Apr 1 2009


The Secret Suspension of the First Amendment

“First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.”

—The official position of the U.S. government, as outlined in a secret memo from the Office of Legal Counsel, from October 23, 2001 until October 6, 2008

A Wide Range of Right-Wing Views

Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 2/27/09) described the diversity of viewpoints available on the network his conservative-slanted show appears on: “The Fox News Channel features a variety of opinions. We parade in scores of guests each week with all kinds of views. Glenn Beck believes the nation is in crisis. Alan Colmes believes Obama could be the next FDR. Sean Hannity believes the Republican Party has the right formula. And I believe both parties need an overhaul. They must start looking out for the folks. So you get a wide range of views, while our hard news people deliver solid facts.”

In other words, Fox News features three right-wingers and Alan Colmes—who lost the show he used to co-host on Fox two months earlier.

Declining Support for Fairness Doctrine Caricature

A recent Rasmussen poll (2/12-12/09) asked respondents whether “the government should require all radio stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary”; 38 percent said yes, a decline from the 47 percent who answered the same question in the affirmative last year (8/13/08). Politico (2/16/09) wrote this up under the headline, “Poll: Support for Fairness Doctrine Drops.”

But the Fairness Doctrine never called for equal time for any points of view; it merely required, as codified in a 1959 amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, that “a broadcast licensee shall afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of conflicting views on matters of public importance.” What was “reasonable” was deliberately left vague; in practice, on the rare occasion when the FCC had to adjudicate a complaint of lack of balance, the opposing view generally received about one-sixth of the time given to the original perspective. Given that the much more extreme and intrusive policy invented by the pollsters was only rejected by a modest plurality, you have to wonder how an honest description of the policy would poll.

Epitaphs for an Era

“You should be buying things and accept that they’re overvalued and—but accept that they’re going to keep going higher. I know that sounds irresponsible, but that’s how you make money.”

—Jim Cramer (CNBC’s Mad Money, 10/31/07)

“That’s why the market just won’t quit, no matter how poorly actual companies are doing.”

—Jim Cramer (Mad Money, 2/1/08)

(both cited on the Daily Show, 3/4/09)

‘Redistribution’ Only Means Downward

When Barack Obama unveiled his tax proposals, a New York Times news report (2/26/09) described them this way: “The combined effect of the two revenue-raising proposals, on top of Mr. Obama’s existing plan to roll back the Bush-era income tax reductions on households with income exceeding $250,000 a year, would be a pronounced move to redistribute wealth by reimposing a larger share of the tax burden on corporations and the most affluent taxpayers”

Funnily enough, a search of Nexis doesn’t turn up any examples of George W. Bush’s tax policies—which were overwhelmingly tilted towards the wealthy—being described as anything like “a pronounced move to redistribute wealth” by the New York Times.

Scorecard for Obama

“I want to ask you when we get back, how does [Barack Obama] deal with the fact that he has a scorecard now. It’s called the Dow Jones…No matter what they say, the Dow keeps going down. It’s down to almost 7,000 now. I used to think 8,000 was the floor. It’s heading toward 6,000! People are really getting angry! I’m getting angry!”

—Chris Matthews (MSNBC’s Hardball, 2/23/09), whose salary is estimated at $5 million a year (Washington Post, 1/8/09)

Tom Friedman’s Alternative History

A recent Tom Friedman column (New York Times, 2/11/09) channeled for readers the hypothetical thoughts of “non-Americans”: “Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: Build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.”

In reality, the U.S.’s first protectionist tariff was passed in 1789, and with minor adjustments the U.S. maintained a high-tariff policy until 1913. It wasn’t long after that that the U.S. adopted a highly restrictive immigration policy that lasted until 1965. Maybe Friedman should hallucinate better-informed foreigners.

From a View to a Kill

Elisabeth Bumiller’s New York Times piece, “From a Carrier, Another View of America’s Air War in Afghanistan” (2/24/09), presented the not exactly underrepresented U.S. military view of the war, with cheerleading lines like, “From 15,000 feet up, the pilots protect supply lines under increasing attack, fly reconnaissance missions to find what they call ‘bad guys’ over the next hill, and go ‘kinetic’ with bombs that kill three, four or five Taliban fighters at a time.” Bumiller even compares the Air Force to “an airborne 911 service.”

A piece about airstrikes in Afghanistan can’t completely ignore civilian casualties, but the Times’ military sources assured us that they are scrupulously avoided: “As Vice Adm. William E. Gortney, the commander of United States naval forces in the region, put it: ‘We don’t drop when we’re unsure.’”

Is there any reason to doubt such reassurances? Well, if you could remember back three days, there was another New York Times piece from Kabul (2/22/09) that led, “An airstrike by the United States-led military coalition killed 13 civilians and 3 militants last Tuesday in western Afghanistan, not ‘up to 15 militants’ as was initially claimed by American forces, military officials here said Saturday.” Was the Air Force sure or unsure when it dropped those bombs? Bumiller sure isn’t interested in finding out the answer.

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May 2009 / March 2009