journalism, politics

Following up on Calling It

A few days ago, the Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed toward a brief CNN discussion on how best to call the candidates out. The reporter Candy Crowley prevaricates, pointing out that Obama’s side tells its share of the inaccurate statements about McCain. But Mark Halperin clarifies that McCain’s inaccurate statements are much more central to his campaign. As Coates wrote:

I get what she’s saying, but saying that Barack Obama stretches the truth to, doesn’t really address the fundamental argument–that the media should check these mo-fos when they lie….The point isn’t that the media should be harder on just McCain, it’s that they should do their job with all candidates. Saying “Well the other guy does it to” isn’t a “get of your job free” card.

Here’s the video:

And, following up on the earlier post, Call It as You See It, Chris Matthews seems to feel he’s struck gold, uncovering a vein of denial among some of his Republican guests:

journalism, politics

Call It as You See It

Chris Matthews recently interviewed a McCain representative named Nancy Pfotenhauer. He followed up on her answers, and had statistics in hand. He called her out.

If journalism, especially television journalism, was simply meant to provide an outlet for the various sides of a campaign to get their messages out, without any additional probing or challenges–well, maybe campaigns ought to pay for that air-time, because that’s called advertising.

The Obama partisan does comes across better, if not quite as composed (usually we wait for the conversation to devolve a bit before deploying a “let me finish”), and walks away unscathed. Maybe this is bias on the part of Matthews, the possibility of which I wouldn’t discount, but he also seems to have simply run out of steam. After all, Pfotenhauer begins to pick a fight with Matthews when it turns out that he and his staff have done some research, and it must be exasperating for everyone. (When he asks who she voted for in 2004, her response is to ask who Matthews voted for.) I guess only Gene Simmons and Bill O’Reilly can get away with walking out, mid-interview.

I tend to think of Chris Matthews as behaving like a really smart 14-year-old political junkie who knows how smart he is and sticks tenaciously to his understanding of things, but whose attitude is leavened with flashes of earnesty and humility, and who still wants you to like him.* The sort of kid you remember later while shaking your head and grinning. And sometimes Pfotenhauer talks to him as if he were. Considering the reputation Matthews has gained over the years, especially in the months since the Times Magazine profile, he seemed to pull back a bit later in this interview. But he did jab in the last word.

It’s become a cliché to point out that some of the best journalism on television is done by The Daily Show. Exposing paradox or hypocrisy is something that many feel is missing in the news–most thoughtful reporting and interviewing in daily journalism is dwarfed by the more straightforward, reflexive play-by-play or horse-race style of political and business reporting. But I think Matthews manages to get at one of the core paradoxes of the current iteration of the McCain campaign. And so, famously, did the Daily Show about ten days ago, in a piece on McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, which I include here, in part, because it also features the now-familiar face of Nancy Pfotenhauer.

*I’m guessing this is actually how many grown-up politicians probably behave, too.

Alaska, politics, really?

Alaska, Factored

When I was in high school, an especially talented teacher brought the hammer down on all of us idealistic almost-voters. Our votes for president, she told us, wouldn’t count.

Easy for her to say. And not necessarily wrong. We were living in Alaska, which holds a whopping three electoral votes. And those three electoral votes are reliably Republican, just like the state. She encouraged us to participate, but when it comes to realpolitik, Alaska doesn’t make the difference. No president-elect or vice-president-elect thanks the people of Alaska on election night.

For the last 28 years, Alaska’s delegation to Washington, D.C., has been solidly Republican. The governors have been more mixed—five Republicans, five Democrats since statehood. The tie-breaker would be Wally Hickel, who was governor from 1990 to 1994, under the Alaska Independence Party banner. He breaks the tie in favor of the Republicans–after all, he switched to the party in 1994. Or, rather, switched back to the party–he was also one of those Republican governors, in the 1960s, until he joined the Nixon administration.

By now, you’ve probably heard of at least two of Alaska’s delegation: Don Young and Ted Stevens. They’ve run successfully on anti-change platforms. That is, you should vote for me, because I’ve been in Congress for such a long time that it would be bad for you to get rid of me. This is why Young, for example, didn’t feel to bashful about admitting, about the 2005 transportation bill, “I stuffed it like a turkey.” That bill included earmarks for the famous “bridges to nowhere” (there were two, technically, including the famous one down near Ketchikan), which the Republicans point out now-Governor Sarah Palin opposed. They don’t mention that it was a Republican’s initiative.

But Young is in a political fight to the death at this very moment. (Let’s save a discussion of Stevens for another day.) Palin’s lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, challenged the 36-year-incumbent in the primary, held Tuesday, and they’re still counting the votes. Young has a lead, but just barely: 151 votes. (I’ll write more about Young in the future. I need a real reporting budget, too–it’s a great story.)

And now Sarah Palin is John McCain’s running mate. A surprise, but hardly a shock since Palin has been mentioned as a possibility (though a long shot). She is probably a good short-term choice for McCain, but debatable in the long term. She is popular in Alaska, but Alaska only has about 670,000 people. While 60 percent of the population is independent or unaffiliated, and another quarter is Republican, it hasn’t proven to be that politically diverse at core when electing statewide or nationally in recent years. Compared to bigger, more diverse states like Texas or California, or even medium-sized states like Pennsylvania or Ohio, it’s kind of like saying she’s popular in high school.*

She ends up undermining much of McCain’s campaign so far, namely the experience argument. Even though the Republicans can point to her executive experience, once the dust settles, it will be clear that she’s only been governor of Alaska for about a year and a half, and her prior experience is limited, potentially negligible. If she’d been an early candidate for president, she would have been severely criticized if not ridiculed for her presumption to the office. And Obama’s people will focus on her glaring weaknesses while pointing out that executive experience is no guarantee–after all, George W. Bush was a two-term governor of Texas, and a two-term president, and how often do we hear anyone singing his praise anymore?

There are a lot of other Republican women who have longer résumés (including active governors and senators), and from that perspective, choosing Palin is particularly surprising. But she brings advantages. One is that she doesn’t really have a record to run from, though that brings a slim record to point to.

But choosing her also has an effect that Karl Rove would be proud of. The Palin selection is Rove’s base strategy at work–appealing to and drawing out the conservative base, which helped re-elect Bush in 2004. Remember George W. Bush’s perhaps unintentional acknowledgment of the strategy after the election, when he pledged to “reach out to everyone who shares our goals.”

Alaska has a strong libertarian streak (with a paradoxical dose of federal entitlement), which helped Palin’s anti-corruption, anti-waste campaign for governor. All state politicians have to balance that libertarianism with their personal conservatism or liberalism, which means it’s often subverted. It’s clear that Palin’s conservatism will be deployed strategically: evangelical, anti-abortion, promotes teaching creationism in school, grew up around hunting and guns,* etc. Just like, say, Mike Huckabee. But choosing Palin more easily qualifies as historic.

So what does Alaska have to do with any of this? Almost nothing, at this point. Energy and global warming are the obvious issues, and it will be interesting to watch Palin attempt to shut down Biden on these points in debate. But Alaska, like Delaware, doesn’t figure into any key electoral equations. My teacher is still right, and this election won’t be won and lost there.

Plus, if Palin goes to Washington along with Sean Parnell, and they stick to their fiscal guns (the Club for Growth loves them), then Alaska actually stands to lose money. Alaska wouldn’t be Alaska without that steady influx of federal cash.

No, it seems that Alaska’s unique role in today’s decision is that it’s a small state that allows people to make big impressions. Where else can a person come, seemingly, out of nowhere, to make a political name for herself? It’s unlikely, beating a machine, subverting the hierarchies, jumping to the head of the line. Doing that sounds impossible in California or Texas or New York. Except that Barack Obama seems to have done just that with the nation, and, with the Palin pick, McCain apparently sees that kind of dynamism as a key to success. And if it does the trick for McCain, then, for the first time, somebody will remember Alaska on election night.

*In fairness, Delaware only has about 850,000 people. And I do like Alaska–after all, I went to high school there and my family lives there still.

**I grew up around hunting and guns, too. Something like that is not necessarily a conservative attribute, but is boiled down to useful keywords in elections.

anticipation, competition, politics, race, really?

It is on.

Who says politics has devolved into a slideshow? Looks more like it’s the center ring. This was recorded for the WWE, broadcast last night. I guess they really are trying to get that working class white male vote. No more direct route than pro wrestling, right?


I like how McCain suggests that he’s “the man.” Hard not to hear that and think about “the Man.” As in, don’t let the Man get you down.

While we’re at it, here’s one version of the Fatboy Slim video for “Don’t Let the Man Get You Down.” It is supposed to have multiple endings. I am not suggesting that McCain is racist.

Asia, China, competition, education, politics, really?

Please Vote For Me

The good folks at China Digital Times have pointed us to a documentary by Chen Weijun about an experiment in democracy in Chinese grade school. It’s an amazing piece. With all the electioneering and scheming, you eventually forget that you’re watching a bunch of eight-year-olds in a (nominally) Communist country.
Here’s the YouTube intro: 

In an elementary school in the city of Wuhan in central China, three eight-year-old students campaign for the coveted position of class monitor. This is the first election for a class leader to be held in China. The three candidates hold debates, campaign tirelessly and show their intellectual and artistic skills, until one is voted the winner. Their parents, devoted to their only child, take part and start to influence the results. 


The remaining chapters after the jump. Continue reading

anticipation, dissipation, education, irony, journalism, politics, really?, ridiculousness, unfortunate

Instant Void: When it comes to the Journalism School’s Dean, you’ve got questions, but we’ve got no answers

Wrote this on Tuesday:
John Peabody has a nice rundown of the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s meeting on the surprise withdrawal of Dianne Lynch as incoming dean. She is, and will remain, dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. To recap: Lynch was the favorite candidate among the finalists for the job to succeed Orville Schell. She withdrew late in the game. Provost George Breslauer discussed her reasons for withdrawing with her and convinced her to accept the position in May. Breslauer and the search committee got the UC Regents to approve what they felt was a generous compensation package and official appointment in the summer. Then they started the faculty review. Breslauer said they waited until they could be sure the money was in place before they initiated the review. And then she withdrew, again, last week, about two months before she was set to start, about 5 months after she accepted the job.

Breslauer, along with Vice Provost Shelly Zedeck, and interim dean and professor Neil Henry, a former Washington Post reporter, met with students, faculty, and staff for about 40 minutes Monday evening.

The meeting, according to an e-mail from Henry, was “to discuss the withdrawal and the school’s immediate future with the full school community.”

The discussion of the withdrawal consisted mainly of variations of the phrase, We can’t tell you what happened.

The school’s immediate future was never substantially addressed either. Professor Cynthia Gorney got Breslauer to confirm that program funding would continue, though how much, for how long, and for what was not completely clear. But there’s a promise. In any case, in the same e-mail that Henry sent informing us of the meeting, Henry wrote: “With much School planning and decision-making on hold in recent months pending Dianne’s arrival, I will now move to secure university financial support for various curricular and program initiatives during our continuing transition.” So no surprises there.

There were a handful of notable moments in the meeting, including Henry’s admonition that we should not be curious about rumors, nor should we ask questions about confidential information. Sometimes a person will kick away the dirt to reveal the bright shining line that exists between journalism and bureaucracy.

But all of this secrecy and uproar may have a more pernicious effect. Granted, Breslauer, et al., are bound by the University’s rules of confidentiality related to personnel matters, and thus can not tell us what happened. But Breslauer was careful in describing the timeline of this process (which I summed up above). And he noted that it was during the faculty review process, when materials presumably relating to a candidate’s professional history, are scrutinized by faculty, that she withdrew.

And that’s where the questions start pouring in.

Look at it this way. If one went through the process of getting a high profile job in one’s field, only to withdraw during the professional evaluation–when people are examining your work, maybe calling up a few old colleagues–the casual onlooker might then wonder if something unpleasant was discovered. If it were enough to disqualify someone from being a dean at Berkeley, one might wonder if it might be enough to disqualify that person from being dean anywhere. Yet due to the confidentiality surrounding personnel matters, that other school might not be similarly informed. (Or it might not have seen a problem where others did.) Meanwhile, the reputation of an accomplished administrator and new-media star hangs in the balance.

That’s the uncomfortable situation that Lynch is in, and since there is a void of substantial information, rumors and assertions rush to fill it.

Worse, it may all be the result of bad timing. So Lynch withdrew during the review phase rather than the salary phase. Her motivation may have had nothing at all to do with the review. But because it happened during her professional review, it’s difficult to shake the implication of impropriety. And that, inevitably, is where many questions are headed.

But wait: What if Lynch’s withdrawal didn’t have anything to do with her record? Why withdraw then? Family, yes, which is what she’s told us. (When Karl Rove resigned, citing family reasons, Sara Schaefer Munoz mused about the popularity of the family reasons reason on the Wall Street Journal’s The Juggle blog.)

Could it be the Journalism School, itself? Possibly. Over the course of this whole dean search, a fair amount of dirty laundry has been aired, most of it having to do with the usual departmental politics endemic to any academic institution, though some of it has to do with the nature of journalism and journalism training. If you had a good thing going at your current job, and saw that the new job was rife with vitriolic, internecine feuding, maybe little Ithaca College isn’t so bad, after all. Why leave upstate New York, four seasons, reasonable cost of living, for the big time at Berkeley, if that means trading it all in for a two-season, earthquake-prone den of dysfunction?

Or maybe it’s something else. But I guess that’s the point here.

As long as the confidentiality rules hold, then both sides are technically protected from any potential revelations that they’d just as soon keep hidden. But in the process, both sides risk losing face.

articles, development, environment, influence, international, money, politics

What’s Doing in the Mato Grosso

Google Map of South America

My friend and former colleague Pat Joseph has an article in the latest Virginia Quarterly Review. It’s about the boom (and recent bust) in soy farming in the interior of Brazil.

Well written, all round, but one section I especially liked was about the Brazilian sense that the Americans need not tell them how to live, they can take care of themselves just fine, thank you. Classic case of the You did it, so can we philosophy of resource development running up against the Don’t make the mistakes I did when I was your age philosophy. Classic.

ideas, influence, politics

Read the Times, Save Dartmouth

Ran across an interesting ad on the New York Times‘s home page today:

Save Dartmouth Ad

(Note, the image is a composite of two screenshots as my screen is quite small.)

So. Save Dartmouth.

I must have misunderstood that the ruckus over Dartmouth’s alumni constitution and its system of having alumni vote for half the Board of Trustees was over with the last election. It can’t be cheap to purchase ad space as large as the main photo on the home page of the New York Times.

It’s hard to tell who’s behind this. They ponied up the extra money to keep their domain registration private. There is only one name listed with the organization: “Comments and questions can be directed to our unofficial leader, Mr. Andres Morton Zimmerman, at”

East Wheelock Cluster

Interesting to note that during my freshman year I lived in Andres Hall (back left), and my sophomore year in Zimmerman (back right). Of the three residence halls that made up the early incarnation of the East Wheelock Cluster when I was at Dartmouth, I did not live in Morton Hall, which you can see in the foreground on the right. As I recall, there was a fair amount of criticism of the East Wheelock Cluster (once called the New Dorms) because they were an attempt to establish a residential college of the sort overseen by the late former Dean of First Year Students Peter Goldsmith when he was at Mathey College at Princeton. A very un-Dartmouth kind of program tutted the traditionalists. And so perhaps an odd choice of name for the unofficial leader of Save Dartmouth. Only Mr. Andres Morton Zimmerman really knows.

irony, politics, really?

Questioning the Answer

So, two days ago. The Senate Judiciary Committee called Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in to answer more questions about things like

  • firing federal prosecutors, for hard-to-explain reasons;
  • just what was happening when then-White House Counsel Gonzalez and former Chief of Staff Andrew Card tried to get a bed-ridden and sedated Attorney General Ashcroft to sign off on the domestic surveillance program; and,
  • why he is still attorney general.

A sample exchange:
Senator Chuck Schumer: Did the president ask you to go to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital bed?

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales: We were there on behalf of the president of the United States.

Schumer: I didn’t ask you that. Did the president ask you to go?

Gonzales: Senator, we were there on behalf of the president of the United States.

Schumer: Why can’t you answer that question?

Gonzales: That’s the answer that I can give you, senator.

If you asked me, When were you born?, could I get away with saying, On a day
in a year?

Technically, that is true. And, technically, it is an answer. But, really.

Could I get away with saying that under oath? How about under oath while on a witness stand or testifying in front of Congress?

anticipation, competition, politics

Mike BloombergNY Daily News has the story, or, rather, traffics in the speculation (the “web of intrigue,” they call it, punny and appropriate): is online. Routes you to Michael Bloomberg’s personal web site/advertisement for himself. The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent’s people say they’re just trying to prevent web squatting. But fuel begat fire, and one wonders who might share the ticket with him. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Makes for good copy, but there is that tricky 12th Amendment (“But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States Too”).

The odds may be better for Chuck Hagel. He’s been openly critical of the Bush Administration’s handling of the war, there’s been talk about him as a candidate (from him), and he would lend even more gravitas, political and business credentials, and a war hero biography. Plus, National Journal dug up a 1996 campaign promise that he wouldn’t run for a third term, which would be in 2008. Plus, he’s from Nebraska.

The question, then, might be, who would run at the top of the ticket?

Alaska, influence, politics

Alaska’s Congressman Still Has Clout (…?)

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner wrote a post-election story examining the political fortunes of its lone U.S. representative–and, to a large degree, the political fortunes of the state.

Entitled “Alaska’s congressman still has clout,” the article emphasizes how powerful Young had become during Republican domination of Congress. While senior members of the minority party still have great influence (though mainly within the party), the guarantees that Young might have made to Alaska–such as, most famously, the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” but also drilling in ANWR–will be even harder to follow through on. As reporter Sam Bishop wrote:

During the past month, Young repeatedly stated that the House would stay under Republican control. He said the incessant media speculation about a Democratic takeover was generated by wishful thinking.

Speaking with Alaska reporters in Washington, D.C., before Congress recessed in early October, Young was upbeat about his future options.

“I am in the catbird’s seat when it comes right down to it,” he said.

With the exception of Tony Knowles’s eight years as governor from 1994 to 2002, and Wally Hickel’s Alaska Independence Party governorship (though the first time Hickel was governor, he was a Republican), Alaska has been dominated by Republicans at the state and federal level for the last couple of decades. It is a routine argument told to Alaskan voters that they should keep voting for Republicans if only for strategic reasons: with Republican dominance, why offend national Republicans or risk losing federal dollars by electing a Democratic senator or representative? Essentially, go along to get along.

For more than a decade, Alaska has received the most per capita federal funding of any state. Last year, it was $985 per capita–an amount that fell to $489 this year when Sen. Ted Stevens was rotated out of the Appropriations chairmanship. But that still made Alaska number one. With the new incoming Congress, will Alaska remain on top?

politics, San Francisco

The Big News in San Francisco Politics

Admittedly, there are the issues of violence, foot patrols, disappearing grocery stores, and BBW dancers; and I’ve been busy with school and managed to produce stories about the Tenderloin, no-match letters, foot patrols, and the Old Mint.

But the big news of the day was about a small detail of San Francisco politics.

Namely, Mayor Gavin Newsom went out in public and did not gel his hair into his trademark Newsomian sweep. The Chronicle’s SFGate, and a bit more substantially SFist, have blogged about it. And the San Francisco Sentinel has the pictures. Including one below, by John Han.

The comparisons to Newsom’s former mayoral rival Matt Gonzalez are inevitable and deserved.

I’m no stranger to changing hairstyles. And if you make enough of a change, everyone’s going to notice. I went from long Gonzalez-like hair with an occasional Newsomian sweep to a more martial, uniformly short cut.

Still, in San Francisco, people think they’ve seen it all. And then something like this happens.

Newsom this morning. Photo by John Han at the San Francisco Sentinel. Matt Gonzalez at a mayoral candidates’ forum in 2003. Opponent Gavin Newsom, with former hair, is visible in the background. Photo by Paolo Vescia for SF Weekly at