Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

The Washington Post’s Greatest Monster

Monday, March 29th, 2010

It’s a tough competition at a paper that includes Charles Krauthammer, Anne Applebaum, and Marc Thiessen in its stable, but Robert Samuelson, an original member of the Pain Caucus, can always be counted on to make a strong case for the title of Greatest Monster at The Washington Post. Here’s a section of his column today, arguing that expanding health insurance to those without access is a “self-indulgence:”

To criticisms, Obama supporters make two arguments. First, the CBO says the plan reduces the deficit by $143 billion over a decade. Second, the legislation contains measures (an expert panel to curb Medicare spending, emphasis on “comparative effectiveness research”) to control health spending. These rejoinders are self-serving and unconvincing.

Suppose the CBO estimate is correct. So? The $143 billion saving is about 1 percent of the projected $12.7 trillion deficit from 2009 to 2020. If the administration has $1 trillion or so of spending cuts and tax increases over a decade, all these monies should first cover existing deficits — not finance new spending. Obama’s behavior resembles a highly indebted family’s taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it. It’s self-indulgent and reckless.

As  brief aside, there was a point not that long ago when Samuelson couched his morally outrageous positions in much more clever arguments. But whether time is catching up with him or his position has gotten so cozy he can’t avoid the temptation to phone it in, these days Samuelson’s columns don’t even stand up to an initial skimming. In the next paragraph, for example, Samuelson argues that the CBO’s report is “misleading,” and bases this claim on a New York Times Op-Ed by Douglas Holtz-Eakin that Krugman absolutely shredded on the Times’ own website, and by invoking the “doc fix” that was going to pass regardless of the fate of healthcare reform. It’s the work of a complete hack, and not even original hack work at that.

But even leaving that aside, Samuelson’s argument, such as it is, falls apart under the weight of Samuelson’s own analogy. Samuelson would have you believe that expanding access to health insurance is akin to a family that finds some extra money in its budget opts to take a lavish vacation rather than pay down existing debt. I have a better idea, how about we compare it to a family who, rather than pay off some of their credit card debt, takes the newfound funds and…buys health insurance! Of course, that wouldn’t work for Samuelson’s point, because while people can generally agree that vacations should be sacrificed in the name of controlling your personal debt, they’d look at you like you had 3 eyes if you even remotely suggested that paying more than the minimum credit card payment should take precedence over getting your family health insurance.

It’s entirely possible that it didn’t occur to Samuelson that it would be better to compare expanding health insurance coverage to buying insurance rather than taking an extravagant vacation, but I doubt it. The omission is so egregious, and the example Samuelson chose so over the top (I mean really, how many people go on a globe-trotting vacation anyway?), that I can’t really imagine that Samuelson wasn’t deliberately trying to obscure how basic a necessity health insurance is in the modern world. Because, while a hostility to the social saftey net and social welfare spending is the animating factor of Samuelson’s existence, he’s aware enough of the larger political debate to know that most people would be appalled by his beliefs. And so, he’s left coming up with wild analogies to make giving people access to a basic necessity seem like a frivolous expenditure. Thankfully, he’s just not smart enough, nor his writing strong enough, to carry that sort of argument these days.

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Fred Hiatt’s Most Shameful Moment

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I’ve basically been at the point where very little that shows up in The Washington Post, especially on the Op-Ed page, surprises me anymore. I’m not really sure how Fred Hiatt views his job responsibilities, but it’s been clear for some time that the practical impact of whatever it is Hiatt thinks is that conservatives can expect to tell pretty much any lie they want and have it published by Hiatt. That extends to regular columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, and to guest submissions from Repulican politicians like Sarah Palin and Sen. Lamar Alexander. I imagine that Hiatt views this as “presenting all sides,” but of course all that is doing is muddying the waters for the readers, especially when the writers are telling verifiable lies. Whatever it may be, the Post has not been a publication primarily concerned with informing its readers for quite some time.

But when Hiatt actually hired Marc Thiessen to write a weekly column, I suspected Thiessen would actually find a way to drag the paper lower. Thiessen is a former Defense Department speechwriter whose only real claim to fame is having written an entire book vociferously defending the use of torture. Indeed, Thiessen is the guy who argued that torturing Muslim detainees was absolutely necessary so that they could achieve compliance with their religious beliefs in talking to interrogators. Thiessen’s premise has been the subject of fierce push back from actual Army interrogators, but he’s a moral monster who likes the idea of being able to brutalize people, if only by proxy, so of course that doesn’t make much difference. Before being hired by Hiatt, Thiessen’s most prominent interaction with the Post was taking to its pages to claim that the waterboarding of Khalid Mohammed had thwarted the plot to bomb the Library Tower, even though that plot had been foiled before KSM was even captured, a fact that was noted by The Washington Post’s sister publication, Slate. This, of course, hasn’t stopped Thiessen from repeating the claim.

Today, however, Thiessen and Hiatt have outdone themselves with what may be the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen run in a major newspaper. Thiessen is defending Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol’s attack on Justice Department lawyers who had represented suspected terrorists detainees in the past, a position that basically no one in the conservative legal community has yet stood behind. Here’s Thiessen:

Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would — and rightly so.

So right off the bat, we already have a mischaracterization. “Mob lawyers” are most often members of the criminal organization themselves, albeit somewhat at a distance. They aid and abet the operation’s illegal activity, and are actively sympathetic to the business. So right at the outset, Thiessen is constructing a comparison designed to make the reader think of the lawyers as actively sympathetic to terrorists, something, incidentally, that even Cheney and Kristol won’t openly claim they’re doing.

Yet Attorney General Eric Holder hired former al-Qaeda lawyers to serve in the Justice Department and resisted providing Congress this basic information.

Again, Thiessen chooses to call the attorneys “al Qaeda lawyers” instead of “lawyers who represented suspects,” in order to plant the impression of people actively working for al Qaeda, as opposed to lawyers fulfilling what they believe to be a civic duty to provide a defense for the accused.

Yet for raising questions, Cheney and the Republican senators have been vilified. Former Clinton Justice Department official Walter Dellinger decried the “shameful” personal attacks on “these fine lawyers,” while numerous commentators leveled charges of “McCarthyism.”

Of course, what Thiessen doesn’t note is that the condemnation of Cheney and Keep America Safe has been basically universal, with such noted liberal luminaries as Ted Olsen and Ken Starr leading the pitchforked mob. The response to Cheney has not been one of partisan rancor, but rather legal professionals of all political persuasions responding to an attack on fundamental principles of their profession and the American legal system.

Where was the moral outrage when fine lawyers like John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Jim Haynes, Steve Bradbury and others came under vicious personal attack? Their critics did not demand simple transparency; they demanded heads. They called these individuals “war criminals” and sought to have them fired, disbarred, impeached and even jailed.

This is where the column really goes off the rails, because while Thiessen is very good at selecting his words and rhetorical framing (he isa speechwriter, after all), the fact that he’s looking for a ridiculous premise at the outset leaves him grasping for a comparison that is just so self-evidently absurd that any self-respecting, non-propaganda outfit would have squashed this column immediately. To wit, it should be clear that there’s absolutely nothing similar about the accusations Liz Cheney is directing at the attornies in question and what Yoo, Bybee, & co. did. Cheney is asserting that, because an attorney represented a detainee accused of a certain crime, that must mean that they’re sympathetic to those people and the cause of which they’re accused, and therefore we can’t trust them to hold jobs in the Justice Department. Yoo, Bybee, etc., on the other hand, are accused of actually breaking the law in facilitating and implementing the use of torture. Calling this an apples to oranges comparison would be giving it too much credit.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Some defenders say al-Qaeda lawyers are simply following a great American tradition, in which everyone gets a lawyer and their day in court. Not so, says Andy McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney who put Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik,” behind bars for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

And this is the giveaway. Whatever McCarthy may have to say, that Thiessen has chosen to quote him and describe him in this manner exposes the column as abject dishonesty, propagand in its most undiluted form. For one thing, there’s the fact that McCarthy is a raving lunatic, birther, and all around radical too extreme even for Rich Lowry and most of the other writers at The Corner to stand. But even more basic than that, McCarthy is the originator of the “al Qaeda seven” attack. For Thiessen not to disclose that, and especially to paint McCarthy as simply some sort of detached expert on the question, is an indescribale breach of ethics, a blatant attempt to mislead, not persuade, readers, and so unbelievably ham-fisted and obvious that I can’t believe for a second that no one at the Post noticed it.

The entire column is nothing but a string of lies, false equivalencies, and misrepresentations. Thiessen quite transparently wrote this with the intent of misleading the reader. There’s simply no other way anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes following the issues in question could interpret the article without straining credulity to the max. It also, I should hope, represents a low point, thus far, in the moral degeneration of the Post. And at this point, I think we can safely say that the Post is into the territory heretofor occupied by The New Republic; where the overall direction of the publication’s management begins to tain everyone involved in the publication. In the same way I feel that Jon Cohn, Jon Chait, Michelle Cottle, and the other wonderful writers at TNR nonetheless have to carry the stain of working for Marty Peretz, at this point Ezra Klein, Steve Pearlstein, Eugene Robinson, and any other decent employee of The Washington Post nevertheless has to live with the stain of association with Fred Hiatt, Marc Thiessen, Charles Krauthammer, etc, so long as they accept a paycheck from Kaplan.

Greenwald has more.

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The Place To Be For Lying Republicans

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

I really try not to focus too much on the Washington Post Op-Ed page, because if I did I could basically have a dedicated blog, and that’s not what I want. Still, when they do things like run this blatantly dishonest guest Op-Ed from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, you really can’t ignore it. Plenty of people have already addressed most of the dishonesties, so I’ll just add a few points. First of all, there’s no way to really excuse most of this as “just opinion.” Almost all of it is objectively false. The founders didn’t establish the filibuster, nor did they personally design the Senate as a super-majoritarian body. Reconcilliation has been used numerous times, and for proposals much larger in scope than the “sidecar” amendment Democrats are talking about at the moment. Off the top of my head, the $1.8 trillion of Bush tax cuts comes most easily to mind, but so do COBRA and the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. Finally, the notion that reconcilliation can only be used to “balance the budget” is particularly ridiculous, not just because reconcilliation has often been used to increase the deficit, as with the tax cuts Hatch voted for in 2001 and 2003, but because the healthcare reform bill scores as deficit reduction. Is Hatch literally arguing that reconcilliation can only be used for proposals that literally balance the budget in its entirety, and so even bills that reduce the deficit in part, but not in whole, are out of bounds for the process?

On a larger note, I really would like to know what the Post thinks it’s doing by publishing pieces like this. Presumably, the purpose of a newspaper like the Post is to inform its readers about what’s going on, as well as to help them understand it. That’s certainly what journalists, publishers, etc. see their work as. But I think you’d be hard pressed to really defend the notion that Post readers are being better informed by Fred Hiatt’s habit of regularly publishing blatantly dishonest Op-Eds from conservative writers and Republican politicians. And while I can at least sort of understand how newsmedia has gotten to the point where regular columnists for a major paper are allowed to lie on a regular basis, I really don’t see how an self-respecting journalist could imagine there’s any journalistic value whatsoever to printing objective lies from a politician.

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The Washington Post’s Problem With Reality

Monday, March 1st, 2010

The Washington Post ran two columns this morning coming down somewhere between disdainful and skeptical about costs associated with healthcare reform. Chait already did a good job dealing with Fred Hiatt’s column, but I’d prefer to engage the much worse column from (surprise!) Robert Samuelson. This seems to be the key graf from the column:

On the left, President Obama and Democrats have spent the past year arguing that, despite the government’s massive deficits and overspending, they can responsibly propose even more spending. Future deficits are to be ignored (present deficits, to be sure, partially reflect the economic slump). The proposal is “responsible” because it’s “paid for” through new taxes and spending cuts. Even if these financing sources were completely believable (they aren’t), the logic is that the government can undertake new spending before dealing with the consequences of old spending. Of course, most households and businesses can’t do this.

Politicians can, because it’s all make-believe. They pretend to deal with budget deficits when they aren’t.

First of all, it seems to me that if Samuelson is going to claim that the financing mechanisms for reform aren’t “believeable,” he really ought to go to greater lengths to say why that’s the case. The CBO has scored both bills as deficit reducing, and if Samuelson has some sort of reason to believe those reports aren’t accurate, then it seems to me that his station at a major newspaper obligates him to let us know about it. If nothing else, you’d think the vaunted editors that make newspaper so wicked awesome we keep hearing about might ask their main economics columnist to explain this to their readers. It’s not like it’s trivial, after all. Secondly, there’s the rather obvious point that that last sentence rather blatantly ignores the fact that the CBO says the healthcare reform bill would lower the long-term budget deficit. Passing legislation that reduces the long-term deficit definitely strikes me as “dealing with budget deficits,” and I’d be interested to hear why Samuelson thinks it isn’t. Of course, Samuelson is a big proponent of cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits, as is the Washington Post editorial board, so I suspect it’s mostly a matter of cutting the deficit in general not being as important to Samuelson as cutting social safety net benefits in particular, but that really doesn’t give him a license to lie about the effect reform would have on the deficit. Being a Washington Post columnist, on the other hand…

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Washington Post Doesn’t Report King Comments On IRS Attack

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I haven’t said anything about Steve King’s remarks alluding to some sympathy for the guy who flew an airplane into an IRS office, killing an employee, because I figured that they were disgusting enough that there wasn’t any need for someone with as small a platform as me to weigh in to state the obvious. Someone who doesn’t have a small platform, on the other hand, is The Washington Post, and according to Steve Benen, they haven’t mentioned King’s comments once either. I don’t really pay much attention to the Post’s newspages anymore, and I’d like to pay less attention to the paper as a whole, so I don’t necessarily want to say they absolutely should have run it, but I will say that the lack of a mention highlights a major problem for Democratic politicians and progressive activists; you just can’t get the corporate media to build an accurate narrative about the degree to which actual Republican members of Congress are dangerous, crazy, extremists. King’s comments are downright shocking, and there’s really no way to defend them. Nor are they the first offensively crazy/hateful things King has said. He’s long been a major basher of gays and immigrants in particular. But you’ll never see King referred to regularly as “the Republican Congressman from Iowa who regularly engages in gay bashing and sympathized with the IRS attacker.” And that reluctance to accurately portray the Republican fringe in Congress significantly impacts the public’s understanding of just how out there the GOP is.

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Making Headway Against AQ? A Suspiciously Timely Article From The Washington Post

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

By Tommy Brown

An article about efforts against Al Qaeda in AfPak that makes my spider-sense tingle, from the WaPo:

U.S. and international intelligence officials say that improved recruitment of spies inside the al-Qaeda network, along with increased use of targeted airstrikes and enhanced assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced the terrorist organization’s effectiveness.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said that the combined advances have led to the deaths of more than a dozen senior figures in al-Qaeda and allied groups in Pakistan and elsewhere over the past year, most of them in 2009. Officials described Osama bin Laden and his main lieutenants as isolated and unable to coordinate high-profile attacks.
A convenient time for an article to come out extolling the success we are having against Al Qaeda, no? Here’s my problem with just these two paragraphs: First off,  this sounds exactly like what the Bush White House said for years about their campaign against AQ, right up until the point that it was revealed that bin Laden et al. had reconstituted their organization and were back on the grind and better than ever. The last sentence is literally word for word what the Bush administration used to say: UBL and his lieutenants are isolated and cannot coordinate attacks.

Second, the “enhanced assistance from cooperative governments” is rather obviously an allusion to Pakistan, and the reason it is phrased so obliquely is that if they came out and said Pakistan was doing a better job, they would be laughed at. The Pakistani government is coming apart at the seams. They are unable to affect anything in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions where AQ Central is hanging out; even when Musharraf, who at least made a half-assed effort to try to help, sent troops in to FATA and the North-West Frontier, they were beaten by the ragtag tribal militias. And on top of it all, the new head of the military (the real power in Pakistan) is an Islamist and former chief of the ISI-D who is explicitly pro-Taliban.

Third, the body count also harkens back to the days of yore, when Bush would give speeches talking about the number of high- and medium-value AQ targets that had been killed. He stopped giving those for a reason: Al Qaeda now has a pool of trained, combat-tested veterans to move up into managerial positions when one of the top dogs are killed. The phrase “and allied groups” gives me pause too, because this could mean that they’re killing Taliban chiefs, who are significantly easier to get because they actually come into Afghanistan to get killed, and not members of the Al Qaeda shura (ruling council).

A good analogy would be the prosecution of the American Mafia. After every high-profile case that ended in convictions (Lucky Luciano, Murder Incorporated, the Pizza Connection, the Five Families RICO case), US attorneys would crow about how they had killed the mob, or reduced them to unorganized street gangs. And of course, two years after one of these big convictions, the Five Families or the Chicago Outfit had quietly moved their veteran soldiers up into the executive positions and continued on as per usual. And this went on for seventy years, before any real headway was made against Cosa Nostra.

More from the article:

The most important new weapon in the Western arsenal is said to be the recruitment of spies inside al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations, a long-sought objective. “Human sources have begun to produce results,” Richard Barrett, head of the United Nations’ al-Qaeda and Taliban monitoring group, said Tuesday. Barrett is the former chief of Britain’s overseas counterterrorism operations.

Current and former senior U.S. officials, who spoke about intelligence matters on the condition of anonymity, confirmed what one former CIA official called “our penetration of al-Qaeda.” A senior administration official said that success had come “because of, first of all, very good intelligence capabilities . . . to locate and identify individuals who are part of the al-Qaeda organization.”

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair referred obliquely in an interview with reporters earlier this month to the use of spies, saying that “the primary way” that U.S. intelligence determines which terrorist organizations pose direct threats is “to penetrate them and learn whether they’re talking about making attacks against the United States.”

Now this is the part where I fervently hope that this revelation is psychological warfare against the Taliban and AQ to paralyze them with paranoia over moles in their organizations. It is a very effective tactic, see: James  Jesus Angleton. Given the incredible difficulty of inserting an intelligence officer into AQ, or even getting one of their members to flip and become a double agent, revealing that information for political reasons would border on the criminal.

Recent claims of significant success against al-Qaeda have become part of White House deliberations about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, centering on a request by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander there, for an expanded counterinsurgency campaign that will require more U.S. troops. Discussions began in earnest Tuesday as senior national security and military officials met with President Obama.

Those within the administration who have suggested limiting large-scale U.S. ground combat in Afghanistan, including Vice President Biden, have pointed to an improved counterterrorism effort as evidence that Obama’s principal objective — destroying al-Qaeda — can be achieved without an expanded troop presence.

And in the first paragraph we have the reason that the White House leaked this story to WaPo. McChrystal’s public demand for tens of thousands of extra troops, which really are necessary if we are going to nation-build the way the Hillary-Holbrooke axis wants to, has put Obama in an awkward position, because the Congress doesn’t particularly want to do that.  The bright side is, they do seem to be rethinking their strategy of just throwing more soldiers into the meatgrinder. Cyncial as I am, I don’t want to think that this is just a stall to twist arms on Capitol Hill.

I don’t want to give the impression that I believe McChrystal (and Clinton and Holbrooke) are right.  Nation-building will never work in a place like A-stan; I wrote an article about it a few months ago. Joe Biden has the right strategy, though he has so far lost the internecine battles: A smaller number of American troops, mostly composed of Special Operations and Special Forces operators with close air support, in a strictly counterterrorism role. So, despite the fact that this article is disingenuous, if it helps stop a counterproductive and downright disastrous troop escalation, I’m willing to take that.

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I’m Old Enough to Remember When George Will Was Respectable

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

It seems that, in addition to having a bit of a problem with honesty, George Will is also something of a racist, as evidenced by his latest column denouncing the Sotomayor nomination as “Identity Justice.” Publius already addressed this, but he was far too nice about it for my liking.

First of all, let’s establish one thing; anyone who tries to argue that Sotomayor is not qualified for the court should not be taken seriously, and is unquestionably attempting to construct the affirmative action appointment talking point. Anyone doing that is either, a) a racist, b) attempting to cultivate racial resentment in others. That’s because there’s no contemporary standard by which Sotomayor is not qualified from the court. She has an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Yale, the exact same educational resume of one Samuel Alito. She first became a judge when George H.W. Bush appointed her to the District Court in 1991, then was promoted to the 2nd Circuit i 1998, meaning she’s been a federal judge for 18 years. Chief Justice John Roberts, by contrast, had all of 2 years of judicial experience when George W. Bush nominated him to replace William Rehnquist, who had no prior judicial experience whatsoever before joining the court in 1971. The Justice Sotomayor would replace, David Souter, spent less than 5 months on the 1st Circuit before being elevated to SCOTUS in 1991, although he did have 7 years eperience on the New Hampshire state Supreme Court.

What’s even more telling than the denigration of what, were Sotomayor a white male, would undoubtedly be considered an impeccable set of credentials is that, in all of 18 years, apparently the only case of Sotomayor’s that the right-wing can find to disagree with concerns affirmative action, and is about as textbook of an example of judicial restraint as you could find. But here’s how Will describes it:

Before Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings begin, the Supreme Court probably will overturn a ruling she supported on the 2nd Circuit — the propriety of New Haven, Conn., canceling fire department promotions because there were no African Americans (although there was a Hispanic) among the 18 firemen the selection test made eligible for promotion. A three-judge panel of 2nd Circuit judges, including Sotomayor, affirmed a district court’s dismissal of the firemen’s complaint, doing so in a perfunctory and unpublished order that acknowledged none of the large constitutional questions involved[…]

Perhaps Sotomayor subscribes to the Thurgood Marshall doctrine: “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up” (quoted in the Stanford Law Review, summer 1992). Does she think the figure of Justice should lift her blindfold, an emblem of impartiality, and be partial to certain categories of persons? 

 Except, as one should probably expect from Will, this isn’t an accurate representation of the Ricci case, or the 2nd Circuit’s ruling whatsoever. In Ricci, the city of New Haven decided to throw out promotion tests for the fire department after a disproportionate number of minorities failed to pass on the basis of counsel from the city attorney, who warned that using the tests could leave the city open to a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. After the city did so, a dyslexic white male sued, claiming this was a violation of his Civil Rights. The 2nd Circuit’s ruling essentially affirmed two things; first, that discarding the first test and requiring all participants to take a new test was not a violation of anyone’s civil rights. Secondly, they found that the city was perfectly within their authority to attempt to comply with existing federal law, because the city attorney was absolutely right; the city almost certainly would have been sued, successfully, had they used the tests. The outcome certainly may not be optimal from a social policy standpoint, but if you feel that way then your problem is with the law, not tht court that applied the law as it is written. This is nice, however, because it blatantly affirms the obvious; conservatives don’t want “judicial restraint” or “strict construction,” they want very, very activist judges. They just want them to reach outcomes that they prefer. And they have no problem distorting facts either.

And The Washington Post will happily give them the media space to do so.

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The Way To Save Journalism is To Restrict Information

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I almost can’t believe that an article like this actually ran in a major American newspaper. But it is The Washington Post, which means Fred Hiatt is the guy making the discussion on what to run, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, the writers are a couple of lawyers who work for a firm that specializes in representing media outlets (a fact the Post glosses over by calling it “media and First Amendment law), and they have a few suggestions regarding legal changes Congress could make to save “journalism:”

— Bring copyright laws into the age of the search engine. Taking a portion of a copyrighted work can be protected under the “fair use” doctrine. But the kind of fair use in news reports, academics and the arts — republishing a quote to comment on it, for example — is not what search engines practice when they crawl the Web and ingest everything in their path.

Publishers should not have to choose between protecting their copyrights and shunning the search-engine databases that map the Internet. Journalism therefore needs a bright line imposed by statute: that the taking of entire Web pages by search engines, which is what powers their search functions, is not fair use but infringement.

Such a rule would be no more bold a step than the one Congress took in 1996 rewriting centuries of traditional libel law for the benefit of tech start-ups. It would take away from search engines the “just opt out” mantra — repeated by Google’s witness during the Kerry hearings — and force them to negotiate with copyright holders over the value of their content.

 

— Federalize the “hot news” doctrine. This doctrine protects against types of poaching that copyright might not cover — the stealing of information not by direct copying but simply by taking the guts of the content. While the Internet has made news vulnerable to pilfering because of the ease of linking from one site to the next, the hot-news doctrine has limited use because it is only recognized in a few states.

Now that many news aggregator sites have taken “linksploitation” to a commercial level by selling ads wrapped around the links they post, Congress has the incentive it needs to pass a federal law protecting hot news. Such a law would give publishers an additional source of legal leverage outside of copyright to demand fair compensation for the content they create.

 

— Eliminate ownership restrictions. Media insolvency is a greater threat today than media concentration. Congress should abolish caps on ownership of broadcast stations and bars on newspaper and television ownership in the same market. These outdated rules belong to an era when the Web was a home for spiders.

 

— Use tax policy to promote the press. Washington state is taking a lead in the current crisis with legislation signed into law this week to slash business taxes on the press by 40 percent. Congress could provide incentives for placing ads with content creators (not with Craigslist) and allowances for immediate write-offs (rather than capitalization) for all expenses related to news production.

 

— Grant an antitrust exemption. Congress first came to journalism’s defense with antitrust relief in 1970, when it permitted endangered newspapers to combine their business operations without fear of antitrust suits if their newsrooms remained independent.

As noted in the Kerry hearing, publishers need collective pricing policies for their Web sites to finally break out of the expectation of free content that is afflicting the industry. Antitrust immunity is necessary because most individual news sites can’t go it alone by walling off their content for fees — readers will simply jump to sites that are still free.

I imagine you’d have to search long and hard to find such a thorough repudiation of basic concepts of free press in a major journalistic enterprise, but there you go. The garbage is so deep, I barely know where to start, so I’ll just tick off a few major observations.

1. The writers apparently don’t know how Google works. Google search bots index wab pages, and aggregate them into Google’s search page. Google does not reproduce entire stories. At most, the headline and first 30 or so words are displayed, so unless the writers believe that’s the extent of the articles that are read by consumers, they’re either dumb as rocks or lying through their teeth. What’s more, the “solution” doesn’t really make any sense. Indexing on Google drives traffic to a site, so what the writers are basically arguing is that Google should have to pay for the right to increase The Washington Post’s online readership. And WaPo, like every other website, can already block Google bots from browsing their site. That they don’t proves that there’s benefit to websites from being indexed on Google. So what the writers are effectively arguing is that Google should be required to pay in order to provide a service to The Washington Post and other media outlets.

At the same time, I’m not really sure how this is supposed to be a fix for anything. Given that the news outlets are getting much more benefit in the relationship than Google is, one would assume that, were Google required to pay to index these site’s material, they would simply…stop indexing them, and hits on these sites would decrease due to not being available as search results on Google.

2. Similarly, the idea of granting newsmedia firms an anti-trust exemption such that they can collude to block content and fix prices doesn’t really make any sense, even if you don’t object to the idea. The whole idea rests on the idea that everyone will participate, which is a rather bizarre assumption. There would be an awful lot of market share to be devoured by any firm who was the only major outlet giving away their content for free. The amount of traffic they’d get on a daily basis would be through the roof. So the entire enterprise would fall apart by its own success; as soon as you had created the sort of monopoly the writers are envisioning, the incentive for members would be to bail on the collective. And it apparently never occured to anyone that there would still be 3 cable television news networks with 24 hours of airtime to fill every day. So even though this idea gets tossed around by basically everyone who wades into this discussion on the side of newspapers, it doesn’t hold up to even minimal scrutiny. Doesn’t exactly make you feel confident about the people deciding what should and should not be published does it?

3.  Finally, it’s very important to understand exactly what the writers are lobbying for vis-a-vis “hot news” changes. What they’re essentially asking for is a standard in which the first outlet to report a story owns that story, and anyone who wants to comment or report further on said topic must pay a royalty to them for it. So everyone who ever wrote or produced something on the Lewinsky affair would have had to pay a fee to Matt Drudge for it, POLITICO would have owned the rights to “wardrobe-gate,” etc. Obviously, this is pretty much at odds with the Constitutional protection of the free press, and far from simply hurting blogs and internet venues, it would affect the news outlets themselves, given that much of journalism revolves around taking stories someone else broke and adding information to them. This is the most pernicious part of the whole thing, and it’s in no way compatible with a free press, or basic journalism precepts. But what the writers have proven, if nothing else, with this piece is that conversations about how to “save journalism” really have nothing to do with journalism. Most of these proposed changes would probably be a net negative for journalism on the whole. Rather, what this is really about is saving a relatively small number of corporations that are involved in publishing newspapers. That’s a much less compelling proposition to most people. As it should be.

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Why Does The Washington Post Print Obvious Inaccurate Information?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Putting aside the laughability factor of treating the writing of a former Bush chief speechwriter credulously, Marc Thiessen’s Op-Ed in yesterday’s Washington Post contained a number of blatantly inaccurate claims, the most blatant of which being the contention that the torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed provided the information that led to the foiling of a terrorist plot to attack the West Coast. But, as Sully catalogues, the plot was alleged to have been foiled in 2002, while KSM was not captured until 2003. In other words, it’s simply not possible for Thieseen’s claim to be true.

I think that getting worked up about Bush administration officials and staffers telling abject lies is rather pointless. On some level it would almost feel weird if they weren’t lying. But the real question here isn’t why Thiessen decided to write a column full of outright lies to defend his former boss, it’s why The Washington Post agreed to print something full of egregious factual inaccuracies. To be sure, these aren’t debateable points. It’s not Thiessen’s opinion that the torture of KSM yielded information that stopped a plot a year or so before KSM was captured. If Thiessen does, in fact, believe that statement is true, then Thiessen is ignorant of the facts in question, and the statement is still completely inaccurate. What’s not clear is why the Post editors, who are presumably paid to, you know, edit, apparently didn’t bother to do even a rudimentary fact check on Thiessan’s claims, or if they did, why they decided to print a piece they knew contained a number of flase contentions.

Obviously this isn’t anything new for the Post, but that pretty clearly doesn’t make it any better. The simple fact of the matter is that Fred Hiatt has turned the Post into the pre-eminent mainstream outlet of neoconservative propaganda in the country, and the people above Hiatt in the organization have allowed him to do it.

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The Washington Post Does Not Have the Brightest Bulbs

Monday, April 20th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

In a shocking development, The Washington Post has run a very nonsensical editorial, this time about school vouchers. Namely the D.C. school vouchers program, and efforts to eliminate the useless expenditure of funds. Fred Hiatt is not a particularly happy, and being Fred Hiatt he pulls out a bunch of right-wing tropes in order to explain why he’s not happy.

Apparently 38% of the members of Congress have sent their children to private school, a much higher number than that of the general public. This is presumably supposed to make you regard said members of Congress, at least the ones who want to eliminate the voucher program, hypocrites because “it’s too good for you.” Or something like that. Steve Benen makes the nice argument that this logic really wouldn’t hold for anything else you could substitute in from a public policy standpoint, especially from the right-wing perspective, but it seems to me that there’s a much simpler reason why this line of “argument” is completely inane on the face of it. Supposing for a second that the 38% figure is correct, and we concoct some hypothetical vote in which the specter of hypocrisy is removed totally, meaning that members who have sent their kids to private schools support vouchers and those who haven’t don’t. The problem here is that the anti-voucher position would win decisively. Of course that’s probably over-simplifying things a bit, but then, so was the editorial.

Thankfully, The Washington Post is dying. Hopefully we’ll let it go.

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Time for a Blogger Ethics Panel

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

One of the more obvious examples of the embarrassment that was Bill Kristol’s tenure at the New York Times was the rather ridiculous number of corrections the Times had to run for his columns. It seems, however, that he won’t have a similar problem when he starts writing for the Washington Post, because the Post doesn’t seem to believe in issuing corrections to factual errors that appear on their Op-Ed page.

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