Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Hill is buzzing today over a weird incident yesterday in which Sen. Bill Frist's (R-TN) Chief of Staff Eric Ueland flipped out at a young AP reporter, Jonathan Katz, who had the temerity to ask Frist whether it was true that he had no idea how much stock he owned before he sold it off just ahead of the stock's precipitous decline.

Roll Call (sub.req.) fills us in on what happened next ...

After the off-camera dugout ended, Ueland “berated” and “bullied” the AP reporter, according to other reporters, for initiating the line of questioning. Ueland accused Katz of not understanding the issue after having been repeatedly briefed on the HCA matter.

One reporter said Ueland was “demeaning and rude” to the young AP journalist. Another veteran reporter said Ueland “went over the line” in “dressing the guy down” — in front of about 25 other reporters, no less. Yet another Senate reporter said, “It was outrageous. [Ueland] was yelling at the kid. And Eric is usually a very calm and cool guy.”

Reporters who attended the dugout said Frist looked rattled over questions about the HCA deal, which remains the subject of dual federal investigations, and speculated that perhaps Ueland snapped because Frist doesn’t have a good defense. They also noted that Frist has largely avoided cameras since the controversy broke and has moved his dugouts — when he holds them — into the Senate chamber, where cameras and tape recorders are prohibited.

“Now everyone’s talking about it. ... Now I’m wondering if he’s gotten another subpoena. It makes me think there’s something going on,” one veteran journalist said.

Were you a reporter there for this off-camera presser? Drop me a line and let me know what you saw.

TPM Reader RP shares his thoughts on the Froomkin trial ...

Hi Josh,

I am a regular reader of Dan Froomkin's column. Since the begining of this debate, I had two things come to my mind:

1. If this whole thing is only about having differences over the name of the column, why is then this not being talked over internally? WHy do they have to discuss this so public? I have a feeling that it is partly to show the white house that they are trying, responding to their possible hand- twisting. THis way, even if the name does not change, they have shown that they at least tried very hard and labelled Dan a liberal + appeal to conservatives along the way.

2. The website editor has done the appropriate thing already. Dan's column is listed on the Wash Po main website, under the subheading "blogs" within the pull down titled "today's editorial, opinions, columns". So any person who understands English and is sensible, would know that Dan is not a reporter writing a newstory.

The first point is a good one. And it's one that hadn't occurred to me. Transparency is a good thing. That's one reason for having an ombudsman. But assuming there's been no vast public outcry, why exactly hasn't this just been dealt with internally? For that matter, as silly as it is, why is it being dealt with at all?

As near as I can tell, at least three people from the print edition -- Downie, Harris, and Howell -- have publicly pressed the head of the online edition to change the name of Froomkin's column. I guess we have to assume that in one fashion or another the online editor has told them all to go jump in a lake.

I'd say, send Froomkin back to his holding cell while we get an answer to this latest question.

Late Update: Actually, keep Froomkin in the holding cell for a bit longer. Who's the Executive Editor of the Post Online edition? If the title isn't executive editor, who's the top editorial decision maker over there? This must be the person to whom Froomkin has to make an appeal for clemency. And no, this isn't just a question for effect. If you know, drop me a note and let me know who the person is.

Even Later Update: Alas, my cup runneth over with information. At Jay Rosen's PressThink website, Jay has a lengthy discussion of the subject along with interviews of Harris and Jim Brady, who's the executive editor of the Post online.

A lot of us have been saying this from the beginning. Now Bob Novak is saying it too. From the News-Observer ...

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak is still not naming his source in the Valerie Plame affair, but he says he is pretty sure the name is no mystery to President Bush.

"I'm confident the president knows who the source is," Novak told a luncheon audience at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh on Tuesday. "I'd be amazed if he doesn't."

"So I say, 'Don't bug me. Don't bug Bob Woodward. Bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is.' "

This isn't just some sidelight to the story or new detail. It's always been the essence of it, though commentary has never brought it fully into focus. Setting aside legalities, someone who works for the president did something reckless and wrong. The president either knows who it is or could have found out easily at any point along the way. He could have solved the matter at the outset by firing or reprimanding the person. He preferred to do nothing.

TPM Reader JA has his own theory on L'Affaire Froomkin ...

A reader in the comments section to Harris's response points to this clause:

Froomkin's column “has itself become an obstacle to our work.”

What can that possibly mean, other than the white house is yelling at him for what Froomkin is writing, and they're not accepting his "Don't blame me, he doesn't work for me or the Post" defense?

In that little clause, it’s clear what happened. The Post to some degree had access reduced or cut off, and the reason given was Froomkin. Harris’s defense that the guy didn’t work for him or the Post didn’t suffice to restore access. So now he wants that made clearer—not for any substantive reason, as you say, but to support this argument.

My reaction to this is: 1) Isn’t that newsworthy in itself? The response to a (web-based, buried on the Post’s site, mind you) column the White House doesn’t like is to threaten to cut off access to anonymous sources? They can’t claim any violation of any of their vaunted confidentiality agreements to report this. 2) Don’t they realize, in the least, that access goes both ways? Why isn’t the response to Rove cutting off access, “fine Karl, all conversations henceforth are on the record.” At this point, they don’t need the White House for their stories. They only need the White House for “balance.” They’re perfectly within the source/journalist relationship sphere that they purport to follow to NOT grant anonymous sourcing. If the White House complains, publicly, about an absence of balance, they just can call for comment. And when the White House chooses not to comment on the record, they can report that. This is what happens to EVERYBODY ELSE reporters write negative stories about. The response they permit is “No Comment” not “anonymous sources close to the story say…..”

Certainly there will be more on this.

Froomkin in the balance?

Post political editor John Harris responds to the Froomkin-Howell smackdown and confirms that he too is unhappy with Froomkin's column. While he doesn't think Froomkin's column should be abolished; he does think it's name should be changed.

"We do not want to spike his column--or at least I don't," says Harris. But he does believe it's name should be changed and that it should be clearly labeled as opinion.

His reasoning is that Froomkin is consistently critical of the White House and is thus either 'liberal' and liable to being perceived as 'liberal'. That would not be acceptable for a Post White House reporter. And in as much as people might be confused that Froomkin is one of the Post's White House reporters, that is a problem because it threatens the journalistic crebility of the Post's White House reporters.

As I said yesterday, I think this argument is mistaken on several points. So I won't repeat myself on those grounds. And I think that the focus on this question with all the rest of what is amiss with journalism today is revealing in itself.

But I was struck by this article in Editor & Publisher today in which Len Downie, the Post's Executive Editor says that he too believes that Froomkin should be forced to change the name of his column and have it more clearly labeled as opinion.

But look at just what he told E&P ...

"We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P. "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too."

Here I think Downie has revealed more than he intended.

His primary concern appears to be what the White House thinks; what the paper's readers think is secondary.

I really don't think that's a strained reading of his words, is it?

Now consider this. Every White House is the finest of connoisseurs of political news coverage. They know the run-down on every reporter, their biases, their particular topics of interest, their track records, how to flatter them, everything. That's just what a White House press operation does. They're in the business of managing the media and they get all the information they can. (And here I'm not talking about 'enemies' list' sort of information; just who the different reporters are, what their beat is, etc.)

Is the White House really confused by Froomkin's column? I assume they know he's not a White House reporter, right? What's the confusion exactly? As I wrote yesterday, I really don't think that many people who've read Froomkin's column could seriously think he's a beat reporter at the White House or that he's not writing an opinion column. But certainly the folks at the White House know this.

So what's Downie's concern exactly? Is this just a case of the Post being overly sensitive to White House mau-mauing? I'm not sure the argument against Froomkin's column has been quite worked out. I think another sort of concern, a less attractive one, remains unstated.

Culture of corruption harmonic convergence?

Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle subpoenas Cunningham coconspirator #1 Brent Wilkes in his on-going investigation of Tom DeLay.

TPM Blast from the Past: Duke and Tom fly the friendly skies of Air Wilkes. Interim Leader Blunt too!

Here's is an AP article just out over the wire with the headline "Europeans outraged at Schwarzenegger". The point of course is that they are outraged at Schwarzenegger for not intervening to stop the execution last night of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

Let me preface this by saying that I am what I would call a reluctant or ambivalent opponent of capital punishment.

Having said that, I think the thrust of the article linked above contains a signficant misapprehension about the different views of capital punishment in the US and Europe. The conventional wisdom, as the AP article shows, is that Americans are hold-outs in favor of capital punishment while Europeans have turned against the practice as barbaric.

But in an article I wrote in 2000 in The New Republic I was able to make a pretty good case that this just isn't so. I collected public opinion data from various European countries over the previous decade or so. And what the data showed was that the difference in public support for capital punishment really wasn't that great on either side of the Atlantic.

Capital punishment continued to enjoy majority support in France, for instance, long after it was abolished in 1981. Only in the late 1990s did a poll finally show that fewer than 50% of the population wanted it restored. As of the time I wrote, between 60% and 70% of Canadians said they wanted the death penalty reinstated.

So what does it all mean? I think it means that the end of capital punishment in Europe has much less to do with public opinion than we think. And it has more to do with the structure of European politics, particularly -- I would speculate -- the stronger role of parties, and thus elites, in the European form of parliamentary democracy.

Layered over that is the effect of EU expansion, in which the continent's central powers have made abolishing the death penalty a condition of membership. One more factor, I suspect, is that over time, opposition to capital punishment has become a form of European self-identification. And that has had a further depressing effect on support for capital punishment.

That final point is highly speculative, of course.

But the underlying point is well-grounded: Europeans aren't much less attached to capital punishment than Americans. The difference is that their governments don't as readily provide it.

From my point of view, the good news is that since the time I wrote the article support for capital punishment in the United States has fallen appreciably. But that's another matter. If you'd like to share your views on this topic, we've set up a discussion thread on the topic here at TPMCafe.

Sen. Feingold just came back from debating Sen. Specter (R-PA) about the Patriot Act renewal on the senate floor.

He gives us an update here. He wants to hear your questions and comments.

Getting layed back in style?

Former Enron Chairman Ken Lay addressed a sold-out luncheon audience today at the Houston Forum.

According to the Houston Chronicle ...

Lay blamed former Enron executives Andrew Fastow and Michael Kopper for despicable and criminal deeds that brought down the company. "We did trust Andy Fastow and sadly, tragically, that trust turned out to be fatally misplaced," he said.

Flanked on the podium by Texas and U.S. flags, and a gold and red-themed Christmas tree, Lay read from a prepared text in which he attacked the Enron Task Force and Justice Department for prosecuting the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, destroying the company and then dropping the case. He said the task force has been attempting to criminalize normal business practices.

Lay said most of what has been reported about the company has been false or distorted, and attributed its collapse to the financial community. The company's trading partners lost confidence in Enron, Lay said, clearly signaIing a ``run on the bank'' defense.

Thanks to TPM Reader AG for the tip.

I just saw this quoted by Atrios. And whatever you think of the merits of the comment or the two players involved it's a stunning remark, coming as it does from within the highest echelon of the beltway journalistic establishment.

From the Daily Record ...

Howard Fineman, Newsweek's chief political correspondent, said Monday night in the first program of a Drew University lecture series, that Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward had become a "court stenographer" for the Bush administration.

Standing before a crowd of nearly 300, Fineman, said Woodward went from being an outsider "burning the beltway"with his investigative work in the 1970s Watergate scandal under President Nixon to being, " an official court stenographer of the Bush administration."

"He's a great reporter,"Fineman said of Woodward, "but he's become a great reporter of official history."

They must have changed something in the water down there.