Suddenly I see ...


In the New York profile of Howard Wolfson, here, we learn:

When Hillary Clinton needed a campaign song, "I took it incredibly seriously," Wolfson says. "We had this elaborate committee set up." Wolfson lobbied hard to use KT Tunstall's "Suddenly I See." But the song ultimately got blackballed because it had the word hell in it. The campaign defaulted, over Wolfson's strenuous objections, to what he calls "the lowest common denominator" of Celine Dion. "I said then, 'We're going to lose because of this.' "

Wolfson was joking, but think about it; it's true. Celine Dion? I go pretty far into shlock territory -- I mean, I like Neil Sedaka and I really like Neil Diamond. (Babs is a given...) But what Democrat wants to vote for a candidate who likes Celine Dion better than, well, anyone? It's like announcing, "We are lame." Dion vs. U2? Come on, get real ...

George Zornick writes: Sarah Palin granted an interview to CNN yesterday, and the performance of the network's interviewer, Drew Griffin, was shameful.

We cannot say for sure that the campaign requested Griffin, but his selection as Palin's interviewer is quite odd. Palin is naturally of intense interest, especially since you can count her national media interviews on one hand. As such an important "get," Palin always brought out the big-gun questioners -- when she was interviewed on ABC, she got Charlie Gibson. On CBS, Katie Couric. On Fox News, Sean Hannity. Today, when she talks with NBC, it will be with Brian Williams.

So on CNN, she gets ... Drew Griffin? TPM offers one possible clue to Griffin's presence -- he did a piece on the Troopergate scandal, and snarked, "But please tell me if you think [Trooper Mike Wooten's] tale -- dubbed Troopergate by Gov. Palin's political enemies -- is really the scandal that will bring down the newest star on the political scene." He also gave airtime to extremist Ayers conspiracy theorist Stanley Kurtz, a bogus ACORN story, and ACORN special reports for Lou Dobbs.

Griffin could have disabused his audience of the idea he was chosen by the campaign because he was so McCain-friendly, but his performance in the interview did not inspire any such confidence. Palin has centered her entire appeal around her image as a maverick and a reformer -- standing up to the old boy network in Alaska, whistling their corruption, and so on. Yet, less than two weeks ago, a bipartisan legislative panel found that Palin "unlawfully abused her power" in firing Alaska's public safety commissioner. No reporter has been able to question Palin about this report, although she mysteriously shouted to reporters that she was "vindicated" by its findings. (Alaska's largest paper dubbed the statement Orwellian).

So this report is any respectable journalist's first question to Palin. But Griffin doesn't raise the issue until the very end of the interview, and when he does, he apologizes first that "our time is very short and I must ask you just two questions." He prefaces the question like this: "The Branchflower Report said you were perfectly in your right, to fire [Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt] Monegan....But also found out that you violated the ethics." That setup is exactly the campaign's defense -- that Palin was in her power to fire Monegan -- and it's "ridiculous," TPM explained two weeks ago. You can check their report, but in short, while of course Palin was within her rights to remove the public safety commissioner, it was the way in which she did it, and the reasons she did it, that constituted an abuse of power.

Some of the other hard-hitting questions Griffin served up, before getting around to the Troopergate report:

  • "You seemed to be very much on your game. You get huge crowds. Even bigger crowds than John McCain. Why is that?"
  • "[T]wo months ago, it was all about who you were, where you were from and Wasilla, Alaska. I think, now it's just the economy. And you are the only person in this race with executive experience, who's taken over governments as mayor and governor. What will you do, day one, to tell the American people, things are changing for the better?"
  • "Governor, is Barack Obama a socialist?"
  • "Do you think his intention though, if not a socialist, is to move away from capitalism, true capitalism?"
  • "But they were talking about the fact that your experience as governor is not getting out. Do you feel trapped in this campaign, that your message is not getting out, and if so who do you blame?"

Also, by the way, Griffin takes a National Review article way out of context, making the magazine seem like a harsh critic of Palin. Rich Lowry rightly calls him on it, here, although this seems to be a product of rushed research rather than ideological bias. There were plenty of anti-Palin conservatives to choose from.

Still: why was Griffin chosen to conduct this interview? And does CNN stand by its content?

We did two Think Again columns (here and here) on the frustrating coverage of offshore oil drilling by the mainstream media. The key fact, again, is this: the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency projects that expanded offshore drilling would not have any significant effect on oil prices.

The mainstream media largely ignores these facts when reporting on offshore drilling - the Center for Economic and Policy Research found only one of 267 broadcasts measured mentioned the EIA data.

We can add Richard Cohen to the list of offenders. He writes in yesterday's Post:

Ah, I know, the blues are not all virtuous. They are supine before self-serving unions, particularly in education, and they are knee-jerk opponents of offshore drilling, mostly, it seems, because they don't like Big Oil. They cannot face the challenge of the Third World within us -- the ghetto with its appalling social and cultural ills -- lest realism be called racism. Sometimes, too, they seem to criticize American foreign policy simply because it is American.

There's that word "seems" again. Nay, it is. We know not "seems." Alas, it, um, seems to Cohen there's nothing but knee-jerk opposition to "Big Oil," but facts are better than "seems," Mr. Cohen, who has sadly, gone from being one of the punditocracy's best columnists, not that long ago, to one of its worst.

We heard yesterday from Jim Mitchell, the former director of communications in the Office of Special Counsel, which was a topic of a recent Think Again column on the near-ignored scandal going on there. Mitchell says he was fired by Scott Bloch, the head of the office who is now resigning, and is on a one-man mission to bring more coverage to what's been going on there. You can read an interview with Mitchell here.

Here's a thought. If, indeed, Sean Hannity and Fox News are not an extension of the RNC and the McCain campaign, why aren't they talking about Jeremiah Wright?

By no means am I urging the network to recycle the irrelevant, manufactured Jeremiah sideshow that he ran all day, every day, back in the primary season on Fox News.

But it's telling that Hannity, for example, has barely touched what he surely believes is a damaging issue for Obama. A Nexis search of "Jeremiah Wright" on his program reveals somewhat sparse and passing mentions. There is no cascade of "God damn America" clips, no daily questioning of Obama's association with that church -- what did he hear and when did he hear it. There is, of course, a plentiful amount of Ayers and ACORN.

Now, if you're going to slime Obama and try to raise every tangential association you can, Jeremiah Wright is no doubt part of that assault, as, again, Fox News demonstrated in the spring. The only difference between now and the spring is that McCain has renounced any use of Wright-based attacks -- and so too, apparently, has Fox News. Why has Hannity more or less dropped Wright as an issue? Does he want to bring it up? Are hard-line conservatives wondering why Hannity isn't hammering Obama on Wright?

I should note that the McCain camp is "rethinking" its position on using Wright. If they do bring it back, it will be very interesting to see if Fox News simultaneously "rethinks" the position as well.

McCain Suck-Up Watch: The New York Times and the AP uncritically reported the McCain campaign's claims about Sen. Barack Obama's association with William Ayers, with a post on the Times' The Caucus blog quoting Sen. John McCain's claim that Obama "was friends with a terrorist and his wife," and the AP reporting that Gov. Sarah Palin "reaffirmed her view that Obama had been 'palling around with terrorists' because of his association with Bill Ayers." Neither news outlet noted its earlier reporting undermining these claims. More here.

Eric Alterman, cub reporter, goes to the Hamptons Film Festival:

So every year, I close my house for the weekend of the Hamptons Film Festival, and this year I managed to catch eight films, of which I stayed for all of six, which is a much higher percentage than usual, given that movies seen over a single day tend to offer diminishing marginal returns. Usually, at festivals, I try to see movies I may not get to see otherwise, and so I tend to avoid the highest-profile screenings, unless I have a hole in my schedule, as I did with The Wrestler. The HFF is an interesting festival because even though the prices are pretty high, the audience is mostly real people, an awfully high percentage of whom are retirees who live there year-round. I suppose it has the normal amount of glitz, but it does not detract from the films -- as it can at Sundance, etc. Somehow, seeing a movie that you may never have the opportunity to see again intensifies one's relationship with it, although if you really love it -- and I really really loved one movie and pretty much loved another this weekend -- it tends to be a little heartbreaking if it doesn't get picked up or win any awards. The medium is such that one becomes attached to certain films -- which are, after all, inanimate objects -- to an irrational degree.

And the winner should have been ... the Israeli film, For My Father (Dir. Dror Zahavi -- with Shredi Jabarin, Hili Yalon), in which "Terek is a young Arab traveling to be a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv, but everything changes when his bomb doesn't function." This is quite simply the most powerful, and moving film I can remember seeing in years; actually, right now, it's just about the most powerful and moving film I can ever remember seeing. The rest of the audience struck me as feeling the same way.People I met on line were talking about it all day and the next. I could not believe it did not win any awards on Sunday. Anyway, it was a near-perfect film.

I also loved Lemon Tree (Dir. Eran Riklis -- with Hiam Abbass, Rona Lipaz-Michael, Ali Suliman, Tarik Kopty, Doron Tavorym), in which "a Palestinian woman's cherished lemon grove is endangered when the Israeli Minister of Defense and his kind-hearted wife move in next door and deem the area unsafe. The two women find themselves reluctantly implicated in a dispute that mirrors the vast complexity of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict." It too demonstrated exquisite sensitivity and humanity, as well as speaking to larger more disturbing truths. It lacked the transcendent quality of For My Father but it's a really unfair comparison. Both films left one feeling both hopeful and hopeless about the future of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but also marveling at the contradictions of a society that mixes everyday life with war, oppression and the constant threat of war, terror, and capricious land and property expropriation, thereby sowing more hatred, thereby starting the whole cycle again.

While we're dealing with the Israeli portion of the program -- done in honor of its 60th anniversary -- I always admire the Israeli director Amos Gitai's complicated films, and One Day You'll Understand (Dir. Amos Gitai - with Jeanne Moreau, Hippolyte Girardot, Emmanuelle Devos, Dominique Blanc), in which Jeanne Moreau stars as Rivka, the elegant, elusive mother who refuses to dwell on the past, and Hippolyte Girardot as Victor, the son whose obsession with it threatens to unbalance his life, is about how people deal with how other people dealt with the occupation of France and the deportation of the Jews. It's the kind of serious, emotionally complicated film one expects from Gitai, but that rarely finds a home in the U.S. market. I see the Museum of Modern Art is going to have a retrospective of his films next week, though, so that's a rare and valuable opportunity.

The final film that left me in a great mood this weekend was one called Dunya & Desie (Netherlands, North American Premiere) Dir. Dana Nechustan -- with Eva van den Wijdeven, Maryam Hassouni, Christine van Dalen, Theo Maassen. Eighteen-year-old girlfriends Dunya and Desie could not seem more different - one a reserved Moroccan from a traditional Muslim family, the other a Dutch native sporting skimpy clothes and mistaking sex for true love. This entertaining road movie explores cross-cultural identity in a shrinking world. Also, it's the Netherlands' Oscar entry for foreign language film.

I saw four films I did not love. One of them I rather liked, The Brothers Bloom (Dir. Rian Johnson -- with Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo). The Brothers Bloom is "a whirlwind of action, deception and romance as the best con men in the world swindle millions with complex scenarios of lust, intrigue and the most complex literary-inspired setups imaginable," but I felt no sense of solidarity with it. Another, The Wrestler (Dir. Darren Aronofsky - with Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood), in which "master filmmaker Darren Aronofsky triumphs with this stunning and quintessential portrait of an aging professional wrestler struggling to come to terms with his life's choices at the twilight of his career," which I really admired, but it was my third film of the day and it started late and really, it was awfully depressing. It made me want to get in bed.

Another small indie film, Luke and Brie Are On A First Date (Dir. Chad Hartigan - with George Ducker, Meghan Webster, Keegan DeWitt) in which, yes, "Luke and Brie are a young couple embarking on that all-important first date. Throughout the night, earnest Luke does his best to defend his big night from a who's who of interlopers, hoping that his charm and wit will help him win the girl in the end," it was OK and inoffensive and kinda smart but ultimately the kind of film that I need to be doing something else while it's on.

Two Lovers (Dir. James Gray -- with Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw, Isabella Rossellini, Elias Koteas), in which "Leonard lives at home with his parents in Brooklyn. He goes from being lonely and forlorn to suddenly being torn between two lovers, one chosen for him by his parents, and one who comes into his life out of nowhere and changes it forever," well, again, last movie of the day, not too much emotional connection, and I got the feeling it couldn't end well. Gwyneth looked great though. Finally, I was not able to see The End of America (Dir. Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg), which is a "profound and eye-opening film, Award-winning documentarians Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg accompany Naomi Wolf as she discusses America's dangerous passage towards a society of fear and surveillance, and chronicles her journey to raise awareness about our threatened democracy," but I did go to the party, and while walking with its subject, my old friend Naomi, by the pool, she lost her footing and took an unexpected swim. Everyone turned around of course and I looked guilty as hell. I wasn't and Naomi was a great sport and so she deserves a plug here just for being such a great girl and a great American. Given the track record of Stern and Sunberg, I'm sure it's a great film.

As the movie business focuses more and more on big dumb films on more and more screens with fewer and fewer opportunities for those kinds of films that expand our understanding as well as our hearts, I felt really fortunate for the opportunity to see all these films. And given the fact that my favorite two films -- by some distance -- were both Israeli, I'm particularly pleased that it is being followed in New York by an Israeli Film Festival that begins this week.

From TomDispatch:

However informally, the President's "report card" on the domestic economy is definitely in, but as Tom Engelhardt writes in his latest dispatch, "there's another report card that's not in. Despite a media focus on Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the record of his Global War on Terror (and the Bush Doctrine that once went with it) has yet to be fully assessed. This is surprising, since administration actions in waging that war in what neoconservatives used to call 'the arc of instability' -- a swath of territory running from North Africa to the Chinese border -- add up to a record of failure unprecedented in American history."

In his latest post, Engelhardt offers -- possibly for the first time in one place -- a full assessment of the President's foreign policy, and the failure of his cult of force, in that region. Put together, it proves stunning. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to Pakistan, Gaza to Georgia, there is simply no example of even a qualified success for the administration. As a result, he organized the piece as a "report card," country by country, offering a capsule account of what the Bush administration did and the results achieved, each with an "F" for failure after it.

Engelhardt ends on a note of pathos -- the administration in its last months is turning back to most un-Global-War-on-Terror-like diplomatic maneuvers under, of course, far more extreme circumstances and from a far weaker position. This administration, he concludes, "does now seem to be on bended knee to the world. As with Pandora's Box, however, what the Bush administration unleashed cannot simply be taken back. A new administration will not only inherit an arc of instability that is truly aflame, but the paradigm, still remarkably unexamined, of a Global War on Terror. Now, there is a disaster-in-the-making for you."


Two Men With The Blues -- Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis

On January 12 and 13, 2007, these two men shared a stage in Columbus Circle at the Allen Room -- a show produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center. Yours truly was there, one of those totally excellent nights, and so thanks to Blue Note for this um, record, (literally and figuratively). We get ten tracks, kicking off with "Bright Lights, Big City," and closing with "That's All." We have Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Walter Blanding on saxophone, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson Jr. on drums. I hear there's a DVD too but for now this is more than fine. More information at Blue Note is here.

Lay It Down -- Al Green

Al Green has gone young with this album: ?uestlove from The Roots and James Poyser produced this album, and there are four tracks with guest artists -- two with Anthony Hamilton, and one each with John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae. It was all recorded in New York City sessions between these young and old artists -- nine of the eleven tracks were conceived at a meeting between ?uestlove at at Electric Lady Studio in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. It's out on EMI, and more information is here. Nothing the Rev. does can be bad and this is more interesting and energetic than he's been in a while...

Songs for Beginners -- Graham Nash

Graham Nash first released this album in 1971 -- it was his first solo effort after a temporary split with his Crosby Stills & Nash partners. (He had also just split -- not temporarily -- with Joni Mitchell). The album was a hit and gave us "Military Madness," "We Can Change The World" and the Top 40 single "Chicago." Rhino has commemorated this album with a two-disc, CD/DVD package that has a new sound mix, interviews with Nash, photos, lyrics, and more. It was a bit like George Harrison stepping out at the time, in that nobody thought Graham had such a great album in him. Alas, it was his only great one, but here it is, in great shape. More information is here.

Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story

This two-CD anthology celebrates the wide range of artists who have spent time in the Ardent Records, a really interesting studio in Memphis. It focuses on two eras: the 1960s and the 1970s. Disc one, the 60s, features rare garage singles and unissued psychedelic singles from the Lawson Four & More, the Wallabies, Terry Manning, and others. Disc two, the 70s, has Big Star, Cargoe, the Hot Dogs, and others - there are no less than 14 rare or unissued Big Star-related cuts, and some wild Alex Chilton stuff. It's out on Big Beat UK, so I guess you gotta get it as in import. More information is here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Scott Goldman
Hometown: Norman, OK

Why has it taken so long for someone to raise the obvious objection to this "Obama is a Muslim" whisper campaign?

What's wrong with being Muslim?

I think the deafening silence on this issue reveals an ugly side of the American electorate that nobody wants to discuss: America if full of religious bigots.

Granted, that observation puts me at risk of being labeled "Anti-American"-- even though I currently reside in a "Pro-American" part of the country. But it seems to me to be the only plausible explanation of why the "Obama is a Muslim" story has legs.

I realize there have been plenty of politicians and pundits who have tirelessly worked to equate Islam with terrorism. But if hatred towards Muslims was related to an irrational fear of terrorism, then why would Romney's religious beliefs have been important? Or JFK's for that matter?

The truth is that, in America, you are either with us (fundamentalist Christian) or against us (insert other religious beliefs here).

Anyway, I'm starting to like Colin Powell again.

Eric replies: Dude, Obama himself said it months ago, and actually apologized for having been remiss in not saying it more often... Still, let's be honest, from the standpoint of getting oneself elected president in this country, there's a lot wrong with being a Muslim, which is why it was so amazing that when The Washington Post covered the story of the lying emails on its front page, it failed to find room to mention the fact that they were false.

Name: Ann Riggs
Hometown: Amherst, NH

I keep wondering why no one else has commented on this. Where are our feminist public scholars? Whenever McCain is asked about Sarah Palin, he begins his comments with something like, "I'm so proud of her." As if she's his middle school daughter, who just avoided a D in math or something? How patronizing; a very public mode of speech straight out of the "women as perpetual children" mode of discourse. Can anyone imagine any Presidential candidate saying of a male VP running mate, "I'm so proud of him"?

Name: John B.
Hometown: Blacksburg

Hi Eric,

I am wondering if the Bush White House is going to invite Professor Krugman to honor his recent Nobel prize win. It seems this is usually the case but I am thinking for the "shrill one" they might make an exception. Here's hoping they invite him and give him his due honor.

Name: Frank Lynch
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

A new edition of Sports Night? Now I feel like Tommie Lee Jones' character late in "Men In Black," expressing disgust that a new music format meant he'd have to buy the White Album AGAIN. Fortunately, I only borrowed the prior edition of Sports Night through Netflix, but your mentioning this new edition could be the tipping point to purchase. Glad you're getting into it: I'd heard good things about the prior edition, and was not disappointed. It's fun to see the "walk and talk" we took for granted in the West Wing, but Sports Night was a gem, and crammed into the 22 minute format. I'm not going to do any spoilers here, but what really impressed me about the show and the writing was how effectively they moved from comedy to seriousness. There were scenes that had me in tears, both directions.

And that season two ending! What a fabulous, self-referential slap to the suits!

I cannot recall another television show I enjoyed more, but part of me loves it for its short span. They knew the curtains were closing, and designed the scripts to lead up to it. I'm not sure it should have been longer: The Prisoner used its short life with a similar intensity.

Butterflies, both.

Name: Rica
Hometown: London

Hooray for the Sports Night box set!! I was a huge fan of the show and bought the complete set as soon as it was available. Not only is Josh Malina a feature character, but future West Winger Janel Maloney (Donna Moss) has a bit part in a great Season One episode, the brilliant William H. Macy is in a few episodes, and Teri Polo and House's Lisa Edelstein have some great small roles.

The only weakness of the show - after a brilliant first season, the strain of keeping both shows going began to show in the writing. There are a few shows where Sorkin's trademark of repeating a phrase becomes more than a little grating, scuffing the sparkle. However, you can't deny Sorkin's brilliance. While Sports Night got a decent run (3 seasons), I just wish Studio 60 got the same -- it was a great show that was killed WAY too soon.

Name: David Peirce
Hometown: Erie, CO

The Covers Project website contains a searchable list of cover songs that a musician has recorded. It also lists that artists' songs that have been covered by other musicians. Here, for example, is the Elvis Costello page.

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