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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bill Clinton.

I called this in to Ed Schultz today and got an incredulous reaction. He thought it wouldn’t be legally permissible. However, Amendment XXII of the Constitution states only that (emphasis added):

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.

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.