Three rants

On letting newspapers go, on Pelosi, Queen of the Enablers, and on the shifting of the center. What’s all the fuss about saving newspapers about? The sense memory of flipping through large pieces of paper with your morning coffee? That’s like arguing for the horse and buggy over the car because your horse had a ...

585796_090515_pelosi2.jpg
585796_090515_pelosi2.jpg
WASHINGTON - MAY 13: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) accepts the Award of Courage from amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS Research) at a forum on HIV/AIDS on Capitol Hill on May 13, 2009 in Washington, DC. The forum was sponsored by Co-Sponsored by amfAR and Research!America. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Nancy Pelosi

On letting newspapers go, on Pelosi, Queen of the Enablers, and on the shifting of the center.

What's all the fuss about saving newspapers about? The sense memory of flipping through large pieces of paper with your morning coffee? That's like arguing for the horse and buggy over the car because your horse had a name and ate carrots out of your hand. Modern technologies for distribution of information are delivering more news, more points of view, more words, more pictures, more audio, more video, in real time, often interactively... everything better than before. There is more local information (local listservs give you updates on which babysitters to avoid for goodness sake), more international information, more everything. Lament the passing of foreign correspondents? Please. You now can get hundreds of perspectives from everywhere... from reporters, from governments, from citizens, from NGOs, from academia.

On letting newspapers go, on Pelosi, Queen of the Enablers, and on the shifting of the center.

What’s all the fuss about saving newspapers about? The sense memory of flipping through large pieces of paper with your morning coffee? That’s like arguing for the horse and buggy over the car because your horse had a name and ate carrots out of your hand. Modern technologies for distribution of information are delivering more news, more points of view, more words, more pictures, more audio, more video, in real time, often interactively… everything better than before. There is more local information (local listservs give you updates on which babysitters to avoid for goodness sake), more international information, more everything. Lament the passing of foreign correspondents? Please. You now can get hundreds of perspectives from everywhere… from reporters, from governments, from citizens, from NGOs, from academia.

Absolutely everything is better about the media today than before, even if a few old brand names primarily associated with old distribution technologies are faltering. Certainly, it would be worth preserving the quality of the reporting and analysis we get from some of the better of these entities, but there is no reason that we have to be held hostage by obsolete technologies or business models. Nor is there any reason to be surprised that approaches that involve giving away for free what publishers used to charge for don’t work. Of course they don’t.  In the end, consumers and advertisers will have to pay for quality information and analysis and in the end, they will and new, sustainable models will emerge.

In the meantime, there is a good reason why Warren Buffet recently said that he wouldn’t buy any newspaper at any price. It is that he realizes the fundamental truth that media guru Marshall McLuhan was absolutely wrong. The medium is not the message. The message is the message. The medium is just the package it is delivered in.

I am a media junkie and every single day I find life is getting better… more, better choices delivered by better and better means.  Media executives who are trying to turn back the hands of time are going to end up being just as successful as every other group that has attempted to do so.

***

Nancy Pelosi’s performance yesterday was embarrassing. But like any good political leader, she didn’t just embarrass herself, she embarrassed many of her supporters in Congress. Because she revealed that there is a group of Democrats who will forever be known as generation-E, the enablers, the people who allowed themselves to be cowed by George W. Bush and who failed to stand up to him on crucial issues, like the question of torture.

Clearly, she knew what was going on early and clearly, she decided to do nothing about it. I would be much more sympathetic were she to say she supported torture or were she to acknowledge she was on the fence about it. Many people were. Many people are. (It does seem modestly hypocritical to be against torture on moral grounds but not to then object to say, blowing someone’s head off in a war or to accept combat techniques like bombing — and many others — that often produce collateral damage to innocents, etc. We draw fine lines in these things that are hard to fathom. Mike Tyson could have killed a guy in the ring within the rules and would have received universal sympathy, but bite one guy’s ear and he is thug.)

The Obama team is not just being self-serving when they work hard to move the debate away from “what did Nancy know and when did she know it.” First, they realize it is a no-win argument. And secondly they realize that these are the issues of the last “generation” of Dems. He came to the Senate in 2004, effectively beginning his political life at the point where we were looking beyond Iraq, beyond 9/11 and on to what comes next. That’s where we should be focused and the Pelosi matter is a distraction although it is one that has legitimately undercut her credibility and that of others like her…not because they took a stand that we disagreed with but because on critical issues they climbed into the back seat of the car George W. Bush was driving and just kept whining “are we there yet?”

***

For years I have defined myself as a kind of radical centrist. It’s pretty old-school stuff really. For a strong defense and fiscal conservatism. Also for strong social programs and a focus on ensuring opportunity for all. I always thought such a balanced approach would have a number of advantages. First, of course, I thought it was right. And that I still feel.

Next, I thought it would ensure that I might appeal to all sides in my general desire to get past partisanship, which I see as often being unconstructive, a road to pettiness and false distinctions. Of course, as it turned out, being a centrist only ensures that everyone is pissed off at you sometimes. (I think Obama is, at heart, also a centrist and is starting to feel some of these slings and arrows himself.)

Third, I liked a lot of the centrist leaders. Whether centrist Dems or centrist Republicans, from Scoop Jackson to Bill Clinton, from Brent Scowcroft and James Baker to Bob Rubin and Larry Summers, more times than not, I am with these guys.  I even worked hard to support the candidacy of a centrist, Evan Bayh, for president last time around, which is why today I am secretary of state. But watching some centrists, including on some issues Evan (for whom I have the highest regard), as they position themselves against either setting price on carbon or making decent health care the right of every American, I am deeply troubled. Because these programs are absolutely essential to a strong national defense (disconnecting from the Middle East, cutting cash flow to many who support our enemies, becoming less dependent on foreign energy supplies… and producing health reform that will fix the biggest fiscal threat, which is in turn the biggest overall threat we face). Some of these centrists are slowing progress on these issues for sound reasons of policy, I’m sure. But many seem to do it because their states produce or are dependent on coal or for other similar reasons of local politics.

Is it them or is it me? Am I becoming more of a liberal in my decrepitude? Is the center moving? I would like to think that that consistent with my embrace of the Cherokee view of the universe (I am the center of everything) it must be them rather than me.  But I hope it is just a negotiating stance and that the centrists in the Congress resume the traditional leadership role the vital center has traditionally had… finding answers that are driven by the national interest and not by the special interests.

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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