The shaky case against nuclear war.

The shaky case against nuclear war.

The shaky case against nuclear war.

A mostly political Weblog.
April 11 2005 1:27 PM

Why Nuclear War May Be Undesirable

Filibusters--a bad idea whose time has come.

Why Tell When You Can Show? Architecture stories in newspapers never have enough pictures, presumably because architecture critics, overestimating their powers of description, don't want to give up their precious inches even if that would provide a vastly more informative experience for readers. Which tells you more about Rem Koolhaas' new Casa de Musica in Oporto, Portugal: a) the NYT's straightforward photo essay--available here  with commentary by the Times' Nicolai Ouroussoff--or b) Ourousoff's strenuous attempts in the Times print edition  to describe the building:

[T]hese rooms evoke pieces of the city that have broken off and embedded themselves in the building's skin. Like the characters and objects swept up by the tornado in "The Wizard of Oz," they bring to mind the psychological and emotional residue spinning around in your head, the scattered fragments of memory that shade experience. 

Oh-kay. So let's see the damn rooms! Even the photo essay doesn't have enough photos. ... 10:23 A.M. link


Anti-Nuclear Non-Activism:New Yorker'sRick Hertzberg may be  onto something in his recent analysis of the fight over ending filibusters  of judicial nominations (the so-called GOP "nuclear option). As a loyal Democrat, Hertzberg is supposed to oppose the Senate Republicans' current anti-filibuster plan (the so-called "nuclear option"). But as a longtime constitutional reformer, Hertzberg is himself an anti-filibusterist, recognizing that the Constitution--which doesn't mention filibusters--already makes it way too difficult for the government to pass laws desired by a majority. Think about it: An identical bill has to pass two different legislatures, with differing terms, and then be approved by a President who may or may not be in the majority party. Isn't that difficult enough?  Why add an extra, non-constitutional rule that makes it even harder to get anything done? 

With the filibuster in place, we've built a reliable stalemate machine, allowing our politicians to stage the peculiarly American Kabuki in which the governing party pretends to try to pass an extreme, base-pleasing program while blaming the non-governing opposition for its inevitable failure to become law. Wouldn't it would be healthier to just let a Congressional majority pass its program and be judged on the results? Hertzberg argues:

Absent Senate filibusters, the anti-lynching bills of 1922, 1935, and 1938 would have become law, bringing federal force to bear against racist violence and possibly allowing the civil-rights movement to achieve its victories decades earlier; direct election of the President would have replaced the electoral college in time for the 1972 election; and nearly all Americans would now be covered by a program of national health insurance.

Does Hertzberg then support the GOP's filibuster-busting strategy? No--judicial nominations are different, he claims, because a "piece of legislation can be repealed or amended after the next election. A judge is there for life."


Actually, I don't think Hertzberg takes his argument far enough. There are two other reasons judicial nominations may be different, quite apart from federal judges' life tenure.

1) In the post-Warren era, judges don't just have tenure, they have almost uncheckable anti-democratic power. The constitution has been durably politicized in a way the Framers didn't anticipate. Practically every legislative issue can be--and is--phrased in constitutional terms (e.g., as a case of "rights"). Activist Democratic judges would start by supervising the fine points of democratically-passed abortion laws, trimester-by-trimester, and take off from there. Activist Republicans would overturn laws approved by the elected Congress when they don't sufficiently affect interstate commerce.  The only hope, given these dueling tribes of activists, is that in the Senate's confirmation deliberations each faction will cancel out the extremes of the other, Bork-style, resulting in either the confirmation of a) a principled non-activist or b) a mushy middle-of-the-road consensus candidate. The filibuster can force such a compromise.

2) And you need the filibuster to force such a compromise. When the the Senate votes on ordinary legislation, a President usually has to moderate his proposals to please the various factions within his own party even if (or, rather, especially if) that party is the majority party.  President Bush's immigration plan has run into opposition from his party's right wing, for example, while his Social Security plan makes many Republican moderates queasy. Neither plan would make it through the Republican Senate intact even if filibusters were outlawed.  But when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, the lingering tradition--however misguided--of deference to the president's selection makes radical choices likely to command majority party support when, as now, the president's party controls the Senate. The only way to force a consensus candidate, in that case, is to give the minority party an effective veto by way of the filibuster. The "on/off" quality of judicial votes, cited by GOP Sen. Grassley as a reason to exclude judicial nominations from the general rule permitting filibusters, is actually a good reason to restrict the filibuster to only judicial confirmations.

Forcing a compromise nominee isn't a very satisfying solution. An unprincipled go-with-the-flow O'Connor/Kennedy centrist--Type (b)--is much more likely to emerge from a post-filibuster negotiation than a principled nonactivist of Type (a), if the latter even exists. And a Type (b)judge is likely to be more "liberal" than "conservative" to the extent that the mainstream bar has embraced questionable post-Warren activist precedents such as Roe v. Wade. But unless we're going to somehow guarantee that no party ever gets to pick a solid Court majority, it's the best solution I can think of. 2:10 A.M. link

Sunday April 10, 2005


Is Dan Neil the LAT's $20 Million Man or only a $10 Million Man? Estimates vary! ... 9:44 P.M.

Friday, April 8, 2005

In a provocative article, Rick Hasen argues that blogs will vitiate campaign finance restrictions  on corporations and unions as bloggers break down the barriers to the existing "media exemption":

[T]he final regulations are likely to expand the media exemption to virtually all bloggers, or to exempt blogging from regulation altogether even when accomplished with the significant help of corporate or union resources.

This is the decision that will be hard to cabin to the Internet. A few months before the 2004 election, the incorporated National Rifle Association began NRANews, a daily news and commentary program broadcast on satellite radio. The NRA is claiming the press exemption. And so it goes.

In short, as everyone gets to own the equivalent of a printing press, and everyone can become a journalist, the corporate and labor limit on campaign activity stands to be swallowed up by the media exemption [emph. added]


I'm not so sure there aren't some possible stopping points on this road to oblivion. For example, aren't there corporate and union campaign expenditures--e.g. paid 30 second TV spots on other people's stations--that can't even colorably be portrayed as media or press activities? ... Nor do I support Hasen's suggestion that Web sites and publications be required to disclose their funding. The burden is way too great, even if there are a few slippery characters around. (Bad Kuttner makes bad law!) ... Update: Hasen responds. ... 3:30 P.M. link

Thursday, April 7, 2005

It's a Harmonic Convergence of Stale kf Themes!  According to Reuters, General Motors has pulled all its ads from the Los Angeles Times. That's a big story, no? I guess they're annoyed by the paper's Special Order 40 coverage too! ... Reuters quotes a GM spokesman citing "objections from our dealers in California about factual errors and misrepresentations in the Times' editorial coverage." But that's impossible--everyone knows every Times story is reviewed by four layers of experienced editors! ... GM wouldn't say which article or articles in particular ticked it off. It probably wasn't this recent piece. ("GM Recovery Still Revs Despite Fears of Stalling.") ... Reuters nominates Dan Neil's Wednesday screed calling for General Motors to "Dump [CEO Rick] Wagoner." Neil's column was a bit of a cheap stunt--it's hard for any outsider to say who is responsible for sloth and error in the attempted turnaround of a giant bureaucracy like GM, just as it's hard for an outsider to say who's responsible for the agonizingly inadequate attempted turnaround of the huge bureaucracy of the L.A. Times! Did Neil really think Pontiac's new G6 would be anything other than mediocre, for example? It's just too soon to expect GM product development chief Bob Lutz, who only rejoined the company in 2001, to begin turning out brilliant bread-and-butter sedans. But Neil seems right about the stupidity of GM's decision to delay development of new rear-drive cars  in order to focus on SUVs. ... Obvious predicted loser in this fight: GM. Whatever beef it has, basic PR CW would say this just calls attention to its troubles and makes the Times into a Ralph-Naderesque victim. ... And while the Times is at a vulnerable financial point, GM needs to advertise to move its spotty product line. ... Note to GM CEO Wagoner: Why not take out some ads on Slate, so you can then pull them in response to our attacks on you? You can't win if you don't play! ... Update: WSJ [$] suggests  that ads from GM dealers may not be included in the yanking, but guesses that at least $10 million is involved. That would pay for a lot of layers! ... A letter to Romeneskofrom Christopher Elliott predicts the LAT will cave. I'm not so sure. ... 7:58 P.M. link

Wednesday, April 6, 2005


Why do we LAT-bashers gracelessly  persist incalling it a disastrously bad paper despite its annual, showy haul of Pulitzers? Because there are important stories it's still too PC to cover, for one thing. Today the NYT reported again on the illegal-immigrant-"sanctuary" story that the LAT has only recently stopped sweeping under the rug--and did it with much more force than the LAT has been able to muster.

[T]he problem appears most acute in Los Angeles County, where 30,000 illegal immigrant criminals live among the nearly 2 million illegal immigrants. ...[snip]

According to a report issued in 2000 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, 23 percent of the inmates in the county jail system the previous year would have been eligible for deportation as illegal immigrants. But because of short federal staffing, only 3.2 percent were ever identified for deportation. [Emph. added]

Somewhere Brady Westwater is smiling. ... Caveat: Alert reader "J" suggests these alarming figures should be cited with caution because the Sheriiff's department uses them to "try to squeeze more money for California out of the feds." Good point. What are the accurate numbers? It would be nice if the city's quasi-monopoly local paper spent some time finding out. ...  10:58 P.M.

Non-fake but inaccurate! WaPo's Mike Allen reports that the now-famous Schiavo "talking points" memo came from freshman GOP senator Mel Martinez's office. So that mystery is cleared up. The memo wasn't a fake. It wasn't merely freelance advice from a lobbyist (which was my guess at one point). But Allen doesn't come off looking too good in this latest account. a) The memo was apparently not "distributed to Republican Senators by party leaders," as Allen's initial story, sent out through the Post news service to other papers, reported. It was--at least judging from today's account--handed to one Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, by one freshman Republican senator (who isn't in the party leadership); b) Allen doesn't explain why he told Howie Kurtz he "did not call them talking points or a Republican memo" when he had in fact done just that in the news service draft; c) Even the later, more "carefully worded" account Allen published in the Post itself was apparently wrong. Allen wrote

In a memo distributed only to Republican senators, the Schiavo case was characterized as "a great political issue" ...

This is almost the reverse of what Allen now reports. We know the memo was distributed to at least one Democratic senator. We don't know whether it was distributed to any Republican senator other then the senator whose staffer wrote it (although it's hard to believe it wasn't given to at least some other GOP lawmakers). Allen's story left the now-unsupported impression that Republican senators were conspiratorially reading the memo amongst themselves; d) The whole "memo" fuss, as played up by WaPo and ABC's Linda Douglass, was wildly overdone even if the memo was a GOP leadership document--as if senators never consider what is a good political issue, as if that's a no-no in a democracy.  (Phoning Martin Luther King Jr. in jail  was a "good political issue" for Sen. John Kennedy--and if you were trying to convince him to make the call that's something you'd have pointed out!) But certainly whatever legitimate valence Allen's 'memo' story had depended almost entirely on the impression that the memo revealed and represented the strategy of the GOP leaders who pushed the Schiavo bill. If all that was involved was a staff memo Martinez gave to Harkin, Allen's story was way out of whack. The memo wasn't close to being worth the play it got in WaPo or in Douglass' report. (It's not worth the current Senate investigation either. What's the crime--politicians considering politics?)  ...

Update: Reader V.H. notes that Allen refers to Martinez as "the GOP's Senate point man on the [Schiavo] issue." The Philadelphia Inquirer's Steve Goldstein named him as one of three point men (along with Frist and Santorum). That's a point in Allen's favor, making Martinez more of a Republican "leader" on this particular issue at least. But he's still low on the GOP totem pole. Allen still lacks evidence that Martinez even shared the memo with other Republicans, much less that it reflected the thinking of any other, actual "party leaders."  And it still wasn't a scandal if it did. ... P.S.: Did GOP Congressional bigshots really care much about the views of  Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, whom the memo mentions prominently? That seems more a Martinez-centric concern. ... P.P.S.: For a non-gloating alternative perspective, see Kevin Drum. ...

Way inside sidelight: Who gets credit for smoking out Martinez? a) Allen; b) the Washington Times' energetic canvas of all 100 Senators, including particular pressure put on Harkin's office; or c) bloggers, who raised the doubts that required clearing up? ... And you thought there wasn't a self-congratulatory angle here. ...

Comic anthropology bonus: Michelle Malkin reprints the email Allen sent her on Wednesday. It sure looks as if he's faking ignorance to try to sucker her into making some outlandish claim about how the memo was a Democratic plant. J-School profs, take note of this technique! ... 9:56 P.M. link

Front-Driving to the Big Bailout: Do you think it's an accident that virtually all of Detroit's recent successes--the Chrysler 300, the Ford Mustang, and various Cadillacs and SUVs--are rear-wheel-drive cars (or rear-drive vehicles modified for four-wheel drive)? I don't. Front-drive cars are perfectly valid modes of transportation, but there iszerochance that Ford, GM or Chrysler are going to make a small front-drive sedan as good as, say, the Acura TSX. (Latest flopping attempt: Pontiac G6.) Detroit's opportunity--as Automobile's Robert Cumberford pointed out years ago--is in exciting, medium-priced rear-drive cars. ... Moving to "global" platforms, as outlined in today's non-confidence-inspiring WSJ account of the latest GM shakeup  [$], won't help in the U.S. if they're front-drive platforms. 4:23 P.M. link

Bloggywood!  Isn't it a big mistake for the backers of the promising Huffington Report to let their enterprise be portrayed in the press by Warren Beatty and David Brock as a left or "progressive" rival of Drudge Report  (which, according to Beatty's crude characterization in NYO, furthers "the political agenda of the far right")? 1) For starters, as far as I know--and I know something, not everything, and I'm sure it changes daily--Huffington's project is not really a Drudge competitor. It's a new thing--a massive clusterf*** blog collection of dozens of potentially interesting celebs and non-celebs--that will just give Drudge more stories to link to. Non-zero-sum fun all around. Nick Denton's Sploid is much more of a direct Drudge rival. 2) Second, the Huffington project is not "left" the way, say, Air America is left. She's recruited several prominent conservatives to participate. Andrew Breitbart, who seems to be involved in the Huffington effort, is no lefty. ... In short, too good an idea to get stuck in the suffocating "progressive alternative" box. ... 1:27 P.M. link

"All 55 Republican senators say they have never seen the Terri Schiavo political talking-points memo ..."

Of course that's what they would say now! Despite the futility of questioning the Republicans after the fact, the WashTimes account does make it seem less likely that the memo was a GOP leadership document. Yet that was the impression given by ABC and WaPo in their carefully-worded stories. ... WaPo's Mike Allen, in particular, has some explaining to do  regarding his seemingly dissembling self-defense (which suggested, falsely, that he'd never called the document a "Republican memo"). ... 12:49 P.M.

"The New Mall As Big Brother," blares would-be  Drudge competitor Sploid (linking to this Slate article). Yet the "lifestyle centers" described by Andrew Blum seem more pleasant than creepy--a big improvement over some of the faux-public spaces in, say, New York corporate buildings where you can't sit and eat a yogurt without being asked to move along. Do we really think these new malls are going to rigorously enforce the rule against "excessive staring"? 12:05 P.M.

Last week's crackup: I'm perfectly willing to believe that at some point there will be a Republican crackup, and that it will happen sooner and more suddenly than previous crackups thanks to the Feiler Faster principle. But don't the dire predictions of, say, Andrew Sullivan  as to the long term effects of the Schiavo case already seem dated and wildly overdramatic? "Those of us who have long worried that unleashing religious fundamentalism into the bloodstream of American politics would lead to disaster can only feel that our fears have now come true." Sullivan charges Republican pro-tubists with "hysteria." Is he projecting? ...

P.S.: Part of the problem in the Schiavo dispute, I think, is not so much the "autonomy model"  as the shape the autonomy model gives to our thinking on this and other subjects. Specifically, we like to think in terms of "spheres" of action--if not an autonomous "sphere" in which individuals decide their own fate, then a "state" sphere or a "federal" sphere.  Within these "spheres" there is really only one boss (be it Terri Schiavo and/or her spouse, or Florida, or the Congress) and this boss decides what to do, whether to pull the tube or not. Naturally, we spend a great deal of effort figuring out to which "sphere" Schiavo-like decisions should be assigned, and we get very upset (as Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds get upset) when it's assigned to what we regard as the wrong sphere. Here's Sullivan again:

[T]his kind of wrenching decision can only be made either by the person herself or by family or spouse or legally-appointed guardian. The idea that the government should have the final say, and that the government could be swayed by powerful political lobbies trying to make headway in the culture wars, strikes me as grossly inappropriate. If limited government means anything, it means leaving decisions like this as close to the person as possible. And if the American principle of federalism means anything, it means that the local state's courts are the only relevant instruments to deal with such a tragedy.

But maybe it's this model--of a person, or jurisdiction, exercising near-absolute control within a sphere, that's wrong. After all, nobody in the debate is saying the federal government should be able to intervene in a Schiavo-like case to pull the tube if everyone in the individual, the family, or the state and local spheres thinks she should be kept alive. Nobody's saying it's the feds' decision ("the final say") either way. The argument is that the government can sometimes intervene in favor of life. It's a unidirectional intervention. Moreover, I'd argue the federal government (as a matter of policy, not constitutionality) should only be able to intervene where there's no living will, no exercise of individual autonomy. The familiar architecture of "spheres" of power isn't adequate to capture the overlapping contours of authority here, just as it is inadequate to deal with the requirement of civil rights, where federal intervention was justified to promote racial equality but not for other reasons. I don't know what a better metaphor is--porous membranes of autonomy in a Petri dish of national concern? And I have a feeling Duncan Kennedy has already written a law review article about all this. 1:41 A.M. link

It's a small pyramid, but perfectly formed: Bill Bradley's recent NYT op-ed was so well-constructed my immediate thought, like The Note's, was that he couldn't possibly have written it himself. But his prescription was all too familiar and, yes, a recipe for disaster! Bradley wants the Democrats to emulate Republicans and generate ideas from a stable, pyramid-like institutional base--with "Democratic policy organizations" engaged in the "patient, long term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas." Just plug in a candidate at the top of this institutional pyrmaid and ... victory!  

The problem, of course, is that the Democratic party's most stable institutional elements are also its most problematic elements: 1) unions; 2) the civil rights and Latino lobbies; 3) the senior lobby (AARP); 4) institutional feminists (NOW); 5) trial lawyers; 6) Iowa-caucus style "progressives;" and 7) Hollywood emoters.  If a national problem could be solved without trampling on the interests of this institutional base, Democrats would have solved it in the decades when they were in power. What's left are the problems that can't be solved--even solved in accordance with liberal principles--without trampling on these liberal interest groups: competitiveness, for example, or public education, or entitlement reform. If the Dems' permanent institutional base is what gets to "develop" and "hone" the ideas to be adopted by the party's presidential nominee, then the Democrats will in perpetuity be the party of union work rules, lousy teachers, mediocre schools, protectionism, racial preferences, unafforadable entitlements, amnesty for illegals and offensive rap lyrics! That winning collection gets you, what, 35%?

Currently, the Democrats' only hope is that once every four years a maverick candidate will come along who tells the party's permanent institutional base to shove it and actually fashion an appealing platform. The party's post-Vietnam presidential winners--Carter and Clinton--both fit this pattern. Bradley seems to regard Clinton's success as a failure because it wasn't replicated. But it wasn't replicated because people like Bradley sneered at it, and played instead to the party's reliable, pyramid-like base. ...Over the long run, of course, the Democrats' institutional problem may at least partly solve itself as the role of unions in the private economy asymptotically approaches zero. ... P.S.: Bush's problems selling his Social Security plan suggest that not everything generated by a mighty idea-honing institutional GOP pyramid succeeds. Crazy thought: Maybe the substance of ideas, and not the mechanism that produces them, is what counts. ... 12:05 A.M. link

Monday, April 4, 2005

Not quite there yet: DNC chair Howard Dean, speaking recently in Tennessee, recognizes it's probably a mistake to tell "moral issues" voters to their faces that they're stupid. But beyond that it's not clear he's made much progress:

We have to acknowledge people's fears. It's not just about gay rights and abortion. It's fear of what happens to their families. What they need is a signal from the Democratic Party that we're going to make it easier for them to raise their kids. The mistake is to think we're going to talk people out of their fears. These are not logical fears. Most kids will turn out fine, even in this era of bad stuff on television and things like that. You cannot sit down and logically explain to people why they have their fears. [Emph. added]

'There, there, you worried irrational people. My pollster's told me about you. We're on your side, however illogical your pathetic little fears!' ... From vilification to condescension. This is progress in the Democratic Party. P.S.: Of course, Dean's clumsiness will mainly serve to make Hillary look good. ...The table is being set. ... It's all going according to plan. ... 10:17 P.M. link

Damn you, Pulitzers! Alert and anguished L.A. reader "G"--not me! And not Brady Westwater neither!--writes:

Two more Pulitzers are going on the wall at the L.A. Times, which means the editors at Spring St. can delude themselves, for at least another year, with the belief they are putting out a decent newspaper.

Prizes, which award either prestige or cash, are meant to reward, and thereby encourage, good behavior. ... And, at their best, the Pulitzer Prizes encourage papers to pursue serious journalism. The possibility of a Pulitzer is a good reason for an editor at a small paper with a limited budget to let a reporter spend a lot of time investigating a local scandal.  ... But at large papers ... the Pulitzers are reinforcing bad behavior. At the LA Times, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and every other large paper in the country, editors year in and year out mount big projects with Pulitzers in mind ... (Did you make your way through even one of the NYT's Pulitzer-winning Race in America series? I didn't think so.) Typically these projects are snoozes which have their largest readership among Pulitzer judges. ... But at the WSJ and NYT, that's okay. Both papers are excellent despite their Pulitzer pursuits.

But by continuing to hand out prizes to the LAT, the Pulitzer committee is complicit in the journalistic disaster in Los Angeles. This is not to say that it's King/Drew series or Kim Murphy's reporting from Russia weren't excellent. ... Or that the four Pulitzers it brought in last year were undeserved. Under [John] Carroll and [Dean] Baquet, the LAT does national politics and foreign reporting about as well as anyone out there.

But for some reason that high quality journalism seems to stop at the Los Angeles County line. Local coverage (that is the daily stuff that isn't in a prize-bait series) is shoddy. Anyone who actually lives in L.A. and is dependent on the local paper for news and analysis of L.A. will be sorely disappointed.**

There's every reason to pop champagne bottles and give self-congratulatory speeches in the newsroom today. But tomorrow, please mull this thought over: winning Pulitzers may be the thing that the LA Times does best. Which is a kinder way of saying, no matter how many Pulitzers go up on the wall each year, from the vantage of your local readers, you still put out a lousy paper. [Emph. added]

I suspect declining circulation numbers and heat from the Chicago boys at Tribune Co. may get the message to Carroll & Baquet through the celebratory haze. ....

7:26 P.M. link

Anti-Lutz Putsch? GM  scales back press fave "car guy" Bob Lutz's authority? ... The Lutz blog is unhelpful in explaining what this means. ... Does GM think the news will get buried under the Pope's death? Doesn't it know Jo Moore Day was last Friday? (Sandy Berger knew!) ... 3:38 P.M.

Blogging in Print: According to de facto MSM Damage Controller Howie Kurtz, WaPo's Mike Allen is apparently now admitting what has been obvious to everyone else  who has followed the controversy over those alleged "GOP Talking Points": the Post's stories were not entirely  "accurate and carefully worded"  (Kurtz's words), nor is it true that Allen "stuck to what we knew to be true and did not call them talking points or a Republican memo." Instead, he let an early version of his story ship out containing the unsupported claim that the memo was "distributed to Republican senators by party leaders." [Emph. added] ...

Obviously at some point Allen thought or assumed the memo was a GOP leadership document, and before he'd nailed that down he temporarily let his scooplust get the better of him. This is a perfectly forgivable mistake. At least I hope it is--I make it all the time. You get all excited thinking you have a great story and then when you think more about it you realize you have a not-quite-as-great story, so you go back and make it "carefully worded"!  ...

The problem is that the MSM is now claiming that it's somehow better at balancing the urge to scoop with the need to check than non-MSM writers.As cartoonish LAT credential-snob David Shaw put it:

When I or virtually any other mainstream journalist writes something, it goes through several filters before the reader sees it. At least four experienced [editors] will have examined this column, for example. They will have checked it for accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel, among other things.

If I'm careless — if I am guilty of what the courts call a "reckless disregard for the truth" — The Times could be sued for libel … and could lose a lot of money. With that thought — as well as our own personal and professional commitments to accuracy and fairness — very much in mind, I and my editors all try hard to be sure that what appears in the paper is just that, accurate and fair.

In contrast, Shaw says,

"Many bloggers — not all, perhaps not even most — don't seem to worry much about being accurate. Or fair. They just want to get their opinions — and their "scoops" — out there as fast as they pop into their brains.

What the Allen incident shows is that credentialed MSM reporters are under just as much "scoop" pressure as bloggers--maybe more pressure, since they must meet to a set of rigid deadlines, with demands (in Allen's case) not only from the reporter's own paper but from all the other papers that subscribe to his paper's news service, not to mention all those apparently ineffective editor-checkers who are waiting around to go home.  Because bloggers don't have these rigid corporate deadlines, they may actually find it easier to balance the "scoop" imperative with the "check" imperative--if a story hasn't checked out, they can just wait an hour or two. (Although, in Allen's non-defense, he wasn't reacting instantaneously to a breaking event. He had more than a day to nail down Linda Douglass' initial report of the memo but apparently hadn't by the time his first report shipped.) ...

Second blogging advantage: if you don't know the truth, you can usually at least ask a question. "Was this memo distributed by the Republican party leadership or just some ham-handed lobbyist--or is it maybe a plant?" That's a trick an MSM reporter like Allen typically can't get away with. Why? I don't know. It would help frame the issue for readers if journalists routinely asked such questions, and they'd get answers by return email. But it might destroy the veneer of MSM omniscience.  More important, in the case of the Schiavo memo, honestly revealing how little Allen knew of the memo's provenance would have drained much of the interest from his story--which depended for its bite largely on the unsupported impression it gave to the casual reader that this was, in fact, a GOP leadership memo. "Careful" wording is a form of deception if it serves mainly to gull those who don't give a careful reading. ...

Update: Powerline notes that Allen's initial published report also said:

Republican officials declared, in a memo that was supposed to be seen only by senators, that they believe the Schiavo case "is a great political issue"... [Emph. added]

Yes, it was a great story, that first draft. ...   2:47 P.M. link

OK, now I'm convinced Americans were in favor of removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube: Zogby says they were against it. ... 1:20 A.M.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

Try Five Layers! The LAT gets the hometown and state of its new publisher wrong ... Update: An L.A. Times editorial page falsely declares that "California under Schwarzenegger has watched its bond rating plummet." Insufficiently embarrassing corrective squib, Brady upbraiding follow. ... 2:59 P.M.

Beyond I-Drive: In the same vein, BMW's latest innovation. ... The dashboard actually looks nice. ... Update: This seems to be a self-mocking corporate April Fool's joke that ultimately steers you to the official BMW UK site--a fake April Fool's joke, if you will, which makes it a pretty good April Fool's joke. ... Next it will turn out that BMW is secretly sponsoring the Stop Chris Bangle petition. (Now that they know the names of those 11,928 Bangle-haters, they can roll up the network! Old Leninist trick.) ... 2:24 P.M.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

How many editorial layers does it take to look completely clueless? Here's a classicgravely concerned, say-nothing LAT editorial out of the '80s. Noting the problem of transnational gangs, it declares boldly that

Washington needs to broaden its dialogue, and assistance programs.

The editorial doesn't even let its readers know about, let alone take a position on, the continuing controversy over whether local police should be able to arrest and deport known gang felons who are in the U.S. illegally. The PC (and MALDEF) position, of course, is that there should be an insane wall between the police and immigration officials in order to encourage resident illegals to cooperate with police. But the Times apparently felt it was best not discuss the issue at all--readers might disagree! The editorial doesn't Raise Vital Issues--the erstwhile lowest-common-denominator standard in eye-glazing editorializing. It Sweeps Vital Issues Under the Rug.

Except, of course, that this worthless, issue-suppressing editorial wasn't from the '80s. It ran on Tuesday. I thought Michael Kinsley was supposed to change things at the Times. ... P.S.: Brady Westwater pounces. ... P.P.S.: Westwater 1, PC 0. The issue of whether police can arrest known illegal alien felons--also ignored in the LAT's recent gang-roundup coverage--finally made the paper today, on the front page, complete with a quote from Heather Mac Donald. Somebody clue in the ed board! ... Further Study: A complete NEXIS search for "Special Order 40," the official name of the LAPD's don't-tell-the-INS policy, turns up only 8 mentions in the past two years before today. Two of those were in letters to the editor; one was in a Heather Mac Donald opinion piece, and one occurred when a KABC radio personality pressed the issue in a mayoral debate in February. That leaves four mentions in the LAT's regular reporting, only one of those in the past 10 months. None in editorials. Pathetic. ... Update: Westwater on what the Times is still leaving out. ... 4:06 P.M.

Credibility-building (and possibly revealing) admission from Bush's pollster, Matthew Dowd:

"The country's generally unhappy, and maybe they think the Terri Schiavo case is taking away from things that Congress or Washington ought to be working on." [Emph. added]

Were the Bushies eager for the Schiavo case to go away? ... P.S.: If the country thinks the way Dowd seems to think it thinks, the country's wrong, of course. a) The economy is in relatively good shape, Iraq seems to be going BTE, and Bush's unpopular private accounts plan isn't about to be enacted; b) The Schiavo battle was hardly a distraction from important issues. Even if you are an anti-tubist, it will result in millions more people who make their wishes known in living wills; c) When the Congress and Washington start visibly "working on" something does it typically improve the situation? ... 3:07 P.M.

And they say blogs are stupid: Here is the first sentence uttered by Brian Williams on last night's NBC Nightly News:

Age bias. A big win for millions of workers over 40. The US Supreme Court just made it easier to sue the boss for age discrimination.

Well, it may be a "win" for particular plaintiffs. But is it a "win" for "millions of workers over 40"? That would seem to depend on many factors, including whether employers stop hiring workers over 40 for fear of later getting sued for age discrimination, or whether American corporations, deprived of the ability to lure new, younger, cheaper, more energetic workers (see. e.g. GM), lose out to foreign competition, causing their over-40 employees to lose their jobs. Maybe the net result of the ruling will be a transfer of income from under-40s to over-40s and a net increase for the latter group, but it's a highly complex and controversial claim. ... NBC's hardly the first to buy into the facile plaintiff's lawyer's notion that a "win" in a particular lawsuit for a particular group of people means a "win" in the larger sense--as if litigation were costless and free of perverse consequences, as if damage awards are a bonus that materialized out of the ether. But it's relatively rare to see this hack fallacy become the actual lede of a newscast. ... 12:49 P.M.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Let's Kill It With Improvements! David Shaw brilliantly  explains the problem with the L.A. Times:

When I [write] something, it goes through several filters before the reader sees it. At least four experienced Times editors will have examined this column ....

What's likely to be a livelier read--a newspaper at which each piece is examined by four experienced editors or a newspaper at which each piece is examined by three experienced editors? ... Or two or--heaven forbid--one experienced editor? ... I think I know how the Tribune Co. could save some money! ... P.S.: I'm looking at my treasured copy of the Sept. 25, 2003 pre-election Los Angeles Times with the headline "Aides Grow More Confident in Davis' Chances." How many layers of experienced Times editors signed off on that one? Four hardly seems enough. ... 8:18 P.M. link

Newsday's Jim Pinkerton actually makes a fresh Schiavo point:

The religious right, for example, insists on using a certain level of technology to preserve life, such as feeding tubes and antibiotics. But the religious right also insists, at the same time, that not too much technology be used. The most obvious example is stem-cell research.

What would happen, for instance, if scientists announced that they could grow a new brain from stem cells for Terri Schiavo? That is, the wizardry of medical technology would allow the unfortunate woman to regain her mental faculties. Such an announcement, admittedly hypothetical at present, would put the "right to life" supporters of Schiavo in an awkward position. On the one hand, they would support her continued existence in a "vegetative" state. But on the other, they would oppose stem-cell-based intervention that would lead to her genuine physical recovery.

Which brings up a mystery first pointed out to me a week ago by reader P.K:

In watching the coverage of the Schiavo saga unfurl I am struck by the absence of the pro-medical miracle Left, if I may so anoint them.

What's a sounder basis for ambitious liberal affirmative government--a) an optimistic desire for often-expensive government action to preserve and extend life or b) a resigned, fatalistic willingness to delegate life-ending decisions to private citizens? If the answer is a), shouldn't left-wingers be pro-tubists? NPR's "bias legend" Nina Totenberg was ridiculed for saying, on Inside Washington, that

"if we really believed in an unmitigated, uncurbed in any way culture of life, we would be having universal health care."

But it seems to me that Totenberg has pointed in exactly the direction the Democrats should have been heading on the Schiavo issue. Has their political and moral sense been so twisted by the hard dogma of "abortion rights" (and disdain for fundamentalist Christians) that they don't see this? ... "More chances at life for all citizens, whatever their status or station"--that's still more of a Democratic slogan than a Republican one. I hope. ... 5:20 P.M. link

The Hollywood pill du jour: Lexapro. Mothers are on it. Children are on it. ... When the whole family takes the same antidepressant, it promotes healthy bonding! 4:50 P.M.

Who Is "Mike Allen"? WaPo's Mike Allen defends his paper's report on that anonymous Schiavo "talking points" memo:

We simply reported that the sheet of paper was distributed to Republican senators and told our readers explicitly that the document was unsigned, making clear it was unofficial ... We stuck to what we knew to be true and did not call them talking points or a Republican memo.

But Michelle Malkin has come up with a smoking gun undercutting Allen's claim--a Seattle Times squib, bylined "The Washington Post," which shows that either a) the Post did too put out at least one story saying the memo was "distributed to Republican senatorsby party leaders," [emph. added] or, more likely, b) the Post's coverage was misleading enough to fool whoever rewrote the Post story for the Seattle Times into thinking it was an official GOP memo. ... P.S.: Why doesn't ABC News, which everyone agrees is more culpable than WaPo, at least retract and apologize for its Web headline labeling the memo "GOP Talking Points"? Or does ABC not take responsibility for its Web site?

Update: Even Smokin'er! Here's an Oakland Trib storywith a "Mike Allen" byline that says the memo was "distributed to Republican senators by party leaders." ... This is the same language as in the Seattle Times. It's looking as if possibility (a), above, is actually the correct answer. [Thanks to The MinuteMan.] ... More: Malkin notes  other outlets that published reports by the same mysterious "Mike Allen" on "party leaders." (Or is it the same "Mike Allen"? Maybe there are three of them!) ... 4:36 P.M.

At a luncheon yesterday to promote AARP's glossy magazine among Hollywood types of a certain age, honoree Liz Smith ragged gleefully on the L.A. Times for its pathetic, stuffy, circ-killing, even David-Shaw-like refusal to have a gossip column. Smith noted the LAT actually subscribes to her column but doesn't publish it. "I guess the editors like to read it the night before." ... P.S.: Smith was much funnier in person than she is in the column, though. You'd think by now she'd have figured out a way to get across her actual personality. ... P.P.S.:  They introduced Smith by boasting that she's in her '80s, which was hard to believe. The whole event suggested the possibility of a reverse AARP chic, in which Hollywood celebs start pretending they're older than they are. "I'm not 50--I'm actually 90!" ... Of course, all this works against AARP when it comes to defending the current Social Security system. If 70 is the new 40, what's the justification for spending trillions to let people to retire at 65? ...  P.P.P.S:Best lookin' senior celeb in person: Rita Moreno! Who knew? ... [Update: Reader E.S. writes: "What in the hell are you doing at a liz smith/aarp lunch?" Don't be jealous of the glamorous "blogger" lifestyle! It's not all AARP glitz. Behind the facade is a lot of napping.] 1:19 P.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk