Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald


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.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Moved to Salon

This blog has moved to Salon. It is now located here (non-subscribers can view the blog for free by clicking through the ad for a Day Pass). The blog can also always be accessed through Salon's front page. I will also be a Contributing Writer there and will write at least one feature article per month.

The blog's archives will remain here at least for the time being (and we will ensure that all previously used links continue to function). Some features at the new blog are still a work in progress, and some features will be modified based on reader feedback. My explanation about the move to Salon is here and here.

Any notations about the move and blogroll adjustments would be appreciated.

The RSS feed for the Salon blog is here.

Giving Democrats a pass on ending the war?

(updated below)

Commissar is a right-wing blogger and long-time Bush supporter. He originally supported the Iraq war but some time last year finally came to the conclusion that the war has been a failure and was a mistake from the start. He acknowledged his own errors in judgment in supporting the war and, in the midterm elections, he supported and voted for Democrats because (like many voters) he wanted them to take over Congress and put a stop to the war. This weekend, he wrote a post in which he asks:

Why are the Netroots NOT constantly hammering the Dem majorities in Congress to de-fund the war? . . . Obviously defunding the war (or at least the surge) could be politically costly. But what is more important? Stopping the war or holding onto political power?

That is a question which is a tough one for the Dem politicians. To some extent, I understand their reluctance to take such a move, which might have political consequences. . . .

Those who disagree with the war in Iraq should be opposing it every day, almost to the exclusion of other topics. . . . Why not pile on the pressure on Congressional leaders to stop funding the war? What would a patriot do? Why did I vote Dem in 2006? Your side has the power, guys.

In this morning's New York Times, John Yoo has an Op-Ed, co-written with attorney Lynn Chu, which makes a similar point:

[B]ehind all the bluster, the one thing all the major Democratic proposals have in common is that they are purely symbolic resolutions, with all the force of a postcard. . . .The fact is, Congress has every power to end the war — if it really wanted to. It has the power of the purse. . . . Not only could Congress cut off money, it could require scheduled troop withdrawals, shrink or eliminate units, or freeze weapons supplies. It could even repeal or amend the authorization to use force it passed in 2002. . . .

The truth is that the Democrats in Congress would rather sit back and let the president take the heat in war than do anything risky. That way they get to prepare for the next election while pointing fingers of blame and spinning conspiracy theories.

It is, I think, very hard to deny that there are some valid points lurking here. Most Bush critics accept these two premises: (1) Congress has the power to compel a withdrawal of troops from Iraq and (2) a withdrawal -- whether immediate or one that is completed within, say, six to nine months -- is vitally important. It is important in its own right and, perhaps even more so, because it is our presence in Iraq which enables all sorts of future disasters, including a looming confrontation with Iran.

Yet the Democratic-controlled Congress is clearly not going to attempt to exercise its power to compel the end of this war -- at least not any time soon. And, with some exceptions, there seems to be very few objections over that failure, very little clamoring that they do more. Why is that? What accounts for the seeming willingness -- even among more vocal war opponents and bloggers -- to give Democrats a pass on actually ending the war (as opposed to enacting symbolic, inconsequential resolutions)?

Over the past month or so, I attributed the muted or even non-existent criticism of Democrats to the very sensible proposition that the new Democratic leadership ought to be given some time, a little breathing room, to figure out what they will do and, more challengingly, how they will accomplish it. It is a complex task to put together a legislative strategy that will attract a coalition of legislators -- Democrats and some anti-war Republicans -- sufficient to command a majority. That is not going to happen overnight, and it would be unreasonable to start demanding that Nancy Pelosi end the war in the first week of her Speakership.

But that explanation really doesn't take us very far any more, because it is clear that Congressional Democrats are not working at all towards the goal of forcing an end to the war. They have expressly repudiated any de-funding intentions, and -- as Chu and Yoo correctly observe -- "two other Democratic Senate proposals that have actual teeth — one by Russell Feingold to cut off money for the war, another by Barack Obama to mandate troop reductions — were ignored by the leadership." Democrats are not going to be any closer to de-funding the war or otherwise compelling its conclusion in March or May or July as they are now, and they themselves have made that clear. For that reason, the "let's-give-them-time" justification lacks coherence.

A more formidable explanation for the lack of criticism of the Democratic leadership is pure pragmatic reality -- a Democratic leadership which can barely scrape up enough votes to pass a weak, non-binding resolution opposing escalation, let alone a non-binding resolution calling for an end to the war, would simply never be able to attract anywhere near enough votes to sustain a de-funding bill or a repeal of the war authorization. That premise is (most likely, though not definitely) accurate, but since when have pragmatic considerations of that sort stifled arguments from war opponents, liberal activists, and bloggers for principled action?

Activists and bloggers routinely demand, based both on principle and political strategy, that their political leaders unapologetically embrace the political position that is Right, and do not generally accept the excuse that doing so is politically unpopular or unlikely to succeed. Bloggers and others demanded support for all sorts of important measures that had little chance of success -- opposition to, even a filibuster of the, Alito nomination, opposition to the Military Commissions Act, opposition to the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. On an issue as crucial as ending the war in Iraq, is likely legislative failure really a justifiable excuse for failing to push that issue, advocate that as a solution, and force a vote?

There are some obvious political considerations that potentially explain the muted objections to Democratic inaction on the war. The most obvious, and the most ignoble, is a desire that the war in Iraq -- as hideously destructive as it is -- still be raging during the 2008 elections, based on the belief that Americans will punish Republicans for the war even more than they did in the 2006 midterm elections. Is that naked political calculation driving some of the unwillingness of some Democratic elected officials to end the war? One would like to think not, but it is growing increasingly more difficult to avoid that suspicion.

Then there is the related, somewhat more reasonable political consideration which is grounded in the fear that if Democrats end the war in Iraq, all of the resulting violence and chaos which rightfully belongs in George Bush's lap will instead be heaped on the Democrats ("we were so close to winning if only the Democrats hadn't forced a withdrawal"). It is certainly true that war supporters, desperate to blame someone other than themselves for the disaster they have wrought, would immediately exploit this dishonest storyline, but does that really matter?

If ending the war is urgently necessary, is that consideration even remotely sufficient to justify a decision by Democrats to allow it to continue? Isn't that the same rationale that was used by Democrats who voted in favor of the 2002 Iraq AUMF -- "if we oppose it, we will be damaged politically for years to come, and since it will pass anyway, why not support it and avoid incurring that political damage"? It is difficult to reconcile criticism of Congressional Democrats who voted on political grounds in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq with a willingness now to allow them to avoid compelling an end to that war.

What does seem clear is that one of the principal factors accounting for the reluctance of Democrats to advocate de-funding is that the standard corruption that infects our political discourse has rendered the de-funding option truly radioactive. Republicans and the media have propagated -- and Democrats have frequently affirmed -- the proposition that to de-fund a war is to endanger the "troops in the field."

This unbelievably irrational, even stupid, concept has arisen and has now taken root -- that to cut off funds for the war means that, one day, our troops are going to be in the middle of a vicious fire-fight and suddenly they will run out of bullets -- or run out of gas or armor -- because Nancy Pelosi refused to pay for the things they need to protect themselves, and so they are going to find themselves in the middle of the Iraq war with no supplies and no money to pay for what they need. That is just one of those grossly distorting, idiotic myths the media allows to become immovably lodged in our political discourse and which infects our political analysis and prevents any sort of rational examination of our options.

That is why virtually all political figures run away as fast and desperately as possible from the idea of de-funding a war -- it's as though they have to strongly repudiate de-funding options because de-funding has become tantamount to "endangering our troops" (notwithstanding the fact that Congress has de-funded wars in the past and it is obviously done in coordination with the military and over a scheduled time frame so as to avoid "endangering the troops").

As Russ Feingold explained in a Daily Kos diary announcing his opposition to the Warner/Levin "anti-surge" resolution:

We owe it to ourselves to demand action that will bring about change in Iraq, not take us back to a failed status quo.

Democrats in Congress have seemingly forgotten that we were in power when Congress authorized the President to go to war in Iraq. . . . We also have to remember that in November, Americans sent over 30 new Democratic Representatives and eight new Democratic Senators plus a very progressive Independent to fix a failed Iraq policy. The public is craving change in Iraq and a resolution like this one will not cut it. Now is the time for strong action.

Those are the type of arguments which one expects to find among anti-war activists and bloggers, yet one sees relatively little dissatisfaction, and almost no anger, directed at the Democratic leadership for its refusal even to force a vote on genuine war-ending measures. It is unclear why that is -- perhaps there are good reasons for it -- but those reasons are difficult to discern, and these seem like questions worth examining.

UPDATE: As but one example, MoveOn.org has a page devoted to a petition opposing escalation in Iraq, and also has an ad criticizing Republicans for supporting escalation, but they do not -- from what I can tell -- have any petitions, actions, marches, campaigns, etc. to urge Congress to de-fund the war or otherwise compel a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. They even supported the Warner-Levin resolution which, as Sen. Feingold pointed out, "signs off on the President continuing indefinite military operations in Iraq."

Awkward discussions of race and Obama

(updated below - updated again)

The luminous roundtable on Meet the Press yesterday had what appears from the transcript to be a rather awkward discussion of the role of race in Barack Obama's candidacy, with Howard Kurtz raising a question with which people like Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds seem strangely obsessed: "Is [Obama] black enough to get support in the African-American community?" In the middle of that discussion, the Politico's Roger Simon said this:

If America actually nominates him and then votes for him for president and elects him, this will be a sign that we are a good and decent country that has healed its racial wounds. Now, Jesse Jackson had a same subtext, but Barack Obama is a much different politician than Jesse Jackson—much less threatening, much more appealing, and he actually has the ability to carry this off.

One could say, I suppose, that Jesse Jackson was more ideological and further to the left than Obama is -- though I think that is far from clear at this point. But even if one believes that, in what conceivable sense was Jesse Jackson "threatening" in a way that Obama is not? Jackson -- whatever else one might think of him -- is a Christian minister whose speeches almost invariably were grounded in religious concepts of faith, hope, charity, and aiding the impoverished and disadvantaged, and were free of racially inflammatory rhetoric, or any type of notably inflammatory rhetoric. Even for those who disagreed with Jackson politically, in what sense could he be viewed as "threatening"?

Anonymous Liberal wrote a post this weekend confessing that he has become smitten with Obama, and it is clear from his post that he has indeed succumbed to The Obama Spell. A.L. pronounces that he is "more convinced than ever that Obama is the strongest candidate in the field." After I read A.L.'s post, we exchanged a couple of e-mails about the extent to which Obama's race would be an impediment to his electoral prospects. A.L. thinks that the impediment would be slight, and even might have the opposite effect, on balance, of energizing white voters over the prospect of electing a black president (in his post, he cites Deval Patrick's resounding victory as Masschusettes Governor as evidence of this dynamic).

Possibly. But what seems clear, at the very least, is that Obama's candidacy is going to compel very candid discussions of race in venues which typically avoid such discussions desperately, opting instead to pretend that racial issues simply are non-existent. And that, in turn, is going to generate all kinds of revealing and (to put it generously) awkward remarks of the type made by Joe Biden and Roger Simon.

Look at how racially charged the "controversies" over Obama have already been -- not only the fictitious claims about his "madrassa" education, but also Tucker Carlson's insinuations over the past few days that Obama's church is too black to be Christian. And ABC News' Jake Tapper and Katie Hinman took Carlson's innuendo a step further yesterday by claiming that unnamed "critics" want to know if Obama's church "is too militant to be accepted by mainstream America" (h/t rk).

That was an insinuation that seemed to echo the very inflammatory claims in this editorial from Investors Business Daily, which asserted that
Obama's "religion has little to do with Islam and everything to do with a militantly Afrocentric movement that's no less troubling." The Editorial added that "Obama embraced more than Christ when he answered the altar call 20 years ago at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Southside Chicago" -- he embraced the "gospel of blackness and black power," a fact which "should give American voters pause." These accusations seem designed to suggest that perhaps Obama is not as "non-threatening" as Simon condescendingly claimed. Maybe he is a black militant.

It is always preferable to have views and sentiments -- even ugly ones -- aired out in the open rather than forcing them into hiding through suppression. And part of the reason people intently run away from discussions of race (just as they stay away from discussions of Middle East political disputes, specifically ones involving Israel) is because it is too easy to unwittingly run afoul of various unwritten speech rules, thereby triggering accusations of bigotry. That practice has the effect of keeping people silent, which in turn has the effect of reinforcing the appearance that nobody thinks about race (which is why nobody discusses it), which in turn prevents a constructive discussions of hidden and unwarranted premises.

For that reason, scouring people's comments about Obama and race, in search of evidence of even minor deviations from speech mores, is not really constructive. But it is notable just how many implicit assumptions about race lurk beneath these observations.

And it is even more notable how freely these patronizing sentiments are being expressed in the context of Obama's candidacy, often -- as in Biden's and Simon's case -- expressed as though they are compliments (he is so clean and articulate, he is so non-threatening, he seems like one of the moderate ones, he isn't really "militant"), because the speakers are not even consciously aware of the implications of those assumptions. It can be unpleasant to watch people struggle with these awkward discussions, but, on balance, anything which forces these issues more out into the open is probably a positive development.

UPDATE: Pam Spaulding has a characteristically nuanced and insightful discussion of some of the difficulties which people -- both white and black -- are encountering when discussing race in the context of Obama's candidacy.

UPDATE II: The Unapologetic Mexican takes issue with some of the claims in this post. I left a comment there in response (to which he then responded).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Terry Moran, Michael Gordon and The Mark Halperin Syndrome

(updated below)

One of the critical issues which that disgraceful Michael Gordon article in yesterday's New York Times raises is the extent to which so many national journalists are so eager to prove to right-wing fanatics that they are sympathetic to their agenda. Years of being attacked by the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys and Bill O'Reillys as being part of the dreaded "liberal media" has created an obsequious need among many journalists to curry favor -- through reporting which echoes right-wing narratives and/or by attacking the "liberal bias" of their fellow journalists -- all in order to avoid being criticized by the right-wing noise machine. That is the defining symptom of The Mark Halperin Syndrome.

Within hours of publication of Gordon's article in the Times yesterday, there was (and still is) an item on the Drudge Report in screaming red ink that reads: "Deadliest Bombs in Iraq 'made in Iran,'" with a link to the NYT article. War-on-Iran fanatics immediately -- and very predictably -- seized on Gordon's article as proof of the allegedly grave threat Iran poses. The Times published a transparently one-sided, journalistically irresponsible article with no effect -- and seemingly no purpose -- other than to fuel the pro-Bush right's hunger for war with Iran.

The most illustrative case of the Mark Halperin Syndrome -- whereby journalists seek to please the most radical extremists on the right -- is, of course, Halperin's own pleas on Hugh Hewitt's radio show for Hewitt to recognize that Halperin shares most of the Right's views. But Halperin's ABC News colleague, Terry Moran -- former White House correspondent and current Nightline host -- is a virtual carbon copy of Halperin.

Moran revealed himself this week to be all but an appendage of the right-wing blogosphere by mindlessly echoing their efforts to fuel the frivolous Edwards "controversy." But none of that is new. In May, 2005, Moran was also interviewed by Hewitt, and just as desperately as Halperin did, Moran sought Hewitt's approval by lending credence to the most baseless and extreme right-wing smears against journalists. This was one exchange they had:

HH: My brother called me a journalist once during a conversation about this blog. I was offended. That is a general impression among the American military about the media, Terry. Where does that come from?

TM: It comes from, I think, a huge gulf of misunderstanding, for which I lay plenty of blame on the media itself. There is, Hugh, I agree with you, a deep anti-military bias in the media. One that begins from the premise that the military must be lying, and that American projection of power around the world must be wrong. I think that that is a hangover from Vietnam, and I think it's very dangerous.

Moran's depiction of his own profession as "deep[ly] anti-military" and reflexively opposed to American military force is so persuasive. After all, if there is one lesson that we learned in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, it is that the American media is so very, very hostile to the military and reflexively opposed to all assertions of U.S. military force.

That was why they unquestioningly printed on their front pages and recited on their news broadcasts every single claim that emanated from the Pentagon, and it is also why they cheered on as loudly and enthusiastically as anyone else the President's glorious march to war. How eager must Moran be to win the Right's approval if -- in 2005 -- he could make the transparently ludicrous claim that his fellow journalists hate the military and hate the use of U.S. military force?

Manifestly, Moran -- just like Halperin -- is eager to show that he is pro-military and was desperate to convince Hewitt that he is not one of those dirty anti-American subversive liberals. To achieve that goal, Moran paraded in front of Hewitt and smeared his fellow journalists as being "deep[ly] anti-military" and claimed that they have a "dangerous" hostility to "American projection of power around the world." Identically, Halperin begged Hewitt not to"lump [him] in with people in [his] business who are liberally biased and don’t seem to care about it."

It stands to reason that this glaring need of Moran's to please the Hugh Hewitts of the world and to distinguish himself from the leftist, military-hating radicals who dominate the American media will affect the news coverage choices he makes. Echoing the most strident and biased scandal-mongering of the right-wing blogosphere -- as Moran did this week -- is consistent with that personal agenda. By joining in the right-wing lynch mob this week (Does John Edwards Condone Hate Speech?), Moran got what he obviously craves -- a pat on the head from Michelle Malkin and universal praise from the right-wing fanatics driving that story.

In the same interview, Hewitt also asked Moran if he reads blogs, and Moran immediately declared: "I always start out at Instapundit." I bet he does. Next came: "I take a look at LGF." He then tacked on Daily Kos and Josh Marshall as blogs he "looks at," and then proudly added: "My brother has a blog, Right Wing Nut House." Most revealing of all was this exchange:

HH: What's your guess about the percentage of the White House Press Corps that voted for Kerry?

TM: Oh, very high. Very, very high. . . .

HH: Who'd you vote for?

TM: Well, that's a secret ballot, isn't it?

HH: Well, it is. I'm just asking, though.

TM: I'd prefer not to answer that.

HH: I know you would, but...

TM: It might surprise you, but I'd prefer not to.

So, after first assuring Hewitt that the vast majority of White House journalists were voting for Kerry, Moran coyly slips in that while he won't expressly say for whom he voted, "it might surprise you." Gee, I really wonder what he was trying to convey to Hewitt with that answer? (The Hewitt interview was nothing new; Ron Brynaert previously examined why Moran was long the Bush administration's most favored White House correspondent, with a history of questions that made Jeff Gannon look like a tough White House interrogator).

What Moran did with Hewitt is exactly the same thing Halperin did -- Halperin also refused to expressly say whether he was a conservative or not, but kept sending transparent signals that, by design, left no doubt (Halperin: "Acknowledging the liberal bias that exists in the Old Media -- as John Harris and I do in The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 doesn't necessarily prove that I am not liberal, but I would think you would be open to giving me the benefit of the doubt" and "As for your repeated insistence that you could reach no other conclusion but one that says that I am 'very liberal,' I'm sure if you think it over, you will reconsider").

The influence of The Mark Halperin Syndrome on our media cannot be overstated. There is a pervasive desire on the part of many national journalists to prove to the right-wing noise machine that they are not like their horrible, leftist, America-hating, anti-military journalistic colleagues which the Right has so successfully demonized.

That syndrome was unquestionably a significant factor influencing the pre-Iraq-war parade of "liberal" pundits and journalists putting on such a public display of how serious and thoughtful and patriotic and pro-military they were by lending support to the President's war claims, or -- as in the case of the Joe Kleins -- suppressing their reservations due to a fear of being depicted as one of the anti-military subversives in the press (and, of course, some of them simply subscribe to the neoconservative ideological agenda).

Most troublingly, one sees this same dynamic over and over -- not quite as universally but still pervasively -- when it comes to Iran. The Michael Gordon article from yesterday is so alarming because it stems from this same dangerous and sickly dynamic -- journalists eager to prove to Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt and Bill Kristol that they are on the Right Side by mindlessly accepting any claims from the military and refusing to examine the urgent questions raised by our increasingly war-seeking posture towards Iran -- such as who are the people pushing for this war, how long have they advocated it, what are their motives, and why are war-preventing measures, such as diplomacy, being so vigilantly avoided?

Those are questions which would be asked only by those journalists plagued by -- to use Terry Moran's words -- "a deep anti-military bias" and the "dangerous" belief "that American projection of power around the world must be wrong." By contrast, The Mark Halperins and Terry Morans and Michael Gordons show what good, patriotic boys and girls they are by dutifully passing along what they are told by the Military and the President and the Government without questioning any of it.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports today: "The U.S. military has detected a significant increase in the number of sophisticated roadside bombs in Iraq and believes that orders to send components for them came from the 'highest levels' of the Iranian government, a senior intelligence officer said Sunday."

I don't understand the basis for the somewhat widespread doubt about the fact that the administration is seeking military confrontation with Iran. That seems beyond dispute at this point, and a significant factor determining the outcome of those efforts will be how the American press reports on the claims about Iran coming from the administration and its war-hungry allies.

UPDATE II: Cernig documents the fundamental deficiencies in the "case" made by an anonymous military official today that the Iranian government, "at the highest levels," is ordering that Shiite militias be supplied with sophisticated weaponry for use against U.S. forces.

Also, what possible justification is there for according anonymity to the Bush officials who are making these claims? The Associated Press report says that the official "brief[ed] reporters on condition (sic) that he not be further identified." That is a "condition" that the media ought not accept. These claims are not from whistle blowers or ones which otherwise require anonymity. They are nothing more than the official assertions of the Bush administration to justify its antagonistic posture towards Iran.

There is no simply justification for printing articles like this (a) that grant anonymity to the officials disseminating official government claims and (b) without including the ample evidence undermining those claims. Have the media learned absolutely nothing from Iraq? It really seems that way.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The NY Times returns to pre-Iraq-war "journalism"

Over the past few weeks, The Los Angeles Times has published several detailed and well-documented articles casting serious doubt on the administration's claims that Iran is fueling the Iraqi insurgency with weapons. A couple of months ago, The Washington Post published a very well-researched article reporting that extensive searches by British military brigades in Southern Iraq -- specifically in the areas where such weapons would almost certainly be transported and maintained -- have turned up nothing. It seemed as though the media was treating the war-inflaming claims of Bush officials against Iran much more skeptically, refusing to simply pass along accusations without first conducting an investigation to determine if those claims were true.

But today, The New York Times does precisely the opposite -- it has published a lengthy, prominent front-page article by Michael Gordon that does nothing, literally, but mindlessly recite administration claims about Iran's weapons-supplying activities without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence. The entire article is nothing more than one accusatory claim about Iran after the next, all emanating from the mouths of anonymous military and "intelligence officials" without the slightest verified evidence, and Gordon just mindlessly repeats what he has been told in one provocative paragraph after the next.

Start with the headline: Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made by Iran, U.S. Says. That is a proposition that is extremely inflammatory -- it suggests that Iranians bear responsibility for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, even though that is a claim for which almost no evidence has been presented and which is very much in dispute. Why should that be the basis for a prominent headline when Gordon's sole basis for it are the uncorroborated assertions of the Bush administration? The very first paragraph following that headline is the most inflammatory:

The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.

Is that extremely provocative claim even true? Gordon never says, and he does not really appear to care. He is in Pravda Spokesman mode throughout the entire article -- offering himself up as a megaphone for administration assertions without the slightest amount of scrutiny, investigation or opposing views.

What is the basis for the entire article? Gordon summarizes it this way:

The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.

In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq.

Every one of Gordon's sources are officials in the Bush administration, and all of them are completely anonymous, so one has no way to assess their interest, perspective, bias, or independence. And Gordon himself does not offer the slightest information to enable the reader to make such determinations, and he himself appears blissfully uninterested in any of that.

This is completely irresponsible journalism. The latest indications, including new revelations over the last few days, lend strong support to the suspicion that the Bush administration is intensifying its preparations for a military confrontation with Iran. The emotional and psychological impact of Gordon's story is glaringly obvious -- if Iranians are purposely supplying Shiite militias with the "most lethal weapon directed against American troops," that obviously will have the effect of heightening anger towards Iranians among Americans and leading them to believe that war against Iran is necessary because they are killing our troops.

Gordon recognizes the high stakes of his story, but naively passes this along:

Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran.

No, perish the thought. But why are these sources granted anonymity? All they are doing is passing along the standard, official line of the Bush administration, supposedly revealing the most inflammatory conclusions that the administration will "unveil" in just a few days. What possible purpose is served by shrouding these sources in anonymity in order to enable them to pass along these controversial claims with the appearance that Gordon has scored some sort of "scoop" by provoking candid "officials" to speak off the record? This is just Bush administration propaganda dressed up as a "leak" to induce Gordon and the NYT to excitedly publish this on their front page. Judy Miller anyone?

Speaking of Judy Miller, the NYT today gives us one paragraph after the next like this one:

The link that American intelligence has drawn to Iran is based on a number of factors, including an analysis of captured devices, examination of debris after attacks, and intelligence on training of Shiite militants in Iran and in Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah militants believed to be working at the behest of Tehran. . . .

The information includes interrogation reports from the raids indicating that money and weapons components are being brought into Iraq from across the Iranian border in vehicles that travel at night. One of the detainees has identified an Iranian operative as having supplied two of the bombs. The border crossing at Mehran is identified as a major crossing point for the smuggling of money and weapons for Shiite militants, according to the intelligence.

Has Gordon reviewed any of those devices, seen any of the debris or the reports describing them, spoken to independent experts about the accuracy of the administration's claims, or evaluated the credibility of the original sources for all of this alleged "intelligence"? If he has done any of that, he does not share any of those assessments in his article. He is simply echoing what he has been told, without regard to its persuasive qualities.

In fact, with the exception of one cursory note buried in the middle that the Iranian Government denies supplying Shiite militias with weapons, every paragraph in the article -- every one -- simply echoes accusations by military and other Bush officials that Iran is behind the attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. If the White House were to prepare one of its famous Position Papers setting forth its case against Iran, it would look exactly like the article Gordon and the NYT just published on behalf of the administration. What is the point of this sort of article? Why would the New York Times just offer itself up again as a mindless vessel for what are clearly war-seeking accusations by the administration? Have they learned nothing?

And all of this is particularly inexcusable in light of the ample analysis and evidence -- already published by the LA Times and Washington Post, among others -- which raise serious questions about the reliability of the administration's accusations against Iran. There is no excuse whatsoever for writing a long, prominent article summarizing the administration's claims without even alluding to that evidence, let alone failing to conduct any investigation to determine the accuracy of the government's statements.

UPDATE: As I noted the other day, The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin published a list of basic journalistic rules for avoiding the media's government-enabling mistakes in Vietnam and Iraq. If the NYT set out to create a textbook article which violates as many of these principles as possible, it would not have been able to surpass the article published today by Gordon. Here are just a few of Froomkin's rules:

You Can’t Be Too Skeptical of Authority

  • Don’t assume anything administration officials tell you is true. In fact, you are probably better off assuming anything they tell you is a lie.

  • Demand proof for their every assertion. Assume the proof is a lie. Demand that they prove that their proof is accurate.

  • Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it should be make the headlines. The absence of supporting evidence for their assertion -- or a preponderance of evidence that contradicts the assertion -- may be more newsworthy than the assertion itself.

  • Don’t print anonymous assertions. Demand that sources make themselves accountable for what they insist is true.

Provocation Alone Does Not Justify War

  • War is so serious that even proving the existence of a casus belli isn’t enough. Make officials prove to the public that going to war will make things better.

Be Particularly Skeptical of Secrecy

  • Don’t assume that these officials, with their access to secret intelligence, know more than you do.

  • Alternately, assume that they do indeed know more than you do – and are trying to keep intelligence that would undermine their arguments secret.

Don’t Just Give Voice to the Administration Officials

  • Give voice to the skeptics; don’t marginalize and mock them.

  • Listen to and quote the people who got it right last time: The intelligence officials, state department officials, war-college instructors and many others who predicted the problem we are now facing, but who were largely ignored.

Is there a single journalistic principle which this article did not violate?

UPDATE II: As Greg Mitchell recalls in an article in Editor & Publisher, it was Michael Gordon "who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion," and Gordon himself "wrote with Miller the paper's most widely criticized -- even by the Times itself -- WMD story of all, the Sept. 8, 2002, 'aluminum tubes' story that proved so influential, especially since the administration trumpeted it on TV talk shows" (h/t Zack).

The fundamental flaws in this article are as glaring as they are grotesque. Given the very ignominious history of Gordon and the NYT concerning the administration's war-seeking claims, how can this article possibly have been published?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Calls to investigate the media's pre-war behavior

(updated below)

A new report by the Pentagon's Inspector General documents what everyone other than the hardest core Bush followers already knows: namely, that "Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included 'reporting of dubious quality or reliability' that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community" (see update below). It is vitally important to ensure that those who were responsible for the deceit that led us into Iraq are identified and held accountable.

But that responsibility extends beyond Bush officials into most of the nation's most influential media outlets. Gilbert Cranberg, former Editorial Page Editor of The Des Moines Register and Tribune and Professor of Journalism at the University of Iowa, has published a superb article at the excellent Nieman Watchdog site (affiliated with the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard), in which he calls for a serious and independent investigation into the profound pre-war failures of our media:

As the war in Iraq nears its fourth anniversary, and with no end in sight, Americans are owed explanations. . . An explanation is due also for how the U.S. press helped pave the way for war. An independent and thorough inquiry of pre-war press coverage would be a public service. Not least of the beneficiaries would be the press itself, which could be helped to understand its behavior and avoid a replay.

Cranberg urges an independent investigation rather than "self-policing":

Better a study by outsiders than by insiders. Besides, journalism groups show no appetite for self-examination. Nor would a study by the press about the press have credibility. Now and then a news organization has published a mea culpa about its Iraq coverage, but isolated admissions of error are no substitute for comprehensive study.

Cranberg identifies twelve highly relevant, unresolved questions to illustrate the type of areas in need of meaningful inquiry, including:

* Why did the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau’s “against-the grain reporting” during the build-up to war receive such “disappointing play,” in the words of its former bureau chief?

* Why, on the eve of war, did the Washington Post’s executive editor reject a story by Walter Pincus, its experienced and knowledgeable national security reporter, that questioned administration claims of hidden Iraqi weapons and why, when the editor reconsidered, the story ran on Page 17?

* Why did the Post, to the “dismay” of the paper’s ombudsman, bury in the back pages or miss stories that challenged the administration’s version of events? Or, as Pincus complained, why did Post editors go “through a whole phase in which they didn’t put things on the front page that would make a difference” while, from August 2002 to the start of the war in March 2003, did the Post, according to its press critic, Howard Kurtz, publish “more than 140 front-page stories that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq”?

* Why did Michael Massing’s critique of Iraq-war coverage, in the New York Review of Books, conclude that “The Post was not alone. The nearer the war drew, and the more determined the administration seemed to wage it, the less editors were willing to ask tough questions. The occasional critical stories that did appear were…tucked well out of sight.”

* Why did the Times’s Thomas E. Friedman and other foreign affairs specialists, who should have known better, join the “let’s-go-to-war” chorus?

* Why did Colin Powell’s pivotal presentation to the United Nations receive immediate and overwhelming press approval despite its evident weaknesses and even fabrications?

* Why did the British press, unlike its American counterpart, critically dissect the speech and regard it with scorn?

* Why did the Associated Press wait six months, when the body count began to rise, to distribute a major piece by AP’s Charles Hanley challenging Powell’s evidence and why did Hanley say how frustrating it had been until then to break through the self-censorship imposed by his editors on negative news about Iraq?

These are all excellent questions, as are the others which Cranberg includes, as are many that are not on his list. And as he notes, none of this is particularly new, particularly when it comes to matters of war and the identification of an "enemy" by the government:

The shortcomings of Iraq coverage were not an aberration. Similar failure is a recurrent problem in times of national stress. The press was shamefully silent, for instance, when American citizens were removed from their homes and incarcerated solely because of their ancestry during World War II. Many in the press were cowed during McCarthyism’s heyday in the 1950s. Nor did the press dispute the case for the fact-challenged Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led to a greatly enlarged Vietnam war.

The press response to the build-up to the Iraq war simply is the latest manifestation of an underlying and ongoing reluctance to dissent from authority and prevailing opinion when emotions run high, especially on matters of war and peace, when the country most needs a questioning, vigorous press.

Much of this is just basic fear of challenging the prevailing wisdom and assertions of authority, as Elisabeth Bumiller infamously admitted and as almost certainly accounts for Joe Klein's willingness to express his allegedly anti-war views only in private. But the problems are also clearly institutional and have become ingrained in the national media outlets themselves. A truly probing examination of the media's extremely culpable pre-war behavior is, as Cranberg said, urgently needed -- both to prevent future debacles and to shine light on the true causes of our media's dysfunction.

UPDATE: The Post apparently made the embarrassingly sloppy mistake in its article on the Inspector General's Report of quoting from a previously report issued by Sen. Carl Levin, and not the Report issued by the Inspector General. They have appended a correction to the top of the article linked to in the first paragraph.

The significance of the Edwards story

(updated below)

With the merciful (and generally positive) conclusion of the Edwards "controversy," it is worth examining the story's significance and the reasons it merited as much attention as it was given. On several levels, what happened here illustrates some very important developments.

For the last 15 years or so -- since the early years of the Clinton administration -- our public political discourse has been centrally driven by an ever-growing network of scandal-mongers and filth-peddling purveyors of baseless, petty innuendo churned out by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, various right-wing operatives and, more recently, the right-wing press led by Fox News. Every issue of significance is either shaped and wildly distorted by that process, or the public is distracted from important issues by contrived and unbelievably vapid, petty scandals. Our political discourse has long been infected by this potent toxin, one which has grown in strength and degraded most of our political and media institutions.

For anyone who thinks that that is overstated, the definitive refutation is provided by ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin and The Washington Post's former National Politics Editor John Harris, who provided this description in their recent book about how their national media world operates:

Matt Drudge is the gatekeeper... he is the Walter Cronkite of his era.

In the fragmented, remote-control, click-on-this, did you hear? political media world in which we live, revered Uncle Walter has been replaced by odd nephew Matt. . . .

Matt Drudge rules our world . . . With the exception of the Associated Press, there is no outlet other than the Drudge Report whose dispatches instantly can command the attention and energies of the most established newspapers and television newscasts.

So many media elites check the Drudge Report consistently that a reporter is aware his bosses, his competitors, his sources, his friends on Wall Street, lobbyists, White House officials, congressional aides, cousins, and everyone who is anyone has seen it, too.

This is why our political process has been so broken and corrupt. The worst elements of what has become the pro-Bush right wing have been shaping and driving how national journalists view events, the stories they cover, and the narratives they disseminate.

What kind of government and political system -- what kind of country -- is going to arise from a political landscape shaped by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, Fox News, Michelle Malkin, and their similar right-wing appendages in talk radio, print and the blogosphere? Allowing those elements to dominate our political debates and drive media coverage guarantees a decrepit, rotted, and deeply corrupt country. That is just a basic matter of cause and effect.

Peter Daou wrote what I think is one of the definitive articles detailing the mechanics of that process (Tom Tomorrow provided the illustration), but whatever the details, its dominance simply cannot be reasonably doubted. The last two presidential elections were overwhelmed by the pettiest and most fictitious "controversies" (things like Al Gore's invention of the Internet and Love Story claims, John Kerry's windsurfing and war wounds, John Edwards' hair brushing and Howard Dean's scream), and our discussions of the most critical issues are continuously clouded by distortive sideshows concocted by this filth-peddling network. Their endless lynch mob crusades supplant rational and substantive political debates, and the most wild fictions are passively conveyed by a lazy and co-opted national media.

In a typically excellent article, Dan Froomkin in The Washington Post this morning explains what Tim Russert's testimony in the Libby trial reveals about how our nation's media stars operate (emphasis in original):

And get this: According to Russert's testimony yesterday at Libby's trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.

That's not reporting, that's enabling. That's how you treat your friends when you're having an innocent chat, not the people you're supposed to be holding accountable.

With rare exception, our national press has completely abdicated the function of scrutinizing any of the cheap "scandals" churned out by the right-wing machine because they have merged seamlessly into the political power structures they are supposed to be scrutinizing, or, worse still, they eagerly become an appendage of that machine -- as illustrated, in the Edwards case, by ABC News' Terry Moran's mindless, one-sided echoing of the right-wing blogosphere's chatter on this story ("Does John Edwards Condone Hate Speech?") .

There are few, if any, more important priorities than creating a counterweight to that network, a method for diluting its influence and exposing and discrediting the people who drive it. And the Edwards story illustrates why that is so and how the blogosphere is beginning to achieve that.

The Edwards "controversy" was a story that was concocted at the lowest depths of the right-wing blogosphere, and it then bubbled up through the standard channels until it arrived in the national press. When the story was first reported by The New York Times and the Associated Press, those outlets mindlessly tracked the right-wing storyline without deviation, and that storyline was designed to convey these familiar themes:

(1) Liberals hate Christianity and religion generally and are so radical that they actually border on mental illness;

(2) The Democratic Party is captive to the hateful, vulgar extremists in the liberal blogosphere;

(3) Bill Donohue and Michelle Malkin are vigilant truth-seekers and objective watchdogs, exposing bigotry and radicalism and forcing a reluctant mainstream media to talk about the evil that lurks within the "Left";

(4) John Edwards is going to be forced by the all-powerful right-wing crusaders to fire his own staffers and appear weak and bullied.

That is a storyline that has played out time and again in different contexts, and it was well on its way to being cemented here. It is exactly what would have happened had it not been for the blogosphere, which forced into the public discussion critical facts that were being omitted and which exposed the absurdity of this story, thereby providing a counterweight to the joint right-wing/media pressure on Edwards to capitulate to these forces.

As a result, look at the New York Times story this morning on the conclusion of this matter. The story which ended up being told is significantly different than the one which was being originally peddled. The article includes, for instance, a lengthy passage about the ethically suspect and extremist, offensive writings of John McCain's blogger:

Last summer, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, hired Patrick J. Hynes, a conservative blogger and political consultant, to be his campaign’s blog liaison. Mr. Hynes quickly ran afoul of fellow bloggers by initially concealing his relationship to the McCain campaign while he was writing critically about other Republicans.

He then came under fire for declaring that the United States was a “Christian nation” in a book and television appearances that predated his work for Mr. McCain. Last November, while employed by Mr. McCain’s campaign, Mr. Hynes posted on his personal blog a picture of Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, and invited readers to submit nicknames, some of which were anti-Semitic.

In an interview, Mr. Hynes said the Internet was a place where overheated language and vicious personal attacks were often tolerated, even encouraged. But, he said, “I would caution against holding candidates responsible for what their bloggers and blog consultants have said in the past.”

“The blogosphere is a conversation; it’s not reportage,” Mr. Hynes said. “We’re all trying to figure out, what does this mean for the convergence of all these media? It’s a Pandora’s box and no one knows where it’s going to end up.”

Mr. Hynes remained on the McCain campaign staff and maintained his personal blog.

A story invented and driven by the right-wing blogosphere resulted in a prominent discussion in The New York Times of the serious ethical lapses and extremist views of John McCain's personal blogger, and even the presence of anti-semitic slurs against Henry Waxman by that blogger's readers in the right-wing blogosphere. McCain's own blogger was thus forced defensively to contradict the central premise of the right-wing scandal: "I would caution against holding candidates responsible for what their bloggers and blog consultants have said in the past."

Earlier versions of that Times story (I believe) -- as well as other press accounts by reporters who originally echoed the right-wing narrative -- also ended up featuring excerpts of statements made in the past by Bill Donohue which reveal what a profoundly inappropriate and discredited source he is on any topic, let alone for sitting as arbiter over which viewpoints are too offensive for the mainstream. And multiple stories credited the liberal blogosphere -- citing MyDD and Chris Bowers -- as the effective shield against demands that Edwards sacrifice these bloggers at the altar of Michelle Malkin, Bill Donohue and Fox News.

The blogosphere fundamentally altered the arc of this story. All of the balancing information which made its way into the national press within a very short period of time was found by bloggers, amplified by other bloggers and by groups such as Media Matters, and that shaped the story -- both how it was discussed and its ultimate outcome -- in numerous ways. And it re-inforced the idea that the rotted network composed of the Michelle Malkins and Bill O'Reillys and Bill Donohues cannot drive media stories unilaterally anymore and cannot force major presidential candidates to capitulate to their demands.

It is still the case that the political impressions of most Americans are shaped by how our dominant media outlets discuss political issues. That is true for every issue from the seemingly inconsequential (staffing decisions of the Edwards campaign) to whatever issue you want to say is the "most important" -- Iraq, Iran, presidential power, debates over domestic policy, and everything in between. How the national media reports on all of these matters, which sources they depict as credible, and the factions that influence and shape that reporting is still the single most influential factor in the outcome of all political disputes.

We are in the position we are in as a country because there has been really no effective counterweight to the lowly, deceitful and filth-peddling right-wing network which has dominated our political discourse and the media's coverage of it. That is clearly changing -- slowly perhaps, though still meaningfully (which is why the Edwards campaign felt sufficiently comfortable in defying these pressures, and it is also why -- as Time's Ana Marie Cox surprisingly acknowledges (while linking to FDL) -- the most astute and insightful reporting on the Libby trial (and so many other news items) is coming from the blogosphere, not the national press).

As long as Matt Drudge -- and Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, etc. -- rule the world of national journalists, little can be accomplished on any front. Diluting their influence and forcing actual facts into these public discussions is of the utmost urgency, and the growing (though admittedly still incomplete) ability of the blogosphere to achieve that objective is the true significance of the Edwards story.

UPDATE: For a highly representative sampling of the bulging corruption that drives our national media, see this "debate" on MSNBC today concerning the Edwards controversy. MSNBC had an extremely balanced panel of one Republican strategist and one "Democratic" strategist -- Lieberman crony Dan Gerstein -- who, needless to say, agreed on everything (the right-wing protesters were completely right and Edwards made a horrible choice that will doom him). There was not a peep in dissent from anyone.

Pay particular attention to the morbidly hilarious last line of the exchange. This brings back memories of all of those pre-war "debates" between all sorts of experts and pundits whose only source of disagreement was whether we should invade Iraq in March or in April.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Statement of the Edwards campaign

(updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)



February 8, 2007


Chapel Hill, North Carolina -- The statements of Senator John Edwards, Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwen in reference to their work as independent bloggers before joining the Edwards campaign are below.

Senator John Edwards:

"The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwan's posts personally offended me. It's not how I talk to people, and it's not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I've talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word. We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in."

Amanda Marcotte:

"My writings on my personal blog, Pandagon on the issue of religion are generally satirical in nature and always intended strictly as a criticism of public policies and politics. My intention is never to offend anyone for his or her personal beliefs, and I am sorry if anyone was personally offended by writings meant only as criticisms of public politics. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression are central rights, and the sum of my personal writings is a testament to this fact."

Melissa McEwen:

"Shakespeare's Sister is my personal blog, and I certainly don't expect Senator Edwards to agree with everything I've posted. We do, however, share many views - including an unwavering support of religious freedom and a deep respect for diverse beliefs. It has never been my intention to disparage people's individual faith, and I'm sorry if my words were taken in that way."


This was a smart and potentially significant move by the Edwards campaign on several levels, the most significant of which is that it signals that Democratic campaigns aren't going to capitulate to contrived controversies manufactured by the lowest and basest precincts in our political culture. There is more Edwards could have done with this, but still, he stood resolute in the face of an intense and ugly coordinated media/right-wing swarm and rendered it impotent.

Nobody is going to be casting their votes a year from now based on the pre-campaign postings of Amanda Marcotte or Melissa McEwan, and the only ones who will ever speak of this again would never have voted for Edwards in the first place, and only raised these issues in the first place with the intent to harm Edwards specifically and Democrats generally. That faction is the last one to which Edwards and other Democrats ought to pay any attention. John McCain will have to spend the next year pandering to the Bill Donahues and Michelle Malkins of the world. There is no reason John Edwards should, and it is good to see that he will not.

UPDATE: The Associated Press' Nedra Pickler writes a much more balanced article on this matter than the one which made its way yesterday into The Washington Post. In today's story, Pickler conveys the important point made by McEwan on her blog that McEwan enthusiastically voted for a Catholic (John Kerry) for President in 2004, which suggests that she is hardly an "anti-Catholic bigot."

It is true that McEwan opposes specific Catholic doctrine applied by some right-wing Catholics to political questions, which -- despite Bill Donohue's best efforts -- is not the same as being "anti-Catholic" (just as opposing Pat Robertson's political agenda does not make one "anti-Christian," nor does opposing the policies of specific right-wing Israelis or American Jews make one "anti-semitic," nor does opposing specific views of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton make one "racist"). The language they used was inflammatory -- almost certainly deliberately so -- but that hardly makes it "bigoted."

Pickler also includes -- as she and The New York Times should have done originally -- a small though illustrative excerpt from that Civility Crusader, Bill Donohue: "Donohue also doesn't shy away from blunt language sometimes in his criticism of gays, Hollywood's control by 'secular Jews who hate Christianity' and even the Edwards bloggers, whom he referred to as 'brats' in an interview Wednesday on MSNBC." That (along with Michelle Malkin and the likes of Jonah Goldberg) is who was masquerading as the Guardians of Elevated Political Discourse, and that is why it was so important not to indulge this charade.

UPDATE II: In Comments, Zack says:

This is all a big game to the right, and they were prepared to declare victory no matter what Edwards did. Edward’s careful response seems to have taken away the “anti-Catholic bigotry” from most of them (Donahue excepted, I’m sure), but they’ve now found a new tact.

Sister Toldjah loves this comment:

This is just a great endorsement for Edwards for President. If he doesn’t have the stones to stand up to the nutroots, I’m sure he’ll really be just the perfect man to stand up to Islamic Terrorists and Iran and North Korea. He’ll need a pair of knee pads pronto if he becomes President.

Did you notice how fast they switched gears? They’ve already nearly forgotten about the religious angle that they began with. ….. Yeah, well, okay, maybe he’s not an anti-Christian bigot, but by gosh he sure is a girly-man.

This wasn’t ever about “God-cum” - it was about intimidating those who disagree with them. If one smear doesn’t stick, they’ll just keep throwing them until one does. It’s a game they play to divert attention from the real issues and provide amusement for each other with their insults.

Other than screeching that the Terrorists are coming to get us all and that anyone who disagrees is themselves a Terrorist, the pro-Bush right has no ideas, no policies, no substance. They thrive on deeply personal lynch mob behavior -- waving purple hearts with band-aids, prattling on about John Kerry's joke and Nancy Pelosi's plane, searching for new scalps to satisfy their mob cravings, and depicting their political opponents as weak, girly, traitorous losers. That is the extent of them, and that is all this Edwards hysteria was ever about. And by brushing it aside, Edwards treated it as the petty nuisance it is, rather than endowing it and them with unwarranted credibility.

The idea that the right wing political movement in this country -- led by the filth-spewing likes of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs, the Clinton impeachment obsessives, and all sorts of Daily Treason Accusers -- is committed to high levels of civility in our political discourse and sensitivity to the beliefs of others, and therefore was very, very offended by the commentary of these bloggers, is an absurd and transparent joke.

There is a reason that two of the most bigoted and offensive public figures in our political landscape -- Bill Donohue and Michelle Malkin -- led their crusade. That Donohue and Malkin were holding themselves out as the arbiter of proper political discourse and anti-bigotry standards reveals all one needs to know about the corrupt roots of this "controversy."

UPDATE III: Over at National Review's Media Blog, Steve Spruiell speculates (accurately, I believe):

This [Edwards announcement today] contradicts a report on Salon.com yesterday that the Edwards campaign had fired the bloggers.

I've previously been interviewed by Alex Koppelman (one of the Salon reporters who wrote the story), and from my experience with him he seems like a diligent and professional reporter — indicating that Salon's report was probably well-founded. So at one point, it's likely that the Edwards campaign had decided to fire the bloggers, only to reconsider in the face of pressure from left-wing netroots activists.

I also believe (without knowing for certain, though based on numerous facts) that this is, more or less, what happened. In the age where candidates listened only to their Beltway consultants, and national journalists were the exclusive gatekeeper and megaphone for all political opinion, I believe virtually every campaign would have fired these bloggers immediately. Why risk the controversy over low-level staffers, the super-smart consultant-rationale would have suggested.

But now there are multiple and disparate constituencies, and I don't think there is much question that the blogosphere enabled Edwards to keep these bloggers. I do not believe bloggers forced him to do something he did not want to do. I think it's more likely that the blogosphere created the option of keeping them and enabled Edwards to choose that option, though certainly the prospect of alienating all of the liberal blogosphere -- bloggers, readers and donors alike -- was a factor in Edwards' decision, and it should have been. Candidates should listen more to the people supporting their campaign and less to the national journalists and consultant class which previously dictated all of their decisions.

UPDATE IV: Salon's Koppelman and Traister just posted a new article essentially confirming the above theory:

After personal phone calls to the bloggers from the candidate, the Edwards campaign has rehired the bloggers who were fired yesterday, according to sources inside and close to the campaign.

Salon reported yesterday that on Wednesday morning the Edwards camp fired Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwen, the two bloggers whose hiring had sparked an uproar by conservatives. That information was confirmed by sources in and close to the campaign. But almost as soon as the decision had been communicated to the bloggers, a struggle arose within the campaign about possibly reversing it, the sources said, as the liberal blogosphere exploded.

As I said, I think that reflects well on both the Edwards campaign and, even more so, on the emerging ability of the blogosphere to positively influence the outcome of matters such as this one.

Gen. Pace: they "don't have a clue how democracy works"

(updated below)

That this is even notable at all, or that it has to be said, is by itself significant:

A top Pentagon leader weighed in yesterday on the war debate and appeared to undercut the argument advanced by the White House and many GOP lawmakers that a congressional debate challenging the Bush plan would hurt troop morale.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the dialogue here in Washington strengthens our democracy. Period," Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee. He added that potential enemies may take some comfort from the rancor but said they "don't have a clue how democracy works."

It is not, of course, only "potential enemies" who "don't have a clue how democracy works." The same can be said for Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman and their most extremist war supporters who spent the last month insisting that debates over the Leader's decisions must be stifled and that those who express opposition are helping the Enemy. The spectacle of watching American political leaders and their loyal pundit-allies instruct Americans of their duties to "be quiet for six or nine months" with regard to the Leader's actions is almost too extreme for words.

One of the more egregious examples of not "having a clue of how democracy works" -- independent through related -- is documented here by Isaac Chotiner, who highlights remarks by former federal prosecutor and current National Review commentator Andrew McCarthy, in which McCarthy accuses pro bono lawyers for Guantanamo detainees of "volunteering to help the enemy use [] our courts as a weapon of war against us" (and, just incidentally, someone should ask former prosecutor Rudy Giluiani his view of that particular controversy). That was preceded by The Corner's Clifford May's dissemination of absolutely reckless and fact-free innuendo that these lawyers are receiving secret payments from Saudi Arabia and other Terrorists helpers.

It is only those who are losing a debate who have a desire to suppress it. And it is only those who are acting illegally who are desperate to avoid judicial scrutiny of their behavior. In 2002, attempts to equate scrutiny and criticism of the Bush movement with pro-Terrorism and anti-Americanism was a potent and effective tool of intimidation. But now, it just seems desperate, the last gasps of a political movement which is dying and which knows it is, and whose only hope is to forcibly coerce acceptance of their views -- and foreclose examination of them -- by insisting that open debates are themselves improper and therefore must cease at once.

That rationale is the hallmark of every petty tyrant, and (as surging anti-war sentiment and the last election demonstrate) most Americans, when freed from exploitive fear-mongering, instinctively recoil from it. When even the Bush administration's top General publicly repudiates their principal weapon of coercion, it is a clear sign of how weakened and discredited they have become.

UPDATE: I'm reminded in comments that Anonymous Liberal has written the definitive post on the matter of the Guantanamo lawyers, the threats directed at them by Bush Pentagon official Cully Stimson, and the smearing of them by National Review Cornerites, including (needless to say) Mark Steyn.

Blog news

(updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V)

In order to finalize a few remaining design and functionality issues, this blog's move to Salon, originally scheduled for today, will instead take place this Monday, February 12.

UPDATE: In the meantime, Steve Benen provides some suggestions for stories for intrepid reporters who are interested in exploring the connection between political figures and hate-spewing pundits.

And in one paragraph, TBogg illustrates the true and obvious absurdity at the core of the "Edwards controversy":

Rick "The Lesser" Moran writes about Amanda:

Her writing is full of so many half truths, manufactured criticisms, dead-wrong assumptions, and a child like ignorance of the emotional universe inhabited by normal men and women that trying to decipher her scribblings – once you can get by the obscenities and work your way through the incoherence – is a task best left to a psychiatrist.

...and then he invites his readers to go see the ever-sensible Michelle Malkin and Dan Riehl.

I could have stayed up all night and not come up with anything near that funny...

It would be as if The New York Times published a story about how the Edwards campaign found itself "in hot water" over offensive comments -- all based on complaints from Bill Donohue -- or if a political movement whose leading pundit was Rush Limbaugh was able to spark controversy by pretending to be upset by vulgar and offensive remarks from bloggers.

UPDATE II: An earnest, pious Jonah Goldberg, today, on how his political voice "as a writer" has "grown up":

You know, Jim [Geraghty] does make a good case [that this controversy will make online political debates more civil] and I hope he's right. I think about this a lot. I get a lot of grief from longtime readers about how I've "matured" or "grown up." And the truth is I have. Though I still think there's a lot of room left for humor (and once the book's done and put to bed, I'll bring back some pull-my-finger G-Filing), I'm basically burnt out on the smash-mouth stuff. When I criticize younger lefty bloggers for their excesses, I get a lot of "Hello Mr. Kettle, pot's calling on line one" grief. That's all fair to a point. But the basic fact is I don't do that stuff very much any more because it's cliched and boring to me . . .

Simply as a writer, when I see the nasty stuff now, on both the left and the right, my first reaction is to think how easy — and therefore uninteresting — it is. The Edwards bloggers' anti-Catholic diatribes bore me more than they offend me because they are precisely the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from a living cliche who can't imagine the other side might be worth listening too.

Jonah Goldberg's Regnery book, to be released at some point, presumably:

From the publisher's description of Jonah's book (the subtitle is The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton):

LIBERAL FASCISM offers a startling new perspective on the theories and practices that define fascist politics. Replacing conveniently manufactured myths with surprising and enlightening research, Jonah Goldberg shows that the original fascists were really on the Left and that liberals, from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton, have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler’s National Socialism. . . . he boldly illustrates the resemblances between the opinions advanced by Hitler and Mussolini and the current views of the Left.

I know this point has been made before, but this Edwards "controversy" and the accompanying lectures are really just too much to bear. We should absolutely not be hearing sermons about civility in our political discourse and how much one has "grown up" from someone who is about to release a book "documenting" how his political opponents "advocate[] policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler’s National Socialism."

The tiniest amount of shame and self-awareness would prevent a lecture like that. But that is what this whole "Edwards controversy" is -- protests over incivility from a political movement that spent several years talking about the spots on Bill Clinton's penis and which, as its principal debating weapon, routinely labels their political opponents traitors, lunatics, cockroaches, and Nazis -- or "the C word." That the press falls for it without pointing out the practices of those who are complaining is, quite candidly, just maddening.

UPDATE III: More of Jonah's civil, substantive, adversary-respecting form of argumentation is here. As you read that, keep in mind that this is the same person who wrote today about how much he hopes Marcotte and McEwan are fired because they drag down the elevated political discourse in our "Republic."

UPDATE IV: Leon Wolf of the Bush-loving blog RedState has been hired as the "e-campaign coordiantor" by the Sam Brownback campaign. Please forward by email, or leave in comments, any worthwhile material from Leon's past writings.

UPDATE V: A small but amusing start: From Leon Wolf, upon Brownback's announcement two short months ago (emphasis added): "I'm an unabashed Brownback supporter - I just donated to his PAC, but when (not if) he loses, I'll get on board with the winner, unless the winner is Rudy. Romney and McCain are not my first choices, but they're 'good enough,' I suppose" (h/t Crust). As Crust notes: "Doing a Google site search of redstate.com for "Leon H Wolf" gets 42,500 hits, so there's a lot of source material out there. His list of stories runs to 39 pages, but the juiciest stuff is likely in his comments."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A new Beltway term -- "Oversight"

It has been six long, dysfunctional years since it made an appearance in Washington, so one can be forgiven if one has forgotten what it looks like, but this thing called Congressional "oversight" over administration conduct is now returning to Washington. Henry Waxman convened a hearing today, with former Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer as the featured witness, to begin looking into war profiteering in Iraq, and specifically, how much money was squandered through corruption and cronyism on Iraq's "reconstruction".

This was just the first day, and there is nothing cataclysmic, but several excerpts from the hearing illustrate the importance and potential potency of oversight in uncovering wrongdoing by the Executive branch. The first clip entails an examination of the shoddy accounting supervision and cronyism which ensured that there was no meaningful supervision over the expenditure of funds.

The second clip entails what Chairman Waxman has made clear is but the start of what will be their aggressive investigation into this report by The Washington Post that the politically appointed Pentagon official in charge of CPA hiring, Jim O'Beirne (husband of National Review's Kate O'Beirne) used a litmus test of political loyalty, rather than competence, to fill those positions:

Applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration. . . . To recruit the people he wanted, O'Beirne sought résumés from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks and GOP activists. He discarded applications from those his staff deemed ideologically suspect, even if the applicants possessed Arabic language skills or postwar rebuilding experience.

Smith said O'Beirne once pointed to a young man's résumé and pronounced him "an ideal candidate." His chief qualification was that he had worked for the Republican Party in Florida during the presidential election recount in 2000."

As Steve Gilliard noted: "People like [National Review's] Michael Ledeen's daughter, Simone, were given the task of rebuilding Iraq's economy."

This last clip illustrates the empty promises made by the administration to provide better supervision and coordination for the reconstruction expenditures:

Again, this was just the first day. And this is one topic. But aggressive oversight -- relentless pursuit of information, compelled disclosure and testimony via subpoena, confrontation between the branches regarding oversight powers of Congress - - can be a very potent weapon for shining light on what this administration has been doing for the last six years while its obscenely loyal, duty-abdicating Congressional servants purposely looked the other way. When conducted the right way, these hearings can be dramatic, publicity-generating, and leave a lasting impression in the public mind. There are many worthy and necessary areas awaiting meaningful inquiry.

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