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››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Altercation will return on Thursday. Eric offers his wishes for a sweet 5769 to all.

I did a short post on the debate for the Guardian, here. Oh, and I'll be speaking on "Media Bias in the 2008 Primary Season" at 5 p.m. Wednesday, October 1, in McGraw Hall room 165 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. More info here.

One of the most fortunate occurrences of my 25 years of writing for The Nation was the opportunity to get to know Paul Newman. I don't say this because he was a great actor -- which of course he was, but so are many less than admirable people. I say it instead because in all my life I never met a nicer, more generous, more humble, more decent or more patriotic person. He was also quite funny for someone so naturally shy. And did you know that he and Edgar Doctorow ran a laundry service together at Kenyon College? I don't have anything unique to add, except to offer my condolences to those who were closer to him and to recommend this lovely piece by Dahlia Lithwick.

Proof from The Note that the MSM uses the word "bold" as a synonym for "stupid" and "reckless": "How many times has the Obama campaign done anything as bold as the McCain campaign does about every other week?"

Bias in Action: Howard Kurtz writes here:

The rhetoric gets heated this time of year, but Paul Begala, the CNN commentator, went way over the line in calling President Bush a "high-functioning moron."

The former Bill Clinton aide can be a witty partisan, but there are 50 ways he could have ridiculed Bush's capacity to govern without using such a slur. Begala, though, is undeterred: "I said it. I meant it. I don't regret it. . . . You cannot imagine the positive feedback I've gotten."

Apparently Kurtz does not agree with Begala that Bush as a "high-functioning moron," but does he bother to provide any evidence to support his side? No, he simply dismisses the description as a "slur." And yet it is one that is undoubtedly shared not only by millions of Americans but also, according to many global public surveys, much if not most of the world. I agree it's not a sure thing Bush is moron. He may, like Cheney, be something worse. But still, should The Washington Post's media reporter be flacking for the president, offering his conservative bias under the guise of impartial analysis? (I suppose he could have been complaining about the "high-functioning" part, in which case, well, the evidence is still lacking.)

Our Think Again column describes how much of the mainstream media ignored the myriad economic issues that helped cause the recent crisis -- even though, aside from being obviously quite important, polls consistently showed that people were most concerned about the economy and in hearing stories about it. We hoped that there would be no such dereliction of duty during the incredibly complicated, frenetic bailout talks taking place in Washington recently.

Unfortunately, even simple and central facts about the deal are being missed. USA Today has a story out, "CEO pay takes a hit in bailout plan." NPR told listeners the same. The trouble is, as this Los Angeles Times story notes, there are very weak provisions in the bill, mainly limiting tax deductions in narrow areas of executive compensation -- in fact, Dean Baker says "[i]t is not clear whether these restrictions will limit any CEO's pay." This is a central detail that should be clearly understood and expressed by reporters.

Far more digging needs to be done into Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson's motivation and background. As The New York Times notes today, the proposed bailout gives Paulson "extraordinary power" to decide how $700 billion of taxpayer money is spent. So where is Paulson coming from -- what are his philosophies, his record, his financial and professional interests? How did he overlook this impending economic disaster? Important questions, certainly more so than his career as a college football player -- something that, for some reason, we keep hearing about. Newsweek had a full-page photo of the young uniformed Paulson, who we learn "may be the right man at the right time." USA Today, too, reports that "Paulson won All-East football honors as an offensive tackle despite an estimated 195-pound frame considered small for the position, cites one key to his friend's success on the gridiron and in professional life: 'He does not take no for an answer.' "

It's true that very complicated things are happening very fast, but that's not an excuse for journalists to take the easy way out and talk personality -- it makes the public's need for their work all the more important.

Getting closer ...

And when McCain delivered a scripted zinger -- "Sen. Obama has the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate; it's hard to reach across the aisle when you're that far to the left" -- Obama replied: "Mostly that's me opposing George Bush's wrongheaded policies."

Say it loud and say it proud, brother. (National Journal's crappy calculations notwithstanding...)

McCain Suck-Up Watch: On NBC's Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw did not challenge Steve Schmidt's false claim that Sen. John McCain "called for the firing of Don Rumsfeld." In fact, the McCain campaign itself reportedly admitted that McCain did not call for Rumsfeld to be fired, or for his resignation. More here.

George Zornick writes: Give the ideologues at Fox News a little credit -- they're really having to do some amazing contortions this election season. Yesterday, Karl Rove and Sean Hannity analyzed Sarah Palin's recent interviews, and agreed that she was a victim of overpreparation. Now, even Hannity can't think that. We know these types are big water carriers -- Rush Limbaugh admitted it back in 2006 -- but their backs must really be straining.

Memo to the press: McCain did not suspend his campaign. Tell that to Schieffer, O'Donnell, Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray, Wolf Blitzer, et al.

Who went to shul this week? Well, actually, it was two weeks ago, but still, what in the world is up with this? What's it doing in the Torah? How often did this problem arise? Any insight, anyone?

"If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity." (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

Fire Omar! (There, I said it.)

From TomDispatch:

Chalmers Johnson, author of the Blowback trilogy, has suggested for years that the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, and America's wars are in the process of bankrupting us. How strange then that, as he brilliantly points out in his latest TomDispatch post, no one in the mainstream even blinks when a staggering new $612 billion Pentagon budget sails through the House of Representatives and then, by voice vote, through the Senate just as negotiators in Washington are scrambling to find a similar sum to deal with a catastrophic financial meltdown; nor does anyone in the mainstream bother to make any connection between that budget and the funds we don't have available to use elsewhere, or between the looting of Iraq and the looting of our financial system.

Johnson begins: "There has been much moaning, air-sucking, and outrage about the $700 billion that the U.S. government is thinking of throwing away on rich New York bankers who have been ripping us off for the past few years and then letting greed drive their businesses into a variety of ditches. In fact, we dole out similar amounts of money every year in the form of payoffs to the armed services, the military-industrial complex, and powerful senators and representatives allied with the Pentagon."

He then considers our president's two wasteful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the third one that may be starting up in the Pakistani borderlands) and concludes this remarkable piece in the following fashion:

Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on present and future wars that have nothing to do with our national security is simply obscene. And yet Congress has been corrupted by the military-industrial complex into believing that, by voting for more defense spending, they are supplying "jobs" for the economy. In fact, they are only diverting scarce resources from the desperately needed rebuilding of the American infrastructure and other crucial spending necessities into utterly wasteful munitions. If we cannot cut back our longstanding, ever increasing military spending in a major way, then the bankruptcy of the United States is inevitable. As the current Wall Street meltdown has demonstrated, that is no longer an abstract possibility but a growing likelihood. We do not have much time left.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John Emerson
Hometown: Osakis

Bob Bateman brought up some interesting points about the Posse Comitatus law, as did Rob Farley at "Lawyers Guns and Money," and if the two of them had done so with a little less vehemence I might have taken them more seriously. But both of them chose to heap insults on Glenn Greenwald, forcing their readers to choose sides, and I'm on Greenwald's side.

Bateman and Farley both spoke as military insiders and seemed to take what Greenwald said as insults to the honor of the military -- the same old winger "Support the Troops" smear. In any society the military can be a dangerous force, and while the American military has a tradition of civilian control, so did the Chilean military up until they didn't.

This piece from Orcinus is not about The Military or the people Farley and Bateman know personally. It's about some of the people who go into the military. There have been other reports about the influence of Dominionist Christianity in the Air Force, in individual Army units, and among the generals leading the Iraq War. ("My God is bigger than your God".) I've also recently talked to two anti-war mothers whose Iraq War veteran sons came back hostile to civilians and pushing the "stabbed in the back" line. One mother believed that their sons had been brainwashed.

One of the articles spoke of applying crowd control techniques in the US which had been developed in Iraq. Not really an appealing proposition. One of the nasty things about NOLA was the media emphasis on policing and crowd control as opposed to rescue and help. At some point the victims started to be represented as the problem.

The St. Paul Republican convention crowd control was policed by militarized police from various forces, effectively federalized (federal financing and a non-local central command) under the direction of the Republican Party. Greenwald may have misread some specifics (I'm not conceding that, however), but he and Orcinus have been tracking this kind of thing for some time and deserve a respectful response.

On my scorecard it's now Greenwald and Orcinus two, Farley and Bateman zero. I do rather regret that they chose to chose to let whatever valid points they may have had be obscured by their abusive scorn and huffy defensiveness about the military honor.

Name: Jacquie Mardell
Hometown: Santa Clara, CA

The NY Times buys into ... something weird, suggesting here that not jumping around and waving your arms during a crisis is a problem. "People want presidents who lead and relate to them -- they don't want presidents who analyze and seem above it all," according to this guy, who speaks for, well, no one I know.

Name: Rena
Hometown: Monrovia, Ca.

Mr. Ehrlich,

Thank you for your critique on the N.Y. Times articles on the candidate's debating styles. After seeing the blatantly biased headlines, I was too disgusted with the Times, as a member in good standing of our SCLM, to actually read them.

Name: Martin Brandt
Hometown: San Jose, California

As a high school senior in 1982, I grew a beard in order to look like Pete Townshend. Unfortunately, I ended up looking more like Kenny Loggins -- a huge disappointment. But this is just to say that by the time the Moon-less Who rolled around to Oakland in the fall of that year, they did not have a greater fan than me. After many years poring over the rock n' roll press, I had come to understand that a Who show represented some kind of transcendent merging of band and audience. FM radio didn't help, either -- whipping me to a frenzy in the days leading up to the show with Who "triple shots": "Join Together," "Baba O'Riley" and "We're Not Going to Take It" merging into an inextricable "Classic Rock" cacophony.

Imagine my surprise when the Clash kicked the Who's ass that day. Unlike Ken G. of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, I was close to the front for both bands. The contrast could be heard most clearly in the songs from the bands' latest LPs: the Clash had "Should I Stay or Should I Go," and "Rock the Casbah"; the Who had "It's Hard" and the interminable "Eminence Front" -- as good an excuse as you'll ever have to wend your way through a crowd of sixty thousand and find yourself a seat.

I left older and wiser, but I shouldn't have been surprised. Pete put it best in a Rolling Stone interview a few years before, saying something to the effect that if he were eighteen, he wouldn't go see the Who; he'd go see the Clash and hope to get them on a good night. I got to test the hypothesis, and man was Pete ever right!

Eric replies: And a good new year to all our readers. Here's to change....

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