Friday, November 21, 2003

What did Mitt mean? We've got answers! On Thursday, Media Log asked what Governor Mitt Romney means when he says that same-sex marriage contradicts "3000 years of recorded history." What paradigm-shattering event took place around 1000 BC?

The Media Log challenge attracted an avalanche of e-mails. (Okay, five.) And I believe we have the answer. But I'm saving that for the end.

First, we hear from J.B., who writes: "It was the last time the Cubs and Red Sox were in the World Series?" J.B., show some confidence. Lose the question mark! Indeed, I thought maybe he was on to something. But it turns out that World Series archeological records only go back to 500 BC, so scientists can't say for sure. Still, this remains a real possibility.

On a more serious note, J.R. sends this along:

What don't you understand? The human species started writing things down on parchment or stone approximately 3000 years ago. Those are the earliest writings we have. We have no way of knowing what happened before that. Why are you assuming something happened in 1000 BC to change our thoughts on marriage? What the hell does that have to do with starting to write things down? Your question is ludicrous! What are you ... 12?

To paraphrase Our Only President, we will reveal our age at a time and place of our choosing. As for the substance of J.R.'s e-mail, he is only off by a few thousand years -- recorded history goes back to 3000-4000 BC. For more, check this out, from something called the Evolution Encyclopedia.

It's safe to say that if J.B. suffers from a self-confidence deficit, J.R. has a surplus. Perhaps they should get together and trade.

Next up is M.P., who, judging from his e-mail address, is a Harvard boy. Well, even Harvard types can get it right occasionally, and it looks like he may have hit the nail on the head. He writes:

is this a serious question you're asking? because the answer seems obvious to me: the reference is to the bible. what else in ancient history (and certainly 3000 years ago, before classical greece and rome) are people such as romney even aware of? the '3000' is merely his rough estimate as to when the text was written or when it purports to have occurred. of course, anyone familiar with the ancient near east, for instance (this is my field) would know that we have abundant records for marriages which stretch back much earlier. [Media Log aside: Read it and weep, J.R.!]

of course, it's also true that for the same '3000 years of recorded history' (at least in the bible and subsequent judeo-christian tradition) homosexuality has been considered a sin -- so romney's position on 'the necessary civil rights and certain appropriate benefits' is itself a 'contradiction' of that history. so much for THAT tortured logic.

In a similar vein, A.W. sends this along:

My guess is that Gov. Romney is referring to Biblical assertions regarding the age of the earth, although I believe they usually declare the world is 6,000 years old, rather than three thousand.

Whenever I read or hear remarks from people who oppose gay marriage on how it will destroy our society, I'm always reminded of the movie "Ghostbusters".  The Mayor of New York asks the Ghostbusters what they mean by a disaster of Biblical proportions, and they begin reeling off the various disasters -- fire and brimstone, forty years of darkness, the dead rising from the grave. At which point Bill Murray declares in his most sarcastic Bill Murray voice, "Dogs and cats, living together!"

Finally, K.S. offers this:

I actually heard another anti-same-sex-marriage commentator on CNN Tuesday say that the ruling flew in the face of 5,000 years of marriage. It seems arbitrary figures are being thrown around in an attempt to say, "It's always been this way" in a more concrete fashion, and other people are being far too lazy by just repeating the assertions. The bad journalism of our times.

Bad journalism, but maybe bad political rhetoric, too. In other words, maybe Romney talks about "3000 years of recorded history" because it sounds good, and because he and everyone is too lazy to think it through.

Thanksgiving hiatus. Media Log will be on a holiday schedule until Monday, December 1. I might post a couple of things, I might not. In any case, see you then.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

So, Mitt, what was it that happened in 1000 BC anyway? It seems that every time Governor Mitt Romney opens his mouth to denounce same-sex marriage, he makes the same observation: that the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling goes against 3000 years of tradition.

For instance, here is what he said on the Today show on Wednesday morning, according to this morning's Boston Globe:

I agree with 3000 years of recorded human history, which frankly is a contradiction of what the majority of the Supreme Judicial Court said. Of course, at the same time, we should [be] providing the necessary civil rights and certain appropriate benefits.

What does this mean? What great event happened in 1000 BC that allows Romney to refer to "3000 years of recorded history"? He hasn't said. Yet not only is no one questioning him, others are agreeing.

Globe columnist Adrian Walker, who supports same-sex marriage, writes today, "Governor Mitt Romney, who wasted no time stating his opposition to the ruling, thundered that his position has 3,000 years of history behind it. That's true ..."

It is? Says who? What facts can anyone point to showing that marriage as we know it did not exist in, say, 1200 BC, but was a thriving institution by 800 BC? What is Romney talking about?

If anyone knows, pass along your thoughts to Media Log at

In other news on the same-sex-marriage front:

-- There's no sense debating Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby on the merits of gay marriage. He's against it, and he's not going to change his mind. Today, though, he makes an unsupportable assertion: that the way was paved by earlier steps such as the Equal Rights Amendment (passed in Massachusetts, though never made part of the US Constitution) and the state's gay-rights law. Thus, he argues, the Goodridge decision will inevitably lead to constitutional protections for, say, three-partner marriage, or for incest.

That is, on its face, ridiculous. The SJC did not base its legal reasoning in any way on those earlier actions. What led to this week's landmark decision was not a "slippery slope," as Jacoby contends, but, rather, a radical change in cultural mores -- a change for the good.

I suppose it is possible that, one day, those mores will change again to embrace polygamy, brother-sister marriage, whatever. (I hope not.) But if it happens, Goodridge will have absolutely nothing to do with that.

-- Supporters of same-sex marriage face a terrible dilemma. Marriage is now their constitutional right, and they have every reason to insist on it, and not to let the legislature and the governor to water it down with a civil-unions law, as seems likely (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here).

Yet, if civil unions were to become law and the SJC were to rule that they were close enough, that would forestall the very strong possibility that the voters will pass a constitutional amendment in 2006 that would ban same-sex marriages, civil unions, even basic domestic-partnership rights.

Principle matters, which is why I hope the gay and lesbian community holds out for nothing short of full marriage. But I worry about the consequences.

Here is an analysis of what may or may not happen on Beacon Hill by the Phoenix's Kristen Lombardi and Susan Ryan-Vollmar.

-- Editorial round-up: the New York Times gives same-sex marriage a thumbs-up; the Washington Post is sympathetic but muddled; the Wall Street Journal is against it (sub. req., but here's the lowlight: "It is four liberal judges on the Massachusetts Supreme Court who, egged on by well-connected and politically powerful gay rights activists, have imposed their own moral values on the rest of its citizens."); the Los Angeles Times is for it, but worried about a backlash; and USA Today, weighing in yesterday, is dubious, and also worried about a backlash.

Yesterday, the Globe said yes and the Herald said no, although it appears sympathetic to civil unions.

New in this week's Phoenix. A new book on Howard Dean is the result of an unusual collaboration between two of Vermont's most respected independent media institutions.

Also, speculation over what's next at the newly downsized Boston Herald.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Saddam and Osama, sitting in a tree. Q: What would be the one thing -- other than nuclear weapons -- that would have justified the war in Iraq?

A: Real evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, especially if those ties extended to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

That's why the hot insider story in the Washington media right now is a Weekly Standard cover story by Stephen Hayes, accompanied by the hyperbolic headline "Case Closed," reporting the existence of a classified memo that concludes such ties really did exist. The memo even revives those stories about 9/11 bomber Mohamed Atta's supposed meeting(s) with a top Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.

So why is this an insider story instead of leading the nightly news? There are various theories. Slate's Jack Shafer thinks it's because the liberal media can't wrap their minds around something that so contradicts their preconceived notions. Josh Marshall argues -- on his weblog and in his column in the Hill -- that it's because Hayes is recycling long-discredited crapola.

And the plot thickens. The Defense Department has attempted to discredit Hayes's scoop, leading Hayes to respond on the Standard's website.

So who's right? Who knows? But logic suggests there may be a lot less to the memo than meets the eye.

The author of the leaked memo was Defense Department official Douglas Feith, currently under considerable fire for his previous efforts at exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. Feith, in other words, is a man with a track record, and it's not a good one.

More important, even allowing for the fact that the White House has to protect certain intelligence assets, can we agree that the Bush administration would be moving heaven and earth to get this information out there if it had any confidence in it? After all, the Bushies are getting pounded day after day for phonying up the case for war. Presenting convincing evidence that Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11 would shut up a lot of people -- just about everyone, in fact.

Instead, the last time the Dark Lord, Dick Cheney, made such an assertion, George W. Bush felt compelled to take it back.

No, not every loose end has been wrapped up. Edward Jay Epstein, writing in Slate, asserts that evidence of the Atta meeting in Prague has never been adequately addressed.

Still, it's reasonable to expect that the White House is capable of making its own best case. That it has not only failed to embrace the Feith memo, but has actually distanced itself from it, suggests that this is all little ado about very little.

The Phoenix takes on same-sex marriage. Tomorrow's Phoenix will include an extensive package on the Supreme Judicial Court's decision to allow same-sex couples to marry. It's online now.

My piece argues that the Democrats ought to get off the defensive and claim same-sex marriage as their very own wedge issue.

Plug, plug. The website Written Voices has an interview with me about Little People. It's in Windows Media format.

Also, the new Online Journalism Review has a roundtable interview with bloggers and media critics, including yours truly. Unfortunately, they mixed up my photo with Bill Powers's.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A big day in the same-sex marriage wars. The Associated Press reports that the state's Supreme Judicial Court will rule at 10 a.m. in the Goodrich same-sex marriage case.

Also known as an "outside agitator." Not that I mind, but somehow I doubt that the Boston Globe would refer to Ron Crews as a "transplant" in a headline if he had come north from Georgia to fight in favor of same-sex marriage rather than against.

The headline accompanies this profile by Yvonne Abraham, who portrays the former Georgia legislator as a modernist hatemonger -- that is, he hates lesbians and gay men, but apparently not African-Americans, since he got in trouble with his constituents down South when he voted against the Confederate flag.

You might also want to check out the website of the transplant's organization, the Massachusetts Family Institute.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Correction. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell disputes an assertion I made last Friday, a day on which he announced the elimination of 19 jobs, that "it remains to be seen whether Purcell can now right the ship and return his struggling paper to profitability."

"I have a bone to pick with you. We are profitable," Purcell told me this morning, adding that the Herald was profitable even before Friday's cuts.

Purcell declined to discuss the numbers regarding his privately held Herald Media company.

Toward a new kind of talk radio. Former Narco News Bulletin publisher Al Giordano has an idiosyncratic take on efforts to launch a liberal and/or leftist talk-radio presence. His "Talk Radio Manifesto" is posted at the website Salón Chingón.

No comment today on the details of Giordano's manifesto; that will have to wait until I've digested it a little more thoroughly. But I do have a couple of general comments.

First, I would love to see a left-of-center talk show succeed, and if someone like Al Franken or Michael Moore (or Giordano) were to host such a show, I'd certainly give it a half-hour of my time while driving home. But I'm skeptical.

Like it or not, liberals (as opposed to genuine lefties) already have their own radio network -- National Public Radio. ("Gag me," writes Giordano.) The two drive-time shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, have about 15 million to 20 million listeners -- about the same as or a little more than Rush Limbaugh, the noted drug addict who brings his special brand of hypocrisy back to the airwaves today.

No, NPR's offerings are not particularly liberal in content, but I would argue that's not what most liberals are looking for. Rather, NPR's mix of news, commentary, and cultural stories, delivered in that laid-back monotone, appeals to liberal sensibilities (including mine). In other words, the reason that there's never been a liberal Rush is that, if there were, he would fall face-first into his stash of OxyContin.

It's not that liberals aren't looking to have their politics reinforced. Certainly the success of and Howard Dean's website show that. But, mostly, I suspect that talk radio appeals inherently to conservatives and libertarians more than it does to liberals and leftists.

But I hope Giordano -- a former Phoenix political reporter and former talk-show host himself -- can point the way to a new reality.

And here I always thought that stupidity causes racism. The Boston Globe's Gareth Cook reports that it may be just the opposite.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Newspaper Guild statement on Herald cuts

The Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston is deeply saddened by the layoffs today of 2 union members and the reclassifications of 2 others. (Three of the union members work full-time for the Commercial Unit, and 1 worked for the Editorial Unit as a part-time news photographer.) We will continue diligently to represent their rehire and other contractual rights.

We also we wish the best for the 8 veteran Guild members from the newsroom ranks who accepted early-retirement packages. Their absences will be greatly felt.

We remain deeply troubled that Guild ranks at the Herald have been depleted by nearly 10 percent in recent months through layoffs, buyouts and attrition. However, we appreciate that Publisher Patrick J. Purcell has made sincere efforts this week to spread the pain of staff reductions across the board.

As a result, today is a tough day for many of our friends and colleagues who work in jobs outside the Guild.

All of us who love the Herald and believe strongly in Boston's remaining a two-newspaper town are committed to getting through this difficult time and putting out the best paper we can.

Purcell, union president speak out. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell's statement just rolled off the fax machine. It states in full:

Regrettably, it was necessary for the Herald to reduce its workforce. This was accomplished through employee voluntary buyouts, retirements, attrition and the elimination of several positions.

As of Friday, 19 employees have been impacted. Of those 19, 12 full-time newsroom employees accepted buy-out agreements and one part-time newsroom employee was laid off. All impacted employees received a severance package.

A soft economy and increased expenses have caused many in the newspaper industry to take similar action. The Herald worked diligently to minimize the impact on its employees by reducing expenses in other areas throughout the company, and only after exhaustive evaluation of all aspects of our business did this course of action become necessary.

The 19 figure is lower than the 22 being bandied about (by, ahem, Media Log) earlier today.

Lesley Phillips, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston and a Herald staffer, says that 12 of her members were affected. Of them, eight had applied for the buyout and were accepted; two, including the part-timer, were laid off outright; and two whose positions were eliminated have "bumping rights," which means that they could choose to leave or to take other union jobs, a situation that would cause two other employees with less seniority to lose their jobs.

Phillips expressed "sadness" for those who find themselves unemployed, but also had some praise for the Herald. "In the past 48 hours I've been convinced that this company has done what it can to keep the impact low," she told me. "It's just been stressful. It's been a stressful number of weeks. We were waiting for this. Now we go forward and go on to fight another day."

The axe comes down at One Herald Square. Two of the Boston Herald's bigger names will be drastically scaling back their presence, as long-anticipated cutbacks at the city's financially ailing number-two daily are finally playing out today.

Television columnist Monica Collins and political columnist Wayne Woodlief have both been told that their contracts will not be renewed. Both, however, will continue to write for the Herald on a freelance basis. Collins will write her Sunday "Downtown Journal" column once a week (it may be moved to the Monday paper), and Woodlief will continue to write weekly as well.

Although an official announcement will not be made until later this afternoon, the word out of One Herald Square is that 12 union employees have accepted an early-retirement incentive known as a "buyout," and an additional 10 non-union employees -- a category that includes Collins and Woodlief -- have been told that their positions are being eliminated.

As of early this afternoon, word was that not all of those who are losing their jobs had been informed yet.

Herald spokeswoman Gwen Gage said the paper would release a statement at 3 p.m.

Collins is expected to spend a lot of her time on "Ask Dog Lady," a syndicated column of tongue-in-cheek advice for dog owners that appears locally in the South End News and the Cambridge Chronicle -- the latter owned by Herald publisher Pat Purcell's Community Newspaper chain. Collins also has a website,

Woodlief, at 68, is already past the customary retirement age. Nevertheless, he says he was "surprised" to learn that his job had been eliminated. "I've gone through the cycles -- mad, glad; well, not glad, sad -- and in a way I'm looking forward to some liberation, especially since I can continue the column once a week," Woodlief told me this afternoon. "I'll be around to haunt the politicians and afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted for next year for sure, and maybe beyond."

This has been a tumultuous year for the Herald. In the spring, beset by declining circulation and advertising revenues, Purcell brought in former Herald editor (and former New York Post) publisher Ken Chandler as a consultant, while leaving editor Andy Costello and managing editor Andrew Gully in charge -- a confusing management scheme that has led more than one staffer to wonder who was really running the paper.

The Chandler-ized Herald has been a distinctly downscale product, with a heavy emphasis on celebrities, gossip, and scantily clad women. The early returns, however, are mixed. The most recent circulation figures show the paper continues its slow slide (as does the Globe), though perhaps not quite as much as it would have were it not for Chandler's drastic steps (see "Tabzilla Returns," June 20).

The newsroom has been on tenterhooks since earlier this fall, when management announced it was seeking buyouts from union employees (see "This Just In," September 26 and October 3)

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Purcell can now right the ship and return his struggling paper to profitability. But with the bad news finally out of the way -- until the next time, anyway -- he's given himself a chance at least to change the subject.

Says Woodlief: "It's clearly not a happy day. At the same time, most folks are saying, hell, it's the Herald, we'll go on."

Thursday, November 13, 2003

This Republican filibuster is brought to you by the Fox News Channel. "[T]he producer wants to know will we walk in exactly at 6:02 when the show starts so they get it live to open Brit Hume's show? Or if not, can we give them an exact time for the walk-in start?"

Klaus Marre has the story in the Hill. Read it and gag.

A legend at 34. One fact really caught my eye in this morning's Boston Herald coverage of former Herald reporter Paul Corsetti, who died yesterday: he was 54, and he left the business 20 years ago.

Corsetti was a minor newspaper legend, going to jail rather than giving up a source and carrying a gun after he was threatened by James "Whitey" Bulger. I'd forgotten the details, and was fascinated to be reminded of them this morning. But to think that he did all of this by the time he was 34. Amazing.

The obit doesn't seem to be online, and columnist Peter Gelzinis's tribute is for subscribers only. Gelzinis, in particular, is in fine form, observing that Corsetti was a hardbitten throwback to the days when reporters reported and handed their notes off to "rewrite men," the guys -- and they were pretty much all guys -- who stayed in the newsroom and did the actual writing.

Gelzinis quotes Corsetti: "What I do is get the story and hand it to you ... writers. Otherwise, what the hell would you do all day?" (BTW, the italics are accurate, but didn't make the transition to the Herald's website.)

Here's an earlier Gelzinis column on Corsetti that you don't have to pay for. Shhh! Don't tell anyone where you found it!

Post-post-modern Dowd. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd today quotes Newsweek quoting the New Yorker. Who does she think she is? A media critic? A blogger?

No marriage, no protection: no justice. Media Log confesses to not having followed the Rosie O'Donnell case in microscopic detail, so maybe I should have known this already.

But I hadn't realized that Gruner & Jahr had been able to introduce into evidence e-mails exchanged between O'Donnell and her partner, Kelli O'Donnell, because -- as the Times' David Carr puts it today -- "she was not entitled to the same protection as a spouse."

Just another small outrage.

Book report. If you'd like to hear me talking about my book, Little People, click here and scroll down a bit. You'll be able to listen to the interview Here & Now's Robin Young did with me yesterday on WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

This morning at 11:15 a.m. I'll be flogging Little People on the PowerNomics Radio Network with host Tom Pope (click here to listen); and this evening, sometime between 7:30 and 8 p.m., I'll be on Nitebeat with Barry Nolan, on the Comcast Network (CN8).

New in this week's Phoenix. The real stakes over the Republicans' phony outcry re the leaked Democratic memo from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

He's here, he's queer, he can't get not-for-profit status. Harvey Silverglate passes along this absurd story from the New York Law Journal. It concerns one Christopher Barton Benecke, who considers himself to be "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender" (all four?), and who wants to obtain not-for-profit status for a group that he founded called Queer Awareness.

It looks like it's not going to happen. Benecke ran afoul of the language police who work for the state of New York. They ruled that the word queer is indecent and degrading, and therefore is banned by a state law governing the names of not-for-profit corporations.

Thus, for Benecke, the price of being queer includes not being able to claim tax-exempt status.

Benecke is suing on First Amendment grounds. Needless to say, he should win.

Dark days for the Dark Lord. Newsweek has a tough cover story on Dick Cheney, and how his paranoid fear-mongering within the White House helped make possible the war in Iraq.

Even with all the weasel words, it's not a flattering picture:

[I]t appears that Cheney has been susceptible to "cherry-picking," embracing those snippets of intelligence that support his dark prognosis while discarding others that don't. He is widely regarded in the intelligence community as an outlier, as a man who always goes for the worst-case scenario and sometimes overlooks less alarming or at least ambiguous signs. Top intelligence officials reject the suggestion that Cheney has somehow bullied lower-level CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency analysts into telling him what he wants to hear. But they do describe the Office of the Vice President, with its large and assertive staff, as a kind of free-floating power base that at times brushes aside the normal policymaking machinery under national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. On the road to war, Cheney in effect created a parallel government that became the real power center.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Blaming Kerry. The commentary over John Kerry's decision to fire campaign manager Jim Jordan is all the same: it's Kerry's fault, it's the candidate not the handler, his message is muddled, he's Gore II (a line pushed especially hard by Jim VandeHei in this morning's Washington Post), blah, blah, blah.

All this is true up to a point. But consider, if you will, the possibility that Kerry's biggest problem is that he cast a principled vote that he knew would be unpopular with the liberal activists who control the Democratic primary process.

I'm referring, of course, to his decision last fall to side with the majority in authorizing George W. Bush to go to war against Iraq. No, I wasn't happy with his vote, but I understood it.

Everyone -- even Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder -- believed Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Long-term UN inspections were the best way to go, something that is even more obvious now than it was then. But there was considerable merit to the argument that Saddam would give the finger to the world if there weren't also a credible threat of force coming from the US.

We didn't know then what we know now: that Saddam's WMD capabilities were vastly overblown, aided and abetted by Bush-administration lies over Nigerien yellowcake, aluminum tubes, and the like. Kerry certainly doesn't want to announce publicly that he was duped, given that almost the entire rationale for his candidacy is his deep experience in foreign policy. So he flounders and flops, trying desperately to explain his vote to party activists who will never fully forgive him for having abandoned his antiwar roots.

So perhaps the pundit who comes the closest to explaining the dire state of Kerry's campaign this morning is Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, in a piece headlined "Kerry's Irreversible Error."

Vennochi's view of Kerry's pro-Bush vote last fall is entirely cynical, which I guess makes sense if you believe that (1) Kerry thought he already had the Democratic nomination sewed up and therefore (2) he was positioning himself to peel moderate independents away from Bush in the general-election campaign. That's a lot of presupposing.

But Vennochi gets it right when she says:

Reversing the Kerry slide is going to be difficult, because Kerry cannot reverse the single biggest mistake he made as a presidential candidate: voting for the Iraq war resolution. His vote represents the get-tough-by-getting-to-the-middle brand of thinking that is big in Democratic Leadership Council circles. That thinking, however, is not popular with grass-roots Democratic activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. It pushed them right into the arms of antiwar candidate Howard Dean.

I don't know Kerry. I do know that reporters who've covered him the longest don't seem to like him very much. Yesterday ABC's "The Note" -- in a fictitious memo from Jim Jordan to Kerry's new campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill -- called the Globe's reporting on Kerry "the most relentlessly negative coverage of any presidential candidate EVER by a hometown paper." (Click here if "The Note" has been updated by the time you read this.)

That's a bit much, and the "Note"-sters may have been trying to reflect Jordan's views rather than make any sort of objective assessment. But there's no doubt the Globe has been rough on Kerry at times.

In the midst of all this cynicism and negativity, it would be interesting if it turned out Kerry's downfall was the result of his being too principled rather than too calculating.

The politics of Macs versus PCs. One would have thought it unnecessary to revisit that less-than-penetrating question at the Rock the Vote debate over which computers the candidates prefer.

But reader A.S.B. points me to this absolutely hilarious account of what really happened, written by the hapless questioner in a letter to the Brown Daily Herald.

The link was working last night, but it appears to be overloaded this morning. Read it if you can. If you can't, try this link to the site. Essentially, the student was bullied into asking the question, and was told that if she didn't, she wouldn't get her 15 seconds of media glory.

Hilarious but also outrageous. Shame on CNN and Rock the Vote. The debate was stupid enough without their witless attempts to dumb it down even more.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Kill one for the Gipper. Before the beatification of Ronald Reagan is complete, we might want to step back and consider his administration's involvement (somehow, the phrase his involvement inevitably rings false) in one of the seamier episodes of the 1980s: US support for Guatemala's right-wing death squads.

According to this Tim Weiner piece in this morning's New York Times, the worst possible outcome has been avoided -- that is, former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, a butcher (and born-again Christian!) trained at the notorious School of the Americas, did not make the runoff.

James S. Henry has written an excellent overview of how the Reagan White House supported right-wing terrorism in Guatemala, which claimed nearly all of the 200,000 lives that were lost during that violent time. After crediting Jimmy Carter with substantially reducing assistance to the butchers of Guatemala, Henry writes:

But when Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, the old public policy of mutual understanding and back-scratching returned. Indeed, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Michael Deaver's LA/DC- based PR firm, Deaver and Hannaford, was hired by the junta's cronies, a substantial amount of Guatemalan money reportedly found its way to the Reagan war chest, and sanctions against US arms purchases disappeared.

Thanks to Al Giordano's Big, Left, Outside weblog for pointing me to Henry.

Meanwhile, NPR yesterday ran one of the most bizarre stories you're ever likely to hear. Apparently a major issue in the Guatemalan election campaign is the demand for back pay by former members of the right-wing death squads.

You can listen to the report in Real Audio by clicking here.

Hypocritic oath. Let's get this straight. George W. Bush, just as he did in the 2000 campaign, has opted out of the public campaign-finance system.

Howard Dean knows he can't keep up with Bush unless he follows suit. So, according to John Kerry, Dean has gone over to the dark side.

Kerry on Dean: "I'm disappointed that Governor Dean has taken a very different road than Democrats have stood for as a matter of principle."

But Kerry knows he can't keep up with Dean unless he opts out of the public system. So that's exactly what he intends to do later this week. Kerry, though, wants us to know that his reformist credentials are intact.

Kerry on Kerry: "We're going to make our decision over the course of the next day or so. Now, whether I will or not, I'll make that decision. But I'm prepared to.... I've always said if any Democrat decides not to live by it, then I think, within the universe of Democrats, we have to make our decisions."

Whether you like what they're doing or not, the truth is that Dean and Kerry are doing precisely the same thing for precisely the same reason.

Here is Andrew Miga's Boston Herald account of Kerry's appearance on CBS's Face the Nation yesterday.

Friday, November 07, 2003

More on that so-called Iraqi peace offer. New York Times reporter James Risen and Iraq expert Ken Pollack were on CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown last night, chewing over Risen's story on a last-minute peace overture that appeared to have Saddam Hussein's blessing.

Maybe there's more to tell, but it sounds like this is going nowhere. Pollack -- a prowar ex-Clinton official -- was dubious in the extreme, saying, "There is no reason to believe that Iraqi intelligence had any intention of delivering on any of the promises that they were dangling in front of the United States. Far more likely what they were trying to do was to derail the US war effort without actually giving up anything."

And Risen himself made no great claims for his story, other than to assert that it was accurate. For instance:

I think, as Ken said, you know, you can't get into the mind of Saddam Hussein very easily. It's quite possible this was all, that he wasn't really serious about this. All I'm saying in my reporting is that this happened. This channel happened....

So, I'm convinced that Habbush met with Hage, that Hage then met with Richard Perle, that Perle then talked to the CIA. I'm not trying to say that this was real or that Saddam Hussein was serious. I'm just saying this channel happened.

Josh Marshall has a different take on the whole thing, arguing that the story was a setup by the neocons to help one of their own -- Michael Maloof, who also figures in the story, and who lost his security clearance earlier this year.

Marshall is very astute, but also a bit too cynical for Media Log's tastes, given that he seems to think that if you can speculate on the motive, you can dismiss the story.

On the other hand, Pollack's and Risen's comments were pretty convincing that there is a wisp of smoke here, but no fire.

Divide and conquer. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today reminds us of how the Republicans have used the Confederate flag to advance their interests in the South.

And the Boston Globe's Mary Leonard reports that the GOP is salivating over the prospect of making same-sex marriage an issue in the 2004 campaign.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

"At least they could have talked to them." As Bob Somerby might say, I have no idea how serious Iraq's last-minute attempt to avoid war really was. Nor do I have any idea how US officials were supposed to differentiate this one from the dozens of other back-channel communications they claim they were receiving.

But the account of this approach, by James Risen in today's New York Times, is depressing nevertheless. Because the one thing we do know is that Saddam's go-betweens were telling the truth when they claimed Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction.

Read these two paragraphs and weep. Hassan al-Obeidi was a top Iraqi intelligence official, and Imad Hage was a Lebanese-American businessman who met with him, and who tried to persuade the Americans to take the initiative seriously.

Mr. Obeidi told Mr. Hage that Iraq would make deals to avoid war, including helping in the Mideast peace process. "He said, if this is about oil, we will talk about U.S. oil concessions," Mr. Hage recalled. "If it is about the peace process, then we can talk. If this is about weapons of mass destruction, let the Americans send over their people. There are no weapons of mass destruction."

Mr. Obeidi said the "Americans could send 2,000 F.B.I. agents to look wherever they wanted," Mr. Hage recalled.

But no. All of this had to be ignored, because the White House had already decided that the invasion would take place.

Not to denigrate what has been accomplished. Though Saddam's WMD capability -- pumped up by Bush-administration lies -- has been disproven, can we all agree that we've learned the savagery of Saddam's government was even worse than we knew?

Still, we're in a mess, and we don't know how to get out of it. As if to emphasize the poignancy of the lost opportunity Risen describes, three more pieces in today's Times report that 43,000 reserves and National Guard troops are to be called up; that a soldier has been accused of cowardice -- not good if true, but you can't help but feel sympathetic for the guy; and on GIs wounded in last weekend's helicopter attack.

War is horrible even when necessary. It is an unspeakable crime when it can be avoided.

Cash and carry. Howard Dean is probably doing what's necessary if he walks away from the broken public-financing system. If he doesn't, and if he then wins the nomination, he's going to get creamed by George W. Bush.

That's why even pro-reform groups such as Common Cause appear ready to give Dean a pass, as Dan Balz and Thomas Edsall report in today's Washington Post.

Still, this is treacherous territory for Dean. How do you make the case that you're a different kind of Democrat, and then turn around and raise money like Bill Clinton? (Clinton, who did abide by public financing, raised zillions in soft money through a loophole that was closed by McCain-Feingold.)

An editorial in today's Albany Times-Union is indicative of what Dean can look forward to:

Going for broke also would further expose one of Mr. Dean's glaring weaknesses. It would be perhaps his most serious contradiction of a prior position yet. For Mr. Dean, the self-proclaimed advocate of campaign finance reform, running for president as a big money candidate would amount to hypocrisy.

For Democrats, the most appealing aspect of Dean's candidacy is that he appears to be willing to do whatever it takes to win. But he can't afford to look like a hypocrite.

New in this week's Phoenix. Meet Dr. Bill Siroty: physician, Dean supporter, and New Hampshire indispensable media activist.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Stars, bars, and Howard Dean. I taped last night's "Rock the Vote" debate while I was out. Naturally, I screwed up somehow, and missed the first half-hour, when all the fireworks took place over Howard Dean's earlier comment that he "want[s] to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."

But I caught the exchange between him and Al Sharpton in the post-debate wrap-up. In any case, that particular dust-up now appears to have been chewed over sufficiently.

Here is the Boston Globe report, by Patrick Healy and Joanna Weiss. Chris Suellentrop has a good analysis in Slate this morning on how Dean boneheadedly turned this into a bigger deal than it should have been. And the Boston Herald's David Guarino caught up with Sekou Dilday, who initially popped the question, and who now says he's decided not to support Dean.

So here's what I'm mad about. At one point, a 20-year-old student asked the candidates to describe who they were when they were 20. It was a good question, the sort that I'd have liked to hear all eight candidates answer.

But moderator Anderson Cooper, who must have been told to keep things moving no matter what, cut it off after only Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark, Dean, and Joe Lieberman had answered. (John Kerry must have been eating his heart out, but he managed to work in the Vietnam stuff later.)

Good move, Coop! The next question was from a Tufts kid, who asked Carol Moseley Braun about -- AmeriCorps. "I think AmeriCorps is important. I think public service is important," Moseley Braun began, sucking all semblance of life out of my TV set.

And so it went. There were moments when the debate veered toward being the best Democratic forum yet. But it was too disjointed, and Cooper -- a white-haired 36-year-old whom CNN has designated as its youth magnet -- was all too eager to contribute to the disjointedness.

For instance, Kerry -- criticized for that photo of him hunting pheasants the other day -- joked, "It's a tough economy now, and it's amazing what you have to do to put food on the table." He then turned it around, blasting Dean for wooing and winning the support of the National Rifle Association. "You want an assault weapon? Join the Army," Kerry said.

Dean responded by saying he supports the assault-weapons ban. But when Kerry tried to challenge him, Cooper wouldn't let him.

Kerry's most idiotic moment came when he was asked about polls that show Hillary Clinton would lead the entire pack of Democrats by a wide margin if she were to jump into the race. "I saw a poll the other day that showed me 15 points ahead of her," Kerry replied. Citation, Senator?

The weirdest performance of the evening came from Kucinich, but that was no surprise. He and Clark looked like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in their black ensembles; perhaps they're auditioning for MiB III. Kucinich was wearing orange make-up, and toward the end -- waving his arms and shouting out a five-point plan for something or other -- he looked positively bug-eyed and unhinged. Kucinich's video did have the best music, though.

Clark seemed sharper and more assertive than he has since his shaky start, but he still can't answer a simple question. Asked about lesbian and gay rights, he seemed to support letting homosexuals serve openly in the military, but then backed away. Afterwards, CNN's Paula Zahn asked him to clarify his "blurred line" on don't ask/don't tell.

"I don't think there are any lines blurred there, Paula," he replied, and then blurred things even more: "We have a policy that may be working or may not be working." The rest of his answer continued in a similar vein.

The funniest line of the evening (also no surprise) came from the Reverend Al Sharpton. When asked what his first thought would be upon moving into the White House, he replied, "Well, I think the first thing going through my head will be to make sure that Bush has all his stuff out."

But maybe the most effective line -- to get back to the Confederate-flag flap -- was from John Edwards, the Southerner who's trying to appeal to the Bubba vote. "I drive a pickup truck," he told Zahn, "but I've got an American flag in the back."

Presidential pix online. NPR's All Things Considered yesterday had a nice piece on Diana Walker, a former Time magazine photographer who photographed presidents and their families for more than two decades.

If, like me, you heard the piece and wanted to see the photos, click here.

You say "art," I say, "So what?" Q: What do you call a docu-drama that gets canceled? A: A step in the right direction.

I simply cannot get excited over the fact that CBS has decide to yank its controversial, fictitious treatment of the Reagans. Yes, it's disturbing -- as the New York Times reports today -- that CBS knuckled under to a concerted campaign by top-level Republicans. I have no doubt that Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazin were, uh, gently reminded of regulatory and legislative issues that could have a serious effect on their immensely profitable enterprise.

But then I saw this quote from Barbra Streisand, wife of faux-Reagan James Brolin: "Indeed, today marks a sad day for artistic freedom -- one of the most important elements of an open and democratic society."

Good grief. As Madonna once explained to Ted Koppel, "It's like my art, ya know?"

Come on down. I'll be reading from Little People today at noon in The Studio, in Northeastern University's Curry Student Center. If you're in the neighborhood, stop on by.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"Fair and balanced" debunked -- by a conservative. Fox News fans who actually buy into Roger Ailes's "fair and balanced" crapola ought to get themselves over to the Wall Street Journal's

Yesterday the site republished a long piece from City Journal written by one Brian C. Anderson, who glowingly sings the praises of the Fox News Channel because -- get this, Roger -- it's unapologetically conservative.

Writes Anderson: "Watch Fox for just a few hours and you encounter a conservative presence unlike anything on TV." Naturally, Anderson thinks this enables Fox to do better journalism than its so-called liberal competitors, which is a dubious proposition. But it's refreshing to see someone on the other side acknowledge simple reality.

Anderson doesn't stop there. He praises South Park for its allegedly conservative sensibility -- he's absolutely rhapsodic over segments that depict the rain forest as smelling "like ass," and that make fun of Native Americans.

And he engages in the absolutely loathsome practice of attributing to liberals views that are held only by a few seriously demented extremists.

For instance, he points to a South Park encounter with the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) as somehow saying something important -- importantly bad, that is -- about liberals. He writes of NAMBLA:

One of the contemporary left's most extreme (and, to conservatives, objectionable) strategies is its effort to draw the mantle of civil liberties over behavior once deemed criminal, pathological or immoral ...

Of course, Anderson offers not a whit of proof that any real liberal would "draw the mantle of civil liberties" over the behavior that NAMBLA advocates, as opposed to letting the organization simply talk about it, which is a very different thing. Then again, the First Amendment isn't all that big with the right these days, so it's perhaps too much to expect Anderson to make such fine distinctions.

Anderson also lets Matt Welch assert, without challenge, that he started his weblog right after 9/11 "in direct response to reading five days' worth of outrageous bullshit in the media from people like Noam Chomsky and Robert Jensen."

Yes, it's true that Chomsky and Jensen are members of the hard left. Like virtually every liberal I know, I was deeply offended by Chomsky's blithe blame-it-on-the-US attitude following the terrorist attacks.

But Welch -- and, by extension, Anderson -- would lead one to believe that Chomsky was perched at the right (okay, left) hand of Howell Raines during those days and weeks of 24/7 coverage. In fact, you'd have to scour the websites of, say, CounterPunch and the Nation to find any unmediated Chomsky. And even the Nation's editors felt compelled to balance Chomsky with erstwhile lefty war hawk Christopher Hitchens. For the most part, the public was introduced to Chomsky's views by pundits who quoted him for the sole purpose of attacking him.

As for Jensen, I couldn't even remember who he was until I Googled him this morning. Here is his home page. As I recall, he nearly lost his job for speaking out, and was saved only by an old-fashioned idea called academic freedom.

Toward the end, Anderson cites Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam's attack on bloggers last year (sorry, can't find it online) as an example of elite liberal bias. Beam is certainly an elitist, as I'm sure he would be the first to attest; but he's actually a conservative, in an elitist, old-fashioned sort of way.

Ultimately Anderson's piece is well-written, well-argued, and silly. It sounds good, but it falls apart when you examine the faulty premises on which it rests.

But he's right about one thing: Fox News is as fair and balanced as the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.