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23 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:28 pm

Is The New York Times Channeling Ron Fournier?

My colleagues in the progosphere has, quite rightly, called out Ron Fournier, the Associated Press’s hack-in-chief, for his extraordinarily awful piece today that argued Obama’s choice of Biden demonstrates a “lack of confidence.”

Now that Fournier is completely discredited, they might want to turn their attention to The Caucus, The New York Times‘ politics blog.  In roughly ninety minutes this afternoon, it published not one, not two, but three separate pieces that indirectly criticize Obama’s choice of Biden.

Check out the following posts, all of which went up between 4:29 and 6:00 pm today.

First at 4:29 came a summary by Michael Falcone of blog commentary on the choice.  Falcone describes the left’s reaction to Biden as “underwhelming, conventional, even boring — perhaps at best, pragmatic.”  That description is based on four bloggers — Paul Rossberg at Open Left, Jerome Armstrong and Jonathan Singer at MyDD, and David Jones at Mother Jones.

Although it is true that Rossberg is not happy with Biden and Armstrong is at best ambivalent, the other two actually described the pick in terms far stronger than Falcone describes.  First, Singer:

Biden is a pick that I’m decidedly comfortable with, one that brings a whole lot to the Democratic ticket — even beyond the foreign policy credibility that the media is so overwhelmingly focusing on — one that reinforces the important message of the Democrats being in touch on the economy while John McCain, George W. Bush, and the Republican Party are completely out of touch.

Now, Corn:

Biden is a smart legislator who has shown that he can suppress his own faults when he must. He had a good campaign this past year as a presidential candidate. He won few votes but performed well at the debates and demonstrated he could keep his infamous verbosity under control. At the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, while other Democrats got bogged down in legal jargon practically indecipherable to the average person, Biden peppered Roberts with straightforward questions about Roberts’ claim that he merely wanted to be an umpire on the bench who calls constitutional balls and strikes. “Much as I respect your metaphor,” Biden countered, “it’s not very apt, because you get to determine the strike zone. The founders never set a strike zone.” It was the best moment of the hearing.

On foreign policy, Biden has always been an activist, thinking and engaging with the issues and crises generating headlines and those that don’t make the evening news. He has a fancy for cooking up proposals. And even if he devises ideas that may raise objections–such as his plan to partition Iraq–he often deserves credit for the effort.

To be fair to Falcone, Corn does go on to say that Biden is conventional, and that there is plenty of grist for the GOP mill.  But that’s not “underwhelming,” but rather thoughtful and balanced in a way that the Caucus does not even approach.

Furthermore, there were plenty of others — Ezra Klein, E.J. Dionne, and Steve Clemons all come to mind — who were enthusiastic about or actively promoting Biden.  Falcone’s post makes it look like all progressives are unhappy with the pick (and that all conservatives are salivating at the opportunity to pick Biden apart).  That, of course, is ridiculous on both counts — all you have to do is read Andrew Sullivan, a conservative supporting Obama, to realize just the degree to which Falcone is creating a false dichotomy.

If this were the only post, I could live with it.  But the Caucus was just getting warmed up.  At 5:42 pm came a link to a Times-generated list of the 79 times that Biden and Obama did not vote the same way in the time since Obama has been in the Senate.  There is no comparable list of 799 times (799!) they voted the same way.  So the Caucus (and the Times more broadly) chose to focus exclusively on the few occasions the two men disagreed rather than the overwhelming majority of times where they did.

Then if that were not enough, at 6:00 pm came a piece by John Broder entitled “On Obama-Biden Chemistry, Clues are Scarce.”  Here’s the “evidence” Broder uses to prove his thesis:

In his introductory remarks, Mr. Obama spoke respectfully of Mr. Biden’s record of public service, and reverently of the personal trials he has endured. But there were few notes of personal connection, and no anecdotes about moments they had shared in the Senate or on the campaign trail. . . .

The Obama campaign was stingy with details about how Mr. Obama came to choose Mr. Biden as his electoral partner. We do not know (yet) of any secret rendezvous or late-night telephone calls in which the two men bonded; no stories of how their wives sneaked off to the Four Seasons for coffee. All we know is that Mr. Obama called Mr. Biden on Thursday night and offered him the job. Mr. Biden obviously accepted, as he said in several interviews in recent weeks that he would do if asked.

So let me get this straight.  Since nobody at the Times sat in on the phone calls, we have no evidence of a personal connection.  And the time that the two men spent working together on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which I think we can assume included conversations that did not take place in front of the cameras, doesn’t count.  And since there are no wacky or hilarious anecdotes, there must be no chemistry.

I’m sorry, but if I were Obama, the key point I would be making is that Biden is uniquely qualified to be my VP — and to be President if necessary.  I would address his qualifications, his biography, and his reputation.  I would not focus on the fact that he’s a great guy — even if I think he is.

The funny thing is that Obama did talk about Biden’s personality — and the Caucus even quoted him:

I have seen this man work. I have sat with him as he chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and been by his side on the campaign trail. And I can tell you that Joe Biden gets it. He’s that unique public servant who is at home in a bar in Cedar Rapids and the corridors of the Capitol; in the VFW hall in Concord, and at the center of an international crisis.

That sounds pretty personal to me.  But apparently, Broder won’t be happy unless he can find evidence that the two men bonded over doppio cappuccinos at the Starbucks at 4th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., SE.

Individually, the three pieces are barely worth a second look.  But taken together, especially when published so close to one another, they begin to look like an agenda.

So what’s going on here?  Is this New York calling out a Philly rival?  Are they unhappy that Obama cold dissed their home girl Hillary?

Or maybe, just maybe, they’re angry that Obama managed to keep the choice secret; and their competitors beat them to the story.

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29 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:55 pm

Shocked, Shocked….

In case you missed it, The New York Times ran a big long boring article an exposé yesterday about how corporations and lobbyists give money to the International Republican Institute (IRI) in order to influence Senator John McCain, who is the organization’s chairman


Corporations give money to a non-profit chaired by a Senator!

This is news?

I don’t have the time or inclination to address everything that was wrong with this piece.  It was not so much investigative journalism as a hatchet job.  And I say that as a long-time critic of McCain and an occasional critic of IRI.

Read the rest of this entry »

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28 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:30 am

The Sunshine Boys

In yesterday’s New York Times, Frank Rich shared his opinion of McCain’s recent really bitter bitterness:

His grim-faced crusade to brand his opponent as a traitor who wants to “lose a war” isn’t even a competent impersonation of Joe McCarthy. Mr. McCain comes off instead like the ineffectual Mr. Wilson, the retired neighbor perpetually busting a gasket at the antics of pesky little Dennis the Menace.

I have a better idea.  Let’s team John McCain and Bill Clinton, another Obama-basher, in a new production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.  They’d be a laugh riot.

Of course if Bill Clinton started to poke John McCain (”not the fingah!”), McCain might have him shot.

Links and photo courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.

| posted in media, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

24 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:00 am

Turns out The New York Times Has a Huge Bias

From Very Small Array: a measurement of how The New York Times reports.  Turns out that conservatives are right:  the paper of record has an enormous bias: Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in media, world at home | 0 Comments

22 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:00 pm

Obama Wins the Meme Wars

Three days into his much-ballyhooed trip (and with a huge assist from Nour al Maliki), it’s become clear that Obama has won the meme wars.  Take, for example, this photo, which ran all over the place:

Read the rest of this entry »

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21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:00 pm

The Only Paper of Record?

So Drudge is reporting that The New York Times rejected a McCain op-ed on Iraq after printing one by Obama.  I’ll leave the analysis of the relative wisdom of the Times’s decision to others, but one thing did occur to me.

As recently as 2002, there were 1,457 daily newspapers in these United States, including at least one or two whose editorial pages have a favorable opinion of John McCain.  In addition there are hundreds of thousands of blogs and news sites.

Had McCain submitted his op-ed on Iraq to any of them, it would have been news — especially if he had done it as Obama was getting on a plane to Afghanistan and Iraq.  And you can assume that the blog and cable echo chambers would have kept it in the news for days, much as they did for Obama’s piece.

Yes, the Times is the “paper of record.”  And yes, they printed Obama’s piece.  And yes, the right has a long history of picking on the Times for being a lefty mouthpiece, so leaking this certainly doesn’t hurt McCain with his base.

But it can’t help with the pundit class, who, after all, still have a lot of influence on coverage.  Was it really worth not publishing it elsewhere?  Doesn’t this make McCain look like a wimp and loser, especially given the fact that his Iraq policy is not looking the best right now?

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19 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:34 pm

More on “The 300″ and Obama’s Experience

So I’ve gotten some interesting feedback, mainly via email, about last night’s post on The 300.  My good friend Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, agrees with me that the Times piece is a misfire. Not sure I agree with him, however, that Obama is “colonizing” the DC foreign policy community.  If he were, I doubt he would have only 300 folks in the network.  Or consciously exclude people like Richard Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski even if the former is Tony Lake’s rival and the latter has some outside-the-mainstream ideas on Middle East peace.

I know that to some of you, this may seem like little more than inside baseball.  Who really cares how many people are advising Obama?  Shouldn’t it matter more what kind of advice he’s getting?  To which I can only offer one response:


But the problem is that the mainstream media — and to a lesser degree some of my friends in the blogosphere — seem determined to portray Obama as “inexperienced” on foreign policy.  Just today, The Washington Post has a front page story with the following headline and sub-head:

Obama Going Abroad with World Watching
Foreign Policy Credentials Are At Stake

Huh?  Obama’s future credibility will be determined by what he does on a single week-long trip to Europe and the Middle East?  A trip that doesn’t include China, India, Japan, Latin America, Africa, or a whole bunch of other important places?  A trip that his opponent kept criticizing him for not taking until he started criticizing him for taking it?

Let’s acknowledge the reality here.  The trip is window-dressing.  Yes, it is designed to show Americans that Obama knows something about foreign policy.  But the only reason it’s getting this kind of coverage is that it’s late July and the media doesn’t have anything better to do than speculate on whether Obama’s entire candidacy will hinge on a few photo-ops.

The real story here is that the media continue to embrace a deeply corrosive — and oh yeah, completely wrong — meme that is, after all, little more than a a set of McCain campaign talking points.  “Obama is over his head.” “Obama doesn’t have the experience to be commander in chief.”  “Obama doesn’t know anything about foreign policy.”  “Obama is a rookie and we can’t have a rookie in charge right now.” “Obama is very very scaaaaary.”

What utter nonsense.  On issue after issue — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and more — Obama has taken positions that have proven to be far more sensible and realistic than those taken by either McCain or Bush.  He is more thoughtful, more realistic, more pragmatic, and perhaps most importantly, more often right than John McCain.  The only thing he isn’t is more experienced.

But if “experience” were the only prerequisite for the presidency, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney (ARGH! MY EYES!), Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson would be our candidates.

So instead of asking who is more experienced, maybe the media should ask who has the better ideas.  Maybe they should look at who has been more adaptive in responding to changing conditions on the ground.  And maybe they should stop mislabeling flexibility as flip-flops.

Nah.  That would require reporters to think.  Wouldn’t want that.  Making stuff up is a lot more fun.

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics | 2 Comments

18 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:22 pm

The 300 is… Me.

One of the downsides of having been largely offline over the past 36 hours is that I’m just now getting caught up on the news.  So I know I’m late to this story, but I think I’ll make this worth your time.

In case you missed it, the New York Times had a big exclusive today:  it turns out that there are three hundred people advising Barack Obama on foreign policy!!


I don’t know which part of this amazed me more:  that the Times regarded this as news or that the blogosphere swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

You see, I have a little different perspective on all of this.

I am… wait for it… cue the movie music…


Yes, you may touch the hem of my robe.

But wait a second.  Something is wrong here.  Where is my crimson robe?  My spear?  My six pack abs?  If I’m going to throw myself off a cliff, I want my six-pack abs!

Oh wait, wrong 300.

But I’m pretty sure I am one of that other 300 — the Obama 300.  Well, maybe not after this post.

About nine months ago, I contacted some folks who I knew were already involved in the Obama campaign. I let them know that I was willing to help out on policy.  A little while later I got an email thanking me for my interest and assigning me to a team of other people interested in the same issues. Every few weeks, the team leader sent out an email asking us to draft or comment on something.  He also passed on a request from the campaign for us to volunteer for the ground campaign, which I and many others were more than happy to do.

More recently, we’ve started to organize ourselves a bit more, and have been tasked to write some briefs on specific issues.  We’re even dividing into more specialized subgroups.

But I have absolutely no illusions about this.  We are not Barack Obama’s “mini State Department,” as the Times claims.  In fact, one of the main purposes of these teams is… to keep us out of the way of the people actually making the decisions.

You see, every four years, every presidential campaign is inundated with officeseekerwannabes, some idealistic, some not so much.  There are newbies who have never before been involved in a campaign, worker bees who have served in mid-level policy positions in previous administrations, and Prominent People who don’t have much time but want to help where they can.  All of them have some sort of expertise on a given issue.  All of them want the candidate to win.  And almost all of them know that if you want a job in the next administration, you have to put in your time.

So what is a campaign to do?  You can’t have three hundred people advising a candidate, no matter what the Times may think.  If a campaign is smart (and that certainly is true of the Obama campaign) they do what any sensible organization does:  they form committees.  Except they call them “foreign policy advisory teams,” invite all the officeseekerwannabes to join, and then (for the most part)… ignore them.

Am I being cynical here?  A little.  But my disdain is for the Times’s breathless reporting, not the process.

Here’s the thing.  Four years ago, I co-coordinated one of these groups for the Kerry campaign.  I was one of two people who designated roles, set deadlines, assigned responsibility for drafting, and held conference calls.  Lots and lots of conference calls.  It was our job to get stuff done when the campaign needed it.  I wrote two of the five “core” position papers as well as a few smaller ones and the relevant sections of the platform and the debate prep book.

I’m not trying to brag — I just want to give you a feel for what was (and is) involved.  There were plenty of other people who did even more.

Did we have any influence on the Kerry campaign?  I have no idea.  I know that the people managing foreign policy for Kerry — Rand Beers, Dan Feldman, and Susan Rice, among others — did a good job of making us feel like we were being heard — just like I was trying to do with the people on my team.  But I never actually heard a talking point I wrote come out of Kerry’s mouth.

Our team had 50 people on it.  There were 20 teams.  Now think about that for a moment.  Do the math.

So why weren’t there reporters covering the number of people on the Kerry team four years ago?

Oh.  Wait.  There.  Were.  Took me five minutes on the Google to find the stories.  Except back then, we were called a “mini-NSC” instead of a “mini-State:”

“I’ve put together for Kerry a small group of mostly younger foreign policy advisers, a sort of mini-NSC,” says [Dan] Feldman, 36. Feldman says he helped pick the group by the expertise of its members to mirror the various directorates within the National Security Council, including experts on areas like the Middle East or Africa and on topics such as counter-terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.  “We have a weekly conference call, write position papers, and do opposition research on the Bush administration,” says Feldman.

Nice going Times.  You just ran a front-page story that is virtually the same as one reported by you and others four years ago.

And no matter what the Times may think, Obama doesn’t have The 300 because he is a neophyte on foreign policy.  In fact, from my experience, he is better briefed on national security issues than either Bill Clinton or John Kerry were at this point in their campaigns.  The core group of people — the ones actually advising him — have done their jobs well.  But you know what?  He’s pretty smart too.

That core group also happens to have done this before on previous campaigns.  They know a process like this works.  But they also know that it happens to be a great way of putting together a pool of… potential candidates for jobs that need to be filled quickly, given the fact that we’re fighting two wars and everything.

And do you think Obama is the only candidate in this cycle to put together such a team?  Hillary Clinton had as many people helping her, and no one suggested she was inexperienced.  I have a friend who was going to play a similar role for Mark Warner before he decided not to run.  I know people who were trying to do something similar for Richardson, and I’m sure Edwards did too.  And what about all the stories about Giuliani’s scary brain trust?  Remember them?  Were they there because Giuliani was a neophyte?

In fact, I would be suspicious of a candidate who doesn’t have something like this in place.

Paging John McCain.  Senator McCain, flashing red courtesy phone please.

McCain said today that he doesn’t have — or need — a similarly sized group.

I don’t believe him.  He is either

  1. lying;
  2. oblivious; or
  3. the first candidate in twenty years not to have at least 300 people in the national security community trying to line themselves up for a job.

And given his string of gaffes on things as basic as the existence of Czechoslovakia and the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, he should think about adding a few more.  Say, I don’t know, maybe 300?

I’ll have more on stupidities of the Times story tomorrow.

| posted in foreign policy, globalization, politics, world at home | 0 Comments

17 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:00 am

Enough Al-Ready

What is it with The New York Times and its insistence on using “Qaeda” instead of Al Qaeda?  Yes “Al” means “the,” and technically speaking, using it is incorrect.  But doing so makes the paper look really, really, really pretentious, like they know something we don’t.

And it’s not like they’re consistent.  When writing of the Hugo novel/smash broadway musical, do they refer to it (them) as Miserables?  No.  When reviewing new albums by rock bands from the American Southwest, do they refer to them as Lobos and Lonely Boys?  I don’t think so.  When talking about the most popular Arabic-language television channel, do they call it Jazeera?  Not ever.  And do they ever call the guy plain old Osama Laden?  The answer is still no.

So get over yourselves already, NYT.  It’s Al Qaeda.

| posted in media, pop culture | 0 Comments

16 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:27 am

Done Well & Done Right: Four Sites Worth Your Time

Last week, I blogged about The Washington Post’s utter incomprehension of new media.  In the spirit of not just criticizing but actually offering constructive solutions, I wanted to suggest four news sites worth checking every day.

1.  The New York Times — still the best site by a major paper.  Strengths:  It treats its front page as a constantly evolving version of its print edition, and does a great job of balancing reporting and blogging (it is the only major paper I know of that keeps a rotating list of its blogs in a prominent place on the main page).  Its blogs actually break news.  Drawbacks:  it still doesn’t quite “get” video, and its “most popular” box is too far down the page.  It’s ad-heavy, which I guess is to be expected, but the pop-ups, banners, and min-ads before video can get pretty annoying.

2.  McClatchey — probably the best example of a major media company (they own dozens of papers) “getting” new media.  Strengths:  Great layout, strong integration of news feeds and blogs by foreign correspondents (some of which rank among my favorites anywhere).  Prominent attention to feature stories.  Able to integrate best work from newspapers all over the country.  No ads.  Drawbacks:  Not many.  Major stories only rotate once a day, like a print edition.  Site is a bit text-heavy, but I like it.  Reporters get bylines only if they have the lead story.

3.  The Washington Independent (and affiliates) — a brand new effort by the Center for Independent Media to publish an online “newspaper” to compete with old media giants. CIM has established similar “papers” (all with Independent in the title) in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico (do I sense a swing state trend here?).   Strengths:  Some really good reporters, particularly Spencer Ackerman (who may be the best blogporter in the industry) and Sridhar Pappu.  Young, scrappy, hungry — they’re already providing some of the best coverage of key stories like the SOFA controversy. No ads. Drawbacks: They’re still learning their way.  Reporting sometimes involves commenting on other people’s stories as opposed to new content (as if I’m one to talk).  Small, so their coverage tends to focus on a few (albeit important) stories.  Their layout is getting better, but it’s still a little clunky.

4.  ProPublica — another new kid on the block, but one with the pockets to have a real impact.  Founded in order to fill a growing gap in print media’s investigative reporting capabilities.  Strengths:  They’ve drawn some top-flight talent and given them the leeway to explore issues in-depth.  If the first few stories are any indicator, they’re going to be outstanding.  Despite being a non-profit, they have the resources to compete with the largest media operations in the country.  No ads. “Scandal Watch” feature is great.  Drawbacks:  Still fairly new, and they don’t have much content yet.  Their news feed is merely an aggregator of other sources — and is unlikely to change, since their mission is to focus on in-depth reporting.  News aggregator is near the top of the page, above actual reporting.  Layout is still a bit clunky.  Weak, non-intuitive integration of RSS feeds and blogs.

Those are the first four I look at every day.  In addition, I use Google Reader as my RSS reader, which enables me to track 150 blogs and news feeds.  And let me be clear here:  I said track, not necessarily read.  I do have  a life (although Molly is increasingly wondering whether I’m married to her or my MacBook Pro).

What are your must-read news sites?

| posted in media | 0 Comments

14 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:00 am

The Misappropriation of Theodore Roosevelt

Yesterday, I blogged about John McCain’s interview with the NYT, focusing on the fact that yet again, he admitted not understanding the intertubes.  But something else about that story has been bugging me.  Here it is:

Asked to name a conservative model, he skipped over the suggestions of three names typically associated with the conservative movement — Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barry Goldwater, the founder of the modern-day conservative movement who occupied the Senate seat Mr. McCain holds today — to settle on Theodore Roosevelt.

Now to be fair to Senator McCain, this part of the article is so badly written, that it’s not clear whether McCain had called Roosevelt a conservative or the reporter just made the connection.  Fortunately, the Times has the entire transcript.  It’s worth quoting at length:

Read the rest of this entry »

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