Friday, March 17, 2006

Freedom of the Press: A Minority Opinion

Between conformism, McCarthyism and the cultural bald spot that were the Eisenhower years, the mental climate of the 1950s was not healthy. The press reflected it—not because it was healthier, but because it was more choir than critic. Sounds familiar? The great I.F. Stone, America’s first blogger, wrote this column about the media in November 1955. Curiously, when he refers to Washington’s power structure “managing” the news, he cites James Reston, the late New York Times reporter, editor and, columnist, decrying the practice. But Reston was one of the worst offenders of news-management. His shoulders were rubbed raw over the length of his long career from hobnobbing with politicos and currying favor with presidents like a courtesan in Louis XIV’s court. His likes are now a Washington epidemic, with Fox News as an institutional incarnation of news management. Substitute spin for slant, and Stone’s piece could have been written yesterday by digby or Media Matters.

Freedom of the Press: A Minority Opinion, by I.F. Stone, November 14, 1955

Flesh Flashing

[From our scribe in Brittany, L.D. Amabed, Jr. ]

It appears that for the last couple of weeks two briefly pornographic videos, one real and one only wishfully so, have been drawing copious catcalls from internet search engines. One video is called Tammy NYP. It supposedly shows a sweet Singaporean 17-year-old girl and her 21-year-old boyfriend engaging in grainy but ordinary sex. Singapore is not quite a country. It’s a money-making outer circle of hell where disorder is an offense against the national mission statement. The difference between public sex and sex made public is therefore somewhat grainy for a place where morals are run out of a 19th century English parlor’s playbook. Read the rest...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Bush's Road Show: Improvised Presidential Device

When he realized that both his cause and Vietnam’s were lost, Lyndon Johnson had the good sense to retreat to the White House and wait out his term. He made the obligatory rounds of the speech circuit, but he gave up the road show. No more “We can turn the Mekong into a Tennessee Valley,” his words to Henry Graff in a New York Times Magazine piece from March 1966. In March 1968, Johnson’s approval rating was at 36 percent. His Vietnam policies had been murderous. His retreat was, in William Buckley’s words for America’s cluster-gag in Iraq these days, a necessary “acknowledgment of defeat.” It eked at least a watt or two of nobility out of his supernova-sized failure. President Bush’s approval is at 36 percent according to the latest Gallup poll, the lowest point of his presidency. His disapproval rating is at 60 percent. No reflection necessary, no change of course. Certainly no retreat. Just a new road show. What was remarkable about his George Washington University episode on Monday (the first of three this week) wasn’t that it was scripted as just another evangelical schmooze around a continuing atrocity of his design; that was merely in character. But that, despite the carnage of the last few days in Iraq , he managed to be virtually celebratory of the fact that GI deaths from “improvised explosive devices” are down. “Our plan,” he said, as if mouthing off the mission statement of a middling company in Houston or narrating a Military Channel documentary, “has three elements: targeting, training, and technology.” Read the rest...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Racism Renewed: America's War on Immigrants

Khalid Abdul Muhammad was one of those Nation of Islam demagogues who won himself his 15 puddles of fame in 1993 when, in a speech to a New Jersey college audience, he called for genocide against whites, called Jews “bloodsuckers,” railed against the Pope and had some bile left over for homosexuals. It was an Exxon-Valdez-size toxic spill onto America’s multicultural ecology, where rumors of perfect rainbows had been premature anyway. For the media, here was a chance to stick it to the other side, to turn the tables and show how blacks do racism — all the while missing the larger picture: The racial shoals of the new century weren’t going to be black and white. Not predominantly so, at least. They were going to be brown, the brown of immigrants: Latin American, Arab, South Asian. It didn’t start with 9/11. Read the rest...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Semantics as Warheads: Iraq's Civil War, and Ours

[This is the second part of a two-part piece. The first part is available here.]

Is it, then, or is it not a civil war in Iraq? Merely to ask the question, post-Samarra mosque shock, suggests that those who ask it can probably trace their ancestral gray matter to the dim side of that vapor-filled moon around Saturn that Cassini just centerfolded. The question has no relevance in Iraq , where it answers itself day in and day out. That’s not keeping the parachuting propagandists from finding vehicles for their one-hand clapping: they’ll drive about in the US military’s armored convoys for a few miles then report back, with glee, that they were welcomed, applauded, cheered and, who knows, propositioned a few times. If Oliver North, that paragon of truth-telling and loyalty to all things lawful, could do it in the early days of the war, why not another lieutenant colonel cut of the same tripe-adoring cloth? Read the rest...