Soundbite: Touré Blasts Niall Ferguson’s “Child’s Understanding of Race”

toure niall ferg“Niall Ferguson has many things: a position teaching at Harvard, a column in the Financial Times — and a child’s understanding of race.”

Touré on MSNBC, in response to Niall Ferguson’s FT column where he likened Barack Obama to Felix the Cat because they were both “black and lucky.”

Touré went on to make his case to Morning Meeting host Dylan Ratigan, which I found highly quotable:

Touré: I and many others find it intellectually immature and offensive to link the optical blackness of a cat, or a shoe, to the cultural blackness of a person. And I can’t believe the Financial Times saw fit to publish that. Are there no editors over there?

Ratigan: He’s just making a comment — he’s just he’s just he’s just he’s – it’s poetic license.

Touré: It’s not poetic license. There’s no there there.


Ratigan: He’s adding his own flair, his own flavor, his own je ne said quoi.

Touré: Yeah. Would you say George Wallace was adding his own flavor?

The whole exchange was a great example of cable news getting it right: Engaging discussion with a knowledgable guest and a host who provides just enough of a foil to make it interesting, plus great chemistry between the two. Video below:

The best takeaway from this:

Ratigan: People don’t know what to do with a black president. Some people do not know what to do with a black president.

Touré: Criticize him without it being around race.

There you go. Simple enough for even a cat to understand.

NYT’s Krugman Gets In (Felix) Cat Fight! [Mediaite]
Niall Ferguson: Why My Comparing Obama to Felix the Cat Is Not Racist [HuffPo]
Niall Ferguson Plays The Racist Card [Ta-Nehisi Coates]

Hurricane Bill Threatens to Wreak Havoc, Headlines

hurricanebillIt’s been a rainy summer in New York, but so far there’s been a drought of news this August. Aside from the health care debate and the bad behavior it’s spawned, it’s slim pickins. According to The Guardian, even “silly stories” about sharks, dubious surveys, and animals with prosthetic limbs have been in short supply.

What can the media do when there’s either not much to talk about or nobody’s paying attention? Get people scared about the weather!Hurricane Bill, which is currently off the coast of Bermuda, is the first major hurricane of the season. It was recently upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum wind speeds of about 135 miles per hour. This all sounds like scary stuff. In 2004, Hurricane Charley, another Category 4 hurricane, dealt $18.9 billion worth of damage in today’s dollars and caused President George W. Bush to declare Florida a federal disaster area. And after Hurricane Katrina (which was a more powerful Category 5), Americans are aware of the massive devastation that hurricanes can wreak.

The buried lede here is that most experts seem to be in agreement that Hurricane Bill won’t impact the East Coast in any significant way. According to Reuters, “Bill was not expected to hit the United States but high winds and surf could reach Cape Cod in Massachusetts and coastal Maine.” “No computer models showed Bill posing a major danger to the United States,” wrote CNN.  “The East Coast is lucky,” a meteorologist told Bloomberg.

Hurricanes are deadly, damaging forces of nature; weather is notoriously unpredictable, and it is the media’s job to keep people appraised of high-impact, low-probability events.  But as with Swine Flu H1N1, the profit motive becomes an ulterior motive when you’re in the business of selling eyeballs and your warnings seem to be the only things those eyeballs will watch or read. Overblown sensationalism ensues.

Countdown: how long before Rush Limbaugh blames the Hurricane Bill frenzy on President Obama, somehow?

Journos’ Jailing In North Korea Best Thing Ever For U.S. Intelligence

19korea.x448For all the fuss that was made about former President Bill Clinton’s trip to North Korea being a private one, whose sole intention was to rescue journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, it has certainly provided the U.S. government with a lot of information that, up until now, has been nearly impossible to come by. Says the Times:

For all the billions of dollars a year that the United States spends on intelligence gathering about mysterious and unpredictable countries like North Korea, it took just 20 hours on the ground in Pyongyang by a former president to give the Obama administration its first detailed look into a nuclear-armed regime that looms as one of its greatest foreign threats.

Short version: Sending President Clinton to rescue the imprisoned journalists was maybe also a smart budgetary measure!

Clinton visited the White House yesterday to share his impressions of North Korea with President Obama. The Times has subsequently gotten most of the back story and trip details in an article, which sounds like the premise of a John LeCarre novel. It’s a fascinating piece and and well worth your time; it’s hard to imagine that this won’t eventually find it’s way to the silver screen — is Brad Pitt old enough to play the President yet? Matt Damon could probably swing Joseph R. DeTrani the “high-level American intelligence officer who spent much of his career trying to unlock the mysteries of North Korea,” who was mostly responsible for organizing the trip.

The article also mostly succeeds in putting to rest the idea that Clinton’s trip was merely about rescuing Ling and Lee (whose presence there still has yet to be explained). In fact, it becomes increasingly clear as more details emerge that the timing of the whole debacle could not have been more advantageous for all parties, most of the all the U.S. government who now finds itself on the receiving end of a bonanza of information they were otherwise only able to guess at. Needless to say, it wasn’t too bad for Bill Clinton’s image either.

Blog Talk Radio Lands Their Whale: Obama Plans Podcast

20090720_obama_healthcare_090225_mnPresident Barack Obama has been no stranger to social media outlets: Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have all been a part of the White House communications strategy. Now, add one more: on Wednesday, August 17th, Obama will join a coalition of pro-reform faith groups for a podcast called 40 Minutes for Health Reform hosted by Blog Talk Radio.

CNN’s Political Ticker reports:

Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET, 40 Minutes for Health Reform, hosted by a coalition of pro-reform faith groups which are multi-denominational, will premiere. For the first 30 minutes, faith-based leaders and a top ranking administration official (all to be officially announced tomorrow) will “share their stories about how our broken health care system has affected the lives of their loved ones and what is at stake in this debate,” according to Faith in Public Life spokesperson Kristin Williams. Obama will then talk for the next 10 minutes.

Audience members will be encouraged to call in and listen to the show (but will not be able to speak on air) or can listen live on While the interview is occurring, “listeners will be tweeting it and putting it up on their Facebook pages,” BlogTalkRadio Founder and CEO Alan Levy told CNN. “We are really one of the only platforms that can enable a live conversation to take place. A platform that enables Obama to reach large audiences through social tools.”

This is a huge booking for BlogTalkRadio, and another example of the full frontal assault on health care reform by the Obama administration. Other political guests who have appeared on BlogTalkRadio include Michelle Obama, John McCain, Oliver Stone, and Yoko Ono. The Pentagon also has a Radio Network on the site.

Maybe President Obama will come on Mediaite’s office hours next!

Press Can’t Handle Obama’s “Human Face”

Robert Gibbs at the podiumHere’s what working for an enormously popular (in terms of general good will, since Obama’s approval ratings have actually taken a hit of late) President gets you: a big target on your chest.

Over the weekend the Times ran a cool-ish profile of chief of staff Rahm Emanuel that noted, once again, his aggressive style, which is so at odds with the President’s (also that Rahm now likes puppies more than dead fish, and maybe didn’t qualify for a recent inner circle invite to Camp David because he hadn’t technically suffered through the campaign). Today at The Daily Beast, Lee Siegel is turning a sharply critical eye on press secretary Robert Gibbs. Blame the messenger!

Siegel complains that Gibbs is “smug, sardonic, and lacking in self-control as he slides into defiant, snide babble, rather than—at least you can respect it—terpsichorean evasion.” Utterly unlike his gentlemanly predecessor Tony Snow who was a gentleman. Also, gasp, Siegel says Gibbs is a dick to everyone.

It doesn’t matter whether a reporter is from ABC News or Fox News, Gibbs will sink to the occasion—he is as antagonistic to the former’s Jake Tapper as to the latter’s Major Garrett. Indeed, one of the most curious results of Gibbs’ Sarcast-athons is to create in both Tapper and Garrett identical facial expression while jousting with the press secretary: somewhere between stony and clenched, their professional pride ready to burst or pounce.

It’s hard not to read this as a compliment actually. In the sense that Gibbs is not playing favorites and is pissing everyone off equally (though Fox would have you believe otherwise), which at the end of the day is sort of his job.

“White House press secretaries are often chosen for the contrapuntal statement they make with regard to the president, even as they help project his identity,” says Siegel. Yes, and a lot of times that means expressing some of the anger and frustration the president is feeling but unable to personally disclose to the public. Or, in the case of Tony Snow, being “dignified, elegant and courtly” in the “face of a criminally stupid regime.” Though Dana Perino, who reflected fairly accurately at times the same criminally stupid regime, doesn’t really fit in to this stereotype.

Anyway, point being, Gibbs is the more aggressive face of the administration (just imagine if Rahm was giving the briefings) and rightly so. Furthermore, it’s probably not a mistake that Obama has surrounded himself with “perplexingly arrogant and thin-skinned” folk, someone needs to be pushing back, maybe it’s the press that needs a tougher skin.

Blame Canada! Or, Calling the Chester Arthur Birthers

Picture 10Barack Obama isn’t the first President to come under fire for suspicious birth certificate origins. That honor belongs to Chester Arthur — also the first President of Vermont. Take that Calvin Coolidge! Turns out, for those of you not completely up-to-date on the presidential trivia, Arthur’s actual birthplace has long been under speculation: there are rumors he may have been born in….Canada! Which, by the way, was not technically a country yet, or even actually called Canada (what are now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec were commonly referred to Upper and Lower Canada, respectively) but, in fact a British colony. Meaning if it is true that Arthur was born there, the British did indeed succeed in putting a subject in the White House, the prevention of which is the primary motivation behind of Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution. He was also a Republican (in the pre-Nixon sense). Where are our historical birthers when we need them.

Anyway! @ABCdude recently took a summer road trip to Vermont to visit Chester Arthur’s supposed birthplace, and is now worried that he may have started a constitutional controversy. Hey, it’s summer…if we can’t give you dancing former politicians of questionable ethis at least we can edify.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do? Obama Says No More Staff Profiles

4wxrT8AcTmkl4k1zhAbYKkDco1_400There was an interesting aside dropped into yesterday’s long New York Times profile of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that suggests the press may no longer enjoy the sort of access to this White House it has become accustomed to. According to the Times our normally zen-like President was furious when Times Magazine profile of top adviser Valerie Jarrett scratched at her reportedly testy relationship with Emanuel.

[W]hen a New York Times Magazine profile of Ms. Jarrett last month explored the old scratchiness, White House officials said the normally calm Mr. Obama erupted with anger. An informal edict went out: no more cooperating with staff profiles. As a result, Mr. Emanuel declined a formal interview for this article.

Has the White House gone all Bush 43 on the press and become a closed off paranoid state unto itself? It seems unlikely. For one, a number of staffers participated in the profile of Emanuel — who, it should be noted, has enjoyed more profiling than any chief of staff in recent history. How much more do we need to know about Rahm? (He likes puppies, by the way). Clearly if David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and Peter Orszag are giving quotes to the Times the “informal edict” against the press is pretty informal. Maybe more like a Presidential time-out.

Also, who is there left to cover? As Politico’s Michael Calderone points out the Times has enjoyed plenty of White House access. Add to that the amount of unfiltered access the press, and the public, has via Twitter — can you imagine how Bush would have handled that? — combined with Obama’s “saturation” tactic what you are left with is a fairly accessible White House. It is sort of reassuring to know, however, that Obama is capable of erupting in anger once in a while.