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March 06, 2003
Treasonable Doubts

Senator Lindsey Graham, via Fox News: "It is my opinion that any American who voluntarily engages in conduct to impede a potential American military operation, and who thereby endangers the lives of our nation's men and women in uniform, is participating in a program designed to weaken the power of the United States to wage war successfully."

Article III of the Constitution: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court."

I understand how you could make a case for treason against human shields as soon as we start levying war against Iraq. And I guess since we've been levying bombs against them for some time now and are even racking up civilian casualties, you could say we're at war with them already, if not quite officially.

But if that sort of technicality doesn't cut it, can you be charged for treason before war has been officially declared? In the fashion of the day, Senator Graham is ultimately evangelizing the notion of pre-emptive treason: even though an American military operation is still "potential," human shields, in some weird phenomenom of partisan physics that probably only evil liberals can pull off, are already impeding it.

Of course, the text of Article III does appear to leave enough room for interpretation for a whole herd of lawyers to nest there comfortably and indefinitely...

Does the use of "or" dissociate the "adhering to their enemies" clause from what precedes it, meaning we don't actually have to be at war with an enemy for a traitor to aid and comfort it?

On the other hand, does the fact that we really love the Iraqis and only want to liberate them mean they're really not "enemies" at all, but just friends we haven't militarily subjugated yet?

And, of course, the whole pro-liberation conceit introduces another problem: if aid and comfort are the ultimate goals of an Iraqi invasion, does this mean that Bush, Rumsfeld, and all other pro-liberation evangelists will be guilty of treason once the bombs start dropping? This war gets better all the time.

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:12 AM
March 05, 2003
All Downhill from Here?

From "The sales of online content has dropped for the first time in the last two years in fourth quarter in 2002, according to Paid Content report released by Online Publishers Association and comScore. The Q4 sales came in at $338 million, down from about $361 million in the third quarter."

Posted by Greg Beato at 04:22 PM
Nice Bush, Saddam!

Is this American propaganda postcard, one of many that we've been bombarding Iraq with, a subtle effort to feminize the father of the mother of all battles?

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:56 AM
March 04, 2003
Everyone's a Salon Critic

From Salon's David Talbot:

Alterman understands that liberals need to shed their elite image if they want to win the media wars, telling Terry Gross on "Fresh Air" this week they must find "their own populist voice." But he never suggests how this might be accomplished. And the swipes he has taken at Salon and other publications for their "tabloid" inclinations -- running sex and celebrity coverage side by side with more serious political and cultural journalism -- betray his own elitist bias. As the Nation and American Prospect have demonstrated -- or the National Review and Weekly Standard on the right -- there is no way to build a mass audience for an editorial product filled only with political reporting and analysis. Pundits, activists and policy wonks might find this a nutritious diet, but most readers want some sugar and spice as well. (Bold/italics mine.)

That's the conventional wisdom, but is it really true? In the world of print, I'd say the biggest obstacle to building a mass audience is the presence of so many words. Except for professional basketball players, most people just don't like to read that much.

But in the world of TV and radio, do Fox News and Rush Limbaugh use sex and celebrity coverage to build their mass audiences? To a certain extent, yes. Getting free masturbatory aids is not the only reason Bill O'Reilly has Jenna Jameson on his show - he knows more people will tune in to watch him try to verbally humiliate a hot porn star than an obscure peace activist.

But even so, it seems to me that Fox News and conservative talk-radio succeed not because they offer "sugar and spice" in addition to nutritious political reporting and analysis, but because they make political reporting and analysis sugary and spicy.

Can you do that and still offer in-depth journalism and analysis? Of course you can, and to some extent, Salon does this. But if Salon believes that liberal political reporting and analysis is its raison d'etre, and increasingly, this seems to be its major sales pitch, then it should concentrate on making its liberal political reporting and analysis as entertaining as possible.

Talbot himself lists a number of liberals whom he thinks would make good TV pundits - "Al Franken, Michael Moore, Joe Conason, Arianna Huffington, Molly Ivins, Mario Cuomo, Robert Reich, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Janeane Garofalo and Eric Alterman himself" - but how many of these people does Salon regularly publish? Are Conason and Huffington the only ones who know how to write as well as speak?

But would featuring some of these people really be the best option for Salon?

These days, even though I'm a subscriber, I only visit Salon probably a few times a week. In truth, it deserves more visits than that, so why don't I visit it more often? I think a lot has to do with graphic design: currently, Salon's front page seems to offer both too many options and, at the same time, not a whole lot to draw you in. How can this be? I can't really say; it's just the reaction that I have when I visit. In contrast, when I visit simpler, more focused sites like Atrios,, and, I always find myself following links to at least three or four articles.

Of course, generating more traffic isn't Salon's problem right now. But as the web evolves, Salon is showing its age. It's general-interest in a realm where narrowcasting works best. It pretty much fails to integrate reader commentary with its own editorial content. Its site architecture is much more complicated than it needs to be. It's still too reliant on the idea of obtaining journalistic stars from the print world, like Tina Brown. Maybe I'm wrong on this, and have finally succumbed to blogmatism myself, but I think the first thing Salon should do is get rid of Tina Brown and Andrew Sullivan, and just pay Atrios whatever it has been paying them to syndicate his blog. If it did that, and simplified its overly complicated front page, then I would have a reason to go to Salon every day again, just like the late '90s glory days when writers like Cintra Wilson, James Poniewozik, Janelle Brown, and a bunch of others (including still-extant staffers Scott Rosenberg and Andrew Leonard) made it worth a daily visit.

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:43 AM
March 03, 2003
American Idol?

From the NY Times: "[Robbie Williams] also has the swagger of Eminem, the swivel hips of Tom Jones and the swing of Dean Martin. American youth are not used to seeing that blend of characters in a pop star, said Craig Marks, the editor of Blender, the music magazine."

Interesting story, via TMFTML, about how EMI is making a big bet on the American success of English superstar Robbie Williams. Which I thought they already tried once in 1999, with only middling results, but you know how the industry chews up and shits out talent that doesn't quite connect: they give them $80 million contracts and engineer shock-and-awe marketing blitzkriegs. Well, Robby, no one ever said it was going to be easy...

My first thought: Chris Isaak. He too has the swagger of Eminem, the swivel hips of Tom Jones, and the swing of Dean Martin. Plus, he's quintessentially American, born and bred in Stockton, California. But even so, he's still never managed to really connect with American music fans in a big way, even when he got his own TV show.

So I doubt I'd bet $80 million on Williams. On the other hand, I can see why EMI might. Craig Marks cites apt older analogues (Tom Jones, Dean Martin), but there are more recent (albeit still old) ones too: Elton John and Billy Joel. Ultimately, Williams seems thoroughly capable of generating smoothly overwrought ballads and peppier "rockers" for a good three or four decades. And he's more butch than John and more handsome than Joel (neither of which is that hard to accomplish, of course), so the commercial possibilities seem endless. Ultimately, it's just a matter of getting the damn audience to cooperate. And maybe that's why EMI is loathe to let this one go: they'd like to prove that, if given genuinely marketable talent, they can still market it...

(Here's a bonus Chris Isaak review I wrote a few years ago, if you're interested.)

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:49 AM
Conservative Celebrities

The conventional wisdom says that conservative celebrities live lives similar to that of Iraqis: they yearn for liberty, for freedom of expression, but they're scared to admit these things. On the one hand, Saddam is the oppressor; on the other, it's Barbra and David and Robert and all the other anti-American superstars who populate the Malibu Colony.

Nonetheless, more and more conservative celebrities are giving voice to their sentiments these days. I saw Dennis Miller sparring with Phil Donahue a few weeks ago, actor-turned-politician-turned-actor (and still not quite a celebrity, but still...) Fred Thompson has made a pro-war commercial, and James Woods was recently making the case for invasion on Sean Hannity's radio show.

I think this is wonderful, as democracy can truly thrive only when celebrities of all political stripes are given a chance to express their opinions.

And it appears that their opinions may in fact matter. When liberal celebrities practice free speech, the lockstep public response of conservative pundits is to sneeringly dismiss their contributions to the national discourse. But there's a reason for such predictable sniping perhaps - check out this passage from Rick Ellis at

In fact, sources tell me that the timing of [Fred Thompson's] commercial was not coincidental. "This is something that we (Republicans) have wanted do for awhile," says one of the people who helped arrange the funding for this commercial. "Initially, we felt that having the usual lineup of liberal Hollywood types coming out against the war would only help to solidify our base. But in the past two weeks, tracking numbers have started to move in the wrong direction....primarily, I think, because of the sheer number of stars making a public comment...we needed to get our message out there."

True? Who knows? But if it is, and the best response that the Republicans can muster to Janeane Garafolo, Martin Sheen, Sheryl Crow, and all the other pretty peaceniks is Fred Thompson, then the Republicans are in big trouble.

Memo to right-wing celebs: this is no time to be timid! Harvey Weinstein may be intimidating, but imagine what life would be like in Hollywood if we continue to appease Saddam and he eventually takes over Sony or Paramount. Plus, Iraqis are desperate for liberty and democracy, and given the chance, most of them will probably become conservatives. Now's your chance to bring them into the fold. So forget career security for a moment, and speak your hearts without fear!

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:34 AM
March 02, 2003
The Celestial Jukebox...

Are music fans genuinely willing to pay something for the music they download?

If they are, then Rhapsody's current promotion should be a huge success.

Now through March 31st, you can burn songs to CD for 49 cents per track, plus the basic monthly subscription of $9.95. But if you're too cheap to pay the $9.95, you can sign up for a free 7-day subscription and just take advantage of the deal for seven days. (I think. It's possible that they don't let you burn tracks during the trial, but I haven't seen anywhere where they say they prevent you from doing that.)

To me, this seems like it gives music fans everything they say they want in an online music service:

* A good selection (Rhapsody currently features around 280,000 songs. Not all can be burned to CD, but at least 100,000 or so of them can be.)

* The ability to listen to a song many times before you buy it.

* The ability to burn songs permanently to a CD (which you can then rip and turn back into MP3s if you want).

Is 49 cents per song too much? And what happens after March 31, when songs go back to 99 cents per track?

If you ask me, 49 cents per track is getting pretty close to very reasonable. While most albums these days have more than 10 tracks, how many of those tracks do you really want? Pick the 10 good ones, and you're getting an album for around $5.

Would it be even better if they charged only 25 cents per track? Sure. And 99 cents per track is too much, so if Rhapsody goes back to that at the end of the month and never returns, then it will be its own fault if its business doesn't take off. But if a fair number of music fans don't jump now, at $9.95 a month and 49 cents per track, then you have to wonder: will any fee service ever work?

But if fans do respond to this deal, think of the positive consequences. As more people sign up for Rhapsody, labels and artists are more likely to license their music to the service. As more music becomes available, more people are likely to sign up for the service. Eventually, a genuine market for online music exists, and then competition sets in and prices start falling.

Of course, you could say Kazaa already offers a better deal than any service will ever be able to provide. But when you use Kazaa, you're ultimately enriching the sleaziest middleman in the history of the music industry, and you don't want to do that, do you?

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:59 PM