Monday, March 28, 2005

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Is No One Accountable?

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Is No One Accountable?: "

March 28, 2005
Is No One Accountable?

he Bush administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging. But there is no longer any doubt that prisoners seized by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been killed, tortured, sexually humiliated and otherwise grotesquely abused.
These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law, and thus accountable to no one. People have been rounded up, stripped, shackled, beaten, incarcerated and in some cases killed, without being offered even the semblance of due process. No charges. No lawyers. No appeals.
Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi who was detained by the U.S. military for nearly a year at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to a lawsuit filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Ali was at times beaten into unconsciousness during interrogations. He was stabbed, shocked with an electrical device, urinated on and kept locked - hooded and naked - in a wooden, coffinlike box. He said he was told by his captors that soldiers could kill detainees with impunity.
(This was not a boast from the blue. On Saturday, for example, The Times reported that the Army would not prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Mr. Ali's story is depressingly similar to other accounts pouring in from detainees, human rights groups, intelligence sources and U.S. government investigators. If you pay close attention to what is already known about the sadistic and barbaric treatmen"

9/11 is an Expression of a Deep and Abiding Crisis in the Capitalist World Order:

9/11 is an Expression of a Deep and Abiding Crisis in the Capitalist World Order:: "9/11 is an Expression of
a Deep and Abiding Crisis in the Capitalist World Order: "

Sycophancy 101: While funding falls, U of L fawns over architect of decline

Sycophancy 101: While funding falls, U of L fawns over architect of decline Hawpe redeems himself....


Digby gives us the latest version of "bluggers suck" and "journalists r000l" from the LA Times's David Shaw

The New York Times > Week in Review > The Public Editor: A Few Points Along the Line Between News and Opinion

The New York Times > Week in Review > The Public Editor: A Few Points Along the Line Between News and Opinion
Silly Straw Man Argument


March 27, 2005
A Few Points Along the Line Between News and Opinion

NE of the more persistent criticisms of The Times comes from those who believe the news pages are the designated disseminator of views passed down from the Olympus that is the editorial page. If there's anyone among the 1,200 newsroom employees of The Times who believes this to be true, I've failed as a reporter: in 16 months, I haven't found a soul here who has ever experienced any pressure, or even endured a suggestion, to conform to the opinions expressed on the editorial page.

Hold your hoots. There may be perfectly sensible reasons why some readers believe that the news pages take direction from the editorial page, some of which I've discussed before, particularly the apparently normative, basically liberal worldview of much of the news staff on various social issues and the generally oppositional position toward those in power that typifies modern journalists. There's also the sheer forcefulness of the editorial page's voice, which in recent years has been so assertively left, and which some people unfamiliar with The Times's operations want to believe is the source of the news staff's daily marching orders.

For the record, it just isn't so - not at The Times, not at The Wall Street Journal, not at The Washington Post or at any other American paper that takes its mission seriously. Executive editor Bill Keller and editorial page editor Gail Collins run operations entirely separate from each other. They consciously, even self-consciously, avoid discussing politics or public issues. "We never ever talk about news or the editorials, under any circumstances," Collins told me in an e-mail message. Their weekly meeting with publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. and Times president Scott H. Heekin-Canedy is devoted strictly to company issues. If you don't want to believe this, feel free to be wrong. Or check out the different ways the two departments have treated Condoleezza Rice, or Alan Greenspan, or Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. (If the Pickering nomination had taken place during my tenure as public editor, I could have flogged the diverging coverage for months.)

But there is, in fact, a permeable membrane not quite separating fact from opinion at The Times, and it resides wholly within Keller's domain. It's the ragged line that careens like a wind-up toy through the news sections, zigging past the work of columnists, zagging by the views of critics and doing triple axels around several hybrid forms bearing names like Washington Memo, On Education, Personal Health, Sports of The Times, NYC, Public Lives, Reporter's Notebook and Frank Rich.

These hybrid forms are licenses: in some cases to explain, in some cases to render a reporter's subtle impressions, in some cases to analyze and opine. They all look different from news stories, yes, but also from one another. Presentation varies widely from section to section. Some columnists (Clyde Haberman, Peter Steinfels) have their names up in the equivalent of lights, large and shiny at the very top of a piece; others (Jane E. Brody, Edward Rothstein) get bylines typographically identical to those on straitjacketed news pieces. Typefaces used for "overlines" - identifying words like Personal Health or Public Lives - seem wildly inconsistent. If each style is meant to denote a specific definition - opinion piece, analysis piece, cute-but-unimportant piece - it's escaped me.

Most writers who have at least some freedom to mouth off are distinguished by the typesetting convention of what's called ragged-right formatting (you're looking at it right now), as if this were the international symbol for point-of-view. ("Hey, honey, ragged-right! Let's see what his opinion is!") But the ragged-right brigade also includes the weekly White House Letter, which is not meant to be opinion but, as correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller describes it, "a reported column that attempts to bring to life the people and behind-the-scenes events at the White House"; the election-season Political Points, which was largely meant to be amusing; and the basically-but-not-entirely news pieces like the one tagged West Orange Journal that popped up on B4 two days ago.

In the culture department, where readers are prepared to encounter the strong opinions of critics, most of the identifying overlines couldn't be clearer: Theater Review, Movie Review and the like. Critic's Notebook is only a slightly more opaque way of saying "opinion located here," but for many readers clouds descend in the vicinity of The TV Watch, and I suspect that visibility drops near zero around Connections. Starting tomorrow, an italic line attached to Rothstein's biweekly sort-of-column will declare that it's "a critic's perspective on arts and ideas": in other words, a place for judgment. It's a welcome elaboration, but only the tiniest of starts.

Many readers who object to the incomprehensibility of the labeling also object to this much opinion (or commentary, or untethered illumination, or whatever you wish to call it) ricocheting around pages that years ago presented the news in the sonorous and noncommittal drone of a public address system. Judging by their frequent invocation of the number of years they've been reading The Times, most of these people are even older than I am.

I sympathize with them; the tone and tenor of a newspaper you've been reading all your life can grow to be as familiar, and as comforting, as your mother's voice. But all this columnizing represents an inevitable, perhaps monumental, transformation in American newspapering.

Max Frankel, who was executive editor of The Times from 1986 to 1994, once convinced me that journalistic innovation usually begins on the sports pages, and I think we're now in the middle of one of those moments when innovation is about to morph into standard practice. More and more often, the lead article in the sports section is a Sports of The Times column; just last Wednesday, Selena Roberts's take on Barry Bonds ("We Won't Have That Surly Superstar to Kick Around Anymore") dominated the section's front page.

The key word in that sentence is "take." What won Roberts's piece its prominent position, sports editor Tom Jolly told me, was the wish to provide "distinctive coverage of a widely covered event." Most readers would already have learned about Bonds's explosive meeting with the press from broadcast or Internet news sources, or even from the guy in the next seat on the subway. What Roberts could bring to the issue were her intelligence and her knowledge of the issues, the milieu and the characters; she could explain the event not just usefully but distinctively. NBC and ESPN, and WFAN, The Post and The Daily News all had the details of Bonds's Tuesday pronouncements, but only The Times had Selena Roberts.

This reliance on columnists to report and explain (as the best columnists do) has spread elsewhere in the paper, but rules vary. Business editor Lawrence Ingrassia tells me that when his columnists (notably Gretchen Morgenson and Floyd Norris) write the occasional news story, special care is taken by both the writers and their editors "to make sure that the reporter's opinions aren't injected into the story." Jolly's version of special care is more confining: "We've drawn a strong line between our Sports of The Times and On Baseball columnists and our reporters. Our columnists only write columns. Our reporters only report the news."

I think Jolly's tougher policy is wise, especially in the transitional period before the newspaper of the future finally arrives; I'd like to see Morgenson and Norris continue to report these stories, but to present what they discover in the clear voices they've already established in their columns. The sports and business sections are both riding a wave toward that future, where writers' authority of voice and distinctiveness of thought will distinguish great newspapers from the rat-a-tat of more conventionally iterative (and instant) forms of journalism. On the way to that very different day, The Times needs to be careful to label opinion and its many variants. The simple addition of a slug of type reading "commentary" (not unlike "news analysis," a Times staple for nearly half a century) would be a productive step, when appropriate; so would the introduction of consistent design signals across the various sections.

After that, it's easy. You just have to make certain that your writers, and the editors who manage their work, are every bit as intellectually diverse as the readership you hope to attract.

Speaking of labels, analysis and opinion: starting April 10, this column, to date congenially accommodated by what is supposed to be the analysis-rich but opinion-free Week in Review section, will be following Frank Rich to the more appropriate turf of the Sunday Op-Ed pages. There, the public editor will be entitled to be wrongheaded on a biweekly basis.

The public editor serves as the readers' representative. His opinions and conclusions are his own. His column appears at least twice monthly in this section.

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Down with the judicial tyrants who are killing Terri Schiavo!
Oops -- most of them are Republican. Never mind.
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By Joe Conason

March 25, 2005 | If Terri Schiavo finally perishes over the Easter weekend, the roar of fundamentalist rage will sound like the dawn of Armageddon.
Televised preachers will blame her demise on the Democratic politicians who did almost nothing to oppose the political intervention in her case. Right-wing pundits will denounce the tyranny of 'judicial activists,' an 'elitist judicial oligarchy' or just plain 'liberal judges.' Republican politicians will urge that she be avenged by sweeping away the constitutional protection of the filibuster, so that the president can pack the federal courts with extremists and theocrats.
In a Weekly Standard essay titled 'Runaway Judiciary,' Hugh Hewitt promoted that opportunistic theme. Hewitt predicted confidently that public fury over the Schiavo case will increase support for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's plan 'to break the Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees and ... a backlash against any Republican who sides with the Democrats on the coming rules change vote.'
While exploiting Schiavo's tragedy for maximum impact, these opportunists probably won't dwell on the most salient political fact about those awful judges who have ruled so consistently in favor of Schiavo's husband and against her parents. Most of those tyrannical jurists happen to be Republicans, too.

When the Supreme Court issued what should be the final decision in the Schiavo matter on Thursday, its nine members again unanimously rejected the parents' plea for another review. The court's decision, issued through Justice Anthony Kennedy, scarcely went beyond the succinctly negative "denied." None of the court's self-styled "originalist" thinkers issued a peep of dissent, although this was their fifth opportunity to do so.

Antonin Scalia, who has come closest to articulating an openly theocratic approach to jurisprudence, indicated no objection to the majority position. Neither did Clarence Thomas, whose views closely mirror those of Scalia. Their silence suggests the radicalism of the congressional departure from constitutional norms that was embodied in the "Schiavo law" passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president. By turning away the Schindlers' appeal, the Republican justices were simply endorsing the findings of their colleagues in the lower courts.

On cable television and on the Internet much has been made of the fact that U.S. District Judge James Whittemore -- who issued last week's initial federal ruling in favor of Michael Schiavo -- is a "Clinton appointee." By emphasizing that connection, as if the former president himself were deciding Terri Schiavo's fate, the cable loudmouths were pandering to the old Satanic caricatures of the Clintons that still excite the ultra-right.

When the Schindlers appealed Whittemore's decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, a three-judge panel rejected their plea for a stay. Of the two judges who ruled against the Schindlers, Ed Carnes is a conservative Republican appointed by former President George H.W. Bush, and Frank Hull is a moderate Democrat appointed by Clinton. The dissenting judge, who supported the Schindlers' plea, was Charles Wilson -- another Clinton appointee.

That nonpartisan pattern became even clearer when the full 11th Circuit upheld that panel's ruling. Of the appeals court's 12 active judges, only two dissented. One was the aforementioned Wilson; the other was Judge Gerald Tjofelt, a Republican appointed in 1975 by President Ford. The remainder, who evidently concurred with that Clintonite elitist Whittemore, included six Republicans: Reagan appointee and Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson; George H.W. Bush appointees Carnes, Stanley Birch, Joel Dubina, Susan Black; and, most ironically, William Pryor Jr., who was given a recess appointment by George W. Bush two years ago in the midst of controversy and filibuster by Democratic senators.

Pryor is the perfect example of the kind of appointee whose extreme views provoke the strongest liberal and Democratic opposition -- and whom the Republicans are determined to elevate by breaking the filibuster. He is a vehement opponent of abortion, an advocate of criminalizing homosexuality and a consistent supporter of theocratic efforts to breach the wall separating church and state. Although the competition is fierce, he is probably the most right-wing nominee chosen by President Bush.

Whatever Pryor may believe about the Schiavo case, he affirmed the silence of his fellow Republicans with his own. Like the views of Scalia and Thomas and most of Pryor's Republican colleagues on the 11th Circuit, his opinion remains unexpressed.

Despite all the apocalyptic posturing of the far right on the cable channels, weblogs and editorial pages, the Schiavo case is a matter of individual conscience and adherence to law. Although the weight of scientific evidence supports Michael Schiavo's position, Democrats and Republicans alike have acknowledged how troubling and difficult they find this issue.

Meanwhile, national polls show that the public disdains the hysterical posturing of the Republican leadership in Congress and the White House. Ultimately the Schiavo case may well change the debate over the filibuster, though not as imagined by the likes of Hugh Hewitt, if only because Senate Democrats finally muster the courage and determination to defend the Constitution and an independent judiciary.

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About the writer
Joe Conason writes a twice weekly column for Salon. He also writes a weekly column for the New York Observer. His new book, "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth," is now News | "Welcome to Red Lake" News | "Welcome to Red Lake": "

'Welcome to Red Lake'
A muckraking Chippewa journalist says tribal press constraints keep details of the recent school shooting murky -- and hide systemic problems on the reservation where he grew up.
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By Emily Schmall

March 26, 2005 | With many details of the school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation still emerging, journalists from around the country have trekked en masse to the remote tribal region of northern Minnesota. But they've learned that freedom of the press abruptly ends on the edges of Minnesota 1, the highway that cuts through the reservation, where Chippewa tribal customs prevail.
Local police threaten legal consequences if journalists breach the reservation's boundaries and have sent many journalists on their way, with their only recourse being an appeal to the tribal court. Some family members of Red Lake shooting victims have stepped forward and criticized the tribal officials for their stringent restrictions on the press. On Thursday, tribal police pulled over a Knight-Ridder vehicle, confiscated camera equipment, and broke up an interview with the father of one of the victims.
To muckraking Chippewa journalist Bill Lawrence, the press constraints in Red Lake come as no surprise. He lived there as a child and returned after law school. In 1970 and 1978, he ran losi"

Studio 360 - Commentary: The Dumb and the Bland

Studio 360 - Commentary: The Dumb and the Bland