Sunday, January 30, 2005

Editorial: The Watchdog as Lapdog

A number of you have congratulated us in e-mails as being a great watchdog. While we thank you for the praise there are many who came before. We would note The Common Ills and The Daily Howler as two online resources that have influenced us. (We would especially highlight The Common Ills which covers The New York Times better than anyone. And we're waiting on permission to spotlight their first entry that really caught our eye -- on NPR. Hopefully, we'll get permission and that will be something you can view here.)

In terms of television, NPR has a weekend program entitled On the Media that is often educational and insightful. But there are many, many organizations such as Media Matters for America online.

And you can't mention watchdogs without noting Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) which has yet to disappoint or go soft and flabby.

But for us, the supreme one, the Bible in fact, is Columbia Journalism Review. You may be nodding. You may be saying, "I go to CJR all the time."

Do you? Do you really?

CJR is online and in print. But we're not talking about CJR Daily/Campaign Desk, a feature of CJR online. A whole generation could end up thinking that CJR Daily (formerly Campaign Desk) represents CJR and that would be a huge, huge problem because while CJR is a watchdog, CJR Daily is a lapdog.

Here's pretty good summary of what CJR is and stands for:

The Columbia Journalism Review is recognized throughout the world as America's premiere media monitor—a watchdog of the press in all its forms, from newspapers and magazines to radio, television, and cable to the wire services and the Web. Founded in 1961 under the auspices of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, CJR examines not only day-to-day press performance but also the many forces—political, economic, technological, social, legal, and more—that affect that performance for better or worse. The magazine, which is edited by a dedicated staff of professional journalists and published six times a year, offers a mix of reporting, analysis, criticism, and commentary, always aimed at its basic goal: the continuing improvement of journalism in the service of a free society.

Did you see sports listed there? We didn't either.

But readers of the online CJR Daily saw a "story" on sports. On January 21st. Bryan Keefer elected to write about "bias" in The New York Times. All right, we were excited. We were pleased. January 21st wasn't a good day for the paper. Long before Keefer got around to filing his fluff, The Common Ills had already come out strongly objecting to the Times' coverage of what was going on in D.C. Protestors were mocked and ignored. The "paper of record" did a lousy job. Later in the day, we'd learn more about the Times recent history of ignoring protests. And later yet, we'd learn that the Times was supposed to have run an ad from Not In Our Name that day but postponed the ad until Sunday.

There was a lot of bias showing in Friday's paper. And a watchdog like CJR could have a field day noting how the paper turned itself into an organ for covering the power elite while ignoring the common citizens.

So Keefer elects to write about bias in the Times that same day ("at 2:58 p.m."). "CJR Daily Uncovers Massive Bias at New York Times!." Excited, we rush to read through and what do we find? He's writing a sports piece. He's writing fluff. He could have dealt with reality and, Lord knows, this was a day to deal with it. Later that day, The Common Ills would do a long second entry detailing the silencing of protest by the Times in recent years and provide an excellent examples of independent media and mainstream media that covered the protests going on across the country on January 20th, protests the "paper of record" ignored.

But Keefer, blogging on the CJR Daily web site, goes for the trivial on a day when bias should have been addressed. Instead of focusing on the many made invisible by The New York Times (a topic at the heart and soul of CJR proper), Keefer trivializes the issue of bias by whining about sports teams. Not just that, he whines that sports coverage is on the front page some days: "the Times has relegated them to the inside pages." Yeah, that's the real issue here, Keefer, that's the pressing issue, whether or not your sports team made the front page. You're quite the crusader, real defender of the people there, Keefer.

It's complete nonsense and, let's be really honest here, a recap of a sports game falls under entertainment, not hard news. That's really hard for a lot of never-been-jocks to understand. They went through high school with a chip on their shoulder that they didn't play sports and apparently that made them question their masculinity. So when we they get to a paper (or possibly CJR Daily), they're eager to prove what men they are by talking up a sports game as front page news. Even though it isn't.

If you read the explanation on what CJR stands for quoted above, you'll note (as we noted earlier) it doesn't say one word about sports. It's pretty clear that it's focused on news and news coverage. But it's not so clear to all readers of CJR Daily. A reader posted (rightly) this on Keefer's nosensical post:

I can think of nothing more useless than this silly piece of nonsense. CJR's supposed to be a watch dog. If grown men want to be little boys, let them do it somewhere else. I don't care about your sports and Lord knows the Times is getting enough things wrong in REAL NEWS without your wasting time on this nonsense.

Pretty clear cut to us. We couldn't agree more. However, for two posters posting replies, it might as well have been in written in a foreign language because they, like Keefer, just didn't get it.

It's "general news" whined one. Another felt that "CJR" (that's how he identified CJR Daily) was a "liberal site" and that "fun" was necessary so that people wouldn't think of liberals in some "caricature of the humorless, anti-fun liberal."

CJR proper should be very concerned about those remarks because sports doesn't fall into the arena of "general news" on a day when the Times is actually discriminating against protestors across the nation (either by being "snarky" in their one report on D.C. or by ignoring the protests across the country). CJR should also be concerned about those remarks because they are not a "liberal" site. They are a watchdog and they've built their well deserved reputation on being just that. But a lot of the people going to CJR Daily have no knowledge of CJR's repuation and are basing their concept of CJR on this CJR Daily web site.

Apparently the person who feels it's a "liberal" site, missed the then-Campaign Desk's opening statements:

A few assurances are in order: The Desk will be politically nonpartisan. While it will call attention to journalistic sins, both of omission and commission, it will by no means be exclusively a finger-wagging operation. It will have a lively, engaged tone, not a grim, censorious one. One of the Desk's important functions will be to praise work of high quality, and one of its most useful aspects will be its ability to bring distinguished work in the local press to national attention, instantly and (through links) in full.

Local press? Well that was a goal when they started. (They used the term "function.") You don't see local press at CJR Daily. You can't even get diversity in the "Blog Report" or "Magazine Report."

We'll start with the latter. The Magazine Report (a weekly feature) generally tells you about US News & World Report, Time, Newsweek and, of all things, The Weekly Standard. There are so many problems with that focus.

For starters, the first three get plenty of attention already. They're widely circulated general interest magazines that get covered on TV, radio and the web anytime they actually break or semi-break a story. (There's no Sy Hersh working at Newsweek or Time, for instance -- no strong investigative journalism regularly featured.) We're not Vanity Fair readers, but after The Common Ills noted the continued lack of attention to the coverage Vanity Fair has provided (usually one hard hitting story an issue), we checked out their highlighted story "The Man in the Hood" which interviewed an Iraqi who was abused at Abu Ghraib. If the former Campaign Desk were interested in drawing "national attention" to important stories, that's one they should have highlighted.

But let's focus on The Weekly Standard a moment because the Magazine Report usually manages to work it in. Exactly why is that? It's a partisan publication. And the alternative to The Weekly Standard isn't The New Republic (which CJR Daily highlights from time to time), the alternative (to both) is The Nation.

When you read through the Magazine Report there's no logic to it. They put in three massively circulated magazines (Newsweek, Time and U.S. News & World Reports) and add to that an underperforming mag like The Weekly Standard or The New Republic -- ideological sisters under the skin -- both supported the war in Iraq.

Oh, but that's just your opinion, we hear some of you saying. No, it's also quite similar to Martin Peretz's:

“We were for the last Gulf War and for aid to the Contras,” Peretz said. Comparing The New Republic to its close competitor The Nation, Peretz said, “Whatever The Nation was for we were against. Whatever The Nation was against we were for. The only thing we share was we were rather soft on Stalin in the late 1930s.”

Peretz is editor-in-chief and chairman of The New Republic, so he should know his own magazine. (He also endorsed George W. Bush in the 2004 election and may be the only "reporter" who's turned defending Robert Novak and the officials who outed Valerie Plame into a personal battle.) This is the "alternative" to The Weekly Standard?

CJR Daily insists upon portraying The New Republic and The Weekly Standard as polar opposites. Possibly they're unaware that Peretz:

along with several other journalists and right-wing lawmakers, lobbied President Bush nine days after the September 11 terrorist attacks to start a war with Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power, claiming that Iraq may be linked to the attacks, an allegation that the Bush Administration has made many times without a shred of evidence to back it up.

Regardless, if the criteria for the first three regularly included is circulation, then why the silence on The Nation? Unlike The Weekly Standard or The New Republic, The Nation isn't struggling for subscribers. It has the highest circulation of any weekly partisan magazine in this country. (And it's the oldest.)

Including The Weekly Standard, as they so often do, with other magazines like Newsweek and Time suggests that that the mainstream is "left" that needs to be balanced with The Weekly Standard. Now maybe uninformed visitors coming to CJR Daily who see it as a "liberal" site think that way and surely certain elements on the right push that distortion but that's no excuse for CJR Daily to fall for the hype. In fact, due to it's proximity to CJR proper, it's incumbent upon them to refute those type of fallacies.

The Magazine Report may be a weekly feature but, it should be noted, that doesn't mean they have to rely on weekly magazines each entry. Monthly and bimonthly magazines are doing strong work. The Magazine Report should be highlighting that and focusing on in depth reporting that, honestly, you're not going to find in Time or Newsweek. (We'd also strongly suggest that they cover The Progressive, In These Times and Ms. among other magazines.)

Now let's deal with Blog Report. They've opened up a little in that regard recently. But the fact that it's existed as a "most read blog" round up is disturbing since CJR proper highlights important things regardless of "popularity" and since the former Campaign Desk spoke of their eagerness to highlight "local newspapers."

It got to the point, with Blog Report, that we began to wonder if Kos had a pedicure would it make the Blog Report? If Atrios had a bikini wax, would that make it? Again, that's improved slightly.

We told The Common Ills we were going to write this and C.I. excused itself from reading over this draft due to the fact that we'd be discussing C.I. But as Common Ills community members we would read the Blog Report with interest every time hoping this would be the entry that Campaign Desk (as it was known before we started up The Third Estate Sunday Review) elected to finally note the fine work of The Common Ills.

Entry after entry, they never did. (Democracy Now! also appears to not be on CJR Daily's radar.) The Common Ills dealt with how Daniel Okrent in two entries on a Sunday -- one calling for him to step down due to the "outing" of a reader over the reader's objection, the other pointing out that the "readers' advocate" Okrent was consistently more interested in turning in op-eds than addressing the concerns readers brought up. Wow! Certainly these would get highlighted. Media criticism like this has to be recognized! Or the NPR entry we're hoping to highlight in this edition. One that FAIR linked to, that BuzzFlash linked to, certainly that would be addressed, right?

No each time.

When The Common Ills explained the faulty thinking behind William Safire's impending departure meaning that his replacement must be him ideologically but in younger form, that got linked to by Ms. Musing among others. Certainly this piece analyzing the various op-ed regulars at the paper and discussing the lack of diversity in gender, race and view point might be of interest to CJR Daily. It wasn't.

CJR Daily weighs in on Katie Couric as evening news anchor but never mentions The Common Ills, not even when The Common Ills posts the remarks from a man who works at CBS. CJR Daily didn't note that Common Ills post. A huge mark against CJR Daily because what The Common Ills was told about then (January 19th) is largely reflected in a recent MarketWatch column published January 28th.

We were expected to read The New York Times daily for a course the five of us were taking last semester. When The Common Ills came along, it was a hallelujah moment for us to discover it having groaned through so many print editions of the paper. We make no apologies for being huge fans of the Common Ills site and members of that community. Or for praising it. (And we appreciate the recent post defending us which prompted Lola to write in "Common Ills is defending you like an angry mother protecting a bear cub!") But it's not just The Common Ills that's sidelined. Why Are We Back In Iraq? has never been mentioned, Interesting Times might as well blog from another planet. Corrente, Offshoring Digest, Scamoogah!!, Cannonfire, Bartcop, Ms. Musing, Random Thoughts, Feministing, Iraq Dispatches, Iddybud, and other websites we check out regularly never get a mention. (We will note that BuzzFlash finally got a well deserved mention.)

The web is a wide range of voices but CJR Daily's Blog Report has spent a lot of time reducing it to a few, select voices (one might even argue they reduced it to "an echo chamber"). [Again, we note that that the Blog Report appears to be attempting to improve their scope. And that's not kissing CJR Daily's ass, we have no desire to be mentioned there.]

But it comes down to the same point, is CJR Daily supposed to represent the values and mission of CJR or not? Gossipy, frivalous entries (Keefer writes some sort of a gossip column elsewhere -- we've never read it and wouldn't want to but it's something of a joke to our journalism professors, as is Keefer himself whom they dub "Gatekeeper: The Next Generation") don't really reflect the mission of CJR and CJR Daily needs oversight that it's not receiving.

People are confusing CJR Daily with the program and magazine that's held in high regard. That's not a good thing. Where CJR is an informed watchdog, CJR Daily comes off like a chipper lapdog (with a short attention span). The little pooch needs some house training or CJR needs to find a nice farm to send to it too. But to continue allowing it to associate itself with CJR but not making it live up to the goals and guidelines of CJR is going to continue to erode the reputation of CJR.

Look, we love The Nation but only one of us subscribes to it (the other four sponge off; we do that with all magazines). To think that CJR proper's reputation is not at stake is "pre-web thinking." Many people are likely to visit CJR Daily but never read the CJR magazine (or visit the official CJR website). (One of us also subscribes to CJR and, as with other mags, we pass it around.) The CJR reputation as a watchdog (and nonpartisan) should not be diluted by CJR Daily but that's starting to happen and the watchdog needs to train and oversee the lapdog because many people aren't drawing a line between the two.

1-31-05 Why Are We Back In Iraq? link corrected by Ava.

About that letter section . . .

We are writing this on Saturday afternoon -- plenty of time to do a letter section.
But we've decided not to.

We're fighting and splitting into factions over what to run. There are a few that we all agree should run (such as women who were victims of incest and shared their views on Karla's story from our fist Third Estate Sunday Review). Those five e-mails were the only thing we could agree. One of us (Jim) wants to run smart ass e-mails and reply in kind. Another of us (Dona) thinks that's wasting space on people who don't deserve the space. There are seven e-mails that are hysterical (to Jim) as they rant and rave about we all belong in a gulag or something similar.
Two of us (Ty and Dona) feel that there are some serious criticisms that might be brief or not written in a funny manner but should be aired. One of us (Ava) said an hour ago, "Forget it if you think I'm typing any of this because I've got a final on Monday and we should have started it already." Which leaves one of us (Jess) to play peacemaker and he finally exploded, "Junk the letter section then!"
We're not used to hearing him angry, he's a quiet person. So after we got over our shock, we agreed that it was useless at this point.
There's not going to be a letters section. If you'd like to submit something as an op-ed (no payment, people), we'll consider running it.
We went with Rebecca Winters of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude for an interview this week because we had so many people e-mailing and asking, "What is Rebecca like?" We didn't know. We've never met her or spoken to her until she agreed to a phone interview.
We found her hilarious and informed.
A number of you have e-mailed about Karla and Mike's stories and we'll continue to spotlight students whose voices might not be heard in the mainstream media because the interviews are worth conducting, the stories are worth sharing and your response has been very positive.
The response to the TV story (on Joey) last week prompted us to explore another TV show, Will & Grace. We'll continue to cover TV but no promises that we'll do so next week. (Ava wants us to address Mutant X which requires two of us becoming instant experts.)
We're also posting an entry by Rebecca that she posted on Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude. We enjoyed that entry and wanted to spotlight it and she was kind enough to give us permission.
We're arguing over the draft of the editorial right now and if that gets firmed out in time, we might be able to squeeze in another entry. Otherwise we'll have six entries. Considering that there are five of us and that we only wrote five entries (Rebecca wrote the post we spotlight) that might end up being the standard number.
We thank Rebecca and we thank CI of The Common Ills for, as usual, reading over our drafts and offering input. A section of Rebecca's interview was added when CI asked to see the notes on that. Adding it into the piece gives you a stronger sense of Rebecca and where she's coming from. CI is our sixth set of eyes and has assisted us the last two weekends. That's meant all nighters for CI as we scrambled on our end to get our entries through various drafts.
(CI won't see this unless CI visits the site. Our opening statements are always roughed out only by us.)
Rebecca makes a strong point in her interview that the antidote for an increasingly limited discussion isn't a framework or talking points, but more voices. We agree and urge anyone who wants to blog to get started. Let's flood the web with freedom and voices. (And if you have something you want to say but don't want to start your own blog, you could consider jotting it down in the form of an op-ed and submitting here.)

Gay Parents: "I am part of a family. My family is very real and existed long before Bush got to the White House"

"Al" was raised by his mother and her same-sex partner. As part of our continued highlighting of college students and issues that matter to them, we decided to interview him. Al was perfectly willing to provide his real name but having set the pattern that people who speak can do so without being identified, we have chosen to continue this pattern.

Third Estate Review: In class, you were talking about The New York Times front page article with George W. Bush.

Al: Yeah. That was bad reporting. It was irresponsible. It betrayed readers. Just yesterday they do an article on how PBS is being forced to not air a segment with a kid with two mommys. Then today they follow up with this shit? It sends a message. They should think about that. There's no reason they can't print the idiot's remarks and also note that there are no studies to back up his comments.

Do you want to talk about your own life?

My parents divorced when I was two. My father went off and did whatever he did. Never saw him or heard from him. Not even a birthday card. Or Christmas card. And my mom got the house. It's the same house they lived in. I grew up there and she still lives there. So it's not like he doesn't know the address.

I think I was four when I started noticing Kelley hanging around. A lot more than other people did. And right before it was time for me to start school, Mom sat me down and told me Kelley was moving in. And she said that she and Kelley were a couple.

Were you shocked?

I don't know that I knew what a couple was. Outside of Go Fish. You know, "you got any twos?"
It wasn't a big deal to me.

When Kelley moved in, I got to know her better and she seemed cool. She still is. She's really into science and I've always had fun with her. I learned all about butterflies from her. I knew what photosynthesis was by first grade because she taught me.

Do you remember any big problems growing up?

When I was in fourth grade, I lost my friends at daycare.

Because your mother was a lesbian?

Yeah, but not that they cared. They knew. With one or another woman always picking me up, it was obvious even if I hadn't shared it. But what happened was one evening, the woman running the program is there when the last of us are being picked up. And she met Kelley for the first time then. She goes, "You can't pick him up." And Kelley goes "I'm on the card." And she was.
But the woman goes to check and sees that Kelley is on it. So we're about to leave and the woman goes, "So you are Jean's sister?" Kelley goes, "No." And the woman keeps pressing and Kelley ends up going, "We live together." The woman goes, "Roommates?" And Kelley goes, "Partners."

I was in fourth grade at the time and it had never been a big deal. A kid or two had said, "That's gross." That's about it. But I go back the next day and Mom comes to pick me up and she's told she needs to go to the office to speak to that woman. She does and comes back to pick me up.
And on the drive back she explains that the woman is small minded and a bigot and that the woman doesn't want Kelley picking me up because of "the message it sends."

Because of their work schedules, Mom and Kelley had to rotate on who picked me up. Mom knew I had 3 good friends at the daycare. I don't think she'd decided yet what to do. But I go, "If they don't want Kelley there, I don't want to go there." And I didn't. Because Kelley's not my father but she's certainly a parent. And more of a parent than my father ever was. Like, I don't even remember my father. He wasn't the one who bought me a kite and taught me to fly it. That was Kelley. And it was her and Mom teaching me to ride a bike and everything else.

I'm sure other people have had different experiences but it wasn't a problem for me. I was born in 1986. If I'd been born earlier or if we lived somewhere else it might have been a problem. But it wasn't for me. I had two mothers and no one seemed to make a big deal about it.

Bush said the ideal was "a married man and a woman."

Yeah, what was that shit? "A married man and a woman." Not a man and a woman married to each other? Is he courting the mistress vote? That may be the ideal but we don't live in an ideal. We don't live in a lab. We live in a real world and so many factors are at play that we have to adapt and not hold out for an ideal. Maybe if you're born rich and everyone caters to you you can try to live in an ideal place but even there reality intrudes.

The ideal should be a person that loves a child. That person can be gay or straight but that's all that's needed for a happy home. Now if there are two people that love a child, that's even better but not necessary. And the two people's gender does not matter a great deal.

Bush seemed to be reflecting some notion that boys need men around to be taught about masculinity?

Well maybe that's a big concern for him because he was a cheerleader and I'm sure that was a huge stigma in the sixties. But I played sports all through school and never had anyone question my masculinity. But when you're a grown man playing dress up, I guess it's natural that you'd be obsessed with masculinity -- both whether people thought you were and whether other boys were being taught it.

I don't know what he's concerned about. I piss standing up if that's what's got him so all worked up. I got love from my parents, Mom and Kelley, and I got respect and encouragement. I really think the issue of gender is more something you sort out among your peer group as you compete with them and relate with them. But I understand Bush didn't have that peer group, that he was a cheerleader at his school back east but couldn't open up to his friends in Texas that he did that. I mean, he grew up having to hide himself so of course he would question others masculinity because he felt like a fake in his teenage years. But that's his problem and unless he knows something he's not telling, his parents were straight, so don't push your baggage off on me.

Were there any problems for you growing up?

No. I knew my father wasn't around and wasn't going to be around. I could have gone through life with just Mom. That would have been fine. She's a great parent. But I was lucky enough to have two parents thanks to Kelley. It's a bonus, not a liability.

In fact, I worked the system if I'm being honest. When I wanted a dirt bike and they both said no, I was able to roll my eyes and say, "Well this is a guy thing and you don't understand because you're women." They'd fall for that a lot. It was bullshit and I knew it when I said it. But kids learn what points to press and because of dopes like Bush that's a point I was able to press.

Did it always work?

No. Once I got into big trouble at school for doing something stupid and I knew it was stupid when I did that. And I tried that excuse and Mom said, "Cut the shit!" I laugh when I think about that because before that and after that I could always use my "guy thing" excuse to get a dirt bike or whatever. But when it came to appropriate behaviors, they both saw right through it and they demanded that I conduct myself appropriately.

What do you make of all this?

It's nonsense. I remember seeing Rosie O'Donnell on TV on 20/20 or Prime Time Live a few years back. My parents look nothing like Rosie or her partner but because Mom has Kelley and Rosie has a Kelley, we usually laugh about that. So we were watching together and I don't remember if O'Donnell was addressing Jeb or George Bush but she said something like they need to see her family. Her point was they don't know what they're talking about and they're talking out of ignorance and fear. That's what's going on.

And it's all such crap because I am a part of a family. My family is very real and existed long before Bush got to the White House. We'll still be around after he's gone back to Texas. There were families like mine before and they'll be around after. So when people like Bush say they're thinking of the children, I think people need to ask, "Which children?" I mean PBS's decision doesn't effect me a great deal. I don't watch Arthur. But if I were younger and watching, seeing those two Moms would have meant something to me.

We're here. We may or may not be queer. I'm straight myself. But we're here and we're being raised by gay parents. We exist. So when someone starts talking about thinking of the children, well we're part of the children and you aren't thinking about us. And you're insulting my family.

Which is what you were talking about in class.

Right. How dare the paper print those remarks and not point out that Bush didn't know what he was talking about. He can make a speech on TV and they can show the whole thing. But in a paper, especially one like The New York Times, I expect that they'll do something more than stenography. I am so insulted by that and my mom called before class and said she and Kelley are trying to decide whether or not to cancel their subscription. It's bad enough that Bush spits on my family but for the paper to do the same? This wasn't some opinion piece, this was supposed to be news reporting. There was no reporting there, just stenography.

If Bush had said the same thing only that children needed two white parents would the paper have just printed it without their reporters noting that there's no study demonstrating two white parents are better than two parents from another race or an interracial couple?

No, but it's okay for Bush to spit on my family and for The New York Times to make sure his loogey lands on us. That was irresponsible and offensive.

"It sure as hell wasn't journalism." That's what you said in class.

Right. Journalism is supposed to be about perspective and making sure that voices are heard. This was about one man's homophobia printed unchecked. There's no excuse for that.

There's no scientific backing for his remarks and there's nothing in the animal kingdom that proves him right. In fact, everything in the animal kingdom proves he's dead wrong. Or maybe he thinks animals are pairing up some great ark and living together to raise their offspring together as couples. Humans and other species have survived because they've adapted to changes. I don't think there's any hope for Bush or others like him. They refuse to adapt to something that's already happened.

They can make it illegal for two men or two women to adopt. That won't stop two men or two women from raising a child. It'll just add difficulties and hurdles for the couple and the child.
Fuck the rhetoric, there's no way that homophobic attitude is about what's best for the children.
And coming on top of his administration's attack on PBS and PBS falling in line and turning their back on countless families like mine, The New York Times assisting Bush in hocking his loogey on my family is just appalling and shameful.

Truth to Power Flashback: The Common Ills' "When NPR Fails You, Who You Gonna' Call? Not the Ombudsman"

Just as we were about to start posting, we checked our e-mails and had permission to run The Common Ills post on NPR that was one of their first hard hitting entries. CI asked us to note that the term "reader" is used there and that's a term not used today. "That was the fifth day of blogging and e-mails back then never ran more than ten a day unless I'm remembering wrong," CI writes. "This was the start of the site changing from serving 'readers" to being part of a community and having 'members' and not just readers. That's really important because, as I remember it, this is the first time something was addressed because someone requested it. Since then, we've been members. And the e-mails increased to the point that I've spent the bulk of this evening reading a huge amount and replying to the ones that needed a reply. I want that to be really clear because The Common Ills gets new visitors all the time and they may or may not become members depending upon whether they weigh in, but we do not have 'readers' because that's word is too passive to express the people in the community who weigh in on content and direction and shape The Common Ills."

Noted. Here's the post that on November 24, 2004, not even a week into The Common Ills existance, made us members for life and led us to create our own web site. With a desire by some to argue that the 2004 campaign was a huge improvement on 2000, we think this post also serves to highlight a very clear conflict of interest and we'll add that we saw this linked on BuzzFlash but other than BuzzFlash and The Common Ills, we didn't see anyone else addressing it. We're very happy to highlight this entry.

When NPR Fails You, Who You Gonna' Call? Not the Ombudsman

An e-mail came in on from a very angry reader asking me to address an incident re: NPR.

The incident aired on NPR during the program Morning Edition. Juan Williams had attempted to explain a statement of John Kerry's. Listeners were not pleased with Williams' attempt. So Robert Kagan was brought on Morning Edition on October 7th to provide "a little clarification" regarding Kerry's statement. (You can find a summary of this at Media Matters: (In a nut shell, Williams referred to Kerry's "global test" as "global consent.")

I missed Juan Williams' attempt at an explanation but I did catch Kagan's on October 7th and I remember my mouth dropping as he was introduced. Kagan writes an op-ed for The Washington Post and, as noted in his introduction by Renee Montagen, he's also a senior associate with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That's what listeners were told. But Kagan also brings what appears to be a conflict of interest which Montagen didn't inform the listeners of. (This conflict of interest is why my jaw dropped as he was introduced, I'll get to it in a moment.)

The person who e-mailed this site advised that Jeffrey A. Dvorkin (NPR ombudsman) had addressed this issue in a column. Here is the section of Dvorkin's column (October 21, 2004) on Kagan:

Immediately after this correction, Morning Edition compounded its initial error -- or so many thought -- by airing an interview with Robert Kagan. Some listeners consider Kagan, a senior associate for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a "hawk" on Iraq.
Even though Mr. Kagan's specific remarks to Renee Montagne were, in my opinion, non-controversial, the very fact that he was asked to comment on Kerry's position was seen as a neutering of the correction of Juan Williams' statement. Alex Pritchard from Fairbanks, Alaska, writes:
I was amazed to hear your story "clarifying" Juan Williams's earlier error regarding John Kerry's use of a global test. Your follow-up story went on to describe what the two candidates might do if we knew a foreign government posed a serious threat to the U.S. -- this is not what is in question. The pertinent question is did Iraq pose a serious threat that justified a preemptive attack?

Is Kagan a "hawk" on Iraq? That's truly the least of Kagan's (and NPR's) problems when he's commenting on John Kerry, a presidential candidate, during an election. And it's really sad that Dvorkin is either unable or unwilling to address the serious issue. (The e-mailer states Dvorkin was informed of the serious issue in an e-mail on October 8th. )

Let's talk a bit about NPR's mission to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

NPR correspondent Michele Norris is a political correspondent. Norris has earned her stripes at The Washington Post and ABC but this election cycle she provided no campaign coverage. Why?

Here's Dvorkin commenting on November 9th (

The reason was simple. Norris' husband, Broderick Johnson was a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. For that reason, NPR management decided that Norris should not do any political interviews.

Norris is side lined because she's married to someone who's involved with the Kerry campaign.

Agree or disagree with their policy, that was reason enough for NPR to pull Norris from filing any stories or commenting on any campaigns. NPR has published guidelines: "Independence and Integrity II:The Updated Ethics Guide for Public Radio Journalism." Dvorkin, in fact, co-wrote these guidelines. As you read through these NPR guidelines ( you may note that the guidelines only appear to apply to people like Norris, NPR staff. What of "guests" brought on to address issues?Apparently they don't apply. Apparently anyone can come on, be presented as an objective commentator, and discuss anything even if they have the appearance of a conflict of interest . . . provided that they are a "guest" and not an NPR employee.

Further more, neither Dvorkin nor Montagne are under any NPR ethical guideline to inform the listener of a potential conflict of interest. Montagne didn't tell listeners about a possible conflict of interest when she introduced Kagan October 7th. Dvorkin didn't tell readers of the potential conflict of interest when he "addressed" the issue in his October 21st column.

When NPR fails you, who you gonna' call? Not the ombudsman. Don't raise the issue with Dvorkin because he's either unable or unwilling to address it. (Unable includes the "I didn't know" excuse if the basic research wasn't done.)

What is Kagan's conflict of interest appearance? (An issue NPR has still not addressed.) It's not that he writes an op-ed for The Washington Post. Dvorkin does toss out the "hawk" issue but without ever addressing it. But he also doesn't address a very important fact: who is Robert Kagan married to?

He's married to Victoria Nuland. For all I know, she's a wonderful person. But that's not the issue. The issue is who Ms. Nuland works for. Want to take a guess on that?

Did you guess Dick Cheney? If you did, you may be more informed than Dvorkin or Montagne because possibly they are unaware of that fact. Possibly, they haven't done the basic work required -- Montagne to know about the "guest" she is introducing; Dvorkin to address the issue of Kagan as a commentator/interpreter of John Kerry's remarks.

Michele Norris' husband worked for the Kerry campaign. (Warning: we're going down a very basic road here. But apparently, it's not one that NPR can navigate by themselves so let's move slowly to allow them to keep up.) Since Norris' husband is involved with attempting to get what we will call "team A" into the White House, Norris has the appearance of a conflict of interest and her reporting duties can not include commenting or covering the campaigns. That's a simple path to follow whether you agree with it or not.

But with Kagan, the path has a huge u-turn and veers off to God knows where. Kagan's wife works as Cheney's deputy national security adviser. That's Ms. Nuland' s title. So in effect, Ms. Nuland's employed by "team B" -- she's apparently not working on team B's campaign, but she works for team B. Potentially, Kagan has a vested interest in the outcome of the 2004 election.

Norris isn't even allowed to comment on the campaigns (or politics at all) on NPR during the election due to her marital connections to team A; however, Kagan is brought on to comment on a candidate from team A while his wife works for team B. Conflict of interest?

If NPR felt Kagan was such an expert that his wisdom overrode any appearance of a conflict of interest, they could have informed listeners of the potential conflict when Montagne introduced him. The same could be said of Dvorkin. When responding to listeners' complaints on Kagan, he could have stated whom Kagan was married to and whom Nuland worked for.

Instead it's been treated like a dirty little secret which only makes it look even worse (if that's possible). Maybe Dvorkin didn't read the e-mailer's e-mail re: Kagan & Nuland, maybe he was too busy, maybe the e-mail gods didn't deliver it. Dvorkin might even question whether anyone e-mailed him of the conflict of interest appearance. (I did request a copy of the e-mail to Dvorkin from the reader who contacted this site but was informed that NPR has a form you fill out on their site and it doesn't copy to your e-mail account.) I don't know what happened, I don't read Dvorkin's e-mail.

What I do know is that if Dvorkin is the ombudsman (which he is) and listeners have a complaint about whether or not Kagan was able to objectively comment on John Kerry (Dvorkin admits in his column that listeners did complain about Kagan), then it was incumbent upon Dvorkin as the ombudsman to do a minimal amount of research on Kagan before he responded in his online column. Putting the word hawk in quotation marks and writing that "[s]ome listeners consider" Kagan to be a "hawk" isn't addressing the issue of his potential conflict of interest. (Nor does it address whether or not Kagan's a "hawk.")

Did Dvorkin do the basic work and research required of his position when he chooses to comment on listeners' concerns/complaints? Did he do what he was paid to do? Did he live up to the responsibilities of his position?

If he did bother to research Kagan then Dvorkin either needs some assistance with basic research or he made a decision not to include the information regarding Kagan's wife and her employer. If it's the latter, he concealed information from NPR listeners to whom he's supposed to be responsive to. Dvorkin can feel that Kagan's marriage and his wife's employment had no bearing on Kagan's commentary; however, feeling that way doesn't remove his responsibility to pass on that information to NPR listeners in his column.

Of course, Dvorkin just may have blown off his responsibilities and duties that day. He might not have done the work, he might not have done the research. All of this applies to Montagne as well. Although I would note that Montagne doesn't hold the title of ombudsman. If Montagne was unaware of Kagan's marriage to Nuland or whom Nuland worked for, if there were pressing issues as they were pulling the show together, getting it on air and as a result she made a mistake by not knowing the basic facts about the guest commentator then it's a mistake and one she should take accountability for. But Dvorkin acts as the high court for the listeners.

The ombudsman is who you take your issues to and he's ruling on them -- on whether your issues are a concern or not. If he didn't do the basic research required to comment on listeners' concerns (concerns he elected to write about), he can't argue he suffered from pressing time constraints since he's decided to address the concern himself and this is basic information. Nor is he rushing to get on air the way Montagne (or Morning Edition's producer) might be. (The NPR guidelines do not offer "rushing to get on air" as an excuse.)

He's offering a ruling and to make that ruling he needs to know the basic facts. If he's unaware that's required of his position then possibly this person who co-wrote the ethics policy is not up to being ombudsman.

Dvorkin needs to address this. NPR listeners need to know: "Why it is okay for someone who's wife works for the administration to come on and evaluate/critique Kerry's remarks in the midst of an election?" NPR listeners also need to know: "Why was Kagan's marriage and his wife's position in the administration not disclosed on air or later in Dvorkin's column?"Right now, it appears that NPR staff have to live up to ethical guidelines, but invited commentators do not.

Dvorkin should also address the ethical guidelines that apply to "guests" invited on NPR to serve as commentators.

In his column on Norris being removed from political coverage during the election, Dvorkin noted:

After all, with the media under scrutiny for the slightest sign of liberal bias, it made sense to avoid any appearance of partisanship.

I would hate to read the above to mean that NPR scrutinizes bias only "for the slightest sign of liberal bias" and that conservative bias isn't an issue of concern for NPR. That's another question for Dvorkin to address.

A message for Dvorkin can be left at: 202-513-3245. In addition, the e-mail formfor Dvorkin is located at
Added Nov. 26th: jnagarya provides this toll free number to leave a message for Dvorkin: 1-800-433-1277. jnagarya has posted a comment on this entry that's worth reading.

In Media Matters' discussion area, the basic facts are posted (Kagan's married to Nuland and Nuland works for Cheney) In addition to that and the link the poster provides, other online sources for Nuland's employment can be found here:
[the above Christian Science Monitor link takes you to a main page with an entry on Irving Kristol; to find out about Kagan you have to click on his picture on this main page -- he's in the left column, the fifth picture down or the second from the bottom; once you click on his photo, the page will reload]

[Three corrections were done to this post. The word "to" was inserted into a sentence. In addition, two paragraphs were reduced to the point where you couldn't read them. This isn't a "font" issue and wasn't present in the quick read through I did last night. One of them is in bold italics above now and the other has been played with to again appear in normal size. Not sure how the last two errors happened but hopefully they are fixed now and thanks to e-mailers who pointed this out to me -- Frank in Orlando, Natalie and MR in New York.]

Interview with Rebecca Winters of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude: "Think about what matters to you and speak about it. Be authentic."

Rebecca Winters blogs on Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude. We'd like to highlight a number of bloggers but we're starting with an interview with her because when you visit her blog you never doubt where she stands or have to wonder what she's saying. Rebecca lays it out firmly and clearly without qualifiers and we'd urge everyone to visit her blog. This interview was conducted during two phone calls. The first was on Wednesday with three of us and the second was on Thursday with the two who weren't able to participate on Wednesday.

Third Estate Sunday Review: Since we're all Common Ills community members, the first question seems obvious.

Rebecca: Why a blog? Well I was seeing others sharing there and I started sparking off their comments.

Sparking off?

A quote or something would spark a new idea or further thought. And the fact that CI doesn't try to act like an "expert" helped.

Or a Cokie Roberts.

Exactly. There was this huge do-it-yourself quality to The Common Ills. For example, I was one of the ones e-mailing to remove to option for posting comments because these two assholes were basically defending Zell Miller. And the response in e-mails and on the blog wasn't "As soon as I get a chance" but "I'm not sure how to do that so let me play with it and try to figure it out." It was very do-it-yourself.

And it still is. There's been a problem with CI e-mailing in posts and they might show up or not but if they did hit the blog, they could vanish in a few hours. CI doesn't try to act the expert on that but confesses to being as confused as we are.
And it was "Here Comes the Madmen" that kept me reading. I do like Carly Simon's music but just tying that into what was going on with our attack on Falluja that was going on at the time really impressed me. I have surfed blogs and I hear a lot of "I object to the war and it is wrong but we have to support the troops" nonsense. Why?
Why does anyone have to say that? I doubt anyone in this country cheers news of American casualty but we're not supporting the war and that this "support the troops" public relations slogan has entered our everyday conversation bothers me because it shuts down all discussion.

The Simpsons did an episode where Bart was selling t-shirts with things like "eat my shorts" on them and Marge said she preferred t-shirts with a funny message on it like "support the troops."

I didn't see that but I heard about it from friends. I thought that was very to the point. The administration doesn't support the troops and hasn't. But the left is constantly allowing themselves to be put in the position of having to say "we support the troops."

Like Rachel Maddow on Air America's Unfiltered?
Exactly. Big Brain gets on my nerves when she starts spitting out that catch phrase every ten seconds.

You've nicknamed her Big Brain but you don't have a nickname for [co-host] Lizz Winstead?

I'm working on one. I always think of the Carly Simon song "Dishonest Modesty" when I think of Lizz. Not just because of the line about, "Now you're over forty and under weight, though you call yourself petite . . ." But that really does sum up Lizz, "Dishonest Modesty." The chorus is "I don't expect humility but how about some good old dishonest modesty?" And when Lizz is once again being praised for creating The Daily Show or Big Brain's directing us to a Comedy Central site to vote for Lizz . . .

Lizz Winstead did create The Daily Show.

Yes, she did. The Craig Kilborne version of The Daily Show. The one no one really watched. The one that didn't win a host of awards or get attention for their hard hitting commentary.
Jon Stewart and his people came on and revamped that show. They made it funnier and sharper and solid political commentary. Everytime someone pipes in with "Lizz created The Daily Show" I feel like someone else should respond, "And Jon Stewart recreated it and gave it the deeper meaning." Craig's Daily Show and Jon's are so completely different.

Some people we know that read you think you hate Lizz & Rachel but then you defended them this week.

I defended them about making a mistake. Those can happen and will happen and they corrected it. But they did make the fact that they corrected and corrections in general the bulk of the segment and ended up skirting over what Jack Reed did.

You wrote about that but explain it for anyone who hasn't read your entry on that?

Harry Reid voted in favor of confirming Condisleeza Rice as secretary of state, Jack Reed voted against confirming. Lizz & Big Brain were talking about the vote and got it wrong repeatedly as they kept talking about Harry Reid showing he had a spine. Then they did a skit saluting the Senators with spines and included Harry Reid on the list. Big Brain even said, during the skit, "Reid of Nevada."
So Harry Reid got all this attention and praise in that entire segment, they go to commercial break, they come back and it's "Oh, that was Jack Reed not Harry Reid!" But instead of then telling us about Jack Reed, we're off on a discussion of corrections. Since they'd praised and praised Harry Reid prior, the very least they should have done was made an effort to discuss Jack Reed.

"The Bad & Ugly and Hot-Hot-Hot Good" --

My first blog entry.

Your first blog entry, you addressed Winstead and Maddow in that.

Oh good God, I was so mad at them. I was already thinking, thanks to Common Ills, along the lines of "hey, I could do a blog" but when they attacked a friend of mine who'd posted on their blog, that was when I e-mailed CI and asked how I went about signing up for a blog site.

You use blogger (as do we).

Yes, I'm not a techie and I was worried that I'd be unable to do the things I needed to do to post. I've had few problems with blogger. When I have, I've e-mailed CI and gotten a reply on what to do. I did figure out how to post photos on my own after CI e-mailed back that they had no idea how to do that other than copying it into an e-mail entry and then e-mailing it into your web site. That wouldn't work for me because I didn't want a photo the size of a postage stamp if I was talking about Michael Phelps sexy butt cleavage or the hottie Markus Rogan or my Corn Husker John Turek.

Which brings up the issue of sex.

Yeah, that's bothered a few people. I don't mean someone clucking good naturedly in an e-mail, "Becky, you're so naughty!" But there are quite a few people who are offended by the idea that males might be held to the same sexual gaze that women have always been held to.

Tell us about Mr. Big Britches.

Sexist pig who e-mailed in telling me what I needed to blog on. He had a suggestion that I sign up at Blogpac where I could get daily talking points and wouldn't end up writing about sex.
I don't need talking points and I'm embarrassed that anyone does. I also don't need framing, thank you very much. I write about what I'm interested in. If someone else isn't interested, they don't need to visit the site.
I am who I am and the visitors I get enjoy that.
The people who want to work from the same sort of talking points are just creating an echo chamber and I think the left doesn't care for that. I know if I went to three blogs in a row all working from the same talking points, I'd be bored and stop going to those blogs.
But by writing about what I'm interested in, hopefully some people will be interested as well.
Are you joining blogpac or working on framing?

No, we agree completely with your comments that it seems like marching orders and that a plain spoken voice will work far better than framing.

I think a lot of people can tell when someone's speaking authentically and when they're taking marching orders. Framing may work for those in elected office who've been too scared to call Bully Boy a liar or note that the war is immoral, but I worry that it will lead to them finding another way to speak plainly. If they'd spoken from the heart to begin with, they wouldn't need a framing doctor to come in now.

Common Ills said the media was the problem last week.

Exactly. You can frame as pretty as you want but it won't matter if your comments don't get on the air or in print. Look what the media did to Barbara Boxer last week, playing Condi all innocent asking that her integrity not be questioned but failing to allow Boxer's examples into most coverage. Boxer is plain spoken, she doesn't need framing. She does need media coverage and framing isn't able to address that. To me, framing is like conditioner on a bad perm. It might make the perm look less frizzy and your hair less burned but the real answer is to stop getting bad perms.

Let's go back to your first blog entry, you felt your friend was attacked.

Right. Attacked and ignored. Every Tuesday, Lizz and Big Brain do their "Ask a Vet" segment. But for sometime now listeners have been asking for another type of weekly segment where you recognized activists in the peace movement. Unfiltered has demonstrated no interest in that.
Now if I blogged that today on the Unfiltered blog, Lizz would probably screech, "We just had Medea Benjamin on last Friday!"
She was on because she was news. She should have been on and she should be on more often. That's not the issue. The issue is every week on Tuesday the show highlights veterans and their needs and the work they are doing.
Where's the weekly highlight on the work and needs of the peace movement?
I don't doubt that Lizz is a feminist, I don't doubt that she's more radical than many at Air America. But you don't get that on the show anymore. I mean at the Democratic Conventions, she went to the protest pen to make sure that was covered so she obviously cares about real issues. But where is that same care today?
Instead we get the "Ask a Vet" which means Big Brains going to pipe up several times that she supports the troops. And they've accepted the mainstream's frame that the voices that matter are the military "experts." That's what Amy Goodman was pointing out repeatedly in the last years and in her book [Exceptions to the Rulers], that the mainstream media would bring on the military to present a point of view but wouldn't bring on peace activists. Ted Koppel and Aaron Brown both gave "reasons" for that which were bullshit.
To see Unfiltered fallling into the same trap is really irritating. And it's a mistake they've made that's been repeatedly pointed out to them on their blog. But they've done nothing to address it. I doubt anyone's blogged, "Drop the 'Ask a Vet' weekly segment!'" All that's happened is that listeners have asked, "Hey, in addition to 'Ask a Vet' could we have 'Ask a Peace Advocate?'" And Unfiltered's refused to address that.
They need that segment unless they want to be a mirror of the mainstream media on what is an acceptable source and what is worthy of coverage.

And Winstead attacked your friend?

Yes and no. See Lizz doesn't handle criticism well and tends to fly off the handle on the blog and on air when talking about the blog. She starts screeching. That day, on the blog, she trashed this woman for saying what my friend said. She got the wrong woman. Because even the slightest criticism enrages her.
And I'm sorry but the vet they had on was telling listeners about how he should be a hero and how he'd gone to Iraq to protect us from Saddam while drawing the 9-11 connection that Bully Boy drew. And he's getting away with it and they aren't questioning it. And he starts saying he's done what he's done for Americans and my friend blogged something like: don't say you did this in my name or for me.
That's what enraged La Lizz.
I want to be clear that the man had problems. He was not a good speaker. And they fussed over him like they had Rain Man on the show. But what they actually may have had was a man who spoke about violence towards his wife in other mediums. Of course, Unfiltered didn't want to address that. Not even feminist Lizz.
It was just so irritating to hear. Big Brain spitting out "support the troops!" over and over. And apparently support wife beaters as well?
It was disgraceful. And then the next day they have to pat themselves on the back and claim that they got tons of positive feedback on that interview.
It wasn't an interview. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez had interviewed the same man but when he started rambling they'd go to another guest. It was really, really bad on Unfiltered and they both, Lizz and Big Brain, lack the skills that Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez have. There was no attempt to shape the interview or provide context.
I don't know if the man was shell shocked or had thought difficulties before he signed up but I don't think treating him like he's Rain Man and precious is anything to be proud of. Forget his speaking elsewhere about violence towards his wife, forget that Lizz and Big Brain won't challenge him when he repeats the Bully Boy's talking points, they did nothing to shape the interview. They just let him babble and ramble and Rachel would pipe in every now and then while Lizz was busy blogging for everybody to back off because he's had a really tough experience.
Yeah, well so have Iraqis. And when they had Tariq Ali on this week, Lizz had no problem stating, after he was gone, that she didn't agree with everything he said.
But this guy who has spoken of violence towards his wife gets a pass and is brought back on a Friday to weigh in some more.
It's disgusting.
Or when they rush to quash dissent on Hillary Clinton as they did this week. Big Brain should never weigh in on what's printed in a paper to begin with because she's usually wrong on when it was printed. For instance, on Monday's she's talking about a story in that morning's NYT that was actually in the Sunday edition of NYT.
But I especially loved this Monday when Big Brain rushed to explain to us over and over that she was going to make things simple regarding Iraq so we could understand what was going on.
Sorry, Big Brain, but listeners don't like to be talked to like their small children and I honestly think everyone has a better understanding of what happens then do you.
I don't expect much from Big Brain because she's so self-infatuated with her i.q. that she's basically a bore.
But Lizz is a feminist and she is someone who cares about issues so it is distressing to hear some of the crap that makes it onto Unfiltered.
And it's funny because I've started reading Clamor because of Common Ills and there's been an ad in the last two issues that says "Radical Talk Radio Now!" and lists these people including Lizz Winstead. Radical talk? From Lizz who won't fight to get a weekly segment for peace advocates? From Lizz who's offended that Hillary Clinton's position on abortion is questioned?
Forget that people are trying to push the Democratic party to the right, all that you have to know is that Hill is against late-term abortions as long as there is an exemption for the mother's health. From her comments she's against late-term abortions in all other circumstances and she calls them "partial birth abortions." She needs to be held accountable but the "Radical Talk" from Lizz won't let her be.
I think Lizz is probably far more of an independent thinker off air but on air she's practically a DNC crony and it's disgusting.
Laura Flanders, okay, she's a true voice of the left on the air. She'll talk about how our attack on Afghanistan wasn't a noble deed. She'll put on peace activists and she'll question anyone. She's not a Clinton cheerleader. It's distressing to see Lizz turn into that.

How do you rate the other Air America personalities?

I think that's a good word, personalities, because most of them are not experienced when it comes to the news. And the constant refrain of "I'm just a comedian" when they're criticized is really getting old.
Randi Rhodes is someone to the right of me but she's consistent and authentic so I can listen to her show and enjoy it. She'll always defend the Clintons and you know that going in. By contrast, Lizz and Big Brain are ripping apart critics of Hillary, critics on the left, and moments later Lizz is sharing her opinions on abortion and they're exactly the same as the critics she just tore apart. It makes no sense and sounds hypocritical. Randi never sounds hypocritical because she's working from a solid base. She's thought things through and is consistent. She's also a radio veteran and you can hear that when you listen. She knows how to do radio.
Mike Malloy always makes me laugh. He actually reminds me of my uncle Lloyd. He also has radio experience and it shows.
Janeane Garofalo is new to radio and I don't think that's hurt her. She's probably the left-ist host during the week. My problem with The Majority Report is that Sam Seder won't shut up. When he was gone, Janeane got pretty deep in the interviews. When he's around, he's got to interrupt a story to crack a joke or ask a question that starts off with his state-of-the-world address.
He also has a real bad tendency to interrupt guests, but only female guests. He doesn't cut off the male guests. They did an interview with Naomi Klein and her husband and Naomi hardly got to speak at all and when she would speak, Sam was interrupting her.
My other problem with the show is that women are not on in large numbers and when Janeane was gone, we saw two women substitute for her, one day each. And the rest of the two week period we got male after male sitting in with Sam and, on a good day, we might get one female guest. It was male posturing and it was boring. Since Janeane's come back from vacation, they seem to be working on including more female guests. But the next time she goes on vacation, they really need to make a point to include female guests and female co-hosts. And unless I'm forgetting something, with a mimimum of three bloggers a week, they've only managed to include one female blogger as a guest since the show started in April. That's really shameful.
Al Franken? I don't take him seriously. If I listen, I listen to laugh. He can't handle outrage because he tends to get choked up. And when he has on someone like Jeremy Glick he keeps telling us that unlike Bill O'Reilly, he'll let Glick talk. But when Glick tries to talk about blowback, Al shuts him up too. He doesn't scream, "Shut up! Shut up!" at him. He just steers the conversation somewhere else. So, in fact, Glick still doesn't get to talk. A similar thing happened during the ridiculous lead up to Reagan's funeral when Franken evicted Greg Palast from his show for daring to question the hype surrounding Reagan.
The death sqauds in Latin America are a part of the Reagan legacy and they need to be noted. But Al's always quick to rush to the center and it's at the expense of an honest discussion. I'll also note that he has people from the American Enterprise Institute on and always assures us that the person is one of the good guys. Neoliberals and neoconservatives are in the same club
and either Al's too dense to get that or he's part of that crowd.
I don't listen to Morning Sedition since they dumped the British co-host.
As for the weekends, I think they're all wonderful and stronger than many of the programs you hear during the week. Laura Flanders is a stand out and probably the best thing about Air America. But Ring of Fire and Eco Talk are hard hitting and Kyle Jason and Steve Earl provide a nice compliment to the weekends. Marty Kaplan is great and I miss hearing him during the week.
I feel like I just went off on everyone at Air America except for the weekend hosts, Randi, Mike and Janeane.

I guess that means you won't be asked to appear?

Fine by me. Things would get ugly if I was on The Majority Report and Sam treated me the way he does Katrina vanden Heuvel. They pair her up with a blogger (Kos, Atrios or Bill Scher of the Liberal Oasis) and the guy can go on and on but Katrina's always getting cut off when she's in the middle of a point and she actually knows what she's talking about.
They'd have to bleep out most of my remarks because I'd start out with, "Shut the fuck up, Sam! Why the hell am I being cut off when the guy in the same segment gets to finish every thought!"
I think it's because Sam doesn't think a woman is interesting. It's why he cuts off Janeane all the time. It's an old story and one that seventies feminists noted. A woman is telling a story and a man has to rush in because without him "saving" the moment, people will get bored. That's a sexist notion. Hold on a minute.
Okay, I wanted to grab a Jane Fonda quote that's really to the point on this issue. This is from the early seventies. Quote: "I was becoming sensitized at that particular time to the way men treat women, things I never noticed before -- a lack of respect, a glossing over. Like when a woman starts telling a story, the men interrupt and finish it because they assume that no one will really understand or find amusing or interesting the way a woman tells it. And so the man has to take over and tell it in his own way."
That's what it sounds like when Sam repeatedly cuts off women but will let a man (Simon Rosenberg, for example) go on and on without interruption.

What's your advice to anyone reading this or visiting your blog?

Think about what matters to you and speak about it. Be authentic. And if you're thinking "I should start a blog" then you probably should.
But don't do it to sound like every other blogger that's out there. What I like about The Third Estate is that it covers the media and questions it. And provides some good entertainment reporting in the process. I really loved the Anne Sexton cutting. What I like about The Common Ills is that there's a committment to social justice. That's the framework for CI. Whether it's taking on NYT or someone failing to live up to their role as a reporter or watchdog or whatever, it's addressing social justice. And truly reminding us all of how we are not alone or the only ones outraged morally by what's going on in Iraq or elsewhere. And it's highlighting nonmainstream media which is really important because we don't need to ever again be silenced the way we were after 9-11. So you have to be authentic. I'm going to go back to Randi Rhodes.
I don't agree with her on every position but she's authentic and I can listen to her because I know she's meaning every word she says and she's not flip-flopping.
I enjoy A Winding Road because they weigh in on the hypocrisy of some Senate Democrats. They highlight who's doing their job to serve democracy and who's not doing it. I get the feeling that Folding Star is strongly interested in the Senate and it shows in the blog.
So speak in your own voice because we do need more voices and more discussion. If you're not going to do that, maybe you shouldn't start a blog. There was 1 guy who was posting on Common Ills back when you could post and he was always going about his local NPR. He had strong opinions and that's what makes a good blog. He's someone who should consider doing their own blog.
I'd also urge ethinic and racial minorities and all women to blog. We're really being left behind in this. The mainstream media seems to think there's Wonkette and the rest of the women are off knitting or something. We need to make sure that our voices are being heard. Not by posting replies, but by starting our own blogs. We need to start controlling our content, not providing it as a footnote to some white guy that's getting the credit for points we are making.

How would you describe Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude to someone who hasn't ever visited it?

Well the title says it all. I'll talk about sex and politics and I'll go off into a screed or a rant with attitude because otherwise what's the point of me weighing in? If I don't care about something, should I really be wasting my time and your time by writing about it?
When I started it, I had no idea that Mr. Big Britches and other guys would find it so offensive. I really thought we had passed that point a long time ago. So that was a learning experience and I think the blog serves as a learning experience in its own way because I'm not trying to come off like a passive woman who teases about sex. There are some guys, and not all of them have been offended, who really don't seem to have enountered a woman who speaks like I do. I guess they've lived very sheltered lives and don't get out much.
But I am not all women and I do try to make that point. I'm speaking the way I do to my friends (female and male) and I'm being authentic. But I'm not all women.
Nor do I want to be. All of us, women, men, children, are coming at issues and life from various viewpoints and we need to be heard, especially on the left.
One man wrote me Tuesday that I was an embarrassment to the left and all the work he does.
Good. If he's to the right of me, the fact that I exist means he can't be portrayed as the radical left. I'm not too sure I'm the radical left but part of the reason some idiot from The New Republic can get on TV and be labeled "the left" (or mainstream journalists for that matter) is because we've consricted and silenced the left.
Moderates can certainly be moderate if they want. And they can criticize me and I can criticize them. But they aren't left and shouldn't have to be labeld as such. So if my voice pushes the public notion of the left over a little that's great.
But again, we all should be weighing in and making ourselves heard. The center has moved to the right not because the Republicans are in power but because the left hasn't been heard. Whether you loved him or hated him or didn't care one way or another about him, Bill Clinton was not left. That doesn't mean he was a bad president or a good president. But when you hear some right winger piping off that Hillary Clinton is a radical feminist/socialist, it demonstrates how the left has been made invisible.
The American Taliban gets on TV in the form of James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The American left isn't invited on Larry King or PBS's the NewsHour. The Brookings institute is centrist, not leftist. Mark Shields does not speak for the left, he speaks for the center. Both he and Brookings can be as center as they want to be. But when people worry that America's moved to the center, it's because the left hasn't been heard from. So start your own blogs and start getting your own viewpoint out there. Especially if you're a woman who's more sexual than I am because, judging by some of my e-mail, there are people who think I'm the equivalent of Heidi Fleiss. I can take the heat but I'm far from the most sexual woman in the country and the fact that several men seem to think I am underscores how important it is that others weigh in.

You'll keep addressing men's body?

Hell yeah. And I'm hearing from men who enjoy that. Some are gay and some are bisexual but there are also straight men who are enjoying it. I had one guy e-mail in after I wrote about crackatoa and how if Simon Rosenberg has it, he needs to fix that immediately. This guy that wrote in said he never thought about it but got worried reading and asked his best friend who told him, "No one wants to walk behind you." I mean, I'm surprised the guy didn't know he had butt odor but think of it as a public service. Note that I'm laughing right now.

And another guy had decided that his razor was a weed wacker and gone to town on his body until I posted about manscaping and how not every woman was into it. He stopped doing it and as soon as some hairs started to grow out, his wife asked him what was going on. When he told her he'd decided to leave his pit hairs alone, she said thank God because she'd been having a hell of a time trying to match up her shaving schedule with his. I meant what I said about when guys finally decide to take grooming seriously they grow obsessive about it. And for me and a number of my friends, that's not endearing. It makes us feel like we're in a competition and losing because between make up and all the other things that get pushed off on us (which we need to stop accepting and start pushing back onto others in our life), we don't always have the time to grab a razor the first moment a hair pops up from the skin on our legs.

But I get a lot of e-mail from women and men who enjoy my drooling over guys. Over the cornhusk of John Turek or the hairy chest of Markus Rogan or the butt crack of Mikey Phelps.
And the butt crack has become the new cleavage even if others don't want to admit that or address it.

The only time I worry is when I think about the lesbians who read my site because I don't want them to feel unvitied but the feedback has been that they wouldn't drool over what I drool over but they enjoy my sexual frankness. So yes, I'll keep writing from a hormonal point of view. Note that I'm laughing.

Last words?

Speak your mind. Don't let anyone tell you that a comment's not allowed or that you need to be appropriate. Talk about what you care about. Others will respond to your passion if your not your topic.

Blog entry spotlight: Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude's on Kitty Kelley and response to Mr. Big Britches

With Rebecca's permission (thank you, Rebecca) here is her post (Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude) on dealing with "Mr. Big Britches" who felt he could harrass her into writing what he wanted her to write about:

the importance of kitty kelley and a response to the man who refuses to stop sending the same bossy e-mails over and over

so the common ills did a book list of people's favorites and i weighed in. check it yourself at and you'll find me weighing in with valley of the dolls.
i got e-mail on that. it usually went along the lines of 'rebecca, i love that book but would never have the guts to admit it publicly!' yeah well i did and i do. this wasn't a list of great literature -- obviously since it included non-fiction books (my picks: amy goodman's exception to the rulers and mama michelle philips' california dreamin' about the history of the mamas and the papas).
the list was 'favorites' and those are my favorites.
i'm right above someone reeling off a mammoth list of books that read less like favorites and more like diane chambers trying to impress the gang at cheers. they may be great books (and i assume the person enjoyed them) but i wouldn't take one of those books to the beach.
the point was to name 3 books fiction and 3 books nonfiction that were your favorite. i'm not embarrassed or ashamed to say what i enjoy. (even if it might be "abridged.")

1 book i forgot to mention that i should have is kitty kelley's the family where she probes the bush family with the same keen eye towards popular interests (sex, drugs, back stabbing) that she brought to bear on elizabeth taylor and frank sinatra among others.i really wish i had named the book.
in case you haven't heard, some woman is having a hissy fit and is either suing kelley or threatening to sue her.
see the woman wrote about the bully boy's alleged cocaine and a few other things in an article.
and goodness me, it's in kelley's book!
bitter woman screams 'i have been ripped off!'
but if you check the sources at the back of the book, the woman and her story are credited.
sorry to break it to bitter, but that's how it goes in the kind of book kelley writes.
there aren't footnotes. she does interviews and uses the public record to flesh out her portraits. there's nothing new about that.
but a few people want to treat the family as though it just rolled off the university of chicago press.
get a grip, bitter.
let's do a history lesson.
in kelley's day you didn't have a maureen dowd. you didn't have most women who now write books about politics. if they did write, they tended to write academic books. women were largely left to write fiction (literature or not), diet books, celeb exposes, etc. the only exceptions were the women writing scholarly tomes for academic presses.
times have changed and thank god for that.
it's not that women couldn't write the books, it's that no one was interested in opening the gates to the boys club.
kelley's a scrapper. she came up in the hard knocks school and made it her own way, tromping onto the best seller list where she's remained for decades.
and she didn't do that via footnoted books.
with her ususal zeal, she charges after the bush family. now some bitter journalist is upset that the text doesn't come to a grinding halt to say 'and now let's deal with what bitter journalist wrote.
kelley's success is built upon the fact that she mixes in various sources, blending it all together to make it sound like some whispered secret you heard about wanda while waiting to get your hair done.
she's enlarged what women can make the best seller list with.
is she scholarly? no and she never will be.
good or bad, she is what she is: a woman who made it onto the bestseller nonfiction list without writing about poodles, diets or beauty. and over the years, she's wandered beyond the hollywood scene to comment directly on the people in power. (they usually popped up in earlier books as supporting characters.)
so cut her some slack.
no, you won't feel like you've just learned darwin when you emerge from one of kelley's books but you won't feel bored either. kitty kelley writes in a chatty, breezy way.
and at a time when cbs buckles under pressure from the administration and the mainstream press shakes in their booties over covering any hint of scandal in the bush family, kelley just barges through the door and onto the best seller lists.
don't underestimate kelley's power. she's an author for people who won't pick up paul krugman or maureen dowd or michael walzer or any number of more 'respectable' writers.
and guess who'll make more difference?
when the family comes out in paperback, look around you, see who's reading it.
back in october, in chicago, i went to get a pedicure at a place elaine swears by. scanning the room as i waited, i saw women of various ages (okay, no one elderly) scanning through the family.
i asked this 1 peroxide blond, tanning bedded tanned, crest stripped teeth gal, who we'll call skipper, if she read a lot of books.'oh yeah, i read tons. at least 1 romance novel a month,' skipper chirped brightly.
'do you read a lot of books in hard covers?' i asked.
'no, they're too expensive but i wasn't going to wait for this to come out in paperback. can you believe what a bitch barbara bush is?'
kelley reached skipper.
kitty kelley made the bestseller list in hard cover. her real power will be demonstrated when the book comes out in paperback and most of her readers snap it up.
and they will. this book will reach people that various books on bush never stood a chance of reaching.
robert parry has an article online at consortium news,, about the blowback that faces people who actually look into the reality of the bush family.
it doesn't list kitty kelley. it shouldn't. she bush-proof. 'she's writing about scandals!' yeah, so what else is new?
the most they could do to kitty kelley, which they did do, was make sure that she wasn't on larry king -- kelley whose been a fixture on that show. a new book and she can't even get on.
didn't hurt her book sales.
she did get booked on al franken's show. and the surprise there was that, after the interview (when kelley wasn't around to respond), katherine lanpher had to indicate her distaste for kelley's career choices. lanpher is usually stuck playing mommy to al's naughty boy and it can be irritating. but here she was objecting to kelley being on the show.
sorry katherine, i know she's not serious enough for you, not respectable enough. but it's women like kitty kelley who enlarge the scope for all women.
when she started, how many women could have a successful career writing nonfiction that made the bestseller list? again, i'm not talking about a diet book and then three follow ups to how to perfect that diet book is. or make up book or or a book on your poodle or whatever.
yeah, kelley's books are loud and tawdry celeb exposes but exactly who else has made a successful career out of that?
kitty kelley, if nothing else, could go on a talk show and be introduced as "the best selling nonfiction writer." it's not so uncommon now. it was when she busted down the door to the boys club.
so maybe instead of making it a point to draw a line between yourself and kitty kelley, you should realize that even if she isn't your style, she helped women.
i'm not trying to make her out into a feminist hero. i have no idea if she is or isn't a feminist.
and i seriously doubt she was focused on much more than herself for the bulk of her career.
but her success did help, in some way, other women.
the common ills rightly pointed out the new york times desire to 'air kiss' the adminstration today in a must read post,
when the times continues to offer ridiculous "society" pieces on the upcoming inauguration as "hard news" it only underscores how important the work of a "frivilous" writer like kitty kelley is. the paper of record had four years to examine the administration's record, had time in 1999 and 2000 to examine the bully boy. and yet they're still writing pieces that lack perspective and are historically ignorant.
who's the embarrassment? kitty kelley who doesn't present herself as a journalist or the new york times? who probed the record of the bush family more? kitty kelley in one book or the new york times in their day to day coverage? if you guessed kelley you're right. and that goes to the problem with the media today. (another point the common ills addresses.)
i don't give a flying fuck about framing and think far too much time has been spent discussing this issue. i don't care about looking serious. or about whether or not my book list impresses someone. i'm going to speak plain and in my own voice.
there's something very undemocratic about insisting we all get on the same page and all speak in the same voice. it wasn't the universal voices that brought attention to the bully boys missteps.
it was the kitty kelleys, the michael moores, and others.
we don't need one voice all chanting the same message. we need as many voices possible speaking out in as many ways as possible.
1 person e-mailed me: "you're drooling over men is adolescent and completely boring. i don't know who you think you're reaching."
that man, and yes, it was a man, wants me to buy lakoff's book and work on framing.
guess what mister man, i have visitors. i have readers. i have women sharing with me about guys that they think are hot, i have gay men sharing with me about guys that they think are hot, i have straight men asking me to explain their wives (here's a hint for all husbands, try talkling to her instead of writing me).
i'm not going to please the framing audience. big deal. i'm not trying to reach them.
at the end of a fantasy of what she'd do to john turek (the huskiest of all the corn husks), my new best friend sherry writes: "i was all gung hu this week on graner being punished. now i'm starting to wonder if his trial wasn't a show trial to detract from the crimes of the people above him."
those are my people. and we're communicating just fine, thank you very much.
i'm a woman who enjoys sex and really enjoys sexy men. that's what i'll talk about and go on about and, in the midst of that, we'll take a moment or two to address other things that are going on.
the people e-mailing me? you aren't reaching them. your lakoff strategies won't reach them. that's because the population is a diverse one. so instead of urging me to change my ways and march lock step with you (is this the communist party?) just stop coming by my web site and realize that others enjoy what's being discussed here.
and i'll add that there's a sexist mentality involved if you think you can e-mail this woman and tell her what to talk about and what not to talk about. if you, mister big man, think you know how to better communicate with women than i do because you read some book (by a man) on framing, you've led a very sheltered life.
like kitty kelley, i'm not footnoting here. i'm not interested in exploring the deeper meanings of policy. i'm not a wonk or a wonkette. i'm talking about issues that matter to me and yes, that might include my date friday night. or it might include having sex. or a fantasy of antonio sabato junior that i had as a child.
is it really the "off message" that's offending you or the fact that i'm engaging in conversations that you've apparently never heard before in your life?
mister big britches writes: "i would never let my wife go to your site.
"let your wife? let? maybe you should put down the book on framing and grab 1 on relationships in the last century because we're living in the 21st century, mister know it all, and you're going on like it's the 1800s.
mister big britches has a web site which he shared with me. i went to it.
i didn't see anything all that deep. true, he's addressing social security. but he's also talking about basketball games. (no hot photos or talks about the bouncing pouches of the nebraska cornhuskers, so i won't bore you with his site.)
so it's okay for you to go on and on about some big ten team and that's being "politically serious" (as you claim you are but I'm not)? yet if i comment on michael phelp's butt crack i've "lost sight of the reason you should be blogging?"get it through your sexist brain, my interests do not have to reflect your interests. and i really feel sorry for your wife if she's only able to go where you "let" her go online. maybe you think you're doing her a favor because, as a man, you just know so much better than she does what is "important."
but if you think talking about how a game on saturday reminded you of a game you played on jv in high school is "important" or "politically serious" maybe you shouldn't be tossing stones?
that's the problem with any craze. it starts out as something valuable for a few and then it becomes something we're all being forced to do and practice. and why is it always a book by a man, or men, that we're being told we have to follow?
you're view of "universal" is a limited one, mister bossy, if you're idea of "universal" is to bother me with your harrasing e-mails (ten since Saturday) telling me that "ladies shouldn't speak that way" and that "this focus on sex destroys the frame we're all working so hard to show america that we have morals."
newsflash, mister prude, most people in america are having sex or wanting to. it's a basic desire.
i'll keep focusing on sex as much as i want and you go preach to your group and i'll keep talking to the women (straight and gay) and the men (gay and straight) who enjoy this kind of talk.
mister universal closes one e-mail by informing me: "liberation isn't about sex. most women don't care about sex and you're propagating a myth of feminists as sex obsessed."
oh, are we sex obsessed this year? is that this year's myth? i missed the issue of time (or was it newsweek's turn this year?) on "the death of feminism" so i didn't realize we were back to being called sex obsessed as opposed to prudes.
but get it through your pea brain, some women do care about the sex. probably the same number as men who care about sex. (your wife may not be one of them. but then she's had to put up with a lot if she's married to you.) and i've already stated that i'm not trying to speak for all women. i'm speaking my truth in a plain spoken manner. i'm not hiding behind any device (framing or otherwise) to make myself or my words more appealing.
as a feminist, i recognize that women believe in a variety of things and discuss a vareity of things and i know that some women will have no interest in the topics i discuss. i don't dash off angry e-mails to them telling them what women should do or talk about.
i respect their choices and their options and their interests and only ask that they do the same with mine. that's what feminism is about (and maybe you should try reading up on that!). the women's movement in the last century was built not by one voice but by many. and we respect the diversity in the population. gloria steinem's not faxing us talking points and slapping us on the wrists if we go "off message." now isn't spaming us with e-mails to tell us that we're betraying the cause. so i don't know where you get off sending me ten e-mails demanding that i write on the topics you listed, that i stop talking about sex, that i use the "frames that will further the cause" and that i "buy a bar of soap for your filthy mouth."
your advice was not useful to me so i was ignoring you. your attitude was insulting. in your house you may be able to 'lay down the law' on how things will be done and how people will speak (i really feel sorry for your wife) but this isn't your house and i don't take orders from you.
go back to waxing over your j.v. years (never made varsity, huh?) and quit bothering me with your e-mails.
and to tie this back to kitty kelley, for the readers of this site who come here because they enjoy my thoughts -- half-baked, sex obsessed and otherwise -- i'm sure this is the sort of crap kelley's had to put up with. men coming along and telling her: "you shouldn't write that!" or "you can't talk about that!"
the next time someone tells you what you can or cannot say, i don't care if you are a woman or a man, look them in the eye and say, "it's called free speech. now get out of my face.
"there's always going to be some self-important blow hard who thinks he can control the conversation (and my apologies to my male readers -- gay, bisexual, bicurious and straight -- but it's generally a man who wants to come along and "lay down the law"). that's not free speech. that's not democracy. it's nice that you enjoyed a book (by a male author of course),
but don't try to convert me to your religion.
my advice to the people who come to this site, whom i'm sure all our beautiful and kind souls, don't let anyone try to browbeat you. read kitty kelley if you want. read valley of the dolls.
read whatever you want. including george lakoff if that's what you want to read.
but speak in your own voice. you may not "get out the message" but people will understand what you're saying and realize you're trying to be genuine. that's why some people respond to kitty kelley's writing -- she's "keeping it real."

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