Jul
14
2011

The Strangeness of Afghan Culture

The end of a Wall Street Journal article (7/14/11) on a new report on Afghan deaths highlights the peculiarity of their culture: Of civilian casualties, 2 percent were caused by night raids, slightly down from last year, with 30 fatalities, the report says. Night raids have been a contentious issue between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. military officers and civilian leaders. The raids are sensitive in Afghanistan, because foreign soldiers burst into civilian homes, where strangers are unwelcome in the country's conservative Islamic traditions. What a strange place. I guess in a civilized society, when a foreign soldier bursts […]

Jun
09
2011

Libya's Lousy PR

One theme of the coverage of the NATO bombing of Libya is that the Libyan government is lousy at propaganda. It was somewhat jarring, though, to see all of these headlines in the space of two days this week. It's worth pointing out– as some of these stories (and others) do– that the NATO bombing has intensified over the past few days, making these 'no dead civilians here' pieces seem curiously timed. I guess this could be seen as a message to the Libyan government: This is how the professionals do it. New York Times (6/7/11): "Libya Stokes Its Machine […]

Jun
07
2011

Reading the Headlines When the Left Wins

Two elections, different outcomes, different headlines at the Wall Street Journal (6/6/11). When the left loses: Portugal Decisively Ends Leftist Rule Portugal on Sunday voted decisively to end six years of leftist rule, electing the country's main conservative party and boosting prospects for austerity measures tied to a $114 billion aid package from the EU and IMF. But when the left wins: Peru Votes in Divisive Runoff for President Voters in one of the world's most dynamic economies went to the polls Sunday to choose between two divisive presidential candidates. The latter piece included this: "Financial markets, which have been […]

May
25
2011

'Obama Can't Win' Author Sees 2012 Defeat

On the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, conservative pundit Shelby Steele lays out the argument that Barack Obama's blackness is a unique asset that makes him difficult to beat in 2012. The argument–which, on some level, is worth taking seriously–is that "his presidency flatters America to a degree that no white Republican can hope to compete with. He literally validates the American democratic experiment, if not the broader Enlightenment that gave birth to it." You can see how this might be true for a segment of the American population–I wrote in 2007 about pundits who made such arguments–but it's unclear […]

Mar
16
2011

On Islamist Terrorism, WSJ Entitled to Its Own Opinions–But Not Its Own Facts

Rep. Peter King

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial (3/11/11) defended the Peter King hearings on Islamist terrorism against "our friends on the left [who] are busy portraying them as the McCarthy hearings and Palmer Raids rolled into one." The editors argued that in fact, the focus on Muslims is justified based on the facts: Since 9/11, there have been more than 50 known cases, involving about 130 individuals, in which terrorist plots were hatched on American soil. These include plots to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, an office tower in Dallas, a federal court house in Illinois, the Washington, […]

Feb
28
2011

WSJ and the Disappearing 'Gasland' Quote

The documentary Gasland was up for an Academy Award last night. Director Josh Fox has been writing about the gas industry's campaign against the film, which is a critical look at hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." That controversy found its way to the Wall Street Journal on Friday, where a story byBenCasselman was posted that included an interesting admission. As Press Action noted: In the original version of the article, Casselman, who has covered the energy industry at the Journal for several years, quoted Range Resources-Appalachia director of public affairs Matt Pitzarella as saying: "We have to stop blaming documentaries and […]

Jan
07
2011

Center Moves to the Center, Courting the Middle

Obama's selection of conservative Democrat William Daley as his new chief of staff didn't surprise anyone.So reporters were left to explain the political shift behind the move. Some saw little movement at all, since Daley's political views would seem more or less in line with his predecessor Rahm Emanuel. The Washington Post (1/7/11)offered this somewhat confused explanation: His moderate views and Wall Street credentials make him an unexpected choice for a president who has railed against corporate irresponsibility and tried, with limited success, to appease restive liberals who think he has not been tough enough on bankers. Actually, the opposite […]

Oct
18
2010

'Capitalism Saved the Miners'? Part Two

The emerging hero of the Chilean miners' story–in Latin America and elsewhere, if not in the U.S.–is Luis Urzua, a topographer who took a job at the San José mines as a shift foreman while awaiting the start of new a job in his field. NASA officials working on the rescue called Urzua "a natural leader," but his most important accomplishment was getting the 33 miners through the first 17 days of their crisis, when all they had was enough food for two days, dirty water and no idea if a rescue effort was even underway. Besides implementing food rationing […]

Oct
15
2010

'Capitalism Saved the Miners'? Only in Wonder Land

After the miners' rescue Wednesday, talk in Chile turned to mine safety and the conduct of Compania Minera San Esteban, the corporation that owns the San Jose mines where the miners were trapped. On Thursday, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera publicly addressed safety issues, vowing "fundamental changes in how businesses treat their workers." Stories about San Esteban's horrible record are legion (e.g., here and here). The company has been host to a number of deaths at its mines in recent years, and accusations of safety violations including the charge that it ignored orders to install safety equipment–a condition of its reopening […]

Sep
28
2010

It's Publishers' Greed, Not E-Books, That's Pinching Authors

Jeffrey Trachtenberg, writing for the Wall Street Journal (9/28/10), reports in "Authors Feel Pinch in Age of E-Books" that electronic publishing is ruining authors: It has always been tough for literary fiction writers to get their work published by the top publishing houses. But the digital revolution that is disrupting the economic model of the book industry is having an outsize impact on the careers of literary writers. Priced much lower than hardcovers, many e-books generate less income for publishers. And big retailers are buying fewer titles. As a result, the publishers who nurtured generations of America's top literary-fiction writers […]

Jan
21
2010

Pedophiles, Terrorists and the Massachusetts Senate Race

An illuminating account of how conservatives won the Massachusetts Senate race (Washington Independent, 1/20/10) singled out an op-ed by Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal (1/14/10) as having energized citizens to vote against Martha Coakley. And, honestly, the piece does provide plenty of legitimate ammunition for the anti-Coakley side. The op-ed centered on a case in which three members of the Amirault family, which ran a pre-school in Massachusetts, were sent to prison based on children's accounts of seemingly impossible sexual abuse. (Read the column if you want to see the grisly yet preposterous examples.) Rabinowitz, who has long […]

Aug
28
2009

WSJ 'Scumbag' Columnist Gets Predictably Slimy

Noticing that Democratic strategist Mark Penn "is the Wall Street Journal's 'Microtrend'-spotting columnist" and "also CEO of PR giant Burson-Marsteller," Gawker blogger Hamilton Nolan (8/26/09) posits that "only a scumbag would abuse the former to drum up business for the latter." Alas, "Scumbag spotted!" is Nolan's cry when writing that Penn's latest (old, and none too insightful) "Microtrend" column is about "glamping"–glamorous camping. It ran last weekend. By Monday, according to an internal email obtained by Gawker, Burson was already trying to recruit companies from the industry featured in the column as clients. Nolan goes on to remind us that […]

Aug
25
2009

The Downside to Murdoch's Plan to Control Online News

The problem with Rupert Murdoch's proposal to create an online news consortium, in which major publishers would all band together to put their news content behind pay walls (L.A. Times, 8/21/09), is that it's not illegal to discuss news events online. And you don't want to make it illegal to discuss news events online. And yet, absent a law forbidding such discussions, there's nothing to stop someone from buying subscriptions to the various pay news sites and starting a website (like this one, but more so) in which they write about what they've learned from them–thus offering for free what […]