Tag Archives: Jack Shafer

Oh, Beltway, Beltway, Beltway

Jake Sherman and Marin Cogan at Politico:

Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the powerful Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has launched an inquiry into whether spokesman Kurt Bardella improperly shared e-mails from other reporters with a New York Times reporter writing a book on Washington’s political culture, POLITICO has learned.

Bardella has been cooperating extensively with the Times’s Mark Leibovich on the book, and Issa told POLITICO Monday that he would “get to the bottom” of exactly what Bardella shared with Leibovich.

On Tuesday morning, Issa fired Bardella as a result of his investigation.

Issa, Bardella and Leibovich all were given several opportunities by POLITICO to deny that the e-mails were improperly shared. Bardella and Leibovich declined comment. Issa says he simply does not know.

Issa said Monday that Bardella assured him that “he does not share information between one reporter and another.” But he added there are questions about whether he might have treated Leibovich and his book project differently.

“His collaboration with the book author is what I want to get to the bottom of,” Issa said.

Issa said he was seeking to speak to Leibovich personally on Wednesday to ascertain “what kind of cooperation he was expecting. … I want to know in minute terms what the terms are.” As of late Monday afternoon, Leibovich said he had not heard from Issa or his staff.

In an earlier interview with POLITICO, Issa said he was aware his staff has been cooperating with Leibovich and that he had had a hallway interview with Leibovich himself. He said he agrees that if Bardella forwarded or blind-copied reporter e-mails to Leibovich, it would be improper. “It troubles me too,” Issa said, adding that if it is going on, “I’m going to get it stopped.”

Confronted about whether he was sharing the e-mails with Leibovich, Bardella initially said, “Am I bcc’ing him on every e-mail I send out? Of course not.”

Paul Farhi and Paul Kane at WaPo:

Leibovich, a former Washington Post staffer, is on leave from the Times while he researches the book, which is scheduled to be published next year. Reached Monday night, Leibovich had no comment.

Politico.com first reported the alleged leak Monday. The Web site’s editor, John Harris, first raised concerns about the e-mails Sunday in a letter to Issa.

“The practice of sharing reporter e-mails with another journalist on a clandestine basis would be egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances,” Harris wrote, according to Politico. “As the editor-in-chief of Politico, my concern is heightened by information suggesting that Politico journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”

Harris – a former Post writer and editor – said in an interview Monday that his Capitol Hill reporters heard about the possible leak Friday. “It’s just intolerable if [information about] our reporting was shared with other journalists from other news organizations,” he said. “Our reporting is proprietary and our stories are competitive. Journalists have an expectation that their communication [with sources] is confidential.”

But sources familiar with the matter said that the leak involves hundreds of e-mails to Issa’s office, many of them mundane and routine inquiries from news organizations seeking information and interviews with the chairman.

Bardella lists Leibovich among his friends on Facebook.

Jack Shafer at Slate:

Although I would be first to offer condolences to any reporter whose e-mails or inquiries to a press officer had been blithely shared with another reporter, I wouldn’t spend more than five seconds on cheering him up. A certain variety of Washington reporter lives and dies by leaks from government officials, so I don’t see why a government official leaking to a reporter about a national security matter is kosher, but a government official leaking about what reporters are asking him about is “egregiously unprofessional,” “compromising,” or “intolerable,” as Harris puts it.

As for Harris’ expectation that communications from reporters will be “held confidential,” well, I feel another lung coming up. Although I hope flacks will keep confidential my inquiries to them and their bosses, never in my journalistic career have I believed that a flack would keep his mouth zipped. Flacks and reporters are in the business of distributing information, not sequestering it. They move information like currency traders! They’re blabbermouths! This is one reason why reporting on the press is so easy, why the freshest journalistic recruit can start reporting on the press with almost no experience: Reporters love to give up their secrets and the secrets of others. Why? Because that’s what they’re trained to do! Flacks are almost as loose-mouthed.

Anybody composing e-mails these days should proceed on the assumption that what they write will be posted on the Web milliseconds after they send it. E-mail is not a secure form of communication. You might as well skywrite your questions to a press spokesman as put them in an e-mail. If Harris is so upset about his reporters’ e-mails getting leaked to Leibovich, he should have them use the phone. It’s not a leak-proof device, but it’s harder to forward a phone conversation unless you’re running a tape recorder.

Of course it is wrong for somebody to share correspondence without asking for permission first, but if that ethical constraint were universally observed, there would be no journalism. We’d all be rewriting GAO reports for a living.

Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker:

I’m somewhat mystified that Issa required an “investigation” to get to the bottom of this, because inside Issa’s office there was no secret about Bardella’s cooperation. When I was writing my profile of Issa, Bardella openly discussed his cooperation with Leibovich—and not just with me, but with his direct boss as well. For example, during a meeting with Bardella and Issa’s chief of staff, Dale Neugebauer, the three of us had a light-hearted discussion about how extensively Bardella was working with Leibovich.

“So you know about this, right?” I asked Neugebauer.

“Oh yeah. Yeah, he knows,” Bardella said.

“He [Bardella] just got to Washington and he’s got a book about him coming out,” I noted.

“I know, no kidding,” Neugebauer said.

In a later conversation, Bardella told me, “I’ve shared a lot with [Leibovich].” He added, “I have provided him with a lot of content. I BCC him on certain projects that I’m working on.” Bardella said he shared information that shows “this is how it happens” and “this is the conversation I’m having right now.”

“Do the other folks in the office know?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Bardella said, and he gave me an example of the type of stuff he shares: “Here’s this inquiry I got from a reporter. Here’s what I said to my staff about it, here’s the story, here’s the e-mail I just got from so-and-so, another reporter who’s upset that I gave his story to [someone else].”

At another point in one of our conversations, Bardella explained that getting news in partisan outlets— he cited the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, and the Washington Times—was easy, but it didn’t have the same impact as getting something in the mainstream press. He explained that he had recently leaked a report on ACORN to the New York Times, which had run what was, in his view, a good story for Issa. He then received an e-mail from an aide to Senator Susan Collins, he said, who complained about not being part of the decision to leak the report. Bardella said that he sent the e-mails documenting the whole drama to Leibovich.

“I blind-copied Mark in my response,” he said, “which was, given that my options were the Examiner or the New York Times, I’m not exactly going to apologize for the result that I just produced that you would not have. You had the report for four days and you didn’t do shit with it.”

[…]

This long back and forth was the lead-in to a Bardella quote I used in the piece:

[R]eporters e-mail me saying, “Hey, I’m writing this story on this thing. Do you think you guys might want to investigate it? If so, if you get some documents, can you give them to me?” I’m, like, “You guys are going to write that we’re the ones wanting to do all the investigating, but you guys are literally the ones trying to egg us on to do that!”

To me that last quote was one of the most important things Bardella told me. The rest of it—that offices clash over how to leak info and that bookers and reporters are competitive—is interesting but relatively well known, and not very relevant to a piece about Darrell Issa. But that Bardella accused reporters of offering to collaborate with Issa as he launches what will inevitably be partisan investigations of the Obama Administration seemed jaw-dropping. This is exactly the dysfunctional investigator/reporter dynamic that in the nineteen-nineties fed frenzies over every minor Clinton scandal. In his short-lived career, Bardella was witness to the fact that it was all starting over in 2011, now that there was again a Republican House and a Democratic President. From what I know of what Bardella shared, the beat reporters who cover Issa and engaged in this kind of game with Bardella will be the ones most embarrassed by the e-mails that Leibovich possesses.

Andrew Sullivan on Lizza:

Will Ryan now publish every email he has sent requesting an interview with someone on the Hill? If not, why not? And if another journalist somehow got access to his emails and published them, would he be fine with that? Or is it just because he’s buddies with Leibovich? Just asking. I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the journalist-source relationship right now. I’m saying there are ethical and unethical ways to point this out.

Michael D. Shear at NYT:

Politico, the news Web site that on Monday revealed that a Congressional aide had been secretly sharing e-mails with a New York Times reporter,  itself sought correspondence between government officials in numerous federal agencies and other news organizations.

In a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request distributed to at least half a dozen cabinet departments, Ken Vogel, a Politico reporter, made a broad request for all government communications with reporters or editors of 16 news organizations.

The request — which was eventually fulfilled in part after being narrowed, a Politico editor said — asked for “copies of all correspondence,” including “but not limited to e-mails, notes, letters and phone messages — received from or sent to employees or officials” of a number of media organizations: the five major television networks; National Public Radio; the Web sites Huffington Post, ProPublica and TPM Muckraker; and The Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Washington Times. The request also included Politico.

Among the agencies that received the request were the Justice Department, the Energy Department, the Commerce Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Treasury Department and the Transportation Department.

Politico was the first to report this week that Kurt Bardella, the chief spokesman for Representative Darrell Issa of California, had been giving copies of Mr. Bardella’s e-mail correspondence to Mark Leibovich, a reporter for The New York Times who is on leave to write a book about the political culture in Washington.

Politico reported that its editor in chief, John F. Harris, wrote to Mr. Issa that the practice would be “egregiously unprofessional under any circumstances” and called for an investigation into whether “journalists may have had their reporting compromised by this activity.”

(Mr. Harris said in an e-mail Wednesday morning that he was not interested in a legal probe of the situation, but asked Issa directly for answers about the arrangement between Mr. Bardella and Mr. Leibovich.)

Mr. Harris said in an interview Tuesday that there was a difference between a routine request for correspondence under the Freedom of Information Act and an arrangement in which e-mails were passed on immediately to another reporter.

He called it “bad faith between journalists who had an expectation of privacy and the person representing Chairman Issa, who violated that.”

“I thought there was a professional expectation, widely held and legitimately held, and that was compromised.”

In the Politico request, Mr. Vogel hinted at one target of his search, noting that included in the response should be “invitations (including to social events).” In fact, several government officials said Tuesday that the broad request was eventually narrowed to a search for invitations from reporters to social events.

Ben Smith at Politico:

Over at The New York Times’s Caucus blog, Michael Shear (with assistance from three other reporters) responded this evening to POLITICO’s scoop about Kurt Bardella, a since-fired aide to Rep. Darrell Issa who shared reporters’ emails with Times reporter Mark Leibovich.

Shear reported that POLITICO’s Ken Vogel in 2009 filed a Freedom of Information Act seeking correspondence between “at least half a dozen cabinet departments” and representatives of various media outlets (including POLITICO).

Comparing Vogel’s request to the Bardella/Leibovich arrangement, under which Bardella apparently blind copied Leibovich on emails to unknowing reporters, Shear writes that Vogel’s “initial F.O.I. request was, if anything, broader in its reach than the dissemination of information from Mr. Bardella to Mr. Leibovich.”

I find the blog item a bit perplexing and out of character. The comparison, in any event, misses the point of Vogel’s request, whose results never wound up in a story.

The correspondence Vogel requested is considered public information under federal law, the Freedom of Information Act, while the emails Leibovich received from Bardella are not, because Congress — unlike executive branch agencies outside the White House (and some in it) — is not subject to the FOIA. There’s nothing terribly novel about seeking reporters’ emails with executive branch officials. The Columbia Journalism Review and Gawker forced the state of New York to release emails between reporters and David Paterson’s staff last year.

Leibovich’s email collection is for a book due out in 2012, which Leibovich’s publisher describes as an examination of “Washington’s culture of self-love.”

Vogel tells me his request wasn’t actually aimed at reporters. He was reporting for a follow-up story on the controversy over The Washington Post’s aborted plans to host “salons,” in which the Post offered lobbyists who paid as much as $250,000 off-the-record access to “those powerful few” — Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and even the paper’s own reporters and editors.

Shear writes “Mr. Vogel hinted at one target of his search, noting that included in the response should be ‘invitations (including to social events).’ In fact, several government officials said Tuesday that the broad request was eventually narrowed to a search for invitations from reporters to social events.”

Vogel says he never asked for “invitations from reporters.” He asked for emails with “employees or officials at the media outlets,” because he wasn’t looking for embarrassing emails from reporters, but rather for invitations to salons or other events.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with reporting on reporters and their emails, whether obtained from leaky staffers or public records. But the equivalence the Times went for in its headline isn’t there, either in the form or subject of Vogel’s reporting.

Dana Milbank at WaPo:

In the middle of all this is the book author, the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich, a friend of mine, who set out to write about this town’s culture and finds himself being sucked into the dysfunctional drama, which resembles nothing so much as a bad reality-TV show in which people put their honesty and judgment second to their quest to be players.

This particular episode begins with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, another friend of mine (see what I mean by incestuous?) who wrote the definitive profile of Issa in January, describing his history as a car thief, among other things. Lizza also got Bardella to make some some surprisingly candid statements.

“I’m going to make Darrell Issa an actual political figure,” Bardella said. “I’m going to focus like a laser beam on the five hundred people here who care about this crap, and that’s it . . . so Darrell can expand his sphere of influence here among people who track who’s up, who’s down, who wins, who loses.”

Bardella also disclosed contempt for reporters he described as “lazy as hell. There are times when I pitch a story and they do it word for word. That’s just embarrassing. They’re adjusting to a time that demands less quality and more quantity.”

Lizza learned that Bardella had been sharing reporters’ obsequious e-mails with Leibovich. Lizza didn’t include the anecdote because Bardella wasn’t his focus, but word spread via journalistic pillow-talk after Lizza mentioned it in conversations, eventually making its way to Politico. That publication had done more than any other to increase Issa’s profile, with items such as “Issa aims to unmask health care deals” and “Sheriff Issa’s top six targets.”

Put on your PJs: It’s about to get even cozier. Politico reporters were making inquiries on Friday about their e-mails being forwarded to Leibovich, but on Saturday night they partied with Leibovich at the American Legion Hall on Capitol Hill for the 40th birthday party of Politico’s executive editor, Jim VandeHei.

A few hours before the party, Leibovich got a call from Politico’s editor-in-chief, John Harris – who, along with VandeHei and reporter Mike Allen, used to work at The Post with Leibovich (and me! So very cozy!). “Couldn’t this wait until VandeHei’s party?” Leibovich joked to Harris.

The bash itself was a celebration of the politically powerful. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and White House official Austan Goolsbee joined the likes of Bob Woodward and Tom Brokaw in a video tribute to VandeHei. The party received a 600-word write-up, which included Leibovich’s attendance, in Allen’s Politico Playbook the next day.

Also Sunday, Politico’s Harris wrote to Issa calling for an investigation into the “egregiously unprofessional” release of e-mails. On Monday, Politico published a story on the controversy co-written by Marin Cogan, a friend of Lizza’s.

From what I understand, the e-mails won’t look good for Politico if and when Leibovich releases them. There are expected to be many from Allen and reporter Jake Sherman. There could be embarrassments for other outlets, including The Post, that played footsie with the 27-year-old Bardella as part of a culture in which journalists implicitly provide positive coverage in exchange for tidbits of news.

But this isn’t real news. The items Bardella fed journalists were “exclusive” previews of announcements designed to make Issa look good. Now that Bardella has been fired, Issa has been embarrassed and a few reporters are set to be humiliated, it might be a good time for those who cover the news to regain a sense of detachment from those who make the news.

Jennifer Rubin:

Self-absorption to the point of parody? Check. Thinly-disguised “news” stories that serve journalists’ own personal or business interests? Check. Evidence that “journalistic ethics” is taking on the status of an oxymoron? Check. In the world of celebrity journalists, it’s perhaps to be expected that some news reporters and editors have come to regard themselves as the story, or, at the very least, to become convinced that their concerns and woes as the most fascinating part of the story. (Hence, hours of Cooper Anderson’s knock on the head in Cairo.) For people in the business of providing “context” and “perspective” that’s a pretty big character flaw.

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Arianna Told Me To Write This Blog Post

Arianna Huffington at The Huffington Post:

I’ve used this space to make all sorts of important HuffPost announcements: new sections, new additions to the HuffPost team, new HuffPost features and new apps. But none of them can hold a candle to what we are announcing today.

When Kenny Lerer and I launched The Huffington Post on May 9, 2005, we would have been hard-pressed to imagine this moment. The Huffington Post has already been growing at a prodigious rate. But my New Year’s resolution for 2011 was to take HuffPost to the next level — not just incrementally, but exponentially. With the help of our CEO, Eric Hippeau, and our president and head of sales, Greg Coleman, we’d been able to make the site profitable. Now was the time to take leaps.

At the first meeting of our senior team this year, I laid out the five areas on which I wanted us to double down: major expansion of local sections; the launch of international Huffington Post sections (beginning with HuffPost Brazil); more emphasis on the growing importance of service and giving back in our lives; much more original video; and additional sections that would fill in some of the gaps in what we are offering our readers, including cars, music, games, and underserved minority communities.

Around the same time, I got an email from Tim Armstrong (AOL Chairman and CEO), saying he had something he wanted to discuss with me, and asking when we could meet. We arranged to have lunch at my home in LA later that week. The day before the lunch, Tim emailed and asked if it would be okay if he brought Artie Minson, AOL’s CFO, with him. I told him of course and asked if there was anything they didn’t eat. “I’ll eat anything but mushrooms,” he said.

The next day, he and Artie arrived, and, before the first course was served — with an energy and enthusiasm I’d soon come to know is his default operating position — Tim said he wanted to buy The Huffington Post and put all of AOL’s content under a newly formed Huffington Post Media Group, with me as its president and editor-in-chief.

I flashed back to November 10, 2010. That was the day that I heard Tim speak at the Quadrangle conference in New York. He was part of a panel on “Digital Darwinism,” along with Michael Eisner and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.

At some point during the discussion, while Tim was talking about his plans for turning AOL around, he said that the challenge lay in the fact that AOL had off-the-charts brand awareness, and off-the-charts user trust and loyalty, but almost no brand identity. I was immediately struck by his clear-eyed assessment of his company’s strengths and weaknesses, and his willingness to be so up front about them.

As HuffPost grew, Kenny and I had both been obsessed with what professor Clayton Christensen has famously called “the innovator’s dilemma.” In his book of the same name, Christensen explains how even very successful companies, with very capable personnel, often fail because they tend to stick too closely to the strategies that made them successful in the first place, leaving them vulnerable to changing conditions and new realities. They miss major opportunities because they are unwilling to disrupt their own game.

After that November panel, Tim and I chatted briefly and arranged to see each other the next day. At that meeting, we talked not just about what our two companies were doing, but about the larger trends we saw happening online and in our world. I laid out my vision for the expansion of The Huffington Post, and he laid out his vision for AOL. We were practically finishing each other’s sentences.

Two months later, we were having lunch in LA and Tim was demonstrating that he got the Innovator’s Dilemma and was willing to disrupt the present to, if I may borrow a phrase, “win the future.” (I guess that makes this AOL’s — and HuffPost’s — Sputnik Moment!)

There were many more meetings, back-and-forth emails, and phone calls about what our merger would mean for the two companies. Things moved very quickly. A term sheet was produced, due diligence began, and on Super Bowl Sunday the deal was signed. In fact, it was actually signed at the Super Bowl, where Tim was hosting a group of wounded vets from the Screamin’ Eagles. It was my first Super Bowl — an incredibly exciting backdrop that mirrored my excitement about the merger and the future ahead.

Jack Shafer at Slate:

I underestimated Arianna Huffington when she launched her Huffington Post in May 2005. I didn’t trash the site the way Nikki Finke did, though. Finke called Huffington the “Madonna of the mediapolitic world [who] has undergone one reinvention too many,” and slammed her site as a “humongously pre-hyped celebrity blog” that represented the “sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable.” And those were among Finke’s nicer comments.

Instead of critiquing Huffington’s debut copy, I speculated as to whether she was up to the job of “impresario.” In the scale of things, my write-up is more embarrassing today, now that Huffington has sold the Post to AOL for $315 million, than is Finke’s pissy take. Huffington has proved herself a first-rate entrepreneur, incubator of talent, and media visionary.

Felix Salmon:

My feeling, then, is that this deal is a good one for both sides. AOL gets something it desperately needs: a voice and a clear editorial vision. It’s smart, and bold, to put Arianna in charge of all AOL’s editorial content, since she is one of the precious few people who has managed to create a mass-market general-interest online publication which isn’t bland and which has an instantly identifiable personality. That’s a rare skill and one which AOL desperately needs to apply to its broad yet inchoate suite of websites.

As for HuffPo, it gets lots of money, great tech content from Engadget and TechCrunch, hugely valuable video-production abilities, a local infrastructure in Patch, lots of money, a public stock-market listing with which to make fill-in acquisitions and incentivize employees with options, a massive leg up in terms of reaching the older and more conservative Web 1.0 audience and did I mention the lots of money? Last year at SXSW I was talking about how ambitious New York entrepreneurs in the dot-com space have often done very well for themselves in the tech space, but have signally failed to engineer massive exits in the content space. With this sale, Jonah Peretti changes all that; his minority stake in HuffPo is probably worth more than the amount of money Jason Calacanis got when he sold Weblogs Inc to AOL.

And then, of course, there’s Arianna, who is now officially the Empress of the Internet with both power and her own self-made dynastic wealth. She’s already started raiding big names from mainstream media, like Howard Fineman and Tim O’Brien; expect that trend to accelerate now that she’s on a much firmer financial footing.

Paul Carr at TechCrunch:

We really have to stop being scooped by rivals on news affecting our own company.

Tonight, courtesy of a press release that our parent company sent to everyone but us, we learn that AOL has acquired the Huffington Post for $315 million. More interestingly, Arianna Huffington has been made Editor In Chief of all AOL content, including TechCrunch.

Now, no-one here has been more skeptical than me of AOL’s content strategy. I was reasonably scathing about that whole “tech town” bullshit and I was quick to opinion-smack Tim Armstrong in the face over his promise that “90% of AOL content will be SEO optimized” by March. Hell I’ve stood on stage – twice – on TC’s dime and described our overlords as “the place where start-ups come to die”.

And yet and yet, for once I find myself applauding Armstrong – and AOL as a whole – for pulling off a double whammy: a brilliant strategic acquisition at a logical price. As AOL’s resident inside-pissing-insider, I can’t tell you how frustrating that is. I can’t even bust out a Bebo joke.

An important note before I go on: I have no idea how any of this will affect TechCrunch. So far AOL has kept true to its promise not to interfere with our editorial and there’s no reason to suppose that will change under Huffington. That said, it would be idiotic to think that our parents’ content strategy – particularly the SEO stuff – won’t have annoying trickle-down consequences for all of us in the long term.

As I wrote the other week, I hate SEO. It’s bad for journalism as it disincentivises reporters from breaking new stories, and rewards them for rehashing existing ones. And it’s bad for everything else because, well, it’s garbage. But when discussing the SEO phenomenon privately, I’ve always cited the Huffington Post as the exception that proves the rule.

Arianna Huffington’s genius is to churn out enough SEO crap to bring in the traffic and then to use the resulting advertising revenue – and her personal influence – to employ top class reporters and commentators to drag the quality average back up. And somehow it works. In the past six months journostars like Howard Fineman, Timothy L. O’Brien and Peter Goodman have all been added to the HuffPo’s swelling masthead, and rather than watering down the site’s political voice, it has stayed true to its core beliefs. Such is the benefit of being bank-rolled by a rich liberal who doesn’t give a shit.

Ann Althouse:

What difference does it make? AOL as a brand meant something to me in the 1990s, but not now. Who cares whether AOL retains a semblance of political neutrality? In any case, mainstream media always feels pretty liberal, so why would anyone really notice. Now, that quote is from the NYT, so… think about it. The NYT would like to be the big news site that looks neutral (but satisfies liberals). HuffPo is the raging competition, which needs to be put in its place.

Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic

Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch

Kevin Drum:

Last night I saw a tweet saying that AOL was going to buy the Huffington Post for $31.5 million. Yowza, I thought. That’s a pretty rich valuation. Maybe 20x forward earnings? Who knows?

But no! AOL actually bought HuffPo for $315 million. I mentally put in a decimal place where there wasn’t one. I don’t even know what to think about this. It sounds completely crazy to me. The odds of this being a good deal for AOL stockholders seem astronomical.

Still, maybe I’m the one who’s crazy. After all, I haven’t paid a lot of attention to either HuffPo or AOL lately. I’m a huge skeptic of synergy arguments of all kinds, but maybe Arianna is right when she says that in this deal, 1+1=11

Peter Kafka at Media Memo:

So maybe AOL + HuffPo won’t equal 11. And maybe 10x Huffington Post’s reported 2010 revenue is a very pre-Lehman multiple. But the broad strokes here make sense to me:

AOL is pushing its workers very hard to make more content it can sell. HuffPo is a content-making machine:

Huffington Post still has the reputation as a left-leaning political site written by Arianna Huffington’s celebrity pals. In reality, it is most concerned with attracting eyeballs anyway it can. Sometimes it’s with well-regarded investigative journalism, and much more often it’s via very aggressive, very clever aggregation. And sometimes it’s by simply paying very, very close attention to what Google wants, which leads to stories like “What Time Does The Super Bowl Start?

However they’ve done it, it’s worked–much more efficiently than AOL, which is headed in that direction as well. AOL reaches about 112 million people in the U.S. every month with a staff of 5,000. The Huffington Post, which employed about 200 people prior to the deal, gets to about 26 million.*

AOL can start selling this stuff immediately:

HuffPo reportedly generated around $30 million in revenue last year, but that was done using a relatively small staff that sales chief Greg Coleman had just started building. AOL’s much bigger sales group, which has just about finished its lengthy reorg, should be able to boost that performance immediately.

AOL can afford it:

Tim Armstrong’s company ended 2010 with $725 million in cash, much of which it generated by selling off old assets. This seems like a relatively easy check to write and one that shouldn’t involve a lot of overlapping staff–AOL figures it will save $20 million annually in cost overlaps, but that it will spend about $20 million this year on restructuring charges. HuffPo is about four percent of AOL’s size, and several of its top executives are already stepping aside. (This is the second time in two years that sales boss Greg Coleman has been moved out of a job by Tim Armstrong.) The biggest risk here will be in the way that Huffington, who is now editor in chief for all of AOL’s edit staff, gets along with her new employees. On the other hand, morale is low enough at many AOL sites that it will be hard to make things worse.

AOL Gets a Really Big Brand:

There’s some downside risk to attaching Arianna Huffington’s name to a big, mainstream media brand, as her politics and/or persona might scare off some readers and/or advertisers. But two years after Armstrong arrived from Google, AOL still doesn’t have a definable identity, other than “the Web site your parents might still pay for even though there’s no reason to do so.” Being known as “the guys who own Huffington Post” is infinitely better than that.

HuffPo’s “pro” list is much shorter, but only because there’s not much to think about for them: Huffington, co-founder Kenneth Lerer and their backers get a nice return on the five years and $37 million they put into the company. And those who stay on get to leverage the benefits of a much larger acquirer–access to more eyballs and more advertisers. Easy enough to understand.

Dan Lyons at The Daily Beast:

No doubt Hippeau and Lerer and Huffington were drinking champagne last night, but the truth is, this deal is not a victory for either side. It’s a slow-motion train wreck and will end in disaster.

Listen to Nick Denton, who runs Gawker, which now becomes the biggest independent Web-based news outlet. “I’m disappointed in the Huffington Post. I thought Arianna Huffington and Kenny Lerer were reinventing news, rather than simply flipping to a flailing conglomerate,” he told me.

Denton insists he has no intention of ever selling Gawker, and he seems not-so-secretly pleased to see his opponents cashing out: “AOL has gathered so many of our rivals— Huffington Post, Engadget, Techcrunch—in one place. The question: Is this a fearsome Internet conglomerate or simply a roach motel for once lively websites?”

One big problem with the deal is that Arianna Huffington now runs editorial for AOL properties, which include tech sites Engadget and TechCrunch. Those sites are both accustomed to being free-wheeling, fiercely independent and fiercely competitive—so competitive, in fact, that recently they’ve been battling with each other.

Michael Arrington, who runs TechCrunch and just sold it to AOL a few months ago, is an abrasive, big-ego, sometimes obnoxious guy. He’s a friend of mine, so I mean this in the best possible way. But I can’t imagine him working for Arianna.

The other, bigger problem is AOL itself. AOL touts itself as a media company, but as Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker recently, most of what AOL publishes is junk, and 80 percent of its profits come from a rather seedy little business—charging subscription fees from longtime users who don’t realize that they no longer need to pay for AOL service, and could be getting it free.

The other problem is that AOL’s chief executive, Tim Armstrong, is a sales guy. He ran sales at Google before he came to AOL in 2009. Nothing wrong with sales guys, except when they start telling people how to do journalism. Sales guys deal in numbers. But journalism is about words. Sales guys live in a world where everything can be measured and analyzed. Their version of journalism is to focus on things like “keyword density” and search-engine optimization.

Journalists live in a world of story-telling, and where the value of a story, its power to resonate, is something they know by instinct. Some people have better instincts than others. Some people can improve their instincts over time. The other part of storytelling is not the material itself but how you present it. Some can spin a better tale out of the same material than others.

But no great storyteller has ever been someone who started out by thinking about traffic numbers and search engine keywords.

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Filed under New Media

You Can’t Spell “Assange” Without…

Sarah Ellison at Vanity Fair:

On the afternoon of November 1, 2010, Julian Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks.org, marched with his lawyer into the London office of Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian. Assange was pallid and sweaty, his thin frame racked by a cough that had been plaguing him for weeks. He was also angry, and his message was simple: he would sue the newspaper if it went ahead and published stories based on the quarter of a million documents that he had handed over to The Guardian just three months earlier. The encounter was one among many twists and turns in the collaboration between WikiLeaks—a four-year-old nonprofit that accepts anonymous submissions of previously secret material and publishes them on its Web site—and some of the world’s most respected newspapers. The collaboration was unprecedented, and brought global attention to a cache of confidential documents—embarrassing when not disturbing—about American military and diplomatic activity around the world. But the partnership was also troubled from the start.

In Rusbridger’s office, Assange’s position was rife with ironies. An unwavering advocate of full, unfettered disclosure of primary-source material, Assange was now seeking to keep highly sensitive information from reaching a broader audience. He had become the victim of his own methods: someone at WikiLeaks, where there was no shortage of disgruntled volunteers, had leaked the last big segment of the documents, and they ended up at The Guardian in such a way that the paper was released from its previous agreement with Assange—that The Guardian would publish its stories only when Assange gave his permission. Enraged that he had lost control, Assange unleashed his threat, arguing that he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released.

Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic:

Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison has penned an extraordinary look into the relationship between Wikileaks and the traditional journalism outfits that have collaborated with it

Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic

Jack Shafer at Slate:

Julian Assange gives everybody headaches.

Not just the U.S. Department of State. Not just the Pentagon or Attorney General Eric Holder, who wants to indict Assange for something—anything. Not just Bank of America, which Assange has hinted will be the next to fall into his crosshairs. According to a Vanity Fair feature from the February 2011 issue, embargoed by the magazine until midnight, Jan. 5, the WikiLeaks founder has even been driving the news organizations he feeds absolutely nuts.

Assange bedevils the journalists who work with him because he refuses to conform to any of the roles they expect him to play. He acts like a leaking source when it suits him. He masquerades as publisher or newspaper syndicate when that’s advantageous. Like a PR agent, he manipulates news organizations to maximize publicity for his “clients,” or when moved to, he threatens to throw info-bombs like an agent provocateur. He’s a wily shape-shifter who won’t sit still, an unpredictable negotiator who is forever changing the terms of the deal.

“The Man Who Spilled the Secrets,” written by Sarah Ellison, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of War at the Wall Street Journal, also supplies a pocket history of the financially stressed, trust-supported Guardian. But the real meat is Assange’s relationship with the press, primarily the Guardian.

Assange started collaborating with the paper in 2010 after its star reporter, Nick Davies, convinced him that sharing raw data with a news organization would give the leaks greater visibility than merely publishing them on the WikiLeaks Web site. Once the Assange connection was made, the Guardian brought in the New York Times. Assange, flexing his proprietary rights, recruited Der Spiegel—“without consulting anyone at the Guardian or the Times,” Ellison writes—for the publication of the Afghanistan war leaks in July 2010.

The Der Spiegel deal ruffled the Guardian, as did Assange’s eventual inclusion of Britain’s Channel 4 TV network in the Afghan-files “consortium.” The Guardian‘s Davies felt so betrayed by Assange, Ellison reports, that the two have not spoken since.

Davies’ ire is only natural. All reporters become possessive of their sources. Even the most humble journalist will talk about his sources as if the individuals supplying information actually belong to him. These journalists grow furious when their sources work with other journalists. I’ve heard reporters speak with such intense pride about the sources they’ve cultivated that they make them sound like heirloom tomatoes that have been brought to vine-ripened perfection. More than anything, journalists expect a combination of trust and servility from their leakers.

Davies of the Guardian and others in the media seem to have misjudged Assange, thinking him just another source. Assange would probably slap you if you called him a “source” to his face. He calls himself a practitioner of “scientific journalism,” and while the label may be vainglorious, Assange isn’t completely loony. He has routinely published carefully collected, vital information on WikiLeaks.org. You can criticize the journalistic quality of his pages, but you can’t say they aren’t acts of journalism: They have steadily revealed unknown facts worth knowing.

Felix Salmon:

Instead, there seems to be something about Assange personally which sets people on edge and makes them dislike him intensely: his biggest fans are often those who have never met him or who have known him only for a very short amount of time.

That’s unfortunate, to say the least: it takes an issue which is messy to begin with and makes it a great deal messier. But at the same time, Assange has clearly been under an enormous deal of stress — and this is a man who once checked himself into hospital with depression after being charged with computer hacking in Australia. It’s easy to see how he wouldn’t have considered that to be an option in recent months.

My suspicion is that there’s something quite unstable and destructive about Assange’s current mental state and that there has been since before he was in Sweden. I hope his publishers have a lot of patience: getting his very expensive book into a publishable state could be a very arduous process indeed.

Henry Farrell:

Taken together, these suggest that Wikileaks-type phenomena are nowhere near as invulnerable to concerted state action as some of the more glib commentators have suggested. It needs money and proper organizational structures to work. The piece hints that the current version of Wikileaks – which seems an awkward amalgam of open source style volunteerism and personality cult – is on the brink of collapse. It also needs to be able to build and maintain connections with external organizations, both to get resources in, and to get information out. These present obvious vulnerabilities. They also suggest that it will be far more difficult to create a multitude of mini-Wikileaks than it appears at first sight. You need more than a secure connection and a website to make this model work. At a minimum, you need enough of an organization to be able to build and retain links with bigger media.

Finally, the most interesting consequence of Wikileaks is not that it has released much genuinely new information into the world (there are some consequential facts that were not widely known, but they are a relatively small part of the story). It is that it is redefining the boundary between facts that ‘everybody’ (for political elite values of ‘everybody’) knows but that are non-actionable in the public space, because they are not publicly confirmable, and facts that are both perceived as politically salient and confirmable, and hence are legitimate ‘news.’ Wikileaks means that many issues that are known are now also confirmably known, and confirmed as being known by the gatekeepers of public knowledge. I strongly suspect that this would not be true if Assange had not struck alliances with respected media organizations. The interesting action is precisely in the interaction between media organizations and organizations like Wikileaks, which are neither traditional sources nor media organizations themselves. This relationship is what will largely determine how the balance between ‘news’ and politically salient but non-actionable information shifts.

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Filed under Mainstream

Tucson

James Fallows:

After this horrible news from Tucson….

… let me amplify something I said half-coherently in a live conversation with Guy Raz on All Things Considered a little while ago. My intended point was:

Shootings of political figures are by definition “political.” That’s how the target came to public notice; it is why we say “assassination” rather than plain murder.

But it is striking how rarely the “politics” of an assassination (or attempt) match up cleanly with the main issues for which a public figure has stood. Some killings reflect “pure” politics: John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln, the German officers who tried to kill Hitler and derail his war plans. We don’t know exactly why James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, but it must have had a lot to do with civil rights.

There is a longer list of odder or murkier motives:
– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.

– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.

– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.

– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.

– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.

– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.

– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.

So the train of logic is:
1) anything that can be called an “assassination” is inherently political;
2) very often the “politics” are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than “normal” political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades people debated whether the city was somehow “responsible” for the killing. (Even given that Lee Harvey Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)

That’s the further political ramification here. We don’t know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we’ll never “understand.” But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac’s famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed — including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about “eliminating” opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say “don’t retreat, reload.”

Jack Shafer at Slate:

The attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the killing of six innocents outside a Tucson Safeway has bolstered the ongoing argument that when speaking of things political, we should all avoid using inflammatory rhetoric and violent imagery.

“Shooting Throws Spotlight on State of U.S. Political Rhetoric,” reports CNN. “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics,” states the New York Times. Keith Olbermann clocked overtime on Saturday to deliver a commentary subtitled “The political rhetoric of the country must be changed to prevent acts of domestic terrorism.” The home page of the Washington Post offered this headline to its story about the shooting: “Rampage Casts Grim Light on U.S. Political Discord.”

The lead spokesman for the anti-inflammatory movement, however, was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose jurisdiction includes Tucson. Said Dupnik at a Jan. 8 press conference in answer to questions about the criminal investigation:

I’d just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are—how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik’s ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the “unbalanced.” Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin’s “target” map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.

And, fifth, that it’s a cop’s role to set the proper dimensions of our political debate. Hey, Dupnik, if you’ve got spare time on your hands, go write somebody a ticket.

Sheriff Dupnik’s political sermon came before any conclusive or even circumstantial proof had been offered that the shooter had been incited by anything except the gas music from Jupiter playing inside his head.

For as long as I’ve been alive, crosshairs and bull’s-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such “inflammatory” words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I’ve listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I’ve even gotten angry, for goodness’ sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge.

From what I can tell, I’m not an outlier. Only the tiniest handful of people—most of whom are already behind bars, in psychiatric institutions, or on psycho-meds—can be driven to kill by political whispers or shouts. Asking us to forever hold our tongues lest we awake their deeper demons infantilizes and neuters us and makes politicians no safer.

Alex Massie:

So apparently a pretty stupid Sarah Palin poster from last year in which gunsights were slapped over 20 districts carried by John McCain from which the Democratic incumbent had voted for Obamacare, is now to be considered the inspiration for this atrocity. Mrs Palin has some influence, but let’s not get carried away. For what it’s worth – and readers know that I’m hardly her greatest fan – I do not think she is very much more responsible for this abomination than Jodie Foster was for John Hinckley’s attempt to murder Ronald Reagan. In any case, Palin’s poster was only a souped-up version of a campaign trope that both parties have been happy to employ in the past. (That said, Palin Presidential Futures, already worth shorting, took another dive yesterday.)

But the sordid temptations of politics are such that people who argue there’s little sensible connection between Hollywood “violence” and real-world violence now suddenly insist that it just takes a silly poster and plenty of over-heated rhetoric to inspire America’s Top Kooks to come out of the closet, all guns blazing. And of course the reverse is also true: people happy to blame Grand Theft Auto for just about anything now insist there’s no connection at all between the tone of political discourse (“Second Amendment Solutions!”) and some nut taking these notions just a little bit too seriously.

Clearly, things are a little more complicated than that. While you cannot legislate for lunatics there’s also little need to give them any encouragement. But the more we learn about Jared Loughner the more it seems probable – at this stage – that he’s the kind of mentally unstable person who neither needed nor took any inspiration from Palin or the Tea Party or anything other than powerful fantasies that were his own creation.

And this too is normal. Political violence of this type is almost definitionally unhinged but it’s striking how rare it turns out to be the case that the perpetrators can be fitted into one neat political profile or another. And even when they can their targets are frequently so at odds with the meaning of their supposed “philosophy” that trying to “make sense” of such matters becomes an even more frustrating task.

Anyway, we may think these are unusually turbulent times, fanned by unusual quantities of cheap and phoney populism, scaremongering and hysteria but this is not in fact the case. ‘Twas ever thus and the 1960s offer a perspective that might be worth looking at if only, despite all the huffing and puffing, to appreciate how calm and at peace America is these days. Remember McKinley and Garfield too, if you want to go still further back. America ain’t tearing itself apart these days, no matter how much Paul Krugman tries to persuade you it must be. The paranoid style has rarely lacked followers and, just as significantly, the centre has also always had a healthy paranoia of its own. Sometimes, as is the case today or in the aftermath of any other act of grim violence, this will seem unusually plausible.

Most of the time, however, the scare stories about a new era of Militiamen or whatever are seriously over-cooked. The temper of these American  times – despite what you will read everywhere today and tomorrow – is not unusually rebarbative or even uncommonly obtuse. (What might be said, mind you, is that the level of rhetoric is out of proportion to the stakes involved in the political game these days.)

The fact of the matter is that a country of 300 million people cannot help but be generously larded with oddballs, freaks, paranoids and assorted other nutters. Couple that with the American genius for self-realization and you soon begin to wonder why there isn’t more politically-themed violence than is actually the case

Radley Balko:

We’re going to hear a lot of talk in the coming days about putting an end to anti-government rhetoric. I’ve been listening to it all morning on the Sunday talk shows. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, here: Initiating violence against government officials and politicians is wrongheaded, immoral, futile, and counterproductive to any anti-government cause. As is encouraging or praising others who do. I ban anyone who engages in that kind of talk here.

But it’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence you see in these videos is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.)

I hope Rep. Giffords—and everyone wounded yesterday—makes a full recovery. It’s particularly tragic that she was shot while doing exactly what we want elected officials to do—she was making herself available to the people she serves. And of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.

That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.

Michelle Malkin

Jonathan Martin in Politico

Keach Hagey in Politico

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

There’s no question that the GOP and its proponents are more than ready to play a similar game. Any moral lapse by a Democrat, for instance, is an ethical rot that stems directly from the malefactor’s stance on the minimum wage or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, say, while hypocrites such as Sen. Larry Craig and Tom DeLay are ethical one-offs. The most-unbelievable response in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was longterm GOP activist Jerry Falwell’s announcement on Pat Robertson’s TV network that gays and women wearing pants etc. were responsible for radical Islamists killing 3,000 people (even more sadly, years after Falwell apologized for his self-evidently retarded statement, conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza blew out the thesis into a full-length book). I’m not trying to be “fair and balanced” here by bringing up GOP stupidity; I’m trying to point out that we’re in a decade of this sort craptastic instantaneous spin that latches on to everything in its path. I say this as someone who was fingered as broadly responsible for the culture that produced “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh.

Readers of this site know I’m no Sarah Palin fan, but to accuse her of complicity in the murderous spree of a clearly insane person is one of the main reasons that partisan political parties are losing market share. I had myself tweeted that blaming Palin for Jared Loughner’s mass killing would be like blaming J.D. Salinger for Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon (and as Jesse Walker pointed out, in Chapman’s case, at least we could be sure Chapman had read Salinger). Given Loughner’s fixation on grammar and the supposed lack of literacy evinced by most Americans, maybe William Safire and S.I. Hayakawa should be held responsible.

Like Matt Welch and Jack Shafer, I don’t think that today’s political rhetoric is particularly overheated or vitriolic and, even if it were, I don’t think that would be a problem. I suspect that most people are like me in that they respond to folks who actually believe something and are willing to fight for it when it comes to a particular political issue. I don’t like bipartisanship, which usually means that all of us get screwed, but it’s easy enough to respect someone you virulently disagree with if you think they are arguing in good faith.

The problem isn’t with the current moment’s rhetoric, it’s with the goddamn politicization of every goddamn thing not even for a higher purpose or broader fight but for the cheapest moment-by-moment partisan advantage. Whether on the left or on the right, there’s a totalist mentality that everything can and should be explained first and foremost as to whether it helps or hurt the party of choice.

That sort of clearly calculated punditry helps explain one of last week’s other big stories, which is how both the Dems and the GOP have really bad brand loyalty these days. In its most recent survey of political self-identification, Gallup found that the Dems were at their lowest point in 22 years and that the GOP remains stuck below the one-third mark. The affiliation that has the highest marks for the past couple of decades on average and is growing now is independent. Faced with the way that the major parties and their partisans try to bend every news story, trend, box office hit or bomb, you name it, whether truly horrific (as Saturday’s shooting was) or totally banal, is it any wonder that fewer people want to be affiliated with the Dems and Reps? This is a long-term trend. Indeed, Harris Poll numbers that stretch back to the late ’60s show the same trend: Fewer and few folks want to view themselves as Democrats and the GOP has never been popular (even though far more people consider themselves “conservative” than “liberal”). And note what Gallup are Harris are talking about there is not party registration. It’s identification and self-affiliation; how you see yourself. It’s a cultural identity.

Paul Krugman at The New York Times

Ross Douthat at The New York Times

Tom Maguire on Krugman

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:

At 2:00 a.m. on Saturday—about eight hours before he allegedly killed six people and wounded 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in Tucson—Jared Lee Loughner phoned an old and close friend with whom he had gone to high school and college. The friend, Bryce Tierney, was up late watching TV, but he didn’t answer the call. When he later checked his voice mail, he heard a simple message from Loughner: “Hey man, it’s Jared. Me and you had good times. Peace out. Later.”

That was it. But later in the day, when Tierney first heard about the Tucson massacre, he had a sickening feeling: “They hadn’t released the name, but I said, ‘Holy shit, I think it’s Jared that did it.'” Tierney tells Mother Jones in an exclusive interview that Loughner held a years-long grudge against Giffords and had repeatedly derided her as a “fake.” Loughner’s animus toward Giffords intensified after he attended one of her campaign events and she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer a question he had posed, Tierney says. He also describes Loughner as being obsessed with “lucid dreaming”—that is, the idea that conscious dreams are an alternative reality that a person can inhabit and control—and says Loughner became “more interested in this world than our reality.” Tierney adds, “I saw his dream journal once. That’s the golden piece of evidence. You want to know what goes on in Jared Loughner’s mind, there’s a dream journal that will tell you everything.”

Peter Beinart at Daily Beast:

Liberals should stop acting like the Tea Party is guilty of inciting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting until proven innocent. That’s unfair. If someone finds evidence that violent anti-government, or anti-democratic, rhetoric helped trigger Jared Lee Loughner’s shooting spree, then the people making those statements should pay with their political careers. But so far, at least, there is no such evidence. Of course, Sarah Palin should stop using hunting metaphors to discuss her political opponents. She should stop doing that, and a dozen other idiotic things. But just as Tea Partiers are wrong to promiscuously throw around terms like “communist” and “death panels,” liberals should avoid promiscuously accusing people of being accessories to attempted murder. That’s too serious a charge to throw around unless you have the goods. I want Barack Obama to derail the congressional Republicans as much as anyone. But not this way.

The Giffords shooting doesn’t prove that Sarah Palin has blood on her hands. What it does prove is that when it comes to terrorism, people like Sarah Palin have a serious blind spot. On the political right, and at times even the political center, there is a casual assumption—so taken for granted that it is rarely even spoken—that the only terrorist threat America faces is from jihadist Islam. There was a lot of talk a couple of weeks back, you’ll remember, about a terrorist attack during the holiday season. And there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the threat of homegrown terrorists. Well, we’ve just experienced a terrorist attack over the holiday season, and it was indeed homegrown. Had the shooters’ name been Abdul Mohammed, you’d be hearing the familiar drumbeat about the need for profiling and the pathologies of Islam. But since his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he gets called “mentally unstable”; the word “terrorist” rarely comes up. When are we going to acknowledge that good old-fashioned white Americans are every bit as capable of killing civilians for a political cause as people with brown skin who pray to Allah? There’s a tradition here. Historically, American elites, especially conservative American elites, have tended to reserve the term “terrorism” for political violence committed by foreigners. In the early 20th century, for instance, there was enormous fear, even hysteria, about the terrorist threat from anarchist and communist immigrants from Eastern or Southern Europe, people like Sacco and Vanzetti. In the aftermath of World War I, large numbers of immigrant radicals were arrested and deported. Nothing similar happened to members of the white, protestant Ku Klux Klan, even though its violence was more widespread.

Similarly today, the media spends the Christmas season worrying how another attack by radical Muslims might undermine President Obama’s national-security credentials. But when Jared Lee Loughner shoots 20 people at a Safeway, barely anyone even comments on what it says about the president’s anti-terror bona fides. And yet Loughner’s attack is, to a significant degree, what American terror looks like. Obviously, jihadists have committed their share of terrorism on American soil in the last couple of decades—from the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 to the 9/11 attacks to Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan’s murder of 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. But there have been at least as many attacks by white Americans angry at their own government or society. For almost two decades, culminating in 1995, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski sent mail bombs to people he considered complicit in industrial America’s assault on nature. (A surprising amount of recent American terrorism comes from militant environmentalists.) That same year, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the second-largest recent terrorist attack on U.S. soil after 9/11. In 1996, Eric Rudolph bombed the Atlanta Olympics to protest abortion and international socialism. According to the FBI, opposition to abortion also played a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks (you know, the ones Dick Cheney were sure had been masterminded by Saddam Hussein). In 2009, Wichita, Kansas, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered. (He had already been shot once, and his clinic had been bombed.) That same year octogenarian neo-Nazi James Wenneker von Brunn shot a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Last February, a man angry at the federal government flew a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.

Instapundit at The Wall Street Journal

Ezra Klein:

None of this, of course, will ease the suffering of Giffords or her family, nor of any of the other individuals and families directly affected by this morning’s slaughter. For them, the process of grieving and recovering has barely begun. Loughner’s shooting might’ve been motivated by mental illness, but the people in that parking lot were motivated by democracy: It was a meeting between a congressional representative and those she represents. They were attacked for being good citizens, and nothing can ever put that right.

But one way that people might pay tribute is to follow their example and attend the next meeting held by their representative. It is so easy and safe to participate in the American political system that we sometimes take doing so for granted. Today was a horrifying look into a world in which that isn’t so, and it should leave us with renewed appreciation for, and determination to protect, the world we have. On this, Giffords was way ahead of us: When the 112th session of the House of Representatives convened to read the Constitution earlier this week, she chose to read the section guaranteeing Americans the right “peaceably to assemble.”

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Filed under Crime, Political Figures, Politics

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

SVP-News

212.XXX.XXXX

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.

Digby:

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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Teachers Grade The Students And The Paper Grades The Teachers

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

Los Angeles Times:

Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.

The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

Though controversial among teachers and others, the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.

In coming months, The Times will publish a series of articles and a database analyzing individual teachers’ effectiveness in the nation’s second-largest school district — the first time, experts say, such information has been made public anywhere in the country.

This article examines the performance of more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers for whom reliable data were available.

Huffington Post:

The United Teachers of Los Angeles was quick to blast the Times for their report, according to SCPR:

Unfair, said a statement released by the United Teachers of Los Angeles today. “It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teachers effectiveness,” it said.”The database will cause chaos at school sites, as parents scramble to get their children into classes taught by teachers labeled as `effective’ by a newspaper — not by education professionals,” UTLA said, emphasizing the word “newspaper” in italics. The union said the result is a public, incomplete and
inaccurate picture of a teacher’s effectiveness.

Chad Aldeman at The Quick and The Ed:

Have pity on the individual teachers for this public outing, but, at the same time, don’t blame the Times for what they’re doing. The teachers union has pressured the district against using value-added measures in teacher performance evaluations, and only now are they moving forward together. The district has been complicit for years, and then took the easy way out and gave the data to a newspaper. And, in an ironic twist of fate, the newspaper could publish the value-added results precisely because they were not part of teacher personnel files. Those are private and cannot be released publicly.

In contrast, Tennessee has been using a value-added model since the late 1980’s, and every year since the mid-1990’s every single eligible teacher has received a report on their results. When these results were first introduced, teachers were explicitly told their results would never be published in newspapers and that the data may be used in evaluations. In reality, they had never really been used in evaluations until the state passed a law last January requiring the data to make up 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. This bill, and 100% teacher support for the state’s Race to the Top application that included it, was a key reason the state won a $500 million grant in the first round.

Tennessee is a good comparison, because here is a place with longstanding, low-stakes use of the data. The data will now have much higher stakes attached to it, but there wasn’t nearly the acrimony that’s happening now in LA. That’s because, to a large extent, LAUSD has sat on this information for so long without doing anything with it. Kudos to the intrepid reporter for digging it out and making a story of it, but the fact that it’s been buried for so long and is only seeing the light of day in this manner has made it that much more controversial. LAUSD could’ve avoided all the headache by doing something with the data themselves years ago. That should’ve started with letting the teachers see their own data, because they are interested in it. The teachers quoted in the Times articles and the 2,000+ teacher requests the newspaper has received since the story’s release suggest that teachers do want to know how they perform on these measures.

Instead of a methodical process where teachers slowly become used to seeing their data and therefore comfortable with its use, LA now has a situation where many people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the data at the same time there’s suddenly pent-up demand from teachers, parents, and the public to see it.

Sherman Dorn:

When researchers show distributions of scores, they often show error bands to indicate “the inherent imprecision,” as Felch, Strong, and Smith wrote. For example, see the following figure from a 2000 paper by Kenneth Rowe on value-added measures: Graph of schools with value-added point estimates and 95% confidence intervals, showing significant overlapThe point here is that showing imprecision is easy to do in a way that is professionally competent.  Is that what the L.A. Times shows in its database? Here’s the chart for one teacher:

Sample chart from L.A. TimesThere are two graphing sins here: dequantification and an implication that the estimate for the teacher is infinitely accurate (or at least as accurate as the center of the diamond images). I don’t know what the Times editors and reporters thought they were doing by eliminating a scale, but this doesn’t remove the central problem of visually implying that the estimate of effectiveness is precise. Instead, it commits the sin of dequantification. To borrow from Edward Tufte, is the L.A. Times’ publication of these figures an act of reporting or finger-painting?

It also raises significant questions about the response to Jay Matthews. Was the Times deliberately trying to fudge what they were intending to do with the graphs, or are they really so incompetent an organization that they don’t have people who know how to design statistical figures and also didn’t check such a high-stakes display with people who do this professionally?

Sara Mead at Education Week:

The reality is that, even as value-added student test score data has emerged as the center of current debates over teacher evaluation, it’s only available and relevant for a fraction of the teachers in our public schools today. There is currently no value-added data for kindergarten and early elementary teachers, teachers in non-core subjects, or high school teachers in most places. My brother-in-law, who teaches middle school band and drama, and sister, who teaches high school composition and literature, do not have value-added data.

Some critics see this as an argument against new teacher evaluation systems that incorporate data on student performance. I see it the opposite way: The way we currently evaluate teachers is deeply flawed, not helpful to them or students, and there are lots of things we could do to move towards a more effective system of evaluating and developing teachers. Where we have value-added data as a source of information to inform teacher evaluations, we should use it. But since it’s only available for a subset of teachers, and therefore only a small piece of any meaningful solution to teach evaluation, we shouldn’t let debate over value-added or the various methodologies derail the broader effort to create better ways of evaluating teachers’ effectiveness and using that data to inform professional development and staffing decisions. We also shouldn’t pretend–as I sometimes fear my reform colleagues do–that value-added data is some kind of magic panacea that provides perfect information about teacher effectiveness. And we should put a lot more effort into developing and using validated and reliable observational tools, such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), that look at teacher classroom behaviors and measure the extent to which teachers are implementing behaviors linked to improved student outcomes. (I’m even more concerned that the observational rubrics many districts and states will put into place under their proposed evaluation systems have not yet been validated than I am with any of the issues related to use of value-added data.)

Jack Shafer at Slate:

These conclusions are so sensible, so obvious, so intuitive that only a union official or education bureaucrat could possibly dispute them. Oh, the Economic Policy Institute took its shot, calling teacher assessment based on standardized-test results just “one piece of information” used in a “comprehensive evaluation.”

By doing something LAUSD should have done in the first place, the Times had shamed the cowardly school district into performing its own “value-added analysis” of the data. So far, so good. But what does the school district intend to do with these scores? Release them to the public? No. It’s going to dispense them confidentially to teachers in the fall. For all the good that will do parents and teachers, why doesn’t the school district play ostrich and dig a big hole in Playa del Rey and bury the scores?

Let’s hope the Times stays on this story—and that it or some other publication uses the California Public Records Act to publish these new, LAUSD-generated scores. If you can’t grade the graders, whom can you grade?

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Poetry Night At The Blogosphere With Dave Weigel And Sarah Palin

Ben Smith at Politico:

Sarah Palin, guerilla Facebook warrior, turns the tables a bit on the author Joe McGinniss — best known for his Nixon campaign account, The Selling of the President, and for the murder investigation Fatal Vision — who, she says, has rented the house next door.

Palin, in a recurring preoccupation, suggests that McGinniss is really there to peep at her young daughters, noting that his property overlooks “Piper’s bedroom, my little garden, and the family’s swimming hole.”

Needless to say, our outdoor adventure ended quickly after Todd went to introduce himself to the stranger who was peering in…

Joe announced to Todd that he’s moved in right next door to us. He’s rented the place for the next five months or so. He moved up all the way from Massachusetts to live right next to us – while he writes a book about me. Knowing of his many other scathing pieces of “journalism” (including the bizarre anti-Palin administration oil development pieces that resulted in my Department of Natural Resources announcing that his work is the most twisted energy-related yellow journalism they’d ever encountered), we’re sure to have a doozey to look forward to with this treasure he’s penning. Wonder what kind of material he’ll gather while overlooking Piper’s bedroom, my little garden, and the family’s swimming hole?

Welcome, Joe! It’ll be a great summer – come borrow a cup of sugar if ever you need some sweetener. And you know what they say about “fences make for good neighbors”? Well, we’ll get started on that tall fence tomorrow, and I’ll try to keep Trig’s squeals down to a quiet giggle so we don’t disturb your peaceful summer. Enjoy!

UPDATE: I haven’t been able to reach McGinniss, but did send an errant email to his son, the novelist Joe McGinniss Jr., who replied, “Sadly, she’s right. We tried our best to intervene, but alas, the heart wants what it wants. We can only pray for him now. He’s convinced that Todd will step aside and when the time is right, he’ll be there, right next door, to pick up the pieces.”

The Mudflats:

While there is no indication that McGinniss planned to publish photos or information about the personal lives of the Palin children, Sarah Palin has responded to the discovery of her famous neighbor in classic Palin style.

When I said “classic Palin style,” if you immediately thought “wild, inappropriate over-reaction” you can give yourself a gold star.  And if you guessed Facebook rant, give yourself another one.  This one was just too big for the Twitter limit of 140 characters.  With twitchy forced nonchalance, she offers to bake him a pie, offers to lend him sugar and says she’ll keep her youngest son Trig quiet so McGinniss can enjoy his summer of peace and quiet while she constructs a giant fence.  In this monologue, which is worthy of every “crazy neighbor” character ever penned, she also speculates (somewhere between the pie and the sugar) that he’ll be spying in Piper’s bedroom window, and watching her do the gardening while wearing skimpy summer clothing. It’s quite something.  Reading it is kind of like watching someone spontaneously combust.

And in a brilliant move, to attempt to show how intrusive he’s going to be, and how much he will invade her privacy, she has actually published a picture of him sitting on the far side of the deck, minding his own business. You know… to show how inappropriate he is for whatever it is he might or might not do at some time in the future.  Maybe.  You know, like taking a creepy spy picture of her that she doesn’t know about and then publishing it online to a hostile audience and asking for comment.  He would sink that low, wouldn’t he.  Some people…

Jack Shafer at Slate:

Where do I go to advance-order a copy of Joe McGinniss’ forthcoming book about Sarah Palin?

Obviously my desire to put money down is premature, as the book isn’t supposed to come out until 2011 and Amazon has yet to post a standing page for it. For all I know, McGinniss hasn’t even written a first chapter. Yet I must find some way to commend the writer for an act of journalistic assholery—renting the house next door to the Palin family in Wasilla, Alaska, from which he is going to research and write his book—that honors a long tradition of snooping.

[…]

In calling McGinniss’ ploy “assholery” I intend no disparagement. I admire his determination to get the story and have no problems, ethically or morally, with him getting as close to his subject as possible—even if his technique seems a little stalkerish. Besides, there’s a long journalistic tradition of wearing sources and subjects down until they surrender … of knocking on the door of a grieving family to ask them, “How do you feel?” … of feigning friendliness to gain access … of crossing police lines in a brisk manner that implies a right to be there … of charming sources’ families, friends, or colleagues in order to get closer to them … of frequenting a subject’s favorite bar, place of worship, and subway stop until he cracks.

Take, for example, the camera ambush, which is at least as intrusive as moving in next door to a subject. But few protested Mike Wallace’s practice of chasing reluctant subjects with a camera crew after they refused to sit down and talk with 60 Minutes. After Wallace came Michael Moore, who became expert at waylaying the unexpecting in unexpected places. The strategy was largely tolerated by the journalistic culture until the boys and girls at The O’Reilly Factor started ambushing “high school principals, lawmakers, journalists and celebrities,” as the New York Times put it. Only then did people start thinking it was creepy.

Still, McGinniss’ stunt will outrage those who believe reporters should get close but not too close, who believe that there is something sacred about an individual’s place of residence, who would prefer reporters to behave more like Boy Scouts and less like gumshoes.

Taking up residence next to Palin doesn’t even approach violating her legal right to privacy. She has no legal right to blind eyes looking at her property from an adjoining property or even from the street. If McGinniss didn’t live next door, he’d be completely within his rights to interview Palin’s neighbors about her. In fact, he’d be remiss if he didn’t grill them about her.

Ken Shepherd at Newsbusters:

Even if one accepts that as a justification, Shafer failed to address what potential blowback that approach might have in the marketplace. Indeed, Shafer saw no potential drawbacks for McGinniss, predicting that the liberal author would most certainly “debut in the [New York] Times best-seller list.”

Of course this appears to be an unprecedented move in the history of modern American politics, but it should be instructive to see if Shafer sings a different tune if in the future a conservative writer would literally move next door to an unsuccessful Democratic vice presidential candidate.

After all, John Edwards certainly ginned up a juicy story or two after his 2004 run.

Oh, Slate: where the writing is endlessly contrarian, in extents ranging from the hysterically absurd to the spot-on to the shamelessly loony. Which is why Slate editor Jack Shafer’s defense of mortal Sarah Palin press enemy, Joe McGinniss – who has employed every tactic of what Shafer refers to as “journalistic assholery” under the sun to get his stories – doesn’t come as much of a surprise. That doesn’t make it any less wonderful.

[…]

Shafer’s not wrong, and of course, there’s a line (there always is). Question, though: Will consumers ever not pick up a piece of news to take in based on the methods a reporter took to get it to them? Historically, no. Then again, consumers never had the information on how those stories came to them like they do now. Think of torture methods: We want the information to protect our government, but at what cost? The public wants the truth, but are they willing to create uglier truths in order to get what they desired in the first place?

In a casual estimation: Yeah, probably.

David Weigel, back on the Palin blog post:

I saw Ben Smith flag this earlier today but did not really appreciate how strange and, frankly, immature Palin’s post was until I read it.

Palin informs her readers that McGinniss is “overlooking my children’s play area” and “overlooking Piper’s bedroom.” Alternately sounding angry and mocking, she refers to “the family’s swimming hole,” which at first reference sounds like she’s accusing McGinniss of checking out the Palins in their bathing suits, until you realize the family’s “swimming hole” is Lake Lucille. And she posts a photo of the space McGinniss is renting, captioning it, “Can I call you Joe?”

Can somebody explain to me how this isn’t a despicable thing for Palin to do? She describes McGinniss as the author of “the bizarre anti-Palin administration oil development pieces that resulted in my Department of Natural Resources announcing that his work is the most twisted energy-related yellow journalism they’d ever encountered.”

Another way of putting it would be that McGinniss is an investigative journalist who wrote his first best-seller at age 26 and was shopping a book about Alaska and the oil industry when Palin was named John McCain’s running mate. And another way of describing those “bizarre” pieces is that no one has ever challenged the facts in them.

Palin, who has an undergraduate degree in journalism, should understand that articles don’t become untrue when the subjects don’t agree with them.

Has McGinniss gone to an extreme to get a story? Well, we don’t have his side yet — not that this has prevented every other media outlet from typing up Palin’s Facebook post like some lost Gospel. But assuming he’s rented the house near the Palins for some period of time, assuming the Palins know he’s there and that he’s writing a book, then what, exactly, is wrong with this?

Politicians don’t have veto power over who gets to write about them, or how they research their stories, as long as they’re within the bounds of the law. It’s incredibly irresponsible for them to sic their fans on journalists they don’t like. And that’s what Palin is doing here — she has already inspired Glenn Beck to accuse McGinniss of “stalking” Palin and issuing a threat to boycott his publisher.

This is really the ultimate example of the way Palin manipulates the press and inverts the relationship between reporters and politicians, turning the former into “stalkers,” and the latter — as long as they’re Republicans or members of her family — into saints whom no one can criticize. No one in the media should reward Palin for this irresponsible and pathetic bullying.

Greg Sargent:

In fairness, McGinniss is doing something a bit unorthodox, and for that reason this particular standoff is perhaps somewhat newsworthy. But more broadly, as long as Palin isn’t an actual candidate for public office, at what point do we stop rewarding every statement from Palin, no matter how vicious or mendacious, with attention? Should there be such a point?

That’s a real question, by the way. I’d love to hear what other reporters and editors have to say about this.

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

Unlike a lot of my friends, I really don’t have a problem with Dave Weigel. He is what he is. Referred to the Washington Post by Ezra Klein as someone competent to cover conservatives (a bit like Lenin making staffing decisions at the Wall Street Journal for someone competent to cover capitalists, or setting up Mearsheimer and Walt as the heads of the NYT’s Israel bureau), Weigel’s primary job has been described to me on several occasions by so many people in the same basic terms as to make me think it is in fact his actual job description: “to report on groups and people on the right who should be viewed as fringe.” At least, that is how one Washington Post employee described the job. Another DC journalist described it as, “His job is to mock tea party foks as racist crazies if they criticize Obama.”

He seems like an affable enough guy. We trade emails and I’m happy to help him on stuff on occasion, but this latest post of his is precisely why I don’t take him seriously — I won’t even get into his twittering that shows total disdain for social conservatives who make up a very large part of that group he is supposedly covering from the inside.

A reporter moves in next door to Sarah Palin — a reporter with a negative history reporting on Palin — and Palin takes to Facebook to complain about the rather stalkerish vibe of this reporter taking up residence right next door to snoop on the family. This is the same reporter who once tried to get into a charity contest where he bid $60,000 to have dinner with Palin. Imagine if you had someone like that move in next door to your family and say they were going to write a book about being your neighbor. We all know that’s exactly what this guy is going to do.

But Weigel, along with a host of other reporters in DC, is going after Palin for being upset about it.

Melissa Clouthier:

Like Erick, I like Dave Weigel–in the same way I liked the trained Siberian Tigers at the Sigfried and Roy show: they look interesting and exotic, but are extraordinarily dangerous–as poor Roy learned the hard way. A journalist is a wild animal with an appetite for conservative meat and should be interacted with that way–always.

I do not expect Dave to be unbiased or fair. I do not expect him to defend a conservative point-of-view, ever, and therefore, I’m not disappointed or offended when he snaps off some pithy, demeaning, diminishing remark about conservatives or conservatism generally.

When he says something sufficiently irritating, I might respond, but mostly, I suppress the urge as it’s useless. Joking at a conservative’s expense and yucking it up is easy peasy. Everyone does it. So trendy.

So no, I don’t take Dave Weigel seriously. I think he’s a gifted writer and has interesting insight. He has an sophisticated mind and I enjoy talking to him. But he’s as ideologically left as the rest, he’s just willing to lower himself to hang with the natives from time to time. And he’s welcome to do so. Conservative people treat him with more kindness because he is willing to at least publicly view conservatives as a species of human. When it comes down to it though, his reporting sounds like reports from the out-back bush.

Dave Weigel with some of his mail

Kate Pickert at Swampland at Time:

Obviously, this is a free country and anyone has a right to rent any house they want. But, as Ben Smith points out, this shouldn’t prevent Palin from saying she finds it annoying that a journalist has moved in next door, which is the general gist of her Facebook post. Additionally, I find it interesting that Weigel—who has done great work covering the day-to-day goings on in the populist right—seems angry that Palin is “bullying” a journalist who’s writing a book about her.

Isn’t this what a journalist writing a critical book about a subject should expect? To be bullied and boycotted by supporters of the subject? This is not new. What is new is the way Palin chose to react to McGinniss’s move. Rather than hunker down and use back channels and legal threats to stymie McGinniss’s work – as public figures have historically often done in cases like this – she’s using Facebook to bring it all out into the open.

Sarah Palin made a reference to Robert Frost in a Facebook note this morning—but she missed the American poet and former Atlantic contributor’s point. Reacting to news that a man planning to write a critical book about her is about to become her next-door neighbor, the former Alaska governor echoed the 1915 poem “Mending Wall,” whose refrain is “good fences make good neighbors”:

And you know what they say about “fences make for good neighbors”? Well, we’ll get started on that tall fence tomorrow, and I’ll try to keep Trig’s squeals down to a quiet giggle so we don’t disturb your peaceful summer. Enjoy!As Andrew Sullivan points out, however, Palin’s desire for a tall fence is completely contrary to the spirit of Frost’s poem. “Mending Wall” is a polemic against building walls that separate us from our neighbors—the poem opens with the line,”Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” and goes on to describe the narrator’s attempts to talk his neighbor out of putting one up.

This back-and-forth sounds eerily similar to a plotline from The West Wing— the now-defunct NBC series that has been eerily prescient before. In the show’s fourth season, a Republican campaign strategist misuses the “good fences make good neighbors” line, inspiring some literary-minded White House staffers to set the record straight:

JOSH
Here he quotes Robert Frost. “Good fences make good neighbors.” Did he talk about that?

DONNA
Yeah.

JOSH
What did he say?

DONNA
Basically, that if you stay within your personal space, you’ll end up getting along with everyone.

JOSH
You had to study modern poetry.

DONNA
Yes.

JOSH
Is that what Frost meant?

DONNA
No, he meant that boundaries are what alienate us from each other.

JOSH
Why did he say “Good fences make good neighbors?”

DONNA
He was being ironic.

Shannyn Moore at Huffington Post:

It’s been a few days since the Palins learned Joe McGinniss moved in next door. Love thy neighbor as thyself, then build a fence.

“Fences make good neighbors,” promised her Facebook blog. Not sure at which of the five colleges Palin studied Robert Frost’s Mending Wall , but I think she missed the point. Perhaps it was the, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” part.

Within a few hours Sarah had launched a “Joe The Stalker/Pervert” campaign. Glenn Beck called for a boycott of Random House publishing, and Random House held their ground. The Paliban swarmed with comments of “stalker”, “reload”, “let’s burn it to the ground”, and “get ’em, Todd”. The following morning the Palins super-sized their fence. The “waterin’ hole” must be defended.

Joe the Neighbor should have told Todd he was writing a book about Russia and heard he could research from his porch. He didn’t.

But why the outrage now?

The home Joe McGinniss is renting used to be an Oxford House from 2005 until 2008. The tenants were men recently released from prison who were recovering addicts. What? No fence to protect sexy Sarah in her tank top? Dear God! Who was lurking in that house watching her children play?

The Palins themselves rented the home McGinnis is staying in for six months in 2009, but weren’t interested in purchasing it. They didn’t want to spend the money. Last October they were “done with the house”. During the election, the Secret Service guarded the Palin home from the backyard now occupied by Mr. McGinnis. Here’s a hint, Sarah – if you want to dictate who lives in the house, you should have probably bought it first.

It’s predictable Palin.

UPDATE: Dave Weigel

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