Ted Stevens, The “Toobz”, And The Idiocy Of The Internet

Alright, this will be a fairly short post, but I would like to remind people of some things. Namely, regarding Ted Stevens. As background, Marcy wrote a serious, and important, post on the Trumps Organization’s curious, and semi-hilarious, use of Microsoft. And, yes, Marcy is right, it was amazingly stupid. From clackers whining that Hillary Clinton had insecure internet. If it was not so stupid, it would be extra laughable.

But I want to cut back to something different. In comments, Rayne Loled at Ted Stevens and, then, a relatively new commenter (like just today as far as I can tell), “CJ” chimed in with:

Bizarrely, it’s not an entirely bad metaphor, though that’s probably accidental on his part. See, e.g., Andrew Blum’s “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet”.

This is bunk. Blum, and his book, tried to make hay off of Stevens, and at his expense, but without giving him much of his due, nor acknowledging how the “tubes” of the internet falsely allowed the demonization of Stevens and cheerleader his prosecution. A prosecution that turned out to be false and craven. In a review in the New York Times in 2012, Dwight Garner noted:

Reading this, you wish Mr. Stevens, who died in an airplane crash in 2010, were here to savor it. “Inside those tubes (by and large) are glass fibers,” the author continues. “Inside those fibers is light. Encoded in that light is, increasingly, us.”

That is exactly right, although Blum never really went deeper into the fraud by the Department of Justice that took Ted Stevens down before his untimely demise by plane crash.

So, as a bit of retrospective:

Say what you will about Ted Stevens, and much of that may be fair. But what was done to him at the end was wrong and a travesty. And the DOJ could not even deal with that then. Much less the pervasive and consuming wrong that is at hand today with Bill Barr and the DOJ he now administers.

For anybody that does not remember just how egregious and blatant the government/DOJ action against Ted Stevens was, here is one of my takes from 2008, and yet another in followup, from 2012.

You can joke about Toobz Stevens, and we have here before, but what happened to him was a complete travesty of justice. And there are serious lessons from that to keep in mind today. Without the “toobz” of the internet, I am not sure the reckless and false case against Stevens could have ever made it as far as it did. There is great irony in that, and it is a lesson that ought remain remembered, not just joked about.

That was a different, and in popular lore, more benevolent and honest era. So, what do you think are the odds for far worse from Trump and Barr? Somewhere, Ted Stevens has an idea.

44 replies
  1. josefjohann says:

    I don’t hear this talked about much, or ever, but I think the deal with “Toobz” was that Stevens was speaking in an era where Netflix still did lots of DVD by mail, as well as digital streaming. And I think Stevens had the two ideas jumbled up, as if they might be the same thing. But he wasn’t sure, and so he talked about the internet *almost* as if it was a physical infrastructure. Speculation on my part, but I think that’s where the whole conflation came from.

    • P J Evans says:

      I think that was about when AOL stopped sending out CDs, too. He’d have gotten those in his mailbox, I think, from earlier years if not that late.

    • Eureka says:

      At the time, I thought he’d analogized (albeit literally) the internet to “tube systems” formerly prevalent in large workplaces/building/complexes– where you put info you wanted to send someone into a capsule in a tube, pressed the button for ‘address’ (floor/direction/location etc.)- and off it went, except it often didn’t as these systems of hidden tubes broke down. (Just recalled- like tubes at drive-through banking locations, where the ‘info-filled’ capsule goes thru tubes from you to the teller in the building and back again. But set up in a more complex network if throughout (a) whole building(s), obviously.)

      • P J Evans says:

        Ah, pneumatic tubes. I’ve seen photos and I’ve read about them, but I’ve never actually met one. (Most of the drive-up windows I’ve met have either actual windows you hand stuff through, or drawers that you put the payment in, and get the receipt back (plus your card, if that’s what you used. And your ID, as they usually want that too, any more.)

        • Eureka says:

          I’d imagine your plate tectonics out there would contraindicate them at the scale we have them on the east coast, especially still at older banking locations.

          But the literal physical getting-in-line of info that use of such systems entails matched what he was saying, especially as more info is sent or attempted; the clogging, etc.

          At a hospital where I worked, they were largely ignored, and I think they only worked reliably for certain portions of the complex. Standard practice was just to hoof it, or make delivery circuit trips if the info could wait. But every once in a while there’d be an old-guard unit secretary or someone tubing something or expecting same. Kind of like demanding today’s Canadians pay for something in pennies in that context. (Adding, tho I think some places still use them regularly.)

          • P J Evans says:

            I saw pictures of an SF newspaper office where they had them, so they’re around, or were. In a single-purpose building, long before ubiquitous phones and even longer before email, they’d have been useful.

        • Molly Pitcher says:

          PJ, From things you have said, you seem to know the Bay Area. Did you never see the pneumatic tubes at Hinks department store in Berkeley ? I was fascinated with them as a kid. I seem to remember that the old Gumps store ins San Francisco on Post had them as well as the old Emporium on Market.

          • P J Evans says:

            I didn’t get to SF often – it was a day trip, as we lived 45 miles east of the city. My parents went every couple of months for several yaars, when they had season tickets to Civic Light Opera, and they’d visit Gump’s or Christian of Copenhagen. (Berkeley even less often, even when my sister lived there.)

    • Rayne says:

      Would have been YouTube and the now-defunct Yahoo streaming competitor, not Netflix that may have clogged the tubes in 2006 when Sen. Stevens made his remark about his email not arriving on a timely basis.

      We’ve never really looked at the fact Stevens made this complaint about email sent in Washington DC and likely to Stevens in DC. This happened not long after there were a bunch of problems (okay, MANY problems) with White House emails going missing.

      Stevens’ quaint old man crack about the clogged tubes might have been something else, in retrospect.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Raises the question of why Stevens was railroaded, and why the prosecution committed such outrageous missteps. Taking on so long a serving GOP Senator – a president pro tempore emeritus of the Senate – was always going to bring bring down a lot of juice on the DOJ. What was the motivation, who had he pissed off? This was a Bush/Cheney era prosecution, but the OPR slap on the wrist with a “foam rubber ruler” was during Obama’s first term.

    If nothing else, it is one more reason to reform the DOJ after its execrable misuse by Donald Trump and Bill Barr.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah. All great questions. It really was a weird dynamic. And that the DOJ lifetime fixer, David Margolis, was the final cleansing agent, is also fairly notable. I would love to say I know what was going on with all that, but only have questions that were never answered. What I have never had, really, were the answers.

      • BobCon says:

        Stevens was an old bull, and if one was conspiracy minded, connections could be drawn to the way old bull Trent Lott was thrown out not long before.

        On the surface, Lott deserved to go — praising Strom Thurmond was rotten. But the GOP couldn’t have cared any less in truth. They all supported Thurmond as well. The reality is that Lott wouldn’t always play ball, so he was kicked out in favor of Bill Frist.

        The reason I wouldn’t argue too strongly for a parallel case with Stevens is that the attack on Lott was purely in the political realm, and it’s harder to make a case that DOJ was equally political at that time. It may have been a factor, but I’d want to see more proof.

  3. Theresa says:

    David Margolis..what on earth would be his take on what Barr is doing ???????
    Was Barr a protege?

    • bmaz says:

      Privately, Margolis might have some mild criticism. Publicly, he would sign off on and sanction it in a heartbeat.

    • bmaz says:

      And with that blithe, and trite, little statement, you want to argue that gross prosecutorial misconduct and violation of due process, fundamental fairness, Brady Rules and other trial and disclosure norms are just hunky dory?

      What is wrong with you, and why are you here with that kind of shallow crap? Your little comment, intellectually, and legally, makes me want to puke. Thanks for your contribution.

      • joel fisher says:

        “Say what you will about Ted Stevens, and much of that may be fair.” What I want to say about Ted Stevens is that he was a crook. If I quote you, can I avoid making you want to puke?

        • bmaz says:

          No, you cannot. The thing he was accused of being a crook on was proved to be a fraud and him being innocent. If you want to slander the dead here, you better bring some provable facts, not this defamatory baloney.

          A bad legislator, on the wrong side of the aisle? Sure. A crook? Stop. That was the whole point of this post, and if you cannot substantively contradict it, and you patently have not, and cannot, don’t be pulling that here. Read the Schuelke report.

            • bmaz says:

              And I do not understand why you keep putting up wrongful and defamatory BS on our blog. Listen up, troll. Stevens actually is a martyr in criminal defense circles, and Congressional ones too.

              And, yes, but for the misconduct of the prosecutors, Stevens almost certainly would have been quickly acquitted, and, frankly, likely never charged.

              And, no, Jeffrey Toobin was exactly correct. And Melanie Sloan full of shit. I have no idea what your agenda is here, but you clearly do not understand the criminal trial process and how it works. Neither did Melanie Sloan. (She also buggered up the Wilson/Plame complaint and civil case fairly epically).

              So, Mr. Fisher, spare me your tripe.

              • joel says:

                From the indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens:
                “Case 1:08-cr-00231-EGS Document 1 Filed 07/29/2008 Page 5 of 28
                included, among other things: home improvements to the Girdwood Residence, such as the creation of a new first floor, a new garage, a new first- and second-story wraparound deck, new plumbing, new electrical wiring, and other such additions and improvements; automobile exchanges in which STEVENS received new vehicles worth far more than the used vehicles STEVENS provided in exchange; other household goods, such as furniture, a new, permanently- attached professional Viking gas grill, and a new multi-drawer, stationary tool storage cabinet with new tools. The aggregate value of these things of value that STEVENS accepted was greater than $250,000.”

                The only item about which there was a serious debate (he agreed he got the stuff, but it was a “loan” or he didn’t want it) were the home improvements. Is this all tripe? If there is info out there that says these things were paid for, by St Ted the Innocent, please excuse my ignorance of the “criminal trial process”, stop throwing up, and tell me.
                BTW; my only agenda is accuracy in writing, although I have to admit a certain sense of envy: I wish somebody would give me a Viking gas grill.

                • bmaz says:

                  Listen, you duplicitous jackass, that indictment was exactly what the special prosecutor and court found to be absolutely bogus. Keep pushing and trolling that bunk here and I will bounce you now and forever. Buh bye.

                  • joel fisher says:

                    “Listen, you duplicitous jackass, that indictment was exactly what the special prosecutor and court found to be absolutely bogus.” Quite a charge.

                    While I am, from time to time, “a jackass” I must deny any duplicity. What you say does not appear in the Schuelke report. Here is Schuelke’s conclusion:

                    “We have found evidence of willful nondisclosure of Brady and Giglio material on three occasions76:
                    • Mr. Bottini and Mr. Goeke intentionally withheld and concealed significant exculpatory information which they obtained from Rocky Williams during pre-trial witness preparation interviews in August and September, 2008;
                    • Mr. Bottini and Mr. Goeke intentionally withheld and concealed significant impeachment information regarding Mr. Allen’s subornation of perjury by Ms. Tyree; and
                    • Mr. Bottini withheld significant impeachment information by his intentional failure to correct materially false testimony given by Mr. Allen during his cross-examination, which Mr. Bottini knew at the time was false.
                    Were there a clear, specific and unequivocal order of the Court which commanded the disclosure of this information, we are satisfied that a criminal contempt prosecution would lie.77 We conclude, however, that the record demonstrates that Judge Sullivan admonished the Government to “follow the law” and did not issue a clear, specific and unequivocal order such that it would support a finding by a District Court, beyond a reasonable doubt, that 18 U.S.C. §401(3) had been violated.
                    It should go without saying that neither Judge Sullivan, nor any District Judge, should have to order the Government to comply with its constitutional obligations, let alone that he should feel compelled to craft such an order with a view toward a criminal contempt prosecution, anticipating its willful violation.
                    76Mr. Marsh passed away on Sept. 26, 2010, and, for that reason, we express no conclusion regarding his conduct.
                    77We find no evidence of willfulness with respect to any violation of Judge Sullivan’s several orders of October 2, 2008. While among the documentary evidence of Ms. Tyree’s statement was an unproduced FBI Form 302, she was not a Government trial witness, i.e., a “witness in this case.”

                    Case 1:09-mc-00198-EGS Document 84 Filed 03/15/12 Page 525 of 525
                    In the circumstances here described and measured against the standard established by the Principles of Federal Prosecution, USAM 9-27.220, we do not believe that a criminal contempt prosecution under 18 U.S.C. §401(3) should be initiated against any of the subject government attorneys.78

                    Cause for dismissing the charges against Stevens? For sure, but not a demonstration of his innocence.
                    Ban me if you wish, but let me leave you with this thought: people like you have a responsibility to get the first draft of history written accurately. Sometimes that might require an exchange of views. Can you honestly say your comments to me reveal yourself to be open to that exchange?

                    • P J Evans says:

                      Can you at least use the same name each time you drop something here? (Your browser should be able to remember that stuff. But you have to do some work to help it.)

                    • bmaz says:

                      Hi there. No, you are still being a duplicitous jackass. And now doing so from multiple handles, a sure fire sign of a troll. Why don’t you post from a discernible address? Why do you keep flitting about as to your ID? And, yes, I can quite easily say I have been open and honest with you. I can also say you have been disingenuous, if not duplicitous, in your posting. Any more questions?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Gross failures of due process, like serious prosecutorial misconduct, allow the crooks to go free. That’s the problem.

      If Stevens was corrupt, his abusive prosecution allowed him to escape liability for it. If that was by design, it’s the sort of move a corrupt DoJ would make to get ahead of the curve, in the belief the exposure of the corruption was inevitable.

      Trump, on the other hand, wants to move beyond corrupt process. He wants to corrupt the DOJ – and the FBI – entirely. Trump’s aim seems limited: to use it against his enemies, while maintaining an appearance of disinterested justice. Organized crime, large corporate malefactors, and Putin, however, would love it for systemic reasons: it would make it easier to strip mine profits without liability for damages caused.

      The GOP seems determined never to call out Trump, presumably because it finds the prospect of so much corruption enticing. The Dems seem fearful of doing their jobs. So, Given his aims, Trump’s calculus – or whoever is behind him in this in attempting to make errant whim policy – seems correct.

      • bmaz says:

        Stevens was never my favorite guy, or legislator, and that is putting it mildly. And, sure, the “tubes” comment was totally laughable. But the prosecution of him never looked right to me. Maybe I am just a cynic, I don’t know. And, it was, unsurprisingly, not it turned out in the end.

        Do I think the Obama Administration, and Holder DOJ, just malignantly put their thumbs on the Justice Department? No. Not in the least.

        First off, it started under Bush, even if the bulk occurred under Obama. Secondly, it has always appeared to me that it was the result of multiple line guys figuring they could bulk up their resumes, and that the Administration at the time would not care.

        Turns out that they DID care. And, so, again, there exactly is the break with what is going on in the instant moment.

        • holdingsteady says:

          Thanks for this post – since I live in Alaska, it brings back memories of the corruption of Alaska state legislators who were being bribed by Bill Allen of VECO (oil services company) that was successfully prosecuted just prior to (leading to, I think) Stevens’ indictment.

          I remembered that one of Stevens’ prosecutors committed suicide, and I ran across this that I thought might be of interest to the conversation:


          In the article, Jeffrey Toobin focuses on federal Prosecutor Marsh who led those bribery prosecutions of Alaska lawmakers and Marsh later committed suicide over the Ted Stevens case. It’s very sad. I wish liar Bill Allen, formerly of VECO, had gotten more than 3 years in prison.

          The airplane crash, very tragic also. Because I worked for GCI (telecom company whose plane it was), I had met some who died in that crash, so sad.

          • bmaz says:

            Yes, the Toobin piece is a great link, and I remember it. It is a weird story. I never particularly was a fan of Ted Stevens, but what was done to him was quite wrong. And you are right about Allen and VECO. Sorry about the loss of colleagues in the plane crash.

  4. somecallmetim says:

    As a flag waving partisan, I confess my ignorance about Sen. Stevens’s comments and more detailed history of his mistreatment. As the spark for Rayne’s Lol, I withdraw my earlier comment.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Trump administration in microcosm:

    Senior HUD official Lynne Patton “honestly” doesn’t care anymore if she’s breaking federal laws (the Hatch Act). Repeatedly. She thinks that criticizing “lazy internet parrots” and “liberal snowflakes” on twtr is a get-ouf-of-jail-free card. Just like Trump.


    • Anvil Leucippus says:

      Gross. Like when one argues that it isn’t libel, or a threat, because we are all just part of the “civil discourse” of Twitter.

      Empathy on the internet is sorely lacking.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    A major debate followed the First World War: to commemorate the war dead with objects of granite, marble, copper, and bronze, or by making the world they left behind a better place for everybody. I prefer the latter. One small way is to make policy reflect that this is wrong – from the gravestone of a gay Vietnam Vet:

    When I Was in the Military
    They Gave Me a Medal for Killing Two Men
    And A Discharge for Loving One

  7. BobCon says:

    A big issue was (and is) Congressional weakness on ethical controls. I think there is a reasonable argument that Stevens’s actions should have been dealt with through Senate ethics policies instead of by law enforcement, but Congress has done a relly bad job of figuring out how to handle independent ethics investigations.

    They really need better policies and separate nonpartisan investigative offices for the House and Senate, but the GOP is opposed to an independent CBO at this point, It’s impossible to see them buying in to an independent ethics office.

  8. Eureka says:

    Thanks for dose of Tubes and justice lessons, bmaz. This whole discussion/your old posts are jogging my memory, I had mostly forgotten all this.

  9. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Ted Stevens was unredeemable, but as a Good Ol’ Boy, he was aware that boundaries exist.
    But Trump and Barr have no boundaries whatsoever.

  10. LeeNLP says:

    Thanks for this lesson in law, justice and recent history, Bmaz et al. I am not only NAL, but such a NAL, that this is all new to me. I am like a child listening to things I never before considered.

    Brave new world for me.

  11. CJ says:

    Howdy, bmaz — long time reader, occasional commenter (see e.g. https://www.emptywheel.net/2018/11/28/did-jerome-corsi-or-roger-stone-get-podesta-emails-from-guccifer-2-0/ and https://www.emptywheel.net/2017/11/23/does-the-fusion-ledger-explain-why-theyve-pled-the-fifth/).

    I think you may have overinterpreted my comment a bit — I’m not dunking on Stevens at all: it is legitimately a reasonable analogy, though not without its limits (as is true for all good analogies!). That said, I’m not convinced he understood exactly how it’s reasonable, which is to be expected from someone who legitimately had other things to spend time on than the minutiae of networking architecture.


    • bmaz says:

      Fair enough, and cheers to you too! It wasn’t so much your comment as Blum’s tome that I took issue with. We all laughed at Stevens’ “tubes” comment. And Blum uses it as a foil for his entire book it appears. In some regard, he actually kind of bucks up Stevens I suppose. I guess my real issue is that “that” is still what people think of when they think of Ted Stevens. I think of a crusty old legislator who did some bad legislation, but was truly a champion for his state. And I think of a man who died before getting the benefit of knowing what a truly malignant prosecution had done to end his career. As a criminal defense lawyer, the latter really sticks, to this day, with me.

      Probably only a masochist would want to do this, but the Hank Schuelke report is fascinating reading. If you are interested, it is here (with the critical and damning takeaways in the blog post. And here is an overarching post on what occurred. Note that people have made note of how long the Mueller Report is, but the Schuelke report on the Stevens prosecution is a full fifty pages longer than Mueller’s. Also, note the judge who ordered the independent investigation and report by Hank Schuelke on Stevens – it was Emmet Sullivan, who is still giving them hell and is the critical judge in the Michael Flynn criminal prosecution you have been hearing about, and reading about, here.

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Thanks for the informative read, bmaz and commenters. If only it could be arranged for DT and Barr to take a ride through Elon Musk’s hyperloop tube, then on to the center of the Earth. After all, they both think they are the center of the world.

  12. Alaska reader says:

    First time poster, long time reader.

    I get that there was misconduct in prosecuting Stevens.

    But no one I know can explain away the tapes of Stevens and Allen discussing the consequences of their actions and saying, in effect, what’s the worst that can happen, some jail time.

    Many Alaskans, myself included, aren’t on the fence about who was or wasn’t corrupt.

    Prosecutorial misconduct notwithstanding, Stevens wasn’t innocent. He admitted his guilt.

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