Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Kinsley

Snowden, Greenwald, and the NY Times’s “High Standards”

Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, believes that the paper’s Book Review made an error in assigning Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide to Michael Kinsley. No Place to Hide is Greenwald’s account of how he helped to expose the revelations of fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, first in the pages of the Guardian, where Greenwald briefly worked as a blogger, and then through the auspices of First Look Media, an online news organization that he launched last October alongside documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and radical journalist Jeremy Scahill. (I wrote about this trio last year.) Kinsley, needless to say, did not like the book.

That’s his right, Sullivan acknowledges, but she nonetheless found his review to be “unworthy of the Book Review’s high standards.” Why? First is its “sneering tone about Mr. Greenwald,” a fantastically oblivious criticism given Greenwald’s trademark contemptuous writing style. Next, Sullivan accuses Kinsley of repudiating the “special role for the press in America’s democracy.” This is a complete mischaracterization of Kinsley, who merely argued that “newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences.” Snowden and Greenwald have arrogated to themselves that final say; Kinsley believes, quite reasonably, that these two men should not be the final arbiters of America’s national-security secrets.

Sullivan believes that Book Review editor Pamela Paul made a mistake in not thoroughly scrubbing the review of such heresies. “It’s wrong to deny that role,” she writes, of Kinsley’s supposed trashing of the First Amendment, “and editors should not have allowed such a denial to stand.” Having failed to adopt the Greenwaldian view of state secrets (a view apparently shared by Sullivan), Kinsley thus had no right to express his disapproval in the august pages of the Times

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Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, believes that the paper’s Book Review made an error in assigning Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide to Michael Kinsley. No Place to Hide is Greenwald’s account of how he helped to expose the revelations of fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, first in the pages of the Guardian, where Greenwald briefly worked as a blogger, and then through the auspices of First Look Media, an online news organization that he launched last October alongside documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and radical journalist Jeremy Scahill. (I wrote about this trio last year.) Kinsley, needless to say, did not like the book.

That’s his right, Sullivan acknowledges, but she nonetheless found his review to be “unworthy of the Book Review’s high standards.” Why? First is its “sneering tone about Mr. Greenwald,” a fantastically oblivious criticism given Greenwald’s trademark contemptuous writing style. Next, Sullivan accuses Kinsley of repudiating the “special role for the press in America’s democracy.” This is a complete mischaracterization of Kinsley, who merely argued that “newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences.” Snowden and Greenwald have arrogated to themselves that final say; Kinsley believes, quite reasonably, that these two men should not be the final arbiters of America’s national-security secrets.

Sullivan believes that Book Review editor Pamela Paul made a mistake in not thoroughly scrubbing the review of such heresies. “It’s wrong to deny that role,” she writes, of Kinsley’s supposed trashing of the First Amendment, “and editors should not have allowed such a denial to stand.” Having failed to adopt the Greenwaldian view of state secrets (a view apparently shared by Sullivan), Kinsley thus had no right to express his disapproval in the august pages of the Times

In light of Sullivan’s concern for how the Times chooses writers to cover particular subjects, I wonder what she has to say about another matter in this regard. Last August, the New York Times Magazine assigned Peter Maass to write a profile of Poitras, whose fervently critical films about the Iraq War attracted the attention of Snowden, who reached out to her when he was contemplating how to publish the NSA information he had stolen. Poitras, Maass wrote sympathetically, had become “the target of serious – and apparently false – accusations,” namely, that she had foreknowledge of a deadly ambush carried out on American troops in the town of Adhamiya in 2004 by Iraqi insurgents, an ambush that she filmed. Ever since that incident, Poitras has been questioned dozens of times by Homeland Security officials upon re-entering the United States, a tribulation that Maass writes about with uncritical sympathy.

The case, however, is not as clear-cut as Maass portrayed. “It seems that she had pre-knowledge that our convoy, or our patrol, was going to get hit,” Brandon Ditto, the leader of the platoon that was ambushed, told John McCormack of the Weekly Standard last year. Skepticism of Poitras was also voiced by John R. Bruning, author of a 2006 book that detailed the ambush. “To be exactly positioned to capture a vehicular ambush in the middle of Baghdad is either a huge fluke or you have foreknowledge that that was coming,” he said. To Maass, however, Poitras is a dissident hero, harassed by the jack-booted thugs of a government out to silence her.

Fast-forward six months. Maass is rewarded for his obsequiousness with a job as senior writer at none other than First Look Media. This is somewhat akin to the revolving door that thrusts mainstream, supposedly “straight” news reporters (16 at last count) into the Obama administration. When someone who has devoted their career to reporting abandons that line of work to join the very people he used to write about, it is entirely fair to question the quality and objectivity of their previous work. Why, after all, would Barack Obama choose a Jay Carney as his spokesman (as opposed to some career Democratic Party flack) unless he had found his reporting to be eminently favorable? In light of the Maass episode, which, to my knowledge, no media ethicist has yet to comment upon, one might think that an editor at the Times magazine (or, failing that, the Times’s public editor), would question whether the magazine has buyer’s remorse for assigning a piece about a highly controversial figure to a man whose writing about said figure was so credulous that she later awarded him a job.

Last year, when Poitras learned that the Guardian had assigned veteran news reporter Ewen MacAskill to accompany her and Greenwald to Hong Kong, where Snowden was hiding, she became angry and suspicious. “Who has vetted him?” she demanded of Greenwald. In the contest for most sycophantic coverage of the Snowdenista crew, Peter Maass passed with flying colors.

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The Tone and Thought Police at the New York Times

Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, is charged with investigating “matters of journalistic integrity.” Her recent takedown of Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Kinsley reveals a disturbing view of what that means.

At issue is Kinsley’s review of Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, in which Greenwald recounts his role in the Edward Snowden case. Greenwald is the activist blogger to whom Snowden leaked classified documents that shed light on the NSA’s controversial electronic surveillance programs.

Kinsley, truth to tell, is unkind to Snowden, and that is where the trouble begins. Sullivan thinks Kinsley’s “sneering tone” is “unworthy of the Book Review’s high standards.” Kinsley says, among other things, that Greenwald, whatever he may really be like, comes across as a “self-righteous sourpuss” in the book. Never mind that the New York Times would not have an op-ed section if sneering were ruled out of bounds. Although Kinsley gives us Greenwald’s own words to back up his assertion, it is too much for Sullivan, who apparently thinks that Kinsley should have found a way to indicate that Greenwald’s authorial voice is that of a self-aggrandizing blowhard without being insulting.

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Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, is charged with investigating “matters of journalistic integrity.” Her recent takedown of Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Kinsley reveals a disturbing view of what that means.

At issue is Kinsley’s review of Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide, in which Greenwald recounts his role in the Edward Snowden case. Greenwald is the activist blogger to whom Snowden leaked classified documents that shed light on the NSA’s controversial electronic surveillance programs.

Kinsley, truth to tell, is unkind to Snowden, and that is where the trouble begins. Sullivan thinks Kinsley’s “sneering tone” is “unworthy of the Book Review’s high standards.” Kinsley says, among other things, that Greenwald, whatever he may really be like, comes across as a “self-righteous sourpuss” in the book. Never mind that the New York Times would not have an op-ed section if sneering were ruled out of bounds. Although Kinsley gives us Greenwald’s own words to back up his assertion, it is too much for Sullivan, who apparently thinks that Kinsley should have found a way to indicate that Greenwald’s authorial voice is that of a self-aggrandizing blowhard without being insulting.

Sullivan also sympathizes with Greenwald’s boosters, who have complained that Kinsley never should have been chosen to write the review. To prove the point, she links to the very same piece Glenn Greenwald does in his own published complaint about the review. Kinsley devotes a small portion of that eight-year-old piece to questioning the opinion that journalists have an absolute privilege to refuse to disclose their sources. Kinsley also devotes a few sentences to the question of whether the Constitution offers absolute protection to journalists who disclose classified information. He does not answer the question, but Sullivan, a ventriloquist for Greenwald in this matter, evidently thinks that the Book Review editor, Pamela Paul, erred when she picked someone who had ever expressed any doubt about a person’s right to do what Greenwald did without facing any consequences.

On the other hand, it’s no problem for Sullivan to take Greenwald’s side, even though she is a recipient of Greenwald’s prior, recent, and lavish praise. Greenwald has called her an “invaluable voice on all of the key issues of media criticism,” praised her willingness to “write about issues that scare away even the bravest journalists,” and credited her with “revolutioniz[ing] the public editor position in the best possible way.” Of course, Sullivan should be allowed to write about people who think she is American elite journalism’s answer to Joan of Arc, but she is surely more at fault for choosing herself to write about Greenwald than Pamela Paul is for choosing Kinsley to do the same.

Echoing Greenwald again, Sullivan proposes that the main reason Kinsley’s review was inadmissible is that Kinsley does not hold the same view as she assumes the Times must about the proper balance between national security and freedom of the press. How can the Times, famous for publishing the Pentagon Papers, print a review that argues, as Kinsley does, that “the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences”? Sullivan thinks that Kinsley’s view is inadmissible because of, well, an assortment of platitudes: there is a “special role for the press in America’s democracy”; the “Founders intended the press to be a crucial check on the power of the federal government.” Of course, these admittedly important claims do not settle the question of how best to handle the disclosure of classified information, and Kinsley doesn’t deny either of them. Nonetheless editors “should not have allowed such a denial to stand.”

To be sure, Sullivan does not insist that Pamela Paul should have rejected the review. She thinks, instead, that “editing ought to point out gaping holes in an argument.” But what if Kinsley refused to acknowledge that his disagreement with Greenwald and Sullivan meant that his reasoning was deficient? Sullivan’s argument certainly implies that, insofar as the review would then remain “unworthy of the Book Review’s high standards,” Paul would be obliged to turn it down. Yet, since Sullivan envisions no circumstance in which Kinsley’s view could be defended in America, there is no version of it that would not, for her, be full of gaping holes.

Here, then, are the standards the public editor of the New York Times applies in investigating “matters of journalistic integrity” in the book review section. 1. Readers must not be told that a favored author’s voice is grating, no matter how grating it is; 2. No one who has ever expressed doubt about a beloved author’s views can review that author’s books; 3. Reviewers who express views that, however plausible, are considered out of bounds by Times staff should be compelled to recant if they wish to get published.

The paper is in the best of hands.

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Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric. Read More

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric.

Kinsley is right when he decries hateful rhetoric. But he is not above taking comments out of context to back up his point. For instance, he claims Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to one of his columns consisted of a call by the FOX News host for Kinsley’s head to be cut off. That sounds despicable. But he neglects to mention that what O’Reilly was saying was that Kinsley’s opposition to Guantanamo and other tough anti-terror measures was so obstinate and foolish that perhaps the only thing that might change his mind was for al-Qaeda terrorists to treat him the same way they did Daniel Pearl. That’s pretty harsh, but not the same thing as a call for a beheading.

The cockeyed lesson that liberals seem intent on shoving down the throats of their fellow citizens is that when conservatives talk tough about liberals, it is tantamount to incitement to murder, but that when liberals talk tough about conservatives, it’s just talk, because liberals don’t mean anyone any harm. We have heard a great deal about the way political debate in this country has been debased by violent rhetoric in recent years. But for all of the nastiness of the left about Bush and of the right about Obama, I don’t think any of that has done as much damage to the fabric of democracy as the determination the past few days by the mainstream media and its liberal elites to exploit a crime carried out by a mentally ill person to further their own narrow partisan political agenda.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Never underestimate the ability of GOP candidates to turn off voters who should be their natural allies. “Clearly, Sharron Angle’s ad depicting dark-skinned figures violating U.S. immigration laws angered many Hispanic voters in Nevada, especially after she clumsily tried to claim they might have been Asian. Similarly, the presence of anti-immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo on Colorado’s ballot as the de facto Republican candidate for governor helped fuel Hispanic turnout.”

A lot of conservatives wish Chris Christie had abided by the “never say never” rule and left just a crack open for a 2012 run.  He has a “51-38 percent approval rating, higher than President Barack Obama or any other statewide leader, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.”

Never confuse Keith Olbermann for a journalist, says Michael Kinsley. “Does anyone doubt what Olbermann’s views are on politics in general and these races [in which he contributed to the Democrats] in particular? Most journalists try to suppress their biases — Olbermann gets paid to flaunt his biases.”

George W. Bush was never self-pitying or a buck-passer, writes Mark McKinnon. “Bush never complains. He never blames others. He takes full responsibility for his campaigns, his administration, his life. He accepts the cards he’s dealt. That’s the George Bush I know.” Get ready for the Bush nostalgia. (His approval rating is statistically identical to Obama’s. Says as much about Obama as it does Bush, huh?)

Never mind luring him to switch parties. The National Republican Senate Committee is already going after Joe Manchin.

Never think “no” means “no.” Rick Perry says he’s not running in 2012, but he sure is going after someone who certainly will be.

Never mess with Stephen Hayes. Especially if you don’t have your facts straight.

Never forget: in victory, minor spats tend to fade. “[Sen. Jim] DeMint is co-sponsoring an amendment [Sen. John] Cornyn plans to offer that would put the Senate GOPers on record in support of a constitutional amendment requiring the federal budget to be balanced and thereby force Congress to put the brakes on government spending and require a supermajority to raise taxes. … Funny, Cornyn and DeMint working together to stop earmarks, require a balanced budget and prevent future tax increases without a congressional supermajority. DeMint was the major force behind the Senate Conservative Fund that contributed mightily the victories of many of the incoming GOP senators, while Cornyn headed the Senate Republican Campaign Committee that made some moves earlier in the 2010 campaign that were strongly criticized by conservatives.” Victory tends to make pols magnanimous.

Never underestimate the ability of GOP candidates to turn off voters who should be their natural allies. “Clearly, Sharron Angle’s ad depicting dark-skinned figures violating U.S. immigration laws angered many Hispanic voters in Nevada, especially after she clumsily tried to claim they might have been Asian. Similarly, the presence of anti-immigration hardliner Tom Tancredo on Colorado’s ballot as the de facto Republican candidate for governor helped fuel Hispanic turnout.”

A lot of conservatives wish Chris Christie had abided by the “never say never” rule and left just a crack open for a 2012 run.  He has a “51-38 percent approval rating, higher than President Barack Obama or any other statewide leader, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.”

Never confuse Keith Olbermann for a journalist, says Michael Kinsley. “Does anyone doubt what Olbermann’s views are on politics in general and these races [in which he contributed to the Democrats] in particular? Most journalists try to suppress their biases — Olbermann gets paid to flaunt his biases.”

George W. Bush was never self-pitying or a buck-passer, writes Mark McKinnon. “Bush never complains. He never blames others. He takes full responsibility for his campaigns, his administration, his life. He accepts the cards he’s dealt. That’s the George Bush I know.” Get ready for the Bush nostalgia. (His approval rating is statistically identical to Obama’s. Says as much about Obama as it does Bush, huh?)

Never mind luring him to switch parties. The National Republican Senate Committee is already going after Joe Manchin.

Never think “no” means “no.” Rick Perry says he’s not running in 2012, but he sure is going after someone who certainly will be.

Never mess with Stephen Hayes. Especially if you don’t have your facts straight.

Never forget: in victory, minor spats tend to fade. “[Sen. Jim] DeMint is co-sponsoring an amendment [Sen. John] Cornyn plans to offer that would put the Senate GOPers on record in support of a constitutional amendment requiring the federal budget to be balanced and thereby force Congress to put the brakes on government spending and require a supermajority to raise taxes. … Funny, Cornyn and DeMint working together to stop earmarks, require a balanced budget and prevent future tax increases without a congressional supermajority. DeMint was the major force behind the Senate Conservative Fund that contributed mightily the victories of many of the incoming GOP senators, while Cornyn headed the Senate Republican Campaign Committee that made some moves earlier in the 2010 campaign that were strongly criticized by conservatives.” Victory tends to make pols magnanimous.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

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No Great Shakes Either

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

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You’ve Got to Be Kidding, Kinsley

Charles Krauthammer has a trenchant column today on how Democrats remain committed to a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that such a retreat would jeopardize the progress achieved by the surge during the past year. As if to illustrate Krauthammer’s point, Michael Kinsley has a particularly silly article in today’s Los Angeles Times.

His thesis is that “the surge has not worked yet.” He doesn’t deny that violence is down: “Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They’re all down, down, down.” (He goes on a bit more like this with his trademark snideness.) But he grandly waves it all away from the comfort of his study. He claims that all this is irrelevant. He doesn’t mention the political progress that has been possible because of the decreasing violence, as seen in the recent passage of laws dealing with de-Baathification, provincial powers, the budget, the Iraqi flag, and other pressing matters. According to Kinsley, only one metric matters: “The test is simple and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.”

So because one year after the surge started our troop levels have not yet gone down to presurge levels the surge is not a success. Got that? Kinsley is hard put to find any evidence that the administration had ever planned to reduce total troop levels a year after the surge’s start. The best he can do is to dredge up this vague quote from President Bush: “If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.”

In point of fact, our troops are already starting to come home—one of the surge brigades has already left Iraq and others are on the way. By mid-July we’ll be down to presurge levels. But somehow I doubt that Kinsley will then concede that the surge has been a success.

Imagine if we applied his reasoning to other conflicts. World War II a success? Give me a break! We still have troops in Germany and Japan? . . .The Korean War a success? Don’t make me laugh! We still have troops in South Korea….

It is not, to put it mildly, a terribly convincing argument. But that’s how desperate opponents of the surge have gotten. They will grasp at any straw to deny George W. Bush—and incidentally the United States of America—a victory.

Charles Krauthammer has a trenchant column today on how Democrats remain committed to a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that such a retreat would jeopardize the progress achieved by the surge during the past year. As if to illustrate Krauthammer’s point, Michael Kinsley has a particularly silly article in today’s Los Angeles Times.

His thesis is that “the surge has not worked yet.” He doesn’t deny that violence is down: “Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They’re all down, down, down.” (He goes on a bit more like this with his trademark snideness.) But he grandly waves it all away from the comfort of his study. He claims that all this is irrelevant. He doesn’t mention the political progress that has been possible because of the decreasing violence, as seen in the recent passage of laws dealing with de-Baathification, provincial powers, the budget, the Iraqi flag, and other pressing matters. According to Kinsley, only one metric matters: “The test is simple and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.”

So because one year after the surge started our troop levels have not yet gone down to presurge levels the surge is not a success. Got that? Kinsley is hard put to find any evidence that the administration had ever planned to reduce total troop levels a year after the surge’s start. The best he can do is to dredge up this vague quote from President Bush: “If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.”

In point of fact, our troops are already starting to come home—one of the surge brigades has already left Iraq and others are on the way. By mid-July we’ll be down to presurge levels. But somehow I doubt that Kinsley will then concede that the surge has been a success.

Imagine if we applied his reasoning to other conflicts. World War II a success? Give me a break! We still have troops in Germany and Japan? . . .The Korean War a success? Don’t make me laugh! We still have troops in South Korea….

It is not, to put it mildly, a terribly convincing argument. But that’s how desperate opponents of the surge have gotten. They will grasp at any straw to deny George W. Bush—and incidentally the United States of America—a victory.

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Uno McCain

I am an unrestrained dog lover and never miss a Westminster Dog Show. This got me thinking that John McCain is the Uno of the 2008 presidential race — not fancy, not elegant and certainly not emotionally aloof, but down to earth and entirely comfortable in his own coat, er, skin. He does occasionally howl at the wrong time, but you could live with him comfortably for 8 years. There are more elegant choices and, goodness knows, there are tougher candidates (you can figure out who is who), but there is something endearing about him. I agree with Michael Kinsley that his nomination might be the ultimate political dirty trick, and the GOP may have found a crowd pleaser. Well, at least he was best in group.

I am an unrestrained dog lover and never miss a Westminster Dog Show. This got me thinking that John McCain is the Uno of the 2008 presidential race — not fancy, not elegant and certainly not emotionally aloof, but down to earth and entirely comfortable in his own coat, er, skin. He does occasionally howl at the wrong time, but you could live with him comfortably for 8 years. There are more elegant choices and, goodness knows, there are tougher candidates (you can figure out who is who), but there is something endearing about him. I agree with Michael Kinsley that his nomination might be the ultimate political dirty trick, and the GOP may have found a crowd pleaser. Well, at least he was best in group.

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Michael Kinsley’s Whiplash

First it was Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, who underhandedly manipulated the facts of the Scooter Libby case while chastising the Bush administration for underhandedly manipulating the facts. See my It’s a Lemann. The New Yorker has yet to publish a correction to the error that I was not alone in pointing out. It is said to have published correspondence on the matter, but I must have missed it. As I know from personal experience, it can be hard to admit a mistake.

Now we have Michael Kinsley, Dean of the Snark School of Journalism, who has a collision with himself today while talking about the case. Did he suffer a whiplash injury? Will the op-ed page of the New York Times publish a correction? As I have warned in the past, do not hold your breath waiting.

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First it was Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, who underhandedly manipulated the facts of the Scooter Libby case while chastising the Bush administration for underhandedly manipulating the facts. See my It’s a Lemann. The New Yorker has yet to publish a correction to the error that I was not alone in pointing out. It is said to have published correspondence on the matter, but I must have missed it. As I know from personal experience, it can be hard to admit a mistake.

Now we have Michael Kinsley, Dean of the Snark School of Journalism, who has a collision with himself today while talking about the case. Did he suffer a whiplash injury? Will the op-ed page of the New York Times publish a correction? As I have warned in the past, do not hold your breath waiting.

Kinsley goes after the hypocrisy of “Libbyites” who cheered when Clinton was impeached for committing perjury and who now insist that “their man is being railroaded and shouldn’t have been prosecuted, let alone convicted” for lying about whether he leaked the undercover status of Valerie Plame, the wife of the administration critic, Joseph Wilson.

Fair enough, and obvious enough. But Kinsley makes another point along the way.

When Libby was questioned by federal investigators, Kinsley writes, “[h]e could either tell the truth, thereby implicating colleagues and very possibly himself, in leaking classified security information (the identity of Mr. Wilson’s wife), or he could lie. In either case he would be breaking the law or admitting to having done so, and in either case he could have gone to prison.”

Really? Yes, says Kinsley, really.

Except until we get to his next paragraph where Kinsley turns around and says, “The law about ‘outing’ CIA operatives is apparently vague enough that it isn’t clear whether Mr. Libby violated it.”

Really? Yes, says Kinsley, really.

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