They're tryin' to make me go to rehab ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I wish reporters would exercise more judgment when reporting people's comments. It happens all the time, but here's one example I noticed over the weekend in an AP story about my friend Kai Bird's discovery that Alger Hiss was probably not the spy identified in the Venona papers as "Ales" but, rather, a U.S. official named Wilder Foote. It's a story to whose research I have contributed in the past, though I try to stay away from Alger for lots of reasons. Anyway, here.

Note that when the reporter asks Foote's grandson about Kai's discovery, he replied, "I can only assume that Mr. Bird has ulterior motives to besmirch my grandfather's name, possibly for Mr. Bird's own celebrity." Now, this is plainly crazy. Kai shared the Pulitzer Prize in biography lately. Writing a 17,000-word investigation of a 50-year-old Cold War argument that hardly anyone cares about anymore and identifying as the culprit someone almost no one has ever heard of is hardly a sensible path to "celebrity" for a Pulitzer Prize and National Books Critics' Circle Award-winning biographer. If the reporter had considered the comment even for a moment, it did not deserve to go into the piece.

Meanwhile, let's see what those conservatives who have so much invested in Hiss' guilt have to say about Kai's careful research. I'm guessing most will try to ignore it.

David Carr has some extremely sensible things to say about Imus, here. I liked this part:

On Thursday, before his employers knew they had a growing public-relations problem on their hands, Mr. Imus suggested that everyone needed to relax and should not be offended by "some idiot comment meant to be amusing." (Which part was supposed to be funny? The nappy-head or the ho's?)

That's not to say that everyone at MSNBC, which simulcasts the show, and its owner NBC (a unit of the General Electric Company), along with CBS Radio, which owns WFAN and syndicates the show, wasn't terribly, terribly sorry. Before apologizing, network executives at MSNBC pointed out that, " 'Imus in the Morning' is not a production of the cable network and is produced by WFAN Radio," which is a little like saying that they did not manufacture a bomb, they only delivered it.

This isn't the first time that Mr. Imus has trolled these waters: he once called Gwen Ifill, then working at The New York Times, "a cleaning lady" and described one of the paper's sports columnists, William C. Rhoden, as a "quota hire." Both of those journalists are black, but Mr. Imus's defenders like to point out that he is an equal-opportunity misanthrope whose show displays 360-degree offensiveness toward all sorts of ethnicities, sexual orientations and religious affiliations.

Although the Web has been alive with calls for sanctions against Mr. Imus -- the clip is available for all to see on YouTube -- mainstream media have remained relatively silent. He is, after all, popular, good at his job and, perhaps more important, he generously provides oxygen -- and an audience -- to the kind of journalistic and political elites who would be expected to demand his head on a pike.

He is, to borrow one of the show's metaphors, a lawn jockey to the establishment. Few politicians, big or small, pass up a chance to bump knees with Mr. Imus, in part because his show is one of the few places where they can talk seriously and at length about public issues. Senator John Kerry has stopped by. Senator John McCain is on frequently. And Senators Joseph I. Lieberman and Joseph R. Biden are part of a legion eager to sit in the guest chair.

NBC News uses "Imus in the Morning" to promote the brands of Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory. Tom Brokaw was a frequent guest, and his replacement, Brian Williams, has been sanctified by the I-man, as they call him. Chris Matthews from MSNBC has appeared, as have anchors and journalists from CNN and CBS and, on the print side, by reporters and editors from Newsweek and popular opinion columnists from The New York Times.

But I also liked Atrios:

White People

Fineman and Imus, a few minutes ago.

Fineman: It's a different time Imus. It's diferent than it was even a few years ago, politically. You know, in the environment politically it's changed. And some of the stuff you used to do you just can't do anymore.

Imus: no you can't

Fineman: You just can't because the times have changed. I mean just looking specifically at the Africa-American situation. I mean, hello, Barack obama has gotten twice the number of contributors of anybody else in the race. I mean, you know, things have changed. Some of the kind of humor you used to do you just can't do anymore. So that's just the way it is.

Imus: I would say in the spirit of charity that the same black journalists that are calling for me to be fired, and the same black leaders, they had the option to call me when I was asking for weeks about helping, trying to get more information about sickle-cell anemia, about what the government was doing. About what could be done, about research, and nobody, nobody called me. I'm not looking to get patted on the back for that but those are the facts.

Or, Shorter Howard Fineman: Because Barack Obama got a lot of campaign contributions, it's not OK to make nappy-headed-ho jokes anymore.

Shorter Don Imus: In the spirit of charity, I'm going to accuse my critics of not caring about my pet issue which, because they're black, should be their pet issue too.

Meet the Press: National Review 1, liberals 0.

(Why do I even bother typing this?)

From TomDispatch:

Do you remember, in 2001-2002, when top Bush administration officials, the neocons and their supporters, and allied pundits used to talk about an "arc of instability" that coincided with the energy heartlands of the planet? It was imagined to extend from North Africa through the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, right up to the Chinese border. Back then, they imagined that it was the destiny of "the last superpower" to put its ultimate mark (its "footprint" in Pentagonese) on those lands, filled with "rogue states," and bring them to order. In this piece, Tom Engelhardt returns to that "arc," which wasn't then all that unstable, and consider the dimensions of the disaster that has since ensued.

Here's the remarkable thing, when you think about it: All the Bush administration had to do was meddle in any country in that arc of instability (and which one didn't it meddle in?), for actual instability, often chaos, sometimes outright catastrophe to set in. It's been quite a record, the very opposite of an imperial golden touch.

On any day, of course, you can see case by case evidence of this in the media. You can check out the Iraqi, or Somali, or Lebanese, or Iranian, or Pakistani disasters, or impending disasters. But what you never see is all those crises and potential crises discussed in one place -- without which the magnitude of our present grave situation and the dangers in our future are hard to grasp. Engelhardt has, in fact, taken a rare, sweeping look at the process by which the Bush administration stitched that "arc" together into what he calls a genuine "Rube Goldberg instability machine," one where any group, across thousands of miles, might pull some switch that would set chaos rolling, the flames licking across the oil heartlands of the planet.

He takes up the six obvious crisis areas in the arc today from Pakistan to Somalia (and several possible candidates for future crises as well) before turning to the last place in the "arc" that the Bush administration destabilized, Washington D.C., and the way in which the administration, in the end, destabilized itself. "Imagine all that," he concludes, "and then ask yourself, what levers on that Rube Goldberg machine they've done so much to create are they still capable of pulling?"

Alter-reviews:

(In my incessant pestering you to give money to "Music for Youth," one of my favorite causes even if it didn't produce Bruce Springsteen for me on Thursday night, I had been unable to find the easiest address to just get them the cash. Now I have it: Charitable donations for UJA Federation's Music for Youth can be made online here or by mail at: UJA-Federation of New York, 130 East 59th Street, NYC, NY 10022)

Sal on Amy Winehouse:

Amy Winehouse's 2003 debut, Frank, was released to little fanfare in the US. But in her British homeland, it was of course, like every record released every week, "better than The Beatles" according to British press. Now her follow-up, Back To Black, is receiving the same hoopla, not only in the UK but also in the "US and A!" And while it is NOT better than the Beatles, it is definitely better than a lot of things out there right now.

Winehouse has a trainwreck persona. Hard-drinking, hard-living, and more tattoos than Rosie O'Donnell. She possesses a Billie Holiday-meets-Martha Reeves voice, and she uses all of these qualities on this record. "Love Is A Losing Game," in particular, is a smoky ballad that would not have been out of place in a Sinatra set list. (It is worth your time tracking down an acoustic version of this song on the internets. Just Amy and guitar. She is the real thing.)

Now, don't get me wrong -- there's nothing delicate about songs like "Rehab" and "Me & Mr. Jones," the latter containing the hardly Hoagy Carmichael-esque refrain "What kind of f**kery is this." But both songs are clever, hooky, and perfectly executed. Just the right amount of sass to make two interesting songs even better.

-- Sal, NYCD

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

I know people like to refer to Rudy Giuliani as "America's Mayor." And maybe I am completely wrong, off base, out of line. But what are his accomplishments that make him worthy of being president? Because he happened to be mayor on Sept. 11? What did he do in the wake of the attacks that any other person in his position would not have done? I'm not saying he did anything wrong or anything to be criticized at that time. I just don't see what he did that makes him worthy of all the praise he receives for his actions.

Name: Forrest
Hometown: Morrisville, PA

''One day a girl college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." That's all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven't been able to define reality any more lucidly.'' -- Philip K. Dick, "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later"

Name: J. R. Taylor
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

So John Bolton said on The Daily Show, "a president is only beholden to those who elected him," or words to that effect. Deplorable, of course, but for me at least, what he really meant took a minute to sink in.

On the surface, Bolton *seems* to be saying that presidents are only beholden to the majority of Americans. (Or in the case of 2000, a very large -- though not the largest -- minority.) But he's *literally* saying that presidents are answerable only to those who vote for them -- by which reckoning Bush would now be accountable to a mere 28% of the country, as in 1999 he was responsible to only 18% of Texas.

This perspective, if shared by Bush, would help explain why he seems undaunted (even if visibly irritated) by the longest stretch of sub-40% job approval polling since Truman. The people what brung him to the dance, the ones he once described as "the haves and the have-mores," are all still with him, more or less, and he's never really given a damn about pleasing anyone else.

Name: dr.steveb
Hometown: NY, NY

Whether or not Mark Richard of Columbus, Ohio, is an independent thinker or a paid shill, for those who do not know, the difference between Target and Wal-Mart is that Target is unionized and has a long early history of being a relatively decent company to work for. It has of course suffered to some extent, though not as much as mom-&-pop outfits, to the relentless race to the bottom pressure from Wal-Mart.

As to the class warfare really being waged... it has indeed been waged aggressively... by the very rich and wealthy against everyone else, at least since the Reagan I tax cuts... and their side has winning. Numerous analyses of widening income and wealth gaps, and economic insecurity inching its way up even to include all but the most wealthy are proof of that.

P.S.: Glad to have been a rescue ranger for your old Murray takedown. Meanwhile, feel better from whatever ails. Not all Jews are superior, but you are pretty darn good!

Name: Dani Schwartz
Hometown: Upper West Side

I don't dispute your contempt for Charles Murray's new article in Commentary on high Jewish intelligence, but respected, serious, non-racist scholars have investigated, and corroborated, similar, or identical claims. For example, last summer, notable Harvard prof. Steven Pinker wrote "THE LESSONS OF THE ASHKENAZIM: Groups and Genes" for TNR. So, while Murray may be a crackpot in general, that doesn't take away from the general observations and hypotheses set forth in his Commentary article.

Name: Jeremy Fairchild
Hometown: Dallas

Interesting how a loyal Bushie [Matthew Dowd] suddenly "converts" after his son is deployed to Iraq. It just slams home the fact that none of the war supporters running the country have any family fighting the war. Pretty disgusting that war is perfectly fine until you are personally affected by it.

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