Eric Alterman | The Nation

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Unhappy Anniversary

All I’ve got this weekend is my “Think Again” column about the anniversary of Ted Kennedy’s death (and of the 1963 march) here.

And, oh yeah, I continued my argument with Charles Blow over whether Jews think Obama is good for the Jews, here. My guess is that Mr. Blow will not be responding...

I have a lot of pet peeves regarding the mindless way journalism is practiced. Here are three.

1) Stories in which absolutely everything an interviewee says is largely true, mundane, largely unarguable and has been said a million, billion times.

2) Election stories about candidates who have no hope in hell of winning, no matter what.

3) Great writers who inspire so many awful imitators that you almost wish they hadn’t bothered. (Almost.) Nominees: Mike Kinsley, H.L. Mencken. (Separate even more annoying category, not-so-great writers who do the same: Maureen Dowd.)

Just a reminder. The incredibly inclusive Eric Rohmer festival ends tomorrow at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I was in the city last weekend and saw all or part of eight movies. My favorites are still Claire’s Knee and My Night at Maude’s, though I love the "seasons" ones as well and the comedies and proverbs are all sort of wonderful in their way tool. You can rent a bunch of them at Netflix if you live in the boonies. Also inspired by FSLC, I’ve been watching a bunch of early Clint Eastwood movies that came in the thirty-five DVD box set. Gotta say, a bunch of those Harry Callahan films really suck, particularly in the racist stereotypes they promote. Clint did not direct these, but it’s not like he could not have had any influence on them. I had an idea for a book about Clint once in which I was planning to argue that the second half of his career was an atonement for the first half; it’s all about the crippling effects on people’s lives of the violence that these early movies exploits and celebrates. FSLC is also showing lots of John Hughes films. The best of these, by far, in my view is Sixteen Candles, a nearly perfect little teen movie, though not exactly a great one. (For perfect see under: Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused. (Who are these morons at IMBD giving these movies such low ratings?)

Reed Richardson writes:


So the New York Times’ new public editor introduces himself this past week and at the tail end of a lengthy, somewhat turgid column, he gives the reader this ponderous, disjointed statement:

“I believe that journalists should leave their political views at the door when they report and edit the news. I’m a registered Democrat who voted for Barack Obama and then Scott Brown, so, as you can see, I have already left my views at the door!”

First of all, I’ll set aside the mysterious logic and startling lack of cognitive dissonance displayed by Mr. Brisbane in his choice of political candidates. After all, this voting history is mostly offered up as testimony to his even-handedness and independence; pre-emptive strikes, if you will, against those who would judge or dismiss him solely because of his publicly available party registration (which some online commenters still did anyway). Nevertheless, I applaud even this little bit of transparency, despite the fact that it doesn’t accomplish what Brisbane seems to think it does.

However, I will stipulate to Brisbane’s assertion early on in his column that the role of news organization ombudsman is a pretty thankless and lonely job. Being the designated receptacle for both reader anger and colleague resentment promises little day-to-day job satisfaction, which is probably why, within the journalistic taxonomy, ombudsmen are a rather recently evolved and relatively rare species. Of course, their mere existence at a newspaper or media organization, by no means, guarantees the fairness or accuracy of the reporting and, at times, they can be susceptible to taking positions that are too blindingly obvious or too frustratingly lazy. And even the presence of a judicious, well-meaning, and assertive ombudsman doesn’t necessarily mean that a major newspaper, like, say, the Washington Post, will change course when confronted with serious and legitimate questions about its credulous, flawed, and downright derelict coverage of the run-up to the Iraq war. Though even the act of devoting a salary to an ombudsman does speak to a sincerity and earnestness, on some level, of trying to get it right and do things better. In an age where incessant, corporate-driven staff cutbacks are the order of the day, I say two cheers for the Times for sticking with the position, at least.

But sadly, at the end of his inaugural Times column, the new public editor’s reasoning falls into the same trap that increasingly waylays most media organizations when they try to address ethical issues involving potential political bias—a myopic obsession with appearing to be fair. Letting us in on a very small (and I suspect, unrepresentative) sample of his voting history does not really offer any evidence that Brisbane holds true to the principles he espouses. Indeed, readers can only “see” that he keeps his own political views out of his work, by, you know, actually reading his columns and watching him keep his political views out of his work. He has mistaken confession for absolution and by doing so he devalues his own reportage.

Nevertheless, if the Times’s public editor is willing to divulge—in even a brief, limited way—his personal political beliefs in the interest of fuller disclosure, I consider it a positive step forward. This kind of transparency arms readers with more information to assess if the news they’re receiving really is fair and unbiased. Most major news organizations, including the Times, have embraced the exact opposite conclusion, however, in their ethics policies. (In fact, a close reading of the Times ethical handbook, which forbids any employee or independent contractor, regardless of their editorial position or beat, from “display[ing] any form of political partisanship while on the job,” suggests that Brisbane’s admission may have run afoul of his new employer’s ethical guidelines.)  Rather, they would have their editors and reporters increasingly shrink their public political profile down to the point where it can be completely hidden from news consumers.

But in an era where profit-maximizing cutbacks have gutted many news organizations’ editorial staffs, these same policies, in effect, lull the media into a false sense of security, making us more at risk of publishing inaccurate and biased reporting. If a newspaper with the resources of the Washington Post can’t keep flagrant copy-editing errors from routinely appearing in its pages, what real chance is there that its editors will catch more nuanced and subtle cases of biased or unfair reporting occurring across all its many media platforms? What’s more, as news organizations increasingly absorb or partner with blogs, advocacy groups, and non-profits—many of whom carry pre-existing political agendas—to expand their coverage, these draconian “see no evil” policies will grow more and more untenable.

Of course, that’s exactly the space where an ombudsman can play a critical role. But if they believe as Brisbane does, then they’ve already revealed a blind spot that seriously calls their judgment into question. Fortunately, there is an interesting case study right under Brisbane’s nose for him to examine. It involves the newspaper’s hosting of the electoral blog fivethirtyeight.com on its online Politics news section. The blog’s proprietor, Nate Silver, is an avowed “rational progressive” who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but you wouldn’t know that from reading the blog’s about or contributors pages on the Times website. (Though the paper did see fit to mention Silver’s political leanings when announcing the partnership three months ago.) Now, Silver, in my and many others’ estimation, offers real insight into the calculus of electoral politics and has likewise done an admirable job keeping his statistical prowess free from political spin. The acquisition of his blog was no doubt a savvy move by the Times.

If Brisbane really wants to walk the walk, he’ll address this lack of transparency by his employer (which, for the record, I think the Times should correct, just to be consistent) and then examine the blog over the next few months to see if Silver actually leaves “his political views at the door” in his analysis. If, by the end of the year, Brisbane finds that this more open arrangement didn’t “damage the Times’s reputation for strict neutrality in reporting on politics and government,” as the newspaper’s ethics guide somberly puts it, maybe, just maybe, the Times might start to think differently about how it can both treat its readers and editorial employees more fairly and better serve our democracy. That, to me, would be the kind of legacy that any ombudsman would want to leave behind.

The mail:

Paul Donahue
Dear Professor,
I enjoy reading your song lists, and I further enjoy reading the revisions of your song lists. I can sit and relax letting the titles bring the music back to me, the good songs and the bad songs, and recall the times, places and people stored away in my memory that are bookmarked by them. Some bookmarks are just for people, some just for places, some hold years in them, but as I look back they are all good songs (perhaps we edit out the bad memories/songs). So I have no reason to contribute to the list because my memories are shared with but a few, who I hope still share them with me.  But this post deserves to be considered, perhaps not for the song, but it describes how very important a song can be for one person and unimportant for someone else.  Maybe that's why we like your lists.

Okay. Put My Sweet Lord to 453. But please don't make me listen to it again. "Help! I need somebody, Help! Not just anybody, Help! You know I need someone...He e elp!"

Dave Zimny
Oakland, CA
Eric: Here's a belated but heartfelt nomination for another entry on your "Worst Songs" list: "The Windmills of Your Mind," in all its various remakes and cover versions. This is the American pop song with absolutely the most nonsensical and inane lyrics, ever.

Stephen Carver
Los Angeles
Regarding "The Terrorists Win," I have long believed that as of 9/11, our nation went insane. From the Orwellian-themed "Department of Homeland Security," to the Patriot Act, the waterboarding, to illegal wiretapping groups like the Quakers, to the rise of the Tea Bagg… er… Partiers, to the mosque (not-a-mosque) in Manhattan, etc., our nation has continuously made bad choices for the last nine years simply because we got incredibly scared by the images of 9/11. The day was literally and figuratively BURNED into our national consciousness by never-ending television coverage, and combined with the ever-increasing fear it could happen again (but thank god, hasn't), our government has, in the name of freedom, taken numerous freedoms away from us and loaded on additional measures of fear (I still can't take a roll of toothpaste on an airplane).

I fear for our country in the sense that it will take generations to heal the wounds opened on 9/11, and continually exacerbated by our government. We had the opportunity to become a healer and come out of this horrific event stronger (morally and spiritually, if not militarily).  We had the opportunity to take the fight directly to OBL and instead detoured it to Saddam (as you so rightly pointed out). We had the opportunity to learn from our past mistakes (Saddam, again) and to grow as a nation, using the healing power of over 6 billion people on 9/12 ("We are all Americans now"), and instead, we squandered that in a continuing downward spiral of national insanity.

I thought things would get better when Obama got elected; Hope and Change are good words, but that's evidently ALL they are: words. I sometimes despair at the cynical political tactics of those on the right (mostly) and the left (as well). We are all Americans: Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, straights, gays, whites, blacks, immigrants and native born… we must come together or we shall surely fall apart.

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

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again” called “Media to McCain: How Long Has This Been Going On?” and it is about the media’s collective broken heart and it’s here.

My Nation column is called “The Terrorists Win” and you can guess what it is about. It’s here.

My Daily Beast column this week is called “Obama's Silent Jewish Majority” and it is a reply to Charles M. Blow’s Times column and that’s here.

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA
"I pulled into Nazareth/I was feelin' 'bout half-past dead."
Weekly WWOZ Pick to Click: "Cold Bologna" (The Isley Brothers) -- As it happens, at the beginning of the week, I'm going to be able to tell New Orleans personally how much I love it. Who dat, anyway?

Part The First: Old Bidness

My apologies to Ms. Ring and to Don Cornelius's brother's band for mixing up their really terrible hit record with the howling bag of pus that was Hamilton, Joe, Frank, and Reynolds. Of course, as to the embattled Landlord, anyone who's willing to say what he did about "The Weight" is probably secure enough in his ineffable wrongness to admit that he enjoyed "Don't Pull Your Love Out." And let's not get on him too hard about his love for "Surrender" vis a vis "What'd I Say," to say nothing about "Tutti Frutti." The man obviously has a lot on his mind these days and is not thinking straight.

Part The Second: But, seriously now. "Hotel California"? I want to take the "steely knives" and ram them through my cochlea.

Part The Third: Seriously, people are surprised that Alan Simpson is a cranky old fool, and an ill-tempered jackass besides? Really. History is more than what came in on your BlackBerry 10 minutes ago, kids. Of course, he did make some friends back when he was senator.

Part The Fourth: Ken Mehlman is GAY?! Get right out of town! Anyone get a Jeff Gannon comment yet?

Part The Penultimate: Until Ross Douthat weighs in with the second part of  "How Burning A Convent Is Like Civics Class," this is going to have to do as the single most worthless piece of op-ed offal this year. Exactly how much aluminum siding does The Dean own, you figure?

Part The Ultimate: Let me explain what's going to happen next. It looks as though the shrieking harpies may win their big victory in Lower Manhattan, and the Not A Mosque And Not At Ground Zero Social Club will be built somewhere else, if it's built at all. (After all the effort they've gone to in phonying up a case that the presiding Imam is personally driving goats laden with plutonium around the American landscape, you don't think these meatheads are going to stop now, do you?) The next step will be to delegitimize Islam as a religion in the public eye. Already, we've had more than a few people propose the idea that Muslim Americans be deprived of the right to hold political office. And these are the same folks who, a while back, sought to establish the crackpot notion that "secular humanism" actually was a religion. Once you've decided you can define what is a religion, how hard can it be to decide that you can define what is not? Actually, not hard at all, if you scroll through this NYT piece far enough to read the hilarious theological stylings of Allen West, Republican candidate for Congress, veteran, and arguable war criminal. This, I assure you, is only the beginning.

What will happen is that the notion will bubble up from the depths that Islam is actually not a religion at all, but a political ideology masquerading as a religion. This would eliminate all those pesky First Amendment considerations that have proven so inconvenient during the current racist kabuki playing itself out in New York City. This will prompt various rightwing pundits to "discuss" this interesting theory. This will prompt the slightly less rabid to propose "further" discussions on the topic.  This will prompt the cowardly sheep of the elite pundit class to decide to "cover the controversy." Pretty soon, there will be the inevitable segment on Meet The Press, the inevitable prevarication and dithering on the part of, say, John McCain, the inevitable ass-covering by Harry Reid, the inevitable day-late-and-dollar-short pushback from the other side, and the calm, reasoned one-hour special on CNN about "Islam: Politics or Religion?" While all this is is going on, the personalities at Fox News will be running around in their underwear with their hair on fire -- except on Fox And Friends, where, against all conceivable odds, the firm of Doocy, Carlson, and Kilmeade will find something even dumber to say about the whole matter. Jesus wept.

Eric replies: I knew I would take a lot of shit for "Hotel California." But it’s a great, great song.  You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave.

Full name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon
Message: The bad news about the new Darkness package is that now I have to buy Darkness on the Edge of Town a fourth time. First the LP, then the audiophile LP, then the CD, now this. When will it end? My other bad memory of Darkness, which remains a fave, is that my first Springsteen concert was during the Darkness tour at the Palladium with the woman I would later marry. I thought she'd be impressed when I got two scalped tickets for $50 each, but she was a grad of Hartford U. and had seen him a couple times during his early days on the college circuit. Oh well.

Eric replies: Dude, I bought all three previous versions too. And I took my ‘wife’ to-be and my ex-wife to be to those Palladium shows. And I introduced my ‘wife’ to her ex-husband (my ex-best friend) and their first date were those shows. Anyone who wants to make a TV movie of my life, gimme a call...

Full Name: Doug Wright
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Message: Please don't overlook Paul Anka's "Having my Baby."  It belongs high on anyone's list of godawful songs (except, presumably, a list compiled by deaf persons or Mr. Anka).

Eric replies, it is getting lots of nominations…. If you missed yesterday people, the new list was here…

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

All Apologies

I've got a new “Think Again” called “Media to McCain: How Long Has This Been Going On?” and it is about the media’s collective broken heart and it’s here.

My Nation column is called “The Terrorists Win” and you can guess what it is about. It’s here

My Daily Beast column this week is called “Obama's Silent Jewish Majority” and it is a reply to Charles M. Blow’s Times column and that’s here.

The below is from my favorite blog and I promise it’s real:

"The Spine I Apologize..."   [And God, what a backstory this must have...]

I apologize to my readers and to Liza Minnelli for quoting from Tunku Varadarajan's otherwise estimable column about John McCain a remark slighting to her and her gifts. Minnelli has been a talented singer and actress for several decades, and she still has the the warranted courage to perform. What's more, she is one of those paradigmatic entertainers who gives of herself--her ample brain and enchanting personality--in the cause of human rights, a cause not as popular as it once was was.

As it happens, my movie director son, Jesse, cast her in his film of three years ago, "The X." I am biased: the film was very very good and so was Liza in it.

I am sorry for the grievous mistake...which in a way was not mine. But I take responsibility.

And, by the way, what an exemplary private life she has had.

Here are a couple of the comments:

08/24/2010 - 9:15pm EDT | mingoc

Jesse Peretz's 2006 movie was entitled "The Ex." (It is about an EX-boyfriend, not the letter X.)

Liza Minnelli was not in it.


Ok, more arguments. Now please note. I'm not saying that the great songs that don't belong in the top 50 are not great. They're just great but still overrated for being in the top 50.

Rolling Stone Top Fifty Songs That Actually Belong There:

1. "Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan
2. "Satisfaction," The Rolling Stones
4. "What's Going On," Marvin Gaye
5. "Respect," Aretha Franklin
6. "Good Vibrations," The Beach Boys
7. "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry
8. "Hey Jude," The Beatles
9. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
11. "My Generation," The Who
12. "A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke
15. "London Calling," The Clash
21. "Born to Run," Bruce Springsteen
27. "Layla," Derek and the Dominos
28. "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," Otis Redding
29. "Help!," The Beatles
30. "I Walk the Line," Johnny Cash
32. "Sympathy for the Devil," The Rolling Stones
33. "River Deep - Mountain High," Ike and Tina Turner
37. "No Woman, No Cry," Bob Marley and the Wailers
42. "Waterloo Sunset," The Kinks
45. "Heartbreak Hotel," Elvis Presley
46. "Heroes," David Bowie
47. "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Simon and Garfunkel
49. "Hotel California," The Eagles

The Ones that Belong on a List of the Worst Fifty Songs of All Time

3. "Imagine," John Lennon
13. "Yesterday," The Beatles
31. "Stairway To Heaven," Led Zeppelin
41. "The Weight," The Band

Songs That Are Perhaps Great, But Still Vastly Overrated by Rolling Stone:

10. "What'd I Say," Ray Charles
16. "I Want to Hold Your Hand," The Beatles
17. "Purple Haze," Jimi Hendrix
18. "Maybellene," Chuck Berry
19. "Hound Dog," Elvis Presley
20. "Let It Be," The Beatles
14. "Blowin' in the Wind," Bob Dylan
22. "Be My Baby," The Ronettes
23. "In My Life," The Beatles
24. "People Get Ready," The Impressions
25. "God Only Knows," The Beach Boys
26. "A Day in the Life," The Beatles
34. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," The Righteous Brothers
35. "Light My Fire," The Doors
36. "One," U2
38. "Gimme Shelter," The Rolling Stones
39. "That'll Be the Day," Buddy Holly and the Crickets
40. "Dancing in the Street, Martha and the Vandellas
43. "Tutti-Frutti," Little Richard
44. "Georgia on My Mind," Ray Charles
48. "All Along the Watchtower," Jimi Hendrix
50. "The Tracks of My Tears," Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Songs from the Bottom 450-500 that belong much, much higher:

496. "Miss You," The Rolling Stones
493. "Then He Kissed Me," The Crystals
495. "Shop Around," Smokey Robinson and the Miracle
490. "Brown Sugar," The Rolling Stones
480. "Into the Mystic," Van Morrison
465. "Surrender," Cheap Trick
454. "My Sweet Lord," George Harrison

I could obviously go on, but we all have work to do...

Now more seriously, Reed Richardson writes:

Socialize Insecurity

You have to hand it to former Sen. Alan Simpson, at least he’s trying to help. And by trying to help, I mean trying to demonstrate over  and over and over how much of a condescending, belligerent, and ill-informed jerk he really is, so that the American public just might start to see this National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform for what it really is, a stalking horse for cutting Social Security benefits.

Sure, Simpson quickly apologized for crassly comparing a program that keeps nearly 20 millions Americans out of poverty to a “milk cow with 310 million tits.” But putting one’s size-15 feet in one’s mouth, as he so folksily puts it, is what happens when someone makes a brief, impolitic, off-the-cuff comment. Writing a series of cranky and dismissive emails to anyone who dares to argue Social Security isn’t facing an imminent crisis and—as he apparently loves to say—“babbling” on and on with same thoroughly debunked right-wing talking points about the program “going bankrupt,” on the other hand, paint a pretty clear picture of one’s true feelings.

Unfortunately, our president doesn’t APPEAR troubled by Simpson’s apparent disdain for Social Security and the press seems increasingly willing to accept as conventional wisdom the mantra that  “something must be done to fix Social Security now.” In fact, this past Monday, just one day before Simpson’s email became public, Time’s Mark Halperin, oracle of the Beltway pundit class, laid out the political landscape as only he can:

“A bipartisan partnership on Social Security — as on every other tough issue, including Afghanistan, immigration, energy, education, deficit reduction and jobs — is going to require trust: trust between the President and Republican leaders to stand up jointly to the extreme forces in Congress and at the grass roots in both their parties, meet in the center, take some political risks and find creative compromises to get things done. On Social Security, that means Obama will have to support raising the retirement age and cutting some benefits, while Republicans will have to back some increased taxation. And they will have to work together and present a united front.”

Two questions: Just what parallel Universe, pray tell, has Halperin been living in the past 18 months? And how does he plan to transport all of Washington D.C. there after November 2nd?

On issue after issue—stimulus, health care, financial reform, education, unemployment benefits—one party has demonstrated a open and willful intransigence against participating in governance, while the other has made concession after concession in order to peel off even a tiniest sliver of support from the opposition. To think that the Republicans, after they boost their numbers in both houses of Congress this fall, will be more willing to accept any compromise—particularly on an issue like increased taxation—put forward by the Fiscal Commission is to engage in magical pony thinking.

Instead, what’s really likely to happen is that, despite the public’s strong opposition to cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit  and willingness to even pay more taxes to ensure its survival, Democrats will be increasingly boxed in by a press corps consumed by the idea that something must be done and so they will compromise themselves and the nation’s elderly out of untold benefits. 

On Wednesday, the New York Times’s Matt Bai joined the growing chorus calling for just such a result with an especially disingenuous and inaccurate piece of reporting. In it, he tries to use a fairly anodyne interview with liberal Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who talks about cutting unnecessary farm subsidy and military spending, as a platform to further chasten reluctant Democrats and liberal groups into accepting a kind of “we have to destroy Social Security, in order to save it” argument.

“The liberal groups that are already speaking out against the debt panel’s unfinished work have chosen to start with Social Security because it is likely to be at the center of any budget compromise. “If there’s a place where it looks like Republicans and Democrats can reach agreement, we’re afraid it’s Social Security,” says Frank Clemente, the director of Strengthen Social Security. (In other words, the two parties might actually work together on something. They must be stopped!)

Bai snarkily dismisses the Strenghten Social Security proponents as reflexively partisan, but of course their objections aren’t simply some sinister plan to submarine any attempts at bipartisanship (based on results of the past 18 months, that job falls to the Republican Congressional Leadership.) Instead, their objections are actually based on the belief that such a compromise would be bad policy, as in potentially forcing millions of Americans—both the elderly and children—into poverty.

Then, in a rebuttal of the liberal prebuttal, Bai throws out in the very next paragraph this ridiculous layman’s explanation of Social Security’s supposed failings—one that would make Sen. Simpson proud.

“The coalition bases its case on the idea that Social Security is actually in fine fiscal shape, since it has amassed a pile of Treasury Bills — often referred to as i.o.u.’s — in a dedicated trust fund. This is true enough, except that the only way for the government to actually make good on these i.o.u.’s is to issue mountains of new debt or to take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose significant tax increases — none of which seem like especially practical options for the long term. So this is sort of like saying that you’re rich because your friend has promised to give you 10 million bucks just as soon as he wins the lottery.”

Newsflash, Matt, the cash in your wallet could also be “referred to as i.o.u.’s,” but something tells me you aren’t planning on exclusively carrying around gold krugerrands anytime soon. And thanks to his third-grade-level analysis, Bai actually judges the odds of our federal government being able to issue enough debt to cover the Social Security outlays a generation or two from now as roughly the same as winning the grand prize in last night’s Powerball lottery, which, in case you were wondering, were 1 in 195,249,054. Simply put, this is a preposterous analogy. It not only distorts the debate, it makes the reader poorer for having read it. And any self-respecting journalist and legitimate news organization should hang its head for perpetrating it.

Unfortunately, the press coverage over the next few months will likely serve up more of the same thin gruel, when it should facilitating a larger debate about our nation’s priorities. But for a news media that admittedly suffers from an inability to process and publish complex stories, there’s actually a fairly clear way to present this contrast: the Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years roughly equals the revenue to be gained from repealing the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent of Americans. So what does our country value more: balance sheets or people’s lives, further rewarding the rich or further punishing the poor? That seems like a meme that would play well even on cable TV.

The mail:

Full Name: Dave Richie

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Message: Dr. A,Certainly the entire body of work that is the screeeching of Cindy Lauper needs to be considered as bad as anything ever recorded.But for sheer pain there is an early Bob Dylan effort of the blue grass classic, "Man of Constant Sorrow." WOW!! It must be heard to be believed. He was to become a counter-culture hero with this kind of stuff until he began recording music not intended for bats. At that point he was unceremoniously labeled a "sell out."For more really awful stuff see the Pete Seeger early, very early PBS series devoted to thr roots of folk music. Some brilliant, but most were old timers way past their performing prime.Eric replies: Disagree. I like that great Cindy Lauper album. But I’m told the credit all belongs to her producer. She never made anything decent again.

Full Name: Trudy Ring

Hometown: Los Angeles

Message:Re: Bad Songs"Treat Her Like a Lady" was by the Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, not Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds. The latter group's big hit was "Don't Pull Your Love."I spent way too much time listening to Top 40 radio in the '70s!

Eric replies: That’s the Flowers in the Toilet guy’s error, if true… “Don’t Pull Your Love” was a pretty good song, by the way.

Full Name: Carl Cole

Hometown: Muscle Shoals

Message:Hey, Doc, I have to admit to occasional twinges of envy, what with living in the Apple, getting tickets to great shows, and knowing Rosanne Cash. However, since you’ve admitted to admiring "Honey", I feel much better about my own life…

Eric replies: “And I’m feeling good….” And just for that bit of nastiness, buy Rosanne’s memoir today. It’s wonderful.

Full Name: Ryan Scott

Hometown: Portland OR

Message:Hello Dr. Alterman,I'm writing you about a topic that is arguably relevant -- though tangential --to your Kabuki Democracy article, but not something you've touched on in any great detail (unless I've missed it). But your writing has impacted my thinking on the subject, so I thought I'd share. The issue is Obama and gay marriage.I go back and forth on whether Obama truly supports gay marriage and is keeping it to himself for political or cynical reasons, or he is honest and straight forward -- albeit wrongheaded -- about his personal beliefs on the subject. I'm a strong supporter of gay marriage, but I am disinclined to join in the complaint that he is not doing enough to lead on this particular issue.I'm a criminal defense attorney, although I think all trial attorneys have this experience: the judge is arguing with the lawyer on the other side, and your client is strenuously nudging you to get up and say something. Your response to your client is, "Why? We're winning."I think the same is true regarding Obama and gay marriage. There are a lot of Republicans who, for whatever reason, are starting to favor gay marriage. Experience, family, common sense, who knows, but it's showing up consistly in the polls. What good does it do for Obama to associate with it? We are going to win this issue, and sooner than anyone thought 5 years ago. Taking a strong pro-gay marriage stand only gives some people a reason to oppose gay marriage. As long as we're winning, I'd just as soon he stayed out of the way.This is where you come in. I seem to recall that you've written about a similar dynamic during the Vietnam War, that studies had shown that a number of people who were turning against the war stopped doing so, and in fact embraced the war, because they didn't want to be associated with the protesters. Forgive me if I've mischaracterized what you've written. But that was my recollection, and it made sense to me. Except in very unique circumstances, I do not understand the value of protesting, other than to claim "hooray for our side." (Incidentally, the liberals I know who are most likely to romanticize protesting are also the ones most likely to have voted for Nader, fwiw.)Anyway, just my thought on the topic, and if it's encouraged you to write about it yourself, then I figure I've done a good thing.

Eric replies: Thanks for the thoughtful letter.  And I share your analysis, (which by the way is different than knowing it’s true, which I did on the basis of lots of research in re Vietnam), but even knowing it, I don’t think it would make much difference. I have actually made this argument to my gay friends regarding those “Gay Pride” parades, and they say, even if that’s true, they are still worth it to the people who need them. I’ll defer on that point.  But my feeling about most protests is that they exist because people enjoy going to protests. I don’t think they do any good except to make the people protesting feel better.

Full Name: Jim Wiseman

Hometown: Downingtown, PA

Message: Hi Eric, Tsk, tsk. Remember your Flaubert:"L'homme c'est rien, l'oeuvre c'est tout." Imagine is a beautiful song and poem that should be judged on its own merits, without reference to the inconsistencies, hypocricies, and personal failings of the artist that wrote it. Once again it is proven that, as far as the Beatles (and post-Beatles) are concerned, no one, not even serious scholars, seem able to separate their musical achievement from their act, their legend, and their personal lives.

Eric replies: You are right, of course. And I felt guilty writing those words when I did since I knew it at the time. But I still HATE that song. “Imagine no possessions” is an idiotic line no matter who sings it.

And finally, some unabashedly, unbelievably great news.

Columbia Records will release Bruce Springsteen's "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story" on Nov 16. The Deluxe Package comprises over six hours of film and more than two hours of audio across 3 CDs and 3 DVDs. The media contents are packaged within an 80-page notebook containing facsimiles from Springsteen's original notebooks from the recording sessions, which include alternate lyrics, song ideas, recording details, and personal notes in addition to a new essay by Springsteen and never-before-seen photographs. Containing a wealth of previously unreleased material, "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story" offers an unprecedented look into Springsteen's creative process during a defining moment in his career. 'The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story' will additionally be released as a 3CD/3 Blu Ray disc set. The set will be available as 'The Promise,' an edition which consists of only the unheard complete songs on two CDs or four LPs, along with lyrics and the new essay by Springsteen. The previously unheard song "Save My Love" and an excerpt from the documentary will be streaming here. The Deluxe Package includes 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,' digitally remastered for the first time.


1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something In The Night
4. Candy's Room
5. Racing In The Street
6. The Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets Of Fire
9. Prove It All Night
10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town

"Darkness' was my 'samurai' record," Springsteen writes, "stripped to the frame and ready to rumble...But the music that got left behind was substantial." For the first time, fans will have access to two discs containing a total of 21 previously-unreleased songs from the "Darkness" recording sessions, songs that, as Springsteen writes, "perhaps could have/should have been released after 'Born To Run' and before the collection of songs that 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' became." Highlights include the extraordinary rock version of "Racing in the Street," the never-before-released original recordings of "Because the Night," "Fire," and "Rendezvous," the supreme pop opus "Someday (We'll Be Together)," the hilarious "Ain't Good Enough for You," the superb soul-based vocal performance on "The Brokenhearted," the utterly haunting "Breakaway," and the fully orchestrated masterpiece and title song "The Promise." All 21 songs have been mixed by Springsteen's long-time collaborator Bob Clearmountain. According to long-time manager/producer Jon Landau, "There isn't a weak card in this deck. 'The Promise' is simply a great listening experience."


1. Racing In The Street ('78)
2. Gotta Get That Feeling
3. Outside Looking In
4. Someday (We'll Be Together)
5. One Way Street
6. Because The Night
7. Wrong Side Of The Street
8. The Brokenhearted
9. Rendezvous
10. Candy's Boy


1. Save My Love
2. Ain't Good Enough For You
3. Fire
4. Spanish Eyes
5. It's A Shame
6. Come On (Let's Go Tonight)
7. Talk To Me
8. The Little Things (My Baby Does)
9. Breakaway
10. The Promise
11. City Of Night

The Deluxe Package also features "The Promise: The Making of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town,'" a documentary directed by Grammy- and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Thom Zimny. The ninety-minute film combines never-before-seen footage of Springsteen and the E Street Band shot between 1976 and 1978--including home rehearsals and studio sessions--with new interviews with Springsteen, E Street Band members, manager Jon Landau, former-manager Mike Appel, and others closely involved in the making of the record. Advanced word on the documentary is so strong that it was invited to debut at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival on September 14 and will make its television debut on HBO on October 7.


In addition, the set features more than four hours of live concert film from the Thrill Hill Vault, including the bootleg house cut (the footage that appeared on-screen at the concert) from a 1978 Houston show, and a 2009 performance of 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' in its entirety from Asbury Park. The special performance in Asbury Park was shot in HD without an audience and successfully recreates the stark atmosphere of the original album.


1. Badlands
2. Adam Raised A Cain
3. Something In The Night
4. Candy's Room
5. Racing In The Street
6. The Promised Land
7. Factory
8. Streets Of Fire
9. Prove It All Night

10. Darkness On The Edge Of Town


1. Save My Love (Holmdel, NJ 76)
2. Candy's Boy (Holmdel, NJ 76)
3. Something In The Night (Red Bank, NJ 76)
4. Don't Look Back (NYC 78)
5. Ain't Good Enough For You (NYC 78)
6. The Promise (NYC 78)
7. Candy's Room Demo (NYC 78)
8. Badlands (Phoenix 78)
9. The Promised Land (Phoenix 78)
10. Prove It All Night (Phoenix 78)
11. Born To Run (Phoenix 78)
12. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (Phoenix 78)


1. Badlands
2. Streets Of Fire
3. It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City
4. Darkness On The Edge Of Town
5. Spirit In The Night
6. Independence Day
7. The Promised Land
8. Prove It All Night
9. Racing In The Street
10. Thunder Road
11. Jungleland
12. The Ties That Bind
13. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
14. The Fever
15. Fire
16. Candy's Room
17. Because The Night
18. Point Blank
19. She's The One
20. Backstreets
21. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
22. Born To Run
23. Detroit Medley
24. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
25. You Can't Sit Down
26. Quarter To Three

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

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called “Rupert Murdoch and the Myriad Means of Misinformation” and it’s here.

And I did a podcast interview with World Policy Journal editor, David Andelman here about Obama’s foreign policy. (I’ve been a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute since 1985.

Now here’s Charles:


Hey Doc --
"There was a chill last night, in the hobo jungle/Over the trainyard lay a smooth coat of frost."
Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "The Hottest Spot In Hell" (J.J. Grey and Mofro) -- If I want, I'm going to buy any building I want in lower Manhattan and turn it into a cooking school, a gymnasium, and a chapel in which sad monks will chant daily the songs of how much I love New Orleans.
    Part The First: As much as I hate to argue with The Landlord, especially when he's cough-wrong-cough, his list of really bad songs is very thin. In the summers of 1972-76, I worked as a ranger in a state forest in Massachusetts. Many times, I had only the furry critters of the forest and an AM radio for company. (Yes, children, once there was music on the AM dial.) Those were prime years for pop music offal. My bona fides in this regard hereby established, I would point out that a list of bad songs that makes no room for Gallery ("Nice To Be With You"), Vicki Lawrence ("The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia,") or Hamilton, Joe, Frank, and Reynolds ("Treat Her Like A Lady") is just scratching the surface.
Anyway, the worst record ever made is "I've Never Been To Me" by Charlene, and there is no argument to be had with that.  The music sucks and the lyrics suck, and the politics suck even more than the music and lyrics do. If I'd bought the brain-dead POS, the jacket art would have sucked. Among major artists, although he's right and Mountaineer Mike is wrong about Sir Paul, there's is a deplorable lack of bad Dylan -- most of it, I would argue, comes from the hash-album Columbia released called "Bob Dylan," which included his craptacular cover of "Big Yellow Taxi." And not a single cut by The Doors, the most overrated band of all time? This is sad, really.
    Part The Second: I am firmly of the opinion that, last Christmas Eve, Ted Olson was visited by three spirits. And a great job, they did. First, he whacks Prop 8 out of the 'yard in California and now, this. "Your reclamation, then."
    Part The Third: Free trade is groovy.
Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Al. Thanks, DLC. Really.
    Part The Penultimate: Bob Somerby is a friend and fellow Sox obsessive. He also was an important introduction for me to the saloons along the docks of Blogistan, as well as an invaluable resource during the Reign Of Penis-Obsessed Witches, 1992-2001. But, honestly, I don't know what he's on about here. "Can you feel respect or sympathy for the average shlub who gets his ass disinformed by Fox?" Well, no, as a matter of fact, I can't. That shlub, I guarantee you, is begging to be misinformed. He waits in line patiently for hours every day for his steaming bowl of Bullshit Stew. He drives 40 miles out of his way to shop at Hogwash Depot. My sympathy -- let alone, my respect -- is better employed elsewhere.
Part The Ultimate: It seems to have been lost on some people who are following the moronic controversy over the Not At Ground Zero Culinary
Academy And Rec Hall that we were all treated to a dry run by these harpies a few years back, a completely lunatic exercise about which you can read in a certain book I can recommend.
The planned Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania was rocking right along until Alec Rawls, crackpot son of John, started yelling about how the memorial was designed to be a crescent pointing to Mecca, and that it was all actually a clever scheme to memorialize the hijackers and not the victims of their crime. The usual suspects chimed in. Not enough people loudly pointed out that the whole notion belonged in a locked ward at the Nervous Hospital, and the design wound up being changed, and the people in charge of the memorial became embroiled in ill-feeling and raw anger.

I mention this only because some people have made the argument that, if they just moved the NAGZCAARH to another location, then the hysterical loonies (like Pamela Geller), and the opportunistic politicians who seek to use fear and division to their own rancid advantage (like the Republican party), would somehow be assuaged. This is, of course, all my balls. These people are not assuaged. Ever. There are people having trouble building actual mosques thousands of miles from the hallowed ground on which now stands New York Dolls. A considerably larger percentage of the country now thinks that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a healthy chunk thinks that it should be illegal for a Muslim to be elected president. (So much for the constitutional prohibition against religious tests for office. And, if I were Congressman Keith Ellison, I'd watch my back if things go badly for the Democrats in the midterms.) This stuff is working. Why would they ever stop?

Move the thing eight blocks and the loons will find something to be angry about there. Move it to, say, Boston, and you'll hear that two of the planes hijacked on 9/11 came out of Logan, and how insensitive it is to build something like that on the sacred ground where it all began. You don't assuage lunatics. You ignore them. You medicate them. You don't put them on television. You suggest to their relatives that a spot of confinement might not be amiss. You don't assuage politicians who are willing to use the fiery rage of the horribly manic to ride back into office. You laugh at them. Then you vote against them. Forever.

Full Name: Jeff Weed

Hometown: Denton, TX
Dr. A,

Pretty decent list of worst songs (although I'll confess to liking a couple of them, anyway). Here's some more other truly awful tunes:

Run, Joey, Run - David Geddes
Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now - Starship (even worse than We Built This City to my ears)
Baby, Don't Forget My Number - Milli Vanilli
Home Sweet Home - Motley Crue
Whoomp! There It Is! - Tag Team
We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off - Jermaine Stewart
You Don't Know What You've Got (Til It's Gone) - Cinderella
Sugar Shack - Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs
Last Kiss - J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers/Pearl Jam
C Moon - Sir Paul
More, More, More - Andrea True Connection

Full Name: Pat Healy

Hometown: Vallejo, CA
Re: songs I love but hate to cop to loving, there are two songs by Michael Been and the Call that I love: one, "The Walls Came Down", is full-on great (and has a great little solo by Garth Hudson!), but I'm rather sheepish about the other one, "Let the Day Begin", because the lyric structure (verse lines all begin with "Here's to the...") sounds like it's a beer commercial jingle.  Also, it's not a little preachy, which makes me think, a la Python,  "Here's to everyone with a vested interest in the bloody status quo."

I also love Meri Wilson's "Telephone Man".  sure it's stupid, but I defy anyone to get that bass line out of your head for two hours after you hear it.

Full Name: Terry Risner
Hometown: Mt. Carmel, TN
Worst song?  How could such a list possibly omit the incredibly fingernail-on-chalkboard-like screeching in "Roxanne?"

Full Name: Louis Diamond

Hometown: Skokie, IL.

Norman is not so bad really, perhaps the best by Sue Thompson. Surprised he did not trash Paul and Paula.
For really bad, there's The A Team, the followup to The Ballad Of the Green Beret.
I imagine Those Gallant Men by Se, Evrett McKinley Dirksen is a novelty song and therefore out of bounds.

Louis D.

p.s. Yes Pat Boone, Gale Storm, Georgia Gibbs are too easy.

Full Name: John DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY
Something's definitely screwed with my computer, because I scoured your list of all time crappy songs and couldn't find "Horse With No Name" anywhere.
So self-evident that it wasn't worth even mentioning?

And jeesh, "Imagine."? Yeah, I know its flaws, but it was the 70's, man. It's like making fun of Edward G Robinson in Little Caesar for hamming it up.

And "My Love" shouldn't even make McCartney's Ten Worst list. Pauly's exceeded this effort many times, but I lack the courage to go back and listen again for specifics. You can do the research yourself, since you're clearly made of much stronger stuff than me.

Personally, any Stones song issued during the disco era is deserving of recognition in this category, but that's just me. And there's always Elvis: "Do the Clam," everybody.

Greg Panfile    
Hometown: Scarsdale NY
Have to confess that the lists of good and bad songs resonate pretty well with me. The most interesting thing, I think, is what I call the "mint/pathetic continuum" where some songs are so bad they're great, while others less bad are merely horrible. Straining for a theory to  support this idea, I came up with five dimensions to look at, and thus would note that in some cases the initial gestalt factor and the 'sound' (criteria 3 and 4) are so compelling they overcome inadequacies in the first two obvious ones, words and melody. Classic case in point is A Whiter Shade of Pale, where a scatty and arbitrary vocal melody and utterly obscure and incomprehensible lyric is carried to transcendence by Matthew Fisher's organ licks and the general muddy, dark sound that fit perfectly and contrapuntally, if you will, with the Summer of Love.

Certainly Billy Joel's effort to answer the Bill Bennett nonsense about hippies influenced by French existential philosophers ruining the world (when we know it was all John von Neumann's fault) in 'We Didn't Start the Fire' is flawed by his compulsion to be obscure *and* entertaining... still, a friend of mine (David Brown) plays lead on that track, and blows the room away when they do it live on SNL (same episode as 'Downeaster Alexa').

The entire Murdoch/Fox phenomenon is the stuff of which a full Shakespearean cycle is made. On the one hand you have this utterly corrupting media octopus permeating everything and promulgating a ridiculously hypocritical vision of 'conservatism' while pushing naked women on page 3 of newspapers and doing literally anything for a buck... even occasionally producing quality TV shows. On the other hand... well, there is no other hand. Our system of unfettered capitalism and free speech and enterprise provides a perfect opportunity for someone like Murdoch to come along and do his Milo Minderbinder thing, minus everybody having a share. And the only thing that can be done is to wait it out... like the Bushes, and the Kennedys, the formula in the Muqqadimah of ibn Khaldun will solve the problem, in that the third generation will be so decadent on one plane or several that the golden pooch will be thoroughly sodomized.  If humanity survives till then;-).

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

I’m Not in Love…

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called “Rupert Murdoch and the Myriad Means of Misinformation” and it’s here.

And I did a podcast interview with World Policy Journal editor, David Andelman here about Obama’s foreign policy. (I’ve been a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute since 1985.)

I feel sorta guilty that my post on the worst songs of all time inspired such thoughtful posts by others, particularly Mike Tomasky in the Guardian, and this really smart guy in something called, I kid you not, “Flowering Toilet.”

The latter even did me the favor of dating each song and adding the artist. So check them out there if you’re curious/sadistic. And he should feel free to do the same with the below. In the meantime, there is a great deal more to be said about the question of what qualifies and why, but I’m too lazy to do it here and so a few small points in response:

1)  Tomasky is defending “sentiment.” That’s fine. I can be as sentimental as the next guy. I cry when they sing “La Marseilles” in “Casablanca” and when Jimmy Stewart’s friends come through at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “I’m the son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp” makes me tear up every time it shows up on my iPod. What I object to is the cheap exploitation of sentiment, which alas, is the basis of so much American “entertainment” and, as I think about it, a pretty good dividing line between the likes of say, Hank/Patsy/Merle/George and so many of their big-hatted counterparts of today. But anyway, that’s going off topic. And I am staying largely away from country music because as Jackson Browne says, “it’s such a fine line….” But the point is, sentiment has to be earned, which is why I put “Imagine” as the unchallenged #1 worst song of all time. (A truer version would have replaced the line: “Imagine no possessions” with “Imagine an apartment in the Dakota just for the storage of my furs. Oh wait, I have one of those aready.”)

Anyway, I largely concur with Mr. FT that objective criteria in music are chimerical, which is not to say they are not there. (God is not definable. Does that determine His absence definitively? Of course not. God’s existence or lack thereof is independent of our ability to define it. And it’s the same with music. This point was originally driven home to me when, as a teenager, I called up the great DJ, Jonathan Schwartz to berate him on the air for “selling out” by leaving WNEW-FM where he could play all kinds of cool stuff for WNEW-AM where he played lots of Sinatra-style songs. He lectured me on the air that he played “good” music, period, and I should maybe open my ears a little. Boy was he right and I wrong. As someone who thought he was too cool to like Led Zepplin in junior high—and hence, blew his only chance to see the band--I look back on my past music snobbery/narrow-mindedness in sorrow and shame. And in that spirit, I will take up Tomasky’s challenge and submit myself to universal ridicule for really liking the following:

(Oh, and sorry there’s no mail, but I did steal some of the suggested songs. I didn’t include the letters because most of them were obviated by the below. I’ll take more suggestions for tomorrow though, assuming you’ve read the below).

MacArthur Park
A Horse with No Name
Almost everything by Neil Diamond
About a quarter of Barry M’s Greatest Hits, including especially “Mandy.”
About half of of John Denver’s Greatest Hits
All of the early Bee Gees, about a quarter of the disco period.
Most of the Monkees
House at Pooh Corner and much of Mr. Loggins’ oeuvre. I will even confess that I saw him do a solo performance in a ski resort once and it was like the greatest thing ever.
In the Year 2525
I’m Not in Love
Reflections (Of My Life)
The Pina Colada Song
Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes
All the dead girl songs including most particularly and profoundly “Tell Laura, I Love Her”

But back to the real me: Here are more awful songs that would have made the earlier list of just plain awful if I had either more spaces or a better memory:

Wonderful Tonight
I Write the Songs (Barry didn’t even write that one)
Silly Love Songs (Sorry, he really does excel in this category)
That Billy Joel song where he just rattles off historical events as if he’s saying something profound.
Hot Stuff (Stones, not Donna Summer)
That Supertramp song that goes “There are tiiiimmmeesss…”
Didn’t McCartney do a song with Michael Jackson too? That one.
Me and You and a Dog Named “Boo”
Sinatra’s version of “(Bad, Bad) Leroy Brown”
Candle in the Wind, both versions

Oh and I confused some, including Mr. FT, with an editing error. "Who’s Ruling Who?" is not a
Song. It was the name of Reed Richardson’s essay in the wrong place. Sorry

Another controversy: Is “Sweet Home Alabama” a right wing or a left wing song?”

My new take: I think what has happened is that the song has morphed, from a left wing song into a right wing one. I'm was watching Skynyrd perform from 1977 in San Francisco (on WLIW last night from Wolfgang's Vault, with Peter Frampton, the "Day on the Green" concert) and Ronnie Van Zandt was wearing a Neil Young/"Tonight's the Night" T shirt. And the chick backup singers were definitely singing "Boo-hoo-hoo" after "In Birmingham they love the guvnah."

But now, if you want to have a right-wing, redneck dare I say it, Nascary event for older people--like say, picking a band for an RNC show, which I had peripheral involvement with last time around--your choices are what's left and pretending to be Skynyrd and CDB. And now they do it with confederate flags and not Neil Young t shirts and I'm guessing not so much feeling in the "Boohoohoos."

I'm not so crazy about Tom Petty, but this story....

And I’m deeply saddened to learn of the death of Abbey Lincoln.
One of the fortunate things in my life was the fact that for a while I got to see Abbey sing in small clubs around the city twice a year for quite a while and it was the closest thing I could imagine to seeing Billie Holiday. She was really in her own category as a singer and always put together great bands. If you don’t have the album she did with Stan Getz, “You Gotta Pay the Band” you don’t have one of the best jazz albums of all time, and that’s just for starters.

Also, Herman Leonard died. I collect photography and the very first pieces I ever bought were a Leonard and a Belloc at the Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans. I bought a complete portfolio of his work later on and I agree with Fred that as jazz photography goes, he was the tops. As an added bonus, if you want a visual representation of my (and Mordechai Kaplan’s, in my opinion) vision of the meaning of the word “God,” then take a look at Leonard’s “Ray of Light” photograph of Duke Ellington. It hangs over the desk in my home office.

Oh and if I were you, I’d go to the New Yorker home page and read:
1)  Francois Truffaut’s last interview before his death
2)  Sean Wilentz on Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg
3)  Roger Angel on Bobby Thompson

And if you’re in the city, The Film Society at Lincoln Center is having… wait for it… an Eric Rohmer festival. Hooray for that!

Now here’s Reed with some serious stuff.
Reed Richardson writes:
All the Small Things
Much has already been written about Monday’s revelation that Fox News’ corporate parent recently donated $1 million to the campaign coffers of the Republican Governors’ Association through its News America PAC. It’s a large figure, but, the largesse involved was mostly notable only because it wasn’t evenly divided between the two major parties. That News Corp.’s PAC has also donated $234,700, in mostly even amounts, to the two political parties this election cycle or that NBC News corporate parent GE has also given a combined $450,000 in roughly equal portions to both Republican and Democratic governors since last year was mostly treated as footnotes in the reporting. And a quick search of the Open Secrets website shows that political campaigns are routinely awash in millions of dollars from the corporate parents of almost every major American media outlet.

Of course, a GE spokesman denied that the parent company’s donations would have any effect on the editorial decisions of NBC News, echoing a similar sentiment about Fox News’ editorial independence given by News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner to the Wall Street Journal yesterday: "The corporate donation has no impact on the reporting activities of our newsgathering organizations. There is a strict wall between business and editorial and the corporate office does not consult with our newsgathering organizations ... before making donations."

But the Journal is owned by Dow Jones, which is itself another subsidiary of News Corporation, and yesterday’s Journal article conveniently overlooked this legendary front-page blunder at the News Corp.’s other New York newspaper, an erroneous story whose source was widely acknowledged to be a pretty prominent member of the News Corp.’s business side—none other than the Chairman himself. Of course, direct intervention in editorial content like this is still, thankfully, the exception. The rule, however, is more pernicious and long-lasting—as parent companies consolidate and squeeze their media subsidiaries for greater efficiencies and higher profits, news organizations are increasingly forced to close domestic and foreign bureaus, shrink their news holes, and sacrifice accuracy in the name of slashing staff overhead.
Or, as was noted in the most recent Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism survey, former CNN president and Los Angeles Times publisher Tom Johnson once said, “The single most important element in the life of a media company is who owns it.”

But to give credit where credit is due, News Corp. is at least consistent when it comes to letting the newsroom enjoy the same rights as the boardroom—Fox News being the only major TV network whose ethics policy allows for political donations by its editorial employees. The rest of the broadcast and cable networks, along with almost every major newspaper in the country, ban any kind of individual campaign contribution and most forms of political advocacy by their newsroom staffs, regardless of an employee’s beat or job function. These rigid ethical rules are in place, we’re told, in the interest of maintaining the appearance of objectivity, but what they really do is institute a two-tier class system where a reporter or editor now has fewer free speech rights than the corporation that employs them.

One might argue that these draconian ethics policies would be justified if they were to succeed in preserving the publics’ trust in the press, but this past week we again saw proof that this isn’t the case. After the collectively bungled news coverage of the runup to the Iraq War, you might think that the traditional media would have learned its lesson. But, alas, its recent horse-race focused and process-obsessed performance covering the health care debate has left many Americans armed with little more than competing talking points and confused about its real impact.

Sadly, the next three months leading up to the midterm elections promise more of this fundamentally flawed news coverage, if this story is any indication. When a Washington Post reporter waits until the very last sentence to reveal that one of the primary subjects seriously featured in her story on the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy is casually demagoguing the issue “for fun,” I can understand why the public now questions the press’s commitment to the truth.

Likewise, when a story in today’s New York Times, which seeks to detail all the conspiracy theories and tabloid lies about the president’s birthplace and religion, can’t be bothered to do more to set the record straight than to couch the truth in mealy-mouth campaign-trail journalese like: “Despite repeated denials by Obama aides…," I fear for our democracy. Rather than something unequivocal like: “In fact, Mr. Obama is a Christian who was born in Hawaii,” this guarded, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other language actually creates breathing room for more doubt. Tellingly, the Times has now changed the story to read: “Despite evidence to the contrary from Obama aides….,” making no mention of this earlier version. The change is subtle, yes, but nevertheless telling. It speaks to a media beholden to broken value system, one that continues to let corporations dictate the future while the press continues to hedge its bets, leaving the public without a grasp of the factual record and our democracy poorer because of it.

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

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new "Think Again" column called “Wall-to-Wall Craziness” about the role in the media played by the Wall Street Journal editorial page and it’s here.

The Nation has six responses to "Kabuki Democracy"  

Michael Kazin, "Building a Movement by Offering Solutions"

Barbara Ehrenreich, "The Corpo-Obama-Geithner-Petraeus State"

Norman Ornstein, "Ending the Permanent Campaign"

Salim Muwakkil, "Obama, The Right and Race"

Theda Skocpol, "Obama's Healthcare Achievements"

Chris Bowers, "There Will Be No Silver Bullet"

I see Christopher is on Charlie Rose tonight. We debated Iraq a long time ago and someone recently sent it to me: “Alterman vs. Hitchens on Iraq on Charlie Rose.” 

Also, I’m for Newt.

Jonathan Chait appears to be making a run at Frank Foer’s job as editor of TNR. How can I tell? It’s the gratuitous and intellectually indefensible liberal bashing, obviously designed to win over the heart of liberal-hating (also, of course, Moslem hating) TNR self-appointed editor in chief, Marty Peretz.  Visceral liberal hatred was the top item of the job description of previous Peretz-appointed editors, Michael Kelly and Andrew Sullivan, and occasionally infected the early days of Peter Beinart before his post-Iraq conversion,  It hasn’t much appeared in Foer’s magazine, except under the bylines of Chait and Peretz. That’s why I see Chait staking out this territory. 

In support of Robert Gibbs’ crazy comments,  Chait recently blamed  "discontent liberal voters who thought that  President Obama's election meant that his entire agenda would sail through uncompromised, or possibly even enhanced, by the legislative process."  Know anybody like this? Neither do I, but it does make for nice, Peretzian style slander of “liberals.” It’s of a piece with Chait’s earlier claim that Obama’s health care legislation was falling victim to what he called the "Delusional Left." But as I noted in this space, the entire "left" for Chait's purposes consisted of one Jane Hamsher. I wrote back then: “Now Chait is not stupid. He knows that Hamsher represents a tiny, minority sliver of the left and that almost everyone of significance among liberals supports the health care bill albeit reluctantly in many cases. But he is dishonest in exactly the manner that appears to infect TNR writers and editors with surprising consistency through the years. Can it be a coincidence, for instance, that the very same magazine has made a practice for decades now of the deliberately and dishonestly misrepresenting the position of those on its left for the purposes of pretending that the Neocon view of things like Regan's war in Central America, Joe Lieberman's presidential hopes, the war in Iraq, whether criticism of Israel is evidence of anti-Semitism, etc is actually the only legitimate "liberal" view.. Hence the famous phrase "Even the liberal New Republic...." (And of course, Chait has done yeoman’s work, attacking J Street as well, so that base is covered.)

Anyway, this is how you become TNR editor, when Frank Foer one day either gets pushed out the door—remember Chuck Lane learned Marty had fired him from Howie Kurtz—or gets a better offer. So congratulations, Jon, in advance. It is an honor well-earned.

On a related topic, it appears that Harvard’s Social Studies department  is holding a dinner in honor of Marty Peretz at the Harvest on Friday, September 24th at 7 p.m to raise money. Now I am all for separating rich people from their money, though in this case, a lot of it is going to go to rich kids. (Hey Marty, how about restoring the salaries of all those underpaid TNR writers and editors you keep cutting?)  Marty is in the news again, here, though I am not up to the job of figuring out just what he’s done, I doubt it’s good. In the meantime, I hope someone at the dinner has the courage to congratulate Marty for his “courage” over the years in telling Americans what sub-human monsters all Arabs and most Moslems are. Matt Duss did the work a few years ago so you don’t have to, here but of course it could use (a great deal of) updating.

Here’s my fave, the one that says Arabs aren’t really people:

Marty Peretz, 11/19/06:

I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) "atrocities." They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do. But the mutilation of bodies and beheadings of people picked up at random in Iraq does not scandalize the people of Iraq unless victims are believers in their own sect or members of their own clan. And the truth is that we are less and less shocked by the mass death-happenings in the world of Islam. Yes, that's the bitter truth. Frankly, even I--cynic that I am--was shocked in the beginning by the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq. But I am no longer surprised. And neither are you.

Note: Peretz, or more likely one of his minders, later pulled the post off of his blog.

But read them all, if you can stand it, (and maybe some enterprising student can hand them out at dinner). Great work, Matt

Stupid Email of the Day:

Dear Subscriber :

In Victor Baltov’s second book in his Baseball is America series, he stresses that if we don’t change back to our founding Christian principles in our actions and way of life (of which baseball has played a big part), and reject the secular ways concocted by mankind under the cover of political correctness, this country will surely lose its freedom.  Please let me know if you are interested in receiving a copy of Victor’s powerful book for consideration of an interview or to provide a review.  Thank you.

Lisa McEntyre
The Woodlands, TX



     "The sky, too, is folding under you/And it's all over now, baby blue."

     Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Dirty Power" (Shane Theriot) -- Say what you want about the Professional Left, but it's never disputed about how much I love New Orleans.

     Part The First: There's a lot of whoopin' and hollerin' and omigawdmooslimin' about the new clock in Mecca. My friend P. Z. (The Wrath Of The Whatever High Upon The Thing) Myers disposes of the requisite non-science behind the whole enterprise. But, those of us who have spent many happy hours in Paris On The Menomonee know that both the Brits and the Saudis already have had their clocks cleaned years ago. Scoreboard, beeyotches!

     Part The Second: You know all those election night speeches where the person who lost graciously accepts defeat? Yeah, I don't believe any of those bastards, either. Here's how you lose in America, dammit. I am intrigued that, deep in this incredible eruption of sub-literate rage, the guy manages to pull "clodpoll" out of the ol' vocabulary.

     Part The Third: On the other hand, how can a country in which Citizens United is the law of the land get fussy about what would have been the greatest bumper-sticker ever.

     Part The Penultimate: I swear to Aqua Buddha, no matter what the truth of this story turns out to be, this is one very, very weird dude here. And I don't mean Cavuto.

     Part the Ultimate: As bizarre as the Tea Party folks are, at least most of the rank and file have the saving grace of being both sincere and utterly ignorant. I've grown far more sick of these folks than I have of Grandma and Grandpa Knownothing with the tea-bags on their hats and their deep concerns about the liberal bias inherent in astrophysics. Look, boys, you spent an awful lot of time, and got paid awfully well, in the service of an egregious public dunce. (And you, David Stockman, spent a lot of time and got paid awfully well stuffing the head of the primordial public dunce with the unmitigated hooey of conservative economics. You can shut up now.) You celebrated the gut over the brain, the id over the ego, the fake cowboy ranch over empirical reality. You lent your words to a towering act of intellectual fraud and you can shut up now for a while. It's a little late to decide that y'all don't have the belly for the irrational hooliganism running amuck in the party. You opened the door to the monkeyhouse, boys. If it were up to me, you'd both stand in the snow outside of Al Gore's house until he granted you plenary indulgences.


The rest of the mail:

Steve Milligan
Colorado Springs, CO

"Norman" sung by Sue Thompson:  worst song ever.

Bob Rothman
Washington, DC


I'm sure your list of worst songs will generate a lot of arguments and additions to the list. I won't add mine, but I want to point out that Dace Barry wrote a whole book (well, a thin one) on it:  His top choice? Macarthur Park, which is so insipid that the "singer," Richard Harris, even gets the title wrong.

Eric replies: MacArthur Park is a great song.

George Liddle, III
San Diego, CA

Dear Dr. Alterman,

If you ever link to the Washington Times again for any purpose but the announcement of its demise, I will stop reading your blog forever and not look back.  I trusted you, sir.

Eric replies: I didn’t but whatever… pass the bong, dude.

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

Afternoon Delight

I’ve got a new "Think Again" column called “Wall-to-Wall Craziness” about the role in the media played by the Wall Street Journal editorial page and it’s here.

Also, I’m for Newt.

And I’d happily vote for him over than my corrupt, crazy obnoxious representative (and possibly even Charles Schumer, too. But what a disgrace for Andrew Cuomo, the state’s attorney general to celebrate this crook. Is it any wonder that voters who don’t pay too much attention to politics want to turn out the Democrats this year? And by the way, it was two years ago this summer I got an email from the Obama campaign advising me to “Vote for Charlie Rangel for Change.” That’s when I became certain that they were just about as full of shit as every other presidential politician, though I’m
still hoping Obama himself did not know about it.)

World’s Worst Songs:  The Top Twenty

Afternoon Delight
The Night Chicago Died
Billy Don’t be a Hero
You light up my Life
Mary Queen of Arkansas
The Angel
Playgrounds in my Mind
Seasons in the Sun
Ebony and ivory
My love
Let ‘Em In
Sometimes when we touch
Baby I'm a Want You
Theme from "Arthur"
One Tin Soldier
You May Be Right
We Built This City
Who’s Ruling Who?

Congratulations to Paul McCartney  for placing three, and Bruce for placing

Reed Richardson writes:

America, it may not surprise you to learn, is struggling within the clutches of an unaccountable elite, a vast network of powerful figures and organizations that have no compunction about manipulating our democracy to their own self-serving needs. But lest you get the idea that recent events have once again demonstrated that this cabal is comprised of greedy corporations doing things like this or intolerant religious groups advocating things like this or intellectually bankrupt politicians who reveal their true constituencies with stands like this, a growing chorus of conservative pundits stand ready to disabuse you of this notion. Of course, the “real” usurpers that they identify are just the same old right-wing bugbears: the judicial branch, academia, government bureaucrats, pop culture and mainstream media. But in the past few weeks, they do at least seem to be preparing for these upcoming midterm elections by not so subtly rolling out a broad, faux-populist, rebranding effort, one that dogwhistles to the Tea Partiers' obsession with revolutionary iconography by emphasizing the pejorative phrase “ruling class” to characterize all their culture-war opponents and augur for their takedown.

Keep it mind, it matters not that these same rabble-rousing pundits would more likely be caught dead than rub shoulders with the rabble they are rousing:

Angelo Codevilla, author of the American Spectator piece, has, according to his bio, never held a job in the private sector, working his entire career in either government or academia. Yet in his lengthy essay, he criticizes people like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, whom he claims (incorrectly) has never held non-government job. Indeed, for someone whose resumé includes four separate stints in low to mid-level government positions, it sounds particularly ironic when Codevilla sniffs: "Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats.”

The Corner’s Larry Kirsanow, who wrapped up his anti-ruling class piece by proudly proclaiming, “This is a fight about first principles. I’ll bet on the great unwashed,” is, in real life, a anti-labor corporate attorney whose legal bio includes champion-of-the-underdog entries like:

-Represented a steel processing manufacturer in OHSA [sic], workers'
compensation and personal injury litigation proceedings following a machine
failure resulting in the death of the machine operator

-Represented a foundry before OHSA [sic] and the Industrial Commission after
one of the company’s employees died, allegedly from a workplace injury

Gotta love that use of the word allegedly.

Andrew G. Wilson, of the Weekly Standard’s blog, does manage to castigate two unalloyed members of America’s ruling class, uber-successful capitalists Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but only for having the gall to give their money away instead of using it to address “horrific problems” like “runaway government spending” and the “spiraling deficit.” (I mean, what kind of worthless extravagances are these guys frittering away their billions on, anyway? Oh yeah, now I remember.

The always sartorially splendid Tony Blankley, of the Washington Times, gins up his indignation at “being lectured to and imposed upon by a ruling class […] who are not, in fact, our genuine betters.” Contrast that to last year, when, in a Politico story about that age-old workingman’s argument—pocket square handkerchief: yes or no?—this lover of the common man humbly observed: “Politicians not having anything substantive to offer tend to try to not offend [voters] by the clothes they wear and think, incorrectly, that if they dress as slovenly as the rest of the people, they will be appreciated.”

This kind of meme manipulation, I expect, will be par for the course over the next three months. But the media must not be cowed into swallowing this shoddily manufactured outrage. In fact, perhaps the best way to approach the coverage of the right-wing’s ongoing “anti-ruling class” noise machine would be to take a cue from one of its leaders, Newt Gingrich, whose standards for personal integrity and intellectual honesty were fully revealed this week here. “It doesn't matter what I do […] People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”


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

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new "Think Again" column called “Left and Right Both Do it? Wrong.” It’s here.

Speaking again, of NASCAR, I’d hate to think that all of the fine NASCAR fans of America are also PARROT MURDERERS.  But there’s this.


Hey Doc:

"Call out the instigators/because there's something in the air."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Medieval Days" (Earl King) -- Because I love New Orleans, I will not believe anything anyone from BP says about the oil spill until the day Tony Hayward comes back and eats some beach sand.

Part The First: I was unaware that the Nobel medallion worked so well as a blunt instrument. I was in Wisconsin a couple of weeks ago, and folks there are somewhat astounded at the acclaim that young Ryan has received among the serious denizens of the Beltway. (Among progressive Badgers, he's always been thought of as a libertarian kook.) I hope he's stashed his dental records with someone he trusts because...wow.

Part The Second: I thought Judge John Jones was tough in the Kitzmiller  intelligent-design case, what with the phrase "breathtaking inanity" and all. But gee golly williwhiskers, Judge Walker makes Jones look like Rebecca Of Sunnybrook District Court. Good luck, Your Honor. I wouldn't want to be your answering machine for a while.

Part The Third: I think I speak for the entire class when I say, holy Jesus H. Christ with a two-iron, what is going on here? Get the net, please. 


Part The Fourth: Get another net. Quickly.

Part The Penultimate: Oh, for the love of god. Why did I bother to learn history is nothing is ever really over?  First there was Buchanan, railing about tariffs and now this. Somebody take this boothead to Gettysburg.

Part The Ultimate: Jon Stewart had a brilliant bit the other night entitled, "I Give Up." It was specifically about the idiotic failure of the Congress to pass health-care legislation on behalf of the first-responders from the 9/11 atrocities. (This is great. They'll fight like wolverines against a mosque on the other side of the neighborhood while leaving the real heroes of their "sacred" ground to die with their lungs bleeding.) But it was more about our new unofficial national motto -- "America: We Can't Do Dick." The system is broken, perhaps irretrievably. (Digby finds the invaluable Dave Weigel contributing the week's most depressingly honest story here. In response, the country seems ready to elect a Congressional majority with little or no attachment to actual reality. In fact, it appears to be ready to elect that majority specifically because it is irrational. (John Boehner's sneering at economists last week was a considerable tell.) If the country is prepared to do that, then what, really, is there to be done? Real problems have real solutions. Truly, they do. But among those solutions are not prayerful dumbshow and magical economic thinking. But that's what's selling. (How is Sharron Angle possibly a legitimate candidate for the United States Senate? How is Rand Paul not languishing on some parks and rec commission as the one vote against bike paths?) Somebody, somewhere, once wrote that, today, fact is that which enough people believe, and truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.  He played that for laughs. He's not laughing any more.

Merrill R. Frank
Jackson Heights, NYC


There is an utter lack of, dare I use the term cojones when the Anti-Defamation League and its director Abe Foxman has trouble bringing itself to support a congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

But when they can’t even support religious plurality in NYC, cast their lot with modern day No-Nothings like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Ayn Rand disciple/blogger/genocide defender Pam Geller and cave in to the untutored mob then they simply lose the credibility they once had. So they are for religious freedom and against bigotry, uh, except in Lower Manhattan. Where does this end? No synagogues near pork stores, no Catholic churches near elementary schools or day care centers. You know the old saw “someone might be offended” or “something might happen”. The 80 odd innocent Muslims who perished on 9/11, the Muslim NYPD Cadet who ran to the scene and perished or the Muslim doctors, nurses, and EMT workers, who volunteered their services, hey pay no mind.

The fact that the cultural center which akin to a YMCA with an auditorium, pool and sports facilities (Residents of Lower Manhattan and Community Board 1 have been advocating for a recreational, Y like facility for several years as the area has evolved from just the Financial District that shuts down at dusk to a 24/7 residential neighborhood) is blocks from “Ground Zero” will have prayer space, not a Mosque, seems to get thrown out the window. There has been a mosque in the area since 1983, it has never been a problem and its iman is a respected member of the community. In my neighborhood in Queens there is a mosque caddy corner from a strip club and a Burger King; somehow they remain good neighbors.

Interestingly enough the ADL was founded in 1913 after the lynching of Leo Frank by an anti-Semitic mob in Marietta, Georgia, a place which in later years was part of the home district of John Bircher leader/congressman Larry McDonald as well as Mr. Gingrich. When he was the representative Mr. Gingrich was strangely silent or busy engaging in sodomy with his mistress when this bit of Taliban like idiocacy passed in his district. (It was rescinded a few years later). He was also mute when teaching science became a controversial issue and was nearly hijacked by religious fundamentalists.

Mayor Bloomberg, who could have easily played to the cheap seats thankfully stood up to the mob: "Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here." Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo at least manned up when he said "this country is about religious freedom."

Other Democrats shamefully have their fingers in the air or are they just afraid of the wrath of Foxman or Fox?

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

Left, Right and Wrong

I’ve got a new "Think Again" column called “Left and Right Both Do it? Wrong.” It’s here.

Naturally, I am deeply excited to read this 4500 word article on Nascar, as I have long  been critical of the Times’s inability to give this great American sport its due. Do you remember how they failed to put his daddy on the front page when he died? That was an outrage. Here we learn about Junior Dale just what we need to know: “He is very, very introverted,” a publicist says. “He lives alone. He plays video games by himself eight hours at a clip. He’s a multimillionaire, yet he lived alone for months in a 20-by-20 garage loft.” The publicist makes him out to be the Howard Hughes of Nascar. 

More seriously, my friend Michelle Sieff has an op-ed in the Forward here, arguing that the human rights community needs to assess the ideologies of groups like Hamas before judging the actions of their opponents. I could hardly disagree more. In fact, I think this is how “they win”—by getting Western nations to betray their ideals in pursuit of their enemies.  I don’t care what the ideology was of those on the Gaza flotilla. They had every right to be in international waters without having to face the deadly force of the IDF, no matter what they believed. It’s a different story if one of these groups actually has the ability to destroy your state. As Mr. Lincoln may or may not have said, a “constitution is not a suicide pact.” But Hamas does not fall into that category. They can do a lot of damage, of course, but mostly they cause Israel to do damage to itself. Ms. Sieff makes an eloquent case for the opposite view but you can decide for yourself.

Still, let’s not put Michelle in a category with the odious Terry Teachout, who writing a loveletter to the newly belligerent David Mamet--great playwright, moronic political observer--argues that when David Margolick points out that ““Not all Jewish criticism of Israel is self-hatred, and not all gentile criticism is anti-Semitic. Jews who sympathize with the Palestinians are not necessarily neurotic…. And, by the way, not all Israeli crimes are ‘imaginary,’” he is demonstrating “the naïvete with which modern-day liberals like Margolick regard the existential threats that beset Israel? Might this lack of realism on the part of his fellow liberals have caused him to feel that his own liberal politics were equally unreal by comparison with the cold-eyed disillusion of his plays, and that the plays were thus truer to life than his political opinions?”

Speaking of Commentary, Damon Linker does a masterful job of assessing the Pilgrim’s progress of Norman Podhoretz in last week’s Times Book Review, here and while I agree that Balint’s book is excellent, I find him much too kind to Thomas L. Jeffers’s unreadably awful biography of Podhoretz.  Damon likes the early parts, which I might as well, had the author not thoroughly discredited himself with the rest of this nonsensical hagiography.  Here is the review’s final paragraph:

Podhoretz wasn’t wrong to sense a certain nobility in standing up for “one’s own.” Yet his self-defense, to the exclusion of other human values, be they moral, literary or intellectual, has come at a cost. Today Commentary regularly publishes essays that sound, in Balint’s apt words, “like speeches intended to buck up the troops or self-congratulatory sermons to the faithful.” As for Podhoretz himself, he has grown so intolerant of criticism and dissent, so terrified of impending doom at the hands of militant Muslims, and so furious with his fellow Jews that his intemperate rantings are dismissed by all but his neoconservative progeny. The Brownsville wunderkind has ended up an embittered, paranoid crank, standing by and for himself alone.

Reed Richardson writes:


Hamlet in the Newsroom


The arrival of August on the calendar has, in recent years, precipitated the ridiculous staging of an annual Shakespearean melodrama. Starring a certain Wrangler-wearin’ pro football player in the role of conflicted Danish prince, this summer stock production quickly transforms much of the supposedly serious sports media into gossip-hungry Rosencrantzes and Twitter-obsessed Guildensterns. Amidst all this incessant questioning of “QB or not QB,” it was therefore easy to overlook this worthwhile story about the NFL’s changed attitude toward “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” as Hamlet put it, in last week’s New York Times.

Now, no matter how “blunt” the language, just hanging a few warning posters in locker rooms will probably do for preventing long-term brain injuries in NFL players what the current cigarette warning labels have done for reducing smoking among teenagers—that is to say not much. After all, in a sport that lacks guaranteed contracts, there is a powerful incentive to play through almost any injury, despite the risks, especially when the average NFL player’s tenure lasts less than four years.

Nonetheless, give the Times, in general, and reporter Alan Schwarz, specifically, their due. They have continually returned to this issue (Schwarz basically wrote his way onto the Times staff with his coverage of the topic), providing sustained, incisive reporting and a solid statistical grasp of the widespread health risks when many other news organizations and journalists have been content to run anecdotal, one-and-done stories. And, as recently as last fall, the NFL, stealing a page out of the tobacco industry’s “not based on sound science” playbook, had remained unwilling to acknowledge any link between concussions sustained on the field and higher incidences of dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life. That the league has now done an about-face and has even donated money toward concussion research can largely be attributed to the Times’ dogged reporting. (Though, I would point out that the $1 million ponied up by the NFL to study the problem amounts to 0.01282% of its $7.8 billion in annual revenues or, put another way, about $589.62 a brain, based on a 53-man active roster in a 32-team league.)

But precisely because Schwarz has done yeoman’s work on this issue, reporting without fear or favor, I also recalled a disheartening (and somewhat disturbing) online discussion he gave to Columbia Journalism Review earlier this year. At the tail end of that interview, when asked a very natural question—whether or not he would let his own three-year-old son eventually play football, knowing what he does about the long-term health risks—Schwarz somewhat surprisingly demurred. Suddenly, the well-versed, knowledgeable reporter was replaced by an unsophisticated, equivocating father, with the latter seemingly not privy to the wealth of information on the topic possessed by the former. “It’s my job to cover the issue,” Schwarz declared, “It’s not my job to decide or even discuss how I will let the issue affect my family.” To not discuss it publicly, I could see, but to not decide how would such a thing would affect his family?

When pushed by the CJR interviewer to acknowledge that, actually, it probably was his responsibility, as a human being and father, to decide and guide his son’s choice in such a situation, Schwarz claims that he couldn’t even contemplate such a scenario lest his internal objectivity might be compromised. Then, moments later, he backtracks somewhat and, in a contorted fit of logic, says this:

“So I would probably let him play because if I didn’t it would compromise the reporting. It would compromise the trust that others and even the league may have in me. Now, I would not send him out to slaughter, but getting one concussion is not that big of a deal—it just isn’t. And to suggest otherwise is incredibly irresponsible. So if my kid gets one concussion then yeah, he doesn’t play anymore probably. […] And if I didn’t allow him to play then yeah, it would be harder to cover this story in my own mind. I believe that the cost to others of my not being able to cover the story as well would be greater than the cost of my kid getting one concussion and never playing again. […] And I can’t tell my kid he can’t play, because then what am I going to tell the league? What am I going to tell my editors? It doesn’t work. It’s dissonant.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, but, en toto, this is perhaps one of the best distillations of today’s conventional wisdom about media ethics and why it undermines journalism in the long run. In this world, reporting can only be fair if it, a priori, appears to be fair. This standard has been inculcated to the point where even otherwise excellent journalists like Schwarz have been trained to mistrust their own journalistic abilities, even when presented with hypothetical situations that don’t offer any obvious and direct conflicts of interest, like, say, if his son played in the NFL. Also, notice that the potential conflicts of interest mentioned by Schwarz tellingly run in one direction, toward the more powerful group in the dynamic. To wit, he emphasizes how not letting his son play would be perceived by his bosses at the Times and the NFL, but not how letting his son go ahead and play might look biased to his readers.


To Schwarz and many others like him, journalistic objectivity has become an ideal unto itself; a pious calling that often expects heavy sacrifices from its practitioners and, increasingly, its practitioners’ families, in order to maintain an unblemished veneer of neutrality. (And while Schwarz may downplay the risks of letting his son suffer a single concussion while playing football as “not that big a deal,” a sentiment I would share when it comes to my own two sons, when he also admits that after that threshold is reached he would prohibit his son from playing anymore, his words suggest otherwise.) This is unfortunate, as its long-term net effect is to hermetically seal off members of the media from the subjects they cover, which then drives the press coverage toward falsely equivalent “he said, she said” stories that offer readers no real insight. Or, as Hamlet put it: “thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.”




I caught a Raul Malo show  last week at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett. It was a wonderful show. I’ve never seen Raul phone it in, but this was a night when his parents were there, and so he really let go on the crooning. Nobody, and I mean nobody has a more beautiful voice than Malo. And his musical range while not unlimited, is pretty wide, going from Tex Mex to pure country to some pretty serious rocking out. You would not believe how sexy “Guantamara” can sound, particularly when it goes on forever.  (Did I mention what a great little band he has?)  The set was light on Maverick material, but there was enough to send everybody home happy. Catch him if you can.

Also, don’t miss Rosanne’s version of Ode to Billy Joe. Sublimity, thou is this.

The mail:

Greg Panfile
Scarsdale NY

With all due respect for a better writer with great taste in music, I think Charles misses the point on this one. It's not about a person wanting power... how can you know what any person *wants*, anyway?  It's about an ambiguously worded law from *1993* that in one place allows gathering certain information, and in another explicitly mentions four other kinds, but omits that one kind.  Rather than 'roll over' to the "power seeker," the Justice Department took the higher road and ruled that the information can't be accessed.

The information in question is the equivalent of being able to take photos of you driving your car down a public street, or gathering telephone dialing information, both of which they can already do without a court order.  So the worst case scenario here is that they're treating the Intertubes as a public place equivalent to the street or phone lines, and not allowing information online to be more private than that, and clarifying a power that was already granted in a poorly written law from 17 years ago.  Given the fact that there's a yahoo claque of about 25% of the country who fears that Obama is the stalking horse for a bunch of nonwhite socialist terrorists who Don't Love America and are Soft On Terrorism, this is pretty lightweight stuff to hold against him... some sense of perspective is clearly in order.  Who is the alternative?  Is he or she better?  Answers:  Palin or Romney, and hell freaking no.



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

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called “What’s Wrong with this Mainstream Media Picture?” about coverage of DISCLOSE Act, here.


And my new Nation column about the MSM’s embrace of Breitbartism and nuttiness regarding Journolist, is here.


Now here's Charles:


Hey Doc:

     "Nothing from nothing leaves nothing/You gotta have something/if you want to be with me."

     Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "(They Call Me) Doctor Professor Longhair" (Professor Longhair) -- If the Republicans start telling me I don't love New Orleans, I'm setting Anthony Weiner on they asses again. Just sayin'.

     Part The First: My money's on this action's never getting to court, but I'd buy tickets to the discovery process as requested by the plantiff. Oh, yes. I would do that.

     Part The Second: The Cynic returns, baffled as always.

     Part The Third: Go ahead. Tell me that the reason for this is that we need 60 votes to pass something in the Senate. He wants this power because he wants this power. Period. Constitutional law professor, my arse.

     Part The Fourth: Behold, the most honest man in Nevada, except, of course, for that part about lying that he'd ever said these things. As a matter of fact, because his children don't look Hispanic is precisely why they don't have to worry about the Arizona law.

     Part The Fifth: Outside of The Band, whose first two albums retired the trophy in this category, no band ever has developed in its music such a finely drawn individual country of the imagination than have the Drive By Truckers. Their latest, The Big To-Do, is growing on me by the hour. This is the South where even Atticus Funch doesn't dare troll for clients. "The Wig He Made Her Wear" can legitimately be seen as a direct link to  "King Harvest (Has Surely Come)", except that the events in the former take place after the rural economic dread that hangs over every note of the latter like smoke over a cornfield has settled in for 30 years or so. Somebody smarter than me once said that the only original insight George Wallace ever had was to discover that, in many important ways, all of America was Southern. With double-digit unemployment as the New Normal, this is music that the country needs right now.

     Part The Penultimate: And, ladies and gentlemen, it's Senator Rand Paul, brought to you by Massey Energy and the United States Supreme Court.

     Part The Ultimate: Time pretty much decided to blow goats this week. I'm going to leave aside the Send-Your-Kids-But-Not-Mine freak-show to people more bloodthirsty than I.  Rather, I'd like to address the woeful ongoing unrequited romance between Joe Klein and His Own Private Newt Gingrich. Every couple of years, it seems, Klein writes this same column, possibly in violet ink across the cover of his Trapper-Keeper. It's about how "visionary" and "creative" the former speaker is, only to have Gingrich once again revert to type and break Joe's heart. In fact, if you really want to know when a lot of the problems with elite political discourse began, recall the Intertoobz back to the days of the candy-coated stories about Newt Gingrich in the wake of the 1994 midterm elections.

As should be obvious to everyone by now, Gingrich's primary accomplishment as a national political figure was to bring in an incredible cast of drunkards, boobs, lechers, and incompetents -- the latter two categories, by the way, would include Gingrich himself -- whom he then so alienated that they tried to throw his ass out once, failed, and then succeeded later, after Newt had let the impeachment circus run away with the country. His effect on the national polity has been universally negative. His vaunted "ideas," including his lifelong devotion to that meathead, Alvin Toffler, always read like a non-too-bright, but ambitious, teenager set loose in the New Nonfiction section of his local Borders. His credentials as a historian -- which include his partial authorship of a couple of Confederophile pseudohistories -- make Jonah Goldberg look like Thuycidides. If the man has had a genuine intellectual thought in his life, to paraphrase the great Dan Jenkins, he took it out in the yard and played with it. And, yet, Joe Klein is not the only one who looks at the 2012 Republican presidential field, (rightly) considers it a little light on the old gray matter, and then thinks to himself, "You know who could bring some gravitas to this whole operation? Newt Gingrich, Trained Historian!" Then Newt goes out and starts shilling another overripe hunk of Regnery sausage in which The Trained Historian writes: "The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” This indicates that The Trained Historian is now doing his primary-source research off placards at Tea Party rallies. It also indicates (again) that, if Newt Gingrich is a historian, then every chicken who plays tic-tac-toe is Boris Spassky. And everyone pretends to be mystified  as to how this possibly could have happened.


P.S -- While I appreciate The Landlord's having taken up the cudgel on my behalf, I'd like also to point out to reader Perhach that my 2004 post plainly had to do with telling the Democrats not to vote for any Bush agenda items simply because he'd finally won a presidential election. That is, it was a call for Democrats not to get rolled, something that even Mr. Perhach will have to admit has been a problem recently. Nowhere did I suggest, or even imply, that the Democrats should simply stall every single piece of legislation going forward. That's irresponsible governance and I would not support it under either party. If that's unclear, I'm sure Rep. Weiner would be glad to explain it to you.



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

Syndicate content