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Archive for December 15th, 2009

Box Office Sales Buoyant in 2009

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:46 am by HL

Box Office Sales Buoyant in 2009
Which industries actually thrive in the midst of a crippling recession? There are many ways to approach that question, but over the past year, Americans looking for low-impact escapism on a budget went to the movies, and they did so in numbers that might put some of the hand-wringing about the impact of the Internet and the economy on the film business on hold, at least for the time being.

moviegoers

Which industries actually thrive in the midst of a crippling recession? There are many ways to approach that question, but over the past year, Americans looking for low-impact escapism on a budget went to the movies, and they did so in numbers that might put some of the hand-wringing about the impact of the Internet and the economy on the film business on hold, at least for the time being.

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John Neffinger: How We Lost Healthcare

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:45 am by HL

John Neffinger: How We Lost Healthcare
One of the most famous stories in all of politics is about the progressive activist who gets a meeting with FDR to explain his great…

Jack Helmuth: Watch Out, You Bloodthirsty Liberals – I’m Voting Pro-Life
While driving on the New York State Thruway last week, I passed a car with a bumper sticker that said, “I Vote Pro-Life.” Always on…

Lieberman Wins: Medicare Compromise On Chopping Block
Joe Lieberman has forced his will on the Senate Democratic caucus and the nation as a whole. After the party reached a compromise last week…

Kate Kelly: Holiday Hazards You Never Thought Of
Just as stores in 2009 took special precautions after a Wal-Mart worker was trampled by a frenzied crowd on Black Friday in 2008, stores in…

Darcy Burner: Joe Lieberman’s Healthcare Bill Is Worse Than Doing Nothing. Kill It.
The first rule of medicine is, “Do no harm.” The post-Joe Lieberman version of the Senate healthcare bill fails that basic criterion. Unless Democratic leadership…


Eric Boehlert: According to its ethics code, NPR still has a Fox New problem

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:44 am by HL

Eric Boehlert: According to its ethics code, NPR still has a Fox New problem

Smart newsrooms develop an ethics code to help journalists do their jobs well, and to create clear lines of demarcation for when inevitable conflicts arise. To its credit, National Public Radio operates under a wide-ranging ethics code that leaves little doubt about how its journalists should conduct themselves.

And yet still, NPR finds itself struggling with the evergreen controversy that surrounds Mara Liasson and Juan Williams, two well-known NPR voices who regularly appear as commentators on Fox News. Last week Politico reported that NPR news executives approached Liasson and asked her to re-think her weekly Fox News appearances. (She declined to cut her contractual Fox News ties.) And in February, the same NPR bosses asked that Williams no longer be identified as an NPR journalist when he appeared on The O’Reilly Factor.

If NPR bosses don’t want the network’s name associated with The O’Reilly Factor, and if they asked Liasson to re-think her Special Report and Fox News Sunday appearances, then that confirms there’s a problem that ought to be resolved. Why else would the issue keep popping up? And the problem is this: A thoroughly respectable and professional operation like NPR has no business associating itself with Fox News these days, by lending its status and credence to an utterly irresponsible enterprise like the one Roger Ailes is running. Consequently, by continuing the association, NPR is doing real damage to its brand and its hard-earned credibility.

The need for action is confirmed by NPR’s own ethics code, which specifically spells out why the Fox News-type of alliance is such a bad idea. And yet, at least publically, NPR executives continue to duck the matter. I’m not sure what all the dithering is about, the issue does not appear to be that complicated.

NPR’s association with Fox News has been a thorn in the radio network’s side for years. From NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard, Dec. 8, 2009:

Barely a week goes by without my office getting an email or phone call insisting that NPR tell Mara Liasson or Juan Williams that they should not and cannot appear on Fox News.

And from then-NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin, May 15, 2006:

Nothing riles some public-radio listeners like NPR journalists appearing on FOX News television programs.

Maybe if we turn the tables slightly and look at the conflict from a different perspective, the picture will come into sharper focus.

Imagine this scenario: What if NPR currently did not have an association with Fox News and Ailes’ team reached out to public broadcasting in 2009, the year Fox News co-sponsored political rallies, promoted partisan conservative PACs on the air, backed hosts who attacked the president of the United States as a racist and a socialist and a communist and a Nazi, passed off a Republican Party press release as its own research (typo and all), and featured a sister website that regularly cheered “Victory!” whenever an Obama initiative failed. Given that media landscape in 2009, would NPR executives today think it would perfect make sense to begin aligning itself with Fox News?

In the year that Fox News seemed to proudly obliterate any barrier between journalism and politics as it morphed into the de facto media engine driving conservative politics, invited fringe conspiracy theorists on air, declared itself the “voice of the opposition,” and promoted violent political rhetoric, would executives in charge of protecting NPR’s brand and credibility be willing to now begin associating their network with Fox News?

I seriously doubt it.

And yet today, NPR remains publically, and stubbornly, aligned with an organization that makes a mockery of NPR’s own ethical standards, a cable outlet whose employees would be summarily fired from NPR for the seemingly countless and chronic journalism transgressions they make.

The roiling controversy seems to represent a clear case of how the media players have changed dramatically in recent years, yet NPR’s leadership has failed to adjust. I don’t think there was anything wrong with Liasson or Williams signing on to be contributors with Fox News back in its early days, during the Bill Clinton’s second term. At the time, Fox News was truly a right-leaning news organization. Meaning, it framed the news from an obvious conservative perspective, and it employed conservative hosts such as Bill O’Reilly. But the Fox News that Liasson signed on with 12 years ago is virtually unrecognizable to the overtly partisan and chronically deceitful Fox News that broadcasts today, acts more like the RNC than NBC, and which no longer even qualifies as a legitimate news organization. (Read 30 reasons why.)

That’s what’s changed. And while I’m not surprised that Liasson and Williams want to maintain their high-profile, well-paying TV jobs (TV always trumps radio on the Beltways’ celebrity totem pole), Fox News’ radical new direction this year means the sweetheart deals it’s offering the NPR personalities not only continue to do real damage to NPR’s reputation, but they clearly violate NPR’s ethics code.

Indeed, it’s not even close.

Public broadcasting guidelines clearly state that when appearing on outside programs “journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.” And, “They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”

The NPR ethics code, written “to protect the credibility of NPR’s programming by ensuring high standards of honesty, integrity, impartiality and staff conduct,” also forbids NPR journalists from participating in appearances that “may appear to endorse the agenda of a group or organization.” Is there any independent viewer still watching Fox News today who thinks it does not endorse a political agenda? Its on-air hosts help raise money for GOP PACs, for crying out loud.

According to the ethics code, the solution to such transgressions is quite simple:

Permission for such appearances may be revoked if NPR determines such appearances are harmful to the reputation of NPR or the NPR participant.

How is being so publically associated with wildly partisan and habitually irresponsible Fox News not harmful to NPR’s reputation? Or to put it another way, does anyone think that being aligned with Fox News today helps NPR’s reputation? Yeah, me neither.

According to Politico’s reporting, when recently confronted about her Fox News appearances, Liasson claimed that because she appeared on “serious” news programs and not the heavily opinionated ones, her pundit job shouldn’t cause NPR any problems, and that, by extension, there was nothing wrong with her cashing Fox News checks and allowing the channel to buy her NPR status each week.

But that’s an awfully narrow, naïve, and convenient reading of the situation. Liasson is part of the Fox News family. Period. For instance, Liasson appears on the Fox News website as a “Fox News contributor,” not as “Fox News contributor to the sorta/kinda serious shows.” The only way she’d really be able to defend her continued alliance would be to argue that Fox News in its entirely (i.e. Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity) is a serious endeavor worthy of NPR’s status. But if Liasson can’t defend all of Fox News, then her half-pregnant approach (i.e. she’s only employed by a tiny portion of Fox News) just doesn’t fly.

And by the way, the fact that Juan Williams is now an NPR “news analyst,” rather than a full-time staffer, does not solve the radio network’s quandary. Being a news analyst under contract does not mean that Williams’ regular appearances on Fox News don’t pose an ethical problem, because according to NPR’s guidelines, free-lancers like Williams must also adhere to the network’s ethical standards:

The code also applies to material provided to NPR by independent producers, member station contributors and/or reporters and freelance reporters, writers, news contributors or photographers.

And what if a non-staff contributor violates the code of ethics? NPR has the option simply to stop using that person in the future:

Because contributors in this category are not NPR employees, the remedy for dealing with a conflict of interest or other violation of the principles of this code is rejection of the offered material or of any future programming proposals similarly affected by the conflict or other violation of the ethical principles. NPR may also terminate any ongoing contract with the freelancer.

I admit that the ongoing Fox News controversy is a thorny one for NPR. But it’s really a political mess, not a journalistic one. Meaning, if the simple question before NPR executives revolved around whether associating with Fox News caused harm to NPR, and whether it ran afoul of the network’s ethics code, the answer, I think, is quite obviously yes. And if that were all there was to the story, I think NPR leaders would move quickly to end the associations given how Fox News has transformed itself in 2009 into a purely partisan entity and not one that still adheres to traditional journalism standards.

However, anything having to do with Fox News and the partisan debate about its obvious failures means NPR bosses are really wrestling more with a political problem. Because if they forbid Liasson and Williams from regularly appearing on Fox News, NPR would have to deal with the wrath of the right-wing noise machine and right-wing foot soldiers who would no doubt descend (electronically and perhaps even physically) on NPR and raise holy hell. And let’s face it, that’s not a pleasant scenario to contemplate, especially when the previous Republican administration launched a federal crusade to rid public broadcasting of its alleged liberal bias; a crusade that came with it the implicit threat of funding cuts.

But for the sake of NPR’s long-term health and reputation, the network’s signal callers need to face that right-wing mob and do what’s right according to the ethics code. NPR needs to cut its ties with Fox News.


Presented By:

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:43 am by HL

Presented By:

Bush-Era DOJ-er Stoking New Black Panther Case
A Justice Department lawyer hired by Brad Schlozman is in conflict with his bosses over the New Black Panther case, dismissed earlier this year, that he helped bring.

GOP Lawyers Slam Ruling On ACORN Funding
A Republican lawyer’s group is slamming a court’s decision Friday that ACORN can continue to receive federal funds.


Senate drops public option, Medicare buy-in from health bill

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:39 am by HL

Senate drops public option, Medicare buy-in from health bill
Excerpt: Senate Democrats have ceded two key components of President Obama’s health care reform proposals: The proposed Medicare buy-in for those ages 55-64 and a public option. These components of the bill were apparently dropped in a cave-in to Republicans, centrist Democrats, and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Sen. Lieberman, a crucial vote if the bill is to garner […]


Too Fat to Serve: How Our Unhealthy Food System Is Undermining the Military

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:38 am by HL

Too Fat to Serve: How Our Unhealthy Food System Is Undermining the Military
Americans have become so overweight that a large percentage of young people no longer qualify for military service. How did we get here?

Americans have become so overweight that a large percentage of young people no longer qualify for military service. How did we get here?

Howard Zinn and Bill Moyers on Right-Wing Demagogues and Progressive Resistance
Zinn: "Democracy doesn’t come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It’s what people do."

Zinn: "Democracy doesn't come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It's what people do."

9 Holiday Gifts Every American Should Go Without
Aren’t we already up to our ears in calendars, cell phones and Ugg boots?

Aren't we already up to our ears in calendars, cell phones and Ugg boots?


The Year in Tiny Ideas

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:37 am by HL

The Year in Tiny Ideas
I hate to beat up on the beleaguered NYT, which is buying-out and laying-off staffers to beat the band. If it’s still the best newspaper in the world–and it probably is–this is in no small part because the race to…


New York TimesArtsLiteratureSchool TimeKids and Teens

Presented By:

A Big Miracle
(I hadn’t thought to post this again this year, but since David Brooks has tried his hand at interpreting the meaning of Chanukah, and TPM Cafe’s Jim Sleeper has offered his rejoinder, I offer these thoughts from Jerusalem, which needs…


HanukkahJim SleeperChristmasTalking Points MemoReligion and Spirituality


Lieberman cites Finance Committee bill he opposed to justify Medicare flip-flop.

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:36 am by HL

Lieberman cites Finance Committee bill he opposed to justify Medicare flip-flop.
After Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) let it be known that he would filibuster a health care reform bill with Medicare buy-in, many bloggers, including ThinkProgress, pointed out that he campaigned in favor of such a proposal in 2000 and reiterated that support just three months ago. In an effort to explain the flip-flop, Lieberman spokesperson […]

After Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) let it be known that he would filibuster a health care reform bill with Medicare buy-in, many bloggers, including ThinkProgress, pointed out that he campaigned in favor of such a proposal in 2000 and reiterated that support just three months ago. In an effort to explain the flip-flop, Lieberman spokesperson Erika Masonhall told the Daily Beast that Lieberman changed his position after the health care reform bill reported out of the Senate Finance Committee “contained extensive health insurance reforms” that “would benefit” those between 55 and 64 who would be eligible for the buy-in. Masonhall says extending Medicare would thus be “duplicative”:

Masonhall explained to The Daily Beast via e-mail. “Senator Lieberman’s comment reported by the Connecticut Post in September was made before the Finance Committee reported out the Baucus bill, which contained extensive health insurance reforms, including a more narrow age rating for pricing health insurance premiums and extensive affordability credits that would benefit this specific group of individuals. These health insurance reforms and affordability credits have been strengthened in Senator Reid’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and will provide even greater relief for those 55-65 years old. Any inclusion of a Medicare buy-in for that same age group would be duplicative of what is already in the bill, would put the government on the hook for billions of additional dollars, and would potentially threaten the solvency of Medicare, which is already in a perilous state.

Unmentioned by Masonhall, however, is the fact that Lieberman told Don Imus in October that he opposed the Finance Committee bill because he thought it was “trying to do too much” and was “actually going to raise the price of insurance for most of the people in the country.”

Senate Democratic Policy Committee turns to Holtz-Eakin for job creation ideas.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) has announced that, on Wednesday, it “will hold an important hearing on jobs creation.” “This is a terrific opportunity to learn more about the job creation legislation as it is developed,” said the DPC in an email. Earlier this month, House Republicans held a similar job creation roundtable with […]

dhe90aThe Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) has announced that, on Wednesday, it “will hold an important hearing on jobs creation.” “This is a terrific opportunity to learn more about the job creation legislation as it is developed,” said the DPC in an email. Earlier this month, House Republicans held a similar job creation roundtable with a lineup full of former Bush administration and McCain staffers, which House Democrats agreed was worth disparaging. So then why are Senate Democrats calling on two of the same people: Larry Lindsey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin? The inclusion of Holtz-Eakin is especially disheartening because, at the GOP event, he said that the single best jobs policy would be ending “crippling regulation” and “intrusive government expansion”:

The single best jobs action that President Obama could take would be to reverse course on a dangerous agenda of debt-financed spending, crippling regulation, expensive mandates, and intrusive government expansion.

This sounds exactly like the economic principles of RNC Chairman Michael Steele. After spending the McCain campaign incorrectly asserting that McCain’s economic plans would balance the budget, Holtz-Eakin has of late been championing the idea that repealing the estate tax will spur job creation, despite the fact that exceedingly few businesses are affected by it. The Wonk Room has more.


U.S. to announce transfer of detainees to Ill. prison

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:35 am by HL

U.S. to announce transfer of detainees to Ill. prison
CHICAGO — Dozens of terrorism suspects being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be moved to a little-used Illinois state prison that will be acquired and upgraded by the federal government, an Obama administration official said.

House Democrats lose fourth member to retirement
House Democrats got a jolt Monday when a fourth lawmaker in a matter of weeks announced his retirement, leaving party officials and strategists fearful that they represent the leading edge of a wave of departures that could leave the Democrats vulnerable to significant losses in the 2010 midterm…

Senate health-care bill unlikely to include Medicare buy-in
Senate Democratic leaders appeared poised Monday night to abandon efforts to create a government-run insurance safety net in their push for health-care reform, as they attempted to close ranks around a bill they hoped would win the backing of all 60 members of their caucus.

House Democrats discard larger debt limit
House Democratic leaders, bowing to their party’s deficit hawks, will move the year’s final must-pass piece of legislation without a long-term increase to the national debt and without a large boost in infrastructure funding that was aimed at creating jobs.


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Battered Berlusconi

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on December 15th, 2009 5:31 am by HL

Battered Berlusconi

D.C. Vouchers on Life Support

Let’s Not Leap Off the Climate Cliff
Rep. Candice Miller, Detroit News
Far too many of our family, friends and neighbors have lost their jobs as the auto companies have gone through painful restructuring and manufacturing jobs have been outsourced to lower-wage nations. There is no more pressing issue facing America than getting our economy moving again so jobs can be created. That is why the endangerment finding last week by the Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency administrator that could trigger regulation of greenhouse gas emissions is so troubling. The announcement coincided with President Barack Obama's trip to the U.N. climate…

A Foreign Policy Based on Moral Balance
E.J. Dionne, Washington Post

Winning Formula for Health Bill
Rep. Anthony Weiner, NY Daily News
It took a while, but what looks like a health care compromise is emerging in the Senate, and it's actually much closer to where we should have started.Some lament the plan as the death of the public option. In fact, it's better. What the Senate seems to be settling on is a plan that would do two common-sense things we should have done months ago. One, expand the Medicare program to cover those 55 to 64. Two, let the uninsured participate in a program like the one members of Congress and federal employees have. This is a winning formula because it follows an edict that virtually…