May 08 2014

My little Apple PR story

On the occasion of Apple PR VP of Communication, Katie Cotton, announcing her retirement from Apple, many commentators are recounting some of their experiences with Apple PR, which could often have the opposite effect of what a journalist expects. When I speak to a PR rep from most other tech companies, I usually end up knowing more about the company’s products. On the very few occasions I’ve had to talk with Apple PR, that usually didn’t happen.

As an example, let’s say that I set up a conversation to talk with Adobe about one of their products, or Microsoft about one of theirs. I’ll usually end up on the phone with someone from their respective PR firms, and a knowledgeable member of the product team from the company itself. Since we write a bestselling book about the product (and I also review it for magazines), I’ve spoken more than once to Adobe about Dreamweaver, and its usually one or two PR folks and the Dreamweaver product manager, who knows practically everything about how the product works. I can ask questions about parts of the product that I don’t understand well, ask about bugs I’ve found, and in general end up with a bunch of information that will help my book. It’s usually a pretty collegial atmosphere; any product has bugs, and product managers are usually frank about their existence, if understandably slippery about when they are likely to be fixed. But they almost always have suggestions about workarounds for bugs. And sometimes you can even get hints of what will be happening with future versions of the product.

I’ve also written several books about Keynote, Apple’s presentation program, so when it came time to revise the main book, I was pretty happy to be able to set up a conversation with them about the product. Of course, I’d done my homework, so when I ended up on the phone with a PR person and Keynote’s product marketing manager (PMM), I had a bunch of questions to ask. The conversation took place shortly after a new version of Keynote had been released (since Apple doesn’t brief writers at my lowly level about pre-released products).

Things seemed to start well. I threw out a softball remark about one of the new features, and how much I liked it. Then I moved on to some of the questions I had about other new features. What I got back was…odd. It seemed as though they were talking from a very narrow script, not really how people talk. When I’d ask how a particular feature could be used, I’d get back something that sounded strangely familiar. It was as though I knew more about using Keynote than the PMM.

Eventually I realized that the PMM was quoting almost exactly from the Keynote public web site. I got no information from him about the product that wasn’t already on the site.

When I switched to asking about bugs, things got even weirder. They never admitted to the existence of any bugs that I (and the extensive Keynote community) had found and replicated. When I asked about a bug, the response was “Thank you for that feedback.” When I asked if there was a workaround for a particular bug (and I knew there was a workaround), I was told “We don’t have a comment about that at this time.” This went around for a while; they were always polite and apparently willing to be helpful. But no actual help was ever forthcoming.

By the time I got off the phone, I was, frankly, a little freaked out. I’d been doing this sort of thing for more than 20 years at that time, and I’d never had such an unproductive product briefing. I was wondering, “Is it me? Did I ask the wrong questions or something?” I looked at my iChat list and IM’d a journalist friend who works for a city newspaper, and who has done many columns on Apple products.

In our voice chat, I poured out what had just happened. He chuckled.
“Congratulations, you’ve just had a typical Apple PR experience.” I spoke to a few other friends, and they all told me the same thing; that was the way Apple briefings tended to go. This was the era of Think Different, and Apple PR certainly was thinking differently than other companies. But that incredibly tight control over message worked against them, I think. Over the years, my many conversations with Adobe and Microsoft ended up making my books about their products better, with deeper information, allowing me to better teach their products. But my talk with Apple, since I got no useful information, didn’t help me, the company, the product, or my readers at all. In the larger scheme of things, my wasted opportunity didn’t turn out to be a big deal. But multiply that by all the other journalists that Apple’s managed to annoy over the years with these tactics, and it’s no wonder they get so much bitter press. Was it really necessary? I don’t think so.

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May 06 2014

Happy Anniversary, Dori!



And now…


13 years later, I’d do it all over again.

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Apr 08 2014

The Scam of “Choice”

Yesterday around dinnertime, there was a knock at my door. It was one of the neighbor ladies, and she was holding a clipboard.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m circulating a petition for a ballot proposition for the City of Healdsburg.”

“OK,” says I. “What’s it about?”

“It would put water fluoridation in the City up for a vote.”

“But isn’t the water here already fluoridated?”

“Yes, it has been since the Sixties.”

“So what’s the problem? Fifty years is long enough for bad effects to show up.”

Here’s where she palms her card. “I’m not for fluoridation, or against fluoridation. I just want people to have a choice. I’m sure you do, too. Will you sign the petition?”

“No, I think water fluoridation is a good thing.”

“So you’re against choice?”

“In this case, I guess I am. Bye.” I could tell she was flummoxed, as her line had obviously been working just fine up to then.

Here in Sonoma County, one of the liberal bastions of the US, being “pro-choice” is almost a given. And really, who doesn’t want choices? But at the intersection of science and public policy, I’d say that choice often works against the rational voters. There always seem to be more ignorant, fear-driven voters, especially in off-year elections.

The people who push these public policy propositions are usually working from an unscientific, fear-based place. A ballot campaign about fluoridation is waged by the anti-fluoridation crowd with scare tactics, selective reading of scientific studies, and emotional calls for “clean water,” and “saving the children.” This was borne out by the anti-fluoridation campaign in Portland last year, which succeeded in drowning out the science-based message. “They’re going to put chemicals in our water!” howled the anti-fluoridation scaremongers. Ooooo, “chemicals.” Apparently, they’ve never looked into what occurs in a water treatment plant. And in the meantime, people who aren’t driven by fear, who know that fluoridation poses no significant risk, aren’t motivated to get out and vote; voilá, another victory for ignorance over science, all in the name of “choice.”

Locally, wackos who imagine they can feel WiFi signals managed a few years ago to prevent the Sebastopol City Council from accepting an offer of free WiFi coverage in their downtown. The same clowns think they can feel the radio signals given off by their gas meters. And because they are loud and insistent, they get attention from officials and waste endless amounts of time and energy, even though they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Just south of here, the anti-science, ignorant, hysterical, (and in my view, criminal) anti-vaxxers have made Marin County a hotbed of whooping cough, a disease that had been largely eradicated for half a century.

So no, when “choice” means “turning science-based public policy over to the mob,” you can count me out.



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Aug 10 2013

Remembering my mom

On this day, twenty-four years ago, my mother died. I miss her. She was killed by pancreatic cancer. Not the kind that ultimately killed Steve Jobs; that was the “good” kind, the one that, if you have the best of medical care and a bunch of luck, you can live with for another few years. It’ll still get you, but you’ll have the time to come to grips with your mortality, and to say your goodbyes properly. But that sort of pancreatic cancer is rare, about 5% of all cases. The common kind is a ruthless and efficient killer. Most of the time, it’s a silent monster growing inside the victim, and doesn’t cause any symptoms. Even when, by chance, it is caught early, the 5-year survival rate is only 5%. In my mom’s case, it wasn’t caught early; she had surgery for an unrelated purpose, and as soon as the doctors saw what was inside, they cancelled the procedure and closed her back up. She died only six weeks later.

I wrote about my mom in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of her death. At the time, I hadn’t had my own experience with cancer; that came the next year, when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I’m better now; there was no spread of my cancer, they cut it out of me, and followup CT scans are clean. But now that I’ve taken my own ride on the cancer roller coaster, I know better than ever how much it sucks.

Mom-1946Last month, we took a visit to see my dad, who is 89 and ailing. A couple of years ago, he also had kidney cancer, and had a very extensive surgery to try to get rid of it. But it’s back, spread to one of his lungs, and he has entered home hospice care. While I was there at his place, I brought my scanner, so I could capture the big box of family photos. I came upon this picture of my mother, taken in Massachusetts in 1946, three years before she married my dad. It’s a lovely picture of a pretty, carefree woman who, though she didn’t yet know it, was entering the most fulfilling time of her life. Ahead of her, she had a happy marriage, four children, and a move across the country from New York City to a whole new beginning in California.

I never knew this particular woman. But I’m happy and proud to remember her as the woman she became. She was a good woman, who deserves to be remembered. She was my mom.

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Apr 11 2013

Book review: The Human Division, by John Scalzi

I’m an unhappy customer after reading The Human Division in its serialized run. It was clear by around episode 8 that Scalzi would not be able to wrap up all the threads of the story, but (no spoilers) the book ends with an epic battle and no resolution of the main plot, and with smoking guns littering the stage. The day of the final episode’s release, Scalzi announced that there was going to be a sequel (or perhaps sequels, given how he’s likening The Human Division to a TV series), which he’d just been signed to write, and which therefore may be more than a year away.

I’m a big fan of Scalzi’s work; I just gifted a friend with paperbacks of Old Man’s War (OMW) and Redshirts. But this time around, the work, and the process of getting the work to his readers, disappoints.

The Human Division is the latest novel in the OMW universe, and for the most part it is enjoyable. I felt that Scalzi has turned up his trademarked Banter-O-Meter a bit too high this time, to the point where many of the characters tended to talk too much alike. For example, if you take lines of dialog from two characters, say Harry Wilson and Hart Schmidt, and place them on a page by themselves, it would often be difficult to know which character was speaking, because they use the same snappy banter style. I like the banter, but banter isn’t quite the same as characterization.

In terms of plot, there’s plenty of it, and clearly there was too much for one book to contain. The book slams to a halt after a huge, masterfully written battle, then ends with a brief coda, with all the major plot threads hanging. Since I didn’t know in advance it was going to be a multi-parter, I felt as though I only got half a book for my $13.

The Human Division was first available as a buck-a-week serial, and the book suffers from it. Scalzi says its his longest book by word count, yet it felt much shorter; some of the individual episodes could be read in 10 minutes. I think being chopped into so many pieces hurt the overall feel of the book. The book felt smaller than OMW.

I’ve crystallized the big issue I have with the serialization format. I’m fine reading series, either serializations a la Analog magazine in the 70s, where I read a lot of great novels split up into three or four chunks, or current book series, like James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse. I was happy to read Leviathan Wakes knowing that it was the first in a series, and the book kicks so much ass it is effectively stand-alone.

The difference between the serializations of the 70s and today is that now we have Internet reviews, which would have alerted me that The Human Division was not a complete novel. Had I known that, I would not have bought it now; I would have waited until the second volume was released. I just did that with the Benford/Niven book from last year. Because of the nature of this experiment in serialization, Tor/Scalzi (I’m not saying maliciously) withheld reader information that I for one have come to rely on. As a result, I ended up as an annoyed customer, rather than a happy one. I look forward to reading the next installment of The Human Division, but I won’t buy it serialized, and I won’t buy it if reviewers say it doesn’t wrap up the plot lines. I signed up to read a novel, not watch Lost (I did watch that, and you see where that got me).

Note: also published on Goodreads and Amazon.

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Mar 29 2013

Michelle Shocked reaps her whirlwind, whines about it

After her bigoted anti-gay diatribe produced a backlash she didn’t expect, Michelle Shocked thinks she’s the victim. It’s a typical cycle for right-wingers and reactionaries: they spew hate speech, they receive pushback, then they whine about how they are being so terribly repressed. Color me unimpressed.

Michelle Shocked staged a sit in outside a Santa Cruz nightclub that canceled her show because she made an anti-gay slur at a San Francisco club earlier this month.

The tape across her mouth said “Silenced By Fear.”

What a crock. The message on that piece of tape indicates she believes that people are afraid of her message, and so she’s been censored. But club owners didn’t cancel her shows because they were scared of what she believes; the show were cancelled because people are disgusted by her fundamentalist religious beliefs. I listened to the tape of her SF show that started this; she was clear she believes that homosexuality will bring on the end of the world. That’s nutty and bigoted.

She hasn’t been silenced at all. She can still speak. This is what freedom of speech is all about; you have the right and ability to speak, and other people have the right and ability to be repulsed by what you say and not give you their money anymore. Actions have consequences. Artists have the opportunity to find an audience, and have an equal opportunity to drive that audience away. Nobody has a right to keep being paid when they alienate their audience.

Singer Michelle Shocked sits in at canceled Moe’s Alley show


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Feb 13 2013

State of the Union thoughts

I’ve seen a fair amount of convention wisdom chatterers (Morning Joe today, among others) complaining that Obama demanding a vote for actions on gun safety and other things “is too small,” and acting incredulous: “That’s all he’s asking for? A vote?” They’re inside the Beltway and pay total attention to politics. They forget most people outside of Washington don’t pay much attention to politics, and have no idea the Republicans have blocked so much stuff and kept it from coming to a vote. Most folks just know things aren’t happening. Obama was reminding people directly, without the “balanced” filter of the media, that the Republicans in Congress these days are all about obstruction and petty politics, and not about governing.

As usual, Obama is playing a different game than most of the Beltway pundits think he’s playing. I’m not one of those people who think Obama is forever playing eleven-dimensional chess and out-thinking his opponents; he’s obviously made plenty of mistakes. But after four years, it’s clear that he knows how to think a few moves ahead of the average Congresscritter or Beltway pundit. Obama has always understood the long game, and has been willing to sacrifice pawns or rooks to eventually sweep the board. Sometimes his willingness to do so has pissed me off; he dealt away the public option with the Affordable Care Act, which I think was a mistake then and now from a policy standpoint. But he did get the law passed, and it did survive the Supreme Court. After 50 years of trying, that’s no small achievement.

The Republican response today was strangely muted and entirely predictable. No to increasing the minimum wage, with a repeat of the disproved talking point that increased wages slow economic growth.  Bluster about how “America has a spending problem” and painting the federal deficit as the biggest challenge we face, with no understanding that the deficit is actually shrinking at the fastest pace in recent history.

I was going to talk about Marco Rubio’s official response, but it’s awfully difficult, because he didn’t really say anything at all. As I said on Twitter,

Rubio’s speech was a perfect example of the sclerotic thinking of the GOP’s ideology. No consistency, no new ideas.

This analysis of Rubio’s speech is as good as any other I’ve seen. It’s obvious that the Republican Party is such a prisoner of its ideology that it can’t come up with anything new at this point. Any new ideas draw primary challenges from the multiple right-wing groups competing to be the most reactionary. I suspect they will have to lose another few elections to get to the point where they can rethink things. Or perhaps Dori is right, and the GOP will simply cease to exist over the next decade, as they become ever more trapped and unable to change.

I’m not surprised that the President’s speech got a good poll response. It showed that he wanted to get things done. His opponents think keeping Obama from getting credit for good things (or for anything) is more important than anything else, including the health and prosperity of the country.

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Feb 04 2013

Enough, already

I’m fed up with the Aaron Swartz hagiography and subsequent bullshit garment-rending from people who didn’t know him well, or at all. I’m still reading fresh examples of anguished wailing and blogging and Twittering about the guy. But to me, he seems unworthy of the sainthood that’s being thrust onto his corpse.

I don’t think I ever met him (I might have, at an O’Reilly conference in San Jose years ago); I may or may not have ever corresponded with him many years ago, and I can’t be bothered to look through my email archives to check. I know I read a bunch of his words at one point, possibly on a mailing list or on his blog. But I had no personal connection with him, as far as I can remember.

I knew of him, but mainly because of his well-known, well-honed talent for being an arrogant jerk to many people, often to people who had extended a helping hand to him at one time or another. I’ve been hanging around the geekosphere long enough to have heard of one or another of the many spats Swartz triggered when he viciously turned on somebody.

I knew he was a smart kid. So did he. Boy, did he know it. And he loved to share that knowledge, via his palpable contempt for, well, just about everyone who didn’t agree with him (read this account by his partner, who denies Swartz killed himself due to depression, to get a feel for just how arrogant and contemptuous he was about most people).

Because I’d read his words, and seen how he lashed out at people, I had him pegged in my mind as “Really smart but asshole kid who might grow up someday and learn to be a smart adult, but for now, ignorable.” But even years ago, I thought he was special, and didn’t really expect that to happen. I expected him to turn out like Eric Raymond or Richard Stallman, get a sinecure from some open-source group, and live out his days haranguing the rest of us about how disappointed he was that we didn’t live up to his lofty standards.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way; after learning of his death, I said to Dori, “Hey, remember that Aaron Swartz kid?” She replied, “Yeah, what stupid thing has he done now?” I said, “Well, it looks like he killed himself.” Dori doesn’t lack compassion, and of course she had no idea that something bad had occurred. The point I’m making is that Dori, who pays way more attention to geek society than I do, was also primed to think that he was likely to do something foolhardy or attention-seeking. Because to the casual observer, that was the way he lived his life.

I’d heard of his caper with PACER, when he released a significant portion of US case law to the public, because he was morally offended that it was behind a paywall. It’s speculation, but that was most likely the same stunt he was trying to pull again when he got busted after downloading a large amount of academic journal articles from JSTOR, another paywall. (Aside: I agree with Swartz that this data should be publicly available; I disagree with his methods).

He knew that what he was doing with the JSTOR data was criminal, or at best unauthorized; he tried to hide his identity while doing it.  But Swartz was offended, so even though he had previously been around the block with the law after the PACER caper (he was investigated then, but no charges filed), he decided his moral outrage trumped the petty laws of the stupid. So he took what he wanted, because he wanted to, and because he could. This is the moral calculus of a child or a criminal, not an adult.

Then he got caught. And this time he drew a prosecutor who clearly decided to make an example of this arrogant kid. I completely agree with those who think Swartz got a raw, unfair deal. The prosecutors abused their discretion. Prosecutors who want to impose harsher penalties for Swartz’s alleged crimes than for murderers or rapists have lost their own moral bearings.

From reports, Swartz didn’t think he had done anything wrong or criminal, and more or less expected to be let off the hook for his actions. In his experience, people had always recognized his brilliance and let him off the hook before. When that didn’t happen, he was bewildered and defiant. It’s possible this was the first time he was faced with the real possibility of serious consequences for his choices. According to Wikipedia, the prosecutors were seeking a plea bargain that would result in a six month jail sentence.

Swartz’s many apologists are, if effect, arguing that his actions should be completely excused because he was morally in the right. I’ve seen the more fevered comparing his actions to Martin Luther King. This is a nearly obscene comparison. King repeatedly risked his life for the civil rights of his people, proudly stood as the leader of his movement, and took responsibility for his actions. Swartz surreptitiously downloaded a bunch of data from a closet, tried to hide his face when he slipped away with the loot, and wasn’t willing to pay any penalty.

I remember many of the civil rights activists in the Sixties breaking unjust laws for their moral convictions. The ones we revere today didn’t say, “I’ll do the right thing as long as I get no punishment.” They knew the risks, took them, and stood tall when they faced the consequences. Those were acts of true courage.

Swartz’s defenders say the prosecutors killed him, but that’s not what happened. He was not killed by the state. Swartz hanged himself before his consequences had even been decided. The woman who lived with him, who knew his mental state better than any of the rest of us, says he was not chronically depressed, and she does not believe he suffered from mental illness. We’ll never know the exact reason for his suicide, but it seems more likely than anything else that he killed himself to avoid going to jail for six months, and therefore he was too cowardly to face the harsh results of his actions.

My personal view is that killing yourself and leaving your body to be found by your lover is a profoundly horrible, selfish, and unforgivable action, and one that deserves our disgust, not our compassion. I’ll reserve my compassion for the woman whom he presumably loved, but he knew would find his corpse.

The Saint Aaron bandwagon so many people have piled onto nauseates me.

He wasn’t a saint.

His moral judgments were not superior to everyone else’s.

He did not die for anyone’s sins.

He wasn’t depressed and mentally ill. His death has no lessons for us in that area.

He was a very smart kid who got himself in over his head, was overcome by fear, and killed himself. That’s a shitty thing. But his death, though regrettable, is meaningless for the rest of us. When you hear differently, you are being sold somebody’s agenda. Beware.

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Jan 23 2013

Civility doesn’t come for free; or, hammer the trolls

Normally I don’t claim to be an Internet graybeard, because I tend to hang in circles where there are many people who have been doing this online stuff even longer than me. Still, I’ve been using online communications since the days of 1200 baud modems, which is way longer than most people I run into. A notable exception was at the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, where for some reason the organizers put me on a panel composed mainly of people who had personally shoveled the very first electrons into the ARPANET. It was interesting and humbling to have been an upstart in that company.

But because I go back to the pre-Internet BBS world, I have early and painful experience with trolls. The first online system I spent a lot of time with in a supervisory capacity was the late- 1980s Los Angeles Macintosh Group’s private BBS, which was open only to the members of the group. This was the place where I learned that a small group of determined assholes could have an out-of-proportion deleterious effect on a much larger group of conversants. As it turns out, these proto-trolls exhibited much the same skill set as our trolls of today, with the possible exception that none of them were anonymous. I learned that to the dedicated asshole, anonymity is not a necessary tool. Anyway. So we had a group of trolls who liked to stir things up and to infuriate people as much as possible for sport.

I was on the LAMG board of directors, so I had some responsibility for how the BBS was run. We got a lot of complaints from members about these trolls. Naturally, we tried to talk to the problem children and appealed to their sense of reason, carefully explaining that they were upsetting people and in some cases driving members away from using the BBS. Of course, this didn’t work and led to the usual cries of “Help, Help, I’m being repressed! Haven’t you heard of the First Amendment?”

Being an elected Board, we tried to deal with things in an open and representative fashion, so we set up a group of moderators (we called them the Online Referees) that could mediate disputes and keep the level of vitriol down. We tried to pick people who were widely seen as fair. Of course, they were all painted as Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot in short order by the troll group. Eventually, the moderation fell apart and the trolls ran wild.

With the experience I have today, I would have simply have banned the trolls from use of the BBS on a trial, and then if necessary, permanent basis. But we had a lawyer on our Board who was the kind of lawyer no community organization should ever have. Instead of working with the organization to explain how we could use the law to further our goals and accomplish what we wanted, he always quoted the law in a worst-case scenario, preventing us from doing things. I was perfectly willing to tell the trolls that we were throwing them off the BBS for the good of the group and that we would be refunding their membership fee on a pro-rated basis. But this lawyer claimed that just couldn’t be done. Of course, that’s ridiculous.

That whole experience keeps me interested in the topic of moderation of online groups. I’ve appreciated a lot of the work done by Teresa Nielsen Hayden over the years, with her list of actions for moderators and her thoughtful comments about some of the most famous events. She’s responsible for a great technique, disemvowelling, which defangs troll posts without deleting them entirely.

At the moment, my role model when it comes to trolls and moderation is science fiction writer John Scalzi, who has a blog called Whatever that gets something like 50,000 visits a day, with very active comments. Scalzi makes no bones about moderating his comment threads with an iron fist; it’s his blog, and everyone else is a guest. He’s a benevolent host, but an uncompromising one, and he suffers fools and trolls not at all. Assholes get immediately hammered flat by Scalzi so they don’t poison the conversation. He refers to this sort of active moderation as wielding the Mallet of Loving Correction. Today, he introduced on his blog a new moderation technique, kittening, which he adapted from a similar technique invented by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess; if you don’t read her, you should). Take a look at Scalzi at work in his post, The Kitten Setting.

Ever since we started Backup Brain in 1999, and with that LAMG experience in mind, we created our own Terms of Service (below). It’s just as useful today as it was then, and feel free to use its spirit to guide your own online presence. And I think we should all feel just as free to do things like delete comments we don’t like from our Facebook posts. Civility is everyone’s responsibility.

However, we’ve decided that the comment area will be an Asshole-Free Zone. We’ve seen too many good discussions degenerate into forums for jerks. Because this is our blog, we see no reason to suffer fools and jerks; they can go post somewhere else, like on their own blogs (that we won’t read). So, we reserve the right to delete comments at our whim, if we determine that the comment has that indefinable but-we-know-it-when-we-see-it asshole quality. If someone is repeatedly annoying, we reserve the right to ban their IP address so that they can’t post again.


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Jan 10 2013

Does Andrew Sullivan really deserve your love?

When Andrew Sullivan announced he was going indie, I saw many approving comments and excited commentary that he was “the future of journalism” and “pointing the way”.

Has everyone forgotten? Why are so many dazzled by his current libertarian/pro-Obama stance, one that is so at odds with his many previous stances?

I don’t get it. He’s a skilled writer, sure (though it’s unclear, and you can’t trust his word, as to how much of his current blog he writes himself). But he has a very long, very well documented record of being dead fucking wrong about many, many, many things, and he damn near single-handedly strangled The New Republic while he was running that joint. Let’s take a little peek down into the Sullivan memory hole:

  • He published “No Exit,” the 1994 article packed with the outright lies and fraudulent reporting of the repulsive Betsy McCaughey, which was widely credited as being the beginning of the end for Hillary Clinton’s healhcare reform, in large part because it was published in the hitherto-liberal New Republic. We eventually (not via Sullivan) later discovered that McCaughey was shilling for a tobacco company while writing the article. McCaughey later returned, the undead pundit, in 2009; she invented the equally bullshit term “death panels” when she failed to help kill the Affordable Care Act. So I ask: how many uninsured Americans died between 1994 when healthcare reform was killed, thanks largely to Andrew Sullivan, and 2012? From my brief calculation, it’s on the order of 380,000 dead people. Arguably, many of those people would not have died had the US moved to a sane healthcare system in 1994. In my view, Sullivan’s hands are stained with the blood of those people. He bears some of the responsibility for and shame of their death. And by the way, one of Sullivan’s long-standing causes has been, laudably, advocacy for AIDS/HIV patients. How many of those uninsured people were gay men who died of AIDS and were denied insurance and care from a healthcare system that Sullivan helped stay broken for an extra 15 years?
  • 1994 was a banner year for Sullivan; he also published a cover story lauding The Bell Curve, a since throughly discredited book written by racial eugenicist Charles Murray. In it, Murray argues that blacks are inherently dumber than whites. Sullivan apparently still agrees with this view.
  • Sullivan, like many right-wingers, went full batshit hide-under-the-bed crazy after 9/11. However, his favorite tactic was to smear anyone who didn’t want to attack Saddam NOW NOW NOW as unpatriotic and un-American. One of his most famous quotes during this time: ”The middle part of the country—the great red zone that voted for Bush—is clearly ready for war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead—and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.” So if you didn’t want to rush to war — a path we now know to be absolutely correct — you were a traitor. Contemptible.

A little research shows how Sullivan hasn’t been especially interested or concerned with journalistic integrity; at The New Republic he published many false articles and assisted the careers of at least two plagiarists. Here is the piece that led me to write this post today; it details Sullivan’s sins in much more detail than I care to today.

I simply can’t get on the Sully bandwagon. I read his stuff sometimes, and sometimes I enjoy it. But I think there are many more deserving bloggers who should be rewarded by putting their stuff behind a paywall and getting a ton of subscribers.

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