Tag Archives: Michael Calderone

Open The Closet And Walk To The Outside

Marc Ambinder:

Ken Mehlman, President Bush’s campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay.
Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter’s questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California’s ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.
“It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” said Mehlman, now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR. “Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”
Privately, in off-the-record conversations with this reporter over the years, Mehlman voiced support for civil unions and told of how, in private discussions with senior Republican officials, he beat back efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that President Bush “was no homophobe.” He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called “the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now.”
Mehlman’s leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities — such as the distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism, or the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party’s platform (“Attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country…”). Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.
Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.
“It’s a legitimate question and one I understand,” Mehlman said. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: “If they can’t offer support, at least offer understanding.”
“What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn’t always heard. I didn’t do this in the gay community at all.”
He said that he “really wished” he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, “so I could have worked against [the Federal Marriage Amendment]” and “reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans.”
Mehlman is aware that his attempts to justify his past silence will not be adequate for many people. He and his friends say that he is aware that he will no longer control the story about his identity — which will simultaneously expose old wounds, invite Schadenfruede, and legitimize anger among gay rights activists in both parties who did not hide their sexual orientations.

Michael Triplett at Mediaite:

Ambinder was apparently pushed to run the story two days early after Mike Rogers, whose track record on outing conservative politicians is very good, reported on Blogactive that Ambinder was preparing a story that would confirm that Mehlman was gay and the story was slated for Friday or early next week.

Within an hour of Rogers going public with his scoop that Mehlman was about to come out as gay, Ambinder posted his story.

It’s a rumor that has circulated around Washington, D.C., for years.  Mehlman–who was recently in the news for buying a condo in New York City’s very-gay Chelsea neighborhood–has previously denied he’s gay but now he tells Ambinder that he “arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently” and “anticipated that questions would be asked about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California’s ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.”


In 2006, Mehlman’s sexual orientation led to an uncomfortable moment for CNN after they edited a transcript and a video that featured Bill Maher outing Mehlman on Larry King Live. That story was later told in the documentary Outrage, which featured Rogers and his work to “out” closeted  gay conservatives who work against the LGBT community.

Ambinder seems like a natural to break the Mehlman story.  In 2006, he wrote about the challenges that Mark Foley scandal created for gay Republicans, including the lavender mafia that surrounded Foley and reached into the Republican establishment. A well-connected openly gay reporter, Ambinder would have the connections inside the web of gay Republicans to convince Mehlman to give him an exclusive.

According to the story, Mehlman and Ambinder have been talking for a number of years about Mehlman coming out and his views on gay issues.

Honestly, I thought the guy came out years ago. Remember when Bill Maher talked about the rumors surrounding him on Larry King’s show — back in 2006? I guess you were the last to know, Ken.

He’s doing this now, it seems, because he wants to drum up publicity for the cause of gay marriage and figures that “Republican whom everyone thought was gay actually is gay” headlines will do the trick. Could be, although Ambinder’s careful to remind readers of the sort of social con initiatives that the GOP pushed during Mehlman’s RNC tenure. That won’t endear him to gay activists, and his newly public identity won’t endear him to social cons. Maybe he should have just worked for gay marriage like Ted Olson and kept his orientation private?

Joe My God:

Andy Towle is reporting that Mehlman has already agreed to chair a “major anti-Prop 8 fundraiser” for Americans For Equal Rights, Ted Olson and David Boies’ outfit. Gee thanks, shitbag. That’s like offering to help rebuild a house when YOU were the fucker that helped BURN IT DOWN.


Just got off the phone with Chad Griffin, Board President of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the organization challenging Proposition 8 in federal court, regarding former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman and reports that he is about to come out of the closet.

Griffin tells me that Ken Mehlman is chairing a major fundraiser in late September that has already raised over $1 million for the organization battling Prop 8. The fundraiser is co-chaired by prominent Republican donors Paul Singer and Peter Thiel and will be held at Singer’s home.

A large number of other Republicans are co-hosts of the fundraiser including Mary Cheney, Margaret Hoover, and Steve Schmidt. Dick Gephardt is also among the hosts.

Said Griffin to Towleroad:

“Mehlman has committeed his own resources and been an integral part of the team at the American Foundation for Equal Rights. Our goal is to get as many people who aren’t on the side of gay marriage on our side, and once they are here, to welcome them.”

Said AFER board member Dustin Lance Black:

“Ken represents an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. We believe that our mission of equal rights under the law is one that should resonate with every American. As a victorious former presidential campaign manager and head of the Republican Party, Ken has the proven experience and expertise to help us communicate with people across each of the 50 states.”

John Aravosis at AmericaBlog:

Good for Ken. I know a lot of people will want to criticize him for heading up the GOP as a closeted gay man. He says he only recently came to terms with being gay. I suspect he always knew he was gay, but recently came to terms with accepting it, and embracing it. And good for him. He’s now doing the right thing, helping support marriage equality. I’m not going to fault him for that. Coming out is a horrendously difficult and complicated thing. It’s not rational.

Now, does that mean I oppose efforts to out people who are hurting our community? Absolutely not. I was there with the rest of them calling Mehlamn out for being a closeted gay man running a homophobic political party. Our long-time readers will remember Mehlman Mondays on AMERICAblog. I long talked about Mehlman being the only closet-heterosexual I’d ever heard of – a man not willing to admit he’s straight.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t embrace him now. And not just for strategic reasons. Mehlman, from what Ambinder says, is doing the right thing. He’s now using his position in the GOP to help our community on our number one issue: marriage. For that, he deserves our thanks.

Now, let me say, the GOP was happily anti-gay under Mehlman, so I don’t buy his story that he helped temper their nastiness. They were still homophobic bigots, regardless of what Mehlman did or didn’t do, and he chose to remain as their head. For that, he gets no thanks. But is he making up for it today? You betcha. It’s a start, and a damn good one.

As for the Democratic party, I hope someone at the DNC is starting to sweat. We now have the former head of the Republican party who is to the left of Barack Obama on gay marriage. There’s a virtual groundswell of senior Republicans coming out for marriage equality. It can’t be going unnoticed in the gay community. And while it doesn’t mean 70% of the gay vote will now go Republican instead of Democrat, it does mean that growing numbers of gays and lesbians will starting thinking of the GOP as a legitimate alternative to the Democratic party.

And finally, how about that religious right? The Republicans lied to them about Mehlman for years. And Mehlam himself admits that he used his position as RNC chair to help stop the GOP gay-baiting. The religious right was totally pwned.

Ann Althouse:

Journey? Oh, I hear the dog-whistle. He’s calling the Oprah crowd. Family, friendssupportive… he wants Democrats, women, etc., to care about him. Don’t hate me because I’m/I’ve been a Republican. Love me, because I’m gay, and oh! how I’ve anguished in the company of Republicans.

UPDATE: Michael Calderone at Yahoo

Peter Wehner at Commentary

Gabriel Arana at Tapped

Maria Bustillos at The Awl

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Let’s Play A Game Of MSM Musical Chairs

Elise Viebeck at The Hill:

The White House Correspondents Association voted unanimously Sunday afternoon to move Fox News to the front row of the White House briefing room.

The seating change was prompted by the resignation of veteran UPI reporter Helen Thomas.

According to Ed Henry, the senior White House correspondent for CNN and member of the WHCA board, the Associated Press will move to the front-row middle seat formerly occupied by Thomas.

Fox News will replace the AP in its former seat, also in the front row, and NPR, which lobbied for Thomas’ seat along with Fox and Bloomberg News, will take Fox’s former seat in the second row.

Michael Calderone at Yahoo:

The idea of moving the AP—which normally gets the first question at presidential press conferences—was under discussion in recent years, long before Thomas retired. Bloomberg remains in the second row, while NPR moves up from the third row to Fox’s current seat.

Several news organizations also petitioned to get regular seats in the briefing room (or keep their current seats).

The Financial Times will now get a regular seat, while U.S News & World Report—a news organization that has been scaled back in recent years—lost its seat. The foreign press pool also now gets its own seat.

In addition, Politico and American Urban Radio Networks moved up to the third row. The Washington Times, which has cut back significantly in the past year, moves from the third to fourth row.

Glynnis MacNicol at Mediaite:

Update: Fox is apparently pleased with the decision. From Bill Sammon, Vice President of News and Washington Managing Editor, FOX News: “We are pleased with the decision of the White House Correspondents’ Association and look forward to working with our colleagues in the front row and the rest of the James S. Brady briefing room.”‬‪

Update again: Major Garrett twitters: Those of us who will sit in the front owe a debt to Jim Angle, Carl Cameron, Bret Baier and network that supported them.

Ed Morrissey:

Congratulations to Garrett and Fox News.

Doug Powers at Michelle Malkin’s place:

Imagine how close Fox News would be if they weren’t an “illegitimate news organization” — they’d be sitting on Robert Gibbs’ podium. Clearly the White House Correspondents Association respects the ratings strength of Fox News — either that or the WHCA has a “racist Tea Partier” streak a mile wide.

Is it too much to hope for that Major Garrett will call in sick on Fox’s first day in front and to fill in for him they’ll hire Andrew Breitbart as a temp? I thought so.

Meanwhile, even though Helen Thomas might be out of the front row in the briefing room, money is being raised to put a statue of her in the front row of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn (pic of Helen with statue here). I keep one just like it in my attic because it seems to do a good job of scaring the bats away.

John Cole:

Who cares about these people. It isn’t like any news has ever been broken in the briefing room.

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These Colors Don’t Torture, They Just Waterboard

Andrew Sullivan:

This blog, along with others, compiled some anecdotes and research to show how the New York Times had always called “waterboarding” torture – until the Bush-Cheney administration came along. Instead of challenging this government lie, the NYT simply echoed it, with Bill Keller taking instructions from John Yoo on a key, legally salient etymology. Now, we have the first truly comprehensive study of how Bill Keller, and the editors of most newspapers, along with NPR, simply rolled over and became mouthpieces for war criminals, rather than telling the unvarnished truth to their readers and listeners in plain English:

Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27).

By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.

In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.

So the NYT went from calling waterboarding torture 81.5 percent of the time to calling it such 1.4 percent of the time. Had the technique changed? No. Only the government implementing torture and committing war crimes changed. If the US does it, it’s not torture.

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

Wow. So, not long ago, America’s major newspapers basically decided that waterboarding was somehow okay. American waterboarding, that is! In the same time frame, the same newspapers made it clear that if any other country practiced waterboarding, it was torture.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

One of the most telling details from the study is the description of how newspapers admitted that waterboarding is torture without their omniscient editorial voice describing it as such: they quoted other people.

All four papers frequently balanced their use of softer treatment by quoting others calling waterboarding torture. Except for a brief spate of articles in 1902‐1903 in the NY Times which quoted mostly military officials and senators, almost all of the articles that quote others calling it torture appeared in 2007 and 2008.

More telling still, newspapers barely began to do that until 2007, three years after they started talking about torture, and they most often relied on John McCain to state what–before it became clear the US engaged in such torture–their own pages had stated fairly consistently beforehand.

When quoting others who call waterboarding torture, there is a shift in who the LA Times and the NY Times quoted over time.

Before 2007, the NY Times had only scattered articles quoting others. However, beginning in 2007, there is a marked increase in articles quoting others, primarily human rights groups and lawmakers. Human rights representatives predominate during the first half of the year. However, beginning in October, politicians were cited more frequently labeling waterboarding torture. Senator John McCain is the most common source, but other lawmakers also begin to be cited. By 2008, the articles’ references are more general such as “by many,” or “many legal authorities.” Stronger phrases such as “most of the civilized world” also begin to appear.

The dead tree press, apparently, couldn’t find an expert they believed could adequately voice the long-standing consensus that waterboarding is torture–a consensus recorded in their own pages (at least those of LAT and NYT)–until after McCain started speaking out on the topic.

One more point. The study only examined the four papers with the greatest circulation: NYT, LAT (both of which had extensive archives the study measured for previous uses of torture), USA Today, and WSJ (which didn’t have the same range of archives). So it did not include the WaPo in its study–the paper notorious for torture apology from both the newsroom and Fred Hiatt’s editorial page. So the numbers could be even worse!

What a remarkable measure of the cowardice of our press. And what a remarkable measure of how it happened that torture became acceptable. It’s not just that the press failed in their job, but it’s clear that’s a big part of it.

Glenn Greenwald:

As always, the American establishment media is simply following in the path of the U.S. Government (which is why it’s the “establishment media”): the U.S. itself long condemned waterboarding as “torture” and even prosecuted it as such, only to suddenly turn around and declare it not to be so once it began using the tactic.  That’s exactly when there occurred, as the study puts it, “a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboading.”  As the U.S. Government goes, so goes our establishment media.

None of this is a surprise, of course.  I and others many times have anecdotally documented that the U.S. media completely changes how it talks about something (or how often) based on who is doing it (“torture” when the Bad Countries do it but some soothing euphemism when the U.S. does it; continuous focus when something bad is done to Americans but a virtual news blackout when done by the U.S., etc.).  Nor is this an accident, but is quite deliberate:  media outlets such as the NYT, The Washington Post and NPR explicitly adopted policies to ban the use of the word “torture” for techniques the U.S. Government had authorized once government officials announced it should not be called “torture.”

We don’t need a state-run media because our media outlets volunteer for the task:  once the U.S. Government decrees that a technique is no longer torture, U.S. media outlets dutifully cease using the term.  That compliant behavior makes overtly state-controlled media unnecessary.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

Greenwald says this proves the media’s “servitude to government,” but I think it’s actually the conventions of journalism that are at fault here. As soon as Republicans started quibbling over the definition of torture, traditional media outlets felt compelled to treat the issue as a “controversial” matter, and in order to appear as though they weren’t taking a side, media outlets treated the issue as unsettled, rather than confronting a blatant falsehood. To borrow John Holbo‘s formulation, the media, confronted with the group think of two sides of an argument, decided to eliminate the “think” part of the equation so they could be “fair” to both groups.

Of course, this attempt at “neutrality” was, in and of itself, taking a side, if inadvertently. It was taking the side of people who supported torture, opposed investigating it as a crime, and wanted to protect those who implemented the policy from any kind of legal accountability. Most important, it reinforced the moral relativism of torture apologists, who argued that even if from an objective point of view, waterboarding was torture, it wasn’t torture when being done by the United States to a villain like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, but rather only when done by say, a dictator like Kim Jong Il to a captured American soldier.

Like they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case, journalistic conventions helped pave the way for an unaccountable national-security apparatus.That doesn’t mean that some journalists have skewed perceptions of whom they actually work for, but I think that’s the lesser issue here.

Kevin Drum:

As always, where you stand depends on where you sit.

James Joyner:

The fact of the matter is that the United States Government was engaged in this policy against Very Bad People for reasons the American people enthusiastically supported.   Most Americans were nonplussed when news broke that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times because, after all, KSM was a Very Bad Man who did Unspeakably Horrible Things.

This puts the decisionmakers of the American press, whether they agreed or not, in a very difficult situation.  To have insisted that the U.S. Government was engaged in torture when the leaders of said Government adamantly denied that what they were doing constituted torture and most citizens supported the “enhanced interrogation techniques” and dismissed as buffoons those worried about poor widdle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would have not only been taking sides in an ongoing debate but taking a very unpopular stand.

Additionally, the use of the word “torture” has legal and propaganda implications.  To have matter-of-factly stated that the U.S. Government was engaged in torture was to say that those carrying it out are criminals.  The press doesn’t do that with accused criminals, even when there’s incontrovertible video evidence.  And, of course, saying that the U.S. Government is engaged in “torture” is a propaganda victory for the enemy.  That’s a tough thing to do in wartime.

Further, while the press doubtless came to despise some members of the Bush Administration, they naturally had close relationships with the team and saw most of its members as good people trying earnestly to protect the country from another 9/11 type attack.  It’s  psychologically and professionally difficult to dismiss their insistence that they’re not committing torture as simply untrue.  Simultaneously, it’s easy to believe that waterboarding done under the auspices of a despotic regime for the sole purpose of maintaining tyranny is something inherently different and thus worthy of a different name.

Does this amount to “servitude” to the government and “cowardice”?   Maybe.  But I think it’s more complicated than that.

Michael Calderone at Yahoo News:

But the New York Times doesn’t completely buy the study’s conclusions. A spokesman told Yahoo! News that the paper “has written so much about the waterboarding issue that we believe the Kennedy School study is misleading.”

However, the Times acknowledged that political circumstances did play a role in the paper’s usage calls. “As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.”

The Times spokesman added that outside of the news pages, editorials and columnists “regard waterboarding as torture and believe that it fits all of the moral and legal definitions of torture.” He continued: “So that’s what we call it, which is appropriate for the opinion pages.”

Clearly, the Times doesn’t want to be perceived as putting its thumb on the scale on either side in the torture debate. That’s understandable, given traditional journalistic values aiming for neutrality and balance. But by not calling waterboarding torture — even though it is, and the paper itself defined it that way in the past — the Times created a factual contradiction between its newer work and its own archives.

More Sullivan:

But it is not an opinion that waterboarding is torture; it is a fact, recognized by everyone on the planet as such – and by the NYT in its news pages as such – for centuries. What we have here is an admission that the NYT did change its own established position to accommodate the Cheneyite right.

So their journalism is dictated by whatever any government says. In any dispute, their view is not: what is true? But: how can we preserve our access to the political right and not lose pro-torture readers? If you want a locus classicus for why the legacy media has collapsed, look no further.

So if anyone wants to get the NYT to use a different word in order to obfuscate the truth, all they need to do is make enough noise so there is a political dispute about a question. If there’s a political dispute, the NYT will retreat. And so we now know that its core ethos is ceding the meaning of words to others, rather than actually deciding for itself how to call torture torture. Orwell wrote about this in his classic “Politics and the English Language.” If newspapers will not defend the English language from the propaganda of war criminals, who will? And it is not as if they haven’t made this call before – when they routinely called waterboarding torture. They already had a view. They changed it so as not to offend. In so doing, they knowingly printed newspeak in their paper – not because they believed in it, but because someone else might.

This is not editing. It is surrender. It is not journalism; it is acquiescence to propaganda. It strikes me as much more egregious a failing than, say, the Jayson Blair scandal. Because it reaches to the very top, was a conscious decision and reveals the empty moral center in the most important newspaper in the country.

Brian Stelter at NYT:

Representatives for The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and USA Today said their newspapers declined to comment.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said the newspaper has written so much about the issue of waterboarding that, “I think this Kennedy School study — by focusing on whether we have embraced the politically correct term of art in our news stories — is somewhat misleading and tendentious.”

In an e-mail message on Thursday, Mr. Keller said that defenders of the practice of waterboarding, “including senior officials of the Bush administration,” insisted that it did not constitute torture.

“When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves,” Mr. Keller wrote. “Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and human rights advocates as a form of torture. Nobody reading The Times’ coverage could be ignorant of the extent of the practice (much of that from information we broke) or mistake it for something benign (we usually use the word ‘brutal.’)”

The Times does not have an “official, written rule on when or how to use the word “torture,” Phil Corbett, the newspaper’s standards editor, wrote in an e-mail message. “In general, when writing about disputed, contentious and politically loaded topics, we try to be precise, accurate and as neutral as possible; factual descriptions are often better than shorthand labels.”

Some critics, like Greg Sargent, a blogger for The Washington Post, asserted this week that The Times had indeed taken a side in a political dispute, and in a legal one as well.

“The decision to refrain from calling waterboarding ‘torture’ is tantamount to siding with the Bush administration’s claim that the act it acknowledged doing is not illegal under any statute,” Mr. Sargent wrote Thursday. “No one is saying the Times should have adopted the role of judge and jury and proclaimed the Bush administration officially guilty. Rather, the point is that by dropping use of the word ‘torture,’ it took the Bush position — against those who argued that the act Bush officials sanctioned is already agreed upon as illegal under the law.”

The Times and other newspapers have also written about the is-waterboarding-torture debate at length, and many columnists and editorial writers have called the practice a form of torture.

Although the study assessed only the four newspapers identified above, other major newspapers reached similar conclusions about the use of the word after waterboarding re-entered the national lexicon in 2004.

Asked for comment on Thursday, Cameron W. Barr, the national security editor for The Washington Post, wrote in an e-mail message, “After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious, we decided that we wouldn’t use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.

“But we often cited others describing waterboarding as torture in stories that mentioned the technique,” Mr. Barr wrote. “We gave prominence to stories reporting official determinations that waterboarding or other techniques constituted torture.”

The Harvard study made no claims about the reason for the change in depiction of waterboarding, but concluded that “the current debate cannot be so divorced from its historical roots.”

“The status quo ante was that waterboarding is torture, in American law, international law, and in the newspapers’ own words,” the students wrote. “Had the papers not changed their coverage, it would still have been called torture. By straying from that established norm, the newspapers imply disagreement with it, despite their claims to the contrary. In the context of their decades-long practice, the newspapers’ sudden equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.”

More Greenwald:

Whether an interrogation technique constitutes “torture” is what determines whether it is prohibited by long-standing international treaties, subject to mandatory prosecution, criminalized under American law, and scorned by all civilized people as one of the few remaining absolute taboos.  But to The New York Times‘ Executive Editor, the demand that torture be so described, and the complaint that the NYT ceased using the term the minute the Bush administration commanded it to, is just tendentious political correctness: nothing more than trivial semantic fixations on a “term of art” by effete leftists.  Rather obviously, it is the NYT itself which is guilty of extreme “political correctness” by referring to torture not as “torture” but with cleansing, normalizing, obfuscating euphemisms such as “the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks” and “intense interrogations.”  Intense.  As Rosen puts it:  “So, Bill Keller, ‘the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks’ is plainspeak and ‘torture’ is PC?  Got it.

Worse, to justify his paper’s conduct, Keller adds “that defenders of the practice of water-boarding, ‘including senior officials of the Bush administration,’ insisted that it did not constitute torture.”  Kudos to Keller for admitting who dictates what his newspaper says and does not say (redolent of how Bush’s summoning of NYT officials to the Oval Office caused the paper to refrain from reporting his illegal NSA program for a full year until after Bush was safely re-elected).  Senior Bush officials said it wasn’t torture; therefore, we had to stop telling our readers that it is.

And then there’s this, from Cameron Barr, National Security Editor of The Washington Post, which also ceased using “torture” on command:  “After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious, we decided that we wouldn’t use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.”  Could you imagine going into “journalism” with this cowardly attitude:  once an issue becomes “contentious” and one side begins contesting facts, I’m staying out of it, even if it means abandoning what we’ve recognized as fact for decades. And note how even today, in an interview rather than an article, Barr continues to use the government-subservient euphemism:  “waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.”  Just contemplate what it means, as Keller and Barr openly admit, that our government officials have veto power over the language which our “independent media” uses to describe what they do.

I’m not one who wishes for the death of newspapers, as they still perform valuable functions and employ some good journalists.  But I confess that episodes like this one tempt me towards that sentiment.  This isn’t a case where the NYT failed to rebut destructive government propaganda; it’s one where they affirmatively amplified and bolstered it, and are now demonizing their critics by invoking the most deranged rationale to justify what they did:  political correctness? And whatever else is true, there is no doubt the NYT played an active and vital role in enabling the two greatest American crimes of the last decade:  the attack on Iraq and the institutionalizing of a torture regime.  As usual, those who pompously prance around as watchdogs over political elites are their most devoted and useful servants.

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CW Watch: Arrows Down On Newsweek

Images from Instant History


The Washington Post Co. announced Wednesday that it has retained Allen & Company to explore the possible sale of NEWSWEEK magazine. The newsweekly, which has struggled in recent years, was launched in 1933 and purchased by The Washington Post Co. in 1961.

Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham came to New York to tell the magazine staff at a 10:30 a.m. ET meeting on Wednesday. “We have reported losses in the tens of millions for the last two years,” he said. “Outstanding work by NEWSWEEK’s people has significantly narrowed the losses in the last year and particularly in the last few months. But we do not see a path to continuing profitability under our management.”

Graham said the company decided to go public with the news to invite as many potential buyers as possible, and said the sale could be completed within a few months. “Our aim will be–if we can do it–a rapid sale to a qualified buyer,” he said. “We’re a public company and we have to consider the price offered. But we’ll have a second and third criteria: the future of NEWSWEEK and the future of those who work here.”

In a later meeting, NEWSWEEK Editor Jon Meacham told the editorial staff that he continues to believe in the mission of the company. Meacham said he would do everything he could to ensure the continuation of the magazine, including personally pitching potential buyers. He also reminded the staff that NEWSWEEK wasn’t closed today, but was put on the market.

Chris Rovzar at New York Magazine

Colby Hall at Mediaite:

The writing was on the wall a few weeks back when news broke that Newsweek would be moving its staff, from its brand-new and cushy Tribeca offices, to its more mundane confines in Midtown Manhattan. These would be the offices that they JUST MOVED INTO last June, and the fact that Kaplan would be taking over…well, it just reinforced what everyone already knew. Kaplan is another subsidiary of the Washington Post company, that has become a cash cow best known for its higher education programs, professional training courses and test preparation products. So it would make sense for them to have the coolest offices.

But while moving was admittedly a pain, sources within the magazine spun this as a smart move, not just because it solved a serious space problem for Kaplan, but also saved Newsweek significant money each year. Cynics might see this as a “cheap” and effective way to quickly improve the bottom line, ostensibly to impress prospective buyers.

And what of prospective buyers? Who would want to buy a weekly title that lost a bunch of money last year? Well the truth is that the financial picture of Newsweek is much healthier than one might think. Last year was a big financial loss, which made a number of headlines. But as we said then, it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was reported.

It is true that Newsweek lost roughly $28 million in the last year. But to fully appreciate that number, one need remember that roughly two-thirds of that amount came in the the first quarter of last year, and included a write-down of over $6MM in severance packages. Further, Q2 of ‘09 saw roughly $5MM in losses, and Q3 roughly $4MM. Q4? Newsweek actually turned a small yet significant profit of $400k in Q4 of 2009.

Sources close to the title tell us that the first quarter of 2010 was also encouraging – ad sales efforts met their budget and print ad numbers for the months of March and April, perhaps owing as much to the end of the ad recession as anything else. The bottom line is that Newsweek is seeing ad revenues return to pre-recession levels, and combined with a rather dramatic reduction in losses, the weekly news title is moving very close to hitting their break even target for 2011.

Matthew Yglesias:

And I’m actually sort of surprised Graham took such a dour line. I would have just said that in a digital paradigm it doesn’t make sense for one company to own both a daily news product and a weekly news product. In an “ink on paper” world, there’s a big difference between a good Newsweek story and a good Washington Post story but in a “pixles on the internet” paradigm there isn’t. If the Washington Post Company is going to operate two different web products they would have to be differentiated along a different axis—one could be a local news site about the DC metropolitan area and one could be a site about about politics and national affairs. But the Post/Newsweek alignment didn’t make sense. The two print publications were supplements while the two websites are competitors.

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

In today’s meeting, at which the announcement was made that Newsweek was being put up for sale by the Washington Post Company, the magazine’s editor Jon Meacham said that he will be lining up financiers and trying to make a bid to buy the magazine himself. He has already had inquiries from some very well-off types this morning. Tonight’s “Daily Show” appearance—he’s been booked for ages—should be really something! Meacham is currently talking to reporters and juggling calls, so expect more soonish.

John Koblin at New York Observer:

Newsweek is up for sale, and editor Jon Meacham is going to explore the possibility of rounding up some bidders to buy the magazine himself.

“I believe this is an important American institution,” he said in an interview. “I just do. Maybe that’s quixotic, maybe that’s outdated, but it’s what I believe.”

He said he had two voicemails from “two billionaires” after the news was announced this morning that The Washington Post Company was going to try to sell the magazine. He said he had not called them back.

Mr. Meacham won a Pulitzer Prize last year and he has a new TV show that will debut on May 7 on PBS. In other words, he has plenty of options he can explore.

But for now, he said he’s dedicated to figuring out how to save Newsweek.

“We have to figure out what journalism is going to be as the old business model collapses all around us,” said Mr. Meacham. “And I want to be–I want to try to be–a part of that undertaking. Will it work? Who the hell knows. But I’m at least going to look at this.”

Jon Friedman at Market Watch:

I have another idea: Why can’t the Washington Post Co.  combine Newsweek and Slate, another of its well regarded media holdings, into one all-online operation?

The move would accomplish one big priority: saving money. Newsweek would go forward with a smaller staff and still preserve some of the jobs of staffers currently at the magazine.

The news that the Post Co. may unload the money-losing Newsweek should hardly come as a shock. All over the industry, big names, new and old, have been vanishing, such as Gourmet and Portfolio. BusinessWeek received a stay of execution when Bloomberg stepped in at the 11th hour and acquired the publication from McGraw-Hill.

Traditionalists have bemoaned the changes that Bloomberg has put in place. They seem to forget that without Bloomberg’s involvement, BusinessWeek would probably have disappeared by now.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

The Washington Post Co. is looking to sell Newsweek, its vaunted but money-losing magazine jewel. Media analysts are in a frenzy, and many are envisioning a future in which Newsweek has no paper edition. Some are wondering whether the magazine should merge with Slate, an all-online magazine also owned by the Post. Others like Gabriel Sherman are worried about branding: will the company struggle to find buyers considering the words “news” and “week” don’t really work on the Web?

The sale and possible electronificiation of Newsweek just a year after its redesign is one of those stories that epitomizes the challenges of the media landscape. Newsweek is still one of America’s two most famous newsmags, the other being Time. Its rebranding effort last year tried to merge the soul of a weekly news digest with … well, something else. The first few issues looked as though a design team had been instructed to empty their brains onto all 50 of its thin pages. Large pictures peeked out of unexpected corners of the magazine, faint blocks of color invaded the feature section, and the back of the book looked more like a collage of design ideas than a unified theory of magazine layout.

Newsweek grew up learning how to tell people what happened. Today, everybody knows what happened. So Newsweek’s reinvention needs another reinvention. I wish them the best of luck.

UPDATE: Rod Dreher

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic

UPDATE #3: Ross Douthat

UPDATE #4: Jim Newell at Gawker

UPDATE #5: Mike Allen at Politico

Meenal Vamburkar at Mediaite

Nat Ives at AdAge

UPDATE #6: Peter Lauria at Daily Beast

Stephen Spruiell at The Corner

Michael Calderone at Yahoo News

UPDATE #7: Jack Shafer at Slate

UPDATE #8: Chris Rovzar at The New York Magazine

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic


Filed under Mainstream

Everybody, Do The CNN Slide!

Bill Carter at NYT:

CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.

The trend in news ratings for the first three months of this year is all up for one network, the Fox News Channel, which enjoyed its best quarter ever in ratings, and down for both MSNBC and CNN.

CNN had a slightly worse quarter in the fourth quarter of 2009, but the last three months have included compelling news events, like the earthquake in Haiti and the battle over health care, and CNN, which emphasizes its hard news coverage, was apparently unable to benefit.

The losses at CNN continued a pattern in place for much of the last year, as the network trailed its competitors in every prime-time hour. (CNN still easily beats MSNBC in the daytime hours, but those are less lucrative in advertising money, and both networks are far behind Fox News at all hours.)

About the only break from the bad news for CNN was that March was not as bad as February, when the network had its worst single month in its recent history, finishing behind not only Fox News and MSNBC, but also its sister network HLN — and even CNBC, which had Olympics programming that month.

Steve Krakauer at Mediaite:

We’re now one month away from Fox News becoming the #1 cable news channel for the 100th consecutive month based on total viewers, and this quarter FNC expanded its reach into the cable market as a whole – finishing 2nd in prime time on all of cable, behind just USA Network. It also had the top 13 programs on cable news in both total viewers and the demo.

As for the programs, their two main news shows saw their best quarters ever. Special Report with Bret Baier and FOX Report with Shepard Smith at 6 and 7pmET respectively. Of course, the entire line-up was up – in demo, Glenn Beck was up the most (50%).

While CNN continues to decline in prime time (as detailed today in the New York Times) and MSNBC’s signature programs fall off as well (post coming), Fox News remains unaffected. In fact, with health care passing, there’s no reason to doubt the second quarter of 2010 will be any different. With midterm elections just around the corner, Fox News could conceivably be headed for another year of stronger ratings than the one before.

Whether you’re a fan of the ‘fair and balanced’ or not, it’s an amazing feat.

Michael Calderone at Politico:

CNN executives have long talked about the network’s prime time strategy of going against the grain of increased partisan commentary in the evenings, instead offering up hosts down the political center.

For major news events this year, such as the earthquakes in Haiti or Chile, CNN has excelled in pulling its vast international resources to cover the story from a variety of angles. Both Fox and MSNBC, by comparison, have focused more on hot-button political issues and debates, a strategy that seems to be working better in pulling prime time viewers.

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Let’s look at the competitors throwing around Larry King—who is apparently valued by CNN enough that they provide him access to their private jet: Rachel Maddow. OK, forgivable. Larry King is of an earlier time. (Somewhere between late Victorian and Prohibition, according to our calculations.) Rachel Maddow is fresh and new, and lesbian. No way can Bones McGee hope to compete with Maddow when he is so out of it, demographically speaking. (Although he has gamely adapted to Twitter, and is attempting to disguise how old he is by tweeting pictures of himself with Snoop Dogg. Sorry, Larry, maybe in 1998. Try interviewing random people on Chatroulette or something)

But Hannity? This show’s trademark segment—”The Great American Panel”—seems to only feature NASCAR drivers and fishing guides talking about American foreign policy. The set looks like a chain family restaurant about three notches below TGI-Fridays, and Hannity himself has all the incisiveness of a piece of shale someone wrapped a suit around and somehow passed off to Fox Execs as a television news personality. And the fact that Joy Behar “threatens” this old man is very sad indeed—almost to the point where we feel bad commenting on it. Like, don’t kick the guy when he’s already being punched in the balls by Joy Behar, right? Let’s just say we are confident that if someone gave us a Flip camera, $100 an episode, and an old panel van to tool around in, we could beat Joy Behar in the 10pm slot.

This would be different if Larry King was in some way redeemable. He is not. He functions basically as a human wall onto which disgraced politicians and worthless celebrities can fling their shit and smear it around while dozing seniors try to remember what they’re watching long enough to realize they hate it. Larry King’s contract runs out June 2011. Bye Larry King! And if there’s anything to speculation that Anderson Cooper might move onto King’s turf: Yes, please. But only if he does the entire show while swimming with sharks.

Ed Morrissey:

They can certainly keep telling themselves that their hosts don’t align with a “partisan point of view,” but the viewers obviously think otherwise.  Anderson Cooper helped popularize the “teabagger” slur used against Tea Party activists, which certainly would have alienated that demographic.  Larry King isn’t exactly known for his welcoming attitude towards conservatives, and neither for that matter is Campbell Brown or Rick Sanchez.  When conservative points of view are expressed by guests, the CNN hosts display a lot more skepticism for them than with the expressions of liberal points of view. (Full disclosure: I’ve been on with both Campbell and Rick and they’ve treated me fairly.) It’s not hostility, like one sees on MS-NBC, but if CNN thinks that equates to not having a partisan point of view, then small wonder they haven’t been able to stanch the bleeding.

That’s not to say that CNN is the worst in class, either.  CNN picked up Erick Erickson of Red State as an analyst, and they do better at balancing points of view in prime time than MS-NBC, which has become a lunatic asylum after about 11 am ET.  But Fox has done a better job over a longer, consistent period of incorporating serious left-of-center analysts like Juan Williams, Mara Liasson, Kirsten Powers, and more in both its talking-heads shows and its news analysis than any of the other cablers. Being better than MS-NBC is, in any case, damning with extremely faint praise.

What can CNN do to right the ship?  They need to take a much more clear-eyed view of the way they come across to their viewers.  CNN has more assets in the field for news gathering than its competition, but loses credibility when it mixes editorializing with reporting.  With MS-NBC so far on the Left that it can barely be seen and Fox News Channel leaning right, they might do better by actually playing it down the middle and sticking to nonpartisan analysis.  They’ll need to shake up their lineup to do that, and maybe get away from the talking-head concept altogether and instead break the prime-time lineup into focus areas such as foreign affairs, politics, domestic policy, and so on.  They need to make themselves useful and unique — at which they have only succeeded with their headline news.

UPDATE:Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

Jay Rosen

Ross Douthat in NYT

Douthat on Rosen

Glenn Greenwald on Douthat

Douthat responds to Greenwald

Rod Dreher on Douthat

The Rachel Maddow Show’s blogger Laura Conaway responds to Douthat

UPDATE #2: Troy Patterson at Slate

UPDATE #3: Douthat responds to Patterson

Conor Friedrsdorf at The American Scene

1 Comment

Filed under Mainstream

Crank Up The Zombie David Brinkley

James Poniewozik at Time:

Going outside its current stable of reporters and anchors, ABC is hiring longtime CNN international reporter Christiane Amanpour to host the Sunday-morning This Week interview show vacated by George Stephanopoulos. TV Newser has the details; among them, that she’ll start in August, until which White House correspondent Jake Tapper (who’s been doing a strong job as sometime interim host and would have been a good pick as well) will fill in.

It’s definitely a change, since Amanpour comes from a world-news background, rather than the D.C.-centric training of the typical Sunday-show host. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one may depend on whether the program changes to fit Amanpour’s strengths, or whether she has to change to fit its demands.

I will be honest: I am not generally a fan of the Sunday morning shows. I can think of about a million things a sane person with human contacts could better spend a Sunday morning doing than watch hosts bring on one Democratic or Republican mouthpiece after another to recite talking points, talk strategy or engage in Tim Russert-esque “But didn’t you say the opposite in 1996…” moments. Some of that is fine, but as a wall-to-wall staple, it’s tedious, it’s uninformative, and its symptomatic of a Washington press corps that’s more concerned with politics than with policy—i.e., with power, rather than how that power is used to affect people’s lives.

We already have four or five (depending which shows you count) interview shows working that same circuit every Sunday morning. Do we need that many? With Amanpour, who’s more known for her work in the Balkans than in the Beltway, ABC has a chance to do a show that breaks from the Sunday shows’ myopic obsessions, that focuses on policies and ideas over partisan handicapping (and kneecapping). It could even—crazy talk, I know—build a show that focuses on world news rather than Washington news.

Daniel Drezner:

The Sunday morning talk shows started to blur together long ago in my eyes, so anything distinctive is welcome.  Anything distinctive and focusing on foreign affairs/international relations is even more welcome.  Amanpour might have the celebrity to attract the kind of viewers who long to watch as many ADM commercials as possible see a civil discussion of the connections between America and the world.  If everyone else does generic inside-the-Beltway stuff, This Week might find a nice sinecure for itself on the international front.

That said, I’m skeptical that it will work, for two reasons. First, most Americans just don’t care that much about foreign policy — particularly right now. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just saying that it’s true.

Second, I’m not sure that the number of foreign policy wonks who ordinarily wouldn’t watch This Week but might tune in now will compensate for the drop in those uninterested in foreign affairs. Last year, This Week attracted 2.3 million viewers, while Fareed Zakarias’s GPS show attracted less than 200,000 viewers. There are numerous reasons for this, but one of them might be that world politics wonks don’t watch much television about world politics.  (full disclosure:  I haven’t watched This Week since having children David Brinkley left).

Still, I’ll be rooting for Amanpour to succeed, and will even offer one nugget of advice — put Laura Rozen on the roundtable the moment you take over the show. She’s a great bridge between the substance of foreign policy and the machinations of the foreign policy community.

Lisa de Moraes calls critics of the move “Negative Nancys”:

Amanpour, one of the country’s most respected international correspondents, will also appear on other ABC News programs and platforms to provide international analysis of the important issues of the day, ABC News said in Thursday’s announcement. She will anchor primetime documentaries on international subjects for ABC. She starts in August. “This Week” will continue to be broadcast from the Newseum in Washington.

Various Negative Nancys spent Thursday puzzling over what ABC News was thinking by hiring someone outside the box, with little knowledge of domestic politics, to anchor “This Week.” Amanpour, who grew up in Iran and Britain, the daughter of an Iranian father and a British mother, will be the first broadcast TV Sunday Beltway show anchor with a distinctly non-American accent, they said.

Nonsense.  Her accent has nothing to do with the criticism of hiring a reporter whose entire work has been focused on covering the foreign desk to a position that focuses on domestic politics.  The Sunday talk show audience usually watches to get a longer-view perspective on American politics, moderated by someone with credibility in that arena.  That’s why the late Tim Russert got the hosting duties for Meet the Press and Bob Schieffer handles it for CBS on Face the Nation.

Moreover, people like Russert and Schieffer built a reputation for fairness and even-handedness prior to assuming the duties of interviewer/moderator.  As this confrontation with Marc Thiessen on CNN in January showed, Amanpour has a well-earned reputation as a journalistic activist, not someone who works objectively.  In that same interview, she showed a remarkable lack of preparation and background on the subject which she was covering.

Instead of getting a seasoned political reporter who had built a reputation for objectivity, or at least fairness, for this role, ABC went outside of its house to snag someone who barely knows the main subject matter in which their audience is interested.  That doesn’t mean that Amanpour can’t grow into the role, of course; she may wind up doing very well indeed.  It does make her an odd choice for the job now, however, especially since most Americans put domestic issues like the economy and deficits high up on the agenda — the kind of issues Amanpour hasn’t covered.

Tom Shales in WaPo:

And even though Amanpour has often been touted for her expertise on foreign affairs, she has vocal and passionate critics in that arena as well. Supporters of Israel have more than once charged Amanpour with bias against that country and its policies. A Web site devoted to criticism of Amanpour is titled, with less than a modicum of subtlety, “Christiane Amanpour’s Outright Bias Against Israel Must Stop,” available via Facebook.

Amanpour grew up in Great Britain and Iran. Her family fled Tehran in 1979 at the start of the Islamic revolution, when she was college age. She has steadfastly rejected claims about her objectivity, telling Leslie Stahl last year relative to her coverage of Iran: “I am not part of the current crop of opinion journalists or commentary journalists or feelings journalists. I strongly believe that I have to remain in the realm of fact.”

The conservative Media Research Center, on its NewsBuster blog, claims Amanpour has the “standard liberal outlook on the world,” but then there don’t seem to be many journalists that conservatives do not consider liberal.

The group called Westin’s selection of Amanpour to anchor “This Week” a “bizarre choice,” but had also knocked her predecessor in the job, George Stephanopoulos, who has since moved on to “Good Morning America” and who previously worked to elect Bill Clinton and served in his White House.

As if outside opposition to Amanpour weren’t enough, ABC News is practically in a state of internal revolt over her selection, according to such industry-watchers as TV Newser, which quotes ABC insiders as resenting Westin’s hiring of a highly paid celebrity interloper for a job that many thought would go to White House correspondent Jake Tapper or to “Nightline” co-anchor Terry Moran. Either would have made a better “This Week” anchor, and neither would put ABC News in the position of having to rationalize spending big bucks on an superstar while making brutal cutbacks in the division.


From many angles, it was a bad choice — one which could create so much consternation that Westin will be forced to withdraw Amanpour’s name and come up with another “nominee” for the job. That would hardly be a tragedy — considering how many others deserve it more than she does.

Michael Calderone at Politico:

When Amanpour’s name first publicly made the rounds, the reaction I heard from ABC staffers (and some TV insiders) was one of bafflement at the selection. The questions and concerns boiled down to this: Why would ABC hire CNN’s highly-accomplished foreign correspondent for a traditionally Beltway political job that could be filled by capable internal candidates like Jake Tapper and Terry Moran? (Not to mention, Amanpour comes to the network amidst major cutbacks to the news division).

Jim Romenesko:

ABC senior vice president Jeffrey Schneider e-mails Romenesko: “There has always been all kinds fretful ink spilled about decisions we’ve made that ultimately turn out quite well for ABC News. If we are being accused of hiring one of the most well respected journalists in the world we proudly plead guilty and cannot wait for Christiane to focus her considerable talents on the Sunday morning landscape.”

Glenn Greenwald:

But I want to focus on a far more pernicious and truly slimy aspect of Shales’ attack on Amanpour.  In arguing why she’s a “bad choice,” Shales writes that “[s]upporters of Israel have more than once charged Amanpour with bias against that country and its policies,” and adds:  “A Web site devoted to criticism of Amanpour is titled, with less than a modicum of subtlety, ‘Christiane Amanpour’s Outright Bias Against Israel Must Stop,’ available via Facebook.”  Are these “charges” valid?  Is this “Web site” credible?  Does she, in fact, exhibit anti-Israel bias?  Who knows?  Shales doesn’t bother to say.  In fact, he doesn’t even bother to cite a single specific accusation against her; apparently, the mere existence of these complaints, valid or not, should count against her.

Worse still is that, immediately after noting these charges of”anti-Israel” bias, Shales writes this:

Amanpour grew up in Great Britain and Iran. Her family fled Tehran in 1979 at the start of the Islamic revolution, when she was college age. She has steadfastly rejected claims about her objectivity, telling Leslie Stahl last year relative to her coverage of Iran: “I am not part of the current crop of opinion journalists or commentary journalists or feelings journalists. I strongly believe that I have to remain in the realm of fact.”

Without having the courage to do so explicitly, Shales links (and even bolsters) charges of her “anti-Israel” bias to the fact that her father is Iranian and she grew up in Iran.  He sandwiches that biographical information about Iran in between describing accusations against her of bias against Israel and her defensive insistence that she’s capable of objectivity when reporting on the region.

So here we finally have a prominent journalist with a half-Persian background — in an extremely homogenized media culture which steadfastly excludes from Middle Eastern coverage voices from that region — and her national origin is immediately cited as a means of questioning her journalistic objectivity and even opposing her as a choice to host This Week (can someone from Iran with an Iranian father possibly be objective???).  Could the double standard here be any more obvious or unpleasant?

Wolf Blitzer is Jewish, a former AIPAC official, and — to use Shales’ smear-campaign formulation — has frequently “been accused” of pro-Israel bias; should CNN bar him from covering those issues?  David Gregory is Jewish, “studies Jewish texts with a top Jewish educator in Washington,” and has conducted extremely sycophantic interviews with Israel officials. Should his background be cited as evidence of his pro-Israel bias?  The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg is routinely cited as one of America’s most authoritative sources on the Middle East, notwithstanding numerous accusations of pro-Israel bias and, even more so, his choice to go enlist in the IDF and work in an Israeli prison where Palestinians are encaged; do those actions (far beyond his mere ethnicity) call into question his objectivity as a journalist such that The Atlantic should bar him from writing about that region?  Jake Tapper — who Shales suggests as an alternative to Amanpour and who I also previously praised as a choice — is Jewish; does that raise questions about his objectivity where Israel is concerned?

Kevin Drum:

There’s not much meat here. Insiders are always unhappy when an outsider gets a plum job. There are ideologues with an axe to grind against everyone. And perhaps This Week could do with a little more substance and a little less “inside-the-Beltway palaver”?

(And not to put this too finely, but it’s not really as hard as Shales might think to bone up on domestic politics. It’s not that complicated.)

Anyway, strange stuff. I don’t know if I would have picked Amanpour either, but if I were arguing against it I’d at least try to come up with some colorable criticisms. This is just junior high school stuff.

Paul Krugman:

Shales complains that

“This Week” deals mainly in domestic politics and inside-the-Beltway palaver, an area where Amanpour is widely considered to deficient.

Um, maybe the idea is to do a bit less “inside-the-Beltway palaver”? You know, we’ve got a global economic crisis, a budding confrontation with China, a major row with Israel; maybe someone who’s knowledgeable about the world rather than the DC party circuit might be just the right choice?

It’s true that Amanpour is not, to my knowledge, an expert on health policy or financial reform. But which TV host is?

I don’t really understand what’s going on here. But it says more about how DC insiders think than it does about Amanpour or “This Week”.

Andrew Sullivan:

What a load of hooey. I think Amanpour is a brilliant idea for hosting This Week, calm, authoritative, not caught up in Beltway process, able to say what she thinks – on torture and Israel, for example – while remaining careful to include other views. Genius. A vast improvement on the charisma-free insider, Stephanopoulos.

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

Just in case you were wondering if I was too hard on Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales yesterday for his shallow and pernicious critique of Christiane Amanpour as ABC’s choice to replace George Stephanopoulos on This Week, this is what he had to say about her during his live chat with readers :

Well you’re talking about reworking the whole show — so not discuss domestic politics? It’s George Will’s specialty though of course he can discuss international affairs as well. But it was conceived (for David Brinkley) as a discussion show about Washington DC, capital city……. I wonder if ABC is really going to revise the show or if they aren’t going to try to turn Amanpour into Little ms Politics.Amanpour has spent decades reporting from some of the most dangerous parts of the world since the first Gulf War. She’s interviewed people like Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad, Syrian President Bashar el Assad, and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. You’d think, that with a career like that, she might avoid being patronized because of her gender by another journalist.

A reader points out that Shales’ colleague at the Post, Lisa de Moraes, thinks Amanpour is a smart choice.

Lisa said Christiane is a smart choice? I didn’t know we were having a feud about it. I think Christiane is one of the most over-rated and hyped personalities of our day. There’s a reason that 60 Minutes didn’t pick up her contract; she disappointed them. Anyway c’est la vie.Can’t speak to why 60 Minutes didn’t pick up Amanpour’s contract, but she won two Emmys and a Peabody when she was there. On the other hand, she has lady parts and lived in Iran as a child. Tough call.

UPDATE: Tom Shales at WaPo

Eric Boehlert at Media Matter

Matthew Yglesias

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary

James Joyner

1 Comment

Filed under Mainstream, New Media

It’s The Dave Weigel Decade, We’re Just Living In It

Michael Calderone at Politico:

David Weigel, who’s been covering the right for the Washington Independent, will soon be heading to the Washington Post.

Weigel joins the Post on April 5, and will be launching a blog focused on the conservative movement, tea party activists, and how the GOP’s preparing for November.

National editor Kevin Merida confirmed the news to POLITICO and said that Weigel will be “a voice on our politics page online and a presence that will add to our robust coverage of the 2010 midterm elections.”

Weigel will primarily write online, but like Chris Cillizza—and other bloggers—could still contribute to the print edition when needed.

“I’ve been lucky to cover a really amazing, surprising political story in the remaking of the GOP and the rise of the Tea Parties,” Weigel told POLITICO. “I take them seriously; they’re building something brand new, something that defies conventional wisdom. If readers get a deeper understanding of these people, their strategy, and their ideas, then I’m doing my job.”

Weigel previously worked at Reason magazine, where he also reported on the conservative movement, along with Ron Paul’s presidential run. At the Washington Independent, he’s been one of the most prolific and best-sourced reporters on the beat. (That’s in addition to frequent tweets on politics, among other subjects).

By hiring Weigel, it appears that the Post’s hoping to continue the success the paper had bringing in blogger Ezra Klein from the American Prospect last April. Recently, executive editor Marcus Brauchli described Klein as “a new paradigm” and “one we would very much like to replicate.”

“As a blogger, he has more latitude than reporters to reach conclusions,” Brauchli said. “It’s inevitable we will employ more people who have that ability.”

Merida said that Weigel was brought to the Post’s attention by Klein, and later met with Raju Narisetti, the paper’s managing editor who oversees digital content.

David Weigel at The Washington Independent:

I want to take a moment to point out that the sort of journalism I do wouldn’t have been possible without TWI. There’s more coverage of conservative politics (especially movement politics) than there was when I began here, but what we’ve been able to do differently at TWI is deep reporting, and context, and giving time and space for the key players to explain themselves. We do that on every issue we cover, and I’m looking forward to my move from a TWI reporter to an avid TWI reader.

Editor’s note: Dave’s coverage of the conservative movement — from the birthers and the Tea Parties to the GOP’s leadership strategies and philosophical underpinnings — has been nothing short of groundbreaking. While we’ll miss him tremendously, we applaud the Post for its brilliant and forward-thinking move, and we’re proud that his new position will allow his important reporting to reach a wider audience. Congratulations to Dave, and congratulations to the Post!

Jesse Walker at Reason:

Congratulations to former Reason staffer (and current contributing editor) Dave Weigel, who has just been hired to cover the right for The Washington Post

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

Be ambivalent. Be very ambivalent

James Joyner:

Dave’s a strong writer with good instincts.  My only complaint with his reporting for TWI, which strikes me as starkly different from what he produced for Reason, is that being so narrowly focused topically that it sometimes seems that he’s piling on.  That’s almost unavoidable when one guy writes 20 pieces a day about a single topic.

Well, two:

With Weigel aboard, it’s clear the Post wants to make sure the conservative movement is fully covered in print and online. In addition to Weigel, the paper recently assigned a reporter in National to cover the tea party movement and developments within the Republican Party.

When I asked Merida if the Post might hire another blogger to cover politics on the left and the activist wing of the Democratic Party, he responded: “Stay tuned.”

I wouldn’t hold my breath.  There are conservative bloggers aplenty “covering” the left  but I can’t think of one offhand who’s doing it in a manner with which the Post would be comfortable.


Washington’s most knowledgeable blog reporter of wingnuts, Dave Weigel, has been hired by the Washington Post to blog-report about wingnuts — presumably just the ones outside of Washington Post headquarters. Congratulations to him! Big money! He must have carefully omitted “former Wonkette guest editor” from his resume…

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias and David Weigel at Bloggingheas

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Ladies And Gentleman, We Have Nerd Porn Lift-Off

Brian Stelter at NYT:

Researchers, political satirists and partisan mudslingers, take note: C-Span has uploaded virtually every minute of its video archives to the Internet.

The archives, at C-SpanVideo.org, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike. The network will formally announce the completion of the C-Span Video Library on Wednesday.

Having free online access to the more than 160,000 hours of C-Span footage is “like being able to Google political history using the ‘I Feel Lucky’ button every time,” said Rachel Maddow, the liberal MSNBC host.

Ed Morrissey, a senior correspondent for the conservative blog Hot Air (hotair.com), said, “The geek in me wants to find an excuse to start digging.”

Michael Calderone at Politico:

Brian Lamb, the network’s chief executive, told the New York Times that “journalists can feast on it,” and now having the ability to more easily check what politicians said in the past versus now

Frances Martel at Mediaite:

The database is assembled by program, topics, date, and personalities in them, so if you vaguely remember watching something interesting on Book TV last month (you don’t, but bear with me here), you can simply browse last month’s episodes of Book TV. It is even more useful if you’re researching a certain American political personality and want to find when they were most active on C-SPAN over a span of time, or just watch the person in action if you’ve only had the chance to read up on them. For example, say you overheard something about Richard Nixon and it got you curious to watch some of the footage of his last years in office. Simply search his name and click on his profile page, and all his appearances in the archives (mostly television but some radio addresses) are neatly organized by year. It’s a researcher’s – and a political nerd’s – dream come true. There’s even a transcript library for those who need the text in print.

But the impact of having such a free online database goes well beyond political science research libraries and the home computers of all three of America’s Spiro Agnew enthusiasts. The fact that 23 years of video footage of America’s history is accessible online for free at an age where most Americans have access to the Internet renders the entire debate in Texas over the content of textbooks obsolete. Teachers now have access to a library of raw data with which they can enhance their lessons, and if they don’t, students don’t need their teachers’ permission to do a quick fact-check.

Plus, most students in the YouTube era prefer watching history to reading it, so the chances of them taking five seconds to find a video of Ronald Reagan joking around about invading the USSR are much higher than the chances of them taking an hour or two to read the Reagan chapter conservatives in Texas are so afraid of them happening upon. C-SPAN has provided students an avenue both of objective history and of instant academic gratification, and given this alternative, most will be hard-pressed to take a second look at the books their parents are currently warring over. As the pool of information widens and becomes more organized, there will come a time when textbooks will have little to no place in the classroom at all. The classification of facts will be so sophisticated that it will take such little effort to wade through enormous amounts of information there will no longer be the need for someone to do it for students by way of a book. So while a five-hour congressional session from 1967 may not be interesting in and of itself, the shift to film and digital media is fascinating.

Andrew Malcolm at The Los Angeles Times:

One of America’s greatest living treasures is about to turn 31.

It’s not a he. Nor a she. It’s an it. C-SPAN, which is short for something like Cripes, Some Politicians Are Numb. (See video samples below; these may take a moment to load.)

For the last 11,320 days, this public service of the cable TV industry has provided priceless outlets and insights (even sometimes on the Democratic line) for millions of Americans watching, processing, learning and judging their government and its political processes at work. Or at least talking a lot.

While the rest of Washington yadas on like a bunch of chugging crazies on spring break, C-SPAN provides a priceless sense of serenity amid the nation’s political storms.

Yes, C-SPAN can be annoyingly calm at times, as if its announcers took twice the recommended dose of meds and don’t realize that total political chaos reigns everywhere outside that studio. “Well, if Iran does launch nuclear Armageddon, do you think the evangelicals will still be a serious force in the 2012 Iowa caucuses?”

On Wednesday, in honor of its official birthday Friday, C-SPAN will announce the opening of …

… a free, searchable, online video archive of every C-SPAN program since 1987. More than 160,000 hours of digital video. Like home movies for D.C. denizens. Imagine being able to look up and watch a specific speaker at a specific committee hearing on a specific day in 1993.

Or imagine getting a life.

Joe Carter at First Things:

Some policy nerds may be nostalgic for Dee Dee Myers-era White House briefings or Congressional budget reconciliation meetings. But for the rest of us, the archive offers an abundance of fascinating interviews and lectures from non-politicos.

Check out some of the videos of First Things‘ editors Richard John Neuhaus, Joseph Bottum, James Nuechterlein; FT contributors Mary Eberstadt, Alan Jacobs, and Yuval Levin; and FT board members Hadley Arkes, James Burtchaell, Eric Cohen, David Dalin, Midge Decter, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Suzanne Garment, Robert George, Mary Ann Glendon, Russell Hittinger, Glenn Loury, George Marsden, Wilfred M. McClay, Gilbert Meilaender, David Novak, Michael Novak, George Weigel, William Burleigh, and Peter Thiel.

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Sunday, Sunday… Can’t Trust That Day

Jay Rosen:

Look, the Sunday morning talk shows are broken. As works of journalism they don’t work. And I don’t know why this is so hard for the producers to figure out.

The people who host and supervise these shows, the journalists who appear on them, as well as the politicians who are interviewed each week, are all quite aware that extreme polarization and hyper-partisan conflict have come to characterize official Washington, an observation repeated hundreds of times a month by elders in the Church of the Savvy.  Ron Brownstein wrote a whole book on it: The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America

If the observation is true, then inviting partisans on television to polarize us some more would seem to be an obvious loser, especially because the limited airtime compresses political speech and guarantees a struggle for the microphone. This pattern tends to strand viewers in the senseless middle. We either don’t know whom to believe, and feel helpless. Or we curse both sides for their distortions. Or we know enough to know who is bullshitting us more and wonder why the host doesn’t. I can think of no scenario in which Brownstein can be correct and the Sunday shows won’t suck. (Can you?)


think the situation calls for cynicism. But I have to admit that is not much of a call.  So instead I propose this modest little fix, first floated on Twitter in a post I sent out to Betsy Fischer, Executive Producer of Meet the Press, who never replies to anything I say.  “Sadly, you’re a one-way medium,” I said to Fischer, “but here’s an idea for ya: Fact check what your guests say on Sunday and run it online Wednesday.”

Now I don’t contend this would solve the problem of the Sunday shows, which is structural.  But it might change the dynamic a little bit.  Whoever was bullshitting us more could expect to hear about it from Meet the Press staff on Wednesday.  The midweek fact check (in the spirit of Politifact.com, which could even be hired for the job…) might, over time, exert some influence on the speakers on Sunday. At the very least, it would guide the producers in their decisions about whom to invite back.

The midweek fact check would also give David Gregory a way out of his puppy game of gotcha. Instead of telling David Axelrod that his boss promised to change the tone in Washington so why aren’t there any Republican votes for health care? … which he thinks is getting “tough” with a guest, Gregory’s job would simply be to ask the sort of questions, the answers to which could be fact checked later in the week. Easy, right?

The beauty of this idea is that it turns the biggest weakness of political television–the fact that time is expensive, and so complicated distortions, or simple distortions about complicated matters, are rational tactics for advantage-seeking pols—into a kind of strength.  The format beckons them to evade, deny, elide, demagogue and confuse…. but then they pay for it later if they give into temptation and make that choice.  So imagine the midweek fact check from last week as a short segment wrapping up the show the following week. Now you have an incentive system that’s at least pointed in the right direction.

Michael Calderone at Politico:

Change comes slowly to the venerable shows that grip the attention of a small but committed segment of TV watchers every Sunday morning. And taking risks almost never happens, or why would ABC be negotiating with Ted Koppel, who at age 69 made his reputation covering Henry Kissinger and the Iranian hostage situation, to replace George Stephanopoulos as the host of “This Week”?

The shows are particularly ripe targets for critics who see them as the epitome of insider Washington and conventional wisdom. James Wolcott, writing in Vanity Fair last year, for example, described watching the show that Stephanopoulos recently vacated to be “like receiving an engraved invitation to apoplexy.”

“With occasional exceptions, the Sunday shows come across as geriatric and insular, having long been eclipsed and upstaged by Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Fox News, MSNBC and much of the Web,” New York Times columnist Frank Rich, a frequent critic, said in an e-mail to POLITICO.

The shows still occasionally make news — just ask Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who made herself an instant national target by declaring on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “the system worked” in the case of would-be terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

But even aficionados of the genre say the shows have declined since the death of Tim Russert, the “Meet” host who brought a sophisticated knowledge of politics and sharp questioning style that no other hosts have been able to duplicate.

Rosen recently wrote that “the Sunday shows are broken.” If so, how can they be fixed? We asked a range of journalists and media experts. Their responses tended to fall into three distinct camps.

Get different panelists and guests

By far the biggest complaint is the scarcity of the young, the female and the nonwhite.

“You’re seeing a real generational changeover in Washington, and I think you’re seeing a new way that politics works, and how journalism works,” said Air America’s Ana Marie Cox. But, she added, “the Sunday show is a holdover from a time that everything is top down.”

Cox, who has appeared on “Face the Nation” and praises Bob Schieffer as a moderator, said that “having people under 40 would be good.”

Rich agrees. The shows “desperately need younger, more diverse and, God knows, wittier panel participants on a regular basis — not as sporadic tokenism — and a rethinking of the same-old cookie-cutter formats if they are to outlive their rapidly aging audience.”


Change the format

The basic formula of a host asking a public official questions, followed by a panel of reporters and policy wonks, seems to have outlasted every major change in culture and technology since the Truman years.

Michael Kinsley, former editor of The New Republic and Slate, and the onetime liberal host on “Crossfire,” said there are several problems with the traditional format: hosts feel obliged to affect a non-partisan, objective posture; journalists on the panel feign expertise over a wide range of issues; and the questions asked are often of the “gotcha” variety.

“What passes for a tough question is too often just about generating a headline or moving the story along a step,” Kinsley said.

To Rosen, the problem is that “the more partisan environment overtakes the premise of a discussion based on mutually agreed-upon facts.” That’s why he is big on fact checking. But he also argues that producers should “diversify their ideas about balance and mix things up a bit.”

“For example, how about striving for balance between tea party conservatives and establishment conservatives, between blogospheric liberals and congressional liberals?” Rosen asked. “The fact that this doesn’t even occur to them shows how evacuated the political imagination is on Sunday morning.”


Who says there’s anything wrong?

Even in the post-Russert era, “Meet the Press” remains the top-rated Sunday show, averaging 3.074 million viewers weekly in the fourth quarter of 2009. But week to week, its first-place rank is less of a sure thing, as both “This Week” and “Face the Nation” may take the top spot in either total viewers or the age 25-54 demographic. Both shows are not far behind: In the fourth quarter, they finished with 2.740 million and 2.618 million viewers, respectively. “Fox News Sunday” brought in 1.184 million viewers.

Given that the Sunday shows attract an older viewership likely to be more resistant to change, there’s hesitancy on the part of producers to mess with the DNA. In addition, the guests — candidates, policy makers, members of the administration — come to expect an almost standard format.

Schieffer, who has moderated “Face the Nation” since 1991, notes that the show hasn’t changed significantly since first broadcast over a half-century ago. He views that fact as attesting to the format’s longevity amid the revolutions in how media is produced and consumed, and “see[s] no reason to make any major changes. Midweek fact-checking doesn’t do it for him either.

“Good Washington journalists ought to be able to do some fact-checking when they question these officials,” Schieffer said. “If it doesn’t sound right to me, I ask him a follow-up question about it.” The problem with guests isn’t lying, Schieffer said, but “getting them off the talking points.”

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

The bottom line is, while an after-action report on the Web is better than nothing, the goal should be to get this aggressive journalism on live teevee. Right now, “The Daily Show” has become the sine qua non of turning basic accountability into riveting television. To be certain, the show’s staffers afford themselves a long amount of lead time to prepare — they don’t approach the ideal of instantaneousness. Nevertheless, they are complete and they are brutal, and they are the ones with a audience of viewers who are not entirely disaffected by what they see on television.

I’ve long wondered why it doesn’t just burn the ass of professional journalists to watch a bunch of comedy writers beat them at their own profession on a daily basis. But I think there’s a reason it doesn’t. Having watched these shows extensively, it seems to me that the producers of these shows just feel that the journalists and the guests should be on equal footing — that there’s a virtue in reducing the advantages of the actual journalists. They act as if it wouldn’t be sporting to place their guests at any sort of disadvantage.

This is wrong: they should seek to place their guests at a maximum disadvantage. The reason they don’t is because they’re all terrified they’ll lose access to important decision-makers. They’ve got the essential dependencies in their relationship all running in the wrong directions.

On the other hand, those guys who research and write and pull clips for those segments for “The Daily Show” — they want punchlines to land. They want the butt of their jokes to be clear and unambiguous. They want their viewers to remember what they did. And so they demonstrate a quality that you never, ever see on Sunday, even if you squint real hard: KILLER INSTINCT. Because they want one thing: to win.

So if you’ve ever wondered if the goal of the Sunday programs seems to be the staging of an amiable, risk-free coffee hour where everyone basks in each other’s relative importance, guess what? You are the savvy one. Instead of Meeting The Press, these shows have largely become exercises in Pressing the Meat. And not vigorously enough to be interesting at that.

More Linkins

Steve Benen:

I imagine hosting a show is awfully difficult. When a guest tells a blatant falsehood, the host may not know it’s a blatant falsehood, or may not have time to delve into the dishonesty in any depth on the air. And since guests can lie and still get invited back, there’s no real incentive to tell the truth — indeed, charlatans are rewarded when their lies reach the audience, which almost certainly won’t see/hear the fact-checking from Politifact, Media Matters, ThinkProgress, etc.

If guests knew the shows themselves would actually report to the audience who is and isn’t telling the truth, they’d have an incentive to be honest. If producers/hosts knew their shows would start taking an interest in fact-checking, they might even stop inviting transparent liars back on the air so often.

And if viewers knew there might be a way to know who is and isn’t telling the truth, and there’d be a modicum of accountability, they might be more inclined to tune in. At that point, the shows would be serving a purpose, which would be a step in the right direction.

Nisha Chittal at Mediaite:

I fully believe that the Sunday morning talk shows need a new media makeover, and I have a handful of ideas for how they can do so.  I admit that I know absolutely nothing about what goes into the making of a political talk show. But what I do know  is that my generation wants transparency, participation, and engagement in their political process – and their news.  So here are my suggestions on how the Sunday shows might undertake a new media makeover that could finally usher them into the year 2010:

Take Questions From Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube

We may be living in the YouTube age, but from the look of most Sunday shows you’d never know it. Remember the 2008 presidential election debates, where CNN and YouTube asked citizens to submit questions to ask of the candidates, and then featured selected video questions during the debate? Would it kill us to allow citizens to submit questions to the newsmakers and politicians on Meet The Press, Face The Nation, and This Week? Whether it’s via Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube videos, allowing citizens to ask questions would give them a connection to the shows, engage them, and allow them to play a role in setting the news agenda. And talk show hosts like David Gregory and Bob Schieffer should help facilitate that citizen-politician connection. Although David Gregory, Bob Schieffer, and George Stephanopoulos all have Twitter accounts, their level of engagement with fans is very low. Schieffer and Stephanopoulos’s Twitter accounts aren’t even really them, but are merely RSS feeds of updates from their websites.

And while we’re on the subject, the only Sunday show with a Facebook page and Twitter account is Meet The Press. And even then, their Facebook and Twitter are both used as one-way, broadcast mediums only. The MTP Facebook page is used solely to push out promotional content for each week’s show, and they receive little response from Facebook users.  But what if instead they posted a status update asking citizens: what do you want to ask Janet Napolitano on Meet The Press next Sunday? What if there was a chance David Gregory would actually ask your question to Napolitano on air? I guarantee you citizens of all ages and all backgrounds would start paying more attention if they felt like the networks were paying attention to them.

Create Twitter Hashtags and Highlight Commentary On The Show

Every Sunday I like to tweet a few observations from the morning talk shows, as do many of the other politicos on Twitter. And yet, none of the networks have designated Twitter hashtags for citizens who want to discuss their shows. Designating a hashtag for discussion of their shows — #mtp, for example, for Meet The Press – would encourage citizens to participate in actively discussing their opinions of the shows online.  And then, networks could take it a step further by displaying selected tweet-comments in a crawl at the bottom of the screen, allowing us to see viewer reactions to the shows in real time, as they unfold on television.

Spotlight Citizen Photos From Flickr

This Week with George Stephanopoulos always takes a few minutes in the second half of the show to highlight the “Sunday funnies.” What if he were to take a few minutes to highlight citizen photos of the week’s news events from Flickr? What if every show had a Flickr pool where they asked citizens to submit their photos of news from their cities and towns, and then the host of the show were to spotlight a few particularly good photos that illustrate what happened each week that was important to ordinary citizens around the country?

Bring Bloggers on Air

The interesting thing about blogging is that anyone can have access to do it. And when hidden behind a computer screen, there are no barriers to access – like race, gender, age, even education level. The best and the brightest can build an audience and rise to the top on their own, and come from a diverse array of backgrounds. Instead of having the usual suspects on Sunday shows every week, the networks should aim to bring more bloggers on air, and more diverse ones too. Instead of John McCain, who’s made hundreds of appearances, or Juan Williams or Mara Liasson, who appear on these shows every week but are barely relevant to most Americans, why not bring in smart, young, diverse bloggers that millions of Americans read every day and identify with?  How about Amanda Terkel, the wicked smart young editor of Think Progress? Nate Silver, the math whiz behind FiveThirtyEight.com? Or Andrew Sullivan, author of one of the most highly-trafficked political blogs in the world? These are the people our generation pays attention to — and they deserve a seat at the table on Sunday talk shows.

Audiences aren’t interested in the typical stale-male-pale panels that Sunday shows are so accustomed to. Bloggers are the new pundits and they’re already setting the news agenda — whether the Sunday shows want to accept it or not.

The Sunday political talk shows used to be an important part of American politics, but as they refuse to get with the new media program, their significance is quickly dwindling. Here’s hoping that 2010 will be the year the networks finally use new media to broaden their audiences beyond the typical Beltway crowd.

Ari Melber in The Nation:

The bottom line is that the Sunday shows still drive Washington politics and retain rare interview leverage over political leaders. The fractured media environment enables politicians to handpick most media appearances, if they want, avoiding aggressive questioning for years at a time. But even the most powerful candidates and politicians submit to Sunday grillings — Calderone notes that Sarah Palin is one of the only national candidates to boycott the shows entirely. (And we all remember how her media strategy turned out.) So it’s a real loss when politicians can dissemble through these appearances without any rigorous follow up.

UPDATE: Jake Simpson at The Atlantic with the round-up of the new fact check at This Week and David Gregory’s response.

Jay Rosen:

April 14, 2010: Jake Tapper and Bill Adair of Politifact are guests on the Colbert Report with Steven Colbert. David Gregory comes in for some merciless ribbing. Colbert mentions my “Simple Fix” post (calling me “Field Marshall Thesarus” for certain features of my writing style.)  “A fact check on Wednesday? Is he really suggesting that David Gregory work two days a week?”  Fortunately, Colbert says…

David Gregory has rejected this hare-brained scheme, saying “people can fact-check ‘Meet the Press’ every week on their own terms.” Thank you, David! It is not a Sunday host’s job to make sure his guests aren’t lying, any more than it’s a party host’s job to make sure the food isn’t poisoned. (applause..) …The host is there to tell his guests when it is their turn to talk. That is why NBC is currently grooming Gregory’s replacement: a chess timer.

April 15, 2010: On Twitter, Alf Sunde tells Gregory: “maybe your focus should be to watch yesterday’s Colbert Report, you could learn a great deal, like real journalism?”

April 16, 2010: In a pair of tweets, Gregory replies to Alf Sunde:

Look, I don’t think it’s fair to suggest I’m opposed to fact checking or accountability or real journalism for that matter. My view is that I just don’t think we need a formal arrangement to accomplish that goal.

Interpretation: So… what is going on here?  As with his defiant claims that the press did well in questioning the Bush Administration’s case for war, David Gregory believes he always and already asks the questions necessary to get at the truth. (So what’s your problem?)  If the truth does not emerge from his interviews, it’s not his fault because he–always and already–asks the tough questions. That’s who he is. It’s in his DNA. The criticism he gets is therefore partisan chatter. Or it comes from people who want him to go beyond asking the tough questions to the point of conclusion: that man is lying.

David Gregory thinks that is not his role.

I see two other possibilities for his refusal to adopt the fact check: one banal, the other more troubling. The banal: He’s too proud to adopt something that a competitor picked up on first; it would look like a “me too” response and he is the market leader, first in the ratings and heir to the chair that Tim Russert held.  The more disturbing possibility is that he thinks Tapper’s policy may give Meet the Press a competitive edge in booking guests who won’t want to be checked so vigorously. (As opposed to competing with an even better fact check, which would probably cause Bob Schieffer at Face the Nation to adopt the same policy, forcing the guests to accept the new rules or flee to cable, which has a fraction of the viewers.)

Look at it this way: the Washington politician who’s been on Meet the Press more than any other is John McCain. On April 6, Politifact’s truth-o-meter rated McCain a pants-on-fire liar for claiming that he never called himself a maverick. See what I mean?

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice


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Troubled Times At The Times

Howard Kurtz in WaPo:

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Calderone at Politico:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Elliott at TPM:

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

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

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

John J. Miller at National Review:

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

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

Joe Strupp at Editor and Publisher:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Ray Gustini at The Atlantic

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