Live at Eleven (posted 4/4/03 2:02 a.m.)
Is there a more hopeless institution than the 11 o'clock evening news? Apart from "your" weather, "your" sports, "your" weekend, and other news "you" must use, it offers next to no news that matters -- yet still manages to be an unthinking font of bias. Too much niceness and your critical facilities turn to mush, apparently.
In the DC area, if I watch it'll be the local ABC affiliate, mainly because it comes in best on the tiny black and white TV next to my computer. Some months back it did a special report on Johnnie Cochran and the new cause that had brought him to Washington: slavery reparations. My, was it respectful. After the segment the entire Channel 7 crew, including anchor Kathleen Matthews, wife of Hardballer Chris Matthews, exchanged comments of deep concern and respect for Cochran's new cause.
A few hours ago the program highlighted the return of a pacifist from Baghdad. It interviewed the feisty woman, and showed her in deep prayer at Dulles airport in a circle of pacifist friends who had come to greet her on her return. Think this same channel will ever show football players at prayer, say, during one of the many games it televises? The woman expressed concern for her friends back in Baghdad. She expressed open disdain for U.S. policy. No one asked her if Saddam's regime maybe deserves overthrowing. That would have been impolite, and let's not complicate things. But just so you know, the pacifist insisted on not being called a "human shield." She's a "human being," that's all.
To be honest, though, she didn't seem too upset about being back. Clearly she seemed in better shape than an actual shield who told his story in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. "I went all the way to Baghdad, hoping to help, but in the end I was too scared to stay," the kicker line reads. The fellow was 68, a Brit, and was put up at a power station, with 15 sundry shields in his dorm. The thudding from the power station seemed to unnerve him. As he explained, "I'm literally a bit of a punch-drunk boxer, having been banged about the head when I was young, so I don't even like the radio on loud in the background." It was downhill from there, and soon he would take his leave, remembering all the family he'd left behind in the U.K. Mind you, as a "universalist" he believes everyone will be saved in the end, "even Donald Rumsfeld." He just wasn't ready to die yet. Can't say I blame him.
The Two-Week Anniversary (posted 4/3/03 1:11 a.m.)
Two weeks into the war and the nation's jitters are behind us. Above all there seems to be a clear sense that Saddam's regime is worth toppling. Even ABC News seems to agree, or at least its "Nightline" show does. I just caught the tail end of its interview with one of the Newsday reporters recently released after eight days of imprisonment. He described the unspeakable beatings and tortures he and his colleagues heard and apparently saw performed in Saddam's most horrid prison. Which brings to mind the Stalin-WWII analogy we've heard so much about of late, namely that a populace would rise against an invader even if that meant defending the totalitarian ruler. The analogy is laughable on its face. For one thing, Stalin was known to release prisoners in order to involve them in defense of Mother Russia. Saddam seems to have responded by ordering news rounds of beatings in the prisons.
Of course, that's unfair to Saddam who apparently is as dead as Osama bin Laden these days, if more freshly so. Which raises the question: Who's running the headless regime? Who and what are we going to overthrow? Saddam's system still seems to be functioning on its own momentum, but for how long? How many more bullets and bombs can it absorb before it crumbles into many tiny pieces?
The recent hyped up rift between military and civilian sectors over flaws in the initial war plans is almost beside the point at this stage. The bigger worry has to be what winning will represent, and one suspects that's when the military will really be left holding the bag, no matter how many extra men it has in the field. One can almost foresee a flood of requests begging for transfer to a stable place like Afghanistan.
Administration critics made much of the Turkish parliament's rejection of U.S. requests to use Turkey as a staging ground for our troops. Indeed, our inability to use Turkey in this manner is said to have slowed our advance on Baghdad. But could the Turkish rejection have been a blessing in disguise? By not playing ball with us, Turkey ended up with no leverage regarding its intentions to intervene against the Kurds in northern Iraq. That's one less big problem for the U.S. to worry about. Meanwhile, the Kurds and American forces appear to be working very well together.
Have you noticed this war has produced no Norman Schwarzkopf? Tommy Franks is almost hard to notice, by comparison. In media terms he's been overshadowed by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He's an American type straight out of central casting, as honest in his appearance as a boy scout, well-mannered and well-spoken and as tough and solid as he needs to be even while coming across as cornpone kind and the most decent of men. And if you saw him on Meet the Press last Sunday you know he's disarmingly smart. Next to him Donald Rumsfeld fades into the background, which must make many people happy.
Another Arnett Coup (posted 4/2/03 1:44 a.m.)
Peter Arnett's charmed bottom-feeding life continues. He's landed top interviews with the likes of Saddam, and he's been landed as a top interview by Saddam's goons. Forgotten in the current scandal was Arnett's playing useful idiot to America's leading anti-American, Ramsey Clark. In the run-up to the current war, Clark was part of the ANSWER crowd. In his spare time he's trying to get President Bush impeached. This is the same Clark who in 1999 struggled to keep Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic in power. It was on January 22 of that year that our Reid Collins filed this report (for our previous website) about Clark and the interview he gave Arnett in 1991, back when both Arnett and Collins worked for CNN:
"During the (1991) Gulf War, Ramsey Clark was much in evidence in Baghdad, criticizing Bush administration policy and U.S. military action. He was escorted to Basra, a recent target of allied air forces, and once back in Baghdad was rushed onto the air by CNN's Peter Arnett. This reporter was anchoring in Washington at the time and watched in consternation as Arnett held the microphone and Clark launched into the accusation that the United States had bombed only civilian targets in Basra, ignoring the several military headquarters housed there. He added that the military headquarters were housed in civilian buildings also.
"Since Arnett seemed disinclined to ask, I interjected. How did Clark know that only civilian targets were hit if the military and civilian areas were all alike? Had he seen any identifiable military targets that had been left unscathed during his brief guided tour?
"Clark exploded, accusing this auditor of not hearing what he had said. I explained I had heard him 'precisely.'
"Now, how did he know?
"CNN producers in Atlanta, unaccustomed apparently to hearing a challenge to unsupported anti-Americanism in the middle of a war, bade this interview end pronto, which it did. Arnett had not wavered from his role as a silent portable microphone stand for Clark."
Handsome Johnny (posted 4/2/03 2:23 a.m.)
Here's news we couldn't live without. Reader Kim Benabib informs as that the Raleigh News & Observer is reporting that Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina raised $7.4 million or so in the first quarter of 2003, which may be more than even John Kerry managed to accumulate. The importance of this story seems to be that Edwards rushed to get his totals into the news, ahead of rivals who are still calculating their quarterly takes. Also, Edwards' amount almost matches the $7.6 million that George W. Bush raised in the first quarter of 1999. Is this a sign of Edwards' inevitability? The problem with this scenario is that Bush at the time wasn't plagued by low approval numbers of the sort that Edwards now receives from voters of his own state.
Life Can Be a Dream (posted 4/1/03 1:10 a.m.)
It was early yesterday morning, and perhaps I was still dreaming. But over the radio I think I heard expressions of deep concern bordering on genuine affection for our fighting men in Iraq. Now this wasn't some right-wing talk show. Not at 7:00 a.m. It was NPR's morning show. Again, to repeat, I might have been dreaming. But something tells me I wasn't. Most dreams you forget before they're even over. But not this time.
Is wartime changing our landscape? Sunday's New York Times "Sunday Styles" section ran this front page piece: "Surprise, Mom: I'm Against Abortion." The subhead: "Parents expecting young people to take the liberal view, as in the past, learn otherwise." The straightforward report doesn't even sound alarmed. A Berkeley expert is quoted: "Abortion rights isn't a rights issue -- it's become for increasing numbers of young people a moral, ethical issue." The main finding: "teenagers and college-age Americans are more conservative about abortion rights than their counterparts of a generation ago." The term "pro-life" appears in abundance. Young opponents even use liberalism against itself: the piece quotes A Boston College student who calls herself a "survivor of abortion" because she was adopted. On top of everything else, yesterday's Times ran not a single angry letter to the editor about this stunning departure from orthodoxy. In peacetime, reader mood surely would have been more vigilant.
If you didn't have time to catch your breath after last weekend NCAA regionals, blame the blameful Bud Selig who for the first time in the history of Western civilization had major league baseball open its season in snowy March. Already the premature start has backfired. The Yankees' star shortstop is out for who knows how long with a busted shoulder, thanks to a (literally) crushing blow from a catcher at third base in Toronto. The other New York team trotted out its key free-agent acquisition as opening day pitcher, and he got bombed worse than the guy who pitched batting practice. Then there are the Boston Red Sox, Blue America's team. They looked great, until the ninth when the other guys scored 5 times to beat them 6-4. March wasn't even over, and for insufferable, long-suffering Red Sox fans it was already a very long year.
Baseball can wait. Next weekend's basketball NCAA's should take priority. Go Kansas, Syracuse, Texas, and Marquette, in that order. Why so rough on the Cinderfellas from Milwaukee? Because they call themselves "Golden Eagles." Back when Al McGuire was Marquette's coach, they were "Warriors." Maybe they should switch back to their real name this weekend. Surely NPR and the New York Times wouldn't complain. If we're not a warrior nation, what are we?
Arnett Arnold (posted 3/31/03 1:57 a.m.)
Now we know why the U.S. military hasn't put Iraqi TV out of commission. It was setting a trap for the lowly Peter Arnett, who decided if he was going to be embedded in this war it would be on the side of Saddam's regime. He's given the performance of a lifetime, the sort that gets even David Bonior and Sean Penn (though not Jim McDermott) off the hook. Howard Kurtz seems almost horrified in reporting the story. But he gets a gem of a quote from an NBC spokeswoman, who said of her network's stringer that "his impromptu interview with Iraqi TV was done as a professional courtesy." Some courtesy. The only thing he didn't do is arrive at the studio bearing flowers and candy. Plus he was talking big, scoffing at the American side's refusal to heed his advice about the "determination of the Iraqi forces." As he put it with slurred tongue, "But me, and others who felt the same way, were not listened to by the Bush administration." In happier times -- the 1991 Gulf War, to be precise -- Arnett landed an interview with Saddam Hussein. No word yet why he hasn't interviewed him anew. Is there a ghost of a chance he might?
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