Monday, December 10, 2007

Scooter Libby Is No Longer Appealing

Sorry for that cheap imitation of the trite "loses his appeal" joke.

"We remain firmly convinced of Mr. Libby's innocence," Libby attorney attorney Theodore Wells said. "However, the realities were, that after five years of government service by Mr. Libby and several years of defending against this case, the burden on Mr. Libby and his young family of continuing to pursue his complete vindication are too great to ask them to bear."

Wells cites that inevitability of a re-trial if Libby were to win -- a re-trial would likely be ordered by an appellate court, but the decision to proceed would be the prosecutor's. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has said the leak investigation is closed.

It does make one one wonder: why pay for something that is a cheap imitation of pardon?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Political Staccato, or It's Nice to Come Up for Air

Some short clips since I’ve been away for so long, hunkered down on a project. With the WGA writer’s strike these ought to be salad days for people who think they’re funny, but, as the writers would concur, making money is job one:

So glad Mitt Romney accepts Jesus and that the unchristian Christians from one end of a tiny spectrum may be appeased by the unchristian Christians from the other. Still waiting for the day that an atheist can run for anything or for a single candidate to have the courage to say faith informs no life decisions except whether to sleep in on Sunday.

Disgusted by Romney's declaration: “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Actually, freedom only teaches us to tolerate religion so that our private behaviors may be tolerated in turn, as we should other private behaviors we may personally disapprove of, like a gay lifestyle, abortion ... oh.

There is nothing to the argument that only religious people possess the values to govern themselves, that the elegant beauty of democracy can spring only from minds which accept on faith the existence of a deity. This is an idiotic and offensive position. It is exhibit “A” on why religion has no place in governance. When will politicians who pander values be punished for their sins in this world? Will Romney's failure to even win the Republican nomination be attributed to beliefs like this or will it be spun by his acolytes as evidence of religious bigotry?

Will the dirty little secret that lets the air out of Mike Huckabee’s balloon be that he isn’t quite the straight-shooting nice guy Chuck Norris will “convince” you he is if you don’t? How else can Huckabee palm off not knowing anything about the new Iran NIE by being too busy campaigning to be commander-in-chief to keep up with commander-in-chief news.

While we’re at it, nice try by Joe Scarborough to nail Huckabee down on why he can’t accept Romney is a Christian by asking the candidate if he is equally equivocal about Billy Graham. But Morning Joe missed the follow-up, which would have been to circle back to the threshold question: “OK, you don’t know what's in anybody’s heart, so you give Romney the benefit of the doubt you give Graham. Both could consider themselves Christians, or not, and that is not for you to say -- we get it. But no matter what’s in Romney’s heart, do you believe he even be a Christian if he is also a Mormon?”

Are Rudy & Romney listing because of the latest opposition research both are unleashing on each other to prove each hates Mexicans more (stole that line from somebody I can’t recall to credit right now)? Or, has the resonance of the illegal immigration issue waned? Unless Lou Dobbs gets nominated by acclamation I’m in the corner that believes the issue is more theoretically disturbing than actually by people likely to vote in large numbers next November.

Sadly, no real surprise that the Bush White House finds affirmation for its Armageddon view in the news that Iran is nowhere near being able to start WW III as the president warned no long ago (and hasn’t for at least, er, four years).

While the right attacks the messenger – hysterical they are now using as proof of intelligence unreliability the “evidence” that got us into their war in Iraq – the important question seems to be fading away: Did the president (again?) knowingly suppress evidence that does not support his strategic objectives, or does he really just have contempt for a fact-based approach to – anything?

This was meant to be funnier. I’m praying for Jon Stewart’s return as well.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Does This Endorsement Make Me Look Phat?

Winning is a Family Value, Part II

Isn't it just great when people who have nothing in common get along?

They didn't exactly bury the hatchet -- since they didn't exactly ever have a relationship -- but Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Guiliani looks to be about as crass a marriage of convenience as one could imagine (Nixon and Elvis is in its own category).

Why does Rudy want it known that crazy grandpa likes him for the White House a year before the election? (Hoping that voters will forget by then is not one of the acceptable answers)
This is the Pat Robertson who said 9/11 was was God's retribution for America's countenance of abortion (only one of a vast collection of incomprehensible positions by the televangelist).

This is the Rudy Giuliani who has been married three times, lived with a gay couple for while between marriages and doesn't have a problem with dressing up in drag.

It gets stranger: Giuliani, who rakes Ron Paul over the coals for 9/11 blasphemy was, of course, mayor of the Retribution City. And he more or less supports abortion rights.

Pure Christian Mischief

Isn't just wonderful that each is now acting like a true Christian forgiving and forgetting and everything?

Sadly, not everyone see this as Good News.

"Surprised," is how True Believer Mike Huckabee reacted (at least whining isn't a family value). This is the Mike Huckabee who has considerable Family Values street cred: A former Southn Baptist minister, he refused as Governor of Arkansas to authorize a Medicaid payment for an abortion for a 15-year-old girl whose stepfather has been charged with incest (so he has the whole southern States' Rights thing going on too).

Should Mike be surprised? Maybe not. True Believer Sam Brownback had to drop out of the race with only $95,000 in the kitty for lack of interest by any of his natural allies. This is the Sam Browback who has said that "It would be a glorious day of human liberty and freedom" if Roe v. Wade was overturned and who really, really doesn't believe in evolution.

Crazy Grandpas for Rudy

Who looks worse in this hookup? I'm thinking Robertson, who doesn't exactly need to endorse anyone, especially at this stage. But this one-time candidate for the Republican nomination is a shadow of his former self in the influence department. My guess is that these days people stop talking when Pat enters the room and try to conceal their titters when he leaves. And even endorsement by real players don't necessarily help much. Remember how much good Al Gore did for Howard Dean before the 2000 Iowa Caucus?

So, why does Rudy want it known that crazy grandpa likes him for the White House a year before the election? (Hoping that voters will forget by then is not one of the acceptable answers).

Maybe it's like this: Dan Quayle's 1982 jobs training bill was always trotted out whenever anyone asked what the 1992 Republican vice presidential candidate had ever done to be considered worthy. An endorsement from a religious conservative gives Rudy's campaign one thing anyway to point to in the values column whenever his social conservative credentials are questioned. Well, I'm good enough for Pat Robertson, he can now say.

A Pro-Choice Candidate with Pro-Life Proclivities

Giuliani, despite his studied ambivalence on abortion, has said his appointments to the US Supreme Court would be in the mould of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the Court's two most conservative justices. John Paul Stevens, the Court's oldest member at 88 next April, has consistently voted to uphold Roe v. Wade. While there is arguably already a 5-4 majority to overturn in the right case (Scalia/Thomas/Robert/Alito/Kennedy) there can't be much more tire on the Stevens tread and his replacement with a True Believer would seem seal the landmark 1974 case's undoing.

Rudy's pledge is a pretty big signal and tough to back away from, even if the Senate becomes a filibuster-proof Democratic domain should Giuliani be in position to nominate anybody.

So this may not be as extreme a case of strange bedfellows as it appears at first blush. But because of the timing it's impossible not to conclude that this is simply a case of Pat wanting to back a winner early and often and Rudy starting to look like one.

After all, when it comes to family values, what is more important than winning?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Six Months Heals All Wounds


Don Imus is back on the air. Has it been six months already? Did I miss the national conversation about race while I was out at Starbucks?

As a very smart friend told me during that frenzied week that saw Imus outed, ousted and banished, this was "Bonfires of the Vanities II." Sadly, sequels are almost never better than the original. But if George Steinbrenner got back to running the Yankees a couple of years after being banned for life, I guess Imus doing morning drive time before Spring's leaves even change color is nothing.
Imus picks up where he left off on Dec 3 and, thanks to CBS's blink, he got an unscheduled paid vacation at a rate of perhaps more than $2 million a month. So what was this all about? As Emily Litella used to say: "Never Mind."

Imus's trajectory is immaterial to me. I wasn't a fan so I wasn't sad to see him go. But I did hope that this time, at least, something would somehow justify yet another pagan dance around the bonfire. Instead, Imus looks wronged and he's been paid off for his trouble.

What a Difference 150 Days Make

"Imus in the Morning" and the MSNBC simulcast was canceled in April after Imus referred to the mostly black Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos" during a discussion of the team's playoff triumphs. It didn't take long for the shit to hit the fan. Members of Imus' A-list guest roster of best-selling authors and politicos squirmed when each was inevitably asked whether he would appear on his program ever again.

After announcing that Imus would be suspended for two weeks -- a suspension that was foolishly delayed for a few days to continue an on-air fund-raising radiothon, which only let Imus remain a lightning rod -- the story caught fire: advertisers got cold feet, the enormously sympathetic Rutger's players looked enormously pained on TV, and coach Vivian Stringer wouldn't let go of the mic.

Imus threatened to sue CBS for breach -- alleging that his on-air behavior was not only contractually protected but contractually encouraged -- and got a settlement said to be between $10 million and $20 million.

Nothing is Forever

But evidently nobody actually thought Imus would or should stay off the air. Major detractors Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are MIA on Imus' return. Joe Scarborough, who hosts "Morning Joe" in the old Imus 6-8 am time slot, was this morning shaking his head at the treatment his predecessor had endured and high fiving Imus's windfall.

Imus picks up where he left off on Dec 3 and, thanks to CBS's blink, he got an unscheduled paid vacation at a rate of perhaps more than $2 million a month. So what was this all about? As Emily Litella used to say: "Never Mind."

A Pew Research study conducted at the time of the Imus firing found that 54% thought the punishment fit the crime (61% of whites and 53% of blacks). Another 32% overall thought it was too tough.

The study found that the percent of news coverage devoted to the saga was 26% while only 20% said they followed that story most closely. The war in Iraq filled 10% of the news hole but was identified by 26% as being the story they were most interested in. Only 6% thought the Imus story got too little coverage, while 57% thought it got too much.

Disconnect? Sure, and no real surprise there.

Coach stringer might have summed this up better than anyone:
"I figured that he probably would be going back at some point, and as we said all along, we never said he should never work again," Stringer said in a recent interview with ESPN's Doris Burke.

"But at the end of the day, what can we do? We could have fallen into the same ditch that we all do and call him all these names and demand that he be fired and all these other things. But I think that if he's sincere about his apologies and his remarks to our players, then we'll see a much-changed Imus."
Or not.

Any bets on whether this gets cued up all over again? Anyone struggling to figure out lessons learned here is not alone.

Cold Water for Colbert

It looks like Stephen Colbert's dream ended a bit early.

Pundits and bloviators will be dissecting this campaign for years, the better to establish bragging rights to the claim s/he was the first to see the cracks that would eventually cause the damn to break. Or maybe even had cast the first stone at the glass house. Or some other hackneyed cliche.

The line forms here.

Colbert can still apparently get on the South Carolina ballot by gathering enough signatures. The funny thing about this oddly unfunny "campaign" is that Colbert's fan base is nearly as large and at least as rabid as the right-wing blowhard he mocks, so you never know.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

From the Desk of Donald Rumsfeld . . .


For those of us only just recovering from the Halloween scariness of belligerent children demanding tributes and threatening to create havoc if denied, here is today's shocking news: Don Rumsfeld didn't like the media and wrote as many as 60 memos a day to uparmor his E-Ring bulwarks against assaults emanating from fronts at home and abroad.

They call the flurry of these memos "snowflakes," but they are more like acid rain.
Neither Europe nor the United Nations understands the threat or the bigger picture, Rumsfeld complains. In other words, the people who, prior to 9/11, had suffered close to 100% of all the world's worst terrorism just don't get it.

It's probably just a media plot to deny Rumsfeld's heirs the chance to cash in on a "Write It When I'm Gone" windfall. But since the post-resignation release of his classified memo arguing for "a major adjustment" in Iraq because the war wasn't going well didn't do much to spark a reappraisal of his tenure, it is doubtful these -- marked just "for official use only" -- will help much either with the legacy thing.

But it's not for trying: The Post reveals that Rumsfeld privately shrugged off a deteriorating situation in Iraq a year after invasion as much has he did publicly; that fear-mongering was key to job-security strategy; that Muslims don't like hard work and that's why they get into trouble and have to be treated differently.

About that last one: ask your parents and grand-parents if they ever heard something like that in the good old days, except the proper noun in sentences then was "Blacks" (I guarantee another word was used), or Irish or Italians or Mexicans ...."

War Is Hell. You Didn't Know That. Really.

In a 2004 memo on the deteriorating situation in Iraq, the man who told us that you "go to war with the army you have" concluded that the challenges there are "not unusual," the Post reports.

Attacked by a platoon of retired generals calling for him to step down in 2006, Rummy smoothly played the fear card from the bottom of the deck: "Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists." Leave out the part that I am one of them.

Neither Europe nor the United Nations understands the threat or the bigger picture, Rumsfeld complains in another memo. In other words, the people who, prior to 9/11, had suffered close to 100% of all the world's worst terrorism just don't get it.
He also lamented that oil wealth has at times detached Muslims "from the reality of the work, effort and investment that leads to wealth for the rest of the world. Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed," he wrote. "An unemployed population is easy to recruit to radicalism."
Right. So the Saudi Royal family is radicalized because they don't work, and Muslims who toil in the oil fields -- didn't he see Syriana? -- are the long tail of our effort to infuse Democracy in the region.

This is Captain Queeg stuff. No mention of a conspiracy to deny him his strawberries, but very much they fought me at every turn. As Holly Hunter replied when a sarcastic boss asserted that It must be nice to always think you're the smartest person in the room: No, it's awful.

The twice former and never again defense chief is understandably miffed. Rumsfeld aide Keith Urbahn tells the paper this is all very unfair. Gross mischaracterizations. Only "carefully selected" examples of some 20,000 memos his boss wrote in office excerpted. Misunderstood as the planner, helmsman and co-chief evangelist of the the Iraq war, Rumsfeld is now misunderstood emeritus.

I thought Halloween was yesterday. I am still scared.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

FEMA'S Philbin Has No More Explaining To Do

John "Pat" Philbin, the former FEMA spokesman whose final days on that job were spiced up by a fake news briefing, has now lost his next job: director of public affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

It seemed to me too easy a punchline that the vilified Philbin was going to segue from a PR fiasco to the ultimate PR-challenged agency, even though the move had been done deal. I guess the irony was not lost on his new boss either.

My full take on the briefing fiasco -- "It's OK -- I'm a Reporter!" -- is here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Conviction Overturned, But Guilt Unaddressed?


The New York Times reports that the US military is in the midst of rectifying what appears to be a gross injustice against black soldiers that occurred 63 years ago. The 28 black solders were among 43 charged with starting a riot that led to deaths of an Italian POW at a base in Seattle. They were convicted despite laughable defense inadequacies and possible prosecutorial misconduct.

All 43 defendants were represented by only two lawyers, who had only 13 days to prepare for trial. There is evidence that the lead prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who would become famous 30 years later as the Watergate prosecutor, was aware of exculpatory evidence he did not share with the defense. The charges against two were dropped, and the other 13 were acquitted.

So far only one of the 28 convictions has been overturned. Samuel Snow, 83, who served a year in jail, will now receive back pay and an honorable discharge. But Snow, whose pictures as a young soldier and as he is today accompany the article, is only one of two defendants who hasn't died.

The article is strong, thorough and dramatic. If author William Yardley's goal is to evoke a sense that a terrible, racially-motivated injustice is being unwound in time for at least one man who "(w)alked with it all all his life" to savor some vindication, then he succeeds.

But in an otherwise excellent article, properly fronted on Oct. 27, 2007, this passage struck me as something of a slur:
"The ruling does not say the convicted soldiers were not guilty, but that the process by which they were convicted was unjust."
Well, exactly. So what?

Appeal or review panels are not finders of fact but only arbiters of process. Unless these 28 soldiers are tried again -- probably impossible and surely undesirable -- or if they receive executive clemency of some kind, this something-short-of-exoneration-status could be said of every person whose criminal conviction has been overturned.

Yet we don't generally make that trivially accurate but irrelevant distinction. Why in this story of an apparently massive injustice against 28 black soldiers that is being rectified 60 long years later is it necessary to inject unreasonable doubt?

I've written a slightly different version of this post to the New York Times Public Editor. If the matter is taken up for any reason by the ombudsman, I'll follow up.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It's OK -- I'm a Reporter!


Now it can be told: Almost every day in my reporting career I felt like a phony.

It was easy to feel inadequate. I worked with people who got shot at -- hell, shot -- and whose gifts with even the words "to," "at" and "the" were positively Shakespearean.

Without any credentials other than a wire service generalist's bravado I reported on medical breakthroughs, nuanced court rulings and world championship boxing. Let's just say the cramming skills I honed as an undergraduate served me well.

But at the FEMA briefing this week I would have been the only pro in the room. Not even a genuine journalist shill was present. Real reporters could listen in on a hastily-arranged "800" line, but couldn't ask any questions. No, the only people doing any talking, the Washington Post tells us, were FEMA employees: some pitching softballs, and the other one hitting them out of the park.

"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" somebody asked.
"I am very happy with FEMA's response so far," responded Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr.

What was FEMA thinking? We'll probably never know. The propaganda value was so press-release pedestrian it is hard to imagine it was part of a malicious plan to conceal inconvenient truths. The platitudinous PR spins included such exchanges as this:
"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" somebody asked.
"I am very happy with FEMA's response so far," responded Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr.
Yes. Must get that message out -- at any cost.

A Casablanca Moment

That is the sort of question that won't get asked by real reporters, unless it's to set up a Perry Mason moment. But when even the White House and the Department of Homeland Security criticize a lame attempt to shape the message you know that what you have witnessed is instead a Casablanca moment.

And it was all going so very well.

In its response to the California wildfires, FEMA didn't suck this time. To hear President Bush, though, the big difference was a governor taking the initiative, not the heedlessness of hand-picked administration incompetents doing a heckofa job of ignoring 48 hours of non-stop TV coverage of death and destruction.

As usual the stew for this boneheadedness might be the slow but steady blurring of a line between self-aggrandizing partisan advocacy and journalism. It has long become commonplace for advertisers to adopt the look-and-feel of news reporting. Infomercials use ersatz interviews to try to convince viewers that what they are seeing is unscripted give-and take instead of two-fisted shoveling. Newspapers and magazines routinely accept special ad sections that are laid out like the publications themselves.

But even though these Wizard of Oz contrivances flourish it is one thing to sell get-rich-quick real estate schemes to insomniacs at 4 am and another to bamboozle the electorate. Especially when they are starting to like you -- really, really like you! -- again.

Ignorance Won't Work This Time

So is it possible the PAOtards at FEMA really had no idea they were crossing a line? FEMA Director of Current Affairs John "Pat" Philbin is no Michael Brown, who had no background in emergency relief. No, Philbin's extensive education and professional life has been all about public relations and communications.

Philbin, who asked one of the six questions, says he knows he should have stopped department #2 Johnson's countenance of staff-fed questions with no disclosure.

But, as it happens, this is an easy sword for him to fall on. Turns out Philbin's last day on the job anyway was going to be Thursday -- three days after the fateful "news" conference. His next gig? Head of public affairs at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Washington Post reports.

Oh my.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

An Unbertable Colbert on MTP


Stephen Colbert's fake presidential ambitions crumbled today in an appearance today on "Meet the Press." And more importantly: Strangers to Colbert -- and I presume there are more than a few who are regular watchers of MTP -- will be left wondering what is funny about this guy, which is no way to promote a funny book.

This "interview" was very, very not funny, in a clear-the-room, cue-the-crickets, only-a-mother-could-love kind of way.

Colbert couldn't quite figure out whether to play it straight or outrageous, and his gift for spontaneity mostly eluded him. Russert's decision to play it straight as Sunday's Interlocutor-in-Chief misfired over and over again. The lack of any live feedback was cringe-inducing; either there is nobody on the set within earshot of an open mic or none of the crew thought there was anything to laugh about either.

Bert & Ernie on Phonics, Not Gay Marriage

There was a lengthy answer about the pride in getting a single South Carolina delegate at the Democratic Convention that went nowhere. A quiz about the extent of Colbert's knowledge of South Carolina ("What is the state amphibian?" Pause. "My dog."). An excruciatingly long riff on the chosen pronunciation of the guest's last name (Kohl*BEAR), culminating with Russert producing an Sesame Street "Ernie" doll and asking Colbert to utter the name of Ernie's friend. Colbert's position: Bert is entitled to call himself anything he wants.

Here's a suggestion: if you are going to trot out Bert and Ernie, how about letting the ultra-conservative candidate pontificate about gay marriage? Moving on.

Clearly some things were set up. But even an apparently scripted bit about Larry Craig fell flat besides being just plain icky and not remotely in character for the biliously right-wing Colbert persona:
Russert: Would you consider Sen. Larry Craig as your running mate?
Colbert: I would. I would.
Russert: Have you had conversations with him?
Colbert: (Pause) Define “conversation.”
Russert: Have you spoken to him?
Colbert: No …no …no.
Russert: Have you met with him?
Colbert: (Silence)
Russert: Have you been in the same room together?
Colbert: Yes! Sorry (glancing off set) -- my lawyer's telling me to say no more
Russert: How did you express your interest in developing your relationship?
Colbert: Forcefully.
Lessons from Andy Kaufman, and Pat Paulson

I wish Colbert good luck with his book. He's getting major promotion, and running for president -- but only campaigning in South Carolina -- is a potentially funny way of getting attention on his tour. But in all honesty, when I watch his program (during Letterman re-runs) I think he tends to run out of gas early most of the time.

It's hard work being funny as someone else all the time. Only truly deranged immense talents, like Andy Kaufman, can pull it off day in and day out. But Colbert has a lot to learn even about deadpan comedic presidential campaigns. May I suggest a master class in Pat Paulson?

So skip the MTP replays and delete the podcast (or watch it and prepare yourself for what television will be like when the writers go on strike). Instead, check out "Take Two," which is an online-only real interview by Russert with Colbert, out of character. They should have switched these two productions at birth.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Winning is a Family Value

Sam Brownback has dropped out of the Republican hunt for the presidency.

He rejects evolution, but maybe believes in reincarnation?

What could the so-called values voters want if such a true believer can't get any traction and leaves the table with a piddling $94,000 in the bank?

I have no sympathy with holier than thou people who presume their beliefs are more sacred than mine, and who have forgotten, or don't really care about, what freedom means.

But with a buffet of candidates who talk the talk, and with some of those actually walking the walk, I'm perplexed about what the "values" wing really wants.

Can it be so crass as ... a winner?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Better than President


Why would Al Gore want to be president?

A darling of the Democratic left, Gore has now garnered the ultimate in bragging rights by winning the Nobel Peace Prize. So naturally the idle speculation about how to convert this into a late-entry presidential bid is in high gear, as if there is only one thing an ambitious, talented person would find worth buying with life's chits in the Big Box Store of America.

Clever liberal pundits love joking that since Gore won the presidency in 2000 it's
In short order Gore has garnered an Oscar, and Emmy and a Nobel Peace Prize. He's rich. He's young and has good hair. He is beloved by the right people and reviled by the right people. To paraphrase an old Frank Sinatra song, why would he want to go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like "I'm running."
about time he starting serving out his term, and a group which seems not to be a stalking horse for the man himself took out one of those discount (legitimately, this time) New York Times ads urging the former vice president to heed their call and get into the 2008 nominating process.

Let Them Just Swoon

In short order Gore has garnered an Oscar, and Emmy and a Nobel Peace Prize. He's rich. He's young and has good hair. He is beloved by the right people and reviled by the right people. To paraphrase an old Frank Sinatra song, why would he want to go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like "I'm running."

There is a swooning part of the population that has a huge crush on Gore, a reputed stiff whose genuine ability to tell a joke is never more evident than when he is mocking himself. Sometimes these kinds of yearnings seem deeper than they truly are -- you know, the romance is impossible, the love is unrequited. Most literature and every movie released before September is based on this tired theme.

Yes, you're third in those national polls which insert your name. Al -- we love you, but it's a trap. You'll wake up and we'll both realize it was just physical -- and then it'll be too late. You don't want to jeopardize our friendship for a brief sizzle. It isn't you -- it's us.

But consider benefits of the high road, which, in this case, lets you be both selfish and selfless. Remember: Times heals all.

History Wasn't On His Side

Jimmy Carter -- fellow Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter -- was ignominiously booted from office. His presidential afterlife has been stunningly more productive than his four years in office, where his successes were drowned out by the Iran hostage crisis, unbelievable inflation and a gasoline shortage that provided iconic images of lines at gas stations and elevated OPEC almost as much as the current president has Al-Quaeda.

Bill Clinton served out a second term despite a sex scandal but in the end such was the fatigue -- and Gore's miscalculation about how to exploit the Clinton/Gore legacy -- that Clinton's glow was too weak to ensure a third successive Democrat occupant in the White House.

[While he did win the popular vote nationally and a pivotal Florida electoral vote count was halted by the US Supreme Court, history may not have been on Gore's side. The last time a Democrat occupied the White House for three successive terms was in the 1940s, when FDR was elected to a third term in the days before the 22nd Amendment. Before that -- and the only time an incumbent Democrat vice president was elected president -- was when Vice President Martin Van Buren succeeded two-term president Andrew Jackson in 1837. But I digress.]

Gore has now entered a rarified space that even few ex-presidents inhabit. He is an internationally renowned celebrity in the best meaning of the word, able to spend considerable capital and relish vindication from being tarred by incumbent President GHW Bush in the 1992 campaign as "Ozone Man." He is unencumbered by any failures as president, because he has never been president. On the downside, his role in advancing the Internet is still incorrectly mocked, and there are a small handful of other tidbits in this narrative. But that's it.

The good Gore can do, unencumbered by the restrictions and obligations of office, are incalculable, as Carter has demonstrated for a quarter of a century and Clinton since he left office.

It would be a mistake of Greek proportions for Gore to be tempted by the vanity of electoral vindication to jump into the 2008 race. I can't imagine being president matters to him anymore, and I can't imagine why it should.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Craig's List

"I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively."
-- Sen. Larry Craig, Oct 4, 2007

Things to do this summer:

  • Circle around hunky guy in stall "8" while waiting for connecting flight. Muse on how great it is to have time to kill in a city where nobody knows me -- and save money at the same time by not flying direct!
  • Plead ignorance of solicitation to guy who doesn't seem nearly as hunky when he turns out to be an undercover cop. Give him my business card anyway. You never know
  • In post-arrest interview with undercover cop (who I see now definitely is not a looker) don't act like I don't know what he's talking about when he says I was doing the abnormal things guys seeking gay sex with strangers in public restrooms do. Instead, tell him I was doing normal things, like picking up toilet paper off the bathroom floor
  • Don't get any legal advice in the many weeks before I have to enter a plea. Reflect fondly on my votes for tort reform
  • Plead guilty to disorderly conduct by mail. Relax. It's all over now. What could possibly go wrong
  • When story inexplicably breaks, blame the media. This never fails
  • When media fails to roll over admit nothing. Attack feral enemies. But write speech announcing that I will resign on Sept. 30, 2007
  • Get it on the record: "I am not gay. I never have been gay." Hope nobody notices peculiar similarity to same statement I gave 25 years ago, when nobody asked me. Remind children and wife that I am definitely not gay, no way never have been. Cut short family meeting to watch football game on TV. Note to self: find out what channel ESPN is on beforehand
  • Send Arlen Specter some roses. Scratch that.
  • Hire three lawyers. Call one of them, ignore unfamiliar voicemail and leave message instead for a stranger saying I am going to alter my "resignation" speech to say, "it is my intent to resign."
  • In speech go noble: Cite the need for America to focus war in Iraq blah blah blah
  • Snicker as nobody in the media picks up on that clever "intent" loophole
  • Buy time by saying it is still my "intent" to quit if I can't get my guilty plea withdrawn. This will definitely blow over in a few days and everybody will be talking about Britney 24/7 again
  • Show up for Republican lunch in Senate. Draw strength from the guy who applauds me after my brief and definitely unawkward remarks. See if he's interested in drinks later.
  • Try to convince judge that a US Senator's guilty plea to a misdemenor disorderly conduct charge amounted to a "travesty of justice." Make sure lawyers underline that phrase three times in filing
  • Announce when guilty plea is upheld that I intend to serve out my term for the good of the people
  • Say I can get'er done in the Senate even though the Republican leadership would just as soon ship to me Iran, where everybody know there aren't any gays.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Reuters Opinion 1.0


Reuters last week quietly ended a 156-year tradition which, more than any other, defined its character. The walls did not come tumbling down. And while for some the change might have come sooner, and for others not at all, I think it could not have come at a better time.

In a blog entry Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger announced that Reuters had begun publishing commentary written by editorial staff (Reuters also announced this change with an obligatory but quaint wire advisory). The ubiquity of "debating" partisans on cable news networks and the vitriole in what is still sadly called "the blogosphere" may make this change seem less than revolutionary. Or, for that matter, not even particularly newsworthy.

But for Reuters, whose dedication to the principle of unbiased reporting stems from its desire to be an honest broker of news from every boardroom and battlefield, this is big news. It comes despite an unambiguous editorial policy about the sanctity of impartiality:

We are committed to reporting the facts and in all situations avoid the use of emotive terms. The only exception is when we are quoting someone directly or in indirect speech. We aim to report objectively actions, identity and background and pay particular attention to all our coverage in extremely sensitive regions.


We do not take sides and attempt to reflect in our stories, pictures and video the views of all sides. We are not in the business of glorifying one side or another or of disseminating propaganda. Reuters journalists do not offer their own opinions or views.
This policy was sorely tested in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when Reuters seemed eerily alone in avoiding any form of the word "terrorist" to describe the attacks themselves or their perpetrators. Reuters took salvos from every side but remained resolute at what seemed great potential harm to its public image. Such was its commitment to even the appearance of impartiality.

But Reuters' aversion to publishing house-generated opinion as a means of appearing consistent about unbiased reporting required increasingly tortured logic. Reuters already published columns by freelancers -- many former staff correspondents -- and even third-party material from other news organizations that didn't always calculate the news-opinion divide in the same way. The struggle to seem chaste looked contrived at best and incomprehensible at worst.

Reuters has always published in-house analysis and enterprise pieces that drew conclusions, based on expert opinion sought and cultivated by reporters who strove to speak with no voice. A year or so ago Reuters dipped its toe in the undiluted opinion waters by taking a stake and becoming a customer of "Blogburst," a service which syndicates blogs by topic and publishing them alongside news on reuters.com. A significant part of the offering on its Africa news site is based on blogs aggregated by Global Voices.

The world not having come to an end after these experiments, that opinion soft launch has now gone mainstream. In his entry, entitled Argument without Invective, Schlesinger describes a kinder, gentler, approach to taking sides:
What these columns, and the ones that will join them, have in common is a mixture of facts expertise and a point of view. They won't engage in screeching name-calling or invective; they will be challenging and controversial. Agree or disagree with them as you like, but please read, be stimulated and join in the debate.
Still, it is a baby step. Call this development Opinion 1.0, barely out of beta. Reuters has designated only three journalists from its corps of more than 2,000 to write opinion pieces and none will be involved in any reporting.

The good news is that one of these newly-minted columnists is Bernd Debusmann, one of the most storied and longest serving of Reuters' correspondents, who will be writing about global issues (which means anything he wants).

Debusmann's despatches from Poland during the crackdown on Solidarity showed at least one aspiring journalist just how great journalism could be -- and how depressingly obvious it was before he even got his first break how this wannabe could never be anywhere as good. I can think of no better voice to gently move Reuters forward into the inevitable future.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dan Rather Throws It All Away

Here's a takeway for all you journalism students trying to make sense of Dan Rather's $70 million lawsuit against CBS: Don't lie. Especially on the air.

I'm not referring to the story about President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service, the flashpoint which led to Rather's ignominious departure from his journalistic home of 44 years. That may or may not have been a properly vetted story but it is clear that Rather believed in it at the time — and his lawsuit suggests that he still does.

Being wrong isn't a capital offense in journalism. Being wrong and knowing in advance that you were wrong absolutely is one, without possibility of appeal. Ask Jayson Blair or Janet Cooke.

Here is what you do when you are "instructed" to report something you don't think is true: You quit on the spot. Period. You never allow the business side to make editorial decisions. Period. You go down to the bar, order a stiff one, contact Howard Kurtz, The Columbia Journalism Review and Editor & Publisher (and TV Newser if you're a broadcaster) in any order you like.

According to his suit, CBS management "coerced" the former CBS anchor "into publicly apologizing and taking personal blame for alleged journalistic errors in the broadcast."

During the 12 days from its airing and the retraction, Rather, already flypaper for conservative tormentors, defended the story on the air against increasingly strident and convincing criticism about its authenticity. But then, instead of going down in the blaze of glory he seeks now, Rather read an apology on the Evening News. He called the story a "mistake" and added: "I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry."

Rather, in his filing, said he delivered the statement despite his "own personal feelings that no apology from him was warranted."

What we now know, because Rather tells us without a whiff of irony, is that he capitulated to pressure from the business side to say things on the air he did not believe to be true. It is hard to imagine he will ever be able to restore his reputation from this fundamentally egregious offense. Beyond that, I wonder what damage he might even have done to journalism or at the very least the already-dying evening news "Voice of God" anchor format. Questions about corporate consolidations of the news industry are newly legitimized if the allegedly unbiased editorial face of one of the oldest brands in journalism is seen to be so easily be drawn into what he characterizes as a PR charade.

The pressure he says to which CBS was acceding — mending fences with the White House — is irrelevant. Even if the business wanted to sell out in Macy's window Rather didn't have to be part of it. And, if he knew then that this was what was going on behind the scenes, it makes his decision to acquiesce even more damning.

So was Rather a tool or a fool? What is certain that this self-appointed guardian of standards — whose recent criticism of the CBS Evening News and his replacement, Katie Couric, perhaps foretold the direction his venomous anger against CBS President Les Moonves, a defendant in the current suit, would take — has provided the enemies of journalism powerful evidence that mistrusting reporters is justified.

I'm not sure what the outcome of this suit will be. Rather was shown the door but he wasn't fired, like Don Imus. He was allowed to work out his contract, perhaps albeit as a shadow of his former self. I'm sure it was humiliating. Quitting might have also let Rather retain a modicum of dignity.

But whatever the outcome of this suit Rather has damaged journalism in a way his critics would never have been able to do on their own. A prominent prince of the medium has given aid and comfort to connivers and charlatans who flourish when the public's trust in journalism is diminished.

His is a terrible admission and it ought to spark a teaching moment in J-Schools, starting today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Run, OJ — Run!


Apparently the presidential election is over and the Iraq War has ended. Rejoice one and all! OJ is a criminal defendant on cable TV news again!

But a funny thing happened on the way to the docket: All that pre-hearing blather about a battle royale between an over-zealous prosecutor and the famously cocky unconvicted criminal failed to materialize.

Despite kidnapping and armed robbery charges that could potentially land Simpson in jail for life, the D.A and Simpson's attorneys got together and made nice and have nothing but sweet praise for each other. So OJ got bail. Bail that I could make. Bail that I would lend him — but only if he promised to skip out on it.

OJ's gotta take it on the lam again. And this time he has to mean it.

OK — OJ has to turn over his passport, so leaving the county would be a little problematic and that Mexican equivalent of Miami Beach might be a bit out of reach (note to self: check out CNN B Roll footage for video of holes in the fence). But bail is a piddling $12,500 surety bond or $125,000 cash (that I can't spare). The bond is a tiny amount for a man in debt for nearly $38 million to throw away for a shot at his freedom.

I bet there are plenty of places in Wyoming or Montana or even Key West — they're still pretty loopy out there — where he could get lost for a long time, especially if he still has that fake beard, a sack of money and drives a gray Prius into the sunset instead of a white Bronco across the Causeway. I mean, they can't even find Osama and, even compared to OJ, he's a pretty awful dude a lot of people would like to get their hands on.

But this time, there can be no self-defeating cries for attention. No whimpering on Oxycontin in the back of a car threatening to "kill" himself. No hitting the road at high noon in one of the largest media markets in the world at the exact moment he is supposed to surrender. OJ has to to slink away in the dead of night and lay low.

I know, I know. Prison may be better than that hell. But hey — there are serious revenue opportunities for a fugitive so light on walkin' around money that he has hawk the sports equivalent of Hitler memorabilia through shady proxies to supplement a $400,000 NFL pension that alone can't keep him in the style to which he has become accustomed. It's got only tougher since those huge "Naked Gun" residuals have stopped pouring in.

Just spitballing: now that he's just about beat that Mexican rap I bet Dog the Bounty Hunter could be convinced to devote an entire season to tracking OJ down. Every once in a while, during long stakeouts or downtime at the end of another long day, Dog and Mrs. Dog could share a tender moment commiserating about what it's like to be falsely accused, even though they have a job to do.

I bet Simpson's lawyers could negotiate to get a piece of that action in the name of some entity the Goldmans also can't touch. Catch me if you can -- pay me either way.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. While on the run OJ could write a sequel to his memoirs and call it "If You Find Me." He could blog from parts unknown on a Google Ads supported web site. Let's see Fred Goldman hack that.

But, I'm probably just dreaming — unless the singular lack of drama at the hearing was just a smokescreen. There was no swagger and a barely audible voice from The Juice during the 10-minute proceeding. He even repeated himself once when he thought perhaps the "sir" part of a response to the judge might not have been heard. No "absolutely 100 percent not guilty" moment. Just another guy in prison garb and cuffs humbled at the bar.

Attorney Galenter says he won't try his case in the media. That's always nice to hear from a lawyer at a press conference. But there's a glimmer of hope that Galenter is media savvy. He wasn't above making an obscure film reference in court and making sure to refer to it again later while not trying the case in the media to a gaggle of reporters outside the courthouse.

Let's face it: OJ I set the bar very high 14 years ago and nothing since has come close to matching it (sorry Larry, Paris, Britney, Lindsey ...). And for many of the original cast, it was their finest hour.

Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark is now covering this case for ET — kinda one step above Court TV — and touting her incredible access on her site:

MARCIA CLARK is front and center and is sitting 12 feet behind defendant O.J. SIMPSON as he is arraigned this morning in a Las Vegas courtroom, where his girlfriend CHRISTIE PRODY appears to be crying and wiping away her tears.
Pundit Greta Van Susteren is reduced to interviewing Kato Kaelin on Fox. Prosecutor Chris Darden is in private practice, and told Oprah a year or so ago that he hadn't even told his young son of his association with the famous criminal case, the better to not tarnish the boy's childhood.

And Johnny Cochran is dead, except on TV ads and at The Cochran Firm, where surviving partners want you to know that "The Tradition Continues."

I'd say the timing couldn't be better for a little OJ diversion. Deliver us from the poseurs, OJ. Carry us through Iowa and The Surge — please.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The New York Times Sets It Free


The New York Times' decision to stop charging for content that had been behind the "TimesSelect" firewall is good news for fans of Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and 21 of their columnist colleagues. And it is more compelling evidence that charging the customer directly for online content is not a winning strategy.

TimesSelect was generating about $10 million a year, the newspaper reports, “But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.
Even television, the epitome of an ad-supported medium, found ways to charge for some content, even things that had once been free. But TV spread like kudzu only because it was all free all the time

Couple that with the announcement yesterday that AOL was moving its senior managers from Dulles, VA to New York to be closer to the ad industry -- to say nothing of its new strategy of tearing down the garden wall and putting all their content online -- and it is pretty clear where the trend lines are.

You need a very good reason to expect your readers to pay you anything. There really aren't many, and none which seem to apply neatly in consumer context.
Many readers lamented their loss of access to the work of the 23 news and opinion columnists of The Times — as did some of the columnists themselves. Some of those writers have such ardent followings that even with access restricted, their work often appeared on the lists of the most e-mailed articles.

Should Everything Be Free Always And Forever?

Can you ever charge the end-user for anything online? Sure. Even the NYT will continue to charge for some archive material. The Wall Street Journal, the first and most successful publication to create a fee-based service, does it to the tune of $65 million a year. That may be re-evaluated when News Corp. takes over and new synergies and dynamics are evaluated and, arguably, it is really a B2B service anyway.

Some services use the Web as an additional delivery system for content that is highly valued by a relatively small group of well-paying customers. And television, the medium which is the epitome of an advertiser-supported mass medium, has many pay services -- even of things that were originally free, like boxing and movies. PBS is member and sponsor supported. But it took decades to redefine and refine a market that took root only because it was all free, all the time.


B2B vs. B2C

It seems clear that while charging a niche clientele cane make sense in a B2B model it makes no sense when trying to serendipitously capture as many general readers as possible. And serendipity is the controlling force these days since most pages are accessed as the result of searches -- and to a lesser but growing extent RSS subscriptions -- not bookmarked brand loyalty.

To exploit this opportunity your content has to be available, by definition; one of the reasons cited by the NYT for their change in strategy was the frustration of readers directed by search engines to one of their TimesSelect columnists -- only to find that it was not available. It has become common to see bloggers indicate when registration is required in links to outside sites. I know I am not alone in routinely not bothering to go to such destinations.

It may not be the case that as the New York Times goes so goes the world. But I always have a hard time not slowing down when I drive past a table on the road with a sign that says "Free Stuff." The demand for free is pretty much always going to be greater than the demand for not free. The arithmetic seems pretty simple.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

At CNN, No Reuters, or bin Laden - New York Times

The gifted former TV Newser blogger Brian Stelter, now a New York Times media correspondent, has one of the first stories about the consequences of CNN's decision to dissolve its 27-year-old relationship with Reuters: they missed the story.

I say this not to gloat, since I am not short Time Warner and neither employed by (anymore) nor a shareholder (anymore) in Reuters, but to commiserate. Because if CNN's stated reason for dropping Reuters is basically accurate there will be quite a bit more of these gaps in coverage until the cable news network realizes its goal of taking the money they have saved and putting it to work for them on the street. And there is serious reason to believe that it won't be remotely possible to replace the coverage organically.

This kind of money won't go far spent a la carte. I shudder to think that CNN hopes a big part of the slack will be picked up by iReporter contributions -- but these days you never know

A Few Million Bucks Doesn't Go a Long Way

The terms Reuters was seeking for renewal is not public knowledge. The Financial Times reported the value was less than $10 million, and Reuters reported it was $3.5 million, as reported by paidcontent.org. Sources told paidcontent.org that the $10 million figure was the upwards of Reuters was expecting, which would amount to making the valid (but ultimately unconvincing) argument that even the same level of content is worth more going forward since it can be monetized in more ways.

The truth is that kind of money won't go far spent a la carte. I shudder to think that CNN hopes a big part of the slack will be picked up by iReporter contributions -- but these days you never know.

A couple of staffers in some Middle East location "with real infrastructure" can range over a couple of hundred miles for about half the $3.5 million a year CNN was paying Reuters, a long-time wire service TV professional tells me. So, for that kind of money, you buy two small hardship bureaus covering a few hundred square miles with the sort kick-ass communications a mission-critical team needs to make your network competitive. If Reuters would have settled for $7 million -- a whopping %100 increase in one contract cycle -- that means you have saved enough money for four bureaus. Remember: these can't be firemen, hours away from the story. And none of them would have got the Bin Laden video anyway.

Or, for the same money, you get the world served on a platter and somebody to complain to. You just have to share it with your competitors. But a tie is better than a loss, especially when you lose by trying for a win that is almost never possible.

Not Exactly Going It Alone

Much of what Reuters provided CNN is available from other sources with whom the network still does business, including the AP, so the network is far from being terribly exposed. But even the casual CNN watcher knows that the vast majority of their video comes from "partners" -- deals with local broadcast stations everywhere -- which collectively amounts to a domestic video news service, so the loss of a major supplier of overseas good is apt to be noticed.

This model not only works well, it may be the only one that does work. For years the broadcast networks have been cutting back on their own bureaus and relying more heavily on contractors and wires -- to save money. It is this simple: once you decide to start covering baseball yourself you have to cover every game in every city every day. Or, you pay pennies on the dollar you'd otherwise spend to have the AP do it for you.

I didn't think the public rationale for the breakup was very convincing. Even at the time it seemed to have much more to do with being penny wise than taking the opportunity to do great things suddenly possible. And CNN now does itself no favors, among those of us who may be inclined to admire the bravado of taking control of one's destiny, by explaining why airing the Bin Laden tape 30 minutes after its competitors was not a big deal, as reported by the New York Times:

A CNN spokeswoman, Megan Mahoney, downplayed the delay. “What’s important is to fully vet these kinds of videos before putting them to air, which we’ve consistently done over the years,” she said.
I wonder which blog will be the first to establish that CNN a) ran the Bin Laden tape as soon as it got the chance and b) managed to vet the Cho tapes and get them on the screen pretty darn quick.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Petraeus Speaks. Now, Let's Move On

The demonizing of Gen. David Petraeus was a dumb move(on.org). We need to get to the crux of the matter: what Petraeus says is irrelevant, even if it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Bush is running this war. Going after even the enabler-in-chief is like wasting all your ammo on the countermeasures in a dogfight.

The issue isn't whether the US military can kick open a lot of doors, or keep them shut. Indeed, the question is often how not to be as ruthless as the military could conceivably be, which is especially necessary in a war zone where most of the inhabitants are innocent civilians.

The issue is whether the fighting is a means to a realizable end. There is no point in continuing to fight if there is no hope that the suppressing fire will be used by the Iraqis to move into position, to reconcile and build their own nation.

The general cannot speak to this. Above his pay grade. Way above.

So today is just a sideshow, as far as I am concerned.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Google Special Comments

There has been a fair amount of discussion about Google's new news experiment by which they will publish comments on stories they aggregate from "those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question."

The chatter has mostly been about Google's criteria: whether it is undermining journalism and/or giving a PR gift to disgruntled subjects. But I haven't seen any discussion of what I'd say is the fundamental issue: Does Google know what it is getting into?

I agree with those who say that in not going far enough with the initiative -- open it up to everyone -- Google is choosing to empower a class that is already empowered, and which journalism exists to check. But why curtail comments and create a clunky infrastructure for authenticating "legitimate" comments that only seems to invite charges of favoritism?
Does Google really want to take a position on publishing or not publishing pushback from entities which have nothing to lose in the PR game, like Hezbollah or Al-Quaeda?

Fear that this is a unfettered megafone are unfounded, since making public statements will be challenged by, well, everyone. Global PR and marketing powerhouse Burson-Marsteller sees the pitfalls. It is a potential opportunity to take a second bite at the apple, they advise, while urging clients to be cautious:
"Clients have a great opportunity to extend the story, clarify their point of view, or correct misinformation when commenting on articles aggragated (sic) within Google News. However, given that manual intervention is required to facilitate the comments being published, a lag time may be experienced. Additionally, posting a comment may extend a story, which may or may not be desirable. Lastly, Google reserves the right not to publish all comments. Therefore, clients should not rely solely on Google News comments as their only means of responding to published news reports."
PRSquared seems to think Google will not be nimble enough to make it a great place to get in a word edgewise. "... let’s see if they can meet the challenges of Speed & Depth. Maybe they can pull it off."

Much Ado About Nothing?

This may be much ado about nothing. But the model Google has chosen seems strikingly old media. It vets submitted comments and can, at its own discretion, decide not to publish any of them. Can anybody say "Letter to the Editor (non-subjects of stories needn't bother)?

Has Google consulted with global media companies who, on a daily basis, earn the wrath of people and entities they report on? My own knowledge of the process by which one such company, Reuters, has evolved in its policy on publishing corrections and general commentary is enough to give anyone who wants to play feedback editor pause.

Does Google really want to take a position on publishing or not publishing pushback from entities which have nothing to lose in the PR game, like Hezbollah or Al-Quaeda, or a dozen or so US presidential candidates who'd love to get the last word? Or are they counting on the sort of self-restraint counseled by BM?

Having created an automated news portal many swear by and deftly avoiding criticism from content owners by directing traffic to their sites, is Google intentionally taking only a half step towards creating a community and, at the same time, making itself a target?
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Has anybody seen a story on Google News that includes a comment from a subject of the story? I'd love to see how they intend to implement this, but such stories aren't highlighted (probably sensible) so it's trial-and-error finding one. Link, anyone?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Denial is a River in Vietnam

Even if there weren't so few platitudes left in the White House manual to engulf and devour public opinion on the Iraq War, a comparison -- any comparison -- by President Bush to Vietnam would seem loopy.

Especially since Bush himself rejected that comparison not so long ago.

Especially since books about the Vietnam War have titles like "The
Making of a Quagmire
."

Especially since, in a mere couple of generations, the country from which we cut and ran and left to be overrun by our enemy has emerged as a stable nation and trusted trading partner.

Especially since when we stopped fighting over there the only people who followed us here were peace-seeking war refugees who have coalesced into one of the most quickly assimilated ethnic groups in this nation's history.

Especially since someone so well versed in history might be expected not to start a war that could be compared to Vietnam.

There is nothing left except desperate, mangled Vietnam War history lessons and hiding behind the skirts of grieving victims and victims to be, all to avoid shame from which there is no escape.
A lot has changed in 40 years. The Republicans of the pre-Nixon 1960s ran ads in the major newspapers criticizing the Vietnam policy of Lyndon Johnson that contained catchy phrases like "The United States should not be the world's policeman." Liberals of the day -- who hated the war more than anyone -- bled for the oppressed peoples of the world and believed US might should be used to liberate them. Now Republicans are pimping for regime-change and goading liberals -- who hate this war more than anyone -- to bleed for the Iraqis that they have lined up for the firing squad.

Blame where it Belongs

At least public anger now is directed squarely at the policy makers and not the people in uniform. This, too, is an enormous change: Vietnam War draftees were called "baby killers" by some protesters simply because they didn't make a difficult decision to flee to Canada, whose government and people openly welcomed draft dodgers, instead of serve. Our all-volunteer forces are collectively referred to as heros even though not a single one of them has to serve.

With all other self-interest and self-defense rationales debunked (though "They attacked us!" is still on the hit parade, thanks to lead singer Rudy Giuliani), Bush and his acolytes tell us the world is better off without evil Saddam even though he was only as evil as he ever was when he gassed his own people before the Gulf War, or when in 1994 when Veep-to Be Cheney told us we were savvy not to topple him and leave a ... horrible ... power ... vacuum ... that ... would ... leave ... untold ... numbers ... dead). They scurrilously scold the rest of us for not caring about the untold horrors that they are certain will transpire against people they put into jeopardy.

No Shame

The gaul continues with a new political ad airing now by a group lead by former White House spokesman Ari Fleisher in which a badly wounded Iraq veteran tells us "If we pull out now, everything I've given in sacrifice will mean nothing."

There is nothing left except desperate, mangled Vietnam War history lessons and hiding behind the skirts of grieving victims and victims to be, all to avoid shame from which there is no escape.

So as we await the return of a hopefully energized Congress the White House is going double-down. The rationale for war is now to make some sense of the death of every soldier, sailor and marine who has already fallen by killing more of them. It is to angrily insist that someone else's son or daughter jump into the raging river to save innocents you have thrown in.

The cynics among us might think this is just a play for time. Send in more IED fodder to forestall judgment day for the disastrous consequences of an incoherent policy until the next administration takes over and the whole sorry mess can be blamed on a Democrat who lost the war only because she lost her nerve.

The ugliest truth about the Vietnam War is that it was, after all, only about establishing US resolve. It backfired, of course, because once you are in a quagmire there are no good choices: stay in and drown, leave and accomplish nothing at great cost. This is the comparison one would think Bush would most like to avoid, but he makes it himself: "Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price for American credibility. But the terrorists see it differently."

But there is a bright side to the invocation of the "V" word from the Oval Office. At least nobody from the right can knock us for calling Iraq "Bush's Vietnam" anymore.

Historians: note the time.

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Fear vs. Hope

Times Square Hustle & Bustle, 2005

You can't dismiss fear out of hand, because bad things do happen. I think New York Mayor Bloomberg has it exactly right: he quantifies terror threats to more common disasters and tells people to get over it. It's real, but get real, according to "I'm not a candidate" Mike.

I also happen to think that Obama did make a genuine bad mistake in the uTube debate by saying he'd be willing to meet without precondition with a host of America adversaries. He fell into a trap, period. Does that disqualify him? No. But it is a demerit.

On Pakistan, Obama wasn't bold, and was foolish. We all expect, no matter what our political stripe, that the president will do anything to protect us (including torturing people). Who has ever been impeached for propping up a dictator -- or taking down an elected Commie? And as Biden has pointed out, the president has the explicit authority to do what Obama threatened. But floating the balloon has unhelpful consequences all its own.

We like to think we are high-minded but everyone wants to survive and America has extraordinary powers to do so. Kerry, as many Democrats before him, failed because he did not cut the figure of a tough guy. Hillary has an extra chore convincing voters she is, you will pardon the expression, a tough guy. She is doing it with posture and nuance and the limited ire she is drawing is proof she is succeeding at this. Obama is being too overt, perhaps because he has no record to draw upon. But it is a gamble he has to take.

But I don't think savvy alone will do it. I guarantee events will conspire to challenge the non-doomsayers. Even "Thank you for saving me from the draft" Bill might not have won in "wartime."

Anyone who hasn't placed an early bet on "I'm a tough guy when the going gets tough" might just look like a pussy on the home stretch

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking New York Times

The New York Times, starting with today's edition, has slashed 1-1/2 inches from the width of the paper "to the national newspaper 12-inch standard," it says on a front-page box. The move save on newsprint and "in some printing press locations, makes special configurations unnecessary."

The paper has retained a six-col layout and the cramped feeling of narrower columns is felt immediately; it seems as though their width is about the same as when the paper was 8-col.

Fewer Letters Fit To Print

The change appears most dramatic on the editorial page: editorials are the same width, which means that letters to the editor have lost an entire column. A special explanation is made here:
"As you can plainly see, the available space for letters has been reduced by about one-third.
There's no question that the smaller paper is easier to wield, though I suspect that the ancient technique of folding opened pages in half and reading it in quarters -- the better to turn pages on the crowded subway, a skill I learned when I was 10 years old -- will become a lost art.

"Don't worry. We are making up for the lost space in the printed paper by expanding the letters section on our Web site, where space is not an issue, and looking for ways to add space for letters on our pages."
I'm going to take a wild guess that someone who aspires to get a letter in the NYT will not be heartened to know that his chances of getting published are now better, but only online (where a copy of every letter published in the printed paper appeared anyway). Is this the right message: paper space is better doled out to four editorials and not to reader feedback?

The NYT is just following the lead of the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Washington Post, USA Today and others but this is all a bit sad, in an admittedly silly way. Changes in icons are difficult to quickly accept, especially if the reasons for the change are just practical. The New York Times has been in my home all of my life. My parents brought it home every day and there was (perhaps an urban) legend in my family that my mother's father read each edition from cover to cover.

Get Them Young

The NYT was a presence for me even in a Queens elementary school, where students were expected to subscribe on the cheap, a New York Times program that addicted generations to come in a manner that could make cigarette companies sit up and take notice. We were taught the paper's conventions about story priority, the elegance of the news pyramid and, yes, even how to hold and read it like a straphanger, with one hand.

I have not accepted the not-terribly-many changes at the NYT easily (I am still getting used to their softer ledes). Though I now appreciate the move to six columns and larger type I thought when they were introduced that they were affronts to tradition. I was in college when the standard two-section daily exploded with specialty content sections. I was not impressed -- and annoyed I had more paper to control on the subway. But by the time Circuits was scaled back to within Business -- demoted from a section it too briefly comprised on its own -- I had become a complete convert and disliked the retrenchment.

There's no question that the smaller paper is easier to wield, though I suspect that the ancient technique of folding opened pages in half and reading it in quarters -- the better to turn pages on the crowded subway, a skill I learned when I was 10 years old -- will become a lost art. The NYT itself jokes on the Editorial page that the new smaller size "will alleviate subway overcrowding" because "(a)nyone (even the mayor) reading it on the train will now take up less space."

But it might have the opposite affect. Because the pages are a bit smaller riders may feel emboldened to open them in full since the wingspan is now 12 instead of 15 inches. And, sadly, the smaller mass does make the paper a little trickier to perform New York Times Origami and coax it into submission by that nearly indescribable method of shaking and bending and pulling taut and having it collapse under its own weight I learned a long time ago.

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