Same as it ever was, again ...

Interesting that this story in today's Journal has no byline:

Marcus Brauchli is expected to resign as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal after 11 months in the job, and an announcement could come as early as Tuesday, according to people familiar with the situation. The impending departure would come just four months after the Journal's parent, Dow Jones & Co., was acquired by News Corp. for $5.16 billion.


As part of News Corp.'s agreement to buy Dow Jones, the company agreed to the appointment of a special committee to oversee the editorial independence of Dow Jones publications. The committee, whose members include people independent of News Corp. and Dow Jones, has to approve the appointment of Mr. Brauchli's successor, according to the agreement made public last year. The committee also has the right to approve firings.

Although Mr. Brauchli is planning to resign, the committee is empowered to look into concerns about the editorial integrity of the Journal, according to a person who has reviewed the agreement.

It took no great genius to know at the time of the purchase that the so-called “agreement” to prevent Rupert Murdoch from remaking the Journal in his own image was not worth the lawyers' fees it cost to have it drawn up -- save as a fig leaf for the Bancroft family's desire to cash out without admitting that they were abandoning journalism and, with it, the family's historic trust. The new era is just beginning. CJR critiques the above story here, but overall coverage of the new Journal under Murdoch has been wan. I found this Newsweek piece on Murdoch distasteful. In the first place, it has a “gee-whiz,” almost comic book-like tone. In the second, it almost always takes Murdoch at his word or gives us a “he said, she said” version of events, which is unnecessary in a newsweekly, which does not have to be objective. The list of accusations against Murdoch on behalf of journalistic independence, honor, and honesty is long and detailed. And yet the writer refuses to take a position on any of them, so enthralled is he with the thrilling, swashbuckling aspect of all. With his impending purchase of Newsday, Murdoch is becoming too powerful to report on honestly, even in Newsweek. (Do you think the favors that Time was seeking from Murdoch in the opening paragraphs in the Newsweek piece would have to be repaid, somehow, sometime? Whatever you think of his agenda, the dude is a one-man argument against media concentration.)

(George Zornick adds: Did a Rupert Murdoch company go too far and hire hackers to sabotage rivals and gain the top spot in the global pay-TV war? This is the question a jury will be facing in a spectacular 5-year-old civil lawsuit that is finally being tried this month in California but which has, oddly, received little notice from U.S. media ...

And Fox Business Network, Rupert Murdoch's upstart business channel, has previously said that it might begin releasing its Nielsen rating data by now. But that's not going to happen, says TVNewser, and that's because Fox wants it that way.)

People who approve of George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson: David Brooks, John Fund. “Bravo to ABC for finally asking a lot of questions many Americans have been talking about. ”

Nico Pitney of HuffPo did a useful analyses of the kinds of questions they asked here. For instance:

1) ABC's debate was in a class of its own, with more scandal and non-policy questions than any other. ABC asked the most scandal questions, and both ABC and NBC devoted only half of their questions to policy issues. The CNN debates were dramatically more policy-focused. Here's a breakdown:




CNN (1/31)




CNN (2/21)












2) Barack Obama has received the overwhelming majority of scandal questions over the course of the four debates, by a margin of 17 to 4. Obama has fielded questions about his “bitter” remarks, his connections to 60s-era radical William Ayers, two questions about flag lapels, two questions about his alleged plagiarism of speeches, three questions on Louis Farrakhan, and eight about Jeremiah Wright.

Clinton has received only four such questions -- two about her Bosnia trip, one about a photo of Obama in African garb that was linked to her campaign without evidence by the Drudge Report, and one over-the-top inquiry about Bill Clinton ( “If your campaign can't control the former president now, what will it be like when you're in the White House?” ).

3) Networks 'balanced' scandal questions to Obama by repeatedly asking Clinton about Obama's electability/readiness. In three of the four debates, moderators followed scandal questions to Obama by asking Clinton whether she doubts Obama's electability or experience.

This is a third-world country: More evidence.

As Democrats continue to fight over who will get a chance to sit in the Oval Office, USA Today notes that the current occupant of the White House now has “the highest disapproval rating” that has ever been recorded in the Gallup Poll's 70-year history. In a weekend poll, 69 percent said they disapprove of President Bush. (Hello, media, what party is John McCain in again?)

George Zornick adds:

Washington Post reporter Jonathan Weisman had an interesting online chat with readers last week. Via Think Progress:

[Q:] Who are these people who loathe everything the Republicans have done in the past seven years, and yet would be willing to cast their votes for McCain anyway?

Jonathan Weisman: I am dead serious. McCain has cultivated an image that has branded him as an independent maverick now for more than a decade. He fought the GOP over tobacco in 1998.

Weisman may or may not be aware that, since that decade-old fight, McCain “has since voted against a bill that would have raised tobacco taxes by 61 cents in order to pay for an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, [and] McCain is now backing away from a tobacco regulation bill that he co-sponsored.”

But in any case, he doesn't appear too concerned with ferreting out these contradictions: he finished by saying “Americans see McCain the way they want to” and it is “going to be hard to break” McCain's “maverick” image. Pretty hard indeed, if one doesn't try.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide -- update 4/21/08

The Spring 2008 issue of Social Research features the following cases of imprisoned or at-risk scholars:


Dr 'Abdullah al-Hamid, a writer and former professor of contemporary literature at Imam Muhammad bin Sa'ud University, Riyadh, was sentenced to four months in prison on November 7 2007 in Buraida, Saudia Arabia, for encouraging a public demonstration by the wives of detainees in the intelligence prisons. The wives claimed their husbands had not been charged or tried, despite being imprisoned for over two years. A number of the women were arrested, but released shortly afterwards. Dr 'Abdullah, along with his brother 'Issa, was charged with “incitement to protest,” and is due to start serving his sentence on 8 March 2008. He previously spent 17 months in prison after he and two other reformers were arrested in March 2004 for writing a petition to then-Crown Prince Abdullah calling on the government to enact reforms with constitutionally guaranteed human rights. Amnesty International reports that he and his brother are at risk of torture if incarcerated.

Dr. Ussama al-Mulla, a professor of Dentistry at Baghdad University, was arrested by Iraqi security personnel on 17 February 2008, along with two other professors and four members of University staff, in a raid of the Dentistry faculty in which staff were threatened at gunpoint and students beaten. The reasons for the arrests have not been reported, but it is said to be connected with the death of the previous Dean. There have been reports that US soldiers raided the faculty the week before. The others arrestees were subsequently released, but Ussama is still being held in an unknown location without charge or trial. Amnesty International has reported that he is at risk of torture.

Amin Ghazaei, a prominent Iranian writer and leader of the group Students for Freedom and Equality, was arrested on 14 January 2008 in a meeting in Tehran along with 14 other students. He is reported to be held without charge or trial in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, and to have been tortured. Amin is known for the journal he edits, ArtCult, and his many on-line articles, two collected volumes of which have already been published. He has translated several books into Farsi, among them works by Judith Butler, Jean Baudrillard, and Donna Haraway. The arrest of Amin and his fellow students follows a wave of repression in Iranian Universities in December 2007, when many students were arrested after campuses erupted in protest. Quite apart from the accusations of torture, there is concern for Amin's health as he reportedly suffers from a peptic ulcer, heart problems, and asthma.

Dr. Atilla Yayla, a professor of Politics at Gazi University in Turkey, was sentenced to a fifteen month jail term on 28 January 2008 for insulting Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in a speech in November 2006 in which he reportedly described the first phase of the leader's rule as “regressive in some respects” . The sentence was suspended, with the court saying that it would monitor professor Yayla for the next two years and apply it should he commit the same offense again. Commenting to the media, professor Yayla said: “that means that I have a thought policeman from now on.” Not only is this threat hanging over professor Yayla an infringement of his academic freedom, his conviction is a blow to freedom of expression in Turkey, acting as a precedent for the effective gagging of critical discourse in regard to the country's history.


We are happy to announce that since the publication of our last issue all six of the Professors from Dhaka and Rajashani Universities, Bangladesh have received presidential pardons (although they have yet to be exonerated by the courts). Also, the French-Canadian filmmaker Mehrnoushe Solouki was allowed to leave Iran after her ordeal at the hands of authorities there, and is reportedly working on a new film telling her story of arrest and incarceration at Edin prison. A less fortuitous release is the release on parole of the Iranian Human Rights activist Emadeddin Baghi from Edin on health grounds after he suffered two heart attacks which he has related to the deplorable condition in which he and others were held. [update: Baghi was recently returned to Edin]

On the other hand we are grieved to report that the situation of two of our scholars has seriously worsened. Lü Gengsong, the Chinese writer and human rights advocate, was tried on 22 January 2008, and sentenced to four years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power.” According to Human Rights in China (HRIC) his condition has recently deteriorated and his wife has written an open letter demanding immediate medical care for her husband and pleading for his early release. The letter describes the authorities' refusal to accept clothing and medicine from the family for Lü, restrictions on his use of the toilet, and imposition of isolated confinement.

Also, the condition of 'Aref Dalilah, the Syrian economics professor we featured in our Fall 2007 issue, has severely worsened: he is gravely ill with deep-vein thrombosis in one leg and a blood clot in his lungs. According to Amnesty International his doctors have reported that he may die if he is not allowed to be admitted to a hospital immediately.

The following scholars also remain in prison: Ko Aung Htun (Burma), Hu Shigen (China), Igor Sutyagin (Russia), Zheng Yichun (China), Xu Zerong (China). Their details, as well as means to support them, can be found on our website.

Alter-mini review:

I got a copy of the first season of Father Knows Best, which was recently released on DVD, on the hope that it would prove a) fun to watch in a campy sort of way and b) impart useful, albeit culturally dated lessons to my usual old-sitcom watching partner. We made it through about three episodes before concluding that these hopes had, alas, been in vain. This may not have been enough time, but we at Altercation have a fast-moving household, and what's more, the baseball season has started and there is less time for non-Mets-related TV time.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

Your comments on the New York Times story were dead-on, but as a veteran I look on this as not only a failure of the MSM, but a failure of the officer corps within the military itself. I've written before about how the military leadership failed us all by not pushing back hard enough against this ill-advised war, but this adds a new dimension. I know that many of these officers were retired, but what does it say about them when making money is more important than the welfare of the soldiers they used to command. To be used like this in the most partisan way not only reflects badly on them, but on the entire military. Unfortunately, from now on, the public will see a retired military officer on TV and wonder if what they say is the truth or what they are paid to say, and will come to the conclusion that many military officers don't care about their son or daughter now serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. That is not the reality of course. There are many officers such as LTC Bateman who are honorable and do the right thing for their soldiers, but it sometimes seems that the higher rank one gets in the military the more one loses touch with what is important to the lowly private that has no say in what happens to them. What these retired officers did only reinforce that perception in the military.

The Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis,” which means “Always Faithful.” I never thought I would need to ask the question “Faithful to whom?”

Name: Richard Taylor
Hometown: San Antonio

In re: booting Joe “Short Ride” Lieberman from the Democratic caucus. It's my understanding that the current Organizing Resolution for the Senate names Harry Reid and the committee chairs by name.

If Short Ride walks or is booted, all the Dems would have to do is the standard R trick of filibuster. Hence status quo as no way they would lose ten votes to break a filibuster and Cheney is no longer relevant as a tie-breaker.

My $.02.

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

I think we can all agree that the MSM doesn't get much right, as I see it that's a perfectly good reason to recognize when they do. After all, the right is perfectly willing to beat the Press when they say the wrong thing and lavish them with praise when they behave like good sock puppets. As proof look no further than the recent Charlie Gibson/George Stephanopoulos dog and pony show. Imagine my surprise, then, to see CBS expose just how shabbily returning veterans are being treated. How can you tell a Bush Administration official is lying? His mouth is moving.

Name: John Sherman
Hometown: Moorhead, MN

While I dislike people who tell others what to write about, still I'd like to see Lt. Col. Bateman's comments on the Times story about the military analysts.

I believe and hope that the career military is well supplied with people whose acceptance of the professions of arms includes a strong sense of professional ethics, duty and honor. Lt. Col. Bateman is the best voice I know for that point of view, and I would like to know what he thinks.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland OR

Rather than taking Senator Obama at his elitist word or those champions of the working class, Gibson and Stephanopoulos, let's here what the Boss has to say about how it is down the main stripe of our great land:

“Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late that month
Ralph went out lookin' for a job but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixin' Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun shot a night clerk now they call'm Johnny 99.”

Bitter? Nah.

Name: Bill Scoble
Hometown: New London, NH

Eric: On your recommendation, several years ago I bought the CD of Maggart singing Irving Berlin. Had never heard “Yiddisha Nightingale,” but it has to be one of the most gentle, haunting, poignant and funny songs Berlin ever wrote. Trouble is, I hardly ever play the CD, because her voice and the music get into my head, and there they stay, obliterating everything else, for days on end. I would not dare go see her in person!

Thanks, I think.