Hold me closer, tiny dancer ...


We wrote a Think Again recently on U.S. press freedom, which currently ranks 36th in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that for the first time, there are more online journalists than print journalists behind bars. That's an interesting sign of the times, although not entirely surprising, since bloggers and other online journalists are often their own editors and thus write whatever they please without an editorial or institutional check that might otherwise soften their work. Also, as CPJ notes, bloggers "often do not have the legal resources or political connections that might help them gain their freedom."

But it's important to note that one of the imprisoned journalists in the CPJ list is being held by the United States, in Iraq. Ibrahim Jassam is a freelance photographer working for Reuters, and was detained by U.S. and Iraqi forces on September 2 during a raid at his home in Mahmoodiya, south of Baghdad. On November 30, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court ruled that there was no evidence to hold Jassam and ordered the U.S. military to release him, but that has not yet happened.

George Zornick writes: It's officially official: David Gregory is the new host of Meet the Press. He was introduced yesterday by outgoing, interim moderator Tom Brokaw, who left us with some very odd analyses of the show, both in Gregory's on-air introduction, and earlier in an interview with The Daily Beast's Lynn Sherr.

Before ceding the host's chair, Brokaw told Gregory: "The other thing to remember, if I may offer this gratuitous advice, is that this broadcast is especially important beyond the Potomac and beyond the Hudson River in New York City. Across the country, I have been very struck by how important this broadcast is to people as a regular appointment for them."

This was a distillation of what he told Sherr on Friday: "What all those people pushing for new faces [to host MTP] don't realize is that Meet the Press is a big heartland broadcast. It's where the rest of the nation tunes in to find out what's going on in the nation's capital. And it's not a salon. And Tim was successful at it because he was Everyman to everybody out there and they felt that he represented their sensibilities in a lot of ways. And that he would hold people accountable the way they seemed not to be held accountable by the rest of the Washington press corps, which I think in the eyes of so many people is just one cozy little high school cafeteria."

It's obvious that Brokaw's definition of anti-elite is an inch deep -- Tim Russert certainly acted like an everyman, and so certainly must have been, Nantucket home and extreme journalistic subservience aside. (Sherr raised this contradiction, noting that Russert actually worked in politics before coming to NBC - but Brokaw explained that while Russert was a creature of Washington, "he rarely went out," and was not "a creature of the social circuit in Washington." What is Gregory's social calendar like, we are left to wonder.

Anyhow, Gregory quickly agreed with Brokaw's assessment yesterday, so don't expect any snooty Manhattan salons on NBC -- just good, old fashioned, power-loving journalism. And maybe some dancing! (Sorry, we'll stop posting that soon. But not yet).

We noted last week Chris Wallace's emotional defense of President Bush, when Bush's abuse of office was compared to that of Richard Nixon during a panel on Ron Howard's new film, "Frost/Nixon."

Wallace revealed on Friday that he received a personal thank-you from Vice President Dick Cheney, who told Wallace "thank you so much for defending the president, and yes, I'm going to be giving you a special exit interview in a couple of weeks."

That's akin to further evidence that our planet is round, but there it is -- not only Fox News' proud attachment to the current administration, but also the administration's end of that bargain. We noted in our ongoing Think Again series that one of Dick Cheney's contributions to de-legitimizing the press is simply to not speak with journalists who aren't openly pro-administration. Chris Wallace seems happy about the deal, though ...

Dave Zirin on the hypocrisy of Plaxico Outrage, which, as we noted last week, certainly extends to the mainstream media as well.

From Rick Shenkman at History News Network: one of these things is not like the other, when it comes to the "Big Three" auto companies we keep hearing about. Meanwhile, FAIR has a piece up on ABC's continual misrepresentation of auto worker pay.

All hail Messrs. Hertzberg and Remnick, scourges of all things O'Reilly.

Bonus Marty item: Marty Peretz, historian: "After all, Hebron is the place where Abraham actually bought land and where the patriarchy and matriarchy of Israel was spawned..."

Note the phrase "actually bought," as if the fact that something appears in the Old Testament thereby makes it a matter of literal truth. Were I Marty, I would think that to be quite a problem, personally ... But note also that the item takes a potshot at the superior journalist Akiva Eldar, but links only to Eldar's interview with Rashid Khalidi. In what feels like an irony overload, we note that Marty frequently bragged about what a champion he and the magazine he has destroyed had been while McCain, Palin, and the disgraced Weekly Standard flack Michael Goldfarb were deploying McCarthyite tactics to try to stir up racist, anti-Arab feelings against him. (Perhaps Marty should should name himself TNR's Hebron Bureau Chief, the way Michael Ledeen made himself "TNR's Rome Bureau Chief" a while back.)

From TomDispatch:

The mania can't be missed. Presidential transition websites proliferate as have the numbers of "transition team members," questions on the vetting form for possible appointees, the veritable "army" of volunteer lawyers doing the vetting, news conferences and announcements from "the office of the President-elect," and of course adjectives. This transition is the "earliest," "biggest," "fastest," "best organized," "most efficient" on record -- so a merrily applauding press corps and pundits write. It's cause for congratulations all around, a powerful antidote, we're told, to Bill Clinton's notoriously chaotic transition back in 1992. In fact, we can't, it seems, get enough of a transition that began to gather steam many months before November 4th and has been steamrollering forward for more than a post-election month now.

Taking a step back, in his latest TomDispatch post, Tom Engelhardt writes:

Given the overwhelming, largely congratulatory focus on specific appointments and their attendant drama -- will the strong personalities of Hillary, Bob, and Jim clash? Are the Obama-ites in a desperate scramble for a new CIA Director? Is Larry Summers next in line for the Fed? -- the larger architecture of this moment, and what it portends for the presidency to come, is ignored.

Think of it this way: After the Imperial Campaign -- that two-year extravaganza of bread and circuses (and money) -- comes the Imperial Transition. Everything in these last weeks, like the preceding two years, has been bulked up, like Schwarzenegger's Conanesque pecs. In other words, since November 5th, what we've been experiencing... has essentially been an unending celebration of super-sized government. Consider it an introduction to what will surely be the next Imperial Presidency.

As Obama's little-considered appointment of his campaign "brain," David Axelrod, to fill the Karl Rove post and White House office of "senior adviser to the president" indicated, no post -- even a recent one like that -- is going unfilled in the rush to January 20th. Even if the media isn't focusing on the architecture, the deep structure of the American political system, that doesn't mean we shouldn't. Make no mistake, Obama is moving full-speed ahead into an executive mansion rebuilt and endlessly expanded by the national security state over the last half-century-plus, and then built up in major ways by George W.'s "team." And that will determine much.

Here's Engelhardt's conclusion -- on a subject that has been little considered in this overwhelming season of transition:

"Maybe if the imperial presidency and the national security state worked, none of this would matter. But how can they, given the superlatives that apply to them? They're oversized, over-muscled, overweight, overly expensive, overly powerful, and overly intrusive. Bottom line: they are problem creators, not problem solvers. To expect one genuine 'decider,' moving in at the top, to put them on a diet-and-exercise regimen is asking a lot. After all, at the end of the George Bush era, what we have is the GM of governments, and when things start to go wrong, who's going to bail it out?"

Correspondence Corner:

From: Ari Geller
Hometown: Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications

Reform Jewish Movement Promotes Nothing But Nets for Chanukah
$10 Gift Provides Anti-Malaria Nets to Sudanese Refugees

WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2008 -- This year, as we celebrate Chanukah with family and friends, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is calling on Jews across the country to take part in the Nothing But Nets campaign, which provides insecticide-treated bed nets to Sudanese refugees as part of the global fight against malaria. The Reform Movement has already raised more than $250,000 towards its goal of $500,000 and hopes by reaching out to the broader community to reach its goal within the year. Nothing But Nets provides an economical way to celebrate Chanukah and teach children about tikkun olam.

"Nothing But Nets allows parents and grandparents to teach their children the importance of saving a life by giving the gift of life," said Rabbi Marla Feldman, Director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. "Give a gift that will markedly improve the living conditions of a family of Sudanese refugees -- and do it in honor of loved ones. A $10 holiday donation to Nothing But Nets makes the perfect gift."

Feldman noted that the Reform Movement has, for several years, encouraged families to designate one night of Chanukah for the Ner Shel Tzedakah - the Candle of Righteousness -- Project, which encourages families to make a donation to a worthy cause instead of exchanging gifts. Past projects have included an effort to provide Chanukah gifts to less fortunate children, organized clothing drives, and Judaica donations to developing Jewish communities. This year, the Reform Movement has made it easy for givers to help their recipients understand the meaning of the gift to Nothing But Nets by providing "e-cards" and forms that can be printed and given to the recipient.

Malaria causes more than one million deaths and infects 500 million people each year worldwide, devastating societies and economies. Providing bed nets treated with insecticide to refugee camps and less fortunate areas has proven to be one of the most effective mechanisms of halting the spread of malaria in Africa, which has pulled valuable resources away from other priorities. The nets have been proven to protect entire families by reducing transmission of the disease by as much as 90%.

The Reform Movement's Nothing But Nets initiative, in partnership with the UN Foundation, provides these bed nets to those most susceptible to malaria. Donations to the campaign go directly toward the purchase and distribution of a family bed net, as well as education about its use. Funds raised through the Reform Movement specifically assists Sudanese refugees who have crossed borders into Uganda, the Central African Republic and Chad. To purchase a net, visit www.urj.org/nets.

Name: Cleo Jones
Hometown: Chicago, IL

Hi Eric,

Just wondering if you had gotten a response back from Brooks Barnes yet?

If you haven't, that may be understandable as it seems he may have been a bit busy with his own internal accountability. The NYT's "public editor," Clark Hoyt wrote a column that appeared today (Sat), questioning the validity of the whole piece, and easily getting named sources to go on record contradicting Barnes' rumors and innuendo.

It was prompted by the more than 400 e-mails wondering what the Times was doing smearing a celebrity with all the accuracy of The Sun Examiner -- on page 1 of the Times anyway.

Name: John
Hometown: Honolulu

Bush's claim that we went to war because Saddam wouldn't let the inspectors in is clearly a lie, not even spin. Gibson doesn't question him about it because Presidents aren't supposed to lie so blatantly over things in the public record. But Bush and others, like Rove, can get away with these whoppers because they know that the interviewer is ill-prepared to call them on every lie. Thus Bush violates an implicit agreement that a President being interviewed will not make baldfaced lies about facts in the public record but can "spin" his interpretation about the record. Orwell was right, war is peace.

Eric replies: Anybody know any good books on the topic?

Name: Mark Bagby
Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.

Question: how come no one seems to have picked up that Richard Shelby, chair of the Banking Committee and one of the most vocal critics of any proposed financial assistance for the Big Three automakers, is from Alabama, which has (mostly non-union) manufacturing plants for Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai, and plants that make engines for Toyota and International Diesel? Does this not seem to be at least a tad bit of a conflict of interest?

Name: Bob Tallman
Hometown: Crestwood, KY

I'd like to thank your reader Mr. Ben Miller for his thoughtful letter of December 3.

The degree to which tough on crime politicians, mandatory sentences, and ever greater reliance upon plea bargaining to "efficiently administer justice" have together transformed our criminal justice system is shocking. As the system is able to process increasing number of offenders, politicians create ever greater number of offenses. More offenses, more adjudications and more pressure upon courts and prosecutors to become even more "efficient." And on it goes.

If it were required that the accused were entitled to a trial by jury of their peers, without penalty for exercising that right (as some have read the Consitution, Justice Stewart comes immediately to mind), then the time and cost involved in prosecuting offenders would require our society to think long and hard about just what should be illegal and what behavior should result in incarceration. What do we want the limited resources of our criminal justice system to address?

Instead, we have devised a system that assumes endless resources and that enables these tough on crime politicians to rail against anything and everything in never ending appeals to their "there ought to be a law against that" constituents, whatever "that" happens to be. Add to that the fact that there now exists a "prison lobby" that would shout about the loss of jobs and harm to local economies if anyone ever attempted to reform a system that has produced the highest rates of incarceration found anywhere in the "civilized" world.

Name: Kirsten
Hometown: Sacramento

My three year old son got a credit card solicitation in the mail yesterday. BOFA Platinum Plus -- $100,000 line of credit. Credit crisis be damned, they're still churning those things out to any list they can buy.

Name: Dominic
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Apologies if this comes more than once.

Hi Eric,

Re: your discussion of the Doors, I can't help but agree. I've tried to like them for years, and I cannot, outside of a couple from "Waiting...". Love is a much better band. In fact, "Forever Changes" (hell, the first one, even) is much stronger than anything the Doors ever did.

And why no mention of the media stealing the election from the Philadelphia Phillies? Joe Buck led the charge, I'd wager. I offer some fairly obnoxious thoughts here.

Keep up the valuable, honest work.

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