The only thing I can infer with absolute certainty from the anguished letter Dylan Farrow has written to the New York Times is that she is expressing incandescent rage. I cannot know from a distance what exactly is the reason for that rage, but she hates her former step-father adoptive father, Woody Allen, with an intensity completely compatible with child abuse, and hard to explain away entirely without it. You can see how truly she hates him from her opening and closing lines. These are sentences designed to do as much harm to Allen as he allegedly did to her – to pin the crime of child-rape onto every movie he has ever made, to obliterate his legacy as an artist by insisting that his entire oeuvre be viewed through the prism of his monstrousness. I can fully understand the impulse. Can’t you?
At first you think this is melodrama, but then you realize she is simply wielding the most lethal weapon she has:
What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.
I’m not sure how, especially after reviewing the evidence Maureen Orth collected over twenty years ago, you manage not to believe Dylan Farrow – even though in every hugely dysfunctional family, there is more than one side. But the fact that Mia Farrow may be a few sandwiches short of a picnic doesn’t prove that Woody Allen isn’t a monster. And Farrow’s anguished yet vicious letter makes a lot of emotional sense coming after the Golden Globes’ celebration of Allen’s lifetime of achievement. Then there’s what we already know of Farrow’s behavior as a child:
Several times … while Woody was visiting in Connecticut, Dylan locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out for hours. Once, one of the baby-sitters had to use a coat hanger to pick the lock. Dylan often complained of stomachaches and headaches when Woody visited: she would have to lie down. When he left, the symptoms would disappear. At times Dylan became so withdrawn when her father was around that she would not speak normally, but would pretend to be an animal.
These are classic indicators of abuse – along with plenty of other eye-witnesses to Allen’s creepy behavior around the girl.
And yet Dylan Farrow will, I’m afraid, fail in this case.
David Carr has a column on various models for the future of online journalism and the Dish reader-backed concept is one of the more promising. Here’s why:
In a little over two weeks, we’ve raised as much new revenue as we did in all of last January. We’re now at $499,000, compared with $516,000 in 2013. And many of you have yet to get around to renewing, since your subscriptions only actually expire for the first Founding Members starting February 4. The reason we’re doing better in money terms despite fewer subscribers is that the average price for a sub has gone up from around $31 to close to $38. If that trend continues with future renewals, we can really start shaking things up.
We had our weekly meeting last night at our regular diner. Here’s what we were talking about: how to develop and innovate and expand Deep Dish, if the resources emerge to do so. After all, our budget last year did not include Deep Dish, which had to remain in prototype for lack of staff, money and simply time. If this year’s budget increases in line with your subscriptions, it opens up far more territory for commissioning and publishing original journalism from the best writers out there. Right now, putting out this blog every day is a full-time task for an editorial staff of six (with three interns). But for the first time, we see glimmers of the revenue that could actually make Deep Dish a part of the rejuvenation of quality journalism on the web.
So help us get there. We’ve got just a day and half to reach last January’s total: a day and a half to add $17,000. If you’ve always intended to subscribe and have never gotten around to it, subscribe for the first time here (for just $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year). If you are already a rampart of this new model: Renew here! Renew now! We’ve already begun to make a difference. If we keep going, we can do much more.
Update from a reader just now:
Perhaps you can remind us how we can purchase gift subscriptions too? I have some extra-cranky Tea Partying in-laws who could use some Dishness in their lives. Or, at the very least, I can sling some more money your way!
That lead is almost three times as large as the one Clinton enjoyed in Post-ABC polling in December 2006, the first time we asked the 2008 Democratic presidential primary ballot question.
Yes, the same was said last time as well, and she still managed to screw it up. But this time, there is no Obama in the wings, and this time, her coronation would follow a humiliation in 2008 and rehabilitation as secretary of state. Obama has also broken the barrier of an African-American president, and Democrats will find the appeal of the first woman president – and the gender gulf that could thereby open up – irresistible. Even veteran Clinton-skeptics, ahem, find the appeal of a woman president galvanizing – the perfect way to add charisma and excitement to a very establishment and uncharismatic figure. Then there’s the Bill factor – a second Clinton presidency would be a reprise of the two-for-one package of 1992 and 1996. But this time, it would import into the White House the best political salesman in the country, with invaluable foreign policy experience and chops. If Hillary wins, Bill should be secretary of state. A formal role on the world stage is far preferable to an informal role on the inside fucking everything up.
What do her Democratic opponents have that could possibly match this appeal? And whom do the Republicans have? Their centrists are pedestrian, Pawlenty-style Midwesterners with little of the personality and star power that a presidential campaign demands. I mean: Walker? Kasich? They’re solid governors, but … it’s hard to see them in the White House. The base faves – a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul – could get the nomination pretty quickly, given the new primary calendar and rules. But it would be very hard to frame a race between Clinton and, say, Cruz, as anything but a Johnson-Goldwater moment.
Which leaves Jeb Bush. It would, I guess, be a fitting testimony to the stalling of social mobility in America that a race in 2016 could be between a Clinton and a Bush, just as it was in 1992.
10.22 pm. The metaphor of the soldier slowly, relentlessly, grindingly putting his life back together was a powerful one for America – and Obama pulled off that analogy with what seemed to me like real passion. One aspect of his personality and his presidency is sometimes overlooked – and that is persistence. He’s been hailed as a hero and dismissed as irrelevant many times. But when you take a step back and assess what he has done – from ending wars to rescuing the economy to cementing a civil rights revolution to shifting the entire landscape on healthcare – you can see why he believes in persistence. Because it works. It may not win every news cycle; but it keeps coming back.
If he persists on healthcare and persists on Iran and persists on grappling, as best we can, with the forces creating such large disparities in wealth, he will look far, far more impressive from the vantage point of history than the news cycle of the Twitterverse sometimes conveys.
This was True Grit Obama. And it was oddly energizing.
10.17 pm. Why the fuck do I have tears in my eyes? Because what our servicemembers have sacrificed must never be forgotten. I saw “Lone Survivor” with Mikey Piro last night. Mikey, as some Dish readers will know (listen to the podcast here) served as a commander in Iraq, and now struggles with and overcomes PTSD each day. I was under my seat most of the movie. It’s a brutal combat picture. Mikey was fine, until the very end as the real-life photos of lost soldiers were displayed. Then he sobbed a little. I’ve heard several presidents invoke military heroism in their speeches. I cannot recall one so moving.
10.12 pm. Another Obama-supporting reader bucks up a bit:
Does Obama’s shift in tone and confidence on the ACA signal that this could be a mid-term issue that Democrats will run on, not from? Did he intentionally let the Republicans endlessly call for repeals without much fanfare, so that Democrats can hoist them by those votes?
Maybe. But the idea that running on universal health insurance is an inevitable loser has always seemed dumb to me. What the Democrats need to do is stay simple: tell the human stories of those finally getting the care they need; capture the emotion and relief; appeal to a common decency. And demand that the GOP offers an alternative. When they do – and a whole lot of it looks a lot like Obamacare – this debate could turn.
10.10 pm. A reader writes:
This speech tonight reminds me why I voted for Obama. I think the GOP made a ghastly strategic error in choosing to stand only for obstruction, and Obama is driving them into the mat on it tonight. He’s clearly channeling the sane middle in the US electorate. The 47 percent of the nation inside the Fox bubble won’t change their minds. But Obama is reminding the majority that voted for him just why they did.
10.04 pm. Obama is now channeling his inner Eisenhower who understood better than any neocon the limits of American force. This is why I supported him in 2008:
We counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.
This is the money quote on Iran:
These negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.
Classic eye roll from Chuck Schumer on Iran diplomacy.
9.56 pm. This is the strongest defense of the ACA I’ve yet seen him give before a large audience. It’s about time. I don’t think he can still achieve what he wants to achieve without strongly making the case for universal healthcare: morally, economically, ethically. Bringing in the Kentucky governor was a nice touch, and goading the Republicans to offer an alternative appeals to Independents. But you get the sense that he knows – and the Republicans know – that large swathes of the bill will never be repealed, and much of it is approved of, when you isolate any actual part of it. It may be that the defensiveness on this may begin to fade.
9.55 pm. Someone’s attention is wandering:
Going l-r, Biden/Obama/Boehner looks like a spray-tan chart, right?
9.51 pm. Yes, the minimum wage is lower than it was under Reagan. In a far tougher time. What I liked about this section, though, was how it spoke of the private sector as leading the way, and demanding that Congress follow. Announcing his own decision to raise the minimum wage of federal contractors also got out of the dynamic that has the president begging Congress to act. He still is. But not so pathetically.
9.48 pm. The speech is gaining momentum. This is powerful on the minimum wage:
There has been plenty of well-deserved derision directed at the billionaire fretting in the Wall Street Journal that the super-duper-rich like him are headed for concentration camps. Paul Krugman fires an AK47 into the world’s smallest barrel here; while Josh Marshall has a must-read. Josh is actually trying to understand rather than simply excoriate the completely bizarre idea that the Obama administration is a populist, socialist threat to a capitalist system it all but saved from itself:
It is that mix of insecurity, a sense of the brittleness of one’s hold on wealth, power, privileges, combined with the reality of great wealth and power, that breeds a mix of aggressiveness and perceived embattlement.
I’ve been a little taken aback too by the attitude of the Wall Street class, after they royally fucked up the entire global economy, were bailed out by the rest of us, still get Dimon-style compensation, and have enjoyed one of the sharpest booms in stock prices since 2009. At some point, you have to ask: WTF? But here’s the empirical data on how hard the one percent have had it over the last few decades:
Well, yes, they have returned to pre-Reagan levels of taxation. But the tax take is still roughly where it was in the mid-1990s and I don’t recall Clinton being perceived as a socialist or howls of protest from the wealthy as the economy boomed in the tech boom bubble. Josh notes, for example:
It’s worth remembering that Bill Clinton pushed through a reasonably substantial tax hike on upper income earners in 1993. President Obama meanwhile largely maintained the tax policies of George W. Bush, the guy who had in essence repealed Clinton’s tax increase. These are all facts that are hard to ignore.
So whence the anger and the panic? Josh thinks, as my shrink would say, that it is multi-determined. Is it adjusting to a president who, though he is a pragmatist in his record, is nonetheless more progressive in outlook than any president since the conservative revolution of the late 1970s (of which Carter, in some ways, was a part)? Is it classic in-group isolation that fosters ideological extremism? Yes and yes. But I’d add a couple of factors to the mix.
The first is the triumph of victimology in political discourse. It began on the hard left, of course, in the 1990s, as every member of a minority group was designated a victim, and all were allegedly on the verge of being targeted or discriminated against. Godwin’s Law had to be constantly invoked back then as well. But today, what began on the left is ubiquitous on the right: those denying marriage rights to gays are in fact the real victims of lefty intolerance; whites, not blacks, are the real victims of our racial politics; and men are now the real victims of the feminized, big government left (see Hume; Brit, et al.). If you want to free-base on far right victimology, just track down the rhetoric of Sarah Palin. According to her, Christians now live in constant fear of legions of Obama’s jack-booted thugs, i.e. Wal-Mart greeters wishing them “Happy Holidays.”
The second factor, I’d argue, is actually self-awareness. This is entirely speculative, but many of these extremist plutocrats must surely know, somewhere in their psyches, that they collectively failed – and failed terribly – in self-regulating and thereby protecting the very capitalist system they depend on for so much.
If you were to describe the Israel lobby as a secretive group that enforces the policies of the Israeli government on American politicians in private gatherings, you would be called an anti-Semite. The idea that the Israel lobby is secretive and underhand plays into ancient anti-Semitic tropes. If you were to say about AIPAC that “a lobby is a night flower, it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun,” you would be regarded as an anti-Semite for the same reasons. If you were to note that an AIPAC official once responded to the idea that the lobby had been weakened by pushing a napkin across a table and said “You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin,” you would be called an anti-Semite. If you were to claim that AIPAC was “the most effective general interest group … across the entire planet,” you would be suspected of anti-Semitic tendencies. (The source for these varied quotes is here.)
And if you were to say that AIPAC was so powerful it could get a left-liberal mayor of New York to give a speech so fulsome in its cravenness and excess it adds whole universes of meaning to the word “pander” and also insist that it be kept secret, even to the extent of hauling a reporter out of the hall, then all bets would be off. Why, after all, should AIPAC be in any way secretive about its completely legitimate, even civic-minded, lobbying of American public officials on behalf of the interests of a foreign government? The very idea is anti-Semitic, is it not? Why should any defender of Israel want to keep his remarks private? Even if you found nothing in the speech faintly controversial, why on earth the secrecy?
And yet here we are, with the lofty, pizza-challenged mayor of New York City, right after a landslide election, caught keeping a speech to AIPAC off his public itinerary and barring any press coverage of it. Weird, innit? What would he have to hide? Well here’s an audio of the speech that AIPAC, according to De Blasio, asked him to keep top-secret:
I’m not sure if that is the entirety of the speech, but let’s just note a few things. First up:
There is a philosophical grounding to my belief in Israel and it is my belief, it is our obligation, to defend Israel, but it is also something that is elemental to being an American because there is no greater ally on earth, and that’s something we can say proudly.
“No greater ally on earth”.
Just ponder that remark for a bit. How many troops did Israel send to fight with Americans in Iraq? None. Forty other countries did, led by the UK, Australia, and Poland. How many troops did Israel send to fight with Americans in Afghanistan? None. Fifty-nine other countries helped, also led by the UK. In both cases, this “greatest ally on earth” would have been extraordinarily counter-productive if it had been involved. That’s how useful an ally the country is in confronting our common enemies. Which allied defense minister recently publicly said of an internal security plan for the West Bank, shared confidentially among allies, that it was “not worth the paper it was written on” and that “the only thing that can ‘save us’ is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.” Israel’s. Which allied prime minister in recent years took the extraordinary step of lecturing the American president in front of the world press in the White House itself? Israel’s. I cannot think of any allied prime minister ever thinking about doing the same.
But this preposterous bullshit is what a left-liberal mayor felt obliged to serve up. Then this:
From this new poll, it appears Americans support both the agreement with Iran and exactly the sort of provisions that would derail it:
By 58% to 25%, Americans approve of the current international agreement that would freeze Iranian nuclear development in return for the easing of sanctions. But more than half think the best way to get Iran to limit its nuclear program is to threaten it with consequences – either military or economic – if Iran does not limit its nuclear program.
This is the genius behind AIPAC’s bill to kill in advance any deal with Iran. For those who do not read the actual bill, or have a sketchy memory of the last five years, it seems perfectly rational to increase sanctions until Iran cries uncle. The polling question that got the result above was a non-time-related: “What strategy should the US employ to get Iran to limit its nuclear program?”
But that has been the policy and it brought Iran to the negotiating table. Americans are right about that principle. But there comes a point at which the sanctions have worked and we have the result we said we were looking for: a frozen program and a negotiation. The question now is: would moving the goalposts after we have gotten them to the negotiating table and have already frozen their nuclear program’s advance, help get a solid deal? If you unpack it that way – and it is the only honest way to unpack it – you see how shrewdly duplicitous AIPAC’s strategy is.
And, of course, AIPAC’s bill would not just threaten new sanctions; it has several provisions that open up past actions of Iran to new sanctions; and it raises many broader questions about Iran’s regional power apart from the nuclear issue. In every case, as Edward Levine has definitively shown, moving the goalposts in such a way now would easily wreck the possibility of any deal at all.
Mercifully, the AIPAC bill seems to be on hold for now. But AIPAC’s fanaticism on this should not be under-estimated. They are determined to get a new war against Iran, however they can, and you can see that when you read the actual bill. For example, take the poll’s finding on what should happen if the talks were to fail, as AIPAC wants:
You’ll see that a majority is against the US starting a new war in the Middle East (although it’s disturbingly small), although they would not disapprove of Israel’s taking unilateral action. But the new sanctions bill would solder Israel’s war with America’s in advance, and commit the United States to a pre-emptive war if Israel were to decide to launch one. Here’s the key paragraph 2 (b) (5):
A confession. I have long had an aversion to gay-themed plays, TV shows, movies, etc. I wasn’t born with it. I learned it. I learned it through what can only be called a series of cringes. I cringed at Philadelphia‘s well-intentioned hagiography of the “AIDS victim”; I cringed through Tony Kushner’s view of the plague as a post-script to the heroism of American communists; I winced at the eunuch, the sassy girlfriend, and the witty queen in Will And Grace; I had to look away as Ellen initially over-played her hand (understandably and totally forgivably, but still …). The US version of Queer as Folk was something I could not get out of my recoiling head for weeks – and I barely got through fifteen minutes of it. And please don’t ask me about Jeffrey. Please.
Maybe I should have sucked it up and celebrated each and every portrayal of gay people in any form – after so many decades and centuries of invisibility or minstrelsy. But, like many members of any minority group seeing themselves portrayed for the first time on screen, I felt betrayed when my own life wasn’t depicted, my worldview was ignored, my politics wasn’t acknowledged. In many ways this was utterly irrational. But it was emotionally real. When there are so few cultural expressions of your core identity, the few become weighted with far more cultural baggage than they can hope to uphold. In a fraught time – between liberation and mass extinction, between criminality and civil equality – it was hard to forgive anything that might be conceived as counter-productive or inaccurate or ideologized.
The same dynamic operated the other way on me, as well. When I rather naively became a gay public figure by answering “yes” to the question, “Are you gay?” after I became the editor of The New Republic at the crazy age of 27, the shoe was on the other foot. Suddenly I was supposed to represent all “virtually normal” gay men, because I was one of very, very few out people in the mainstream media in 1991. And boy did I not represent them. I never claimed to, of course, and said so explicitly; but that really didn’t matter. I was out there and not representative of many others. So I had to be knocked off my perch in a period of great exhilaration but also great personal pain. Looking back, the necessary madness of that period, its extraordinary range of sheer emotion as we fought not just for our dignity but for our very lives, seems clearer and more understandable now. But no less painful.
So when the opening scene of the new HBO series, Looking, shows a young gay man cruising for sex in a public park, I tensed up. But almost as quickly I realized that this was the most meta of the show’s moments (I’ve been able to watch all four of the first few episodes). As the dude starts to grope around, his cell phone goes off, the other guy’s hands are freezing on his cock, he tries to answer the phone, then drops it into a ditch. His friends – out for a lark to see if old gay culture still exists in San Francisco – were calling him; and they reunite to talk about the fun in exploring the old world of cruising. And so the circle is complete. Gay culture has evolved into a million-petaled flower, and the old petals are still in there, but ironized for many, if still urgent for others. Gay life in 2014 is … well, finally just life.
I loved the show. It is the first non-cringe-inducing, mass market portrayal of gay life in America since the civil rights movement took off. Well, the first since Weekend, the breakthrough movie of 2011:
For some reason, it wasn’t until Aaron reminded me last night that both Looking and Weekend are by the same Andrew Haigh that I put it all together.
Earlier this week, Iran suspended its activities on its nuclear program, in accordance with an agreement reached with six great powers – the US, Russia, China, Britain, Germany, and France. And you could have heard a pin drop in the American public discourse in the face of this remarkable turn of events. And that is a bizarre thing. For the constellation that came together these past twelve months is unlikely to happen ever again. All the major world powers – including Russia and China and the US – are in agreement. The Iranian regime and – most significantly – the Iranian people want a deal that would both restrain Iran’s nuclear capacities to civilian purposes and slowly pry open its economy after brutal sanctions have close to extinguished it. A huge amount still needs to be figured out and it will be a formidable task of negotiation to move forward. It may all come to nothing. But surely, surely, it’s worth giving diplomacy a chance.
Why? For my part, it’s for the Iranian people, and global security. Neoconservatives portray their position against any agreement as one of solidarity with the Iranian people against their regime. And I’m sure that’s a genuine as well as admirable motive. But aren’t they engaging in a classic bit of ideological projection? In so far as we can tell anything about the views of the actual Iranian people – especially its younger and more educated generation – it is that they overwhelmingly want both a peaceful civilian nuclear program (in part as a matter of national pride) and re-engagement with the wider world, including the West. So the neocons are in fact either acting against the interests of the Iranian people, or accusing them of false consciousness. Neither seems to me the right response to this moment.
It’s also an ineluctable fact that Iran has acquired the intellectual and material infrastructure to become a nuclear military power if it wants to at any point in the foreseeable future. Let me repeat that: Iran’s potential as a nuclear military power is a fact. The time to prevent that would have been the Bush-Cheney years; but we tragically chose to pursue the control of imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq instead. So the proximate actual choice we have with a regime with a disgusting record of internal repression and a nuclear potential is a) negotiating an internationally-monitored civilian nuclear program with strong inspections, b) a pre-emptive war with unknowable consequences to delay (but not end) the regime’s potential for a viable nuclear weapons program, or c) resume the Cold War stand-off, increase sanctions some more, destroy their economy and contain their military power.
For a long time, I thought c) was probably the least worst, realistic option. That view was entrenched during the Green Revolution. To see such hope and positive energy crushed by merciless regime thugs was a sober reminder of the forces we are dealing with. But here’s the thing: the Iranian people did not despair. Hemmed in by rigged, approved political candidates, they nonetheless voted in 2009 for a clear shift back toward the West and then in 2012 for the most pro-Western candidates there were. The Iranian people told us that engagement – and not continued polarization – was the answer they wanted. This movement – combined with the effect of, yes, “crippling” sanctions – brought the Iranian leadership to the backrooms of diplomacy. It was a perfect constructive storm.
This is where we are. It is not an ideal situation – but after the catastrophe of the Bush-Cheney years in foreign policy, we have no ideal situations. But it is also not the worst situation.
The state has been drifting red for a while now, but it is still Democratic enough that the governor agreed to the Medicaid expansion in the ACA so many other GOP-led states have turned down. And that’s why it’s so fascinating as a test-case for the appeal of Obamacare throughout red-state America. So far, the results are quite striking: the number of uninsured West Virginians has dropped by a third since the ACA became operational. A third. And the sole reliable statistic we have as to the impact of that event is, appropriately at this early stage, mental health. To be free of terror that you won’t be able to pay your doctor, that you may be turned down for service when you’re sick, or that you have to alternate months between spending on food and on healthcare: wouldn’t that be an indescribable relief? Yes, of course it is, according to the NYT’s report today:
Waitresses, fast food workers, security guards and cleaners described feeling intense relief that they are now protected from the punishing medical bills that have punched holes in their family budgets. They spoke in interviews of reclaiming the dignity they had lost over years of being turned away from doctors’ offices because they did not have insurance. “You see it in their faces,” said Janie Hovatter, a patient advocate at Cabin Creek Health Systems, a health clinic in southern West Virginia. “They just kind of relax.”
But just as interesting to me is how culture still impacts that kind of psychological and real relief from acute, permanent anxiety and sickness. Obama will get no thanks for tangibly improving the lives of poor West Virginians. They may like the new law in practice, but in theory, many loathe it:
Recruiters trying to persuade people to enroll say they sometimes feel like drug peddlers. The people they approach often talk in hushed tones out of earshot of others. Chad Webb, a shy 30-year-old who is enrolling people in Mingo County, said a woman at a recent event used biblical terms to disparage Mr. Obama as an existential threat to the nation.
The last few years have been fascinating to watch as new media stars have both benefited from and then fallen out with big media companies. Nate Silver is the obvious example. He went from being an independent blogger – heavily linked by the Dish among other new media sites – to becoming the true star of the NYT’s 2012 election coverage. Then he and the NYT could not figure out a mutually beneficial deal, and he quit to run a new 538-style site at ESPN.com. It won’t launch for a bit (maybe March, I hear). But ESPN, as they showed with Bill Simmons’s original blog and now Grantland, is one of the very few big media outlets to find a way to a win-win proposition with Internet stars.
Or think of Glenn Greenwald. First an immediate blogging sensation; then Salon, then the Guardian and now … working on his own news-and-opinion website, with a massive global brand, funded by the founder of eBay. The WSJ’s Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg are also now exiting the WSJ’s employ to start their own site. The Dish’s story – until last year – was also a story of trying – and failing – to get a win-win arrangement with media companies interested in allying with us.
The truly frustrating thing about all this is that it was surely in everyone’s interests to stick together – legacy media with new media stars is a win-win proposition. And yet almost every time – the one exception I can think of may be Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Dealbook – the deals have unraveled. The egos of legacy media honchos and the energy of new media stars could not quite get along. Mutual resentment, the thorny question of compensation, and the power of personal brands all played a part.
For some, the entire model of individually branded content is a dismaying idea.
The latest poll on legalization of marijuana from ABC News shows an even split – 49 to 48 percent – by Americans on the subject – not a clear majority as some other recent polls have found (Gallup’s in particular). That’s still a record high for the ABC poll, which has the benefit of identical wording over time: “Overall, do you support or oppose legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use?” Support has doubled since the mid-1980s.
But what’s interesting to me about the poll is its internals. They’re really surprising to me. I asked ABC News for the full data and here it is:
So one of the most powerful arguments for legalization of marijuana – that Prohibition grotesquely singles out African-Americans for criminal enforcement and spares whites – carries no more weight among African-Americans than it does among whites. Of those African-Americans who feel strongly about the subject, 40 percent oppose legalization and only 32 percent support it. Overall, there’s no statistically significant difference between whites and blacks on this. I’d be fascinated to hear from readers why they think this might be so. It seems on the surface that social conservatism is outweighing civil rights. But I’m genuinely baffled.
The second most striking thing is that having kids in the home doesn’t seem to change views much.
It’s hard to believe now, but it was only a year ago that a handful of us jumped off the cliff to independence and 25,000 of you caught us. After the first six years as a one-man blog, and the next seven attached to bigger, corporate media, we decided to become a small independent company in one of the toughest business climates in journalism in memory. It’s been a wild ride – but entirely because of you, we made it through our first year, almost hitting our highly ambitious subscription revenue target of $900K (we amassed around $850K), and gaining 34,000 subscribers in twelve months.
What have we created? Every now and again over the years, I’ve tried to figure it out. A blog? A magazine? A blogazine? A website? But every year, it changes again, as the new media shift, and as the world turns and as small experiments – like the Window Views or the reader threads – become ramparts of the whole thing. Do we, the staffers, write this blog? Sure, we do. But so do you, every day, with emails and testimonies and anecdotes that bring dry news stories to vivid personal life. Do we curate the web? Sure. Every day, we scour the vast Internet for the smart or the funny, the deep and the shallow, the insightful and the abhorrent. But you send us so many links and ideas every day that the creators of the Dish are better understood as a community, you and us, correcting, enlightening, harshing and moving each other.
What I hope is that we’ve created an ongoing conversation – about politics and religion and technology and nature and love and life and sex and friendship. And like all conversations, it has no fixed direction, just a desire to keep it going, and never to shut it down. And part of me believes that this spontaneous, free-wheeling but edited conversation is what the Internet is best at. I’m riveted every day by the conversation we continue to have – from the misery of miscarriage to the deaths of pets to the hopes of a new papacy. And it’s a conversation made possible by the simple quality and sincerity and anonymity that all of you bring to the table. It feels at times like a truth-seeking missile, if we only get out of the way of the arguments and insights we collate every day and night.
But we’ve also pioneered a new business model online, if it qualifies for such a grandiose term. By “new” business model, we mean asking you to pay directly for what we do. Very few other websites do this, because very few websites have the kind of readership we do. And the good news is that we made a small profit in our first year (since I didn’t take a salary); we are indebted to no-one but you; we added staffers to handle business, technology and administration (which was done for us at bigger companies); and we ran a very tight ship, with just six staffers, and now three (amazing) interns, on the payroll.
We also decided everyone should have health insurance, including interns, and that we’d promote everyone from within the team – an often unsung group of some of the most talented young writers, editors and journalists of their generation. They’re all in their twenties and early thirties, and if you ever met them, you’d see why I’m so honored and proud to work with them. More to the point, we ran no “sponsored content”, no corporate ads, no gimmicks, and also showcased a prototype for publishing long-form journalism (Deep Dish), which we’d love to have the resources to continue and expand. In an era in which media has become desperate for revenues from any source, we decided to stick to the simplest option: asking readers to pay for content they enjoy.
It was a big gamble, but we felt we knew our readers and believed you’d be there for us, when we needed you. And you were. 25,000 of you signed up almost at once in an avalanche of support; another 9,000 of you have subscribed since last March. We remain blown away by the enthusiasm and generosity.
But it remains a fragile achievement. There’s a flip-side to this extraordinary wave of support. More than half of it came in the first week of 2013 – and all those early founding subscriptions are all up for renewal at once at the beginning of next month. None of them was on auto-renewal (which we were only able to execute once we had our own site operating and finessed the Tinypass software).
Here’s an exciting and yet also sobering graph of our total revenues since the day we went independent:
Check out that massive sum at the very left. That runs out completely at the beginning of next month. After that, we have no assurance that the Dish can survive another year. That’s why the looming renewal moment is absolutely critical. What we’re asking now of our Founding Members is pretty simple: to turn your original membership into a stable, ongoing subscription that will enable us to budget, plan and work every day and night of the year to bring you the Dish for the foreseeable future.
If you renew now, your subscription will still last through your usual twelve months, starting when your current annual subscription expires next month (you can see the precise date you’re up for renewal in the little box at the very top right of the page; if your date is 3/21/2014 or later you are already on auto-renew and don’t need to do anything for your subscription to continue).
You can pay what you paid last year if you want and we’d be very grateful to keep you as a subscriber – and the minimum is still only $19.99 a year or $1.99 a month. But we’re asking our Founding Members, if you have the resources, to set your annual subscription price for the coming years as generously as you can. We pulled off this year by the skin of our teeth, but if we are going to retain our staff, if I’m going to get a salary, and if we are to have a chance at getting the resources to get Deep Dish beyond the prototype phase, we need to more than replicate our first year’s budget. And yes, we’ve kept our expenses low: no office, but a weekly dinner at a local diner (that’s us from last week).
Ask yourself what you think the Dish has been worth to you last year and throw in some more if you can. The more you give us, the more we can do. And we’ll keep the promise we made to you this time last year and have kept: maximal transparency and accountability. Think of it not just as a way to keep the Dish alive but as a way also to prove that transparent, reader-supported journalism can survive in an era of listicles, sponsored content, algorithms and endless slideshows. We believe it can; and we hope over this past year we’ve proved it.
But we need to get this on a stable footing; we need to figure out a budget; we need to plan. So take this as my last pitch for getting the Dish finally off the ground (once everyone is on auto-renew, these annual pitches will mercifully end). You kickstarted us last January and February; we need you just as urgently to put us on a long-term stable footing with one final act: auto-renewing your subscription before it runs out. The average Founding Member subscription price last year was $28. If every one of you added $5 or more to that, we could begin to expand Deep Dish, retain our staffers, pay me, and prove that independent, reader-financed journalism isn’t dead. It’s just beginning to rise from the ashes.
Renew today! Keep us alive. And thank you so much for this past year. You carried us; we hope you feel we deserve another year of your support. We can’t wait to get started. Please don’t wait to help us one more time. Renew here. Renew now.
It’s a surprising move, but perhaps the only possible shred of an argument they have left in the fight to deny marriage equality to gay citizens. In Utah, the state has tried to muster legal arguments as to why they have an interest in marginalizing gay unions as opposed to heterosexual ones. Their first try was to argue that heterosexual-only marriage was important for “responsible procreation.” The Judge agreed, but couldn’t understand why allowing civil marriage for gays would somehow undermine that. In fact, he made the socially conservative counter-point that by mandating that gay couples remain unmarried, “the state reinforces a norm that sexual activity may take place outside of marriage.”
So they came up with a second argument: that by asserting the importance of heterosexual-only marriage, the state was making it more likely that children would be born into stable, two-parent homes, where they would fare better. The judge was puzzled again:
Utah’s ban, he wrote, “does not make it any more likely that children will be raised by opposite-sex couples.” But it certainly demeans and humiliates the thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples in the state, he said.
So Utah tried another tack in appealing to the state Supreme Court (and no, I’m not making this up). They said that having a woman and a man in a marriage was important for … wait for it … diversity. Money quote:
“The state does not contend that the individual parents in same-sex couples are somehow ‘inferior’ as parents to the individual parents who are involved in married, mother-father parenting,” the state said.
But, drawing on Supreme Court decisions endorsing the value of diversity in deciding who may attend public universities, the state now said it was pursuing “gender diversity” in marriages. “Society has long recognized that diversity in education brings a host of benefits to students,” the brief said. “If that is true in education, why not in parenting?”
“Gender diversity” is an argument I haven’t yet heard in the two and a half decades I’ve been debating this question. I have heard that in Catholic teaching, a mother and a father are vital complements to each other because of their differing genders.
No one should be that shocked that a political dynasty in a major party that has been at the highest levels for decades would keep tabs on their friends and enemies. We’ve all watched House of Cards. Of course, in the white-knuckled campaign of 2008, which the Clintons were hoping would be a coronation, they were hurt, bewildered and betrayed by so many Democrats who saw in Obama something they didn’t always see in the Clintons: a political vision not entirely eclipsed by calculation. And you can see why they might have wanted to keep score of the hurt and the betrayal.
But the comprehensiveness of the list, the care with which it was constructed (on a scale of one to seven, for some reason), and the rawness of the feelings behind it should remind people that the Clintons have not changed:
They carefully noted who had endorsed Hillary, who had backed Obama, and who had stayed on the sidelines—standard operating procedure for any high-end political organization. But the data went into much more nuanced detail. “We wanted to have a record of who endorsed us and who didn’t,” a member of Hillary’s campaign team said, “and of those who endorsed us, who went the extra mile and who was just kind of there. And of those who didn’t endorse us, those who understandably didn’t endorse us because they are [Congressional Black Caucus] members or Illinois members. And then, of course, those who endorsed him but really should have been with her … that burned her.”
The list’s complexity and nuance aren’t shocking. But as Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes note:
The difference is the Clintons, because of their popularity and the positions they’ve held, retain more power to reward and punish than anyone else in modern politics.
The minute they finished one campaign they were strategizing in minute detail for the next.
But that isn’t what troubles me about the story. What troubles me is the resilience of the entourage. Jake Weisberg long ago framed the Clinton circle of friends, allies, donors, ambassadors, and courtiers as a web of “Clincest” – constantly bubbling with money, networking, favors, back-scratching, threats, charm offenses and old ties. That Clincest remains. And it is a problem.
Elrod, a toned 31-year-old blonde with a raspy Ozark drawl, had an even longer history with the Clintons that went back to her childhood in Siloam Springs, a town of 15,000 people in northwestern Arkansas. She had known Bill Clinton since at least the age of five. Her father, John Elrod, a prominent lawyer in Fayetteville, first befriended the future president at Arkansas Boys State, an annual civics camp for high school juniors, when they were teenagers. Like Bill Clinton, Adrienne Elrod had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a broad smile that conveyed warmth instantaneously. She had first found work in the Clinton White House after a 1996 internship there, then became a Democratic Party political operative and later held senior posts on Capitol Hill. She joined the Hillary Clinton for President outfit as a communications aide and then shifted into Balderston’s delegate-courting congressional-relations office in March. Trusted because of her deep ties to the Clinton network, Elrod helped Balderston finalize the list.
My italics. Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong or that surprising about a politician retaining loyal friends from way-back-when, a coterie of trusted advisers, truth-telling friends and shoulders to cry on, in the glare of public office. But what distinguishes the Clintons is the sheer scale of the enterprise, the meticulousness of the extended family, the way in which money is interlaced with everything, and the remarkable loyalty of the Clinton court through the huge ups and downs of their political careers.