Saturday, May 31, 2003
Iraq, WMDs and the search: The whining and cries of despair have been growing ever louder over the past few weeks as coalition forces in Iraq have searched, in vain, for biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
What the search has turned up is two trailers that are nearly identical to those described by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the U.N. Security Council months ago. Some skeptical commentators have suggested that the trailers aren't what the U.S. government is claiming they are, because they've been scrubbed clean.
Scott "I stay bought" Ritter, former U.N. chief weapons inspector and current Saddam Hussein apologist, has alleged that the trailers are used to create hydrogen for weather balloons used to help the accuracy of artillery pieces. If that's the case -- then why have we found only two of them -- and in Northern Iraq, far from the Kuwait border where they would actually be useful?
Critics contend that if the trailers are for creating biological weapons, they're not a very efficient design. However, other than Ritter, they don't have an explanation of exactly what the trailer was used for. The efficient design issue is also a red herring. The lab isn't designed to be efficient -- it's designed to be mobile.
The fact that we've found no biological or chemical weapons in the past several weeks is troubling -- but not for the reason that many liberal, anti-U.S. pundits allege.
The blame-America-first types claim that absence of evidence is evidence of absence -- that is, Iraq never had WMDs in the first place. This allegation is stupid, because it assumes that Saddam Hussein put himself (and his countrymen -- though he never really cared about them) through 12 years of U.N. sanctions and the loss of billions of dollars in income with which to build even more palaces and buy even more weapons to repress his people even more. Critics of the U.S. and its allies have also ignored the fact that, with the unanimous adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, everyone agreed that Iraq had WMDs -- and had not fully accounted for them.
What the failure to find WMDs thus far really tells us is that our intelligence agencies don't know as much as we would like them to. For too many years we relied on technology -- satellites, signals intercepts -- and failed to develop agents and sources within terrorist organizations or countries such as Iraq.
It's also useful to note one argument we're no longer hearing from the anti-war left -- the claim that U.N. inspectors could have located WMDs if they were just given more time has disappeared from the public debate. This argument is gone from the liberal arsenal not because there are no WMDs to be found -- but because they've been so difficult to find. It's safe to say that Hans Blix and his minions were never going to be up to the task as long as Saddam Hussein was in power.
This debate over the existence of WMDs in Iraq shall pass -- quickly -- once one 55-gallon drum of VX nerve gas is found. But don't expect this to chasten opponents of the U.S., the coalition of the willing and President Bush.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Abortion and the L.A. Times: This memo on posted by National Review's Rod Dreher was also the subject of Bill O'Reilly's talking points last night.
I'm concerned about the perception---and the occasional reality---that the Times is a liberal, "politically correct" newspaper. Generally speaking, this is an inaccurate view, but occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with the front-page story on the bill in Texas that would require abortion doctors to counsel patients that they may be risking breast cancer.
The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as requiring "so-called counseling of patients." I don't think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it "so-called," a phrase that is loaded with derision.
The story makes a strong case that the link between abortion and breast cancer is widely discounted among researchers, but I wondered as I read it whether somewhere there might exist some credible scientist who believes in it.
Such a person makes no appearance in the story's lengthy passage about the scientific issue. We do quote one of the sponsors of the bill, noting that he "has a professional background in property management." Seldom will you read a cheaper shot than this. Why, if this is germane, wouldn't we point to legislators on the other side who are similarly bereft of scientific credentials?
It is not until the last three paragraphs of the story that we finally surface a professor of biology and endocrinology who believes the abortion/cancer connection is valid. But do we quote him as to why he believes this? No. We quote his political views.
Apparently the scientific argument for the anti-abortion side is so absurd that we don't need to waste our readers' time with it.
The reason I'm sending this note to all section editors is that I want everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias from our coverage. We may happen to live in a political atmosphere that is suffused with liberal values (and is unreflective of the nation as a whole), but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of the Times.
I'm no expert on abortion, but I know enough to believe that it presents a profound philosophical, religious and scientific question, and I respect people on both sides of the debate. A newspaper that is intelligent and fair-minded will do the same.
Let me know if you'd like to discuss this.
This caught my attention because my senior project at Cal Poly SLO was an analysis of abortion coverage in the Los Angeles Times. It should suprise no one that my analysis of an entire year's coverage (1990) found similar problems to the ones Carroll identified.
It's disturbing that it took nearly a decade for the issue to be raised in that newsroom, but it's a good thing it is finally being addressed.
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Cool and conservative: I really never intended on focusing on The New York Times and its problems, but to not address them nowadays is like trying to ignore the elephant in the living room.
In the Sunday magazine, the Times had an article entitled "The Young Hipublicans," by John Colapinto. The article is interesting, informative and proof positive that a conservative never saw the piece before it hit the presses.
Curiously enough, the first "name" to be quoted in the piece isn't Dinesh D'Souza or William F. Buckley, who are often referred to in the piece as major influences on the campus conservative movement, but disgraced former journalist David Brock.
''They have a theory of getting them while they're young,'' says David Brock, a former college conservative who graduated from Berkeley in the mid-1980's. After spending almost a decade as an activist in the conservative movement (during which he published the 1993 liberal-bashing book, ''The Real Anita Hill''), Brock had a change of heart. In 2002, he published a book, ''Blinded by the Right,'' about his former life as a conservative-movement insider. ''People are searching for their identity in college,'' he says. ''The right try to instigate polarization so that it looks like the right wing is the alternative to the left. This is what happened to me. I went to Berkeley because it had a liberal reputation. But I became disillusioned with some of my experiences with the left on the campus and I had a knee-jerk reaction -- or I was looking for an alternative -- and there was the right. There really wasn't anything in the middle.''
No mention of the factual problems with Brock's memoir. Brock's quote sets the tone for later in the piece when we find out that college conservatives are either misguided or working to supress opposing views. It's disturbing that getting your views out in the open is equated with stifling others, but any diminishing of the liberal dominance on college campuses is seen as a threat.
Colapinto also takes on the use of President Ronald Reagan as a recruiting tool for young conservatives.
Besides the flag, the other potent symbol for today's young conservative movement is Ronald Reagan. Because they are too young to recall any of Reagan's live TV appearances (Mitchell, for instance, was born in 1982), today's college students tend to see the former president purely as his image makers tried to present him when he occupied the Oval Office: as a Norman Rockwellian, mist-shrouded icon of Better Times -- an idealized figure of myth. The Washington-based groups know this, and they play on it. When the Leadership Institute, a group formed by a right-wing activist, Morton Blackwell, recruits on campuses each fall, it prominently displays at its sign-up table a huge poster that includes a photograph of Reagan.
(Charles) Mitchell is one of those who has fallen under the spell of the former president. His dorm-room bookshelf holds no less than four Reagan biographies, from which he is given to quoting, as if from Scripture. ''If you study what Reagan wrote and said and believed,'' Mitchell explains, ''it didn't change from at least the 1960's on. People always attack that and say he was intellectually lazy. I don't think so. The guy believed in something. He came to the presidency with three big goals: defeating communism, lowering taxes and recovering the economy. And that's what he did.''
It's telling that Colapinto takes Mitchell to task for basing his admiration for Reagan on books as opposed to images on the boob tube. I must confess, I haven't read a Reagan biography. (I was looking forward to reading Edmund Morris' work (I've read his Teddy Roosevelt biographies) on Reagan, but his use of a fictional character turned me off.) Of course, there's no evidence that any of the Reagan biographies are factually challenged -- like, say Sidney Blumenthal's "The Clinton Wars."
Besides, is this really that horrible of a thing. For many conservatives, Reagan is the most recent ex-president who represented many of their views. (President George H. W. Bush lost his chance when he raised taxes and failed to get a second term.) You can bet that campus Democrat clubs are using Bill Clinton's image to sell their ideas, is that sinister too?
Conservative women also come in for some thinly-disguised scorn from Colapinto.
Regular speakers on campus include Phyllis Schlafly, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ann Coulter, Katherine Harris and Christina Hoff Sommers, author of ''Who Stole Feminism?'' and ''The War Against Boys.'' These women preach that the preponderance of women's-studies classes and the proliferation on campuses of Take Back the Night marches, sex and dating rules and rape-awareness lectures -- all of which are aimed at making women feel empowered on campus -- in fact do precisely the opposite: they infantalize.
One Bucknell conservatives club member, Allison Kasic, buys it.
''Conservatives are inclusive in a way that liberals are not,'' she says, voicing a central theme of the Independent Women's Forum ethos.
It can be disorienting to hear conservatism advanced as the ideology that frees women, but such is the skill with which the right has reframed the issues for the campus crowd, and such is the degree to which the left has allowed its own message to drift into rigidity and irrelevance for many college-age women.
First, Kasic "buys it?" It reads like she's been suckered.
Colapinto also goes on with his line that "It can be disorienting to hear conservatism advanced as the ideology that frees women, but such is the skill with which the right has reframed the issues...." Disorienting if you've been indoctrinated with the outdated liberal dogma that conservatives want women in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.
Then we get to the good stuff.
In fact, much of what (Denise) Chaykun -- and indeed most any campus conservative you meet -- says is something that someone told them to say. This is not to doubt their passion and belief, but it is to be realistic about the language and tactics they've developed to communicate those beliefs.
Ohhh! These mindless conservatives. They're just robots repeating what they've been told. This is different from campus liberals...how?
While it's true that Mitchell and his fellow club members are far closer to 80's right-wingers like D'Souza and Coulter, there are also crucial differences. Many of those Reagan-era conservatives announced their politics on campus with their dress and grooming, the men sporting aggressively conservative Clark Kent haircuts, blue blazers, red ties, loafers; the women tended to wear skirts and heels -- openly adopting the uniform of the Youth for Reagan army. Today, most campus conservatives who hope to be effective won't dress like George Bush or Dick Cheney. The idea is to dress like a young person.
I'm sorry, but somebody has been watching too much "Animal House." College students are college students, whether or not they're liberal or conservative. I was probably one of the more conservative voices on my college campus (I often wrote opinion pieces for the Mustang Daily) and I dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. To suggest that these kids would normally wear "blue blazers, red ties, loafers" if it weren't for the marketing advice they're getting from conservative organizations is laughable.
Finally, we get to the atmosphere about 35 "out" conservatives have been able to create on the Bucknell University campus.
In less than two years, the Bucknell University Conservatives Club established itself as one of the most visible and influential student groups on campus.
Just how influential is clear when you talk to Bucknell faculty members. Geoff Schneider, an economics professor at Bucknell, says that the conservative group's constant charge in The Counterweight, that the university is infected by political correctness and that professors seek to indoctrinate students with a liberal agenda, has had an effect in the classroom. ''As the conservatives have become more prominent, other students are more prone to believe that they are being indoctrinated,'' Schneider says. ''So the openness of a number of students to new ideas and new ways of looking at things has actually moved in a disturbing direction. Students are much more willing to write off something as 'liberal talk' -- oh, I don't need to think about that, that's just ideology -- as opposed to thinking, in a complex way, about all of the different ideas and evaluating them.'' Kim Daubman, a social psychology professor, concurs. Recently she taught a class in which she talked about the theory that news coverage of warfare in Iraq could lead to a rise in homicides in the United States. ''I could see the students rolling their eyes,'' she says. ''I could just hear them thinking, 'Oh, there she goes again!'''
While professors like Schneider and Daubman worry about the potential for conservative activists to stifle intellectual openness among students, they also grudgingly admit to admiring the right-wingers' passion. ''A lot of faculty members talk about the lack of commitment that most students have to anything,'' Daubman says. ''It seems that they're about getting a credential and being able to get a good job. That's why you hear faculty say about the conservatives club: 'At least they believe in something. At least they've got convictions.'''
Professor Schneider seems to equate students' realization that there may be another side to what he's teaching with close-mindedness and stupidity: "What I, Professor Schneider, am teaching is complex thinking, if you don't accept what I say you're a simpleton."
As for Professor Daubman, I think she's right. The kids were rolling their eyes at her theory that "news coverage of warfare in Iraq could lead to a rise in homicides in the United States." Why? Because proving causation would be difficult and the idea is silly on its face.
[cut to interrogation room]
Police officer: Why did you fire the machine gun from the car into that crowd of opposing gang members.
Murderer: Well, I was watching CNN's coverage of the Iraq war and thought: "Why should those Marines have all the fun?"
[back to the real world]
In my 16 years in public education (K-12 and college) I can't remember an occasion where I thought a teacher or professor was giving me conservative spin. But there were plenty of times when I got liberal spin. My high school history teacher was probably the biggest purveyor of the liberal line.
Students aren't taking it anymore, and that worries the liberal academy that is unaccustomed to having to compete in the marketplace of ideas. They "knew" capitalism was wrong. Professors prefer a "planned economy" of ideas -- it makes life easier for them.
Journalism as a joke: The New York Times has struck another blow to journalistic ideals with the latest revelation that Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg did what Slate's Jack Shafer is appropriately calling the "Dateline Toe-Touch."
In at least one instance, Bragg relied almost completely on the reporting of his own personal intern, J. Wes Yoder. Yoder spent four days in Apalachicola, Fla., interviewing the people who were the basis of the story. Bragg took Yoder's notes and wrote what was apparently an excellent piece.
Bragg freely admits he did little firsthand reporting for the June 2002 story about Florida oystermen that prompted an editor's note last week. That note said credit should have been shared with freelancer J. Wes Yoder, who was hired by Bragg as a volunteer assistant and spent four days in the town of Apalachicola. "I went and got the dateline," Bragg said. "The reporting was done -- there was no reason to linger."
If this is accepted policy at the Times, then there's large, serious institutional problems there. Bragg's nonchalance in putting his name atop a piece that he admittedly didn't report is troubling. From a journalistic standpoint, it appears all Bragg did is some polishing and line editing of Yoder's work.
When I worked at The Daily World in Aberdeen, Wash., I can remember helping a summer intern we had with a story about a local kid who was undergoing treatment for cancer. The community had rallied around this kid, holding fund-raisers to I spent about 45 minutes to an hour, on deadline polishing the story. Just minutes before deadline, we received word that the child had died. I watched in awe as the editor, John Hughes, took what the intern and I had worked on, rewrote it and made it about 50,000 times better.
Neither my name, nor Hughes' appeared on the final piece. The intern had been on the story for weeks. The intern had spent much of the previous day with the family in a Seattle hospital as they waited anxiously. She did the reporting, her name -- and only her name -- was atop the piece.
Shafer's analysis reflects many of my concerns when it comes to what appears to be a casual disregard for journalistic standards at the Times. While Bragg's sins are not on par with those of the disgraced Jayson Blair, if Bragg's methods are widespread in that newsroom, it's no wonder that Blair might get the wrong idea of how journalism should be practiced.
If you do the reporting, your name is atop the piece. If you do the editing, your name isn't. That's the way it is, pure and simple.
The Times' explanation is lame. The Times says the "article should have carried Mr. Yoder's byline with Mr. Bragg's."
The article should've carried only Yoder's byline -- and only his byline.
I can tell you that it doesn't work this way at the San Diego Union-Tribune -- or most other papers.
The Times has some serious institutional problems. It doesn't appear that they are up to handling them and that editor's note is Exhibit A.
Tuesday, May 27, 2003
Seen in the newsroom: I saw something mildly surprising last week as I was walking through the newsroom. It seems one of the reporters was killing a few minutes before he left for the day by playing one of those java online video games where you use a gun of some sort to blow up wireframe tanks and other miscellaneous objects. That's no surprise really, except that this reporter is one of those 50-year-old hippies who has a picture of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on his desk with red horns drawn on their foreheads.
Friday, May 23, 2003
Paul Krugman takes the week off: But that doesn't stop the debate. After my note last week about the change in the archiving policy at The New York Times several people pointed out that all of Krugman's columns are available at the "Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive." I was aware of this, but I prefer not to link there because it's not the primary source and I suspect, when the Times gets around to it, that the archive will disappear -- if that doesn't violate the Times' copyright then nothing does.
But the archive is more than just an archive -- it's also become a Krugman-defense blog. The biggest debate in recent weeks over Krugman's work has been Donald Luskin's discovery that Krugman juxtaposed the 10-year tax cut dollar figure with the 1-year job-creation projection. Luskin properly described it as Krugman's "divide-by-ten" problem.
Luskin's "gotcha" prompted Krugman to write ten explanations for why he was correct to use this "new math." Well, this week one of Krugman's readers, Thomas O. Miller, came across a transcript from the Jan. 31 "Wall $treet Week" where Krugman made the exact same error:
"KRUGMAN: ...of course, it's an enormous expense. The administration's own estimate -- we're now told we don't know how they get this -- is that this thing is going to add half a million jobs in the next year. Now you take that or leave that, but a $674 billion plan for 500,000 jobs, even with fuzzy math that's more than $1 million per job. Something is wrong here.
"COLVIN: Well, but it's going to go for longer than just this one year, right?
"KRUGMAN: Well, yeah, but then the question is, if we're thinking about the long run, we've got to ask ourselves how are we going to pay for this thing?"
Back then Krugman was working with a smaller number of jobs expected to be created, so the lie was $1 million per job, not $500,000. But it's the same lie, and Colvin immediately caught Krugman at it when he asked "it's going to go for longer than just this one year, right?"
And how does Krugman respond? Does he talk about liquidity traps and IS/LM curves and all the other econobabble he's spewed up in all his apologiae? Does he even simply say "No, Geoff, I can't explain all the details but those jobs will vanish after one year."
No... he admits it! He says, "Well, yeah, but then the question is..." ...is...something else.
He admitted it!
Well, what's as plain as the nose on your face to most of us, is murky and in need of an explanation to Krugman's main fan over at the Krugman Defense Blog.
Now let's see what's wrong with Luskin's dishonest claim. Let's just note the obvious: Colvin's question was phrased in such a broad and general way that there was very little reason to think that the question had anything to do with a failure to "divide by ten." Especially, let's remember that this debate was on January 31, and Luskin didn't make his "divide by ten" criticism until April. So back then, nobody was even thinking about this ridiculous criticism, which was completely incorrect anyway (as we've already shown here and see below)
It doesn't seem that "Bobby" is stupid from most of his writing -- but he's trying really hard here. While most people -- including Krugman, seemed to be able to follow Colvin's question -- Bobby maintains that it's phrased too broadly. Sorry, but that's a childish word game -- what does "it" refer to? Well, the last object referred to is "job" -- welcome to English 101.
The other stupid (I'm sorry, there's no better word for it) argument is that Luskin's failure to watch "Wall $treet Week" when it originally aired on Jan. 31 and note Krugman's poor math then makes his notice of it in the April column invalid.
Thursday, May 22, 2003
Orange alert: The Department of Homeland Defense has raised the terror alert level up to orange. I've created the following graphic using images from the government's Web site and an e-mail that's been making the rounds on the Internet. Some of the text descriptions are from the e-mail, others are my own.
Pretty cool idea -- if it works: The New York Times has an article on some technology that would turn your computer screen into a scanner.
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
On racism: The Wall Street Journal's Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. (isn't that a mouthful?) has an article on the Jayson Blair affair. I won't bore you with more about the disgraced former New York Times reporter, but Jenkins did make one point that I think is very valid in this day and age.
Take whatever percentage of the American population you assume to be genuinely against racism -- 90%, 95%, whatever. They still have the problem of not knowing but thinking they know what's in their fellow Americans' heads. Blacks and whites readily misinterpret each other, seeing condescension, suspicion or resentment in innocent acts as well as in acts whose biggest mistake is trying too hard to be innocent of prejudice.
The vast majority of people in the United States aren't racist -- it's something that we should all remember.
Inappropriate comments: One of my friends, Sam, has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. While this is frequently amusing, his sister-in-law, also a friend of mine, calls him to the carpet with the simple "inappropriate comment" to tell him that he's out of line. This has stuck him with he nom de guerre: "Inappropriate Comment Sam."
To quote Bill Cosby: "I told you that story so I could tell you this one..."
It seems New York Times reporter Chris Hedges is a left-wing liberal struggling to shed his unbiased journalistic shell. Hedges, speaking at the Rockford College (Ill.) graduation ceremony used the opportunity to become "Inappropriate Comment Chris." Hedges, a war correspondent, attacked the United States government over the war in Iraq.
Hedges, a war correspondent, criticized military heroic ideals that grow during war. The fervor sacrifices individual thought for temporarily belonging to something larger, he said.
Hedges sympathized with U.S. soldiers. He characterized them as boys from places such as Mississippi and Arkansas who joined the military because there were no job opportunities.
“War in the end is always about betrayal. Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics,” Hedges said in lecture fashion as jeers and “God Bless Americas” could be heard in the background.
After his microphone was again unplugged, (College President Paul) Pribbenow told Hedges to wrap it up.
Hedges, has every right to his beliefs, but a college graduation ceremony isn't the place for this kind of vitriol.
Of course, Hedges comments raise another issue -- what is the responsibility of a reporter to maintain the appearance of fairness and honesty when it comes to reporting his beat? I'd suggest that Hedges' tirade against the military and the government, at the very least, precludes him from covering any military conflict for the Times' news pages in the future.
There's a couple of openings for general assignment reporters at the San Diego Union-Tribune, where I work as a page designer, right now. I've actually considered applying for one of those jobs, but the likelihood that I would have to give up blogging has weighed against it. In my current job, I have relatively little to do with the content of the news product. I make sure it looks good, but I don't edit copy or write headlines. I think that is probably the main reason why my blogging (on anything and everything) is tolerated.
Hedges has compromised himself. The Times needs to re-evaluate his job responsibilities.
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
The Nutty Ninth Circuit: In a ruling that defies common sense -- and should surprise no one -- the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the most-overturned court in the nation) has ruled that a bank robber who had a gun stuck in the waistband of pants should not have been convicted of "armed robbery" because he "didn't mean to show the gun" to the teller.
I am not making this up.
Ninth Circuit Judge Richard Clifton conceded in his written opinion that the decision ''may seem anomalous'' because it meant that defendants who brandish toy guns could be convicted of armed bank robbery while those who have real guns hidden in their pants could not.
So, you can carry a loaded pistol while robbing a bank, but you can't be convicted of "armed" robbery unless you're actually forced to pull it out and use it when confronted by a security guard or cop.
Horse sense is not a job requirement for the federal appeals courts -- but it should be.
Krugman's 'unbiased' BBC: The Pentagon is disputing an "unbiased" report from the BBC that claimed that U.S. forces that rescued POW Jessica Lynch did it just for show and their rifles were loaded with blanks.
Somebody over at the BBC must've been hit with a stupid stick -- repeatedly -- to believe that tripe.
*UPDATE* It appears that the Los Angeles Times' Robert Scheer was hit with a stupid utility pole.
Race, diversity and hiring: There's a good article over at National Review Online on our continued failure as a society to create a colorblind society.
This is an instructive story to keep in mind whenever we are told that companies should look especially hard to find employees that will move the company toward greater "diversity." In the first place, if companies are looking especially hard for people of one color, then they are going to overlook and show less interest in people of another color. That is the point, right? Second, if your company has told you, a manager, that it wants to find qualified people of a particular color, then you inevitably are going to put your thumb on the scale whenever a candidate of the "right" color appears. Don't want to disappoint the boss, you know.
Either way, you will not be hiring the best people. Sometimes the best person will also happen to be the "wrong" color, and so he won't get hired. Other times, the person of the "right" color will seem to be suitable, but only because you are looking so hard to find someone of that color.
The whole thing's a good (and sometimes aggravating) read -- if only because the author is correct.
Matrix -- Reloaded: Saw the much-ballyhooed movie this morning with about 30 others. It was nice not to be part of a packed theater. The Rave/Sex scene was dull and much too long. Otherwise it was a very intriguing plot and I'm anxious to find out how it ends. I think it's a good thing that the finale will be out later this year -- so we won't have to wait a year or two to find out how it all ends.
One mildly annoying point, in the original "Matrix," the plugs in the spinal cord, arms and legs that supplied power to the machines were removed after one was freed from the Matrix. In this movie they return -- for what reason I cannot fathom.
Monday, May 19, 2003
Book Report: I recently finished reading Larry Witham's By Design: Science and the Search for God. It's an excellent book on the history and changing thought in the scientific community on the origins of life. For those looking for a defense of creation science or the latest in design theory, this isn't the book. What it is a study of how design theory came to be, the basis of its arguments and how it has changed and challenged the widely accepted theory of Darwinian evolution.
More on the Blair Affair: The New York Times continues to insist that the Jayson Blair affair had nothing to do with the fact that Blair is black. In today's Times, columnist Bob Herbert has some wise, true words and some that are demonstrably false.
Mr. Blair was a first-class head case who was given a golden opportunity and responded by spreading seeds of betrayal every place he went. He betrayed his readers. He betrayed his profession. He betrayed the editors who hired and promoted him. But there was no racial component to that betrayal, any more than there was a racial component to the many betrayals of Mike Barnicle, a columnist who was forced to resign from The Boston Globe in 1998 after years of complaints about his work.
I think everyone can agree that Blair is a "first-class head case" and that there was no "racial component to his betrayal." Blacks are not intrinsically less trustworthy because of the color of their skin.
Where the issue of Blair, race and his betrayal intersect is at what Herbert describes as a "golden opportunity" -- an opportunity afforded Blair largely because of his race. In fact, several days before Herbert's column was written, Times executive editor Howell Raines acknowledged as much.
"Our paper has a commitment to diversity and by all accounts he appeared to be a promising young minority reporter," Mr. Raines said. "I believe in aggressively providing hiring and career opportunities for minorities."
"Does that mean I personally favored Jayson?" he added, a moment later. "Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the sniper team. When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes."
As to Raines' "white man from Alabama" guilt -- the man needs to get over it. Racism is treating someone differently because of the color of their skin. Raines has revealed himself to be a racist -- because he couldn't see past Blair's skin color to determine the type of person that he was.
The simple fact, once again, is Blair got the opportunities he did because he was talented and black. Any attempt to separate the two doesn't pass the smell test.
I hope that by the time I retire from the journalism business that people are judged solely by their abilities -- not their race or gender. Right now, we have much too far to go before we accomplish that goal.
My personal life: You don't hear a lot about it here, because I make it a point not to bore my readers, but there was a good article in Sunday's New York Times on bloggers who focus mainly on themselves -- not politics, not music, not movies -- but good ol' #1.
In my early blogging days I experienced a little of what some of these personal bloggers have occasionally subjected themselves to when I outlined my theory on blind-dating and the matchmakers (no, I'm not linking to it -- find it yourself in the archives if you're that interested). The matchmaker of the blind-date that prompted my piece was not happy (and that's an understatement). Since then I've mainly kept my personal life out of this blog -- and will continue to do so.
So, all you lovely ladies out there, feel free to drop me a line with the assurance that I won't comment on our date on this page.
Thursday, May 15, 2003
For the record: I'm informed by U.S. News & World Report columnist John Leo that the New York Times' diversity program -- the one that gave Jayson Blair his start -- was started in 1984 and continues today, but that it was opened to "people of pallor" in 2001.
That don't impress me much: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's latest screed against the Bush administration demonstrates that the clever use of quotes can give the impression someone's saying something they're not.
Krugman today attacks the Bush administration's record on terrorism on the pretext that an attack in Saudi Arabia proves not enough is being done here at home.
How is the war on terror going? You know about the Riyadh bombings. But something else happened this week: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, a respected British think tank with no discernible anti-Bush animus, declared that Al Qaeda is "more insidious and just as dangerous" as it was before Sept. 11. So much for claims that we had terrorists on the run.
Still, isn't the Bush administration doing its best to fight terrorism? No.
I've written before about the Bush administration's amazing refusal to pay for even minimal measures to protect the nation against future attacks — measures that would secure ports, chemical plants, nuclear facilities and so on.
Is Krugman suggesting we take over Saudi Arabia? Probably not.
Krugman then goes on to use a quote by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby in a deceptive way -- to make a charge by presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Graham appear to have bipartisan credibility.
Senator Bob Graham has made an even stronger charge: that Al Qaeda was "on the ropes" a year ago, but was able to recover because the administration diverted military and intelligence resources to Iraq. As former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he's in a position to know. And before you dismiss him as a partisan Democrat, bear in mind that when he began raising this alarm last fall his Republican colleagues supported him: "He's absolutely right to be concerned," said Senator Richard Shelby, who has seen the same information.
Shelby's quote appears in this Washington Poston Graham's presidential campaign. Note how Krugman juxtaposes Graham's recent charge about resources diverted to overthrow Saddam Hussein with Shelby's months-old statement that he's "absolutely right to be concerned."
Shelby's statement is not meant to endorse Graham's charge -- but a casual reading of Krugman's piece could easily give a reader that impression.
Krugman's crusade continues -- beware.
Ignore the man behind the curtain!: One of the biggest problems newspapers have today is their use of anonymous sources. The latest misuse of what was once a method of last resort to get a story out was demonstrated by The New York TImes' Jayson Blair. Blair's (in)famous sniper story alleged that the feds had stopped the questioning of John Lee Malvo just as he was about to spill his guts. The source of the allegations? FIVE anonymous sources. It's become so common to use anonymous sources -- especially the closer you get to Washington, D.C. -- that no editor ever asked Blair exactly who these sources were.
The Times' reporting and reliance on anonymous sources has bit it in the rear -- it has revealed the little man behind the curtain, pulling the levers on the great and powerful Oz.
Now that we can see behind the curtain, others at the Times now become targets.
Columnist Bob Herbert's column in today's paper attacks the Bush administration for allegedly telling soldiers that they should shoot looters on sight. The basis of Herbert's column is this story by Patrick E. Tyler who quotes an anonymous "official."
After the Times "broke" (manufactured?) the story, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied the anonymous report.
In Washington today, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld described as "hyperbole" an article in The New York Times on Wednesday describing new rules of engagement under which American military forces in Iraq would have the authority to shoot looters on sight.
"We have rules of engagement — have had, do today," Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing. "They've not been changed." The current rules permit "the use of whatever force is necessary for self-defense or for other selected purposes," he added.
In addition to Rumsfeld, the others in the know are also denying that the shooting of looters also was OK'd:
Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, commander of the Third Infantry Division, whose forces are now patrolling Baghdad, said today that "there are no `shoot to kill' or `shoot on sight' orders concerning looters."
Mr. Bremer, asked about the article in The New York Times about the policy toward looters, said he would not comment on the military rules of engagement, except to say that they were "robust" enough to cover any contingency.
Asked specifically if he had said that he supported shooting looters, Mr. Bremer replied, "No, I read that story and it looked rather colorful to me, more colorful than is my normal habit."
All of these denials, to columnist Herbert, are not a reflection that the Times' anonymous source was wrong, but that:
By late yesterday afternoon the administration seemed to be backing away from this crazy policy. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was still doing his macho act, telling a Senate subcommittee that the forces in Baghdad "will be using muscle to see that the people who are trying to disrupt what is taking place in that city are stopped and either captured or killed."
But Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, of the Army's Third Infantry Division, told reporters in Baghdad that his troops "are not going to go out and shoot children" who might be stealing, say, wood or cement from a factory.
Stay tuned. This controversy is one more screaming example of the need for the U.N. to be handed the major responsibility for administering Iraq. This is not an appropriate mission for the U.S., and we're making a hash of it already.
Now, once upon a time, you might give deference to the Times and it's anonymous source. After the Blair affair, maybe the Times and its columnists might be a little more willing to admit they might be wrong.
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
A tidbit from NR: The latest edition of National Review contains an article by Jim Lacey, a Time magazine correspondent who was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division during the Iraq II. Lacey recounts several anecdotes about the men who fought -- and won -- the war. One of them I found so humorous, that I couldn't stop laughing.
Before I end this I want to point out one other quality of the American soldier: his sense of justice. After a grueling fight, a company of infantrymen was resting and opening their first mail delivery of the war. One of the young soldiers had received a care package and was sharing the home-baked cookies with his friends. A photographer with a heavy French accent asked if he could have one. The soldier looked him over and said there would be no cookies for Frenchmen. The photographer then protested that he was half Italian. Without missing a beat, the soldier broke a cookie in half and gave it to him. It was a perfect moment and a perfect reflection of the American soldier.
If you're not a subscriber, go out and pick up a copy -- it's well worth the $3.95.
Hostility to religion update: Well, it seems, once again, that religion is in the crossfire of our increasingly secular society. The latest victim is a teacher's aide in Pennsylvania who has run afoul of a 1895 anti-Catholic law that prohibits the display of "religious garb" in public schools. The religious garb in this case is an approximately 1-inch-long gold cross.
The aide is not accused of prosletyzing, harrassing or even mentioning the "J-word" in class -- just wearing the cross.
On Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (just what kind of Rev. is he I wonder? Probably from one of The New York Times' "mainline" churches), defended the policy -- no suprise there.
Lynn also said that a Sikh teacher couldn't wear a turban, a Muslim couldn't wear a headscarf and a Jew couldn't wear a yarmukle. In Lynn's view this is all religiously neutral -- he's wrong. By banning all religion, he has effectively made atheism the religion of the public schools.
A recent letter-writer to the San Diego Union-Tribune, commenting on the more than decadelong battle over a cross atop Mount Soledad in San Diego (the city has argued, unsuccessfully, that it is a war memorial -- not an endorsement of religion), wrote that if the cross atop Mount Soledad is a symbol of Christianity, then all of the hills and mountains without a cross are symbols of atheism.
One hopes that the court will overturn this offensive law, but it might have to go to the Supreme Court -- the Third District Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the law when it was challenged in 1990 -- by a Muslim.
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Neil Cavuto -- I like him: I didn't mention it in my criticism of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's column below, but he took a pot-shot at Fox News anchor/commentator Neil Cavuto. Well, in Cavuto's commentary segment at the end of his show, he fired back.
Among the tidbits, he described Krugman as a "sanctimonius twit," an "ass" and a "pretentious charlaton." He also told Krugman to take his column and "shove it."
If you missed it, the show is re-aired at 10 p.m. PDT (1 a.m. EDT) -- you might want to record it -- it's the last segment of the show.
The link to Cavuto's site doesn't contain the commentary exactly as it appears on the air -- but it has most of the juicy stuff.
Monday, May 12, 2003
More on the Times: I've noticed an unfortunate change in The New York Times Web site recently. Until the past couple of weeks, all of the Times reporting for the last 30 days was available, free of charge, on the Web. Articles older than 30 days cost some cash to see. Also, a direct link to any Times story, if created when the article was free, would still go to the article even past the 30 day limit.
Well, the Times has closed the loophole and changed the 30 day limit to 7 days. A list of Krugman's columns shows only the two most-recent available for free.
This is, of course, the Times perogative, but it makes my job as a watchdog more difficult. Without access to a database like Lexis-Nexis, checking for consistency, hypocrisy and changing explanations becomes more difficult. This isn't a complaint, but an explanation. I will continue to do what I can, but be forewarned that the job is just a little bit tougher.
Paul Krugman, media critic: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in the midst of the revelations of Jayson Blair's journalistic deceits and forgeries turns his eyes to bad journalism and comes up with -- every American media outlet except the Times.
[A] funny thing happened during the Iraq war: many Americans turned to the BBC for their TV news. They were looking for an alternative point of view -- something they couldn't find on domestic networks, which, in the words of the BBC's director general, "wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality."
"Many?" Paul Krugman and a few of his friends? Nielson Ratings of the war coverage on cable (BBC America isn't broadcast) had Fox News on top, followed by CNN and then MSNBC. BBC America can only be found in a very limited way in the United States -- both satellite networks offer it, and some cable companies offer it as part of their high-priced digital service.
Memo to Krugman: Maybe the BBC director general (a curiously militant title, no?) is a little biased towards his network's coverage of the war.
Leave aside the rights and wrongs of the war itself, and consider the paradox. The BBC is owned by the British government, and one might have expected it to support that government's policies. In fact, however, it tried hard -- too hard, its critics say -- to stay impartial. America's TV networks are privately owned, yet they behaved like state-run media.
One might have expected a government-funded media source to parrot the government line -- if it was a third-world dictatorship. How can Krugman even live in a country with PBS and NPR and "expect" Britain's BBC to be somehow different? It's more curious to me that the U.S. and Britain are probably the only two countries on this planet that fund critics of the government.
As far as the staying impartial -- some of the people in the midst of the war didn't see them as impartial, but as blatantly anti-war and unfair. The crew of the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal turned off the BBC and switched to Rupert Murdoch's Sky News.
According to a "senior rating" on the Ark Royal: "The BBC always takes the Iraqis' side. It reports what they say as gospel but when it comes to us it questions and doubts everything the British and Americans are reporting. A lot of people on board are very unhappy."
What explains this paradox? It may have something to do with the China syndrome. No, not the one involving nuclear reactors — the one exhibited by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation when dealing with the government of the People's Republic.
In the United States, Mr. Murdoch's media empire — which includes Fox News and The New York Post — is known for its flag-waving patriotism. But all that patriotism didn't stop him from, as a Fortune article put it, "pandering to China's repressive regime to get his programming into that vast market." The pandering included dropping the BBC's World Service — which reports news China's government doesn't want disseminated — from his satellite programming, and having his publishing company cancel the publication of a book critical of the Chinese regime.
I'm no fan of the communist Chinese government, or NewsCorp's (or any other company's) pandering to the Chinese for profit. But many politicians, both Democrat and Republican, have advocated doing business in China almost any way they can, in the belief that it will bring political reform to that country.
As to the rest of Krugman's piece. You need to read no farther than the next two sentences to dismiss all he has to say.
Can something like that happen in this country? Of course it can.
Krugman is trapped in his own ultra-liberal dreamworld. Krugman conjectures that the administration and the Federal Communications Commission can/will conspire to punish media outlets that investigate or attack the president. And, in the wake of such punishment there will only be silence from the vast media world as they appease the administration.
Don't bet on it.
There's no lack of attacks on Bush from diverse media sources, including the Times, the Times-owned Boston Globe, MSNBC's Phil Donahue (before his inability to get decent ratings did him in), ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS's Dan Rather, The Nation, Mother Jones, etc. ad infinitum
Once again, media criticism is not Krugman's strong point.
Jayson Blair's many errors: This past weekend, The New York Times presented us with the first of what promises to be several accounts of the journalistic fraud perpetrated by former boy wonder Jayson Blair.
The Times' account is, for the most part, a candid, brutal and honest assessment of where they went wrong when it came to Blair's work and career.
However, when it comes to how Blair got the job in the first place, the Times' political agenda forbids an honest assessment.
Mr. Blair's Times supervisors and Maryland professors emphasize that he earned an internship at The Times because of glowing recommendations and a remarkable work history, not because he is black. The Times offered him a slot in an internship program that was then being used in large part to help the paper diversify its newsroom.
I'm sorry, but this construction confuses me. He earned the internship in a program that was helping "the paper diversify its newsroom," but not because he was black? I'm curious as to how many white interns were in that same program. If anyone knows, please tell me.
This is another interesting thing about newsroom "diversity" -- it's only skin-deep. The article notes that Blair is the son of a federal official and a schoolteacher. Sounds solidly middle-class to me.
During his 10-week internship at The Times, in the summer of 1998, Mr. Blair wrote 19 news articles, helped other reporters and never seemed to leave the newsroom. "He did well," recalled Sheila Rule, a senior editor who oversees the internship program. "He did very well."
But Joyce Purnick, who was the metropolitan editor at the time, recalled thinking that he was better at newsroom socializing than at reporting, and told him during a candid lunch that after graduation he should work for a smaller newspaper. "I was telling him, 'Go learn the business,' " she said.
At summer's end, The Times offered Mr. Blair an extended internship, but he had more college course work to do before his scheduled graduation in December 1998. When he returned to the Times newsroom in June 1999, Ms. Rule said, everyone assumed he had graduated. He had not; college officials say he has more than a year of course work to complete.
Kudos to Joyce Purnick -- too bad there are too few of her at the Times.
The Times noted that, on several occasions, Blair was warned that his reporting was slipshod and his error rate so high that his job was in danger. However, those threats, in hindsight, were largely meaningless.
His mistakes became so routine, his behavior so unprofessional, that by April 2002, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, dashed off a two-sentence e-mail message to newsroom administrators that read: "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now."
Unfortunately, Landman's advice wasn't followed.
On Sunday morning's "Fox News Sunday" show, panelist Juan Williams acknowledged that Blair's fraud would provide fodder for opponents of diversity programs -- and argued that Blair's race had nothing to do with it.
Brit Hume countered, asking Williams if Blair was qualified to be doing the reporting that the Times had assigned him to. Williams demurred, claiming that he didn't have enough information.
I think Williams is being disingenuous, the Times article provides plenty of evidence that Blair was not qualified.
However, Williams did make two points that I do believe may have some merit. Williams said that some whites with certain pedigrees or connections were also getting jobs at prominent papers, without the kind of "minor league" experience that is required of the rest of us. The journalistic profession suffers when that happens. Second, Williams said that Blair's more and more audacious frauds were "psychotic." I'd have to agree. After reading the Times' article, I too thought he must've been nuts.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
Bush's carrier landing: There's been a lot of brouhaha over President Bush's decision to be flown to the USS Abraham Lincoln a couple of weeks ago while it was off the coast of San Diego to congratulate the troops on a job well done.
One of the complaints was that Bush's decision to use a jet, as opposed to the normal helicopter, was an example of wasteful spending.
Well, I just caught a couple of minutes of John Kasich's program on Fox News where he was interviewing a representative of Citizens Against Government Waste. The CAGW representative took note of the controversy and revealed that the jet that Bush flew on costs $7 more an hour to operate than the helicopter he normally uses -- and, he noted, the jet gets you there faster.
Of course the whole argument over what mode of transportation to use is silly. If the Democrats are really so worried about government spending, then why did they have Sen. Robert C. "Porker" Byrd give the denunciation? If money is the number one determinant of the mode of transportation that the president should use, then why didn't he go out in a dinghy? Why'd he fly to California? Amtrak could certainly have used another rider.
Anyway, remember -- all that outrage over $7 an hour.
Saturday, May 10, 2003
I'm popular in Colorado: Thanks to Patrick Wahl for giving me a heads-up on this column in today's Rocky Mountain News. At first glance it appears to be a column about the state of journalism in Britain and its many left-wing, anti-American tabloids. But, further down in the story, we find this paragraph:
The most left-wing of the broadsheets is The Independent. To many American Web-based readers, it's most famous for a bogus story about a purported massacre in the Jenin refugee camp a while ago. Its lead correspondent, Robert Fisk, is so adamant in his hard-left politics that when he was attacked by a mob in Pakistan in 2001, he wrote a column explaining his sympathy with the mob. That column, in turn, resulted in the addition of the word "fisking" to the vocabulary of weblog readers; "fisking" means a line-by-line deconstruction of an especially illogical article or column. As in, "Matthew Hoy gave Paul Krugman's column a thorough fisking."
This just made my week.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
"Mainline" churches aren't: Today's New York Times has an article entitled: "Top Evangelicals Critical of Colleagues Over Islam." I'm not going to go into a great deal of depth on the article itself, except to say that while people like Jerry Falwell and Frankling Graham have said things regarding Islam that are true -- they're not tactful or constructive.
What I am going to take issue with is, in the Times' worldview there are two types of churches -- "mainline" and "conservative."
The Times refers to the National Association of Evangelicals as "conservative" while the National Council of Churches is "mainline." Well, check out this index page of the National Council of Churches member statement on Iraq. If you come up with one that talks about how the war on Iraq is an example of a just war, let me know. These "mainline" denominations uniformly opposed a war that 71 percent of Americans supported.
The fact is, that when it comes to classifying churches, there are conservative ones and liberal ones. There aren't very many in the middle. The Times, however, is so far to the left, that even liberal churches appear to be somewhere in the middle.
A time for reflection: Today's Washington Post has a pair of articles by liberal columnists sensible and brave enough to honestly reflect on the real world in the wake of the U.S. victory in Iraq.
New Republic senior editor Jonathan Chait writes that many of his colleagues on the left have let their hatred for President Bush drive all thought from their heads.
Perhaps the most disheartening development of the war -- at home, anyway -- is the number of liberals who have allowed Bush-hatred to take the place of thinking. Speaking with otherwise perceptive people, I have seen the same intellectual tics come up time and time again: If Bush is for it, I'm against it. If Bush says it, it must be a lie. Their opposition to Bush has made liberals embrace principles -- such as the notion that the United States must never fight without U.N. approval except in self-defense -- to which the Clinton administration never adhered (see Operation Desert Fox in 1998, or the Kosovo campaign in 1999). And it has made them forget that there are governments in the world even more odious and untrustworthy than the Bush administration.
Columnist Richard Cohen looks back to the 1984 Republican National Convention, and U.S. representative to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick's speech. After nearly two decades, Cohen has come to the conclusion that Kirkpatrick was right about the "blame America first crowd."
That same tendency to blame America for the moral shortcomings of others unfortunately permeates the left and the Democratic Party. I wish it were otherwise, but I got the first whiff of it after Sept. 11 when some people reacted to the terrorist attacks here by blaming U.S. policy -- in the Middle East specifically but around the world in general.
Had we not supported Israel, had we not backed the corrupt Saudi monarchy, had we not been buddies with Egypt, had we not been somehow complicit in Third World poverty, had we not developed blue jeans and T-shirts and rock music and premarital sex, the World Trade Center might still be standing and the Pentagon untouched.
But this was the mass murder of innocents -- pulled off, incidentally, by non-poor young men who had not spent their lives scavenging for food scraps. The attacks were not in self-defense, or even in revenge for something America had done, but a fanatical, insane and futile blow directed at modernity.
Their colleagues on the left would be wise to listen and heed Cohen and Chait.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
Jayson Blair, media ethics and diversity programs: I've spent some time thinking about the brouhaha regarding former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair's plagiarism. If you're not familiar with the story, head over to MediaMinded -- he's done a fine job of covering the issue.
I must confess that, while the Blair story was on my radar, it didn't really catch my interest at first. A reporter had plagiarized another's work. Troubling, yes, but probably the biggest reason it made national news was that the plagiarist worked for The New York Times -- the paper of record. Until Monday, that's all I thought there was to it.
Thanks to MediaMinded, Romensko and others I learned differently.
As Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz pointed out on his CNN show "Reliable Sources" Blair is (relatively) young, probably about 27 years old, and black.
For someone in journalism, those two facts are sure to raise some eyebrows.
According to reports, Blair was part of a Times internship program for minority journalists -- that was how he got his foot in the door. After his internship ended, he was offered a job and the rest, as they say, is history. From all indications, Blair is a talented writer and reporter. Unfortunately, he has too much drive and ambition and not nearly enough common sense or ethical standards.
I'll probably get some hate mail for saying this, but it's true, Blair would never have even had the Times job if it wasn't for his skin color. For those non-journalists out there, let me explain how a journalism career typically works.
Once you graduate from J-school, you apply for jobs at any and every paper you can find. When I graduated in 1994, the job market was pretty tight. Like Blair, I got a job offer from the paper I had interned at the summer before. Unlike Blair, the paper was the Lompoc Record, a six-day-a-week, 8,000 circulation paper. I was paid $8 an hour (for a job that required a college degree).
A couple of months earlier, I had attended a minority job fair. Now, I'm not a minority, I'm a person of pallor. Unfortunately for the people running this job fair, whoever made up their flyers failed to put the word "minority" anywhere on them. By the time I found out that it was for minorities, they already had my registration and my money -- I figured what the heck.
One of the interesting and attractive aspects of the job fair was the fact that you could request that they set up interviews for you with some of the participating newspapers. I was in need of a job, so I took advantage of that. Now, I attended with a couple of my fellow journalism students from Cal Poly SLO. With the last names of Hooper and Bailey -- each of them had 4 interviews pre-scheduled for them when they arrived. I, Matthew Hoy, had a dozen. Now, I'm not suggesting that I was more popular than most because my name sounded Asian, but...well...OK, I am suggesting that I got more interviews because the scheduler thought I was Asian. Both Hooper and Bailey thought that was the case.
In fact, as I went through the 30 minute interviews (talk about mentally exhausting), on several occasions I could tell that there was some surprise that I wasn't Asian. A couple of interviewers even asked about the origin of the name "Hoy."
Anyway, at your first job you learn the ropes. You work your butt off to get some good clips. After a year or two -- no more than two -- you start hunting for your second job at a bigger paper for more pay. You spend two or three years there, and then you start looking for your third job. At that point, you can pick and choose your opportunities.
Back in the mid-90s, newspapers like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the San Diego Union-Tribune didn't hire people straight out of college. A recruiter for the Union-Tribune at the job fair said they didn't even consider applicants with less than five years experience in the field. That's obviously changed -- and not always for the better. (To my knowledge, the Union-Tribune has not hired anyone straight out of college for anything other than a news assistant position in the 2 1/2 years I've been there. Though we have hired people in various positions with only a year or two of experience.)
Newspapers have an interest in achieving diversity in the newsroom. Our reporters and editors should reflect their communities -- both in the color of their skin and their basic values and beliefs (unfortunately, very often, the latter is ignored). However, sometimes papers, in their efforts to "look like their readership," are willing to fudge on experience -- that's where the New York Times got into trouble with Jayson Blair.
In a job interview several years ago, I was asked whether I would like journalist who was a better reporter or one who was a better writer. I answered "better reporter," because, as an editor, I can rearrange, polish and tighten copy -- if all the information is there. A great writer who doesn't know what questions to ask and therefore has huge holes in his stories is a lot more trouble. It looks to me as though Jayson Blair is a great writer (as is the woman he plagiarized), but he was also apparently a weak reporter -- instead of doing actual reporting, he made the facts up.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that Blair's ethical disaster will tarnish good, talented and honest minority journalists at the Times and other papers. Now, in an ideal world, this sort of scandal would just sully journalism in general -- certainly if Blair were white and middle-aged that would be the case. But because he's a young black man who got the job at the Times largely because he is a young black man it raises a question about the competency of other young minority journalists. Are the minority intern program's chosen few under undue pressure to perform and succeed -- with journalistic ethics on the back burner (or completely off the stove)? That's really the most insidious thing about affirmative action and diversity programs -- that the exceptions that are made in the hiring and promotion of minorities can come back to haunt the program when something goes wrong.
If Jayson Blair had come to the Times after working for ten years at a variety of newspapers then his race wouldn't even been raised by Kurtz -- or anyone else for that matter. He would have been just another cautionary tale of journalism gone wrong. But the fact is that the color of Blair's skin opened doors for him that would have been closed to white journalists.
Hopefully if Blair's story teaches newspapers one thing it will be that skin color, ethnicity or national origin isn't the most important thing when it comes to hiring a reporter -- professionalism is. For major papers like the Times, you're not going to find that in a student straight out of college, no matter how talented they are.
Monday, May 05, 2003
On Bill Bennett and gambling: I'm sure you've probably heard about it by now, but former secretary of Education, drug czar and author of "The Book of Virtues," has been outed as a high-stakes gambler. (Full disclosure: I have, on occasion,
bought lottery tickets supported California's schools.)
Frankly, it's not quite the big story some have made it out to be -- From "Best of the Web Today:"
You can see why this would be a big scandal. Oh sure, Bennett hasn't actually held public office in over a decade. But still it's news when it turns out he's been violating the law.
Only he hasn't been violating the law. According to The Washington Monthly, "Bennett has made dozens of trips to casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas"--places where gambling has been legal for decades.
But still he's a hypocrite, right? After all, he often argues that gambling should be outlawed. Actually, he doesn't. The Washington Monthly reports that "Bennett and his organization, Empower America, oppose the extension of casino gambling in the states." But apparently they take no position on casino gambling where it's already legal. And while he "has opined on everything from drinking to 'homosexual unions' to 'The Ricki Lake Show' to wife-swapping," gambling "has largely escaped Bennett's wrath."
So maybe Bennett has a conflict of interest. After all, the gambling industry has one of the most vigorous lobbies in Washington, the American Gaming Association, and its president, Frank Fahrenkopf, is a former Republican National Committee chairman. But there's no apparent connection here either; Bill Bennett is not a gambling-industry lobbyist.
OK, but even if Bennett's gambling is entirely legal and above board, he's squandering money on which his family depends, right? Well, uh, no. The Washington Monthly quotes Bennett as saying: "I don't play the 'milk money.' I don't put my family at risk, and I don't owe anyone anything"--and then acknowledges that "the documents offer no reason to contradict Bennett on these points."
So maybe this all comes down to that old Washington adage that the coverup is worse than the crime. Yeah, that must be it--except that Bennett isn't covering up anything. He freely acknowledges that he gambles "for fairly high stakes."
What, then, is all the fuss about? It seems to be nothing more than that Bennett thinks and writes a lot about virtue, and he indulges in a vice. In other words, the crack reporters at Newsweek and The Washington Monthly are shocked, shocked to learn that human beings are fallible. This may be news to them, but not to most people.
Incidentally, Bennett's gambling isn't news either. Time reported in 1996 that he had won a jackpot in a Las Vegas casino and that, while "sheepish," he acknowledged that he does gamble. Newsweek's reward for teaming up with The Washington Monthly is to get scooped by its main rival by seven years!
Now, I'm not an advocate of gambling -- because some people do ruin themselves and their families. Bennett has since said that his gambling days are over -- and that's a good thing.
In the future, might I suggest that Bennett spend his discretionary income on supporting conservative Internet bloggers. Mr. Bennett, please use one of the buttons at the left.
Depends on your definition of "intellectual": If by "intellectual" you mean "useful idiot," then you're right. It seems as though some leading intellectuals, including Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover have come out to support Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's crackdown on political dissent.
Glover, by the way, is MCI's pitchman for their local and long-distance telephone service. Those of you out there that are serviced by MCI might want to reconsider -- or at least let MCI know how you feel about their choice of pitchmen.
*UPDATE* You can find the complete statement, including all of the signers here.
Sunday, May 04, 2003
Recommended reading I just finished reading Simon Singh's "The Code Book." It covers the history of cryptography from Mary Queen of Scots to modern encryption that is used to ensure the security of things such as online shopping. While the book does talk a little about the math of cryptography, the non-math reader should have no problem following along. Singh does an excellent job of explaining, in clear terms, how the codes worked -- and how they were broken. Singh also tackles some archaeology -- code-breaking and deciphering long-dead writing have common attributes.
I got the book for $4 in the bargain books at my local Barnes & Noble. So, check there first, otherwise, you can use the link above to buy it from Amazon.com.
The Democrats Debate: I recorded (for posterity) a re-airing on C-SPAN of Saturday night's Democratic presidential candidate debate. Just a couple of quick thoughts about the debate.
The first is a comment made by Sen. John Edwards that "anyone sitting at this table would be a better president than Bush." I suspect that the vast majority of the American people would disagree strongly with that claim. Also sitting at the table was former Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun, who lost her bid for re-election to her Illinois Senate seat because of questions regarding corruption; Rev. Al Sharpton, a libelous hatemonger; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich -- a man who sees running the city of Cleveland into bankruptcy as a badge of honor. Edwards' comment was greeted with applause from the audience. That sort of claim will probably fly in the primaries, but, if Edwards ends up being the Democratic nominee, it might come back to haunt him. After all, we want a president who has good judgment -- that sort of statement demonstrates a lack thereof.
Sen. Joe Lieberman was right about one thing, no Democrat has a prayer of beating President Bush in 2004 if he's perceived by the American people as soft on defense. This immediately excludes Sharpton, Mosely-Braun, Kucinich and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. This is also Lieberman's greatest strength. While I'm very likely going to vote for Bush in the next election -- I think I could live with a Joseph Lieberman.
That being said, I think that Lieberman unveiled a line in the debate that may help him in the primaries, but that he's going to have to can for the general election. Lieberman said that he was the man to defeat George W. Bush in the next election, because he and Al Gore "had already beat them once." The "stealing of the 2000 election by five Supreme Court justices" will play with the Democratic base, but it will turn off many independents. Four-year-old sour grapes just don't taste good.
More on budget "slashing:" Last month, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others, decried the "slashing" of the Department of Veterans Affairs budget. Krugman and others care about this issue because they see it as a way to attack President Bush, who is largely popular among America's military.
I pointed out at the time, that the claims were untrue.
Well, in a Q&A that appeared in today's San Diego Union-Tribune, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony J. Principi, backs me up.
We're reading various things about cuts to veterans benefits in the budget. What proposals are out there coming from the House and the Senate and also what is the administration looking for as far as cuts go?
There have been no cuts. It's really quite unfortunate that some have chosen to talk about cuts. Only in Washington, D.C., perhaps, when you get a 7.7 proposed increase is it somehow equivalent to a cut. I inherited a budget of $48 billion. That was in 2001. The budget that President Bush submitted to the Congress for 2004 that takes effect October 1 is for $63.6 billion, a 33 percent increase in the three years that we've been in office that the president has provided increases to the VA. The current fiscal year, 2003, we received an increase of $2.6 billion in health care alone, the largest increase ever given to the VA in its history. So there really have been no cuts.
Don't expect a correction in the Times. After all, one man's budget increase, is another man's "slash."
Thursday, May 01, 2003
This week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us: Former NOW president Patricia Ireland has been named CEO of the YWCA. For the acronymically challenged, that's the Young Women's Christian Association. I'll take a poll on Sunday, but I think most of the young, Christian women I know won't be impressed.
An example of my (day job) work: Back at the beginning of March I made a graphic for the San Diego Union-Tribune's Sunday Insight section. Well, it turns out that it won the paper's in-house award for best graphic for the month. (I don't know what they were thinking.) Anyway, if you're interested, you can take a look at it here. Warning. It is a little over 2 megs in size (it's quite large), so if you're on dial-up, expect a wait.
A Marine Comes Home: The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz has an excellent column today on why Michael Moore, Janeane Garafalo, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon just don't matter.
On April 14 in Vermont, for example, mourners gathered for the funeral of 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Mark Evnin, killed in action on the drive to Baghdad. A thousand people attended the rites at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, at which the Marine's grandfather, a rabbi, presided. Reporters related how the Marine Corps League color guard and local firefighters flanked the walkway into the synagogue, where mourners included the Roman Catholic bishop and the governor.
Crowds lined the streets in salute--some with flags, some with signs--everywhere the funeral procession passed. But what struck the Burlington Free Press reporters most were all the strangers who had been impelled to come to the cemetery to honor the young Marine. One of them was a mother who had brought her two young children and stood holding two American flags. "Every single man and woman out there is my son and daughter," she told the journalists. "He could have done a lot with his life. But he gave it to the nation."
The Hollywood left proclaims (repeatedly) its support for the troops. They come out in droves at anti-war rallies. Have any of them come out to stand by the roadside as a funeral procession for a fallen soldier passes by? Have they done anything to honor the men and women who have died so that they could go on television and whine about how their freedom of speech is being muffled? (Which happens to be proof that it actually is not.)
Didn't think so.
Enron Watch: Looks like they're going to charge up to eight more Enron executives for fraud.
Sorry, Ken Lay isn't one of them.