The Reinvention Will Not Be Televised

This was posted today on my paper's internal Web site:

"Five fundamental principles that might guide a radical reinvention of newspapers in the public interest.
1) The reinvention must be radical.
2) We must build the broad democratic (small D) community with integrity.
3) We must cultivate citizen journalism, but serve as an authenticator.
4) We must reaffirm our watchdog role with a return to great writing and
5) We must choose thoroughness, completeness and sophistication."
--Tim McGuire, former Minneapolis Star-Tribune editor; president, American Society of Newspaper Editors

I've been trying all day to figure out precisely what grade of happy horseshit this is; I'm leaning toward B, but I can still be swayed one way or the other. I've also been wondering if it's some kind of journalism koan, something along the lines of, "If circulation falls in a forest and nobody gives a shit ..."

Seriously, though, for all of you who point eagerly to the demise of the mainstream media, here's yet another exhibit. Journalism, like most things, dies quickly when exposed to overthought; and when the thinking is as flabby and incoherent as this ... well, prepare the eulogy.

I don't want to deconstruct the thing at length -- there's not much construct there, anyway -- but here's a quickie:

1) The degree of the reinvention's radicalness would be roughly equivalent to the failure of said reinvention. All reinventions work like this.
2) The broad democratic community, with a big D or a small one, can build its owndamnself. That isn't our job.
3) I have no fucking clue what he's talking about.
4) Watchdog journalism and great writing and storytelling rarely intersect. And the use of the word "return" implies that there once was a golden age when all journalists were true and good, and snuffed out injustice wherein they saw it, and wrote like F. Scott Fitzgerald. It never happened. It just seems that way because we had no competition.
5) Do we really have to choose both thoroughness AND completeness?

To paraphrase what someone once said about baseball: If journalism were as complicated as editors made it sound, journalists wouldn't be able to do it. That perhaps explains, in part, why so many aren't.

Where have all the Deep Throats gone?

W. Mark Felt has long been suspected of Deep-Throatitude.

(Addendum, 5:50 p.m. EDT: Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee confirm. Note Bradlee's characteristic comment.)


The Curious Case of Mr. Okrent

Plenty's been said about this, but not here, so:

New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent's recent on-his-way-out-the-door lovely parting gift (see item no. 2) to Paul Krugman strikes me as more than a bit strange, not to mention highly tacky and unprofessional (ah, but then Okrent's no longer a professional, is he?).

This is not to be interpreted as a comment on the need for, or lack of need for, an ombudsman at The Times, or any other media outlet. I think it all depends on how the position is handled by the individual, and this strikes me as a poor job of handling by this particular individual. Almost as bad as his off-the-cuff dissing of Krugman in print is his flip remark at the end of the item: "I didn't give Krugman ... the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist."

Well, allow me to impersonate Ted Nugent: Put up or shut up. Krugman has responded in a letter to the editor, one of only two not showering hot-fudge sundaes of praise upon Mr. Okrent's departed head. Apparently, Krugman and Okrent will be discussing the matter this week on the Web journal of the new Public Editor, Byron Calame, this week; see the link at the bottom of page 2 of the letters, right below Krugman's.

Still, it shouldn't have come to that. Ombudsmen can serve an important role. But serving the readers' interest does not warrant cheap shots at your own paper's columnists. If the paper has made a mistake, it's a serious matter, and it's the ombudsman's job to sort it all out in as complete and fair a manner as possible before publishing. It's inexcusable for one to, on his way out the door, come out with, "Oh, and one of the current Administration's most visible and consistent critics, one who works for the same publication I do, fudges numbers. You'll just have to take my word for it. Well, see ya! It's been fun!"

Bob Somerby has been commenting on this, too.

Like I say, I don't know if this answers the question of whether The Times or anyone else should have a reader representative; my paper doesn't. If Okrent is the template, I'm thankful for small favors.

(Addendum, 9:55 p.m. EDT, 5/31: The fur flew. Nothing much was resolved, it seems, except check out Mr. Okrent's curious comments:

"For a man who makes his living offering strong opinions, Paul Krugman seems peculiarly reluctant to grant the same privilege to others. And for a man who leads with his chin twice a week, he acts awfully surprised when someone takes a pop at it.

"Because only a fool or a supply-sider would eagerly engage in a debate on economics with Prof. Krugman, I'll try to eschew argument and stick to facts ..."


"This was the first he heard from me on these specific issues partly because I learned early on in this job that Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error." Oh, well, then, clearly a passing snipe on his way out the door was ENTIRELY justified.)

Blogging by proxy under the influence of the Rev. Al

Guten tag, I am Mystery Reporter 1, and I'm going to try my hand at this whole blogging thing.

About myself, briefly: I'm 35, single, a native of New Orleans who lives in North Carolina and works for a large paper there. Rob and I know each other from college. (Can we give Brother Rob a hand, please, for his bitchin' blog? C'mon, put yo' hands together! Right now, we'd like to do a little thing called "Shake Yo' Rump To the Funk.") Politically, I still maintain I'm essentially a moderate -- doesn't everybody? -- but I do lean left, and my attitude toward the Bush Administration ought to be pretty clear from my previous posts, if you've read them: I don't like it.

Whatever I end up posting (as time and work allow) will reflect my views, not my paper's, not "the media's." I may bring what paltry knowledge of media workings I have to the table, but don't think I'm some kind of Representative of the Media Culture at Large; in a lot of ways, I'm as suspicious of and angry at the Media at Large as some of you are, maybe more, since I have to deal with it up close.

The Rev. Al in the subject field refers to Green, not Sharpton. I'm listening to the Rev.'s "Love and Happiness," which I hope is some kind of omen, or at least antidote.

No Internet for You!

As I write this, I'm sitting on my bed with the keyboard in my lap. It's surprisingly comfortable, though I prefer a desk. But my desk, along with the rest of the furniture, is no longer here. We moved all of it to the new place yesterday; now we're busy packing boxes of books and food and miscellany, soon to move those and the pets to the new place. We're kind of in a rush because the self-absorbed owner of this house notified us a week ago that she was having the place fumigated, which means that those wishing to remain alive must vacate the premises for the next two days. This would be less of a problem if our Internet, phone and cable provider weren't understaffed. The point? No telecom for me until Friday, at the earliest. Meantime, Mystery Reporter 1 has graciously agreed to fill the void by guest-blogging. Others may follow; we'll see. Anyway, enjoy. See you at the end of the week.

NY Downing Street Memo Review of Books

Here's the NY Review of Books lengthy exegesis of the Downing Street memo.

Memorial Day

I know today is in honor of the dead, but I'd also like to acknowledge the living. Thank you, everyone who ever served in the armed forces. No matter whether you volunteered or were drafted or joined up because you were broke. No matter whether you worked behind a desk in Mississippi or a jungle in Indochina or a carrier in the Pacific. No matter whether you fired a shot or liberated Buchenwald or just marked time with a bucket and a mop. Thank you.

For a brief history of the holiday, go here (via dailyKos) or here.


Goading Saddam into War

The London Times reports on how the US and UK softened up the Iraqi air defenses and tried to goad Saddam into giving us an excuse for war (thank you, Downing Street memo). Fun coincidence: This was around the time that Bush administration officials were bullshitting about aluminum tubes and Saddam's nuclear program.

Clarifying Scott McClellan

White House Press briefings can be so confusing, perhaps because, as Schroeder has noted, they're "political theater." As a public service, we offer the following clarification of a few of Scott McClellan's remarks during the May 26 briefing.

Q The Senate is now going to schedule a vote on the stem cell legislation that passed yesterday. What does President Bush think should be done with all of the frozen embryos in clinics that are not going to be used?
MR. McCLELLAN: ...The President was pleased to welcome families here to the White House, families that had adopted children as embryos. It showed a life-affirming alternative that is available for people. And when it comes to frozen embryos, I think we have to keep in mind that it's a small percentage overall that is actually used for research because of the federal ban, or potentially discarded, which they wouldn't be, if they could be used for research. And the President yesterday wanted to highlight what these families have done. The President believes we ought to encourage people to choose a life -- a life-affirming alternative to the discarding of these embryos. And that alternative is adoption, because the President believes we should value life at every stage, except when that life is in another country where we're shooting people, then it's just "collateral damage"--but that's grown people. Life here is valuable if it's rich, Evangelical, or that of a politically expedient human vegetable. And that's -- we should value life in America, and that means at all stages, except when you're a hard-working, exhausted adult who can't make ends meet and has a spouse in the hospital--then you're on your own. And that's what the President was talking about.

Now, in terms of the stem cell policy, the President was also making a very important principle -- or stating a very important principle and what his policy is. The President's policy is that we should not be using public dollars for the destruction of life, unless it's children that happen to get in the way of cluster bombs we claimed we weren't using when we actually were; or if you're a kid who steps on an old American landmine; or if you happen to be in the wrong house at the wrong time, when our dismal intelligence tells us Saddam's next door and we drop an 800-lb. bomb on you, killing your extended, anti-Saddam family; or if you have lots of oil or land for a pipeline and you're in the Caspian region, etc. etc. And that's where -- he believes very strongly in that ethical line, when Evangelicals or some other voting or monied concern is involved; otherwise, he doesn't care, and that we should not cross that ethical line--again, only if Evangelicals or some other powerful group will get upset.

Q ... do you really mean to suggest that those people who support stem cell research and public funding for it, for the promise that that holds in the scientific community, is that not life affirming, as well?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not suggesting anything of that nature. ...[The] President's belief that we ought to promote a culture of life in America and that we ought to value life at all its stages. Unless you're deep in debt for necessary medical care; or live in Uzbekistan or Sudan or Iraq or Afghanistan; or are suffering from industrial pollution that's led to you having cancer repeatedly, because Bush handed control of the agency regulating that industry to a representative of that industry. The President believes very strongly that we must pursue the tremendous possibilities of science, as long as they don't stand in the way of his policies, as they so often do, from climatology to economics, and he believes we can do so in a way that respects the dignity of life, while robbing so many of their dignity, and that maintains our highest ethical standards of powerful people who care only about themselves and their friends in inflential places.

Keep in mind that the President instituted a policy where it has now led to federal funding for some 600 stem cell lines that have been sent to researchers. There are more than 3,000 that are available and waiting to be used for research, as well. We want to explore the promise, but we're still in the very early stages of that.

Q You're making a judgment --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, but let me --

Q -- there was a big debate about the existing lines --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but let me make -- I'm coming to an important point, because the President talked about this yesterday. He talked about how the decisions we make today have far-reaching consequences. Like in Iraq and the severely underfunded, undersupported Afghanistan as well as in Darfur. That's why when the President came into office he appointed a bioethics advisory panel to look at these issues, to make recommendations and to advise him on these decisions that we face tell him what he wanted to hear. We must pursue life-curing treatments, but we also must avoid meeting moral and ethical obligations, unless Evangelicals are involved. And that's what the President was not talking about yesterday. And the one principle that is very important in his policy is that we shouldn't be are using public dollars to fund the destruction of post-birth life.


Juan Cole on Iraq

Two recent writings by Juan Cole on Iraq:

1. An overview of what's happened in Iraq, where we stand and what the future there may portend. Highly recommended.

2. A Salon article putting the Downing Street memo in the context of the run-up to the war, going back to before Bush's nomination in 2000. Also highly recommended. (Note: Salon's down for a few hours today.)


Rescued from the Void

From the May 26th White House Press Briefing:

Q There are news reports this morning that parents and children who were guests of the President, when they visited Congress, wore stickers with the wording, "I was an embryo." And my question is, since all of us were once embryos, and all of us were once part sperm and egg, is the President also opposed to contraception, which stops this union and kills both sperm and egg?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views known on these issues, and his views known --

Q You know, but what I asked, is he opposed -- he's not opposed to contraception, is he?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and you've made your views known, as well. The President --

Q No, no, but is he opposed to contraception, Scott? Could you just tell us yes or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think that this question is --

Q Well, is he? Does he oppose contraception?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think the President's views are very clear when it comes to building a culture of life --

Q If they were clear, I wouldn't have asked.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and if you want to ask those questions, that's fine. I'm just not going to dignify them with a response.

Go ahead.

Q Back to our regularly scheduled briefing -- (laughter)....

Store Wars

Too inspired for words. (Via fact-esque.)


Larisa Alexandrovna on the “Media Muzzle”

Today we present the second part of our email interview with Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story. It is her response to a single important question. Since her reponse is (blessedly) lengthy and the question does not deal directly with anonymous sources, we are presenting it separately from the four questions and answers in yesterday's installment. Part one, in which Alexandrovna addresses anonymous sourcing, is here.

Realitique: How has the Administration sought, if it has, to muzzle the media, and how, if they have, have the media responded? In particular, how has this one?

Larisa Alexandrovna:

The Muzzle?
The government has always sought to muzzle the fourth estate, through many means and for many reasons. This particular administration, I think, is the worst in that not only is it the most secretive, but it actually makes it policy to "punish," as it were, those journalists who do not toe the line.

How does this administration muzzle journalists who are not "loyal"? On the most benign level, Rove and Co. will devalue a veteran journalist by removing them to the outer limits of press briefings, from where they cannot possibly ask a question or even be recognized on television. Take Helen Thomas for example. She is a veteran journalist and highly respected by her colleagues on the White House beat. She has spent decades in the front row, which took no small measure to achieve, and via this administration was forced to the back of the bus.

There are of course far more disturbing examples of how this administration muzzles journalists. One need only to say Rathergate to get the full implications of that lesson, namely, fact is not to be reported.

Even more striking is how easily the mainstream journalists can be rounded up into a circle, a firing squad at one another. Consider the example of Newsweek. The entire mainstream press, excluding the Times, reported White House talking points and propaganda but not the reality of the situation. Nor did anyone discuss the absolute non-sense of the finger pointing in this scenario. It was a firing squad aimed at the entire mainstream and they went along with it.

The alternative press and a small few in the mainstream, including Salon, Raw Story, the New York Times, and others all reported on the facts of the situation. It was largely through this effort that some of the truth managed to leak out over the White House noise machine.

There are also much darker and more nefarious ways by which reporters are muzzled, including threats, intimidation, and other such measures. Clearly, these more damning tactics are not something anyone can discuss with any amount of certainty or evidence, but it is quite evident that pressures of this type are exerted on publishers, editors, and journalists. What I am speaking of here are the allegations of reporters being "suicided," but as I have stated, there is not enough evidence and far too little documentation to prove or disprove these allegations. In journalistic circles, however, there is a great deal of suspicion.

If all else fails, this administration uses tax dollars to concoct news and pays well-placed faux journalists to report talking points.

The Media's Response?
The media juggernaut, unfortunately, does not respond as a block to protect their own. Instead one sees glimpses of ethics on an individual level. Gary Webb responded but to no avail and died in poverty. Dan Rather, having a career which spanned 30 years responded (albeit inadequately), and was forced to resign.

But imagine if the real and ethical fourth estate actually stood together in an unmovable block? Now that would be response and it would work. So the question really has to do with the media's lack of response to being muzzled and not the administration's insistence on controlling them.

What becomes clear then is that what the fourth estate has really become is a single corporate body, either contracted by the government or afraid of not being contracted by the government. Many people see Fox News as propaganda, as they should. Yet they use the MSM as an example of the "opposite" of what propaganda looks like. My feeling is that Fox is simply a foil, so that the MSM can at least look somewhat credible.

If there was doubt before about the MSM, the silence on the Downing Street Memo answered that question quite clearly.

I gave you the long answer, which could be longer. The short answer is that the media is muzzled because it allows itself to be, not because they have to be no matter the machinations of Rove and his Swifties.

Thank you, Mystery Reporter 1, for submitting the question.

BONUS: Byrne and Alexandrovna's interview with Rep. John Conyers(D-MI), in which the Downing Street memo and the national news media, among other subjects, are discussed is here.

UBER BONUS: Coalition of citizen groups seek formal inquiry into whether Bush acted illegally in push for Iraq war

POST-BONUS BONUS: E.J. Dionne on muzzling the media.

Other Washington Press Corpse Installments (in reverse chronological order):


Raw Story’s Larisa Alexandrovna on Anonymous Sources

Our Washington Press Corpse series continues this week with a brief email interview with Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story. Alexandrovna is one of two reporters at Raw Story. The other, John Byre, is also the editor and publisher. Run independently of large news organizations, Raw Story does the kind of investigative journalism that many have been crying out for in the rest of the national press. So far this year, Raw Story has investigated the under-the-table deals of Jack Abramoff, the possible ties of James Guckert/Jeff Gannon to the White House and the Social Security scam letters that indirectly helped fund Tom DeLay's trips to Great Britain and Asia, among other stories.

The questions and answers are provided in full, without comment. Other installments in the series are listed at the end of this post. (Note: The interview was broken into two parts for easier reading. This is part one. [UPDATE: Part two is here.])

Realitique: What challenges do you face in using anonymous sources?

Larisa Alexandrovna: Anonymous sources fall into several categories. There are sources who are aides to top level officials and who simply do not want their name used. There are citizens who want to inform the public, but are afraid for their lives or their jobs. There are top level officials themselves who want to come forward, but don't want to risk their positions. Those are some examples.

There are different types of sources, from all sorts of walks of life and positions of power. They all have different reasons for not wanting their names used. Without them, there are no stories.

There are sources, however, who want to use the journalist as an attack dog against an opponent or for some other less than ethical reason. This last type of source is the one that most journalists worth their salt attempt to stay away from. An example of this type of journalist is Robert Novak and I think we can all safely say "off the record" who the source is.

The challenge is to identify the "planted" sources, of course. The bigger challenge, however, is to identify the ethics of reporting on a particular story vs. the risk for the source(s) and others involved.

In a secretive government one usually does not get many sources willing to go on the record. It is rare for a journalist to find more than one top level source and those sources are usually anonymous for a bevy of reasons.

There is much confusion on what the word "anonymous" means and much of that confusion is fueling the current brouhaha over Newsweek.

An anonymous source is vetted on all counts. Simply put, just because a high level official tells you something, it does not always make it true. Again, this points to the using of journalists for less than ethical means. A journalist will not just say, "Oh, well since you work there, you must know." A source provides information and that information has to be vetted, thoroughly. If possible, it is always a good idea to get a second, third, fourth (etc.) confirmation. But again, in a secretive government, you will rarely be able to get that kind of confirmation and most probably never on the record.

The journalist then must try to independently verify the source's information. If that can be done through documentation, historical patterns, and depending on the story, for example, scientific means, then sometimes the one source is all that is needed.

In other words, Newsweek had more than one source: the initial anonymous source. It had a second source in that the Pentagon was presented with this article and did not "deny," and in many cases that can be seen as confirmation. Newsweek also had documentation from the FBI leaked memos, the past reports of the New York Times, Washington Post, Red Cross and so forth. So the allegations are thoroughly documented. The possible error, and "possible" is still on the table, is that the allegations would now appear in the Southern Command report. That is where Newsweek's source may have erred or may have been pressured to retract. Newsweek simply retracted the Southern Command portion, not the allegations, which, as I have said, have been independently corroborated.

There is also a trust relationship over time that one builds with one's source. If you work with someone for 10 years and they have never failed to provide factual information, it is hard to believe that they would do so "out of the blue."

There used to be and still are many challenges in sourcing, but the biggest one now is to not be on Rove's hit list.

Realitique: Has a source of yours or a coworker ever backed off of information after publication, as happened with the Newsweek story?

Larisa Alexandrovna:I have had a whistleblower source back out six hours after our conversation and several hours prior to publication. That is not nearly as bad as what happened with Newsweek, but you still get the finger-pointing sessions.

Realitique: What protocol(s) do you follow for confirming information given to you by an anonymous source?

Larisa Alexandrovna:It depends on the source, the story, and the impact of the story. I would say that if I can verify the story independently, even if I cannot find a second confirmation, that is enough. This is a very general answer to a very general question.

Realitique: You work for a small independent organization, so these questions might not apply to you the way they do to most reporters, and I don't know if you've worked for other news organizations (have you?). That said, given your experience, what is the relationship between editors and reporters like? editors and publishers?

Larisa Alexandrovna:These questions do apply to me. I have worked for larger organizations, but not in the same capacity. In terms of writing, I have always worked for smaller publications. The best relationships can flourish between editors and their writers. There is a trust level there as well and because of how fragile that is, a friendship tends to blossom. It is like serving in a war together and feeling that you are dependent on one another come hell or high water. The publisher relationship is usually far more complicated as they are more interested in the bottom line, not the story per se. These are generalizations, of course. But I have found them to be applicable in much of my experience.

Thank you to those of you who submitted questions.

UPDATE: Part two of the interview is here.

BONUS: Alexandrovna's interview with former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter (in 3 parts) is here. Her story on Social Security scam letters and the government liaison of the Washington Times foundation is here.

Other Washington Press Corpse Installments (in reverse chronological order):

Key to Sarcasm Discovered

Like no, really. Scientists have discovered that the prefrontal lobes hold the secret to comprehending sarcasm, the BBC reports. (Via guess).

Claim About al-Zarqawi Wound Bolstered

Remember that London Times story a week and a half ago about Abu Masab al-Zarqawi being wounded? Well, now a pro-Zarqawi website is claiming the same thing. Still very little mention of this in the US press, despite the news being (apparently) good for everyone to the right of Mao Zedong.

Dobson Calls Compromise a "Betrayal"

According to NPR, Mullah Dobson called the last-minute Senate compromise that kept Frist from going nuclear "a betrayal by a cabal of Republicans." Democracy sucks, don't it, Jim?

Daily Standard: Empire Is Good

From the Wayback Machine (well, not really): Long before Gulf War II: Wrath of Bush, the neocolonial Daily Standard's Jonathan V. Last defends Star Wars' Empire over the Republic. Take a gander:
[Senator] Palpatine believes that the political order must be manipulated to produce peace and stability. When he mutters, "There is no civility, there is only politics," we see that at heart, he's an esoteric Straussian.

Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.

Also, unlike the divine-right Jedi, the Empire is a meritocracy. The Empire runs academies throughout the galaxy (Han Solo begins his career at an Imperial academy), and those who show promise are promoted, often rapidly. In "The Empire Strikes Back" Captain Piett is quickly promoted to admiral when his predecessor "falls down on the job."

But the most compelling evidence that the Empire isn't evil comes in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Darth Vader is battling Luke Skywalker. After an exhausting fight, Vader is poised to finish Luke off, but he stays his hand. He tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side with this simple plea: "There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you. . . . Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy." It is here we find the real controlling impulse for the Dark Side and the Empire. The Empire doesn't want slaves or destruction or "evil." It wants order.

None of which is to say that the Empire isn't sometimes brutal. In Episode IV, Imperial stormtroopers kill Luke's aunt and uncle and Grand Moff Tarkin orders the destruction of an entire planet, Alderaan. But viewed in context, these acts are less brutal than they initially appear. Poor Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen reach a grisly end, but only after they aid the rebellion by hiding Luke and harboring two fugitive droids. They aren't given due process, but they are traitors.

I can't help but wonder if Last spoke without permission. The whole article is here.


William F. Buckley's Mind Takes Leave of Absence

Today on NPR's Morning Edition, William F. Buckley spoke about belief in God during the recurring "This, I believe" segment. His argument is so pathetic that one wonders if Buckley's brain isn't deteriorating. Unlike some of the politicians he supports, Buckley is (was?) an extremely sharp, nuanced thinker and writer. Which is why it's so disappointing that his case for God can be summed up as "Gosh, the universe sure is really, really complex. That's why I find it really, really hard to believe that God didn't make it." What Dawkins calls the "argument from personal incredulity"--and it's the least convincing of the bunch. Read on.

I've always liked the exchange featuring the excited young Darwinian at the end of the 19th century. He said grandly to the elderly scholar, "How is it possible to believe in God?" The imperishable answer was, "I find it easier to believe in God than to believe that Hamlet was deduced from the molecular structure of a mutton chop."

That rhetorical bullet has everything -- wit and profundity.

Actually, it has neither. If it's clever, it's only because before its debut it murdered Cleverness and buried it in the back yard, leaving mediocrity to take its place.

It has more than once reminded me that skepticism about life and nature is most often expressed by those who take it for granted that belief is an indulgence of the superstitious -- indeed their opiate, to quote a historical cosmologist most profoundly dead. Granted, that to look up at the stars comes close to compelling disbelief -- how can such an arrangement be other than an elaboration -- near infinite -- of natural impulses? [Yet], on the other hand, who is to say that the arrangement of the stars is more easily traceable to nature, than to nature's molder?

It may surprise Mr. Buckley to learn that we have a pretty good idea of not only how the stars were formed but how they came to be arranged in the way that we now find them. To do this, we used outlandish methods such as "inductive reasoning" and "math." If Mr. Buckley wants to posit that a First Cause initiated the Big Bang or even has continually held a contingent universe in Being from eternity, fine. But this business about the arrangement of stars is preschool nonsense.

What is the greater miracle: the raising of the dead man in Lazarus, or the mere existence of the man who died and of the witnesses who swore to his revival?

Nice rhetoric. Unfortunately, that's all it is.

The skeptics get away with fixing the odds against the believer, mostly by pointing to phenomena which are only explainable -- you see? -- by the belief that there was a cause for them, always deducible. But how can one deduce the cause of Hamlet? Or of St. Matthew's Passion? What is the cause of inspiration?

Again with the Hamlet. Yes, the human brain is astonishingly complex. Therefore...nothing, Mr. Buckley.

This I believe: that it is intellectually easier to credit a divine intelligence than to submit dumbly to felicitous congeries about nature.

I doubt you mean that science is nothing more than "felicitous congeries about nature." You seem to've set up a straw man to knock down. Easy, isn't it? Much easier than trying to stretch your mind around the scientific account of the universe. Much easier than making an actual argument.

As a child, I was struck by [a] short story. It told of a man at a bar who boasted of his rootlessness, derisively dismissing the jingoistic patrons to his left and to his right. But later in the evening, one man speaks an animadversion on a little principality in the Balkans and is met with the clenched fist of the man without a country, who would not endure this insult to the place where he was born.

So I believe that it is as likely that there should be a man without a country, as a world without a creator.

Based on...nothing, complexity being an effect that doesn't testify as to its cause. Vapid. Stupid. Beneath you, Mr. Buckley.


When the Levee Breaks

Our fingers are crossed on the Downing Street memo story. Leaks are appearing in the media dam.

Today on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, Daniel Schorr reported the story. The full text, which I transcribed, follows. The audio is here.
This must rank as the undercovered story of the year. Secret documents leaked to the British Press indicating that President Bush was set on invading Iraq at least as early as July, 2002. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has denounced this as "flat-out wrong," and said the invasion decision was made only after Iraq refused to comply with international obligations. He did not, however, deny the existence of the British documents, which he said he had not seen.

According to one memo, which has not been disavowed by the British government, Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, Britain's intelligence service, visited Washington in July, 2002, to ascertain American intentions. A memo, dated July 23, summarized a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top security advisers.

The memo quoted Dearlove as reporting what he had learned from American officials, who were not named. His report said, "There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy," he said. This was at a time when the White House was saying, "There are no plans to attack Iraq on the President's desk."


Another briefing paper for the Downing Street meeting referred back to the Prime Minister's visit with President Bush the previous April in Crawford, Texas. Blair was quoted as having told the President then, "The UK would support military action to bring about regime change." This, although a British legal memo said, "Regime change, per se, is not a proper basis for military action under international law."

These memos, first reported in the London Sunday Times on May 1, created a great stir in Britain, perhaps because they appear to support attacks on the Prime Minister as a lapdog for President Bush at the height of the British election campaign. In the United States, perhaps because there had been so many stories suggesting a cynical White House decision, there was much less reaction. The New York Times did not get around to reporting it until last week, and on an inside page—apparently, no big deal.
This story has now jumped from print to radio--and a big radio show at that, with national reach and a listenership almost evenly divided between political parties (Air America excepted because it's not a news organization).

As for TV, according to Media Matters, CNN.com covered it, and CNN itself mentioned it on its blogger-despised show "Inside the Blogs." Three days after Media Matters called them on it (but maybe there's no connection), the following brief segment appeared on CNN:
A recent British newspaper report is reviving a long-running debate right here in the United States. It suggests that the Bush administration may have manipulated intelligence information to bolster the case for going to war in Iraq.

Our Brian Todd has been looking into this story. He's joining us now live in Washington -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the report came at a very challenging time for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and it has put him and his closest global ally on the defensive.


TODD (voice-over): A British document made public just before this month's elections leads to more pointed questions about the rationale for the Iraq war.

The memo, leaked to the "Times of London" newspaper, details the minutes of a meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his security team in July of 2002, before the Bush administration began making its public case for war against Saddam Hussein.

The notes refer to a British official's consultations in Washington that summer. Quote, "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy." Later the minutes say, quote, "The case was thin."

Contacted by CNN, an official in Blair's office would not confirm the contents of the notes one way or another.

CNN asked White House press secretary Scott McClellan for his reaction.

MCCLELLAN: I don't know about the specific memo. I've seen the reports, and I can tell you that they're just flat out wrong. The president of the United States in a very public way reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations, and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner.

TODD: The White House has not responded to a letter sent earlier this month from John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, calling for the Bush administration to explain the British report.

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The president has to answer this. I don't think we can laugh at the "London Times" and British intelligence. We need to know.

TODD: But the administration gets critical backing from Republican senator John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Yes, but I do not believe that the Bush administration decided that they would set up a scenario that gave us the rationale for going into -- into Iraq.

TODD: McCain was part of a presidential commission that concluded prewar intelligence on Saddam's weapons was not manipulated but was simply wrong.
John McCain, white-washing Tom Sawyer's the White House's fence. I hate to complain, since CNN reported on the memo, but their report was pretty thin. Their correspondent spent more time getting "reaction" from the White House and "backing" from John McCain, whom I once held in high regard [UPDATE: he stands his ground on the filibuster here], than it did reporting on the details of the memo and its authenticity. Schorr, who ironically was one of Turner's first hires at CNN's inception, did all of that. Thank you, Daniel Schorr.

P.S. Does anyone believe that Scott McClellan didn't "know about the specific memo"? Funny, I knew about the "specific memo" when it hit the Times, thanks to whatever blogger mentioned the story the night before. In the ensuing two or more weeks, did McClellan not hear about the memo? Did no one who did call him? Or, if they did, did he refuse to read it? In short, is McClellan lying or is he as incompetent as he makes himself sound?


The Tortured Arc of Spin

From Andrew Sullivan:

THE SPIN ON TORTURE: It has gone chronologically something like this: "It's not true. It's not true. It may be true but it's not torture. Okay, it's torture, but isn't official policy. It may be true and official policy, but we changed the policy and we uncovered the abuses ourselves. It may be true, it may have been widespread, but we've punished the culprits. It may be true, it may have been widespread, it may still be happening, but all these reports are old news." Well, give these guys points for effort. How about: it is true; it should never have happened; the people responsible for the policy as well as the criminals should be punished. Ah, but that would mean taking responsibility, wouldn't it? And we don't do that in this administration, do we? Even at the expense of hurting the war effort and staining the reputation of countless great soldiers in a noble cause.

The Washington Press Corpse
Beginning the Autopsy

The internal examination starts with a large, deep, Y-shaped incision that is made from shoulder to shoulder meeting at the breast bone and extends all the way down to the pubic bone....

The next step is to peel back the skin, muscle and soft tissue using a scalpel. Once this is done, the chest flap is pulled up over the patient's face, exposing the ribcage and neck muscles.

Why is the Washington press a corpse? Several reasons, probably. Jonathan Mermin outlines the most elusive one in his Fall 2004 article "The Media's Independence Problem," which Bill Moyer's quoted at length from in his recent speech. The article's not what you'd expect. The context is the discovery that Saddam didn't have any weapons of mass destruction. Mermin asks why there was so little questioning of motives and reasons for war on the run-up to it and why the press didn't report on the possible outcomes of a war that obviously would necessitate an occupation for some length of time. His answer? There's a tacit agreement among the Washington press that you don't raise an issue unless the administration or someone in Congress raises it first. As you might've guessed, the press and politicians are sometimes at cross purposes, and waiting for politicians to speak is hardly conducive to an independent (or free free) press. From the conclusion:
The job of politicians is to devise strategies to win elections, and successful strategies often entail blurring differences between the parties, which may require that important substantive points go unmade. This is one reason why we have a First Amendment, and why we are supposed to have a press that is independent of the government and free to say what politicians do not. If, in fact, journalists don't say much that politicians have not said first, then the press is not doing the work the First Amendment envisions.

What would happen if we had a First Amendment, but journalists let the government decide what the press should report?
For one thing, we wouldn't hear about the Downing Street Memo from most major news organizations.

[ADDED 4:17 pm] That said, Mystery Reporter 1 points to an earlier paragraph as showing the press' "Achilles heel" (you may have heard similar arguments before):
And why, he might have added, didn't the Post and other papers devote more time to pursuing the claims about the administration's manipulation of intelligence? Part of the explanation, no doubt, rests with the Bush administration's skill at controlling the flow of news. "Their management of information is far greater than that of any administration I've seen," Knight Ridder's John Walcott observed. "They've made it extremely difficult to do this kind of [investigative] work." That management could take both positive forms—rewarding sympathetic reporters with leaks, background interviews, and seats on official flights—and negative ones—freezing out reporters who didn't play along. In a city where access is all, few wanted to risk losing it.
[END of addition]

No matter your stance on the war, no matter whether you want the seas to run red with blood or for PETA to write the nation's dietary guidelines, read this article. Mermin's point applies to everybody. Unless, of course, you like a lapdog press corps and trust government officials with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. If you do, China's booming and they're taking applications.

BONUS: This NYT Book Review New York Review of Books article that Mermin mentions covers the dearth of reporting on Chalabi's bad intelligence, WMD debates among intelligence analysts and Judith Miller's questionable reporting. Very revealing.

Morning Juxtapositions

"My job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal."

"[Helen] Thomas points out that Edward Wasserman, a professor of journalism at Washington & Lee University, has determined that I am a propagandist because I reported exactly what the White House said about its position on an issue without putting a spin on it."

prop·a·gan·da (prp-gnd)

  1. The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.
  2. Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause: wartime propaganda.


A Dicey Business

Another reporter has generously agreed to comment on the Newsweek fiasco. Like Mystery Reporter 1, this mystery reporter works for a southern metropolitan paper and has 10-15 years experience in the industry. Unlike MR1, he has occasionally expressed Republican sympathies, though not so much of late. You may remember him from such posts as "Another Reporter on Gannon Gate." Previous mystery-reporter posts here and here. (As with previous anonymously authored posts about anonymous sourcing, we are raising the Irony Alert Level to Orange.)

Overall, I think Washington reporters rely too much on anonymous sources. I've called Washington and some bureaucrats won't tell you their name without immediate anonymity -- even on basic stuff. Also, I've heard of reporters who too freely grant anonymity. The worst is the backbiting entertainment stories where studio head 1 is savaged [by] three other anonymous studio heads, who must come from one of the five other studios. I think that stuff is just lazy and mostly serves the sources.

In the Newsweek case, relying on an anonymous source may well have been appropriate, but I think the two source minimum rule is a good one that wasn't applied here. Newsweek will probably have to rethink their willingness to rely on one anonymous source, even if it's usually a reliable one. Mike Isikoff, who wrote the item, is a good reporter. He broke the Monica Lewinski scandal and early on it appeared like [that story] really might be a legitimate scandal. I'm sure he did basic due dilligence. And it's not the first report in which Guantanamo detainees allegedly witnessed Koran-debasement. I guess I tend to cut the Newseek folks some slack. They should have found a second source. Additionally, they should have tried harder (assuming they asked at all) for a copy of the actual report where this abuse was supposed to have been mentioned. Also, Isikoff might have pressed his source harder on how he knew about this stuff. Sometimes a couple of extra questions will uncover useful doubts that lead you to better decisions about what to run and what not to run.

From personal experience, I know that anonymous sourcing is a dicey business and you can be manipulated. I subscribe to the Bill Clinton prescription (he was talking about abortion, but hey, it works here too): I want it rare, safe and legal. And while you're at it, mend it, don't end it. And if it doesn't fit, you must acquit. And so on and so on.

Later, in response to a request for clarification, MR2 added:

As far as the studio head stuff, what I'm talking about is how in a story on, say, Harvey Weinstein, the entertainment reporter will quote three unnamed "studio executives" who, under the cloud of anonymity, are free to make lots of scurrilous, ad hominem attacks on poor Harvey. It's basically chickenshit stuff. The anonymity is cover for egos and agenda. If the reporter carefully develops a pattern of serious abuse with a series of complimentary anonymous sources then that's more legitimate to me. That level of effort is found in the The Los Angeles Times stories published in fall 2003 about Arnold Schwarzenegger sexually harassing women on movie sets. They got people to speak on the record and carefully checked their stories to the nth degree. Their accuracy was rewarded when several more women came forward.

Yeah, there was a non-denial, denial quality to the Newsweek reporting. I think what happened is Isikoff didn't probe his source closely enough about how the guy knew what he was saying. Some extra questioning and document requests might have brought out the source's problemmatic knowledge of the topic. That's why two-source confirmation is so much better.

(Link courtesy of Habitat Girl.)

INACTION ALERT: A reporter with experience in Washington has agreed to answer questions. If you have any, please email them to me quick, fast and in a hurry.

BONUS (Rob): While we're on the subject of anonymous sources, here's an Editor & Publisher article on USA Today's 75% reduction in its use of such sources. The article, though brief, at least gives a peek into how the paper decides whether to use anonymous sources. Related article about NYT use in a "major war story" here.

Fox News Freefall

According to Air America's Randi Rhodes, Fox News has lost viewers for the sixth straight month in the 25-48 age bracket. Rhodes said FNC has lost 58% of their audience. Do your own math:
October 2004:1,740,000
November 2004:891,000
December 2004:568,000
January 2005:564,000
February 2005:520,000
March 2005:498,000
April 2005:444,000

Beyond Bed and Bath

And in other political news, we found an apartment. If you recall, Senate Democrats were threatening to block us from renting it, but we worked out a compromise that's amenable to all concerned. The new apartment has two bedrooms, a back yard and a full kitchen. This will mark the first time since leaving home that I'll have a yard, which the dog would be thrilled about if she understood English, and the second time post-marriage that I'll have a real kitchen. Two words: Par. Tay.

DISCLAIMER: In response to a recent email, let me stress that I am not getting engaged or married. Also, I forgot to mention that the apartment is around the corner from a great Indian restaurant and comes with a newly minted litter of stray kittens.


Questions for Scott McClellan

An exercise in wish-fulfillment:

1. Newsweek has been excoriated for presenting information as confirmed when, in fact, it was not because the confirming source expressed doubts following publication of the information. Given that the invasion of Iraq was largely predicated on Iraq's possession and development of WMD, which turned out to be false, and that no one as yet has been punished as a result, on what authority does the administration base its call for accountability in the media?

2. Newsweek claimed that an upcoming military report asserted that a Quran was placed in a toilet, based on one source. Another source indirectly confirmed the assertion and subsequently expressed doubt about where they saw the information. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere followed from the revelation in the Newsweek story, as has been widely reported, does the President find his call for accountability in the media unjustified, given that his war in Iraq was predicated on "intelligence" that was "fixed around the policy," as asserted in the Downing Street Memo?

3. Could you comment on whether the Downing Street Memo, as published by the Times of London, is accurate in its assertions? I quote: "...It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force." Can you confirm whether those points mentioned in the Downing Street Memo were covered and whether the interpretation of them as presented in the memo is correct?

I don't pretend that these questions are perfect. But it's not as if anyone in the White House briefing room is going to ask them.

Anonymous Sources

Here's the sourcing policy of our recent mystery reporter's paper. Well worth a gander. Note: I've substituted "The Paper" for the paper's name. And yes, presenting the comments of anonymous reporters on using anonymous sources is ironic. Too bad it's not funny.

Slightly more relevant, since we're talking about sourcing in Washington when reporting on government, is the sourcing policy of the Washington Post. This Editor & Publisher article is the latest I found on that. In addition, here is the New York Times' policy on using confidential sources.

I'm trying to find the sourcing policy for, you know, Newsweek. So far, no luck. If you find it, let me know.

UPDATE: Apologies for those of you who can keep straight the ever-shortening list of media conglomerates, but Newsweek is owned by The Washington Post, so one would think that the WaPo sourcing policy applies to Newsweek. Again, if you find out, let me know.

More later. Right now I have to "work" to pay "bills."


The Consequences of Overreacharound

The following question and answer followed the previous question and answer about the Newsweek fiasco (see below).

Q: What would typically happen in a smaller-scale case like the Newsweek one, say, one that didn't involve death, rioting and a major publication? I know those are important considerations, but what would happen at your paper if there was a similar error (choose your scenario)?

A: You asked about what we would do if something like the Newsweek error happened to us. As soon as we sussed out what actually happened and how it happened, we'd probably run a story on it, just like Newsweek did. Almost certainly, it'd be by a different reporter than the one or ones who wrote the original story, with the idea being that reporting honestly on the publication's mistake and carrying the byline of someone not involved from the get-go would make the story more credible and help salvage the publication's credibility.

If the screwup was bad enough -- if it involved an intentional act of deceit on the part of a reporter or editor or both -- you'd be looking at firings and/or resignations. If it was a mistake in good faith, like this appears to be, reporters and editors might be suspended or disciplined in some way, but they probably wouldn't be fired. But intentional deception by a reporter or editor is something that, I can tell you, guarantees an automatic dismissal. See Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, or going way back, Janet Cooke.

Keep in mind, though, that those rules work in most situations but not necessarily in Washington. Doing national reporting on the federal government is almost a completely different game that carries a different set of standards than most journalism; not officially, of course, but in reality, from what I understand, if you're going to get to the bottom of things, especially if it reflects badly on the administration in power, you're going to have to rely largely on confidential sources, for obvious reasons. I can't speak intelligently on the details because I've never done that kind of reporting, and I have no interest in it, either.

White House Smackdown

[Update at bottom of post.]

Overstated? Always. Anyway, in yesterday's White House press briefing (which is suffering terribly from Gannon's absence), Press Secretary Scott McClellan was confronted by a reporter who refused to roll over and pant (update: click here for the second half):

Q Scott, you said that the retraction by Newsweek magazine of its story is a good first step. What else does the President want this American magazine to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's what I talked about yesterday. This report, which Newsweek has now retracted and said was wrong, has had serious consequences. People did lose their lives....

And I think Newsweek can do that by talking about the way they got this wrong, and pointing out what the policies and practices of the United States military are when it comes to the handling of the Holy Koran....

Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help--

Q You're pressuring them.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them--

Q It's not pressure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report.

(Emphasis mine.) Feel free to be unimpressed. But in today's Washington press climate (i.e. morgue-cold), this passes for courage. Way to go, whoever that was.

UPDATE: Later on in the briefing, these reporters asked some pointed questions that everyone should be asking. Scroll about halfway down the briefing-transcript page or click here for an excerpt.

We Will Bury You

In light of the recent Newsweek fiasco, I once again asked reporters I know to comment. The one who recently posted about the Downing Street (or Blair) memo, had this to say (and he's answering questions in the comments section):

I hate to be alarmist, but I think it's bad, really bad. I think this is the Fuckup Bell Grande that Bush & Co. have been waiting for, really. It's even worse than Rather, because you could kind of pawn that off on Crazy Ol' Lib'ral Dan, who was on his way out the door anyway. But this -- from a respected publication, and leading to the tenuous but powerful idea that it caused deaths -- is manna for the GOP and right-wing media. As if the mainstream media weren't cowed enough already, here's the Administration's chance to shut them up completely, and for a good, long while.

It may sound weird, but I think about Watergate. Essentially, Newsweek's error was to place its faith in a confidential source who, by design or not, backtracked on his allegation that the upcoming government report on Guantanamo would include an incident of Quran-flushing. That's it. It's remarkably similar to Woodward and Bernstein's big fuckup during Watergate -- they wrote that Haldeman controlled the secret GOP fund that paid for all manner of political dirty tricks and hijinks, but their problem was the attribution: They said the information came from Hugh Sloan's grand-jury testimony, which it didn't. Sloan never named Haldeman before the grand jury because he was never asked about Haldeman; had Sloan been asked, he would have named him.

Like this: I don't think there's much doubt that abuses have occurred at Guantanamo, and the consistency of other accounts that have been public for months now -- all involving Quran-flushing or tossing into the bowl -- would tend to back the story up. In Watergate, B & W were essentially correct: Haldeman controlled the money. In this, I'm pretty sure Newsweek was essentially correct: The Quran-flushing and other abuses happened. But the source turned out to be sour.

And what's maddening is that, just as Rather's thing tended to wipe out any further questions about Bush's Guard "service" -- even though it's clear that the basic facts are correct -- this is going to lead to a chilling effect on any inquiries into any abuses at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo in particular and the war on terror in general.

I think about Watergate, too, when I wonder why Newsweek capitulated so quickly. When the Haldeman fuckup happened, Ben Bradlee said, in essence, let's hold tight, we don't know exactly what's going on here, let's not make another move until we know something more solid, and in the meantime, "we stand by our story." That's what they did, and they were vindicated in the end. I don't want to think Newsweek was intimidated by the Pentagon, but it certainly looks that way from here. And once they apologized, that was it, ball game over.

That's my take on it. Again, I hate to be a Cassandra, but I think we may be looking at a pretty monumental event, something that may change the way American media operate, at least temporarily. I hope I'm wrong.

You've probably already seen this, but I think he's almost completely on target. I don't think this is a complete post hoc, ergo propter hoc deal, as he seems to think -- the Newsweek story apparently was a factor in the riots, although certainly not the only one -- but his thinking pretty much matches mine.


In the meantime, I have this image of Karl Rove banging his loafer on a desk, yelling, "We will bury you."

UPDATE (by Rob): The Columbia Journalism Review's take on the Newsweek fiasco.

Here's what Newsweek had to say for itself.

Steal This Downing Street Memo rial Post

A new Googlebomb project to boost the rankings of US media coverage of the Downing Street (or Rycroft) memo in Google results. Steal this post or go here for instructions (it's easy! it's fun!). (Via eRobin at Fact-esque.)

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Do Bush Supporters Worship Pagan Gods?

Just who, exactly, is behind the American religious right? Some Bush supporters claim to be "Christian," but their symbolism may indicate otherwise. Now, critics are claiming that the "faith" of some Bush supporters is masking their true agenda, to return America to worship of Dagon or even the Great Mother. Does the fish, or "ichthys," really stand for what Christians claim it does?

(Bushfish via First Draft.)

Zarqawi Seriously Wounded?

Hopefully, this London Times story will make it to prime time (unlike the Blair memo), since it's a bad guy getting injured, presumably by us. If it's true, then I hope he dies slowly. (Via Hoffmania.)

Democracy Continuum

Normally, I wouldn't post a comment from a stranger on another blog, but this one was just too money to pass up. The comment, by sbj, is in reference to a post by Armando about David Brook's latest column and Jim McDermott's call for the Democrats to return to the idea of "the common good." The comment appears in full, with two commas slain and one hyphen born.

Brooks is pouring forth his predictable propaganda-based drivel, and, because he is, in the end, fundamentally clueless (i.e. "non-reality-based") in his thinking, he inadvertently manages, as Armando points out, to make a strong case against virtually every major element in the Bush regime agenda.

Jim McDermott makes a very good case for once again working for the common good. He says the Democratic Party has lost the idea of working for the common good, but of course the same can be said of the repubs too.

But working for the common good also means we need to understand we're on the same side. For me, I think we would be well served to understand that true liberals and true conservatives share the same continuum, a "Democracy Continuum," so to speak, where shared responsibility, participatory electoral power, separation of powers, putting the public interest and the national interest before partisan or personal interests; all these principles combine to make us stronger and better able to achieve the common good.

We (especially the true conservatives), need to understand that the extremist wingnuts who've hijacked the mantle of "conservative" to describe themselves, have nothing to do with conservatism at all. They are not simply "more conservative" conservatives, they are reactionaries, extremists of an entirely different political species. every time they use the word "conservative" to describe themselves, they insult and debase every legitimate conservative citizen and patriot in the country. These manias are not on our Democratic continuum, they're on a "Tyranny continuum," and tyranny is anti-democratic in every way.

Let's hope true conservatives begin to understand that they have far more in common with us liberal, patriotic Democrats than they do with the likes of Frist and DeLay and all those other wingnut blowhards who have absolutely no respect or regard for anyone who doesn't agree with them and follow their dictates. And let's hope that people of true faith likewise begin to recognize that the evangelical fascists who purport to lead them debase the essence of the very spirituality they profess to revere every time they open their mouths.

So, liberals and true conservatives, let's unite in the spirit of democracy to oppose and defeat the wingnut tyranny.


Downing Street Memories

My reporter friend who started off the Washington Press Corpse commentary sent me this. What follows is his unedited post:

It's a good sign that bloggers and other folks on the left aren't letting the Downing Street Memo fade from view, even though it's been ignored or downplayed by most American media. There's a website, recently created by persons unknown (although there's a link on the page to Democratic Underground, so I'm sure it's someone with some ties to that site; it hardly matters).

For those who haven't heard of it -- and I wouldn't be surprised -- it's the proof that Bush and his Cabinet, as far back as summer 2002, were not only planning on military action in Iraq but were actively trying to craft the intelligence to fit the plan to invade ("the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy").

The Times of London broke the story about the memo on Sunday, May 1.

Damn few American media have paid any attention to it, although Knight Ridder's Washington Bureau wrote about it that next Thursday, May 5.

And that's relevant, because KR's reporting prompted this incredible string of shit at the redoubtable freerepublic.com the next day.

If this makes you doubt the legitimacy of the Downing Street Memo, just click the link at the top of the page. It's an AFP report that a memo was forged -- but what they're talking about is something entirely different: A supposed legal opinion by U.K. Attorney General Peter Goldsmith saying he was unsure about the legality of the Iraq war without a second U.N. resolution.

That document, apparently, was a forgery; it got plenty of attention in Britain because of the upcoming elections but damn near none in the U.S. It has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DOWNING STREET MEMO, which hasn't been debunked or exposed or proven forged by anyone -- which should tell you quite a bit. Note the date on top of the AFP story: April 29, TWO DAYS before the Times broke the Downing Street Memo story.

Of course, that didn't prevent the irony's-knocking-but-no-one's-home freepers from posting gems like:

About every 20 minutes somebody at DU posts the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau report that says Bush/Blair prepped for a 2003 war with Iraq. The Washington Bureau report was based on a memo that has now been debunked as a FRAUD.

Will Wolcotte and Strobel, the two guys that continually print misinformation at this Washington Bureau of Knight Ridder, be punished? I doubt it. They never are.

It's always funny to see them flip back and forth when their "proof!!" and "undeniable evidence" ends up being forged and/or faulty. It's either "a MSM/BFEE cover-up" or "the Repugs did it to make us look bad... ". Time after time, they get fooled by forged documents and, yet, still don't get how stupid they are.

Yes, I know they're world-class idiots over at FR, but I couldn't resist chucking some of their own vomit back at them.

(Cross-posted as a dailyKos diary. Check out the comments.)

UPDATE: Just found out the site was created by Kossacks. Also, the Goldsmith memo may be authentic (or there may be an authentic version). -Rob

UPDATE (sorta kinda): A long, informative Corrente post on Bush™'s MO (i.e. fixing intelligence to fit the policy). -Rob


Giving Wendy's the Finger

That tasty finger chili? AP's Greg Sandoval reports that
The mysterious finger that a woman claimed to have found in a bowl of Wendy's chili came from an associate of her [Ayala's] husband who lost the finger in an industrial accident, police said Friday.
The owner was traced through a tip made to a Wendy's hot line, Davis said. He said the man lost the finger in December, and authorities "positively confirmed that this subject was in fact the source of the fingertip." The nature of the industrial accident was not disclosed.
Police believe the man gave the finger fragment to Ayala's husband, Jaime Plascencia, who was arrested this month on identity-theft charges unrelated to the Wendy's case.

...Authorities reported that there was no evidence the finger had been cooked, and also said Ayala had a history of filing claims against businesses.

Sgt. Nick Muyo said someone other than the man who lost the finger called in the tip to the hot line.
The Nevada agency that investigates industrial accidents has no record of a worker injury like the one San Jose police described, said Tom Czehowski, chief administrator of the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Nevada employers are only required to report deaths or injuries causing the hospitalization of three or more employees, he said.
A little Friday speculation: A guy loses his finger in an accident and does what? reports it to his supervisor in between screams? goes to the hospital? If he goes to the hospital, does he take the finger with him? If he (for whatever shady reason) gave it to Ayala's husband, then either he found the finger or someone found it and gave it to him. Maybe it was too late to reattach it, in which case, his friend's wife, who likes suing people, says, "Gimme the finger and I'll pretend I found it in chili." But what do I know? Hopefully, the reporters on the case will tell us soon so we can have a TV feeding frenzy over the decline of American values thanks to the onslaught of Hollywood and popular music as well as to the Supreme Court's banishment of God from the classroom; the high incidence of fraud and "frivolous lawsuits"; and the lack of appreciation for the sacred nature of limbs and digits, which God in His wisdom intended to remain attached to the body and not treated in a trivial manner.

UPDATE: AP reports finger "severed in the tailgate of a truck during a work accident."

List of Bases Recommended for Closure


Note: All of the bases listed are in the US, leaving several hundred bases all over the planet and leaving me with the distinct feeling that most of those extranational bases have a dubious relationship with "defense."

UPDATE: This NYT article links to the full DoD report.

We Have a Hammer

If you listened to Morning Edition on NPR, you heard a surprising slap in the face treat: A version of "If I Had a Hammer," sung at the please-don't-string-up Tom DeLay dinner last night (the song's at the end of the clip). As a public service, we've transcribed the lyrics.
Now we've got a ham-mer
he hammers in the mor-nin'
he hammers in the eve-nin'
all over this la-a-nd
he's a hammer of jus-tice
he's a hammer of free-ee-dom
he's a hammer of love between
the brothers and the sisters
all over this land
It's not clear whether the song was intended as an ironic commentary.

BONUS: The next verse in the original song is "If I had a bell /
I'd ring it in the morning...." Maybe that's why Guckert was there.

UPDATE: Now with 80% more irony! David Corn weighs in on the pro-Commie background of the original song.

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

In an unusual PR move, last night a tribute dinner was held for embattled Republican Majority Whip Tom DeLay. Guess who was there? None other than James Guckert Jeff Gannon. In a list of celebrities, ABC's The Note mentions that "...Frank Gaffney and James Guckert, heads together in a serious conversation..." were spotted at the event. Why on earth was Guckert invited? Sheer partisan loyalty? For someone who's famous just for being outed, he sure is in demand by the establishment that denied he was working for them. (Via TPM.)

The new Vanity Fair commentary on Guckon/Gannert is here.


Inside the Washington Press Corpse

Not really. But it sounded better than "some related quasi-insider info from popular public sources." Anyway, since we're running a series on the Washington Press Corpse's disinterest in, you know, working, here's a year-old post by eRobin of Fact-esque on a telling interview with the writer of the NYT White House Letters column, Elisabeth Bumiller.

BONUS: David Sirota at Unpainted Huffhines gives Bumiller, ABC and others a talking-to. eRobin's post tentatively defending Bumiller but not the existence of her column is here.

SUPER HAPPY BONUS: Bob Somerby busts a cap in dey ass. Also, as we have previously meant to but have neglected to note, he remarks on how the amateur liberal web commented on the appalling Time piece on Ann Coulter versus how the professional liberal web did, viz. crickets.


At what point do you stop calling a rebellion an "insurgency" and start calling it a "civil war"? From Newsday:
With security experts reporting that no major road in the country was safe to travel, some Iraq specialists speculated that the Sunni insurgency was effectively encircling the capital and trying to cut it off from the north, south and west, where there are entrenched Sunni communities. East of Baghdad is a mostly unpopulated desert bordering on Iran.

"It's just political rhetoric to say we are not in a civil war. We've been in a civil war for a long time," said Pat Lang, the former top Middle East intelligence official at the Pentagon.
(Emphasis mine. Via Atrios.)

Meanwhile, a peek inside the operation near the Syrian border, with a decimated Marine squad as a focal point. (Via Americablog.)

And in Baghdad, 21 killed today, 90 injured. 76 yesterday. According to the War Room (who gets it from the NY Times, so you can check), the last two weeks have seen about 400 iraqis killed, never mind wounded.

More later, if I don't get too depressed.

UPDATE: UN report on the miserable living conditions in Iraq. The good news: It "could be much worse."

UPDATE: A Daily Star editorial calling for unity in Iraq.

UPDATE: And for a perspective on tactics, the insurgency and that pesky Matador operation near the Syrian border, here's Wretchard's take along with a correspondent's view (via same).

UPDATE: And more on the ongoing operation from the May 13th NYT.

Juan Cole on Afghan Riots

Juan Cole on the Afghanistan protests: context and detail that you won't get most other places, including NPR, and Cole's just gathering information from farther flung sources. Example: the protesters seemed to've singled out Pakistani institutions for arson while burning effigies of Bush and the US flag. Sound familiar? Cole speculates that the Afghan protesters think of Pakistan as an American proxy. Highlight:
Muslims are not to touch a copy of the Koran when they have not performed their purifying ritual ablutions (washing in a special way with water), called wudu'.

In secular American society, I suppose the shock value here could only be hinted at if we imagined someone flushing a small American flag down the toilet. But probably we can't imagine it at all.

The technique of humiliating Muslims as a way of "breaking" them for interrogation has often veered toward torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and it wasn't effective as a technique. The Israeli flag was also used at one point, apparently. The US military has a tradition of such humiliations, going back to treatment of the Filipino Muslim rebels in the early 20th century. But there is a difference between humiliating Muslim prisoners and humiliating Islam.

Whatever goddam military genius came up with the bright idea of flushing the Koran down the toilet at Guantanamo should be court-martialed, and Bush had better get out there apologizing before this thing spirals further out of control.

Bolton for the Door

UPDATE: It's final: 10 ayes, 8 nays, without recommendation.

Can the Bolton case get any nastier? Yes, it can! Steve Clemmons of The Washington Note has too many details to plug right here. Just go there. You can spend the rest of your days reading transcripts and interviews about Mssr. Bolton.

But we're sure that David Brooks is right, Bolton's just misunderstood. If, as Brooks claims, the "tide has turned for Bolton," he might want to ask himself why Voinovich, a Republican, said that "John Bolton is the poster child for what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."

Oh, and Larry Flynt's struck Bolton below the Beltway.

Watch the proceedings live here. I think they just said there were 20 minutes left (as of 1:58 pm). (Thanks, Americablog.)