Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Wednesday, June 18, 2003
 
1, 2, 3 -- What Are We Fighting For? This blog is often obsessively and sometimes unfairly focused on the shortcomings (real and perceived) of the NY Times. Why bother? Because at its best, the Times has a unique power to do good works in our society, and it bothers me when it's at less than its best.

A few months ago, when Times columnist Bob Herbert began writing about the fraudulent convictions of scores of black residents of the Town of Tullia, Tex., the picture looked grim -- most of the convicted had been coerced into signing confessions, and the state's criminal "justice" apparatus had no interest in re-examining the laughably inadequate evidence used to back their initial arrests. But Herbert's work was meticulously researched and powerfully argued. It focused the 1.1 million readers of the nation's second-largest newspaper on this injustice -- beyond that, because the Times owns a unique position as an agenda-setter for the rest of the national media, its spotlight was amplified by attention from countless other media outlets who began examining the story. In less than a year, convictions were being set aside, and this week people are walking free.

That's an astounding accomplishment, and the kind of thing the Times does better than anyone else when it sets its collective mind to it (rather than spending energy on stories about nude summer camps for teens). I think it's worthwhile to call attention to the lapses in accuracy and the kowtowing to the upper class because the former represent threats to the paper's unique standing and credibility, and the latter represent wasted opportunities to fill the space with more-useful information -- two things that interfere with the paper's mission.


Tuesday, June 17, 2003
 
The Comeback Kid? Seeing as how Sen. John Kerry has been a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, it is legitimate to ask whether a single positive story on Slate.com qualifies as a comeback. Still, given the open hostility Kerry usually faces from the press, any story that isn't a hatchet job has to be considered progress.

A couple of thoughts on the content:

One of the best lines from Kerry in the piece came when: "He accused the administration of 'opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in American cities.'"

Now, setting aside for a moment the continued, troubling reports that we aren't really doing much in the way of providing safety and security services to Iraqis either, this is a good tack, and is in line with the item below, in which Kerry pledges to fight for NYC in Washington. As the endless stories about preparations for the convention indicate, Wobbly and the "Governor" are planning to try and exploit any remaining sympathy for New Yorkers that exists in the nation, and Bloomberg isn't going to call them on the carpet for their failure to really help.

But the fact remains that promises haven't been kept -- Kerry might have been inspired by his visit to NYC, but there are local needs across the country going unfulfilled, both on security and elsewhere. The Democratic candidates won't have to say too much to remind people of the needs that are going begging.

UPDATE: This Washington Post piece indicates that it might not just be Kerry's visit to NYC that sparked the new aggressiveness. Rand Beers, the White House's former top counterterrorism adviser apparently quit his job, then signed on as a volunteer adviser to Kerry on national security issues! The piece is packed with powerful stuff

"The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure," said Beers, who until now has remained largely silent about leaving his National Security Council job as special assistant to the president for combating terrorism. "As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done. And the longer I sat and watched, the more concerned I became, until I got up and walked out."