Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Friday, July 25, 2003
WARNING: The Following Entry Contains Journalistic Navel-Gazing Doesn't it seem odd that Lloyd Grove's farewell column as The Washington Post's "Reliable Source" gossip columnist would carry a tagline to share credit with another writer? Grove says the column contains "some memorable moments of a gossip." True, he doesn't say which gossip -- I just assumed they were his own memories...

So many stories, so little time I want to get a bunch of litle references up here, and maybe come back to them later.

Are Means More Important Than Ends? The San Francisco Chronicle's story on the California recall and potential replacement candidates for the current governor has this tidbit that seems to illustrate why the Democrats are willing to play this huge game of chicken with the electorate:

"I don't believe there's going to be a prominent Democrat on the ballot," said Davis pollster Paul Maslin. "There's mutually assured destruction here. The worst of all worlds would be if we end up with a semi-candidate, a tier- two person. Then we're assuring the worst outcome of all: that the recall passes."
Some would argue that the "worst outcome of all" would be a successful recall and the election of a right-wing-nut candidate like Rep. Issa, but as in Florida, there is a strain of thinking in the Democratic Party that clings to the idea that the process is more important.

What Liberal Media? (cont'd) The allegedly liberal NY Times this morning announced that it will be adding Weekly Standard co-founder David Brooks to its op-ed page. He's a former writer and editor on the laughably conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page.

His latest contribution to the Times was this piece in the magazine on June 29th, in which he suggested that the paradigm of American business success in this deacde would come to be represented by

all the sometimes homely but invariably dreamy pushers who are what American striving is really all about.

A nice thought -- too bad he never took the additional step of thinking about all of the obstacles to those "grinders'" success that have been erected in the past few years of Republican domination in Washington. He uses Abraham Lincoln's law career as his model, describing him as "the guy who traveled relentlessly around the legal circuit handling cases big and small, the guy who, when he made some money, added a second floor to his house so his family could have more space, the guy whose ambition, as his law partner famously said, knew no rest." Too bad that today, the self-employed entrepreneur is far more likely to use any windfalls to pay health insurance bills than add a second floor...

Feets Don't Fail Us Now It takes a lot of fancy footwork for the Times' editorial page to dismiss as irrelevant the Congressional vote to override the FCC's move to loosen media-concentration rules -- and to simultaneously insist that it believes in diversity of ownership. Yet, they try here.

The irrelevancy argument sents up a neat conceit in which the Times indicates that it would be no big deal for Bush to uphold the FCC rules by vetoing the legislation (after all, if the rule change is irrelevant, why bother changing it?), without actually calling for a veto. Meanwhile, notably absent from the piece is any discussion about how the changes could impact the paper's parent company.

One point of their argument is true -- while opponents of the FCC rule have claimed that consolidating ownership of TV stations would strip local communities of the opportunity to make sure that their broadcasts are in line with the prevailing mores of their communities, most of the "independent" stations are not truly "local voices," but are actually arms of mid-sized media conglomerates -- including the Times' parent company itself.

But that doesn't mean that the effort is pointless. Some media conglomerates -- OK, Rupert Murdoch's Fox -- have not been shy about applying a driving, partisan voice to all of the news shows airing on all of their outlets. Limits on the number of stations a network can own at least insure that there will be the opportunities for distinctions in the voice of local programming and the network feeds.

The Times goes on to encourage the FCC opponents to open a new front -- improving programmers' access to cable systems:

If Congress has a genuine interest in keeping a tiny number of corporations from controlling most of TV's content, it should establish limits on the amount of programming controlled by the cable giants and tighten rules that bar the distributors from discriminating against their competitors' products.

Not an awful idea, either, but the self-interest of the paper's parent company on both of these issues should be disclosed. The Times owns eight network-affiliated stations, and can expect nicely-priced offers to buy them if the rules on the networks' ownership of individual stations are eased. On the cable side, the Times recently launched the "Discovery Times" channel, which is exactly the type of "product" that could be subject to discrimination by cable operators.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Everything You Know Is Wrong This story challenges the conventional wisdom (repeated wholeheartedly) that all is chaos in Baghdad. Would a country in chaos have brand-new cell-phone service?

Not only that, but the networks that have apparently been installed operate on the European GSM system, described as a "blow to U.S. firms hoping to build a wireless network in Iraq based on the CDMA (code division multiple access) standard developed by California-based Qualcomm Inc."

Using the GSM standard makes a ton of sense -- it would allow Iraqi cell phones to be used elsewhere in the Gulf region -- but it also runs counter to the belief that the US occupation would put US business interests first.

'Tis interesting. Now, if the deaths of Saddam's sons lead to a splintering of the resistance and fewer attacks on US soldiers, we'll really have to re-write the conventional wisdom!

Why it Matters David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, and a Democrat who backed action in Iraq. does an excellent job of explaining why it's necessary to find out how Bush came to include the flimsy claim about Saddam's hunt for African Uranium in his State of the Union speech.

He captures perfectly the internal wrestling many Americans faced in trying to decide whether this war was justified:

In reality, the arguments about Iraq were so complex, and so filled with competing and legitimate claims, that some of us, no matter where we came out, were divided within ourselves.

He goes on to explain that because there were so many issues, the Bush administration's argument has to be taken in its totality. These were the legs:
In the end, the President made a case for war based broadly on three components: the nature and history of the Iraqi regime; the security of the United States; and the idea that a liberated Iraq would have a transformative effect on the region.

Point one was always the strongest point, and post-war revelations of mass graves and other atrocities have only made it stronger. But would it alone have prompted action? Remnick says it would have for him -- he draws a link to the successful Kosovo intervention, which was undertaken on basically the same terms, and the shame he felt from our nation's failure to act in Bosnia and Rwanda.

But the Bush administration wasn't convinced that a majority of the country shared Remnick's outlook -- and, given Bush's dismissals of Clinton's Kosovo policy in the 2000 debates, sure as hell didn't want to use that engagement as a template for Iraq -- so it added the other claims.

He points out that claim three was questionable then and remains so now. In his new stump speech, Bush is reportedly defending the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by saying:

Fifty million people in those two countries once lived under tyranny, today they live in freedom.

Today they live in chaos might be more like it.

That leaves the second claim: Removing Saddam was crucial to the security of the United States. This was the point being supported by all of the claims about Weapons of Mass Destruction and links to al Qaeda. This was the point that generated the sense of urgency -- that helped convince the American people that we needed to act on our own, and fast! But as Remnick writes:

Yet, since the regime’s fall in April, scant evidence has been revealed of a threat so serious as to have justified, in itself, a rush to war.

Even if the hopes for a Democratized Iraq becoming a beacon to the region come true, Remnick concludes that we need answers about the truthfulness of our leaders -- because our democratic government has a hard time functioning when its credibility is at risk.
It’s impossible to be indifferent to the prospect that intelligence has been manipulated, forged, or bullied into shape. Government cynicism—in Vietnam, in the Iran-Contra affair, in the tacit indulgence of Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in 1988 and his slaughter of the Shiites in 1991—inevitably cripples the country’s ability to cope with future crises.

Monday, July 21, 2003
Only Saddamites Ask Questions The Times' William Safire joins the crowd of Bush administration defenders who are trying to deflect legitimate questions about the truthfulness of the President by declaring that:
By insisting that Bush deliberately lied about his reasons for pre-emption, and gave no thought to the cost of occupation, critics would erode his poll support and encourage political opponents — eager to portray victory as defeat —to put forward a leave-Iraq-to-the-Iraqis candidate.

Safire implies that journalists who raise questions about Bush's credibility are unwitting tools of Saddam Hussein, who he alleges is masterminding a guerilla war to weaken American resolve and win a war of attrition.

I won't argue with the portrayal of Saddam's hopes. But Safire's answer -- dropping all objections and voicing unadulterated support for Bush, regardless of the number of American casualties -- is very unsatisfactory. People concerned about our troop losses are counseled to:

"put sacrifice in perspective ... The purpose of our armed forces is to protect us and that's the costly mission our volunteers carry out every day."

I'd take a larger perspective -- the purpose of our civilian military leadership is to make sure those brave men and women are deployed judiciously, so that their sacrifices are limited and their missions can be accomplished as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there's a lot of evidence that this administration is failing to fulfill its purpose. The administration won't devote enough troops to get the job done, either because it worries that spending more money will increase calls for rolling back the tax cuts, or because it wants to hold them in reserve for future expeditions in Syria or Iran. Either way, it's a betrayal of the brave men, women, and families who've paid a horrible price for this war.

Few will deny that the world is indisputably safer with the overthrow of a proven mass murderer and financier of suicide bombers.

Again, the issue isn't whether we're safer -- given what we've learned since Sept. 11th, we'd better be. The question that needs to be asked is how much safer are we? Have we devoted our limited military resources and depleted our limited reservoir of international goodwill on defanging the gravest threats.
And, most importantly: If a different leader had made different choices -- pursuing a truly humble foreign policy to build an international coalition against terrorism (like the one assembled by the President's father to fight Saddam in 1991) -- could we be safer still?
This above all: to end guerrilla war in Iraq, find Saddam Hussein and his ghostly crew. Those he terrorized must be assured the tyrant will never come back.

Can't argue with this one. I'd throw Osama in there, too -- the New Yorkers he terrorized must be assured the killer will never strike again. I'd also point out that no one on any side of the political argument is advocating any steps that would hamper those searches.

Is Liberia a 'Vital National Interest?' It is, if you believe protecting American lives is vital. While the Bush administration has displayed its still-questionable diplomacy skills in a slow negotiation for a multilateral peacekeeping force in the African nation, the fighting in the capital of Monrovia has continued -- and now it's gotten to our front door.