I’ve got a new Think Again called “The Conspiracy Nuts Take Over,” whichcompares media coverage of “truthers” vs. “birthers” and you can find ithere. (Mickey is a former student of mine at Brooklyn College).
That’s all I did this week, but do take a look at Victor Navasky’sletter (in and about TNR) heretogether with the two pathetic responses it generated, and muse for a moment, on the relative moral merits of each publication as represented by Mr. Peretzand The Nation‘s publisher emeritus.
Now here’s a post by Reed Richardson, a former military officer who was once my student atColumbia and my intern at The Nation.
“We Live in a Political World”
Greetings, fellow Altercators. Reed Richardson here. As a former studentand Nation intern of Eric’s, he has been kind enough to lend me the keysto the Altercation store today to talk about a subject near and dear tomy heart. You see, I’m a big fan of this American democratic experimentwe have here. In fact, at one point in my life, I swore an oath to giveup my life, if necessary, to support and defend this country’sConstitution, so I find it more than troubling when some choose towillfully abstain from exercising their right to vote or, worse yet,make it harder on others to exercise their full political freedoms. Andyet, as a journalist, I find myself working in a profession that, whilecritical for the proper functioning of our democracy, has becomeincreasingly antagonistic toward its individual members participating init. Over at the Harvard University journal Nieman Reports, I’ve writtenan essay arguing that the traditional American media’s growing antipathytoward public political activity within its ranks is counterproductiveand that a more open, transparent journalism model would be better fornot only readers and the press, but, in the long run, our country aswell. If you have a few moments, check it out here, as I’d be interestedhearing thoughts/comments.
As I note in the essay, our press’ dedication to impartial, objectivereporting has long meant having to deal with an uncomfortable dilemmaregarding the imperfect, subjective nature of its practitioners. Toresolve this dilemma, a few notable journalists in the Washington presscorps have gone so far as to publicly swear off their politicalfranchise in a pious attempt to remain politically chaste. Forgive me,though, if I don’t see how not casting a ballot helps any reporter fightfor the truth or an executive editor oversee better coverage,particularly when these contorted standards lead them to make bizarre,Orwellian claims such as “I like everybody I cover, and I dislikeeverybody I cover, and I try to do it in equal proportion” or “I didn’tjust stop voting–I stopped having even private opinions aboutpoliticians or issues, so that I would have a completely open mind.” Asto how well this works out, I’ll let you decide. (And while no one iswithout journalistic sin, at least some of these same folks’colleagues/successors haven’t sanctimoniously abjured their civicresponsibilities along the way).
Some of this political antipathy is rooted in a supposedly widespreadapathy within the press, which was summed up in a brazen “everybodyknows”-type generalization that David Broder, the so-called dean of theWashington press corps, gave to the good doctor some years ago here, butwhich wouldn’t pass muster in the first week of high school journalismclass. Within the past few years, but especially in the midst of the twomost recent presidential campaigns, this idea that “journalists have noplace on the playing field of politics” has become further entrenchedthrough the promulgation of increasingly strict ethics policies,masthead memos, and editorial pronouncements which solemnly intone the”sacrifices” that all journalists (as well as, implicitly, theirspouses) must now make to remain objective in the eyes of their readers.That this zeal for purging any public political activity amongstjournalists has already shown signs of going too far, running afoul ofstate laws and union contracts, is, to me a good thing. Unfortunately,the fear and uncertainty that pervades most newsrooms today still has apowerful effect that even well regarded journalistic institutions thatmake no claim to pure objectivity can succumb to it. According to formerNew Yorker staff writer Dan Baum, that’s exactly what happened in themidst of the 2004 presidential campaign when the magazine unexpectedlykilled his feature story on Teresa Heinz Kerry, the circumstances ofwhich he describes here.
This is not to single out the New Yorker, but simply to say that thereflexive self-censorship on display here is, unfortunately, a commonresponse. Perhaps the best encapsulation of this conventional wisdom isthis 2007 MSNBC.com story, which served as something of aself-flagellating shot across the bow of the media during the earlystages of the most recent presidential campaign. (In this story, by theway, New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remnick is now singing a differenttune about his staff’s political advocacy.) And if you dig deep enough,you’ll find that the rationale for these draconian policies bends moreand more toward avoiding the appearance of bias or conflict of interestinstead of sussing it out or preventing it from seeping into the contentof actual reporting. Just a look at the exchange I had with New YorkTimes standards editor Craig Whitney during an interview for the Niemanarticle. (Whitney, by the way, is taking email questions from readersthis week, here.) See if you can follow his logicalcircumnavigation as to why journalists can vote for someone they cover,but not make publicly disclosed political donations to the samecandidate:
RR: So does politics rise to a level where it gets different [ethical]treatment in the newsroom?
CW:I think it’s the most visible and visibly contentious area ofjournalistic activity, absolutely.
RR: And at that level, do perceived conflicts of interest rise to thelevel of, or become more important than, actual conflicts of interest inthe reporting?
CW: No, I wouldn’t say that. An actual conflict of interest would be areporter who had written a check to [Michael Bloomberg’s electioncampaign] covering Michael Bloomberg at City Hall. That’s a realconflict of interest and not a perceived one.
RR: But a reporter who voted for Bloomberg and then covered him is not aproblem?
CW: You don’t know he voted for Bloomberg. How does anyone know whom areporter or editor voted for if the reporter or editor doesn’t advertiseit?
RR: Then the real test is what’s in the reporting, I guess?
CW: Exactly, you’ve got it, absolutely.
RR: So a hidden bias is fine, but a publicly disclosed one is not?
CW: Sorry? No, if you’re writing without bias there’s no hidden bias.Isn’t it possible to write without bias even if you have an opinionabout something?
RR: So why can’t a reporter who has made a campaign donation write anunbiased article?
CW: Because it’s impossible to avoid the accusation of conflict ofinterest if you have visibly, actively worn a campaign button or writtena check to a political candidate. I really think we’ve exhausted thissubject.
The defensive crouch adopted by both Remnick and Whitney is what I referto in my essay article as the “siege mentality” that grips manynewsrooms today. But this aversion to all but the most anodyne ofdisclosures has done nothing but alienate readers who know better whiledevaluing actual reporting as well as the American political franchise.
So reporters and editors don’t get to fully exercise theirconstitutional free speech rights; who really cares, right? But as thismindset that journalists should be somehow apart from or above politicsfurther infects newsrooms, our news coverage suffers accordingly. Itfeeds a kind of professional groupthink, one that sees politics as moreof a game to be scored–who’s up, who’s down, who yells the loudest, whohas the snappiest soundbites–rather than a process by which ourdemocracy functions. And a press that further contorts itself to proveits political neutrality gradually becomes less self-aware of its owncrucial role, doing a disservice to both its readers and itself. NYUjournalism professor Jay Rosen, on his blog PressThink, noted thepernicious, sobering effects of this myopic self-delusional approacheight months ago:
The press does not permit itself to think politically. But it doesengage in political acts. Ergo, it is an unthinking actor, which is notgood. When it is criticized for this it will reject the criticism out ofhand, which is also not good.
For the Benefit of Mr. and Mrs. Kite (among others)….
You know you’ve been waiting for it. Ladies and gentleman, Sal on theBeatles re-releases. (He does not mention it, but the individual cds arebeautifully packaged and I don’t think that is going to last, so buywhat you need now, methinks.)
If you’ve spent most of your musical life listening to your Beatlesalbums and CDs without ever tiring of these wonderful songs, this reviewis for you. If you bought The Beatles’ 1’s because “it has all theirhits,” I suggest you find something else to read.
While there may be subtle differences between the stereo and mono mixesof this impressive catalogue, the difference between the 1987 releasesand the 2009 Stereo Remasters is earth-shattering. You need not be anaudiophile or music nerd to appreciate that the most important body ofwork in pop music, which is over 40-years-old with the earlier recordspushing 50, sounds bigger, brighter and fresher than ever.
Let’s do this first:
BETTER IN MONO
The White Album
BETTER IN STEREO
Please Please Me
With The Beatles
A Hard Day’s Night
Beatles For Sale
Magical Mystery Tour
Why? Well, all of the albums now benefit from a bigger rhythm section.Paul and Ringo sound as if they had gone back into the studio andrerecorded everything. The drums are no longer lifeless and the bass nowfills the room. This is noticeable on both, but so wonderfully apparenton the Stereo versions. Listen to “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You,”from my third favorite Beatles’ album A Hard Day’s Night. Ringo soundslike John Bonham AND the added percussion now rattles your windows. Goneis the thin, hissy mix of the twenty-two year old mastering.
The first four albums had originally been released in mono in 1987, sohearing them remastered and in stereo for the first time is arevelation. Rubber Soul, specifically songs like “You Won’t See Me,””Nowhere Man,” and “I’m Looking Through You” all benefit from not havingthe wide separation in sound. I prefer not hearing the vocals on theleft and the instruments on the right, and to my ears, it is the mostjarring on the stereo Rubber Soul. Like every Beatles record, I havelistened to Sgt. Pepper and The White Album so many times I canplay “air” everything. So, when I hear Paul’s harmony on the chorus of”I’m So Tired” at about 49 seconds in as loud as John’s leadvocal–something that you do not notice on the stereo “White Album”–Iget a thrill. There are many of these differences that pop up on themono versions. I felt as if I was discovering something new with eachsong.
DISTORTED GUITARS on Sgt. Pepper
PHASED VOCALS on “Lucy In The Sky”
BRIGHTER STRINGS on “She’s Leaving Home” (The mono version is also pitchedslightly higher)
SHORTER AND MEANER version of “Helter Skelter”
The White Album overall is just a different record in mono.
It’s difficult for me to review each album separately. My oneall-encompassing review is simply, “F***ing amazing!” Do I like somerecords better than others? Of course I do. But with the exception ofthe George Martin score on Side 2 of Yellow Submarine, and theoccasional clam–“Don’t Pass Me By, “Good Night,” “All Together Now,”and my least favorite “good” Beatles song “Run For Your Life”– there isnothing I don’t want to hear at anytime. Any Beatles record is betterthan anything else.
Some other fun discoveries thanks to the new remastering:
FRENETIC BONGOS now louder on “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”
MORE GRUNTING on “Piggies”
And the discovery that made me smile the hardest:
Listening to the stereo “Rock & Roll Music,” a song that was never ago-to from Beatles For Sale, my second favorite Beatles album, youcan hear every instrument as if the band was playing in your livingroom. The chunky acoustic guitar in the right channel, the castanets whenyou “hear them play a tango,” the Jerry Lee Lewis piano, and John’sraving lead vocal, all come to life for the very first time. I reallycouldn’t believe it and was smiling like a mental patient as each versemoved on.
I’m somewhat over the moon about these boxed sets and with good reason.This isn’t some reckless repackaging job. It is big news on the level ofa new Beatles album, only it’s fourteen new Beatles albums. Believe thehype.
(In case you were wondering, my fave is Revolver, but isn’t iteverybody’s?)
Sal “The 7th Beatle” Nunziato
Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: Old, White and Angry…
Your the first person I thought I would pass this on to.
My father is 79 or 80. He was once a true gentleman: conservative,yes, but kind, considerate, circumspect, and had great judgment,reasoning skills and temperament. Everyone who met my father lovedhim. He always put others first. These days, though still functional,he’s suffering from dementia.
My mother says he’s becoming a mean and angry man. After giving itsome thought, I realized that it was because he watched Fox Newsand/or listened to their conservative confederates on talk radioall the time.
I posted this on some blog site talking about the ‘Old, Angry andWhite’ people showing up at the wing-nut rallies. A surprising numberof people jumped on and said “oh my God, this is happening to one ofmy parents too.” In some cases, the people described their parents tohave been life long Democrats, or even liberals.
A great salesman once told me, all ‘buy’ decisions come down toan emotion.
When people get old, often their reasoning and judgment facilitiesdecline. That’s why phone-salesmen, some con-artist, prey on oldpeople. In fact, old people are like the very young in this manner,which is why your parents told you not to talk to strangers. There arereasons why we put age limitations on a whole range of things, inorder to be able to participate. There are peak years of mentalreasoning capabilities. The young and the old have trouble readingbetween the lines.
In the political sphere, it appears that Fox News and its talk radioconfederates are the political version of con-men, who happen to bevery successful in hooking elderly people whose facilities havedeclined (and some young peoples whose facilities areunderdeveloped). The hook of course is the emotion of anger.
In the case of my father, you have a man who was never angry or mean,walking around being angry and mean. Because of his dementia, hedoesn’t know or remember why he’s angry.
Now a big question is, how much of this phenomena is going on (#1),and (#2) how conscious of it is Fox and the Conservative PolitBureau? Is Fox purposely trying to “con” elderly people and the like,using anger, the way the guy who calls my parents trying to sellthem the Brooklyn bridge does? To what extent are they guilty of this sortof thing? If so, what can and should be done about it?
It seems to me that this is a call for a doctoral thesis type ofstudy. Since this is your sphere, I am passing the idea on to you.
It has real implications on perhaps millions of people’s lives.People should spend their declining years in peace, enjoyingfamily and friends, not mean and angry. Some of that is bound tooccur, no doubt, but it shouldn’t be inflamed by what should beresponsible adults.
You might consider posting a query to see how many people haveexperienced a similar phenomena with their parents. I think theresults will be surprising. Many people will tell you that Fox andthe like have stolen their parents. Others will say they madetheir parents lives miserable when they should have been peacefuland joyful.
This is the price we pay for a conservative movement driven by therich and powerful. They need numbers, and as I sat watching TheGrapes of Wrath last night, I realized they don’t really care aboutthe consequences their greed has on other people.
Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
I enjoyed reading about your interview with E.L. Doctorow. It remindedme that after watching the Criterion DVD of Grey Gardens in 2001,Iwrote to director Albert Maysles and asked him if he had ever thoughtabout the parallels between the relationship of the Beadles and thatof Homer and Langley Collyer. Albert confessed that the comparisonhad not occurred to him, but the idea intrigued him and he planned toask “Little Edie” Beadle about it. She surely was familiar with thestory of the Collyer brothers, as it had been front-page news forseveral weeks in all of the New York papers in 1947. Alas, “LittleEdie” died before Albert had a chance to discuss it with her.
Name: Carl Cole
Hometown: Muscle Shoals, AL
My brother is a partner in an engineering firm and has argued foryears that universal health care would be a boon to his company.Negotiating health care for his employees is a competitive item whenhis company bids for contracts. If another company has been moresuccessful in negotiating health care coverage, their costs will belower. He is an engineer, not a health care or insurance expert, andtherefore, feels vulnerable on this point. Universal health care willgo a long way to level the field.
Another businessman, who operates a car repair shop, told me that hissources estimate that health care costs for his business may rise 8percent if universal coverage is enacted. These sources failed tomention that his competitors that don’t currently provide coverage—almost all of them—will be much more closely aligned with his coststhan they are currently. Overall, his business should benefit.
Another irony is that many medical and dental providers provide nocoverage. I suppose the current system is too expensive for themalthough it seems to provide a pretty good living.
Our AM radio band down here has at least a half-dozen stationsscreaming that Obama is a socialist 24-7. What is dishearteningis the number of people that drink this swill and who shouldknow better.
Name: Maureen Holland
Hometown: South Venice Beach, FL
Boy do I miss you! I know life is busy and you can’t writeeverything. So I’ve floundered looking for my daily dose of moralcompass. Sometimes I find it; sometimes I don’t. The world outsideAltercation is like that. And as my years get shorter, and I don’tget wiser, the loss is a serious matter. If I’m allowed to whore inthis space, I’ve taken myself to one of these blog thingees where Iseek and rant and ponder getting old and bemoan the media and bragsometimes about lil ones. I won’t push the envelope with a link, butif anyone cares, the name does the walking.
Name: Brian Donohue
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Got this in my Wolfgang’s Vault feed last night, and it’sworth revisiting. Even I had forgotten what a great band it was thatformed the core of the Blues Bros. act—this was so much more thanan SNL comedy routine. Amazing musicians led by Letterman music-manPaul Shaffer. And imagine being at that concert on New Year’s Eve:the BB’s opening (opening!) for the Dead.