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Mistah Kurtz, Continued | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Mistah Kurtz, Continued

We've got a new Think Again column called "Chiller, Socialist Theater,"about how Obama's turning us Commie, here and my new Nation column is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of William Appleman Williams' Tragedy of American Diplomacy, here.Also, I did an analysis of Bibi Netanyahu's bait-and-switch speech forthe Daily Beast here.

I was genuinely shocked by Howard Kurtz's defense of CNN in a Post chat, not only because of its incredible lameness, but also because Kurtz did not disclose the fact of his being on CNN's payroll. I wrote a short note to Romenesko's letters column, which he printed,but did not make notice of on the site, so I sent a slightly different version of it to Andy Alexander, who recently became the Washington Post's ombudsman. I have to say, I'm impressed with his response, which you can find here. What I like about it is not only that it holds Kurtz accountable, (and is generally friendly to me), but because it raises the larger issue of the Post's unwillingness to disclose its conflict-of-interest policies. This is quite important, and goes to the heart of why large news organizations are losing the trust of readers, etc. But these organizations need to keep their options open to retain their big shots who don't like to follow the rules and so they don't want to codify their policies. (See under "Friedman, Thomas.") Alexander explains that the Post policy is underreview, which is to the good, but let's see if and when they publish it. He writes:

Readers such as Alterman are entitled to know the standards to which The Post holds itself. In a column several months ago, I wrote:

The Post keeps its journalistic policies largely hidden, making it virtually impossible for readers to know the paper's ethical andjournalistic standards. The public should be able to easily access them online. It's not merely right but also smart to be transparent at a time when The Post is trying to hold on to readers.

The column also noted that The Post urgently needs to update its ethical guidelines to accommodate the new age of online journalism. Kurtz' failure to disclose his CNN ties in an online chat, while hardly a major transgression, underscores that.

New standards must be written to cover not only conflict of interestdisclosures online, but everything from how corrections should behandled on the Web, to verification of reader-generated content, toauthentication of links, to ethical rules governing the content thatPost employees may submit to social networking sites.

That task has fallen to Milton Coleman, the longtime Post deputy managing editor who is taking the most recent buyout but will remain on contract as a senior editor. He'll be in charge of a full examination of Post standards and ethics. It's a big job. And the review is long overdue.

I actually interviewed then editor Len Downie on this very question for a Nation column years ago. He said that for a media critic, the conflict was unavoidable and hence, the only issue was disclosure. I disagreed. It is there, for sure, but it can be minimized. Kurtz is compromised not only when he writes about CNN but also when he writes about its competitors and potential competitors. (Bill Wyman notes on this very topic. The issue with Howard Kurtz isn't that he didn't mention the CNN connection in his chat, but that he didn't mention CNN in his Twitter story. My piece on this is here.

How do you write a story on an operation like Twitter and notmention the biggest issue currently on it, which just happens to becritical of the place that pays you? FYI, there's a lot here about how he handled the John Edwards story.

...And more here about how he's been covering Katie Couric.

If the Post does not pay him enough to be their media critic, they should hire someone they can pay enough. But Downie's defense falls apart when Kurtz decides to simply assume that everybody knows and does not bother to disclose at all. The fact that this is an ongoing scandal does not make it any less of a scandal.

One more thing: Let's see if the new Post policy applies to all Post properties. A couple of years ago, Slate's Jacob Weisberg took an AIPAC-sponsored junket and then returned home to write about what he learned on the trip. I noted, on Altercation, who had paid for his trip, and he wrote me back a nasty letter in which he called me a "moron" because he had disclosed the fact that he had been there on AIPAC's dime. Thing is, the Washington Post would never allow a reporter to accept a paid trip from AIPAC while writing about AIPAC-related issues, so why are there different rules for Post-owned news sites like Slate? Ibelieve I queried The Washington Post Company on this but have yet toreceive an answer. My guess is that Slate wants to keep it that way. (And despite Weisberg's touchiness and bad manners, the fact is I don't have a problem with what he did. I'd do it myself. It's the Post's policies that interest me.)

Recycling watch: I spent a few hours with Larry David while writing about Hollywood and politics a few years ago and we were talking about "Curb,"--possibly my favorite show of all time--and I told him that I did not find it credible that he would not sleep with the beautiful and talented Cady Huffman before his premiere of The Producers just because she was a Republican. He agreed, adding, "Hell, I'd sleep with a holocaust denier." It was a great line, and I wanted to work it into the piece. I ran into Larry and Laurie at a book party for Arianna, at the biggest g-d house I'd ever set foot in, one that felt like being in the palace at Versailles--and I told them my only concern so far was that I was having trouble working in that great line. (Laurie was happy about this.) Larry, being an incredible mensch, however, called me a few days later and asked my permission to use the line in his bio on Vanity Fair, even though it was his line. I said ok, and now he's giving it more a workouthere, but toning it down for Conan's audience.

Also in the recycling department, Stephen Colbert, seen most recentlyusing old Harvard Lampoon lines in Newsweek, had Josh Marshall on the other night and asked him if he was a blogger, why wasn't he in his bathrobe. When The Daily Show first took notice of bloggers, they did a set piece that included Jay Rosen, who was asked, "If you're a blogger, why aren't you in pajamas." Once again, I have nothing against this kind of thing. I do it myself. I just want to put them on notice...

Guest blog: 'Conflict Minerals' in Your Cell Phone Are the New Blood Diamonds
posted by John Prendergast

It's time to end the trade in "conflict minerals" from the war-tornDemocratic Republic of Congo, which are sold by rebel groups to purchase arms and serve as a direct cause of widespread sexual violence in that country. These minerals--tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold--are commonly used in the manufacture of cell phones, laptops, mp3 players, video games, and digital cameras. I'm writing this from eastern Congo, where I have seen firsthand during the past several weeks the link between our consumer appetites and immense human suffering that his undeniable.

A Fortune magazine article has described this issue as "The New Blood Diamonds," but nothing has being done to end this problem--until now. The Enough Project has documented this connection in a new report and iscalling on electronics companies to pledge that they will make theirproducts conflict free and open their supply chains to transparentaudits.

Enough doesn't claim electronics companies are themselves knowingly dealing in conflict minerals; nor is Enough calling for a total ban or boycott of Congolese minerals, which would hurt miners. However, webelieve electronics companies should audit their supply chains to keepout illegally-traded minerals from their products. If these companiesshow leadership, they can fundamentally end the trade in conflictminerals, ensuring that Congo's mineral wealth does not contribute toarmed conflict and the continuation of the worst violence against women and girls in the world. We are working with other like-minded groups to begin the conversation with the twenty-one largest electronics companies to help end the scourge of conflict minerals.

Here's a slideshow that illustrates the harsh conditions that I haveobserved Congolese minerals toiling under. CNN just did a segment aboutthis issue, "The Battle for Conflict Minerals."

Why this issue matters: The conflict in eastern Congo, the deadliestsince World War II, is being fueled by this trade in minerals by armedgroups who control many mines, force individual miners to pay "taxes" onthe minerals they mine, and destroy communities through sexual violence.More than five million people have died as a result of the war, andhundreds of thousands of women have been raped in eastern Congo over the past decade. While individual miners earn a pittance--no more than $5 per day--the armed groups that are perpetuating the violence generated an estimated $185 million last year by trading in four main minerals, the "3 Ts" and gold. Getting the minerals out of Congo involves smuggling, bribes, and other illegal activities.

The electronics industry's corporate social responsibility association, Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition, issued a statement last yearrecognizing that they "can influence standards throughout the supplychain and within the wider industry." However, industry efforts have yetto provide the transparency necessary to make a difference for theCongolese people. A bill to encourage better practices was introduced inthe US Senate.

Visit the website of Enough's RAISE Hope for Congo campaign to learn howactivists can endorse a pledge to encourage conflict-free cell phonesand other devices and send a message to the world's 21 largestsmall-electronics manufacturers in support of ending the use of conflictminerals.

As part of YouTube's "video for change" campaign, Enough's Congocampaign has launched a video contest known as Come Clean 4 Congo.Activists around the country are making one-minute videos about theconflict minerals issue, and celebrity judges will determine the winner.

John Prendergast co-founded Enough, the project to end genocide andcrimes against humanity, at the Center for American Progress.

Alter-reviews: Lost seasons 1 and 2, Revolutionary Road

I've been watching the first season of Lost on BluRay. The episodes were digitally remastered for the ultimate in high definition picture and sound. I never watched it the first time, but if any TV show was made for BluRay, this is it. To be honest, I think the show's writing is pretty dumb. But if you put your brain on hold, it really does hold your interest, especially in BluRay, where the sound is actually more impressive than the visual, which, in this case, is really saying something. Bonus features for the first season include: "Welcome to Oahu: The Making of the Pilot," which explores the making of the series premiere episode; "The Genesis of Lost", in which the series' creators discuss the show's conception; "Designing A Disaster," which provides insight into how the look of Lost was achieved; "Before They Were Lost," featuring cast audition tapes, and "Lost: On Location," which spotlights the show's Hawaiian shooting locations. Additional bonus features in the set include Bloopers, Deleted Scenes. For the Season Two BluRay set, whichI've not seen yet, they throw in "The Official Lost Connections," avisual guide mapping out the shocking connections between characters; "Secrets from the Hatch," which lets viewers goexplore the mysterious "Swan"; "Mysteries, Theories and Conspiracies," which reveals the truth aboutThe Virgin Mary, Hanso and Snow Globes; "Lost: On Location," an all-access pass to the show's set; TheWorld According to Sawyer" and "Fire & Water: Anatomy of an Episode," which takes viewers on thejourney from an episode's conception to completion...

Also, over the weekend, I watched the BluRay of Revolutionary Road,which is one of my favorite novels of the past fifty years. The movie isnot the novel by a long shot--you know it's not a great sign when thepress/blurb campaign features Peter Travers up top. But again, it's apretty good argument for BluRay because it is so lovingly filmed by SamMendes and so much work went into creating the periodization. I'drecommend the film, but only if you read the novel first. That way, youdon't have to watch the sad part at the end and can jump right away tothe Richard Yates documentary included in the extras. You also get theusual director's comments and deleted scenes, etc, if you're into thatkind of thing.

The mail:

Name: David Fruehling
Hometown: Denver

From: Idiot America
By: Charles Pierce

"If the country took its obligations to self-government at allseriously, the presence of Sarah Palin on a national ticket wouldhave been an insult on a par with the elevation of Caligula's horse"-- p. 266

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Name: Becky Martz
Hometown: Cambridge, MA

Dear Eric,

I've just picked up my copy of Idiot America by Charles Pierce andI am enjoying it immensely. It's full of interesting facts (readit with Wikipedia and Google on hand to find out more abouthistorical tidbits.)

So many weird things have happened in the past several years thatit's hard to keep track of all of them. This book helps make sense ofhow things have gotten so odd, and reminds me that no, it's not me--it's them.

It's also really funny. I recommend it to all Altercators.

Name: Rene Tihista
Hometown: Bend, OR

I have yet to see a prominent media figure point out the cognitivedissonance of Bill O'Reilly and the other right wing loudmouthsclaiming they never actually said, "Go kill Dr. Tiller." Sotherefore they can't in any way be implicated just for exercisingtheir First Amendment rights to call him "Tiller the Baby Killer"and other violent epithets. Bill O'Reilly claimed he was morepowerful than any politician in America. Disregarding his paranoidgrandiosity, how can he claim then, if he is so important, that hedoesn't influence potential deranged fanatics like the guy whokilled Dr. Tiller. Or how about the guy who walked into thatUnitarian Church in Tennessee to kill as many liberals as he could?O'Reilly's book, along with Hannity's, was in the guy's house.O'Reilly also claimed that his call for a boycott of France for notfollowing Bush/Cheney into Iraq would, "bring down the Frencheconomy." Now that sounds like a lot of influence. A lot of power topersuade people to boycott an entire country. O'Reilly gets paidmillions to influence behavior, i.e., to get people to watch hisdiatribes. So if he is so important and influential doesn't it standto reason that he might influence unstable right-wing fanatics toact out their anger? Seems obvious to me.

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