Editor's Desk

Cold Games

An Olympic parody. What is world war? Bush goes to Korea.

By 2.20.02

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Manny Klausner, the California lawyer who helped Matt Drudge defeat the politically protected lawsuit filed by the fellow we remember as Sidney Blumenthal, enjoys life immensely. The other day he passed around the following press release. (And, no, Sidney, it's not about you.):

February 19, 2002

Breaking News

ATHLETE WITHOUT COMPELLING PERSONAL DRAMA EXPELLED FROM OLYMPICS

Skier Concealed Adversity-Free Past From Officials

(NBC) A member of the U.S. Olympic ski team was disqualified from competition today when it was learned that he did not have a sufficiently compelling human storyline to exploit on the NBC telecast of the worldwide sporting event.

Tom Bergen, the expelled skier, was not raised by a single mother, never had a career-threatening injury, and did not overcome a personal tragedy of any kind before making the Olympic ski team, U.S. Olympic officials revealed today.

"Had Tom been involved in an organ donation, as either a donor or a recipient, that would have been acceptable to us," ski team spokesman Sandy Harrell told reporters. "However, he was not." According to sources close to the ski team, Bergen had concealed the fact that he comes from an intact middle class family who never lost their home to a flood, tornado, or typhoon.

But what may have sealed Bergen's doom, sources said, was his utter lack of a gravely ill family member to win a medal for. "Tom did his best to hide his background from team officials," one source said. "But when the truth came out, he was finished."

Speaking to reporters in Salt Lake City, NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol was even less charitable, terming Bergen's actions "a reprehensible betrayal." "We do our best to check out all of the athletes to make sure that their backgrounds are full of compelling human drama, but we can't catch everything," Ebersol said. "This is a case of one really bad guy exploiting the system."

And that's the way it is.

WORLD WAR WHAT? Last week legendary "Commentary" editor Norman Podhoretz delivered a stirring lecture at the American Enterprise Institute's annual dinner, where he was honored for a lifetime of literary, editorial, and political engagement. For his troubles, Podhoretz was described by the Washington Post's gossip writer Lloyd Grove -- in his longer version -- as a "neoconservative gadfly" who in a "saber-rattling" address issued a "call to arms against liberal critics of President Bush and the war on terrorism." The paper offered no other analysis.

Which is too bad, because Podhoretz remains unfailingly compelling and provocative. Those less nihilistically inclined that Lloyd Grove will find countless points to agree with or even more likely to disagree with in his remarks. To take but one example: Is Podhoretz right to suggest that the Cold War should be known as World War III, and that the War on Terrorism is World War IV?

Does calling the Cold War WWIII do justice to how the West ultimately prevailed without seeing the world go up in a nuclear cloud? Does the notion of WWIV capture the stakes, risks and dangers we currently face? Or does it merely sound melodramatic?

More important, does loose application of the term world war do an injustice to what we do know about the unmatched bloodiness and brutality of the first and second World Wars? It could just as easily be argued that one mark of the Cold War is that it was just the opposite of a world war. Similarly, the War on Terrorism is designed to root out forces that only wish they had the stature to unleash a world war. As a great peace-loving nation we're not about to allow matters to move to that stage. Our hand having been forced, we're now enforcing a Pax Americana. China or Russia would have to join forces with Al Qaeda & Co. for this to become a world war, and that's the last thing we can expect to happen.

FREEDOM WATCH: Congrats to the "Washington Times," for publishing about the only headline and story that did not reflect the value-neutral moral equivalence that has characterized coverage of President Bush's visit to South Korea. The paper's subhead read: "Calls North a 'prison' on visit to DMZ." The first paragraph noted how Bush "sternly told North Korea that 'no nation should be a prison for its own people.'"

The "New York Times," by contrast, said Bush "Acts To Soothe Fears" that the U.S. is planning an attack on North Korea. You had to go way past the jump to here anything negative about North Korea at all, and that was in Bush's remark that "I will not change my opinion on Kim Jong Il until he frees his people...." Much later, the Times's report did provide its idea of context: "Mr. Bush's prepared remarks cast the division between North and South [Korea] in black-and-white terms of imprisonment and freedom, of Communism and capitalism." Black-and-white is Times speak for simplistic.

The Cold War may be over, but old habits take on new life when the focus is on one of its staging grounds. On Tuesday PBS's "NewsHour" -- though without Jim Lehrer, who had extended his long weekend --- showed how it's done. "[M]any South Koreans have been alarmed by what they argue is the Bush administration's bellicose rhetoric toward their communist neighbor," Simon Marks reported from Seoul. He recalled President Clinton's "engagement" of North Korea, and Madeleine Albright's visit to Pyongyang "for talks with the country's reclusive leader." Things were so promising, "the North agreed to allow family visits." But that was before President Bush raised tensions, most recently by including North Korea in the "axis of evil." In all this, not a word as to why Bush might have done that. The only problem was that he had.

When was it that our knowing media stopped asking: What kind of regime allows or doesn't allow family reunification? In a sophisticated world, that's a question relegated to the black-and-white file.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Wlady Pleszczynski is editorial director of The American Spectator and the editor of AmSpec Online.