Clowns and Coke

"Fresh Fish", by Mr. Fish (Dwanye Booth)Mr. Fish sounds off on the transformation of modern journalism—

In fact, if you were to compare the old, pre-merger LA Weekly and, while you’re at it, the Village Voice from 5 or 10 or 30 years ago, with today’s versions you’d see how Mr. Fish (not to mention Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Barbara Garson, Katherine Anne Porter, M.S. Cone, James Baldwin, E.E. Cummings, Nat Hentoff, Marc Cooper, Ted Hoagland, Tom Stoppard, Lorraine Hansberry, Allen Ginsberg, Joshua Clover, Jules Feiffer and R. Crumb) no longer fits in with the TMZ/Your-ad-here!/journalism-produced-cheaply-will-produce-cheap-journalism look of the papers.

I recently received a letter from someone bemoaning the obvious drop in quality of the LA Weekly, as evidenced by the paper’s online incarnation, by saying that, “If I knew nothing about LA, I would think all that went on there were Burlesque shows.”

No kidding.

Sure, in response to a shitty economy and a pandemic shift by news junkies from pulp to PC, there have been definite changes in the print media industry over the last five years. And, sure, attempts to restructure the financial model on any business institution that sees its profit margins shrinking will always have some effect on the product that’s being produced, but mustn’t a shift to protect the body of an organization take special care not to jeopardize serious trauma to the head as well?

Does an incoming administration really assert its authority when it rips up the old Constitution so beloved by those it seeks to rule, saying, “This thing is pointless – it was written with a feather! We have Microsoft Office now!” or does it merely demonstrate its own arrogance and self-centeredness and misguided sense of intellectual privilege?

Haven’t we learned anything from the New Coke fiasco from the 1980s, for Christsakes?

—and, of course, his dismissal from the L. A. Weekly newspaper.

Once upon a time ….

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Just say ‘No’ … to what?

Perhaps the strangest thing about the recent vote on the Franken Amendment is its political implications. Or, as Jon Stewart so aptly put it, “How is anyone against this?”

    Sec. 8104. (a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any existing or new Federal contract if the contractor or a subcontractor at any tier requires that an employee or independent contractor, as a condition of employment, sign a contract that mandates that the employee or independent contractor performing work under the contract or subcontract resolve through arbitration any claim under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention.

The basic proposition is that one should not be expected to sign away their right to mundane justice as a prerequisite of employment in the private sector, especially in such an acute question as rape.

Josh Kraushaar at Politico offers the basic analysis:

Franken’s amendment, which passed 68-30, received the support of 10 Republican senators. However, most Republicans opposed the amendment because it went against the wishes of the Defense Department, and argued it gave Congress too much influence in altering defense contracts.

Those concerns, however, are immaterial to Democratic strategists, who believe the vote will be politically costly to the two Republican senators facing competitive races – Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pounced after the vote, putting out a statement attacking Vitter “for choosing special interests over justice and the interests of the American taxpayers.”

And a senior Democratic strategist working on defeating Vitter told POLITICO that the vote will “very likely” come up in a campaign ad next year.

Republicans point out that the amendment was opposed by a host of business interests, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and applies to a wide range of companies, including IBM and Boeing.

Watching the GOP sideline itself in the early rounds of the health care debate, many suggested Republicans were simply posturing themselves for the 2010 midterm election. This vote would seem something of a deviation from such a course. I do not think it so extraordinary that we should not be overestimating voters in these constituencies if we imagine them capable of looking at their wives and daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends, and thinking, “Now, wait a minute ….”

The Senators voting nay:

    Alexander (R-TN), Barrasso (R-WY), Bond (R-MO), Brownback (R-KS), Bunning (R-KY), Burr (R-NC), Chambliss (R-GA), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Corker (R-TN), Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Graham (R-SC), Gregg (R-NH), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Johanns (R-NE), Kyl (R-AZ), McCain (R-AZ), McConnell (R-KY), Risch (R-ID), Roberts (R-KS), Sessions (R-AL), Shelby (R-AL), Thune (R-SD), Vitter (R-LA), Wicker (R-MS)

These are not insignificant junior players. To the other, though, there aren’t many insignificant junior players among Senate Republicans; only three can boast of being freshmen, and two of them—Johanns and Risch—are among the nays.

The other, George LeMieux of Florida, is among the Republicans who haven’t yet completely lost their minds:

    Bennett (R-UT), Collins (R-ME), Grassley (R-IA), Hatch (R-UT), Hutchison (R-TX), LeMieux (R-FL), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), Snowe (R-ME), Voinovich (R-OH)

If the Democrats handle this one correctly, they should be able to make some Republicans sweat next year. Senate Republicans facing re-election in 2010, with nay votes bold

    Shelby (AL), Murkowski (AK), McCain (AZ), LeMieux (FL), Isakson (GA), Crapo (ID), Grassley (IA), Brownback (KS), Bunning (KY), Vitter (LA), Bond (MO), Gregg (NH), Burr (NC), Voinovich (OH), Coburn (OK), DeMint (SC), Thune (SD), Bennett (UT)

    — Retiring

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I wouldn’t have noticed, except that you asked

I wasn’t going to touch this one. Really. The “fool me once” gaffe is more sad than it is funny. And my personal favorite–

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

–set such a standard that it’s going to take the mother of all gaffes to top it. So I just chuckled at Bush’s gaffe about Mandela last week and intended to let it go.

And then I came across the conservative response. Let us start with the gaffe itself, in its broader context. Or, at least, within its paragraph from the White House transcript:

Part of the reason why there is not this instant democracy in Iraq is because people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule. I thought an interesting comment was made when somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, where’s Mandela? Well, Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas. He was a brutal tyrant that divided people up and split families, and people are recovering from this. So there’s a psychological recovery that is taking place. And it’s hard work for them. And I understand it’s hard work for them. Having said that, I’m not going the give them a pass when it comes to the central government’s reconciliation efforts.

Now, it’s an interesting statement insofar as the President went out of his way to set up the Mandela line. That, more than anything, is what puzzles me.

As people chuckled and rolled their eyes, and some reminded that Nelson Mandela is, indeed, still alive, and others pointed out that it wasn’t very respectful to imply that the South African icon had died, conservatives threw a frothing fit.

Patrick McIlheran, a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist wrote a blog piece decrying the reaction:

Slow down and read the quote. “…killed all the Mandelas.” Do you presume from this that the president, then, believes the former South African president to have been a whole group of people?

Or could it be possible that Bush was speaking metaphorically? I know, it’s an article of faith on the left that he can’t spell “metaphor” much less use one, but might it not be possible that, when asked “Where’s Mandela?” in an Iraqi context, Bush might have taken it to mean, “Where is the emergent Iraqi national savior who can reconcile warring factions?” I mean, two paragraphs previous, the guy was talking about national reconciliation in Iraq, so it’s reasonable to guess this is how he took it.

And so, having taken “Where’s Mandela?” in that way, might it not be further possible that Bush picked up the metaphor to suggest that Saddam killed all the potential national reconciliators? That Iraq’s potential national reconciliator, its Mandela, so to speak, is lying in a mass grave? I mean, all this has going for it is that it makes sense of what the president said.

Fair enough, sir, but slow down and read the quote again. There are plenty of ways to say it, and this is the one Bush chose. “Mandela is dead,” said the President. McIlheran preferred to take a demeaning attitude toward the criticism, noting that a “flack” from Mandela’s foundation had “chirped” that the Nobel winner was still alive; in this it seems the Journal-Sentinel’s “generally … right wing guy” overlooked reports that South African officials were flooded with calls from viewers of the live news conference who worried that Nelson Mandela actually had died. McIlheran would prefer to make excuses for the President’s crass joke, call the critics deranged, and demean Nelson Mandela. Good show, man.

But McIlheran is not alone in attempting to focus on only one part of the gaffe, and this is where the conservative response gets even more bizarre. Warner Todd Huston, over at Stop The ACLU, blasted Reuters:

Apparently al Reuters doesn’t understand the concept of “context” because they’re idiotically claiming that in his Thursday press conference Bush said that Nelson Mandela is dead ….

…. Heartwarming that Reuters is so concerned over Mandela’s health, isn’t it?

But here’s the problem. During the press conference, Bush was not talking about the actual Nelson Mandela. He was talking about people like Nelson Mandela and speaking metaphorically. And listening to Bush’s entire segment, while not artfully stated, makes it clear that he was not talking about the actual Nelson Mandela ….

Huston, like McIlheran, highlights only the latter part of the gaffe, and asks,

Could it be any more obvious that Bush is saying that there aren’t any Iraqis filling the same sort of role in Iraq that Nelson Mandela filled in South Africa? Could it be any more clear that Bush was saying that Saddam “killed all the Mandelas” of Iraq?

Indeed, sir, you are correct. Except, what about the phrase, “Mandela is dead”? I mean, it would have been just as easy, and considerably less bizarre to say, “There are no Iraqi Mandelas.”

And as people argue about what Bush meant, it is curious to note the actual transcript. Those who complain about the criticism would be better served to use the White House transcript. Strangely, and, perhaps, hair-splittingly, one might be able to make an issue out of punctuation. McIlhernan’s quote comes from the White House transcript. Huston’s is unsourced inasmuch as it does not match the Reuters article he linked to. And several other conservative blogs seem to have passed around an AFP transcript. Both the AFP and Huston’s unsourced quotes split the gaffe into two sentences. The White House transcript uses a comma, and the Reuters article in Huston’s crosshairs has no punctuation at all (and also lacks the extraneous apostrophe, but that’s beside the point).

And believe it or not, that difference is important. There is no question, when reviewing the video, that Bush spoke two separate sentences. The first was, “Well, Mandela is dead.” The pause is unmistakable. And this, contrary to McIlhernan, Huston, and other conservatives’ suggestions, is the phrase that is at the heart of the gaffe.

So we’re down to punctuation, on the one hand, while to the other we haven’t even arrived at the truly bizarre part.

Indeed, the strangest part of this is that some conservative bloggers have chosen to lash out after Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show. At the National Review Online, Greg Pollowitz (quoting AFP, for those keeping score), simply sought to clarify the quote, noting, “Since Jon Stewart ended his clip of the President with ‘dead,’ the President looked kind of foolish, as Mr. Mandela is very much alive.”

Over at TownHall, Mary Katharine Ham picked up on Pollowitz’s clarification, and lashed out at The Daily Show:

There’s no way they saw the “Mandela is dead” clip without seeing the context. But the facts got in the way of an easy political joke. And, Stewart has the nerve to get all self-righteous on “Crossfire?” Ha.

Tipping a hat to both Ham and Pollowitz, RedState’s Finrod escalated the absurdity:

Disgusting. Is Jon Stewart getting hints on how to be a newsman from Dan Rather? What’s he going to do for comedy in 16 months when Bush leaves office and he doesn’t have Bush quotes to warp and distort any more?

And to think he had the gall to criticize Crossfire for not being helpful to the political scene.

Okay, if you’re a conservative, pay close attention. If you’re a liberal, join the chorus. I’m only going to say this once:

The Daily Show is not a real news show. It is a comedy show. Jon Stewart is a comedian. Tucker Carlson didn’t seem to understand that during the Crossfire shootout, and for some reason conservatives seem to be having a problem understanding that fact now.

It’s not difficult to understand.

And that’s the thing. In the long run, I probably would have forgotten this whole thing by next week. Bush is known to say some truly bizarre things, and by my measure, this is a minor Bushism. It’s the sort of thing I probably would have chuckled at if someone mentioned it months, or even years down the line, as I remembered it for the first time since it happened. But now, thanks to conservatives, I’ll be remembering this one much more clearly, and not so much for the fact of the President’s gaffe. Rather, I’ll be remembering this episode as another example of conservative dishonesty, another example of conservative stupidity. Because McIlhernan needs to overlook facts in order to feel better about a chirping flack; Huston needs to stoop to silly phrases like “al Reuters”. And both need to snip the quote and pretend part of it doesn’t exist. And then there’s Finrod, Pollowitz, and Ham, who need to pretend Jon Stewart is a real journalist in order to stoke their self-righteous fury.

I’ll tell you my Bushism story. There were two of them that got me. One was the, “Now watch this drive,” quip that was harmless except for its crass timing. Big deal. The other was the “fool me once” disaster. I didn’t actually think I was hearing it. And then I didn’t realize the magnitude of what I had heard. When it blared all over the news that night, I was stunned. I mean, really.

Bushisms are amusing. They wouldn’t be a big deal for the press or anybody else except for their frequency and the pretense of intelligence conservatives attempt to keep about the President. Conservatives need to get over this one. The only thing more pathetic than beating a dead horse is trying to resuscitate its skeleton.

Accept the fact that Bush once again made a fool of himself. He went out of his way to set up what he thought was a catchy line, and it backfired. Really, I would have gone right on by this one, except that I had the misfortune of stumbling across McIlhernan’s angry spew. And then, curious, I was stupid enough to wonder what the rest of the conservative response was. So far, it’s only reinforcing the notion that my conservative neighbors really are morons. After all, I can only go by what you give me to work with, and this is what you’ve given.

Get over it. And get over yourselves.