Monthly Archives: July 2004

Kerry and Vietnam

John Kerry’s flogging his Vietnam service is tacky. There have been lots of candidates with war experience and a number have been heroic, but I don’t remember any of them bragging about it like Kerry. Sure Jack Kennedy gave his friends PT 109 tie pins and let others mention his WW2 heroism, but I don’t remember hearing him talk about it in speeches or interviews; I think he’d have considered it bad form and crass. Nor do I remember others who’ve served with distinction like George H.W. Bush, George McGovern, Bob Dole, John McCain, and Bob Kerrey going on and on about their military experience as Kerry has. I’m not saying that a candidate’s military service should be out of bounds in a campaign; it’s a part of his life and speaks to his courage and patriotism. But Kerry’s pushing it to the forefront is simply vulgar.
I also wonder whether Kerry’s aggressive use of the issue will not come back to haunt him. It seems to me that his anti-war activities have yet to be seriously exploited by the Bush campaign, nor has the media seriously examined Kerry’s activities when he returned from Vietnam. I also don’t understand John McCain’s approval of Kerry since Kerry was clearly giving aid-and-comfort to the enemy while McCain was rotting in a North Vietnamese jail. A few years back, McCain and George McGovern were together on the Lehrer News Hour, during which McCain excoriated McGovern for his anti-war presidential campaign, claiming that if McGovern had won, McCain would still be in the Hanoi Hilton. It makes me wonder whether McCain is willing to swallow his distaste for Kerry in exchange for an important position in a future Kerry administration. Too cynical? Perhaps, but I can’t think of any other explanation.

O'Reilly versus Moore

It amazes me that Bill O’Reilly is such a success. He’s not very good. I watched a few minutes of his debate with Michael Moore before turning it off in disgust. Of course, Moore’s argument that Bush “lied” about weapons of mass destruction is nonsense, but O’Reilly’s retort to Moore’s rhetorical questioning of whether American lives were wasted because wmd haven’t been found was stupid. O’Reilly conceded Moore’s assertion that going to war over wmd was a “mistake.” But the fact is we’re in the middle of a war in which we are trying to do a number of things simultaneously: fight insurgents, get Iraq back on its feet, prepare for elections, and find out what happened to the wmd that every serious person (a category in which Moore does not belong) knows existed. Were they destroyed, were they shipped to Syria or Iran, or are they still somewhere in Iraq? We don’t know, yet.Moore is implying that they never existed (implication and innuendo are what he does best). O’Reilly seemed to be accepting Moore’s premise.
O’Reilly also seemed incapable of countering Moore’s wasted American lives argument. We didn’t go into Iraq only or even primarily because of wmd. We went in to establish a reasonably democratic, decent government in the Middle East which would put pressure on the other repressive, illegitimate governments in the region. In other words, we are attacking the underlying cause of Islamic terrorism – illegitimate and repressive governments. As I said before, Bush made a mistake going to the UN because in doing so (at the request of Tony Blair), he gave the issue of wmd a much greater importance than it deserved, thus allowing demagogues like Michael Moore an opportunity to attack him for “lying” to the American people and the rest of the world. In fairness, Bush had every reason to believe that wmd would be found (and they or the knowledge of what happened to them still may be ). So in hindsight, Bush made a large mistake in going to the UN and focusing on wmd, but that’s very different from declaring that Bush (and the rest of the world) were wrong about Iraq’s wmd.
How can Moore claim and O’Reilly seem to concede that American lives are being wasted in a war when we don’t know the final results of that war. It would be like declaring in 1863 that lives were wasted in the Civil War or claiming in 1943 that lives were wasted in World War 2. If the Iraqi government with American help is able to defeat this so-called insurgency, hold free elections, and establish a decent government which in turn encourages others in the Middle East (like the Iranians who clearly despise the mullahs who rule them) to rise up and establish similarly decent governments, will demagogues like Michael Moore still claim that American lives were wasted? Right now, critics of the administration will claim that I’m dreaming, but fact is only time will tell. Given his prominence and success, O’Reilly ought to know that.

Lack of Curiosity

His critics like to portray Bush as lacking “curiosity,” as opposed to a putative intellectual like John Kerry who is, they say, capable of probing beyond the obvious and having “nuanced” views on the issues of the day. Well, if curiosity is the defining trait of first-rate minds, an awful lot of the intellectual elite are suffering from curiosity deficiency when it comes to what Sandy Berger stuffed down his pants and socks at the National Archives. The usually curious New York Times editorial page has been silent about what the Wall Street Journal referred to as the “one specific document” Berger homed in on, an “after-action review” of the Clinton administration’s response to al Qaeda’s facilities in the week before January 1, 2000, a review authored by Bush critic Richard Clarke. According to the Journal, John Ashcroft (who has read the review) says that Clarke attributes any successes the Clinton administration had against al Qaeda to “luck rather than skill.” The Journal calls for the Justice Department to release all the relevant documents and dismisses Tom Kean’s assertion that he “believes the Commissioners had all the documents.” Problem is, as the Journal points out, ” He has no way of knowing for certain what he might not have seen.”
The need for the public to know what Sandy Berger was trying to hide is obvious. But it is also obvious the New York Times and its media followers are curiously oblivious when it comes to a probable Democratic cover-up.

New York Times Ombudsman

For a while now word has been out that Daniel Okrent, the ombudsman forced on the Times by the Jason Blair fiasco, is not very popular at the paper. But after today’s column, it’s a good thing Okrent is leaving town for awhile. Could he, I wonder, be joining Guardian Angels’ leader Curtis Silwa in the witness protection program? Silwa left town to escape being whacked by John Gotti’s son, but it’s doubtful Pinch Sulzberger and Bill Keller are planning a similar fate for Okrent. Still, they are capable of inflicting the next worst punishment on those who cross the media elite: He’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.
Below is Okrent’s column, a devastating indictment of the Times’ leftish bias:

Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?
By DANIEL OKRENT

Published: July 25, 2004

Of course it is.

The fattest file on my hard drive is jammed with letters from the disappointed, the dismayed and the irate who find in this newspaper a liberal bias that infects not just political coverage but a range of issues from abortion to zoology to the appointment of an admitted Democrat to be its watchdog. (That would be me.) By contrast, readers who attack The Times from the left – and there are plenty – generally confine their complaints to the paper’s coverage of electoral politics and foreign policy.

I’ll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything), but for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.

But if you’re examining the paper’s coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.

Start with the editorial page, so thoroughly saturated in liberal theology that when it occasionally strays from that point of view the shocked yelps from the left overwhelm even the ceaseless rumble of disapproval from the right.

Across the gutter, the Op-Ed page editors do an evenhanded job of representing a range of views in the essays from outsiders they publish – but you need an awfully heavy counterweight to balance a page that also bears the work of seven opinionated columnists, only two of whom could be classified as conservative (and, even then, of the conservative subspecies that supports legalization of gay unions and, in the case of William Safire, opposes some central provisions of the Patriot Act).

But opinion pages are opinion pages, and “balanced opinion page” is an oxymoron. So let’s move elsewhere. In the Sunday magazine, the culture-wars applause-o-meter chronically points left. On the Arts & Leisure front page every week, columnist Frank Rich slices up President Bush, Mel Gibson, John Ashcroft and other paladins of the right in prose as uncompromising as Paul Krugman’s or Maureen Dowd’s. The culture pages often feature forms of art, dance or theater that may pass for normal (or at least tolerable) in New York but might be pretty shocking in other places.

Same goes for fashion coverage, particularly in the Sunday magazine, where I’ve encountered models who look like they’re preparing to murder (or be murdered), and others arrayed in a mode you could call dominatrix chic. If you’re like Jim Chapman, one of my correspondents who has given up on The Times, you’re lost in space. Wrote Chapman, “Whatever happened to poetry that required rhyme and meter, to songs that required lyrics and tunes, to clothing ads that stressed the costume rather than the barely clothed females and slovenly dressed, slack-jawed, unshaven men?”

In the Sunday Styles section, there are gay wedding announcements, of course, but also downtown sex clubs and T-shirts bearing the slogan, “I’m afraid of Americans.” The findings of racial-equity reformer Richard Lapchick have been appearing in the sports pages for decades (“Since when is diversity a sport?” one e-mail complainant grumbled). The front page of the Metro section has featured a long piece best described by its subhead, “Cross-Dressers Gladly Pay to Get in Touch with Their Feminine Side.” And a creationist will find no comfort in Science Times.

Not that creationists should expect to find comfort in Science Times. Newspapers have the right to decide what’s important and what’s not. But their editors must also expect that some readers will think: “This does not represent me or my interests. In fact, it represents my enemy.” So is it any wonder that the offended or befuddled reader might consider everything else in the paper – including, say, campaign coverage – suspicious as well?

The Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. doesn’t think this walk through The Times is a tour of liberalism. He prefers to call the paper’s viewpoint “urban.” He says that the tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment The Times occupies means “We’re less easily shocked,” and that the paper reflects “a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility.”

He’s right; living in New York makes a lot of people think that way, and a lot of people who think that way find their way to New York (me, for one). The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists. Articles containing the word “postmodern” have appeared in The Times an average of four times a week this year – true fact! – and if that doesn’t reflect a Manhattan sensibility, I’m Noam Chomsky.

But it’s one thing to make the paper’s pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward or other like-minded souls (European papers, aligned with specific political parties, have been doing it for centuries), and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear. I don’t think it’s intentional when The Times does this. But negligence doesn’t have to be intentional.

The gay marriage issue provides a perfect example. Set aside the editorial page, the columnists or the lengthy article in the magazine (“Toward a More Perfect Union,” by David J. Garrow, May 9) that compared the lawyers who won the Massachusetts same-sex marriage lawsuit to Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King. That’s all fine, especially for those of us who believe that homosexual couples should have precisely the same civil rights as heterosexuals.

But for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading. So far this year, front-page headlines have told me that “For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy,” (March 19, 2004); that the family of “Two Fathers, With One Happy to Stay at Home,” (Jan. 12, 2004) is a new archetype; and that “Gay Couples Seek Unions in God’s Eyes,” (Jan. 30, 2004). I’ve learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I’ve met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I’ve been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability.

Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn’t even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you’d have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

This implicit advocacy is underscored by what hasn’t appeared. Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles (“Split Gay Couples Face Custody Hurdles,” by Adam Liptak and Pam Belluck, March 24), potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter.

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage. The Boston Globe explores the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues, and the paucity of reliable research on child-rearing in gay families. But in The Times, I have learned next to nothing about these issues, nor about partner abuse in the gay community, about any social difficulties that might be encountered by children of gay couples or about divorce rates (or causes, or consequences) among the 7,000 couples legally joined in Vermont since civil union was established there four years ago.

On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires. This has not occurred because of management fiat, but because getting outside one’s own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning. Six years ago, the ownership of this sophisticated New York institution decided to make it a truly national paper. Today, only 50 percent of The Times’s readership resides in metropolitan New York, but the paper’s heart, mind and habits remain embedded here. You can take the paper out of the city, but without an effort to take the city and all its attendant provocations, experiments and attitudes out of the paper, readers with a different worldview will find The Times an alien beast.

Taking the New York out of The New York Times would be a really bad idea. But a determination by the editors to be mindful of the weight of its hometown’s presence would not.

With that, I’m leaving town. Next week, letters from readers; after that, this space will be occupied by my polymathic pal Jack Rosenthal, a former Times writer and editor whose name appeared on the masthead for 25 years. I’m going to spend August in a deck chair and see if I can once again read The Times like a civilian. See you after Labor Day.

Why we are at war in the Middle East

A great article in today’s Wall Street Journal by Charles Hill, the subject of a David Brooks column the other day in the New York Times. Hill states the real reason we are at war in the Middle East:
“Focusing so relentlessly on the overriding importance of intelligence about 9/11 or weapons of mass destruction has obscured the reality that we are waging this war in the Middle East because decades of dysfunctional rule across the region have produced Islamist terrorism; Saddamist-style hijacked states; and regimes fearful of subversion, such as Saudi Arabia, whose policies have inflamed the situation and increased the danger to itself. We are at war in the Middle East to prevent its takeover by a revolutionary ideology that aims to destroy the established international system, the United Nations, international law, human rights and all.”

Hill also criticizes the Zbigniew Brzezinski/Bill Clinton view about how this would all go away if the Israeli – Arab conflict were settled and we worked hard to make “them” not hate us:
“There is the old joke: ‘But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?’ The Commission is a centerpiece of a larger American self-obsession, all about what did we do wrong, what we should have known, how we must do better. Necessary, without doubt — but media fixation and the 9/11 Commission’s lust for the limelight have crowded out attention to the nature of the enemy we face. Instead, it’s we who haven’t caught bin Laden; our presence in Iraq has created an ‘insurgency’; and if only we could change our policies (e.g., pressure Israel), all would change for the better.

“While the Arab media, the European intelligentsia and the American ‘commission community’ are transfixed by this array of U.S. failings, a platform must be found from which to explain the dimensions of the challenge. In terms of the Second World War, we are in the late 1930s. Churchill described the danger then. Today the Bush administration is understandably reluctant to talk frankly about a threat so fraught with religious, cultural and civilizational implications. ”

Hill also notes that the cause of the intelligence failure goes back well before the Bush and Clinton administrations and was devised and implemented by the 1960’s zealots who came to power during and after the Vietnam/Watergate era hell-bent on incapacitating and punishing the CIA and FBI for consorting with shady characters, bugging Martin Luther King and the actress Jean Seberg, and for going after that legendary humanitarian organization, the Black Panthers:

“Finally, there is ‘present-ism,’ the American propensity to forget history, enhanced in this case by political fears of self-incrimination. Since the political struggles about the CIA’s role in Vietnam and in the Cold War, Congress, the executive branch and at times the intelligence services themselves have, across administrations Democrat and Republican, taken one measure after another to hedge in, bring under control’ or otherwise confuse or reduce the capacities of the intelligence services to do the kind of work the politicians continue to demand. The Church Committee, the Colby ‘reforms,’ the decimation (more like octimation) of operations, the decline of human intelligence in favor of overreliance on technology, the numberless Boland Amendments, the ‘wall of separation’ that impedes CIA-FBI cooperation, the 1995 PDD 35 that forced the CIA toward tactical rather than strategic analysis — all these follow a pattern familiar across U.S. foreign affairs in recent decades; increasing requirements while cutting capabilities, tamping down resources as we ramp up responsibilities.”

Of course we must strengthen our defense against the jihadists, but the only real solution is to take the war to the enemy by getting rid of regimes that directly encourage and support terrorism like Iran and Syria and regimes that seek to appease terrorists, like Saudi Arabia.

New York Times and the Berger story

I don’t think the Democrats need to spend millions on ads when they get so much free propaganda from the media. The source is the New York Times which the other media outlets revere like Christians and Jews revere the Bible. I think Jennings, Rather, and Brokaw read the front page of the Times every morning before they take their morning pee. In other words, for them the Times defines what the news is.
Thus today, we have a story on page 1 above the fold on the Sandy Berger investigation which manages to make the scandal not Berger’s stuffing classified documents into his unmentionables, but rather who leaked the story. I suspect that the others, from Rather to Matthews to whomever, will run with this angle so that soon Sandy will be transformed into an innocent victim of the vast, right wing conspiracy personified by John Ashcroft and Dick Cheney.

Linda Rondstadt

The New York Times’ editorial on the Aladdin Hotel’s firing of Linda Rondstadt uses the word “rights” promiscuously. The Times seems to think Linda had a right to urge her audience to patronize the efforts of Michael Moore. But as A. J. Liebling once noted, freedom of the press belongs to the person who owns the press. I’d say that goes for entertainers as well: the right to say what you want on a stage belongs to the guy who owns the stage. If some of the people who paid to hear Linda sing object to her political views and the management of the Aladdin want to “escort her from the premises,” that’s the management’s right.

Israel and the Arabs

I am sure there are many reasons for the “unrest” currently afflicting Yasser Arafat and his regime, but I havent heard anyone say it’s a result of the Sharon strategy of building a defensive wall while aggressively going after terrorists and preparing for withdrawl from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Is it possible that the Palestinians, faced with an inability to successfully murder Israelis, have decided to redirect their anger towards what should have been the proper target all along, namely their despotic, corrupt “leaders”?
Bernard Lewis gave an interesting talk on cspan the other day. He noted that the Koran expressly forbids suicide which the relatively recently invented Wahabbist cult contradicts. Lewis pointed to the power of Wahabbists in Europe where state sponsored religious instruction in the schools is conducted almost exclusively by Wahabbists, who, “have the most money and the fewest scruples.” So what we have is large numbers of impressionable adolescents programmed to believe that their problems, whether sexual or financial, are caused by the “infidels” they live among. Again, this programming isn’t only in the mosques; it’s going on in the state schools as well.

Michael Berg

It’s every parent’s nightmare to lose a child, but I can’t help but wonder about Michael Berg’s campaign to blame the Bush administration for the death of his son at the hands of Islamic jihadists in Iraq. Like the now famous “Jersey Girls,” wives of 9/11 victims who’ve achieved media fame as the conscience of the 9/11 Commission, Berg seems to want his own commission as a platform to excoriate the administration and push the anti-war agenda that for him pre-dated his son’s murder. I am sure that the media will oblige Berg as they obliged the Jersey Girls, and I’d expect him to show up on Chris Matthews and the usual venues providing daily aid and comfort to the folks who are trying to kill us all. I haven’t seen anything from Michael Berg as of yet indicating that he questions his son’s wisdom in seeking in the middle of a war zone a “business opportunity.” Nor have I heard a word from him on the role Mr. Zarqawy and his band of murderers played in the death of his son.

School Violence

About today’s news story that teacher assaults in Philadelphia are up 20%: The other night I watched a Woody Allen movie, Anything Else. Woody played a New York City high school teacher who at the end of the movie decides to leave teaching and move to LA and become a comedy writer. As he leaves the school for the last time, he remarks to his friend how much he’s going to miss teaching, especially the kids who, he says, are so smart, particularly the “creative ways they have in getting their weapons past the metal detector.” In that line, Woody sums up the mindset of most people who work in public education, most especially those who rise up the administrative ranks. Indeed, the remark sums up what’s wrong with liberals who can find something positive to say about suicide bombers while at the same time condemning the building of a security fence as a crime against humanity. But I digress. The Inquirer article qoutes Paul Vallas: “We’re going to take steps to toughen our policies even more, focusing on things such as bad language, disrespectful behavior, chronic disruptive activity, tardiness, and violations of the uniform policy.” More than a year ago, I criticized Vallas’ well meaning discipline crackdown for concentrating his efforts on big issues like assaults without dealing with what many consider minor offenses. I referred to the success of Rudy Giuliani in attacking crime in New York by adopting the “broken windows” philosophy of James Q Wilson and George Kelling who noted that if broken windows in a building weren’t repaired, soon all the windows would be broken. Similarly, if the police don’t arrest people for so-called minor offenses like public drinking and drug use and beating subway fares, such inaction would soon create a lawless environment where thieves, rapists and murderes thrive. Vallas should have “toughened” up on the disruptive and disrespectful in the beginning and perhaps he wouldn’t be looking today at a 20% rise in teacher assault.