There is the red one, who doesn't like the black one ...


We've got a new Think Again column here called "War on the Press, Part III: Inventing the News for Fun and Profit ..." (This column is part three in a series on the legacy of the Bush administration's war on the press. Parts I and II can be found here and here, respectively.)

Takes one to not know one: Mindless multiculturalism, care of ABC News, from the The Note: "More on diversity, per ABC's Jake Tapper: "As of now . . . Mr. Obama has not appointed any Asian-Americans, Native Americans, disabled Americans or openly gay or lesbian Americans to his Cabinet. And yes, there are groups paying attention."

'Scuze me, guys ... of ABC's top million-dollar babies -- Gibson, Stephanopoulos, Walters, Sawyer, Tapper, Will, etc. -- how many are "Asian-Americans, Native Americans, disabled Americans or openly gay or lesbian Americans?"

George Zornick writes: Ezra Klein raises a good point, here, where he notes that we always hear about the evils of the Canadian or British health care systems, but not so much France, Germany, Japan, etc. -- even though the United States is much more likely to get a universal health care scheme similar to the latter group, and not so much the former, where private insurance is almost completely banned.

I ran a little test, and indeed -- on Fox News, chief conduit of scare-mongering in this field, the words "health care" are mentioned within five words of "Canada" six times more often than they are mentioned within five words of "France."

It's true that Canada is closer and perhaps a more comfortable parallel for Americans to grasp, but come on -- we're talking France here. Old Europe! Cheese-eating surrender monkeys! That seems too ripe for Fox News to pass up.

Here are some inconvenient facts about the French health care system, that perhaps right-wingers are inclined to ignore: it's ranked number one in World Health Organization's analysis of world health systems (the UK is 18, Canada is 30, the U.S. is 37). France also manages to have the number-one ranked health system while spending less per capita on health care than Canada, and certainly less than the United States, according to the OECD.

And, as noted, the public-private mix in France is much more similar to what's being proposed in the United States, where the elimination of the private insurance industry is quite unlikely.

So what's the problem, Fox? I know you can't be tired of Francophobia ...

Howard Kurtz weighs in on David Gregory's looming gig as host of Meet the Press. He goes much further than Mike Allen was willing to yesterday in glorifying Gregory's days as White House correspondent, writing:

Gregory clearly has the requisite journalistic experience and is accustomed to verbal sparring. As a White House reporter, he frequently clashed with President Bush's spokesmen and became a constant target for conservatives who viewed his aggressive style as partisanship. After Vice President Cheney accidentally shot a hunting companion, Gregory scolded press secretary Scott McClellan: "Don't tell me you're giving us complete answers when you're not actually answering the question." On another occasion, Gregory said: "Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question." Gregory later apologized to McClellan.

Kurtz seems to be on the same page as his paper's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, in that both believe conservative complaints are actually genuine, and may indicate "partisanship" or even aggressiveness on behalf of the target -- even though Gregory rarely displays either. Look at Kurtz's cited example, where Gregory told McClellan "Don't tell me you're giving us complete answers when you're not actually answering the question." Well, that surely left a mark ...

Kurtz also writes that "Skeptics say that Gregory has a less than commanding screen presence as a host, leading them to question whether he could sustain viewer interest in the hour-long Sunday program." Which leads CJR to ask: "Who are these 'skeptics' who doubt Gregory's 'screen presence?' And, is it also these 'skeptics' who think 'he might need a bit more showmanship' or is that Kurtz speaking for himself?"

After all, they note, we know him to be quite a showman, in fact ...

Here is the MSM's apparent checklist in finding an analyst to talk about Susan Rice's appointment as U.N. ambassador.

The analyst must:

  • Have been U.N. ambassador once before.
  • Believe "there is no such thing as the United Nations" and if the U.N. building in New York "lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."
  • Be disliked by the president who nominated him, not to mention virtually everyone else at the United Nations.
  • Be well outside the American and international foreign policy mainstream, and must have repeatedly called for war with Iran.

This, as Think Progress notes, has of course led the MSM to John Bolton, who has repeatedly been asked his opinion about Rice's nomination. (Surprisingly, he said he disapproves, because it shouldn't even be a Cabinet position).

The day in Politico headlines:

"Latinos unhappy with Obama picks"

"Holder pardon makes Dems squirm"

Now read each of those stories, and tell us how they got to those headlines ...

(Politico has since changed the latter headline to "GOP hopes Holder makes Dems squirm.")

Quote of the Day: Robert Novak, on if he would disclose Valerie Plame's identity again: "I'd go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn't ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me -- or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don't think I hurt Valerie Plame whatsoever."

Death by gouging, part two: CJR reports that CNN "will cut its entire science, technology, and environment news staff, including Miles O'Brien, its chief technology and environment correspondent, as well as six executive producers."

We know this can't be because of decreased relevance, since debates over global warming and U.S. energy policy figure to be center stage in the coming months and years. So it must be financial, then? But the story says: "A source at the network, who asked not to be named, said the move is a strategic and structural business decision to cut staff, unrelated to the current economic downturn. Financially, 'CNN is doing very, very well,' the source said."

From TomDispatch:

"If there is an exact location marking the West's failures in Afghanistan," begins reporter Anand Gopal, "it is the modest police checkpoint that sits on the main highway 20 minutes south of Kabul. The post signals the edge of the capital, a city of spectacular tension, blast walls, and standstill traffic. Beyond this point, Kabul's gritty, low-slung buildings and narrow streets give way to a vast plain of serene farmland hemmed in by sandy mountains. In this valley in Logar province, the American-backed government of Afghanistan no longer exists.

"Instead of government officials, men in muddied black turbans with assault rifles slung over their shoulders patrol the highway, checking for thieves and 'spies.' The charred carcass of a tanker, meant to deliver fuel to international forces further south, sits belly up on the roadside."

This is the territory of "the Taliban," which Gopal, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and now a TomDispatch regular, has visited -- and the rest of the piece is a vivid deciphering of just who "the Taliban" really are. Gopal offers a striking analysis of the new (more nationalist) Taliban, a decentralized "slippery movement that morphs from district to district" and of the "other" even more extreme movements, Hizb-i-Islami and the insurgent network of Jalaluddin Haqqani that fight beside it, as well as the quite separate and equally fractious "Pakistani Taliban" across the border.

If you can't follow a ball game without a scorecard, then you can't follow a war that may, soon enough, become "Obama's war" without the equivalent -- and that's just what Gopal offers in a report on, as he puts it, "a world of endless war" in which "support goes to those who can bring security" -- and in Afghanistan today, that's not the U.S. military.

This week on Moyers:

As one of the most progressive voices in the Senate who also campaigned for President-elect Obama, what does Russ Feingold (D-WI) expect of the next four years? Bill Moyers sits down with the Wisconsin senator to find out his perspectives on progressivism and its role in the new administration, and to ask him what changes he'd like to see in the Obama presidency. Then, Bill Moyers will sit down with Mark Johnson, co-director of the film Playing For Change: Peace Through Music and chairman of the board of the Playing for Change Foundation, which he started to provide resources to musicians and their communities around the world.

Alter-reviews: Wayne Shorter and Hot Tuna, live, by Eric

Wayne Shorter will not be 75 for a few months, but that was the excuse being given for his show Tuesday night with Imani Winds, an exquisite classical wind quintet. Few living musicians can claim the influence over a period of five decades that Shorter can, and he was part of some of the most innovative moments in jazz and fusion history. Whether working with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, or Carlos Santana, the man can only make good, sometimes great music. It can be demanding however, and sorry to say, much of Tuesday night's performance -- which veered both into free jazz and classical territory -- went over my head. Shorter's quartet, which is now in its eighth year and features pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Brian Blade and Shorter on tenor and soprano sax, has been on a creative tear of late with a series of much acclaimed albums and highly anticipated shows. On Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall, following a couple of numbers by Imani Winds, one a Brazilian classical piece on Shorter's "Terra Incognita," the quartet came out and played one long improvisational number that went on for about 45 minutes, though a song list I saw later had a few different numbers down in it. Again, I could have used some guidance, with song titles, when written, recorded, etc, but that's perhaps because I try to approach my music as much as a historian as a fan. The highlight of the show for me came when the two groups played together on "Three Marias," "Prometheus Unbound" and "Pegasus." Again, a decidedly demanding but no less rewarding evening. You can listen to Shorter's music here.

I'd be lying if I tried to argue that Wednesday night's Hot Tuna concert at Town Hall could be profitably compared to Shorter. Sure, Messrs. Cassidy and Kaukonen are as virtuosic in their own way as Shorter. But the music is not nearly so demanding, nor so creative. It can be great in its own way, but it is not as intellectually compelling, to be honest; the audience is inevitably filled with screaming jerks whose greatest ambition is to scream "Jorma" or "Hot Fucking Tuna" over and over into your ear while spilling beer on your seat.

Tuesday night, which celebrated 50 years of Jack and Jorma, was fine. The band was electric, which I prefer to acoustic. The song selection was OK, and Jorma and Barry did some nice picking off of one another. But nothing inspired Jorma or Jack the way G.E. Smith's presence in the band did last year at the Beacon. And the music fell much more heavily on the power trio, "Rock Me, Baby" period of the band, than the beautiful "Genesis" side. (The highlight in this respect was an "American Beauty" Pigpen cover off of Jorma's forthcoming solo record on Red House Records.) So again, Hot Tuna is the second most dependable brand in jam bands, behind only the mighty, mighty Allman Brothers Band (and perhaps Ratdog and Phil, now that I think about it). And they have moments of greatness even on a so-so night, which is more than worth it, so long as the guy with the beer misses you. But they can also be both loud and underwhelming. Last night they were all of these things, and louder. The band's website is here.

Sal hearts "Spectacle":

The opening minutes of Spectacle, Elvis Costello's new adventure in entertainment which debuted on the Sundance Channel last night, captured the host, most of his band The Impostors, Allen Toussaint and legendary guitarist James Burton, launching into first guest Elton John's "Border Song." My first thought was, "Who was it I promised I'd stop eating meat the day Elvis Costello hosted his own talk show and his first guests were Allen Toussaint, James Burton and Elton John? Oh, and they would have to sing 'Border Song.' " Thankfully, I couldn't remember, so I made a burger and continued watching this unreal, impossible miracle of a TV show.

A dream come true for oft-maligned record-collecting, music-lusting fans, Spectacle was 60 minutes of solid, music snobbery at its very best. And it was the greatest thing I have ever seen. Watching Sir Elton John gushing over Leon Russell and Laura Nyro, while host Elvis Costello dangled the occasional carrot, was everything I had hoped Spectacle would be. Passion dripped off my Sony Bravia, as two real musicians waxed nostalgic about real musicians, with no sign of ever being sabotaged by some trigger-happy viewers with access to a voting machine.

Elton's moving story about Martha Reeves having to borrow money to pick up her dry cleaning on her first tour of London, followed by Costello's insightful commentary on the sad life of brilliant songwriter David Ackles, made me think, for at least this fleeting hour, that someone out there still loves and respects music. I was in such a euphoric state, I agreed to go swimming with the Polar Bears at Coney Island on New Year's Day ONLY if Elton, Elvis, and that same band of legends closed the show with a gut-wrenching version of Ackles' heartbreaker "Down River." Well, guess what? And if that's not enough, the 20 second teaser over the closing credits of Elvis singing Elton's "Ballad Of A Well-Known Gun" was enough to torture a well-known neurotic like me. I need the whole song.

Bravo to the producers and to Elvis, for making this show possible. It's only week one, but whatta week one. I'm sorry I didn't have the opportunity to witness these tapings in person.

Burning Wood

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Goldfarb
Hometown: London

Dear Eric,

Within hours of your reference to my post at Romenesko I received the following e-mails:

Anonymous via Panta Rhei

In Treblinka, there were privileged prisoners called kapos, whose duty it was to escort other prisoners to the gas chambers.

After a kapo had done his deadly work, the guards often rewarded him in some fashion--they gave him an extra ration of bread, or soup; a usable piece of underwear, a sliver of soap.

But when the guards grew irritated with a kapo--and sooner or later, they always did--a team would lash the kapo to the ground,face up, and prop open his mouth with two sticks, one vertical, one horizontal.

At the same time, another team of guards would inject enemas into a dozen prisoners.

And when the moment came, when the dozen prisoners could no longer contain themselves, the guards would have the twelve squat over the open mouth of the thirteenth.

You are a kapo; so that is what I wish for you: that a dozen prisoners shit in your mouth till you choke, and that your parents, and your children and your brothers and sisters lick up the excess shit.

[Second email removed at Goldfarb's request after the author apologized.]

I don't blame you for the first e-mail. You probably get worse.

I am not the author of the words quoted in the second. I'm the Michael Goldfarb who spent twenty years working in public radio, not the one who writes for the Weekly Standard and worked for the McCain campaign.

I am, however the author of the post at Romenesko. I was actually posing, in a lighthearted fashion, a genuine question. As someone who was forcibly retired from the full time practice of journalism ... real journalism, not my younger doppelganger's idea of journalism ... I do wonder why the leading practitioners of academic journalism (you and Jay are among them) aren't more active on the solidarity front with the thousands and thousands of hacks who have been thrown out of work. Or write in public more frequently about the importance of institutional heft behind a reporter (something Simon touches on in The Wire).

Institutions of the MSM have become complacent. Altercation is a daily assault on that complacency. But you can't practice journalism without them.

Eric replies: Happy to clear up the misimpression yesterday's post created. I did, I believe, allow for the possibility of multiple Michael Goldfarbs and though this an opportunity to remind the world of the handiwork of one of the others.

Name: David Dunne
Hometown: Somerville, MA

My hometown paper, the Boston Globe, has replaced most of pages 2 and 3 with one large photo and a bunch of "Daily Briefings," culled mainly from AP, but also from other papers. (The LA Times seems to be a fave.) This is where the news used to appear. This is sad, tragic, and, in my opinion, stupid. Is this supposed to attract the "internet generation"' who have already read all those bloggy bits on the computer the day before? They've also gotten rid of their ombudsman.

To echo Mike Shirley's point from yesterday: Somalia -- Simply thriving under limited government.

Name: von bargen
Hometown: Santa Monica, CA

Maybe the reason David Gregory is the leading candidate for the Meet the Press job is precisely because he DIDN'T raise so much sand while covering the run-up to the war. In re-listening to the comments of Jessica Yellin, Brian Williams and Katie Couric about McClellan's book, it is clear that network honchos were trying to keep a lid on controversial coverage of bush during that period. Gregory may be considered a more reliable guy to have on point by NBC.

Name: Mark Cashman
Hometown: Yonkers, NY

Michael Goodwin's column was good as far as it went. But he didn't mention Bush's blatant lie, yet again, claiming Saddam had refused to let the U.N. inspectors in:

GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?

BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld.

Bush has been repeating this for years and it's a lie. Charlie Gibson should have called him on it and so should have Goodwin. The inspectors were in Iraq and were not finding the alleged weapons of mass destruction. They left because Bush warned them to get out. Down the memory hole, huh?

Name: Mark D
Hometown: Chicago

I'll take Lousy Journalistic Habits for $500, Alex!

What major daily uses an anonymous source who then cites another anonymous source within the "American intelligence agencies" who claims that former Pakistani military and intelligence "officers" trained the Mumbai attackers?

What is The New York Times?

That's right. This anonymous-palloza happens in the lead paragraph, so you know the two writers thought it was pretty hot stuff. However, if you read the article, the information is not important enough to rely on one, let alone two anonymous sources at this time. Didn't these guys learn anything from being suckered by Judith Miller?

Name: Steven C. Day
Hometown: Wichita, Kansas


To begin with a few well deserved accolades, here the heartland, NPR is a blessing -- as dramatic a blast of fresh air as that first deep breath you take after you've finally driven out of the range of a feedlot along the road. (How's that for an analogy sure to reaffirm coastal prejudices against us flyover types?). Compared to the mindless blaring of our local Clear Channel stations and the even more mindless blaring of Rush Limbaugh on talk radio, public broadcasting is a delight.

Still -- and I believe you've talked about this before -- when it comes to economic issues, I have the clear sense that NPR has a noticeable right wing bias. Sure, they occasionally offer airtime to left leaning commentators -- Robert Reich comes to mind -- but blowhards from conservative think tanks seem, to me, to get more prominent play. And even aside from commentary, NPR's news reporting on economic issues, while generally excellent, also strikes me as having a definite pro-free market (whatever that means anymore) bent.

Name: Mike Knight
Hometown: Indy


So again with the stories about bailing out (or not) the Big 3, including one by filmmaker Michael Moore, another by Robert Weissman and another by Paul Krugman and lots more in the MSM.

Though Moore (sort of) points out a solution (the government buying GM for market value, $3 billion right now), Weissman and Krugman more immediately address the real issues at hand. Krugman notes, "...I just find the thought of a major auto failure in the middle of an economic nosedive terrifying," while noting a Big 3 meltdown would mean the loss of 1 to 3 million jobs (not to mention all the jobs, services, mortgages, tuition, stuff those jobs support).

But Weissman really hits it on the head. Along with underscoring the decimation the loss would have on the Midwest, which has already weathered tremendous losses due to deindustrialization, he points out something I've yet to read elsewhere: We're bandying about billions and billions to Wall Street like chump change, and balking over bailing out employers responsible for millions of jobs, countless retirees, and entire communities.

Weissman's suggestion in part is nationalizing the manufacturers, or at a minimum, government oversight for any investment over $25 million. Are these the answers? Weissman himself notes they may or may not be while asking that additional discussion of all these multi-layered issues take place (don't hold your breath. The pieces I've read today make much about top brass traveling to Congress in hybrids and taking pay cuts, which are symbolically nice, but do nothing to address the giant iceberg that lies just below the surface).

My thought would be that this may well be a way for Obama to leverage national healthcare, as one sure way of lowering costs and making Detroit more competitive as we move quickly into well-made, energy efficient cars is by lowering healthcare costs for current employees while finding a ready mechanism for managing the many needs of those that have already retired (like my dad). If Krugman's estimate is right (between 1-3 million employees, and let's for grins say a few hundred thousand retirees), it's a huge "group" to start with that could (it seems) become a model for others that would follow.

BTW, the Glen Campbell disc is, um, nice, and for those of us like me who grew up with him years ago, good to hear him in what sounds like a clear voice. I would have liked to hear him stripped down a little more (maybe a la Jeff Tweedy), but that's me.

Name: Charles M. Smith
Hometown: Davenport, IA

Dr. Alterman,

The TomDispatch reference to historian Steve Fraser perpetuates some misinformation. There were no Keynesians in 1932. Keynes published the General Theory in 1936. It is a rather difficult book and the analysis of concepts such as the liquidity trap and marginal propensity to consume, along with the implications for policy took some time to influence economists, let alone policy makers. While increased government spending was tried by the Roosevelt administration, the idea was to directly provide employment rather than stimulate demand.

Keynes met Roosevelt once, in 1935 and the meeting did not go well. Roosevelt did not understand economics. He was a leader and a pragmatist, ready to try any possible solution. Unfortunately, Keynes' analysis had not made an impact by 1937, when Roosevelt reverted to more conservative principles and caused a new recession, in the depression. It took WWII to inadvertently implement Keynes' program.

I appreciated Mr. Pierce's account of his experience in Doha. The last time I was there and staying in town, the Marriott had a nice beach on the Gulf and a decent "library." The accommodations were much better then other more recent visits, when I stayed at CENTCOM headquarters. By the way, Qatar's main wealth is natural gas, not oil.

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Props for endorsing an album by an artist not considered very hip even by retro-baby boomers. I loved "Wichita Lineman," too, but didn't it come out around 1975 or 1976, when Bonds had begun leaving a lot of his talent in the bottoms of whiskey glasses?

What you were doing around that time, I can't know, but I trust it didn't involve disco, CB radio, the Fred Harris for President campaign, or the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Eric replies: Dude, you're right. Memory plays tricks, alas. It was "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife." Thanks. And as I recall, 1975, was a pretty fine year for music.

Name: Michael Clyne
Hometown: Tulsa, OK


Murmur is arguably the best complete album by R.E.M., though I am sure hard core fans of the band may disagree. It remains in my wider rotation of albums I am content to listen to start to finish.

Just a plug for the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs remastered version, which is astonishing in its clarity and recovered bass. It may not be available new from the reincarnated version of MoFi, but it should be obtainable via used sources (Ebay, and so on), and is well worth it.

I'm looking forward to listening to the newer version you reviewed.

The Doors, I should add, were a great band. Unfortunately, their live material is often very uneven, subject to the vagaries of sixties recording quality and the whims of Jim Morrison's personality, and hence, his performance. The latter Doors albums were similarly uneven but still contain some gems, which are sometimes better appreciated in their original album context rather than the easy and prolific "best of" compilations.

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