Friday, February 15, 2008

Ebb Tide IV: Is It Rock Bottom Yet?

In this continuing series on the decline of American "journalism", or "pseudo-journalism", as the case may be, the recurring questions are: "How low can it get?" and "Are we there yet?"

In "Ebb Tide II", we discussed "The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington", Ronald Brownstein's novel about national politics during the two George W. Bush administrations -- a work of historical fiction which ascribes our current troubles to "paralysis" caused by "hyperpartisanship".

In view of the fact that the Democrats have been complicit in the destruction of our national treasury, the rule of law and much else, sometimes voting unanimously (on huge defense appropriations, for example), it's scarcely imaginable that things might be better if the Democrats would compromise even more. So Brownstein's book would be funny if it weren't billed as non-fiction.

I found Brownstein's thesis ludicrous on its face, and I discussed it at length. At the end of that piece I wrote:
Can we set aside The Stupidest or Most Deceitful Political Analysis of the Year Award for Ronald Brownstein, then?

Unfortunately, no.
I learned about Brownstein's novel of the absurd from Larisa Alexandrovna -- ace journalist, managing editor of investigative news for The Raw Story and proprietor of the highly acclaimed blog "At-Largely".

Larisa picked up on Art Winslow's review of Brownstien's fantasy and quoted the following passage:
Take the concept of an hourglass economy, in which the middle is squeezed to near nonexistence, and apply it to politics -- the major parties and the gravitations of the electorate -- and you have approximated our plight as Ronald Brownstein lays it out in "The Second Civil War." Wielding a catchphrase lifted from Ken Mehlman, campaign manager for George W. Bush in 2004 and chairman of the Republican National Committee for part of Bush's second term, Brownstein calls this "the age of hyperpartisanship," in which almost every force related to our political life "operates as an integrated machine to push the parties apart and to sharpen the disagreements in American life."

Party leaders have taken the gloves off, and Brownstein wants them put back on before we're sorry -- although he suspects many of us, whether red state or blue, are sorry already and waving the white flag. "What's unusual now is that the political system is more polarized than the country," he writes, and "the impulse to harmonize divergent interests has almost vanished from the capital"; increasing divergence, "not the breadth of the underlying divisions itself, is the defining characteristic of our era."
When I read this, I was thinking
Run that by me again?

Increasing divergence between the Democrats and the Republicans is the defining characteristic?

Wow! That's some sick stuff!!
But Larisa had a different take on it:
I have not yet read the book, from this column I get the sense that the Brownstein is the most sane person adding to the current public debate about politics.
After another quote from the review, Larisa continues:
So, time to buy the book me thinks. What do you folks think?
Here's what I think: I have said a lot of good things about Larisa over the years and she has done some amazingly good work.

And when I read this piece I thought "Who kidnapped Larisa?" and "What have they done with her?" and "Has Michelle Malkin taken over her blog?"

The really strange thing is that Larisa has been working on a series about Don Siegelman, which shows quite clearly (among many other disturbing things) that Brownstein's Mehlman's Rove's "hyperpartisanship" is a bunch of bull.

I understand that Larisa suffers from lupus and has some very bad days. I hoped this was one of them, because I didn't want to think about the alternative.

I also didn't want to think about why a managing editor of an alternative news provider would flog a book written by a mainstream reporter whose analysis is obviously -- even from the title -- not worth the paper it's printed on.

Ron Brownstein is a national affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Art Winslow's review of Brownstein's book appears in the same L. A. Times and contains not a whiff of criticism. Could it possibly be a puff-piece?

Brownstein's thesis uses Ken Mehlman's vocabulary. "Hyperpartisanship"! What a word! You won't find it in the dictionary. And it does sound Rovian, does it not?

As we've seen many times -- most recently from the Senate, where the Democrats split on the issue of corporations assisting the government in illegal warrantless eavesdropping -- Democrats are often split while Republicans walk in lockstep. Every single Republican voted in support of retroactive amnesty for the telecoms -- and some of the Democrats joined them. This is not "hyper-partisanship"; it's not even a pretense of a stance against approaching tyranny from a supposedly opposition party which controls both houses of congress!

The term "hyperpartisanship" -- and the practice of employing it against those Democrats who dare to oppose the Bush regime's radical agenda -- are tactical, rather than truthful. But the practice continues because it's useful to the radical agenda. The Republicans found they could get everything they wanted simply by calling the Democrats "hyperpartisan".

And ace investigative journalist Larisa Alexandrovna has chosen to throw her weight behind both the book and the puff-piece disguised as a review.

This is "alternative journalism"?? Very interesting!

Two of her readers pointed out that Brownstein's analysis was -- like all "good" Rovian talking points -- almost exactly the opposite of the truth.

MeMyself Eye (a.k.a. Dan) said:
Given the recent performance of Congress and what has been happening in the primaries, I'm having a very difficult time wrapping my head around Brownstein's premise. It might have fit during the 2006 elections, but it is far off the mark today.
Yes, there will be a cold civil war, but it will not be the one predicted by Brownstein.
This was Larisa's first big chance. She could have said "Sorry, guys. I'm sick. I was tired." Instead she replied:
That is just it, are we not already in a cold civil war?
Then Mad Dogs amplified the points Dan made:
I think that Brownstein has this exactly backwards.

The Democratic party leaders are the ones who keep insisting on appeasing the Repugs via "comity".

As in, let's do everything the Repugs want (FISA, Torture Laws, Supoenas, Contempt of Congress, SCHIP, for doG's sake, Impeachment is off the feckin' table!).

And it is the American public who is fed up with the Repugs and ain't ready to "make nice" anytime soon. We want the criminals (Repugs) held responsible for their crimes.
Again Larisa stuck to her "guns":
I think he gets the idea down well, but not the players involved. It is not about two parties. Rather, it is about corporations vs. the citizens of this nation.
OK. I'm not completely dense. It's been confirmed twice. How much more do I need?

It's as if the managing editor of spot reporting for Sports Illustrated wrote a piece saying:
Our reporter may have got the names of the teams wrong, and the game he described in vivid detail may not have been played yet. But in all essential respects, his report was correct. We stand by our story.
I get it! I finally get it!

Chris Floyd is insane. Bob Parry is a mental midget. Luke Ryland is a basket case. Manuel Valenzuela has a screw loose. Gandhi is a flake. Handy Fuse is a certifiable lunatic. Michel Chussodovsky is nutty as fruitcake. Mark Crispin Miller is a dunce. Everybody else whose work I read because I want to is as mad as a hatter. And I'm as crazy as two loons.

But Ronald Brownstein is the most sane man adding to the current public debate about politics.

It's a really interesting slap in the face to everybody who can see the American political scene with a little more clarity than Ronald Brownstein. But I don't take it personally. I find it offensive not because it denigrates my work and the work of everyone I respect, but because it promotes dangerous bullshit -- and because it continues a trend.

Nobody likes making a mistake. But why would you stand by one rather than correcting it, especially after it's been pointed out in public?

If it only happened once, I could ignore it. But I keep seeing instances of the same tendency.

Tuesday, in a piece called "6 People To Be Executed As a Campaign Slogan", about the detainees who have suddenly been charged in relation to the attacks of September 11, 2001, Larisa made the simplest of errors, either in math or typing:
why are these men suddenly facing the executioners blade? The attacks occurred over 7 years ago [...]
It's an easily verifiable fact that the attacks occurred less than 7 years ago. The seventh anniversary of September 11, 2001 will fall on September 11, 2008 -- almost seven months from now. Is this so difficult to grasp?

As often happens in the blogosphere, a reader left a comment pointing out the error.

What happened next? Did Larisa update the piece? Did she make a correction?

No. She didn't even acknowledge the comment, although she did respond to another comment which was made later on the same thread.

What can we make of this disdain for the facts?

How does this sort of approach resonate on a blog that has categories like "bad reporting"?

This is one of the most self-discrediting facsimiles of journalism on my radar at the moment and it gives me no joy to write about it. If Larisa Alexandrovna were just another blogger I probably wouldn't say anything about it at all.

But she's not -- and she doesn't mind saying so.

Just the other day, replying to a piece by Glyn Wilson which calls her "a blog reporter who sometimes publishes on the liberal online news site Raw Story", Larisa wrote:
Wilson does not remotely explain who I am and in fact actually does not include information as to why what I wrote was taken so seriously by the blogs and news outlets. When Wilson writes "sometimes publishes on the liberal online news site Raw Story" in describing me, Wilson omits all of the important and accurate information.

I don't "sometimes publish" on Raw Story. I am the managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story. I also have been working the Siegelman story in a series of which three articles are already published and reprinted all over the place. But I will let people do the Google thing and see for themselves why describing me as "a reporter blogger" is incredibly misleading on Wilson's part.
So there you go. Larisa Alexandrovna is "the managing editor of investigative news for Raw Story"; not "a blog reporter" as claimed by Glyn Wilson; not "a reporter blogger" as Alexandrovna misquotes Wilson.

It seems to me the managing editor of investigative news for any self-respecting news provider (Raw Story or elsewhere) would bother to get the quote right -- especially since it's a simple matter of copy-and-paste, and even more especially since just a few paragraphs earlier, Larisa wrote:
Wilson appears to not accurately cite what I wrote
Well, excuse me, but how do you spell "LOL"??

But it's not funny at all. We're looking at one of the most respected "alternative" investigative journalists, somebody who still does excellent work on multiple fronts, somebody whose writing is, in her own words,
taken so seriously by the blogs and news outlets
and we're seeing what amounts to disdain for easily verifiable facts, and a "benign neglect" for those readers who politely point out the errors in her work.

It's getting really tough to take this stuff seriously. But there's no shortage. Every time I think I've seen rock bottom, I'm always surprised within a matter of days -- sometimes just a few hours.

So we'll see how it goes. This "Ebb Tide" series is not over. The Stupidest or Most Deceitful Political Analysis of the Year Award is still up for grabs. But it's getting awfully rocky down here at the bottom.