Apr 1 2007


Back to School

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman (3/19/07) sees the roots of George W. Bush’s current problems in his lackadaisical academic attitude: “At Harvard Business School, George W. Bush was what they called a ‘skydecker’—a guy who sat in the top back row of the lecture hall to minimize the risk of being called on.” Fineman, an expert at holding his finger to the wind, once had a very different take on Bush’s classroom habits: In Newsweek’s December 25, 2000 edition, he and a co-author cited the same label in an effort to answer the question, “Is Bush smart enough to be a good president?”: “Bush is a quick-enough study, and in fact there is a method to his preppy casualness. At Harvard he was what is still known as a skydecker—a student who chooses to sit in the top row of the horseshoe-shaped classroom amphitheater. Skydeckers sat back and listened, taking in the scene, contributing consensus-building observation from on high. Skydeckers also had a better shot at surviving the professors’ legendary ‘cold calls’—demands for impromptu class presentations. . . . It suited his methods, and even now he’d much rather learn through briefings than paper.”

George Will Astonishes Himself

George Will (Washington Post, 3/8/07), practicing media criticism without a license: “Astonishingly, a recent Vanity Fair profile accused [Sen. John] McCain of ‘toeing the conservative line’ on immigration, which shows that Vanity Fair does not know what that line is.” Rather, it shows that Will needs to read more carefully (or maybe write more honestly): The piece in question (2/07) actually wrote of McCain, “But one minute he’s toeing the conservative line (on gay marriage, say, or immigration) and the next he’s telling someone what he really thinks.”

Man of the People

USA Today’s got a poll: ‘Do you think something’s wrong about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys?’ 72 percent said yes. 72 percent of the American people, a bunch of blithering idiots who have no idea what they’re talking about, but yet they voted, so these polls matter.”

—Rush Limbaugh (3/29/07)

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Readers of Time magazine in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific got a cover story on “The Truth About Talibanistan” in their March 22 issue—describing how the Taliban’s brand of armed, repressive Islam was spilling over from Afghanistan into erstwhile “war on terror” ally Pakistan. Important news—for the rest of the world, apparently; in the U.S. edition, the cover was “Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public School” (a topic that surely appealed to the Taliban’s home-grown equivalents). As the Huffington Post’s Rachel Sklar pointed out (3/25/07), the choice mirrored Newsweek’s decision (10/2/06) to give its readers in Europe, Asia and Latin America a cover headlined “Losing Afghanistan: The Rise of Jihadistan,” while the U.S. edition featured celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. Apparently the fact that the U.S. is losing its war against Al-Qaeda’s allies in Central Asia is big news—except in the U.S.

Safe for Democracy

“Delete them, or we will delete you.”

—U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, forcing Afghan reporters at gunpoint to erase images of an attack on civilians (AP, 3/4/07)

“When untrained people take photographs or video, there is a very real risk that the images or videography will capture visual details that are not as they originally were. . . . If such visual media are subsequently used as part of the public record to document an event like this, then public conclusions about such a serious event can be falsely made.”

—U.S. Col. Victor Petrenko, justifying the destruction of the journalists’ images (AP, 3/10/07)

White Media Strangely Outraged

“Why don’t blacks value black life?” CNN’s Paula Zahn asked, promoting a story (3/20/07) about black-on-black crime dubbed “The Color of Murder.” Later, after noting nine of 10 black murder victims are killed by black people, Zahn asked: “Why is there such a strange lack of outrage about it within the black community itself?” While the St. Petersburg Times (3/26/07) praised Zahn for asking a “jarring, provocative question,” one might ask in turn why she doesn’t investigate white self-hatred as well—given that 86 percent of white murder victims are likewise killed by members of their own race (Department of Justice, Homicide Trends in the United States).

Napkin Rings and Power Systems

“We had a lot of meetings at NBC about, you know, if you’re doing a story and the person you’re doing the story about offers to buy you a drink, you’ve gotta say no. If you’re doing a story and they send you, after they see the story, some napkin rings—silver napkin rings that are monogrammed, ‘Thank you, John, for the story,’ you’ve got not only to return those, you’ve got to report those to the standards people at NBC because there’s a whole ethics and conflict-of-interest thing. So at one of these ethics meetings—I called them the return-the-napkin-ring kinds of meetings—I raised my hand and said: ‘You know, isn’t it a problem that the contract that GE has with the Coalition Provisional Authority . . . to rebuild the power generation system in Iraq [is] about the size of the entire budget of NBC? Is that kind of like the napkin rings thing?’ And the standards people said: ‘Huh. That’s interesting. No one’s brought that up before.’”

—Former NBC News correspondent John Hockenberry (Raw Thought, 3/28/07)