Say a prayer for the common foot soldier ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Eric A. has done a new "Think Again" column called "The Pure Politics of 'Privilege,' " here.

Greetings, it's Eric B. filling in for Eric A. And let's get right to the favorite topic of the Erics -- bad journalism. In this case, it's courtesy of The Wall Street Journal. And no, it was not from the unethical editorial pages. It appeared on A1.

The article was headlined: "Privilege Fight with Bush poses Risk for Congress: To Discontented Voters, Lawmakers May Seem Too Focused on Probes." I emphasize the word "may" because pretty much the entire story revolved around a GOP what-if dream theory that by finally holding the Bush White House accountable on a whole range of issues, the Democratic-controlled Congress might suffer a setback politically. The article itself, however, provided absolutely no evidence to suggest the theory was correct; no polling data and no independent expert analysis. (The polling data cited referred to Congress' current poor standing, nothing that showed Americans were upset with Congress investigating the White House.)

But boy, the "may's" and "might's" just kept flowing [emphasis all added]:

  • "A looming constitutional showdown over the White House's right to shield internal communications may post less risk to President Bush ..."
  • "Although the president is on the ropes over Iraq, immigration and other issues, he may be able to gain the upper hand in this fight."
  • "Under those circumstances, the battle might appear to voters to be mere partisan infighting."
  • "But Congress's beefed-up oversight might not be playing well with voters."

The article also reported Congress "hasn't' been able to pass many major bills amid divisions within the Democratic majority." Yet the Journal never bothered to specify a single major bill that had been scuttled due to Democratic infighting.

Honestly, if this kind of things-might-go-bad-for-Democrats article appeared as serious political analysis on Page One in the Journal after Rupert Murdoch purchased the paper, observers would be jumping up and down pointing to it as proof that the paper had been corrupted. That it's appearing in the Journal pre-Murdoch is rather distressing.

What's Tucker's deal with Obama?

Tomasky wonders, how low can they stoop? Answer: Really low.

As much as I enjoyed Michael Moore's back-and-forth with CNN this week, in which Moore rightly pointed out he's held to a much higher standard by the mainstream media, which is obsessed with selectively fact-checking his work, I enjoyed this heated, televised showdown even more. It was between MSNBC's David Shuster, filling in for Hardball host Chris Matthews, interviewing war supporter Fouad Ajami. Ajami never had a chance.

Recall that it was Ajami who wrote a wildly offensive column in the The Wall Street Journal comparing Scooter Libby to a fallen comrade in the war in Iraq and that Bush, following the Soldier's Creed, should never leave Libby behind on the battlefield. (I wrote about it here; Frank Rich clobbered Ajami here.)

Shuster was professional yet firm, pressing Ajami again and again how he could compare Libby, an East Coast elite who never served a day in the military, with soldiers being killed in Iraq. (I was just a metaphor, Ajami explained.) Shuster's handling of Ajami was satisfying in part because the unvarnished debate is so rare on television. As Steve Benen noted at TPM:

Ideally, this should be routine. A marginal neocon appeared on MSNBC to talk about a column he wrote a month ago. A professional broadcaster, who knew what he was talking about, pointed out the guest's errors of fact and judgment for the benefit of the television audience. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, this is what TV shows are supposed to do.

Favorite headline: The Weekly Standard's "Moment of Truth for the President: Will he reject disastrous advice to compromise with opponents of the war?" By William Kristol.

Because, really, who knows more about "disastrous advice" than William Kristol?

I don't see how, in the long run, Giuliani can survive this. And a note to MSNBC: It's not 'swift boating' a candidate if the allegations are true.

I wish The New York Times would take a break from its obsessive, nose-pressed-to-the-glass coverage of the super-rich. Today we get to read about $50,000 mattresses and $225,000 parking spaces. (When I lived in Brooklyn in the late '90s, I paid $125 a month for my indoor parking spot.) OK, we get it -- there's a collection of filthy rich people in the New York area who spend their money in ways that shock the rest of us. But does the newspaper of record have to breathlessly document every hiccup along the way? (And what's with the Times and its US Weekly-like coverage of the Sun Valley media mogul summit?)

The press sure flushed this Scooter Libby poll down the memory hole. It's the one that showed, yet again, that a strong majority of Americans wanted Libby to serve out his jail sentence. Good luck finding lots of mainstream media references to it.

But as I wrote this week, by not regularly citing the overwhelming polling data that showed Bush's decision to commute a felon's jail sentence was wildly unpopular, the press was able to adhere to one of its cardinal rules of covering this administration; never suggest the Bush White House is radical. Glenn Greenwald's excellent new book, A Tragic Legacy, does a good job explaining just how radical it's been.

I also wrote this:

For the Beltway press, the Libby commutation was, at best, a three-day story. Yet try to imagine if, in 1995, President Clinton had stepped in and tossed out the 21-month jail sentence for Webster Hubbell, his senior aide and minor Whitewater player who was convicted of tax evasion. Would the press have treated that as a two- or three-day story?

Meanwhile, The Next Hurrah dismantles the Armitage straw man routinely used by the Libby sob mob.

Note Glenn Beck's ratings at 7 p.m. That's the time slot CNN hired the right-wing talker to turn around. Instead, Beck's getting clobbered by Hardball reruns on a nightly basis. Heckuva job, Glenn. More here.

Who is in charge of ESPN prime-time scheduling? Monday night was supposed to be the 10 p.m. premiere of the network's Yankee-themed mini-series The Bronx is Burning, based on Jonathan Mahler's outstanding book about NYC during the tumultuous summer of 1977. (Son of Sam, the blackout, Reggie and the brawling Yanks, etc.) Yet when viewers tuned in at 10 p.m. they saw the All-Star Game's home run derby, stretching into its third insufferable hour. (Wake the kids -- the final round was won when Vladimir Guerrero hit a grand total of three home runs!) Why would ESPN breathlessly hype The Bronx is Burning, perhaps its most ambitious entry into TV drama, for a 10 p.m. start if the program didn't even air until 11 p.m.? And it's not like the home run derby ran a little late. The by-now mostly pointless long-ball exhibition hadn't even reached the final round by 10 p.m. Does ESPN really think that little of its viewers that it wanted them to sit around for 60 minutes?

As for The Bronx is Burning itself, part one of the eight-part series was exceptional, with John Turturro starring as Billy Martin. Oliver Platt stole the show though, as the egomaniac Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. (I miss the old, fiery George.) But let's be honest, I don't care how good The Bronx is Burning is (and it was very good), watching serious drama on "regular" TV is almost impossible due to the incessant commercial breaks. We've been spoiled by HBO. (How I wish HBO had bankrolled The Bronx is Burning.) I'll wait until the series hits the DVD market.

As for Live Earth, I guess I'm not surprised that the television ratings were soft. I certainly admire Al Gore's efforts and think events like that remain an integral, much-needed part of a larger, global messaging effort. But strictly as a pop culture and musical event, these types of massive awareness-raising concerts are increasingly difficult to pull off, and that's mostly because of the talent involved.

I just don't think acts today are built for this kind of performance -- the kind that is capable of achieving transcendency. (Savvy vet Madonna came the closest at Live Earth.) Instead, the concerts come off more as musical revues. And the fact they're held in gargantuan stadiums doesn't help either. (Trust me, the new, vast U.K. Wembley Stadium is no friend of musicians.)

It seems that the all-star concerts that work best are ones that have a real sense of urgency to them. No Nukes certainly comes to mind (thanks, E Street Band), as does, of course, Live Aid (thanks, Bowie). Most recently it was The Concert for New York City, held in the wake of September 11, and staged in the (relatively) cozy confines of Madison Square Garden, that initiated real sparks. I'm thinking in particular of the Rolling Stones' poignant, jaw-dropping performance of "Salt of the Earth." I just don't think years (months?) from now many music fans will be talking about Live Earth performances.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: jrosenb1
Hometown: Watertown, Mass.

Dear Eric,

I have been following your Torah studies with interest. I am an academic in the field of Jewish studies and a onetime member of Havurat Shalom, an experimental religious community (and, for a time, rabbinical seminary) founded by (Rabbi) Art Green in 1968. (I have been fond of calling that founding generation of members the Bauhaus of Jewish learning and progressive Jewish cultural activism; many are now accomplished scholars, educators, and community leaders). I'm also intrigued with your interest in connections between Judaism and baseball. I periodically deliver to my classes a brief lecture on "Kabbalah and Baseball." It's somewhat along the imaginative lines developed by Reuven Goldfarb at the web site of Ascent: The Center for Jewish Mysticism in Safed and the Galil. Also take a look sometime at issue #10 of a now-defunct journal called "Io" (edited by anthropologist / avant-garde writer Richard Grossinger, grandson of hotelier Jennie Grossinger and father of filmmaker Miranda July), which is devoted to the cultural lore of this great American sport.

These days, my biggest personal theological problems are political: how to reconcile the historically rich tradition of biblical Israel and the Judaism that grew from it with the need to eschew national narcissism and the politically reactionary postures it all too often encourages. I have always been a supporter of Israel, and have always believed that lovers of Israel should not be afraid to exercise, when necessary, a critical attitude toward its leaders on matters of national policy, especially with regard to Palestinian lands captured in 1967. Almost all of those lands were supposed to have been returned to their Arab inhabitants in exchange for peace -- or at least, in an ideal world, that's what might have happened. Instead, "Eretz Yisrael Ha-shelemah" (the so-called Completed Israel) became a political goal for the Israeli right wing, and, with the electoral shift of the late 1970s, it soon became overt or covert national policy. Most American Jews, and arguably at least half the Israeli public, are still to the left of Likud, and of American Jewish officialdom, on the issue of accommodation with Palestinians. The Bush years have set us back immensely by encouraging the most intransigent positions, but the need for rational debate and dialogue on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is all the more urgent. I support your effort to speak the truth on these matters. Genuine frank talk in fact does go on all the time in the pages of the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz and the American magazine Tikkun. No one need fear being branded a traitor. It's the accusers who are betraying a millennial Jewish tradition of speaking one's mind. The opening chapters of Isaiah established that precedent quite magnificently.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

The estimable Charles Pierce and historian Sean Wilentz are on the same page when it comes to the Iran-Contra minority report, here.

Save for Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, D-TX, who introduced articles of impeachment, it's a crying shame that the "let's not make any waves and pick on the old guy" pundocracy let this blight on the law and history take place.

Name: Ernie Fazio
Hometown: San Rafael, CA

Eric:

We in the Bay Area have been fortunate to witness the glory years of Barry Bonds' career. He is the greatest ballplayer of my era--which spans the ages to include Mays, Aaron and Williams. Each of those esteemed had a line up of excellent hitters (Hall of Famers in fact -- McCovey, Cepeda, Matthews -- and great sluggers Adcock, Carty, Baker, etc.) to back him up while Barry has never had more than one other regular day star in the line up.

He suffers from the MSSM (mainstream sports media) tendency to trash any star, especially an African-American, who doesn't cultivate them. His battles with the press are I think due to his disdain for them, brought on in part by witnessing his father, the aforementioned Bobby Bonds, being reviled in New York and elsewhere because he wasn't the next Willie Mays. His problems with alcohol were spread nationwide while Mickey and Whitey and Billy could carouse without their fans knowing their every misstep.

His problems with alleged steroid use will be relevant after Clemens, Gagne, and the legions of other MSSM favorites are outed for their cheating.

Name: Andy Glassberg
Hometown: St. Louis, MO

The best response to the "my country right or wrong..." quote comes from Benjamin Franklin:

"Where liberty dwells, there is my country."

Name: John
Hometown: New Jersey

LTC Bateman,

Lay off the lawyers. We don't lump all military personnel into a category of gung-ho, killers. In fact, there are MANY exceptions to Shakespeare's dictate. There are good lawyers and bad lawyers, good cops anc bad cops, good military officers and bad military officers, good Presidents and bad Presidents. I still can't figure out how to reconcile America's apparent disdain for lawyers (of course, until you need one) with the popularity of legal shows on television.

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