Slip-slidin' away ...


In Why We're Liberals news, I'll be at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville Wednesday on a panel called "The Fall & Rise of American Liberalism: Media, Race, Religion..." You can find the info here. The talk I gave at Powell's in Portland can be seen here, and yesterday, the Newark Star-Ledger printed this review:

A patriot's call to reclaim distorted liberal agenda


Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America
Eric Alterman
Viking, 334 pp., $24.95

Eric Alterman, author of "What Liberal Media? The Truth about Bias and the News," has written a masterful new thesis about the distortion of the liberal agenda on every frontline of American society during the past decade. His book is a passionate call to arms to his brethren to reclaim their nobility of purpose.

Writing without rancor, Alterman is boldly critical of both his adversaries and his allies. He comes off not as an extremist but a pragmatic patriot in love with his country and upset with a political climate he perceives as hostile to those who think as he does.

Alterman believes the trend in the mainstream press to portray liberals as unpatriotic and wimpy has put many liberals -- particularly politicians -- on the defensive. Among his examples he cites Hillary Clinton, who has chosen to call herself a progressive.

Illustrating the more grotesque demonizations of the term "liberal," Alterman notes Rush Limbaugh's on-air remarks following the 2007 Virginia Tech killings: "This guy had to be a liberal. You start railing against the rich and all this other stuff -- this guy's a liberal. ... So it's a liberal that committed this act."

The author cites the findings of a 2006 study by Media Matters, noting that, during Bush's first term, Republicans (58 percent) outnumbered Democrats (42 percent) on the influential Sunday morning talk shows. He believes "liberals" fare even worse on cable television, and that conversations are often set up between conservatives and centrists so that a genuine liberal voice is not even heard.

He observes that the overwhelming majority of cable news anchors are tilted toward the right, where voices like Bill O'Reilly, Charles Gibson, Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, Brit Hume and Tucker Carlson drown out the lone liberal voice of Keith Olbermann. He also believes Larry King and Chris Matthews, widely perceived by many to be liberals, really reflect a more centrist view. The overwhelming bias of the press against liberals, he contends, is so strong that even Ann Coulter has boasted, "We have the media now."

The irony here is Alterman's insistence that, despite all the bloated rhetoric about America being a conservative country, "Americans are in fact liberals." He supports his claim with a 2007 Pew Research Center study analyzing an extensive set of opinion polls over the last few decades. Among the findings, 70 percent of respondents said government has a responsibility to take care of people who can't care for themselves. Two-thirds of the public favored government-funded health insurance for all citizens. Two-thirds also believed the nation's corporations are too powerful and their profits too high. And 83 percent supported stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment.

On the more emotionally charged issues, only 28 percent thought school boards should have the right to fire teachers known to be homosexual, and 56 percent opposed making getting an abortion more difficult.

Alterman concludes that, in addition to assaults on liberals by the press and the effectiveness of the Republicans' ability to mobilize their base, Democrats have lost their hold on white working-class people. Issues like welfare, forced integration and an overly permissive social morality, he writes, have slowly eroded public confidence in the progressive agenda. And the demise of unions and union jobs has eliminated a key breeding ground for Democratic activism.

Moreover, he notes, deindustrialization, globalization and an out-of-control immigration policy have had multiple effects for progressives, who have not yet successfully worked out a clear and united political agenda that addresses these new and complex realities.

You can find the entirety of Bill Moyers' interview with Rev. Wright here.

"But we also see the liberal media failing to give Hillary Clinton the respect she deserves." That's William Kristol today, here, and I'm sure he's sincere. Thing is, whatever happened to the William Kristol who said this? "I admit it ... The liberal media were never that powerful, and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures."

I have pretty much lost sympathy with everything having to do with Christopher Hitchens, but this profile by Alexander Linklater in the UK Prospect is one of the most impressive profiles of anyone I've read anywhere in years. And it does, somehow, make Christopher sympathetic, which, to tell you the truth, gladdens me because while we are no longer friends, he was a remarkable person to have in one's life, and I retain a smidgen of affection for him because I am, at heart, a sentimentalist. Also, it would be unseemly of me not to link to Brian Morton's Dissent piece, "The 'New' New Left," which has been much discussed in the blogosphere.

Speaking of this ol' soft heart-o-mine, I found myself welling up on the plane as I finished reading THIS last night:

"A few weeks back we ended up onstage in Indianapolis for what would be the last time. Before we went on I asked him what he wanted to play and he said, "Sandy." He wanted to strap on the accordion and revisit the boardwalk of our youth during the summer nights when we'd walk along the boards with all the time in the world.

So what if we just smashed into three parked cars, it's a beautiful night! So what if we're on the lam from the entire Middletown police department, let's go take a swim! He wanted to play once more the song that is of course about the end of something wonderful and the beginning of something unknown and new.

Let's go back to the days of miracles. Pete Townshend said, "a rock and roll band is a crazy thing. You meet some people when you're a kid and unlike any other occupation in the whole world, you're stuck with them your whole life no matter who they are or what crazy things they do."

If we didn't play together, the E Street Band at this point would probably not know one another. We wouldn't be in this room together. But we do... We do play together. And every night at 8 p.m., we walk out on stage together and that, my friends, is a place where miracles occur...old and new miracles. And those you are with, in the presence of miracles, you never forget. Life does not separate you. Death does not separate you. Those you are with who create miracles for you, like Danny did for me every night, you are honored to be amongst.

Of course we all grow up and we know "it's only rock and roll"...but it's not. After a lifetime of watching a man perform his miracle for you, night after night, it feels an awful lot like love.

So today, making another one of his mysterious exits, we say farewell to Danny, "Phantom" Dan, Federici. Father, husband, my brother, my friend, my mystery, my thorn, my rose, my keyboard player, my miracle man and lifelong member in good standing of the house rockin', pants droppin', earth shockin', hard rockin', booty shakin', love makin', heart breakin', soul cryin'... and, yes, death defyin' legendary E Street Band."

It's all here.

George Zornick adds:

Newsweek has on its cover "Obama's Bubba Gap," dramatized graphically by a picture of arugula (Obama) and beer (the rest of us). The title of the piece inside the magazine is "Only in America: Barack Obama is a Niebuhr-reading ESPN watcher. The origins of his troubles with the 'other' tag."

Let's not go line-by-line through the whole piece. If we did, we could look at the lead, where McCain's anonymously quoted advisers, once worried, now say they can't wait to face Obama -- and then we could watch the reporters try to dance around the fact that Obama still leads McCain in national polling. We could point out that the only person quoted defending Obama is his adviser, as opposed to voters quoted saying Obama is "prejudiced against white people," "more radical than I want to go," and worried that Obama will make good on his joke to tear out the White House bowling alley ("That freaked me out because no matter if he bowls or not, it's a historic thing that should never be changed"); Hillary Clinton saying Obama is "elitist, out of touch and frankly patronizing;" the "illustrative" example of David Brooks' downward-trending columns on Obama; and a Maureen Dowd quote for good measure. We could note the fact that McCain's decidedly elite fortune is never mentioned.

We could also note this paragraph, the 18th, which by the way blows up the entire premise of the story:

It is also worth noting, the Obama-ites say, that in a recent Gallup poll, when asked if each presidential candidate "looks down upon the average American" or "respects the average American," only 26 percent responded that Obama "looks down." That was 4 points more than McCain but 6 points less than Hillary. (In the NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama did better than both McCain and Clinton: 25 percent said Obama "looks down on people like you," versus 26 percent for McCain and 32 percent for Clinton.) In Pennsylvania exit polling, on the critical question of which candidate is "in touch with people like you," 67 percent said Clinton was, versus 66 percent for Obama -- a virtual tie.

By "Obama-ites," they mean what exactly? People who look at polls?

But instead of beating all of that to death, let's just ask: Who doesn't like arugula?

Upon taking over The Wall Street Journal, Rupert Murdoch reportedly sent New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger a letter exclaiming, "Let the battle begin!" Most observers believe Murdoch plans to shift the Journal's coverage into more direct competition with that of the Times -- and now the Project for Excellence in Journalism has quantified the shift:

In the first four months of Murdoch's stewardship, the Journal's front page has clearly shifted focus, de-emphasizing business coverage that was the franchise, while placing much more emphasis on domestic politics and devoting more attention to international issues. But it is not, at least not yet, as broad as the New York Times on the same days.... Under the Murdoch regime, the single biggest change in front-page coverage occurred with politics and the presidential campaign. From Dec. 13, 2007 through March 13, 2008, coverage more than tripled, jumping to 18% of the newshole compared with 5% in the four months before the ownership change.

The shifting newshole is interesting, but really just confirmation of the assumed strategy. It would be interesting to see a more substantive analysis -- what has the tone of that increased coverage been? Specifically, what issues have received coverage, and which haven't? Which candidates are making out with better press? Has Murdoch-style journalism crept into the reporting? I don't know the answer to that yet, although history's guide is ominous.

As Eric noted last week, in discussing the Newsweek story on the matter, the press is just covering the battle of the New York papers as a fight between two boxers -- ignoring the fact that one has a reputation for fighting dirty. Examples like this suggest Murdoch's below-the-belt journalism is indeed taking hold, but of course it's just one story, and we don't have the hard data yet.

Regular readers of this space are familiar with the ongoing battle over media cross-ownership: the FCC loosened regulations last December, which we wrote about in Think Again, thereby allowing media conglomerates to purchase multiple media outlets in one market -- so that, theoretically, one company could own the newspaper, radio and television station in one town.

A positive development came late last week, when Sen. Byron Dorgan's Senate Commerce Committee vetoed the rule changes without dissent. Legislative vetoes work the same as executive vetoes, so the rule relaxations are, for now, kaput -- but the House now has to approve the move, and if or when that happens, President Bush will veto the veto, according to White House officials. Round it goes ... but the Senate is paying attention, even if most of the press is not.

McCain Suck-up Watch: "In asserting that Sen. John McCain 'appears to delight in defying his fellow Republicans on matters ranging from taxes to the environment,' Boston Globe reporter Susan Milligan cited 'McCain's support for immigration reform' and his 'opposition to the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2002.' But Milligan made no mention of the fact that McCain has reversed his position on taxes and immigration to more closely align himself with the base of his party." Here.

Every time we post one of these, I have to make sure I'm not actually re-posting it -- there's been so many of these almost identical stories. McCain has reversed his position on immigration. He has reversed his position on Bush's tax cuts. He says it. His campaign says it. Why does this keep appearing?

Alter-review: Paul Simon, Part III, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

Night three of Simon's BAM residency was more of mixed bag than the other two, but the highs were as high as ever and the lows were unfailingly interesting. The Roches opened the show with "American Tune," but they had a bunch of unsolved technical problems the night I saw them and couldn't hear one another very well, and one of their mikes was off, and well, I thought their "Cecilia" wonderful, but I am a well-known sucker for Suzzy and her sisters. (I'm reliably informed these problems were gone, at last, after opening night.) I don't know what the hell Grizzly Bear thought they were doing turning "Mother and Child Reunion" into a funeral dirge -- it reminded me of the Vanilla Fudge version "You Keep Me Hanging On" but without the drugs -- if you can even imagine such a thing. I hated it. And while this Josh Groban fellow has a room-filling voice, it's not the right one for any Paul Simon song, with the exception of the orchestral parts of "Bridge Over Troubled Water." And Olu Dara is an entertaining fellow, but he too missed what I think is the point of almost every damn one of these songs, which is winsomeness. The archetypal Paul Simon lyric is "it seems the nearer your destination, the more you're slip-slidin' away." Thank goodness, therefore, for the terrific set by Gillian Welch, her husband, David Rawlings, and Simon doing "Duncan," probably my favorite Simon song; "The Boxer," well, the other main contender for my favorite Simon song; and "The Sounds of Silence." Paul then brought out his magnificent band to remake "Mrs. Robinson" in his now rhythm-focused musical image, and that was terrific and the final foursome of "Train in the Distance," "How Can You Live In the Northeast," "The Only Living Boy In New York," and "Late In The Evening," send us all home happy as can be. The man is amazing; imperfect, elusive but brave and bold and wise as well. The words of the prophets are written ... to rockin' tunes.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

Because every day, even the birthday of the late Saddam Hussein, is Slacker Friday.

"In the cool of the evening when everything is gettin' kinda groovy/I call you up and ask you if you'd like to go with me and see a movie."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: One Foot In The Bayou (Tab Benoit) -- Once again, I failed to concoct a mind-altering potion that, mixed into his 245th Diet Coke of the day, would cause Chris Matthews to leap from his chair shouting, "Jockamo-feena-hey!" as testimony to how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson should wash this woman's feet for the next month. Maureen Dowd should skulk into a hole, and apologize to the lesser vermin already living there. The Green Rooms at CNN, FNC, and MSNBC should be stocked forever with sackcloth and ashes. Give 'em hell, Liz.

Part The Second: I think Joan Walsh and I saw different interviews. I found Jeremiah Wright far less scary. In fact, I learned two things that I did not already know: 1) that he attended LBJ after the latter's gall bladder surgery, and 2) that, purely as a theologian, Wright would take, say, John Hagee and that mallrat Ezekiel Rick Warren and stuff them in what my old granny would call the ha'penny place. This is a highly educated man with a serious view of the prophetic voice who is under no obligation whatsoever to provide America with a redemptive happy ending -- "A lot of you really great people marched with Doctor King. Of course, that was before he got shot in the head there" -- every time he gives a sermon. (And his exegesis of historical memory regarding King's Riverside Church antiwar speech vis-à-vis "I Have A Dream" was spot on.) He is not even required to moderate his language in the pulpit -- what Walsh, alas, refers to when she talks about how Wright "went into hermeneutics." (Hint: this is what theologians do.) Walsh thereupon falls completely history-over-teakettle when she wonders why Wright has mentioned "nothing about white ethnic groups who also faced WASP prejudices." Holy mother of god, woman, No Irish Need Apply does not equal Jim Crow. Never did. Never will. And, finally, Wright's certainly under no obligation at this point to do the right thing by Barack Obama's [...] presidential campaign.

Part The Third: I am so buying this book. The Great Trilogy would not be possible without the romance described herein, and it is the great gap in The Master's biographical narrative. And she herself sounds very much like a formidable person with a great story to tell. Sooner or later, after all, one of us must know.

Part The Last: Oh, god no. Is there an easier joke to make than almost any joke that comes to mind reading this? Talk about your hanging sliders.

This is, alas, not courage but nervous acquiescence to schoolyard taunting. Fox News should be made a pariah, and all its personalities shunned. Decent people -- particularly decent progressive people -- should avoid them, and announce loudly in all cases why they're doing so. ("If they can't face us, how can they face bin Laden?" the Foxies will cry. There's a category mistake there. Bin Laden's an actual terrorist, not a fake one. The same cannot be said for FNC's "journalism." ) Walking into that whorehouse isn't going to gain Obama anything, and the sight of him responding to the cheap-ass heckling of a hack like Chris Wallace is not edifying. Indeed, Obama's performance was not strong enough to justify the visit. [...]

Eric adds: Unfortunately, Pierce got edited a bit today because you know, elections, politics, tax status, that kind of thing ...

Name: Josh Silver

Hi Eric,

As usual, we're seeing the good, the bad and the ugly in media. Here is a quick summary:

It's been five days since the New York Times revealed that more than 75 military analysts were being briefed by the Pentagon on pro-war talking points and regurgitating them on all of the major commercial TV networks. It gets worse: Many of the analysts were also lobbyists and consultants for military contractors, or on their boards.

Surprise! There has been hardly a whisper on TV news about the story, save one lame CNN report by Howie Kurtz, a brief discussion by CNN's Rick Sanchez, a good report from Keith Olbermann, and a funny piece by Jon Stewart. The only in-depth coverage came from PBS and Democracy Now!

Our initial research indicates that the Pentagon's actions likely broke federal "covert propaganda" laws. Our general counsel is writing an analysis of the legal implications, and we are working with a member of Congress to call for an official investigation. And we've produced a new video calling out the media for ignoring the story.

As you probably heard, Rupert Murdoch may well try to buy Newsday -- a Long Island daily newspaper -- from the Tribune Company. If successful, Murdoch will own three of the 10 largest dailies in the United States. He will also break existing rules on how much media one company can own in a single market.

If the deal moves forward, we plan to go to war, and make it politically painful (kudos to Wall Street Journal's Amy Schatz, who quoted me criticizing her new boss) for FCC Chairman Martin to allow the deal to go through.

Additional anti-consolidation pressure is coming from Congress, where yesterday the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to reverse the FCC's December decision to loosen media ownership limits. This "resolution of disapproval" now moves to the Senate floor for a vote, and we will be whipping votes to ensure passage.

Last week at Stanford University, we organized around another public hearing on the Internet with all five FCC commissioners about Net Neutrality, and specifically, what constitutes "reasonable network management" by Internet service providers.

After being humiliated at the Boston FCC hearing, the phone and cable companies declined the FCC's invitation to testify, and by all measures pro-Net Neutrality advocates won the day. Most importantly, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin indicated that he plans to penalize Comcast for blocking Internet traffic. If you have time, watch Free Press board member Larry Lessig's superb talk from the hearing.

Then this week, Chairman Martin testified at Senate Commerce Committee on Net Neutrality, reiterating that Comcast uses shady tactics to interfere with Internet traffic and hasn't been honest. Hollywood also joined the fight for the open Internet this week, when a Screen Actors Guild board member and the Writers Guild West president also testified in support of Net Neutrality at the same hearing.

Name: Roger H. Werner
Hometown: Stockton

Gibson and Kudlow's comments on taxes are more than a little muddled. Of course you are correct that Gibson's comments are irrelevant and that's disturbing in and of itself. What I find maddeningly frustrating is that lack of attention that virtually everyone pays to the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT. To Hell with tax cuts for anyone: I'm all for the graduated income tax with the highest bracket above 60% and I also support the inheritance tax. I do have a problem with the AMT. The AMT was established in 1969 so that very high income earners could not avoid paying some tax through the use of deductions. The problem is that the AMT has not been adjusted for inflation in years so that today virtually anyone or any couple earning more than $100,000/year will find themselves paying 26% or 28% federal tax irrespective of their total deductions (many won't find out that some or most of their usual deductions won't apply until they prepare their tax returns). Between the 9% California state tax for those in our tax bracket along with the deductions for social security, my wife and I paid ~45% of our income in state and federal taxes. Personally, I'm not opposed to taxes but no one in the middle class receives much in return for taxes paid; what we get are crappy roads, schools, health care, preschool, air, water, a non-functional government regulatory bureaucracy, and of course we have the best "representative government" corporate money can buy. So, while politicians and pundits debate Bush's ludicrous tax cuts, no one except McCain bothers to note a very serious tax issue; namely the AMT and the fact that it either needs to be eliminated or indexed to inflation so that it only affects those with incomes over $500,000.000.

Name: Karl W.
Hometown: Bloomfield, CT

"I have a sneaking suspicion that Gibson has pushed the $200,000 to $250,000 area as a middle class income because he'd been informed of what John McCain's tax return would show as income."

I think Gibson was more lazy than nefarious, not that that's any less a crime against journalism.

I challenge anyone to out-probable this scenario: He asked the neighbors on each side and across the street from his house, took their numbers as accurate, and figured that they were as middle class as anyone.

After all, who's more representative of normal America than a network news personality and his economic peers?

Name: Mark Mikowski
Hometown: North Las Vegas NV


John McCain has been quoted saying that he "doesn't know much about economics." I suppose he is intent on proving that true. In a recent speech he said that raising the capital gains tax would hurt "100 million Americans who own shares in companies or mutual funds in their IRAs or 401(k) plans." Earth to John McCain, IRA's and 401k's get taxed as regular income, not capital gains. The good Senator then repeated his gaffe in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, and it went unchallenged by Mr. Stephanopoulos. I guess George was too worried about lapel pins and preachers.

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA

Your idea that Liberalism entails a commitment to Truth has had different applications in varying circumstances. In 1972, it was the appeal that Liberalism should not be abandoned because of a landslide defeat to a criminal. Today, it is the staunch advocacy of the mathematical clarity of delegate counts against sheer speculation about "electoral viability" or "psychological momentum." In other words, in times of adversity, the principle is the conscience of the Liberal, while, as Liberalism becomes a bandwagon, you've provided a criterion for exposing pretenders and opportunists.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Lake Mary, FL

The Clinton camp claims that because she has won in the "big" states that Obama can't win their in November. But do the math - give McCain the threatening to defect 20% of Clinton's voters from the primary results, throw in 20% of Edwards voters, if he was still in the race, and all of the other Republican votes, in states such as NY, OH, TX and CA and see who wins even if Obama gets all of his primary votes and only 80% of Clinton's and Edwards' votes. For example, the biggest state, California: Obama would get 3.88 million vs. McCain getting 3.01 million. New York: Obama 1.52 million, McCain 807 thousand. Ohio: Obama 1.95 million, McCain 1.25 million. Texas: Obama 2.53 million, McCain 1.61 million.

But I guess simple math is beyond Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer to comprehend.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland OR

Most of what LTC Bateman had to say about serving military officers speaking out with political opinions is a deserving debate among currently serving and recently retired military. However, Tom Engelhardt's recent TomDispatch is also worth a reflection:

"By then, of course, the President himself was a thoroughly tarnished brand, not exactly the sort of face with which to launch 1,000 ships or even 30,000 troops into a self-made hell against the urgent wishes of the American people. Instead, he pushed forward his all-American general -- the smart, bemedaled, well-spoken, Princeton PhD and counterinsurgency guru, beloved by reporters whom he had romanced for years, and already treated like a demi-god by members of both parties in both houses of Congress. He became the "face" of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an "Iraqi face" on the American occupation of that country). In the ensuing months, as New York Times columnist Frank Rich pointed out, the surging Brand Petraeus campaign only gained traction as the President publicly cited the general more than 150 times, 53 times in May 2007 alone. Never has a President put on the "face" of a general more regularly. "

The idea that any of the four stars and other high ranking officers in the Iraq and/or Afghanistan theater are somehow to avoid politics is patently erroneous and their presentation to Congress and the American people is almost always founded on imagery and ideology, not actual military performance.

It may be easier for me to say as a non military person, but what right do "they" have as men of conscience to remain silent?

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.