Whenever The Scrapbook finds the word “conscience” employed by a journalist, we feel obliged to plug in the old you-know-what detector and examine the specimen in some scientific detail. It’s a genuinely distasteful job—mucking through the mounds of insufferable piety and wading through the cesspools of dishonesty and hysteria—but somebody has to do it.
This week’s eruption comes from Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the New York Times who, since his firing in 2003 for presiding over (and covering up) the Jayson Blair fabrication and plagiarism scandal, has been writing regularly about the press for various publications. This past week found Raines in the Washington Post, and he pulled no punches:
One question has tugged at my professional conscience throughout the year-long congressional debate over health-care reform, and it has nothing to do with the public option, portability or medical malpractice. It is this: Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration—a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?
Sad to say, in the balance of his piece, poor Raines loses control. Fox News, he complains, has a “cadre of raucous commentators” and “video ferrets” who reinforce “Foxian reality . . . [with] actors . . . brought on camera to illustrate a preconceived universe as rigid as that of medieval morality.” For according to Howell Raines’s version of modern political history, Americans have always strongly supported nationalized health care and, Ailes/Fox News notwithstanding, never more so than today.
The Scrapbook should say, at this juncture, that Roger Ailes is a big boy, and Fox News is no fledgling organization, and they can take care of themselves when bitten in the ankle by a duck. But you have to sit back for a moment and savor Raines’s vision of those “old-school news organizations”—the Times and Post, Dan Rather’s CBS, the Associated Press, Newsweek, NPR—quaking in fear of Roger Ailes and Fox News, keeping their mouths shut. In Raines’s view, reporters and columnists not employed by Fox News are “intimidated by [its] financial power and expanding audience, as well as Ailes’s proven willingness to dismantle the reputation of anyone who crosses him.”
Well, anyone who believes that is probably prepared to believe that Jayson Blair was hired as a reporter on merit, and wrote factual, scrupulously edited stories in Howell Raines’s New York Times. For the truth is that if there is a news organization in the United States that has restrained itself from speaking ill of Roger Ailes, or a journalist who has caught himself before writing critically about Fox News, we would like to know his/her/their name. In the rarefied circles in which Howell Raines travels, envy/contempt for the success of Ailes and Fox News—in journalistic as well as business terms—is not just rampant, but an essential component of their common vocabulary.
Indeed, the larger proposition is not that Fox News has manufactured opposition to Obamacare, as Raines charges, but that it has faithfully reported the inconvenient truth that the “congressional debate over health-care reform” has deepened and hardened public sentiment against Obamacare. Which may be especially difficult for Howell Raines to comprehend, since he and his fellow denizens of “old-school news organizations” have long practiced the black art of abusing their status as journalists in a free society to conduct political propaganda campaigns, and malign people (Ailes) and institutions (Fox News) they don’t like.
The Los Angeles Machine
As a believer that state and local governments are laboratories of democracy, The Scrapbook was fascinated to learn of the innovation concocted by the lab rats of the Los Angeles City Council: software that automatically votes “yes” whether the member is present in the chamber or not.
As reported by David Zahniser and Maeve Reston of the Los Angeles Times, “Los Angeles City Council members have figured out how to be in two places at once.” Their voting sofware “is set to automatically register each of the 15 lawmakers as a ‘yes’ unless members deliberately press a button to vote ‘no.’ ” The reporters helpfully note that “lawmakers in New York and San Francisco are also allowed to leave their seats during meetings, but members must be in the room to have their votes recorded.” Indeed, and not just in those cities.
Some of the examples compiled by Zahniser and Reston:
* On Nov. 24, the official record showed Councilwoman Janice Hahn casting a vote in favor of a new Villaraigosa appointee to deal with issues facing the city’s disabled residents. In fact, she was in a private room at the time with lobbyist Ben Reznik discussing Ponte Vista, a proposed housing development in San Pedro.
* On Jan. 8, the record had Councilman Richard Alarcon voting to seek hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds for city initiatives. Instead, he was holding closed-door meetings across the corridor—first with a deputy mayor, then with city lawyers.
* On Jan. 22, the record showed Councilman Herb Wesson voting to create a foreclosure prevention program. That occurred as he was smoking a cigarette in an outdoor courtyard that abuts the Spring Street steps of City Hall.
The Scrapbook suggests Angelenos may want to keep the software and get rid of the council members, rather than the other way around. The results probably won’t differ and it will free up the lobbyists for productive work.
‘O Canada’: We Like It the Way It Is
Fresh from the glow of the international spotlight on the Vancouver Olympics, Canada was again in the news last week, but not for any reason to do with athletics. Canadians banded together and stood “on guard” for their national anthem, making clear their displeasure at a recent recommendation in Parliament for a “gender neutral” rewrite.
In the speech from the throne, Governor General Michaëlle Jean targeted the phrase “true patriot love in all thy sons command.” The wording of the original poem on which the anthem is based, written by Stanley Weir, reads “True patriot love thou dost in us command.” The alteration from us to sons was made by Weir himself in 1914, when Canada for understandable reasons wished to laud “true patriot love” in her “sons.”
What sparked this official call to action, after years of unheeded complaint from gender neutralists, is unclear to The Scrapbook. Perhaps, it was hearing the anthem an unusually large number of times in succession—the 14 Canadian golds were an all time record for our northern neighbors.
Although feminist senators have called for anthemic equality in years past, the issue is usually swept away faster than a curling stone. But this most recent proposal originated in the office of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper. It was a maneuver that broadly missed the mark: Liberals called it a political ploy and accused Conservatives of not being serious about women’s rights. Canadians, however, got right to the point of the matter demanding the anthem be left “the way it is.”
The Scrapbook rises to applaud the people of Canada who, to their credit, with “true patriot love” called on their government to not waste time and taxpayer money on an anthem rewrite. Two days after the proposal was made, the prime minister’s office announced no change to the anthem would be made since Canadians had “spoken loud and clear.”
Sentences We . . . Finished
This had all the makings of a classic “Sentences We Didn’t Finish”: “Chief Justice John Roberts is wrong about a lot of things—most things, actually . . . ” But if the reader had just enough energy to go that extra inch in Eugene Robinson’s PostPartisan column in the Washington Post last week, he would have read, “but he may be right when he suggests that he and his black-robed colleagues should give the State of the Union address a pass. Their presence looks like a tradition whose time has come and gone.”
As it turns out, the progressive Robinson agrees with the conservative Roberts that, in the words of the chief justice, “The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the Court—according to the requirements of protocol—has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.”
As for Justice Samuel Alito’s “not true” comment mouthed when President Obama stood at the podium to complain about a recent Court decision, Robinson says Alito should be allowed the reaction: “He shook his head and muttered—and even in a setting of such high ceremony, some allowance has to be made for muttering.” If Robinson had his way, “on State of the Union night, the justices can get together at the courthouse, order some takeout and watch the whole thing on the tube. They’ll be free to cheer and boo all they want, just like the rest of us.”
Of course if you didn’t get through that first sentence, we understand—after all, Eugene Robinson is wrong about a lot of things—most things, actually . . .
Sentences We Didn’t Finish
"Green Zone looks at an American war in a way almost no Holly-wood movie ever has: We’re not the heroes, but the dupes. Its message is that Iraq’s fabled ‘weapons of mass destruction’ did not exist, and that neocons within the administration fabricated them, lied about them . . . ” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, March 10, 2010).