"Not even the fee for the gaming license ..."

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Howard "Conflict of Interest" Kurtz reports:

The Washington Times reached into its chief rival's newsroom for a new executive editor yesterday, naming Washington Post national reporter John Solomon to succeed Wesley Pruden at the paper's helm.

Solomon was an unexpected choice to take over what Pruden, who has run the Times for 16 years, has long described as a conservative newspaper. But Solomon, 41, who spent two decades at the Associated Press and is not known as an ideological journalist, said he doesn't view the paper in those terms.

This would be funny were it not also important. Kurtz doesn't think Solomon is an ideological journalist because he shares his ideology, which includes contempt both for liberals and democracy as well as the politics of substance. I never really noticed Solomon until I started wondering what kind of self-respecting reporter would ever wish to devote himself to a full-on investigation of a presidential candidate's haircut, and then, in public no less, put his name on such a story as if he were actually proud of this accomplishment. I see from my friends at Think Progress that my misgivings were not misplaced. For instance:

  • Solomon tried to link Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to the Jack Abramoff scandal by reporting on Reid contacts with Abramoff-tied lobbyist, but overlooked the fact that Reid voted against lobbyists' favored bill.
  • Solomon took comments by Ambassador Joe Wilson out of context in effort to claim he "acknowledged his wife was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak's column first identified her."
  • In a non-story, Solomon reported that Reid accepted boxing tickets from a state government agency, despite that he then did the opposite of what the agency wanted.
  • In 2006, Solomon claimed that Reid "collected a $1.1 million windfall on a Las Vegas land sale," even though Reid actually only made a $700,000 profit on the sale.
  • Solomon wrote a story calling Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) a hypocrite on campaign finance reform, but buried quotes by critics of big money in government exonerating him for "all the things the article criticizes him for doing."
  • In July, Solomon "devoted nearly 1,300 words to the 'controversy' surrounding" John Edwards' haircut.
  • In a front page story, Solomon baselessly suggested that John Edwards had engaged in a shady land deal, but never provided proper context for the sale. His reporting was criticized by the Post's ombudsman.

This is exactly the kind of reporting that belongs in Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times. So congrats on the new job, fella. Alas, sadly, the editors of The Washington Post believe, with Howard Kurtz, that it also belongs in the Post, where it is considered "non-ideological."

In light of the above, I note, thanks to Atrios, that it is apparently OK in The Washington Post to report as news, without presenting any evidence, that John Edwards "has offended many Democrats with his candidacy. They question his authenticity and see his shift from optimism to anger as the sign of an opportunistic politician." Here. Now, the contention is not exactly false, but it is true in the banal sense that it is meaningless. Has Obama offended many Democrats? Has Hillary Clinton offended many Democrats? Obviously each has, if only those Democrats supporting others' candidacies. But generally, reporters are supposed to be able to support their contentions in the news section of the paper with evidence. Still, it's generally considered OK to say whatever you want about him in the paper, as I discussed in The Nation this week, here.

For the record: In his discussion of the hiring of William Kristol on Sunday, New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt referred to the presence of "six liberals" on the Times op-ed page. I emailed Mr. Hoyt to inquire as to whether he was including Maureen Dowd among "liberals." His reply below:

Dear Professor Alterman,

Yes, I am including Maureen Dowd in the six, though I recognize that she sometimes defies easy classification.

Sincerely,

Clark Hoyt

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Karen Creighton
Hometown: Hopkinsville, KY

Happy birthday, Eric.

Thanks for giving your readers the opportunity for donating to a good cause in honor of your birthday. I hope that many others have chipped in.

Name: Fred Brandfon
Hometown: Los Angeles, California

I understand that Ex. 10:1 can be seen that way, but I have always thought differently. Among other things, The Hebrew Bible, the Torah included, is a meditation on justice in all its guises and permutations. When God "hardens" Pharaoh's heart in order to visit another plague upon the Egyptian people, the Biblical author is saying two things. First, he is saying that the victimizer may not ultimately decide what his own punishment will be. If it were up to Pharaoh, with heart unaffected by the God of Ex. 10:1, he might have earlier chosen a night of frogs as just compensation for four hundred years of slavery. The author of the Torah, whoever that was, knew that was not justice and that it could not be left to Pharaoh to determine what constitutes justice. If you enslave people for 400 years, you don't also get to decide your just desserts. Consequently, Ex. 10:1 is not akin to the decision to bomb Hiroshima and has greater affinity with Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address where the same principle is stated. Second, the Biblical author is also commenting on God's limited power to do perfect justice once He decides to act in the human world. The Biblical God is omnipotent but only until he chooses one course of action over another. Then the limitations of choice govern even Divine intervention. Once God has decided to use the purported historical occurrence of Hebrew slavery as a device to teach humans about Justice, he has to account for and work with human limitations. Given the all too human propensity of the Pharaoh to (1) free the slaves after a night of frogs and (2) call it even, God is compelled to harden Pharaoh's heart in order to teach the basic lesson that slavery is a great injustice which requires great compensation and punishment. It is not a perfect solution, but neither is drowning Pharaoh's army in the sea in order to effect liberation. Jewish tradition has it that God was not happy with that decision, and at Seder or in my University classes in Hebrew Bible, I extrapolate that the Biblical author thought He had similar misgivings about hardening Pharaoh's heart.

None of this is to say that any of the events in Ex. 10 actually occurred. These days if I open my mouth about the Bible, I alway have to add that I don't take it literally. Far from it. In my opinion, the plagues never occurred (and God is not a sure thing either.) Nonetheless, the Hebrew Bible is a ferociously serious attempt to puzzle out how humans may do justice in an imperfect world.

Sorry I can't help on Ex. 10:26. It's been too long since I saw the movie.

Eric replies: Oh wait, more work. Thanks, Fred (and Karen). Exodus 10:1 is like dropping the bomb on Hiroshima in my opinion because God purposely hardened Pharaoh's heart against Moses' request that the Israelites be allowed to leave Egypt so that he might offer both sides a demonstration of His power, first by enveloping all Egyptian (but not Israelite) homes in darkness and, second, by killing their first-born. This reminded me of the U.S. military's decision to leave Hiroshima untouched by bombing during the war so that a pristine, undamaged city might be destroyed by a new weapon and thereby make a greater impression on the Japanese (and perhaps the Russians) regarding the destructive power of the American military.

Exodus 10:26 reminded me of Michael Corleone because when Pharaoh instructs Moses that he must leave his livestock if he takes his people out of Egypt, Moses instructs him that not only are the Israelites taking their livestock but he expects Pharaoh to supply the animals necessary for the Israelites' sacrifices before undertaking their journey. Remember when Nevada Senator Pat Geary demands a bribe from Michael and insists, "I want your answer and the money by noon tomorrow. And one more thing. Don't you contact me again, ever. From now on, you deal with Turnbull." Michael replies: "Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally." It's all here.

What the two together teach me is how much fun it is for humans to play God ...

And thanks to everyone who contributed to the Lawrence Community Shelter.

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