Quantcast

Sullivan vs. Sullivan (Plus: Reed on Al Jazeera America) | The Nation

  •  
Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Sullivan vs. Sullivan (Plus: Reed on Al Jazeera America)

My new CAP column is called “Think Again: The Super-Rich and Their Monster.”

The paywall is now down on my last Nation column, a tribute to the 60th birthday for Dissent, 10th for Center for American Progress, “Liberalism's Bullpen."

Only Andrew Sullivan wold have the chutzpah to announce that he had not read a book at the center of debate and then proceed to launch a campaign on behalf of the very same book. (Though to be fair, failing to read this book is, I would argue, the only way to defend it.)

Sullivan is almost too silly to be believed, but it gets worse. Remember Andrew once called me a “Fifth Columnist” who could not be trusted to be loyal to America in it’s fight with Al Qaeda because I was overly critical of George Bush. (Well actually, he lied and said I opposed the US attack on Aftghanistan, which maybe in retrospect I should have, but I didn’t. I publicly offered to contribute $10,000 to an organization fighting AIDS in Africa if he could substantiate his accusation, but he could not, and of course, he was--and remains--too chickenshit to admit it.) But now I am not be trusted because I am too loyal to Israel. Could it be that I the only pro-Al Qaeda/pro-Zionist Fifth Columnist in history or is Andrew Sullivan, perhaps, a mite confused.

On another occasion, Andrew accused me of having published the equivalent, I kid you not of "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" when I pointed out that the Palestinians could not expect a fair shake in the US media. Again, now I am a representative, in Andrew’s words, of the bad guys from the other side: the author, perhaps of the “Protocols of the Elders of Palestine.”

Now Andrew has done a 180 degree backflip--like an upside down Christopher Hitchens, only without the writing talent or personal charm, and become a dedicated enemy of everything he believed so vociferously until he didn’t. I rarely, if ever entertain the notion that criticism of Israel implies anti-Semitism, but in Andrew’s case I’m willing to make an exception, largely based on the judgement of his longtime colleague at The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier, who understands these distinctions as well as anyone and yet accuses Andrew of harboring a “venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews” or perhaps merely being “a bigot” who is also “moronically insensitive.” Personally, I think that’s a false choice. But if you really care, you can learn about new Andrew’s hatred for old Andrew in Liam Hoare’s article The Unhinging of Andrew Sullivan

Meanwhile, The quotes above, plus the one where Andrew crows that publishing Charles Murray's racist pseudoscience in TNR “one of my proudest moments in journalism” can be found in this column I wrote about Andrew not too long ago. Surprise, surprise, he did not let his readers know about that one. What’s more, he pretended Max Blumenthal’s response to my column was the last word on the matter . He should have read (and linked to) this response, though I know that’s a lot to ask for a guy championing a book he can’t be bothered to read.

Oh, and if you thought the controversy was missing a Hillary Clinton angle, you were apparently wrong about that. Here it is, care of Buzzfeed.

Alter-reviews:
Woody Guthrie Box Set
Amnesty International DVD box set
“Springsteen and I” bluray
The Beatles at the BBC, Volume II

Deluxe editions of David Bowie’s “The Next Day” and Van Morrison’s “Moondance.”
Our first review is by Altercation Special Woody Guthrie Correspondent, Danny Goldberg:

Rounder Records recently release an opulent box set called Woody Guthrie American Radical Patriot . Six CDs include “the full range of material he recorded for the United States government” which mostly means the songs and stories Guthrie recorded for the Library of Congress under the auspices of John Lomax and a group of songs he was hired to write for the Bonneville Power Administration to bring attention the New Deal program that brought electricity for the first time to a number of rural parts of the country.

There are a total of more than ninety songs ,including most of Woody's best known, and around fifty interludes in which Woody tells stories or answers Lomax’s questions.

The box also includes a DVD with a full length documentary about Guthrie (made for the University of Oregonin 1999) , a nicely printed fifty six page book (and info on how to get a full E-book of 256 pages), and for ultimate audio nerds a 78 RPM disc of Bob Dylan singing Guthrie’s VD CITY recorded in a Minnesota hotel in 1961 and a home recording Woody made of The Biggest Thing That Mad Has Ever Done.”

As far as I can tell all of this material has previously been released, but never in such a comprehensive and carefully produced form . Woody's body of work in undiminished in its unique brilliance and ,in the wake of the financial crisis, has eerily grown in contemporary relevance. Bill Nowlin and his colleagues Rounder deserves enormous credit for the care and craftsmanship of the package, and Nora Guthrie deserves America’s gratitude for her loving,careful and meticulous and politically progressive curation of her father’s art and legacy.

Any excuse to re-visit the richness and visionary nature Woody Guthrie’s body of work is welcome but it should be noted that this box is not for those on tight budgets: it retails for $125.99 on the Barnes and Noble website.

Ok, back to me:

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's worldwide Human Rights Now! tour for Amnesty International, with Peter Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman, and Youssou N'Dour, Shout! Factory has done us the great favor of compiling a six dvd collection of that tour’s October 15, 1988 performance in Buenos Aires from the HBO broadcast on HBO--the two songs where Bruce and “El Stingo” sing together are near transcendent despite Bruce’s goofy 80’s hair--and five more such films from other, similar, though not quite as great tours, including four Human Rights Concert films in their entirety, from 1986, 1988, 1990, and 1998. I had a few of these on video in the old days, but it is a thrill to have them digitally remastered on DVD and a bunch of them have never been available before. The various lineups are really impressive and most of the bands and performers have aged quite well (as opposed to say, those in Live Aid). Check out the listing on Amazon and also all of the extras. Plus the money goes to Amnesty, so you get to feel good about yourself. It will take a long time to get through all of them but it’s like having old friends around and you can skip around. The packaging is compact and strong--not at all cheap feeling like the six cd version of the R&R HOF shows that came out a few years ago--to which this might be favorably compared. Now (Hello Jackson) all we need is a new, remastered “No Nukes.” Oh and there’s also a two cd set of just music, whose lineup you can see here if that’s all you want. $ still goes to Amnesty....

I avoided the film “Springsteen & I” during its brief theaterical run because I thought I would feel like a loser in the theater. It’s actully really entertaining and only rarely cloying and I think will be fun even for non Bruce people. The extended Elvis imitator sequence is really wonderful in a cringe-inducing way. So too the Scandanavian busker who gets a big suprise guest. But what’s totally excellent about my decision to skip the film in theaters is the fact that the Blu-ray has six songs from last year’s Hyde Park shows--the one with Paul McCartney--beautifully produced and some other extras I doubt I’ll watch, but maybe you will. Anyway, the Paul/Bruce versions of “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout” are among the greatest things ever. (Though the T&S on the Amnesty collection is pretty damn wonderful too.) These old guys are so cute and have such wonderful smiles (and in Paul’s case, the best work” I’ve ever seen on anyone), I can only imagine how it must work if you are a female of a certain age...

Channukah comes early this year and with it, a present from past. “On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2,” out this coming Monday is another bucket of charm and good vibes and pretty decent packaging, with a 48-page booklet. It’s got 37 previously unreleased performances--ten of which they never recorded--plus 23 tracks of cute banter which you might want to listen to once or twice and then deprogram. But how can this stuff not put anyone in a good mood. (And what kind of terrible person would not want it under the Channukah Bush?)

Highlights include covers of Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talking About You,” and “Memphis, Tennessee,” and a rocking “Beautiful Dreamer,” Little Richard’s “Lucille,” Chuck Berry’s Chan Romero’s “The Hippy Hippy Shake,” Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman,” and two songs the boys picked up from Carl Perkins’ records, “Glad All Over” --a hit for the Dave Clark Five--and “Sure To Fall.”

All the songs were recorded live with no overdubs, but of course were cleaned up an remastered for official release and believe me, they sound alot nicer than the bootlegs that have been clogging up my itunes files for decade.

David Bowie has released a deluxe version of his last album called “The Next Day Extra.” Disc 1 is the original 14 track album. Disc 2 includes the three tracks from the original Deluxe edition of The Next Day, plus 4 new studio tracks, a bonus track ("God Bless The Girl"), and 2 new re-mixes (including one by James Murphy). Disc 3 is a DVD of the four acclaimed video s created for The Next Day album: 'Where Are We Now?,' 'The Stars Are Out Tonight,' 'The Next Day' and 'Valentine s Day.' It’s got some pretty fancy packaging too, though it’s rather arty and not too illuminating.

Van Morrison’s record company, Warner Brothers, has released a five cd version of “Moondance” one of history’s greatest albums. The deluxe version has a remastered cd and three cds of outtakes--all placed repeatively in sequence, along with a Blu-Ray Audio disc with high-resolution 48K 24 bit PCM stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound audio of original album. There’s one song, “I Shall Sing,” later recorded by Art Garfunkle, that didn’t make it to the album. The liner notes are pretty excellent and the packaging is nice to Van obsessives will go for it, I’m sure. Other people will want one of the less rich/less demanding versions of the release.

Now here’s Reed:
A Different Kind of Election Night, with Al Jazeera America
by Reed Richardson
This past Tuesday night, I tried an experiment. Having grown all too familiar with how the big three networks handle Election Night coverage, I spent six hours plugged into the newest entrant in the cable news universe, Al Jazeera America. I wanted to see what, if anything, it does differently than the troika of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The answer, it turns out, is a lot. And though AJAM is only offered on a portion of the country’s cable systems and its ratings remain but a blip, its first take on Election Night here in the U.S. offered up some real promise as well as important insights about how the cable news coverage could be made better or, at the very least, a lot less worse.

6:00 – As it does at the top of the hour every evening, AJAM leads off with a news roundup, and here it highlights the two marquee gubernatorial match-ups of the night in New Jersey and Virginia. CNN and MSNBC launch their pre-primetime hours similarly. Fox News, though, with a pre-packaged report from Jim Angle, previews its framing through which it will view most everything this Election Night, which I might simply sum up as “Obamacare Sucks.”

6:07 – Only seven minutes into my experiment and AJAM has already thrown out the standard Election Night playbook. Rather than staying locked into the studio, ping-ponging between a stable of talking heads, the network actually makes use of its newly-hired team of national correspondents, running back-to-back, on-location live reports. Even more surprising is where it goes. Instead of throwing to a reporter standing on the boardwalk outside Chris Christie’s campaign celebration in Asbury Park—where CNN bigwigs like Jake Tapper spent the night—AJAM digs into the overlooked mayoral races in Detroit and Coralville, Iowa. The former, AJAM reports, is notable for the city’s ongoing fiscal woes and that a predominately black population is poised to elect a white candidate for the first time in 40 years. The latter election, which had just been the focus of New York Times front-page story two days earlier, provides a fascinating, frightening look at how large, free-spending billionaires—in this case the right-wing Koch brothers—are now dabbling in local politics to push their agendas.

6:27 – AJAM again breaks away to look at the rest of the country. A local correspondent in Denver spends the next several minutes explaining the interesting tax referenda on the Colorado ballot and their potential impact on education funding in the state, as well as the latent secession movement in the state’s northeast corner. Fox News, by contrast, has just left a recap of the Miami Beach mayoral race (know your demo!) to reveal the dastardly voter registration aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

6:40 – In an in-studio discussion of the New York City’s mayoral race, AJAM delves into what a big Bill de Blasio victory would mean for the NYPD’s provocative stop-and-frisk policy. AJAM will be the only network to devote substantial time to this topic on Election Night. (In the 10:00 hour, after de Blasio is officially declared the winner, AJAM will spend several more minutes discussing both stop-and-frisk and the city’s growing income inequality problem.) Concurrently, on Fox News, Dr. Ben Carson helpfully explains that there are “many plans” to replace Obamacare, but when pressed by Mara Liasson to give specifics on these plans, he helpfully ignores her.

6:55 – Another wake-up call from AJAM, this time on the relentlessly provincial nature of cable news coverage here in the United States. While the big three cable networks are simply marking time until 7:00pm when polls will close in Virginia, AJAM gives a sobering weather report on Category 5 Super Typhoon Haiyan, which is barreling toward the Philippines. (It looks to be massively devastating.)

7:00 – Audaciously, brazenly, AJAM sticks with its regular programming, the network’s half-hour program “Real Money.” This evening, it looks at the long-term prospects for employer health care premiums, the need for more STEM graduates to fill a 200,000-worker manufacturing shortage, the sharp rise and recent dip in Tesla’s stock price, and the potential billion-dollar commodity market for marijuana. It’s almost like the folks at AJAM don’t even care that Cuccinelli is winning by 13 points with 5% of the vote returns in! Don’t they know that one of tomorrow’s favorite memes about the 2013 election—McAuliffe’s win wasn’t big enough and therefore doesn’t count—is already setting in? On MSNBC, after a 20-minute parade of white, male pundits like Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd, Chris Matthews finally features a woman on his show. Around this same time, CNN does its only foreign story of the night, the irresistible, though-already-revealed admission by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that he smoked crack while in office. Anchor Erin Burnett, displaying her reporting chops will call this story “unprecedented,” which, of course, it is not.

7:30 – But what just may be unprecedented is AJAM plowing right into its next show, “The Stream,” which will spend a whole 30 minutes talking about the racial and fiscal politics affecting the Philadelphia school system. Guests include two women of color—one a student and one a teacher—a white male reporter from a local independent newspaper, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers labor union. These types of voices are rarely found cable news; on an Election Night, they’re unheard of. But while this diversity on the network’s part is striking, there is nevertheless an unmistakably amateurish feel to the show’s production values. While CNN’s John King is tapping away at blue and red Virginia counties on his “Magic Wall,” some AJAM guests are grainily beamed into the studio via Skype and Google Hangout. One has headphones sorrowfully draping out of his ears.

7:53 – CNN’s first of two Election Night mentions of the city of Detroit appears. Sadly, both will be promos for the season finale of Anthony Bourdain’s travel show (“What the hell happened here?” he asks, showing more curiosity than the network’s Election Night producers.) Then, almost impishly, right after that, an ad for AJAM runs on CNN, talking about how the network is going to “change the way people look at news.” If anyone actually switched followed that advice, they’d see both the good and the bad aspects of that claim.

8:00 – CNN calls the New Jersey governor’s race, unsurprisingly, for Christie and, AJAM, diving back into election news (finally!) does the same five minutes later, citing the Associated Press. But AJAM had actually led off the hour with the news about the Koch brothers dumping money into an Iowa mayoral and city council election, an arguably more newsy story than Christie’s foregone victory. Trying to actually do some differentiated political reporting, the AJAM news anchor interviewing a Christie flak, rather than just fluff the governor’s 2016 plans, instead asks about the downballot races in New Jersey, a topic almost universally ignored by the other networks and one that gets a very telling, non-committal response. (Because it turned out Christie had zero coattails.)

8:13 – MSNBC pundits land on the “Obamacare referendum” talking point for the still-too-close-to-call Virginia governor’s race. Though easily disproved by looking closely at the exit polls, this misinterpretation quickly rippled through the Beltway conventional wisdom Tuesday night and on into the days following in much the same way the mistaken “moral values” theme did on Election Night in 2004. AJAM, to its credit, pretty much avoids wallowing in this insufferable meta-analysis. Breaking from the wall-to-wall New Jersey coverage, it revisits the Detroit mayoral election to see how the presence of an emergency manager—forced onto the city by a Republican governor—seems to have severely depressed voter turnout. On a night when cable news tends to treat our voter participation as a patriotic given, it’s a cold, but necessary, dose of reality on how poorly our democracy engages its citizens sometimes.

8:23 – On Fox, Bill O’Reilly and John Stossel sternly discuss the latter’s story about the black market of food stamp cards. All the “makers” watching are no doubt duly outraged. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, to his credit, offers an antidote to the Fox “taker”-bashing by devoting a significant chunk of time to the Colorado ballot questions and the New Jersey minimum wage referendum. Even so, AJAM is simultaneously going farther afield, with a report from its local Seattle correspondent on a Washington state GMO food labeling initiative and a $15-living wage ballot question in SeaTac. (The first was defeated, while the second looks to have been narrowly passed.) Then AJAM pivots to Texas, where its Dallas-based reporter explains a state proposition to use a $2 billion-fund for water infrastructure spending. This is serious, policy-driven reporting and the breadth of the topics is eye-opening.

8:48 – AJAM’s dedication to news variety can verge on the inexplicable, however. When it wanders into sports for a few minutes to discuss the potential contracts of Yankees second-baseman Robinson Cano and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw I’m left wondering who wouldn’t be watching ESPN to get this news. While CNN and MSNBC are sticking to Virginia and New Jersey, Fox News shows off its unique brand of counter-programming, as O’Reilly and fellow panelist Monica Crowley take the opportunity of Election Night to beat the drum of (completely non-existent) voter fraud and beat up on reliable liberal foil Alan Colmes while doing so. After hours of taking in AJAM’s straight news, this blatant propaganda piece by Fox stands out as even more laughably transparent.

9:00 – As polls close in New York City, CNN’s Piers Morgan not-so-subtly asks if panic has set in at McAuliffe headquarters. After all, the Democrat hasn’t yet taken the electoral lead from Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli. Within minutes, Republican pundit Steve Schmidt is singing the same song, ominously asking if Democrats are in real trouble because the Virginia governor’s race was supposed to be a “blowout.” (McAuliffe’s own polling said otherwise.) Way down the dial, Al Jazeera’s flagship show, “America Tonight” is serenely sailing past this pundit freakout with lengthy stories on a Justice Department investigation into pharmaceutical sales rep payola and a detailed expose on the excessive, cross-border shooting of Mexican rock-throwers by Border Patrol agents. These stories are so good I’m almost exasperated that this kind of quality journalism is getting buried even further by running on Election Night.

9:37 – This exasperation turns to outright disgust when I click over to CNN just in time to see Wolf Blitzer cry out in amazement as the Virginia gubernatorial returns flip in McAuliffe’s favor. That CNN’s version of compelling cable news journalism amounts to watching a vote counter sadly speaks volumes. Adding insult to injury, CNN soon lets conservative pundit Bill Kristol baselessly spout the Election Night trope that the Virginia election shows “Obamacare is toxic.” So toxic, one should point out, that 10 minutes later, CNN calls the election for McAuliffe, who broke a 35-year streak of White House-out party candidates winning in Virginia. Returning to AJAM, I’m swept up in a story that it’s safe to say no U.S. cable news network would ever be able to run: an on-the-ground report on how hip-hop is slowly changing the political culture in Cuba.

10:00 This is Election Night’s standard victory speech hour. But it also offers the clearest distinction between AJAM’s editorial approach and the rest of cable news. At a quarter past the hour, Christie takes the stage and CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all switch to it. AJAM, though, is zigging so hard from the cable news pack it’s almost neck-snapping, as it instead features two experts exploring Saudi disillusionment with recent U.S. foreign policy moves in Iran and Egypt. (One guest also notes that, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, where Al Jazeera’s main headquarters is located, is arming Syrian rebels.) This is one of those Election Night moments where AJAM’s contrarianism goes overboard, though. Whatever one might think about the contrived, news-less nature of political speeches, TV networks nonetheless have an obligation to let elected officials speak directly to the public, especially just after having been elected by said public.

10:41 – Perhaps the one point in the night that offers up each cable news network’s distinct take on the news. On Fox News, a discussion of 2016 GOP primary candidates is sharing split-screen time with video (but no audio) of Ken Cuccinelli’s concession speech; on MSNBC, Bill de Blasio’s New York City mayoral victory speech (partly in Spanish!) is being broadcast as a triumph of liberalism; on CNN, a panel of pundits is lauding Christie and picking over McAuliffe’s bones as if he’d lost, and on AJAM— because, well, why not—there’s a discussion of why Popular Science magazine turned off its website comments. When minutes later, McAuliffe begins his victory speech, everyone covers it except for AJAM, which is off on another incongruous tangent, featuring an interview with a world-class mountain free-climber.

11:00 – After just tidbits of election news for most of the evening, AJAM spends most of this hour ably catching up and recapping Election Night’s results, minus all the fancy magic walls and big-name commentators, of course. If someone had just wanted to download what happened with the elections without sitting through endless hi-def updates and supposed experts spouting anecdotal theories, this would be a good place to go. And yet, lest AJAM lose all credibility amongst the “serious” DC crowd, news anchor John Seigenthaler does indulge in a bit of 2016 handicapping with none other than a writer from the uber-DC-insider publication, Politico.

11:40 – With Rachel Maddow plugging away, Fox News safely ensconced in its nightly rerun of O’Reilly, and CNN’s Crossfire working at full tilt to keep Van Jones and Newt Gingrich happily head-butting, I finally start to see the cable news coverage reverting back to its normal self. Over at AJAM, though, there’s one last surprise. From Takoma Park, Maryland, one of the network’s correspondents reports on that city’s initiative to let 16 and 17-year-olds vote in local elections. The teens’ enthusiasm for civic participation is an inspiring and a satisfying way to end an important night in our democracy. And being interviewed for this well-done and feel-good story is probably not a bad way for this next generation to be introduced to the network.

Though Al Jazeera America is still a work in progress, it shows promise and its coverage has a lot to offer those news consumers intrepid enough to seek it out (providing they have access to it in the first place). Whether significant numbers of today’s—or tomorrow’s—viewers will ever tune into it is hard to say. But when compared to how poorly we are served by the Beltway myopia and pundit bickering of our current cable news climate, AJAM’s on-the-ground reporting and back-to-basics programming strongly suggests our democracy would be better served if we did.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. 

I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

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

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.