May 1 2007


Non-Euclidian Journalism

“The parallels are striking,” declared an April 4 New York Times article comparing the current dispute over Iraq War funding and the 1995 deadlock over Medicare and other federal spending, which resulted in a government shut-down. “Bold new congressional majorities swept into power by public dissatisfaction with White House policies. The administration and Congress digging in for a test of wills over federal spending. A watershed presidential election looming.” The upshot: Yet another article warning the Democrats not stand up too much to George W. Bush, since the ’95 shutdown is seen as a political debacle for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans. But the Times‘ “parallels” are less striking than dubious; if Bill Clinton’s ho-hum 1996 race against Robert Dole was a “watershed,” what presidential election wouldn’t be? More importantly, Medicare is an extremely popular program, whereas the Iraq War is opposed by the public by about 2-to-1. So is the Republicans’ shutting down government in hopes of cutting a popular program really all that “parallel” to the Democrats’ offer to fund an unpopular war so long as Bush agrees in principle to wind it down in a year and a half or so?

Don’t Know Much About History

Asking whether the Iraq War is lost, the only people the Washington Post (4/29/07) could find saying “no” were U.S. national security adviser Steven Hadley, Fred Kagan (the guy who came up with the “surge” in the first place) and Victor Davis Hanson, a “military historian” at the Hoover Institution (Horse’s Mouth, 4/29/07). Hanson’s e-mailed comment began: “No: The war is not lost—no more than it was in winter 1776, July 1864, December 1945 or November 1950.” Even if it slipped the historian’s mind, someone at the Washington Post should have remembered that World War II had ended by December 1945 (and the Cold War hadn’t even started yet). Hanson probably meant December 1944, which was the Battle of the Bulge, but no one thought the Battle of the Bulge meant that Germany was going to win the war. July 1864—when Grant was besieging Lee at Petersburg, and Sherman was surrounding Atlanta in preparation for burning it—is almost as wacky as a choice for the darkest days of the Civil War. Not much happened in the winter of 1775-76, and the biggest event in the winter of 1776-77 was Washington’s victory at Trenton; Hanson was presumably referring to Valley Forge—actually the winter of 1777-78—since this is the official U.S. metaphor for toughing it out when things look grim. Things look pretty grim for the Washington Post if this is the best historian it can find to defend its beloved Iraq War.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Charles Krauthammer opened and closed his April 20 Washington Post column with pleas for commentators discussing the Virginia Tech killings to “observe a decent interval of respectful silence before turning ineffable evil and unfathomable grief into political fodder.” Apparently Krauthammer’s advice was meant only for other commentators, as two days earlier he had appeared on Fox News to explain how the Virginia Tech shootings and the killer’s “manifesto” were linked to Al Jazeera, Palestinians and other Muslims whom Krauthammer frequently blames for the world’s troubles. As blogger Glenn Greenwald put it (Salon, 4/20/07), “I don’t think that anyone exploited these shootings as crassly or as manipulatively—or as quickly—as Krauthammer did in order to link it to their own personal political agenda transparently remote from the actual incident.”

Another Banner Year for TV

Being interviewed by Chris Matthews (Chris Matthews Show, 4/8/07), former CBS anchor Dan Rather let slip one of the media’s biggest secrets about election coverage—it’s OK to talk about how much money candidates raise, but you’re not supposed to talk about where all that money goes:

Matthews: But how do [presidential candidates] spend the money? . . . It looks to me, Dan, like, for the first time in our lives, California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, all these states and half the country . . . are going to have a primary the same day?

Rather: . . . That’s why the money’s important. All of these are huge television markets. This will be a banner year for every television station manager in . . . 2007, 2008. Good time for you to ask for a raise.

David Halberstam (1934-2007)

“One of the things I learned, the easiest of lessons, was that the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be. (So, if you seek popularity, this is probably not the profession for you.) . . . By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are.”

—David Halberstam (5/18/05; quoted in Salon, 4/24/07)