The word “harrowing” is an overused cliché, but it’s exactly the right word to describe Janelle Nanos’ story about an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, published by The Boston Globe Magazine last summer. Nanos’ 11,000-word account of Kate Price’s long quest to learn the truth about what had happened to her was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing; this year’s Pulitzers were announced on Monday.
Price remembers being raped by her father — possibly starting when she was as young as 3 — and being pimped out to other men who he would contact via CB radio. She has spent her adult life trying to nail down the details, and by the end of the story we learn that she’s succeeded in coming about as close as she’ll probably ever get to proving that her memories are real.
Nanos, a reporter and editor for the Globe’s business section, has been following Price for 10 years and is currently expanding it into a book. The personal tone she takes is handled deftly, enhancing the narrative by making herself part of Price’s journey. Her story also helps puncture the argument, still made in some circles, that claims of childhood sexual abuse are not to be believed because memories of such abuse are not reliable.
More from the Pulitzer announcements:
• Anna Wolfe of the nonprofit news organization Mississippi Today was one of two winners in local reporting for her coverage of former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who directed that state welfare money amounting to millions of dollars be given to family members and friends, including NFL quarterback Brett Favre. I mention this because Mary Margaret White, the CEO of Mississippi Today, was a guest last fall on the “What Works” podcast that Ellen Clegg and I host.
• Ukraine was the subject of several Pulitzers, including the prestigious public service award, won by four journalists for The Associated Press for what the Pulitzer board called their “courageous reporting from the besieged city of Mariupol that bore witness to the slaughter of civilians in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” The New York Times won the international reporting award and The AP photo staff won for breaking news photography. The Times’ Lynsey Addario’s photo of an entire family that had been killed while they were trying to flee the suburb of Irbin, perhaps the best-known image of the war, was a finalist in breaking news photography.
• The Los Angeles Times won the award for breaking news reporting for revealing the existence of an audio recording in which several city officials are heard engaging in bluntly racist speech, leading to follow-up stories and resignations. It’s a worthy winner in any case, but I mention it because of a similar recent story in McCurtain County, Oklahoma, where several officials resigned under nearly identical circumstances.
The big difference: The Los Angeles audio was leaked anonymously to the Times, whereas the Oklahoma audio was captured by the McCurtain Gazette-News, whose publisher-reporter left his recorder behind after a meeting ended because he suspected that officials would continue to discuss county business in violation of the open meeting law. That, in turn, has led to a dispute over whether the Gazette-News broke the law by making a secret recording.
If you were part of media and political circles in the early 1990s, then you were certainly aware of sensational accusations by Gary Sick, a top national security official in the Carter administration, that Ronald Reagan’s campaign had sabotaged efforts to bring the Iranian hostage crisis to a close during the waning weeks of the 1980 presidential campaign.
Jimmy Carter suffered a landslide re-election defeat at Reagan’s hands — an outcome that might have been different if he’d been able to celebrate the return of the 52 American hostages. Indeed, it was the prospect of such an “October surprise,” Sick argued, that led Reagan operatives to intervene with the Iranians and promise them weapons from Israel if they would agree not to release the hostages until Reagan was in office.
Sick’s charges could not be proven. But, on Saturday, The New York Times published a startling account (free link) about Ben Barnes, a former aide to the late Texas Gov. John Connally, who says that he and Connally were directly involved in working to delay the release of the hostages. Connally, a Democrat-turned-Republican who had served as treasury secretary under Richard Nixon, had run unsuccessfully for president himself in 1980 and was hoping for a plum appointment from Reagan. The Times’ Peter Baker writes of Barnes:
Mr. Connally, he said, took him to one Middle Eastern capital after another that summer, meeting with a host of regional leaders to deliver a blunt message to be passed to Iran: Don’t release the hostages before the election. Mr. Reagan will win and give you a better deal.
Why now? Barnes is 84; Carter, who’s 98, has entered hospice care. In Barnes’ telling, he was suffering from pangs of conscience. “History needs to know that this happened,” Barnes told Baker. “I think it’s so significant and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter put it on my mind more and more and more. I just feel like we’ve got to get it down some way.”
Now, my apologies for leading with the background, which is something I always tell my students not to do. Buried deep within Baker’s story is a massive media scandal. Get a load of this:
Mr. Barnes identified four living people he said he had confided in over the years: Mark K. Updegrove, president of the L.B.J. Foundation; Tom Johnson, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson (no relation) who later became publisher of the Los Angeles Times and president of CNN; Larry Temple, a former aide to Mr. Connally and Lyndon Johnson; and H.W. Brands, a University of Texas historian.
All four of them confirmed in recent days that Mr. Barnes shared the story with them years ago. “As far as I know, Ben never has lied to me,” Tom Johnson said, a sentiment the others echoed. Mr. Brands included three paragraphs about Mr. Barnes’s recollections in a 2015 biography of Mr. Reagan, but the account generated little public notice at the time.
Yes — Tom Johnson, a former publisher of the Los Angeles Times and president of CNN, has known about Barnes’ story for years, believes it and sat on it. This is an unconscionable act on Johnson’s part. Barnes’ story can’t be entirely verified, but it tracks with what we already know and is the closest thing we’ve had to proof that the Reagan campaign deliberately prolonged the hostages’ agony for political gain. I mean, this is really shocking stuff.
It also fits with a pattern of Republican candidates for president interfering in American foreign policy and cutting deals with our adversaries in order to gain political advantage.
During the 1968 campaign, Nixon’s henchmen secretly threw a wrench into U.S. peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnam War and also took a half-million-dollar bribe from the right-wing junta then running Greece. As we all know, Donald Trump was happy to benefit from a Russian influence campaign in 2016, and Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had ties to Russian intelligence. Trump’s 2020 campaign featured his threat to withhold weapons from Ukraine unless officials there announced they were investigating Hunter Biden — an act that led to Trump’s first impeachment.
Barnes has filled in an important missing piece of history and cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of Reagan’s presidency. Reagan kicked off more than 40 years of right-wing economics that have left us with declining wages, widening income inequality and the toxic belief that private interests should come before the public good. It’s disheartening to receive confirmation that it never should have happened.
On Jan. 27, Holman Jenkins Jr., a conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page, asserted that revelations by special counsel John Durham show that Donald Trump probably owed his 2016 election to a Russian influence campaign. Jenkins was referring to a “presumably fake email exchange” between Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then the head of the Democratic Party, and Leonard Benardo of the Open Society Foundation. Jenkins wrote:
The fictitious email referred to a presumably equally fictitious conversation between the Clinton campaign’s Amanda Renteria and Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch about making sure the Clinton server investigation didn’t “go too far.” The words found their way into a Russian intelligence document, which found its way to the FBI, becoming the justification for FBI chief James Comey’s chaotic actions in the 2016 election, which likely elected Mr. Trump.
I offer this tidbit by way of a brief comment on Jeff Gerth’s 24,000-word analysis for the Columbia Journalism Review in which he takes the media to task for “Russia Russia Russia,” as Trump would put it. Now, I’m in no position to assess all of Gerth’s claims — he’s mastered the details, and I haven’t. But Jenkins’ column shows that, contrary to Gerth’s assertions, the Russia investigation was grounded firmly in reality and that new revelations continue to emerge.
Much of Gerth’s coverage focuses on his former employer, The New York Times. Gerth writes:
Outside of the Times’ own bubble, the damage to the credibility of the Times and its peers persists, three years on, and is likely to take on new energy as the nation faces yet another election season animated by antagonism toward the press. At its root was an undeclared war between an entrenched media, and a new kind of disruptive presidency, with its own hyperbolic version of the truth. (The Washington Post has tracked thousands of Trump’s false or misleading statements.) At times, Trump seemed almost to be toying with the press, offering spontaneous answers to questions about Russia that seemed to point to darker narratives. When those storylines were authoritatively undercut, the follow-ups were downplayed or ignored.
In fact, Gerth offers pretty convincing evidence that the Times engaged in some sloppy reporting. And yet, what I keep coming back to is this paragraph, in which then-Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron defended the press’ performance (or at least the Post’s performance) in a way that perfectly encapsulates what we all saw being reported in real time:
Baron declined to be interviewed but, in an email to me, defended the Post’s coverage, writing that “the evidence showed that Russia intervened in the election, that the Trump campaign was aware of it, welcomed it and never alerted law enforcement or intelligence agencies to it. And reporting showed that Trump sought to impede the investigation into it.”
What about Baron’s statement is wrong? No, botched facts can’t be condoned, and, as I said, Gerth seems to have found plenty of them. But the overall arc of the narrative as described by Baron is exactly what we all saw.
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David Corn, whose reporting for Mother Jones has been a lodestar for anyone following the Trump-Russia connections, wrote an analysis headlined “Columbia Journalism Review’s Big Fail: It Published 24,000 Words on Russiagate and Missed the Point.” Corn, whose mastery of the details matches Gerth’s, accuses Gerth of “misdirection,” writing:
Gerth finds plenty of ammo for his assault on the media. But here’s where he goes wrong: He misrepresents the scandal that is the subject of the media coverage he is scrutinizing. He defines the Trump-Russia affair by only two elements of the tale: the question of Trump collusion with Moscow and the unconfirmed Steele dossier. This is exactly how Trump and his lieutenants want the scandal to be perceived. From the start, Trump has proclaimed “no collusion,” setting that as the bar for judging him. That is, no evidence of criminal collusion, and he’s scot-free. And he and his defenders have fixated on the Steele dossier—often falsely claiming it triggered the FBI’s investigation—to portray Trump as the victim of untrue allegations and “fake news.” Gerth essentially accepts these terms of the debate.
Corn adds: “Trump may have been the victim of occasionally errant reporting. But he was no victim of a hoax or an off-the-rails media witch hunt. He helped an adversary sabotage an American election.”
Once in office, Trump was impeached twice. The first time was for threatening to withhold weapons from Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would announce that his government was investigating Hunter Biden. One of Trump’s campaign managers, Paul Manafort, you may recall, was involved in supporting the previous Russian-backed regime, which had been overthrown by pro-democracy activists several years earlier. You have to wonder what U.S. policy in Ukraine’s war of self-defense against Russia would be today if Trump had defeated Joe Biden in 2020.
Gerth has shown that the press, and especially the Times, was not as careful as it should have been in reporting on Russia Russia Russia. And yes, details matter. But the notion that Trump was a victim of bad reporting with regard to Russia is just nonsense. In the end, Gerth has produced a report that’s all trees, no forest.
The latest edition of the “Beat the Press” podcast takes a look at how Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s brilliant use of social media has helped rally the world to his country’s side. Other topics include the Biden administration’s botched rollout of a disinformation governance board and The New York Times’ massive dive into Tucker Carlson — and more, including our Rants & Raves.
Emily Rooney is in the anchor chair, joined by Lylah Alphonse, Jon Keller and me. Please subscribe and give us a listen.
This morning I thought I’d indulge in a little linguistic trivia arising from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. I’m hardly an expert — I took Russian for a few years in high school and college but never learned to speak it. (At one time I could read it — very, very slowly.) So take this with a few grains of salt.
First, the name of the Russian missile cruiser that was attacked and heavily damaged by Ukrainian forces has been identified as the Moskva. You may also know that Moskva is the Russian word for Moscow. In the Cyrillic alphabet, it’s Москва. So why do we Anglicize the name of the city but not the ship? It is one of the great mysteries.
I would argue that Zelensky with one “y” actually makes more sense. President Zelenskyy is not a native English speaker (although he’s pretty fluent), and went with Zelenskiy before settling on two “y’s.” The Cyrillic version of his name is closer to Zelenskee than Zelenskyy. You may have seen what it looks like on Zelenskyy’s Twitter profile: Зеленський. Proper transliteration should be based on pronunciation.
Finally, what’s up with Kyiv versus Kiev? Here, at least, I think we’ve all gotten it right. Kyiv is pronounced slightly differently, and the Ukrainians argue that Kiev is an artifact of Russian domination. So Kyiv it is.
Sometime in early March, the extremist Republican congressman from North Carolina decided to go off on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug,” Cawthorn told supporters. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
If Cawthorn had spoken, say, a month earlier, he might have earned the praise of former President Donald Trump and gotten invited to trash Zelenskyy some more on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program. But that was before Zelenskyy had emerged as a heroic figure, standing up to Russia’s invasion of his country with a combination of eloquence and courage. “I need ammunition, not a ride,” he said to those who thought he should flee.
So former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, the sort of establishment Republican who was frozen out during the Trump era, used his Wall Street Journal column to let his readers know that Republicans like Cawthorn and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance (“I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another”) are outliers — and that the party is oh-so-very supportive of Zelenskyy. “Republican members of Congress, candidates and commentators echoing Mr. Trump’s isolationism and Kremlin apologetics are out of sync with GOP voters,” Rove wrote.
WRAL.com of North Carolina, which obtained video of Cawthorn taking the Kremlin line, pushed that message even harder, stressing in its lead that Cawthorn’s vile rhetoric was at odds with his party and calling it “a comment that runs counter to the overwhelming share of Republicans with a favorable view of the leader fending off a military invasion from Russia.”
Oh, please. Can we get real for a moment? Yes, Rove and WRAL cited poll numbers that show Republicans, like most Americans, are now pro-Zelenskyy and support Ukraine in fending off the massive Russian invasion. But that is an exceptionally recent phenomenon.
In January, for instance, a poll by The Economist and YouGov found that Republicans viewed Vladimir Putin more favorably than President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — hardly surprising after years of pro-Putin pronouncements by Trump.
No wonder former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who’d like to run for president, told Fox News that Putin is “a very talented statesman” with “lots of gifts” who “knows how to use power,” as Eric Boehlert, who tracks conservative bias on the part of the mainstream media, took note of.
Now, some of this reflects a split between the Republican Party’s right wing and its extreme right wing. Way out on the authoritarian fringes, figures such as Carlson and Steve Bannon have long admired Putin for his unabashed, anti-democratic espousal of white Christian dominance and attacks on LGBTQ folks. Politicians such as Cawthorn, Vance and Pompeo, rather than standing up for principle, are trying to thread the needle.
Meanwhile, their less extreme counterparts, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have flipped from coddling Trump, Putin and Russia to claiming that Biden is to blame for the invasion and the high gas prices it has led to.
All of this has a historical context. As everyone knows, or ought to know, Putin has represented an existential threat to Ukraine since 2014, when he invaded the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and incorporated it into Russia. Putin appears to be gripped by the idea of a Greater Russia, of which in his mind Ukraine is a part. Ukraine was a Soviet republic, and Putin has always expressed nostalgia for the U.S.S.R. But the two countries’ ties go back centuries, and apparently no one cares about that more deeply than Putin.
Into this box of dry kindling came the spark of Trump in 2016. His numerous statements of support for Putin and pro-Russia actions couldn’t possibly all be listed here, but a few that pertain to Ukraine stand out. One of Trump’s campaign managers, Paul Manafort, had worked for a pro-Russian political faction in Ukraine and, upon being forced out, offered his services to Trump free of charge. You may also recall that a plank in that year’s Republican platform guaranteeing Ukraine’s security was mysteriously watered down — and a delegate to that year’s convention later said she was asked directly by Trump to support the change. (Manafort later went to prison for financial crimes he committed in Ukraine, only to be pardoned by Trump.)
That was followed by revelations in the fall of 2019 that Trump, in a phone call to Zelenskyy, demanded dirt on Biden in return for military assistance — assistance that Ukraine needed desperately to deter Russian aggression. Trump was impeached over that massive scandal. Yet not a single Republican House member (not even Liz Cheney) supported impeachment, and only one Republican senator — Mitt Romney — voted to remove Trump from office.
As detailed a month ago by The Washington Post, Trump has continued to praise Putin, hailing his war against Ukraine as “genius” and “savvy,” while Trumpers like U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona sneer, “We should just call ourselves Ukraine and then maybe we can get NATO to engage and protect our border.”
Mother Jones reported over the weekend that Russian media outlets have been ordered to quote Tucker Carlson as much as possible. Joe Kent, a Trump-endorsed Republican congressional candidate in Washington state, endorsed Cawthorn’s eruption this past Saturday and went him one better, tweeting: “Zelenskyy was installed via a US backed color revaluation [sic], his goal is to move his country west so he virtue signals in woke ideology while using nazi battalions to crush his enemies. He was also smart enough to cut our elite in on the graft. @CawthornforNC nailed it.”
There was a time when, as the old saying went, politics stopped at the water’s edge. That wasn’t always good policy, as elected officials came under withering attack when they dared to criticize misbegotten actions such as the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. But there was a virtue to it as well. When we go to war or, in the case of Ukraine, engage in high-wire diplomacy aimed at ending a war, it’s that much harder when critics are sniping at our leaders. Can you imagine if Republicans had gone on television in 1962 to say that Nikita Khrushchev was right to place Soviet missiles in Cuba?
Claiming that Republicans are united in supporting Ukraine doesn’t make it so. Some are, some aren’t. It’s shocking that a few fringe figures like Cawthorn and Kent are openly criticizing Zeleneskyy even now — but it’s just as shocking that praise for Putin was a mainstream Republican position as recently as a month or so ago.
Unfortunately, the media’s tendency to flatten out and normalize aberrant behavior by the Republicans will prevent this from growing into an all-out crisis for the party. We’ll move on to the next thing, whether it be expressing faux outrage over Vice President Harris and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s touting electric cars while gas prices are high (what better time?) or Biden’s latest miserable polling numbers.
Anything that enables our feckless media to cover politics as the same old both-sides game that it used to be.
The dichotomy at the heart of any State of the Union address was on full display Tuesday night. The president’s annual message to Congress is a major news event. Yet it is fundamentally a political exercise.
So when serious news from the outside world intrudes, cognitive dissonance ensues. That was surely the case during President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union as well as in the subsequent coverage.
How did the pundits handle it? For the most part, they treated it as two speeches — a sober, even stirring call to support the Ukrainian people as they fight desperately to hold off an unprovoked invasion by Russian forces, and a domestic-policy address aimed at shoring up Biden’s miserable poll numbers.
“It was as inspiring as any section of a State of the Union, in large part because it was about something bigger and more compelling than politics as usual,” wrote Washington post columnist Jennifer Rubin of Biden’s opening, which focused on Ukraine. “Moreover, it was a rare display of bipartisanship, and a reminder that in facing external threats we can rise to the occasion…. From there on out, bipartisanship receded.”
The real-news-versus-politics divide was particularly acute in the way the war in Ukraine and the State of the Union address were played on the front pages of our three leading newspapers. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal all led with Ukraine. The Journal didn’t even place Biden’s address above the fold.
Originality was hard to find in my post-speech scan of the coverage. One exception was Ezra Klein of the Times, who noted that Biden did little — nothing, really — to prepare Americans for the economic effects of the tough sanctions that he and other Western leaders have imposed on the Putin regime.
“For all Biden’s resolve on Tuesday night, he did not try to prepare Americans to sacrifice on behalf of Ukrainians in the coming months, if only by paying higher prices at the pump,” Klein wrote. “Instead, he said, ‘my top priority is getting prices under control.’ That’s the tension Putin is exploiting.”
Divisions on the right were apparent in both the House chamber and in the subsequent commentary. During Biden’s speech, far-right Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene disgraced themselves by interrupting the president just as he was about to invoke the memory of his late son, Beau Biden, whose death from brain cancer may have been related to his exposure to toxic fumes while he was serving in the military.
Writing for the ultraconservative PJ Media site, Matt Margolis made the same point somewhat more artfully, criticizing Biden for talking about his dead son rather than the 13 American soldiers who were killed by terrorists during last summer’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. There was, Margolis said, “not a single word about the withdrawal” in Biden’s speech. “Not a single word to honor those who died because of his incompetence.”
At National Review, a more mainstream conservative publication, Dan McLaughlin praised Biden on Ukraine but dismissed the rest of his address, writing, “You could tell the pandemic is really and truly over when we saw a return to Democrats demonizing the pharma companies that gave us life-saving vaccines.”
McLaughlin also attempted to turn the Big Lie on its head, taking Biden to task for speaking out against voter-suppression efforts fueled by pro-Trump Republicans who dare not question the former president’s false assertions that he actually won the 2020 election. “This is hardly the first time Biden has cast doubt on the legitimacy of our elections,” McLaughlin wrote in a truly mind-bending line.
Meanwhile, Jonathan V. Last, writing for The Bulwark, a Never Trump conservative site, summarized the moment in a pre-speech assessment beneath a headline that read “The West Is Winning, Russia Is Losing, and Biden Is Doing a Good Job.”
Although Biden noticeably did not move to the center, doubling down on popular but stalled-out ideas such as a $15 minimum wage, child-care assistance and controls on drug prices, he nevertheless invoked the moderate, unifying appeal that carried him to victory over Trump.
David A. Graham of The Atlantic wrote that “rather than try to convince Americans not to believe what they’re feeling, or claim credit for things they don’t see, Biden offered them a promise that things are about to get better. To make the case, he tacked toward the middle — with a few pointed detours — delivering a speech that hews closer to the ‘popularist’ movement in the Democratic Party than to its more progressive contingent.”
“Popularism,” in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the idea that the Democrats should de-emphasize the more divisive aspects of their agenda in favor of those with broad support. Examples offered by Graham were Biden’s calls for more police funding and keeping kids in school during COVID-19 surges.
According to a snap poll conducted by CBS News, the speech was popular with those who were watching, with 78% saying they approved of his speech and just 22% disapproving. But, CBS cautioned, “As we’ve seen with previous presidents’ State of the Union speeches, those who watched tonight are more likely to be from the president’s own political party, boosting approval of the speech.”
In other words, whatever political benefit Biden receives from his address is likely to be short-lived. His popularity — and, thus, the Democratic Party’s prospects in the upcoming midterm elections — are likely to be grounded in matters that are largely beyond his control, such as the outcome of the war in Ukraine, the ongoing battle against COVID and the persistence of inflation in an otherwise strong economy.
For one night, though, the stage was his. It’s fair to say that he made the most of it.
This is what I’m worried about. Russia screwed up and lost the first week of the war. But they have endless capacity to ratchet things up and unleash wave after wave of hell on the people of Ukraine. From Talking Points Memo:
The Russian military is still holding a lot of their capacity in reserve. Even if things are going relatively poorly after a week they have lots of capacity to intensify their assault, lots of ability to make the onslaught much more brutal and effective.
What’s terrifying about Putin’s attack on Ukraine is that it doesn’t seem rational. He’s turned himself into an international pariah, and his country will be under crippling sanctions for years to come. It’s hard to see how this ends well for him — yet he did it anyway.