The Vast Right Wing Media Conspiracy

The story of the vast right wing media conspiracy is worth a read.

At the time, my then colleague (and current business partner) Mark Fabiani and I were working at the White House as lawyers in the counsel’s office and began to receive calls from mainstream media outlets asking us to respond to various bizarre items related to the late Vince Foster, a fellow White House lawyer who had tragically taken his own life in the summer of 1993. At first, we ignored the calls, as there was nothing to the story beyond the terrible loss of one of the president and first lady’s friends. However, as the calls continued without letup, and the nature of the questions became even more bizarre—to the point where we were asked to comment on alleged eyewitness sightings of Foster—we knew we had to get to the heart of the matter and began asking the reporters the basis for their questions.

All roads led to a mysterious source—the newly exploding Internet.

One Saturday morning in the midst of an oppressively hot D.C. summer weekend, Mark and I found ourselves squirreled away in a stuffy room on the fourth floor of the Old Executive Office Building, where there was a bank of computers from which you could access the “World Wide Web.” Remember—this was the pre-Blackberry, pre-Google, dial-up world of 1995, when only around 10 percent of the public had Internet access and the White House had just barely launched its own web page.

Eight hours later, we emerged from our warren of cubicles having seemingly been transported to a parallel universe. Online we found early versions of chat rooms, postings and other information showing there was an entire cottage industry devoted to discussing conspiracy theories relating to Foster’s death, including numerous online reports of people claiming to have seen him. Those reports would be picked up by so-called news sources that most Americans at the time had never heard of—conservative outlets such as Eagle Publishing’s Human Events or Richard Mellon Scaife’s the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. From there, the story would migrate to right-leaning outlets we were familiar with, such as the New York Post, the Washington Times and the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal—all before eventually ending up in the mainstream press.

What we learned in those eight hours became the basis for our 332-page report, written so that those of us in Clinton White House responsible for fielding questions about these bizarre rumors could apprise mainstream reporters of what we called the “media food chain”—basically, so that we could show them how such a wacky conspiracy theory like the supposed murder of Vince Foster had even become a news “story” at all. We would simply hand the memo to the reporter asking questions, tell him to review it and to come back to us with any remaining questions. Few did.

But we also realized that this was just the beginning. Like the scene in Bugsy where Warren Beatty, playing the mobster Bugsy Siegel, arrives in the Nevada desert and the sees the future of gambling (modern Las Vegas), those eight hours in the White House computer room were our eureka moment about the future of media and politics. We saw the transition from an electorate that passively consumed the information put before it (a joke at the time was that a political rally was a family watching a political commercial on television) to an electorate that could use technology to actively engage in the creation, distribution and self-selection of information.

(Of course, had we been just a little more business-savvy, we would have immediately relocated to Silicon Valley instead of writing that report.)

No second chance for Stephen Glass: The long, strange downfall of a journalistic wunderkind

The entire back story to this is fascinating

The California Supreme Court has denied disgraced former journalist Stephen Glass a license to practice law.

Pointing out in its ruling that “Glass’s journalistic dishonesty was not a single lapse of judgment” but “involved significant deceit sustained unremittingly for a period of years” — made the more reprehensible because it took place “while he was pursuing a law degree and license to practice law, when the importance of honesty should have gained new meaning and significance for him” — the court found that Glass had not adequately redeemed himself.

For all of Glass’ past history — and I’ll get to that, at length, in a moment — the judgment is remarkable. The last time California barred a lawyer before he’d even practiced his first case, it involved a man named Eben Gossage, who served three years for killing his sister then returned to prison for possession of heroin.

If you recall, Glass was The New Republic associate editor who in the late 1990s fabricated in whole or part dozens of articles, mostly published in The New Republic but also for Harpers, Rolling Stone, and the now defunct George magazine. At the time, it was the journalism scandal to end all journalism scandals. Glass vanished for a while, heading off to law school (and a brief stint as an improv comedian) before finally passing the California bar exam in 2009. The California State Bar promptly banned him from practicing, based on his prior moral turpitude, a decision he successfully appealed. The case wound through the courts, leading to today’s final decision by the state’s Supreme Court.

The Best and Worst NFL Announcers

Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.

  • After all is said, here are your Bad Commentator Awards:
  • Worst Crew: Chris Myers and Tim Ryan
  • Least-Bad Crew: Dick Stockton and Ronde Barber
  • CBS vs. Fox: Fox has the less-bad crews, with 37 infractions per crew beating out CBS’s 45.
  • Worst Prime-time Crew: Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden (ESPN)
  • Worst Commentator: Dan Dierdorf

As I suspected, Chris Collingsworth (NBC) and Mike Maylock (NFL Network) do pretty well.

Guardian Editor Describes Pressure After Leaks by Snowden

From the New York Times

The testimony by the editor, Alan Rusbridger, gave a public airing to the debate over how to balance press freedom against national security concerns, an issue that became more acute once The Guardian began publishing material leaked by Mr. Snowden in June.

The American and British governments have said the disclosures, which detail how the National Security Agency and its equivalent in Britain, Government Communication Headquarters, gather vast amounts of data, damage national security and help hostile governments. Journalists and transparency advocates have countered that the leak spurred a vital debate on privacy and the role of spy agencies in the Internet age.

Mr. Rusbridger said Tuesday that the governments’ measures “include prior restraint,” as well as visits by officials to his office, the enforced destruction of Guardian computer disks with power tools and repeated calls from lawmakers “asking police to prosecute” The Guardian for disclosing the classified material in news articles.

As he testified before a Parliamentary committee on national security, he faced aggressive questioning from lawmakers, particularly those of the ruling Conservative Party. Some asserted that The Guardian had handled the material irresponsibly, putting it at risk of interception by hostile governments and others. Others said the paper had jeopardized national security.

At one point during the hearing, Mr. Rusbridger was asked, to his evident surprise, whether he loved his country. He answered yes, noting that he valued its democracy and free press. After Mr. Rusbridger’s testimony, a senior British police officer, Cressida Dick, refused to rule out prosecutions as part of an investigation into the matter.

Since the revelations, newspapers, particularly those that have dealt with Mr. Snowden’s material, have also had to adjust to a harsh new reporting environment, security experts and journalists said, as governments and others seek secret material held by reporters.

“The old model was kind of like your house,” said Marc Frons, the chief information officer of The New York Times. “You locked your front door and windows, but not your desk drawer, even if it had your passport inside. In the new model, you have locks on everything.”

The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal declined to comment about internal security arrangements.

But Mr. Rusbridger told Parliament that the newspaper “went to more precautions over this material than any other story we have ever handled.”

Senior Guardian editors were initially skeptical this year when asked to hand over their cellphones before discussing Mr. Snowden’s documents, said a person with knowledge of the reporting process, who did not want to be named discussing confidential security procedures.

That soon changed when they reviewed the information Mr. Snowden had supplied, this person said. The documents, they came to realize, would be of intense interest not only to the American and British governments, from which they were taken, but also to other governments like China and Russia seeking an espionage edge and hackers seeking to embarrass either government agencies or the publications reporting on the material.

Eventually the same editors insisted that meetings be held in rooms without windows and that any electronic devices nearby be unplugged. Computers that contained the information could never be connected to the Internet. And reporters who needed to consult with colleagues in other countries about the documents had to fly them over physically and meet in person, despite the extra costs. On one occasion, Mr. Rusbridger said, encrypted documents were sent via FedEx.

How Glenn Greenwald Became Glenn Greenwald

Before he was the Guardian’s eyes on the National Security Agency, Greenwald was a Manhattan litigator with an itchy trigger finger. “He doesn’t care if the entire world hates him.”

Greenwald has been a careful observer of politics since his childhood in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, where he watched his grandfather serve as a city councilman. In high school, he joined the debate team, and during his senior year, at 17, he decided to run for city council.

“In high school I was always a little … I forged my own path,” he said.

But Greenwald learned — after two unsuccessful campaigns before the age of 25 — he wasn’t cut out for politics.

“My grandfather would try to represent poor homeowners against the powers that be in the city. He taught me that whatever skills you have should be devoted toward undermining the people who are the strongest and most powerful,” Greenwald said. “In politics, you need a desire and ability to please large numbers of people. That’s definitely not in my interests and not what I do well.”