Mar 1 2009


Lessons of Lebanon

On January 4, the L.A. Times published a piece on the Gaza conflict (1/4/09) co-authored by Michael Oren, who was identified as “a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center and a professor at the foreign service school of Georgetown University.” Unmentioned was Oren’s other job; he’s currently serving as a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza. As he explained in the New Republic (1/4/09), his work involves “fostering a sympathetic press,” adding: “The IDF has learned many lessons from its bitter Lebanon experience and the need for effective PR is one of them. I believe we can make a difference.”

Oren’s not the only one learning lessons from Israel’s 2006 war with Lebanon. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer lamented on January 9 that the cease-fire now in effect there “is a well-known farce,” in part because the presence of international peacekeepers “makes it impossible for Israel to take any preventive military action, lest it accidentally hit a blue-helmeted Belgian crossing guard.” In other words, the cease-fire is problematic because it prevents Israel from starting another war.

But that paled in comparison to the January 14 column by New York Times superstar pundit Tom Friedman. To him, the Lebanon war showed that you can “educate” your enemies by killing civilians; as he explained, the Israeli strategy was to “inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical.” Friedman added, “The only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians—the families and employers of the militants—to restrain Hezbollah in the future.” That strategy of targeting civilians to advance a political agenda is usually known as terrorism; we wish we could say we hadn’t seen Friedman advocating it before (Extra!, 7-8/99).

‘Sane and Moderate’ or ‘Feudal’?

The New York Times published an op-ed (1/11/09) by Bush Sr. administration official Charles Fried, arguing that prosecuting any crimes committed by the Bush Jr. administration would make the United States a barbaric nation: “It is a hallmark of a sane and moderate society that when it changes leaders and regimes, those left behind should be abandoned to the judgment of history,” Fried wrote. “It is in savage societies that the defeat of a ruling faction entails its humiliation, exile and murder.”

Funnily enough, the New York Times printed an op-ed the very next day (1/12/09) that argued that grants of impunity for one’s predecessor were a sign of how benighted Russian society was: “Russia is so feudal in its system of patronage and reward that it is virtually impossible for a leader to hand over power without controlling his successor or at least receiving an exemption from prosecution—something Mr. Putin granted his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, in 1999.”

So is prosecuting former officials the sign of an advanced or a backward nation? Depends on whether the officials are American or Russian, apparently.

‘Loath to Admit’ Bias

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz (1/19/09), spotting a trend in the news magazine business, reported that Time and Newsweek “are smaller, more serious, more opinionated and, though they are loath to admit it, more liberal.” What’s his evidence for this secret bias? Exhibit A, believe it or not, were the magazines’ columnists: Joe Klein, who called on Democratic nominee John Kerry to make John McCain his vice presidential candidate (Time, 4/12/04), and Jonathan Alter, whose response to September 11 was a call for a reevaluation of torture (Newsweek, 11/5/01). Newsweek also regularly publishes Fareed Zakaria, Robert Samuelson, George Will and Karl Rove, who range from fairly to very conservative.

Kurtz pointed out that Newsweek published a cover story in favor of gay marriage (12/15/08)—but didn’t mention that it had touted the U.S. as a center-right nation (10/27/08) and called on Barack Obama to adopt some of Dick Cheney’s national security policies (1/19/09). Kurtz also noted that Time put Obama on its most recent cover (1/26/09)—an obvious example of liberal bias, unless you think the inauguration of a new president might be the biggest news of the week. Kurtz quoted Time’s editor saying that his ideal staffer is Mark Halperin, a frequent TV pundit who has regularly chided his press colleagues for being too liberal (Extra!, 1-2/07). In the end, Kurtz’s examples say more about his own increasingly conservative bias—though he would be loath to admit it.

No More Mr. Nice Guy

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed (1/20/09), Fox News commentator and NPR reporter Juan Williams worried that Barack Obama would get an easy ride: “If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else—fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism—then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors.”

It’s certainly odd that Williams, an African-American, thinks the “idea” that black people are “fully human” isn’t self-evident, but depends on how media react to the Obama presidency. But then Williams is a strange choice to be arguing for tougher coverage of politicians; he is, after all, the journalist that the Bush administration always wanted to be interviewed by (Washington Post, 9/26/07), because he was known for asking this kind of hard-hitting question (NPR, 1/29/07): “So I wonder if you could give us something to go on, give us something, let’s say, you know, this is a reason to get behind the president right now.”

When an NPR listener criticized Williams for asking softball questions of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (10/5/04), Williams responded (Extra!, 11-12/04) that interviews with government officials are “intended to allow them to state their views and positions. That allows you, and others, to make an informed decision about their policies and actions.” Is that the kind of “rough and tumble” he wants Obama to be exposed to?

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April 2009 / February 2009