Sunday, December 21, 2008

WSJ article by J Sinton, founding president of Air America Radio

Limbaugh Is Right on the Fairness Doctrine, by Jon Sinton
Liberals don't need equal-time rules to compete

Dec 22, 2008

Conservative talk radio has worked itself into a tizzy lately over the rumored revival of the Fairness Doctrine -- the FCC policy that sought to enforce balanced discussion on the nation's airwaves.

As the founding president of Air America Radio, I believe that for the last eight years Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have been cheerleaders for everything wrong with our economic, foreign and domestic policies. But when it comes to the Fairness Doctrine, I couldn't agree with them more. The Fairness Doctrine is an anachronistic policy that, with the abundance of choices on radio today, is entirely unnecessary.

Instituted in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine obligated stations to "afford reasonable opportunity" for opposing views on topics of "public importance." At the time, most cities outside of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles had only a few stations. AM radio was in everyone's car and home, but there were just three or four stations per market. FM radio was still a quarter of a century away from commercial success.

Policy makers who introduced the Fairness Doctrine were worried that crafty special interests could overwhelm the airwaves with one-sided propaganda and tilt elections, sway public sentiment or foment civil unrest. Their fears were understandable. Joseph Goebbels effectively used radio in service of the Third Reich.

Contrary to what some people would have us believe today, the Fairness Doctrine was primarily an issue on TV, since radio didn't have much talk. Until the 1970s, AM stations had a steady diet of music with a couple of minutes of news at the top of the hour. But by 1978, music had migrated to FM, leaving AM in a programming lurch. The history of media is replete with new technologies stealing the content of the ones they supplant. Motion pictures killed vaudeville; radio was full of dramas and comedies before Jack Webb and Jack Benny switched to TV. As for AM radio, it was not until Rush found an audience on WABC in New York City in 1988 that the AM operators knew what to do with their once mighty stations.

The conventional wisdom is that Rush's success depended on the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine. Some say that if he had to make time for opposing opinions, Rush would have flopped. Personally, I think he is most entertaining when he is dismantling opposing arguments. He's successful because he is a superior entertainer.

Rush created the new AM template, and it spread like wildfire. When programmers and sales managers get a whiff of success, it is cloned in every conceivable way until the audience, once grateful for innovation, tunes out.

So why didn't liberal talk radio flourish as well? There are several reasons, none of which has to do with a lack of talent. Bill Maher, Al Franken, Stephanie Miller, David Bender, Janeane Garofalo, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow all have the chops.

First, boring hosts made the occasional, unsuccessful foray (sorry, Mario Cuomo). Second, some talented lefties like Mike Malloy were cast into the abyss of right-wing talk radio where they were completely out of place. (Radio is a mood servicing drug; format purity rules.)

Finally, most broadcast owners are conservative. Programs like Rush's have made them rich, so the last thing they want is to mess with success, particularly if it entails airing opinions they don't share. Trust me, it took us years to get them to play rock 'n' roll.

No one tried a national, 24-hour liberal station before Air America Radio. When we founded Air America, we aimed to establish a talk network that lived at the intersection of politics and entertainment. Of course, we were motivated by our political leanings. But as a lifelong broadcaster, I was certain that at least half the American audience was underserved by conservative talk radio. Here was an opportunity to capture listeners turned off by the likes of, say, Sean Hannity. The business opportunity was enticing.

It never occurred to me to argue for reimposing the Fairness Doctrine. Instead, I sought to capitalize on the other side of a market the right already had built.

When conservative talking heads wave a red flag about the possible revival of the Fairness Doctrine, they know it's a great way to play the victim and rally supporters. But I'll let Rush continue with his self-righteous indignation -- and if I want, I'll tune into Rachel Maddow, or one of the thousands of other voices that populate radio today.

Mr. Sinton is the founding president of Air America Radio.

WSJ editorial: A Middle East Arms Race

A Middle East Arms Race
The Arabs respond to the likelihood of the Iranian bomb

Dec 20, 2008

Hosni Mubarak is no one's idea of a visionary, but in sensing the Middle East's political winds he has few equals. So when Egypt's president-for-life warned his ruling party last week that "the Persians are trying to devour the Arab states," it's worth paying attention.The immediate cause of the remarks is a war of words by Iran that led Mr. Mubarak to recall an envoy from Tehran last week. Among other provocations was the recent release of an Iranian film celebrating the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, Mr. Mubarak's predecessor. A Tehran demonstration late last month also called for Mr. Mubarak's execution, on the grounds of his alleged "subservience to the Zionists."

But the broader context of the friction is its steady progress toward a nuclear weapon and the encroachment by Iran into the Arab world -- principally through Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Mahdists in Iraq. States like Egypt and Saudi Arabia watched with dismay in the summer of 2006 as Israel failed to deliver a knockout blow against Hezbollah. Now they calculate that the U.S. lacks the will to prevent a nuclear Iran. As for Barack Obama's promise of "tough diplomacy," we suspect the Arab states take him about as seriously as they would a tourist who thinks he knows how to bargain at an oriental bazaar.

Little wonder, then, that the Arab states are taking a keen interest in acquiring nuclear capabilities of their own. The latest is the United Arab Emirates, which hopes to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. before the Bush Administration leaves office. Saudi Arabia is seeking a similar deal, while Egypt, Algeria, Turkey and even Yemen are also in the market for reactors.

The ostensible rationale for these reactors varies from place to place, from energy-intensive water desalination schemes to reliable electricity supply. Under the terms of the agreement being proposed for the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, neither country would enrich its own uranium and both would put their facilities under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Still, it's difficult to see what use oil giants like the Saudis or Algerians would have for nuclear power except as a hedge against an Iranian bomb. IAEA safeguards or not, possession of "civilian" nuclear technology served India and Israel as the crucial first step to getting a bomb. It gave local scientists first-hand experience with the technologies and allowed opportunities for the covert diversion of key nuclear materials. Reports have circulated for years that the Saudis have pursued a secret nuclear program with help from Pakistan, though the Saudis deny this. Egypt has also been cited by the IAEA for undeclared nuclear work.

All this is a useful reminder that the threat of Iran's nuclear programs lies not only in whether it will acquire a bomb. It's also a question of how Iran's neighbors will react. The Israelis have said publicly that a nuclear Iran is an intolerable threat, a view many Arab states share privately. If neither Israel nor the U.S. act, they will be tempted to seek their security by acquiring their own nuclear deterrents. A Middle East in which Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt have the bomb -- in addition to Israel and Pakistan -- is possible within a decade.

Maybe there's someone at the Council on Foreign Relations who can explain why this isn't such a terrible scenario, what with everyone pointing a gun at everyone else's head. Our view is that this is a recipe for global instability, if not catastrophe, and a reminder of why no one should be complacent at the looming prospect of an Iranian bomb.

Wesley K. Clark: Actually, Democrats and the military can get along. Here's how.

Taking Command. By Wesley K. Clark
Actually, Democrats and the military can get along. Here's how.

Washington Post. Sunday, December 21, 2008; Page B01

The last time the United States elected a Democrat as its president to govern with a majority-Democratic Congress, an immediate fracas arose over gays in the military, reinforcing a partisan story line that Democrats can't be trusted with the nation's security. Sixteen years later, some will certainly be watching how deftly President-elect Barack Obama salutes, or how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid say the Pledge of Allegiance.

These are symbols, of course, but the national security challenges the nation faces now are anything but symbolic: two wars, an ongoing terrorist menace, a growing list of unmet military needs and a long roster of other threats arising from new quarters. So it's natural to ask: What do the Democrats need to understand about the military? And what does the military need to understand about the Democrats? As someone who has labored in both camps, I offer some thoughts.

Let's start by facing the truth: Democrats have long had an ambivalent relationship with the military, and vice versa. While Democrats profess to like and support the military, Republicans usually win more military and veterans' votes than Democrats, and no wonder: Democrats have been pilloried for supposedly wanting to cut defense spending, for being soft on America's enemies and for wanting to use the armed forces for "social engineering" -- code for letting openly gay soldiers serve. As one senior Army leader told me a few years ago, "The Democrats may be all in favor of using force in a crisis, but can you trust them to stick with us when the going gets tough?" Exit polls last month showed that voters who've served in the military went for the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain, over Obama by 54 percent to 44 percent.

And the mistrust runs both ways. To some Democrats, the armed forces appear, in the words of one New Hampshire activist who chided me in 2003, to be an "authoritarian, hierarchical, male-dominated" institution that's out of touch with liberal values. A small number of Democrats can usually be counted on to oppose any use of force and occasionally go after the institution that makes the use of force possible. (I sometimes hear concerns on college campuses that the make-up of our all-volunteer force is not "representative" of America, but I don't see the students rushing to volunteer themselves to redress the balance.)

So it's easy to assume that the military and the Democrats don't and won't get along. It's also wrong. As the 2000 election approached, a member of the Joint Chiefs confided to me: "You know, people wouldn't believe it, but probably no one else will ever treat us as well as the Clinton administration has." From a shaky beginning, including the confidence-battering 1993 "Black Hawk Down" shootout in Somalia, the top civilians on Clinton's team and the president himself took pains to build respect and trust with the military's top brass -- above all by engaging in forthright dialogue.

Building on that, Obama is off to a promising start with the Pentagon, steering clear of a reprise of the fight over "don't ask, don't tell" and picking pragmatic, non-ideological leaders whom top military officers will find highly reassuring -- especially since so many may have discovered from personal experience that a particular partisan label is no guarantee of good leadership. Retaining Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, designating Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (with her six years of experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee) as secretary of state and appointing James L. Jones (a retired four-star Marine general) as national security adviser should go a long way toward assuring members of the armed forces that their concerns will be given a fair hearing at the very highest levels.

But the incoming team and the Democrat-dominated Congress still need to work hard to understand the lower ranks and the culture of today's military. Perhaps as many as 75 million Americans have either served in uniform or have family members who have done so. At any given time, the armed forces total some 2 million Americans on active duty, in the National Guard or in the reserves -- all volunteers. Most read military-focused newspapers, such as the Army Times, and many live on bases, relatively isolated from nearby communities. The majority are married, and almost half have children, creating a subculture of families that endure frequent moves and frightening absences. Most Americans just can't fathom the stress and pain this lifestyle imposes (although Michelle Obama can -- as the future first lady showed by reaching out to military family members during the campaign).

Our military is a values-based institution. Don't think of it as Republican or Democratic. Sure, occasionally someone will pop up, like the radio talk-show host I met while traveling in Arizona, who assured me that he had become a dues-paying Republican while serving as a Marine officer and thought that everyone else should, too. But most of us are uncomfortable with partisanship. True, many in the military, especially those who have served longer, lean toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. (What would you expect? The military must obey the orders of the commander in chief and follow the chain of command, which means giving up one's own liberties and spending time in difficult and often very dangerous circumstances.) But the real military values aren't partisan values; they're service, loyalty, honesty, patriotism, respect, achievement and personal responsibility.

Which brings us to one more core military value, one that Democrats can easily embrace: fairness. Military leaders take care of their troops -- and their unit's families. They don't take advantage of their authority. Captains eat after their troops do, not before. Good officers get to work earlier than their subordinates and leave later. I used to joke on the campaign trail that the Army was a socialist organization: The government owned the housing and all the equipment I worked with, everyone's children went to the same schools and used the same hospitals, and the highest-ranking person (after more than 30 years in uniform) earned only about 10 or 12 times the salary of a raw recruit. In the military, we don't like favoritism, show-boating or elitism.

That's a good base upon which to build. But Democrats must also realize that the military's respect has to be earned. We don't consider ourselves an "interest group." Sure, we will always appreciate more pay, better housing and stronger veterans' benefits. But that isn't how the Democrats will win over the military. They'll win by being straight-up, clear-eyed and professional about national security. And if they are, the military will trust them, even with a painful withdrawal from Iraq and the inevitable defense cutbacks.

Above all, don't think that we are anxious to "use our toys." Forget about the Hollywood dramatics: Soldiers are the last to seek war. We know its personal and professional consequences painfully well. Those in uniform would prefer that President Obama use every other tool and method -- diplomacy, sanctions, calling in the allies -- before sending troops into combat. You're better off leaving political and economic development to others, too. As for crisis response? Please, let the diplomats work their magic first.

But the military will have to show some understanding as well. We don't have a monopoly on knowing what the nation's best interests are. National security now involves such spheres as law enforcement, the economy, the nation's industrial and scientific base and even such matters as health care and civil liberties. The military is just one voice among many.

Nor are our military plans and proposals beyond questioning. There's a lot of judgment involved in strategy and operations, and not a lot of certainty. The military is a cautious institution, and plans and options sometimes reflect just the opinion of the most senior person in the room. Even hard military "requirements" should stand up to public scrutiny. So when new members of Congress, Hill staffers and political appointees question tactics, techniques, troop levels and programs, we have to continue to treat these questions seriously and answer them with respect and diligence.

Recognize, too, that the Democrats have generally been pulling for the human side of the military. Worried about veterans' benefits, on-base child care facilities, health care and troop retention? Since at least the early 1990s, Democrats have been putting the "juice" into the all-important people programs that have made the armed forces such a successful institution today.

Finally, let's put aside the partisan legacy of Vietnam once and for all. We all grieve for the losses there and for the needy, homeless vets today. But almost no one now in uniform served in that conflict, and most of the Democrats who will be moving into offices at the National Security Council, the Pentagon and in Congress are too young to have been part of the bitter national debates over the war. Iraq just isn't Vietnam, and the debates over a U.S. withdrawal need not tear the country apart -- especially if we in the military recognize that the Democratic Party that I have been associated with is every bit as patriotic and service-oriented as any other group in the United States.

We have a president-elect who has set out a pragmatic, nonpartisan, visionary course. It's time to lay to rest the old stereotypes about feckless, pacifist Democrats and authoritarian, war-mongering soldiers. If there were ever a time to get the relationship between Democrats and the military right, this is it.

Wesley K. Clark, a retired four-star general, commanded the 1999 war in Kosovo as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe. He is a senior fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations.

Christopher Willcox's review of Barton Gellman's Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency

Anyone still interested in the sorry state of mainstream journalism should have a good, long look at Barton Gellman's blistering portrait of Dick Cheney. Despite some labored huffing and puffing over Cheney's behind-the-scenes role on everything from surveillance techniques to global warming, Gellman adds very little that is new to the historic record. What Angler is most notable for is its obvious animus and its disregard for the traditional newsman's separation of church (editorial opinion) and state (fact-based reporting).

Gellman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories in the Washington Post on which this book is based, is a prime exemplar of the new kind of journalism that conflates reportage and opinion in ways that, not long ago, would have outraged news editors. But not only are some of today's senior editors tolerant of such front-page editorializing, they are critical of reporters who don't provide it.


Angler is neither well written nor particularly instructive on the motives and methods of a vice president who has exercised enormous influence over the last eight years. Much of the material on Cheney's reticence with the press-surprise!-and his conviction that the presidency had been weakened by an overzealous Congress, is deeply familiar. But the volume is a treasure trove of journalistic techniques deployed to bag the quarry.

There is the bogus use of comparative statistics.

[Quote of Gellman's attempt to place 9/11 in context:

For Sept. 11, the National Center for Health Statistics recorded a 44 percent spike over the expected daily death rate, followed by a return to normal on Sept. 12. The year-end tally showed 2,922 lives lost to "terrorism involving the destruction of aircraft (homicide)," a figure that was comparable to the 3,209 pedestrians killed by cars, pick-up trucks or vans. (Non-terrorist homicides exceeded 17,000.) The economic damage was extensive, but no match for the losses of Hurricane Katrina or the subprime mortgage meltdown in Bush's second term.]

Whatever one might think of this dismissal of the September 11 horrors, it is entirely in keeping with the author's apparent conviction that terrorism is essentially a matter for the police and that the Bush administration's response is a greater threat than terrorism itself. "The vice-president shifted America's course," writes Gellman, "more than any terrorist could have done....Decisions made in the White House, in response [to terrorism] had incomparably greater impact on American interests and society."

[Full quote of Gellman's last line above: "These measurements obviously did not capture the full meaning of September 11. A familiar terrorist threat announced itself that day with frightening new proximity and ambition. But decisions made in the White House in response, had incomparably greater impact on American interests and society."]

See the full comments at "Angling for Cheney," PowerLine blog,