Monday, March 19, 2007

What Liberal Media?

This tells us something about the state of the so called "liberal" media. Now Michael Kinsley is well known as a "liberal" pundit, yet it seems that he illustrates all too well how poorly progressive and liberal ideas are being represented in the major media outlets. Too often his views are more like Republican talking points than the views of a thoughtful liberal. Today he wrote this piece in reference to the growing scandal over the firing of the United States Attorneys. Mr. Kinsley's thesis is that the scandal is overblown and much ado about nothing. To make his point he links to an earlier Washington Post editorial here explaining the scandal in order to critique the editorial and show the slender basis for the scandal. The Internet being what it is, however, I went to the trouble of reading both Mr. Kinsley's piece and the Washington Post editorial to see how well Mr. Kinsley's critique held up. The answer was not very well.

To quote Michael Kinsley at length, here is his criticism of the Washington Post editorial:
An editorial in the Washington Post last Thursday, for example, avoids disingenuousness—but only at the price of utter confusion. It dismisses the Clinton administration precedent as “a red herring, not a useful comparison,” but fails to explain why. The editorial scrupulously points out that one of the US attorneys fired by Clinton was weeks away from indicting a powerful Democratic congressman—a closer connection to a more important investigation than anything now at stake. The Post concedes that Clinton’s mass firing was “unprecedented,” and “unprecedented” is the toughest adjective the Post can bring itself to apply to the recent Bush firings, too. Then it says, “But unprecedented doesn’t equal wrong.” It acknowledges that a “president…is entitled to have..prosecutors committed to his law enforcement priorities,” and is honest enough to include concerns over issues like immigration and obscenity cases as falling in this permissible-motive category. Then it runs out of steam, notes accurately that the Bushies have been lying up a storm, says this is another reason that the Clinton episode is a bad comparison, and stops.
But the editorial actually says
The Reno precedent is a red herring, not a useful comparison. The summary way she announced the move was, indeed, unusual if not unprecedented. But a turnover in the top prosecutorial jobs with a new administration taking power -- especially one of a different party -- was not.
Which most certainly consists of an explanation as to why the comparison was a red herring, contrary to Michael Kinsley's claim. Yes, as Kinsley states, the editorial points out that one of the US Attorneys fired by Clinton was weeks from indicting a major Democratic Congressional leader, but the editorial states in full about the Reno removal of this attorney is
...consider that when he was ousted by Reno, the U.S. attorney in the District, Jay Stephens, was just weeks away from deciding whether to indict House Ways and Means Chairman Daniel Rostenkowski (D-Ill.). Inconveniently for these conspiracy theorists, Mr. Rostenkowski was in fact indicted and convicted...
Not quite what Kinsley would have you believe. Kinsley, likewise, makes much of the use of the word "unprecedented" used by the Washington Post for both the Reno and Bush firings. But the Post editorial of this week describes the manner in which Janet Reno fired US attorneys to be unprecedented, not the act (she was, apparently, rather abrupt and curt). On the other hand, the Post editorial describes the Bush firings, not the manner but the act itself, as unprecedented
The question, then, is what to make of the president's move to fire several of the prosecutors. This recent group firing, in the midst of a presidential term, is unprecedented; Mr. Bush was simply incorrect yesterday when he described it as "a customary practice by presidents."
Finally, Mr. Kinsley protests that the Post editorial did not adequately explain the growing obstruction of justice charge related to the recent firings (from Kinsley)

Cohen cuts through all this, and offers several grounds for at least suspecting that the firings were part of an illegal obstruction of justice. Read it for yourself and see if you buy it. And try to be honest: would you buy the argument if it was being applied against a Democratic president? I’m afraid I wouldn’t, absent more evidence than I believe is there.

But the limitations of an editorial format, length primarily, hardly make it possible to outline the differences between the Reno and Bush firings (at which, as I've shown above, the editorial does a fine job) and give a full and detailed account of the reasons to suspect obstruction of justice charges as well. The conclusion of the Post editorial does a decent job though of laying out the basics and giving reason to believe that there are legitimate concerns (for more detail see Talking Points Memo). Specifically
(The potential for misusing the newly bestowed interim appointment authority to evade Senate confirmation is a separate, and troubling, concern.)

Internal administration e-mails released Tuesday offer some indications of those sorts of policy-related issues, from references to "woodshedding" the U.S. attorney in San Diego, Carol C. Lam, over immigration cases to complaints about whether Paul K. Charlton in Arizona and Daniel G. Bogden in Nevada were balking at obscenity prosecutions. But there are also ample grounds for suspicion about improper motives, including the involvement of White House political aides and telephone calls from lawmakers to prosecutors about politically sensitive cases. The dishonest conduct of the Justice Department has only served to deepen suspicions, to underscore the importance of figuring out exactly what transpired here and to distinguish this situation from the Reno precedent.

In short, once again, one of our foremost "liberal" pundits demonstrates himself willing to plainly mislead and distort the writings of someone else, in order to advance Republican talking points. Do folks in the press really wonder at the growth of daily Kos, TPM and the rest.

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