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“Who Gets To Be A ‘Neutral Observer’ On Race?”: It’s Hard To Be Neutral On A Moving Train

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, host Chuck Todd asked Gerald Seib, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief, about the inherent challenges President Obama faces when discussing issues of race. “I’ve talked to people close to him,” Todd noted. “The president is self-aware that when he talks about race he thinks it polarizes the conversation and therefore he can’t – it defeats the purpose that he wants to have.”

It’s a perfectly fair point. The way in which the president approaches these issues is complex, and it’s not unreasonable to think the White House addresses these debates differently, in part because of expectations surrounding public reactions.

But something Seib said in response stood out for me:

“Yeah, and this is the great irony I think of the first African-American president. In some ways, he finds it harder to talk about race because he carries, you know, his own background into it obviously. He’s not seen necessarily as a neutral observer.”

This got me thinking: who gets to be a “neutral observer” on matters of race? And why can’t President Obama be one?

If the point is that the president, as an African-American man, is shaped by his experiences and background, all of which contribute to his personal feelings about race, I’ll gladly concede the point. But therein lies the rub: aren’t we all shaped by our experiences and background? Is it not true that every American, regardless of race or ethnicity, draws conclusions about these issues based on what we’ve seen, felt, and lived?

I’m sure Seib didn’t intend for his comment to be controversial, but his remark raises some obvious questions that deserve serious answers: are any of us neutral observers when it comes to race in America? Does our lack of neutrality matter or make our perspectives less valuable? Or more?

It reminds me a bit of the criticisms center-left Supreme Court justices have received after officiating at same-sex weddings. For some on the right, this is an automatic disqualifier when it comes to ruling on the constitutionality of marriage equality – these jurists, the argument goes, can’t be “neutral observers” because they know gay people, apparently like and respect gay people, and have been a part of weddings involving gay people.

But pure “neutrality” is a tricky thing to find. If a justice refuses to officiate at a same-sex wedding, is he or she better able to consider the constitutionality of marriage equality? What about if he or she officiated at an opposite-sex wedding? If a justice is outwardly hostile towards the LGBT community, is he or she suddenly better suited to hear the case?

To borrow an overused cliche, it’s hard to be neutral on a moving train.

Debates about race, bigotry, and justice are always multifaceted, but we all bring our own baggage onto the train with us. To assume there are some among us who have the privilege of serving as a “neutral observer” is a mistake.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, June 22, 2015

June 24, 2015 Posted by | Meet The Press, Race and Ethnicity, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fate Of The GOP Majority Is On The Line”: Even The Wall Street Journal Says Republican Congress Is Failing

This WSJ editorial is definitely NOT good news for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Speaker John Boehner:

Republicans in Congress are off to a less than flying start after a month in power, dividing their own conference more than Democrats. Take the response to President Obama ’s immigration order, which seems headed for failure if not a more spectacular crack-up…

If Homeland Security funding lapses on Feb. 27, the agency will be pushed into a partial shutdown even as the terrorist threat is at the forefront of public attention with the Charlie Hebdo and Islamic State murders. Imagine if the Transportation Security Administration, a unit of DHS, fails to intercept an Islamic State agent en route to Detroit.

So Republicans are facing what is likely to be another embarrassing political retreat and more intra-party recriminations. The GOP’s restrictionist wing will blame the leadership for a failure they share responsibility for, and the rest of America will wonder anew about the gang that couldn’t shoot straight…

It’s not too soon to say that the fate of the GOP majority is on the line…This is no way to run a Congressional majority, and the only winners of GOP dysfunction will be Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.

Ouch! That one left a mark. When Republican leadership loses the Wall Street Journal editorial page, you can rest assured that they’re in big trouble.

And yet today Speaker Boehner told Chris Wallace that the House has already done it’s business and that he is prepared to let DHS funding expire at the end of the month.

Notice that Sen. McConnell didn’t appear on any of the Sunday news shows. But here’s how he explained his position earlier this week.

“I think it’d be pretty safe to say we’re stuck, because of Democratic obstruction on the Senate side,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters Tuesday. “I think it’s clear we can’t go forward in the Senate. And so the next move, obviously, is up to the House.”

If the WSJ is right and the fate of the GOP majority is on the line, it’s past time for these two Congressional leaders to face up to yet another embarrassing political defeat and get something done.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, February 15, 2015

February 18, 2015 Posted by | Congress, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Please Make Up Your Mind”: The Wall Street Journal Can’t Decide Why Obama Is Terrible

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal editorial board found an unusual way to criticize Barack Obama for his new limits on carbon emissions: the action, the paper declared, showed that he was too principled and insufficiently attuned to short-term political benefits.

One consequence of President Obama’s new anticarbon energy rule will be to create what economists call “stranded assets,” in this case still useful fossil-fuel plants that are suddenly made noneconomic. This is part of the plan. But if this grand design ultimately fails, it will be because Mr. Obama is also creating stranded Democrats from energy-producing states.

This will have far-reaching implications, especially for Democrats in energy-rich states and especially this year. Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton would never have dreamed of rolling out this EPA regulation five months before an election. Mr. Obama is willing to risk it now because his second term is winding down and he wants to put in place as a much of a legacy as he can…

As Jonathan Chait has noted, it’s rich indeed for the Journal, which savaged Bill Clinton to such an extent that it collected its editorials attacking him into a five-volume collector set, to now be praising him in hindsight for being more politically expedient and partisan-minded than his Democratic successor. But it gets  better than that. Todayjust one day laterthe Journal completely flipped its critique of Obama. His problem, you see, is that he is too fixated on domestic politics, as his handling of Bowe Bergdahl’s release shows:

President Obama’s decision to swap five Taliban killers for the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has morphed from a debatable policy decision into the Administration’s latest political fiasco. There’s a lesson here about the risks of spin and narrow political calculation, especially in foreign policy when American lives are stake…

The larger problem is that Mr. Obama treats all of foreign policy as if it’s merely part of his domestic political calculus. It’s all too easy to imagine him figuring that if he announced the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by 2016 as he did last week, he could then more easily sell the prisoner swap, which would then help empty Guantanamo so he could fulfill that campaign promise too. Is it too much to ask that, in his final two and half years in office, the President act as if more is at stake in foreign policy than his domestic approval rating?

I read the Journal’s editorials every day, and have for years. I find them a handy way to track conservative opinionhard-edged, no doubt, but generally also well-wrought (better-wrought, it must be admitted, than their counterparts at the New York Times.) But really, the Journal is not doing its regular readers a service here. We’re awfully confused: is Obama recklessly disregarding domestic politics to cement his legacy with grand edicts, or making hasty decisions purely for domestic political gain? Please make up your mind.


By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, June 5, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Doomed”: Rupert Murdoch Stands By His Horribly Shameless And Irresponsible Tabloid

Last week was not a great week for the New York Post. But then again, not many weeks are. It’s front page last Thursday wrongly identified two innocent young men as the bombers of the Boston Marathon. (It did so without explicitly referring to them as suspects, just to ensure that they wouldn’t lose a lawsuit or have to apologize.)

Murdoch defended his paper on Twitter, because it is 2013 and stuff is weird:

All NYPost pics were those distributed by FBI.And instantly withdrawn when FBI changed directions.

— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) April 20, 2013

Hm. Here’s how Col Allan defended his story to Salon: “The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men….” So “distributed by the FBI” might be technically accurate (not that we have any way of knowing) but it is not a great defense. The photos were not distributed to the press or to the public, as the photos of the Tsarnaev brothers would be the same day that Post cover ran. The photo was never intended to be put on the front of a newspaper with copy asserting that the people pictured were responsible. There’s also no way to “withdraw” a physical newspaper printed and distributed all over New York City. I saw copies of the paper at bodegas in Brooklyn well into the evening.

Murdoch (who has become shockingly respectable in his old age) loves his New York Post and he will always defend it.

As long as Richard Murdoch has owned it, the New York Post has been defined by its shamelessness and total lack of interest in taking responsibility for its worst errors and poor judgment. It is quite hard to get fired — or be forced to resign in disgrace — from the Post, for the crime of getting something disastrously wrong. No heads rolled when the paper reported in 2004, on the front page, that John Kerry had selected Dick Gephardt as his running mate. The paper even still prints the cartoons of Sean Delonas, a hateful,unfunny, repetitive cartoonist who invariably draws all gay people as mincing cross-dressers and who once plagiarized his own joke within two months of making it. In 2003 the Post published an editorial bemoaning a Yankees loss to the Red Sox the morning after the Yankees beat the Red Sox.

Murdoch’s Post cares so little what others think of it that it doesn’t even make editorial changes that would make it more successful — say, by being less racist and terrible in a diverse, liberal city. The Post is so awful that it has allowed the Daily News — a terminally boring rival tabloid published by a slightly less terrible but much less interesting rich person — to survive.

The thing all these incidents have in common is that no one was punished for them. Post editor Col Allan might be an irresponsible drunk pigfucker (we have no way of confirming or denying the charge!) but he is Rupert’s irresonsible drunk pigfucker. As long as the old man is around, Col’s job is safe.

There are reasons to be cheerful, though: The New York Post is assuredly going to die, and it may even do so fairly soon. This summer, News Corp will split into two companies. One will be made up of the money-making bits of News Corp.: TV stuff and the movie studio, basically. The other will be the newspapers and magazines and book publishing. Murdoch will be chairman of the new newspaper company. Its CEO will be Robert Thomson, former editor of the Wall Street Journal and Murdoch’s “closest confidant,” according to The Australian (a Murdoch paper). Murdoch loves the newspapers. No one else does, which is why that company’s CEO will be an editor, not a person with actual company-running experience. Once Murdoch goes, though, none of his children will care to subsidize their father’s bizarre newspaper-publishing habit. And Rupert Mudoch is 82 years old.

And the Post will probably be the first paper to fold or be sold. The New York Post loses millions of dollars a year. Unlike the Wall Street Journal, rich people who control vast amounts of other rich people’s money don’t read it, making it less interesting to advertisers. The paper, after the Murdoch and Allan regime, is worthless. The New York Post is doomed. Right now we’re just seeing how many people it can smear on its way out.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, April 22, 2013

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, Journalism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Ethical Morass”: The Wall Street Journal Won’t Acknowledge Its Karl Rove Ties

Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal continues to trip over its Karl Rove conflict of interest, with the paper’s newsroom routinely failing to mention that the man who helped found an anti-Obama super PAC is also a Journal employee. Time and again this election season the Journal has reported on Rove’s campaign work with American Crossroads, and time and again the newsroom has neglected to acknowledge Rove works for the Journal as a political columnist.

The disclosure failure, and the obvious lack of transparency, is just part of the paper’s ongoing ethical morass with regards to Rove. As Media Matters has reported, scores of editorial page editors have criticized the paper for failing to disclose in its opinion pages where Rove’s anti-Obama columns appear, that Rove is closely associated with an anti-Obama campaign group.

The very fact that the Journal hired Rove, a GOP fundraiser, to write columns about the races Rove is trying to win for the GOP represents a glaring ethical lapse. The Journal’s refusal to disclose those ties only compounds the problem; a problem that extends from the opinion pages to the newsroom.

Today’s front-page Journal article examines whether conservative super PACs have been effective in denting the president’s re-election chances. Rove’s Crossroads group is featured as the pivotal conservative super PAC in the article. Yet nowhere in the piece is it reported that Rove also works for the newspaper.

That transparency failure has become commonplace. On September 6, the newspaper published an article about super PAC fundraising efforts by liberal and conservative groups and noted, “By contrast, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two Republican groups founded with the help of Karl Rove, have spent $67 million combined.”

There was no mention that Rove’s a Journal employee.

On Sept. 5, the Journal focused on the surprisingly tight U.S. senate race in North Dakota, and the amount of outside money pouring into the campaign:

Crossroads GPS, a Republican campaign fund co-founded by Karl Rove in 2010, and Majority PAC, a group that aims to protect Democrats’ Senate majority, have spent heavily and run negative ads in the state.

No mention that Rove’s a WSJ employee.

And back on July 19, the newspaper reported that Crossroads was coming to the aide of Romney with new television ads designed to defend the candidate’s career at Bain Capitol. The Journal noted the super PAC “was founded with the help of Bush White House aide, Karl Rove.”

No mention though, that Rove’s a Journal employee.


By: Eric Boehlert, Sr. Fellow, Media Matters, September 24, 2012

September 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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