The blues are still blue


We have a new Think Again column here, "Iraq Disappears from View," on the declining quantity and quality of Iraq war coverage. Now is the time the media needs to reverse the trend of declining coverage in Iraq. There are a lot of important moments coming up -- as violence escalates, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have to testify before Congress on April 8 to once again justify the current course. Congress has to keep war evaluating funding requests. Dismissed as it may be by the vice president, the people still have a say in these matters, and we need an honest appraisal of the situation -- and it's not going to come from the White House.

Also, The Nation published an excerpt of Why We're Liberals, which you can find here. Eric's in Portland, Oregon, tonight at Powell's Books (see full schedule below), and this is George Zornick again.

The Columbia Journalism Review notes that The New York Times is finally starting to run stories that ask questions about the investigation of Eliot Spitzer -- why the federal government started with an investigation of a john, which is very rare; why the details of Client 9 in the indictment were far more salacious than the other anonymous clients and why his name was leaked almost immediately; and why the resources devoted to the case seem to be out of whack with what is usually spent on such cases. I'm not saying that there's necessarily anything amiss here, but the questions need to be asked, especially in light of the recent scandal involving politicization of U.S. Attorneys, and it seems as if the media are generally far more interested in salacious details than asking these questions.

Speaking of salacious details, the crazy coverage of Spitzer since his resignation, particularly that of the New York Post, should be flagged. The Post has run cover stories based on uncorroborated claims from call girls who say they slept with Spitzer (ABC News ran with this story too), and all types of weird, unconfirmed reports about Spitzer wearing socks during sex, or other habits we won't go into on this blog. (Although it might do wonders for Google search traffic ...) Anyway, this is the kind of stuff that would never fly if Spitzer hadn't admitted already to some bad behavior, but bad reporting is bad reporting. If a call girl contacted an editor at a newspaper and said she'd slept some other, non-scandalized elected official, but had no evidence to prove it, not even the Post would run with it -- certainly their lawyers wouldn't like it. So just because Spitzer admitted to doing some bad things, it doesn't mean that every crazy person who has a tip about his sexual proclivities is necessarily right or worth listening to. The papers just know Spitzer can't send his lawyer out to the press and say "actually, the Governor takes his socks off when he gets hookers, so get that straight." So he's an unlimited target. (I don't mean to defend Spitzer here, just good reporting.)

The Chronicle for Higher Education is running a pretty cool contest, where readers drew up some sketches of the Bush Presidential Library, slated to be built at Southern Methodist University, despite the protests of much the staff there. My favorite: the library-slash-underground bunker with no public access, built behind a facade of the White House for those who believe he was elected legitimately. Check 'em all out, you can vote on your favorite ...

This Week on Moyers:

Race and politics. Forty years after race riots in Detroit, Newark, and dozens of other cities stunned the nation, has anything changed? Bill Moyers interviews Newark Mayor Cory Booker for a frontline report on race and politics today. The program takes a look at an update of the Kerner Commission Report, which blamed the violence on the devastating poverty and hopelessness endemic in the inner cities of the 1960s and includes an interview with former Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, one of the last living members of the Kerner Commission.

The Why We're Liberals official tour:

Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Powell's Books
Portland, OR

Friday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.
Town Hall Seattle
sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Co.
Seattle, WA

Thursday, April 10, 7:45 p.m.
Scarsdale Public Library
Scarsdale, NY

Saturday, April 26, 2:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, April 30
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Correspondence Corner:

Name: DeWitt Grey
Hometown: St Albans, England


I was briefly back home in Manhattan on Monday evening and managed to catch much of your remarks at the "Zabar's" Barnes & Noble. You were in great form and I wish I had been able to stay afterwards, but had to get back to my kids.

First, why not try to sell the book over here in London? Plenty of the chattering classes over here are having the same troubles diagnosing America's ills, particularly because even the Guardian's view of America is distorted by the American mainstream media. I'm sure you'd be a welcome addition to the author roster at Foyle's and Hatchard's.

Second, I was a bit stunned to hear my fellow Upper West Siders still having the vapours about impeachment. Do they really not understand that there is no way on earth the minimum of 17 Republican senators will vote for removing Bush or even Cheney from office, not when you cannot muster even nearly so many to vote against torture (for example)? I trust I'm wrong, but I genuinely suspect that even our partisans don't understand the Constitution. To the extent they do understand it, and consequently want impeachment for the "symbolic" value, a public censure, then they don't understand politics. The 2006 election wasn't historic because the people wanted a Congress that would scold Bush and Cheney, but rather that they wanted a Congress that would stop them from further damaging our country. Frankly, this degree of naivete troubles me as we head into what is sure to be a brass knuckle-and-tire iron general election.

Name: Tony Greco
Hometown: New York, N.Y.


You, like Eric, are overly hung up on defending the "liberal" label. As you correctly point out, lots of people favor liberal policies even while they think "liberals" are to be shunned. What to do? Move on! Acknowledge that the right has won an historic semantic victory -- making "liberal" a dirty word -- despite losing the ideological war. Why should we saddle ourselves with a label that is so badly misunderstood? We can continue to fight for the liberal agenda as proud progressives. That's what Democratic politicians have been doing, increasingly, over the past 20 years. And they're right to do so. What's in a name, after all?

George Zornick replies: It's true that Obama and Clinton (and Edwards and Kerry, et al) get huge bumps in polling when they switch to 'progressive' instead of 'liberal.' So we understand. But one problem is that, even if we wanted to (which we shouldn't), liberals can't unilaterally decide to "move on" from the word liberal. That is, we can't force Limbaugh and Coulter and Bush and, apparently, the staff writers of The New York Times and The Washington Post to forget about the word. They'll keep slinging it as an insult, and the politicians will have to keep explaining why it's simultaneously true, but not true. So why not just defend it? It's a clear-cut case ...

Name: Charles Zigmund
Hometown: Katonah, NY

I share your fear of what comes after newspapers. However, that fear is diminished somewhat by the fact that today's online partisan free-for-all is similar to the newspaper scene in the early republic, when every one of many small papers was virulently partisan and Lippmann-like objective journalism was hardly the rule. And Lippmann's model, with the fourth estate cozying up to the other three, handily facilitated the growth of the world-wide American empire which today gets us into so much trouble, and which is still pretty well hidden by the establishment, including the MSM, from public awareness.

Name: Brigitte Nacos
Hometown: Port Washington, N.Y.

Dear Eric Alterman:

Your article in this week's New Yorker on newspapers and the Internet, etc., is absolutely first-rate.

Few, if any of today's media specialists/critics have the historical depth and contemporary grasp of the news media to write a piece like you did. I very much appreciate and will utilize it in my classes.

Name: Jim Reuss
Hometown: Cheyenne, Wyoming

The growing conflict in Basra between U.S. backed Shiites and the Mahdi Army exposes once again the hollowness of the justification for a continuous military presence in Iraq on the basis that if we leave, chaos and civil strife will ensue. Chaos is happening not only because of our presence there, but because of our active encouragement and efforts.

Regarding Iraqi power struggles and infighting between sectarian and ethnic groups, a withdrawal of our people will produce no different outcome than leaving them there, with the exception that our soldiers will experience far fewer deaths and injuries. This is what our British allies (who were in charge of security in Basra) experienced when they pulled their troops out of that city to let the separate factions fight it out amongst themselves for political hegemony and resources control.

Name: Jim Garry
Hometown: Delmar, NY

Dr. A,

Last night PBS aired the second of a two part Frontline special titled "Bush's War". For many people, the information presented must have come as a shock; perhaps some simply disbelieved what they were watching & hearing. For those relatively few Americans who have stayed informed about what has been happening in this country and Iraq since Sept. 11th, it was an excellent recap yet also contained new information. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Americans will ever see this special, which can be viewed here.

But what struck me the most were the images presented. Here's what I saw the last two nights:

  • IED explosions that were astonishing in their force; huge fireballs suddenly expanding outward from a point, obliterating everything within reach. People who were outside the fireball were thrown to the ground from the concussion. Now I understand why even the most armored vehicles were susceptible.
  • Dead bodies with limbs gone, huge pools of blood -- no make that ponds of blood, footage of Americans and Iraqi forces alike dead and dying as we watched. In one memorable 3 second video, an American soldier at a checkpoint is shot by someone in a passing automobile and he dies instantly, hitting the ground in a grotesque position. That was someone's kid. The image will remain with me for the rest of my life.
  • Footage from Fallujah of the American contractors being burned and then dragged through the streets was incredibly difficult to watch. I'd never seen any footage of this incident, only still photographs.
  • Iraqi citizens including women and children dead on the streets or being carted off to hospitals amid blood and carnage. At one point I have to admit I turned away from the television.

My point? If the war was necessary and justified, this could be barely tolerated. But given the real reasons for the war, I am beyond outrage, infuration, at our American news media. None of this was shown at any time during this war. Yes, we all know that this was the goal of the Bush administration. But HOW did it suceed in the nearly 100% blackout of such footage? WHY did the news media agree to this blackout? Did they think they were being patriotic? Were they forced to agree with the Administration's blackout? How? Why? They had the footage.

Had Americans been exposed to this unsanitized version of the war, they would have demanded an end to it long before the tide actually did turn. We know that was the administration's plan. I just can't fathom why it was agreed to.

At some point, America will need closure and I believe that our leaders should be tried in a court of law (not that it will ever happen). But so too, our news media must answer for their partnership with the Bush administration in this atrocity.

Name: Michael
Hometown: Wharton, NJ

It is certainly easy to say that democracy in the ME is unattainable. It seems to me, however, that a large part of the problem is that Europe and the US are not really interested in promoting democracy there. When a democratic election is held in the ME, the results are not recognized if they don't mesh with what was desired by the outside powers.

Name: Steve
Hometown: Las Cruces, NM

How can there be a democracy in Iraq when the US military is propping up the government, and the Iraqi people did not choose this government for themselves? Until the US leaves Iraq to govern and police itself, there is no democracy in Iraq.

Name: john Loehr
Hometown: Free Union, Virginia

"Despite protestations of people like the late Ms. Bhutto, there are the deepest imaginable problems trying to reconcile the cultural institutions and religious traditions of Islam with anything like a Western understanding of individual human rights." When I read drivel like this that suggests that Arabs are somehow inherently unable to conceive of civil liberties and human decency, I think of Kurt Vonnegut's statement that "One of the cruelest tenets of our society is the idea that a man can solve his own problems."

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman -- This is what the Bush Tax Cuts have done for the middle class, why it is important for a Democrat to be President, and important that one of the first goals of any Democratic administration is to fix the tax system -- I live with my girlfriend, we rent an apartment, we have no investments, or anything other than simple savings/checking accounts. She works for the government helping to protect children. I am an attorney working at a law firm. My salary is a little more than double her salary. Other than salary, our tax returns were identical -- but from the federal government, I will get back nearly five times as much money as she will. This is wrong, and needs to be fixed. People who make more money need to pay their share, and the burden has to be lessened on the middle class.

Name: Phil S.
Hometown: Phoenix

Boy, I sure do miss Molly Ivins! I can't tell you the number of times I would pick up the editorial pages of the Arizona Republic (a decidedly conservative mouthpiece!) and grin at seeing one of Molly's more provocative columns being reprinted. How could someone be so right being left?

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