Archive for the ‘America’ Category

The Death of Deliberative Democracy

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 6th, 2009

Bullies galore! The recent attacks on speakers in Democratic town hall meetings who are guilty of nothing more than trying to explain the various health care proposals to the American people is nothing less than a frontal attack on deliberative democracy, the tmpphps4Kik5[1]life-blood of the American republic.  Everyone should have a chance to speak at these events, even those who choose to speak vigorously and with passion, but not all at once, and not with the purpose of cancelling out debate if that’s what their purpose is. Yet, teams of bullies have descended on these meetings in various parts of the nation apparently orchestrated by Republican deep-pockets to shut down debate. The only ones who benefit from these disruptions are the insurance companies and their corporate backers. But the cost of transmogrifying democratic discourse into targets for attack dogs cannot be underestimated regarding the stability of deliberative democracy. It’s not just defeating health care that’s the problem, although that’s certainly a significant problem; more important, is the harm such intimidation does to public discourse. Democrats must learn how to respond–through advertisements among other appropriate ways–so that the anti-democratic dimension of this warfare is revealed.  In America, to reverse Von Clausewitz’s sentiment that war is politics by other means, in contemporary America, politics seems to be warfare by other means.  This trend needs to be reversed; public discourse must be a no bully zone.

The President’s Limited Role in Health Care

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on August 5th, 2009

One of the odder arguments in the health care debate is that President Obama is having trouble pushing his health care reform agenda through because he has provided general talking points ontmpphpXCWxfS[1] the legislation rather than a draft bill.  The argument is odd for two reasons.  The first reason is that it suggests that the president would be more successful if he had a specific plan to sell.  This argument ignores the possibility that the congressional forces aligned against health care reform would prefer to have a specific plan to fight rather than a general set of reasonable principles.  Picking apart draft legislation and vowing to vote against it both because it is not perfect and because it is the president’s legislation is a perfect way to delay reform and kill the eventual legislation.  This does not mean that the president will win with his strategy.  However, it does put the onus on Congress to either get him a bill on an issue that the American public has suggested it wants fixed or implicitly admit that Congress cannot get the job done.  The second reason the argument is odd is that providing a list of policies and priorities is the type of limited control a chief executive ought to have over legislation.  The president can veto legislation, but must execute the laws that legislators pass and that he signs.  President Obama’s outline for health care reform incorporates items that need to be in the legislation if it is to avoid a presidential veto.  In addition, his outline also suggets his priorities in executing any legislation that may become law.  This is also reasonable because execution is his area of constitutional responsibility.  These twin functions of his list arguably mark the limit of the president’s constitutional responsibility.  The irony in the argument that President Obama ought to draft legislation and send it to Congress is that he is not the legislator-in-chief and arguably would overstep his proper role in doing so.  This is not to say that it would be improper for him to draft legislation.  Rather, it is to say that Congress would have every legitimate reason to ignore any such draft legislation.

Another Lesson on Race in America

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on July 30th, 2009

Two weeks ago, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. got a lesson on race in America, and as a result, so have the rest of us.  A prominent Harvard scholar on race in Amer180px-Henry_Louis_Gates_Jrica, Professor Gates told NY Times Columnist Charles Blow that he has generally lived in “a cocoon of racial tolerance, enlightenment and reason.”  However, on the day that he returned from a trip to China and had trouble opening his front door, he became what Blow called “a member of the Club” – the 66% of Black men in America who told the New York Times that they felt they had been stopped by the police because of their race.  We don’t know whether Officer Crowley treated the professor differently because he was Black.  Officer Crowley might not even know.  Crowley teaches other officers how to avoid racial profiling, but can he avoid his own unsconcious feelings about race?  What we do know is that Professor Gates’ belief that he was treated differently because he was Black was entirely rational, given the history of race in America and in the Boston area.  Professor Gates writes about this history in his scholarship, and he teaches about it in his classes.  On that summer day, the academic became real for Professor Gates.

I vividly remember the day that the academic became real for me.  In law school in another New England city, I learned a lot about race in America from my classes and my African American classmates.  The spring of my second year, a white female and Black male friend and I looked to rent an apartment together.  My white female friend had made the appointment to see the apartment, but when we showed up with our Black friend, we were told the apartment was no longer available.  We went to lunch together and stared at each other blankly, asking, “Did that really happen?  Are we victims of discrimination?” The same thing happened at another apartment building that afternoon.  We later confirmed with friends that lived at both buildings that apartments were still available in both buildings.  We’ll never know for sure whether we were treated differently because my roommate was Black.  What we did know was that we had  been taught another lesson on race in America.

My experience, like that of Professor Gates and Officer Crowley, is typical of how people’s experiences are “colored” by racial differences.  Often, we don’t know whether our actions, or those of other people, are motivated by racial prejudice.  The lesson we can learn from Professor Gates is that race always matters – it is unrealistic to assume that it doesn’t.  What President Obama is trying to do today with his “beer summit” is what we all need to do – recognize that race influences all of us, talk about our differences, and try to understand each other.  When we can do that, then we will have indeed learned a positive lesson about race in America.

Gates, Crowley and Police Reports: The Teachable Moment

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on July 29th, 2009

One real and lost teachable moment in the Prof. Gates/Sgt. Crowley incident relates to how police reports ought to be read.  From the start of the process, many (including Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe) have pointed to Sgt. Crowley’s police report and his statements as the truth regarding what occurred surrounding the Prof. Gates’ arrest.   In the process, they explicitly and implicitly dismissed Prof. Gates’ statements as the statements of an interested party.  The developments of the last few days, including the release of the 911 tapes and radio transmissions related to the incident, suggest that the police report is not worthy of complete belief.  This is no surprise to those of us who teach criminal law.

Sgt. Crowley’s police report indicated that Lucia Whalen told him that she saw one of two black men with backpacks trying to force entry into Prof. Gates’ house.  The 911 tapes show that Whalen only mentioned race to the dispatcher after the dispatcher asked about the race of the suspects adding that one may have been Hispanic and she had no idea about the others.  In addition, she mentioned that the men had suitcases and may have lived in the25gates1 house.  Unless Whalen gained new powers of perception between her 911 call and her conversation with Crowley – which she claimed consisted of identifying herself and little else – the part of the police report regarding the description of the putative suspects is simply fiction.  The explanation for the discrepancy could be that Whalen is lying.  However, it is far more likely that Sgt. Crowley either assumed that the suspects were black or added this detail to make his arrest of Gates appear more reasonable.   The need to make the arrest appear reasonable was particularly necessary in this case, but is present in all cases.  A police report is a post-hoc justification for an arrest.   When an arrest is justified, a police report need not be shaded in a particular direction though may be on occasion.  When an arrest is unjustified, a police report must be shaded heavily or, others might say, simply falsified.  When considered through this prism, one must ask what other parts of the police report were shaded.  Given the radio transmissions, one part of the police report that was likely shaded was the part that claimed that the kitchen acoustics made it necessary for Sgt. Crowley to leave the house.  That Gates followed Crowley out of the house and onto the porch provided Crowley the supposed justification to arrest Gates.  The police report may contain the essence of the dispute, but it almost certainly is inaccurate on key issues.   That creates a teachable moment that is unlikely to be raised during Pres. Obama’s beer summit between Gates and Crowley.

Henry Louis Gates and Bad Policing

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on July 22nd, 2009

By now most have heard of the arrest for disorderly of Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates at his home in Cambridge and the subsequent dropping of charges.  The police report notes that the police officer involved was investigating a call of a possible break-in phoned in by one of Gates’ neighbors who saw Gates and the person who drove him home trying to get into the house by shouldering open a jammed door.  The supposed btmpphpdykgpa1.jpgreak-in was called in around12:44 pm in broad daylight.  The report, the substance of which Gates disputes, suggests that when the officer arrived at the house, Gates initially refused to identify himself.  In addition, Gates supposedly repeatedly yelled at the officer and called him racist.  However, the report also notes that Gates did provide identification, but was arrested when he continued to yell at the officer after the officer left the house.  Even if one believes the police report, which is difficult to do, it is unclear why the police officer was unable to diffuse the situation.  Police officers must deal with incredibly stressful situations quite often and this would seem to be one of the least stressful of those stressful situations, dealing with a 58-year-old man who walks with a cane and had a bronchial infection that he says rendered him unable to yell at anyone and who may or may not have been upset about being investigated for breaking into his own house.  It is difficult to imagine that the following comment occurring some time during the encounter would not have diffused the situation, given that even the report noted that Gates did cooperate enough to provide identification:  “Officer: Sir, I am just investigating a possible break-in of this residence.  I just needed to make sure that you are safe and that your neighbor was mistaken about the possible break-in. Are you sure that no one broke into the house and is hiding inside?  Sorry for the inconvenience.  Here is my name and badge number if you need to follow up.  Please have a nice day.”  Rather than attempt to diffuse the situation, it appears that the officer took umbrage at whatever Dr. Gates said to him or how Dr. Gates said it to him.  Apparently, annoying a police officer in Cambridge appears to be sufficient for some Cambridge police officers to arrest a person.  That may be the way it is, but it does not appear to be good policing.  Whether it is racialized policing is a different more complicated matter.

Comparing Umpiring and Judging: Idiotic or Unintentionally Insightful

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on July 15th, 2009

Chief Justice Roberts famously deemed his vision of judging similar to his vision of umpiring.  According to him, both the judge and the umpire are supposed to call balls and strikes and nothing more.  This vision of judging and the implication that judging is almost robotic has been criticized by some as far too simplistic, particularly as applied to a Supreme Court justice.  Nonetheless, Republican senators have repeatedly noted the umpire/judge analogy during the Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing.

However, if Roberts had thought a bit harder, he would have realized that the umpiring analogy is a very sensible one, just not for the proposition he claimed.  Umpires are charged with calling balls and strikes.  They have a rulebook that defines what is a ball and what is a strike.   However, as any true baseball fan knows, that is only the beginning of the story.  Few umpires call strikes that are high in the umpire_study_08101.jpgstrike zone defined by the rulebook.  Some umpires are known for having a wide strike zone and some are known for having a narrow strike zone.  Depending on where the umpire stands, he can have a difficult time determining whether an inside pitch is a strike or a difficult time determining if an outside pitch is a strike.  Nonetheless, every umpire would claim merely to be calling balls and strikes.  The variation in umpiring is understood in baseball and is taken to be part of the game.  As long as the umpire is consistent with his calls and does not have a wide strike zone for some and a narrow strike zone for others, the deviation from the defined strike zone of the rulebook is accepted.  One irony, of course, is that the discretion (or deviation from the rulebook) that is deemed a part of baseball umpiring is far broader than any deviation from the law that Roberts would claim tolerate.  Nevertheless, Roberts’ true feelings about judicial discretion and Supreme Court judging can be found in the Court’s recent Ricci decision, where he and four of his colleagues simply changed the rulebook rather than call the balls and strikes of that case.

Sarah Palin and Quitting

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on July 8th, 2009

Regardless of what one thinks of Gov. Sarah Palin, she quit.  Quitting itself is not necessarily problematic if one has a good reason to do so.  It is unclear she has a good reason.  At least three legitimate reasons exist to quit a public office before one’s term has ended.  First, if one’s actions or health appear to make it impossible for the official to do the job the official was elected to do, quitting is legitimate.  Second, if something arises that fundamentally changes the basic agreement an official had with the voters who elected her, quitting is legitimate.  For example, if the official changes parties, quitting is legitimate.  Third, if the electorate appears to want the official to resign, quitting is legitimate.   The official arguably need not resign under any of these circumstances, but quitting under such circumstances is acceptable.

However, if the official quits to pursue some other task, the official ought to explain precisely why she is final.jpgquitting and ought to be able to move directly to that post-office task that precipitated the resignation.  Spending more time with family in the wake of a scandal, starting a new job at a think tank or going to rehab are all reasonable landing places for officials who quit.  The problem with Gov. Palin is that she simply appears to not want to do the job she was elected to do.  In her press conference, she appeared to say simply that she had better things to do than be governor of Alaska.   Palin’s attempt to tie her decision to quit to her decision to decline to run for a second term and thereby become a lame duck of choice was weak.  Being a lame duck hardly means that one cannot run a state effectively.  Virginia governors can only serve one term.  Of course, it would be nonsensical to suggest that the governor of Virginia could reasonably resign the day after being sworn in if he decides he has something better to do.

It would be interesting to talk to Gov. Palin’s son Track and ask him if, as Palin suggested, he really agreed that his mother should quit.  Let’s hope that Track Palin does not try to follow her lead.  If Track believes that he can resign from the Army and go home as soon as he decides that he will not re-enlist, he will be in for a rude awakening.

What Do We Want in Iran?

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on June 24th, 2009

I have heard complaints about how the Obama Administration is handling the Iranian election and its aftermath.  The problem with this line of complaint is that the complainers are not clear about what they want or what we as a country should want.  The complainers may want one of three things.  They may want Ahmedinejad out as president or they may want a one-person, one-vote type of democracy or they may want to fix a supposedly stolen election.

Those who merely want Ahmedinejad out can hardly expect the Obama Administration to appear push for that result.  Having Ahmedinejad removed is a high-risk strategy and may ultimately be a losing proposition.  If the Obama Adminstration seeks to have Ahmedinejad ousted and he survives, necessary engagement with Iran in the short run is out.  If Ahmedinejad were somehow ousted, we would be stuck with a different president who may not be much better on the key issues on which we differ with Ahmedinejad.  Of course, even if the substitute president were better than Ahmedinejad, it is unclear that he would have sufficient power to make a difference with respect to Iran-United States relations.

Those who would claim that a one-person, one-vote style of democracy in Iran is absolutely necessary would be hard pressed to explain why that style of democracy is so important given that we do not have one here.  Our system does not guarantee that the presidential candidate with the most votes – the candidate with the most votes for his electors – gets elected president.  There may be historical reasons for the Electoral College and there may be reasons to keep it.  However, it is not democracy in the vein of one-person, one-vote.

Those who want the Obama Administration to express outrage at a stolen election must present more evidence that an election was stolen.  In addition, they must explain why we care that an election was stolen in Iran.  Part of the claim that the election was stolen appears to be based on spotty election returns, the vast numbers of people complaining and the significant number of folks who have taken to the streets.  The Iranian Government’s response to the unrest has been problematic to say the least.  However, widespread complaints and extreme government overreaction does not amount to fraud or a stolen election.   Unfortunately, the people in control of the ballots are those who might seem disposed to favor Ahmadinejad.  However, that describes election adminstration in large parts of the world and even parts of the United States.

This is not to argue that the Obama Administration’s response on the Iranian election has been perfect.  However, it is unclear that an American president really wants to get involved in the elections of a foreign, sovereign nation, other than to condemn violent government action that appears to be a crackdown on the exercise of the human right to petition one’s government for a redress of grievances.  At least, it should not appear that an American president wants to get any more involved than that.

When Will the Republican Attack on Civil Discourse End?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on June 9th, 2009

Jon Voigt has joined the Republican distillers of venom and vitriol absent facts, arguments, and reasoning. Consider: “Are we supposed to sitting and waiting, watching for the possibility of a new Holocaust? Who’s going to take the responsibility to keep America, I mean Israel, safe. I’ll tell you why this really scares the hell out of me. Everything Obama has recommended has turned out to be tmpphpbmaixv1.jpgdisastrous. . . .  It saddens me greatly to think we were the great powerful good in the world. We as Americans knew America to be strong. We were the liberators of the entire world. We are becoming a weak nation. . . . Obama really thinks he is a soft-spoken Julius Caesar. He think he’s going to conquer the world with his soft-spoken sweet talk and really think he’s going to bring all of the enemies of the world into a little playground, where they’ll swing each other back and forth. . . . We and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression. Let’s give thanks to [Republicans] for not giving up and staying the course to bring an end to this false prophet, Obama.” The utter lack of content in this diatribe and the fact that some people believe it serves as legitimate public dialogue is anathema to everything the Founders of this great nation hoped to achieve by “beginning the world anew.” Yet, Voigt and his cohorts steeped in this visceral American superiority have no idea what a deliberative democracy and its public discourse is supposed to be like. Obama, like any other American leader, should be subject to severe, reason, and insightful criticism. Voigt has got the severity right, but where’s the reason and insight? The inanity of much of what passes for Republican political discourse does a great disservice to republican democracy and the Constitution upon which it is based. I do not believe that thoughtful Republicans would take this even remotely seriously if responsible Republican political leaders and journalists spoke up against its poisonous effect on the future of the nation.

The Impoverished Character of American Political Media

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on June 9th, 2009

I’m posting an enormously important discussion of the poverty of American media aired on the Bill Moyers’ Journal one of the more important television programs on American politics and society. I wish I were able to post the entire video.

June 5, 2009

ANNOUNCER: We now return to Bill Moyers in the studio.BILL MOYERS: And now the news. Or what passes for news. It’s harder and harder to tell these days, because so often what passes itself off as journalism is nothing more than instant opinion with or without the facts.

Take President Obama’s big speech in Cairo this week. Because of the time difference, it aired so early in the morning, most of us didn’t see it live but that didn’t stop the pundits telling us what we should think about it.

JOHN ROBERTS: We’ve got some of the best minds on television-

LIZ CHENEY: I think it missed some fundamental points-

PAT BUCHANAN: I don’t think this speech was an apology speech.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Over and over again apologies and moral equivalencies-

BILL SAMMON: He quoted from the Koran three times and we did a search to see how many times as president he’s quoted from the Bible.

BILL MOYERS: Meanwhile, NBC news this week delivered a candygram to the president – two prime time specials called “Inside the Obama White House.” President Obama couldn’t have asked for a sweeter salute…

BRIAN WILLIAMS: People react strongly to this president. We’ve seen people moved to tears after just the briefest encounter with him.

BILL MOYERS: As for an exclusive revelation about your government from behind the White House’s closed doors, well, hold your breath, here it comes…

BRIAN WILLIAMS: There are apples everywhere. Orchards worth of them in bowls throughout the building. They are meant of course to promote healthy eating but what we saw more often is this: the West Wing may lead the western world in candy consumption.

WHITE HOUSE STAFFER: These are official White House M&Ms.

BILL MOYERS: Now, I’ve been there, done that and got the tie clip. I can tell you this is the kind of Valentine every White House press secretary yearns to hand the boss. And it’s not all that hard to achieve, because many of our watchdogs are as housebroken as Bo the White House puppy…

On the other hand, right wing pundits tried to sully the reputation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic appointment to the Supreme Court.

SEAN HANNITY: Is she the most activist nominee in the history of the court?

RICK SANCHEZ: Let me start with you Judge Sotomayor is a racist?

TOM TANCREDO: Certainly her words would indicate that that is the truth.

WENDY LONG: She said I think as a Latina woman I’d make better decisions than a white man… It’s offensive it’s racist, it’s sexist

GLENN BECK: She’s not that intellectually bright and she’s almost a bully. She just loves to hear herself talk.

BILL MOYERS: Here to comment on this week’s coverage are two knowledgeable observers and analysts. Brooke Gladstone is managing editor and co-host of the National Public Radio weekly series “On the Media.” Previously; she was Senior Editor of NPR’s “All Things Considered” as well as NPR’s media correspondent. She’s writing a book called, “The Influencing Machine.”

Jay Rosen is a Professor of Journalism at New York University, as well as a widely published writer and media critic. One of the founders of the citizen journalism movement, he’s the creator of a popular blog called “PressThink,” subtitled “Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine.” Ten years ago, he wrote a book asking, “What are Journalists For?” Something I keep wondering about.

Welcome back to both of you. The columnist E.J. Dionne, writing in “The Washington Post” this week, wrote, “A media environment that tilts to the right is obscuring what President Obama stands for and closing off political options that should be part of the public discussion. When Rush Limbaugh sneezes or Newt Gingrich tweets, their views ricochet from the internet to cable television and into the traditional media. It is remarkable how successful they are in setting what passes for the news agenda.” Do you agree with him?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: What I see is that there’s a desperate need on the part of media all the time, and increasingly year after year, to respond to what they think are the concerns of the news consumer. And so, there’s a tendency to bend over backwards to prove they aren’t liberal. This is a canard that began with the Nixon administration, probably before, but really took off steam then. And they’re continually in an acrobatic position, trying to overbalance, show what they think are both sides, a side that isn’t being expressed by a mainstream media that is perceived to be liberal, or they believe it’s perceived to be liberal.

JAY ROSEN: I think there is a dynamic where it is in the interests of reporters to portray our political debate as standing between people like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich on the right, and Barack Obama on the left. And what E.J. Dionne was saying is that there are plenty of people to Obama’s left who deserve as large a platform as a Rush Limbaugh or a Newt Gingrich or perhaps even more so.

And I think this involves one of the subtler things that journalists do in our public life, Bill. Which is they set the terms of what a legitimate debate is. They marginalize certain people as not a part of it. And they include other people, who perhaps ought to be marginalized as a central part of it. And it’s very hard for us to hold them accountable for those decisions, because they are subtler than we sometimes recognize.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I do think, though, we have to be careful in not regarding the media as solely the mainstream media, as solely the mainstream television news outlets. Or even the big daily papers. There is a huge raucous, wide-ranging discussion going out there. And even though it is not the dominant media in this country yet, it will be a far more democratic discussion as we move forward.

BILL MOYERS: You’re talking about-

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I really do believe that.

BILL MOYERS: -the internet? Permanently?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I am talking about the internet. I’m talking about all the different conversations, local, national, and global that are outside the realm of these filters and these nervous Nellies who are concerned about being perceived as liberals.

BILL MOYERS: Yes, but the big megaphone belongs still to the networks. Both the commercial networks and the cable channels, right? So, ultimately, all this has to be filtered through their microphone.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Bill, and I’m asking you this honestly, ’cause I don’t know the answer. Do we know that Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich have managed the great task of tarring Sonia Sotomayor as a racist? I don’t think so. Rush Limbaugh backpedaled just as Gingrich had, to a certain extent, earlier this week. And said that he would support Sonia Sotomayor if she turned out to be pro-life. Well, that’s, you know, at least a policy question that Rush Limbaugh raised. Very out of character for him. Just as earlier Gingrich said, “I’m sorry I used the word racist.” He backed away from the word. He didn’t back away from the charge, as we know.

BILL MOYERS: Well, that’s a valid point, Brooke. But the fact of the matter is they still got away with some deplorable tactics.

I mean, here is the twitter that Newt Gingrich sent out. And which got huge play throughout that stage you were talking about. “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Now, that’s not ambiguous. That’s very clear. Sotomayor is a racist.

JAY ROSEN: I don’t think it’s true that what’s on television automatically influences the American people. Sometimes people look at what the shouting heads are saying. And they reject it. And certainly that may have happened with Gingrich in this case. But it’s true that because he is perceived as a legitimate political figure, he may say something that’s completely out of bounds, and yet it will ricochet around the political system.

Because we don’t have a press that’s willing to say, “this is not a legitimate argument this person is making.” We don’t have a press that’s willing to say, “this, he said it, but it’s completely out of bounds. Or it’s completely baseless. Or it has no grounding in reality.” We just don’t have a group of political interpreters who are willing to say that.

BILL MOYERS: This is Rush Limbaugh speaking about Judge Sotomayor.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: How do you get promoted in the Barack Obama administration? By hating white people…She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court. I don’t care if we’re not supposed to say it. We’re supposed to pretend it didn’t happen. We’re supposed to look at other things. But it’s the elephant in the room…How can a President nominate such a candidate? And how can a party get behind such a candidate? That’s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke or pick somebody even less offensive.

BILL MOYERS: Now, that played for several days. The press picks it up, beats the drum. I mean, he slathers mud everywhere, and then when the dirty work’s done, he conveniently takes it back, creating yet another news cycle for his so called retraction.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why did he take it back, though? Not because the dirty work was done, necessarily, but because the mud just didn’t stick. How often does Rush backpedal? And he has. Suddenly he sees her as a viable candidate if she would be pro-life. Which, you know, I don’t know where she stands on that. But the fact is that suddenly she is out of the realm of inadmissible to a policy discussion. Rush himself recently made that change. How come? Is it possible because he’s not longer speaking in such an impermeable echo chamber that these things can reverberate around without consequences.

BILL MOYERS: All right, but let’s talk about that echo chamber. I’m going to show you two clips, one of Andrea Mitchell talking to the right winger Pat Buchanan.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Do you agree with what Rush Limbaugh said?

PAT BUCHANAN: Yeah, I do agree. I don’t agree with some of the terms. But I do agree that Sonia Sotomayor, she does believe in race-based justice. Basically, at the expense of white males to advance people of color. But the truth is, that’s what Barack Obama believes, as well.

BILL MOYERS: To me, there’s no doubt this has an effect. ‘Cause let me show you a quote from Bob Schieffer on last Sunday’s “Face the Nation.” And then I have a question to both of you about it.

BOB SCHIEFFER I want to get right to the quote that has caused all of the controversy that Washington has been talking about all week. What Justice, or Judge Sotomayor said in the speech eight years ago. And here it is. She said, “I would hope that a Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male, who hasn’t lived that life.” Senator Kyl, is that enough to keep her from being confirmed as a Justice on the Supreme Court?

BILL MOYERS: So, instead of deconstructing the quote, Bob plays the beltway card: is this going to cause her not to be confirmed?

JAY ROSEN: Well, first of all, Bob Schieffer forgot to ask himself whether the controversy that had gripped Washington was a legitimate controversy. And surely that’s one thing we need him for.

BILL MOYERS: Who’s to decide that? Legitimacy-

JAY ROSEN: Well-

BILL MOYERS: -or illegitimacy?

JAY ROSEN: Well, Tom Goldstein, an author of the SCOTUSblog, which is a very carefully put together blog about the Supreme Court, and a law professor – looked at the record of Sotomayor’s decisions. In 96 cases, where there were discrimination claims before the court, she decided against the claim of discrimination 78 times. And there were only about ten where she sided at all with a plaintiff charging discrimination.

Now, if you know that, if you know that record, then the whole controversy looks kind of fake from the beginning. And so, what Bob Schieffer did was take what Washington is buzzing about, refused to fact check it, take it as a given, and ask a kind of insider political question. “Is this going to sink her nomination?” Which is premature and which abandons his role as a journalist in determining what is a legitimate controversy. What should we be arguing about? Which views have standing as facts, as fact-based?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s disappointing to be sure. And I’m really sorry that that responsibility was abrogated. On the other hand, what this is a clear example of, and I hope I don’t sound like a broken record at this point, is increasingly how the Washington punditocracy and those who preside over it, and the Republican Party are marginalizing themselves. By focusing on these people whose influence, whose direct influence seems to be, used to be broadly at the country at large. But if we are to believe the polls, and I guess that’s a whole different show for you, it seems that the importance of Rush as a mover of opinion, not as a generator of audience, necessarily. But as a mover of opinion- and Newt Gingrich is diminishing. Fewer and fewer people are identifying themselves as Republican.

So, you see this false balance being created in the news for the purposes of having something that generates a lot of heat without much light to talk about. And you see a medium, a class of experts. A political party. All in the process of marginalizing themselves in pursuit of generating some excitement on television.

BILL MOYERS: So, if you’re right, this is happening without what Jay identified earlier. Very few progressive voices to the left of Obama are having a role in the national debate. So, what’s happening that is bringing people around to challenge the Limbaughs and the Gingriches, when in fact those alternative voices are rarely heard?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s a fascinating question. And I venture to say, that it’s probably Obama. Obama is an enormously appealing character. And he has placed himself in front of the cameras everywhere. He’s given tons of so-called exclusive interviews everywhere. He has made himself the best spokesman for his own moderate position. And the country likes it. And that’s what the polls suggest. It seems quite simple, but that’s the stand in for the entire other side of the debate. And the people to the left of him, you are right, we don’t see them. And it would be useful to see more of them on television. But we do see them on the net.

JAY ROSEN: I think there’s a very interesting dynamic here, which is that Obama makes a living by not being what the right wing says he is. And it was very powerful in the election, when he showed up at the debates. He didn’t look anything like or sound anything like what the heated fantasies of the conservative wing had said. And simply by not being who Rush says he is, he ends up seeming way more trustworthy than perhaps he actually should be.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And makes Rush less credible.

JAY ROSEN: And makes Rush less credible. But even though I agree with you, Brooke that the conservative base is kind of marginalizing itself. It isn’t necessarily being marginalized by the news media.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: That’s for sure. I completely agree with you there.

JAY ROSEN: So, let’s marginalize them. If they’re self-marginalized.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean? Do you mean because they still, as E.J. Dionne wrote, they still are the dominant voices in the so-called mainstream media? Is that what you’re saying?

JAY ROSEN: What I’m saying is they’re still useful in presenting the journalist as the even-handed person sitting in the middle. And because they have that role, they don’t get eclipsed.

BILL MOYERS: I want to ask you about the health care debate. The swiftboating of health care reform has begun, right?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: The fact that is that what has widely been regarded as a swiftboat event began, and was by some of the people who did the Kerry swiftboating, and by some of the people who sunk, many years earlier, the Clinton plan. And all the fact checked organizations have gotten on board, not to mention a profoundly aggressive campaign by the Obama administration itself, which likes using the word “swiftboat” all over the place, to short hand that, you know, you can’t believe anything these people say.

And in a way, it’s an effort to undercut any debate about the health care proposal. But at least it does place a spotlight on the outright lies.

BILL MOYERS: One of the subjects not in the debate over health care reform is single-payer. And contrary to what many people think about it being a far left proposal, the polls show that it has substantial support among a large swath of the American people. Many of whom would not call themselves far left.

But Senator Baucus said, its not in the discussion because we’ve gone too far now to go back and consider single-payer. There it seems to me is a very good example of how a legitimate idea gets delegitimated in the debate between the powers that be.

JAY ROSEN: I think it’s a classic example of the real religion of the Washington press, which is savviness. And from a problem-solving point of view, we would certainly want to consider single-payer, because it’s an important option in a debate. But from a savvy point of view, the inside players know that single-payer is never going to be the answer. And they’re already factoring that into their political calculations about what’s likely to result.

Which in a way cuts off the debate that we need to have. And so, the inside players in Washington are able to kind of contain the debate by anticipating the outcome, and then talking about the things that are most likely within that set of assumptions. And this is a normal process in Washington that goes on all the time. And it’s one of the ways that journalists shape the terms of debate.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: You make an important point when you talk about the fact that Baucus himself said it’s off the table. The fact is that reporters most often take their cues on almost any subject from national security to domestic legislation from the debate on Capitol Hill. If they are constraining their own debate, reporters who go outside and report on these other issues are seen as outliers. Are seen as activists pushing the discussion in one direction or another.

So, then you have to raise the question, “Why isn’t it being raised on Capitol Hill?” Which is the question you raised. And I honestly think that our Democratic Party is suffering under the same paranoid concerns that the press are. That this putatively liberal party may be too liberal.

BILL MOYERS: Let me show you a clip from a commercial that’s being run by groups that are opposed to a public option in the health care debate. And then I have a question for you.

RICK SCOTT: Before Congress rushes into overall health care, listen to those who already have government run health care.

FEMALE VOICE: In Britain, Katie Brickell. Denied the Pap test that could have saved her from cervical cancer. Kate Spall. Her mother suffered on a wait list as her renal cancer became terminal. Angela French. Cost cutting keeps her waiting for the medication she needs to stay alive.

RICK SCOTT: For those tragic stories and more at CPRights.org. Tell Congress to listen, too.

BILL MOYERS: CPRights.org is sponsored by Richard Scott, who had to leave his company. The largest health care chain in the world, Columbia/HCA. After the company was caught ripping off the feds and state governments for hundreds of millions dollars in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payments. He waltzed away with a $10 million severance deal. And $300 million worth of stock. And here he is telling us that his way of health reform is the way the public should go. Now, how does the public get the facts about an ad like that. And a guy like Rick Scott?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did you get the facts? The fact is that I’ve seen Scott being identified, more or less, as you did, in every single story about this campaign. You know, I think that there is now a willingness, as there wasn’t even during the Kerry swiftboating earlier on, and certainly not during the sinking of the Clinton health care plan, to acknowledge the source of these ads. I think that all of us, as news consumers, as the American people, are becoming more and more aware that just because you see it on TV doesn’t mean that it’s true.

JAY ROSEN: I agree with Brooke in this sense.

. . . . .

JAY ROSEN: I think that an ad like that is assuming that the receiver of it is an isolated person, who hearing these scary tales of government-run health care will therefore pick up the phone and pressure Congress. And the way the ad imagines the viewer is in social isolation. Where no other messages will get through. And I think that is what’s changing. Is that people are not isolated anymore. They’re not sitting on the end of their television sets and receiving messages from the center only.

And in a way you could see these kinds of campaigns where you raise money from rich people to scare less educated people. Or low information voters, as they call them in the political trade. As a sign of weakness. The rhetoric might be more furious, the ads might be more outrageous. But it’s because this kind of communication is actually weaker and it’s working less.

BILL MOYERS: This is going to be a long, hot summer. We’ve got so many issues on the front burners. Afghanistan, health care, Supreme Court nominations, and who knows what else is coming? What will you be looking for this summer, as the news cycle unfolds?

JAY ROSEN: Well, I’m looking for a press that recognizes that the world has changed. And that the political class in Washington created a lot of these huge problems, and doesn’t necessarily have the answers to them. And that the way of doing politics that has sufficed in the capitol for so long, of you take your polls, you raise your money, you run the ads, you scare people, you win the controversy of the day, you win the news cycle. That that system itself is failing. And those who participate in it are, month by month, losing credibility.

And I don’t think that the press has realized that they are a part of that system that is failing. And that they, too, need a new approach. Let’s take David Gregory, for example, the host of “Meet the Press.” He hasn’t quite realized yet that he’s got to go outside the political class. To bring in new thinkers, new ideas, different parts of the political spectrum.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: What are you talking about? He’s twittering.

JAY ROSEN: He’s twittering, but he’s not listening. And twitter doesn’t update you. It’s just a trendy thing.

BILL MOYERS: No. You get Newt Gingrich twittering, right? About racism.

JAY ROSEN: I mean, the political class in this country has failed. And if we have a talk show system that is nothing but the same old players, then that system is going to fail.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I am really interested in what’s going to happen to what’s increasingly called the media ecosystem this summer. Precisely because of all these sources for optimism that I seem to have. There are a number of polls where people talking about the media and how horrible it is and the echo chamber phenomenon online. And the biased or lopsided discussion on television. And they always say, in greater and greater numbers, you know, I’m not really worried about me. It’s the other people. They’re going to get all manipulated by this. They’re going to get all fooled by this. It’s the other people. Quote unquote, you know? The “stupid people.” Who aren’t going to be able to figure their way out of this.

And if all of those people answering the polls aren’t worrying about themselves, and they’re just worried about the stupid people, then maybe those people, besides from being a bit arrogant, are increasingly engaged. And what I think we are going to see is a greater positive symbiosis. Not the negative ones we’ve seen between, you know, the early symbiosis. Where you know, the blogs will start, you know, an obsession.

Did Michelle Obama actually say “whitey?” And then it makes its way onto the cable news. But a more positive symbiosis, where there is a charge made in one place. It’s fact checked in another. The fact check ricochets in more places. Corrections happen more quickly. So that symbiosis. And then another symbiosis between the online world and news consumers that don’t have their own blogs that are willing to, but who are nevertheless willing to participate and present their own facts and experiences, and send that stuff onto the blogs, where it can be, you know, processed and then bounced back and forth. It’s going to be a really interesting summer, because there’s so much fuel. And it’s just going to be interesting to see what kind of energy comes out of it, and whether there’s a lot of pollution or whether it’s clean energy.

BILL MOYERS: Well, there really two places I heartily recommend my viewers go. One is to “On The Media” at NPR.org and to PressThink.org. Jay Rosen and Brooke Gladstone, thanks for being with me again on the Journal.

JAY ROSEN: Thank you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: That’s it for this week. To read additional media analysis from Jay Rosen and Brooke Gladstone, go to the Moyers Web site at PBS.org. You can also find out more from Jeremy Scahill and about the current situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.