Political MoJo

New in Mother Jones: Don't Blame the Internet for Killing Newspapers

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 12:05 AM EST
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Here's one of the mysteries of the media world: Newspaper chains routinely make profits that Fortune 500 companies only dream of—we're talking 20% plus here—and yet everyone says newspapers are about to go the way of the horse and buggy. What's up with that? As Eric Klinenberg explains in "Breaking the News," in our current issue, there's actually no disconnect between fat profits and the demise of the great American newspaper. In fact, the cutting back on reporting and content to wring more money from newspapers is what's killing them. Nope, the Internet isn't to blame. (Though newspapers—and magazines [ahem]—still have a thing or two to learn about making money online.) Klinenberg, the author of the just-published Fighting for Air, takes a close look at the ongoing Los Angeles Times debacle, a case study in how to turn a world-class newspaper into a shadow of its former self, all in the name of satisfying shareholders and equity-chasing investors.

Klinenberg's article is worth checking out even if your fingers haven't been smudged with newsprint for years. Because even if you're an online-only, blog-reading, indy media type, you still need newspapers whether you realize it or not. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're doing the kind of reporting that blogs can't. Or as Kevin Drum explains in his companion piece, "Why Bloggers Need the MSM":

In fact, blogs and the MSM [mainstream media] are symbiotic. Blogs at their best improve on MSM reporting both by holding reporters to account and by latching onto complex topics and talking about them in a conversational style that professional reporters just can't match. But the blogosphere would shrivel and die without a steady diet of news reporting from paid professionals.

Even if newspapers printed on dead trees disappear, we're still going to have to get our daily news somewhere. Back to Klinenberg:

"What's really at risk here is not the future of newspapers but of the news itself. While our democratic culture could survive the loss of the daily paper as we know it, it would be endangered without the kinds of reporting that it provides. It's the journalism, not the newsprint, that matters."

These stories are just part of a larger package that includes Sridhar Pappu's look at the implosion of the LA Times, plus an interview with former LAT editor Dean Baquet, and a nifty chart [PDF] of media mergers and acquisitions from AOL-TimeWarner to Google-YouTube. Check it all out here.

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Largo, Florida Moves To Dismiss Transsexual City Manager

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 9:13 PM EST

On Tuesday, the city commissioners in Largo, Florida voted to dismiss City Manager Steve Stanton because he is in the process of changing from a man to a woman. The mayor of Largo and one commissioner voted to retain Stanton, but the other five commissioners voted to fire him. According to the Human Rights Campaign, this move is in direct violation of the city's own non-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

Stanton has served as City Manager for fourteen years, and was apparently a respected employee. Pam's House Blend points out that the leader of the campaign to get Stanton dismissed was Pastor Charlie Martin of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. First Baptist brags about being racially diverse, but obviously draws the line at other types of diversity. It's mission statement includes "We are all made in the spiritual image of God," but maybe that needs to be modified just a tad.

Martin believes that if his congregants have to call Steve "Susan" (were they really calling him "Steve"?), the religious freedoms of Christians will be compromised. Another minister said, "If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he'd want him terminated. Make no mistake about it." These members of the clergy have company among Largo's citizens. Or, as one person said, "As a resident of Largo for over 40 years, I'm very disturbed that our city manager is planning a sex change. In my view this would be disruptive to Steve Stanton's ability to conduct city business."

You figure it out. He was fine when he was Steve, but as Susan, he will not be competent. Of course, all women are accustomed to hearing they are not as competent as men, but this particular case is as extreme as it can get.

No news yet as to whether Stanton will take action against the Largo city commission.

U.S. Attorney Says Firing Was Politically Motivated

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 2:57 PM EST

iglesias.jpgThe Bush Dept. of Justice finds itself in even deeper doo-doo today, as Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias has charged that weeks before the November election, members of the New Mexico congressional delegation asked him to turn up the heat on the investigation of a Democrat for corruption. Iglesias declined and was fired, effective yesterday. (The reasons given include frequent absence, to which Iglesias responded that he serves in the Navy Reserve.)

Iglesias won't name the members of Congress unless subpoenaed, but the only New Mexico delegates who haven't categorically denied involvement are Rep. Heather Wilson and Sen. Pete Domenici, both Republicans. Domenici is, moreover, the White House's state contact for the U.S. attorney in the state.

Congressional Democrats have indicated that they will issue subpoenas.

Enticing New Health Care Plan from Little Known Corner of Congress

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 2:21 PM EST

A new Slate article by Jacob Weisberg examines that state of American health care, from the status quo to Bush's plan to John Edwards' plan to... Ron Wyden's plan?

Yup. The Democratic senator from Oregon has a plan, and it sounds mighty attractive. Imagine if the giant, Byzantine mess that is the current health care system in this country was reduced to this:

Under Wyden's plan, employers would no longer provide health coverage, as they have since World War II. Instead, they'd convert the current cost of coverage into additional salary for employees. Individuals would use this money to buy insurance, which they would be required to have. Private insurance plans would compete on features and price but would have to offer benefits at least equivalent to the Blue Cross "standard" option.

And Wyden is serious about the "universal" aspect of universal health insurance. From a summary of his plan: "Every time an individual interacts with state, local and federal government — registering their car, enrolling their children in school, applying for a driver's license or paying their taxes — they can be required to verify their enrollment in a private health insurance plan." Also, I'm sure this is music to some people's ears: "Previous and existing health problems, occupation, genetic information, gender and age will no longer be allowed to impact eligibility or the price paid for insurance."

Now you might say, "That's very well and good, but what about the unemployed, low-wage workers, and freelance bloggers? If they can't afford private health insurance now, why would they be able to afford it under the Wyden plan?" Wyden's website is stocked with information on the subject, and in all the "Before Wyden Plan"/"Under Wyden Plan" scenarios you can find there, previously uninsured individuals pay for private insurance at affordable rates. But how? From the same summary:

Employers who do not currently provide health benefits will be required to begin making phased in "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments." These payments will be used to ensure that everyone can afford their health plans by funding premium reductions.

After two years, all employers will pay these "Employer Shared Responsibility Payments," driving down the cost of premiums for employees across the country, the semi-employed, and the unemployed.

Now it's just a matter of getting this thing off the ground. As Weisberg writes in Slate, it might actually have a chance to succeed because Wyden is building support methodically and effectively.

He has support from CEOs, labor leaders, and even one maverick health-insurance executive. And instead of trying to flatten the opposition, as the Clintons did in 1994, Wyden is courting Republicans. He recently got five of the most conservative men in the Senate to join him and four other Democrats as co-signers of a letter to Bush responding to the White House proposal. The letter endorses the principles of universal coverage and cost containment, and proposes that they all work together on a compromise.

Godspeed.

Seriously Mixed Signals from the Commanders in Baghdad

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 12:06 PM EST

About a week ago I highlighted an important story in Newsweek that explained how completely different the discussion about Iraq in America is from the reality on the ground. Congress may be debating (kind of) how to end the war, but over in Baghdad, Gen. Petraeus is embedding our troops with the Iraqi citizenry and "putting down roots." We're in it for the long haul, said Newsweek. Petraeus is trying to fight the war over again from scratch.

But today the Guardian reports that Petraeus and the Brainy Bunch are giving themselves six months to turn things around.

An elite team of officers advising the US commander, General David Petraeus, in Baghdad has concluded that they have six months to win the war in Iraq - or face a Vietnam-style collapse in political and public support that could force the military into a hasty retreat.

This could mean several things. (1) That Petraeus really does have a long-term strategy but he will scrap it if there is no discernable progress in the next six months. (2) This Guardian story is just a bit of masterful PR by the Army to show that the new commander is aware of the war's failing support back home, and the long-term strategy moves forward unimpeded. Or (3) one of the two stories is wrong.

I'm guessing some combination of all three. But Petraeus -- who was basically set up to fail -- appears to have an even more impossible situation.

What Doug Feith Left Off His New Website

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 11:56 AM EST

Doug Feith, the former undersecretary of defense who helped set up the Pentagon operation that stovepiped bad intel about WMD and Saddam-Al Qaeda links to the White House, has been trying to clear his name recently. Now he says he was just asking "tough questions" about the CIA's work, not trying to peddle bogus theories to justify an invasion of Iraq. Just a skeptical public servant holding those in power accountable. And if you believe that, I have a war to sell you. Feith's latest effort in name-clearing is a website that promises to challenge the "media myths" and offers glowing quotes about his character from Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace. Funny, but Feith has conspicuously left off what's probably the most memorable quote about him by a military man he used to work with. Here, let us fix that:

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Democrats Will End War in Iraq with... Pork?

| Thu Mar. 1, 2007 11:52 AM EST

With John Murtha's plan to slowly end the war in Iraq mired in controversy and unable to get broad support, and the Democratic leadership's plan to rewrite the 2002 authorization for war going nowhere, the Democrats have turned to a different tactic.

Loading a war spending bill with pork.

Seriously, that's the best the Dems, who control both houses of Congress, can do. From today's Washington Post:

While Democrats try to restrict how President Bush can spend the $100 billion he wants for Iraq, they also hope to load his measure up with $10 billion in add-ons...
Lawmakers from the Great Plains are pressing for about $4 billion in disaster aid for farmers suffering under drought conditions.
The California delegation is demanding help for citrus, avocado and other Central Valley farmers facing $1.2 billion in losses from a devastating January freeze.

And so on and so on. Mind you, the idea here isn't to pump the bill so full of special interest spending that Bush has to veto it. No, the idea is to take advantage of the fact that Bush and Congressional Republicans would never have the cojones to stop a war spending bill, and thus push through a lot of favorite projects.

What? Seriously, what? Talk about having a tin ear. Didn't the Democrats ride into Congress promising to end the march of bills swollen on earmarks and Republican pork barrel projects? Are they seriously proposing this right now?

AsianWeek Columnist Had a Penchant for Hate Speech

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 8:16 PM EST

The San Francisco weekly, AsianWeek, which calls itself "The Voice of Asian America," has come under fire for a column last week titled "Why I Hate Blacks."

The column (since deleted from AsianWeek's site but reprinted here) lists, among other things, four reasons why "we should discriminate against Blacks." Yikes.

In response, the newspaper issued this apology:

AsianWeek sincerely regrets and apologizes for publishing New York-based contributor Kenneth Eng's column in the issue of February 23, 2007. AsianWeek rejects Eng's biased views on a critical segment of American society, African Americans. While AsianWeek continues to truly believe in diversity of opinion and freedom of the press, we are also very aware that the promotion of hate speech is not appropriate, nor should it be encouraged.

Given that the genesis of the American civil rights movement was borne primarily by the African American community through blood and perseverance, the failing of our editorial process in allowing this opinion piece to go forward, was an insensitive and callous mistake that should never have been made by our publication. Readers of AsianWeek over the past 27-year history clearly know that we reject any racist agenda. On the contrary, our editorial policy has led the way in interracial and multicultural strength and diversity.

As a publication whose motto is the "voice of the Asian American community," we are humbled and overwhelmed at reader response not only chastising our editorial process, but strongly urging our paper to sever all ties to this contributor. We have heard the call and Mr. Eng has been terminated from writing for the paper.

That's a pretty egregious slip past the editors. And here's the thing: Kenneth Eng, a self described "Asian supramicist" wrote two previous columns for AsianWeek titled, "Why I Hate Asians" last month, and "Proof that Whites Inherently Hate Us" in November.

I'm curious to know why the editors didn't feel impelled to reject his "hate speech" and "racial agenda" back when they published these other columns? If his aim was to get people thinking, enraged, but thinking, and they stood behind that premise before, why not stand behind him now? Instead they fired him, and they look irresponsible on the national stage.

And if publishing this column was indeed a mistake, then so were the others, and they've let a few too many mistakes slip on by.

— Neha Inamdar

Desperate Evangelicals

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 6:23 PM EST

The American Prospect is calling Romney a joke of a candidate—all hair. But, meanwhile, in Newsweek's version of the "The Evangelicals Have No Candidate" story, we find this:

The Bush family seems to be moving its chips to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Several of Jeb's gubernatorial staffers have signed on with Romney, and Jeb's sister, Doro Bush Koch, is cohosting a fund-raiser for him. Mom and Dad are reportedly telling friends he's a fine man and the class act in the race. With front runner John McCain faltering and Rudy Giuliani an unlikely fit with Republican primary voters, Romney looks like the Bush Dynasty's best bet.

Suddenly it's the Republicans floundering for a half decent candidate! And in another echo of bad Democratic moments past, evangelicals are threatening to throw the vote. Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, told Rolling Stone in its "The Evangelicals Have No Candidate" story, "It's true we have nowhere else to go, except to stay home. [But] we would rather go down on our principles. We lose? You lose!"

Predictably, the evangelical groups are blaming the media (these guys actually compare the influence of the liberal media to slavery!) for making a deal out of Romney's Mormonism. But The Nation documents some instances of religious groups calling Mormonism a cult.

The truth is, and I've said this before, Romney made his own bed by running on a holier-than-thou platform. And then there's the simple fact that it's really cool to watch the religious right Goliath fall.

Right and Feminist Groups in "Not Me" Contest over Gay Rights

| Wed Feb. 28, 2007 4:10 PM EST

What with Mother Jones being referred to as a "liberal stalwart" (Chicago Tribune) and a "porno-political remnant of the nineteen sixties" (the NRA), you'd think that our readers would be leftist--and, err, sex-positive--enough to support gay rights. But nobody seems willing to support the gay cause. Check out a couple of comments from one of my recent blog posts on GLBT issues:

I, personally, am not anti-gay BUT...if one owns a small business then one's views count. If you can't stand flaming queens then why would you employ one? Laws aren't going to force you to hire one, your personal tastes will sort out who gets the job. My point in general is that, as OWNER of a business, who the fu*k is going to tell me how to run it?

Homosexuality is a perversion and no one should be forced to hire perverts.

Well, some feminists don't want to help the queers any more than these Mother Jones readers do. The Maryland Court of Appeals is currently considering a claim that banning gay marriage constitutes a violation of the state's Equal Rights Amendment. (The Massachusetts gay marriage decision partially relied on that state's ERA.) Die-hard supporters still trying to win a national ERA are pissed, the American Prospect reports:

Idella Moore of 4ERA, penned a Women's E-News column titled "The ERA has nothing to do with Gay Marriage" in which she wrote, "...[T]oday we must battle not only long-time opponents of the amendment, but defend this amendment against misinterpretation by those whom most would consider our natural allies."

Meanwhile, the die-hard opponents of the ERA to whom Moore refers are simultaneously accusing her of being the gay-lover. An article in the National Review gloated, "Mrs. Schlafly not only had the right idea when she fought the Equal Rights Amendment during the 70s, but predictions she made back then are still accurate today." Schlafly had predicted that the "ERA would legalize the granting of marriage licenses to same-sex couples and generally implement the gay and lesbian agenda."

And we all know that granting the 4 percent of Americans who are openly gay the right to marry will bring this country to its knees even faster than the journalism of this "pro-terrorist rag" (Lyndon LaRouche).