Look out, Helter-Skelter


It can be a challenge to assimilate in one's own mind just how irresponsible are the people who people our punditocracy. The New York Times' decision to hire William Kristol (now no longer behind a pay wall) is perhaps the most egregious and revealing example. But in some ways, Kristol is exceptional. Maureen Dowd is far more representative, since outside of the blogosphere, she rarely if ever receives any criticism, and by the standards of simple, honest journalism, she is indefensibly irresponsible. Dowd consistently publishes false or unsourced information that would never see the light of day if the Times employed editors to ask the questions of her that are routinely asked of journalists, rather than columnists. In this column Dowd writes:

With Obama saying the hour is upon us to elect a black man and Hillary saying the hour is upon us to elect a woman, the Democratic primary has become the ultimate nightmare of liberal identity politics. All the victimizations go tripping over each other and colliding, a competition of historical guilts.

The entire column, however, is about Hillary. While one could make a case that Hillary's talk of everybody "ganging up on her" -- whether it be the other candidates or the media -- is at least an implicit gender-card play, and her surrogates have been all over this issue, there is no evidence presented anywhere that Obama has said such a thing. And those of us who've watched the campaign, I imagine, have heard Obama say just the opposite. This is exactly the opposite of an identity-politics campaign, which is why Bill Clinton fell so flat when he tried to liken it to Jesse Jackson's. But Dowd cares nothing about truth and even less about evidence. She has long felt free to simply make stuff up about Obama (and John Edwards), just as she did about Al Gore; and like her colleagues Kristol, David Brooks, Nick Kristof, and Tom Friedman -- as I demonstrate at length in Why We're Liberals -- to slander liberals and liberalism without the slightest bit of evidence except her own vivid imagination. This seems to be a job requirement at the Times op-ed page (from which only Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman, and Frank Rich are freed).

Remember, Times public editor Clark Hoyt replied to my email query that he considered Dowd herself to be liberal. Most conservatives do too. If she is a liberal, she is certainly a self-hating one. But, of course, Dowd is no liberal. Like any even remotely sensible person, she sees that George W. Bush is destroying the country. Unfortunately, what she does not see is that by her careless journalism, relentless focus on unimportant trivia, and refusal to take issues seriously, she is helping him do so. If the Bard were alive, I'm sure he'd say, "Get thee to an editor" ...

I note in passing that New York magazine's Ariel Levy has been promoted to The New Yorker. Good for her. She's a fine writer and I admired her book on slut culture, or whatever it was, that I excerpted on Altercation. I would like to note, however, that when she profiled Dowd for the cover of New York at approximately 5,800 words in length, it was the only profile I've ever read in my life in that magazine, or any comparable magazine, at that length that did not contain a single negative word about its subject anywhere, if only to establish the credibility of all of the bonbons and flowers she sent. I also noticed that Dowd then proceeded to pepper her columns with mentions and praise of Levy, afterward. (Katha Pollitt discusses it here.)


Jesus of Cool (reissue) by Nick Lowe

Nick Lowe's debut album, Jesus of Cool, heralded now as a kick-start to the New Wave movement, has been out of print for 20 years and unavailable online. But Yep Roc Records is reissuing the album this month on CD, double vinyl LP, and online. Lowe's U.S. label at the time famously asked him to change the title to Pure Pop for Now People, which he did, along with the sequence and tracklist, but this is the version that Lowe initially intended to release. The other version was actually a lot better, but this is nothing about which to complain. Lowe wrote little pop masterpieces. More information is available here.

Brighter Than Creation's Dark by Drive-By Truckers

The Drive-By Truckers eighth album, Brighter Than Creation's Dark, was released by New West Records and features 19 new songs -- although many were previewed on the band's tour last spring. These guys are in the go for the gusto/glory business, and it's a real hit-or-miss affair, but with 19 songs, there are more hits than you'll find almost anywhere else. This comes off the DBT's backing of Bettye LaVette on The Scene of the Crime, which was pretty good too. The great Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham, to whom the album is dedicated, contributes a lot of his classic soul sound to this record. And while much is lost from the old DBTs, much is also found. Faith will be rewarded. More information is here.

The Thrill of It All: A Visual History (1972-1982) by Roxy Music

This visually arresting DVD anthology contains 38 music videos, concert performances, and TV appearances from a decade of Roxy Music, beginning with early performances on The Old Grey Whistle West and Top of the Pops, to later appearances on the ABBA in Switzerland special. The Barnes & Noble page for the anthology, out on Virgin/EMI, is available here.

Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake

This is the first full-length history of Pink Floyd in more than 15 years, and traces the band from its inception in Cambridge, England, to the spectacular stage shows and fame of later years. Mark Blake, who also wrote Dylan: Visions, Portraits, & Back Pages, had access to all the band members and nearly 100 friends, roadies, producers, and colleagues. I'm looking forward to one day having the time to read this, since I've come to Floyd late in life and I'm rather curious to see if they are as smart as they sound. The Barnes & Noble page for the book, published by Da Capo Press, is here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael
Hometown: Southern Missouri

Forget Russert's questioning of Obama, why did McCain's stooge get a pass when the only thing Russert seemed to know about Mike Huckabee was his friendship with televangelist Kenneth Copeland? Russert's Village mentality is truly on display. Whether you like Huckabee or not (I don't), he deserved better. Russert is a disgrace; anyone who watches Meet the Press and thinks they are informed is intensely self-delusional.


Name: Dan
Hometown: Cortland, NY

I think it's obvious (esp. after Sunday) that Tim Russert doesn't care who John Hagee is. What worries me more, though, is that it seems he doesn't even KNOW who John Hagee is. Perhaps Meet The Press is not an invitation but a plea!


Name: Peter Rao-McCann
Hometown: Atlanta

Mr. Alterman, to ascribe a feeling of anti-Americanism, let alone hatred of America, to a whole society ( ... "these Arabs" ... ) cuts against your demonstrated instinct for dispassionate, reflective, and fair commentary.

I went looking for a way to consider this quote as inoffensive, or qualified by an earlier statement, and I couldn't find it. Offending text here: "These Arabs really hate our guts; make those countries democratic and they'd want to kill more of us."

Is this an unattributed Limbaugh quote? I truly hope I missed something. If not, I hope your editor gets back on the job soon.

The rest of the piece is, per usual, right on the money.

Cheers -- Peter

Eric replies: Dear Peter: You're right. That was badly phrased. I apologize for the offense. But I do stand by my original intent. I do think a significant portion of the Arab world does hate the United States, for reasons both justified and unjustified. I do think many of these people are inclined to, and supportive of violence. And I'm therefore glad that they are prevented from using the organs of various state powers from doing this. The argument is not based on character as it is in the case of, say, the racist Marty Peretz. Rather it is cultural and sociological. These societies have not, by and large, developed to the point where democracy is really practical. This is true, alas, in much of the world.


Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Is the only possible solution for the Democrats in order to avoid chaos and a completely fractured party having both Obama and Clinton on the ticket together? I saw this question a month or so back on CNN.com and thought the idea made no sense and would never happen. But with Clinton winning two more states that will be crucial in the election, what happens if she wins Pennsylvania? I can't see either candidate taking the VP slot and allowing the other to take the top slot on the ticket, and maybe they have attacked each other too much in order to be able to come together (and also would their attacks on each other be used against them in the general?). But I don't see this ending anytime soon, and fear that both candidates will spend too much money, anger half of the party, and inflict enough damage on each other to allow McCain to keep the White House for the republicans.


Name: Victoria Steinberg
Hometown: New York, New York

I don't get it. I don't find Bob Herbert boring at all -- and I loved today's column. As T.A. Frank correctly points out, Herbert consistently covers issues that no other columnist, at least in the Times, goes near. Furthermore, he always finds an interesting or fresh angle to approach even the most done-to-death, if necessary, topics. Before he was at the Times, I used to grab discarded copies of the News (couldn't bring myself to buy it back then) just to find his always insightful work.

I'm a lifelong Times reader and have always imagined that I'm part of its target audience. As such, I have no interest in any of the columnists except for the three readable ones -- Herbert, Krugman, and Collins (who, unlike the unspeakable Maureen Dowd, actually knows how to write a political humor column that is both perceptive and actually funny). Kristof is unbearably boring; Friedman is both boring and perpetually off-base; Dowd regularly surpasses W in the scary combination of smugness and outright stupidity; Brooks is consistently illogical and frighteningly simplistic; and Kristol combines all of the above as, it would seem, the perfect culmination of an almost surrealistically bizarre op-ed hiring philosophy. I know you regularly knock this mysteriously employed group, but please give Bob Herbert a break.


Name: Mark Paul
Hometown: Highland Park, IL

Doc --

Tuesday marked the 75th anniversary of the speech that began:

"I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."


Name: Terry Gottschall
Hometown: Walla Walla, WA

As hard as he may try, George Bush will still not best Emperor William II of Germany for prolonged vacations.

William, known to his closest friends as "W," spent 445 days aboard his yacht Hohenzollern in the six years between 1893 and 1898.

Not that I would ever draw other historical parallels between the last kaiser and our own esteemed leader but the character Kat in All Quiet on the Western Front notes, "And every full-grown emperor requires at least one war, otherwise he would not become famous."


Name: Karl W.
Hometown: Bloomfield, CT

"President Bush has spent 452 days on vacation while in office; that amounts to roughly 17.4 percent of his presidency; or, an average of 63 days per year."

To paraphrase Ted Williams (attributed): If you don't preside so good, you shouldn't preside so much.


Name: Edward Furey
Hometown: New York City

In 1988, when Grumman was the largest private employer on Long Island, Newsday ran a story noting that you couldn't find anyone in the plant -- then employing almost 25,000 people -- who would admit they were voting for Dukakis. Alas, it did them no good.

New York went for Dukakis anyway and SecDef Cheney, canceled the A-6 Intruder program, with the plane to be replaced with -- well, nothing really. Or rather, one of those rare occassions when the march of technology and appropriations produced a successor aircraft inferior to the one it replaced. Later the F-14 fighter would be cancelled and independent Grumman would vanish into a merger with only the name lingering like Cheshire Cat's grin.

Today, Northrop Grumman employs about 3,000 on Long Island. However, their bid for the tanker contract put most of the jobs in Alabama, safe GOP territory. Newsday says the $40 billion deal will create about 350 jobs on the island, including both N/G and subcontractors -- wow!

Boeing seemed to be the odds-on favorite, being an American company of longstanding experience in the heavy aircraft business, but it is also headquartered in Chicago -- home to Barack Obama -- and would be built in Washington state. Both Illinois and Washington are safe Democratic states in presidential elections, so there was probably almost no chance that a big defense contract that could be thrown to Alabama would instead go to Seattle/Renton.

This aspect of the "surprise" decision got little mention, but it's another example of how these "defense" decisions really get made. To paraphrase Mae West: Technology had nothing to do with it.


Name: Kurt Weldon
Hometown: Los Angeles

"God's most perfect creation, Ms. Natalie Portman"

I think not. God's most perfect creation is Charlize Theron. Your assertion is rankest heresy.

Eric replies: Sorry, perfection requires tribe membership, alas.

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