Monday, February 28, 2005

Kinsley Must Go

Stanley, Falkland Islands

In relation to the dispute between Susan Estrich and Michael Kingsley, let me say urgently, Kinsley must go. He is uncivil to Californians, he does not return phone calls, he does not care a jot for local issues. He does not live in Los Angeles. I will have more to say about this Friday when I return to Los Angeles.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Off to Antarctica, South Orkneys, South Georgia and The Falklands, So Long Until March 4

I'm off today on a cruise, to Antarctica, the South Orkney Islands, South Georgia and the Falklands. Lindblad tells me there's no direct ties on its ship, MS Endeavor, to the Internet, so unless I can find a way to access it, this might be one of the last blogs until March 4. I don't expect to find too many Internet cafes in Antarctica, although on most trips I've found some do0zies. I once found one in Buenos Aires that charged just four cents an hour. But the big hotels charge up to $20 an hour.

There are darn few hotels on this trip once we sail out of Ushuaia, Argentina, pass Cape Horn and set out across the Drake Passage.

I'm particularly looking forward beyond Antarctica to reaching Port Stanley in the Falklands. If I can find an Internet Cafe there, you may hear from me taking issue with a Times editorial, if I've heard of any. In any case, I remember how closely Burt Folkart, the late obituaries writer of the LAT, who sat next to me for many years, and I followed Britain's fortunes in the Falklands war. It hardly seems it could have happened more than 20 years ago.

The day the Royal Navy ship, the Sheffield, was hit, the New York Times assigned both of its British experts to do pieces on what prospects in the war were henceforth.

R.W. Apple, who had served as a correspondent in London, and was a dove on both sides of the Atlantic, wrote that the loss of the Sheffield would mean Britain would lose heart and give up the war. That's what the L.A. Times editorial page, always ready to give up, kind of thought, too.

Drew Middleton, the NYT's longtime London correspondent and later its military writer, wrote that Britain would gain new determination and go ahead and press the war to victory.

Of course, Middleton was right. He knew the British better than Apple.

The LAT has extended obituary coverage these days beyond what Folkart would ever have imagined, with such outstanding writers as Jon Thurber, Myrna Oliver and Elaine Woo. It's one of the newspaper's solid features at present, and it's one of the few that Tribune cutbacks have not yet been able to adversely impact. In the Iraq war, it tries to at least do a paragraph on every lost American soldier, and full articles on all the lost Californians.

But Folkart had his own inimitable style. His obituary of the great American artist, Georgia O'Keefe, stands out, and Burt was hard to fool. He had a real feel for the phonies, and although I used to kid him about his downplaying of the virtues of the Duchess of Windsor, Burt insisted that he was right about her: The Duchess, he felt, was not up to the standards of the Royal Family, and, of course, the Duke of Windsor was too close to the Nazies.

Burt had no taste for the scut work that went with being the obituaries writer. "Now, to the little crap," he would sigh, while I teased him about his disdain for the less glorious of the dead. He always insisted his time and Times space were too valuable to write about prominent people's relatives, and most of the time he would keep those people out.

Yet Burt was also softhearted. He would show up for the funerals of many Times staffers and often gave touching little eulogies. There were rumors too that he was not above seducing a widow on occasion. In the retired employees' association, Burt was a true old Fart. He was gone before Otis Chandler tried to induce the group to change its name for decentcy reasons, but Burt certainly would have been part of the large majority that refused.

I remember him fondly. It was always a privilege to be his pod mate, and I was for nearly two decades. May he rest in peace.


Monday, February 07, 2005

L.A. Times Book Review Biased Against U.S. In An Iraq Book Review

Normally, I am a fan of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and am respectful of its talented editor, Steve Wasserman.

But I was disappointed Sunday, Feb. 6, to read the review by Carol Brightman of three books touching on the war in Iraq and the U.S. military. By contrast, the New York Times Book Review on the same day was much better balanced both in its choice of books to review on the Middle East and its choice of a reviewer.

L.A. Times editors too frequently seem to ignore the fact that in occasionally leaning far to the left they destroy their own credibility with many readers. The New York Times, while often described as a liberal newspaper, usually is dispassionate enough to preserve its own good reputation.

Brightman's own recent book, "Total Insecurity: The Myth of American Omnipotence," is entitled in such a way as to strongly imply her own bias against the United States. I would expect her, in a review, to choose every spiteful comment she can find to emphasize her own point of view.

And she has certainly done that. But it is especially disheartening to see that a week after the initial round of Iraqi elections won plaudits throughout the world, and the L.A. Times itself, on its editorial page described the elections as "some unequivocal good news," Ms. Brightman chooses to use quotes indicating that the elections are bound to be a failure.

So, for instance, she quotes Christian Parenti, author of one of the books reviewed, "The Freedom, Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq," as saying in a recent interview in Mother Jones magazine, "The elections will be a sham and a disaster."

But they were not a sham and a disaster, we already know that, and simple fairness would have required the Times editors to omit this spurious quotation in a review that went to press after the elections. Since Brightman does include in her review a quote from a column written after the elections, it is absolutely clear that there was time to correct false and unfair suggestions by the time her review was printed.

Also, Brightman remarks, "Administration officials have acknowledged that whichever group wins will demand a U.S. withdrawal." Administration officials, to my knowledge, have acknowledged nothing of the sort, and, in fact, the apparently winning Shiites in the election have made it plain in the last week that they want U.S. forces to remain for the foreseeable future.

From Brightman's account, another of the books reviewed, "America's Military Today, The Challenge of Militarism," would appear to argue that the U.S. military is a mess and a disgrace. This is an extremely biased view, and the reviewer in any event has chosen to emphasize one essay in the book by the son of a Nicaraguan Sandinista who served in the Florida National Guard in Iraq, and subsequently received a bad conduct discharge.

There is no other way to read this review without concluding that the authors reviewed and the reviewer herself are one in believing that as Americans we should be ashamed of the way this country has conducted itself in Iraq. In fact, of course, the recent elections indicate we may be on the right track there.

In the other book reviewed, "The Fall of Baghdad," by Jon Lee Anderson, Brightman quotes the author as describing Saddam Hussein as a throwback to "warrior kings {who} reigned as semi-divine creatures, malevolent and munificent all at once."

The word "munificent" is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "very generous in giving, lavish, characterized by great generousity." Anyone who would describe Saddam Hussein, a simple thug and gross murderer, with such a term, is not qualified, I daresay, to have his book reviewed favorably in the Los Angeles Times.

In next week's review, I hope Mr. Wasserman will apologize for this travesty of a review.

By contrast, the New York Times review of five different books, but all on Islamic and Middle Eastern subjects, is much fairer in every respect. The NYT editors chose a reviewer, Noal Feldman, a professor at the New York University School of Law, whose own book, "What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building," conveys by its title a more neutral, dispassionate view.

At one point in his solid review, Feldman remarks, "It would be nice if the extremes of the American right and left showed some of the same measured ability to argue against mistaken American policies without impugning the integrity of the other side, but perhaps this is asking too much of ideologues caught up in the past."

Amen! We certainly did not find such measure in the review by Ms. Brightman.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Even New York Times and Time Magazine Have Made Some Cutbacks

The New York Times recently cut out an entire daily section devoted to World Business. It stuck these reports in the regular business section.

And Time magazine used to close on Sunday for major stories. But last week, it deferred coverage of the landmark Iraqi elections. It had done a cover the previous week on when the U.S. might be able to get out of Iraq and I suppose it felt it could wait with more coverage..

So, with advertising and profits a problem throughout the news media, it is not only the Los Angeles Times that has cut back some of its presentations. It's important to recognize that.

And just as the NYT moved World Business into regular business, the LAT has been moving more and more big sports stories, after managing editor Dean Baquet cut the number of pages in the sports section, onto Page 1 of the A section. That was true both with recent stories on the lack of pro football in Los Angeles and the resignation of the Lakers coach. Sometimes, as with Scott Gold's story on National Football League machinations, it is not even left to a sportswriter any more; a regular correspondent is used.

I used to feel years ago that the LAT had created so many new sections that the paper was becoming an ordeal to read, and that paring a few from time to time wasn't a bad thing. However, now some of the cuts, such as in the television guide and the sports letters have hurt. It seems the paper is giving us less. This is particularly true with Science. The LAT was a better paper when it had a weekly science page.

Will the Internet replace whole publications one day? I hope not, because the Internet is not as easy to read as a newspaper or magazine. Newspapers are particularly good for detailed analysis, and assessing reliability is more difficult on the Internet.

The Internet is also fairly impersonal, while newspapers do react to reader sentiment. Just this morning, Feb. 6, the LAT's Opinion section may have absorbed that many readers don't like these full page presentations of cartoons it has been featuring, and it has two articles instead of just cartoons on Page 1 of Opinion, which is a welcome alteration.

Some cutbacks definitely do hurt more than others. I was kind of taken aback this week when Time had nothing on the Iraqi election.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Los Angeles Times Should Endorse Now for Mayor of LA; Best Choice Would Be Antonio Villaraigosa

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Page is not always wrong. But a lot of the time it is slow. Today, Feb. 5, the editorial page got around to taking positive note of developments in the Holy Land, lauding moves by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who it called "courageous," the new Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and even the new Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and the Bush Administration, who it termed helpful.

Editorial Page Editor Michael Kinsley often means well. He's just slow-witted.

But now, Kinsley and The Times ought to get out in front of sentiment in Los Angeles and endorse in the city's race for mayor. The first round of the balloting is March 8, there are five major candidates, there's a lousy mayor now in James Hahn, and it's not too early to take a position on who should replace him.

In 1969 in a somewhat similar situation, with the inept Sam Yorty running for reelection and in the full flower of Times Publisher Otis Chandler's ambitions to lead journalistically, The Times endorsed Rep. Alphonzo Bell, the Republican, for mayor. Bell did not fare very well in the primary, and when then-Councilman Tom Bradley ran first in the developing race, forcing Yorty into a runoff, The Times changed its endorsement to Bradley . Yorty prevailed that year, but four years later, with Times support, Bradley won and served 20 years.

The Times endorsements for Bell and Bradley in 1969 were not immediately successful, in part because Chandler went off on a hunting trip during the runoff and left instructions to not write any more editorials until he got back, blunting the impact of Times backing. But still The Times had pointed the way, and eventually the city's voters took that way.

I think The Times made a serious mistake when it failed to endorse for President last year, after lambasting President Bush on every occasion for at least two years. For the paper not to endorse Sen. Kerry made it look hypocritical and got Kinsley off to a bad start, especially since he did endorse Kerry in a column last summer in Time magazine.

Kinsley, in my view, should not drop the ball again. He should endorse, and since I want to be helpful, I even have the candidate for him. I think he should endorse Antonio Villaraigosa as the best candidate at hand.

I've surprised my kids with this stand, because I was an outspoken Bush supporter in last year's election and Villaraigosa is a liberal. But I sent him a $100 campaign contribution in the mail yesterday. I'm often independent and pragmatic and when I've felt they were the best candidates I've endorsed liberals before.

Villaraigosa, the loser to Hahn in the last mayoral election, offers a forward-thinking candidacy this time and has more seasoning than he did the last time. Now, a City Councilman, he did serve in the past as state Assembly Speaker. Just this week, he advocated more subways and light rail for Los Angeles, a clear need, although he acknowledged it would take a long time to develop them.

Just briefly, Hahn has been uninspiring and his administration occasionally corrupt. The former police chief, Bernard Parks, is too rigid a personality. Bob Hertzberg, also a former Assembly Speaker, did not particularly distinguish himself in that position and has adopted a foolishly divisive position on the schools, and Sen. Richard Alarcon is not an especially energetic politician and, in this election, is going nowhere.

I think Kinsley ought to get off his haunches, even though he votes in Washington state and is a half-timer here, and make an endorsement.

Several Times reporters, including Michael Finnigan, Jessica Garrison, Patrick McGreevy and Matea Gold, have been giving the mayor's race good coverage. We would be even better served if The Times were still a homeowned newspaper, but the paper's coverage has been credible. Now, its editorial page should be too.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A British TV Interview With A Chechen Terrorist Is Grossly Out Of Place

The Progressive magazine was acting improperly a few years ago when it published an article on how to make an atomic bomb. And, in my view Oliver Wendell Holmes was correct when he wrote that freedom of speech did not give someone the right to cry fire in a crowded theatre.

I had the same feelings when I read this morning that an independent British television station, Channel Four, had shown an interview with the Chechen terrorist Shamil Basayev in which he said he and his associates were planning more operations such as the one in the school at Beslan in which 340 Russian children, parents and teachers were murdered last year. In the interview, Basayev said the attack would have been staged in Moscow or St. Petersburg had his people been able to afford it.

They couldn't strike innocent people in Moscow, so they decided to kill the innocent in a small city in the Caucasus. I wonder which circle of hell Dante would have placed this man and his friends.

The Russian foreign ministry was right today, Feb. 4, when it severely criticized the broadcast as "direct informational support of terrorists operating in the North Caucasus" and demanded that the British government investigate and take legal action.

The foreign ministry statement said appropriately that publicizing threats from Basayev "is in no way compatible with common human morals and the values of democratic society. We expect an adequate reaction from the British court system without which any citation of the principles of a law-based state would look like empty words."

An Associated Press article said this morning that Channel Four defended the interview, saying it had sent Basayev questions and later received instructions to pick up a package containing video in an undisclosed Middle Eastern city. It said the video appeared to have been recorded about three weeks ago.

"It is simply not the case that the running of such material can be equated with condoning it," the station claimed.

The hell it can't. If more Russian children are killed in a new attack, Channel Four will be accessories to murder, and after due warning, in my view, the British government should blow this station to kingdom come.

I draw a considerable distinction with another free speech controversy now in the news -- the furor over statements made by University of Colorado Professor Ward L. Churchill, who called the victims of the 9-11 terror attack at the World Trade Center "little Eichmanns" for some cockeyed reason and was subsequently told by the Hamilton College administration in upstate New York that he would not be permitted to speak on that campus. Subsequent to that, the Republican governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, called for Churchill's dismissal as a professor at Colorado.

Churchill has declared that the "combat teams" that struck the World Trade Center "manifested the courage of their convictions" and, as for the Pentagon, which was also attacked on 9-11, he stated, if it wasn't a legitimate target "I don't know what is."

Still, Churchill has stopped short of either urging more violence or indicating that he was in a position to order someone to commit violence, as Basayev did in the British television interview. I believe great leaway has to be given for free speech, particularly when students at a college have invited someone to speak.

So I would draw a line between Ward Churchill and Shamil Basayev, banning the latter from any respectable forum.

It cannot be stated too clearly that we live in a dangerous world, and that what the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called this week the "pathologies" of the Middle East must be fought with every proper weapon at the command of freedom-loving peoples.

The New York Times warned in an editorial after the Beslan tragedy that a continuation of such tactics by the Chechen terrorists would expose the whole Chechen people to suspicion and perhaps terrible reprisals.

The proper treatment of Shamil Basayev and his foul crew is not to give them exposure on Western television stations, but to track them down and destroy them. In a free country, the Ward Churchills must be tolerated as long as they stop short of advocating or committing violence.

Some people feel Chechen grievances against Russia and a desire for independence are justified. But when the Russian government showed a willingness to grant autonomy to Chechnya during the Yeltsin period, the result was that it quickly became clear that the intention of the rebels was to build a Muslim fundamentalist regime throughout the Caucasus, destroying the integrity of Russia. Under those circumstances, these people must be fought, just as we are fighting terrorists elsewhere.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Alessandra Stanley, Patrick Goldstein Grace The NYT and LAT

The New York Times television critic, Alessandra Stanley, and Los Angeles Times cultural writer Patrick Goldstein have emerged as both important and independent at their respective newspapers. Unlike many others in the NYT Arts and LAT Calendar sections, their articles are not always predictable.

Stanley has done many things in her career, even having written abroad. Her article Feb. 2 on what she called Johnny Carson's "Long Late-Night Shadow," pointed out effectively how Carson retired more than a decade ago, but still it seems everyone in late night television seems bound to keep doing what he did.

There is usually just a small touch of the sardonic in Stanley, but it's more charming than a sneer. Here, she writes, "Mr. Carson, whose death on Jan. 23 was treated in newscasts with the same consequence as a major space launch or a presidential address, was a little like John F. Kennedy or Toscanini, a matchless exemplar who spawned legions of irritating imitations."

Stanley like the NYT's outstanding chief book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, avoids the stereotyped liberalism that seems to mark Frank Rich's writing. In short, she is more credible than the happily retired Howard Rosenberg ever was as a television critic. More power to her.

Patrick Goldstein too is not ideologically hidebound. His article Feb. 1, "Eastwood Goes The Distance," is another example of his pleasing, provocative writing. Whenever I see him, I always know it is going to be worth reading.

This examination of Clint Eastwood's originality, his stamina, how he is at the top of his game while well into his 70s. is a joy to read, and also, I think, quite a significant subject.

Goldstein picks his topics well and they seem natural to him. Unlike David Shaw, who could have become a fulltime restaurant, food and wine critic a long time ago, Goldstein always seems to know just what he should be writing about and he has the range to be a constant delight. (A later addendum: Shaw's column on Sunday, Feb. 6, in Calendar on the Fullerton high school newspaper editor relieved by small minded school administrators for writing an article about two bisexual students and a homosexual student was truly excellent. He can be very good on his traditional journalistic subjects and was Sunday).

To get back to Goldstein, he sets up his Eastwood analysis well by referring to John Ford, Howard Hawks, Frank Capra and Billy Wilder as exemplars of this sentence: "With age comes wisdom, but not always the strength to execute it." Eastwood, in his 70s, both has the wisdom and, as the tremendous film, "Million Dollar Baby" shows, the stamina to execute it.

Of course, Eastwood also knows how to pick women that will complement his talents. Is there any more glamorous woman in the movies today than Hilary Swank? She is a tremendous match for Eastwood, and his actions toward her are clearly an act of love and sexy as hell. (My friend, producer David Wolper, also had this talent: he never chose a woman to appear who wasn't wonderful to look at).

Goldstein, like Eastwood, has the courage to be himself. He knows what not to write about, so he wisely skipped this silly controversy over whether Eastwood was politically incorrect in his attitudes in Million-Dollar Baby..

I know that certain writers, like Stanley and Goldstein, are good at what they do, but might not be good in everything. Still, I can't resist the thought that both would make better editorial page editors at the LAT than Michael Kinsley. I got a comment on the last blog from a Midwestern journalist who wondered how the intelligent and able John Carroll as editor of the LAT, ever came to pick Kinsley. Maybe, Carroll ought to give Goldstein an editorial page tryout.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

It Takes LAT Editorial Pages Just Two Days To Become War Critics Again

Just two days after they summoned up enough courage to proclaim the Iraqi election "some unequivocal good news," the Los Angeles Times editorial pages are back to their old position of wanting to give in to enemies of the United States.

The lead editorial wants to treat the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with every consideration, as if they deserved it.

And the Op-Ed Page is back to its old tricks with an anti-Administration cartoon and a ridiculous column by Adriana Huffington arguing the elections didn't mean anything. "This is still the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," Huffington concludes. "And the election, as heartwarming as it was, doesn't change any of that."

Op-Ed Page Editor Nick Goldberg just can't gird up his loins and be supportive of American policy, and Editorial Pages Editor Michael Kinsley seems to care more for the detainees at Guantanamo than for U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq.

The letters column continues to be the fairest part of the editorial pages. I was particularly impressed yesterday, Feb. 1, with a letter from Jerry Andersen of Pacific Palisades.

"Let's see," Andersen wrote, "a Yale degree, a master's from Harvard, a fighter pilot, twice elected governor of Texas, twice elected president of the United States, democracy for Afghanistan, disposed of a savage dictator in Iraq, a free election in Iraq, the hope of democracy to those without. What would he be capable of if he weren't so stupid?"

Right on the opposite page, columnist Bob Scheer again demonstrated the kind of wrongheadedness that marks the Los Angeles Times editorial pages, which are an insult to all of the Times correspondents risking their lives to covering the struggle for democracy in Iraq.

Now, Scheer says, let's retreat. "No matter what happens," says this remarkably obtuse columnist, "it is going to be a long and messy process. Iraq and the Middle East have been frozen politically for too long. It will only be made worse, however, if the United States can't learn how to get out of the way."

Scheer should revise his views. If the U.S. and Britain had not intervened in Iraq, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, and there would be no chance for democracy. The threat from the Middle East would be intensifying. not being assuaged.

I just don't want to see the U.S. give in to evil in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. This would make the attacks of 9-11 just a precursor to even worse assaults against the American people.

Meanwhile, John Kerry, not for the first time, can't enunciate a clear position on what to do.

He's quoted in the LAT yesterday from his appearance on NBC's Meet The Press in an article by Mary Custius headlined, "Democrats Shy From Iraq Exit Timetable."

"Obviously, you've got to provide security and stability in order to be able to turn this over to the Iraqis and to be able to withdraw our troops, " Kerry said. "So I wouldn't do a specific timetable." But, he added, "I certainly agree with him (Sen. Edward Kennedy) in principle that the goal must be to withdraw American troops."

Kerry's a lot like Kinsley: Both can't wait to give in. Thank goodness, Kerry wasn't elected president of the U.S. But it's too bad he remains in the U.S. Senate, where he can continue to argue he is on both sides of major issues. And Kinsley is still editor of the Times editorial pages as Times circulation slips away under the ownership of the Tribune Co.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Scandal Simmers Over Bush Administration Payments To Journalists

There have now been at least three apparent confirmations of journalists having being paid by Bush Administration agencies to write articles or provide materials backing Administration policies. In short, this is a simmering scandal worth following.

The New York Times, as usual, has given this the most coverage.

First, of course, there was the $240,ooo paid to Armstrong Williams by the Education Department to extoll its "No Child Left Behind" policies. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) has been pushing inquiries into this episode, suggesting that the money should be returned if it is determined that the payments were illegal in the first place. Another side of this not raised very much so far is whether Williams was also paid by those carrying his articles. This would be a direct and serious conflict of interest.

Second, a conservative writer, Maggie Gallagher, admitted she had received $21,500 from the Department of Health and Human Services to promote a $300 million government initiative to encourage marriage. Gallagher, according to a Jan. 27 Maureen Dowd column in the NYT, praised President Bush at one point as a "genius" at playing "daddy" to the nation in her writings.

Third, a Jan. 29 article in the NYT quotes USA Today to the effect that the Department of Health and Human Services paid a syndicated columnist, Michael McManus, $10,000 to help train counselors about marriage. McManus is also director of a nonprofit called Marriage Savers. This may be a less direct breach of ethics.

If these payments are made to working mainstream writers and columnists, one wonders whether bloggers are also being retained to boost particular points of view. Blogging is new, and there's not much scrutiny of what we are doing.

Just to be explicit, I'm not paid by anyone to do this blog, and unlike many others, I try to be independent in my views. I have both criticized and praised the Bush Administration.

When I used to do quite a bit of lecturing on journalistic issues, I regularly warned my audiences to always be aware of writers having an agenda and to ask critically what the point of view was behind what they were reading. But particularly with the Internet, the reliability of information provided must always be carefully examined for the points of view behind it.

Bush was asked in a recent news interview whether he approved of the Administration paying writers to support its positions. He said no. I hope he was telling the truth and has nothing to do with the episodes that have been revealed, but I'm skeptical.

Meanwhile, the mainstream press has an obligation to continue to examine these reports comprehensively. Any journalist taking payments for what he writes from the government should be thoroughly discredited.