Slacker Friday


I've got a new Think Again column, "You Call That News?" here.

From our sponsors:

Matthews let McCain official say McCain "doesn't attack other candidates," but he's done so on Hardball
On Hardball, Chris Matthews let McCain presidential campaign CEO Rick Davis claim that "John McCain doesn't attack other candidates" and "you never see him talking about people in a partisan fashion." In fact, McCain has made attacks on "people in a partisan fashion," including a Hardball-hosted attack against Sen. Barack Obama regarding congressional efforts to enact lobbying reform.

Kurtz glossed over Malkin's attack on "left-wing patriotism," despite asserting that "rantings of the fringe ... shouldn't be used to tar an entire ideology"
In a February 28 Editor & Publisher article, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz "disputed" Media Matters for America senior fellow Eric Boehlert's February 26 column, in which Boehlert criticized "Kurtz and the Post in general for having a 'crush on right-wing bloggers.' " Boehlert was specifically addressing Kurtz's February 16 profile of right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin. According to the E&P article, Kurtz defended himself by citing his "long history of profiling commentators, columnists, and bloggers on both sides of the ideological divide," adding, "What a shock that an ideological liberal doesn't think a journalist should give a fair hearing to a conservative blogger." Yet, in asserting that Boehlert is "an ideological liberal" who "doesn't think a journalist should give a fair hearing to a conservative blogger," Kurtz ignored one of Boehlert's central criticisms: that Kurtz glossed over Malkin's history to, in the words of CJR Daily's Paul McLeary, "paint ... Malkin as the voice of reason."

Wash. Post reported "think tank's" charge against Gore, omitted its anti-environmental background
In a March 1 Washington Post article, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) was referred to as "a Nashville-based think tank that advocates 'limited government through policy solutions,' according to its Web site." But the TCPR's agenda apparently goes beyond limiting the size of government. Like other recent reports on the TCPR's attacks on former Vice President Al Gore's purported home energy use, the Post article did not note that TCPR has reportedly joined the "Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change," which claims to have "been established as a response to the many biased and alarmist claims about human-induced climate change, which are being used to justify calls for urgent action by governments."

From The Benton Foundation:

BREAKING THE NEWS [SOURCE: Mother Jones, AUTHOR: Eric Klinenberg]

While our democratic culture could survive the loss of the daily newspaper as we know it, it would be endangered without the kinds of reporting that it provides, writes Eric Klinenberg. "Even in the online era, more than 60% of Americans say they read a local newspaper daily or several times a week. And with good reason: Few of the cable channels and websites that newspaper chains claim as competitors actually provide original news and information. Cable networks do virtually no local reporting of their own, and while bloggers do a good job exposing journalistic lapses, they generally aren't doing the muckraking, beat reporting, and pavement pounding that generate news." (Much more on journalism -- and the media ownership debate -- at the URL below.)

  • The Race: Robert Kuttner believes newspapers have started down a financially and journalistically viable path of becoming hybrids -- part web, part print. "Assuming that most dailies survive the transition, my guess is that in twenty-five years they will be mostly digital; that even people like me of the pre-Internet generation will be largely won over by ingenious devices like Times Reader, supplemented by news alerts, RSS feeds, and God knows what else."


The FCC is preparing to ask Congress for a broad expansion of its authority to regulate the content of television programming, but it hopes to leave the thorny issue of defining the parameters of how much violence is too much to Congress, Commissioner Robert McDowell said Thursday. The FCC is expected to issue a report in the near future that asks Congress for the power to enforce curbs on violent content on broadcast TV in the same way it has the power to levy fines on TV and radio stations for airing what the commission deems to be indecent speech. Currently broadcasters are restricted from airing indecent material between 6 a.m.-10 p.m. The report contends that the agency could use a similar regime to regulate violent content. However, as he was questioned by reporters, McDowell sought to downplay the magnitude of the report and its First Amendment implications. "This particular report is a report on violence," he said. "It's not legislation, it's not an FCC order; we're not talking about a rule here. Overall, I think in the long run technology and competition will really solve this for parents. I think we're going to have technological solutions."

See also --

  • FCC still interfering with freedom of speech [Commentary] Take the agency's rulings on the F-word: If Tom Hanks uses the term in "Saving Private Ryan," it's OK, but if Cher does on an awards show, it's not. Today, most viewers no longer distinguish between cable and broadcast programs. So having different rules for each makes about as much sense as having different regulations for odd- and even-numbered channels. It's high time broadcasters were placed under America's original rule on how the government should regulate free expression: Don't.

Eric adds: Go FCC.

From TomDispatch:

Amid the hopeless chaos of Iraq, you can already hear various official types preparing their exculpatory "exit strategies" from this war. So many key players are going to stab one another in the back with their various explanations for failure in the coming years that blood will run between the pages of the memoirs still to be published. Of course, for the neocons, the Bush White House, and the vice president and his crew, among others, the real villains will not, in the end, be themselves. Count on this: The "weak-willed" American people will take the brunt of the official blame (with the "liberal" media, Democratic and Republican politicians who opposed the war, and the antiwar movement, as well as the incompetence of anyone but the speaker of the moment, thrown in for good measure).

Ira Chernus offers a warning on this. Americans are likely to have a national identity crisis over another losing war and in that case: Beware the boomerang of the Iraq Syndrome which is, he tells us, "headed our way." The Iraq Syndrome is likely to refocus American attention not on the damaged Middle East but on trauma to the American psyche. And once Americans are thinking in this fashion, who knows where things will go. Chernus writes:

Ronald Reagan played all these notes skillfully enough to become president. The desire to "cure" the Vietnam syndrome became a springboard to unabashed, militant nationalism and a broad rightward turn in the nation's life. Iraq -- both the war and the "syndrome" to come -- could easily evoke a similar set of urges: to evade a painful reality and ignore the lessons it should teach us. The thought that Americans are simply a collective neurotic head-case when it comes to the use of force could help sow similar seeds of insecurity that might -- after a pause -- again push our politics and culture back to a glorification of military power and imperial intervention as instruments of choice for seeking "security."

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"They was stoppin' everyone who looked too weird/At the ghoul-bus Texas roadblock."

OK, OK, I was at spring training last week and forgot. (Note to Sox fans among the extended Alter-family: Daisuke Matsuzaka has what the old baseball guys call some serious s**t.) Oh, and the folks at The Politico should know that they're just too wicked cool 2 B 4-gotten. See you around the malt shoppe, dudes!

The moon has passed into Stupid early in this election cycle. Just this week, Sean Hannity, noted theologian and NYU academic jetsam, pronounced Barack Obama's church to be far too strange for his delicate eschatological sensibilities. (Sean will be releasing his masterwork, Summa Moronica, this spring from Regnery's religious imprint, Bastinado Books. Crayons will not be included.) And the redoubtable Bob Somerby has been ferociously trying to keep The Clinton Rules from being put back into play. However, as I was cruising the New York Times last week, I came upon this quote:

Mrs. Clinton's belief in executive power and authority is another factor weighing against an apology, advisers said. As a candidate, Mrs. Clinton likes to think and formulate ideas as if she were president - her "responsibility gene," she has called it. In that vein, she believes that a president usually deserves the benefit of the doubt from Congress on matters of executive authority.

Pardon me, Mother Clinton, but what in the unholy, galloping amphibian hell is THIS all about? First of all, fire this bag-of-hammers brain trust of yours immediately. Second, please explain yourself. We are in this mess -- the bloodiest part of which you voted for out of what is now indisputably political calculation -- because Congress gave "the benefit of the doubt" to an Executive Authority unqualified to play with its toes, let alone with the lives of U.S. soldiers. Outside of the surname "Brownback," I can't think of anything that would make me less likely to vote for a candidate than somebody who believes this. Like the redoubtable Howler, I believe the whole she-hasn't-apologized meme is a lot of semantic hooey. However, this is not. This is the single most serious crisis arising from the maladministration of the past seven years, and it's the most serious threat to constitutional government in my lifetime. It admits no triangulation, or ought not to. Explain yourself, Senator, or take your campaign down the road. Find some other fool, as the song says.

Eric replies: Speaking of "Stupid": Dude, what happened to you?

Name: Christian Kallen
Hometown: Healdsburg, CA

Following a link in today's posting (I can't bring myself to say "blog" - oops, I did it again) I found the following from the official White House transcript of the President's Feb. 14 press conference. It's appalling in its arrogance and disregard for the public's right to information, as well as the sycophancy of the current fourth estate (link is here):


Q Thank you, Mr. President. Sir, we've now learned through sworn testimony that at least three members of your administration, other than Scooter Libby, leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the media. None of these three is known to be under investigation. Without commenting on the Libby trial, then, can you tell us whether you authorized any of these three to do that, or were they authorized without your permission?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, thanks, Pete. I'm not going to talk about any of it.

Q They're not under investigation, though?

THE PRESIDENT: Peter, I'm not going to talk about any of it.

Q How about pardons, sir? Many people are asking whether you might pardon --

THE PRESIDENT: Not going to talk about it, Peter. (Laughter.) Would you like to think of another question? Being the kind man that I am, I will recycle you. (Laughter.) John.

Q Thank you --

THE PRESIDENT: You like that one? "Recycling" him. (Laughter.)

Q That took care of one of my questions, as well, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: If that's the case, sit down. Next question. (Laughter.)

Name: Dan
Hometown: Vancouver, BC

Hi Eric,

Something else worth mentioning about the National Post is that they ran the bogus story a couple of years ago about Iran requiring Jews to wear the yellow star. This was part of the last propaganda push to stir up anti-Iran sentiment prior to a theoretical invasion.

Sounds like they're in good hands, doesn't it?

I can't dig it up on mediamatters, but I do recall reading it here.

Keep up the good work.

Name: Dan Tompkins
Hometown: Haddonfield

Eric, You're terrific, but you're airbrushing Lionel Trilling. He had many virtues, as did Professor Schlesinger, but to quote or misquote one of Trilling's idols, it remains unclear whether Trilling saw life steadily and saw it whole.

In your Nation piece, you spoke of Trilling "prescribing tough-minded scrutiny in the face of emotional appeals." Proscribing would be more like it. In 1953, after being praised by the NYT for chairing a committee that seemed to call for fairness in hiring and firing, Trilling issued a "correction" that followed Sidney Hook in asserting that a basic right of Americans, the right not to incriminate oneself, was not only unavailable to academics but was prima facie admission of guilt. He added that "membership in communist organizations ... implies submission" to undue "intellectual control."

Such was your hero. Looking at the names of people forced out of positions, who went on to become stars at Cambridge University and in Paris or at major American universities, better historians than yourself and men who've been major public intellectuals as well, I have to say I'm shocked. Looking at the names of people whom Trilling or Sidney Hook would gladly have put out on the streets is a sobering experience.

This is not a defense of the Communist Party. Most of the individuals Trilling would have disbarred ended up not in the Party but taking genuinely independent positions. It is a defense of the need to make room for honest extremists, of all sorts, if we are not again to impoverish our universities.

Lionel Trilling did plenty of good things. There is no need to add virtues he did not have to the list of those he did.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

One of the many things about conservatives that bothers me is that under the Rove/Bush/DeLay-led charge, every aspect of life has to be defined by Republican/Democrat, Conservative/Liberal. This point is most apparent when you hear conservatives complain about Hollywood. It is Hollywood, it is not politics. And yes, there are more Democrats and more liberals in Hollywood, and therefore, more shows and movies and awards geared to a liberal audience. My question for all the conservatives who complain, is this, so what? It is part of life, it isn't politics. Why is Hollywood dominated by liberals -- because go to any liberal arts college, or go to any school for acting, or theater, or anything else along those lines and examine the people -- some care about politics, some do not, but I will guarantee if you examined their views, most would come out liberal-leaning. It isn't a liberal bias of Hollywood, it is just a fact that more liberals are there. Why is this any different than any other walk of life? How about Wall Street? Does Wall Street have a conservative bias? No. Should liberals be complaining about the conservative bias of big business and of Wall Street? Absolutely not. It is just the way of life, that if you are a person who wants to be on Wall Street, and who gets there, chances are, you are a Republican. And anything Wall Street does is likely to be viewed as pro-conservative. It isn't a bias, it is just the way people are. Same for Hollywood -- if you are someone who aspires to be an actor, director, chances are you are a Democrat.

Politics used to be just politics, and we didn't have to listen to groups arguing about the liberal bias of areas of life outside the political theater. But while President Bush's dangerous combining of Church and State has been documented, I think just as dangerous has been the conservatives combination of any walk of life and politics if it allows them to criticize/demonize Democrats.

Name: michael
Hometown: nyc

I've long ago stopped reading David Brooks (keeping my blood pressure in check) but notice from a Times letter that he recently declared Elijah "an abusively pretentious" name for a child. Now, Elijah seems to me a perfectly good name, with an impressive Biblical imprimatur to boot. What are we to make, on the other hand, of the cleanly pretentious name David Brooks for a nice Jewish boy?

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