You've probably already read the latest Murray Waas scoop which reveals that Gonzales and the white house secretly delegated the hiring and firing function of the justice department political appointees to the little political oppo twins, Kyle and Monica. It's a fascinating tale.
But I have to point out one little passage that made me laugh out loud:
Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto said it was "unremarkable" that Sampson and Goodling would be involved in the hiring and firing of Justice Department officials.
"The job of a chief of staff is to work with the White House liaison to hire qualified people," he said. "That is fairly standard practice in any large Cabinet department or agency." Fratto added, "The White House has full authority in hiring and firing presidential appointees" and "can choose to delegate that authority. There is no need for written authority to exercise that power."
Asked why, if the process is routine, Gonzales issued the confidential order, Fratto responded, "I don't know why anyone would force the need to write such a memo." He referred further inquiries to the Justice Department.
It's a good question though. If Gonzales had to sign off anyway, why did he issue a confidential memo delegating "authority" to his underlings? The buck stops with the boss, right? If Gonzales wanted to change the rules and deny the senior staff the right to hire and fire their own staff then all he had to do was issue the first memo on February 7, 2006. When it was later determined that he couldn't keep his hands clean and just delegate the whole thing to Sampson and Goodling, why document their "authority" at all? Does he issue a memo saying that he's delegated the typing to his secretary but he signs off on all documents that he produces? It's weird.
I suppose the idea early on was to distance the important people from this dirty little operation. But once the lawyers said it was unconstitutional he should have just let stand the first memo giving him the total hiring and firing authority or ended the operation because it exposed him to charges of unethical political manipulation of the DOJ. Instead he went on a created a secret paper trail for no good reason. I don't get him --- can he possibly be as inept as he seems?
Atrios and Ann Friedman have been discussing the need for real stories about abortion and it reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago during the Schaivo circus and it seems like a good one to add to the mix today:
Matt Yglesias over on TAPPED makes a good point about the new parental notification law. It pretty much clears up any remaining notion that repealing Roe vs Wade will solve the abortion issue once and for all so we can put all that unpleasantness aside as various progressive states will do as their constituents require and everybody will live happily ever after.
Pro-lifers are driven by a very serious moral commitment to the idea that aborting pregnancies is a serious wrong. They're not going to be happy sitting idly by while Virginia women travel to Maryland or the District of Columbia to have abortions any more than they're happy with inter-state travel to avoid parental notification laws.
That is correct. I don't know how long it's going to take Democrats to understand that those who vote one way or the other on that issue alone cannot be finessed. We can try to sound sympathetic to the "ick" factor and whittle away at the rights of women over time until there is only the most bare right to abortion if the woman's life is threatened and it won't make a difference to those who believe it is a fundamental issue of morality. We have to fight this one on the merits.
This reminds me of an interesting article by Paul Rogat Loeb in USA Today from a while back in which he writes that one of our problems with abortion is that we have not told personal stories:
Even if you've heard enough about Terri Schiavo, it seems useful to consider why President Bush's political grandstanding in her case backfired. More than 70% of Americans, including solid majorities of self-described evangelicals, opposed the intervention of the White House and Congress. Those surveyed mistrusted the Bush administration's disregard for local control, the rule of law and the right to be protected from a capricious federal government.
Their responses also speak to a broader shift in how we deal with difficult end-of-life issues. For 20 years, gradually increasing majorities have agreed that for all our technological inventiveness, what some people need most is the right to die in peace. You'd think this belief — that the most difficult decisions must be our own — would also raise support for maintaining the right to abortion. But it hasn't. In the 30 years since Roe v. Wade, support for keeping abortion legal has stayed even, at most, and new onerous restrictions keep getting imposed.
The difference comes, I suspect, from the stories we tell, and those we keep hidden. Many families have wrestled with end-of-life choices. But they're brought on by the illness and aging of loved ones, not by our own actions. No one judges us for having a sick parent as they might for our sexuality. So we're likely to talk in public about such choices.
But most women don't publicly discuss their abortions. Although a third of all U.S. women have abortions by age 45, they're more likely to view the dilemma as a product of their own failures — to use adequate birth control or to have the financial or emotional resources to afford another child. They're more likely to feel shame.
When the movement to legalize abortion began, advocates talked about the human costs of prohibition. They told the complex stories of why women would choose to value their own lives, choices and possibilities over the potential life of the fetus. They framed abortion as an act of compassion. We see this in the recent film, Vera Drake. Its working-class protagonist in postwar England views her actions "helping young girls in trouble" as part of the same ethic of caring as looking after her aged mother. Pro-choice activists eventually told their stories powerfully enough to convince America that its abortion policies had to change.
Since Roe, these voices have been neutralized by those speaking for the humanity of the fetus. Some oppose abortion from compassion and conviction. The motive of others, who also campaign against sex education, access to birth control and financial support for poor families, seems more like punitive vindictiveness. As the stories of the women involved faded, the reasons why women have always made this difficult choice, and will keep doing so, got told far less often.
Schiavo was a soap opera that everyone could understand in narrative terms. And most people underestood that it was a complicated story in which all of the characters were drawn in various shades of heroism, love, selfishness and grief. The discussions around the Easter table in many homes, I suspect, were characterized with sighs and stories of "remember your Aunt Millie's first husband Bill back in Baltimore? She had to pull the plug and her son wasn't happy about it at all" kind of dialog. "Morality" was probably not the frame in which this topic was overtly discussed because the morality of the issue was so complicated.
Abortion, I think, has always been difficult to talk about because it had to do with sex --- and therefore, in some people's minds, sin. But I do remember back in the day that one of the things that made abortion finally come out of the closet was the willingness of people to talk about the issue. The stories were of the horrors of the back alley abortions they endured and the complexity of circumstances that led them there. For instance, here's just one example from Gloria Feldt's book "Behind Every Choice is A Story" of a complicated situation and the horrible way the women was forced to deal with it:
In 1970 I had a back-street abortion. I had a young daughter of 18 months at home and was separated from an abusive husband. When I found out I was pregnant with another child right after finally having the courage to leave an abusive man, I cried and cried. This was before abortion was legal. I told a close friend who said she knew of a doctor who performed these abortions.
I went to his clinic, which was dirty and sleazy underneath an underpass in Metairie, Louisiana. I was treated as a criminal and so were all the other women in the room. You had to give $150 in cash before they would even speak to you. I was led to a back room where there was no caring or anesthetic to be found. It was very painful and I threw up immediately and kept throwing up for over an hour after the procedure. My girlfriend who went with me was worried as I did not come out right away as others had. She inquired about me and was led to the back room where she saw that I was in pain and throwing up. She held my hand and got a washcloth to wash my face and help me. She asked the nurse if there wasn't something wrong and she replied "this is how some of them get." My girlfriend was horrified at the coldness and uncaring atmosphere of the place. We left sometime after and she drove me home and called a friend who was an intern at the time. He came to the house and prescribed some antibiotics and pain medication. He was very kind.
This ABC News poll says that 81% of the public believe that abortion should be available to rape and incest victims. That is not an absolutist "culture of life" position. However, 57% of the public believe that abortion should be illegal if the reason is to end an unwanted pregnancy. The question, of course, is what does "unwanted" mean and who decides? If you were to tell that personal story, a woman with a toddler already and an abusive husband she is trying desperately to leave, would 57% agree that this particular unwanted pregnancy should be dealt with in that horrible back alley situation? Should she have been forced to have this child under those circumstances? I doubt it.
Certainly, a fair number would say "tough" --- that women should have to carry the preganacy to term and give it up for adoption. But suppose that meant that the abusive father would have the right to take full custody? And, after all, how easy is it to give the sister or brother of your two year old up for adoption? And what about money or health care or legal fees? People don't want to think about the practical, financial aspects of having a child under stressful stituation, but it is likely to be a primary concern of the person who is going to have to pay the price. I know that in the discussions I had about the Schiavo case, the issue of cost was somthing that came up in every single conversation. Who pays and where will the money come from are things that real people talk about when they deal with these issues.
I understand the impulse of those who say "I'm not sorry" as a way of expressing their right to dominion over their own bodies. As a knee jerk civil libertarian, I am very sympathetic to a straight forward expression of individual rights. But from a political point of view, it makes far more sense to present this issue as one of complicated morality which individuals see differently in different circumstances and which politicians are much too craven and self-interested to intervene.
There are probably cases in which large numbers of people would see abortion as repugnant on some level. But there are many, many cases that would evoke the dinner table conversations that happened around the Schivo case if people knew the stories. 16 year old girls who made mistakes and 34 year old struggling mothers of two whose birth control failed and women who have no money and low paying jobs and medical students with a mountain of debt and a year to go. These stories may or may not meet every single person's criteria of what constitutes a "good reason" for having an abortion. But every single one of those women might very well decide that the circumstances are so dire for them that they will take their chances with a back alley abortion if a legal one is unavailable. That is the stark, dramatic choice that this country faces in this debate. And as Matt says, don't count on being able to just drive to California or Canada (even if you can come up with the money) because repealing Roe vs Wade will not be the end of it. They will not stop until it is outlawed nationally.
It is important to introduce back into the dialog the fact that this is not an abstract moral issue, but a multi-dimensional, intensely human dilemma. When people understand things in those terms they are far more likely to want the government to step back than step in. It seems they know instinctively that the blunt instrument of government in the hands of moral absolutists is a bad idea.
Update: And yes, it would have been very helpful if people knew the horrible situations in which some of these young girls affected by the new parental notification laws find themselves. Parental notification laws do not hurt the healthy families that just want to help their girls make a good decision. Those kinds of families can deal with complexity and have probably built up a lot of trust over the years. These laws hurt the girls whose families are cruel, violent and authoritarian. Many adult women have had their lives ruined because they were forced to bear the burden of their parents' obsessive religious or political zealotry.
Update II: Friedman points out that the pro-choice movement has been publicizing these stories, but they don't seem to be able to penetrate the mainstream media.
This fine open letter protesting Tenet's recent book implicitly makes an important point about redemption and forgiveness. You earn it, you don't cash in on it. And you do so not merely by writing a self-serving book that cashes in on the present (well-deserved) disgust with the Bush administration's bloody and totally immoral war, but you take the symbolic action of returning the medal you received from your fellow scoundrels and you also take the very real action of refusing to profit from your cowardice and culpability. In short, Tenet needs to behave like a truly honorable human being instead of a Bush-league hustler.
Whether or not this moral dwarf ever redeems himself isn't that important, however. More to the point is that we shouldn't waste any more time listening to him. That has been one of the major problems of the US in the 21st Century. Both the national government and the public political discourse have been dominated by people who are so utterly worthless they make one appreciate Paris Hilton all the more for the qualities of her incisive mind.
It's high time that those who were right all along about Iraq have a significant national voice. The country should be listening to - ie, the networks should be running numerous interviews with - Brady Kiesling, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, and many, many others. And no one should be bothering to pay attention any further to the likes of Peter Beinart, Kenneth Pollack, George Tenet, Francis Fukuyama, Willaim Kristol, Rich Lowry, George Will, David Brooks, Tom Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, and Michael Ledeen. Whether or not they now recognize they were wrong, the fact is that they were when it counted most. Time to listen to those who got it right from the start.
The principal of Gig Harbor High School said Thursday that a school official should not have shown the parents of a student the video-surveillance footage of the girl kissing another girl in the cafeteria. And he vowed that such an incident wouldn't happen again.
But Principal Greg Schellenberg said an investigation has found that no rules or policies were broken.
"It wasn't a violation of policy and procedure ... but we all agree it was not a good use of surveillance," Schellenberg said. "It was an abnormal use of our equipment and it won't happen again. This is not a Big Brother institution."
Even so, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said the group plans to look into the matter.
"I have a hard time believing this incident would've been handled the same way if it was a heterosexual couple," said spokesman Doug Honig.
Earlier this year, Schellenberg said, the parents of the sophomore girl asked the school's dean of students, Keith Nelson, to alert them if school officials noticed their daughter engaged in any "unusual behavior."
Then in early February, a video camera in the cafeteria recorded a kiss between the sophomore and a senior girl, Schellenberg said.
Nelson showed the video to the sophomore's parents, who then transferred her to a school outside the Peninsula School District, Schellenberg said.
Schellenberg granted that Nelson could have simply told the girl's parents what had happened without showing them the video. But he said that the school would have handled it the same way had she been kissing a boy.
Well that's a relief.
When did they start putting teen-agers under constant video surveillance in high schools? Or maybe I should ask when America the free decided that East Germany and the Soviet Union weren't all bad?
Somehow I can't help but think it isn't a coincidence that all this stuff started happening when the anti-communist freedom loving conservatives became dominant in our culture.
I know others have pointed out that Randall Tobias, the "abstinence makes the heart grow fonder" AIDS czar is a screaming hypocrite for his extra-marital "massages," but I'm still gobsmacked by this particular item:
On Thursday, Tobias told ABC News he had several times called the "Pamela Martin and Associates" escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." Tobias, who is married, said there had been "no sex," and that recently he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages.
Here was Tobias on PBS some time back explaining his approach to globally combatting AIDS:
Well, the heart of our prevention programs is what's known as ABC: abstinence, be faithful, and the correct and consistent use of condoms when appropriate. This is not an American invention; this is something that President [Yoweri] Museveni in Uganda figured out over time when he recognized that there was an enormous problem in Uganda.
And it's also not "ABC: Take your pick." It's abstinence really focused heavily on young people and getting them to understand that the best way to keep from getting infected is to be abstinent and not engage in sexual activity until they are old enough and mature enough and get into a committed relationship, such as a marriage. B is being faithful within that committed relationship. And A and B, those two things together clearly had a huge impact in bringing the infection rates down in Uganda.
C recognizes the fact that there are individuals in high-risk circumstances who either by choice or by coercion are going to find themselves unable to follow A and B, and therefore they need to have access to condoms, and they need to understand the correct and consistent use of condoms. I think more and more of the experts, the people who really understand the prevention requirements with HIV/AIDS, have come to endorse ABC in a very balanced way as the appropriate prevention centerpiece.
Ok. This approach has had some success in Uganda and maybe it could have some success elsewhere. But we know that cultural factors play a very strong role in AIDS prevention, as Tobias acknowledged:
But I would also add that as important as ABC is, the fact is that this is a disease where 50 percent of the people infected in the world are women. When I cite those numbers to people here in the United States, I find most people are astonished. They just have no idea about that. In some countries in Africa, it's well above 50 percent that are women and girls.
In many cases this is driven by cultural factors, where young girls are having sex with older men and [are] coerced to do that, where women aren't regarded as equal citizens with men. So there are lots of things that need to be done addressing those kinds of cultural issues also.
From what we hear, the main prostitution ring may have been made up of skilled and educated women who chose to be call girls for a variety of their own reasons. This is none of my business and if politicans and others have not been out there preaching sexual morality on Fridays and getting happy endings on Saturday then I don't see that it's anybody elses business either.
Exploiting illegal immigrants or poor women is another thing altogether. Indeed, it is, as Tobias himself said, a matter of coercion and if he had anything to do with something like that he should be in much deeper trouble than just patronizing a call girl agency for a little extra-curricular massage. It's possible, of course, that this Central American "service" is also made up of young professional women who are making some extra cash on the side, in which case I make no judgment beyond his rank, laughable hypocrisy on the faithfulness and abstinence issue. But let's just say I'm skeptical. That "cultural issue" he talks about is pretty universal, but you would expect that the man who has been all over the globe and seen the results of such exploitation would have been cured of his taste for third world masseuses.
Tenet, as mentioned earlier, would have better served his country (and his reputation) by speaking up more promptly about the Bush Administration’s failure ever to have a “serious debate” about whether it was worth invading Iraq.
But his failing was telling the truth too late — not sticking to, well, a lie like the one Bartlett uttered yesterday (according to the AP) as part of the White House’s attempt to rebut Tenet:
“This president weighed all the various proposals, weighed all the various consequences before he did make a decision.”
I say plainly: that is a lie. To be precise about it, no account of the Administration’s deliberations, by anyone other than Bartlett just now, offers even the slightest evidence that this claim is true. Innumberable accounts offer ample evidence that it is false. I have asked this direct question to many interviewees who were in a position to know: was there ever such a meeting or discussion? The answer was always, No.
Actually, that's not precisely true. It has been documented that Bush sought advice from some people:
According to "Plan of Attack," Bush asked Rice and his longtime communications adviser, Karen Hughes, whether he should attack Iraq, but he did not specifically ask Powell or Rumsfeld. "I could tell what they thought," the president said. "I didn't need to ask their opinion about Saddam Hussein or how to deal with Saddam Hussein. If you were sitting where I sit, you could be pretty clear."
And then there was the Big Kahuna:
Bush said he did not remember asking the question of his father, former president George H.W. Bush, who fought Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War..."You know he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to," Bush said.
So it's not really fair to claim that the president had just made up his mind without input or consideration --- he consulted with Condi, Karen and God. He just didn't weigh the options and consequences with his secretary of defense, State, the military or any experts. Let's not be unfair here.
Here's a new one: evolution is an ancient Jewish conspiracy:
The second most powerful member of the Texas House has circulated a Georgia lawmaker's call for a broad assault on teaching of evolution.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, used House operations Tuesday to deliver a memo from Georgia state Rep. Ben Bridges.
The memo assails what it calls "the evolution monopoly in the schools."
Mr. Bridges' memo claims that teaching evolution amounts to indoctrinating students in an ancient Jewish sect's beliefs.
"Indisputable evidence – long hidden but now available to everyone – demonstrates conclusively that so-called 'secular evolution science' is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion," writes Mr. Bridges, a Republican from Cleveland, Ga. He has argued against teaching of evolution in Georgia schools for several years.
He then refers to a Web site, www.fixedearth.com, that contains a model bill for state Legislatures to pass to attack instruction on evolution as an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
Mr. Bridges also supplies a link to a document that describes scientists Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein as "Kabbalists" and laments "Hollywood's unrelenting role in flooding the movie theaters with explicit or implicit endorsement of evolutionism."
Ok, so this guy's just a lunatic crank, right? Anyone who believes this anti-semitic drivel thankfully doesn't have any real effect of people's lives. Oh wait:
In the world of family-planning and reproductive rights, it's been business as usual at the 80th Legislature: The agenda is schizophrenic and often steeped in hypocrisy...Consider the perennial quest to define "life" as the magical moment at which sperm meets egg. This year, that definition has found its way into House Bill 175, the so-called "trigger bill" filed by Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, which would ban all abortion in Texas (unless the mother would otherwise die), if the U.S. Supreme Court ever decides to reverse Roe v. Wade.
The point of the bill, says Kathi Seay, spokeswoman for Rep. Frank "the Fetus" Corte, is to demonstrate that Texans are committed to upholding the sanctity of life. (Chisum agreed to carry the bill, but Corte's office is fielding all questions about it.) While Chisum, Corte, and similar-minded lawmakers champion the rights owed the unborn, they nonetheless fail to support the kinds of programs and policies – like the Children's Health Insurance Program – that might better demonstrate real concern for the living.
There's a good reason for that:
To hear Seay tell it, HB 175 does reflect real compassion: "Now, access to health care is a fine thing," she says, but "the point is, how a society treats life really matters and spills out into other issues." Some might think that unplanned pregnancies leading to unwanted children might correlate to the relative incidence of child abuse; Seay counters that abortion "devalues" life, which is what truly leads to child abuse and other social ills. Before Roe, none of our current social problems existed – end abortion, she says, and those problems will disappear.
So elected officials in Texas believe that that evolution was invented by the Pharisees and child abuse is caused by abortion. They have a very big agenda:
The session droned on until after 4am, dominated by a stream of middle-aged women determined to share tales of abortions past and the consequent turmoil in their lives. Rhonda Arias, founder of something called the Oil of Joy for Mourning, argued that many women in Texas prisons trace the source of their problems to abortion. (Arias played a video for the committee wherein one woman averred that abortion turned her into a "crackhead whore.") Abortion usually results in substance-abuse problems and, therefore, Arias concluded, actually leads to an "increased risk of becoming involved in auto accidents." Much of the evening was devoted to more of the same.
Yes, these people are cranks. But a majority of the Supreme Court basically agreed with them --- especially the Justice whom most people in the country inexplicably believe will honor precedent and vote with the four more liberal justices to uphold Roe. I don't know why they think that. Kennedy adopted the framework of the looniest, most sexist argument out there as justification for his opinion --- that women can't be allowed to make a decision they might later regret. It is only a matter of time before they are able to entrench the next step in that thinking --- that women who have abortions are a danger to society. They are, after all, out of their minds.
The forced childbirth movement quite wisely adopted this logic back in the 90's knowing that the stereotype of the hysterical woman who doesn't know her own mind would be convincing to an awful lot of very stupid people --- even a fair number of women. It convinced a majority of the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court buys this nonsense in 2007, it is not a stretch to think they'll believe that abortion causes car accidents in 2010 --- or that evolution is actually an ancient Jewish conspiracy in 2015. It's all part of the same braindead anti-intellectual streak that has gained currency in this country over the last few years --- from the Texas State legislature to the highest court in the land.
Now that the Bush administration has temporarily embarrassed the Republicans on the national stage, look for the states to become their primary "laboratory." And the state legislatures are filled with rightwingnuts who believe things like the above. They may not have many overt allies among national legislators at the moment, but they seem to have some close friends among the youngest members of the Supreme Court.
Here is an interesting in-depth article about the entirely made up "Post-Abortion Syndrome" from a January 2007 NY Times magazine which features the woman mentioned in the article above, Rhonda Arias. It reports on all the medical and psychological data which shows that this concept is bunk and it interviews members of the movement in depth:
On a rainy morning in November, a dozen women gathered a block from the Supreme Court, at a row house owned by the Gospel of Life Ministries, an anti-abortion group. The women planned to spend the day rallying on the steps of the court while the justices heard a challenge to the federal partial-birth-abortion ban. ..At the courthouse, the women unfurled banners and signs that read, “I Regret My Abortion” and lined up to hold them. A giant picture of a bloody fetus floated above the crowd. Behind Forney’s group, two dozen people in NOW and Naral T-shirts chanted: “Right to life, that’s a lie. You don’t care if women die,” and “You get pregnant, let me know. Anti-choicers got to go.” Forney eyed them. “All these years and they still haven’t figured out it would be wise to find common ground with women like us,” she said.
I asked her what she had in mind. She talked about making abortion “unthinkable” by making sure that women have better choices. At first this sounded like Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal and rare” formulation, or Hillary Clinton’s characterization of abortion as a “tragedy.” But along with promoting adoption, the reforms Forney and Morana described were Baby Moses laws, which make it easier not for women to avoid pregnancy in the first place or to take care of children to whom they give birth but to abandon newborns at places like fire stations and hospitals. [no trauma there, I guess. ed]
Forney and Morana compare abortion to smoking. “The suppression of truth about the harms of abortion is the same as the suppression of truth about the harms of cigarettes,” Morana said. Once the public understands the trauma of abortion, as they now do the health problems associated with cigarettes, then “changing the law will be an afterthought,” Forney predicted.
And this is why it is a terrible idea to try to make common cause with these people. They are liars and they are slightly insane. The dangers of smoking are scientifically valid. The dangers of "post-abortion syndrome" are not. When Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton call abortion a tragedy in order to make common cause with these people they are bringing the day closer when women will be crawling out of back alleys gushing blood again --- a process that truly does cause terrible trauma. The real kind.
You cannot allow anti-intellectual nonsense to dictate public policy, whether its anti-semitic drivel about evolution or made up statistics about "post-abortion syndrome." The very fact that they are lying and cheating and "strategizing" their allegedly moral appeal against the right to abortion should be clue enough that they do not have faith that they can convince people with an honest argument. I find this time and time again with the anti-choice crowd --- a disingenuousness that borders on psychopathy.
Everyone in the country should be very concerned about any group that lies for our own good, whether it's politicians in Washington lying about an unnecessary war, anti-choice activists who make up statistics to advance their cause or religious folks who claim they just want "all theories" taught in science class. It's all part of the same thing. They know they will not prevail if they tell the truth. That is fundamentally undemocratic --- and unamerican.
Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?
By Dennis Hartley
Picture if you will: Sometime in the near future (October of 2007 to be precise), President Bush makes a trip to Chicago for some speechifying and political schmoozing. As his motorcade nears the site of a scheduled luncheon, it runs into a gauntlet of agitated demonstrators. When the crowd suddenly and unexpectedly breaches the police line, all hell breaks loose; there is a moment where the President appears to be in actual physical danger before things get back under control. The President is whisked off to his luncheon, he makes his speech, and decides afterwards to “work the ropes” and shake hands with supporters for a few minutes before heading out (much to the chagrin of his Secret Service detail). Suddenly, gunfire erupts and the President crumples to the ground.
This is the audacious opening scenario of British writer-director Gabriel Range’s speculative political thriller Death of a President , now on DVD. While in its initial (and sparse) theatrical release, it invoked some amount of “controversy”; primarily knee-jerk reaction from those who assumed this was going to be some type of sick Bush-hating liberal snuff fantasy (a conclusion drawn, of course, before they had even screened it).
Setting politics aside (for a moment), the film itself turns out to be a somewhat tame (and at times downright tepid) affair, despite its sensationalistic premise. Range utilizes the docu-drama technique of blending archival news footage with mixed-media film stocks (a la “JFK”) to lend an air of authenticity to his milieu. Technically speaking, the opening sequences depicting the actual assassination event are quite effective and chillingly believable. The director apparently filmed an actual anti-Bush demonstration in the streets of Chicago, then for the sake of continuity invited some of the same “real” protestors to appear as extras in the “fake” motorcade scene (which invites comparisons to Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, in which actors were thrown into the midst of some of the actual 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention demonstrator/police skirmishes and told to improvise).
Unfortunately, by front-loading the relatively gripping assassination enactment and then descending into a much more static, History Channel-style blend of talking-head “recollections” and "dramatic re-enactments", Range shoots himself in the foot and removes any possibility of suspense or dramatic tension (don’t expect an edge of your seat thriller a la "The Day of the Jackal." There is a "whodunit" element, but things slow down to such a crawl that it feels anti-climatic when the real killer is revealed.
The most interesting aspects are the speculations about a post-assassination political climate. And yes, most of your dystopian nightmares about a Cheney-led administration are alluded to, including a particularly foreboding piece of “emergency” legislation entitled the “Patriot Act 3” (shudder!). There is also a treatise of sorts about the post-9/11 tendency in this country to make “rush to judgment” assumptions about people of color (this film would make an interesting double bill with The Road to Guantanamo.)
“Conspiracy-a-go-go” buffs might find this one worth a look; others may doze off.
PETER BEINART: I don't think that I presented myself as a Middle East expert per se. I was a political journalist. I was a-- a columnist writing about all kinds of things. Someone in my-- in my position is not a Middle East expert in the way that somebody who studies this at a university is, or even at a think tank. But I consumed that stuff.
I was relying on people who did that kind of reporting and people who had been in the government who had-- who had access to classified material for their assessment.
BILL MOYERS: And you would talk to them and they would, in effect, brief you, the background on what they knew?
PETER BEINART: Sometimes, but--
BILL MOYERS: I'm trying to help the audience understand. How does-- you described yourself as a political-- a reporter of political opinion, or a journalist--
PETER BEINART: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: --political opinion. How do you-- how do you get the information that enables you to reach the conclusion that you draw as a political journalist?
PETER BEINART: Well, I was doing mostly, for a large part it was reading, reading the statements and the things that people said. I was not a beat reporter. I was editing a magazine and writing a column. So I was not doing a lot of primary reporting. But what I was doing was a lot of reading of other people's reporting and reading of what officials were saying.
Can someone explain to me exactly how this is different from what most bloggers do? I realize we are all pathetically compromised DFH's of the highest order, but even so, there are many, many people in the world who can read, analyze and then write about their conclusions. Beinert is a clear writer, but not a great one, such as (gasp) Christopher Hitchins or Andrew Sullivan whose gifts for language might be a selling point even if they are wrong most of the time. All he really has going for him is his allegedly sharp analytical ability. And yet in the greatest test so far of his generation, he failed to see what many of us out in the country saw using exactly the same methods. We read everything (including, btw, Knight Ridder and Scott Ritter and Carnegie Institute for Peace and old PNAC manifestos) and concluded that Bush was following some bizarre middle eastern quest that had been pre-ordained by a bunch of nutty neocons for a variety of ridiculous reasons, none of which added up to a decent rationale for an Iraq invasion. When I read some anonymous source quoted in TIME magazine say that the administration was throwing reasons at the wall to see what stuck, I recognized that for the truth. The evidence certainly supported it. I assume that Beinert read most of the same things I did, probably more, and yet he backed the president and argued for war. The only difference I can see then between Beinert and me was that I was far away from the corridors of power and was making my conclusions based on nothing more than what my own eyes, ears and mind were telling me. He was living in the GOP establishment bubble and had lost the ability to see beyond it.
Although there are many great bloggers who live in DC and float around the periphery of the establishment, for the most part they are not part of the power structure and function either as ambassadors and liasons for the netroots movement or operate as activists rather than power brokers. Considering how decadent and self-serving the politico-media establishment has become over the past few years, this may be the single most important thing that bloggers bring to the table. Certainly, as it concerns punditry, that's the case.
I suppose it could also be argued that the DC pundits are just not as smart as the rest of us but I doubt it. They aren't stupid or uninformed. Still, results are results and there must be a reason why so many members of the political media have been so wrong so often for the past decade and a half. Out here in the hinterlands, a whole bunch of us have been able to see through what was going on, while it was going on. It's not just partisanship and it's not just a fluke. From the silly travel office flap in 1993 until David Broder's heinous little screed yesterday, there is a long continuum of establishment petulance, confusion, triviality and error. If it isn't their proximity to those who are spinning them, I can only assume that they are either dumb, craven or Republican. It's got to be something.
A truly alarming headline in the NY Times: Rebuilt Iraq Projects Found Crumbling. This is serious because it implies that Halliburton the Bush administration has been more interested in messing things up than in actually permanently rebuilding Iraq, a scurrilous charge. But then, buried on page two online, we read this:
Besides the airport, hospital and special forces barracks, places where inspectors found serious problems included two projects at a military base near Nasiriya and one at a military recruiting center in Hilla — both cities in the south — and a police station in Mosul, a northern city. A second police station in Mosul was found to be in good condition.
Y'see how the liberal media distorts things? These professional surrenderists looked at the decaying airport, the hospital, the special forces barracks, the military base at Nasiriya, a recruitng station in Hilla, and the other Mosul police station where there's mucho problems and drew the worst possible conclusion, a conclusion completely contradicted by the facts on the ground.
A truly objective headline - which also, by the way, would promote America's clear interest in success in Iraq - would have read
Rebuilt Iraq Project Found Not Crumbling
And that's the truth. And it's the exact opposite of what the commie al Qaeda assassin Bill Keller would have you believe.
Okay, ladies, gentlemen, and Republicans, no peeking. Which conclusion actually is true regarding Bush Administration policy and rightwing ideology?
(A) Support for blank check funding of the surge in Iraq - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(B) Advocating the privatization of Social Security as a means of resolving a very real but overblown problem - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(C) Reliance on abstinence-only sex education as the primary tool to reduce teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(D) Promotion of faith-based initiatives - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(E) Insistence upon making tax breaks for the rich permanent - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(F) Advocating an amendment to the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriages - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(G) Retaining Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(H) Respecting the judgment and intellectual integrity of Paul Wolfowitz - as favored by the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress - looks increasingly foolish and indefensible.
(I) All of the above.
(J) None of the above.
Well, that was easy.
And that's exactly how easy it is these days to grind out editorials about this unbelievably bad presidency and his unbelievably corrupt and dim-witted ideological partners. The tragedy is that it was just as easy to do so much earlier, when they could have made a difference, for example, regarding public willingness to support an utterly idiotic and immoral invasion.
What's hard is trying to understand why anyone, including the editors of the NY Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, the New Republic, every American television station, and so on and so on and so on, gave these fuck-ups a free pass for so long when it was patently obvious from day one that everything they believed or did was, to coin a phrase, "foolish and indefensible."
I hear from John at Crooks and Liars that old Rush is feeling some heat for his Minstrel Show. Apparently some people have had it up to here with rich, white jackasses making millions on the radio demeaning black folks for the amusement of their white neanderthal audience. Perhaps 2007 will be the year that we finally wring that remnant of Jim Crow out of the culture.
Rush is not some misunderstood schlub who just made a few slightly off-color jokes and doesn't understand why it bothers some people.He's not even a nasty old racist/misogynist creep like Imus who just thought he could demean anybody he felt like and make big money doing it. Rush Limbaugh a professional cog in the GOP machine who has been helping to set the political agenda in this country for more than a decade. He knows exactly what he's doing when he plays on racist stereotypes and it isn't just for the laughs.
Yet in 2000 NBC hired him to do election commentary. ESPN later hired him to do sports. The Republican party defends even the most disgusting of his antics. The president himself appeared on his show just days before last fall's election. But no matter how much lipstick they smear on his big million dollar mouth, Rush is still a pig. Until recently, nobody was keeping track of the disgusing swill he spews. They are now.
I've anonymously confirmed that stations around the country who carry the show are having concerns expressed by listeners and even their own workers of color about the Obama parody, and the ensuing controversy in the media, and that respective managements are considering ways to address the matter with as little Imus-like backlash as possible,..This is starting to boil over…
He also has links to a phone call from a listener today that has Rush sounding ... tense. Here's the exchange:
Caller: I'm in full panic mode here. I've heard three times today a disclaimer on the 760 WGIR, blah, blah ,blah. What's going on? Are they trying to take you off 760? If they do I'll never listen again.
Rush: Oh no no... If they are it won't happen until after next Thursday because I've got a personal appearance there ... no they're not going to do that...
Caller: It's censorship!
Rush: No, they're not censoring anything. They're just saying that whatever I say...
Caller; yeah, but why all of a sudden? I've been listening for two years ... I've been converted to conservatism. And if I don't get my Rush, I will be cranky.
Rush: You will. You might be cranky, but you will get your Rush...I don't know what's behind this. This happened when the program first started, first started back in 1988...it was controversial in its day. I did the disclaimer myself as a means of protecting the radio station...nobody's felt the need to disclaim the show until WJR, started today, we got a phone call earlier from a guy who souldn't go on the air, said he heard it like you did. Beyond that, I don't know what it's about.
Rush: If the worst possible thing happened you would be able to get it on the internet... everything's fine...as long as they make it known up there that whatever I say they don't agree with, then everything will be cool and nothing will happen.
Rush relegated to the internet? Be still my heart.
In case you missed Rush's minstrel show, there's a full rundown over at The Horses Mouth. Here's the YouTube compilation of Rush's "parody" songs and bits, voiced, of course, by a white jerk who thinks it's hilarious to portray "Al Sharpton" as an ebonics practitioner:
Rush's angry, frustrated critics discount how hard it is to make an outrageous charge against him stick. But, we listeners have spent years with him, we know him, and trust him. Rush is one of those rare acquaintances who can be defended against an assault challenging his character without ever knowing the "facts." We trust his good judgment, his unerring decency, and his fierce loyalty to the country he loves and to the courageous young Americans who defend her. For millions of us, David Brock is firing blanks against a bulletproof target.
— Kate O'Beirne is Washington Editor for National Review.
We certainly do not discount how hard it is to make a charge against him stick. As Rush himself points out to the caller above, his repulsive bile hasn't even been considered controversial for years. The Republican establishment and their friends and enablers in the media have treated talk radio's vicious racism and misogyny as if it was all in good fun, and Limbaugh was their king. They validated this ugly crud because it kept their racist base happy, made big bucks for their corporate owners --- and apparently amused them at Washington cocktail parties.
A lot of American people didn't know that this swill was out there and thought that if the Republicans and the mainstream political media thought these guys were ok, they must be ok. But they are being awakened to what is going on by the alternative media --- and a reurgent progressive movement that is organizing to bring attention to it.
I don't think Rush should be censored by the government and there is no movement to do such a thing. But if corporate radio can destroy the careers of the Dixie Chicks because one of them once said onstage that she was ashamed that Bush was from Texas, they can fire this noxious SOB for being a stone cold racist, misogynist ass on their airwaves for the past 20 years. That seems more than fair to me.
In a column that can only be described as hysterical (in every sense of the word), Roger Simon over at Drudge Jr. (that's The Politico) criticizes John Edwards for mentioning Christ in his prayer. Yeah, we all know how the Democrats are constantly using Christ in their politics, using the Bible as a reason to push forward certain political causes.
Here's what Simon wrote;
Does John Edwards include Jews in his prayers? Or Muslims? Or Hindus? Or any other non-Christians?
He didn’t the other day. The other day, in order to commemorate those killed at Virginia Tech, Edwards led a prayer “in Christ’s name” at Ryman Auditorium, which bills itself as “Nashville’s Premier Performance Hall.”
Edwards has a perfect right to pray publicly or privately any way he wants to. But people who are not Christians often feel left out of prayers like his.
So after years and years of being told that they must appeal to the vast numbers of Christians who would vote for Democrats if only they weren't so hostile to their faith, the new rule is that the godless Democrats must not emphasize their own Christian faith or risk being called intolerant. Meanwhile, if they include other religions in their speeches, holiday greetings and prayers, they are said to be waging a war on Christians. Why, if I didn't know better, I'd think that Democrats just can't win with these people.
Once again, this proves that Democrats are completely wasting their time ever responding to beltway insider CW. Their game is rigged and the only way to make people trust government is to stop. listening. to. the. pundits.
Rick Perlstein has done a little bit of research on the Republican party as most of you know. Today, he reminds us just how deeply the GOP obsession with voter fraud in embedded in the GOP DNA:
Let me show you. Read this report from 1964, running down all the ways how Barry Goldwater's Republican Party was working overtime to keep minorities from voting. The document can be found in the LBJ Library, where I researched my book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus:
John M Baley, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charged today that "under the guise of setting up an apparatus to protect the sanctity of the ballot, the Republicans are actually creating the machinery for a carefully organized campaign to intimidate voters and to frighten members of minority groups from casing their ballots on November 3rd.
"'Let's get this straight,' Bailey added, 'the Democratic Party is just as much opposed to vote frauds as is the Republican party. We will settle for giving all legally registered voters an opportunity to make their choice on November 3rd. We have enough faith in our Party to be confident that the outcome will be a vote of confience in President Johnson and a mandate for the President and his running mate, Hubert Humphrey, to continue the programs of the Johnson-Kennedy Administration.
"'But we have evidence that the Republican program is not really what it purports to be. it is an organized effort to prevent the foreign born, to prevent Negroes, to prevent members of ethnic minorities from casting their votes by frightening and intimidating them at the polling place.
"'We intend to see to it that the rights of these people are protected. We will have our people at the polling places--not to frighten or threaten anyone--but to protect the right of any eligible voter to cast a secret ballot without threats or intimidation.'
From the moment that the Voting Rights Act passed the Republicans have been working overtime to put roadblocks in front of it. Why they feel they cannot win without cheating is anybody's guess. My personal theory is that they just believe they should do anything and everything, including cheating and stealing, to ensure that they keep their privileges and prerogatives in American society. That's the glue that holds the racists, the businessmen and the conservative Christians together.
Since the Moyers show, I have been thinking of many things that happened during that intense period in 2002 and 2003 when the political and media establishment seemed to lose its collective mind (again) and took this country into an inexplicable and unnecessary war. As tristero notes below, the story is long and complicated and it will take years to put it all together, if it ever happens.
I was reminded of one episod, after the invasion, that came as big surprise to me because it came from an unexpected source. And it was one of those stories that was clearly a cautionary tale for any up and coming members of the media who valued their jobs.
On 9/11 those of us who were lucky enough not to be in Manhattan sat glued to our television sets and watched a star being born. Here's how the Wikipedia described it:
On September 11, 2001, Ashleigh Banfield was reporting from the streets of Manhattan, where she was nearly suffocated from the debris cloud from the collapsing World Trade Center. Banfield continued reporting, even as she rescued a NYPD officer, and with him, fled to safety into a streetside shop. After the initial reporting of the tragedy had ended, Banfield received a promotion, as MSNBC sent her around the world as the producer of a new program, A Region in Conflict.
A Region in Conflict was broadcast mainly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, generally considered locations unfriendly to Westerners. To report day-to-day local stories in that area of the world, she sometimes used her Canadian citizenship to provide access where Americans might not be welcome. She would read viewer e-mails on-air, sometimes without reviewing them beforehand, to avoid bias.
During the conflict in Afghanistan, Banfield interviewed Taliban prisoners, and visited a hospital in Kabul. Later entries covered her travels from Jalalabad to Kabul, as well as other experiences in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, she interviewed Father Gregory Rice, a Catholic priest in Pakistan, and an Iraqi woman aiding refugees. While in Afghanistan, Banfield darkened her blonde hair in order to be less obviously a foreigner.
I made terrible fun of Banfield. She seemed to me to be the personification of the infotainment industrial complex, a reporter better known for her stylish spectacles and blond highlights than her journalistic skills. She was their girl hero, a Jessica Lynch of TV news, constructed out of whole cloth in the marketing department of MSNBC. But I was wrong about her. It's true that she was a cable news star who was created out of the rubble of 9/11, but her reporting that day really was pretty riveting. Her stories from Afghanistan were often shallow, but no more than any of the other blow dried hunks they dispatched over there, and they were sometimes better. Still, she symbolized for me the media exploitation of 9/11 and the War on Terror Show and I was unforgiving.
But very shortly after the invasion of Iraq --- even before Codpiece Day --- Banfield delivered a speech that destroyed her career. She was instantly demoted by MSNBC and fired less than a year later.
Ashleigh Banfield Landon Lecture Kansas State University Manhattan, Kansas April 24, 2003
...I suppose you watch enough television to know that the big TV show is over and that the war is now over essentially -- the major combat operations are over anyway, according to the Pentagon and defense officials -- but there is so much that is left behind. And I'm not just talking about the most important thing, which is, of course, the leadership of a Middle Eastern country that could possibly become an enormous foothold for American and foreign interests. But also what Americans find themselves deciding upon when it comes to news, and when it comes to coverage, and when it comes to war, and when it comes to what's appropriate and what's not appropriate any longer.
I think we all were very excited about the beginnings of this conflict in terms of what we could see for the first time on television. The embedded process, which I'll get into a little bit more in a few moments, was something that we've never experienced before, neither as reporters nor as viewers. The kinds of pictures that we were able to see from the front lines in real time on a video phone, and sometimes by a real satellite link-up, was something we'd never seen before and were witness to for the first time.
And there are all sorts of good things that come from that, and there are all sorts of terrible things that come from that. The good things are the obvious. This is one more perspective that we all got when it comes to warfare, how it's fought and how tough these soldiers are, what the conditions are like and what it really looks like when they're firing those M-16s rapidly across a river, or across a bridge, or into a building.
So for that element alone it was a wonderful new arm of access that journalists got to warfare. Perhaps not that new, because we all knew what it looked like at Vietnam and what a disaster that was for the government, but this did put us in a very, very close line of sight to the unfolding disasters.
That said, what didn't you see? You didn't see where those bullets landed. You didn't see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. So was this journalism or was this coverage-? There is a grand difference between journalism and coverage, and getting access does not mean you're getting the story, it just means you're getting one more arm or leg of the story. And that's what we got, and it was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn't journalism, because I'm not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful terrific endeavor, and we got rid oaf horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn't see what it took to do that.
I can't tell you how bad the civilian casualties were. I saw a couple of pictures. I saw French television pictures, I saw a few things here and there, but to truly understand what war is all about you've got to be on both sides. You've got to be a unilateral, someone who's able to cover from outside of both front lines, which, by the way, is the most dangerous way to cover a war, which is the way most of us covered Afghanistan. There were no front lines, they were all over the place. They were caves, they were mountains, they were cobbled, they were everything. But we really don't know from this latest adventure from the American military what this thing looked like and why perhaps we should never do it again. The other thing is that so many voices were silent in this war. We all know what happened to Susan Sarandon for speaking out, and her husband, and we all know that this is not the way Americans truly want to be. Free speech is a wonderful thing, it's what we fight for, but the minute it's unpalatable we fight against it for some reason.
That just seems to be a trend of late, and l am worried that it may be a reflection of what the news was and how the news coverage was coming across. This was a success, it was a charge it took only three weeks. We did wonderful things and we freed the Iraqi people, many of them by the way, who are quite thankless about this. There's got to be a reason for that. And the reason for it is because we don't have a very good image right now overseas, and a lot of Americans aren't quite sure why, given the fact that we sacrificed over a hundred soldiers to give them freedom.
All they know is that we're crusaders. All they know is that we're imperialists. All they know is that we want their oil. They don't know otherwise. And I'll tell you, a lot of the people I spoke with in Afghanistan had never heard of the Twin Towers and most of them couldn't recognize a picture of George Bush.
That will be a very interesting story to follow in the coming weeks and months, as to how this vacuum is filled and how we go about presenting a democracy to these people when -- if we give them democracy they probably will ask us to get out, which is exactly what many of them want.
As a journalist I'm often ostracized just for saying these messages, just for going on television and saying, "Here's what the leaders of Hezbullah are telling me and here's what the Lebanese are telling me and here's what the Syrians have said about Hezbullah. Here's what they have to say about the Golan Heights." Like it or lump it, don't shoot the messenger, but invariably the messenger gets shot.
We hired somebody on MSNBC recently named Michael Savage. Some of you may know his name already from his radio program. He was so taken aback by my dare to speak with Al -Aqsa Martyrs Brigade about why they do what they do, why they're prepared to sacrifice themselves for what they call a freedom fight and we call terrorism. He was so taken aback that he chose to label me as a slut on the air. And that's not all, as a porn star. And that's not all, as an accomplice to the murder of Jewish children. So these are the ramifications for simply being the messenger in the Arab world.
How can you discuss, how can you solve anything when attacks from a mere radio flak is what America hears on a regular basis, let alone at the government level? I mean, if this kind of attitude is prevailing, forget discussion, forget diplomacy, diplomacy is becoming a bad word.
When I said the war was over I kind of mean that in the sense that cards are being pulled from this famous deck now of the 55 most wanted, and they're sort of falling out of the deck as quickly as the numbers are falling off the rating chart for the cable news stations. We have plummeted into the basement in the last week. We went from millions of viewers to just a few hundred thousand in the course of a couple of days.
Did our broadcasting change? Did we get boring? Did we all a sudden lose our flair? Did we start using language that people didn't want to hear? No, I think you've just had enough. I think you've seen the story, you've' seen how it ended, it ended pretty well in most American's view; it's time to move on.
What's the next big story? Is it Laci Peterson? Because Laci Peterson got a whole lot more minutes' worth of coverage on the cable news channels in the last week than we'd have ever expected just a few days after a regime fell, like Saddam Hussein.
I don't want to suggest for a minute that we are shallow people, we Americans. At times we are, but I do think that the phenomenon of our attention deficit disorder when it comes to watching television news and watching stories and then just being finished with them, I think it might come from the saturation that you have nowadays. You cannot walk by an airport monitor, you can't walk by most televisions in offices these days, in the public, without it being on a cable news channel. And if you're not in front of a TV you're probably in front of your monitor, where there is Internet news available as well.
You have had more minutes of news on the Iraq war in just the three-week campaign than you likely ever got in the years and years of network news coverage of Vietnam. You were forced to wait for it till six o'clock every night and the likelihood that you got more than about eight minutes of coverage in that half hour show, you probably didn't get a whole lot more than that, and it was about two weeks old, some of that footage, having been shipped back. Now it's real time and it is blanketed to the extent that we could see this one arm of the advance, but not where the bullets landed.
But I think the saturation point is reached faster because you just get so much so fast, so absolutely in real time that it is time to move on. And that makes our job very difficult, because we tend to leave behind these vacuums that are left uncovered. When was the last time you saw a story about Afghanistan? It's only been a year, you know. Only since the major combat ended, you were still in Operation Anaconda in not much more than 11 or 12 months ago, and here we are not touching Afghanistan at all on cable news.
There was just a memorandum that came through saying we're closing the Kabul bureau. The Kabul bureau has only been staffed by one person for the last several months, Maria Fasal, she's Afghan and she wanted to be there, otherwise I don't think anyone would have taken that assignment. There's just been no allotment of TV minutes for Afghanistan.
And I am very concerned that the same thing is about to happen with Iraq, because we're going to have another Gary Condit, and we're going to have another Chandra Levy and we're going to have another Jon Benet, and we're going to have another Elizabeth Smart, and here we are in Laci Peterson, and these stories will dominate. They're easy to cover, they're cheap, they're fast, you don't have to send somebody overseas, you don't have to put them up in a hotel that's expensive overseas, and you don't have to set up satellite time overseas. Very cheap to cover domestic news. Domestic news is music news to directors' ears.
But is that what you need to know? Don't you need to know what our personality is overseas and what the ramifications of these campaigns are? Because we went to Iraq, according to the President, to make sure that we were going to be safe from weapons of mass destruction, that no one would attack us. Well, did everything all of a sudden change? The terror alert went down. All of a sudden everything seems to be better, but I can tell you from living over there, it's not.
There was a reporter in the New York Times a couple days ago at the Pentagon. It was a report on the ground in Iraq that the Americans were going to have four bases that they would continue to use possibly on a permanent basis inside Iraq, kind of in a star formation, the north, the south, Baghdad and out west. Nobody was able to actually say what these bases would be used for, whether it was forward operations, whether it was simple access, but it did speak volumes to the Arab world who said, "You see, we told you the Americans were coming for their imperialistic need. They needed a foothold, they needed to control something in central and west Asia to make sure that we all next door come into line."
And these reports about Syria, well, they may have been breezed over fairly quickly here, but they are ringing loud still over there. Syria's next. And then Lebanon. And look out lran.
So whether we think it's plausible or whether the government even has any designs like that, the Arabs all think it's happening and they think it's for religious purposes for the most part.
I think there were a lot of dissenting voices before this war about the horrors of war, but I'm very concerned about this three-week TV show and how it may have changed people's opinions. It was very sanitized.
It had a very brief respite from the sanitation when Terry Lloyd was killed, the ITN, and when David Bloom was killed and when Michael Kelley was killed. We all sort of sat back for a moment and realized, "God, this is ugly. This is hitting us at home now. This is hitting the noncombatants." But that went away quickly too.
This TV show that we just gave you was extraordinarily entertaining, and I really hope that the legacy that it leaves behind is not one that shows war as glorious, because there's nothing more dangerous than a democracy that thinks this is a glorious thing to do.
War is ugly and it's dangerous, and in this world the way we are discussed on the Arab street, it feeds and fuels their hatred and their desire to kill themselves to take out Americans. It's a dangerous thing to propagate.
There is another whole phenomenon that's come about from this war. Many talk about it as the Fox effect, the Fox news effect. I know everyone of you has watched it. It's not a dirty little secret. A lot of people describe Fox as having streamers and banners coming out of the television as you're watching it cover a war. But the Fox effect is very concerning to me.
I'm a journalist and I like to be able to tell the story as I see it, and I hate it when someone tells me I'm one-sided. It's the worst I can hear. Fox has taken so many viewers away from CNN and MSNBC because of their agenda and because of their targeting the market of cable news viewership, that I'm afraid there's not a really big place in cable for news. Cable is for entertainment, as it's turning out, but not news.
I'm hoping that I will have a future in news in cable, but not the way some cable news operators wrap themselves in the American flag and patriotism and go after a certain target demographic, which is very lucrative. You can already see the effects, you can already see the big hires on other networks, right wing hires to chase after this effect, and you can already see that flag waving in the corners of those cable news stations where they have exciting American music to go along with their war coverage.
Well, all of this has to do with what you've seen on Fox and its successes. So I do urge you to be very discerning as you continue to watch the development of cable news, and it is changing like lightning. Be very discerning because it behooves you like it never did before to watch with a grain of salt and to choose responsibly, and to demand what you should know.
That's it. I know that there's probably a couple questions. No one's allowed to ask about my hair color, okay? I'm kidding, if you want to ask you can. It's a pretty boring story. But I just wanted to say thank you, and let's all pray and hope in any way that you pray or hope for peace and for democracy around the world, and for more rain this summer in Manhattan. Thank you all.
She may have been hoping for a future in able news, but you can't help but feel she knew she wouldn't after delivering those remarks. (Read the whole thing at the link if you're interested in a further scathing critique of the government.)
Perhaps someone with more stature than Banfield could have gotten away with that speech and maybe it might have even been taken seriously, who knows? But the object lesson could not have been missed by any of the ambitious up and comers in the news business. If a TV journalist publicly spoke the truth anywhere about war, the news, even their competitors --- and Banfield spoke the truth in that speech --- their career was dead in the water. Even the girl hero of 9/11 (maybe especially the girl hero of 9/11) could not get away with breaking the CW code of omerta and she had to pay.
Moyers' show is an excellent introduction to some of what happened and you really should see it and tell your friends to see it as well. Like Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, "Buying the War" helps sketch out a narrative for an exceedingly complex tale. Eventually, multi-volume academic treatises will be written on the media cave-in of 2002/2003 with titles like "The Misused Analogy of the Cuban Missile Crisis in Bush Administration Propaganda for Invading Iraq." Or "The Missing Millions: Press Coverage of the Feb 20, 2003 Antiwar Demonstrations." Or "What Happened to Turkey? How American Media Misreported the Bush Administration's Failure to Launch An Assault From the North. "And so on. But like "The Looming Tower," the Moyers documentary is a great place to start.
Dont' get me wrong, please! I'm not criticizing Moyers, my God, the show is terrific and long overdue. Let's just not forget that "Buying the War," despite presenting evidence of an overwhelming amount of failure and cowardice by the American media in the runup to what is among the the stupidest and most avoidable mistakes ever made by an American president - if not the absolute worst - provides only a small crossection of how poorly the American press behaved. As damning as the documentary is - and it is very damning - in reality, the way the press reported on the Bush administration and its critics in the run-up to war was far, far worse.
Did we see a profile in courage tonight? Did any of the candidates stand up to the special interests in the Democratic party?
This is another perfect example of skewed beltway CW. A Democrat can only be "courageous" if he bucks Democrats. Can you see Chris Matthews asking if any of the Republican candidates were profiles in courage for bucking the Republican party's special interests? I'll be very surprised if he does it.
*Scarborough says that the Democrats are getting killed on abortion in this country and uses the example of an alleged Donna Brazile op-ed in which she said she was sick and tired of having to explain to her relatives why she belongs to a party that supports abortion. Everyone on the panel nodded and sighed in agreement. I'm not sure why a former Republican congressman is considered an authority on this, but apparently everyone in DC agrees. Good to know.
With all the discussion about the media's malfeasance leading up to the war, I think one aspect of it has been overlooked: the thrill of embedding.
Here's a taste of what we all saw during the first few days of the war from CNN:
BROWN: Again, down in the corner of your screen, what you are seeing is the 7th Cavalry on its way to Baghdad. How quickly and what it will encounter as it gets there, we do not know. But we know what has happened so far because CNN's Walt Rodgers has been riding with them. Walt, tell us -- you don't need to tell us location. But tell us what you can about what you have encountered to date.
WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The pictures you're seeing are absolutely phenomenal. These are live pictures of the 7th Cavalry racing across the deserts in southern Iraq. They will -- it will be days before they get to Baghdad, but you've never seen battlefield pictures like these before.
Immediately in front of our cameras, an M1-A1 Abrams tank. We're sitting about 30 meters, now about 40 meters off the back of that tank. You can see that they've got water bottles stacked on board. That's how close we are.
The orange cover on the back is called a VF-17. That's a visual identification marker for allied aircraft in the air to let them know this is the 7th Cavalry, these are friendly units, we are rolling through the desert. Speed here, probably 40 to 50 kilometers an hour. That's been our speed most of the time.
A short while ago, perhaps 30 minutes ago, this unit took some incoming fire. It never came within more than half a kilometer of the 7th Cavalry. But there you can see these tanks rolling along. The Army says these are the most lethal killing machines on the earth. And when you see those 120-millimeter guns go off, there's no doubt about it.
There he's swinging the turret. That constant swinging of the turret is to maintain a state of alertness. As you look at the soldiers atop the tank, the one nearest us on the left side of the tank is the loader. He is responsible for loading the 120-millimeter shells, gun shells into the tank when it engages in hostile combat. That has not occurred. That is, the tanks have not fired, to the best of our knowledge, so far today.
The other soldier on the right side of the turret, his head sticking up too, is the commander of the tank. You have to realize, they've been riding along, bouncing along in these tanks for probably six or more hours now. Those two on top are standing. The driver is -- if you can look on the left front side, the driver is in a reclining position by that slash (ph) 91 figure. He's in a two-thirds reclined position.
And then deeper inside the tank, and if you ride inside that tank, it is like riding in the bowels of a dragon. They roar. They screech. You can see them slowing now. We've got to be careful not to get in front of them. But what you're watching here...
BROWN: Wow, look at that shot.
RODGERS: ... is truly historic television and journalism. This is live pictures of the 7th U.S. Cavalry headed for Iraq. This is actual time. What you are witnessing now is what is happening here in the Iraqi desert as the 7th Cavalry, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, is moving northward through the Iraqi desert.
I remember that story vividly --- the sunburned, khaki-clad Rogers standing up in the back of the vehicle with the sand blowing in his face looking for all the world like some sort of JC Penney version of TE Lawrence going on about the total awesomeness of his own awesome reporting of the awesome march across the awesome desert. I'm sure that the Pentagon was extremely pleased that day at the success of their war marketing.
One of the things that cannot be discounted is the fact that the news organizations and reporters themselves were beside themselves at the prospect of being able to cover "the war." Their childlike excitement was palpable and the government used the enticement of "embedding" reporters on the front lines with access to that totally awesome coverage as Rodgers shows in the clip above. It's not that I blame reporters for being thrilled to be a part of this operation --- it was the obvious Walter Mitty warrior fantasy that made me queasy.
This was set up in a very systematic way by the Pentagon. In a very slick maneuver, they held a media "boot-camp" months before the war began (and while they were insisting that they were not preparing for war.) They got the reporters all hot and bothered about the exciting story they would be able to cover. Who wanted all those unpleasant old facts refuting the casus belli to get in the way of that?
December 11, 2002
With all eyes on a possible war with Iraq, many journalists are wondering how the current Republican administration, known for its strict control of information, will allow the media to cover the battle for Baghdad.
A few clues were given in November, when the Pentagon held the first in a series of week-long training seminars for journalists at a marine corps base in Quantico, Virginia. Over fifty members of various news organizations attended the course, which included staged hostile environment scenarios and instruction on chemical weapons protection.
Participants say they came away with a better understanding and respect for the military, but they’re no closer to understanding how embedding–the proposed practice of attaching a journalist to a military unit–will work. If anything, the course raised as many questions as answers about objectivity, safety and access.
Getty News staff photographer Spencer Platt, one of the particpants in the first media boot camp, says photographers embedded with the military will have to give up some of their independence.
"When you’re with the military, you’re extremely restricted," Platt says. "The military will tell you point-blank they’ll censor what you shoot and what you write, and they have that right. You have to understand that."
On the plus side, Platt says embedded journalists will have a better insight into the everyday lives of soldiers, which could lead to better stories. Still, he says, journalists have to keep some separation between themselves and their subjects.
"We do not want to be seen [as fulfilling] a military role," Platt says. "When you’re with the military you’re much more of a target than independent journalists."
At the November boot camp, finding that separation wasn’t easy. Upon arrival, journalists received military issue equipment such as backpacks, helmets, flack-jackets and NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) suits, which they then used in training exercises. Washington Times staff photographer Gerald Herbert says at first they enjoyed getting their hands on the new "toys," but a few of the journalists quickly realized the dangers of donning all the military gear.
After a demonstration on weaponry, one of the participating photographers took a picture of UPI reporter Pam Hess wearing full battle fatigues and holding an M-16 while a marine at her side gave instructions. When the picture ran in The International Herald Tribune the next day, some boot campers began to worry about how they were being perceived by the outside world.
Some feared the picture would fuel suspicions that American journalists are working in concert with the American military, a danger made all the more real by the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl last year in Pakistan.
"I don’t think in any sense we should wear anything that confuses us as members of the military," Platt says. "This is a new war and journalists are targets. If the concept gets out there that we’re working for the military, it’s going to make our jobs much more difficult."
On the final night of boot camp the journalists learned they were about to become the subjects in a massive photo-op organized by the military. The thought of marching five miles in full gear with still and TV cameras documenting their every move spooked many of the journalists there. So before the big event, many decided to present themselves in more of an independent light when the time came for their pictures to be taken.
"All of a sudden the media was trying to spin the media," says Herbert. "That question was nagging me all week long and came to a head that day: at what point are we observing and at what point are we participating?"
Herbert says some of the journalists used white tape and black markers to designate themselves as press, while others wore jeans and one guy even drew a peace symbol on his shirt.
This issue of what to wear was obviously quite a problem for the press as I recall laughing at some of the embeds' quasi-military get-ups. Many of them were very sharp, like this one:
Yep, that's Judy Miller on the left.
I'm not suggesting that the journalists were wrong to embed themselves or that they shouldn't have been trained to do so. But from November of 2002, the Pentagon was enticing a whole bunch of war correspondent newbies with a chance to go and report an "historic" invasion and I can't help but believe that it affected their ability to be objective about the reasons for the war in the first place. Just as the anchors back in the booth were waving flags and enjoying the huge ratings that war porn brings to the usually flat cable news networks, the reporters in the field were getting fitted for Prada camo-fatigue safari gear for their war epic. By the beginning of January 2003, the news networks were literally selling the war.("See full coverage of The War, here on CNN...")
They were played for breathless fools by the Pentagon with enticements of historic, unprecedented footage of their intrepid reporters with sand in their faces, standing on the back of a jeep in the middle of the desert as the American forces raced to Baghdad. From that moment on the press had a dog of their own in the fight.