Saturday, May 21, 2005

Stories to note inside the paper and why does anyone view Laura Bush as a credible source of information?

In this morning's first entry, we noted the lack of news on the front page. But this is the Saturday New York Times. Surely, there's some real news inside the paper since Saturday's the day that Scott Shane's handed the mop and has to do clean up on stories that were incomplete, one-sided or flat out wrong? Wrong. No clean up on aisle sixteen, er, page sixteen, by Shane (who, as noted earlier, is absent along with other dependables Douglas Jehl and Raymond Bonner).

"Hussein Photos in Tabloids Prompt U.S. Call to Investigate" by David E. Sanger and Alan Cowell was a front page news story. It's treated like one on page A3 where it's given the space the topic deserves. Too bad it couldn't penetrate the lifestyle haze to make it onto the front page. From the article:

The publication on Friday of photographs of Saddam Hussein wearing only underwear in his cell in Iraq led the Bush administration on Friday to open an investigation into how the pictures made their way into tabloid newspapers in London and New York, apparently supplied by someone in the American military.
[. . .]
Even if the pictures were taken after Mr. Hussein lost prisoner of war status, guidelines governing his treatment would still have prohibited taking and disseminating such pictures, Mr.
[Bryan] Whitman ["senior Pentagon spokesman"] added. The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the pbulications of the photographs. "Taking and using photographs of him is clearly forbidden," said the International Committee's Middle East spokeswoman, Dorothea Krimitsas.

On the same page, Felicia R. Lee has "Prison Images Raise Issues for World Media:"

A front-page photograph of Saddam Hussein in his underwear in an Iraqi prison greeted readers of The New York Post and The Sun in London yesterday, coming to The Sun from an American military source seeking to weaken the Iraqi insurgency, The Post reported.

Krista: That statement demonstrates all the reasons that we have been able to accomplish nothing in Iraq. The photographs will humiliate and enrage Iraqis, not weaken the resistance.

Trevor wonders if the Timid was shy about front page these deserving stories because they are "scared of The New York Post?"

I have no idea. But Lynda notes in an e-mail that the "increaingly and strangely more youthful looking Gerald Posner has a book reviewed. For whatever reason, the hand holding photo of Bully Boy and Crown Prince Abdullah that made the news everywhere is credited, in the opening paragraph no less!, to The New York Post. Why is the Times giving advertising to The Post? They ran the photo on the front page as well. It reminds me of the panel and The Daily Howler."

Lynda's referring to one of the concerns when the panel was being reported on. Bill Keller (executive-editor of the Times) wondered if the paper might ought to be stronger in their response to critics. Before Operation Keller goes into effect, Keller might want to consider that if the Times did it's job within the paper, there might not be such a problem.

Now Keller might see that as a broadside at the paper and the usual "carping" he so enjoys going on about while staring into space picturing some vast-circle-jerk conspiracy. But before Keller's eyes goes misty, let me be clear that I'm not even touching on what doesn't make it into the paper (Naomi Klein's news re: James Baker, the Downing memo that the paper took a pass on for so long, protests, et al.). I'm speaking of Keller's topics -- attacks against the Times.

Before the Times launches a p.r. campaign (one they would lose) on comments outside the paper, he might want to address very real problems with the lack of ability to defend itself on the printed page. Janet Maslin's hideous book review (granted, they're all hideous, uniformly) of Ann Coulter's Slander predates Keller becoming executive-editor of the paper; however, it's far more of a problem than any critiques coming from outside the paper.

For those who missed it, Maslin praised Coulter's "footnotes." (Does anyone know the difference between "footnotes" and "endnotes?" Did everyone else just zone out when this was gone over in school? Coulter can call them "footnotes" all she wants. But a footnote appeares at the bottom of the page. She gave endnotes and her education is apparently so poor that she's dubbed them "footnotes.") You can read about the review at The Daily Howler and, as Bob Somerby points out, Maslin rushes to praise Coulter's slams of the Times without ever checking them out. Had she checked them out, Maslin might have felt the need to defend the paper from this baseless attack. Before Keller wastes time and energy on a p.r. offensive, he might want to first implement a policy that book reviews are required to be fact checked. Far more damaging than anything someone could say elsewhere in print, at a microphone or on a web site was Maslin praising Coulter's attacks on the paper. That ran in the New York Times and did far more damage to the paper than any commentary coming from elsewhere.

Since the paper has now instituted "For the Record" corrections (or whatever they're calling their most serious corrections), it's past time for Maslin's review to be noted by the paper.

From Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler:

As we've seen, Slander's "mistakes" about the Times are legion--and they drip with contempt. The book begins with a silly claim about the paper's treatment of Tom DeLay. On page two, we get an absurd description of the Times letters page--a description any New York Times reader would recognize as laughably bogus. (Most Coulter fans don’t read the Times; they had no way to know they were being deceived.) And yes, the book ends with another "mistake" about the Times--the "mistake" which set up that closing screed, which Coulter changed in paperback form to yet another "error." But surely, Coulter's contempt is best exposed by that startling passage from Slander's page 12. Before we see how the Times reviewed Slander, let's recall the nasty claim Coulter presents on that page:
COULTER (page 12): After Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion contrary to the clearly expressed position of the New York Times editorial page, the Times responded with an editorial on Thomas titled "The Youngest, Cruelest Justice." That was actually the headline on a lead editorial in the Newspaper of Record. Thomas is not engaged on the substance of his judicial philosophy. He is called "a colored lawn jockey for conservative white interests," "race traitor," "black snake," "chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom," "house Negro" and "handkerchief head," "Benedict Arnold" and "Judas Iscariot."

How bizarre is Coulter's best-selling book? The claims in this passage are remarkably nasty, and as we’ve seen, they're utterly false; no, the Times didn't call Thomas that long string of names, although Coulter's reader had no way to know that. Indeed, Coulter cut-and-pasted that list of names from a totally different source; having done so, she simply pretended that the New York Times had said them.
Of course, Coulter engages in blatant dissembling throughout her book, but this passage helps us see the depth of her grinding pathology. Coulter wanted to say that the liberal Times had engaged in the nastiest possible conduct. So of course! Unable to make such a claim in good faith, she plagiarized. She simply made the claim up.
Yes, there’s a word for the attitude driving this conduct--Coulter is filled with contempt for our values. But average Americans have no way to know that--in part, because of the odd review that appeared in the New York Times.
Do citizens have a right to know the truth about a person like Coulter? Do they have the right to know when a big best-seller is full of "mistakes?" For the most part, average citizens can't learn the truth until somebody decides to tell them--and that, the New York Times wouldn't do. As we’ve seen, Coulter lies about the Times all through this disturbed, crackpot book. And what did Gotham's paper do when it reviewed this contemptuous book? Janet Maslin handled the task. Incredibly, here’s part of her treatment:
MASLIN (7/18/02): A great deal of research supports Ms. Coulter's wisecracks. And some of it is used to persuasive effect (even if one bit of proof that Phyllis Schlafly is treated dismissively by the left comes from a People magazine review of "The Muppets Take Manhattan"). In the extended game of "Gotcha!" that is "Slander," she uncovers more than enough egregious loose talk (for example, Peter Jennings's televised, off-the-cuff comments about the state of brain surgery in Cuba) to have a field day.

In her review, Maslin criticized Coulter's nasty tone--her "insult slinging," which stemmed from "a bottomless source of bile." Indeed, this was Maslin's principal reaction to Slander. But though Maslin complained about Slander's tone, she never told readers that the book is full of blatant misstatements.

Somerby's covered this at length at The Daily Howler, use the search engine and type in "Ann Coulter Janet Maslin" and you'll come across a number of strong articles. But if Keller wants to defend his paper than perhaps he could start by correcting the Maslin review and follow up by asking that The New York Post not get "shout outs" in the paper unless they're solely responsible for something (notable or appalling -- more likely the latter).

The Times front paged the same photo (as did many papers) but to read William Grimes' first paragraph (from "Why Exactly Do We Want to Hold the Saudis' Hand?"), you may not grasp that, you may think The Post covered something everyone else ignored:

The uneasy nature of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia was neatly captured on the front page of The New York Post in late April. A large photograph showed President Bush, at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., hodling hands with Crown Prince Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's ruler. The headline read, "High Price of Oil."

Oh that brave Post! And how wonderful that they, and they alone judging by Grimes' citation, were the only ones to comment on the people-let-me-tell-you-'bout-my-best-friend-he's-a-one-boy-cuddly-toy-my-up-my-down-my-pride-and-joy nature of the photograph. (Theme to The Courtship of Eddie's Father written by Harry Nilsson )

Why is that in the paper? Is Grimes an advance man for The Post? Did an editor not point out to Grimes that the photo ran everywhere and ask why it was being treated by Grimes as a Post exclusive? And what kind of message that was sending to Times' readers? "Good God, the Times didn't run the photo!" is a reader supposed to exclaim, slapping the forehead? Are they attempting to steer business away from the Times and to the Post?

Had it been a Post exclusive, by all means give credit. But this is akin to reviewing a book on the weather and stating in the opening paragraph, "As most know, it rained this week, as The New York Post predicted." If Keller wants to defend the paper in any way, he should start with what makes it onto the Times' printed page.

Though there's little to get excited in today's "lifestyle" edition, there are a few, very few, news articles worth reading. Besides articles previously noted, David D. Kirkpatrick's "Senate Republicans Move to Cut Off Debate on Nomination to Appeals Court" is news based:

Republican senators moved Friday to end debate and call for a vote on the nomination of Justice Priscilla R. Owen to a federal appeals court [. . .]
Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, said in a statement that if "no reasonable arrangement" about the nomination of Justice Owen, and other judicial appointees is reached, he will call for a majority vote on Tuesday that would end the requirement for 60 votes to close debate on nominations to appeals courts and the Supreme Court.

Billie e-mailed to note that article.

Billie: And notice the photos with it too. Look, don't blame me, I didn't vote for him, but John Cornyn, part of Ory Hatch's boy-toy brigade that's always there to do Hatch's bidding, appears to not only lose the little common sense he went to D.C. with each day he serves in Congress, he also appears to be losing signficant portions of his hair.

Eric Lipton has an article that purports to tell us about somethings learned in the fall of 2001. That's four years ago. Don't misunderstand, news is news whenver it comes out. But the reality is Lipton's writing about what the Pentagon released recently. Were we in danger, the public should have known long before this. The article strikes Brad as "a distraction and attempt to racket up fears without resorting the laughable color-code warning system."

Eli notes Eric Lichtblau's "Plan Would Let F.B.I. Track Mail in Terrorism Inquiries:"

The F.B.I. would gain broad authority to track the mail of people in terror investigations under a Bush adminsitration proposal, officials said Friday, but the Postal Service is already raising concerns.
[. . .]
A debate over the government's terrorism powers is to begin in earnest at a session on the Intelligence Committee on Thursday, in what is shaping up as a heated battle over the balance between fighting terrorism and protecting civil rights in the post-Sept. 11 era.

Okay, are Eli and I the only ones wondering why, at this point or any other, Licthblau's not making the point that Bully Boy has refused to appoint the panel that's supposed to be overseeing civil liberties, the one the 9-11 commission recommended? Yes, the Times has reported on his failure in this regard. But a "battle" is shaping up and where is the panel the 9-11 Commission believed we needed to protect our civil liberties? Six months later, no panel but a battle, "a heated battle," is about to ensue.

Elisabeth Bumiller has an article, not a "White House Letter," today entitled "First Lady Questions Delay in Telling President of Plane." It's your basic, account of public remarks. Other than that, we won't bother to critique Bumiller (she doesn't embarrass herself, I'll note that).
But there's another issue.

Who the hell cares?

Laura Bush appears to be getting out of the White House more. Well good for her. We'd previously fantasized that her days were passed with a gin bottle in one hand, a cheesy romance paperback in another, propped up in bed with a carton of Lucky Strikes at the ready on the end table.

But who cares what she says?

Statements from her have no credibility at all. Not because of whom she's married to. But because who can believe her? She reads a poem about a lump in the bed that her husband supposedly wrote. She gets some nice press and a few chuckles. Then it turns out he never a wrote a poem. She builds a comedy routine out of her, Condi Rice and grim face Cheney (no, not Dick, the other one) watching Desperate Housewives. She gets laughs. She's seen as a good sport and open. Turns out, it's all lies.

Let's be really clear here, it's not surprsing that her material is written by someone else. It is suprising that the press doesn't seem to care that it's not reality based. It's as though she stood up in a talent show and got laughs from stealing Henny Youngman's "Take my wife" jokes. The material should have been crafted around her. The fact that she's never watched Desperate Housewives but wants to pretend (over and over) in her "routine" that she has is not just bad stand up, it's lying.

Yes, she was trying to get laughs. But there was no reality base for her remarks. "I am a desperate housewife!" No, you're just desperate towin approval.

She's an ineffectual First Lady (and I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that this results not from her own desires -- pin the blame on the Bully Boy). With regards to the last attempt at making her life appear just-like-all-the-other-gals, I was dismayed but not planning to comment because goodness knows she's earned the right to a few laughs. But when she's quoted on Newsweek and now on the "delay" this week, I think it needs to be noted that her public remarks aren't based in reality. She has demonstrated that she will say whatever she thinks the people will respond to. (Permanent record should state, "Works too hard to be likeable.")

When material is crafted to you, it needs to reflect you. It's humor so you're building on reality, but it needs a reality foundation. The Desperate Housewives routine should have come with an advisory: Nothing I'm about to say is true.

Was it funny? That's not really the point. (And something I'll leave to others to evaluate.)
She got big laughs painting herself as being an avid viewer of the show (and Condie and Grim Face Cheney as well) and as being similar to the characters on the show -- a show she's never watched.

If a high schooler gets up at a talent show and steals from Henny Youngman, it may get a few chuckles but they aren't earned laughs, they're deceits. That's what her routine was, deceitful.
Just as it was when she earlier stood up and read a poem about a "lump in the bed" that she claimed, in front of an audience, that Bully Boy had penned for her.

Call them "tall tales" if "lies" makes you uncomfortable. But after eight years of every word Hillary Clinton uttered as First Lady being put under the microscope and examined for truthfulness, it's awfully strange that Laura Bush is handed a repeated pass and seen as credible in her public remarks.

"They're just jokes," someone might argue. They're not reflective of her, I'd argue. They were cheap, easy laughs that she garnered by pretending to be something she wasn't. That is a problem for someone who wants to go on the record.

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(Note: Jodi Wilgoren has a strong article in today's paper. I had planned to discuss it even though no member e-mailed about it. It's entitled "DNA Leads to New Suspect in Killing of Indiana Girl." However, I've now spent over five hours on the Times this morning and I'd really prefer to be done with it already. We do, however, have one more entry to go. But, for the record, Wilgoren has a strong article in today's paper.)