Winners & Sinners

Kaiser on Danner, Poniewozik, Rove, Vanity Fair, and more

Winner: Mark Danner, for another brilliant piece about torture in the New York Review of Books: “Torture is at the heart of the deadly politics of national security.” he writes.

The former vice-president, as able and ruthless a politician as the country has yet produced, appears convinced of this. For if torture really was a necessary evil in what Mr. Cheney calls the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of “keeping the country safe,” then it follows that its abolition at the hands of the Obama administration will put the country once more at risk….Cheney’s story is made not of facts but of the myths that replace them when facts remain secret: myths that are fueled by allusions to a dark world of secrets that cannot be revealed. At its heart is the recasting of President George W. Bush, under whose administration more Americans died in terrorist attacks than under all others combined, as the leader who “kept us safe,” and who was able to do so only by recognizing that the US had to engage in “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business.

Sinner: James Poniewozik, for another disgusting celebration of the charms of Glenn Beck in Time magazine, which made last week’s pathetic effort by Brian Stelter and Bill Carter on the front page of The New York Times look almost fair and balanced. FCP is certain that Poniewozik, Stelter, and Carter must have gotten a special thrill yesterday  when Beck poured gasoline on one of his guests and then pretended to light him with a match—as a way of explaining what Barack Obama is doing to America.

Winner: Jim Newell, for accurately identifying previous Sinner Charles Krauthammer, in Wonkette, as one of the most repellent columnists ever to be syndicated in America. 

Krauthammer’s latest triumph: a brutal attack on the president for making “fairness” the “ultimate social value.” Newell asks, quite sensibly, “Isn’t ‘fairness’ a good pick for ‘ultimate social value?’ It’s kind of like ‘justice,’ to which we nominally dedicate an entire branch of government.”

Winner: Eric Alterman, for offering the only wise and sensible reaction so far to previous Sinner Mark Bowden’s error-ridden profile of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in Vanity Fair. Alterman captures FCP’s view precisely: “Most of us senior citizens of Mediaworld—that is, people out of the ‘desirable’ 18-to-29 demo—have a love-hate relationship with the Times, much as we do with our own families. It drives us crazy on a daily basis but we wouldn’t want to live without it and prefer not to imagine a world in which we might have to.”

(Queried by FCP about how so many errors slipped into Bowden’s piece, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter provided this explanation, via e-mail: “Look, the fact-checkers are all moonlighting as waiters at the Waverly Inn [the Manhattan restaurant opened by Carter] and are just too pooped to actually check anything during the day.”)

Sinner: Karl Rove, for an oh-so-predictable distortion of the findings of a new Pew poll which supposedly proves that Obama is the most polarizing president of modern times.

Winner: NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd, for saying flatly that Rove’s charge is “not true” because “the pool of Republicans has gotten smaller” as many of them have become independents—so it’s hardly surprising that such a large proportion of the remaining hardliners oppose the president.   Todd added: “The president had big numbers with the middle during the election, and he still has big numbers [there] with him now.” Daily Kos has the relevant clip.

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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.