Super Bowl Note: It's not the nipple, stupid!

Super Bowl Note: It's not the nipple, stupid!

Super Bowl Note: It's not the nipple, stupid!

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 6 2005 5:34 AM

It's Not the Nipple, Stupid!

Plus the Weinraub Reader's Companion.

It's Not the Nipple: A Super Sunday reminder to Frank Rich and other righteous anti-FCCers: The big problem with last year's Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake halftime show was not that people saw Jackson's breast. It wasn't what Jackson did that was offensive. It was what Timberlake did. Here was a massively popular, relatively hip singer whose message was that it was a hip, transgressive thing for men to rip clothes off women when they feel like it (which is quite often). I watched the game with a group of non-evangelical, non-moralistic dads who were uniformly horrified. The problem for them wasn't sex--their kids see flesh all the time in videos--but a form of sexism, not prudery but piggishness. Surely there are some types of behavior--homophobia, perhaps, or racism, or Republicanism--that even Frank Rich wouldn't want implicitly endorsed during a telecast watched by most of the country's teens and pre-teens. Yet the press has effectively recast this complicated issue as an uncomplicated case of "Nipple-gate," of blue-noses overreacting to the sight of a breast. No wonder red staters respond negatively when New Yorkers call them simplistic. ...2:06 A.M.

Friday, February 4, 2005

Kurtz Stays Silent  in  Eason Jordan Controversy! Day 7. ...Seriously, isn't this something you'd expect WaPo's media reporter to cover, one way or another? ... Update: Apparently the videotape of Jordan's remarks is available. No doubt Kurtz will vigorously pursue the tape, which doesn't look very hard to get. (Who would want to suppress the truth?) Then he can "cablecast" the video on his show, "Reliable Sources," on CNN! Piece of cake. ... An easy week for Kurtz!. ... P.S.: You, the reader, can ask Kurtz about all this on Monday's WaPo "Media BackScratch"--I think I've got that name right. ... Questions can be submitted now. ... Servers are standing by! ...12:29 P.M.


Bush's Social Security Strategy: Lose Quickly? If you were a Republican congressperson terrified of getting clobbered over Bush's "personal accounts" proposal for Social Security, what would be your biggest wish? Not that Bush fight for the idea, or that he not fight for the idea. Your wish would be that whatever Bush does, the fight be fought quickly, within a few months--leaving plenty of time to recover before the 2006 mid-term election. ... That is why the reports that Bush is pushing for an ambitiously expedited consideration of his proposal aren't necessarily a sign of strength, or of a cunning high-pressure Rovian strategy for victory. They may be a strategy to lose quickly, with minimal harm done to the Republican majority. ... And maybe this get-it-over-with realism, not grandiose ambition, explains Bush's decision to pursue Social Security revision before tax revision. ...3:08 P.M.

Everybody Loves Bernie! Now-former N.Y. Times Hollywood correspondent Bernard Weinraub's seemingly confessional exit article  got big play in last Sunday's paper, but it has not met with good reviews. The criticism seem to fall into at least four categories.

1. Weinraub's pathetic, insecure money envy: The key incident here is when Weinraub admits he was embarrassed to drive a two-year old car.

Waiting for a valet at the Bel-Air Hotel to bring my company-leased Ford, I once stood beside a journalist turned producer who said, "I used to drive a car like that." Though I'm ashamed to say it, I was soon hunting for parking spots near Orso or the Peninsula Hotel to avoid the discomfort of having a valet drive up my leased two-year-old Buick in front of some luncheon companion with a Mercedes. [Emphasis added]


Nikki Finke of L.A. Weekly writes that "what oozes from [Weinraub's piece] is the gunky notion that a journalist wanted to live like the people he covered here." (And Finke's a Weinraub pal!) Variety's Brian Lowry says:

Weinraub's first-person account suggests that he acquired the two worst traits an entertainment journalist can possess -- harboring contempt toward those whom he encountered while simultaneously being overly star-struck and financially envious ... feeding the perception that we can't attend a shindig at producer Brian Grazer's estate (very nice, by the way) without immediately contemplating how to sell out so we can buy our own.

Of course, Weinraub confessed his valet trauma on his own, which should count for something. He clearly wants heroism points for the self-revelation.  But is he being a)genuinely self-critical--e.g. he now realizes how silly and immature it was to feel "diminished" by his failure to drive a Mercedes-- or b)residually self-pitying, as if he wants the reader to still feel sorry for poor Bernie the journalist forced to cover people much richer than he is? There are enough cloying, self-glorifying references to his initial "string of modest, even shabby apartments" and his alleged goggle-eyed awe at a Coldwater Canyon house ("I had never seen a home like this")--plus enough implicit crowing about his subsequent marriage to a rich studio head-- to conclude that the mix is at least 70% (b). Weinraub apparently believes that the situation in Washington, D.C.--where reporters are in the same lifestyle ballpark as the people they cover while trumping most of them in status--is the normal and appropriate social order, when in fact it's the exception.

(Weinraub's real problem, of course, wasn't that he drove a two year old car. It's that he drove a Buick! Duh! No wonder he was embarrassed. It's a boring car. There are hundreds of two, ten and twenty year old vehicles Weinraub could have driven that cost the same or less than a two-year-old Buick and wouldn't have been embarrassing at all to a sane person. A Buick says "I'm clueless and I need a truss." It's a style and vitality question, not a money question--and it's revealing that Weinraub sees only the latter.)


2. His snobby caste expectations: Weinraub meets producer Dawn Steel, the owner of the Coldwater home that so impressed him.

What made it strange was that Ms. Steel was a girl from Long Island - smart, funny, neurotic. She had no airs. She and so many others in Hollywood seemed like people I knew. I grew up with them. And yet they earned bizarre amounts of money that lifted them into a different universe.

She's from Long Island too, he grew up with people like her, yet now she's richer than he is! How can that be? ... Does Weinraub think America is a caste system in which the rich have different accents, origins, etc? Here he seems almost 100% unaware of what his shock at Steel's ordinariness implies.

3. Now He Tells Us--Sort Of: When Weinraub married Columbia studio head Amy Pascal--which is like marrying the head of GM while covering Detroit--people started attacking him for the obvious conflict of interest. Warner Brothers attacked him. Mike Ovitz attacked him. Now--conveniently!--Weinraub admits, "I should have left the movie beat right then [when he married Pascal] if not sooner". But he doesn't admit that Ovitz and Warner Brothers were right. Quite the contrary, he's still angry at them and uses his farewell piece to get even, self-servingly quoting Ovitz complaining to the Times' top editor, "Bernie Weinraub just killed me." Weinraub suggests, classically, that his only problem was an "appearance" of conflict, which allowed these Hollywood operators to "savage" him.

"I underestimated how closely I would be watched, or how quickly Hollywood would jump on my marriage as a way to get an edge in coverage by the New York Times."


Not quite a full confession, that. Weinraub's sin was ignoring not an appearance but an actual conflict, a gross violation of professional norms, pretending it could be cured by not covering his wife's business (as if covering her competitors didn't present the same conflict). [OK, but name an actual, compromised story?-ed How about Weinraub's semi-fawning and misleading piece about how movie industry lobbyist Jack Valenti's bosses, the studios (e.g., Weinraub's wife) "don't seem in any rush to push him out the door"? Within three weeks the L.A. Times reported that Valenti was leaving.] 

P.S.: The web of conflicts around Weinraub's marriage was actually fairly complicated and subtle. Reporters were also scared to gossip about stories with Pascal for fear she'd tell her husband and the stories would wind up in the NYT. Reporters were scared to criticize Weinraub in public for fear they'd lose access to Pascal. Weinraub seemingly misses all this.

4. What It Means for Journalism! Why wasn't the New York Times embarrassed by Weinraub, if he wasn't embarrassed for himself? It seems troubling enough to have a reporter so transparently desperate to curry favor with the people he covered, to be liked by them and be as rich as them. (Weinraub zings mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg for not returing his calls once he'd left the movie beat. But why was Weinraub still calling him?) The marriage to a top executive should have been the deal-breaker. Some say the Times knew it had a problem, but Weinraub was protected by an old boy network. My guess is that the Times let Weinraub embarrass himself because it didn't care to cover the entertainment industry as an actual, riveting business story, but rather as if it were a wacky foreign country. They're crazy out there, those Hollywood people! They say they want to help the poor but they're rich! Conflicts don't matter that much if all you want is local color and cliche.

P.S.: That's why it's a little fake for me--or Weinraub's other critics--to pretend that his coverage was so weak because of his conflict of interest or because his pitiful status anxiety caused him to pull punches. His coverage was weak-- just when you were completely sick of an over-reported Hollywood story he'd put it on the NYT front page. But maybe it would have been weak without the conflict and the insecurity.  Maybe he's just, you know, not very good!


P.P.S.: But his Chuck Berry profile wasn't bad. 2:02 A.M.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Big Story of the Day: Peter Beinart gets close to $600,000  for expanding his essay "A Fighting Faith" into a book, as part of a two-book deal, reports Rebecca Dana of the New York Observer. .. Now he can drive a Bentley like Peter Martins! Kf is Weinraubish   with spiteful, child-like envy. ... 8:09 P.M.

kf's Cheap Post-SOTU Punditry: Not exciting, but highly effective. Or, rather, highly effective because it wasn't exciting. Bush saved the apprehension-inducing vision of global freedom until the very end, where it was condensed into two easily-tolerated paragraphs. Did somebody in the White House take Peggy Noonan's criticisms seriously? ... Equally important, Bush gets big points for discussing how to fix the system with a series of possible Social Security benefit cuts (including means-testing!) before even mentioning his prized personal accounts. ... The potential problem, of course, comes when voters realize the necessary benefit cuts will be much smaller without personal accounts--if we just fix the current system--than with them. Separating the two issues ((1) the fix, (2) the personal accounts) makes it much easier for voters to come to this realization. ... But any solution, even a Democratic one, is easier because of Bush's pain-first approach today. ... And Bush will be able to take credit for any solution. He didn't seem to stake his presidency on personal accounts, thereby lowering his exposure should they be defeated. Democrats salivating at the prospect of beating Bush on this issue and regaining majority status--the way Gingrich & Co. beat Clinton over health care and welfare--must be very frustrated. ... This was the anti-overreach speech. ..

Update: CW Inertia The NYT's Todd Purdum seems to have heard the grand, "sweeping" speech he expected Bush to give as opposed to the speech Bush actually gave. ... When the facts go against the safe, hack, preordained CW theme, print the safe, hack, preordained CW theme!  ... Was Purdum's outline written two days ago?... 

Memo to Chris S.: I'm a boomer. I'm 53.  Not in Bush's lifeboat!  A new notch baby! There are plenty more where I came from. I don't think Bush is guilty of "telling the politically influential baby boomers ... that they need make no sacrifices." I suspect there may even be more boomers outside the boat than in. ... Never trust anyone over 55! ...P.S.: I'm all for means-testing current beneficiaries--those are the generations that made out like bandits, thanks to low mid-century tax rates and repeated benefit hikes. But if you're considering cutting benefits of non-affluent and middle class workers--not just the top third--it's hardly crazy to protect those who are about to retire. 55 seems a reasonable line to draw. ...

More: But did he hide the clawback? ... Update: But see WaPo's credibility-sapping corrected version here. ... The final crow-eating paragraph is especially confusing. ... 7:31 P.M.

kf SOTU Prevu! Alert reader G.S. notes that this is a great chance for Bush to win over potential "how I stopped worrying and learned to love the war Democrats." Also to calm down everyone alarmed by the prospect of continued semi-manic historymaking contained in his inaugural. Even National Review's Rich Lowry now concedes "there were excesses in President Bush's inaugural speech."** ...The dramatic tension here is between a public that yearns for "normalcy" after three years of war and a President determined to leverage as much revolutionary change as possible before his term expires. ... On domestic policy, at least, the Constitution is designed to frustrate Bush. You don't get a big change through both houses of Congress just because lots of well-meaning, powerful people think it's a great idea! You normally need strong and persistent popular demand (e.g.. for tax cuts, or welfare reform) or outrage (e.g. Watergate) or a crisis (e.g.. the 1983 Social Security fix). ... An exception, I suppose, is the 1986 tax reform, a big changed pushed mainly by wonks, op-editors, and some public anger at rich corporations and citizens who paid no tax. But tax reform had stronger bipartisan appeal than private accounts. .. What would help Bush, in everything he tries to do, is if his speech conveyed not modesty necessarily but some signal that he's grounded in reality and recognizes the limits of his power. We don't need "vision." We've had enough vision for now. ...

**: Take a look at Kennedy's 1961 inaugural--it's much more modest.

P.S.:  Patriot of the Week Award goes to Sen. John Kerry  for appearing on Meet the Press and being just as petty, negative, solipsistic ("I laid out four steps ..."), self-serving, inarticulate and semi-delusional  as his many reluctant supporters  feared he might be in office, thereby allowing millions of Democrats and independents to feel more comfortable with their president and putting in place the preconditions for a vast, bipartisan coming-together surge of national unity! ... A deeply satisfying performance. ... He could have been good! But no--he chose instead to put his country first. ... 1:27 P.M.

Has CNN's Eason Jordan been storytellin'? ... P.S.: The world awaits the vigorous investigative report on this prominent CNN executive by WaPo media reporter Howie Kurtz, who emails Jim Geraghty  "We are taking a look." ... Don't worry. It's not as if CNN has Kurtz on its payroll or anything! ... Oh, wait. ... Update: Here's what CNN has put out  on the Jordan controversy. ... 2:14 A.M.

None Dare Call It Nothing: Democratic calls for an "exit strategy" from Iraq don't seem irresponsible or defeatist. They seem contentless. Isn't it clear that the new Iraqi government will kick us out at the earliest possible moment? Who needs an "exit strategy"? ... If it develops that the Iraqis are failing to train or field their own troops because they like having Americans around to do the dying, then maybe it will be time for "timetables." At the moment, though, hostility to the occupation seems to guarantee an "exit." ... N.B.: Even Sen. Kennedy's call for a "timetable"--supposely so radical a plan that other Dems won't touch it--is a call for a "negotiated" timetable, with merely a "goal" of withdrawal in 2006. It's contentless too! ...Sometimes Washington is almost 100% posturing. This looks to be one of those moments. ... 1:38 A.M.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Inevitable: More captured GIs. ... Just as inevitably, it won't always be a joke. (Credit to Drudge   and Wizbang for blowing away the AP's doll-taken-hostage story) 1:46 P.M.

Another reason the LAT should hire Lloyd Grove--he already has Hollywoodesque (dare I say Weinraubian) notions of fair compensation:

Artsy tongues are wagging about the late-model Bentley that the New York City Ballet company's ballet master, Peter Martins, has been spotted tooling around town in lately. Martins is a world-famous dancer, but he earns only around $619,000 from the nonprofit ballet company - hardly the sort of cash to be buying a $200,000-plus automobile. [Emphasis added]

If you make $619,000 a year, you can afford a "late-model Bentley." This must be a typo. But which digit is wrong? ...Update: An email from Grove suggests that it's not a typo. Yikes....Note to Lloyd: The Bentley Continental is popular because it's the el-cheapo super-luxury car-- only about $150,000! E-Z monthly payments! Bentley's owned by VW now, remember. An actual Rolls-Royce (now owned by BMW) costs more than $300,000. ... P.S.: Looks like Grove has gone full New York--he thinks $619,000 is a modest, non-profit salary, and he doesn't understand why anyone would spend money on a car. ... P.P.S.: Still a good item! ... 12:44 P.M.

Andrew Sullivan says he's decided to "put the blog as you've known it on hiatus for a few months" to work on bigger projects. I believe this is a long-planned move because I've had similar fantasies myself. The short deadline usually beats the long deadline, and a blog is a continuous short deadline. If Sullivan, who's much more disciplined than I am, finds it hard to write a book while blogging, I have no hope at all. ... My current strategy, though, is not to quit blogging abruptly but to gradually lower the quality, frog-in-pan style. Take it to the next level down! So far so good. ... P.S.: Of course Sullivan will not actually stop blogging either. I suspect he'll post more often than he's currently planning. Ask John Ellis ... 1:53 A.M.

Monday, January 31, 2005

If the L.A. Times Disappeared ... Someone (not Michael Kinsley!) leaked me a copy of the email LAT editor John Carroll sent around to his staff after his paper graciously ran a column of mine arguing the Times should run gossip columns and generally have more of a tabloid sensibility:

From: Carroll, John - LA Times 
Sent: Thursday, January 20, 2005 ...

Subject: Kaus critique

As I trust you noticed on Sunday, we're experimenting with a column called "Outside the Tent," wherein non-staff critics are given space in the paper to expose our shortcomings. I've heard some pro and con comment on the first article, by Mickey Kaus. My feeling is that Kaus has a point.

I'm not sure I'd want to get as tabloidish Kaus would have us, but, let's face it, we don't do all that much to portray local political figures (with the exception of Arnold) as much  more than cardboard cutouts. Based on my reading of the paper, I'd be hard-pressed to say much about, for example, the personality or character of any member of Congress from Southern California. When we do write about them -- which isn't often enough -- we seem squeamish about going beyond the dry issues. Where are the telling biographical details? Where are the anecdotes? Where are the foibles? Where are the touches of personality that linger in our memories? Such details can be meaningful; at minimum, they do much to engage people in reading about politics.
We can discuss at our next meeting. In the meantime, please take this criticism to heart.


Thanks to Carroll for the support, but ... didn't he, er, miss the point completely? You make the call! The point I thought I was trying to make is that the Times should have a gossip column--several, actually, but one would be a start. (Hire away Lloyd Grove from the Daily News! He's good, and he can go highbrow if that's what Times editors want.) The point was not that the paper should have telling details and good anecdotes in its ordinary stories! If it doesn't try to do that already, it really should go out of business. ...

Actually, that raises another issue the Times' editors could discuss at their next meeting: Would Los Angeles be better off if the Times magically, without loss of human life, disappeared from the face of the earth? It's a no-brainer! It's not as if losing the Times would leave the city without a paper. New journalistic organizations would form and expand to fill the void. Some of them would be good. All would be free to actually be lively and irreverent, without the dead weight of the Times bureaucracy and its historic faux-East-Coast confusion of stiff journalism with serious journalism.

A friend of mine once coined a term for Michael Wolff's old New York Magazine media columns--they were "topic-killers." Wolff would hit on a great subject and write a mediocre column about it--but a column just good enough to prevent other, better columnists from writing about the same thing. The Times has a similar effect on Southern California journalism--it's weak, but it's profitable enough to stay in business and preclude any better paper from getting started. In this sense, it's a tragedy for the region that the Times is slowly improving under Carroll--that means the prospect of it collapsing completely, and making space for a real, New York-style political culture, is slowly disappearing. ... 8:37 P.M.

This has to be old, but has someone written the piece that actually explains how Republican states became "red," even though red is the color of communism and blue is the color of Republican hair? ... It wasn't always so. Here's a site that goes with the originally more intuitive Dems-are-red  convention. ... P.S.: Safire mentioned  the shift in a column but didn't come close to getting to the bottom of the media conspiracy. ... Update: Kevin Drum has an on-point post  that raises as many questions as it answers! ...[Thanks to reader J.] 1:13 P.M.

What Was Teddy Thinking? It seems insane for Senator Ted Kennedy to give a high profile speech, three days before the Iraq election, publicly declaring the administration's Iraq policy a "catastrophic failure" and a "disaster."  Even if that's what Kennedy thought, why would he put himself in the position where a successful election could make him look at least temporarily like a fool (as, apparently, it has)? ...It's not as if Kennedy differed all that much from Bush in the way of actual recommendations for the future. (Even his much-publicized "timetable" for withdrawing U.S. troops would be something we'd "negotiate;" his 2006 deadline is only a "goal.") ... And why would John Kerry go on Meet the Press even after the election's success was obvious and offer only the most grudging, complaint-drenched words of praise. ("It is significant that there is a vote in Iraq. But ...) Kerry's pathetic, but is he that pathetic? ...  Fred Barnes offers an explanation for this seemingly bizarre behavior: Democrats think the lesson of Newt Gingrich and Clinton is that you have to ruthlessly criticize an incumbent if you want to win back Congress. Yet, as Barnes notes, this monotonic Democratic opposition is only further alienating the middle-class suburban voters whose support the party needs. Kennedy and (especially) Kerry must know this. It's January 2005, after all. Democrats can afford to jump on the "Yay--Iraqi Elections!" bandwagon now--they'd still have plenty of time to ruthlessly attack Bush in the 22 months before the next U.S. election ... Here's an alternative theory: Money. It used to be that at this stage, opposition party leaders would be making conciliatory noises in an attempt to please voters, and conservative or centrist noises in an attempt to please business lobbyists and PACs. But maybe the amount of money that can be raised over the Internet from Democratic true believers is now more important than PAC money. And if you want to draw a Dean-like share of this Web loot, you have to be ruthless in bashing Bush. Not all the consequences of Internet politics are benign. ... P.S.: Note that this theory explains Barbara Boxer's behavior too. ... 1:57 A.M.

Marc Cooper thinks newspapers like the LAT should free reporters to say "what they're thinking"  without the need to mechanically balance their pieces with opposing views. I agree. Cooper says, accurately:

[The] Times' reporting ... often reads as if written by acrobats in pain — skilled professionals twisting themselves and their copy into knots as they strain to "balance" what they are actually seeing with the sometimes fantasy-based spin of both Iraqi and U.S. officialdom.

Sunday morning's pre-election report by Alissa Rubin is a classic acrobat-in-pain production. ... But the piece also points up the limits of Cooper's solution: It's not too hard to figure out from Rubin's piece what she's thinking! She agrees with the "skeptics" who think the insurgency's strength will prompt Iraqis to readily trade the rule of law and human rights--"the language of democracy"--for security. She's not alone in this (she has Fareed Zakaria, Lawrence Kaplan and, on alternate Thursdays, Andrew Sullivan on her side). But the deeper problem for the Times may not be unleashing such reporters to say what they think; it's the possibility that what Times reporters think may be wrong. (Cooper suspects, for example, that they would have told us the election was likely to be a "disappointing farce," the phrase used in a Times editorial last week. He's probably right.) ... The answer isn't to balance each story with quotes from the other side; it's to balance the Times staff with reporters of differing political instincts. ... Caveat: On the other hand, I know very few reporters, Mark Steyn excepted, who've been to Iraq and are privately optimistic about the long-term outcome. It can't just be that they exaggerate the nation's lack of security because they, as Western reporters, find it impossible to get out and about to do their jobs. Yet none--including Rubin and Kaplan-- are especially convincing doomsayers. ... 1:07 A.M.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Non-excitable BoiFromTroy notes the bad news from Iraq:

As voting ended, turnout was estimated at 72%. ... [I]t reflects a 28% decline from voting in Iraq'a last election. Furthermore, the unity that marked Iraq's 2002 election has been dissolved by the Bush Administration's divisive policies. The consensus which marked the last election has fallen apart to the point that one party may not even gain a majority.

4:59 P.M.

The Wounded, Bleeding Rat on WaPo's Kitchen Floor! As argued in Scrutineer:Washington Post'sFred Hiatt says that Maggie Gallagher would have been "fired" for doing remunerative work for the government while writing about the Administration's marriage policy for the Post editorial page. But it's OK for Howie Kurtz to do work for CNN while writing about CNN? Is Time-Warner's corporate money somehow cleaner and less corrupting than the U.S. government's? ... 4:17 P.M.

MinuteMan answers Sullivan's quiz for me--accurately, for which I thank him. ... P.S.: Meanwhile, kf appears to have succeeded in its secret plan to sow discord in the gay conservative blogger bloc. ... 4:01 P.M.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

"Sharon Does Davos": (Headline on Drudge.) Great! Maybe he'll meet with Abbas. ... What's that ? ... 4:04 P.M.

A Rock in Turbulent Times: Here's Andrew Sullivan on television a week ago, answering Chris Matthews' question about the Iraq elections:

MATTHEWS: Define success.

Mr. SULLIVAN: Success is 80 percent turnout in--in most of the regions, extremely enthusiastic voting among the Kurds and the Shias, and better than expected among the Sunnis.

Here's Sullivan yesterday on his blog:

Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud.

And today:

My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. [Emphases added]

His standards are falling faster than the New York Regents'! [But he said it on TV with such certitude--ed Always does.] ... Update:Alert emailer J.N. writes: "Under 200 murdered is a HIGHER standard than under 500 murdered.  Isn't it?" Yes. The point isn't that his standards are going rapidly down, or up, or down and up at the same time. The point is he's faking it. 11:43 A.M.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Noonan vs. Wright: Here's why, as a slavish follower of my colleague Robert Wright, I haven't been doing my share in giving Peggy Noonan the Strange New Respect she deserves as a newly-prominent Bush critic: Noonan recoils from Bush's moral preening and mini-megalomania. But she grounds her critique in realism-- the world's an imperfect place and you shouldn't expect too much. ("Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.") In today's NYT, Wright also recoils from Bush's moral preening and mini-megalomania, but he grounds his critique in teleological optimism. History is moving ineluctably toward freedom and prosperity--Bush's mistake isn't in trying to eradicate tyranny completely but in failing to see just how doomed it is. Wright and Noonan might have similar criticisms of possible future Bush attempts at 'forcing the spring' of freedom. Wright's op-ed is particularly caustic about the Bush reaction to Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions. But whether he admits it or not, Wright (who supported Kerry) is fundamentally more sympathetic to Bush's grandiose thrust than Noonan (who campaigned for Bush) is. Maybe I've been brainwashed by Wright's Nonzero, but I am too. ... 1:46 A.M.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Excitable Andrew Watch: On the Chris Matthews Show that aired last Saturday, Andrew Sullivan was giddily upbeat about the result of the war in Iraq and, in particular, the coming elections:

Mr. SULLIVAN: We are going to have these elections, Chris, and I--the other thing, I think that there's going to be--people are going to be shocked at how successful they are. ...[snip]

MATTHEWS: Define success.

Mr. SULLIVAN: Success is 80 percent turnout in--in most of the regions, extremely enthusiastic voting among the Kurds and the Shias, and better than expected among the Sunnis.

MATTHEWS: [snip] Does they war in Iraq increase or decrease American power in pushing democracy in other countries? Nine of you say Iraq hurts, three say it helps the president's chances of achieving his goals in the world.

Andrew, you say it helps. A bloody war helps us sell...

Mr. SULLIVAN: Of course it helps. When we see, as we will , see ordinary Iraqis voting for the first time to forge their own destiny in the future, it's going to be an extraordinary moment.


MATTHEWS: But if you polled Iran, would it be hostile to America?

Mr. KLEIN: They're overwhelming faithful.

Mr. SULLIVAN: No, it would be overwhelmingly positive towards the United States...

MATTHEWS: Would it be?

Mr. SULLIVAN: ...and that's the other point about Iraqi democracy. The signal it will send to Iran, which is our real enemy right now, will be enormously helpful. I'm a--I'm a complete optimist about this. I think it'll--I think it'll work. [Emph. added]

But in today's blog, after reading a pessimistic article  by another former bullying hawk--TNR's Lawrence Kaplan--Sullivan is almost distraught:

The failure is in part a failure to get the U.S. bureaucracy to support liberal institutions and groups; but it is also simply a failure of order and security. Democracy was always going to be hard in Iraq. But democracy amod chaos and violence is close to impossible. And we never sent enough troops or conducted a smart enough post-victory occupation plan to maintain order and defeat a fledgling insurgency while we still could. So we are now left to ask ordinary Iraqis to risk their lives in order to leave their homes and vote. ... [snip]

Our predicament is that you cannot have democracy without order and you cannot have a new order without democracy. Do I want the elections to succeed? Of course I do. Only those blinded by partisanship or cynicism wouldn't. Maybe a democratic miracle can occur. But at this point it would be exactly that: a miracle. So pray, will you? [Emph. added]

Sullivan has many virtues, but steadiness of judgment is not one of them. This isn't a man you want to follow into battle. Unfortunately, many Americans did. ...It's not as if something happened in the past week that made the Iraq situation look darker than it did last Friday. More the opposite so far, I'd say.

P.S.: Kaplan seems to regard a victory by the Sistani slate as a near-disaster, the triumph of "illiberalism." The "elections will showcase a cartoon version of democracy, a process of choosing leaders and not much more." Choosing leaders--gee, is that all? One wonders just how insanely inflated Kaplan's expectations were when he urged the country into the war. ...

P.P.S.: On the Matthews show, Sullivan was about to defend Sistani when he got cut off. Whatever point he was going to make, he'd forgotten it by Thursday evening. I think I would agree with it, though. ...

P.P.P.S.: To show that Iraqi voters have abandoned the idea of a secular state, Kaplan relies on a poll from last August. Is that the best he can do?. There is certainly more recent, and more encouraging, evidence. ... 10:14 P.M.

Reader "W" emails:

What is the mechanism whereby conservative radio hosts and print scribes all say exactly the same thing at the same time? I am a conservative talk show junkie.and I am always amazed at the coordination of message. When something negative to the Administration is written or occurs, almost instantly there is a flood of identical, defensive,debating points afloat. Is there a master script? If  so, who decides what it contains? How is it distributed? E-mail? Web-site?

I think this fabled master script does exist! I have a friend who claims to have seen it. ... 4:27 P.M. 

'The only ones confused were the leakers and the people I leaked to!': Mystery Pollster seemingly catches self-righteous poll-snafu impresario Warren Mitofsky leaking early exit poll results! And those results were way off. ... And the evidence is on acetate! ... P.S: The last-ditch Mitofsky defense is now emerging. 'The 2004 exit polls weren't especially screwed up. I screwed up the earlier polls too!' ...  4:08 P.M.

Not shattered enough: Stephen Glass, who betrayed his TNR colleagues and then tried to capitalize on the notoriety with a bad novel, is scheduled to "step out from behind the scenes to perform fresh, original comedy" at L.A.'s Skirball Cultural Center on Friday. Yecch. ... The Skirball is "dedicated to exploring the connections between four thousand years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals." Is Glass a part of Jewish heritage that needs more exploring? ... Credit: I stole this news from Fisbhowl L.A. ... 3:59 P.M.

Blumenthal's most effective outletDrudge!2:28 P.M.

Bush's most effective critic: "To declare that it is now the policy of the United States to eradicate tyranny in the world, that we are embarking on the greatest crusade in the history of freedom, and that the survival of American liberty is dependent on the liberty of every other nation--seemed to me, and seems to me, rhetorical and emotional overreach of the most embarrassing sort. ... [D]on't clobber the world over the head with your moral fabulousness." [Emph. added] 3:37 A.M.

I like JetBlue, but some of the planes seem to be getting a little grotty. Five hours inhaling the rich aroma of seats that have been sat in by thousands of sweaty travelers on the packed flights of an airline that can't afford to deep clean the interior too often--not so pleasant! But JetBlue also has lots of new planes, and I've discovered a secret, near-foolproof way to tell the new ones from the old ones without memorizing tail numbers: They all have a "name" painted on the nose, a name with the word "Blue" in it. The earlier, older planes got the obvious names ("True Blue"). Later planes, of necessity, got more far-fetched names ("Here's Looking at Blue, Kid"). In other words, you can tell how skanky your JetBlue plane is going to be by how stupid its name is. The stupider the better. When I saw that the plane for my return flight was called "Devil with a Blue Dress," my heart soared. Sure enough, it was a grot-free flight. ... Next time I'm hoping for "Me & You & a Plane Named Blue." ... 3:08 A.M.

In 1993, President Clinton made the mistake of going for a huge, controversial health care plan instead of first building public confidence by passing a popular, achievable welfare reform plan. Is President Bush making a similar mistake by pushing for a huge, controversial restructuring of Social Security instead of first building confidence  with a few achievable, and popular, tax changes? The difference is that welfare reform would have won Clinton support because it would have gone against type, reassuring the public that Clinton wasn't a stubbornly dogmatic Democrat. More tax breaks for savings, etc., wouldn't work against the idea Bush is a dogmatic Republican, and wouldn't have the same effect. If Bush went for a few tax increases, though, it would help reestablish his common-sense centrist credentials, which he could then put to use in the larger Social Security fight. Hmmm. ... kf in December, NYT in January: As foreshadowed in this eerily and somewhat accidentally prescient item, the Republicans are trying to strike a Social Security compromise with the Democrats by introducing ... means-testing (cutting the benefits of the affluent). True, it's only a back-door version of means-testing--offering full wage-indexing only to those "at the lowest rungs of the income scale" while more affluent retirees get lower 'price-indexed' benefits. But it's a start. ... If the Republicans want to cover, not just the shortfall in the current pay-as-you-go Social Security system, but also the transition cost of establishing a pay-for-yourself private account system, they will have to do a lot more cutting of the benefits of the affluent, no? ... The result could be a subsidized system so progressive--new benefits for the poor, cuts for the rich-- that no Democrat would have dared introduce it. ... 2:21 A.M.

The surprise of the graceful memorial service for the late Marjorie Williams was her 9-year old daughter, Alice, singing a clear, simple version of Sting's "Fields of Gold" (backed by Adam Levine of Maroon 5!). Just mature and soulful enough to leave the audience stunned, just child-like enough to break everyone apart again. How she mustered the courage to do it under those circumstances I don't know. ... 1:50 A.M.

Instapundit on Howie Kurtz's glass house. ... It's true that Kurtz kvetches about conflicts of interest in others  while he himself labors under what's probably the most blatant conflict of interest in elite journalism--he covers the media for the Washington Post while he hosts a CNN show that not only pays him lots of money but (more important) gives him a national celebrity that might otherwise be hard to come by. But the issue with Kurtz is a bit different than the issue with Maggie Gallagher. The main problem with what Gallagher did is non-disclosure--she got paid for some PR work on behalf of the Bush "marriage initiative," which arguably could have favorably disposed her toward those policies in her columns, but probably had no effect. She should have disclosed the payment, as she now admits. The issue with Kurtz isn't whether he discloses his conflict with CNN (he usually does, though not always). The issue is whether even disclosure of the conflict cures his problem, or whether the conflict is so great Kurtz can't be trusted on his beat even with disclosure.  ... Clearly, by the conventional MSM standards, Kurtz should be taken off the beat. The Post wouldn't let a reporter who had a lucrative gig with General Motors cover General Motors, as Charles Kaiser has noted. ... The issue was settled, in my mind, when Kurtz went soft on CNN in the Eason Jordan/Saddam atrocity scandal.  He's a great reporter, but you can't trust anything he writes about CNN anymore. They have him by the balls. (That's especially true now, when CNN's whole programming approach is under review. Does Kurtz want to offend Jon Klein, the man who'll decide whether to cancel his show? He sure didn't when he interviewed his paymaster in this January 6 WaPo story.) ... P.S.:Instapundit and I seem to have had this argument before. ... 1:04 A.M.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

"[Stories that are relevant to your life, told through the eyes of a compelling central character." That was CNN chief Jon Klein's answer to the question "What can we expect to see on CNN in the next few months?" ... Bob Smith, a veteran of the Gulf War, woke up one morning to discover his Social Security check had been means-tested! Hysterical, he made himself an especially strong cup of coffee. ... Actually, of course, if CNN insists on covering stories with a compelling central character then it won't be covering the coming Social Security debate much at all. Instead, we'll get lots of ... weather--a sort of national local news. Here's Klein:

For instance, this weekend, we were doing the big snow storms as just another news story, giving equal weight to all the other things going on in the world. When in fact, the biggest storms of the year affect far more people than most anything else we might cover. We corrected that quickly ...

[Maybe some Social Security recipients got caught in the snowstorm-ed. There you go!] ... When it becomes obvious that CNN is ignoring "all the other things going on in the world," will the goo-goos who applauded Klein for killing Crossfire wake up and realize there are less edifying things than a political argument? ... P.S.: There is a logic to Klein's alleged plan--the logic of Topic A-ism. According to this theory, people want to read about whatever is the hottest story right now, and they want to read a lot of it--they want to wallow in it, get everybody's "take" on it, stay with it and live it until the story's next twist. Topic-Aism has long been a depressing reality of the Web. Traffic flows to whatever site has something up on the JFK Jr. crash, or the last debate, or the election returns, or whatever's hot. If all you cared about was traffic you'd always write about Topic A. And there is always, by definition, a topic A, just as there is always a #1 on Blogdex. ... Klein apparently wants to transport this Web logic to television. If CNN is good on crisis days and falters on normal days, then make every day a crisis day! Focus on the One Big Story and milk it for all it's worth! Simple. CNN could change its mascot to a hedgehog. ... The obvious problems: Sometimes there isn't only one Big Story ... Sometimes the One Big Story lasts only a few hours, time enough for the Web to react but not necessarily for cable TV to react... Sometimes the One Big Story isn't very big. .. Sometimes the One Big Story doesn't have a "compelling central character." ....P.S.: I hate Topic-Aism, in part because it means people expect me to post something on the big story of the day even when I have nothing interesting to say about the big story of the day. ... Plus the "other things going on in the world" are the Topic As of tomorrow. ... Plus the pickin's are easier on Topics B-Z. ... Plus I get really sick of Topic A. ... 8:20 P.M.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Marty Lederman surfaces to respond to Heather Mac Donald in their torture debate, which may be asymptotically approaching the truth. ... 12:03 A.M.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Inner Scream: Sullivan is right about the high journalistic achievement of  this cover. But shouldn't they all have laptops? ... P.S.: The people I've felt most sorry for are the journalists who have to pretend they are excited by the inauguration and Bush's second term. NPR personalities in particular. You can hear the inauthenticity and desperation in their voices. ... As far as I know, none of them have yet tried to cover any Bush festivities from the sanctuary of the FDR memorial--where an All Things Considered correspondent wound up fleeing, on air, during last year's Reagan ceremonies. But the term is young. ... 9:47 P.M.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Eduwonk on how San Diego is a test case for whether teachers' unions and their allies will be able to block the reformist potential of No Child Left Behind.

Superintendent Alan Bersin is poised to reorganize several of the city's chronically underperforming schools. At two of the three schools a majority of teachers have voted to make the schools charter schools to help facilitate this and at all three 60-80 percent of parents voted to do the same. Remember, these are not schools that didn't do well "on a single test" but schools that have not done right by students for years.

Yet the school board member who represents these schools has apparently decided to oppose this and in the process force a vote on buying out the remainder of Bersin's contract because he won't play ball.

Why? Eduwonk has theories. ... No doubt the Democrats are on the right side of this one. ... Right? ... Hello? ... 4:16 P.M.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The memorial service for  Marjorie Williams  will be held at 11:00 A.M. on Tuesday, January 25, at the Washington National Cathedral. 4:02 P.M.

kf Nutrition News: Tremendous unrealized hype-potential (perhaps even justified) in this story. ... But while non-alocholic beer might have cancer-fighting properties, many lobsters may be contaminated with ingredients of plastics. ... 2:53 A.M.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I'm scheduled to be on Warren Olney's "Which Way L.A.?" radio show at 7:00 P.M. Pacific time this evening to attack the L.A. Times for its stuffy and disastrous aversion to gossip. (89.9 on your FM radio dial, or you can hear it online.) They have me paired with Times legend Bill Boyarsky--who thinks the same thing I do. The segment (just taped) wasn't a debate. It was non-stop Times-bashing! The Times, pathetically, refused to send someone to defend itself on one of L.A.'s most substantive and intelligent talk shows. ... [You don't usually hype radio appearances--ed. True. But this one's in the can, and it was one-sided!] ... KCRW listeners are exactly the West Side liberals the Times can't afford to lose. ... P.S.: Boyarsky, who after all worked at the paper for many years, says Times editors had trouble with even a semi-gossip column because it was "flip and irreverent." Wouldn't want that! ... How many more millions will the Tribune organization want to lose by backing editors who aren't eager to publish "irreverent" writing? 4:02 P.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides! Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left. Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. 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--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. 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. 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. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk