Letter to the publisher

March 10, 2005 | 3:30 PM ET | Permalink

To: Richard H. Gilman, Publisher,  The Boston Globe

Fr: Eric Alterman, Professor of Journalism, Brooklyn College,  City University of New York, Media Columnist, The Nation, Altercation “Weblogger,” MSNBC.com, senior fellow, Center for American Progress and World Policy Institute (New School University), author, six books, Jew.

Re: Problems with your editorial page.

March 11, 2004


You may or may not be aware that I have been conducting a campaign to clear my name from a vicious slander against it that appeared on your editorial pages under the name of columnist Cathy Young.  My most recent discussion of the incident appears in my current Nation column , but you can read all of the backstory (including your own ombudsman’s condemnation of the column), and dozens of unpublished letters to the Globe .  It is my firm hope that my little campaign has done significant damage to the image of the Globe in the journalistic, blogging, intellectual and Jewish communities, as your paper has done significant—and unwarranted—damage to my reputation among your approximately 474,845 readers who expect a minimum of accuracy and decency from your newspaper.  To the degree that the Globe has suffered a public relations “black eye” owing to the maliciousness of your columnist and the incompetence of its editors—in addition to what it is currently undergoing for allowing an anti-Kerry blogger to cover the election, , as well as the many humiliations the opinion page has caused the paper during the past decade-- I’d like to help you clear up just who is responsible for what in helping to cause this debacle.  Though I obviously have a personal interest in this, I write not only from my sense of grievance but as a journalism professor and media critic who is deeply concerned that newspapers like the Globe not squander the level of trust it has taken decades to build.  Honest journalism has enough enemies in this age of Bush, Gannon, Murdoch and Limbaugh, it does not need to hand its enemies a sword, as I fear the Globe has done in this instance.  (I also write as someone who, two columns ago in The Nation, singled out the Globe for praise for its coverage of the Bush inauguration, despite Young’s slander having already appeared.)  Here’s my recap of the actions of the principals involved, in the hopes that the paper will take the necessary action to ensure that nothing like it ever happens to the paper again.  Here you go:

1)      Globe columnist Cathy Young.  As I’ve repeatedly noted, the only accusation against me relating to anti-Semitism ever to be published in the mainstream media has appeared on your page under the name Cathy Young, and has now done so twice.  To do so, Young deliberately misinterpreted my words, using ellipses in sentences to deliberately distort my meaning and attribute beliefs to me that I clearly do not hold —as well as ripping out of context my words to rob them of any of the context and nuance.  That she has now done so twice implies a degree of malice that would not survive a libel suit were it not for the fact that I am obviously, for this purpose, a public figure.  (Her editor Nick King’s actions suggest “reckless disregard” of the truth.  More on that TK.)  My credentials as a practicing Jew, not only with regard to my personal and family life, but also as a frequent lecturer in various synagogues and contributor to the Jewish Forward--are obviously a lot stronger than Young’s.  So too, are my credentials as a long-time and quite vocal critic of anti-Semitism and its relationship to the discourse on Israel, beginning, as I have noted, with an article I published on the topic in The Boston Globe when I was the paper’s stringer at Yale approximately twenty years ago, and including frequent criticism of my own employer, The Nation, for publishing a writer I believe to be genuinely anti-Semitic, namely Alexander Cockburn.  (How many journalists do you know sir, who have gone on the public record attacking their own employers for promoting anti-Semitism?  I have a feeling your columnist, Young, may have chosen the only one.)  In addition I have long devoted a portion of my academic career to Jewish issues, beginning with my undergraduate thesis at Cornell in 1981-82 on the origins of Jewish neo-conservatism and continuing with my minoring in Jewish Studies at Stanford during my doctoral studies in 1991-1993. 

I have never met Young, so I prefer not to speculate on her motives.  I do know, however, that it is quite common among right-wing ideologues to try to discredit with ugly smears like this one those of us who support the Middle East peace process as well as a modicum of justice for the Palestinians.  David Horowitz frequently publishes similar rants (and indeed, published Young’s piece unedited).  I also note for the record that Young is the ex-girlfriend of Wall Street Journal pundit John Fund, about whom I have written at length, particularly regarding accusations against him of physical abuse against a woman to whom he was allegedly engaged.  Perhaps this is just a coincidence, perhaps not.  I have no way of knowing.  (I have to say, the fact that Ms. Young thought a few, relatively insignificant sentences in a blog that had inspired no comment anywhere were worthy of a massive attack in The Boston Globe also inspires my suspicion of her personal motives.)  In any case, with all of the embarrassment that Globe columnists Patricia Smith, Mike Barnicle and Jeff Jacoby have caused the newspaper in recent years, I think it rather imprudent of you to continue to employ Ms. Young, particularly given the previous embarrassments she has caused the paper, described in the above mentioned Nation column.

2)      Editorial page editor, Nick King.  Mr. King’s has demonstrated a level of incompetence in this incident that has cost the paper’s credibility dearly and clearly fits the definition I would apply to the word “reckless.”  Mr. King assured me that he was aware of my reputation as a scholar and an author, and clearly knew I was a committed Jew, but still found nothing curious about Ms. Young—with no reputation of which to speak in Jewish matters—attempting to attach this vicious slander to my name.  He has admitted to me, he never read the short blog item used to attack my character and reputation. (He still had not bothered to read it days later when I called, even though I sent it in its entirety in my letter.)  Had he done so, he might have noticed, for instance, that the short blog item was devoted to the feelings and perceptions of “Arabs,” and never mentioned “Muslems,” (even though it was inspired by an item about Muslems).  He might also have seen that I attributed the view that the founding of Israel was a “catastrophe” to Palestinians and Arabs, though Young slanderously attributes this view to me.  (She is talking, need I add, about someone who was educated in Israel, who has considerable family there, and who continually refers to himself as a “proud pro-Zionist Jew.) King also admitted to me that he did not agree with Young’s charges and did not think them to be “true.”  He merely thought them to be “provocative” and “within the bounds,” and noted to me that I wrote that I expected my words to be "twisted beyond recognition.”  But instead of taking this prediction as it was intended—a warning to people with any sense of journalistic or intellectual integrity of be on guard of the twisting of my words—he seemed to think it gave The Globe license to publish a slander against my name.  (Until I spoke to King, I would never have imagined that such were the criteria to which a great newspaper adhered before publishing such an attack on an individual.  I now consider myself naïve for having believed that.)  After I spoke to The Globe, King looked into the matter and the result was the publication of a second letter in my defense.  Lest this kind of professional negligence take place again, I think the Globe would be doing itself a favor by recommending to Mr. King that he find work in the bowels of the conservative blogosphere, where such standards are the norm, rather than at newspaper like the Globe.

3)      Editorial Page Editor-in-Chief, Renee Loth.  When I originally contacted Ms. Loth through the good offices of ombudsman Christine Chinlund, she sloughed off all responsibility for what took place on the page by noting that she had been on vacation at the time of its publication.  Even so, she could have answered some of the fourteen questions I posed for my Nation column but refused, citing the fact that it would force her to “get into internal editorial operations” as if these were somehow sacrosanct from any outside examination.  (Need I add that the Globe would be out of business if every powerful institution in America took this attitude?)  In any case, I think Ms. Loth should be held responsible for the Globe’s refusal to allow me a fair opportunity to clear my name in its pages.  The paper refused to publish any of the dozens—well more than fifty according to my discussions with Chinlund—it received objecting to Ms. Young’s piece, including those from prominent members of well-respected Jewish organizations.  Those letters that were published—mine and that of Geoff Lewis—were deliberately truncated to protect the editors from criticism and deny your readers a look at the evidence of Ms. Young’s many misrepresentations.  It was also mis-titled to note that I was “pro-Israel” rather than to note Mr. Lewis’s true point, that, to call me an anti-Semite was “absurd.”  (The two are quite different, as I’m sure you understand.)  In addition, the page has so far refused to publish corrections that would note that while Ms. Young consistently referred to my attitudes about “Muslims,” I never once mentioned “Muslims,” I mentioned Arabs.  (Neither Ms. Young, nor Mr. King apparently understands the difference.)  Neither would it correct the words and views that Ms. Young attributed to me but that I was clearly attributing to the Palestinians and their Arab supporters.  You might want to consider firing her as well, though a strong dressing down and a demotion would also be appropriate.

4)      Senior Vice-President of General Administration and External Affairs, Alfred S. Larkin Jr.  Upon failing to receive any kind of satisfactory response from Ms. Loth, I contacted Mr. Larkin in the hopes of finding someone who could defend—or speak for—the paper in the context of the Nation column I was writing.  (I had offered to publish Ms. Loth’s answers unedited in this space---a far greater courtesy than I was offered by the Globe.)  Mr. Larkin called me on a Friday and quite courteously promised to call me again the following Monday once he had a chance to read through the materials I provided providing background of the story and evidence of my unfair treatment, both in the Globe’s willingness to publish Young’s slander and its refusal to allow me to defend myself or present the evidence in question.  However he never did this and I never heard from him again.  And so the Globe had no opportunity to defend itself in said Nation column.  You might want to have a little talk with him about this.

5)      Ombudsman Christine Chinlund.  Ms. Chinlund is the only person who has demonstrated both competence and integrity in my dealings with the Globe on this matter.  She has served as a go-between for myself and the Editorial page editors, though she failed in her efforts to secure me a fair right of response.  She did however, write honestly in the paper of her considered view that

Young's column, as written, was not up to op-ed page standards. Suggesting that Alterman is a "self-hating" Jew was ad hominem and inappropriate.  What's acceptable online, where the aggrieved can respond quickly and in kind, is not necessarily OK on the op-ed page. The column was also blog-like in its narrow, personal focus -- not worthy of an opinion page where readers expect (and usually get) thoughtful analysis and insight.

In this view she was echoed by the much respected media critic Dan Kennedy, who wondered, “How could a toxic suggestion that Alterman is a ‘self-hating Jew' make it through the editing process?” adding, “The ‘self-hating’ characterization was an ugly smear that never should have found its way into print.”  Christine might make a good editorial page editor when her ombudsman’s term is up.

Over to you sir. This space is all yours, should you choose to respond.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,
Thanks for posting Major Bateman's note.  I immediately rescued about two dozen magazines that were destined for the trash and mailed them to him.  Heck, I even sent the SI swimwear issue (which wasn't destined for the trash!).  My intention is to send a weekly shipment of magazines that I'm done with.  Having served overseas myself, I know that a small gesture such as this is far more meaningful than slapping a ribbon on one's car.

Name: Don Pugh
Hometown: Wendell, MA

Regarding your request for Major Bateman, I found only yesterday which coordinates donations of the type Major Bateman requests with military personnel.  Not sure about the site's bona fides but it seems good on first read.  If so, a good way to 'support the troops'.

Name: Brenda Helverson
Hometown: Seattle WA

You might mention that we can hear your KGO interview live and for the following 24 hours at .

Name: Jeff Metzger
Hometown: Coto de Caza, CA

For you and your readers, another great cause to help combat world hunger while also showing your devotion to all things Bruce.  My hope is that all Springsteen fans will wear this tee to any and all upcoming "Devils and Dust" tour shows, both as a show of faith to the commitment of ending this global scourge, and as an offer of thanks to our man for his continuing efforts to fight the good fights.  Don't think he won't notice.

"Hard Rock International today unveiled its latest Signature Series T-Shirt, inspired by Bruce Springsteen.  Featuring the designs of 21 musicians to date, Hard Rock Cafe's Signature Series has raised millions of dollars for a number of charitable causes worldwide. The new Bruce Springsteen T-shirt benefits World Hunger Year, a nonprofit organization that strives to eliminate hunger and poverty by creating and promoting innovative programs and policies.

"The Springsteen T-shirt features a drawing of one of Bruce's favorite guitars, set on a black T-shirt. The Bruce Springsteen Signature Series T-shirt is available at Hard Rock locations in Europe, the U.S. and Canada and at . The shirt comes in classic men's sizes and, for the first time, is also available in a ladies 'junior baby-doll' T-shirt.

"Springsteen is a member of World Hunger Year's Artists Against Hunger & Poverty, a group of musicians who actively work to combat these two social problems. Springsteen was introduced to World Hunger Year by the late singer- songwriter Harry Chapin who founded the organization with radio talk show host and current Executive Director Bill Ayres in 1975."

And, from the same site, about World Hunger Year:

"WHY is a nonprofit organization co-founded in 1975 by the late singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, and radio talk show host and present Executive Director Bill Ayres.  WHY attacks the root causes of hunger and poverty by promoting effective and innovative community-based solutions that create self-reliance, economic justice and food security. For more information on World Hunger Year, visit ."

Name: Jeff Thomas
Hometown: Brighton, MI

Hey, take a look at what your fellow blogger, Congressman Joe just wrote.  He actually put on "paper" - "while most Democrats are not openly cheering for the terrorists killing our troops..." and implied that they are SECRETLY cheering for the terrorists.  Someone needs to kick his @#$ for that statement.  How insulting and offensive can you get?

March 9, 2005 | 10:59 AM ET | Permalink

In Iraq, stop means stop
Plus... Is Fox chicken?

Name:  Maj. Robert Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Happy Groundhog's Day

That’s the common refrain ‘round here, as each day blends into the next.  Though I doubt that any of us will end our tours with a scene in which we get to kiss Andi McDowell.  A generation ago the same sentiment was expressed through a joke which said that at the beginning of any “war story” told by a veteran one must start with the words, “It was a Wednesday...it’s always Wednesday in combat…”  Some days, however, are different.

A few days ago an Italian journalist, recently freed by a ransom paid (to people who are, not to be too delicate about it, trying to kill Mrs. Bateman’s son), came under fire at an American checkpoint along “Route Irish.”  The name, “Irish” means nothing, it’s just another title, randomly selected.  But to us who use it that name means danger.  It means stomach clenching fear.  It means checking your oil, your vehicle, your ammunition, your armor, and only then moving out.  It means you might die.  One does not move casually along Route Irish.  One coordinates, clears the route, stays in radio contact, and works within the rules, because to do otherwise is idiocy.  The number of IEDs and Vehicle Borne IEDs detonated along that seven mile stretch between downtown Baghdad and the American base camp at the airport is approaching, and has possibly surpassed, triple digits.  Before the IEDs it was direct-fire ambushes.  I’ve driven that road, flown over it, and gone beside it, and in each case I can tell you, my ‘pucker factor’ was extreme.

International opinion, especially that of the Italians, currently waivers.  I won’t go into the politics.  That is not my lane.  But I note that it may indeed be the status of the current Coalition which hangs in the balance.  I leave thoughts on that to you and yours.  But because of the high profile, it is not my place to be too explicit about my opinions about what happened.  (This is also wise because although I live, literally, at one end of the route, I was not there at that time, in that place.  And the first thing you learn as a solider is that second-guessing is a poor practice in combat.)  That being said, I can make some observations.

  1. American soldiers, despite the hullabaloo, are very disciplined.  Suggestions such as that I read in the New York Times recently (that we ought to follow the example of the British, who have such extensive Northern Ireland experience) are bollocks.  Our British allies never faced IEDs in Northern Ireland.  Or anywhere.  We, more than any other force, actually do have the most experience in this particular issue.  The “problem,” as in all conflicts, is that the enemy learns, and adapts, forcing you to learn, and adapt, etc. We’re about six cycles into this in some areas.  It’s not simple.

  2. When we set up a check point, it is really obvious.  A standing checkpoint (and I don’t know if this was a standing, or a “rolling” checkpoint, has large signs, well in front of them.  These signs all say STOP.  From the STOP point, one is waved forward, one vehicle at a time, to be searched.  The appropriate speed at a stop sign, here as at home, is zero.  At home, however, the penalty for blowing through a stop sign is not the same as when one does it in combat.  Did I mention that this is a combat zone?

  3. The signs say, STOP, in English and Arabic.  They also say, “The use of deadly force is authorized if you disobey.”  (Wording in the last varies.)

  4. Rolling checkpoints are similar.  Tactics vary as we adapt and they adapt.  See “item 1.”  A rolling checkpoint is a temporary one.  Like a police DUI checkpoint.  Similar signage.

Once again, because it bears repeating, the “normal” speed at a stop sign is exactly zero.

Other than that, all’s well.  Trying to stay on top of things.

Eric adds:  Hey Altercators, Major Bob said nothing about it in his filing for Altercation, but he needs our help.  As another of his friends/admirers noted in Romenesko’s letters, being in Baghdad can be a pain in the ass.  Here’s a few things he and his fellow soldiers can use:

Things that I cannot get here: Coffeemate or some other appropriate creamer.  Powder, obviously.  I prefer French Vanilla.  We have hordes of coffee sufficient to wire the entire city of New York for a month, but we're damned short on creamer. Also a significant dearth of decent periodicals.  Maxim and Stuff and other "lad" magazines abound, but I'm damned if I can find copies (even old ones) of the New Yorker, let alone The Economist. Everyone must be hoarding their copies and it seems that the local PX must sell out every day, as I never see them on the shelves of the magazine racks here. If you have spares laying about, please do send them along when you're done with them.  Same with Esquire.

His address:
Maj. Robert Bateman
Baghdad, Iraq
APO AE 09316

Now this… Is Fox Chicken? | Permalink

Mike Webb of the The Nation writes in:

In a bit of turnabout is fair play, The Nation magazine recently attempted to buy some late night advertising time on Fox News in the hopes that we might be able to enlighten a few of their viewers.  Two years ago, much to the chagrin of 50 Nation readers who cancelled their subscriptions, Fox bought ad space in The Nation to tout what they called their #1 rating (while the rest of the world touted it as a sign that we really needed to work harder to improve our education system).  The day The New York Times reported on the annoyed readers, Fox called again and booked another ad that proclaimed "real journalism...America guarantees a free press."  Our editors responded with a note that said, "Compared with Murdoch, Mao Zedong, who said, 'Let a hundred flowers bloom,' was a free-speech fanatic."

The Nation's attempts at getting equal advertising time have been thwarted by Fox News, presumably because of a harmless, but accurate statement in the Nation ad that said, "Nobody owns The Nation - not Time Warner, not Murdoch.  So there's no corporate slant, no White House spin, just the straight dope."  Time Warner's CNN and General Electric's MSNBC, both of whom’s ratings are sinking quicker than the Titanic (produced by Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox Films) agreed to air the ad as is.  However, TW's TNT & TBS refused the ad and asked us to take out the reference to Murdoch and Time Warner, and they are now happily airing the ad.

But Murdoch’s Fox News appears to be too frightened to let “a dissenting, independent, trouble-making, idea-launching journal of critical opinion” have any time on their airwaves.  It must be too much to ask for them to give us the same opportunity to reach their audience as The Nation gave to them.  Fox can dish it (literally - NewsCorp owns DirecTV as well as stakes in the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers), but apparently Murdoch’s minions don’t believe the Aussie can take a gentle nudge from America’s oldest weekly magazine.

It's fair to ask why would The Nation want to spend it's limited, but hard-earned resources with a network it once called "a calculated mouthpiece for the right" in the first place?  Well with our circulation continuing to grow (we’ve surpassed the National Review and have twice the circulation of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard) we believed now was the right time to invest in promoting the magazine to a wider audience.  And our progressive-minded media buyers, Avenging Angels, showed us that a late night buy on Fox was cost-effective because of the number of late night viewers we would reach.  Besides, when the world's biggest media baron tries to stick it to you, you can whine about it or make them pay your top ad rate and give them an information-judo-chop right back.  Or rather, we would if Fox News genuinely believed in “fair and balanced” journalism, rather than serving as “a 24/7 commercial for the Bush White House.”

I’d ask if there’s no honor among thieves, but the only theft taking place is the hijacking of the public airwaves and further concentration of media power in the hands of Rupert Murdoch and five other media conglomerates.

A short note to the folks at Foreign Affairs:  In the current issue, the back-page best-seller list contains at #14 When Presidents Lie:  A History of Official Deception and its Consequences, but there is no review of the book among the many, many books on foreign affairs discussed in the review section.  Can someone please look into this?

  Never heard of him.  Why would anybody in the mainstream media think him worthy of coverage?

Repeat after me, What Liberal Media?  and .

Quote of the Day:  “If the system were fair, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity would be tenured professors somewhere.”  Larry Mumper, Ohio State Legislator, Time, p.39.  Altercation contest:  Just where would they belong as "tenured professors"? 

My book group took my recommendation and read “Lost Illusions” this month.  It’s still, no contest, the best book ever written about journalism, including contemporary American journalism.  Try it.  (Does anybody know how Balzac could have written 92 books, many of them great, while dying so young?  Has anybody else ever been so prolific?  OK, Mozart, Picasso.  Anybody else?)

I’ll be interviewed for an hour on the John Rothmann Program on  KGO in San Francisco this Sunday from 5-6 Pacific time.

Additional Correspondence Corner:

Name: Robert Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI

Interesting that you should give Paul Wolfowitz a respectful hearing on a day when David Brooks sings a love song to him.  My question to both of you is this: what sort of freedom was Wofowitz calling for when he suggested, on the eve of the Iraq war, that the Turkish military should have intervened to stop that country's parliament from prohibiting U.S. use of Turkish air space in an invasion?  Forgive me, but I've always been skeptical about claims of Wolfowitz's "idealism."  Sometimes it sounds like he wants people to have the right to self-determination if they determine what we want.

Name: Francois Souchay
Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA

"I swear the name sounded to me, amidst the chatter, like 'Condi.'"

Try "Carly", as in Fiorina, canned by the board of Hewlett-Packard, and who also scampered from running Lucent just before it collapsed.  says all you need to know about her manner of managing a complex operation.

Name: Dave Elley
Hometown: Seattle

If the Syrians are such 'bad guys' and a bad influence in Lebanon all of a sudden as we are led to believe now by Condi (who has of course yet to provide a scrap of evidence to prove anything about Syria's role in the death of Mr. Hariri), why does the CIA think that they can ?

Name: Donna Halper
Hometown: Boston, MA

The vote on the bankruptcy bill was so depressing, but the lack of media coverage was even worse.  Eric, where is the outrage?  Why hasn't one of the alleged champions of "the common people"-- like that hypocrite Bill O'Reilly -- jumped all over how this bill will hurt working people, the military, and the elderly?  Where is Lou Dobbs?  Anderson Cooper?  Ted Koppel?  Surely somebody out there still feels that the media should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable...  But I listened to radio much of the day and only NPR did a thorough report on the vote, saying passage was all but assured.  As for TV, all of my local stations in Boston were busy covering the snowstorm.  Evidently consumers getting screwed isn't news the way slippery roads are.  And yes, as always, Air America and Democracy Radio did their best, but compared to the Republican control of the talk show medium, progressives are still very much outnumbered, which is yet another reason why we needed TV and print to step up.  But again, they didn't.

If the media are so liberal, why isn't this story getting more coverage?  I have the feeling the president is using Social Security to keep the media distracted from his real agenda-- handing over whatever the biggest companies want and leaving loopholes so the wealthy can avoid paying their fair share while the poor get held to an impossible standard.  And these Republican legislators are the ones who want the Ten Commandments posted?  Why don't they live by them?  While the mainstream media fawn all over Martha Stewart, nobody is holding Republicans (and a few greedy Democrats) accountable for their outrageous sell out to the credit card companies, the oil companies, or whoever else is lobbying them this week.  That sound you hear is Edward R. Murrow spinning in his grave...

Name: Paul Goode
Hometown: Redmond, WA

Hi, Eric.
Last night at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, I caught the opening show of the Bob Dylan/Merle Haggard tour.

Haggard and his nine-piece band (the Strangers) took the stage after a brief opening set by a pleasant-voiced singer named Amos Lee. Although hampered by monitor problems, the band delivered a 50-minute set that was very near sublime. Merle struggled some with the high notes, but that bass rumble remains a national treasure that glistened in It Always Will Be, I Think I'll Sit Here and Drink, Mama Tried, and many others. The set peaked at an anti-Iraq war song (Just the News, I think) that also put his populist politics on display: "Politicians make the news/Soldiers pay the dues."

Dylan was spotty and problematic.  A new band played flawlessly and with great polish, but it often seemed like they were performing behind a different singer: Dylan's ragged vocals worked perfectly with the various quartets of The Neverending Tour, but often seemed at cross purposes with the band last night. Moreover, the arrangements were often soaring crowd pleasers that offered little challenge. (The pacing was off, too, but one assumes that will be straightened out as the tour progresses.)

Much of it worked, though, especially a beautifully rendered Mr. Tambourine Man. And it was nice to hear rarely performed songs such as Down Along the Cove, The Man In Me, Queen Jane Approximately, and I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met). He closed with a moving rendition of Haggard's Sing Me Back Home.

Eric replies:  OK, I’m set on the Allmans, no thanks to you Altercators. Who’s got a Dylan/Merle ticket at the Beacon for me?

March 8, 2005 | 12:16 PM ET | Permalink

Wolfowitz on the record
My tuna sushi canapés with Paul…

Though he was clearly the celebrity guest of the moment at the book party that Tina Brown and Harry (“Sir Harold”) Evans threw for Edward Jay Epstein’s terrific new exploration of Hollywood, called "The Big Picture," Paul Wolfowitz was more whispered about than talked to last night.  So I felt bad for the guy when I saw him standing by himself and went over to see what cocktail party banter might yield in the way of global understanding.  (I began with, and remain committed to, the admittedly controversial hypothesis that Wolfowitz is a genuinely misguided idealist—perhaps the only one-- in the administration’s top echelon.)  In any case, I knew we had nothing to discuss vis-à-vis Iraq, or even George W. Bush, so I steered the conversation toward matters we might engage.  There was no talk of anything being off the record, so here’s what I learned:

1)  I asked if he thought it was important that so many people associated with the ideas behind U.S. foreign policy were Straussians.  He definitely demurred.  Wolfowitz does not consider himself to be a Straussian.  He says he does not find political philosophy all that exciting and Allan Bloom found him to be a disappointment in this regard, but a “successful disappointment,” which appealed to Bloom.  He says when he gets together with real Straussians he becomes impatient with the level of abstraction of the discussion.  He does not think Strauss is in any way important to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

2)  History and governance.  I asked Wolfowitz if he thought it helped to be a scholar when making policy.  Did he find himself reasoning by historical analogy?  His answer, “No and yes,” which means, mostly no.  He thinks history can provide a framework but everything is basically too different from everything else to use it as much of a guide.

3)  Indonesia.  Wolfowitz is extremely proud of his work in Indonesia and the Philippines.  I got the distinct impression that he does not think this story has been told accurately—and he wishes that George P. Shultz had done more with the story in his memoir.  He was constantly being warned, vis-à-vis Marcos, that the Reagan administration was doing to Marcos what Carter had done to the Shah and the results would be similar.  He managed to convince everybody to do it anyway, with a happy result, he thinks.

4)  Somalia.  Wolfowitz is also proud of what “41` did in Somalia, as a purely humanitarian mission before it got screwed up later.  That led me to ask about:

5) Liberia.  Why, I asked him, didn’t the Bush administration act more precipitously in Liberia?  It could have saved tens of thousands of lives and scored political points against people like me who have, to put it politely, a hard time taking the humanitarian arguments for the Iraq war seriously.  Wolfowitz did not really disagree with this.  He said he was glad he was able to get the administration to act when it did.  He clearly wanted to leave the impression that he would have liked it to happen earlier -without explicitly criticizing his own administration for not having done it.  He spoke of the logistical difficulties of finding the necessary troops and of what happens after you get rid of the bad guys.  (Hmmmm)

6)  The Sudan.  Wolfowitz also clearly indicated that he would like to see something happen to save the people who are still savable in Dafur, etc.  Again, he said nothing clearly quotable on this point; but it was my clear understanding of the way he put things that he wanted to leave this impression as well.

7)  Hold onto your underpants, Jeff Jarvis:  When I asked Wolfowitz who he read outside of official channels that he found particularly profitable, he reeled off the names of a bunch of Iraqi blogs.  I asked him if he read Juan Cole.  He made a munched up face like his sushi had gone bad.  He said that yes, he had read him, but did not do so much, because of all the—I forget his exact words, but I’m thinking “awful crap” –through which he had to slog in order to get the information that Cole presented.  I said I thought it would be useful since even if one disagrees, Cole certainly knows what he’s talking about, and his view is closer to the rest of the world’s than are those published in the MSM.  He made another bad sushi face.

8)  Walter LaFeber and Don Kagan.  Though he was a mathematician at Cornell, Wolfowitz and I originally bonded over our mutual admiration for my academic mentor, the diplomatic historian, Walter LaFeber and a former member of that same department, Donald Kagan, with whom I studied a bit a Yale.  We talked of LaFeber’s brave and honorable role in responding to Cornell’s great crisis of 1969 and of an analogous situation Wolfowitz witnessed at University of Chicago.  I noted that LaFeber had taught two of the past three NSC advisers, Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley.  Wolfowitz said he was proud of having been able to hire both LaFeber and Kagan to teach at a seminar in Telluride, once.

8)  Speaking of burying the lede, here is some possible actual news:  There was a lot of talk of whether Wolfowitz would take over the World Bank.  Henry Kissinger came over and told him he was glad he turned down the job (and made a bad sushi face when shaking my hand and learning who I was—to the everlasting joy of myself and, I hope, my parents).  Rick Hertzberg suggested earlier that he did not think it would be such a good idea if Wolfowitz became the lead singer of U2.  But here’s the possible news part:  I said it was about time the Bush administration found a replacement for General Zinni and wouldn’t Paul make a perfect choice to be its Special Envoy to the Middle East peace process.  One of the main reasons I decided Wolfowitz was of a fundamentally different character than the rest of these guys was the way he braved the rude boos and jeers from a demonstration of right-wing Jews by speaking to them of the need to respect and address the causes of Palestinian suffering.  Given the obvious influence he enjoys with the president and all of his advisers, the natural trust of Israel he gets from his pedigree, and the fact that he did what he did so publicly, he would be, I think, not only acceptable to “moderate” Palestinians and almost every stripe of Israeli, but also to the powerful Israel lobby in Washington.  Wolfowitz did not blanch at all at my suggestion.  He said he would be happy to do anything the president asked him to do.  Somebody please run with this idea so I can go down in history as having lit the spark that solved the Palestinian problem...

9)  Wolfowitz insists that the talk of Dick Cheney’s power is way overblown.  He thinks Cheney is extremely respectful of the chain of command in every area and exercises what executive authority he has less frequently than did Al Gore.  He says he thinks Cheney thinks of himself as Bush’s “top staffer.”  I cannot tell you, from his body language, whether he really believed this.  He gave no hints that he didn’t.

10)  A funny moment:  As I was excusing myself to go home, Wolfowitz and Tina Brown had taken up a conversation of someone whose name I missed, but the gist was that it was a woman whose incompetence had served her so well that she was constantly being promoted upward.  I swear the name sounded to me, amidst the chatter, like “Condi.”  I asked if that was who they meant.  Boy, you shouldda seen the guy’s face...  For the record, Ms. Rice, I was mistaken.

11) Weirdest wide angle party shot, but also one more reason this is the greatest city in the world, and also another argument that liberals are much more polite and civil than many if not most of our counterparts on the right: Kissinger/Alterman/Wolfowitz/Navasky.

In other news:


Bruce Springsteen's new album, 'Devils & Dust' (Columbia Records) will be released exclusively in DualDisc format on April 26 in the US, with the full album on CD on one side of the disc and DVD content on the other side.

The DVD side will feature the first live performances of 'Devils & Dust' material. Filmmaker/photographer Danny Clinch captured new, acoustic renditions of "Devils & Dust," "Long Time Comin'," "Reno," "All I'm Thinkin' About," and "Matamoras Banks," each with Springsteen's extensive, personal introductions. The performances were filmed in New Jersey in February 2005. The DVD side will also contain the entire album mixed in 5.1 channel surround sound and in stereo.

Springsteen closed shows from 'The Rising' tour by showing Clinch's black and white, super 8mm film of the performer singing a country blues version of "Countin' on a Miracle," a track from 'The Rising.' Danny Clinch has directed several music films, including "Ben Harper: Pleasure and Pain," and has authored two books of photography.

Columbia Records will also release a deluxe edition of 'Devils & Dust' with bonus photographs and unique, song specific elements for each of the album's twelve tracks. The deluxe edition of 'Devils & Dust' will also be released in DualDisc format.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jim Hughes
Hometown: Stafford, VA

Mr. Alterman,
I am an avowed conservative.  I can tell you that I saw the Daily Show the other night with Nancy Soderberg.  It was both hilarious and I thought rather positive of Bush.  I have to tell you that the screaming nut cases you mention on the right do not normally represent me.  I don't think they represent most Republicans, as I do not think the screamers from the left represent most Democrats.  The unfortunate part is that they are the ones who get all the press.

I will remember John Stewart's line, that he just knows his son will now go to a school named after GW.  It is priceless.

Name: Robert Matthews
Hometown: Oxford, MS

First of all, understand that we are on the same side.  I have never, in 30-odd years of casting ballots, cast one for a Republican.  But when you toss off a cavalier remark such as this -- "Could we rethink that whole not letting the South thing go again" -- it points up a major difficulty for the strategy of our side.  People just don't respond very well to being insulted.  Is it really helpful to imply the nation would be better off without the South and Southerners?  Would the Declaration have been better without Jefferson, the Constitution better without Madison, independence better without Washington, civil rights better without LBJ, justice better without Marshall or Harlan?  I don't think you need a history lesson (though I noted your misspelling of Sumter), just a reminder that there were a few millions of Southern votes for the Democratic side in the most recent election.  There is more potential for moderation here than many people believe, and I like to believe it can be tapped with the right approach -- based on realism and sensitivity, not the same brand of sanctimony used so effectively by the dark side.  Enough moderate support was brought around in 1992 and 1996, and in 2000 too if the votes had been counted.  Father Coughlin, Bob Taft, Joe McCarthy, Barry Goldwater -- I don't see a Southern name on that roll.  Bush and Gingrich?  A couple of good ol' boys from Massachusetts.  So how's this for an approach to the South?  Respect, albeit respect leavened with thoughtful disagreement.  Otherwise, we're simply recycling that tactics of Limbaugh -- who is, sadly, a Southerner, though his native state also produced Harry Truman, who was not, so far as I am aware, a drug abuser.

Name: Carrington C. Newton
Hometown: Louisville, KY

Dear Dr. Alterman,
I am writing to you as a Progressive Southern Democrat to ask you to reconsider your hopefully tongue-in-cheek statement about not wanting or needing our states in the Union.

I am always shocked and saddened to find the great cultural divide that still separates the wider Liberal movement from the Southern Liberals -who, at last count, made up 40% of the Southern electorate.  While I am used to defending myself and my politics against conservatives of all geographies, it is particularly heart-wrenching to find myself defending against other liberals simply because of where I chose to live.

As an astute and educated observer, you know that any sweeping generalization -particularly about people- is destined to be wrong.  Just as I would never say, "All Yankees are insufferable blowhards," neither would I say, "All Jews are miserly schemers."  Not only would such statements mark me as a fool, but they are at their base incorrect.  The assumption that all we Southerners are religious Cro-Magnons working to repress sexual freedom, eliminate the federal government, and legislate our way back to the stone-age is as flawed as the assumption that all Liberals are "Godless heathens who hate America."

Progressive Southerners have much we can teach other Liberals.  I believe the most important thing we can share with others is the value of fighting for seemingly hopeless causes, such as the fights for civil rights, gender equality, and economic justice. 

I have learned in my life that ignorance, intolerance, and injustice are pervasive diseases, not only in the South, but universally.  I hope that we, as Liberals, can look past our cultural differences and to our common goals of an America where the ideals of truth, justice, freedom, and liberty are a reality for us all.

Eric replies:  OK. I’m sorry. Pass me the grits and I’ll eat ‘em, humbly.

Name: Maura
Hometown: Astoria, NY

"Home Movies” is great.  It was actually on for four seasons -- the second is coming out on DVD on May 31st, and reruns are on cartoon network every Sunday night/Monday morning at 1.30 a.m. ET.  I have about 15 episodes on my Tivo in addition to the DVDs, and yes, they always put me in a good mood as well.

Name: Tom Drinko
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

Regarding your recent Allan Sherman discussion:  reports that Rhino Handmade will be putting out a box set called "My Son, the Box" around June of this year.  Evanier writes, "...it will include all eight of his albums for Warner Brothers, including some leftover material and alternate takes that didn't make it onto the original releases.  It will also include all his singles for that company, some earlier unreleased recordings from parties, and two albums that he did as industrial/commercial jobs -- Music to Dispense With, his ultra-rare album for the Dixie Cups company, and one he recorded for a carpet company."  Should be everything you want and more...

Name: Gregg South
Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls, Oh

Regarding sources for hard to find music recordings, in addition to GEMM referenced by Mr. Earle there is also .  They have 4 listings for "".  Two of these vendors are also selling on GEMM.

Name: B. Noble
Hometown: New York, New York

What's happened to Pierce?  Finally exported to a secret overseas destination by the CIA?  Must have Pierce fix.  Bush years go by faster with Pierce.  Come back.  All is forgiven.

Eric replies:  He’ll be back; tan, and rested and better than ever.  Bet on it.  (And bet on the Sox too—unless they face the Mets in the series.)

March 7, 2005 | 1:30 PM ET

No Irony Please...  We’re Right Wingers

My old friend Nancy Soderberg snagged a “Daily Show”  appearance last week flogging her new book, The Superpower Syndrome and made an obvious joke about being a Democrat and therefore there's "always hope we'll fail" in Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. She was obviously making fun of the Democrats’ predicament as well as the way Republicans and conservatives tend to discount liberals’ patriotism. Guess what? I saw the interview and she is clearly nodding when she makes her comment to what Jon Stewart is saying, and laughing and say "noooo" to indicate she's kidding.  But not only are the denizens of the conservative media too dumb to get the joke, they embarked on an immediate media jihad to boot. They now have their proof that Nancy, indeed, all liberals, hate America.

James Taranto transcribed the interview and insisted that Nancy didn't make a convincing case for the book. (Gee, on “The Daily Show?” That’s surprising) That’s here. The next day, the Washington Times covered it here.)

Then Rush Limbaugh read about it in the Washington Times and goes on a rant about it even suggesting, without having read the book, that Nancy argues that we should cede our role as a Superpower. He also reads from the transcript instead of playing it, because if he played it, you'd see she was joking.
Apparently Laura Ingraham was on it the next day, with her typical commitment to accuracy and journalistic integrity. Now it’s all over the web and will follow Nancy around like gob from Cathy Young. Look, for instance, at this doofus (who at least had the good grace to recognize his mistake and apologize—making him far more of mensch that Rush or Laura.)

Anyway, that’s the way it works; not an ounce of truth in it anywhere, but nobody involved could care less.

Quote of the Day, "Transparency" is one of the blessings of democracy that President Bush is proud of having brought to Iraq -- right up there with voting and somewhat less torture than before.” Mike Kinsley.

Speaking of Kinsley and the formerly sane—as far as we know—Susan Estrich, Hacktacular Howie is only about two weeks late on this story. And thank goodness Mr. Conflict of Interest is still hosting CNN’s Reliable Sources—remember, he gets a paycheck from the guys on whom he reports so disinterestedly—otherwise, would anyone know what’s up with Martha Stewart. 

By the way, has anyone heard any news lately of Michael Jackson?

If Ron Brownstein says Alan Greenspan is a right-wing hack who are we to argue?

Bush to World: "Drop Dead." More here and here and more here too.

From Benton’s Headlines:

On Jan. 28, a couple dozen high-profile House Democrats sent the White House a letter asking for information on all public relations and advertising contracts with government agencies. They requested a reply by March 1, but there has been no reply at all from the Administration. The request cited "secret publicity campaigns to promote administration priorities" including an investigation that "revealed that the Department of Education paid a conservative commentator [Armstrong Williams, though the letter did not name him] to support the No Child Left Behind Act in television and radio appearances," plus another contract with a commentator unearthed following the Williams revelation. President Bush has said the
play-for-pay practice must end; the FCC is investigating the Williams broadcasts for possible payola violations.
(SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable, AUTHOR: John Eggerton. Free access for Benton's Headlines subscribers)

This is weird. One SNL sketch from the olden days I remember fondly involved an inconsequential conversation between Steve Martin (or was it Chevy Chase—I think Steve) and Gilda Radner in which he explained of his wife who was dying of cancer in the hospital, that Gilda was the only woman whom, his wife would not object, if they got together before she actually died. Lo and behold, in today’s Times Review of Gene Wilder’s autobiography, he reveals that years later, he fell in love with Karen Webb, while Gilda was succumbing to cancer. It’s here.

This is also weird. This smart guy, who knows so much about Trotsky writes in The Nation, “(One of the most interesting and curious documents of this period is Their Morals and Ours, an exchange about violence and political morality with John Dewey, who had taken it upon himself to investigate, and eventually reject, the accusations made against Trotsky at the Moscow trials of the late 1930s.)”

That one sentence, however, is a slander against Dewey. He did not, as anyone familiar with the history “take it upon himself.” He was asked by a committee investigating the topic to lend his name and tremendous prestige to the investigation and if I’m not mistaken, he traveled all the way to Coycan, outside Mexico City, where Leon Trotsky was living with the famous artist Diego Rivera, in April 1937. Dewey's involvement was negotiated by Sidney Hook, and was joined by Max Eastman, James Farrell, John Dos Passos, Reinhold Niebuhr, Lionel Trilling, and the principal, George Novack. Dewey was 78 at the time. Anyway, it's here. 

Know what else is weird? Chris Rock was right. I saw “The Aviator” this weekend and it turns out Jude Law was in there somewhere, doing what I have no idea. (I was pleased to see, however, that Martin Scorcese has finally made a decent movie again.)

One last thing. I see The Economist has a special section on China and India and I dimly recall reading, oh, 15 years or so ago in another Economist special section on China and India that those two countries together represent 40 percent of the world’s population. I briefly wondered how long it would take this special section to make that impressive point, opened it up to its opening words, “Home to nearly two-fifths of humanity….”

Public Service Announcements:

I. The Frank Lutz Republican playbook strategy memo is here.
II. A History of the Bush Administration in One Sentence here. 
III. Mommas, don’t take your "genital stimulating devices," to Alabama. (Could we rethink that whole not letting the South thing go again. Give us another chance, guys. You won’t even have to fire on Fort Sumpter this time.)

There are a bunch of important stories in Time this week, but I am too tired to blog about them. Feel free to send me items/letters about them, though.


Ever heard of the show “Home Movies?” I hadn’t until I happened a copy of the Shout Factory compilation of its only season, which, apparently took place  on UPN a few weeks ago. Golly, is it funny, and clever, and knowing, and even cute. Filmed in the same weird squigglevision that characterized those wonderful Dr. Katz shows on Comedy Central, this show features a trio of eight-year-old filmmakers Brendon, Mellisa and Jason, seven, their families, friends, teachers and soccer coach, who is dating one of their moms.

One critic described it as “sweet, subversive and entertaining as all get out,” and I suppose I concur, though I’m not much on the expression, “and all get out.”  The DVD package includes interviews and commentaries with creator and its stars Loren Bouchard, Brendon Small and Jon Benjamin make the viewer part of the gang. “ I’ve only watched three episodes so far but every one has put me in a good mood.  Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Barry L. Ritholtz
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Back from California -- beautiful but kinda odd place for a NYer. Anyway, wanted to pass this along: What does the World Think of U.S.?
Watching America is a fascinating web page showing what most of the world thinks of America (primarily through their media). They not only link to, but also translate, much of the foreign media.
This is a rather fascinating subject for me professionally. It has implications for both the equity and fixed income markets. Our debt -- government bonds -- are so widely held by other country's central banks and foreign private investors -- its simply foolhardy to ignore their concerns.
We don't have to kowtow to them, but ignoring and or grossly offending them kinda seems like a bad strategy.
I recall a NYT article from last year, where a senior Morgan Stanley analyst had just returned from an overseas trip. He was highly agitated over the decaying global opinion of the U.S. In the past, we may have not have been loved, but the nation was at least respected. Now, he saw disdain and outright hostility towards the country as well as its corporate products. His biggest fear: a backlash leading to a boycott of "Brand America." One possible negative scenario was reduced global sales, adding to the balance of trade deficit, reducing corporate revenues and -- potentially -- dramatically weakened profits.
The uglier (but less likely) worst case scenario is a coordinated dumping of US bonds and dollars. A dollar crash and US credit collapse then follows. This is not particularly likely, given our economic inter-relationship with Japan and China, but it is still ugly to think about.

Source: Discover What the World Thinks About U.S.
Name: Dan Riley
Hometown: Vista, CA
Thanks for the link to Rosen's decertifying the press piece. It was nice and comprehensive. But here's the thing: As long as the media keeps treating Bush's treatment of the media as a media thing, no one really cares. Right? Because that's all been part of the "decertification" process, and people hated the media to begin with. The crux of the matter is this: we have a Commander in Chief who can send 20-year olds half a world away to face gunfire on an hourly basis, but he can't stand up to hard, honest questions--not only from journalists but from school kids in France and Germany. The man is a rank coward, perhaps the most cowardly president in our nation's history. And it's time somebody called him on it.

Name: James Toney
Hometown: Columbus, OH
I must correct a frequently recurring misunderstanding regarding Syria, which Stupid repeated in his recent letter : that Syria is a Sunni or Sunni-dominated country. It is true that Syria is a Sunni-majority country, but the ruling clique comes largely from a Shiite sect sometimes called Alawites. This fact helps to explain why Syria, alone among Arab countries, sided with Iran against Iraq in the 80s Gulf War and why it has close connections to Lebanese Hizbullah. It also clarifies the hostile relationship between the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties during the last several decades.

Name: Jay Stebley
Hometown: Emeryville, CA
Dr. Alterman:
I would like to provide and answer for your correspondent, Torch from Kingman AZ: All you have to do to secure your future and that of your children is work hard, be frugal and conscientious, invest wisely in the countryâ?Ts hard-working stock market, put the rest into a savings account, buy bonds, buy American (if you have the choice), report honestly to the IRS, observe and obey the Ten Commandments, vote your conscience, Love Your Country and its flag but do not question your leaders, Support Our Troops, counsel your children against the evils of abortion and homosexuality, don't read subversive materials, look at obscenities purporting to be art, or watch liberal television programs produced by anal sex-loving Jews, keep your guns clean and kept in a safe place away from children, observe and obey the Constitution unless state and local ordinances or the Attorney General of the US prohibit you from doing that, wash your car on Sundays after Church, dispose of hazardous household materials properly, remember that lust in the heart is as bad as acting on that lust, avoid people who do not share your beliefs, do not keep the company of people who espouse negative possibly harmful views of the current administration, report those who do to the appropriate authorities, honor your wife, be patient with children and old people, always use your turn signal to indicate lane changes, make complete stops at stop signs, attend night school to better yourself and prepare for the possibility that you may have to take a second job, always have an interesting hobby to keep you busy in your old age. Then you and yours are set for life!
Kind regards,
Jay Stebley

Name: Paul Ketley
Hometown: RedBank, NJ
The whole Dan Rather / Martha Stewart obsession boils down to this. If a citizen tells a lie to, or about the government, they will either lose their job or go to jail (Martha was imprisoned for lying and NOT for any insider trading). However, if the governement tells a lie to its citizens, (a far more serious crime as it impacts almost 300 million people), not only does the government NOT take responsibility, but those people who perpetrated the lie actually get promoted.
It is these double standards that infuriate those that see it (ie everybody on the planet excluding Republicans and people waiting in vain for the rapture some time soon.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
Is it possible that a music fan such as yourself has not yet discovered the 'Global Electronic Music Marketplace' (aka GEMM)? Here's a link to their main search page.
They currently list three copies of your "L-Ranko Motel" CD. $10 to $18, plus shipping.