Glenn Greenwald makes Bill Maher and Andrew Sullivan squirm…
The more I think and read about the Obama DOJ’s prosecution of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, the more I think this might actually be one of the worst steps the Obama administration has taken yet, if not the single worst step — and that’s obviously saying a lot. During the Bush years, in the wake of the NSA scandal, I used to write post after post about how warped and dangerous it was that the Bush DOJ was protecting the people who criminally spied on Americans (Bush, Cheney Michael Hayden) while simultaneously threatening to prosecute the whistle-blowers who exposed misconduct. But the Bush DOJ never actually followed through on those menacing threats; no NSA whistle-blowers were indicted during Bush’s term (though several were threatened). It took the election of Barack Obama for that to happen, as his handpicked Assistant Attorney General publicly boasted yesterday of the indictment against Drake. Read more
Shitake City Batman, another hero of mine goes down the rabbit hole…
McNabb to the ‘Skins sure has messed up some minds the past 24 hours…
When it comes to war and the military, there are two attitudes that I despise. The first, and more widespread, comes from the right and their insistence that military action and decisions should never be questioned. Attempts to probe the military are always regarded by this group as traitorious rather than the necessary function of a strong democracy.
The second group without a clue are liberals who buy into the caricature of America’s soldiers as bloodthirsty savages who kill for the heck of it. Glenn Greenwald is in this camp. Greenwald insists that things like killing of Iraqi civilians in the Wikileaks video and Abu Ghraib are just standard operating procedure for American soldiers, and not aberrations from the norm.
Yesterday, I voiced several criticisms of comments made earlier this week by NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd regarding potential torture investigations by the Obama Justice Department. Shortly thereafter, he emailed me to say that he wished I had contacted him before posting. In response, I invited him to participate in a podcast discussion with me of the issues raised by his remarks and my analysis of them, and, to his credit, he accepted.
This morning, I spoke with Todd for roughly 30 minutes about the relative significance of torture investigations, the implications of failing to prosecute high-level political officials when they break the law, the role of the media in these matters, and whether Todd was expressing his own views or merely repeating what the White House believes (the polling data I reference, along with the media’s routine distortion of it, is documented here and here). The discussion can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below (it can be also downloaded by MP3 here or by ITunes here). A transcript will be posted later today.
UPDATE: The transcript is now available here.
Maureen Dowd’s wholesale, uncredited copying of a paragraph written by Josh Marshall (an act Dowd has now admitted) — for what I yesterday called her “uncharacteristically cogent and substantive column”– highlights a point I’ve been meaning to make for awhile. One of the favorite accusations that many journalists spout, especially now that they’re searching for reasons why newspapers and print magazines are dying, is that bloggers and other online writers are “parasites” on their work — that their organizations bear the cost of producing content and others (bloggers and companies such as Google) then unfairly exploit it for free.
The reality has always been far more mixed than that, and the relationship far more symbiotic than parasitical. Especially now that online traffic is such an important part of the business model of newspapers and print magazines, traffic generated by links from online venues and bloggers is of great value to them. That’s why they engage in substantial promotional activities to encourage bloggers to link to and write about what they produce. Beyond that, it is also very common — as the Dowd/Marshall episode illustrates — for traditional media outlets and establishment journalists to use and even copy content produced online and then present it as their own, typically without credit. Many, many reporters, television news producers and the like read online political commentary and blogs and routinely take things they find there.
Typically, the uncredited use of online commentary doesn’t rise to the level of blatant copying — plagiarism — that Maureen Dowd engaged in. It’s often not even an ethical breach at all. Instead, traditional media outlets simply take stories, ideas and research they find online and pass it off as their own. In other words — to use their phraseology — they act parasitically on blogs by taking content and exploiting it for their benefit.
Since I read many blogs, I notice this happening quite frequently — ideas and stories that begin on blogs end up being featured by establishment media outlets with no credit. Here’s just one recent and relatively benign example of how it often works: at the end of March, I wrote a post that ended up being featured in many places concerning the unique political courage displayed by Jim Webb in taking on the issue of criminal justice reform and the destruction wreaked by our drug laws. The following week, I was traveling and picked up a copy of The Economist in an aiport, which featured an article hailing Jim Webb’s political courage in taking on the issue of criminal justice reform and the destruction wreaked by our drug laws.
Several of the passages from the Economist article were quite familar to me, since they seemed extremely similar to what I had written — without attribution or credit:
America has easily surpassed Japan — and virtually every other country in the world — to become what Brown University Professor Glenn Loury recently described as a “a nation of jailers” whose “prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history.”
“A Leviathan unmatched in human history”, is how Glenn Loury, professor of social studies at Brown University, characterises America’s prison system.
Most notably, Webb is in the Senate not as an invulnerable, multi-term political institution from a safely blue state (he’s not Ted Kennedy), but is the opposite: he’s a first-term Senator from Virginia, one of the “toughest” “anti-crime” states in the country (it abolished parole in 1995 and is second only to Texas in the number of prisoners it executes), and Webb won election to the Senate by the narrowest of margins, thanks largely to George Allen’s macaca-driven implosion.
Mr Webb is far from being a lion of the Senate, roaring from the comfort of a safe seat. He is a first-term senator for Virginia who barely squeaked into Congress. The state he represents also has a long history of being tough on crime: Virginia abolished parole in 1994 and is second only to Texas in the number of people it executes.
Moreover, the privatized Prison State is a booming and highly profitable industry, with an army of lobbyists, donations, and other well-funded weapons for targeting candidates who threaten its interests.
Mr Webb also has some powerful forces ranged against him. The prison-industrial complex (which includes private prisons as well as public ones) employs thousands of people and armies of lobbyists.
That is an issue most politicians are petrified to get anywhere near . . . .[T]here is virtually no meaningful organized constituency for prison reform. To the contrary, leaving oneself vulnerable to accusations of being “soft on crime” has, for decades, been one of the most toxic vulnerabilities a politician can suffer.
Few mainstream politicians have had the courage to denounce any of this. People who embrace prison reform usually end up in the political graveyard. There is no organised lobby for prison reform.
I don’t consider that at all similar to what Dowd did, since there wasn’t wholesale copying. In fact, since there wasn’t really full-on copying, I don’t think there’s any ethical issue involved in this example. I don’t think the writer of that article did anything wrong at all. And anyone who spends any time writing a blog, or anything else for that matters, should consider it a good thing when their work is used, with or without credit. Nobody would engage in that activity in the absence of a belief that they have something worthwhile to say and a desire that it have some impact on political discussions.
I raise this only to illustrate how one-sided and even misleading is the complaint that bloggers are “parasites” on the work of “real journalists.” Often, the parasitical feeding happens in the opposite direction, though while bloggers routinely credit (and link to) the source of the material on which they’re commenting, there is an unwritten code among many establishment journalists that while they credit each other’s work, they’re free to claim as their own whatever they find online without any need for credit or attribution (see here for a typical example of how many of these news organizations operate in this regard).
It’s difficult to quantify, but a large percentage of political reporters, editors, television news producers, and on-air pundits read political blogs or other online venues now. Many do so precisely because blogs are a prime source for their story ideas. Contrary to the myth perpetrated by establishment media outlets, there is substantial original reporting, original analysis and the like that takes place on blogs. That’s precisely why so many journalists, editors and segment producers read them. And while some are quite conscientious about identifying the online source of the material they use — The New York Times‘ Scott Shane recently credited Marcy Wheeler for a major, front-page story on torture and previously wrote an article hailing FireDogLake as having the best coverage of any news organization of the Lewis Libby trial — credit of that sort is still rare enough that it becomes noteworthy when it happens.
The tale of the put-upon news organizations and the pilfering, parasitical bloggers has always been more self-serving mythology than reality. That’s not to say that there’s no truth to it, but the picture has always been much more complicated. After all, a principal reason for the emergence of a political blogosphere is precisely because it performed functions that establishment media outlets fail to perform. If all bloggers did was just replicate what traditional news organizations did and offered nothing original, nobody would read blogs. And especially now, as bloggers and online writers engage in much more so-called “original reporting” and punditry, the parasitical behavior is often the reverse of how it is depicted. The Maureen Dowd/Josh Marshall episode is a particularly vivid and dramatic example of that, but it is far from uncommon.
UPDATE: A blogger who writes on TPM’s open blog site, Boyd Reed, reacted to the Maureen Dowd story today by randomly entering some of his own posts in Google, and found that a reporter at Salem News, Dorsett Bennett, copied several paragraphs of Reed’s post on Michelle Bachmann verbatim for Bennett’s column on the same topic. Reed writes about his discovery today here (h/t Liberal Artist). Compare Reed’s February 20 TPM post with Bennett’s February 27 Salem News column. The copying is extensive and shameless. Parasitical indeed.
Glenn Greenwald has been rightfully indignant about the Obama DoJ’s use of Bush’s “state secrets” argument to cover up charges of rendition and torture. The NY Times this morning says “It was as if last month’s inauguration had never occurred…..Voters have good reason to feel betrayed if they took Mr. Obama seriously on the campaign trail when he criticized the Bush administration’s tactic of stretching the state-secrets privilege to get lawsuits tossed out of court.”
But Bush’s “state secrets” claims aren’t the only White House holdovers. Glenn also singles out Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic today for being a DC stenographer whose idea of “reporting” is calling up administration sources, granting them anonymity without cause, and then writing it up mindlessly without critique or context:
What possible justification is there for granting administration officials anonymity to explain why they are embracing a Bush-era weapon that they have long criticized? And why does an administration swearing great levels of transparency and accountability — and vowing to use secrecy only when absolutely necessary — need to hide behind a wall of anonymity in order to explain why they did what they did here? Why can’t they attach their names to this explanation, so that they can be questioned about it and held accountable?
Why would he do that? Well, possibly because that’s the only way they’ll talk to him — or anyone else. New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston has also written about this “business as usual” quality of White House press relations:
My questions to LaBolt and Singh prompted a return phone call the next day from Nick Shapiro, who spelled his name, but had to be prodded several times to give his job title: assistant press secretary.
During our brief conversation, Shapiro, like LaBolt (whose name Shapiro did not recognize), started one sentence with “off the record.” Told that the journalist grants the privilege, and that none would be granted here, Shapiro expressed surprise. His surprise was double-barreled, at both the idea that the reporter issues any privilege and that any reporter would decline to talk “off the record.”
The reportorial practice of letting government officials speak without taking responsibility for their words has been an issue with the public and is being questioned now by some journalists, as shown by this article from Slate’s Jack Shafer.
Questions about whether Shapiro knows the difference between off-the-record, background, deep background, and on-the-record did not get asked, because Shapiro made it clear he had no interest in answering anything about how the Obama press secretary’s office is operating and what its tone will be. He said questions should be submitted in writing by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I sent Shapiro an e-mail outlining the contours of what would be covered in an interview, but have not received a response as of this writing, the following day.
Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter whose book, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense [and Stick You with the Bill] is indispensible for anyone wanting to understand how the taxation and legislative system has been gamed to favor the rich. He’s a superb journalist and sometimes it’s hard to believe he’s still employed at the Times. (note: Johnston has left the NYT.) An administration interested in transparency should be ecstatic about working with him.
But what is going on right now in the world of DC journalism finds its most naked expression in Ambinder’s piece, though I’ve seen other glaring examples of late — journalists are scrambling for who gets “access” to the White House. So there’s no end to the bullshit they’ll write to ingratiate themselves to potential sources, or the inconvenient facts they’ll edit out in order to be the new Bob Woodward. (Though Ambinder does deserve some praise on this front — he wrote what everyone else knows but isn’t saying about White House plans: “encouragement of moderate Democrats,” “entitlement reform” and “standing up to Speaker Pelosi.”)
You can see it in the horror with which the traditional media is responding to Sam Stein getting called on at the President’s press conference — there are rules, there is a pecking order, and This Is Not How It’s Done. While it’s great Sam got recognized — he’s a really good journalist and he asked a critical question — it’s not much more than “window dressing” if the day-to-day interaction with the press stays the same as it did during the Bush years. And with Rahm managing the relations between the White House and the media these days, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.
Update: And the stenography continues: Ambinder calls back his “administration sources” so they can respond to Glenn but neither names him nor links to him. “They’re sensitive to the politics of the case, but they’re not motivated by what civil libertarians may write on their blogs.” The administration people don’t want you at the slumber party Glenn Greenwald, and they don’t give anonymous quotes to you, Glenn Greenwald, and they certainly aren’t going to RESPOND to you, Glenn Greenwald, well okay they DID and Ambinder just wrote PARAGRAPHS about it but they are going to just turn their backs and pretend you’re not there. Feh.