In the short time he's been Attorney General, Michael Mukasey has become one of the most divisive political figures in the country. He's been in the middle of numerous controversies, steadfastly defending even the most radical Bush policies -- from torture to warrantless spying -- and demonstrating himself to be as blindly loyal to the White House as his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, and every bit as willing to subvert the powers of the DOJ for political ends.
Even political commentators who originally supported his nomination -- including one of his own law partners -- have changed their minds completely in a matter of a couple months, accusing him of "willful ignorance of instances of abuse" and "mischievous stonewalling to block proper Congressional investigation" and arguing that, under Mukasey, "the Justice Department has behaved and continues to behave not like a law enforcement agency, but like a white-collar criminal who has been caught in some very dirty dealings and is eager to obstruct the course of justice."
In the midst of these swirling and growing scandals, The Associated Press yesterday distributed a lengthy profile of Mukasey, by AP writer Lara Jakes Jordan, that appeared, as most AP articles do, in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and countless other papers. In it, we learn that Mukasey's mom and dad taught him to keep his head down and work hard. He "grew up in a lower-middle-class Bronx family as the son of a Belarus immigrant." As a child, he worked in a laundromat and as a messenger boy.
Also, his friends call him "Michael" more than "Mike." He has a "dry and self-deprecating wit." He loves to eat Ring Dings but is able to avoid gaining weight. One of his best friends is Rudy Giuliani, who explains that he's "a very regular guy -- no pretenses. He has a lot of humility for somebody who is as talented as he is."
At first, Mukasey was sometimes sad about how hard his new job was, but now he's come to understand and master it. Another one of his good friends is federal Judge Royce Lamberth, who reveals that Mukasey loves to parasail even though it can be quite a dangerous sport, but assures that he has more than enough skills to be an absolutely fantastic Attorney General.
Mukasey sacrificed a lucrative job at a large corporate law firm -- where he made $2 million in 21 months -- in order to serve the public and his country. But, sadly, even at the age of 66, he has to go back to work once he's done serving because he has "creditors" to pay. Mukasey loves to spend time with his wife, Susan, and his grandchildren. The end.
No critics, criticism or controversies were mentioned or even referenced. The only people quoted about Mukasey's performance were his two bestest friends -- Rudy Giluiani and Reagan-appointee Judge Lamberth.
AP did reference the speech Mukasey gave last week where, in the Q-and-A session that followed, he spat out multiple lies about the 9/11 attacks, our surveillance laws and the pending lawsuits against the telecoms in order to demand warrantless surveillance powers and telecom amnesty. But this is what AP said about that episode:
In San Francisco the next day, he choked up mentioning the Sept. 11 attacks to illustrate what might happen if the government cannot eavesdrop on the phone calls of suspected terrorists. "You've got 3,000 people who went to work that day and didn't come home to show for that," he said, pausing first to compose himself. The federal courthouse where he served as chief judge at the time of the attacks is just blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan.
Absolutely. That's an excellent and very accurate description of what the current spying controversy is about -- whether we should "eavesdrop on the phone calls of suspected terrorists." Mukasey and the government think we should; Bush critics don't want to eavesdrop on suspected terrorists; and that makes Mukasey really, really sad, because he knows first-hand the horrors of Terrorism. So much so that he almost cries when he thinks about those horrible people who, for some reason, want to stop him from eavesdropping on The Terrorists and who are trying to prevent him from protecting us all.
Finally, a psychoanalyst was quoted to explain how important it is that, after Alberto Gonazles, we have someone that we can really feel comfortable with -- someone who is humble, honest, smart and a real family man. Someone just like Michael Mukasey, our new Attorney General whom we can both love and trust, someone who will protect us and humbly teach us about honor, just as he does with his own grandchildren, whom he loves so very much.
This is why the Founders bestowed constitutional primacy to a free press. Just think about what the Government might be able to get away with -- the kind of creepy propaganda they would be able to disseminate -- without our ornery watchdogs serving as a vigilant check on the behavior of high political officials.
UPDATE: This afternoon at 2:00 p.m. EST, I'll be on the Ian Masters Show, along with Harper's Scott Horton (the above-referenced former law partner of Mukasey) to discuss the Attorney General. The show can be heard live here, and will be archived here. I'll also be on the Sam Seder Show today at 5:00 p.m. EST to discuss related issues.
As DCLaw1 notes in comments, this Mukasey article is not only a perfect object of derision, but also reflective of how our establishment press largely reports on political issues. As he says:
Character heuristics and superficial personality shorthand are reasonable substitutes for actual reporting of facts, ongoing issues, and behavior in action.
We don't need to know whether Mukasey in fact exhibited and continues to exhibit patent dishonesty and professional malfeasance, because we have a sufficient proxy that says the opposite: his life story and friends' accounts of what an admirable and humble man he is.
That's precisely why the discussion of the media's reverence of John McCain is so misguided. There is no point in asking the question whether their deep affection for him as a person colors their coverage of him substantively as a candidate, because the coverage is almost exclusively confined to the personal (see the statistics at the top of this post for proof of that).
Thus, to say that they love John McCain (or George Bush and Ronald Reagan) as men -- or that they personally despised Al Gore, John Kerry, Michael Dukakis, etc. -- is, by definition, to demonstrate that it colors their coverage, because their coverage is purely personality-based. That's what John Harris and Mark Halperin mean when they say that Drudge Rules Their World: the establishment media's coverage of political issues is grounded in what they call the "personality-obsessed politics that is the Freak Show's signature."
That dynamic, and the way in which it poisons our political life and results in endless canonizations of right-wing leaders of the type the AP spawned here, is a central topic of my new book. I'll write more about this later, but former CIA covert officer and current best-selling fiction writer Barry Eisler reviewed Great American Hypocrites today and said:
I just finished reading my advance copy of Glenn Greenwald's outstanding book, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics. It's the best book I've read on how the media works since Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. . . .
If you want to understand how politics and the media work today, how the Republican party has betrayed the principles it purports to defend, and how opinion is manipulated by appeals to fear, prejudice, and other irrational emotions, Great American Hypocrites is indispensable.
This darkly ludicrous Mukasey article isn't worth noting because it's unusual. It's worth noting precisely because it isn't.