My new “Think Again” column is called “The Mainstream Media Is Gobbling Up Conservative Crazies” and it’s here.

And I did a short piece for Columbia Journalism Review on Arthur Krock and Joe Kennedy. It’s called “The journalist and the politician.”

Among the deeply annoying things the story about that insanely large cash prize won by Leon Wieseltier is that I was asked to audition for the same Sopranos role. Neither of us got it—they used one of their own writers—but Leon got that great cameo, instead (at which, by the way, he sucked, sorry to say. Two lines and they were weak as hell). I’m pro-Leon, however, as a writer, which is unusual among people I know who don’t also write for him (or sign their names to his prose). (Oh and, stay classy, Marty.)

Ronnie Dworkin, Rest in Peace.

Back to the Middle East, here’s Gershom Gorenberg on Judith Butler and speaking at Brooklyn College on BDS.

And here is an article about Hamas’s human rights record in Gaza. I’m happy to hold Israel to as high a standard of respect for human rights as possible. But how weird is it that so few people on the left, especially people who call themselves feminists like say Ms. Butler and The Nation’s Phyllis Bennis do not appear at all interested in the oppression of women (or men, for that matter) by these pro-terrorist, pro-torture, anti-women, anti-Jew, anti-gay, anti-human rights, anti-religious freedom extremist Islamic radicals. Read the article below, by the Inter Press Service and see if you disagree that leftists and liberals (especially feminist liberals and leftists), and people devoted to human rights and freedom of expression might have a few reasons for concern here.

(Oh, and this article does not even address the “Arbitrary Arrests, Torture, Unfair Trials “ described in this 43 page  report by Human Rights Watch, “Abusive System: Criminal Justice in Gaza,” which documents “extensive violations by Hamas security services, including warrantless arrests, failure to inform families promptly of detainees’ whereabouts, and subjecting detainees to torture. It also documents violations of detainees’ rights by prosecutors and courts. Military courts frequently try civilians, in violation of international law. Prosecutors often deny detainees access to a lawyer, and courts have failed to uphold detainees’ due process rights in cases of warrantless arrest and abusive interrogations, Human Rights Watch found.”)

Okay, back to the women …

“Gaza is becoming increasingly radicalised as Hamas continues its crackdown on civil liberties, press freedom and the rights of women. In the last few weeks a number of journalists have been arrested and accused of being involved in 'suspicious activities,' several detainees shot dead by police during arrest attempts, and female students asked to abide by a strict Islamic dress code.

“Hamas is on a gradual track of the Islamization of Gazan society, which goes against their early promises,” Dr. Samir Awad from Birzeit University near Ramallah tells IPS. “Most people in Gaza, even the most conservative, oppose this. Gazans are already very conservative and they don’t need Hamas dictating their religion to them.”

Women have borne the brunt of the crackdown. Gaza’s Al Aqsa University has announced that female students will be required to wear full traditional Muslim garb, from head to toe.

Some female students have expressed outrage, claiming that the new demands are in violation of their public freedom. They say that already female students are modestly dressed but that some prefer wearing pants and a long overcoat rather than a burka, abaya or hijab.

In the past, Hamas has banned women from riding on the backs of motorbikes, from smoking water pipes, and men from working in female hair salons—saying such practices were immodest. Not all bans, however, have been imposed uniformly.

“Hamas has also banned mixed parties and mixed activities as well as enforcing other restrictions on women but not on men. Gaza’s entire seashore has practically been confiscated by Hamas as if it is their private property and they decide who can access the area and when,” Awad tells IPS.

The dress code decision has also further undermined the latest unity efforts between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA)-affiliated Fatah movement.

PA Minister for Higher Education Ali Jarbawi stresses that Hamas’s decision is illegal and cannot be implemented. He wrote an official letter to Al Aqsa’s president stating the illegality of the move which he said also violated Palestinian government decisions.

Dr. Faiq al-Naouk, advisor for managerial affairs at Al-Aqsa University responded saying that the controversial decision would be implemented only gradually as an act of “goodwill” before it becomes mandatory.

“Hamas’s increasing radicalization is one of the sticking points for Fatah and Hamas being able to form a unity government,” says Awad.

Hamas has cracked down on other civil liberties too in the past few weeks. New Star, the annual Palestinian version of American Idol, was recently banned by the Islamist group on the grounds that it was “indecent” and violated conservative interpretations of Islam.

Producer Alaa Al Abed lashed out at the decision, of which he was only informed at the last moment, saying the ban prevented Gaza’s twelve contestants from competing in the second round of the competition.

“This is more serious than Hamas just killing fun in Gaza—they are limiting the freedoms of the people, according to their whims,” al-Abed says.

Teenage girls and women can only rarely be seen singing in public, but men are encouraged to sing, without musical instruments, about the glory of Islam and fighting Israel.

Journalists are also facing censure. Hamas has carried out a wave of arrests of Palestinian journalists in the coastal territory, accusing them of being involved in “suspicious activities.” Palestinian human rights groups say internal security services in the Gaza Strip have stepped up harassment of journalists in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) distributed a list of media workers it said had been arrested, and condemned the seemingly coordinated campaign, which Hamas officials deny.

Hamas interior ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan says his ministry guarantees freedom of the press, and says recent detainees were charged with recognisable offenses. He says they had admitted to charges that they “threatened the security of the community.”

The ministry added that “those persons are not journalists at all. Even those who work as journalists use this field as a cover to carry out suspicious acts.” The Palestinian media freedoms watchdog Mada issued a statement claiming abuse of those detained as well as confiscation of property and searches.

Gaza’s Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights has expressed concern over the repeated use of lethal and excessive force by Hamas police following the death of several individuals during attempts to arrest them.

The organisation called on the Hamas authorities to use reasonable force to arrest people suspected of breaking the law, and further called for investigation into the conduct of the police officers involved.

“Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty,” says Mezan.

Alter-reviews: Southside Johnny, Richard Thompson and George Saunders:
So last week, in celebration of their new CD, Songs From the Barn, I caught Alterman doppelganger Southside Johnny with his newish band the Poor Fools at City Winery. They were joined by G.E Smith, who will have to continue to atone for his gig as the band leader at Mitt Romney’s Republican convention, but who added a great deal to the band. The appealing thing about the Poor Fools is how loose a band they are. People double and triple on different instruments, occasionally during the same song. They mix up old blues, soul and country songs together with classic Southside, though—interestingly—none of the latter appeared until the very end of the show. Most of it was classics, sometimes obscure classics, like “Something You Got,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Stand by Me,” and “You Are So Down Home Girl.” The SSJAJ songs included “Trapped Again,” “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” “Fever”  and I forget what else. The rest was from the new album recorded in a converted barn by Jon Bon Jovi.  

Oh and I met the famed Kid Leo for the first time at the show. I believe I was not the first person ever to say to him: "Round for round, pound for pound, there ain’t no finer band around. Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band" live… in the past thirty-five years.

I saw Richard Thompson at Joe’s Pub last week, too. Joe’s is a sufficiently intimate venue so that you can actually watch Thompson’s fingers move up and down the guitar neck. It’s an amazing sight. I’ve been taking electric guitar lessons lately, though I still can’t play a barre chord—and I just could not believe what Thompson can do with that thing. It’s like watching Sonny Rollins on sax, but if you have an idea of how hard it is, it adds to the experience. Anyway, he had an amazing drummer with him and a perfectly decent bassist and handled the obnoxious drunken Wall Street guys (I’m guessing) in the club with considerable aplomb.

Most of the show was stuff from Thompson’s new cd, which is called “Electric,” and for which I am still waiting, but it sounds like all the rest of Richard Thompson, which means it’s smart and funny and musically interesting. (I can’t really tell much about a song when I hear for the first time live.) There’s a double-disc version of for sale too. I’m sure that’s even better and if you buy it and disagree, well, you can write it all down in a tear-stained letter.

Finally, I had never read George Saunders before all the mishigas of late about how he’s America’s greatest writer etc. Is he? I can’t say. Well, actually, no. But he’s awfully good. And he reads his own work wonderfully, which you can hear if you listen to the Tenth of December: Stories, something I unreservedly recommend.

Now here’s Reed:

How the Media Skews its State-of-the-Union Response Coverage
by Reed Richardson

To give you a sense of how ridiculous the media’s coverage of the State-of-the-Union response is right now, I offer up a short quiz. From the statements below, I challenge you to figure out which one was uttered by Sen. Marco Rubio during the official Republican response, and which one was said by Sen. Rand Paul, who gave the “Tea Party Express” response:

On American Exceptionalism…

GOP A: America is exceptional because we believe that every life, at every stage, is precious, and that everyone everywhere has a God-given right to go as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

GOP B: People say America is exceptional. I agree, but it’s not the complexion of our skin or the twists in our DNA that make us unique. America is exceptional because we were founded upon the notion that everyone should be free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

On “more government”…

GOP A: More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back. More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them.

GOP B: President Obama believes government is the solution: More government, more taxes, more debt.

On trillion-dollar deficits…

GOP A: The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year.

GOP B: All that we are, all that we wish to be is now threatened by the notion that you can have something for nothing, that you can have your cake and eat it too, that you can spend a trillion dollars every year that you don’t have.

On government hurting not helping…

GOP A: [B]ecause many government programs that claim to help the middle class, often end up hurting them instead.

GOP B: Big government makes it more expensive to put food on the table. Big government is not your friend. The President offers you free stuff but his policies keep you poor.

On balanced budgets…

GOP A: What the country really needs is a balanced budget.

GOP B: That’s why we need a balanced budget amendment.

On immigration reform…

GOP A: We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future.

GOP B: We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest.

On school choice…

GOP A: Let the taxes you pay for education follow each and every student to the school of your choice.

GOP A: We need to give all parents, especially the parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice.

On gun control…

GOP A: We are the party that adheres to the Constitution. We will not let the liberals tread on the Second Amendment!

GOP B: We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it.

If you guessed Rubio was GOP A and Paul was GOP B, well, you were only half right. For the first four questions, that was the case, but for the last four, I switched the order. If you were able to discern the razor-thin variations in conservative thinking on all eight questions, congratulations, Glenn Beck has some lakefront property in his $2 billion libertarian fantasy camp he’d like to sell you. But for most people the themes echoed over and over in these two speeches were practically interchangeable.

Now, the main point of this exercise wasn’t to just to highlight the striking rhetorical similarities between Rubio, the GOP’s currently anointed golden boy, and Paul, someone more recognized as having extreme right-wing views. Fortunately, some in the media are finally catching on to the fact that Rubio’s personal charm and reliably smooth delivery (OK, it’s not that reliable) masks a consistently hard-right voting record, a record that demolishes the idea that he’s a middle-of-the-road conservative, let alone a moderate. (And as this VoteView polarization ranking shows, Rubio and Paul closely caucus together on nearly every issue.)

As a result, an absurd phenomenon occurred Tuesday night. After President Obama finished his State of the Union address, the media effectively allowed the Republican Party to double-dip its response, offering up two supposedly separate critiques of the president that contained almost exactly the same tired canards and vague platitudes. For a movement that only garnered eight-percent support among the American people in a recent poll—roughly the same amount that have reported seeing a UFO—the Tea Party unquestionably enjoyed an outsize presence in the post-SOTU media wrap-up.

True, Paul’s “Tea Party” response, wasn’t carried live by any of the broadcast and cable TV networks, like it was in years past, a welcome reflection of the movement’s severely diminished popularity. However, there was still a network pool coverage camera present, so the media could later build separate stories around the video outtakes of Paul’s speech. And indeed, many news organizations did just that, treating the Rubio and Paul speeches as independent events from separate entities, even though Paul referenced the GOP as “we/our party” seven times in his speech, while Rubio only spoke of his party four times.

To quibble about allowing Republicans a second, even smaller 13-minute-long bite of the post-SOTU news apple can seem petty when the president just got more than an hour of wall-to-wall TV news attention. I don’t begrudge them their First Amendment right; I’m all for a vibrant marketplace of ideas. Still, to the victors go the spoils. When Republicans start winning presidential elections again then they can enjoy the longer, louder megaphone our media confers on this event. That they don’t get equal time is not anyone’s fault but their own. But when the media allows the GOP to masquerade the same talking points under the banner of multiple conservative arguments, they’ve allowed Republicans to effective gamed the system and compromise their news judgment.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Washington press corps’ total disinterest in mining any SOTU responses from the left. Sure, the number of progressive Democrats who would be willing to go on the record critiquing Obama’s speech is probably small, but if a viewpoint with eight-percent support can merit a whole separate speech/news story, then surely the media could find the time to quote some liberals who objected to his gradual timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan or who were highly suspicious of the president’s drone policy claims or who were “upset” at the notable omission of labor unions from his speech.

In fact, all three of the above serious policy critiques from progressives were there ripe for the media’s picking, and yet none of these were given any near the same amount of oxygen as the Tea Party’s warmed-over response received. Among the establishment media, there exists little appetite for broadening the policy discussion window further to the left. (Similarly, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s sensible, practical, pro-growth plan to replace the sequester has been similarly ignored by the Beltway media in recent weeks.) But if the press is really interested in fostering a fair and lively debate, it can’t afford to think of the left as synonymous with Obama while treating the right’s opposition as multi-faceted and worthy of excessive attention. To do that is for the media to fail the test of our democracy.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. Also, I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.