Friday, October 29, 2004

Guardian Strikes

Apparently this number seems unusually high. How many Iraqis have been killed during the war anyway?

About 100,000 Iraqi civilians - half of them women and children - have died in Iraq since the invasion, mostly as a result of airstrikes by coalition forces, according to the first reliable study of the death toll from Iraqi and US public health experts.

The study, which was carried out in 33 randomly-chosen neighbourhoods of Iraq representative of the entire population, shows that violence is now the leading cause of death in Iraq. Before the invasion, most people died of heart attacks, stroke and chronic illness. The risk of a violent death is now 58 times higher than it was before the invasion.
It should be noted that last week the Guardian found itself in a little trouble.

Arafat To Paris

Now that's what I call a news peg...Word is that Israel will let him back in, but he may never have the chance to return.


Amanpour quotes a Palestinian: "He is still our old father."

This could be the end of an era, folks...Who will fill the power vacuum?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Mainstream Journos "Intimidated" by Blogs

I'm a fan of Jim Rutenberg, but I think this is one of the most overwrought examples of journalistic hand-wringing that I've read in a long time. It's almost as if if media criticism is a new thing now that its being delivered via the net.

Practicing cheap and dirty politics, playing fast and loose with the facts and even lying: Accusations like these, and worse, have been slung nonstop this year.

The accused in this case are not the candidates, but the mainstream news media. And the accusers are an ever-growing army of Internet writers, many of them partisans, who reach hundreds of thousands of people a day.

Journalists covering the campaign believe the intent is often to bully them into caving to a particular point of view. They insist the efforts have not swayed them in any significant way, though others worry the criticism could eventually have a chilling effect.

Many of the Internet writers say they have been empowered by the Web to begin serving as a long-needed real-time check on mainstream outlets and reporters who they say wield too much power, sometimes irresponsibly and often with hidden partisan motives.

EM: Fuck Bush, For Our Future's Sake

Well he's done it.

Eminem - the brilliant lightning rod rapper famous for confounding industry convention has unleashed a cultural missile in the form of the most overtly political music video in recent memory. And he's aimed this weapon of Mr. Bush's defeat squarely at the President himself.

"Mosh" is an angry, powerful, original, self-aggrandizing, inspiring and darkly hopeful piece of political propaganda ostensibly directed at young urban voters but more subtly intended as a mass rallying call to suburban dissaffecteds.

The video is the number 1 song on MTV.

Deploying his signature dark lyrical genius against a slowed-down, almost dirge-like hip-hop marching beat, Em alternately condemns Bush's policies including the Iraq war and the tax cuts, and exhorts voters to "swarm" the polls.

Bloggers respond and dissect:

I felt this powerful sense that I had just seen something calibrated exactly for this moment, something hopeful and disturbing and honest...something spoken from the crux of this hour in our history and yet resolutely looking forward. Mosh is political art that, at the same time, speaks in an authentic and specific voice. It is art that seems to bear a power to unleash something new.
Can you feel it?

Job Well Done

Congratulations, Boston Dirt Dogs. You earned it. Gotta say it was fairly spooky to see that eclipse going on during the game. Wierd.

Trick or Treat

Check out this detail from about the Phantom Weapons Cache. (Just in time for Halloween, no less. I know what my constume is going to be.) There's almost 400 tons of this shit loose in Iraq, Syria, or god knows where.

RDX [Cyclonite - Hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine]

RDX stands for Royal Demolition eXplosive. It is also known as cyclonite or hexogen. RDX is currently the most important military high explosive in the US...

RDX is used as an explosive, usually in mixtures with other explosives, oils, or waxes. It has a high degree of stability in storage and is considered the most powerful and brisant of the military high explosives. RDX is used as a base charge in detonators and in blasting caps...RDX has limited civilian use as a rat poison.

HMX [Octogen - Octahydro-1,3,5,7-tetranitro-1,3,5,7-tetrazocine]

High Melting Explosive [HMX] is the highest-energy solid explosive produced on a large scale in the United States...

HMX explodes violently at high temperatures (534°F and above). Because of this property, HMX is used exclusively for military purposes to implode fissionable material in nuclear devices, as a component of plastic-bonded explosives, as a component of rocket propellant, and as a high explosive burster charge. The use of HMX as a propellant and in maximum-performance explosives is increasing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

New York Times Fights Back

The New York Times was playing defense Tuesday night as questions emerged about the paper's Monday exclusive on the disappearance of 380 tons of high explosives from the massive Iraqi weapons base at Al Qa Qaa. Meanwhile, the Pentagon backed away from its position that the weapons had been removed from the base by the time American troops arrived.

The paper issued a statement. And an editorial:

President Bush's misbegotten invasion of Iraq appears to have achieved what Saddam Hussein did not: putting dangerous weapons in the hands of terrorists and creating an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq...It's been obvious for months that American forces were not going to find the chemical or biological armaments that Mr. Bush said were stockpiled in Iraq. What we didn't know is that while they were looking for weapons that did not exist, they lost weapons that did.
Conservatives seized on an NBC broadcast which reported that American soldiers and an NBC embedded unit had been to the base in the first days of the invasion, on April 10, 2003, and had not observed the stockpile.

But it turns out that the soldiers were only at the huge facility for 24 hours on their way to Baghdad and "the unit's commander said in an interview yesterday that his troops had not searched the site and had merely stopped there overnight."

The biggest issue appears to be no more glamorous than the sheer timing of the story. One week before the election, publishing a story that is essentially over a year old is inherently suspect, but the revelation that CBS 60 Minutes was planning to air their report (the investigation as a joint NYT/CBS affair) only two days before the election did not help the Times' case.

Nevertheless, regional papers like the Oregonian picked up on the story.

It has been interesting that the Times' follow-up stories (latest here) has centered on the political implications of its story, not the substance or latest news about where the 380 tons actually are today.

Wrapping up: according to CNN the timeline goes something like this:
March 3, 2003 - IAEA last confirms the existence of the 380 tons of high explosives at Al Qa Qaa.
March 20, 2003 - The war begins.
April 10, 2003 - The 101st Airborne arrives at the huge base with the NBC imbed. No sign of the explosives, but they weren't really looking and had other things on their mind - like toppling Baghdad.
May 2003 - IAEA relays concerns to US government.
May 27, 2003 - US exploitation team looking for WMD finds the 380 tons missing after searching the base's 32 bunkers and 87 buildings.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Gawker Gets Its Groove Back

Finally, Gawker gets back to doing what it does best, skewering media bullshit. Thanks Gawker!

From the Wall Street Journal corrections page:

News Corp.'S Fox News was incorrectly described in a page-one article Monday as being sympathetic to the Bush cause.

It's amazing what a bunch of lawyers can get you to print, eh? Especially considering:

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch denies his Fox News Channel is biased towards US President George W. Bush but says his newspapers will continue to back Republican foreign policy.

Corrections And Amplifications [WSJ]
Murdoch Denies Fox Bias In US Political Coverage, Backs Bush Foreign Policy [AFP]

Hold up, wait a second. What's that? Yeah well, it was nice while it lasted - back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Well, Brooklyn is officially near death. CBS executives are considering a new series called Cobble Hill which is "described as an hour-long version of Friends." Will the Hollywood hell machine ever quit churning through New York? Hipsters looking for refuge might as well move to fucking Yonkers.
'Cobble Hill' TV [NYP via Curbed]

Sacrebleu! Not the Hollywood Hell Machine! And Brooklyn officially near death? Not again!?! That's some awesomeness, Gawkee.

I miss Elizabeth Spiers.

The Debate Continues...

From the October 26, 2004 edition of the Christian Science Monitor:

Journalism students ask: Why am I here?J-school is more popular than ever. But is it necessary?
By Teresa Méndez Staff writer

Heather Saucier learned the lesson of the "nut graf" the hard way. (In journalism jargon, the "nut graf" is a paragraph near the top of a story that concisely lays out its thesis.)

Ms. Saucier was still in college, working as an intern for the now-defunct Houston Post. She filed a piece on the city's troublesome squirrel population. The story was fine, her editor said, "But you're missing a nut graf."

She'd already written about squirrels chewing through telephone wires and gnawing on wood, so she dashed off a short paragraph about their diet: nuts.

Some would argue that Saucier learned this essential of the journalistic craft in the best possible fashion - on the job. Others, however, might point to Saucier's story as an example of one of the oddities of journalism: So many enter the field with so little formal instruction.

Whatever the answer, Saucier stayed her course. But as time went on, she considered returning to school. After five years as a features writer, her stories regularly took third place in competitions. She wanted "to be a first-place writer," though, and thought "there has to be something I don't know that I can learn."

In journalism graduate school, she says, content was held in higher esteem than style. And she discovered what had been missing from her work - substance.

It's one of the most circular and enduring debates in journalism: whether to bother with a graduate degree that certainly doesn't guarantee a job, and, unlike law or medicine, has never been required.

Nearly a century after the first journalism school opened in 1908, schools are in flux - Columbia University's vaunted program, where Saucier earned her degree, is in the final stages of an overhaul.

Debates over the value and purpose of such programs are perpetual. Should they focus on skills - or theory? Some argue their value lies largely in forging contacts to help crack open the door to a closed insider's game. Then there are those successful newspeople who insist their value is nil.
And yet - paradoxically, perhaps - even as tuition rises and the time spent earning a degree expands, enrollment at journalism schools is up.

Bolstered by a larger demographic shift in the numbers of students attending graduate school, last year students earning master's in journalism and mass communication hit an all-time high of 11,703, according to an annual survey by the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

It's a tough job, journalism. The pay is low. Competition is fierce. And a spate of ethics scandals hasn't endeared the profession to the public.

The median salary of a person holding a master's degree in journalism and mass communication is a little over $32,000. While a year spent earning a degree at Columbia in New York City or Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill. - both private schools and two of the country's best - can cost up to $60,000, including living expenses.

Still, the allure - whether romantic visions of mellifluous prose, foreign correspondents confronting war zones, or oldtime newspapermen felling corrupt governments - remains strong. And journalists, both working and aspiring, talk of journalism as less a job than a calling.

"I always tell people that I didn't pick journalism. I think journalism picked me," says Roya Aziz, in her third - and, she hopes, final - year of earning a dual degree in journalism and international studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Many are drawn to the field by a love of writing; others yearn for the role of guardian of democracy. "Some of the best students are motivated by very idealistic aspirations," says Loren Ghiglione, dean at Medill. The reasons for choosing the "J-school" path, however, tend to be more pragmatic. To many, it's a sensible credential that can't hurt, and may well help.

"I knew I needed clips," says Marta Hummel, a reporter with the Greensboro News-Record in North Carolina who attended Medill. Journalism school "was the easiest and quickest way to do it."
By the time Robert Tuttle decided to pursue journalism in earnest, he'd been out of college for more than a decade. And though he'd worked for a newspaper in Lebanon, he couldn't find a job in the US. "I saw the barriers to getting into the profession when I got back here," he says. "It's an insiders' world and I was on the outside."

He enrolled at Columbia this fall.

That school's dean, Nicholas Lemann, who most recently covered Washington for The New Yorker, doesn't suggest the journalist's skill set can't be learned on the job. The university just imparts it faster: "It's taken me decades to pick up stuff that our graduates will be leaving with," he says.

The fact that a degree isn't mandatory in the journalism world may be even more reason to earn one, says Libby Sander, a general assignment reporter at the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. "Medill at least tried to do a bit with ethics and the legal and moral issues. It can't be a bad thing to think about these things."

In her newsroom, though, only half the people have journalism degrees, she says, and "there's no distinction in terms of who is capable of what." She wonders "whether a master's degree isn't just icing on the cake."

Robert Fulford, a columnist with Toronto's National Post, goes further. He believes that any experience bringing journalists into contact with people - whether Wall Street or waitressing - is better training than a cloistered term in graduate school.

Yet even within academe, journalism holds a precarious place. It's "an old discipline," says Melvin Mencher, professor emeritus at Columbia who wrote the book used in the school's required Reporting and Writing course. "But it has always been the poor cousin on the campus."
After rethinking the journalism school's role, and place within the university, Columbia has decided to add two more general classes. In addition, come spring it will admit students to an optional second year, when they can specialize in areas like business or environmental journalism.

Other schools have taken a similar approach. Medill, as Berkeley has done, recently began offering new joint degree programs with focuses including religion and legal reporting. Next year, Syracuse University in New York, which has the nation's fourth-largest master's program, will introduce the first master's in arts journalism.

If not in the vanguard, Columbia is "taking the direction the field is already going in and trying to codify it and push it forward, to rely a little less on the joint program mechanism and a little more on doing it ourselves," says Dean Lemann.

Tuttle, the Columbia student, is mostly interested in honing his reporting and writing. He doesn't think he can spare another year to specialize.

"I learned so much more from being out in the world than I ever could in a graduate program," he says. "I think part of the profession of journalism is learning by doing."

A Red Sox fan...

who is a friend of mine posed an interesting question to Red Sox Nation tonight:

If you had to choose between Boston legends this week, would you rather have John Kerry elected president or have the Red Sox win the World Series?

Is that a tough question?

Monday, October 25, 2004


Update 2: NYT Followup. One week before the election, this story ellicits a significant pushback.

: Josh Marshall is going, er, ballistic with this story.

And disturbing. New York Times exclusive.

Two weeks ago, on Oct. 10, Dr. Mohammed J. Abbas of the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology wrote a letter to the I.A.E.A. to say the Qaqaa stockpile had been lost. He added that his ministry had judged that an "urgent updating of the registered materials is required."

A chart in his letter listed 341.7 metric tons, about 377 American tons, of HMX, RDX and PETN as missing. [emphasis added]

The explosives missing from Al Qaqaa are the strongest and fastest in common use by militaries around the globe.

• Also interesting: The ATL on R to the O to the V-E

• Mainstream Media Sinclair roundup: Kurtz, NYT. Kos is proclaiming victory and he's got a point.

• Mildly amusing Romenesko Item.

• One week till the election. Who to vote for?..."Do it for the kids, man, the kids."

Friday, October 22, 2004

This is a Pretty Amazing Piece by....

Robert A. George, a New York Post editorial writer. It appears in this week's New Republic and is behind a subscriber wall, so I've reprinted it in its entirety. Needless to say, it reflects a point of view quite different than that of the author's employer....

Conscientious Objector
by Robert A. George
Post date: 10.19.04
Issue date: 10.25.04

Sixteen years ago, just out of college, I volunteered at the Republican National Convention as a man named George Bush prepared to begin a fall campaign that would see him defeat a Democrat from Massachusetts. The sparkling words of an acceptance speech crafted by Peggy Noonan--and delivered almost flawlessly--helped him inspire his party and a country that saw him as an extension of Ronald Reagan. It fell to that George Bush to "close out" the cold war and launch a different one in the Persian Gulf.

Now, sixteen years later, after tenures working for the party and a couple of Republican members on Capitol Hill (including a speaker named Newt Gingrich) and becoming an earnest fellow traveler of the conservative movement, I find it impossible to support the current George Bush--whom his party sees as the ideological extension of Ronald Reagan--as he faces his own showdown with a Democrat from Massachusetts and oversees a war centered in the Middle East.

At the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush mocked John Kerry's claim of having "conservative values." But what are conservative values? Two of the core principles at the heart of modern conservatism are a belief in the virtue of smaller government and a conviction that government must be accountable to the public. Those principles were enunciated ten years ago in the Contract with America, which helped Republicans take full control of Congress for the first time in four decades. That document sought "the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money." In this context, Bush's first term has represented a betrayal of conservative values.

It's not simply a matter of outrageous spending or enlarged government programs--both offenses of which this administration is guilty, as manifested in a 25 percent domestic discretionary spending hike, a half-trillion-dollar Medicare expansion, and the ripping away of free-market agricultural reforms enacted over the past decade. The president continues to pursue tax cuts, as any conservative president would. But a government that cuts taxes and continues to spend ultimately becomes as amoral as one that raises taxes and spends.

Yet the Bush administration's free-spending fiscal record only hints at its larger rejection of conservative principles. The more fundamental betrayal arises from the administration's central focus: an ill-defined "war on terror" that has no determinable endpoint and that is used to justify an unprecedented expansion of executive power. To make matters worse, this administration shows little inclination to demand accountability from those who serve within it. In turn, the Republican Congress--ignoring its 1994 vow to "restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives"--appears disinclined to check the powers of the executive. Together, these factors endanger the long-term health of the republic.

It is a good thing Bush has an idealistic streak that informs his vision of the world. That idealism leads him to a belief that "freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world." But, without demanding accountability from his administration, that messianic zeal is being corrupted, and his policies are lurching out of control. Without a defined, limited overall vision of the war on terrorism and a corresponding commitment to government accountability, Bush can hardly claim to be the champion of "conservative values."

Speaking about the war on terrorism as the GOP convention kicked off, Bush told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show, "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world." The White House immediately backpedaled from Bush's apparent gaffe, saying this was just a variation of what the president has always said--that the war on terrorism is a "different kind of war." But, as a former editor of this magazine, Michael Kinsley, once stated, "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth." And that's just what Bush was doing.

The past four decades have seen "wars" on social conditions ("poverty"), inanimate objects ("drugs"), and physical states ("teenage pregnancy"). (Each has met with limited, if any, success.) What is different now is that, this time, a president has asserted that we are in an actual war that must be fought with the full wartime powers of the presidency. With vague congressional approval, this assertion grants the president--and, more importantly, the presidency--powers deeply disturbing from a civil liberties perspective. Indeed, this expansion of presidential prerogative is anathema to the conservative belief in limited government.

The dangers of this new, unlimited power were plain to see at a tough congressional hearing in June. Attorney General John Ashcroft squared off against the Senate Judiciary Committee as it looked into whether Ashcroft's office provided legal cover to the Department of Defense on issues involving torture. The Wall Street Journal and other papers ran stories based on a heavily redacted 100-page memo, dated March 6, 2003. Written by a Defense Department working group, the memo seemed to outline ways to justify the use of aggressive interrogation techniques on detainees at Guantanamo without running afoul of international treaties forbidding torture. The Journal reported:

"In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign ... (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority," the report asserted. ...

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

In essence, the authors of the Defense Department memo were arguing that, in wartime, getting around inconvenient laws is "inherent in the president." The memo's existence raised the possibility that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were, in fact, an extension of official policy.

At the hearing, Ashcroft denied that President Bush approved of torture. But, in refusing Democratic senators' demands to turn either the full memo or similar ones written by the Justice Department over to the Judiciary Committee, he said, "We are at war. And for us to begin to discuss all the legal ramifications of the war is not in our best interest and it has never been in times of war." Ashcroft was essentially asserting that Congress--whose oversight powers give it authority to demand accountability from the executive--should not be allowed to inquire about the quality of legal advice being given to the president. This, even though the apparent result of that advice "trickled down" to the abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

If the answer to every legitimate congressional inquiry concerning presidential powers is that "we are at war" and that legislative questions concerning executive behavior are inappropriate, it becomes impossible for Congress to fulfill its constitutional mandate as a co-equal branch of government. At what point do the American people ask the obvious: What sort of war is this and exactly how long should a president have virtually indeterminate powers to wage it?

Yes, it is true that past presidents have taken on extraordinary wartime powers: In the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus; in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the internment of Japanese citizens. But, in both cases, there existed a defined foe. With each, there was a sense of what victory meant and over whom that victory would be won. The Union would defeat the Confederacy; America and her allies would defeat the Axis powers. Even in the cold war, the ideology of communism had a clear home in the Soviet Union. Those conflicts would end with the defined enemy surrendering, being defeated, or the motivating ideology collapsing. However long it took, the American people knew there would be some sort of definite conclusion.

But, in President Bush's vision, the terrorist enemy remains amorphous. After September 11, Osama bin Laden was wanted "dead or alive." Then, as the Iraq war developed, Saddam Hussein became the ace of spades in the terrorist card deck. Now, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi is the new face of evil. The war, we are told, will not end with any one of these men's capture or death. It will continue until ... until ... until when, exactly? Thus, the comparisons many make to previous U.S. conflicts are hardly applicable. Neither are the comparisons to decisions of previous commanders-in-chief who put aside civil liberties. For the 40 years of the cold war, the United States held off a Soviet enemy that had the power to destroy the country several times over--yet civil liberties were never curtailed to the extent they are now. In the current struggle, which some call World War IV, Americans are being asked to sacrifice liberties in the face of an enemy that has less ability to damage us than the Soviets did. This is not to minimize the threat of Islamist fundamentalism, but it is essential to put the capabilities of the enemy in perspective.

The Supreme Court gave some shape to these questions in a series of rulings on the rights of Guantanamo detainees and American "enemy combatants" Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. What is broadly at stake could be seen in the vociferous end-of-the-spectrum minority statements by regular antagonists Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia. Scalia found the detention of Hamdi, captured in Afghanistan, unconstitutional, but disagreed with how the Court chose to resolve it--i.e., by saying that the September 13, 2001, congressional war resolution gave Bush the power to declare individuals enemy combatants. Scalia asserts that the Constitution provides only two options--either Congress could vote to suspend habeas corpus or Hamdi could be charged with a crime, such as treason. Otherwise, Hamdi couldn't be held indefinitely. "The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive," concludes Scalia.

On Padilla, the court declined to hear the case on a technicality--Padilla's lawyer sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in federal court, rather than the warden of the Louisiana jail in which Padilla was held. Stevens (who, in a man-bites-dog moment, also signed onto Scalia's dissent in the Hamdi case) railed against the Court decision not to hear the case:

At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society.... Access to counsel for the purpose of protecting the citizen from official mistakes and mistreatment is the hallmark of due process.

Executive detention of subversive citizens ... may sometimes be justified to prevent persons from launching or becoming missiles of destruction. It may not, however, be justified by the naked interest in using unlawful procedures to extract information. Incommunicado detention for months on end is such a procedure.... For if this Nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny.

It is cold comfort that the furthest left and the furthest right justices on the Court are the ones arguing most vigorously about the dangers of an unchecked executive. But neither they nor any of their colleagues appear interested in pondering the hard questions of an American president with extra-constitutional "wartime" powers that could continue ad infinitum. Would these powers be automatically transferred to a hypothetical President John Kerry? President Hillary Rodham Clinton? President Jeb Bush? Should the American people simply take on faith the latest commander-in-chief's definition of who is or is not a terrorist? Would the American people have accepted such a refined status quo for the 40 years the cold war lasted? Or, in the formulation of adviser Karl Rove, the 30 years of Great Britain's conflict with the Irish Republican Army? (Even in that conflict, bargaining partners eventually emerged to craft an unsteady peace agreement, whereas Rove has dismissed the idea of ever signing a peace treaty with Al Qaeda.) How can the American people expect to stay on a war footing when the commander-in-chief has given them no concept of what "victory" would eventually look like? And how can they be expected indefinitely to tolerate an expansion of executive power that threatens the liberties upon which the nation was founded?

A permanent war would be dangerous enough if the public could be confident in its execution. But we cannot. That's because President Bush has failed to live up to the second key tenet of conservative government: accountability.

Take, for example, the Pentagon's disastrous planning for postwar Iraq. The lack of troops for the post-invasion period enabled the insurgency to bloom and put American soldiers at risk. Worse, while memos from Ashcroft's Justice Department seemingly provided legal cover for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, the material causes could be found, again, in the underdeployment of troops: "What went wrong at Abu Ghraib prison?" asked The New York Post's Ralph Peters, one of the more earnest supporters of invading Iraq. Pointing to the two independent reports examining the scandal, he concludes: "Woefully deficient planning for post-war Iraq, too few troops and inadequate leadership at the top." Peters is among the conservatives who believe the Abu Ghraib fiasco should have been the final straw for Rumsfeld.

But it didn't happen. And it won't happen, because accountability is a foreign word in this administration. To demonstrate how little he has learned, Rumsfeld observed, "Does [the abuse] rank up there with chopping off someone's head on television? It doesn't. It doesn't. Was it done as a matter of policy? No." Forget that the abuse was far more pervasive than just the handful of servicemen that first popped up in photographs; when the secretary of defense basically says, "Hey, what the terrorists do is much worse," the moral foundation upon which America stands begins to crumble. The president's stated goal was to try to bring democracy to the Middle East--not to allow us to become tainted by the barbarism so prevalent in the region we are attempting to liberate. So Rumsfeld stays on--even as the situation rapidly deteriorates.

Then again, this shouldn't come as a surprise: George Tenet remained in his position following the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history, enabling him to tell the president later that evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a "slam dunk." The first failure helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans; the second failure led us into a conflict from which there exists no clear exit strategy and that has rendered the word of the United States suspect. Yet Tenet stayed on, too.

And no wonder. As Bob Woodward writes in Plan of Attack, "[S]everal things were clear from the president's demeanor, his style and all that [Colin] Powell had learned about Bush. The president was not going to toss anyone over the side.... The president also made it clear that no one was to jump ship.... They were a team. The larger message was clear: Circle the wagons." The larger message is that loyalty is prized above all, regardless of the results and regardless of the effect on U.S. standing in the world.

The same pattern is evident in the other WMD scandal, a.k.a. the Wretched Medicare Debacle. As is well-known now, the prescription-drug-enhanced Medicare "reform" will cost a full quarter more--at least--than the originally announced $395 billion over ten years. Within weeks of the president's signing the bill into law, the measure ballooned to $534 billion. The re-estimation contributes to a record annual deficit for 2004. The Post reported that the larger numbers were known for "months" and that "the president's top health advisers gathered such evidence and shared it with select lawmakers"--while rank-and-file members of Congress were kept in the dark.

The deception on the numbers was combined with raw, hard politics that danced right up to the ethical and legal lines that supposedly govern the House. The legislation--the largest entitlement expansion in nearly 40 years--just squeaked by. Republican leaders in the House of Representatives kept the vote open for an unprecedented three hours in order to twist the arms of reluctant conservatives. Retiring Michigan Representative Nick Smith alleged that Republicans threatened the political future of his son if he didn't support the bill. Smith held his ground, despite the de facto extortion--actions that sparked an internal House inquiry that has resulted in House Majority Leader Tom DeLay having his hand slapped by the Ethics Committee for improperly trying to influence Smith's vote.

Ultimately, on both foreign and domestic policy, the public's trust has been betrayed. Why should the public trust its leaders with future policy if those leaders deceive and manipulate the people's elected representatives to get a favored policy passed? If the American public and the world at large now react skeptically to future presidential claims that the United States faces a foreign threat, who can blame them?

Similarly, the president's intent to reform Social Security will now be judged by the still-emerging costs of the Medicare reform--to say nothing of the political backlash from some seniors incensed at having to pay 17 percent more in premiums. The mishandling of domestic spending, of which Medicare is the prime example--whether because of ignorance, incompetence, or deceit--casts the same pall over Bush's domestic agenda that the collapse of Iraq does over his foreign policy. The president who dismisses criticism of the cost of Medicare is the same one who "miscalculated" the costs for rebuilding Iraq by at least $100 billion--and submitted a subsequent budget that omitted even an estimate of spending for the current military campaigns. Medicare actuary Richard Foster was threatened with firing if he told the truth about the costs of the reform bill, while his boss who pushed forward the lower numbers, Thomas Scully, departed quietly to a cushy health care-related policy job at a Washington, D.C., law firm. That was, of course, the same pattern we witnessed with the management of the Iraq war. Individuals who got the prewar details right--either in terms of troop strength (General Eric Shinseki) or in estimated fiscal costs (former National Economic Council Director Lawrence Lindsey)--were publicly rebuked or dismissed. Those who got the prewar details wrong remain in positions of authority. Conservatives--who fear unchecked, unaccountable government--should be especially appalled.

It would be wonderful to believe the president's promise that the war in Iraq will lead to democracy in a troubled region. An immigrant--I was born in the West Indies--tends to absorb the earnest, spiritual myths of his adopted nation even more than those native-born. Democracy is indeed a human value. But initiating a war to "liberate" an entire region far from our shores can hardly be called a conservative cause. It will be impossible to restrain a government kept on a permanent war footing. And, in liberty's name abroad, liberty at home will inevitably be compromised. It already has been.

No, a Kerry administration would not be any conservative's ideal. But, on limited government, a Democratic president would, arguably, force a Republican Congress to act like a Republican Congress. The last such combination produced some form of fiscal sanity. And, when it comes to accountability, one could hardly do worse. Of course, a conservative can still cast a libertarian vote on principle.

At crucial points before and after the Iraq war, Bush's middle managers have failed him, and the "brand" called America has suffered in the world market. In any other corporate structure plagued by this level of incompetence, the CEO would have a choice: Fire his middle managers or be held personally accountable by his shareholders. Because of his own misguided sense of "loyalty," Bush won't dismiss anyone. That leaves the country's shareholders little choice.

Is it just me?

Or is this the first NYT article that when it appeared online contains an external link -- as opposed to stories such as this one, which have internal links about political figures?

The death of our own: a journalism student and a BoSox fan

A 21-year-old college student died Thursday of a head injury after a clash between police and a crowd of Red Sox fans who poured into the streets outside Fenway Park to celebrate their team's victory over the New York Yankees.

Victoria Snelgrove, a journalism major at Emerson College in Boston, was shot in the eye by a projectile fired by an officer on crowd-control duty. The nature of the projectile was not immediately identified but the weapons are meant to be non-lethal.

"Student killed during postgame celebration," by The Associated Press, October 21, 2004.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A J-School Year

The j-school at the University of South Carolina has a blog, too. (via First Draft by Tim Porter)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Sinclair: The Battle Continues

Latest from the Seattle Times:

Under mounting political, legal and financial pressure, Sinclair Broadcast Group yesterday backed away from its plan to carry a film attacking Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam record, saying it would air only portions of the documentary in an hourlong special scheduled for Friday.
Sinclair hits back, courtesy of Newsday:
"Executives have endured personal attacks of the vilest nature ... ," said chief executive David H. Smith, whose family has given generously to Republicans in the last 10 years. "We cannot in a free America yield to the misguided attempts by a small but vocal minority to influence behavior and trample on the First Amendment.
Newsday also reports:
On another front, California venture capitalist Andrew Rappaport and his wife Deborah, who have given more than $300,000 to Democrats since 2000, offered to pay Sinclair its costs for lost advertising plus $1 million to buy an hour of programming time to air "Going Upriver," a new documentary that paints a flattering picture of Kerry's Vietnam-era activities.

"We feel we're providing Sinclair with an ability to balance the coverage," Deborah Rappaport said in a conference call with reporters.
Also: NYU Journalism honcho Jay Rosen praises former Sinclar DC bureau chief Jon Leiberman's "courageous action."

Kos readers engineer a Sinclair boycott.

Paul Levinson, chairman of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University says.

Sinclair has every right to broadcast the documentary and media observers have every right to assess Sinclair as one of the most biased national broadcasting companies in American history.

[Just be glad that we're not talking about Mary Poppins and Dick Tracy showing up on voter registrations in Ohio in exchange for the crack rock.]

Monday, October 18, 2004

Sinclair: Getting Nasty


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., under widening scrutiny over plans to air a documentary about Sen. John Kerry's wartime activities 30 years ago, said on Tuesday it would not show the program in its entirety.

"Contrary to numerous inaccurate political and press accounts, the Sinclair stations will not be airing the documentary 'Stolen Honor' in its entirety," the Baltimore-based company said in a statement.

Sinclair said it would air a special news program on Friday called "A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media" that would discuss the allegations surrounding Kerry's anti-Vietnam War activities.
Sinclair Broadcating fired its DC Bureau Chief Jon Leiberman yesterday after he voiced his unwillingness to participate in Sinclair's plan to broadcast "Stolen Honor," an anti-Kerry documentary and call it "news."
"I was told I violated company policy by divulging information from a staff meeting to The (Baltimore) Sun in this morning's edition," Leiberman said late Monday.

"They're using news to drive their political agenda," says Leiberman. "I don't think it served the public trust."
Sinclair called Leiberman a "disgruntled employee" in a statement and said, "we are disappointed that Jon's political views caused him to violate company policy and speak to the press about company business."

Meanwhile: "[Sinclair] shares closed Monday at $6.49, down 55 cents since Friday — and down 12% since Oct. 11, the first day of trading after the Los Angeles Times disclosed Sinclair's plans."

More: Read Amy Goodman's interview with Mark Hyman, Sinclair Vice President for Corporate Relations. And check out this Twin Cities take on tomorrow night's local TV lineup:

They're not on the ballot, but four brothers from Maryland could play a major role in this year's presidential election.

The Smith brothers -- David, Frederick, Robert and J. Duncan -- control 90 percent of the voting stock of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation's largest owner of local television stations.

Among their holdings is KMWB-TV, Channel 23, in the Twin Cities.

The Smiths usually feed their Twin Cities viewers a news-free diet. The station's weekly schedule is heavy on sitcom reruns and WB network dramas, with no regularly scheduled news programs.

But at 9 p.m. Wednesday, according to the station's schedule, KMWB will drop its regular installment of "Elimidate" to air "Stolen Honor," a documentary criticizing the antiwar protests of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry after he returned from a highly decorated tour of duty in Vietnam.

Celebrity Deathmatch Redux: Stewart vs. Carlson

If you haven't seen the Jon Stewart Crossfire appearance from last Friday, check it out. Transcript here. A highlight:

"You have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably," Stewart said.

Responded Carlson: "You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think."

"You need to go to one," Stewart shot back.
Update: "I thought that he looked ridiculous," Carlson said in an interview Monday, "and I think the tape makes that clear."

WSJ Editorial to Pinch: Take it to the Supremes

Geoffrey R. Stone weighs in on the Plame/Novak/Miller/Fitzgerald saga today with a thoughtful and compelling piece. He argues:

The members of the administration who "outed" Valerie Plame (if indeed they did this) were not confidential sources. They were criminals whose very disclosure of the information was itself the criminal act. There is no First Amendment reason to protect or promote such communications. Even under the most expansive version of the confidential source privilege, such individuals are not entitled to protection because they are not blowing a whistle but directly and intentionally violating the law. If any member of the Bush administration told Judith Miller that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative, she should drop the claim that this unlawful act is protected by the First Amendment and, like any other citizen, report their criminal conduct.
Stone cites the 1972 Supreme Court decision Branzburg vs. Hayes, in which the Court held that:
The First Amendment does not relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation that all citizens have to respond to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, and therefore the Amendment does not afford him a constitutional testimonial privilege for an agreement he makes to conceal facts relevant to a grand jury's investigation of a crime or to conceal the criminal conduct of his source or evidence thereof.
The language is pretty clear. However, Stone does say:
I agree with the Times that the Supreme Court erred in Branzburg. For the government to intrude into the core process by which reporters gain information from confidential sources is sufficiently threatening to the integrity of the newsgathering process that some justification greater than a mere "legitimate" law enforcement interest should be required before insisting that a reporter reveal confidential sources.
Nevertheless, he correctly concludes that this "argument must be directed to the Supreme Court, not to a lower federal court judge," and further makes a good point when he says, "What the Times should be focusing on is not the questions to Ms. Miller, but the fact that the prosecutors have taken so long to complete this relatively straightforward investigation that somehow they won't get to the bottom of it until after the 2004 presidential election."

Celebrity Deathmatch: Gitlin vs. Kohn

While I admire Daniel Okrent's desire try to bring some balance to the office of the public editor, I'm not sure what this exchange actually acheives, other than to reinforce that some people think the NYT doesn't hold Bush's feet to the fire enough, while others think its coverage of the Administration is unfairly critical. Ok, tell us something we don't know. The highlights:

(Our very own) Todd Gitlin (author of Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives):

An on-again, off-again watchdog is better than no watchdog at all. But Times readers should not have to settle for a watchdog with laryngitis.
Bob Kohn (author of Journalistic Fraud: How the New York TImes Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted):
What kind of newspaper will we leave to our children? If you still don't believe it's the wrong kind, put yourself in my slippers: imagine how your Sunday morning coffee encounters with The Times would sour if the front page of the Arts & Leisure section were turned over to, say, Ann Coulter. Is that the kind of paper you want? That's the paper you have.

ANNOUNCING: The Inaugural "Story of the Week"

Think you're the next Woodward, Bernstein, Apple, Orwell, Rather, Foer, Dowd, Drudge, Cox, or Hersch?

Prove it.

Jschool05 is soliciting submissions due this Thursday 10/21 at 7PM (tell your friends) for the top J-School story of the week, to be judged by the jschool05 editorial board plus special celebrity faculty-guest-judges.

Reporters will want to bring their A-game to this affair. The results will be announced at a J-school party somewhere this weekend, and the winner will be featured in depth next week on jschool05.


Sunday, October 17, 2004

Get Me Team America, World Police!

Surely they will defend our press freedoms! (Ed: Just keep 'em away from DC - we can't have them blowing up any historic American landmarks during their global quest to protect our freedom.)

A prosecutor's investigation into an apparent attempt by the Bush administration to punish a political opponent by revealing classified information has veered terribly off course. It threatens grievous harm to freedom of the press and the vital protection it provides against government misconduct.

The reality of the threat was driven home, quite personally for us, last week, when a federal judge in Washington sentenced a Times reporter, Judith Miller, to up to 18 months in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury. The panel is looking into who gave Robert Novak the name of a covert Central Intelligence Agency operative, Valerie Plame, for publication in his syndicated column. Ms. Miller, who never wrote about the C.I.A. officer, was asked to describe any conversations she had with a specified government official. The danger was reinforced again on Wednesday, when Judge Thomas Hogan ordered a prison sentence for a Time magazine reporter, Matthew Cooper, in the same case.

The sentences have been stayed pending a consolidated appeal, expected to be heard next month. The specter of reporters' being imprisoned merely for doing their jobs is something that should worry everyone who cherishes the First Amendment and the essential role of a free press in a democracy.

Mr. Cooper, who wrote an article in which he said "some government officials" had identified the C.I.A. official, earlier testified about his conversations with Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, after Mr. Libby explicitly waived confidentiality. Ms. Miller declined to testify, or to seek a waiver, on the basis that consent granted under a threat of firing cannot be considered truly voluntary. After Mr. Cooper testified, the prosecutor issued yet another subpoena and demanded that he identify other sources. Mr. Cooper properly refused to do so on First Amendment grounds.

There are other issues at play, chief among them a decision by a United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, to compel Ms. Miller to disclose her contacts with government officials even though she never wrote an article about the controversy. Mr. Fitzgerald has also subpoenaed Ms. Miller's phone records in a different investigation, raising at least a perception of harassment, or that Mr. Fitzgerald may be trying apply pressure in the second situation to gain leverage in the first.

It remains extremely puzzling that Mr. Novak, who originally published Ms. Plame's name, appears to be in no jeopardy. Mr. Novak has remained oddly silent about the jail sentences his colleagues face for defending principles that also protect him.

Judge Hogan ruled that a reporter's privilege does not exist in a grand jury setting. He also said the prosecutor had met the standards that courts generally apply before ordering a reporter to disclose confidential sources. There are reasons to doubt that conclusion, but the secrecy of the prosecutor's filings makes it hard to be certain. Even the reporters and their lawyers are prohibited from seeing the prosecutor's affidavits.

No matter how journalists' privileges are calibrated, Supreme Court precedent protects them from harassment and heedless prosecutorial fishing expeditions like this one. The situation points to the wisdom of state laws that recognize and protect a special relationship between journalists and their sources. Congress should follow their lead.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Faux Disclosure

Update: "That's just the Post - I don't expect any better."

Ok, does anyone else see a problem with a newspaper writing a page 3 story trashing one party to a lawsuit and not disclosing that the newspaper is OWNED by the other party to the lawsuit? Because that's exactly what happened today in the New York Post, which of course is owned by News Corporation, the Murdoch media giant named in the O'Reilly sexual harrassment lawsuit.

by Todd Venezia

October 15, 2004
-- The woman accusing Bill O'Reilly of sex harassment threw a hissy fit inside a tony Midtown hotel bar last week and then sneered to onlookers that she works for "The O'Reilly Factor," a Manhattan chef told The Post yesterday.

"She literally verbally attacked and abused and harassed us at The Peninsula hotel, like a raving lunatic," said Bethenny Frankel, a chef and owner of a cookie-making company. "It was very strange."

The altercation allegedly started when Frankel asked Andrea Mackris if she could borrow two chairs from a four-person table where the TV producer was having a drink with her handicapped mother.

Frankel and a friend who witnessed the debacle last Friday say Mackris refused to yield a chair and became abusive, leading to an angry altercation.

"I said, 'Can we have those chairs?' " Frankel said. "She started flipping out . . . she was like 'There's something wrong with you, why can't I sit here with my mother?' So I said to her, 'What are you so upset about?' And all of a sudden she said: 'Do you know who I am? I work at the O'Reilly report.' "

Izzy Goldreich, an attorney and consultant who was part of Frankel's party, couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"Before you knew it, this woman got simply irate. It just became like women's wrestling hour," he said. "This woman was more or less in Bethenny's face."

Mackris' attorney, Benedict Morelli, confirmed that Mackris was at the hotel having a drink with her mother, who he said has MS and walks with a cane. But he said Frankel escalated the incident.

"They came in and they wanted the chairs because they had a large party, and Ms. Mackris said why don't you wait until the maitre d' comes over because you need more than one chair and you can get a group of chairs [from him], and this woman started to really insult her and bad-mouth her and act inappropriately.

After the initial confrontation, Mackris turned to the management of the hotel, who Morelli said booted Frankel and her party.

Frankel said she and her group were asked to leave. She said it was only because Mackris raised such a fuss that flustered bar workers asked them to go so things would calm down.

Morelli said the bar management, which could not be reached for comment, gave Mackris a box of truffles to smooth over the incident.

But Frankel said Mackris kept the anger flowing by following them to the elevator and berating them.

"So as we're leaving, and she comes flying at me at the elevator, and is like, see you're leaving and I'm staying," Frankel said.

Mackris filed a lawsuit Wednesday, accusing the Fox News Channel host of making lewd passes at her as she worked for him. O'Reilly has filed a countersuit accusing Frankel of blackmailing him with the threat of the suit.

On TV talk shows yesterday, Mackris and O'Reilly attacked each other.

On "Good Morning America," Mackris said O'Reilly "pushed boundaries further and further." While on "Live with Regis and Kelly," O'Reilly denied the charges and said, "This is the worst day of my life."

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Friday Night Baseball: Game 3

So with Walter's help, I've been able to track down a pro-Boston bar here in our fair city. If you're a Yankees fan -- good luck.

Time: 7 pm (to secure seats, et cetera)
Game time: 8 pm

Pat O'Brien's
1701 2nd Avenue (at 88th St., in the UES)
New York, NY 10128


Subway & Bus: Take the 1/9 to 86th, and then take the crosstown bus to 2nd Ave. Walk north two blocks.

Subway only: 1/9 to 42nd St., then the Shuttle to Grand Central, and then the 4/5/6 to 86th St. Walk north two blocks.

I'll be at the 116th St. subway stop at 6:30 pm tomorrow if anyone wants to join me in heading over there.

O'Reilly Hit With Sex Harass Suit

So in case you missed it, good ol' Bill O'Reilly is apparently a kinky sex fiend, and one of our own former j-students is suing his pants off.

Blogger templates suck.

How do people feel about a design change? I'm getting kind of bored with this pastel blue business... So weigh in with suggestions, and after a time, don't be surprised if you wake up and your favorite j-school blog has a new look to it.

So speaking of the playoffs . . .

Anyone want to join me for Game 2 tonight? I'm thinking West End, but that may be boring for some of you bar-hopping hipsters, so I'm open to suggestions. (This also applies to any/all future postseason games.)

My usual team is the Dodgers, so after they were eliminated, I'm sorta indifferent as to who wins the NL.

As for the AL? I'm a BoSox fan, by virtue of not liking the Yankees. :)

Email me here if anyone's interested.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

pleasure in my pain

I am back. How are ya?

By the time Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller came up to bat in the ninth inning, I had grown serious.

I started covering my eyes with the bill of my green Red Sox hat and placing my reporter’s notebook over my mouth as if to suppress a scream I no longer had the strength to make.

His lame popup caused the double play and ended game one of the American League Division Championship between the Sox and our dreaded foes, the New York Yankees. They beat the Sox 10 to 7.

I’m a New Yorker of sorts now. I go to graduate school out here and am getting pretty used to this giant place, but I will never get used to the disappointment.

And here is the worst part my friends: we Red Sox fans take solace in the idea that those Yankee fans hate and fear us just as much as we do them. After tonight, my first game at Yankee Stadium, I no longer think that.

“I think we’re like little mosquitoes,” said Andrew Gold, 25, a musician from Brockton who came down for the game. He said Yankees fans seem to find our dedication funny. “They just wave us off.”

Funny? I don’t think there is anything funny about this situation. I remember being 5-years-old watching the 1986 World Series against the Mets. Even then my young mind understood defeat. Last year’s game seven homerun from the mediocre Yankee, Aaron Boon, was about as far from humorous as I can imagine.

But apart from two genuinely mean spirited comments (which I should not repeat) most of what I got was good natured, but cocky jabs.

Walking into the game was like running the gauntlet. I got oodles of comments, but the best one came from a police officer, who said to me, quite seriously: “You’re going to have to take off the hat, ma’am,” then broke out into a wide grin. I laughed back at him.

I got inside, and scrutinized my tickets trying to find the way to my seat way up in the bleachers behind left field, when the Pecora brothers from Brooklyn approached my friends and me.

“Massachusetts is like 250 miles that way,” said Anthony Pecora, gesturing to the North.

I asked him why a person like me should threaten a fan of the best baseball team in history.

“You’re not really a threat,” he explained to me, chuckling between his words. “We just hate you with a passion.”

I think it is important for us Boston fans to know, if only for the reason to make us more bitter, that while we suffer, the Yankees fans laugh. Worse, they laugh at our dedication and hope: the qualities we most cherish.

Many people asked me: “Don’t you want to cheer for a team that wins?” I answered that I am loyal and could never betray my city or my team, which inspired even more laughter.

They take our chants and throw them back in our faces: “Boston Sucks.” We all know where that came from. Then, they bring up 1918, and chant about that, too. Thanks to Ace Pedro Martinez’s recent remarks to the press, the say over and over and over: “Whose your Daddy.?”

We Boston fans revel in the fleeting moments where it seems like we have the upper hand, as if that makes all the rest of it worth it. I admit, in the seventh inning, when the Red Sox bats finally came alive, I too became cocky. “And a hush falls over Yankee Stadium,” I said loudly to my friend. And it did grow quiet. For a second, the Yankee fans around me seemed vulnerable and scared. I felt triumphant—for two innings.

Attending a Yankees/Red Sox game in New York when the Red Sox are losers should be mandatory of all fans. I say this because as demoralized as I felt, I came away more emboldened and hungrier for a victory. I hope it rubbed off on the players.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Dean Lemann is so busy that . . .

From Saheli Datta's (J '04) blog:

A debate on Phillip Roth Novel wouldn't normally catch my eye on a busy morning like today, but this one on Slate made me do a double take: Nicholas Lemann debates Judith Shulevitz. The
"Who are these people?" reads: "Nicholas Lemann is dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and a staff writer for The New Yorker. Judith Shulevitz, former culture editor of Slate and former columnist for the New York Times Book Review, is working on a book about the Sabbath." What it does not mention is that these two are married to each other-you have to actually read Schulevitz's opening letter. It occurs to me that the relatively elderly editors at Slate might think that the cute "Love, Nick" and "Love, Judith" at the end might be enought to winkingly inform people. It also occurs to me that if I was having a debate with some good friends and colleagues of mine, I might put in the love anyway. I wonder if this is a generational difference.

We students always grumbled that Lemann was so busy fundraising and planning the two year program that we didn't see him enough. But if he has to debate literature with his
wife by email, he's getting a little carried away. Give it a break, Dean Lemann! Go home and talk to her over dinner like a normal person!

Farnaz Fassihi Invades Doonesbury

Where will the madness end?

Monday, October 11, 2004

Sort of Half-Assed Live and After-The-Fact Blogging of Wonkette at Columbia J-School

So who is Wonkette really besides the devilish doyenne of DC doings-after-dark, the reigning royalty of Rotunda repartee, the be-knighted bane of bogus beltway bluster, the snarky siren of Senate-aide sex scandal, the innovative ingénue of Internets intrigue, and the pioneering princess of prurient political psst! posts?

Let’s find out, shall we?

6:57 – WTF? Where’s the lipstick? This is ridiculous – What does Johnny Apple have that I don’t besides like 9 Pulitzers. Still, not bad at all, for an early thirty-something.

6:58 – Most important questions of the evening: Does she put anything in her hair or is it natural? And where did she get those fab shoes? And what the hell is with that quasi-throwback brown triptych-LA t-shirt. I’ll try to ask.

7:01 – Oh yes, Aaahhna. Like manna from heaven this one.

7:02 – Wonky summarizes her day: “I rise at 7, which doesn’t always happen, and walk across the hall to the office.” What happens next is a little unclear, but Wonky mentions something about Mimosas and pajamas.

7:04 – Wonky’s very proud that her political roundup is the shortest in the biz. Definitely shorter than Halperin’s daily thesis.

7:05 – Wonky disses “straight male” Richard Leiby: “Wonderful guy, but probably the worst political gossip columnist around. He reports, he checks facts.” Oh Jesus, someone call Len Downie, this reporting and fact checking cannot be allowed to continue.

7:07 – Wonky says that hers is the only blog that with a “representational figure” on it. Holy shit, we’re dealing with a veritable Roland Barthes here.

7:09 – Wonky opines: “I actually take politics fairly seriously - I’m more Wonk than Wonkette.” Did someone say bonk?

7:11 – JSCHOOL05 EXCLUSIVE!!! MUST CREDIT JSCHOOL05!!! DRINKING AND BLOGGING DON’T MIX. (Ed: See jackass, I told you.) Though Wonky allows that she frequently blogs hung-over. (Ed’s Ed: There is something very sexy about the idea of Wonkette blogging while hung-over but I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Ed’s Ed’s Ed: Just put your finger on it and shut up, you cretin. (Ed’s Ed’s Ed’s Ed: Wait, but she said that she liked TMFTML, and he always blogged drunk, right?)))

7:11 – Wonky quotes Hobbes and suggests life for political bloggers after the election will be “nasty, brutish and short.” She hasn’t seen my Leviathan yet.

7:15 – Wonky says she makes “less than twenty-thousand dollars a year.” With her looks, she could be making a mint working for Vivid (completely work safe, if you work at Hustler.) (Ed: Denton, can you figure out some kind of cross-marketing synergy with Fleshbot on this?)

7:15 – Wonky drops the bombshell: “I have a husband.” Hari-Kari time.

7:17 – “I would like to work less and earn more.” Somebody get Robin Byrd (completely work safe, if you work at Hustler), on the phone. After all, Wonky acknowledges that TV is “easy and fun.”

7:18 – Wonky says she has no timetable for quitting. “I’m having such a good time. It’s nice to be famous for DC, its nice to have people suck up to you.” I’m sure it is.

7:19 – Wonky says the photo shoot with Johnny Apple for NYT Magazine was “humiliating… I got treated like a model.” Ok, we’re making progress.

7:20 – Wonky is ambivalent about the NYT Magazine piece itself. “I don’t think it hung together very well. I would have cut me…Clearly Matt liked me, and wanted to hang out with me. He bought me lots of expensive dinners.” Ok boyo, the gauntlet has officially been thrown down. (Ed: The day they let you write a cover story for NYT Mag will be the day Dick Cheney is appointed Chief Justice of the International Criminal Court.)

7:21 – Wonky takes exception to the suggestion that just because MTV did not ask her to report on the RNC, (Ed: isn’t there a word for that?), “My TV career is NOT over, I’ve actually done a lot of TV since then.” My, my, Wonky darling, a little testy are we not?

7:22 – Wonky takes credit for improving the quality of White House pool reports. Somebody confirm with Adam.

7:23 – Wonky: “Surprisingly, conservatives have a sense of humor.” She claims Tucker Carlson didn’t know she was a liberal until this fall “in which case he’s dumber than he looks.”

7:25 – Wonky on her craft: I’m “journalism,” not journalism.

7:26 – Wonky on decency: “I have held back on items, like a bunch of Joe Lockhart stuff.” Wonky doesn’t want to contribute to “Joe feeling weird.” Neither, frankly, do we so we will abstain from repeating her claims that he eats babies and “has sexual relations” with office supplies.

7:28 – Wonky elaborates with a pithy little formulation: “I don’t mine ruining someone’s day, I just don’t want to ruin their life.”

7:29 – Which brings us to Washingtonienne, whose life is decidedly not ruined: “If I knew she was as stupid as she really was,” Wonky says, she would not have publicized her blog.

7:30 – Wonky sloganates: “Adventurous sex – a little obsession on Wonkette.”

7:31 – “Wonkette is complementary to mainstream journalism, it shouldn’t replace it.” I disagree entirely. I think there should be only one publication of any kind in America: State-run Wonkinhua News Agency.

7:33 – Wonky responds to critics who claim she’s a sell out: “I’m so over arguing about mainstream vs. indie. That’s just not a concern for me.” Clearly.

7:34 – “Wonkette’s first audience is me.”

7:37 – Wonky on her “thousand sources” and the “thousand emails” she receives daily: “There’s something called hyperbole, called exaggeration.” Thanks for clarifying.

7:45 – Wonky: Denton is “a genius at spotting talent,” (Ed: natch), but “a terrible editor who gives really bad advice on stories.” On the other hand, Choire “is the best!”

7:46 – Wonky: Denton conceives of blogs as “vessels for funneling advertising dollars.” Does Wonky ever feel like she is being used to enrich someone else’s business? Tais-toi infidèle! the siren responds with a look that could melt Dick Cheney’s heart. Wonky says that all mainstream journalism is really just about ad-revenue. Ouch, touché, Wonky!

7:47 – Wonky gets all misty-eyed about her “friends on the Hill…I have a lot of respect for what they do, it’s how government happens. I’m knocking them from a place of love.” Knocking them from a place of love, eh?

7:49 – Wonky: “I’m going to for vote for Kerry, but he does some stupid shit and I have to call him on it.”

7:55 – Wonky will NEVER have comments on her blog: “I’m very possessive of the site and as long as I’m doing it, it’ll be my words only.”

7:58 – At last we FINALLY we get to the substantive policy discourse: Hair au natural, bag by Coach. shoes by Via Spaga – “got ‘em at Bloomingdales on Sunday.”

You go Wonky. Thanks for coming to talk to us. By the power vested in me by exactly no one, I hereby confer upon you, for your service to journalism, an honorary degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. And if things don’t work out with Mr. Wonkette, look me up. I’ll be working at a McDonald’s in Hoboken.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

A Moment to Remember

We had to go on police ride-a-longs last night. Mine was rather uneventful. We were asked to send around via email something memorable from the night.

Sarmad, our student from Baghdad had this experience:

As I , Channing and two policemen from the 76th Precinct approached a group of people who were apparently spending the weekend near Red Hook Park in Brooklyn, the two policemen and Channing started to laugh at two "ostensibly women" who were buying some food , but i did not realize why they were laughing at them. The "women"seem to me nice and they were beautiful as well. I , myself , admired one of them. The first thought that occurred to me that these "women" might be prostitutes that is why they laughed at them. I felt curious to ask them about the reason why they started laughing when they saw these "women", they said these are transsexuals and they are "originally men" who had passed through some surgeries and transplants to become women. I was dumbfounded to hear that ! I have not ,in all my life, seen such cases of transsexuality." But look at them .They look like women with breasts and ..." I insisted . "Yes, but they're men." the policemen and Channing replied. After spending some hours in the police car, i started to recover from the shock. Anyhow, soon later i am still really not 100% sure to tell whether a "woman" or a "man" this time stopped the police car to tease one of the policemen, and "she" or might be "he" passed a sextual remark to the policeman and i could not but ask Channing whether this was really a woman or again she might be a transsextual. Channing just laughed wholeheartedly , but still i need to check whetehr 'the person' we met was a woman or a man. I may need to visit a psychiatrist after graduation as i 've staretd to lose my ability to distinguish men from women, which is a bad sign!


The Promise of the First Amendment

The New York Times, October 10 2004

By ARTHUR OCHS SULZBERGER JR., chairman and publisher, and RUSSELL T. LEWIS, chief executive, The New York Times

Last Thursday, a federal district judge ordered a New York Times reporter, Judy Miller, sent to prison. Her crime was doing her job as the founders of this nation intended. Here's what happened and why it should concern you.

On July 6, 2003, Joseph C. Wilson IV - formerly a career foreign service officer, a chargé d'affaires in Baghdad and an ambassador - wrote an article published on this page under the headline, "What I Didn't Find in Africa." The article served to undercut the Bush administration's claims surrounding Saddam Hussein's nuclear capacity.

Eight days later, Robert Novak, a syndicated columnist, wrote an article in which he identified Ambassador Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an "operative on weapons of mass destruction" for the C.I.A. "Two senior administration officials told me," Mr. Novak wrote, that it was Ms. Plame who "suggested sending Wilson" to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium ore from Niger. After Mr. Novak's report, several other journalists wrote stories in which they said they received similar information about Ms. Plame from confidential government sources, in what many have concluded was an effort to punish Mr. Wilson for speaking out against the administration by exposing his wife as a C.I.A. operative. The record is clear, however, that Judy Miller is not one of those journalists who reported this information.

Because the government officials who revealed Valerie Plame's status as a C.I.A. operative to the press might have committed a crime in doing so, the Justice Department opened a federal criminal investigation to find whoever was responsible.

During the course of this investigation, the details of which have been kept secret, several journalists have been subpoenaed to provide information about the source of the leak and threatened with jail if they failed to comply.

On Aug. 12, Ms. Miller received a subpoena in which she was required to provide information about conversations she might have had with a government official in which the identity and C.I.A. connection of Mr. Wilson's wife might have been mentioned. She received this subpoena even though she had never published anything concerning Mr. Wilson or his wife. This is not the only recent case in which the government has subpoenaed information concerning Ms. Miller's sources. On July 12, the same prosecutor sought to have Ms. Miller and another Times correspondent, Philip Shenon, identify another source. Curiously, this separate investigation concerns articles on Islamic charities and their possible financial support for terrorism that were published nearly three years ago. As part of this effort to uncover the reporters' confidential sources, the prosecutor has gone to the phone company to obtain records of their phone calls.

So, unless an appeals court reverses last week's contempt conviction, Judy Miller will soon be sent to prison. And, if the government succeeds in obtaining the phone records of Ms. Miller and Mr. Shenon, many of their sources - even those having nothing to do with these two government investigations - will become known.

Why does all of this matter? The possibility of being forced to leave one's family and sent to jail simply for doing your job is an appalling prospect for any journalist - indeed, any citizen. But as concerned as we are with our colleague's loss of liberty, there are even bigger issues at stake for us all.

The press simply cannot perform its intended role if its sources of information - particularly information about the government - are cut off. Yes, the press is far from perfect. We are human and make mistakes. But, the authors of our Constitution and its First Amendment understood all of that and for good reason prescribed that journalists should function as a "fourth estate." As Justice Potter Stewart put it, the primary purpose of the constitutional guarantee of a free press was "to create a fourth institution outside the government as an additional check on the three official branches."

The founders of our democracy understood that our government was also a human institution that was capable of mistakes and misdeeds. That is why they constructed a First Amendment that would give the press the ability to investigate problems in the official branches of our government and make them known to the public. In this way, the press was sensibly put in a position to help hold government accountable to its citizens.

An essential tool that the press must have if it is to perform its job is the ability to gather and receive information in confidence from those who would face reprisals for bringing important information about our government into the light of day for all of us to examine. Without an enforceable promise of confidentiality, sources would quickly dry up and the press would be left largely with only official government pronouncements to report.

A quarter of a century ago, a New York Times reporter, Myron Farber, was ordered to jail, also for doing his job and refusing to give up confidential information. He served 40 days in a New Jersey prison cell. In response to this injustice, the New Jersey Legislature strengthened its "shield law," which recognizes and serves to protect a journalist's need to protect sources and information. Although the federal government has no shield law, the vast majority of states, as well as the District of Columbia, have by now put in place legal protections for reporters. While many of these laws are regarded as providing an "absolute privilege" for journalists, others set out a strict test that the government must meet before it can have a reporter thrown into jail. Perhaps it is a function of the age we live in or perhaps it is something more insidious, but the incidence of reporters being threatened with jail by the federal government is on the rise.

To reverse this trend, to give meaning to the guarantees of the First Amendment and to thereby strengthen our democracy, it is now time for Congress to follow the lead of the states and enact a federal shield law for journalists. Without one, reporters like Judy Miller may be imprisoned. More important, the public will be in the dark about the actions of its elected and appointed government officials. That is not what our nation's founders had in mind.

Friday, October 08, 2004

WSJ: See No Evil

Using the occasion for a below-the-belt attack on J-School professors, WSJ writer Tunku Varadarajan argues that the public should not see images of flag-draped coffins bearing GIs killed in Iraq and Afghanistan arriving a Dover Air Force Base.

Beware journalism professors. As a rule (but with honorable exceptions), they are desiccated -- often frustrated -- ex-practitioners of a craft toward which, after decamping to some J-school, they direct a picayune eye, spending long hours in poky offices studying such matters as "gender imbalance" in newsrooms, "media bias" and, a particular favorite, "ethics."

...What has set me off today is news that Ralph Begleiter, a journalism professor, has filed suit against the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of government photos and video footage of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base -- coffins containing, as we all know, the bodies of American soldiers who died in Iraq. The Pentagon prohibits unauthorized publication of images of these coffins, largely in deference to the protective feelings of the soldiers' families -- feelings that, understandably, run rather high.

Take heart, they say

From Romenesko re: "Columbia J-School Students Terrify Locals"

Those "phony" assignments were great
10/7/2004 6:40:48 PM

From ED HERSH: Just from reading all of these letters, I'm reliving that pit-of-your-stomach feeling of being on a Columbia J-school deadline As a 1976 graduate of the school, I was sent out on all of those phony assignments as part of RW-1 in the midst of New York's first fiscal crisis. And you know what? They were among the most rewarding and exciting times I can remember. What I remember most are the politicians, city officials, and journalists who took pity on me and as a result gave me a front seat to a great story, among them the late Paul O'Dwyer, Harrison Goldin, and the late Jerry Nachman. One day Nachman, then a reporter for WCBS radio, let me come in with him as he interviewed O'Dwyer, then city council president. After Nachman's interview was over, I hung around to ask a few more questions... and got a scoop about some new deadlines in the fiscal crisis. Unfortunately, the only people that saw them were my classmates. But it was a great experience, and I will always remember those who went out of their way to help a student on his first "stories." I hope the school never stops giving those assignments, and that those in power never forget that everybody started somewhere, and a little kindness goes a long way.

Everything's easy after covering beats in college
10/7/2004 3:11:06 PM

From MARK LEWIS, I sympathize with those New York politicos who are regularly harassed by Columbia j-students conducting interviews for pretend stories. I sympathize even more with the students. I was introduced to the joys of covering city council meetings years ago at Northwesten when I took Medill's "Intro" course -- boot camp for grad-school journalists -- during which each student was assigned a beat in a nearby town and required (as I recall) to turn in daily stories. Year after year these hapless suburbs north of Chicago would be swarmed by earnest tyros desperately seeking daily copy in sleepy burgs that didn't even support a daily newspaper.

My own beat was the city government of Northbrook, Ill., where I found the city manager and his staff remarkably tolerant of my attempts to inflate their innocuous activities -- annexing unincorporated land, adding new stop signs, etc. -- into something resembling news. I remember the frustration of churning out story after story that nobody but my instructor would ever see. But I learned how to cover a beat. I don't know if they still run Intro that way at Medill, but if they do, I've a message for the current class: Cheer up. It'll be over soon, and nothing you ever do in the rest of your career will be as hard as the month you just spent wringing daily stories out of unwilling sources in a town without news.

NYO isn't alone in ragging on Columbia j-school
10/7/2004 2:58:48 PM

From COREY PEIN: Trevor Butterworth [letter below] is right. Nor is the Observer the only publication to take a special delight in ragging on Columbia j-schoolers, when Medill grads could serve much the same purpose. So I feel obliged say that what I told Brian Montopoli about many Columbia students could be said about the profession as a whole -- more would rather join the ranks of the comfortable than go anywhere near the afflicted.

Privileged students in underprivileged areas
10/7/2004 2:04:19 PM

From TREVOR BUTTERWORTH: Even though I am an avid fan of the New York Observer, I generally discount its reporting on Columbia's J-School as being inflected with a degree of animus absent, say, from the paper's reporting on NYU's J-School which, of course, has a more "robust" relationship with Observer owner Arthur Carter. [emphasis added]

Yet the recent "where have you gone, Jimmy Breslin" story touched on what I believe to be one of the thorniest ethical problems in journalism education: is it right for largely privileged students to practive journalism on largely underprivileged neighborhoods without giving anything in return?

As one who felt the open hatred of some of the residents of Morrisania for journalism students - "you're all parasites," as one woman put it - I'm not sure that this practice sends the right message about journalism to either the subjects or the reporters. I also can't help thinking that if the demographics were reversed, and a plague of tyro reporters fell upon the more salubrious neighborhoods of New York, this moral dilemma might receive the attention it deserves.

Students should be able to get "real" bylines
10/7/2004 1:54:39 PM

From MARK DALY: Subject: NYO on Columbia j-students. A quick read of Brian Montopoli's NYO piece left me confused. In a city of 8 million souls, why is Columbia assigning multiple students to create beat sheets for the same narrow slices of upper Manhattan and The Bronx? Surely their student-run newspaper can afford to widen its coverage area a bit.

As for students not having their work published, there are abundant opportunities for freelancing and interning at the dozens and dozens of ethnic and neighborhood weeklies in the city. Columbia's new dean should consider making arrangements with these papers so that j-school students can get "real" bylines as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Judge Orders Times Reporter Jailed

Editor and Publisher: October 7, 2004

NEW YORK A federal judge today held New York Times reporter Judith Miller in contempt for refusing to divulge confidential sources to prosecutors investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ordered Miller jailed until she agrees to testify about her sources before a grand jury, but said she could remain free while pursuing an appeal. Miller could be jailed up to 18 months.

"I'm extremely disappointed that I have been sentenced to jail despite the fact that I did not write, and The Times did not publish, an article about (CIA officer) Valerie Plame," Miller said in a statement.

"It's frankly frightening that just for doing my job and talking to government employees about public issues, I may be deprived of my freedom and family."

WSJ Reporter (Former J-Schooler) Gets in Hot Water for Email from Iraq...or does she?

So for those of you who haven't seen it, there is a now-famous email, written by former Columbia student, and current WSJ reporter, Farnaz Fassihi.

You can read it here or here. Prof. Gissler (her former RW1 prof, I think) sent it around to our RW1 class on Sept. 25.

And then it comes out she's "taking a vacation", and there is an online campaign to speak out against this.

And then on Tuesday, E&P reports that her vacation had been planned anyway.


Open Letter to the Columbia SPJ Board

Renee Giordano, executive director of the Business Improvement District, Sunset Park, said she won't talk to students anymore unless she sees the stories after they're done. She has to account for her time, she said. She's asked before, but hasn't seen anything yet.
Sick and tired of giving interviews for articles that they know will never be published, some New Yorkers are asking why Columbia Journalism School – supposedly the nation’s most prestigious journalism program – has no published outlet for its students' work.

Every week, 200 talented, ambitious young reporters file stories to Columbia Journalism School professors who read them before dispatching them to the circular file never to be seen again. Because Columbia has no student-driven publication during the fall semester, (Bronx Beat and Columbia News Service both operate in the spring), this great mass of citywide reporting largely goes to waste when it could be illuminating neighborhoods all over town.

Out on my beat in Melrose, I routinely hear flak about J-school students who appear once and then are never heard from again. The animus has gotten so bad that some community leaders are refusing to meet with us at all. In order to get an interview with a prominent Bronx activist who had forsworn Columbia J-school students, I told her I was simply “a freelance reporter.” It worked.

It’s a real shame, because we care about the communities that we’re covering and we’re pouring our hearts into our stories, only to see them disappear. Is it any wonder why our sources express bewilderment? We spend hours interviewing sources – only to find that we have nowhere to print our stories.

Which is too bad, because we’re really good. In less than two months, J-School students have published stories in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, the Village Voice, the Christian Science Monitor,, Wired, the Amsterdam News, the Greenpoint Star, the Harlem Citizen, and others. During the Republican National Convention, J-Schoolers were firing off dispatches to regional newspapers around America.

200 Columbia J-Schoolers, the best and the brightest, can't generate enough good stories to justify their own citywide newspaper? Nonsense. We're sitting on a motherlode of talent - let's put it to work.

We’ve got the juice – we just need the dispenser. Just imagine what Columbia Journalism School students could do with a dedicated New York weekly featuring our best and most inscisive work.

Therefore: SPJ should make its #1 priority for this year the establishment of a two-semester New York City metro newspaper whose coverage would include every beat assigned to students, an editorial board composed of J-school students, and a budget to pay writers and photographers. In the spirit of euthanasia, The Bronx Beat should be retired with the dignity it deserves, in full recognition that it is time to create something new - an outlet for future J-schoolers to publish the stories that they produce in good faith every week. The SPJ should immediately appoint an ad-hoc board to draw up plans for the new publication, establish a website and begin publishing.

All we need are some editors.