Monday, January 02, 2006


Ann Coulter, an example of a "Conservative" commentator

(This Column will appear in The Albany Journal for 1/5/2006)

I was disappointed to discover when I came back from vacation last week that Eddie Byrd had folded his tents and closed down the Albany Metro News, nee, Albany Northwest News. During the year plus tenure of the News, Albany was well served by its reporting- most notably, former Albany Journal staffer Zack Hudson- and its editorial commentary, both of which regularly challenged Albany’s daily newspaper to do a better job. Albany needs alternative voices reporting news, and without those checks and balances on the mistakes and omissions of our only daily paper, the public frequently misses out on opportunities to learn the truth about stories that matter to us.

When I travel, one of my pleasures is to pick up the local daily paper. Last week on a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado it was the Denver Post. Each morning, in zero degree weather, I would don my long johns, jeans, sweatshirt, ski jacket, boots, and gloves, then trudge out in the kind of stillness you only get at 9,600 feet in the dead of winter. Stepping around the piles of snow, I would follow my daily ritual and pull one glove off to put two quarters in the Post’s box. There’s something special about having a daily paper with news, comics, sports, commentary, movie reviews, and one of my favorite sections- letters to the editor- on the breakfast table accompanying the orange juice, pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs, that my Dad or sister would whip up.

I like newspapers, but just like everything else in life, there are good ones, bad ones, and many in between. The quality of the paper obviously depends on the quality of the editors and reporters. Within the journalism profession, there are two kinds: hacks; and those with intellectual curiosity. The hacks can be depended on to print news releases word for word, never questioning their veracity or giving readers any perspective or analysis. I call this news of the “he said” genre. For instance, a local paper might report: “This morning, Special Prosecutor Kelly Burke stated in a press release: ‘Unlike defense attorneys, who take an oath only to their client, these public servants [District Attorneys] take an oath to do justice.’”

The hack reporter won’t lift a finger to check to see if that is a true statement. The curious reporter will pick up the telephone and call a criminal defense attorney. The extra effort will unearth a news nugget- defense attorneys do not take an oath to a client. In fact, defense attorneys take the same oath that prosecutors and all other attorneys take when they are sworn in as members of the bar and officers of the court: “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Georgia.” By going the extra foot (not even a yard or a mile), the curious reporter will discover two things: defense lawyers don’t take oaths to their clients, and this particular prosecutor is either woefully ignorant or deliberately deceptive. The curious reporter will then follow up to determine whether the special prosecutor deliberately misstated the law or whether he was just ignorant and careless.

Just for the record, Mr. Burke actually did make the above statement in a December 16, 2005 press release in which he responded to public remarks of Ralph Scoccimaro, one of the defense attorneys in the Rehberg/Bagnato case. Considering the spectacular legal defects in the indictment Mr. Burke drafted and his failure to speak to alleged “victims” of the crimes in the indictment, i.e., Congressman Sanford Bishop, who was unaware he was the “victim” of a crime until he read about it in the newspaper, this is further evidence that this prosecution will be an unmitigated disaster and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The same week that Eddie Byrd called it quits, one of my favorite columnists, William Raspberry, retired after 40 years of punditry and commentary. Raspberry stands out for one laudatory characteristic- on any given subject, he took the facts as he found them, and voiced his opinion based on what is, not on what he wished things to be. You didn’t have to go very many inches from his columns on the editorial pages to find paid shills who, 99 percent of the time, could be predicted to follow the official dogma, cherry picking facts or ignoring them completely.

Unfortunately for the sake of intelligent debate and civilized discourse, it is usually only columnists like Mr. Raspberry who base their columns on facts. Most of the so-called “conservative” columnists (I have yet to find anything about this country they wish to conserve other than millionaires’ estates) have sold out their intellectual birthrights in order to secure themselves lucrative niches in the right wing media world. Rich Lowry, Cal Thomas, and Victor Davis Hanson would probably be perfectly rational in face to face conversation- Ann Coulter's recent appearances on Bill Maher's Real Time show seem to indicate that she's no longer in that category, but when placed on a national stage, they will willingly perform a temporary frontal lobotomy in order to parrot the Republican National Committee’s (a/k/a Karl Rove) daily talking points.

This bold generalization is easily provable simply by looking up what liberal and conservative columnists write now as opposed to what they wrote when a Democrat was president. The easiest parsing topic is deficits. In the Clinton era, deficits were considered to be a product of irresponsible, “tax and spend” (remember that phrase?) Democrats, and the 1994 Republican Contract with America promised a vote on a Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. Suddenly, after consecutive $400 billion plus annual deficits and not even a promise of a balanced budget (Bush promises only to halve the deficit by 2008- but when he fails, he will be still be an ex-president flying off to lucrative private speaking (!) gigs), the “borrow and spend” Republicans who now control both houses of Congress and the Presidency are immune from criticism of conservative commentators. They would rather cut off their right arms than suggest cutting even a penny from an unneeded missile defense system or advanced jet fighter in a world where our enemies have inflicted the most harm using 19th century bombs and knives. Were a Democrat in power, this fiscal insanity would earn them the full fury and ceaseless tirades from the right wing keyboard warriors.

It is a shame that so many conservative commentators have sold out for the sake of fame and fortune, because there are good debates to be had out there on different sides (not “both,” because there are more than two sides to many issues) of every topic- abortion, military intervention in the Middle East, deficit reduction, school vouchers, and so forth. But people like William Buckley and William Safire aren’t around anymore to share in the debate or shape it. You can’t debate with people who will demonize their opponents rather than articulate a position which they will support with facts and logic. For instance, Michelle Malkin, who would go broke if she were objective, recently wrote:

“There's a far Left brouhaha in Britain over Craig Murray, formerly the UK's ambassador to Uzbekistan. He's trying to sell a new book by whipping moonbat bloggers into a frenzy with claims of British-outsourced torture in Uzbekistan.”

An articulate and logical conservative columnist might, somehow, make an argument that the policy of the U.S. and Britain of sending human beings to Uzbekistan to be tortured or murdered is a good thing for our nations or the cause of world peace. Or he or she might actually visit Uzbekistan and interview any of the surviving “renditioned” suspects to determine whether the stories of torture and murder have a basis in fact. But using phrases like “far Left” or “moonbat bloggers” doesn’t promote discourse. It’s intellectual laziness to use a label instead of facts and logic, and this is the difference between a Rich Lowry or Cal Thomas,both of whom are inflicted upon us by our daily paper, and a William Raspberry, who will be missed.


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