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Thanks for Nothing

May 18, 2014 1 comment

phoneticsymbols

Today’s NYT Magazine has an article that I started reading online yesterday. It features a Nebraska farmer, Jane Kleeb, who is fighting the Keystone pipeline. (Keystone brings oil from Alberta down to the US for shipment to points beyond. Its expansion to the Gulf Coast is an on-going political issue.) The article explains that

the fight over the Keystone XL has largely been portrayed as one about climate change, in which environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation and 350.org are pitted against the fossil-fuel industry. But what has kept the pipeline out of the ground so far, more than anything, has been Kleeb’s ability to convince mostly­ conservative farmers and ranchers that they are the ones being asked to bear all the risk of Canada’s energy expansion. If something goes wrong, she says, they’re the ones who are going to suffer. Kleeb didn’t need to persuade all of the people in the room to be angry — many of the state’s landowners are plenty wary of what they see as the pipeline’s risks — but she has organized them to take on Trans­Canada and more or less their state’s entire political power structure. Days earlier, thanks to her efforts, a state district court had thrown the construction into limbo.

This post isn’t about the pipeline, though. It’s about the sentence that introduces Jane:

Among the farmers in the York Community Center was a petite, progressive organizer with close-cropped hair named Jane Kleeb (pronounced Klehb).

That stopped me dead in my tracks. I had seen Kleeb’s name in the headline and assumed the vowel was pronounced as in “deed” or “feed” or “reed” or “seed” or “bleed”. Now I understood that this wasn’t the case. Why else would there be this parenthetical pronunciation tip?

But Klehb? How would one pronounce that? How does the tip help? I can’t imagine what the author was thinking. Or the editors.

Any suggestions?

Categories: Journalism, Language

Wild and Crazy WSJ

January 26, 2014 Leave a comment
A Jewish shop, the morning after Kristallnacht

A Jewish shop, the morning after Kristallnacht

[From Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority]

When I first saw Tom Perkins’ letter to the WSJ yesterday, I was sufficiently stunned that I intended to write a post about it immediately. But I didn’t get to it, and now, 36 hours later, Perkins’ letter is an internet sensation. If you haven’t read it yet, follow the link above and do so. In it, famed Silicon Valley investor Perkins calls

attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent. There is outraged public reaction to the Google buses carrying technology workers from the city to the peninsula high-tech companies which employ them. We have outrage over the rising real-estate prices which these “techno geeks” can pay. We have, for example, libelous and cruel attacks in the Chronicle on our number-one celebrity, the author Danielle Steel*, alleging that she is a “snob” despite the millions she has spent on our city’s homeless and mentally ill over the past decades.

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht** was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?

Wow! Absolute madness. The wonder isn’t that he wrote it, but that the WSJ published it. Perhaps his connection with Rupert Murdoch is relevant, as a long-time News Corp board member (until 2011). Perkins has had a storied career, going back to his role in the early days of Hewlett-Packard half a century ago. But he would seem to be losing it.

Along these lines, Atrios captured the essence of Perkins’ argument in the following tweet:

Those Google buses? It might be worth re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s piece in the London Review of Books a year ago. Her ending:

Sometimes the Google Bus just seems like one face of Janus-headed capitalism; it contains the people too valuable even to use public transport or drive themselves. In the same spaces wander homeless people undeserving of private space, or the minimum comfort and security; right by the Google bus stop on Cesar Chavez Street immigrant men from Latin America stand waiting for employers in the building trade to scoop them up, or to be arrested and deported by the government. Both sides of the divide are bleak, and the middle way is hard to find.

See also the discussion of the buses in a New Yorker blog post a few days ago by Lauren Smiley, recounting a possible resolution of the buses’ illegal use of public bus stops.

After years of complaints of the lumbering shuttles hogging San Francisco’s cramped streets—occasionally blocking public buses from making stops, double parking, or encroaching on bike lanes—the board of directors of the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency voted unanimously on Tuesday to begin regulating them. The eighteen-month-long pilot program, slated to begin in July, will require that the shuttle buses be registered and that they make stops only at two hundred designated public bus stops. Companies will pay a dollar each time one of their buses uses a stop, which would add up to a hundred thousand dollars a year for each of the big companies, the agency estimates.

City leaders say that state law requires them to charge only enough to recover the fees required to administer the program. Yet the amount wasn’t enough for the dozens of detractors who lined up to speak at the agency’s meeting on Tuesday, at City Hall. Speakers called the buses “conquistador transportation,” and derided the transit agency for allowing “tech barons” to get away with paying such a low fee to use the city infrastructure—a dollar less than the current commuter fare on public buses—when their shuttles had been idling at the bus stops illegally for years.

[snip]

Then, there’s the issue of fairness. “If you and I park in front of a bus stop, and you’re there long enough, you’re going to get a ticket that’s more than a dollar,” David Campos, a city supervisor, told a group of merchants in his district last week.

Having tech companies pay a modest fee for the use of public bus stops to which they have no right is not the second coming of Kristallnacht.

*Perkins’ ex-wife.

**The 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht was this past November. On November 9, 1938, dozens of Jews were killed, thousands arrested, synagogues and businesses were destroyed. It was a major shift in the Holocaust gears.

Categories: History, Journalism, Politics

There’s Always Harlem

January 19, 2014 Leave a comment
The Upper West Side: the Majestic and the Dakota at center and right-center

The Upper West Side: the Majestic and the Dakota at center and right-center

In case you missed it, be sure to read the real estate article in today’s NYT on the couple who have been renting in the Upper East Side. When they’re ready to buy, they are unable to find a place in the neighborhood that fits their needs at the right price.

I understand their desire to stay. Who wouldn’t? My grandmother lived her final decades there (a long way from her childhood Odessa). During my childhood and young adulthood, I hung out there. Lincoln Center. The American Museum of Natural History. Fine and Schapiro.

Alas, our featured couple had to look elsewhere. Then they thought of Harlem.

They realized they simply couldn’t find a place on the Upper West Side suitable enough to justify the price, Mrs. Johnston said. “If we had a checklist of eight things and needed five, we would have only two or three.”

But they had always enjoyed exploring other neighborhoods, and Harlem was the obvious choice. There they could afford an entire brownstone.

“You have to totally change your perspective on what you want,” Mr. Johnston said. “It’s another world in terms of space, and our imagination ran wild.” He found that Harlem houses “had more square footage than the homes we grew up in.”

A paragraph later, on their visit to the house they would ultimately buy, a significant cultural difference comes to light.

The owner was in the kitchen when they visited.

In Harlem, “we saw more owners,” Mrs. Johnston said. “We would never see an owner on the Upper West Side.”

All ends well.

“I didn’t know I would love this neighborhood so much,” Mrs. Johnston said. “I thought, ‘You can’t beat the Upper West Side,’ which was the end-all, be-all, the best place on the planet.”

She has revised her opinion. The new neighborhood “feels like what New York used to be,” she said. “It is very diverse and multicultural. We are completely embraced by our neighbors.”

I can’t help but think that the story is focused a little narrowly, with an important detail omitted. What could it be?

Perhaps Harlem house prices of $1.8 million indicate something significant about life in Manhattan?

Categories: Journalism, Life

Compromise

October 9, 2013 Leave a comment

tomfalseequiv

Ten days ago, I had a post laid out in my head on the mainstream press’s tendency toward false equivalence, but I didn’t get around to writing it. Now Tom Tomorrow’s latest cartoon makes it redundant. See especially the fourth panel. Plus, Jim Fallows has been on the beat with a steady stream of posts (latest here).

The reference to the Constitution in Tom’s fifth panel is a natural lead-in to a post by Gary Wills at the New York Review of Books today. An excerpt:

The people behind these efforts are imitating what the Confederate States did even before they formally seceded in 1861. Already they ran a parallel government, in which the laws of the national government were blatantly disregarded. They denied the right of abolitionists to voice their arguments, killing or riding out of town over three hundred of them in the years before the Civil War. They confiscated or destroyed abolitionist tracts sent to Southern states by United States mail. In the United States Congress, they instituted “gag rules” that automatically tabled (excluded from discussion) anti-slavery petitions, in flagrant abuse of the First Amendment’s right of petition.

The Southern states were able to live in such open disregard for national law because of two things. First, the states were disproportionately represented in Congress because they got three extra votes for seats in the House of Representatives for every five slaves owned in the state—giving them 98 seats instead of 73 in 1833, and similar margins up to the war. Second, the national Democratic-Republican Party needed the Southern part of its coalition so badly that it colluded with the Southern states’ violations of the Constitution. In 1835, for instance, President Andrew Jackson did not enforce the sacredness of the US mail, allowing states to refuse delivery of anti-slave mailings unless a recipient revealed his identity, requested delivery, and had his name published for vilification.

Just as the Old South compelled the national party to shelter its extremism, today’s Tea Party leaders make Republicans toe their line. Most Republicans do not think laws invalid because the president is a foreign-born Muslim with a socialist agenda. But they do not renounce, or even criticize, their partners who think that. The rare Republican who dares criticize a Rush Limbaugh is quickly made to repent and apologize. John Boehner holds the nation hostage because the Tea Party holds him hostage. The problem with modern Republicans is not fanaticism in the few but cowardice in the many, who let their fellows live in virtual secession from laws they disagree with.

Categories: Journalism, Law, Politics

Quote of the Day

October 6, 2013 Leave a comment

NYTVows

From the NYT Sunday Vows column—the column that keeps on giving—a passage today. The column features newly married Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of Jacques Cousteau, and Ashlan Gorse. We learn that Mr. Cousteau was

mesmerized by her spontaneity and boldness, particularly after she told him that she had once volunteered to swim with sharks wearing only a bikini and a mask. Not to mention that she has visited over 60 countries, thrown the first pitch at a Dodgers game, sky-dived with the Army, zip-lined through a Costa Rican rain forest and nearly sacked Joe Montana during a celebrity football game.

Golly!

As a bonus, we’re treated to two brief but tantalizing descriptions of our wonder woman. At the civil ceremony at the city hall of Paris’s 8th arrondissement:

The bride, in gilded stilettos and a tight white dress with a low-cut back, clutched a red rose and her livret de famille, a family record book that is given to all the newlyweds in France.

At a second ceremony three days later, which took place in “a 16th-century castle near Versailles that has been turned into a flamboyant four-star hotel”:

Before the vows were pronounced, the long-legged bride, dressed up in a dashing white bustier dress from Lazaro, stood in front of the groom with a bouquet of lilies, as tears occasionally fell from her eyes.

Categories: Journalism, Life

False Equivalence Beat

September 4, 2013 Leave a comment

humphrey

To review, false equivalence is the lazy or knee-jerk or phony-balance tendency of journalists to say “both sides do it,” the two sides generally being the Republicans and the Democrats. Examples abound. Jim Fallows has spent a fair bit of time at his Atlantic blog site recording some. See, for instance, here or, just last week, here.

From today’s NYT, I offer a new entry, courtesy of business columnist Eduardo Porter.

If companies could purchase the Congress of their choice, it’s unlikely they would buy the gridlocked Congress we have. The seemingly inexorable rise of political partisans — mainly on the right, but on the left, too — suggests that corporate money may be playing a much smaller role in the political process than expected.

I actually enjoyed the article, and the passage I’m criticizing is a minor aside. Plus Porter emphasizes that the rise of political partisans is primarily on the right. Nonetheless, a rise of political partisans on the left? Who? I mean, can he name even one?

I can name plenty on the right, Ted Cruz being the example of most recent notoriety. But who is a left-wing equivalent? I’m at a loss. Is anyone so driven by similarly doctrinaire (and detached from reality) views of the country and the world?

Let’s see. Cory Booker, the newest star of the Democratic Party? He’s as much a tool of Wall Street as Chuck Schumer. Al Franken? He’s to the right of his predecessor of half a century ago, Hubert Humphrey.

Where are these partisans?

Categories: Journalism, Politics

Journalist Friendly Fire

August 27, 2013 Leave a comment

rallmanning

[Ted Rall, August 22]

The responses of government officials and prominent members of the press to this summer’s Edward Snowden revelations and the trial/sentencing of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning offer me once again the opportunity to discover how far removed my views are from the mainstream. Just two days ago, for instance, I was astonished when I read Providence Journal syndicated columnist Froma Harrop’s latest piece, which the Seattle Times carried. She sure has it in for Glenn Greenwald.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner was detained at London’s Heathrow Airport for nine hours — no waterboarding or electric shocks, just pointed questions and confiscation of David Michael Miranda’s computer gear. That prompted Greenwald to threaten Britain with more of his writings.

“I think they’ll regret what they’ve done,” he said. Miranda, meanwhile, accused British authorities of “psychological violence.”

Greenwald has enthralled paranoids on the right and the left with torrid tales of government perfidy. He’s a skilled enough communicator to leave the impression of revealing, or being about to reveal, appalling truths without actually delivering the goods.

But at some point even his ardent fan base will have to step back, take a look at the sweaty denunciations, the self-dramatization and the “opera buffa” plot, and conclude that this story is ripe for rapid deflation. Some critics call the style “outrage porn.”

Huh? This is both inaccurate and lazy writing. But regardless, is Greenwald really the story? Why not what we have learned from his reporting, and that of the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, among others? For example, Gellman revealed ten days ago that the “National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.” Isn’t that more important?

Which brings me to David Carr’s superb piece in the NYT yesterday.

It’s not surprising that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who brokered the publishing of Private Manning’s documents, and Glenn Greenwald, the columnist for The Guardian who has led the Snowden revelations, have also come under intense criticism.

What is odd is that many pointing the finger are journalists. When Mr. Greenwald was on “Meet the Press” after the first round of N.S.A. articles, the host, David Gregory, seemingly switched the show to “Meet the Prosecutor.” He asked, “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”

Jeffrey Toobin, who works for both CNN and The New Yorker, called Mr. Snowden “a grandiose narcissist who belongs in prison.” This week, he called David Miranda, Mr. Greenwald’s partner who was detained by British authorities for nine hours under antiterror laws, the equivalent of a “drug mule.”

[snip]

What have Mr. Assange and Mr. Greenwald done to inspire such rancor from other journalists? Because of the leaks and the stories they generated, we have learned that in the name of tracking terrorists, the N.S.A. has been logging phone calls and e-mails for years, recorded the metadata of correspondence between Americans, and in some instances, dived right into the content of e-mails. The WikiLeaks documents revealed that the United States turned a blind eye on the use of torture by our Iraqi allies, and that an airstrike was ordered to cover up the execution of civilians. WikiLeaks also published a video showing a United States Army helicopter opening fire on a group of civilians, including two Reuters journalists.

In the instance of the stories based on the purloined confidential documents in the Manning and Snowden leaks, we learned what our country has been doing in our name, whether it is in war zones or in digital realms.

Blame the messenger.

Carr concludes:

If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected. Same with the 2010 WikiLeaks video of the Apache helicopter attack.

Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?

Indeed.

tomtomparallel

[Tom Tomorrow at Daily Kos, August 26]

Categories: Journalism, Politics

Edward Snowden Interview

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

The Guardian has released an interview with Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind the disclosures on NSA surveillance published by the Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian this past week. If you haven’t watched the interview or read portions of it, I recommend doing so. Links:

1. The Guardian article by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras on Snowden.

2. The Guardian interview. (See also the embedded youtube video above.)

Some attention will now be devoted to attacking the messenger, just as there have been efforts this past week to marginalize or discredit Greenwald. (See below.) I hope we don’t lose sight of the message.

I’m pleased to say that I was suggesting six weeks ago what some have said this past week in light of the NSA revelations—that the government can offer the ultimate cloud service. As I wrote then, “Isn’t it great to know they’re backing up all our email? … Why don’t they offer to charge us a fee for access to old data?”

As for Greenwald, it’s fascinating to observe how the mainstream press has turned on him. Thursday’s NYT had an extraordinary profile by Noam Cohen and Leslie Kaufman identifying Greenwald as a blogger, even though all his disclosures were published in The Guardian, a newspaper founded three decades before the NYT (1821 versus 1851). Not that there’s anything wrong with bloggers, but that’s another issue. The profile ends with the following gratuitous attacks.

His writing has made him a frequent target from ideological foes who accuse him of excusing terrorism or making false comparisons between, for example, Western governments’ drone strikes, and terrorist attacks like the one in Boston.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a national security expert and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who is often on the opposite ends of issues from Mr. Greenwald, called him, “a highly professional apologist for any kind of anti-Americanism no matter how extreme.”

Mr. Sullivan wrote in an e-mail: “I think he has little grip on what it actually means to govern a country or run a war. He’s a purist in a way that, in my view, constrains the sophistication of his work.”

Ms. Bailey has a slightly different take. Because of his passions, she said, “he is just as willing to make enemies of anybody.”

The next day, Sullivan (the ultimate political blogger) released the exchange he had with the NYT’s Leslie Kaufman. Check it out here. She asks if they can chat, he says he has no time until Monday or Tuesday, though he can reply by email. She responds:

Needed in the next two hours, daily deadlines and whatnot.

So if you can:
1) He obviously had strong opinions, but how is he as a journalist? Reliable? Honest? Quotes you accurately? Accurately describes your positions? Or is more advocate than journalist?
2) He says you are a friend, is this so? I get the sense that he is something of a loner and has the kind of uncompromising opinions that makes it hard to keep friends, but could be wrong.

So that’s how journalism is done! Pretty revealing. Wait till we get the character assassinations of Snowden.

Categories: Journalism, Law, Politics

Rehabilitating War Criminals

April 29, 2013 Leave a comment

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Location:Dallas TX

We sure love our war criminal presidents, don’t we? Or at least we love rehabilitating them after they spend a few years in purgatory.

Let’s talk a bit about Nixon. The 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi were criminal enough, but have a look at this article by Bob Parry last month (hat tip, Charles Pierce), in which we learn of Nixon’s successful efforts to derail Johnson’s negotiations with the North Vietnamese in 1968 that could have ended the war. Moreover, Parry suggests, Nixon’s desire to hide the evidence of this lay behind the Watergate break-in of 1972.

Shortly after Nixon took office in 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed him of the existence of the file containing national security wiretaps documenting how Nixon’s emissaries had gone behind President Lyndon Johnson’s back to convince the South Vietnamese government to boycott the Paris Peace Talks, which were close to ending the Vietnam War in fall 1968.In the case of Watergate – the foiled Republican break-in at the Democratic National Committee in June 1972 and Richard Nixon’s botched cover-up leading to his resignation in August 1974 – the evidence is now clear that Nixon created the Watergate burglars out of his panic that the Democrats might possess a file on his sabotage of Vietnam peace talks in 1968.

The disruption of Johnson’s peace talks then enabled Nixon to hang on for a narrow victory over Democrat Hubert Humphrey. However, as the new President was taking steps in 1969 to extend the war another four-plus years, he sensed the threat from the wiretap file and ordered two of his top aides, chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to locate it. But they couldn’t find the file.

We now know that was because President Johnson, who privately had called Nixon’s Vietnam actions “treason,” had ordered the file removed from the White House by his national security aide Walt Rostow.

Treason indeed. As Charles Pierce comments:

There were 22,000 more Americans who died in Vietnam after Nixon sabotaged the peace talks in order to win an election. That’s 44,000 more American parents. That’s thousands and thousands more American children. That’s god alone knows how many more men, women, and children in Southeast Asia, all of whom died, very likely unnecessarily, because of Richard Nixon’s treasonous ambitions.

By the time of Nixon’s death in 1994, the rehabilitation was complete. We learn in the NYT obit that at the opening of his presidential library in 1990, he was “hailed as a statesman and a peacemaker.”

And now it’s time for the opening of yet another presidential library, which served as the occasion of more rehabilitation. Last week, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum (pictured above) opened in Dallas on the campus of SMU. Here’s a sight to stir your heart:

The jacket worn by President George W. Bush to serve a turkey dinner during his secret Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad in 2003.

The jacket worn by President George W. Bush to serve a turkey dinner during his secret Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad in 2003.

[From the presidential library website]

Bush did more than prolong a war. He lied us into one, helped along by a host of government officials and an accommodating press. No point reviewing the familiar details. Oh, and he introduced torture as government policy, this being confirmed (if it needed confirmation) by a report two weeks ago.

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 600-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”

[snip]

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Yet, the opening of the Bush library offered an occasion to reassess Bush and place him in a positive light, which his fellow presidents were only too happy to do.

On this day, they collectively wrapped their arms around a fellow member of the club.

“We know President Bush the man,” Mr. Obama said. “To know the man is to like the man. Because he’s comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is. He doesn’t put on any pretenses. He takes his job seriously, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is a good man.”

Mr. Obama, whose first presidential campaign was built on opposition to the Iraq war, praised Mr. Bush for his bullhorn-in-the-rubble fortitude after Sept. 11 and said his predecessor fought for what he thought was best for his country. He linked his own effort to overhaul the immigration system to Mr. Bush’s.

“If we do that, it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Clinton, who has become close to the Bush family, offered warm words and recounted how he and Mr. Bush used to talk politics while his successor was in office. Referring to the library behind him, he joked, “Dear God, I hope there’s no record of those conversations in this vast and beautiful building.” Hillary Rodham Clinton, sitting onstage with the other presidents and first ladies, laughed robustly.

Mr. Carter, one of the fiercest critics of the Iraq war, talked about how Mr. Bush ended war in Sudan and helped Africa. “I’m filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude for you about the contributions you’ve made to the most needy people on earth,” he told Mr. Bush.

Really? Spare me. I know it’s a complicated world and not everything is black and white. But here’s some black and white: President Bush was a war criminal and a liar.

Categories: History, Journalism, Politics, War

Anthony Lewis

March 28, 2013 Leave a comment
Anthony Lewis, 2003

Anthony Lewis, 2003

[Matthew Peyton/Getty Images]

I’ve wanted to write about Anthony Lewis since learning of his death three days ago. He was my favorite New York Times columnist for many years. More recently, I’ve enjoyed his pieces in the New York Review of Books. But I don’t have anything specific to say. Let me turn instead to a few of the (many) remembrances of him.

First, basic facts from Adam Liptak’s NYT obituary.

Anthony Lewis, a former New York Times reporter and columnist whose work won two Pulitzer Prizes and transformed American legal journalism, died on Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 85. …

Mr. Lewis brought passionate engagement to his two great themes: justice and the role of the press in a democracy. His column, called “At Home Abroad” or “Abroad at Home” depending on where he was writing from, appeared on the Op-Ed page of The Times for more than 30 years, until 2001. His voice was liberal, learned, conversational and direct.

As a reporter, Mr. Lewis brought an entirely new approach to coverage of the Supreme Court, for which he won his second Pulitzer, in 1963.

“He brought context to the law,” said Ronald K. L. Collins, a scholar at the University of Washington who compiled a bibliography of Mr. Lewis’s work. “He had an incredible talent in making the law not only intelligible but also in making it compelling.”

Before Mr. Lewis started covering the Supreme Court, press reports on its decisions were apt to be pedestrian recitations by journalists without legal training, rarely examining the court’s reasoning or grappling with the context and consequences of particular rulings. Mr. Lewis’s thorough knowledge of the court’s work changed that. His articles were virtual tutorials about currents in legal thinking, written with ease and sweep and an ability to render complex matters accessible.

[snip]

Mr. Lewis’s coverage of the court impressed Justice Felix Frankfurter, who called Mr. Reston. “I can’t believe what this young man achieved,” Justice Frankfurter said, as Mr. Reston recalled in his memoir, “Deadline.” “There are not two justices of this court who have such a grasp of these cases.”

Lincoln Caplan, writing at The American Scholar:

“The Constitution remains our fundamental law,” Anthony Lewis wrote, “because great judges have read it in that spirit.” Covering the Supreme Court for The New York Times in the 1960s, he was on hand when justices on the Warren Court did just that. Simply and eloquently, he explained how they made the court a central arbiter in American life and shaped the country’s march toward equality.

Lewis, who died Monday at 85, played an extraordinary role in that shaping. The court’s landmark decisions about racial justice, one person-one vote, and other deeply destabilizing social issues took hold because of the trust of the American people. Lewis helped foster that trust, through the authority and humane intelligence of his reporting and writing.

[snip]

He possessed a vivid, passionate intellect, and had the moral focus of a rabbi. He worked intensely in the texts, the talk, and the traditions of the Court, but that effort appeared to be an immersion more than work. The lesson I drew from his model was that, even for someone as gifted as he, hard work was essential to giving the Court its due—especially so for those of us following the Court who don’t have the exceptional gifts he had.

Because he had extraordinary access to justices and his writing helped elevate the stature of the Supreme Court, he was sometimes criticized as an insider and, in some sense, a captive of the institution. But when it let him down, as it did dramatically in Bush v. Gore, making a political ruling to throw the 2000 election to George W. Bush, he reminded readers of his uncompromising independence.

He loved the Supreme Court as an American institution, but loved the Constitution more. Another lesson I drew from his model was that, while the Court always deserves the respect of anyone covering it, that respect sometimes requires saying sharply why you think a ruling it makes is wrong. …

Anthony Lewis’s voice was from the Old Testament as well—awe-inspiring, judgmental, and righteous.

And Christopher Lydon, earlier today at Radio Open Source:

The best fun of being president of the US, I often thought, would be appointing Anthony Lewis to the Supreme Court. He was a non-lawyer with a persuasive understanding of the gift and genius of the Constitution. He had a historian’s grasp on how the law evolved. Justice Frankfurter said Tony knew the cases before the Court better than most of the sitting judges. And he could unfold the issues in lucid prose that grabbed me as a teen-age reader of the New York Times.

[snip]

Tony leaves us, I’d say, a memorable model for the best and broadest idea of a liberal at work. It wasn’t about dogma, much less radicalism. It was temperament as much as politics. It was about a modest optimism, a belief that institutions, even societies, could work on their flaws and get better. He was the human embodiment of the Warren Court, in that sense. He made a pair with his friend Justice William Brennan, who stood also for civility, compromise, persistence on an upward course. They stood for that era of reform in civil rights, in one-man-one-vote political representation, in the protection of defendants’ rights and the expansion of free speech and expression. Tony goaded the country with columns and landmark books on those central subjects, and by gum, the country got better. It can sound almost quaint, but he knew for certain that there were remedies for real ills in patient, hard-working devotion to our ideals in the Constitution and the law. So he never let up, and he never despaired.

One more quote, from Lydon again:

My favorite Tony Lewis columns – oddly unmentioned in the Times obit – might have been his answer to the Christmas bombing of North Vietnam in 1972, the Nixon-Kissinger “terror bombing” of Hanoi – with no measurable purpose or benefit. Peace was at hand, they had said, the war all but over, but American B-52s poured it on: 2000 strikes over 11 days. “An episode that will live in infamy,” Tony Lewis wrote. And lest we forget he kept rewriting that column every Christmas for a decade. The lessons for Americans were still: “Beware obsession. Beware secrecy. Beware concentrated power. Beware men untouched by concern for the moral consequences of their acts.”

To read that Lewis column, from December 23, 1972, click here. And do read it. It’s as powerful today as it was forty-one years ago.

Categories: Journalism, Law, Obituary