It was quiet compared to 2003, when the newspaper took a quantum leap by instituting no less than four major changes’€propelling Denebola into an age of the newer, digital technologies.
Rather than “pasting up with real paste, rubber cement, wax, sticking our “pages on “boards with super-toxic Spraymount, we composed articles on the computer screen and inserted or uploaded them onto and into digital pages.
Those pages were larger, broadsheet the size of the New York Times instead of much smaller tabloid.
For decades Denebola asserted the “truth was in “black and white, which was a polite cover for the fact that the newspaper did not run its images’€or anything else’€in color. During the 2003-2004 year we changed our mind,
Decades and more Denebola was “sent up to its steadfast, long-suffering printer/banker in Belmont, later Portsmouth by either driving the boards over before midnight, or, racing to the 128 FedEx (still later Logan Airport, desperately later, 72 desolate miles north to New Hampshire). Now, wonder of wonders, our electronic newspaper went’€literally and digital’€in bits and bytes having been pdf’d.
So our format was transformed first by size, then by color, then by composition and finally by the way the printer received our images, graphics and text.
So, what happened recently? Partly in response to the press of turning over issues from the standard 24 pages to monster 72 GRAD, Denebola instituted a print/publish test. Printing a monthly edition with a certain number of pages but publishing’€on our www.denebolaonline.net website’€a larger number/amount of images, graphics and text.
We know more and more of what was printed in magazines and newspapers is “going to the web but we continue to believe that the “craft of journalism’€in all its aspects’€is best learned and practiced first in the “old fashioned medium of print.
. Stay tuned.
* * * *
Another colleague deserves mention, in part because he deserves an apology.
Newspaper corrections are usually served up either near p1 or on the Edit Page. We mean no disrespect explaining our gaff to Dr. Marshall A. Cohen in the Advisor’s Note¦we have jammed all the other space with text or ads and since he and I are long-time colleagues and friends, it’s here Dr. Cohen gets the correction.
What happened? In May Denebola published a review of Diane Ravitch’s best-selling new book. An authority on schools and school reform, a conservative authority, Ravitch appeared to have done a 180 on such conservative stock-in-trade as testing, school choice and teacher training and evaluation.
For two decades we’ve relied upon Dr. Cohen for at least one hefty, well-thought and well-written review, and Ravitch in May seemed a no-brainer. Alas, time constraints meant no article but Dr. Cohen agreed to an interview.
As usual, his considerable knowledge and shrewd assessments were everywhere in evidence, without much difficulty the interview was edited and laid on the page.
But Denebola did not indicate what was printed was not Dr. Cohen’s usual written account but, in effect, an oral one. Does it matter? Certainly, and not only because as any Freshman knows, writing is within our current culture more ordered and focused, more precise and analytic, following forms of logic stretching back to Classical rhetoric.
Valued contributor, Dr. Cohen our apology.]]>
When he was signing my copy of The Bridge recently, David Remnick abruptly asked me about my Spitfire lapel pin.
The point was not that he noticed it but that’€in Remnick’s mind’€he immediately was translating and then connecting that seemingly discrete detail to a greater significance and perhaps larger pattern.
So, too, Remnick’s very big book about “the life and rise of Barack Obama.
Its five hundred sixty-odd pages contain seventeen mostly familiar images, good bibliography and index, and no maps. There is richness on every page, a new face explained, an old story reframed.
A reader never has the sense it contains a word too many, a word unconnected to that bigger scheme: Obama’s story is the archetypal American story not just of this century but any, his “improbable rise to the nation’s highest office at once the apogee of the American Dream, moreover, Obama’s life the hoped-for “bridge.
To what, from what? Answering those questions makes Remnick’s chronicle, with its outspoken and also understated racial theme’€easily the most interesting, deft and thoughtful of the dozens already in print. The burden of these many pages is a fleshing out of the many levels of that richly ambiguous over-arching bridge metaphor, the “lands on either side, and the Herculean and shape-sifting efforts necessary for Obama to make the passage from one to the other.
* * *
The initial bridge is a physical one, a small, structure in Alabama which rapidly becomes an example of the skills which have made Remnick the premier political journalist of his generation.
It’s March 4th 2007, Obama is barely a month into his “audacious presidential campaign and to speak at Brown Chapel, in Selma. Three decades earlier Civil Rights leaders and their followers began a now-celebrated march from Selma to Montgomery.
On the bridge six hundred marchers were confronted by imposing lines of heavily armed state troopers and deputized volunteers. Marchers praying were suddenly attacked, tear gassed, beaten, dozens carried off to nearby (black) Good Samaritan Hospital the rest retreating back into Selma and the chapel.
The march survived “Bloody Sunday, it did get to Montgomery, and each year its survivors and the Civil Rights movement are memorialized at the chapel by speakers local and national. Obama has been invited by no less than John Lewis, a hero above heroes and Obama’s lodestar, who suffered a fractured skull that horrific day in 1965 and dozens more beatings and jailings over a decade of fearless protest.
Obama’s part is anamnesis, to remember and to praise. Too young to have done more than read about heroic events and heroic personages he nevertheless feels heir to their sacrifice, his biracial identification with their unfinished mission his motivation to bridge the gap between demands and fulfillment, and as a conciliator, bridge other gaps as well.
As Remnick frames it, at Selma Obama will “tell the story that changed America.
The story sits uneasily between our two sacred texts, the Declaration and the Constitution, the gap between “all men are equal and some men are “3/5ths of a man. The gap is the line Gunnar Myrdal called the decisive question for American society, the color line; the question of race and equality.
Now it just so happens that alongside the aging Civil Rights greats and a small army of press the Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton will also be present at Brown Chapel. She has her negative baggage but has also criss-crossed the globe, met world leaders, been privy to the highest state secrets, and has held the confidences of a past President. Place and time are therefore loaded for opportunity but also booby-trapped for failure as this young “skinny kid with a funny-sounding name, as Obama puts it, explains himself, for
He planned to discuss in public what so many believed would ultimately be his undoing’€his race, his youth, his ‘Ëœexotic’ background. ‘ËœWho is Barack Obama?’ Barack Hussein Obama?
And Remnick makes explicit Obama’s (and his) agenda,
From now until Election Day, his opponents, Democratic and Republican, would ask the question on public platforms, in television and radio commercials, often insinuating a disqualifying otherness about the man: his childhood in Hawaii, and Indonesia; his Kenyan father; his Kansas-born, yet cosmopolitan mother.
They will ask about a good deal more of course, including a Chicago preacherman named Jeremiah Wright and a former SDS “Weatherman Bill Ayers, though a flip through the chapter titles doesn’t begin to unlock the personal and political depths Remnick explores.
Everyone more or less “like Obama has parents, a childhood, attends schools, colleges/universities, takes jobs and then, Ho hum, settles down. Not this guy, not so simple and not without often riveting understandings of this hitherto unexplored life.
Obama in multicultural Hawaii, we will learn, attended (on scholarship) one of the earliest established and most influential prep schools in America; Obama’s Indonesia was emerging from a Colonial past and clouds of civil war swarmed around his Third-World doorstep, a youngster’s world not unlike Kipling’s Jungle Book.
Before inquiring about my pin Remnick in his talk described an earlier visit to Cambridge and a walk from his Harvard Square hotel to the Law School quad; glimpses at the lecture halls, libraries and offices of the fabled Harvard Law Review (where Obama was elected its first black president). All now are developed through names like Bell, Ogletree, Kagen, and Tribe.
Sara Palin thought it a crowd pleaser to mock Obama’s several year stint as a community organizer on Chicago’s abandoned South Side, getting to know and taking the side of the under resourced, battered into apathy by unresponsive or indifferent bureaucracy. (For that I would like to run a herd of moose over her lawn.)
Around Newton South Obama’s Occidental College could as well be compared with Amherst or Haverford, Obama’s junior year cross country transfer to Columbia and his ramping up studies something like Swarthmore-on-the-Hudson.
Obama did a shorter stint in corporate New York City than his friend Deval Patrick in Coco-Cola Atlanta, yet likely to the same knowing educational/experiential end.
After Obama’s trench warfare slog as an organizer, the pressure cooker/snake pit years at Harvard Law could hardly be seen as relief. Like so many others he lived in the Law School library, emerging into the light for a meal or one of those fierce B-ball pickup games alongside Memorial Drive.
So many questions, so many particulars, says Bertolt Brecht. Remnick continues,
Obama’s answer to that question’€’ËœWho is¦”€helped form the language and distinctiveness of his campaign. Two years out of the Illinois State Senate and barely free of his college loans, Obama entered the Presidential race with a serious, yet unexceptional, set of center-left positions¦But who Obama was, where he came from, how he came to understand himself, and, ultimately, how he managed to project his own temperament and personality as a reflection of American ambitions and hopes would be at the center of his rhetoric and appeal.
Language, the word, is key in American political life, written and oral, whether the directness of an Adams, the eloquence of a Jefferson, the Biblical decisiveness of a Lincoln, the ringing confidence of a Roosevelt, the smooth forcefulness of a Kennedy’€words matter and the perceived personality behind those words can make them, given at the right moment, incarnate in luminous action. Obama’s personality, multiracial and multicultural, grounded and in process, was at once like no other and at the same time Everyman. But says Remnick,
In addition to his political views, what Obama proposed as the core of his candidacy was a self’€a complex, cautious, intelligent, shrewd, young African-American man. He was not a great man yet by any means, but he was the promise of greatness.
* * * *
Remnick bookends a generally chronological account’€punctuated by impressive set pieces on individuals and issues’€with the layered Selma episode described earlier and a similar but even more layered, more deeply moving series of three episodes about “other blacks in the White House. It’s worth noting qualities of Remnick’s chronicle that set it apart.
Range, context, contacts, language, empathy.
Range. Remnick was the Washington Post’s man in Moscow for years, his fluent accounts of the dissolution of the USSR demonstrate how he tuned his antennae to an extraordinary range of political, economic and cultural change. He just knows more than most good journalists and writes with more literary skill and focused passion than most good scholars.
Little wonder when writing of the Kansas, Texas, Seattle and Hawaii worlds of Obama’s “white family we learn more from Remnick than others. We are also informed with keener analysis about Obama’s “black Kenya father and the stultifying cronyism and corruption of post-British colonialism that father returned to and sunk into after Harvard graduate studies. Additionally, if Obama’s father was absent almost from his birth, his mother Ann Dunham was absent more than we thought.
Context. For New York resident and New Yorker editor-in-chief, Remnick surely knows his American South’€and with his Ali book Black America and sport’€as few others, in or out of the Academy. Given an intellectual President who gets his solitude and clear thinking by shooting hoops, and non-trivial database.
Still fewer have “read the Clintons with as much subtlety, tact and directness. If old “Bubba could straight-arm for Hillary in the South Carolina primaries, the details of his long-standing contacts with the Black community throughout America are deftly suggested a dozen different ways, including such widely varying examples as Bill’s canvassing for Chicago Congressman Bobby (Black Panther) Rush, knowing the last stanza to “Lift Every Voice and Sing, and his Mandela inauguration “moonwalk on the soul train [dance].
Remnick tells us more about Obama’s Chicago’€Michelle’s as well as Barack’s'€and Harvard Law School before and after Barrack, and the contact sport arena also known as the Illinois state Senate, than others who appear to do it on the web rather than on the ground.
Contacts. Who has translated to significance the complexities or importance of Obama’s elite Punahou School, historically underwritten by pineapple/sugar barons, the punishing class and racial tensions just beneath its “comfortable surface?
Hawaiian Frank Marshall Davis, ‘Ëœaging poet and journalist friend of Obama’s grandfather who knew Richard Wright and Paul Robeson, was a kind of alternative island school, his influence not registered elsewhere.
And Remnick alone notices that Obama’s mother’s PhD advisor for her fascinating’€not arcane’€anthropology dissertation the post-industrial corrosion of Indonesian crafts (blacksmithing) is Ann Dewey, granddaughter of the grandfather of American progressive education and arguably America’s greatest philosopher, John Dewey.
Language. Just as Obama plays the changes on his name, and is reflexively characterized as a “power listener, Remnick’s interview material is satisfyingly apt. He himself attends to Obama’s editing skills on the Law Review, the audacity of imagination and word smithing in writing Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, “a good book, in Remnick’s judgment, “that became an important one.
Empathy. Politicians get a bad rap when they speak about others in language and details that betray ignorance, and thereby self-serving motivations. As Obama becomes a more engaged state legislator, a more exacting and modulated orator he began, Remnick notes,
To develop his signature appeal, the use of details of his own life as a reflection of a kind of multicultural ideal, a conceit both sentimental and effective.
He was no longer straining to be someone he was not. Instead, he was among those politicians who were forging a new identity for the next generation of black leaders¦
An astute and (apparently) tireless practitioner of the old school of worn shoe leather, Remnick appears to have an endless stock of characters in his newzy, whose lives drive the power of stories.
From Venice, Florida, Ashley Baia, a poor white volunteer who brings an older black retired man to support Obama, to those in his astute closing episodes, the black slaves who built the White House, Frederick Douglass’ simply amazing encounters with Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln’s “dressmaker (who dressed the bodies of both Lincoln’s son and assassinated Lincoln).
And, finally Election Eve, speaking in Grant Park, Chicago, of the life of Ann Nixon Cooper, “who, at the age of a hundred and six, had just voted for [Obama] in Atlanta,
She was born just a generation past slavery [said Obama]; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons’€because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin. And tonight I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America’€the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes, we can.
At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes, we can.
When there was despair in the Dust Bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, and a new sense of common purpose. Yes, we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes, we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘ËœWe Shall Overcome. Yes, we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after a hundred and six years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.
Yes, we can.
“On a night of triumph, Obama’s tone was not triumphal, wrote Remnick. “it was not ringing; his tone was grave¦He had simultaneously celebrated identity and eased it into the background. Ann Nixon Cooper was an emblem not only of her race, but of her nation.]]>
Two years ago I attended a journalism gala at The Michigan Daily in Ann Arbor. More than $11 million had been donated to completely refurbish the 1930s Student Publications Building.
This included stained glass windows and polished golden oak paneling. New scholarships for reporters, travel grants, high-end computers, and big TV screens were part of the package.
Over the weekend and alongside lively insiders’ gossip, disquieting squibs punctuated our exchanges.
The Washington Post had cut its web staff by two-thirds, and was still trying to figure out how to make money from that on-line operation. All was not right with the Times, and life at the Toronto Globe and Mail wasn’t that cheerful either.
Late summer I received an email from the Board in Control of Student Publications, a formal oversight/support group. It seemed The Daily was having ‘Ëœfinancial difficulties.’ They were being set right, we were assured.
Earlier this month, just as I was settling down to Alex S. Jones’ very thoughtful account, Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy, another email arrived from the Board. “Over the summer, the Board and students worked diligently to transform its administrative team, it began. Hmm.
Then came the “bullets, the essence of which were about hiring’€a new General Manager; Director of Development; Media/Marketing Manager¦and re-designing the web site.
Big changes but for some reason, “content was missing from the list.
Now Jones’ book took on new, immediate and personal relevance. Jones acknowledges many elements make newspapers what they are, but content, serious content, is king.
It’s no secret newspapers have not been exactly a growth industry. No one expected the kind of financial nose-dives peppering virtually every edition of every major newspaper, accelerated by the Recession for sure but also, to anyone who cared to look closely, a train wreck long in the works.
There are many reasons, and a goodly portion of Jones’ argument for preserving one aspect of newspapers’€“hard core news’€is devoted to a useful chronicle and analysis of what’s gone wrong so we might have firm ground to set it right.
Between answering those questions and explaining why serious news is not just important but vital for our democracy is a third element, actually, a very personal account of Jones’ own life in journalism, chiefly his initiation through a small town, Greenesville’€East Tennessee’€family newspaper begun in 1916. His family.
The personal account is touching and for those of us who shared that experience, molten lead typesetting equipment and those clackety letterpress printing presses, satisfying in deep ways. But’€as will be seen shortly’€Jones isn’t walking his readers back Memory Lane, off on some windy Southern nostalgic tangent.
Jones argues throughout Losing the News that certain “traditional values in journalism, both ethical and methodological, must be kept in whatever forms the newer journalism adopts, as it adapts to the newer technologies. He learned those values, most of them, in that small shop, with his journalist grandmother and father, where he “set type and “poured pigs.
More than a few of newspapers’ ills are, sadly, entirely of their own making. Jones gives us a sharp account of half a dozen.
Reporters during the 1980s and 1990s, for example, got too close to their sources, showed unwarranted deference to the “mighty, neglected the risky role of telling “truth to power.
Newspapers either missed or “buried stories deep “inside the paper (like the leader of Afghanistan’s brother accused of major heroin trafficking). Classic risk aversion, they had the facts.
Loss of respect’€and thereby lack of financial support’€from readers came in other, more direct ways’€such as the Times’ notorious Jayson Blair, “woofing stories off-site from his New York apartment rather than a West Virginia farm, or virtually all of the major newspapers neglecting to “fact check the Iraq war justification’€“weapons of mass destruction.
Then there was the money, ironically too much it because honey attracts flies, and profit attracts Wall Street.
Despite readers’ concerns about newspaper bias or outright corruption, “from the 1980s until recently [newspapers] certainly made handsome profits, according to Jones. How so? Jones explains that newspapers’ “business model during this period was something like a license to print money.
Readers may believe it’s what they pay for a paper, either by subscription or papers off the newsstand, that pays the rent and keeps lights on. Not so. It’s advertising and because so many smaller cities and towns had only one paper and huge urban areas perhaps two, the only place for advertisers to go was¦to those papers.
Again, readers might believe “display or those large Macy’s ads pay the bills but Jones knows it’s the little “classified ads that were the cash cows’€
The reason classified advertising is so highly profitable is that, despite the relatively low cost of each ad, the cumulative [my emphasis] revenue from a page of classified advertising comes to more than the income from a full-page ad elsewhere in the paper.
So what went wrong? Too many things, too quickly.
Wall Street or investor interest changed the nature of newspaper ownership. CEO’s answering to corporate boards of corporate boards were running the show rather than the old “family publisher. Like medicine and insurance, Who pays the piper calls the tune. Decisions about content and style got made by uninformed and distant MBAs rather than on-site experienced journalists.
Soon, the unholy “bottom line called the tune rather the needs of the paper’s community or serious news / professional journalism standards.
And then came the Web.
Jones knows if you are selling a car or renting an apartment it’s Craigslist you use’€and the implications of that free transaction for newspapers was just (financially) devastating’€ “digital technology’€and especially the Internet’€is rapidly blowing that long-standing economic model to smithereens, writes Jones.
But in the days newspapers were profitable, the economic changes that were undercutting newspapers went mostly unnoticed.
Again, for decades many American newspapers were part of quality “chains, or, family operations. Not just small ones like Jones’ but middle and larger-sized ones, like The Boston Globe (Taylors), New York Times (Sulzbergers) and Los Angeles Times (Otis). It was a special American “contract, about loyality to citizens. For our newspapers have evolved, Jones notes, around a tension fundamental to the success of American democracy. Newspapers are a business but they also practiced a kind of democratic stewardship.
It was Jefferson who many times eloquently defended newspapers’ independence’€and with Madison’€their free speech, because he argued that for a democracy to function and for “the people to be truly sovereign, in a position to actually make decisions, citizens required information that was accurate, timely, unbiased and critical.
While newspapers obviously had to make a profit, many families took the stewardship role seriously enough to rest content with either smaller profits or just breaking even. (Like the Red Sox and Yawkey, they also suffered losses because they valued this public role.)
Yet as the financial wind went out of newspapers’ sails, newspaper management desperately tried to balance the budget by the “usual means’€ draconian cuts, usually but not always staff.
We learn a good friend of Jones’ at the peak of his career is let go from his high Texas post. One of the finest editors in America resigns from the Los Angeles Times rather than fire reporters.
Some of the most valuable non-staff items unwisely dumped included, close to home and our Boston Globe, expert foreign bureaus that, with contacts built over decades, generated not only interesting but invaluable information. The bureau costs could not be justified in the face of plummeting ad revenues, fierce shareholder expectations, new “business management demands, and, inevitable “duplication with the “parent company, i.e., New York Times.
All terrible news, to be certain. But not quite the point, or Jones’ point.
Losing the News is less about newspapers’ Titanic financial situation, or even the immensely important issues around the First Amendment (an informative, eye-opening chapter) or the smaller and smaller percentage of young newspaper readers, than the increasingly rapid loss of a kind of news that newspapers, in the main, have published.
Jones calls it accountability news.
It’s the daily “core, the serious stuff that happens in our world, and it has power and impact because of the way it is sought, constructed and presented. Accountable, through a traditional, standards-based, ethically-conditioned process that locates important information, carefully sorts and selects, and then submits everything to fact-checking.
It’s “solid reporting, got it? Edits and opinion and features “pick and choose from this core, Jones says, talk shows and the web draw from it regularly. And all too often without acknowledgement of what the core costs to produce. Or, without acknowledgment of its importance. Jones says,
Traditional journalists have long believed that this form of fact-based accountability news is the essential food supply of democracy and that without enough of this healthy nourishment, democracy will weaken, sicken, or even fail.
In each of the nine chapters Jones returns again and again to this “core. He chronicles in a concise and illuminating way not only the history of newspapers but also how kinds of news developed over time and the ways in which they were delivered to both smaller and larger publics as well as elites.
Jones’ point being the broadly-dispersed, balanced and objective reporting we expect today was certainly not the case in broadsheets tacked up in Elizabeth’s London or the advocacy pamphlets before and during the American Revolution in America. Until the last century the “press was generally a printer’s sideline (like Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac), for financial purposes or the arm of a political party or faction.
By the early 20th century, “sheltered by an economic model, this costly-to-produce accountability news took what Jones identifies as four forms: witness, follow-up, explanatory, and investigative. His elaboration is instructive.
First-hand accounts of the Iraq war, the Ft. Hood shooting, a school committee deliberation are where the journalist acts as the public’s witness, their “eyes and ears. When the journalist asks the “Why? question, it’s up to another level; they are pushing the story after the fact, contextualizing it with history and expertise to allow the public to gain a greater and broader depth of understanding.
Writing at length about global warming, or the case for and against mammograms, for example, is a third form, where the journalist labors to gather every relevant fact, “bores deeply into the subject, serves to explain significance of the event or subject to the public, as thoroughly as is possible at that point in time.
While many writers in history have been oppositional, outstanding reporters in the 20th century saw their highest role as challenging “official truth through painstaking and risky investigations. Those who went after abuses in My Lai or Watergate were “astonishingly persistent, says Jones. “This is the toughest kind of journalism¦done in the face of efforts to keep information silent.
While witness-bearing is the least expensive, supporting an investigative journalist can cost, according to Jones “a quarter million in salary and expenses.
And that is also Jones’ point. Real news costs, and few own up to the fact that an estimated 85 percent of web news comes from newspapers and no one on the web is paying the freight (unless Microsoft’s challenge to Google stands).
What will America and Americans do without this core news? Will or can the newer technologies evolve and produce equivalent activities and institutions?
It’s not as though the journalism of Civil Rights and the Pentagon Papers was ever normative.
Under the Bush administration, we had an “obedient rather than an “adversarial press. Should newspapers fail entirely, or only a few remain, will what passes for reporters be, in Anthony Lewis’ characterization, merely “local stenographers, rather than the “nation’s conscience?
Who on the web will consistently check assertions in a Defense secretary’s speech, investigate falling concrete panels in a heavily used tunnel, bring a irresponsible surgeon to justice?
Journalism will certainly exist for profit, for the tabloids and their accompanying web sites. And there will be print journalism and web journalism that will entertain as well as journalism that advocates for micro-communities and narrow points of view.
Quality information can always be sold. Talented and skillful researchers and writers will surely continue to serve the elites Walter Lippmann felt had to govern, for the uninformed public he believed too prone to passion, too easily manipulated.
If “good journalism is no longer there for the philosopher of democracy, John Dewey’s general public, there to drive out the “bad, to correct bias, balance political debate, correct dangerous inaccuracies, explode the easy sensationalism of the He said/She said discourse’€can our democracy trust in what some have trumpeted as the “democratic power of the web?
Like many on this question, whether of fountain pen or MacBook, Jones is skeptical.
We are in a transitional period, we just don’t know enough to make a judgment. It’s easy to note the obvious. Brevity, movement, variety and associational logic are web characteristics, all “attitude and edge and opinion, says Jones.
Newspapers, by contrast, have become “distilled products, highly mediated, whereas the web does poorly by verification and does not select or aggregate information in ways as useful as newspapers. Blogs generate ideas not facts, like the web they value speed over accuracy. Many issues of real moment cannot be “condensed into 50 words (or 150) on the Home Page.
Whether the newer technologies are an extension of the old, as Marshall McLuhan once suggested, whether they are wholly different, with different properties, or an admixture, the questions Jones addresses’€and some of the answers he learned in that East Tennessee print shop’€are surely the right ones.
While the medium may well be the message, it is also only part of the message. The more significant and more useful part is likely that “core of fact, the delivery of which, whether web or print, or a collaboration of the two, remains to be determined.
The web is a medium in its infancy, Jones takes too seriously the distractions attending it; as though a child were given one of those Gutenberg Bibles he discusses, but no guidance how to “read it.
Jefferson’s public will learn to read the web just as the elite now read the Times or Wall Street Journal.
If Midwestern farmers are’€stats tell us’€some of the most loyal National Public Radio listeners, more and more Americans, even young ones, may, with guidance, become “accountability news readers/listeners.]]>
It’s a good thing our President-Elect taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago.
Alongside saving the economy, managing two wars, rebuilding America’s relations with virtually every country on the planet, reversing global warming and effecting U.S. energy independence, Barack Obama’s most important task may well be setting the nation’s legal house in order.
Actually, more like reversing the disorder into which it has been cast the past eight years at all levels of government. Where the rule of law has not been broken outright or twisted like a pretzel, so many laws, rulings and policies laarge and small have been ignored, reframed or stretched.
All thanks to Richard Bruce Cheney, the man Vice-President elect Joseph Biden characterized as ‘Ëœthe most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history.’
Dangerous in what sense?
1′€the name of the game
Author: Barton Gellman
Although Barton Gellman in Angler: the Cheney Vice Presidency is as non-ideological in this respect as his subject was ideological, dangerous in the sense of Cheney’s serving over four decades in and out of public office not merely conservative but often deeply reactionary interests.
If Gellman’s study’€a greatly expanded version of what originally appeared as a four-part Washington Post series’€reads like a cross between Machiavelli’s Prince and Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men, it is because the George W. Bush presidency is a drama about much more than whether Rumsfeld slighted Powell and insulted Rice.
As Gellman makes clear’€all these personages are serious players, yet none more serious, well-equipped, and resolute at the end of the day than Cheney.
Despite a fascinating interplay of colorful, fractious, conflicting, and complex personalities who make their way over 400 pages (and 70 more in Notes), the story worth hearing is not one of status sought or wealth acquired, sex or perversity, but power, power in both street and high grade versions.
Political power these past eight years in Washington and the way in which it was gained, guarded, focused and enacted’€less in the figure of Bush than in Cheney’€in a disarmingly lesser figure .
Power to dry up Native American salmon streams in Oregon but more significantly, power to invade a Middle East nation and spend hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives in the process. Power to “mine millions of Americans’ personal and electronic records and to detain thousands of “terrorists, without benefit of Geneva Convention or American due process. Power to extract information from detainees in Cuba’s Guantanamo and “black sites around the world¦by any means necessary.
Among the dozens of important occasions and decisions Gellman tracks, four highlight what Cheney accomplished and how he accomplished it: choosing Bush’s VP; 9/11 and post-9/1l planning; NSA and other agency domestic surveillance; Gitmo and non-torture torture. About them, and the “unitary or “Imperial Presidency in a moment. About Cheney, now.
2′€Cheney the man
Other accounts chronicle in greater detail Cheney’s far western origins, his academic failings (sent home from Yale twice) and later academic successes (honors work at the University of Wyoming, scholarships at the University of Wisconsin and ABD in Political Science).
Stocky, balding, gray, undramatic in appearance, and’€except for an almost intimidating sense of attentiveness’€the most powerful vice president in American history has seldom shown himself the stuff of a John Wayne western. As much the “sleeper as the terrorists Cheney himself obsessively pursues, Gellman at many junctures suggests impressive containment and calculating self-control, a man always with purpose who prepares exhaustively, listens intently, plays his cards exceedingly close and keeps his wallet on the dresser at home.
Gellman’s even-handed narrative reminds us no event is without its history.
This Big Sky son of “loyal democrats hitched his political wagon early on, while a graduate student, to a rising Republican Congressman Steiger, who in Nixon’s administration, passed this reliable, conscientious, hard working “number man on to similarly rising young men, like Donald Rumsfeld.
Cheney became President Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff, then Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign manager, five-term Republican Congressman from Wyoming, late 80s, House Minority Whip and finally Secretary of Defense for the first Bush.
A western politician could hardly not support oil, gas, and coal interests, aggressive mining and unrestricted timber and land use during his years in Congress, long time fly fishing enthusiast notwithstanding (hence, Cheney’s Secret Service code name.)
Worth noticing: Cheney voted for and against making King’s birthday a national holiday, against creation of the Department of Education, against funding Head Start as well as against imposing economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa.
4′€“stealth, “misdirection, & “secrecy
Frank Keating, Governor of Oklahoma, receives a call from Dick Cheney as Governor Bush prepares to select a vice president for the 2000 presidential election.
Keating is encouraged to believe himself a serious candidate by Cheney, encouraged to such an extent that his fills out an exhaustive questionnaire, one also exhaustively personal in its requests for not only basic and obvious information but open-ended medical and financial documentation.
The Cheney form had close to 200 questions under 79 headings, requiring answers that covered the whole span of adulthood.
While some of Cheney’s inquiries “were more or less standard in the vetting of potential running mates, on issues of mental health or spouses or past sexual or marital problems, “the structure of Cheney’s questionnaire bespoke unusual distrust of those who filled it out, with a corresponding demand for access to primary evidence.
Copies of all medical records¦plus clinical notes and lab results. Anything to do with psychology or counseling, military service records and “intimate details of parents, children, siblings, spouses, and in-laws.
Anything legal was fair game, including sealed court records.
The kicker, of course, is not the all-inclusiveness of data, but what happens to it’€only Cheney and three others in the world ultimately see it, process it, and remember it. Keating, Lamar Alexander, Bill Frist, Tom Ridge, John Engler et al generate this mountain of intimate information about themselves and everyone they’ve known since pre-school, ship it to Cheney¦and?
Cheney, Lo and Behold, is “selected as Bush’s VP. And it dawns on the uninvited that Bush’s VP Cheney now knows everything (every thing) about his rivals.
5′€’ËœI have a different understanding with the President’
Cheney not only assembled and directed President Bush’s Transition Team and all its information’€while the chads were still hanging in Florida’€but immediately began inserting himself into all decision making involving the president.
Uninterested in the traditional role of ceremonial international trips and fund-raising, Cheney made clear his interests would be virtually all-encompassing, from national security and the budget process, to foreign policy, the military and party politics.
By virtue of highly selective staff choice and networking that drew upon three decades of private and public service, Cheney put into motion organizational and personal structures that guaranteed not only essential information would be routed through him and his office and legal counsel but would also be the exit point for crucial information to expand and enhance his vision of increased’€later near-absolute’€executive authority.
Ronald Reagan’s slogan was ‘Ëœpersonnel is policy,’ Cheney treated the traditional bureaucracy as entirely situational and either neutralized it or made it dependent upon his office, i.e., not permanent. A political black hole, vital information increasingly flowed into the VP office, exiting only when and where Cheney and his key deputies and aides desired.
According to Gellman, Bush set the tone’€and effectively legitimized’€Cheney’s re-invention of this vastly expanded VP role. Agencies and individuals were told by Bush that the Vice President was ‘Ëœwelcome at every table and every meeting.’
6′€taking over, or, ‘Ëœthree bites of the apple’
Soon Cheney was not only sitting in on crucial meetings but re-locating their sites to his’€one office in the White House and a borrowed one in the House’€and with the most important, such as Foreign Policy and the Wednesday Economic team, chairing them as well.
Cheney’s methods thereby gave him ‘Ëœthree bites at the apple’ on every decision of consequence, and allowed him to “reach down with tremendous effectiveness: first, with the President, when they were alone; second, at principal meetings; and third, one-on-one with staff or at the deputy level.Continuing the habits of a good graduate student, Cheney “read a great deal, remembered what he read.
7-thank you, bin Laden
Never a great enthusiast about either popular involvement or popular control, Cheney’s Washington experience prior to his VP role only confirmed earlier inclinations towards increasing White House power. Even before 9/11, the nation was in peril, decisions had to be made more quickly and more decisively.
Not only was the executive branch Constitutionally invested, even without legislative or judicial sanction “alpha White House lawyer Richard Addington “could work a world of change with executive tools alone.
The 9/11 commission noted how terrorist warnings had been downplayed or ignored by the new Bush administration, right up to the attacks. The President was in Florida, reading to schoolchildren, while Cheney was slow in getting to the White House bunker’€even as the big airliner that hit the Pentagon was only minutes away.
Once in the bunker, however, chaos turned to order’€under Cheney’s forceful direction’€to the extent we now know that the “shoot down decision was made without presidential authority.
Gellman’s point around this unfolding national tragedy of was that the situation paralleled, in a sense, Bush’s initial legitimation of Cheney’s role expansion. Assuming presidential authority in taking out a rogue airliner, Cheney went on to use it to set in motion a new national security system, new protocols and justifications for everything that might “win the new “war on terror.
7′€bending the law
War was a blanket that muffled a great many concerns about government invasions of privacy. As Senator Byrd, the acknowledged master of the Constitution, Cheney brought the Constitution to heel’€at least that was the charge to Addington, and colleagues and underlings in both the White House and Justice Departments. The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) was key, once its lawyers decided a policy or program was legal, all other agencies either fell in line, or, could be forced into line by that rulings example.
From expanded National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance, which soon morphed into “unwarranted domestic surveillance by NSA, CIA, and military intelligence agencies, to “extreme forms of “interrogation, the transport of “high value subjects to unknown foreign “black sites was only a few steps away.
The “war on terror became the ultimate justification. Infamous attorney John Yoo got the data “drift nets going by arguing that the President could authorize “warrantless surveillance, even if Congress forbade it. Presidential authorizations were all one needed because the President had the ultimate authority to protect the country. Cheney’s “special program of surveillance and his agreement to “tough interrogation methods again and again were made to have legal foundation.
8′€all the king’s horses
Gellman delves into the ways in which Cheney tried to work his will with domestic issues unrelated to foreign policy and intelligence. Because, as we know too well these past months, the economy does not exactly respond with a salute to a command, Cheney had more luck both controlling information and controlling agencies related to the military.
He’€and President Bush’€was far less effective managing the economy, shifting Greenspan at the Federal Reserve in time for elections, or swaying Treasury Secretary O’Neill (ultimately dumped).
Education didn’t get on the train, either. Many children got left behind in the Bush years, probably too those subversive teachers’ unions, and attempts to shift Social Security to the “security of the Stock Market ( ! ) was unsuccessful as well.
It all came apart, however, and interestingly, according to Gellman, it fell from within.
Some of those conservative lawyers within both the White House and Justice departments re-read their law books and the Constitution and question prior decisions. It was the time of John Kerry’s nomination, worries began to surface about whether a new administration “might prosecute. Then, too, the “machinery turned inward, new faces at the OLC, one Jack Goldsmith for example, judged domestic surveillance illegal, or at least questionable.
Others, older and younger but, alas for Cheney, “fussy legalists, confronted, stood firm, threatened resignations.
Despite a late hour’€and unseemly’€bedside visit to ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft, neither Andrew Card nor Alberto Gonzales could force or persuade the AG to sign, a step from the ICU, a re-authorization order. If a nearly dead man could say No, the game was up.
With bombings in Baghdad increasing, Cheney’s soul mate “Scooter Libby found guilty, eight cardiac “events in eight years, winds were blowing in another direction’€certainly not billowing out Cheney’s sails. He sought power without limits, Gellman observes. Cheney’s “disdain for polls, popular opinion, even the vote in the interest of building an absolute Presidency, had been resolute but misguided and, Gellman suggests, ultimately tragic.
In the waning days of the 2008 campaign it was said President-elect Obama was reading a well-regarded history of the CIA. Angler, veined with lessons, might be more to the point.]]>