Slacker Friday

We've got a new “Think Again” column here called “The Media (Finally) Talk About Torture,” and a Nation column called "Motzira-Making on the Right."

An Open Letter:

We the undersigned deplore the conduct of ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson at the Democratic Presidential debate on April 16. The debate was a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world. This is not the first Democratic or Republican presidential debate to emphasize gotcha questions over real discussion. However, it is, so far, the worst.

For 53 minutes, we heard no question about public policy from either moderator. ABC seemed less interested in provoking serious discussion than in trying to generate cheap shot sound-bites for later rebroadcast. The questions asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gibson were a disgrace, and the subsequent attempts to justify them by claiming that they reflect citizens' interest are an insult to the intelligence of those citizens and ABC's viewers. Many thousands of those viewers have already written to ABC to express their outrage.

The moderators' occasional later forays into substance were nearly as bad. Mr. Gibson's claim that the government can raise revenues by cutting capital gains tax is grossly at odds with what taxation experts believe. Both candidates tried, repeatedly, to bring debate back to the real problems faced by ordinary Americans. Neither moderator allowed them to do this.

We're at a crucial moment in our country's history, facing war, a terrorism threat, recession, and a range of big domestic challenges. Large majorities of our fellow Americans tell pollsters they're deeply worried about the country's direction. In such a context, journalists moderating a debate--who are, after all, entrusted with free public airwaves--have a particular responsibility to push and engage the candidates in serious debate about these matters. Tough, probing questions on these issues clearly serve the public interest. Demands that candidates make pledges about a future no one can predict or excessive emphasis on tangential “character” issues do not. This applies to candidates of both parties.

Neither Mr. Gibson nor Mr. Stephanopoulos lived up to these responsibilities. In the words of Tom Shales of the Washington Post, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Stephanopoulos turned in “shoddy, despicable performances.” As Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher, describes it, the debate was a “travesty.” We hope that the public uproar over ABC's miserable showing will encourage a return to serious journalism in debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees this fall. Anything less would be a betrayal of the basic responsibilities that journalists owe to their public.

Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent
Eric Alterman, City University of New York
Dean Baker, The American Prospect Online
Steven Benen, The Carpetbagger Report
Julie Bergman Sender, Balcony Films
Ari Berman, The Nation
Brian Beutler, The Media Consortium
Michael Berube, Crooked Timber, the University of Pennsylvania
Joel Bleifuss, In These Times
Sam Boyd, The American Prospect
Lakshmi Chaudry, In These Times
Joe Conason, Journalist and Author
Brad DeLong, Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal and UC Berkeley
Kevin Drum, The Washington Monthly
Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber, George Washington University
James Galbraith, University of Texas at Austin
Todd Gitlin, Columbia University, TPM Cafe
Merrill Goozner (formerly Chicago Tribune)
Ilan Goldenberg, The National Security Network
Robert Greenwald, Brave New Films
Christopher Hayes, The Nation
Don Hazen, Alternet
Michael Kazin, Georgetown University
Ed Kilgore, The Democratic Strategist
Richard Kim, The Nation
Ezra Klein, The American Prospect
Mark Kleiman, UCLA/The Reality Based Community
Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed
Ari Melber, The Nation
Rick Perlstein, Campaign for America's Future
Katha Pollitt, The Nation
David Roberts, Grist
Thomas Schaller, Columnist, The Baltimore Sun
Mark Schmitt, The New America Foundation
Adele Stan, The Media Consortium
Jonathan Stein, Mother Jones Magazine
Mark Thoma, The Economist's View
Michael Tomasky, The Guardian
Cenk Uygur, The Young Turks
Tracy Van Slyke, The Media Consortium
Kai Wright, The Root

Stop the presses: Hey look: John McCain will be the first guest on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, now broadcasting from the Newseum. Recall from Paul Waldman's study for Media Matters from a while back that McCain is the one guest who is consistently given the Sunday slot by himself. Also up there is Joe Lieberman, who, even more than McCain, has a constituency exclusively among Republicans and the MSM.

You know, I think the shameful performance of ABC News toward Obama with all those dumb questions about non-issues is going to be a big boon to Obama in Pennsylvania. As I read the campaign dynamic so far, every time Hillary Clinton has been about to be eliminated, the media demonstrate so much glee about finally being rid of the Clintons that women voters vote for her in protest, whether they support her or not. Democrats, these days, hate the media, and Gibson and Stephanopoulos showed why. But this time Obama was the victim and Clinton the ostensible beneficiary. That loses Clinton one of her key fighting points and puts it in Obama's column. You read it here first.

This Week on Moyers:

Battle in Sadr City: Just back from being under fire in Sadr City this week, award-winning journalist Leila Fadel, Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy, gives viewers on-the-ground analysis of the latest events and close-up look at the state of the war.

We here at Altercation mourn the passing of the great Danny Federici, who died of melanoma at the age of 58, and wish his friends, family, and fans the best in dealing with their grief.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Eric Alterman
Hometown: New York, N.Y.

To the Advocate:

Re: "Liberals and Their Invisible Homophobia":

It's annoying to have to take time to respond to someone like Jamie Kirchick, whose obsessive attacks on yours truly have become minor masterpieces of deliberate deception and obfuscation. But since The Advocate, like The New Republic and Commentary has lent its pages and pixels to the transmission of said obsession, I'd like to clarify a few points for your readers:

1) Kirchick does not mention that he is the personal assistant to ex-New Republic owner and editor in chief Martin Peretz, about whom I have written critically for over a decade and a half, beginning with a chapter in my first book, Sound & Fury, published in 1992, along with a long, critical analysis of Peretz's near destruction of that once venerable, once-liberal magazine published in The American Prospect last year. Kirchick's unhinged attacks on me almost always follow on these articles and blog items, and a recent attack on me that appeared on TNR's website ran first under Peretz's name and was then changed to reflect Kirchick's alleged authorship (and will now turn up on Internet searches under both). He is, in other words, paid to write these attacks, and your readers deserve to know this.

2) Kirchick calls me a “liberal homophobe” and adds, “Two years ago he challenged gay, HIV-positive journalist Andrew Sullivan to prove a claim Sullivan had made about Alterman regarding military action in Afghanistan, offering to pay '$10,000 to the AIDS charity of Sullivan's choice.' He mocked Sullivan, 'who is HIV-positive and likes to discuss this fact with reporters,' for his 'remodeled bathroom in P-town.' Alterman regularly refers to Sullivan as 'little Roy,' after Roy Cohn, the gay aide to Sen. Joe McCarthy who died of AIDS complications.”

Forgive me for the length necessary to unpack this web of purposeful deceit but here goes: Back when Andrew Sullivan was attacking the loyalty, patriotism and sanity of everyone who held the positions that were actually considerably less rhetorically hostile to Bush and company than Sullivan is today, he famously suggested that “decadent left enclaves on the coasts [that] may well mount a fifth column on behalf of Islamic terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001.” He added that I specifically had announced that I would not support the United States in an attack against Al Qaida, adding that I was allegedly “more concerned with what [I] see as the evil of American power than the evil of terrorism,” and that my “first response was to blame America.” I have consistently asked Sullivan to support this false claim, because had I said or written such a thing, I think I'd be aware of it. In fact I said the opposite, frequently and publicly, and supported the war in Afghanistan. Given that Sullivan did not have the good grace either to apologize or attempt to support his slanderous lie, I attempted to smoke him out by challenging him to a $10,000 bet with the proceeds to be given to a cause I presumed we both would support: that of AIDS research. Kirchick seems to think that this is somehow reflective of homophobia but it is merely reflective of Sullivan's dishonesty and lack of personal or professional responsibility. (That Sullivan does discuss his medical condition with reporters and likes to keep readers abreast of the doings inside his bathroom in Provincetown is simply a matter of fact. The context of my mentioning of these facts has everything to do with his egomania and nothing whatever to do with his sexuality.)

3) The “Roy Cohn” references reflect my belief that Sullivan, like Cohn, is a gay man who frequently employed McCarthyite tactics in the service of right-wingers who are themselves dedicated to undermining the rights -- indeed the humanity -- of gay people. This too would strike me as unarguable fact, given the nature of the Bush administration's political base and Sullivan's once whole-hearted support of it. It is hardly, I need add, a slur on gay people who do not employ such tactics.

4) Most ridiculously, Kirchick writes, “Following Ann Coulter's labeling Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards a 'faggot' in 2007, Alterman said, 'Look, the word 'faggot' ... is a word one hears in private conversation quite frequently; she just said it in public.' Makes one wonder what sort of company Alterman keeps.” This is pure guilt by association of a Roy Cohn/Andrew Sullivan/Jamie Kirchick style, but it is also perhaps the most self-evidently stupid thing contained in his article. I live in Manhattan after all. One hears a great many things with which one disagrees.

Finally, I shouldn't have to say this, given the tawdriness of the accusation, but if you open a copy of my recent book, Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America (Viking, 2008), you will find a strong argument for liberals to embrace gay marriage and equal rights for gays as both a political and pragmatic matter. If being the subject of Kirchick's (and Sullivan's) lies and standing up strongly for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, somehow constitutes “homophobia,” well, I suppose I am guilty as charged. Otherwise, I think The Advocate owes me an apology for allowing itself to be used in this fashion.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc -

“Wrappin' up chicken and cleanin' up the mess/Downhome cookin' is still the best.”

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: Shanty Town Shuffle (Herringbone Orchestra) -- Once again, I have failed to use my Vulcan mind-meld to make Bill Donahue dress up like Marie Laveau and greet the pope as testimony to the depth of how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: As Altercation House Papist, I suppose I should have some comment on the arrival of Benedict XVI on our shores, where he will, among other things, say Mass at Yankee Stadium, thereby likely performing better on the mound there than Philip Hughes did against Your Defending World Champions. (Hi, Siv!). People in Boston are pretty frosted that he's not coming here to pray over what was the center of the scandal that's robbed his church of its moral authority for the next several decades. That he pretty plainly doesn't care should be obvious. The Time piece about how much he loves America was an embarrassment of epic proportions. Here's a hint, guys -- he has spent his whole career fighting against the rights of free expression that we consider our birthright here. Talk to some theologians he silenced, or just read this wherein he latches onto that “Nature's God” business in the Declaration -- without mentioning the fact that nobody's god is mentioned in the Constitution at all, and deliberately -- to argue that we are not free simply because we're human, but because Jehovah spoke through Thomas Jefferson. What rot. He doesn't know any more about this stuff than does that pinhead Alan Keyes, who makes the same mistake, over and over again. Benedict “loves us” because he knows where the big money is. Which is why this towering bit of hypocrisy here should surprise nobody. Also, the conclave that elected him was about as open to the influence of the Holy Spirit as your average Vince McMahon production, but that's a story for another day.

Part The Second: This is enough. Or it ought to be. The Democratic senatorial caucus ought to demand, today, that Weepin' Joe be stripped of his seniority and thrown out of the party. If Harry Reid refuses to do so, then he should be ashcanned as majority leader. What else does this oily egomaniac have to do? Slap Obama in the mouth? Note to Barack: this is the guy for whom you campaigned, against the expressed wishes of the Democratic voters of Connecticut, and whom you once called a “mentor.” In case you haven't yet noticed, he has the ethics of a moray eel.

Part The Third: You probably missed it, but there were two conspicuous setbacks in the Great War Of Civilizations this week: first, in Miami, our government failed once again to convict the pathetic and shoeless, and then, not to be outdone, our neighbors to the north are plunging even more deeply into The Great Lake Of Fail. In this race between prosecutorial clown cars, though, I have to give the edge to the Canadians. The doughnut shop is a great touch.

Part The Fourth: And, from the Land Beyond Parody. Oh, lord, please make it so. Keyes-Obama II: This Time, It's Personal!

Part The Last: MoDall's kid! StewDall's kid! A dynasty, I tell you. All our hard work back in 1976 is finally paying off!

Not long ago, while cruising through the cable universe looking for something to watch that didn't involve the Knights Templar or a really big tumor, I came upon The War Room, Chris Hegedus' documentary about the 1992 Clinton campaign that starred those two Sorkinite heartthrobs, James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. Look how clever they are. See James drink a beer and talk like Doug Kershaw on Quaaludes while falling for Mary Matalin, who, as the movie was being filmed, had just rejoined the Republican campaign fresh off her acclaimed performance in the TV movie V. And see George there, on the telephone, severely chastising an anonymous reporter who'd called for a comment because the reporter had heard that Bill Clinton might have been making The Sign Of The Undulating Two-Headed Iguana with a woman not his wife. See George deplore how the campaign has descended to this gutter level, as though Bill Clinton would have a girlfriend, and as though this kind of thing would materially affect the way President Bill Clinton would do his job. George is shocked by this, and saddened. And he fears for the reporter's professional life. See George tell the reporter that, if the reporter runs with this lurid, innuendo-laden trash, he will have no friends any more among the Important People in Washington. His career will be over. Nobody will talk to him again. Ever. He will have to eat his lunch in the cafeteria alone, every day, while everyone at the Cool Kids table mock him. He will never get picked for basketball. This is not the kind of thing that has any place among the serious issues that will affect all Americans, and it is far beneath the proper parameters of what is proper dialogue for something as important as a presidential race.

See George.

An indescribable foof.

p.s. -- The foofhood extends to a second day. Worse and worse.

Name: Steven L. Engber

Well, from “The Path to 9/11” to this train-wreck of a “debate,” there's clearly some serious Foxification going on here -- why, it even drew kudos from Rush Limbaugh who said (I'm not kidding), “Bless his heart!” with respect to Gibson. So who is the Murdochian creature behind all this? This truly feels as though it has the force of personality behind it -- beyond the “What Liberal Media?” overcompensation.

Name: Jack Cheng
Hometown: Boston

I was too disgusted to watch all of the debate on ABC.

That said, I have a question that I hope will eventually be posed to all the presidential candidates: What is the goal of the war in Afghanistan?

It's easy to say it's the more righteous of the two current wars, but if a Democratic president pulls out of Iraq in 16 months, how will they define the end of the war in Afghanistan? The death or capture of Bin Laden? Eradication of the Taliban? A democracy?

Name: W.B. Lewis


Watching the sad spectacle called a debate on Wednesday, I was hoping for a clarifying remark or gesture to signify the ridiculousness the candidates were being put through.

Maybe something along the lines of Fred Thompson refusing to participate in the show of hands. Or, better yet an Aaron Sorkin moment (with slight changes and apologies to Mr. Sorkin) :

“We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about [patriotism], [George], you'd better come at me with more than [lapel pins] and [my pastor]. If you want to talk about [patriotism] and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up. This is a time for serious people, [George], and your fifteen minutes are up. My name is [Barack Obama], and I am [running for] President. ”

Or, the Hillary gesture could have been like this:

“George, Charlie, with all due respect, we have a limited amount of time here tonight and you seem unable to get to the real issues that effect the American people. With Barack's permission, I'd like to ask him a question, give him two minutes to respond, and I'll respond for one minute. Then, Barack gets the same opportunity to ask me a question and respond. You two can watch the clock for us.”

Keep up the good work. We need more of you.

Name: David Shaffer
Hometown: Harleysville, PA

Doc --

You provided a link to the “debate” transcript with the intro, “And here, finally, are the horse's mouths themselves.” Methinks perhaps you got the wrong end of the horse.

Name: Andy B
Hometown: Portland, OR

Dr. A

Maybe you are asking rhetorically what dross is (metal waste from forming operations casting, welding etc... or waste generally).

Back in the '80's Everything But The Girl actually used it in a song "When All's Well."

Which, come to think of it, was a song that was largely consisted of dross but did highlight Tracey Thorn's great voice and talented phrasing.

Eric replies: See, I could have looked it up. But I knew if I wrote that, somebody here would give me a more interesting response.

Name: AF
Hometown: Zurich, Switzerland

Following on Eric B's review of Joe Jackson's recent show at the Apollo. The program for Montreux '08 came out today, and he's on the bill for July 5th. And Paul Simon on the 9th. Details here.