Bezos, whose entrepreneurship has made him one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to the Washington Post Co., which owns the newspaper and other businesses.
Archive for the ‘Washington Post’ Category
The Wife and I have been binge-watching The Wire, and last night finished Season Three, in which Bunny Colvin, a major in the Baltimore Police Department, in effect legalized drugs (unbeknownst to his superiors). Pressure to bring down the crime statistics, with a strong push to massage the data, downgrading felonies so that the statistics look better, he decides to report the actual truth.
In the Police Department meeting of all departments, he is strongly criticized because his statistics went up as a result and he is threatened with reduction in rank if the statistics do not go down. So he finds three vacant lots, which are relatively remote from residences, businesses, and schools, and has his men force the street dealers to get off the street corners and deal in those three areas only. If they do that, the police will ignore them.
The results: with a concentration of addicts in three specific areas, public-health people set up needle exchanges, condom distribution, and clinics to treat illnesses. The crime rate goes down 14%, an unheard-of drop—so much that his bosses believe that he must be fiddling the data. But he’s not. And he also gets a stack of favorable letters from residents who like having their street corners back, and feel safer on the streets now that the drug dealers are gone.
Of course, the drugs are being used, but then they were being used before. The only change that use is now limited to three spots, and thus can be monitored. (The “free zones” are overseen by police who allow no weapons or violence, so the sites simply become drug sales and use, with the rest of the district now free of drug dealers.)
Needless to say, the Department of Justice and the Federal government immediately take a very aggressive attitude, threatening to shut off half-a-billion dollars of Federal money that Baltimore receives in various ways, if the city does not end the “free zones” and return drug trafficking to the streets. The anger at the change is evident and completely ignores the good outcomes. The focus is totally on the illegality of drug sales. (You can see the same sort of anger and pressure directed at, e.g., Uruguay, which legalized the sale of marijuana. That has outraged the US, which is bringing to bear all the pressure that it can, given that two US states have done the same.)
It’s a very good season—though best seen following Seasons One and Two: the story builds.
I was thinking of this with regard to the incredibly strong condemnation visited on Edward Snowden by Obama and the Right. For an example with an astonishing amount of venom and hostility, read Ruth Marcus’s column in the Washington Post: she has really nothing good to say at all about how Snowden has shown us what our government is doing. “Ad hominem” is insufficient for the viciousness of her rhetoric. And how is she able to completely ignore what Snowden has revealed. It’s very much like the way officialdom in the Hamsterdam incident are able to completely ignore what Colvin’s experiment revealed: that what we are doing is enormously less effective than an alternative approach. At least the NY Times recognizes what is going on beyond Snowden breaking his nondisclosure agreement.
And again: Snowden took no “oath”; he signed a nondisclosure agreement—a contract. Legal penalties do apply, but Obama has ramped this up beyond all reason, as we’ve seen with how Obama has treated other whistleblowers: with a level of persecution that reveals an inordinate desire for vengeance—mainly, I suppose, to send a message. And Snowden got the message.
BTW, the NY Times Public Editor has an interesting comment on that editorial.
James Fallows has an excellent post—well worth the click—on the (belated) emergence of reality-based reporting regarding Congress. That is, instead of the tactful but false position that “both sides are to blame,” a recognition that in this particular crisis, the GOP is completely to blame. They deliberately refused to follow the regular budget process, would not conference with the Senate to work a budget, and explicitly said that they would move nothing forward on the budget in order to force a crisis and achieve their demands (to repeal a law passed by Congress and signed by the President and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court). The GOP lacks the votes to repeal the law, so they resorted to holding the country’s budget hostage to get their way.
His whole post is worth reading. What’s particularly remarkable is the breakthrough is in the Washington Post, which for years has blamed Democrats (and occasionally both parties) for failures of government. I wonder whether Jeff Bezos has already begun making some changes, moving to reporting based on reality.
Very good article in Wonkblog by Timothy Lee:
This week, journalists at The Washington Post (including, full disclosure, me) got our first look at our new boss’s vision for The Washington Post. There was a lot to like. Bezos emphasized the importance of a focus on the long term, dedication to readers and learning from scrappy upstarts like Business Insider. But part of Bezos’s vision for The Post represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the online news business — and what it will take for The Post to thrive in it.
“The problem is how do we get back to that glorious bundle that the paper did so well?” Bezos asked at a question-and-answer session with Post journalists.
Bezos lauded the “daily ritual” of reading the morning newspaper over coffee. “That daily ritual is incredibly valuable, and I think on the Web so far, it’s gotten blown up.”
But that daily ritual got blown up for good reason. Trying to recreate the “bundle” experience in Web or tablet form means working against the grain of how readers, especially younger readers, consume the news today. In the long run, it’s a recipe for an aging readership and slow growth.
Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy once said that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” That’s why the smartest executives, especially in the technology sector, are constantly looking outside the boundaries of their own firm for good ideas.
Joy’s Law has a correlary for the news business: No matter how good your news organization is, most of the best journalism is being done somewhere else. That’s because no publication, even storied outlets such as the New York Times or The Washington Post, can hope to hire a majority of the world’s most talented journalists.
And this is why the smartest readers have increasingly eschewed “bundled” news outlets in favor of third-party aggregators that provide them with links to the best news from around the Web. In the early years, the most tech-savvy users used RSS readers. Then news aggregators like Google News, Digg and Reddit began to appear.
In the past five years, aggregation has been democratized by social media. A growing number of younger readers don’t actively seek out news at all. Instead, they read the news that’s recommended to them by friends on Facebook and Twitter.
That’s more convenient, because most young people are spending time on Facebook and Twitter anyway. More importantly, it serves as a finely honed news filter. Probably the best predictor of what news stories you’re going to want to read is what news stories your friends and colleagues found interesting.
If this trend continues, and I think it will, then the future of news is one of radical unbundling. A large share of every publication’s traffic will come from referrals from third-party aggregators, and the key to success will be crafting content that performs well on these sites. Readers who prefer to read a publication’s news “bundle” from front to back will represent an aging and shrinking demographic.
The power of Facebook
In yesterday’s Q&A, Bezos was dismissive of this approach to news. “If our readers read a couple of articles through the Web or Google News, a couple per month, that’s a small business,” he said. But this ignores another corollary to Joy’s Law: No matter how popular your news site’s home page (or tablet app) is, most readers are going to rely on someone else’s site to decide which news stories to read. There are about 200 million adults in the United States. If every American read two Washington Post articles per month, that would amount to 400 million monthly page views. I’m not privy to The Post’s own traffic statistics, but for comparison, the Los Angeles Times Web site got less than 20 million page views in February, its best month ever to that point. Two visits a month from each American would represent a massive boost in the L.A. Times’ readership.
And there’s no reason to think . . .
It seems to me that there’s a lot of good writing going around. This, for example.
I am amazed. Here’s the report by Paul Farhi in the Washington Post:
The Washington Post Co. has agreed to sell its flagship newspaper to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations. Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days. The Post Co. will change to a new, still-undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without The Post thereafter.
The deal represents a sudden and stunning turn of events for The Post, Washington’s leading newspaper for decades and a powerful force in shaping the nation’s politics and policy. Few people were aware that a sale was in the works for the paper, whose reporters have broken such stories as the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandals and disclosures about the National Security Administration’s surveillance program in May.
For much of the past decade, however, the paper has been unable to escape the financial turmoil that has engulfed newspapers and other “legacy” media organizations. The rise of the Internet and the epochal change from print to digital technology have created a massive wave of competition for traditional news companies, scattering readers and advertisers across a radically altered news and information landscape and triggering mergers, bankruptcies and consolidation among the owners of print and broadcasting properties.
“Every member of my family started out with the same emotion—shock—in even thinking about” selling The Post, said Donald Graham, the Post Co.’s chief executive, in an interview Monday. “But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings.” . . .
I’m hoping Bezos will clear out deadwood and dedicated Villagers and get some good investigative reporters who are more interested in digging up stories than in going to parties and hobnobbing with the wealthy and powerful. I have a whole list of names to go: Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Roger Cohen, Jennifer Rubin, Robert Samuelson—all the fact-challenged columnists who simply make things up and never look at evidence. And Fred Hiatt should clear out his desk and leave immediately. Wouldn’t it be nice to replace Samuelson with Dean Baker, for example?
The Washington Post, along with the NY Times, was an enthusiastic cheerleader for going to war in Iraq (to find the weapons of mass destruction, you’ll recall). There were no such weapons, as authoritative sources at the time knew well. Indeed, the US forced UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq because Bush & Co. definitely did not want the lack of weapons reported, because if it were, that might prevent the war. But, of course, if the purpose of war was to remove such weapons, finding out that Iraq didn’t have them would be what most people would call “good news.”
UPDATE: The Post‘s ombudsman won’t have much to say about this: the Post eliminated that position (which they had had for 40 years) on March 1. The ombudsman was an independent critic, and the Post decided that they would rather have one of their own employees do the job, so they now have a “reader representative,” whom they can threaten with firing if s/he doesn’t toe the company line. They don’t want anyone rocking the boat. As you’ll note in the article at the link, the story about ending the ombudsman’s role was posted at 9:13 p.m. on a Friday. The comments to the story are worth reading.
At any rate, take a look at this story in The Nation by Greg Mitchell, whom the Post hired to write about the Post‘s pre-war reporting (and see this Gawker report on how the Post killed the story because it told the truth—and the comments at the Gawker link are quite interesting):
UPDATE The piece below was written, in only slightly different from, on assignment for The Washington Post but killed by the paper’s Outlook section on Thursday. They later ran a piece by their own Paul Farhi claiming that the media “didn’t fail” on Iraq. When I wrote about this today it drew wide attention across the Web. Follow that all here.
For awhile, back in 2003, Iraq meant never having to say you’re sorry, at least for the many war hawks. The spring offensive had produced a victory in less than three weeks, with a relatively low American and Iraqi civilian death toll. Saddam fled and George W. Bush and his team drew overwhelming praise, at least here at home.
But wait. Where were the crowds greeting us as “liberators”? Why were the Iraqis now shooting at each other—and blowing up our soldiers? And where were those WMD, biochem labs, and nuclear materials? Most Americans still backed the invasion, so it still too early for mea culpas—it was more “my sad” than “my bad.”
By 2004 it was clear that Saddam’s WMD would never be found, but with another election season at hand, sorry was still the hardest word. But a few very limited glimmers of accountability began to appear. So let’s begin our catalog of the art of mea culpa and Iraq here. Much more in my new ebook, So Wrong for So Long.
PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY President Bush and many others—including scores of Democrats—who once claimed “slam dunk” evidence on Iraq’s WMD now admitted that this intelligence was more below-average than Mensa. But don’t blame them! They simply had been misled. Judith Miller of The New York Times, perhaps the prime fabulist in the run-up to war, explained that she was only as good as her sources—her sources having names like “Curveball” and “Red Cap Guy.”
But the news media, which for the most part had swallowed whole the WMD claims, was not facing re-election, so some self-criticism, at least of the “mistakes-were-made” variety came easier.
THE MINI-CULPA This phrase was coined by Jack Shafer of Slate after The New York Times published an “editors’ note” in May 2004, admitting it had publishing a few “problematic articles” (it didn’t mention any authors) on Iraqi WMD, but pointing out it was “taken in” like most in the Bush administration.
Unlike the Times, Washington Post editors three months later did not produce their own explanation but allowed chief media reporter Howard Kurtz to write a lengthy critique. Editors and reporters admitted they had often performed poorly but offered one excuse after another. With phrases such as “always easy in hindsight,” “editing difficulties,” “communication problems” and “there is limited space on Page 1.” One top reporter said, “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power. “ Topping them all, Kurtz reported that Bob Woodward “said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if weapons were ultimately found in Iraq.”
STONEWALLING As years passed, the carnage in Iraq intensified but accepting blame for this in America was still pretty much AWOL. President Bush and Vice President Cheney said that even if the WMD threat was bogus, they’d still do it again. Reason: They’d deposed a “dictator”—and would you rather have Saddam still in power?
A THOUSAND MEA CULPAS Bob Simon of CBS on doubts about the WMD: “No, in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas, I don’t think we followed up on this….I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it, in a way, almost light—if that doesn’t seem ridiculous.”
Now let’s flash forward to this past two weeks, when Iraq (remember Iraq?) re-emerged in the news and opinion sections. But anyone who expected that hair shirts would come into fashion must have been sadly disappointed. The mea culpas would not be maxima. First, those who accepted some blame.
LIMITED HANGOUT STRATEGY . . .
Glen Greenwald referenced this article by Barrett Browning in his column I blogged yesterday. It does indeed seem to be true that the top priority of many journalists today is to become friends of those in power and then to maintain and work to deepen that friendship, ostensibly for the sake of occasional exclusive tidbits—cheap payoff for those in power—but mainly to derive visibility and a kind of borrowed power: the journalists moves up in the world of journalism with a column and the like. The idea of reporting things that would discredit their friends is felt as a betrayal, a traitorous, contemptible act—the truly honorable thing, as they see it, is to protect their friend who has such an important position, so important that some things are obviously too insignificant to mention.
Thus the powerful are today protected by a thick, soft safety cushion of friendly media—for example:
- interview shows (with all softball questions because the program wants guests to return if the program wants them back, so by no means will the host state or ask anything that might antagonize a guest—aggressive questioning is simply beyond the pale), and
- print journalists who thoughtfully clear their stories with the subjects and, if requested, will hold the story back for over a year to better ingratiate themselves with the powerful and probably get moved on up to (rare) dinner invitations.
Jon Stewart’s commentary (though not his interviews with guests—because after one tough interview he’d probably get another guest (courage not being a strong suit of the powerful these days) is the sort of thing that I’m talking about, but of course in the court of the powerful only a jester is allowed to point out things that are not generally mentioned. But the program can never turn serious: only the jester may speak. (Perhaps also—or mainly—audiences today simply will not watch serious programs (speaking of denial).)
When a true journalist breaks with the polite serfdom that mock journalists (“hacks”) have embraced, he becomes the object of much anger and vitriol from the hacks—mainly, I suspect, because (a) their powerful friends want the true journalist punished for what he reports and (b) the true journalist makes all the others look bad and exposes the phony game they’re playing, and that is incredibly hard to face, so they don’t and get angry instead. (Well-known response when one’s state of denial is threatened: cf. homophobia.)
Maybe everyone could calm down if these hacks, like some homophobes, finally drop their denial and accept who they are: the homophobe recognizes that he’s gay, and the hacks can start wearing patches on their clothing, like racing car drivers, to display their sponsors’ names or logos. A top-flight hack would have a suit just covered with them—think Robert Samuelson or George Will or Tom Friedman or any of the Fox “News” crowd. A jumpsuit wouldn’t be enough for some—they’ll require a cape, as well: the superheroes of American News Reporting! In fact, Fox “News” more or less does this now, and that is obviously a perfectly acceptable model for at least part of our society: they in fact now prefer to get something that is as close to news as Twinkies are to food. They have become intellectually obese and unfit: couch potatoes of the mind.
Not all journalists today are hacks, of course, but certainly some are. Consider Bill Keller, for example, who also went out of his way to boost the Iraq War, which probably got him in good standing, and holding the illegal surveillance story for over a year cemented it.
And the powerful patrons of the hacks strikes at true journalists, it’s not just vitriol, it means years in prison, because you annoyed powerful people, who are perfectly willing to use their power to protect their privilege and maintain the status quo of the power structure. Those who are greatly empowered by any structure, from office to business to government, will resist efforts to change the status quo because they figure that they can only worsen their position through change. What results is true corruption: using official powers for personal benefit.
At any rate, here’s Barrett Brown describing how Hastings shows up “journalist,” which of course rather pointedly shows up “journalists” even more, so Brown becomes a target of the Establishment. From Vanity Fair, June 23, 2010:
On the occasion of what may prove to be the most significant story of the year, in terms of the revelations it brings forth and the aftereffects of those revelations, National Review editor Rich Lowry began his commentary with the following “point,” as he describes it:
1) Rolling Stone? Rolling Stone???
Yes, Rich; the most impact-laden story of the year, the one in which General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and his aides talked trash about President Barack Obama and members of his administration, appeared in Rolling Stone, notNational Review. And it was written by a perfect specimen of the new breed of journalist-commentator that will hopefully come to replace the old breed sooner rather than later, and which has already collectively surpassed the old guard by every measure that counts—for instance, not being forever wrong about matters of life and death.I should note—not only in the interest of full disclosure, but also necessary context—that I am a friend and admirer of Michael Hastings, the author of the Rolling Stone piece in question. He was kind enough to blurb my upcoming book on the failures of the American punditry (and is planning on writing a novel on the same topic, incidentally); he shares my opinions on the state of journalism and opinion in this country; and he has joined up with Project PM, my perhaps quixotic attempt to do a small part in improving that media whose flawed reporting on matters of war and peace has recently had a hand in leaving hundreds of thousands dead and injured our republic’s ability to rationally operate both at home and abroad. I first spoke in support of Hastings before I’d ever made contact with him, which is to say that my opinion of him is not based on our association; my association with him is based on my opinion of him. That opinion is derived from the unassailable and unfortunately noteworthy competence and conduct he has displayed throughout his relatively short career.
Those who have seen fit to question Hastings’s motivations in writing this article ought to know a little about him before making the pronouncements they will continue to make on his character, inconvenient as that knowledge may be to those who are in the business of casting aspersions on those about whom they know nothing. Hastings was for a time Newsweek’s Baghdad correspondent. In 2008, that mediocre publication assigned him to cover our republic’s most recent and ridiculous electoral contest, and as a consequence the fellow got an insider’s view of how terribly destructive is the manner in which this country covers its most important decisions. This sentiment is widespread among the more observant media professionals, who generally do not act on it out of concern for their own careers. In contrast, Hastings quit Newsweek and wrote a damning exposé about what he had seen and experienced during his stint. During a time in which many journalists thought of little more than how they would attain security for themselves, Hastings ensured that he would never be trusted by the establishment media ever again.
At this time, Hastings is in Kandahar performing further crimes against the status quo and is thus unable to defend himself against those who are responsible for the problems he has helped to bring to light, and so I will take this opportunity to do it for him. This brings us back to Rich Lowry, whom we last saw declaiming Rolling Stone for not being as respectable as National Review and who later that day found time to voice more substantive objections: . . .
The Washington Post really doesn’t like the Social Security program for some reason, and they constantly run opinion pieces on how the program should be cut. Dean Baker points out the (abysmal) quality of reasoning displayed in one such column:
How Much Money Do You Need to Get an Op-ed in the Washington Post?
That’s what readers of Jim Roumell’s column on wealth-testing Social Security must be asking. The column, “the rich can save Social Security by giving up their checks,” gets almost all its facts wrong, and suffers from huge problems of logic.
The basic idea is that we have some very rich people who don’t need Social Security, therefore there shouldn’t get it. Of course these people did pay for their Social Security. While Roumell is certainly right that the very rich don’t need the money, they generally wouldn’t need the interest on the government bonds they own. We could also deny them the interest on these bonds, that would make as much sense as Roumell’s proposal on Social Security, but let’s not get bogged down in such moral considerations.
Roumell sees large savings if we deny Social Security to the rich:
“According to the Wall Street Journal, the top 1 percent of the United States’ 115 million households have a net worth of $6.8 million or greater. The top 5 percent have a net worth of $1.9 million or greater. If just the top 1 percent of wealthiest households gave up their Social Security income, assuming two-thirds of these households are of retirement age and will receive benefits averaging $30,000 a year, more than $200 billion would be saved in the first 10 years. That would contribute greatly to resolving the projected funding gap. If Social Security is gradually phased out for the wealthiest 5 percent of households, beginning with just a 10 percent benefit reduction, the savings climbs to nearly $500 billion over 10 years.”
Let’s see, two-thirds of the top 1.0 percent are over age 65? Where exactly did Roumell get this one? Has the Washington Post heard of fact checking?
If we eliminate Social Security for the wealthiest 5 percent, then we would be eliminating benefits for household with incomes of around $80,000 in their retirement. That’s a new definition of “rich.” It was $400,000 a year when we talked about small increases in tax rates.
But the best part of the story is trying to envision what Roumell’s wealth test even would look like. People tend to accumulate wealth during their working lifetime and spend it down as they approach retirement. How do we monitor people’s wealth? Do we do annual assessments of the value of their stock portfolios, their home and vacation properties, personal items like expensive paintings and jewelry? Then if they cross the magic $1.9 million threshold at any point in their lives we put a permanent hold on their Social Security benefits?
The long and short is that Roumell’s proposal is completely unworkable as anyone who has given it a moment’s thought would recognize. But hey, he wants to go after Social Security and he has a lot of money, why not give him a column in the Washington Post?
Unfortunately for the war hawks, the nerve gas (sarin) whose use is suspected in Syria was used by the rebels, not by the government. So as a causus bellus for attacking the Syrian government, it doesn’t work so well—but that hasn’t slowed the demand from war from those who pushed the Iraq War (“Weapons of Mass Destruction!!!!!”). And yet war really hasn’t seemed to solve any of the problems, but rather created more. (Of course, austerity as an economic policy has proved an utter failure, but still there are those who clamor for it—mainly those who will not feel its effects.) Robert Parry reports at ConsortiumNews.com:
Israel’s bombing raids into Syria appear to have shattered whatever restraint remained in Official Washington toward the United States entering the civil war on the side of rebel forces that include radical jihadist elements. On Monday, the Washington Post’s neocon editors weighed in for U.S. intervention as did former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller.
Both the Post’s editors and Keller also were key advocates for invading Iraq in 2003 – and their continued influence reflects the danger of not imposing any accountability on prominent journalists who were wrong on Iraq. Those tough-guy pundits now want much the same interventionism toward Syria and Iran, which always were on the neocon hit list as follow-ons to Iraq.
The Post’s lead editorial on Monday urged U.S. intervention in Syria as part of a response to a growing regional crisis that one could argue was touched off – or made far worse – by President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.However, rather than trace the crisis back to Bush’s invasion of Iraq – which the Post eagerly supported – the editors lament the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq and President Barack Obama’s hesitancy to intervene in Syria. Noting the renewed sectarian violence in Iraq, the Post’s editors write “it also makes intervention aimed at ending the war in Syria that much more urgent.”
Meanwhile, across the top half of Monday’s Op-Ed page in the New York Times, Keller urged any pundit chastened by the disastrous Iraq War to shake off those doubts and get behind U.S. military intervention in Syria. His article, entitled “Syria Is Not Iraq,” is presented in the same “reluctantly hawkish” tone as his influential endorsement of aggressive war against Iraq in 2003.
Keller’s special twist now is that he is citing his misjudgment on Iraq as part of his qualifications for urging President Obama to cast aside doubts about the use of military force in Syria’s chaotic civil war and to jump into the campaign for regime change by helping the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
“Frankly I’ve shared his [Obama’s] hesitation about Syria, in part because, during an earlier column-writing interlude at the outset of the Iraq invasion, I found myself a reluctant hawk. That turned out to be a humbling error of judgment, and it left me gun-shy,” Keller wrote. “But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.”
For the rest of the lengthy article, Keller baited Obama by presenting him as something of a terrified deer frozen in mindless inaction because of the Iraq experience. Keller quoted hawkish former State Department official Vali Nasr as declaring that “We’re paralyzed like a deer in the headlights, and everybody keeps relitigating the Iraq war.”
Keller then added: “Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.”
No Lessons Learned
But Keller doesn’t seem to have learned anything significant from the Iraq catastrophe. [In fairness, Keller has shown no signs that he's even capable of learning. - LG] Much as he and other pundits did on Iraq, they are putting themselves into the minds of Syria’s leaders and assuming that every dastardly deed is carefully calibrated when the reality is that Assad, like Saddam Hussein, has often behaved in a reactive manner to perceived threats.
Assad and many other Alawites (a branch of Shiite Islam) – along with many Christian Armenians who remain loyal to Assad – are terrified of what might follow a military victory by the Sunni majority, whose fighting forces are now dominated by Islamic extremists, many with close ties to al-Qaeda.
As the New York Times reported in its news page last month, the black flags of Islamist rule are spreading across “liberated” sectors of Syria. . .
Here’s a more detailed description of Howard Kurtz’s sloppy … well, I hesitate to call it “journalism”. At any rate, Alex Pareene in Salon:
Update, 1:00 pm ET: The Daily Beast announced it is retracting Kurtz’s column.
Howard Kurtz had a bad day yesterday. He wrote this whole column calling out Jason Collins, the NBA player who this week came out as gay, breaking a major American sports barrier and quickly becoming a widely celebrated and admired figure, for not telling readers of his Sports Illustrated piece that he once had a (female) fiancée. Except, one little problem with the entire concept of the piece: Collins explicitly wrote that he’d once been engaged in his Sports Illustrated piece. It took a few minutes for the Internet to point out this titanic error. Then, the the column was altered, without a correction, to say that Collins “downplayed one detail” instead of “left one little part out.” Finally, a proper correction was appended.
But Kurtz was defiant! Despite the central detail underlying the argument of his column being incorrect, Kurtz’s point stands, says Kurtz!
We should all be so grateful to have legendary media critic Howard Kurtz around to police coming-out narratives.
The “Daily Download” video of Kurtz joking about Collins is probably more embarrassing than the Daily Beast column — the phrase “playing both sides of the court” is used — which is likely why it was taken down. You can see it at BuzzFeed orGawker still.
This is, easily, Kurtz’s worst error since the time he accidentally invented a conversation with a member of Congress. But while that one seemed like a truly weird circumstance, involving a massive misunderstanding, this one seems like the natural result of a lazy hack thoughtlessly weighing in on the news without actually thinking (or reading the article he was weighing in on). (Also does the Daily Beast not have editors anymore? They still have Photoshoppers!)
Speaking of people not telling the whole story, Kurtz has a slightly mysterious relationship with the Daily Download, which is apparently a real website and not the name of a fictional blog invented for a “Law & Order” episode. Kurtz is on the “Board of Advisers” for that site and writes (and appears in videos) for them constantly. As Michael Calderone reports, Kurtz plugs the site like crazy, tweeting links to the Daily Download six times more often than he tweets links to the site he actually works for, the Daily Beast. Kurtz says the board position is unpaid, so who knows what’s even going on there. But he is in a lot of bad, dumb videos that no one watches, except when the videos become controversial because Kurtz said stupid things.
Howard Kurtz is a media reporter, though he is often mistakenly referred to — and hired to act as — a media critic. As a media reporter, he is well-sourced. He is also an experiment in how many potential conflicts of interest one highly successful journalism professional can walk around with without ever having to change a single thing. For years he was supposed to cover the media — including, say, CNN — for the Washington Post, while also hosting a show on CNN. (He was also covering the media — including, say, the Washington Post — for CNN.) His wife is a professional flack who once worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kurtz has interviewed his wife’s clients on his show. . . .
Howard Kurtz—”Howie” to his friends, if any—is the worst of hacks, and regularly lies, misreports, slants, and deceives: the epitome of the person without principle. Robert Parry has a profile in farewell—though of course Kurtz will bounce back up: corporations always need shills.
For nearly a quarter century, Howard Kurtz has served as hall monitor for Washington’s conventional wisdom, handing out demerits to independent-minded journalists who don’t abide by the mainstream rules. So, there is some understandable pleasure seeing Kurtz face some accountability in his ouster as bureau chief for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
However, the more salient point is that Kurtz, who continues to host CNN’s “Reliable Sources” show, should never have achieved the level of influence in journalism that he did. Throughout his career, he has consistently – and unfairly – punished journalists who had the courage to ask tough questions and pursue truly important stories.
When one looks at the mess that is modern journalism in the United States, a chief culprit has been Howard Kurtz. Yet, his downfall did not come because of his smearing of fellow journalists – like Gary Webb and Helen Thomas – but rather from a blog post that unfairly criticized basketball player Jason Collins after he revealed that he was gay.Kurtz faulted Collins for supposedly not revealing that he had once been engaged to a woman, but Collins had mentioned those marriage plans. Twitter exploded with comments about Kurtz’s sloppy error. On Thursday, The Daily Beast retracted the post, and the Web site’s editor-in-chief Tina Brown announced that Kurtz would be departing.
However, Kurtz has committed far more serious offenses during his years destroying the careers of journalists who dared make life a bit uncomfortable for Official Washington’s powerful elites. For instance, Kurtz played a key role in the destruction of investigative reporter Gary Webb, who had the courage to revive the long-suppressed Contra-cocaine story in the mid-1990s.
Working at the San Jose Mercury-News, Webb produced a multi-part series in 1996 revealing how cocaine that was smuggled into the United States by operatives connected to the Nicaraguan Contra war of the 1980s had contributed to the “crack cocaine” epidemic that ravaged U.S. cities. Webb’s articles put the major U.S. news media on the spot because most mainstream outlets had dismissed the Contra-cocaine allegations when they first surfaced in the mid-1980s.
My Associated Press colleague Brian Barger and I wrote the first story about the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1985 and our work was met with a mix of condescension and contempt from the New York Times and the Washington Post, where Kurtz worked for many years. Even after an investigation by Sen. John Kerry confirmed – and expanded upon – our work, the big newspapers continued to dismiss and downplay the stories.
It didn’t matter how much evidence was developed on the Contra-cocaine smuggling or on the Reagan administration’s role covering up the crimes; the conventional wisdom was that the scandal must be a “conspiracy theory.” Journalists or government investigators who did their job, looking at the problem objectively, risked losing their job.
Journalistic up-and-comers, such as Michael Isikoff (then at the Washington Post), advanced their careers by focusing on minor flaws in Kerry’s investigation rather than on major disclosures of high-level government complicity with drug trafficking. Newsweek’s “conventional wisdom watch” mocked Kerry as “a randy conspiracy buff.”
So, when Gary Webb revived the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996 by pointing out its real-world impact on the emergence of crack cocaine that ravaged inner cities across the United States in the 1980s, his stories were most unwelcome.
At first, the mainstream news media tried to ignore Webb’s work, but African-American lawmakers demanded investigations into the scandal. That prompted a backlash from the major news organizations. Webb’s articles were dissected looking for tiny flaws that could be exploited to again discredit the whole issue.
On Oct. 4, 1996, the Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb’s series, although acknowledging that some Contra operatives indeed did help the cocaine cartels.
The Post’s approach was twofold: first, the Post presented the Contra-cocaine allegations as old news — “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post sniffed — and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one Contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted in his series, saying that it had not “played a major role in the emergence of crack.” A Post sidebar dismissed African-Americans as prone to “conspiracy fears.”
Next, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times weighed in . . .
The Washington Post has fallen on very hard times, but still… The level of cringeworthy journalism in that paper is astonishing, though they still will occasionally run a good article. At Mother Jones Kevin Drum gives a solid put-down of an exceptionally poor WaPo article:
Here’s the lead headline at the Washington Post right now:
This kind of stuff drives me crazy because it preys on the innumeracy of the general public. Should agencies be more careful about shutting down bank accounts they no longer use? Sure. And does reporter David Fahrenthold acknowledge that the money involved is “a tiny fraction of the federal budget”? Yes he does.
But seriously, folks, “tiny fraction” barely even begins to describe this. In numbers, it represents about 0.000025 percent of the federal budget. But even that’s too small a number to really get a feel for, so let’s put this into terms that the Washington Post can understand. . .
Another good column by Glenn Greenwald:
Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post column this morning, which calls on Congress to enact new legislation authorizing and regulating Obama’s drone attacks, is actually worth reading. That’s because it highlights the central fact about the Obama legacy when it comes to US militarism, war, and civil liberties. Referencing the monumental shift in how Democrats think about such matters now as compared to the Bush years, he writes:
“Such hypocrisy is the homage Democrats pay to Republicans when the former take office, confront national security reality, feel the weight of their duty to protect the nation — and end up doing almost everything they had denounced their predecessors for doing. The beauty of such hypocrisy, however, is that the rotation of power creates a natural bipartisan consensus on the proper conduct of this war . . .
“Necessity having led the Bush and Obama administrations to the use of near-identical weapons and tactics, a national consensus has been forged. Let’s make it open.”
That Obama has ushered in a “bipartisan consensus” for these policies – transforming them from the divisive symbols of right-wing extremism into the unchallenged framework of both parties’ establishments – is indisputable, one of the most consequential aspects of his presidency.
But Krauthammer’s real purpose with this column is to mock and excoriate Rand Paul’s anti-drone filibuster. As the New York Times describes today, there is an increasingly acrimonious split in the GOP about the policies of militarism and civil liberties enacted in the 9/11 era, and neocons like Krauthammer are petrified that the (relative) anti-war and pro-due-process stances articulated by Paul will gain traction. Krauthammer notes that, contrary to the claims of many progressives, Paul’s opposition was not merely to killing Americans on US soil, but was broader: it was about assassinating citizens without due process anywhere they may be found. Referencing a Washington Post Op-Ed in which Paul declared that “no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime,” Krauthammer writes: “note the absence of the restrictive clause: ‘on American soil’”. Here’s how Krauthammer describes Paul’s real purpose in launching the filibuster: . . .
Continue reading. His concluding two paragraphs are worth pondering:
. . . Like so many people who defend Obama’s War on Terror policies and mock Paul’s filibuster, Krauthammer suggests that the very idea that the US government could treat a US citizen on US soil as an enemy combatant and thus punish them without due process is so absurd as to be paranoid to even raise the question. Does anyone remember the Jose Padilla case: in which the Bush administration, in 2002, detained this US citizen, on US soil; declared him to be an “enemy combatant”; and then proceeded to imprison him for the next 3 1/2 years without charges or trial – all with little public resistance and, ultimately, endorsement from a right-wing court? Was Charles Krauthammer objecting to any of that? Were all of the people now claiming that it’s paranoia to think that the US government would use war power theories against a US citizen on US soil marching in the streets in protest over this? The answer is: no.
The US government has already asserted the very theory that many now mock Paul for asking about, and did so with very little resistance, including from the courts. It’s true that they did not kill Padilla, but the theory used to imprison him for years without charges – the president is empowered to declare anyone he wants to be an “enemy combatant” without charges and trial and then punish him as such: including US citizens found on US soil – is precisely the theory that would justify targeting US citizens on US soil for an Awlaki-type strike. Indeed, that is the theory invoked to justify the killing of Awlaki, and there is no cogent way to exclude US soil: since the entire globe is a battlefield, the president has the unilateral power to detain or kill anyone he wants, including citizens, without charges. To pretend that this is so beyond the pale of what US political culture would tolerate is to exhibit serious naïveté and/or ignorance of recent history.
The US press no longer even pretends to inform people—it sees its job instead as being to spin the news for the marketing demographic their advertisers want: present whatever it takes to get that group to click/read/tune in. Any effort to ground stories in consensual reality or actual science is summarily rejected and can very well cost someone her or his job.
Thus the government, freed from the bonds that an informed and active (i.e., voting) electorate imposes, is free to become corrupt, enriching everyone by looting the public treasury.
Not to be gloomy about it, of course. But just read this entire post by James Fallows.
Indeed, Scalia himself is not being kind to Scalia: he has turned him into a racist clown, mocking the principles by which he is supposed to judge. He already looks close to mania and delusion—as does Bob Woodward, come to think of it. These guys can really get out of touch. Scalia first, in this Salon piece by Joan Walsh:
Four slow-moving ambulances brought up the rear as student leader John Lewis led 600 peaceful protesters dressed for church on the voting rights march that would become known as Selma’s Bloody Sunday, on March 7, 1965. They stayed peaceful; law enforcement officials didn’t. Trampled by police horses, choked by tear gas, beaten with billy clubs – Lewis had his skull fractured – the marchers would need more medical help than the four cars could provide. The ugly melee made national news that night: ABC broke into its presentation of “Judgment at Nuremberg” with footage of the violence, and viewers couldn’t be entirely sure where Nazi atrocities ended and their own country’s began.
Now, not far from Selma, Shelby County, Ala., is trying to take the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act that Lyndon B. Johnson hustled through Congress after Bloody Sunday. Even though the act was reauthorized by a Republican-dominated Congress in 2006 on a 98-0 vote in the Senate (it was 390-33 in the House), and signed by President Bush, and even though its constitutionality has been upheld by the Supreme Court four times, there is evidence that the current right-wing court majority would like to overturn at least part of it. Court conservatives once represented a reaction against the court’s supposed overreach into realms best left to Congress, and its willingness to ignore earlier court decisions. Now they seem set to say Congress has no business here, and that their Supreme Court predecessors who upheld the act were either mistaken or the blinkered creatures of their idiosyncratic eras.
Unbelievably, Antonin Scalia derided the act as a “racial entitlement,” prompting gasps from the crowd gathered to hear the arguments Wednesday. (As Rachel Maddow noted, Scalia seems to live for those gasps.) And he blamed Congress for pandering for votes by keeping that “racial entitlement” alive. The cynical Scalia sounded like Mitt Romney blaming his loss on President Obama delivering “gifts” to his coalition:
I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution …They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?
Indeed, the name of it is wonderful. With that remark, Scalia made clear (if he hadn’t already) that he’s more suited for the talk radio dial alongside Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity than he is for the Supreme Court bench.
The right-wing justice’s rant goes to the heart of long-held conservative ambivalence about democracy: that corrupt politicians will be able to buy off the rabble, with “spoils” or patronage or jobs; even outright gifts of cash. Only men of wealth, property and education could be trusted to rise above such rank bribery, which is why many states had property requirements and other limits on voting in the early days of our country; universal suffrage didn’t even reach all white men until 1830.
Still, Romney only railed against Obama providing “gifts” like healthcare to Latinos and contraceptives to women. Limbaugh called him “Santa Claus,” one of his nicer names for the president, for those popular new programs. A majority of Americans, O’Reilly opined during his election night self-pity party, “want stuff. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it, and he ran on it.”
But not even O’Reilly implied that the “stuff” Obama gave his voters included their constitutional right to vote.
As is his trademark, . . .
And Bob Woodward, eviscerated by Alex Pareene:
Bob Woodward rocked Washington this weekend with an editorial that hammered President Obama for inventing “the sequester” and then being rude enough to ask that Congress not make us have the sequester. Woodward went on “Morning Joe” this morning, and he continued his brutal assault:
“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there and saying ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?’” Woodward said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“Or George W. Bush saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to invade Iraq because I can’t get the aircraft carriers I need’ or even Bill Clinton saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to attack Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters,’ as he did when Clinton was president because of some budget document?” Woodward added. “Under the Constitution, the president is commander-in-chief and employs the force. And so we now have the president going out because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country. That’s a kind of madness that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Speaking of kinds of madness, Woodward’s actual position here is insane. As Dave Weigel points out, “some budget document” is a law, passed by Congress and signed by the president. Woodward is saying, why won’t the president just ignore the law, because he is the commander in chief, and laws should not apply to him. That is a really interesting perspective, from a man who is famous for his reporting on the extralegal activities of a guy who is considered a very bad president!
Also, that George W. Bush analogy is amazing. It would have been a good thing for him to invade and occupy Iraq without congressional approval? Say what you will about George W. Bush, at least he was really, really devoted to invading Iraq. (And yes the Reagan line, lol.) . . .
Large American newspapers are now functioning somewhat like Pravda as being official organs of the government: cf. Bill Keller, when he was editor of the NY Times, suppressing a story on the warrantless wiretapping ordered by George W. Bush at the government’s request, and keeping the story a secret until Bush could get reelected—and, indeed, ultimately releasing the story only because a competitor was about to break the story. (Bill Keller simply lacks any sense of journalistic ethics. And—believe it or not—he still writes a column for the NY Times, a newspaper that’s lost a sense of shame. Keller was also a big promoter of the Iraq War in the lead-up to the war, and made sure dissenting voices did not find an outlet in his paper. Judy Miller was a favored reporter of his, which tells you pretty much all that you need to know about Bill Keller.)
And the media are still doing it: concealing news as requested by the government. The US has truly lost its way:
Richard Eskow lists 6 things that cannot be discussed in Washington:
Whom the gods would destroy, the old saying says, they first make mad. And there’s no quicker way to become completely untethered than to read economic reports, including the latest one from the Congressional Budget Office, and then watch the political debate go on as if reality didn’t even exist.
The short version of the CBO’s report is: Spending’s going down, but we desperately need jobs. So how did the president and Congress respond? They kept arguing about who’s got the better plan for making spending go down some more.
If you want to be taken seriously in Washington, you’re going to have to learn: There are some things you just don’t talk about.
1. Don’t Talk About Jobs
The CBO report predicts that the Federal deficit this year will be under $1 trillion, if the “sequester” or other cuts of similar magnitude go into effect, for the first time in five years.
But unemployment won’t be reduced to an acceptable level until 2018, according to the CBO – and Washington’s not talking about how to create jobs. Those spending cuts will make the unemployment situation worse. Apparently that’s now Washington’s official plan: Cut spending, and keep more people out of work.
If things happen according to our leaders’ plans – which are the basis for the CBO’s projection – it will have taken 10 years for the job market to recover from Wall Street’s misdeeds.
Corporate profits recovered in 18 months, and today they’re higher than ever.
2. Don’t talk about growth.
The CBO doesn’t expect the Gross Domestic Product to fully recover from the Wall Street recession for another four years, until 2017. The problem is the “output gap” between the goods and services we could and should be producing, and what we’re actually producing. That, too, is the result of the 2008 crisis. This gap results in lost prosperity for the great majority of Americans, excluding only the wealthiest among us.
If our GDP were large, the Federal debt would be less of a problem, because it would be a smaller piece of our economic “pie.” That’s one reason why economists L. Josh Bivens and Andrew Fieldhouse recently warned that “nearly all demands for specific, ambitious 10-year deficit reduction targets are likely to be terribly counterproductive in the current debate.”
And the problem’s getting worse. As Neil Irwin points out, the CBO report now estimates our annual “output gap” at more than $1 trillion this year. That means it’s going up, not down.
3. Don’t talk about stimulus spending.
Washington’s not talking about that. Instead the President has engaged in the debate on the Republicans’ terms. In his recent remarks on the sequester he said he and the Republicans had gone “more than halfway towards the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists and elected officials from both parties believe is required to stabilize our debt.”
The $4 trillion figure is not accepted by “most economists.” Many, if not most, would argue for increased spending in the form of additional stimulus programs as Bivens and Fieldhouse proposed – and for the same reasons. As Bivens and Fieldhouse wrote, arbitrary targets “can easily lead policymakers to embrace measures that will surely hamper economic recovery (which) should be the primary focus.” Ethan Pollock showed how debt stabilization can be achieved more effectively through short-term stimulus spending.
But Washington’s not talking about that, either. Instead, the president’s reinforcing a counterproductive and right-wing economic viewpoint by talking about deficit reduction targets in hard-dollar amounts.
4. Don’t talk about . . .
Dean Baker patiently dissects yet another Robert Samuelson Washington Post column:
It’s always entertaining to read Robert Samuelson’s columns on Monday mornings. They are so deliciously orthogonal to reality. Today’s column, asking whether America is in decline, is another gem.
He starts with a set of “good news” items from a paper issued by Goldman Sachs:
“For starters, the U.S. economy is still the world’s largest by a long shot. Gross domestic product (GDP) is almost $16 trillion, “nearly double the second largest (China), 2.5 times the third largest (Japan).” Per capita GDP is about $50,000; although 10 other countries have higher figures, most of the countries are small — say, Luxembourg.”
That sounds good, except that having double the GDP of China depends on looking at exchange rate measures of GDP. This figure is inflated by the over-valued dollar and under-valued yuan. Using the purchasing power parity measure of GDP, the gap is much smaller, with the IMF projecting it will go the other way by 2017. According tosome estimates China’s GDP is already larger than ours, so it’s probably best to keep this celebration short.
It is true that the U.S. has a higher per capita income than Germany, France, and most other wealthy countries. But by far the main reason for this gap is that we work about 25 percent more on average than workers in Western Europe who all get 4-6 weeks a year vacation, paid parental leave, and paid sick days. This is far more an issue of a different trade-off between work and leisure than a question of people in the United States being richer.
Next we get the good news about our massive energy resources:
“In turn, the oil and gas boom bolsters employment. A study by IHS , a consulting firm, estimates that it has already created 1.7 million direct and indirect jobs. By 2020, there should be 1.3 million more, reckons IHS.”
Ignoring the issue of pollution from drilling out this windfall, it is important to put these jobs numbers in perspective. These are gross jobs, not net jobs. In other words, the vast majority of the 3 million jobs that IHS is promising us in oil and gas by 2020 are not additional jobs to those that would otherwise exist in the absence of these resources. These are jobs that displace jobs in education, medical research, health care, and other sectors. Samuelson may be excited that more people will be employed digging gas wells in 2020 and fewer educating the young, but the economic and social benefits of this reallocation of workers are not obvious.
Then we have the fact that we will be younger than other countries:
“American workers will remain younger and more energetic than their rapidly aging rivals. By 2050, workers’ median age in China and Japan will be about 50, a decade higher than in America.”
Yeah, you probably jumped ahead on this one. A main reason that we will be younger is that we have shorter life expectancies. The good news just keeps coming.
Then we have the U.S. as the prime destination for highly educated emigrants: . . .
The conservative columnists at the Washington Post quite routinely ignore the truth and make statements that are factually false—think of George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Robert Samuelson, for example. But Jennifer Rubin is in a league of her own, making statements that she herself does not believe. Take a look.