I don't do this often, but I read a review of Barbara Ehrenreich's new collection, This Land is Their Land, in this Sunday's New York Times by Eve Fairbanks that was so egregious, in ways both trivial and significant, that I felt compelled to write a column about it. It's my new Think Again column here, and it's called "Money for Nothing."
Matt Yglesias, in his new digs over at Think Progress, notes that "American punditry is constantly full of dire worst-case scenario predictions about what will happen if the U.S. doesn't "do something" in this or that situation. But most often these things don't -- and wouldn't -- happen anyway."
- Max Boot: "The Russian attacks on Georgia, if left unchecked, could easily trigger more conflict in the future. [...] Today, Georgia; tomorrow, Ukraine; the day after, Estonia?"
- AEI Fellow and McCain adviser Gary Schmitt: "It is also about resisting Russia's openly hegemonic designs on its neighbors -- including Ukraine."
- Wall Street Journal editorial board: "Unless Russians see that there are costs for their Napoleon's expansionism, Georgia isn't likely to be his last stop."
- Robert Kagan: "Do you recall the precise details of the Sudeten Crisis that led to Nazi Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia? Of course not, because that morally ambiguous dispute is rightly remembered as a minor part of a much bigger drama. [...] The mood is reminiscent of Germany after World War I, when Germans complained about the "shameful Versailles diktat" imposed on a prostrate Germany by the victorious powers and about the corrupt politicians who stabbed the nation in the back."
- Glenn Beck: "I've been warning people for a while now that Russia is trying to corner the market. While everybody is saying, oh, they're just waiting for us to lead the way on global warming. They're going and they're buying all of the carbon reserves that they can get their hands on. This is a play for the control of the globe in the long run, don't you think?"
Naturally, the inclination to believe the worst-case scenario will definitely happen lends one to proscribe the maximum possible action. See:
- Bill Kristol: [Georgia] has had the third-largest military presence -- about 2,000 troops -- fighting along with U.S. soldiers and marines in Iraq. For this reason alone, we owe Georgia a serious effort to defend its sovereignty. Surely we cannot simply stand by as an autocratic aggressor gobbles up part of -- and perhaps destabilizes all of -- a friendly democratic nation.
- Washington Times editorial board: "It is in America's interest to exert maximum pressure on Russia to withdraw its troops and halt the interference in Georgian territory. This latest act shows the need for greater resolve in establishing a European security system that can be an effective check on Russian power."
- Bill O'Reilly: "Putin is a real villain. Now, this is World War III on the horizon, ladies and gentlemen."
What that "maximum pressure" is to be is always left unsaid, but shouldn't someone ask them? Because these are not mere "pundits" inclined to sensationalism but, rather, political players predisposed to aggressive military intervention, ramifications be damned. Does it sound familiar when AEI fellows, The Wall Street Journal, Glenn Beck, Robert Kagan, Bill O'Reilly, The Washington Times, Bill Kristol, et al, aggressively call for action without outlining what may happen, you know, after we get our military involved against Russia somehow? Why do they still have prominent outlets, and when will somebody press them to just say what they mean? Do they really think we should engage in a military confrontation with Russia?
Spencer Ackerman, also in new digs at Firedoglake, reveals a detail about the FBI's spying on The New York Times and The Washington Post that I discussed yesterday. It turns out the only reason Robert Mueller had to call up Bill Keller and Len Downie and tell them that the FBI had been spying on their foreign reporters is that Glenn Fine, the Justice Department's inspector general, discovered it. The phone records were obtained through "exigent letters" from the government to phone companies that were free from any judicial approval. So, again, that these laws are on the books is a dramatically huge concern for our constitutional system, and as this case shows, an independent press as well. Or, as Ackerman puts it, "That's some Pervez Musharraf or Hosni Mubarak-level shit."
(Speaking of Spencer, New Yorkers can catch his wonderfully named band, The Surge, this Saturday at the Delancey downtown. They play first, probably around 8. I'd go, but I'll be at the beach.
As you've probably heard, there's a guy out with a new anti-Obama book packed full of outrageous lies and distortions. This isn't clever RNC-style misreadings of his voting record, but rather is along the lines of "Obama is a baby killer," a drug addict, possibly a Muslim, etc.
There are two questions, although the second probably answers the first. One, how the hell is this book debuting at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Two, why is it being treated so credibly by much of the MSM? Most outlets don't actually validate the claims (Fox News, naturally, excepted), but it's still given serious discussion. Look at how Mark Halperin's "The Page" treats it: by simply saying that "Jerome Corsi's 'The Obama Nation,' which tries to paint the Senator as a radical liberal with ties to Islam and an ongoing drug habit, will debut at No. 1 on the Paper of Record's best seller list Sunday." No mention that those are, you know, lies. An ongoing drug habit? How can Halperin justify even repeating that without noting the sheer insanity? He doesn't, and in fact, he even provides a link to an excerpt.
Speaking of Halperin, you might ask, "What's Joe Lieberman saying these days?" Well, here he is saying that this election is a choice "between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.'' He is also saying, "In my opinion, the choice could not be more clear: between one candidate, John McCain, who's had experience, been tested in war and tried in peace, another candidate who has not ... [b]etween one candidate who's a talker, and the other candidate who's the leader America needs as our next president."
You might also ask, "What were allegedly liberal pundits saying at the time about the Lieberman/Lamont race of 2006?". Well, according to Why We're Liberals: "Pundit 'Dean' David Broder bemoaned that the 'terrible tug' of a Lamont victory would undoubtedly presage 'decisive defeats' for the party in November. Slate's Jacob Weisberg complained that 'the 2006 Connecticut primary points to the growing influence within the party of leftists unmoved by the fight against global jihad.' New Republic editor Martin Peretz denounced the 'thought-enforcers of the left' in the Wall Street Journal. In the same pages, Lieberman's friend Lanny S. Davis professed to detect a kind of 'liberal McCarthyism.' "
One of the many obsessions of your author is the reflexive anti-intellectualism of so many journalists, many of whose first and often only response to complex ideas is to ridicule them, rather than try to understand them. This is how said journalists deal with the fact that their jobs, while often interesting and rewarding, frequently require them to oversimplify events to the point where what they report is no longer even true in significant measure. And when this is pointed out, they feel compelled merely to mock those who offer up a more complicated version of events. I've not read The Godfather of Tabloid, a book about the National Enquirer by a Mr. Jack Vitek, but I see in The Wall Street Journal's review of it here that reviewer Edward Kosner, "who started out as a rewriteman on the New York Post, [and] went on to become the editor of Newsweek, New York, Esquire and the New York Daily News," feels free to write: "Perhaps because Mr. Vitek has moved from journalism to academia, he feels obliged to inflict literary deconstruction on poor [Generoso] Pope and his paper. Footnotes and pages are studded with semiotic -- or, more properly, semi-idiotic -- insights from Foucault, Derrida and like-minded obfuscators."
Got that? Foucault, Derrida are idiots and obfuscators, according to Kosner. He does not even bother to explain why. He doesn't have to. He doesn't understand their relevance and does not give any impression of ever even having read them. But these two towering figures of the academy are "idiotic" as is, I suppose, everyone else who ever had a complicated thought.
Speaking of Mr. Peretz, you may recall from previous posts here that Marty Peretz enjoys no significant achievements during the course of his long life that are not directly associated with the dispensing of his second wealthy ex-wife's inherited fortune. Peretz frequently attacks people he does not think will fight back, but when his arguments are engaged by someone he fears, he outsources the job to his personal assistant, the young pathological liar, James Kirchick.
There would be no question in anyone's mind that John Judis is a writer and scholar of far more significant achievement than Peretz. I realize that's not saying much, but I do not mean to damn with faint praise. Like most people interested in American politics, regardless of political persuasion, I often read Judis' careful historical analysis and ideological exegesis with great profit, regardless of whether I happen to agree with him. Under normal circumstances, Peretz would likely send his attack dog after Judis. But since he continues to control the purse strings at The New Republic -- despite having been forced to sell his controlling interest owing to a lack of investment prowess -- he decided he could risk it himself. After all, if Judis responded too harshly, he'd be out of a job. But then Marty felt guilty. This is the result. I hope you enjoy his blog now as much as I do.
When I picked up a copy of the New York Daily News this morning, I was greeted with a blaring front-page story about "TERROR LADY'S N.Y. PLOT."
The brief story inside told of a young Pakistani woman, Aafia Siddiqui, who studied here at MIT, and was recently arrested in Afghanistan for "trying to shoot American agents and officers." The story explained, with the help of generous U.S. government sources, (there was only one perfunctory quote from her lawyer at the end) that Siddiqui was believed to be planning a possible suicide bombing in New York City when she was arrested last month. The government says she had "documents describing the creation of explosives, chemical weapons and other weapons involving biological material and radiological agents," and a list of NYC targets.
Well, holy s**t, I thought. I went to Google News but found surprisingly few U.S.-based stories about this case. But in the few stories that did exist, I learned a lot about the case that the NYDN didn't find fit to include: namely that Siddiqui has likely spent the last 5 or so years in custody, after being "disappeared" by the government in Pakistan, possibly at the request of the United States, in 2003 (which would make the discovery of all these suicide bombing materials last month quite strange); that the entire time, U.S. officials never formally accused her of being a terrorist; that she married a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and that, according to the BBC, "that may be the only 'crime' that Aafia Siddiqui has committed." Her lawyers also say that "their client was held captive for five years -- possibly in a secret US or allied prison -- and that the attempted murder charges against her were invented as a pretext to bring her to US territory."
The point here isn't just to hit the NYDN for leaving these details out (although printing such a sensational thing in a New York City paper is a terrible thing to do) but, rather, to highlight how incredibly difficult it is for the press to get at anything resembling the truth in cases like this. Who knows what Siddiqui really did -- maybe she actually is a potential suicide bomber, or (more likely) maybe she's done nothing at all. The only balanced information we get is from the government, which is to say, we get very little balanced information at all. They tell us whatever they feel like about people they've held in secret custody, and their record on claims about alleged Al Qaeda sleeper agents is shaky at best (see Miami Six, etc.). These are the roadblocks reporters face in Bush's America, and it may be years before we ever find anything out about Siddiqui. Naturally, she'll be in custody until then.
When I wrote recently about mainstream pundits who have no problem seeing "FNB politics" when supposedly leveled by liberals, I noted that Jake Tapper at ABC assailed Obama for a series of what he perceived to be anti-feminist remarks about Hillary Clinton.
To his credit, Tapper wrote a blog post yesterday questioning the suspicious number of white women professing their love for Obama in what was supposed to be an anti-Obama web ad put out by the McCain campaign. Good for him.
And speaking of that issue, has anyone else noticed that this is, by my unofficial count, the longest-running photo on The Page this week, and last? Just saying.
The netroots can take credit for the fact that the Commission on Presidential Debates passed over Fox News when selecting this year's moderators. The last thing the commission would want is to spark a large, and raucous, debate over the nature of Fox News and whether it's appropriate to have one of Rupert Murdoch's personalities host a presidential debate. Read more here. (Eric A adds: ABC News can take credit for their own exclusion, praise be to providence...)
Name: Michael Kropp
Hometown: Mahwah, NJ
You are right on point with the chill the new FISA "compromise" bill will send to journalists and all news organizations covering events and/or contacts overseas. It is also important to note that chilling impact that this will have on foreign contacts themselves. Why would they be willing to cooperate with an American journalist while knowing that the government could be tracing the call?
If this (mis)administration weren't so incompetent, one might think that was all part of the master plan.
Eric replies: Sorry about the closing of the engine plant late last month ...
I'm with the Enquirer on this one. George Zornick properly questions Edwards's claim that the tabloid's report was 99 per cent untrue. But he knocks some of the details, such as the baby picture. And he may be right about that. But Edwards's admission that he was having an affair with the woman makes its report at least 75 per cent true. The question about the baby is another 20 per cent. Edwards's denial, coming from an admitted liar, is certainly at least as suspect as the Enquirer's claim that the "love child" is his. If I had to choose, I'd believe the Enquirer. And all the other details, true or false, total 5 per cent at best.
And why am I spending time on this? Because, despite all our liberal denials, it's damn important. Month after month, Edwards was the favorite Dem candidate in Kos's monthly write-in polls of thousands of liberals. Imagine if he'd got the nomination -- for prez or veep -- and then this came out. It'd much more likely be 4 more years of McBush. What if he didn't get nominated but spoke at the convention? We'd look like a bunch of damn fools. We'd be hearing about it from August till we stepped into the voting booths in November. And it sure wouldn't have helped Obama. Or any other Dem on any ticket.
So as far as I'm concerned, the Enquirer did us all a public service, as it did when it exposed Rush Limbaugh as the lying, drug-addicted hypocrite he is. There are few unmixed blessings in this world. Accept the good, even as you denounce the bad.
George Zornick made some excellent points in his deconstruction of the Enquirer's reportage re: l'affaire Edwards. But isn't the application of journalistic criticism to that fetid rag akin to a professional analysis of the forensic and crime fighting abilities of the Keystone Kops? Please, George, don't waste your considerable skills and insight on such undeserving trash. I did love seeing The Enquirer and the L.A. Times mentioned in the same sentence, though. Birds of a feather?
George Zornick replies: Thanks for the kind words. But I was just responding to the paper's "vindication" already being heralded by several mainstream outlets. But you're right, I wouldn't spend time on them otherwise -- I never mentioned this, for example, tempting as it was ...
Wow. I was shocked to read the story linked to by Alex today about the outrageous licensing fees being charged by the Giants. Let's face it, the NFL cares about one thing and one thing only: Money. That includes the players and the owners.
But there is a simple solution: Fuck 'em and stay home. The games are better on TV anyway. For over 30 years my family had season tickets to the Jets games at Shea and for a short while at Giants Stadium. I never enjoyed going to the games, half of which were in cold weather or rain. Parking was a nightmare, and getting home afterward was worse. Who would pay an extortionist for the privilege of being screwed by the jacked up ticket prices? Buy a big screen TV for what it costs to go to just one game.
I don't know who to be more surprised by, the NFL owners charging upwards of 20 grand for some scam called a seat lease or the deluded fool willing to go into hock or steal from his 401K to pay for it.
On the other side of it, anybody able to fork over $28,000 for 5 seats to 8 regular season games is not being taxed at a high enough rate.
One more thing about the whole Favre affair -- those of us in the hinterlands noticed that Mayor Bloomberg had a big event to welcome the wayward Cheesehead QB.
Um, Hizzoner is aware -- isn't he? -- that the Jets haven't played in New York City since 1983.
The most humorous part of the whole thing, however, was that Favre was said to be reluctant to go the Jets because he is a "country boy," but he was mollified by the fact that they are moving their training facilities to New Jersey soon.
Last I looked, the Jets training facilities were in ... Long Island. Say what you will about Hempstead, or even Hofstra, but it's not exactly the Lower East Side circa 1981.
And this from a man who every sportscaster describes as "brave."
Eric replies: And apparently he bites too. I don't pay attention, but I do read Allen Barra in the Journal whenever he's there. He's frequently the only good reason to turn to back page.