Monday, January 17, 2005

Democratic Leadership and the Times appear to have discovered "framing" -- too bad they don't grasp the concept

I don't know which is more disgusting today: the paper's coverage or the Democrats quoted. We'll start with the paper but be prepared because we'll be tackling a number of issues in this entry.

How many trees died for today's New York Times?

Ian Fisher has a story on the front page ("Rebels Expres Thanks for Aid to Indonesia") that's the only thing on the front page worth reading.

(If someone wants to point to C.J. Chivers story about SOME of the issues occuring during the Ukraine's voting & revoting, I'll note that note: "Details of these exchanges, never before reported . . ." That goes exactly to my problem -- details never before reported. These aren't, for the most part, new details to Shiver, they're just new to readers of the paper. The countless stories the paper filed -- many of them front page ones -- on the Ukraine never found time for these 'tidbits.')

We're also kissing Condi's ass on the front page. I'm not sure if that's because the Times has decided we're in a "honeymoon" period. (I'd say we're in the last stage of abuse in this "destructive" marriage.) Or maybe it's just more fluff work from the Times.
I don't know, I don't care.

As a pipeline for the powerful, the Times does a wonderful job. Sadly, that's about all it's doing.
Excuse me, let me correct that statement because it's wrong. The Times is also covering sports. Those are apparently it's chief interests.

Where's Bill Keller in all of this?

Is he in vacation mind-set as well?

Does he read the paper?

If so, does he come across Chivers article and ask himself, "Why is this only being reported now?" Does he read Todd S. Purdman's air kisses to Condi Rice's butt and ask, "Is your name Todd or Toady?" Or does he just nod and smile?

(If he's nodding and smiling, don't be quick to dub him "inept." He might just be trying to keep his blood pressure from sky rocketing.)

Column for column, inch for inch, the paper today is worthless. In ever way.

We noted Fisher, let's note Kate Zernike's "High-Ranking Officers May Face Prosecution in Iraqi Prisoner Abuse, Military Officers Say." This should-be-on-the-front-page story pops up on A-8.
Go back and read that headline. "High-Ranking Officers May Face Prosecution in Iraq Prisoner Abuse, Military Officers Say."

Now explain to me why that's inside the paper and fluff like "For Lobbyists, the Hottest Parties Fall Outside the Official Lineup" is a front page story?

[I'm using "fluff" a lot. If you see that and/or "junk," feel free to substitute "piece of s--t" because that's quite honestly what I feel.]

Let's go through some of the points of Zernike's article:

*"Several witnesses . . . testified that Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the highest ranking military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, and Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, the head of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at the prison, had either known about or specifically encouraged tactics like using dogs to threaten detainees."
* A report by the August found that statements by Graner "and other military police soldiers" maintaing "that they had been acting at the behest of military intelligence were 'self-serving,' they did 'have some basis in fact.'"
* According to the report ". . . Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former top commander in Iraq, approved the use there of some interrogation practices intended to be limited to . . . Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay . . ."

This goes exactly to the points that Rebecca was making at Sex and Politics and Screed and Attitude on Saturday:

graner did horrible things and they were acts of torture. i'm not sitting here dashing off a letter to his parole board. however, graner did those things and did those things. as did others. and apparently every one not in on the torture (except for a whistle blower here and a whistle blower there) was just oblivious.
maybe graner and lyndie maced all americans each time before they engaged in torture? maybe that's why apparently no 1 knew what was going on?
or maybe no one was blind to what was going on. seems more likely based upon what we know. maybe the orders from high up were followed (more and more that seems to be the case). and graner pledging love to flag and country followed orders.
that's no excuse for what he or anyone else did. they deserve to be behind bars. but they don't make policy. they were not in charge of the military or even the prison.
'few rotten apples.' anything happens, it's always a few rotten apples. who could've guessed there were so many 'few rotten apples.' they're here, they're over there using tax payer funds as payola to court armstrong williams. look, there they are outing valerie plame! and those 'few rotten apples' were no doubt behind the misinformation about iraq as well, right?
if you ask me, it's not the apples. that tree is rotting at the roots.

The idea that low ranking Graner is implementing policies and doing as he damn well pleases with no oversight is beyond belief in a service that stresses (repeatedly) chain of command.

Zernike's got a front page story. Too bad for her and the readers of the Times that no one making the call can see that.

The paper is just so bad today that I'm at a loss for words. (Or at a loss for polite ones.)

Let's look at a sentence:

"Four years ago, many Democrats stayed defiantly put for an inauguration . . ."

Stayed defiantly put?

Apparently, a line so tortured that it took two writers to compose. (Guilty of abusing the readers are Anne E. Kornblut and Glen Justice.)

"Four years ago, many defiant Democrats stayed put for . . ." or "Four years ago, many Democrats defiantly stayed put . . ." would be far better.

Picky? Well when a story is headed "Losing Team Sidesteps Victory Party for the G.O.P." maybe there's reason to be picky?

I do not have it in me to speak my outrage over that headline in depth without resorting to language that could potentially get someone in trouble for visiting this site from a work computer.

So let me try to calmly point out that life is not a sport's game. I know the men at the Times get stiff and oozy in their shorts over the thought of sports coverage. I realize that turning everything into a sports metaphor is probably overcompensation for feeling that their own jobs don't fit some people's ideas of masculinity.

But readers of the paper, at least of the main section, don't need for headline writers or reporters to grope their "package" or scratch their crotches. We're in the main section because we're looking for news, not posturing. Keep your hands above the waist, fellows.

If you can wade through the attitude in the piece (the headline writer wrote the headline, the reporters "reporting" gave him or her the right to do so) you'll find out that Bob Shrum isn't sure whether or not to go to a party at Robert Novak's house.

Thinking the eternally useless and worthless Shrum finally got a backbone?

You're mistaken. He's not at all concerned over the outing of Valerie Plame. He's not wrestling with a moral dilemma. He's just miffed about security.

So the next time a presidential candidate hires Bob Shrum to derail his campaign (because that's all Shrum ever does -- that and then blame the candidate after the election), he might want to remember that what mattered to Shrum wasn't the damage done to Joseph Wilson's wife and our national security -- Shrum was only concerned about keeping his insider status. (There is no excuse for any Democrat to be at a party at Robert Novak's house.)

Was concern for his own insider status the reason that, according to three people who worked on Kerry's campaign, Shrum balked at immediately responding to the charges of the Not So Swift? Insider status matters a great deal to Shrum and were he not to attend Novak's party, who knows, the softball, puff pieces from the likes of Safire and others might dry up?

When you spend a lifetime cultivating your image with those on "both sides," it's apparently not worth the risk of offending anyone by giving sound political advice. Otherwise you might not be allowed to, for instance, pontificate to the New York Times (as Shrum did) after the 2004 election and blame Kerry for not getting his message to the people. Otherwise, you might not have all your "wisdom" duly noted, taken down and printed. Who knows, a reporter might even be "sassy" enough to shoot back, "Uh, Shrum, wasn't the campaign message your job?"
Because it was. For all his blaming of John Kerry for the message of the campaign, that doesn't alter the reality (one the Times never underscored) that Shrum was responsible for that, not John Kerry.

But being a weak willed, no-spined, kiss ass allows you to be quoted and cited repeatedly in the Times. "Hey, are the Democrats going to be in D.C. during the inauguration? Somebody get Shrum on the phone!"

Shrum trades on the Times, the Times trades on Shrum, it's a mutally self-serving relationship on either side. The only ones being hurt by it are the readers.

David D. Kirkpatrick is another one who may be accommodating at the expense of reporting. (Or maybe he just doesn't realize it when a story is handed to him?) "Democrats Turn to Leader of Religious Left" traces efforts to raise Jim Wallis's profile, efforts by the Democratic party. (Disclosure: I've met Wallis. I found him to be a highly intelligent and thoughtful person.)

The story here isn't that Wallis will be getting airtime (NBC). The story is that you've got a party leadership in crisis. This is one of the moments where the leadership goes bonkers. Meeting with Wallis isn't a bad idea. Speaking to him and getting his input only provides another voice and that never hurts. But the desperation involved is off-putting. (And Wallis, although the leadership and Kirkpatrick seem unware of this, isn't the only clergy on the left.)

Those with long memories (and a little life experience) may remember the crisis of the late eighties where Democratic leadership was doing everything but leading. We're back there now, only more so.

Wallis should be heard, he should be on TV. That's not the issue. The issue is Harry Reid's attitude. (Here it's conveyed by an aide to Reid.) Just as in the late eighties, Democratic leadership is desperate to get behind what they feel is the winning tactic and, as back then, they are scattershot to the point of being scatter brained.

"Oh, framing's what we need to do!" "Oh, we need to prove we're religious!" "Oh, we need to back off gay rights!" "Oh, we need to put that feisty organization in it's place!" ( is the biggest target at present. In the late 80s it was NOW.)

David Brock, among others, has noted the problem with the media. All the energy being expanded on the latest craze (most of which are similar to past crazes for anyone with long memory or a sense of history) are of no use if we don't address the issue of the media. You can drape yourself in whatever "frock of fashion" you choose, it doesn't matter if Jodi Wilgoren (for example) is still going to get away with sloppy reporting. (And working out her personal issues -- e.g. her frustration at planning a wedding while covering the Kerry campaign.)

The smartest press move Kerry made was avoiding Wilgoren on the plane at one point when she came charging after him (that's not a weight crack, Frank in Orlando, but take it as one if you want) desperate to know the origins of a joke he'd told. A smarter move would have been kicking her ass off the plane.

Deal with the media. If you're message is being distorted by them, get rid of them. Deny access.
The Bully Boy does it and it only leads to one ass kiss after another from Elisabeth Bumiller.
Quit being so damn accommodating to reporters who repeatedly stab in you the back.

Whether it's John McCain in 2000 or whomever, when reporters covering a campaign are called on their clowning, the coverage tends to get better. If you're trying to be the good guy, if you're thinking, "I'll sit down and I'll talk to them person to person and we'll move past this," you are mistaken. You are rewarding their behavior while they are thinking their clowing gets results (for them).

Stop it right now.

Bill Clinton could be an easy going person. He could (and did) also call reporters to the carpet on their coverage. I don't mean after he was elected the first time, I mean while campaigning in 1992.

Someone wrote (I saw it on BuzzFlash a few months back) about the nature of abusive relationships and the GOP. It was an interesting piece. But it should also be noted that the Democratic party suffers under this belief that they can reason with the person who just beat them up. That if they just sit down and talk to them, the clowning will cease. It doesn't.

If the leadership can't grasp that, we should be prepared for 2008 and the "reporting" from the likes of Wilgoren:

____, seeking the presidency, ticked off a number of items in his/her speech using the latest craze of framing.
"Uh," said one random person this reporter spoke to after as s/he scratched her/his head, "It was interesting. I'm not sure what it was about."
GOP insiders told this reporter (over snack cakes) that the party's desperate attempts to make it itself over were a sure sign of a party leadership lost at sea.

The only thing "GOP insiders" will be wrong about is the amount of snack cakes to provide Wilgoren with.

Many of the moves the leadership is currently flirting with will be dropped shortly. Party faithfuls won't stand for it. They know that, we know that. They're wasting our time with all this hand wringing just as the Times wastes our time with this non-news edition of the paper.

The party leadership is going through yet another mid-life crisis. Instead of addressing problems, they're looking for the hula hoop, the Rubik's Cube, the hacky sack that they just know is going to deliver them from the darkness of being the minority party.

As they chase down the latest craze, we're already seeing that framing, as they are practicing it, isn't working. Framing (which I'm not personally opposed to) is being pushed like nothing since Reinventing Government. But who's using it?

Are we "framing" the debates about Senate confirmation? No. If we were, the Times might still be pursuing Chertoff's apparent lie to the Senate.

If framing means anything (I'd argue plain spoken speech would work just as well) it should mean that we frame the issue of Gonzales' nomination around torture. (Something the Washington Post editorial board did yesterday.) But we're not seeing that happen.

"We stand for morals too!" can be framed anyway you like but it's worthless if you're not putting some action behind it. People are urging the leadership to frame Gonzales as a moral debate.
Standing against torture is a moral stand. But we're seeing foot dragging and reluctance -- we aren't seeing any action.

When the push for framing bothers someone like Tamara, there's a reason for that: it appears to be jjust one more sleight of hand for the party to avoid taking a stand.

They can use whatever technique they want but, for it to mean something, there has to be action to back up the words.

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashion."

That's a statement (Lillian Helman) the party and the Times need to consider acting upon. Especially when the Times reports that our government is considering relaxing restrictions on Indonesia. Especially when Eric Schmitt can somehow reduce the prolonged slaughter in East Timor to "the killing of demonstrators in East Timor by Indonesian forces."

Make it sound like it was a one day event, doesn't it?

Is Schmitt that ignorant of historical record or is he that desperate to push the administration's line? Paul Wolfwitz maintains (and Schmitt swallows) that, "Cutting off contact with Inonesian officers only makes the problem worse." A lesson which, from Schmitt's text, appears to be based upon what Wolfwitz felt when he was the American ambassador to the region from 1986 -1989.

That would be the Reagan years where we made a point to cozy up with corrupt and abusive regimes.

That's the attitude that argued against a boycott of the government of South Africa because we'd have more influence if we remained "friendly."

That's where we are now and a little plain spoken reporting could be useful. But the Times today is apparently on their own "framing" kick, wherein whatever an official says is the God's truth and historical record and reality be damned.