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John Nichols

Washington Correspondent

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)

  • Science and Health May 30, 2002

    Stephen Jay Gould

    When the Kansas Board of Education voted in 1999 to remove the teaching of evolution from the state's science curriculum, most thinking Americans groaned about the growing influence of the antirational religious right. But Stephen Jay Gould, the nation's most prominent evolutionary biologist, refused to write off Kansas--or reason. He hopped a plane for the Midwest and delivered a series of speeches in which he declared, "To teach biology without evolution is like teaching English without grammar."

    With its decision, Gould argued, "the board transported its jurisdiction to a never-never land where a Dorothy of the new millennium might exclaim, 'They still call it Kansas, but I don't think we're in the real world anymore.'" The reference to The Wizard of Oz took Gould from behind the lectern and into the thick of the public debate. That was where Gould, who died May 20 at age 60, was at his best. A paleontologist who studied the land snails of Bermuda, and a historian of science whose last book was a 1,400-page dissection of Darwinism and the evolution of evolutionary theory, the Harvard professor was secure in his academic place. But he believed that scientists also had a place in the popular discourse of the day.

    Science for the People was the name Gould, Richard Lewontin and their allies gave to the magazine and the movement they forged in a post-1960s burst of optimism about the prospects of linking scientific insights and social activism. With his unique talent for explaining complex ideas through eminently comprehensible references to baseball, choral music and the shrinking size of Hershey's chocolate bars, Gould took on the yahoos who attempted to use pseudoscience to justify race, class and gender discrimination. His 1982 book, The Mismeasure of Man, gave antiracist campaigners the tools they needed to prevail in the bitter debates over inherited intelligence and IQ testing.

    In the mid-1990s, when conservatives embraced sociologist Charles Murray's book The Bell Curve, which claimed that race and class differences were largely caused by genetic factors, Gould charged into the battle anew. His review of The Bell Curve for The New Yorker savaged the book for advancing racially charged theories with "no compelling data to support its anachronistic social Darwinism." As for right-wing politicos who promoted The Bell Curve, Gould wrote, "I can only conclude that [the book's] success in gaining attention must reflect the depressing temper of our time--a historical moment of unprecedented ungenerosity, when a mood for slashing social programs can be powerfully abetted by an argument that beneficiaries cannot be helped, owing to inborn cognitive limits expressed by low IQ scores."

    "What made Steve different was that he didn't make a cartoon out of science. He didn't talk down to people," recalled Lewontin, his Harvard colleague and comrade. "He communicated about science in a way that did not try to hide the complexities of the issues and that did not shy away from the political side of these issues. Steve's great talent was his ability to make sense of an issue at precisely the point when people needed that insight."

    John Nichols

  • May 24, 2002

    Democrats on the Fast Track

    It is no secret that grassroots Democrats around the country oppose the free-trade regimen advocated by the Bush administration and the corporate lobbyists who have shaped the debate on trade issues inside the beltway.

    The Democratic party's core constituencies well understand that the North American Free Trade Agreement, the normalization of trade relations with China and other corporate free-trade initiatives have led to the shuttering of American factories, depressed prices for family farmers and the use of trade policy to assault laws protecting the environment in the U.S. and abroad. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that NAFTA has cost at least 360,000 Americans their jobs -- and that is merely the easiest measure of the impact of free-trade agreements that allow multinational corporations, as opposed to citizens and their elected officials, to write the rules for protection of workers, farmers and the environment.

    Recognizing the flaws in a corporate-dictated free-trade system, groups with a history of good relations with the Democratic party have been among the loudest foes of the Bush administration's attempts to gain Fast Track authority to negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement that critics refer to as "NAFTA on steroids."

    John Nichols

  • Covert Ops May 23, 2002

    McKinney Redux

    During the long months of post-September 11 presidential invincibility, no member of Congress climbed further out on the what-did-Bush-know-when limb than Representative Cynthia McKinney. "We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11," the Georgia Democrat said in March. "What did this Administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?"

    The disclosure that President Bush was warned in August that Al Qaeda was seeking to hijack domestic aircraft did not confirm all McKinney's intimations--which extended to talk about how the Bush family might have profited from the attacks. Yet she was freed to stake a claim of vindication. "It now becomes clear why the Bush Administration has been vigorously opposing Congressional hearings. The Bush Administration has been engaged in a conspiracy of silence. If committed and patriotic people had not been pushing for disclosure, today's revelations would have been hidden by the White House."

    McKinney's initial calls for an investigation of what Bush knew prompted a storm of criticism. "McKinney has made herself too easy a target for mockery," Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker announced in April. "She no longer deserves serious analysis." After Bush aides condemned McKinney's "ludicrous, baseless views," National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg diagnosed her as suffering from "paranoid, America-hating, crypto-Marxist conspiratorial delusions." Barely a month after the McKinney-bashing peaked, however, the Journal-Constitution headline read: "Bush warned by US intelligence before 9/11 of possible bin Laden plot to hijack planes," while Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said, "I believe, and others believe, if [information on threats] had been acted on properly, we may have had a different situation on September 11."

    There were no apologies to McKinney. Brushing aside complaints from Atlanta civil rights activists, Georgia Senator Zell Miller continued to characterize his fellow Democrat as "loony." McKinney's critics kept exploiting the opening she gave them with her unfounded rumination on the prospect that something other than ineptness might explain the Administration's failure to warn Americans about terrorist threats. But her willingness to go after the Administration when few Democrats dared earned her folk-hero status among dissenters from the Bush-can-do-no-wrong mantra: The popular website now greets visitors with a We Believe Cynthia icon.

    In Georgia, where McKinney faces a July primary challenge from a former judge who labels her "off-the-wall and unproductive," a recent Journal-Constitution headline read, "Revelations Give Boost to McKinney." Letters to the editor, even from former critics, hail her prescience. And Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis, who once steered clear of McKinney's call for an investigation, says, "I hate to put it in this vein, but she may have the last laugh."

    John Nichols

  • May 19, 2002

    Cynthia McKinney and the ‘What Bush Knew’ Debate

    In April, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., got in a whole heap of trouble after she called for a thorough investigation of what George W. Bush knew before September 11 about the potential for the sort of terrorist attacks that would shake the nation and the world on that fateful day.

    McKinney is one of the most outspoken members of the current Congress and her statements were typically blunt. "We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11th," she told a radio interviewer. "What did this administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? . . . What do they have to hide?"

    McKinney's call for a real investigation of what Bush knew -- along with her parallel suggestion that it was necessary to conduct a review of possible war profiteering by members of the Bush administration and corporations with close ties to the president -- drew a firestorm from pundits and partisans.

    John Nichols

  • Political Figures May 17, 2002

    The New Politics of September 11

    Since September 11, George W. Bush's political team and their Republican allies have used every trick to exploit the tragedy for political advantage.

    John Nichols

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  • May 16, 2002

    The New Politics of September 11

    Since Sept. 11, George W. Bush?s political team and their Republican allies have used every trick to exploit the tragedy for political advantage. Just this week, they were trying to raise campaign money by hawking photos of Bush taking instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney on that fateful day.

    The crass politicization of a national tragedy may have offended Bush?s critics. But the image of Bush as the serious-minded battler against threats to homeland security was too good a political tool to surrender. And they planned to keep hammering the Democrats with it through November.

    Then the hammerhead flew off.

    John Nichols

  • May 15, 2002

    Derailing Fast Track: Senate votes reopen trade fight

    After the U.S. House of Representatives voted by one vote last December to grant President Bush Fast Track authority to negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas, the White House was convinced that the issue was settled. So too were many of activists who had poured their time and energy into opposing Fast Track.

    Because they are much more likely to feel the brunt of grassroots lobbying at the district level, House members have since the early 1990s been more dubious about trade deals than members of the Senate. So when the House buckled under intense rally-round-the-flag pressure from the White House in December, it appeared to many Washington observers that Bush would have what Bill Clinton did not: free reign to negotiate away workers rights, family-farm protections, environmental regulations and basic democratic principles in order to create a corporation-friendly free trade zone encompassing most of the entire western Hemisphere.

    But appearances were deceiving. Fast Track ended up on the slow track in a Senate controlled by Democrats who were in no rush to do Bush any major favors. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Montana, generally side with Wall Street against Main Street on trade issues. But they resisted White House pressure for quick action on the issue just long enough to allow critics of corporate-dictated free trade schemes to raise serious objections to letting Bush negotiate a voluminous FTAA arrangement and then force the Congress to accept or reject the deal in a simple up-or-down vote.

    John Nichols

  • May 10, 2002

    A Congressman’s Defeat Spells Trouble for Business Democrats

    U.S. Rep. Tom Sawyer, who broke with other industrial-state Democrats to back free trade measures such as NAFTA, suffered a stunning defeat in an Ohio's May 7 Democratic primary. And, despite the best efforts of Sawyer's old friends in the business-funded Democratic Leadership Council to try and explain away the eight-term incumbent's rejection at the hands of home-state voters, the message from Ohio was a blunt signal for Democrats who side with Wall Street against Main Street.

    Trade issues have long been views by labor and environmental activists as the canary-in-the-coal mine measures of corporate dominance over Congress. Most, though not all, Republicans back the free-trade agenda pushed by major multinational corporations and Republican and Democratic presidents. Most Democrats oppose that agenda. Since the early 1990s, trade votes in the House of Representatives have tended to be close, however. That has meant that the margins of victory for the corporate trade agenda has often been delivered by a floating pool of Democrats -- including Sawyer -- who have been willing to vote with free-trade Republicans on key issues such as NAFTA, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and normalization of trade relations with China. Most of the free-trade Democrats are associated with the New Democrat Coalition, a DLC-tied House group that was formed in 1997 with Sawyer as a charter member.

    Patrick Woodall, research director for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, says Sawyer's defeat must be read as very bad news for those free-trade Democrats.

    John Nichols

  • Political Figures May 9, 2002

    Paul Wellstone, Fighter

    The Senate's most progressive member is in the fight of his life.

    John Nichols

  • May 7, 2002

    A Voting Reform That Works Is Transforming Texas

    Considering the role that Florida's electoral mess played in making him president, and considering his active disinterest in reforming political processes to assure that the Florida fiasco will never be repeated, George W. Bush is not widely regarded as a pioneering proponent of moves to make American democracy more fair and representative.

    Yet, an obscure Texas law that then-Governor Bush signed in 1995 is transforming the electoral landscape in Texas for the better. In fact, a recent vote in Amarillo suggests that it is breaking the grip of Bush's allies in the business community that has for so long dominated Texas electioneering.

    The reform that Bush inked with little fanfare seven years ago made it easier for local school districts across Texas to create cumulative voting systems.

    John Nichols