We're in the money ...


Death by Gouging: Paul Oberjuerge points us toward a stunning profit report that was leaked last week, showing outrageous profits somewhere that regularly fall between 30 and 40 percent -- much like local news broadcasts -- but well above just about any other business you can name. Sure, newspapers have a number of genuine and perhaps intractable problems in the marketplace, but a big part of the problem has been the unwillingness of mega-corporate owners to invest in innovation, lest they mess up these unconscionably outrageous profit machines. And oh, look, even more layoffs.

Speaking of which, I was interviewed about the future of newspapers before the staff of Howard Rubinstein's PR firm last week. I did not notice Alphonse D'Amato there, and I appreciate the friendly tone of his column disagreeing with what I said -- but I'm not sure I really said this. What I forwarded is that, in its current situation, the newspaper business cannot save itself. If we are to save newspapers, we have to decide to do so as a society. My preference would be for universities and large foundations to step into the breach. But barring that, I would be OK with a solution in which government funds were made available for journalism, with strict rules preventing it from influencing its content. I said I admired the BBC. I do. Would it fly in the United States? I can't imagine it would, which is too bad in many ways, but there it is. I did that talk for free, by the way, so it is funny that the day after I saw D'Amato's op-ed, I came across this letter to Romenesko:

From MICHAEL GOLDFARB: Over Thanksgiving found myself watching the final series of The Wire and thinking about the shrinking of newspapers and mainstream news media and the thousands of jobs that have gone with it. Suddenly I felt very concerned about Jay Rosen, Eric Alterman and all the other tenured types who lecture on journalism? I mean, when all the American hacks are out of work and the remaining newspaper/adsheets are running the same generic copy from a centralized desk in Bangalore what will the above mentioned do for a living?

Eric responds: Thanks for your concern, Mikey. Don't worry, however, Jay and I will be fine, here in real America, where patriotic types skip church, drink French wine with our Osetra caviar -- damn Beluga has become so hard to find, even at Zabar's -- and make fun of NASCAR yabobs. In the meantime, how are things going for ex-McCain flacks? Any chance Rashid Khalidi might need a research assistant?

George Zornick writes: It's December, which means we are officially in the Bush valedictory period, wherein mainstream media sages ponder the legacy of our 43rd president. Persistent spinners to the very end, the Bush team -- led by Karl Rove, who still for some reason is treated as a reasonable news analyst on some networks -- is orchestrating a series of interviews that will attempt to set the tone for the Bush coverage between now and January 20.

Their first effort, we must say, was a big success. Bush once again sewed up a perfect media narrative, threading his needle carefully by appearing contrite but offering no actual substantive contrition, self-examination, or regret. In his interview with Charlie Gibson on Monday, Bush said:

"I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack.' In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."

Bush was simply saying he didn't know, in 2000, that September 11 would happen and that he'd have to haul off and bomb Iraq. This stunning admission that he didn't possess psychic powers was greeted with headlines like this from Mark Halperin at Time's The Page -- "Bush: I Was Unprepared for War." Halperin calls it an "especially candid interview," in which Bush also says -- the only other quote Halperin cites -- "I hope they feel that this is a guy that came, didn't sell his soul for politics, had to make some tough decisions, and did so in a principled way." My, who gave him the truth serum!

Hyping Bush's pre-packaged "admission," of course, came at the expense of the interview's real meat: Bush's admission that he would not "speculate" on whether he would have gone to war if he had known WMDs didn't exist. As Michael Goodwin points out in an excellent New York Daily News column, this is the real story because Bush, to this point, has always insisted he would have gone to war regardless. But now the president who gave us one of the most destructive and costly foreign policy blunders in American history is refusing to say if he'd even do it all over again. And, we learn from Sam Stein at The Huffington Post, two of Bush's chief helpers on the war, Rove and Bill Kristol, now admit Bush would not have gone to war if he knew there were no WMDs. How is this not the biggest story of the young Bush-legacy media cycle?

It may be a long December.

Bonus Mark Halperin post: Jed L at Daily Kos ran a little analysis of Halperin's Page at Time. Here are the number of references, to date, that Halperin has made to the following people or sources:

  • Rush Limbaugh: 113
  • Sean Hannity: 77
  • Matt Drudge: 56
  • Bill O'Reilly: 34
  • Huffington (Post or Arianna): 23
  • Keith Olbermann: 14
  • Rachel Maddow: 9
  • Daily Kos: 0

Surprising, no?

Speaking of stories that should be much bigger, the Republican, Bush-appointed defense secretary who executed the surge now says that he's on board with a withdrawal deadline.

Spencer Ackerman offers some clues as to why this isn't a bigger story -- plain denial that Gates has said what he's said. Here, for example, is what Max Boot says about Obama keeping Gates: "This all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq..." And here is the allegedly liberal Mara Liasson on Fox News: "16 months has gone out the window, I think we can say that."

Really, how many Americans do you think grasp that the new president, his Republican secretary of defense, and the Iraqi government have all reached an agreement to be out of Iraq in fairly short order? It appears even these professional analysts are not aware. As we noted recently in Think Again, the Status of Forces agreement received precious little coverage, and we have to think at some point between now and 2011, the mainstream media will have to grapple with what's going on in Iraq.

More on David Gregory, who now indeed appears to be the next host of Meet the Press: Mike Allen of Politico actually has a pretty great story on the hire, where he notes in the second graph that Gregory rode into Washington on George W. Bush's coattails, and celebrated his 30th birthday, complete with cake, on the 2000 campaign plane.

Allen also throws this poison dart pretty high up in the story:

As NBC's chief White House correspondent, Gregory has been a dogged -- occasionally prickly -- questioner of both the president and his press secretaries. The perceived tension benefited both sides, and Gregory maintained productive relations with senior officials.

Perceived tension, indeed, and it sure did benefit both sides. The administration enjoyed the appearance of being put through the journalistic ringer, without actually having to provide much in the way of substantive answers. Gregory, we noted yesterday, thinks the pre-war MSM, reporting was adequate, another example of what Ezra Klein calls Gregory's "curiously hollow" journalistic hostility.

Not to speak ill of the dead, but curiously hollow hostility on Meet the Press seems curiously familiar.

P.S.: Allen also notes that Gregory's hiring was more a "process of elimination." Ouch.

Alter-reviews by Eric:

Live at the Matrix 1967 -- The Doors

I keep trying to like the Doors as much as everyone appears to. I don't, but Rhino and Bright Midnight Archives have released Live at the Matrix 1967, the latest installment in the Doors' series of archival concert releases. This is pretty good for a while, but then goes off into places I'd rather not. But if you're a Doors person, you will rejoice in the fact that these club tapes have been restored and mastered, and make up two discs' worth of material with 24 tracks, and all of these were recorded before everything went nuts with these guys. More information is here.

Murmur -- R.E.M.

The very first R.E.M. album was Murmur, released in 1983. The band from Athens, Georgia, had created what became Rolling Stone's Album of the Year and one of the first alt-rock albums to get mainstream notice. Universal has re-released the album. It's a two-disc package featuring the remastered, original landmark disc along with an additional disc with a previously unreleased show in Toronto three months after Murmur came out. There are also exclusive essays from the album's producers, though I can't say much about the package because I've only received the advance. Great band, though; deserved all the attention they got. More information is here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stephen Zeoli
Hometown: Brandon, Vermont

Regarding the McCaffrey/NBC affair: I find it appalling that the main argument from NBC and McCaffrey himself to justify this utter lack of professionalism is that McCaffrey was wounded in action; ergo he is a man of integrity. It's as if they are implying that one shouldn't question the ethics of anyone who has been wounded in the line of duty. Apparently NBC does not remember Benedict Arnold, a general wounded severely fighting the British at the Battle of Saratoga. Three years later he became America's most notorious sell-out.

Name: Mike
Hometown: Englewood Cliffs


So, I guess according to Chris Wallace if you are the President and it comes to defending the U.S. it is acceptable to trash the Constitution because we need to be protected by the Decider? I always thought we were supposed to be the "home of the brave." 9/11 was indeed a tragedy but those bastards got lucky with the weather and a doofus in command, then we go about smashing up Iraq as if those people's lost lives are any less tragic. Now we have the pathetic farce of the commander guy trying to invent a legacy; to me he will always be the number one "worst ever" and I pray that I need not see another challenge for that title in my lifetime!

My perfect choice for Meet the Press moderator would be Bob Costas. After a great career covering sports, I'd like to see him get in the real game with the same tenacity -- speaking truth to power.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


For at least a couple of weeks now, O'Reilly has been using the phrase "the Obama recession". Now that the government has formally declared the recession began in December of 2007, we'll soon be hearing an apology and retraction, right?

My liberal friends and I sometimes lament the surprising number of people who vote Republican; given that so many people vote against their own interests, it does seem that Rupert Murdoch's and Richard Mellon Scaife's deliberately erected propaganda apparatus is continuing to be very effective. Given that this apparatus is intended to discredit legitimate sources of information and substitute for them what essentially amounts to emotional manipulation, it is surprising the MSM does not make a concerted and long-term effort to get people to understand they are being propagandized.

The large rift in our body politic is no accident -- the polarization is largely due to the propaganda effort (even at the height of the Vietnam War, I don't remember such a consistent vituperative level to the public discourse) and its reckless use of "traitor" and "treason" along with other hot-button words. Of course, polarization of the political process is also a goal of this propaganda, because it diminishes participation in the political process -- I believe many people are disgusted not just with the process and failures of government but with the tenor of political discussion -- and because it makes compromise so difficult.

It is high time that Fox and Limbaugh and all of that apparatus are formally assailed, in the MSM, for what they are. If the newspapers want to sell copy, and the stations want ears and/or eyeballs, this is both a legitimate subject and a fight which will interest many.

Name: Mike Shirley
Hometown: Eureka, CA

With the economic meltdown I hear mention of the philosophy of small government, so small that you could drown it a bathtub. We have had another demonstration of what happens when people live in places where their government is that small. The attackers in India are suspected of coming from areas of the world where they have most likely drowned their Government representatives.

The lack of proper government not only leads to economic ruin but also to the potential for vindictive and vengeful people to rise to power. In our own country there are places (some inner cities and some isolated rural) that have no meaningful contact with government (except taxes). Gangs, racist groups, and drug growers/labs are getting stronger in these areas. Ineffective government is making our country a breeding ground for terrorists.

Name: Don Kulp
Hometown: Lancaster, PA

I would like to add a thought to Jesse Zander Corum and Steve Thorne's posts on Tuesday. A very high percentage of business in the U.S. is small business. In the days of the "Greatest Generation" and before many people who could cobble together a few thousand or even a few hundred dollars could start a company. That fact and the entrepreneurial spirit led to a lot of innovation and growth in the marketplace.

The facts of life circa 2008 are considerably different. I wonder how many people like myself have had ideas and dreams of owning our own business, but the high cost of health care prevented them from doing so. Even being self employed with no employees is not a viable option if you have a pre-existing condition such as cancer or heart disease, and heaven forbid you're receiving on-going treatment (I myself am a cancer survivor).

I have no hard statistics to back this line of reasoning, but I do wonder how many new companies would be started, how many new positions would be created, and how many positions left by said entrepreneurs would need to be filled by others if we had universal health care in this country. But I guess we're to "socialism phobic" to do anything that would support capitalism in this country. Seems to me that we've become a society where only those with money can afford to start a business. I'm just sayin'.

I too have been following Altercation since its days of MSNBC. I appreciate range of input, particularly from LTC Bateman. Thanks for all you do.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

You brought up the Plaxico Burress incident today. As we all know, Burress, if convicted, faces a mandatory minimum sentence. Mostly when I think of mandatory minimums, I think of drug laws. But what applies to drugs, applies to guns.

In my opinion, this is a great example to use to bring to the forefront the problem with mandatory minimums. The reason why "get-tough" politicians like these laws is because it allows them to feel like they are doing something about crime, and also under the theory that it takes discretion away from judges -- no more will the same two people commit the same two crimes and receive different punishments. But, as the public might be learning from this over-publicized incident, it is not really true that all will be treated the same. Plaxico could cut a deal and then not face the mandatory sentence (of course this won't happen if Mayor Bloomberg has his way). The only thing mandatory minimums do is take the discretion away from the judge (the party that should be independent in the case) and give it completely to the prosecution. It is up to the prosecutor -- cut a deal before trial, and the person will not have to face the mandatory minimum. But go to trial and lose, and then the judge has to sentence and there is no discretion. Maybe people don't care that the discretion has transferred from the judge to the prosecutor -- but I don't think most people know, and I don't think it is something people realize when they see these politicians on TV pounding their chests about being tough on crime when they pass laws with stiffer/longer sentences.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.