OKRENT (PART 1)! Daniel Okrent finally leaves—taking a cheap shot at Krugman:
MONDAY, MAY 23, 2005
WHY DO PAT TILLMANS PARENTS HATE AMERICA: Maybe weve finally found someone who will be allowed to complain about this Admins endemic dissembling. We refer to the parents of Pat Tillman, whose comments about their sons death are reported in todays Post. Josh Whites summary of the facts sets the stage for the Tillmans anger:
WHITE (5/23/05): The latest investigation, written about by The Washington Post earlier this month, showed that soldiers in Afghanistan knew almost immediately that they had killed Tillman by mistake in what they believed was a firefight with enemies on a tight canyon road. The investigation also revealed that soldiers later burned Tillman's uniform and body armor.The Tillmans draw the obvious conclusions about the reasons for this conduct, which goes all the way up to the chain to Abizaid. And ouch! Although it gets buried deep in Whites piece, Tillmans mother has fine things to say about the commander-in-chief:
WHITE: Mary Tillman says the government used her son for weeks after his death, perpetuating an untrue story to capitalize on his altruism—just as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was erupting publicly. She said she was particularly offended when President Bush offered a taped memorial message to Tillman at a Cardinals football game shortly before the presidential election last fall. She again felt as though her son was being used, something he never would have wanted."Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore," Tillmans father says at another point in the piece.
Meanwhile, dissembling surely aint a big deal for many of the webs liberal spokesmen. They continue to carry Newsweeks water in the mags recent flap, perhaps because they (rightly) believe that the Administrations absurd response to the Newsweek blunder was worse than the magazines crime. But these people do you no favors as they kiss, smooch and fawn to great Newsweek. Newseek made a small error, Kevin Drum said in a Sunday post. Newsweek's offense, which was pretty minor to begin with, is about the equivalent of jaywalking across a busy city street. Meanwhile, here was a puzzling post on Friday:
DRUM (5/20/05): I'm annoyed at Newsweek for knuckling under to the Pentagon over its Koran desecration piece, I'm annoyed at the reflexive press bashers for piling on even though Newsweek's reporters did nothing that every other reporter in Washington hasn't done a dozen times before, and I'm annoyed at my fellow liberals, who have been tepid in defense of Newsweek because the piece in question was written by Michael Isikoff, against whom we are all expected to hold a lifetime grudge because of his treatment of Bill Clinton.Drum is annoyed because liberals havent rushed to the defense of Newsweek—a magazine which spent much of the past dozen years engaged in truly outrageous misconduct aimed at their partys top leaders.
In general, Drums critique strikes us as bizarre. How was Newsweek supposed to avoid knuckling under in this matter? The magazine had published a claim it couldnt defend; was it supposed to pretend something different? And speaking as a reflexive press basher, wed be inclined to recommend piling on Newsweek precisely because the mag did something that every other reporter in Washington has done a dozen times before. Indeed, throughout vast periods of the past dozen years, this kind of conduct (and worse) was directly aimed at your partys leaders; when Newsweek engaged in gross misconduct for almost two years during Campaign 2000, it helped put George W. Bush in the White House. And finally, yes, lets state the obvious—Isikoffs performance during the hunting of Clinton is part of what got us all to this point. For ourselves, we havent mentioned Isikoffs conduct during that era, but why in the world should it all be forgotten? But Drum, and other career liberal writers, just keep kissing up to the mainstream press—to the news orgs which savaged Clinton, then Gore. These people created the situation were in. Our question, and maybe hell actually answer it: Why do people like Kevin Drum keep pretending they didnt?
Drum does tons of superlative work, a point we very much want to keep stressing. But we think it has now become clear—libs and Dems must come to terms with the questions we have raised about the work of these mainstream press organs. Why exactly should libs defend Newsweek? Wed love a good explanation.
POSTSCRIPT: Did darling Newsweek only jaywalk? For a more balanced assessment of Newsweeks conduct, see Mike Getler in yesterdays Post. You know what to do—just click here.
COMING: How did sainted Mark Whitakers brilliant agents perform their duties during Campaign 2000—the two-year campaign which put Bush in the White House? Later this week, well try to remind you. Sorry—Howard Finemans work was beyond inexcusable, and sainted Mark Whitaker stared into air. But who knows? Maybe Drum can help us see how perfect the work of the mag really was. For ourselves, were tired of seeing this noxious history buried. Your recent history is truly lost, stolen and strayed—all across the career liberal web.
PART 1—THE CASE OF THE EXERCISED EDITOR: What a truly amazing flyweight is departed Times public editor Daniel Okrent! Yesterday, Okrent concluded his unfortunate reign, discussing thirteen topics he somehow avoided during his eighteen months of service. (Headline: 13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did). Below, we present the second of these thirteen ruminations, in full. But alas! As Okrent slices and dices Paul Krugman, he provides the perfect public showcase for his fly-weight intellectual standards and his unexplained but omnipresent resentment. Try to believe that he actually wrote such a cheap slasher piece! Again, its the second thing he meant to write about but somehow never did:
OKRENT (5/22/05):Good grief! If the ivory-billed pecker is the Lord God bird, that must be the Lord God third paragraph.
Lets be fair to Okrents general complaint. Okrent feels the Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, should hold his columnists to higher standards. (Oddly, he makes no mention of Gail Collins, who is nominally in charge of op-eds.) But what a truly incredible way to make the case for this claim! In the case of Dowd and Safire, Okrent at least provides specific complaints—and yes, his complaints are at least semi-valid. Dowds quaint quote was yanked out of context (many pundits and pols continue to do this with this cagily clipped quotation), and Safires claims about Saddam and al Qaeda have been widely criticized. But what about Krugman? Okrent goes after his troubling poster boy hard—but he doesnt cite a single specific example of the gentlemans troubling conduct! He calls Krugman every name in the book—but after eighteen months on the job, he doesnt give a single example of Krugmans deeply disturbing conduct. How exactly is someone like Krugman supposed to respond to such work?
For the record, Krugman is quite a bum—if you listen to Okrent. According to the exercised editor, Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers. Beyond that, Krugman is ideological and unfair, Okrent says—and he seems to say that the slippery scribe selects his misleading numbers in a fashion designed to please his acolytes. These are very nasty charges. But in the style of classic hit-and-run bullies, Okrent provides no examples of his targets troubling conduct, and he bravely offers these ringing complaints in his final public editor column, depriving Krugman of a chance to respond (and knowing he wont have to defend himself against the complaints that will come).
How big and brave is the mighty Okrent—this big, bold man who slithers away with so many loud complaints? The big, brave fellow had eighteen months to offer examples of Krugmans misconduct, but even now, he offers none. Instead, he waits until his final column—then hits and runs with his unexplained slams. But at least he provides us a few mordant chuckles, in the manner of flyweights worldwide. In his very next item—undiscussed Topic 3—Okrent complains that three other writers have failed to let the great New York Times serve as a guardian of civil discussion! Was this an attempt at comic relief? Or is it the sign of a consummate flyweight—the sign of a man who waded far over his head when offered this unwise assignment?
Lets make sure we understand the context of Okrents complaints. Without question, Krugman has been one of the Times most-discussed writers over the past several years. If Krugman has behaved in the manner described, it should have been discussed long ago. But throughout the course of human history, that just hasnt been the way flyweights like Okrent conduct public hangings. The exercised ed had eighteen months to offer examples of Krugmans misconduct. Instead, he waits until his final column, then provides exactly no examples of the crimes he lustily limns. To state the obvious, this the work of a small, petty thug—the kind of man Okrent often seemed to be as he typed his frequently worthless columns. But its also the mark of something else—its the mark of a pure intellectual flyweight, something else Okrent often seemed to be during his 18-month rule.
We criticized Okrent at several points in his reign, but we would have liked to let it all go as he departed his post at the Times. For us, his major problem seemed to be one of temperament. By the time he wrote just his fourth column, Okrent seemed more intent on knocking Times readers than on critiquing the paper itself; in this continuing impulse, he displayed a temperament thats fine for most jobs but ill-suited for a public editor. But in Sundays closing (cheap) shot against Krugman, he showed himself again as a cheap, petty thug—and as a flyweight for the ages. How does Americas most important newspaper have such a flyweight in such a high post? Well examine that important question all week, starting tomorrow with Okrents Topic 5—an item which is almost perfect in its pure unalloyed dumbness.
TOMORROW—PART 2! Thats a good question, Okrent said. Tomorrow, well show you different.
PART 1—TERMINATE TAIT: Appearing on Sundays Face the Nation, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recited standard heartfelt spin about George Bushs judicial nominees. You could tell he really meant it about those up-or-down votes:
MCCONNELL (5/22/05): Let's get back to the way the Senate operated for over 200 years, up-or-down votes on the president's nominee, no matter who the president is, no matter who's in control of the Senate. That's the way we need to operate.McConnell wanted up-or-down votes, the way it had always been done. And the solon was hardly alone in his prayer. Over at ABCs This Week, Senator George Allen (R-VA) was making the same heartfelt plea. And on C-SPANs Washington Journal, it was Janet LaRue (Concerned Women of America). LaRue was concerned that nominees might not get that up-or-down vote, the way it has always been done.
But that isnt the way it has always been done, and everyone in Washington knows it. But so what? As weve noted, major papers have made little effort to describe the actual way nominations were treated during the Clinton years; theyve sat around and twiddled their thumbs as the ludicrous lying goes forward. For just one early part of that unexplored recent history, consider the case of John Reid Tait, a Clinton nominee in Idaho. In August 1994, Joan Abrams of the Lewiston Morning Tribune reported the news; Clinton had nominated Tait to serve as a U. S. District court judge, and the nominee was thrilled to the bones. But uh-oh! Idahos two Republican senators didnt seem to want to provide that ballyhooed up-or-down vote:
ABRAMS (8/26/94): Lewiston lawyer John Reid Tait's long wait to be nominated by President Clinton for the post of U.S. District Judge for Idaho is over.Uh-oh! But now that Clinton had made his choice, surely Craig and Kempthorne insisted that Tait get his sacred up-or-down vote? After all, thats the way it has always been done, to listen to recent public lying. But amazingly, no—thats not how they acted. A few days later, the Morning Tribunes Richard Wickline reported their continuing complaints:
WICKLINE (9/2/94): A Clinton administration official says Lewiston attorney John R. Tait is qualified to be appointed to a vacant federal district judgeship, although questions have been raised in some quarters about the breadth of his experience.On September 13, the Morning Tribune reported that the chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and the dean of the University of Idaho law school were both supporting the Tait nomination. ''John Tait is eminently qualified and would be a tribute to Idaho, Chief Justice Charles F. McDevitt was quoted saying. But two weeks later, the paper reported surprising news; nominee Tait wasnt going to get his up-or-down vote that year. Weird! The nomination would be blocked for the rest of the year by Senate Republicans in Washington:
WICKLINE (9/24/94): Idaho's Republican U.S. senators have succeeded in blocking the confirmation of Lewiston attorney John R. Tait to a federal district judge post this year, Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco said Friday.Partial translation: Republicans thought they had a chance of taking over the Senate in the upcoming 1994 elections. This would change the balance of power concerning nominations to judgeships. Despite that, Wickline wrote this: LaRocco said there is no question in his mind that Clinton will nominate Tait again for the vacant federal district judge post next year and his nomination will move forward. And uh-oh! Just for the record, when Wickline wrote about the nomination on September 29, he used the f-word—filibuster:
WICKLINE (9/29/94): Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus Wednesday blamed partisan politics for the death of Lewiston attorney John R. Tait's nomination for a federal district judge post this year...For the record, lets be clear. Strictly speaking, Hatch hadnt actually filibustered the nomination; he had just arranged within the committee to keep it from being considered that year. Andrus, a Democrat, complained about that:
WICKLINE (9/29/94): Idaho Democrats didn't question the nominees for federal judicial posts when the Republicans were in control of the White House, Andrus said. ''They said,'That is the way it is.' ''But Andrus had a lot to learn—and the debate continued. On October 27, Kempthorne again told the Morning Tribune that he hoped Clinton would nominate someone else for the judgeship in question. And then it happened, as the obstructionists hoped: On Election Day 1994, Rep. LaRocco—Taits original sponsor—lost his bid for re-election, and Republicans took over the House and the Senate. And Idahos Republican senators kept complaining about the Tait nomination. Would Tait ever get that up-or-down vote? Kempthorne has said he hopes the Clinton administration will make another nomination for the post, while Craig has maintained he won't budge from his stance that Tait isn't qualified, the Morning Tribune reported on November 30. Finally, on December 14, a headline announced the end of the tale. Tait was never going to get that sacred up-or-down vote:
MORNING TRIBUNE HEADLINE (12/14/94):GOP devotion to up-or-down votes had produced another inspiring outcome. With Republicans now in charge of the Senate, Clinton decided he had to terminate Tait:
WICKLINE (12/14/94): President Clinton's nomination of Lewiston attorney John R. Tait for federal judge is dead because of the Republican takeover of Congress, outgoing Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco announced Tuesday.No, Tait never got that sacred up-or-down vote; instead, he choked back disappointment. ''Sure it is disappointing,'' Wickline quoted the ex-nominee saying. ''I gave it a good run. We'll just go back to work. ... I'm only 48. I'm sure there will be other interesting adventures. And yes, there will be such adventures. But they wont include an up-or-down vote—the kind of vote the pious and lying McConnell said we have always provided.
For the record, how did the story turn out? By April, Clinton had a new nominee—Lynn Winwill—and Morning Tribune columnist Jim Fisher was urging Craig to move the name forward. [I]t was Republican Sen. Larry Craig who made the selection of a second nominee necessary, Fisher wrote. That imposes a special responsibility on Craig to ensure the state gets the new judge it desperately needs this year. Five weeks later, we got another inspiring lesson in the GOPs fanatical devotion to up-or-down votes. OPPOSITION TO WINMILL FOR FEDERAL JUDGE KEEPS POSITION VACANT, said the Morning Tribunes front-page headline. With Wickline apparently in retirement after all the GOP-forced delays, Kevin Richert did the reporting—and Republican senators once again seemed to be considering the possibility of denying that vote:
RICHERT (5/19/95): There is scattered, and sketchy, opposition to Pocatello district judge Lynn Winmill's bid to become Idaho's next federal judge.Long story short—Winmill finally did get confirmed, on August 11, 1995. One month later, Naftali Bendavid of the Legal Times described how the case had proceeded:
BENDAVID (9/11/95): A recently filled vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho shows how the system is now working.Yes, GOP love of the up-or-down vote was MIA when Tait got his nod. Did we always give that up-or-down vote? Clearly, the pious McConnell thought it was true—but his memory, like that of Allen, turns out to be strangely faulty.
Was there something wrong with the treatment of Tait? That, of course, is a matter of judgment. In fact, Taits nomination was ditched in a fairly conventional way—in the way the confirmation process routinely worked during the past several decades. On Sunday, McConnell was out there saying different—lying through his teeth, as always—and your big, brave newspapers seem to know life is easier if they avoid discussing unpleasant facts about your recent political history. The sacking of Tait was an early case, from the first two years of the Clinton presidency. What happened when Republicans took control of the Senate? Their pious devotion to up-or-down votes only exists in McConnells mind, as well continue to help you see when we move to Colorado tomorrow.
TOMORROW: Lynching Lyons