less likely to generate and to echo information that could be proven to have no merit and were launched simply to damage a political or public figure.

Name: Lionel Artom-Ginzburg
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

While the specter of censorship appears to keep us from talking about even setting up a (truly) neutral body to monitor the statements of bloggers and the media, maybe the solution has been here all along and has gotten tossed aside in the free speech debates of the 1960's?

I'm talking, obviously, about the New York Times v. Sullivan case, decided in 1964 by the Warren Court, which made libel actions by "public figures" almost impossible. Most of the more outrageous bullshit that's been spread, both through blogs and the mass media, in the last ten years or so which comes to mind would have been grounds for a truly ruinous libel action before Sullivan. The obscene distortion of Kerry's war record. That ridiculous list of people who Clinton was alleged to have killed. The frankly insane rantings of Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. Do you think the Right-wing noise machine would be willing to risk multi-million dollar judgments to print stuff that's demonstrably false? I don't-- for those people, money is everything. (And I still think that Kerry should have taken the Swift Boat Veterans to court-- I think that campaign even went beyond the quite liberal "actual malice" standard for libeling public figures.)

Would it cause an excessive burden on bloggers and on more conventional journalists? I'm not sure. Certainly people like Jack Anderson and I.F. Stone (probably the godfather of blogging) were capable of incredibly deep and valuable reporting even without the modern libel shield. It certainly would give the courts (and private lawyers) more work. It would take us years, if not decades, to adjust to the new rules in the mass media. The new media wouldn't be half as colorful as the current one, though it would no doubt have less Paris Hilton in it. For the sake of democracy, however, maybe we in the Left should give up our idealistic notions of First Amendment protections for even blatant falsehoods. (I can see my First Amendment teacher in Law School, an old school Black/Douglas absolutist, wincing as I write this.) At the very least, I think it's worth a discussion. In a society where money has become speech, can we really afford broad free speech for lies?

(Incidentally, I'm a proud card-carrying member of the ACLU, though this message will probably kill any chance I ever have of working for them.)

Name: Don
Hometown: Riverdale, NY

Eric, in your response to Ann Althouse, you really blew it and then you compounded your error by trying to weasel out of it.

Would you like your bloggers approval panel to place some sort of imprimatur on approved blogs? How about becoming the bloggers' version of "Red Channels," the noted paper of the McCarthy era which outed alleged communists and pinkos. You can out those you consider liars.

Now, here you are, reserving "Freedom of the Press" for those you consider smart enough and truthful enough to pass judgment on others. I suppose you would like to be on the bloggers approval board? You blew it, plain and simple.

Name: George Merkert
Hometown: Los Angeles

In the February 27th edition of Altercation, John from Los Angeles makes an interesting point regarding the gravitas with which voters perceive Republicans like Cheney. John says, "All the Cheney lovers and right-leaning pundits always seem to have this puppy love for any politician who can act like a father figure".

I've noticed that proclivity as well and found a very sensible explanation for it in George Lakoff's book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. In fact, Lakoff identifies the moral system of conservatives as the "Strong Father" system. We liberals would do well to understand how and why it is that we think so differently from conservatives. It is a profound difference. Liberals and conservatives build their moral views of the world on entirely different bases.

According to Lakoff, generally -- and this is too simple an explanation -- conservatives build their morality on fear whereas liberals build theirs on empathy. Moral Politics is a fascinating but very detailed book. Lakoff has thoughtfully provided an easier way to understand these same ideas in a book called Don't Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate -- The Essential Guide For Progressives. Reading these two books made me a lot stronger in resisting the conservative tide that has swept our nation. I recommend them.

Name: Karl W
Hometown: Bloomfield, CT

Michael Klare: "it is always possible that a diplomatic breakthrough will occur -- let it be so! -- but I am convinced that Bush has already decided an attack is his only option."

Short form, GWB: "We've tried nothin', and we're all out of ideas!"

(Yes, a Simpsons lift.)

Name: Dave
Hometown: Seattle

As each new day brings new, even more unpleasant revelations, I am truly amazed that in poll after poll nearly 1/3 of the population continues to support this administration. Can there really be that many CEO's, Wall Street bankers, oil company executives, defense industry profiteers, chest-thumping military fans, far-right Christian activists, NRA members, Bush family friends, and FOX news broadcasters? It really boggles the mind.

Name: P Ryan
Hometown: Astoria, New York

Dr. A:

Given your understandable disdain for Fox News and weasel words in journalism, I was wondering if you saw the promo aired by the Fox affiliate in New York City (Channel 5) during one of the last commercial breaks during 24 on Monday, February 26, and/or the actual "news" piece that followed during the Fox News at Ten.

The promo made it sound that there was evidence of an imminent Iranian terrorist attack within the United States.

The segment that followed during the news was filled with weasel words ("might", "could", etc.) and completely devoid of any evidence of any imminent attack. It blew my mind and was beyond the pale, even for Fox News.

Name: frelkins
Hometown: bklyn

"It is unclear why Jewish Americans show such strong opposition to the war," sez the Gallup poll you cite.

How about because we are acutely aware how it has only increased the danger for Israel now, with all the new anti-Semitic feeling Iraq has stirred up?

Name: M. Wetzel
Hometown: Bartlesville, OK

Hey Doc., We keep all this talk about the war in Iraq, the war on terror, but are these really wars? Isn't a war one army vs. another army? Even the Korean "war" was called a policing action, not officially called a "war." So why are Bush and Co. calling the battle in Iraq a "war"? We are not fighting another army, just rag tag bad guys, even the Shiites who have the largest militia, are not truly armies. So why, I know Bush wants to be known as the War Pres., but I guess "Iraq policing action" doesn't have that ring to it that politicans and reporters like to spout.

Name: Martin Lane
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Tim Howe from DC mentions Maureen Dowd parroting the Lincoln Bedroom thing and says, "It is disheartening to me to hear my own side giving any credence or reference to these false, dangerous and distorted myths." Maureen Dowd is not our side!

Almost every week, you can read about yet another whacko Dowdism over at the Daily Howler. She's been forwarding nutjob talking points for years. As long as we're aligning ourselves with the sides that these pundits are on, I think it's important to make a distinction between accuracy and fiction, rather than left and right, or what-have-you.

Maureen Dowd may as well be Rush Limbaugh. You may be entertained by their antics, but in the process, you're certainly going to be misinformed.

[Insert name here] may be perceived by whomever to lean whatever way that they do, but regardless of all that, if they're correct, and if they strive to be accurate, then they're on our side.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Looking at the eyepopping wages, and the lifestyle that results from it, I can't help but think that maybe it's time to have maximum wage legislation, or a salary cap for executives, bankers, and other highly paid workers.

____________

[1] Brent Bozell, "What is the New York Times promoting?" May 28, 2002. Bozell is the president of Media Research Center.

[2] Frank Bruni, Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush (New York: Crown Books, 2002). See also Eric Alterman, "Ambling into Nonsense," The American Prospect, June 20, 2002.

[3] Bruni, Ambling, 95

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