December 7, 2002

It's not everyday that an incumbent US Senator retaining her seat would be considered an upset, but Mary Landrieu's narrow victory this evening could certainly be classified as one. Even more surprising was the Democrat's victory in the contested House race tonight, in a district that had been held by a Republican. Although neither winner could be classified as a progressive, it does indicate that Louisiana might be one of the few "red" states in play for the Democratic nominee in 2004, as well as make Ms. Landrieu one of the favorites to be picked by the nominee as Veep. Higher than expected black turnout (due perhaps to the publicity given to the odious Trent Lott's wistful recollection of the Dixiecrat Party) proved the difference. It was kinda fun watching FoxNews spin the election, the outcome of which was as much a shock to their pundits as it was to me.
Unfreaking believable...thirty points down in the second half, twenty-seven in arrears going into the fourth quarter, and the Lakers, off to their worst start in ages, playing a team with only one loss, came back and won!! The win may have less of an effect on the Lakers than the loss will have on the Mavericks, who have to view LA as possessing an aura of invincibility after last night, particularly at Staples. Dirk Nowitsky, who was nearly perfect through three quarters, disappeared in the fourth, and the rest of his team collapsed. Kobe Akbar !!!

December 6, 2002

Just a thought: since Trent Lott has pretty much shown that he is unfit to be a major political figure in the 21st Century, and since the Democrats are otherwise going to be in the minority in the Senate, why not make a deal with someone (Lincoln Chafee? John McCain?) in the other party to be Senate Majority Leader? Such a move would be the logical first step for someone like McCain to make a break with a party that doesn't seem to want him around....
Two points about the 100th birthday of Strom Thurmond:

1. He ran for President on an avowedly racist platform, and, while on the campaign hustings that year, once proclaimed "I want to tell you, ladies and gentleman, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches"; and
2. He is older now than the Kennedy brothers, Richard Nixon, LBJ, MLK, Joe Louis, John Wayne, Lou Gehrig, Dizzy Dean, Perry Como, Judy Garland, Red Grange, Jimmy Stewart, and Jean Harlow would be, if each of them were alive today.
Miracle of miracles: a pundit actually tackles the substance of the Daschle/Gore critique of the media, rather than making personal attacks.

December 5, 2002

One of the more enlightening aspects of the current controversy at the Augusta National Klavern is how little most of the members of the pundit class know about sports. For those of you who might be new to this dispute, please understand that the Masters is not simply a golf tournament; to many golf fans, it's the only tournament that matters. It holds the same position that Wimbledon has in tennis, as the de facto worlds championship in the sport.

It is also played on a course with a rather interesting history. The course was "designed" by Bobby Jones, a great amateur player in the early 20th century, back when that still meant something, and he and his business partner shepherded the tournament into prominence by emphasizing its exclusivity. For years, African Americans were not allowed to play in the tournament, and anyone whose face was not a lighter shade of pale (ie. Lee Trevino) was made to feel unwelcome. It has only been in the last two decades that the club has admitted non-whites as members. Thus, Tiger Woods, cablinasian golfer supreme, has attained mythic status by not only winning, but dominating the Masters.

The importance of the Masters seems to have been lost on many of the idiot commentators of the right, who seem to be blissfully unaware that there are still institutions in our society that discriminate against people. Admittedly, we're not talking about John Kerry's tonsorial budget, but it is one of the highest rated events in TV sports, the most important competition in one of the fastest growing sports on the planet. Rather than debating whether sex discrimination by private clubs should be tolerated, or whether feminist groups should be focusing on something more important, we get treated to silly discussions about whether it is appropriate for feminist leaders to write satirical articles about sterilization. Or whether the NY Times is devoting too much column space to the issue.

Case in point: the spiking of two columns in the NY Times sports section. As this writer correctly points out, the sports section of the Gray Lady does not have the prestige that the rest of the paper now has (although his version of great sportswriting is apparently Mike Lupica and Rick Reilly; if there's one thing the Times doesn't need, it's another overpaid hack deliberately misquoting Barry Bonds), and the refusal to publish two columns disagreeing with the paper's editorial position only emphasizes the fact that the paper does not view sports journalism as an important responsibility. However, I suspect that this policy is not unusual in the newspaper business, and the reason the NY Times sports section is not well thought of is the fact that it still employs stiffs like Dave Anderson (one of the columnists who got dissed by his editors, and famous among my fellow Laker fans for writing that Magic Johnson got what he deserved when he tested HIV+) and Robert Lipsyte, not that it's censoring their work.

Perhaps a better question for those people who wonder why so much controversy has been generated over the Masters is, when do you believe that sex discrimination is ever appropriate? Do you have a justification for allowing private clubs to exclude women, or Jews, or African Americans? I'm not interested in whether they have a legal right to do so; can you make a moral argument in favor of such a policy? Deal with those questions, not whether you think the NY Times is too interested in this topic.

December 3, 2002

Live, Love, Eat, Split !!
I do not want to spend much time defending John Kerry right now, since it's only been a month since his sniveling vote in favor of the Iraqi War Resolution, but the concerted attacks (see below) on his character the past few days require some response. As Al Gore pointed out last week, there is now a "fifth column" of reporters, pundits and journals of opinion, that are more interested in publishing the particular ideological line favored by the Bush Administration than in getting the truth out to the public. No one seriously doubts that this phenomenon exists, and that it will be a factor in American politics for a long time to come.

For example, anyone with a serious bullshit detector avoids the Sunday morning pundit gabfests like they were the Norwalk Virus. Invariably, there will be a two-to-one or three-to-one ideological split in favor of the right wing position among the panelists, and the liberal is usually the least articulate or charismatic member of the panel. That ratio, known as the "Kondracke Rule", is often preserved by having at least one pundit who writes or edits the New Republic(a political journal that had left-of-center leanings several decades ago, but which now tends to peddle a chickenhawkish foreign policy and an anti-black rollback of civil rights laws), and who therefore can be positioned as a "liberal" in the interests of fairness, even though his views are often indistinguishable from the panelist from the Washington Times. A more interesting and balanced political debate can be found on the NFL Today, or in the weekly scraps between Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley on TNT, than on Meet the Press or This Week.

Well, wing nuts predominated on talk radio long before Rush Limbaugh discovered anal warts could get him out of doing tours in Vietnam, and the "Kondracke Rule" is perhaps more a reflection of the establishment biases of the media's corporate sponsors than anything else. What Al Gore was referring to specifically was the manner in which clearly propagandistic (and usually false) stories now being devised in conservative organs, like the Washington Times, the Regnery Press, and Fox News, wind up being covered by conventional newspapers and broadcast networks, giving a mainstream gloss to right wing spin points.

The scandals that came to be known as "Whitewater" illustrate this phenomenon beautifully: allegations made by assorted wackos and white supremacists in Arkansas were hyped on hate radio, conservative media organs such as the now-defunct American Spectator, and on Drudge, and more mainstream outlets began to investigate. Those newspapers created the climate for the appointment of an independent counsel, who could then leak stories of his investigation to favored journalists; long before Monica Lewinsky came to symbolize fellatio, Susan Schmidt (aka "Steno Sue") of the Washington Post was the pin-up girl for sycophancy at the feet of power.

More recently, the Post's media "critic", Howard Kurtz, has become a brave "foot soldier" in this fifth column, uncritically recycling GOP spin in every column. When the GOP needed to win the Senate seat in Minnesota, he wrote a column denigrating the Paul Wellstone Memorial Service. His last few columns have attacked Tom Daschle for his warnings about the influence of hate radio (the words "anthrax letter" were strangely omitted from Kurtz' column), Al Gore for the "fifth column" interview, and, of course (surprise, surprise !!), today's hitpiece on John Kerry. And as you might expect. George W. does not need a Monica when he can get a Howie for free.

Try as I might, I can't help thinking that this trend has more to do with journalistic lethargy than any pre-existing proclivity for hard-right dogma. If the people who surround you all day have the same political and cultural values, it is not hard to start viewing outside opinions as extreme, or out of the mainstream. Familiar faces are more likely to get a pass; the fact that Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus are both considered to be something of a joke by their fellow bloggers will not stop either of them from being cited as mainstream opinions, as Mr. Kurtz does today, since they have a reputation within the Beltway that pre-dates their websites. In that situation, it's no surprise that much of the mainstream media has become little more than a house organ for the GOP.

UPDATE: For a more recent commentary on the media's shilling for right-wing politicians, check this out, re: Bush's "service" in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
Is there anything more embarassing than a pundit who tries to justify his dislike for a politician by saying it's because he looks funny? Well, yes, it's when a pundit gets pissed off at the same politician for spending too much on a haircut....

December 2, 2002

Interesting hatchet piece on the NY Times' ascendency as the most important newspaper in America, complete with "blind" quotes from "staffers" at the newspaper, which are probably fabricated, denouncing the trend. The bone of contention this male writer has with the paper has been its focus on Augusta National; apparently, since other journalistic outlets and pundits are down with the idea that one of the most prestigious sporting events in America takes place at an institution only slightly more progressive than a Klan rally, the fact that the Gray Lady pretends that sex discrimination is "important" reflects editor Howell Raines "lefty" worldview (yes, the writer actually uses that term). The Times also gets taken to task for pretending that there is actually a debate, in DC and elsewhere, over the Administration's policy toward Iraq, and parrots the GOP spin point (since discredited) that Henry Kissinger was not a skeptic.

Gee, you don't suppose Al Gore was right last week when he observed that there was a rightist "Fifth Column" within the free press, do you?

December 1, 2002

Leave it to Maureen Dowd to reveal the absurdity of Henry Kissinger being appointed to head the 9/11 Commission. His selection speaks volumes about the cynicism of this Administration and of the phony religiosity of W.

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