Category Archives: Eat the Press

Press criticism and media follies

Presidential leadership is a fairy tale, except when it isn’t.

I was in the process of writing something vaguely complimentary about President Obama — he’s not killing nearly as many blameless people as he might be, under the circumstances, and he hasn’t formally invaded anybody; consider it written — when I ran across a post by Charlie Pierce at Esquire, lamenting the pundit fixation on presidential leadership and raising the notion that a perceived lack of leadership is only a reflection of the fundamental cowardice of the American people.

It’s an oft-raised notion in Pierce precincts. It really pisses me off, not because Americans can’t be awfully and unnecessarily scared, but because many Americans display the kind of bravery that Pierce decries the lack of. It pissed me off so much today that I took the recently unheard of step of responding to it, which response follows, unedited for clarity.
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Good news: Barack Obama will not be the answer to “Who Lost Afghanistan?”

Lots of Obama supporters on Facebook during the 2012 campaign period were touting the end of the war in Afghanistan as one of the President’s larger achievements. President Obama, they said, “ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

This was absurd not just because the war in Afghanistan was not what one could actually call over in 2012 (neither of them were, but that’s another story), but because the President’s promise to end the war in Afghanistan was not a promise to end the war, while his exit from Iraq was the product of a failed negotiation to extend our presence. (11-dimensional chess, I’m sure: Obama pretended to want to stay in order to placate war lovers, but actually wanted the negotiation to fail so he could realize his true desire to be shed of the affair.)

Let’s review.
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On Patriot Day, we begin the war we have been fighting for years

Yesterday was Patriot Day, by proclamation of the President. The proclamation was released by the press office at 9:24 AM, about two hours before the office released excerpts from the speech the President delivered about 10 hours later.

Pre-speech excerpts are a tradition. These are the lines administration officials want the chucktodds of the press to be talking and writing about in the hours before the speech, the “Tonight, the President will say” lines. These are the lines meant to manage expectations and convey gravitas. They’re released in the morning so the chucktodds have time to write something up that is similar to but not identical with what all the other chucktodds are saying and writing, and which includes responses from anonymous administration officials — somber, but favorable — and public experts (“experts disagree!”).
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“We tortured some folks.”

President Obama should probably retire “folks” from his active vocabulary. “We tortured some folks.” And then we had some folks over for barbecue, or we barbecued them. Something like that. Folks don’t let folks torture folks, folks, or let them get away with torturing folks, except when “a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” As were, no doubt, from certain frames of reference, the people they were torturing.

Because his CIA director creeped the Senate’s computers, and then lied about it (and threatened to get Senate staff prosecuted, imprisoned and ruined), and then got caught, the President is under a great deal of pressure to expedite the release of a report that will evidently display the CIA as home to some very ugly people doing very ugly things. He’s prepping us for it, and he’s trying to shift the responsibility for shielding the torturers from him to us. We were all scared and angry. We shouldn’t be sanctimonious. This is what happened, and now you know what I know and since you’re not going to do shit about it or me, it’s now your responsibility too.
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The past is prologue, those who don’t learn are doomed, blah blah blah: but Ahmad Fucking Chalabi?

Updated 10:53 6.19.2014
Further updated 7:14 6.20.2014

Every now and then, WTF just doesn’t do it, and you have to holler out, WHAT THE FUCK??????

Over the past two days the American ambassador, Robert S. Beecroft, along with Brett McGurk, the senior State Department official on Iraq and Iran, have met with Usama Nujaifi, the leader of the largest Sunni contingent, United For Reform, and with Ahmad Chalabi, one of the several potential Shiite candidates for prime minister, according to people close to each of those factions, as well as other political figures.

That’s right: the Obama administration, according to the New York Times and other sources, are apparently considering a renewal of US support for Ahmad Chalabi, the prepackaged Bush administration choice to parachute in and make Iraq safe for looting by US oil and arms trade interests, who coincidentally provided much of the fabricated “evidence” used by the Bushies to justify the invasion.
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James Comey, Obama’s candidate to head the FBI, approved illegal warrantless wiretapping and torture. Forward!

Then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama disappointed some of his liberal supporters when he voted in 2008 to immunize our country’s giant telecommunications firms from any consequences of cooperating with the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping scheme. Now, he’s nominating a champion of that scheme to head the FBI.

James Comey, who served as John Ashcroft’s deputy in the Bush II justice department, is getting a lot of love from liberals for a 2004 episode in which he faced down senior Bush administration officials who attempted to bulldoze his hospitalized boss into extending his approval of an as-yet undisclosed National Security Agency assault on the Constitution. The administration scaled the program back from whatever so appalled the bed-ridden Ashcroft to the apparently less ambitious but still unconstitutional effort revealed by the New York Times in 2005 — after they politely sat on the story for a year at the administration’s behest — and approved by Ashcroft and Comey.

It was the telcoms’ cooperation with the scaled-down, Comey-approved program that gave Barack Obama the opportunity to earn their gratitude with his vote to immunize them from the criminal and financial liability for their actions. Despite some serious misgivings, Comey also signed on to the Bush administration’s authorization of torture. So the guy that the Democratic president wants to run the FBI, the guy that Charlie Pierce calls “a legitimate choice to head the FBI,” the guy Josh Marshall says “came down on the side of the rule of law,” is a guy who has a history of approving illegal government activities up to and including crimes against humanity.

More and more, the Obama administration brings to mind a political version of the famous Aristocrats joke.

“What do you call them?”

“The Liberals.”

Famous political scandals of the past as they might have been reported by ABC’s Intrepid Jonathan Karl

As everyone knows, Obama administration dirty tricks operative Ben Gazzy was caught slipping Muslim DNA into the refreshing chilled Thorazine-based breakfast shakes enjoyed by stalwart Congressional Republicans. The administration immediately disavowed any knowledge and responsibility for the affair but the remaining alert Republicans are having none of that.

The administration’s stonewall was holding firm until Intrepid Jonathan Karl, the stalwart political reporter at broadcast news leader ABC, obtained secret emails that had been shown to Congressional Republicans several months ago to no effect. Karl reported that the emails, when subjected to his special stalwart scrutiny, revealed that Obama administration officials not only knew about Ben Gazzy’s dirty tricks, but had supplied him with the Muslim DNA in question. (Reportedly perhaps Osama bin Laden’s! Prove it wasn’t!)

Later developments showed that Intrepid Jonathan Karl had not actually seen any emails and that the plot didn’t exist. Nevertheless, IJ Karl and broadcast news leader ABC stand by his reporting. Or if not by it, exactly, somewhere in the general vicinity of it although with enough distance between them that a cautious witness would hesitate to swear under oath that they were together.

This got us to thinking: what if Intrepid Jonathan Karl had been the reporter breaking other famous political scandals. What would that look like? Glad we asked!

Jonathan Karl interprets the Army-McCarthy hearings through the lens of a source in the McCarthy camp:
ABC news logo McCarthy Vindicated

Jonathan Karl interprets Watergate through the lens of an Oval Office source:
ABC news logo jon karl reports watergate

Jonathan Karl interprets the runup to the invasion of Iraq through the lens of a Bush Administration source:
ABC news logo jon karl reports iraq

Use the hashtag #jonkarlreports to add your own Jonathan Karl interpretations of past scandals to Twitter.

The AP phone records scandal is seven years old

Apparently, there is a lot of outrage right now over the trampling of press freedoms occasioned by the FBI’s secret perusal of AP’s phone records.

The president of the Associated Press called it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into newsgathering activities, while Dana Milbank at the Washington Post reported today that the press corps at yesterday’s White House briefing was “incensed” over this “extraordinary abuse of power.”

Oddly enough, though, it was exactly seven years ago today that it became public knowledge that the Federal government tracks reporters’ phone records at will. The next day, a “senior federal official” told ABC’s Brian Ross, one of the targets, “It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration.”

The reason it was so easy was because a few years earlier, Congress had passed a law making it easy—the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, otherwise known as the USA Patriot Act.

Two days later, I asked White House press secretary Tony Snow about it. He issued a brief denial, and no one else at the briefing seemed at all concerned about the matter.

I suppose it’s a good thing that they eventually found their spines, but really it shouldn’t take seven years and a Democratic president for the press to learn that patriotism is the first resort of scoundrels.

This is why Democrats can’t have nice things

I’ve now read two opinion pieces, one by Charlie Pierce at Esquire last week and another by Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect today, saying that the failure of various gun control measures proves that presidential leadership doesn’t work. They’re writing to defend President Obama from charges that he doesn’t use his position effectively to lobby for legislation he wants.

Both writers cited the speeches Obama has made and events he attended in the months since the massacre of innocents at Newtown. The number of these speeches and events can be described as a handful, as can the number of months since Newtown.  What Pierce and Bouie are saying, then, is that the President, with a handful of speeches and events during a handful of months, failed to overcome a deeply entrenched and effective gun lobby, and this proves that previous criticism of his lack of leadership is bunkum, that presidents, particularly ones facing the kind of opposition this one does, simply don’t have the power and influence to sway public opinion and legislator’s votes.

Part of the failure, which really shouldn’t be described as failure until the President gives up, is Harry Reid’s. The background check measure that was filibustered to death today would have passed, with a few Republicans voting “yes” and a few Democrats “no,” had Reid reined in the filibuster when he had the chance.

The other part of the failure can be laid at the feet of Pierce and Bouie and anyone else who thinks stumping for some legislation for a few months and giving up if you lose constitutes leadership. If the President keeps working for it and gun control proponents in Congress bring this legislation up repeatedly during this session and the next, and it still doesn’t pass, then we can talk. If he doesn’t keep at it, then it wasn’t leadership but a passing enthusiasm.

Republicans don’t give up this easily. They bring up the stupidest and nastiest ideas in the form of legislation every day they can for decades until they get what they want. Bush George-un worked his ass off, in his own way, on behalf of the Iraq invasion, campaigning for it almost daily for more than a year, sending out every recognizable name in his administration with every manner of lie, working the press like a geisha — a favor returned in spades — even when he was on vacation until he got a majority of legislators and ultimately a public majority to back him. That was leadership. He should be painting his little doggie portraits in a cell in the Hague because of it, but it was leadership.

If Democrats brought up Medicare-for-all legislation every year for 40 years, even when they were the minority, campaigned on it, built think tanks around it, I’m pretty sure we would have Medicare for all right now. Instead, we have comically low official tax rates for rich people and comically low effective ones for huge, profitable corporations, and a continuing erosion of social welfare and social insurance programs. This is not coincidence.

The President seems genuinely put out by the fate of the background check measure. I hope he doesn’t read what Pierce wrote — which includes, not for the first time, the sentiment that Obama is too good for America — and what Bouie wrote, and instead takes for his example people like James Brady and Gabrielle Giffords, who intend to keep trying despite suffering the effects of having been shot in the head, which is worse than not getting your way on some legislation that you put a few months of effort into.

Mr. Pierce, Mr. Bouie: grow up.