They don't like you! They really don't like you! Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner aren't nearly as popular as their backers thought they were, according to the latest Field Poll. Beatty's rating is 40% unfavorable/27% favorable--among Democrats! Yikes. .. Reiner is at least more popular than unpopular within his own party, but overall his unfavorables outweigh his favorables among independents (34/24) and overall (41/25). ... Prediction: The eye-opening poll will get little coverage in the LAT. Too interesting! If it does, the Times will give it the obvious interpretation--that California voters have soured on actors-turned-politicos. But maybe they've especially (and unexpectedly) soured on Hollywood liberals. ... P.S.: Light up, California! Reiner previously promoted a victorious state initiative that taxes cigarette sales to fund early childhood health and nutrition projects. He's now so addicted to the cigarette money that he's opposing an initiative to slap a further tax on cigarettes (to fund emergency rooms) because it might decrease cigarette sales and threaten the funding for his pet programs. ... 11:35 A.M. link
If you only want to read one Alito article, Jeffrey Rosen's TNR piece on what to look for in the confirmation hearings is a good choice. Rosen wants a non-activist on the court--defined as someone who will err on the side of deferring to democratically-elected legislatures. He's troubled by a couple of federalism cases that "suggest [Alito] might be a conservative ... with an agenda to restrict congressional power." But he's not troubled by much else, including Alito's abortion decisions. Rosen thinks Senators can allay their concerns if Alito answers key questions "precisely and candidly, as Roberts did." I have three qualms:
1) Just because a lawyer or judge proceeds incrementally, case-by-case, making law from the "bottom up," doesn't mean he or she isn't an ideological activist (when compared with someone who speaks in sweeping principles). An ideologue might want to proceed case by case without ever committing to a grand principle because the latter course might foreclose using another principle to achieve a desired ideologically-driven result in a future case. Principles can be confining! Better to keep your options open. Ruth Bader Ginsburg established her reputation as a not-so-liberal when she questioned the "substantive due process" basis of Roe v. Wade. But it turned out that was because she thought another, broader principle down the road might provide a more powerful feminist weapon to use in striking down abortion restrictions. ...
2) Rosen buys into the highly suspect idea of "super-precedents," a transparently opportunistic attempt to insulate Roeby claiming it has "been accepted by different presidents, Congresses and courts over time." Kinsley effectively ridicules the "super-precedent" idea here. My own crude view: Roe was one of the least convincing constitutional decisions I've ever read. It was crap in 1973 and three decades haven't made it less crap. The legislative regime imposed by Roe--regulation that varies by trimester, etc.--is perfectly reasonable, but it can and should be imposed by a legislature. It's not in the Constitution. As Kinsley notes,
if a policy really has become a deeply rooted national value, then the once-controversial Supreme Court ruling is superfluous, because democracy will protect such a value. The fear that motivates the Roe panic is that the rights at stake are not deeply rooted. Or not deeply enough.
3) Rosen contrasts Roberts' model testimony with Clarence Thomas'. Thomas, Rosen argues, went ahead and did on the bench what he said he wouldn't do, reinterpreting the Commerce Clause and writing natural-law theories into the Constitution. But what does that say of the ability of Senators to use pre-confirmation testimony as a guide to what a judge will do? Why is "specificity" such a good indicator if a judge, once on the bench, can just ignore his specific answers? Nor was Roberts always so specific, even in the answers Rosen himself picks out:
Roberts, on the other hand, was much more specific in making clear that he thought the Court should strike down acts of Congress only on rare occasions. He quoted Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's observation that striking down federal laws is the "gravest and most delicate duty that the Court performs." And he stressed that "the reason is obvious: All judges are acutely aware of the fact that millions and millions of people have voted for you, and not one has voted for any of us."
If Rosen thinks that those answers aren't "platitudes," or that they would stop Roberts from striking down any law he wants to strike down--well, Rosen's a cheaper date than I'd thought.
1:36 A.M. link
Kit on Kurtz: She's too even-handed. ... The NYT's Seelye has me saying that CNN/WaPo fixture Howie Kurtz is an honest reporter, which I think he is. But even honest reporters can have strong subconscious motivations. I don't believe, as Seelye suggests, that applying the normal conflict-of-interest rules to Kurtz would be a merely prophylactic exercise. My view of Kurtz changed when he wrote what was in effect a perfect damage control story for CNN executive Eason Jordan when Jordan was under fire for remarks he made at Davos--a point I tried to make to Seelye. (She actually gives Kurtz points for having "not spared the network" in the Jordan episode, which is what it may look like if you weren't following the controversy at the time.) ... In essence, CNN made Kurtz famous and now CNN has him by the balls.
P.S.: Alert reader C.S. questions this Seelye graf--
He draws salaries from two of the most important media companies in the country: CNN, which is owned by Time Warner, and The Post, which is owned by The Washington Post Company. Such arrangements do not violate Post policy. In fact, The Post has quite liberal rules regarding extracurricular work by its reporters and editors. [Emph. added]
It's one thing for a reporter to do extracurricular work and get paid for it, C.S. notes. But most WaPo reporters who moonlight for, say, Vanity Fair, don't report on Vanity Fair as part of their regular beats. Is Seelye really right that it's not a violation of "Post policy" to draw a salary from a company you cover? Those are some liberal rules! New vistas of possible revenue opportunities crowd the imagination. No wonder reporters at the Post can afford to buy houses in the D.C. market. ... [You're writing about the Washington Post Company here. Don't you draw a salary from that very same company?--ed No I don't! ... Oh, wait. WaPo owns Slate, doesn't it? But--
1) Every reporter who's paid has a conflict with whatever institution pays him. That's unavoidable. Kurtz's problem is that he has a second, gratuitous conflict with the giant conglomerate the Post pays him to cover.
2) Kurtz's second conflict is especially huge. If the Post fired him, after all, he could get a job with another paper within an hour. The Post doesn't have much leverage (as their see-no-evil treatment of Kurtz suggests). But if CNN cancelled Kurtz's show, the other TV networks wouldn't exactly be falling over themselves to snap him up. Not even MSNBC! (Though Kurtz does have a career interest in keeping MSNBC's Rick Kaplan happy, too, just in case. That makes it worse.) CNN has leverage.
3) Hypocrisy Angle #1: I don't think all writers have to be free of all conflicts. Everybody has conflicts. Life creates conflicts. Conflicts can be good--they tend to come with inside info and perspective. As long as a conflict is disclosed, readers can usually make up their minds. But WaPo, like most MSM organizations, does pretend to prohibit conflicts in order to achieve neutrality and "objectivity." WaPo editor Len Downie famously doesn't even vote. After ostentatiously purging such petty conflicts it's hypocritical to then ignore Kurtz's elephantine conflict. As reader C.S. argues,
It's one thing to say "We violate our policies in this unusual case, just as we violate our rules governing quotations when Woodward wants to 'reconstruct' White House conversations. But these are great reporters and they've earned waivers to our rules." It's another to say: "Nope, no issues here at all."
4)Hypocrisy Angle #2: Kurtz himself, as WaPo's media reporter, has made it his business to ding other journalists for conflicts far less significant than his own.
Update: Kurtz is discussed here, a video dialogue in which I talk rather too much about my deep dark personal beef with Kurtz.Not that there's anything wrong with it! ... Backfill: See also this post. ... 10:33 P.M. link
Everybody's For McCain: On NBC's Chris Matthews Show yesterday, David Brooks said conservatives had warmed to John McCain, and Matthews said he'd heard the same thing. ... Let's see. Conservatives are for McCain. Liberals like McCain. Centrists love McCain. Doesn't that mean McCain might, er, win? Who's going to vote against him? In a general election, it seems like McCain would come close to being elected by acclamation! It will take all the genius of the American political system to make sure he isn't on the ballot. ... 8:02 P.M.
On CNN, Tom Maguire looks perfectly normal. How bizarre. 6:26 P.M.
Note to hapless LAT publisher Jeffrey Johnson: Instead of reviving Robert Scheer's dormant career by firing him, or having your telemarketers boast that you've extirpated liberal Michael Kinsley's insidious influence, why not pay attention to the bias on the pages people actually read--like the embarrassing deception in the second paragraph of Friday's front-page, two-column-headline lead story, which seemingly proclaimed that "no Democrat was a firmer ally" of Bush's war against Saddam than Rep. John Murtha, when in fact Murtha had been a critic of the current Iraq war in 2002, before it started? Funny how those propagandistic mistakes in the news pages never get made in a pro-Bush direction, isn't it? ... P.S.: Your editorial page is now run by Andres Martinez, Kinsley's handpicked recruit. Doesn't the mean Kinsley continues to exert his evil influence right under your nose? I think it does!...P.P.S.: Kinsley wrote a great abortion column yesterday. It wasn't a liberal column; it was an anti-liberal column. Too bad it ran in the Washington Post and not your paper. (Are you really clueless enough to think that Kinsley was pushing the LAT to the left? Have you ever heard the expression, "neoliberal"?) ... P.P.P.S.: That Murtha error smells like an editor's mistake to me. That's why your absurd anti-Kinsley spiel won't convince anybody. The L.A. Times' peculiar bias--a chloroform-like combination of liberalism and lifelessness--runs deep in the paper's DNA, in layers and layers of editorial middle-bureaucracy. Short of laying off 80% of the staff, you will not root it out in our lifetimes. Conservative readers know this. ... 2:50 P.M.
Murtha Commands the Dawn? Someone who works for Ralph Nader once described to me a brilliant technique of his: When he heard a rumor that the government was about to do something, he immediately called a press conference and demanded that it be done. Is that what Rep. Murtha has now done? Just askin'. ...
P.S.: Nader's press conferences would arguably have had the effect of delaying the government's impending action, because who wants to seem to be taking orders from Nader? Murtha's move may have the same effect, for a slightly different reason: Murtha has now established exactly the worst context for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. By making his (understandable) teary concern about the injuries to our soldiers his central motivation, he makes it seem, if we pull out now, that the Sunni/Zarqawi strategy has worked--that we've been run out of Iraq because we couldn't tolerate the casualties the insurgents were inflicting. That will encourage Al Qaeda operatives around the globe. Isn't it a lot better if we start to withdraw, after a successful Iraqi election, while plausibly claiming that we've done our job? That's why Hastert's stunt yesterday to put down Murtha's proposal was amply justified. It makes it easier to withdraw if it doesn't seem to be a response to Murtha's cry of pain. ... 2:06 P.M.
Bob Fete: Here are three non-print Woodward discussions in which I was involved over the past two days, in descending order of weediness (and ascending order of estimated overall coherence) on my part: bloggingheads.tv, Hugh Hewitt (transcript), Slate's political podcast. ... 1:15 A.M.
a) The press is pretending to be surprised by Murtha's views ("An Unlikely Lonesome Dove" ... "a fierce hawk") even though he's been a known, public Iraq War skeptic since at least a year and a half ago. NBC News, even more ludicrously, pretended to be surprised by professional GOP apostate Sen. Chuck Hagel's apostasy. ... Update: Most egregious was the LAT's Maura Reynolds who, in order to set up the "jolt" of Murtha's speech, wrote
And when President Bush decided to wage war on Saddam Hussein, perhaps no Democrat was a firmer ally.
Assuming Reynolds means the current President Bush and the current war (and shouldn't she have said if she didn't?) this is correction-worthy garbage. Murtha questioned the war in 2002, before it began.
b) I'm ready to be convinced that U.S. troops are doing more harm than good in Iraq, but Murtha's speech is not convincing. He doesn't even try very hard. He seems primarily concerned with the health of our soldiers ("[t]hey don't deserve to continue to suffer. They're the targets") and the military sector as a whole, which is fine. But there are also the Iraqis to worry about, not to mention the larger cause of democracy in the region. Murtha concludes: "We have become a catalyst for the violence." But increasingly we also seem to be the only thing standing in the way of wholesale violence against the Sunnis. (Does some portion of the Sunni leadership now secretly want us to stay?) ... Backfill: In Murtha's press conference he's forced into a more substantial defense, but he's still not close to convincing on the more-harm-than-good issue.
c) It's not clear Murtha's actually for a "withdrawal" of American troops. He speaks of "redeployment" calls for a "quick reaction force in the region" and "an over-the-horizon presence of Marines"--in Kuwait, he suggests. Murtha says he'd use it against threats like "a terrorist camp that may affect our national security or the security in the region." Well, they have those in Iraq! They're staffed by some of the same people who are planting bombs in Baghdad. If Murtha would attack them, and those in them, then we'll still be fighting a war in Iraq, no?
P.S.--Tomorrow's CW Today: Sullivan is surely right that the Bushies are over-obsessed with rebutting the retrospective, defamatory,** Hillary-excusing "Bush lied" meme rather than shoring up the voters' prospective confidence of eventual success in Iraq:
What we need now is a very clear indication that our effort to train the Iraqi military is progressing, that the troops are well-equipped and cared for and that the political process isn't degenerating into sectarianism.
The Dems have done the war effort the most damage by making their criticism personal, goading Bush and, especially, Cheney into defending themselves instead of defending in detail our continued presence in Iraq. But whose fault is that, ultimately? ...
Update: It depends on what the meaning of "practicable" is-- Juan Cole emphasizes that Murtha's resolution only called for troops to be "redeployed at the earliest practicable date," and notes that "practicable" would "involve considerations such as not having Iraq collapse altogether." *** But that cuts both ways, draining the resolution of much of its substantive effect, no? Indeed, the administration could plausibly claim it was already following Murtha's policy.
**--but not implausible ...
***--Maybe it depends on what the meaning of "altogether" is. 10:54 P.M. link
I've become skeptical of fundraising appeals, but the Pakistan earthquake does seem to be getting much less attention than it deserves (in comparison with the tsunami, for example). Here is a link to donate to Oxfam's Southeast Asia Quake Emergency Appeal [via Juan Cole)]. Here is a recent LAT story in which Oxfam is shown playing a constructive role. ... 10:13 P.M.
Krugman--hitless since Sept. 19: They said Paul Krugman's declining Web visibility after the imposition of TimesSelect--as measured by BlogPulse--was just a short term trend. They were wrong. According to this graph, Krugman hasn't had a widely-cited column since the Sept. 19 launch. ...Update: He's now less talked about than certain obsessive lone bloggers we could name! [Via JOM ] ... Shutout for the "special voices": And there are currently no--zero, goose eggs--TimesSelect articles on the NYT's "Most E-Mailed" list. ... [Our focus groups can't get enough TimesSelect items. Don't you have more?--ed. There's the rumor that the NYT has given non-subscribers a way to get around its pay-for-punditry wall by downloading free podcasts of the TimesSelect columns here.**... And the poor get podcasts! ... (I'm not a podperson and haven't tried it myself.) ...
**--For columnists other than Thomas Friedman, you might try substituting other names (such as "Dowd") for "Friedman" in that url. Who knows? ...
Backfill: The idea for this item may well have been planted by an 11/7 Independent Sources analysis, which I'd filed away under "wait and see" before having the same idea as if it were new a week later (also known as "Libbying") ... 3:25 P.M. link
The sullen faces that gaze on the handiwork of the local rioters and sneer at the vans of the riot police are black rather than brown: Africans from Mali and Martinique rather than Arabs from Algeria and Morocco.
Dressed in expensive sneakers and track suits with designer logos, with the white wires of iPod headphones snaking from their ears, they look neither poor nor much intimidated by the police patrols that now dominate their quarter. The young blacks refuse to talk to white reporters, turning silently away ... [snip]
One of the striking features of the two weeks of rage that swept France is that so many of the rioters are black rather than Arab, though North Africans from Algeria and Morocco and Tunisia make up more than two-thirds of the estimated 6 million immigrants, their families included, in France.
Another important element is that in places where the rioters were 'beurs,' as the French Arabs call themselves, Islam and religion seemed to play only a minor role. ... [snip]
Local Islamic leaders who tried to calm the young mobs have been routinely ignored, as have the fatwas issued by the leading Imams saying rioting and attacks on innocent people are against Islam. [Emph. added]
Somewhere (where did he go, anyway?) Tucker Carlson is smiling: Visionary CNN chief Jon Klein's anointment of Anderson Cooper ("[h]e has broken through the clutter with his candor, his humanity and his emotional connection to the most pressing stories of our time") is showing results. Crappy results! ... Luckily, Klein hasn't led with his lip so knives aren't drawn for him! ... 3:44 P.M.
Taking Clintonism to the next level!The old Clintonism: One Clinton succeeds in making both sides think he agrees with them. The new Clintonism: One Clinton pitches to one side while the other assuages the other side. Example: Hillary carefully maintains her appeal to pro-war voters while her husband denounces the war that she voted for as "a big mistake." ... A two-person straddle was needed because Hillary isn't gifted enough a talker to practice the old single-player Clintonism by herself. [Didn't they use this technique before--Bill said he was for "ending welfare as we know it" while liberals were allowed to hope that Marian Wright Edelman's friend Hillary would stop him?--ed True. But you didn't have Bill saying we should reform welfare while Hillary was out in public saying that would be a "big mistake." ... Prediction: The new trick won't work. Hillary will come under added pressure because of her husband's remarks. ... The question is not just "Who has Hillary's ear?" It's whether Hillary's ear or Bill's ear is the ear to have. ... Take it away, Bruce Reed! ... Bruce? ... 1:55 P.M. link
This is the crucial point: Every aspect about managing occupied Iraq could have turned out better with more time. There would be more chance to line up Arabic-speaking or Islamic allies; more time to get adequate U.S. troops on the scene; more chance to think about protecting the power system, the hospitals, and other aspects of the public infrastructure; more time in general to ask "what if..."
He could be right! But I had thought the advice of many neighboring "Arabic-speaking and Islamic" countries--worried about volatile popular anti-U.S sentiment--was, in effect, "If you're going to do it, get it over with quickly." ... 2:32 A.M.
"They even tried to stick Curveball on me": Arianna Huffington has wasabi with Chalabi. It's a useful, non-fluffy report,, even if the Iraqi Deputy P.M.'s sweater "can only be described as Cosby-esque." ... 11:55 A.M.
Christopher Byron argues that GM's possible bankruptcy stems, not from the "ceaseless, decades-long squabbling" between the UAW and management, but specifically from the Delphi spinoff "cooked up for GM by the folks at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch in 1999." That's because Delphi's unfunded pension liability may now be re-foisted back onto GM. ... But if Delphi had never been spun off by GM, wouldn't its unfunded pension liability, having never been foisted off at all, be bankrupting GM anyway? The Delphi shuffle seems merely a surface distraction, a veil over the underlying pension problem. But maybe I'm missing something ... 2:21 A.M.
Robert Scheer defends gerrymandering:
Because of "safe" or less contested races, legislators at least have the potential to pay attention to their constituents rather than to those who finance the hotly contested races. It is not true, as The Los Angeles Times editorialized, that under the current system, "extremists reign," but rather that responsible legislators can focus on constituent needs rather than waging costly electoral battles financed by lobbyists.
This proves my point about why the LAT should have kept Scheer: he's so wrong he forces you to think.
a) Suppose a state's districts were drawn so that each party was represented in the legislature by however many representatives its statewide support merited, but all those representatives were given safe seats. (This is roughly the pro-incumbent deal that states like California implemented.) Does the downside--legislators' freedom from fear of loss and resulting lack of immediate accountability--outweigh the upside--freedom from the distorting effects of having to campaign and raise funds? I tend to think yes, but admit it's a closer question than I'd thought. Otherwise why have elections? An approval plebiscite once every decade or so should be enough to validate the good work of "responsible legislators" in pursuit of "constituent needs." ...
b) Of course, in an all-safe-seat state, the makeup of the legislature won't reflect the popularity of the parties for long. If popular opinion shifts, one way or another, it won't be reflected in a change of legislators until dissatisfaction reaches the tsunami proportions necessary to actually unseat a "safe" incumbent. ...
c) Plus almost by definition, safe seats discourage battles for the center, and hence centrist candidates. That doesn't displease an anti-centrist like Scheer. But the 51% of the people at the center are by definition a majority! They deserve at least a few seats, no? (That's all they'd get in redistricting reform; most seats would remain "safe.") ...
d) The lobbyists are hardly out of power in the current system. Does Scheer think California legislators don't whore after campaign money? If you're a Democrat in a safely Democratic district, you still need lobbyists' help to win the primary election, if not the general. ** Or would Scheer get rid of primaries too? ...
Why not clean up elections to curtail lobbyists' influence instead of abandoning elections in favor of a North Korean-style system of party service to the people! [Dial that back a bit?-ed Sorry, got carried away. But you get the point. ... Update: If David Horowitz is right a North Korea reference is more appropriate than I'd thought. ]
** More (and better): An 11/12 National Journal article notes that, contra Scheer, the power of each party's core interest groups (e.g., the NRA, the NEA) and their lobbyists is actually magnified when the contest is in the primary rather than the general election.
With only about two dozen competitive districts in the House, primary campaigns are the only time most voters are likely to see real competition. And primaries are precisely where powerful interest groups are likely to have the most sway, because they connect with the voters who are most likely to turn out. "It's the hard core that dominates" within each of the parties, said former Rep. Skaggs, D-Colo. "What this has done is siphon off the middle-of-the-roaders in either party, and that has made solving problems harder."
The payoff for working out: Only 3.7 years? It almost doesn't seem worth it. I would have thought that figure would be much higher. ...Is this one of those cases where the news is the opposite of what the news says the news is? 12:28 A.M.
The One Sure Path to Victory (for Dems): Bob Krumm offers a sure-fire strategy for the Democrats to regain power. It's so obvious I hadn't realized its power until now. But it's a lock. The strategy is this: Win the war in Iraq.
After all, what would happen if we won? Or to put it more precisely, what would happen if we stabilized the situation enough to stop the steady combat losses of Americans and enable the Iraqi polity and economy to move forward? (If you think that's unlikely, then consider this a useful thought experiment.)
The answer is pretty obvious: Attention would quickly shift back to domestic issues. Since Bush has no remaining saleable domestic agenda to speak of--and hasn't, really, since the passage of his Medicare drug plan--Democrats would clearly have the advantage. (Even on the national security front, attention might rightly focus on delayed accountability for whatever went wrong in Iraq, without fear that such scrutiny would undermine morale. Again, advantage Democrats.)
Krumm points out that that it was Bush's father's victory in the first Gulf war that opened the path for Clinton's election in 1992. Contrast that success with what happened in 1968, when the public became disillusioned with Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War. They didn't turn to an antiwar Democrat. They turned to Richard Nixon and his "secret plan." Similarly, if Americans today sour on the Bush Iraq project, are they going to turn to Russ Feingold (even if he was right about the war) or John McCain who says he has a strategy to win? My guess is McCain.
If that's right, then succeeding in Iraq, as quickly as possible, may not only be the surest route to the White House for the Democrats. It may also be the quickest. ... If there is a way to win, Democrats have at least as big a partisan incentive to find it as Republicans do. ...[Via Instapundit] 11:10 P.M. link
Shift_Glitch: What's happening at Nissan's Canton, Mississippi factory? The big news in the 2006 Consumer Reports New Car Preview--which features a large-sample reliability survey--is that the vehicles built at this plant have dreadful reliability records. Their repair histories are so bad CR has to use a broken bar to fit them on its chart! The Nissan Quest minivan has a reliability score of 133% worse than average. The Nissan Titan pickup is 101% worse than average. The Armada SUV is 151% worse than average. And the $50,000 Infiniti QX56 SUV scores 297% worse than average, a result so bad it might have been thought unattainable. ... Maybe the Mississippi factory's record will improve--CR documents the tendency of carmakers to work the bugs out of a new model over several years. Maybe it's just a question of weeding out bad local suppliers. But the amount of money Nissan is saving by moving its headquarters from California to Tennessee can't possibly compensate for the hit it must be taking with angry customers. ... 10:39 P.M.
Hole in the oil spot: There's one thing I don't understand about the growing support for an "oil spot" strategy--which would have the U.S. military in Iraq "focus less on trying to secure the whole country and more on shoring up protection of major population centers." That might make great sense if all we were trying to do was pacify Iraq. But how does it make sense if there are terrorists running around the Iraqi hinterlands using them as a base from which they can attack lots of other countries, including possibly our own? Are we supposed to cede Zarqawi the territory outside the "major population centers"? ... Backfill:Juan Cole has a broader critique of the "oil spot" approach. ... 9:58 P.M.
I want to read Joe Nocera's article on TimesSelect but it's on TimesSelect! ... Update: It's free here. Nocera's instinct--that even what we'd consider healthy Internet revenue streams aren't nearly enough to sustain newspaper reporting as currently practiced--seems right. ... For some reason he didn't pick up on the Pinch-isn't-up-to-the-job angle I suggested. ... 1:33 A.M.
Peter Drucker, R.I.P.: I once telephoned Peter Drucker, sometime in the early 90s, to try to pick his brain. Of all the experts and wonks I called when I was writing a magazine column, he's the only one who had the honesty to politely say (roughly) "I'm sorry, but why should I give my ideas to you?" I had no answer for that. I've respected him ever since. ... 8:36 P.M
Don't Tell Nikki Finke**: Bob Wright and I explore various paranoid riot and disaster scenarios at bloggingheads.tv. I'm not sure it's a 100% good plan for me to try to argue through a problem with a camera running. But that was the idea. ... P.S.: In an earlier episode, I experienced Scooter-style amnesia and thought I was hearing for the first time Dr. Weevil's idea about computer-game redistricting. ...
**--Finke specializes in early, attention-getting, hysterically negative reviews of journalistic experiments. ... 7:51 P.M.
Three times a day: The Los Angeles Times has reshuffled its op-ed lineup, introducing a crop of talented and non-expensive young 'uns, including Jonah Goldberg, Meghan Daum and Rosa Brooks. Seems a good strategy to me. I disagree with pajamista** Marc Cooper, who argues the paper should have bought itself "a couple of nationally-known powerhouses." Can't an institution with the size and market position of the LAT grow its own stars? ... I would have kept Robert Scheer, though. He's an annoying egomaniac, certain of his own authority even when he's wackily wrong. I remember him assuring me, shortly after 9/11, that we would discover it was the work of a rogue European cell and not Osama bin Laden. He once attacked my parents. (That was in the course of reviewing my book.) If I could press a magic button and end his career I probably would. But the op-ed page is a good place to explore alternative universes--that's better than just "piling on," as Maureen Dowd recently described her role. And Scheer is a skilled polemicist who's right more often than a stopped clock. (Though it's close, as Jackie Mason would say.) ... P.S.: Of course, thanks to Mr. Berners-Lee, firing a columnist no longer means silencing him. You can't shut anyone up anymore, even people you'd want to. Scheer's new venture, TruthDig, seems a potentially more impactful use of his talents than writing for an op-ed page that many LAT readers can't even find. (It's somewhere in the B-section, I think.) ... Scheer's column just moves to HuffPo. ...
The LAT also bounced Michael Ramirez, a sharp right-wing cartoonist who drove West Side libs up the wall. (And he's won a Pulitzer! I thought that was all Times readers were supposed to care about.) ... Publisher Jeffrey Johnson, who controls the editorial page, is doing a good job of giving everyone the impression he was sent from Chicago by the Tribune Company to make the paper less controversial. All other things being equal, why would anyone want to write (or draw) for a boss who will get rid of you if you stir up any criticism?...
LAT buries the lede: From today's piece on Warren Beatty's possible political aspirations:
(Weeks ago, he rebuffed a request for an interview, insisting he'd talk to The Times only for a front-page story. He made no such demands Wednesday.) [Emph. added]
How clueless was that? Did he think the LAT was Vanity Fair (and that he was Heath Ledger)? ... P.S.: The Times piece actually isn't all that friendly to Beatty, punctuating the inevitable, tedious recounting of his political non-starts with this quote:
"I don't think he has the stomach for it," said Michael Levine, an L.A.-based public relations veteran. "I think he likes the pedestal of Beverly Hills, where he can mouth off and not get his fingernails dirty."
A more damaging jibe is Peggy Noonan's:
You really don't want it? Then get out of the way! Get off the stage, let someone else stand there. The Democrats of California need a leader, not a handsome fly buzzing 'round their heads. [Emph. added]
P.P.S.: The LAT piece's lead author, Carla Hall, was part of the Times team that (justifiably, and apparently accurately) reported on the Schwarzenegger groping incidents before California's 2003 recall election. Aren't they duty-bound to look into Beatty's personal history if he runs for office? I think they are! I'm not saying they'll find anything remotely comparable--it's hard to believe they would. Schwarzenegger has dramatically raised the bar in that area. But Beatty may not relish the scrutiny. ... 1:29 P.M.
Schwarzendebacle: Bill Bradley, the go-to guy for Schwarzenegger-insider reporting, blames strategist Mike Murphy for Tuesday's power-sapping defeat, but reports:
Schwarzenegger, according to sources in his own camp, has no real plan to correct his increasingly disastrous course. ...Multiple Arnold sources confirm that, just as there was never a specific plan for the misbegotten "Year of Reform," there is now no real plan for an Arnold move back to the bipartisan center, just a set of unformed intentions for "big thinking." [Emph. added]
[From L.A. Weekly] ... Forward lean: Maria to the rescue! ... 2:31 A.M.
Are you impressed that TimesSelect has attracted "approximately" 135,000 paying*** customers?** At $45 a head (halfway between the introductory price and the regular price) that's $6.1 million. Bigger than Arianna! But if someone--say, Richard Mellon Scaife--had come along a year ago and offered the NYT $6.1 million to radically limit the reach of its (largely) liberal columnists, would the paper have taken the deal? ... P.S.: And is the future subscriber trajectory really up, up, up, as the Times' columnists fade as personalities on the Web and get replaced by other, freer popular writers? ...
**--Note that the figure of 135,000 isn't actually used in the press release, which refers to "approximately half" of 270,000. That was enough for other outlets to report that "about 135,000" TimesSelect customers are paying customers. ... I guess half of "approximately" is "about." ... It's almost certainly not "more than." ...
***--Update--Spacious Wiggle Room Discovered: Actually, as reader P points out, the press releasedoesn't even say that the "approximately half" figure represents paid customers. It only says they are "online-only subscribers." Does that include people who've been given free passes to the TimesSelect content? People who've said they are going to pay but haven't actually paid? Without additional numbers there is no way of knowing for sure. (The only detail given is that 90% of those who sign up for the free 14-day trial do eventually pay up. But how many "online-only subscribers" are 14-day trial subscribers?) ... 11:55 P.M.
Arianna's rich! (Her blog is worth $4,531,562.58, according to Technorati.) But that's before Cenk Uygur demands his cut. ... [She was rich before--ed But Andrew wasn't, and he's worth $2,041,376.64! Don't even ask about Nick Denton. Think what they could get for Fish Report--ed I know, I know.] Cold Water: Snarksmith's impressively-graphed calculations are more ... sober. He has Sullivan, for example, in the $40,000/year category, based on BlogAds revenues. He emails: "Technorati's whole premise is based on the idea that AOL paid a reasonable amount for Weblogs.** But AOL always pays too much for Internet properties." ...
That Wedge Looks Like a Boomerang: Isn't there a bit of an obvious problem with the Democratic strategy, outlined by Howard Fineman, of tracing all the Bush administration's troubles to the evil Cheney in order to sow division in the White House? After all, Bush might want Cheney to step down in a few months anyway, simply to allow Bush the anointing of a successor. If the Democrats' "inside wedge" campaign works, and everything's blamed on Cheney, then if he goes a lot of Bush's troubles go with him, no? The classic scapegoat-lightning rod move--followed by a fresh start with Vice President Romney, Allen, or McCain. ... How does that help the Democrats? ... Just askin'! 7:03 P.M.
Anti-gerrymandering reform lost in both California and Ohio. You might say it's time to take the fight to the courts--and there are valid constitutional arguments to be made, along Baker v. Carr lines, against partisan or pro-incumbent gerrymanders. But isn't it kind of difficult to argue that the courts need to intervene to make democracy fair after the voters, in a perfectly fair, non-gerrymandered state-wide election, have rejected the idea? This doesn't seem like a case of minority rights, where the majority's opinion shouldn't count. The vast majority of California voters are denied the chance to cast an effective ballot because they live in manipulated districts where the incumbent can't lose. They don't seem to care! Who are judges to tell them they should?
In this sense, the pro-reform movement is arguably worse-off than if the voters had never been asked. ... P.S.: I'm not suggesting the attempt to reform redistricting democratically--through referenda and legislation--should stop. I'm suggesting the opposite: The alternative route to reform, through the courts, is now more difficult than before, so reformers have no choice but to keep trying to convince voters. ... Update: John Rosenberg suggests that existing voting rights law would let the courts intervene. ... But he thinks existing voting rights law is wrong! ... 2:46 A.M.
TimesErase: Pursuing a Mercedes-like policy of continuous improvement, Nicholas Kristof has apparently rewritten the weaselly semi-correction he posted about the errors in his initial columns about Joseph Wilson, according to Tom Maguire of JustOneMinute:
Mr. Kristof's paragraphs on the question of whether Wilson told him that he had debunked forged documents, and whether Wilson could have done so, have been extensively re-written - the bits I excerpted and criticized have disappeared, so Mickey Kaus and I appear to be discussing a different entry from the one currently on offer. Well, that is one way to stump the critics.
I hope Kristof kept the line where he said it's "possible" that what he reported was correct, but "that seems to me unlikely." That one was a keeper! And the ludicrous sentence about how criticizing Wilson was "distasteful" because he's just a "private citizen" ... P.S.: I bet Kristof wishes it were that easy to rewrite his Hatfill column! ... P.P.S.: I'm not saying bloggers should never revise after hitting "publish." Maybe they shouldn't, but I rewrite sentences all the time--if an emailer makes a good objection or I just have second thoughts. But it does become Orwellian at some point--i.e. when you redo a column after you've been publicly attacked for some stupidity to make it look as if there was never any stupidity to attack. ... P.P.P.S.: Luckily, I have a printed-out hard copy of Kristof's original, presumably dumber,** version, which I will mail to anyone who wants it for only $49.95.! Call it TimesSelectClassic. ... You have to hand it to the NYT web management team--they keep discovering new revenue opportunities.
**--kf cannot verify that the old version is dumber, because according to Maguire Kristof has added additional dumbness in draft #2--lamenting that Valerie Plame's "career at CIA has been destroyed," though he'd called that claim "hyperbole" in a column two years ago. Removing all evidence of that earlier column will be more difficult, involving as it does a visit to every library in the world armed with scissors and Liquid Paper. ... 1:52 A.M.
Time-Pressed Reporters Taking Shortcuts: It'll do if it fits the CW! Time's Joe Klein reports on a White House attempt to "destroy" Brent Scowcroft, quoting "a prominent Republican," who tells Klein that the White House sent out talking points "about how to attack Brent Scowcroft" after Jeffrey Goldberg's recent New Yorker profile.
"I was so disgusted that I deleted the damn e-mail before I read it," the Republican said. "But that's all this White House has now: the politics of personal destruction." [Emph. added]
Hmm. Weekly Standard notes that if Klein's source hadn't deleted the e-mail he would have noticed that it was a completely civil and substantive attempt to rebut the substance of Scowcroft's arguments.Real Clear Politics reprints the sober, almost academic email, which ends with a vicious, inflammatory, "Let the debate proceed." If you can't send that around then you can't have a useful argument about policy. ... The "talking points" are such a solid presentation of the neocon case for war that one almost suspects they were written by ... Jeffrey Goldberg (except there were no guilt-trippish Hitler references!). ... See also Taranto. And Ponnuru. ... 12:36 P.M.
Yes on 77: I'm going to vote for Proposition 77, which would try to end gerrymandering in California by giving the job of drawing district lines to a panel of retired judges. (There's a similar ballot proposition in GOP-controlled Ohio. There, unlike in California, it's the Democrats pushing reform.) Jill Stewart and the new, Martinezized LAT ed board make the now-familiar case that, thanks to modern computer technology, politicians are able to draw districts in which virtually all incumbents are safe from defeat.
Indeed, no California pol in either the U.S. House of Representatives, the state assembly, or the state senate was defeated in 2004. Yet state voters were pissed off! This impenetrability of elected institutions is as big an issue for our democracy as campaign finance reform, about which a hundred times more ink has been spilled. (After all, the candidate who raises more money quite often loses. The candidate who gets to rearrange concrete district lines to his advantage almost never loses.) Gerrymandering certainly seems as much an impediment to effective democracy as the "rotten borough" system overthrown by the Supreme Court in the one-person/one-vote decision of Baker v. Carr.
The sophisticated new objection to redistricting reform is that "safe seats' also come from the increasing tendency of voters to self-segregate geographically. If Americans don't consciously self-segregate by party, they do self-segregate by values, and that's what the parties have come down to. This means that if you don't want to carve up towns and regions into funny shapes, you'll wind up creating a lot of safe seats, because any given area will tilt one way or another. There's no way you are going to draw a Republican district in Santa Monica or West Los Angeles, for example. Or in the center of most cities. There's no way to draw a Democratic district in Simi Valley, I suspect. And any requirement that city boundaries must be respected-- Prop. 77 contains such language--will make it that much harder to draw competitive districts. That's because competitive districts are most likely to be created on the fringes of cities by drawing a circle that ropes in some conservative suburban voters with more liberal urban voters.
The unsophisticated answer to the sophisticated objection is that right now the system is rigged to intentionally maximize the number of safe seats. There's no way to make them less competitive. It's almost mathematically impossible. You could draw district lines at random and the result would be a greater number of competitive districts, in which the incumbent at least had a shot at losing. If self-segregation were all that was at work, after all, politicians wouldn't have to concoct crazy squiggly districts shapes to guarantee their job security. The New York Times Magazine's world-weary contrarian exposition of the difficulties of drawing competitive districts concluded that under Prop. 77
at most a dozen or so of the state's 53 congressional district could have competitive races.
A dozen? A dozen seems like a larger number than zero! A dozen competitive seats would be a big improvement. I'll take it.
For a centrist Democrat, it seems as if only good things will flow if there are a greater number of competitive seats:
a)More centrist Democrats will be elected! Prop. 77 won't result in a GOP takeover of the California statehouse. There aren't enough Republicans in the state to go around. It might easily result in an increase of Democratic seats, because there will be more districts with slim Democratic majorities rather than a smaller number of safe-seat districts with huge Democratic majorities. If Dems sweep the new swing districts, they'll win big. But the winners are likely to be centrists who appeal to the swing voters, not paleoliberals or interest group hacks who know they can't be dislodged.
b) Democrats might retake Congress. Gerrymandering guarantees a safe Dem majority in California, but nationwide it's one of the things keeping Republicans in power. As Morton Kondracke notes, thanks to gerrymandering a surge for the Democrats analogous to the Gingrich surge in 1994 is probably no longer enough to change who controls the House. That's why the Republican National Committee has opposed Proposition 77, even though it's a pet project of Republican Governor Schwarzenegger.
c) With more centrists will come more compromises, meaning less disconnect between the relatively extreme safe-seaters in the legislture and the relatively mushy moderates in the electorate. That might result in less government-by-initiative in California, where initiatives have resulted in various budget mandates that make it hard for even compromising politicians to keep the state solvent.
What if retired judges can't draw a greater number of competitive districts? Bill Mundell--whose organization, Californians for Fair Redistricting, sponsored Prop. 77--argues that the result would still be more centrists. Why? Because simply removing the power to draw district lines--e.g. reward and punish--from party bosses would allow intra-party dissenters to flourish regardless of what the districts look like. Mundell even thinks this anti-boss effect vastly outweighs the effect of any increase in the number of competitive districts that would follow reform.
He could be right! But I'm not sure about his argument. In general, it's not necessarily a bad thing for party bosses to have power, as long as the parties win and lose on the basis of fair elections in fair districts. Maybe self-segregation has gotten to the point where the second-best alternative for promoting competition is to weaken party unity, or even party identity. I'm not ready for that step just yet. Why don't we pass Mundell's initiative and see if the result is more competition?
P.P.S.: If voters don't want district lines drawn by politicians, or by retired judges, maybe we shouldn't have them drawn by anybody. Specifically, why not let computers draw them. My colleague Robert Wright has suggested a John Rawls-like protocol, in which the two parties operating behind a veil of ignorance agree on the parameters to feed into a redistricting computer, and also agree to abide by the results. Let Maptitude do it! It's so high-tech it might appeal to Californians in a way geriatric judges don't. ... Backfill: Dr. Weevil made exactly this proposal back in 2002, and I linked to it in 2002, and made the same cheap Rawls reference in 2002. It's all coming back to me. ...
P.P.P.S.: It is pathetic how some columnists have grasped at second-order flaws in Prop. 77 as a reason to oppose it. Am I saying their view of public policy is warped by a visceral and institutional opposition to Schwarzenegger and an emotional need to see him humbled? Yes! 1:55 P.M. link
Mystery Solved?kf thinks it has resolved the mystery of what NBC is hiding about the crucial Russert/Libby telephone conversation of July 10, 2003. It's known that Libby called Russert to, in Russert's words
"complain about something that he had been watching on MSNBC, and he was rather agitated about it"
NBC has been strangely non-communicative about which MSNBC program Libby was complaining about, though Michael Crowley, TalkLeft , JustOne Minute, and the New York Times have all suggested that it was Chris Matthews' Hardball, which had been discussing the Iraq War, the faulty WMD intelligence and Joseph Wilson's now-famous trip to Niger.
But if that's the case, why couldn't NBC just say it?
Here's one answer: kf hears, through trustworthy and knowledgeable sources, that in his conversation with Russert Libby gave vent to the archetypal (and wrongheaded) charge that Matthews was animated by anti-Semitism--presumably because Matthews talked a lot about "neoconservative" Bush aides and war supporters and interviewed guests (such as Pat Caddell) who did too.
If that was Libby's complaint, it would help explain why NBC wanted to keep quiet about its exact contents. Not only does it potentially bring up a wild, hard-to-refute issue that the network would rather not have to deal with--but Libby's jag is also something you wouldn't forget, or make up, which would make Russert's testimony extremely convincing at trial. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may have wanted to keep it secret so it would have as much of an impact as possible, and Russert may be trying to honor a request from the prosecutor.
Contacted late Sunday night, Matthews said, "I don't know. Tim never told me that. I never heard that. I just don't know. I don't want to be in the position of telling you about a phone conversation I was not a party to. ... You've got your source." He suggested that I call Russert.
Matthews added, however, that Catherine Martin, an aide in the vice president's office, once told him that "Scooter thinks anytime anybody uses the word 'neoconservative' it's anti-Semitic."
"I'm sorry. It's an ideological term," Matthews said.
I called Russert's office this morning. They referred me to an NBC spokeswoman who emailed, "I do not speak for Mr. Libby, therefore I cannot comment on what Mr. Libby may or may not have said." That makes no sense at all, because I was asking about what Russert himself heard from Libby, and Russert could certainly speak for Russert. But that was NBC's response. ...
Background: For why I think charges of anti-Semitism against anti-neocon Iraq-war opponents are wrongheaded, here and here. For examples of people, other than Scooter Libby, making such charges, see David Brooks and Lawrence Kaplan. ... Here's the distinguished historian Stanley Hoffman saying the same thing Matthews often says without getting trashed as prejudiced . ... Here is The Forward taking a sensible middle ground, after citing as "startling" a question about Israel asked of Richard Perle on national TV by ... Tim Russert! ... 9:18 A.M. link
The Mystery of the NBC Zombies: When you think about it, isn't it a bit incredible that NBC could go through an entire Meet the Press episode about the Libby case, and a whole CNBC show, and innumerable newscasts, telling its viewers that in a crucial conversation Libby had called NBC's Tim Russert
"complaining about a report he had been watching on MSNBC"
without, as far as I can see, telling its viewers the extremely relevant information that the MSNBC report in questionwas about Joseph Wilson and his trip to Niger, if that's in fact what it was about (something that the NYT, among others, has suggested)? If it was about Wilson, after all, that makes it much more plausible that Libby and Russert at least came close to talking about Wilson's wife's role in arranging the Niger trip. ...
It's not that NBC's "reporters" aren't telling the whole story. They aren't even telling the minimal, basic gist of the story that others are telling. It's getting cult-like and creepy!**
Why would NBC keep its viewers in the dark--letting them think that maybe Libby was calling to complain about a report on global warming? Possible answers: a) They're worried they might encourage early challenges to Russert's credibility; b) They're hiding something; Or c) If press accounts make Russert seem even more embroiled in the Wilson/Libby case than he is now, he will inevitably have to give up his perch as "neutral" moderator of Meet the Press, at least temporarily? (I don't think he should have to give it up--it makes for better TV if he's a player! But there would be pressure for him to do so.) ... kf thinks: (b)!
**-- Even on the cable Abrams Report, you found NBC's Kelly O'Donnell--in the course of asking a question--intoning, robot-like, the official Clintonian NBC half-denial about "Tim Russert, who testified that he did not know Plame`s name or that she was an operative ...." (Why is this Clintonian? Because it inexplicably and conspicuously leaves open the possibility that without knowing Plame's name Russert knew that "Wilson's wife" worked in some capacity at the CIA.) 10:22 P.M. link
For Plame Obsessives Only: According to a HuffPo item by my brother Steve, Tim Russert claimed on Meet the Press last Sunday "that on August 7th, the night of his testimony, he reported on NBC the sum and substance of his testimony." My brother is correct. What did Russert say on August 7? Was it a full report or another strangely Clintonian efffort? Plamers want to know! But the transcript of that Nightly News broadcast is mysteriously missing from NEXIS. (It was a Saturday evening, but the other Saturday Nightly News broadcasts are in NEXIS. Only this one is missing!) If anyone has an accurate transcript of that August 7 broadcast, please send it. ... P.S.: I know Russert quoted from the August 7 show on last Sunday's Meet. But there were ellipses! ... P.P.S.: Russert also apparently misstated the crucial date. It was August 7, 2004, not 2003. Would a seasoned professional like Russert have made that mistake by accident? I have started to bolt my door. .. Update: Got it. (Thanks to JT and Factiva). ...
Buried Lede--What was in the ellipsis: It turns out that what Russert left out, when he read the transcript of John Seigenthaler's August 7, 2004 newscast on last Sunday's Meet, is the following half-sentence:
"... and was not asked questions that required him to disclose information provided in confidence."
Hmm. Does that mean this half-sentence is no longer operative? That Russert has now, in fact, given (or agreed to give) the special prosecutor "information provided in confidence," violating whatever promise to Libby he had previously asserted? (Specifically, he might have told Fitzgerald what Libby told him as well as what he told Libby.**) ...
That could explain why Russert made a point of telling Brian Williams on the 10/28 Nightly News, regarding Libby,
Well, Brian, he called me as a viewer, not as source. I'm the Washington bureau chief. He called to complain about a report that he had watched on a cable-owned station of NBC. ... [Emph. added]
Has Russert, under pressure from Fitzgerald, reclassified Libby as a "viewer," with the result that there was no information "provided in confidence"? And isn't that a bit of a scam on Libby? Russert obviously initially thought there was some promise of confidentiality. ...
**: Russert's posture, in his October 29 CNBC show, was that he only told the special prosecutor his side of the conversation, presumably in order to honor the confidentiality promise.
WILLIAMS: But that was the deal you worked out with him, that you would only testify about, in essence, what someone would have heard standing in your office on your end of the telephone call, and you wouldn't say...
RUSSERT: Right. And...
WILLIAMS: ...what he said to you?
It's this once-trumpeted limitation on Russert's testimony that--his ellipsis suggests--might now have quietly been dropped. ... 1:11 P.M. link
Kevin Roderick notes that traffic in Los Angeles (and, perhaps, elsewhere) gets horrifically jammed every year right after the switchover from Daylight Savings Time. What's interesting is that this seems to be a purely sociological phenomenon rather than a technological one. As best as I can figure it out, what happens is roughly this:
There are two kinds of people--1) those who run on "nature's clock," by looking at the position of the sun and how light it is; and 2) those who run on the official designated human-clock time of day.
After the switch from Daylight to Standard time--during which human clocks are set back an hour--the people who run on nature's clock and leave work late leave at what used to be 7:00 and is now 6:00. The human-clock people--the 2s--leave at their normal human-clock times. Does virtually everyone leave at 6 then? No--there are some nature's clock people who used to leave at 6 but now leave at 5:00. But (and this seems the key point) since the nature's clock people tend to be laid back folks who leave work late, there are more of them moving from a 7:00 to a 6:00 commute than there are rushed, uptight nature's clock people moving from a 6:00 to a 5:00 commute. The result is a doubling up of commuter streams at 6:00--at least until the laid-back nature's clock people realize they want to stick around the office for an extra hour in the dark. Then traffic goes back to normal.
At least I think that's what happens. Correct me if I've got it wrong. ... Update: A simpler way to put it might be that the end of Daylight Savings time makes the people who go by human clocks head home just as the sun is setting, which is when the "nature's clock" people also naturally tend to head home. Traffic is lighter (i.e., better spaced out) when the human-clock people are prompted to leave work while it is still light, letting the nature's-clockers fill the roads an hour or so later when the sun actually goes down. That's what happens with Daylight Savings Time, which is why (I'm told) traffic always gets better when it takes effect again in the spring. ... P.S.: Doesn't that mean that, if we care about growing congestion, we should keep Daylight Savings Time year round? It seems cheaper than double-decking all the freeways or trying to bribe people into carpools. ... 4:45 A.M.
Kristof: 'I might have gotten it right!' Jack Shafer finally provokesNYT columnist Nicholas Kristof into confronting the flaws in his initial reports of Joseph Wilson's now-famous trip to Niger--reports that set in motion the whole meshugaas surrounding the outing of Wilson's wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame. There were two main flaws in Kristof's initial Wilson columns.
Flaw #1: They gave the impression that Cheney's office sent Wilson to Niger.
Flaw #2: They say that Wilson exposed the Niger/Saddam/yellowcake documents as forgeries in early 2002--as opposed to calling into question the existence of the deal the documents allegedly documented. In fact, the documents themselves weren't examined until late 2002.
Kristof's response is on TimesSelect. Non-members like me can't read it, even if we go down to the store and buy a copy of the NYT print edition. ** But kf operatives have obtained a copy (and Tom Maguire has long excerpts). In many ways, it's a model NYT op-edder's correction. The Times has come in for a lot of criticism lately, so it's good to see Kristof showing how it's done. It's really not that difficult, actually--there are five simple steps:
1. Bond with your base: Kristof introduces the subject of his mistakes by noting, "Some bloggers on the right have been fuming about the column ... " Not only are Kristof's critics conservative and partisan, they're overexcitably so--they're "fuming"! Of course it will turn out that the fuming right-wingers are right and Kristof is wrong. But that's all the more reason for him to make sure his readers know whom to root for from the start!
2.: Be picky about what you're not buying: Regarding Flaw #1, Kristof notes, "One of the criticisms of the right is that it sounds [in Kristof's May 6 column ] as if the vice president dispatched Wilson to Niger, but I don't buy that objection." He doesn't buy it because on May 6 he only said "the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal," and that this prompted Wilson to somehow be "dispatched to Niger." Of course, since Kristof never cited anyone else as doing the dispatching, he left the distinct impression that Cheney's office was in fact the dispatcher. And, as Maguire notes, a second Kristof column on June 13 says Wilson had been sent "at the behest of the office of Vice President Dick Cheney," which is a good bit wronger than the May 6 formulation--but which Kristof conveniently doesn't mention. [Emph. added] [Update/Weaselly semi-correction: But alert reader J.P. notes that once you get past the hyped "behest" lede, Kristof's June 13 column (unlike his May 6 column) is quite clear about who actually did the dispatching--i.e. the CIA, not Cheney.]
3. Keep hope alive! From Kristof's original column:
"[Wilson] reported to the CIA and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents have been forged.
The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. In addition, the Niger mining program was structured so that the uranium diversion had been impossible. The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted -- except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway."
This is not a passage that's held up well. Kristof has no idea whether Wilson reported that the signature was that of an out-of-office minister, it turns out. Nor was Wilson's oral report passed around and "accepted"as authoritative by the entire administration, at least by its more neoconnish precincts. Wilson may not even have been that "unequivocal" in his conclusions, which--remember--addressed whether the deal went down and not the forged documents themselves.
A less experienced correctioner might have written something like, "The column was wrong to imply that Wilson debunked the documents as opposed to the deal, or that it was specifcally his report that higher administrations officials saw or accepted."
Instead, Kristof notices something: Wilson might conceivably have cast doubt on the forged signatures without seeing them, if the name of the person signing, which was wrong, was known (even if the U.S. didn't have the actual documents). So Kristof writes
"[W]hile it's possible that he reported that the signatures were wrong, that seems to me unlikely."
This is a terrific formulation. I'll have to remember it the next time I need to weasel out of a bit of sloppiness. In one breath, it says "Hey, I might still be right!" while drawing praise for its fairminded admission that this possibility is "unlikely." It's so much more complex and interesting than a vulgar, flatfooted word like "wrong."
4. Equal time for the planes that land safely: "As for the quote about the State Department and bamboozlement, I think that's [sic] stands up well." I hadn't seen any fuming on the right about that quote, but it's good to be reminded of a sentence in the column that wasn't wrong.
5. In the end, it doesn't matter if the Hitler Diaries are real or not! Kristof grudgingly acknowledges that Wilson "may have exaggerated how strongly he debunked the documents," but then produces this extraordinary paragraph:
More generally, I find the attacks on a private citizen like Wilson rather distasteful. Sure, he injected himself into the public arena with his op-ed column and TV appearances, and so some scrutiny is fair. But I figure it's more important to examine and probe the credibility of, say, the vice president than a retired ambassador.
Hmm. Is it also distasteful to attack a publicity-shy private citizen like, say, Dr. Steven Hatfill? ... O.K., cheap shot! But does anyone of authority at the NYT endorse Kristof's sentiment? It's allright to scrutinize federal officials but actively "distasteful" to scrutinize former officials who lead loud public election-year campaigns against them? Is Kristof suggesting that he should be let off the hook because it was more important to blast Cheney than get Wilson right? (A: Yes.)
It's also more important to "examine and probe the credibility" of the vice president than that of the Attorney General or the Governor of Mississippi. Does that mean those other officials get a pass from columnists?
P.S.: Kristof shouldn't be ashamed of his columns. He broke an important story. The first press accounts of an event often get non-trivial details wrong. But why not just admit it when that happens? Is it because admitting it would also be admitting that Cheney and Libby and Rove had at least some legitimate reasons to want to set the record straight on Wilson back in 2003?
**--Kristof may have hit on the marketing breakthrough that will save TimesSelect. Call it TruthSelect. Here's the plan: Have the op-ed columns in the print edition contain flagrant inaccuracies. Figure out what the factual version of events is, but print the corrected, accurate version only on the restricted, premium portion of the Web site, where people have to pay $49.95 to get at it. The B.S. is free. The truth you have to pay for! It's so simple and intuitive it's genius. 1:36 A.M. link
We Want No Pardon and We Want It ... Now! Now that the Senate Dems have finished with their stunt designed to provoke an investigation of the Bush administration's handling of prewar intelligence, shouldn't their next stunt be something designed to get Bush to promise not to pardon I. Lewis Libby if he's convicted (or before he's tried, for that matter)?Anonymous Liberal makes the case. Maybe Democrats could hold up some criminal justice outlay in order to dramatize the point. ... Bush defenders may say the President would never pardon a convicted criminal. But his father's pardon of Caspar Weinberger is a troubling, take-care-of-your-own precedent. If Bush really isn't going to pardon Libby, that's information Libby should have now! It's not enough for Libby not to be pardoned, in other words. He needs to know he's not going to be pardoned, before he enters into difficult implicit negotiations that may involve deciding whether to implicate others. ... 7:14 P.M.
Everyone Wants to Work for Jon Klein! Why not? The CNN chief had the vision to grab cheap headlines by humiliating his own Crossfire team! It was all about the storytelling, you see--but then there was a hurricane and it was all about emo! But don't worry. Should circumstances change again--maybe there will be a big snowfall, you never know--Klein is guaranteed to say nice things about you ("we mutually looked at the lay of the land and came to this conclusion" ... "We cannot thank Aaron enough for the skills and professionalism he brought to CNN." ... "There are only so many hours in the course of a day."). New two-hour anchor Anderson Cooper knows that whatever happens, he has Jon Klein on his side, patiently backing him up through thick and thin. ... More Kudos for Klein: Rachel at FishbowlNY; TVNewser ... P.S.: Klein on Aaron Brown's replacement, Anderson Cooper: "He has broken through the clutter with his candor, his humanity and his emotional connection to the most pressing stories of our time. ... He's got a refreshing way of being the anti-anchor. He's not quote-unquote reporting at you. He's just being himself. He's asking the questions you would like answered. He's getting involved the way you might. ... Clearly, America is embracing Anderson Cooper." He has 27 percent higher ratings than a rerun of Lou Dobbs! ... Despite CNN's troubles, Klein hasn't forgotten how to dole out the praise in such a way as to make you hate him and the person he's praising at the same time! ... How does he do it? I think it's the condescension! ... Unused Obvious Hed Available for Free: "'Ice' Fired." ... [Emph. added] 2:26 A.M.
Die Pinchedammerung II: Go Class A Stock! Private Capital Management, the largest shareholder in the Knight-Ridder media chain, is pressing its board of directors to sell the company, citing a disparity between its lagging share price and the "fair value" of its assets. ... Boy, Pinch Sulzberger is lucky Private Capital Management isn't the largest Class A shareholder in the New York Times Company, whose share price has also plunged. ... Oh, wait! ... One scenario I just made up: Knight-Ridder gets sold to the NYT. A crowning triumph for Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.! But who gets to run the restructured, merged company? Not Pinch, who unexpectedly shifts over to become visionary head of the new Sulzberger Institute for the Future of Journalism, while the NYT's Class B shareholders pick as CEO someone who hasn't consistently degraded the brand throughout his tenure! ... 9:39 A.M. link
The Warriors of Rockingham: There was a large gang fight on Halloween in the lush heart of L.A.'s affluent suburban West Side, I'm told. Dozens of teenagers, some wielding bats and chains, from rival black and Hispanic outfits battled each other around 26th Street and San Vicente, on the border between Santa Monica and Brentwood, the latter probably the most expensive neighborhood in Los Angeles. Police were called to the scene in force.** ...Did you learn about this incident in the Los Angeles Times? Of course not. Too interesting! Readers would just want to know more. What's the point? ... P.S.: On the other hand, the Times' latest online effort, The Envelope, has great potential for sneaking lively gossip into the paper through the back door. This short-but-to-the-point Gore Vidal interview certainly gets at one truth about the man. (He's ready to launch GoreSelect!) ... The twittish deadweight Timesenklatura would be well-advised to mobilize and suffocate this alarming Web innovation before it gets too far along. For example, why are there no representatives of the paper's Thomas era on the Envelope team? Are blacks, women, Latinos and Koreans all adequately represented on the staff? How can the paper fail to meet the needs of the community in its traditional fashion if the groups that make up the community aren't part of the effort? ...
** Update/Correction 11/4: The L.A. Times tells Kevin Roderick's LAObserved that the police say the Halloween incident described above "didn't happen." I've now reinterviewed my source--an eyewitness who fled the scene for safety reasons--and while I don't have a complete picture I believe there was a gang rumble of some sort, involving dozens of people. The part in the above item that is wrong is the asumption that police were "called to the scene in force." Police were already heavy in the area, as you'd expect on Halloween. But there was apparently no mobilization of additional police or riot cops, no lights flashing, etc. ... I don't know what the police saw and what they didn't see. (My call to Santa Monica police press office hasn't been returned yet). It's hard to believe they'd miss gangbangers walking around with baseball bats. They might have missed fighting in the alleys. But just because the police don't respond doesn't mean nothing happened. And gangbangers terrorizing trick-or-treaters by fighting each other on Halloween in the heart of Brentwood is a story most Westside parents would want to know about, I should think--even if it's not a story you can get by just calling police headquarters. 2:09 A.M. link
treated news of Plame's employment as if it were radioactive before it ever became a public issue. Their caution suggests that at the upper levels of the administration not only was Wilson's wife's identity known, but that it was also known that it was not for public distribution.
Karl Rove talked to only two reporters back in July 2003. [Emph. added]
I'm confused. Rove talked to only two reporters about Plame,but both of them actually published her name and CIA status, and one of them was the first to do so. Based on the indictment, Libby talked to two reporters about Plame, only one of whom published her name or CIA status (and that reporter got a weak confirmation from Libby after first hearing it from Rove). So how did Rove, in supposed contrast to Libby, treat news of Plame's employment "as if it were radioactive" and "not for public distribution"? ... Update: Dickerson says he wasn't contrasting Rove and Libby's behavior. The point is that they all treated the information as too hot to handle. Hence it wasn't something Libby would just forget. OK. I'm still not sure taking Matt Cooper's call and immediately spilling the beans on Wilson's wife (as Rove apparently did) is treating the info with utmost caution, however (though it was on "double super secret background). ... 1:35 A.M. link
Instapundit's Katrina/Rita Relief donation list.
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. 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. Keller's 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. 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's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. 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. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]