BLOGGER PANGLOSS! Good Lord! Kevin Drum says the New York Times is state of the art in perfection:
FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005
TWOFER: Our whirring engines went down on Thursday, so we were unable to post. If you want to read Thursdays HOWLER, you know what to do—just click here.
YOUR U.S. TAX DOLLARS AT WORK: Todays New York Times details the treatment of a 22-year-old prisoner at Bagram. Given recent, mainly irrelevant food-fights about the Guantanamo toilet allegation, its worth recalling the kinds of conduct which have been fully documented at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Tim Golden is the Times reporter:
GOLDEN (5/20/05): The interpreter who was present, Ahmad Ahmadzai, recalled the encounter differently to investigators.Dilawar died a day or two later; the army has listed his death as a homicide. According to Golden, It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.
The recent food-fight over Newsweeks reporting exists in the context of such reports. The larger story of detainee abuse has been clear for a good while now. There was no need for Newsweek to rush into print with an uncertain extra detail, and theres no reason why sensible critics should want to insist that Newsweeks story is probably true (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/19/05). Indeed, when uncertain claims are rushed into print— when critics want such claims to be true— the Scott McClellans of the world use them to cast doubt on the wider story, a story which is widely documented. Needless to say, Goldens report is a detailed must-read. It recalls the context for the largely pointless dispute about Newsweeks latest bungle.
BLOGGER PANGLOSS: As we have often noted, we read Kevin Drum every day, and we do so for a very good reason— we visit his site expecting to learn things, and were rarely disappointed. But we do think Drum has an odd perspective on the functioning of the mainstream press. Yesterday, he penned a piece you ought to read, in which he cautions lefty bloggers against bashing the New York Times too hard. The right wing is trying to destroy the mainstream media, he warns. And then, he offers his nuggets:
DRUM (5/19/05): Given all this, liberals should think very hard before joining the media bashing crusade too eagerly. Sure, the New York Times employs Judith Miller, and the pressure of daily deadlines promotes too much lazy he-said/she-said reporting on their pages, but guess what? It's still the best newspaper in the world, bar none. If you really believe the Times is a piece of crap, your problem is not with the Times, it's with the current state of the art in human perfectibility.Yes, we agree— its nice to be nice. But as a general view of the state of the media, this strikes us as screaming nonsense. Indeed, we think this view is so odd, its hard to know where to begin.
Lets personalize this as much as possible. If Drum really means what he says, we at THE HOWLER have only been enabling the right wings agenda by our foolish broad brush howling over the past seven years. The years of time we devoted to detailing the coverage of Clinton and Gore? Crazy! In fact, when we developed the detailed information about what weve called The War Against Gore, we were actually doing nothing except enabling the right wings agenda! And presumably, others have made the same dumb mistake; for example, when Gene Lyons wrote Fools for Scandal, he was surely doing the work of the right-wing destruction machine as well. Yep! When Lyons presented the startling details about the way the New York Times invented the Whitewater hoax, he was making a big mistake. Instead, he should have spent a little more time praising the Times for its marvelous work— perhaps for spelling the word Whitewater right, or for failing to run with the claim that Clinton was behind all those murders. When Lyons showed Whitewater was a big hoax, he was doing the right wings work for it.
Indeed, check the view of Blogger Pangloss when it comes to the overall work of the Times. According to Drum, heres the profile of the New York Times recent imperfections:
DRUM: Sure, the New York Times employs Judith Miller, and the pressure of daily deadlines promotes too much lazy he-said/she-said reporting on their pages, but guess what? It's still the best newspaper in the world, bar none.But can that be all that comes to mind when a liberal reviews the work of the Times? The second worst thing Drum can cite is the papers he said/she said reporting? In truth, it would be hard for a conservative hack to create a better whitewash of the Times past decade— a decade in which the Times was deeply involved in a press corps war which did put George Bush in the White House.
Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have the slightest idea what drove the Times strange coverage of Bill Clinton, then Al Gore. But we will suggest this— the thing which enables the right wings agenda is the astounding refusal of people like Drum to tell the truth about the press corps conduct over the past dozen years. But then, all across the career liberal web, we do in fact find writers like Drum— people who produce superlative policy work and simply refuse to tell the truth about the mainstream press corps. In the case of an individual like Drum, we dont know why that occurs. But well ask you, one more time, to recall what Jack Shafer said:
SHAFER (4/8/05): I started writing press criticism at Washington City Paper back in 1986, because as editor I couldn't get anybody else to do it. Writers were frightened that if they penned something scathing about the Washington Post or the New York Times they'd screw themselves out of a future job.We have no idea where Drums ideas come from. But if you think Shafers statement doesnt explain why so many career liberal writers say so little about the Times, wed suggest that you might adopt the middle name Pangloss too.
Sometimes the Times isnt on our side? The New York Times is a big, complex paper; within it, there seem to be many agendas. Sometimes it does superlative m work; we think the paper does flyweight work an amazing percentage of the time. But during the 1990s, the Times invented the Whitewater hoax— and then it conducted a War Against Gore. And people like Drum refuse to discuss this. Indeed: According to Drum, the New York Times represents the state of the art in human perfectibility. Good God! That statement is a work of madness— and Kevin Drum is far from mad. But so what? Kissing up and kicking down, statements like that do grease the skids the next time op-eds are submitted.
Lets say it again, and lets say it loud— Drum does superlative policy work. We learn from reading his site every day. In fact, on a wide range of topics, his policy work is much more informative than that of the newspaper he so adores. But can he possibly believe the odd things he published in yesterdays post? If so, well beg him to stick to policy matter and stop discussing the mainstream press— that group of news orgs who represent the nearest thing to human perfection.
IN PRAISE OF PERFECTION: How does it work when scribes like Drum assume the best about mainstream media? For a relatively trivial but current example, here is Drums most recent post about the Newsweek matter:
QUESTION FOR THE PENTAGON....Regarding Newsweek's Koran desecration story, editor Mark Whitaker says that before deciding whether to publish it we approached two separate Defense Department officials for comment. Neither of these officials disputed the report.They key word in that credulous post is says— Newsweeks editor says the magazine approached two Defense officials. Of course, behaving in standard kiss-up, kick-down fashion, Drum assumes the truth of Whitakers presentation, while failing to note the credibility problems Newsweek has displayed in this matter. And he fails to note the odd behavior in which Newsweek seems to have engaged. Has anyone asked the Pentagon about this? We dont know, but who would they ask? After all, those two separate Defense Department officials are anonymous Defense officials, just like Newsweeks original alleged source. For all we can really know, the magazine checked with General Ima Fake and his assistant, Commander Nott A. Reelperson. Drum doesnt have the slightest idea what sort of checking the magazine did. But he assumes the truth of Whitakers presentation, then suggests the Pentagon has major splainin to do. He has a question for the Pentagon. But uh-oh! He has no questions for Newsweek itself— even though the magazines account of its alleged fact-checking makes little obvious sense.
Here at THE HOWLER, we dont assume that Newsweek is still dissembling, as it plainly did in its original report, which said it had multiple sources. But note the way a career liberal writer will instinctively take the side of the perfect mainstream press. To Drum, the Pentagon behaved oddly here, not the dissembling magazine— a magazine owned by the Washington Post (which published an excellent op-ed column by Drum on January 31). While Drum suggests odd behavior on the part of the Pentagon, it doesnt occur to him to ask the obvious question about Newsweeks odd behavior: If they checked their story with the Pentagon, why didnt they get an official reaction, an official reaction on the record? (At least we know who to ask about this— Whitaker. Needless to say, no one has. Howard Kurtz forgot to ask in his puff profile of boss-man.) Meanwhile, for more of the kiss up, kick down behavior at which the career liberal press corps excels, check Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris as he praises the admirable efforts of the magazines editor-in-chief Mark Whitaker to deal with the issue honestly while standing up to the White House's intimidation tactics. Gag us! Weve met Glastris, and he seems like a very nice person— and he does excellent policy work. But all across the career liberal press corps, career liberal writers are rushing to praise Whitaker, Isikoff and everyone else who produced this relatively trivial but unfortunate error. And yes— these are the same people who refuse to discuss what the press corps did to Clinton, then Gore. But then, lets be fair; to these Panglossian beings, the news orgs in question are the current state of the art in human perfectibility. And as Shafer noted, theyre a perfect source of future jobs.
WHERE IT ENDS: Where does it end when career liberal writers refuse to discuss the press corps real conduct? It ends with our American history lost, stolen and strayed— airbrushed, in the best Stalinist manner. Where does it end? Consider this excellent post by Lance Mannion, which Atrios linked to yesterday. Mannion makes an excellent argument about some recent bloviation. But when he thumb-nailed the New York Times, we were struck by his listing of errors:
MANNION: Susie Madrak and a lot of other people have dealt with the hilarity of someone who works for the paper that gave us Whitewater, Wen Ho Lee, Jayson Blair, and Judy Miller— not to mention David Brooks, who doesnt read his own paper, John Tierney, who doesnt understand how the government comes up with a budget, and the new Style section— lecturing us on the art of fact checking.Incomparably, Mannion links to THE HOWLER on the Whitewater matter (our understanding of that tracks to Lyons). And for the record, we did do some of the early work about the Times weird treatment of Wen Ho Lee, work for which we were fulsomely praised in the early Brills Content. (Now, of course, we see that we were only helping the right-wing machine when we developed this work.) But we thought Mannions listing of horribles was quite instructive. In fact, Wen Ho Lee and Jayson Blair are extremely puny stuff compared to the Times two-year War Against Gore— a war which put George Bush in the White House and changed the course of American history. But that war was run by big mainstream orgs— and career liberal writers have refused to discuss it. For that reason, this amazing part of our recent history has been airbrushed from public view. Its understandable that Mannion doesnt list it. For the most part, career liberals have disappeared this matter so well that people wouldnt know what he meant if it showed up on his list.
Stalin airbrushed major episodes— but then, so have your fiery career liberal writers as they praise their future employers for being the next thing to perfect.