"Maybe, Baby"

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I did a short post about a perfected Christian for The Guardian, here.

Jack Shafer must have owed his editors a column and been out of ideas yesterday. At least I hope so. In writing about the new home for investigative journalism, ProPublica, to be given for free to national news outlets, he constructs an entire column out of the journalistic weasel word "perhaps." "What do the Sandlers [who are largely funding the effort] want for their millions?" he asks. "Perhaps to return us to the days of the partisan press."

What's his evidence for this speculation? Well, the Sandlers do fund other partisan efforts (in ideological if not necessarily party/political terms), including the Center for American Progress -- which, actually would not exist but for the Sandlers (and where I am a senior fellow). Does one activity automatically taint another by association? Well, some people might think so, but Shafer does not make that accusation or try to back it up. He merely implies it. His second alleged example is the fact that the Sandlers bemoaned the lack of journalistic enthusiasm for investigating the S & L industry, where they made their fortune, and wishes they had done more to help. He therefore argues that their enthusiasm for journalism is "late in arriving." But of course, it is perfectly logical for a person to learn, via personal experience or one's own mistakes, to value something differently. That is called learning by experience -- to which the Sandlers readily admit -- rather than hypocrisy.

And for some reason, Shafer pays no attention whatsoever to the signal being sent by the Sandlers in naming Paul Steiger, the enormously respected former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, to run the project. Does Shafer really and truly believe that if one were starting a MoveOn-style partisan news operation, the person to run it would be the former editor of America's most respected business newspaper? (Richard Tofel, the project's general manager, is also a longtime veteran of the The Wall Street Journal, and the Dow Jones Corp. So far, those are the only names associated with the project.) And does he not trust the nation's editors to refuse reporting they believe does not accurately reflect their standards? If he does, shouldn't he at least say so?

I don't think Shafer is stupid, so I don't think he really believes this. Again, I don't speculate on people's motives if I can help it, but the net effect of this article is to equate serious investigative journalism with liberal activism. This has long been a tactic of the right in its attempt to undermine the accountability function of the press and Shafer's idle speculation reinforces this tendency. When the founders of this country drafted the First Amendment, they did not do so to help liberals but because they knew that powerful individuals inevitably abuse that power. As news organizations continue to scrimp on actual journalism, public-minded individuals and institutions need to step forward and ensure that the democratic function of journalism continues to be fulfilled, regardless of whether it improves the bottom line. Herb and Marion Sandler have done just that. And to ensure the trustworthiness of their operation, they picked one of the most respected and, insofar as journalistic values go, conservative, titans of the business. For their trouble, they are greeted the next day with a column that impugns their motives under the word "perhaps" and instructs the nation's editorial writers to "call upon Herbert Sandler to provide ProPublica with 10 years of funding ($100 million), and then resign from his post as the organization's chairman so he'll never be tempted to bollix up what might turn out to be a good thing."

I agree. Sandler should immediately resign ... as soon as Rupert Murdoch, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Donald Graham, the entire boards of GE, Disney, Viacom, and of course, Bill Gates, do. After all, the only people who should be allowed to fund newspapers are people with no interests in anything, anywhere. Perhaps their respective news organizations could be turned over to the Dalai Lama, now that Mother Teresa's no longer available. Otherwise, Shafer's message seems to be, when it comes to rescuing journalism and its role in ensuring democratic accountability, "liberals need not apply ..."*

* In case you're wondering, I know I'm pretty sure I've never met Marion Sandler, but I believe I met Herb Sandler once, at lunch, four years ago. I first heard of ProPublica in yesterday's New York Times.

From TomDispatch:

David Morse recently traveled with three "Lost Boys" of Sudan into the heart of what could be Africa's next major resource war. In "Starting from Zero," part 1 of his two-part series on his journey through southern Sudan, he described the emotional homecomings of the three young Sudanese men, who, as children, had fled their ravaged villages, embarking on a remarkable and dangerous odyssey that led to new lives in the United States. Today, he considers the political future of the Sudan, a place that -- except for Darfur -- is not much in the American field of vision right now, but, if a resource war breaks out there in the years to come, is likely to be much on our minds.

In part 2, Morse meets with top government officials of the fledging quasi-state of South Sudan and, via them, the "Lost Boys" he's traveling with, and even a smuggler he meets on a long bus trip (" '[Y]ou've only got three years. You make your money and get out. That's when they vote. And then they will go to war.' She mimed an explosive poof! with her hands."), he describes the perilous situation of the peace in that area, which threatens in coming years to collapse and sweep Northern Africa into a new oil war.

Neither Darfur, writes Morse, nor the lesser known South Sudan he brings to life for us, "can be understood in isolation. They are part of the same marginalized hinterland that is struggling with the central government in the North for access to resources. ... [W]hile water triggered the conflict in Darfur, oil continues to fuel it. Oil pays for Khartoum's increasingly sophisticated arms purchases from Russia. Oil buys China's support at the UN Security Council, so that a culture of impunity can go largely unchecked. Oil buys the quiescence of the good citizens of Khartoum, who pretend not to know what is going on 500 miles away."

Reading around:

Bin Laden 2, Bush, 0

Jonathan Freedland on Gordon Brown

The Return of The Wise Men (Yeah sure, Bush will listen this time ...)

Updike on Peanuts; James Woods on Nathan Zuckerman and more and more about The Wire, which I still can't decide if I think is better than The Sopranos, but really, what's the difference?

Charlie Rose interviews Erik Prince; more on making money in Iraq from Jim Holt.

Five thousand words on why Gawker sucks from New York Magazine with an implicit warning to young journalists to stay the hell away from gossip culture. Remember "The Sweet Smell of Success?" Those were the days, huh. Here's a NewsMax interview with Lloyd Grove (in case you needed another warning to stay away from gossip culture.) I knew Lloyd 20 years ago, back when he was a real reporter, and even though we did not particularly care for each other personally, I'd still say following his career trajectory was a sad thing to watch. Reporters don't make much money, and only get invited to fancy places insofar as they have an outlet to play their role in what Joni Mitchell called the "star-making machinery." So when you lose your self-respect, there's really nothing left. (And that closer with the "bologna sandwich" is a nice touch, by the way, Mr. Kessler ... )

Alter-reviews:

Christian Scott, "Anthem" (Concord), by Sal

The first time I heard Christian Scott play trumpet, I did not know it was Christian Scott. I was just entering the Fairgrounds for New Orleans Jazz Fest 2002, and as I made my way toward the Sprint Stage (you Festers know what I'm talking about), I heard this absolutely inspired trumpet solo. It was, I believe, the NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) Jazz Ensemble, and Christian Scott was right there, up front -- 17 years old. Possibly 16. I had been at the Festival all of 15 minutes and I already had "a moment."

The next year, he was headlining the Jazz Tent. His band, mostly college buddies, ripped through a 50-minute set that was equal parts New Orleans Jazz, Black Sabbath, and Bitches Brew. The crowd exploded! A standing O! The 18-year-old nephew of New Orleans' jazz great Donald Harrison Jr. had arrived.

It is now four years later, and "Anthem," Scott's third release, second on the Concord label, takes that same formula, throws in some inspiration from the tragedy that was and still is Hurricane Katrina, and serves the listener a powerful plate of music.

Many of the songs on "Anthem" play like meditations, repetitive one- and two-chord progressions that allow Scott to build slowly and express his emotion and pain over his forsaken city with dramatic and heartbreaking results. But it is not all doom and gloom. Songs like "The 9," written for the Lower 9th Ward, the hardest hit neighborhood in New Orleans, and "Katrina's Eyes," both have beautiful uplifting melodies, the former with a NOLA funk backbeat and the latter with a hypnotic lilt that gives you the feeling of peace.

Since my first taste of Scott's music in 2002, he has become a Grammy nominee, made guest appearances with Cassandra Wilson and Prince, and has toured all over the world. This coming Monday, October 22nd, he'll be headlining two shows at New York's Blue Note, my least favorite venue in Manhattan. I plan on sucking it up and attending the show, and I recommend you do the same.

Sal Nunziato

"Knowing what it means to miss New Orleans."

For more, please go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Today on his live chat, someone asked Howard Kurtz about Ann Coulter's (seemingly) constant appearances on TV whenever she has a new book to sell. Howard said that her books' status as "best-sellers" give bookers an out to have her on the various yakfests (that's not an exact quote, btw). But, of course, Howie neglected to mention that little dagger on The New York Times list, next to her book titles, that refer to bulk buys (by conservative think tanks), who then give the book away with a subscription to The American Spectator or Human Events. What a joke. Years ago, I recall seeing a pallet load of the Reagan bio at a Dollar Store, selling for 75 cents, Hardcover.

Name: Martin Cobern
Hometown: Cheshire, CT

I could not help noticing, upon following the link to the Weiss article, that the lead story in The American Conservative was entitled "Sycophant Savior." Why is this nickname worse than Gen. "Betray Us," and where are the Republican congressmen (and their Democratic yes-men) to denounce it? I guess (pace Limbaugh) that only "anti-military" comments from liberals are worth Congressional chastisement.

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