Category Archives: a world of progress

Fred Phelps is dead

Fred Phelps is dead and the great marriage debate is all but over. I take no great cheer in either.

Phelps, as you probably know, was a former civil rights attorney who was later disbarred and who founded a radically conservative church, the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. If you don’t know what kind of church that is, then let me tell you that its website is not westboro.org or wbc.org but godhatesfags.com.

Oberlin College, 2000. Photo by Paul M Walsh

Oberlin College, 2000. Photo by Paul M Walsh

Phelps and his family — well, some of his family — were and are pretty much the entire congregation. They were known for years in the gay community for picketing the funerals of those who died of AIDS, or Matthew Shepard, or Coretta Scott King, but really only gained a national renown when they started picketing the funerals of soldiers, claiming that they died because America was too lenient to the queers.

I never had the pleasure of speaking with Phelps, but I did on more than one occasion chat with his daughter, the rabid Shirley Phelps-Roper, who is, I can only say, a piece of work. Shirley was not one of the several members of the Phelps family who recently (or not so recently, as is the case for son Nathan) parted company with the family business.

Phelps was not a pleasant man, and I can’t say that I’m sorry to see him depart this earth. But I’ll not dance on his grave or entertain fantasies of picketing his funeral. For one thing, the church says they don’t do funerals (wonder why that is?), but for another, it would be wrong.

Fred and his crew are genuinely are not happy people. Thirty seconds in the presence of Shirley told me that. She is angry, bitter and biting. Not at all stupid, but profoundly and deeply unhappy. Suffering, I would say. She would say that’s because of all us queers. But I think it’s more because she cannot abide in a world that frightens her, that doesn’t fit with her carefully constructed vision of how a world should be.

“Should” being the operative word. It’s a deadly word, one that has the power to completely kill joy. And without joy, life itself is stale, stagnant, ugly. Or dead.

So I’ll not be celebrating Phelps’ death. I am sad. I’m sad that his family has lost its patriarch, and I’m sad that he lived what looks to me like a sad and lonely life, one that many others have embraced. I can’t be angry at them for that, because even though it is a choice, it’s not one that they fully understand, or even realize they don’t understand.

I honestly don’t care what Fred Phelps or Shirley Phelps-Roper or anyone else thinks of Teh Gays. They can think whatever they want. Westboro’s picketing of funerals was shameful and cruel, in my opinion, but not illegal, in the opinion of the US Supreme Court, the same court that destroyed the Defense of Marriage Act.

Both of those decisions were correct, I believe. We can’t be legislating against protests we don’t like any more than we can legislate against marriages we don’t like. If we ban one kind of protest, we must ban them all, and the same is true for marriage.

Frankly, I’m all for banning marriage, at least as far as being a legal institution. It’s an artificial construct, originally designed to designate property. Love cannot be confined to a piece of paper and vows that can easily be broken.

Marriage, like religion, is a personal thing. They’re both about beliefs. Government has no place in beliefs, and beliefs have no place in government.

Of course, taking marriage out of government is not likely to happen, not for a long time to come. So the Supreme Court’s decision is a good one, and it takes the religious argument right out.

Now the new thing is a proliferation of laws to protect religious freedom, one thing that actually is in the Constitution, because the guys who wrote that understood that it is a personal thing. How you practice your religion, or what you believe, is your business and your business alone.

And there it is. Fred Phelps and family, Westboro Baptist Church, the anti-gay marriage folks and others like them seem to have forgotten that. Or maybe they never understood. Their religious beliefs should never touch me or anyone else who doesn’t share them.

It’s not hard to understand. But apparently the practice is too daunting for some. I can only conclude that they’re afraid, and need everyone to believe as they do to keep that fear at bay.

And that just breaks my heart.

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The odious ODS

Obama Derangement Syndrome is real. So is Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Or maybe it’s just Democratic Derangement Syndrome. Or Anything That Scares Us Derangement Syndrome. I don’t know, but it’s real.

Witness one Geoffrey Zakarian, who is some kind of celebrity chef. I quit watching chef shows when they all started blurring together, so I don’t know. Anyway, here’s the story.

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White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted out a photo of the president in the Oval Office on Saturday, speaking with Vladimir Putin on the phone. The president was wearing jeans, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up. Cue the outrage. OMG you would have thought Souza had tweeted out a picture of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with a cigar.

Storyful retweeted Souza’s image. And Zakarian responded:

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One would think that would have been enough, but one would have been wrong. Zakarian spoke again:

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Alas, there were many, many responses after that, pointing out that Zakarian was wrong. The Reagan pictures are from the Oval Office, and yes, one would expect Souza to know that. One would be right about that, but if one expected Zakarian to say “Whoops, my bad!” … well, let’s just say the chef has deleted these tweets from his timeline, not realizing, of course, that one may delete a tweet from one’s timeline but it never goes away.

This is far from an isolated event, and Mr Zakarian is not the only one to behave in this matter. It is but a clear and present reminder that there are some who cannot think for themselves, nor do they have an ounce of humility in or on their persons. It is a sad state of affairs.

Obama is certainly not above criticism, nor should he be. He is not a perfect president — if only. But, my god, these whackos just don’t let up. And if they can’t find something real to blame him for, they’ll just make crap up.

And it’s not just conservatives either. There are progressives out there condemning the first lady’s campaign against obesity because she’s not focusing on genetically modified food.

OK, then. Let’s just all take a step back, a deep breath, and watch some cat videos.

thomasabdulaziz

Good-bye to a legend

Helen Thomas will always be a hero to me. None of that “shero” stuff. You’re either a hero or you’re not, no special designation if you’re a woman. Helen was a reporter, not a reportrix or a reportress. A reporter, a journalist. A real journalist.

Helen Thomas covered 10 — count ‘em — 10 presidents. She questioned John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all with the same sharp, penetrating style that made presidents and press secretaries alike uncomfortable because an honest answer might seem very impolitic.

You always ask tough questions, tough questions not in the sense of being unfair, but hard to generalize the answers.

– Nixon to Thomas

She was an unabashed liberal, on more than one occasion saying that she didn’t understand how a reporter could not be, seeing what they see first hand.

What’s a liberal? I care about the poor, the sick, and the maimed. I care whether we go to war for unjust causes. I care whether we shoot people who are innocent.

– Helen Thomas

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Liberal, but not a partisan. If you think Helen Thomas only tossed hardball questions at Republican presidents, go check out a few news conferences with Bill Clinton or Lyndon Johnson, and Jackie Kennedy called her a harpy. She did think GWB was the worst president ever. Dunno if she was justified in saying that because she was only a reporter for 70 years, not the full 200+ we’ve had presidents. She kept asking the questions the rest of the press failed to ask about the Iraq war, and it cost her that seat on the front row of the briefing room. Colleagues ridiculed her about those questions, called her rude, I’m guessing more because she was asking them and they weren’t than anything else.

I don’t think there are any rude questions.

– Helen Thomas

But  her career certainly crashed and burned when she told a rabbi with a video camera that Jews in Israel ought to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to where they came from, like Poland, Germany and the United States. I’m not justifying that. I don’t know what made her say it, what might have been going on right before the encounter with the rabbi. Of Lebanese descent, Helen was uncompromisingly pro-Palestinian, and she rightfully complained that in the US government, it is just not allowed to criticize Israel. But those statements … ouch. Pretty low, really shocking.

Helen’s last job was a weekly column for the Falls Church (Virginia) News-Press, a humble ending to an illustrious career. She had been among the handful of female reporters who forced the National Press Club to let them attend their newsmakers luncheons in 1956 (albeit in a balcony, barred from asking questions) and kept at it until the club finally, in 1971, allowed women as members. She broke gender barriers at the White House Correspondents Association and the Gridiron Club, too, and was the only print reporter to accompany Richard Nixon to China.

With her death goes the last link to a White House Press Corps with integrity and audacity. Yeah, it’s not audacious for a conservative blog to send a high school junior  to a White House press briefing to ask if the president was leaving George Zimmerman and his family “on their own” against death threats. That’s, in the words of press secretary Jay Carney, “ridiculous.” If you need it spelled out — which apparently Gabe Finger, whose twitter handle is “@GabeemtheFinger,” needed — that would be local law enforcement’s responsibility.

Just angered Obama’s press secretary. Word.

— Gabe Finger (@GabeemtheFinger) July 17, 2013

Helen Thomas never would have asked such a question, and certainly wouldn’t have sent out such a tweet. She didn’t even have a Twitter account, and if she had, I’m pretty damn sure her handle wouldn’t have been something akin to @HelenAHandBasket or @HelenWheels. But that’s what inside the Beltway “journalism” has become, I’m afraid — stuck in those high school moments, although most of them, at least, have the sense not to get sophomorically cute with their Twitter names.

Helen probably wouldn’t have been asking about Zimmerman at all, and she certainly wouldn’t have flogged Benghazi and the IRS long after those “scandals” were shown to be nothing more than right wing talking points. But she would have asked the questions that needed asking, over and over again until she got an answer, until she got the truth.

The truth, rather than an agenda, should be the goal of a free press.

– Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas, Kentucky-born to Lebanese immigrants and Detroit-raised, died Saturday at her home in Washington. She was 92. We may never see the likes of her again, and I’m sure there are plenty who hope that’s true. I’m not one of them. We need more Helen Thomases, and soon.

2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival - Day 2 - Backstage

Brad Paisley accidentally wore a Confederate flag into a Starbucks and wrote this song

So country singer Brad Paisley and Sam Hanna from NCIS LA have joined up to put out a song decrying the state of race relations these days, putting most of it down to a misbegotten clinging to the past and misunderstanding of white and black today.

First, anybody besides me have the urge to laugh uncontrollably every time you hear the name “Brad Paisley”?

OK never mind. It’s not his fault. At least I hope not. And Sam Hanna is really rapper LL Cool J, who frankly oughta know better.

On the other hand, it’s quite a gutsy move for “a white man coming to you from the southland” to even speak about race like this. And on the other other hand, the song falls so far short of what I’m sure Brad and Cool hoped that it probably just gives the racists another white sheet to hide behind, because it doesn’t seem much more than another attempt to ease white guilt by saying “everybody does it.”

Brad’s been taking a lot of heat for it, of course, so I shudder to think what kind of heat he might be taking had the song actually been better. The song’s called “Accidental Racist,” and frankly, that’s just a stupid title for a song about a guy who wore a Confederate flag into a Starbucks and expected the barista not to think he was a fucking bigoted asshole.

To the man that waited on me
At the Starbucks down on Main
I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt
The only thing I meant to say
Is I’m a Skynyrd fan

Really, Brad? Y’know, Lynyrd Skynyrd once stopped using that damn flag to promote themselves because they were tired of being equated with racists. But the racists got pissed and wouldn’t come to their shows anymore, so they started using it again.

I think the only thing Brad meant to say is that it’s black folks’ fault if seeing the stars and bars upsets them.

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And LL Cool J. He has a rap part in this song. He raps that he won’t judge Brad’s “red flag” if Brad won’t judge his “do rag.” Seriously? Is there any kind of correlation between a do rag and the battle flag of the Confederate States of America, which seceded from the United States of America so they could continue to enslave a particular group of people? I didn’t think so.

But that’s not the worst part of LL Cool J’s rap. The worst part is his saying that if Brad will forget about his “gold chains,” he’ll forget about the “iron chains.” Really? Really? How on earth can those two things be equivocal, except that they both involve something worn by an African American?

See, here’s the thing. Brad’s part of the song is kinda whining about how he keeps getting blamed for something done in the past by people who are now dead to other people who are now dead, and it has nothing to do with him.

‘Cause I’m just a white man
Living in the Southland
Just like you, I’m more than what you see
I’m proud of where I’m from
And not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me to rewrite history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
And we’re still paying for the mistakes
Than a bunch of folks made
Long before we came
Caught somewhere between southern pride
And southern blame

LL Cool J’s part is about how a lot of white people just look at black people and think they’re out to rape and murder them, which is pretty much true. But they both say we should all just sit down, have a beer and get over it.

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you’re living in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold, but I’m still misunderstood
I wasn’t there when Sherman’s March turned the south into firewood
I want you to get paid, but be a slave I never could
Feel like a new-fangled Django dogging invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinking it’s not all good
I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover, not the book
I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here

Now, there’s some good points there, don’t get me wrong. And it’s a start. It’s just a pretty damn weak start. Do rags don’t equal Confederate flags. Gold chains don’t equal iron chains. And no, Sherman’s march (which was not conducted by African Americans, please remember) does not equal hundreds of years of enforced slavery followed by Jim Crow and institutionalized racism that did not end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s not so much the past racism that bugs people as the present racism. The white south does go to great lengths to pretend that “bygones are bygones” and we’re all starting off on a clean plate, but the truth is, we ain’t. Not by a long shot. So, Brad, while you ain’t proud of everything that was done in your name by your ancestors, you are still wearing the very symbol of the crap that was done in your name by your ancestors. Quit trying to pretend it’s just the innocent symbol of a southern rock band.

Cool, man, them saggy pants just look stupid. I don’t think you’re up to no good if you’re wearing em. I just think you’re an idiot. And it doesn’t matter what color is your skin. Do rags? Gold chains? Seriously? Did you have to search down that deep into stereotypes to find something to falsely compare with the pure hatred and disrespect for human beings represented by that flag?

No matter how hard you want to believe it, guys, this is not some post-racial world. It’s still pretty damn fucked up. It’s still racist and sexist and homophobic and don’t even get me started on the Christianists who think they’re persecuted.

And yeah, the south gets too much of the blame for racism. Every time something happens here, every time somebody uncovers a rural Georgia town of less than 1,500 people that still has segregated proms at its high school of 70 kids, the Yankee haters go berserk with the “too much bigotry in the south” bullshit. One guy said “You wouldn’t find this in New York City!” That’s true. But you also don’t find it in Atlanta. Or Birmingham. Or Charleston. Or Charlotte. Or Nashville. Or Louisville. Or Richmond, the former capital of the CSA. Maybe not even in Jackson, but I can’t say that for sure. And there are other forms of racism to be found in places like New York City.

I could pull up links to all kinds of godawful things that have happened in the north to prove my point. I did, once, years ago, when I got offended by a New York group that call itself “Southerners in Exile.” I basically called them cowards for running off to the Big Apple and hiding in that mass of humanity instead of staying down here and fighting. And turning a blind eye to the bigotry of the north.

But I won’t do that here. It’s off topic, and I’ve strayed too far from the topic already.

Brad, Cool, nice try. Next time, though, get real.

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The enemy you know

If you wanna know where the most serious challenges lie for the Republican Party, don’t look to the White House or the offices of California senators. Instead, look to National Harbor, Maryland, specifically the Gaylord National Hotel.

That’s where you’ll find the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known by journos as CPAC, which is not to be confused with C taps or even CPAP, although if you’re anything like me, you may need the latter if you tune listen much to CPAC.

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Today was opening day of the annual confab. There’s the usual bunch of inane speakers. Current darling Marco Rubio, past darling Sarah Palin, Sir Filibuster Rand Paul, Palin’s male doppelganger Ted Cruz, Rick “the hair” Perry, Wayne “guns in schools” LaPierre, Newtie, Mittens, Sick Rantorum, The Donald and the king of krazy, Allen West.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wasn’t invited. Neither was Muslim hater Pamela Gellar, although she got un-uninvited by the Breitbart crew who was invited.

You remember Andrew Breitbart, don’t you? He died, you know. They had a special memorial for him at CPAC.

There was a gay rights panel too, not called by that name of course. “Rainbow on the Right: Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet” used enough gay dog whistles to get the point across.

The conserverati spent a lot of time talking about Benghazi. You remember that, don’t you? That’s the incident the Republicans used to keep Susan Rice from becoming secretary of state. Instead, she’s likely to become national security adviser, which doesn’t need Senate confirmation.

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Really? Weird? Considering that the main thrust of conserverati argument is that Obama is out to destroy America, I think their focus on Benghazi makes sense. They think there was some big cover-up, or some big lack of concern for the security of Americans, or something that led to the death of the ambassador. And it’s all Obama’s fault. If it doesn’t look to you like they’re looking for some reason to impeach, then maybe you need a bigger scope.

Another Republican whack job, Jim Inhofe, spelled it out, although he allowed as how the president is “charming:”

This is the same guy that is … over-regulating all of our businesses, he has a war on fossil fuels, he is keeping us from being energy independent, he is defunding the military. So he’s destroying this country, but yes he’s charming.

Isn’t that sweet?

CPAC represents everything that’s wrong with the Republican Party. The Tea Party hold-outs, the knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers sucking the very life out of everybody who wants to move forward. Hell, even Rick Perry got booed. Know why? Because he said this:

Now, the popular media narrative — is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections. That is what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012. That might be true. But now we are told our party must shift appeal to the growing Hispanic demographic.

He won ‘em back though, talking about winning the Hispanic vote with a economic message and not one about immigration.

But look at what else he said there — John McCain and Mitt Romney weren’t conservative enough to win the election, because, you know, not being conservative enough causes conservatives to vote for more liberal people.

But here’s what these folks don’t seem to understand: The more conservative Republicans — and I assume he’s talking about people like himself, Mike Huckabee, Sick Rantorum, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann — they couldn’t even win a Republican primary. How the hell does he think they’d ever win a general election?

And yet, there it is, for all to see. Even Rubio knows you can’t stay at the bottom of the barrel and ever expect to get out of it. Rand Paul filibustered Obama’s CIA pick over DRONE STRIKES, which probably will guarantee he’ll never win a Republican nomination for president but almost certainly made his daddy proud.

CPAP, in case you were wondering.

CPAP, in case you were wondering.

For every step a young Republican makes toward progress, there’s two Jim Sensenbrunners to drag him back. But it’s not just the old white guys. When the two Sensenbrunners get tired, there’s a couple of Erick Ericksons or Allen Wests to do the job. And if that’s not good enough, then there’s three or for Marcia Blackburns and a Palin wannabe.

These are the guys Obama and Congressional Democrats have to deal with to get anything done — the ones in Congress, and the ones outside Congress running their mouths on Ayatollah Limbaugh’s radio show or Faux News. The same ones who have over and over and over again stopped any real progress from happening (See Obamacare, compromises of or Kerry, Secretary of State John). 

And yet, today I’m encouraged by one thing. Obama, speaking to Democrats today:

I’m not Charlie Brown with a football,

he said.

That may be true. One question remains, however: Are we?

sorry

Sorry, everybody

Remember when we elected George W. Bush for the second time and somebody started the Sorry Everybody web site so the half of us who didn’t vote for him could apologize to the world? I put one on there, apologizing on behalf of both my colleagues and my Colleagues, some of whom, I was sorry to say, were awfully damn clueless.

I’m even sorrier to say that they still are.

It pains me to say it. It pains me to even think it. But alas, it is, sadly, so very, very true.

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Last week, I watched my colleagues from inside the Beltway go all a-Twitter (quite literally) over a once-respected journalist who has given that up to write pretty little prose about the people he’s supposed to be critically covering. I don’t pretend to know what happened to him, but a lot happened to journalists after Watergate and since this guy was at Ground Zero for that, I suppose it’s not surprising that he is at the head of the decline that happened to my chosen profession since then.

On the other hand, Carl Bernstein.

But I digress. My colleagues were all a-Twitter (quite literally) over this journo because he whined. He said a White House aide made a veiled threat because he had questioned the White House version of the “sequester”. OK, he didn’t actually say that. He goaded Politico into saying it, based on his hyperbolic rendition of what was actually said. Then Politico got the emails that showed it really wasn’t all that serious, but it was too late. The Inside-The-Beltway journos were off and running.

It only stopped when the president said he wasn’t a dictator and couldn’t perform a Jedi mind meld to make Congress to right. That set them all off because, as we all know, it’s a Vulcan mind meld and a Jedi mind trick, which is so much more important than noting that we’re having this sequester thing — which is a really stupid word for automatic spending cuts — because Republicans absolutely refuse to compromise.

Apparently, telling the truth about Washington is a far left position.

See, these automatic spending cuts came about because Republicans refused to pass a budget that included one iota of tax hikes on the rich. It’s a complex story, how it all came about, but Obama for some godforsaken reason thought that they would come to their senses and pass a budget once the committee that was supposed to forge a compromise failed. I think he actually thought the committee would come to a compromise. Didn’t happen, and isn’t gonna.

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But my colleagues just keep reporting that Congress and the White House can’t reach a compromise, which is true, but it’s missing a few pieces. It’s kinda like how during the 2008 election when the crazy conservatives were putting out Liberal Hunting Licenses and pictures of Obama as a witch doctor or growing watermelons on the White House lawn — and the journos searched high and low to find the one crazy liberal who hung Sarah Palin in effigy so they could say both sides do it.

Right.

Here’s the bottom line: Republicans will not vote for anything that will make rich people pay more taxes because It’s Our Money! And they’re scared. They think they need to hoard all their wealth because Scary People!

It is pretty scary for them. Support for same-sex marriage is growing. Americans put the black guy in the Oval Office again. Hillary Clinton still gets high poll numbers. The only thing they have left really is to, as Grover Norquist said back in 2005, “cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

So they stand their ground, refusing to acknowledge that the only compromise they’ll accept is if Obama drops all his demands and does just what they want.

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Meanwhile, though, in Commentary, GWB White House veterans Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner set up a five-point plan to save the Republican Party, truthfully noting that the 2012 election wasn’t even close and pointing out that staking the GOP’s future on economic issues might not be really smart. While complaining that Obama has put America on a horribly “progressive” path to the future, Gerson and Wehner said that the Republicans can regain the upper hand by changing the perception that they’re in it for the rich guys, get behind good immigration reform, “demonstrate a commitment to the common good,” quit blaming gays for the decline of the American family (“It is heterosexuals, not homosexuals, who have made a hash out of marriage”) and last but certainly not least, “harness their policy views to the findings of science.”

I’m not holding my breath on any of those. As far as I can tell, all they need to do to stop the bleeding is to become progressive.

But my colleagues aren’t going to tell you any of that. Oh, you could find it for yourself. Ezra Klein writes for the Washington Post. I found the Gerson/Wehner article linked from the New York Times. But who reads those? You know where you’re not gonna hear any of that. On television, cable or otherwise. It’s bad TV, too smart.

And besides, it’s more fun to focus on Bob Woodward and Jedi mind melds. It’s almost like we haven’t had the election yet, and Obama hasn’t won.

So, on behalf of my colleagues, I am so very, very sorry. Nostra culpa.

 

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Uncommon sense

I must apologize to my inside-the-Beltway colleagues. Yes, I have maligned you unfairly. For years now I’ve been bemoaning your inability (unwillingness) to be actual journalists and actually commit journalism instead of the cheap and tawdry brand of stenography you so clearly prefer. But I see now the error in my ways.

It’s not just you. It’s our whole damned profession.

My first inkling of this new revelation came during the Newtown shooting coverage, when so much false and/or speculative information was presented as the gospel truth that it could have filled its own Wiki. And now, after the Dorner manhunt in California, my eyes are open, at long last.

My colleagues, you’re a bunch of lazy-assed wannabes wanting to be first so bad that you’ve lost sight of what journalism actually is.

And don’t blame this on social media. It’s true that Twitter and Facebook can get something around the world and on the smart phones of millions before you can bat an eye. But this drive to be first, to forget the dictum “Get it fast, but get it right,” really must be laid right at the feet of the 24-hour cable news networks, who can’t bear to spend even as much as five minutes saying “We just don’t know right now,” especially if one of the other networks is grabbing some scurrilously sourced information and running with it as if their lives depended on it.

What’s missing? Critical thinking. Or, in many cases, any thinking whatsoever. I found my jaw on the floor last night watching my colleagues running each other over to report, from anonymous sources of course, that Christopher Dorner’s body had been pulled from the charred embers of the cabin where he’d taken refuge from police. This, while the damn cabin is still fully engulfed in flames. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to be skeptical of that source’s information, but apparently, it is over the heads of journalists.

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THE CABIN IS STILL BURNING. I CAN SEE IT ON LIVE TV. I CAN HEAR ON THE POLICE SCANNER OFFICERS SAYING THEY’RE NOT GOING IN UNTIL THE FIRE’S OUT AND THE FIRE DEPARTMENT SAYS IT’S SAFE. But never mind, a source who wants anonymity and is in some office somewhere says they got Dorner’s body out and that’s enough to go to air.

My favorite part, of course, is that this anonymous source was universally described as being from the Los Angeles Police Department, which was not on the scene. And that is until the Riverside Police chief, also not on the scene, said the same thing, which is even dumber than trying to be anonymous and talk about things you don’t know anything about.

But never mind, those reports went on the air. And then when actual public information officer from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office on the scene said things like, “The cabin is burning. It’s too hot to go in so we haven’t gone in, and I have no idea who is telling you otherwise,” what do the so-called journalists do? Why, they say “conflicting reports!” Just wouldn’t do to admit they were being complete idiots by rushing to air, or Twitter, or the website or anywhere else with unconfirmed information that they seriously should have questioned based on simple common sense.

The cabin is burning. It’s very hot. Nobody’s going in there until the Fire Department says it’s safe, and you really don’t need a police spokeswoman to tell you that. Nor do you need a police spokeswoman to tell you that even when they get in, should they find a body, it will be a while before they can positively identify it, because, you know, fire.

I actually heard from one reporter that she’d overheard officers talking about getting dental records to do the identification at the cabin. Really? Seriously? They’re going to, what? Compare the X-rays with a charred body? It didn’t cross her mind that, oh, I don’t know — maybe she misheard?

So no, once again, just like in Newtown, this barrage of false information isn’t the fault of social media. Sure, it spreads like wildfire on social media, but these reports were first broadcast on television. Every.Single.One.Of.Them. Look at the Twitter streams. They all say “CBS is reporting,” “CNN is reporting” or whatever.

Part of the problem is depending on anonymous sources, which, once upon a time, was reserved only for the most extreme cases, like, for example, “I’d rather you didn’t use my name because if you do, I’ll probably be killed.” “Because I’m not authorized to talk about it” is a shit reason, and it really means “because I don’t know dick but you think I’m important.”

So here’s a few tips to become better journalists.

STOP USING ANONYMOUS SOURCES. If your source doesn’t want to be attached to the information, leave it out. It’s questionable, seriously questionable. And half the time it’s pure speculation, what they hope is true.

That was the case with Dorner. The cops all hoped they had him. They even felt fairly certain they did. But they didn’t know for sure. Not a single one of them. Anybody saying they did know for sure was an ass.

That means, DON’T CONFUSE WISHFUL THINKING FOR TRUTH. You know the LAPD confused enough people with Dorner before this. They even shot up a couple of pickup trucks they thought might be driven by Dorner, even though neither of the drivers looked anything like him. Make them prove it. And besides, the LAPD was waiting at an airport for San Bernardino County to call them in. SBC never did.

And finally, THINK. Take notes, make sure the story makes sense. Make sure you have the complete story. For a while yesterday, journalists thought Dorner had hostages in the cabin. He had hostages in another cabin, where yesterday’s fun started. This didn’t take too much to figure out, but for hours reporters were conflating the two. Same thing with the report that Gov. Jerry Brown was going to attend the funeral of an officer allegedly killed by Dornan. They reported that it was the SBC deputy whose funeral Brown would attend when in fact it was a Riverside deputy whose funeral was today.

I just cringe anymore when any big story like this kicks off because I know what’s gonna happen. My chosen profession will fall several more notches down the list of “trusted people.” And why not? By and large, we just ain’t very trustworthy anymore. Because we’ve got to be first.

Some of us belong to an organization called the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ has a code of ethics, and the main headings are these: Seek truth and report it. Minimize harm. Act independently. Be accountable. 

Far too many of us don’t even approach those standards, and frankly, nobody’s holding our feet to the fire. But then, we shouldn’t need anybody to do that, because that’s what journalism really is.

Common sense. It’s really not that hard.

arabspring

Carvin out a niche

Maybe you’ve heard of Andy Carvin, maybe you’ve not. I’m going to tell you about him. Actually, I’m going to tell you what I think about him and the “job” he does, which is absolutely antithetical to what I think should happen, which is that he should be confined to the proverbial dustbin of history and promptly forgotten.

But I have some pretty words, some strong words, that I’m just dying to see in the stark black of computer print on white, so you’ll have to bear with me. Or just pass this little diatribe on by.

But whatever you do, don’t try to say I’m just jealous of the name Andy Carvin has had made for himself. I’m not the least bit jealous of him. Arwa Damon, maybe. Or Harry Fear even. But Andy Carvin? Hardly.

Why do I have so much vitriol for a man I’ve never met? It’s easy really. It’s because he’s a pretender, a fake. He’s Walter Mitty with a boring job at National Public Radio that has nothing to do with journalism. But he retreated to a life on Twitter and became a fake superhero.

arabspringHe even wrote a book, Distant Witness, and that’s as good a reason as any for my dislike. The title, not the writing of the book. He called it that because he believes he witnessed the Arab spring from his desk in Washington. He didn’t, any more than I did from my desk in Atlanta.

What he did was stay up till all hours retweeting all the tweets he could find out of the various Arab spring protests, adding his own indignation and outrage at what he “witnessed.” Of course, not all that much of what he retweeted was true, but Carvin thinks it best to throw it out there and let the “crowd” settle it.

Doesn’t work that way. Whenever somebody starts retweeting everything, then the real journalists have to work that much harder to find out what’s real and what’s not. As some of my relatives would say, “If you throw enough shit at the barn door, some of it’s gonna stick.” But most of it’s gonna leave a big pile of shit on the ground, and either way, somebody’s gonna have to clean the whole mess up.

That somebody will never be Andy Carvin, because that would get in the way of his being a hero to the poor downtrodden activists fighting for freedom in Arab countries and elsewhere. Honestly, I cannot understand why NPR, normally a bastion of decent journalism, allows it.

It’s why so many people have such a hard time trusting what’s found on the Interwebs. How could you blame em? If somebody who’s supposed to be the be-all-and-end-all of the Arab spring is tossing everything out there — even if he’s adding a cute little “is this true?” on the end — it’s just gonna confuse the matter. Especially when he adds his own unsupported speculation. Then he’s no better than any other “citizen journalist” out there with a viewpoint.

Ah, but what do I know. I haven’t even been a journalist for a quarter century (next year I will reach that milestone). And my current job is to separate the wheat from the chaff that pretenders like Andy Carvin throw out there. My colleagues and I painstakingly go through all those tweets, all those videos, all those Facebook posts to figure out what’s real and what isn’t, what is the truth and what might be even a well-intentioned lie.

Carvin finally got to go to Egypt, to Cairo. He went down to Tahrir, but when the tear gas came out, he retreated to the safety of his hotel room to check his Twitter stream, where, he said, he understood what was going on much better.

Maybe.

I’ve never been to Cairo, to Benghazi, to Aleppo, to Gaza. I’m pretty sure, though, if I ever were, I wouldn’t be there to meet my Twitter friends. I’d be there to report, because that’s what I do. And if that meant walking into a cloud of tear gas, then give me a wet rag and get out of my way.

Looking at videos from Syria is painful, but it’s necessary. It’s our job to verify them, to know that they were shot where the uploader says they were shot and that they show what the uploader says they show. That means seeing bodies, destroyed homes, lost children, everything, in detail, gory detail. We don’t watch them once and pass them on. We watch them trying to glean everything we can out of them so that we can say with authority if it’s real. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it is hard on every level imaginable.

I’m not a witness to the horrors in Syria, though. I’m a curator, a documentarian. A fact-checker. I’m not superhero, or even a not-so-superhero. I’m just doing a journalist doing a job with a slew of pretty nifty technological tools that help me do that job with more confidence than before. I don’t have to be there, but there’s a lot I miss by being here.

But it’s a good job and I’m proud of it, proud of my colleagues, one of whom once used Google maps to plot where in a particular Syrian city a video of an explosion might have been shot based on the speed of sound and line of site. It was a thing to behold. That’s verification.

It’s easy to fake things on the internet. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube — they can all be gamed. It takes hard, precise work to make sense of it all, to get at the real story. Any less is a disservice to readers, viewers, other journalists and especially the story.

The Delusional Party

A Facebook friend of mine — a young man I once thought was bright and thoughtful for a Republican — turned out to be a drama queen on Wednesday, when he posted this:

With a heavy heart, I announce that I will be shutting down my family’s 32 year old small business. We have suffered plenty under an Obama economy and it’s not fair to my young family for me to expect them to endure another 4 years of struggling to keep our heads above water. I close up shop with zero debt and a new job waiting, so I have plenty to be thankful for, but I am sad. I love what I do. What I did. God help us all.

I wanted to reply, I really did. Plenty did, most telling him they knew God has a plan for him. But I just couldn’t. I wanted to say

I’m really sad that you’ve drunk the bullshit Koolaid the conservative media’s been laying on you all these years. It breaks my heart to see you blame Obama for the economic downturn that has screwed with your business instead of Republican policies, starting with the Reagan administration, that finally came into their own during the GWB administration. I remember, you see, your talking about the drop in business you were suffering six years ago, a bit before Barack Obama came into office. I’m sorry you don’t.

I didn’t say it though. I just didn’t want to get into it with another delusional conservative. And so many of them are very, very delusional. Karl Rove, for example, had a meltdown on Fox News when their decision desk called Ohio for Obama. He later said Obama won  because he suppressed the vote. Mitt Romney waited way too long to concede, and he actually already had his transition website live when the voting started on Tuesday. It was taken down late Tuesday night, but I guess he just liked seeing himself called “President-elect” online.

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A sucker punch? Yeah, I guess when you’re completely deluded, it would come across that way.

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Haley Barbour announced before the election that Hurricane Sandy cost Mitt the election, but if you ask me, conservatives need to re-think that one. If God uses hurricanes to express his wishes, then She was endorsing Obama with this one. Others have been a little less celestial about it, blaming New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie because he dared to compliment Obama’s handling of Sandy. And then there’s Donald Trump.

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I remember way back in 2008, when Obama/Biden beat John McCain and that paragon of political perfection Sarah Palin, the Republicans weren’t quite so shocked. They did, however, immediately jump into a very short round of soul-searching, trying to figure out what they did wrong and how to fix it. When no answers came, they stopped trying.

They’re doing that again. The tea party is again saying that Romney wasn’t conservative enough. The Donald Trumps and Steve Forbeses are saying Romney didn’t push his business acumen and the free market enough. The punditocracy says the Republicans need to emulate the Democratic election “machine.”

Liberals were certain the Republican Party would split in 2008. It didn’t. Quite a few are certain that’s gonna happen now. It might. It will, sooner or later. Because here’s the thing: The one constant in this world is change. Conservatives, by their very definition, are all about the status quo, not changing, and, if possible, reversing any change that has happened.

It’s a fear-based ideology. The future is scary. Change is scary. The unknown is scary. A black president is scary. It’s also an unrealistic ideology. And if one insists on holding fast it it, it’s a delusional one.

Change happens. I like thinking of myself as progressive because it’s about, well, progressing. Anything else is regression. Change isn’t always good, but it’s only not good when it’s resisted and altered in a vain attempted to keep it from happened.

More women than ever will serve in the Senate this next term. One of them is a lesbian. And for the first time, voters supported same-sex marriage — not in one state but in four. Hell, Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, although that promises to run afoul of federal drug laws.

So, in the social realm, Republicans need to ditch the conservatives. If they want to have any chance of enacting any of their fiscal policies (not all of which are terrible, by the way), they must jettison the crazies. Quit pandering to them. Let them go. If they want to form their own party, let them. They’re pretty damn delusional themselves, thinking that the rest of the world revolves around their narrow world view.

And yeah, that probably means the Republican Party will be a little smaller for a while. But it can grow once it drops the dead weight that is holding it back from the 21st Century.

Democrats, you should probably stop counting on your crazies too. You remember them — the ones who voted for Ralph Nader and gave us George W. Bush for eight years. They’ve been hatin’ on Obama almost as long as the racists have. He isn’t liberal enough, y’know, as if a president can just waltz into office and completely change the mindset of Washington by waving his Jedi hands in front of the faces of all the politicians. Doesn’t work that way. I’d love it if it did, but reality is quite different from idealism.

Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of Google, had a great idea. On election day, he posted on Google + a call for all election winners to abandon their parties and govern as independents. Damn, that’d be swell. That’s idealism. Not gonna happen. That’s reality. I think I’ll just hate all the politicians for not doing that. That’s crazy.

House Speaker John Boehner is promising to cooperate with Obama. He says immigration reform is “long overdue” and Obamacare is “the law of the land.” It won’t be long, though, before we’re right back to business as usual politically. And if John Boehner keeps yacking like that, his tea party colleagues will pick somebody else as speaker. Maybe Michele Bachmann, since Allen West lost his re-election bid.

I just don’t have much faith that the Republicans will do any kind of useful soul-searching. Too many of them are just too far afield from reality. Republitarians are threatening revolt in a variety of manners, from secession to shunning Democrats to armed insurrection. Brit Hume is still spouting that “America is a center right country.” No, it’s not. America is progressing, slowing and steadily. It’s progressing toward adulthood, a country where the people don’t take all their toys and run home when things don’t go their way. A country where people who believe different things don’t believe the others are anti-American, traitors or worse.

One day, we may progress into something that I’ll find too hard to grasp and then I’ll dig my heels in and try to prevent change. But this is a progressive country. Just like life.

And the earth is more or less round.

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It’s delusional to deny it.