John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.
Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald’s documentary, “Outfoxed,” and in the documentaries Joan Sekler’s “Unprecedented,” Matt Kohn’s “Call It Democracy” and Robert Pappas’s “Orwell Rolls in his Grave.” The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.
Nichols is the author of The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press); and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: “At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift–a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history–that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country.”
With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books It’s the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories), Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press), The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and, most recently, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation’s media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.
Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest.” (Photo by Robin Holland / Bill Moyers Journal)
A year ago this spring, I spent several days in Minnesota trailing US Sen. Paul Wellstone as he campaigned for a third term. Wellstone, the most progressive Democrat in the Senate, was battling against a full-scale assault from the Bush White House and its chosen candidate, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
Coleman, a Democrat-turned-Republican, liberal-turned-conservative, activist-turned-insider, had a reputation as one of the most egregious political hustlers the state had ever seen. There were plenty of sordid tales to be told about the man White House political czar Karl Rove was packaging as the candidate of conservative principles, patriotism and traditional family values. Garrison Keillor, the host of "A Prairie Home Companion," referred to Coleman as "this cheap fraud" and, echoing the sentiments of a lot of in-the-know Minnesotans, said of Coleman's political ascension: "To accept it and grin and shake the son of a bitch's hand is to ignore what cannot be ignored if you want your grandchildren to grow up in a country like the one that nurtured and inspired you."
I asked Wellstone whether he thought that, considering Coleman's high sleaze factor, this intense Senate race might eventually focus on the personal and political foibles of the Republican nominee. "I won't let that happen," Wellstone said, with the warm drawl that his voice took on after a long day of campaigning. "Norm Coleman and I disagree enough on the issues. And I disagree with the Bush White House on the issues. I wouldn't want to win a race that focused on Norm's personality or his style. That's not right. Minnesota deserves better."
Ever since US forces marched into Iraq, conservatives in Congress and their media stenographers have been at war with Americans who fail to read from the Bush Administration's political script.
US Sen Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, was ranting the other day about charging former MSNBC correspondent Peter Arnett with "treason," after the always controversial journalist gave a ill-conceived yet thoroughly inconsequential interview to Iraqi television. Then, last Friday, 104 Republican members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter demanding that Columbia University fire an assistant professor of anthropology whose extreme -- if not extremely significant -- statements against the US war had made him a favorite target of the New York Post's patriotism police.
Members of Congress, who should be performing their constitutionally-mandated advice and consent duties with regard to the war and its aftermath, are instead asking: "Would you like a witchhunt with those Freedom Fries?" By and large, the Republican torch bearers get points from their constituents and are written off as yahoos by everyone else. But there is a political point to this demonization of dissent and discourse. And it has been evident in the attempts to discredit US Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who has emerged as something of a frontrunner in the race for his party's 2004 presidential nomination.
Americans who have tried to get the Bush Administration to listen to their concerns regarding war with Iraq will sympathize with the millions of British citizens who have expressed anger at Prime Minister Tony Blair's willingness to bend to the foreign policy whims of George W. Bush's White House. At times, Blair and his aides are so pliant that they appear no more conscious or competent than members of the US Congress.
But fair is fair. Now that Blair's crew has gone along with the Bush Administration's war with Iraq, it is only reasonable that the American president and his aides accept the wisdom of the British with regards to the expansion of the war.
After Donald Rumsfeld, started ranting about Syria last week, international analysts -- along with astute domestic observers of the Bush team -- began to worry about whether this administration is already looking for another war to fight. That's an understandable concern, as the president himself has identified Iran and North Korea as members with Iraq of an "axis of evil." With the administration's neo-conservative gurus preaching a mantra of global governance that would have the US invading countries on a regular basis, it doesn't require much of a stretch of the imagination to foresee an ever widening war in the Middle East -- and beyond.
In the old Soviet bloc states, the official line of the ruling elites did not always come from the government itself. Often it was delivered by journalists who would amplify the party line with "independent" analysis and comment.
Thus, while officials dealt in vapid generalities about programs for the people, the opinion "commissars" would offer rigid defenses of the party line and demonize those who expressed even the slightest doubts.
Washington in 2003 is certainly different from Bucharest in 1953. But Americans seeking to get a flavor of the old inside-outside strategy of matching official "tolerance" for dialogue with semi-official ranting about the dangers of dissent need look no further than William Kristol's recent appearances on the Fox News Channel programs.
Well, we can rest assured that the Academy Awards voting is not rigged.
Going into Sunday night's Oscars' ceremony, it was a safe bet that, if the people who run the movie-industry's annual prize patrol had their druthers, antiwar filmmaker Michael Moore would not have gotten anywhere near a microphone. Moore, who wore a badge reading "Shoot Movies, Not Iraqis," when he accepted an Independent Spirit Award the night before, had promised that if he won an Oscar he would use his acceptance speech to make an issue of Bush's war. With right-wing talk radio hosts and members of the Congressional Yahoo Caucus already ranting and roaring about unpatriotic celebrities, the pressure was on to avoid controversy.
But, to a greater extent than just about anyone in Hollywood, Moore embraces controversy. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters who decided the winner of the best documentary feature competition embraced Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," a hilarious and haunting examination of gun violence, poverty and the media in America. The Academy voters gave the rabble-rousing filmmaker, author and activist an Oscar for his documentary -- as well as an opportunity to deliver 45 seconds of "message" to the world.
"In all good conscience, I cannot and will not vote for a resolution that supports and endorses a failed policy that led us to war," declared US Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, as he explained why he could not join most members of Congress in backing what Republican leaders on the House of Representatives cynically described as a simple "support our troops" resolution.
The resolution, which passed the House by an overwhelming margin Friday morning, did express support for soldiers who have been ordered into combat in Iraq, and for the families of young men and women who wear the uniform of the United States in a time of war. But those sentiments came wrapped in a highly partisan expression of "unequivocal support . . . for [President Bush's] firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq." After a failed attempt by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to extract the more extreme cheerleading language â€“ perhaps by paralleling the more reasoned wording of the resolution that passed the Senate 99-1 on Thursday â€“ the measure passed the House by a vote of 392-11, with 22 members voting "present."
Many of the House Democrats and Republicans who opposed the October "use of force" resolution that the administration used as justification for launching the war expressed discomfort with Friday's "unequivocal support" statement. But most, including Pelosi, backed it.
In the last note that 23-year-old American college student Rachel Corrie wrote to her father from a Palestinian community on the Gaza Strip, she thanked Craig Corrie for stepping up his antiwar activism in the United States and urged him to continue speaking out against a US-led attack on Iraq. Four days later, on March 16, Rachel was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian physician's home. Even as he and Rachel's mother mourned the death of their daughter, they carried out her wish Wednesday on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC.
With three Democratic members of Congress from Rachel Corrie's homestate of Washington -- Jim McDermott and Brian Baird, who voted against the October resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and Adam Smith, who voted for it -- standing behind them, Craig and Cynthia Corrie read a statement that poignantly added their daughter's voice to the chorus of corncern regarding the Bush Administration's launch of a preemptive war with Iraq.
"We are speaking out today because of Rachel's fears about the impact of a war with Iraq on the people in the Occupied Territories. She reported to us that her Palestinian friends were afraid that with all eyes on Iraq, the Israeli Defense Forces would escalate activity in the Occupied Territories. Rachel wanted to be in Gaza if that happened," explained Cynthia Corrie. "In the last six weeks, Rachel became our eyes and ears for Rafah, a city at the southern tip of Gaza. Now that she's no longer there, we are asking members of Congress and, truly, all the world to watch and listen."
It appears that George W. Bush will get his war. But it will be a war begun in failure. Even as Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders in the United States dutifully signed up with promises of support or silence regarding a war many of them know to be unnecessary, the blunt reality is that this American president has failed to convince the world of the need for a war with Iraq.
The president's dramatic defeat in the court of international public opinion was acknowledged Monday, when the administration abandoned its doomed effort to win a go-ahead from the United Nations Security Council for warmaking.
That rejection of diplomacy was met with a diplomatic response from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who telegraphed his frustration with a read-between-the-lines statement to the effect that, "If the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished." Others were not so gentle in their assessment.
No one has made life on the campaign trail more difficult for several of the frontrunning candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination than US Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Last October, Harkin joined Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt in voting for the resolution that authorized President Bush to take military action against Iraq. But, last week, Harkin admitted that he has been wrong to believe the Bush Administration was serious about exploring diplomatic alternatives to war.
If Congress were to vote again, Harkin said, he would oppose the resolution. "I'm not going to be fooled twice," the Iowan told hometown media in Des Moines. "As I look back it sure looks like the administration was never serious about resolving the situation peacefully," said Harkin, who complained that Bush has acted "like the cowboy who rode out of Texas, all guns blazing."