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OKRENT (PART 1)! Daniel Okrent finally leaves—taking a cheap shot at Krugman: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 23, 2005

WHY DO PAT TILLMAN’S PARENTS HATE AMERICA: Maybe we’ve finally found someone who will be allowed to complain about this Admin’s endemic dissembling. We refer to the parents of Pat Tillman, whose comments about their son’s death are reported in today’s Post. Josh White’s summary of the facts sets the stage for the Tillmans’ anger:
WHITE (5/23/05): The latest investigation, written about by The Washington Post earlier this month, showed that soldiers in Afghanistan knew almost immediately that they had killed Tillman by mistake in what they believed was a firefight with enemies on a tight canyon road. The investigation also revealed that soldiers later burned Tillman's uniform and body armor.

That information was slow to make it back to the United States, the report said, and Army officials here were unaware that his death on April 22, 2004, was fratricide when they notified the family that Tillman had been shot.

Over the next 10 days, however, top-ranking Army officials—including the theater commander, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid—were told of the reports that Tillman had been killed by his own men, the investigation said. But the Army waited until a formal investigation was finished before telling the family—which was weeks after a nationally televised memorial service that honored Tillman on May 3, 2004.

The Tillmans draw the obvious conclusions about the reasons for this conduct, which goes all the way up to the chain to Abizaid. And ouch! Although it gets buried deep in White’s piece, Tillman’s mother has fine things to say about the commander-in-chief:
WHITE: Mary Tillman says the government used her son for weeks after his death, perpetuating an untrue story to capitalize on his altruism—just as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was erupting publicly. She said she was particularly offended when President Bush offered a taped memorial message to Tillman at a Cardinals football game shortly before the presidential election last fall. She again felt as though her son was being used, something he never would have wanted.

"Every day is sort of emotional," Mary Tillman said. "It just keeps slapping me in the face. To find that he was killed in this debacle—everything that could have gone wrong did—it's so much harder to take. We should not have been subjected to all of this. This lie was to cover their image. I think there's a lot more yet that we don't even know, or they wouldn't still be covering their tails.”

"Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore," Tillman’s father says at another point in the piece.

Meanwhile, dissembling surely ain’t a big deal for many of the web’s “liberal spokesmen.” They continue to carry Newsweek’s water in the mag’s recent flap, perhaps because they (rightly) believe that the Administration’s absurd response to the Newsweek blunder was worse than the magazine’s crime. But these people do you no favors as they kiss, smooch and fawn to great Newsweek. “Newseek made a small error,” Kevin Drum said in a Sunday post. “Newsweek's offense, which was pretty minor to begin with, is about the equivalent of jaywalking across a busy city street.” Meanwhile, here was a puzzling post on Friday:

DRUM (5/20/05): I'm annoyed at Newsweek for knuckling under to the Pentagon over its Koran desecration piece, I'm annoyed at the reflexive press bashers for piling on even though Newsweek's reporters did nothing that every other reporter in Washington hasn't done a dozen times before, and I'm annoyed at my fellow liberals, who have been tepid in defense of Newsweek because the piece in question was written by Michael Isikoff, against whom we are all expected to hold a lifetime grudge because of his treatment of Bill Clinton.
Drum is annoyed because liberals haven’t rushed to the defense of Newsweek—a magazine which spent much of the past dozen years engaged in truly outrageous misconduct aimed at their party’s top leaders.

In general, Drum’s critique strikes us as bizarre. How was Newsweek supposed to avoid “knuckling under” in this matter? The magazine had published a claim it couldn’t defend; was it supposed to pretend something different? And speaking as a “reflexive press basher,” we’d be inclined to recommend “piling on Newsweek” precisely because the mag did something “that every other reporter in Washington has done a dozen times before.” Indeed, throughout vast periods of the past dozen years, this kind of conduct (and worse) was directly aimed at your party’s leaders; when Newsweek engaged in gross misconduct for almost two years during Campaign 2000, it helped put George W. Bush in the White House. And finally, yes, let’s state the obvious—Isikoff’s performance during the hunting of Clinton is part of what got us all to this point. For ourselves, we haven’t mentioned Isikoff’s conduct during that era, but why in the world should it all be forgotten? But Drum, and other career liberal writers, just keep kissing up to the mainstream press—to the news orgs which savaged Clinton, then Gore. These people created the situation we’re in. Our question, and maybe he’ll actually answer it: Why do people like Kevin Drum keep pretending they didn’t?

Drum does tons of superlative work, a point we very much want to keep stressing. But we think it has now become clear—libs and Dems must come to terms with the questions we have raised about the work of these mainstream press organs. Why exactly should libs defend Newsweek? We’d love a good explanation.

POSTSCRIPT: Did darling Newsweek only jaywalk? For a more balanced assessment of Newsweek’s conduct, see Mike Getler in yesterday’s Post. You know what to do—just click here.

COMING: How did sainted Mark Whitaker’s brilliant agents perform their duties during Campaign 2000—the two-year campaign which put Bush in the White House? Later this week, we’ll try to remind you. Sorry—Howard Fineman’s work was beyond inexcusable, and sainted Mark Whitaker stared into air. But who knows? Maybe Drum can help us see how “perfect” the work of the mag really was. For ourselves, we’re tired of seeing this noxious history buried. Your recent history is truly lost, stolen and strayed—all across the career liberal web.

Special report: Exit Okrent!

PART 1—THE CASE OF THE EXERCISED EDITOR: What a truly amazing flyweight is departed Times public editor Daniel Okrent! Yesterday, Okrent concluded his unfortunate reign, discussing thirteen topics he somehow avoided during his eighteen months of service. (Headline: “13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did”). Below, we present the second of these thirteen ruminations, in full. But alas! As Okrent slices and dices Paul Krugman, he provides the perfect public showcase for his fly-weight intellectual standards and his unexplained but omnipresent resentment. Try to believe that he actually wrote such a cheap slasher piece! Again, it’s the second thing he “meant to write about” but somehow never did:

OKRENT (5/22/05):
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales "called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint' " nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

I didn't give Krugman, Dowd or Safire the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist.

Good grief! If the ivory-billed ’pecker is the “Lord God bird,” that must be the “Lord God third paragraph.”

Let’s be fair to Okrent’s general complaint. Okrent feels the Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, should “hold his columnists to higher standards.” (Oddly, he makes no mention of Gail Collins, who is nominally in charge of op-eds.) But what a truly incredible way to make the case for this claim! In the case of Dowd and Safire, Okrent at least provides specific complaints—and yes, his complaints are at least semi-valid. Dowd’s “quaint” quote was yanked out of context (many pundits and pols continue to do this with this cagily clipped quotation), and Safire’s claims about Saddam and al Qaeda have been widely criticized. But what about Krugman? Okrent goes after his troubling poster boy hard—but he doesn’t cite a single specific example of the gentleman’s troubling conduct! He calls Krugman every name in the book—but after eighteen months on the job, he doesn’t give a single example of Krugman’s deeply disturbing conduct. How exactly is someone like Krugman supposed to respond to such work?

For the record, Krugman is quite a bum—if you listen to Okrent. According to the exercised editor, Krugman “has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers.” Beyond that, Krugman is “ideological” and “unfair,” Okrent says—and he seems to say that the slippery scribe selects his misleading numbers in a fashion designed to “please his acolytes.” These are very nasty charges. But in the style of classic hit-and-run bullies, Okrent provides no examples of his target’s troubling conduct, and he bravely offers these ringing complaints in his final public editor column, depriving Krugman of a chance to respond (and knowing he won’t have to defend himself against the complaints that will come).

How big and brave is the mighty Okrent—this big, bold man who slithers away with so many loud complaints? The big, brave fellow had eighteen months to offer examples of Krugman’s misconduct, but even now, he offers none. Instead, he waits until his final column—then hits and runs with his unexplained slams. But at least he provides us a few mordant chuckles, in the manner of flyweights worldwide. In his very next item—undiscussed Topic 3—Okrent complains that three other writers have failed to let the great New York Times serve “as a guardian of civil discussion!” Was this an attempt at comic relief? Or is it the sign of a consummate flyweight—the sign of a man who waded far over his head when offered this unwise assignment?

Let’s make sure we understand the context of Okrent’s complaints. Without question, Krugman has been one of the Times’ most-discussed writers over the past several years. If Krugman has behaved in the manner described, it should have been discussed long ago. But throughout the course of human history, that just hasn’t been the way flyweights like Okrent conduct public hangings. The exercised ed had eighteen months to offer examples of Krugman’s misconduct. Instead, he waits until his final column, then provides exactly no examples of the crimes he lustily limns. To state the obvious, this the work of a small, petty thug—the kind of man Okrent often seemed to be as he typed his frequently worthless columns. But it’s also the mark of something else—it’s the mark of a pure intellectual flyweight, something else Okrent often seemed to be during his 18-month rule.

We criticized Okrent at several points in his reign, but we would have liked to let it all go as he departed his post at the Times. For us, his major problem seemed to be one of temperament. By the time he wrote just his fourth column, Okrent seemed more intent on knocking Times readers than on critiquing the paper itself; in this continuing impulse, he displayed a temperament that’s fine for most jobs but ill-suited for a public editor. But in Sunday’s closing (cheap) shot against Krugman, he showed himself again as a cheap, petty thug—and as a flyweight for the ages. How does America’s most important newspaper have such a flyweight in such a high post? We’ll examine that important question all week, starting tomorrow with Okrent’s Topic 5—an item which is almost perfect in its pure unalloyed dumbness.

TOMORROW—PART 2! “That’s a good question,” Okrent said. Tomorrow, we’ll show you different.

Special report—A passion for up-or-down votes!

PART 1—TERMINATE TAIT: Appearing on Sunday’s Face the Nation, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recited standard heartfelt spin about George Bush’s judicial nominees. You could tell he really meant it about those up-or-down votes:

MCCONNELL (5/22/05): Let's get back to the way the Senate operated for over 200 years, up-or-down votes on the president's nominee, no matter who the president is, no matter who's in control of the Senate. That's the way we need to operate.
McConnell wanted up-or-down votes, the way it had always been done. And the solon was hardly alone in his prayer. Over at ABC’s This Week, Senator George Allen (R-VA) was making the same heartfelt plea. And on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, it was Janet LaRue (Concerned Women of America). LaRue was concerned that nominees might not get that up-or-down vote, the way it has always been done.

But that isn’t the way it has always been done, and everyone in Washington knows it. But so what? As we’ve noted, major papers have made little effort to describe the actual way nominations were treated during the Clinton years; they’ve sat around and twiddled their thumbs as the ludicrous lying goes forward. For just one early part of that unexplored recent history, consider the case of John Reid Tait, a Clinton nominee in Idaho. In August 1994, Joan Abrams of the Lewiston Morning Tribune reported the news; Clinton had nominated Tait to serve as a U. S. District court judge, and the nominee was thrilled to the bones. But uh-oh! Idaho’s two Republican senators didn’t seem to want to provide that ballyhooed up-or-down vote:

ABRAMS (8/26/94): Lewiston lawyer John Reid Tait's long wait to be nominated by President Clinton for the post of U.S. District Judge for Idaho is over.

Tait, one of seven people nominated by Clinton Thursday for a federal judgeship, still must pass Senate confirmation.

''I've been waiting and waiting for it to finally happen and it will take a while to sink in...When I am officially sworn in, it will sink in,'' Tait said Thursday afternoon after receiving a call from a deputy White House counsel.

Idaho Democratic Rep. Larry LaRocco submitted Tait's name for the vacant federal judge post in February 1993. In a telephone interview from Boise Thursday, he said he's hopeful for Senate confirmation this fall before Congress adjourns...

But Idaho's two Republican U.S. senators are not convinced Tait is the right man for the job. In a nine-page letter sent Thursday before the nomination was announced, Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne ask the president not to nominate Tait...

The senators, who contend their objection is non-partisan, ask Clinton to work with the congressional delegation and Gov. Cecil D. Andrus to find ''another, more suitable candidate.''

Uh-oh! But now that Clinton had made his choice, surely Craig and Kempthorne insisted that Tait get his sacred up-or-down vote? After all, that’s the way it has always been done, to listen to recent public lying. But amazingly, no—that’s not how they acted. A few days later, the Morning Tribune’s Richard Wickline reported their continuing complaints:
WICKLINE (9/2/94): A Clinton administration official says Lewiston attorney John R. Tait is qualified to be appointed to a vacant federal district judgeship, although questions have been raised in some quarters about the breadth of his experience.

Presidents Reagan and Bush both appointed federal judges who had trial experience similar to that of Tait, according to Assistant Attorney General Eleanor D. Acheson.

She also said U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan previously had an exclusively civil practice with at least 97 percent of his cases in state court...

But Idaho's Republican U.S. senators said they don't believe Tait is qualified enough to be nominated for the post and denied their concerns are for partisan reasons. They said Tait has virtually no federal court trial experience, virtually no experience handling criminal cases, and no experience as a judge or prosecutor.

On September 13, the Morning Tribune reported that the chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and the dean of the University of Idaho law school were both supporting the Tait nomination. ''John Tait is eminently qualified and would be a tribute to Idaho,” Chief Justice Charles F. McDevitt was quoted saying. But two weeks later, the paper reported surprising news; nominee Tait wasn’t going to get his up-or-down vote that year. Weird! The nomination would be blocked for the rest of the year by Senate Republicans in Washington:
WICKLINE (9/24/94): Idaho's Republican U.S. senators have succeeded in blocking the confirmation of Lewiston attorney John R. Tait to a federal district judge post this year, Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco said Friday.

LaRocco, the only Democrat in Idaho's congressional delegation, said U.S. Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne asked U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to hold up the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That means Tait's nomination won't be considered before Congress adjourns for this year, he said. Hatch also is holding up two other judicial nominations, he said.

Partial translation: Republicans thought they had a chance of taking over the Senate in the upcoming 1994 elections. This would change the balance of power concerning nominations to judgeships. Despite that, Wickline wrote this: “LaRocco said there is no question in his mind that Clinton will nominate Tait again for the vacant federal district judge post next year and his nomination will move forward.” And uh-oh! Just for the record, when Wickline wrote about the nomination on September 29, he used the f-word—filibuster:
WICKLINE (9/29/94): Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus Wednesday blamed partisan politics for the death of Lewiston attorney John R. Tait's nomination for a federal district judge post this year...

But a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, reiterated that Craig believes Tait isn't qualified enough for an important lifetime appointment like a federal district judge post.

''Our senators aren't trying to put a Republican in the position,'' David Fish said Wednesday night. ''They just want to make sure the Democrat they vote to confirm is the right person for the job.''

Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco Friday conceded Tait wouldn't be confirmed by the Senate this year after U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, and Craig asked the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch of Utah, to filibuster the nomination in the committee.

For the record, let’s be clear. Strictly speaking, Hatch hadn’t actually “filibustered” the nomination; he had just arranged within the committee to keep it from being considered that year. Andrus, a Democrat, complained about that:
WICKLINE (9/29/94): Idaho Democrats didn't question the nominees for federal judicial posts when the Republicans were in control of the White House, Andrus said. ''They said,'That is the way it is.' ''

The American Bar Association has concluded Tait is qualified to fill the vacant federal district judge post, he said.

Maybe Craig and Kempthorne want to choose someone else, Andrus said. ''Under this process, it's not their call this time.''

But Andrus had a lot to learn—and the debate continued. On October 27, Kempthorne again told the Morning Tribune that he hoped Clinton would nominate someone else for the judgeship in question. And then it happened, as the obstructionists hoped: On Election Day 1994, Rep. LaRocco—Tait’s original sponsor—lost his bid for re-election, and Republicans took over the House and the Senate. And Idaho’s Republican senators kept complaining about the Tait nomination. Would Tait ever get that up-or-down vote? “Kempthorne has said he hopes the Clinton administration will make another nomination for the post, while Craig has maintained he won't budge from his stance that Tait isn't qualified,” the Morning Tribune reported on November 30. Finally, on December 14, a headline announced the end of the tale. Tait was never going to get that sacred up-or-down vote:
GOP wins halt Tait's judicial nomination; Clinton gives up on nominations in face of Republican opposition
GOP devotion to up-or-down votes had produced another inspiring outcome. With Republicans now in charge of the Senate, Clinton decided he had to terminate Tait:
WICKLINE (12/14/94): President Clinton's nomination of Lewiston attorney John R. Tait for federal judge is dead because of the Republican takeover of Congress, outgoing Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco announced Tuesday.

Two weeks ago, LaRocco urged Clinton to resubmit the nomination of his former campaign treasurer to the U.S. Senate next year, contending Tait would be confirmed under a full and fair confirmation process.

''I've talked to the White House counsel and it is clear that the president will not move ahead with a number of qualified judicial nominations, including John's, because of opposition in the Senate,'' the only Democrat in Idaho's congressional delegation said in a prepared statement. ''I'm saddened for John, a fine person and an excellent attorney, who along with his family has waited patiently nearly two years to serve his state”...

No, Tait never got that sacred up-or-down vote; instead, he choked back disappointment. ''Sure it is disappointing,'' Wickline quoted the ex-nominee saying. ''I gave it a good run. We'll just go back to work. ... I'm only 48. I'm sure there will be other interesting adventures.” And yes, there will be such adventures. But they won’t include an up-or-down vote—the kind of vote the pious and lying McConnell said we have always provided.

For the record, how did the story turn out? By April, Clinton had a new nominee—Lynn Winwill—and Morning Tribune columnist Jim Fisher was urging Craig to move the name forward. “[I]t was Republican Sen. Larry Craig who made the selection of a second nominee necessary,” Fisher wrote. “That imposes a special responsibility on Craig to ensure the state gets the new judge it desperately needs this year.” Five weeks later, we got another inspiring lesson in the GOP’s fanatical devotion to up-or-down votes. “OPPOSITION TO WINMILL FOR FEDERAL JUDGE KEEPS POSITION VACANT,” said the Morning Tribune’s front-page headline. With Wickline apparently in retirement after all the GOP-forced delays, Kevin Richert did the reporting—and Republican senators once again seemed to be considering the possibility of denying that vote:

RICHERT (5/19/95): There is scattered, and sketchy, opposition to Pocatello district judge Lynn Winmill's bid to become Idaho's next federal judge.

But for now, the process is pretty much under wraps, and the bid is under review. A couple of reviews, to be exact.

The FBI is running an exhaustive background check on Winmill, while a bipartisan panel of Idaho lawyers, assembled by U.S. Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, continues its own research.

No one is guessing when the next move will occur. Spokesmen for Craig and Kempthorne say they don't know of a timetable to fill the federal judgeship, which has been vacant for more than two years. And Winmill himself isn't talking; through a receptionist, he declined comment Thursday on the appointment.

Long story short—Winmill finally did get confirmed, on August 11, 1995. One month later, Naftali Bendavid of the Legal Times described how the case had proceeded:
BENDAVID (9/11/95): A recently filled vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho shows how the system is now working.

President Clinton last year named John Tait—a former campaign treasurer for ex-Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho) to fill the slot. Idaho Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, both Republicans, were dismayed by the choice. At Hatch's urging, they protested to the White House.

In response, the administration let Tait's nomination expire and then appointed state judge B. Lynn Winmill—a Democrat, but one with more judicial experience and more to the senators' liking. A month ago, Craig and Kempthome found themselves urging Dole to move the confirmation of this Democratic judge.

"It"s regrettable that it took 28 months to fill the position," says Kempthome spokesman Mark Snider. "But I guess we have to give credit to the administration for acknowledging our concerns and realizing this nomination would have run into opposition.”

Yes, GOP love of the up-or-down vote was MIA when Tait got his nod. Did we always give that up-or-down vote? Clearly, the pious McConnell thought it was true—but his memory, like that of Allen, turns out to be strangely faulty.

Was there something wrong with the treatment of Tait? That, of course, is a matter of judgment. In fact, Tait’s nomination was ditched in a fairly conventional way—in the way the confirmation process routinely worked during the past several decades. On Sunday, McConnell was out there saying different—lying through his teeth, as always—and your big, brave newspapers seem to know life is easier if they avoid discussing unpleasant facts about your recent political history. The sacking of Tait was an early case, from the first two years of the Clinton presidency. What happened when Republicans took control of the Senate? Their pious devotion to up-or-down votes only exists in McConnell’s mind, as we’ll continue to help you see when we move to Colorado tomorrow.

TOMORROW: Lynching Lyons