Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Note to Our Readers

Well we've never scrambled so hard. Part of the reason is that it takes a lot of time to do the roundtable. But there's also the fact that we were less prepared this week.

But we're up and hopefully you'll find something worth reading.

The way the note works is that The Third Estate Sunday Review hangs around until this note goes up. That's Jim, Ava, Jess, Ty and Dona. And we're looking at some very tired people so we'll move quickly.

Our editorial focuses on Daniel Okrent. And thanks to Ava and C.I. who broke away for a bit to do a joint entry over at The Common Ills and found that TCI community members were upset by Okrent's op-ed. Like C.I., we wouldn't have even bothered to read it, had people not drawn our attention to it.

Thanks to Ava & C.I. While they were doing that and their TV review, we were working on a humorous piece about John Cloud. We was Ty, Dona, Jess and Jim plus Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude. And as Rebecca said as we were scratching our heads and stumbling around, "It's not as easy as it looks." And as Ty noted, we never again should attempt to do a humorous post without Ava and C.I. or Betty (Thomas Friedman is a Great Man) who also excells in humor. It's not as easy as it looks.

No one read Ava & C.I.'s review on The Simple Life. We'll read it later today. And Ava can come in and fix any typos. But we were all tired and wanting to be put to this to bed.

We wanted to do the roundtable last time. One reason we avoided it was C.I. felt some of our feelings on one topic discussed (read the roundtable) were too raw and fresh and that heated remarks might be made that we'd later wish we'd worded differently. Having now said our peace, we feel like we've let it go.

Our apologies for not having anything up at all early this morning. We weren't even aware that we hadn't posted things saved to draft. Ava and C.I. came back from their joint entries to advise us of that.

We thank Betty, Rebecca and the groovy Kat for their participation in the roundtable. We thank Rebecca for assisting on the blog highlight selection and for her help on the editorial and the John Cloud piece. We thank C.I. for roundtable and helping on the editorial. As well as, as always, for writing the TV review with Ava.

To readers waiting for "Dear Third Estate Sunday Review" we swear we'll have one up next week.

-- Jim, Dona, Jess, Ty and Ava.

Roundtable II

Our second roundtable and the topics range from the mainstream media, to blogs, to Paco. We're not kidding. The topic is the media and the participants are, from The Third Estate Sunday Review, Dona, Jim, Jess and Ty, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude and C.I. of The Common Ills. Ava, of The Third Estate Sunday Review, once again moderates the discussion.

Ava: "If it's Sunday and you're hearing something more than conventional wisdom passed off as insight, you're not watching Meet the Press." Jess wrote that and wanted me to read it at the top.

Jess: Because Ava's the 'moderator.'

Ava: We've got a lot of topics to deal with for our second roundtable and we'll start off with Rebecca (Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude). Judging by the e-mails, most readers of The Third Estate Sunday Review caught the piece C.I. and I wrote over at The Common Ills this week. To give background, in it, we noted an e-mail from someone claiming to know Brian Montopoli (aka Candy Perfume Boy). The e-mailer claimed that we'd joked about something that was actually a serious issue to Candy Perfume Boy. So, among other things, we wanted, C.I. and I wanted, to be clear that if we'd hurt Montopoli with a joke done as an aside (with no knowledge of his personal life), we could easily drop that from the "routine." Now Rebecca wrote a piece, which I loved, commenting on that and due to the amount of e-mails we're getting on the issue, I'd like to start with Rebecca.

Rebecca: Called something like "Brian Montopoli can still kiss my ass." You and C.I. were very clear that you were only speaking for you two. But the minute that went up, e-mails started coming in to my account about it asking if there was some sort of falling out. These were largely from people who've never e-mailed before so I question their "caring." But some people, like Sherry, who do e-mail me, were asking about it. So I wanted to do a "for the record" that this didn't come out of the blue, that everyone had a heads up to it and that I didn't have a problem with what you two wrote. I didn't, I don't. I disagree that Brian Montopoli should be treated differently but I do understand what you two are saying.

Jim: And I disagreed as well. Brian may be 'starting out,' he may be 'young,' but I think he's enough of a grown up and professional that he can be addressed in the same manner that anyone else could be. But all of us read the e-mail that came into our account, the person claiming Montopoli had been hurt personally, and as Rebecca pointed out in her piece, Ava and C.I. have been the ones coming up with those jokes, creating the whole Candy Perfume Boy persona, and if they felt they had hurt someone in passing, without meaning to, on an issue that they thought they were creating to be funny, then they had every reason to respond in any way they wanted.

Jess: Well let's be honest because there was a real disagreement about that e-mail. Ava wanted to deal with it here and I honestly don't feel that she was going to be allowed to deal with it here because we would have had all our voices weighing in. And we're not all in agreement on it.

Dona: Right because I'm with Jim on this, Brian is fair game. If Montopoli cried, I'm not shedding any tears. And I know that wasn't the point for Ava or for C.I. It wasn't, "Oh, we made someone cry!" It was, "We thought we were making something up and had no idea this was an issue." Ty and Jess were in agreement with Ava. So taking it to The Common Ills and handling it there made perfect sense to me because, like Jess said, it wasn't going to be dealt with here, not clearly. Because Ava would have had her say and then Jim or I would have added something to it and then Ty or Jess would've added something to it and it would have been very muddled.

Jess: Because, since we didn't all agree, it wasn't going to be easy to say, "Oh, this is Ava and C.I.'s space" the way we do on the TV review. This is something we all had a strong opinion on and it wouldn't have been clear.

Jim: But there were some e-mails coming in that Ty passed around where people were writing things like, "So this is the end of The Third Estate Sunday Review?" And no, it's not the end of it. We can disagree. We disagree all the time. If we broadcast one of these all night sessions, people would say, "Wow, you can really be rough on each other!" And we can. But we do all respect each other. And in terms of dynamics, I'm usually the one yelling the loudest about anything.

Ty: Then Dona.

Jim: Right because I will yell at about anything I care about and that includes disagreeing with Dona and since we're involved, she never feels like she has to hold back.

Dona: (Laughing) "You're full of shit, Jim" is the comment I make most Saturday nights.

Jim: Right.

Ty: To me, I could see it and say, "Too bad, Montopoli, get over it." But like when Ava and C.I. did their Ripa review, we were all reading over it and Dona said something about how if the daughters are so useless to the show, how about developing that? And Ava or C.I. said the daughters were child actors, they weren't the leads, and that they criticized the writing of the characters and the line one of them delivered and that's about as far as they were willing to go with child actors. So knowing that I could see where Ava was coming from when she passed around the e-mail about Montopoli and wanted us to address it.

Rebecca: Let me jump back in here because I haven't seen the e-mail, I've only heard of it from Jim and Dona. But my feelings were that since Ava and C.I. created Candy Perfume Boy, they were going to feel more responsible for it than the rest of us. And I wrote, and still feel, that because they created it, they're more inclined to be fond of Montopoli than the rest of us, but I didn't see it as this huge thing. I didn't see Montopoli being possibly hurt as a huge thing and I didn't see Ava and C.I.'s response as a huge thing. I understood where they were coming from and disagreed with them over Montopoli being like a child actor but I wasn't bothered by what they wrote and I support what was written. C.I., want to add anything?

C.I. (The Common Ills): For disclosure purposes, I think this topic is fine. But I've said everything I need to already.
And I think to zoom out of a close up on Brian Montopoli, we're left with the fact that a Cokie Roberts or a Mara Liasson or any other clown is much more important, and a worthy target, than someone learning the profession and trying to get a start.

Jim: Agree completely but he's not above criticism and that was stated by you and Ava which is why there's no problem on this end with what was written by you two or by Rebecca. I also thank it was a crank e-mail written by one of his friends as a prank.

Ava: Okay so I'm not accused of being a gatekeeper, which is our next topic, I want to make sure no one else wants to weigh in before we move on? Okay, no one does. Gatekeepers are a serious issue and that was the larger point of the entry that C.I. and I did. Jess and Ty were talking last time about circle jerks and how the press protects itself and I know they had some strong comments on that section of the entry.

Ty: To me, the mainstream press is one big gatekeeper. They're deciding what to write about, what to give attention to. And that's why if you're not of the predominant group or culture, you're often left on the side of the road with your thumb out saying, "Pick me up." Here's Adam Nagrouney, who didn't file stories on poverty during the election or on issues of concern to people of color, whining about nasty e-mails and nasty bloggers. To me, his actions have left a need for him to be called out.

Jess: Right because he's the star political reporter and he wasn't concerned with issues, he was concerned with a horse race. Ad Nags isn't even a good handicapper as we saw when he tried to cover the DNC chair race. The DNC chair, to focus there, that coverage was prompted by bad calls on his part and what he wanted. He didn't want Howard Dean for DNC chair, probably reflecting his inner circle rolodex, and you got that from every piece he filed. He gave Simon Rosenberg uncalled for attention. He missed that the vote for Donnie Fowler was a slap down on Martin Frost. Did he not grasp that or is Frost too connected to Ad Nags for him to be honest about what went down? Doesn't matter because if you read that piece, you honestly thought Donnie Fowler was a serious contender for the DNC chair.

Rebecca: Not if you read C.I. or me at the same time.

Jess: Right but here we had The Times chief political correspondent and he either can't see the writing on the wall or doesn't want to share it so he's missing the story completely. That's embarrassing for him and for the paper.

Dona: The answer would have been for him, as a reporter, to have covered all the candidates equally but he never did that.

Jim: He highlighted whom he thought the race was about and the danger for a reporter is that you're then going by your own predictions. In this case, he was dead wrong and all of his coverage for the DNC chair race is now laughable.

Ty: But to me, it goes back to the Democratic primaries as well because it's the same thing. People like Ad Nags didn't take Howard Dean seriously there either. And they played it like a horse race and it read like they were trying to manipulate readers into thinking a certain way.

Rebecca: I want C.I. to comment here!

C.I.: The press treats it like a horserace. Which means they have to create a dark horse and then have to tear down the dark horse. They do it every election cycle when they treat it as a horse race. I wasn't for Dean in the primaries, I was for John Kerry, but I did have friends who were for Dean and they felt he was unstoppable. Once the press gave the blessing to the Dean campaign, I advised everyone that he would be torn down. That wasn't to say, "Stop giving to Dean!" In fact, I advised one friend who was giving to the Dean campaign and the Kerry campaign to stop giving to the Kerry campaign because Dean was their guy. But it was to note that there would be a tearing down in the future.

Kat: Joni Mitchell: "Oh the power and the glory/ Just when you start getting a taste for worship/ They start bringing out the hammers/ And the boards/ And the nails."

C.I.: Exactly. And that's the title track off Mitchell's For the Roses before people e-mail me asking what was that song and where can they find it? But it's true. And when reporters treat a race for office as a horse race, they have to create conflict or they're writing the same piece during the entire campaign.

Jim: They could actually deal with the issues. But they don't.

C.I.: No, they don't. So they'll build up someone and then out of boredom, spite or just plain being fickle, they'll go on to tear the person down. This is not unique to this election cycle. And when Dean was crowned the front runner that far ahead of the primary, it was obvious that the press would take him down.

Jess: The same press that crowned him. And they had help with the hammer and the nails.

C.I.: In Iowa, yes.

Ava: Talk about Iowa.

C.I.: Me? Well, Iowa gets tremendous attention from the press and has record turnout each primary and we're always so surprised. We shouldn't be. Anyone can vote in Iowa. And some of the people, as Dan Kennedy noted in an op-ed in The Times, voting aren't from Iowa. They come in for various reasons, and they effect the results of the primary. It's something that you talk about in campaign politics classes but doesn't ever get serious attention from the press. Even Dan Kennedy's op-ed, which was a big thing for poli sci majors, didn't result in serious press during or after the Iowa caucus. But yes, that's an issue that one of my campaign politics professors noted years ago, called it "the dirty little secret the press never wants to talk about."
Instead, we get the story, "Iowa has spoken!" Yes, Iowa and people who possibly were bussed in to work for campaigns. But we never hear the second part of that sentence in the mainstream coverage. And if you study campaign politics, you're aware of it. If you read the papers, it's not dealt with.

Ty: I'm lost here, I don't know Dan Kennedy.

C.I.: He's a journalist. And he did cover the 2000 race. And he wasn't from Iowa but he did do what some do in Iowa which is to vote in their caucus. And he was honest about it. My understanding was he was attempting to highlight a real concern. And he was slapped down for it legally. I've got a copy of the op-ed and I'll e-mail it to you but I'm not comfortable speaking for Kennedy and I'm not comfortable summarizing it because what I remember more than the op-ed were the notes added by people as we all sent it around wondering if this meant that in 2004 we might finally get a more realistic picture. We didn't. We got Iowa has spoken. And the scream.

Betty (Thomas Friedman is a Great Man): The scream heard round the world as a result of sound editing stripping the crowd's reactions.

Jess: Which the press was happy to push, push, push, push. They took Dean out with the scream.

Ty: Don't forget that they did something similar, stripping away the crowd's enthusiastic response to Michael Moore, when Moore won the Oscar. In the clips that played after the Oscars, they took out the people's reactions.

Jim: And the watchdogs will scream about some photo being altered, and they should scream, but they treat this largely as an accident if they comment at all. Altering a photo isn't good journalism, altering the sound on a clip isn't good journalism.

Dona: Though anyone put on the spot would argue they were trying to 'enhance.'

Ty: Which is to 'highlight.' And they're so busy 'highlighting,' that they're not reporting.

Betty: Amy Goodman gets at that in her book Exception to the Rulers but I'm forgetting the passage. Help me out, somebody.

C.I.: The Times justified not noting an error in a report on anti-war protests by stating that it didn't require a correction. They had low balled the figure in an article by a reporter who wasn't even present for the actual event (she bailed early) and when asked about it, an editor at The Times said it wasn't an error it was a matter of emphasis. That's the shorthand version.

Betty: Right. They're emphasizing. And that'sreally not about "This is important, so pay attention." I mean, if that were the case, would we get the nearly daily reports on the Michael Jackson trial from The New York Times? No. Because that case doesn't warrent daily reporting. But it is about emphaising what they want you to focus on.

Jess: Often at the expense of something that's really going on. Which is why I hate the Sunday Chat & Chews.

Dona: Old pompous assholes speaking the same thing you've heard all the week in the mainstream. As opposed to young pompous assholes like ourselves! (Laughing.) But I mean, take what we opened with in this discussion. I agree with C.I., the topic is important only for disclosure reasons. But even so, there was no rush to all say, "Well we all agree Brian Montopoli is off limits in some areas because he is like a child star." We have real differences of opinion on that and we're not going to try to smooth it over and all smile and laugh. Those shows are so irritating and I can't take Cokie Clutch the Pearls Roberts.

Betty: Or the pass she's given. Saying that war's good for blacks because we always come out with more rights after it, or whatever looney thing she'd said. Or the "none that matter" quote about whether anyone in Congress was objecting to the war. "None that matter" is Cokie Roberts attitude as she plays gatekeeper. She's not the only one, she's just the most obvious.
And considering that's she's pimped for Wal-Mart without acknowledging her brother's connections to the company, why anyone would trust her is beyond me.

Ava: Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler has noted the press refused to seriously address the Not So Swift Floaties during the election. Does anyone hear think the press did anything worthy of praise during the election?

[Groans all around.]

Jess: As a Green Party member, you're not going to hear election coverage by the mainstream praised by me.

Kat: Or the fact that The Times elected to slam NOW for endorsing Carol Moseley Braun but they didn't slam anyone for endorsing Gephart or anyone else. What was that about? NOW's not allowed to endorse but unions can? It made no sense. It was embarrassing to read and if Gail Collins penned it, she should be ashamed of herself.

Ty: To me, that's the gatekeeper mentality that lets them think they can tear down an organization that endorses a candidate. Why shouldn't the National Organization for Women endorse anyone they want to? What business is it of The Times to rush in and say, "Stop it!"
It's not their business. But they think they can bully NOW. They didn't try to bully the unions.
Rebecca: Which goes to an attitude I've remarked on at my site that when it's a woman who disagrees with you, you can bully, you can intimidate, you can say, "Oh you are wrong! You are focused on the wrong thing!" and then you can justify with it, "I wasn't attacking."

C.I.: I will give the mainstream press praise for one thing this past election cycle and that's they finally used the correct term for people who vote everywhich way: swing-voter. They aren't "Independents." In the past, the press has been happy to pimp this notion. And the result has been an increasing removal from politics by the people with the justification of "Well I'm an independent." No, you're not. Some might say that you're someone who can't make up your mind. But you're not an independent, you're a swing voter. That's the poli sci term and that's the term that should have been used. There are independents. There are independent parties. Calling someone an independent, when they're a swing voter, allowed a lot of people to have an excuse to disengage from the democratic process. A topic comes up that they don't know about, but should, well just say, "Well I'm an independent. I don't vote for the party, I vote for the person." And you can smile smugly and feel good about yourself. But the reality is you are not, by poli sci defintion, an "independent." And, my opinion, the term was wrongly used by the press because the press doesn't understand politics. They can cover it but, as a whole, they don't understand it the way that someone who has studied poli sci does. And that term is something that wasn't correct and just seeped into the national membrane. This election cycle, they got it right. And they used the term enough that now the general public uses it. "Swing voter" is the term.

Jim: That was a damaging mistake on the press's part because who doesn't want to seem "independent." We're the Rebel Without A Cause nation. So when this false term is put out there, people latch onto it.

Ty: To me, it's not about the press misunderstood the term. It's about the press has actively assisted the disengagement of the public from the issues that impact their lives.

Betty: Which I agree with and I know that people, apethetic people, I know who would identify as "independent" loathe the term "swing voter." No one wants to be called wishy washy. But if you vote for the person, not the party, often what you're saying is you're voting personality and not issues. And that's not to push membership in the Democratic Party which really needs to start getting back to their base issues and discussing poverty and unions.

Kat: And stop backing away from a fear of being identified as the party of African-Americans, or the party of workers, or the party of choice, or the party supporting human rights.

Jim: In this crowd, you won't find anyone who thinks the Democratic Party deserves a pass for their actions over the last decade and a half. And our Harry Reid piece last week got a reaction from some readers of "How dare you attack Harry Reid!" How dare you not? He's now saying that the plan to destroy Social Security has been stopped but it's only because people pushed him that he did anything.

Dona: Which is true of every politician. You know, make me better. Make me live up to the office. Personally, I think Harry Reid's needed more prompting and hand holding than 'leadership' should ever need.

Ava: Let's go back to Rebecca's earlier comments about how some feel they can attack. You're talking about playing gatekeeper, right?

Rebecca: Yeah. You don't get your way, so you think you can stomp your feet and scream and yell. Or try to bully. And then when called on it, you can't be honest about what you did. I'm being vague here because I know C.I. doesn't want to discuss this and wants to take the high road. But to slap down C.I. or the Common Ills community because they didn't want to come to your party is just nonsense. And I attempted to respond one on one to that nonsense and got some sort of snide remark posted about me. I haven't read it. But if you're focusing on one aspect of something that is a part of a larger issue, maybe you're the one who needs to look at yourself. And if you're only doing seven entries a week, I get seven in a good week myself, maybe the last thing you need to do is to try to slap down a community that addresses more issues than you ever do.

C.I.: I'm going to jump in here because I do appreciate what Rebecca's saying. At The Common Ills, we didn't comment on this. And just today on the phone, I had a friend telling me, "You need to comment on it!" She works for a magazine and is a private friend, so I won't out her. But her line of reasoning was that we need to defend ourselves. And I get her point. But my issue on this is that a blog fight, from two factions on the left, is the last thing anyone needs. The person wrote their feelings. The community is displeased with that, the e-mails continue to come in on that, but there are real issues to address and turning over limited time and limited space to this means we, at The Common Ills, are going to miss something else that we should be talking about. We're obviously speaking of Ron of Why Are We Back In Iraq? and I'm looking at it as he was very passionate about an issue, had pulled all nighters and would normally choose a different tactic or different wording. It happens when you're passionate about something and I don't feel that it needs to be dwelled on. I did work on a reply that I saved to draft because I wanted to avoid responding in similar terms. And I really think, today, that the whole thing was worthy of a shrug at best. Others can, and many do, feel differently.

Kat: "I guess in times like these, you know who you're friends are." Tori Amos. "Taxi Ride" from Scarlet's Walk. And I do feel that way still. I feel like a wonderful community that is concerned with so many important issues got slapped down and I'm still very upset about it.

C.I.: And this is a perfect example of how we're not playing gatekeeper because everyone here knows my feelings on the subject, how I'd prefer to avoid this entire topic, but here we are addressing it.

Jess: Well Jim's silent.

Jim: Because that made me so furious and I'm still angry over it.

Rebecca: As am I.

Jim: We're all Common Ills members and we know a little more about the community than the person writing did. And maybe the person writing should have gotten some information before writing.

Rebecca: Which is the point I made at my blog and in private e-mails to one person. Which resulted in some sort of snide remark like, "Oh I should be writing about Ireland?" or something. Sherry read it, I asked her to go to the site, and relayed it to me. Well yeah, you should be writing about things that no one else is going to emphasize.

Jim: And in the case of Ireland, I can think of only The Common Ills and CounterPunch that took the time to say, "Uh, what the fuck is this beating up on Sinn Fein really about?"

C.I.: On that, Dominick and Krista and Eli, who were the members that were addressing it at The Common Ills along with myself, all felt that we'd said our peace and that the press wasn't going to follow up. They'll hop back on it due to the upcoming elections. But it was open season for a short period. We'd said what needed to be said and we'll say it again but we never felt that the story had traction. Which it didn't.

Ty: Which is the press not reporting on an issue but trying to manipulate people.

C.I.: And I would agree completely with that. The desire for, my opinion, copyrights and business interests merged with other desires to potentially sink a nation's relative peace that had not been achieved easily and I thought of the Joni Mitchell line from "Three Great Stimulants" --

Kat: "Wouldn't they like their peace, don't we get bored." From the Dog Eat Dog album.

C.I.: Exactly. They were throwing matches at a powder keg.

Rebecca: And that was something that didn't get traction in the blogs. Only a few people wanted to even address it. The administration changes the stance on Ireland and the press bends over backwards to create it as the new big bad.

Ty: The manufacturing of consent, as Noam Chomsky has called it.

Ava: When you're addressing a topic like that, do you worry?

C.I.: Me? You're talking about the shut-up e-mails, right? Well I can be wrong. I often am. So when I get those e-mails saying, "You don't need to talk about this!" my reaction is, "Your reaction means I do need to." You may not like my opinion but I didn't just wake up and say, "Oh, this is what I'll write about." I did study Ireland as an emphasis for my degrees, I did seek out reporters on the ground over there and I did call up college professors before a word went up on the site. Now whether I was right or wrong, who knows? But the community was interested in it and we didn't build up to what we are to turn away from something that might be seen as breaking from the pack. But some bloggers felt the need to e-mail that I was destorying my personal credibility by speaking out on that issue. I have other things to do in my life and if I'm going to spend time on TCI, it's going to be because when there's silence on an issue, we aren't afraid to step in and address it. If that destroys my "credibility," that's fine with me.

Rebecca: I hate it when bloggers write and tell me what I "should" be focusing on. Does anyone else get those e-mails besides me and C.I.?

Ava: All the time and not just on TV programs that we should review.

Betty: I get e-mails from Luke of wotisitgood4 that are nice e-mails and that's the only blogger other than you guys that has ever written me. But I'm writing in my own little world, really. I mean my site is a parody site and, obviously, I'm working from a storyline so I doubt many people go there that don't care about the storyline.

Rebecca: Well you run a great site and consider yourself fortunate not to get the e-mail lectures.

Ava: Which you've written about before.

Rebecca: Yeah, about men who write in an tell me I shouldn't talk about sex or I have a nasty mouth. One guy said, "You must have a nasty vagina." And I thought, "Wait a second, dude, you're lecturing me on my sex talk and then you offer that?" But the point is, and I've written a few female bloggers, there seems to be this attitude that if you're a female blogger, it's open season. Any guy can come along and tell you, "Don't write that!" I did a piece disagreeing with Maureen Dowd about the need for women to be mentored by men and I still disagree with that. But I'm understanding more now where she was coming from in that column because I'm sure she gets "helpful" e-mail that [Paul] Krugman, [David] Brooks or Betty's 'husband' [Thomas Friedman] never gets. They seem to think they're going to teach the 'little lady' how to drive a car or something. It's bullshit. If you've already got your space, focus on that and don't rush over to tell me how I can be "better" which is really just telling me to care about and focus on what you do.

Kat: I love that Rebecca doesn't take that crap. I'm not online going site to site every minute of every day. There are days when I don't even turn on the computer. But when I do, I go to Rebecca's site because she's going to speak in her voice. And I think that the blogs that have come out of The Common Ills and certainly The Common Ills itself have spoken in their own voices. There's a guy, that I don't believe has been mentioned and I'll be nice and not name him as I mention him now, but he writes the most erratic blog. I go there once a week for a laugh.
He's a Democrat. And he's constantly trying to fit with whatever the conventional wisdom is.
The entries read like an apology for previous ones.

Jim: I know who you mean because we've spoken of him, Kat, and I agree. He's the Thomas Friedman of the net. Always got a finger in the air trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing. I don't visit him because what's the point?

Dona: Have a point. Have a point of view. Ava and C.I. wrote about that in the entry on gatekeepers. We may disagree with your opinion, but we'll respect that you voiced what you believe in. Too many people seem to take marching orders or try to determine which way the wind is blowing. And Thomas Friedman is a fucking asshole. His columns read one after another would challenge Nicholas Kristof's title of the most wishy-washy.

Jim: Which isn't to say no one should say, "I got this wrong" or "I might be wrong." But it is saying that you don't support the war today and speak out against it tomorrow and find you way back to support for it next week. If your opinion is that malleable, why are you even bothering to write it down?

Ty: It's like your chasing a trend.

Jim: Exactly.

Jess: And it infects the reporting, not just the op-eds. You saw it in the cheerleading for Colin Powell's U.N. speech before the war. That wasn't reporting. The presentation cribbed from a student's paper, provided audio clips whose translations were questioned, provided footage that could be interpreted any number of ways, but the reporters, not just the op-ed writers, were too busy shaking their pom-poms to be reporters.

Ty: No one wanted to break from the pack. Group think.

Jess: "The emperor has no clothes on, no clothes on, he doesn't want to know what goes on . . ."
Carole King "One Small Voice." Don't know the album [title].

Kat: Speeding Time.

Jess: Thank you.

Ava: Jumping off topic for a minute, there were a number of e-mails this week happy that Jess knew Carole King's song "Legacy" (from her album City Streets) but wondering how he knew.

Jess: I'm just that smart! I know everything!

Ava: The general guess was that your parents must be huge Carole King fans.

Kat: Jess paid attention because Slash performed with Carole King in the live concert PBS carried back in the nineties.

Jess: Oh my God!

Kat: I'm right?

Jess: Yes. My parents are huge fans of Carole King and I did grow up hearing Really Rosie over and over and over.

Kat: Really Rosie is the soundtrack to the animated cartoon. Lyrics by Maurice Sendak, from
his children's books, and music by Carole King.

Jess: Yes. And I heard the other albums, like Tapestry. I wasn't even ten-years-old, it was a Saturday, and Mom and Dad were gathering us all in front of the TV to watch the Carole King concert. I remember Slash coming on and playing guitar like some mad man and, I don't think I really knew Slash, I remember that he played guitar great and I paid attention as a result. And on City Streets, one of the guitar players working with Carole King, for two songs, was Eric Clapton.

Kat: That concert, to save C.I. from any e-mails, is available on CD as In Concert or Carole King In Concert.

Ava: Back to gatekeepers.

Jim: Well, you and C.I. made the point that here are these whiney professional journalists saying, "You're so mean!" And there's a line I loved about how "We'd like you if you were nicer" and right after you two type, "Right back at you!"

Dona: I loved that line! And the points were valid. Here are these two whiners whining about the public, either via e-mails or blogs, holding them accountable and they're saying, "Well, I guess it's okay to do that, but it nicely." Why?

Ty: When are they nice in reviews in their own papers?

Kat: Never. I was glad to see that C.I. and Ava noted the Tori Amos "book review" that was a one paragraph slam at Tori and what she stands for, ridiculing her. And The New York Times printed that. But somehow it's wrong to apply that same sort of talk to The New York Times' Adam Nagourney? I don't think so.

Betty: But they aren't used to be critiqued, they are used to be congratulated. Patted on the back by their peers and not held accountable. That's why they don't care for an Amy Goodman who comes along and points out the flaws in their reporting.

Jess: As Bob Somerby says, they're too busy going to the same parties and being part of the same circle to do their job.

Betty: Or trading access for integrity.

Jess: Which is why Bob Somerby can write about one of them rushing over to show off their new car to Colin Powell. I mean that's pretty disgusting.

Jim: And what they were doing, the two whiners, was saying, "Write like we want you to write and you can have a place at the table." Why would you want to have a place there? I may be quoting your entry.

Ava: I think you are, but go on.

Jim: The mainstream press, as a whole, has spent years ridiculing blogs and now they make these statements trying to co-opt blogs. Saying, "Write this way because that's how it's done."
No, that's not how it's done. It's done by anyone writing the way they want to write. And you may be able to play gatekeeper via The New York Times, but you're going to have to realize that you're control is a lot more limited than you think it is.

Ava: I'll add to that, one of the reporters was with The Washington Post.

Dona: One of the whiners. And the point you two made about how there was enough conformity in the mainstream without it seeping into the blogs was a good one. I don't know that they're scared, but I do think they're pissed off and not used to the criticism.

Kat: Which I'd back up. I criticized, strongly, journalists who reviewed albums in these clinical, "historical" terms and boy did I hit a nerve as various reviewers rushed in to slam me for saying that.

Rebecca: Exactly and I'm hopping in here because on my site this week, I noted that a really important point got cut out of the first roundtable.

Betty: The thing about the new rock stars!

Rebecca: Yeah, nobody seems to know when that got cut or why.

Ava: For the record, we're not cutting from this. What you're reading is a full transcript. In the earlier roundtable, we noted that it had been edited. And a number of readers wanted the Unplugged version. It doesn't exist anymore or we'd be happy to post it. But we made the decision on this one that what ever got said went in regardless of how long it was.

Betty: So hello to readers who made it this far!

Ty: Or congratulations!

Rebecca: But to pick up on that, the point is that they're whining because they aren't used to this kind of attention and they should honestly be flattered. We know their bylines. If they're getting slammed, then there's a reason for it. Maybe with the person slamming or maybe with the journalists themselves. But they're getting a great deal of attention and their reaction is, "Oh, how could you!"

Ty: Someone had said last time that they were the new rock stars. And C.I. had said that some of them were that and some of them were the new "shlock stars." The new Barry Manilows or Celine Dions.

C.I.: Well we do know their bylines. We have paid attention. And maybe even noting a bad writer helps literacy rates in this country? But, yes, for good or for bad, they're getting the kind of attention that rock stars got in the sixties and seventies, and comedians got in the late seventies, etc. If Elisabeth Bumiller isn't happy being the Samantha Fox of her set, maybe she needs to address that via her writing? If Adam Nagourney isn't happy being the Paco of the press set, maybe he needs to work on his reporting?

Kat: Paco! I love it.

Betty: And from a news consumer point of view, the criticism is important. Rebecca's talked about how we need to be more informed news consumers and we do need to be. I buy a dishwashing detergent not because everyone says Dawn is the best but because Dawn is the one that works best with the water I have in my area to clean my dishes. By the same token, the "brand" of The New York Times doesn't mean that the writers are any good. Or that all or up to the "brand"'s reputation. The public needs to have access to criticism and they can decide for themselves if it's accurate or not but they need more voices not less.

Ty: And like C.I. pointed out awhile back, Bob Somerby has compiled this great resource. He's done a wonderful service for our times, but he's also created this amazing resource that can be used if and when papers start owning up to their past mistakes and trying to fly the usual "We had no criticism in real time but now, looking back, we can see that it was a mistake." You did have real time criticism and you ignored it.

C.I.: Or dismissed it.

Jess: I'm looking at the clock and knowing we've got other things to do so I'm going to grab the last word here. The gatekeeper bullshit has to stop. That's with the mainstream, that's with the blogs. With the blogs, write about what you're interested in. Speak with your own voice. Don't try to accommodate Ad Nags or any other professional, established journalist. And don't cover a story or topic because everyone else is doing it. Be brave and go to the areas that not everyone is covering.

Editorial: The Oak rots from the root

So little Danno Okrent, Okrot as Kat calls him, felt the need to weigh in on the Israel & Palestine issue in today's jottings. The headlines screams "The Hottest Button: How the Times Covers Israel and Palestine." And it never gets deeper than the headline.

But a few things to note, Danny's finally addressing the issue as he prepares (thankfully) to depart from the paper as public editor. Seventeen months after he started, he's "dealing" with the issue. How do we know it's seventeen months later? He tells us that one reader (only one) has written him "164 times (as of Friday) over the past 17 months" on this issue. He tells you that an article on the topic "cannot appear in The Times without eliciting instant and intense response."

Help us out, Okrot, what was your job? Oh, yes, to deal with readers' concerns and issues regarding the paper's coverage. And from your own breezy op-ed, we learn that this is an issue that you've been asked to addressed for seventeen months and that you get e-mails on anytime The Times covers the issue (which is pretty much daily). So help us out, why did it take seventeen months for you to address it?

And having decided to address it (finally), it's awfully strange that when you do pull yourself away from talk of your vacations to address this, you don't deal with the real issues.

Rob and Kara wrote about it at The Common Ills. With their permission, we're reprinting their comments in full.

Rob & Kara's Report on the coverage in the New York Times of Israelies and Palestinians

Rob & Kara: Having agreed to take a look into the New York Times reporting on Israelies and Palestinians, we had no idea of the rabbit hole we were going down. Our large conclusion is that the reporting tilts towards Israel three out of four times. This appears to result from systematic issues at the paper and not out of malice.
*When reporting on deaths in the regions, Israeli deaths and injuries pop up as stand alone stories. If today at three o'clock, seven Israelies are killed, that's a story the New York Times will run and they will only write of that.
*When reporting on the deaths of Palestinians, the New York Times is three times as likely to add a paragraph or two about about Israelis killed in an incident prior even if that means dropping back a few days to find an incident.
*When reporting deaths in the region, direct quotes are supplied by those in the Israeli government. Palestinians, average ones, who may witness an incident, are referred to but direct quotes are not printed from them. This may be the reliance on official sources pattern at the New York Times. Regardless of the reason, the only official voice of the Palestinians the paper chooses to give weight to is Mahmoud Abbas. Prior to his election, while Yasser Arafat was ill and in the time before Abbas died, the Palestinians were left without an official voice recognized by the paper and as such were largely rendered silent. The New York Times should address this issue.
*Humanitarian activits speaking the truth about what is or is not on ambulances are not advocates for Palestinians or Israelies and should not be presented as such. When the paper lets them respond to charges against them by officials in the Israeli government, that appears to pass, for the paper, as balance. It is not balance. The paper has presented the charge from officials in Ariel Sharon's governments of complicity in aid of the Palestinians on the part of relief workers. While humanitarian advocates should be allowed to respond to such charges, so should Palestinians.
*Abbas is one official source recognized by the paper against many official sources from the Sharon government. The paper should realize the flaw in this pattern and make efforts to either find other official sources for the Palestinians or else to (and we recommend this) stop relying solely on official sources. We find no other area in international coverage where the citizens are so rarely quoted. While the New York Times should increase the voices of the people across the board, that is especially the case when it comes to Israelies and Palestinians because eye witness accounts seem to be trumped by official lines (on both sides).
*In the lead up to the election, only Abbas was highlighted in a serious manner. The paper may see that as "we focused on the winning horse!" and pat themselves on the back. That would be a mistake. Other contenders represented other elements of the Palestinians and should have been highlighted. By not doing so, the people were treated in a simplified manner. In addition, some potential contenders may become important to history at some point due to the long history of conflict and attention given to this conflict. The paper would have better served the readers by detaling each candidate.
*Abbas's clothing choices were the least important aspect of his campaign; however, to read the coverage, you'd assume that fashion had as much to do with his eventual win as anything he stated. The coverage of Abbas, while treated in a nondismissive manner, leaves much to be improved upon. New York Times readers who read each piece leading up to the election were woefully underinformed as to what he stood for and what he had done in the past. Should Abbas remain in power half as long as Araft, this lack of attention to Abbas from the start will have seriously damaged our understanding of not just who the man is but what the prospects for this continued conflict are.
*Dissidents from both sides remain invisible in the paper's coverage. This is especially noteable in the coverage of the "wall" which continues to be reported in this manner: the paper recoginizes Sharon or some other official from his government and quotes them, the paper then may mention the UN judgement on the wall, and then we're told that nameless and faceless people (on both sides) will be effected. This is not reporting that increases a reader's understanding of the issues involved.
*We are not prepared to charge (nor are we at present charging) the paper with favorable bias towards Israelies over Palestinians. However, the paper is predisposed to utilize what they recognize as official sources. That should change. But if and until it does, the paper needs to make stronger efforts to seek out official sources from the Abbas government.
For our research, we looked at all news stories reported from the region for the months of September to February 15th. Focusing on stories from the region exempted the coverage of Arafat who was outside the region. We will note, however, that if the reporting on Arafat (including the coverage of his death) are noted, the picture is much bleaker. Since we were not greately impressed with any sense of fairness in any of the mainstream media's reporting on Arafat's death, we elected to exclude the coverage on Arafat that came from outside the region.
However, as a matter of historical record (something the New York Times attempts to provide which often leads to it over-reliance on official sources), we will note that superficial reasoning often passed for deeper examination.

Rob and Kara weren't hired by the paper to address this issue. They weren't hired by The Common Ills to address it. They addressed it on their own time for no payment. But Okrent, paid to do so and given a full time assistant, somehow manages to miss that there is a bias in the coverage and it's the reliance on official sources. When the paper only recognizes one "official" source from the Palestinian side, yet freely quotes from the Sharon government, you're not getting a full picture of the leadership. You're also not getting a full picture of the citizens.

Having waited seventeen months to address the issue, Okrent should have realized the problem of official sources. That he didn't (and Okrent and/or his assistant Arthur Bovino has/have read The Common Ills) is one example of how he gives superficial answers to challenging questions on those rare times that he deigns to address the issues readers are raising.

You'll also note that he didn't address the coverage of the Palestinan election. Considering that it happened under his beat, that's surprising. Until you realize that he's yet to seriously address domestic election coverage in his little op-eds.

Simplistic answers about newspapers from the magazine writer who's made a point to heap scorn on the reader. Okrent won't be missed.

TV Review: The Simple Life

"Where the hell are we?" is the last thing you hear as the opening credits end at the start of Fox's "reality" show The Simple Life. If you've missed the show, let's us put you wise, hell is apparently portable and seems to follow Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie around.

If you haven't seen the show, it stars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie who attempt to pass themselves off as both modern day debs and humans. We're not sure which is the harder to swallow. And we swear, when we sat down to watch the show and make our notes, we had no idea that offscreen drama would put the show in the newspapers. Call it synchronicity. (But don't call it synergy!)

Actually, it's called The Simple Life 3: The Interns. And the joke here is that Paris & Nicole have to get jobs or learn skills beyond bitchiness.

Nicole is the obvious bitch. Let's not mince words here. She has no problem insulting anyone to their face. This episode, it's the firemen. But only with uber bitch Nicole standing next to her, does Paris come off "sweet." And we'll deal with Paris solo shortly.

Spoiled rich girls learning about the real world is supposed to be funny. We didn't laugh much. We did laugh when Paris & Nicole, for a human interest angle, attempted to find friends for the young girl they're living with. Even before the news broke late in the week that Paris wanted Nicole's ass like-so-out-of-here!, we found the idea that these two could help anyone pick out a friend laughable.

They're mean spirited women who really enjoy being mean spirited, Nicole more openly so. And we're sure it's a kick for people to watch these spoiled brats try to learn about reality.
But in this episode, they talk their way into a free hotel stay (with "jacuzzi tub" -- these women aren't as classy as Hilton's last name wants so desperately to suggest) -- an out that most people wouldn't have.

We also didn't chuckle as they blew off CPR training to take beefcake photos of firemen. Granted, the team's probably splitting up, but with Nicole Richie's documented past drug problems and both of their reported wild partying, CPR might be a skill that would come in handy in the future?

The most frightening thing for us was thinking that young viewers watching might think, "This is how to act. Paris & Nicole act this way and they were raised well, right?"

If nothing else, The Simple Life demonstrates that "money" and "good breeding" do not go hand in hand. Older viewers will probably get that point. Younger viewers will probably be salivating over the day when they too can wear push up bras, march around in stilettos and bark out orders like, "Take off your damn pants!"

Looking like a troll doll with better hair, Nicole steals every scene because she's not whispering her malice, she's proudly proclaiming it. This isn't a "You think you better than me?" performance. This is "I'm so goddman much better than you, you should lick my pointy heels!" And you never doubt that she means it.

Paris, on the other hand, comes off like a giggling fraud trying to play innocent. She's always cooing words like "wow" or "sweet." As if that's going to erase anyone's memories of her X-rated porn tape. Around others, she's practically a wide-eyed ingenue. Put her alone with Nicole and you start to wonder if she's not calling all the shots, egging Nicole on to be even badder than her own bad self?

Nicole's attitude is pure cocktail waitress in a dive located just outside of Vegas. It's as though Bea Arthur was starring in Showgirls and not Elizabeth Berkley. And in the week that Paris has taken to the press to state that Nicole is not her friend, Nicole will not be on the next installment of this series, and that Nicole knows what she did, we had to wonder if the show could exist without Nicole? (We also had to wonder exactly what Nicole did? Is she the one who stole Paris' cell phone?)

The show selling point is watching the two idiots fail at the real life, over and over. And without nasty Nicole, we don't think it would have lasted this long. While Nicole is obviously trashy, Paris gets a pass. Think about your school days. You'll probably remember a team of trouble makers. (Maybe you were one of them?) And how a teacher always focused on one. Only one got called out -- the one who didn't look as cute and had the family a little lower on the scale than the other. That's Nicole Richie. Competing with the illusion of the Hilton family, Nicole Richie can't come out on top. And various adults on the show fall for Paris' act and find her an innocent and sweet airhead. (Maybe she does have an acting career ahead in her future?) But anyone watching closely can see that Paris is calling the shots and treating Nicole like the hired help -- expecting her to take care of everything.

So when Nicole wonders, for instance, "What are we going to say to the family tomorrow?" for not coming home (the family they're staying with) and not calling, Paris says "We'll just make something up." But when the moment arrives, it's Nicole that's left to make something up (claiming "there was a huge fire, we were rescuing people"). Puppet master Paris prefers to pull the strings and not get her own hands dirty.

We don't see Paris, safely on the side lines reclining (she's practically a landlocked mermaid in the episode we saw), able to carry this show. Without Nicole, will anything happen? Without a designated fall guy, is Paris going to be interesting on her own?

We don't think so. We thought the show was ridiculous. (We'd love to see a show about the truly wealthy that embarrassed them. But then the truly wealthy have no need to do reality shows.) But The Simple Life is in its third year. It's survived in spite of Paris' sex tape, Nicole's rehab visit and standards of good taste.

Can it survive without Nicole Richie? We don't think so. Paris' sheep dog hairdo conceals her eyes, but she's so busy hiding from the camera anyway that most may not notice. Nicole is proudly in your face, staring the camera full on, not looking off to the side blankly.

There's a moment of reality in the non-reality show. When Paris and Nicole interview prospective friends for the nine-year-old girl they are living with, they ask various questions.
One question that Nicole asks a prospective friend, "Do you ever talk behind your best friend's back?" Without pausing, the girl replies, "Oh yeah." Giggling, Paris gushes, "You can be our best friend." It's a totally believable moment and one that last week's press reports only enhanced.

"It's no big secret that Nicole and I are no longer friends. Nicole knows what she did, and that’s all I'm ever going to say about it."

Whether she's out or not, the show needs Nicole. Paris apparently saves her trashiest moments for private cams. This show is nothing but trash. It must be the only thing that's carried it through three seasons because it has nothing else going for it. We don't see people relating to this show because they can identify with Paris & Nicole's lives. We don't see them watching to see Paris' body (not when the Paris Hilton Tape is so readily available). What we saw was a great deal of trash. The show, like Nicole, wears it proudly. If you haven't checked it out and this is your type of show, you'll probably enjoy it.

We didn't. At one point, Paris & Nicole don't want to attach a hose to a hydrant because it's like-all-covered-with-dog-pee. Covered with dog pee? That's the feeling watching the show left us with.

Parody: Post-Its from the desk of John Cloud

Who is John Cloud? The Time writer now infamous for scribbling the mash note cover story to
the never-was Ann Coulter? With that question in mind, we brewed some tea and studied the leaves hoping to find clues.

Post-Its from the desk of John Cloud.

Remember that we're looking for a title like "Michael Savage: The Wiener Man Cometh It" and that the cover will be shot from a low angle, with Savage's legs spread and a stuffed crotch, so be sure to include adjectives and descriptions to back up the theme!

You're money, baby. Remember to say that repeatedly throughout the day.

Too many people are calling me the fat Clay Aiken. Note to self, take the stairs, not the elevator.

She's annoying and if I hear her bitch about the cover one more time, I'll scream. But call her back because she's providing me with all my witty lines about David Brock. As criticism continues to mount, I will need more.

Stop being dicked around by the guys in archives. Need to have my August 22, 2004 valentine to the young conservatives removed before someone notices it and starts questioning not just my journalistic methods but possible partisan motivations. Do not go to mid-level! Take it to the top! Even if that means calling on Mickey Mouse himself!

Mickey Mouse hard to reach. But at least get them to delete this sentence from my August 22, 2004 article:
"What does a woman REALLY want?" asks a flyer promoting a 2000 speech at the University of Delaware by conservative Michelle Easton. The answer: "Husband. Children. Picket Fence." A 2001 flyer for an Ann Coulter talk at Cornell depicts the Confederate battle flag (Coulter, the angular, clamorous polemicist, is one of YAF's most popular speakers).

Continue prank calls, show the little pisher he can't fuck with the big boys and get away with it!
The Water Cooler's supposed to be a bunch of softball questions! Suzie Q. did it Friday. Next time only speak to CJR Daily if I can get Suzy Q!

Brunch at John Stossel's. Remember I'm down for the O.J. Print e-mail as proof in case dopey
Anita Bryant fucks up and forgets what she's supposed to bring again.

Talked to shrink about line about Ithaca College from August 22nd article. Could it get me into trouble? "You don't have to spend much time at the college to see that liberals run the place."

Ann Coulter just passed on that Nightline is strongly interested in her co-hosting with Jake Tapper and that I would make a great panelist. Says there could be Bush money involved. Remember not to make anymore cracks about her Adam's apple, this is money!

The mock up issue with the phoney cover story "Candy Necklaces Cause Mouth Cancer" is printed up and waiting to be delivered to Montopoli. Oh to be a fly on the wall when he sees the cover!

Blog Spotlight: The Common Ills on the issue of the Ann Coulter cover

Our choice for this week's spotlight is The Common Ills entry "Ann Coulter: Time put an aging "sex bomb" on the cover -- tick, tick." We asked C.I. if there was anything that needed to be prefaced or added to the entry?

C.I.: I tried to walk everyone through slowly but in an e-mail to Luke, wotisitgood4, after, I realized that I may have failed. A cover means something in the celeb world, and Coulter is a minor celeb. It's part of setting your "quote." It allows your price to be upped, for instance, Coulter can now ask for more money for speaking engagements because she's now "Ann Coulter as seen on the cover of Time." The other thing it does is mainstream. Whereas Newsweek or any other general interest magazine might not have thought of Coulter as a cover subject, and she's not, now any discussion will include someone noting, "Well, Time did put her on the cover." She has now been mainstreamed. I'm not sure that anyone reading the entry gets that. I note that Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler and Media Matters have been among the people doing great work on the story/profile (by John Cloud) that comes with the cover. I've read their critiques with great enjoyment. I wouldn't have weighed in when community member Larry wrote in were it not for the fact that he was asking a question that really wasn't being explored, which was "Is Coulter a cover?" That's an important question in the celeb world. Getting a cover ups your "quote." It also, on any magazine, gives you an illusion of heat no matter how your career lacks it. So the cover is a very big deal within that context. Others are focusing on Cloud's text and doing a great job so had that been Larry's question, I would've referred him to those resources. But since no one was writing about it from the terms of the "cover," I felt I'd address that. A lot of times, you pick up a magazine and you don't grasp the negotiations that have resulted in the cover. Demi Moore, an example I cited in my e-mail to Luke, has the now infamous nude Vanity Fair cover (back when she was pregnant). And someone picking up that issue might assume Demi agreed to the cover and posed for that shot and then it was put on the magazine. That's not what happened. Demi (and her people) wanted the cover of Vanity Fair.
And needed it. The photos posed for didn't get the cover. Moore's people were told she was not going to be the cover of that issue. At which point, it was decided that they would give Van Fair permission to run shots from a private session that were originally intended only for the Willis & Moore family album. That's where the cover shot the world now knows came from.
So to enter the discussion on that topic, I needed to find a way "in" and a topic everyone wasn't already underlining. For me, the cover was a way into the topic.
On the simplest level, she will now forever be known as "Time magazine cover woman, Ann Coulter" which gives her a legitimacy in every write up anyone does on her. On a more complex level, there are standards and conventions (most of them sexist) that go into celeb cover at a general interest magazine. On that space, you're marketing (in a "Pick me up! Buy me!" manner) the magazine. "Not a cover" is used all the time to nix a celeb cover and they're operating by the rules in place (which, again, are sexist). For some reason, Time elected to toss those rules out for Coulter. And that's confused people because if you read the general interest magazines, you've been trained to know what is and what isn't a cover. You may not know those terms, but you have instilled the standards. And that's part of what has people so surprised that Coulter graces the cover.
People will see the cover. They may or may not pick up the magazine. But whether you're in a grocery store, a big box store, anywhere that carries your basic magazines, chances are you'll see that cover. The cover is always more important than the the words accompanying it in terms of creating an impression because more people see a cover than read an article.
So that's why I wrote what I did and felt the topic was something that was worth exploring.

Ann Coulter: Time put an aging "sex bomb" on the cover -- tick, tick

This is the post that originally began thanking Bora of Science and Politics for the links we added (science links). The post began with "I'm tired and it probably really showed in the last entry" and it more than showed in this entry that I saved to draft.
But a number of members e-mailed asking what I was talking about when I said Ann Coulter wasn't a "cover for a general interest magazine." So we'll address that because I do think that it's a part of the story and one that's not been covered.
As for the article itself, Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler and Media Matters are among the people doing strong work dealing with John Cloud's article.
Let's deal with the cover before I get lost in an aside.
There is no justification for putting Ann Coulter on the cover of a general interest magazine.
When questioned on that choice by Brian Montopoli (Candy Perfume Boy), John Cloud attempted to deflect with the fact that Michael Moore made the cover last summer.
That 'logic' has nothing to do with Ann Coulter. If it does, then there's something seriously wrong at Time magazine.
Michael Moore made the cover as his documentary broke records at the box office. And his documentary was already news.
Let's set the stage because Ann Coulter is not a cover just because Michael Moore was one.
The controversy around the film started when Disney took the stance that they didn't do political (though they have no problem being political with ABC Radio) and refused to allow Miramax to release the film. This was part of the long break down with the Weinstein brothers and Disney. So it was news right then. Add in that it was an election year and this was a political documentary.
Then you had Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie, winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. That in and of itself does not make Moore a cover. Many films win the Palme d'Or (this was the first documentary to win "in nearly fifty years"). So we've got a movie that a huge corporation (Disney ABC Time Warner AOL et al) refused to release. In refusing, they further trashed their relationship with the Weinsteins -- a relationship Disney sorely needed to maintain because films like Captain Ron weren't helping fight their image as a sausage factory grinding out low level trash.
After Disney refuses to release Moore's movie, the film wins one of the most prestigious international awards. It's now news.
When the film is due out, there is talk of boycotts. It's a little documentary film, it's not expected to make a huge fortune. What happens is, it's breaks every box office record for a documentary in this country. It even goes over the hundred million dollar mark and enters the blockbuster terrain -- unheard of for a documentary.
An immensely popular film with a controversial topic and a Hollywood back story of intrigue (Disney & the Weinsteins) is a cover story. That's a cover.
That had nothing to do with Michael Moore's politics, not on on Times' end. What Time was doing was highlighting a dramatic story about a film a major studio passed on distributing that turned out to be a critical success and a blockbuster at the box office -- one that people were talking about.
Reducing the merits for a Moore cover to justify one on Coulter doesn't wash. The woman was, to steal from a TV critic writing on Sandy Duncan, "yesterday's mashed potatoes ten years ago."
And Coulter didn't just pop up on the latest cover (April 25th), in the April 18th issue she was included in the "Top 100." So something strange is going on and it goes beyond the rules or standards for which celeb graces the cover.
Let's deal first with the sexist notions in general interest magazines. If a woman's over a certain age (Coulter is), she's not a cover unless . . . She's riding an amazing comeback (Tina Tuner), she's had a health scare (choose your celeb), she's revealing something about her personal life that no one ever spoke of publicly (though usually all "news" is already well known -- think Ellen, she was out and out for years before Time did the "Yep, I'm Gay" cover) or
she's dead.
It's sexist. I disagree with it, but that's how it works. That's how a woman (singular) gets a cover of a general interest magazine. The only exceptions to that rule is if the woman's a first lady, serving in the adminstration (doesn't hurt to be a "first"), etc. (There is the scandal exception, but I don't think Ann Coulter's been busted for anything other than distorting the facts and bad taste.)
So we've got a woman of a certain age on the cover. Right away that raises questions in many people's minds because we're not used to that.
But we're not done. There are other biases in cover selection. People, Rolling Stone, et al, have long learned that there is a hierarcy for covers: it basically goes that big TV stars sell better than movie stars who sell better than musicians who sell better than authors at the top of their game in terms of sales. Got it?
(A true movie star, a Julia Roberts, for instance, a few years back, could trump a TV star but there are very few true movie stars.)
Now death or dying tops all. Throw Jim Morrison on the cover and he'll sell better than your average music star today, for instance.
So Time, a general interest magazine, elected to do a celeb cover. And they didn't go with a big TV star. When Newsweek put Pierce Brosnan on the cover during the end of Remington Steele, they did it with a "He's So Vain" cover. That's because Remington Steele hadn't been a hit show. It was a niche show, that sometimes performed very well, but it was not a broad based hit as the show's over all ratings reflected. So Brosnan was used to illustrate a story, a "trend story," on male vanity. Brosnan wasn't "newsworthy" enough on his own, in those pre-James Bond days, to justify a cover on a general interest magazine. This despite the fact that Remington Steele drew more viewers than any of the cable chat & chews Ann Coulter has appeared on.
Time didn't go with a movie star when they put Coulter on the cover. They didn't go with a musician either. But they also didn't go with a book writing star. Authors do not make the covers of general interest magazines very often and, when they do, they are either used to illustrate a larger story (often "trend") or they make the cover because they've broken all sales records.
Coulter was put on the cover representing a profile on Coutler. This wasn't a trend story on the right wing pundits. This was about Coulter. And her sales don't justify that.
Forget that her sales are already questionable because they have the dagger by them on the charts (indicating bulk buys -- which generally mean they're being bought in bulk to push them up the charts), she hasn't written the hot diet book, the hot prophesy book, the hot anything.
Accepting her bulk buys as geunine sales, you're still left with the fact that her sales are repsectable but hardly amazing.
An author with that kind of sales record isn't a cover story.
Coulter's not coming off a health scare, she's not having a tremendous sales impact where everyone's jaw is dropping as she breaks one sales record after another (translation, she hasn't written a Harry Potter book) and she's not in the midst of a scandal.
By industry standards, she has no place gracing the cover.
Covers don't just happen. They're thought out, they're discussed. (Again, we're speaking of the covers of general interest magazines.)
Many magazines (including Rolling Stone) test their covers ahead of time. (I don't remember if Norah Jones made the cover of Rolling Stone for her second album but I remember seeing the mock up test cover -- with her in blue jeans. I think Beyonce ended up being chosen out of that round of test covers.)
Your celeb cover is supposed to boost your magazine's sales. Coulter is a celebrity, a very low level celebrity.
They don't make the cover.With your cover choice, you're trying to garner interest and so there's a whole set of rules when a general interest magazine chooses to go the celeb route.
Putting Ann Coulter on the cover is like putting Charo on the cover on the basis of Love Boat guesting. It makes no sense. She hasn't broken sales record. She's not even done anything interesting of late.
And make no mistake, the covers have become marketing. That's why Time will put a film turned out by Warner Bros. studios on the cover and pronounce it a hit . . . before the film's released. (Time Warner ABC Disney CNN AOL et al. "Synergy" means marketing your own. The way Today treats each episode of The Apprentice as "news.")
When Bob Somerby's speaking of Time's attempt to "mainstream" Coulter, that may be one of the things he's talking about. A celeb cover is mainstream.When you pick a celeb cover, you are trying to ride their big moment of fame and sell more copies of that issue as a result. Coulter isn't riding a wave right now.
So why is she on the cover?
That's part of the reason that people keep talking about this. People have been marketed too for so long that, when the marketing screws up, they realize a mistake was made.The issue isn't just that Time did a lengthy profile on Coulter. Her placement on the cover has also helped keep tongues wagging.
Leaving aside the shoddy article, putting Coulter on the cover is a publishing/marketingmistake and not because she's "controversial" (many celebs are) but because she's not a cover. Your average industry person could tell you that. They'd argue the hottest story right now from the fright-wing would be getting Bill O'Reilly on the record about the sexual harrassment allegations or, better, getting Rush to talk about his drug problem. Ann Coulter treading waterin her well settled career doesn't even make the top ten fright-wing stories in terms of newsworthiness or heat.
What a lot of the criticism over this choice is about is people instinctively knowing what is and what isn't a cover. Magazines have instilled this in readers. Which is why when Julia Ormond was being hyped as a "star" during Sabrina and Legends of the Fall, the public knew better. And they know better with Coulter (who's far from the fresh face Ormond was when the press was hyping her).America is scratching it's collective head. Some of the responses directed at Cloud (who seems so surprised) are probably the result of that awareness. But the fact remains that he wrote a very shoddy article and when people raise valid points about it, he wants to attack.
This entry was prompted by Larry's e-mail Thursday asking outright, "What qualifies Coulter for a cover?" Nothing qualifies her, at this late date, for a cover. Larry wonders if Coulter's profile resorts from some "spell she seems to have on self-loathing gays?" I have no idea whether John Cloud is self-loathing, he is openly gay. Which appears to be why certain people rushed to draw a firm line between the article he wrote and Cloud himself -- such a firm line that it came close to justifying bad reporting. They made comments like, "He's a nice guy and I'm not going to comment." Why aren't you going to comment? That was left unstated and, unless you were in the know, you didn't grasp that certain individuals appeared to be policing their remarks out of some sexual solidarity.
And that's really too bad because his article is a really bad article -- one I see no reason to pin on his sexuality. (But then, I don't buy the idea that Coulter can weave a spell on anyone, regardless of their sexuality or any tendency towards 'self-hating.' I do believe that peoplewho want to mainstream/mainline her will work overtime to do so -- for their own selfish reasons.)
It was disappointing, but not surprising, to witness certain individuals taking a pass on him. Even after he attacked David Brock so viciously in the CJR Daily interview. Maybe there's hostility towards Brock for passing (staying closeted to the public) for so long? But some of the loudest voices took a pass on this criticism (I'm thinking specifically on two) and perhaps it would have been more honest for them to have stated, "Look, I'm gay and so is John, so I'm not going to criticize him."
We added Brock's Media Matters to the permalinks last night because I was so offended by the personal nature of the attack Cloud launched on Brock. Larry asked me what I thought of that attack? I think Cloud, if his statements were genuine, is a very sad person. I think that someone who doesn't believe a person can change or that redemption can be found is very sad. I don't know Brock (or Cloud or Coulter).
As a strong defender of Anita Hill, I spent a long time loathing David Brock. I read Blinded By the Right with hesitation and a desire to find something, some reason, to label him false or an opportunist. I didn't find it.
Brock lied about Anita Hill and launched repeated attacks on her. (False attacks.) He got honest about that a number of years ago. To claim, as Cloud did, that because of Brock's earlier life nothing he says presently can be believed seems a very sad statement about where Cloud's at.
Physically, where he is at is Time magazine (which some considered to be a prestigious magazine). So he needs to realize that he's earned some shame with this article all by himself.No one forced him to churn out a badly written, badly researched article. And he can't blame that (as he tries to) on Time's fact checkers. Time's fact checkers are supposed to check his writing. However, it was his responsibility to know his subject well enough to write about her.
He didn't.
By Cloud's standards, this is the end of the road for Cloud. If he were to realize he made a huge journalistic error, by his standards, it wouldn't mean anything because he lied throughout the article. I'm not willing to condemn him for all time for one period in his life. The fact that he wants to deflect valid criticism of his embarrassing work by moving towards personal attacks doesn't bode well for his future. But he could change and I hope he will. I also hope that if he changes, people will be more generous to him than he is to others.
By Ann Coulter's standards, to wrap this up, she has no reason to complain about the cover. Most women would have a right to complain about that cover. What it attempts to do is to turn her into a sexual object. Time knew they couldn't sell it on her face. They tried to create a sex angle.Comments that Bill Clinton was shot in a similar manner are nonsense. We didn't all gaze on Clinton's legs. But having spent her public life railing against feminism while presenting herself as a sex object, it's a little late in the game for her to be shocked to discover you have to walk it like you talk it.
It must be very upsetting to her because she's not getting any younger and by her crowd's standards (her crowd being the group she appeals to), she's a spinster. She's not lived the fright wing life of "tradition" she preaches. By what she hectors and lectures about, she should have gotten married long ago. Strict constructionists, traditionalists, really ought to live what they preach. But here she is, more than long in the tooth, unmarried, no children, and finally on the cover of Time where she's reduced to being passed off as a sex object.
Coulter can avoid many realties but I doubt she avoids the mirror. The school girl hair is a look she won't be able to successfully pull off much longer. Short skirts, ditto.
This isn't a feminist. This isn't a woman who says "I will live my life on my terms!" This is a woman who preaches "traditional ways." She's got Michelle Malkin breathing down her neck (among others) and Malkin's younger and prettier. At this stage in the game, Madonna had already laid the groundwork for her move towards "respectability." Coulter's done nothing of the sort. (No matter how hard Times tries to pimp for her.)
Miguel Estrada may feel Coulter's exactly the same as she was when he met her fifteen years ago, but Coulter's got to know "exactly the same" fifteen years later is a bit like saying, "She looks good for her age." 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (leaving aside the bulk buys) isn't a publishing miracle or even that amazing. The number one book on the nonfiction bestseller list (as printed in last Sunday's Times) was Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and it's already logged 12 weeks. At number six was Jon Stewart & The Daily Show's America (The Book) which has already logged 28 weeks on the list.
Cloud dubs her a sex kitten. (Yes, it does seem a strange judgement for a gay man to make, but Rosie O'Donnell used to drool over Tom Cruise.) Whether she was born in 1961 (as was listed on a driver's license) or 1963 as she claims, she's over forty now.
And the white stockings she sports on the Time cover don't make her look girlish at forty-three or forty-one. Having pushed limited (and limiting) stereotypes, the fact of the matter is she's far from girlhood, far from sex kitten-hood. Having rejected feminism (and attacked it repeatedly), she's left with the stereotypes she has so fondly engaged in. And by those stereotypes, she's an aging spinister and nothing more. She may wonder each morning, "Have they caught on yet?"
Peggy Noonan took the fast train towards her version of respectabilty, smoothing over edges and cultivating the bizarre speaking voice she now uses. But Noonan was assisted by the fact that, although she was pretty in an earthy manner early on, she never publicly cultivated the image of a sex kitten. The tabby known as Ann has grown old, she's not a kitten anymore. And aging sex bombs hear the tick-tick and see the mini-implosions in the mirror.
Part of Coulter's anger over the cover is that the all mighty Time magazine reduced her to a pair of legs. The profile was pure sugar -- diabetic readers should be forewarned -- but Coulter knows that's what's remembered isn't the profile, it's the cover. And this could have been the moment when the sex bomb was presented in a serious manner via a more serious photograph.
Time may have felt like her last shot at being treated as a serious thinker (yes, she appears to fancy herself that). It didn't happen. Now there's really nothing left for her to do but continue her sex kitten/sex bomb act that wasn't really convincing to begin with and, all these yearslater, is starting to appear a bit ridiculous to her core which expects women to pursue those traditional goals of marriage and family.
Having attacked and rejected feminism, Coulter's left embracing the stereotype of the unmarried-spinister aunt sporting too much skin for her age. And in her crowd, pity will soon be replaced with thoughts like, "Well maybe if she watched that mouth and acted more lady-like, she'd have a husband by now!"
Having come to fame after the Backlash, Coulter made a choice to endorse the backlash. She limited her own options (publicly) and those of others. She embraced and spread stereotypes.
And seemed determined to prove to the world that a long mane of blond hair and a short skirt could overcome obstacles such as the much noted apparent Adam's apple. She boxed herself in, probably thought that by forty, she'd be living the life she preached for others. Didn't happen.
Now she waits for the jeers of "fraud" (from her own crowd) to start coming in. And she sees herself on the cover of Time posed as a sexual plaything . . .
When sex bombs implode, it's not a pretty sight.

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