Saturday, December 11, 2004

Lipton & Becker go deep, Bumiller & Nagourney skate on Superficial Pond; the editors say we need to pay attention to civil rights and liberties

The Times has a strong front page today. I would stress "Doubts Are Raised Over Push to Supply Anthrax Vaccine" by Eric Lipton (

In ordering a new $877 million anthrax vaccine last month, the federal government said it was a major step toward creating a "bioshield" to protect Americans from germ warfare. But delivering that protection may be difficult: the vaccine is unproven in humans, the maker has legal and accounting troubles, and health officials are not prepared to distribute the vaccine quickly if it is needed.

The strongest story inside the paper highlights (for this reader) the two weakest stories inside the paper.

Elisabeth Bumiller turns in "Bush Selects a New Secretary of Energy" and we'll award her a failing grade. The reporting is superficial in every way. It's not needed for her to support or condemn Samuel W. Bodman. It is necessary for her to inform readers about him. On the plus side, he's spoken in the last years of the importance of our oceans and seas. His work there is reduced by Bumiller to "In 2001, he moved to Washington to become deputy secretary of commerce, where he focused on the operations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Patient and Trademark Office."

Is Bumiller aware of his work? There's no indication that she is aware or even interested.

We are beginning an important new era of protection for vital marine areas around the Florida Keys. On Sunday, the International Maritime Organization's historic measures protecting more than 3,000 square nautical miles as "a particularly sensitive sea area" go into effect. With this rare designation, the waters of the Keys become the first in the nation, and only the third in the world, to be highlighted on international charts with measures directing captains to navigate in an environmentally sensitive way.
The designation reflects what can be accomplished when diverse communities work collaboratively for the good of our economy and environment.
Fragile coral reefs and other vulnerable marine assets will now have safeguards to protect them from injury caused by heavy anchors and swinging chains and cables. The designation will shield sensitive coral reefs from ship groundings and pollution from accidental and operational spills. Just one spill, from one collision, can mean disaster for coral reefs and the economy associated with them. The Keys, for example, are home to the world's third-largest barrier reef system and generate more than $1.2 billion in tourism.
Seagrass meadows, extensive living coral reefs, and endangered species are part of this spectacular, highly productive and still mysterious system in the Keys. Since 1984, there have been 10 damaging ship groundings there. Since 1997, there have been at least 17 other instances of harm. The Keys are among the world's busiest sea lanes, with 40 percent of world commerce estimated to pass through the area annually. Without disturbing the flow of commerce in the Keys, there has been a compelling need to protect their finite riches as well as the tourism and recreational dollars they attract.

Whose words are those? Samuel Bodman's. They're from an op-ed he wrote for The Christian Science Monitor ( Are they sincere? I don't know. But I do know the words were written. And I didn't find out about that or anything regarding Bodman's views towards protection of our natural resources in Bumiller's article.

She finds the time to inform that "The president also named a person, as is customary, whohad not run a major energy company." Define major energy company? Texas for Public Justice ranks Cabot Corporation (which Bodman was the CEO and former chairman of) rather highly ( They're addressing the polluters "grandfathered" in under legislation signed by Bush when he was the governor in Texas, adressing who got into the first administration. Bowdan's coming in third on their list.

I'm sure Bumiller will argue she was using "major energy company" to mean ____ or ____. She doesn't say what she means. Perhaps she'd respond, "It should have been obvious." If she were to respond that way, I'd fire back, "When you're reporting, you shouldn't assume that something's obvious because the results will be superficial."

The article she's written is superficial. He's got four years under his belt in Bush's first administration and a very public career prior. But Bumiller's not able to examine anything from his past and keeps running to "analysts" who apparently only provide her with superficial information? (In fairness to those analysts who are named -- two, though she repeatedly uses "analysts" in the article -- perhaps they gave her stronger information but, for whatever reasons, Bumiller didn't include it here.) Bumiller turned in a sixteen paragraph article that tells the reader very little.

Skating along the superficial with her article is the one by Adam Nagourney entitled "Democratic Party Leader Analyzes Bush's Victory." Terry McAuliffe, according to the article, spent Friday offerring "unusual and effusive praise to the campaign run by Mr. Kerry's opponent . . ."

Readers are given thirteen paragraphs of McAuliffe's questionable opinions (if he's so smart, one might ask, why has the party had so few victories under his leadership?) before Nagourney finally gets to the fact that this speech is given at a meet up to determine who will replace McAullife as the chair of the Democratic National Party. According to Nagourney, this meet up "was filled with Democrats complaining about what they said were Republican efforts to intimidate Democrats from voting, by, for example, challenging Democrats for identification or credentials at polling places."

Yes, Nagourney, I'm sure that they spoke "about what they said were Republican efforts to intimidate" but guess what, they weren't the only ones saying that. But apparently Ohio is so off the map with the Times that statements become complaints that Nagourney doesn't have to address -- not in terms of what a court might have said before the election or of what a voter said after the election. Nagourney's too busy focusing on the departing leader's remarks on such things as fund raising to examine what, according to Nagourney himself, "the meeting was filled with."

Donnie Fowler is quoted (paragraph seventeen) , "What we've seen in the last two presidential elections is nothing less than a disgrace to the American electoral system. We used to suffer from this kind of thing in South Carolina during the 60s and early 70s from the Republicans."

Strong words from Fowler but Nagourney's moving straight on to paragraph eighteen (the conclusion) and is back on McAullife. Where was the news value in this story?

McAullife once again focused on what the Republicans did and had no answers for the failures of his leadership. (That's my interpretation, not Nagourney's.) And at the meeting itself the topic is voter suppression. So Nagourney chooses to present McAullife's view (it's not our fault; no one could have beaten Bush, blah, blah, blah) for thirteen paragraphs instead of focusing on something other than self-justification by McAlluife?

If Nagourney wants to focus on McAullife's remarks, then focus on it. Tell us what those listening thought of those remarks or what someone you called with those remarks thought of them. Call up any of the many public critics (and there are tons) of McAullife and get their reactions to his self-justifications. If that's the thurst of the article then readers need to know not just the speech but how people are reacting to that.

But it seems to me the story wasn't about McAullife; it was about a "meeting filled with Democrats complaining." That's where the story was. Bumiller turns in a superficial article and Nagourney turns in one. The readers get cheated.

In the three years since the Sept. 11 attacks, millions of pounds of ground beef suspected of contamination by the E. coli pathogen were shipped around the country, sold at countless grocery stores, and sickened several dozen people.

That's Elizabeth Becker reporting (reporting!) in "Shared Nightmare Over the Food Supply." Using Tommy Thompson's remarks from last week as well as Bush's response (and Thompson's backing off from his remarks), Becker looks into the safety of the food supply.

The article's not long enough for me personally. But in twenty-three paragraphs (remember, check my math always), Becker examines the situation and finds that "food and safety experts agree with Mr. Thompson's [original] message that the job of ensuring a safe food supply is far from finished."

For all I know, Becker attended a party with every expert she quotes the night before she wrote the article, that, through luck, the quotes and research fell into her lap. Were that true, it doesn't matter. She's reporting. She's got quotes, she's got background, she's got perspective. Those are things that Nagourney & Bumiller are capable of including. They didn't in today's paper which is why they get failing grades and I'm recommending that if you dig through the paper today you go with Becker's article.

For those wondering why there was no additional post on Friday, like many of you, I listened to The Majority Report last night and, like many of you, was very disappointed in the Simon Rosenberg interview. I intended to comment on that last night but went to the site's e-mail to check that first and ended up responding to the fifty-two people who had e-mailed about their disbelief over the interview.

Some of you have e-mailed this morning on David Brook's op-ed in today's Times. (Shondra says, "Well he finally got close to one truth: '"I may be an idiot.'") Though I'd rather not focus on op-eds, I was thinking it did need commenting on. But we're all in luck because Bob Somerby
(who says it better than I ever could) is already on this subject. Please check out The Daily Howler today ( because Somersby is outlining exactly what is wrong with Brook's column.

I want to note an editorial, "Intelligence and Civil Rights" (

Based on the Bush administration's record of trampling on individual rights, Americans can have little faith that the new police powers will be used with proper discretion by the Justice Department.
This risk is only compounded by Congress's decision to cave in to right-wing objections and gut the new law's proposal for a watchdog panel to protect Americans from government abuse. The new law protects the administration's free rein in ignoring the Constitution in the pursuit and detention of suspects. Since 9/11, the Bush record has been a retrogressive muddle of open-ended preventive detention and ginned-up lawyers' rationales for operating beyond the Bill of Rights.
It is true that even worse abuses of constitutional protections were struck from the compromise law. But this government's leeway to track and harass individuals will probably grow with new powers to focus on "lone wolf" suspects, not connected to known terrorist groups.
The law provides that some of these crackdown provisions will require reauthorization in a few years. But the public cannot expect much protection from a Congress that passed intelligence reform but glaringly failed to overhaul its own morass of oversight committees. The 9/11 panel warned that this meant Congress could only remain "dysfunctional" in keeping watch on the sprawling, secretive intelligence bureaucracy.

Why am I quoting that? Not because I find the sentiments expressed outrageous. Nor to say, "Way to go editorial board at the Times!" They're stating the obvious. (And in fairness, the editorials have been strongly supportive of civil rights and civil liberties for the most part even when every other paper caved in to the "I got the post-9-11 presidential fever!")

I'm quoting it because the Times is saying that we need to realize our rights are important and we need to be vigil. Let's drop back to a blog entry from last weekend:

With Abu Ghraib, a war waging and a host of other issues, might it not be time for the paper to provide a columnist who knows Constitutional law?
During the boom-boom-stock-market-nineties, Krugman was hired to offer an economic view. Perhaps in this decade we need someone writing on civil liberties? David Cole? Nancy Chang?

That was on who should replace William Safire. I'm going to repeat it again, the Times needs to consider bringing on a full time columnist who will write about civil liberties. They just said the topic was important in this morning's paper. If "Americans can have little faith that the new police powers will be used with proper discretion by the Justice Department" (I agree with that), doesn't that suggest that the Times could address this by providing readers with a columnist who can cover the civil rights and liberties because her/his background is in that area?