Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
Make your own free website on Tripod.com
OF INTEREST
Click here to go there... Click here to go there...

Here you will find a few things you might want to investigate.

Support the Just Above Sunset websites...

Sponsor:

Click here to go there...

ARCHIVE
« May 2017 »
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31
Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
Contact the Editor

Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







Site Meter
Technorati Profile

Saturday, 28 October 2006
Guessing the Future
Topic: The Media
Guessing the Future
October is just about over and there has been no October Surprise that would change the political equation regarding the upcoming midterm elections. This looks bad for the Republicans, although they do have a marvelous "get out the vote" operation, and there's this -
The races in Michigan exemplify the power of political and racial gerrymandering, which can make some incumbents feel safe even in a campaign year soured by the Iraq war, corruption scandals and pockets of economic misery. The contests show how drawing congressional district lines to protect incumbents makes it even harder for Democrats to pick up the 15 seats they need to capture control of the House.

"It is in doubt because state and national polls assume that Democrats are spread evenly among congressional districts instead of being packed into a few districts," said pollster Ed Sarpolus of EPIC-MRA in Lansing, Mich.

Republicans controlled the process of drawing new congressional lines in most states following the 2000 census, and they did a good packing Democrats into as few districts as possible, Sarpolus said. The GOP refers to it as their "firewall" against losing the majority.

"Everyone assumes that the number of seats available are the same as in 1994," said Sarpolus, referring to the election in which Republicans gained 52 seats, taking control of the House.

States are required to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts after every 10-year census to account for population changes. Some states, including Texas and Georgia, have done it mid-decade to capitalize on Republican takeovers of the state legislature.

Gerrymandering - the art of drawing odd-shaped legislative districts to favor the political party in power - has been around since the early 1800s, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry drew a politically friendly district that looked like a salamander.

Both parties do it in states where they control the line-drawing. When the parties share power, they sometimes get together to protect incumbents. But today's practitioners say new computer technology helps them draw favorable districts better than ever.

"It's more exact," said Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, a Washington company that specializes in drawing political boundaries.

As recently as 1970, district maps were drawn on paper. In the 1980s, Brace said he could use computers to generate about 10 different district scenarios for a state. After the 2000 census, he could generate 1,000 of them, using detailed socio-economic data and results from hundreds of elections in every precinct.
Isn't technology wonderful? And there are the new and easily hacked touch-screen voting machines being used almost everywhere for the first time now, that offer no paper trail and no way at all to audit results. So maybe an October Surprise wasn't really necessary.

There have been a few oddball reports floating around that various administration folks we happy when North Korea tested a nuclear weapon - that scares people good and, if you think about it, leaves no alternative but war for regime change. But North Korea messed up - the test seems to be a failure. Maybe there will be an early November Surprise - they get it right. That would be a help, as people vote Republican when they're frightened. The other possible surprise would be an all-out war to take out Iran's nuclear sites, and the infrastructure that supports the - road and bridges and all communication lines and such. But although we've moved two attack carrier groups off their coast for "exercises," launching the blitzkrieg with nuclear bunker-busters and all might prove counterproductive. No votes there.

So what can we expect? Perhaps this - The news cycle for Monday, Nov. 6th, the day before Election Day, will include the delivery of the verdict in Saddam Hussein's trial, originally set for October 16th. It was posted of course - the Sunday before the vote on Tuesday, November 7th.

As Bob Harris notes -
Which means the news cycle on Monday, November 6th, the day before the elections, will be filled with reports about the conviction of Saddam Hussein.

Of course, this can be dismissed as a complete coincidence. If you are a complete idiot.

The day before the nation goes to vote, the TV news reports are already baked in: Saddam found guilty! Which of course brings up the talking point: Hail Bush, vanquisher of evildoers! Because, y'know, we have such a free, independent, liberal media and all.

Not sure if it's gonna have all that much effect, given that Iraq isn't quite the winning issue it used to be. But still, seeing the "news" being manipulated like this so far in advance - wouldn't you think that would be the story, and not just the results of the manipulation?

I mean, the American media ain't the greatest adversarial force on the planet, but it's still the 53rd-most free press in the world, right there with Tonga, Croatia, and Botswana. Somebody at CNN must own a calendar.
That study is discussed here - we do rank fifty-third.

But why is that? Bill Montgomery, who made his reporting career covering economics, explains -
Forgive me for belaboring the obvious here. I'm obviously not the first guy to make the point that ignoring the truth is not the same thing as telling the truth (genuflects before pictures of Paul Krugman and Stephen Colbert) but where I might go beyond most liberal critics is in arguing that the "objectivity" convention itself is primarily a commercial arrangement, not a political one. And, like all arrangements in a dynamic capitalist economy, it has a finite lifecycle, one which may be nearing its end.

The mass media - the TV networks, the news weeklies, the large, national circulation newspapers like the New York Times - have been under enormous economic pressures for over a decade now, and those pressures are only getting worse. The mass market itself is being torn apart, into smaller and smaller niches. For most old media, the networks in particular, it's become a zero sum game. Just trying to hold the audiences they have is a losing battle. This loss of market power is one of the forces driving the trend towards consolidation (oligopoly). It's a defensive reaction in an industry that is getting more competitive, not less.

In this kind of environment, the old journalistic tradition - balancing partisan viewpoints across a relatively narrow, centrist ideological spectrum - becomes more and more problematic. So does the old "liberal bias," which could more accurately be described as a kind of cool, technocratic disdain for populist passions, which in this country since about the 1950s, has meant the populist right. The market for that kind of centrist pabulum is receding almost as quickly as David Broder's hairline.

Combine those commercial realities with the progressive polarization of the electorate (and the conservative reach for hegemonic power) and the old media have a serious problem: That which appeals to some bits and piece of the old mass audience may drive away other bits and pieces.

One strategy for dealing with this dilemma is simply to avoid controversy whenever possible, and try to persuade your loudest critics -- which again usually means the populist right -- that you're bending over backwards to be "balanced." That was the initial corporate reaction in the '80s and early '90s; in fact, you often got the feeling the networks wouldn't have minded getting out of the news business entirely, if their licenses would have allowed it.

But instead the rise of cable and its insatiable appetite for programming turned news into a profit center. It's cheap to produce, the scripts essentially write themselves and there are plenty of cross-selling opportunities (as ABC, Disney and Rush Limbaugh are busy proving). When it comes to filling air time, it's as cost effective as the reality shows, if not more so. If only the audiences didn't keep getting smaller, and older…

What finally appears to have dawned on old media is that trying to please everyone not only doesn't keep the critics off their backs, it doesn't help them hold their existing audience or build new ones. The geezers depart for Fox News, the 18-to-35 year olds get their news from the Daily Show. So hard choices have to be made: Which slices of the old mass audience should they try to hold, and which ones can they afford to alienate if that's the price for keeping the ones they want?

It's a triage operation, in other words - and to me it looks as if a conscious, corporate decision has been made to try to hold (or win back) the conservative "red state" audience even if it means losing the liberal "blue state" audience. Whether this is because the conservative audience is larger and more affluent, or because the strategists at Viacom, Disney, GE and Time Warner have decided that liberals are less likely to change channels when their ideological beliefs are offended, or because the more demographically desirable blue state audiences have long since "self selected" their way out of old media's reach all together, I don't know. But when Mark Halperin promises Bill O'Reilly he will feel his pain, or the CBS Evening News gives every conservative nut job in America a spot on "Free Speech," or NBC refuses to accept an ad for the Dixie Chicks because it disrepects Shrub, or Time puts Ann Coulter on the cover, I think they're making economic statements as much as journalistic ones.

You could say: To hell with old media, they're just a bunch of senile dinosaurs anyway, who cares who they pander to? But old media, for better or worse, still set the news agenda, and still dominate the political process. And they're doing an energetic, if not yet totally successful, job of sucking up new media and sticking them in the same corporate straight jacket. If they decide, as matter of cold capitalist calculation, that one-party Republican rule is the smart way to bet, that could also be come a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Maybe I'm wrong - I hope I am. But if I'm right, then there may come a time when progressives look back and sigh for the good old days when journalistic "objectivity" still encouraged the corporate media to give the truth and conservative propaganda equal weight, instead of simply repeating the latter.
In short, there's no economic advantage is reporting that the timing of the Saddam Hussein verdict looks a little suspicious. There's no market-segment for such reporting. Doing that hits no demographic with lots of disposable income. Oh well.

The vice president may have offered a late October Surprise, but that didn't work out that well -
WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House said Friday that Vice President Dick Cheney was not talking about a torture technique known as "water boarding" when he said dunking terrorism suspects in water during questioning was a "no-brainer."

Human rights groups complained that Cheney's comments amounted to an endorsement of water boarding, in which the victim believes he is about to drown.

President Bush, asked about Cheney's comments, said, "This country doesn't torture. We're not going to torture." He spoke at an Oval Office meeting Friday with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Earlier, White House press secretary Tony Snow denied that Cheney had endorsed water boarding.

"You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will," Snow said. "You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on."

In an interview Tuesday with WDAY of Fargo, North Dakota, Cheney was asked if "a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives."

The vice president replied, "Well, it's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."
The political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow says this - "He was just talking about bobbing for apples. Damned liberals misinterpret everything."

This was not the October Surprise that helped at all. You can go to this video and watch White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tap-dance -
Q How can you really make that argument?

MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what he said. He was asked the question, "You dunk somebody's head in the water to save a life, is it a no-brainer?" And also, if you read the rest of the answer, he also - the Vice President, who earlier had also been asked about torture, he said, "We don't torture." Let me give you the no-brainers here. No-brainer number one is, we don't torture. No-brainer number two: We don't break the law, our own or international law. No-brainer number three: The Vice President doesn't give away questioning techniques. And number four, the administration does believe in legal questioning techniques of known killers whose questioning can, in fact, be used to save American lives. The Vice President says he was talking in general terms about a questioning program that is legal to save American lives, and he was not referring to water boarding.

Q Then how can you say that he's not referring to water boarding, when it was very clear, when you look at the whole context, not only that specific question -

MR. SNOW: Does the word -

Q - but the one before?

MR. SNOW: Did the word "water boarding" appear?

Q It came up in the context of talking about interrogation techniques and the entire debate that has been conducted in this country.

MR. SNOW: I understand that. I'll tell you what the Vice President said. You can push all you want, [he] wasn't referring to water boarding and would not talk about techniques.
Who need such things a week before the election?

And you can got to this video - Lynne Cheney on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer ranting about liberal bias, and not actually answering any questions -
BLITZER: It made it sound - and there's been interpretation to this effect - that he was in effect confirming that the United States used this waterboarding, this technique that has been rejected by the international community that simulates a prisoner being drowned, if you will, and he was in effect, supposedly, confirming that the United States has been using that.

CHENEY: No, Wolf - that is a mighty house you're building on top of that mole hill there, a mighty mountain. This is complete distortion; he didn't say anything of the kind.

BLITZER: Because of the dunking of - you know, using the water and the dunking.

CHENEY: Well, you know, I understand your point. It's kind of the point of a lot of people right now, to try to distort the administration's position, and if you really want to talk about that, I watched the program on CNN last night, which I though - it's your 2006 voter program, which I thought was a terrible distortion of both the president and the vice president's position on many issues. It seemed almost straight out of Democratic talking points using phrasing like "domestic surveillance" when it's not domestic surveillance that anyone has talked about or ever done. It's surveillance of terrorists. It's people who have al Qaeda connections calling into the United States. So I think we're in the season of distortion, and this is just one more.

BLITZER: But there have been some cases where innocent people have been picked up, interrogated, held for long periods of time then simply said never mind, let go - they're let go.

CHENEY: Well, are you sure these people are innocent?
It goes on. She ends up sneering that CNN wants the United States to lose this war, and that's the real issue, not anything her husband said. Sigh. She must think that "53rd" ranking is far too high. Well, maybe the press should be one more weapon in the Great War. It would help with those ratings.

Reader "DK" over at Talking Pints Memo offers this -
We're darn near six years into this nonsense, but still the White House can beat the press corps like a drum. I'm referring to Cheney's comment that waterboarding detainees was a "no brainer," which the White House has managed to turn into a story about what Cheney really said or what he really meant by what he said.

There's no legitimate doubt about what Cheney said and what he meant. Cheney knows it. The President knows it. So do Tony Snow and the whole White House press corps. Yet we have this spectacularly silly dance - clever people being too clever by half: Snow and Cheney's staff cleverly parsing the interview, and the press cleverly trying to trip up the parsers.

The whole episode has been converted from a story about torture to another in the endless series of stories about the strange relationship between the press and this White House.

The Vice President's comments came in a radio interview on Tuesday. Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers was the first to report its significance in a story late Wednesday that was straightforward and direct, unburdened by the clever word games that would come later.

The Washington Post didn't run its first story on the interview until its Friday edition. Its follow-up piece today is headlined "Cheney Defends 'Dunk the Water' Comment." I don't know how denying he meant what he said constitutes defending his own comment, unless running fast and far in the opposite direction no longer constitutes a retreat. The story also describes what it calls "ambiguities in the waterboarding debate." The "debate" referred to is not about whether torture is moral or lawful, but whether Cheney actually meant waterboarding or merely a "dunk in the water."

The New York Times' first report on the interview didn't appear until today, in a story that deals almost exclusively with Snow's Friday press conference and the fallout associated with Cheney's remarks. It's a story about the White House "fending off" questions, as if the center of gravity in this historic departure from democratic norms were the White House press room instead of the dank corners of secret prisons or the solemn enclaves of our courts.

No thinking person believes Cheney was referring to anything other than waterboarding. The White House is unable to explain what else Cheney could have been referring to. Yet the leading papers are unable to cut through the malarkey.

I suppose the only thing we work harder at being in denial about than Cheney's comments is the fact that we have used waterboarding and other forms of torture. Every thinking person knows that to be true, too, and it shouldn't take Cheney's slip of the tongue to convince us.
In short - the press, as dysfunctional as it is, will keep the October surprises pro-Republican. Lynn Cheney really has no gripe. No one wants to rock the boat.

Oh, and on a minor note, there will be no report on the Mark Foley business before the election, even though all witnesses have now testified before the House Ethics Committee. The press gets of the hook on that one. They can report on the results - on just who ignored the odd fifty-two year old man hitting on sixteen-year-old male House pages so his seat would be safe - when no one can accuse them of being out to get the Republicans. That was a close call for the senior editors, who report to the bean counters. And December Surprises are meaningless, the kind of story the corporations who own the news services rather like.

And no one likes reporting on the war, in a broad way. As we see here, two critics warn that withdrawing from Iraq would "play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists" (Peter Bergen) and cause al-Qaeda to "rejoice" (Michael Scheuer).

You could report that. Or you could be even more logical, as Kevin Drim at the Washington Monthly is here -
That may be true. But what's missing here is what happens if we stay in Iraq: it will play into the hands of the jihadist terrorists and cause al-Qaeda to rejoice. This is the position that George Bush's blinkered view of national security has gotten us into: al-Qaeda improves its position no matter what happens. If we stay in Iraq, it's a substantive win because it helps recruiting and provides a cause for militant jihadists to rally around. If we leave, Osama & Co. will claim that they caused the mighty United States to leave with its tail between its legs.

So which is worse? A substantive victory for al-Qaeda or a round of theatrical, breast-beating propaganda videos on al-Jazeera? That's actually a harder question to answer than it seems, but it's still not that hard. If our foreign policy is focused primarily on the fear of what our enemies might say about us rather than on the substance of what's really happening, we're helpless. Al-Qaeda will always claim victory, after all.
No news outlet will report that, logically, we "lose" no matter which we do. That's a killer story, in the bad sense.

Ah well, the upcoming very late October Surprise, or early November Surprise, will probably be something else entirely. It wouldn't be a surprise otherwise.

Posted by Alan at 15:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 28 October 2006 15:03 PDT home

Sunday, 8 October 2006
The Economics of Information - The Dialog Continues
Topic: The Media
The Economics of Information - The Dialog Continues
In the new issue of Just Above Sunset, the magazine-format parent to this web log, you'll find a media column - Truth Telling and Its Difficulties. This is a discussion of those difficulties involving key readers, one of the founders of CNN and the man who teaches marketing to graduate students at a noted business school in upstate New York. And that is appropriate, as the difficulties seem to arise from the tension between the traditional obligation of a news organization to objectively inform Americans of what was going on in their world, and the reality that almost all news organizations are commercial enterprises - they are supposed to turn a profit, and that may inhibit some sorts of "informing" and falsely exaggerate others. You don't want to make your advertisers uncomfortable, after all. And you want to show you have a larger and more affluent audience than your competitors - so you do your best to please them and hang onto them.

So who better to discuss this than Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta - one of the guys who started CNN back in the early eighties, and whose wife is an executive there now - and a marketing expert who explains marketing concepts to graduate students?

The triggers there were the amazing commentary by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC on Thursday, October 5, that created quite a buzz, and the same day the parent company of the Los Angeles Times firing its publisher, who refused to continue the massive staff cuts there, saying getting rid of journalists might raise the profit margins but it would ruin the newspaper. The parent corporation, the Tribune Company, brought in their own cost-cutter from Chicago - Davis Hiller, a Harvard-trained lawyer and MBA, who, without any journalistic background, had been publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

The Olbermann item was a clear "the emperor has no clothes" rant, pointing out the obvious - the president is, on a number of matters, simply lying, and additionally, slandering anyone who disagrees with him. It was "what he said" versus the clear facts, but no one seemed to have the courage to just lay it all out. Perhaps Olbermann could do that because MSNBC has such a small market share - the risk of offending and having the advertising dollars flee just didn't matter that much. MSNBC is such a tiny part of NBC-Universal that losing a sponsor or two for a minor one-hour news show hardly matters to that entertainment giant.

As for the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper, of course, generates revenue through the sale of print advertising and subscriptions, and now online services. Think of it as a cash delivery system. That's its purpose, to deliver profit. The content before, after and around the advertising is of somewhat secondary importance - it's just the "hook" that gets people to buy the thing or subscribe. It only needs to be "good enough." The journalists here thus mistakenly thought they were more important than they actually were. At least that seems to be how the parent corporation sees things. There's talk of a mass exodus of those with experience and reputations and the big awards, and the new Tribune guy says he's fine with that. His job is to increase revenues, and if the paper becomes fluff - well, fluff sells. The decision has been made. It may just turn into a fat Penny Saver, with cool display ads, a fine comics section and celebrity gossip. Heck, the circulation will probably go up.

But the discussion didn't end there, as Michael O'Hare in Same Facts, then posted The Wayward Press - and just what is this "Baumol's cost disease" mentioned there?

What Michael O'Hare said -
The resignation of the LA Times' publisher in a spat with the paper's new owner, Tribune Corporation, over how profitable a newspaper should be and to what degree that profit should be attained by cutting its news staff, is probably too bad for the paper at the moment, but it's a symptom of a very big problem for everyone. Everyone, because even people who don't care to read the paper have to experience the government that a news-poor world entails.

The traditional business model of a paper newspaper, in which readers' attention is sold to advertisers by placing the ads next to news on a physical page, is broken. One fracture is a very broad withdrawal of public attention from anything that takes very long or much effort to engage with, from music to books and news; another is the IT-driven transformation of text from a product that can be denied to anyone who doesn't payfor a physical object to a practically non-excludible public good. Still another is a phenomenon not fully understood, which is the much greater difficulty advertisements have drawing attention on a computer screen than on a paper page, evidenced by the flashing ads that now pop up screaming for attention over content on newspaper web pages. And we may also be seeing an example of "Baumol's cost disease", the steady increase of the relative cost of products like expert, competent, writing (music performance, in his example) that can't take advantage of productivity improvements through technology.

There have always been lousy newspapers and only a few good ones; many of the former are no great loss except for local issues. But the LA Times is a great newspaper, well written and probing, with a wonderful tradition of "print it once and print it all" that has generated long, interesting, expensive stories that can help you understand a complicated issue or situation in one sitting. The usual recipes for providing cultural capital in the face of market failure, like government provision, are non-starters in this case: no-one wants Villaraigosa in this business, nor even a California State Department of Public Information, at least not as a newspaper. Some sort of very mechanistic public subsidy program might help keep 'papers' alive, but it won't make anyone read them.

This is not a problem that will be solved by twiddling some media outlet ownership legislation, nor by any other quick fix, and not solving it is simply not OK, as the last few years of public sector disasters indicate. I have no cheerful summary, nor clever policy recommendation to offer. We're in a lot of trouble here, and without a map.
Well, that's cheery. And Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, works on it -
I actually remember reading this James Surowiecki New Yorker piece (he writes an occasional column in "Talk of the Town" called "The Financial Page") a few years ago. It's sort of not totally clear to a civilian like me, but I think I get the general idea. Here's a clip:
Generally, productivity growth is a boon, but it creates problems for non-productive enterprises like classical music, education, and car repair: to keep luring talent, they have to increase wages, or else people eventually migrate to businesses that pay better. Instead of becoming nurses or mechanics, they become telecom engineers or machinists. That's why teachers are getting paid a lot more than they were twenty years ago. (The average salary for an associate college professor has risen almost seventy per cent since the early eighties, and that's if you adjust for inflation.) To pay those wages, schools and hospitals have to raise prices. The result is that in industries where productivity is flat costs and prices keep going up. Economists call this phenomenon "Baumol's cost disease," after William Baumol, the NYU economist who first made the diagnosis, using the Mozart analogy, in the sixties. As anyone with kids knows, cost disease is alive and well. A recent study by the economists Jack Triplett and Barry Bosworth demonstrates that among the service businesses that have been least productive in recent years you'll find education, insurance, health care, and entertainment. These are the ones that have seen steep price hikes.
The full column is here.
And the marketing expert in upstate New York confirms -
Rick's got it encapsulated.

To me the defining characteristics of "Cost Disease" are two fold -

1) it's service based, and 2) the service itself is the consumable.

The net result is costs always rise over time (with the natural "cost of capital" plus inflation over time) because the service is not subject to productivity gains we typically associate with technology, processes and systems efficiencies. The business that is trapped with Cost Disease is primarily salary-dependent.

Today a baseball game still takes eighteen players plus managers and still takes time duration of nine innings - same as in 1909.

If we are consuming the ball game and the activity of the 18+, then costs for staging the game can ONLY rise over decades. Hence changes in arbitration and trade rules, salaries and the emergence of "the Steinbrenner" not to mention evolution of advertising and sponsorship revenues to keep the game in stride with our economy one hundred years later.

Hope this hits the ball on the nose (a four-bagger?) for the "civilians" in the audience.

(The one parenthetical economic reference above to "Cost of Capital" refers to the very basic notion that as long as we charge interest to lend money, then the gains in the economy - the value we add by making products and services available - have to exceed that cost of borrowing in order to repay our debt - the fuel of the economy - PLUS make a profit so producers can eat! Hence - over the long run - and despite recessions - the value of the economy [and the stock market where food is dispensed to the owners of the production tools] WILL ALWAYS RISE over time! Hence the critical nature of the Cost of Borrowing or what economists refer to as the "Cost of Capital"!)

That may be too much.
Maybe so, and maybe not, as Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, notes -
I have to admit, I still don't get it.

Not that I don't believe in "cost disease," I just don't think it applies to purely "services" exclusively, as if there's a logical and understandable reason that prices go up on everything else. Why would "technological productivity advances" make prices go up? If anything, it should make them come down! You would think, especially with markets always growing as populations grow, everything might be a little cheaper, since there are more and more of us everyday to take advantage of those famous "economies of scale."

But no, it doesn't seem to happen that way. One of the mysteries that's always nagged me - and I suspect whoever comes up with the definitive answer to this will win a Nobel prize in Economics - is, why is it that a good-size metropolis of today can support only one or two daily newspapers, while that same city, in the mid-nineteenth century and with maybe half the population, had maybe five or six dailies?

Here's my guess as to why prices go up, in those industries that rely on service as well as those that don't: Prices go up because we all want more money.

And by "we all," I mean not only the salaried middle manager who would be absolutely shocked to go ten years without a raise, and the unionized employee who has yearly raises built into his contract, but also the owners who demand 7% higher profits next year than those of this year. We all want more money, whether we're the cellist in the quartet playing Mozart the exact same way we've been doing it for ten years, or the baseball player who gets roughly the same number of hits this year as three years ago, or the newspaper reporter who covers about the same number of stories this year as last, using about the same number of words. Behind every hunk of plastic and metal and edible morsel that we buy, there are scores of human beings, and all of them want a raise.

(By the way, if a "raise" is understood to mean "more money," what's the word for "less money"? There is no one word for that, simply because it hardly ever happens. The best we can come up with is "reduction in salary." I suspect the reason we tolerate three words for this instead of one is because the phrase is so seldom used, not very much total breath is wasted in saying it.)

To sum up: Prices go up because we all want more money, and where else are we going to get it but from one another?

But to relate back to the original topic - and I wish I could remember where I'd seen this recently (was it something the market man said in these exhanges, or maybe something I saw in the New York Times Book Review a week or so back?) - that it used to be recognized by all concerned that businessmen ran businesses with service to the community in mind, that every business had a public function to fulfill, and that no business had, at its sole purpose, to make money. Somewhere along the line, that changed, and businesses were taken over by people who either never fully understood this little tidbit of history, or just didn't care.

And so I conclude that the job of a newspaper is news. If the job of a newspaper were to make money, they'd call it a moneypaper, but hardly anybody would read it.
And it loops back to Keith Olbermann, oddly enough.

David Bauder of the Associated Press (a "television writer") on Sunday, October 8, covers the Olbermann business here -
Keith Olbermann's tipping point came on a tarmac in Los Angeles six weeks ago. While waiting for his plane to take off he read an account of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's speech before the American Legion equating Iraq War opponents to pre-World War II appeasers.

The next night, on Aug. 30, Olbermann ended his MSNBC "Countdown" show with a blistering retort, questioning both the interpretation of history and Rumsfeld's very understanding of what it means to be an American.

It was the first of now five extraordinarily harsh anti-Bush commentaries that have made Olbermann the latest media point-person in the nation's political divide.

"As a critic of the administration, I will be damned if you can get away with calling me the equivalent of a Nazi appeaser," Olbermann told The Associated Press. "No one has the right to say that about any free-speaking American in this country."

Since that first commentary, Olbermann's nightly audience has increased 69 percent, according to Nielsen Media Research. This past Monday 834,000 people tuned in, virtually double his season average and more than CNN competitors Paula Zahn and Nancy Grace. Cable kingpin and Olbermann nemesis Bill O'Reilly (two million viewers that night) stands in his way.
So the folks who follow the news business - the business side of it - recognize something is up here.

A nugget on corporate ownership of the news - "As dangerous as it can sometimes be for news, it is also our great protector," Olbermann said. "Because as long as you make them money, they don't care. This is not Rupert Murdoch. And even Rupert Murdoch puts 'Family Guy' on the air and 'The Simpsons,' that regularly criticize Fox News. There is some safety in the corporate structure that we probably could never have anticipated."

And this - "The purpose of this is to get people to think and supply the marketplace of ideas with something at every fruit stand, something of every variety," he said. "As an industry, only half the fruit stand has been open the last four years."

And there's this bit of marketing/programming/scheduling history -
Liberal activist Jeff Cohen is thrilled for Olbermann's success, but admits that it's bittersweet.

Cohen was a producer for Phil Donahue's failed talk show. Less than four years ago Donahue's show imploded primarily because MSNBC and its corporate owners were afraid to have a show seen as liberal or anti-Bush at a time those opinions were less popular, he said.

In his new book "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media," Cohen alleges that NBC News forced Donahue to book more conservatives than liberals and eventually wanted one of the nation's best-known liberal media figures to imitate O'Reilly.

Same time as Olbermann, same channel.

That Olbermann has been permitted to do what he's doing is evidence that "the political zeitgeist has changed dramatically in four years, and especially (at) MSNBC," Cohen said.

While it's true a different political atmosphere has helped Olbermann, NBC News senior vice president Phil Griffin disputed Cohen's interpretation that politics doomed Donahue. While MSNBC could be faulted for giving up on Donahue too fast, the show never caught its rhythm and was extremely expensive, he said.

"People try to ascribe motives to us, that somehow we're trying to keep liberals off the air and it's all about ideology," Griffin said. "If you get ratings, there's no issue."
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, knows Griffin and adds this -
What gives me an ironic giggle as I read this is that, when I was working at CNN in Atlanta and Keith Olbermann was a sports reporter in CNN's New York bureau, Phil Griffin - who is now Keith's boss - was working for CNN Sports in Atlanta as, I think, a "VJ" (or "video journalist," an entry level job) or maybe a junior producer. He's a good guy, and I also agree with what he says here.

And yes, I do agree with what Olbermann says about the Nielsens - that they can, in some cases, protect dissent - and maybe I even agree with that thing he says about the fruit stand. But the problem with hiding behind the money is that there's no guarantee it will always be there, working on your side. In truth, I'm not so sure it doesn't tend to the favor conservatives, the evidence being that conservative radio talkers (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) never lack listeners, while the other side (e.g., Air America) goes begging. Political broadcasting seems to appeal most to angry conservatives, not non-confrontational liberals.

So if we're looking to greed to save the country from itself, we're definitely looking for salvation in all the wrong places. The best thing is to get behind a good strong principle, fight for it, then stick with it to the end.
Olbermann can lay out the truth, because there no real demand for it - he can get behind a good strong principle, fight for it, then stick with it to the end.  So what? And the Tribune folks can turn the Los Angeles Times into a Hollywood gossip rag. There's always a demand for that. So that's how it is.

__

Footnote:

Michael Kinsley, the former opinion editor for the Los Angeles Times (he was fired last year) says it's time to forget the Times. He has a suggestion. How About a National Tribune?

That goes something like this -
National-quality journalists who work for the L.A. Times, attracted by good salaries and great editors (first, John Carroll and now Dean Baquet), endure the frustration of not being read by the people they write about. If money keeps getting tighter and the paper's ambitions keep getting narrower, they will leave if they can, or won't come to work in L.A. in the first place. Then The Times will be an adequate provincial paper like the Chicago Tribune, and the tension of being prettier than the boss' daughter will be resolved.

… Journalists know how to stage a great hissy fit. And I'm not sure a fit was really called for in the initial staff reductions. On the editorial page (I can reveal, from the safety of hindsight) we initially had 15 people producing 21 editorials a week! So now cries that Tribune Co. has moved from cutting fat to cutting bone ring a bit hollow.

The other issue that ignited flames of self-righteousness in my colleagues was any attempt to integrate The Times into the Tribune chain, or to achieve economies of scale by sharing costs. This sensitivity seems especially shortsighted - first, because logic was completely on Tribune's side. (Why should one company be paying four or five reporters to cover the same one-person beat?) And second, because in any merger or pseudo-merger of Tribune papers, the Los Angeles Times would clearly come out on top.

In fact, there may be no better way to preserve The Times' role as a major newspaper (if that is of any interest to its owners). These days, on the one hand, thanks to the Internet, any newspaper can be a national newspaper. On the other hand, near universal availability of the New York Times print edition makes the traditional role of a regional paper like the Los Angeles Times superfluous.

But now imagine the Tribune chain as a single newspaper with separate editions in each of its cities. Call it the National Tribune. Or the papers could keep their separate identities, but carry a "Tribune" insert or wraparound with national and international news. This paper would start out with towering dominance in two of the nation's top three markets (Los Angeles and Chicago) and a solid position, via Newsday, in the largest (New York). It would even have a toehold in Washington (thanks to the Baltimore Sun). All this, and Orlando too.

Like the British papers, this new national paper could go after a demographic slice of the market instead of a geographical one. It could aim for the currently unoccupied sweet spot between USA Today and the New York Times, or it could take on the New York Times directly.

I assumed that Tribune Co. must have had something like this in mind when it paid a premium for the Times-Mirror papers. But apparently it had something else in mind, or nothing at all.

… Los Angeles is the capital of the increasingly dominant infotainment-media-celebrity complex. Broaden your scope to California generally and you can throw in high technology as well. The L.A. Times should be the diary of this capital. Often it is.

… I miss the Los Angeles Times. My very first day on the job, I attended the Page 1 meeting in the newsroom. There was a story about a transient who allegedly had broken into the home of a 91-year-old Hollywood screenwriter - author of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and later a blacklisted victim of the Red Scare - cut off his head, climbed over the back fence (head in hand), stabbed a neighbor to death, and was ultimately arrested at Paramount Studios, where guards recognized him from police photos shown on a TV they weren't supposed to be watching on the job.

What a story! But it didn't make the front page. It ran in the Metro section. I asked Carroll, "Gosh, who do you have to decapitate to make Page 1 around here?" Now we know.

Well, you can cover that, and people will read it. But that was covered in the pages here, Tuesday, 15 June 2004, in Embrace the Zeitgeist, with a picture and everything. And this is hardly the Los Angeles Times.

If the New York Times covers the capital of the economic world, and the Washington Post covers the capital of the political world, that leaves what? This?


Posted by Alan at 20:57 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006 08:02 PDT home

Friday, 6 October 2006
Truth Telling and Its Difficulties
Topic: The Media
Truth Telling and Its Difficulties
If you are not reading this using slow dial-up, go here and watch this video - video (Windows Media Player) or video (QuickTime). This is the commentary delivered on MSNBC by Keith Olbermann, Thursday, October 6 - where he does a pretty good job of channeling Edward R. Murrow in his glory days. It seems Olbermann took the movie seriously, and he signs off with the movie's title - "Good Night, and Good Luck." That was Murrow's signature.

Many think this is a must-see. It's an amazing callout - even if cynical and careful news folks may scoff. But calling bullshit what it is helps now and then. Television should do more of it. CNN maybe shouldn't, but this is refreshing. But then, maybe Olbermann here tries to hard. Maybe it's just pretentious - a cheap imitation of a long-dead honest man. Take a look.

Or see Dan Froomkin in a special to washingtonpost.com here -
The traditional media has been slow to come to grips with the American public's distrust and dislike of President Bush - sentiments clearly reflected in opinion polls dating back well over a year.

Almost alone among the network newscasters, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is channeling that sensibility. Channeling it - and amplifying it.

In fact, the increasingly shrill Olbermann is fast becoming the Howard Beale of the anti-Bush era: He's mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore.

His newscast-ending "special comment" yesterday was a doozy.

At issue: The sorts of rhetorical excesses in Bush's campaign speeches recently handled (with kid gloves) by such mainstream journalists as McClatchy's Ron Hutcheson and The Washington Post's Peter Baker - and on which I've been harping for ages, most recently in my "Bush's Imaginary Foes" column. [Click on the Froomkin link for links to those.]

What apparently set off Olbermann in particular was when Bush recently described a vote against his warrantless wiretapping plan as being the same as saying "we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists" - and when Bush said of the Democratic leadership: "It sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is - wait until we're attacked again."

Here's Olbermann yesterday: "The president doesn't just hear what he wants. He hears things that only he can hear.

"It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow. Yet they do.

"It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation. Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies, of treason…

"No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to 'wait until we're attacked again.'

"No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday … nor whatever is next …

"But tonight the stark question we must face is - why?

"Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

"Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?"
Powerful stuff, and the whole thing is appended below.

The reaction from the Just Above Sunset virtual salon - the small email discussion group that stretches from Hollywood to Paris - led to the underlying issues.

From the high-powered Wall Street attorney -
Actually this has become Olbermann's sign off and (since memory does not stretch back to Murrow's time for the majority of Americans) he presently owns it.

It should be further noted that his cadence and delivery are fairly faithful to that of Murrow's. It may be a cheap trick, but I suspect it is more passionate than that. It is a tribute to a man of impeccable honesty and integrity.
So there was a mixture of, perhaps, cheap theatricality, but an underlying passion for cutting through the crap.

From the internist in Boston - "I liked it too."

From Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
I like what he said, too, and I like that he said it, but I do wish he could have done it in less than 11 minutes and 10 seconds. Also, I sort of like how he said it, although sometimes he seemed to climb way too high up on the horse. But I do admire his guts for being one of the only people saying these things. Unfortunately, his words won't inflict the thunderous damage Murrow was capable of, especially in this day and age when anyone with an opinion is just dismissed as someone with an opinion.

What I wish is that one of the networks would take the points Olbermann makes and do a half-hour special that looks honestly at the facts - on whether the Constitution is under attack, and also on whether any Democrat in elected office has ever said any of the things that Bush claims they have. The fact that no news outlet is doing this is proof to me that none of them understand the function of a free press in a free society.
From the marketing professor at the business school in upstate New York, taking a break from his graduate students -
I WISH a credible Democrat - WORTHY of national leadership - would stand up and proclaim the emperor's no clothes for what they truly are! THAT's what we REALLY await!

But yes Rick, I agree the mainstream media have totally caved on responsible journalism issues.

Did people see the September 11 Koppel special on the Discovery Channel, where he's Programming Director now, his counter-programming the night ABC aired its 911 movie debacle? HE took on dilution of citizen's rights to privacy in the name of the witch-hunt on terror with a documentary followed by town meeting forum with respectable stage guests. MUCH better TV than ABC was offering that night!

THEN on night two of the ABC movie - you recall - ABC allowed themselves to be "movie interrupted" by Bush's speech at 9:00 (movie part deux ran 8-11). Charlie Gibson even stepped in - middle of the fiction - to segue to Bush live in the oval. I was never so disappointed in a seemingly credible news figure!

But he came out of the entertainment division to sit at his desk! My fault for putting trust in a likeable morning show guy with a Princeton education!

Smoke still burns here... see what you touch off with this Murrow piece?

I DID put Clooney's movie into my permanent home collection and forced my nineteen-year-old daughter to watch it!
Well, the issue seems to be truth-telling. So what is the function of a free press in a free society?

As for Olbermann - he was speaking on the least-watched of the three cable news networks. They'll try anything. But if one day they actually get a real audience, they'll also become a cash cow, and the parent corporation - NBC-Universal out here (the Canadian family, the Seagram folks, and the French, Vivendi, are out) - will want to milk that cow for all it's worth, and play it safe, and will shut him up.

There are trends. The same day Olbermann had been so bold the Tribune folks fired the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, as noted here. The message - the newspaper exists to generate money, and more each year, and while award winning journalism is nice, it's kind of beside the point -
Jeff Johnson, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times, was fired today after refusing last month to go along with cutbacks at his paper ordered by The Tribune Company.

The company asked Dean Baquet, the paper's editor, who had also resisted the cuts, to stay at The Los Angeles Times, and he has agreed to do so. Colleagues said he saw an opportunity to start fresh with a new publisher and to make his case for why the staff should not be cut back as much as Tribune has proposed. But one colleague noted that Mr. Baquet still retained the option to leave.

David D. Hiller, publisher of The Chicago Tribune, has been named as a replacement for Mr. Johnson.

Scott Smith, president of Tribune Publishing, based in Chicago, flew to Los Angeles and fired Mr. Johnson this morning.

"Jeff and I agreed that this change is best at this time because Tribune and Times executives need to be aligned on how to shape our future," Mr. Smith said in a statement.

In a memo to the staff this morning, Janet Clayton, an editor, wrote: "Sorry to tell you that we are told that Jeff Johnson is out as publisher of The Los Angeles Times."

Mr. Baquet and Mr. Johnson last month said publicly in the pages of their newspaper that they would not draw up a budget plan for cuts that Tribune, based in Chicago, had ordered. They included increasing the paper's profits by 7 percent, or about $17 million.
A newspaper, of course, generates revenue through the sale of print advertising and subscriptions, and now online services. Think of it as a cash delivery system. That's its purpose, to deliver profit. The content before, after and around the advertising is of somewhat secondary importance - it's just the "hook" that gets people buy the thing or subscribe. It only needs to be "good enough." The journalists thus mistakenly thought they were more important than they actually were. At least that seems to be how the parent corporation sees things.

This was mentioned last week in the item Truthiness, where the rumors were that the Tribune folks were going to sell of the Times and their other newspapers and go private. Billionaire Ron Burkle, business leader Eli Broad and Hollywood mogul David Geffen were each interested, and the cost cutting thing was at the core - whole swaths of folks are gone, and the current editors were standing up to the parent company. They just didn't want to fire any more reporters to improve the bottom line. What's the point? And the founders of the paper, the Chandler family, holding the biggest block of Tribune stock, didn't want the newspaper turned into an empty shell - the Chandlers sold Times-Mirror, the parent company of the Los Angeles Times, to Tribune in 2000 and have three board seats. But it seems the shoe dropped.

The marketing professor at the business school in upstate New York put it nicely - "There had been wind of privatizing the Times again, but alas - money-speak wins once again. Send in a new body from corporate!"

That's about it. But didn't Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, say that no news outlet now seems to understand the function of a free press in a free society? If it is not what the Tribune folks claim, to make money for the shareholders, what is the function of a free press in a free society? Perhaps he should write a piece on that.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, who was one of the guys who started CNN back in the eighties and whose wife is an executive there now, thinks not -
I'm not sure that what I would say deserves a whole column. It seems so obvious to me that I have a hard time finding the words without repeating myself, or at least saying what I've said over and over, here and elsewhere:

When I started my career in journalism (1968), television news didn't make money, but that was actually a good thing. The business was still coasting along on the fumes exhaled only decades earlier by the founders of broadcasting in our country (namely William Paley and David Sarnoff), who all but proclaimed that nobody should begrudge our making millions from use of the public radio frequencies, just as long as we never let the commercial dollar overwhelm what everyone saw as a "public trust" - objectively informing Americans of what was going on in their world.

That all changed years later with their descendants realized that they actually could (and, therefore, should) make money off of news after all. I think you're right about MSNBC, that things might be different if those people were actually making huge bucks, since too much money seems to be the thing that sullies everything else. But maybe CNN shouldn't do this, you think? I disagree. For one thing, doing the right thing for once might cause such a public fuss that more people might actually tune in to see what's going on.

The Los Angeles Times situation is a good case in point - except that, unlike the Paley-Sarnoff case, it doesn't involve publicly-granted broadcast licenses. The problem with that newspaper is not that it doesn't make money - as was discussed in exchanges last week, newspapers have always made money. It's my understanding (from the public radio show "Market Place" last night) that the Times has been averaging a healthy 25% profit; the problem is that the Tribune is used to its papers turning closer to 35%.

Also, like so many other companies these days, Tribune stockholders are not expecting a 7% increase in actual profits just this year, but for every year hereafter. The local Times management has argued that doing this hurts the quality of its news coverage and does not serve the community; the bosses at Tribune say "either take orders, or take off."

I think the people and leaders of Los Angeles should kick up a stink and complain that we don't need some Chicago outfit coming here to set up a money-printing machine at the community's expense, and then send all the money back to Chicago. I wish the locals would start a boycott of the paper until Tribune stops being so greedy and starts taking the local needs more seriously. It might not work but it might just focus America's attention on how it is losing its soul.

I know it's not a good idea that they pull the paper's business license, but maybe someone else out there, someone with a good conscience and a willingness to survive on profit margins as "low" as 25% - after all, don't most successful businesses aim for about 10% - anyway, I wish someone would start a new paper out there and hire away all the good folks from the out-of-town rag.

But to reiterate my original point up top, the real bottom line is that there is a job to be done in informing citizens about how their leadership is threatening the Constitution, and it's a job that nobody seems to be doing.

Well, there's no money in it.

And there is no point in linking to all the items out here on the Los Angeles Times thing - there are far too many - but it looks like most of the top folks will be quitting, going to other papers and magazines. There's talk of a mass exodus of those with experience and reputations and the big awards, and the new Tribune guy says he's fine with that. His job is to increase revenues, and if the paper becomes fluff - well, fluff sells. The decision has been made. It may just turn into a fat Penny Saver, with cool display ads, a fine comics section and celebrity gossip. Heck, the circulation will probably go up.

Where do we go to find some source that provides information on what our leadership is doing - information that hasn't been neutered or hidden or sanitized or slanted, if it's there at all, by those watching the profit margin and making sure it's growing? There's Olbermann with his tiny audience, scheduled against Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, and no much else - just corporate news subsidiaries trying to make enough of a margin so the parent organization doesn't pull the plug entirely.

It's like it's London in 1727 again - the year of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gay's Beggar's Opera and Pope's Essay on Man. You have to turn to the satirists to get a sense of what's really going on, and that may be a shame.

Of course, some of it is rather good, as in this, a video clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show on Comedy Central.

It gets down to the basics. What exactly is the president's job? This is a devastating string of clips of the president explaining, without much comment, except for some logical questions as to what does the man mean when he says his job is to explain to the people what his job is, and "my job is to do my job." It's laugh out loud funny, and really depressing.

Yeah, Swift was like that too.

Click on the link and take a look, and then note what Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, says -

Assuming the conservatives are right in thinking that government should be operated more like a business, and then we hire somebody and for the next six years he spends more time telling you what he thinks his job is than he does actually doing his job, shouldn't we have the right to fire him? You know, give him a parachute and a script about his "wanting to spend more time with his family," then just gently shove him off the plane?

I mean, I've worked with dudes like this. They bring him in like he's the golden boy who's going to save the company, then he screws up everything he gets involved in, then gabs us all to death at the water cooler! No one has the nerve to tell him the real score, but that doesn't matter because he's not listening anyway. There's an old saying that "time wounds all heels," but you know that truism won't kick in until after we've all totally lost our sanity, because this loser has two years left on his contract! Can't management just offer him an early buy-out so we can get a head-start with his inevitable replacement?

Or maybe, to put it in showbiz terms, we should have just subcontracted the presidency out to one of the TV networks, so if he didn't grab the ratings, they could have cancelled him after 13 weeks.
Of course that's not how things work.

And as for the Los Angeles Times changing, see this - the guy they brought in from the parent company is buddies with Ken Starr, Chief Justice Roberts and worked for Reagan, devising the current conservative agenda. More than money is speaking. And he has a new toy.

John Amato and Mark Groubert - "Last night David Hiller, from the Chicago Tribune came into town to replace Jeffrey Johnson and Times Editor Dean Baquet because they 'publicly opposed a corporate demand for a stringent cost-cutting plan last month.' In other words they were fired. Johnson would not bow down to the right wing Chicago Tribune."

The Chicago Tribune is right wing? No one pays attention out here.

They seem suspicious of this from the front page story in the Times -
His background has been varied, including a stint as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, two years at the Reagan Justice Department (where his colleagues included current Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani …
Yeah, the man worked with the new Chief Justice and for Reagan's Department of Justice back in the eighties. And he co-wrote the famous Reese Memorandum that put laid out Ronald Reagan's most conservative agenda, like immigration proposals that were rejected - the internment of illegal immigrants after Carter left office. And he worked with Ken Starr on getting Bill Clinton good. But that was a long time ago. He's here to make this paper make a lot more money. This will not turn into the west coast version of Reverend Moon's Washington Times. It won't sell. This isn't Chicago. We'll get Paris Hilton stories, box-office returns, and guacamole recipes.

And some of us will watch Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart.

___

Addendum:

What started this whole conversation -
A Special Comment About Lying
Keith Olbermann on the Difference Between Terrorists and Critics
SPECIAL COMMENT by Keith Olbermann, Anchor, 'Countdown' MSNBC

While the leadership in Congress has self-destructed over the revelations of an unmatched, and unrelieved, march through a cesspool ...

While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover ...

The president of the United States - unbowed, undeterred and unconnected to reality - has continued his extraordinary trek through our country rooting out the enemies of freedom: the Democrats.

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, "177 of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.'"

The hell they did.

One hundred seventy-seven Democrats opposed the president's seizure of another part of the Constitution.

Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn't be listening to the conversations of terrorists.

President Bush hears what he wants.

Tuesday, at another fundraiser in California, he had said, "Democrats take a law enforcement approach to terrorism. That means America will wait until we're attacked again before we respond."

Mr. Bush fabricated that, too.

And evidently he has begun to fancy himself as a mind reader.

"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party," the president said at another fundraiser Monday in Nevada, "it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is — wait until we're attacked again."

The president doesn't just hear what he wants.

He hears things that only he can hear.

It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow.

Yet they do.

It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation.

Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies of treason.

But it is the context that truly makes the head spin.

Just 25 days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this same man spoke to this nation and insisted, "We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us." Mr. Bush, this is a test you have already failed.

If your commitment to "put aside differences and work together" is replaced in the span of just three weeks by claiming your political opponents prefer to wait to see this country attacked again, and by spewing fabrications about what they've said, then the questions your critics need to be asking are no longer about your policies.

They are, instead, solemn and even terrible questions, about your fitness to fulfill the responsibilities of your office.

No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to "wait until we're attacked again."

No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday ... nor whatever is next.

You have dishonored your party, sir; you have dishonored your supporters; you have dishonored yourself.

But tonight the stark question we must face is - why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?

In less than one month you have gone from a flawed call to unity to this clarion call to hatred of Americans, by Americans.

If this is not simply the most shameless example of the rhetoric of political hackery, then it would have to be the cry of a leader crumbling under the weight of his own lies.

We have, of course, survived all manner of political hackery, of every shape, size and party. We will have to suffer it, for as long as the Republic stands.

But the premise of a president who comes across as a compulsive liar is nothing less than terrifying.

A president who since 9/11 will not listen, is not listening - and thanks to Bob Woodward's most recent account - evidently has never listened.

A president who since 9/11 so hates or fears other Americans that he accuses them of advocating deliberate inaction in the face of the enemy.

A president who since 9/11 has savaged the very freedoms he claims to be protecting from attack - attack by terrorists, or by Democrats, or by both - it is now impossible to find a consistent thread of logic as to who Mr. Bush believes the enemy is.

But if we know one thing for certain about Mr. Bush, it is this: This president - in his bullying of the Senate last month and in his slandering of the Democrats this month — has shown us that he believes whoever the enemies are, they are hiding themselves inside a dangerous cloak called the Constitution of the United States of America.

How often do we find priceless truth in the unlikeliest of places?

I tonight quote not Jefferson nor Voltaire, but Cigar Aficionado Magazine.

On Sept. 11th, 2003, the editor of that publication interviewed General Tommy Franks, at that point, just retired from his post as commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command - of Cent-Com.

And amid his quaint defenses of the then-nagging absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the continuing freedom of Osama bin Laden, General Franks said some of the most profound words of this generation.

He spoke of "the worst thing that can happen" to this country:

First, quoting, a "massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western World - it may be in the United States of America."

Then, the general continued, "the Western World, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years, in this grand experiment that we call democracy."

It was this super-patriotic warrior's fear that we would lose that most cherished liberty, because of another attack, one - again quoting General Franks - "that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event. Which, in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our Constitution."

And here we are, the fabric of our Constitution being unraveled, anyway.

Habeus corpus neutered; the rights of self-defense now as malleable and impermanent as clay; a president stifling all critics by every means available and, when he runs out of those, by simply lying about what they said or felt.

And all this, even without the dreaded attack.

General Franks, like all of us, loves this country, and believes not just in its values, but in its continuity.

He has been trained to look for threats to that continuity from without.

He has, perhaps been as naïve as the rest of us, in failing to keep close enough vigil on the threats to that continuity from within.

Secretary of State Rice first cannot remember urgent cautionary meetings with counterterrorism officials before 9/11. Then within hours of this lie, her spokesman confirms the meetings in question. Then she dismisses those meetings as nothing new — yet insists she wanted the same cautions expressed to Secretaries Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.

Mr. Rumsfeld, meantime, has been unable to accept the most logical and simple influence of the most noble and neutral of advisers. He and his employer insist they rely on the "generals in the field." But dozens of those generals have now come forward to say how their words, their experiences, have been ignored.

And, of course, inherent in the Pentagon's war-making functions is the regulation of presidential war lust.

Enacting that regulation should include everything up to symbolically wrestling the Chief Executive to the floor.

Yet - and it is Pentagon transcripts that now tell us this - evidently Mr. Rumsfeld's strongest check on Mr. Bush's ambitions, was to get somebody to excise the phrase "Mission Accomplished" out of the infamous Air Force Carrier speech of May 1st, 2003, even while the same empty words hung on a banner over the President's shoulder.

And the vice president is a chilling figure, still unable, it seems, to accept the conclusions of his own party's leaders in the Senate, that the foundations of his public position, are made out of sand.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But he still says so.

There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida.

But he still says so.

And thus, gripping firmly these figments of his own imagination, Mr. Cheney lives on, in defiance, and spreads - around him and before him - darkness, like some contagion of fear.

They are never wrong, and they never regret - admirable in a French torch singer, cataclysmic in an American leader.

Thus, the sickening attempt to blame the Foley scandal on the negligence of others or "the Clinton era" - even though the Foley scandal began before the Lewinsky scandal.

Thus, last month's enraged attacks on this administration's predecessors, about Osama bin Laden—a projection of their own negligence in the immediate months before 9/11.

Thus, the terrifying attempt to hamstring the fundament of our freedom - the Constitution - a triumph for al Qaida, for which the terrorists could not hope to achieve with a hundred 9/11's.

And thus, worst of all perhaps, these newest lies by President Bush about Democrats choosing to await another attack and not listen to the conversations of terrorists.

It is the terror and the guilt within your own heart, Mr. Bush, that you redirect at others who simply wish for you to temper your certainty with counsel.

It is the failure and the incompetence within your own memory, Mr. Bush, that leads you to demonize those who might merely quote to you the pleadings of Oliver Cromwell: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

It is not the Democrats whose inaction in the face of the enemy you fear, Sir.

It is your own - before 9/11 - and (and you alone know this), perhaps afterwards.

Mr. President, these new lies go to the heart of what it is that you truly wish to preserve.

It is not our freedom, nor our country - your actions against the Constitution give irrefutable proof of that.

You want to preserve a political party's power. And obviously you'll sell this country out, to do it.

These are lies about the Democrats - piled atop lies about Iraq - which were piled atop lies about your preparations for al Qaeda.

To you, perhaps, they feel like the weight of a million centuries - as crushing, as immovable.

They are not.

If you add more lies to them, you cannot free yourself, and us, from them.

But if you stop - if you stop fabricating quotes, and building straw-men, and inspiring those around you to do the same - you may yet liberate yourself and this nation.

Please, sir, do not throw this country's principles away because your lies have made it such that you can no longer differentiate between the terrorists and the critics.

Copyright © 2006 MSNBC Interactive

A star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine (Bob Hope Square) -

Edward R. Murrow's star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the northeast corner of Hollywood and Vine (Bob Hope Square)


Posted by Alan at 20:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 7 October 2006 06:38 PDT home

Sunday, 2 July 2006
Press Notes: A Tale for the Fourth of July
Topic: The Media

Press Notes: A Tale for the Fourth of July

It used to seem so simple.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Well, congress just can't do such things, but the pressure is there. Calls for the abridging the freedom of speech, and the press, were all the rage, Sunday, July 2, on the Sunday morning political shows, and in the press, and on the web, which some call the "blogosphere." Yeah, those pesky web logs.

The problem was the New York Times, again. Yep, those folks who long ago published the Pentagon Papers, and last year the story that revealed the domestic wiretapping of anyone or everyone without any warrants or judicial or congressional oversight and clearly against the law that explicitly said that was forbidden, and last month the story about the effort to secretly follow most all bank transactions in the world to see what's up. It was the Times at it again, printing what the government told them not to print.

How is the administration supposed to keep America safe from the terrorists everywhere if this newspaper keeps pointing out that the guys in charge are purposely breaking a quite unambiguous law or two, or more, flat-out lying to the public, and to congress, and just ignoring what they have sworn to defend, that constitution? It's just not fair, or something. Which do you want, safety - or the way things traditionally, and by law, and previously have been done? Make up your mind, folks.

The calls for charging the Times with treason are all over - from Congressman King of New York to most of the media on the right. Why even document it? Turn on the radio, or watch a little television. It's the topic of the week of the Fourth of July - freedom of the press, and its limits. We pride ourselves on having a free press but it must be compliant and complicit in the nasty things that must be done to keep us safe, or something like that - the free press is there to support the government and its policies, and its methods. What else is a free press for? This is an interesting discussion to have on the Fourth of July. It's getting back to the basics.

But it can get very odd. The Times is the lightening rod here, or the scapegoat. That's where to "pile on" if you're inclined to think there are many, many things you shouldn't know, and no one should know, and the press should only print the official version of things. So all eyes are on the Times and on this particular Sunday it was, of all things, something they printed in their travel section. Really.

The item at issue is this - a fluff piece on the small town of down in Maryland, Saint Michaels, where you will find vacation homes of all sorts of famous and really rich Americans, including Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. There's a picture of Rumsfeld's driveway.

What's the problem?

It's a plot - an intentional "exposure" of Cheney and Rumsfeld to terrorists, done with clever malevolence by the New York Times - they've just told the terrorists where these two live and are hoping the bad guys will come to Maryland and kill them. The Times wants them dead, and is helping along anyone who will do the deed. Yes, of course, the sale and ownership of all land and the buildings there is a public record. Anyone can look it up, and much is on the web, so you can look such things up from an internet café in Kabul or Tehran. But there terrorists only read the Times, of course.

But the outrage on the right is wide and deep, and reviewed by Glenn Greenwald here, with links to it all, and his discussion. You can follow it all there. It's all quite open - this is the smoking gun, proving the Times is plotting to overthrow the government, or at least have key officials assassinated. They did this travel piece on purpose. See? It's quite clear.

Everyone points to the problem. These homes and their location were well-known. Last year the Washington Post wrote about them here, and so did the hyper-right news service NewsMax here, quoting the Post item. But they're not the Times. And the too, back in 2003 the Times here printed a quite similar story about the Clinton's Chappaqua home north of Manhattan. This is travel writing, folks, about cool and exclusive places. Or it's treason.

Greenwald -
The Times clearly published this weekend's article [about Cheney's and Rumsfeld's vacation homes] disguised as a feature about vacation homes but with the intent to "retaliate" against and endanger Bush officials, even though: (a) the Times published a far more revealing article about the Clintons' private home in Chappaqua two years ago, completely with all sorts of identifying pictures, and (b) the secret, dangerous information which the Times revealed about Cheney and Rumsfeld's homes in order to encourage assassins was already disclosed in full months ago in an almost identical article published by that small, obscure newspaper called The Washington Post.

... America is currently at war and its enemies are domestic liberals and The New York Times. This war was started by Al Gore and Jimmy Carter when they opposed the invasion of Iraq. The New York Times is allied with Al Qaeda and their latest plot against America is to provide their terrorist friends with a roadmap to the vacation homes of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld so that they can be assassinated. That is what is being reported today by three of the largest "conservative" blogs on the Internet, along with Horowitz, the leader of the conservative effort to wipe out anti-conservative bias on college campuses.
So, you see, it's coordinated treason. You do see that, don't you?

And if it is it's retaliation time against the reporters and editors who were involved in this particular travel story.

Greenwald quotes one idea -
So, in the school of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, we are providing this link so YOU may help the blogosphere in locating the homes (perhaps with photos?) of the editors and reporters of the New York Times.

Let's start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. , Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live?

Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous - grab for the golden ring.
If Cheney dies, so does the travel writer. In the meantime, if you're a patriot, you can threaten and terrify the kids.

This is the side of things than posted the photos and home address of those who work at clinics that provide abortions. You remember the doctor who was shot dead in Buffalo, and the clinic bombed near Atlanta where that nurse lost much of her face. It's the same sort of thing. Now it's the Times, the newspaper on the side of the terrorists who hate America. Can't have that.

It should be an interesting Fourth of July. Will people cheer when those at the Times are gunned down to defeat terrorism? Maybe it's all bluster and they'll just harass the kids. Well, at least their children will have a chance to try real education - home schooling. It won't be safe to leave home. They're "fair game."

Is this a great country, or what?

And the press thing gets even odder, as it splits the Wall Street Journal, with its angry pro-Bush editorial board and its staff of first-rate objective reporters. On NBC's Meet the Press, Sunday, July 2, Andrea Mitchell interviews on of those reporters, John Harwood, and he unloads on whether the Times was just being treasonous when it ran the bank records story -
MS. MITCHELL: Let me, let me show you a Wall Street Journal editorial - a very unusual editorial - that was in the paper on Friday. It said that "The problem with The New York Times is that millions of Americans no longer believe that its editors would make those calculations in anything close to good faith. We certainly don't. On issue after issue, it has become clear that The Times believes the U.S. is not really at war, and in any case the Bush administration lacks the legitimacy to wage it." John, I don't want to really put you on the spot here, but I am. Your paper's news columns also ran this story, and here you have this editorial. It really is a really sharp conflict.

MR. HARWOOD: Couple of points on that. First of all, that editorial wasn't kidding when they said there's a separation between the news and the editorial pages at The Wall Street Journal.

MS. MITCHELL: That's for sure.

MR. HARWOOD: Secondly, there is a very large gap between the ideological outlook and philosophy of The New York Times editorial page and The Wall Street Journal editorial page. There is not a large ideological gap between the news staffs of those two places, and why would there be? Some of the top people of The New York Times were hired from The Wall Street Journal. What I found shocking about the editorial was the assertion that The New York Times did not act in good faith in making that judgment. I don't know anybody on the news staff of The Wall Street Journal that believes that. I certainly don't.
Yep, as Hemingway said - "Every good writer needs a foolproof, shockproof crap detector." Hemingway was a reporter for the Toronto Star in the late thirties, interviewed Mussolini, and new bully crap when he saw it (Mussolini was reading a book when Hemingway arrive, but was holding it upside-down). And this one reporter knows the same thing.

Then there was William Bennett and William Safire of Times mixing up on the same show -
MR. SAFIRE: Let me respond to what Bill [Bennett], to the point he's making, that who elected the media to determine what should be secret and what should not?

MS. MITCHELL: Which is the fundamental point.

MR. SAFIRE: Right. And the answer to that is, the founding fathers did. They came up with this Bill of Rights beyond which the constitutional convention would not move unless there were a First Amendment to challenge the government ... just as the American founding fathers challenged the British government. Now it's not treasonable, it's not even wrong for the press to say we're going to find out what we can and we'll act as a check and balance on the government. Sometimes we'll make mistakes. Sometimes the government will mistake.
Ah, a traditionalist.

And there was his boss, New York Times editor Bill Keller on Face the Nation with this -
Published reports that the U.S. was monitoring international banking transactions were not news to the terrorists who were its target because the Bush administration had already "talked openly" about the effort, The New York Times' top editor said Sunday.

... Keller, on CBS, said it is the government that "likes to have it both ways. ... They confide in us when they want to advertise the programs that are successful. And then they rebuke us if we write about something they would prefer we didn't write about."

"... I don't think this is all politics. I think the administration is a little embarrassed. This is the most secretive White House we've had since the Nixon White House."
And as noted here by Kos, the most widely read on the left - "Let's hope Keller is pissed off enough - and has been re-reminded of the importance of the First Amendment we've all been begging the paper to defend - to continue to show the Bush administration the folly, as the old saying has it, of picking a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel."

But the fight is on. It'll be a fine Fourth. Let's hash this out.

Posted by Alan at 23:11 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 2 July 2006 23:28 PDT home

Tuesday, 16 May 2006
Spinning Spinoza and Evil Albinos on a Slow News Day
Topic: The Media

Spinning Spinoza and Evil Albinos on a Slow News Day

Some days are just slow news days, and what we get is filigree - attaching lace and bows to the long legs of previous news stories, commenting on comments and waiting for the other shoe to drop, or some shoe to drop, or some story to break. Tuesday, May 16, 2006, was one of those days. Karl Rove wasn't indicted. The elected representatives in Iraq, even after five months, didn't form a new government. No top official resigned. The vice president didn't shoot anyone.

The news of the day? We found out that really was a 757 hitting the Pentagon almost four years ago, as in US Releases 9/11 Video Of Pentagon Jet Crash. Take THAT, all you conspiracy theorists. It wasn't a missile, or a bomb planted in the building that was part of a plot to outrage Americans so they'd be glad to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq as even if he wasn't involved someone had to play and he was a nasty piece of work and would do nicely. Except the video shows nothing really definitive. The news shows ran the ten second clip endlessly. It would do.

Other non-news? One should note that here that Fidel Castro angrily denies what Forbes had reported. He says he is not a multimillionaire. He doesn't have eight hundred million anywhere. Good to know.

As for the other big stories? They were all follow-up.

The president's Monday evening address to the nation on dealing with illegal immigration (discussed here) was old news. The added detail for the day after was an item like this, Mexico threatening to sue over the proposed National Guard patrols on their border. This seems very odd. "If there is a real wave of rights abuses, if we see the National Guard starting to directly participate in detaining people ... we would immediately start filing lawsuits through our consulates," Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez said in an interview with a Mexico City radio station. Right. Otherwise the Senate proceeded with their immigration legislation, persisting in pursuing some sort of temporary worker program and a way for long-time illegal folk to do some sort of penance and become citizens. The House guys, who want to deport them all and build a giant wall, fumed, as did most every conservative writer in the country (a good roundup of that here). But this was not news, just news of fuming and maneuvering in reaction to news.

And the NSA telephone records scandal (discussed here) was getting its own filigree. Did USA Today get it all wrong? Could it be the government didn't have the call records for every telephone chat in America since late 2001? The was no data-mining pattern recognition effort going on, because they didn't really have the data? The president himself sort of admitted that's just what they were doing, and told everyone not to worry, it was for our own good and no one was actually listening to any calls. But then there was this -
Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp., facing consumer lawsuits seeking massive damages, have issued carefully worded denials of a report that they turned over millions of customers' calling records to a U.S. spy agency.

USA Today reported last week that the National Security Agency has had access to records of billions of domestic calls and collected tens of millions of telephone records from data provided by BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T Inc..

BellSouth and Verizon denied the part of the USA Today report that said the companies had received a contract from the NSA and that they turned over records. However, Verizon declined to comment on whether it provided access to the NSA.

"One of the most glaring and repeated falsehoods in the media reporting is the assertion that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Verizon was approached by NSA and entered into an arrangement to provide the NSA with data from its customers' domestic calls,'' Verizon said in a statement on Tuesday.

However, "Verizon cannot and will not confirm or deny whether it has a relationship to the classified NSA program,'' the company said.

BellSouth said on Monday that "based on our review to date, we have confirmed no such contract exists and we have not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA.'' A BellSouth spokesman was not immediately available for further comment.

AT&T has been more circumspect, saying it has an obligation to assist law enforcement and other government agencies but has refused to comment specifically on national security matters.

A company spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment about whether it provided the NSA access.
And Quest said they turned down the request from the NSA for phone records. It's very mysterious.

No it isn't. They turned over no data. There were no contracts for that. They just gave the NSA access to their truck lines and let the NSA guys gather the data themselves, and went out for coffee. USA Today is standing by their story. The only news here is shifting blame back to the feds, to keep out of legal problems with outraged customers. You can't sue the feds. Government of the people, by the people and for the people - you can't sue yourself after all.

And late on Tuesday, in a surprise reversal, the administration agreed to let the full Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees review the domestic spying program. So more than just a few "key people" will get some information. That was always curious - saying they really, honestly, no kidding, actually briefed key legislators, but couldn't say who as that was classified information in and of itself.

Now it gets interesting. This is not big news, a seminal event that changes everything, nor is it a grand finale that wraps up everything - Nixon resign, LBJ says he's had enough. This is the muddled middle, where gauntlets are thrown down and we get sputtering outrage one way or the other. It is kind of fun, in an odd way. It's the middle of the news.

And the rest of the news on a slow day is filler, like Garrison Keillor getting off a a fine quip with lots of resonance, as it refers to so much -
Having been called names, one looks back at one's own angry outbursts over the years, and I recall having once referred to Republicans as "hairy-backed swamp developers, fundamentalist bullies, freelance racists, hobby cops, sweatshop tycoons, line jumpers, marsupial moms and aluminum-siding salesmen, misanthropic frat boys, ninja dittoheads, shrieking midgets, tax cheats, cheese merchants, cat stranglers, pill pushers, nihilists in golf pants, backed-up Baptists, the grand pooh-bahs of Percodan, mouth breathers, testosterone junkies and brownshirts in pinstripes." I look at those words now, and "cat stranglers" seems excessive to me. The number of cat stranglers in the ranks of the Republican Party is surely low, and that reference was hurtful to Republicans and to cat owners. I feel sheepish about it.
That's a classic. Just the thing for a slow news day.

How slow? Late in the day SALON.COM - the site of first-rate journalism, much intellectual depth and amazing detail, and all the reality-based stuff that so angers the neoconservatives and the administration they direct - runs a book review, of all things, at the top of their first page.

Laura Miller offers Everybody loves Spinoza - "Atheist Jew, champion of modernism, and kind and sociable man, the 17th century lens grinder who was "drunk on God" continues to win hearts and minds with his breathtaking philosophical vision."

Spinoza? Talk about your slow news days.

But it opens with this -
Bertrand Russell declared the 17th century lens grinder Baruch Spinoza to be "the noblest and most loveable of the great philosophers." To judge from several recent books, he's not alone in that opinion. The neurologist Antonio Damasio made the philosopher's thought a keystone of his 2003 book on emerging theories of emotion and consciousness, "Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain." In "Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity," philosophy professor and novelist Rebecca Goldstein declares herself to have loved Spinoza since the first time she heard him decried in the Orthodox yeshiva high school she attended as a girl. Matthew Stewart, a management consultant turned freelance historian of philosophy, makes Spinoza the supreme champion of modernism in his tale of intellectual rivalry, "The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God in the Modern World." Even Einstein, when asked if he believed in God, replied, "I believe in Spinoza's God."

All this is strange, when you observe, as Goldstein does, that Spinoza's ideas, from the perspective of contemporary analytic philosophy ("the philosophic tradition toward which I gravitate"), are considered "not just unsubstantiated speculations, but highfalutin nonsense." Surveying Spinoza's view of existence, Russell declared "the whole of this metaphysic is impossible to accept; it is incompatible with modern logic and with scientific method." Stewart characterizes Spinoza's thought as exhibiting a forbiddingly "eerie self-sufficiency." And in his own time and for decades afterward, Spinoza was widely denounced as (according to one church leader) "that insane and evil man, who deserves to be covered with chains and whipped with a rod." Yet however obsolete, ridiculous or even blasphemous, Spinoza still speaks to modern thinkers with an immediacy no philosopher of his time can match.
Then the three books are discussed in detail, and even if it may be highfalutin nonsense, it's pretty cool.

Way, way into that we get the core -
Key to Spinoza's heresy was his monism, his belief that everything that exists is essentially a single thing, "nature" (that is, the infinite universe), and that this is identical with God. (As a girl, Goldstein was taught that Spinoza wickedly equated God with nature, when Jews and Christians agreed that God is supernatural, outside of nature, and a person.) Everything we experience - people, events, objects - is simply a "mode" of that single "Substance" or essence. Because God/Nature is infinite and we are finite, we perceive these things to be separate when they are not; all separate identities, including our own individuality, are merely an illusion or misperception. We perceive good and evil when neither really exists, from the perspective of God. The only way we can come to understand the true unity of the world is through the understanding of pure reason, which is integral to Substance in the same way that roundness is integral to a circle.

We can't fully grasp this - our minds aren't adequate to the task - but with a dash of intuition, we can glimpse it and experience Spinoza's notion of true happiness. We can then attain what Goldstein calls a "radical objectivity," a perspective that's outside of our own limited identity. This objectivity will enable us to see the insignificance of our own pains, pleasures and losses except insofar as they help or hinder our ability to reason. We will realize that a life of restraint and peaceful coexistence with our fellow man is exactly what will sustain us in this cause; self-interest and virtue will be revealed as identical. Finally, we will be able to regard with tranquility the fact that we are mortal, that our minds, like our bodies, are simply a mode of the great infinity of Substance, and will someday end.
Got it? No?

Don't worry. Just know the guy wasn't a Republican -
A Spinoza whose dearest goal is to overthrow theocracy and ensure the freedoms of a democratic secular state is certainly more appealing nowadays than the one who insists on his own weird, impersonal, indifferent "God" and the supremacy of reason over passion. But it seems more likely that Spinoza's quest to discover the nature of reality came first, and that it was the efforts of various religious authorities to squelch his questions and ideas that led him to conceive of the ideal of a secular, tolerant state.
So THAT'S what you get on a slow news day, co-opting Spinoza in the long argument with Bush-Cheney-Dobson-Frist-Scalia about that view that the secular is evil and must be destroyed. We've got Spinoza on our side. Great.

So you don't get this philosophy stuff? Fine. There's something for everyone.

On the same slow news day the Boston Globe reports here that the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation is ticked off - "The Da Vinci Code" will be "the 68th movie since 1960 to feature an evil albino."

You didn't know there was a National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation? You didn't notice all the evil albino villains in the movies? Yeah, Bo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird" turned out to be a hero and protector, but he was deeply strange. And what about that white-haired guy in the first "Lethal Weapon" movie trying his best to kill poor Mel Gibson. There may be something going on here. Now this new Ron Howard film, with hype beyond anything seen in ten years, based on a wildly popular crap novel, hits the screen - and it happens again. The Globe in on the case.

But it doesn't matter. The Cannes Film Festival is underway, and as we see here, at a screening for critics the day before its Cannes premier, Ron Howard's new film offended more than just the albinos from Hew Hampshire -
The Cannes audience clearly grew restless as the movie dragged on to two and a half hours and spun a long sequence of anticlimactic revelations.

"I kept thinking of the Energizer Bunny, because it kept going and going and going, and not in a good way," said James Rocchi, a film critic for CBS 5 television in San Francisco and the online outlet Cinematical. "Ron Howard makes handsome films. He doesn't make bad ones, but he doesn't make great ones."

One especially melodramatic line uttered by Hanks drew prolonged laughter and some catcalls, and the audience continued to titter for much of the film's remainder.

Some people walked out during the movie's closing minutes, though there were fewer departures than many Cannes movies provoke among harsh critics. When the credits rolled, there were a few whistles and hisses, and there was none of the scattered applause even bad movies sometimes receive at Cannes.

Critics singled out co-star Ian McKellen, playing a wry Grail enthusiast who joins the search, as the movie's highlight, injecting hearty humor and delivering the most nuanced performance. Paul Bettany added a seething mix of tragic pathos and destructive zealousness as a monk assassin who carries out the slayings.

Bamigboye said all the actors were solid, but enthusiastically added, "I've got to tell you, Ian McKellen steals it. He slices all the crap away."
He slices all the crap away. Cool. The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation will be pleased.

But Supreme Court Justice Scalia won't be. As a member of Opus Dei he probably relates to this story from AFP (the French guys) -
PARIS, May 16, 2006 (AFP) - The prelate of Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic lay organization depicted in Dan Brown's book "The Da Vinci Code," is praying for the author and the makers of the Hollywood blockbuster debuting in France this week, he said in an interview released Tuesday.

Spanish Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez admitted he had not read the best-selling 2003 novel, in which Opus Dei is depicted as secretive and violent, but said its popularity pointed to a need in society for "transcendancy".

"I haven't read the book. I have a lot of commitments and I don't have time to waste on that kind of novel," he told the Wednesday edition of Catholic French daily La Croix.

"It is not attacks on Opus Dei that matter to me, but those who attack our lord and the Church," he added.

"I pray every day for the writer and also for the makers of the film for they may not realize that what they suggest is blasphemous and could hurt people."
Hey, it hurt the albinos.

Ah well, it was a slow news day.

Posted by Alan at 23:15 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006 09:07 PDT home

Newer | Latest | Older