By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 28, 2006 10:06 AM
By now, you've probably heard way too much about the Red America blogging debacle at washingtonpost.com.
Well, most of you, anyway.
One major issue in the hiring (and subsequent ouster) of former Bush administration aide and RedState.com guy Ben Domenech was whether he was the right guy for the job. In light of the pattern of plagiarism that came to light, I think the answer is pretty clear.
A second major issue was whether hiring a conservative activist as a blogger was a reasonable stab at "balance" when there was no self-proclaimed liberal blogging away, as opposed to left-leaning journalists. I think that's a fair point, but I don't want to see washingtonpost.com or any other MSM outfit abandon efforts to include voices from the right.
And that brings me to the larger question: Do the hiring practices of big newspapers, magazines, networks and Web sites tilt toward people of the liberal persuasion, thereby requiring hand-wringing about intellectual diversity? At RealClear Politics, David Mastio chews on that one:
"You'd think from all the fury that this was the first time big media had opened up the door for somebody with thin journalism credentials and a strong political point of view. Of course, you'd be wrong. They do it all the time and, usually, they give the young politicos reporting jobs.
"The difference is that the beneficiaries are usually on the left and readers don't get a hint that the MSM newbees might have a history.
"Take Nicholas Confessore, for example: A few years ago, he was an editor at the left-leaning Washington Monthly. Before that he worked for the hard-left American Prospect. Now he's a supposedly unbiased reporter for The New York Times. Robert Worth, another staff writer for The New York Times was an editor in 98-99 at The Monthly. There are plenty of others.
"Washington Post music critic David Segal was an editor for the Monthly in 93-94. Katherine Boo, the investigative wiz for The Post was a Washington Monthly editor in 91-92, launching her Post career a little more than a year later.
"There is a literal conveyor belt from left-wing opinion journalism into straight news reporting and editing slots. The New Republic, The American Prospect and The Washington Monthly are the biggest suppliers. That opportunity simply isn't open to those on the right.
"Can anyone name for me a current New York Times or Washington Post reporter who was previously on the staff of National Review, The Weekly Standard or The American Spectator? No? Maybe that's because there are none."
But I would raise this counter-question: How many people from National Review, Weekly Standard or American Spectator have applied for reporting jobs at the NYT or WP?
My sense is this: Young people who go to the New Republic or Washington Monthly do so because it's a way to break into the business, and they then try to move up to bigger newspapers or magazines. At the Post or Times, they would generally be assigned to unglamorous metro jobs, be required to prove themselves as reporters and writers and then try to climb the ladder.
But do people at NR and the Standard want to become "straight" reporters, or do they go to those magazines because they want to practice opinion journalism? I doubt that Rich Lowry or Tucker Carlson (to take two who joined their respective magazines at a young age) aspired to cover Prince George's County for The Post. They put themselves on a punditry path. And if I'm right about that, how are MSM organizations supposed to recruit from such magazines?
I hope that more people with conservative, free-market or libertarian viewpoints decide to go into mainstream journalism to balance those of more liberal persuasions. But we can't force that to happen if that's not their goal.
LAT columnist Tim Rutten picks up on washingtonpost.com Executive Editor Jim Brady's comment to me "that he hired the young commentator because 'we were completely unrepresented by a social conservative voice.' Fair enough, but the fact is that washingtonpost.com also doesn't have a designated blue state voice, which lent a certain plausibility to the liberal bloggers' initial charge that Domenech was recruited to appease conservative critics who have been raging about the alleged liberal bias of [washingtonpost.com] staff writer Dan Froomkin's popular White House Briefing blog.
"Brady has denied that was his motive, but Domenech himself earlier wrote that 'Dan Froomkin is without question a lying weasel-faced Democrat shill.' (Their meeting would have made for one hell of an office Christmas party.)"
Is Congress actually going to pass an immigration bill?
"With Republicans deeply divided," says the New York Times , "the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Monday to legalize the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants and ultimately to grant them citizenship, provided that they hold jobs, pass criminal background checks, learn English and pay fines and back taxes.
"The panel also voted to create a vast temporary worker program that would allow roughly 400,000 foreigners to come to the United States to work each year and would put them on a path to citizenship as well."
But here's the key: "Any legislation that passes the Senate will have to be reconciled with the tough border security bill passed in December by the Republican-controlled House, which defied President Bush's call for a temporary worker plan."
It's not quite a Conservative Crackup, but David Frum says:
"My forebodings of a year ago seem to be taking on my reality every day: Immigration truly is emerging as an issue that can shatter the Republican party. The president is determined to thrust upon the party an amnesty/guestworker approach that is opposed by the overwhelming majority of the Republican rank-and-file. He has come to believe - and tells visitors to the White House - that party opposition to him is based on irrational fear, ignorance, and prejudice. (Just like Dubai! Or for that matter, Harriet Miers.)
"If anything were calculated to solidify the perception that this administration scorns the values and concerns of the ordinary Republican - if anything were designed to discourage ordinary Republican from turning out in November 2006 - it is what this administration is doing now. At a moment when the president needs his maximum strength to see his foreign policy through to success, he is gambling everything on a wager he cannot win. His version of immigration reform can only pass Congress with Democratic votes, and there is zero possibility that the Democrats will help him - but every likelihood that they will egg him on to incite a Republican civil war on the issue that most bitterly divides the president's party."
On the Moussaoui trial, television played up the first part but not the second:
"Taking the stand over his lawyers' protests, Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui declared Monday that he and Richard Reid, later arrested as the so-called shoe bomber, were slated to hijack a fifth airplane on Sept. 11, 2001, and fly it into the White House," says the Los Angeles Times .
"But Moussaoui's bombastic testimony -- seriously doubted by intelligence officials -- was immediately contradicted by the words of the captured Sept. 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who said in an interrogation read aloud in court that Moussaoui was too 'problematic' and unreliable to join the 19 hijackers on their suicide missions."
So he's committing suicide in the courtroom instead.
The NYT scoop on the Bush-Blair meeting in '03 has set the lefty blogosphere afire, and with less ambiguity than the Downing Street memo. Nation Editor Katrina van den Heuvel pulls no punches:
"Bush's mendacity in taking America into this illegal, unprovoked catastrophe is already well known. But it's still horrifying--especially on a day when the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq states that 'More Iraqis are dying from the militia violence than from the terrorists'--to read Bush's arrogantly ignorant prediction that it is 'unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.' (For the record, the British memo shows Blair agreed with Bush's assessment.)
"Today, American troops are an occupying force, inside a civil war, inside a militia struggle. It is time to get U.S. forces out of this untenable position."
Dick Polman has an unusually blunt posting about this (maybe because he's leaving the Philly Inquirer?):
"It's fact-checking time again. At a press conference last week, President Bush stated: 'I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong. . . . No president wants war. . . . I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the (U.N.) Security Council.'
"But he was not stating the facts. He did want war. And the evidence comes from his own allies, the British, in yet another revealing document from the files in London. . . .
"Contrast this memo with Bush's claim, on March 6, 2003, that 'I've not made up our mind about military action.' . . . Oh, wait . . . Here's one other line from the memo, a reference to the post-invasion conditions in Iraq. According to the memo, Bush predicted that it was 'unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups.' How's that forecast working out these days?"
Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum is appalled:
"Yes, that's the president of the United States talking about deliberately faking a UN overflight in order to provoke a phony confrontation with Saddam -- or if that didn't work, trotting out a defector to lie about Iraqi WMD. Honor and dignity, baby, honor and dignity."
But Captain Ed Morrissey pooh-poohs the whole thing:
"By January 31, Bush and Blair had already forced Saddam to allow Hans Blix back in the country for more weapons inspections, the purpose of which was to get the Iraqis to produce proof that they had destroyed their WMD stocks and equipment. That intermediate step came at the insistence of France, which wanted to delay consideration of the so-called 'second resolution' wanted by Britain as political cover.
"By the time Bush met Blair at the White House, Hans Blix had reported that the Iraqis would not cooperate with the inspections, only paying lip service to the inspectors. Now, thanks to captured notes of Iraqi meetings, we know that Saddam remained confident that his bribery of France and Russia (as well as their well-known economic interest in maintaining their contracts with the Saddam regime) would result in a stalemate at the Security Council over any resolution opening military force as a consequence of failure. . . .
"By this time, had the U.S. not had a plan for military action against Iraq, it would have been almost criminally neglectful. Why should it surprise anyone that two nations that faced war with Saddam Hussein would discuss the military strategy involved in that war?"
How 'bout this: The Guardian reported on the same memo six weeks ago.
A new congressional reform? Here's what the Wall Street Journal says:
"Amid broad congressional concern about ethics scandals, some lawmakers are poised to expand the battle for reform: They want to enact legislation that would prohibit members of Congress and their aides from trading stocks based on nonpublic information gathered on Capitol Hill.
"Two Democrat lawmakers plan to introduce today a bill that would block trading on such inside information. Current securities law and congressional ethics rules don't prohibit lawmakers or their staff members from buying and selling securities based on information learned in the halls of Congress."
Hmm . . . I don't put much stock in this one passing.
Katherine Harris isn't really spending all her money on her Florida Senate race, says TPM Muckraker .
Debra LaFave, whose claim to fame is seducing one of her 14-year-old students, now says she wants to be a journalist, prompting some thoughts from Tampa Tribune columnist Daniel Ruth (via Romenesko):
"There might be some suggestion that a woman with a checkered past, a host of legal problems, struggles with mental illness and a sexual history of Mata Hari-esque ill repute is disqualified from daring to enter the hallowed inner sanctum of a news organization.
"To which it might be suggested -- come on in, Deb, the water's fine. You'll feel right at home.
"Indeed, the Fourth Estate historically has been populated by so many drunks, nut cases, egotists, eccentrics, manic-depressives and preening poltroons, that if Lafave is looking for an environment that will allow her to fade into the woodwork, she'll find no better respite from infamy than journalism.
"To those who might get all huffy that Lafave is too morally challenged to flash a press pass, two words: Marv Albert."
Scalia knows how to make a grand gesture:
"U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia startled reporters in Boston just minutes after attending a mass, by flipping a middle finger to his critics.
"A Boston Herald reporter asked the 70-year-old conservative Roman Catholic if he faces much questioning over impartiality when it comes to issues separating church and state.
"'You know what I say to those people?' Scalia replied, making the obscene gesture and explaining 'That's Sicilian.'
"The 20-year veteran of the high court was caught making the gesture by a photographer with The Pilot, the Archdiocese of Boston's newspaper. 'Don't publish that,' Scalia told the photographer, the Herald said."
A spokeswoman for the court later insisted that Scalia had made a non-obscene gesture.
And now, Perkgate: First it was Dick Cheney and his need for Fox News-playing hotel rooms; now the Smoking Gun has obtained the 2004 demands of John Kerry. He needs a recumbent bike; no spicy food or anything containing tomato, citrus or chocolate; "bottled water must be everyplace that JK is"; "always have BOOST shakes on hand (vanilla, strawberry)"; the ability to order in-suite movies must always be turned on because such things make Kerry "very happy."
And then there's Teresa : She wants a Heavenly Bed; omelettes "with green veggies and/or goat cheese"; "flax bread--we may have to keep supply with us"; "peanut power butter--we will keep with us"; "grilled chicken Caesar salad--FRESH WITH LOTS OF GARLIC"; "limes--key limes if possible"; "veggies--preferably organic, not the precut ones"; plus . . . oh wait, I'm out of space.
If they had won, the White House chef would have had a long list of instructions.