The Nation

Rush's "Magic Negro" Routine

Rush Limbaugh has obviously learned nothing from the outrage and anger unleashed by Don Imus' unfortunate "nappy headed ho's" remark. Never one to shy away from unfunny "humor", Limbaugh recently played a song parody on his radio show in which an Al Sharpton impersonator (played with stereotypical gusto) sings a song filled with idiotic assumptions about black people and dripping with ignorance called "Barack the Magic Negro".

Perhaps this kind of garbage (set to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon") is someone's cup of tea. Limbaugh does have millions of listeners and they do adore of much of what the man says. Whether he's lampooning former President Clinton's daughter or suggesting Michael J. Fox is exaggerating the effects of his Parkinson's disease. So I don't expect his listeners to desert him over this. What does surprise me is that Vice President Dick Cheney among other major conservatives is still a regular guest on Limbaugh's show and I don't anticipate the kind of repudiations that Don Imus received over his transgression from him or anyone else on the right with regards to Limbaugh.

It is true that Imus was chided because he was on a national cable news network and was perhaps less associated with being a provocateur than Limbaugh. But I still think Cheney and his ilk should refuse to appear on Limbaugh's show from now on. I wonder, will there be any outcry? Are people becoming so desensitized to this now that they just don't care about the inevitable phony apology and/or Al Sharpton protest. I'd like to see calls for Limbaugh's removal not just from the black community but from the supporters of the president and vice-president who are not racist, who don't find "jokes" like "Barack The Magic Negro" funny.

But this will never, ever happen. Limbaugh's entire career and success is based on being petty and juvenile, so one more stupid act will most likely change nothing. Personally, I'm just disheartened that so soon after the Imus controversy came and went the so-called shock jocks and right wing nuts went right back to business as usual, didn't blink an eye and continued to use racism to insult and humiliate.

Talking with Democracy Now

Here are links to a transcript of my conversation with Amy Goodman on the April 24 edition of Democracy Now. We discussed the legacy of Boris Yeltsin, the tragic death of David Halberstam and the growing campaign against the United States Postal Service decision to dramatically increase mailings costs for small publications while decreasing the postal burden of Big Media giants like Time-Warner.

Mustansiriya U. and Virginia Tech

Last January 16th, a car bomb blew up near an entrance to Mustansiriya University in Baghdad -- and then, as rescuers approached, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the crowd. In all, at least 60 Iraqis, mostly female students leaving campus for home, were killed and more than 100 wounded. Founded in 1232 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir, it was, Juan Cole informs us, "one of the world's early universities." And this wasn't the first time it had seen trouble. "It was disrupted by the Mongol invasion of 1258."

Just six weeks later, on February 25, again according to Cole, "A suicide bomber with a bomb belt got into the lobby of the School of Administration and Economy of Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and managed to set it off despite being spotted at the last minute by university security guards. The blast killed 41 and wounded a similar number according to late reports, with body parts everywhere and big pools of blood in the foyer as students were shredded by the high explosives." The bomber in this case was a woman.

In terms of body count, those two mass slaughters added up to more than three Virginia Techs; and, on each of those days, countless other Iraqis died including, on the January date, at least thirteen in a blast involving a motorcycle-bomb and then a suicide car-bomber at a used motorcycle market in the Iraqi capital. Needless to say, these stories passed in a flash on our TV news and, in our newspapers, were generally simply incorporated into run-of-bad-news-and-destruction summary pieces from Iraq the following day. No rites, no ceremonies, no special presidential statements, no Mustansiriya T-shirts. No attempt to psychoanalyze the probably young Sunni jihadis who carried out these mad acts, mainly against young Shiite students. No healing ceremonies, no offers to fly in psychological counselors for the traumatized students of Mustansiriya University or the daily traumatized inhabitants of Baghdad -- those who haven't died or fled.

We are only now emerging from more than a week in the nearly 24/7 bubble world the American media creates for all-American versions of such moments of horror, elevating them to heights of visibility that no one on Earth can avoid contemplating. Really, we have no sense of how strange these media moments of collective, penny-ante therapy are, moments when, as Todd Gitlin wrote recently, killers turn "into broadcasters." Like Cho Seung-Hui, they go into "the communication business," making the media effectively (and usually willingly enough) "accessories after the fact" in what are little short of pornographic displays of American victimization.

Finally, articles are beginning to appear that place the horrific, strangely meaningless, bizarrely mesmerizing slaughter/suicide at Blacksburg -- the killing field of a terrorist without even a terror program -- in some larger context. Washington Post on-line columnist Dan Froomkin caught something of our moment in his mordant observation that, at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner the other evening, with the massed media and the President (as well as Karl Rove) well gathered, "the tragic Virginia Tech massacre required solemn observation and expressions of great respect, while the seemingly endless war that often claims as many victims in a day deserved virtually no mention at all." Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks took a hard-eyed look at the urge of all Americans to become "victims" and of a President who won't attend the funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq to make hay off the moment. ("It's a good strategy. People busy holding candlelight vigils for the deaths in Blacksburg don't have much time left over to protest the war in Iraq."); and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll offered his normal incisive comments, this time on "expressive" and "instrumental" violence in Iraq and the U.S. in his latest column. He ends with this: "Iraqi violence of various stripes still aims for power, control, or, at minimum, revenge. Iraqi violence is purposeful. Last week puts its hard question to Americans: What is the purpose of ours?"

Sometimes, in moments like this, it's actually useful to take a step or two out of the American biosphere and try to imagine these all-day-across-every-channel obsessional events of ours as others might see them; to consider how we, who are so used to being the eyes of the world, might actually look to others. In "The Cho in the White House," John Brown, a former U.S. diplomat, one of three State Department employees to resign in protest against the onrushing war in Iraq in 2003, considers some of the eerie parallels between Cho's world and George's that wouldn't normally come to the American mind. He concludes: "Regrettably, I fear that, after more than six years of George W. Bush, Baghdad and Blacksburg are, to many on our planet, not that far apart. Woe to the diplomat who has to explain us to the world today."

Kucinich: Impeachment is the Right Response

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has now filed his three articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney, and the Ohio Democrat is clearly serious about the holding the vice president to account for manipulating intelligence to fabricate a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, manipulating intelligence to fabricate a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and openly threatened aggression against Iran absent any real threat to the the United States.

Kucinich's House website contains the text of the resolution, H.R. 333, along with pages of documentation supporting the articles, a summary of impeachment procedures, and a copy of the congressman's letter to the vice president.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kucinich explained his initiative at a Capitol Hill press conference that he began by delivering the following statement:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that, among these, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the government; and, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.

These words from the Declaration of Independence are instructive at this moment. Because not only whenever any form of government, but whenever any government official becomes destructive of the founding purposes, that official or those officials must be held accountable.

Because I believe the vice president's conduct of office has been destructive to the founding purposes of our nation. Today, I have introduced House Resolution 333, Articles of Impeachment Relating to Vice President Richard B. Cheney. I do so in defense of the rights of the American people to have a government that is honest and peaceful.

It became obvious to me that this vice president, who was a driving force for taking the United States into a war against Iraq under false pretenses, is once again rattling the sabers of war against Iran with the same intent to drive America into another war, again based on false pretenses.

Let me cite from the articles of impeachment that were introduced this afternoon, Article I, that Richard Cheney had purposely manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and the Congress of the United States by fabricating a threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify the use of the United States armed forces against the nation of Iraq in a manner damaging to our national security.

That despite all evidence to the contrary, the vice president actively and systematically sought to deceive the citizens and the Congress of the United States about an alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

That preceding the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the vice president was fully informed that no legitimate evidence existed of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The vice president pressured the intelligence community to change their findings to enable the deception of the citizens and the Congress of the United States.

That in this the vice president subverted the national security interests of the United States by setting the stage for the loss of more than 3,300 United States service members and the loss of 650,000 Iraqi citizens since the United States invasion; the loss of approximately $500 billion in war costs, which has increased our federal debt; the loss of military readiness within the United States armed services, through an overextension and lack of training and lack of equipment; and the loss of United States credibility in the world affairs and decades of likely blowback created by the invasion of Iraq.

That with respect to Article II, that Richard Cheney manipulated the intelligence process to deceive the citizens and the Congress of the United States about an alleged relationship between Iraq and Al Qaida in order to justify the use of United States armed forces against the nation of Iraq in a manner damaging to our national security.

And that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the vice president actively and systematically sought to deceive the citizens and Congress of the United States about an alleged relationship between Iraq and Al Qaida.

That preceding to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the vice president was fully informed that no credible evidence existed of a working relationship between Iraq and Al Qaida, a fact articulated in several official documents.

With respect to Article III, that in his conduct while vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney openly threatened aggression against the Republic of Iran, absent any real threat to the United States, and has done so with the United States's proven capability to carry out such threats, thus undermining the national security interests of the United States.

That despite no evidence that Iran has the intention or the capability of attacking the United States, and despite the turmoil created by the United States's invasion of Iraq, the vice president has openly threatened aggression against Iran.

Furthermore, I point out in the articles that Article VI of the United States Constitution states, and I quote, "This Constitution and the laws of the United States shall be made in pursuance thereof and all treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land. Any provision of an international treaty ratified by the United States becomes the law of the United States."

The United States is signatory to the U.N. Charter, a treaty among the nations of the world. Article II, Section 4 of the United Nations Charter states, and I quote, "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

The articles conclude by pointing out that the vice president's deception upon the citizens and the Congress of the United States that enabled the failed United States invasion of Iraq forcibly altered the rules of diplomacy so that the vice president recent belligerent actions toward Iran are destabilizing and counterproductive to the national security of the United States of America.

These articles of impeachment are not brought forth lightly. I've carefully weighed the options available to members of Congress and found this path the path that is the most important to take.

The justifications used to lead our nation to war have unquestionably been disproved. Brave soldiers and innocent civilians have lost their lives in a war the United States should never have initiated. The weight of the lies used to lead us into war has grown heavier with each death. Now is the time for Congress to examine the actions that led us into this war, just as we must work to bring the troops home. This resolution is a very serious matter, and I will urge the Committee on Judiciary to investigate and carefully consider this resolution.


John Nichols, the best-selling biographer of Vice President Dick Cheney, is the author of a new book: THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Bill Moyers and the Fight for American Journalism

Bill Moyers is not the first American to ask with regard to the media coverage of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq: "How did the mainstream press get it so wrong?"

The man who has been a White House press secretary, newspaper publisher, author and television news program host is not alone in wondering: "How did the evidence disputing (Bush administration claims and intimations regarding) the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the link between Saddam Hussein to 9-11 continue to go largely unreported?"

But Moyers has done something that most Americans have not had the time, the resources or the contacts to do, and that is answer the fundamental questions about the failure of print, broadcast and cable news outlets to cut through the spin and give the American people the truth about the Bush administration's unwarranted rush to war.

"What the conservative media did was easy to fathom; they had been cheerleaders for the White House from the beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the President -- no questions asked," explains Moyers. "How mainstream journalists suspended skepticism and scrutiny remains an issue of significance that the media has not satisfactorily explored. How the administration marketed the war to the American people has been well covered, but critical questions remain: How and why did the press buy it, and what does it say about the role of journalists in helping the public sort out fact from propaganda?"

These and the premises and purposes of a remarkable new documentary, "Buying the War," which explores the role of the press in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The 90-minute program, which airs Wednesday, April 25, on PBS channels across the country is the special premiere of the new weekly series, "Bill Moyers Journal."

After Wednesday night's premiere, Moyers will return to PBS on the Friday night schedule where he was resident for a number of years as the host of "NOW with Bill Moyers." And, just as he did before leaving "NOW" several years ago, at a time when President Bush's allies and appointees were attacking him for giving air time to administration critics – including Republicans such as Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel – Moyers is still practicing the craft of journalism in the manner intended by the rebels against empire who wrote a "freedom of the press" protection into America's founding document.

In other words, he is refusing to be a stenographer for the powerful.

"Buying the War" highlights that refusal.

In the documentary, Moyers interviews former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, NBC's "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert, former CNN president Walter Isaacson, and many of the top American print and broadcast reporters. He challenges them. He presses them. He gets them to acknowledge not just the drastic flaws in the reporting before and immediately after the invasion of Iraq but also the extent to which those flaws illustrate the deeper crisis of today's "on-bended-knee" media.

The veteran CBS Middle East correspondent, Bob Simon, sums up that crisis when he refers to the Washington press corps as operating "in a bubble" shaped by the Bush administration.

"Buying the War" is not a polemic. Rather, it is an aggressively and thoroughly reported critique of pre-war media coverage, which celebrates the handful of journalists – particularly those with the old Knight-Ridder Washington bureau -- who asked the right questions, while solemnly detailing the reality that most media merely repeated administration claims as if they were truths that could not be debated.

Remarkably, and importantly, Moyers gets journalists who are still in the game to explain where things went wrong. For instance, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz notes, "From August 2002 until the war was launched in March of 2003 there were about 140 front page pieces in the Washington Post making the administration's case for war. But there was only a handful of stories that ran on the front page that made the opposite case. Or, if not making the opposite case, raised questions."

What Moyers has produced is a chilling account of what happens in a republic where the media, for the most part, becomes a mouthpiece for the government. As Walter Pincus, one of the last of the great Washington reporters, explains to Moyers, "More and more the media become, I think, common carriers of administration statements and critics of the administration. We've sort of given up being independent on our own."

That surrender of independence destroys the whole matter of a free press, just as it prevents citizens from gaining the information and insight needed to be functional players in America's democratic experiment. But even in this dark interregnum, there is hope for freedom of the press – and for the democracy it sustains. Bill Moyers is back on the air.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Equal Pay and Freda K.

Today is Equal Pay Day, and on Capitol Hill the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is testifying about its groundbreaking research on the pay gap between men and women.

In its report, Behind the Pay Gap, AAUW reveals that just one year after college graduation women earn only 80 percent of what their male counterparts earn – despite the fact that women outperform men with slightly higher GPA's in every college major, including science and mathematics.

"By looking at earnings just one year out of college, you have as level a playing field as possible," said AAUW Director of Research Catherine Hill. "These employees don't have a lot of experience and, for the most part, don't have care-giving obligations, so you'd expect there to be very little difference in the wages of men and women. But surprisingly, and unfortunately, we find that women already earn less – even when they have the same major and occupation as their male counterparts."

The study also found that women who attended highly selective colleges earn less than men from moderately selective colleges and about the same as their contemporaries from minimally selective colleges. Ten years after graduation, the pay gap widens with women earning 69 percent of what men earn and having far less authority in the workplace.

AAUW is supporting the Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress to address wage discrimination.

The organization celebrated its 125th anniversary this past November and has over 100,000 members, 1,300 branches, and 500 college and university partners. It has fought for decades for pay equity, a woman's right to vote, and legislation that protects women at home, in schools, and in the workplace. It has also conducted high-quality research about women in higher education, sexual harassment, and workplace equity.

On a personal note, The Nation shares a special connection with AAUW. Freda Kirchwey was the editor here for 22 years, from 1933 to1955 – the first woman editor at a national weekly newsmagazine. (She shook the place up as an assistant editor, editing a series called These Modern Women, 17 anonymous essays by distinguished women that examined new feminist views in 1926 and 1927. It was so ahead of its time that The Feminist Press republished the series in 1989, revealing that its authors included Crystal Eastman, Mary Austin, and Genevieve Taggard.)

In 1945, Kirchwey was the keynote speaker at the AAUW convention. Due to travel bans during World War II, the event was held as a "Meeting of the Minds and Not Persons" and broadcast on the radio nationwide to its 75,000 members. Kirchwey had led the call for America's entrance into World War II – no easy feat as Warner Oliver of The Saturday Evening Post wrote: "The historic role of The Nation had been that, since wars had never resulted in good, this country should attend strictly to its own business and insulate herself from foreign affairs."

But Kirchwey was a fierce opponent of fascism. And the AAUW, too, renounced a strictly pacifist position, advocating aid to "those countries fighting for human rights, even at the risk of war," according to Susan Levine, author of Degrees of Equality. The organization felt that women should play an equal role in national defense and advocated for military service for women.

"Women cannot afford to let democracy go down," Kirchwey urged AAUW members, adding, "… a peculiarly heavy responsibility rests on the shoulders of American women."

The same holds true today. Good to see AAUW doing this important work on Pay Equity Day. And, here at The Nation – where I serve as one of too few women editors at a political magazine – we continue to champion the pioneering work Freda Kirchwey did well before her time.

Rove's Newest Investigator Is Under Investigation

Karl Rove is under investigation by the executive branch. So, too, is his investigator.

On Tuesday, The Los Angeles Times reported that the Office of Special Counsel, an obscure federal investigative and prosecutorial agency that is supposed to protect federal employees from prohibited personnel practices, is

preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House emails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

Rove is tied to all three elements of the OSC investigation. "We will take the evidence where it leads us," Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, told The Los Angeles Times. "We will not leave any stone unturned."

But who is Scott Bloch, and should his vow be taken at face value? The Times story did not provide background on the fellow who will be examining whether Rove and other administration officials may have violated the law by using political email accounts for White House business, by explicitly encouraging government actions for direct partisan gains, and by dismissing David Iglesias, a US attorney in New Mexico. Bloch is a George W. Bush appointee, and his recent record is not one of a relentless pursuer of government corruption and wrongdoing. Here's an overview:

* In February, The Washington Post reported Bloch himself was under investigation:

The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general has been investigating allegations by current and former OSC employees that Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch retaliated against underlings who disagreed with his policies--by, among other means, transferring them out of state--and tossed out legitimate whistle-blower cases to reduce the office backlog. Bloch denies the accusations, saying that under his leadership the agency has grown more efficient and receptive to whistle-blowers.

The 16-month investigation has been beset by delays, accusations and counter-accusations. The latest problem began two weeks ago, when Bloch's deputy sent staffers a memo asking them to inform OSC higher-ups when investigators contact them. Further, the memo read, employees should meet with investigators in the office, in a special conference room. Some employees cried foul, saying the recommendations made them afraid to be interviewed in the probe.

The OSC's memo, the group said, "was only the latest in a series of actions by Bloch to obstruct" the investigation. "Other actions have included suggestions that all witnesses interviewed...provide Bloch with affidavits describing what they had been asked and how they responded."

* Two years earlier, the paper reported that Bloch had declined to enforce a discrimination ban:

Since taking office in January 2004, the Bush appointee has been accused of failing to enforce a long-standing policy against bias in the federal workplace based on sexual orientation, unnecessarily reorganizing the OSC to try to run off internal critics, and arbitrarily dismissing some personnel complaints and whistle-blower disclosures in an effort to claim reductions in backlogs.

He has denied such allegations and argued that he has made the agency more efficient at processing cases and, at the same time, more receptive to whistle-blowers and federal workers who have suffered unfair treatment.

* That same year, public interest groups and employees at the OSC accused Bloch of running an overly partisan shop. As Govexec.com reported:

Amendments to a complaint filed against Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch in early March allege that OSC took no action on a complaint regarding then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's use of government funds to travel in the weeks before the 2004 presidential election, but vigorously pursued allegations against Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry's visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Three nonprofit whistleblower protection groups--the Government Accountability Project, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Project on Government Oversight--and anonymous career OSC employees filed the initial complaint March 3, listing a series of prohibited personnel practices and violations of civil service laws by Bloch.

The politicization allegations stem from Bloch's decision to have a group of lawyers report to a political deputy rather than a career senior executive. The complaint states that OSC has pursued trivial matters without regard to political affiliation...but has not evenly handled higher profile cases.

At the OSC, Bloch is supposed to protect whistleblowers. But he's been charged with reprising against those who challenge his agency and others. Before Bloch was appointed by Bush to take over the OSC, he was a deputy director and counsel at the Justice Department's Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

"By most measures, his tenure has been an absolute failure," says Adam Miles, legislative representative at the Government Accountability Project. "He's been under pressure to start doing something." Miles notes that GAP did not initially expect the complaint it filed against Bloch in 2005 to go anywhere. "It was referred to a federal entity called the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency," Miles recalls, "and we thought it would just rot there." But the case was handed to Pat McFarland, the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management. McFarland is a former St. Louis detective who spent 22 years as a Secret Service agent before becoming IG at OPM in 1990.

McFarland's investigation of Bloch, Miles says, "hasn't been a totally transparent process but we're hearing it's reaching a conclusion--which could be motivation for Bloch to start this investigation into the White House. If OPM does turn up any adverse information on Bloch, it would be more difficult for the White House to get rid of him while he was actively investigating them." But this could cut the other way. If Bloch is the subject of an investigation, he might be inclined to treat the White House favorably to protect his own position. In either case, there seems to be a conflict of interest. Bloch, Miles says, "may not be the appropriate person to be conducting the investigation" of Rove and the White House.

It is a dizzying situation. The investigator investigating officials who oversee the agency that is investigating the investigator. Forget firewalls. This looks more like a basement flooded with backed-up sewage--with the water rising.

With reporting by Stephanie Condon.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

David Halberstam's Media Critique

Pultizer Prize-winning author David Halberstam, who has died in an automobile accident at age 73, was one of America's most thoughtful critics of media excess and abuse. The Powers That Be, his 1979 account of the rise of big media in the United States -- with its profound profiles of CBS's William Paley, Time's Henry Luce and other broadcast and print titans -- remains required reading.

But whatever his topic -- the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era -- Halberstam always kept a sharp eye on the role played, for better or worse, by media. He was one of the greatest reporters of his time, and a man who loved the journalist's craft. But Halberstam was no apologist for the missteps or the misdeeds of those who owned major newspapers and broadcast networks.

In 2003, shortly after the Federal Communications Commission moved to loosen controls on media consolidation, Dave Weich of www.powells.com asked Halberstam about the way in which big media shapes American society:

Dave Weich: Broadcasting is one of the most significant factors, obviously. Earlier this week, the FCC ruled that large broadcasting corporations will be allowed to become even bigger.

David Halberstam: Not exactly what we needed in this society.

Weich: In The Next Century, you wrote: "As the network news format trivializes political debate, the political system adapts to it. Serious discussion of serious issues is too complicated." That statement could be applied any number of recent events, including the most recent presidential election.

Halberstam: And very much to our political system now. It's really very trivialized.

Weich: Where does that leave us?

Halberstam: We're an entertainment society. We want to be entertained more than we want to think. It's a serious problem. We're the most powerful nation in the world, but our network broadcast is increasingly about celebrity, sex, and scandal. It's less about substance than it used to be. It's not as good as it should be. And it makes us a more volatile society.

We pay very little attention to the rest of the world, then when the rest of the world doesn't act in concert with us and salute us, we're very angry. We think, How could this happen? Why don't they like us more? We're not paying very much attention.

There are so many reasons to mourn the death of David Halberstam, the great chronicler of America's woes and wars -- not to mention its sports teams. But his cutting critique of contemporary media will be especially missed, as will his understanding of the threat that consolidated and dumbed-down media poses to democracy.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Legislative Watch: Women’s Rights

There is an attempt in Congress to undo the damage done by a rightwing-trending Supreme Court (and the lower courts ain't too pretty either) intent on eviscerating a woman's right to privacy and control of her own body.  

The Freedom of Choice Act was reintroduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer and Representative Jerrold Nadler just one day after the Supreme Court's paternalistic and frightening decision to uphold an abortion-procedure ban (intact dilation and extraction--all too often referred to by the media as "partial birth abortion," a phrase coined by the right decades ago) that makes no exception to protect the health of the mother.  The new legislation "would codify in federal law the rights established in Roe v. Wade," Allison Stevens of Women's eNews reports.

The bill's chances for passage are gloomy. But since the courts can no longer be relied upon to protect a woman's right to choose, new strategies are needed.  And what's critical is that Democrats stand strong--not only in championing legislation that will help prevent pregnancies (and here), promote affordable childcare, and provide real family values funding--but also support the right of a woman to control her own body and health choices.

As Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said, "For the first time, the court told women that, when their health is at risk during pregnancy, deciding what to do is no longer up to them and their doctors, it is instead up to politicians.  The future of legal access to abortion in this country is grim.  It's time for Congress to stand up for women's health, women's safety, and a woman's right to make her own medical decisions."