Category Archives: media

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.

confederateflag

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.

A New Difficulty in Achieving National Cohesion. A stable national government requires a measure of cohesion of the ruled. Such cohesion can be derived from an implicit mutual agreement on goals and direction — or even on the processes of determining goals and direction. With the diversity of information channels available, there is a growing ease of creating groups having access to distinctly differing models of reality, without overlap. For example, nearly every ideological group, from the student underground to the John Birchers, now has its own newspapers. Imagine a world in which there is a sufficient number of TV channels to keep each group, and in particular the less literate and tolerant members of the groups, wholly occupied? Will members of such groups ever again be able to talk meaningfully to one another? Will they ever obtain at least some information through the same filters so that their images of reality will overlap to some degree? Are we in danger of creating by electrical communications such diversity within society as to remove the commonness of experience necessary for human communication, political stability, and, indeed, nationhood itself? Must “confrontation” increasingly be used for human communication?

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National political diversity requires good will and intelligence to work comfortably. The new visual media are not an unmixed blessing. This new diversity causes one to hope that the good will and intelligence of the nation is sufficiently broad-based to allow it to withstand the increasing communication pressures of the future.

Paul Baran, 1969

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.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/jayrosen_nyu/status/308323562631081984"]

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.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/jdickerson/status/307955589814841345"]

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.

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 7.06.44 PM

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.

 

reporters

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.

cabin-fire

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.

Gimme

Dontcha just love it when all the Republicans pile on Mitt Romney over his “gifts” gaffe?

Wait, y’know, I’m sick of this “gaffe” thing. That wasn’t a gaffe, any more than the 47-percent-of-us-are-moochers thing was a gaffe. A gaffe is when you say something utterly stupid that just didn’t come out right. What Mitt Romney said came out just the way he wanted to — and just the way a whole damn bunch of conservatives wanted it to.

So when Bobby Jindal says Mitt’s comments were “absolutely wrong” or when Newt Gingrich says they were “insulting and profoundly wrong” or any number of other GOP notables spouting similar sentiments, they are lying. Just plain lying.

If they weren’t lying, they’d be saying the same thing about Rush Limbaugh (“People are not going to vote against Santa Claus, especially if the alternative is being your own Santa Claus”), Bill O’Reilly (Romney was “right on the money”), Eric Bolling (“people voted to continue to get free stuff”) and the rest of the conservative media elite. But they’re not. Listen. Crickets. That’s all there is. Just crickets. But it’s good to pile on the guy who just got his ass whupped by the black guy.

What’s “wrong” isn’t what Mitt said, but that he said it at all. This batch of Republicans has spent billions selling the ignorant masses on the complete and utter bullshit that they and only they will make sure they get to the top of the heap, leapfrogging over all those heathens who just want a handout.

But those rich assholes running things know full well that the ignorant masses they convince to buy their putrid snake oil are really the ones who get the most handouts. Oh, they’ll say they don’t, but that’s because they don’t count things like student loans or small business loans or mortgage tax credits or, god forbid, Medicare. Handouts only go to the lazy, good-for-nothing poor who won’t do anything to help themselves.

Seriously, people believe this crap. Interestingly, of course, it’s those “red states” that eat up the most federal money. The five or six states with secession petitions got 23 percent of all federal money last year. Amazing, eh?

I won’t even point out … oh, yes I will. The folks who believe the bull are by and large the ignorant white masses, and folks who are the targets of the bull are everybody else. It’s not just about race, of course. It’s also about religion and creed and national origin and sexual orientation and education and whether you listen exclusively to Fox News and the radio repugnants or actually get your information from a variety of sources.

Just so you know, here’s what Mitt told donors after the election:

What the president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked.

Um, I kinda thought that was the strategy for most elections … promise folks shit and then get them out to vote. But this thing about “extraordinary financial gifts from the government” …

Yeah, the only moochers I know are the rich folk who don’t want to pay their share of taxes and go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it, who lie through their teeth telling us how they are the job creators when the truth is they sock all that cash into off shore bank accounts and cut employees’ salaries when they think they might have to treat them like actual human beings. Those guys are the moochers. As Andy Serwer put it:

Political parties reward their constituencies, and Romney would have pursued goodies for GOP backers had he been elected. Financial institutions would have been very happy with a Romney administration that repealed Dodd-Frank, military contractors would have been delighted with Romney’s plan to raise military spending to astronomical levels, and Romney’s wealthy donors would have been delighted with his tax cuts for high earners. These are all “extraordinary financial gifts,” and unlike student loans or health care coverage, they do nothing to help ensure that being born into a family of modest financial means doesn’t prevent a person from succeeding. Help with student loan debt doesn’t mean you didn’t have to work hard to get good grades. A better example of an unearned “gift” is being born the son of a wealthy, famous politician so that you’ll never have to worry about student loan debt.

Yeah, these folks get rich off everybody else’s backs, and we’re too damn scared to point out that they are the cultural and political descendants of the robber barons and the plantation owners from the 19th and 20th Centuries.

And by we I mean my colleagues in the “mainstream media,” really just the Washington press since media long ago forgot that anything outside the beltway actually exists.

If that weren’t true, we’d all know what these Republicans know: that they prey on gullible people who want desperately to believe that some day they, too, can be rich and powerful, and that for the vast — and I do mean vast — majority, it’ll never happen.

But here’s the real kicker. We don’t have to be rich and powerful to be happy, or even comfortable. There’s more to life than amassing material wealth, and life is much more satisfying when we work to bring us all closer together rather than push us further apart with unrealistic fantasies.

Too many of us have forgotten that the American Dream was never about bank accounts.Wrong

 

We’re sorry, you’ve been disconnected

At least that’s how it feels to me. Everywhere I turn, I’m hearing my colleagues talk about the momentum of Mitt Romney, up until today, that is, when Haley Barbour said that Hurricane Sandy put a stop to it.

My colleagues can’t get enough of it. The polls are getting closer. Romney’s on a roll. The race is a toss-up. Obama’s losing ground.

There’s just one problem.

I don’t see it. Not anywhere.

There’s this one crazy poll that has Romney up six points in Florida, and maybe that one’s right — but it’s the only one.

It’s like the whole “Obama hasn’t created any jobs” thing. Well, presidents don’t actually create jobs, any more than governors do. But the facts get in the way of what they mean when they say that. Somewhere around 750,000 jobs have been added to the rolls so far under Obama, compared to a loss of more than a million in the same time under George W. Bush, whose policies, by the way, Romney wants to bring back, only worse.

I can’t tell you how many conservatives I’ve seen utterly convinced Mitt Romney is gonna win this thing in a landslide, presumably because all the polls are conducted by liberals and biased toward Obama. That the polls may be biased toward Obama could be true, but not because they’re conducted by liberals. It’s all in the samples. It’s just as possible the polls are all biased toward Romney, and it’s Obama who’s gonna win in a landslide.

Frankly, that he isn’t likely to win in a landslide says nothing good about our electorate and probably is as strong an indictment of the criminal neglect given to our education system as is possible, not to mention the perfectly lousy job my colleagues do covering elections of any kind.

And that brings me to Nate Silver. Unless you’re a political junkie, you may not have heard of him. But Nate is a numbers junkie who has concocted a mathematical way of prognosticating the presidential election using all the polls and a few other things. He is a liberal, but that’s the thing about numbers — they’re not particularly political. And unless it really is true that all the polls are hopelessly biased against Romney, Obama is highly likely to win re-election.

Romney has a chance to win. About a 15 percent chance — but that is a chance. It could happen.

Right now, Nate Silver forecasts Obama will win 307 electoral college votes (270 are needed to win), and that number has gone up 11 votes in the past week. Romneymentum? Where?

The popular vote, overall, is still looking pretty close, but it’s not the national popular vote that counts, now is it? No, it’s not. It’s the vote in the states, and which states. And that, my friends, doesn’t look like a toss-up. Here’s what Nate said yesterday, when Obama was leading in 19 of 20 swing state polls and Romney still had a 16 percent chance of winning the electoral college:

My argument, rather, is this: we’ve about reached the point where if Mr. Romney wins, it can only be because the polls have been biased against him. Almost all of the chance that Mr. Romney has in the FiveThirtyEight forecast, about 16 percent to win the Electoral College, reflects this possibility.

Yes, of course: most of the arguments that the polls are necessarily biased against Mr. Romney reflect little more than wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, these arguments are potentially more intellectually coherent than the ones that propose that the leader in the race is “too close to call.” It isn’t. If the state polls are right, then Mr. Obama will win the Electoral College. If you can’t acknowledge that after a day when Mr. Obama leads 19 out of 20 swing-state polls, then you should abandon the pretense that your goal is to inform rather than entertain the public.

But the state polls may not be right. They could be biased. Based on the historical reliability of polls, we put the chance that they will be biased enough to elect Mr. Romney at 16 percent.

That’s 16 percent (now less than 15 percent) likely that the polls being biased toward Obama is little more than “wishful thinking.”

But go ahead and listen to my colleagues, all of whom are pundits at election time. It’s just too close to call.

 

Hail and farewell, Andrew Breitbart

The crazies are already accusing President Obama of having Andrew Breitbart killed, much like they accused Hillary Clinton of having Vince Foster killed way back when. Insane conservative radio dude Michael Savage called Breitbart’s death an “assassination.” I’m thinking it was just too much cocaine for the heart.

A “suspicious package” near the home of Rush Limbaugh that brought the bomb squad running and my lovely colleagues making immediate connections to Limbaugh’s foul contraception comments probably cemented the idea that the liberals are out to silence conservative voices, at least by the Twitter reponses I’m seeing. The liberals, in case you’re wondering, are tweeting either ridiculous jokes about what the package might be (forgotten Chinese take-out, a blow-up doll, more Viagra) or cautions that we shouldn’t be wishing anyone dead, which no one save a couple of losers is doing.

Turns out it was an electronic plaque commemorating the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth (assassination?) sent by a fan who was offering the fat guy a “business opportunity.”

Still, these conservatives will go to their graves believing Breitbart was killed. Why? Because Breitbart himself, and people like him, poisoned them. They believe that liberals, progressives, Democrats are the most vile, wicked, evil, dangerous people on the planet, who will stop at nothing to impose their will on the poor helpless masses because that’s what Breitbart et al have told them.

And Breitbart goes to his grave unrepentant because, as we don’t seem to want to believe, it’s the conserverati who will stop at nothing in their fight to return the United States to We, the White Christian Straight People.

Now, some say Breitbart really wasn’t a white Christian straight supremist, and maybe he wasn’t. They say he just delighted in the fight, was single-minded in his hatred of Barack Obama and used every tool he could gather to attack him, including the racist ones. They say he’d use different tools if it were somebody else.

I say if you use racist tools, you’re a bigoted asshole, just by virtue of your willingness to do so. Or, you’re just a run-of-the-mill soulless asshole of the first degree. Which would you prefer?

Either way, Andrew Breitbart was an asshole. And because he went after Obama and the Obama administration with racist attacks, he gained the support of the racist right. They heard what he said. They knew what he meant. And they agreed, just like they agree with Rush Limbaugh, another soulless asshole of the first degree, says the same type stuff.

Or perhaps you’ve not heard Limbaugh’s latest. He’s going after Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who was barred from speaking at Rep. Darrell Issa’s hearing on contraception. Fluke subsequently spoke at a Democratic House Steering Committee meeting. Women who use birth control are sluts, Rush says. But Limbaugh, like Breitbart, doesn’t generalize like that. Limbaugh, like Breitbart, makes it personal.

What does it say about the college [sic] co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

He kept it up a day later, demanding that Fluke post sex videos online.

Here’s what makes this kind of behavior so very bad: They make it personal. Breitbart didn’t slam the Department of Agriculture, or the Obama administration, or even the NAACP as racist when he ran edited video of remarks made by Ag Department employee Shirley Sherrod to the NAACP. He painted HER as racist. Trouble is, the full video revealed that her point was the complete opposite.

ACORN. Again, Breitbart with James O’Keefe and edited videos. ACORN was screwing up by paying people to register voters and not putting in place any safeguards to prevent their registrars from sitting at the kitchen table and filling out all the forms, but it wasn’t voter fraud. It was registration fraud — and it was stupid and preventable. But Breitbart/O’Keefe/the Right went after ACORN anyway with lies and distortions and the only organization in the country that actively works to register poor people to vote was decimated. And afterward, no fewer than three investigations, complete with views of the entire tapes, revealed that no one had broken any laws.

In both cases, here’s what happened: Breitbart made a big push with his edited videos, Republicans ran with them and started calling for heads to roll, and Democrats served those heads up on a silver platter. Then we found out it was all bullshit. A triumvirate of wrong, with the driving spark provided by Andrew Breitbart.

I could go on and on detailing Breitbart’s crimes, but there’s no reason. Breitbart targeted the innocents. Some of the innocents may not have been all that smart, and he got plenty of help from both sides of the aisle. But none of that detracts from what he did, repeatedly. And the results were invariably damaging to individual people who lost jobs, lost valuable services provided by organizations, lost the willingness to stand up for anything out of fear something like this could happen to them.

OK, so he was right about Anthony Weiner. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

It’s all part of the conservative game plan. Smear, lie, distort, ruin. Fast and hard hits that make it highly likely there’ll just be some sort of reaction before the truth comes out. The attack on Planned Parenthood didn’t work out as planned.

But that hasn’t stopped the Republicans from running with the lies, nor has it stopped their Democratic enablers from cowering and looking for fresh heads to offer as sacrifices. Hence, contraception is now controversial, and conservatives have gone all out in their once underground war to bring women back under the thumb of the patriarchs, back to the good old days when men were men, women and children were property and queers were something that only existed in pulp magazines and true crime stories.

I’m not one to gloat over a death, not even someone like Breitbart. He was, after all, a human being. I think he had children. I’m sure they loved him. But when your life is infused with such poison, well, what you do will eventually come back and bite you, sometimes really hard.

Why Breitbart and not Limbaugh, who’s been so full of the poison for so much longer? I can’t answer that. The hows and whens and wheres and whos of karma are beyond me.  All I know is what goes around comes around. You reap what you sow.

That’s not to say that Breitbart was punished for his deeds by death — because death isn’t a punishment. But what you do comes back to you. Always. Somehow, somewhere, some way, sometime. Not on your time or my time, but when it should. Breitbart is dead. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

And for those of you who think we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, who’s speaking ill? I’m just speaking the truth. Besides, Breitbart had no qualms about speaking ill of the dead. He called Sen. Edward Kennedy a “villain,” a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick” on the day he died.

I’m more than willing to go off decorum to ensure THIS MAN is not beatified. Sorry, he destroyed lives. And he knew it.

Destroyed lives. Sounds like he was talking about himself.

 

 

 

 

 

The lie of the centrist

Paul Krugman says centrism is a cult that is destroying America, and I think he’s right. Not that the right isn’t doing its part — it is. But it’s this insistence on being in the middle of two “extremes” that is killing us.

Centrists wear blinders that keeps them from telling the truth, from knowing the truth about the right. And the prime offenders: My beloved colleagues.

Think about what’s happening right now. We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.

So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.

It makes me crazy. Back when I worked for a big media outlet, we didn’t have execs coming down to tell us we had to toe the party line. We did it ourselves, as if we were afraid to do our jobs. Somewhere along the line — and it started with Spiro Agnew’s “nittering nabobs of negativsm” — we lost the will to tell the truth and instead adopted a policy of stenography. “He said she said” isn’t journalism. It’s minutes of the meeting.

What all this means is that there is no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on.

You have to ask, what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault? This is the clearest, starkest situation one can imagine short of civil war. If this won’t do it, nothing will.

And yes, I think this is a moral issue. The “both sides are at fault” people have to know better; if they refuse to say it, it’s out of some combination of fear and ego, of being unwilling to sacrifice their treasured pose of being above the fray.

No, not blinders then. Blindfolds. With blinders, you can at least see what’s in front of you. But with blindfolds, you see nothing, and that’s what my colleagues — and others who claim to be centrists — see. Nothing that matters, and very little that doesn’t.

At least Krugman tells the truth about the right.

But my feeling about those people is that they are what they are; you might as well denounce wolves for being carnivores. Crazy is what they do and what they are.

Which points the finger right back at the centrists — and Democrats who, what, don’t want to rock the boat?

So, no, both sides aren’t equally at fault. Not in this instance, and not during the 2008 election campaign when racism and ugliness owned the Republican campaign and my colleagues bought the lie that “both sides do it.” No, they don’t. That’s not to say that some left wing bloggers and such don’t get nasty. Hell, I get nasty. But I never advocated shutting down the government to keep George W. Bush from getting re-elected. I never heard one single Democrat say that either, or say that their No. 1 priority in 2004 was to prevent a second term.

What I did see, and continue to see, is constant capitulation on the part of Democrats to Republican threats , just to make something happen. And now, the president has drawn the line.

I just hope he has the guts not to move it — or, worse yet, erase it altogether.