They're saying things that I can hardly believe. They really think we're getting out of control

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

In his Times Select-only column, here, Frank Rich writes of David Halberstam: "He did so despite public ridicule from the dean of that era's Georgetown punditocracy, the now forgotten columnist (and Vietnam War cheerleader) Joseph Alsop. It was Alsop's spirit, not Halberstam's, that could be seen in C-Span's live broadcast of the correspondents' dinner last Saturday, two days before Halberstam's death in a car crash in California. This fete is a crystallization of the press's failures in the post-9/11 era: it illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows. Such is literally the case at the annual dinner, where journalists serve as a supporting cast, but it has been figuratively true year-round. The press has enabled stunts from the manufactured threat of imminent 'mushroom clouds' to 'Saving Private Lynch' to 'Mission Accomplished,' whose fourth anniversary arrives on Tuesday."

An aside about me n' Alsop. I don't think I ever met the man, but when I was researching my first book, Sound and Fury, I came across documents explained that during the Eisenhower presidency, the pundit had been arrested in a Moscow bathroom for having made a homosexual pass there. The Soviets agreed to hush up the incident once they discovered the writer's identity, but the CIA obtained its own confession. Allen Dulles, the agency's director, placed it inside his private safe and informed President Eisenhower of its existence. The document was shown to people in the military, Congress, and the national security bureaucracy. Eisenhower apparently went to the trouble to make certain that a copy be made for President-elect Kennedy as well. The threat that lay behind this type of blackmail need never be explicitly carried out to achieve its desired effect. When I wrote this, I had six separate documents that refer to the confession, all signed by Lewis L. Straus, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, containing lengthy discussions of this document including the names of all parties involved along with its possible use as an instrument of blackmail. No one had ever broken the story in print.

I have a couple of second thoughts about the incident. One is that Alsop was incredibly brave in facing up to the threat of McCarthyism and defending those unfairly charged; this despite the threat hanging over his head. I find this impressive, though difficult to explain, given everything else.

Second, though I told this story in Sound and Fury, I decided to leave out Alsop's name. I did this for two reasons. One was that I didn't believe in outing people, even posthumously. (Alsop died while I was writing the book.) But also, it was my first book and hence, the beginning of the career, and I didn't want to be the one to blow the whistle on a guy whose memory was still treasured by many. This turned out to be a big mistake, however, because the book was trashed in The New York Times Book Review by a writer named Adam Platt, who, coincidentally, was not merely a longtime family friend of Alsop's but had even co-authored his memoir. Given that I had also reviewed that book for Columbia Journalism Review, it was dishonest of Platt to agree to review the book without informing the editors of his reasons for bias. (I don't recall ever seeing his name in the Review again.) But the review had the effect of killing the book's sales, which were soaring at the time, because I had been booked not only on All Things Considered, Fresh Air, Booknotes, Nightline, the Today show, and also -- those were the days -- on The Tonight Show (in the days when Letterman came on afterward, not opposite).

The lesson is an oldie but goodie: Tell the whole truth as best you know it and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Quote of the Day:

Reporters are "overwhelmingly liberal," they "hate the military," are "blind" to their bias, and should use the closing weeks of the campaign season to "prove" their worth to right-wingers. -- Time magazine's new hire, Mark Halperin.

$4K for a bottle of wine? Rush is truly a man of the people. (Why hasn't Time hired him?)

I'm not sure if this is crazier than it is funny or vice-versa, but it reminds me: Retire already, David Broder.

Meanwhile, good for the Democratic senators. As Glenn Greenwald asks: "When is the last time Democrats were so unified in their defiance of Wise Beltway Wisdom, which endlessly warns them not to adhere to their beliefs too steadfastly or to defy Republican decrees, especially on foreign policy?" Our sponsors have more.

And good (finally) for the Times.

What's up with Andrew Young's groveling for Wolfowitz? Steve Clemons asks a good question.

Let's be happy because God is good to all his children in the world. Click on this. Trust me.

From TomDispatch:

The "war" between the Democratic Congress and the White House this week over Iraq is more like an elaborate dance. As it happens, the Democratic "withdrawal" proposal, embedded in the supplemental appropriations bill passed last week by the House and Senate, not only wouldn't withdraw all American forces from Iraq, but never touches our privatizing President's shadow army in that country, the tens of thousands of armed "private security contractors" fighting alongside American forces. In a new post at TomDispatch.com, Jeremy Scahill, author of the surprise New York Times bestselling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, explores a startling, overlooked aspect of this week's political "face off":

"Even if the President didn't veto their legislation," Scahill writes, "the Democrats' plan does almost nothing to address the second largest force in Iraq -- and it's not the British military. It's the estimated 126,000 private military 'contractors' who will stay put there as long as Congress continues funding the war."

He then explores the largely hidden story of how Iraq's war-fighting was privatized and why the Democrats' proposals would -- on two fronts, accountability and funding -- play into the agendas of both the White House and the war contractors.

Scahill concludes: "As the country debates an Iraq withdrawal, Congress owes it to the public to take down the curtain of secrecy surrounding these shadow forces that undergird the U.S. public deployment in Iraq. The President likes to say that defunding the war would undercut the troops. Here's the truth of the matter: Continued funding of the Iraq war ensures tremendous profits for politically-connected war contractors. If Congress is serious about ending the occupation, it needs to rein in the unaccountable companies that make it possible and only stand to profit from its escalation."

See this?

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.

Well, they won, and John Maine is going to win the Cy Young, but ... I know how to avoid Tim Russert on Sunday mornings and have done so successfully for nearly two decades. Do I really have to see him interviewed in the stands during a Mets game? One more reason not to move back to Washington, I guess.

It's the End of the World As We Know It, and I don't feel so good ...

More book review sections disappearing, here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

From the WaPo's "Is This War Lost?" survey on Sunday:

"No . The war is not lost -- no more than it was in winter 1776, July 1864, December 1945 or November 1950. The challenge is winning back hearts and minds at home, rather than in Iraq, where brave thousands join us each day to fight an evil sort the likes of which we haven't seen in recent memory." -- Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, Hoover Institution.

Is it gauche of me to point out that Hanson is correct? "The war" unquestionably was NOT lost in December 1945, having been won four months earlier?

Military historian?

Name: Scott Ferguson
Hometown: Birmingham

Comparing the figures for the "worst" region of a country with the average of another country is grossly misleading. Either stick to comparing whole countries or find the Chinese province with the highest infant mortality rate and compare it to Mississippi.

Let's be on guard against the kind of bad statistics that conservatives employ so naturally.

Eric replies: Fair enough. I retract. (And I'll take it out of the book, thanks.)

Name: Nicholas Sinisi
Hometown: Ossining, NY

Haven't written you in a while -- up top, you say that you expect, despite the current polls, a Republican to win next year's election. I don't think I've noticed you say anything like that before - must have missed it. Who do you think is going to win? How can a pro-Iraq War candidate POSSIBLY win?

Eric replies: Hello, Nicholas. I don't recall saying that. Actually I think it's a Democratic year, possibly a blow-out Democratic year. Given that, however, I think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would be risky nominees for, sadly, obvious reasons. Edwards, or any of the sensible second-tier candidates should win in a walk -- so long as there is no third-party spoiler like say, Mike Bloomberg.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,

Your readers may wish to know that the McClatchy (formerly Knight Ridder) Washington Bureau is available on the web.

Also, for those who missed it, PBS has made "Buying the War" available in its entirety, here.

Name: John Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA

Hi Eric,

You write, in response to a contributor: "That's the problem -- we don't have a name for what these people are doing. And it is awful. Naomi is mostly right. But it's not 'fascism.' "

In Italy, they also can't just throw around the word "fascism." But they still want to accuse each other of behavior that goes beyond just isolated cases of mistaken policy. The 'midway' term they use is "regime." And so when Silvio Berlusconi was Prime Minister, he was able to appoint his people to a public television board, but he also owned several TV channels privately. When his critics wanted to characterize what he was doing, they would complain that he was setting up a "regime" where news that tended to favor the Berlusconi government was the only kind that made its way into 90% of Italian households. And of course they would make the same kind of charge about the way Berlusconi used the courts, legislature, all the tools of the state to promote his personal political and economic goals at the expense of the opposition. None dare call it fascism, but "regime" seems to capture at least some of the notion that important elements of the infrastructure of politics and policy are being systematically corrupted into servants of a particular interest. For instance, you remember the moment in Moyers' PBS special where he talks about a Judy Miller piece "proving" the existence of WMDs in Iraq followed by an appearance by Cheney on 'Meet the Press' the same day, who then refers to the New York Times article to help him make the case about the existence of the WMDs, thus giving the American people the impression that there are independent actors coming to the same conclusion about the kind of threat Hussein is using different sources. But it was all staged. When the media and its reputation for independence is manipulated to provide support for administration policy decisions, when in fact part of the purpose of the media is precisely to check the claims of politicians against independent sources, well then you've got a "regime" on your hands. When federal attorneys who do not play ball and pursue phony voter fraud cases that will hobble Democratic candidates are removed from office and replaced with creatures more willing to do their master's bidding, you're looking at part of an attempt to construct a self-reinforcing "regime" of power that more faithfully carries out not just the "policies" of the administration, but the "politics" of it as well. And as readers of your column know, there are many other activities of the Bush administration that could be brought together under a "regime" heading.

Name: Vern Rutter
Hometown: Tahuya, WA

As the original Fascist (Mussolini) defined it, fascism is the merger of state and corporate power. I'd say we're a long ways down that road. We even have our own concentration camps.

Name: Dan V
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Boy, after watching Moyers' 90-minute expose on how the American public was duped by a combined effort of the Bush administration, Republicans, Democrats and especially the media to sell all of us on the immediate need to go to war with Iraq, I wonder if Bill Moyers isn't the most important journalist in America right now. It was one of those shows that had your jaw dropping in the first 15 minutes and when you thought it couldn't get worse, he would make his point even further.

Name: Norman Gravely
Hometown: Woodbridge VA

I wonder how can American voters make a rational decision about candidates when so many facts are so disputed. Many Senators and Representatives simply deny reality and their supporters go along with them . While listening to C-SPAN, it has become clear that what is true is unknowable to all but the very well informed. Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Was their an Al-Qaeda link to Saddam Hussein? Are we fighting terrorism or stuck in a quagmire of a civil war? Each side uses their own set of facts and the MSM has failed to sort it out.

One other troubling problem is that for many years now the desire for many people to be on the winning side is the most important fact. Although the Iraq Occupation goes on many people seem to think that winning is more important than seeing the facts clearly.

Name: Michael O'Connell
Hometown: Seattle

From an article in Friday's New York Times:

"Ninety percent of Democrats, 80 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans said immediate action was required to curb the warming of the atmosphere and deal with its effects on the global climate. Nineteen percent said it was not necessary to act now, and 1 percent said no steps were needed."

The headline:

"Public Remains Split on Response to Warming "

Huh?

Name: Ryan Scott
Hometown: Portland, OR

Hey Doc,

As a regular reader of your blog, I'm familiar with one of your complaints: a generalization -- by some lazy commentator -- regarding how the American public feels about a particular topic, absent any authority for that generalization. With that in mind, I don't know of a better example than this one, from Victor Davis Hanson's post in the National Review's The Corner this weekend:

"Like most Americans, I am confused about the recent public announcements of George Tenet -- not the usual Beltway 'he said/she said' sort of accusations and meae culpae that we are accustomed from former officials plugging 'inside story' memoirs, but how exactly we are now to digest past statements in light of present behavior."

Like most Americans, I assumed a pompous writing style correlated with a minimal understanding of the rules of grammar. But that aside, the really amusing thing about VDH's post is that he really isn't "confused" at all. Rather, he is striking a posture of faux-fairness, much like a prosecutor cross-examining a criminal defendant. ("Help me understand, because I'm having a little trouble following. When you were arrested, you told the officer she hit herself in the eye, right? But now you're saying you accidentally hit her with your elbow? It can't be both, right?")

But if VDH isn't really "confused," where does that leave most Americans?

Keep up the good work!

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