Nowhere Men


I'm giving the President's Lecture at CUNY's Queensborough Community College next month and they did a nice write-up here. It's open to the public.

Oh, and also, I did a post on Palin and Troopergate for The Guardian, here.

How a phony consensus is manufactured.

Rick Klein, the crazy Neocon promoter who also writes's The Note, insists this morning that John McCain "has the most at stake in how he handles the bailout bill nobody loves but everybody seems to realize you cannot in good faith hate."

First, let's note the use of the weasel word "seems," which, in journalism, is another way of saying, "I am making this up." ("Seems, madam! Nay, it is; I know not 'seems.' ")

Second, let's not overlook the use of the word "everybody." If you don't agree, you are, ipso facto, "nobody."

And third, if you happen to be a "somebody," it might be possible to "hate" the bailout, but only if you are acting in bad faith.

So where does that leave, say, Paul Krugman? He sure does hate the bailout. Is he a "nobody?" Let' see, The New York Times op-ed columnist "received his B.A. from Yale University in 1974 and his Ph.D. from MIT in 1977. He has taught at Yale, MIT and Stanford. At MIT he became the Ford International Professor of Economics. Mr. Krugman is the author or editor of 20 books and more than 200 papers in professional journals and edited volumes. His professional reputation rests largely on work in international trade and finance; he is one of the founders of the 'new trade theory,' a major rethinking of the theory of international trade. In recognition of that work, in 1991 the American Economic Association awarded him its John Bates Clark medal, a prize given every two years to 'that economist under forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic knowledge.' "

What about Bill Greider? He hates, and I mean really hates the bailout. Is he a nobody? "For 17 years, Greider was the National Affairs Editor at Rolling Stone magazine, where his investigation of the defense establishment began. He is a former assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, where he worked for fifteen years as a national correspondent, editor and columnist. ... He is the author of the national bestsellers One World, Ready or Not, Secrets of the Temple and Who Will Tell The People. In the award-winning Secrets of the Temple, he offered a critique of the Federal Reserve system. Greider has also served as a correspondent for six Frontline documentaries on PBS, including "Return to Beirut," which won an Emmy in 1985."

So Rick Klein of ABC News, who is best known to us for taking seriously and transmitting, without editorial interference, the crazy Cheney-like views of The New York Sun editorial page and no less crazy or Cheney-like views of Commentary's bloggers, certainly can't be saying that these two enormously accomplished and much-decorated authors and scholars are nobodies. So he must insist that they are writing and speaking in bad faith. So go ahead and ignore 'em...

That really is how it works, folks.

And then there's this, also in today's Note: "Careful -- who's the elitist now? 'The McCain campaign wants to cast Sen. Barack Obama as an arugula-munching, Hawaii-vacationing, Ivy League-educated limousine liberal who's eager to raise your taxes and outlaw your guns in cahoots with his effete intellectual friends,' per ABC News. 'But such a message -- similar to ones that have been driven by GOP campaigns for decades -- is getting lost, perhaps somewhere in Sen. John McCain's seven homes and 13 cars. In a reversal from recent presidential campaigns, this year's race features a Democrat who is portraying the Republican as an elitist who can't relate to the concerns of ordinary Americans.' "

Now, personally, I admit that it's kinda funny that McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns and that he has more cars than many people have socks, but really, isn't the point whether either man's policies will likely benefit the nation's "elite" rather than whether they like arugula? And isn't it kinda funny that a guy going to visit his grandma in his home state of Hawaii is termed "elitist" for that? Could anyone alive defend such logic? Or is logic this nakedly and this openly deemed to be beside the point?

Color your Altercation team deeply unimpressed with the stand taken yesterday by CNN and other outlets against the McCain campaign for continually limiting access to vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Palin is at the United Nations to meet with world leaders -- yesterday, she had meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, among others. Typically for these kinds of leader-to-(prospective)-leader sit-downs, there is a pool camera and also a pool editorial presence -- at least one print reporter, one TV reporter, and one radio reporter is standard. You know the results: two dignitaries sitting in nice chairs, smiling and chatting amiably, perhaps making a statement or answering a brief shouted question.

The McCain campaign -- which to date has allowed no press conference and only one interview with Palin (I'm excluding Hannity) -- apparently found even this an unacceptable level of access. CBS News notes the campaign may have been miffed that a CBS News producer asked Palin a spontaneous question about the AIG bailout during a photo-op with voters at a Cleveland diner. After the Cleveland event, a Palin staffer told CBS News that questions "weren't allowed." For the UN meetings, the campaign was now saying no to any reporters or producers. The televisions networks, led by CNN, quite rightly protested and threatened not to even send the cameras. It would have just been a brief campaign commercial for Palin.

The standoff was resolved when the campaign "relented" and allowed reporters into the meeting between Palin and Karzai -- for 29 seconds. The only exchange overheard between the two was about Karzai's young son. Fresh off their "victory," no CNN personnel present saw fit to actually ask a question.

What was the point then? The press at the event won a victory over decorum, but not actual journalistic principle, since they didn't put any of that principle into practice.

Later in the day, CNN's Ed Henry noted the standoff led by his network, but opened his piece on Lou Dobbs Tonight with this: "Sarah Palin feels like she is acing her first big foreign policy test." So, great! The campaign didn't give us access to any of her meetings, but Palin really "feels" like she's acing her test. (Is even that ridiculous statement supportable? How does Henry know how Palin feels?) Of course, after mentioning the dispute with the press, Henry threw this in, presumably for "balance": "Republicans say despite a mountain of media criticism, Palin is coming across as poised." You don't say. Dobbs then concluded the whole thing was a manufactured controversy, and that "[t]his is about undisguised liberal bias at work in the national media. ... She held herself well."

You can say that again.

George Zornick writes: Jack Shafer has a piece in Slate today, teased on the front page as "McCain Bites Press! Why journalists should stop whining about the candidate's 'war' on the media."

It reminds me of those reading comprehension essays on the SAT, which are well-written but don't have an obvious thesis. You're then given multiple choices as to what the writer's point is; at least three of them seem quite plausible, but of course there's only one right answer.

What is Shafer's thesis?

a) Hillary Clinton complained about the press and nobody seemed to care, so why are journalists making a big deal over John McCain's complaints?

b) John McCain isn't really declaring a war on the press; his campaign is.

c) The press really does love Barack Obama.

d) John McCain and Barack Obama get good press coverage.

I am struggling between (a) and (b). Shafer overviews how The New York Times reported that McCain campaign manager Rick Davis has been paid by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and how senior adviser Steve Schmidt said in response to the report, "[The Times] is a pro-Obama advocacy organization that every day attacks the McCain campaign, attacks Sen. McCain, attacks Gov. Palin and excuses Sen. Obama." Shafer notes "liberal shrieks" over this statement, and then turns to this point: "I don't recall journalists -- or their defenders -- howling like this after the Hillary Clinton campaign and Saturday Night Live spotted the press corps petting Obama so heavily." (Actually, there was much journalistic hand-wringing after Hillary and SNL leveled media bias charges, and McCain attacking a newspaper for reporting objective facts seems a bit different anyhow...)

OK, maybe, but what about (b)? At the end of his piece, Shafer retrieves an old mainstream media chestnut: it's not McCain, it's his campaign. Shafer finds a McCain quote from July, where he says he thinks the press coverage is fair, and "I'm certainly not complaining." This prompts Shafer to close with this: "Please don't wake me until McCain -- or Obama -- start doing their own griping."

That sounds possible... of course (c) looks good too, since the subhed for the piece is: "Just because the press loves Obama doesn't mean it hates McCain." Huh.

Hell, I don't know. Time to take a guess and move onto the next question.

Chris Rock's appearance on David Letterman's show got headlines for his remarks about Bill Clinton, but for the record, this was the funniest part: "And she's [Palin's] shooting mooses, and she's got the moose, holding a dead bloody moose. And Michael Vick's like, 'Why am I in jail?' "

McCain Suck-Up Watch, Well-He-Said-It edition: The Associated Press reported that McCain "says all options must be considered to stave off insolvency for the government insurance and retirement program [Social Security], and top McCain advisers say that includes so-called personal retirement accounts like those President Bush pushed in 2005 but abandoned in the face of congressional opposition." In fact, the Bush administration itself has admitted that private accounts themselves would do nothing to address Social Security's projected long-term revenue shortfall. Details here.

From TomDispatch:

If you were wondering why the present administration is now so willing to throw vast sums at the speculators who thought nothing of the rest of us in their high times, and not even crumbs to Americans, why no one calls us to "the colors" of civil society as Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression, then consider the latest post by TomDispatch regular and historian William J. Astore. He begins: "Lately, our news has focused on tropical depressions maturing into monster hurricanes that leave devastation in their wake -- and I'm not just talking about Gustav and Ike. Today, we face a perfect storm of financial devastation, notable for the enormity of the greed that generated it and the somnolent response of our government in helping Americans left devastated in its wake."

In order to look forward, Astore begins by looking back at the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC, in which his father served from 1935-1937. It called unemployed Americans to the civic colors in enormous numbers in truly tough times and helped do something we need again today: the rebuilding of crumbling American infrastructure.

As Astore points out, his father and others like him "gave liberally to our country in return. The stats are still impressive: 800 state parks developed; 125,000 miles of road built; more than two billion trees planted; 972 million fish stocked. The list goes on and on in jaw-dropping detail." And he adds: "Not only did the CCC improve our country physically, you might even say that experiencing it prepared a significant part of the 'greatest generation' of World War II for greatness. After all, veterans of the CCC had already learned to work and sacrifice for something larger than themselves -- for, in fact, their families, their state, their country."

This is, however, no simple memory piece. Bringing up the relatively drop-in-the-bucket funding both present presidential candidates want to invest in American service to community, he asks why such large-scale service is not a serious option today, not on anyone's planning boards. He concludes movingly: "Just as in 1933, a call today to serve our country and strengthen its infrastructure would serve to reenergize a shared sense of commitment to America. Such service would touch millions of Americans in powerful ways that can't be fully predicted in advance, just as it touched my father as a young man.


The Godfather Collection: The Coppola Restoration

Not much more needs or can be said about the Godfather trilogy, except that it rewards repeated watching as few if any dramatic movies in movie history do. So it's a good thing that Paramount Home Entertainment has released a complete restoration, lovingly overseen by Francis Ford Coppola, that's really quite extensive on DVD and Blu-ray. There was a frame-by-frame restoration of Godfather I and II, overseen by Coppola, which took over a year. Godfather III was also remastered but did not need it so much and also, many people -- though not yours truly -- think it lousy. It's packaged with the bonus material from the original box set and has extensive commentary from Coppola on all the films. Other bonus material include a piece on the restoration process; one called "The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't" about the unlikely events, intrigue, allegiances that actually were able to combine an unknown director, a largely unknown cast, and produce such a great film; a short called "...when the shooting stopped;" and "Godfather World," which takes a look at The Godfather's influence on popular culture. The Amazon page is here and Dave Kehr has a nice little essay here.

Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats, by Pannonica de Koenigswarter

Known as the "Jazz Baroness," Pannonica de Koenigswarter was a constant figure on the New York jazz scene. She served as an inspiration for many compositions and also acted as an agent for many artists, even bailing them out of jail from time to time. But she also took candid photographs, which are collected in Three Wishes. Abrams got a nice forward by jazz critic Gary Giddins, but it's the intimacy of these photos that really shines through. The photographs aren't just great for jazz photography collectors like yours truly, methinks, but paint a lovely picture of a crucial cultural moment. For more info, you can go here.

Correspondence Corner:

George Zornick writes: Hey folks. One of the many things Eric employs me to do is screen the mail that comes into Altercation. You may have noticed that, recently, the Correspondence Corner has been a little thin, and so I wanted to re-state a policy of Media Matters, which is a tax-exempt, non-profit outfit. Any statements that advocate for (or against) the election of any candidate, or support (or denounce) any piece of legislation, can't be printed on this site. Media criticism is fine -- why doesn't the press ask such-and-such about Candidate X, and so on. But we've had to screen out a lot of mail that openly slammed a particular candidate, party, or legislation, and as you can see, the Correspondence Corner has suffered in volume. Please keep this in mind when you write in -- and keep the letters coming.

Name: Michael Clyne
Tulsa, OK

Greetings Eric,

Thanks for the heads up about The Clash: Live at Shea Stadium. In your mini-review, you say:

"The sound here is terrific, particularly given that it's in Shea Stadium, and while The Clash were headed for their final meltdown, I can't imagine they ever gave a bad performance."

Hate to disagree, but while living the high school Foreign Service life in Tokyo, Japan, I was privileged to see The Clash in a small hall on the Sandinista tour. Unfortunately, Joe Strummer was hopelessly drunk, puking into a bucket, dropping his guitar, forgetting the words and wandering around the stage in a haze. Mick Jones tried to pick up the singing slack, but the show was a meandering, confused mess.

Not that we cared. I was 16, it was the f**king Clash, live in person, so it was still cool.

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