Winners: New York Times economics columnist David Leonhardt and President Barack Obama for a splendidly substantive interview in The New York Times Magazine about the democratization of finance, the future of education and health care, and what the economy might look like “on the other side of the so-called Great Recession.” FCP is always astonished by the unusual experience of reading the words of a president who actually seems to know what he’s talking about. So we asked Leonhardt whether he had ever interviewed any other non-economist in public office who was as knowledgeable about these issues as Obama is.

“Yes,” Leonhardt replied. “One person who I would put in the same category is Hillary Clinton. She’s thought a lot about these things. And, like Obama, when I interviewed her during the primary campaign, the thing that struck me about it was, she really engaged with the questions.

Neither Clinton nor Obama tried to take a question and then run to an answer they’d given a hundred times before. That doesn’t mean their answer was always going to be right, or that they weren’t underestimating the political difficulties. But it was part of the reason I found it so surprising when she called for a suspension of the gas tax during the primaries. And then she went further and said, ‘I don’t want to listen to the opinion of economists.’ Because anyone who talks to her knows that she does listen to economists. She doesn’t always agree with them, but she takes their ideas really seriously.”

Winner: Elisabeth Bumiller, the Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times, who wisely decided that West Point was the best place to go to find out how current and future military men and women feel about the prospect of gays serving openly in the military. The story that resulted from that decision was thorough, sophisticated and balanced—in stark contrast to the last two Times efforts on this subject.

Sinner: Gwen Ifill, for filling her Washington Week program with journalists who almost invariably agree with each other instead of actually debating the issues of the week. Most recently, this was obvious in a discussion of torture in which the only issue the panelists identified was how the Obama administration should deal with the political fallout from the demands for a full-scale investigation and/or prosecution of the officials responsible for American torture. Which prompted this e-mail exchange between FCP and Ifill:

To: Gwen Ifill
Subject: balance

Would it ruin the discussion to have one person who believes that a full investigation of American torture and prosecutions of those responsible for it are the only way to rescue the honor of America? Believe it or not, not everyone who holds that opinion is on the “left.” Your program was not remotely balanced on this subject this evening.


To: Charles Kaiser


Opinion? You were watching the wrong program if that’s what you were looking for

Thanks for the feedback.

To: Gwen Ifill:

Everyone at that table obviously believed that investigating and/or prosecuting torture was a political problem for the Obama administration, and nothing more.
That is an opinion, Gwen. The fact that all of you shared it doesn’t make it anything else. It does mean you were incapable of acknowledging any other point of view.
This is why we call it “the Washington bubble.”
I’m sorry Shepard Smith understands this one better than you do.


To: Charles Kaiser
Feel better now?

To: Gwen Ifill:
Because you obviously don’t get the point?

To: Charles Kaiser
Email is so uncivil. If you ever want to talk rather than insult, feel free to call me during working hours. You know how.

FCP thought a friendly telephone discussion about this subject with Ifill was a splendid idea. Unfortunately, after three more e-mail requests for an interview, and four voicemails left for Ifill and her two producers over two weeks, the anchorwoman never managed to return any of our phone calls.

This was her last message yesterday:

To: Charles Kaiser

Traveling all day. Back in DC tmw

FCP recommends that Ifill investigate the possibility of buying one of those new-fangled cell phones, which apparently work even when their owners are on the road.

Sinner: New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt, for another mindless column defending his point of view that the Times’s news department is correct in never describing American torture as “torture” in its news columns—because ex-Bush officials say that wouldn’t be right. Note to Hoyt: the first duty of a journalist is to describe an activity accurately, regardless of the way its practitioners choose to characterize it. That’s why The New York Times’s editorial page always calls it by its proper name: torture.

Charles Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis and 1968 in America. He has been media editor for Newsweek, a member of the metro staff of The New York Times, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered the press and book publishing. To learn more, visit