Saturday, August 13, 2005

George wonders where was The Daily Howler others wonder about the scope of The Daily Howler

So where was The Daily Howler all week? That was what George wondered.

George, The Daily Howler was where it always is. But I know you're asking where was it in the posts here.

The Daily Howler posts later and later each day. I'm not in the mood to hold posts lately. I'm rushing to get those done and move on. What did we miss?

Friday Bob Somerby continued to split hairs re: Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger. Is there a point to this? It's been noted. And noted. And noted. And . . . He's becoming like Paul Reiser in Diner. The press continues to report on it in a manner Somerby disagrees with. Got it.

And in a slow week, that would be fine. But this wasn't a slow week.

We did a roundtable here. I edited most of my remarks out of that roundtable to be more of a moderator (Ava and Mike discussed that here and Doug e-mailed asking why I edited out my remarks? It should be clear in the following, Doug.). I like Somerby's work. I've learned a great deal from Somerby. I owe a huge debt to Somerby and I'd argue most do.

But in that roundtable, issues were raised.

The site is called The Daily Howler. (Not, as some might suspect, Why Joe Wilson Is Wrong.)
The Daily Howler. The howlers of the day.

Get it?

On Monday, one of the big three evening's newscast led with the news of the death of one of their own. That wasn't a note and then we moved on to stories around the world. It was a tribute. And it opened the news.

"We are not the story." They made one of their own the story. Not for just one story.

If Peter Jennings was all the things they said about him (I have no reason to doubt that he was), I'm having a hard time figuring out how trashing basic journalism guidelines "honored" Peter Jennings. I'm also having a hard time figuring out who thought shots of Jennings in his boxers and cute stories about him qualified as a tribute to a journalist?

That was a Howler.

As the week progressed and we saw the death of a journalist, publisher and owner of his own publications shunted aside, there was an analysis that could have been made about that. It wasn't made by many in the mainstream media. (We've attempted to note stories on John H. Johnson here.)

The subtext was that Jenning's death was more important than Johnson's. There's much I could say about that but we're addressing it at The Third Estate Sunday Review.

A press critique could have been done on it at The Howler. In the roundtable we had here, Gina shared that The Daily Howler didn't really speak to her. She felt that it was a site for white men. That's a criticism I'd never considered. Gina's feelings are valid. Whether or not her reading is one everyone agrees with, I have no idea. (For my opinion, read on.)

However, this was an opportunity for us to see how one racial issue was dealt with at The Howler. The answer in this instance is that it wasn't dealt with at all. Gina watched The Howler this week. She feels that the only time a person of color popped up was when a sports star was noted.

Another issue brought up in the roundtable was the issue of the way women are noted at The Howler. Ruth has raised that issue in a Ruth's Morning Edition Report that she killed. (She asked that it not go up.) It's an issue worth considering. Gina felt that Mary Matalin got air kisses this week.

She also wondered (and I agree with her) why a professional spinner like Matalin is applauded at The Howler? Good question. Apparently she's a 'nice person' who's booked Somerby as a guest before. I don't know if that really excuses the Sonny & Cher sideshow that she and husband James Carville have inflicted upon the nation each time they team up as guests on Meet the Press. (Carville gets to be Cher, he has personality.) To state the obvious, that Carville ties one hand behind his back every time he's on opposite Matalin, is something The Howler should have long ago done. I have no idea why it hasn't.

But as Gina pointed out, the big story this week was Cindy Sheehan. And Sheehan was attacked by the right wing pundits. In the past, that's really all it takes to get a Daily Howler analysis.
Didn't happen.

Those hoping that finally on Friday, Somerby would deal with it were disappointed as he was back to the apparently must note issue of Joe Wilson and the 2002 trip, the 2003 op-ed . . .

Why wasn't Cindy Sheehan the subject of analysis at The Daily Howler? Only Somerby can answer that. Media Matters was covering it. So were bloggers. But it wasn't news at The Daily Howler. (Note: Dallas just e-mailed that Somerby's addressing Sheehan today. I haven't read it and won't, today's too busy.)

Maybe Somerby felt it was being covered enough elsewhere and he didn't have anything to add that couldn't be said by someone else? That's legitimate, that's a solid reason. But no one was addressing (that I'm aware of) that ABC's World News Tonight tossed out news to do a tribute to Peter Jennings or that John H. Johnson didn't receive the kind of play that Jennings did. So that's a topic that Somerby could have analyzed without fearing that it was "the rage of the
net. "

He doesn't like to second guess people's motives (no e-mails on that, that's his stated intent) so maybe he felt that he would have to ask questions about racism involved in the coverage? Considering that The Daily Howler is set up to ask questions, I find that a rather weak excuse.

I wasn't too keen on his sports talk which was isolated to one individual as though the "power players" weren't pushed a few years back by the league itself. A larger issue is reduced to an individual. But if you've got time for the steroids story, you should have time to at least do a paragraph on Johnson's coverage (or lack of it). (To give credit to the New York Times, they ran an obit and a feature article in the arts section as well as an op-ed on his importance.)

I wasn't too impressed with The Daily Howler this week, to be honest. Somerby's arguments (example, Wilson) had been gone over at length previously (not just in 2004, but also in recent months). But, to use an old analogy, the needle was struck in the groove apparently and we were hearing the same thing we'd heard before.

Early in the week we were still getting shout outs. (One of the many sections that led Lewis to e-mail asking if Somerby was aware of the own "chafe" in his columns.) Thankfully that stopped. It's a little sad to see a giant who takes on the mainstream press be caught doing shout outs. Repeatedly. Somerby went for analyizing and critiquing to shout outs the week of the roundtable. And many entries that I worked on that week and after originally included paragraphs that I would take out because I'd think, "I don't really want to say that."

I don't want to say any of the above. Not out of fear. One of the great things (and Somerby knows this) about not taking ads or depending on approval is that you can say whatever you want. (If fear was involved, it was because I have defended Somerby -- and still do -- to members who are bothered by some of his critiques and worried that my including negative criticism would lead some members to think, "Okay, open season on Somerby!")

I didn't want to say anything because everyone can have a bad patch even someone who can be as brilliant as Somerby (who's more often brilliant -- even when I disagree with his opinion -- then he is not -- still). But the bad patch got to be so bad that, to put into an analogy a sports lover like Somerby would grasp, it was as though a once great major league pitcher had been reduced to knuckle balls and other questionable (or once questionable -- his sport's left the glory it once had -- an opinion I doubt he'd quibble too much over -- as always I could be wrong) "tricks."

There were things going on in the world. Real things, important things. I didn't feel that The Daily Howler was really making contributions. Friday last, two members had e-mailed things to highlight (one was from Ron, the other from Delilah) and I couldn't even follow the entries. Not because they were badly written, but because Dallas had just sent The Daily Howler in full with the note that he couldn't find anything to pull from it. And reading it, I was as puzzled as Dallas. (And disappointed, let's be honest. I am a fan of Somerby's work.) But two people didn't get highlighted, not because I thought, "Oh well this is better covered by . . ." but because I couldn't even absorb what they were saying because I was left dumbfounded by The Daily Howler.

Never again is what I told myself. I'd hoped to highlight both Delilah and Ron on Saturday but problems with this site prevented that happening. (That's also why Beth's interview, which was done on Friday to go up on Saturday, didn't go up on Saturday.)

Sunday, of course, The Third Estate Sunday Review couldn't get their last two posts up due to a problem with Blogger. (They're up now.) So we carried that over to this site. Actually, to the mirror site originally because there were problems with the Blogger program here as well. I've tried to get Isaiah's The World Today up each morning this week and there were problems with that as well. (UK Computer Gurus think they have it fixed as of this afternoon. Since Sunday is almost upon us, we'll save it for this Sunday.)

Maybe the problem is me? I'm not feeling well this week (and that probably shows in the morning entries) and from work I go to work on volunteering. When I finally get home, I'm dead tired and about to fall over. I hope for inspiration from The Mike Malloy Show but it doesn't always come. (That's not a slap at Malloy, that's me being tired and feeling ill.)

So Somerby may be doing an excellent job and I might just be missing it due to my own problems and issues. But, again, there were real issues going on this week. And I didn't see anything worth noting at The Daily Howler on the few times that it could have been included in an entry.

We'll hopefully be able to note him next week. But there were other things to note. And there's always a line. I wasn't in the mood to hold the line to wait for The Daily Howler to go up. And I wasn't that impressed with anything that went up there this week.

The issues raised in the roundtable were serious ones. Ava and I had asked, prior to the roundtable (and prior to Ruth's piece that she killed) why it was that a White House Letter led to (deserved) ridicule but a White House Memo (both are floating op-eds in the New York Times) didn't?

Why is it, to carry that issue further, that Kit Seelye, to this day, is a subject of derision at The Howler? Others who were clowns in 2000 have been allowed to move on. Not Seelye. And Jane Mayer is noted over and over (and ridiculed) for stating that the criticism of Seelye (and the Washington Post's CeCe Connelly). I'm really not sure why a statement in 2000 is the sole focus point for Mayer at The Daily Howler. (I'm also not sure I disagree with Mayer.) Mayer's done strong reporting (and we've noted it here) but it doesn't exist at The Daily Howler where she's trotted out (repeatedly) to be trashed for a statement that he disagrees with.

It's his site and he needs to run it the way he sees fit. But if he's not adding anything that some member is inspired by, we've got a list of other suggestions. In the early days, someone e-mailed to highlight something, it went up. There are too many e-mails coming in these days and members know I have to make a call on suggestions. (Which is why you're better off if you're pull quoting yourself and even better if you're stating "This spoke to me because . . ." If I'm reading it, I may not catch what you do on my own.)

When Somerby goes into his critiques of Joseph Wilson, I've been willing to deal with the incoming e-mails that I knew would pour in. That's because, whether I agreed with it or not, I could see the point of his argument. Maybe it's me, but I'm not seeing it. He's like Ellen on thirty-something constantly rehashing a moment when Hope might have, or might not have, intentionally slighted her. (That's not an endorsement of the show thirty-something. The only episode I saw was when Carly Simon guest-starred.)

That's not "get over it!" His main point is that we're doomed to clowning unless we own up to past clowning. That is, however, saying that while his re-reading of Wilson's book might make him predisposed to weighing in on what he'd already spent time on, the fact remains that Wilson wasn't the big story of the week. And that's my opinion. And that's why The Daily Howler wasn't highlighted.

It posted late, it didn't have anything that made me say, "Okay, I'm going to make time to note this."

On the other end of the specturm (things that did matter), we noted Danny Schechter more this week than usual which I was very glad about when Martha copied and pasted Schechter's latest because I don't need more guilt.

My opinion of Friday's News Dissector? Schechter's coming down off traveling. He's been in other countries where active activism really exists. And he had to come back to the land of the Bully Boy. It's enough to depress anyone even someone as dedicated (and hopeful) as Schechter.

Schechter does important work (so does Somerby, just not the last two weeks in my opinion) and he should be noted more. But in a week where even Matthew Rothschild had something that didn't get noted (his piece on Greenspan), there wasn't time to waste when even Dallas (who may be more devoted to The Daily Howler than I am) couldn't find anything of value. The vanishing of the shout-outs was a relief. (By the way, I'm not sure that we didn't note The Daily Howler at all this week. I'm going by what the e-mails are saying.) I don't think many people watch the Grammys for the acceptance speeches. But what remained didn't speak to me.

I've always said that if a voice doesn't speak to you, move on to one that does. That's what we did this week. (Had one member e-mailed to find something to pull quote from The Howler, it would have been noted.) Somerby's not been blackballed. He's not banished from the table.
But there were people showing up at the door with something to share. Pointing to the guest who showed up empty handed . . .

Or one who was snarky about NARAL (that's who he's speaking of at the end of Friday's Howler) . . .

I guess they didn't speak to him in quite the way that William Kristol or Mary Matalin did?
I don't know and I don't care but we don't have time for that crap here. We're pro-choice and we're that firmly. And the conventional wisdom that Somerby attempts to buck won't be bucked by reliance on (select) conventional wisdom from offical sources.

The welcome mat is still there for Somerby. But the place at the table will be determined by whether he has something to offer of value. I took a lot of ___ over his attacks on Katrina vanden Heuvel. I clearly sided with KvH but was put in the position of defending him. KvH was right. And I don't know if Somerby doesn't read The New Yorker (maybe that's why he doesn't note Mayer's work?) but having weighed in on the abuse of the Koran and Newsweek, it's awful strange that Jon Lee Anderson's reporting on the Night Letter (near the top of a piece and only briefly) wasn't. (As Anderson noted, the Night Letter was backed up by Karzai's comments while in D.C. -- which were reported by the conventional wisdom, official sources Somerby goes to.) "Riots in Afghanistan caused by Newsweek's article on the Koran in the toilet!" screamed the pundits. Actually, offered Anderson, the Night Letter called for the violence and had nothing to do with Newsweek:

On May 11th, riots broke out in the city of Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. The violence followed a Newsweek story -- which has since been retracted -- on new allegations that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran. In the next few days, the protests spread to the capital, Kabul, and throughout the country. In some provincial towns, police fired into crowds. But early on there were signs that the violence had less to do with Newsweek than with Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai.

On the first night of rioting, copies of an anonymous letter circulated in the streets of Kabul. This Night Letter, as it was called, was a vehement exhortation to Afghans to oppose Karzai, whom it accused of being un-Islamic, an ally of the Taliban, and a "U.S.A. servant." The letter said that Karzai had put the interests of his "evil master" ahead of those of Afghans, and it called for leaders who were proven patriots, mujahideen -- a synonym, in this case, for members of the Northern Alliance, many of whom are now warlords and regional strongmen -- to defy him. The timing was opportune: Karzai was on a trip to Europe, in search of financial backing. His next destination was Washington, where he planned to discuss a pact that would guarantee the United States a long-term military presence in Afghanistan.

When he went snarky on Amy Goodman, I was hoping no member would write in about that because there was no defense for Somerby's remarks. The excuse for them, apparently, is that Goodman's not an "official source."

Which brings us back to John H. Johnson in many ways, but that will be a Third Estate Sunday Review piece (or pieces).

As Ruth noted (she and her granddaughter Tracey went over The Daily Howler) there's a special form of derision that women seem to be served up at The Howler. Whether it's Seeyle, Mayer, Janeane Garofalo, Rachel Maddow, Elisabeth Bumiller, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Amy Goodman or whomever. That really disturbs me. And air kisses to Mary Matalin (given a pass for whom she was married to or because she gave good host?) don't change that.

I'm a feminist. I don't accept that kind of nonsense. Kidding Tim Russert for his cars isn't the same as the trashing that women have gotten at The Daily Howler. I'm glad Ruth, Tracey and Gina caught it because I honestly didn't. Somerby's a great teacher, a great educator. But he might be a better one if he'd examine why it is that a woman gives tongue baths but Timmy Russert is just excited about a car? Why Janaene Garofalo is ripped apart in a way that a male never has been?

That might also require him addressing the issue that who speaks to him and speaks in the manner he finds appropriate is not necessarily someone that speaks to all. Or that his judgement of how to communicate may not be the way everyone wishes to be communicated to.
Somerby can argue 'facts are facts' all he wants. But he's interpreting (and quibbling) over word choices, not facts, of late.

When he defended Lawrence Summers (to cite another area we obviously disagreed upon), he never got to the basic point -- it was an academic conference. This wasn't Meet the Press. And had it been, Summers off-handed remarks based on "questionable" research would have still been fair game for criticism. Summers' position, his appearance at an academic conference, all demanded something more than 'I was having a conversation with a friend' (a banker?) and 'there's this book that I can't remember the title of but it makes this point that . . .' Forget the "points" that Summers was making (which Somerby appeared to defend) and just take the statements themselves, whom they were made by and what forum they were made in and that's Howler time. Instead it was 'oh those carping people' (feminists?) 'hapring on poor Larry!' The snarky attack on NARAL makes it all the more obvious that if you're not Naomi Wolf, there's really no place for you at The Daily Howler.

He wants intellectual honesty. He might try going for some inner intellectual honesty because it's bullsh*t the way women repeatedly are covered and not covered at The Daily Howler. That attitude might have cut it when he was in college, but times have (thankfully) changed. It's time for the wise one to seek a little self-knowledge before he launches into his next attack on a woman or his next attack on a group of women.

Is he personally sexist? I have no idea. But Gina's point was that as an African-American woman, she doesn't see anything at The Daily Howler that speaks to her because it's a white male site in terms of scope. Air kisses to Mary Matalin don't change that. They do call into question why the sideshow that is Mary & Jimmy hasn't resulted in a firm tongue lashing for their debasement of the national dialogue.

His scope is sexist. The "big issues" are defined by him and, by him, they don't include issues that speak to all. He wants to be a brave voice? Start being one. Stop the easy slams on women. Stop ridiculing them while men are "joshed." Somerby's got a lot more to teach but, if he's wanting his site to be welcoming to all, he's also got a lot to learn.

He's been attacked lately and, as Rebecca noted, my usual response to that is to defend and root for the underdog. I also think he's too important a voice to give up and hate now joining in the negative criticism. But I value inclusion and I'm not seeing it at The Daily Howler. Women are either attacked or token "good girls" are presented. He'll negatively critique a man but he really builds up when he's negatively critiquing a woman.

Bumiller personalizes her reporting (or "reporting" in the case of her floating op-ed White House Letter) which means the response can be personalized (giving in kind). But I'm failing to see why Katrina vanden Heuvel, Janeane Garofalo or others are so completely demolished (with what reads like glee) and, by comparison, men aren't. Russert or any other man can be noted for having turned it around in one instance while CeCe Connelly's making a valid point results in an exclamation point (in parenthesis).

My personal opinion is he's been shaped by his early experiences. Times have changed, The Daily Howler needs to get with the program if it's going to have value to all.

At the Times, Bumiller (or Miller) are far from the only clowns. Somerby's not interested in discussing international politics so Juan Forero is never going to pop up. That's understood when you read The Daily Howler. But David Sanger's turned in howlers at the Times. Why he's not been the object of derision, I don't know. (Maybe Somerby relates to Sanger's jock-sniffing approach?)

We'll note him again when he has something to say. (Which I expect to be quite often.) But I'm really saddened by the treatment of women at The Daily Howler. Not that they're criticized (although Gina thinks considering the treatment of women, it's better that Somerby didn't mention Cindy Sheehan this week). Not that they're made fun of or mocked or ridiculed. I'm bothered that they are derided with more "glee" (my term) than men are. As various Wash Post op-ed writers (male) receive valentines when they get around to making a solid point, the same thing doesn't happen with women. Men 'redeem' themselves quite often at The Howler in Somerby's critiques. That doesn't happen to women. And if that's not clear, let's note that the constant mocking of Jane Mayer for a 2000 remark rivals only the attacks on Joe Wilson for something that Somerby can never drop.

I'm all for mocking. Don't knock the mock. Humor (good natured or mean spirited) is an effective means of communication. But it needs to be applied equally. "Joshing" men and "trashing" women isn't equal treatment. It's why so many have e-mailed to ask about his position on Bob Woodward's writing which veers to all extremes depending on the day. Sometimes Woody's one of those official sources that Somerby cites to be treated with respect, sometimes (while citing the same work, such as Plan of Attack), Woody's a hack. The confusion may stem from the fact that men are graded one way and women another at The Daily Howler.

The reliance on official sources (limited ones at that) may be in keeping with Somerby's scope at The Daily Howler; however, Matt Taibbi was able to chart the hacks for The New York Press and he was able to judge each on the merits of their work and to mock freely regardless of gender. Somerby would benefit from trying to a similar approach. Until that happens, he can't blame others if they feel the sign on the door at The Daily Howler reads "No persons of color or women allowed."

It pains me to write this. But it needs to be noted. Someone can read it as an attack on Somerby if they choose to. I see it more as a plea for him to wake the hell up. He has a great deal to say, worth hearing, but when there's a subtext to his criticisms (intended or not), he's shutting himself off from a lot of people who could benefit from his sharp mind.

He once did a very good (although very brief when you think of how he's dug in on other topics) defense of Barbara Lee. That was 2001. If he thinks every visitor that stumbles upon the site will dig through the archives to find a person of color or a woman not a Clintonista (or married to one) who gets noted, he's kidding himself. It should also be noted that a Gwen Ifell lends herself to criticism and mocking which isn't Somerby's problem (though it is Ifell's). But he can expand on his "official sources" to find a way to demonstrate that he's more inclusive (if he is). Gina notes Margaret Kimberley (a community favorite) but also notes that since she's not a cheerleader for the Clintonista camp, Somerby probably wouldn't note her except to deride her.

When a history of the online world is written, my own personal feelings are that Bob Somerby's earned a prominent place. But if he's not more inclusive, he'll hurt his own history. There are things at play (majority/minority relations, cultural prominence) that go beyond Somerby. His scope is limited by his Bibles of the Washington Post, the New York Times and who gets air time on TV (as FAIR has long noted, year after year, that's a very select and very small group of voices). I understand that the way he's set up his scope, he is limited. But that doesn't excuse the way a Diane Rehm, for instance, is treated as opposed to a William Kristol.

I wish Ruth hadn't killed her piece (which was a humorous piece that she and Tracey had worked on jointly). But I understand why she did. She didn't want to take part in a dog pile on Bob Somerby. I don't either. But the above needed to be noted. He's cutting himself off, he's limiting himself, from a larger audience. His shout outs only confirmed that to Gina who noted that his "posse" was all male. (Gina noted that she didn't know if they were all white. I don't either.)

If some are asking questions, there's a reason why they are.

The e-mail address for this site is

[Note: I'm pulling a Beth and no links other than what I'd already put in last night. If I have time -- ha ha ha, like that will happen -- I may come back later and add links.]