Talking About Undercover Journalism…

[Update #4 (the others are below): Martinez has resigned. Well, maybe he does have some modicum of good judgement, after all. I’m sorry that it wasn’t in play earlier, and wish him well. We all screw up, and for one, I hope that he and the rest of the Times management – realizing that they’ve stepped in it – learn from this mess.]

You know, I haven’t spent a lot of time angsting about the LA Times since I canceled my subscription (more time!! a perk!!), but I do have parts of the paper in my RSS reader.

So tonight I’m taking a break from work and scanning, and I discover this – thing – from Times Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez. I know I’m going to kill any chance I have of ever doing an op-ed there…and I’d love to, just so my mom would get all thrilled…but this is the sloppiest [two words denoting a sex act in which one partner is usually kneeling] of a rationalization I’ve read in a long time. The subject is simple; the Times will this weekend turn management of the editorial pages over to uber-producer and hair gel model Brian Grazer. Grazer is represented by a PR company who employs a woman named Kelly [no last name given] who happens to be … wait for it … sleeping with Andres Martinez, who made the decision to give Grazer the keys for a day.And it suggests three things worth noting:

* Martinez judgment is about as bad as Duke Cunningham’s. When I do my reality show “What The Hell Were You Thinking?” this will definitely rate an episode. I can’t imagine that anyone in a position of authority in a media company would be tone-deaf enough to let this pass. But they were, and this says a lot about them and their judgment.

* It reinforces the amazing halo effect that the rich and powerful have on the media. Grazer isn’t just a smart guy and a successful producer in film and television –

Given his well-known intellectual curiosity and his track record as a Hollywood producer, Brian is a terrific choice to kick off this quarterly program of guest editors. Brian and his partner Ron Howard have had a hand in bringing such stimulating fare as “Felicity” and “24” to the small screen (as well as my fav sitcom of all night, the tragically short-lived “SportsNight”) and such blockbusters as “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Da Vinci Code” to the big screen.

Now my personal theory is best summed up by a quote I vaguely remember from one of the Prizzi books, in which it is suggested that people hang around the really rich and powerful in the hopes that they will “spontaneously give them a lot of money”. Or a development deal, or a ride in their Bugatti with two ounces of blow and a bunch of cute young publicists.

* It demonstrates a level of craven excuse-making that would make any decent journalist need a bib. Here is more Martinez:

At no point was Kelly involved in pitching the concept of a guest editor, or any individual. My conversations were with Allan, who himself had no role in our subsequent talks with Brian and Michael Rosenberg, Imagine Entertainment’s president.

The decision to ask Brian to do this was not mine alone, but was taken by three editors here, and then approved by the publisher. The suggestion that my relationship with Kelly had anything to do with this choice is without merit. Suggestions that she or anyone else has favored access to our pages is also absurd. When Allan has pitched op-ed pieces to the Times – and we can only think of two instances this has happened in the last year – he has dealt directly with that page’s editor, Nick Goldberg.

Neither he nor Kelly would dream of approaching me.

And I would never dream of approaching a friend in political office to help my son get an internship…oh, wait, I did…and no political donor ever does it to get access or influence…oh wait…sell us another one, please.

And when the newspapers are in the pockets of the wealthy and powerful (and the beds of their publicists), how, exactly are they supposed to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”? Might make that next date awkward, Andres, no?

Color of the day: disgusted.

Update: corrected silly misspelling of Grazer’s name…

Update #2: In a stunning display of spin-mastery, Kelly’s boss Allan Meyer says:

“If this thing was killed over this, I think it would be an indication of the moral bankruptcy of the Los Angeles Times. If the newspaper is so fearful of what uninformed people think that it would allow itself to be stampeded in that way … I think it would be a very sad day.”

I haven’t seen this good an attempted reversal since I watched Biggest Guy wrestle in high school…

[Update #3: Bill Boyarsky, former Times city editor, has a grown-up response to the Times’ newest calamity:

To keep faith with its readers, the Los Angeles Times needs to put all its resources into an investigation of what’s been going on in the Current section and the editorial pages, now tainted by the conduct of editor Andres Martinez.

A beefed up team of top reporters should join media reporter Jim Rainey in examining past Current sections and editorials to see whether they have been influenced by publicist Allen Mayer and his associate, Kelly Mullens, who has been dating Martinez.]

A Good Read For Thinking About

Steve Smith points me at an honest-to-god (or God) great diary at Daily Kos.

The diarist eloquently makes a point I’ve tried to make a number of times about the left of MLK Jr:

I don’t think anyone could seriously make the argument that Dr. King was a sellout,

a person of weak moral stamina,

that he compromised with society or accepted marginalization.

Nay, he stood strong – continuously willing to speak out and when necessary suffer for his beliefs. Expecting not exceptions, but real change in the laws and attitudes he challenged, realizing that neither would come lightly.

Yet, significantly Dr. King managed to do something that we too often overlook. He disagreed – strongly. He challenged injustice – but he did not divide.

He drew lines not to exclude others but to demand change. Recognizing change would not come instantly, he still refused to fall into the trap of hating and demeaning his adversaries.

He Did. Not. Divide.

He refused to allow even those who persecuted him to become a “Them.” He recognized that whatever the conflict, we will ultimately have to live with those we now oppose and if we are to break the cycle of oppression, not merely change who’s in power, then we have to start breaking the cycle in our everyday lives.

Cathy Seipp died today, and as little as she tolerated fools, she’s someone who I think would have gotten that point easily. So in her honor, let me suggest that we all remind ourselves of a base truth – “that whatever the conflict, we will ultimately have to live with those we now oppose.”

Works for me. Thanks, Cathy, and thanks ‘its simple IF you ignore the complexity’…

He Who Rides A Tiger Should First Make Plans For Dismounting.

Abu Aardvark has a post up on the farcical Egyptian elections coming up next week.

This blog’s community is – appropriately, I think – concerned about the potential for the violent and radical themes within Islamism to become a truly bloody worldwide movement. The problem of course, is that the ideological engine for that movement is fueled by the politically and culturally repressive governments we support in the Middle East in the name of ‘stability’.

One thing I liked about what Bush was doing is that for a moment in time, he made it clear that an unsustainable quasi-stability built on the backs of the citizens of the Middle East – and generating pressure for the movement that risked tearing much of the world apart – was no longer our top priority. That, to me is a feature, not a bug in Bush’s policy.

As Bush has been getting his political ass kicked, a new, pro-stability consensus has emerged as we re-engaged Egypt and the Saudis. It looks like ‘professionalism’ to some, and like disaster to me.

We can’t be rid of the shined-shoes Warren Christopher crowd soon enough. They got us into this mess, and if we follow them, we’re going to wind up far far deeper in the woods.

Moveable Type Tech Bleg

I’ve managed to get a text-file output of my old site, and am trying to get it to import into the MT 3.3 instance we’re running here.

When I try, I get a ‘file too big’ error.

When I break the file up into little files and try again – same thing.

Any ideas, anyone?

Cathy Seipp

I met Cathy Seipp at one of my first blogger dinners – I was still deep in my pseud, and TG had to introduce herself as “Mrs. Armed Liberal”. We went to a booksigning in Brentwood and then off to dinner at one of my fave little Italian places on San Vicente with the cream of the 2002 blogosphere.

I counted myself awed and lucky to get to hang out with such clever, smart, interesting people. And that night, as on many later nights, Cathy Seipp was the center around which the group revolved.

Tonight, Cathy is gravely ill with cancer, and per her daughter Maia, in the hospital receiving palliative care.

That night, after she frisked me (it was in the shoulderbag, Cathy…), Cathy drilled me on my casual assumption that all thinking people were in favor of gay marriage, and when she did that, she didn’t only make me think about gay marriage as an issue, but all the other casual assumptions I offhandedly made about what people did and should think. Cathy gave me a zen slap to the head, and it was one of the biggest favors anyone ever did for me. I wrote a post about it… “Why I Support Gay Marriage, and Why I Will Never Be Angry At Those Who Do Not“…but I don’t think I really explained the gift – the perspective shift – that Cathy gave me that night.

When I was trying to push Spirit of America into a broader role, the people I reached out to for help started with Cathy, and Cathy reached back to help someone she knew just a little bit – because that’s what she seemed to do a lot.

Think good thoughts for her tonight, and for her daughter, and for her loved ones and friends and those – like me – who she reached out to help. If you want to do something for her, reach out and rearrange someone’s perceptions and open their eyes to the notion that reasonable people might think they are wrong.

I can’t imagine a more fitting memorial – for Cathy, or for anyone at all, to be honest.

Yup, Those Lame-o Founders

Kevin Drum has gently chided me for not reading and respecting Matt Yglesias more, since he’s a very smart guy. Since I respect Kevin, and respect is transitive, I started reading Matt again. (we have a history…)

My first reaction was to his post on “patriotism.” Not positive.But we’ll keep going, I say…and then I get to his casual post on the 2nd Amendment. Now there are all kinds of people who disagree with me about guns. I get it, and think there are good and smart arguments to have about gun policy. Matt & I would probably disagree about many (but not all) issues in gun policy.

But…that’s not my problem.

Matt’s post says:

Julian Sanchez says the “collective right” interpretation of the second amendment doesn’t make sense. And, indeed, it doesn’t really. But then again, neither does the “individual right” reading which would leave the right of individuals to buy anti-tank missiles and nuclear bombs “shall not be infringed.” The clearest thing about the text, after all, is that it says nothing whatsoever about “handguns” — the word is “arms” so whatever our right to arms is, that’s a right to arms not to puny guns.

Like much of the constitution, the second amendment turns out, upon examination, to be an ambiguously worded political compromise written hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Obviously, if you were going to start over from scratch nobody would write it that way.
[emphasis added]

Well, because y’know, we’re so effing much smarter than people like Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin.

How do people like this put t-shirts on? I mean with their big heads and all?

So, Kevin, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a pass on Mr. Yglesias for another year or so. He’s either far too smart or far too immature to hold my interest.

The comments thread there is interesting, though.

Abuse of Blog

Apologies in advance for this…

Or flog, in this case (as in flogging, or selling) – I’ve ordered a new 2007 Triumph Tiger and want to sell my 2004 KTM 950 Adventure; I’m a wuss and just don’t have the time to adventure ride, and I think the Tiger will be a better commuter. (If you don’t know what these are, that’s OK – you aren’t likely to be interested!!)

Drop me a note if you are interested or know someone who might be.

Realism, International Institutions, and Virgins

Catching up on the blogs after my conference (about which more later), my OC buddy Kevin Drum cites a Washington Monthly article by Michael Hirsch, titled ‘No Time to Go Wobbly, Barak.’

Kevin aptly sums up the article:

Hirsh’s piece is long and worth reading completely. He’s actually making one of the most difficult kinds of argument of all, an argument that the current system is fine and doesn’t really need big changes. The UN is flawed but workable. Muscular diplomacy produces results. Liberal internationalism as practiced by FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton is still workable, even (or maybe especially) in a post-9/11 world.

Here’s Hirsch:

It’s true that the system could use some serious fixing up. But are we to imagine that our leaders have learned nothing worthwhile about how to govern international affairs in the nearly 2,500 years since the Peloponnesian War? In truth, American presidents have been merging idealism and realism in practice – some deftly, some not – at least since Woodrow Wilson. Cast your mind back six years, to the relatively quiet end of the Clinton administration. America presided over a flawed but remarkably functioning global community, one that we ourselves had had the biggest hand in creating. The founding of the UN in 1945, with its Security Council designed around Roosevelt’s Four Policemen concept – the United States, Russia, Britain, and China each overseeing stability in their regions – was itself a major attempt to combine idealist international law with realist armed might. And it was created as a conscious effort to fix Woodrow Wilson’s mistakes with the League of Nations. Progress! And after a shaky start, Clinton used that system deftly to stop a civil war in Bosnia, end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and usher China into the WTO.


First, end the war on terror. Just declare it over. It is a historical cul-de-sac, an ill-defined conflict without prospect of end on the terms Bush has laid out. Having gradually expanded his definition of the war on terror to include all Islamic “extremists,” among them Hezbollah, Hamas, and radical political groups yet unborn, Bush has plainly condemned us to a permanent war – and one in which we are all but alone, since no one else agrees on such a broadly defined enemy. So let’s replace the war on terror with the kind of coordinated effort that the fight always should have entailed: a hybrid covert-war-and-criminal-roundup confined to al-Qaeda and its spawn, conducted with deep intelligence and special forces cooperation among states within the international system. Only if the next president focuses narrowly on true transnational terrorism, and wins back all the natural allies we’ve lost, can he or she finally achieve America’s goal of making the tolerance of 9/11-style acts as anathema to the international community as support of slavery. No state, no matter how marginal, would dare harbor al-Qaeda-type groups any longer, or even be able to look away if the terrorists tried to settle within its borders. This is the only way to finish off al-Qaeda once and for all.

Raw meat to much of this crowd, but let me take a moment to speak directly to the hawks. You’d better get used to this, and come up with some kind of strategy for dealing with it. The political base within the US (and other countries) for offensive action in the WoT is pretty much exhausted. On the other hand, the failure of the Democrats to have any kind of integrated, sensible response to the issues underlying the WoT hampers them severely – that’s why Guliani does well in the polls when it ought to be a blowout by the Democrats.

Hirsch’s article is critical of Obama’s core foreign policy team, Samantha Power (author of “A Problem From Hell”) and Anthony Lake, both of whom talk about reimagining the international relations mechanisms of the world, and suggests that things were – pretty much OK – until Bush came along.

I keep getting stuck on one or two pesky little problems. That wonderful collection of international organizations – didn’t work so well when Yugoslavia collapsed, did it? it wasn’t until France and the UK decided to act unilaterally – with the strong support of the US – than anything was done.

And the UN has done – exactly what – in the face of a worldwide Islamist movement that has thrown up a series of expansionist and unspeakably violent terrorist groups?

Now Hirsch would disagree; he doesn’t see Black September, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda and the variety of other splinter groups active from Africa to the Philippines as common actors in a worldwide movement that creates new gangs almost as fast as old ones are killed or captured, he sees them as “… small, fractious terror group[s]…”.

So I’ll disagree with Hirsch’s core premise; that the international system has worked well for the last 40 years. The failure to resolve issues in Yugoslavia; the failure to resolve issues between Israel and Palestine; the failure to resolve issues of genocide in Darfur and Zimbabwe – these aren’t any kind of success I want any part of. The fact is that Clinton’s approach to Islamic terrorism was remarkably effective – he found and arrested a number of terrorists. And the movement grew is stature, power, and deadliness all the same.

So no thank you, Mr. Hirch, I’ll welcome some changes in the international system, and the fact that Obama is being led by people who propose them is a feature, not a bug.

Having said, that I’ll make two followon points.

First, that it’s not likely that we’ll see a ‘For Sale’ sign on the UN headquarters any time soon. The reality is that institutions will change, but they will also persist. And as an interesting note, I’ll suggest that it may well be that one of the drivers of badly-needed institutional change may well be none other than – Cowboy George W Bush. Having broke the norms and walked away having said, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn…” everyone – both within and outside the US – seems anxious to get us back in our seat. That may be a good thing, and it may be something Bush can manage (and is, as he is managing the international coalition against Iran extraordinary well), or something for the next President to pick up.


…Ronald Reagan, Bush’s putative model, acted more like Ike once he found his footing in office. People mainly remember the “evil empire” rhetoric from his first term and the overreaching of Iran-Contra from his second. What they forget is that Reagan outraged his right-wing China lobby by phasing out arms sales to Taiwan in 1982, and that he angered anti-Soviet hard-liners by moving from rhetorical brinkmanship to genuine negotiations with the Kremlin (prompting none other than Richard Perle to resign in protest in 1987).

…but isn’t that the same thing that Bush is doing now? (Hirsch again)

The best proof of how far overboard Bush went in his first term is how much he’s retreating from those extreme policies, and re-embracing the international system, as he enters the final two years of his presidency. Many of the neocon ideologues of the first term are gone, or marginalized. Bush’s current effort to isolate nuclear-minded Iran – including a very effective policy of asphyxiating Iran’s economy by pressuring international banks into cutting off dealings with it – depends entirely on the UN Security Council resolution passed last year, which legitimizes sanctions. And in mid-February, the president endorsed a fuel-for-nukes accord with North Korea, under which Pyongyang will immediately get 50,000 tons of emergency fuel oil with nearly a million more tons to come in return for shutting down its nuclear program. The agreement is plainly a betrayal of the administration’s previous principled stand against the “nuclear blackmail” that it accused Bill Clinton of succumbing to, and represents a 180-degree turnabout from Bush’s previous refusal to negotiate with a regime he viewed as illegitimate – so much so that its fiercest critic was none other than John Bolton, who had just resigned as UN ambassador. And it reportedly took the White House’s most senior neocon, Elliott Abrams, by surprise. Former senior administration members told me the pact could have been concluded only because several key hard-liners – including Rumsfeld and Bolton – had left, and because Cheney’s influence had waned.

I’ll revisit this issue in a year or so.

And finally, to get a real sesne of how I feel about the international institutions Hirsch loves so well, I’d suggest that you go rent Terry Gilliam’s brilliant movie ‘Munchausen’. Set in a proxy Vienna, as the Turk cannonades the city and prepres to sack it, the Administrator (‘First Citizen’ as I recall) Horatio Jackson rules with the iron hand of reason and law,and with little care for the reality around him.

…you have to see it, really. I don’t have time to transcribe his better speeches (although if any readers want to, I’d be happy to post them). But here’s one — Jackson and the Sultan are negotiating, as they do every week.

Sultan: What about the virgins?

Horatio Jackson: Sultan, forget about the virgins! We’re out of virgins!

Scandal Rocks BlackFive Blog

I want to get on this issue before the other liberal blogs do…

…Milblogger BlackFive has made much of his identity as a Chicago Irishman. In an uncharacteristic slip, today he posted a photograph of the contents of his Irish PalmPilot, in which he made an uncharacteristic error that must force us all to challenge his identity.


Sorry, “Matt”, but I know Irishmen, and you’re no Irishman. A true Irishman would have written “Get MORE beer”.

Further investigation to follow…