News and Features
What if First Daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush had been caught
lighting up a joint? Would the respectable media play down that story the
way they have the Bush children's illegal purchases of alcohol?
Hardly, because marijuana is an officially proscribed demon drug while
alcohol is a mainstay of the culture, promoted incessantly as an
essential ingredient of the good life.
Marijuana use, the drug war zealots insist, despite considerable
evidence to the contrary, leads inevitably to the harder stuff. That's
why the US Supreme Court won't risk the health of dying cancer patients
with a few tokes of physician-prescribed pot. But those margaritas that
the Bush girls grew up to prefer, heck that's just child's play,
something all college students do and soon grow out of.
Not so their father, unless you think abusing alcohol until the age of
40 is still child's play. Had he hit someone on that night when he was
arrested for DUI, it might have undermined George W.'s charmed ascension
to the presidency.
Sorry, but I'm with the tabloids on this one. It is big news that the
commander in chief of the drug war has not been able to control his own
daughters' illegal behavior.
Obviously, Bush has not followed his own advice, offered while
announcing the revving up of the drug war, that parents take more
responsibility for their children's conduct.
Should the Bush children have gone to church more often to be exposed
to those faith-based anti-drug and alcohol programs that the President
embraced? Did the Bush parents always know where their children were?
Perhaps the Bush twins were permitted to watch too many Hollywood movies.
Imagine the vituperation that would have been visited upon the Clinton
family if Chelsea, like Jenna, had used the Secret Service to pick up an
underage boyfriend, accused of public intoxication, from jail. But when
it comes to family values, Republicans' messed-up personal lives are
chuckled off as just another American-as-apple-pie growing up experience.
Did not the President's mother elicit howls of laughter from her
Junior League audience when she made passing reference to her son's
alcohol addiction on the very day that her granddaughters were charged
with breaking the law? "He is getting back some of his own," Grandma Bush
said, with more than a trace of wonderment that her son George W., the
underachiever and, by his own admission, often inebriated prankster, is
now the President of us all.
But alcoholism wasn't really funny for George W. or he wouldn't have
had to go cold turkey and work white-knuckle hard these past fifteen years at
staying sober. Alcoholism is one of the nation's leading problems and
when then-Gov. Bush signed a "zero tolerance" law in 1997 on underage
drinking, the reason offered was that Texas led the United States in
More than 100,000 people die each year from alcohol, so controlling
its use is of public importance. This guy as governor and President has
responded to problems of substance abuse by acting to throw even more
people into jail although that course has already given us the largest
per-capita prison population in the world. Yet, when his own daughter now
stands but one more arrest away from a possible six months in the slammer
because of the law then-Gov. Bush signed, the President is speechless.
"The President views this as a family matter, a private matter, and he
will treat it as such," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer huffed.
Not so fast.
Alcoholism is the social problem that this President best understands,
and instead of slinking off into silence, he should provide a public
example of what he has claimed parenting is all about.
This is the time to talk honestly to his daughters and the nation
about the lessons of substance abuse, and particularly, whether the tough
law and order approach is just dumb. Unless, of course, he really
believes that his daughter would benefit from six months behind bars for
ordering yet another margarita.
Maybe the drinking age should be dropped to 18 years old, as most of
the Bush daughters' classmates seem to feel. Why make criminals of the
young, most of whom are quite responsible in making their own decisions
about when and what to drink? But isn't that even truer of an adult
cancer patient who uses marijuana to ward off nausea?
Bravo and Happy Birthday to Harper's Magazine, and to Lewis Lapham and John (Rick) MacArthur (editor and publisher, respectively).
Generals and admirals often tell us that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, but they sure don't appreciate being on its business end.
At 4 pm on Monday, May 22, Inigo Thomas posted an item in Slate wondering whether New York magazine's Michael Wolff's pan of Inside, the new website about the media not yet o
When, in 1980, George Will was discovered to be coaching Ronald Reagan on debating tactics one minute and pronouncing him a "thoroughbred performer" the next, journalists professed to be shocked
Remember when Hillary Clinton dared suggest that a vast right-wing
conspiracy was behind the campaign to destroy her husband's presidency?
Well, the troubles besetting the nomination of Theodore B. Olson as US
solicitor general provide stunning evidence of what she had in mind.
Olson's confirmation hearing was abruptly suspended last week by
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) after a report
in the Washington Post raised questions about Olson's truthfulness under
oath about his relationship to right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon
Scaife and the $2.3-million, anti-Clinton Arkansas Project of Scaife's
American Spectator magazine. Olson served as the magazine's lawyer and on
its board of directors, but when questioned by Democratic members of the
committee as to his connection with the infamous Arkansas Project, Olson
stated: "It has been alleged that I was somehow involved in that
so-called project. I was not involved in the project in its origin or its
That statement was subsequently contradicted in testimony before the
Judiciary Committee by David Brock, the writer responsible for the key
American Spectator articles attacking the Clintons. Brock stated that he
was present at "brainstorming" sessions on the Arkansas Project with
Olson at the home of American Spectator Chairman R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
Brock connected Olson with the Spectator's strangest article linking
Clinton to the suicide of his close friend and aide, Vincent Foster.
According to the Post, Brock said Olson told him that "while he didn't
place any stock in the piece, it was worth publishing because the role of
the Spectator was to write Clinton scandal stories in hopes of 'shaking
That is not the sort of judicious, nonpartisan stance that one would
hope for from a nominee to the position of solicitor general, often
called the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," who represents the US
government before the Court.
Since judicial objectivity is key to the performance of this
all-important job, it was irresponsible of President Bush to nominate
Olson, a key leader of the right wing's nonstop attacks on Clinton. Olson
not only was deeply connected with Scaife and the American Spectator but
he also represented David Hale, the key witness against Clinton in the
Whitewater case, and advised Paula Jones. His partisanship was amply
manifested when he represented Bush before the US Supreme Court to halt
the recount of Florida ballots.
But the issues now being raised against Olson's nomination go beyond
partisanship and deal with the honesty of his testimony under oath before
the Judiciary Committee. In addition to the testimony of ex-Spectator
writer Brock, the Washington Post reported that Olson and a fellow law
partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher prepared some of the anonymous
anti-Clinton material that was published in the Spectator.
The Post reported last Friday that American Spectator documents show
that Olson's law firm was paid more than $14,000 for work on the Arkansas
Project. Part of this money was to pay for a hit piece on the Clintons
that Olson purportedly wrote under a pseudonym, cataloging all the
possible laws that the Clintons might have violated if the
unsubstantiated charges hurled at them by their right-wing critics proved
After the Post ran its story last week, Hatch conceded "there are
legitimate issues" justifying his decision to defer action on Olson's
nomination pending further investigation. One issue concerns Olson's
testimony at an April 5 hearing of the Judiciary Committee as to how he
came to represent Hale, a key source for the Spectator. Olson said he
couldn't remember how the contact was made and never mentioned David W.
Henderson, the Arkansas Project director. But Henderson last week told
the Post he was the person who introduced Hale to Olson.
Even if one assumes that Olson has a conveniently poor memory on key
matters relating to his involvement with the American Spectator and its
Arkansas Project, his behavior hardly suggests the stellar qualities
required of the chief representative of the US people before the
highest judicial body. Nor is this the first time Olson's credibility in
testimony before Congress was questioned. The Post article noted that, in
1986, Independent Counsel Alexia Morrison was appointed to investigate
whether Olson had provided misleading testimony to a congressional
committee when he worked at the Justice Department in 1983. Morrison
concluded that Olson's testimony was "disingenuous and misleading," but
that his statements were "literally true" and therefore he could not be
Pretty slippery for the "tenth member of the Supreme Court," but,
sadly, given the recent shenanigans of the Court's right-wing majority,
Olson should fit right in if he is ultimately confirmed.
This spring the topic of antitrust returned to the headlines after a long absence as the government pursued and won (for the time being) its case against Microsoft and, in a more muted way, as Ti
I start to worry whenever the Wall Street Journal editorial page cites theliberalNewRepublic for support.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger has said a lot of hurtful and irresponsible things on the radio during her many years as a right-wing religious "therapist" and yenta.
* * *
When legendary media critic A.J. Liebling issued that warning some
decades ago about the corrosive effect of media monopolies on the First
Amendment, media ownership was a great deal more varied than it is today.
Even then, it was far more concentrated in a few hands than when the
Bill of Rights was written, when "the press" was a low-capital venture,
and newspapers were easily launched by those who had something to say.
The founding fathers hardly anticipated today's media market, in which
journalism is a vehicle for mega-corporate profits, and the diversity of
opinion implied in the First Amendment is threatened less by a king or the
state and far more by the motives of media barons.
Nowadays, media mega-mergers are the rage, and the Bush Administration
is determined to remove legal barriers to media conglomeration that long
have prevented a few giant corporations from controlling all of print and
broadcast journalism. But can we count on the very news organizations
whose owners are zealously pursuing profit from those mergers to also
objectively cover the implications of media concentration for a free
The initial signs aren't promising. When America Online purchased Time
Warner in the biggest media merger in US history, there was
considerable analysis of the deal's business aspects but meager attention
to implications for a representative democracy of having a significant
portion of its media controlled by one corporation.
Previously, one could assume that Time magazine, AOL and CNN, as well
as other parts of the new conglomerate, at least reflected the voices of
different owners, but that's no longer the case. Also, with that merger,
AOL went from being an outsider company demanding open access to cable to
being the second-largest cable operator. Suddenly it muted its open
access demand, leaving the perception that the news outlets now assembled
under the AOL banner might also have had a change of heart as to what's
important in the cable controversy.
Most recently, the new Bush FCC appointees relaxed a long-standing
"dual network rule" barring one television network from buying another.
The result is that Viacom, which owns CBS, will have a large stake in the
UPN network. Will other broadcasters anticipating similar deals permit
their news organizations to voice dissenting opinions, or launch
investigations of the FCC's abandonment of its consumer watchdog role?
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has made clear his intention to purchase
DirecTV from General Motors. If he succeeds, he'll combine the largest
US satellite broadcaster with his existing satellite network, which is
pervasive in much of the rest of the world. Will journalists laboring in
his vast empire dare raise troubling questions about the danger of one
man holding such overwhelming power in the world communications market?
Further, Bush's new FCC chairman, Michael Powell, promises to
eliminate the 1975 prohibition against cross-ownership--a company owning
a TV station and newspaper in the same market. That might prove immensely
profitable to the Tribune Co., which, in purchasing the Times Mirror Co.
last year, acquired newspapers in three markets where Tribune already
owned television stations. But is cross-ownership healthy for independent
journalism in those markets, which include New York and Los Angeles? Will
the news outlets that are subsidiaries in the deal fully examine the
journalistic implications of media concentration? Or will they only
report on the wonders of what the owners celebrate as "convergence" or
The answer suggested by the last election is that media have
difficulty covering themselves fully when the owners' financial interests
are seriously in play. How else can one explain the scant attention paid
to the difference between Al Gore--who opposed cross-ownership--and
George W. Bush on this issue?
Also ignored in the coverage was the stake that media moguls had in
the Democrats not gaining control of Congress. Had that happened, John
Dingell (D-Mich.) would be chairing the House Commerce Committee, which
oversees the work of the FCC. Dingell was on record as opposing the
Tribune purchase of Times Mirror because such mergers lead to a "huge
concentration of power in a small group of hands."
That's why Dingell and others believe that government regulation to
preserve a diverse media market is essential. The rules concerning media
ownership were not carelessly drawn up over the preceding decades to
inconvenience the media industry. Rather, they were designed to save the
media business from its worst instincts.
Regulation is a reminder that there is a public interest in the news
media as in no other industry because corporate concentration threatens
the competition vital to an unfettered press. The free press belongs to
us all and not just to the few who own one.