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On May 14, 2002, the first wave of Internet file-sharing died.

Affirmative action, while generally a good and necessary thing, has
always been more complicated than its supporters admit. It inspires a
backlash; it often promotes people who are underprepared for their
assigned tasks; and it attaches a stigma to those who do succeed on
their own, often with a crushing psychological burden. Yet another
problem is how easily it can be manipulated for nefarious purposes.

Women and minorities have been agitating for greater representation in a
largely white, male media structure for decades, making their case by
the numbers. According to a recent study published by Fairness &
Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), women made up just 15 percent of sources
appearing on the three major network news programs in 2001, while 92
percent of all US sources for whom race was determinable were white.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have also made a case for greater media
representation. They've done so by redefining the terms of debate. While
most pundits and nearly half the "experts" employed by the media are
quite conservative by any reasonable or historical measure of the term,
that's not good enough. They are demanding more. Bernard Goldberg, Nat
Hentoff and Reed Irvine are hardly the only conservatives who say they
deserve greater representation. Many news producers and editorial page
editors apparently concur.

The media's response to the traditional affirmative-action
constituencies and the well-funded propaganda offensive by the
conservatives has been to capitulate to both sides at once. Hence the
rise of the female and/or minority conservative pundit, often
unqualified by any traditional standard and frequently close to the line
in terms of sanity but with job security the rest of us can only
imagine.

When MSNBC began operations in the summer of 1996 and hired eighteen
regular pundits--of whom I was one--the most recognizable type among the
mostly unknown cast were the blonde and black fire-breathing
right-wingers. Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Jennifer Grossman, Niger
Innes, Deroy Murdoch, Brian Jones, Joseph Perkins, Betsy Hart (a
brunette, but still...); the list goes on and on. At the time, I used to
joke that the producers might wish to inquire about the politics of the
black/blonde daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton. If she liked Star Wars
and tax cuts for the rich, they should offer her a lifetime contract.

It didn't matter to the network executives at the time that women and
minorities in real life were far more liberal than most television
people, and their gimmick was, in that regard, deceptive. These pundits
gave the new network some "pop" in the larger media--or so it was
believed. In fact, most of those named above have faded back into the
proverbial woodwork. But not all. Laura Ingraham now wears her leopard
miniskirts on radio and is apparently a political fashion consultant to
CNN's Reliable Sources. (On Al Gore's Florida speech: "His
perspiration was, I mean...it was quite unpleasant." On the state of the
nightly news: "I think one of the worst things that's happened to news
is this sort of open-collared shirt, no tie, you know, do you take the
jacket off? That whole, you know, undress thing on television...")

Coulter, meanwhile, well... it's complicated. On the one hand, she is
the television babe to end all television babes--bright blonde locks,
legs that never end and skirts so short as to make Sharon Stone distrust
her Basic Instincts. On the other hand, she is clearly the victim of an
undiagnosed case of political Tourette's syndrome. How else to explain
incidents like the time she attacked a disabled Vietnam vet on the air
by screaming, "People like you caused us to lose that war"? Or when she
termed Bill Clinton a "pervert, liar and a felon" and a "criminal"? Or
Hillary Clinton "pond scum" and "white trash"? Or the late Pamela
Harriman a "whore"? Coulter also wrote a book during the impeachment
crisis that appeared to suggest the assassination of Bill Clinton. She
was, also, as the Boston Globe reported, credibly accused of
plagiarizing from a colleague at Human Events for her book.

By the time she finally got herself fired from MSNBC, Coulter was a
star. (No man, or ugly woman for that matter, would have lasted remotely
as long.) She found herself celebrated by the likes of John Kennedy Jr.,
who gave her a column in George, as well as bookers for talk
shows with hosts like Wolf Blitzer, Larry King, Geraldo and Bill Maher,
and quoted by ABC's George Will with the same deference usually reserved
for Edmund Burke or James Madison.

Lately Coulter has gotten herself in the news again by calling for the
wholesale slaughter of Arabs, the murder of Norm Mineta and the use of
mob violence against liberals and Muslims. Perhaps she's kidding, but
it's hard to know. We have, too, another book-length screed,
Slander, this one bearing the imprimatur of Crown Publishers. As
with her entire career in the punditocracy, it is a black mark on the
soul of everyone associated with it. Here is Coulter's characterization
of a New York Times editorial criticizing John Ashcroft: "Ew
yuck, he's icky." She worries about "liberals rounding up right-wingers
and putting them on trial." One could go on, and on, and on.

What's scary is that Coulter is hardly alone. Look at the
free-associating reveries Peggy Noonan manages to publish every week in
the Wall Street Journal, or the lunacies that right-wing lesbian
Norah Vincent pours forth on the LA Times Op-Ed page--as if
self-consciously seeking to fill the space mercifully vacated by that
nutty nineties icon Camille Paglia. Check out Alan Keyes on MSNBC and
tell me, seriously, that the man has ever made what Bobbie Gentry called
"a lick of sense" in his life. I'm not saying that women and minorities
don't have the right to be as idiotic as white men. But be careful what
you wish for and smart about how you pursue it. Liberals and
conservatives both got their affirmative action. Guess who won?

Unions are gradually making fuller use of the Internet's capacities to
improve communication with their own staffs or members. But increasingly
they are also using the web to recruit new members or to establish
"virtual communities" of union supporters in arenas not yet amenable to
the standard collective-bargaining model.

Alliance@IBM (www.allianceibm.org) is an example of an effective
Net-supported minority union, operating without a demonstrated pro-union
majority and without a collective-bargaining contract at a traditional
nonunion company. The alliance provides information and advice to
workers at IBM through the web. A similar effort at a partially
organized employer is WAGE ("Workers at GE," www.geworkersunited.org), which draws on contributions from fourteen cooperating
international unions. The Microsoft-inflected WashTech
(www.washtech.org) and the Australian IT Workers Alliance
(www.itworkers-alliance.org) are open-source unions that are closer to
craft unions or occupational associations. Both are responsive to the
distinctive professional needs of these workers, such as access to a
variety of job experiences and additional formal education, and the
portability of high-level benefits when changing jobs.

The National Writers Union (www.nwu.org), a UAW affiliate, is another
example of a union virtually created off the Net. It provides
information and advice--including extensive job postings--to members,
and it lobbies on their behalf, most spectacularly in the recent Supreme
Court decision it won on freelance worker copyright rights. But most of
its members work without a collectively bargained contract.

In Britain, UNISON (the largest union in the country) and the National
Union of Students have a website that tells student workers their rights
and gives them advice about how to deal with workplace problems
(www.troubleatwork.org.uk). It is a particularly engaging and practical
illustration of how concrete problems can be addressed through Net
assistance.

Finally, for a more geographically defined labor community, take a look
at the website of the King County AFL-CIO (www.kclc.org), the Seattle
central labor council that uses the Net to coordinate its own business,
bring community and labor groups together for discussion and common
action, post messages and general information to the broader community,
and otherwise create a "virtual" union hall with much of the spirit and
dense activity that used to be common in actual union halls in major
cities.

Did you know that the mere act of asking what kind of warning members of
the Bush Administration may have received about a 9/11-like attack is
just clever hype by that sneaky liberal media conspiracy? So goes the
argument of the regular National Review seat on Communist News
Network liberal media program, Reliable Sources. Recently, host
(and Washington Post media reporter) Howard Kurtz decided to fill
the chair not with his favorite guest/source, NR editor Rich Lowry, or the much-invited NR
Online
editor, Jonah Goldberg, but with the relatively obscure
NR managing editor, Jay Nordlinger. Nordlinger explained, "The
story is surprisingly slight," blown up by a liberal media fearing Bush
was getting "a free ride." Give the man points for consistency. The Bush
White House's exploitation of 9/11 to fatten Republican coffers via the
sale of the President's photo that fateful day--scurrying from safe
location to safe location--was also, in Nordlinger's view, "another
almost nonstory."

Nordlinger's complaint echoed the even stronger contention of another
Kurtz favorite, Andrew Sullivan. The world-famous
gaycatholictorygapmodel took the amazing position that potential
warnings about a terrorist threat that would kill thousands and land us
in Afghanistan was "not a story" at all. Sounding like a Karl Rove/Mary
Matalin love child, Sullivan contended, "The real story here is the
press and the Democrats' need for a story about the war to change the
climate of support for the President."

But Sullivan at least deserves our admiration for expertly spinning
Kurtz regarding The New York Times Magazine's decision to cut him
loose. Echoing Sullivan's PR campaign--and with a supportive quote from,
uh, Rich Lowry--Kurtz framed the story entirely as one of Times
executive editor Howell Raines avenging Sullivan's obsessive attacks on
the paper's liberal bias. OK, perhaps the standards for a Post
writer tweaking the Times top dog are not those of, say, Robert
Caro on Robert Moses, but where's the evidence that Raines was even
involved? The paper had plenty of reasons to lose Sullivan even if his
stupendously narcissistic website never existed. Sullivan's Times
work may have been better disciplined than his "TRB" columns in the
notsoliberal New Republic (before he was replaced by editor Peter
Beinart) and certainly than the nonsense he posts online, but it still
must have embarrassed the Newspaper of Record. As (now Times Book
Review
columnist) Judith Shulevitz pointed out in a critique of his
"dangerously misleading" paean to testosterone, Sullivan was permitted
to "mix up his subjective reactions with laboratory work." Stanford
neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky told Shulevitz at the time, Sullivan "is
entitled to his fairly nonscientific opinion, but I'm astonished at the
New York Times." The Andrew Sullivan Principles of Pre-Emptive
Sexual Disclosure also embarrassed the magazine when he used its pages
to out as gay two Clinton Cabinet members and liberal Democrats like
Rosie O'Donnell. (I imagine he came to regret this invasion of privacy
when his own life became tabloid fare.) Meanwhile, Sullivan's
McCarthyite London Sunday Times column about September 11--in
which he waxed hysterical about the alleged danger of a pro-terrorist
"Fifth Column" located in the very city that suffered the attack--should
have been enough to put off any discerning editor forever. Yet the myth
of his martyrdom continues. Sullivan's website carries the vainglorious
moniker "unfit to print." For once, he's right.

* * *

Sorry, I know enough can be more than enough, but this quote of Sully's
is irresistible: "I ignored Geoffrey Nunberg's piece in The American
Prospect
in April, debunking the notion of liberal media bias by
numbers, because it so flew in the face of what I knew that I figured
something had to be wrong." When a conservative pundit "knows" something
to be true, don't go hassling him with contrary evidence. It so happens
that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg did the necessary heavy lifting to
disprove perhaps the one contention in Bernard Goldberg's book
Bias the so-called liberal media felt compelled--perhaps out of
misplaced generosity--to accept: that the media tend to label
conservatives as such more frequently than alleged liberals. Tom
Goldstein bought into it in Columbia Journalism Review. So did
Jonathan Chait in TNR. Howard Kurtz and Jeff Greenfield let it go
unchallenged on Communist News Network. Meanwhile, Goldberg admits to
"knowing," Sullivan style, happily ignorant of any relevant data beyond
his own biases. He did no research, he says, because he did not want his
book "to be written from a social scientist point of view."

Unfortunately for Bernie, Nunberg discovered that alleged liberals are
actually labeled as such by mainstream journalists more frequently than
are conservatives. This is true for politicians, for actors, for
lawyers, for everyone--even institutions like think tanks and pressure
groups. The reasons for this are open to speculation, but Nunberg has
the numbers. A weblogger named Edward Boyd ran his own set of numbers
that came out differently, but Nunberg effectively disposed of Boyd's
(honest) errors in a follow-up article for TAP Online. In a truly
bizarre Village Voice column, Nat Hentoff recently sought to ally
himself with the pixilated Goldberg but felt a need to add the
qualifier, "The merits of Goldberg's book aside..." Actually, it's no
qualifier at all. Goldberg's worthless book has only one merit, which
was to inspire my own forthcoming book refuting it. (Hentoff
mischaracterizes that, too.) Meanwhile, the merits of Hentoff's column
aside, it's a great column.

* * *

Speaking of ex-leftists, what's up with Christopher Hitchens calling
Todd Gitlin and me "incurable liberals"? Since when is liberalism
treated as something akin to a disease in this, America's oldest
continuously published liberal magazine? Here's hoping my old friend
gets some treatment for his worsening case of incurable Horowitzism. (Or
is it Sullivanism? Hentoffism? Is there a Doctor of Philosophy in the
house?)

Meanwhile, I've got a new weblog with more of this kind of thing at
www.altercation.msnbc.com. Check it every day, or the terrorists
win...

As corporations push new medicines, sound and affordable healthcare
suffers.

Perhaps there's a limit to female masochism after all. To the great
astonishment of the New York Times, which put the story on page
one, Creating a Life, Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book deploring the
failure of female professionals to have as many children as she thinks
they need to be happy, is a big commercial flop ("The Talk of the Book
World Still Can't Sell," May 20). Out of a 30,000-copy first printing,
perhaps 8,000 have sold, despite a publicity campaign from heaven:
Time cover story, 60 Minutes, Oprah, Today,
wall-to-wall radio. The UK edition, Baby Hunger (Hewlett's
original choice of title--gag me with a spoon!), is also piling up in
warehouses.

The Times quotes numerous bewildered publishing people--could it
be the cover? women's "deep level of anxiety"?--but it's no big mystery
why the book isn't selling. Except when right-wing foundations buy up
truckloads of copies, antifeminist tracts usually do poorly despite
heavy attention. The media love them--this week's newsstand features
New York with "Baby Panic" and Us with "Will They Ever
Have Babies?" in which Jennifer Aniston and other nulliparous stars
bemoan their lot--but book buyers don't bite. Hewlett follows in the
steps of Katie Roiphe, who got great press but few readers for The
Morning After
, which argued that date rape was just "bad sex."
Partly the reason is that these books tend to be so flimsy that the
media campaign gives away their entire contents, but the main reason is
that nobody but women buy books about women--and women who buy hardcover
books are mostly feminists. They know date rape isn't bad sex, and they
don't need Hewlett to tell them their biological clocks are ticking.
(Apparently not as fast as Ms. Hewlett claims, though. Dr. Alan
DeCherney told the Times a woman's chances of getting pregnant at
40 are better than Hewlett makes out.) Why buy a book that tells you to
smile, settle and rattle those pots and pans? That's what your relatives
are for.

By the way, my friend Judith Friedlander, coiner of the immortal phrase
"a creeping nonchoice," was surprised to find herself on Hewlett's list
of tearful women whose careers got in the way of childbearing. "I've had
a great life," she told me, "with no regrets, and I spent a long time
telling Hewlett just that."

* * *

What if a woman ran for President who had great progressive politics
except for one thing--she believed that any man accused of rape or
sexual harassment should be castrated without a trial? How many
progressive men would say to themselves, Oh well, she's got great
positions on unions, the environment, the death penalty, and all the
rest, and besides, women really like her, so she gets my vote! Ten men?
three? two?

Of course, no progressive woman would ever put this crazy notion
forward. Our hypothetical candidate would understand all too well that
she couldn't propose to kick men in the collective teeth and expect them
to vote for her. Back in the real world, however, this is precisely what
some progressives apparently expect women to do for Dennis Kucinich,
whose anti-choice voting record was the subject of my last column.
Besides numerous e-mails thanking me for "outing" him and two or three
upholding the "human rights" of the "itty bitty zygote," I heard from a
few readers like Michael Sherrard, who urged "liberals" to "get over
their single-issue abortion orthodoxy." Instead of asking women to give
up their rights, why not pressure Kucinich to support them? To get that
"broad based multi-issue progressive movement" Sherrard wants, Kucinich
is the one who needs to get real, to face the demographic truth that
without the votes, dollars and volunteer labor of pro-choice women and
men, no Democrat can win the White House. His anti-choice votes may suit
his socially conservative Cleveland constituents, as his supporters
claim, but America isn't the 10th Congressional District of Ohio writ
large.

What Kucinich's fans may not understand is that for pro-choice women,
abortion is not just another item on the list. It goes straight to the
soul. It is about whether society sees you as fully human or as a vessel
for whom no plan or hope or possibility or circumstance, however
desperate, matters more than being a nest for that "itty bitty zygote."
As I've written before, despite the claims of "pro-life feminists" and
"seamless-garment" Catholics, progressive social policies and abortion
rights tend to go together: Abortion bans flourish where there are
backwardness, poverty, undemocratic government and politically powerful
patriarchal religion, where levels of education, healthcare and social
investment in children are low, and where women have little power.
Instead of asking women to sign over their wombs for the cause,
progressives should demand that "their" politicians add abortion rights
to their agenda. No progressive would vote for someone who opposed
unions or wanted to bring back Jim Crow. Why should women's rights
matter less? It's disgusting that the AFL-CIO supports anti-choice
politicians--as if their members aren't getting (or causing) abortions
in vast numbers--and it backfires, too. In Pennsylvania's Democratic
gubernatorial primary, pro-choice centrist Democrat Ed Rendell trounced
anti-choice labor-endorsed Bob Casey Jr., 56 to 44 percent.

* * *

A French committee is promoting Ahmed Shah Massoud, the assassinated
Northern Alliance commander, for the Nobel Peace Prize (among the
signatories: actress Jane Birkin, Gen. Philippe Morillon and that
inevitable trio of trendy philosophes, Bernard-Henri Levy, Alain
Finkielkraut and André Glucksmann). I know what you're thinking:
If Henry Kissinger could be awarded this honor, why not the
CIA/Russia-backed Tajik warlord who helped set up a fundamentalist
government in 1992, destroyed Kabul by fighting with his erstwhile ally
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and helped create so much havoc, including
documented massacres of civilians, that Afghans welcomed the Taliban?
Still, there's something repellent about proposing to award Massoud,
thanks in part to whom Afghanistan is riddled with landmines, the same
prize won by anti-landmine activist Jodie Williams in 1997. Maybe they
should call it the Nobel War Prize.

Quick, pinch me--am I still living in the same country? Reading and
watching the same media? This "Bob Woodward" fellow who co-wrote a tough
piece in the May 18 Washington Post demonstrating that the
now-famous August 6 presidential daily briefing, contrary to
Administration officials' claims about its contents, actually carried
the heading "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."--is this the same
Bob Woodward who co-wrote the Post's infamous "Ten Days in
September" series earlier this year, the ur-document of George W. Bush's
Churchillization? And this "Michael Isikoff," sharing a byline on the
eye-opening May 27 Newsweek cover story that shreds the
Administration's "we did everything we could" line of defense--is this
the Isikoff who four years ago defined national security in terms of
dress stains and cigar probes? One begins to suspect that unbeknownst to
all of us, the terrorists have indeed struck--the Washington, DC, water
supply.

An overstatement, to be sure. But it does seem to be the case that
wherever this potentially incendiary story leads, from fog of
unprovables to hot smoking gun, one change has already taken place
because of it that is well worth marking. For the first time since
September 11--or, arguably, since ever--the press corps appears ready to
expend more effort poking holes in the vaunted Bush Administration spin
operation than admiringly limning it. More to the point, Is a new
skepticism stirring around such heretofore Teflonized officials as
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice? Before her May 16
damage-control press conference, Rice was probably the Administration's
leading untouchable. After it ("I don't think anybody could have
predicted these people would...use an airplane as a missile," a
statement left bleeding on the floor after a pile of evidence came
forward showing plenty of people were predicting precisely that), her
status has taken a major hit. So, as Professor Harold Hill might put it,
certain wooorrrrdds are creeping into the media vocabulary--words
like "serious credibility gap," in the Newsweek piece.

It's been a long time coming. If anything "un-American" happened after
September 11, it was the triumph of the notion--propounded by the
Bushies, reinforced by the major media and far too readily accepted by
cowardly Democrats--that "patriotism" somehow equals "support the Bush
Administration." CBS's Dan Rather said it recently in an interview with
the BBC: "Patriotism became so strong in the United States after 11
September that it prevented US journalists from asking the toughest of
the tough questions about the war against terrorism," adding, "I do not
except myself from this criticism." The genuflection sometimes reached
levels that we might call comic, except that there's nothing comic about
a "free" press choosing to ape state-owned media, throwing rose petals
at the feet of officials from the most unilateral and secretive
Administration in modern American history ("sixty-nine years old, and
you're America's stud," Meet the Press's Tim Russert once said to
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld).

One is not quite ready to say, on the evidence of several days' worth of
stories, that this sorry era is over just yet. The New York Times
and the Washington Post both ran editorials on May 17 that were
something short of being full-throated calls for investigation; from the
right-wing papers, the predictable yelping about how it's really
Clinton's fault.

All this will probably continue, but at least now it appears that it
will be offset by some post-post-9/11 aggression. It will be interesting
to watch what leads the media now follow and how far they follow them.
For example, some reports--originating with the BBC but picked up in a
few minor US outlets--indicate that US intelligence agents were told to
back off the bin Laden family and the Saudi royals soon after Bush
became President. Reporters might also look into the way the
Administration declined to continue a process of tightening overseas and
offshore banking regulations begun by the Clinton Administration in an
effort to track down narcotics traffickers and terrorists. The Bush
people acted partly at the behest of Texas Senator Phil Gramm, which
means partly at the behest of Enron--and which may have ended up helping
terrorists.

"Connecting the dots" has become the operative cliché about
whether intelligence officials should have been able to put together the
various pre-9/11 clues they received. Now, maybe the media will start
connecting some dots of their own.

haven't done much mental spring cleaning because so much of the last
month has been taken up with brooding and spewing about the crisis in
the Middle East; no doubt the coming months will be much the same. After
putting your mind to this issue for a long time--witness Shimon Peres,
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and so many others--cobwebs
gather and it becomes hard to see through the accumulated dust. So it
was pleasant to turn to Legal Affairs, the new publication of the
Yale Law School, edited by Lincoln Caplan, which casts an intelligent
eye over a broad and spacious intellectual terrain.

Of course the first item I turned to--obsessively--was an article on
Israel, more specifically on the legendary Supreme Court President
Aharon Barak (no relation), by Emily Bazelon--thankfully the only Middle
East piece in the inaugural issue, or who knows how I might have been
sidetracked. In 1992, from his seat on the Israeli Supreme Court, he
championed the Basic Laws that now serve the country as a kind of de
facto constitution and give Israel one of the most progressive sets of
human rights laws and precepts to govern any nation. But that was just a
first step for this exceptional person.

In May 1998, in a historic pronouncement, he declared (I'm simplifying
here) that torture of Palestinian detainees by the Shin Bet was not
legalized under Israeli codes. This meant that one day there would be no
more shabach--the technique of tying prisoners to kindergarten
chairs, putting their heads in sacks and subjecting them to humiliation
and psychological torture. It meant no more shaking, a favored method
that disorients and injures without leaving visible signs. No more sleep
deprivation. Barak later codified this ruling, when he "unequivocally
declared for a unanimous court that the Shin Bet's methods of
interrogating Palestinians detained without charges violated the rights
to human dignity and freedom." But those were better days in Israel, and
Bazelon points out that current conditions may have allowed the Shin Bet
to violate the ban. The Public Committee Against Torture has filed two
petitions to the court since September 2000, both arguing that the ban
on torture has not been "fully enforced," as Bazelon understates it. One
petition was withdrawn and the other rejected. Like so many of his
generation who hoped to normalize life in Israel, Barak too has been
undermined by the Degeneration of the Situation.

Anyway, Legal Affairs is not all bleakness and Jerusalem drizzle.
Its other lead piece is Brendan Koerner's dazzling narrative of
cyber-intrigue and blackmail that extends from Russia to FBI
headquarters in DC. The magazine also looks at hip-hop music with the
amusing premise that it is all about law enforcement, in a piece that
would be great but for its silly, super-serious tone. Tim Dodd
contributes an excellent article from Jakarta on Syafiuddin
Kartasasmita, the conservative Indonesian judge who was assassinated a
year after leading a three-man panel that found the youngest son of the
dictator Suharto, Tommy, guilty of corruption. A very amusing piece by
Dashka Slater tells you what it's like to spend a working week watching
only court TV (answer: terrific and soporific). A bunch of small
excerpts from Christopher Buckley's latest Washington entertainment
(No Way to Treat a First Lady) are fun, if not terribly
enlightening. And "Silence! Four ways the law keeps poor people from
getting heard in court" should be on the reading list of every legal
reporter and defense attorney in America. There is also a no doubt
valuable piece by Benjamin Wittes on the faulty legal underpinnings of
Kenneth Starr's behavior (but lines like "the attorney general had the
authority to decline to request an independent counsel where a clear
Justice Department policy would preclude an indictment" really harsh my buzz).
Legal Affairs reminds you that the law matters--unlike
American Lawyer, which makes you think the law is a buddy system
for grotesque elites in major urban centers who speak a language the
rest of us cannot understand (except when it's about gigantic salaries
and hourly fees). The new magazine reminds you that the law is the
element in which most of the major stories of our lives take place
(marriages, births, deaths, crimes, real estate closings, divorce), and
that it provides the narrative framework for the unfolding of most
important events.

News From Nowhere

Globalvision News Network has set up an extremely useful website
called The News Not in the News (you can find it at
www.gvnews.net, by subscription). This is where you can see what the
Arab press is really reporting; where you'll find the latest from places
like Kyrgyzstan, where the government has just resigned following unrest
since the May 10 sentencing of Felix Kulov, the foremost leader of the
Kyrgyz (new national adjective!) opposition, to ten years in prison. The
stories are put up without annotation, so that, say, the Kyrgyz
reporting can become convoluted to the uninitiated reader. But you
wouldn't want to miss this story: In his first interview in two
years--conducted along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in writing and by
messenger, not in person--Mullah Omar (you remember him) tells Asharq
Al-Awsat
, an Arab news agency, that flames will engulf the White
House and that Osama bin Laden is still alive. Of course, for all one
knows, the interviewee could have been an Afghan schoolboy having his
fun, since there is no proof that the reporter's questions were actually
relayed to Omar himself. But that is what is both useful and charming
about this site: It is raw news as it is written and printed in other
lands, as fresh as it can be, and with its edgy myth-making untouched by
American objectivity. "What is important for the US now is to find out
why they did that [the attack on September 11]," says "Omar." "America
should remove the cause that made them do it." If only "Omar" had a
mirror version of The News Not in the News, he could see what a
tempest that very same issue set off in America's own pages not so long
ago. But we wouldn't want to harsh his buzz.

The essential mystery of the 2000 election has always been this: How in
the world did George W. Bush ever get close enough to invite the
Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court to give him his
"victory"?

Of course, he couldn't have done it all by himself. Al Gore ran away
from one of the most successful economic records of any Administration
this century and could not seem to articulate a single compelling reason
that he should be President. Bush was also mightily aided by Ralph
Nader, whose spoiler candidacy commanded just enough support to swing
battleground states for the Republicans while failing to come even
remotely close to the 5 percent, matching-funds goal that was his
professed inspiration. But the biggest piece of the puzzle is still
Bush. He may have "grown" in office, but the fact is he had some of the
skimpiest qualifications for the job of almost any successful candidate
in our history, while Gore's were among the best. Moreover, his
political views were well to the right of most voters on almost
everything, while Gore's were well within the national consensus. By any
conventional calculation, Bush should have lost in a landslide.

The obvious answer to the paradox is that Bush sold his personality, not
his politics. But how? Are people just stupid? Don't they realize that
it doesn't matter if one candidate is a likable cutup and the other one
a superior stiff when it comes to stuff like global warming, a patients'
bills of rights, Social Security, the right to choose, etc.? Well,
that's one answer. But a more compelling one is that the so-called
liberal media, contrary to its nonsensical reputation for favoring
Democrats, failed to inform the public of the two candidates' political
and ideological differences, and the implications those differences held
for the nation's future.

The release of two different kinds of campaign documents--Ambling
Into History
, a book by New York Times reporter Frank Bruni,
and Journeys With George, a film by former NBC News producer
Alexandra Pelosi--shed considerable light on just how the media managed
to spend millions upon millions covering the candidates while reporting
next to nothing of value to voters. Ambling is a memoir of a
love-struck reporter. The journalist charged with covering the campaign
for the newspaper that sets the agenda for most of the elite media
focuses with laserlike intensity on every nod, wink, smile and
profession of alleged "love" that comes his way from the candidate. But
we hear barely a word about the candidate's pollution- and
fat-cat-friendly policies as governor of Texas or his lies and
dissimulations when it came to environmental protection, affirmative
action, issues of corporate responsibility, healthcare policy and the
like. If you want to know the exact number of seconds that George and
Laura Bush danced at every one of their nine Inaugural Balls, then the
intrepid Mr. Bruni is your man. If you have any interest in what Bush
might have been doing at his desk the following morning, well, where did
you get the silly idea that a New York Times reporter should
concern himself with boring stuff like that?

The willingness of the Times bigfoot to treat the election as the
equivalent of a junior high popularity contest signaled to the rest of
the media that contentless coverage would be the order of the day. The
net result, as Pelosi shows us in her fascinating but nauseating
documentary--to be broadcast on HBO in November--is a press corps that
follows its campaign masters like a litter of newborn puppies. They wait
open-mouthed for Karl Rove or Karen Hughes to drop a tender morsel of
warmed-over baloney into their mouths, wagging their tails in
appreciation after every feeding.

The clowning frat boy who plays the Republican presidential candidate in
the Pelosi movie does turn out to be a genuinely congenial fellow. If
you've been wondering why it is that everybody seems to like this
guy--and how he has managed to forge so many lifelong bonds with people
irrespective of his apparent doofus-like qualities--then this movie will
provide a painless seventy-six-minute education. The filmmaker--the
daughter of House Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi--hates Bush's politics
but likes him personally, and so can we. She tells audiences that
Journeys is a documentary about process and that the candidate
himself is unimportant. But that's nonsense. Bush is a star. If Pelosi
had had the misfortune to be assigned to Al Gore's press plane, this
movie would have sucked.

But like Ambling, Journeys is more valuable for what it
shows than what it tells. Over and over we hear the reporters criticize
themselves for the emptiness of their coverage as they express a kind of
wearied contempt for the snowmobile rides and other pseudoevents that
substitute for substance. But over and over again, they submit without
apparent protest. They regurgitate the campaign's baloney sandwiches and
watered-down Kool-Aid--without even bothering to convince themselves
that it's really steak and champagne. In between feedings, they ask the
Man for his autograph, laugh at his jokes and seek, without much
success, to justify the effects of their collective lobotomy to Pelosi's
pitiless focus.

Unlike Bruni, Pelosi demonstrates considerable professional
self-awareness (which is why she felt compelled to quit her job and
leave the field entirely after the campaign). Early on, she gives us
the Financial Times's Richard Wolffe speaking excitedly about
covering "the greatest story in the world...big issues, big stakes; it's
a big game, but it's important." A little later he admits, "Most of our
time is spent doing really stupid things, in stupid places with stupid
people." If you want your mystery summed up in a single sentence, it
would be hard to outdo Wolffe: "The Gore press corps is about how they
didn't like Gore, didn't trust him.... Over here, we were writing only
about the trivial stuff because he charmed the pants off us."

But Bush himself puts it best, just before kissing Pelosi in pursuit of
her (meaningless) vote in the California primary: "If I lose," he
playfully smirks, "you're out of work, baby. You're off the plane."

On April 11, 2002, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was ousted in an ill-fated coup attempt. On April 14 he returned in triumph to the presidential palace. What to call the interregnum?

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