Jun
01
2007

SoundBites

And Bill O’Reilly Is Far-Right

“But do you understand what the New York Times wants, and the far-left want? They want to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have. In that regard, Pat Buchanan is right.”

—Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 5/30/07) talking to Sen. John McCain about the immigration bill

Militia Switch

In an article on the search for four captured British mercenaries and their civilian client, the New York Times (6/1/07) reported that “the gunmen . . . are believed to be members of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to the populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.” In support of this assertion, the story noted that the gunmen are suspected to have “received assistance from employees at the Finance Ministry complex, where the abductions occurred,” and pointed out that “the finance minister, Bayan Jabr, is a Shiite and a former interior minister who oversaw the rapid growth of Iraq’s security forces at a time when Sunni and American officials accused the ministry of allowing its ranks to be infiltrated by militiamen.” What the Times didn’t note is that Jabr is a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose militia, the Badr Organization, has a bitter and often violent rivalry with the Mahdi Army—a fact that might have raised doubts about the paper’s unattributed suspicions.

Change the World? Who, Us?

“Media, in large part, gave us this war, because they went along and repeated everything that George Bush said without asking tough questions,” said syndicated columnist Bill Press on CNN’s Reliable Sources (5/13/07). “In part, they are responsible for this war, because they didn’t do their job.” Host Howard Kurtz was incredulous, asking if “you’re saying they gave us this war? That we . . . would not have gone to war had it not been for the press?” Fellow guest Laura Ingraham declared the notion “ridiculous,” scorning the idea that “now the press is supposed to be an intelligence agency, too.” Some reporters did in fact challenge in real time the lies that led the country into war (Extra!, 3-4/06), but the idea that journalism can and indeed ought to change the world must naturally seem ridiculous to those whose idea of reporting is the accurate transcription of official statements.

“Analytical Prowess”

Even as World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz was on the verge of being forced out of his job in a corruption scandal, he still won praise from Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh (5/21/07), who lamented the “dramatic falling off from the high expectations that people once had for the 61-year-old political scientist, a man whose managerial talents do not appear to rise to the level of his analytical prowess.” Hirsh reported that “by most accounts, Wolfowitz is a genteel, brilliant figure”—though not by the accounts of those who remember the former deputy secretary of defense claiming before the Iraq invasion (New York Times, 2/28/03) that Iraq had no history of ethnic conflict, that estimated war costs of $95 billion were too high (it’s now $448 billion and counting—Congressional Research Service, 3/14/07) and that a top Army general’s assessment that the Iraq war would require hundreds of thousands of troops was “wildly off the mark.”

“Lopsided Ethos”

The subhead of a May 14 Newsweek article complained that “in Afghanistan’s lopsided ethos, every civilian death counts against the Americans.” The magazine seemed to understand why Afghans would resent the Marines who “snapped” and murdered 12 unarmed civilians, but lamented that a U.S. air raid that left 49-plus noncombatants dead became “one more psy-war victory for the Taliban.” The article found it “ironic” that Afghans blamed a Taliban attack on a U.S. base in their town—though it quoted without comment a U.S. military spokesperson’s excuse that “the Taliban intentionally put civilians at risk by operating in close proximity” to them.

Bystanding Situations

“Well, there is always a distinction between those who criticize U.S. policy, between the nationalists, I being one of them, and those who don’t like America. And they use every opportunity they can to take a shot at America. I do think there is a nationalist argument, a very pro-American argument, that it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And it’s also a price we are paying over there, with regard to killing a lot of people. On international television, people are sometimes in bystanding situations.”

—Chris Matthews (Hardball, 5/17/07)

The Language of Torture

“Trying to calibrate the amount of military pressure that might persuade Hamas and the Palestinians to stop the rocket fire and recreate a working cease-fire over Gaza is not an easy calculation,” a New York Times editorial mused (5/23/07)—reflecting the common delusion that making people do what you want is simply a matter of causing the right amount of pain. Bearing in mind that since the beginning of 2006 (according to the Israeli human rights group B’tselem), Palestinians have killed 21 Israeli civilians while Israel has killed 347 Palestinian noncombatants, try to imagine the Times expressing the parallel sentiment: “Trying to calibrate the amount of rocket fire that might persuade Israel to stop the military pressure and recreate a working cease-fire over Gaza is not an easy calculation.”