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No more Joseph Wilsons

My reservations about former ambassador Joseph Wilson aside, at least no one tried to stop him from writing his celebrated op-ed piece for the New York Times in July 2003. The principle that internal critics of government policies must be allowed to speak out is an important one, especially when those critics no longer work for the government. To muzzle them at that point is the very definition of censorship.

So it’s pretty disturbing to learn that two former government officials have been barred from writing a Times op-ed that criticizes the Bush administration’s refusal to hold talks with Iran. The reason, supposedly, is that the op-ed would reveal classified information. But there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that’s not true.

The Times itself covers the story today. Rather than rely on the Times reporting on itself, though, I’d rather look at this account, which was published yesterday in the Raw Story. In the article, Brian Beutler reports on a talk given by former CIA agent Flynt Leverett, co-author of the op-ed along with his wife, Hillary Mann, a former official with the National Security Council and the State Department.

What is the evidence that Leverett and Mann’s article does not, in fact, contain classified information? Consider:

  • Leverett told Beutler: “Up until last week with regard to this particular op-ed at this particular time … they have cleared on the order of thirty drafts that I have sent them in three and a half years out of government.” And: “Until last week they never asked to change a word.” Assuming that Leverett is being candid, this is clearly a man who knows what he can write about and what he can’t.
  • Beutler writes: “Leverett contends that the op-ed in question is based on a larger paper that passed the same oversight process without a change made to a single word, and that people who work on the review board have told him that the piece would have been approved — were it not for intervention by the White House.”

That paper, according to the Times account, is called “Dealing with Tehran,” and it was published by the Century Foundation. You can download a PDF of it here. (If you’re interested in reading it, you might want to save it right now.)

This Washington Post account is worth reading as well.

A statement by Leverett appears on the TPM Café. It includes this:

There is no basis for claiming that these issues are classified and not already in the public domain.

For the White House to make this claim, with regard to my op-ed and at this particular moment, is nothing more than a crass effort to politicize a prepublication review process — a process that is supposed to be about the protection of classified information, and nothing else — to limit the dissemination of views critical of administration policy….

Their conduct in this matter is despicable and un-American in the profoundest sense of that term. I am also deeply disappointed that former colleagues at the Central Intelligence Agency have proven so supine in the face of tawdry political pressure. Intelligence officers are supposed to act better than that.

You can watch Leverett’s talk yesterday here.

The Leverett story is breaking just as the administration has decided to back down from an attempt to force the ACLU to turn over all copies of a memo it had obtained on government policy regarding the photographing of detainees. The ACLU has posted the memo here.

The Bush administration’s continued efforts to conduct its dubious foreign policy in secret boggles the mind. The only good news is its remarkable ineptitude — we keep finding out anyway.

WBUR lands a bigfoot

After the Boston Globe, there is no more important a news organization in Greater Boston than WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). But though its mix of NPR programs and its own shows, such as “On Point,” “Here and Now” and the late, lamented “Connection,” is consistently good, the station has had a greater presence nationally over the years than it’s had locally.

Yesterday the station went a long way toward bolstering its local image by hiring a genuine bigfoot — David Boeri, a veteran reporter with WCVB-TV (Channel 5). The move reunites Boeri with Paul La Camera, who, before becoming WBUR’s general manager in 2005, was president and general manager of Channel 5.

Earlier this year I wrote an article for CommonWealth Magazine about La Camera’s goal of building WBUR’s local presence.

How can ‘BUR grow while every other media institution is slashing? It’s the ownership model. WBUR is a public station whose license is held by Boston University. Contrary to what conservative public-broadcasting critics would have you believe, public radio stations receive very little money from the government; it could be eliminated entirely without doing much harm to the product.

Instead, the real key is that public radio is built on a foundation of listener contributions and corporate underwriting (i.e., advertising, although no one likes to call it that), with a nonprofit model that guarantees revenues will be plowed back into the news rather than used to enhance the bottom line for Wall Street’s benefit.

It’s a model that bears watching — and that might have some relevance to the newspaper business as it gropes its way toward an uncertain future.

Me culpa

No, that’s not a typo. Looking back over the past few days, I see that I’ve put up a string of horrendously self-referential posts. Unavoidable, perhaps, given the circumstances. But that should be pretty much the end. Keep reading Media Nation for posts about things other than Media Nation.

Lied about on Kos

Friends of Media Nation who are wondering about my sanity: not to worry. It’s kind of funny at this point. In that spirit, I want to share with you some casual slime that has been brought to my attention at the Daily Kos.

The Kos is one of several national blogs that are obsessed with the continuing fallout over the “Greater Boston” blogging episode of Dec. 8. I learned of this Kos post through Bob of Blue Mass Group, who thinks it absolutely kicks ass. After quoting from a few commenters, Bob ends with this: “And believe me there is plenty, plenty more, including a fair amount of back and forth about our very own frequent contributor Professor Kennedy.”

So I got myself over to the Kos and started reading. Soon I came across this, from one Jennifer Poole:

Dan Kennedy, media “critic” of the Boston Phoenix? one of the “liberal hawks” who totally believed Colin Powell’s speech about WMDs at the U.N.?

I remember emailing Kennedy at the time, telling him he hadn’t read the news he needed to understand that Powell’s “testimony” to the U.N. was not, in fact, all that convincing at all — with links.

I got a snarky email back re: “Oh you think there’s a cover-up?”

has Dan Kennedy admitted yet he was wrong to support the Iraq invasion, and to say that nobody serious could remain unconvinced by Powell’s testimony?

Not sure what the deal is with all those question marks, but I think a few of them are Firefox anomalies.

Anyway … did I write a snarky e-mail to Poole? Probably. Did I believe Colin Powell’s testimony at the United Nations? Yes, at least for a few days. Did I support the war in Iraq? No. Never. More in a moment. But first, a few words from Poole’s fellow commenters:

Chumley writes: “What a hack this Kennedy is. He should be cleaning toilets at Burger King, NOT a media critic. Better yet — get his ass over to serve in Iraq, and let him media criticize his way out of that.” (Make it Wendy’s, Chumley, and you’ve got a deal.)

Left in Lowell: “This Iraq lapse, I’d have to look back at what he said but he definitely has shown pigheadedness at times.” (Lynne! Come on! We survived the UMass Amherst cafeteria together last summer. Why not ask me where I stand on the war before making fun of my pigheadedness?)

Mogolori: “Kennedy’s self-correction seems to come in his April 16-24, 2004 Boston Phoenix book review of John Dean’s ‘Worse than Watergate,’ Ron Suskind’s ‘The Price of Loyalty,’ Hans Blix’s ‘Disarming Iraq’ and Richard Clarke’s ‘Against All Enemies.’ … [H]e sidesteps his own duping, which is so succinctly recounted in his email to you.” (Follow the logic: Because I was against the war in 2004, I must have been for it in 2002 and ’03.)

The truth, as I’ve already said, is that I’ve always been against the war. And I can prove it. Jennifer and friends, please pay attention:

Boston Phoenix, Nov. 28, 2002: “Yes, Iraq will fall if we invade. The gravest danger American troops may face is getting trampled by surrendering Iraqi soldiers. But after that, Iraq is ours, for a generation, if not longer. As a recent Atlantic Monthly cover story put it, Iraq will become, in effect, ‘the 51st state.’ Is that what we want? Can we really transform Iraq into another Japan or Germany? Or are we going to make the entire country — as opposed to just Saddam and his henchmen — despise us, and seek revenge for our arrogance and hubris?” (Gee, that stands up pretty well, doesn’t it?)

Boston Phoenix, Jan. 30, 2003: “More than anything, what Bush has failed to explain is why Iraq represents a real threat to us at a time when it is beleaguered by no-fly zones in the north and south, economic sanctions, and a couple of hundred weapons inspectors scurrying about the countryside. Containment has worked, but it’s not good enough for Bush, who is about to sacrifice the lives of Americans and Iraqis in order to accomplish his goal of regime change. With few exceptions, the media have let him get away with it.”

Boston Phoenix, March 20, 2003: “[A]fter the victory (raucous welcome from flower-tossing Iraqis optional) comes the hard part: the long occupation of a country whose people — no matter how happy they are to be rid of a dictator who models himself after Stalin but who seems equally inspired by Vlad the Impaler — will soon begin to resent us, then to hate us, then to demand that we get our hands off their land and their government and their oil and get out…. Just as the 1991 Gulf War led to the permanent US presence in Saudi Arabia that convinced the then-unknown Osama bin Laden to declare jihad against the United States, so will this war create monsters that don’t yet have a name.”

Boston Phoenix, July 25, 2003: “The Bush administration justified the rush to war by arguing that waiting was too dangerous — that Saddam’s terrorist ties and weapons of mass destruction represented an imminent threat. The result of Bush’s fear-mongering: chaos in Iraq; an open-ended commitment that is claiming American lives nearly every day, and that is costing some $1 billion a week; and no evidence of weapons.”

Jennifer, have you had enough? Can you bring yourself to take it back? To apologize? We’ll see.

Monday morning update: Sco08 put up a link to this item on the Kos last night, and Jennifer acknowledges her error, sort of, although she says her “main point stands.” Which is?

Former Phoenix political reporter Seth Gitell, who did support the war, weighs in with a reality check, and says it’s time for the media to start scrutinizing blogworld as closely as they do politics, business and sports. “I hope the bloggers enjoy this next stage of development,” Seth writes. I don’t think he means “enjoys” like, you know, “having a good time.”

The Outraged Liberal comes to my defense with a good old-fashioned “Quod erat demonstrandum.” Too bad I’m too stupid to know what it means. Oh, wait — it’s Q.E.D. spelled out, and I kind of know what that means.

Over on Blue Mass Group, Sabutai explains why I should be a blogger:

Bloggers don’t have to fact-check. While you’re expected to go over the New York Times and fact-check them, we can make stuff up about you in whole cloth. By the way, if you want to write again about the War in Iraq, we’d encourage you to fly over there to see for yourself that a war is actually happening, or indeed that such a place exists. Because if it turns out that you’re wrong about anything held to be common knowledge, it will nonetheless be your fault.

Funny stuff, but I am a blogger. I just think blogging ought to be about more than making stuff up about people.

Copy, right

Lisa Williams reports that GateHouse Media — the Fairport, N.Y.-based chain that bought more than 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts earlier this year — has jettisoned traditional copyright protection in favor of Creative Commons.

In a guest post on Jay Rosen’s PressThink blog, Williams writes that the Creative Commons model, which allows third parties such as bloggers to copy and paste content for nonprofit use as long as they provide proper credit, is part of GateHouse’s aggressive move into the post-print, mostly-Web future.

A big part of that is Wicked Local, whose aim is to combine professional and amateur content. Currently available only in the Plymouth area, Wicked Local is expected to be the model for all of GateHouse’s community Web sites. I find this both promising and dangerous — promising because building community journalism around the idea of a conversation between professional journalists and the public is a compelling model for What Comes Next; dangerous because it’s potentially a way for media corporations to build their Web sites on the cheap. Williams quotes me to that effect in her article.

GateHouse went public earlier this fall, and Williams says the run-up in its stock price has already been so impressive that it is now the most valuable newspaper company in the United States. Williams’ conclusion: “GateHouse’s move towards open source, open licensing, and open conversations is the biggest experiment to date in whether a media company with open source ambitions can walk hand in hand with Wall Street.”

“Greater Boston” update

Blue Mass Group’s Charley Blandy has posted a rather mild reaction to tonight’s “Greater Boston” discussion of the blog war. He also writes:

The usually sensible Dan Kennedy dug in his heels a bit, wondering how we could get anything done if we actually read the NY Times skeptically.

Good thing Charley didn’t use quotation marks, because that’s not what I said. I’ve challenged him to post a transcript.

Update: The transcript has been posted and I respond. I think that’s a wrap, even if Charley doesn’t.

Still more: The Outraged Liberal (or the Massachusetts Liberal or the Bay State Liberal, whichever you want to call him) hits the nail on the head again:

But there’s still a call for Dan Kennedy to offer a supine admission of error when he continues to insist (as do I) that the real culprit in this is a New York Times op-ed that was not (and should not) have been fact checked for the purposes of a five-minute segment….

It’s up to the New York Times to fact check their own stories and op-eds — not readers. It’s been part of the bargain that we can trust what’s in the media — or question them if they mess up too much.

We have not even come close to that level of trust with blogs and bloggers — and won’t for a long time as long as the attitude is I can whine but you can’t.

Sorry for the self-referential nature of this update. But I’ve been trying to say this for two days. Mr. Liberal says it better.

Scotto v. Eileen II

The Herald’s Messenger Blog updates the dust-up between Scott Allen Miller and Eileen McNamara. Two key points:

  • Scotto says the words he claims McNamara took from the WRKO Web site were not written by him, but, rather, were from a summary written by a producer. Credible? Yes. I’ve seen WRKO do this plenty of times.
  • Boston Globe spokesman Al Larkin tells the Messenger that there will be no correction. His reason: McNamara accurately represented Miller’s views, even if he didn’t actually speak the words she attributed to him.

Media Nation’s view: The Globe ought to run a clarification to make it clear that McNamara was quoting from the WRKO Web site, not from anything Miller said on the air. A paper that can run this can surely set the record straight on what Miller did and didn’t say.