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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Alcee Hastings and the Glories of Conventional Wisdom

(updated below)

Stephen Bainbridge responded to yesterday's post I wrote about the media's vapid and inaccurate reporting regarding Nancy Pelosi's selection for House Intelligence Committee Chair. In his post, Bainbridge repeated the myth that opposition to Jane Harman implies support for Alcee Hastings. He even entitled his post "Harman or Hastings?" and said about my criticisms of Harman: "Whatever faults Harman may have, however, pale by comparision to those of Alcee Hastings."

Multiple other bloggers (and various commenters) responded to my post yesterday by continuing to insist that Pelosi should select Harman based on claims that Hastings is such an inappropriate choice, even though I expressly pointed out (as Pelosi herself made clear from the beginning):

There is no seniority on the Intelligence Committee, so Harman is not being "demoted" by being "denied" this seat. Hastings is not the "alternative," since Pelosi can choose anyone she wants and, as far as I know, has never said that the "alternative" to Harman is Hastings. The media has just invented this dichotomy in order to foster the drama of the Serious/Substantive v. Frivolous/Bitchy choice they have decreed is what Pelosi must navigate.

It really is astonishing to observe as the media fabricates some storyline out of whole cloth -- "Hastings v. Harman!" -- and then it just becomes ossified as an immovable and unexamined premise, especially among the most superficial, partisan and mindless pundits, even though it is based on nothing, or next to nothing.

In any event, perhaps this childish drama can now be retired since a report has emerged that Pelosi will not name Hastings as Chair. Apparently, she intended to inform him this week that he would not get the position, but instead he has removed himself from consideration. From Congressional Quarterly (via TPM Muckraker):

House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi was to meet with Rep. Alcee L. Hastings late Tuesday to close the door on his bid to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a congressional aide said.

But Pelosi, D-Calif., has not yet decided who will get the job, according to the aide. . . .

Pelosi met with Harman two weeks ago to discuss the House Intelligence Committee chair job. There is little to suggest Pelosi will reverse her intention to replace Harman atop the panel.

The CQ article is subscription only, so I only know of the excerpt provided by TPM, which really doesn't say that Hastings removed himself from consideration. That claim comes from the headline provided by TPM's Justin Rood ("CQ: Hastings to Drop Bid for Intel Chair"). The excerpt only says that Pelosi planned this week "to close the door on his bid to become chairman."

Either way -- whether Pelosi "closed the door" on Hastings or he preemptively removed himself from consideration -- it seems clear that neither Harman nor Hastings will be the choice for House Intelligence Chair. Thus, as was extremely predictable, the entire media and blogosphere hysteria over this matter over the last two week, used primarily as a tool to smear Pelosi once the all-important Steny Hoyer Scandal ran its course, was based on nothing but fiction and imagination.

* * * * * * * *

I will be on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman tomorrow morning, beginning some time between 8:20-8:30 a.m. EST, to discuss the "controversy" of who will lead the House Intelligence Committee.

* * * * * * * *

To his credit, Professor Bainbridge responded to the comment I left at his site, with a new post recognizing that Pelosi need not select Hastings if she rejects Harman (this was before the CQ report was known). In it, he asks:

In any event, if not Harman, who? Greenwald comments "opposing Harman (as I have done) is not to support Hastings (as I have NOT done - quite the opposite)." Indeed, in an aside to a post attacking Harman, Greenwald did comment that "Alcee Hastings is one of the few House members who might be less desirable." Fair enough. But two questions remain: Will Greenwald explain why he thinks Hastings is "less desirable" and oppose Hastings in detail? Who does Greenwald think Pelosi should (or will) pick if not Hastings?

I attempted to respond at his site with a comment but was unable to do so, so I will post the response here:

The fact that Hastings and the CBC want him to get the job and have been lobbying for it doesn't mean that Pelosi is seriously considering appointing him to it.

There is much speculation that Rahm Emanuel did not challenge former CBC Chair James Clyburn as Majority Whip - instead Emaneul let him have that position and took the one below -- because allowing Clyburn to assume that important leadership position relieved Pelosi of the obligation to appoint Hastings as Intelligence Chair.

That satisfied the CBC. That's just speculation, but as Tom Maguire, among others, has noted, the CBC is decidedly lukewarm (at best) about its "demand" that Hastings get that position. Their advocacy for him appears cursory.

As the commenter above notes, Rush Holt would be an excellent selection and has been increasingly mentioned as a possibility, at least in blogospheric circles (Josh Marshall, for one, suggested him yesterday).

The third-ranking member currently (after Harman and Hastings) is Sylvester Reyes, who by all accounts is competent. He also opposed the war and is a member of the Hispanic Caucas, which has been pining for an important leadership role.

Either Holt or Reyes, and scores of other members, would be fine by me. The real point here is that the media has claimed - with no basis - that Pelosi is blocking Harman purely because of vindictive, personal, substance-free motives of the type typically attributed to women (it's a "cat fight" between two prima donnas) even though: (a) there is no basis for that claim and (b) there are plenty of substantive reasons why Pelosi would not want Harman to chair the Committee (I cited several yesterday).

Similarly, Pelosi is getting mauled on the ground that Hastings is such a horrible choice even though she obviously has not appointed him yet or even said anything to suggest that it's a real possibility.

Finally, since you asked, I oppose Hastings for the obvious reason -- I think his bribery impeachment (his acquittal in his criminal trial notwithstanding) ought to disqualify him from any important leadership role. He's also shown no particular expertise or even interest in intelligence issues, and I think it's vital that someone who is both willing and able to exercise aggressive investigative scrutiny and oversight over the administration be in that position. Neither Hastings nor Harman qualify.

All along, the issue -- at least to me -- was not so much who will be selected as House Intelligence Committee Chair, but rather, that the media has spent two weeks vilifying Pelosi for refusing to appoint Harman supposedly out of "personal" animus and attempting to appoint Hastings instead, even though: (a) there has never been any evidence that "personal" issues, rather than substantive objections, motivated Pelosi's opposition to Harman and (b) there was no evidence that she was planning to appoint Hastings. It was just all fabricated and repeated endlessly as though it were true, even though it was based on nothing.

Isn't that rather apparent now? Maybe Nancy Pelosi, who became Speaker of the House due to her own ingenuity and work, isn't such a stupid, confused, weak, inept little girl after all. Maybe it would make sense to allow her to actually start as Speaker before fueling a media swarm that denounces her as a failure.

UPDATE: TPM now reports, based on the CQ article, that it was Pelosi who made the decision not to appoint Hastings, not Hastings who withdrew. From Hastings' statement:

I have been informed by the Speaker-elect that I will not serve as the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the 110th Congress. I am obviously disappointed with this decision.

Pelosi never said she was even considering Hastings. All of the media reports suggesting otherwise were either based on pure speculation or, as Jay B notes in Comments, may well have come from the camp of Jane Harman, who was campaigning heavily for the position (perhaps too heavily) and easily could have created the myth that it was either her or the impeached Hastings whom Pelosi was considering. Either way, it's time for the oh-so-serious-and-responsible Beltway mavens as well as those desperate to smear Pelosi to find a new gossip item with which to depict Pelosi as a vindictive, unserious loser.

UPDATE II: My response to some of the comments to this post is here.

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