Monthly Archives: February 2006

Breaking the story of a story

Harvard student and blogger Andrew Golis broke the story about Larry Summers’ resignation the way Matt Drudge broke the story about Monica Lewinsky. That is, he sort of did, sort of didn’t: He reported that others were about to break the story.

Golis himself has been straightforward about this, writing yesterday afternoon in a post titled “covering the coverage of my coverage of the coverage of the coverage”:

Good lord, all of this coverage is making me tired. I just got off the phone with a Boston Herald reporter who is writing a short story about Cambridge Common breaking the news. I tried to make it clear: all we did was cover the coverage to come.

Here is the Herald story that resulted from Golis’ conversation.

Cheney and Chappaquiddick

Of all the weird non sequiturs that have sprung up in defense of Dick Cheney, perhaps the weirdest can be summarized thusly: What about Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick? The disingenuous Mark Steyn is among many who have taken up this cudgel, writing:

Hmm. Let’s see. On the one hand, the guy leaves the gal at the bottom of the river struggling for breath pressed up against the window in some small air pocket while he pulls himself out of the briny, staggers home, sleeps it off and saunters in to inform the cops the following day that, oh yeah, there was some broad down there. And, on the other hand, the guy calls 911, has the other fellow taken to the hospital, lets the sheriff know promptly but neglects to fax David Gregory’s make-up girl!

Steyn does this, by the way, in the context of quoting Washington Post columnist David Ignatius with evident approval, calling Ignatius a “wise old bird.” So I am shocked — shocked! — to report that Steyn has misconstrued Ignatius, who does not seem to be at all happy with Cheney’s actions at the Armstrong Ranch, seeing his “long delay” in reporting the accident as evidence of the “arrogance of power.”

With that in mind, some questions and answers, please.

1. Was Chappaquiddick more serious than Cheney’s shooting his friend Harry Whittington? Of course. Mary Jo Kopechne died, in all likelihood because of Kennedy’s negligence. Whittington could have died, and Cheney has already confessed to having acted negligently. But, yes, Chappaquiddick was quite a bit more serious.

2. Does invoking Chappaquiddick somehow mean that Cheney did not shoot Whittington? To read Steyn, as well as some of the comments to Media Nation that I’ve read, you’d think so. But I have it on very good authority that the first incident, which took place nearly 37 years ago, does not negate the second. Cheney did indeed shoot his friend. Front-on. In the face and chest.

3. Did Kennedy suffer any consequences? Kennedy was charged with a criminal offense in Chappaquiddick, pleading guilty to leaving the scene and receiving a two-month suspended sentence. Too light? Perhaps. But his was a first-time offense, and car accidents — even those involving death and alcohol — were simply not taken as seriously in 1969 as they are today. (Cheney himself can attest to the blasé attitude about drunk driving in the 1960s.)

Moreover, Kennedy’s political career was permanently curtailed. Before Chappaquiddick, he was considered a near-certain future president. Afterwards, he became something of a national joke outside Massachusetts, at least among everyone except committed liberals.

4. Will Cheney suffer any consequences? None so far.

What free speech?

The irony of European editors’ publishing the Muhammad cartoons in the name of free speech is that, in much of Europe, there is no free speech. Today we learn that British historian David Irving has been sentenced by an Austrian court to 10 years in prison for his blatherings denying that the Holocaust ever took place. Irving is, of course, demented, evil or both. But in the United States, at least, he would have a right to speak his mind. And we would have a right to ignore him.

Perhaps we can now look forward to serialized versions of Irving’s magnum opus, “Hitler’s War,” being run in the same French and German newspapers whose editors eagerly trumpeted their solidarity with the Danes by running offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Or perhaps not. It’s one thing to demonstrate your courage by insulting your Muslim readers. It’s quite another to risk imprisonment. I mean, you could end up with David Irving as your cellmate. That wouldn’t do at all.

As it turns out, you can download a free copy of “Hitler’s War” from this British Web site. Then again, the Brits’ attitude toward freedom of expression has always been closer to that of the United States than to their continental cousins’. Putting it best is Deborah Lipstadt, a U.S. historian whom Irving unsuccessfully sued for libel in Britain several years ago after she called him a Holocaust denier. “I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don’t believe in winning battles via censorship…. The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth,” she told BBC News.

There are, admittedly, two ideas here. One is that speech glorifying the Nazis or minimizing the Holocaust is grotesquely more offensive than cartoons of Muhammad that, at least to Western eyes, seem fairly innocuous. The other is that censorship is censorship. But though it’s tempting to call these competing ideas, they’re really not. The more offensive the speech, the more protection it needs. And, obviously, ideas don’t get any more offensive than Irving’s.

Roger Cohen, writing (sub. req.) in the International Herald Tribune, neatly defines the hypocrisy:

It is precisely such supposed double standards that irk [Arab League secretary general Amr] Moussa. Irving, a historian with a screw loose who never hurt a fly, questioned the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz — the very gas chambers that drove surviving Jews from Europe to the Middle East — and was sentenced to prison by an Austrian court.

Yet Flemming Rose, the culture editor of a Danish newspaper, chooses to impugn the foundations of a global faith, Islam, through the publication of cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad — an act seen as sacrilegious by Muslims — and Europe moves to defend him in the name of freedom of speech as dozens are killed from Pakistan to Libya.

The Independent today has a terrific backgrounder on Irving. Here’s a particularly shocking statement of his, uttered in 1988: “I don’t think there was any overall Reich policy to kill the Jews. If there was … there would not be so many millions of survivors. Believe me, I am glad for every survivor.”

Nat Hentoff once said that the urge to censor is stronger than the human sex drive. Hentoff, by the way, favors publishing the Muhammad cartoons. (And yes, I realize that by linking to Hentoff’s column, I am showing you one of those images. I don’t favor publishing the cartoons, but neither do I favor making a fetish of it.)

But you can be sure that Hentoff opposes sending David Irving to prison, too. So should we all.

Matalin denies reality

Who are you going to believe? Republican spinner Mary Matalin or your own lying eyes and ears?

I practically drove off the Southeast Expressway today while listening to the podcast of yesterday’s “Meet the Press.” Tim Russert began a segment on media coverage of Dick Cheney’s errant shot by offering two specific examples of Cheney partisans’ blaming the accident on the victim, Harry Whittington.

First, Russert noted, was ranch owner Katharine Armstrong. Let’s go to the transcript.

RUSSERT: The vice president said that he talked to Katharine Armstrong about getting the story out. And the story that first appeared was this: “After shooting two quail, ranch owner Katharine Armstrong said Harry Whittington dropped back to pick them up, but he did not vocally announce to the others when he rejoined the group. The mistake exposed him to getting shot. ‘It’s incumbent on him,’ Armstrong said. ‘He did not do that.'”

Next up, Russert observed, was White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who said of Armstrong, “She pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there.”

RUSSERT: Initially, there was — seemed to be an attempt to blame Mr. Whittington. Was the vice president part of that? Aware of it?

MATALIN: Absolutely not. When I spoke to the vice president Sunday morning, he made it more than clear that it was his fault, no matter what the conditions, no matter how much the shared risk. That this should not be blamed on Harry. What happens here is that’s not the first account. That’s the wire account of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. The very first account, Katharine Armstrong just lays out the facts, and she includes in there how apologetic the vice president was at the immediate scene.

What happens as these stories go from the local to the national is you stop giving out facts. You stop answering questions, and you start making denials. “No, Cheney wasn’t drunk.” “No, it wasn’t Cheney’s fault.” So as it progressed through the week, that’s what happened.

If you go back to Katharine Armstrong’s original description, given in context to locals who understand the frequency of hunting accidents, unfortunately, the culture of Texas, through the eyes of a person who actually saw, who has an expertise, there was no fault described. She laid out the facts: What Mr. Whittington had done, what the vice president had done, and included, clearly, the vice president’s immediate reaction, which was profuse apologies.

Russert, incredulous, came back with, “But they were quoting her directly…” He didn’t push. He didn’t have to. Matalin had already showed herself to be winging it in the most disingenuous manner imaginable. Armstrong and McClellan are on the record as having tried to blame the accident on Whittington. It was actually Cheney himself who put a stop to that ridiculousness. Now Matalin would have us believe that the blame game never happened. Amazing.

Instant flashback. Here, from Feb. 13, is the New York Times’ even more specific account of Armstrong’s blaming Whittington:

“This all happened pretty quickly,” Ms. Armstrong said in a telephone interview from her ranch. Mr. Whittington, she said, “did not announce — which would be protocol — ‘Hey, it’s me, I’m coming up,'” she said.

“He didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” she added, referring to Mr. Whittington. “So when a bird flushed and the vice president swung in to shoot it, Harry was where the bird was.”

And Whittington looks so much like a quail, don’t you think?

Instant update. Yes, I should have checked Josh Marshall first. Anyway, here is what he wrote about this yesterday.

Condemning Jewish journalists

Northeastern University journalism professor Laurel Leff has discovered something that’s both remarkable and disturbing. In the late 1930s, when American colleges and universities were admitting Jewish doctors and lawyers from Nazi Germany in order to save them from persecution and worse, journalism schools were asked to do the same. And not a single one did.

In today’s New York Times, Katharine Seelye reports on a petition drive inspired by Leff’s research “asking the Newspaper Association of America to acknowledge publicly that its predecessor organization in the 1930’s ‘was wrong to turn its back on Jewish refugee journalists fleeing Hitler.'” Leff tells Seelye, “There is no question that anti-Semitism influenced those decisions. It was not the only factor, but it was an important factor.”

Last week, Leff discussed her findings on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” You can listen to the story here.

Leff is the author of “Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper,” the definitive examination of the New York Times’ failure to cover the Holocaust with the prominence and sense of urgency that it deserved.

Forever Young

Yesterday we — my son, Tim, his friend Jay, and Jay’s father, Steve — went to see the new Neil Young concert film, “Heart of Gold,” in Kendall Square. It was well worth it. The first half of the movie focuses on Young’s most recent CD, “Prairie Wind,” the latest in his occasional series of mostly acoustic albums, including “Harvest” (1971) and “Harvest Moon” (1992).

Despite the poignancy of the moment — Young’s father had recently died, and Young himself was recovering from surgery for a brain aneurysm — “Prairie Wind” is not quite prime Neil. But the performance, at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, is warm and moving. And the second half of the film is even better, featuring Young classics such as “I Am a Child,” “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man” and “Comes a Time.” (Somehow he was allowed to get away with not doing “After the Gold Rush.”)

Filmmaker Jonathan Demme is unobstrusive, although his extreme close-up shots do get to be wearying after a while. Yes, Young is old and jowly; we get it. We’ll all be there soon enough. Thankfully, though, “Heart of Gold” is mainly about the music.

The movie also prompted me to reflect on what a varied career Young has had. That he was able to build a lengthy concert around his acoustic material without even a hint that he is also the original proto-punk rocker is remarkable.

I’ve always been a middling Neil Young fan. The only Young album I’ve got in digital is “Freedom” (1989). The vinyl versions of “Harvest,” “Decade” (1977) and “Rust Never Sleeps” (1978) are sitting on shelf, waiting someday to be ripped.

But there’s no doubt that he’s always been a musician of great integrity, always willing to experiment and leave past successes behind. Along with Bob Dylan and very few others, he’s a 1960s veterans who’s still got something to say. Long may he run.

Kristof on Yahoo

Nicholas Kristof on the relative sins (sub. req.) of Yahoo and Google in sucking up to the Chinese:

[I]t’s a mistake to think of all the American companies as equal sinners, for Google appears to have done nothing wrong at all….

Yahoo sold its soul and is a national disgrace. It is still dissembling, and nobody should touch Yahoo until it provides financially for the families of the three men it helped lock up and establishes annual fellowships in their names to bring Web journalists to America on study programs.

It seems pretty clear that everyone is beating up on Google because it’s the 800-pound gorilla, and because it’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto makes it such a ripe target.

My earlier take.