Washington, DC

In his March 6 “Liberal Media” column, titled “The Gasbag Gap,” which discusses the Sunday-morning public affairs broadcasts, Eric Alterman writes that “every week” on This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Mr. Stephanopoulos seeks the wisdom of George Will and Fareed Zakaria “with no balance whatsoever.” By that, he means no liberal or progressive voice. Had Alterman done some basic research, he would have seen how false that statement was.

It is true that Will appears almost every week and Zakaria has been on more than fifteen times in the past year (though not every week). Both provide keen insight for our viewers. However, it is not true, as Alterman suggests, that Sam Donaldson no longer appears on the roundtable. In fact, he appeared eleven times over the past year. Alterman also fails to note, perhaps because he failed to check, that the following liberals and progressives have also appeared on the roundtable over the past year: E.J. Dionne (four times), Robert Reich (two times), Donna Brazile (six times), Kweise Mfume (two times), Mario Cuomo, Paul Begala, Paul Krugman, Howell Raines, Cynthia Tucker, Walter Dellinger, and last–but certainly not least–Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel (three times).

KATHERINE O’HEARN Executive Producer, This Week With George Stephanopoulos


New York City

“Basic research” or no, Katherine O’Hearn’s critique strikes me as a kind of bait-and-switch operation. I never said liberals are unrepresented on This Week. I said, based on the careful research of Media Matters for America, that they are consistently overmatched. And they are. The study, which offered an extremely generous definition of “progressive,” found that during Clinton’s second term, Republicans and conservatives outmatched Democrats and progressives on the show by a margin of 45 percent to 39 percent. During the first Bush term, the figures were 40 percent Republican/conservative and just 28 percent Democratic/liberal. With progressive journalists, as opposed to officials, the figures are more heavily weighted toward the right; 54 to 33 during the second Clinton term and 36 to 17 during the first Bush term (with the rest coded as “neutral,” again extremely generously).

That O’Hearn can name a few progressives who have appeared with Will in no way contradicts anything I wrote; nor do the few appearances of liberal journalists like E.J. Dionne (who, I noted, was the only exception in the study) and my boss, Katrina vanden Heuvel. Will’s appearances probably number in the four figures over the past twenty years, and he is frequently offered the last word or one-on-one interviews with public figures. If we round down that estimate to 800 for argument’s sake, is ABC News asking us to believe that Will is 400 times as perspicacious as E.J., or 800 times as thoughtful as Krugman? Obviously not. But it is saying that it is wholly comfortable inviting a right-wing pundit to be a central player, and equally forceful liberals need not apply. (If O’Hearn is going to count appearances by liberals who came after the study concluded and after my column appeared, I guess we’re going to have to throw in yet another powwow with “Mr. Straight Talk,” John McCain, occurring as I write this.)

Moreover, This Week has a rather expansive definition of “liberal.” For instance, even with Donaldson and (the then-liberal) Stephanopoulos as regulars, I recall no unapologetic defenses of Clinton during the impeachment debacle, nor any full-throated critics of Ken Starr, even though a majority of Americans supported the President and pronounced themselves appalled at Starr’s behavior. For that matter, I’m having a little trouble remembering many opponents of Bush’s war. But I’m a liberal, so what do I know?



Colorado Springs

James Dobson is hardly a close ally of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, despite the insinuations Max Blumenthal lays on Nation readers [“Abramoff’s Evangelical Soldiers,” Feb. 20]. Abramoff’s personal e-mails have led some people to believe that Dobson helped him defeat a tribal casino in Louisiana, but it’s an empty boast–like a rooster taking credit for the sunrise. Dobson didn’t do anyone’s bidding.

The fact is, gambling has been mentioned as a destructive force to families roughly 200 times on Focus on the Family radio broadcasts during the organization’s twenty-nine-year history. So when we took action against Louisiana gambling expansion in 2002, it was a continuation of a long-established pattern. We used our own money, and Dobson had no contact with Abramoff and no knowledge of his activities.

Focus on the Family is getting mentioned in the sad Abramoff story only because we quite coincidentally fought the same casino at the same time. Dobson needs no one’s pressure to oppose gambling in all its forms, because he’s motivated by only one thing: the desire to safeguard families from the crime, bankruptcy, corruption and divorce that proliferate whenever a casino comes to town. We did it because gambling destroys families. Why, or how, Jack Abramoff did it is a story we have no connection to.

Focus on the Family


Washington, DC

Tom Minnery omits any mention of the man who prompted and coordinated Focus’s involvement in Abramoff’s schemes–Ralph Reed, Abramoff’s go-between with Dobson and the Christian right, whom he then rewarded with $4 million in casino money. As documented in the e-mail exchanges among Reed, Abramoff and Abramoff’s business partner, Michael Scanlon–subpoenaed by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs–they delighted in manipulating Dobson like a puppet on a string.

In February 2002, when Abramoff learned that the Jena Choctaws, a tribal competitor to one of his casino clients, had contracted the lobbying services of DC super-lawyer and current Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Reed asked Dobson to attack Barbour on his radio show. In a February 6, 2002, e-mail Abramoff tells Reed, “Let me know when Dobson hits him [Barbour]. I want to savor it.” That same day, in an e-mail titled “Ralph and Dobson,” Abramoff tells Scanlon that Reed “got to Dobson who is going to…get on the radio!” On February 19 Reed got a direct request from Abramoff. “Can we get Dobson on the air?” Reed responded that day in an e-mail, “yes. We’re negotiating that now.” In an e-mail later that day, Reed told Abramoff, “called Dobson this a.m.”

The next day Abramoff wrote to Scanlon: Reed “wants a budget for radio in the state. I’m inclined to say yes, so we can get this Dobson ad up. He asked for $150K. We’ll play it in WH [the White House] and Interior.” Later that day Abramoff was jubilant. Reed “may have finally scored for us!” he wrote to Scanlon. “Dobson goes up on the radio next week.” On February 26 Abramoff asked Reed, “where are we with Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, etc.? we need to see some action in D.C. That’s what I sold them for $100K.” Doesn’t James Dobson know that lies make baby Jesus cry?



Springfield, Mo.

In “Can Justice Be Trusted?” [Feb. 20], on the Abramoff/Guam story, Ari Berman mentions Howard Hills, the Abramoff conduit for Guam lobbying funds paid in $9,000 increments. Hills’s irregular practice of law is well known to the islands. Just ask the people of Rongelap, who were exposed to US nuclear tests in the Marshalls. As a State Department lawyer, Hills led the move to dismiss their cases in the US Court of Claims. Then he offered the people of Rongelap his services as a “connected Republican lobbyist and political strategist” to restore their claims and get Congressional funding. Oh, but for a fee of more than $300,000 a year. This is not representation, this is a shakedown, like closing casinos and then offering help to reopen them–for a fee. Varmints like Hills should be exposed and brought to justice.



La Jolla, Calif.

Richard Falk’s “Storm Clouds Over Iran” [Feb.13], on the dangers associated with a US aerial attack on Iran, omits the crucial fact that such an attack is likely to include the use of tactical nuclear weapons. New US nuclear weapons policies have “integrated” nuclear weapons with conventional weapons and envision their use against underground facilities and to pre-empt enemy attack with WMD. The drafters of these policies occupy the upper echelons of the current Administration.

The B61-11 nuclear earth penetrator entered the US stockpile in late 2001. It can be launched from F-16 aircraft and causes twenty to 200 times less “collateral damage” than surface explosion. At low yield in desolated areas like the Natanz enrichment plant, it would cause few casualties and achieve US goals. The US “negative security assurance” of 1995 promising not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries explicitly excludes countries declared in “noncompliance” with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as Iran was in September 2005. Pentagon documents emphasize that “no customary or conventional international law prohibits nations from employing nuclear weapons in armed conflict.”

The President has sole authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. Under Article I, Section 8, Clause 14 of the Constitution, Congress could restrict this authority by legislating that its authorization is needed for the use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries. Such use of nuclear weapons will set off a dangerous chain reaction, leading to many more countries acquiring nuclear weapons and heightening the risk of global nuclear war. This path should not be entered on the decision of the President alone. Congress is derelict in its responsibilities if it doesn’t address this issue while there is still time.



Louisville, Ky.

Victor Navasky’s obituary for The New Leader [“In Fact…,” Feb. 13] contained an interesting comment: “Arguably it has been drifting rightward…even dined at the CIA trough,” which stirred me to defend progressive groups that received CIA funds during the cold war. Accepting occasional support from the CIA in the 1950s might very well have been a mark of honor and distinction for a leftist journal like The New Leader.

The CIA was created in 1947 by Congress to fight the cold war using covert and clandestine methods. Despite its many failures, the agency was always on “our side.” We may have had “rogue” Presidents who used the CIA for rogue purposes, but we never had a rogue CIA. In fact, The New Leader‘s founder, the Socialist Party’s Norman Thomas, was involved with a group that supported elected Latin American leftist governments, like the one that briefly ruled in the Dominican Republic, 1962-63. This group was later revealed to have received funds from CIA cash conduits. That fact does not imply that Thomas had moved “rightward,” only that the US government–in this case, that of John Kennedy–wanted a means of quickly and quietly helping the reformist government of Juan Bosch without having to go through Congress.

As a young graduate student, I was involved with the programs of this group–which ran IDES (the Institute for Economic and Social Development) in the Dominican Republic, and CIA funding was vital. (Unfortunately, the Bosch administration was overthrown by a coup in mid-1963). The CIA, with all its warts, was always on our side in the cold war. I’m not certain I could say the same for The Nation.