Talkin' 'bout the Tenth ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Congrats to birthday boy and about-to-be-a -dad-for-the-second-time Josh Marshall and his tenacious staff at Talking Points Memo for winning a prestigious George Polk Journalism Award for reporting on the U.S. attorney firing scandal. It was hard to believe even a few years ago that a blog could be awarded a Polk, but TPM's is more than deserved and an inspiration to all of us. Sadly, TPM's lessons do not appear to be sinking too deeply into the MSM. We learned yesterday here that newspapers lost 16,900 jobs last year, or 4.7 percent of the entire work force, following up recent stories about reporting and newsroom cuts at the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. TPM is helping to prove it's possible for newspapers to begin to "stop the bleeding" as The New York Times' Bill Keller put it in a meeting with his staff. There was nothing uniquely bloggy about the U.S. attorney scandal for which Marshall won the award -- it was a hard news story that any newspaper could have broken. But Marshall's technique led him to places that MSM reporters chose not to go, soliciting valuable input and leads from his committed readers along the way. Were newspapers to invest as heavily as possible in their reporting, particularly investigative reporting, they would be able to highlight the invaluable service they provide to readers by ensuring that their communities were more heavily invested in the result. Plus the quality of the reporting would improve. Just ask Josh.

Congratulations also to The Nation for winning two Polks -- something we hear to be unprecedented -- and also to The Washington Post winners for their terrific Cheney series.

George Zornick writes: McCain Suck-Up Watch -- Here's Peter Canellos, The Boston Globe's Washington bureau chief. He wrote a story yesterday about McCain's willingness to go negative in the Republican primary -- Canellos highlights McCain's ad attacking Mitt Romney, baselessly, on the grounds that Romney supposedly called for a withdrawal from Iraq. Canellos notes that the ad was malarkey - or, that it was "dubious" and the "evidence was unpersuasive," as he puts it. But how does his story, which is almost exclusively focused on McCain's negative and "dubious" campaigning, begin?

History will record that John McCain won the 2008 Republican presidential nomination by following his own quirky path. Offering his trademark "straight talk," McCain won over even those who disagreed with him on the issues, by dint of his honesty and unwillingness to play political games.

Canellos then goes into a several-paragraph discussion of McCain's dishonest Romney-withdrawal ad, but not before prefacing the discussion by saying, "McCain gets a pass for that ad in many people's eyes, if only because Romney himself had tried to win the nomination by blanketing the airwaves with attacks on McCain and Mike Huckabee."

To recap: John McCain is honest and unwilling to play political games. Except when he does, and wins primary elections by doing so.

Also this: "CNN's Tom Foreman uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's claim that he voted against President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts because 'he wanted reductions in spending, too.' But in a 2001 floor statement explaining his opposition, McCain did not mention the absence of offsetting spending cuts; rather, he stated, 'I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief."

NBC was forced to issue an apology this week after Jane Fonda said the word "cunt" in a discussion of the play The Vagina Monologues. "We would do nothing to offend the audience, so please accept that apology," Today co-host Meredith Vieira told viewers.

What the network has not yet apologized for, nor is it likely to, is having Republican operative Roger Stone on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show this week. Stone is the leader of the anti-Hillary Clinton group Citizens United Not Timid, and acronym he may or may not have stolen from a seventh-grade kid. Stone regularly says a lot of things that are far more harmful to women than whatever damage Fonda allegedly did by letting that word slip; for example, Stone proclaims his group's purpose is simply to give a "one-word education. That's our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym." In other words, forget the issues, Hillary is a woman and she must be stopped. Stone also closed his Tucker interview by inexplicably saying this, about Barack Obama: "By the way, I'm not sure how you avoid assassination in those instances. When they see how naive he is, I think the American people will make a correct judgment."

There probably won't be an apology for presenting Stone and the deeply offensive misogyny he represents. It's too bad he didn't commit the gaffe of referring to his own group's name.

More on Mr. Conflict of Interest from Radar

Annoying thing about the quite wonderful Breakfast at Tiffany's. The store is called "Tiffany"; not "Tiffany's."

From TomDispatch:

The disappearance of Iraq -- and especially of the option for a genuinely speedy full withdrawal of all American forces from that country -- may be the most important, least covered issue of the primary campaign season. In his latest post, TomDispatch's Tom Engelhardt takes this on directly.

Here's how he begins:

Think of the top officials of the Bush administration as magicians when it comes to Iraq. Their top hats and tails may be worn and their act fraying, but it doesn't seem to matter. Their latest "abracadabra," the President's "surge strategy" of 2007, has still worked like a charm. They waved their magic wands, paid off and armed a bunch of former Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists (about 80,000 "concerned citizens," as the President likes to call them), and magically lowered "violence" in Iraq. Even more miraculously, they made a country that they had already turned into a cesspool and a slagheap -- its capital now has a "lake" of sewage so large that it can be viewed "as a big black spot on Google Earth" -- almost entirely disappear from view in the U.S.

With its magician's assistant, the mainstream media, the administration has, in fact, had remarkable success in banishing Iraq from the news. The News Coverage Index of the Project for Excellence in Journalism illustrates the point clearly. For the week of February 4-10, the category of "Iraq Homefront" barely squeaked into 10th place on its chart of the top-10 most heavily covered stories, with 1 percent of the "newshole." First place went to "2008 Campaign" at 55 percent. "Events in Iraq" -- that is, actual coverage of and from Iraq -- didn't even make it onto the list.

Most important of all, the administration has managed to make the very idea of a speedy withdrawal from Iraq the persona non grata in any Iraq discussion (despite the fact that polls show approximately 60 percent of Americans want all U.S. troops, not just "combat troops," out in a year).

Engelhardt's piece describes just how all of this has happened; how, in particular, the Bush administration has dug us ever deeper into Iraq, even as it has suggested ever more elaborate, ever longer plans for future "withdrawal." And it also explores just why the president's yearlong surge "success" (on the home front) is unlikely to last until the election, as well as why John McCain is likely to be a far weaker candidate than he appears at present.

He concludes: "When withdrawal finally comes, the Iraqis will be the greatest losers. They will be left in a dismantled country. They deserve better. Perhaps an American administration determined to withdraw in all due haste could still muster the energy to offer better. But leave we must. All of us."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rich
Hometown: Bethlehem, PA

Eric,

In response to your blog entry today regarding troop levels, and the reason to sustain the "surge," it is certainly fair to call the situation in Iraq an "invasion" (not a war), a debacle, an illegal act ... but when are we all, liberal and conservative alike, going to begin to see that this is, from the Iraqi point of view, a humanitarian crisis?

The number of displaced citizens (both within and outside of borders) numbers near 4M. The number of deaths attributable to the conflict (both violent and non-violent) may be near 400,000 by the latest studies, or a lot higher, by others. Mortality rates for children under 5 years of age are nearly 50 percent. Cholera is running rampant, as potable drinking water is hard to find for about 70 percent of the country. With a similar scale of human suffering, Sudan is called a humanitarian crisis. Iraq is still being called just the key front in the U.S. war on terror.

One can argue that the surge and our ongoing occupation is being used to cover up this crisis, or is being used to somewhat covertly try to stem its tide, but this is a humanitarian crisis that the U.S. catalyzed and the world mutely condones. It will be interesting to learn how our current presidential candidates really view this situation, because it will define a lot more clearly the conviction with which they will plan to address it.

Name: Planetniner
Hometown:

"I wonder if McCain would hug me if I accused him, through my surrogates, of course, of having a black love child." Eric -- You (and most of the press) are throwing the worst -- and, to my mind, most unforgivable -- Bush smear of McCain down the memory hole. As vile and outlandish as the "black love child" smear was, the true "jump the shark" moment for Chickenhawk Bush, the Terror of the Texas Air National Guard (when he showed up) was when he stood next to J. Thomas Burch Jr. and let Burch smear McCain's service record. Burch is a POW-MIA dead-ender with a massive grudge against McCain. For Bush to endorse this nut case in smearing McCain -- how could McCain ever forgive this? Mr. Straight Talk? Mr. Integrity? The man has a hole in his soul.

Name: Brian Gygi, Ph.D.
Hometown: Richmond, CA

D*mnit, Dr. A., Kinsley, Kristof, et al. are about to hand the election to the GOP because of their swooning over McCain and all it does is make you "sad??" This is no time for learned helplessness, this time this nonsense has to be stopped or our country will not survive. Time, the Times, every outlet that engages in this needs to be hammered (Kinsley and Kristof both have blogs as well, which need to flooded) or they will continue to bask in their little delusions.

Name: Linda Whitener
Hometown: Charlotte, NC

"McCain told Daschle, 'Look, somebody else has given you the majority -- you don't need me anymore.' " So much for taking a stand on principle, huh? Straight talk, my arse.

Name: Thomas M. Tamm
Hometown: Potomac

Professor: I've got a great new slogan for McCain's campaign: "Four more years!"

Name: Landon W.
Hometown: Chicago, IL

I'd like to see Townes van Zandt inducted as well, but he was never that popular, and commercial success seems to be a big factor in making the Country Music Hall of Fame. I've got 4 that I think should be inducted: Johnny Paycheck, Bobby Bare, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Gary Stewart.

I know most people probably only know Johnny Paycheck for his hit song "Take This Job and Shove It." If that's all you've heard of him, you should run and buy any one of the compilations of his early work he cut for Little Darlin' records in the '60's. This guy was a serious talent. Some argue that George Jones, maybe the most famous voice in country music, actually adapted Paycheck's style for his own.

Bobby Bare is another major talent that had some huge hits in the 60's such as "Detroit City" and " Streets of Baltimore". The albums he cut of Shel Silverstein songs in the early 70's were outlaw before there was outlaw.

Gary Stewart ranks up there as one of the best honky tonk singers of all time. His album "Out of Hand" is an undeniable classic of hard country. Nobody was cutting country records with as much energy as he was in the '70's. There seems to me to be a clear line between his work and the alternative country music of the past 20 years. Seriously, check his stuff out.

Finally, a name everybody knows: Jerry Lee Lewis. You've heard all his hits, the man needs no introduction. Have you heard his country recordings from the late 60's and early 70's though? After his rock career faded, Jerry Lee went back to his roots and recorded a series of incredible country albums that really show the depths of this man's talent as well as anything he ever did. No wonder Cowboy Jack Clement, the famous songwriter and producer at Sun Studios, said that after working with Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, he could say without hesitation that the Killer was the most talented of the bunch.

All these guys, despite their periods of huge success, might still be too out there for the Country Music Hall of Fame. Paycheck went to jail a couple of times for shooting a guy and statutory rape. Gary Stewart's output dwindled in the '80's as he struggled with addiction. Unfortunately he committed suicide a couple of years ago. Bobby Bare's probably got the best shot of making it in the next couple of years, but he seriously pushed the boundaries of country in his day. And Jerry Lee, well everybody knows that man's crazy, plus he's better known for his rock 'n roll. His country sure beats the hell out of Elvis' though, and Elvis is in there. Despite their outsider status, however, all these men crafted unique, influential bodies of work that have shaped what we think of today as country music.

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