Various matters

The DOJ's prosecution priorities; the indifference of Time's Stengel to false statements; more on the Politico.


Glenn Greenwald
March 28, 2007 10:55PM (UTC)

(updated below - updated again)

Blogging will be light today because today is really the truly last for final copy edits on my book -- it will be henceforth set in stone -- and that daunting finality is claiming all of my attention (please don't pre-order the book yet). Until later in the day, here are several items worth noting:

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(1) Much of the U.S. attorneys scandal has focused, as it should, on the question of whether the firings were motivated by various prosecutors' refusal to pursue partisan-motivated but frivolous cases (or to suppress valid investigations for partisan reasons). But it is true that every administration has the right to prioritize the types of prosecutions which U.S. attorneys ought to pursue. And the DOJ e-mails that have been released reveal much about the unbelievably misplaced investigative priorities of the Bush administration.

In a time when we are supposedly facing the gravest and most epic War Ever to Save our Very Civilization, they are demanding that scarce law enforcement resources be squandered on the pettiest though still quite invasive and liberty-infringing matters. In Reason, Radley Balko has a great review of some of these issues.

(2) Time's Managing Editor, Rick Stengel, pretended to address the many criticisms made of his wretched and irresponsible commentary on The Chris Matthews Show over the weekend. Included among those crticisms was the self-evidently critical fact that what he and his colleagues told MSNBC viewers about how Americans think about investigations was false -- factually, demonstrably and inexcusably false.

But Stengel addressed none of those criticisms, and what he did say is just incoherent and absurd. Greg Sargent and Big Tent Democrat examine but a few of the flaws with Stengel's response. What kind of "journalist" just ignores evidence that his statements on a vitally important political matter -- broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people -- are simply false? When one really sees our country's most influential pundits up close -- really sees how they think and the quality of their critical faculties -- so many things become clear, and nothing is surprising any longer.

(3) I understand the mixed feelings which Salon's Joan Walsh expressed on her new blog about criticisms of the Politico. Like Walsh, I was initially hopeful about the Politico. In general, if someone gives up an influential establishment position by claiming that they want to create their own venture -- one which will improve upon what they did previously and present a new model of journalism -- I think that's a good thing, something to be encouraged. I'm naturally supportive of that type of a venture.

But it has quickly become apparent that The Politico is anything but a new model of journalism. Quite the contrary, at its best, it is simply a more obnoxious form of the typical Beltway media corruption. More perniciously, it seems to have decided to actively court some of the most irresponsible and toxic elements of our political culture.

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Along those lines, I received this e-mail from someone who asked that his/her name be withheld, but authorized the publication of the e-mail itself in full:

Dear Mr. Greenwald,

I'm writing as someone who appreciates your writing and viewpoints. Your previous discussions on web traffic in regards to the Victory Caucus I felt were quite good. Regarding your current post in which you send questions to Politico, I feel I might be of some service to you.

In my current occupation, I am a web metrics analyst. Through my company I have access to many reporting tools. One of them is Hitwise (you can check them out at www.hitwise.com.)

One of your questions [to Mike Allen] I can easily answer:

(3) Do you know what percentage of The Politico's overall traffic is accounted for by Drudge links?

Drudge provides generally about 65% of all of the politico's traffic. The next highest website providing traffic to Politoco is Google at about 3%. (See the attached file.)

It's rankings in the Politics grouping in Hitwise is very spiky, varying between number 60 and the number 4 spot in a jagged saw-tooth pattern (indicative of no natural audience). The spikes to high rankings coincide with Drudge traffic (see the daily spreadsheet.)

Additionally, while they rank highly on days when Drudge links (and lowly on days when they Drudge does not), their metrics for pageviews are quite low (again, indicating no natural audience.)

If I can be of any assistance in this or further explorations of web metrics, please feel free to contact me.

Would like to help in any way.

[name withheld]

P.S. -- I work for a very progressive company, and technically this could be construed as a misuse of company property. So feel free to use these in any way, but I cannot be attributed as a source, but Hitwise certainly could be, I guess.

There were spreadsheets attached with the underlying data. I don't vouch for the accuracy of any of those statements, but they seem worth passing on.

Allen or anyone else at The Politico could easily clear them up by responding to my interview questions.

(4) In my view, Crooks & Liars plays an invaluable role in the blogosphere. Not only do they diligently monitor seemingly all news shows at once to provide key video content to accompany much of the discussion that occurs among blogs, but they also provide a very powerful platform for relatively new and unknown bloggers, including several excellent ones currently posting there now. John Amato helped to generate a lot of attention for the blogging I was doing on the NSA scandal when I first began blogging, through multiple links and eventually by asking me to blog there periodically.

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John does an obscene amount of work to maintain that site, and its bandwith and personnel requirements mean that it has far more expenses than most other blogs. C&L is doing its once-a-year fundraiser and, in my view, it's definitely a venture worthy of support.

UPDATE:

(5) At some point -- I'm not sure when exactly -- some people started convincing themselves that adolescent, cliched, extremely self-conscious and contrived displays of above-it-all indifference was something virtuous, lofty and impressive. Whoever the person is who writes Gawker posts like that obviously thinks he's some sort of audaciously irreverent, super-outsider-rebel, but the reality is that he has a warm chair waiting for him on the Chris Matthews Show, where he will fit right in -- to strut around giggling about all the destructive corruption and dysfunction in our political and media institutions; mock as terribly uncool those who think that's problematic; and then bask in the sophistication and jaded coolness he and his fellow cackling panelists think they displayed.

It's no coincidence that the oh-so-way-out-there pioneer of super cool, very anti-establishment, "snarky" commentary which the Gawker author is trying desperately to emulate is now the Washington editor of Time.com (she'd talk about the Iraq war and mock Senators as nerds and make anal sex jokes! Wow - irreverent). That jaded coolness -- which its practitioners believe is a hallmark of inventive insight -- is actually as mainstream as it gets; it's also the defining, ovearching attribute of Beltway media emptiness.

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The Gawker cool guy summarizes the issue here as follows: our most prestigious and establishment mainstream political journalists who shape our country's political discussions are "just as mean and gossipy and wrong-headed as Matt Drudge" -- what kind of uncool, humorless losers would think that's noteworthy or objectionable?

It's one thing for someone to devote himself to pseudo-cool empty little chatter about the most tired and recycled Manhattan topics that fueled the culture pages of The Village Voice a few decades ago, and to do so in the most banal way (from a recent Gawker post: "The East Village is full of hookah bars and yet hookah bars are never full of East Villagers. What up?"). There's nothing wrong with snide and frivolous content per se, and there seems to be a market for it. That's all fine (I read and was amused by Wonkette years ago).

But it's actually cringe-inducing when those who do that then convince themselves that they're actually doing something provocative and edgy, and that only those who take themselves too seriously would find it inane, trite, and boring. That is painfully common: those who strut around showing off how they take nothing seriously end up taking themselves so seriously -- and being so impressed with themselves -- as a result. The fact that gossipy, giggly, petty even inaccurate chatter is perfectly appropriate for a place like Gawker does not mean that it is what ought to drive a newspaper that holds itself out, and is treated, as a credible journalistic source.

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Most notably of all, with our country waging extremely brutal wars and threatening still new ones, detaining tens of thousands of people around the world, and plagued by a deeply lawless and corrupt government, one of the most destructive (and, among our media, most commonplace) delusions is that those who exhibit cheap and snotty indifference to such matters -- who see the whole thing as a fun game to mock and belittle -- actually think that their cynicism and indifference is a sign of how interesting, insightful, and superior they are. I bet Norah O'Donnell and Gloria Borger and scores of other national pundits are faithful Gawker readers, because so many of them share that mentality.

UPDATE II:

(6) As I noted the other day, I thought it was commendable that Ana Marie Cox pushed her Time boss, Rick Stengel, to respond to criticisms of his appearance on the Chris Matthews Show (even if her pushing was very delicate and her follow-up non-existent). I also think it's commendable that she today linked to, and posted an excerpt from, this rather scathing criticism of Time's most prized pundits, from an article written by her husband (h/t Andrew).

It's nice to see, on Time's own website, Michael Kinsley's defense of the Bush administration in the U.S. attorney scandal referred to as an "ignorant flourish of capital insiderism" and have his "Columnist of the Year status" derided. And it's better still to see the commentary of Charles Krauthammer called "jowly" and held up as an example of the D.C. pundit class "swooning in chorus" over this scandal -- all under the Time logo.


Glenn Greenwald

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