Catching Up: Richard Blumenthal, Facebook

Because of travel and related chaos, have been behind the news on both these topics. But two recent Atlantic posts provide handy shortcuts to points I meant to make.

Blumenthal: This story is simply strange. On the one hand, men of that generation do not easily forget whether they were "in" Vietnam. On the other, if a public official gives hundreds and hundreds of speeches over the decades, it's possible that, innocently or not, he could say the wrong, self-serving thing several times. Without knowing how the story would finally shake out, something about the initial NY Times stories struck me as trying too hard and pushing the evidence beyond its natural limits. (Disclosure: I don't know Richard Blumenthal, but his younger brother, David Blumenthal MD, has been a friend for many years.)

This Atlantic item, by Richard Blumenthal's long-time friend Ben Heineman Jr., seems to me to do the fairest job of weighing the overall evidence pro and con. To me it's a more convincing presentation that that of the NYT's ombudsman Clark Hoyt, whom I generally agree with and admire but who in this case seemed (to me) defensive on the paper's behalf. We'll see how the evidence emerges.

Facebook: This has become a cliche, but I really hate the way Facebook runs its business and deals with its customers. I've been through round after round of trying to keep one step ahead of its ever-changing "privacy" settings by removing info from public view. As I mentioned a few months ago, I made a mistake early on by mixing actual friends -- family, people I "know" -- with "contacts" in the professional sense. But something changed for me a few weeks ago when I was at the Washington Post site and saw, unbidden, the list of my "friends" who were also reading the Post and emailing articles from it. So if I'm seeing what they are doing, then they are seeing....

Facebook's declining reputation is also satisfying on karmic grounds. The story of Wall Street gives no indication that excessively grasping behavior backfires in the long run, but Mark Zuckerberg's path through life in his 25+ years may momentarily be catching up with him. (I don't usually sound this harsh. I make an exception for this company.)

For tech-based explanations of the anti-Facebook case, see here and here. And -- to return to the original point -- yesterday the Atlantic's Derek Thompson made the case against Mark Zuckerberg's recent "apology," here. I hope the company really can change its culture and values. Until then...

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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