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» June 26, 2004
The Time of Forgetting: In his weekly stint on NPR's "All Things Considered" Friday (June 24), New York Times columnist David Brooks who says he "looked through" Bill Clinton's memoir My Life opined that it wasn't very well written, which was too bad because "you really only get one chance to write a memoir." Oh, really?
It's been just over ten years since the death of Richard Nixon, but already Brooks seems to have forgotten his rather prodigious output. In addition to a number of books on policy matters, he wrote at least three memoirs. Back when we didn't have him to kick around any more, Nixon wrote Six Crises about his political career in Congress and as vice-president. After leaving the presidency, Nixon published The Memoirs of Richard Nixon and In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal. As with Clinton's book, the reviews sort of depended on who read them, with critics of his post-presidential memoirs complaining that they were self-serving and less than honest, and fans thinking they were great.
Clinton turns 58 this year. If he lives as long as Nixon, he's got 23 years. Plenty of time to write quite enough memoirs to make Brooks happy.
The Neo Republic: In the June 28 apologia issue of The New Republic, editor Peter Beinart blames his surprise that the Bush administration's adventure in Iraq ran into "problems" on the fact that he may have supressed his partisanship too much. He states that Bush's "pro-war camp" (of which TNR was one of the would-be counselors) failed to listen to "countries skeptical of war," "American liberals" (into which he lumps humanitarian NGOs concerned about postwar reconstruction), and antiwar "enemies within the administration itself."
Well, duh. Those were precisely the same people TNR ignored during the war's run-up.
The problem with Beinart's self-examination is that it wasn't partisanship that was lacking when he assumed the administration would get the Iraq war and reconstruction right. Intelligence and reason should have informed him that their claims about Iraq were suspect. The advocates for war within the administration were the same people who supported Saddam in the 1980s, were behind the Iran-Contra scandal, supported death squads in Central America, killed a couple thousand Panamanian civilians to depose Noriega when he was no longer useful to the CIA, and left the Iraqi Shiites hanging following the first Iraq War after promising to help them. Oh, and let's not forget all of the aid that went through Pakistan to the Afghan rebels and their allies (including Osama bin laden) fighting against the Soviets. Even those few members of the administration not directly involved in decision-making in the previous actions almost all of which were illegal in one way or another approved of and supported them.
Then let's not forget the inept handling of matters within this country since Bush's election. For Beinart to conclude that the gang of people who had done as poorly on the domestic front as Bush's team had in a prosperous country with a well-developed infrastructure and governmental institutions would be a good choice to establish a stable government in a country devastated by Saddam's neglect and American bombing was just deluded.
It's not as if everyone was surprised by the bumbling of this administration. How Beinart could be so naive as to think that a government led by someone so to borrow a term from the Reagan legacy disengaged was trustworthy to make the right choices about whether to go to war and how to handle the aftermath isn't a lack of partisanship. It's a lack of common sense.
Letter to Oregon Public Broadcasting: It is with some dismay that I see that OPB has decided to air Tucker Carlson's "Unfiltered" talk show. I've been a devoted OPB listener and viewer (and member) for years and have appreciated its more or less balanced coverage of news and current affairs, even when those views seemed ill-reasoned from my perspective, at least there was some shred of evidence and documentation.
Carlson, however, is another beast entirely. If he was presented as a commentator within the context of a news show, it would be one thing, but to make a decidedly partisan commentator who has a long history of lying, sexist comments, and name-calling the host of what is ostensibly a public-affairs program reduces the credibility of OPB.
I'm sorry to say it, but I regret the fact that my membership was recently renewed. I certainly hope that Carlson's show fails to draw an audience, but if it's still on the next time I get a renewal, I'm afraid that won't be forthcoming.
» June 25, 2004
Just the Facts. Please, Please, Any Facts, Oregonian!: Once again, the Oregonian relies on syndicated material from a columnist too lazy or biased to do some fact-checking. In his examination of Michael Moore's contentions about being banned from Jay Leno's and Bill O'Reilly's shows, LA Times writer Patrick Goldstein is all-too-willing to accept what people say without asking any questions so long as the people aren't Moore.
Goldstein quotes Moore: "[Leno] went out of his way to to incite violence against me by showing 'Michael Moore's house' being blown up." Note the single quotes. Goldstein reports that Leno disputes the charge by saying that a shack in the desert was shown being blown up, not a house. Goldstein accepts that as a denial without noting that if Leno described the shack as "Michael Moore's house", Moore would refer to it in quotes to denote that it wasn't actually his house. Goldstein doesn't ask (or doesn't report) what connection Leno drew between Moore and the shack.
As for Bill O'Reilly, if Goldstein finds him even marginally credible, perhaps he should turn in his journalism degree. The day after attending the screening of "Fahrenheit 9/11," O'Reilly compared Moore to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and the Hollywood celebrities who attended the event (which he also attended, in part) to "the people who would turn out to see Josef Goebbels convince you that Poland had invaded the Third Reich." Lloyd Grove of the "New York Daily News" posted a much different version of O'Reilly's exit from the screening. Who to believe? Goldstein comes down on the side of the guy who calls Bill Moyers "a Far-Left bomb-thrower", and lied about calling Al Franken a new Joseph Goebbels.
Goldstein apparently perceives Moore as less credible than O'Reilly -- someone who's got a long, proven record of not only making inflammatory comments but also denying he made them, and Leno who is after all a comedian. His credibility meter seems to be seriously off-kilter.
It's bad enough when the Oregonian uses columnists who accept one version of a story without bothering to check their facts. It's far worse when that columnist is making the case that someone is untrustworthy, because it further damages the credibility of the Oregonian. The story wasn't as clear-cut as Goldstein make it out to be. If he'd asked just one more question of Leno's representative or done just five minutes of research on O'Reilly's comments about the screening rather than blandly accepting their statements over Moore's, his case would be at least more credible even if he somehow incredibly came to the same conclusion.
» June 24, 2004
The New World of Bryce: Many, many years ago, Kai Krause's crack team of developers came up with one of the first cheap 3D tools. Like the rest of his tools, it sported an unconventional interface. Bryce could render (very slowly in those days) beautiful scenes of bizarre terrains, and it's remained a staple of 3D dabblers and professionals over much of the past decade. Its most recent home has been at Corel, but it's recently been acquired by 3D content developers DAZ Productions, Inc.
» June 19, 2004
Michael Moore: Propagandist or Documentarian?: The conservative talking point on Fahrenheit 9/11 is that it's "not a documentary, it's a piece of propoganda." Of course, they say that trying to ignore the fact that the two terms are not mutually exclusive.
A "documentary" film is supposed to be some sort of movie based on evidence of one sort or another. The folks opposing Michael Moore's movie argue that it's biased, one-sided, and therefore not worthy of the designation.
Seeking guidance, I went to some folks who could be considered the arbiters of what is or isn't a piece of documentary filmmaking. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has an online database of these Oscar things they've been giving out for the past few years, including those in the Documentary feature category that they've awarded since 1943. Here's what I found, based on those I've seen, information from the Academy site, and information on the Internet Movie Database.
As you might suspect, the period during and after World War II was fairly heavy on the military stuff. The first winner, Desert Victory, was from the British Ministry of Information and covered the defeat of Rommel's forces in Northern Africa. It may have been entirely factual although much of the work produced during the war tended to leave things like Allied mistakes out but I'm fairly certain it didn't include any interviews with Rommel or the German commanders, or any significant consideration for the viewpoint of the German side. It might even have qualified as "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person," which is the Merriam-Webster Online definition of propaganda.
The following years saw The Fighting Lady (U.S. Navy movie about the battles in the South Pacific), The True Glory (an Anglo-American production about the invasion of Europe, and Design for Death, 1947's winner about how peaceful Japanese Shinto culture had been usurped by the samurai ethos to become a giant killing machine.
A film about an expedition to the Antarctic (The Secret Land, 1948) was the first non-war-related film to win a documentary Oscar. The following year's Daybreak in Udi, however, won even though some of its footage dramatized the story of Nigerian townsfolk. So much for the "staging" part of the arguments against Moore.
The post-war era ushered in a series of winners produced by the likes of Walt Disney, Jaques-Yves Cousteau, and even disaster-flick great Irwin Allen. Nature films plus documentaries about historical figures (Michelangelo, Helen Keller, Albert Schweitzer, Robert Frost, Eleanor Roosevelt) and more expeditions (Kon-Tiki, New Guinea) predominated the winners until the mid-1960s. The one exception to this string was 1962's Black Fox: The True Story of Adolf Hitler, narrated by Marlene Dietrich. It wasn't pro-Hitler or even neutral.
1966's documentary winner was what we would call these days a "docudrama". The War Game was set in an English city, after a nuclear war. For those of you who weren't around at the time, there was no nuclear war in 1966.
A French Indochinese War veteran's look at five days in the life of some Vietnam soldiers, The Anderson Platoon, won in 1967. Another war documentary took a more partisan view of its subject right from the title: The Panama Deception (1992) was the story about the last time a member of the Bush family deposed a dictator the U.S. had supported and the media's collusion in the war's run-up (sound familiar?). It was back to Vietnam for The Fog of War (2003). [Draco, on the Daily Kos site where I posted this comparison, pointed out that I missed the most controversial documentary of the Vietnam (and possibly any) era, 1974's winner Hearts and Minds. Presenter Frank Sinatra read an official statement disassociating the Academy from the acceptance statements of the film's producers. I apologize for the omission.]
Marjoe, (1972) a biography/expose of one-time child evangelist Marjoe Gortner showed how he had been used by others to separate the faithful from their money.
Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976, Eastover Mining strike), Down and Out in America (a co-winner in 1986, recession victims), and American Dream (1990, Hormel strike) all had very strong points of view (in the first and last of these, the very same view, since Barbara Kopple produced Harlan and co-produced Dream).
In addition to economics, social issue films with a point to make have also won consistently. In 1984, The Times of Harvey Milk told the story of the San Francisco city supervisor who (along with Mayor George Moscone) was assassinated in 1978 by his homophobic predecessor (who got only a brief jail term for the two murders). One of the producers won again in 1989 for Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, a series of interviews of people with AIDS that also documented the failure of the Reagan administration to deal with the growing epidemic. Broken Rainbow (1985) detailed the story of a forced Navajo relocation in Arizona where 12,000 members of the tribe were moved supposedly to settle a boundary dispute with the Hopi tribe. The film makes the point that some members of the tribe think the government wanted the land for energy development. 1993's I Am a Promise: The Children of Stanton Elementary School documented a year in a Philadelphia inner-city grade school. The fight to free a black teenager beaten by police into confessing to a murder was the subject of 2001's Murder on a Sunday Morning. Then, of course, there was Bowling for Columbine (2002).
By far the most popular subject for winners in the documentary category in the past couple of decades, however, has been the Holocaust and Israel. Considering that Bill O'Reilly is calling Moore the new Leni Riefenstahl and Tinseltown celebrities Nazis, you might be surprised that not a single winner of this Hollywood-based award praises the Third Reich. Apparently, the same people who voted for the films mentioned above also thought these movies were worthy of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar:
- Genocide, (1981).
- Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, (1988) about the war crimes and long search for "The Butcher of Lyon."
- Anne Frank Remembered, (1995) the story of Frank and her family.
- The Last Days, (1998) Hungarian Jews who escaped the extermination visit the country of their birth.
- One Day in September, (1999) about the Israeli athletes who were killed during the 1972 Olympics by Palestinian terrorists.
- Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, (2000) about the children of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia whose parents sent them to England for safety before the war began.
Over one-third of the documentary winners listed on the Academy site have a social, historical, or political agenda of some kind. Sixteen of the past twenty years have had winners listed above. Sometimes the agenda is one that most people can agree with, like "Nazis is bad." Other winners have a bit more controversial viewpoint. The folks in Down and Out in America were talking about how the economy sucked right in the middle of what was described during Reagan Week as the longest peacetime expansion ever. The Navajos in Broken Rainbow were saying the government had screwed them again. Murder on a Sunday Morning made the point that people shouldn't be beaten into confessing crimes they didn't commit.
I have no doubt that every one of the filmmakers who won one of these awards would say their film was accurate and fair. Does that mean they were dispassionate about their viewpoint, presented an unbiased viewpoint, or told both sides of a story? Of course not. Starting right back with the first films to win the documentary Oscar films made by the British and American governments some of the best documentaries have been made to persuade, to inform, and to incite. So the next time someone tries to tell you Fahrenheit 9/11 is propaganda, not a documentary, whip out this list for them and let them argue the case for the Nazis.
» June 17, 2004
The Big Lie for Today: Today's first caller (not me) to The Ed Schultz Show noted that, contrary to his statements that "the administration never said that the 9-11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al-Qaida," President Bush made exactly that argument in his letter to Congress on March 21, 2003:
I have reluctantly concluded, along with other coalition leaders, that only the use of armed force will accomplish these objectives and restore international peace and security in the area. I have also determined that the use of armed force against Iraq is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. United States objectives also support a transition to democracy in Iraq, as contemplated by the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338).
Kerry's VP Pick: Someone who's:
- very popular,
- a great fundraiser,
- not going to affect the Senate or House balance,
- a Southerner,
- now looking for something to do after finishing a big project.
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.
Scarborough Cedes Michigan to Canada: On the June 16 edition of Scarborough Country the S-Man starts off with a "Joe's Real Deal" segment that takes Michael Moore to task for factual errors and for being a hypocrite. About two sentences into the piece, Scarborough calls him a "Canadian" filmmaker. Last I looked, Moore a native of Flint, Michigan was still an American citizen; so much for the hypocritical Scarborough's facts.
Joe's bookers aren't doing him any good, either. One of the three guests he had on (in addition to the guy who's putting out what looks to be an inane film called Michael Moore Hates America) was Stuart Sender. Scarborough threw four Moore "lies" at Sender and asked him as someone who'd worked with Michael Moore to explain why Moore was lying. Sender thanked Joe for having him on, then explained he'd never worked with Moore, he'd merely shared the stage with him as part of a pre-arranged agreement between the documentary nominees at the 75th Academy Awards that whoever won would invite everyone up.
[update: Thu Jun 17, 2004 13:23 -0700] David Brock's Media Matters has picked this up. I sent it to them, but I don't know if they got it from me or elsewhere.
» June 15, 2004
Karpinski Defense, Part II: Brig. General Janis Karpinski now says she was told by General Geoffrey Miller that prisoners were to be treated like dogs and that she and her soldiers are being scapegoated.
Odd. When she first started talking about prison abuse in Iraq, Karpinski denied all knowledge of any potential abuse, in Iraq or anywhere else (Miller was in charge of Guantanemo Bay's prisons at the time). Now that she's the one taking the fall, she conveniently brings up this conversation.
Of course, the proper time to have mentioned it would have been last fall, when Miller first made the comment. Rightfully, it should have been reported up the chain of command to her superiors. This "just following orders" defense has been tried before.
» June 14, 2004
Yahoo for Shockwave?: The past weekend saw a couple of threads on dirGames-L about the new Shockwave Player update, which includes a Yahoo! toolbar as a part of the install in addition to the ever-popular shockwave.com redirect.
Troy Hipolito of shockwaveserver.com kicked off the "Yahoo b + SW install official word?" subject on Friday, with 4 questions that were answered by Macromedia Director Product Manager Tom Higgins. Of course, a number of others added their thoughts as well.
Take my Yahoo! toolbar, please!
» June 11, 2004
Tribute: Three years ago today, a man dragged my 83-year-old grandmother from a bed at her caretaker's home and shot her.
Margaret Baker was someone whose interest in books and writing inspired my own. The intelligence she passed down through my father's side of my family is something I've been exceedingly thankful for all my life.
» June 10, 2004
NPR: GI Says Fellow Soldiers Beat Him in Cuba Prison: From Morning Edition:
A U.S. soldier seeks compensation from the U.S. military for injuries he sustained in beatings allegedly administered by fellow American soldiers at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The soldier was playing the role of a uncooperative detainee in a training exercise; his accused attackers were not informed the incident was staged. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
Evidence just keeps piling up perhaps the wrong metaphor.
» June 9, 2004
Higgins in Blog Form: Macromedia's Tom Higgins now has his own blog. One of us. One of us.
Like Mother, Like Son: A Beautiful Mind: The quote's over a year old, so I'll let you read other peoples's commentary on it, but it was mentioned on the front page of the June 8 Wall Street Journal in a front-page article titled "For Antiwar Vets, Former Comrades Are Toughest Sell," spread across the jump to A8:
"...in March 2003, in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," [Barbara Bush] the former first lady complained that TV newscasts were speculating too much about the impending war. "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths?" she said, adding, "I mean it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" [emphasis added]
» June 7, 2004
Lingo Job: Kristl Honda of Clark College in Vancouver, WA passed this note on to me:
Programmer I Macromedia Lingo
Major duties and responsibilities include creating new and modifying existing Macromedia Director Lingo scripts. Job requires understanding of Macromedia Director, Flash and Lingo. Experience with XML, HTML, PHP, SQL and Linux is a plus.
If you want any info about Eugene, I can give my impressions from growing up there, but they are about 15 years out of date. A lot of people like it there!
Pick the Father of America:
- Senator Trent Lott (R-MS):
- "This is not Sunday School, this is interrogation, this is rough stuff."
- Talk show host Michael Savage:
- "Instead of putting joysticks, I would have liked to have seen dynamite put in their orifices."
- Senator James Inhofe (R-OK):
- "I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment."
- Talk show host Rush Limbaugh:
- "This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?"
- White House counsel Alberto Gonzales:
- "The Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice has opined that, as a matter of international and domestic law, GPW [Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War] does not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda."
In a review of Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer published in the May 27, 2004 issue of The New York Review of Books, Edmund S. Morgan relates two episodes from the book. After the Battle of Long Island, Hessian and Highland troops bayonetted unresisting rebel troops. After the Battle of Princeton, American officers watched as their wounded troops were murdered by British infantry.
Despite this, General George Washington gave these orders to the officer placed in charge of the 211 prisoners taken at Princeton:
"...treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren."
I guess that sort of points out the difference in moral character between the father of our country and the morons influencing things these days.
Boc to the Dustbin [revised]: Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a piece about Victor Boc's wacky theories. Last week, the Portland Tribune's Pete Schulberg reported that he's been fired. Can't argue with that.
[Wed Jun 09, 2004] 'Tis a shame. Schulberg says Boc's working under Lars Larson.
» June 4, 2004
It's Not World War II: From the White House to TIME magazine, comparisons between the war on terror and World War II are flying fast and thick. With the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion this weekend, the dedication of the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., and a political campaign underway, that is perhaps understandable — but most of the comparisons miss the mark by ignoring the vast differences between the two endeavors.
The Second World War earned that designation because it truly was a war fought across the face of the globe. Major powers involved on both sides of the conflict fielded forces with millions of soldiers, tens of thousands of planes and tanks, and thousands of ships and submarines. In the United States alone, over 16 million citizens served in the Army, Navy, and Marines during the course of the war1, out of a population of about 130 million2 — nearly one-eighth of the population. With 290 million Americans today3, the current combined size of the armed forces and National Guard is about 2 million4,5. The proportion of service people to the general population was 17 times larger during World War II.
That disparity in scale is just one of the ahistorical notes struck over the past couple of weeks. In TIME's coverage of the D-Day anniversary, it seemed as if the links between the two wars were intended to bolster the case for the cover headline: "D-Day: Why It Matters 60 Years Later". By giving the two wars equal weight, TIME was probably trying to make D-Day relevant to an audience of an age too young to have even been eligible for service in Vietnam. One caption reads: "Like [General Dwight D.] Eisenhower, [General John] Abizaid is facing the challenge of a generation, and the military campaign is only part of the battle".6 In 1944, Eisenhower was planning the invasion of a continent that had been taken over, fortified, and held for four years by a an enormous German military force that was on a technological par with the Allies. Although Germany had been losing in Italy and on the Eastern Front by that point, there was still serious doubt about the success of the Normandy invasion. Decisions Eisenhower had to make sent thousands of Allied soldiers to their deaths — and that was if the plans went off without a hitch. The Iraq theater is terribly dangerous for the soldiers on the ground, but to equate the burdens of the commanders or political leaders involved is absurd. Iraq hasn't had functional air power since it was destroyed during the first Gulf War. The American force unleashed on Iraq's army in 1991 pushed it from Kuwait in a matter of days (after several weeks of bombing), and it collapsed again in 2003. The various groups fighting a guerilla war against American troops in Iraq don't have tanks or sophisticated equipment, their primary advantage is operational camouflage: the ability to move relatively undetected through the population.
Another problem with these comparisons is their tunnel viewpoint. In his remarks on June 2 at the Air Force Academy graduation, President George W. Bush said: "Like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless, surprise attack on the United States".7 Of course, by "our" he meant America's involvement, but by framing the Second World War in that manner, he ignored years of aggression by the Axis powers: Japan's invasions of Manchuria and China in the 1930s; Italy's colonization of Ethiopia in 1936; Germany's annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938; invasion of Poland in 1939; invasion of Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940; the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, and invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, Italy, and Japan over two years before America joined the battle, and they paid heavily for it, as did citizens in every country occupied by the Axis powers and even many citizens of the Axis countries themselves. Hundreds of civilians died in nightly bombing raids on both sides during the war.
It's a viewpoint that ignores or trivializes the contributions and sacrifices of other countries and peoples, by limiting the discussion to the impact only on America and Americans. Equating World War II and the war on terror brings that minimization full circle by discounting even the costs of the American generation that fought the war. On the average, over 200 U.S. military personnel were killed every day for more than 1,300 days.8 That was the reality for leaders like President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Eisenhower, and for the American people during the early 1940s. Pretending that the current war is comparable, that American history has somehow been modified as drastically by its conflict with terrorism as it was by the conflict with fascism — for whatever reason — discounts the sacrifices of millions of Americans.
1 Universal Almanac (1994), p.126, citing U.S. Department of Defense, Defense 91 (1991)
2 Universal Almanac (1994), p.282, citing U.S. Bureau of the Census, U.S. Summary, Number of Inhabitants (1981)
3 U.S. Bureau of the Census Web home page
4 U.S. Department of Defense Directorate for Information Operations and Reports, Active Duty Military Strength by Fiscal Year - FR 1950 through FY2002.
5 Army National Guard web site, Financial Statements 2003.
6 TIME, May 31, 2004, p.42
7 White House web site, President Bush speaks at Air Force Academy Graduation.
8 Universal Almanac (1994), p.126, citing U.S. Department of Defense, Defense 91 (1991). Calculation based on 291,557 battle deaths over the period between December 7, 1941 and August 15, 1945: 1,347 days.
» June 2, 2004
Keeping It Real: On November 13, 1988, an Ethiopian student living in Portland, Oregon ran into the wrong people. Mulugeta Seraw had no idea that the handful of young adults who set upon him and two friends talking in the street early on a Sunday morning were out looking for blacks to attack. By the time they were done, Seraw had been beaten to death with fists, baseball bats, steel-toed boots, and other weapons.
The perpetrators belonged to a home-brewed skinhead gang calling themselves East Side White Pride. As police rounded up members of the gang, a story emerged of an instigator, following the lead of a white supremacist publisher named Tom Metzger.
Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center represented Seraw's son in a wrongful death lawsuit against Metzger, linking his organization and newspaper, White Aryan Resistance (WAR) to statements that SPLC alleged "incited violence against blacks and Jews," in a wrongful death lawsuit filed a year after Seraw's death. The lawsuit was awarded a judgment of $12.5 million in October, 1990.
Question No. 2 of the judgment form asked the jury: "Did one or more of the California defendants [Metzger, his son John, and WAR] through their agents substantially assist in, or encourage, the conduct of the Oregon defendants [Kenneth Mieske and Kyle Brewster] that caused the death of Mulugeta Seraw?" The answer was yes, for all three California defendants.
Which brings us to the New York Times.
On May 26, the Times published an Editor's Note about its coverage of issues leading to the war in Iraq, admitting "...a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been." It goes on to state: "In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged or failed to emerge."
The Times's incomplete coverage helped foster a climate of pro-war sentiment in this country. As an increasing number of critics have pointed out over the past eighteen months, its reportage of Iraqi WMD capabilities by the Bush administration and others was often reliant on unprovable and even demonstrably false claims. In this, the Times Editor's Note says the blame lies not only with individual reporters (such as Judith Miller, who is not named in the note by who is the co-author of several of the indicated articles), but also editors "at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper."
The Times, of course, was far from alone in this. Few if any of the major news outlets in this country were even slightly skeptical about even the most outlandish claims made by the Bush and Blair governments. Some, such as the FOX News Channel, actively promoted the war, and derided critics. They still do.
As the SPLC's suit against Metzger shows, persons advocating violence in the media have been held responsible even for acts they didn't specifically orchestrate and were not directly involved in. In fact, the suit filing claimed only that Metzger's materials " incited violence against blacks and Jews, specifically encouraging skinheads, and the Oregon defendants in particular, to use baseball bats and steel-toed boots as weapons against blacks and Jews." No claim was made in the filing that Metzger knew Seraw or the perpetrators of the murder.
Freedom of speech and the press are the most important right we have as citizens in the United States. That's why they're right up there in Amendment I of the Bill of Rights. Press freedom should be attached to a certain amount of responsibility, though, particularly when people's lives are at stake.
How far would the administration have gotten with its war plans if the Times and other news organizations had given stories exposing WMD claims as frauds the same weight as the original claim? What if they'd waited for verifiable sources before they printed a story claiming Saddam had nuclear capabilities? Tracing sources is what led to the exposure of Jayson Blair at the Times and Stephen Glass at The New Republic. But nobody got killed over their stories.
There have been over 800 American casualties in Iraq as I write this, with over 4,600 wounded. That's an awfully large number of potential lawsuits. If the American media thought the climate was bad after the FCC's crackdown over Janet Jackson's nipple, what will the reaction be when someone gets the bright idea to accuse news organizations of causing the battlefield death or disabling of their child, spouse, or parent by filing a suit that asks "Did one or more of the media defendants through their agents substantially assist in, or encourage, the war in Iraq that caused the death of Pvt. _____?"
» June 1, 2004
My Second Conspiracy Theory: I got this one out on the airwaves on the Ed Schultz Show this afternoon.
Much has been made of the problems with verification of votes cast through the use of electronic voting machines made by Diebold, in particular.
The standard conspiracy theory focuses on the fact that Diebold's CEO, Wally O'Dell, promised in a letter to Ohio Republicans to "deliver the votes" for a 2004 Bush-Cheney victory last year and that he and other company execs have contributed large sums of money to the campaign. So suspicions are high that Diebold and other companies providing electronic voting machines might rig the software to simply report more Republican votes than are actually cast. Simple enough.
Though there are some jurisdictions that are backing away from the adoption of electronic voting because of these concerns, I think that unlike most of the plans this administration puts together there might be a Plan B.
My guess is, if the count's still in Kerry's favor on the day after the election vote-rigging or no that the Bush people are going to claim that problems with the machines throw the results into doubt. Without a paper trail and the possibility for recount, the whole thing could end up in court. And we know how that turned out last time.
Fresh Off the Press: OGREMAR, Indiana (DP) Citing a "vast weather conspiracy", as evidenced by the dual attacks of thunderstorms and tornadoes and the release of "The Day After Tomorrow" on Memorial Day weekend, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge today announced a "war on God".
"There is no doubt that these storms were 'Acts of God'", Ridge said. "The Homeland Security Department has determined that God is determined to strike again in the U.S. and possibly elsewhere in the world most likely before the elections this fall. We intend to prevent those attacks wherever possible." Ridge did not respond to repeated questions for specifics about Homeland Security's anti-God plans, but did say that God is suspected to have operatives "all across this country, in virtually every city and town".
When asked why Attorney General John Ashcroft wasn't in attendance at the press briefing, and whether he concurred in the prosecution of a new conflict, Ridge said, "He got the memo", then abruptly ended the meeting.