Five Best Saturday Columns

On the WSJ's 'Fox-ification,' Google's origins, and a slavery lesson for Bachmann

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The New York Times Editors on how the Debt Limit Crisis is Just the Beginning. "Brinkmanship over the debt limit is only one of many epic economic policy blunders now in the making," writes the New York Times. "Even if lawmakers raise the debt limit on time, the economy is weak and getting weaker, as evidenced by slowing growth and rising unemployment." But Republicans, rather than focusing on strengthening the weakening economy, are "demanding deep, immediate spending cuts, which would only add to current weakness." Although President Obama has "suggested cuts" that "should be phased in slowly," and suggested "near-term help," he has "has done too little to argue the case." It seems he should be noting that "Upfront spending cuts could make sense if the budget deficit were the cause of the current economic weakness." Here, however, the "real cause is lack of consumer demand in the face of stagnant wages, job uncertainty and the continuing payback of household debt from the bubble years... In such a situation, government must fill the gap with spending on relief and recovery measures." One crucial step "would be to reauthorize the highway trust fund... supporting millions of jobs." If anything, "Mr. Bernanke emphasized that the deficit was a serious problem, but not an immediate one... Recovery, however, requires the creation of millions more jobs, starting now."

Thomas Fleming on What Michele Bachmann Should Have Said on Slavery. Thomas Fleming notes that in Michele Bachmann's latest history gaffe, she insisted that America's Founding Fathers "worked day and night" to abolish slavery -- but only identified John Quincy Adams as an actor (who was 9 years old in 1776 when his father persuaded the Continental Congress to vote for independence.) Fleming notes that the founding father were, to the dismay of "many admirers of our revolutionary past," not preoccupied with slavery. "The barely breathing American union remained the Founders' primary concern... the delegates achieved a political miracle—a document that gave the federal government the power to tax at home and speak for the nation abroad while reserving important rights and responsibilities to the states. Then, with success seemingly assured, the delegates plunged into an ugly brawl over slavery." The compromise reached "proposed permitting the slave trade until 1808, and counting three-fifths of a state's slaves as a basis for the number of its representatives in Congress." Although Ben Franklin shortly afterwards proposed banning slavery, and much of the country "became more and more hostile to tolerating slavery on American soil," in the South, slavery became "so immensely profitable for Southern plantation owners that it became entrenched in their way of life."

Joe Nocera on How Murdoch Took Down the Wall Street Journal. According to Joe Nocera, it has taken three years since Rupert Murdoch acquired that Wall Street Journal for it to become "Fox-ified." When Murdoch took over the paper, he "vowed to protect The Journal’s editorial integrity." Nocera writes: "Fat chance of that." This was the prcoess of Fox-ification: "Within five months, Murdoch had fired the editor and installed his close friend Robert Thomson, fresh from a stint Fox-ifying The Times of London... Soon came the changes, swift and sure: shorter articles, less depth, an increased emphasis on politics and, weirdly, sometimes surprisingly unsophisticated coverage of business." As a "great paper" turned into "a mediocre one," also came increasingly slanted political coverage. "The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner’s conservative views. That’s half the definition of Fox-ification.The other half is that Murdoch’s media outlets must shill for his business interests. With the News of the World scandal, The Journal has now shown itself willing to do that, too." On a personal note, Nocera adds that "To tell you the truth, I’m hanging my head in shame too. Four years ago, when Murdoch was battling recalcitrant members of the Bancroft family to gain control of The Journal... I wrote several columns saying that he would be a better owner than the Bancrofts... Mea culpa."

Douglas Edward on Being Google's Employee Number 59. Douglas Edward recounts his colorful days at the onset of Google, where he began working as a brand manager in 1999. From the first interview questions ("I want you to explain to me something complicated that I don't already know") to the sushi chef and massage therapists, to co-founder Larry Page's maxim "If we can't win on quality, we shouldn't win at all," Google was unusual in the extreme. But what was most unusual was its metoric rise. "You would have needed uncanny foresight or powerful pharmaceuticals to envision Google's success in 1999," Edward describes. Moreover, Edward notes the small ways in which Google was forced to temper its playfulness and become more conservative, as the number of users skyrocketed. "I've heard the speculation about Google since I've left. That it's a monopoly. That it's tracking users. That it's in cahoots with the government. That it spies on people. That it's evil... But based on the people I knew during my time in the Plex—many of whom still put in long hours perfecting a product used by millions every day—I'd say that's highly unlikely." So where are the flaws in Google's approach? In Edward's estimation, it is "impatience with those not quick enough to grasp the obvious truth of Google's vision." Google's leaders are not often wrong, but that isn't the same as being perfect. "If Google's leaders accepted that reality, they might understand why some people are unwilling to suspend skepticism and surrender to Google's assurances that the company can be trusted."

The Boston Globe Editors on "Caylee's Law" and Reactionary Legislation. The editors at The Boston Globe take a short look at how "Caylee's Law," the law that followed the surprise verdict in the Casy Anthony trial, is an example of a piece of reactionary legislation that makes for poor law on account of the extreme circumstances of the case that gave rise to it. One major flaw is the law is its vagueness: "A parent or guardian who knows a child has died must “notify law enforcement or emergency medical personnel of the death of said minor child, within twenty-four hours of death. . . ’’ This would criminalize parents whose child died on a camping trip, but who couldn’t get back to civilization on time. Authorities would be unlikely to prosecute in such a scenario, but it’s telling that the law hasn’t been fully thought out by its authors. And the time limit is problematic as well: Neither a parent nor the most sophisticated forensic methods can pin down a time of death to a very high degree of accuracy, which would make it difficult to apply the law in many instances." The op-ed notes that "it’s understandable why state Representative David Linsky of Natick, who shared the frustration felt by many in the “not guilty’’ verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, would file legislation requiring parents to notify authorities within 24 hours of the death of a child... But the bill he filed is still ill-advised - as are most laws created in response to a one-of-a-kind incident."

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