Aug 1 2013

SoundBites August 2013

Defining George W. as a Non-Bush

George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union addressJon Meacham in Time (7/1/13) tried to refurbish the Bush “brand name” in preparation for a possible presidential run by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:

Jeb long ago internalized and then lived out his family’s guiding precepts. Bushes move to new parts of the country; they work hard; they learn from their mistakes, particularly from failed campaigns; and they never, ever give up.

Of course, almost none of this applies to the most famous Bush, Jeb’s brother George W. He did move from Connecticut to Texas—when he was two years old. But he famously does not work hard, a trait that has sometimes won him media praise (Extra!, 4/07). When asked about his mistakes in a 2004 press conferences, he couldn’t think of any (“‘I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it,’ Bush joked before taking a long pause”—Reuters, 4/14/04.) And he gave up on the oil business after repeated failures—selling his shares in Harken so close to a near-bankruptcy that it prompted an SEC insider-trading investigation (Salon, 7/12/13).


Sidewalk Censorship

For writing messages in chalk on sidewalks around Bank of America offices in San Diego (e.g., “No thanks, big banks”), activist Jeff Olson was hit with vandalism charges carrying a potential 13-year sentence (San Diego Reader, 6/23/13). The city attorney’s office wanted to make it clear that it would not be arresting kids for playing hopscotch: “The People do not fear that this…will make criminals of every child using chalk. Chalk festivals may still be permitted. Kids acting without malice may still engage in their art.” “Without malice,” in this context, means “without political intent”; the city was more or less boasting here that Olson was being prosecuted for the content of his speech—a clear violation of his First Amendment rights, right?

Jeff Olson chalking political messages in San Diego.

Jeff Olson chalking political messages in San Diego.

It didn’t matter, because Judge Howard Shore granted a prosecutorial motion forbidding Olson from citing in his defense phrases like “First Amendment,” “free speech,” “free expression” or “political speech.” “The State’s Vandalism Statute does not mention First Amendment rights,” Shore ruled (San Diego Reader, 6/25/13). Just in case he hadn’t trampled the right to free expression enough, Shore later imposed a gag order on Olson, barring him from talking to the media about his case (San Diego Reader, 6/27/13).

Olson was eventually acquitted on all counts by a jury of his peers, leading Shore to condemn the media for “infuriat[ing] the public instead of informing it,” and the prosecutor to complain that Olson wasted taxpayer money by not accepting a plea bargain (San Diego Reader, 7/1/13).


The State-Identified Journalist

Josh Marshall (cc photo: JD Lasica)

Josh Marshall (cc photo: JD Lasica)

“If you see the state as essentially malevolent or a bad actor then really anything you can do to put a stick in its spokes is a good thing. Same if you think the conduct of U.S. foreign policy is fundamentally a bad thing. Then opening up its books for the world to see is a good thing simply because it exposes it or damages it.…

“On the other hand, if you basically identify with the country and the state, then indiscriminate leaks like this are purely destructive. They’re attacks on something you fundamentally believe in, identify with, think is working on your behalf.…

“At the end of the day, for all its faults, the US military is the armed force of a political community I identify with and a government I support…. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason.”

—‑Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo, 6/11/13)


Be Prepared—for Religious Stereotyping

Pro-equality Boy Scout (cc photo: mar is sea Y)

(cc photo: mar is sea Y)

“Churches Sever Scout Sponsorship,” declared a USA Today headline (5/31/13), on a story about the reaction of church groups that sponsor Boy Scout troops to the plan to accept gay Scouts. (The online headline was “Religious Regretfully Sever Scout Sponsorships.”) Sounds like bad news for the Scouts, since, the article says, “about 70 percent of Scout troops are chartered by a faith-based group.”

Except the article doesn’t report what the headlines claim. The article quotes one church leader, of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, who says he’s going to stop sponsoring a Scout troop. Then it notes that one other church, in Kentucky, has “announced plans” to shut down its troop, but that “other critics of the new policy…are taking a wait-and-see approach.”

So “Two Churches Sever Scout Sponsorship” would be a more accurate headline.

The piece actually counters the presumption of the headline, quoting among others a Catholic bishop who says the Scouts’ new policy “is not inconsistent with church teaching.” Had they wanted, they could no doubt have found religious leaders who’d say they wish the policy—which accepts gay Scouts but not Scout leaders—would have gone further.

Since most people in the U.S. describe themselves as religious, any controversial issue is going to find religious people on both sides. Too often media take “churches” to mean the most conservative churches and “religious” the most right-wing forms of religion.


Meet the Real Press

SB2DAVID GREGORY: To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?

GLENN GREENWALD: I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.

—‑Meet the Press (6/23/13), discussing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

Extra! August 2013