Eugene Robinson Live

Aug 06, 2013

Chat with Post columnist Eugene Robinson about his latest columns and political news.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to our weekly discussion (which I've had to cancel the past couple of weeks; please pardon the interruption). Well, this is a day when the news is pretty close to home. Actually, right outside my office door, where people are doing what they've been doing constantly since 4:30 pm yesterday -- talking about the Graham family's decision to sell The Washington Post to founder Jeff Bezos. I'm still trying to pick my jaw off the floor. Nobody saw this coming -- nobody -- and of course nobody knows where it's all headed. But things should be really interesting around here. Will our new boss find the elusive secret formula that allows newspapers to thrive and grow on the internet? Stay tuned. (I certainly will.) Today's column, for reference, was about the al-Qaeda threat and how a decade of wrongheaded policy, starting approximately with the invasion of Iraq, has in some ways given the terrorist group new life. Lots more going on, of course, so let's get started.

Watching cable and my twitter feed, it's apparent that nothing gets the juices flowing of journalists like covering a story about themselves.

That's true. On the other hand, this is a pretty good story on the merits. You've got your family dynasty. You've got your genius internet billionaire. You've got your Watergate, your Ben Bradlee, your Woodward and your Bernstein, your umpteen Pulitzer Prizes. I'd follow that story even if it weren't happening outside my door.

I have my issues with the paper but memories of what has been printed before has always kept my loyalty. Here's hoping that the sale works well for everyone.

From your lips to God's ear.

I would be shocked if you don't disagree, but the POTUS and Hillary have made disastrous mistakes. The policy in Egypt has continually been one of if I put my hands over my eyes then I can pretend to not see whats happening. Aid should have always been tied to real democratic reforms, or at least stop killing your own people. Syria has been even worse, and Hilliary's praise for Assad will come back to bite her in 2016. Now no one believe the US cares about citizens overseas, because Obama has made it clear he doesn't. They are picked to chose between despots and terrorist who want the power themselves. If only liberals would demand the types of change that they fight for in the US (womens education, equal rights etc) then the Middle East would have a chance to recover.

Don't worry about being shocked. You say that aid should have been tied to democratic reforms, but there are problems with that approach, at least when it comes to Egypt. First, our aid there is largely military and it's basically a reward for Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. If the president had cut off aid, you'd probably (and rightly) criticize him for giving up his leverage with the generals. So, what, should the United States have supported Mubarak? Should we not have supported the democratically elected government? Should we now demand that the Muslim Brotherhood be put back in charge? It's one thing to "demand the types of change" such as women's education and equal rights, but we're giving Egypt $1.2 billion a year -- while Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (hardly bastions of female empowerment) are giving more than $8 billion. Sounds like what you really want is a huge increase in the foreign aid budget.

Gene, When it comes to the editorial board (and arguably the paper to a lesser degree) the one major paper with a conservative lean is financially stable. While readership as a whole has decline, one of the problems with print is people are sick of being told what to think. Newspapers continue to present a biased view slanted to their political ideology. For all the talk that the Post is unbiased, it has never endorsed a GOP President and it has endorsed far more liberals than conservatives. If you continue to push beliefs that are heavily balanced, most people will go to an alternative source to find out the full story (like drudge).

Well, um, what exactly are you talking about? Where should I begin? First, what "conservative lean" paper are you talking about? Second, I would assume that if people are sick of being told what to think, they can solve the problem by avoiding all editorial and op-ed pages. (They'd better avoid Drudge like the plague.) The Post's editorial page is not supposed to be unbiased; the news columns are, and I believe they succeed admirably in this goal.

I have never vted for President Obama, but I must say I don't understand the criticism of closing the embassies. It's not like he's up for reelection and using this to build support, and it would be irresponsible to leave staff vulnerable to anther 1979 Iran situation.

I don't get it either. Especially after Benghazi.

I would say I agree that this movie is not going to make or break her presidential run. However, I don't believe NBC News is separate from this. Brian Williams is the most left leaning anchor on TV, and MSNBC is not exactly fair and balanced.

I know Brian Williams and he's no leftie. If you don't like MSNBC, fine, I expect you probably won't watch. You should indeed believe, however, that NBC Entertainment is separate from NBC News, because that happens to be true.

"We should spend more money projecting 'soft power' and less projecting military force." Europe has been projecting "soft power" since the end of the Cold War. Soft power alone just doesn't work. You have to have the threat of hard power behind it. Sooner or later, you have to tell someone "Do this or else." Soft power doesn't allow the "or else" threat to mean anything. This was shown perfectly in Syria where Assad didn't believe Obama's red line meant anything. He used chemical weapons, and the implied "or else" never happened.

"Do this or else" is highly overrated as a foreign policy strategy. Afghanistan and Iraq show that you can invade a country, topple its leaders, install a new government -- and still not be assured that the new leaders will be reliable allies. (What should we do? Invade those countries again?) The U.S. military is the most powerful on the planet but it is not all-powerful. And we have to live with the fact that some countries just won't do what we would like them to do.

My first reaction, after the shock, was the Amazon founder might be the ideal person to figure out how newspapers can work in the new, digital world. I can't think of another candidate combining vision and economic success more successfully.

That's what we're hoping.

In fact, I'd close them permanently. Even after the current Islamist-sympathetic (to put it mildly) administration ends someday, we'll never have good relations with the countries whose ruling ideology is "convert or kill the infidels" -- so why put our people in harm's way?

I'll look past your innacurate description of the current administration to answer your question: Because it's smart to talk to other countries even if they are antagonistic. Countries don't have friends or enemies, they have interests. 

I just want to say that although I haven't lived in the Washington area for close to 15 years, I still come to every day, and it is largely because of the chats like this one. That they got cut back never made sense to me because they seem to bring traffic to the page. Here's hoping Benzos gets that and the chat continue and flourish under new leadership.

I like the chats too, obviously. I think it's a valuable interchange with readers. It's fun, too.

The "lean conservative" paper he's referring to is the Wall Street Journal, presumably, and as Drudge readers know, the Drudge Report rarely posts original content. It mainly posts links to other news organizations, of varying ideological stripes. The difference is that Drudge ALSO posts links to conservative sources, unlike almost every newspaper, including the Post.

The Wall Street Journal certainly has a conservative editorial page, run by my friend Paul Gigot, but the paper's news report is straight as an arrow. And yes, Drudge is an aggregator, not an original source of news. But the way the site is edited -- story choice, placement, picture choice, headlines -- has a decidedly conservative slant. It's a business model that works well for Matt.

Gene, That term is extremely loaded and frankly not very honest. Often Clerics or Judges limit who is allowed to run. Even if the elections are fair there is a gigantic difference between having a single democratic election and living in a democracy. Gaza had one election, however its run by terrorist and is far from a democracy.

Referring to Egypt, I wrote, "Should we not have supported the democratically elected government?" That's what the Morsi government was. I didn't say it was open or inclusive or competent, I said it was "democratically elected" in what was judged to be a fair vote. And in my column, I've noted that the military coup -- whether it was justified or not, popular or not -- was just that: a coup. Maybe the generals will keep their promises and give Egypt another shot at democracy. Maybe not.

It's all part of a great tradition, though, isn't it? A very rich businessman buys a newspaper and then falls in love with journalism and makes the paper great and spawns a family dynasty! (Does Bezos have any kids?)

Family dynasties have indeed been a pretty good organizing principle for newspapers. Anyhow, one important element of the deal, in my view, is that Bezos is taking The Post private. This means he will have the freedom to invest and experiment without Wall Street analysts having hissy fits over last quarter's numbers.

I'd consider myself a Pat Buchanan Republican, so I'm not exactly a bleeding heart liberal. I don't agree with the editorial page, especially on social issues. However, I love the columnists (I enjoy reading you to disagree) and the political coverage with The Fix section is very fair. That's why I'm spending $10 a month to get past the pay wall.

Keep reading. I'll do my best to continue to be, um, disagreeable.

I do not understand why we're broadcasting steps we're taking to close embassies and evacuate personnel...with an end date given. Wouldn't it be better not to give the terrorists our blue-prints for staying ahead of the threats? I do not like bending over backwards in light of NSA document drop to have an "open" government on information gathering.

As I understand it, making a big public deal about the embassy closings was intended to tell the terrorists that we're onto them and they had better back off. It certainly has  nothing to do with the NSA revelations.

Gene, You continue to imply that because the Saudi's give Egypt more the US has no power. If that was truly the case, the SA would just hand over another billion and get Egypt to break all relations with Israel. We provide a lot of Egypt's military, which is pretty much second only to Israel. We could easily tie the army funds to progress.

We could "easily" do this? No. We tried using the aid as leverage during the Mubarak era, and had limited success. Now that there are other big donors in the picture, it's absurd to think that a stern talking-to is going to get the Egyptian military to do anything we want. It's not easy by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm surprised at how many questioners seem to think that the US can solve the problems in the ME by just doing X. If ME issues were so easy to solve, wouldn't X have been done already? And why in the world would anyone think that just because the US says to do X, everyone will just do it? We are not the parents of the world, and the ME countries are not children. As amazing as it may seem to us here, not everyone wants a system of government like ours.

Exactly. Strange as it seems, people around the world have the crazy notion that they should be able to run their own countries. Kids these days!


That's all for today, folks. Thanks so much for participating, and I'll see you again next week!

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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