Eason down the road

Eason down the road

Eason down the road

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 14 2005 4:16 PM

Rampant, Unedited Dialogue!

Blogs 1, CNN 0.

Did Jeff "Gannon" really have "access to classified documents that named Valerie Plame as a C.I.A. operative," as  reported in Friday's New York Times--or does he just read the newspapers?MinuteMan raises some questions. ... P.S.: I'm trying to get up to speed on Gannongate, but I keep getting confused. If "Gannon" did get a leak of classified documents, would that make him more of a fake reporter or more of a real reporter? Wouldn't it make him Robert Novak? ... 1:26 A.M.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

And they didn't make a cheap reference  to The Prisoner? 11:23 P.M.


First, kill all the telling details! WaPo and CNN's Howard Kurtz emails to explain why he revised his Saturday Eason Jordan piece to cut out the juiciest, most suggestive detail of the "gossip about Jordan's personal life." (See before and after.)  

For the Record

 I compressed that paragraph about Eason Jordan's social life, without a word o advice from anyone, for one reason. I was trying to squeeze in several interviews I had done after the first edition into my story for later editions, and given dead-tree space limitations, was literally going line by line to save room. The first-edition story was published, but I thought it important to include more voices from the blogosphere for later editions.

a) He didn't bury the lede. He removed the lede entirely due to "space limitations"! b) I take Kurtz at his word. But nobody can speak for their subconscious (otherwise it wouldn't be subconscious). That's why there are normally prophylactic rules against massive conflicts of interest. Maybe kausfiles could launch a lucrative spinoff, kurtzfiles, devoted entirely to WaPo's media critic explaining to his readers the non-corrupt reasoning behind his seemingly pro-CNN reporting decisions. [You're already there--ed Soft launch! Next issue, "A Salute to Jonathan Klein!" Tribute ads accepted.] c) You don't have to get actual 'words of advice' from someone to be influenced by them--to worry about how they will react. d) "Going line by line to save room." I used to do that! As Kurtz notes, it's a print thing. You don't have to do it in cyberspace. There's plenty of room. Which raises an issue: If Kurtz is cutting highly relevant information in order to squeeze his piece into the printed, hand-delivered version of the Post, why not at least publish the complete version on the Web? Doesn't the failure to take advantage of the Web's extra space put dead tree papers in the normally-futile position of actually suppressing a superior competitor (the full Web versions of what reporters produce)?

Update: I disagree with Instapundit, who decorously argues:

targeting parts of people's lives that don't have to do with the story -- like, say, Eason Jordan's love life -- seems inappropriate to me, and likely to lend support to the bloggers-as-lynch-mob caricature.


The problem is a) Eason Jordan's love life did have to do with the story. According to even the self-bowdlerized Kurtz it's why he lost his job--i.e. why he wasn't allowed to apologize profusely for his Davos remarks and carry on, which as Instapundit notes is otherwise a mystery;b)Jordan got into trouble, according to David Gergen, because he was "deeply distraught" over the deaths of journalists in Iraq. Why would his emotions get the better of his rationality? Mightn't it help answer the question if he's been involved with the widow of a journalist who's been killed covering the Middle East? ... I defend gossiping about people's love lives even when it's not obviously relevant  to a particular story. That's a tougher case to make--Instapundit's right about the human cost of losing a private "backstage."  But it's not this case. ...  12:26 P.M.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

" ... so shall he go unloved by the false bear."[Thanks to S.S. ] 1:56 A.M.

Friday, February 11 2005


It's Friday: A good day to quit if even the damage control efforts of CNN's Howie Kurtz haven't been enough to save you. ... Update: Reynolds and Jarvis note that if Eason Jordan had a) gotten the tape of his controversial Davos remarks released and b) honestly apologized this wouldn't have been a big deal. (The tape must be damning, but it's hard to believe it's so damning that a decent apology wouldn't have defused it.)  I too find Jordan's failure to pursue this open, honest strategy inexplicable. ... More here and here. ... P.S.: It should also be noted that the controversy was kept alive not just by blogs, but by the refusal of a relatively liberal Democrat, Barney Frank, to sweep it under the rug in gentlemanly fashion. ... P.P.S.: At least the Washington Post's editors had the good sense not to assign CNN on-air personality Kurtz to write up this CNN story. ... Oh wait. ... But Kurtz has the sex angle (now he tells us!) which removes some of the inexplicability from Jordan's exit. I mean, no wonder Jordan had to go--all the controversy and gossip around him was stealing attention from ...  the train wreck of CNN under new chief Jonathan "If It Doesn't Have A Compelling Central Character It Didn't Happen" Klein! ... 

Update: I'm pretty sure the sex paragraph of Kurtz's story has now been sanitized. Pressure from Kurtz's superiors at WaPo? Or from his superiors at CNN? ... Maybe someone out there has a google-cached version of the original. ... Found: The Seattle Times has the original Kurtz wording in its version. ... [Thanks to reader T.F.]

More--The Agony of Gergen!The Anchoress has some sharp criticisms of Kurtz's latest effort and of the David Gergen's strange blame-the-blogs remarks, which I interpret as an attempt to assuage his own guilt that he rallied around "Eason" too late--after he rashly  gave Michelle Malkin an honest interview. The Anchoress:

And as to that "people beat him up in the blogosphere..." line. I'm sorry, is it just me, or did David Gergen not talk to Michelle Malkin and did he not confirm everything the blogs were reporting, did he not say he had no problem with the tape coming out and...ummm...did he also not "let slip" that he'd been contacted by four (4) msm outlets, and that the Washington Post had planned to run the story, but spiked it?

Why yes...yes, he did.

I'm kind of tired of Gergen playing both sides of an issue - having no problem hanging Jordan out to dry with one lip, and then using the other lip to badmouth the blogs who (as evidenced by Michelle Malkin's work) were (mostly) trying to work responsibly to bring the whole story out into the open. [Emph. added]


4:05 P.M.

Who owns the "Ownership Society"? Gary Hart suggests that Republicans (like David Brooks) who promote giving every American child $1,000 at birth should pay George McGovern royalties on the idea:

George McGovern proposed essentially the same thing in 1972 and was hooted off the stage. Let's at least give him some of the credit.  

Hart's certainly right to complain that Republicans now want credit for their big-spending redistributionist ideas while continuing to vilify Democrats as big-spending redistributionists. But the idea pushed by David Brooks isn't the idea pushed by McGovern. Hart knows this, or should. Brooks wants to give kids $1,000 one time at birth, followed by five $500 installments. They couldn't withdraw the money until retirement. McGovern's idea was for a guaranteed income of $1,000 every year, which you could live on even though you were not retired and perfectly capable of working.  ... In short, McGovern's idea was "welfare," by my non-idiosyncratic definition--it failed the "work test," meaning it was government aid given to the able-bodied that they could live on instead of working.  Brooks' idea is big-government but not welfare (you can't live on it during your working life) in the same way Democratic programs like Social Security and Supplemental Security Income are not welfare (you basically have to be disabled or old to get them). ... P.S.: I'm not blaming McGovern. Virtually all right thinking sophisticates were for a guaranteed annual income when McGovern proposed it. I was too. But the voters hated it. Only later did it become clear to many in the center and left that the voters were right--welfare-for-the-abled bodied was sustaining an underclass. That wouldn't seem to be a danger with Brooks' savings-account idea (which he borrows from ex-Sen. Bob Kerrey). ...[Link via Gawker3:36 P.M.


Did Pulitzer-Prize winning LAT auto columnist Dan Neil embarrassingly lose control and spin a $450,000 Mercedes supercar during a recent press test drive? Looks like it, according to new L.A. gossip page. ... Meanwhile, ex-NYT film critic Elvis Mitchell is failing to impress  students in Cambridge, Mass., according to a new N.Y. gossip page which links to a Harvard gossip page. ... That's three--so it's a trend: Gossip pages. Many, many gossip pages, often written by uncredentialed, Gannonesque semi-professionals who aren't even working for Nick Denton. Current libel law may not be able to cope. ... 12:48 P.M.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Who says the porn industry routinely pioneers new Web technology? The driving engine of Web innovation is clearly Easongate! Here N.Z. Bear posts an automated page that lets you track the latest Jordan-related posts from across the blogosphere. ... Note to Bear: Do this for Lindsay Lohan and you are rich, no? ... 2:46 P.M.

Excellent and revealing infight on the right: Today's perfectly reasonable Wall Street Journal column on Eason Jordan by Bret Stephens contains a gratuitous and snotty putdown of columnist/blogger Michelle Malkin. Malkin provides the background for the feud here. ... It's all about immigration, as you might expect. ... 1:19 P.M.

Dean, Dean, Dean: From the latest annoying 'doesn't-he-know-he-lost?' fundraising e-mail from the Kerry campaign:

A new DNC Chair will be elected at the end of this week. Let's make sure that he has everything he needs to start strong.

Gee, who might that new DNC Chair be? Does everybody on the planet know except Kerry?  Is Kerry scared to embrace Dean? Does he resent Dean? Was the email written five weeks ago? ... P.S.: The problem with having Kerry lingering around the party like an old rejected boy friend who still thinks he has a chance is the effort it takes to shoo him away. ... Why even worry about Kerry, I asked a Democratic friend yesterday. "He takes up oxygen," was the answer. That's true--it would be nice to have more media space to examine some of those interesting Democratic border state governors  who might actually win.  But it also takes oxygen to ridicule Kerry--and nobody seems to feel like wasting energy beating up a dead man. That may be Kerry's biggest strategic asset. ... Update: He was for mentioning Dean after he was against it! Kerry has now sent out a second e-mail, "Stand with Howard Dean," that calls on recipients to "welcome Howard Dean" with a "groundswell of grassroots support." ... A timely synecdoche for the competent, decisive Kerry presidency we're missing! ... 1:50 A.M.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Here's how NPR's All Things Considered covered President Bush's proposed cuts in Community Development Block Grants--by lobbing softballs to a CDBG supporter! No opposing view. ... This is not just liberal, but dumb liberal--NPR could easily have found a Democrat, maybe even an old Democrat, who believed CDBGs are an ineffective antipoverty program. (Basically they are slush funds for local politicians, who too often sluice the federal money to their developer friends to build ugly downtown hotels.) ... On the other hand, it was good to hear the NPR anchors happy in their blatantly biased work again after the forced Bataan-like march of the Bush inaugural/Iraq elections/State of the Union. ... 4:48 P.M.

But is it good for the blues? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is suing to stop my friend David Segal and New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg from putting up a "Jewish Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" Web site.Good publicity for Segal and Goldberg, but I'm with Cleveland. One of the virtues of rock and roll is the way it mixes together ethnic, racial and religious influences. (Chuck Berry, known around St. Louis as the "black hillbilly," based his first hit, "Maybellene," on an old country song; Bo Diddley invented his eponymous beat after listening to ... Gene Autry!) Why subject it to the same hack identity politics that plagues everything else? ... P.S.: Goldberg is quoted:

"Speaking as a layman, I don't think they own rock and roll and I don't think they own the phrase 'Hall of Fame' and I know for sure they don't own the Jews." [Emph. added]

Please. This is a trademark case. ... 12:51 P.M.

Kurtz Till It Hurts! I hadn't realized that a previous instance in which WaPo media reporter Howie Kurtz seemed to take a dive for his other employer, CNN, also involved crafting a careful damage-controlling column about CNN news chief Eason Jordan. That was after Jordan admitted that CNN had kept quiet about some Saddam atrocities and threats. ... I can't find a Web link to the April 14, 2003 Post Kurtz piece discussing Jordan--which paralleled Kurtz's most recent CNN defense  in its structure, magnifying Jordan's defense, minimizing his critics and giving him the last word. But see this extra-special unreleased edition  of Kurtz's CNN show, "Reliable Sources." ... That makes two examples--a pattern, I say! One more and we'll have three, and with three anything is possible. ...Update: Daly delivers the missing link. ... P.S.: I did find this  Washington Post Live Online chat in which Kurtz is actually mildly critical of Jordan's actions regarding Saddam, saying-- 

His rationale is that CNN could not have reported the specifics without jeopardizing lives, including those of the network's Iraqi employees in Baghdad, but I don't find that explanation entirely convincing. CNN could have just pulled up stakes in Baghdad rather deal with these thugs, but was unwilling to do so. ... [snip]

In this case you have CNN's top news executive acknowledging that the network suppressed important stories about Saddam's regime for a dozen years. That makes the situation very different.

This criticism, and the contrast with what Kurtz actually wrote in the paper, raises the interesting issue of whether Kurtz has been consciously pulling his punches against CNN when he's not just discreetly Web-chatting--i.e. when he's writing articles for the Post proper, articles his CNN bosses are certain to read. ... 12:43 A.M. 

"Flagrantly irresponsible" showbiz gossip on the front page of the earnest, Pulitzer-obsessed L.A. Times! ... OK, maybe not gossip. More like 'telling anecdotes.' And they're from James Stewart's Disney book. But it's a start! ... The LAT better watch it or people will actually start talking about them. ..  12:20 A.M.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Kleine Ratings: Am I crazy, or is perennial cellar-dweller MSNBC now within hailing distance of Jonathan Klein's CNN in the latest ratings posted on Drudge? Anderson Cooper--the "new face of CNN," the face of tsunami compassion!--has 445,000 viewers. Keith Olbermann, the face of the Ohio recount, has 416,000 viewers. ... Cooper leads by fewer than 30,000 viewers. ... It's the power of storytelling! ... Update:TVNewser notes the additional power of storytelling to chase away younger viewers! In the [coveted!-ed] 25-54 demographic, MSNBC is actually beating both CNN's Anderson Cooper and CNN's Paula Zahn. ... 4:15 P.M.

An interview I did with the NYT's Jason DeParle about his excellent American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare is scheduled for broadcast today at 2:30 P.M. on Los Angeles' KCRW (available on the Web here). I tried to get DeParle to tell some of the dramatic and ironic stories in the book (and stories about what has happened since the book was written) without too-obvious Susan Stambergish prodding ("Tell us about ... "). I think it went OK.  You be the judge. ... 3:36 A.M.

Kurtz Does CNN's Damage Control: If you were worrying that WaPo's conflicted Howie Kurtz would bend over backwards to be tough on his own CNN bosses, you can stop now. Kurtz's article ... well, let's just say that if a p.r. agent or damage control spinner produced a piece designed to try and save CNN exec Eason Jordan's job, it would be the piece Kurtz wrote in the Post today. Why? Here are some of the blatant and subtle pro-Jordan tricks:

1) Witness Protection: Kurtz has Barney Frank recalling Jordan--after he "modified" his shocking remarks--still saying shocking things at Davos about U.S. forces "maybe knowing they were killing journalists, out of anger." Kurtz then has Jordan denying this, admitting he "wasn't as clear as I should have been" but saying he "never once in my life thought anyone from the U.S. military tried to kill a journalsit" and "[n]ever meant to suggest that." It's Frank vs. Jordan! Then Kurtz says portentously--opening a new paragraph-- "Two other panelists backed Jordan's account."

But one of those panelists, moderator David Gergen, doesn't agree with Jordan. Gergen says Jordan went "too far" and then "walked it back." (Jordan doesn't admit to backtracking, only lack of clarity.) Gergen's account of what happened next dovetails, instead, with Frank's, according to Michelle Malkin (who also interviewed Gergen):

Gergen said he asked Jordan point blank whether he believed the policy of the U.S. military was to sanction the targeting of journalists. Gergen said Jordan answered no, but then proceeded to speculate about a few incidents involving journalists killed in the Middle East--a discussion which Gergen decided to close down because "the military and the government weren't there to defend themselves."

Kurtz's other witness is BBC World Services Director Richard Sambrook, in his note to blogger Jay Rosen. Sambrook says Jordan sufficiently "clarified" his comments. He may be right, but he seems to have been Jordan's wing man in the Davos debate and in the ongoing institutional effort to protect journalists in war zones. How do we know he's not just going to bat for "Eason"? Against these two non-airtight witnesses are

a) Rony Abovitz-- mentioned in passing by Kurtz only as supporting the proposition that Jordan "backpedaled when challenged," when in fact he is one of the main witnesses against Jordan who criticizes even Jordan's post-backpedaling comments. Abovitz wrote that Jordan at first "asserted that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but they had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience (the anti-US crowd)." Then, according to Abovitz

Eason did backpedal and make a number of statements claiming that he really did not know if what he said was true, and that he did not himself believe it. But when pressed by others, he seemed to waver back and forth between what might have been his beliefs and the realization that he had created a kind of public mess. ...[snip ]His statements, his reaction, and the reaction of all in attendance left me perplexed and confused. Many in the crowd, especially those from Arab nations, applauded what he said and called him a "very brave man" for speaking up against the U.S. in a public way amongst a crowd ready to hear anti-US sentiments. I am quite sure that somewhere in the Middle East, right now, his remarks are being printed up in Arab language newspapers as proof that the U.S. is an evil and corrupt nation. [Emph. added]

Abovitz also wrote, in a statement Kurtz doesn't mention: "If the WEF 2005 videotape of this meeting is ever released for public view, it will not help Mr. Jordan at all. "

b) Rebecca MacKinnon--unmentioned by Kurtz-- who says Abovitz's "account is consistent with what I witnessed (though as I've said, I don't have verbatim notes)."

c) Justin Vaiss, apparently uncontacted by Kurtz, who has Jordan blaming "the tone ... set by Donald Rumsfeld" for journalists' deaths and saying that "Many journalists feel that among young American soldiers, many would like to 'do' a journalist in the course of combat." Vaiss has Gergen "taken aback."

d) Sen. Chris Dodd, who says he was "outraged" by Jordan's comments, a quote buried deep in the armpit of Kurtz's piece, perhaps understandably (it smells like political grandstanding).

2) Hide the Videotape: But forget the witnesses. There's a video of this event, initially promised to a blogger but now being kept under wraps by the Davos people. Downplayed eyewitness Abovitz says Jordan "is much better off if the tape (in classic "1984" style) just disappears." Kurtz merely notes in passing that "a videotape of the event has not been made public," but he doesn't put even routine journalistic pressure on the World Economic Forum to release it. If it were a tape of, say, Karl Rove making a remark about future Supreme Court justices, wouldn't a Woodsteinian WaPo reporter raise at least a cynical eyebrow or two about the need for secrecy--asking the Davos officials for an explanation of why they weren't releasing it, or asking Jordan if he'd give his permission to have the video made public?  If you wanted to kill the controversy dead, though, you'd do what Kurtz did.

3) The Fallback Spin: Kurtz seems to conclude that if Jordan suggested that the U.S. military deliberately "targeted" journalists (either as a matter of policy or out of anger) and then he "walked it back," as Gergen puts it, then he is basically off the hook. But why? If Jordan made a sensational, unfounded anti-U.S. charge while playing to the anti-U.S. crowd at Davos, does it really save him if he then realized he'd "gone too far" (in Gergen's words) and dialed it back? Did he realize he'd misspoken or just (as Abovitz suggests) that he'd served up more than he could get away with?

4) The Pigeonhole: Kurtz says Jordan's remarks triggered "widespread denunciations ... by conservative bloggers." That's true. But Barney Frank isn't a conservative, and neither is Dodd. (And neither, I'd say, is kausfiles, but we can argue about that offline.) Kurtz's "conservative blogger" paragraph is a dog whistle to WaPo readers telling them "Don't worry. It's just some right-wing Web kooks on the warpath."

5) The Take-home Lesson: Kurtz again signals readers what to think in the kicker, quoting Gergen saying Jordan was "deeply distraught" and "deserves the benefit of the doubt."

I'd agree--if Jordan would first let us see the videotape so we could see what doubt he deserves to have the benefit of. If the tape shows a CNN executive willing to distort the truth in the course of pandering to and inflaming unjustified anti-U.S. sentiment, then I'd say there is more than a benefit of a doubt involved.

Note: We shouldn't rule out the possibility that some of Jordan's charges, as applied to individual U.S. soldiers, are true. I know one journalist, embedded in Iraq, who says he was later physically intimidated and threatened (i.e. temporarily kidnapped) by U.S. military personnel unhappy with what he'd written. He decided not to make a big stink about it. Truth should be an available defense for Jordan.

I'm less concerned about Jordan's job, though than Kurtz's job. Maybe Kurtz is right, and there is no story here. But the point is that nobody trusts Kurtz to tell us this--nobody should trust Kurtz to tell us this--because he is writing about the corporation and the people that give him a TV show and make him rich and famous! (Duh!) ... That's true even if Kurtz sincerely believes the Jordan flap is no big deal--it's especially true if he's sincere, because people subconsciously tend to come to sincere beliefts that just happen to benefit them. It's elementary Ev Psych. There are dozens of subconscious judgments embedded in Kurtz's analysis, and no reason for Post readers to trust any of them. ...

(But at least Kurtz isn't a guy who lectures the rest of the world on conflicts of interest like an "East German figure skating judge!" ...  Oh wait!  ...)

If Post editor Len Downie--a man who doesn't even vote for fear it will create a conflict of interest!--needed a final good excuse to assign Kurtz to a different beat, he got it today. ... Note to Downie: Who runs your paper? Kurtz? Kaiser? ... 12:24 A.M.

Monday, February 7, 2005

Kurtz answers an email invitation to respond on his failure, so far, to cover the Eason Jordan story:

I have a story in tomorrow's paper. Had you been kind enough to check earlier, I would have told you that I flagged it for The Post on the day that I was crashing on CBS naming Bob Schieffer as Rather's temporary replacement and said we should pursue it. Two other Post reporters pursued it, spoke to Jordan and decided not to write anything based on the fact that what was actually said was in dispute. I had nothing to do with that decision. I've since picked it up, done additional reporting and filed my story.

Jordan made his controversial remarks 10 days ago, on January 27**, and they were a near- immediate hot blog topic. ... Kurtz's Scheiffer piece ran last Thursday, meaning it was finished last Wednesday. ... You make the call (but you should know that Kurtz works fast and can turn around a story very quickly if he wants to). ... Then later tonight you can read Kurtz's piece and try to figure out (as all WaPo readers must) if he's going too easy on the company that pays him tens of thousands and gives him national prominence or going too tough on them to compensate for his hideous conflict of interest! ... Update: [Is this  Kurtz's piece?--ed. Sure looks like it! ... But I don't think so.*** ... As a blogger, at this point you're supposed to boast that the blogosphere has shamed Kurtz into action!-ed. Consider it done.] ... P.S.: And who were those two enterprising WaPo reporters who "decided not to write anything" because "what was actually said was in dispute"? Since when does WaPo not cover a story because there is a factual dispute? ... **: Initially erroneously given as January 28 ... ***: Link is to JunkYardBlog ... 7:01 P.M.

CNN's Kurtz:Still Silent on the Eason Jordan affair! ... After all, there was that hot, breaking story on increased partisanship among pundits to cover. That wouldn't hold! ...Update: Kurtz ducks the Jordan issue in his screened-question  Web chat. ...  More: It looks as if the video and transcript that could clear the matter up might be suppressed. ... Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank apparently does not back Jordan's version up. ... Nah, nothin' here you'd want the Washington Post'smedia reporter to cover. ... Still More: Michelle Malkin, reporting up a storm, contacts David Gergen, who gives a nuanced but short-of-exclupatory account of Jordan's comments and

says he has been contacted by four mainstream media outlets, including the Washington Post, about the controversy. He noted that the Post was going to run a story last week but did not. [Emphasis added]

CNN has reportedly transferred Howie Kurtz's balls to an undisclosed vault in Atlanta for safekeeping. ... 2:02 A.M.

Excellent, and revealing, catfight on the left between David Corn (guilty of saying that "there was something wonderful about the [Iraqi] election" and that Bush's SOTU speech was effective) and Mark Crispin Miller, who doesn't appear to grasp the concept of the credibility-building public admission. ... Miller, I'm told, is conducting his end of the debate on his listserv rather than the Web. But here's Corn's side. ... 1:46 A.M.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

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.



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