Archive for February, 2005

Suddenly

February 23, 2005

As noted by many others, today’s must-read is David Ignatius’ WaPo column. The oft-quoted jaw-dropper:

“It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” explains Jumblatt. “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.” Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

The speaker, Walid Jumlatt, was up until quite recently a major purveyor of anti-American Arabist conspiracy theorizing, which makes his current stance and statements all the more exhilirating. If we can reach people who used to say stuff like this, there’s more than hope: there’s fundamental progress.

I’m extremely encouraged by the non-sectarian nature of the Lebanese protests. These don’t strike me as the kind of people who’d look at Iran’s mullocracy and say, “Yep, we’d like to have that here.” Lebanon was at one time by far the most tolerant and pluralistic Arab nation on the planet, as well as the only Arab country with something like a functional democracy. If there are enough Lebanese left who remember those days, and want them back…

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Now, This Is Just Mean

February 21, 2005

George W. Bush, on Jacques Chriac:

Only months after he criticized countries “like France,” President Bush was lavish in his praise of French President Jacques Chirac, one of the sharpest critics of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

“I’m looking for a good cowboy,” Bush said Monday when a French reporter asked him whether relations had improved to the point where the U.S. president would be inviting Chirac to the U.S. president’s ranch in Texas.

And the headline:

Bush Suggests Chirac Is ‘Good Cowboy’

I can’t imagine a more damaging sentence in the eyes of the French electorate.

Moral of the story: Don’t mess with GWB. He plays rough.

Wowie for Howie

February 21, 2005

Steve and I were both pretty tough on Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and CNN a couple of weeks back, when Kurtz (along with everybody else in the major media) was studiously ignoring the Eason Jordan story. I still think that criticism was merited, and like Mickey Kaus, I think Kurtz really ought to recuse himself from stories involving CNN in the future.

All that said, I’d be a complete cad if I didn’t take this chance to thank Kurtz for noting VodkaPundit on CNN last week (the site was mentioned several times on Inside Politics’ week-long segments on blogs, first by Kurtz) and accurately quoting me today in a pretty good WaPo column about the impact of bloggers on the MSM.

(I apologize profusely for the title above this post, by the way. I should have resisted.)

“The Dark Side I Sense In You, O’Reilly”

February 17, 2005

Funny, this is. Just click.

There He Goes Again

February 16, 2005

Steve Lovelady of the Columbia Journalism Review writes in the comments,

I ask you to do a little homework before you again accuse Mike Hoyt, the editor of the print CJR,or me by extension, of “defending Dan Rather.”

That’s an outright lie.

Well, no. It’s an observation about the content of Corey Pein’s risible attack on CBS News’ critics, which I linked to directly in my piece. The entire thrust of Pein’s column was to (a) toss out the usual MSM complaints about conservative bloggers being untrustworthy scum and (b) defend Rather and CBS with the tired “fake but accurate” defense–despite lacking actual evidence to support such a claim (other than the left wing groupthink that assumes as a matter of course Bush must be lying about his Guard record–after all, he’s George Bush). As many have previously noted, Pein made things worse by scoffing at the detailed findings of Joseph Newcomer, who voted for John Kerry, and also happens to be the father of computer typesetting. Poor decision there.

In the context of today’s discussion, a more notable flaw committed by both Pein and yourself was blowing off one fundamental reason why Rather, Mary Mapes, and CBS News in general ran with a patently-phony story: they wanted to make a political hit on a politician they couldn’t stand. You had to ignore the public ideological histories of both Rather and Mapes to come to a different conclusion, but as I noted earlier, MSM dishonesty is as much due to omission as commission.

The fact that you and Pein won’t admit your own ideological biases makes my point once again. If you can’t be honest with your audience about where you’re coming from on a story, why should you be trusted when it comes to the content of the story itself?

For the record, I didn’t mention you,* or Mike Hoyt in the post–but since we know you can’t be bothered with minor details like the difference between Andrew Sullivan and Andrew Ferguson, I’m not terribly surprised at the accusation. I have read the unsigned editorial that ran above the letters column after Pein’s piece; I assume from your note it was written by Hoyt.

Not unlike the article it defends, I found its arguments decidedly unpersuasive. But then again, for people who can look at the “Rathergate” documents and say with a straight face that they’re not obvious forgeries, I suppose an extra layer of subjectivity ought to be applied.

* Whoops, yes I did, but not in the context of the Rather articles.

Inside Vodkapunditry

February 16, 2005

I hear my biggie-sized MSM post was quoted and/or summarized on CNN’s Inside Politics today. Anybody happen to catch it?

UPDATE: CNN has posted a transcript:

TATTON: Now one of the main themes on the blogosphere this week has been, what is the role of bloggers? Suddenly they have shot to the fore, people are talking about them. They seem to be bringing people down left and right. And one of the questions we were looking at yesterday was posed by Jay Rosen. He’s an NYU professor, and his blog is PressThink. The question that he asks: “Is the point to have a dialogue with the mainstream media or cause its destruction?” And that’s something that we have been talking about all this week.

SCHECHNER: He did specifically ask this question of Will Collier, who does one of the blogs that we talk about, VodkaPundit. And will took a couple of days to respond. He has a day job, he’s very busy. But when he did get around to responding to it, it’s actually a very interesting write-up. And if you get to it, you should read it. Concisely what he says back is, quote: “What I’m interested in is not destruction, but rather disclosure, transparency and reform.”

Quite nice of Ms. Schechner. To borrow a line from the Kentucky Fried Movie, she has my gwatitude.

Check out the rest, there are quite a few notable mentions, including Captain Ed, Josh Marshall, the Tulsa World vs Batesline.com fight, and many more. I think these “Inside the Blogs” stories are just a special on Woodruff’s show this week, but CNN could do a lot worse than making it a regular segment.

MSM, Heal Thyself

February 16, 2005

A few days ago, Jay Rosen of New York University and the inestimable Pressthink weblog asked me the following question, in the context of a rather heated back-and-forth between mostly-conservative bloggers and representatives of the mainstream media, or MSM:

Is the point to have a dialogue with the MSM or cause its destruction?

Jay’s was a very fair and serious question, and it deserved a serious answer. What I’m interested in is not destruction, but rather disclosure, transparency, reform. You can boil all of the above down to one term that ought to be the watchword for everybody in all of journalism’s myriad forms: honesty. I don’t mind a biased press (more on this later), but I do mind a dishonest press.

Dishonesty, by commission and omission, was at the heart of both the Dan Rather and Eason Jordan blowups. In the now-infamous 60 Minutes II case, Rather broadcast, defended, and even now continues to defend flat-out dishonest journalism: his evidence was prima facia bogus, his on-air “experts” were nothing of the sort, dissenting experts were ignored as CBS News shopped around for one who would give them the answer they wanted, and instead of admitting to (at the very least) having been had, Rather went on the attack, accusing his critics of impure motives instead of reporting on valid criticisms and investigating the actual facts. And despite all of the above, a large portion of the MSM, including its self-styled watchdog, the Columbia Journalism Review, continues to defend Rather and his discredited report.

Jordan’ s case, while not as cut-and-dried as Rather’s, is in the big picture far more disturbing. Jordan has been described as CNN’s ‘ambassador’ to the world, but his tenure in that post is hardly a paen to honest journalism. Jordan, and CNN under his leadership, has a long history of looking the other way when legitimate stories could have interfered with the network’s access to areas controlled by dictatorial regimes. Everyone is familiar with Jordan’s mea culpa after the fall of Baghdad , but Saddam Hussein was hardly the only monster he chose to appease. Jordan spoke almost lovingly of Fidel Castro in this 1999 speech, celebrating the opening of CNN’s laughable Havana bureau, which has gone on to contribute little more than English translations of Cuban propaganda. Even worse, in Jordan’s words, “[D]uring the discussions Castro suggested that CNN be made available to the entire world. In fact it was that seed, that idea that grew into CNN International, which is now seen in every country and territory on the planet.”

Given the editorial content of CNN International, I can readily believe it was founded at Castro’s suggestion.

Jordan also pandered to the odious Kim Jong Il of North Korea in 2003, dismissing criticism of Kim’s regime by noting on the air that, “a lot of people think North Korea’s a peculiar country, in large part because they don’t understand it, they’ve never been there, they’ve never seen it first hand,” and passing along Clinton Administration officials as being “stunned by how well informed and how smart this guy is.” Even if true, one questions the relevance of that observation when applied to an individual responsible for wholesale murder and monstrous oppression. It’s fair to ask now how Jordan’s playing to North Korea for access might have affected CNN’s coverage of Kim’s abominable reign.

Jordan ‘s track record of sucking up at his own country’s expense wasn’t limited to dictators; according to observers of the now-infamous Davos conference, he was playing to the anti-American prejudices of European and Arab attendees when he offered up evidence-free tales of US war crimes. He’d previously accused American troops of abusing journalists, on foreign soil and without providing any proof, on at least one other occasion. If there were any substance to Jordan’s claims, either in Davos or in Portugal , I strongly suspect stories would have been aired on his network by now. The more I learn about Jordan ‘s past escapades, the less sympathy I have for him. His unwillingness to report on actual atrocities committed by dictators he schmoozed makes his dishonest rumor-mongering all the more disgraceful.

Getting back to the overall topic, what I’d like to see in the MSM is not an end to rancor, or controversy, or tough reporting. What’s called for instead is an end to the myth of Olympian objectivity in the press. Reporters and editors are not higher beings–they are as subject to human foibles as anybody else–including those of bias, spite, ideology, and even hatred. It’s long-past time to drop the charade and admit that fact of life.

In financial writing, reporters are required to disclose any holdings or personal interest they may have in a company that they’re writing about. Why shouldn’t the same rules apply to political reporters? Why shouldn’t Dana Milbank, Peter Jennings, and Bob Schieffer publicly state, on a reasonably regular basis, who they voted for in the last election, and who they plan to vote for in upcoming races? (And yes, I’d extend that to Brit Hume and Bill O’Reilly as well.) They would demand the same of any critic of their coverage, and absolutely demand such disclosure from corporate officials, political activists, or even in man-on-the-street interviews.

Instead of disclosure, we currently have a ridiculous ad-hoc system of elaborate obfuscation and denial. On the one hand, we have credible surveys of journalists indicating they vote for Democratic candidates far out of proportion to the rest of the electorate, as well as the very-occasional admissions that newsrooms lean heavily left on most issues, buttressed by still-more polling data. On the other, we have ridiculous displays like an editor being suspended from his job because he donated $400 to a presidential candidate, and other very prominent journalists making a show of not voting because exercising their franchise might be construed as (gasp!) possibly leading to favor for one candidate over another in their coverage.

What are you afraid of, journalists? Being honest with your readers? Yes, some might discount you for being up-front with your beliefs, and stop paying attention–but I’m here to tell you, most of them are tuning you out already. Look at the Pew surveys. If your credibility was a stock, you’d be in Enron territory by now.

More to the point, do you really think everybody else in the world is so stupid as to believe you genuinely don’t have your own opinions, or that those opinions don’t affect the job you spend most of your time doing? Do you really believe that you and your peers, alone among the masses of the Earth, are specially blessed with the ability to completely separate your verbal and written communications from your personal opinions, at all times? Especially when you’re talking about highly-charged, contentious issues and political races?

Do you really think the rest of us are that gullible? Are you that arrogant? (Obviously, the answer to the latter is “yes,” from the Steve Lovelady/Nick Coleman/Jim Boyd/Randall Becks of the world, but as the old media monopolies crumble, writers with that kind of attitude are going to find themselves with very few readers, and they’ll deserve it.)

Wouldn’t it really be more ethical, and more honest for you to just admit where you’re coming from, on a reasonably regular basis, and let your readers make up their own minds? I had nothing but respect for Mickey Kaus last year when he disclosed how he was voting, and that he’d given John Kerry a few hundred bucks, instead of pretending that he didn’t have a dog in the fight. That admission also made Kaus’s criticisms of Kerry all the more compelling–because as any sports fan will tell you, you sit up and pay attention when a hometown beat writer says something bad about his own team. He wouldn’t be doing so unless he was 100% convinced it was correct and newsworthy.

So, Jay, at long last, that’s what I’d like to see out of the MSM. I’d like to see it live up to its best ideals, and its fundamental task: go find out what’s happening and report it honestly–and that includes being honest about what you, the reporters, bring to the story.

Is that really asking so much?

Stupid MPAA Tricks

February 15, 2005

Regarding Steve’s post just below, all Macrovision has really done is sell the brain surgeons at MPAA some useless technology that’ll only serve to piss off customers whose DVD player isn’t compatible with this “new” process. According to this LA Times story, the new-and-improved “protection” works on only 97% of the ripping software currently available.

That ain’t enough, boys. If the MPAA is actually paying you anything for this “improvement,” it’s because they collectively have the technical acumen of a particularly dim King Charles Spaniel. The people using ripping software will just download the 3% of programs that still work, and laugh at you. As Slashdot noted, all Macrovision has really done here is sell the movie studios a bunch of snake oil.

Ah, karma. Is there anything it can’t do?

Chris Muir Rocks

February 15, 2005

Just click. Laughter is often the best argument.

If Only Bloggers Had Managing Editors…

February 14, 2005

Regarding Steve Lovelady’s ultimate reply in the comments yesterday, I think Martini Boy summed it up pretty well. No actual answers, just spin, invective, sneering and outright mistakes. Case in point, Steve (Lovelady):

And Andrew Sullivan, having never done it, knows about as much about writing a news story as I know about being an astronaut.

The quote wasn’t from Andrew Sullivan, it was from Andrew Ferguson, who’s been committing journalism for longer than I’ve been alive. He wrote it for Time, where you were (if I have the timeline correct) an editor-at-large when it was published in 1998.

Reading is fundamental, as they say.

NOTE: I’ll have a response to Jay Rosen’s new post sometime today. It’s an interesting question that deserves a better answer than I’m able to dash off at the moment. In the meantime, I encourage readers to check out Jay’s site (if you haven’t already, you’ve missed a lot), and post your own answers here, there, or on your own sites, if you’re so inclined.

LUNCH BREAK UPDATE: Never mind on getting that post in today. If my chicken-scratched notes are any indication, I’m not going to have the time to give Jay’s question the answer it deserves until tomorrow at the earliest. Between my real job and Valentine’s Day (the Mrs. would be a tad upset if I were to spend this evening in front of my computer), it ain’t gonna happen before Tuesday. Hopefully the end result will be worth the wait.