Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Praise for the Times' Tsunami coverage and wondering where the perspetive is in the coverage of Porter Goss?

Margalit Fox's obiturary on Susan Sontag ("Susan Sontag, Social Critic With Verve, Dies at 71" -- appears on the front page of this morning's New York Times.

A number of you have e-mailed regarding the tsunami coverage in this morning's main section. Ben feels that John Schwartz's article (A11) "Sounding the Alarm on a Tsuani Is Complex and Expensive" should have been front paged because "this is very basic to the story as to why and how it came as such a surprise." For similar reasons, Alan e-mails that "Indian Archipelago's Residents Beyond Easy Reach and Rescue" by Hari Kumar and Amy Waldman should have been placed on the front page. Kara maintains that "[John M.] Broder's piece 'In California, a Pained Wait for Word of Relatives' and [Andy] Newman's 'Immigrants Weep, Pray and Expect the Worst' need to be on the front page because as we move to the normal feeling of 'I got it, what else is going on?' both of these stories put a human face back on the issue."

Rachel writes: "I don't know how they pick which ones from this story to go on the front page but each day there's been strong reporting. Their coverage of this tragedy is the kind of work the paper built its reputation on -- a kind of work that hasn't made it into print all that much lately. This is the Times at it's best and it would be great if, having reminded the readers they've insulted with the scribbles of [Jodi] Wilgoren, [Tom] Zeller [Jr.], [Elisabeth] Bumiller and so many others, this was a turning point for the Times. Reading this coverage since Monday, I have been reminded of how powerful and moving the paper can be, of the difference it can make. My hope is that having managed to turn around a dismal year in the last days, the paper will dedicate itself to being what it can and should be in 2005. Otherwise, these moments of greatness as the year winds down are a dying breath."

The reporters addressing the tsunami issue today include Craig E. Smith, David Rohde, Wayne Arnold, Eric Lichtblau, Dan Barry, Andy Newman, John M. Broder, Nick Cumming-Bruce, John Schwartz, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Hari Kuman and Amy Waldman. I would agree with Rachel that this has been the paper's finest moment in an otherwise underwhelming 2004.

Monday, Tuesday and today, we've been informed and seen quality work (which will hopefully be noted when journalistic honors are handed out) that lives up to everything the New York Times is supposed to be and, apparently, still can be.

Dona e-mailed that, in her opinion, what we are seeing is the result of "real reporters, not 'names.' The 'names' are all on vacation and have been for some time. That's why the main section has been about ten pages shorter than usual each day this week. There's a message here if anyone wants to pay attention: the 'first string' has grown fat and lazy. The 'star' players do their 'star turns' to the point that it detracts from the actual reporting. What we are seeing in the last few days is a major story breaking and the usual 'stars' nowhere to be found. It's these little played reporters that have been relegated to the 'second string' who have brought the paper all the greatness it should always have. This group may care a little more about reporting, may be seeing this as their opportunity to become 'star players,' or working for the New York Times may just actually mean something to them. But in a year of deserved howls and groans, this group has stepped up and proven good reporting can still be done by the New York Times.
If I were [Bill] Keller [executive editor of the paper], I'd be looking at the work this group has done and realizing that I needed to upgrade this group and send the 'stars' to the bench if not send them packing. There has been a level of committment and interest that this group has shown that has been missing day after day, month after month in 2004. This reader notices it, so it should be obvious to Keller as well."

Trevor: "On the train ride each morning, I've noticed something different going on. People aren't flipping hurriedly through the paper, they're actually reading it. This morning, as I was reading, the guy next to me leaned in and said, 'It's tragic, isn't it? Make sure you read the stories inside.' I can't remember the last time anyone, stranger or friend, recommended to me that I read anything in the paper. It's not just the fact that this is a tragedy because the novelty of that could have already worn off were it not for the fine reporting. Also, you can get the tragedy in the first paragraph or by looking at a photo. There's no need to keep reading if it's just for the tragedy. People are responding to the reporting. They are reading it with interest because it's good writing. I fear that when everyone returns from their holiday vacations, this moment will be forgotten and that would be a shame because for the first time in years, the paper actually matters."

Douglas Jehl is also on the front page with "Director of Analysis at C.I.A. Is the Latest to Be Forced Out":

The official, Jami Miscik, the agency's deputy director for intelligence, told her subordinates on Tuesday afternoon of her plan to step down on Feb. 4. A former intelligence official said that Ms. Miscik was told before Christmas that Mr. Goss wanted to make a change and that "the decision to depart was not hers."

A number of e-mails have come in regarding this and some cite that Porter Goss (director of the C.I.A.) is a "partisan." Alexander Cockburn had an article in the print edition of The Nation that I think is worth reading and can be found at CounterPunch. It's entitled "Politicize the CIA? You've Got to Be Kidding!" (

Historically, the appointment of a partisan is nothing new to the CIA (Cockburn argues -- with examples). My own feelings at the time Goss was being mentioned to head the CIA were that with the Republicans controlling Congress and people like Democratic Senator Bob Graham on record vouching for Goss (see Graham's book Intelligence Matters), the partisan argument was one that would be hard to gain traction. The stronger argument, my opinion, was that Goss had no experience running a large organization. With the 9-11 Commission findings of 'institutional failures' and lack of communication between the various FBI and the CIA (as well as within both agencies), Goss's lack of experience running an organization was an issue that should have been addressed.

He has the position now. That is not my attempt to say "all this criticism is carping!" He's a public figure who now works for the public and his work should be discussed, criticized, and examined. Potential partisanship is an issue of concern that should be discussed. But if it's going on, either due to Goss's own desires or the orders of the Bully Boy, it's part of a larger issue. And if there's another 'intelligence failure' like 9-11, I think we all should remember that the Bully Boy elected to select someone with no experience running an organization.

Considering the 9-11 Commission's findings, experience should have been at the top of any candidate's resume. It wasn't a concern to the Bully Boy. (Maybe the 9-11 Commission's report was another thing he didn't read?)

What worries me as we attempt to evaluate whether or not his actions are motivated by partisanship, is that a huge number of employees with experience have left and are leaving at a time when the agency is being headed not just by someone new, but by someone with no experience running an organization.

I'm going to highlight an article by Dana Priest and Mike Allen from the Washington Post entitled "Bush Nominates Rep. Goss to Run CIA" ( Read through that and tell me where anyone's expressing a concern (on the record or as an "unnamed source") regarding Goss's lack of experience? It's not there. We never dealt with that issue.

Nine years as a CIA operative, running a newspaper in a resort area and serving in Congress doesn't, to me, add up to the experience needed to run an organization. If the CIA becomes (or already has become) a propaganda organization for the oval office, I wouldn't be shocked (I felt they were that under Reagan). But what did shock me was, while we were hearing lip service about 'organizational failures,' someone was appointed to head the CIA who did not have experience heading a large organization. What was the point of the 9-11 Commission's findings?

Goss had some oversight of the CIA via his role in Congress (and received high marks from some and low marks from others for the way he executed that role). But he's not the "watchdog" in his current position. He's heading the organization now and the 'systemic, institutional failures' that are supposed to be at the root of 9-11 do not appear to be addressed by turning the organization over to someone (partisan or not) who's got no experience running an organization.

Goss may rise to the challenge. But when we read of this exit or that exit, I think we should remember his lack of experience. He may be clearing out 'dead wood.' Certainly, many of us feel that no one was held accountable for the failures of 9-11. We may be seeing Goss addressing that -- that could explain the large number of exits. It's also true that Goss may do an amazing job. A year from now, we might feel that way. But should he fail, the brunt of the failure belongs with the Bully Boy.

If I think I can cook the most amazing alfredo regatta and that I'm up to the task of being your chef, you still have to hire me. If you do and my cooking is inedible, your patrons may say, "That chef is hideous!" But my mistake was in thinking I could do the job, your failure was in hiring someone with no professional cooking experience. You were responsible for the selection.
I may or may not have sold myself well in the interview but you were responsible for judging my qualifications.

My opinion, Goss had the qualifications to be an independent watchdog over the CIA but he did not have the qualifications to be the person in charge of running the organization. [Goes to the different skills required for an artist as opposed to a critic.] Hopefully, he is (or will be) rising to the challenge. But I wonder if the press or Congress will ever address the issue of what is taking place at the CIA not just in terms of potential 'partisanship' but in terms of whether or not his actions are making the organization more effective. If Goss is making decisions out of, or operationing from, "partisanship" that, to me, goes back to whether or not he's qualified to run an organization.

Maybe that perspective isn't important? To me, it is because otherwise we're focusing only on the fact that he's decided to wear a lime green pair of leather pants to work and missing the fact that he's also wearing a purple and silver striped shirt. Yes, the lime green pair of leather pants is a questionable fashion choice, but it's not just the pants that are offending our eyes. That detail is important (even if Senator Bob Graham vouched for it) but the choice of those pants can also be teamed up with his shirt choice and provide us with a better picture of what's going on and why these fashion choices are being made. I don't think we're currently getting the full picture we need and I hope Congress and the press will attempt to provide us with some perspective in the coming year.

Again, that's my opinion. You're free to disagree and can do so at because my opinion is far from being an 'expert voice.' (Nor would I want it to be.)

[Note: Raw Story posted Porter Goss's much discussed CIA memo. To evaluate it for yourself, please go to]