Monday, December 15, 2008

Obama team turns left

Here's a link to the Register's editorial Sunday noting that with his energy and environmental picks Barack Obama is doing a good deal to dispel the image that emerged after his foreign and economic policy picks -- that he plans to govern as a centrist. Stephen Chu (out of his field of physics with his concern about climate change), Carol Browner and the others are hardly centrists. Carol Browner, who headed EPA during Clinton's terms, emerged with a reputation as the farthest left of the Clintonistas -- and on a personal level she has a reputation for being a thoroughly nasty person. Maybe she's grown up a little.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One would hope that with the end of the George W. Bush presidency, the journalism-bordering-on-propaganda that led to mea culpa from the NY Times for its coverage of the lead up to the invasion of Iraq—and that led the major television networks to name their broadcasts, "Operation Iraq Freedom," "Shock and Awe," and other clarions right out of the Pentagon—would be over. Yet since the election, whenever the name of Carol M. Browner has shown up in the news, it has been with some glowing praise, as in the Washington Post, that referred to her as "the obvious choice" for Energy and environmental Czar. AP went further and in their bandwagon article about Browner provided the links to John Podesta's Center for American Progress, and Madelyn Albright's the Albright Group and Albright Capital Management to bolster the hype for Ms. Browner, going as far as providing a direct link to the Environmental Protection Agency web site that had lots (and lots) of positive things to say about the former Administrator's glowing record. This is all well and good for those organizations, because they have something at stake in Browner's selection. The EPA, especially under departing and scandal-ridden Administrator Stephen Johnson, and the record of his predecessor's compromised position on the toxicity of the Ground Zero air quality, quite understandably might devote considerable energy applying the corrective spin on—if not putting equal energy into—their administrators' actual performances.
But what is the public to make of the Press's performance here? You know, the one guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution—the very first one. Presumably, the protections provided the Press therein are to guarantee the benefit of the general welfare—not corporate welfare. The founders knew that power, even power constricted by checks and balances, needs a watchful, skeptical eye trained on it to prevent excesses that would work against the general welfare. 
The McClatchy newspapers—quite unlike nearly every other repository of the 1st Amendment's guarantees, when presented with specious arguments about weapons of mass destruction and all the other now widely rejected "evidence" the Bush administration trotted out at the Pentagon, State Department, Rose Garden and elsewhere—did what every freshman journalism student is taught to do: it looked at the arguments skeptically, and despatched its reporters—not to the exclusive circle of the press pool inside the government's controlled PR confines—but the old fashioned way, by putting leather to the pavement and talking to underlings inside those spinning Agencies who had the inside story if not the boss's authority to disseminate it. Meeting in restaurants with contacts they had developed over years, McClatchy was the only news organization that got the story right: that there were no WMD; that the yellow cake from Niger claim was bogus; that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 911. Not the NY Times, not the Washington Post, not the Tribunes. And especially not broadcast media. Their reporters were too impressed with themselves as they looked in the mirror in the morning knowing they were going to be on the inside with all the other privileged "main stream" reporters who worked for legitimate newspapers and networks to ask any but the highest ranking.
Let them tell that to the families of dead or maimed American service people who answered the clarion out of a sense of duty to country. Or to the families of hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed innocent Iraqi civilians.
It turns out the 1st Amendment is first and foremost a whistleblower amendment, giving to the Press, under the full protection of the Constitution, the capacity to follow a story line wherever it might go. So how do we explain, beyond journalistic hubris, professional mediocrity, or just plain laziness, the tendency of the press to sit dutifully in the press rooms while governmental officials spin a story (and service members and innocent civilians) to death? Getting back to the Carol Browner story, we might even allow that a much larger story—911—devoured it. After all, the whistleblower protection law that was a direct outgrowth of Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner—the No FEAR Act—was slated to be voted on in Congress on September 11, 2001 but got bumped along with everything else that day in a very brutal way, when everyone on Capitol Hill went running for their lives. Its subsequent, unanimous approval in both Houses and signing into law by the President was well covered inside the beltway, primarily by the Washington Post. But for the vast majority of Americans, the significance of that law was subsumed by the larger 911 story and the subsequent war on terror coverage. So perhaps, in light of the Press snoozing on this one, a little refresher is in order.
Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner is now mandated study for all Federal employees—required every 2 years in fact—for the abject lesson it teaches in bureaucratic mismanagement, malfeasance, and arrogance. The case exposes the way that government retaliation against whistleblowers, and the way that the government—as exemplified under Carol Browner's tenure as EPA Administrator—denies employees their civil rights and discriminates against them on the basis of sex and race. It does not paint a pretty picture or make for fun reading, but Congress was so outraged at the findings of the jury in Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner that it made instruction in these areas of the law required for all Federal workers in the hope of changing the culture inside the Federal bureaucracy.
Now, let's suppose that in 1964 President-elect Lyndon Johnson, in carrying forward John F. Kennedy's legacy in civil rights, had floated the name of say, Lester Maddox, to lead the charge with the Civil Rights Act. Do you suppose any of the reporters of that age would have noticed? Do you think that his name would have been floated as "the obvious choice" for Civil Rights Czar in any main stream media? Despite the friends Ms. Browner has in the very rarified air of the American political aristocracy who channel abundant resources into the kinds of nicey-nice fluff we see in the stories offered as background for Ms. Browner's appointment, don't the media have considerable assets as well? Wouldn't editors, presumably having paid dues in the trenches as reporters, expect of the journalists under their supervision their due diligence and perform at least a perfunctory search into the background of a nominee—especially in this case, an appointment without the usual Congressional oversight, hearings, and legal clout to stop it—because of its sweeping implications for all Americans? Not to mention the chilling effect Ms. Browner's appointment would have on whistleblowers who remember the way they were treated under her supervision.
For any reporters who feel a particular sense of guilt or owing to the rest of the American people for the media's pathetic performance during the lead up to the Iraq tragedy, here's a simple exercise you might consider as recompense:  Google Coleman-Adebayo v. Carol Browner. Then report what you find.