Matt Taibbi on Journalism's Endangered Species

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Matt Taibbi has picked up the torch of journalism so predictably dropped by Politico.

First of all, I want to congratulate Michael Hastings for the amazing job he did on the McChrystal piece. Not only was it a coup for our magazine, but it's a reminder of what journalists are supposed to be doing. For quite a long time political journalism, particularly in Washington, has been reduced to an access-trading game, where reporters are rewarded for favorable coverage of those in the know with more time and availability.

This symbiotic dynamic affects not just individual reporters but whole publications and news channels; it's a huge reason why reporters have in general resisted challenging political authorities. Nobody wants to be the guy who gets not only himself but his whole paper shut out of the access game. Since many recent politicians have made good on this implied threat (George Bush's shut-out of the Washington Post's White House reporters is a classic example), what we get is coverage that across the board fails to ask hard questions and in general treats leaders with a reverence they don't always deserve.

But his bête noire David Brooks reflexively bristles at the notion that reporters and sources shouldn't be chums.

In the column Brooks talks about how the media landscape has changed over the past 50 years, about the gotcha journalism culture in which a public official, sadly, no longer feels safe in having a beer with a reporter and bragging about his mistresses and his Swiss bank accounts. Once upon a time, Brooks says, pols and reporters did a lot of "kvetching" together, gossiping about events in and around the Hill – and most of that "kvetching" stayed out of print:

Those of us in the press corps have to figure out how to treat this torrent of private kvetching. During World War II and the years just after, a culture of reticence prevailed. The basic view was that human beings are sinful, flawed and fallen. What mattered most was whether people could overcome their flaws and do their duty as soldiers, politicians and public servants. Reporters suppressed private information and reported mostly — and maybe too gently — on public duties.

Ah, the halcyon days when reporters could be trusted to protect the elite...

But, as Taibbi also notes, CBS news's Afghanistan "reporter" Lara Logan may be even more callow than Brooks.

Lara Logan, come on down! You're the next guest on Hysterical Backstabbing Jealous Hackfest 2010!

I thought I'd seen everything when I read David Brooks saying out loud in a New York Times column that reporters should sit on damaging comments to save their sources from their own idiocy. But now we get CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan slamming our own Michael Hastings on CNN's "Reliable Sources" program, agreeing that the Rolling Stone reporter violated an "unspoken agreement" that journalists are not supposed to "embarrass [the troops] by reporting insults and banter."

Politico Almost Commits an Act of Journalism

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The unvarnished look at General McChrystal that just tanked his career was made available by a freelance reporter who wasn't beholden to almighty "access." So said Politico before they sent that little revelation down the memory hole.

The Politico was so hopped up about the story that it took the extraordinary step of posting on its site a PDF of Rolling Stone’s article because Rolling Stone had not put it online fast enough. In one of the many articles The Politico ran about the episode the following observation was made by reporters Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee:

McChrystal, an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks. [emphasis mine]
. . .

Our reveal is looking pretty good, isn’t it? Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee let us in on a little trade secret. They have no motive to make it up. Lee is a beat reporter herself, qualified to speak on the subject. Lubold has covered the military for years. Politico trades in this kind of observation; it was founded to reveal some of journalism’s “state secrets.” Tom Ricks, a former beat reporter for the Washington Post who also covered the military, says pretty much the same thing: beat reporters have an investment in continuing the relationship so they are less risky for a powerful figure like McChrystal.

And then, the next day… the reveal disappears. The Politico erased it, as if the thing had never happened. Down the memory hole, like in Orwell’s 1984. The story as you encounter it online today doesn’t have that part (“would not risk burning bridges…”) in it. Clint Hendler of Columbia Journalism Review, who discovered the missing lines, asked The Politico about it…

Hendler got no answer. One wonders what access Politico is trying to preserve.

Olbermann Tells Obama: Reject McChrystal's Resignation Offer (VIDEO)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Olbermann may have a grasp of the politics around this but he doesn't understand military culture or the importance of the chain of command. This isn't about Obama as President and politician. McChrystal showed a total lack of respect to Obama as Commander in Chief of the Armed Services. He was waving his nutsack in Obama's face with this interview. If Obama doesn't cut him down to size he risks losing the respect of the entire military, too many of whom already see him as weak and ineffectual because he's a Democrat with no military background. Obama needs to make an example of this dickwad and he needs to show that he understands the UCMJ.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

What's Next? Stocks? Pillory? Scarlet Letter?

Monday, June 14, 2010

I've been saying for years that they'd start throwing us debtors' prisons again. That joke just got a whole lot less funny.

Deborah Poplawski still gets angry about her arrest in Minneapolis last year over an old $250 debt. During her night in jail, she worried about abandoning her 15-year-old dog, Nina, in her apartment.

. . .

It's not a crime to owe money, and debtors' prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.

Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals. Consumer attorneys say such arrests are increasing in many states, including Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, driven by a bad economy, high consumer debt and a growing industry that buys bad debts and employs every means available to collect.

New York Officially Dead

And here is the epitaph:

I am ending Lost City. Most of the City is lost after all—the good parts, anyway—so you could say the course of history has put me out of a job. Ironically, the kinds of news that fills up a jeremiad like this will, if too constant and voluminous, eventually puts the enterprise out of business. It's like writing a volcano report from Pompei; you know the communiques are going to end sometime.

I began the blog because I was incensed and alarmed at what the city was becoming. It was losing its grit, its fabric, its very character. It was losing its New York-ness, and gaining nothing but Subway franchises and luxury condos. Since none of my editors would let me write about it, I became my own editor. I was gratified to soon find that there were a lot of people out there who felt the way I did. And it wasn't too long before there were other bloggers who took on a similar mission, like Jeremiah Moss at Vanishing New York and EV Grieve at the blog of the same name. Taken together, we made for quite a few howls in the wilderness. And, tragically, we never ran out of things to report.

But, in the end, they were just howls, as ineffective at Lear's on the heath. I wrote thousands of words, and posted hundreds of pictures for four-and-a-half years—nearly 3,000 posts, all told. None of them made any difference. Not really. The press paid a little attention to our windmill-tilting, but City Hall never did. The City continued on its inexorable march to glossy mediocrity. Bloomberg, the billionaire, city planner Amanda Burden, the millionaire, and their cabal of equally wealthy real estate and Wall Street pals forged ahead and got the metropolis they wanted all along: homogenous, anodyne, whitewashed, suburban, toothless, chain-store-ridden, ordinary, exclusive and terribly, terribly expensive. A town for tourists and the upper 2%. He took a world-class capital of culture, individuality and independent endeavor and turned it into the smoothest, first-class, gated community Houston ever saw. Walk down Broadway on the Upper West Side, Sixth Avenue in Chelsea, Third Avenue in Yorkville—or look at the gaping hole of Altantic Yards—and you will see the administration's legacy.

My father, a nearly life-long New Yorker, warned me of its pending demise when I was just a kid. Why? The middle class increasingly forced out by ludicrous rent prices, small businesses forced out by ludicrous rent prices, everything good forced out by ludicrous rent prices... Well, let's face it, it's only gotten worse and more ludicrous. New York is a cautionary tale of what happens when an economy produces only rich and poor. And the darkness is spreading.

The Unemployed Need Not Apply

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sickening. Stomach-turningly sickening.

Still waiting for a response to the 300 resumés you sent out last month? Bad news: Some companies are ignoring all unemployed applicants.

. . .

A company's choice to ignore unemployed applicants and recycle the current workforce ignores the effect of the recession on millions of highly-qualified workers and could prolong the unemployment crisis, said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project.

"In the current economy, where millions of people have lost their jobs through absolutely no fault of their own, I find it beyond unconscionable that any employer would not consider unemployed workers for current job openings," she said. "Not only are these employers short-sighted in their search for the best qualified workers, but they are clearly not good corporate citizens of the communities in which they work. Increasingly, politicians and policy makers are trying to blame the unemployed for their condition, and to see this shameful propaganda trickle down to hiring decisions is truly sad and despicable."

Yep. It's all the fault of the unemployed. Just ask Senator Judd Gregg.

Because you're out of the recession, you're starting to see growth and you're clearly going to dampen the capacity of that growth if you basically keep an economy that encourages people to, rather than go out and look for work, to stay on unemployment. Yes, it's important to do that up to a certain level, but at some point you've got to acknowledge that we're not Europe. (Senator Judd Gregg on CNBC)

. . .

Senator Gregg is not the only one who is putting the onus on the unemployed. The philosophy behind his statement is shared by many leading governmental officials. (And after all, the Obama administration wanted Gregg to head the Commerce Department. That thought he's a moderate?)

The philosophy they share is this: In the ideal free market, the price of labor determines the amount of employment, or so the theory goes. If the price of labor goes down, there will be more jobs. By cutting the amount and length of unemployment benefits, we effectively lower the price of labor overall, forcing more people to compete for scarce jobs. Fed Chair Ben Bernanke has blamed high unemployment during the Great Depression on "sticky" labor markets -- sticky because resurgent unions and New Deal wage and hour laws prevented employers from cutting wages the way they wanted to during a time of falling prices. (Gregg might say that in those days we were way too much like Europe.)

In short, the way to create jobs is to get those lazy workers off the dole so that they can help lower wages across the economy. Only then will employers find it worth their while to hire more workers.

Yep. Kick the lazy bastards off the dole so they can not apply for jobs because they're unemployed. That should fix an economy that was ruined by unbridled greed.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

If Richard Wolffe is to be believed, my intuition about Obama's less than proactive approach to the oil spill was accurate. There is no day to seize. There is NOTHING anyone can do.

Critics have bashed President Obama for being slow to seize the political initiative in combating the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast, now widely believed to be the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The White House has battled back, releasing a timeline of events showing that Obama was briefed—and deploying the Coast Guard—within 24 hours of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

What has not been previously disclosed: The president was not only briefed on the real-time events of the spill, but also on just how bad it would be—and how hard it would be to plug the hole.

Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, told Obama at one of the earliest briefings in late April that the blowout would likely lead to an unprecedented environmental disaster, senior White House aides told The Daily Beast. Browner warned that capping a well at such depths had never been done before, and that they ought to expect an oil spill that would continue until a relief well was drilled in August, the aide said.

That early briefing on the scope of the spill—and enormous technical challenges involved in fixing it—might help explain the sense of fatalism that has infused Obama's team from the start.

On the Tyranny of the Mob

Thursday, June 03, 2010

By way of Andrew Sullivan, a succinct explanation of the failings of democracy run as majority rule. My favorite analogy: A group of friends wouldn't force the lone vegetarian to eat pepperoni on their pizza.

Why not majority rule? Three general reasons. Madison's reason was what he called tyranny. To a large extent, Madison's concern is pragmatic. He's aware that up to 1776, republics (and forget what someone told you; we're best off following the political theorist Robert Dahl and treating "democracy" and "republic" as interchangeable, really) were famous for being short-lived and unstable. Why? Because losers in a true majority-rules democracy, faced with a true majority, have no stake in the survival of the system and welcome a change. So one wants instead a system in which losers do not lose everything, and have a reasonable chance of winning in the future. To see the intuitive case for this, consider a situation in which you and a small group of friends need to choose an activity or a pizza topping or music to listen to. Perhaps, of the activities you all like, four of you prefer bowling, while two prefer miniature golf. Bowling, of course, "wins." And it wins the next time. After a while, however, odds are that you're all going to agree to let the miniature golf fans have a turn. That's not a violation of collective decision-making among equals; it's a consequence of it, in a situation in which it's easy to discuss fair outcomes. So even in a democracy, it's possible that the same group shouldn't always win.

We can also describe a situation in which the correct democratic solution should probably be that the minority wins: when an intense minority is opposed by an indifferent majority. I always use pizza toppings for this one. If one of your friends is a vegetarian, you're not going to insist on outvoting him and getting the pepperoni, and you're certainly not going to outvote the friend who is allergic to mushrooms. As her friend, you would realize that's just not right, even in milder versions in which, say, three of you have a very mild preference for anchovies, but the other two hate anchovies (imagine some decision rules that force such decisions; you can't cheat in this hypothetical and order a second pie, or whatever). And again, I'm going to strongly argue that two-beating-three in this situation isn't a violation of democracy, but a real, correct, democratic solution.

Days of Negronis and Roses

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

I'm a little embarrassed by how un-put-downable I found this tale of alcoholism and codependency.

It was the spring of 2005 and I was living with the man that I, a bit stubbornly perhaps, had decided was the love of my life. The thing about choosing to live with a rapidly-approaching-bottom alcoholic is that there are just so many ways to distort reality and find seemingly logical explanations to make your slowly spiraling out of control life look and feel somewhat reasonable (just ask Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse!). This is true even though you aren’t the one who is drunk all the time.

So, anyway, when I wasn’t Googling “codependent” and “enabler,” I was busy coming up with increasingly bizarre ideas to set the train back on the tracks. Like when I tried to institute a thing called ‘Sober Sundays.' That’s right, Sober Sundays. It was exactly what it sounds like. And was, awesomely, a giant failure once I figured out that the Gatorade bottle the Boyfriend always had with him was, in fact, mostly vodka with perhaps a splash of Lemon-Lime. By the time May rolled around, I had given up trying for anything as simple as Sober Breakfasts.

I also decided around this time that I was no longer interested in drinking. Just trust me on the grossness of sleeping next to someone whose overnight sweat was probably 80 proof. (That said? The 2010 version of me looks back on this non-drinking era of mine and laaaaaaughs). We were at an impasse: I had stopped drinking and didn’t want to be around him when he was drunk, and he wanted to be drunk all the time.

And then Kimberly started showing up.