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Even though ABC has downsized The Note nearly out of existence, it continues the Karl Rovian political tint it enjoyed under Mark Halperin. For instance, today, Rick Klein admiringly quotes racist hatemonger Rush Limbaugh as if he were a respected analyst worthy of respect, interest, etc. (Oh wait, could it be because Rush was talking to Barbara Walters, whose program is owned by the same folks who pay Klein's salary? So the entire network is now participating in the promotion of Rush's form of incitement to hatred? How many forms of corruption are actually at work here? I've lost count.)

(Just a few, selected) Great moments in Limbaughdom:

  • "The Clintons have a cat, but their nanny has a dog," during a tirade against the Democratic National Convention, 8/28/96. Limbaugh had referred to Chelsea Clinton as the "White House dog" in 1993. Apparently, he liked the remark so much he decided to repeat it.
  • "... If you want to know what America used to be -- and a lot of people wish it still were -- then you listen to Strom Thurmond," 9/1/93.
  • Limbaugh once told an African-American caller to "take that bone out of your nose."
  • "The NAACP should have riot rehearsals," he announced on another occasion. "They should get a liquor store and practice robberies." When Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun's name was mentioned on his program, Limbaugh played the theme song, "Movin' On Up," from the 1970s black sitcom, The Jeffersons.
  • "Have you ever noticed how all newspaper composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?" he once asked listeners.

A foolishly titled profile of one of America's greatest citizens, and valuable natural resources, Garry Wills, and there's a beautiful memoir of Studs Terkel by said natural resource (and a close friend of Studs) in the current New York Review of Books. It is, alas, not online.

George Zornick writes: David Gregory, host of Meet the Press? We'll have more to say when it's confirmed -- the story seems shaky now, although Gregory's agent won't deny it -- but of course, it's a disappointing choice. Famously, there's this, but also this more representative example, when Gregory was asked about the MSM's Iraq war coverage, of which he was an integral part as NBC White House correspondent:

GREGORY: I think [former White House press secretary Scott McClellan] is wrong. He makes the same kind of argument a lot of people on the left have made. I tried not to be defensive about it. I've thought a lot about this over a number of years, and I disagree with that assessment.

I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president. I think not only those of us in the White House press corps did that, but others in the rest of the landscape of the media did that.

If there wasn't a debate in this country, then maybe the American people should think about, why not? Where was Congress? Where was the House? Where was the Senate? Where was public opinion about the war? What did the former president believe about the prewar intelligence? He agreed that -- in fact, Bill Clinton agreed that Saddam had WMD.

The country could certainly do without Gregory-esque "pushing and prodding" over the next decade, or however long he hangs onto the show.

Recall our Think Again column about "white spaces," the currently unused spectrum between television channels that could be used to provide low-cost, nationwide Internet -- unless telecoms get their way, and buy it all up.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has actually done the right thing and signed onto the public usage of the spectrum -- with one important hitch, we now learn: Martin wants that Internet service to be completely porn-free, via use of a filter.

Whether you share my belief that pornography shouldn't be censored on free-speech grounds, it's no doubt disturbing to have the government censoring content on the Internet. That's one very slippery slope. Martin is going to put this plan up for a vote at December's FCC meeting, the last one Republicans will control for the next four to eight years. We'll keep Altercation readers updated -- even if the plan fails, it's certainly a signal of the conservative opposition that will come whenever the plan is instituted.

Phil Singer has called for Chris Matthews' resignation, based on reports that Matthews is already staffing a campaign for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. (If I shared Matthews' taste for drama, I might note that the first person to call for his head is a former Clintonite...)

In any case, once Matthews becomes a political candidate, he cannot simultaneously be a journalist. Nor a "commentator," or whatever Matthews might try to define himself as to avoid the obvious ethical breach. The conflict of interest remains: Is Matthews giving his honest analysis to the audience or a pre-stump speech? Is MSNBC supporting, de facto, Matthews for Senate?

Of course, the same thing applies to Mike Huckabee, who hosts a show on Fox News these days. Nobody (except Altercation, of course...) is making the same calls for Huckabee's resignation, a testament, once again, to the lack of any pretense possessed by the right-wing political communications channel that is Fox News.

Speaking of MSNBC, did you catch their terrific coverage of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai?

You may have heard that New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg over the weekend, with a handgun in his pocket that may or may not have been registered.

The sports media world, and the New York tabloids in particular, are going absolutely bananas over the story. Yesterday's Daily News put the story alone on the cover. Or rather, they put the story that Burress laughed about the incident on the front cover. (This on the same day that, for example, the paper's home senator was to be named secretary of state). Yesterday, after Burress turned himself in, the NYPD put him in handcuffs and paraded him in front of hundreds of flashing cameras loaded behind barricades on 51st Street.

Without getting into some of the complicated issues of race and celebrity that I think are involved here, let's just call out some of the more glaring journalistic transgressions. Here, for example, is the New York Daily News proclaiming in a headline, "Giants fans angry Antonio Pierce can play despite controversy." (Pierce is also a Giant, and was with Burress when he accidentally shot himself). Really, Giants fans are angry that one of their star players is able to play? What's the evidence? According to the article, it's the opinions of two guys, Brian and Ian, that Daily News reporters found in Manhattan sports bars. That is the entire extent of the article. Three different reporters have bylines on that piece. Really, between the three of them, they don't have a single quote in their notebook from a fan who wants to see Pierce play?

This isn't about defending Pierce or the Giants, who I don't really care about. It's about defending basic journalism that always goes out the window when the New York papers smell blood.

Who said Chris Wallace was the only sane one at Fox News?

From TomDispatch:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Great Depression are on many minds (and in many news pieces and op-eds) as the Obama administration prepares for January 20, 2009. In his latest TomDispatch post, historian Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, offers a unique comparison between the Roosevelt accession in 1932 and our own moment. He compares the people Roosevelt brought to power with him, his "brain trust," and Obama's new "team of rivals," writing:

"Roosevelt was no radical; indeed, he shared many of the conservative convictions of his class and times ... Nonetheless, right from the beginning, Roosevelt cobbled together a cabinet and circle of advisers strikingly heterogeneous in its views, one that, by comparison, makes Obama's inner sanctum, as it is developing today, look like a sectarian cult."

Conservatives, corporatists, anti-trusters, Keynesians -- all of them, jostling and disagreeing -- were there "at the creation" in 1932. Fraser adds: "Roosevelt's tolerance of real differences stands in stark contrast to the new administration's cloning of the Clinton-era brainiacs," most of whom, he comments, "could practically have been teleported from perhaps the year 1995."

"It was this openness to a variety of often untested solutions -- including at that point Keynesianism -- that helped give the New Deal the flexibility to adjust to shifts in the country's political chemistry in the worst of times. If the New Deal came to represent a watershed in American history, it was in part due to the capaciousness of its imagination, its experimental elasticity, and its willingness to venture beyond the orthodox. Many failures were born of this, but so, too, many enduring triumphs."

In asking how the Obama team will come up with its own "untested solutions" in order to move beyond Roosevelt's era and our own staggering disaster -- leaving "the bailout state" behind us -- Fraser concludes: "If original thinking doesn't find a home somewhere within this forming administration soon, it will be an omen of an even more troubled future to come, when options not even being considered today may be unavailable tomorrow. Certainly, Americans ought to expect something better than a trip down (the grimmest of) memory lanes into the failed neo-liberalism of yesteryear."

Alter-reviews:

Jacqui Naylor, You Don't Know Jacq, by Sal; Glen Campbell, cowboy collection, and new Oxford diplomatic history by Eric.

You Don't Know Jacq -- Jacqui Naylor

My first introduction to Jacqui Naylor was hardly memorable. Barely listening to the CD that had come across my desk, I unfairly lumped her in with some other "pop singers who think they are jazz singers because they have an upright bass in the band." Then, a friend from New Orleans emailed a rave review of Jacqui Naylor's show at that city's famed jazz club, Snug Harbor. I was curious again.

Naylor calls what she does "smashing up." This is the practice of singing a melody over the musical arrangement of a completely different song. DJs have been doing this for years, digitally. But Naylor and her remarkable band have cornered the market on the live performance. The band starts playing "Whipping Post"; Jacqui starts singing Gershwin's "Summertime." The band plays Zeppelin's "Moby Dick"; Jacqui sings Peggy Lee's "Black Coffee." It's a novelty that almost never gets old. The new CD, You Don't Know Jacq, is a combination of these smash-ups, some of which appeared as live versions on previously released records, and some straight, but unique takes on the Great American Songbook and some rock hits, as well. The church-organ gospel take on the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," works on every level. You Don't Know Jacq is a great place to get acquainted with this wonderful artist.

Meet Glen Campbell -- Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell's latest studio effort is out on Capitol Records/EMI, where Campbell -- who's been around since even before I bought "Wichita Lineman" as a single, I believe, in the summer of 1968 -- the same summer Bobby Bonds hit that grand slam as his first at bat and my parents dumped me on my bubbe and zeida's farm while they went off gallivanting in London and Paris. Actually it says here he's been making music for five decades -- reinterprets and reimagines both older and contemporary songs. The album has 10 tracks and includes Campbell's versions of songs from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers ("Walls and Angel Dream"), Jackson Browne ("These Days") and even Green Day ("Good Riddance"). A few of them are really great, and none of them are offensive. More information is here.

Boots, Buckles & Spurs -- Various artists

In celebration of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Boots, Buckles & Spurs is out on Sony BMG Nashville/Legacy. You may not be interested in rodeo, but the heart and soul of the NFR is the country music that always takes center stage. This 50-song, 3-CD deluxe box set includes favorites from the cowboy rodeo songbook, including Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again" to Brooks & Dunn's "Cowboy Town." It's a pretty fair collection if you're just getting started. More information is available here.

From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 -- by George C. Herring

This thousand-page volume, released by Oxford, uses foreign relations as a lens to concisely tell the history of the United States. It's written by George C. Herring, professor emeritus of history at the University of Kentucky and former editor of Diplomatic History, who provides excellent synthesis of events from the American Revolution to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book received a highly unfair review from Josef Joffe in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Joffe wrote that "the book lacks a conceptual framework" and that "more is less." This is simply unfair -- the book provides a thoughtful, lasting indictment of neoconservatism merely by telling the truth, providing the footnotes, and not falling for the ideological tricks they treat as sensible doctrine and respectable scholarship. If you need a reference on this topic, this one is the most complete and most up to date, though you may wish also to consult Walter LaFeber's magisterial, The American Age, which came out in 1994 and needs a new edition. More information is here.

Slacker Tuesday

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown:
Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

I do not claim expertise in many things, but Finding A Drink In Doha is one of them. As it happens, back in October of 1993, while I was in the employ of GQ, the late Art Cooper wanted a piece about World Cup soccer, which was coming to a very reluctant and utterly mystified United States the following summer. So he sent me to the Asian Zone qualifying in Doha, where the competing teams were, in order: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, North and South Korea, and Japan. (Throw out the record books when these traditional rivals tee it up, sports fans!) We had not yet turned Qatar into an aircraft carrier, so I got booked by the local tourist board into the Ramada Inn, which was about the best accommodations available. As I was checking in, the desk clerk asked me if I wanted a library card.

Why, I asked.

"So you can use the facilities," the clerk said, enigmatically. I took him up on the offer, and he told me that the library was on the third floor. I checked in and, that night, I went upstairs. There was a small anteroom with a number of those old tin tray tables off of which we all used to eat dinner while watching Uncle Walter give us the bad news. On these were scattered an odd lot of paperback books. "Welcome to the library," said the man behind the desk, with a knowing smile, and with an equally knowing assault weapon at his feet. "Have a nice evening, sir." I walked around a partition and found myself in a perfectly ordinary Ramada Inn cocktail lounge, which wouldn't have been out of place in Bloomington, Indiana, or Eau Claire, Wisconsin, except for the indentured Filipino barkeep who hadn't seen his passport in three years. Every evening, after the soccer was done, a whole passel of we infidels assembled in the library and did pretty much what sportswriters all over the world do. The night that the North Koreans threw a game to the South Koreans, specifically so that the Japanese -- whom they BOTH hate -- would not qualify to come to the States was particularly epic. The vast Japanese press corps -- 13 people from one Tokyo TV station alone -- saw two months of expense-account America go up in smoke and they were the most dismal collection of sullen drunks I ever saw.

It was there that I learned the secret of Finding A Drink In Doha. The Qataris love their oil and their oil money, but they don't much like digging it out of the ground themselves. But telling some guy from, say, Oklahoma, that he'll be spending two years in a completely (in every damn way) dry country is a tough sell, no matter how good the money is. So American drinking loopholes were developed, including the fact that every hotel built itself a "library." In addition, at the time, the Qataris had built themselves a liquor store, a windowless cube out in the desert that the Americans I talked to called "The Little House On The Prairie." Every adult was allowed to buy a certain amount of liquor per month, but the amount was ludicrously high, since the Qataris were leaving nothing to chance. Also, in the library, I met the guy who was teaching the Emir how to shoot pool. He was from Liverpool and he'd once been in a skiffle band that once had lost a battle of the bands in a heartbreaker to John Lennon and the Quarrymen.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful.

Correspondence Corner, continued:

Name: Phein
Hometown:
Urbana, IL

Nice catch on the Edmund Wilson piece on, "What do liberals want?" The strawman argument, "Liberals want socialism," has always seemed misplaced to me (someone who does want socialism). As far as I've been able to tell in my 50 years of observation, liberals are people who believe in capitalism with a human face. Far as I can tell, capitalism doesn't have or want a human face, thank you very much, but is quite satisfied to be worshiped for its own bad self.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown:
Las Vegas, NV

The New York Times reported that CNN is pondering a challenge to the Associated Press, for which I lost all respect when it hired a Republican house man for one of its top spots.

Tom Fenton, the longtime chief foreign correspondent for CBS News, wrote a book a few years ago, Bad News. It is a wonderful exposition of what is wrong with television's foreign news coverage -- namely, the lack of it, and the lack of experienced, knowledgeable reporters. Fenton argues -- and it is a great argument -- that if the public were properly informed, the government would have been unable to make some of the major mistakes it has made.

Fenton came to CBS News in the days when Charles Collingwood was in London as chief foreign correspondent. A story from a book about Murrow's boys. At a meeting involving Vietnam, everyone was trying to get the minutes of a meeting and chasing leaders in hopes of getting it. The other CBS reporters were sitting around at the end of the day having had no success when Collingwood strolled in. The manager told Collingwood what the issue was and he proceeded to hand him the minutes. He said he got them from some fifth assistant secretary in one of the delegations whom he had met at The Sorbonne. Can you imagine any of today's network foreign correspondents knowing how to get that kind of information? It's a tragedy.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown:
Portland, OR

The Times article on McCaffrey bores in on his repeated and unrepentant conflicts of interest. However, "looking back," there are more serious questions about McCaffrey's integrity raised by his fellow officers and collected by Sy Hersh in "Overwhelming Force."

Another Andover graduate like Junior simply gone astray, or a supposed lion lacking teeth -- or just a career opportunist? What do they put in that prep school water anyhow?

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown:
Portland, OR

Mike from Indy raises an interesting point -- that one argument for saving the U.S. auto industry is so they won't default on their pension and retiree health care plans. I come at this as someone who loves to drive but would never buy an American car, so I think they're pretty much a lost cause. But their workers, who fulfilled their end by working for decades, deserve to have the benefits they agreed to. I'm especially concerned about the pensions and how they might be affected through some sort of reorganization plan.

But when it comes to health care, I think the taxpayers are already on the hook. Most retirees already qualify for Medicare. How can the taxpayer save any money by paying for auto workers' health care through the companies and their insurance providers? You can't tell me those administrators are more efficient than Medicare.

While we're at it, MSM stories on the U.S. auto industry likes to point out how much more they pay in benefits than foreign carmakers, usually with the implication that the greedy unions are the problem. Rarely is it mentioned that Honda and Toyota don't need to pay for their Japanese workers' health care, because the government does (and extracts higher taxes from the corporations to pay for it.) About the only thing that would convince me an auto bailout would be worth it would be if the executives demanded a single payer health care plan as a vital component of their survival.

Name: Steve Thorne
Hometown:
Somewhere in California

Having participated in labor negotiations with several government entities, it seems to me that the way to end most problems with labor is to ensure that everyone in the country has access to health care. I mean, the "work week" type issues were resolved long ago. What drives labor costs up in this country is the fact that workers can't stand having more than a certain amount taken out of their pay for health care. As those costs go up, workers ask for benefits to go up. So, instead of resolving everyone's problem (i.e., affordable health care), labor problems continue and the victims are blamed.

This problem also affects public safety. Having personally observed flight attendants ask passengers to help them perform tasks they are supposed to perform in order to hold that position, I have to wonder how many other people in safety-related positions are working past retirement solely for the health benefits.

Name: Steve Nelson
Hometown:
Kent, WA

Having had the pleasure of visiting Doha, Qatar, several times (because of my job) I can say that drinking is not a problem for 11 months of the year. There are several fine restaurants and bars, including a nice Irish pub in the city center. Of course, during the month of Ramadan, you can only drink in private and only that which you have been able to save during the year. There is somewhat of a black market for beer among expats as the time of celebration ends and thirst climbs.

Name: Michael H.
Hometown:
Melbourne, Australia

Dr. A,

Kudos on your disparagement of that 'silly Australian thing,' i.e. the Australia movie.

For years, we Down Under have had to live with the embarrassment of the now-deceased Crocodile Hunter being our antipodean representative to the world. And if a redneck obsessed with rectal examinations of large reptiles wasn't bad enough, now we have Hugh Jackman pretending to be a cowboy.

For the record: We don't have cowboys. We have jackaroos, who, for the most part, are rich kids sent by their rich parents to farms in North Queensland to toughen up for a career in business. The idea of the horse-riding rugged individualist, covered in red dust, herding sheep in a singlet, bears little resemblance to the reality.

And for all the glorification of the outback and desert, the vast, vast majority of Australians consciously choose to stay the hell away from there -- we're a country of 21 million, of which only 50,000 actually live in rural areas -- because it's as hot as the Middle East, but with more venomous snakes and other creepy-crawlies.

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