More elections, please, in Iraq.

A mostly political Weblog.
Dec. 20 2005 3:15 AM

More Elections, Please!

Four years is a long time in Iraq.

(Continued from Page 13)

Update: Emailer J.S. concedes it's normally OK for Woodward to comment on public issues even when his views are informed by secrets he knows--but J.S. argues Woodward shouldn't have commented in this case because he was "tangentially involved" in Fitzgerald's investigation in a possibly self-interested way viewers were unaware of. Specifically, I suppose, Woodward might have worried that he'd be subpoenaed (which early on meant possibly going to jail) and therefore have been trying to stop Fitzgerald before he got that far. That's not a gross, testicle-crushing conflict like Howie Kurtz's with CNN, but it was undisclosed. ... Yet a) Woodward knew he wasn't going to stop Fitzgerald. As a potential witness, he also had an incentive to suck up to him; b) If it wasn't obvious to the public that Woodward was trying to avoid subpoena in this case, it was obvious that Woodward in general could be subpoenaed in lots of cases like this one if prosecutors started pursuing them. That much of his self-interest was out in the open; c) Lots of reporters know things about Plamegate that Fitzgerald might want to know, yet they're still writing and opining about it; d) Reporters have hidden conflicts all the time, not all of which are visible to the public. Woodward might not want a story to become big if he didn't have secret information, and therefore couldn't get a book out of it! It's often difficult to figure out when a hidden conflict (you hate someone, you're worried that someone else will take your job, etc) should be disclosed. The one obvious half-solution is for reporters, when commenting in public, to stop pretending they are free of conflicts and put themselves more in the same category as politicians--namely witnesses who are assumed to be riven with potential conflicts. When Dick Cheney is interviewed on TV, viewers know he might be pursuing fifteen different hidden agendas. They don't know what all those agendas are. But they know they don't know; e) Woodward's in a tough spot, because if he doesn't comment (or issues some milquetoast remark) it will cause people to wonder why he's being so quiet, is he involved, etc. f) Woodward could certainly have gotten away with turning down "Larry King Live" a few times, but it would come at the non-trivial cost of suppressing his sincere views (and leaving his guilt about not coming forward, which seems to me a bigger probable factor in shaping Woodward's take on Fitzgerald than subpoena-fear, unassuaged). ...  Still, J.S. has a point! 8:56 P.M. link

"Fat Surfacing": Is this Chris Bangle's latest visionary aesthetic breakthrough? The night is young! ...  [via Autoblog ] 6:59 P.M.

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That's how I feel about sex! The LAT's Patrick Goldstein attacks Oscar prediction blogging, then produces the Buried Weasel Graf of the Week:

Full disclosure: I write an Oscar prediction column too, but I do it once a year, not 47 times a week.

Goldstein adds, "without getting into the Academy Award prediction business full-time, I may be doing an Oscar podcast in the near future too." ... That's OK. Go ahead, do it full-time! As long as you let us know you'd really rather "wrestle with questions about what our movies say about America today." God help us. ... P.S.: Hollywood is an isolated subculture populated by quirky egomaniacs, and movies have long lead times. They are lousy barometers of "America today."  Indeed, wrestling with "what movies say about America today" is usually just a disingenuous, intellectually flattering, week-in-reviewish way of writing about glamorous stars and directors and attracting lucrative movie ads. At least Oscar handicappers are open and straightforward about what they're doing. ... 5:55 P.M.

Launching 'MSM Basic': Aren't those who predict doom for the NYT's TimesSelect like those who predicted doom for cable television? After all, why would someone pay for a TV show when they could see TV shows for free on the regular broadcast channels? That's what some people must have thought when cable programming started. Were they wrong! Won't the same thing happen with pay-Websites?

There are several good answers to this question: For starters, news is more fungible than drama--any number of sites can tell you the Canadian government has fallen, and any one site isn't that much better at it than another. Plus the web is interactive--HBO's Sopranos doesn't depend for its visibility on being linked by free TV shows.

But let's accept and apply the cable TV model. What would it suggest for the Web? Not the New York Times' go-it-alone approach, in which each newspaper charges people to read its particular offerings. Most cable channels aren't sold individually, after all. They're sold as part of packages. If you get the basic cable package you get dozens of channels. If you get the premium package you get dozens more. The potential revenue raising equivalent, for newspapers, would come if they banded together in some sort of consortium (possibly even presenting themselves collectively as a cheaper rival to the NYT's premium offerings).Subscribe to this Basic MSM consortium for a modest annual fee and you'd get access to all the pages of dozens, maybe hundreds, of papers. True, the revenue would be divided many ways, but it would be something. ...

Wouldn't the remaining free Web sites flourish, giving each paper an incentive to stay out of this consortium and grab some of that traffic? Sure. But the consortium's goal wouldn't be to get all the eyeballs. (Cable channels don't get all the TV eyeballs either; many people only have "free" TVs.) The goal would simply be to charge a low enough fee and feature enough content so that the vast majority of Web users would feel like they had to pay the fee or else they'd be out of it, Internet wise--the same way most TV users now feel they have to at least subscribe to basic cable to be part of things. A $3/month fee, for example, would probably not stamp out rapid democratic discourse precisely because it would so low that readers could assume that everyone else was signing up, so they'd better sign up too.

That's a thought process that has yet to take hold for the narrow TimesSelect offerings, and may never take hold. Individual publication-by-publication fees discourage the "everyone's seeing it" assumption because individual publication prices will not only be higher, they'll vary--and that variation will be a pain to keep track of. As a result, nobody writing for or reading any individual pay-to-view publication will be sure that publication is popular enough to be presumptively "public" the way, say, CNN is "public" even though you have to pay to get it. If you can't make that assumption about New York's Times, you can't make it anywhere!

In sum:

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