Winners & Sinners

Kaiser on Maslin, Stewart, NBC, and others

Winner: Janet Maslin for her spot-on review of The Man Who Owns The News, in which she dissects Michael Wolff’s “supercilious yet star-struck portrait of Rupert Murdoch.” FCP has always regarded Wolff’s specialty as contemptuous envy, but “supercilious yet star-struck” is equally accurate.

Winners: Mark Pittman and Bob Ivry of Bloomberg News for a brilliant exposé of the $7.76 trillion in taxpayer money now at risk in the financial bailout. “It’s tax dollars that are going out the window and we end up holding collateral we don’t know anything about,” said Republican congressman Scott Garrett of New Jersey.

Winner: Neil Irwin, for detailing, in The Washington Post how the Fed is lending out $893 billion—“roughly the equivalent of the annual economic output of Mexico”—with no oversight, because it isn’t acting under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act passed by Congress.

Winner: Jon Stewart, for doing what he does best: offering a summary of Charles Gibson’s “exclusive interview” with George Bush on ABC, which is much more enlightening that the original:

Sinners: The NBC officials still trying to spin the unspinnable by portraying retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey as a national hero immune to the normal rules of journalistic conflicts of interest, long after New York Timesman David Barstow showed that the former war hero has degenerated into a deeply conflicted war profiteer. Glenn Greenwald shares the text of the NBC spinners’ e-mails here. So far, still no public acknowledgment by NBC of McCaffrey’s conflicts on any of the network’s broadcasts.

Winner: Max Frankel, for being one of the first to attack Gen. McCaffrey for his willingness to manipulate the media for his own benefit, way back in February of 2000. Back then, when McCaffrey was Bill Clinton’s drug czar, he had turned his office into “a full-blown script-review board” which “decided which TV stories and newspaper programs were ‘on message’ and ‘on strategy’ and which needed ”guidance” and improvement”—before the networks and the newspapers could be rewarded for their participation in the national war on drugs.

Sinners: The other NBC officials who have reportedly chosen David Gregory to host Meet the Press–not because he’s the best candidate, but because he gets the best ratings when he fills in on the Today Show. FCP would shatter the straight-white-boys club at NBC and choose Gwen Ifill instead.

Winner: Scott Horton, for this succinct summary of the problem with torture coverage at The New York Times: “I am increasingly convinced that the central note of their coverage is simpler: stupidity. They don’t understand the rhetoric of the torture debate, the ticking bomb analogy and so forth—it all turns into an incomprehensible jumble in their minds, and then they whip it into a cappucino froth in the pages of the New York Times.”

Winner: The always-sophisticated David Dunlap, for this lovely kicker on his piece in The New York Times about the refurbishment of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine: “The short-lived construction project of the 1980s rendered the main facade resolutely asymmetrical. (Once again, Peter was robbed to pay Paul.) While this might offend Cram’s vision, it has also secured St. John’s pedigree as a true New Yorker: ambitious, audacious, ever-changing, indomitable and more than a little bit eccentric.”

Winner: Steve Clemons, for explaining at why Obama’s pick of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State could turn out to be a masterstroke:

If Obama wants to change the strategic game on Iran, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Cuba, Russia and other challenges, he will need partners who are perceived as tough, smart, shrewd and even skeptical of the deals he wants to do. Clinton is all of these. Clinton may be the bad cop to Obama’s good cop. Because she is trusted by Pentagon-hugging national security conservatives, she may legitimize his desire to respond to this pivot point in American history with bold strokes rather than incremental ones.

Winners: Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti, for belatedly sharing the sentence from Dianne Feinstein’s statement about torture which they inexplicably omitted from their front page story in Wednesday’s New York Times: “However, my intent is to pass a law that effectively bans torture, complies with all laws and treaties, and provides a single standard across the government.” The reporters’ posting on theTimes’s Web site this [Friday] afternoon also included this expanded statement from Feinstein, which left no doubt that FCP’s interpretation of that final sentence was correct:

I strongly believe there should be a single, clear standard for interrogation across the federal government, and that this standard should comply with the Geneva Convention, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law. I plan to introduce legislation in January that would close Guantanamo, make the Army Field Manual the single standard for interrogations, prohibit contractors from being used to carry out interrogations and provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with access to detainees. If the incoming administration decides to propose an alternative to this legislation, I am willing to hear its views. But I believe we must put an end to coercive interrogations by the C.I.A.

Research assistance: Jessica S. Kramer

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Charles Kaiser is a former media critic for Newsweek and the author of three books, most recently The Cost of Courage, about one family in the French Resistance.