Just to recap: My new Think Again column is Tax Cuts: The Faith and the Facts.

My Nation column is Rupert Murdoch and the 'Jewish Owned Press.'

Gift-Giving, Part III

It’s taken five years, but we finally have a decent account of the the 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion (with John Bonham replaced by his son Jason, a decision I find pretty weird), that took place on December 10, 2007 at London’s O2 Arena in tribute to Ahmet Ertegun (who fell backstage before the Stones played the Beacon). And man were the levees breakin’. They did 17 songs but not, criminally, “Immigrant Song,” or “Dancing Days.” But they look and sound pretty great, particularly in the Blu-ray (which also comes with a DVD, something else I don’t understand), and two CDs. The sound is really clean and powerful. And Plant does not preen so much so as to make one squirm while watching. All in all, Zep enthusiasts will be thrilled by its total predictability. And congratulations, once again, to 19 year old Danny Goldberg for the fine job he did as the band’s PR rep, in staying out of (real) trouble and growing up to be such an outstanding citizen. It’s called Celebration Day and you can read more about it here.

Another release that will get a lot of people excited under the Hannukah bush this season is the release of Elvis Presley’s only Madison Square Garden shows—and, for some reason, the only time he’d play the city since he appeared on Ed Sullivan in the fifties—recorded in June 1972. Both have been put together in this handsome package from Sony Legacy called Prince From Another Planet: 40th Anniversary Edition. You get two of the four shows he did that weekend, June 9-11, 1972, plus a bonus DVD filled with previously unseen footage of the Saturday afternoon show, captured on hand-held camera by a fan, purchased by Legacy forty years later for this package. The DVD also includes footage from the June 9th press conference, the June 9th evening show, the June 10th afternoon show plus a documentary with interviews with Lenny Kaye, James Burton and Glenn D. Hardin, Joe Guercio, and Jerry Schilling. What’s more, the packaging is excellent—adding vastly to one’s enjoyment of the material—and the price is prettydecent. More here.

The old-timey concert video market is also a rich one this seasons. One of the biggest finds is a show the Doors did at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968, which looks terrific on Blu-ray. This was the band at its peak and Morrison at his most self-loving. Personally, the Doors to me are a greatest hits band, but if they are more than that to you, you will want this peformance for certain. Bonus material includeds Echoes From The Bowl, The Doors route to the Hollywood Bowl, You Had To Be There, memories of The Doors performance at the Bowl, Reworking The Doors, an in-depth look at how the film was restored, and three bonus performances: Wild Child from The Smothers Brothers Show in 1968, Light My Fire from The Jonathan Winters Show in Dec 1967 and a version of Van Morrison's Gloria with specially created visuals.

We’ve also got a nice Patti Smith show live from Montreux in 2005 on Blu-ray in support of the Trampin CD with Lenny Kaye in the band and a combination of songs from that album and the old-timey anthems like Dancing Barefoot, Because The Night and People Have The Power. Nice to have.

Also, if you are my age you will have decidedly mixed feelings, but proabably want to give into the double DVD release of Peter Frampton Fca 35 Tour: An Evening With Peter Frampton, in which he does the entire Frampton Comes Alive album at the Beacon and somwhere in Milwaukee last year. The second disc focuses on tracks from Peter Frampton's more recent albums such as Fingerprints, Now and Thank You Mr. Churchill along with a really fun version of “I Don't Need No Doctor,” sung, I think by his son, and which, you may mistily recall, “rocked” the Fillmore on that great Humble Pie album. The kid’s pretty good. I listened to Alec Baldwin’s podcast interview with Frampton recently and he’s pretty happy (and lucky fellow) and this DVD is a guilty pleasure. (And yes, “Do You Feel Like We Do” remains one of the best songs… ever.) More to some people’s old-farty tastes is the dvd of a full length concert from Gregg Allman and his band at The Cannery, Nashville, USA in November 1988.called "I'm No Angel: Live On Stage" on MVD Entertainment Group. Oh and if you've read this far into this seventies sojourn, you might also enjoy the new cd  release of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Live In California 1974. Recorded live on April 6, 1974, the California Jam took place at the Ontario Motor Speedway, in Ontario, CA. Live In California 1974 is the first official release of a much bootlegged show. So where, finally, one may ask, is the cleaned up official release of the Dead at Barton Hall?

And if you’re looking for a gift for somone who’s hard to buy for, then Oxford's Atlas of the World—updated again, for the 19th edition, is always a good choice, and not nearly as expensive as you’d expect it to be. As in years past, they tell me, “this edition has been revised to reflect the latest geographic information. The popular satellite image section has been refreshed with stunning new images of different regions and urban areas around the world. A completely updated Gazetteer of Nations provides an invaluable A-Z reference source of concise country profiles, including important historical events and statistics on economies and politics. Recent events in Africa and the Middle East—and their profound consequences—are incorporated into various country profiles.” Actually, the price is pretty amazing, here. Hurry up.

As for books, I’ve read three very fine biographies of late: David Nasaw’s book on Joe Kennedy, The Patriarch is really first rate in every way: the research, the writing and the quality of his judgments. The reader on the audio is also pretty great in imitating the voices of the different actors without being annoying. Kennedy is a truly fascinating character in more ways than I care to enumerate. One lesson of this book, however, is that nothing is as powerful in this world as people’s ability to convince themselves that they were right in the first place. Nobody has ever been wronger about anything more important than Kennedy was about appeasing Hitler (to say nothing of his willingness to blame the Jews for ginning up opposition) and yet all he could think about, every time he was proven wrong, was how right he was.

Peter Ames Carlin’s Springsteen book, Bruce, is also wonderful, albeit in a far different way. When I read the galleys this summer I gave Peter this blurb. (Actually, I just checked the Amazon page and they’ve taken it down in favor of Brian Williams and Jon Stewart, so I no longer know what I said. But the book is fascinating and well-written, smart and tough-minded. And of course, the cooperation is unprecedented and the revealations, never-ending).

I was also impressed enough with Sylvie Simmon’s biography of Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, to make it all the way through. Her writing style is engaging if chatty and Cohen’s life is incredibly interesting, if he remains, at least to me, ultimately enigmatic.

I did not make it all the way through Salman Rushdie’s book, not because it was not well-written but just because I got tired of hearing how he felt about everyone and everything. That book should have been half as long as it was.

And while I enjoyed Neil Young’s book, Waging Heavy Peace, which is only sort of about Neil himself because of its charm and good humor, I skipped most of it because he’s interested in a lot of things that I’m not and not interested in writing (much) about the things that I am.

Novel-wise, I really, really liked Jonathan Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go, even though most reviewers didn’t. I shared the rest of the world’s disappointment with Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood, A Novel. I loved some of Jeffrey Eugennides’ The Marriage Plot and hated some of it, but loved more than I hated, much more. And I really, really enjoyed Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue, though not nearly as much as I did Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, which I know is old already, but it’s the best book I’ve read since Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Freedom. I am not nearly as big a fan of the third Jonathan, but that is, of course, just me. Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her was fun but not, as far as I could tell, profound or even that memorable in any way. It was kind of like a Latino Nick Hornby book, which actually, is pretty high praise. Paul Auster’s memoir, Winter Journal, will be of interest to Paul Auster fans, of which I am one, but does not stand too strongly on its own. I still can’t make up my mind about what I thought about Benjamin Anastas, Too Good to Be True: A Memoir. I found it compelling, but so painful to read I could barely continue. (Also a little bit creepy, in its shared intimacy.) Still, I do think all aspiring serious writers should read it, though as well as all aspiring adulterers. But especially writers.

(Oh and by the way, when I say “read,” in many of the cases above, I mean “listened to.” I did audio versions of The Patriarch, the Rushdie memoir, Tropper, Wolfe, Chabon, Eugenides, and Diaz. I recommend all of them, especially Diaz, who read it himself, and who positively inhabits the character. I read part of one of my books once and it’s much harder than it looks, so hats off…) You can find a pretty dependable wrap-up of the readers of many of the above, here.  Turns out Clarke Peters read Telegraph Avenue and the article reminds me that I just loved Hope Davi’s reading of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

Regarding picture books, the standout for me this year was 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story, which is filled with beautifully reproduced photos from the label’s archives that I had never seen before and hence, were kind of thrilling the first time I looked through it. The text is by Sean Wilenz, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It too, is a bargain, as such books go. There are also new coffee table books on the Stones and Led Zepplin. The former is ok, but repetitive with previous efforts and not exactly filled with insights since it’s such an official undertaking; the second one does not rise to that level, alas, and is barely a book at all, since no effort is made even to integrate the interviews that were done for it, oral history-style and most of the people interviewed are people that even pretty serious fans probably never heard of. Nice picture of Danny, though. I hear the John Lennon letters are wonderful, but I’ve not had much of a chance to thumb through. But speaking of the boys, yesterday, I did not quite do justice to how smart and knowledgeable I found Andrew Grant Jackson’s Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of the Beatles.’ It’s really both quite fun and impressive, though he does not hate the songs I hate and I find this a bit unnerving, given how on the ball he is otherwise. Do I really need to rethink “My Love?”

Now here’s Reed:

Nice Work If You Can Get It
by Reed Richardson
Just three weeks on, scholars and analysts are already teasing out the larger lessons of Obama’s reelection. But for all the emerging verdicts we’re starting to see on the stunning accuracy of polling aggregation or the technological advances being made in campaign outreach and persuasion, there is one unmistakable judgment I feel confident that we can render right now, knowing it will stand the test of time and scrutiny of historians for decades to come. That is, conservative pundits simply have the best job in the world.

OK, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. No doubt, there are other jobs out there that pay much better or, say, let you travel around the world for free and cavort with rock stars or beautiful supermodels. But in terms of the American media ecosystem, I literally believe there is no better job to be had than that of a right-wing opinion columnist or TV commentator. Where else can someone continue to have unseemly amounts of money shoveled at them for producing “news analysis” that’s so utterly devoid of accuracy and so patently divorced from reality?

Indeed, the indictment of the right-wing media’s awful 2012 election prognostication is so comprehensive and widespread that it reads like a multi-count charge in a federal racketeering case. A short and sweet version exists as this image, created by the now defunct fake Jennifer Rubin Twitter feed (which was probably a victim of it’s own success, since its dead-on mockery of her slavish devotion to Romney wasn’t immediately recognizable as satire). A longer Tumblr version can be seen here.

Taken one by one, each of these conservative pundits appears to have followed their own individual path to failure. The aforementioned Rubin, for example, was apparently too dazzled with Romney’s campaign to ever bother with predicting his victory; she instead simply presumed it, which is why she was already gaming out his future cabinet in mid-October, only hours after Romnye’s lackluster performance in the 2nd debate. One could say that maybe timing just ain’t her strong suit. But then right after Romney’s defeat, there she was, suddenly complaining about all his campaign’s mistakes, which, as this Media Matters post shows, shamelessly contradicted months of her own fawning columns.

John Podhoretz had a similar, Road to Damascus-like epiphany. Before Election Day, Obama’s campaign was “politically incompetent.” And after? Well, as Jonathan Chait lays bare in this brilliant takedown, Podhoretz’s new conclusion that Obama’s campaign was “a peerless political instrument, a virtual machine” was a “jarring” turnaround. Podhoretz actually responded to Chait this week in a rather blithe and cavalier New York Post column where—besides misspelling “Genghis Khan” just four lines after having spelled it correctly (true Murdochian editorial attention to detail there)—he chalks up his sunny expectations for Romney to “wildly varying polls” (Nate Silver? Never heard of him) and an unctuous, “misplaced idealism” in the American people. (So…now we’re not so exceptional maybe?)

At the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone took a more pseudo-quantitative approach to his terrible prediction. Besides giving Romney Wisconsin, a state he ultimately lost by seven points, Barone focused on the “fundamentals” in his case against Obama’s reelection. His “I was wrong” postmortem, however, explains away his “reasonable” prediction with an excuse as so polished by pundit-speak that it’s almost impenetrable, which is the point, I’d guess: “What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics.” Who knew he’d get all those non-whites to vote, in other words.

And then there was Dick Morris, who, in his inimitable style of getting-every-damn-thing-wrong-all-the-time, wouldn’t settle for predicting a Romney win, he saw a “landslide.” A week after missing the actual outcome by more than 200 electoral votes and nearly 10 percentage points, Morris fessed up that he felt it was his “duty” to tout Romney’s chances, and offered up no apologies whatsoever for being so wrong. Though we probably didn’t need any more proof, his brazen lack of contrition should close the book on how much disregard he holds for the public.

That last point—this detectable sense of “eh, whaddyagunnado?”—is a startlingly common thread weaving throughout almost all of these right-wing pundits’ editorial emanations post-election. Hoping for much in the way of honest self-reflection from conservative pundits is clearly a fool’s errand. But for an ideology that waxes rhapsodically on the supposed merits of rewarding success, individual accountability, and the wisdom of the free market, it is striking that the conservative media elite is populated, with a few rare exceptions, by people who consistently get things wrong, care little that they do, and who pay little, if any, reputational or monetary price for having done so.

To be sure, liberal pundits aren’t without their own faults. No ideology is free from its share of demagogues and bloviators, after all. But it’s also not inaccurate to point out that a substantial amount of what passes as ridiculous, uncritical thinking on the part of liberals is actually perpetrated by pundits-—folks like Joe Klein, Charles Lane, and Maureen Dowd come readily to mind—who aren’t “left-wing” but who are left of the extreme rightward center of gravity of opinion journalism today. And not for nothing, but I challenge anyone to cite a single example of a respected liberal editorialist or commentator who predicted Kerry would beat Bush by more than 100 electoral votes in 2004 or who didn’t acknowledge that the Democrats would lose dozens of House seats in 2010. In other words, the difference between the left and right in terms of rank pundit ineptitude is similar, as comedian Larry Miller once joked, to the difference between throwing a bullet and shooting one.

And as for witnessing any attempts at said accountability of these conservative pundits from their corresponding employers in the media, forget about it. Seemingly, these right-wing pundits enjoy an existence where one can almost never be fired for egregiously trespassing against things like consistent logic or moral decency. Rather than frog- marched out of newsrooms and TV studios across the country for intellectual negligence and analytical malfeasance, Jennifer Rubin, Dick Morris, and their ilk will merely continue on, snug in their sinecures. It’s something of a sorry, ironic twist that right-wing news analysts, commentators, and pundits can feel safe in knowing that they will rarely, if ever, be judged by their one and only work product—their opinions. Instead, it’s only when they make the mistake of violating one of “objective” journalism’s sins that they are in danger of being subjected to any professional scorn or suffer any hiccups in their career.

Thus, someone like RedState co-founder Ben Domenech gets ushered off the Washington Post’s op-ed page almost as soon as he is hired only because of rampant plagiarism in his past work, not because he had just weeks earlier labeled Civil Rights pioneer Coretta Scott King a “communist” in a blog post about her death. It’s also why Eric Erickson, RedState’s current editor-in-chief and Domenech’s kindred spirit in extreme, right- wing invective, still retains his comfortable roost as CNN pundit despite his having once Tweeted that Supreme Court Justice David Souter routinely engaged in pederasty and bestiality. Because, obviously, that kind of insight isn’t nearly as corrosive to CNN’s already sagging journalism brand as him stealing someone else’s sentences.

Recently, author Rick Perlstein dug into the conservative mindset that serves as foundation for and audience to these pundits in a long, insightful essay in The Baffler titled “The Long Con.” In it, he finds a link between the right-wing media’s estranged relationship with the reality and the constant barrage of fraudulent, get-rich-quick schemes and chimerical miracle cures that saturate right-wing media advertising.

This stuff is as important to understanding the conservative ascendancy as are the internecine organizational and ideological struggles that make up its official history—if not, indeed, more so. The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.

These conservative pundits lack even the one redeeming quality of real “money” con-artists, however, since the latter at least respect their marks enough to pack up and leave town once their grift is exposed as a lie. Conservative pundits, as the last few weeks have yet again shown, possess no similar decency. Indeed, the propensity with which they’ve shrugged off defeat and lapsed right back into spouting the same old talking points, veiled racist remarks, and conspiracy theories is akin to boldly soliciting deposits for the next voyage of the Titanic even as the icy waters of the Atlantic rise past the passenger’s ankles.

And why shouldn’t they? They know that even if they were somehow forced to leave the cozy confines of a mainstream media outlet like a Washington Post or a CNN, there’s always a lifeboat waiting for them at a Fox News or a conservative thinktank. (For example, young Domenech, after his fall from grace, could soon be found writing columns for the conservative, Moonie-owned Washington Times and was subsequently hired as an editor for the climate denialist Heartland Institute.)

That right-wing media elites choose to hermetically seal themselves off in their own alternate reality isn’t a victimless crime for our society, however. Over time, this disconnect poisons our discourse and affects even supposedly straightforward news coverage, as objective journalists struggle to position their reporting exactly in the middle of the ideological spectrum. (It’s also why, as I argued here just before the election, many in the mainstream media were likewise blind to Obama’s impending victory as well as his healthy margin.)

On the eve of the election, Jon Stewart produced a bit on The Daily Show that, as usual, struck at the heart of the conservative media’s disingenuousness more honestly than almost any media critic could (or would). In it, he parsed—what else?—a Fox News clip of none other than Dick Morris saying he and other conservative pundits would face a “big reckoning” if their bold election predictions proved to be as astoundingly wrong as they turned out to be. Stewart, of course, flayed the notion that someone like Morris will ever have to feel real consequences for the editorial malpractice that he and his ideological helpmates inflict on the public.

STEWART: No. You won't and they won't. Nobody will. Because you're pundits. You live in a reckoning free zone. One thing we learned is that punditry is like musical chairs. The only difference is, in punditry, when the music stops, nobody ever loses their f**king chair. They just keep adding more chairs.

And speaking of “adding more chairs,” it’s worth noting that, this week, Cox Media Group just announced it will be launching a new conservative website. Touting its editorial focus as “independent, anti-propaganda and rooted in the South,” the new entity’s job description for editor-in-chief seeks someone with an “established personal brand” that can “establish a strong ideological narrative and lead the editorial team to find stories that mirror or magnify it.” Seems like they’ve already got a firm handle on what conservative punditry is all about these days. Who could ask for anything more?

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

Also, I’m doing the Twitter thing now—(at) reedfrich.

The Mail:
Asher Fried
New York, NY

Reed:

Remember “Move’On.Org’s “Betrayus” b/s? Anyway Mike Barnicle had a very good observation: there is a disconnect between the “brass” who have been idolized and the soldiers risking their lives at great personal sacrifice. I think we have to put some blame on the media who can’t resist the reality show aspect and the hero worship Further you cannot underestimate the deterioration of actual news coverage, in favor of “punditry” etc. No doubt cost is a factor [to have camera crews and reporters on the ground in the war zones actually covering events has to cost more than 5 bozos in a room drinking coffee]. The day to day coverage is not as entertaining; “ratings, ratings, ratings.” Yet this on-the-ground coverage educated Americans about Vietnam enough to end that war. The real tragedy of the Petraeus affair is that the war, the countries involved, the lives of the soldiers, is wholly ignored.

Henry St. Maurice
Columbus, WI

Reed,

In your article on generals with aspirations toward the presidency, you omitted Wesley Clark. See Matt Taibbi’s 2003 Nation article.

Reed replies: Mea Culpa, Henry. Can’t believe I forgot about Clark, who, as Taibbi found out, was a dreadful candidate. But mostly I’m mad I left him out because he too demonstrated some of the same willingness that Petraeus shows in dismissing/ignoring most everyone else’s judgment—including his chain of command and civilian bosses. Even in defense of Clark’s arrogant behavior back in 2003, Fred Kaplan at Slate offered  up this fairly damning explanation of why he was unceremoniously removed from his job at SACEUR in 1999:

The reasons for his dismissal seem clear: Clark had pushed a [Kosovo] policy that [Defense Secretary William] Cohen and the chiefs had opposed (and, even after the war, continued to oppose); he went around them in his advocacy; he was too close, for the chiefs' taste, to Clinton (in signing Clark's release papers, Clinton was led to believe the move was a normal succession, not a dismissal); and, toward the end of the war, he pushed for a ground-invasion option that none of the Pentagon's top officials supported in the slightest.

Don Schneier
Northampton, MA

Eric,
I agree that, for the most part, stripped of Morrison's histrionics, the Doors, live, were only a little Krieger- or Manzarek-virtuosity removed from a greatest-hits band. One exception–a show at the Fillmore East, in April 1968, included a short film that accompanied the performance of Unknown Soldier. The powerful effect afforded a brief glimpse of what they might have been like if Morrison had put his passion to other than self-indulgent purposes. Perhaps the Hollywood Bowl show was equally transcendent.

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