They say believe half of what you see ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I'll be speaking in New York at a lunchtime event tomorrow at noon, sponsored by Demos and the World Policy Institute at Demos, 220 Fifth Avenue, fifth floor. And I'll be on a panel on politics in Royce Hall at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the UCLA campus on Saturday at 2:30. I think I will also be signing copies of Why We're Liberals at The Nation's booth there sometime, but I don't know when.

For those who did not make it through all 7,560 words of The New York Times' killer story about how the networks and cable news stations have allowed themselves to be manipulated by a Pentagon-based conspiracy to mislead the American people about the progress of the war with ex-military men whose own financial well-being was directly tied to their willingness to play ball, it's yet another story where you would be called a commie if you suggested it might even be possible, but of course it turns out to be far worse than the critics imagined it. I did, and here are the key details unearthed by the Pulitzer-worthy reporting of David Barstow:

  • "Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks."
  • "The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air."
  • "[B]usiness relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. ... [M]embers of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access."
  • "[N]etwork officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts' interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said."
  • "Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.' "
  • "Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, 'the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.' Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives."
  • " 'You could see that they were messaging,' Brent Krueger, aide to former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Torie Clarke, said. 'You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.' Some days, he added, 'We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You'd look at them and say, "This is working." ' "

Glenn Greenwald reiterates the point of the moral, intellectual, and political irresponsibility of the mainstream media honchos who invited this abuse.

Howard Kurtz, here, is hardly the first person to point this out, but it's worth noting. During the debate, ABC News presented Nash McCabe as a typical voter with a particular concern. She asked Barack Obama on a video "if you believe in the American flag," and if so, why he doesn't wear a flag pin. Of course, she was picked because she was quoted in The New York Times two weeks earlier as a Democrat who maintained she could not vote for the Illinois senator, saying: "How can I vote for a president who won't wear a flag pin?"

Viewers had no way of knowing that McCabe had indicated in advance that she could not back Obama against Hillary Clinton. Her question, expanded upon by moderator Charlie Gibson, forced Obama to defend his patriotism ... Asked about the use of McCabe, first noted by McClatchy Newspapers, ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider says another questioner "made clear that Clinton had lost his vote over her explanation of her trip to Bosnia. ... These questions were representative of what we heard again and again from voters regarding the importance of credibility and electability as central issues in this campaign."

There's really nothing one can add to that to make ABC look any worse, morally or intellectually.

Though George Zornick does add:

History repeatin': One wonders if the campaigns actually saw Charlie Gibson's ridiculousness coming last Wednesday. If not, they should have -- take a look at the transcript of the January 5 Democratic debate in New Hampshire, also hosted by ABC and Mr. Gibson, along with Scott Spralding of WMUR-TV.

A sampling of the questions asked to the candidates, who by that time included only Senators Clinton and Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson:

  • "So I want to ask all of you, are any of you ready to say that the surge has worked?" Gibson follows up by noting that "were it not for the surge, instead of counting votes we'd be counting bodies in the streets."
  • To Clinton: why are people "hesitating on the likability issue?"
  • "What questions are there about Senator Obama that are unanswered?"
  • "Senator Edwards, I'll go to you just with a passing comment, that you haven't talked about Mrs. Clinton's attire recently."
  • The exact same capital gains tax question from Gibson, which he prefaces by saying the average professors at the college where the debate is taking place are in the $200,0000 bracket. Gibson literally has to stop his question because of laughter from the audience.
  • To Obama: "I revved up the Republican attack machine, please respond."

The last question is, sadly, a direct quote, and is in reference to a moment two hours earlier, when on the same stage, the moderators asked the Republican primary candidates why Barack Obama shouldn't be president -- "I'd like to hear some specifics on why not him." Note that it was the only non-issue-based question posed to the Republicans.

McCain Suck-up Watch: Head over to the sponsors and check out this chart, "Comparing Their Wealth," that Wolf Blitzer ran on The Situation Room. It shows, in bar graph form, the income of all the presidential candidates, along with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Each candidate or official is shown with a picture of his or her spouse -- and the income total includes both people, which is especially notable in the case of the Clintons, because it increases the figure dramatically.

Humbly sitting at the very end of the chart, with the lowest income, is Senator McCain. He looks lonely -- his wife, Cindy, who incidentally is worth $100 million, isn't pictured. Nor is her income added to the total. Well done, Wolf! Incidentally, one wonders where his CNN salary would appear on that chart ...

From TomDispatch:

In offering answers to 12 (unstated) questions about Iraq -- "Yes, the war was about oil"; "No, the Iraqi government is not a government"; "No, our new embassy in Baghdad is not an 'embassy'"; "No, the surge is not over"; "No, the Iraqi army will never 'stand up'" -- Tom Engelhardt also lays out 12 reasons for a total withdrawal from Iraq. In carefully explaining each of the answers, he delves into subjects that regularly go almost undiscussed in this country. These range from the presence of American mega-bases in Iraq and what they tell us about administration intentions to the role of the present American air surge in that country.

In the process, Engelhardt explores most of the topics that are regularly mustered by the administration and others whenever the subject of withdrawal comes up: Doesn't the American military stand between Iraq and fragmentation? (No.) Doesn't it stand between Iraq and civil war? (No.) If we leave, won't al-Qaeda take over? (No.) Then, won't Iran take over? (No.)

Engelhardt's latest piece, "Unraveling Iraq," carefully unravels major aspects of the American situation in Iraq today and musters realities seldom discussed here in what is not only an argument for total withdrawal, but a devastating indictment of the last 5-plus years of American policy in that country. The twelfth and final "answer" in the essay is: "Yes, some Americans were right about Iraq from the beginning (and not the pundits either)" -- which leads to a discussion of just why all those demonstrators in the streets of American cities and towns before the invasion in 2003, who were prescient in their fears about the catastrophe to come -- have been largely wiped from history and why the majority of Americans in favor of total withdrawal today are being similarly ignored.

The Danny Federici Melanoma Fund: The Federici family and the E Street family have requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund. The fund's website is now up and running, where it is described as "dedicated to the research and development of new and effective treatments for melanoma through funding for additional clinical trials based upon Danny's melanoma treatments and other methods headed by Dr. Paul Chapman [at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center]. Our other objective is to raise awareness for this aggressive disease."

Alter-review: Maude Maggart at the Oak Room

It's that time of year again; Maude Maggart's at the Oak Room and I'm trying not to embarrass myself with paeans to her voice, grace, poise, beauty, intelligence, sense of humor, self-confidence, and something -- I don't know what -- let's call it "Je ne sais quoi." Whatever it is, Maggart is more famous for being Fiona Apple's sister than for her manifold and manifest gifts, which is a crime of sorts, but I guess it's one with which we can all live, given those with which we already do. This show, "Speaking of Dreams," is at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel through May 10. Accompanying her are John Boswell on piano (he will be replaced by Lanny Myers on April 15) and Yair Evnine on guitar and cello. The show is filled, per usual, with interesting historical trivia and family history, to say nothing of beautiful, ethereal singing and musicianship. I found it touching when Maggart noted that she was so happy to be in the Oak Room because before she started singing there, she couldn't afford to go. It really is a rarefied experience, and shame that cabaret performance is not more widely available in our society because it doesn't require any great education or intelligence to appreciate it -- though I suppose these help.

Anyway, Jonathan Schwartz offers these valuable insights on Maude's website:

Maggart's real name is amber, but she chose Maude for the alliteration and because it's name evokes the era in which many of the songs she sings were written. At 32, she still looks like a girl. But the woman emerges on stage when sings and, to a degree, when she speaks. For Maude Maggart, the songs are life itself, the reason for being alive, for falling in love, for risking everything for a man who has touched her heart.

Believe me, she has done her homework. She has learned by research and discipline and by channeling the wisdom of her guides, singers Andrea Marcovicci and Michael Feinstein.

Maggart has recorded four wonderful albums, but she is someone you must see perform in person. Her physical beauty, her brave presence, looking so vulnerable in front of the audience, is not captured on Cds. Her ethereal and frequently agonizing bravado can be received by some as irritating on a disk, but for me the beauty of her singing overcomes the difficulties.

And Stephen Holden, writing in the Times, offers this on-the-money observation: "Were Hollywood to remake Otto Preminger's noir classic 'Laura,' Ms. Maggart could both play the role (she has the looks and the mysterious aura) and sing the title song about a haunted beauty. The 'face in the misty light' at the beginning of the song is ultimately revealed to be 'only a dream.' " It's hard to imagine more appropriate or higher praise.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ian
Hometown: Los Angeles

Why are we oh so concerned about winning and losing? Every time I hear someone say that we're winning in Iraq, I have to ask, we're winning -- what? What does winning look like? No one ever answers that question from Mr. Bush on down to his latest marionette, Petraeus. Any discussion becomes an exercise in Dada: we don't know what winning is but we certainly cannot allow ourselves to lose. And for that matter, can anyone explain to me at this point what the mission is? All those troops who our knees jerk to support say: I'm doing my job. I'm carrying out the mission. I don't believe any of them know what the mission is beyond the day's assignment -- drive from point A to point B and back to point A and try not get blown up in the process. That's a "successful" mission. Never have words been so separated from their denotative meanings. If the mission is nonsense and confusion, believe me, we have won.

Name: Bob Cawley
Hometown: Ballston, NY

Eric,

Why does the National Defense University hate America?

Name: Joe C.
Hometown: Houston, Tx.

Excellent article, Doctor. Why, oh why haven't we impeached Cheney, yet? He was there. In the meetings. Approving torture. Why are Reid and Pelosi so damned gelatinous? Did they give their wink and nods to the administration in some other behind-the-scenes meeting we don't yet know about? By not moving for impeachment, they are accomplices.

Name: John G. Woodside
Hometown: Sugar Land, TX

Dear Dr. Alterman,

I loved reading Pierce's dissection of the Pope's speech. He certainly sounds like a good atheist to me. My group would welcome him with open arms! God knows (pun intended) we can use more members...

Without getting into any intense theological debate, I hope that most, if not all, Altercation readers can agree that the Founders intended the country to be run by a secular government free from the influences of any religion.

The Founders were products of the Enlightenment and followers of Deism. Our nation happened to be conceived in one of the few times in history when one could establish a secular nation without getting one's head chopped off...

Long live secularism!

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada

Look, I really like Brother Pierce's comments on Altercation and on NPR. But he really needs a civics lesson.

Let's suppose Harry Reid takes his advice and reads Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic caucus in the Senate. So, Lieberman -- who is one of the most despicable politicians around today because he is supposed to have principles and doesn't, unlike John McCain, who isn't supposed to have principles and doesn't -- goes to the Republican caucus or sits on the sidelines. That makes the Senate 50-50. The tiebreaking vote then is cast by Dick Cheney. Do you think he votes to make the Senate Democratic? No, so, goodbye to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, and Appropriations chair Robert Byrd, and Judiciary chair Pat Leahy, and other chairs like, oh, Ted Kennedy from Pierce's Massachusetts.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco

Dear Dr. A,

As a gay man who reads your blog daily, please allow me to comment on this Jamie Kirchick/Andrew Sullivan kerfuffle. First, I've never seen anything you've written that would support a charge of homophobia, and trust me, it's an issue to which I'm attuned, for very obvious reasons.

Second, many of us in the gay community view Andrew Sullivan simply as a self-hating homosexual, someone whose internalized homophobia has led him to identify with our oppressors. Hence his longstanding support for the Republican Party. None of the gay people I know looks at Sullivan as any kind of a representative of our community. In truth, most of us see him as a sellout. Indeed, in my view, that's why Sullivan is the only big-name gay political commentator in the media. There's nothing the SCLM loves more than someone who will turn on his own people. It gives right-wing homophobes some cover when they can point to a gay man like Sullivan as someone who agrees with them.

Third, I find nothing offensive in your calling Sullivan "Little Roy." On the contrary, the analogy is stunningly accurate. Both Cohn and Sullivan are gay men who have used positions of prominence to the disadvantage of gay people in general. So this gay man is behind you 100% on that one.

If I have a criticism here, it's that I'd like to see you write more about the way the MSM reports on gay issues. I realize this isn't a gay blog and that, with this administration, you've got a whole barrel of fish to fry, but I simply offer that for your consideration. You do great work here, and I for one consider this blog indispensable.

Name: Mark Shotzberger
Hometown: Dover, DE

The Pope appears at Yankee Stadium.

Steinbrenner fires him, appoints Billy Martin new Pope.

Film at 11!

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

To Altercation,

You might want to give a mention to Joe Jackson's excellent, underrated 1982 album Night and Day. I haven't listened to all of Jackson's work, but it sure sounds like the best of what I've heard. I was living in NY at the time it was out, and I still can't listen to it without experiencing in my mind the look and sound of the town of those pre-AIDS, pre-downtown-development days.

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