April 15, 2005 | 12:50 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new Think Again” column called “ Bolton vs. Moynihan: Who's Kidding Whom?” It’s here.
And um, these guys should have picked on someone else.
This Bush fellow is such a sanctimonious hypocrite, it gives me a pain in my gallbladder. Look at his remarks on indecency censorship to the ASNE convention.
“The final edit is a parent turning off the TV. The ultimate responsibility in a consumer-driven economy is for people to say I'm not going to watch it and turn the knob off. That's how best to make decisions and how best to send influences."
The president continued: "Look, we're a free society. The marketplace makes decisions, If you don't like something, don't watch it. And, presumably, advertising dollars will wither and the show will go off the air, but I have no problems with standards being set to help parents make good decisions." Right; two perfectly contradictory statements. And he just couldn’t care less.
Do the media?  More here at TVWeek: And will anyone at the FCC step forward and speak out against the indecency crusade? Activists who found sympathetic ears at the commission during the media consolidation fight are still searching for an ally.

Next Week’s Alter-Appearances:.

  • 4/20, William College, 7:30, “The Future of Liberalism”
  • 4/22, University Synagogue, Irvine, CA, 7:00 Shabbat service, 8:00 discussion, on the media, civil discourse, Jews, Palestinians, and stuff;
  • 4/23, 11:30 am, LA Times festival of books, UCLA, panel on lies with John Dean, Maureen Dowd, et al.
  • 4/27, 4:00 Ohio State University, Humanities Dean’s Forum, with Karla Holloway, Pauline Yu.

Altercation good friend, the much-admired scribe, Charles Pierce, is, unhappily for all of us, prevented for professional reasons from posting here for the time being as he works for a journalistic institution in Boston that has blog issues.
He has asked, however, if people would consider saying “we miss you buddy,” with a gesture towards his wife’s project, to the only fully-handicapped accessible playground of its kind -- named for a little girl who died of mitochondrial disease a couple of years ago. It’s called “the Playground Project” and it’s in Newtonville, MA.
They are trying to finish work on what will be one of the country's most accessible playgrounds. This public Playground is designed to be friendly to children -- and adults -- who have visual, mobility, auditory and developmental challenges, as well as to their friends and families. As the Playground Project says, "Whether a challenge is temporary like a cast, or is a permanent part of a child's life, we believe that nothing should get in the way of friends playing together".
You can find out more about the Playground Project, a  501 (c)(3) charitable non-profit organization, by visitinghere.

If Pierce were here, he’d mention that we should also try to keep a smile on our faces because while it does happen with some regularity lately, it’s not every day theSox humiliate the evil ones and the Mets come from behind to win four straight. Anybody got Bruce tickets for me?

And another Altercation friend, Rosanne Cash, is doing another of those Acoustic Cash shows tonight, at the Rubin Museum in Chelsea. This one is a “musical exploration of Himalayan mandalas”—but trust me, don’t worry too much about that part-- with the Holmes Bothers, tickets are a mere $35 and you can get Call  212.620.5000 ext. 344. 

On to Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to agree with Eric Rauchway and take him up on his challenge at the same time.  My muddied point last week was that the 2004
election had the potential to be a realigning election like 1928, but probably won't be because the Dems opted to "win now."  No criticism -- the stakes were high and we came close. Only Ralph Nader purposefully throws an election for some uncertain future benefit, but sometimes it works out that way. Oddly enough, I see a repeat of 1928 on the West Wing: Republican Vinick is a bit like Hoover (highly respected moderate) and would trounce Democrat Santos, but maybe Santos would bring out new Latino and young voters and secure them for the Dems for years to come.
That said, 2004 might turn out to be a realigning election in spite of itself. The election did bring out scores of new and previously uncommitted voters on both sides: Karl Rove excited the GOP base, Dubya excited the Dem the base. But which voters will stick in the future?   I'm sensing a repeat of the late 80's - early 90's, when as Cal Thomas or Bill Bennett (I forget who) said religious conservatives felt neglected and avoided the polls.  Yes, I know the perception is the GOP kowtows to the religious right.  But what have they really delivered in five years?  A law stopping a rare abortion procedure? A crusade against gay marriage?  A real fighter for religious conservatives wouldn't have abandoned John --- and the faith-based initiative (this has not been forgotten -- it's the $$$, faithful) and would use the bully pulpit to stoke national debate on moral issues.  This isn't me talking - I hear this from self-described fundamentalists  (if the Rapture hits in my lifetime, I am so going to be a tribulation saint...).  Plus, the immediate aftermath of the 2004 election awoke the religious left, the effect of which remains to be seen.   
Now here's a challenge for Eric R. and anyone else: presume Hillary Clinton is your 2008 nominee (no cheating,).  How do you elect her?  I'll give it my best shot next week, but we need all the minds we can get on this one. 

Name: Danny Goldberg
Hometown: NYC, NY
Eric,
Where does all this rage at music biz come from? I agree that stuff like Fiona Apple should come out--and there are plenty of jerks in the music biz--but there are also a lot of people in the business, including some senior executives, who are honest, work hard and love music. How do you go from "free Fiona" (which based on what is in Altercation makes all the sense in the world)--to "put the industry out of its misery?"
Like publishing, politics or any other large establishment---the music biz has good and bad .Focusing on the bad is fine--but not mindless condemnations of  the whole business ? Would this kind of nihilism have any credibility in politics? Should we put the United States "out of its misery" because we detest some policies of this administration? The music business has facilitated some pretty good culture over the last hundred years and does so today.

Name: Rob Johnson
Hometown: Tampa, FL
Comments:
Re: Fiona Apple
The most likely reason that Sony is sitting on this album is that recording contracts are typically for a certain number of albums. It's up to the label to decide what constitutes an "album." If Extraordinary Machine is deemed Not commercially viable", Fiona still owes Sony another album.  Even better for Sony, they still own the rights to those songs.
If you have not already, check out the article entitled "The Internet Debacle" onJanis Ians page:

Among the points she makes (quoted from her article):
# The normal industry contract is for seven albums, with no end date, which would be considered at best indentured servitude (and at worst slavery) in any other business. In fact, it would be illegal.
# A label can shelve your project, then extend your contract by one more album because what you turned in was "commercially or artistically unacceptable". They alone determine that criteria.
# And because a record label "owns" your voice for the duration of the contract, you can't go somewhere else and re-record those same songs they turned down.
# And because of the re-record provision, even after your contract is over, you can't record those songs for someone else for years, and sometimes decades.
Because of issues like this one, I feel the recording industry has really outlived it's usefulness and is trying to hang on through legislation.
Thank you for taking the time to address this issue in your column.

Name: Robert Murphy
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Comments:
Hi Eric, I read Barry Ritholtz' coverage of the non-release of Fiona Apple's latest album with great interest. I agree with all his thoughts on the matter; having a brother deep in the bowels of the music bidness, I'd like to add his insights into the mix. 
Sony's decision to deep-six this album is of course venal and stupid, but the primary reason it'll never get legally released: taxes.  Sony had to take a tax writeoff against the album in 2003, the year the album was to be released; once written off, it's impossible for them to un-writeoff.  Nobody can commercially distribute the damn thing because it's an official business loss on Sony's books.  Pathetic, but true. 
I've downloaded the album through of course perfectly legal (cough) means, and it's beautiful.  I have a feeling that the IRS will reconsider their tax laws on such matters about the same time that the US government decides to completely legalize marijuana, ecstasy and P2P...

Name: Dave Jackson
Hometown: Vancouver
Comments:
Conspiracy Theories: No longer just for Dick Cheney fans!
How to generate buzz for an album that you fear will be a critical success, but will not get the radio play necessary to generate sales? How about:
- Make yourself the bad guy. Refuse to release the album
- Leak a few songs (but not all!) onto an Anglefire page (one can't support P2P directly)
- Wait for the groudswell of fans demanding the albums release to reach a deafening roar
- Wait for the press to pick up the story, reporting on said deafening roar
- Wait for the press to demand release of the 'musical gem'
- Release album to multi-million sales
Total cost for all this publicity? The price of an angelfire page and the time it takes an intern to type up a phony cease and desist letter.
Maybe the last few years have twisted me, but I think this is more a stroke of marketing genius rather than Sony playing the heavy. I mean, does anyone really think they'd sit on a Fiona Apple album (with all the art completed) that was anything short of the equivalent of Lou Reed's Metal Music Machine?
I certainly don't think so, but I've been wrong before.

Name: Cheryl
Hometown: Minnepolis,MN
Comments:
You guys keep missing out on some of the best new Rock n Roll since GunsnRoses.  The best band of the 2000's has to be hands down, Linkin Park.  Get their Live from Texas DVD/CD.  It is so worth watching and listening to.  They are a band that justs creates a completely different sound, new and bold and inspriational.  This is the new band that defines the new generation of rock music and even though I am in my 40's I can still appreciate something new and great. Just don't forget real Rock.

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Comments:
I just now saw Eric Rauchway's thoughtful reply to my note a couple of days ago.  I should have said I have noted the inability of "baby-boomers" to learn new ways of thinking about American politics since Kennedy's time (when it was already changing to what it has become) without accusing Rauchway of being a baby boomer.  The stuff about "lifestyle-as-politics" may be a semantic quibble . . . What is not semantic is that middle-class voters here in central Ohio have not only fled the city (Columbus) but are passing by the traditional, Republican suburbs in favor of living in adjacent and unincorporated county developments.  These people are invisible to the mainstream media and the Democrats who seem to rely excessively on media for their view of reality.  The "exurbs" in what was farmland or woodland ten or fifteen years ago have (a) exploded in population, and (b) vote overwhelmingly Republican.  I think the Republicans know this - it's their people who are moving to these areas - and the Democrats do not. 
From a tactical point of view, I have to shake my head at Democratic obsessions with the "gender gap" (interpreted as hurting the Republicans, though it was obvious in Reagan's time that it was really hurting the Democrats), or with the black vote (costs the Democrats two votes for every one it brings in) or still-small change like the Hispanic vote (which, like the working-class ethnic vote of FDR's time, will surely drift toward the GOP over time).  These elements are far less important than social/economic trends that the GOP has spotted, and the election of a Republican President (and the return of another Republican Congress) who was sitting on a sluggish economy and an unpopular war is the best proof of it.

Name: Hank Kalet
Hometown: South Brunswick, NJ
Comments:
A quick thought on newspapers and reporters. I've been doing it for 15 years at the extremely local level and the one thing I've learned is that people in this business are far better at offering criticism than we are at taking it. What strikes me about newspapers is that we tend to operate like some clandestine fraternity. The public is not allowed to peek behind the curtain. I realized this last year after attending a conference at the American Press Institute and then talking with the people in the central New Jersey communities we cover. There was a desire to understand the rationale behind our decisions and to know why I believed it was OK for the paper to criticize community members in editorials and my own opinion column. They also wanted to why we expected transparency from local government, but did not place ourselves under the same kind of microscope. I now run a regular column that attempts to explain our policies and our decisions and answer questions from our readers.
In addition, Katherine "Kit" Seelye is right to remind critics that reporters are real people, but the people who toil in the business should also have thick skin. I know this from first-hand experience, having been accosted on more than one occasion in the local supermarket, bookstore, pub, restaurant -- well, you get the picture.
Newspapers -- and news organizations in general -- face a trust problem that is having an effect on readership. We need to acknowledge this and alter the way we do business.

Name: Bill Salter
Hometown: Columbia, SC
Comments:
It's too late now but I'm betting that a little investigatory journalism would show that Bolton was up to his moustache in slanting the intel against Iraq.
Instead the toothless lions of the Dem Senate are left with pretty much zilch of anything worth further public outrage. It was all "inside baseball" verbiage disputations and allegations that Bolton is a really nasty boss.
The wingnut response almost writes itself.
It was a pitiful result but at least they made the effort. That's an improvement.

From Eric: I don’’t remember who sent me this but take a look:

ABC reported that thousands of doctors all across America receiving from what appears to be from the United States Government conferring upon them "Physician of the Year" awards.
All they have to do is write a check for $1,200 to the Republican National Committee. The documents tell the doctor they can use it to market their services but putting it on their walls and using it in advertising.
So here is a document, intended to FOOL the patient into thinking the United States Government has awarded this physician "Physician of the Year" -- only they  are not THE physician of the year: there are tens of thousands mailed and thousands pay.
Second, the patient could only be expected to think it is based on quality of care or expertise. It is a fraud. And it is fraud using the US Postal Service. Because it is the Republican Party, nothing will be done about it. Only the secular press is reporting it.

April 14, 2005 | 1:30 PM ET | Permalink

Except this: Editor and Publisher has a report on the ASNE panel on the “journalism of affirmation” here and Rupert Murdoch’s speech here.

Meanwhile, the Social Research conference on “Fairness” begins today, at the New School, with Alan Ryan, Cass Sunstein, John Edwards, and lots of other people.   Here's a schedule.

Anders Stephenson publishes the most thoughtful assessment yet of the career of George Kennan, here.

Now on to the All Music Altercation, (which is ironic, because I’m in withdrawal at the moment in my hotel, mourning the loss of my IPOD, which I tragically left in an airport taxi Tuesday night.)

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
I recently heard a few tracks of Fiona Apple's unreleased new CD, Extraordinary Machine. 5 tracks were "pre-released on an AngelFire page. The host received a nastygram, and the tracks were removed.

So I started hunting around for more tracks, thinking these were a preview. After listening to the first few tracks, I wanted to hear more. I thought, "I must buy this when it's released."

Only I can't, because it isn't. The CD is not coming out. Sony, in its infinite wisdom, has deemed it "too non-commercial." They have had the masters since Spring 2003 and decided against it. This despite the fact her last two releases were platinum sellers.  Score another victim of Radio Consolidation and the ever shrinking playlist of ClearChannel Communications.  If you really want to hold someone responsible, blame a well greased Congress for passing the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act which allowed this consolidation to occur.

We've been lectured by the music industry. They say P2P is wrong, that downloading is bad, and that I should just buy music -- unheard/unpreviewed -- instead.  But I can't.  This CD is unavailable at any price.  That's simply absurd.

Here's the thing: Extraordinary Machine is her most compelling music since Tidal.  It's intriguing, ambitious, oddly haunting, -- and quite beautiful.  Yes, it's different, but that's part of what makes it so intriguing.

I have a letter going out to Sony.  I'll keep you informed if any progress occurs.

The rest of the story -- and the album art -- can be found here:

Extraordinary Machine

As I was thinking about the title -- Extraordinary Machine -- I came to realize that it referred as much to P2P as it did the name of the disc.

This is yet another valuable usage of P2P -- it not only provides a distribution mechanism for independents, but it also provides artists with major label contracts a way around their labels when they get too heavy handed, or take advantage in a contract dispute.  We won't have to wait very long to find out if this was yet another "accidental" P2P release.  Note that U2 and Eminem have done the same, using P2P as a promotional vehicle as a replacement for radio.  I have little doubt this was a purposeful tactic by Fiona or her management/producers.
...
Consider:  P2P allowed a frustrated artist in a struggle against a titanic company to reach her fans.  Not only did she disintermediate the label, bypassing them to go right to the end consumers of the music, but the "Extraordinary Machine" leveled the field in a David versus Goliath battle.  (And now there are at least 12 tracks, plus alternate takes, floating around). Intriguing...

A Seattle Radio Station --  the End 107.7 -- somehow got a hold of 5 tracks and played them from the unreleased LP.  After that, the entire album was leaked online.  I knew none of this when I first came across the tracks.  I merely thought they sounded great.  Yes, I grabbed them for myself.  No, I won't make them available online.  But they are widely available on Kazaa/Bittorrent, so it doesn't take a whole lot of looking to find them.  Or, you can follow links at her fan site here.

It's funny -- we've been lectured by the music industry that downloading is wrong, and that we should buy music instead (which I do).  But this CD is unavailable to Fiona fans at any price. Why? A conscious decision by her label not to release this -- as too non-commercial. That's simply unreal to this music fan.  Thank goodness for P2P.

If you go to Fiona's site (via Sony's page) and click on Fans, there is an ongoing discussion about getting the CD released.  There's even a Web site, freefiona.com, dedicated to prying the CD free from Sony.

The Freefiona.com FAQ notes:

Why does Sony/Epic think her new album won't sell?  Didn't her last two albums go platinum?  Yes, Tidal and When the Pawn... are both RIAA certified platinum in the United States.  Sony Music recently replaced chairman and CEO Tommy "Love ya, baby!" Mottola with former NBC president Andrew Lack, a businessman with no prior music experience.  He immediately shifted Sony Music's focus to pop and hip-hop acts that are traditionally bigger sellers. The master recordings of Extraordinary Machine were sent to a warehouse, where they remain to this day.

Is this industry not its own worst enemy?  I do not like to draw broad conclusions from mere anecdotal evidence -- but damn, these people are frighteningly incompetent.  This poor judgment is astonishing.  Quite frankly, the music industry's corporate management is simply too out of touch for the business to survive in its present form.  Something must change -- and, thanks to technology, it actually is.

They shoot horses, don't they?  At this point, it would be merciful to put the industry out of its own misery.

Sources:
FreeFiona.com

In Brief: Fiona Apple aired
Rolling Stone, Posted Mar 01, 2005

Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Songs Leaked On The Radio
Seattle station the End 107.7 played five tracks from the unreleased LP.
MTV,  03.01.2005 3:07 PM EST

GIRL, INTERRUPTED
By DAN AQUILANTE
March 6, 2005

REVIEWS AND COMPLAINTS-Fiona's Extraordinary Machine
The Village Broadsheet, Friday, 04 March 2005

Ticket sales for Springsteen in Europe start tomorrow, see here.  If you’ve got Jersey, Philly or Paris for me, gimme a call.  (Though I wish it weren’t Bercy).  Oh and this Bruce Encyclopedia is quite smartly written and would have saved me much of my life had it come out before I wrote my book.  I suppose it’s only for obsessives, but they won’t be disappointed.

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: Sivacracy.net
Eric and Everyone:
Tonight at Cornell University I have the pleasure of debating the following representatives of the copyright cartel about their persistent demands that we relinquish all rights in all media over our own culture:

  • Alec French, Senior counsel, Government Relations, NBC/Universal
  • Cary Sherman, President, Recording Industry Association of America
  • Avery Kotler, Senior director, Business and Legal Affairs Napster
  • Fritz Attaway, Executive VP and general counsel, Motion Picture Association of America

It will be four-on-two. I will be tag-teaming with the great Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Here is the first question I will ask Cary Sherman of the RIAA:

WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO SUE THE PRESIDENT?

According to this profoundly silly article by New York Times "reporter" Elisabeth Bumiller, White House Letter: 'Boomer rock' keeps Bush's heart in tune:

The president also has an eclectic mix of songs downloaded into his iPod from Mark McKinnon, a biking buddy and his chief media strategist in the 2004 campaign. Among them are "Circle Back" by John Hiatt, "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" by Joni Mitchell and "My Sharona," the 1970s song by The Knack that Joe Levy, a deputy managing editor in charge of music coverage at Rolling Stone, cheerfully branded "suggestive if not outright filthy" in an interview last week.

That's right. The President of the whole United States is stealing music!

Now I have known McKinnon for almost 20 years. He used to be a post-hippy songwriting Texas lib'rul.  Then he had a bad dream about wolves or something and hitched a ride with the Great Fraud that is W.  Somehow, Mark kept up a decent playlist that includes the brilliant Alejandro Escovedo.  I don't get it.  How can Republicans dig powerful, profound music and not have it shake their core beliefs?  It's the Lee Atwater Paradox, I guess.

The entire debate will be Webcast here.  Please check it out.

Ater-review by Sal:

Martha Wainwright's self-titled, full-length debut is even more daring than brother Rufus' first album.  While Rufus leans towards a more theatrical vibe, Martha's folk roots rise to the surface, but don't dismiss it as just another folk record.  There's a lot more here than meets the ear.  Martha's knack for melody is as chilling as her brother's, and her unique arrangements make every song a mini-epic.  Another reason for papa Loudon Wainwright III to be proud... and jealous.
Sal
NYCD

The Future of Music Coalition announces:

WHAT:   FMC at Tribeca Film Festival
WHERE:  Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, NYC
WHEN:   April 27 & April 28 at 1:00pm
HOW:    Tickets are $20 and available at TribecaFilmFestival.org

_____________________________
THE SOUNDTRACKS OF OUR FILMS
_____________________________
Wednesday, April 27 1:00 PM
A discussion with Tim Robbins*** and other experts in the field about the effect that music has in movies, as well as the surprising power of film soundtracks to influence musicians¹ careers and the music industry itself.
***Tim Robbins is tentatively confirmed we should have final word by the 21st. (Just a warning...there are only 150 tickets available per panel and a third sold before we even listed one of our esteemed panelists.)

With...
TIM ROBBINS
    actor, director
MICHAEL ROHATYN
    Composer: Ballad of Jack and Rose, 2005; Personal Velocity (2002)
    Screenwriter: The Ballad of Jack and Rose, 2005)
RICK KARR
    Music and Technology Expert (Former Cultural Correspondent, NPR News)
BLAKE LEYH
    Sound Designer and Composer for films, musician. Recent projects have included sound design for Julie Taymor's film FRIDA and music for HBO's series THE WIRE.

Other panelists to be confirmed...

___________________________
COPYRIGHTING CREATIVITY
___________________________
Thursday, April 28 1:00 PM
A conversation about how the rights clearance system impacts documentarians and filmmakers, and how we can find ways for musicians and filmmakers to have both the freedom and compensation to create lasting art.

With...
RICK KARR
    Music and Technology Expert (Former Cultural Correspondent, NPR News)
ORLANDO BAGWELL
    Filmmaker and Program Officer, Media, Arts and Culture, The Ford Foundation
PETER JASZI
    Professor, American University Washington College of Law and co-author of "Untold Stories: Creative Consequences of the Rights Clearance Culture for Documentary Filmmakers"
RENA KOSERSKY
    Music Supervisor for documentaries
JEFF TUCHMAN
    Documentary producer/director/writer, Documania Films
MICHAEL HAUSMAN
    Producer, director

See more about panelists.

More Correspondence:

Name: Brad DePriest
Hometown: Home of the 2004 National League Champion Cardinals

"Johnnie B. Goode" has died.

I thought many of my fellow Altercators would be interested in the passing of this kind and soft-spoken man who helped rock the world:

Boogie-woogie blues n' rock artist Johnnie Johnson, a stalwart on St. Louis' music scene for several decades, died early Wednesday morning of natural causes in his St. Louis home, according to a publicist at Talent Consultants International in New York City. He was 80.

Eric Clapton once called Johnson the best blues pianist in the world, and his work can be heard on a number of Chuck Berry classics, including "School Days" and "Back in the U.S.A."

In fact, Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" was a tribute to Johnson.

Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

The full story can be found here.

I expect those interested can hear tributes over the next several days at www.KDHX.org, especially during the blues shows between 4 & 6 p.m. CDT.

Name: Rick Geoffroy
Hometown: Albany, NY

I have to protest Sal's description of REM's "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" as "forgettable."  As a long-time REM fan, I feel that this album is one of their strongest.

If I remember correctly, most of this album was new material that the band recorded at sound checks before their live shows.  This gave them a sound that was a bit unpolished, and allowed them to show their chops as a rock band without sounding forced as they did on the studio album "Monster."  On top of the fuzzy guitars and feedback was Stipe's arresting vocals and heartfelt, vulnerable lyrics.  Listen to "Bittersweet Me" and it just grabs you and makes you glad that you took the time to listen.

And "Electrolyte," forgettable?  No way.

April 13, 2005 | 2:44 PM ET | Permalink

'Kiss up, kick down'

At the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) convention this morning, I was on a panel on the “journalism of affirmation” and rather stupidly, I gave vent to my obsession last summer with John Tierney’s attack on upper west siders as an example of journalistic distaste for liberals and the fact that the New York Times is not beloved by liberals.  I could have thought of a million better examples, but the problem was that most of those that popped into my head involved Judith Miller.  I made the one-second calculation, that it would be wrong to attack Miller when she is currently facing jail for refusing to reveal her source to Robert Fitzgerald’s witch hunt, which Robert Novak caused, but for which he has managed to evade responsibility.  Gerald Boyd was on the panel and both Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger were in the audience and I seemed rather petty for standing up for the rights of upper west side liberal Jewish New Yorkers instead of the larger point, that an awful lot goes into the New York Times that makes it impossible to call it a liberal newspaper.  The ultimate irony of my stupidity was that I had just filed to Altercation yet another example of Miller’s flawed reporting (see below) —flawed in the sense that it kowtowed to the neocon view of the world at the expense of almost all available evidence.  Even so, however, the panel was pretty good and I learned a lot, particularly from Boyd and Tom Rosensteil.

My panel was followed by a lunch time talk by Rupert Murdoch in which he spoke only on business matters—singing the praises of the Internet—and after which he received only questions about business matters. It was a disappointment to me that everybody was too polite to mention horrific effects of his journalistic model on our media and public discourse, but to be fair, there was time for only three questions.  In any case, he thinks newspapers are dying and their future exists almost entirely on the Web.

In sitting next to the Times’ Katherine “Kit” Seelye, at lunch, I was reminded of how often we bloggers and other journalism critics forget that the object of our criticism is a real person, just like we are, who is most likely doing what they believe to be an honorable, difficult job.  I have not been all that critical of Seelye’s coverage compared to some of her colleagues, particularly Frank Bruni, but I forget this a lot too.

April 13, 2005 | 12:45 PM ET | Permalink

So John Bolton, is a "bully" and "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy," according to a Republican and "enthusiastic supporter" of President Bush.  What is the clearest example of Bolton’s personal characteristic in his job?  According to the Times editorial page, here,

Mr. Bolton wanted to give a speech saying that ‘the United States believes that Cuba has a developmental offensive biological warfare program and is providing assistance to other rogue state programs.’ That sounds scary but it was not true. Cuba was not doing those things and U.S. intelligence agencies did not think it was. But according to numerous accounts, Mr. Bolton became enraged when an analyst from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research pointed out the error, and he tried to have the analyst removed from his post.

And how did the deliberately misleading, "kiss-up/kick-down sort of guy” communicate his false allegations to the rest of the world?  By calling Judith Miller of the allegedly liberal New York Times.  Thanks to Mr. Berube’s archives, we have here this recollection of Miller’s hyping of Bolton’s misinformation, which can be found here.

Berube writes, way back when: 

Of course, Ms. Miller doesn’t come right out and say, “you have to understand, I’m shilling for the far-right tinfoil-helmeted Undersecretary of State John Bolton.” But she doesn’t really need to:

I think what you have here is a problem with how to interpret information about what Cuba is doing. Yes, there is a lot of activity that is suspicious. There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence. And there are a lot of very unsavory contacts, as the administration regards them, between Cuba and especially Iranians who are involved in biological weapons.

And this kind of information led Mr. Bolton and before him another senior State Department official to say that there is a limited offensive effort. Specifically, the State Department said Cuba was experimenting with anthrax and that, of course, got our attention in the press.

But the debate is over how to interpret this information.

This is “embedded journalism” at its finest:  note how Miller embeds “as the administration regards them” in that first paragraph and caps this off with a reference to “debate,” as if she herself is agnostic.  Note also that it’s not just Bolton she’s quoting here:  no, there’s another State Department official before him, so clearly this can’t be looney-tunes saber-rattling Boltonian spin.

What about people who dispute these claims, like former President Carter?  Well, Carter might be a dupe, or he might be in a “camp”:

CNN: Do you have reason to believe that President Carter got duped [Monday]?

MILLER: Well, I think that really how you see this issue depends on what you would like to see. I mean I think that there are many individuals who would like to see a loosening of the four-decade-old embargo against Cuba. And I think that President—former President Carter may be in that camp.

Point being, people, let’s not forget that Miller wasn’t just a Chalabi shill.  She was an all-purpose neocon/extremist shill.

[End Michael Berube]

We note that the New York Times currently has Miller covering the UN, soon to be Mr. Bolton’s playground. This, once again, is the liberal media conspiracy at work.  (We must be awfully clever to be able to find a reason to do this.  Let me know, people, when we figure out what it is.)

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: John McQueen
Hometown: Fairfax, Virginia
Thank you for posting the Nicholas D. Kristof piece which calls on the Times and other media outlets to increase their credibility by hiring "more red state evangelicals."  Incredibly, Mr. Kristof closely compares the media's neglect of and biases toward disadvantaged and largely disenfranchised African Americans in and before the late '60's to the media's treatment of today's evangelicals.

He might do well to note how these same evangelicals rubbed our faces in the Terry Schiavo dilemma for weeks; incredibly, they virtually dictated a vast chunk of our recent news.  Having 'made the news' in more ways than one, they also have propelled one of their own into the White House not once but twice- both time with a heapin' helping of help from flagrantly biased media.  All in all, Mr. Kristof's placing one of the king-making segments of today's ruling class in the same boat with a severely and historically abused minority smacks more of the Washington Times than its New York namesake.  Here's hoping, ten years from now, we'll be able to tell a difference between the two.

Name: Bill Farrell
Hometown: New York, N.Y.

RE:David Kearns Ltr
The "Solid South" was due to neither the Civil War nor Reconstruction.  J. Morgan Kousser demonstrated in his book, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South" that the Solid South was created during the post-Reconstruction period when the Southern elites disfranchised both the overwhelming majority of Southern Blacks and up to 25% of white voters.  The elites usually turned to disfranchisement in response to inter-racial lower class political insurgencies.

Name: Eric Rauchway
Hometown: Davis, CA
Dear Eric,
Your correspondent Mark Richard of Columbus said a lot of debatable things, but not among them was his reference to me as a "baby-boom Democrat."  Which I'm, as a purely factual matter, not.

More substantially, he puts his finger on a real historiographical problem when he talks about political historians not having a good framework for the rise of the new conservatism since the 1960s.  This is a genuine intellectual phenomenon (although good work is being done by Lisa McGirr, James Patterson, Jon Schoenwald, and Byron Shafer among others).

But my squib on the 1928 election had nothing to do with it.  I pointed to 1928 to say, here you see the Democrats getting the big cities and the Republicans getting the rural South, for the first time, and it's the beginning of the urban-rural split you see today.

Mr. Richard replies that no, what you see today is an urban-everywhere else split.  For "Rove's brilliance" was "in spotting the 'exurbs'," because (Mr. Richard says) Rove is not "still using ... lifestyles-as-politics."

Here I must disagree for two reasons.  First, interpretation:  distinguishing the "exurbs" from the "suburbs" and "urban America" is precisely "lifestyles-as-politics."  That is its brilliance.  By defining the "exurb" as a discrete cultural unit, and by telling the people whose finances and psychologies put them there that their hopes and fears match the Republican Party's agenda, you're practicing lifestyle-as-politics -- especially when you create a coalition combining exurban with rural folks by pitting them against decadent urban elites.

Second, data:  Ruy Teixeira, who unlike me professionally analyzes contemporary election data ( link 1, link 2, link 3), says that the President's victory cannot be put to his doing well in the exurbs, and in fact his father did better in the exurbs than he, unless you define exurb so as to mean more Americans live in exurbs than in suburbs to the extent that almost a third of the American electorate live in exurbs.  Which does seem unlikely, unless you're fiddling definitions deliberately to create a cultural divide along the lines discussed above.

April 12, 2005 | 3:16 PM ET | Permalink

Did the KGB really try to assassinate the Pope?

Two questions:  Did the Soviets really try to assassinate the pope in 1981 and, once again, is The New York Times a “liberal” newspaper?  If you read the entry below, published on H-Diplo by the Iowa State political scientist Christopher Ball, you’ll see that the likelihood of the former—though widely touted in the media—is quite small.  Interestingly, very much as it did with Judy Miller’s crappy reporting on “the engineer,” in April 2001, back then, the Times broke its own reporting rules and, under direct orders from Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, gave right-wing provocateur Claire Sterling the front pages to mislead its readers in exactly the same direction the right-wing Republican regime in power wanted to see it misled.

Since the Pope was shot in May 1981 and martial law was not imposed in Poland until Dec. 1981, it seems unlikely that the Soviets would have pushed for an assassination due to an alleged written deterrence-attempt by the Pope in 1980. A Sep. 1982 NBC broadcast said that the Pope had sent letter to the Soviets in Aug. 1980, threatening to resign, but the NBC source in a press preview of the broadcast -- Monsignor Hilary Franco --  denied the he had confirmed the account after the preview was shown. He said in a Washington Post interview that he only referred to rumors in the press about the letter's contents. NBC then removed his name before the broadcast (See "Italian Here to Study Alleged Bulgaria Link," The Washington Post. 6 Oct. 1982).

No hard evidence tying the Soviets or even Bulgarian intelligence services to Mehmet Ali Agca ever emerged, aside from his later, unsubstantiated claims. The Claire Sterling _Readers' Digest_ article and the Marvin Kalb's NBC report (he also did the Poland letter report), which Sterling consulted on, never presented anything more than circumstantial accounts. Sofia had become a major smuggling entrepot in the 1980s, so the fact that Agca was there was unremarkably. He had been in West Germany, Spain, Yugoslavia, and Tunisia as well. Agca was on Interpol wanted lists and was affiliated with the Grey Wolves, the military wing the National Action Party in Turkey, and had been imprisoned for the murder of a liberal newspaper editor there (See "Trail Of Mehmet Ali Agca: 6 Years Of Neofascist Ties" New York Times. 25
May 1981).

Given Agca's background, it is just as credible to hypothesize that right-wing forces sponsored the assassination attempt on the pope as to assume the Soviet Union did. Put differently, there are many _plausible_ reasons why the the Soviets or right-wing regimes would have wanted  John Paul II  dead. From the Philippines to Guatemala, Roman Catholic bishops were opposing rightist dictatorships with tacit support from John Paul II.  While he would warn against direct political action by the clergy, he also criticized non-democratic rule and human rights abuses. When he went the Philippines in Feb. 1981, a month after Marcos lifted martial law, he said publicly: "Recent initiatives that are worthy of praise augur well for the future since they manifest confidence in the capacity of the people to assume their rightful share of responsibility in building a society that strives for peace and justice and protects all human rights." (See "Pope, With Marcos Beside Him, Delivers Human Rights Talk," New York Times. 18 Feb. 1981). Despite calling for priests serving as government officials in the Sandinista government in Nicaragua to step down, John Paul II never sanctioned them,  and visited there during his trip to Central America and Haiti in March 1983. Just as with the Soviet-Bulgarian theory, we have no evidence to support a right-wing assassination theory, but it is plausible.

John Paul II always presented his statements as religious or moral claims, not intentionally partisan or political positions.  His advocated  democracy and human rights not as abstract political values but as moral imperatives.  In this sense, it is probably more helpful to locate the papal role in the end of the Cold War within the framework of "cultural internationalism" that scholars like Akira Iriye and Volker Berghahn have pursued. For this approach, international religious, scientific, artistic, and educational exchanges may play a more important role than more conventional accounts that focusing on the role of state-based diplomacy or economic factors would suggest. Of course, it is more difficult to trace the casual pathways of cultural factors than the others.

by Christopher L. Ball, April 11, 2005

Quote of the Day:  "...our failure to hire more red state evangelicals limits our understanding of and ability to cover America today."  Nick Kristof  Question: Is the New York Times a “reality” or a “faith-based” news organization?  A second question: Is Nick Kristof a Limbaugh-esque plant to make liberals make look “linquini-spined?"

Meanwhile, Negroponte knew.  He just didn’t care.

And while we’re on the topic, this appeared in the Times a little over a month ago, buried in the back:

The Organization of American States will reopen an investigation this week into the massacre of hundreds of peasants in 1981 at El Mozote, El Salvador, based on new forensic evidence found by anthropologists at the site, according to lawyers involved in the case.

More than 800 unarmed peasants were killed in December 1981 by soldiers from the Salvadoran Armed Forces at El Mozote, a village in the mountains of the Morazán region, near the country's southern border. The soldiers, from a battalion trained and equipped by the United States, accused the peasants of sympathizing with guerrillas. The O.A.S. is looking into whether the Salvadoran government approved the killings.

I wonder how many current U.S. officials –Negroponte, Elliott Abrams—will be asked to testify about what they knew and helped to cover up.

Sorry Mickey:  L.A. Times kicks ass, I -here:

For the first time in 14 years, the American workforce has in effect gotten an across-the-board pay cut …. The growth in wages in 2004 and the first two months of this year trailed inflation, compounding the squeeze from higher housing, energy and other costs.
Meanwhile,  corporate profits hit record highs as companies got more productivity out of workers while keeping pay increases down.

LA Times kicks ass, II - here:

“Millions Said Going to Waste in Iraq Utilities”

I guess they take editorial mistakes more seriously on the news pages of the Globe, here than they do on the editorial pages.  Anybody know if Nick King or Cathy Young have been canned yet?

And yes, the world is going to hell, but that’s no reason to be in a bad mood all the time. Bruce is touring, the Mets won two in a row and the Red Sox kicked Evil Empire ass yesterday. Make your own lists.

Alter-reviews

Sal on the Rhino R.E.M. Re-releases

In a continuing effort to boost record sales, labels have been juicing up releases with a number of bonus features.  The most recent and most ridiculous is the new "dual-disc" format, which gives you a CD side with audio and a DVD side with either pointless video footage or a surround sound mix that only people with surround sound systems can enjoy.  The most recent R.E.M. re-issues from Warner twist that idea just a little bit.

Each re-issue comes with a remastered CD, as well as a DVD with 5.1 audio and some additional video footage.  Why weren't these dual-discs?  Or better yet, why weren't these SACD hybrids?  Hell, I don't know even know anymore.  Let's just get to the music, because that is what's important.

The surround mix on these titles actually makes weaker albums such as "Monster" more interesting, and the forgettable "New Adventures In Hi-Fi" quite good. The experimental production works wonderfully with the surround mix, and songs that felt like filler before, open up and create new windows for the listener.  The band's most recent, the criminally underrated "Around The Sun" is amazing in surround. Other titles include the two big hits "Out Of Time" and "Automatic For The People," as well as the two clinkers "Reveal" and "Up," which no amount of repackaging or remastering can save.

Bottom line- the R.E.M. remasters would have been a complete success if the list price was about 5 bucks less. But at 21.99, you're asking the consumer to drop $10.00 more than the average CD, all for a couple of videos you'll watch once, and a surround mix that not everyone will care about. So, how does this boost sales?

SAL
NYCD

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Jim Turner
Hometown: Alexandria, VA

Eric,
Yesterday, my wife and I took a nice walk around our neck of the woods, currently blooming with all the beautiful flowering trees, daffodils and tulips.

How things are going in our combat zones was on top of my mind, as my brother-in-law is soon due for another 3-month detail to Afghanistan; my mother's neighbor, a 58-year old grandmother, is 6 months into an 18-month Guard tour in Iraq; and last week I visited a client in Cambridge whose unit is just back after wrapping up a tour over there.

As we were walking, it came to mind that there has been amazingly little coverage of the situation in Iraq - as opposed to almost no coverage from Afghanistan, on the media.  It's even been a while since I have seen a front page story on the topic in the Washington Post - you have to get back to page 16 or so for international news to get an update.

We decided that it started about the time of the Bush administration's push into Social Security, then came the Shiavo bandwagon, and now the Pope's funeral. It is a remarkable case study in the mainstream media's mindshare domination.

On Altercation we've heard from Major Bob and Darrell today, so at least I've got my update from on the fronts, but I do wonder how many of the people sporting those "support our troops" ribbons have thought about them in a while....

Thanks as always for the excellent public service you're providing with the blog.  And to Major Bob and Darrel, our thoughts are with you.

Name: Michael S. Dorlan
Hometown: Irving, TX

Darrell is under the impression that many critics of the war "would rather persecute our leaders and soldiers for difficult decisions under extreme conditions".  He goes on to say that this is a "disservice to our soldiers, our leaders, and our country".

Darrell - "many" of us make a very real distinction between the leaders of this country and its soldiers.  We can criticize the leaders, love the county, and still pray for the safe return of our loved ones serving in the military.

My personal belief is that the country's leaders have taken us into a war for their own personal reasons - without due consideration of the consequences.  We have suffered thousands of dead or maimed U.S. soldiers needlessly.  We have killed or maimed tens of thousands of Iraqis who wanted to be left in peace.  And our country has suffered a devastating impact on its reputation.

Even worse, our leaders have left no doubt throughout the world that we are now stretched too thin militarily to effectively respond to other trouble spots, if necessary.

Critics of the war speak out because we do love our country - and treasure our soldiers.  And we speak out against those leaders who have brought this war about - because we believe our military and our country's reputation deserve better.

Come home safely, Darrell.

Name: David Kearns
Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Mr. Rauchway's Monday commentary re voting patterns circa 1928 and now, shifts among the parties and regions, etc. is strange, at best.  Suggesting that "only the Great Depression pushed the South back into the arms of the Democratic Party" is flatly wrong.  The Civil War and Reconstruction account 100% for the solid Democratic South that existed until the 1960's liberals stood firm on civil rights and Nixon began his Southern Strategy of scooping the alienated racists into the Republican Party.

That Hoover got 200 Southern counties in 1928 is of  modest significance, but out of over 1200 counties in the states of the old Confederacy, and another 200 if adding the border states into the 'Southern counties' count, one would have to look carefully at which 200 counties they were.  How many of those counties had populations under a thousand or two?

1928 in terms of urban/rural partisan split of today is merely a milestone along the path shifting America from 2% urban population in 1900 to 2% rural today.  FDR and WWII have much more to do with the shift to a long period of Democratic dominance than anything Mr. Rauchway brings up.

Name: Mark Richard
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Eric Rauchway displays an aspect of thought I've noticed in other baby-boom Democrats - he hasn't learned much since the 1970s.  The urban-rural split noticeable by the 1920s was real, but wasn't the end of history . . . it's now an "urban vs. everywhere else" split, and the urbanites are on the declining end of the struggle.  In Ohio, where I live, the deciding geographical factor in the 2000 election was Rove's brilliance in spotting the "exurbs", newly-developed locations outside the now-established suburbs.  The Democrats, perhaps still using the Frederick W. Allen and Theodore H. White framing devices they picked up in college when thinking about American lifestyles-as-politics, still think in 1968 terms.  Revealingly, the Democrats have lost 7 of 10 Presidential elections, as well as their once-unassailable position of dominance at all levels of American politics, since the 1968 contest.

Events like the Scopes trial were supposed to be important because they heralded the rise of urban modernism vs. the decline of an older, more rural America.  The urban chattering classes of that era celebrated their own rise, effectively, in books and studies and art.  But they have no framing devices to chart their own decline, along with that of the same urban America that had already peaked in national influence by Kennedy's time.  To acknowledge this reality would be to acknowledge their own progressive marginalization . . . like that of William Jennings Bryan.

Name: Brande' Kauffman
Hometown: Norman, OK

I have a buddy who just shipped to Afghanistan.  He's there at least a year.  I just received his APO today. His name is SSG Eric T. Wilson. He's a helluva a guy who misses beer and OU football. His address is:

SSG Eric Wilson
A Co 249 AVN
LSA Anaconda
APO AE 09391

These guys really need hot sauces, and other condiments to help perk up the lousy Halliburton food.  Books to pass the time are a big plus.  Also, baby wipes and such help keep their faces clean and cool as the hot season starts in Afghanistan next month.

Thanks. Your longtime reader and fan.

Brande' Kauffman

Name: Michael Galletly
Hometown: Norman, OK

Dear Dr. Alterman,
In your efforts to provide some direct support to the troops, may I suggest AnySoldier?  Anyone who is interested can check out the lists posted by soldiers of various units in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as aboard naval ships at sea.  Those interested can give as much or as little as they want.  Some service-people don't get any mail at all, and they'd appreciate something as simple as a letter.  If you want to throw in some CDs, well, you'll have a friend for life.
Thanks,

Name: Jay
Hometown: Cincinnati OH
In response to the question about endless repetition of one story on the news channels:  It helps to remember that these stations aren't like other TV channels; they're more like Top 40 radio.  People tune them in at various times, expecting to hear their favorite Hit very shortly.  Market research shows what those hits are, and the DJ (News anchor) plays them over and over, for an audience that is constantly changing. 

Unlike radio, occasionally on a news channel the "song" (news story) is so hot that the station plays it in extra-heavy rotation, that is, non-stop.

Seriously, think about Top 40 radio and its formulas, and you have the model for TV Cable News.

April 11, 2005 | 1:36 PM ET | Permalink

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

The Gunners of Gun-Trucks #1 and #3

There is an unused gate on the side street running parallel to the Embassy here in Baghdad.  The traffic constricts there as the roadway narrows through the gate, which is always open because this is inside the Embassy compound. The gateway is a heavy wrought-iron affair from Saddam’s day.  The only cars in the area are those for the high-ranking, and the Humvees of the MPs.  When both share the street, one must give way to the other at the constriction. Generally pedestrians step aside as well.

I was walking this stretch a short time ago when an MP patrol caught up from behind. Hearing them, I stepped to the side just before the gate. They rolled past, buttoned up for business.

There were four up-armored Humvees growling by on their way out into the city. Tan paint and thick glass, with a gunner manning a machine gun in the open turret on the roof of each one. Gunner one points forward. The gunner in the number two vehicle orients himself and his weapon towards one side of the street, while those in the turrets of the following vehicles alternate, until the last. The soldier manning the machine gun in that final vehicle faces to the rear.

This section knew their business.  Baghdad is a place that rewards this attention, with survival.  Every trip up Haifa Street, every run across the 14th of July bridge, each foray into Sadr City, is a potential for combat.  As historians say over and over, ‘every war is different.’  These are the manifestations of this war.

This is a war which starts, largely, on the street.  It often begins in a firestorm whirlwind of broken glass, jagged flying metal and a burgeoning cloud of dust.  It may then continue, depending upon the attack, into a firefight.  In this war, the troops in the Humvees are our light cavalry, and their steeds are made of Kevlar, blast-thickened glass, and steel.

Just rolling out, the soldiers in this patrol were already set in place.  They rode with their body armor closed, goggles down, gloves on and dust rags pulled into place. The troops were anonymous and androgynous by accident. As they growled past, however, I did notice one thing.

Poking out from under the Kevlar battle-helmets of the machine-gunners on gun-trucks #1 and #3, were tightly wrapped buns of hair.  It was the only sign I could see that betrayed that these particular combat soldiers had a different chromosome.

Congress may have some time to go before it decides to reconsider how it feels about “Women in Direct Ground Combat.”  This is, after all, a politically loaded topic.  Opinions are strong on the issue, on both sides.  Before too long, however, I believe that the women who are going, daily and voluntarily, into direct ground combat here in Iraq, may have their own opinion which they wish to express. That ought to be interesting.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:   I only heard one significant firefight this week. It was probably three kilometers away from where I stood at that moment. It did not make the news.  Other than that, it has been amazingly quiet.  

The steady drone of Hunter UAVs overhead may be a part of this.  The throbbing rumble of Apache helicopters circling the Zone during the meetings of the Iraqi Transitional Government  is likely also a contributing factor.  Or perhaps, and this is hopeful, the Iraqi police are effective. They are certainly very present in this section.  But the bottom line from my humble seat is that very few things have made disturbingly loud Booms in my immediate vicinity of late.  This discounts the mortar round which flew overhead one evening while I sat outside my trailer.  I heard the mortar discharge, started my count, and eighteen seconds later heard it whistle overhead. Then silence. No explosion. Either they did not know how to arm the round, or it was manufactured a dud. Either signifies.

Oh, and once again, to all who contributed to the stunning demonstration of support, thank you. We lost count at roughly 120 lbs of creamer…I leave it to your imaginations to consider the cubic volume this represents.

Eric adds:  People, Major Bob appreciates and looks forward to feedback from his contributions here.  Feel free to contact him at bateman_maj@hotmail.com, just don’t send him any more creamer.

Wolf: “Paul Begala is not a good Catholic.” Here.  Really, do you have to be a total idiot to be allowed to host your own show on cable?

It would be nice if, in a story entitled "Sy Hersh Says It’s Okay to Lie (Just Not in Print)," Chris Sullentrop had caught Sy Hersh in a single lie.  Instead he caught him saying a few things that were overstated version of the truth which is quite a different thing. I know writers don’t write their own headlines but in a weekly like New York, they get to approve them. There is so much jealousy of Hersh in the journalistic community because he makes everybody else look so lazy and cozy with the powers that be.  Headlines like this one are the result. Sullentrop’s story has problems too, but none nearly as serious as the shameful and slanderous headline. It’s here.

Also, I do not feel like celebrating the fabulousness of the super-rich right now in a city that pretends it cannot afford to educate its own children.  If this is the zeitgeist of contemporary Manhattan hipness, you can have it.  (Oh yeah, tell me the one about the so-called liberal media again, please.)

Meanwhile, right-wing bloggers say jump, and the Times asks, " How high?"  -Or so says our man Boehlert.

Roth on Bellow, here.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Eric Rauchway
Hometown: Davis, CA
Hey, Eric:  Tell Stupid this about Al Smith.

In 1920 the Republicans carried the nation's twelve largest cities by, all together, 1.64m votes.  In 1928 Smith carried them by 38,000 votes.  The 1928 election marked a shift of the big cities to the Democrats.

In 1928 Hoover carried 200 Southern counties for the first time in Republican history.  The 1928 election showed that with the right cultural issue (Prohibition, anti-Catholicism, something along those lines) the GOP could court the white South.

In short 1928 marked a shift toward the urban/rural partisan split we see today.  It began the era we live in now, an era in which only the Great Depression pushed the South back into the arms of the Democratic Party.  (The usual source for this is Lubell, Future of American Politics; you can also look at Gamm, Making of New Deal Democrats.)

I don't see any such watershed in the psephology of 2004.  Where are the runes prophesying a demographic voting shift on the scale of 1928?  But I would be pleased for Stupid, or the future, to prove me wrong.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman,
I have a question for you in your capacity as a professor of journalism.  (Really, honestly, I want to know; this is not a cheap shot.)  Can you recommend to me a cogent article, yours or someone else's, that explains the excessive, wall to wall coverage of certain stories to the point of asking the same vapid questions over and over again?

Let's take the recent coverage of Pope John Paul II's passing.  I use this because I think he was a historically significant leader whose passing is a serious, newsworthy event clearly warranting coverage.  However, what is up with the 24 hour overcoverage that takes redundancy to a whole new level?  If I could, let me sum up the coverage this past week from every media outlet (including NPR, which usually manages to find time for other issues when the media herd is fixating on "the Big Story.")

"Pope John Paul, he's dead, you know.  He was sick for some time.  He was a great man and a historic figure, and he was Pope for over 25 years.  Did you know he was Polish?  And did you know he traveled the world, a lot?  [and here in Chicago]  Did you know there are a lot of people of Polish descent here in Chicago, and gee, he came to visit 25 years ago?  Wonder who the next Pope will be."

Over and over again, in excruciating detail, with absolutely, positively no new information after the first 24 hours.  I don't object to the coverage the first pass through.  I don't object to a recap of the highlights once in a while from when he died to when they elect a new Pope.  I don't get the point of covering hardly any other story to repeat the same info.

What is up with this?

Eric replies: I think I did a decent job of this in the Florida chapter of What Liberal Media?, but maybe someone knows a better source.

Name: Darrell
Hometown:  Alexandria, LA; proudly serving the U.S. in Iraq

Eric,
In response to Dave Elley's post and link to a BBC article concerning Iraq and starving children.  The BBC sites a UN survey pointing to a large increase in the number of starving children in Iraq (almost double.)  My question is how accurate was the reporting before the fall of Saddam?  Did the UN have complete access to the country to survey and compile information as they do now?  Or was it only given a certain demographic of the population, a demographic that Saddam wanted the UN to see? Did he allow the UN to roam the countryside (unlike the UN weapons inspectors) to compile data (which may be unflattering) about his rule, and the conditions of which his people were made to live? Can we only get a clear picture now because he is no longer in power?  It's quite assuming to believe that this "increase" in hunger and malnutrition is due to the United States efforts in removing Saddam.  I think that it's quite foolish actually.  It's funny how people continuously try to belittle our efforts and progress in Iraq.  No one seemed to care, or care to act when children were starving and without medicine (due to his greed and non-compliance with the UN sanctions) during the first Gulf War.  There are so many good things that our troops do daily for the local populace, but not many want to focus on that.  They would rather persecute our leaders and soldiers for difficult decisions under extreme conditions.  It a dis-service to our soldiers, our leaders, and our country.

Name: Robert Reno
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Just got word from Maj Bob in Iraq and he says they have been overwhelmed with coffee creamer.  He said they have received a total of 120 lbs now.  Who else over there can we overwhelm?

Eric adds: Are you serving in Iraq? Do you need something you can’t get there?  Altercation delivers. Just let us know, and if you can, send us some reports of what’s goin’ on.

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