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Sunday’s Must Reads

July 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

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DON’T MISS: In no particular order:

WHO KILLED CHANDRA LEVY?

The WaPo’s 12-part-series-with-an-Epilogue that re-investigates the murder of California-raised Congressional intern, Chandra Levy, ends today. (Clearly no one in this nervous newsprint environment wanted a thirteen-part series.) Does the story have any social justice value? Oh, probably not. But it’s a compelling—if still tragic—read and a smart choice for the Post to string it out over two weeks as a continuing narrative.

In the brave New Media world, there is much wailing about readers’ short attention spans. But here’s the thing: web readers take very well to the series form. (Why do I know that, and the Post evidently knows that, and the LA Times—despite the existance of today’s new “fire” series—seems not to get it? Wake up, people!)

FIRE, FIRE, BURNING BRIGHT: OUT OF CONTROL

Sunday the LA Times started a five part series that explores various aspects of the problem of “bigger and badder”—and way more expensive—wildfires that are increasingly plaguing the Western states in general, and California in particular. Today’s installment, that looks at fire as Big Biz, is a promising start.

NOTE: Despite the fact that the (nervous-making even if quickly controlled) outbreak of a wildfire in Griffith Park on Sunday should have made the new fire series even more relevant, by mid-afternnoon, ALL references to the series had utterly disappeared from the front page of the LA Times website. (You could find it only by clicking on the California link.) Nice commitment to your news reporting, guys!

LITERARY HOMICIDE: MOVING OUR PAGES

In an unsigned editorial (cough JimNewton cough), the LA Times talks about the end of the freestanding Opinion and Book Review section, and the move of those pages to other sections (MUCH more on this tomorrow morning).

FRANK RICH: HOW OBAMA BECAME ACTING PRESIDENT

Blogfather, Marc Cooper already wrote a very good (and funny) version of this a week ago. Now in Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Rich looks at the whole phenom that we witnessed in what the Daily Show called Obama Quest …..and nails it.

IT almost seems like a gag worthy of “Borat”: A smooth-talking rookie senator with an exotic name passes himself off as the incumbent American president to credulous foreigners. But to dismiss Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour through old Europe and two war zones as a media-made fairy tale would be to underestimate the ingenious politics of the moment. History was on the march well before Mr. Obama boarded his plane, and his trip was perfectly timed to reap the whirlwind.

The growing Obama clout derives not from national polls, where his lead is modest. Nor is it a gift from the press, which still gives free passes to its old bus mate John McCain. It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was “wrong” about the surge. More than five years and 4,100 American fatalities later, they’re still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in Iraq would be fast, produce little American “bloodletting” and “be paid for by the Iraqis.”

Never mind. This election remains about the present and the future, where Iraq’s $10 billion a month drain on American pocketbooks and military readiness is just one moving part in a matrix of national crises stretching from the gas pump to Pakistan. That’s the high-rolling political casino where Mr. Obama amassed the chips he cashed in last week. The “change” that he can at times wield like a glib marketing gimmick is increasingly becoming a substantive reality — sometimes through Mr. Obama’s instigation, sometimes by luck. Obama-branded change is snowballing, whether it’s change you happen to believe in or not.

Looking back now, we can see that the fortnight preceding the candidate’s flight to Kuwait was like a sequence in an old movie where wind blows away calendar pages to announce an epochal plot turn. First, on July 7, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, dissed Bush dogma by raising the prospect of a withdrawal timetable for our troops. Then, on July 15, Mr. McCain suddenly noticed that more Americans are dying in Afghanistan than Iraq and called for more American forces to be sent there. It was a long-overdue recognition of the obvious that he could no longer avoid: both Robert Gates, the defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had already called for more American troops to battle the resurgent Taliban, echoing the policy proposed by Mr. Obama a year ago.

On July 17 we learned that President Bush, who had labeled direct talks with Iran “appeasement,” would send the No. 3 official in the State Department to multilateral nuclear talks with Iran. Lest anyone doubt that the White House had moved away from the rigid stand endorsed by Mr. McCain and toward Mr. Obama’s, a former Rumsfeld apparatchik weighed in on The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page: “Now Bush Is Appeasing Iran.”

Within 24 hours, the White House did another U-turn, endorsing an Iraq withdrawal timetable as long as it was labeled a “general time horizon.” In a flash, as Mr. Obama touched down in Kuwait, Mr. Maliki approvingly cited the Democratic candidate by name while laying out a troop-withdrawal calendar of his own that, like Mr. Obama’s, would wind down in 2010. On Tuesday, the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced a major drawdown of his nation’s troops by early 2009.

Read the rest (and make note of the prescient point about T. Boone Pickens).

Posted in crime and punishment, Elections '08, Fire, Los Angeles Times, National politics, Presidential race, War, Zell | 10 Comments »

10 Responses

  1. Woody Says:

    Obama was wrong on the surge. He’s not man enough to admit it, so he tries to deflect the attention to a time and vote when he wasn’t even a U.S. Senator.

    Just ask yourself one thing…what has Obama done…not what he says, but what has he done? Not much. Talk’s cheap.

  2. Woody Says:

    Did you miss this story:

    The Los Angeles Police Department recently upgraded its computer network. Included was software to track open cases. Sgt. Joe Friday was chosen to coordinate the transition to the new software. He had to give a presentation to the detectives on using the software. At the end of the presentation, one woman asked, “How do you know so much about the software? Did you read the company’s entire site?” Sgt. Friday quickly responded,

    “Just the FAQs, ma’am.”

  3. browne Says:

    “In the brave New Media world, there is much wailing about readers’ short attention spans. But here’s the thing: web readers take very well to the series form. (Why do I know that, and the Post evidently knows that, and the LA Times—despite the existance of today’s new “fire” series—seems not to get it? Wake up, people!)”

    I think people do like reading longer pieces. I think the “new” media half of which are owned by marketing companies and run like pr firms want to sell the short attention lie, but it’s totally untrue. If you look in the people of color (POC) and women centered blogosphere i.e racialicious, feministe the most most popular blogs are filled with very long winded people and people love reading it.

    I think as the economy gets worse and there are less people who can buy things people will figure it out. They will get sick of this quick and dirty and lots of flashy pictures type of media, even on blogs. That to me in my opinion is very early aughts and is going away.

    Not the internet, but this two paragraph about nothing, look at this cute dog and come to my party and drink some beer, that kind of thing, it’s going to die.

    Browne

  4. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Browne,

    Very, very good point. I was just looking at the NY Times article yesterday on the Blog Her conference and many of the high traffic blogs fit the pattern you describe exactly.

    Thanks for your thoughts. In terms of readers, I don’t think the sky is falling at all.

  5. "reg" Says:

    I’m sorry, Celeste. With all that’s afoot in the world, do we need a 12 part series on a seven year old murder case ? What the hell has the Washington Post devoted these kinds of resources to in recent years ? Was the (very good) Cheney series 12 parts ? I hate the WashPo for the dishonesty and mediocrity of their op-ed operation, but they’ve got enormous reporting potential and they use it for this ? Frankly, at this point in time, I find the Levy story less compelling and disturbing than the question of whether or not John Edwards was involved in a semi-sordid coverup of paternity while running for President last year. Not saying I want a 12-part series on that, but the serious questions about his behavior disturb me more in evaluating the mentality of guys who gravitate to high-level politics than resurrecting Chandra/Condit. But even that said, how about a 12-part series on what the hell the current prospects are in Iraq for politics to trump sectarian violence as the U.S. draws down, or the potential and/or pitfalls of digging deeper into the chaos of Afghanistan in the course of attempting to destroy al Qaeda.

  6. Celeste Fremon Says:

    All good points, Reg. Don’t disagree with you in the least.

    I think it’s a circulation ploy, which is why it interested me to some degree. (And I think it works well just as a true crime mystery thingy.) But is it important or a good use of resources? Well, no. On the other hand, it’s better than much of what’s being tried to boost circulation—like 8 pages of surf fashion. (Or read, for example, the latest insane and rambling memo from the Tribune Corp’s Chief Innovation Officer, Lee Abrams. )

    http://poynter.org/forum/?id=32127

    Anyway, good points. (And dark days.)

  7. "reg" Says:

    Yeah, I just had to vent. Even my guy Obama is sounding too canned and pat for my taste as the electoral cycle gets intense. We’re dealing with some very complex problems and electoral soundbites are driving me nuts.

  8. richard locicero Says:

    Reg isn’t the only one who finds a twelve par6t series on Chandra Levy ridiculous. See the comments of ATRIOS for example. #What a waste of space! I’ll await the multipart series on Scott Peterson in the ZELL TIMES with baited breath!

    But Reg. I Don’t give a rat’s patootie over John Edwards “Love Child” and neither should you. Oh for the European attitude that allows Sarkosy to be judged on policies not his penis!

  9. "reg" Says:

    “Oh for the European attitude…” But Edwards wasn’t running for office in Europe and – if this story is true, as it increasingly appears after his hiding in a hotel bathroom to evade The Enquirer – it’s bizarre that anyone would invite the 24/7 press coverage of a presidential campaign and try to bury this at the same time. I’m not judging Edwards on his penis but on the weird parameters of his ego if he assumed he could pull something like this off. Again, it’s circumstantial, but now more than rumor given the security guard confirming the outlines of the hotel visit. And if this thing turns out to be true, I’m very glad Dems dodged that bullet.

    Also, lets be honest. If Mitt Romney had been caught in similiar circumstances after a season of very loud whispers and was either the GOP candidate or on the candidate’s short list for VP would either of us give him a pass and take “the European attitude.” He’d be subjected to ridicule in the lefty blogs.

  10. "reg" Says:

    Also, there’s a child involved, not just genitalia…so the long-term implications really do matter. I hope for all concerned this is some bizarre coincidence and not as it appears.

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