Posts from October 9, 2004

These Times

These Times

: Public Editor Dan Okrent tackles the question of campaign bias in The Times:

In fact, I can find many things to criticize in The Times’s election coverage. I’m as interested in the inside baseball of campaigns as the next politics nerd, but the paper’s obsessive attention to backroom maneuvers and spin-room speculation obscures, rather than enhances, my understanding of the candidates. Much seems directed not at readers but at the campaign staffs and other journalists. The chronic overreliance on anonymous comments from self-serving partisans in news stories is equally maddening. (I prefer the pieces tagged “News Analysis” or “Political Memo,” where at least we can hear the sound of the writer’s own voice, and take into account the writer’s apparent views.)

He goes on to say:

Here’s the question for a public editor: Is The Times systematically biased toward either candidate?


If there’s a commissariat at The Times ordering up coverage to help or hurt a specific candidate, it’s doing a lousy job; close reading shows bruises administered to each (and free passes handed out) in a pattern adapted from Jackson Pollock.

Okrent says that often, bias is in the eye of the beholder and, of course, he’s right. Conspiracies are never as evident and easy as their promoters believe.

Okrent then pins objectivity-envy on the wrong parties:

Those readers who long for the days of absolutely untinted, nothing-but-the-facts newspapering ought to have an Associated Press ticker installed on the breakfast table. Newspapers today and especially this newspaper are asking their reporters and editors to go deep into a story, and when and where you go deep is itself a matter of judgment. And every judgment, it appears, offends someone.

I’d argue that it’s not the readers who are guilty of nostalgia for some fabled but fictional day of objective journalism. Those people are watching FoxNews because it has a viewpoint and clicking to The Guardian because it has a different viewpoint and writing and reading blogs because they have viewpoints. It’s the journalists, instead, who keep singing the impossible dream — and some would say, selling the fraud — objectivity. It’s the readers and bloggers who are demanding transparency of perspective and process. The journalists are the ones resisting that.

Finally, Okrent quite properly goes after critics who turn vicious — even naming one. Fine. But then he tars all bloggers with that same brush:

Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don’t think they’d dare.

Not fair, my friend, and not right. There are bad bloggers as there are good bloggers, bad readers as there are good readers, bad journalists as there are good journalists. If we don’t buy the broad conspiratorial strokes regarding journalists at The Times, then we shouldn’t spread them regarding these new critics, bloggers. If you have complaints about specific bloggers, then name them. Otherwise, don’t pour us all into the same bucket.

It’s a good column, Dan, until that last graph.

The will to live

The will to live

: Ken Bigley, the murdered British hostage in Iraq, escaped his captors but was hunted down and then killed.

Democracy is big news, damnit

Democracy is big news, damnit

: We have troubled, questionable, even corrupted elections filled with conflict in Florida and Chicago and New Jersey and all over the United States of friggin’ America. So why should be we the least bit surprised that there are some troubles and conflicts in a nation that has never had democracy and has been ruled by warlords and communists and religious fascists, Afghanistan?

I tried last night to find a positive link to a new story about the Afghan election today. Couldn’t find it. Today, the news isn’t much different. Ohmygod, the ink on the thumbs isn’t indelible! Well, forget it, then, let’s bring back the Taliban. Jeesh.

This is a big deal: Democracy has come to a land and a people for the first time, a land where they were bombing Buddha and hiding women and plotting mass murders against us. This is good news.

Reuters’ headline: Afghan poll mired in turmoil. BBC headline: Afghan vote ends in controversy. Newsweek’s headline: We don’t recognize the results. Washington Post headline: Afghan candidates declare results ‘invalid’. Washington Times: Boycott mars Afghanistan’s first election.

This is more like it: from Australia: Joyous Afghans cast their vote. And go read Instapundit on Afghanistan and see the pictures of democracy’s birth.

This is good news, damnit.

One-person poll

One-person poll

: Here’s where I stand after last night’s debate:

Ouch. Sorry. But the fence is hurting my ass. Yes, it’s a little worse on the left cheek, since I’m leaning that way. Thanks for asking.

Last night’s debate didn’t change my thinking or my one-person poll percentages.

It only clarified my confusion.

When it comes to homeland security and the war, I lean strongly toward Bush — especially since John Kerry has started doing his Howard Dean imitation. I am a hawk on homeland security. In Iraq, I believe we must follow-through bringing security and democracy there, both out of moral obligation and out of enlightened self-interest. The reason I was comfortable with Kerry as the Democratic nominee was precisely because he voted for the war. Now I am uncomfortable with his talk of building coalitions before we act. Oh, I know, he has said that he’d still reserve the right to take preemptive action, but he has now set his expectations; he is expected to go talk to the French first or else he’ll suffer no end of nya-nyaing from his own side and that gives me no confidence. I am afraid he is going to wimp out when courage matters. No, I’m not delighted with Bush’s execution in Iraq. But I have more confidence in him to attack the people who would attack us.

When it comes to domestic issues, I lean strongly toward Kerry, for reasons that are already clear in the Issues2004 posts and will be clearer as I get back to my homework and post more. In the next debate on domestic issues, I expect to agree with him most of the time — but not all the time — and so I expect no surprises.

After sleeping on (and through it) last night’s debate, what bothers me most about Bush is religion. He won’t appoint a Supreme Court justice who won’t keep the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance; he might as well say he won’t appoint a justice who can’t hum along to a John Ashcroft hymn. He won’t allow expansion of fetal stem cell research even though it could save lives — and he says he values life. He would ban abortion and gay unions if he could. That’s all because of his religious beliefs. Compare that with Kerry’s religious doctrine last night: He’s a Catholic but he does not believe in legislating his religious beliefs on the nation. You could say that’s a pretzel twist of convenience but I say it’s the right doctrine in a country that values protecting religion by separating it from the state.

The same determination to do what’s “right” in foreign affairs — protecting and nurturing democracy and fighting terrorism and fanaticism — is what I fear in George Bush when it comes to imposing religion on government. We’re not electing a pope here. We’re electing the executive who should run the government. The president is not the leader of our souls but the leader of our bureacuracy and we forget that at the peril of our Constitution.

OK, so now ask me which is more important — homeland security or domestic issues. And, yes, these days, I will say homeland security. Is it so important it overrides all other issues? Well, that’s a game of odds, isn’t it? Do I believe that attacks are so likely — and that Bush will deal with them so much more firmly — that it outweighs my own views on issues that matter greatly, even separation of church and state, which I take as an American creed as holy as free speech?

Or look at it another way: Kerry scares me some one the most important issue, homeland security. But Bush scares me even more on so many other issues, including his imposition of his religious beliefs in social issues.

So where do I stand? Undecided? No. Soft? Yes.

I don’t pretend that you should care one iota where I stand. But in this transparent world, we do believe in getting naked, politically speaking, don’t we, since that colors everything else we write on the issues. So I hope you enjoyed my little post-debate strip show. That’s where I stand.


: UPDATE: Neil McIntosh of The Guardian says….

The Daily Stern: Indecent wack-a-mole

The Daily Stern: Indecent wack-a-mole

: The indecent indecency bill was dropped and a day later it’s baaaack.

The original bill was dropped because of cultural greed on the part of legislators who kept taking it farther and farther, adding bigger fines and fining more people and including cable and including violence and going after media consolidation and going after broadcast licenses. It became the He-Man-Media-Haters’ bill. Something went too far for enough people that it couldn’t make it through conference and onto the President’s desk.

But last night, another version was introduced and it’s just as heinous to the First Amendment and your free speech, for it will fine individuals up to $3 million per day for saying something the government vaguely considers offensive.

As of Friday evening, the proposal in discussion would allow the Federal Communications Commission to fine a station a maximum of $500,000 a violation, up from a maximum of $32,500 at present, with a limit of $3 million each 24-hour period for each corporation. In addition, performers, and not just the broadcasters, could be penalized.

: More detailed Bloomberg report here; Reuters here.

: Here is the message I just sent to my New Jersey senators and representative:

Please vote against the revived indecent indecency bill. Fining individuals to the point of bankruptcy for speech that is considered offensive under vague government rules is chilling to free speech, offensive to the First Amendment, and clearly unconstitutional.

A singer’s breast or a race-car driver’s s-word or a radio man’s fart is not dangerous to America. This bill is. Have the courage to stand up up against the Brownback militia.

I am a media executive in New Jersey and fear for the First Amendment.

Senator [Corzine/Lautenberg], please protect the First Amendment.

Send a note to your senator.