Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chicago Tribune

Challenge to the New York Times: Publish Your Internal Correspondence

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks. Read More

Reading the New York Times’s “Note to Readers” explaining why it has decided once again to act as a journalistic enabler of WikiLeaks, I wondered why, if the Times believes that openness is so important to the operations of the U.S. government, that same logic doesn’t apply to the newspaper itself. The Times, after all, is still, despite its loss of influence in the Internet age, the leading newspaper in the U.S. and indeed the world. It still shakes governments, shapes opinions, and moves markets, even if it doesn’t do so as often or as much as it used to.

Imagine if the stentorian language employed by the Times were turned on itself. The editors write that

the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Isn’t it presumptuous to assume that readers of the New York Times have no right to know what is being done in their name by the editors of the New York Times? Isn’t it important for us to learn “the unvarnished story” of how the Times makes its editorial decisions — such as the decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents? Sure, we know the official explanation — it’s in the newspaper. But what happened behind the scenes? Maybe there were embarrassing squabbles that will make for juicy reading? Therefore, I humbly suggest that in the interest of the greater public good (as determined by me), Bill Keller, the editor, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, should release to the world all their private e-mails and memos concerning WikiLeaks.

Actually, let’s make our document request broader: the Times should share with the world all its internal correspondence going back years. That would include, of course, memos that disclose the identity of anonymous sources, including sources who may have risked their lives to reveal information to Times reporters. Of course, just as it does with government documents, we would give the Times the privilege of redacting a few names and facts — at least in a few of the versions that are published on the Internet.

My suspicion — call it a hunch — is that the Times won’t accept my modest suggestion. Their position, in effect, is “secrecy for me but not for thee.” But why? Can the Times editors possibly argue with a straight face that their deliberations are more important and more privileged than the work of our soldiers and diplomats? No doubt the editors can see all the damage that releasing their own documents would do — it would have a chilling effect on internal discourse and on the willingness of sources to share information with Times reporters. But they seem blind to the fact that precisely the same damage is being done to the United States government with consequences potentially far more momentous.

The most persuasive argument the Times has made is that “most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides.” That’s true, but that doesn’t eradicate the Times’s responsibility for choosing to act as a press agent and megaphone for WikiLeaks. When in 1942 the Chicago Tribune published an article making clear that the U.S. had broken Japanese codes before the Battle of Midway, other newspapers did not rush to hype the scoop. They let it pass with virtually no notice, and the Japanese may never have become aware of the disclosure. Imagine if a similar attitude were shown today by so-called responsible media organs. How many people would really go to the WikiLeaks website to trawl through hundreds of thousands of memoranda? Some harm would undoubtedly still result from WikiLeaks’s action, but it would be far less than when mainstream media organs amplify Wikileaks’s irresponsible disclosures.

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Don’t Let the Door Hit You, Rahm

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

Rahm Emanuel is leaving, and American Jewish leaders couldn’t care less. In this regard, they have figured out who is running the U.S.-Israel policy (and hence, where the problem is):

“A lot of people like to think this Israeli-Palestinian policy has been Rahm Emanuel’s and it’s not. It’s Barack Obama’s,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic strategist and former Clinton administration aide. …

Noted William Daroff, the Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of its Washington Office: “The buck stops at the desk of the president of the United States, so any staff change shouldn’t impact the relationship [Obama] has with the state of Israel or the Jewish community.”

The savviest remark comes from a “Jewish community professional” who observes:

“In some ways,” that professional added, Emanuel’s belief that he could effortlessly handle the Jewish community due to his deep connections has “been a detriment to the White House [because Emanuel's] saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got that,’ but then he doesn’t.”

Well, he didn’t. And there’s a smidgen of candor — well, what passes for candor in Washington (a blind quote, in other words):

“That hasn’t always been of a great benefit to Israel,” noted one of the Jewish leaders previously quoted on background. “In an American government, a friend of Israel is more important a factor than whether they’re Jewish.”

Emanuel’s religion, in fact, already seems to be having a negative net impact on his bid to become Chicago’s next mayor.

According to the Chicago Tribune, some politically conservative Jews tend to blame Emanuel, the son of an Israeli doctor, for some of the Obama administration’s tensions with Israel, while Orthodox Jews quibbled with his decision to announce his resignation on Friday of last week, Simchat Torah.

Alas, that’s Rahm’s problem now. As for American Jewish leaders and pro-Israel pundits, it’s about time they wised up. They have learned the hard way that the president’s naming a Jew as chief of staff doesn’t mean that his heart is in the right place on Israel. The departure of one adviser out of many selected by a president convinced of his own wisdom on the Middle East is virtually meaningless. What matters is that a president was elected who lacks empathy toward and understanding of the nature of the Zionist enterprise, who imagines kicking a democratic ally will impress its despotic foes, who is convinced he can engage the mullahs and then contain them after they rebuff his entreaties, and who fails to grasp that serial weakness by the U.S. places both the U.S. and Israel at risk.

That such an overwhelming majority of American Jewish leaders cheered, vouched and raised money for candidate Obama explains, in large part, their reluctance to come to terms with what a disaster he has been for U.S.-Israel relations and for the West’s security in the face of an Islamic revolutionary state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Let’s see if they can now work strenuously — as strenuously as they did to elect him – to limit the damage their chosen candidate will inflict on both American and Israeli security, which the president seems not to fully comprehend are inextricably linked. And then the real test will come in 2012, when they will have the opportunity to shed their “sick addiction” to the president and his party. Or will “a woman’s right to choose,” government-run health care, and the supposed scourge of global warming once more take precedence over the fate of the Jewish state?

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Never Really Left Chicago

There is a stray “rumor” (more like a reasonable prediction) that Rahm Emanuel may resign in six to eight months. (Sort of like saying there is a rumor Democrats will lose seats in the fall election.) Then there is this report:

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, then a congressman in Illinois, apparently attempted to trade favors with embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich while he was in office, according to newly disclosed e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. Emanuel agreed to sign a letter to the Chicago Tribune supporting Blagojevich in the face of a scathing editorial by the newspaper that ridiculed the governor for self-promotion. Within hours, Emanuel’s own staff asked for a favor of its own: The release of a delayed $2 million grant to a school in his district. … Phone records show Emanuel called Blagojevich on four successive days in late summer 2006. One message indicated the subject was the school. Repeated phone calls between Emanuel’s and Blagojevich’s staff followed the next week. Shortly thereafter, the money started flowing, and the $2 million was paid by December.

Well, it’s not exactly shocking that Emanuel was horsetrading with Blago. But it sure does put the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers in perspective. This is how these people do business. The only surprise is that so many bought the hooey that Obama was a different sort of politician, immune to the backroom deals and secrecy in which he operated for his entire pre-presidential political career.

There is a stray “rumor” (more like a reasonable prediction) that Rahm Emanuel may resign in six to eight months. (Sort of like saying there is a rumor Democrats will lose seats in the fall election.) Then there is this report:

President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, then a congressman in Illinois, apparently attempted to trade favors with embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich while he was in office, according to newly disclosed e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. Emanuel agreed to sign a letter to the Chicago Tribune supporting Blagojevich in the face of a scathing editorial by the newspaper that ridiculed the governor for self-promotion. Within hours, Emanuel’s own staff asked for a favor of its own: The release of a delayed $2 million grant to a school in his district. … Phone records show Emanuel called Blagojevich on four successive days in late summer 2006. One message indicated the subject was the school. Repeated phone calls between Emanuel’s and Blagojevich’s staff followed the next week. Shortly thereafter, the money started flowing, and the $2 million was paid by December.

Well, it’s not exactly shocking that Emanuel was horsetrading with Blago. But it sure does put the Joe Sestak and Andrew Romanoff job offers in perspective. This is how these people do business. The only surprise is that so many bought the hooey that Obama was a different sort of politician, immune to the backroom deals and secrecy in which he operated for his entire pre-presidential political career.

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Obama Strikes Out

John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has a wickedly good column on Barack Obama’s perfectly awful interview with Washington National announcer Rob Dibble.

For starters, when asked to name just one player he liked while growing up, Obama drew a blank. “You know … uh … I thought that … you know … the truth is, that a lot of the Cubs I liked too.”

“Ouch,” Kass writes. “The silence between the stammers was excruciating. America’s No. 1 Sox fan couldn’t name one Sox player.”

It gets worse.

“When I moved to Chicago,” Obama told Dibble, “I was living close to what was then Cominskey Park and went to a couple of games and just fell in love with it.”

Here’s the problem, though: “Cominskey” Park was actually Comiskey Park. This isn’t the first time Mr. Obama has been tripped up on “Cominskey” Park or tried his blue collar v. wine sipping shtick. It’s not only getting old; it’s getting embarrassing.

After this interview — which seemed to last a lot longer than it actually did — one better understands why Obama is so reliant on his teleprompter.

Do you ever get the feeling that Obama is making it all up as he goes along?

John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has a wickedly good column on Barack Obama’s perfectly awful interview with Washington National announcer Rob Dibble.

For starters, when asked to name just one player he liked while growing up, Obama drew a blank. “You know … uh … I thought that … you know … the truth is, that a lot of the Cubs I liked too.”

“Ouch,” Kass writes. “The silence between the stammers was excruciating. America’s No. 1 Sox fan couldn’t name one Sox player.”

It gets worse.

“When I moved to Chicago,” Obama told Dibble, “I was living close to what was then Cominskey Park and went to a couple of games and just fell in love with it.”

Here’s the problem, though: “Cominskey” Park was actually Comiskey Park. This isn’t the first time Mr. Obama has been tripped up on “Cominskey” Park or tried his blue collar v. wine sipping shtick. It’s not only getting old; it’s getting embarrassing.

After this interview — which seemed to last a lot longer than it actually did — one better understands why Obama is so reliant on his teleprompter.

Do you ever get the feeling that Obama is making it all up as he goes along?

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Tony Rezko’s Banker Highlights the Democrats’ Problems

When Illinois Democrats nominated Tony Rezko’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias, for the senate seat once held by Barack Obama, some thought they might have made a mistake. It seems to have, at the very least, complicated the Democrats’ efforts to hold what in normal years would be a safe Blue seat. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The clock is ticking, and the real estate deals gone south are piling up, at Broadway Bank, the lending institution owned by the family of U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. . . . Broadway’s struggles have put Giannoulias on the defensive as Republicans eyeing Barack Obama’s old Senate seat question what role he played in the bank’s problems. Giannoulias, a friend of Obama’s who is facing U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, the GOP nominee, in the November race, has repeatedly said he hasn’t worked at the bank in four years.

Still, the situation could become more politically harmful and provide more ammunition for the GOP if the family-owned bank is taken over by the federal government before Election Day.

Broadway’s chief executive, Demetris Giannoulias, Alexi Giannoulias’ older brother, told the Tribune the family must raise at least $85 million by the end of April to stave off government seizure.

Giannoulias has already taken heat for the banks’ mob-connected clients. And the Tribune reminds voters:

Since 2007, Broadway Bank has filed dozens of foreclosures on various properties, including several to Michael Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter who has become a political albatross in Alexi Giannoulias’ campaigns.During Alexi Giannoulias’ tenure at Broadway, the bank approved loans to Giorango for various real estate deals. Alexi Giannoulias has acknowledged he serviced some Giorango loans and went to Miami to inspect Giorango property the bank financed.

If the themes for many Republicans are going to be “the culture of corruption” and the Democrats’ fiscal mismanagement, they must be licking their chops over this race. At the very least, Democrats will have to spend considerable time and money defending the seat, in a year in which they’d probably not have Giannoulias as one of the poster boys for what’s wrong with the Democratic machine-style politics.

When Illinois Democrats nominated Tony Rezko’s banker, Alexi Giannoulias, for the senate seat once held by Barack Obama, some thought they might have made a mistake. It seems to have, at the very least, complicated the Democrats’ efforts to hold what in normal years would be a safe Blue seat. The Chicago Tribune reports:

The clock is ticking, and the real estate deals gone south are piling up, at Broadway Bank, the lending institution owned by the family of U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. . . . Broadway’s struggles have put Giannoulias on the defensive as Republicans eyeing Barack Obama’s old Senate seat question what role he played in the bank’s problems. Giannoulias, a friend of Obama’s who is facing U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, the GOP nominee, in the November race, has repeatedly said he hasn’t worked at the bank in four years.

Still, the situation could become more politically harmful and provide more ammunition for the GOP if the family-owned bank is taken over by the federal government before Election Day.

Broadway’s chief executive, Demetris Giannoulias, Alexi Giannoulias’ older brother, told the Tribune the family must raise at least $85 million by the end of April to stave off government seizure.

Giannoulias has already taken heat for the banks’ mob-connected clients. And the Tribune reminds voters:

Since 2007, Broadway Bank has filed dozens of foreclosures on various properties, including several to Michael Giorango, a convicted bookmaker and prostitution ring promoter who has become a political albatross in Alexi Giannoulias’ campaigns.During Alexi Giannoulias’ tenure at Broadway, the bank approved loans to Giorango for various real estate deals. Alexi Giannoulias has acknowledged he serviced some Giorango loans and went to Miami to inspect Giorango property the bank financed.

If the themes for many Republicans are going to be “the culture of corruption” and the Democrats’ fiscal mismanagement, they must be licking their chops over this race. At the very least, Democrats will have to spend considerable time and money defending the seat, in a year in which they’d probably not have Giannoulias as one of the poster boys for what’s wrong with the Democratic machine-style politics.

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Democrats Select Tony Rezko’s Banker for Illinois Senate

You almost wonder whether Karl Rove has infiltrated the Democratic Party. How else to explain how the Democrats could nominate to replace Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich, the banker for Tony Rezko? As the Chicago Tribune explained, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias beat back a feisty challenger who made hay out of Giannoulias’s “handling of the state’s college loan program, which lost $150 million; and of loans Giannoulias gave to controversial recipients while working as vice-president of his family’s now-struggling Broadway Bank.” Those controversial recipients include Rezko and some figures of organized crime. The Chicago Sun Times explained:

Among the loans Giannoulias has gotten heat for:

* More than $10 million from 2001 to 2005 to alleged Father & Son Russian mobster team Lev and Boris Stratievsky. Father Lev has passed away. Son Boris is in jail facing money-laundering charges. Broadway funded development projects some on the South Side — that tenants and city attorneys complained were roach motels. Broadway has been unable to collect on the loans.

* About $12.9 million to convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango for a Miami Beach hotel and a Hollywood, Fla., restaurant, among other ventures, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Broadway has sued Giorango and his partner, Demitri Stavropoulos, convicted of running a betting operation in Chicago, seeking to get the money back. Giannoulias initially downplayed his relationship with Giorango, noting the loans to him started before he joined the bank. Later he said he went to Miami to meet Giorango and inspect the property, and that another $3 million loan to Giorango was for a South Carolina casino.

It’s hard to believe this is the candidate whom the Democrats wanted as their nominee. As Ben Smith dryly noted, Giannoulias “is about as un-changey as you get.” The Republicans are obviously delighted to have such a target-rich opponent. I suspect this will be another seat added to the political gurus’ ”leans Republican” lists.

And if all that weren’t enough to worry the Democrats, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes:

Based on the current numbers 885,268 voters were cast in the Democratic primary for Senate compared to 736,137 on the Republican side. Those numbers are awfully close to each other for a state that’s overwhelmingly Democratic.

For sake of comparison the last time there were competitive Senate primaries on both sides in Illinois, in 2004 when Barack Obama was nominated, there were nearly twice as many votes cast in the Democratic primary as the Republican one. 1,242,996 voted in the Democratic race to 661, 804 for the Republicans. Last night’s turnout is yet another data point on the enthusiasm gap, showing that Republicans are much more excited about this year’s elections than Democrats, even in a deep blue state.

It’s a long way to November, but Republicans will soon seize on this as a highly gettable seat with symbolic value. Had it not been for Massachusetts, one could say that the flip in the Illinois seat previously held by the president would be a political tsunami. But it seems as though in this election season, it might simply be par for the course.

You almost wonder whether Karl Rove has infiltrated the Democratic Party. How else to explain how the Democrats could nominate to replace Roland Burris, the senator from Blagojevich, the banker for Tony Rezko? As the Chicago Tribune explained, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias beat back a feisty challenger who made hay out of Giannoulias’s “handling of the state’s college loan program, which lost $150 million; and of loans Giannoulias gave to controversial recipients while working as vice-president of his family’s now-struggling Broadway Bank.” Those controversial recipients include Rezko and some figures of organized crime. The Chicago Sun Times explained:

Among the loans Giannoulias has gotten heat for:

* More than $10 million from 2001 to 2005 to alleged Father & Son Russian mobster team Lev and Boris Stratievsky. Father Lev has passed away. Son Boris is in jail facing money-laundering charges. Broadway funded development projects some on the South Side — that tenants and city attorneys complained were roach motels. Broadway has been unable to collect on the loans.

* About $12.9 million to convicted bookmaker Michael Giorango for a Miami Beach hotel and a Hollywood, Fla., restaurant, among other ventures, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Broadway has sued Giorango and his partner, Demitri Stavropoulos, convicted of running a betting operation in Chicago, seeking to get the money back. Giannoulias initially downplayed his relationship with Giorango, noting the loans to him started before he joined the bank. Later he said he went to Miami to meet Giorango and inspect the property, and that another $3 million loan to Giorango was for a South Carolina casino.

It’s hard to believe this is the candidate whom the Democrats wanted as their nominee. As Ben Smith dryly noted, Giannoulias “is about as un-changey as you get.” The Republicans are obviously delighted to have such a target-rich opponent. I suspect this will be another seat added to the political gurus’ ”leans Republican” lists.

And if all that weren’t enough to worry the Democrats, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling notes:

Based on the current numbers 885,268 voters were cast in the Democratic primary for Senate compared to 736,137 on the Republican side. Those numbers are awfully close to each other for a state that’s overwhelmingly Democratic.

For sake of comparison the last time there were competitive Senate primaries on both sides in Illinois, in 2004 when Barack Obama was nominated, there were nearly twice as many votes cast in the Democratic primary as the Republican one. 1,242,996 voted in the Democratic race to 661, 804 for the Republicans. Last night’s turnout is yet another data point on the enthusiasm gap, showing that Republicans are much more excited about this year’s elections than Democrats, even in a deep blue state.

It’s a long way to November, but Republicans will soon seize on this as a highly gettable seat with symbolic value. Had it not been for Massachusetts, one could say that the flip in the Illinois seat previously held by the president would be a political tsunami. But it seems as though in this election season, it might simply be par for the course.

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Joe Klein’s Almost Pathological Love Affairs

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s ”self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

Time magazine’s Joe Klein is angry. Again. This time his animus is aimed at the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and yours truly. Again. And so, one more time — just for the fun of it — let’s take a look at what is fueling Joe’s fury and see if we can make some sense of it.

Here’s what Klein writes:

But there is another, more troubling and outrageous aspect of the Ajami argument: the conservative fetish about the President’s ”self-regard.” Ajami is not alone here. Former Bush Deputy Minister of Propaganda–and now a daily predictor of falling skies and presidential implosions–Pete Wehner referred to Obama’s “pathological self-regard” a few weeks ago. Pathological? Where on earth does that come from? And where on earth does Ajami’s notion that Obama “succumbed” to the “Awaited One” expectations that his followers had of him? Where’s the evidence?

Oh, I dunno. But if I had to pick some examples, I might begin with the fact that (according to the book Game Change) during the campaign Obama surrounded himself with aides who referred to Obama as a “Black Jesus.” Obama didn’t appear to object. Or I might mention Obama’s comment to a Chicago Tribune reporter a few hours before his 2004 convention speech. “I’m LeBron, baby,” Obama said. “I can play on this level. I got some game.” Or I might point people to Obama’s comments made during the campaign, when he said:

I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless, this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal, this was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth.

Let’s see: Jesus, LeBron, and King Canute. That’s quite a threesome.  I won’t even mention Obama’s campaign slogan, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

On second thought, maybe I will.

Perhaps Klein’s unhappiness with Ajami and me is rooted in the fact that, from time to time, Joe succumbs to an almost pathological love affair when it comes to presidents. Well, Democratic presidents, anyway. That was certainly the case with Bill Clinton, at least for a time. In his book All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos, in recounting a Clinton speech during the 1992 campaign, wrote this:

Joe Klein and I took it all in from the back of the room with tears in our eyes – moved by the emotional moment, expectation, and apprehension. Reporters are paid to be dispassionate, but Joe was either smitten with Clinton or doing a smooth job of spinning me. We talked openly and often now, either on the phone or when we hooked up with us on the road. As the paying guests sat down to dinner, we retreated to the basement. The campaign was going so well that we slipped into what Joe called a ‘dark-off,’ whispering fears of  future misfortune like a couple of black-robed crones spitting in the wind to ward off the evil eye. We’re peaking too early. It can’t stay this good. Too tempting a target. What goes up must come down.

“I come from Russian Jews,” Joe said. “Whenever things are good, we start to hear hoofbeats — the Cossacks.”

Fast-forward to the Age of Obama when Klein, in a recent interview with our 44th president, had this blistering exchange:

Klein: Let me ask you one foreign policy question. My sense is that — just my own personal sense, but also from people I talk to — the overall conception of your foreign policy has been absolutely right. Necessary, corrective. Subtle, comprehensive.

Obama: We have a good team.

Klein: But there have been some problems in execution.

Obama: Well, I would not deny that, but let me say that given what’s on our plate — and you know the list. I don’t need to tick them off.

I guess this qualifies as speaking truth to power.

For the record, what Joe reports isn’t quite accurate. I wrote about Obama’s “almost pathological self-regard” in my piece [emphasis added]. (The context was a story in which Representative Marion Berry recounted his meetings with White House officials, reminiscent of some during the Clinton days, Berry said, where he and others urged them not to force Blue Dogs “off into that swamp” of supporting bills that would be unpopular with voters back home. “I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’”)

But on reflection, and in light of Klein’s comments, I do think I phrased things in an inappropriate manner. I probably should have dropped the adverb “almost.”

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Down the Memory Hole

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the book review editor of a major newspaper, and a book has been written by someone who was a high-level public official deeply involved in what has been the biggest and most controversial story of the past half-decade.

This official has been mentioned in news stories in your paper on hundreds of occasions, your paper’s editorials have regularly railed against him and his colleagues, and your paper’s op-ed columnists have penned an entire oeuvre of scathing indictments of the policies he helped implement. The official, subjected to years of obloquy in your pages, writes an account of his involvement in the story that by any fair estimation is not just detailed and serious, but one of the most important and useful of its kind to date. Do you choose to review the book, or do you simply pretend that it was never written?

The book I’m talking about, of course, is War and Decision, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith’s account of his role in the Iraq war. And it is being subjected to an astonishing and shameful blackout from many of America’s biggest newspapers. Noting the decision of the Washington Post and New York Times not to review the book, Rich Lowry wrote, “Apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.”

Curiosity got the better of me, so I checked to see whether the book has been reviewed by other large newspapers. The MSM does not disappoint: There has been no mention of War and Decision in USA Today, the LA Times, NY Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or Miami Herald. What charming behavior from our nation’s journalism professionals. You would think the book interfered with the preferred narrative or something.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the book review editor of a major newspaper, and a book has been written by someone who was a high-level public official deeply involved in what has been the biggest and most controversial story of the past half-decade.

This official has been mentioned in news stories in your paper on hundreds of occasions, your paper’s editorials have regularly railed against him and his colleagues, and your paper’s op-ed columnists have penned an entire oeuvre of scathing indictments of the policies he helped implement. The official, subjected to years of obloquy in your pages, writes an account of his involvement in the story that by any fair estimation is not just detailed and serious, but one of the most important and useful of its kind to date. Do you choose to review the book, or do you simply pretend that it was never written?

The book I’m talking about, of course, is War and Decision, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith’s account of his role in the Iraq war. And it is being subjected to an astonishing and shameful blackout from many of America’s biggest newspapers. Noting the decision of the Washington Post and New York Times not to review the book, Rich Lowry wrote, “Apparently it’s OK to heap every failure in Iraq on Feith’s head, but then to turn around and pretend he’s a figure of no consequence when he writes a book.”

Curiosity got the better of me, so I checked to see whether the book has been reviewed by other large newspapers. The MSM does not disappoint: There has been no mention of War and Decision in USA Today, the LA Times, NY Daily News, Houston Chronicle, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or Miami Herald. What charming behavior from our nation’s journalism professionals. You would think the book interfered with the preferred narrative or something.

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The Post-Mortem

There are a few strains of post-debate coverage today. Some (including the Philadelphia Inquirer) see the debate as semi-disastrous for Barack Obama and the spin from the Obama camp as self-contradictory. Others, including online reporters and high-octane MSM outlets like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have picked up on the Bill Ayers and handgun answers.

Then there is the meldown in the Left blogosphere, apparently mortified that Obama had to answer these questions. But some concede that The Great Orator simply did not do his job. So it is to be expected that the Clinton camp is doing a victory dance. They are having a field day reinforcing favorite themes (Obama has a glass jaw, is untested, and can’t take scrutiny).

But, alas, the latter only serves to emphasize the former: the louder Obama’s fans whine, the more obvious it is that their candidate bombed and that tough questions are Obama’s kryptonite. It would be best for the Obama supporters to say it doesn’t matter, they’re all only words, words, words. Oh, wait: maybe not. . .

There are a few strains of post-debate coverage today. Some (including the Philadelphia Inquirer) see the debate as semi-disastrous for Barack Obama and the spin from the Obama camp as self-contradictory. Others, including online reporters and high-octane MSM outlets like the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, have picked up on the Bill Ayers and handgun answers.

Then there is the meldown in the Left blogosphere, apparently mortified that Obama had to answer these questions. But some concede that The Great Orator simply did not do his job. So it is to be expected that the Clinton camp is doing a victory dance. They are having a field day reinforcing favorite themes (Obama has a glass jaw, is untested, and can’t take scrutiny).

But, alas, the latter only serves to emphasize the former: the louder Obama’s fans whine, the more obvious it is that their candidate bombed and that tough questions are Obama’s kryptonite. It would be best for the Obama supporters to say it doesn’t matter, they’re all only words, words, words. Oh, wait: maybe not. . .

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Announcing JAPSL

Is it illegal or unethical to establish an organization and list members who have not chosen to join? I don’t know the answer but intend to find out. Today I am announcing the formation of JAPSL, Journalists Against Press Shield Laws.

JAPSL is badly outnumbered. Almost every media corporation in the country is backing the establishment of a shield law. So too are numerous lobbying organizations that purport to defend the First Amendment. The House of Representatives has already passed a shield-law bill by a bipartisan landslide margin of 398 to 21. The Senate may act on the matter at some point soon.

I am the founding executive director of JAPSL and my arguments against a shield law can be found in Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

According to JAPSL’s bylaws, there are two categories of members: those whom I induct (regular members), and those whom I induct who then object to being inducted (objecting members).

The roster of regular members of JAPSL spans the political spectrum and includes a number of distinguished writers from leading publications. So far, these include:

Jack Shafer of Slate, author of We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shield Law.

Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, author of The News Media vs. the Innocent.

Anthony Lewis, formerly of the New York Times, author of Freedom For the Thought We Hate.

Walter Pincus, of the Washington Post, who has challenged the idea of a shield law in the Nieman Watchdog.

As of yet, JAPSL has no objecting members. To become a regular or an objecting member, simply post a comment below indicating either your desire to join or your wish to object to being inducted into this vital organization.

Is it illegal or unethical to establish an organization and list members who have not chosen to join? I don’t know the answer but intend to find out. Today I am announcing the formation of JAPSL, Journalists Against Press Shield Laws.

JAPSL is badly outnumbered. Almost every media corporation in the country is backing the establishment of a shield law. So too are numerous lobbying organizations that purport to defend the First Amendment. The House of Representatives has already passed a shield-law bill by a bipartisan landslide margin of 398 to 21. The Senate may act on the matter at some point soon.

I am the founding executive director of JAPSL and my arguments against a shield law can be found in Commentary and the Weekly Standard.

According to JAPSL’s bylaws, there are two categories of members: those whom I induct (regular members), and those whom I induct who then object to being inducted (objecting members).

The roster of regular members of JAPSL spans the political spectrum and includes a number of distinguished writers from leading publications. So far, these include:

Jack Shafer of Slate, author of We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Shield Law.

Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, author of The News Media vs. the Innocent.

Anthony Lewis, formerly of the New York Times, author of Freedom For the Thought We Hate.

Walter Pincus, of the Washington Post, who has challenged the idea of a shield law in the Nieman Watchdog.

As of yet, JAPSL has no objecting members. To become a regular or an objecting member, simply post a comment below indicating either your desire to join or your wish to object to being inducted into this vital organization.

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The News Media vs. the Innocent

Should Congress enact a “shield law” for journalists, exempting them from the obligation to disclose their confidential sources to grand juries investigating crimes and in court cases?

I have explored some of the implications of such a law for our national security. But there is a civil-court dimension to the problem as well. In The News Media vs. the Innocent, Steve Chapman gets to the essence of it in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Years ago, Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s labor secretary, was prosecuted for corruption, only to be acquitted. After the verdict, Donovan asked plaintively, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

Steven Hatfill knows where to go to get his reputation back. But upon arriving there, he finds the door blocked by someone who says her privileges are more important than his good name. That someone, of course, is a journalist. And, not surprisingly, she enjoys the broad support of other journalists, who have proved to be slow learners about the obligations they share with their fellow citizens.

Hatfill was a casualty of the anthrax scare of 2001. Just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, someone mailed letters containing anthrax spores to several news organizations and a pair of U.S. senators. Some 22 people were infected, and five died.

In the aftermath, the Justice Department labeled Hatfill, who had done research on biological warfare for the Army, a “person of interest.” Secret information leaked to the press suggested he was the terrorist behind the attacks.

But the suspicions were wrong. Hatfill asserted his innocence, and he was never charged in the case. He sued the government, the New York Times and others for damages. Federal Judge Reggie Walton concluded that the claims have “destroyed his life” even though “there’s not a scintilla of evidence to suggest Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with” the anthrax attacks.

To read the rest of Chapman’s column, click here.

Should Congress enact a “shield law” for journalists, exempting them from the obligation to disclose their confidential sources to grand juries investigating crimes and in court cases?

I have explored some of the implications of such a law for our national security. But there is a civil-court dimension to the problem as well. In The News Media vs. the Innocent, Steve Chapman gets to the essence of it in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Years ago, Ray Donovan, Ronald Reagan’s labor secretary, was prosecuted for corruption, only to be acquitted. After the verdict, Donovan asked plaintively, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

Steven Hatfill knows where to go to get his reputation back. But upon arriving there, he finds the door blocked by someone who says her privileges are more important than his good name. That someone, of course, is a journalist. And, not surprisingly, she enjoys the broad support of other journalists, who have proved to be slow learners about the obligations they share with their fellow citizens.

Hatfill was a casualty of the anthrax scare of 2001. Just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, someone mailed letters containing anthrax spores to several news organizations and a pair of U.S. senators. Some 22 people were infected, and five died.

In the aftermath, the Justice Department labeled Hatfill, who had done research on biological warfare for the Army, a “person of interest.” Secret information leaked to the press suggested he was the terrorist behind the attacks.

But the suspicions were wrong. Hatfill asserted his innocence, and he was never charged in the case. He sued the government, the New York Times and others for damages. Federal Judge Reggie Walton concluded that the claims have “destroyed his life” even though “there’s not a scintilla of evidence to suggest Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with” the anthrax attacks.

To read the rest of Chapman’s column, click here.

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Who Is This Man?

In an interview with Major Garrett Friday night on Fox News, a clearly uncomfortable Barack Obama acknowledges that he regularly attended and contributed to Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity Church of Christ. Garrett gets him to acknowledge that at the start of his presidential campaign he was aware of “one or two” of the objectionable comments (it would be nice to know which ones, and why those were insufficient to alert him to Rev. Wright’s noxious views), yet still put Wright on his religious leadership committee. Obama admits after a follow up question that if he heard the statements “repeated” at the time he would have left the church. (Again, he would have needed lots of these comments to convince him that something was askew?) Indeed, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Obama was aware of Wright’s controversial views.

Some may think this is all a right-wing feeding frenzy, but it is worth noting that ABC news started the news cycle with the clips of the Wright sermons and that Obama spent his Friday night on no less than three cable news network shows. It is foolish to think this is a story that won’t live on for awhile. If you think liberals are concerned, you are right, as the comment sections on a number of blogs confirm.

All of this leaves one wondering. Was Obama really clueless about the septic nature of the man he knew, his mentor, for thirty years? (If so, you have to wonder about those touted people skills.) Or, more likely, was this someone trying to have it both ways- ingratiating himself with Chicago’s African American community and now squeamish about being tagged with the views of one of its most famous preachers?

As if that were not enough, part of Obama’s Friday night “bad news dump” included an extensive interview with the Chicago Tribune in which he revealed that Tony Rezko has raised a quarter of a million dollars for him during his political career. Once again he pleads a mistake in judgment. He says, “The mistake, by the way, was not just engaging in a transaction with Tony because he was having legal problems. The mistake was because he was a contributor and somebody who was involved in politics.”As for the land deal (in which Rezko bought an adjoining lot next to the home Obama purchased), Obama denies in the interview that there was a connection between the two transactions, but then allows “perhaps [Rezko] thought this would strengthen our relationship, that he was doing me a favor.” Yeah, perhaps. (Obama also concedes there was yet another lapse in judgment when he wanted a fence to be erected between his house and the lot, and Rezko paid the cost.)

If nothing else, all of this confirms the Clinton team line: maybe we don’t know Obama so well after all. Is he really the racial healer he makes himself out to be? (As Rod Dreher put it, “Obama’s deep personal connection to the Rev. Wright challenges that assumption, and makes people wonder who Obama really is, and what he really believes in — and whether or not he can stand up to racialist demagogues and special-pleaders.”) Or, maybe the real issue is that he is hopelessly naïve and cannot assess the character and motives of even those closest to him.

In an interview with Major Garrett Friday night on Fox News, a clearly uncomfortable Barack Obama acknowledges that he regularly attended and contributed to Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity Church of Christ. Garrett gets him to acknowledge that at the start of his presidential campaign he was aware of “one or two” of the objectionable comments (it would be nice to know which ones, and why those were insufficient to alert him to Rev. Wright’s noxious views), yet still put Wright on his religious leadership committee. Obama admits after a follow up question that if he heard the statements “repeated” at the time he would have left the church. (Again, he would have needed lots of these comments to convince him that something was askew?) Indeed, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Obama was aware of Wright’s controversial views.

Some may think this is all a right-wing feeding frenzy, but it is worth noting that ABC news started the news cycle with the clips of the Wright sermons and that Obama spent his Friday night on no less than three cable news network shows. It is foolish to think this is a story that won’t live on for awhile. If you think liberals are concerned, you are right, as the comment sections on a number of blogs confirm.

All of this leaves one wondering. Was Obama really clueless about the septic nature of the man he knew, his mentor, for thirty years? (If so, you have to wonder about those touted people skills.) Or, more likely, was this someone trying to have it both ways- ingratiating himself with Chicago’s African American community and now squeamish about being tagged with the views of one of its most famous preachers?

As if that were not enough, part of Obama’s Friday night “bad news dump” included an extensive interview with the Chicago Tribune in which he revealed that Tony Rezko has raised a quarter of a million dollars for him during his political career. Once again he pleads a mistake in judgment. He says, “The mistake, by the way, was not just engaging in a transaction with Tony because he was having legal problems. The mistake was because he was a contributor and somebody who was involved in politics.”As for the land deal (in which Rezko bought an adjoining lot next to the home Obama purchased), Obama denies in the interview that there was a connection between the two transactions, but then allows “perhaps [Rezko] thought this would strengthen our relationship, that he was doing me a favor.” Yeah, perhaps. (Obama also concedes there was yet another lapse in judgment when he wanted a fence to be erected between his house and the lot, and Rezko paid the cost.)

If nothing else, all of this confirms the Clinton team line: maybe we don’t know Obama so well after all. Is he really the racial healer he makes himself out to be? (As Rod Dreher put it, “Obama’s deep personal connection to the Rev. Wright challenges that assumption, and makes people wonder who Obama really is, and what he really believes in — and whether or not he can stand up to racialist demagogues and special-pleaders.”) Or, maybe the real issue is that he is hopelessly naïve and cannot assess the character and motives of even those closest to him.

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Another Round Of Timetables

Here we go again. The McCain folks send around this from last night in which both Charles Krauthammer and Mort Kondracke agree that Romney was indeed talking about timetables for withdrawal of U.S. forces in his April 2007 Good Morning America interview. They point out that Romney argued that you did not want to make the timetables public because “otherwise the enemy would know you are leaving.” (McCain tried to explain this at the debate, but did not quite get his point across.) Judge for yourself. The McCain team also included clips from contemporary reporting by The Hill, Chicago Tribune and AP, as well as a juicy quote from Duncan Hunter criticizing Romney at the time for “recommending a secret timetable.” Their broader point: a number of conservative analysts have criticized Romney for leaving wiggle room for himself on the surge.

It might have been more helpful for McCain to get this out sooner to bolster his position in the debate. That said, it will take up another news cycle or two during the weekend before the election. It’s getting to be a long time since Romney had unobstructed time to talk about the economy.

Here we go again. The McCain folks send around this from last night in which both Charles Krauthammer and Mort Kondracke agree that Romney was indeed talking about timetables for withdrawal of U.S. forces in his April 2007 Good Morning America interview. They point out that Romney argued that you did not want to make the timetables public because “otherwise the enemy would know you are leaving.” (McCain tried to explain this at the debate, but did not quite get his point across.) Judge for yourself. The McCain team also included clips from contemporary reporting by The Hill, Chicago Tribune and AP, as well as a juicy quote from Duncan Hunter criticizing Romney at the time for “recommending a secret timetable.” Their broader point: a number of conservative analysts have criticized Romney for leaving wiggle room for himself on the surge.

It might have been more helpful for McCain to get this out sooner to bolster his position in the debate. That said, it will take up another news cycle or two during the weekend before the election. It’s getting to be a long time since Romney had unobstructed time to talk about the economy.

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Blair Kamin, Cheerleader

CORRECTION: Michael J. Lewis, in this post, substantially understates the extent of John Silber’s errors and the breadth of the praise Millennium Park received in the national press, as well as misstating Blair Kamin’s position on Silber.

It did not take long for the bouncers at the flashy and exclusive nightclub that is contemporary architecture to show John Silber the door. Silber, the former president of Boston University, has just published Architecture of the Absurd: How ‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art, a heartfelt essay about the state of architecture today, and the visual mayhem wreaked by the cult of the celebrity architect. Already the first snide response has come in and—predictably—it does not so much engage the book’s ideas as condemn the author’s temerity in writing about architecture in the first place.

The review of Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, is remarkable for its quality of vitriol. For him, Architecture of the Absurd is “just another rant in the culture wars,” written by someone who “isn’t an architect” and who has not even inspected the buildings he reviles, merely “bloviating from afar.” Nor does Silber’s criticism offer anything new: “architecture critics have said it all before.” In the end, Architecture of the Absurd is written off as “more rant than reason.”

Such is the magisterial disdain reserved for outsiders from whom one expects no retribution and whom one can attack with impunity. But is it true that outsiders—those who bloviate from afar—have nothing to offer? What about those who bloviate from within—like, for example, Kamin?

Kamin makes much of a factual error by Silber concerning Chicago’s Millennium Park (Frank Gehry was not its planner, as Silber stated, although he designed its Pritzker Pavilion). Having found this slip, Kamin acts as if one need pay no attention to anything else that Silber says. In fact, Silber looked at Chicago’s new park, with its thicket of eye-catching public sculptures, critically, something that Kamin himself never did. Throughout the long history of that controversial project, Kamin was a dependable cheerleader, praising the park as “a real public space, not a gated fantasyland.”

It’s something of an occupational hazard for critics at municipal newspapers to be civic boosters. But Kamin’s embrace of local pieties blinded him to one of the most intriguing (and disturbing) developments in contemporary architecture. One of the reasons that Millennium Park was built so swiftly was that its planners divided it into a series of discrete features, giving donors the right to choose their own architects and sculptors. Instead of providing a comprehensive aesthetic vision, in effect the park presented, as I wrote at the time, “a series of detached vignettes—in effect, naming opportunities.” The results may indeed be extraordinarily popular, but their broader ramifications are ominous, especially once other cities relinquish aesthetic control to their fund-raising operations.

So long as there are architecture critics like Kamin, who cannot separate aesthetic judgment from civic boosterism, we have all the more need for the fresh outside perspective of an audacious and delightfully independent critic like Silber.

 

CORRECTION: Michael J. Lewis, in this post, substantially understates the extent of John Silber’s errors and the breadth of the praise Millennium Park received in the national press, as well as misstating Blair Kamin’s position on Silber.

It did not take long for the bouncers at the flashy and exclusive nightclub that is contemporary architecture to show John Silber the door. Silber, the former president of Boston University, has just published Architecture of the Absurd: How ‘Genius’ Disfigured a Practical Art, a heartfelt essay about the state of architecture today, and the visual mayhem wreaked by the cult of the celebrity architect. Already the first snide response has come in and—predictably—it does not so much engage the book’s ideas as condemn the author’s temerity in writing about architecture in the first place.

The review of Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, is remarkable for its quality of vitriol. For him, Architecture of the Absurd is “just another rant in the culture wars,” written by someone who “isn’t an architect” and who has not even inspected the buildings he reviles, merely “bloviating from afar.” Nor does Silber’s criticism offer anything new: “architecture critics have said it all before.” In the end, Architecture of the Absurd is written off as “more rant than reason.”

Such is the magisterial disdain reserved for outsiders from whom one expects no retribution and whom one can attack with impunity. But is it true that outsiders—those who bloviate from afar—have nothing to offer? What about those who bloviate from within—like, for example, Kamin?

Kamin makes much of a factual error by Silber concerning Chicago’s Millennium Park (Frank Gehry was not its planner, as Silber stated, although he designed its Pritzker Pavilion). Having found this slip, Kamin acts as if one need pay no attention to anything else that Silber says. In fact, Silber looked at Chicago’s new park, with its thicket of eye-catching public sculptures, critically, something that Kamin himself never did. Throughout the long history of that controversial project, Kamin was a dependable cheerleader, praising the park as “a real public space, not a gated fantasyland.”

It’s something of an occupational hazard for critics at municipal newspapers to be civic boosters. But Kamin’s embrace of local pieties blinded him to one of the most intriguing (and disturbing) developments in contemporary architecture. One of the reasons that Millennium Park was built so swiftly was that its planners divided it into a series of discrete features, giving donors the right to choose their own architects and sculptors. Instead of providing a comprehensive aesthetic vision, in effect the park presented, as I wrote at the time, “a series of detached vignettes—in effect, naming opportunities.” The results may indeed be extraordinarily popular, but their broader ramifications are ominous, especially once other cities relinquish aesthetic control to their fund-raising operations.

So long as there are architecture critics like Kamin, who cannot separate aesthetic judgment from civic boosterism, we have all the more need for the fresh outside perspective of an audacious and delightfully independent critic like Silber.

 

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Rafael Kubelík

A splendid DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, Rafael Kubelík: A Portrait, reminds us that multiple tyrannies can govern a conductor’s life. Kubelík (1914 –1996) was a mightily gifted Bohemian-born conductor, scion of a legendary musical family (his father was the superstar violinist Jan Kubelík). Rafael Kubelík was music director of the Brno Opera when the Nazis shut the company down in 1941. A year later they executed the Opera’s administrative director, Václav Jiříkovský (1891-1942), who had smuggled Jews out of Occupied Prague. Small wonder that Kubelík states in a 1970’s documentary (which is reprinted along with brilliant performances of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bruckner on the new DVD), “A conductor should be a guide, not a dictator. I could never stomach dictatorships.”

When he was named wartime conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, he declined to perform Wagner, and would not give German notables the Nazi salute as required, nearly causing him to be arrested. A stunning interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven, Smetana, and Dvořák, Kubelík helped establish the Prague Spring Festival in 1946, but finally was driven from his homeland by the 1948 Communist coup.

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A splendid DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, Rafael Kubelík: A Portrait, reminds us that multiple tyrannies can govern a conductor’s life. Kubelík (1914 –1996) was a mightily gifted Bohemian-born conductor, scion of a legendary musical family (his father was the superstar violinist Jan Kubelík). Rafael Kubelík was music director of the Brno Opera when the Nazis shut the company down in 1941. A year later they executed the Opera’s administrative director, Václav Jiříkovský (1891-1942), who had smuggled Jews out of Occupied Prague. Small wonder that Kubelík states in a 1970’s documentary (which is reprinted along with brilliant performances of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bruckner on the new DVD), “A conductor should be a guide, not a dictator. I could never stomach dictatorships.”

When he was named wartime conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, he declined to perform Wagner, and would not give German notables the Nazi salute as required, nearly causing him to be arrested. A stunning interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven, Smetana, and Dvořák, Kubelík helped establish the Prague Spring Festival in 1946, but finally was driven from his homeland by the 1948 Communist coup.

Kubelík told one interviewer: “I am an anti-Communist and anti-fascist. I do not think that artistic freedom can cope with a totalitarian regime. Individuals can do nothing in a country dominated by an Iron Curtain, and only truly naïve people think that they can.” He added: “I had lived through one form of bestial tyranny, Nazism. As a matter of principle I was not going to live through another.” Even in exile, he encountered other (if less dangerous) forms of despotism. A brief, artistically productive stint as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1950-1953) was aborted when orchestra trustees and the all-powerful Chicago Tribune music critic Claudia Cassidy (1899–1996) decreed that Kubelík was performing far too much modern music. Cassidy was known as “Acidy Cassidy” for her views that Janáček’s “Taras Bulba” was “trash” and Bartók’s “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta” a “potboiler.” She scorned Kubelík’s “curious beat, being distorted by arms stiff as driving pistons or limp as boiled spaghetti.”

Despite continuing success in Europe, Kubelík’s second attempt at a permanent post in America was even more short-lived, when Metropolitan Opera general manager Göran Gentele invited him to be the Met’s Music Director, a year before Gentele was killed in a car accident. Without Gentele’s supportive presence, Kubelík lasted only six months at the Met.

Kubelík could be tender and charming, as seen on the Deutsche Grammophon DVD, when he mentions during a rehearsal for Haydn’s St. Cecilia Mass that the patron saint of church music is “not so sacred any more, poor girl, How times change!” When Kubelík, who had been based in Switzerland for decades, died in 1996, Václav Havel wrote of his admiration for the conductor, “not only for all the glory he brought to Czech music, but also because he was an extraordinary character and a patriot.”

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