Aug 1 2009


Immune-From-Criticismism at the Washington Post

Writing about the firing of Dan Froomkin, author of the “White House Watch” column on Washington, Post ombud Andy Alexander (6/26/09) confidently asserted that “first, it’s not about ideology”—before acknowledging that Froomkin “was urged not to do media criticism.” Clearly, though, the notion that the Post should not be subjected to criticism is a central tenet of the paper’s ideology (FAIR Action Alerts, 3/2/01, 5/2/06).

Alexander also quoted with a straight face Post columnist Gene Weingarten questioning whether Froomkin “was as informed and qualified to opine as people who had been actively covering the White House for years.” Alexander did not point out that Weingarten writes a humor column, which might have helped readers put into context an otherwise inexplicable claim.

Bomb Us, Bin Laden, You’re Our Only Hope

Ex-CIA officer Michael Scheuer: The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States. Because it’s going to take a grassroots, bottom-up pressure, because these politicians prize their office, prize the praise of the media and the Europeans. Only—it’s an absurd situation. Again, only Osama can execute an attack which will force Americans to demand that their government protect them effectively, consistently and with as much violence as necessary.

Fox News host Glenn Beck: Which is why I was thinking this weekend if I were him, that would be the last thing I would do right now.

Glenn Beck, 6/30/09

A Little Help From a Friend

On the afternoon of Friday, June 5, Newsweek’s website put up an interview with Joe Scarborough, the conservative host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe program. The introduction to the interview pointed out that Scarborough had once represented a doctor-killing anti-abortion terrorist, linking this fact to complaints that the host had given scant attention to the murder of abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller, which occurred less than a week before the interview appeared. By Friday night, though, the piece had been completely rewritten. Gone was any reference in the lead to abortion shootings, replaced instead by rather bland observations about “the rise of partisan media outlets” and “how conservatives lost their way.” What happened? Jon Meacham happened. The Newsweek editor, a frequent guest on Morning Joe, told Gawker (6/9/09) he was contacted about the interview by “a member of Scarborough’s team,” and after looking at the item he decided that “it was better to include that material in the flow of the interview.”

Journalists don’t usually think it’s “better” to make the lead of a story less newsworthy by taking out references to current events. But then newsworthiness might not be the first thing you think of when you’re editing a story about your friend—especially a friend who routinely gives you valuable national TV exposure.

Joe Klein, Pale in Comparison

“In the good old days of the last century, the years before the collapse of the economy and the World Trade Center towers, political discourse in the U.S. was, too often, rutted in issues that didn’t affect the lives of most people,” Joe Klein wrote in Time (6/15/09). “The people directly affected by the so-called social issues—abortion, gay marriage, racial preferences—pale in comparison with the tens of millions who have lost their jobs and fortunes in the past year and with the global, life-and-death impact of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Of course, the people who are “directly affected” by abortion, gay marriage and “racial preferences” are women (roughly half of whom experience an unintended pregnancy at least once in their life), people of color and gay people—i.e., just about everyone except straight white males like Klein.

Moral Perversity and the McNamara Toll

In the sixth paragraph of his front-page obituary of Vietnam War-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (7/7/09), the New York Times’ Tim Weiner tried—and failed—to give some idea of the human cost of McNamara’s war: “Half a million American soldiers went to war on his watch. More than 16,000 died; 42,000 more would fall in the seven years to come.” What’s missing, of course, is the number of Vietnamese and other Indochinese who died as a result of the war whose escalation McNamara oversaw; estimates range from 1 million to more than 3 million, but Weiner never gets around to mentioning them.

The Washington Post editorial on McNamara’s death (7/7/09) suggested that neither the invading troops nor the victims of the aggression were as important as the “agonizing” that McNamara himself went through: “The true McNamara’s War, as it turned out, was longer than Vietnam,” the paper concluded, “and was fought mostly within himself.”

The Danger of the Daily Show

Do they still teach the First Amendment in law school? You might have wondered that if you heard the argument made in court by a lawyer for the Obama administration’s Justice Department. “Career civil division lawyer” Jeffrey M. Smith argued (Washington Post, 6/19/09) that statements made by former Vice President Dick Cheney in the Scooter Libby probe ought to be kept secret, because a future vice president might refuse to speak to a future investigation out of concern “that it’s going to get on the Daily Show.” Evidently the plan to ensure that officials cooperate with criminal investigations is to use government secrecy to guarantee that their statements will never be subjected to criticism in the media.

Alternatively, how about if we allow media to criticize and even satirize the statements of public officials, and instead subpoena officials who refuse to cooperate with criminal investigations? No, said Smith; such subpoenas would be “unseemly.”

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September 2009 / July 2009