Friday, October 07, 2005

Frist Narrowly Escapes Certain Scandal

I bought a copy of today's Commercial Appeal to read while eating lunch. (At Pho Hoa Binh on Madison, by the way, after reading EJ's frequent raves about the place. It's very good, although being served a can of Coke and glass of ice seems kinda tacky. I was well into one dish before discovering it was tofu! And the curried potato soup is great on chill days. Thanks for the rec Eric!)

Anyway, my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets when they tripped over one news giblet. Since I don't think it's in the online version (Who can tell? The online and print editions are arranged differently. Happy searching.), I'll transcribe it:
Former Commercial Appeal political columnist Susan Adler Thorp went back and forth with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office, and met with Frist in Memphis, before deciding not to take a job as his press secretary.

"We talked numerous times by phone and email and I seriously considered it," Thorp, 56, siad. "Over the years, I've developed a great deal of respect and admiration for Senator Frist, but I unfortunately couldn't accept the position."

Frist's chief of staff, Andrea Becker, said through a deputy press secretary Thursday that the new press secretary will be announced next week. She also said the office does not comment on the selection process.
Bloody fucking hell. It sounds like Thorp was approached by Frist's office and she turned them down. The bit was likely written by Bartholomew Sullivan, the CA's Washington bureau dude, and a long time colleague of Thorp's. Neither is known for fidelity to facts nor descriptions resembling the described, so how much of this is accurate is up for grabs. Still, I am dumb-founded. Admittedly, the piece was very short, but what it didn't mention is the real story.

Thorp is a walking, talking scandal. Widely criticised during her tenure at the paper for being a Democratic shill and partisan, while cloaking herself in the above-it-all robe of "longtime political observer," Thorp often used her column for various vendettas and personal agendas. Her final, and to me most infamous, vendetta was in the month surrounding the 2002 Shelby County elections.

Thorp wrote ten columns during those four weeks. Five specifically and vociferously attacked the Republican candidate for Shelby County Mayor, George Flinn, on a variety of fronts, including a laugable but enraging charge that his campaign manager was rude to her at a local grocery store. She never wrote a column about the other, Democratic, candidate (victor AC Wharton), but did laud Wharton in columns attacking Flinn. She ended her run with the famous "exit interview," wherein she interviewed Flinn as though he was being shown the door in his political aspirations.

She also wrote one column where, after a career spent denigrating people involving themselves in politics who have no background, no experience, no understanding of the issues and no platform (witness her attacks on Flinn), she found the two "no hope" unknowns running as Democrats against the prohibitive Republican front-runners. (One was eventual winner Marsha Blackburn, whom Thorp had already been attacking.) Thorp had never written about these kinds of stealth candidates before, except in the usual CA modes of genteel derision or passing note. Neither Democrat had the slightest idea what was going on; both were immaculate embodiments of everything Thorp had long despised. And yet she treated them with respect and seriousness. It was a transparent effort to give some boost to Democratic chances.

Mere weeks after this, Thorp abrupty quit the CA to take a new job: communications director with new Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton! Despite a long career as a newswoman, demanding people answer her questions under pain of her making up answers for them, she brushed aside any hints of quid pro quo or cronyism by clamming up.

And then came Tom Jones. Jones was a long-time "executive administrator" for several Mayors of both parties. He was the go-to guy for getting things done. Jones was caught in a scandal involving several members of the out-going Rout administration who were carrying over into the Wharton administration (and crossing party lines) misusing and abusing their County-issued credit cards for questionable expenses. Mayor Rout had known about the upcoming scandal since April of that year, before the elections. Jones was found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison.

Even though others were involved, apparently including Rout himself, Jones became the fall guy. He fought imprisonment, even threatening to "name names" just before he went to prison in a bid for some intervention. Of course, he only served half his term before going to a half-way house designed to teach inmates how to adapt to the crime-free, regular world. Given that Jones, near sixty, had been employed gainfully all his life and was well integrated into the regular world, his presence in a half-way program seems like another bit of cronyism.

Jones then approached Thorp and another "fixer" in County government, "executive administrator" Bobby Lanier about having his pension doubled. Although it wasn't widely reported, apparently Jones wife was ill and had mounting medical bills. Jones sought more pension and a better medical benefit. Rather than go through the County Retirement Board, and risk exposure and media glare, he privately got Thorp and Lanier to intercede on his behalf. They arranged for him to be put back on the County payroll for a holiday weekend, which under arcane pension rules gave him the necessary qualifications for an upward adjustment of his pension. He never did any actual work.

When caught, both claimed that Mayor Wharton was in the loop, but Wharton was adamant otherwise and demanded both resign, which they did. Again, Thorp refused to answer questions, except to proclaim her own innocence. She faded away. Jones, by the way, eventually did get his pension increase through a rather suspicious vote by the Retirement Board. Lucky him. He also works for the Coletta Group downtown, advising and schmoozing with the very people he once worked amongst even though he is now a felon. And some people wonder why so many are distrustful of government....

Thorp then returned to the spotlight when WMC, Channel Five, hired her as their on-air editorialist, and off-air as their "door opener;" helping reporters with access in difficult stories. As I understand it, a personal friendship with WMC News Director Peggy Phillip played a part in her consideration for that position. Thorp went many months not appearing on air, until the day of the Tennessee Waltz arrests. WMC went wall-to-wall in their coverage and brought Thorp to the anchor desk throughout for commentary.

My jaw hit the ground that day. A disgraced and resigned former member of the Wharton administration, tagged with allegations of unethical if not illegal behavior, sitting next to Joe Birch and Kym Clark (I think it was), talking about damage to the integrity of government and abuse of office with a straight face. I was watching intently, to see how she handled her own tainted past, but I never saw a word mentioned. News Director Phillip maintains she did, briefly, address it.

Thorp rarely appears on air, which is good. I missed her most recent appearance, but it seems to have sparked yet more controversy.

So why in God's name is Frist, a Republican, even considering hiring a Democrat, let alone one with Thorp's baggage? Did he actually approach her? Did she decline? Or was her name bruited about and did they drop her upon learning about her history?

For the life of me, I cannot fathom this. Thank goodness Frist is a no-hoper in the '08 Presidential elections. And that he's leaving office next year. You have to wonder at this kind of judgment.

FRIDAY NIGHT UPDATE:Oops! I didn't go back through that transcription, and so you saw how badly I type "blind." It's fixed now. Thank you to Mark who phoned me to give me the bad news. Sorry about today's quality control, but that's what y'all get when it's a one man operation.
Calvin Who?

Remember all the breathless reports during the summer from local news about former Juvenile Court Clerk employee Calvin Williams "tell all" book that would blow open Shelby County government? Probably not. But reporters from every station in town showed video of the manuscript and promised lots of "sex, drugs, money and abuse." So did Calvin.

So, here we are, almost a month past the book's supposed release date, and.... Nothing.

Seems it was all smoke and no fire. My guess would be someone bought the fuel supply and Calvin was convinced to shut the hell up. Or, where is he working these days? Is he in a cushy new job?

Local news -- such teases. And short memories too.
Fan Subversion

This is the trailer for a heartwarming Jack Nicholson comedy about a writer who is blocked and a young boy looking for a dad who find each other at a hotel in the Colorado High Country. It co-stars Shelley Duvall. It's called Shining.

Sound familiar, sorta? It should. It's the Steven King horror movie The Shining recut with new music to make a trailer for a feel-good comedy-romance. It's part of a trend in recent years to do fan-made trailers. This is where fans of films recut the trailer, or use the DVD release to completely redo the original trialer. Sometimes it's because the original trailer sucked, sometimes it's because someone has a better idea, and sometimes it's just to be subversive.

The arrival of DVDs, which give budding experiementers movie-quality clips to work with, and cheap or free computer software, to make the work simple and easy, have helped power the explosion. It's something anyone with time, a quick eye and a good idea can do.

It's tied to something else I've talked about here: fan-made films. Star Wars seems to be the leader in films made by fans using the universe of George Lucas' creation. But there are many more examples. Some are as good as any studio release.

I think there's a serious message for Hollywood and the television broadcast industry here: Your days are numbered. The only thing holding it all back is the delivery system and a way to get the word out to potential fans of a new movie. Broadband cable access to the net is still growing, but when it becomes the norm, then it will be easy to download or even stream these films to your home entertainment system.

Finding these films is another matter. No network or channel will touch them, since they derive from the copyrighted material of the studios they depend on, and so no network program or magazine will talk about them, for fear of angering the very people they depend on for their revenue.

Searching the web is time consuming. Knowing which sites to go to so you can keep up with the newest is hit-and-miss, because it depends on you knowing about the sites, or finding them. The studios, via the MPAA and the RIAA, are defending copyright like it's pure gold, so the phenomenon bubbles along just below the radar. Peer-to-peer networks help, but again you have to know what to look for before you can download it.

It will take a rethink by Hollywood, which isn't likely to happen soon, as they seem locked in to the old model of doing business. It's the old "don't squeeze tighter or you'll kill it; let it go and you'll have it come back many times over." Hollywood hasn't... err... grasped that yet. So until they do, the phenomenon lives in the shadows and it benefits from the aura of something illegal you're sharing with those "in the know."

It's growing though, and one day the sheer weight of it will burst the dam, just like music downloading led to iTunes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The White Animals

Following on from the music post down below a bit, Wally Bangs offers up thorough look Nashville dub/pop-rockers The White Animals.

He mentions a cover of their's I'd forgotten: These Boots Are Made for Walkin', a dubbed-up (as in Jamaican reggae) cover of the Nancy Sinatra song. Powerhouse bass carries the day. You instantly recognise the song, but it comes at you through a haze of atmospherics.

Take a moment while you're there to poke around Wally's blog. He and I have extremely similar musical tastes; we met through our affiliation with Blogcritics as reviewers. Wallys also posts on his life in southeast Tennessee. Make sure to read the post that precedes his music post, about a childhood friend. Great stuff.
The "Revolt" Will be Staged

Sir Humphreys uses a series of pictures and some googling and a photographer's own words to show that Reuters photographer Bilal Hussein colludes with insurgents, and that Reuters and the AP newservices buy and promote his propaganda.

But, hey. You can trust the media.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Subject Reports on Media

Even if it dates from January of 2005, this rant on the media's incorrect and uninformed reporting on Iraq is still priceless reading. It's from an LTC in the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq. You know, someone whose boots are on the ground and who has actually been shot at by people intent on killing him. Someone who has actually been outside the safe zones.

Anyway, he writes of what he's seen on the ground in Iraq and then what he's seen on the television reporting back home. The disconnect is huge:
The operation in Fallujah is only one of the recent examples of incomplete coverage of the events in Iraq. The battle in Najaf last August provides another. Television and newspapers spilled a continuous stream of images and stories about the destruction done to the sacred city, and of all the human suffering allegedly brought about by the hands of the big, bad Americans. These stories and the lack of anything to counter them gave more fuel to the fire of anti-Americanism that burns in this part of the world. Those on the outside saw the Coalition portrayed as invaders or oppressors, killing hapless Iraqis who, one was given to believe, simply were trying to defend their homes and their Muslim way of life.

Such perceptions couldn't be farther from the truth. What noticeably was missing were accounts of the atrocities committed by the Mehdi Militia — Muqtada Al Sadr's band of henchmen. While the media was busy bashing the Coalition, Muqtada's boys were kidnapping policemen, city council members and anyone else accused of supporting the Coalition or the new government, trying them in a kangaroo court based on Islamic Shari'a law, then brutally torturing and executing them for their "crimes." What the media didn't show or write about were the two hundred-plus headless bodies found in the main mosque there, or the body that was put into a bread oven and baked. Nor did they show the world the hundreds of thousands of mortar, artillery and small arms rounds found within the "sacred" walls of the mosque. Also missing from the coverage was the huge cache of weapons found in Muqtada's "political" headquarters nearby. No, none of this made it to the screen or to print. All anyone showed were the few chipped tiles on the dome of the mosque and discussion centered on how we, the Coalition, had somehow done wrong. Score another one for the enemy's propaganda machine.

Now, compare the Najaf example to the coverage and debate ad nauseam of the Abu Ghuraib Prison affair. There certainly is no justification for what a dozen or so soldiers did there, but unbalanced reporting led the world to believe that the actions of the dozen were representative of the entire military. This has had an incredibly negative effect on Middle Easterners' already sagging opinion of the U.S. and its military. Did anyone show the world images of the 200 who were beheaded and mutilated in Muqtada's Shari'a Law court, or spend the next six months talking about how horrible all of that was? No, of course not. Most people don't know that these atrocities even happened. It's little wonder that many people here want us out and would vote someone like Muqtada Al Sadr into office given the chance — they never see the whole truth. Strange, when the enemy is the instigator the media does not flash images across the screens of televisions in the Middle East as they did with Abu Ghuraib. Is it because the beheaded bodies might offend someone? If so, then why do we continue see photos of the naked human pyramid over and over?
I could excerpt a whole lot of this, if I'm not careful, so I'll stop here and direct you to Read the Whole Thing.

I will add that this is what comes of having reporters and journalists who have no experience of the military being sent to cover the military and its actions. The problem is that the military is about using force (or the credible threat of it) to make someone do your will; if necessary, they will be killed to protect the Americans the military is sworn to defend. The media aren't sworn to anything, and are all about using words to achieve ends. Two very fundamentally different means to different ends.

The problem is also that the press judges the military by their own means, and by their own political philosophy, rather than judging the military by their means and philosophy, or by their ability to defend this nation.

The military is sworn to an oath. They answer to one person, the President of the United States, who in turn answers to Congress and the people. The press answers only to the corporations that hire them, corporations that exist to generate a profit for shareholders. Whatever talk they may spew about responsibilities and obligations are nothing compared to having living humans depend on you to keep them alive in a war zone. They answer to no one authoritative and pay no penalties when they fail. (Being fired? So what, you can still write. In fact, write a book about the firing! Make money from the incident. Some penalty, that.)

Look at newscasts or newspapers. They look the way they do because paid consultants are brought in to teach the people making the news how to appeal to an audience, to get more people to watch the news, to generate more viewers, to raise ad rates, to make more money from advertising. When was the last time you heard of paid consultants being brought in to teach a newsroom how to be more diligent, more rational, have better backgrounds in their subjects, to be more honest? Are journalists drilled in the duties in even remotely the same way the military is?

Without reporters, journalists and editors who are veterans themselves, the media is in danger of not knowing what it's talking about. Lots of folks have suspected this for a long time, but it took the Internet Age for them to discover each other and get a dialogue going, a conversation that has shown that, if fact, very often the media don't know what they're talking about. The Internet makes it possible for people who might otherwise be a couple of sentences in a single paragraph of a story to expound at length and in detail, and gives us the opportunity to find them and listen to them ourselves, unfiltered and undistorted by the need of the writer to make a story fit in the time or space alloted by deadline.
The Unaddressed Gap

While researching for a post above -- I was trying to find the number of reporters and journalists who are veterans or active military -- I stumbled on this page. At the bottom, there's this:
For example, I find that few
journalists have hunting or fishing licenses or own a gun while the
public they serve loves to fish and hunt.

A new study puts more light on the journalism-public disconnect. USA Today has a story. The study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found a social divide:

  • On same-sex marriages, 59 percent of journalists favor them, compared with 28 percent for the public.

  • 17 percent of journalists said they attend religious services weekly, compared with 40 percent for the public.

  • 9 percent of journalists consider themselves conservative, compared with 38 percent of the public.

  • 80 percent of journalists said it was a "bad thing"
    for a news organization to have a strong political view in news
    coverage, compared with the public's 53 percent.

  • Asked if the government has the right to limit the press
    to report a story, 44 percent of journali
Another bit of anecdotal and statistical evidence that journalists are seriously out-of-step with their audience. Small wonder their audience is declining....
Quote of the Day

Via The Gun Guy ("Turning America back into... A Nation of Riflemen citizen at a time.") comes this pithy thought:

Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Via Fark [WARNING! Probably not work safe to visit Fark.] comes The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.
Cultural trends now fashionable in the West favor an egalitarian approach to life. People like to think of human beings as the out put of a perfectly engineered mass production machine. Geneticists and sociologists especially go out of their way to prove, with an impressive apparatus of scientific data and formulations that all men are naturally equal and if some are more equal that others, this is attributable to nurture and not to nature.

I take an exception to this general view. It is my firm conviction, supported by years of observation and experimentation, that men are not equal, that some are stupid and others are not, and that the difference is determined by nature and not by cultural forces or factors. One is stupid in the same way one is red-haired; one belongs to the stupid set as one belongs to a blood group. A stupid man is born a stupid man by an act of Providence.
It's mildly technical (Hey, it's not for stupid people, OK?) but it comes with some hilarious Robert Crumb-style graphics for the more easily amused.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

New Citizen-Journalist Tool

Kodak has announced the release of the world's first computer-less, wireless digital camera. In cooperation with T-Mobile, users can take pics and directly upload them to the Internet via any wi-fi hotspot available. It's got middlin' features and a high price ($500), but it's small and can send pictures to the 'Net anywhere.

It means folks who have these cameras can get their pictures of breaking news to the public with unbelievable speed. Combine this with a laptop and you have the beginnings of the citizen-militia of journalism.

The ability to get raw, unfiltered, complete information to the public directly, rather than through the biased and time-delayed professional media is here. The next step is to get a network of high-profile Internet sites widely known to the general public, so they know where to look when they want the direct view, or the full record, of events in their community.

It's all so close I can almost taste it.
Judith Miller: 1st Amendment Martyr or Ass-Covering Sleaze?

I haven't posted on the whole Valerie Plame affair because I never thought there was much to it. She used cronyism to get him a plum, no-work job. He used the opportunity to turn it into an anti-Bush spectacle, with himself and his wife at the center. He's been lying his ass off ever since, trying to peddle his ineptness and dishonesty into "Bush lied; people died" political gain. The press has been buying it.

The whole Bob Novak angle -- that he was shilling for Karl Rove's retribution against Plame -- never held up when you looked at the whole story, which was only available if you read the Internet. Try this post, and then go to the main page and start reading back. He's covered this story in exhaustive detail. It's a sordid tale.

Which got even more sordid with New York Times reporter Judith Miller's release from prison this week. The press has covered her as she's one of their own and she's been "defending the First Amendment" or some such twaddle. They love those stories about their own because it makes them look noble. You know, the little, lonely reporter standing firm against the vast and crushing might of the United State's government and its evil minions. Except, of course, that the NYT is a pretty large corporation with lots of expensive lawyers and a large contingent of sympathisers and protesters.

Anyway, something always struck me as wrong about the whole "Miller in jail to protect sources" thing. And now Powerline blog is asking the same questions. Here are their theories:
It seems clear that Judith Miller and her lawyers aren't telling the truth. What isn't obvious, is why. Three possibilities: 1) Miller went to jail because she wanted to pose as a martyr, and she just needs an excuse for why she now wants to go home. That's plausible as far as it goes, but it doesn't explain why Miller stayed in jail for another week and a half after getting Libby's "clarification," while her lawyer negotiated with the prosecutor. 2) Miller went to jail because she didn't want to answer questions about her tipping off a terrorist-supporting group that the FBI was about to execute a search warrant, an episode that also could have come before Fitzpatrick's grand jury. She and her lawyer laid the blame on Libby so that the public wouldn't learn about the other episode, which is pretty much unknown. Plausible, and consistent with what we've been told about her lawyer's deal with the prosecutor--if, indeed, the terrorist tipoff was something that Fitzgerald could have pursued. I'm not sure whether that's correct or not. 3) The third alternative is the most sinister: Miller went to jail to protect not Libby, but another source or sources, and the prosecutor has agreed not to ask her about those other sources. If that's true, it suggests that someone in the administration--presumably, either Karl Rove or Scooter Libby--is being set up.
Go to this post and you'll read the explication of what I believe is Miller's true motive here, contributed by a reader:
I wrote you about this several months ago. In a published decision, U.S.D.J. Robert Sweet (S.D.N.Y.) denied Fitzpatrick's motion to compel Miller to testify before a grand jury relating to a leak to Miller about a warrant issued to the FBI for a search of a New York Muslim charity's offices. A source leaked this information to Miller, who, incredibly, promptly contacted the Muslim charity and revealed the warrant prior to the search. Fortunately, no FBI agents were injured when they searched the offices the next day, in what clearly could have developed into a very dangerous situation.

District Judge Sweet (I will resist reiterating my comments regarding him included in my other email to you) denied the prosecutor's motion to compel Miller's testimony about this incident, finding, if you can believe it, that Miller's conduct was permissible because it was merely in keeping with the Times' editorial policy of contacting subjects of upcoming articles for comment prior to publication. In opposing the motion Miller stated that she was contacting the charity to get its comments about an article she planned to write after the search had been conducted. In doing so, of course, she divulged the existence of the warrant and created a situation where the office could have been booby-trapped, or at a minimum crucial evidence destroyed or removed. As an attorney, I found the facts of this case and Judge Sweet's reasoning so disturbing that I continue to be shocked, months later, that this incident hasn't received more public comment. I don't expect the Times to report it, of course, but where is the alternative media? I noted that the prosecutor himself (as opposed to a deputy) filed a long affidavit in support of the application, which I understand is something of a rare occurrence in criminal practice. If you haven't read the decision you really should. I found it to be an eye-opener.

In any case, I always thought that Miller agreed to go to jail not to protect a dubious principle and a source who had already clearly released her from confidentiality in the Plame matter, but rather out of self-preservation, so that she could safely ride out the duration of the grand jury in jail without having to testify about the search warrant affair and her frankly criminal role in that. If my sense about this is correct, she caved once it was suggested that the grand jury could be extended for up to 18 more months. The absurdly public "release" from confidentiality recently restated by Scooter Libby gives her cover, but my hunch is that the real reason for her release from jail is the prosecutor's agreement to limit his questioning of her to the Libby contacts, which puts the search warrant matter off limits.
Not so heroic now, is she? The theory certainly fits a lot of the facts. It also makes sense.

Are there heroes in the newspaper industry? Sure, sometimes. But just like any other human endeavour there are a whole lot more people who are just muddling through, covering their asses when something goes wrong. Which is Miller? You decide for yourself, rather than let her colleagues (humans all) decide for you.