Ben Dreyfuss

Engagement Editor

Ben Dreyfuss is the engagement editor at Mother Jones.

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BREAKING: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Has Been Found Guilty On All 30 Counts in the Boston Bombing Trial

| Wed Apr. 8, 2015 2:03 PM EDT

A Massachusetts jury has found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty on all counts in the Boston Marathon Bombing trial, making him eligible to face the death penalty.

Tsarnaev faced 30 counts, 17 of which carried a possible death sentence.

Next up comes sentencing which could begin as early as Monday.

This post will be updated as more information becomes available.

Watch:

 

 

 

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Brian Williams Was "Obsessed" With Mitt Romney's Underwear

| Wed Apr. 8, 2015 9:09 AM EDT

Vanity Fair is out with a deliciously gossipy long read on the troubles at NBC News by Brian Burrough. The focus is largely on Brian Williams and his recent drama but it also goes into the larger culture clashes that have dominated 30 Rock since Comcast took over NBCUniversal from GE in 2011. There was the Today drama. There was the Meet The Press drama. Now the Nightly News drama.  Drama with a capital D!

This is the type of story Vanity Fair is so good at. (Back in February they had the definitive insider account of the Sony leaks.) If you like this sort of thing, you should read the whole article

Here are some of my takeaways from it:

A lot of people are sniping about NBC News president Deborah Turness.

Turness gets a lot of blame for NBC News' troubles but it's not clear to me that any of the criticisms really mean much. One of the problems with this genre of story is that it's necessarily almost all blind quotes and the criticisms are so predictably broad and meaningless. A la:

"News is a very particular thing, NBC is a very particular beast, and Deborah, well, she really doesn’t have a fucking clue,” says a senior NBC executive involved."

It's not that this is gibberish, it's that it is meaningless. Everything is a particular thing. Every place is a particular beast. All this quote tells you is that an unnamed senior NBC executive doesn't much care for Deborah Turness, not one bit, boy howdy. 

When the criticisms do get a bit more specific they're muddled and contradictory. She is blamed for not being tough enough with talent ( “She’s letting the inmates run the asylum. You have kids? Well, if you let them, they’ll have ice cream every night. Same thing in TV. If you let the people on air do what they want, whenever they want, this is what happens.”) but also dinged for not being nice enough to the talent's agents? ("She didn’t understand that you communicate [with the talent] through their agents. Like if [WME co-C.E.O.] Ari Emanuel calls, you have to phone back the same day.")

Then there is this stuff:

"It was almost unfair to give Deborah this job,” says one NBC observer. “She was basically overmatched. From day one, it was difficult, even just managing the daily job. Because it’s a big job, it’s got a lot of intricate parts to it, and you know she had a rough time with it."

[...]

"Come on!” barks one critic. "Anybody with a triple-digit I.Q. who interviews somebody to come in as president of NBC News you ask, ‘What are you going to do with the 800-pound gorilla? With Today?’ And Deborah’s answer was ‘You hire Jamie Horowitz!’ It was almost like it was Deborah’s cry for help. Like if you’re overwhelmed and you don’t have a lot of confidence or vision, you bring in other people: ‘Help me, I’m drowning."

Overmatched. Overwhelmed. She was given a job then found herself drowning in it. She hired a male producer from ESPN as a cry for help. This is the sort of language people somehow never use when describing male executives.

Maybe the president of NBC News is bad at her job—NBC News definitely has struggled under her watch—but no where in this whole thing does anyone articulate in any meaningful way how she is bad at her job.

Comcast treats talent with the same disregard they treat their cable customers.

"To be honest, you got the sense they couldn’t fathom why NBC worried so much about the talent; you know, ‘Why are these people worrying so much about what Matt Lauer thinks?’”

NBC staffers resent the fact that Brian Williams has nice hair and good cheekbones.

An industry insider adds, “There is also a lot of envy of Williams’s movie-star good looks, his long happy marriage to a wonderful woman, great kids, and he’s paid millions to read a thousand words five times a week from a teleprompter.”

Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw don't like each other very much.

“Tom and Brian,” one longtime friend of both men says with a sigh, “that was never a good relationship. Tom pushed for him to get that job. But Brian never embraced Tom. And I don’t know why…. He knows the rank and file will never love him like they did Tom, so he never tries. That’s the reason there’s not a lot of support for Brian over there.”

Brian Williams resents Tom Brokaw for not saving him.

“Tom didn’t push Brian out, but he didn’t try to save him, either.”

[...]

While he has accepted responsibility for his actions, friends say, Williams is bitter, especially at those who he believes might have saved him.

“I talked to Brian about this,” says one friend, “and I’ll never forget what he said at the end. He said, ‘Chalk one up for Brokaw.’”

Side note: Want to giggle yourself silly? Say, "Chalk one up to Brokaw" out loud like you're playing Brian Williams in an off-Broadway play. Repeat until you see the humor. It's pretty fun.

Brian Williams exaggerated his personal tales of valor and glory because Tom Brokaw is just so great.

“I always felt he needed to jack up his stories because he was trying so hard to overcome his insecurities,” this executive says. “And he had to follow Tom, which brought its own set of insecurities. He likes to sort of tell these grandiose tales. But, can I tell you, in all the years we worked together, it never rose to the point where we said, ‘Oh, there he goes again.’ I just saw it as one of the quirks of his personality.”

Brian Williams thinks in boxes.

"...his wife [Jane] tried to explain. She said he put things in boxes [in his mind]. He would only talk about what was in those boxes on-camera.”

I have no idea what this means.

Very serious NBC News people think Brian Williams is unserious.

“What always bothered Tim was Brian’s lack of interest in things that mattered most, that were front and center, like politics and world events,” says a person who knew both men well. “Brian has very little interest in politics. It’s not in his blood. What Brian cares about is logistics, the weather, and planes and trains and helicopters.”

“You know what interested Brian about politics?” marvels one longtime NBC correspondent, recently departed. “Brian was obsessed with whether Mitt Romney wore the Mormon underwear.”

This is so Broadcast News, right?

Brian Williams wanted to be a late night host.

According to New York, he talked to Steve Burke about succeeding Jay Leno. When Burke refused, Williams reportedly pitched Les Moonves, at CBS, to replace David Letterman, who was soon to retire. Moonves also allegedly declined. Though his appearances on shows such as 30 Rock and Jimmy Fallon successfully repositioned Williams as a good-humored Everyman—and thus expanded not only his own brand but that of Nightly News—they were not popular among many of his colleagues.

[...]

After refusing Williams the Leno spot, Steve Burke offered him a consolation prize: his own magazine show, Rock Center, a bid to anchor what he hoped would be the second coming of 60 Minutes. It wasn’t. Rock Center debuted in 2011 to tepid reviews and worse ratings.

There is a lot more. If you've made it this far, go read the whole article.

Rand Paul Just Announced That He's Running for President. Here's His Speech.

| Tue Apr. 7, 2015 1:28 PM EDT

Rand Paul just announced that he is running for president. He said some weird things, and some stupid things, and some okay things, and some smart things, and a lot of meaningless things.

Politics!

Here's the transcript, courtesy of TIME.

I have a message, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We have come to take our country back.

We have come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank, the special interests that are more concerned with their personal welfare than the general welfare.

The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped.

Less than five years ago I stood just down the road in home town in Bowling Green and said those same words. I wasn't supposed to win, no one thought I would.

Some people asked me, then why are you running? The answer is the same now as it was then. I have a vision for America. I want to be part of a return to prosperity, a true economic boom that lists all Americans, a return to a government restrained by the Constitution.

A return to privacy, opportunity, liberty. Too often when Republicans have won we have squandered our victory by becoming part of the Washington machine. That's not who I am.

That's not why I ran for office the first time just a few years ago. The truth is, I love my life as a small-town doctor. Every day I woke up, I felt lucky to be able to do the things I loved. More importantly, I was blessed to be able to do things that made a difference in people's lives.

I never could have done any of this, though, without the help of my parents who are here today. I'd like you to join me and thank my mother and dad.

With my parents' help, I was able to make it through long years of medical training to become an eye surgeon. For me there is nothing that compares with helping someone see better. Last August I was privileged to travel to Guatemala on a medical mission trip together with a team of surgeons from across the U.S.

We operated on more than 200 people who were blind or nearly blind from cataracts. I was grateful to be able to put my scrubs back on, peer into the oculars of the microscope, and focus on the task at hand, to take a surgical approach to fix a problem.

One day in Guatemala, a man arrived and told me that I'd operated on his wife the day before. His wife could see clearly for the first time in years, and she had begged him to get on the bus, travel the winding roads and come back to our surgery center. He too was nearly blind from hardened cataracts.

After his surgery, the next day, his wife sat next to me. As I unveiled the patch from his eyes, it was a powerful emotional moment for me to see them looking at each other clearly for the first time years to see the face they loved again.

As I saw the joy in their eyes, I thought, "This is why I became a doctor."

In that moment, I also remembered my grandmother, who inspired me to become an eye surgeon. She spent hours with me as a kid. We would sort through her old coin collection, looking for wheat pennies and Indian heads. But as her vision began to fail, I became her eyes to inspect the faintness of the mint marks on the old weather-worn coins.

I went with my grandmother to the ophthalmologist as she had her corneas replaced. I was also with her when she received the sad news that macular generation had done irreparable harm to her eyes.

My hope… my hope that my grandmother would see again made me want to become an eye surgeon, to make a difference in people's lives.

I've been fortunate. I've been able to enjoy the American Dream.

I worry, though, that the opportunity and hope are slipping away for our sons and daughters. As I watch our once-great economy collapse under mounting spending and debt, I think, "What kind of America will our grandchildren see"?

It seems to me that both parties and the entire political system are to blame.

Big government and debt doubled under a Republican administration.

And it's now tripling under Barack Obama's watch. President Obama is on course to add more debt than all of the previous presidents combined.

We borrow a million dollars a minute. This vast accumulation of debt threatens not just our economy, but our security.

We can wake up now and do the right thing. Quit spending money we don't have.

This message of liberty is for all Americans, Americans from all walks of life. The message of liberty, opportunity and justice is for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform or overalls, whether you're white or black, rich or poor.

In order to restore America, one thing is for certain, though: We cannot, we must not dilute our message or give up on our principles.

If we nominate a candidate who is simply Democrat Light, what's the point?

Why bother?

We need to boldly proclaim our vision for America. We need to go boldly forth under the banner of liberty that clutches the Constitution in one hand and the Bill of Rights in the other.

Washington is horribly broken. I fear it can't be fixed from within. We the people must rise up and demand action.

Congress will never balance the budget unless you force them to do so. Congress has an abysmal record with balancing anything. Our only recourse is to force Congress to balance the budget with a constitutional amendment.

I have been to Washington, and let me tell you, there is no monopoly on knowledge there.

I ran for office because we have too many career politicians. I believe it now more than ever.

We limit the President to two terms. It's about time we limit the terms of Congress!

I want to reform Washington. I want common sense rules that will break the log-jam in Congress.

That's why I introduced a Read the Bills Act.

The bills are thousands of pages long. And no one reads them. They are often plopped on our desks only a few hours before a vote.

I've proposed something truly extraordinary — Let's read the bills, every page!

———
Many Americans, though, are being left behind. The reward of work seems beyond their grasp. Under the watch of both parties – the poor seem to get poorer and the rich get richer.

Trillion dollar government stimulus packages have only widened the income gap.

Politically connected cronies get taxpayer dollars by the hundreds of millions, and poor families across America continue to suffer.

I have a different vision, an ambitious vision, a vision that will offer opportunity to all Americans, especially those who have been left behind.

———
Liberal policies have failed our inner cities. Let's just get the facts straight. They have failed our inner cities. Our schools are not equal and the poverty gap continues to widen.

Martin Luther King spoke of two Americas. He described them as "two starkly different American experiences that exist side by side."

In one America, people experience the opportunity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the other America, people experience a daily ugliness. …

My trips to Detroit, Appalachia, and Chicago have revealed what I call an ‘undercurrent of unease.'

I want all our children to have the same opportunities that I had. We need to stop limiting kids in poor neighborhoods to failing public schools and offer school choice, not just for the privileged, but for everyone!

It won't happen, though, unless we realize that we can't borrow our way to prosperity.

———

In my vision for America, freedom and prosperity at home can only be achieved if we defend against enemies who are dead-set on attacking America.

The enemy is radical Islam and not only will I name the enemy, I will do what ever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind!

We need a national defense robust enough to defend against all attack, modern enough to deter all enemies, and nimble enough to defend our vital interests.

But we also need a foreign policy that protects American interests and encourages stability, not chaos!

I envision an America with a national defense unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by overseas nation building!

I envision a national defense that promotes, as Reagan put it, "Peace through Strength."

I believe in applying Ronald Reagan's approach to foreign policy to the Iran issue.

Successful negotiations with untrustworthy adversaries are only achieved from a position of strength.

We brought Iran to the table from strength, through sanctions I voted for.

Now we must stay strong. That's why I co-sponsored legislation that insures that any deal between the U.S. and Iran must be approved by Congress.

Not only is that good policy, it is the law.

I will oppose any deal that does not end Iran's nuclear ambitions and have strong verification measures. I will insist that any final version be brought before Congress.

The difference between President Obama and myself-he seems to think you can negotiate from a position of weakness.

———
We must realize, though, that we do not project strength by borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan.

Let's quit building bridges in foreign countries and use that money to build some bridges here at home!

It angers me to see mobs burning our flag and chanting death to America in countries that receive millions of dollars of our foreign aid.

I say it must end. I say not one penny more to these haters of America!

———

Today begins the journey to take back America, to rescue a great country, now adrift.

If you love liberty, stand with me!

If you want to defeat the Washington machine, stand with me!

God bless you. God bless America.

 

Happy Easter! The Obama Family Is Pretty Adorable.

| Sun Apr. 5, 2015 4:27 PM EDT

I'm a secular Jew. I don't know much about Easter—it has to do with rabbits and Jesus—but as far as I can tell it's a lovely holiday. 

Here is the Obama family's Easter photo. Isn't it so adorable? They're a pretty adorable family. 

The dog looks less than thrilled.

Happy Easter! I'm going to Benihana. 

BREAKING: Iran Nuclear Deal Reached

| Thu Apr. 2, 2015 1:43 PM EDT

Wow.

The U.S. and other international negotiators reportedly have agreed to the outlines of an understanding with Iran that would allow for a final phase of nuclear talks.

The Associated Press, citing officials, reported on the agreement, while noting that negotiators are still in a dispute over how much to make public.

A press conference is about to begin to announce the details (WATCH HERE), but according to Reuters it looks like Iran has agreed to suspend much of its nuclear program.

UPDATE: Here is the White House fact sheet on the deal:

 

 
Wed Oct. 8, 2014 2:39 AM EDT
Sat Sep. 27, 2014 10:59 AM EDT
Fri Sep. 19, 2014 12:32 AM EDT
Mon Sep. 15, 2014 4:20 PM EDT
Thu Sep. 4, 2014 3:32 PM EDT
Wed Sep. 3, 2014 11:05 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 28, 2014 1:03 AM EDT
Tue Aug. 19, 2014 7:02 PM EDT
Sat Aug. 16, 2014 4:48 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 11, 2014 7:33 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 11, 2014 2:59 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 1, 2014 4:58 PM EDT
Tue Jul. 29, 2014 4:45 PM EDT
Tue Jul. 29, 2014 7:24 AM EDT
Tue Jul. 29, 2014 1:57 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 21, 2014 11:05 PM EDT
Tue Jul. 15, 2014 10:16 AM EDT
Sat Jul. 12, 2014 12:37 PM EDT