Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Beth's interview

This was posted as a rough draft because by the time I started editing down what topics C.I. and I discussed it was already late. What follows is my final draft. I'll point out that C.I. types very quickly. If that has been the case in previous interviews we've done, I hadn't noticed it. What's below is a little less than half of the comments we made to one another because I wanted to play reporter and not be Barbara Walters waving a transcript. C.I.'s on i.m. with me and is making the changes to this for me line by line.

Beth: You wanted to jump in with something at the start.

C.I.: Right and stop me if I go on too long. There are two e-mails from people at the Times today. You've got one of them and we'll deal with that shortly. I'm dealing with the other. The person didn't ask to be quoted and we don't quote here without permission. Some comments sent in by people at the Times would get them in trouble (or they think they would) but reporters whose work has been discussed here can respond. I've offered my opinion and they're allowed to offer their's.
We're going to call the writer X and invent a story to give an illustration because this will be e-mailed to X by Dallas after it goes up.
So here's the story we're creating to attempt to give X some sort of a response.
A story on how audio recordings are a thing of the past. It tells us that this is the new position and we get prominent coverage, early on, from the likes of Tiffany, Corey Hart and Bob Dylan who all say that they no longer support audio recordings and will only instead support DVDs.
Later in the article, X goes to the RIAA for a quote. Besides the quote, near the end X also acknowledges in a sentence that VH1's Save the Music and assorted other groups disagree. They aren't quoted.
So in our commentary on the story, I note that it seems one-sided. X's position is that it's not one sided. That's X's opinion. I can see why X feels that way. But the fact of the matter is if Carly Simon is saying there's too many visuals in the world and we need more audio to inspire our thinking as opposed to being served easy visuals, then Carly Simon should be quoted in the article. Or another activist. Or another activist organization. Not a think tank.
Three people have been presented as recording artists who are part of a move away from recording audio only. Of the three, Tiffany has no career (not to be cruel) nor a recording deal. So why is she even mentioned? (There was a problem, and we noted this in our commentary, with one of the three people offered as examples at the top of X's actual article.) But the three were presented and their opinions heard. Going to an organization (or two) that wants to discuss issues that go beyond (my opinion) audio recording or that are "non-partisan" really doesn't address the fact that you started off with three people speaking as "activists" and "activists" weren't allowed to respond.
It's a matter of opinion. I see X's opinion. And it's in keeping with the Times' tendency to go with "official sources." X isn't familiar with The Common Ills (we don't call ourselves a "blog" for instance) (X doesn't pretend to be familiar with TCI). But this goes to who is quoted and who isn't. I do see X's point. But it's an opinion and it's not one I share. If X wants to comment to the community, X needs to do what anyone else has to which is to say "quote me on this."
I'm not going to argue X's points for X. Besides the fact that Yazz and Gina would be all over me and complaining about my "in fairness" tendency, X had X's say in an article. We responded to it here with our opinions. (And X is correct to note that not all opinions expressed were mine. Members can comment whatever they want. If it's an opinion, it's not fact checked nor does it need to be.)
We don't open the Times here each morning (or I don't) and go through the editorials and the op-eds and then comment on them here. (A member can, I'm not interested in the back and forth myself.) People are entitled to their opinions. People can express their opinions. At least one member was named in the entry X is responding to. The member's opinion is valid. X may disagree with it but it's valid and the member's entitled to share it.
X is entitled to share X's opinion with me. I'm offering my opinion and if it has to do with your work, by all means reply. You don't have to do it nicely (and many at the Times don't). Say what's on your mind. Even if I disagree, I'll think about it. I did consider X's remarks seriously.
(I still am in fact.) Wanting to be as fair as possible, I brought in Shirley, Eli, Kat, Elaine and Dallas. Elaine's a pscyhologist and one would think she could be fair. (She's also a long term friend -- and Rebecca and my mutual friend, that's how we [Rebecca and C.I.] know each other.) There was someone who was making a perfect ass of themselves and Elaine had a post to share with the community on that. She ended up asking that it be postponed and then a day later that it be pulled. A movement was more important to her than an individual so Elaine pulled it. She was very angry by the incident (as was I) but she can look at the larger picture so she was invited onboard.
The community knows Shirley (or should) so I won't offer an explanation there. (I will, however, say thank you to Shirley for taking all the e-mail questions on instant run off voting in our current election.) The community knows Eli. The community certainly knows Kat. I think we know Dallas from his comments and the individual entries he's done here.
I knew that all five would have no problem speaking their mind. I knew that all five would keep X's identity confidential. I asked for a ruling on it. I did not share my opinion that this was a disagreement of opinion. I just asked for a ruling. As Eli pointed out, to even note the remarks in the entry in question would point out that X had raised them and X hadn't given permission for that. But all five felt as I did that this was an issue where the paper decides what is a source and what isn't. They were sympathetic to X's point of view but they disagreed with it.
If X reads this (again Dallas will send this to X after it's been posted) and wants to be quoted here, it will be noted in it's own entry. There will not be a rebuttal on my part because I have no interest in debating opinion. (Members are allowed to comment on whatever they want.) But for the remarks to be noted here, X needs to give permission.
There are guidelines in place at the Times that govern statements and I'm in no position to decide what is and what isn't permitted. But even if that weren't the case, I wouldn't quote X without X's permission. If X wants to be quoted an entry will go up when X e-mails a statement that X notes is to be quoted on. In addition, it will be linked to and noted on the original entry.
X seems confused by the questions at the beginning of the entry and I'm not clear on what's confusing there. I think (and I could -- as always be wrong) that part of the confusion stems from not knowing The Common Ills. X isn't the first from the Times to write in. (And we've noted here that one person wrote a hilarious e-mail, parts of which I agreed with and parts of which I didn't.)
When someone from the Times writes in, I read it because I've offered my opinion and I think it's only fair that I read their's. One thing that has come through loud and clear (and probably the sort of thing that someone couldn't be quoted on) is "I didn't write that!" What they wrote was rearranged or parts rewritten by others at the Times. They didn't appreciate being held accountable for things they didn't write. The questions that confuse X may be a result of those e-mails. Since that's been noted (and noted and noted) in e-mails from people at the Times, I've tried to make a point to note that a byline does not mean this was what the person composed and this is what they intended to be printed. That's why we say:

Robert Pear or "Robert Pear" writes today . . .

That's why that sort of wording (in question format or otherwise) comes into play.
Writers have also noted, rightly, that they don't choose whether or not their story is front paged. That's fine. That's why we say "the Times." It's a good point and one that can't be made often enough.
X may not have been confused by the wording and may have just disagreed with the opinions I was expressing in question form. That's X's right. And it's X's right to tell me so and I will read it. But if X wants to be noted here, X needs to say "quote me" and indicate what to be quoted on.
An automated e-mail goes out to everyone who writes in and it notes the policy to be quoted.
I'm at a loss as to how to make this more specific than it already is. Lord knows, we've gone into it here over and over and over. (And that's not a gripe at X but it is a gripe at visitors who want to whine a week or so later that they weren't quoted. We get far too much e-mail for me to track down every non-member and ask, "Do you want to be quoted?" That's why the automated e-mail exists.)
X's opinion and my opinion are at odds. X may not see it as opinion (and that's X's right). I heard X on this, I sought out other opinions. I did take X's e-mail seriously. At this site, we're not impressed with "official sources." So X and the community are coming at it from two different views. X can respond to this or not. It will be read. But if X wants something up here that strikes the community (as represented by Elaine, Shirley, Eli, Dallas and Kat) as a difference of opinion as to what "sources" are equal and which aren't, or as to what got emphasized and what didn't, X needs to make that case to the community for X.
If X does that, it will, again, go up in its own entry. I won't comment on it. (Members can -- and belive me they will because this is going to be seen as a difference of opinion and not a factual matter.) But I'm not going to defend something I don't believe in. I do believe in X's right to X's opinion. And I do believe that I can be wrong (and often am). X stated X's case and didn't descend into gossip (I feel I need to note that in case X does want to be quoted here since it's been noted that others at the Times feel the need to include office gossip in their e-mails). X has never written before and any comments about other writers from the Times do not apply to X. (And if X wants to share something with the community, I will note that again in the entry because the Times frowns on office gossip.)
I won't be responding to X in an e-mail. X may or may not have known that when X wrote. I don't do that. For the time being, we comment [on] the Times here. If I'm exchanging e-mails with someone, I'm not sure that I'm going to judge their writing by the same terms I would someone else. I'll exchange with bloggers (if they're doing work I support) or people running sites (ditto). But we critique the New York Times here. Whether we're right or whether we're wrong, we do that. Have since the first day.
To engage in a private e-mail exchange on my end would do a disservice to the community because they'd never know if I was backing off on someone because I e-mailed them or not.
So there aren't private e-mails to people at the Times that we cover.
I did check with friends who had worked at the Times (and two who work there now -- not in any form that we comment on here) and was hoping to hear that X was an ogre. I heard only nice things about X and things that indicated X's opinions are what X writes by. By that I mean, X truly belives that the sources in the article were equal. X strives very hard to be equal. I think X is being completely honest in the e-mail and completely sincere.
But I do think it goes to what X (and the Times) considers an equal or valid source and what this community considers equal or valid. (It also goes to what gets emphasized at the top of the story which -- especially if it is front paged -- is what is more likely to be read.)
X can write anytime X wants and doesn't have to be nice about it. But for X's opinion to be shared with the community, X has to state that it's for the community. And I will not be responding in private e-mails because we do critique the Times here.
I feel like I'm repeating myself (yet again) but were you able to follow that?

Beth: Yes, it was very clear. Okay, so now we're going to address the e-mail I'm looking at?

C.I.: Right.

Beth: Okay, let me start by saying the person's mad about an article. I'm not to say which one?

C.I.: No. But the person wrote the article.

Beth: The person makes the point that having passed on the "Green Zone Love Spot news" the person thought maybe there would be some sort of break granted.

C.I.: I had noted, several times, that when Editor & Publisher published the report of Love in the Green Zone allegedly involving two reporters for the Times, I was honestly surprised because e-mails from the Times often note every bit of gossip. Usually along the lines of, "I'm just doing my job here, why don't you go after ___ who's" fill in the gossip. I'd indicated then and since that I was curious about it and was, to a degree, joking. The person --

Beth: We'll call Z.

C.I.: Z apparently thought that passing on news of Love in the Green Zone meant there was some sort of break offered in exchange. If my comments indicated that, it was wrong on my part. If my jokes weren't clear, I apologize. We've never ran the gossip that came from inside the Times (and have no plans to do so now).

Beth: Z goes on to write that, paraphrase?

C.I.: Yes, because there may be some word in there that's unique to Z. That's why you're summarizing it and not me.

Beth: Z goes on to write that you're obviously attempting to set yourself up as the expert on the Times in hopes of going on TV and radio.

C.I.: Because, apparently, after Michael Jackson and Desperate Housewives, the Times is the the topic that steers all talk shows. Z reads things at this site apparently only when Z's work is commented on. That's fine. There's no need for Z to read anything else. However, it's been stated -- and I believe in an interview with you in fact -- that I have no interest in TV or radio appearences. I don't even have a desire to be quoted in print. It was like the third or fourth week when someone at a competing paper wrote a nice e-mail that honestly seemed heavy on the flattery and said they wanted to do a write up -- it was probably in response to the Times poll that we went into for four entries. "But, by the way, could you tell me your name?" No, I couldn't, no, I wouldn't. This isn't about me, I'm not the focus. And I've noted Ellen Goodman as an example, a strong example, saying that to go on the chat shows is to be required to have an opinion on every topic. I don't have an opinion on every topic. I'm not informed enough to discuss every topic. I have no interest in TV, radio or print. So to clarify for Z (who Dallas will also e-mail this to), I didn't set myself up as the authority of the Times.

Beth: Z says that you're Joan Rivers-style jabs are not funny.

C.I.: That made me laugh and I'm laughing right now. But seriously, humor's opinion. Whether Z thinks it's funny or not (and Z has thought it was funny when others were skewered) is Z's opinion. I'll choose to disagree.

Beth: Z says you hate the Times.

C.I.: I don't think you fork over money each month for something you hate. I am disappointed in the Times. Beyond the normal day to day things that would naturally occur. I've shared that I would be happy to cover another paper and asked for suggestions. We won't do the Washington Post because P.J. works there. (P.J. is Professional Journalist who is a community member.) And also because I can't stand their editorials. I'm more inclined to agree with the Times editorial board, in part or in whole, than any other paper.

Beth: Putting aside Z for a moment, what were the suggestions?

C.I.: There were a lot of good ones. The Baltimore Sun was one that came up a lot but it's not a national paper. Not every member of this community has access in their homes to the net. We need a national paper that can be read at a library in hard copy. Of the suggestions that fit that criteria, the only paper that I thought, my opinion, was a valid suggestion was The Christian Science Monitor.

Beth: Monday, The Christian Science Monitor shared an entry with the Times. So obviously some members have to be wondering whether or not we'll be switching to that?

C.I.: Possibly. Not in the near future. If we're breaking with the Times, we would probably do so when it switches to a for-pay site. Many members don't go to the links. They want the piece of an article that will speak to them. Which is why if members are excerpting, I ask that you pick the part that most spoke to you. Either due to information or style or whatever. I try to do that on my end as well. We're busy and we don't have a great deal of time. Some will go online and read an article in full if the excerpt interests them, some will make a point to hunt it out in print.
But the excerpt needs to be the strongest part of the story for the community. When the paper switches to a for-pay site the chances of them seeking out a story just got cut in half. For that reason, the break with the Times is being considered.

Beth: The Christian Science Monitor, I think, only publishes five days a week.

C.I.: Monday through Friday. Which would mean no more lifestyle stories on the front page Sunday! Seriously, that would be two days we could devote to other things. Obvisously, more often than not, assisting The Third Estate Sunday Review is an all night session. On a personal level, it would be nice to go to bed after that and not go through the Times and do an entry. But I'm trying not to make that the focus of the decision.

Beth: What's the position of the community?

C.I.: Split down the middle. Some want to say goodbye to the Times, some don't. One way or another, I think the split will be less equal once the Times switches to for-pay.

Beth: I had a question and I forgot it. Give me a second. Oh it was that the community's split on NPR.

C.I.: Right. That's an even split as well. Some feel we need to do everything we can to save NPR and some feel that we need to cut it loose because, they feel, that NPR cut out the left along time ago.

Beth: But you added it as a link.

C.I.: Guilty of rooting for the underdog. But there's also the fact that if we do step away from the Times, NPR would be a mainstream source. A lot of broadcast news simply repeats what the Times prints. On Monday, for instance, if you listened to Morning Edition (and this isn't an endorsement of Morning Edition) [they] had a story on DeWine and the feelings in the state about whether DeWine was adequately [interacting] with the Bully Boy or not. The Times has a similar story. But there's no way that NPR was copying the Times. They had interviews and had sent someone out to get comments from citizens of that area. Whether it was good or bad, NPR was doing journalism. It has stories, articles, on it's main page, posted all the time. It's our only mainstream news link and it was partly added in case we do break with the Times. Also because I root for the underdog. And members can, and some have, complained about that link.

Beth: I find NPR useless but I do enjoy Ruth's coverage of it.

C.I.: Thanks for bringing that up because that's said a lot and I'd hate for Ruth to read this and think, "I'm covering something that everyone wishes I'd shut up about." Members enjoy Ruth's Morning Edition Report, whether they like NPR or not. Her entry this morning resulted in a lot of e-mails. All positive.

Beth: Do we need to go back to Z's e-mail?

C.I.: That's up to you. I dealt with X because I do understand where X is coming from. I could care less about Z. If there's something that you think is important, bring it up.

Beth: I'll note it's not from Dexter Filkins because I'm about to ask about Filkins. Has he written?

C.I.: I don't think I can answer that question because it might lead to a later question and people have been very vocal in their e-mails that some stuff they write could get them in trouble with the paper due to guidelines. So I don't think I can say someone's written or not because when I do that once, it puts someone on a list of having written or not having written and if "management," as one feared, follows this to any degree, I don't want to be responsible for a write up.

Beth: Okay, well my question then would be your opinion about Filkins' piece. Obviously it's won awards. You disagree with the piece strongly and think it's bad journalism.

C.I.: And said so the day it was printed. I've also stated that it's my opinion and I could be wrong. But awards don't indicate quality -- look at the Grammys on Christopher Cross' shelves.
And, as Amy Goodman outlines in her book Exception to the Rulers, the Times has won awards in real time that later were called into question. My opinion, Filkins' awards will be questioned later. I could be wrong. I often am. Amy Goodman's book written with her brother David Goodman to clarify.

Beth: At The Third Estate Sunday Review, you've noted that there's been some hostility to that opinion.

C.I.: Early on there was from some members. The membership now doesn't feel that it was good reporting. We still hear from visitors who feel that it was good reporting. I offered my opinion. I stand by it to this day.

Beth: Bill Keller, on Judy Miller, has griped about "arm chair media critics."

C.I.: It will be sad if he's known for that comment, historically known, or for his "circle jerk" comment. He defended Miller, that's his right. What's the question?

Beth: Well I'm picturing his rebuttal being, "They are risking their lives in the Iraq."

C.I.: In the Green Zone, some would argue. Although I remember rumors of someone being fired, at another news outlet, for not going to Iraq, I've heard nothing similar about the Times. Which suggests to me, they chose to be there. So do the job.

Beth: I'm thinking that Bill Keller would say, "They're there."

C.I.: This came up, in another context, in a conversation before The Common Ills started. A woman I know vaguely was going on about how mean the media was and how she just got her news from two friends who had sons in Iraq. That's all she listened to and put faith in. That's her choice. But they can give her, at best, a picture of what they see in the area they're assigned to. The Times can give you a picture of what they choose to cover, where they choose to go.
There are reporters who are un-embeeded. I'm not the one who accused Filkins of getting military approval, a claim made by another journalist that Filkins denies. I'm not sure I'm answering your question.

Beth: Okay, Bill Keller would say, "They are over there. They're risking their lives. Who are you to criticize?"

C.I.: A subscriber to the paper. I don't know that I even need that to offer an opinion. I was very offended by Filkins' article. When he came back to this country to claim his award, I held my tongue and noted it here without naming him, though it was obvious to most members I'm sure, to let him have his moment of glory. Whether he deserved it or not is a question for others to answer. Whether I was right or wrong to hold my tongue is something for someone else to answer. Gina knew who I was speaking of and, I think when I used the phrase "I'm holding my tongue" or "I'm biting my tongue," e-mailed in to disagree with that approach. So I may very well have been wrong. And suffering from in fairness. My point of view, and I'll give this to Keller, it is dangerous regardless of whether Filkins is embedded or unembedded. And as a result, I was perfectly willing to allow him his down time in this country. Gina's opinion, which is valid as well, was that there are a number of troops from various countries and Iraqis who will never get to enjoy down time because they're dead. It's a valid point. I still question whether I should have bit my tongue or not during that down time.
But I can offer an opinion, anyone can offer an opinion. Keller may not like criticism of the paper, it's been noted here that if you praise he writes back but if you offer even a slight criticiscm in an otherwise praise-ridden e-mail he doesn't reply. It's also been noted that Gail Collins has replied to anything brought up by members, positive or negative. Add Martha to the list of people who can vouch for the fact that you don't need to say, "You're wonderful, I love you!" for Gail Collins to take time to reply to your e-mails. But whether Keller likes it or not, he's putting out a paper and he's wanting readership to pay for it. Or rather the Times is wanting that. If he doesn't feel it's valid, that's his opinion and he should express it. But I'm at a loss as to what country he lives in that operates under the principle of "You haven't earned the right to comment." I live in America where we have free speech.

Beth: I'm going to stay with Iraq for a minute. No reporting, in the paper, coming out of Iraq gets mentioned.

C.I.: By me. Members can highlight whatever they choose to. I can't remember the guest on Unfiltered but he spoke at length about how the Times was reporting from the Green Zone.
I do worry that we don't highlight Iraq here enough. Obviously, when the Times does, that would be an easy way to do so. On Sundays, when we do what they're reporting elsewhere in the world, I try to do one entry on Iraq. In addtion, it's rare that it's not a topic in some form on Democracy Now! so we have that. But there are other sources and I don't trust that the Times is doing the job it should be when it comes to reporting from Iraq. My opinion, I could be wrong. The Times relies on official sources. While we were commenting on the Iraq coverage, John F. Burns did do a piece highlighting Iraqis, the people, giving them a face and a name and a voice. We applauded that piece here. It was good reporting. It was strong reporting. Had there been more reporting like that prior to the Unfiltered segment, I probably wouldn't have made the decision I made. But I don't get a sense that Iraqis are leads in the stories of their own lives from the reporting in the Times. They come off as supporting players. That would be understandable in a paper not noted for its international coverage. The Times is noted for its international coverage. It should do a better job, whether from within the Green Zone or not, of explaining to the readers what's going on.

[Note: A visitor has e-mailed C.I. today -- Wednesday -- to ask why a left site is praising a Tucker Carlson show. Unfiltered refers to the Air America Radio program that no longer airs but was hosted by Lizz Winsted, Rachel Maddow and Chuck D, not to the Tucker Carlson show of the same name.]

Beth: Two words, Juan Forero.

C.I.: Juan Forero is the student in too many college courses I took who builds his argument by shaping what he emphasizes and what he doesn't. Were he working for a partisan publication, that would be fine. At the Times, I don't think it is. It gives me a headache to read him which is why he's so rarely commented on. A member has to e-mail "please comment" basically for me to address Forero. I'm just not interested. For me, that's the kind of thing I did in college. These days I don't have the time to waste. He has a world view that comes through very clearly in his writing. It's not one I agree with. And I'll note that he wrote a good article, one good article, that never got mentioned here because I read it later in the day and was somewhere waiting and had nothing else to read. But most days, I avoid him. Life's too short.

Beth: Is his view the paper's view?

C.I.: I really can't answer that with anything but opinion. I'll give you my opinion. The Times loves big business. That's hopefully not a scandalous judgement call on my part. But within that love, they can stand up for social justice at times. I think he represents a part of the Times outlook but not the full outlook. My opinion. I hope it's not the full outlook. He's a Thomas Freidman and were he on the opinion pages, I wouldn't comment on anything he wrote. But I do feel he shapes his reporting. The paper's obviously happy with it but I think the Times, and I could be wrong, is a little more compassionate than what comes across in Forero's writing. The Times as a paper.

Beth: I love Isaiah's comics.

C.I.: I do too.

Beth: But I'm wondering about the entries with voices. I don't see a lot of them lately.

C.I.: I agree with you on that one hundred percent and consider it a major failure on my part.
The reason, and it doesn't justify it, for that is there is a huge amount of work that goes into pulling those together. And with the e-mails there hasn't been time. Which is why I now say that if you're not a member, don't expect to be read in full. If you're a reporter who's work has been commented on, I'll read you in full. But if you're not a member, your drive by e-mails will be read until I've had enough.

Beth: That comes off kind of mean to visitors.

C.I.: You're right. And there are some great visitors and that point needs to be made. I'm stereotyping visitors into the category of the ones that I feel are a waste of time and that's not fair to them.

Beth: A 40K e-mail on how someone shouldn't be trusted because they were someone else in another life?

C.I.: Exactly. And again, I'm not slamming reincarnation. But I don't know why anyone would send an e-mail like that to this site. It's an opinion, fine. But how you do 40K of opinion, I don't know. Unless your last name is Freidman.

Beth: Meaning Thomas, not Betinna.

C.I.: Right, I love Betty's site.

Beth: Whichis a point I was going to raise with Isaiah. He's making great contributions to the community and so is Ruth. But Kat started her own site and I'm wondering if they will as well?

C.I.: That's something they'd have to answer. I urged Ruth to start her own site because I think she has an incredible voice. She's not interested nor is Isaiah. They may change their minds. We'd highlight them if they had their own sites but we're happy to highlight them here. Kat has made clear at her site and to me that her reviews will continue to debut here first. She can change her mind on that and more power to her if she does. But that's a spot for her to to comment from time to time.
We had more members entries in February and March obviously when we were asking for members to highlight African-Americans and women who stood out to them for Black History Month and for Women's History Month.
I say all the time, we need more voices, not less. Anything a member wants to share we share.

Beth: This is turning into a long discussion and I'm glad but do I need to provide links?

C.I.: This is your space so that's up to you. You're going to edit this to reflect what you think are the important topics discussed, right?

Beth: Right.

C.I.: If you don't have the time for links or the patience, don't do it.

Beth: Then I won't but I'll include this part in the interview to explain why. The impression I get is that we're going to become [more] member focused. Is that correct?

C.I.: Yeah. Rod and Rob have both shared the opinion that we need to thin the herd, their term. I've never sought out links. I've never said "Please read me!" I think on the second day, when people started e-mailing, it's obvious from my embarrassing remarks, embarrassing to me to look back on, that I was obviously startled that anyone was reading. Things weren't being said that I felt needed to be said. I was speaking to students regarding the war and the election up until November (and I still do a study group) but after the results (which I question) came in, a group of friends and I asked what didn't we do? For me, I hadn't tried blogging. So I tried that.
and for a bit this was blog. By Thanksgiving, it was a community. What was that, a week?

Beth: The NPR entry.

C.I.: Right. People wanted that issue dealt with, for the record. Since there probably won't be links, I'll summarize briefly. NPR's Juan Williams evaluated a statement made by John Kerry. Listeners complained that it wasn't a fair evaluation. To address that, this all occurred on Morning Edition, they brought on another speaker. So the speaker was supposed to be providing a fair evaluation. Whether he did or not is a matter of opinion. But NPR didn't tell you that the man evaluating John Kerry was married to a woman working for Dick Cheney. That calls his evaluation into question. I heard that interview and my jaw dropped when they announced him. It wasn't a secret whom he was married to, except to NPR listeners since it wasn't disclosed. Robert Kagan's the man, by the way. Victoria Nuland is his wife. The reason we addressed it was because the NPR ombdusman finally responded to the criticism. His response, in brief, was that some thought that since Kagan was a "hawk," he couldn't be impartial. That wasn't the only issue. That came out while we were starting up so that's how we approached the issue. The why was because members were complaining about it and wanting a for the record post from someone since they felt the issue got a pass originally and would get one again. For those who don't go that far back (check the archives, it's around Thanskgiving that it goes up or search "When NPR fails you, who you gonna' call, not the ombudsman"), NPR refused to allow a reporter to cover the elections because of whom she was married to. But it was apparently okay for Kagan to come in and offer his opinion on Kerry without informing listeners that Kagan's wife worked for Dick Cheney. Did that impact Kagan's judgement? People can decide for themselves. But it should have been disclosed.

Beth: That got linked online.

C.I.: Right and while grateful about that, we don't do "as linked to by" announcements here. The Times avoids being self-referential and a lot of what I operate under, good or bad, comes from reading the Times for so long.

Beth: But there is a post that is prepared acknowledging the links.

C.I.: Right. I had a health scare and we've discussed that here as much as we will. But due to that, I did make a point to prepare a list of thank yous to everyone who had linked to us. The health appears to be good currently, knock wood. But if it I step down for health or another reason, Ava would post that entry. As a closing statement. I think people should be thanked but I don't want to get into "as linked to by" or some other thing. We're trying to focus on the community and issues.

Beth: You noted when Dallas was linked to by BuzzFlash.

C.I.: And when Ruth was. And if a member ever writes soemthing and it's linked somewhere, e-mail and it will be noted. They deserve their praise and recognition. I'm just not comfortable with self-congratulatory. Or with taking credit for something I didn't do. Members have made this a community and they certainly deserve all the credit for it.

Beth: There are various blog alliances going on at any time and we haven't been a part of any.

C.I.: No. And we won't. We're a community, not a blog. Also members can and will speak their minds and I certainly will. If it's a Democratic blog and we're criticizing a Democrat it may not be good for their alliance. If I'm off on a tangent they don't agree with, they shouldn't have to suffer as a result.

Beth: I thought about, when I wrote that question, what you said in a roundtable at The Third Estate Sunday Review. It was about Filkins and how some suggested you were blowing your credibility by criticizing him.

C.I.: And some did suggest that. But if there's any credibilty for me (members are far more credible than I am), there's no point in having it if you're not going to risk it. I'm supposed to save it for a rainy day? I did a favor for a morning network show, for a friend that worked there. As an exchange, I was offered one favor. I did it as a friend but I was given a favor after the fact. Various things came up during the election but I was convinced the investigation into who leaked Valerie Plame's name would amount to something. Again, I'm often wrong. As a result, I passed on using it for other things. I saved it for a rainy day and I wasted it. My mistake and I kick myself for it to this day.
I honestly believed it would break and it didn't. I was wrong. I don't think that Robert Novak committed a crime, or Judith Miller or Matthew Cooper or anyone else involved on that end. But the person who leaked it appears to have committed a crime. I'm very disappointed in that investigation. I'm also disappointed in the lack of interest in the mainstream about it in any terms other than "a reporter could go to jail!" While that is an issue, the fact that someone in the adminstration apparently leaked the information is the bigger issue.

Beth: So say what you need to say and don't worry?

C.I.: To quote Phil Ochs, "When I've got something to say, I'm going to say it now." Before any e-mails come in, the song -- written by Ochs -- is ""I'm Going to Say It Now" and it's on Phil Ochs In Concert.

Beth: There was a blogger who e-mailed and it was addressed here and at The Third Estate Sunday Review.

C.I.: And hopefully he saw it. We're in the midst of an election and I'm focusing on members.

Beth: If a blogger e-mails something and they are of the same side we are, do they get highlighted?

C.I.: Absolutely. If you're someone the community would respond to and you think that you've got something to share, e-mail it in. But we're not a Democratic site. I'm a Democrat and I try to watch my words there [because] we're inclusive of third party members and we have a huge number of Greens. The way the party's been going, I may have to join them. But there are a lot of people who think that because they support Democrats, they've got something to say to the community. The members who are Democrats don't fawn over the party. We're of the left. We're pro-peace, pro-social justice, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-environment, etc. It's a long list. And I do hear about it when a member or members feel that we've crossed a line. Most of the time I have a pretty good idea what we will respond to, and if a member wants something highlighted from the left, it's highlighted.

Beth: Unless it's an attack on Naomi Klein. Or Jane Fonda.

C.I.: If someone on the left wants to critique Klein's position, we'll offer it. I have stated before that if I have a case of hero worship, it's Naomi Klein. I think she's an important voice today and I think in decades to come people will speak of her in the same manner of our strong voices that we've had around for years. As for Jane Fonda, I sometimes think I should change the title of this site to "I know Fonda and I support her." Maybe that would make it a little more clear where I'm coming from.

Beth: But you won't link to Guerilla News Network?

C.I.: We provide a permalink to them on the left. I won't pick a story and link to it, no. When we provided that link, I didn't realize that Frances Moore Lappe was the mother of anyone involved in GNN (she's Anthony Lappe's mother). I've disclosed on that topic and stated if you see something and want it linked, e-mail it in and we'll link to it. But I don't want to hear, "You link to Anthony all the time because of Frances!" I think they're a strong site and that's why they were linked. But to avoid charges of conflicts of interest, I don't link to them in entries unless someone e-mails it in. I belive I have noted when Anthony Lappe was on the Majority Report but we note The Majority Report here and I don't think I've noted him anymore than we've noted Bill Scher, whom I don't know but also enjoy as a guest on The Majority Report.

Beth: I like Bill. I didn't when his link went up. But I've visit his site now and he has some strong criticism.

C.I.: I agree with you. E-mail it in when you see something so we can highlight it because that's the other problems with links in entries. I can't go through all the e-mails and still surf the net.
What I link to myself is usually an online version of something I've read in print. I'm not an expert on blogs and I have stated that from the start.

Beth: And that's why the panel was created.

C.I.: Right. The panel will decide links to blogs. We haven't added any but Feministe when Jill went over there because it was an emergency to some members, she was going to blog irregularly at her own site and start blogging at Feministe. We already linked to Third Wave Agenda. There was a sense of urgency so I contacted all panel members and when enough replied to be in the majority, we linked. All were in favor it but I didn't hear from all of them before the link went up.

Beth: I like that they're deciding it.

C.I.: They obviously know far more than I do about blogs. In addition, it lets members have a voice. I've stated before that we weren't going to put something up here that said, I'll use Bill Scher since you mentioned him, "Hey do we want to link to Liberal Oasis?" because if we didn't link it could be hurtful the person. But having me decide which blogs to link to was ridiculous because I'm not a blog expert. I went by things members suggested and then there would be someone saying "I don't like that!" I really couldn't defend the link because it seemed fine to me but what do I know? The panel visits a site and discusses it. They debate it. That's how blogs are decided.

Beth: You linked to The Huffington Post.

C.I.: Root for the underdog. Arianna Huffington, whom I think is sincere from personal observation, was under attack. We linked, or "I" linked. That was a case of someone from outside the blog world starting up and the panel will tell you that they don't weigh in on that.
If Nora Eprhon started her own blog tomorrow, we'd link to it by the end of the day and it would be my decision based on her strong writing. I feel comfortable evaluating that. If someone's unhappy, I can say, "I understand what you're saying but my reasons for linking were . . ."
I can do that with Huffington. But it seemed really inept and wrong on my part to say, "Well a member suggested it." Or "a number of members suggested it" -- in the case of people who are making their names in the blog world. If I can't defend the choice when someone's tossing out something that went up a year ago, I can't defend it. So obviously I wasn't the person who should be making those decisions. The panel provided us an opportunity to let members have a voice but also avoid embarrassing someone if they didn't get linked to.

Beth: The e-mail from the centrist.org guy yesterday obviously bothered you. I think I know why but I wanted to go over that.

C.I.: Rebecca blogged on him, back in April. He had a problem with Rebecca's post. Why is he pulling me into it? Rebecca's a community member as well as a friend. I don't break with the community. If he thought I was going to side with him, he was mistaken. As Rebecca noted, my mother passed away and because he brought up his mother, I was sympathetic to him. But don't come to me with your problems with what Rebecca wrote at her site or Folding Star or Betty or Kat or something at The Third Estate Sunday Review that their note to the readers notes I excused myself from any input on. That's your problem with them. I'm never going to break ranks and say, "You're so right!" If a member has a problem, I will hear them out and I will acknowledge their view and try to present where I think the person was coming from. But that's with a member. We don't link to his organization here, we've never mentioned it. Why he feels he can trash Rebecca to me is beyond me. That's the kind of nonsense e-mails I don't need.
Rebecca needs to write in her voice. She's doing that. Good for her.
Some middle of the roader really doesn't need to waste my time or the community's time weighing in on something. In the past, they could and I would read every word (as I'd stated). I can't. There are too many e-mails for that. I don't know the guy, I've never heard of his organziation. He was mentioned in the Times on a Sunday. That's my quick read if I've finished an all night session with The Third Estate Sunday Review. But I think Rebecca said it was an article in the Week in Review which I don't read unless a member asks me to look at some story. We didn't comment on him here. We didn't mention his organization. But I'm in the midst of answering questions regarding the election and have to stop to listen to his gripes about Rebecca. As she pointed out, this e-mail that he wanted forwarded to her, wasn't to her. It was written to me. I didn't ask for the e-mail. I'd never commented on him or his organization. It should be obvious by any entry that I do not agree with his goals. If he'd approached me in public, I would've said, "Take a hike!" Instead, because we were operating under the "I read every word policy," I was trapped listening to his long rant.
I don't have the time for it. I would never write the ombudsman at the Wash Post to say, "Look, I've got a problem with what ___ at the Times wrote."
Now some might argue, "But you know Rebecca." Exactly, so why do you think I need some stranger trashing her to me? I don't. You're wasting my time and I don't have it to spare.
I also don't agree with you deciding what she can write and how she can write it.
I mean where do you get off? You e-mailed me so presumably you know that at the very least, Rebecca's a community member here. You probably know that she and I are friends. And you write me about how mean she was? What is that? Run to teacher and tattle?
He had nothing to say about The Common Ills so why was he writing me to begin with. If he wanted something forwarded to Rebecca, as she noted, he needed to write [to] her. All he needed to say to me, was please forward to Rebecca.
When I called her to make sure she was aware of the e-mail in her inbox, I asked her, "didn't the UK Computer Gurus fix the e-mail for you?" because I talked her through setting up her site. They did fix it. All you do is go to the about page and click on "e-mail." Why in the world this man wanted to go on and on about his problems with Rebecca to me still puzzles me.
But I am not responsible for the content on Rebecca's site. As long term friends, we've disagreed before. We'll disagree again. But you're crazy if you think I'm going to side with you on this. Especially when you play gatekeeper and want to instruct on how she should blog. That's not even your business.
And I didn't appreciate the attempt to put me in the middle.

Beth: Especially during the election.

C.I.: Right. And he may or may not have known that. But I'll be spending four hours tonight on e-mails. I need to be getting more sleep, that's medical instruction, not my opinion. I don't have time for that kind of nonsense. Oh, Rebecca gave you a boo-boo. Well, I don't have time to kiss it and make it better and I'm not your parent.
And, again, the person brought up his mother. That's the easiest way to pull my heart strings. I even wasted time with a reply to the guy. I didn't send it but it was a "I understand that her comments bothered you but she needs to speak in her voice and she needs to decide whether or not she wants to dicuss your policies. Those are her decisions. Not mine, not yours." I didn't send it. Or, I didn't send it to him. Rebecca asked if I'd replied to him and I told her I'd composed one but then looked at the time and realized I'd wasted a half hour on this nonsense and just thought, "Forget it."
And with the blogger we didn't link to, I wasted a lot of time with an e-mail I didn't send. I stopped after 15 minutes and reminded myself that there are members who are not getting personal replies. So why am I, on Memorial Day Weekend, writing to someone who obviously doesn't know the sort of things members are interested in and apparently doesn't know that I don't decide who gets linked to on the side as a permalink? The guy said he really liked this community (he used "site") and gave the impression he knew something about it. He didn't.
Just because he wrote doesn't mean he gets a personal reply. His reply was on this site and if he truly visited the site regularly he saw it. But there's no staff doing these e-mails. I did draft Ava, Kat and Shirley for the days after the announcement went up about the election because questions needed to be answered quickly and I ended up having to fly out of town.
But they have other things to do. I read what comes in. If it's a member (or someone in the press whose work's been commented on), I'll continue to read every word. But if you stumbled upon the site and you're talking about things I don't care about or don't agree with, I've got other e-mails waiting.

Beth: Can you check and tell me how many e-mails are in the inbox right now.

C.I.: Hold on. Back. 825. Not counting the junk mail folder which I do have to check because from time to time something will end up there. Luke of wotisitgood4 was going straight there for a week and I hadn't been checking and missed all those e-mails forever. I made a point to note that here when we did bring the issue up that Luke had been trying to raise and I e-mailed him on Sunday, I was in the middle of helping The Third Estate Sunday Review and on a break when I thought to check the spam folder, to apologize for that [delay] and explain that he wasn't being ignored but [that] I just hadn't checked the junk mail folder where he was going for some reason.

Beth: The reason I asked for a count was because Rebecca made the point that everyone wanting a personal reply better ask themselves do they want entries here or do they want personal replies because the e-mail is too much to have both.

C.I.: And there's an example of where we have publicly disagreed. Rebecca's opinion is that the site comes first and her e-mail is something she'll get to when she has time. She's running a blog. That can work for her. This is a community and if I'm not reading the e-mails, I'm not dealing with what we need to talk about, with the things that are on members' minds. But she had a point, that the more I thought about it, the more I saw she was right. Focus on the members. That doesn't mean a visitor is ignored. But members need to come first. In relation to the Times, I'd offer my opinion that far too much time is spent worrying about what nonreaders of the paper think. When Dallas e-mails the Times, he usually notes two things, or at least does in the e-mails he forwards here. 1) This is a private e-mail not for publication. You have to do that now thanks to Daniel Okrent. 2) He notes he subscribes to the paper and provides his address for verification. That's to show that if there's some e-mail campaign going on, he's not someone who never reads the paper but saw a "flood the Times" notice and decided to participate. He's someone who reads the paper. The paper should focus on their readers. When it was put to me in those terms by both Dallas and Rebecca, I saw the point.

Beth: You've got e-mails to read and we've gone on for about two and a half hours. So I'm looking through my questions and trying to pick one last one. Okay, I'll go with the gina & krista round-robin. I really love that and I'm wondering how open it is?

C.I.: I'm confused.

Beth: In terms of people signing up.

C.I.: Oh, okay. Well that's a closed e-mailing that Gina and Krista do for members. Members have to ask. I pass it on to them, they decide. They may ask me a question like, "What does this person suggest[,] if anything?" But it's for members and they have the final say. They noticed Zach awhile back and asked me to e-mail him to ask if he wanted to receive it (he did). But no, that's not open to all. They've gone into why on that with The Third Estate Sunday Review. And since you're not providing links, right?

Beth: Right.

C.I.: Then people need to be responsible enough to go to that site and locate the article. The Third Estate Sunday Review. It's an article in the month of April, I believe. Since we're closing here, I want to say thank you for agreeing to table a few issues for a later date. I want to say I'm sorry that you had to wait so long. And also say thank you for letting us deal with the two e-mails at the start.

Beth: And two weeks from now we're doing this again.

C.I.: Right. E-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.

Beth: Which is kind of funny considering the conversations on e-mails that we've had.

C.I.: Anyone can write. I'll read or not if you're a visitor depending on your topic. If you start telling me that someone's not to be trusted because in a previous life . . . More power to you but I don't have the time for it. And if the centrist wants an airing of his "side" he needs to take it up with Rebecca. He pulled me into this, not the other way around. I'm not wasting any more time on that. The community doesn't want to hear his "side." And I don't need members complaining that we've passed up Nepal or Iraq or a choice issue because they've had to waste time on his whining.

[Note: This is Beth's final draft of her article.]