The Days Of Our Los Angeles Times

A couple of weeks ago the Los Angeles Times announced that they were going to invite guests to edit their opinion section, Current. My initial response was that it was a terrible idea that trivialized the tradition of commentary in journalism. That impression was affirmed when they revealed that film producer Brian Grazer would be the inaugural guest editor. I have nothing against Grazer, but this is a newspaper (ostensibly) and its opinion pages should take that mission more seriously. If they had Bill Moyers or Peter Ueberroth launch the program, and held Grazer for a later edition, it would have given it more gravitas.

Well now the scheme has produced some Hollywood melodrama of its own. Apparently the Times’ Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez, who selected Grazer, was romantically involved with a publicist who works with Grazer. That appearance of a conflict of interest led publisher David Hiller to scrap this week’s Current (albeit belatedly, and after denying any conflict existed). That, in turn, led Martinez to resign.

I really couldn’t care less about the management crowd at the Times who I believe to be journalistically challenged and beholden to their Chicago bosses and shareholders instead of their readers. But in a statement about his resignation, Martinez wrote the following:

“I will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom’s agenda.”

Martinez’ observation about the Times’ reporters, and his revelation regarding the incestuous relationship between the news division and the opinion pages, is a more scandalous affair than the one between Martinez and Mullins. But the real problem with the Times was eloquently stated by Jeff McMahon in a posted response to Martinez:

“It’s truly amazing that David Hiller has suddenly discovered the conflict of interest provisions of journalism’s codes of ethics. After all, the Tribune Company’s strategy has been to exploit situations in which interests are inherently conflicted – such as owning newspapers, television stations, radio stations, and in one truly unfortunate city, even a baseball team, in the same city, and then creating advertorial synergies between them. It’s a bit hard to believe anyone spawned by the Tribune Company headquarters is so concerned about ethics. So what’s really going on here?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Update: This scandal may have more endurance than anyone currently anticipates. Bill Boyarsky, former city editor at the Times, thinks a full investigation should be conducted to ascertain whether any other conflicts may have occurred.

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The Howard Kurtz Confessional Column

“For those who wonder why I quoted two new and obscure bloggers as criticizing the speaker–along with David Frum, who kind of defended her–I often try to look for average bloggers in their pajamas.”

With those rather unsettling words, Howard Kurtz attempts to justify what appears to be a prodigious deception. Click the link above and immerse yourself in a sordid tale of intrigue, betrayal, pride and its companion, ruin.

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Infamy

The recent ceremony inducting new members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame served up its customary portion of controversy. While much of the entertainment press focused on the Van Halen soap opera pitting David Lee Roth against Sammy Hager, there was some more nuanced and poignant melodrama.

Inductee Patti Smith had a mixed night. Her televised performance included the song her deceased mother asked her to play if she ever got into the Hall. She did play the song, “Rock and Roll Nigger,” but it was so cut up by censors that it could hardly be enjoyed. On the other hand, the song chosen for the traditional group jam at the end of the broadcast was Smith’s “People Have the Power,” a churning anthem that is as relevant today as when she originally released it in 1988. She was joined on stage by Eddie Vedder, Keith Richards, Ronnie Spector, Michael Stipe, and the Grandmaster Flash crew.

Speaking of Grandmaster Flash, Roger Friedman at Fox News related charges that the Furious Five didn’t deserve their honor and that the vote was fixed. Friedman claims that the real winners were the Dave Clark Five, and that the Hall’s chairman, Jann Wenner, purposefully skewed the voting results because he wanted a rap act to win.

I wish Fox News would get this worked up about election fraud when it doesn’t involve denying an award to a truly ground-breaking group of African American artists in favor of some Anglo-Beatles wannabes. Friedman is just illustrating an unintended subtext of Smith’s “Rock and Roll Nigger.” Or maybe Fox would prefer an assimilated act. And now…

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Dave Clark Five singing their smash hit, “It’s Like a Jungle Sometimes, it Makes Me Wonder How I keep From Being Glad All Over.”

Lessons Of War Unlearned

The Washington Post thinks it’s time to “take stock” of America’s involvement in the war in Iraq. With tomorrow as the four year anniversary of the invasion, some might think that it’s long past time. Nevertheless, the Post is offering their ruminations in an editorial called, Lessons of War. It doesn’t take long for them to prove that they haven’t learned very much. They begin by soft-peddling the Bush administration’s culpability for the worst foreign policy in this country’s history:

“The easy way out is to blame President Bush, Vice President Cheney or former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld: The decision was right, the execution wrong. There’s no question that the execution was disastrous. Having rolled the dice on what everyone understood to be an enormous gamble, Mr. Bush and his team followed up with breathtaking and infuriating arrogance, ignorance and insouciance.”

The decision was “right?” Can they really still believe that in light of the fact that all of the reasons that led to the decision were shown to be false? There was no imminent threat, there were no weapons of mass destruction, there was no connection to Al Qaeda or 9/11. It’s nice see the Post acknowledge the failure of the execution, but they have learned nothing if they think that the decision was right. And their assertion that everyone understood the “enormous gamble,” of the undertaking conveniently ignores all of the reassurances that the invasion would be a cakewalk and that Americans would be greeted as liberators.

Yet despite all of this and BushCo’s “infuriating arrogance, ignorance and insouciance,” the Post wants us to be careful about taking the “easy way out” by holding the President and his team accountable. They even suggest that the chaos and misery may have been inevitable:

“But the war might have spun out of control even under wiser leadership.”

Of course, under wiser leadership, we would not have gone to war in the first place. One must wonder what the Post considers wise leadership. They also appear to have a decidedly different view of comfort than would most folks:

“It would almost be comforting if Mr. Bush had ‘lied the nation into war,’ as is frequently charged. The best postwar journalism instead suggests that the president and his administration exaggerated, cherry-picked and simplified but fundamentally believed — as did the CIA — the catastrophically wrong case that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell presented to the United Nations.”

I can’t think of anyone who would gain comfort from having the President lie to them. But if they would, they got their wish, because exaggeration, cherry-picking and simplification is the equivalent of lying if the intent is to mislead a nation into an unjustified war of aggression. And if stories reporting that the administration “fundamentally believed” the case with which Secretary Powell was saddled represent the best of postwar journalism, that’s more an indictment of journalism than a defense of the President.

The Post editorial concludes with an admission that they have been poor students:

“Unfortunately, none of this provides bright guidelines to make the next decisions easier.”

Then why did they print a headline above the column that says, “Lessons of War?” There is much to learn from the past four years of disastrous mistakes and dishonesty. Although the Post may not have learned anything, the people, who are overwhelmingly opposed to, and disgusted by, this war, have graduated ahead of the media class. And there is nothing in the curriculum that supports the Post’s conclusion that…

“A patient, sustained U.S. commitment, with gradually diminishing military forces, could still help Iraq to move in the right direction.”

The American people have run out of patience. What patience remains does not deserve to be wasted on a president and a policy that has been so wrong and so costly in both lives and resources. The Post, for its part, may want to consider enrolling in a remedial studies class, because the lessons of this war seemed to have been entirely lost to them

Kurtz Watch: Alberto Gone-zales?

Howard Kurtz is weighing in on the chaos at the Justice Department where eight U. S. Attorneys were dismissed under suspiciously political circumstances. The controversy extends to various shifting explanations from Alberto Gonzales and connections that reach into the White House. Kurtz begins by conceding that the matter was “badly botched,” calling it a “fiasco,” “disturbing,” and saying that it “raises questions about the Justice Department’s credibility.” That said, according to Kurtz, it still “doesn’t seem like a career-ender.” Kurtz must be holding out for a dead intern in Gonzales’ trunk.

The reasons for his leniency are that the scandal is not overheating the water-cooler circuit and that the only relevant decider is The Decider™. It’s too bad that Kurtz’ criteria has nothing to do with whether or not the Attorney General’s job performance is either competent or lawful.

Most of the rest of the comments regarding GonzoGate include excerpts from other columnists that seem to be uniformly advocating ditching the AG. And this is not just from progressives like Josh Marshall

“Who wants to guess how many days remain before Gonzales decides his presence at Justice is becoming an obstacle to the fulfillment of President Bush’s important law enforcement policy objectives?”

…but also from the far right National Review

“The administration’s supporters should consider whether the price of keeping Gonzales in office will be the surrender of important policies in order to try to appease his critics.”

But still, Howie doesn’t think there are enough gossips driving the story to merit serious discussion of Gonzales’ departure. Perhaps he needs to invent more typical bloggers that will back up his biases.

If It’s Sunday, It’s Still Conservative

Media Matters has published a report that documents the conservative bias of some of the most prominent political programs on television. Their extensive research shows that…

“During the 109th Congress (2005 and 2006), Republicans and conservatives held the advantage on every show, in every category measured. All four shows interviewed more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives overall, interviewed more Republican elected and administration officials than Democratic officials, hosted more conservative journalists than progressive journalists, held more panels that tilted right than tilted left, and gave more solo interviews to Republicans and conservatives.”

This report comes at a time when conservatives are still complaining that the media is unabashedly liberal. Bruce Bartlett at the National Review concedes that, while there is still an overall liberal slant, the press is becoming more neutral:

“In my view, the media did have a strong left-wing tilt for many years. But over the last 20 years or so, I think that has mostly disappeared. Major newspapers like the Post and New York Times are now fairly evenhanded in their news coverage. Their editorial pages are still pretty liberal, of course, but the Post in particular is far less liberal in its editorial positions than it was in the 1970s.” […and…] “If, as I believe, the major media tilted left and have moved toward the center, then this means they moved to the right. It is this movement that the left has picked up on and is complaining about. But the idea that the media now tilt toward conservatives is absurd.”

It makes for an interesting contrast to juxtapose Bartlett’s personal recollections with Media Matters’ scholarly documentation. The Media Matters project clearly demonstrates that the press has been deferential to conservatives for some time. If, as Bartlett believes, the media has moved to the right of late, then that would just compound the imbalance. It is also interesting to compare their conclusions:

Bartlett: “I would advise my liberal friends to stop whining about media bias. You had a free ride for a long time, and now it’s over. Get used to it, and learn how to use the media.”

Media Matters: “As ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox make decisions about their coverage of political affairs in the coming days, they should consider how they could better serve their viewers and the public.”

Bartlett takes the more cynical view that the press is just there to be exploited and spun. Media Matters hopes to nudge the press and its subjects to aspire to higher journalistic ethics and integrity. Which conclusion sounds better to you?

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Paparazzi Pursuing Peccant Politicians

From the folks who brought you Michael Richards ranting, Britney Spears flashing, and Princess Di crashing fatally in a Paris tunnel, get ready to dish the Washington dirt. is opening a branch in DC.

I can hardly wait. No longer will the elite politicos be able to hide behind the grey walls of Congress. No more will they run from unpleasant truths that they thought they could conceal. Now they will run from SUVs filled with smarmy photogs with ultra-zoom lenses and camcorders.

TMZ via News Corpse

So many stories with profound relevance to the country have gone unreported for years. Stories like military hospitals that mistreated wounded soldiers; intelligence services spying on American citizens; federal agencies lying to congressional oversight committees; White House operatives outing CIA agents; and the fixing of evidence of WMDs to justify pre-emptive war. While we all had to wait years for many of these stories to come to light, we will no longer have to wait to find out which senator’s aide is having an affair with what deputy chief of staff who slammed their car into a convenience store while under the influence of NyQuil. It’s good to see that the media’s priorities are in order.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) weighs in on TMZ’s prospects for success:

“Washington is where the term ‘celebrity’ includes former surgeons general, defense lawyers and Pat Buchanan. TMZ is going to be bored out of its mind.”

That’s true. But Arianna Huffington sees it differently:

“Let’s see, Mark Foley, ‘Duke’ Cunningham, Ted Haggard, Claude Allen at Target, William Jefferson’s frozen 90 Gs, the Bush twins, ‘Scooter’ Libby, Ann Coulter, Deborah Jeane Palfrey and her 10,000-name trick book. Too boring? I don’t think so.”

Hmm. That’s true too. I guess the ultimate truth is that there will be a lot of ugly, boring people, doing a lot of stupid, titillating things, and TMZ will be there to record it all for the American people and the world.

I can hardly contain my pride.

Let The Sunshine In

For those who may have missed it, this is Sunshine Week. What is Sunshine Week?

“A national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.”

In recognition of this special time, Henry Waxman’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is proudly announcing the passage of four bills that promote the goals of Sunshine Week:

  • H.R. 1255, The Presidential Records Act Amendments: approved by a vote of 333-93, makes clear that presidential records belong to the American people, not the president who created them. The Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007 will nullify a Bush executive order which gave former presidents – and their heirs – nearly unlimited authority to withhold or delay the release of their own records. If it becomes law, this legislation will ensure that a complete historical record is available to researchers.
  • H.R. 1254, The Presidential Library Donation Reform Act: approved by a vote of 390-34, will require organizations that raise money for presidential libraries to disclose information about their donors. This will eliminate a major loophole that allows presidential supporters to secretly give millions in support of a president’s legacy while that president remains in office.
  • H.R. 1309, The Freedom of Information Act Amendments: approved by a vote of 308-117, will strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and improve public access to government information. One key element of this legislation would restore the presumption of disclosure under FOIA that was eliminated by the Bush Administration in 2001.
  • H.R. 985, The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act: approved by a vote of 331-94, offers improved protections to federal whistleblowers who report wrongdoing to authorities. Federal employees and contractors are privy to information that enables them to play an essential role in ensuring government accountability.

These bills are good start in undoing some of the damage that the Bush administration has done to the concept of an open and honest government. There is still more to be done and, of course, these bills have to pass in the senate and be signed by the President. On that score, Bush has already threatened to veto two of them: The Presidential Records Act and The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. He has also expressed opposition to the Freedom of Information Act. All three of these bills passed in the House with a margin greater than the two thirds required to override a veto, so the threat may never come to pass. The process is far from over and it is still discouraging to see how many legislators were willing to vote against these common sense measures to make government more accountable. But in honor of Sunshine Week, I’m going to focus on the positive and celebrate a Congress that is starting to do work that represents the people’s interest for a change.

Alberto “Gonzo” Gonzales

Alberto Gonzo GonzalesNow this is a bad day.
Newspapers calling for the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales …
so far:

  • New York Times
  • Sacremento Bee
  • Washington Post
  • Los Angeles Times
  • Philadephia Inquirer
  • Buffalo (N.Y.) News
  • Florida Today
  • Financial Times
  • Louisville Courier-Journal
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Dallas Morning News
  • Chicago Tribune

In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile.
~ Hunter S. Thompson

The State Of The News Media 2007

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, an affiliate of the Pew Research Center, has released its annual report on the health and status of American journalism. It is a comprehensive look at some of the most signifcant measures of the media’s place in contemporary society, including major trends, audience, economics, and ownership. In the overview, they describe the modern press as being slow on the uptake with regard to the changing landscape, and lacking in the vision that will be required of the industry’s leaders:

“The recent history of the news industry is marked by caution and continuity more than innovation. The character of the next era, far from inevitable, will likely depend heavily on the quality of leadership in the newsroom and boardroom. If history is a guide…it will require renegades and risk-takers to break from the conventional path and create new directions.” […and…] “practicing journalism has become far more difficult and demands new vision. Journalism is becoming a smaller part of people’s information mix. The press is no longer gatekeeper over what the public knows.”

I’m inclined to agree. It has been apparrent for some time that the conventional media has been struggling to cobble together an effective response to the rise of the Internet. And their failure to do so is partially the result of not having the foresight to recognize the approaching risk early enough to counter it. Thank goodness for that.

I’ll be reading and digesting the contents of this study over the next few days and commenting on any notable revelations I encounter.