Monday, February 27, 2006

Junk food corrupts absolutely

Is this due to the seductive power of Doritos?

TOPPLED Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has ended his hunger strike on health grounds.

The former dictator began his hunger strike earlier this month to protest against the conduct of his trial.

His chief lawyer Khalil Dulaimi, who met Saddam for seven hours in Baghdad yesterday, said: "The president maintained his hunger strike for 11 days but was forced to end it for health reasons."

He's certainly good at table-thumping, but not so convincing when it comes to matters of principle.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Once and future secrets

The U.S. government is reclassifying archived documents that it previously declassified, which puts anyone who copied the documents in potential legal jeopardy:

Mr. Aid said he believed that because of the reclassification program, some of the contents of his 22 file cabinets might technically place him in violation of the Espionage Act, a circumstance that could be shared by scores of other historians. But no effort has been made to retrieve copies of reclassified documents, and it is not clear how they all could even be located.

"It doesn't make sense to create a category of documents that are classified but that everyone already has," said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel of the National Security Archive, a research group at George Washington University. "These documents were on open shelves for years."

No, it doesn't, but you've got to give them credit for chutzpah.

Although this smacks more of mid-level cubicle-dwellers in the CIA and other agencies needing something to show for the thankless assignment they were given. As the piece notes, it's logistically problematic to retrieve the unsecret copies that are floating around out there - all the more so now that some of the documents have been conveniently digitized by GWU's National Security Archive. The situation presents certain epistemological problems. If someone possesses public knowledge, and a veil of secrecy descends over it, what is the nature of the knowledge? You get into a Rumsfeld-type regression of "known knowns" and "unknown unknowns."

Monday, February 20, 2006

Out there

Isn’t Johnny Weir’s coyness about his sexual orientation the smart PR move? It's driving his media coverage. Multiple outlets are profiling him, leaving the question open while furiously telegraphing their answer in code (But isn’t "flamboyant" more than just code in this case? He really is flamboyant in the both the classic and the modern campy-kitschy-gay sense of the word.).

Now media graybeards have started debating about whether it’s OK to ask him whether he’s gay:

"The first question is: What's the journalistic purpose of reporting someone's sexual orientation, especially against that person's will -- why does it matter?" says Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar and media ethicist at the Poynter Institute, a leading journalism research group. "I think the answer has to be more than, 'It's just interesting.' A news organization that publishes very private information like that, even about public figures, has a responsibility to be transparent about their news judgment."

This is faintly ridiculous. Maybe – maybe – it applies to someone in politics or the business world, where there is a clearer distinction between the job and private life, and that wall remains more or less intact. But Weir is a figure skater and celebrity. Self-expression is his job, and “gay” refers not only sexual preference but to identity. Weir has chosen to hype his own personality quirks, and is evidently enjoying this immensely. It’s also entirely to his advantage to be asked about sexual orientation, and to be coy about it. If he denied it, it would look like he was lying or in denial. If he said he was gay, the story would be over.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Jay Rosen elaborates on the meaning of Quailgate, noting that the White House, partly at Dick Cheney’s instigation, has systematically marginalized the national media and particularly the White House press corps. Given that the WHPC does have more than its share of prima donnas, who appear obnoxious even when they are actually acting in the nation’s best interest, there is no political downside to dissing them, as there once was. Quite the opposite:

The public visibility of the presidency itself is under revision … More of it lies in shadow all the time. Non-communication has become the standard procedure, not a breakdown in practice but the essence of it. What Dan Froomkin calls the Bush Bubble is designed to keep more of the world out. Cheney himself is almost a shadow figure in the executive branch. His whereabouts are often not known. With these changes, executive power has grown more illegible under Bush the Younger— a sign of the times in Washington.

Cheney has long held the view that the powers of the presidency were dangerously eroded in the 1970s and 80s. The executive “lost” perogatives it needed to gain back for the global struggle with Islamic terror. “Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam both during the 70’s served, I think, to erode the authority I think the president needs to be effective, especially in the national security area,” he
said in December.

Some of that space was lost to the news media, and its demand to be informed about all aspects of the presidency, plus its sense of entitlement to the star interlocutor’s role. Cheney opposes all that, whereas Fitzwater accepted most of it. That’s why Fitz is appalled and Cheney is rather pleased with himself.The people yelling questions at Scott McClellan in the briefing room, like the reporters in the Washington bureaus who cover the president, are in Cheney’s calculations neither a necessary evil, nor a public good. They are an unnecessary evil and a public bad— ex-influentials who can be disrespected without penalty.

Where is all of this going? Is the MSM on a trajectory toward complete irrelevance, to replaced by Fox News and right-wing bloggers as the conduit for political news? To the extent the media’s current problems are the result of multiplying competition and declining audiences, perhaps. But the Bush/Cheney pushback may end up being short-lived, as the White House’s treatment of the media depends entirely on the occupant of the White House. If John McCain is elected, for instance, things will change – at least until the media inevitably turns on him. If a Democrat is elected (s)he will not be able to turn to the phalanx of puffed-up talk-show hosts and other right-wing news outlets Bush/Cheney use to get their story out.

But having been shut down so effectively during the Bush years, the White House press corps will probably never regain the privileges or respect it once got from the institution it covers.

Cheney and Britney

So Cheney had it both ways: He yielded to the public obligation to provide an explanation for shooting a man, while at the same time flipping the bird (as it were) to the media.

Now, according to the Hotline, the Cheney vs. Media conflict is escalating:

We hear that major television networks and some print entities are trying to figure out a way to follow the Vice President during his weekend sojourns.

Typically, Cheney is unmolested by the media on weekends. No one, aside from a protestor or two, stakes out the Naval Observatory in DC and his staff keeps his schedule closely held.

The President, by contrast, almost always has a full protective pool of print and television reporters accompanying him -- even when he attends completely private events, such as a fundraising reception at the home of Sen. Maj. Leader Bill Frist last week, or one of his impromptu outings to a favorite Tex-Mex joint in Cleveland Park.

But when Cheney wants to get out of town, he can come and go as he pleases. Major media organizations have tried to keep track of Cheney informally but have had little success. (The last time the media camped out on Mass. Ave was during the '00 recount -- when Gore was in office.)
So the networks are thinking about establishing an informal pool to stake out the Naval Observatory and to exchange, on a limited basis, editorial information to facilitate that pool.

Print outlets will also ramp up their coverage.

This is either harrassment or the plot of a bad sitcom. But these private trips are sometimes newsworthy even when no one gets shot. Cheney is arguably as powerful as the president, yet operates almost completely out of public view. It's a shame that it's come to this. There ought to be some basic understanding between the media and the White House that would allow a basic flow of information. The coverage needn't be intrusive. It helps no one, especially Cheney, when the media resort to paparazzi antics. This is getting into Britney Spears territory. Is a Sean Penn moment that far away?

Meanwhile, a TPM reader raises a good question:

Here's a painfully obvious observation. Untold millions of tax dollars are spent on secret service agents and what-not, and the veep is prancing around the wilds with a bunch of other men of a certain age, all carrying GUNS? Let's assume that there isn't anything particularly different about Mr. Cheney that would cause him to make this kind of mistake, which then means that any of his hunting buddies could have been the one to go oops, and he could have been on the business end of the fire-stick. Boom! What were they thinking?

The Secret Service must be thinking hard about what happened. Between his minders there and the media, Cheney will likely end up paying for the shooting mishap with some of his freedom of movement.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Cheney, Miss Manners and Watergate

Official Washington is amazed at the vice president's unwillingness to make any sort of public explanation or statement of contrition about shooting a man:

"I cannot believe he does not look back and say this should have been handled differently," said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who is close to the White House. Weber said Cheney "made it a much bigger issue than it needed to be."

Marlin Fitzwater, a former Republican White House spokesman, told Editor & Publisher magazine that Cheney "ignored his responsibility to the American people."

These criticisms reflect a certain post-Watergate, information-age etiquette. If Cheney followed the commonly-accepted rules for vice presidents-who-shoot-people, he would have promptly disclosed the incident, then come out before the cameras, said he's sorry and wished his friend a speedy recovery. Then the media and the public would, as they say, get closure and move on.

The etiquette presupposes a certain compact between public officials, the media and the public. It's often silly, but it until recently it worked reasonably well. It's predictable (public officials will screw up in spectacular and unexpected ways, necessitating explanation and contrition that go beyond mere spin – for example, when Reagan admitted trading arms for hostages). It gives public a brief glimpse past the carefully-buffed image. If done right, it lets officials get on with actually governing. Even Bush has (reluctantly) observed these rituals from time to time.

But Cheney is out to destroy the post-Watergate consensus in its various forms, from the commonly-accepted definition of the separation of powers on down. He rejects this etiquette and the compact that underlies it. Cheney despises the media. His attitude toward the public is obscure: Paternalistic? Contemptuous? Oblivious? In any case, he simply doesn’t care to observe this ritual, no matter how useful it might be. That is part and parcel of his overall aim to degrade the basic machinery of accountability that has emerged over the past 30 years.

He would care if this made any difference in terms of his ability to wield political power. That depends solely on the president, and how much he values the basic civility that the etiquette embodies.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Surely the words "Dan Quayle" can be worked into this somehow

Rob Corddry: Jon, tonight the vice president is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. According to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be a 78-year-old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face. He believes the world is a better place for his spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Whittington's face.

Jon Stewart: But why, Rob? If he had known Mr. Whittington was not a bird, why would he still have shot him?

Corddry: Jon, in a post-9-11 world, the American people expect their leaders to be decisive. To not have shot his friend in the face would have sent a message to the quail that America is weak.

Stewart: That's horrible.

Corddry: Look, the mere fact that we're even talking about how the vice president drives up with his rich friends in cars to shoot farm-raised wingless quail-tards is letting the quail know "how" we're hunting them. I'm sure right now those birds are laughing at us in that little "covey" of theirs.

Stewart: I'm not sure birds can laugh, Rob.

Corddry: Well, whatever it is they do -- coo -- they're cooing at us right now, Jon, because here we are talking openly about our plans to hunt them. Jig is up. Quails one, America zero.

At some point, the veep will come out and make an apologetic statement topped off with a self-deprecating joke (he is capable of this when politics demands it, the past 48 hours notwithstanding), and this will be over. At least until then, it will be highly amusing and emblematic in that Carter vs. killer rabbit kind of way.

Will this herald a new era of liberal dominance by helping America wake up at last? Nah.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The coma patient was listed in "very relaxed" condition

Dick Cheney's hunting accident saga has apparently occasioned the invention of new hospital terminology for describing a patient's condition:

The hospital listed Whittington's condition as "very stable."

No doubt the "very" is intended to be reassuring, but the effect is just the opposite. It sounds like they're trying a little too hard to be reassuring, and something may be wrong. Do we really need spin in this situation?

"Stable" itself is a word that obscures more than it reveals:

The term “stable” is not particularly helpful and its use is specifically discouraged by the American Hospital Association. The problem with “stable” is that it simply means that a person’s condition is not changing: One person could be terribly ill and another ready to go home, and both are “stable.”

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"The rage-based reverence for The President as Commander-in-Chief--and the creepy, blind faith vested in his goodness--is not a movement I recognize"

Here's a conservative's extraordinary attack on the pro-Bush right, especially the right-blogosphere:

As much as any policy prescriptions, conservatism has always been based, more than anything else, on a fundamental distrust of the power of the federal government and a corresponding belief that that power ought to be as restrained as possible, particularly when it comes to its application by the Government to American citizens. It was that deeply rooted distrust that led to conservatives’ vigorous advocacy of states’ rights over centralized power in the federal government, accompanied by demands that the intrusion of the Federal Government in the lives of American citizens be minimized.

Is there anything more antithetical to that ethos than the rabid, power-hungry appetites of Bush followers? There is not an iota of distrust of the Federal Government among them. Quite the contrary. Whereas distrust of the government was quite recently a hallmark of conservatism, expressing distrust of George Bush and the expansive governmental powers he is pursuing subjects one to accusations of being a leftist, subversive loon.

Indeed, as many Bush followers themselves admit, the central belief of the Bush follower's "conservatism" is no longer one that ascribes to a limited federal government -- but is precisely that there ought to be no limits on the powers claimed by Bush precisely because we trust him, and we trust in him absolutely. He wants to protect us and do good. He is not our enemy but our protector. And there is no reason to entertain suspicions or distrust of him or his motives because he is Good.

We need no oversight of the Federal Government’s eavesdropping powers because we trust Bush to eavesdrop in secret for the Good. We need no judicial review of Bush’s decrees regarding who is an "enemy combatant" and who can be detained indefinitely with no due process because we trust Bush to know who is bad and who deserves this. We need no restraints from Congress on Bush’s ability to exercise war powers, even against American citizens on U.S. soil, because we trust Bush to exercise these powers for our own good.

The blind faith placed in the Federal Government, and particularly in our Commander-in-Chief, by the contemporary "conservative" is the very opposite of all that which conservatism has stood for for the last four decades. The anti-government ethos espoused by Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan is wholly unrecognizable in Bush followers, who – at least thus far – have discovered no limits on the powers that ought to be vested in George Bush to enable him to do good on behalf of all of us.

And in that regard, people like Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt are not conservatives. They are authoritarian cultists. Their allegiance is not to any principles of government but to strong authority through a single leader.

As they say, read the whole thing. It captures something important about the present political moment and the degree to which it's dominated by emotion: the gut feeling that your guy's right and the other guy's wrong - facts be damned. Truthiness ascendant.

The idea of Bush as a resolute and "good" leader (a notion made addictive by its marriage to raw power) dominates the conservative movement. Its crude simplicity shuts down useful political debate. It's corroding conservatism and all of American politics. What will happen when Bush leaves the scene?

Dude, get over it

Jim Brady, the editor who famously suspended blog comments after ombudsman Deborah Howell's Abramoff mistake, has a long piece today that says, basically: Dammit, those horrible Internet people insulted me and I didn't like it one bit:

I am a twit without a functioning brain.

I also do not have any [ censored ].

Despite 10 years spent in online media, I really don't understand the Internet.

I am a dangerous ideologue , an enemy of democracy .
My career as a nitwitted, emasculated fascist began the afternoon of Jan. 19 ...
...the word "comments" doesn't convey the obscene, vituperative tone of a lot of the postings, which were the sort of things you might find carved on the door of a public toilet stall. About a hundred of them had to be removed for violating the Post site's standards, which don't allow profanity or personal attacks.
Instead of mollifying angry readers, the clarification prompted more than 400 additional comments over the next five hours, many of them so crude as to be unprintable in a family newspaper.
I was honored as "Wanker of the Day" on one left-wing blog. Another site dissected my biography in order to prove that I was part of The Post's vast right-wing conspiracy.
Out in the Web woodshed, a handful of bloggers called me gutless or a puppet; some of them compared me to assorted body parts and characterized me as the worst person to come along since, well, Deborah Howell. And any nasty posts I didn't see myself, my friends gleefully provided to me via e-mail. A few friends said they came close to jumping online to defend me, but chose not to for fear they'd be next in line for a public flogging.

...One of the complaints about my manners closed by telling me to go do something unprintable with myself "and that Wa:Po rag you ride about town." Uh, thanks.

OK, we get the picture! It's rough out there. Everybody should be nicer. Flaming vituperation is inimical to intelligent debate, etc. etc. Anyone who has spent 10 minutes on the web anytime in the past decade knows this already. Brady is the editor of one of the world's more influential and sophisticated media websites. He should develop a thicker skin.

He continues:

This all raises a question: Why are people so angry? It was a mistake, it was corrected. Part of the explanation may be the extremely partisan times we live in. For all the good things it has brought our society, the Web has also fostered ideological hermits, who only talk to folks who believe exactly what they do. This creates an echo chamber that only further convinces people that they are right, and everyone else is not only wrong, but an idiot or worse. So when an incident like this one arises, it's not enough to point out an error; they must prove that the error had nefarious origins. In some places on the Web, everything happens on a grassy knoll.

This is a pretty thin gruel, especially from someone sitting at the nexus of the Internet, the mainstream media and national politics. People are not "so angry" because they live in an echo chamber -- though that certainly helps. The anger emanates from a genuine sense of grievance and betrayal on both sides of the ideological divide. The right believes that MSM outlets like the Post are repositories of liberal bias, condescending to and culturally incompatible with large swaths of the population. The left believes the Bush administration and right-wing media have manipulated and cowed the MSM by using its own rules against it. Neither of these beliefs explains everything, but both have the ring of truth. Which is why the MSM are being whipsawed every day out there.

Afterward, he was greeted as a liberator

Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and injured a man during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas, his spokeswoman said Sunday.

Harry Whittington, 78, was "alert and doing fine" after Cheney sprayed him with shotgun pellets on Saturday while the two were hunting at the Armstrong Ranch in south Texas, said property owner Katharine Armstrong.

Armstrong said Whittington was mostly injured on his right side, with the pellets hitting his cheek, neck and chest, and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Political funerals

Enough already with the debate over Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Martin Luther King was a minister and the leader of a movement and the two roles were inextricable. A funeral that tiptoed around today's sharp political divisions would have been surprising, even inappropriate. It would have been a sign that the Kings’ struggles really are ancient history when they are not. It’s become de rigeur for Republican presidents to embrace the King legacy, and it’s nice that we all agree now, at least symbolically. But there is an element of opportunism to it, and M.L. King would have understood but perhaps not fully welcomed the embrace, given how much it papers over.

So when Joseph Lowery denounces the Iraq war, well, he’s just doing his thing. It’s hard to believe the Kings would have wanted him to remain silent on the issue. Jimmy Carter’s digs, meanwhile, were not frontal attacks:

The efforts of Martin and Coretta have changed America, they were not appreciated even at the highest level of government. It was difficult for them personally -- with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance and as you know, harassment from the FBI.
This commemorative ceremony this morning and this afternoon is not only to acknowledge the great contributions of Coretta and Martin, but to remind us that the struggle for equal rights is not over. We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, those who were most devastated by Katrina to know that they are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans.

These are, well, facts. The Kings were wiretapped and harassed. Katrina did show that equal opportunity is still a long way off. If merely alluding to these things is embarrassing to Bush, maybe that's because he should be embarrassed.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Still missing

Christian Science Monitor Jill Carroll has been held hostage in Iraq for one month. She has all but dropped out of the news here. Elsewhere, people are rallying to support her:

In Europe, meanwhile, Carroll's plight has been gaining attention in recent days. First, a large poster of Carroll's photo has been hung outside the city hall in Rome, where it will reportedly remain until she is found. Today, a demonstration in Paris urged support for Carroll's eventual release.

Actress Juliette Binoche and former French hostage Florence Aubenas were involved in the Paris event, according to Reporters Without Borders, which staged the demonstration to mark the one-month anniversary of Carroll's abduction.

The group released 30 white balloons from the human rights esplanade at Trocadero, overlooking the River Seine, to mark each of Carroll's 30 days in captivity, according to the organization's Web site. Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard told the group that it was "essential to demonstrate." "Thirty-seven journalists have been kidnapped since the start of the war in Iraq in March 2003," he added. "Five of them losing their lives."

Why do Europeans care more about this than Americans do?

Go Aggies

Youthful political hack George Deutsch has been forced out of NASA's public affairs office after tut-tutting scientists about ignoring intelligent design in references to the Big Bang. Turns out he didn't graduate from Texas A&M as he had claimed. Great that he's out of there, though he is just a symptom of a broader problem within NASA and the government.

Sadly, this will be the best thing that ever happened to Deutsch. There is no such thing as bad publicity in the culture wars. He is now a hero of the religious right, and has a bright future in GOP advocacy. We'll be hearing more from him in the near future.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


Is Hollywood too far to the left? Maybe. But the debate over Brokeback Mountain is tedious. I haven’t seen it (as a general rule, I don’t go to movies to watch people get their hearts broken) but by all accounts it’s good. The political content isn't in the story but in the fact that it exists as a film aimed at a mass market. But inasmuch as it is a modest commercial success, then that takes some of the political edge off, no? The real story not that some barrier has been traversed, or that people are flocking to catch some kind of cultural wave and flip the bird at Karl Rove (as Frank Rich proclaimed) but that it's an arty movie doing pretty well at the box office. Unusual, but it happens.

On the liberal issue, Matthew Yglesias notes that the demographic Hollywood aims at (urban, young) is itself pretty liberal, so it’s not surprising the content skews that way. But there is a more fundamental issue: Liberals are better at strumming the heartstrings than conservatives. The most common Hollywood story arc is that of an underdog combating and ultimately triumphing over oppressive forces (cruel or clueless parents, school cliques, evil empires, robot overlords, etc.). This formula encompasses an impressively wide range of stories and themes, few of them political. But it is also basically the same, romanticized way liberals view themselves – in a noble struggle to build a better society and achieve justice. By contrast, there is no similar, universally compelling conservative storyline. The hectoring triumphalism and exaggerated piety that run through modern conservatism (think Sean Hannity or Lee Greenwood) don't make for great storytelling. “Conservative” story lines tend to come out overtly political or clichéd and sentimental. Which is why Rupert Murdoch hasn't sent Roger Ailes to Hollywood - at least not yet.

Absence of Prudence

This is very parochial, concerning a tiny universe of writers and intellectuals. But it's noteworthy for the way it revels in the public airing of petty grudges. Nay, it doesn't revel - it gambols, aiming to make its targets look condescending, stupid and cheap.

...And Jacob Weisberg, whose name does not appear below and who was for many years a staff writer and an editor at The New Republic. He now runs Slate, apparently unpleasantly enough for a few first-rate staffers to have already departed to Yahoo!, with perhaps a few more highly valued staff thinking about it.

In an age when ironic snark and the angry broadside are the rhetorical poses of choice, this is interesting for its incestuous bitchiness toward former colleagues, its use of the shiv rather than the bazooka. (Maybe shiv is the wrong word. It implies subtlety, in short supply here. Serrated knife? Blunderbuss?) We want to know more - what scores are putatively being settled here?

Saturday, February 04, 2006


Just as the Hamas election victory was, the distressing cartoon protests (an odd phrase, suggesting the Justice League or Looney Toons on strike) in Europe and elsewhere is a clarifying moment for Islam and the West. There are bright lines being drawn now that will certainly cause their share of pain, but may (years from now) nudge history forward and away from broken records of Muslim grievance and the West's post-colonial guilt and ambivalence.

Mockery that offends religious sensibilities may seem like one of the more frivolous on the list of freedoms we enjoy. But it's important. If some forms of mockery are truly beyond the pale, then people can reject and ignore them. But if the debate and discussion, however crass, are silenced by the threat of violence then the game's up. Where group grievances rule, cynicism flourishes. The public discourse descends into mushy relativism, a competition to see who's been wronged the most, not who's right.

It's not surprising the U.S. government is behaving in a craven fashion and the American media are taking a pass on this one - it's one of those can't-win-either-way situations. But as Christopher Hitchens points out, it's not particularly encouraging:

The question of "offensiveness" is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it "pixilated" the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be "offended" will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Strange attractors

Mickey Kaus has a point. It's a minor and somewhat maddening point, to be sure: How is it that one WPost employee (Tony Kornheiser) taking money from the Redskins is a conflict, when another (Howard Kurtz) taking money from CNN is not?

I have no idea. But the question does illustrate the fractal-like nature of the media business these days. Web and cable are proliferating. People are selling themselves across different platforms, spreading their memes where they may. You get conflicts nestling within conflicts.

With the media's credibility under siege, every conflict of interest, every small taint of bias must be exposed and expunged, from within or without. The media police -- bloggers, ombudsmen, and journalists like Kurtz -- are expanding their reach and power. The ombudsmen are themselves being ombudded. Nobody's above it all anymore. That's great, even if it's making some media outlets skittish and bureaucratic. What's bad is that few media types, including the mainstream critics like Kurtz with pretenses to traditional objectivity, have figured out how to maneuver through this quicksilver landscape. If they're top of the world one minute, they may be felled by a viral meme the next.