Oct
01
2010

Soundbites

O’Reilly Sticks Up for Scapegoating

When a Pakistani-American suspect was arrested in the Times Square attempted bombing, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (USA Today, 5/7/10) declared that this should not lead to scapegoating by religion or ethnicity: “We will not tolerate any bias or backlash against Pakistani or Muslim New Yorkers.” Who could argue with that? Well, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, for one, who opened his show (5/4/10) with the retort, “Well, maybe somebody should remind the mayor that Muslim fanatics have been threatening New York City and the entire country for almost 20 years.” It’s hard not to read this as a defense of bias and backlash.

NYT: CNN Hatemonger Really a Big Softie

Under the headline “CNN’s Sharp-Tongued Conservative Contributor Lambastes Both Parties,” the New York Times (5/12/10) offered us an intimate look at Erick Erickson, the blogger and CNN commentator best known for his assertion that Supreme Court Justice David Souter was a “goat-fucking child molester” (FAIR Action Alert, 3/16/10). But Times reporter Shaila Dewan presented him as a softie: “Over coffee, Mr. Erickson, 34, hardly comes across as a screamer. He is more preoccupied with finding a babysitter for his two small children because his wife, Christy, is sick.”

Dewan did refer to a couple of Erickson’s more odious screeds, but dismissed them with this: “What critics have not noted is that Mr. Erickson, the editor of the influential conservative blog RedState, is as hard on many Republicans and conservatives as he is on Democrats.”

First, “exhorting Tea Party followers (he considers himself one) to move beyond protests and get involved in the nitty-gritty of precinct-level politics” is not actually an example of being hard on Republicans or conservatives, although the Times presented it as one. And second, critics were not upset by Erickson’s mindless hatred because it was only aimed at Democrats; Souter, after all, is a Republican. It’s the mindless hatred itself that’s the problem.

Or Maybe It’s the Tax Breaks

The New York Times (5/10/10) explained how hedge fund managers have become prominent cheerleaders for charter schools in New York, “contributing generously to lawmakers in hopes of creating a friendlier climate” for these quasi-independent public schools, and mounting a multimillion dollar campaign to lobby for increasing the number of them allowed in the state. To read the Times, the attraction is philosophical: “Money managers are drawn to the businesslike way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results,” the paper says, elsewhere pointing to charters’ “ideological roots” in a “free-market model of education”—despite being heavily taxpayer-subsidized.

There may be more concrete reasons for financiers’ attraction to charter schools, but as David Dayen of the blog Firedoglake (5/10/10) pointed out, you have to go outside the Times to find them. In the New York Daily News (5/7/10), columnist Juan Gonzalez noted a little-known federal program that turns loans for charter school construction into a 39 percent federal tax credit over seven years. Along with other incentives, lenders can almost double their investment in that seven-year period. As Gonzalez reported, though, it doesn’t always work out so well for the schools; he found many straining to pay escalating debt payments, leaving less to spend on students. That’s running education in a “businesslike way,” we suppose, but not in the way the Times meant.

Elena Kagan Is Not Our Kind, Dear

In “Miles Away From Mainstream America,” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker (5/12/10) took issue with the fact that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan grew up in New York City, which means that she spent her youth “walking past the infamously crime-riddled Murder Hotel en route to school” instead of “walking past the First Baptist Church to ballet class.” So, unlike “mainstream America,” New York City doesn’t have ballet classes or Baptist churches? We don’t know if Kagan ever took dance lessons, but if she did, she may well have walked by New York’s First Baptist Church on her way—it was four blocks from her home.

But Parker’s argument isn’t really about dance class, or even about New York City. If that were the case, Parker wouldn’t have held up New Yorker Antonin Scalia as one of the justices whose background is a “help in claiming identity with ordinary people.” So what is it about Kagan? Parker offers another clue: “More than half the country also happens to be Protestant, yet with Kagan, the court will feature three Jews, six Catholics and nary a Protestant. Fewer than one-fourth of Americans are Catholic, and 1.7 percent are Jewish.” But, again, Parker held up Catholic justices Scalia and Samuel Alito as exemplars of the mainstream, so it’s not their religion that puts them beyond the pale—just Kagan’s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s and Steven Breyer’s.

The Goddam Truth About Newsweek

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham recently described (5/17/10) his up-for-sale magazine, presumably with a straight face, as a “catcher in the rye standing between democracy and the abyss of ignorance and despair.” Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam (5/11/10) worked at Newsweek years ago; he remembers it somewhat differently.

Beam wrote that his job as editorial assistant/fact-checker, with duties “analogous to those of an 18th-century cabin boy in the Royal Navy,” left him “bleakly cynical about journalistic accuracy. We would publish whole stories that were lies—Francois Mitterrand’s plan to destroy the French economy was a recurring theme—but at least the names were spelled correctly. Two Ts, two Rs. I will never forget.”

He also described 1970s-era Newsweek’s big mission as “refighting the Cold War,” often relying on the work of anti-Communist crusader and future Washington Times editor Arnaud de Borchgrave. Writes Beam, “Everyone laughed at de Borchgrave’s copy, but we printed it anyway.” He adds: “Those decisions were made well above my pay grade.” It’s easy to imagine that those making the decisions saw themselves also as catchers in the rye.