The loving sounds of static

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

George Zornick here, filling in for Eric as he hits the road for Why We're Liberals again. He'll be in Berkeley tonight at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, and you can see his full schedule below. Also, Eric was a guest on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC yesterday, which you can listen to here.

I would also recommend Eric's New Yorker piece, in the current issue, about the newspaper industry, Lippmann, Dewey, and online journalism. You can read it here.

The New York Times published a piece today by Robin Toner, under the headline: "Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier?" It asks:

To achieve the change the country wants, he says, "we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done."

But this promise leads, inevitably, to a question: Can such a majority be built and led by Mr. Obama, whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year?

One could certainly write a story about whether a particular person, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, can unify the country; there are reasonable opinions on both sides of that question. But the article is simply asking if a liberal can be a unifier, and this set-up assumes that this is a real dilemma. Now there are a number of public opinion polls (collected in a new book I've been hearing a lot about ...) which could have been added to the story for some context to the question of whether a liberal could unify the country. These polls that show majorities and even super-majorities of Americans taking positions commonly defined as liberal: For example, roughly 70 percent of respondents in a 2006 survey said the government has a responsibility to "take care of people who can't take care of themselves"; 69 percent saying the government should guarantee "every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep"; and 57 percent favor government-funded health insurance for all citizens.

This information is unfortunately absent in this particular discussion of whether voters would be attracted to a liberal candidate. We do have in the article, though, the National Journal voting record analysis, which apparently is stand-alone damnation when it rates Obama the most liberal member of the Senate. (In any case, as you already know, the survey isn't worth much anyway. It rates Sen. Obama as more liberal than Sens. Bernie Sanders, Russ Feingold or Ted Kennedy, which is nuts. The survey doesn't distinguish between important votes and irrelevant ones, and doesn't account for the fact that Obama missed a lot of votes while running for president.)

It's likely stories like this will keep appearing until a prominent pol explains why being a liberal is fine. As Eric requested in The Nation last month: "Say it, Barack. Say it loud, and say it proud..."

FCC Watch: The Fox network, which as we noted is already locked in a legal battle with the FCC over "fleeting obscenities" at the Billboard Music Awards a while back, is now refusing to pay $91,000 in fines levied over racy scenes in the reality show Married by America. Says Fox: "[We] believe that the F.C.C.'s decision in this case was arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with precedent and patently unconstitutional."

Back in 2004, Jeff Jarvis did some snooping into these particular complaints over Married by America and found that, of the 159 complaints the FCC claims it received over the show (already a pretty paltry number considering the millions of people that watched the show), there were only 23 individuals making the complaints. And all but two of the letters were identical -- bringing the grand total of original complaints about the show to three. As a percentage of the American public that's upset about the show ... well, there's a lot of zeroes in front of that number.

Speaking of the "fleeting obscenities" case, The New York Times had a good editorial on the matter Sunday:

The F.C.C.'s rationale for its fleeting expletives policy is indeed thin. It claimed it was only trying to reflect community standards. But there is scant evidence that the public is up in arms about an occasional coarse word. The words the commission finds so offensive, and so in need of punishment, are the sort commonly heard in PG-rated movies and walking down the street. The stakes in this case are much higher than whether awards shows can air a few bad words. The F.C.C. has used its new policy to turn itself into a roving censorship board.

Read the rest here.

The Why We're Liberals official tour:

Tuesday, March 25, 7:30 p.m.
First Congregational Church of Berkeley
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA
Sponsored by Cody's Books

Wednesday, March 26, 12:30 p.m.
Stacey's Bookstore
San Francisco, CA

Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Powell's Books
Portland, OR

Friday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.
Town Hall Seattle
sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Co.
Seattle, WA

Thursday, April 10, 7:45 p.m.
Scarsdale Public Library
Scarsdale, NY

Saturday, April 26, 2:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, April 30
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Debra Beller
Hometown: Chapel Hill

Much like Bob from Ballston, NY, I can't tell you the number of times I have conversations with people who agree with fundamental liberal principles. But more often than not, they call themselves that other "L" word -- libertarians. The conservatives and media have done such a great job of denigrating liberals that many of those who are really are liberals are afraid to call themselves liberals. When it is pointed out to these folks that an awful lot of true libertarians believe really wacky things, they back down -- but still won't call themselves liberals! Instead, they say they are independent. Sad, really.

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

You'd think that conservatives would have at least one good idea in circulation these days, if only by dumb luck. At least it would be nice if that were true, given the fact that they have run every aspect of our government for most of the last few seven years and pulled most of the strings for the last generation. Unfortunately I've tried pretty hard and can't find much evidence of even harmless ideas, let alone good ones. Here is a pretty good description of how the GOP has pretty well destroyed the economy, and with lasting consequences. The author didn't even touch on how they've badly damaged the ability of the government to deal with problems through demonization, downsizing, privatization, and outright corruption, but of course those subjects could fill up several more columns...or books. Conservatism is both intellectually and ethically bankrupt now, with the right application of pressure the dried out shell will collapse into a pile of broken shards. Hopefully that will happen before conservatives pull the Republic into the hole with them.

Name: Ian
Hometown: Los Angeles

Will anyone anywhere in this criminal Bush administration ever be held accountable for anything? Except that the fabric of our republic is wrent, this would all be pretty amusing. It's a variation of "round up the usual suspects." Nothing anyone in this administration says is true. They lie and lie and lie. We know they're lying. They know they're lying. And everyone goes about their business. Me too, I just got a 52" HDTV this weekend, and it's smashing. Who really has time to punish the criminals running the country -- there's too much to watch.

Name: T. Bass
Hometown: Sacramento, CA

Dear Doc:

Having just finished your article, "Out Of Print," in The New Yorker, I can finally see why you are a professor. Excellent journalism!

As a former small-town newspaper owner, editor, and reporter, now retired, I can truly relate and empathize with print media's current imbroglios. Nonetheless, I think it is fully deserved given many newspapers' performance as propaganda mouthpieces for the Bush/Cheney regime over the last seven years. They have helped to harm this nation, morally, economically, and otherwise.

Fact is, the corporations that now own most newspapers could care less about good journalism. An elite corporatocracy owns and runs them, in many cases, with the assistance of neocon ideologues. Together, their goal is to manipulate the news for profit, and, the unfettered delivery of their preferred propaganda (and lies) to their readership. Why would anyone root for this business model to survive?

Though deeply saddened by the demise of good-old "paper and ink," in the long run I think our democracy will be all the healthier for it, given the current state of things.

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA

Reading the presentation of the Lippmann-Dewey debate in your New Yorker piece, it was hard for me not to notice how this journalistic tension parallels (reflects? drives?) that of the current Democratic Party power struggle. But before pronouncing on the efficacy or the prospects of the Dewey agenda, in any of these areas, we should not lose sight of the fact that for Dewey the possibility of continual universal education is essential to both progressive Journalism and progressive Politics. So, if nothing else, his offering of a Theory of Education is one respect in which he clearly surpasses Lippmann, and a potential resource for his current Journalistic and Political descendants.

Name: Kevin Shaw
Hometown: Philadelphia

Pulling emails from individual PC's ... What a crummy excuse for a smokescreen!

Any, and I mean ANY, network administration intern can tell you that the first thing that must be accomplished every day is the verification and storage of the last backup. The media containing backup copies of all this "missing" email is somewhere. It could possibly be at the bottom of the Challenger Deep, but it is somewhere and someone knows where! See here for simple strategies for making sure anything that was ever on your network infrastructure is preserved forever. This is basic enterprise IT procedure. If it was not being done, than someone should be held accountable for the malfeasance and the White House and the RNC better start looking for some professionals to manage their network.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas

Gordy asked why only Stephen Colbert questions John McCain's connections to preachers whose views and actions are far more antithetical to all that Americans are supposed to believe than anything Rev. Jeremiah Wright has said. The answer has something to do with who is asking the question and Dr. A's piece on newspapers.

Once upon a time, Russell Baker appeared in The New York Times, Art Buchwald in The Washington Post, Art Hoppe in the San Francisco Chronicle, and other humor columnists were syndicated. They didn't always write about the day's news, especially Baker, who remains in my mind unequalled for sheer consistent brilliance as a columnist. But a humorist or satirist can point out the emperor's nudity much more easily than a reporter or a political columnist. The reporter can go only so far. The political columnist is too often in thrall to his sources -- note how Henry Kissinger took over James Reston's column in the 1970s, and how today David Broder and Robert Novak are so transparent in their ties to old-time politicians that you can see not only through their columns, but through them.

Thus, it falls to Colbert and Jon Stewart to be the satirists of the news, and of how the news is covered -- even more than the late-night talk show hosts, who are themselves more closely tied to the Establishment than Stewart and Colbert. Sadly, when it comes to satirizing the media, Stewart need not be funny himself. All he has to do is show what they have shown. Satire, after all, is not just funny, but tragic.

Name: Jonathan F.
Hometown: Dublin, CA

Dr. A,

Lifting directly from the 3/24 Associated Press release, President Bush pledged Monday to ensure "an outcome that will merit the sacrifice of those who have died in Iraq...."

Perhaps I've missed it against the backdrop of constantly changing rationales (WMD to Al Qaeda Links to Islamofascists to the latest generic threat, "extremists") but does anyone know what this meritable outcome is going to look like?

In fact, has the endgame of the Neocon regime ever really been defined? Invasion, shock and awe, taking the Iraqi oil fields off-line for a protracted amount of time and parking a large contingent of the US armed force in the Middle East could, at best, be described as means to an end.

So I guess the question is -- what is that end? What would a map of the world look like if the Neocons had their way?

Thinking out loud...

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