Monday, July 25, 2005

Being wrong: It's a good thing

One could argue that what truly distinguishes homo sapiens sapiens as a species isn't mental capacity, opposible thumbs or subcutaneous fat, but evidence that suggests we're the only animal that will choose death over being proven wrong.

People don't like to be wrong, but they should really give it a try every now and again. Being proven wrong is the gateway to all new knowledge, and it's actually freeing and exciting.

My most recent bout with wrongness has been my belief that all online media discussions devolve at some point into partisan brawls. Last week's PressThink thread seemed to support my thesis, and since the topic was the Plame Game, one can hardly be surprised.

But the current thread over at Jay Rosen's indespensible website has turned out to be refreshingly civil -- even inquisitive. Commenters I have sparred with, and in some cases disparaged, have made thoughtful, reasonable points. They've asked good questions. There hasn't been a notable insult, left or right.

Why the change? Why is one week contentious and the other harmonious (though certainly not bland)?

If I were a sociologist, I think I could get a Ph.D. examining the communities that grow up around successful blogs. They are endlessly fascinating.

And anyway, I was wrong. Not all media discussions end in partisan, culture war bickering. Thank goodness.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The newspaper of the future

Passed along from Andy Rhinehart this morning: This link to Digital Deliverance and its summary of New Media principles in the wake of the NYT's weekend story on "the newspaper of the future."

Not so much new, but a really good summary to pass along to your colleagues.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... an update

Regular readers of this blog and/or PressThink know that back in June I wrote a long post about my dissatisfaction with the standard blog format and my desire to try something new.

Since then I've been developing that new idea over at, a blog hosting service that offers unlimited team blogging (for a cost). In the next few days, I plan on taking it to the next phase, sending out author invitations to people I would like to read on a regular basis. If the idea catches on, more author invitations will follow.

The concept: Build a space where people of different backgrounds can write about any topic that engages their imagination, without limiting the discourse to the traditional rhetoric of politics, conflict and debate. If successful, it will be less like an episode of Crossfire and more like a rambling house party with a lot of interesting guests.

I don't know how it will turn out -- it could be total flop -- but I've just got to find out what could happen if one makes room for art and humor and science and serendipty, while still keeping the conversation timely and topical.

That doesn't mean that I'm ending this media blog (as others have erroneously concluded). I've just pulled away from it as I've turned my thinking in new directions, posting here only when I feel like I've got something that belongs in the media conversation.

I won't be publicizing that new site off this one for much the same reason that I've stopped providing my URL in comments on PressThink. It's not that I've stopped speaking, it just that I'm more careful about what I'm advertising. Everyone understands that the volume at which one speaks is part of the message, and by dialing back my volume I'm hoping to speak with more integrity.

Some of you have already written requesting the link to new blog. You'll be receiving it shortly. Anyone else who wishes it need only ask.

Friday, July 15, 2005

My say to the PressThink crowd

Jay Rosen's July 7 post at PressThink on how the press should shun Novak until he comes clean (how positively Amish!) notched 265 comments, the majority of which I felt served as an example of how practically any media thread these days rapidly devolves into a political food fight.

On Tuesday, a guy calling himself antimedia showed up on Rosen's comment board with a bunch of Rove stuff I hadn't read before. Definitely right wing, but pretty good stuff. Meaty. Researched. Practically footnoted. I skimmed it, went back to work, and when I checked back ... there was even MORE of it.

Between 1:12 a.m. and 10:27 p.m. on July 12, this guy antimedia filed 13 posts, several of them lengthy, with all sorts of citations to material I'd never read or heard about. Without having checked it all out, I marked it for further study. It all struck me funny. My Spidey-Sense was buzzing.

The next morning's paper featured the Rove story prominently -- but with an eye-opening twist. The stuff I'd read for the first time in antimedia's Tuesday posts was suddenly the focus of the national wire story, only it was coming out of the mouth of Ken Mehlman, the former Bush campaign manager who now runs the RNC. Later that afternoon, while tracking the consistant GOP message, I found what I was looking for. And they looked remarkably like what I'd read the day before at PressThink.

At 5:39 p.m. on July 13, I posted this question on the comment board:
Anybody else notice how antimedia showed up yesterday flashing a line of logic that was practically identical to the GOP talking points that were being circulated more or less at the same time?
Thursday was busy, but today I finally got the time to check back in.

The first response, from regular PressThink conservative contributor Trained Auditor, was about what I'd expected:

Antimedia shed some real light, slaying some sacred cows of the left in the process, chiefly that "Bush lied" - - in fact, the President's 16 words in the State of the Union address regarding African nuclear materials were well founded (see underlying report(s), excerpted by Antimedia). I don't see that point disclosed in the brief catch-up summaries that are typically included in recent news reports of the Rove connection.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 13, 2005 06:13 PM | Permalink

Then another new guy, going by the anonymous handle "blanknoone" showed up around 8 p.m. and made a couple of on-message, fact-packed, well-drilled pro-Rove posts. This prompted a response from Steve Lovelady of CJR, the guy who tends to ride herd on Rosen's righties.

I love it.
Now that Daniel Conover has exposed "antimedia" as a talking point parrot from the RNC, "antimedia" mysteriously disappears, only to be immediaately replaced by "blanknoone."
Come on, guys -- I can post under any name I want, but in the end I'm still Steve Lovelady.
Congrats, Jay. You've finally got the big boys, with all their numerous aliases, trying to pollute your site.
In a way, it's a compliment. They only wade in if they see something alarming on a site with wide readership.
Look at it this way: you've graduated.
Now, at last, as Phillip Roth says in Portnoy's Complaint, we can begin.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 13, 2005 09:26 PM | Permalink

That drew two consecutive comments from blanknoone:

Steve, I've been here for a while, even if I haven't been here for a while. I'm not new, and I'm not antimedia. M'kay? And Jay should be able to verify that by IP address without a problem. If you care, ask him to. I invite it.

Furthermore, you don't address any of my points. I haven't read any GOP talking points, at least not yet. But just because they are talking points (and I really don't think my long post could POSSIBLY be considered a talking point) doesn't mean they aren't true.

Posted by: blanknoone at July 13, 2005 09:42 PM | Permalink


BTW, Steve, has your supposedly non-partisan media watchdog group finally acknowledged having a radical left winger running the show and put him on the masthead? How long did it take? It would be obvious to anyone reading your posts, but at least you could be honest with your subscribers.

Posted by: blanknoone at July 13, 2005 09:45 PM | Permalink

And about half an hour later, here comes antimedia with another long post (excerpted):

I know this might come as a shock to you, Daniel, but contrary to the apparent majority of the commenters, I actually am capable of both reading and thinking for myself. I've never been a member of any party except the Libertarian party (for one year), and I've never been to any site where there are "talking points". This is because I don't need to be spoon fed my thoughts. I'm quite capable of thinking on my own, as should be quite clear from my comments in this thread.

A thinking person might actually question why my points so closely match the "talking points" when I obtained them independently of any political site. (I actually read the SICR, for example.) It could actually be possible that the Republicans are using facts for their talking points! (I don't know that for a fact, because I've not seen them. Nor do I care what their "talking points" are.)

As opposed to comments such as yours, invoking ad hominem to disabuse readers of the notion that I might actually have a point, I posted fact after fact after fact, none of which have been refuted by any commenter in this thread.

When I posted about Wilson's lies regarding his wife's involvement, irrefutable facts, commenters began attacking those facts by saying they were "unimportant" or "immaterial to the discussion of whether or not Rove committed a crime" or they could be "understood" in a different way. (As if there's more than one way to "understand" facts.)

So far, not one of the facts I've posted has been refuted by anyone. Many, on the other hand, have used ad hominem and condescension in an attempt to "refute" them. It hasn't worked, other than to strengthen the resolve of those who only care to see the "truth" they believe in rather than the facts of what took place.

Considering this is a journalism blog and many commenters are journalists, that ought to trouble a few of them at least. That it apparently doesn't is merely proof of the bias they insist does not exist.

Steve Lovelady wrote

Now that Daniel Conover has exposed "antimedia" as a talking point parrot from the RNC, "antimedia" mysteriously disappears, only to be immediaately replaced by "blanknoone."
Frankly, Steve, I have no idea who "blanknoone" is nor do I need his or her help to argue. But I do find your sanctimonious and condescending attitude a bit off-putting. I hope you aren't as uncivil in person.

As far as Conover "exposing" me, please don't make me laugh. Conover hasn't a clue what he's talking about. I hardly have time to sit around here conducting a pissing contest with the likes of you and your cronies. I just stopped by this evening to see if you were all still stewing in your juices, and sure enough, you were. (It's actually comforting in a way to know that some things don't change.)

This brought the ever scrappy Lovelady back out:

Nice try, antimedia/blanknoone/whatever-your-next-name- is.
Never even checked in on what the arcane and irrelevant RNC talking points are, yet you've been echoing them for four days ?
And the two of you don't even have the same ISP address ?
Gee, what a surprise that is!
Duh-uh !
Say hello to Ed Gillespie for me, boys.
If Valerie Plame had ever been this clumsy about cover, this country would be in real trouble.
But, as I said earlier -- welcome to the show. With your presence, it can only get more interesting.
We're finally dealing with players, not commentators.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 13, 2005 11:27 PM | Permalink

Which got about the kind of response I was rapidly coming to expect from antimedia:

Steve Lovelady, how stupid do you have to be to keep repeating this ignorant mantra "antimedia/blanknoone/whatever-your-next-name- is". Click on the link, you boob. You'll find I have a blog. I'm not playing some silly whack-a-mole game, and if you go to my blog you'll find I've written about all this stuff for over a year now.

I am not a "player" either (whatever the heck that is) despite your paranoid delusions. I'm a simple American citizen, US Navy veteran, father and husband, computer security geek. Nothing more, nothing less. The last time I got a solicitation from the Republicans I wrote them a long, nasty letter about how they were a bunch of boobs and asked them to take me off their list. (Not that it did one bit of good.) At least the Libertarians finally quit mailing me.

So there you have it: Another testy little exchange, signifying nothing. Maybe.

Here's my say on all of this:

To the antimedias of the world, let me just express, truly and sincerely, how angry you make me. It makes me angry whenever some jerk accuses everyone in my profession of the same crimes, some of which are nothing more than bitter imagination.

I don't like the showboating. I don't like macho swagger. So when you call yourself "antimedia" and show up stomping around in big boots, don't expect me to act all friendly.

Secondly, I don't cover Washington, and I don't write about it professionally. So don't walk in and throw down a gantlet on your "facts" about the Plame story and expect me to just do what you say, when you say, the way you say it. Get that chip off your shoulder when you're talking to me.

Third, I'm sick and tired of know-it-alls trying to tell me that THEIR sets of details are the ONLY ones that matter. The motto of this site is "Fight the FUD." That means I'm interested in trying to understand what's really going on, NOT in being led around by the nose in your neo-con fog because you happen to have figured out how to manipulate the media via its own rules.

WHICH, by the way, means that I'm going to stand on my post about what I believe to be true in the Valerie Plame story. WHICH, by the way, says that the facts you've presented, no matter how rigorously documented, appear to me to be nothing more than another red herring. WHICH, by the way, means that I'm not going to traipse around after whatever you guys say is important until I see some evidence that you grasp what I consider to be the significant concept: Was the administration truthful in the run-up to Iraq and is it being truthful now?

And you're not going to distract me from that. I vocally supported the decision to go to war beginning in the fall of 2002, and let me tell you smarmy punks something: I'm one of those Americans who just hates the idea of being betrayed by his government.

Unless and until I hear some conservative willingness to accept the obvious truth on that score, we don't have a conversation. It's like buying a house: Somebody has to make a qualified offer before the negotiations begin. You guys who want to start an argument with me and change my mind are like people who'd walk up to a Realtor at an open house and say "I'll give you a hundred bucks for the house, lot and the garage, and by the way, all you Realtors are lying poofs."

If I were doing true hardcore journalism on this site (which I've never claimed to be doing), you bet I'd go through your material. Exhaustively. That's the cost of doing real journalism, primary journalism, bias-filtered journalism. But why even bother with you? Most of the conservative "antimedia" critics I've met demand such things, only then when you give it to them, they dismiss the possibility of real, primary, bias-filtered reporting, call you a name and change the subject, because, you know, reporters are liberals.

You guys don't want news. You want comforting kitsch and patriotic propaganda. You don't want change, either. You want to keep the press decertified, so that you can keep ignoring it when you don't like what it says.

Now, do I agree with Lovelady that antimedia and blanknoone are one and the same? Do I think that antimedia was a GOP plant? Do I think that the Republican Noise Machine has decided to include the PressThink board in its scorched-Earth spin policy?

No, yes and maybe.

I mean, antimedia and blanknoone could be the same person. Both are anonymous and, by my way of thinking, far less credible for it. If you play clever little identity games, you're going to leave yourself open to criticism and suspicion. But that doesn't mean that they're the same person, and, by the way, who cares?

Is antimedia a GOP plant? You decide: I didn't recognize his handle, and I've been reading PressThink regularly for six months. This afternoon I checked back to May 3, and the first post by anybody named antimedia came on July 12 -- the same day that Rove and the GOP launched their counteroffensive across the media. The stuff I read in the talking points memo I heard first from antimedia.

Antimedia claims he has never seen the GOP talking points, which were distributed about 10 hours after he filed his first PressThink comment. And I suppose it's possible that a coincidence like that could happen. Only I liked what I heard Rove's biographer say this week: "There are no coincidences in Karl Rove's world."

Now, Mr. antimedia, let me clarify something. You invoked your victim status in claiming that I had engaged you in an ad hominem attack. As you know, that's a Latin term that means "attacking the man." What I did was ask a question based on an observation. An ad hominem would have gone like this:
Anybody else notice how antimedia showed up yesterday flashing a line of logic that was practically identical to the GOP talking points that were being circulated more or less at the same time? What a lying Spookworld bastard.
But I didn't say that. And as for me having a clue, that's all I had. A clue. I didn't have a conclusion. You just filled in the blanks and accused me of reaching conclusions.

I did small-scale political journalism for about 10 years of my life. I didn't play on the Washington level (although I covered local delegations), and I don't know all the Inside-the-Beltway tricks. So listen carefully to what I'm saying: I'm not claiming specific knowledge.

But I am saying that I've got enough direct experience to have a pretty good idea of how this game is played. And based on that first-hand experience of the way modern parties conduct their real-politik business, is it out of the realm of possibility that a national political organization would hire or recruit or assign people to go out in the blogosphere and try to sway the debate, frame the discussion, insult and defame their opposition? Is it unreasonable to be suspicious of such things? No.

And, had that happened, would it be reasonable to expect the guilty to fess up when confronted? "Aw shucks, boys, ya caught me!" Not on your life.

The right wing is coming apart in front of our eyes right now, but that doesn't mean the end is near, or that they'll just shrivel up when contronted with their hypocrises. It is necessary now to confront them, to oppose them, perhaps even to expose them from time to time. They cannot continue to stand on this house of cards, but history teaches they will not go quietly.

Once they are gone, let's remind people what "conservative" really means. What "liberal" really means, too. Neither is a dirty word, and neither has a stranglehold on truth or wisdom.

But until that time, George W. Bush is right: You're either for him, or you're against him. It didn't have to be this way, but so be it.

Let's parse the Rove story... or not

So here's the news: Karl Rove told the grand jury that Novak gave him Plame, not the other way around.

And here's the Noise Machine spin: This is good news for Rove, and the Liberal Media is trying to hide it.

And here's the deal: The Republicans have gone completely off the deep end.

I want to make one thing clear, right up front: I'm not an expert on this story. Yeah, I've kept up with it better than most, perhaps, but my comments are big picture and experience, not inside knowledge. Got it? I'm not claiming specific information about what happened in the West Wing or out at Langley.

But this is the story, and every development I've seen only brings it into tighter focus:

1. Beginning within days of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration engaged in a concerted effort to build a phony case for the invasion of Iraq. When no links could be established between Iraq and the 9/11 plot, the White House decided instead to focus on weapons of mass destruction as its justification for war.

2. This made elements within the CIA unhappy, because you don't survive in Spookworld without a 6th sense for those moments when you're being set up as the patsy in somebody else's scheme.

3. According to Joe Wilson, a former ambassador to Niger who was married to a CIA expert on WMDs, he was dispatched to Niger in February 2002 at the behest of the CIA in response to a request from Vice President Dick Cheney. His mission: Assess claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. His finding: No, not true.

4. Why did the CIA send Wilson? Are we to take this at face value? Of course not. The CIA (or, more likely, "elements within the CIA") sent Wilson to Niger because, for whatever reason, he looked like a guy who wasn't already compromised. Either that or because they hoped his position/reputation would make him more credible to Cheney. Who knows? To understand this story, one must grasp that there was a "war in heaven" taking place within the intelligence community in 2002-03. On the one side, politically savvy spooks who understood that supporting the White House would be rewarded; on the other, those who understood that The Agency would be blamed when the administration's claims turned out to be false.

5. The White House ignored Wilson's report, and the "yellowcake intelligence" became one of its most compelling claims during the run-up to invasion. On Jan. 28, 2003, in his state of the Union address, Bush uttered these 16 words: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

6. The "yellowcake memos" that the White House would cite as evidence of this claim would later be proven to be forgeries. The source of the forgery has never been determined, but the CIA was blamed for the "intelligence failure" behind the pre-war WMD claims made by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, et al. And, in case you get all your news from Fox, this just in: Still no WMDs found in Iraq...

6. On July 6, 2003, four months after the invasion, Wilson told his story on the op-ed page of the New York Times ("What I Didn't Find in Africa").

7. The Bush White House was furious, and did what it has always done to anyone who dares to oppose it: It set out to crush Wilson. Two days after the Wilson op-ed appeared, Rove discussed Wilson's trip and his wife with Bob Novak. Five days after the op-ed, he had a conversation with Time's Matthew Cooper.

8. On July 14, 2003, Novak published a column about the yellowcake dustup. It included this fateful paragraph: "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. 'I will not answer any question about my wife,' Wilson told me."

9. Because it's illegal for a public official to reveal the identity of a covert intelligence agent, Novak's column caused something curious to happen: The president's political opponents had reason to call for a Justice Department investigation, and the White House didn't have the political cover to say no. Said Bush: "And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of."

10. Anyway, let's be clear about this, because it's the essential point in the entire story: Bush's critics latched on to the Plame-name leak because it was a story with a handle on it. The REAL story was that by September of 2003, it was painfully obvious to anyone who was willing to see it that the neo-cons had manipulated the country into war. The problem with making that case to the country was that the facts involved were complex, and the White House would simply deny them, over and over and over. Pinning down these guys is like chasing a greased pig. That White House sources MIGHT have committed a crime by leaking Plame's identity in an attack on one of their critics was nothing more than a proxy issue for the Bush team's crass assault on the truth before, during and after the invasion.

11. Rove was the obvious candidate right from the start, for one simple reason: He's been a dirty SOB his entire career. As Wilson told CBS News:
"I have a very reputable source who told me that all of this had been condoned by Karl Rove himself - or at a minimum - not stopped by him for a full week after the story was circulating." Scott McClellan denied it, but so what? Nobody in the press believed him, because you just don't believe someone who evades the truth for a living. But whatever. I don't think anybody seriously believed Rove didn't do it, but at the same time, I don't think anybody believed Rove would ever get pinned down for it.

12. So why is Novak walking the streets while Judith Miller sits in jail and Cooper gives it up for the prosecutor? Because he turned the instant somebody with subpoena power showed up and said "spill it, Novak." Only what he told them wasn't enough to make a case, so Fitzgerald went looking for other reporters.

13. Cooper is supposed to be writing about this for TIME, only he won't tell other reporters because he "doesn't want to scoop" himself. Novak says he'll write about it when it's all over. But the big buzz in the last few weeks -- that Cooper identified Rove as his source -- has brought things back to where they stood in the fall of 2003: Kaptain Karl, right in the middle of it all, with nothing more to stand on than plausible deniability.

14. Plausible deniability will keep you from being convicted, and in some cases, it will keep you from being indicted.

15. But remember: This story was never really about a crime (just like the Monica story was never really about perjury... or a blow-job). It's about honesty, integrity, credibility. Regular people might be confused by the tricky ins and outs of the intelligence game, but they recognize a bully. Once you see the Bush administration without its spin on, that's really all they are: bullies. And Americans just don't like bullies.

16. So anyway, now Rove and the GOP have got their talking points out. They've got their lawyerly evasions, including their well-prepared lawyerly comments to the grand jury, to investigators, etc. Rove says, yeah, he was a source, but not the original source. And he didn't give the name. Etc. That's the denial.

17. The next step is the switch: Rove and the White House weren't trying to hit Wilson where it hurts, they were simply trying to wave reporters off erroneous information.

18. Then they delivered the big payoff: The whole thing was a liberal lie; Plame sent Wilson to Niger just to hurt the president; and say, look at all these other pieces of "contradictory" evidence. Let's talk about motivations and speculation. Let's frame Wilson and Plame as sleazy cowards, clowns, publicity hounds. Put it all together and you've got FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), the calling card of the Bush White House.

19. Have they proven their innocence? Of course not. Have they demonstrated their honesty, integrity and straight-arrow character? Let's be serious. These guys haven't vindicated themselves: they've turned the entire story into a frothy, fecal stew -- something so unpleasant and murky that regular people either get really mad about it or back away and say "I don't want to get involved... they're all crooked up there in Washington, anyway." The boys in the West Wing don't have to come out of this thing smelling sweet, they just have to come out with their hands still on the reins. And they will.

20. Are the conservatives telling the truth when they say that this story is really about "getting" Bush and Rove? Yes! But they're not telling the larger truth: Whether or not Rove or the people he authorized to make the leaks on his behalf are ever punished, Plame is small potatoes. The truly heinous crimes were committed before the war, back in the days when the government of the United States of America was conspiring to silence all dissent and construct an intelligence picture it knew to be misleading... both for Congress and for the American people. That's an enormous subject to get your arms around, and with the GOP in command of all three branches of government, it's unlikely that those crimes will ever be prosecuted.

On one level, what we're witnessing is the government coming apart. Wilson and Plame weren't liberals, and they're only liberal now in the sense that liberal equals "opposed to the neo-cons." But if you scan talk radio today, you'll hear them being ripped to shreds. What does this tell you?

I have a retired friend who is a refugee from Spookworld. Both of us once considered ourselves "conservative" (a quaint word with little meaning today) but now see ourselves as liberal in the "opposed to the neo-cons" sense of the word. In 2004, I asked him over lunch if there were patriots in the intelligence community who would stand up and fight back against the manipulation of the country. "They already are," he told me.

Some are fighting back out of a sense of devotion to a higher ideal of America. Others are doing so just because they are mad at how they've been blamed for "bad intelligence" that wasn't so bad before they sent it up to the White House. But it gives me a warped sense of hope. Rove may be a super-spook, but at least there are people with spookish powers who oppose him. I don't know if I trust them any more than I do the Bushies, but you know how it is in a bar fight. You worry about that later.

We are over-run with FUD, and it's hard to sort through it all. It's hard for journalists, and its hard for "civilians." But I've said this before (and been accused of trying to relive the 2004 election because of it, a non-sequitor of epic proportion): The way for journalists and citizens to cut through the FUD is to use the ideal of America as their filter.

Don't ask "was it illegal?" That leads to lawyers. Ask, is this the country I want? Is this the kind of behavior that I believe in? Would I accept this level of honesty from my child?

When you think that way, it all becomes pretty clear. It's not time for Rove to go. It's time for all of them to go.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Finally, a funny comic strip!

Bruce Tinsley is an idiot, but you gotta give the man his props: He's an idiot with the world's best business plan:

1. Draw an insufferably pompous right-wing political cartoon about a reporter who is also a duck;

2. Get prickly conservatives around the country to call local newspapers to lobby for its inclusion on the grounds that "It doesn't matter if it's funny -- you liberals run that commie Doonesbury strip, you should run something for balance!"

3. Collect syndication checks for the rest of your life without ever having to be original, insightful or humorous.

The result is Mallard Fillmore, an unintentional parody of conservative thought that could better be described as affirmative action for clueless right-wing cartoonists... or propaganda for the barely literate.

Mallard is a unique phenomenon in the history of American political cartooning. Nobody actually likes it -- but it survives because conservatives have made its presence on the comics page a litmus test of fairness. Newspaper editors don't really mind, and having it around lets us run Doonesbury without having to listen to as many dumb-ass phone calls.

But irony may have finally gotten the better of the tepid Mr. Tinsley. This morning, after several days of referencing the fact that Jon Stewart's best-seller America: The Book poked fun at his strip, Tinsley finally pinched off this turd in the nation's punchbowl.

Now, how is it that a political cartoonist doesn't understand the most basic element of his trade? Is he completely unfamiliar with the concept of satire? But that's too easy, and it only leads us back to the most obvious conclusion, reachable years ago: Tinsley is a moral and intellectual dwarf on stilts.

And why even bother with the taste issue, another hanging curve ball? Tinsley feigns the role of the innocent victim, and then responds to this perceived slight by calling Stewart a child seducer and sexual criminal. Now that's humor!

No, let's get to the meat of this: This morning's cartoon is utterly misleading in its primary claim, which the cartoonist asks us to take seriously. He claims Stewart "tried to DECEIVE people into thinking (the phony cartoon in the book) was a REAL ONE!"

Right. And there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, too.

The Mallard Fillmore strip in America: The Book appears on Page 160, where it is the sixth of seven cartoons in a section on political cartooning (No. 5 satirizes Doonesbury's dry style, while No. 7 mocks those stupid folding panels from Mad Magazine)

Here's the introduction: "Some of today's cartoons celebrate the current administration rather than poke fun at it. At the forefront is reporter-duck Mallard Fillmore, who is the White House's best friend among cartoon waterfowl."

The phony strip shows Mallard in three typical poses: 1. Walking in front of a factory reading a paper; 2. Addressing the audience in a head-and-shoulders shot; and 3. Closer up, reacting with mild surprise.

Here's what he says: 1. "Liberals want to tie the hands of industry with more environmental legislation." 2. "Why must we punish our most productive citizens with an income tax?" and 3. "Ooops! I forgot to tell a joke!"

Yep. That's Mallard Fillmore in a nutshell. And only a purposefully offended idiot would fail to grasp that all the cartoons in the section are jokes, just like the phony political campaign button in an earlier chapter that reads "Yo, Fuck McKinley."

But as we've already stipulated, Tinsley is an idiot. An unfunny, thin-skinned, dishonest idiot whose M.O. is an unearned, self-pitying chip on his shoulder. He is one of the nation's chief purveyors of the Liberal Media Bias meme, a hypocrite who holds himself up as an example of folksy underdog integrity. And now it turns out he's a mean, dim-witted jerk who just doesn't get it. At all.

In America, one can be right or wrong, regretful or brazen. Depending on one's personality, one may be any combination of these things and still be successful. But to miss out on the joke? Ah, now there's a mortal sin.

Tinsley's pathetic and dishonest swipe at Stewart reveals his inner ugliness, and the only laughter it produced is directed at him. Even his "fans" may start backing away from him now, lest they too be identified as unmitigated dolts.

Tinsley is the Jeff Gannon of cartoonists. Let's beat the Christmas rush and start laughing at him now. Congratulations, Bruce, on your first funny comic strip.