Do Not Reward Trump For Looking Presidential In Unilaterally Going To War

Our history of military intervention in the middle east has consistently failed to provide the desired results, and has repeatedly added to further destabilize the region and produce results contrary to our national security interests, including fueling terrorism. Intervention in Syria is even harder to justify when there is no favorable goal even being proposed, or sides worthy of supporting. Despite this, far too many people who should know better, both in the media and on the left, have been applauding Trump’s bombing in Syria, which appears far more impulsive than based on any coherent strategy to reduce deaths.

There are some who we would expect to be cheering Trump on. As Jack Shafer notes, “Nobody projects network war delight better than CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.”  He showed that MSNBC is no better:

If cable news is just a fancy talk show about the news, then the hoarse hollering of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews is an hour-long news monologue. Almost gleeful about the war, which has temporarily lifted him from the slog of the Trump-Russia and Gorsuch stories, Matthews battled Blitzer Friday night for the title for Cable News’ Most Unbearable.

Unfortunately, far more journalists have fallen for the appeal of war. Margaret Sullivan has chastised those in the media who have become excited over the attack, giving a few examples:

“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States last night,” declared Fareed Zakaria on CNN, after the firing of 59 missiles at a Syrian military airfield late Thursday night. (His words sounded familiar, since CNN’s Van Jones made a nearly identical pronouncement after Trump’s first address to Congress.)

“On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,” read a New York Times headline.

“President Trump has done the right thing and I salute him for it,” wrote the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens — a frequent Trump critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist. He added: “Now destroy the Assad regime for good.”

Brian Williams, on MSNBC, seemed mesmerized by the images of the strikes provided by the Pentagon. He used the word “beautiful” three times and alluded to a Leonard Cohen lyric — “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons” — without apparent irony.

She further discussed the media coverage in general:

Why do so many in the news media love a show of force?

“There is no faster way to bring public support than to pursue military action,” said Ken Paulson, head of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.

“It’s a pattern not only in American history, but in world history. We rally around the commander in chief — and that’s understandable.”

Paulson noted that the news media also “seem to get bored with their own narrative” about Trump’s failings, and they welcome a chance to switch it up.

But that’s not good enough, he said: “The watchdog has to have clear vision and not just a sporadic bark.”
Clara Jeffery, editor in chief of Mother Jones, offered a simple explanation: “It’s dramatic. It’s good for TV, reporters get caught up in the moment, or, worse, jingoism.”
She added: “Military action is viewed as inherently nonpartisan, opposition or skepticism as partisan. News organizations that are fearful of looking partisan can fall into the trap of failing to provide context.”

Dan Rather once again put matters in perspective, and showed what we have lost in journalism over the last few decades:

The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief. It is an awesome responsibility. Committing the use of force and American men and women in uniform is about as serious as it gets. But the truly great presidents understand that knowing when NOT to act is as important as knowing when to act.

It is a whole lot easier starting wars than finishing them. And there are many historical examples of where a promise of limited engagement quickly metastasized into something much bigger.

There is a tendency to rally around the flag, and a President who takes on a war footing can see a boost of support. It is often transitory. There are arguments to be made that President Assad in Syria has crossed a line that demands U.S. military interference. Whether this should have been a unilateral action is something we all must consider. Whether President Trump has a plan for what comes next must be debated. Whether there is a coherence to this missile strike fitting into a larger foreign policy strategy is a question that should give us all pause.

The role of the press is to ask hard questions. There is ample evidence that this Administration needs to face deep scrutiny. The lies we have heard, the chaos in governance, and the looming questions about ties with Russia – itself a major player in Syria – demand that the press treat this latest action with healthy skepticism. Perhaps it was the right thing to do. Perhaps a strong and wise policy will emerge. But that judgement is still definitely hanging in the balance.

The number of members of the press who have lauded the actions last night as “presidential” is concerning. War must never be considered a public relations operation. It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.

Alex Pareene warned about the consequences of pundits praising Trump for the bombing:

You think Donald Trump noticed how the first thing he did that actually got the TV guys to like him was kill a troop?

Here are some things Donald Trump is famous for:

1) Noticing which things he does that elicit positive attention and then doing those things over and over and over again.

2) Craving the validation of the press, generally the sort of press a 70-year-old upper class New Yorker pays attention to, especially cable news.
If one dead American service member won him this much praise, just imagine how much they’ll respect him when he kills a couple hundred—or a couple thousand!

Now that Trump has learned that there is a direct relationship between a president’s body count and how “presidential” the mainstream political press considers him to be, the whole world is fucked.

Eric Levitz gave four reasons why it is “profoundly irresponsible to commend last night’s events without equivocation.”

(1) While eyewitness accounts strongly suggest that the Assad government was behind Tuesday’s attacks, Trump’s retaliation came before any thorough investigation confirmed that evidence. The speed of Trump’s reaction betrays a lack of caution that should be unnerving even to those who support confrontation with Assad.

(2) The strike reportedly killed 16 people, including four children. In the opinion of the White House’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster the strike did not eliminate Assad’s ability to deploy chemical weapons, but merely degraded it. What’s more, there are already signs that the attack might enrage Assad more than it deters him.

If our concern is minimizing the deaths of Syria’s beautiful babies, it is by no means certain that last night’s action will not, ultimately, prove counterproductive.

(3) Congress never gave Donald Trump the authority to commit an act of war against the Syrian government, and to claim otherwise is to give the executive unilateral authority to kill people anywhere in the world, in the name of our republic. It is astounding that more people aren’t perturbed by that prospect, given that:

(4) We know that our president is an ill-informed, obscenely incurious conspiracy theorist who routinely retreats into self-delusion when reality frustrates his ambitions. He is a demagogue who has attacked the judiciary as a threat to national security, and repeatedly insinuated that in times of war constitutional laws become mere suggestions. These sentences may sound polemical, but they aren’t. They merely describe a basic fact that much of the media is eager to forget: Donald Trump’s presidency is an ongoing national crisis.

Plus, if Trump truly has any concern for “Syria’s beautiful babies,” he should reverse his policies to both keep Syrian refugees from entering the country, and his reductions in spending in diplomacy.

Staying out of Syria was one of the few things which candidate Trump had right. Instead he has impulsively followed the lead of Hillary Clinton, who has been calling for far more extensive, and dangerous, intervention, along with the Republican hawks who previously opposed him on foreign policy.

Two Down In Trump Administration

Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.

Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.

Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.

Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation.  We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.

There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.

Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:

Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.

When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.

This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?

The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.

We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.

He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.

Former Great News Organization CBS Has Become The Conservative BS Network

CBS once was a major news organization. When Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite on Viet Nam, public opinion turned against the war. Dan Rather as White House correspondent contributed to bringing knowledge of the Watergate scandal to the public. Then the network turned to the right. They sought to appease conservatives during the Bush years, dropping the story on Bush’s National Guard years and even considered turning to people such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to form an independent panel to evaluate Dan Rather.

CBS turned into the Conservative BS Network.

We saw this again with their erroneous coverage of Benghazi, which they have finally retracted. The erroneous report on 60 Minutes has been cited by many right wing sources who have been trying to keep Benghazi alive, long after the evidence made it clear there was no scandal there. As former CBS News producer Mary Mapes speculated, “They appear to have done that story to appeal specifically to a politically conservative audience that is obsessed with Benghazi and believes that Benghazi was much more than a tragedy.”

Dan Rather’s Real Life Experience And The Newsroom

Last night, while watching The Newsroom, I thought of Dan Rather. The story centered around threats from a network’s owner (played by Jane Fonda) to fire an anchorman for addressing the idiocy of the Tea Party because she has business before Congress. It was quite similar to the manner in which CBS was afraid to take on the Bush family regarding George W. Bush’s draft avoidance and failure to fulfill his obligations to the Air National Guard. (As CBS threw Rather under the bus, the question of whether the controversial memos were legitimate was never settled, but there was plenty of evidence supporting Rather’s story even if the memos were never used). In his recent book, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News, Dan Rather gave his side of the controversy. He also pointed out how CBS was reluctant to air the the Abu Ghraib story out of political cowardice, foreshadowing their response to the story of George Bush and the National Guard. In retrospect, after we have seen how the right wing noise machine works, it is increasingly clear that Dan Rather was Swift Boated.

After thinking of Dan Rather while watching the episode, I was not surprised to see an article by Rather this morning praising the episode:

“The Newsroom” is important television, the closest we’ve had to “must-see TV” in recent years.

The reason is that it digs deep to reveal the innards of big network television news—the teardrops and laughter, the sunshine and storms that go on behind the scenes and below the surface. And it reveals the danger of big business being in bed with big government, whether the government is led by Republicans or Democrats. This is especially dangerous when it comes to big businesses that own, as a small part of their overall operations, a national-distribution news organization.

In this episode, the most important, most interesting, most revealing scene is where the owner of the corporation (played superbly by Jane Fonda) tells the head of her news division, “I have business in front of this Congress!” She’s complaining about her anchorman and his newscast covering news in ways she knows will displease Congressional leaders whom she needs for business advantage.

Her news division president (played equally superbly by Sam Waterston) answers, in effect “You can’t possibly expect us to tailor the news to your corporate agenda.”

She shoots back, “I have business (she hits the word hard) in front of this Congress.” And she flatly says she’ll fire the anchorman if he doesn’t stop putting on the air what he has been.

This, friends, is drama taken from real life. Yes, this is fiction. But it’s based on some recent history in the news business.

This whole episode is something I wish every American could see and ponder, especially in the context of the two preceding installments. They would then understand how a combination of big business and big government, working for their mutual benefit — not the public interest but rather their own interests — affects the news we see and hear.

The Newsroom is well worth watching and Dan Rather’s book is well worth reading. In addition to the more controversial topics of George W. Bush and Abu Ghraib, reading about Rather’s career provided an interesting look at recent history. Unfortunately it also showed the demise of a once great news organization, but Rather did express some hope that the journalists at CBS might still turn things around.

Documentary Planned On Questions Surrounding Bush’s Military Service

The New York Observer reports that Meghan O’Hara, who has worked with Michael Moore on previous documentaries, is working on a documentary about the controversy over George Bush’s military service:

The former president was originally admitted into the Texas Air National Guard more than 40 years ago, in 1968, with the American military already deeply engaged in the war in Vietnam. In 1973, Mr. Bush officially departed the Guard, without having seen any combat, to attend Harvard Business School. What, exactly, transpired in between has since become the subject of much heated debate.

Questions about Mr. Bush’s service in the Guard—did his family use its political connections to help him avoid combat in Vietnam? Did he eventually skirt the requirements of his service?—first began to surface during his successful 1994 run for the governorship in Texas.

Several years later, in the fall of 2004, with Mr. Bush locked in a heated presidential reelection campaign against U.S. Senator John Kerry, the topic exploded into a four-alarm national controversy, thanks to a flawed story on the subject by CBS News’ 60 Minutes II. The story, produced by Mary Mapes and reported by Dan Rather, featured the first on-camera interview with Ben Barnes, the former Texas lieutenant governor, explaining his role in helping Mr. Bush leapfrog a long waiting list to land a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard. The story also featured a number of documents ostensibly detailing Mr. Bush’s failure to live up to the requirements of his military duty.

Afterward, reporters and bloggers challenged the veracity of the documents, and CBS News was unable to fully verify the origin or legitimacy of the documents in question, resulting in the so-called Memo-gate scandal and the eventual dismissal of several top CBS News producers, including Ms. Mapes.

Since then, questions about Mr. Bush’s military service have largely dropped out of the national conversation. That said, intense interest in the topic continues to smolder in certain corners of American military and journalistic life.

In 2005, Ms. Mapes wrote a book about Mr. Bush’s military service and the controversy surrounding her reporting on it, called Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.

Unfortunately this is a little late. With George Bush out of office and not likely to run for any other office, the political significance of this  (and potential audience of such a documentary) is considerably reduced. It does remain of some historical interest to clarify these issues. Unfortunately the story died during the 2004 campaign when questions were raised regarding the documents given to Rather by one source but the case against Bush did not rely on the questionable memos. The story should have been pursued in 2004 based upon the evidence beyond the questionable documents.


Sarah Palin Avoiding CBS

Hotline reports that Sarah Palin sure hold a grudge, even if not deserved, against CBS. You would think that someone trying to sell a book (and potentially pick up future votes) would be interested in as much media coverage as possible, but Palin is snubbing CBS. It’s not as if she actually has a day job any more. Hotline reports:

Anyone pining for a second meeting between Sarah Palin and Katie Couric is going to be sorely disappointed.

Sources tell Hotline OnCall that Couric’s producer sent two requests to Palin’s publisher for interviews during the “Going Rogue” book tour, and so far, Couric has been denied.

It’s not surprising — Palin has not agreed to sit down with more than a small handful of mainstream media interviewers — but the move looks to be part of a larger Palin blackout from CBS News and Entertainment.

Palin has two reasons to hate CBS and, unlike most conservatives, neither is named Dan Rather. In her case her objections to CBS come from Katie Couric and David Letterman. Palin has been avoiding CBS ever since her embarassing performance in her interview with Couric. Is it Katie Couric’s fault that Sarah Palin was ignorant on the issues and unable to answer her questions?

Palin is also staying away from CBS following the smear campaign from the right wing which twisted a joke made by Letterman. If Palin objects to jokes being told about her family, which is understandable, her concentration on avoiding Letterman is mistaken. Palin’s family was the target of all the late night comedians. Letterman made less jokes about her family than the other comedians and his actual joke about Bristol was far less objectionable than many of the other jokes told by comedians on other networks.

Dan Rather on Fox

The goal in taking on Fox is not to prevent them from airing propaganda shows but to ensure that people realize that Fox is pure propaganda and does not air true news shows. The best thing to do is probably to mock them, and perhaps Democrats should refuse to appear on some of their shows. Some on the right have responded to criticism of Fox with unsubstantiated comparisons to Nixon’s enemies list or to claim First Amendment issues are in play here. The reality is that nobody support taking the types of actions against Fox which Richard Nixon took against members of the press. Dan Rather is one of many examples of liberal critics of Fox who do not support any restriction of their right to air their views. From The Dallas Morning News:

At a journalism awards luncheon at the Headliners Club in Austin, Rather was asked about cable news programs that have devolved into shows where hosts quiz opinionists about other opinionists (The question posed a Fox News trifecta: Glenn Beck quizzing Ann Coulter about Rush Limbaugh). Said Rather:

“One entertainer interviewing a second entertainer about a third entertainer isn’t my definition of news.”

Rather called the press “the red beating heart of freedom and democracy” and lamented that consolidation and corporate influence have encroached on journalism. He said four or six corporate entities control much of American journalism today – a trend that militates against its fundamental responsibility of holding powerful institutions accountable.

Rather said he’s confident Americans know the difference between the news and the infotainment on some cable news shows. And he said he would oppose any effort to curtail Fox News or any other opinion outlet on radio or TV. He said even if there were a cable station of pure propaganda – “and we may be near that now” – he would oppose censoring it in any way. Sounds like Fox News and talk radio – who warn the Obama administration wants to do them in – has a First Amendment friend in Dan Rather.

I generally agree but he might be over estimating the ability of some Americans to differentiate from real news and the propaganda presented on outlets such as Fox. We have seen too many examples which show that the more someone watches Fox, the more poorly informed they are about the issues. This even extends to Dan Rather himself. I’ve seen many blog comments from conservatives who believe that Dan Rather himself make fake documents about George Bush’s avoidance of his National Guard obligations–which is quite a distortion of the actual controversy.

Will Winning the Nobel Peace Prize Help Or Hurt Obama and Political Conditions in the United States?

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The natural reaction to finding that our president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize would seem to be an expression of gratitude, and perhaps even pride. Instead the far right used this to attack Obama, ironically making statements sounding little different from those of the Taliban and Hamas. Steve Benen notes that CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid questioned if “that this is going to widen the partisan divide and make things even more difficult to accomplish on every front.”

Hearing such an absurdity makes me miss once again the days when White House correspondents such as Dan Rather confronted Richard Nixon on Watergate as opposed to raising such a ridiculous right wing meme. Steve pointed out the absurdity of Reid’s question:

Reid’s fears that a Nobel prize the president did not seek might “widen the partisan divide and make things even more difficult to accomplish on every front” are almost comical. It reminded me of the scene in “Life of Brian” when Matthias says, “Look, I don’t think it should be a sin, just for saying ‘Jehovah.'” Shocked, the official overseeing his execution says, “You’re only making it worse for yourself!” To which Matthias responds, “Making it worse? How can it be worse?”

At this point, Republicans reflexively oppose every single policy Democrats embrace. The GOP has even decided to reject ideas they originally came up with. They’re running a scorched earth campaign … and Chip Reid thinks an unsolicited Nobel Peace Prize will make it “even more difficult” for the parties to find common ground?

Making it worse? How can it be worse?

If anything this can only make things better.

As Steve says, with current conditions there is no way to make matters worse, at least with respect to Republicans in Congress, as well as Republicans in leadership positions, talk radio, and Fox.

Fortunately these are not the only Republicans. When Obama strives for bipartisanship, he is looking beyond these people and considering all the people who have voted Republican in recent years. This includes both those who crossed over and voted for him, and Republican voters who voted against him but are open to supporting his positions based on the merit.

There are Republican voters who do like Obama. While I have no numbers on this nation wide, I do know people who voted against him but believe he is doing a good job. It probably does help when Obama points out that he is considering Republican ideas, such as on health care reform, even if he does not pick up any Republican votes outside of the state of Maine. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize is also likely to improve how such people see him.

This may or may not help much, but I cannot see any way that it can hurt.

Sure, talk radio will attack him over this, but things couldn’t get any worse here. Even this might help us if it helps demonstrate to rational people just how nutty the right wing noise machine and conservative movement is. This will show that, while liberals criticized Bush over real matters of policy, the fanatics of the right simply hate him. Besides hating him as a person, they hate the American values he represents, and the conservative movement which would oppose such a man under any circumstances will never tolerate the thought of having a black man in the White House.

For the authoritarian right, to have a president who supports diplomacy and international cooperation as opposed to preemptive warfare and torture is unthinkable. Historian Douglas Brinkley, who has worked on books about Americans including Theodore Roosevelt, John Kerry, and Ronald Reagan, has this impression of the award:

No matter how his presidency develops or the planet evolves, he has already confirmed his place of greatness. For he didn’t just write “The Audacity of Hope,” he actualized it on the campaign trail of 2008. We spend billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to win over hearts-and-minds to the American Way. President Obama has done the same service on the cheap.

Many will appreciate this accomplishment world wide, perhaps including some Americans who have voted Republican.

On Line Discussion of the Letterman Controversy

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I’ve already had many posts on the dispute between David Letterman and Sarah Palin, along with the smear campaign from the right against Letterman. With all the distortions of fact and attacks from the right, a lot of material has been discussed on this matter. The Washington Post has a discussion with Paul Farhi which summarizes much of the issue. Farhi began with an introduction:

Greetings, all, and welcome back again. So, the strange case of Palin v. Letterman appears to be resolved with Letterman’s very classy apology last night. I say “appears” because, based on my email, some people just won’t let it go. They insist, despite TWO on-air explanations, that Letterman really, really was aiming his crack at 14-year-old Willow Palin, not 18-year-old single mom Bristol Palin. I won’t defend the joke–even Letterman concedes it’s not defensible–but I got news for some of you: The joke makes no sense in reference to Willow. But I guess vendettas and political ax grinding know no logic, or even facts.

I do find this whole episode curious, primarily because of its timing. As I wrote in today’s paper (hey, I like quoting myself; at least I won’t be accused of a misquote), variations of this sort of “joke” have been around since Palin came to national prominence last summer at the Republican Convention. Yet dozens of both milder and harsher iterations (Saturday Night Live’s insinuation that Todd Palin raped his daughter is especially outrageous and revolting) were ignored by Palin, the Republican Party and the outraged types who are now venting in my email box. Sarah Palin even made a now-famous appearance on “SNL” just a few weeks after that skit aired. So what’s different this time? I don’t get it, either.

To answer his question, Farhi is right that there have been many other jokes about Bristol Palin with many being far worse than the one Letterman told, and later stated he regretted. Additional examples are here. Despite the attacks, Letterman has actually told far fewer jokes about Bristol Palin than other late night comics. The difference is that the far right is under the misconception that Letterman is promoting a liberal agenda and that he selectively makes jokes about Republicans. While he makes jokes about members of both parties, the right wingers who attack are not likely to watch his show and only hear about selective jokes he has told. The right has been targeting Letterman since well before last week’s jokes. This began during the campaign, and was also seen in reports such as this from earlier in the year.

The full story is worth reading as I can only touch on some of the questions here. Farhi responded to the view that Letterman should not have apologized as he did nothing wrong by noting how classy his apology was. Farhi noted that Palin was keeping an eye on the politics of this, comparing her attacks on Letterman to previous attacks on Hollywood by Dan Quayle, Joe Lieberman, and Bob Dole. A commenter pointed out that, “Perhaps the reason she didn’t condemn similar jokes from Leno or Conan was because she knew that targeting the network of Dan Rather would play well among conservatives.”

A commenter noted the timing of the second apology, not coming until Monday as Letterman tapes his Friday show on the preceding Monday. Farhi thought that the weekend interregnum was critical as it gave Letterman time to reflect on the whole mess.

There were comments on whether this would hurt or help Letterman. Farhi, along with most television columnists, believes that this has worked to his benefit, especially in light of Letterman’s increasing ratings over the past week. Farhi wrote that this is “probably going to be remembered as his ‘Hugh Grant’  moment–i.e., the thing that propelled him past his competition, for good.” He later responded to a claim that Letterman has jumped the shark by saying, “Whatever the opposite of  ‘jump-the-shark’  is, I think Letterman is there now.”

Farhi responded to a commenter who did not see the significance of other comedians having made worse jokes without receiving a response:

I won’t defend Letterman’s “joke.” Never have. But I think it’s fair to point out that the same joke got no reaction from Palin, or her supporters, just a few months ago. And, frankly, “Saturday Night Live’s” bit on this was much, much worse than Letterman’s. Not only was there no protest about it, she went on “SNL” a few weeks later. Sorry if these facts are inconvenient to you in your state of outrage, but they are facts.

Later when someone tried to claim that Letterman’s joke was worse than the one on SNL, Farhi replied, ‘The  ‘SNL’  skit directly insinuated that Todd Palin had an incestuous relationship with his daughters. I don’t know how you can get more vulgar and ugly than that.”

During the discussion it was noted that it is possible Palin  “may have been taking orders from the McCain campaign on media strategy” when she did not show similar outrage to the jokes on Saturday Night Live. Farhi later responded to another question on this topic:

I think the bigger-fish-to-fry theory has some validity here. If she had complained about it at the time, it would have been a huge distraction for the McCain campaign. On the other hand, she didn’t have to go on “SNL” if she had a problem with their jokes about her and her family.

Later someone argued that, “NO ONE — absolutely no one has the right to make crude remarks about teens that might have a lasting effect on them.” Farhi replied, “Fair enough. But is NBC (Conan, Leno, Saturday Night Live) and Comedy Central (Stewart) on the same list? Why single out CBS and Letterman?.”

Farhi commented on the misconception among conservatives that Letterman has been taking sides politically:

I’ve never thought of Letterman as a Democrat or a liberal–he just wailed on Bill Clinton and Hillary, and still does–but apparently this whole controversy tapped into some latent Dave-is-a-lousy-liberal wellspring among conservatives. Weird.

When someone said that Letterman has taken sides, Farhi responded, “More so than Stewart, Leno, Conan, etc.? Again, I’m not so sure about that.” Realistically the far right provides more material for comedians. It is also likely that intelligent, educated people will reject the agenda of the far right. While support for the two parties might normally be more even among television celebrities, it is not surprising that they would reject the Republicans now that they are under the control of far right extremists–as the majority of voters have.

Farhi responded to a comment that it didn’t matter which daughter the joke was aimed at:

Actually, it DOES matter, on some level. Again, I think the daughters should be off limits, but if anyone is going there, the only way that joke makes sense is in reference to the older daughter, who is, in fact, a single mother. People who keep insisting that it was about the “rape” of a 14-year-old–as Palin said last week–are just blatantly ignoring the facts.

Farhi resonded to a question about telling such a joke about the Obama girls by pointing out, ” If it had been about the Obama girls, it would not have made sense (neither has been pregnant).” In addition, Bristol Palin has been appearing in public speaking about her pregnancy, making her a more likely target, right or wrong, for jokes of this type.

A commenter speculated that  “I think the issue for Palin is CBS. Republicans have alleged for years that the network has a liberal bias. Palin may also be trying to pay back CBS for that embarrassing Katie Couric interview from last fall.” Farhi responded, “Maybe. But I saw nothing unfair about that interview. Those WERE her own words, weren’t they?”

Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that conservatives will continue to lash out against the media, often blaming the messenger when the facts work against them.

The White House Press Corps

Anna Marie Cox is critical of the White House press corps, describing the White House briefing room as “where news goes to die.”

Name a major political story broken by a White House correspondent. A thorough debunking of the Bush case for Iraqi WMD? McClatchy Newspapers’ State Department and national security correspondents. Bush’s abuse of signing statements? The Boston Globe’s legal affairs correspondent. Even Watergate came off The Washington Post’s Metro desk.

While the real news on Watergate came far more from journalists like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, at least White House correspondents such as Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw did put some pressure on Richard Nixon. Watching the softball coverage of George Bush in recent years was very disappointing when compared with these White House correspondents of the Watergate era.