Déjà vu all over again ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Here is another review of the book, which like virtually every review I've seen so far, complains that the book I've written is not the one the reviewer thinks I should have written. Perhaps it's not. But personally, I've always felt it incumbent on a reviewer to focus on the book in question, not an imaginary one. I'm going to do my best to resist the urge to fight about it, though, because I find authors' complaints about their reviews to be my least favorite literary genre, and the above objection aside, the reviews have all been honest and respectful, and I appreciate that. Congratulations to me, by the way, for not checking my Amazon ranking once since the book was released. I swear. The book is here and here.

So I did this big takeout on the future of newspapers, the Huffington Post, Josh Marshall, The New York Times, Lippmann and Dewey, and other stuff for The New Yorker. Should you wish to read it, you may do so, here.

Does anyone believe this story?

Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court Friday in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005. The White House revealed new information about how it handles its computers in an effort to persuade a federal magistrate it would be fruitless to undertake an e-mail recovery plan that the court proposed.

[...]

It would be costly and time-consuming for the White House to institute an e-mail retrieval program that entails pulling data off each individual workstation, the court papers filed Friday state.

This story brings to mind two others: The first is the Rose Mary Woods story, when she willingly made herself look physically, mentally and morally ridiculous when insisting that she had "accidentally" erased 18 1/2 minutes from the most crucial of Watergate tapes. Nobody believed her, and it caused a major uproar.

The second story it recalls is the one about the alleged Clinton administration "vandalism" with regard to White House property upon departing the place. Back then, Peggy Noonan wrote, "Everyone I know is talking about the 'pranks' of the departing Clinton-Gore crew on the incoming White House staff -- the W's pried off the keyboards, the garbage left in the vice president's offices. You just know when you read about it that it's worse than anyone is saying -- the Bush people being discreet because they don't want to start out with complaints and finger pointing." The story, which turned out to have virtually no basis in fact, proved to Noonan that "The Clintons were at heart vandals." Much of the media played along, even though an independent investigation turned up that that was a lie by the Bush team, the first of far too many to count.

And as I've said till I am bluer than a blue meanie in the face, the genius of these people is the power of their audacity. They lie and lie and lie and lie, about big things, small things, medium things, and everything in-between. Is it possible that all these tapes were "accidentally" destroyed? IT people tell me it isn't bloody likely. But the Bush people know that the media have become so used to their lies and lawlessness that it's hardly considered worth the effort to point it out. "So?" as Dick Cheney might say ...

George Zornick writes:

When last December's National Intelligence Estimate said Iran froze its nuclear weapons programs in 2003, it was reported with a great amount of surprise and shock. Certainly it was contrary to what the administration had been saying, but just as certainly, the public should have already at least suspected it. In the new Columbia Journalism Review, Eric Umansky looks at press coverage of Iran that, for the most part, has assumed that everything the Bush administration says about the nation's evil intents is true:

After its depressing performance on WMD and Iraq -- aluminum tubes, Judith Miller, falsehoods successfully peddled by exiles like Ahmed Chalabi -- the press was filled with mea culpas and promises to do better. Iran became the next test.

And it did do better; there have been few of the misleading administration-fed "scoops" so prevalent last time. But it also fell into old patterns. Against a backdrop of war drums, the media often left administration assumptions unexplored and unquestioned: Iran was perfidious, recalcitrant, racing toward nukes. Even now, after the NIE changed the landscape, "There is an enormous selective amnesia regarding Iran in U.S. coverage," says Ali Ansari, a historian at Scotland's University of St. Andrews, who specializes in Iran-U.S. relations and has long criticized journalists for relying on "worn-out narratives" regarding Iran. "There's this assumption that the U.S. has always been innocent partner in the relationship. But the two have been equally guilty of mismanaging the relationships and missing opportunities."

Key to Umansky's story are reports that Iranian diplomats offered a "Grand Bargain" to the Bush administration in 2003, putting everything from their support for Hezbollah to their nuclear energy program up for negotiation. How serious the offer was, we may never know for sure, because the Bush administration never responded despite repeated overtures. That Iran would make such an offer certainly muddies the picture of a nation hell-bent on being America's enemy. But while many journalists knew of the offer, it floated around only as 20th-paragraph asides and short news briefs, and never appeared on the news pages of The New York Times, despite its significance to the narrative of U.S.-Iranian relations, or the presumed lack thereof. (This is reminiscent of reporting on Haditha, which as Frontline reminded us last month, actually was reported over several months as a minor story, in similar passing mentions and short articles, before Rep. Jack Murtha mentioned it in a news conference. Always read to the end of the story ...)

Umansky's article is a good primer for reporters who haven't really questioned the popular characterization of Iran or mentioned conflicting evidence in their stories. In this story, Nicholas Kristof is quoted being a bit too generous to those fellow journalists, saying, "In general, what journalists are best at covering is what a president or prime minister said yesterday... (not) complicated processes that don't happen in one day, that can't easily be condensed into a bumper-sticker." As he already noted, Eric's New Yorker article addresses that general question with much depth, but I'll just say that in this case, when Iran offers to turn over everything but the kitchen sink in a diplomatic arena, that's a pretty clear news item of interest and not a terrifically complex event to report. I mean, the papers had a copy of the offer ...

Why We're Liberals, the tour:

Monday, March 24, 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, 82nd and Broadway
New York, NY

Tuesday, March 25, 7 p.m.
First Congregational Church of Berkeley
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA
Sponsored by Cody's Books

Wednesday, March 26, 12:30 p.m.
Stacey's Bookstore
San Francisco, CA

Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Powell's Books
Portland, OR

Friday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.
Town Hall Seattle
sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Co.
Seattle, WA

Thursday, April 10, 7:45 p.m.
Scarsdale Public Library
Scarsdale, NY

Saturday April 26, 2:30 p.m.
Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, April 30
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bob Cawley
Hometown: Ballston, NY

Eric,

Masterfully done. About half way through your Think Again infomercial for your new book, I started mentally turning over the question; why is it that so many people disown their own selves and not only run from the characterization but, often, even passionately deride liberals?

Then I got to your last paragraph and realized that was exactly where you were leading me. Looks like I'll have to buy the book.

Living in upstate New York for the past seven years, it's a question I've pondered many times. Usually after having conversations with people I know to be Republicans (as most are in this neck of the woods) who, nevertheless, agree with me on virtually all of these liberal positions.

As you note, the Republican propaganda assault on the term has clearly been the driving force but why has it been able to take such firm root? Certainly, the [What Liberal] Media has done its part in turning "L" into our generation's version of the scarlet letter. But, unfortunately, so have the very people who one might have expected to defend liberalism: Democratic politicians, the putative leaders of the liberal faction. I'm sure the reasons are complex and varied but, basically, time and again they have abandoned the field to the propagandists. They have miserably failed to answer the anti-liberal pablum and have consistently been either unwilling or unable to frame virtually any issue in a manner that resonates with the general public. By failing to stand for liberal values they have also failed to distinguish themselves from Republicans and so have managed to draw fire - or at least indifference - from both ""moderates" and the left leaving Democrats vulnerable to the likes of [Thanks] Ralph Nader.

One question before I buy the book; does it come with a plain brown cover so no one will know I'm a -- you know, liberal?

Name: JP
Hometown: PA

I think a good response from a Democratic candidate who is asked the "What happens if a Democrat is elected and sits down with their generals on the first day and the generals say, you're crazy, we can't do this?" question would be as follows:

"I believe as Commander-in-Chief, I am obligated to consider any and all input from our military leaders, regardless if it supports or opposes my view. I have an obligation to the men and women serving our military to consider all of the input.

"Now since we're talking in hypotheticals, if I sit down with my generals the first day and they say, 'We can' tell you how relieved we are to FINALLY serve under a Commander-in-Chief grounded in reality and recognizes that this entire ordeal has been a total disaster,' give me an idea on what your report, documenting this revelation, will look like?"

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

I have never missed one episode of Bill Moyers' new show on PBS since it began. In that time, I've been angry, sad and frustrated by what he's shown me every Friday night, but nothing compares to the emotional impact of his most recent show on the documentary Body of War. I've seen plenty of stories about returning veterans and the toll this war has taken on them and their families, but was so moved by Thomas Young's story that I couldn't stop crying for the entire hour. I give the filmmakers credit for not pulling any emotional punches.

One extremely effective part of the film is when they show Thomas meeting with a group of Gold Star Moms during an anti-war march in Washington DC, and one-by-one they reach out to touch him, to caress his cheek or hold his hand -- to be the surrogate for the son that they no longer have. And Thomas understood that need -- the need to comfort those who have lost everything from this war. Anyone who isn't touched by that has no soul.

As a veteran, I wonder if I would have the same strength that Thomas has if I were in his shoes, and I imagine my Mom there among the other Gold Star Moms caressing Thomas's cheek -- crying for the son she no longer has.

Name: Gordy
Hometown: Sylvania, OH

Why is it only Stephen Colbert that questions McCain's coziness with Pat Robertson and John Hagee and his sucking up to Jerry Falwell?

Why can't anyone else make this connection? Where is Tim Russert? He asked McCain about Falwell in 2006. Will he ask McCain again this summer or fall?

Name: David Spurlock
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

I, too, used to think that Bush and Cheney probably ought not to be making any overseas travel plans after next January, but reading the comments today I realized that they will have very little to worry about, pretty much forever.

Only losers, and mostly small-time losers at that, are war criminals. Maybe that wasn't the rule before, but it is now. So it's extremely hard to imagine what it would take to put Bush and Cheney into that category, much less how or when that change could ever be brought about.

Also, I begin to suspect that, in the not too distant future, you may start seeing them (and not just them) with their own, discreetly deployed, private Praetorians for protection, whether or not the Secret Service comes along for the trip. (Maybe they already do.) After all, none of the mercenaries in Iraq owe any loyalty whatever to the United States. Their fealty runs only to Bush (actually, probably more to Cheney) and, perhaps, the next Republican Party. Blackwater will certainly be beyond the command of any future Democratic President. The conversion of all public power into private hands is already well underway. I see no reason why Bush and Cheney's mere departure from office should stop them from benefitting from that process.

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