Feb 1 2009


‘Moral Clarity’ or Potential War Crime?

The Associated Press reported (12/27/08) that “thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer cited this report (Washington Post, 1/2/09), as evidence that while “some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated . . . the Israel/Gaza war is not.” Krauthammer declared, “It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating. Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger.” Amnesty International (12/29/08) had a different take on the phone calls:

“Compounding the atmosphere of fear resulting from the Israeli bombardments, Israeli forces have been sending seemingly random telephone messages to many inhabitants of Gaza telling them to leave their homes because of imminent air strikes against their houses. Such messages have been received by residents of multi-story apartment buildings, causing panic not only for those who received the calls but for all their neighbors. Such practice was widely used by Israeli forces both in Gaza and in Lebanon in 2006, but has not been reported since. The threatening calls seem to aim to spread fear among the civilian population, as in most cases no air strikes were carried out against the buildings. If this is the purpose, rather than to give effective warning, this practice violates international law and must end immediately.”

Bob Schieffer Tells the Public What It Thinks

Asked by anchor Katie Couric to explain why the auto industry bailout was voted down, Bob Schieffer (CBS Evening News, 12/12/08) presented it as an example of democracy in action:

“I think, frankly, what happened, Katie, is that this is overwhelmingly unpopular, bailing out these auto companies, with the public in general. And every poll suggests that. These leaders of the auto industry came to town first in their jet planes, and now you find that the members of the union are not willing to consider a pay cut for the next two years. It was a very easy vote for Republicans to vote to block this thing. They were just doing what their constituents across the country kind of wanted them to do. That may not be the right thing, but I think in the end that’s really what did them in.”

Actually, every poll did not show that the auto bailout was overwhelmingly unpopular; while some found a wide majority against it (e.g., CNN/Opinion Research, 12/1-2/08, which found 61 percent opposed), others found more narrow support for the bill—like an L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll (12/6-8/08) that found 47 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed.

Oddly, one of the polls that did not find an auto rescue to be overwhelmingly unpopular was CBS’s own—the network’s December 4-7 poll found 45 percent approving of a bailout and 44 percent disapproving. Apparently Schieffer doesn’t read his network’s own polls—or doesn’t trust them.

Those All-Powerful Liberal Bloggers

Reporting on the transition, Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball wrote (12/22/08): “The head of Obama’s intel transition team, John Brennan, was the leading candidate for CIA chief until he was slammed by liberal bloggers for not doing enough while serving as a top CIA and anti-terror official to oppose Bush.”

Actually, “liberal bloggers”—the reference is mainly to Salon’s Glenn Greenwald (e.g., 11/16/08)—hadn’t “slammed” Brennan for “not doing enough . . . to oppose Bush”; they criticized him for being an ardent public defender (NewsHour, 12/5/05; CBS News, 9/19/06, 11/2/07) of rendition and “enhanced interrogation tactics,” which is a euphemism for torture. Since Obama campaigned as an opponent of such policies, Brennan would have been a problematic choice to be his top CIA official. And one has to be a little skeptical of Hosenball’s crediting “liberal bloggers” with the ability to determine who gets to be head of the CIA.

The People’s Paper

The New York Times Dining section (12/10/08) recently ran the headline: “Great Meals for Two, Under $100 (It’s Possible).” Times food writer Frank Bruni (who used to cover the Bush White House) stressed that it “was an experiment for lean times, but not an exercise in cheap eats.”

Of course, your notion of “lean times” may differ from that of the Times. In 1997 (1/1/97), the Times’ wine columnist wrote, “The $100-a-bottle wine, once an example of vulgar excess, is now an everyday occurrence.” Earlier (12/18/92), the Times ran a story that dared readers to believe that it was possible to eat lunch and dinner in New York City for less than $50. “‘Lunch and dinner in New York City for $50 a day?’ sniggered a seasoned veteran of Manhattan restaurants. ‘Is that sitting down?’” The story came with maps to show readers where this amazing feat might be possible.

As far back as the 1980s, the Times (3/11/88) was announcing that “dinner for two in the average New York restaurant has broken the three-digit barrier.” This is a special usage of the word “average” pioneered by the New York Times—meaning “catering to the extremely affluent.”

Chris Wallace: Watergate Worked?

At a screening of the film Frost/Nixon, Fox News Channel‘s Chris Wallace defended George W. Bush against the assertion—which doesn’t seem to have been made by anyone present—that Bush’s crimes were worse than Richard Nixon’s (Salon, 12/2/08):

It trivializes Nixon’s crimes and completely misrepresents what George W. Bush did. Whatever George W. Bush did was after the savage attack of 9/11, in which 3,000 Americans were killed, it was done in service of trying to protect this country. I’m not saying that you have to agree with everything he did, but it was all done in the service of trying to protect this country and keep us safe. And the fact is that we sit here so comfortably, and the country has not been attacked again since 9/11.

Of course, Nixon argued that everything he did was in the service of trying to protect America from enemies. The enemies the U.S. faced then were much better armed than the ones it faces now—and they never attacked us, so, hey, Watergate must have worked!

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March 2009 / January 2009