Hollywood's most conflicted hack.

Hollywood's most conflicted hack.

Hollywood's most conflicted hack.

A mostly political Weblog.
Nov. 7 2003 4:26 PM

Hollywood's Most Conflicted Hack

The NYT's Weinraub misses the story again.

Every now and then auto enthusiasts, frustrated at having their path blocked by lumbering buses, toy with the contrarian idea that the roads would be more passable if only the buses weren't there--i.e. if there were no highway mass transit.  The idea seems to be that the delay caused by slow buses stopping and picking up passengers more than compensates for the number of potential drivers the buses take off the road. ... Here in Los Angeles, where there's a big bus strike, we are giving this idea a test--and it's a crock. The roads have never been worse, which is saying something. I will try to remember this the next time a belching bus cuts me off. ... [When were the L.A. roads ever passable?--ed During the '84 Olympics! Everyone stayed home. This is the Washington D.C. "Snow Emergency" Principle. If you live in the nation's capital and hear a bulletin on the radio warning that it is going to snow, there is only one responsible thing to do: Iimmediately get in your car and drive somewhere, anywhere. The roads will be empty, and it probably won't snow.] 2:12 P.M.

Saturday, November 8, 2003

The management wishes to make it clear that recent media reports of sensational allegations regarding kausfiles are without a shred of substance. The incident that someone may or may not claim to have witnessed, which was not a boating accident, never took place, and in the event bore no resemblance to the lurid charge that the scandal-mongering newspapers are currently failing to publish. Though it would be deeply, deeply shocking if it were true--we're not talking about jaywalking here, oh no!--it is not true. It is false, baseless, risible, scurrilous and taken completely out of context. So just stop thinking about it, OK? Update: No, it's not that. Update: Much worse! Update: Getting colder ... 1:39 A.M.


Friday, November 7, 2003

Who leaked the leak of the leaked Democratic strategy memo? That's what I want to know! The answer seems to be veteran GOP disloyalist Chuck Hagel. Roll Call is on the case. Here's the link, but you need to be a subscriber to read the whole thing. ... 3:50 P.M.

Another Easy One for Daniel Okrent, Public Editor! Suppose a New York Times reporter were married to the owner of a major league baseball team. Would the Times let that reporter cover the Commissioner of Baseball? Or suppose a Times reporter were married to the head of a major drug company. Would that person get to cover the pharmaceutical industry's trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America? Married to the chairman of General Motors and covering the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers? It's a no-brainer--"appearance of conflict," prophylactic rule, open-and-shut.

So why is the spouse of Amy Pascal, who runs one of the biggest Hollywood studios (as one of three Vice-Chairmen of Sony Pictures) writing a New York Times profile of Jack Valenti, head of the movie studios' trade association and lobbying arm, the Motion Picture Association of America? It doesn't take much imagination to see the potential for conflict when Pascal's husband, Bernard Weinraub, covers his wife's business. Maybe Sony wants Valenti to retire, and a nice, positive profile would be an encouraging send off. (Weinraub's piece was titled "The Man Who Unites the Moguls, Looking Ahead.") Maybe Sony needs Valenti to embark on some initiative he's resisting, and a nice, positive profile would encourage that. Maybe Sony wants Valenti to worry about what might happen in Weinraub's profile if he doesn't favor Sony over another studio. Maybe Sony, as the victim of piracy, just wants to give Mr. Valenti a nice big national soapbox to talk about the grave threat to intellectual property without too many distracting counter-arguments.


I'm not saying Weinraub would write a bland, hack, just-shy-of-fawning piece on Valenti in order to please his wife. He did write a bland, hack, just-shy-of-fawning piece, but that's probably because it's the kind of piece he almost always writes these days.  By that, I'm not saying that he's a behind-the-curve embarrassment to the Times, snickered at by other reporters, who habitually either misses the story or gets it after everyone else is sick of talking about it. ...Oh, allright, that is what I'm saying.

It's bizarre that the Times would relax its conflict-of-interest rules to get more of this buzzless voice into the paper. The paper has apparently tried to keep up appearances in the past  by not letting Weinraub write about certain topics, but that regime has obviously broken down.

Note to Bill Keller, Adam Moss: Weinraub's piece contained puffy quotes about Valenti from two studio heads, in effect Valenti's bosses. (Weinraub didn't get a quote from his own wife.)

Despite Mr. Valenti's long goodbye, his clients--the studios--don't seem in any rush to push him out the door. Two executives who were major supporters of banning videotapes and DVD's--Barry M. Meyer, chairman and chief executive of Warner Brothers Entertainment, and Peter Chernin, chairman and chief operating officer of the News Corporation, which owns the Fox entertainment group--said the job was Mr. Valenti's for as long as he wanted it.


But here's what Weinraub was either too inhibited or uninformed to report: Valenti's bosses, the studio heads, are not happy with him. Why? Because he doesn't want to pursue a litigation strategy to combat the threat of piracy (maybe because he doesn't want to end his long Motion Picture Association career in an atmosphere of contention and controversy). But the studios are insisting on litigation. In private, they do not always treat Valenti kindly, or with the reverence with which he is treated by Washington politicians and hack reporters, or even with much respect at all. They do not treat him like the job is his for as long as he wants it.

I'm not even an entertainment reporter and I know this! I write about welfare! Weinraub's glaring conflict clearly isn't giving him any special insider sources that he's using to benefit the Times. Instead, he has misinformed his readers in exactly the way he would have misinformed his readers if the conflict were actually having an impact. Do you really need to prove causality here?

There will be complex and difficult ethical decisions down the road. This isn't one of them! 2:37 A.M.

I love Whack-A-Pol, especially the little arms when they come out of their holes. But it told me I should be voting for Carol Moseley Braun. ... 12:56 A.M.


Thursday, November 6, 2003

Yikes! Now that his political career has crashed, Robert Reich is starting to say interesting things  again. (Don't worry, not too interesting.) 11:58 P.M.

It finally looks as if the economy is recovering as opposed to spiraling into a Japan-style pit of deflation and permanent Bush-induced joblessness. That means the long-awaited Krugman Gotcha Contest can begin. A prize, to be announced, for the kf reader who comes up with the gloom-and-doom opinion from the fabled Princeton economist's recent writings that now looks the most embarrassingly wrong. ... You'd assume Donald Luskin would win this contest, but he might be so blindered by Krugmanoia and right-wing economic thinking that he overlooks a juicy nugget. ... It's a big paper trail! Everybody can win! Even Brad DeLong! ... Here's  a good place to start. ... Note: No truncated quotes, edited quotes, or out-of-context quotes that don't actually reflect what Krugman is saying. Leave that to him. ... Also: Things that seemed obviously wrong at the time Krugman wrote them don't qualify. The prize is for a statement that now looks highly embarrassing in light of recent economic news. ... Send entries to Mickey_Kaus@msn.com ... (I've made highly embarrassing economic predictions myself. Here's one. But I'm not in the "circle of Those Who Get Money Calls.") ... 3:02 P.M.

Michael O'Hanlon's op-ed--on the three mistakes the Democratic candidates make in their criticism of Bush's Iraq policy--offers a framework for sanity  in the current discussion. Too bad he published it in the Washington Times, where it risks being either overlooked or dismissed as more Dem-bashing. (Note to O'Hanlon: You mean Fred Hiatt at WaPo wouldn't publish this?) ... Snipe: O'Hanlon's second point--that if we had an international coalition of troops in Iraq, the insurgents would be attacking them all just as viciously--seems his weakest. If we had an international coalition of troops in Iraq, and the insurgents (including Al Qaeda guest-terrorists) attacked them viciously, that might a) be an instructive lesson to our coalition partners about the extent to which Islamic radicalism is not directed solely at Americans and b) stimulate them to contribute more money to the stabilization effort. Certainly it's an argument Democrats can make. ... 2:51 P.M.


Daniel Drezner makes the case that a certain recent political event was the "Feiler Faster Thesis on Steroids."   It's pretty breathtaking when you look at the time-line. ...12:53 A.M.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

More work for Daniel Okrent, more ammo for those "enemies of the Times:"  TimesWatch notes the bracing surpriseNew York Times readers (like Steve Earle  and his drummer!) might have had this morning, waking up from the paper's cocoonish, anti-Bush wishful-thinking coverage of the Kentucky and Mississippi governors' races. ... In the NYT's favor, one of the boosterish stories TimesWatch cites was written back in August, when even the conservatish  RealClearPolitics  (which ultimately  called both races with impressive accuracy) might have given Kentucky Democratic candidate Ben Chandler a chance. ... In Timeswatch's favor, they  criticized the NYT for the August story back in August.... P.S.: RealClearPolitcs, even more than today's NYT, warns against reading much of a pro-Bush message into yesterday's state results. But if the Democrats had won, what would the Times have said? ...  2:34 P.M.

Fresh from patching up his  dispute with Atrios--which led to his ill-considered "demand letter"--Donald Luskin gets renewed traction against his main target, Paul Krugman, with the latter's cheap-shot use of a distorted quote from Rep. George Nethercutt. ... Easy work for Daniel Okrent, Public Editor! ... 3:09 A.M.

Times' Big UC Admissions Piece As Uncertain as it is Predictable! John Rosenberg's Discriminations  disses an embarrassing front-page story  in, yes, the L.A. Times that "is virtually dripping with defense of the University of California's admissions policies." The Times' three-byline article makes a big deal of this finding:

Latinos with low SAT scores are admitted to the University of California at rates only slightly higher than whites and Asians, while blacks who score poorly are significantly less likely to get in, according to a Times analysis.

The LAT eventually admits in the jump, however, that this conclusion does not apply at the university's "two most competitive campuses"--UCLA and Berkeley:

UC Berkeley, the original focus of the admissions debate, admitted low-scoring blacks and Latinos at twice the rate of Asians and whites with similar scores.

UCLA was about a quarter more likely to admit low-scoring African Americans and Latinos than whites and Asians.

Rosenberg notes:

When critics of race preferences argue that high standards and thus [relatively] fewer minority admissions to Berkeley and UCLA are not discriminatory because minorities are able to attend other, less selective campuses of the University of California system, they are often called racist. Now the Los Angeles Times argues that, despite highly disproportionate admissions of low-scoring blacks and Hispanics over similarly low-scoring whites and Asians at Berkeley and UCLA, there is no discrimination because in the UC system as a whole low-scorers from all groups are accepted at about the same rate.

I actually don't understand the entire basis of the LAT story. Does it tell us anything important if one ethnic group with low scores is admitted at a higher rate than another group with low scores? Doesn't the rate depend on the number of low-SAT applicants, which could vary for all sorts of reasons.

Suppose, for example, that members of ethnic group A know that if they have low SAT scores they are unlikely to get in. Since the combination of SAT scores and G.P.A. normally required to ensure admission is published on the Web, those whose scores are low just won't bother to apply. That is in fact what happens, according to the Times itself. ("... UC officials said, students with low SAT scores who are unlikely to qualify don't tend to apply.")

Now suppose many members of ethnic group B know that they have a credible claim of having overcome race discrimination--and that this might get them in under the university's "comprehensive review" policy, in which overcoming hardship can outweigh low SAT scores. These group B students are likely to apply in very large numbers even if they have low SATs. As a result, their rate of acceptance may be no higher than those of the few low-SAT applicants from group A. But that rate doesn't tell us much about whether or not university officials are bending over too far to admit applicants from Group B.

In fact, although the Times doesn't discuss it, the paper's own data shows that low-SAT "underrepresented minorities" (primarily blacks and Latinos) do apply to UC in relatively great numbers--so many that, whatever the success rates, 65% of the students actually admitted to Berkeley and UCLA with low SATs are "underrepresented minorities." Even at Riverside, the least selective UC campus, 49% of low-SAT admissions are "underrepresented minorities." How does this show that, as the Times says, "UC admissions did not appear to be racially biased" or that the the "comprehensive review" program isn't a backdoor scheme of racial preferences? It doesn't.

It doesn't show the opposite either. Even Ward Connerlyite opponents of racial preferences--and I count myself as one--shouldn't be slaves to the SAT. If ignoring the SAT and admitting students who've overcome hardships, including racial discrimination, results in admitting worthier applicants, let's do it. On its face, the ethnic breakdown of low-SAT students admitted--30% of whom are white or Asian, after all--doesn't seem that troubling. But surely there is a way to measure whether these low-SAT students actually do wind up succeeding at the university (i.e., whether the judgment of the "comprehensive review" is better than the judgment of the SAT). Isn't that the study the L.A. Times should be putting on its front page? ...

Backfill: Patterico  and BoifromTroy  made many of these points two days ago. ... Ten days ago the Oakland Tribune's Maitre and Brand wrote a good, straightforward article  reporting the relevant statistic--namely, who is in the low-SAT group that's actually admitted--rather than the LAT's showy, mostly meaningless calculations. The Tribune revealed that while 30 percent of the low-SAT admittees are indeed "White or Asian," that category is mainly Asian. Only 7% (2002) or 6% (2001) of the overall low-SAT admissions are white. About 25% are Asian. Some 17-19% are black and 44-45% are Latino. ... 2:10 A.M.

It's this weak! Could ABC News executives really have thought making George Stephanopoulos host of This Week would attract young viewers to the show? Did they actually talk to any young viewers? Stephanopoulos is transparently an old person's idea of a young person--he's made his career in that role, as the bright young assistant to a succession of powerful men (Dick Gephardt, Father Timothy Healy, Bill Clinton). He instinctively oozes alert, polite deference. Such a nice young man! Actual young people I know tend to prefer a bit of talk-back. It's not surprising, then, that This Week most recently finished last in the 25-54 demographic, in fourth place behind even Fox's Sunday show. ...

High on the list of those to whom Stephanopoulos has been overly deferential are the ABC executives who've done their best to suppress, neutralize, or eliminate any remaining traces of his political passion and sharp, insider instincts. They've turned him into George Stepfordopoulos! It started when they urged him not to give his instant take on the speeches at the 2000 conventions. Viewers didn't want to be told what to think, the theory went. But why would you have George Stephanopoulos on the show except to hear his instant take? That's what he's good for. ...

Here's a small example--actually, a pretty big example--of the way This Week has been anesthetized. On Sunday, Stephanopoulos (and George Will) interviewed defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said the following about Iraq and the larger the war on terror:

RUMSFELD: ...  To the extent foreign terrorists come into the country and we have forces there and Iraqi forces and coalition forces and US forces and we're able to capture or kill them, that is a good thing. It is better than doing it there than in Baltimore or in Boise, Idaho. Our concern, however, is that what we need to do is to find ways to make sure we're winning the battle of ideas and that we, we, we reduce the number of terrorists that are being created in the world that are being taught to go out and murder and kill innocent men, women and children and cut off people's tongues and fingers. [Emphasis added]

Why isn't the appropriate response from a questioning host:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't it a bit late to have this realization, Mr. Secretary? I mean, most of our actions since 9/11 seem to have been predicated precisely on the theory that we need to go out and kill the terrorists without worrying too much about the 'blowback' of world public opinion and whether that's creating more terrorists.

This might be what Stephanopoulos really thinks, if he even bothers these days to form opinions he can then suppress. What Stephanopouolos actually did, in the event, was move down his pathetic checklist of niggling little ABC attempts to "make news" for the Monday papers:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what do we know about the flow that's actually coming into Iraq right now? You mentioned earlier that you don't see any evidence that Saddam Hussein is coordinating this. But do you see any evidence that the remnants of the Baathist regime are coordinating with this influx of foreign fighters?

Weak! ... ABC desperately needs somebody nobody would want to hire as their assistant. Joe Klein? ... Update: ABC notes that for the Nov. 2 show--the one with Rumsfeld--Stephanopoulos' broadcast placed second among younger viewers, behind only Meet the Press. For the entire season so far, however, Stephanopolous is running third among younger viewers, behind even the AARP-ready Bob Schieffer's Face the Nation. ... 12:40 A.M.

Monday, November 3, 2003

Update: Herb Caen, first blogger? Reader D.W. writes:

I loved Caen, but he couldn't be the proto Blogger. There were many three-dot guys like Caen in other big and small dailies around the country at the same time and before Caen, according to Caen himself.

The difference, I think, is Caen wrote a long column six days a week--i.e., he was practically doing it 24/7, just like a blogger. ... Caen's product looked like a blog. It mixed personal tidbits with gossip with serious politics, like a blog. It just came on paper. ... Sometimes it even had on-rushing velocity! ... 11:36 P.M.

The bad news for Rolls is good news for social equality: The November issue of Automobile reports that Rolls-Royce's imposing new $325,000 Phantom--it doesn't look like it's owned by the head of the German Bundesbank; it looks like it is the German Bundesbank--is "not doing as well as expected." This year, "Rolls will deliver only 500 units, half the minimum projected annual sales." Why? "[N]ot because there is not enough money around but because fewer people are willing to display their wealth." .... There's virtually no hope of stopping the rich from getting richer in a free-trading market-based society. But Rolls' slump suggests there is some chance of keeping the rich in their place. [Wishful thinking?--ed I am always looking for hopeful signs. Like Mark Z. Barabak!] ... P.S.: Come to think of it, I live on the affluent, car-obsessed West Side of Los Angeles, I spend a lot of time in Beverly Hills and Brentwood, and I have never seen a new Rolls Phantom on the street--or a $308,000 Mercedes Maybach  ultraluxury sedan, for that matter. Not one. The manufacturers must be losing a fortune, betting on the foolish ostentation of the rich. ... Update: It says here in this NEXIS clip, citing a Wall Street Journal article, that Mercedes expected to sell 1,000 Maybachs a year worldwide, but for the first seven months of this year built only 278. In North America, they sold 48. ... Call it the Maydebachle! ... Let's go to the gausfiles: Five years ago Automotive News reported Mercedes planned "at least 1,500 Maybachs per year. Said [director of car development Hermann] Gaus: 'Hopefully a little bit more.'" ... It's Ishcar! ... [Thanks to reader J.H.] ... Times-bashing angle: Weird how the New York Times runs  a whole feature on the Rolls and Maybach and doesn't bother to report that neither car is selling. The NYT's Keith Martin even repeats with a straight face Rolls' claim that it plans to sell 400 cars a year in the U.S. As of August, Rolls had sold 38. But maybe there will be a big year-end clearance. ... 2:39 A.M.

Democratic Aides Increasingly Confident: Mark Z. Barabak finds two (2) Michigan voters who have soured on Bush, as the LAT front page doesn't skip a beat  in applying to national politics the pro-Democratic wishful-thinking approach that caused so many Southland readers to be bracingly surprised at the result of the recent California recall election. ... The point isn't that there are no voters who have soured on Bush, or that souring on Bush isn't a real phenomenon. The point is that reporters and editors at papers like the Times (either one!) are exquisitely sensitive to any sign that Democrats might win, but don't cultivate equivalent sensitivity when it comes to discerning signs Republicans might win. (Who wants to read that?) The result, in recent years, is the Liberal Cocoon, in which Democratic partisans are kept happy and hopeful until they are slaughtered every other November. The Cocoon is clearly still alive and well at the LAT. If you were searching for a place where Bush might be doing relatively badly on the economic issue, wouldn't you send a reporter to industrial Michigan? ... P.S.: Again, it's not that the Democrats have no chance. (I'd say the campaign is now as uncertain as it is unpredictable, wouldn't you?) But they'd have more of a chance if over the years there were more stories by Democratic self-haters like WaPo's Thomas Edsall and fewer by keep-hope-alive hacks like Barabak. ... P.P.S.:  Did you realize that suburbanites "may be key in the 2004 election?" It seems they are "worried about Iraq and the economy." Who knew?... Bonus snipe: Face it. Would Barabak have gotten where he is without the "Z"? I don't think so! ... 2:20 A.M.

Friday, October 31, 2003 

Bee minus: Edited Sacramento Bee blogger Daniel Weintraub links, without comment, to "The Case Against Editors." Bet he would have had a comment if he didn't have an editor. ... 1:40 P.M.

Bonus Gratuitous LAT-Bashing: LA Weekly'sNikki Finke reports that no less than five journalists  turned down the chance to fill Pulitzer-winning TV critic Howard Rosenberg's slot at the L.A. Times, in theory a prime perch at the paper. Finke tactfully attributes the humiliating multiple rebuffs to "L.A.-phobia"--fear of moving to L.A.. But are we sure "L.A.T.-phobia"--fear of the Times' spotty and P.C. reputation--wasn't a factor? Somehow I think that if the Times was a better paper at least one of those five writers might have made the immense sacrifice of moving to the nation's second-largest city. If the Times can't even get entertainment writers to move to L.A. ... 4:16 A.M.

Spun by a Coard: Has the LAT been spun on the invasion of Grenada?  Carol Williams' 10/25 story--which draws an analogy to the invasion of Iraq--does its best to leave the impression that the 1983 American takeover may have been responsible for the death of charismatic leftist Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. Williams' piece does note that "hard -line Marxist rivals" deposed Bishop before the invasion. But then it says that "he and his allies were killed six days later" and adds ominously that "grave doubts remain about who ordered and conducted the executions." The photo caption in the print edition actually says "Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and others were killed in October 1983, after the U.S. invaded." [Emphasis added.] ...

In fact, Bishop is universally reported to have been killed on October 19, 1983, five days after the internal coup against him but six days before the U.S. invaded on October 25. (In that six day period Bishop's killing was officially condemned by numerous countries, including Fidel Castro's Cuba.)  As for who killed Bishop, does Williams have any evidence that disputes the conventional account, accepted  on the left  and right and backed by witnesses, that Bishop was killed by Grenadan soldiers serving a hard-line faction of Bishop's own leftist New Jewel movement--the crime for which Bishop's New Jewel rival Bernard Coard has been convicted and imprisoned? All Williams offers to support the "grave doubts" about this basic account is the statement of ... Bernard Coard, who "intimated" to her in a prison interview that "the executions were the work of two Grenadian quislings of the CIA."  ... Of course, if the Grenada invasion didn't kill the U.S. government's enemy (Bishop) but instead overthrew the people who killed the U.S. government's enemy, that complicates Williams' Hussein/Iraq analogy. It's possible that Williams didn't turn in the unsupported revisionism the LAT published, but that her piece was hacked into its muddled, anti-U.S. form by tendentious editing designed to enhance the Iraq parallel. ... Paranoid afterthought: Hmmm. Of course, if CIA provocateurs did secretly help foment the Marxist coup within New Jewel that gave the U.S. a pretext to invade, well ... that would have been more ingenious and effective CIA work than we're used to hearing about. It also would have been wrong. But it wouldn't make the LAT's botched account right. ... 3:35 A.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]