Five Best Wednesday Columns

Lynn Oberlander on the law behind the Justice Departmen's AP subpoena, Neal Gabler on the impact Barbara Walters made on journalism, Jenée Desmond-Harris on the politics of African American names, Sadhbh Walshe on the cost of Angelina Jolie's preventative surgery, and Tara Murtha on the misunderstandings of the Kermit Gosnell verdict.

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Lynn Oberlander at The New Yorker on why the law behind the AP subpoena Lynn Oberlander, the magazine's general counsel, argues the Justice Department deliberately subverted checks on its own power when pursuing the phone records of nearly two dozen Associated Press reporters. "The cowardly move by the Justice Department to subpoena two months of the AP’s phone records, both of its office lines and of the home phones of individual reporters, is potentially a breach of the Justice Department’s own guidelines," she writes. "Even more important, it prevented the AP from seeking a judicial review of the action. Some months ago, apparently, the government sent a subpoena (or subpoenas) for the records to the phone companies that serve those offices and individuals, and the companies provided the records without any notice to the AP. If subpoenas had been served directly on the AP or its individual reporters, they would have had an opportunity to go to court to file a motion to quash the subpoenas. ... Even beyond the outrageous and overreaching action against the journalists, this is a blatant attempt to avoid the oversight function of the courts." Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian pointed out a catch-22: "The legality of the DOJ's actions is impossible to assess because it is not even known what legal authority it claims nor the legal process it invoked to obtain these records. ... It often has the power to obtain those records without the person's knowledge (as happened here) and for a wildly broad scope of time (as also happened here)." Jonathan Chait at New York took a longer view, calling the revelation an "audacious step in a long government campaign, spanning two administrations, to ruthlessly prosecute leaks about the fight against Jihadi terrorism."

Neal Gabler at The New York Times on Barbara Walters' impact on journalism How did the journalist and television fixture Barbara Walters alter her own industry? Walters, Neal Gabler argues, "may be the single most important TV personality of the last 50 years — just not for the reasons we’ve heard. More than any other journalist, she tore down the wall separating news from entertainment, the serious from the frivolous, the public figure from the celebrity. Ms. Walters was always more of an entertainer than a journalist, at least as traditionalists understand the latter term." Gabler goes on to show how Walters, as a host for the morning show Today, successfully transferred her skill in interviewing celebrities to figures of world-historical significance, who "wanted the media spotlight that Ms. Walters and Today provided, so that they might have the opportunity to humanize themselves away from political reporters. Ms. Walters was happy to oblige. They received the same treatment from Ms. Walters as the movie stars she interviewed." Alessandra Stanley, also writing in The Times, added that Walters possessed a preternatural sense of what her audience wanted, and where it was moving. "Intuitively, knowingly or just luckily, Ms. Walters has moved — and is moving — in concert with tastes and audiences and real influence. She defected from nighttime to daytime just as many viewers were doing the same. For politicians and newsmakers, a loosey-goosey appearance on The View under her watch took on more value and resonance than a hard-hitting interview on any network evening news program." She forged another kind of path too, writes Allison Terry at The Christian Science Monitor: "Whether she’s remembered for serious journalism or celebrity infotainment, there is no doubt that Walters pioneered a path for other female TV journalists."

Jenée Desmond-Harris at The Root on the politics of African American names Jenée Desmond-Harris considers the impact of "so-called black names — the ones African Americans have either created or disproportionately embraced" on the African American experience. "The only thing 'wrong' with Laquita ... in the minds of those who are so put off by it is likely that it's "associated with lower socioeconomic status" ... My view is that the disdain isn't really for the three innocent little syllables but, rather, for the type of black person who they imagine would choose to put them together." Paraphrasing the work of Kaye Whitehead, Desmond-Harris adds, "While 'all names are inventions,' we tend to dismiss black-identified names as if they're bestowed upon children without any thought or care. But if white people embraced 'Laquita' ... we'd treat it with the same straight-faced deference as 'Mary.'" Dawn Cutaia at The Patriot-News highlights how deeply embedded this kind prejudice remains: "Being white is an unearned privilege; I did absolutely nothing to get the white skin I have. Yet my white skin gives me power and credibility. I am not just a member of the club; I am a member of THE club."

Sadhbh Walshe at The Guardian on the cost of Angelina Jolie's preventative surgery Sadhbh Walshe draws attention to the unmentioned reality of the costs of the kind of testing and preventive treatment for  breast cancer that actress Angelina Jolie described in her Tuesday op-ed about obtaining a double-mastectomy. "[Jolie's] goal was to encourage other women at high risk of developing cancer to explore their choices and to take whatever steps may be necessary to save their own lives. Unfortunately the reality for many women in America and elsewhere is that quite often when it comes to making decisions about their health, they often have no choice at all. ... Many women in similar circumstances will no doubt be comforted and encouraged by her experience and her decision to share it. She does have one major advantage over a lot of women dealing with cancer or facing the prospect of developing cancer, however, and this is that for her money is not an object."  In their report for The New York Times, Denise Grady, Tara Parker-Pope, and Pam Belluck point out another pitfall: "[Jolie's] disclosure could be misinterpreted by other women, fueling the trend toward mastectomies that are not medically necessary for many early-stage breast cancers. In recent years, doctors have reported a virtual epidemic of preventive mastectomies among women who have cancer in one breast and decide to remove the healthy one as well, even though they do not have genetic mutations that increase their risk and their odds of a second breast cancer are very low."

Tara Murtha at Salon on the misunderstandings of the Kermit Gosnell verdict Veteran Philadelphia reporter Tara Murtha weighs the misinformation surrounding the trial of Kermit Gosnell, focusing on Daily Beast columnist Megan McArdle's recent column about the abortion doctor. "The only thing more frustrating than the anti-choice activists exploiting this tragedy by willfully distorting the facts are the casually informed who, 28 months after the grand jury report was published, seemingly glance it over before pounding out another erroneous diatribe," Murtha says. "The latest infraction, and frankly one of the worst, came this morning over at the Daily Beast [where Megan] McArdle attempts to answer the already answered question with a combination of errors and speculation." After listing errors both serious and careless, Murtha adds, "Though the Gosnell case is a result of politicizing abortion, the case is being exploited and distorted with misinformation in order to further politicize abortion. As we’ve seen, that will only make things worse for poor and working women — whether it’s done purposely by the politically motivated, or accidentally by the casually informed."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.