One way out ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

It's hard both to believe and to stomach the reaction to the Petraeus report (as well as to the MoveOn.org advertisement). It's as if the MSM players actually see themselves as "actors" in a drama with their lines and stage instructions already written. I mean, did anyone really think that Petraeus was going to say anything other than "things are a little bit better, let's stay the course" even though we know very well from the GAO and other sources that this is nonsense? And really, has this administration ever said anything but "things are a little better, let's stay the course" during this entire debacle? And yet everyone reports this as if suffering from amnesia that destroys the memory of everything that's been said and done in all of American history up until the general appeared. Again, is there anything more pathetic than the way journalists swoon for generals -- well, perhaps it's for presidents who dress up in flight suits with large protective cups around their private parts -- but still. And yes, I think the MoveOn.org advertisement is counterproductive, since the case is so much stronger than a silly pun could have communicated. But seriously, who has been getting soldiers killed for no good reason for the past five years and is now insisting on the right to continue to do so rather than admit the colossal nature of their error? Hint: It's not MoveOn. Anyway, as I said, read the coverage and ask yourself how these people take themselves seriously. I study (and teach) this stuff for a living and I can't even fully explain it.

From our sponsors:

I wish someone had told me about this study before the book closed last week. Were I writing about it in detail, and I may, I would note that many of the top "liberal" columnists, including particularly Richard Cohen, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kistof, Susan Estrich, and Nat Hentoff, among others, are the kind of "liberal" columnists who feel no sense of loyalty whatever to liberals and liberalism and actually enjoy bashing them whenever possible. This is not true of the conservatives. And so the balance is actually much worse than it looks from these numbers and graphics.

Anyway, here are a few highlights:

  • Sixty percent of the nation's daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists every week than progressive syndicated columnists. Only 20 percent run more progressives than conservatives, while the remaining 20 percent are evenly balanced.
  • In a given week, nationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of 125 million. Conservative columnists, on the other hand, are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million.
  • The top 10 columnists as ranked by the number of papers in which they are carried include five conservatives, two centrists, and only three progressives.
  • The top 10 columnists as ranked by the total circulation of the papers in which they are published also include five conservatives, two centrists, and only three progressives.
  • In 38 states, the conservative voice is greater than the progressive voice -- in other words, conservative columns reach more readers in total than progressive columns. In only 12 states is the progressive voice greater than the conservative voice.
  • In three out of the four broad regions of the country -- the West, the South, and the Midwest -- conservative syndicated columnists reach more readers than progressive syndicated columnists. Only in the Northeast do progressives reach more readers, and only by a margin of 2 percent.
  • In eight of the nine divisions into which the U.S. Census Bureau divides the country, conservative syndicated columnists reach more readers than progressive syndicated columnists in any given week. Only in the Middle Atlantic division do progressive columnists reach more readers each week.

Can you say, what liberal media?

Congrats to The Seattle Times' editorial page for taking the time and space for a series of editorials on the importance of media to democracy, here.

From TomDispatch:

We live with an administration whose concept of domestic "freedom" went out with those "freedom fries," briefly sold at the cafeterias of the House of Representatives. For those who remember the "memory hole" down which the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Truth dumped all uncomfortable or inconvenient documents in Orwell's famed dystopian novel 1984, this administration has created its functional equivalent. The removal of documents en masse, the denial of access to the public, the classification of everything -- these are signs of a now seven-year-long shutting off of the flow of unsupervised information. But perhaps nothing has been as crucial as the throttling of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that Ruth Rosen, former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, considers in the latest TomDispatch post under the rubric: "soft crimes" of the Bush administration.

Rosen, as a Chronicle columnist, was in 2001 one of the first mainstream journalists to raise a hue and cry when former Attorney General John Ashcroft first tried to turn the national sunshine law that has allowed us to know something of what our elected officials actually do, rather than what they say they do, into so much meaningless paper. Now, she returns to the FOIA to consider, almost six years later, the nature of the "success" the Bush administration has had in this endeavor. She jumps off from just the latest bizarre Bush information scandal: The claim of the White House Office of Administration -- when faced with millions of mysteriously disappeared White House emails (requested in the Justice Department attorney-firing investigation) -- that it is not an "agency" and so not subject to the Freedom of Information Act; this, despite the fact that the newly labeled "non-agency" had its own FOIA officer, had responded to 65 FOIA requests during the previous 12 months, and on its own website described itself as subject to FOIA requests.

Rosen concludes with a ringing warning about the quiet crimes of this administration:

But don't be lulled into thinking that the act of censoring information, of shielding the American people from knowledge of the most basic workings of their own government, is any less dangerous to democracy than war crimes or acts of torture. In fact, it was the soft crimes of secrecy and deception that enabled the Bush administration's successful campaign to lure our country into war in Iraq -- and so to commit war crimes and acts of torture. You don't have to be a historian to know that 'soft' crimes are what make hard crimes possible. They can also lead to an executive dictatorship and the elimination of our most cherished civil rights and liberties.

Finally, I spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening at Farm Aid. I was really impressed by it. I'm kinda old for music festivals, but the lineup was so great I couldn't resist, and came home early from the beach for it. Musically, I was not disappointed. The Allmans were magnificent and probably better now than they've ever been. I don't think a band that didn't have either Miles or Coltrane in it ever had a better or more versatile group of musicians in it. (Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Greg all did their own minisets as well.) Here's what an agreeable Ben Ratliff wrote in the Times yesterday: "By food standards nothing could touch the miracle of a fresh peach at a rock festival. But by music standards the Allman Brothers had it hands down. They played the first long set, near dusk, though it was only about an hour: short, by their standards, and therefore tremendously tight and intense, with both the band's guitarists, Mr. Trucks and Warren Haynes, reaching heights of improvisation faster and more powerfully than they often do in three-hour shows."

The rest of the sets I saw were hit and miss. Counting Crows did not, as I noticed, do that "Mr. Jones" song, but they did do a pretty interesting "Thunder Road." John Mellencamp, whom Boehlert thinks is almost as great as Springsteen but I think is only pretty good and that's as a greatest-hits artist, was pretty damn good, even though he didn't play his masterpiece, "Authority Song." He brought out Susan Tedeschi, whom he said was his girlfriend and in his band before she was stolen away by Mr. Trucks, in whose band and whose wife she now is.

Dave Mathews was likable but not really my cuppa tea, though he did a real nice "Melissa" with Greg and Warren. (Willie and Greg did "Midnight Rider.) Neil Young did a quiet acoustic set that was full of spirit but musically, a little lax. Coming after Mellencamp, it was doubly anti-climactic for being so, though Willie backed him up on "Homegrown," a stupidly likable song. I missed most of the early acts, catching a bit of Matisyahu, who remains by far the best Hasidic reggae singer from White Plains, ever. (Sorry to say I did not stay for Willie's set because I had to wait on a bus line to get home from Randall's Island and it was already 11 by the time he came on.) Rollingstone.com has a decent review here.

One thing I'd be remiss in failing to point out however is what a nice contrast this festival was from so many big shows I've attended. People were really friendly and polite and went to great lengths to make sure not to litter and to throw their recylcling away in the correct barrel. There was almost no garbage on the field. And the food was terrific. I ate a heavenly organic pork chop sandwich for dinner -- they crazily did not feed the media -- and I learned a lot from the booths. That -- together with the money they raise -- is the point of these things, but they almost never work out that way. By reading some of the literature and listening to some of the performers, I actually became a convert to buying only organic milk, beginning this morning. I had no understanding before of all of the ecological implications of local food and farms and the like, and I urge you to go to the Farm Aid website and learn a little something too. It's here.

And while we're talking about good guys, Appleseed Records released yesterday, a tenth anniversary compilation that turns out to have a great deal more energy and inventiveness than is typical for folkie collections. Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen duet on "Ghost of Tom Joad," as do Jackson Browne and Joan Baez on "Guantanamera." Seeger, Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle, and Anne Hills all get together for Seeger's brilliant "Bring Them Home," recently recorded by Springsteen also, and there's plenty of other cool stuff, too. Read all about it here.

Finally, I won't be here for Thursday and Friday because of the holiday, but if you get a chance this weekend, check out In the Valley of Elah here so you can see what Bill O'Reilly and Bill Kristol are about to get all excited about once they're done with MoveOn.org.

Shana Tova to all of us.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Eric,

Although I have every bit as much skepticism about Petraeus' report to Congress as MoveOn's leaders do (I am a member -- disclosure), I am appalled at their tactics and their headline.

No matter how angry one gets, name-calling and insults will not help persuade those who still believe Iraq can be politically salvaged by our armed forces.

Further, betrayal is like a lie -- you have to believe you are not telling the truth to be guilty of either -- and I do not believe MoveOn's leadership can claim to know the general well enough to find him guilty as (very seriously) charged.

Name: Randy
Hometown: Austin, TX

Eric,

So Nicholas Kristof thinks:

".... there are no political benefits to a candidate who supports free trade..."

...uuuhh, you mean except for the millions of dollars in campaign donations that a candidate can expect from businesses supporting free trade agreements. Other than those millions of dollars, he would be right in there is no political benefit to a candidate.

Name: Balloon Pirate
Hometown: Smugtown

I have no military background; however, for the past two years my son was the top aide in the back office of one of the largest military bases in the country. His desk was right outside the CO's door.

He told me about a Major who came to the base to find mid- and upper-level command officers for deployment to Iraq. His boss complained rather loudly at one point that the Major was taking all his best officers. According to my son, the Major replied "I understand, sir, but you need to understand that for every post I try to fill, I get five officers who decide to retire."

Even if the man was exaggerating by half, we're still looking at a significant drain of talent and experience in the armed services.

Name: Joan Sykes
Hometown: Stokesdale, NC

I believe one thing that you did not mention is the creation of the largest humanitarian crisis the world has known, e.g. the millions of Iraqi people who are homeless (in Syria and Jordan) and the fact that these countries need help in caring for them.

Name: A Sullivan
Hometown: Washington DC

What a long and sad list!

One point underlined when Iraq's own anti-corruption chief quit last week and fled the country: the Iraqis themselves do not believe their country will survive our invasion, and they're doing all they can to provision themselves for whatever comes.

Iraqi companies siphon off most of the money we provide for schools, hospitals, clinics, police stations, roads, and bridges in Iraq to their own pockets. It appears that most Iraqi public "servants" give jobs, U.S. and Iraqi money, and assets, to themselves, their families, their tribes, and their factions. And even a critical number of our own procurement officials and private contractors are in it with them.

I didn't hear any questions about this to Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker in their two days of testimony to Congress.

Perhaps it isn't necessary; this deterioration means the only way Iraq can survive our invasion is if we provide the military protection. For a very long time. There were questions about that, which the General and the Ambassador evaded.

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