Tag Archives: Howard Kurtz

Memoirs Happen, Writing Is Messy

Caitlin Dickson at The Atlantic with the round-up:

Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir, “Known and Unknown,” isn’t set to be released until next week, but several news sites have obtained early copies. Previews of the book give insight into Rumsfeld’s negative opinion of several of his colleagues, his regrets or lack there of from his years as defense secretary, as well has personal struggles within his own family.

Thom Shanker and Charlie Savage at NYT:

Just 15 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush invited his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to meet with him alone in the Oval Office. According to Mr. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, the president leaned back in his leather chair and ordered a review and revision of war plans — but not for Afghanistan, where the Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington had been planned and where American retaliation was imminent.

“He asked that I take a look at the shape of our military plans on Iraq,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes.

“Two weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history, those of us in the Department of Defense were fully occupied,” Mr. Rumsfeld recalls. But the president insisted on new military plans for Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “He wanted the options to be ‘creative.’ ”

When the option of attacking Iraq in post-9/11 military action was raised first during a Camp David meeting on Sept. 15, 2001, Mr. Bush said Afghanistan would be the target. But Mr. Rumsfeld’s recollection in the memoir, “Known and Unknown,” to be published Tuesday, shows that even then Mr. Bush was focused as well on Iraq. A copy was obtained Wednesday by The New York Times.

Bradley Graham at WaPo:

But Rumsfeld still can’t resist – in a memoir due out next week – taking a few pops at former secretaries of state Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice as well as at some lawmakers and journalists. He goes so far as to depict former president George W. Bush as presiding over a national security process that was marked by incoherent decision-making and policy drift, most damagingly on the war in Iraq.

Much of Rumsfeld’s retrospective reinforces earlier accounts of a dysfunctional National Security Council riven by tensions between the Pentagon and State Department, which many critics outside and within the Bush administration have blamed on him. Speaking out for the first time since his departure from office four years ago, the former Pentagon leader offers a vigorous explanation of his own thoughts and actions and is making available on his Web site (www.rumsfeld.com) many previously classified or private documents.

Sounding characteristically tough and defiant in the 800-page autobiography “Known and Unknown,” Rumsfeld remains largely unapologetic about his overall handling of the Iraq conflict and concludes that the war has been worth the costs. Had the government of Saddam Hussein remained in power, he says, the Middle East would be “far more perilous than it is today.”

Addressing charges that he failed to provide enough troops for the war, he allows that, “In retrospect, there may have been times when more troops could have helped.” But he insists that if senior military officers had reservations about the size of the invading force, they never informed him. And as the conflict wore on, he says, U.S. commanders, even when pressed repeatedly for their views, did not ask him for more troops or disagree with the strategy.

Much of his explanation of what went wrong in the crucial first year of the occupation of Iraq stems from a prewar failure to decide how to manage the postwar political transition. Two differing approaches were debated in the run-up to the war: a Pentagon view that power should be handed over quickly to an interim Iraqi authority containing a number of Iraqi exiles, and a State Department view favoring a slower transition that would allow new leaders to emerge from within the country.

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

Shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld offered President George W. Bush his resignation. Bush refused. Five days later, just so there was no confusion, Rumsfeld offered again, and once again, Bush refused. It was another two and a half years until Rumsfeld was finally canned. But in his upcoming 800-page memoir, Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld writes that he really wishes Bush had just let him go earlier.

Howard Kurtz at Daily Beast:

One of the few personal anecdotes in the 815-page volume takes place more than 12 hours after hijacked planes struck not only the World Trade Center but the Pentagon, filling his office with heavy smoke and forcing him to evacuate with other employees, some of them wounded. His spokeswoman, Torie Clarke, asked if he had called his wife of 47 years, Joyce. Rumsfeld replied that he had not.

“You son of a bitch,” Clarke said with a hard stare.

“She had a point,” Rumsfeld writes.

Matt Lewis:

But so far, the most interesting response has come from Senator John McCain.

As George Stephanopolous reported,

“I respect Secretary Rumsfeld. He and I had a very, very strong difference of opinion about the strategy that he was employing in Iraq which I predicted was doomed to failure,” the Arizona Republican said on “GMA.”

McCain and Rumsfeld had clashed over troop levels.

“And thank God he was relieved of his duties and we put the surge in otherwise we would have had a disastrous defeat in Iraq,” McCain told me.

Jen Dimascio and Jennifer Epstein at Politico

Alex Pareene at Salon:

Rumsfeld is also going to release a website full of “primary documents” that he thinks will prove his point. It will be like the WikiLeaks, only instead of pulling back the curtain and exposing American diplomatic and military secrets, they will probably just be a bunch of memos about how much Rumsfeld was “concerned” about the security situation in post-invasion Baghdad. Also I bet there will be a document that says “I promise Donald Rumsfeld had no idea that we were torturing and killing prisoners, signed, everyone at Abu Ghraib.”

Speaking of! Rumsfeld says Bill Clinton called him once and said: “No one with an ounce of sense thinks you had any way in the world to know about the abuse taking place that night in Iraq.” Yes, well, the people with ounces of sense are completely wrong.

Rumsfeld also apparently devotes a lot of space to rewaging various long-forgotten bureaucratic disputes. There is something about George H. W. Bush, whom he clearly hates. Rumsfeld also wants everyone to know that former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was “bullying” and an “imperial vice president,” which is hilarious for many reasons, including Rumsfeld’s closeness to Dick Cheney and the fact that as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, Rumsfeld basically blocked Rockefeller from doing anything.

Now let’s enjoy the attempted rehabilitation of Rumsfeld in the press, where his awfulness has probably been entirely forgotten.


Rummy says Defense was preparing for offense on Afghanistan at the time, but Bush asked him to be “creative.” Creative! Perhaps the military could stage a production of Grease for the people of Iraq before taking a bow and dropping a bomb on them?

The book mixes the policy and the personal; at the end of the same Oval Office session in which Mr. Bush asked for an Iraq war plan, Mr. Rumsfeld recounts, the president asked about Mr. Rumsfeld’s son, Nick, who struggled with drug addiction, had relapsed and just days before had entered a rehabilitation center. The president, who has written of his own battles to overcome a drinking problem, said that he was praying for Mr. Rumsfeld, his wife, Joyce, and all their children.

“What had happened to Nick — coupled with the wounds to our country and the Pentagon — all started to hit me,” Mr. Rumsfeld writes. “At that moment, I couldn’t speak. And I was unable to hold back the emotions that until then I had shared only with Joyce.”

Ah, there you have it. Rumsfeld could have said, “What the fuck are you talking about going to war with Iraq for? Our country was just attacked by a foreign terrorist organization we need to go try to destroy. Iraq has nothing to do with this. Aren’t you more concerned with winning this war we haven’t even begun yet?” But instead, his son had done some drugs. Sure thing, Rumsfeld. Perfectly good excuse. You should drop some leaflets on the families of people, American and Iraqi, whose children have died in that war. “Sorry, my son was doing drugs. I was emotional at the time. Not my fault.”

So here you have it: There’s finally someone to blame the entire Iraq War on: Nick Rumsfeld. HOPE YOU LIKED THOSE DRUGS, ASSHOLE!

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This Story You Will Be Talking About Tomorrow

Mark Joyella at Mediaite:

Sources tell Mediaite Keith Olbermann and MSNBC were headed for a breakup long before Comcast’s rise to power, but clearly something set the divorce into motion quickly today, with network promos set to run touting Olbermann’s role in MSNBC’s coverage of next week’s State of the Union address–and, notably, a Keith Olbermann promo running on MSNBC in the hour after the host signed off and left the network.

MSNBC executives have long planned for the day the network’s star might be sent packing, and the rise of Rachel Maddow at MSNBC–along with the grooming of Lawrence O’Donnell as a potential replacement for Olbermann–appears to have hastened the host’s departure.

While Olbermann and his iconic Countdown have been immensely important in the resurgence of MSNBC, Olbermann’s friction with management has been a sticking point. At many points–including the recent suspension over political contributions–tensions rose so high as to lead to serious discussions inside MSNBC about firing their star.

With Maddow enjoying both immense popularity inside MSNBC and very strong ratings for her Rachel Maddow Show, Olbermann’s invincibility as the heart and soul of MSNBC’s brand became softer. In recent weeks, sources tell Mediaite there have been meetings on the topic of Keith Olbermann and his future at the network. Did Comcast–as many Countdown viewers seem to suspect–order Olbermann out? It appears that the end of the Olbermann era at MSNBC was not “ordered” by Comcast, nor was it a move to tone down the network’s politics. Instead, sources inside the network say it came down to the more mundane world of office politics–Olbermann was a difficult employee, who clashed with bosses, colleagues and underlings alike, and with the Comcast-related departure of Jeff Zucker, and the rise of Maddow and O’Donnell, the landscape shifted, making an Olbermann exit suddenly seem well-timed.

Howard Kurtz at Daily Beast:

Whatever his excesses, he led third-place MSNBC out of the cable wilderness to the point where it overtook CNN in prime time, boosted not only by his numbers but by those of his protégé, Rachel Maddow.

Without question, he was a polarizing presence, and several NBC veterans, including Tom Brokaw, complained to network management that he was damaging MSNBC’s reputation for independence.

At a meeting with Olbermann’s representatives last September, NBC Chief Executive Jeff Zucker and NBC News President Steve Capus said that some of their client’s behavior was unacceptable and had to stop. Griffin said that Olbermann’s personal problems were affecting his work and he looked angrier on the air, eclipsing the smart and ironic anchor they had once loved.

In November, when Griffin suspended Olbermann indefinitely over the political donations, the two sides engaged in blistering negotiations over how long it would last. Olbermann’s manager, Price, warned Griffin that if the matter wasn’t resolved quickly, Olbermann would take his complaints public by accepting invitations from Good Morning America, David Letterman, and Larry King.

“If you go on GMA, I will fire Keith,” Griffin shot back.

The suspension wound up lasting just two days, and Olbermann said he was sorry for the “unnecessary drama” and “for having mistakenly violated an inconsistently applied rule” in making the $7,200 in contributions. But after years of internal warfare, Olbermann had no major allies left at 30 Rock.

There were similar backstage struggles in 2008 and 2009 when top executives tried to get Olbermann and O’Reilly to tone down their personal attacks. O’Reilly, who never mentions Olbermann by name, was assailing NBC’s parent company, General Electric, while Olbermann once imagined the fate of “a poor kid” born to a transgendered man who became pregnant, adding: “Kind of like life at home for Bill’s kids.”

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

I was just on in the opening segment of Olbermann tonight. And I get home and get this press release from NBC saying this was the last episode of Countdown. At first I figured it had to be a spoof email because, jeez, I was on and I didn’t have any sense that any other than a regular Friday evening show was on. But sure enough I pulled up the recording and now I’m watching his final sign off.

I doubt I would have had any heads up or known anything was happening if Olbermann was going to go off the air. But I was a bit more stunned than I might otherwise have been because I was just over there. And I did not have any sense that there was anything any different than normal going on. Everything seemed calm and pretty sedate. I didn’t sense anything different in Keith’s manner or affect (though it’s not like we’re tight and I would have been the person to notice.) There were a few more people than I’m used to seeing in the studio — maybe two or three, seated, who seemed to be there to watch. (Something I don’t remember seeing before.) But nothing that made me think twice that anything odd was going on.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing soon enough what on earth happened here. But color me stunned. And really disappointed.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Keith Olbermann and I started from the same place, the same school, the same English teacher–Arthur Naething–who changed our lives. I’ve always had a soft spot for Keith as a result, even when he called me one of the worst people in the world (based on a wildly inaccurate interpretation of something I’d written). I’ve criticized him, too, for his melodramatically over-the-top effusions. I’m not so sure what this dispute with MSNBC is all about, but I’m sad that Keith won’t be around (at least, for a while). If there is a place for the nonsense-spew of Fox News, there has to be a place on my cable dial for Olbermann (who, while occasionally obnoxious, operates from a base of reality–unlike some people we know [see below]). Keith is a brilliant writer, and presenter; I always enjoy watching him, even when he’s occasionally wrong. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do so again soon. In the meantime, I hope he’ll heed the words of the master and “Go forth, and spread beauty and light.”

On another decidedly hilarious front, Glenn Beck has found yet another enemy of the people in a 78-year-old Columbia University professor named Frances Fox Piven. I’ve always thought that Piven’s work was foolish and inhumane. There was a brief, disastrous time in the 1960s when her desire to flood the welfare system with new recipients was the tacit policy of the city of New York, which produced absolutely terrible results–as Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted–in the 1970s and 1980s. I also remember Piven railing against a brilliantly successful welfare-to-work program called “America Works” because it was for-profit, even though the company only was paid by the government if the recipient remained on the job for six months (and even though the ability to do honorable work gave the women involved new-found confidence, according to study after study of the results). But the notion that Piven’s ideas had any widespread influence, or are even worth commenting on 45 years later, is beyond absurd; it is another case of Beck’s show-paranoid perversity. It seems academic and sophisticated, to those who don’t know any better: Glenn’s soooo erudite, he’s found a secret part of The Plan to turn America into a socialist gulag, hatched by a college professor. The reality is that he’s focused onto an obscure form of left-liberalism that was found wanting a long time ago, as the sociological results of Aid to Families with Dependent Children became known, and better ways to help the poor were developed.

Beck’s essential sin is a matter of proportionality. He has, as ever, latched onto an obscurity, blown it out of proportion–as he did with Van Jones’ stupid but essentially harmless comments about communism–and turned it into a lie. He is an extraordinary liar, on matters large and small, as I’ve learned from personal experience with the man. That Beck remains on the air and Keith Olbermann–unpleasant and extreme at times, but no fantasist–isn’t anymore is a travesty.

What of Olbermann’s legacy? There’s a great deal of crowing on the right about Olbermann’s apparent ouster. But let’s be clear on what he accomplished: He helped clear a huge space on the airwaves for “unapologetic liberalism,” as Steve Benen puts it, when it remained anything but certain that such a space could be created with any measure of success.

The unexpected popularity of Olbermann’s show early on cleared the way for MSNBC to stack its nighttime lineup with pugnacious lefty hosts. Indeed, it was Olbermann who invited Rachel Maddow on repeatedly as a guest, raising her profile to the point where she got her own show. Olbermann, followed by Maddow, proved in the face of enormous skepticism that there’s a huge audience out there for real liberal talk-show hosts to adopt the sort of take-no-prisoners approach once monopolized by the right. Only they accomplished this without descending into the crackpot conspiracy mongering and all-around ugliness of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Indeed, there’s already talk that CNN might be interested in picking up Olbermann. While that seems unlikely, given CNN’s more staid air, the mere fact that it’s being discussed at all shows how much he helped change the landscape.

Olbermann may be gone, but the space he did so much to help create is here to stay.

Joe Coscarelli at Village Voice:

Though it’s as of yet impossible to answer the question “Why?” in regards to Olbermann’s dismissal, what is on the record is how trying he was to manage. Back in October, there was Gabriel Sherman’s account in New York of the cable news wars with tidbits like this:

But Olbermann can take his eccentricities to extremes. There’s a story that he told his producers to communicate with him by leaving notes in a small box positioned outside his office. Last spring, after David Shuster tweeted that he was guest-hosting Countdown while Olbermann was out sick, Olbermann erupted when a blog mentioned Shuster’s tweet and he fired off an e-mail to him saying, “Don’t ever talk about me and medical issues again.” Olbermann’s executive producer later told Shuster that there’s a rule against mentioning Olbermann on Twitter.

And more of the same in the Times today:

Mr. Olbermann was within one move of being fired in November after he was suspended for making donations to Democratic Congressional candidates. He threatened to make an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to protest the suspension; Mr. Zucker was prepared to fire him on the spot if he did, according to a senior NBC Universal executive who declined to be identified in discussing confidential deliberations.

Many questions remains, but if he’s not in the mood for a vacation, Olbermann does have options, namely radio or the internet. So he should join us and he needn’t worry — here, everyone is an asshole.

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The Fox News Option

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic with the round-up

Ben Dimiero at Media Matters:

At the height of the health care reform debate last fall, Bill Sammon, Fox News’ controversial Washington managing editor, sent a memo directing his network’s journalists not to use the phrase “public option.”

Instead, Sammon wrote, Fox’s reporters should use “government option” and similar phrases — wording that a top Republican pollster had recommended in order to turn public opinion against the Democrats’ reform efforts.

Journalists on the network’s flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier, appear to have followed Sammon’s directive in reporting on health care reform that evening.

Sources familiar with the situation in Fox’s Washington bureau have told Media Matters that Sammon uses his position as managing editor to “slant” Fox’s supposedly neutral news coverage to the right. Sammon’s “government option” email is the clearest evidence yet that Sammon is aggressively pushing Fox’s reporting to the right — in this case by issuing written orders to his staff.

As far back as March 2009, Fox personalities had sporadically referred to the “government option.”

Two months prior to Sammon’s 2009 memo, Republican pollster Frank Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity’s August 18 Fox News program. Luntz scolded Hannity for referring to the “public option” and encouraged Hannity to use “government option” instead.

Luntz argued that “if you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split,” but that “if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.” Luntz explained that the program would be “sponsored by the government” and falsely claimed that it would also be “paid for by the government.”

“You know what,” Hannity replied, “it’s a great point, and from now on, I’m going to call it the government option.”

On October 26, 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the inclusion of a public insurance option that states could opt out of in the Senate’s health care bill.

That night, Special Report used “public” and “government” interchangeably when describing the public option provision.

Anchor Bret Baier referred to “a so-called public option”; the “public option”; “government-provided insurance coverage”; “this government-run insurance option”; the “healthcare public option”; and “the government-run option, the public option.” Correspondent Shannon Bream referred to “a government-run public option”; “a public option”; “a government-run option”; and “the public option.”

The next morning, October 27, Sammon sent an email to the staffs of Special Report, Fox News Sunday, and FoxNews.com, as well as to other reporters and producers at the network. The subject line read: “friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option.’ ”

Sammon instructed staff to refer on air to “government-run health insurance,” the “government option,” “the public option, which is the government-run plan,” or — when “necessary” — “the so-called public option”:

From: Sammon, Bill
Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:23 AM
To: 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers
Subject: friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the “public option”

1)      Please use the term “government-run health insurance” or, when brevity is a concern, “government option,” whenever possible.

2)      When it is necessary to use the term “public option” (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon), use the qualifier “so-called,” as in “the so-called public option.”

3)      Here’s another way to phrase it: “The public option, which is the government-run plan.”

4)      When newsmakers and sources use the term “public option” in our stories, there’s not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.

Fox’s senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, soon replied. He thanked Sammon for his email and said that he preferred Fox staffers use Sammon’s third phrasing: “The public option, which is the government-run plan.”

From: Clemente, Michael
To: Sammon, Bill; 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers
Sent: Tue Oct 27 08:45:29 2009
Subject: RE: friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the “public option”

Thank you Bill

#3 on your list is the preferred way to say it, write it, use it.

Michael Clemente



Sammon’s email appears to have had an impact. On the October 27 Special Report — unlike on the previous night’s broadcast — Fox journalists made no references to the “public option” without using versions of the pre-approved qualifiers outlined in Sammon’s and Clemente’s emails.

Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast:

Sammon said in an interview that the term “public option” “is a vague, bland, undescriptive phrase,” and that after all, “who would be against a public park?” The phrase “government-run plan,” he said, is “a more neutral term,” and was used just last week by a New York Times columnist.

“I have no idea what the Republicans were pushing or not. It’s simply an accurate, fair, objective term.”

Other news organizations periodically described the plan as government-run or used the terms interchangeably, but not as part of any edict. While news executives routinely offer guidance about proper wording in news stories, the semantics in this case were clearly favored by the Republicans.

Sammon’s message was received. On that night’s Special Report, the Washington newscast, anchor Bret Baier began by teasing “a look at the fight over government-run health insurance in the Senate reform bill.” Chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle referred to “a government insurance plan, the so-called public option.”

On the previous night’s program, Baier had repeatedly referred to the “public option,” as did conservative panelist Charles Krauthammer.

Anchor Neil Cavuto, a pro-business commentator, teed up an interview that day with House Republican Leader John Boehner by saying: “My next guest says name it what you want; it is still government-run.”

After hearing a clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the provision the “consumer option,” Boehner said: “They are worried about it because whether you call it the government option; whether you call it the consumer option; whether you call it a co-op or an opt-out or an opt-in, these are all just terms about their big government takeover of our health-care system.”

Colby Hall at Mediaite:

Sammon is a former reporter for the right-of-center Washington Times and replaced the well respected Brit Hume as Managing Editor of Fox News’ Washington bureau. He’s fairly portrayed in Kurtz’ article as someone who has consistently espoused a conservative point-of-view, so the points in his memo should not surprise anyone that Sammon directed a more right of center bent.

The larger issue raised, however, is the question of whether Sammon’s direction of referencing the “public option” as the “government option” crossed the sometimes blurry line that separates the opinion programming with the news programming on Fox News. Kurtz lays out a number of examples when news personalities appear to a have changed their words, namely Bret Baier and Jim Angle, who are both based in Sammon’s Washington bureau.

Anyone who watched Fox News coverage of the health care debate at this time could see that most of the personalities on the channel were not fans of the White House efforts to pass the bill. At the time, I wrote a post titled “The REAL Health Care Debate: The Obama Administration Vs Fox News” that opened:

Watching a few hours of Fox News these days amounts to a non-stop infomercial opposing the Obama Administration’s effort to reform Health Care. While there is always room for a healthy debate on the issues, please don’t look to Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck for a measured discourse – they rarely, if ever, present a constructive solution to the current health care problems (though there is the occasional admission that there is need for reform.) No single entity seems more entrenched in the opposition to the health care reform than Fox News.

It is important to note that the examples set forth above are all right-of-center or “traditionalist” opinion media personalities who were opposed to what they now call “Obamacare.” In Kurtz’ piece Sammon defends his choice of words claiming that “government option” was more neutral, though that appears to be a simple game of semantics.

To paraphrase a well-worn cliche: semantics, the last vestige of a scoundrel.


Now everyone has known forever that Bill Sammon is a rightwing hack of epic proportions. But the Network has defended Sammon as a straight reporter and the Villagers have had fits if anyone suggested otherwise. So this just proves something that was already obvious. What’s interesting about it is that FOX employees have had enough and are leaking the secrets.

The Wikileaks issue is fascinating, for sure, especially the idea that they can use the internet to disseminate information beyond a chosen few who are allowed to see it. But this is about the failure of our leadership and institutions over a long period of time and the culture of secrecy and corruption that’s brought us to this point. The system itself is leaking because its been compromised so badly. They can shut off the flow at any point and it will just leak elsewhere.

Jack Shafer at Slate:

The call to refer to the program as the government option instead of the public option came from Republican pollster Frank Luntz, Media Matters and Kurtz report. But this shouldn’t disqualify the new term from the Fox News stylebook. Government option is superior to public option in that it emphasizes that the government—and thus the taxpayers—will be footing the bill. As a modifier, public has many nongovernmental uses, as in public appearance, public figure, public display, public-key cryptography, public editor, public enemy, public storage, and public opinion.

But when government is used as an adjective, there is no such confusion. Does that make Fox News’ semantic solution superior? I’ve always thought that Social Security should be renamed Government Ponzi Scheme. I’d also like the Export-Import Bank to be renamed the Government Subsidy Depot—but that’s another column.

That Sammon issued a memo directing Fox News reporters to use a phrase he considers more accurate hardly constitutes “spin,” as the headline to Kurtz’s piece has it. If government option is spin, isn’t public option spin, too?

Usage cops walk the beat at every large news organization, commanding reporters to obey the ruling stylebook. For instance, some newspapers used pro-life and pro-choice in their abortion coverage until somebody pointed out that being anti-pro-life wasn’t the same thing as being pro-death—and that pro-choice was closer to meaning pro-abortion, although that gets slippery, too, since you can be against the pro-lifers and not want to have an abortion yourself.

Peter Suderman at Reason:

You can quit worrying already. Opinion doesn’t have anything to do with Sammon’s memo. Indeed, Media Matters doesn’t even make any attempt to prove that Sammon’s preferred label is inaccurate. Granted, that would be hard to do, because in fact the public option is a form of government-run insurance. But obviously we can’t let anyone in the media actually say this.

Allah Pundit

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I suppose that might be a reasonable defense in a world where news organizations scrutinize every phrase for maximal accuracy. That, however, is not the practice at Fox News, or anywhere. Standard news practice is to simply keep using terms that have come into the public discourse and gained wide usage even if it is not the most technically accurate or neutral term. If you had a left-wing news network that decided it can no longer refer to military spending as “defense” because that presumes it is never used in an aggressive way, that would be an act of bias, regardless of the philosophical merits.

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Not, Of Course, That There’s Anything Wrong With That

Ben Domenech at The New Ledger (and CBS):

Update: The White House has seen fit to take the effort to respond to my description of Elena Kagan’s sexuality, and Howard Kurtz asked me to comment. Here’s how I responded:

Since the position opened on the court, there have been abundant numbers of commenters and bloggers on the Left arguing openly about the potential political reactions of appointing either Sullivan or Karlan as the first openly gay members of the court. The idea of history-making appointments always has great appeal, and it’s one reason I supported Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination, a lonely position for any conservative — and when the first openly gay nominee is advanced, it will be a true statement about how far we’ve come as a society. When that does happen, it will be an issue of political discussion, whether we like it or not. It obviously has nothing to do with whether they are a good nominee or not [Note: Sens. Cornyn and Sessions are right on this].

I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post. But if I were her, I’d feel pretty good about the fact that the White House specifically responded to this — it seems like a clue as to who the pick will be, doesn’t it?

1. Elena Kagan (49), Solicitor General of the United States. The likeliest candidate, and it was somewhat of a surprise she didn’t get picked last time. Pluses: would please much of Obama’s base, follows diversity politics of Sotomayor with first openly gay justice (so would Karlan and Sullivan). [Update: While Karlan and Sullivan are open about it, I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted — odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.] [Update: see my apology to Ms. Kagan at Huffington Post] Minuses: Seen as too moderate by some on the left; people like Arianna Huffington and Glenn Greenwald strongly dislike her because of her positions on executive power and anti-terror activities. Could be seen as a thumb in the eye of the civil liberties folks.

Sources numerous and equally dismissible report that President Obama has a “Top Ten” list of potential SCOTUS candidates to replace the outgoing John Paul Stevens. Since no one can honestly claim to know what the president is thinking, here’s my stab at his top ten (after conferring with a few TNL friends) as potential choices, with pluses and minuses for each. Trust me – you’ll want to stick around for the 10th.

Howard Kurtz at WaPo:

The White House ripped CBS News on Thursday for publishing an online column by a blogger who made assertions about the sexual orientation of Solicitor General Elena Kagan, widely viewed as a leading candidate for the Supreme Court.

Ben Domenech, a former Bush administration aide and Republican Senate staffer, wrote that President Obama would “please” much of his base by picking the “first openly gay justice.” An administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing personal matters, said Kagan is not a lesbian.

CBS initially refused to pull the posting, prompting Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director who is working with the administration on the high court vacancy, to say: “The fact that they’ve chosen to become enablers of people posting lies on their site tells us where the journalistic standards of CBS are in 2010.” She said the network was giving a platform to a blogger “with a history of plagiarism” who was “applying old stereotypes to single women with successful careers.”

The network deleted the posting Thursday night after Domenech said he was merely repeating a rumor. The flare-up underscores how quickly the battle over a Supreme Court nominee — or even a potential nominee — can turn searingly personal. Most major news organizations have policies against “outing” gays or reporting on the sex lives of public officials unless they are related to their public duties.

Greg Sargent:

CBS unquestionably deserved to take a hit for this. But what’s more interesting than CBS’s role is the White House’s aggressive response. People who follow the ins and outs of nomination battles closely are interpreting it as a sign that Kagan has a very good shot at being picked. As one of these people put it to me this morning, this is the most hard-hitting pushback by the White House to misinformation being spread about any nominee.

A White House official told Kurtz that Kagan is not a lesbian. That won’t matter, of course; the whisper campaign from the right is likely to continue. But the White House has now signaled that they’re prepared to go to war against it.

Ben Domenech at Huffington Post:

I erroneously believed that Ms. Kagan was openly gay not because of, as Stein describes it, a “whisper campaign” on the part of conservatives, but because it had been mentioned casually on multiple occasions by friends and colleagues — including students at Harvard, Hill staffers, and in the sphere of legal academia — who know Kagan personally. And as the reaction from Julian Sanchez and Matt Yglesias shows, I was not alone in that apparently inaccurate belief.

Look, it’s 2010 — no one should care if a nominee to any position is gay. The fact that conservative Senators John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions have recently expressed openness to confirming an openly gay nominee to the Court is a good thing. Senators should look at things that actually matter — evaluating a nominee’s decisions, approach to the law, their judgment and ability — to see whether there are actually good and relevant reasons to oppose the nomination. That’s all.

But that’s about getting the job. As a political matter, there are ramifications for nominations to the Supreme Court, and the core elements of a nominee’s biography, like his or her family life, are inescapable when the nation focuses on such a high-profile life-tenured appointment. Making history is a noteworthy thing: many in the Latino community were pleased when Sonia Sotomayor (who I supported) was nominated, and many in the LGBT community would welcome the opportunity to confirm an openly gay justice. Glenn Greenwald and others agree with me on this point, and I can’t think why anyone would disagree.

That’s why I listed it as a positive: after so much frustration with the White House from the gay community on lack of action on other policy fronts, an openly gay nominee might serve to mend that strained relationship.

As I told Howard Kurtz, and I say again here, I offer my sincere apologies to Ms. Kagan if she is offended at all by my repetition of a Harvard rumor in a speculative blog post. It still seems odd to me that the White House would single out this statement for attack, adamantly slamming closed a door that nobody was trying to open, as opposed to issuing a mild correction. As Yglesias notes, “I’d like to think we’re past the point where saying someone’s a lesbian counts as a dastardly ‘accusation,'” and it certainly was not intended as such.

But on the other hand, if I were Ms. Kagan, I’d feel pretty good about the fact that the White House specifically responded to this, and did so in such an aggressive and forceful manner — after all, it seems like quite a clue as to who the pick will be, doesn’t it?

Sam Stein at Huffington Post:

Even before the CBS post, a top conservative religious group was already insisting that a nominee’s sexuality would play a major role in his or her confirmation process. This past week, the organization Focus on the Family abruptly reversed its position from the last Supreme Court confirmation battle by declaring it would oppose a gay Supreme Court pick, no matter who the nominee is.

“We can assure you that we recognize that homosexual behavior is a sin and does not reflect God’s created intent and desire for humanity,” said Tom Minnery, the group’s senior vice president. “Further, we at Focus do affirm that character and moral rectitude should be key considerations in appointing members of the judiciary, especially in the case of the highest court in the land. Sexual behavior — be it heterosexual or homosexual — certainly lies at the heart of personal morality.”

The fact that the rumor campaign surrounding Kagan has been settled doesn’t necessarily mean that the issue is off the table, Republicans still seem poised to make gay rights a prominent feature of the confirmation process — should she be chosen as Justice John Paul Stevens’ replacement. Already conservative websites are latching on to a brief signed by Kagan and 40 Harvard Law School professors in which they argued that the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy was discriminatory against gay troops.

“Let’s just say that if somebody is gay, it clearly becomes political fodder,” said Navetta, when asked if the effort could damage Kagan’s chances for the court or confirmation. “And I’m not implying one way or the other that she is or is not [gay]. I’m just saying that its no myth that people’s sexual orientation can and does become an issue in political campaigns. We’ve seen it before.”

Moe Lane:

Having reviewed the completely voluntary decision of the White House to freak out over Ben Domenech’s mention in passing of now-probable USSC nominee Elena Kagan’s rumored sexuality – and before anybody freaks out in their turn, note this passage, please:

…as the reaction from Julian Sanchez and Matt Yglesias shows, I was not alone in that apparently inaccurate belief.

…one wonders what all the fuss was about.  After all, Ben, Sanchez, Yglesias, Glenn freaking Greenwald – and for that matter, myself – are all more or less in agreement that a strong reaction to this is at least a bit odd.  In a world where Senators Cornyn & Sessions can both readily and for the record state that sexual orientation is not a barrier for a Supreme Court spot, why would the White House jump on this issue with both feet?  And why did they, by the way, do so in a manner that explicitly and authoritatively denies that Ms. Kagan is gay?


Everything I’ve heard is that Kagan is not a lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, obviously, or anything shameful in being called that. But I know far too many straight, single women who are assumed to be gay simply because they aren’t married or don’t have an active dating life. It’s hurtful to them, and not because they have any prejudice against gay people but because it’s an assumption about them that isn’t true. Everyone deserves to be seen the way they really are, whether gay or straight.

Marc Ambinder, a blogger for the Atlantic, wrote Monday about what he called “a baffling whisper campaign” about Kagan “among both gay rights activists and social conservatives. . . .“So pervasive are these rumors that two senior administration officials I spoke with this weekend acknowledged hearing about them and did not know whether they were true. . . . Why is she the subject of these rumors? Who’s behind them?”

Why? Because every woman who isn’t married after a certain age is assumed to be a lesbian by some people, even if she isn’t, especially if she doesn’t look like a fashion model. And social conservatives and gay rights activists (for different reasons) have a vested interest in her being seen as gay. It’s not an insult but it is a misconception and one that isn’t entirely benign to the person who is the subject of it. If she says anything publicly to deny it, it sounds as though she has a prejudice against gay people and if she doesn’t deny it, she becomes known as something she isn’t. It’s not fair.

Ben Domenech is right wing hit man and always has been. And he’s succeeded wildly here. The rumors are now “out there” and Cokie’s Law is in effect. How a known plagiarist came to be employed by CBS is the more interesting story, actually. Especially for a man who’s known to hire hookers to powder and diaper him and then sing him to sleep. Or at least that’s the rumor. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan

Joe Conason at Salon

Allah Pundit

Amanda Terkel at Think Progress

UPDATE #2: Ben Smith at Politico


Jules Crittenden

William Saletan in Slate

UPDATE #3: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Scott Johnson at Powerline

UPDATE #5: Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic

Kevin Drum

Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE #6: Richard Kim and Reihan Salam at Bloggingheads


Filed under LGBT, New Media, Political Figures, Supreme Court

Rhama Lama Ding Dong

Dana Milbank in WaPo:

Obama’s first year fell apart in large part because he didn’t follow his chief of staff’s advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter.

Obama chose the profane former Clinton adviser for a reason. Where the president is airy and idealistic, Rahm is earthy and calculating. One thinks big; the other, a former House Democratic Caucus chair, understands the congressional mind, in which small stuff counts for more than broad strokes.

Obama’s problem is that his other confidants — particularly Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs, and, to a lesser extent, David Axelrod — are part of the Cult of Obama. In love with the president, they believe he is a transformational figure who needn’t dirty his hands in politics.

The president would have been better off heeding Emanuel’s counsel. For example, Emanuel bitterly opposed former White House counsel Greg Craig’s effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, arguing that it wasn’t politically feasible. Obama overruled Emanuel, the deadline wasn’t met, and Republicans pounced on the president and the Democrats for trying to bring terrorists to U.S. prisons. Likewise, Emanuel fought fiercely against Attorney General Eric Holder’s plan to send Khalid Sheik Mohammed to New York for a trial. Emanuel lost, and the result was another political fiasco.

Jason Horowitz at WaPo:

But a contrarian narrative is emerging: Emanuel is a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts.

It is a view propounded by lawmakers and early supporters of President Obama who are frustrated because they think the administration has gone for the perfect at the expense of the plausible. They believe Emanuel, the town’s leading purveyor of four-letter words, a former Israeli army volunteer and a product of a famously argumentative family, was not aggressive enough in trying to persuade a singularly self-assured president and a coterie of true-believer advisers that “change you can believe in” is best pursued through accomplishments you can pass.

By all accounts, Obama selected Emanuel for his experience in the Clinton White House, his long relationships with the media and Democratic donors, and his well-established — and well-earned — reputation as a political enforcer, all of which neatly counterbalanced Obama’s detached, professorial manner. A president who would need the deft navigation of Congress to pass his ambitious legislation turned to the Illinois congressman and former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee because he possessed a unique understanding of the legislative mind.

David Broder at WaPo:

In the space of 10 days, thanks in no small part to my own newspaper, the president of the United States has been portrayed as a weakling and a chronic screw-up who is wrecking his administration despite everything that his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, can do to make things right.

This remarkable fiction began unfolding on Feb. 21 in the Sunday column of my friend Dana Milbank, who wrote that “Obama’s first year fell apart in large part because he didn’t follow his chief of staff’s advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter,” i.e., a one-term failure.

A week later, presumably the same anonymous sources persuaded Milbank to pronounce that Obama “too often plays the 98-pound weakling; he gets sand kicked in his face and responds with moot-court zingers.”

And on Tuesday, The Post led the paper with a purported news story by Jason Horowitz saying that a president with Obama’s “detached, professorial manner” needed “a political enforcer” like Emanuel to have a chance of succeeding, “because he [Emanuel] possessed a unique understanding of the legislative mind.” Unfortunately, the story said, “influential Democrats are — in unusually frank terms — blaming Obama and his closest campaign aides for not listening to Emanuel.”

It sounded, for all the world, like the kind of orchestrated leaks that often precede a forced resignation in Washington.

Except that the chief of staff doesn’t usually force the president out. When George H.W. Bush had had enough of John H. Sununu, of course it was Sununu who walked. Maybe the sources on these stories think Obama is the one who should leave.

Here in a few paragraphs is what others high in the White House think is going on:

The underlying problem, in their eyes, is a badly damaged economy that has sunk Obama’s poll numbers and emboldened Republicans to blockade his legislative program.

Emanuel, who left a leadership post in the House to serve his fellow Chicagoan, Obama, has worked loyally for the president and is not suspected personally by his colleagues of inspiring these Post pieces.

But, as one White House staffer said to me, “Rahm likes to win,” and when the losses began to pile up, he probably vented his frustrations to some of his old pals in Congress. It’s clear that some of them are talking to the press.

Andrew Alexander, ombudsman, in WaPo:

But if there was a newsroom conspiracy, legendary Post political journalist David Broder didn’t get the memo. In a Thursday op-ed, he ridiculed Milbank’s column as “remarkable fiction” and said Horowitz had written “a purported news story.” Together, he wrote, they “sounded, for all the world, like the kind of orchestrated leaks that often precede a forced resignation in Washington.”

Horowitz told me that his story “had already started taking shape” before Milbank’s column appeared and dismissed the notion of coordination. “We did not confer,” he said. Milbank said the same, adding that he knew Horowitz was working on an Emanuel profile but didn’t know its content.

As a columnist, it’s Milbank’s job to offer a point of view. And it’s fine for Broder to use his column to assert that Milbank is off base. Differing views, well argued, are what make opinion pages stimulating.

But a news story is different. It needs to inform in a way that is balanced, authoritative and transparent to readers.

Horowitz told me the thesis for his story emerged from neutral, broad reportorial inquiry. As he talked to a wide range of informed people before Milbank’s column appeared, he said, many debunked the Emanuel-is-the-problem view. “It wasn’t just a few isolated people,” he said, adding that many offered “a new view.” That, and his anecdotal account of Emanuel’s activities, formed “the news value of it.”

Broder disagreed. “There was no news in it,” he insisted to me. “You should expect to find news on the front page of the newspaper.”

I think Broder is partially right. The Horowitz story deserved to be in The Post. While offering no major revelations, it did flesh out the thesis. But Milbank’s column already had sparked days of discussion in political circles and among the public. Displaying Horowitz’s story at the top of the front page elevated its significance despite a late-to-the-game feel.

Howie Kurtz in WaPo:

The so-called dean of the Washington press corps — not everyone considers that a compliment — is usually gentle with his jabs. So when he took a couple of whacks at journalists who happen to be on The Washington Post payroll, some folks acted like there was blood on the floor.

A pundit taking on his fellow pundits — horrors!

Forgive me for not hyperventilating over this. What are we, some kind of Victorian debating society? Columnists should feel free to challenge each other, regardless of where they work. Newspapers need to be more provocative, not less. As long as there’s no eye-gouging, let it rip.


A purported news story? That’s unfair. Horowitz’s piece was an extensively reported effort at analyzing what is going on inside the White House that quoted 11 people on the record, most of them members of Congress as well as Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. Broder may disagree with the story’s thrust, but that doesn’t make it faux news.

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

This is a point Marc argued, originally, in reaction to Milbank’s column that started the recent Emanuel buzz: that these stories were the result of pro-Emanuel leaks, probably from his allies and not the chief of staff himself, and that the Post’s writers have taken those leaks a step too far–verging into full-on pro-Rahm analysis.

A question Marc raised–and one that Broder deals with–is whether all this talk is an entree to Emanuel stepping down as chief of staff.

If it is a product, as Broder suggests, of Emanuel venting frustrations to some of his pals, rather than an orchestrated leak, one has to think it’s not. An Emanuel resignation would certainly satisfy liberals, but now that there’s an impression that Obama hasn’t listened to his chief of staff on big tactical maneuvers, parting ways with Rahm wouldn’t allow the White House to disown any of its politics up to this point.

Attaturk at Firedoglake:

Oh, I’m sure no one would ever “suspect” Rahm of leaking stuff to the press, to make Rahm Emanuel look better, that would be f***ing retarded. It’s nice to see passive aggressiveness remains entrenched within the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — for 8 years I missed the passivity.

I will not take sides in a Broder vs. Milbank battle, other than to cheer on the war. But there is a point in Broder’s column when you cannot help but utter the statement, “WELL THAT’S RICH”

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

Reading between the lines, Rahm Emanuel is dead. He may not know it, but the man has no pulse left. His ghost is now trying to defend his legacy in the White House. Chief of Staff — the real one — Valerie Jarrett killed Rahm.

How do I know? I’ve heard from multiple people who, interestingly enough, are close to the White House who tell me that David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett are calling the shots and Obama increasingly relies on Jarrett for advice because she knows the Obamas, not necessarily Washington.

Then there are all the pro-Rahm stories in the last few weeks. Those stories do not happen randomly. There is a purpose. And the prevailing message is simple — if the President would listen to Rahm Emanuel, he’d not be in the mess he presently is in. And if Rahm is not being listened to and is now leaking that he is not being listened to, the wheels on the bus will go round and round over his body.

But the stories are right. The wheels are falling off the bus. Without a good knowledge of Washington, the Chicago Way fails in the inertia. Let’s start the Official Rahm Emanuel Dead Pool. We know Valerie Jarrett already killed him. But his body has yet to emerge from the White House.

It’s only a matter of time. And it’ll happen before summer.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

This is the most unBroderian column I have ever–ever–read, in which the dean slags his own newspaper, and several of his colleagues by name, for staging the Rahmadan festival of recent days.

“This is the most unBroderian column I have ever — ever — read,”marvels Joe Klein. I agree. And props to David Broder and the op-ed page for publishing it. This type of internal disagreement and willingness to pull back the curtain on how news stories get seeded, sourced and written is good for readers and makes for an interesting newspaper.

Glenn Greenwald:

One related point about the spate of “Obama-should-have-followed-Rahm’s-centrist-advice” articles that have appeared of late:  if you really think about it, it’s quite extraordinary to watch a Chief of Staff openly undermine the President by spawning numerous stories claiming that the President is failing because he’s been repeatedly rejecting his Chief of Staff’s advice.  It seems to me there’s one of two possible explanations for this episode:  (1) Rahm wants to protect his reputation at Obama’s expense by making clear he’s been opposed all along to Obama’s decisions, a treacherous act that ought to infuriate Obama to the point of firing him; or (2) these stories are being disseminated with Obama’s consent as a means of apologizing to official Washington for not having been centrist enough and vowing to be even more centrist in the future by listening more to Rahm (we know that what we did wrong was not listen enough to Rahm).  One can only speculate about which it is, but if I had to bet, my money would be on (2) (because of things like this and because these “Rahm-Was-Right” stories went on for weeks and Rahm is still very much around).Of course, the reason we have to speculate about such matters is precisely because journalists suppress the identity of those who are doing this, leaving us with a bunch of unaccountable royal court gossip and intrigue, the authors of which are completely shielded by these “journalists.”  That’s why anonymity more often than not obfuscates rather than enlightens.

John Cole:

I think you’d have to be nuts to think Rahm is behind the recent “Rahm was right” stories. It may be “friends” of Rahm who think they are doing Rahm a favor, or it may be folks in Washington playing their own political games, but no Chief of Staff in their right mind would be behind stories like this. Rahm may be a lot of things, but he is not a blithering idiot, and I’d bet anything he hates these stories as much as Obama

The second point, that Obama is not only ok with these stories but furthermore is “apologizing” to Washington is as crazy and conspiratorial as I’ve ever seen. It makes, quite honestly, no sense. Obama is ok with spreading stories that appear to have his Chief of Staff undercutting him?

Glenn consistently mocks the 11-dimensional chess when Obama’s defenders use it deflect blame when the Obama team has made mistakes. It’s absurd to then suggest that the Obama team is now deploying 11 dimensional chess with the media in order to apologize to centrist Washington. It particularly makes no sense when you consider Obama has become far more aggressive in the past few weeks (up or down vote, the line drawn at the HCR summit).

More than likely, I’d bet these stories are coming from Rahm’s buddies who think they are doing him a favor.

Noam Scheiber at TNR, with another Rahm profile:

At 50, Emanuel has the lean, taut look of a lifelong swimmer, with broad shoulders and distractingly prominent quadriceps. But at the heart of the Emanuel mystique is the family patois, which lurches between pronounced curtness and vivid, sometimes scatological, imagery. Emanuel will casually toss off quips like, “You’re in the bowels of nothin,’ man.” One former colleague recalls making two or three requests during a sensitive negotiation, only to have Emanuel respond: “Well, I guess if I can take care of Bill Clinton’s blow jobs, I can take care of that.”

And then there are the f-bombs, which Emanuel reels off like a verbal tic, sometimes embedding them in other words with Germanic aplomb. There is, for example, “Fucknutsville” (his pet name for Washington) and “knucklefuck” (an honorific bestowed on Republican opponents). In administration meetings, Emanuel will occasionally announce, “I think it’s fucking idiotic, but it’s your call.” (That would be Rahm-speak for: “You have more expertise than I do on this subject.”) He’s even been known to use the imprecation as a term of endearment, as when he signs off friendly phone calls: “Fuck you. See you later. I love you.” As Phil Kellam, one of Emanuel’s star recruits from the 2006 election cycle, recently joked to me, “If you could sum up Rahm Emanuel, it would be: big ideas, big mouth, big heart, little finger.” (Emanuel lost half his middle finger in a teenage accident.)

Among those most fluent in the Emanuel vernacular are members of the Obama economic team, with whom the chief of staff interacts constantly. For example, on February 10, 2009, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner delivered a speech laying out the various steps he would take to revive the financial system. The pundits promptly panned it, and the markets began to swoon. Both had expected Geithner to deliver a detailed set of remedies; instead, the secretary offered only the broad contours of a strategy.

Emanuel went ballistic. “He was like, ‘How could they have let expectations get so out of whack?’” recalls one official. Soon after, he began to take a special interest in Geithner’s work– in the way that a Jewish mother can be said to take a special interest in her son’s romantic life.

A quick review of Geithner’s schedule from one week last February will illustrate the point. On four of the five days, Geithner attended a White House senior staff meeting from 8:15 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., which Emanuel runs. In addition to this, Geithner joined a conference call with Emanuel and Larry Summers on the afternoon of Monday, February 16. On Tuesday, Geithner had a call with Emanuel scheduled from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon brought Geithner to an Oval Office meeting with Emanuel, Summers, and the president. This was followed by an hour-long meeting in Emanuel’s office. Geithner was back at the White House Thursday morning for a one-on-one meeting with Emanuel; Emanuel then called that afternoon and spoke to Geithner for 15 minutes. The next morning, it was Geithner who called Emanuel. A few hours later, Geithner turned up for a 90-minute meeting in Emanuel’s office.

When the Treasury Department released Geithner’s schedule last fall, the media made much of his conversations with Wall Street CEOs. But, as one official told me, “the interesting story wasn’t that Tim speaks to bankers–every treasury secretary does. It’s the extent of time he’s on the phone with Rahm.”

And yet, even here, the Cheney-Rove-Rasputin analogy breaks down. Emanuel wasn’t dictating policy to Geithner. Rather, the mantra of the meetings was “no more surprises.” (The president had inadvertently added to Geithner’s February 10 fiasco by talking up the speech beforehand; Emanuel partly blamed himself for the mix-up.) As another official describes it, “Rahm did not spend a lot of time on the ‘What, we have to bail friggin’ AIG out? It’s going to kill us politically.’ He just started making sure everyone was communicating.” Emanuel also wanted to ensure that, as the administration rolled out specific proposals–toxic-asset purchases, relief for troubled homeowners–Treasury sold them preemptively to journalists and Wall Street muckety-mucks.

Ezra Klein:

The Obama administration doesn’t reflect Rahmism or Axelrodism or Gibbsism. It’s Obamaism. Presidents need good advice, of course, but on the mega issues we’re talking about, the tradeoffs are fairly clear. You could replace Emanuel with another chief of staff and if Obama still choose to go for large legislative initiatives but doesn’t crack the heads necessary to keep the process moving fast or decides that Republicans might really cooperate this time, the outcome will be no different. People are, of course, a lot more comfortable blaming staffers, because staffers can be changed and no one wants to countenance the fact that the president himself doesn’t agree with them.

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

Once you get past the litany of Things That Make Rahm Emanuel’s Life So Hard, Scheiber takes a deep dive into Emanuel’s role in the health care reform debate. To boil it down, Emanuel preferred a strategy that placed a premium on speed and momentum. Unfortunately, President Obama apparently took all that stuff he said about operating in an open fashion with all parties seriously, and so, at a critical moment, he let Max Baucus be Max Baucus, and that prolonged the reform debate to where it is today — facing a post-Scott Brown Senate, and the obstacles that creates.

As it turns out, I’m pretty sympathetic to Emanuel on this score. The deliberations of Baucus’s “Gang Of Six” and the intense attempt to court Chuck Grassley proved to be largely useless (much in the same way as an intense courtship of Lindsey Graham, frankly!).

It’s still curious! For a guy who was supposedly at odds with White House staffers rooted in campaigning, Emanuel’s approach was to manage health care reform as a horse-race campaign rather than a policy that needed to be well-crafted. And for a guy who was worried about how it was “just too easy for opponents to cull a few smelly details” on the health care reform policy, his approach — selling out to the pharmaceutical industry and hospitals (deals that Rahm “trumpeted loudly,” so that people noticed) — put some foul-smelling stuff pretty front and center.


Look. Whether or not Emanuel works in the White House or doesn’t, whether he’s praised or blamed for his efforts, whether he gets his way or he doesn’t and whether or not Americans get expanded health care coverage or crucial financial reform, the important thing to remember is that Rahm Emanuel is going to be just fine, forever and ever. It really is vastly, almost inconceivably easy, to be Rahm Emanuel. Let’s stop pretending the man is suffering.

Peter Baker in NYT, with yet another Rahm profile:

In this season of discontent for Obama, Emanuel has emerged as the leading foil, the easy and most popular target for missiles flung at the White House from all sides. He is the bête noire of conservatives who see him as the chief architect of Obama’s big-government program and of liberals who consider him an accommodationist who undermines the very same agenda. The criticism has been searing and conflicting. He didn’t work enough across party lines. He tried too hard to work across party lines. He pushed for too much. He didn’t push for enough. The crossfire underscores his contradictions — how can Emanuel be so intensely partisan without being all that liberal and so relentlessly pragmatic without being bipartisan? And just as salient these days, how can he be so independent-minded and still remain loyal to a team operation?

After a series of attacks last month came articles in The Washington Post and elsewhere defending Emanuel, which in a way was worse for him, because it fed suspicions that he was secretly disparaging the president and colleagues. None of his closest friends believe he would deliberately do that, but all the attention on him lately has stirred widespread grumbling inside the White House about the violation of the “no-drama Obama” ethos cultivated during the campaign. Even some of Emanuel’s friends are aggravated at the perception that White House officials are taking shots at one another. As for Obama, “he’s irritated by the stories,” a top aide told me, and Emanuel has “expressed regret” to the president.

Emanuel, who declined to talk to me on the record for this article, generally shrugs off most of the commentary, scorning armchair critics who haven’t spent time in the White House or Congress actually trying to accomplish something. But at least some of this is bravado. “He is obviously going through a tough patch,” William Daley, a former commerce secretary and a close friend, says. “Everybody wants to dump on him because they don’t want to dump on the president.” Daley told me it is eating away at Emanuel: “Contrary to what he says, this stuff does bother him. He cannot fail. And if he thinks people think he failed, it depresses him. He can’t stand the thought that he’s failed, and he’s hearing that from too many people now.”

Eric Zimmermann at The Hill:

Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) is taking some harsh parting shots at the White House on his way out of office.

Massa, who is stepping down amid allegations of sexual harrassment, said that Emanuel is a ruthless tactician who would “sell his mother” for a vote.

“Rahm Emanuel is son of the devil’s spawn,” Massa said in a radio interview. “He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive.”

UPDATE: More Linkins

UPDATE #2: John Dickerson at Slate

UPDATE #3: Mark Schmitt and Noam Scheiber at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Mainstream, New Media, Political Figures

Troubled Times At The Times

Howard Kurtz in WaPo:

The Washington Times, which gained a strong foothold in a politically obsessed city as a conservative alternative to much of the mainstream media, is about to become a drastically smaller newspaper.

Nearly three decades after its founding by officials of the Unification Church, the Times said Wednesday it is laying off at least 40 percent of its staff and shifting mainly to free distribution.

In what amounts to a bid for survival, the company said the print edition will focus on its core strengths: politics, national security, investigative reporting and “cultural coverage based on traditional values.” That means the Times will end its run as a full-service newspaper, slashing its coverage of local news, sports and features.

The dramatic move is fueled by both internal church politics and a severe industry downturn that has forced a spate of big-city papers to shut down or declare bankruptcy. It represents a big bet on a digital future, with the Times attempting to chase a national audience while maintaining only a modest print presence in Washington.

The cutbacks are “very sad,” the company’s new president, Jonathan Slevin, said in an interview. At the same time, he said, “I see a very fine opportunity for the Washington Times to continue to advance the mission of the newspaper as an independent voice in the nation’s capital.”

Michael Calderone at Politico:

The notice was given to all 370 staffers to insure that the Times was compliant under the WARN Act, which according to the Dept. of Labor, requires “most employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs.”

So everyone remains in limbo until told that they’ll be staying on after 60 days. It’s expected that some staffers could be told very soon, with others informed either way later in the 60-day window.

A Times release went out after the meeting began that outlines some of the major changes taking place in the first quarter of 2010.

The news operation, according to the release, will focus on what it considers core strengths — “exclusive reporting and in-depth national political coverage, enterprise and investigative reporting, geo-strategic and national security news and cultural coverage based on traditional values.”

There will be “controlled-market local circulation,” with the local print edition free in certain areas of Washington with a premium price for home delivery. “No-cost distribution will focus on targeted audiences in branches of the federal government as well as at other key institutions,” the release said, although there will be single-copy sales in newspaper boxes and select retailers.

It’s been a tumultuous past month at the paper, and staffers were only informed of the meeting about an hour ahead of time in a one-line e-mail.

Justin Elliott at TPM:

Among the changes to be made gradually through 2010 are: free circulation to targeted groups, an expansion of the Timestheconservatives.com, more partnership with United Press International (UPI), which, like the Times, is owned by the Unification Church.

The turmoil at the Times, which was founded by church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon, began when three executives were fired in early November. The resignation of top editor John Solomon was announced a few days later. Solomon and the fired execs haven’t been talking, but sources and reports point to a combination of Moon family politics and financial problems driving the chaos at the paper, which has long been subsidized by the Unification Church.

Adding to the trouble has been a very public set of allegations made by now-former editorial page editor Richard Miniter, who has accused the Times of religious discrimination and breach of contract.

John J. Miller at National Review:

The free-dropped newspaper is becoming a very crowded space in the nation’s capital. There’s the Washington Examiner, the Express (a condensed version of the Washington Post), Politico, The Hill, and Washington City Paper.

How many free papers can one person read? How many free papers can one city sustain?

Joe Strupp at Editor and Publisher:

Daily circulation had taken a hit in the recent Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX Report for the six months ending Sept. 30, dropping from 80,962 to 67,148 compared to the same period a year earlier. Slevin said circulation would be reduced further, but did not indicate by how much: “There is still some due diligence we need to do to determine what circulation will result in what advertising revenue.”

But he noted that “more than a simple majority will be no cost, it will be more than half, significantly more than half.”

News coverage will be altered, Slevin said, stating “the newsroom will be smaller and we will focus on our strengths, which are national security, national politics, geo-strategic areas and cultural coverage, in addition to the opinion pages and investigation.”

The overhaul announced this week follows a recent management shake-up in November that included the dismissal of former president and publisher Thomas McDevitt, chief financial officer Keith Cooperrider and chairman Dong Moon Joo, as well as the departure of Editor John Solomon.

Slevin said a new editor may not be appointed, citing the ability of the two current managing editors to run the newsroom. “We are going to have something that is not a traditional news structure,” Slevin said, noting the editor post “is not a spot that necessarily needs to be filled.”

During the upheaval some employees, specifically former Editorial Page Editor Richard Miniter, have claimed Times employees were forced to attend Unification Church religious events. Slevin declined to comment on the issue.

Overall, he called Wednesday a “bittersweet” day. “It was known that a good number of people will no longer be with us,” he said. “But the forward-looking part is that we have a plan by which the paper and the multimedia company will get better.”

UPDATE: Ray Gustini at The Atlantic

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Shout Hallejulah C’mon Get Happy, Get Ready For The Judgement Day

We need a standing blogger ethics panel.

Howard Kurtz in WaPo:

On one point, there is no dispute: Katharine Weymouth did not like the subject of a Washington Post Magazine story that was headed toward publication and the piece wound up being killed.

Weymouth, publisher of The Post, told the story’s author, freelance journalist Matt Mendelsohn, at a brunch earlier this year that advertisers “wanted happier stories, not ‘depressing’ ones,” Mendelsohn wrote in an online posting. His story was about a 26-year-old woman whose arms and legs had been amputated.

Weymouth said Monday night that any impact she had was “completely inadvertent, because I would never interfere in an editorial decision and I had no intention of interfering.” She said that she had not even read Mendelsohn’s story, but that she had “used it as an example” with editors “of the kind of fare we should be moving away from.”

“Katharine didn’t kill my piece,” Mendelsohn said in an interview Monday. “But unfortunately, an offhand comment by Katharine might have set the stage for the piece to get killed. . . . Something she said perhaps created a climate for somebody down the chain to think that’s what Katharine wanted to happen.”

Post editors agree that Weymouth did not spike the story last spring.

Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s executive editor, called the sequence of events “an unfortunate coincidence” but said that the publisher, who runs the business side of the newspaper, did not interfere with what is clearly a newsroom decision.

Erik Wemple at Washington City Paper:

As Kurtz laid out in his thoroughly reported, perfectly timed piece that blew all my efforts out of the water, Weymouth didn’t keep her thoughts to herself. Rather, she mentioned it to top editors, and the piece ended up on the spike.

And thus the question posed so timelily by the Kurtz piece: Did the publisher of the Post kill a story?

When I put this question to Brauchli, I got a definitive answer. The publisher, he said, played no role in killing the piece, which died via a “normal editorial decision.” “Whatever Katharine may have felt about the piece was immaterial to the editorial process,” said Brauchli in his chat with me.

That was a strong statement, I told Brauchli, but I told him I still needed to speak with the editor of the piece to verify the normality of this decision. I mentioned that I’d tried to reach the editor—Sydney Trent—but hadn’t gotten a call back. Trent has since declared that she’ll have no comment.

The top guy couldn’t have been less sympathetic to my sourcing problem. “I don’t think it’s necessary for us to lay out all of the processes in the newspaper to make decisions,” he snapped. “Newspapers spend way too much time explaining themselves.” He went on: “Too many people call our newsroom. There are endless queries on our journalism these days. I think it’s better for us to focus on producing journalism than on our process.”


Jack Shafer in Slate:

Every editor and reporter wants a publisher who dips his hands into the editorial process—as long as the dipping is positive. They want to hear “attaboy” and “attagirl” from the publisher and receive pats on the back every time they do extraordinary work. The newsroom hangs on every word spoken, every gesture made by the publisher, especially at a paper like the Post that is controlled by Weymouth and the other heirs to the fortune of Eugene Meyer, the financier who purchased the paper at a bankruptcy auction in 1933.

For that reason, a boss needs to be careful when he tells a random guy in the lunchroom that he likes ketchup on his hot dogs lest an executive overhear him and ban mustard from the premises. If a boss wants mustard prohibited, he should say so unequivocally. Otherwise, he should just order his hot dog, eat it, and shut up.

Weymouth is obviously still learning on the job, which has become as painful for me as it must be for her. A newspaper is not a symposium, especially a newspaper that’s part of a division that lost $143 million in the first six months of 2009. One of the things she’s got to learn is that she can’t have it both ways. She can’t pretend that the newsroom floats in its own accountable-only-to-Brauchli ether at the same time she is telling editors (plural) enough with dwarf-leg stories.

Like it or not, the ultimate editorial hand is the publisher, which makes it absolutely vital that the right person hold the job.

Matthew Yglesias:

Honestly, I think the world might be better off if newspapers that are also subsidiaries of for profit companies just admit that that’s what they are and that, obviously, business considerations are relevant to the way the paper is run. Newspapers’ quasi-monopoly status during the classical 1960s-70s era of newspapering allowed the fiction that a newsroom has nothing to do with business to be fairly tenable. But in the pre-radio days when the newspaper market was highly competitive, everyone understood that the newsroom was part of a business. And this is a generally understood element of magazine journalism, and for-profit journalism in a broadcast and internet context. If you want coverage that’s untainted by commercial considerations, you should look for coverage done by non-commercial enterprises. The tradeoff is that non-commercial coverage may be shaped by fundraising considerations. But insofar as it costs money to produce content, the nature of the content that exists will be shaped by the quest for revenue. Note, for example, the insane proliferation of slideshows on commercial websites which is apparently driven by the fact that these are a good way to juice pageview stats.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I hope that this latest incident represents (another) hiccup as the Post figures out its future (one suggestion: Don’t let John Harris leave the paper. Oh, wait.). But in this Daily Beast world we live in, who can be sure? I’m sure about The Atlantic, however: For 152 years, the Atlantic has done the right thing — long-form, narrative journalism that exposes sin and corruption and holds powerful people accountable and at the same time enlightens and, yes, even entertains. There is no doubt in my mind that the current leadership of The Atlantic will maintain the magazine’s righteous course, even if newspapers like The Post lose their way.


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Eagerly Anticipating the Mother of All Blogger Ethics Panels

a Alan J. Pakulas - All the Presidents Men Hoffman Redford DVD PDVD_008

We’ve come to bury WaPo, not to praise it. Mike Allen in Politico:

For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post has offered lobbyists and association executives off-the-record, nonconfrontational access to “those powerful few”: Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and — at first — even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

The astonishing offer was detailed in a flier circulated Wednesday to a health care lobbyist, who provided it to a reporter because the lobbyist said he felt it was a conflict for the paper to charge for access to, as the flier says, its “health care reporting and editorial staff.”

With the newsroom in an uproar after POLITICO reported the solicitation, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said this morning that he was “appalled” by the plan and said the newsroom will not participate.

“It suggests that access to Washington Post journalists was available for purchase,” Brauchli told The Post’s media reporter, Howard Kurtz. The proposal “promises we would suspend our usual skeptical questioning because it appears to offer, in exchange for sponsorships, the good name of The Washington Post.”

Josh Marshall in TPM:

It’s worth noting the obvious competitive backstory behind the story. Politico is lead on the editorial side by a team of ex-Posties and it has targeted a big part of the paper’s business. But facts are facts. And Politico seems to have gotten some that the Post really needs to explain.

Gautham Nagesh at Ta-Nehisi’s place:

I’m sure in the coming days we will find out that this was the brainchild of Weymouth or one of the other suits that have little if anything to do with the daily news operation. But that’s what makes it so reckless and irresponsible. With one poorly-worded flier they have left their editorial staff vulnerable to questioning as to whether sponsors will have an influence on their reporting, questions that no reporter who is simply doing their job should ever have to face. I have a great deal of sympathy for the Post’s editorial department and I applaud their response. But someone upstairs should have to answer for this, preferably before the first Washington Post Salon on July 21st.

Michelle Malkin:

So: We are supposed to believe that WaPo chief and publisher Katharine Weymouth did not know that her business division was planning to use her home to hold lucrative salons cashing in on her connections and and celebrity.

Ouch, stop, stop. Sides. Splitting.

Ed Morrissey:

OK, OK, perhaps it isn’t fair to call the Washington Post a pimp for the White House.  Maybe it would be better to call this what it is — prostitution of the press in order to gain cash and sell itself out for access, both for itself and for its clients.  After all, with the Post grabbing between $25K-$250K for these soirees, it won’t do to risk its cash flow by being too critical of the White House and its occupants, would it?

James Joyner:

There are two obvious stories here.  First, the Post is going down a very steep, slippery slope to losing all journalistic credibility.  Second, the Post’s management seems to think that they have senior White House staff at their beck and call.  If there’s merit to this, it may be a bigger story than the first.

Matt Y

Atrios brings out the “emergency” for this blogger ethics panel here. Another post here.

Doug J. asks “What will Dana Milbank say?”

Tim F. “It looks like Dan Froomkin got out just in time.”

Doug J. again

UPDATE: Ezra Klein, who is, as we know, now at WaPo.

I had the unhappy experience this morning of waking up to a story about my news organization offering lobbyists the opportunity to chat health reform with government officials and Washington Post reporters — for $25,000 a seat.

There are two things I can say about this. One is that I think it appalling. The second is that I was never informed of, or invited to, any such salons (nor do I know who, if anyone, was). If I had been, I would have refused to attend.

UPDATE #2: Charles Kaiser:

The Washington Post died today.  It was five months short of its 132nd birthday.

Jennifer Rubin:

There is simply no explanation for the appalling judgment that led the newspaper to leap from journalism to pimping access, like some low-rent lobbyist that lacks even the proper disclosure for its actions. In a perfect world, those responsible should resign.

For those who decry the downfall of mainstream journalism, this suggests that the response is: “Not fast enough.”

Iain Murray at The Corner

The Post has canceled the salons.

UPDATE #3: Michael Calderone in Politico



And on a different note, Gabriel Sherman at TNR

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The “You’re Such A D*#%” Heard Around The Sphere


…over email, Nico says Milbank whispered “You’re such a dick” into his ear after the segment.

The Ana Marie Cox Tweet:

Sources say that at the end of the Dana/Nico segment, Dana says, “You’re such a dick.” Wishful thinking? Can anyone confirm?about 3 hours ago from TweetDeck

The Howie Kurtz Tweet:

Dana Milbank did not call Nico Pitney a dick or anything else after their Reliable debate, @anamariecox. It was civil. I was there.

Doug J.

On the whole exchange, some left bloggers. Steve Benen:

It’s not in the video, but as Howard Kurtz went on to introduce the next segment, Milbank whispered to Nico, “You’re such a dick.”

I guess he didn’t think the discussion went well.

For the record, Milbank again suggested this morning that Nico “worked in collusion” with the White House, and argued that presidential aides encouraged Nico to ask a question “a certain way.”

Milbank hasn’t produced evidence to bolster his claims, probably because they’re false. As Milbank should realize by now, the White House saw some value in answering a question from an Iranian, and knew Nico was in a position to offer one. Obama didn’t know the question in advance, Nico didn’t work in “collusion” with anyone, and not incidentally, Nico’s question was a good one that the president seemed anxious to dodge. (Honestly, if the White House were really going to “collude” with a journalist and encourage said journalist to ask a question “a certain way,” wouldn’t aides make it a softball?)

It’s a shame Milbank is still bothered by this, but his accusations, days later, remain unfounded. It’s one thing to be annoyed; it’s another to make up relevant details to fit a bogus conclusion in front of a national audience.

Doug J.

Milbank tries to ask Pitney a question about Bush calling on a Fox reporter, but asks it in an inaccurate way. So, let’s pose Milbank’s question as he should have asked it: If there was a Fox reporter who was in contact with a number of Iraqis (possibly on an Arabic language social networking site) and Bush told that Fox reporter that he would like the reporter to ask a question from an Iraqi person at the next day’s news conference, would you see that as inappropriate collusion?

For me, the answer is clearly “no”. And it would be even more clearly “no” if it turned out to be a difficult question.

I understand the point Milbank and others are trying to make, but the way in which they are making it is fundamentally dishonest. The question was a good question and it seems to have come from an Iranian person. Isn’t that good enough?


Just to put this into perspective, think about this: Nico Pitney has spent the last two weeks tirelessly developing sources from inside Iran, aggregating every relevant story available on the internet through every available form of the new communication technology and synthesizing one of the most most difficult and important foreign policy stories of the decade. Dana Milbank has spent the same period bitching about the “low press” getting to ask questions at a press conference and filming snotty little gossip items for his little insider video embarrassment called “Mouthpiece Theatre.”

You tell me which one’s the “real” journalist.

Spencer Ackerman (entire post):

Watch Nico Pitney play 50 Cent to Dana Milbank’s Ja Rule.

I’ve really never had any strong feelings about Dana Milbank. His column is designed to present a reader with color and not substance, and so when I see him at hearings that I cover I don’t read his stuff afterward to make sure that I didn’t miss an important detail like I will with a Siobhan Gorman piece or a Noah Shachtman piece. And that’s fine. There’s clearly a market for people who want to read about politics or policy as a spectacle in a newspaper, and Milbank feeds that market well. It’s not something that I particularly want as a reader, and so I don’t read his material, and I don’t need to, and that’s fine, and everyone’s happy. Takes all types and all that.

But it’s more than a little silly for Milbank to act like he’s a journalistic crusader while writing the material he writes. Here’s Nico, covering one of the biggest stories of the year in an innovative fashion, throwing a tough question at Obama in the process, and there’s Milbank, focusing on… the meta-question of the White House coopting Nico as a public-diplomacy strategy. The trivial mixes very poorly with the serious, and it’s really in poor form to call Nico a dick for pointing that out. I’ve lived in Washington for seven years now, and each passing year I fear that I’ll drink too much of the water that evidently interferes with a person’s capacity for self-awareness.

EARLIER: Nico, Nico, Nico

The Beltway Tries The Internet, The Internet Finds It Trying

UPDATE: Tbogg has the blow by blow in a post called “Dickgate.”

“Now comes the after-action report from Ana Marie Cox:

Sources say that at the end of the Dana/Nico segment, Dana says, “You’re such a dick.” Wishful thinking? Can anyone confirm?

Howie Kurtz whose bread is buttered by the WaPo is all, nuh-uh:

Dana Milbank did not call Nico Pitney a dick or anything else after their Reliable debate, @anamariecox. It was civil. I was there.

Ana Marie is all, yuh-huh:

@HowardKurtz Nico stands by the quote. Obviously, you both were there.

Howie backs off:

Well, maybe it got heated betw Pitney and Milbank after they left the set. I DID suggest (jokingly) that they take it outside.

Nico Pitney jumps back in and tells Milbank and Kurtz  to go fuck themselves:

ساعت ۶ امشب از این سایت ارسال کنید: http://bit.ly/mRe8w RT #soal #iranelection

Okay. Not really. But Nico could totally do it in Farsi and Milbank would be all, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Oh yeah? OK.” in front of the mirror and then he would once again be the most awesomest reporter in the world  and Jodie Foster or Cybill Shepard  would love him long time. Or something.”

UPDATE #2: Matt Y

UPDATE #3: Michael Scherer in Swampland:

And then came Sunday. Howard Kurtz invited both Pitney and Milbank onto his CNN show, ostensibly to talk about the issues at play. But both came prepared for battle. Pitney started off, accusing Milbank of all sorts of unrelated–and out of context–offenses, like once “hailing” President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner and once asking Obama about his appearance in a bathing suit, which Pitney termed “pathetic.” These are the sorts of attacks that make politicians look small and journalists look puny, since they are based on misleading isolated opposition research that has little to do with reality. As anyone who has followed the Post knows, Milbank has a long history of fiercely critical coverage of the Bush Administration, and covers the news as a columnist, who often unapologetically revels in the superficiality of politics.

Milbank, in turn, responded by declaring vaguely that Pitney was peddling “fiction” while trying to sabotage his foe with a bunch of paper, including a selection of his own columns and a copy of an email that Pitney had written. The pass-the-paper trick didn’t look very good when Rick Lazio tried it on Hillary Clinton in 2000, and Milbank did not come off much better. Meanwhile, on the interwebbing, the ideological jabberers took their positions, casting the debate in whatever light their readers might most enjoy. Liberal bloggers even created a tag on Twitter to commemorate the event, with wording (#dickwhisperer) that generally matched the seriousness of the discussion. Conservative bloggers pointed to Pitney as further evidence that Obama controls the media. Liberal media watchers played the Bush-was-worse game by pointing out past examples of manipulation of press conference questions.

Jason Zengerle in TNR

UPDATE #4: Joe Klein

UPDATE #5: Bloggingheads with Bill Scher and Matt Lewis


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Twitterers are saying #cnnfail for lack of Iran coverage.

Daniel Terdiman at Cnet

As the Iranian election aftermath unfolded in Tehran–thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to express their anger at perceived electoral irregularities–an unexpected hashtag began to explode through the Twitterverse: “CNNFail.”

Even as Twitter became the best source for rapid-fire news developments from the front lines of the riots in Tehran, a growing number of users of the microblogging service were incredulous at the near total lack of coverage of the story on CNN, a network that cut its teeth with on-the-spot reporting from the Middle East.

For most of Saturday, CNN.com had no stories about the massive protests on behalf of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was reported by the Iranian government to have lost to the sitting president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The widespread street clashes–nearly unheard of in the tightly controlled Iran–reflected popular belief that the election had been rigged, a sentiment that was even echoed, to some extent, by the U.S. government Saturday.

Dan Riehl

Ann Althouse


Andrew Sullivan

Via Sullivan, the Howie Kurtz tweeted response:

Maybe CNN should have taken CNNi feed last evening. But it was middle of the night in Iran, and even journalists have to rest sometimes.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb:

The western world’s most feared government is shaking with insurrection in the streets after a contested election and the leading name in news, CNN, is shockingly absent from the story. Twitter, meanwhile, is how Iranians are communicating with the outside world. It’s the best place to follow events going on in that country and CNN’s failure to engage with the story is one of the hottest topics of conversation there.

Hours after Iranian police began clashing with tens of thousands of people in the street, the top story on CNN.com remains peoples’ confusion about the switch from analog TV signals.

One quip we’ve seen is that “Tienanmen + Twitter = Tehran.” Twenty years ago this month, CNN brought live news about the Tienanmen Square uprising to the world. It’s really strange that the network is absent from this story. CNN anchor and mega-Tweeter Rick Sanchez defensively Tweeted hours ago that he covered Iran throughout the afternoon on TV, so perhaps it’s just the CNN.com web team that’s incurring the wrath of news consumers. CNN’s official Twitter account has been silent for four hours.

UPDATE: New York Times

UPDATE #2: Megan McArdle

Why doesn’t the MSM have more coverage?  Because they don’t have the manpower.  The cable networks are hamstrung by the fact that they don’t have much footage of what’s going on in Iran.  As I watch, they’re showing a combination of shots of peaceful protests in Western countries, lying propaganda footage from Iran’s state television system, and random b-roll of unidentified protests in some unidentified country that does not seem to be Iran.  This is less than must-see-TV.

The print media is hamstrung by the fact that they’ve slashed their foreign bureaus to the bone–and then amputated the bone.  There are too few journalists in too few places to cover a big story like this.

James Joyner on McArdle

Tyler Cowen

Jay Newton-Small at Swampland:

Eighteen years ago CNN got one of its first big scoops covering the first Gulf War when they convinced the Iraqi government to let them install a four-wire – an uncensored hard telephone line – between Baghdad and Atlanta enabling them to cover Operation Desert Storm’s January bombing of the Iraqi capitol live when every other network had packed up and gone home.

It is perhaps because of this tradition of up-to-the-instant war coverage that CNN became the target this weekend of bloggers angered at the network’s treatment of the Iranian electoral irregularities and subsequent mass protests. CNET and other media bloggers criticized the network’s website for simply reporting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejab’s planned victory rally and not leading with the irregularities, noting that hours after tens of thousands of protesters began clashing with police the lead story on CNN.com was still the relatively smooth transition from analog to digital TV in the U.S. Nico Pitney, a blogger with the Huffington Post combed through cable transcripts for mentions of Iran: only 91 on CNN on Saturday compared to 177 on the BBC and 149 on Sky News – Fox’s international affiliate. And critics convened on twitter to complain, making #CNNfail the top hit subject on the social networking site most of the weekend.

James Poniewozik

UPDATE #3: Alex Massie

Jim Manzi

UPDATE #4: Kevin Drum

I followed the events of the weekend via three basic sources.  The first was cable news, and as everyone in the world has pointed out, it sucked.  Most TV news outlets have no foreign bureaus anymore; they didn’t know what was going on; and they were too busy producing their usual weekend inanity to care.  Grade: F.

The second was Twitter, mostly as aggregated by various blogs.  This had the opposite problem: there was just too much of it; it was nearly impossible to know who to trust; and the overwhelming surge of intensely local and intensely personal views made it far too easy to get caught up in events and see things happening that just weren’t there.  It was better than cable news, but not exactly the future of news gathering.  Grade: B-.

The third was the small number of traditional news outlets that do still have foreign bureaus and real expertise.  The New York Times.  The BBC.  Al Jazeera.  A few others.  The twitterers were a part of the story that they reported, but they also added real background, real reporting, and real context to everything.  Grade: B+.  Given the extremely difficult reporting circumstances, maybe more like an A-.

UPDATE #5: Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic.

Bloggingheads with Henry Farrell and Judah Grunstein


Filed under Mainstream, Middle East, New Media