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Ari Melber

Ari Melber

Law, politics, new media and beats, rhymes and life.

Palin as McCain's Greatest Move

John McCain completely upended the presidential race by tapping Sarah Palin, an unknown and unremarkable governor of a small, remote red state, to be his running mate. McCain won the GOP primary largely by positioning himself as a man among boys, and he's been depicting the general election as choice between the old soldier you know and a new, untested lightweight. Yet now McCain's ticket carries the weakest link, according to the instant judgment of the political class. Noting Palin's youth, inexperience and "ethical shadow," the AP dryly recited Palin's governing experience: "A governor for just 20 months, she was two-term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a town of 6,500 where the biggest issue is controlling growth and the biggest civic worry is whether there will be enough snow for the Iditarod dog-mushing race." Journalist Josh Marshall also concludes that Palin shreds McCain's greatest hope for victory. "With her choice, McCain, with one stroke, undercuts the best argument of his campaign: Obama's purported lack of experience for the job."

So did McCain really just sabotage his own presidential run? Not even close. This is probably the best move he's made during a largely lackluster campaign. Yes, Palin remains an odd choice -- she aspires to Barack Obama's youthful appeal, but without the substance or credentials, and she aims for Hillary Clinton's tenacity, but without a clear policy agenda. (That's why some conservatives are dispirited.) Yet Palin could deliver major political, message and substantive dividends -- for McCain and perhaps for the country.

Politically, she may lure independent women and former Hillary supporters. Surely GOP polling reflects that prospect, given McCain's recent ads courting those cohorts. For McCain's message, putting a new, young female politician on the ticket signals far more change -- and validates the maverick promises -- than the prospect of two senior citizen senators who pledge to "change Washington."

Substantively, which is most important, McCain is using his campaign as a vessel to break another glass ceiling in America's overwhelmingly (white) male-dominated power structure. It may be good politics for him, but it's also good for a Republican Party that grooms few women, and virtually no minorities, for leadership positions in government. (President Bush is a welcome and rare exception, as I've written before.) It's good for the country -- remarkable, inspiring and also long overdue -- that both presidential tickets promise to break a barrier fortified by America's long history of discrimination. The Democrats clearly deserve more credit for this progress, given decades of work backing civil rights and educational opportunity, along with the more recent activism of Democratic voters willing to "risk" their votes on a Jackson or Ferraro, and an Obama or Clinton. It would be a bitter irony, for many Americans, if the political climate developed by Democrats and Sen. Clinton redounded to benefit a Republican woman who did not place herself in the race for national office.

Clinton, however, struck a supportive note in her first official response to Palin's "historic nomination." After congratulating the Alaska Governor and Sen. McCain, Clinton noted that "while their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate." It is a voice, of course, that shouts down much of Clinton's life-long work -- and speaks in stubborn opposition to the economic and foreign policy changes favored by the public. Yet it is also another step towards delivering on the promise of American democracy, the selection of a government from all the people, to represent all the people. By marching towards that goal, in a messy fusion of self-interest, politics and idealistic progress, today McCain and Obama have something worthwhile in common.

Who is Watching the Dems in Denver? (An Answer!)

Barack is now the nominee, Hillary is on board, Bill is kicking into gear and Joe is taking names. The Democrats' convention is eventful, but who is watching it all go down?

Over twenty million people a night -- and the numbers are rising. In fact, on the second night of the convention, the Dems quintupled their draw compared to 2004. Five times the voters ain't bad.

This Tuesday drew 26 million viewers, while only about five million people tuned in on the same day in 2004. That's partly because no networks covered Kerry's second day in Boston. This year, in contrast, there is huge interest in the entire convention, and especially in Sen. Clinton's address on Day Two.

About nine percent of the U.S. population is checking into convention coverage, according to Nielsen. The share is higher among African Americans -- about 12.7 percent are tuning in to see the first nomination of a black candidate by a major party in American history. Divided by age, the audience for this convention skews towards older Americans. One out of five Americans over age 55 caught some convention programming. (I asked Nielsen if there is any spike in youth interest compared to 2004, but a spokesman said the 2004 age demographics are not available.)

Sitting here in the hall press box, it's hard to have any feel for how most Americans are experiencing the convention. The politicians and pundits are all around, but they're hard to hear. Sen. Evan Bayh, the only neoconservative to make Obama's VP shortlist, is talking now, but the din of the crowd is drowning out his address. Out of the several dozen reporters near The Nation aisle, few look like they're listening. My colleagues Patricia Williams and Ari Berman are both reading, some grizzled newspaper reporters hit the phones, and a long line snakes behind the section for reporters waiting for floor credentials to get close to Biden's speech.

As Tom Daschle serves up a stern lecture, the delegates are buzzing with preparation for the bigger speeches of the night. Obama operatives clad in bright green vests run from the boiler room with signs, flags and other Americana for delegates to wave during the next speeches. Daschle's address is about as staid as his striped gray tie, but people seem excited anyway.

Tailgating with the Dems in Denver

Sometimes tailgating is even better than the game. The Democratic National Convention starts Monday, but thousands of delegates, activists, operatives, protesters and members of the media have already flooded Denver. The media started pre-partying in earnest on Saturday night, in a blowout reception at a local amusement park; the bloggers began pre-funking Sunday afternoon, at the 8,000 square foot Big Tent "new media center"; and Democratic pols are tailgating Sunday night at several welcoming receptions, from a DNC museum gala to a concert at the famous Red Rocks amphitheatre. There's even a DLC party for self-doubting Democrats.

Parties are central to the party conventions, as The Nation's Ari Berman explains in a new video, and we're hitting our share. Gov. Ed Rendell dropped by a small Salon loft party last night, where he chatted with guests about his intention to cast his first ballot for Hillary Clinton, if there is one. Put Clinton's desires aside, Rendell said, and it's simply in Obama's interest to give voice to Clinton supporters this week, since some could still jump ship. The McCain campaign obviously agrees, given their new Clinon ad. (Rendell also thinks she'll run again, but that's another story.)

As delegates mingle, the buzz is focused on Biden, naturally, along with excitement for the first big speeches on Monday, from Michelle Obama and Ted Kennedy. Hardcore delegates are also sizing up the convention floor map, which the DNC released Sunday, 2008-08-24-Picture1.png showing which states have the best positions and revealing, supposedly, the party's national pecking order. On Sunday morning, organizers moved the Delaware delegation to the front of the hall. "Honoring of the home state delegation of the Vice Presidential nominee is a Convention tradition," explained a solemn announcement from the convention committee. While Delaware moved up, most of the convention floor was dotted with staffers and security officials making last-minute preparations on Sunday. The Obama campaign "boiler room," outfitted with a dedicated phone line for every state delegation, was piled high with homemade Obama signs shipped in from around the country.

Also, even though Obama will never enter Pepsi Center this week, security is extremely tight. Ken Salazar, Colorado's junior U.S. Senator, was prevented from entering the hall by the Secret Service for several minutes on Sunday, apparently because there was a question about whether he had the proper credential to enter for a TV interview.

 

MSNBC Taps Rachel Maddow for New Show

Popular pundit Rachel Maddow will host a new talk show on MSNBC, catapulting the Air America host and progressive favorite into a prime time field largely dominated by male and conservative anchors.

MSNBC is set to officially announce the decision on Wednesday, but the channel's biggest star, Keith Olbermann, broke the news to supporters through a "fully authorized leak" on his diary at DailyKos on Tuesday evening. The jocular host, a longtime Maddow booster, even wrote up a few answers to "key questions" for his blog audience:

 

No, the format isn't set, though there have been a lot of discussions out there and they have all centered on how to best allow her to both give her laser-quality insights while soliciting the opinions of others.

 

 

Yes, I had something to do with it.

 

 

Yes, you had something to do with it.

 

 

Yes, I did like the description of her in The Nation: "Everything about her radiates competence and a deft, bright careerism."

 

The show is set to begin on September 8, batting clean-up for Olbermann.

 

Fighting Back with a Nixon Money Bomb

Today, on the anniversary of Richard Nixon's resignation, activists are running a money bomb campaign to raise money for candidates to oust incumbents in both parties that have sold out the Constitution during the Bush era. Glenn Greenwald explains:

 

Thirty-four years ago today, Richard Nixon was forced from office as a result of mounting public anger, which in turn fueled the bipartisan intent of Congress to impeach him, due to his involvement in the relatively minor Watergate crimes. Accountability of that sort for our highest political leaders is today inconceivable.Rather than investigate and punish violations of the Constitution and other laws, our political class conceals those crimes for as long as it can, endorses them when they are disclosed, and then acts to protect the lawbreakers. ... Laws are written not just for, but literally by, the largest corporations and their lobbyists -- even including, as we recently witnessed, laws that have no purpose other than to immunize them from consequences when they are caught deliberately breaking our laws. Our basic Constitutional framework is being continuously assaulted while the lawless Surveillance State expands without limits, all justified by a condition of permanent War....

 

The Times reports on the plan and the "Strange Bedfellows" coalition, which I joined, along with progressive activists, liberal bloggers and Ron Paul supporters:

 

Organizers are hoping Friday's money bomb will bring in $1 million to add to the approximately $350,000 the group collected to oppose the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which it used to placed ads attacking three Democrats who supported the surveillance legislation: Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader, as well as Representatives Chris Carney of Pennsylvania and John Barrow of Georgia. AccountabilityNow, which aims to play a political role from which groups like the American Civil Liberties Union are barred, plans to buy print ads with the new funds criticizing Mr. Hoyer and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami-area Republican, for co-sponsoring a measure endorsing a naval blockade of Iran, and they also plan to buy space to call for Congress to look into the F.B.I.'s handling of the anthrax investigation. By 2010, AccountabilityNow hopes to field primary candidates that support its civil libertarian, anti-war positions.

 

Greenwald, an attorney who started writing on an independent blog in 2005 and drew a large following by tackling civil liberties issues, is urging his readers to pony up for the effort:

 

If you are one of the more than 3,200 people who have already pledged to donate to the Money Bomb, today is the day to donate, here. If you haven't yet pledged, all details of the campaign are here. Regardless of whether you've previously pledged or not, you are able, and encouraged, to donate today. Chronicling the fundamental corruption and serial outrages of our political class is one step. Creating and executing strategies for battling them, altering public debates, and changing behavior is the next.

 

Recent fights over surveillance and the rule of law have been dispiriting, but I think these kind of non-partisan, accountability efforts are the most practical way to counter capitulation in Washington -- and tangibly increase the power of a proactive, anti-corruption, civil liberties movement.

 

Fox News Attacked by Rapper, Blackroots & Colbert (Updated)

It might be Fox News' worst nightmare: liberal bloggers and black hip hop.

The rapper with the #1 album in the country is waging war on Fox News, in a new campaign backed by black activists at ColorOfChange.org, liberal bloggers and even Bill O'Reilly's alter-ego, Stephen Colbert.2008-07-24-Picture5.png On Wednesday, the rapper Nas led a small rally at NewsCorp's midtown Manhattan headquarters, in an effort to deliver 600,000 signatures from citizens protesting biased and racist programing by Fox. Fox refused the petitions, so Nas took his campaign to "The Colbert Report" on Wednesday night, where he blasted O'Reilly and performed his new song, "Sly Fox," which skewers the channel. With his trademark staccato delivery, Nas contrasts criticism of violent entertainment to U.S. foreign policy. ("They say I'm all about murder-murder and kill-kill...What about Cheney and Halliburton? The backdoor deals on oil fields.") And the chorus sounds like Democracy Now! meets Dr. Dre:

 

Watch what you watching/Fox keeps feeding us toxins/Stop sleeping, start thinking/ Outside of the box and/unplug from the matrix doctrine/But watch what you say/Big Brother is watching

 

James Rucker, the head of ColorOfChange.org, argued that Fox's impact extended beyond the presidential campaign -- a period when Fox has already apologized for false and derogatory coverage of Obama, from a discredited report about his youth to wild conspiracy theories about, yes, fist bumps. "When Fox talks about lynching the woman who may soon be our First Lady and then refers to this wife and mother as a 'baby mama,' they are maligning not only the Obamas, but Black women and Black people across this country," he said in an email statement. The group, working with MoveOn and liberal bloggers, is still recruiting more supporters for its petition (below with video). Fox, which has previously attacked Nas and likened liberal bloggers to the KKK, has been slow to respond. It even declined to comment when asked about the protest by its sister publication, the Wall Street Journal:

 

The Fox News Channel has faced criticism that it is biased against Sen. Obama... including one anchor's suggestion that a fist-bump between Barack and Michelle Obama could be a "terrorist fist-jab".... Fox News is owned by News Corp., which also owns Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal. On Wednesday, a group of protesters from the organizations ColorofChange.org and MoveOn.org, led by the hip hop artist Nas, will deliver a petition with more than 600,000 signatures to Fox, urging the network to "end its pattern of racist attacks." A Fox News spokeswoman declined to comment.

 

Update: Fox News' Dana Klinghoffer has emailed a response to this "FOX News/rapper protest piece." She writes that "Fox News responded immediately with a statement" on the day of the protest, which read: "Fox News believes in all protesters exercising their right to free speech, including Nas who has an album to promote." She also emphasizes that the Journal article quoted above was "written before the protest." (I left Ms. Klinghoffer a voice message today and may update further if she replies.) And that's not all. Fox officials are not only attacking Nas for selling his album (which already topped the charts), some are likening the anti-racism activists to the KKK. MTV reports that Bill O'Reilly also responded, deriding protesters such as MoveOn as "the new Klan" with "a radical left agenda." He continued:

 

The latest smear from Move On is telling their Kool-Aid-drinking zombie followers that Fox News is smearing Barack Obama and is a racist concern. Of course, that's a lie. This broadcast and FNC in general have been exceedingly fair to Senator Obama. ... But in order to intimidate anyone from criticizing Obama in any way, Move On is playing the race card.

 

Michael Connery posts the Colbert segments here.

 

 

 

 

Time Corrects Clinton Netroots Story

In response to my Nation pieces and a request from Markos Moulitsas, today Time issued a correction to its article about Netroots Nation:

The original version of this story said that Hillary Clinton's appearance at a 2007 Netroots Q&A session was greeted by boos. The writer confused that event with accounts of another Clinton appearance that had taken place earlier. Clinton was not booed at the Netroots event.

 

The corrected article removes the entire passage about Clinton. Meanwhile, today's Austin American-Statesman features an editor's note informing readers that the paper "compromised" its standards by running a front-page news article slamming Netroots Nation as a virtual "faint-in" for "marauding liberals" to honor a House Speaker so liberal she could represent China. The paper also removed the article from its website, as Rachel Weiner reported. Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell, (who spoke on a panel with me at the conference), posted a blog diary about the "snarky" article on DailyKos. Today Moulitsas discussed the process:

After Mitchell's diary unleashed ... a torrent of letters to the editor directed at the newspaper, the story disappeared from the paper's website, scrubbed clean of any traces of its existence. People emailing the author ... received responses that they just didn't get the hilarity of his humorous account.

 

The netroots activists' pushback on these articles effectively combines fact-checking and advocacy. Bloggers can lobby for fair treatment, demand accurate coverage, and show readers whether the press is accountable.

Netroots Summit Grapples with Bipartisan Attacks on Rule of Law

Politicians, legal experts and progressive activists grappled with Republican abuses of power at the third annual netroots convention on Friday, debating how an Obama Administration might restore the rule of law. Cass Sunstein, an informal adviser to Barack Obama from the University of Chicago Law School, urged caution in prosecuting criminal conduct from the current administration, while also noting that egregious crimes should not be ignored. Prosecuting government officials risks a "cycle" of criminalizing public service, he argued, and Democrats should avoid replicating retributive efforts like the impeachment of President Clinton--or even the "slight appearance" of it. (Note: I updated this passage after talking with Professor Sunstein; the earlier version did not include his remarks about not ignoring egregious crimes. Some of the panel videos are available online, though so far not this one, if possible I will post more quotes from the panel when video becomes available.)

"Give me a break," responded former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, when told about Sunstein's advice during an interview with The Nation. Siegelman took a court-sanctioned trip to tell attendees about his conviction for corruption, currently on appeal, which he says was motivated by a malicious Republican effort to destroy his career. Discussing alleged White House abuse of the Justice Department, which led to Alberto Gonzales' resignation, Siegelman said "what Karl Rove has been accused of doing would make Watergate look like child's play." The former governor also urged activists to press Congress to hold Rove in contempt for defying a House subpoena in a related investigation. His supporters have launched an Internet campaign, ContemptforRove.org, to advance the cause. Noting that Rove's potential testimony "could not impact" his appeal, Siegelman said he was still pressing the issue because it was fundamental to "restoring justice and preserving our democracy." He learned how blogs were scrutinizing the Republican corruption at the Justice Department when supporters sent him print-outs from TalkingPointsMemo while he was serving the first 9 months of his prison sentence.

Attendees and bloggers are disappointed with the emerging, bipartisan consensus in Washington that the lawlessness of the Bush era can largely go unpunished. After emphasizing more investigations over actual accountability, Sunstein and Nixon-era White House Counsel John Dean faced pointed questioning at a packed panel on "The Next President and the Law." Mike Stark, a blogger who helped organize the spying protests within Obama's social network, asked why politicians should ever be above the law. And Hunter, a popular "front-page poster" on DailyKos, captured the mood in a long post kicking off the conference:

It seems evident, at this point, that there will be no comeuppance as a result of the excesses of the Bush administration. There will be investigations; they will investigate. There will be subpoenas; they will simply be refused...We know misrepresentations were made that led us, apparently inexorably, into war. In the end, we are as a nation (public, press, and government) not particularly interested in hearing the particulars of how or why; the truth is that we were aching for a good war, and the rationale was an afterthought not just for the Bush administration, but for most of their audience.

We know the rule of law itself was politicized, made into an apparatus of partisan advantage, a weapon for the ruling party to use against opponents. We know who did it, and we know it was not just unethical, but illegal. But to push it farther than that would require taking the last step -- from investigation, to prosecution -- and that step seems illusory, at best.... There will be reconciliation, and reconciliation will be defined by the conservative punditry as letting bygones be bygones -- anything but that will be unacceptable and partisan, in itself. 

The conference continues through Sunday, with addresses by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Howard Dean, netroots favorite Donna Edwards, columnist Paul Krugman, DLC head Harold Ford, blogger Markos Moulitsas and a host of writers and policy wonks. (I'm moderating a panel on "War Pundits.") Barack Obama, who attended last year's conference, sent several aides in his place this time. Campaign spokesperson Hari Sevugan told The Nation that the "netroots community is an important voice in our public discourse" that can impact policy and "help keep people involved after the election."

Update: Glenn Greenwald discusses these issues in a post about preemptive pardons.

2008-07-18-Picture1.png Howard Dean arrives at Netroots Nation

The War Pundits: Sam Power, McJoan, Danner, Mitchell

The media's coverage and advocacy of the Iraq war remains one of the most vexing problems in our politics. While many now agree that the traditional press overstated the case for war, underplayed opposition and tapped a decidedly unrepresentative and often biased punditocracy to debate our foreign policy, there's little consensus about how to fix the problems. And while the Internet has increased the political and business pressures on the traditional press, we don't know yet if new media will improve or further fracture our foreign policy debates. To tackle these questions, the Netroots Nation conference is convening an unusual panel this Saturday, which I'm moderating, with some important experts (and critics) on foreign policy, human rights and the media. So feel free to post comments and questions for:

 

Pulitzer-prize winning author and Harvard professor Samantha Power, who just published Chasing the Flame; Emmy-award winningNew Yorker writer and Berkeley journalism professor Mark Danner, author of The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War's Buried History (and vigorous debater of Iraq hawks from Kristol to Hitchens); Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, award-winning columnist and author of So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits--and the President--Failed on Iraq; and Joan McCarter, a front page blogger for DailyKos and former aide to Sen. Ron Wyden.

 

I hope the discussion will help pinpoint media failures in refereeing foreign policy debates and brainstorm specific ways to improve democratic discourse. That should be easy, in theory. For Iraq coverage, the liberal/netroots critique actually overlaps with the traditional media's stated goals of accuracy and balance. By relying too heavily on government sources from one party, most pre-war coverage misstated the threat and drastically underplayed opposition to the war among experts, political elites and the general public. According to one recent academic study:

 

Network TV stories in the eight months before the war quoted Bush administration officials for 29 percent of sources, while quoting Democratic officials for three percent of sources. The war pundits were shockingly unrepresentative of political reality. And grassroots antiwar groups "comprised just 1% of all quotes, making such dissent a drop in the bucket."

 

So even when activists build large movements--some of the Iraq war protest broke world records--media malpractice can limit their impact. And the virtual media blackout of Democratic opposition to the war, even as most Democratic congresspersons voted against it, exacerbated tensions between the progressive base and incumbents with a misleading narrative. Joan adds:

 

When the few dissident voices that were heard on a national stage rose up, they were easily dismissed. ...And when it became increasingly clear that [the press], along with our Congress and the rest of the nation who lived inside the Beltway or voted Republican, was duped into going into war, it became increasingly important to not admit that. Which, I believe, is one of the reasons that the bombshell New York Times expose on the military/media propaganda machine was greeted by the rest of the media (and The Villagers) with nothing more than a resounding yawn. [It] should have been a game-changing revelation...

 

So how can activists make the media live up to its own mission and report reality in foreign policy debates? How can the public influence who is anointed to shape our nation's war punditry? And will the general public's antipathy towards the media ever translate into greater media accountability in this area?

Those are some of the questions, and we welcome more questions, ideas and comments from readers before Saturday. This is an open source panel, of course. (Post below or email me at amelber-at-hotmail.com.) Let's get to work.

Related:

Conference link for War Pundits Panel, 10:30am SaturdayUstream link for viewing.War pundits post at DailyKosWesPac post on the panel

Huffington Hails Obsessive Compulsive Media

Web entrepreneur Arianna Huffington slammed old media at a political conference in New York today, assailing reporters for abandoning the pursuit of truth in favor of a "fake neutrality" and quailing in the face of government intimidation.

Even when traditional news organizations do break significant investigative stories, such as the Times' Pentagon propaganda article, Huffington said reporters still rush off to the next topic. As an alternative to this "attention deficit disorder" reporting, Huffington hailed the "obsessive compulsive disorder" tendencies of new media -- picking apart stories; blending research and activism; and pressing politicians to comment and act in response to news in an autocatalytic process that creates more news. That's what happened when the blogosphere seized on the Pentagon propaganda issue, eventually forcing late responses from Congress and presidential candidates, she noted. The same dynamics animate this week's netroots effort to fight the White House surveillance bill, building on past reporting and pressure to get Barack Obama on the record against retroactive amnesty for telecom companies.And author Clay Shirky, who addressed the same Personal Democracy Forum conference after Huffington, hit a similar theme, declaring that nowadays "media is not a source of information, it's a site of action."

Huffington also discussed some dark sides of the blogosphere, such as "vile" comments from people hiding their identities. Her "Internet newspaper" site, The Huffington Post, now has 30 part-time comment editors to patrol feedback. She added that her staff and volunteer bloggers are guided by a trio of new media values: transparency, accountability and community.

--Ari Melber, the Net movement correspondent for The Nation, is blogging from the "Rebooting the System" conference of the Personal Democracy Forum, where he is a contributing editor and panel moderator.

 

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