A Declaration Of Independence From The Los Angeles Times

Human beings are creatures of habit. We find great comfort in familiar surroundings and established routines. That’s why, despite the abundance of persuasions, it is still difficult to break free from a decades long ritual of breakfast with the Los Angeles Times. Difficult, but not impossible.

The time has now come when the negatives outweigh the positives. There are many who would say that that time came long ago. So many, in fact that the Times has the distinction of having lost a larger percentage of subscribers than any other major American newspaper. And now as I join them, I shall, paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, “declare the causes which impel [me] to the separation.”

The past couple of years have been tumultuous for the Times and its parent, the Tribune Company. Along with rapidly declining circulation, they also have been undergoing close scrutiny by investors who have forced them to seek opportunities to sell the paper or the whole company. There was lukewarm reaction to their emergence on the market, but a few curious parties emerged. They included the Chandler family (the previous and historical owners of the Times); a management consortium (of current Tribune executives); the McCormick Foundation (which is also dominated by current Tribune executives); local L. A. billionaires (Ron Burkle, Eli Broad and David Geffen in separate deals); and Sam Zell (the Chicago billionaire real- estate developer).

In addition, the newsroom has been roiled by slashes in personnel – more than 20% since Tribune acquired the Times in 2000. They have also run through several publishers and editors. The latest executive heads to roll were publisher Jeffrey Johnson and editor Dean Baquet, who were both cut loose because they balked at firing even more news staffers. Before his dismissal, Johnson wisely cautioned that, “Newspapers can’t cut their way into the future.” Unfortunately for Johnson, Chicago responded by cutting him. More recently we’ve been forced to sit through the embarrassing departure of the editorial editor, Andres Martinez, amidst a newsroom soap opera that included a Hollywood producer and his publicist, whom Martinez was linked to romantically.
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A Stroll In Baghdad

Last week John McCain launched a press offensive to declare that things were improving in Iraq. He told Bill Bennet on his radio show, that…

McCain In Iraq“there are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.”

Despite the charm of a romantic outing with John and Bill, hand in hand, strolling the palm-lined avenues of Sadr City, I don’t think that even a high-stakes gambler like Bennet would take that risk. McCain himself was unprepared to do so when, a few days after his rosy remarks, he showed up in Baghdad wearing a Kevlar vest, with an entourage of 100 soldiers, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships. That would make me feel a little safer as well.

McCain repeated his assertions of tranquility on CNN admonishing Wolf Blitzer to “catch up,” and added that even General Petraeus tooled around the city in an unarmored Humvee (which Petraeus’ staff denied when they finished laughing).

CNN’s correspondent in Iraq, Michael Ware, was struck by the absurdity of McCain’s comments. Drawing on his experience of four years in Iraq, Ware pointed out the obvious: that the streets of Baghdad are still dangerous for anyone, especially an American. He added:

“I don’t know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.”

Well, now he’s done it. Ware’s insistence on reporting accurately has now set off a torrent of hostility from the right wing echo chamber. Their leader, Matt Drudge, led things off by reporting that Ware had “heckled” Sens. McCain and Lindsay Graham in a press conference. Drudge’s unnamed “official” called Ware’s conduct “outrageous,” saying…

“here you have two United States Senators in Bagdad [sic] giving first-hand reports while Ware is laughing and mocking their comments. I’ve never witnessed such disrespect. This guy is an activist not a reporter.”

The only problem with that report is that Ware denies that he heckled anyone and, in fact, didn’t even ask a question at the event. Video obtained by Raw Story confirms that there was no heckling by Ware or anybody else. So if Ware was telling the truth, who is the lying “official” that was cited by Drudge? Or is Drudge the liar? That scenario wouldn’t require much imagination.

It is disturbing enough that McCain is trying to mislead the American people with fantasies of an Iraqi vacation paradise. But he is doing so at a time when, contrary to his assertions of progress, things are actually getting worse. There were more killings in Iraq in March than in February, when the escalation began. And the number of American soldiers killed was the tenth highest since the war started in 2003. But this doesn’t stop McCain and his media enablers from lying and slandering honest reporters.

I’m actually a little surprised at the impatience of the attack dogs on the right. Had they listened a little longer to Ware’s conversation with Blitzer, they would have heard him say this about the relationship between violence in Iraq and politics in Washington:

“Do you think anyone enduring that is paying attention to artificial deadlines that are going to get vetoed by the president? And even if they were to pass through the legislative process, would only serve al Qaeda and Iran, America’s enemies? No. People are focusing on the near game.”

Ware is characterizing the legislative timetables advocated by Democrats as artificial and advantageous to Al Qaeda. That’s a perspective that’s shared by the pro-war right and you would think they would appreciate it. But they’ve developed a strain of ideological blindness so severe that it causes them to beat up on anyone who points out the cracks in their false accounts of a successful “surge” – even their allies.


The New York Times Editorial On April 1st

The Rovian Era
“Turn over a scandal in Washington these days and the chances are you’ll find Karl Rove. His tracks are everywhere: whether it’s helping to purge United States attorneys, coaching bureaucrats on how to spend taxpayers’ money to promote Republican candidates, hijacking the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives for partisan politics, or helping to organize a hit on the character of one of the first people to publicly reveal the twisting of intelligence reports on Iraq.”

This Times editorial contains more truth than the paper has published in six years, including this characterization of the BushCo mission:

“…the Bush administration’s far more menacing failure to distinguish the Republican Party from the government, or the state itself.”

All of this just makes me wonder if tomorrow the Times will retract it all with a big “April Fools” headline.


Bush Names Bill O’Reilly To Fill In For Tony Snow

Tony Snow’s recently diagnosed recurrence of cancer could not have come at a worse time for the Bush White House. Any president always has a need for a spokesperson that can present his vision and keep a disorderly flock of reporters in line. But current events are weighing on this administration with domestic scandals at the Department of Justice, a new and hostile Congress, foreign affairs heating up over Iran’s arrest of British soldiers, and, of course, the long-running and unpopular war in Iraq.

If there were ever a time that a president depended on an agile and articulate spokesman, it is now. And that is why the White House, looking to the bench that produced its previous stars, introduced the press gathered in the briefing room today to his new press secretary, Bill O’Reilly.




“Bill will be a valuable addition to our team,” said Bush. “He’s going to help us to prevaricate our agenda to the American people.”

O’Reilly didn’t waste any time taking the reins of his new post. With a gentle elbow jab, O’Reilly subtly nudged the President from the podium. Facing a curious and expectant press corps for the first time, he confidently assured them the President would be alright just as soon as he caught his breath. When David Gregory of NBC asked if the President could use a little help getting back to his feet, O’Reilly defiantly objected to Gregory’s negativity.

O’Reilly: “The President is in great shape and doesn’t need liberal media kooks like you implying that his administration is falling down on the job.”

Gregory: “I just thought he might…”

O’Reilly: “Oh, don’t give me that crap.”

Gregory: “…need a hand.”

O’Reilly: “Cut his mic. Somebody cut his mic right now. Lester, do you have a question?”

Les Kinsolving of WorldNetDaily: “Thanks Bill. Yesterday Matt Drudge reported that a homeless veteran accused someone that he thought looked like Nancy Pelosi of running off with his Persian cat. Is the President planning to have Speaker Pelosi arrested and is he at all concerned about the presence of Persian felines, that may in fact be Iranian, prowling the back alleys of America?”

Before O’Reilly could respond, Helen Thomas rose to leave the room, presumably to answer her ringing cell phone.

O’Reilly: “And just where do you think you’re going?”

Thomas: “I have to take this call.”

O’Reilly: “Sure you do. It’s typical of all you secular-progressives that can’t take the heat. They’re afraid to come on ‘The Fact…’ um, to come to the press briefing because they’re afraid to confront me. Go ahead, take your call you little baby. Any other questions?”

Gregory: “Is the President breathing? Don’t you think he should see a doctor or…”

O’Reilly: “I thought I told you to shut up. If that’s your microphone he’s using, Norah, you’re in big trouble. You know what? This press conference is over.”

With that, O’Reilly left the room. Gregory and Fox News correspondent, Carl Cameron, helped Bush up and leaned him against the podium.

Bush: “There see,” wheezed the President. “A valuable addition to our team. You didn’t get any more out of him than you did any of our other press secretaries, did you?”

Get well soon, Tony.


The Dynamics Of Fox News Opinions

The network best known for taking the phrase, “fair and balanced,” and draining it of all meaning is looking for more ways to upgrade their partisan message machine. The just published Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll (pdf) contains questions that might charitably be considered unconventional. More objectively, they could only be viewed as bizarre and manipulative. After the routine queries about candidate favorability and voting preferences, the poll devolves into questions like these:


Click to enlarge.

34) Do you think a television network that is hosting a presidential debate can influence the outcome of that debate?

35) If a political party agrees to participate in debates hosted by one television network but refuses to do debates hosted by another network, do you think it is fair to say the party is picking the network it believes is more aligned with its views and so would ask easier questions during the debate?

It’s almost irrelevant what the responses to these questions are. For the record, majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all responded affirmatively to both questions (all responses are in the pdf link above). So the public is suspicious of the motives of both the networks and the parties. However, it should be noted that the first question is simple and straightforward, but the second adds conjecture that is openly biased. It implies that the only reason a party would discriminate between networks is to seek favorable treatment. It ignores the possibility that they may just be seeking to avoid hostile treatment by a network that is committed to their electoral defeat.

But what is really of interest is that Fox is attempting to use their poll to develop strategies for further exploitation of their audience and the media. These questions have no usefulness to the public and, indeed, Fox didn’t even publish them in their story devoted to the poll’s results. The questions could only have been included to help the network define their reaction to recent criticism about the proposed Fox-sponsored Democratic debates that were later canceled due to opposition from grassroots party members.

And there’s more. The next question is virtually dripping with the sort of prejudice that steers Democrats away from Fox in the first place.

36) After the 2004 presidential election, the president of the left-wing Moveon.org political action committee made the following comment about the Democratic Party, “In the last year, grassroots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the Party doesn’t need corporate cash to be competitive. Now it’s our Party: we bought it, we own it and we’re going to take it back.” Do you think the Democratic Party should allow a grassroots organization like Moveon.org to take it over or should it resist this type of takeover?

Here Fox is using a controversial remark by a political activist that has not been validated in the electorate or by the party. In fact, Fox’ own poll reveals that only 63% of respondents have even heard of MoveOn. Still, Fox extends the impact of the remark to imply that the party is actually at risk of being “taken over” by a left wing PAC. In the context of this question, I doubt that a majority of MoveOn members would respond affirmatively. The question also succeeds in subtly demeaning the legitimate role of Americans to guide the actions of their representatives. Exercising the Constitutionally protected rights to free assembly and petitioning for redress of grievances, is not akin to a political takeover.

Fox is clearly upset that an association of peasants (i.e. citizens) successfully denied them a platform from which to assault the Democratic field of presidential candidates. And the inclusion of questions like these in their polling is evidence that they intend to do something about it. They have already issued veiled threats to John Edwards for being the first to decline Fox’ invitation to debate. Their intention to retaliate is clear and the answers to these questions will be useful for that purpose. But they aren’t even waiting to parse the poll’s results to launch their attack. Just look at the first paragraph of the article reporting the results of the poll:

“The latest FOX News poll finds that Americans think the next person to move into the White House will be a Democrat, and while many voters would be enthusiastic or pleased if any one of the current front-runners were to win, one candidate scares more people than the others – Sen. Hillary Clinton.” [cue ominous music]

This is a poll that shows President Bush with the highest disapproval rating he has ever received. But Bush’s record breaking achievment doesn’t appear until the third paragraph. It’s the chilling visage of Hillary Clinton with which Fox chose to lead the story. What they do not report is that the number for Clinton is skewed by the high number of Republicans (50%) that find her “scary.” Only 7% of Democrats thought so, which is in line with the number of those afraid of any of the candidates by voters of their own party.

It is this kind of blatant hostility that proves that Fox is not an impartial news network. And the questions they ask in this poll show that their bias is not accidental. They are engaging in a coordinated plot to manipulate public opinion just as Rupert Murdoch admitted in February, and they are conducting audience research to learn the best way to do it.

And Fox still wonders why Democrats don’t want to play in their yard?


The Blogs Bush Reads

The President spoke yesterday at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and defended his escalation plan for Iraq. As support for his argument that things are getting better, he cited bloggers with a surprisingly rosy view of life in Baghdad:

“Displaced families are returning home, marketplaces are seeing more activity, stores that were long shuttered are now reopening. We feel safer about moving in the city now.”

What Bush did not mention is that these so-called “average” bloggers were actually old friends, Mohammed and Omar Fadhil, who had met with him in the White House in 2004. Their blog is available at Pajamas Media, a conservative leaning blog network. And in an interview with Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post in December of 2004, they declared:

“Now we want to say in a loud and clear voice that we welcome American troops and consider this a liberation, not an occupation. People outside Iraq are more worried than the Iraqis themselves.”

Exactly how numb do you have to be to believe that? I don’t know about the Fahdils, but if dozens of bodies were discovered each morning in the city where I live, I would be pretty worried. But it’s not surprising that Bush would select these gleeful cheerleaders to affirm the gaiety of Baghdad. They almost make me regret living in the doldrums of Southern California and thinking about all the good times and parties I’m missing in Iraq.

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DeadLines

Inhofe blocking Gore’s ‘Live Earth’ concert.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is vowing to stall Gore’s hotly anticipated Capitol concert to draw attention to global warming.

Berkeley Woman’s Iraq Quest.
Jane Stillwater is a 64-year-old Berkeley woman who left for Kuwait on Wednesday, hoping to embed with the U.S. military there and in Iraq as a blogger.

The Wisdom of Crowds.
The Huffington Post announces a new citizen journalism project that will recruit the public to cover the presidential campaign.

Musicians Campaign for Free Internet.

Rock the Net has been formed by indie musicians and labels to advocate on behalf of Network Neutrality.

Drudge and the Politico — poisonously joined at the hip.
Glenn Greenwald reveals that Politico is a wholly owned subsidiary of Drudge.


National Review Sends Gonzales Packing

The latest out of touch, fringe-dwelling loons to hop aboard the dump Gonzales bandwagon is that bastion of socialist propaganda, the National Review. [For those of you who don’t know the National Review, I was being facetious. They are caveman right wingers]

Despite their place on the political spectrum, they actually provide some of the best reasons for setting the Attorney General adrift. They point out that Democrats might eventually uncover evidence of real wrongdoing. They fret that, “he was either deceptive or inexcusably detached from the operations of his own department.” They are critical of his blaming his staff for misconduct that he concedes has occurred. And they allege that his position is hanging by a thread of concern that Democrats will exploit his ouster to for political gain. All of those points are true. But here is the part I find most interesting:

“While we defended him from some of the outlandish charges made during his confirmation hearings, we have never seen evidence that he has a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability.”

Somebody pinch me. Did the editors of the National Review just admit that, although they never saw evidence of “a fine legal mind, good judgment, or managerial ability,” they still defended him during the hearings to confirm his as Attorney General? What on earth was the basis for their support? Did he make a mean margarita? Did he offer free legal advice? Or were they just sucking up to an administration that was accustomed to having its people and proposals rubberstamped by a compliant media and Congress?

What should we take from this admission going forward? Obviously, the National Review doesn’t believe that intelligence and experience are prerequisites for service in the President’s cabinet. And if agency heads are held to such low standards, then where is the bar for under-secretaries, ambassadors, or judges? I think it’s clear that, after this, anyone looking to the National Review for endorsements has to concede that they are not interested in a nominee’s competence or qualifications. The National Review has forfeited all credibility in that regard.

However, I will gladly accept their opinion that Gonzales must go, because, in the realm of the inadequate, the National Review is unsurpassed.


Responsibility: The President, The Congress, And Iraq

George W. Bush: “If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible.”

America: “A majority in the March 23-25 poll favor a timetable for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq by fall 2008 (60% favor, 38% oppose).”

That’s right…We’ll know who to hold responsible.


Veto The Media, End The War

Last week the House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that endorsed a timetable for removal of American troops from Iraq. This afternoon, the Senate followed suit with a similar measure. What has ensued in the press subsequently has been a torrent of opinion, delivered as fact, that the legislation was meaningless and would never become law. That analysis illustrates the shallowness of media pundits who have disdain for the principles of democracy.

What they are trying to convey is their prediction that the President will veto the bill and the Congress will not have the votes to override him. There are two problems with that display of newsiness.

First, the President has not vetoed the bill yet. It should be further noted that he has previously issued veto threats which never came to pass. For example:

Is there much of a likelihood that Bush will either negotiate or relent on his threat of a veto for this bill? Probably not. But there are no foregone conclusions in politics and Bush has a number of other serious problems to attend to that could weaken his hand. A president with an Attorney General who is mired in a political corruption scandal, an FBI that is illegally spying on American citizens, and an approval rating that is just north of Hades, might find it difficult to cheer on a war that is just as unpopular as he is.

Secondly, the Congress has not yet failed to override the veto that the President has not yet made. To assume that such an outcome is impossible is to ignore the reality that played out today. The bill that the Senate passed a few hours ago was defeated just two weeks ago. That shows that the positions of some members of Congress remain fluid. What appears to be a trickle now could easily snowball into a deluge depending on the pressure applied by constituents or, more ominously, the course of events in Iraq.

What’s more, the measure of whether these votes in Congress have any meaning extends far beyond their eventual fate on Capital Hill or at the White House. Even if there is a veto and a failure to override, the Democratic legislature will have made a durable statement that, polls show, will resonate with the American people. The public will know who has their interests at heart and will carry that knowledge with them well into 2008.

But the biggest problem is the arrogance of the media that pretends to know the outcome of all partisan scuffles. The lock-step conformity of their assertions that this bill will never become law is an affront to the democratic process. It dismisses out of hand the notion that it is the people to whom the reigns of power belong. The press, in reporting the events of today, might correctly include the obstacles to passage, but it is downright un-American to declare that passage is an impossibility and that the effort has no meaning. They might want to consider letting the people have their say. They might want to show some faith in democracy. They might want to listen to Patti Smith’s “People Have The Power.”

Vengeful aspects became suspect
and bending low as if to hear,
and the armies ceased advancing
because the people had their ear.

People have the power.
The power to dream / to rule
to wrestle the world from fools.