Quantcast

Why Does the Press Still Take the Heritage Foundation Seriously? | The Nation

  •  
Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Why Does the Press Still Take the Heritage Foundation Seriously?

My new “Think Again” column on Niall Ferguson’s ridiculous apology and the issues it raises is here.

My new Nation column advises that regarding the Tribune papers, we worry about Murdoch, not Koch, here.

Alter-Reviews (These are pretty long, but take heart, Reed is below):

Crosby, Stills & Nash with Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Steve Tyrell singing Sammy Cahn at the Café Carlyle.

The final weekend of Jazzfest.

I must have done something nice for someone at some point in my life because fate rewarded me with a last minute ticket to the annual benefit show presented at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center featuring the complete orchestra together with Crosby, Stills and Nash.

The old guys were thrilled by the experience, which David Crosby likened to “getting to play with the bigger kids.”  They even dressed up in Brooks Brothers suits, like the rest of the band and wore shoes with laces. The show consisted of CSN songs re-imagined with jazz arrangements by members of the orchestra. It was rarely a complete success, but always an audacious and welcome experiment. I say “audacious” because unlike previous participants in these benefit/collaborations, Eric Clapton and Paul Simon or even Willie Nelson, one cannot easily the jazz, or even blues elements of the CSN catalogue.

I particularly liked the latin vibe attached to “Long Time Coming,” the big-band swing of “Military Madness” and back and forth dueling in “Marrakesh Express.” The deserved crowd-pleasers were a wonderful “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” with an impressive Steve Stills solo that mimicked “Within You Without You” and a lovely Crosby/Nash duet on “Guinnevere,” with Wynton Marsalis perched between them playing a quiet trumpet accompaniment.

As it ended, and Nash announced that “I think we have time for one more song before Brooks Brothers takes the suits back,” they ended as do all CSN shows: with a sing-along “Teach Your Children.” But this time the crowd wouldn’t leave and so they formed a second line and danced and chanted around the stage for another ten minutes, with everybody (I imagine) thinking how lucky they were to be there. J@LC has a Chick Corea and a Bobby Short tribute coming up next week so you should be able to find me there too. More here.

I also caught a wonderfully up-tempo show by the great Steve Tyrell who has developed into a kind of latter-day Tony Bennett but with a touch of Tom Waits in his voice. He’s doing a run at the Café Carlyle through May 18 in celebration of his brand new 10th album, It’s Magic: The Songs of Sammy Cahn. It is also Cahn’s centennial year. I had a wonderful time, as Tyrell is a charming storyteller and an almost irresistible interpreter of the classics to which he devotes himself, pretty much exclusively. (I did get him to give the crowd about a half of “Spinning Wheel” in honor of his B,S& T days and the fact that its original trumpeter Lew Soloff is in the band.)

 Anyway, the album was a marvelous idea. Cahn’s songs are quite well known, but their composer is not. Tyrell told the crowd that he was drawn to the material because of the moment in American popular culture when, just before the Beatles, “the old-world thinking ran into the sexual revolution. That’s around 1958. Before that, everybody was ‘goody two-shoes,’ sleeping in twin beds on TV. Then all of sudden, there was the Rat Pack, Las Vegas, James Bond, and Playboy magazine. Things started getting sexy,” Tyrell explains.  This is the period most revered by this current generation as witnessed by the success of Mad Men, the remakes of Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen, and this year’s salute to James Bond at the 2013 Oscars.  And then there’s Diddy with his Rat Pack Vodka commercials.” (Actually Mad Men’s a little later, but still…) The songs--“Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”--“Come Fly with Me-- “All the Way,”  etc, are often associated with Sinatra. Nobody can compete with that and Tyrell doesn’t try. He’s not new arrangements and a different approach.“

You can’t have a bad time at a Steve Tyrell show, but you can spend a great deal of money. The cover at the Carlyle  runs between $60 and $160.  My intrepid reporting discovered that a Gray Goose martini will set you back $22.00 plus tax and tip.  That’s what I call a kick in the head….

More than 425,000 fans attended the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage

Festival. Here’s a report on the final weekend by one of them:

New Orleans Jazz Festival

by Katelyn Belyus

SATURDAY

The rain was gone, and with the sun came droves of people, which is to be expected for the last Saturday of Jazz Fest. After marveling at my stuffed artichoke (and the idea that each year, there must be thousands of artichokes plucked, trimmed, cleaned, and stuffed for the masses), I checked out Robert Mirabal. He's pretty much a jack-of-all-trades from Taos, where he lives a traditional Pueblo lifestyle. In addition to writing poetry and making music (for which he's won two Grammys), he paints, acts, farms, and is known for his work on the Native American flute. From far away, his sputtering movements reminded me of Iggy Pop, and his flute-playing floated through the crowd. “It's the music where the ceremony begins... it's the dance where the ceremony begins... it's the blood where the ceremony begins... demand that! Demand that! Demand that!” He commanded the crowd, and they answered by dipping their hands in some sort of ceremonial bowl that was passed around the first few rows of people. “Your prayers will go to my river,” he promised.

I needed a break from the seriousness, and Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band (also a Grammy winner) was just that. “I wanna thank my granddaddy for introducing me to Zydeco music,” Carrier said before going into the jumpy, accordion-driven “Jalapena Lena.” A blend of Cajun, blues, and rhythm and blues music, Zydeco is a uniquely American, and many a Fest-er celebrated by cheering on the guy playing his washboard and by dancing in the mud, clad in white shrimping boots, their bellies proudly exposed.

Next up: The Little Willies, also known as “Norah Jones' country band.” Of course, they're much more than Jones on the piano and vocals, but it's worth noting that her voice is so well-suited for country, and especially for their vocal harmonies. Their music is a little country, a little bluegrass, marked by the molasses in Jones' voice. It wasn't immediate get-up-and-dance music, but by the time they launched into their cover of Johnny Cash's “Tennessee Stud,” people were moving. Word on the street was they did a stand-out cover of Dolly Parton's heartbreaking “Jolene,” perhaps the finest example of a successful pop song written in a minor key.

I was torn between the two major acts of the night--Fleetwood Mac and Frank Ocean--and I decided on Fleetwood first and Ocean to follow. Of course, FM came out to “The Chain,” and then rolled right into “Dreams,” which, though predictable, did not make it any less awesome. I'm a huge FM fan, but have never seen them live, and I was struck by how effortlessly they come together, even after all these years (or perhaps because of all these years?). And yet they still know how to write solid songs, especially crowd-pleasers, as they revealed with “Sad Angel,” an upbeat song recently released in April that literally asks the crowd to “call out for more.” I danced as best I could, which was no minor feat considering I was up to my ankles in mud, with my boat shoes struggling to stay on my feet. They went into “Rhiannon” and everyone around me-- college guys, hippie gals, parents, kids-- sung along with Stevie, wearing her signature long black sleeves on the hottest day of the weekend. Before going into a few songs off “Tusk,” including the title track and “Sara,” Lindsay Buckingham noted how the album was famously not wanted by record execs but seemed vindicated in its popular appeal that has grown over time. “Time has revealed the reason that was done,” he said about the album before launching into “Not That Funny” and practically shouting at the record label. As they began “Looking Out for Love,” (Buckingham pointed out that he was “defending [love]”), I trudged over to Frank Ocean's stage, my current love whose music I would defend with my life.

I joined the crowd towards the end of “Super Rich Kids,” a cutting critique of said subject matter, with lines like “Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends/ super rich kids with nothing but fake friends.” For those of you unfamiliar with Frank Ocean, I implore you to check him out. A native of New Orleans, he's young, vibrant, and black, and his music is lyrically eloquent and technically lush. He's a cross between hip-hop and R&B, but with intensely personal lyrics. He gained press last summer with the arrival of his Channel: Orange album that coincided with his coming out-- how far out, people tend to disagree-- but he has spoken and written openly about loving another man, and it's both amazing and incredibly sad that it's become such a topic of conversation-- the “out” black R&B kid. Not surprisingly, other artists seem split on the idea-- some embrace him, some question its validity, and some hate him for it, as Chris Brown (who nauseates me to begin with) demonstrated after a very public physical altercation (or were there two?). Ocean, for what it's worth, maintains a very strong sense of privacy, but still remains very public-- he's a perfect example of personal curation in the Twitter age.

I'd heard mixed reviews about his live performances and the sound quality, but when I arrived, his voice was crystal clear, his falsetto mesmerizing, and he was smiling. My heart leapt. The crowd was mixed and knew most of his lyrics, and it was nice to be nestled among so many young people, gay and straight, of all racial backgrounds, who could throw up their hands to “Thinkin Bout You” (featuring an electric cello and Ocean's crisp vocals) and not care who the song was about. There's something about Ocean that crosses racial and gender boundaries and touches people at their core, because of the honest mix of pleasure and pain in his lyrics. I first heard “Bad Religion” last year on an alt-rock station in Philly, and I stopped everything and sat down slowly. I had never heard anything like it-- a love song for a man by a man, as told in this century's confessional: inside a cab, with a non-English-speaking driver who can't judge, with incredible lines about what it is to live disguised, “Taxi driver, I swear I got three lives/balanced on my head like steak knives.” The first time I heard it, I had chills. Hearing it again live was perfect-- aside from his having to stop and re-start because he hadn't been counted in correctly-- and human, and I became untethered as I watched the crowd's wants and needs collide.

SUNDAY

I woke up exhausted from a night of dancing to Sunpie & the Louisiana Sunspots, a happy, upbeat mix of blues, Caribbean, funk and Zydeco fronted by Sunpie Barnes on the accordion and vocals. I’d missed him at the fest, so I caught him at Dos Jefes Cigar Bar on the West Riverside. As I walked in, Sunpie was in the middle of an original that sounded like a funky accordion take on “You Sexy Thing,” and he was surrounded by Fest-ers, their shoes caked with mud a telltale giveaway.

Sunday at the Jazz Fest was glorious—less heat, no mud, and a smaller crowd. I’d come to specifically to see the Black Keys, but had a few stops beforehand.

First up were the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, another brass band with some heavy, sophisticated trumpet work and typically energetic call and response from the crowd. They hit the classic “I’ll Fly Away,” eliciting the most cheers so far from a local band, and the musicians were joined on stage by a pair of kids, one wearing a fake mustache, presumably related to a band member.

I promised my brother I’d check out the Pine Leaf Boys, a Cajun band from South Louisiana he fell in love with around the same time he took an interest in grilling and noodling, a form of bare-fisted catfishing (it’s as painful as it sounds). “Prepare for your mind to be blown,” he texted me. The Pine Leaf Boys were a great, even mix of fiddles, guitars, drums, and accordions. They’ve been nominated for four Grammys but are still waiting for a win. Their energy was contagious, and they played through a whirlwind of Cajun and Creole dancehall hits.

Finally, it was time for the Black Keys, a bluesy indie rock band formed back in the early ‘00s but whose popularity has grown exponentially in recent years (they landed a coveted music spot on SNL in 2011). They started as a garage rock duo—yes, like the White Stripes, Local H, and the Kills—with Dan Auerbach on guitar and vocals and Patrick Carney on drums. For the past few years, they’ve been touring with a full band, which sort of cheapened the duo aesthetic for me, but I was open to hear them. Caveat: I was open to rock out with them. Remember “Heavy Soul?” I firmly believe that song was made for shaking. Even the more recent—and more pop—“Lonely Boy” crushes as a rock song. I last rocked out to it in a room full of 30-somethings at a wedding in upstate New York, and I figured Jazz Fest would be similar. I was wrong.

It’s not that they didn’t play a solid set—they had a diverse mix of old and new tunes, and they kicked off the rest of the band and did the duo thing for a while, too. On “Little Black Submarines” (one of the best songs of 2011, if you want my truth), Auerbach rocked a steel guitar that glinted gold in the sunlight. But the wind was a little too strong, the music was a little too soft, and the crowd just a little too young. The sound was muddied. But really, the crowd was the worst part—they just weren’t into it. Sure, they sang along with the more recent “Gold on the Ceiling,” and a bunch of tracks off of Brothers, including their openers “Howlin’ for You” and “Next Girl,” but the crowd never really got lifted. I was all rubber legs and hair in my face, but next to me was a gym rat tossing beers on the ground, and a couple of pre-teens with their parents. It was crowded, but not too crowded not to dance, and I was mystified. The guys started late, ended early, and did a two-song encore (“Lonely Boy” and “I Got Mine”). It was a good set; it just felt wan.

Luckily, I recovered by hitting the Blues Tent for Taj Mahal, who earned his Grammys that day. He’s about seventy and hails from Harlem; and he does some wickedly good work on harmonica and guitar, among other instruments. The tent was jam-packed, and he opened with “Going Up to the Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue,” a harmonica-fronted ode to an exodus from the city life. He switched to guitar and was joined by The Real Thing Tuba Band. The man is a true blues musician, mouthing along with his guitar as he played, as if his lips were doing the work, not his fingers. His voice is muscle and sinew. His hands play with purpose. He said, “It’s Sunday, so you know you gotta do a piece of church music,” and went into “You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond,” the old Blind Willie Johnson tune. I left right after he finished “Chevrolet” searching for one final act.

The Fais Do Do stage was where the believers were. Del McCoury’s band was playing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Apologies: Del McCoury’s band was battling the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It was a full-on bluegrass country folk outlet battling one of the most famous brass bands in New Orleans. Del McCoury is seventy-four and looks about that. He hails from Pennsylvania and has been playing bluegrass guitar and banjo since the ‘60s. He even started an annual bluegrass festival called DelFest. His band members are seasoned professionals, and they went head to head with members of the Preservation Hall Band. The crowd was wild and exuberant; it was the perfect merging of bluegrass and jazz, with a fiddler battling a trumpeter (I called a draw). It was the perfect finale. Indeed, this pairing was exactly what I’d come for, without having known it, and both bands were triumphant.

A final note: That night I caught the Brass-A-Holics on Frenchman, and they were awesome—a different kind of brass band, doing pop covers and their own songs, with a nice blend of kitsch and funk. They mashed up Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” hit a high note with the “Rocky” theme, and even went Jersey Strong with Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer.” What was most interesting is that they feature female keyboardist and electric guitarist, doing massive licks atop a speaker, and they were racially mixed. Definitely worth checking out.

Now here’s Reed:

 

Why Does the Press Still Take the Heritage Foundation Seriously?

by Reed Richardson

Around Washington, and even inside the organization itself, it’s not uncommon to hear the Heritage Foundation referred to as “the Beast.” This is no surprise, since Heritage, founded forty years ago by frustrated right-wingers Paul Weyrich and Ed Feulner, has grown to become perhaps the largest, most lavishly funded conservative advocacy group in the country. Funded by corporations like ExxonMobil, non-profits run by the Kochs and numerous secret individual donors, Heritage currently boasts a staff of 275, an annual budget of $82.4 million, and the ear of nearly every Republican in Congress.

Its massive footprint doesn’t stop there, however. When it comes to influence, Heritage routinely ranks as the single-most popular right-wing think tank in the country among the media. In its annual 2012 think tank survey, media watchdog FAIR found Heritage topped the partisan ranks again with 1,540 press citations, a figure, it should be noted, that outnumbered the combined citations of the top two most-cited left-wing groups. For those of us who beat back ceaselessly against the tide of phony “liberal media bias” claims, this reality is galling. But not nearly as much as the reality that, for a long time now, the Heritage Foundation has done less and less of what might be called honest thinking, and more and more of what could accurately be called intellectual tanking.

Fresh evidence of their analytical posing arrived this past Monday, when Heritage unveiled a patently dishonest report on immigration reform, which pegged the policy’s potential economic cost to the nation at a whopping $6.3 trillion. How dishonest was it? By ignoring any benefits of reform, Heritage overlooked other studies that found a net gain of $300 million to Social Security and Medicare and as much as $1.4 trillion to the national economy over the next decade. In fact, Heritage co-author Robert Rector, at a Monday press conference, openly acknowledged: “It is not an analysis of the entire immigration reform bill.” Of course, he knew that this nuance would be lost in the media scrum that followed its release and, sure enough, many of the usual media suspects quickly conflated Heritage’s one-sided focus on the supposed costs of “amnesty” with that of the entire “immigration reform bill.” In short, Heritage’s report, though utterly worthless as a work of policy analysis, had already begun to succeed at its true goal—handing right-wing opponents of immigration reform a pseudo-economic talking point with which to brandish in the press.

Reading this for free? Chip in—fight the right with our reader-supported journalism.

 

In what passes for good news these days, Monday’s Heritage report did ignite some noticeable pushback among pundits, mostly on the left but, surprisingly, a few on the right as well. For example, Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin and longtime GOP politico Haley Barbour, who normally carry more water for the latest right-wing meme than the capacity of the California aqueduct system, both lambasted it. Rubin said it was an "embarrassment," Barbour labeled it "a political document" and "not serious analysis." Bracingly good candor, to be sure, but let’s temper our celebrating a bit, shall we. After all, Heritage’s latest immigration reform report was essentially the equivalent of giving the Washington chattering classes a do-over from 2007, when the pundits readily swallowed a similarly transparent ideological attack (that one had a $2.6 trillion price tag). And while calling out Heritage’s latest analysis as flawed is a start, it’s a far cry from what those in the media should be doing—courageously outing the entire organization as unworthy of media attention.

If you think that’s a bit harsh, don’t just take my word for it. Listen to current Heritage president, and former Tea Party senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint last December: “If ever you compromise your research, one time, then no one ever believes you again…My goal is to protect the research and policy people from the politics.” That DeMint would even dare to utter such a statement speaks volumes about the press’s incestuous relationship with Heritage. Why? Because time and again, his organization has either compromised its integrity or pulled its intellectual punches in pursuit of political goals:

– First and foremost are the legendary contortions Heritage has engaged in regarding the individual mandate for healthcare, which it helped pioneer nearly twenty-five years ago. The same mandate it raged against last year as “unprecedented” and “unconstitutional” now that the provision had become a key part of Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

 

– Earlier this year, Heritage went and hired chief Cheney lieutenant David Addington to take over its legal division and, ironically, be a watchdog against "executive overreach" by Obama. The same Addington who argued the vice president wasn’t part of the executive branch and who participated in discussions about destroying CIA videotapes of torture.

 

– In 2012, one Heritage scholar, so incensed that people might disagree with his organization’s austerity agenda, decided to go from think tank to fight club on a protestor in Seattle.

 

– What about that time in 2011 when Heritage was caught red-handed arbitrarily swapping out unemployment figures to make its analysis of the House GOP budget appear more plausible?

 

– Then there was the 2010 fiasco where Heritage flagrantly cut ten pages from a British environmental analysis in a shameless attempt to introduce doubt about climate change, conflicting the actual report’s conclusion.

 

– Let’s not forget the Heritage blog post from 2008 that subtly warned a United Nations Green Economy Initiative was merely a first step on the road to Nazi/Soviet collectivism and oppression of freedom.

 

– And then there’s my personal favorite, this 2012 Election Day video-cum-summer-blockbuster-trailer from Heritage Action, the foundation’s political campaign advocacy arm. In it, the group’s leader dramatically declares that his group is fighting nothing less than “a war to save this nation” from Obama’s policies.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Whatever intellectual legitimacy the Heritage Foundation once had, it should have long ago been exhausted in the legislative corridors of Washington, and along with it the patience and credulousness of the media. Nevertheless, Heritage’s recent immigration reform rollout was accompanied not just by a friendly reception in so-called straight news stories, but a welcoming hand on the nation’s op-ed pages, too. In recent weeks, both USA Today and The Washington Post have given over to DeMint a full column to push Heritage’s anti-immigration reform “research.” Now, it’s one thing to cite Heritage in a news story, where presumably (although, admittedly, not always) opposing viewpoints will also be aired. But it’s quite another to give an extreme right-wing group like Heritage the imprimatur of your news organization by letting them author an opinion piece that will showcase their ideas unchallenged.

This editorial malleability can lead to almost comic consequences. The Post, for instance, perhaps sensing trouble, made a point of running a simultaneous rebuttal editorial this past Monday that accused Heritage of “distort[ing]” the immigration debate. To which one might respond, well yes it is, but guess who else is damn well helping them? 

Indeed, the Post seems to have a bit of a soft spot for Heritage as they gave DeMint an op-ed platform right after he was hired back in November to discuss the “new message” he was bringing to the foundation. DeMint repaid this editorial generosity by repeating the same old fully debunked lie about President Obama having “disabled welfare reform last year.” But that isn’t even the most sadly ironic part—to substantiate his charge about welfare reform, DeMint linked to a scurrilous op-ed piece by Heritage fellow Rector that was published, you guessed it, in THe Washington Post.

In the past few days, the Post, among others in the media, very publicly learned an embarrassing lesson about the company one keeps when it came to light that the Heritage report’s co-author, Jason Richwine, harbored some disturbing racial stereotypes. In his recent Harvard dissertation, for example, Richwine wrote: “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.” Faster than you can say “The Bell Curve,” both the media and even the Heritage Foundation dumped Richwine over the side. But notably, Heritage stuck by their “amnesty” report, even though, in various parts, it echoes Richwine’s pessimistic dissertation about the potential educational progress of a mostly Hispanic immigrant pool.

This shocking level of intellectual intransigence is something of a double-edged sword for the media, however. In such an egregious case like this, the press doesn’t have to exercise much in the way of editorial judgment to see the politicized deception that colors the entire Heritage “amnesty” report. But until the press figures out, once and for all, that reverse engineering policy analysis to satisfy ideological dogma is what Heritage does every day, then it’s liable to keep on sullying its reputation by giving journalistic oxygen to the foundation’s incendiary goals. For the sake of better, more honest discourse in our democracy, it’s the time for the media to finally start treating the Heritage Foundation like the permanent political campaign shop that it is. That means far more skepticism of its actions and far less interest in its obvious ploys for attention. In other words, it’s long past time to start starving “the Beast.”

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.

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.