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March 29, 2006 - Irreconcilable Differences













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Inside Baseball

A week-long drama of interest to political junkies and no one else came to its absurd climax and tacky denouement on Friday, March 24th with this

 

In the past 24 hours, we learned of allegations that Ben Domenech plagiarized material that appeared under his byline in various publications prior to washingtonpost.com contracting with him to write a blog that launched Tuesday.

An investigation into these allegations was ongoing, and in the interim, Domenech has resigned, effective immediately.

When we hired Domenech, we were not aware of any allegations that he had plagiarized any of his past writings. In any cases where allegations such as these are made, we will continue to investigate those charges thoroughly in order to maintain our journalistic integrity.

Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious offense that a writer can commit or be accused of. Washingtonpost.com will do everything in its power to verify that its news and opinion content is sourced completely and accurately at all times.

We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the practice of journalism.

We also remain committed to representing a broad spectrum of ideas and ideologies in our Opinions area.

Jim Brady
Executive Editor, washingtonpost.com

 

What? The sad story is that the Post for some reason decided that they needed a daily web log on their website from a wild-ass conservative. They said it wasn't a matter of seeking "balance" - that would be an admission they were lefties or that they thought they were being seen as such. They said there had been no pressure from the administration to be nicer to the administration. Of course, Dan Froomkin has his "White House Briefing" column weekdays (see Thursday's) that runs on for many pages detailing who said what about events and policy, and many on the right think it's far too breezy, irreverent, and brings up embarrassing absurd things those in power sometimes find themselves saying. And it had become the go-to reference for the political buzz. Was the Domenech web log (blog), "Red America," a way to placate the embarrassed? No, the post said they just thought it would be interesting to give Domenech space and a salary. One suspects they thought, too, that they might grab new readers who had previously been angry at them for that Nixon Watergate stuff that took out an icon on the right, and had been recently angry at them for the stories on our secret worldwide prison system where people we think may know something disappear forever, without a trace. The new guy might help.

Domenech is twenty-four and best known as founder of RedState.com, daily rants from the right, and he's the fellow who edits the books published by the likes of Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt. He's a rising star in the world of conservative chatter. What else? He never went to public school - he was home-schooled by his parents to keep him pure (his father is a White House liaison to the Interior Department and may be involved in helping Jack Abramoff rip off the Indian tribes to fund the Republican Party). He did attend William and Mary, a pretty good college, but he didn't earn a degree. He dropped out, but then became a speechwriter for Tommy Thompson, the former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The rest is history.

The Post decided this would be good, but then, as Editor and Publisher notes

 

Ben Domenech's conservative blog Red America lasted all of three days at the Washington Post. He quit today after numerous examples of alleged plagiarism in his work surfaced. Yesterday, in a separate matter, he had apologized for calling Coretta Scott King a "Communist" the day after her recent funeral.

The highly embarrassing episode for the Post culminated Friday afternoon when washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady published a notice on the Web site announcing that Domenech had "resigned." However, Domenech was then quoted in Human Events, the conservative magazine, as admitting he had been pushed out.

 

Oh well, the web can be a bitch, and billions of words are indexed. Lift a phrase and Google will find where you stole it in seconds. Those who teach know this - any professor who suspects something is amiss can check in out quickly, and now they do.

Joe Conason here runs down the major items that he just lifted from others, and notes he also just made up a few quotes here and there to prove his points. He stole from many sources - the Post itself, conservative commentary, film reviews - whole paragraphs at a time. The left side of the Internet found it all. The right side, after a flurry of the-hate-America-crowd-is-picking-on-our-prodigy and a lot of huffing and puffing about how the elites didn't understand the heart of America, gave it up. Even Malkin turned on him and said it the evidence was obvious. The guy was a serial plagiarist, claiming he wrote stuff that other people clearly wrote. So the Post caved. They forced him out, and one can only imagine what the real reporters and opinion writers there now think of their bosses.

One of the most influential websites on the left Hullabaloo, has Digby saying this

 

The Washington Post hears that Dan Froomkin, White House critic, is disliked by Republicans. Writers themselves feel uncomfortable with (and jealous of) the free-wheeling, critical tone of his online White House column, an irreverent style that is common in modern online journalism (see sister site Slate). They solve the "problem" by hiring the rabidly partisan twenty-four-year-old son of a Bush administration official.

This goes beyond bending over backwards. It's gymnastic contortionism. They are as bewildered by the grassroots fervor of this modern polarized culture...

 

And Digby explains what's been going on for decades, a growing meme that the elite journalists from the coasts just don't understand the "middle America," but the Republicans do. (Domenech himself started off by saying he spoke for most of America and was saying what everyone really thought - "Red America's citizens are the political majority.")

So what was the Post to do?

Well –

 

Those journalists who haven't taken the easy way out and simply adopted the GOP worldview (and there are many of them) are so paranoid that they can't trust their own eyes and ears. They are perpetually vulnerable to the manipulations of a cynical Republican establishment that has been pounding the trope for forty years that if a journalist tells a story that is critical of conservatives, he or she is a liberal who is out of touch with the people.

The country is in the middle of several "wars" in both the literal and metaphorical sense. If it was ever called for, the time to "exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public" is long past. The public isn't crying out for "balance," particularly when those who claim to provide it have no earthly idea even how to define it. They are looking for truth. Plain, simple truth.

If the mainstream media hope to even be relevant, much less pressing a claim of plenary indulgence to be agents of the sovereign republic, they must wise up quickly and stop being agents of the right wing propaganda mills. If they don't, they will finally lose the patience of their readers who will turn to the many alternative means of finding information.

I have very mixed feelings about how our country will fare with such a system. I think a thriving democracy needs a vital mainstream press. But since the mainstream press keeps getting punked over and over again by the right wing machine, you have to wonder if it really makes any difference anymore.

 

Was the Post punked? Maybe so.

But then, there's something implied here that's interesting.

Okay. Fox News makes much of their slogan, "Fair and Balanced." That's code to their savvy viewers - wink, wink, nudge, nudge, we'll tell you how the elitists with their fancy degrees and fancy words are making fun of you and your values, and tell you all your resentments at your constricted and difficult lives are, really, justified. The smart people are making fun of you.

That resentment fuels the Republican Party of course, but Fox is probably more interested in making money than politics per se. Should voters turn the Republicans out of office Fox News could turn on a dime and go the other way.

In any event, for those who are not perpetually resentful about life, that Fox News claims to be "fair and balanced" (subset "no spin") raises a red flag. If you have to insist you are something, it probably isn't so. Heck, all of us figured that our in junior high. The kid who says he's really brave, who says he's really smart, who says he had sex with that cheerleader? Yeah, right. If you have to say it... Bragging carries its own proof of the opposite. Everyone knows that.

CNN and the others do the "report both sides" routine in response to the success of Fox News in the ratings, giving equal time to positions that are based on actual facts and experience, and positions based on outright lies, things that just aren't so in the physical world, and things no one has experienced. This is "not taking sides." Show both sides of everything. Objectivity. What's based on what's observably true is given equal time with what's based on bullshit, however refined. Fair is fair, as with the coverage of whether John Kerry really fought in that war and George Bush was an Air force hero-pilot. You never know. Could be so. Anyone with a conspiracy theory, who thinks God is really a large hyper-intelligent gerbil or whatever, gets serious attention. We're just reporting here.

Time to start a new news network, with Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta. He has the experience. He was one of the key people back in 1980 who created the old Turner CNN. But this network would have a new, complex slogan - "We don't really care much about being fair and balanced, just in reporting the simple, plain truth about what's happening, and if you don't like what you see, don't blame us, as we just told you what's happening, so deal with it and go whine somewhere else."

Not much of slogan. But some might appreciate it.  (But see the footnote.)

NASCAR and the grassroots fervor of this modern polarized culture...

In the April 3rd issue of The New Republic you'll find an interesting item from Jonathan Chait, Blue State Blues.  It went up on their website Friday, March 24th - a bit early.

The tale here? This –

 

I blame George W. Bush's election for many ills, and, to that list, I can now add the fact that I have been publicly shamed for not owning a gun. My unwilling confession took place a month ago, while I was being interviewed by the right-wing radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt. He asked me whether I owned a gun and whether I had ever owned a gun (in what seemed to be consciously McCarthyite language). Later, he proceeded with a lengthier inquisition into whether I had friends or relatives in the military. He asked a version of this question some half-dozen times. ("Is there anyone that you want to bring up, like your aunt or your uncle, or the guy down the street?") I volunteered that my next-door neighbor and friend is a naval reservist, but this failed to mollify him. "Do you know anyone who's been back and forth to Iraq and been deployed there?" he asked. Sadly, I was unable to produce any evidence for my defense. In the court of right-wing talk radio, I was convicted of being a blue-state elitist.

This is a very odd cultural moment we find ourselves in, where there is a stigma attached to not owning a gun or not having friends shipped out to Iraq. This isn't a moral question; military service is obviously admirable, but knowing people who serve is no more admirable than knowing people who donate to charity. It's a cultural question. Since Bush's election, and especially since his reelection, liberals have grown painfully aware of the cultural gap with the white working class. The approved liberal posture is cringing self-flagellation. We brought the catastrophe of the Bush administration upon ourselves with our latte-sipping ways, and we must repent. Conservatives are gleefully pressing their advantage. Did you mourn Dale Earnhardt? Do you sport a mullet? Well, why not?

 

And of course he quotes the New York Times David Brooks in Brooks' book On Paradise Drive where he talks about the people on the coast who think they're so smart because they finished school and can speak and write coherently - "They can't name five NASCAR drivers, though stock-car races are the best-attended sporting events in the country. They can't tell a military officer's rank by looking at his insignia. They may not know what soybeans look like growing in the field."

Chait? –

 

You don't see liberals taunting NASCAR fans who can't name the host of "Masterpiece Theatre" or conservatives agonizing over their hemorrhaging support among intellectuals. Instead, conservatives have indulged in an orgy of reverse snobbery. Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review in the summer of 2004, asserted, with his usual insight, that liberals hate Bush because "he is an unapologetic twanger who likes guns, barbeques, NASCAR, 'the ranch,' and pick-up trucks." Actually, the pickups don't bother us, because we realize that Bush primarily rides in armor-plated limousines like most of us Democrats. But the barbequing is indeed a real sore point. Damn that barbeque-eating president!

 

Then he says more than a few things about the aborted Domenech web log in the Post, noting the first post there was about how the elitists at the Post never "got" one of the best movies of all time Red Dawn (1984) - "At the outbreak of World War III, Midwestern high school students turned refugees slowly organized themselves into an effective guerilla force to turn back the tide of Soviet invaders." Patrick Swayze leads them. It's pretty awful, but those words were just typed by someone with degrees sitting in Hollywood, just a few miles from the Pacific. The movie is on cable out here now and then, but one must assume it's still playing somewhere in Iowa to cheering crowds, or so Domenech implies.

Irreconcilable differences. Out here, down on the Sunset Strip, another Ferrari passes by. Three of the apartments in the building here are now the home of people from France, and they speak French of all things. The manger speaks Russian, actually Ukrainian. The old woman across the courtyard chats with everyone in mixed Yiddish and English. The retired MGM staff historian here, Austrian, speaks German at times and plays scrabble by the pool with Claudine in French (odd to watch). It's not Iowa here.

What's the plain simple truth about who we are? Are "Red America's citizens are the political majority?"

The "blue states" account for half the population, according to the last census, but Chait notes that "Conservatives cope with this inconvenient fact by redefining blue states as a few urban enclaves and making a fetish of the political map, with its misleadingly large, depopulated red states." And "this is a persuasive point if you believe in the principle of one acre, one vote.

Who knows?

Over at Smirking Chimp there's a pointer to this - "Terri [Schiavo] - MURDERED BY THOSE WHO LOVE COMMUNISM."

That was a long time ago. The fellow must have been watching that Patrick Swayze movie again.

Elitist View

What do we "get" out here on the Blue Left Coast? Friday, March 24th in Los Angeles Times they run something from the Financial Times (UK) on the op-ed page, Madeleine Albright with this -

Good Versus Evil Isn't A Strategy
Bush's worldview fails to see that in the Middle East, power politics is the key.

Oh my. She was Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, and our UN ambassador for a time. And she's not from Iowa. She was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia, and she speaks fluent Czech and Russian. And she dresses funny.

And she's unhappy with what was released a few day earlier, the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy. You could look it up. It's "More of the Same." She says just call it "The Irony of Iran" and more tragedy than strategy. She says it's Manichean - one of those words Patrick Swayze would never use and makes young Domenech seethe with resentment he'd like to share.

Her points are clear –

 

It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad. It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world's most powerful nation upon that fiction. The administration's penchant for painting its perceived adversaries with the same sweeping brush has led to a series of unintended consequences.

For years, the president has acted as if Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein's followers and Iran's mullahs were parts of the same problem. Yet, in the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq and Iran fought a brutal war. In the 1990s, Al Qaeda's allies murdered a group of Iranian diplomats. For years, Osama bin Laden ridiculed Hussein, who persecuted Sunni and Shiite religious leaders alike. When Al Qaeda struck the U.S. on 9/11, Iran condemned the attacks and later participated constructively in talks on Afghanistan. The top leaders in the new Iraq - chosen in elections that George W. Bush called "a magic moment in the history of liberty" - are friends of Iran. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bush may have thought he was striking a blow for good over evil, but the forces unleashed were considerably more complex.

 

More damned facts. She's one of the "facts" people.

And she's worried the administration is split between the facts people, who see what they actually are, and know this is a complex problem, and, on the other sides, the "ideologues, such as the vice president, who apparently see Iraq as a useful precedent for Iran."

She has some suggestions, "although this is not an administration known for taking advice."

The first is to drop the "our job is to end tyranny in this world" crap and fact the fact we cannot control events in Iraq - the best case is we can referee. Second, drop the call for "regime change" in Iran - just saying such things makes it less likely to happen as positions harden, and anyway, if you want someone to cooperate with you that kind of talk is not exactly useful. It might cause a bit of resentment? You think?

The third is hard, because it call for dealing with reality –

 

... the administration must stop playing solitaire while Middle East and Persian Gulf leaders play poker. Bush's "march of freedom" is not the big story in the Muslim world, where Shiite Muslims suddenly have more power than they have had in 1,000 years; it is not the big story in Lebanon, where Iran is filling the vacuum left by Syria; it is not the story among Palestinians, who voted - in Western eyes - freely, and wrongly; it is not even the big story in Iraq, where the top three factions in the recent elections were all supported by decidedly undemocratic militias.

 

That does seem to be what's happening. Put her on the new, hypothetical news network - "We don't really care much about being fair and balanced, just in reporting the simple, plain truth about what's happening, and if you don't like what you see, don't blame us, as we just told you what's happening, so deal with it and go whine somewhere else."

Expect more whining. "Being president, your see, is hard work." Some of us remember the debates with Kerry.

It's even harder if you don't deal with the facts of the situation.

It's okay. Here a conservative commentator calls her a pathetic idiot. The Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq aren't really that far apart these days on all matters. Christopher Hitchens told him so and he knows more than she does. (The glib Brit sot knows more than a Secretary of State?) Mosques blowing up? Reprisal killings? Minor stuff. And everyone knows the way to deal with the fools in Iran is slap them around. They'll respect that. Everyone knows that.

Irreconcilable Differences.

 

__ 

 

FOOTNOTE:

 

From the News Guy in Atlanta –

 

Lest anyone who knows better read this and call my bluff, I must  confess my role in the creation of the new medium had little to do with editorial matters, but specifically had me inventing the "satellite  desk," which dealt with how to get all those reports, both live and on tape, back to headquarters so they could be sent back out to the world.

  

As for the proposed slogan - "We don't really care much about being fair and balanced, just in reporting the simple, plain truth about what's happening, and if you don't like what you see, don't blame us, as we just told you what's happening, so deal with it and go whine somewhere else." - actually, I pretty much favor what I think was Mad Magazine's takeoff  on the New York Times: "All the news that fits, we print!"  - the idea here being, if you are too lazy to discriminate, how can you possibly go wrong?

 

 































 
 
 
 
Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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