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You Know New Orleans Is Screwed When …

From a New York Times story today:

President Bush noted that Air Canada had helped in evacuating residents, that Afghanistan had offered to send $100,000 to aid victims, and that Kuwait had volunteered to provide $400 million in oil and $100 million in humanitarian aid.

So a country we bombed the crap out of and currently have to maintain a major military presence in to avoid having it descend into complete and total anarchy is offering to help us out.

Next up: Iraq offers to help us rebuild New Orleans’ infrastructure!

The Message Machine is Out of Order

Having just watched Bush’s strained photo op with the governors of Mississippi and Alabama and the head of FEMA, I have to say that Hurricane Katrina has done something even the missing WMDs couldn’t do: Thrown the Bush message machine completely out of balance.

Today, Bush is almost admitting he screwed up (though still battling back against charges that the Army Corps of Engineers was underfunded and could have done more to shore of the New Orleans levees).

Meanwhile, he’s walking around in his no-jacket, sleeves-rolled-up post-9/11 “let’s get down to business” look, but I don’t think it’s going to work. (He was also talking about how he’s looking forward to hanging out with Trent Lott on his rebuilt porch, which struck me as sort of odd and insensitive.)

Most of all, though, Bush looks scared and out of control. (Perhaps he thought the hurricane would greet New Orleans with open arms and flowers?) Here he is at the photo op this morning:

Bush09_02_05.jpg

Contrast that with how he looked on September 14, 2001, standing on the ruins of the World Trade Center:

Bush09_14_01.jpg

Process, Not Product

It’s always fun watching the White House try and shift the goalposts on the war in Iraq. The rationale for the war started out, of course, as weapons of mass destruction/ties to terrorism/Saddam was a mean, nasty guy. (Also something about troops being showered with flowers and candy by nubile young women.) Then it was keeping the terrorists out of our streets. Then it was bringing democracy to the Middle East (which is turning out to be a long, hard slog). Then it was staying the course in order to demonstrate that we’ll stay the course.

The whole thing keeps getting more and more self-referential. The new incarnation is: We have to stay there to fight the terrorists blowing people up on the streets who weren’t blowing people up on the streets before we get there. (Yeah, I know Saddam was a bad guy, but I thought that’s why we wanted to get rid of him, not replace him with suicide bombers.)

Here’s Bush last Sunday:

This course is going to be difficult largely because the terrorists have chosen to wage war against a future of freedom. They are waging war against peace in Iraq. As democracy in Iraq takes root, the enemies of freedom, the terrorists, will become more desperate, more despicable, and more vicious.

Just last week, the terrorists called for the death of anyone, including women and the elderly, who supports the democratic process in Iraq. They have deliberately targeted children receiving candy from soldiers. They have targeted election workers registering Iraqis to vote. They have targeted hospital workers who are caring for the wounded. We can expect such atrocities to increase in the coming months because the enemy knows that its greatest defeat lies in the expression of free people, and freely enacted laws, and at the ballot box.

We will stand with the Iraqi people. It’s in our interest to stand with the Iraqi people. It’s in our interest to lay the foundation of peace. We’ll help them confront this barbarism, and we will triumph over the terrorist’s dark ideology of hatred and fear.

The other rationale floated recently is just as self-referential: Because soldiers have died in Iraq, we should stay and fight. Bush today: “In this war, some of our best citizens have made the ultimate sacrifice. We mourn the loss of every life. We pray for their loved ones. And we will honor their sacrifice by completing the mission and laying the foundation for peace.”

Of course, by that rationale, we should never stop doing anything, because we’ve already invested time and/or money doing it. (Can’t end those subsidies to groundhog ranches—think of all those groundhogs, and groundhog farmers, who have spent their lives groundhog farming!)

It’s sort of evil genius, though—if you make the war about the process of the war, rather than the outcome (or the reason you started it in the first place), there’s no logical way to argue against it. Then you can just suggest that everyone who doesn’t like the way it’s going wants to “cut and run,” or hates freedom, or hates puppies and flowers and candy and babies.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I’ll be moderating a panel tomorrow night (July 26th) at the 92nd St. Y/Makor about the resurgence of online media, featuring Bill Greuskin of the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Spiers of MediaBistro.com, and Anthony Perry of BlogAds. Come hear me try to figure out if there’s any real money to be made in this online media thing yet. (Addendum: Gawker.com picks up the listing. Apparently, the kids over there missed the memo that one of their bosses, Lockhart Steele, was orginally scheduled to be a panelist. Ah, well. It’s all fun and games until you publicly call your boss an idiot.)

Speaking of media, there’s a very interesting interview with my long-suffering girlfriend Lauren Cerand over at the Emerging Writers Network about book publicity. Very enlightening stuff for anyone pondering how to promote their book. (Lauren was instrumental in promoting All the President’s Spin, co-authored by yours truly).

Pressing the Flesh at the Press Club

Spent the weekend in Washington, DC, and last night I had the honor of picking up Campaign Desk’s award from the National Press Club (honorable mention for outstanding contribution to online journalism). Considering the number of awards they were handing out, it was an impressively well-run affair; they gave everyone time to thank who they wanted to thank, but didn’t tell anyone in advance they were going to be able to, which kept the speeches to whatever people could come with off the cuff (a pretty good approach, I think).

Here’s the dispatch I filed for the lovely and charming Wendi Kaufman over at The Happy Booker:

The crowd wasn’t as fashionable as the Academy Awards, but the speeches were a lot shorter. (All told, they handed out about two dozen awards in the space of about an hour and a half of presentations.) Lots of journo-lebrities, though apparently Bill Keller of the New York Times was stuck on the runway at LaGuardia and couldn’t make it. And I don’t think I saw a BlackBerry in use during the entire ceremony, which has to be some sort of etiquette record for the profession.

Pop Culture, No Fizz

Is it just me, or is pop culture even more derivative than usual this summer?

There’s the new crop of reality TV shows like “The Next Food Network Star” and “I Want to be a Hilton,” which pretty well finishes saturating the “Apprentice” knockoff market. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also “Hogan Knows Best,” featuring washed-up pro wrestler Hulk Hogan, and “Being Bobby Brown,” featuring washed-up singer Bobby Brown. (I thought reality celebrities were the D-list, but apparently the D-list sees reality celebrity-dom as a step up.)

And then there’s the top ten movies at the box office last week. The top five, and seven of the top ten, are sequels, remakes, or TV tie-ins:

“Batman Begins”
“Bewitched”
“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”
“Herbie: Fully Loaded”
“Land of the Dead”
“Madagascar”
“Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith”
“The Longest Yard”
“Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D”
“Cinderella Man”

And what are the big summer movies being hyped right now? “War of the Worlds” comes out this weekend; “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” opens July 15; and “Dukes of Hazzard” is out August 5.

It’s almost enough to make me excited about “Wedding Crashers.” Almost.

Gitmo: We’re Just Lookin’ For That Lost Shaker of Salt

From Dick Cheney’s interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN last night:

[Cheney] also defended the treatment of prisoners by the U.S. military at Guantanamo, telling Blitzer, “There isn’t any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we’re treating these people.”

They’re living in the tropics. They’re well fed. They’ve got everything they could possibly want,” the vice president said.

See? They’re just wastin’ away in Margaritaville!

My local police blotter

By popular demand, my blogging hiatus is over.

Here’s a fun little tidbit from my neighborhood police files: Christian Slater allegedly molesting a 52-year-old woman.

Slater staggered out of a taxi and groped the 52-year-old woman’s buttocks on Second Ave. at 93rd St. shortly after 2 a.m., cops said.

His victim—who had no idea that the hand on her bottom belonged to a Broadway star—wasn’t flattered and called 911, police said.

Minutes later, Slater, 35, who isappearing in “The Glass Menagerie,” was arrested a block away.

“This is bull----!” Slater whined to cops as they handcuffed him, a police source said.

“I didn’t do anything,” he fumed. “I’m suing you! I’m suing the Police Department! I’m suing everybody!”

Obviously, Slater isn’t a local. Anyone who’s been around here for more than a couple of weeks knows that 50-something women on the Upper East Side are the last people in the world you want to mess with—likely as not, they’re packing heat in their Birkin bags.

Worlds collide

The New York Post‘s Page Six (one of the bigger NYC gossip columns, for those who don’t know what I’m talking about) has done what some said would never happen: cited the Columbia Journalism Review. The item, which ran yesterday, is a response to Hud Morgan, a rival gossip columnist who we interviewed at CJR Daily last week.

Perhaps I’ve been consuming too much media (or maybe I just need a vacation), but I find this hysterical. After all, I thought we at CJR were propping up the decaying cathedral of mainstream journalism ...

TV in the Dark

I have an article just published by CJR (the magazine) about the Nielsen television ratings. Here’s the key excerpt:

The central problem is that what Nielsen was originally set up to do — measure programs broadcast by the big networks to viewers who watch in their homes — is increasingly no longer the norm. Just as the Internet has transformed print media, technology is radically transforming the way we watch TV. Consumers can watch television without their television sets, by using broadband Internet connections to stream video online, or even watching on their cell phones. Digital video recorders, now in about 6 percent of homes, have made what the industry calls “time-shifted viewing” much easier, even for those who used to leave their VCR’s blinking “12:00.” And video-on-demand, once the realm only of pay-per-view movies and sporting events, has begun allowing viewers to watch shows, including evening news broadcasts, that they once could only watch in real time. Television is, increasingly, an on-demand medium. ...

While the television industry has always griped about Nielsen’s various shortcomings, this is something entirely different, and unsettling to the television world.

You can read the whole thing over at CJR.

Wisconsin Public Radio

I’ll be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s MediaTalk today at 6 p.m. eastern time, discussing the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s new report on the state of the news media. You can listen live over the Web.

Monday night political football

I’ll be appearing as a guest on “Dennis Miller” on CNBC this coming Monday, the 14th. It airs at 9:00 PM Eastern/6:00 Pacific, and repeats at midnight Eastern/9:00 PM Pacific.

In the meantime, you can check out my review of the “Inside the Blogs” segment on CNN’s “Inside Politics” over on CJR Daily. (It isn’t pretty.)

Set your TiVos to “torture”!

The panel I was on a few weeks ago discussing the torture scandal is going to be broadcast on C-SPAN 2’s “Book TV” this weekend. It airs at 9 PM eastern on Saturday, and repeats at 9:15 AM eastern on Sunday (because who really wants to watch those silly Sunday morning talk shows, anyway?).

Slush, or Mud?

For those of you in new York this weekend who aren’t tromping around through the melting slush in Central Park for a final glipse of those slightly campy orange gate thingies, you should check out a new production of Mud by Maria Irene Fornes. It’s put together by Zoo Theatre, an up-and-coming theater company put together by a couple of friends who attended the same left-coast school I did. I went to the opening last night, and it was great. This is their second production, and I’m sensing that they have a weakness for plots that involve firearms. But then, judging from what’s on television and movie screens these days, who doesn’t?

You can buy tickets here.

The day the blogosphere jumped the shark

I think that the blogosphere has officially jumped the shark.

I’m just grossed out by how frenzied everyone is over the “Jeff Gannon” and Eason Jordan brouhahas. In Gannon’s case, that’s taken the form of (as a colleague put it) metaphorically parading the head of vanquished rival around the village. And Jordan’s case is almost worse; the guy apparently said something pretty dumb, and then quickly walked it back. Heck, we still don’t know exactly what he said (and given that Jordan is pleading “context,” that strikes me as pretty critical). When the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, which is about as bloodthirsty as they come, thinks you don’t deserve to get canned, you probably don’t deserve it.

Apparently, what the blogsophere does best (and is proudest of) these days is taking scalps—Trent Lott, Dan Rather, the reporter formerly known as Jeff Gannon, and now Eason Jordan. And that, to my mind, isn’t productive or useful. It’s just vengeful.

Blogs are, increasingly, no better than the worst partisan pundits. I’m all for holding journalists accountable. But instead of a collective conversation elevating the discourse about journalism, blogs have become a vehicle for taking cheap shots and conducting personal attacks, justified by thiny disguised partisanship. It’s no better than the media bias folks, who are little more than glorified bullies trying to intimidate reporters into cutting their guy a break.

In some ways, of course, blogs have always been this way—but on balance, I tended to think they were a force for good. No longer.

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