What would it take to get a Washington Post op-ed columnist fired?

by Henry on July 13, 2008

“Duncan Black”:http://www.eschatonblog.com/2008_07_06_archive.html#858626388020530189 links to Amity Shlaes at the Washington Post “telling us”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/11/AR2008071102543.html?hpid=opinionsbox1 that Americans _are too_ whiners. As he says, having people like Shlaes and Gramm mouthing off is a public service in a general election (if only McCain would nominate David Bernstein as a senior surrogate, my happiness would be complete). But talk of Shlaes reminds me of her notorious 2005 “FT column”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/73ac2964-50fa-11dd-b751-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1

It is early to be getting partisan about New Orleans. …Iraq has not caused the US to botch Katrina – either the preparation or response. On the contrary, the fact that the country and President Bush personally were already mobilised for disaster has saved lives.

the US was prepared for Katrina. All the old and new federal offices worked together and confronted the storm early. Nearly two days before Katrina hit New Orleans, the president made millions available to Louisiana by declaring the state an official disaster area. In a press conference on Sunday morning, he instructed the country to listen for any alerts – and warned straightforwardly that he could not “stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf coast communities”. On Sunday too, Alabama and Mississippi received access to cash when they in turn were declared disaster areas. Citizens of New Orleans with special needs were instructed to go to the Superdome.

Very shortly after writing this appalling piece of hackery, Ms. Shlaes ceased to be a columnist at the _Financial Times._1 I don’t think that it’s _at all_ unwarranted to surmise that the column and Ms. Shlaes’ rapid departure were connected.

So we may possibly have some idea of what it would take to get a columnist fired at the FT. I’d be interested to know what it would take to get a persistent vendor of mendacious and malignant tripe such as, say, Charles Krauthammer, fired from the _Washington Post_? By the man’s own admission, his credibility is problematic. A few months ago, we passed the fifth anniversary of his “statement”:http://www.aei.org/events/filter.,eventID.274/transcript.asp that

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

Indeed.

1 A “search”:http://search.ft.com/search?sortBy=gadatearticle&queryText=%22amity+shlaes%22&aje=true by date suggests that Shlaes produced one more column (which tried to blame the Katrina shambles on the Evils of Federalism, directly contradicting what she had said the previous week), a piece for the wealth section, and a book review over the next couple of weeks, and was then gone forever.

{ 42 comments }

1

John Emerson 07.13.08 at 8:15 pm

Tina Weymouth’s niece now publishes the Washington Post.

Some say that that is malicious gossip, and I intended it that way.

But why? Isn’t it a good thing for your niece to be the publisher of one of the world’s major, if not really great, newspapers?

Yeah, yeah, sexist.

Reposted from the Talking Heads thread below, because it’s relevant.

2

The Lounsbury 07.13.08 at 8:47 pm

Ah Washington hired that lunatic? I believe it was well understood all around that her insane last two editorials got her invited to move on with her career.

3

JP Stormcrow 07.13.08 at 9:00 pm

With the recent WaPo I think it would be if you wrote an OpEd suggesting something along the lines of there being a cancer in the presidency, that a dangerous lawlessness had overtaken the executive branch and that the current Washington establishment had become so cozy and privileged that they no longer asked the hard questions and were going to be a laughingstock of history. Maybe end by suggesting that Washington had been wrecked by those who had no right to do so and that everyone in town seemed to enjoy being lied to.

4

a 07.13.08 at 9:33 pm

What is it with the political Left always wanting journalists to
be fired for writing things which the Left prefer they
not write? DeLong is a regular offender but far from the
sole one.

5

Cryptic Ned 07.13.08 at 9:44 pm

My theory is that the political Left is usually more opposed than the political Right is to journalists writing things that are obvious lies, pointless non sequiturs, or insults to the audience.

6

Maurice Meilleur 07.13.08 at 9:58 pm

Don’t be silly, Ned. ‘Truth’, ‘coherence’, and ‘civility’ are just partisan preferences, not marks of quality in a writer.

7

engels 07.13.08 at 10:11 pm

Delong is on the Left? Who knew.

8

DC 07.13.08 at 10:24 pm

And hopefully if Krauthammer’s bullshit gets removed from the WaPo it will also be removed from the Irish Times, where they seem to have a house rule that one obnoxious North American right winger must always balance its general tone of pale liberalism (since Krauthammer’s sundicated column was drafted in to replace Mark Steyn’s drivel).

9

Steve LaBonne 07.14.08 at 12:03 am

Delong is on the Left? Who knew.

Clearly, you’re not keeping up with the new, improved political spectrum. Voila:

“Obama Supporters on the Far Left Cry Foul”

That is an actual honest-to-God New York Times headline (the “far left” is composed, it seems, of people who care about the Fourth amendment).
You can’t make this stuff up.

10

Sam Jackson 07.14.08 at 3:46 am

Coincidentally, I was rustling through some old issues of the NY Review of books and came upon this on my train ride today.
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/article-preview?article_id=20777
Apparently she managed to persuade Harper Collins to publish a book on how Roosevelt was responsible for prolonging the depression and the sorry state of the american economy in the forties.

11

David Bernstein 07.14.08 at 4:32 am

Assuming there is not some other David Bernstein you are equally obsessed with for no obvious reason, why would McCain hire me as his surrogate when I’m not even a Republican? Oh, but I forgot, you don’t let accuracy get in the way of snarkiness. See http://tinyurl.com/57tevs

12

Anne AltBernsteinHouse 07.14.08 at 4:58 am

Would, I, Ann Altbernsteinhouse have a script that enabled me, Ann Altbernsteinhouse, to track mentions of my name (Ann Altbernsteinhouse) at CT with whom I, Ann Altbernsteinhouse, got into a kerfluffle with six months ago? Obsessed, me, Ann Altbernsteinhouse?!

13

Order of Magnitude 07.14.08 at 7:49 am

From a compendium of left-wing “tolerance”, vol LXII:
– journalist writes things disagreeable to the left, she should be fired

Why only fired, I ask? Why not send her to a reeducation camp where she can learn the one truth and stop “writing things that are obvious lies, pointless non sequiturs, or insults to the audience”.

14

bad Jim 07.14.08 at 8:34 am

I like this: it’s certainly the case that lies and ignorance are “Things disagreeable to the left”, and it’s absolutely delicious that the right finds them unexceptionable.

15

nick s 07.14.08 at 8:55 am

Let’s consider two high-profile departures from the op-ed pages: Robert Scheer, LA Times (ostensibly for costcutting; paper soon after hired Jonah Goldberg and Max Boot); John Tierney, NY Times (unsuccessful replacement for Safire, ultimately succeeded by Bill Kristol, still employed by NYT).

So, there’s yer answer.

Shlaes’ guest op-ed is part of what appears to be ‘How Low Can We Go At WaPo Month’. There have been some stinker guest op-eds the past few weeks, along with ‘Chandra Levy Revisited, a bit of journalism that I hope has its budget disclosed to readers by the ombudsman.

16

J Thomas 07.14.08 at 1:00 pm

“Delong is on the Left? Who knew.”

I knew. Delong has been criticising Bush for a long time, which puts him solidly on the Left.

If you started criticising Bush last year for making the Party look bad it doesn’t put you on the Left. But if you criticised him in 1985 it does.

17

engels 07.14.08 at 1:09 pm

Delong has been criticising Bush for a long time, which puts him solidly on the Left.

No, it just means that he is not certifiably insane.

18

rea 07.14.08 at 1:15 pm

If you started criticising Bush last year for making the Party look bad it doesn’t put you on the Left. But if you criticised him in 1985 . . .

Nobody had heard of George Bush in ’85. Heck, his dad was pretty obscure back then (yeah, pre-Cheney the VP was often obscure).

19

jcasey 07.14.08 at 1:26 pm

There are two basic things a columnist ought to have: She needs to have (1) a solid and non-hacktackular grasp on facts and (2) a non-sophistical sense of how to construct an argument. Most columnists at the Post, and everywhere else, lack both of these. Perhaps at this point, as some have suggested, punditry ought to be abandoned in favor a system of revolving contributors who (1) have specific knowledge or expertise; and (2) know how to put together an argument. It boggles my mind that our national discourse is driven by people without any particular expertise in anything other than driving our national discourse.

20

ajay 07.14.08 at 1:27 pm

17: I suspect quite a lot of people were criticising Bush in 1985. That would be while he was still an alcoholic, and running dodgy businesses like Arbusto and Spectrum 7. But I defy you, J, to find a statement from Prof DeLong on the issue, given that in 1985 he was a grad student concentrating on his dissertation…

21

jim 07.14.08 at 1:32 pm

What would it take to get a New Yorker cover cartoonist fired?

22

J Thomas 07.14.08 at 2:59 pm

Oops. I meant 2005.

23

David Bernstein 07.14.08 at 3:04 pm

“Would, I, Ann Altbernsteinhouse have a script that enabled me, Ann Altbernsteinhouse, to track mentions of my name (Ann Altbernsteinhouse) at CT with whom I, Ann Altbernsteinhouse, got into a kerfluffle with six months ago? Obsessed, me, Ann Altbernsteinhouse?!”

That’s prety funny. I guess you haven’t never heard of Technorati or Google blogsearch, pretty standard tools bloggers use to track citations. But you correctly assumed that I don’t actually read Crooked Timber, which would be another logical way of coming across this post.

24

novakant 07.14.08 at 3:14 pm

criticising Bush for a long time, which puts him solidly on the Left.

There once was a day when the word “left” was being used to actually denote something related to policy choices and general political convictions. Now it has been partly “the left’s” fault that the word has become rather vacuous (Tony Blair on the left, a “socialist” even? gimme a break), but simply using it as some sort of arbitrary demarcation line between the GOP and the Dems beats even the best efforts of New Labour in its insipidness. Also, if the word is used in such a manner, then about 93.7% of the whole world are “on the left”.

25

novakant 07.14.08 at 3:15 pm

criticizing Bush for a long time, which puts him solidly on the Left.

There once was a day when the word “left” was being used to actually denote something related to policy choices and general political convictions. Now it has been partly “the left’s” fault that the word has become rather vacuous (Tony Blair on the left, a “soci@list” even? gimme a break), but simply using it as some sort of arbitrary demarcation line between the GOP and the Dems beats even the best efforts of New Labour in its insipidness. Also, if the word is used in such a manner, then about 93.7% of the whole world are “on the left”.

26

roger 07.14.08 at 3:20 pm

I like the order of magnitude’s suggestion about re-education camps. Actually, its usually called vocational retraining. For instance, you prove totally incompetent as a welder and your welds have to all be done over. This does not mean that you are shuffled over to some other project to continue welding. It usually means, instead, that you try, say, emptying garbage cans, or perhaps get a job on an assembly line.

Now, I know in the labor protected racket called right wing think tankery, this is considered unjust and unkind. I like that about the right. They have a union-like loyalty to all their minions, and try to take care of them. Of course, unlike the welder case, the right has the luxury of serving a constituency that not only is not perturbed by being mislead, but actually demands that it be lied to regularly. On national security grounds, if nothing else. This is a rather unique situation – is it fraud if the clientele knows it is fraud and demands fraudulence?

This brings about a clash of standards. According to AEI standards, for instance, that Schlaes doesn’t know how a recession is defined, for instance, or that she does know and lies about it, makes her all the better as a journalist. But the hard core commie left would suggest that perhaps we all would be better served if she applied the talents she does have – for propaganda, lying, and sophistry – to another field instead of journalism or economic commentary. Entertainment might be a better choice. Perhaps she could become, say, a Fox News Host.

There’s a fundamental issue here that has never really been treated seriously by political theorists. Even Straussians, who condone lying by the powerful when it is for the good of the people, never envisioned a group that demanded to be lied to – as the right’s core constituency does quite openly and frequently. I guess you can call them the pre-brainwashed set. And you are right, re-education, or just plain education, seems the only answer for this group.

27

Dave 07.14.08 at 3:50 pm

I believe there is a time-honoured American term for people like these: doughfaces.

28

robertdfeinman 07.14.08 at 3:52 pm

I want to say something defending free speech, especially when it is composed of lies.

The US has a long tradition of such efforts. In fact the original broadsheets were designed so that propagandists of all stripes could get their message out. Did people reading the Daily Worker in the early 1900’s expect to see an article bashing labor?

The problem is that people have been misled into thinking that the major media outlets are “impartial”. They’re not. They are all owned by, large, powerful, business interests whose own concerns are more allied with those on the right and with other conservatives.

In the USSR people understood what Pravda was about why is it so hard for those in the US to make the some connections when it comes to WaPo or NBC news?

Shlaes is a sock puppet for the Scaife, Koch, Olin libertarian movement that underwrites most of the conservative think tanks. Apparently they have managed to take over much of the news operations of the NY Times and Wapo as well.

Here is her dossier on Media Transparency:
http://www.mediatransparency.org/grantsearchresults.php?searchString=Amity%20Shlaes

All that is needed is for these publications to print a truth in advertising claim in each issue:
“The Washington Post is a full partner in the vast right wing conspiracy”.

Of course it is our duty to point out the bias since they have declined to do so themselves.

29

Righteous Bubba 07.14.08 at 3:55 pm

Also, if the word is used in such a manner, then about 93.7% of the whole world are “on the left”.

Why that would make America extra-super-duper exceptional.

30

Katherine 07.14.08 at 6:30 pm

#28, you are making the mistake of confusing projecting (and even propagandising for) a particular point of view and lying. One can present facts in a certain to get your particular point of view across without presenting false facts.

31

Dan 07.14.08 at 7:01 pm

It boggles my mind that our national discourse is driven by people without any particular expertise in anything other than driving our national discourse.

Who would think that state propaganda organs would publish propagandists?

32

jcasey 07.14.08 at 7:25 pm

#30 writes: One can present facts in a certain to get your particular point of view across without presenting false facts.

As long as one’s facts are not bereft of context, distorted, or otherwise misleading. Zev Chafets defended Rush Limbaugh by saying that the incendiary things he says are not factually false, so it’s ok. That’s a pretty sorry view.

33

rea 07.14.08 at 7:28 pm

Tina Weymouth’s niece now publishes the Washington Post.

Which would explain why the Post has Stopped Making Sense.

34

robertdfeinman 07.14.08 at 7:31 pm

Katherine:
Part of the rightwing authoritarian mindset is that the ends justify the means. So if lying is necessary to achieve one’s objectives then so be it.

Honesty and using facts are just some sort of leftist weakness. How can one prove one’s points when the facts contradict your thesis? You can’t, so lying is a necessity. The thing about the this type of person is that they don’t see any difficulty. If you’ve never read it, try Harry Frankfort’s book “On Bullshit”, he explains the difference between a liar and a bullshitter.

One knows that they are lying and knows what the truth is, but choses to ignore it, the other says whatever is necessary to win an argument.

The rightwing has both types operating at the moment.

35

SG 07.14.08 at 7:38 pm

My Grandmother has been criticizing Bush forever. She is so left-wing she voted for Thatcher, thinks that white English people will “give those blacks what they deserve one day”and is looking forward to “that black chap” winning the election in November.

My Father has been criticizing Bush forever. He is so left-wing that he considers himself English (not British) and his own son can’t be “English” because he has a Spanish grandfather. Further, my Father thinks “they” should build many more prisons, that women are fair game as soon as they start menstruating, and that all gypsies are criminals (He can’t understand why his mate hates Jews though).

My Mother has been criticizing Bush forever. She is so left-wing that she rang me yesterday to spend 10 minutes complaining about the new “wave” of Philipino immigrants (in Adelaide!), and like all good radical feminists she thinks that 15 year old schoolgirls gang-raped by sailors were “asking for it”.

It’s good to see that criticizing Bush qualifies them to be in such an elite camp of latte-sipping liberals. I shall have to tell them about what commies they have become, by dint of this revolutionary and radical political position they have adopted. I’m sure Brad de Long will be looking forward to many enlightened conversations with them!

36

Linda Margaret 07.14.08 at 9:00 pm

Thank heavens we can cross party lines in criticising individuals-well, at least some of us (Bush, ironically, included) can.

37

Davis X. Machina 07.15.08 at 1:13 am

Delong is on the Left? Who knew?

Brad ‘Property Is Theft’ Delong? Who didn’t know?

38

Katherine 07.15.08 at 7:27 am

#32 and #34 – yes, yes I know that. I was trying to point out to robertdfeinman that… oh never mind, I missed the snark.

39

JP Stormcrow 07.15.08 at 2:28 pm

fired from the Washington Post?

I think you have actually framed this wrong. To be “fired” assumes some manner of job, some form of entitlement. I’m sure our conservative friends will join us in agreeing that being able to write for the Post’s OpEd page is a rare privilege, one that in all fairness should be earned anew each week, meritocracy rules after all. So the appropriate question is what have Krauthammer and Shlaes etc. actually done to continue to earn their spots over thousands of worthy contenders?

40

Order of Magnitude 07.16.08 at 2:50 am

#28: “All that is needed is for these publications to print a truth in advertising claim in each issue: “The Washington Post is a full partner in the vast right wing conspiracy”. […] Of course it is our duty to point out the bias since they have declined to do so themselves.”

I agree with robertdfaeinman that a disclaimer should be requested of journalists. Some professions already have it; in medicine, for example, it is both useful and enforced. If you take 5 grand say from a pharma or a device company you have to declare it practically forever and when you speak or write about any of their products, readers notice and place your pov in perspective. There is a real concern for corrupting influence when companies might try to buy off the thought leaders .

Similarly, it would be nice to see journalists disclaim their own voting record, party affiliation, memberships, past activism, donations (including their spouses’ donations).

41

glenn 07.17.08 at 10:31 am

One great thing Bush has succeeded in doing, and is perhaps his greatest legacy, is allowing most people from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australasia, and Africa to come together and see eye to eye one att least one thing: How awful and stupid and incompetent and reskless and unlawful Bush has been. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Well, we’re all against you then, together.

42

ROYT 07.17.08 at 8:52 pm

No, no. 40.

What’s wanting is the disclaimer of the journals’ owners, not their hired help.

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