Saturday, March 17, 2007

Josh Marshall & Talkingpointsmemo:
An Example of Blogs at Their Best


Over the last four years (yes, we're coming up on an anniversary, just days away), I've enthused about Josh Marshall and his
Talkingpointsmemo blog at least a half dozen times, pointing to it as an example of perhaps the highest expression of what great independent web journalism can achieve. The site first came to wide attention in 2002, when it bird-dogged a story that the rest of the media mostly ignored: then-Senate Majority leader Trent Lott marking Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday by seemingly celebrating his segregationist past. The comment was carried live on C-Span, but only Marshall seemed to think it deserved much attention. Lott eventually was forced to give up his leadership position. Marshall never gloated, but merely went back to work, even hiring a couple of reporters to help him break more news.

That was a mere prelude to the events of the last couple of weeks, when TPM again seized on what it thought was a big deal and which many others only considered a scrap: the sacking of eight U.S. Attorneys around the country. Marshall smelled a rat, and kept digging around the edges of the story,
blending his own staff's digging with tips from readers and an alert stitching together of newspaper stories from around the country. Even more importantly, he challenged (and shamed) larger news operations to do so as well. The result: yet the latest example of the heart of darkness at the core of this corrupt White House. The Hill Democrats' new subpoena power, of course, is helping get to the bottom of this story, where Karl Rove naturally shows up, moving chess pieces around the board in his typical fashion.

But what I liked best about the last week is what made Marshall and his site so good in the first place. When just about anyone else would have been taking victory laps and smirking their way to fame, Marshall was doing none of that. He remained what he's always been, a serious, consummate pro. He appeared on MSNBC's Hardball and a number of other venues, and I detected no hint of triumphalism or any of the immaturity that the egregious Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of
Daily Kos would have shown. Instead, his whole attitude seemed to be: hooray for us, but if you'll excuse me, now we need to get back to work, because the news continues.

30 Comments:

At 12:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its called politcs in case you couldn't figure that out. May be take away your hate Bush bias and this isn't a news story. If a Dem fires attorneys, it is obviously ok. Go ahead, vote for the elf. Out. mfh.

 
At 10:26 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I should point out that the anti-Bush bias now infects a solid (and growing daily) majority of my countrymen.

 
At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Buster said...

Carol Lam was still on the trail of the Abramoff money after her successful Duke Cunningham conviction. Do you think that had anything to do with the firings, Anonymous?

 
At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Buster said...

Just quoted from McClachy on TPM:

Fired San Diego U.S. attorney Carol Lam notified the Justice Department that she intended to execute search warrants on a high-ranking CIA official as part of a corruption probe the day before a Justice Department official sent an e-mail that said Lam needed to be fired, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Sunday.
Feinstein, D-Calif., said the timing of the e-mail suggested that Lam's dismissal may have been connected to the corruption probe.

 
At 9:38 AM, Anonymous Agop said...

i agree with jack balkin, quoted below in a excerpt lifted from an times opinionator posting (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/) The sudden interest in Gonzales is a little disingenuous to say the least. although politics is like that--sometimes it's the comparatively minor infraction that wakes up the sleepy and results in belated but necessary action...

From the Times:
Perhaps the scandal here, however, isn’t the actions Gonzales took that led senators and others to call for his resignation; what’s scandalous is that his tenure as attorney general hadn’t already led to calls for his head: “It is a sad but altogether predictable feature of our politics that what has finally gotten people to call for Alberto Gonzales’ resignation is not his role in facilitating torture, prisoner abuse, domestic surveillance and violations of Americans’ civil rights, but the possibility that he was punishing United States Attorneys for failing to indict enough Democrats,” writes Yale law professor Jack Balkin at the group legal blog Balkinization.

Balkin adds:
[H]e did more than make mistakes. He actively contributed to undermining the professionalism of the Justice Department, to violating international law– including the Geneva Conventions, whose provisions he famously labeled “quaint”, to condoning torture through extraordinary rendition, to crafting policies of prisoner abuse, to spying on American citizens, and to violating their basic rights.

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for the additions to the conversation. Anonymous's suggestion that this is all just politics is indeed laughable on its face. This most recent outrage shows in sickening detail (and more details will make it that much more sickening) that the Bush White House has done to the justice system what it's done to just about every other corner of the federal government: corrupted it beyond all recognition with its patented brand of cynicism and lawlessness. If there was ever any doubt before that this gang is worse than Nixon's, that doubt has now been removed. These creeps will suffer the verdict of history, if not be sent packing to the federal pen.

 
At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can be as outraged as anyone else, but let's remember that, as Nixonesque as all this looks, the Bush world view is not as cynical-corrupt as Nixon's. The Bush problem, 41 AND 43 as the Addington Thomas book showed, if obliquely, is more "ends justifies the means" illegality than "the other guy does it, so we have to" philosophy of the Nixon illegal activities. The old WASP establishment saw law and legal proceedings as the obstacles to personal dominion that they are. They think of things they want to do not as illegal but "extralegal". Hence, their problems with concepts like "due process" or "open records" or "full disclosure".
Since impeachment or other means to shorten the current regime seem unlikely, we have to find a way to both stop their excesses and work with their good albeit wrongheaded intentions to ameliorate the problems they have gotten us into.
Just work harder to find the good and work with the good: presuming their corruption will stalemate any efforts to obtain some compromise and progress. 43 will still be there a year from now when we are in the throes of the next election cycle even more than we are now.

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

There's some food for thought in this, and I think you're right about some of it. But two things: I'm not sure I see too many good intentions behind anything they're doing. Secondly, I was slyly suggesting in my calling it the "Cheney-Bush administration" that Cheney and his crew have largely been steering the ship, which the Addington piece fleshes out. So it may well be that it's the Cheney world view we should be comparing to Nixon's. And I think they're pretty damn comparable in their arrogance and extreme secrecy. Worse yet, Cheney's entire intent is to restore the so-called "unitary executive" privileges of the presidency which were lost as a result of Watergate's excesses. This crew has shown all over again the importance of checking the power of the presidency, and why the founders first set up our system of checks and balances between the three branches.

 
At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Lou said...

As I sit here in the Washington Hilton, known for the shot to RR, eating a supposedly Kobe burger (not)thinking of the conversation that I had about an hour ago with Congresswoman Betty Sutton at the baggage carousel about the foreclosure crisis and then wondering how much greater this country could be if we put the interest of our fellow man in front of our self-interests. Not so much in a socialistic way (though I usually lean more that way), but in a doing-good-while- doing-well kind of way. Gamesmanship/politics is fun until someone puts an eye out. An eye for an eye makes the world blind.

I know, what does this have to do with anything? I think it has to do with everything, but I could be wrong...

 
At 4:00 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

"Gamesmanship and politics are fun till someone puts an eye out," happens to be precisely what we needed to hear today. Thanks for adding that thought, Lou, which does indeed have much to do with everything we've been talking about. I also happen to think that once one becomes a parent (as you have recently for the first time) you start to appreciate the urgency of doing no harm in new and more vivid ways. Enjoy your stay. I stayed at that same hotel just a couple months ago, and loved watching the passing people parade. I hope you also have time (either on this visit or next) to walk a couple of blocks down to the heart of Dupont Circle, and visit a truly great bookstore, Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe (www.kramers.com).

 
At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Lou said...

Wednesday night I will be at Kramerbooks with friends and beers.

 
At 4:23 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You lucky guy. Travel back safely, and I'm looking forward to our next lunch conversation, whenever we can schedule it.

 
At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Buster said...

John,

You've got me curious.

You laud TPM in contrast to "the egregious Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of Daily Kos."

I agree that Josh and his burgeoning TPM Muckrakers staff are doing a great job, one mostly abdicated by mainstream media. He is doing real journalism AND being upfront about his own take on the stories.

Kos is (successfully) helping to create and sustain the netroots' focus on winning campaigns. His way of doing it has much in common with TPM's methods (i.e. reporting and analyzing.)

Could you cite an example or two of what you consider to be Kos' egregiousness? How would you compare his "egregiousness" with such right-wing blogs as Powerline, Little Green Footballs and Redstate? Can you name a right-wing blog that you feel deserves praise similar to what you bestow on TPM, but deny Kos?

 
At 4:01 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You ask good questions. Let me take the last question first, because it's the easiest. No, I couldn't name a single right-wing site that can begin to hold a candle to TPM, but then that's more because (here's my admitted bias) right-wingers aren't so much trying to get at the truth of public affairs as they are following an agenda. I think Josh Marshall's only agenda is uncovering the truth.

My problems with Kos are many, but let me try to summarize them. First, he can't be raising money for candidates, advising them and the Dem party on strategy and then somehow covering the subject. You can't be observer and advocate at the same time. The article below nicely explains how he's smug, dogmatic and humorless, and interested only in winning, not in the principles winning politicians should uphold. All in all, I think he's something of a cancer on both politics and journalism (not that he's a journalist, but that he's nevertheless exercising a quasi-journalistic function). Anyway, I hope I've been responsive. Prompted by your questions, I may well take up this subject again soon.
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2006/0601.wallace-wells.html

 
At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Buster said...

None of the congressional investigations we've been seeing could be happening without the Dem majority. Kos realized that to break the Thousand Year Reich ambitions of Rove, the first thing is to win elections. If party regulars and consultants get in the way of that goal, they should be swept out of the way.

You say that he can't be both observer and advocate, but I think he has observed correctly in the main and translated into action. He does not purport to be a journalist in the classic mode (not many of those around today, anyway.)

Do you think Repubs have an iota of regard for "the principles winning politicians should uphold"? The principles they uphold are the principles that result in wins, period. Did Clinton balance the budget? Well, abandon that one. Far more important to retain the tribal Clinton hate as an organizing and fundraising principle than stick to a principle.

"Winning" shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of politics, but you can't even get in the door unless you do it. And despite his anger and drive, Kos' approach to winning is still far more principled than Rove's.

 
At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Buster said...

(Sorry, I could have written that a little better.)

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Jeff (I assume this is Jeff Buster, no?) I can't disagree with much of what you say, but I do have a problem with, for instance, using the thoroughly corrupt Karl Rove as a measuring stick for principle. Being more principled than Karl Rove is not a hard thing to accomplish. And any party that wants a thinking person's support has to aspire to something way higher than that, in my opinion.

At the same time, of course, they also have to win elections, in order to keep thugs and creeps like Rove from controlling the levers of government. Bill Clinton understood that you can appeal to the best in Americans while also playing serious hip-checking offense as a way of defending against Republican dirty tricks and thuggery. His once-a-generation genius for such hybrid politics is the real reason he was so deeply hated by the opposition: it was hate growing out of fear. They knew he was better and smarter than them, in part because he understood the depth of their moral depravity and adjusted his armor accordingly.

Anyway, I think we need to regain that Clintonian balance of high-mindedness blended with hard-edged strategic thinking (Hillary isn't necessarily the answer, either). But Kos is about as far away from all of that as possible. Unlike Clinton, who was so deeply grounded in history and public policy and the nuance of Americans' everyday lives, this guy seems to me to be a callow performer, deeply ignorant of history, of our founding principals and of so much else. He just likes being famous. We'll see what he uses that fame for.

 
At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Buster said...

I often wonder how much input Bill has into Hillary's campaign. She supports the war more than the other Dems, and I think this is likely to bite her. It is the kind of interpolation that Bill might have employed during his own embattled term. He was brilliant in his day, but the strategies that worked in the 90s may not work today.

Kos said in the WM article: "There are technologies that are coming out there that I just don't get--I try, but I just don't get them the way I got blogs... So the point is I know I have only a certain amount of time like this, and I'd like to make sure I do something useful with it."

I think you underestimate Kos. I believe his understanding of today's situation is the reason he is so focused on winning. It's what must be done to stop Rove's "vision" from becoming a permanent measuring stick.

(No, I am not Jeff.)

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for sticking with your point. You're quite persuasive on this subject. I think you've single-handedly convinced me to at least give him another look and keep an open mind about him. That's not an insignificant thing, I think. Thanks again for visiting, reading and especially for adding to the conversation. You sound like a very intelligent person.

 
At 7:15 AM, Anonymous Buster said...

Thanks, I appreciate you saying that.

 
At 4:10 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

By the way, in thinking about this a little more (for which you get full credit), it occurred to me that another reason I've never put DailyKos in TPM's league is the simple but crucial issue of readability. The confusing architecture of Daily Kos, with its multiple strands and conversations going off in a hundred directions, has never seemed simple and intuitive to me. I can't be the only one who feels that way. Talkingpointsmemo, on the other hand, reads easily, and while it has plenty of offshoots as well, they're more easily maneuvered, I think. TPM is about to redesign itself. I hope Daily Kos follows suit.

 
At 3:08 AM, Anonymous Buster said...

I agree that the presentation on TPM is more coherent, and more journalistic, as you said. I like reading a single intelligent voice, who takes in the information of the day and tries to make sense of it. Another good blog in that vein is Digby's Hullabaloo. I prefer them both over Kos for daily reading, but Kos' book is pretty danged coherent, too.

 
At 4:28 AM, Anonymous Buster said...

Both TPM and Hullabaloo now have multiple writers, but I started with them when they were uni-author. They're both still good.

 
At 9:26 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I thought by now that I'd pretty much heard of all the major sites, but Hullabaloo is a new one on me. I'll be sure to give it a look. For others who care to as well, you'll find it here:
http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

And by the way, Buster, thanks for clearing up my confusion on who you are or are not. If you care to, please let us know your geographic location and how you came to find this site. It would appease my idle curiosity.

 
At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Buster said...

I proudly hail from the state so ably represented by Senators Inhofe and Coburn. I found your site through a link from a local blog.

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Outstanding, and thanks for sharing that detail. You may (or may not) be our only reader in Oklahoma. But I'm just happy to have you. You certainly add a welcome dimension to the generally Ohio-centric conversation here. I sensed that you were from elsewhere, but wondered where. Nice to hear such a progressive viewpoint from a state with--well, shall we say a couple of somewhat less-than-enlightened U.S. Senators? Then again, our own George Voinovich is something of an embarrassment as well.

 
At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Buster said...

We O-staters have to stick together.

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Here's hoping you know at least a little of your fellow Okie native Mark Singer's work. He's a longtime staff writer for the New Yorker (at least 20 years on staff, I think). And he's occasionally written wonderfully about his roots, including "Funny Money," a book about an infamous Oklahoma business fiasco, the collapse of Penn Square Bank. I'd recommend anything he's written, ever. I think he has a newish collection of his New Yorker columns, which tend to be about oddball American places and people. It's wonderful stuff.

 
At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Buster said...

I read "Funny Money" at the time of its publication. The new book sounds up my alley. I'll look for it.

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I should have expected as much. You seem impossibly well-informed and well-read. In short, any writer's ideal kind of reader. I was surprised, by the way, to find that Funny Money was written more than 20 years ago. How time flies...
Anyway, I hope to meet Singer sometime soon. We share a mentor, who has been singing his praises for some years now, which naturally turned me on to his byline.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home