Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sunday Reading

  • The New York Times on the Bush administration’s aggressive efforts to control the news by starting their own Ministry of Propaganda:

    Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.


    An examination of government-produced news reports offers a look inside a world where the traditional lines between public relations and journalism have become tangled, where local anchors introduce prepackaged segments with “suggested” lead-ins written by public relations experts. It is a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as “independent” journalism….

    Read the rest here.

  • Sen. Barack Obama talks to Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times about the future — his and the country’s.

    The junior senator from Illinois insists that he has no immediate designs on the White House. But even if Obama, 43, runs as an octogenarian — and even though he has been diplomatically dismantling racial and political boundaries since he became, in 1990, the first black president of the Harvard Law Review — his candidacy would make this country squirm and shudder and maybe even come unglued.

    Obama, after all, is no Tiger Woods, cobbling together a treacly amalgam to represent each strain of his heritage. Never mind his biracial DNA. He considers himself a black man. His gene pool may be free from the taint of slavery, but his experience as an American is not.


    Obama recounted his family’s story in “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” first published 10 years ago, before he began his political career. The publisher reissued the autobiography last summer, during Obama’s Senate race. The book reveals a man who is intellectually intense, emotionally honest and racially aware — qualities certain to strain the affections of a nation that prefers its leaders simple and self-righteous, no soul-searching allowed.


    Question: Are you concerned that your image in the book will hurt you down the line if you run for higher office?

    Obama: I’m always tickled by the idea that the book has these explosive revelations. It’s me, as a 15-year-old. My observations about race were honest discussions of how I felt at that time, which doesn’t reflect my current views on race or my wisdom about race.

    Some of the problems that ail both Africa and African Americans are self-inflicted. [By the book’s end] the values I end up ascertaining as most important are not black or white, but universal values — that all of us are woven into a tragic history and part of our job as human beings is to overcome the ailments of that tragic history. My father wasn’t able to do that successfully…. I’m still in the process of trying to do it ….

    The notion that you can’t speak honestly without damaging yourself … that’s the worst thing about politics….

    We create such fear among our elected officials they can’t be heartfelt without being punished…. If I sacrifice my ability to be honest, then I shouldn’t aspire to these offices in the first place.

  • Maureen Dowd takes on the issue of women in the men’s room — that is, the editiorial column.

    While a man writing a column taking on the powerful may be seen as authoritative, a woman doing the same thing may be seen as castrating. If a man writes a scathing piece about men in power, it’s seen as his job; a woman can be cast as an emasculating man-hater. I’m often asked how I can be so “mean” – a question that Tom Friedman, who writes plenty of tough columns, doesn’t get.


    There’s been a dearth of women writing serious opinion pieces for top news organizations, even as there’s been growth in female sex columnists for college newspapers. Going from Tess Harding to Carrie Bradshaw, Dorothy Thompson to Candace Bushnell, is not progress.

    This job has not come easily to me. But I have no doubt there are plenty of brilliant women who would bring grace and guts to our nation’s op-ed pages, just as, Lawrence Summers notwithstanding, there are plenty of brilliant women out there who are great at math and science. We just need to find and nurture them.

    There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the role and presence of women in opinion-making in the media, and by that I am including the blogosphere. Frankly, I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to it because I think it is one of those arguments that could go on forever without any prospect of a satisfying resolution. I don’t really pay attention to the gender of the writers I read, and I don’t give more or less credence to someone’s opinion based on their chromosonal make-up. If they’re a good writer amd they make me think, I’ll read them. If they’re not, I won’t.

    I suppose it comes down to where you place the modifier: there are women writers, and writers who are women. In the first case, the assumption is that they write about “women’s” issues; in the second they write and also happen to be women. There’s a difference, and it’s the writer herself who draws the distinction. I don’t think we should prejudge their views based on that. I also don’t think that the reader should forget that no one can write completely objectively and that regardless where they place the modifier, their life experiences will tint their writing. And well it should — that’s why they’re writing. By the way, the same applies to gay and lesbian columnists or bloggers. There are gay bloggers who write about nothing but gay issues and who see everything in those terms. Speaking for myself, I’m a blogger who happens to be gay. I don’t blog about exclusively gay issues, and I try not to let that part of my life overwhelm my writing here any more than I do the other aspects of my life, such as my job or my reading material. (I do, however, try to do it with a little taste and charm…)

    For the record, roughly a third of The Liberal Coalition is populated by bloggers who are women. Granted, this ragtag group is a microbe in the firmament of the blogosphere, but even a cursory glance at the other blogs on blogrolls throughout the Coalition shows that there is a strong female presence and I’ve linked to a lot of them based solely on the merits of their writing, not their gender. That — to me — seems to be the simplest and most accurate measure of their contribution, and the only one that really matters.