The New Hubris

Once I stopped convulsing from laughter at the thought of The New Republic offering anyone advice about fact-checking — of all things — I tried to decipher exactly what false claim they felt Michael Moore had made in Fahrenheit 9/11 (“Counterfactual”, July 19, 2004).

In the film, a Secret Service patrol officer shows up while Moore and Craig Unger are filming in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington. In response to an inquiry by Moore, the officer says the Secret Service doesn’t usually guard foreign embassies. TNR‘s Notebook column quotes a Service spokesman saying that part of the agency’s charge since 1970 has been to protect diplomatic missions in D.C., then claims Moore’s film is inaccurate because he leaves viewers with the wrong impression.

Whose fault is that? Moore asks an impromptu question of the officer during the filming of an interview with Unger, the officer answers. That much is clearly factual. Perhaps the officer didn’t know the correct answer, but the accuracy of the officer’s answer isn’t something Moore is responsible for. Even if Moore suspected that the Secret Service would show up, even if he knew that diplomatic missions in D.C. were under Service protection, unless he told the officer to give an incorrect answer, he’s no more responsible for the veracity of this “fact” than any interviewer whose subject states something inaccurate. Moore didn’t make the claim, he showed the officer making the claim.

In a corrolary, as a part of this week’s Moore-bashing at TNR, Gregg Easterbrook’s column “Out of Order” takes Moore to task for claiming in Bowling for Columbine that a plaque on a B-52 at the Air Force Academy celebrated killing Vietnamese people. Easterbrook links to a Moore debunking site which quotes the plaque as saying that the B-52 is one of two credited with a MIG kill. Apart from the fact that the “picture” of the plaque that Easterbrook claims is on the web page is certainly not readable (or visible) in the picture of the plane, he fails to mention that the plaque quote does say the MIG was shot down “during ‘Linebacker II’ action on Christmas Eve, 1972.” Perhaps Easterbrook thinks “Linebacker II” was some sort of aerial football scrimmage, but in actuality it was an eleven day bombing campaign in North Vietnam that consisted of 3,000 sorties and 40,000 tons of bombs. Easterbrook can quibble that the plaque wasn’t meant to celebrate the bombing campaign, but the B-52 wasn’t exactly just flying lazily over the green fields of home when it was attacked by the mean, mean MIG.

It’s a shame that TNR‘s thirst for the facts comes so late in the game. If the same obsession for detail they seem to have unleashed on F9/11 had been turned to the administration’s claims of Iraq’s capabilities for the development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, perhaps they wouldn’t have appeared so gullible over the past couple of years.

“Wall Street Journal” Touts Casual Games

The July 15, 2004 edition of the Wall Street Journal (article not available online except to subscribers), contained an article titled “Poppit! Who Knew? Low-Tech Videogames Now Are Hot” with some information of interest to Director and Shockwave (and Flash) developers, although none of those technologies are mentioned specifically. Some selected exerpts:

“The mass market for online gaming, like it or not, is among older women with children playing casual games,” says Matthew Bromberg, general manager of the games division of Time Warner Inc.’s America Online unit. “It certainly runs counter to how the videogame industry thinks of itself.”

With a strong audience, casual games offer a gender-bending case for how the conventional videogame industry can rev up its presence in the U.S. online market. One-third of Yahoo’s game players are women 35 or over. Electronic Arts Inc.’s Web site has 14 million players per month, 55% of them are women.

At AOL, online games are the biggest activity after e-mail and instant messaging, logging 10 million players per month. DFC Intelligence, a San Diego market-research firm, forecasts that there will be over 100 million casual gamers world-wide by the end of the year.

The most popular titles are variations on simple classics—card games like poker and bingo—and represent a new zone for relaxing and socializing. Game traffic is heaviest in the afternoon and evening hours, when there are large numbers of women at home.

For game-makers, the economics of casual games are the most compelling. While cutting-edge videogames can take years and millions of dollars to produce, casual games—which lack the realistic graphics, epic battles, and strategic team play common to big budget console titles—are designed by a few people, often for $100,000 or less. [emphasis added]

The article’s available from the WSJ site for $2.95, although you might be able to dig up a copy of Thursday’s Marketplace section if you get the lead out. Just a little something to add to your list of persuasive documents for potential clients (it’s a lot shorter than the IDGA white papers).

Iraqi Bridge Murder Co-conspirator or Star Quarterback?

Oregonian readers already saw this Sunday morning’s paper, but there are parallels between this incident and the national media that I though might be interesting to a wider audience here.

On July 6, the Oregonian, one of the largest-circulation papers west of the Rockies, published a laudatory profile of Army Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman in the Sports section. Sassaman, 41, was a high-school football star in Aloha, Oregon in the late 1970s, and quarterbacked a Cherry Bowl win for West Point’s football team in 1984.

Opening with a bit of his speech to a local church group, the 1,500-word article described how Sassaman ran the Iraqi city of Balad — 40 miles north of Baghdad — as a commander of First Battalion, Eighth Infantry; how he won two Bronze Stars, and dealt with the death of two of his soldiers. The tone of the article was very upbeat, although some might have had doubts when they saw phrases like “He commandeered a 54-inch television set, and on Saturdays everybody watched American college football.” or this paragraph:

“The sheiks and imams would complain when I made decisions they didn’t like,” Sassaman said. “I told them, ‘Next time you guys let a tyrant run the country, don’t wait for a 41-year-old Judeo-Christian white guy to make your decisions for you.

One little thing that didn’t get mentioned by Sassaman to the Oregonian reporters or picked up in their “research” was this little gem, reported on the wire services the week before:

U.S. Soldiers Charged in Iraqi Drowning Death

The Army charged three soldiers with manslaughter and a fourth with assault in connection with an incident last January in which they forced two Iraqi detainees to jump into the Tigris River.

Documents released by the Army name several superior officers, including the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman, as unindicted co-conspirators. Sassaman has been one of the highest-profile young officers in the Army for years because he quarterbacked West Point’s football team to its first bowl game, the 1984 Cherry Bowl against Michigan State University.

When questioned about the incident, Saville and the others told military investigators that they had released the two Iraqis and seen them walking away, the Army said. Saville and Perkins also conspired with Sassaman, their battalion commander, Capt. Matthew Cunningham, their company commander, and one other officer to impede the criminal investigation, the Army said.

The Oregonian‘s Public Editor, Michael Arrieta-Walden, published a column July 11 stating:

When reporting the story, Norm Maves Jr. reviewed past stories in The Oregonian and checked the Google search engine for information about Sassaman. He said he did not find any stories that described the reprimand in his two searches, including one the day before the story appeared. My Google search this week yielded at least one in The Washington Post on April 5 and one in The Washington Post and other newspapers July 3.

And they say bloggers aren’t fact-checked or edited.

[Thanks to my father, David Plant, for noticing this and bringing it to my attention before the Oregonian managed to get around to it.]

The Easiest Job At the Oregonian

Wow, did Dave Reinhard come up with that item about John Edwards being “out of diapers” all on his own? That’s some impressive reporting; I wonder why nobody else has mentioned it?

His column today (“Edwards: tan, rested and out of diapers”, 8 July) is so rife with falsehoods it just makes sense to start at the top. In Reinhard’s first paragraph, he regurgitates the Bush campaign’s lie that John McCain was offered the VP slot by John Kerry. The Associated Press reported this statement from McCain’s chief of staff, Mark Salter, in mid-June: ”Senator McCain categorically states that he has not been offered the vice presidency by anyone.” If only Dave would read the newspapers instead of those online gossip sites!

In his second paragraph, Reinhard parrots the talking point that the National Journal ranked Edwards as the “fourth-most-liberal member of the Senate,” something repeated verbatim by Rush Limbaugh, RNC chair Ed Gillespie, and Senator Bill Frist among many others. Not that there’s anything wrong with being liberal, in my own opinion, but the RNC brief containing that statement selects just one of the years the National Journal reported on. Edwards’ record over the full course of his Senate career is somewhat different from the Republican spin. The National Journal analysis says: “Among the other presidential contenders, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has been in the moderate-to-conservative range of Senate Democrats during his four years in the chamber.”

In paragraph three, Edwards is described as “no Southern Democrat.” He’s lived in the Carolinas or Georgia most of his life. Dave claims that because he’s liberal he can’t be a Southern Democrat, yet he managed to get himself elected as a Democrat in a state-wide race in North Carolina. Barring some other explanation of what a Southern Democrat is (Bill Clinton?) I’d have to say Edwards qualifies.

I could go on, but unlike Dave I have to work for a living. Dave Reinhard hasn’t ever checked a fact in one of his columns, and while the Oregonian adheres to its policy of allowing people to cut and paste from the Drudge Report on its opinion pages, I guess he’ll continue to have the easiest job at 1320 SW Broadway.

The Alterman Reality

In a July 2 response to a correspondent named Cynthia Anderson, Eric Alterman responded to the erstwhile Nader supporter (who had called him a “prick” and signed off with a Cheneyesque salutation) by essentially blaming the Iraq war on Nader, presumably because he helped Bush get in the White House. I’m not so sure it would have made a difference.


I’ve been watching Democrats chasing their tails about Nader now for nearly four years. The Republicans never spent this much time foaming at the mouth about Perot when he sucked far more votes from Bush and Dole in ’92 and ’96. They just kept pounding away at Clinton and Gore by hook or by crook. If, instead of expending a bunch of effort to keep Nader off the ballot, Dems could do something to attract some of Nader’s voters, wouldn’t that be a better use of their time and energy? The Republicans who are going to rallies here in Portland to try to get him on the ballot aren’t doing anything for him unless they’re going to vote for him instead of Bush. People who really want to vote for him where he’s not on the ballot can just write him him in.

I’m voting for Kerry. I’ve donated money to Kerry. But one item in your reply to Cynthia intrigues me. In dismissing her admittedly rude letter, you ended it: “And by the way, nice little war we’ve got going in Iraq. Thanks.” Do you know for sure that Al Gore wouldn’t have gone to war in Iraq? Or that John Kerry, if he’d been in the same position as George W. Bush, wouldn’t have? I’m assuming George Tenet would still have been the CIA chief. The funding of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress was going on through at least the second half of the Clinton administration. Kerry, at least, was with everyone else in his acceptance of the Bush team’s “intelligence” that Iraq was a danger to others — despite the concerns of the UN inspectors and foreign governments about the validity of that data. A President Gore or President Kerry wouldn’t have had Cheney and Wolfowitz at the door beating the drums to go into Iraq after striking at al-Quaeda in Afghanistan, but the same flawed intelligence would have been coming through. Can you be sure a VP Joe Lieberman would have been uninterested? Or that if the stories from the INC had been “stovepiped” to members of Congress instead of Scooter Libbey that Gore or Kerry could have avoided invading Iraq? Not without questioning things more than Kerry did as a member of the Senate. Which leaves me with some options:

John Kerry wanted to go to war in Iraq.


John Kerry, a member of the Foreign Relations committee of the Senate, knew that the administration’s case for war against Iraq on the issue of WMD was flawed, as was suspected by any number of people outside of the government and — particularly — outside of the U.S., but he decided to go ahead and support it for whatever reason (perhaps because he was announce for President in about a year),


John Kerry, a former prosecutor, was duped by the administration’s case for Iraqi WMD because he either didn’t bother to check into it or — perhaps worse — he trusted a group of people who proved from the moment Bush began to run for office that they were willing to lie about anything.

Pick your own poison.

Heart & Soul

Today marks the opening of Disney’s America’s Heart & Soul, the film that Howard Kaloogian, chairman of Move America Forward says will leave you “with a very different feeling about America than when you leave Moore’s film,” Fahrenheit 9/11. Perhaps so.

The official synopsis of America’s Heart & Soul begins:

America is a vast country — three thousand miles from end to end. But it’s not the land that makes America so special — it’s the people.

Leaving aside the fact that 3,000 miles really only covers the continental U.S, leaving out Alaska and Hawaii which have both been states for some 45 years, think about that statement for a moment. “The people” are what make America special? Reading through the cast biographies on the site (which include Ben Cohen, one of the founders of Ben & Jerry’s) it’s difficult to tell how these particular people exemplify America.

The people of America are drawn from all over the world. The inspiring, uplifting stories featured in America’s Heart & Soul could easily come from any number of countries on this planet, and they’d be no less uplifting or inspiring.

I doubt debut director Louis Schwartzberg had any idea he’d be pitted against Michael Moore in some sort of cinematic faceoff. His previous credits included visual effects for Stuart Little 2, Men in Black II, Erin Brochovich, and additional cinematography for the visually stunning Koyaanisqatsi. It’s unlikely he’s driving the marketing push that says America’s people are what makes it special.

The movie may be wonderful, but the message that one people is somehow special is the same dogma that’s lead to discrimination, subjugation, oppression, and massacres in this country and elsewhere. America’s people aren’t special; theoretically, anyone from around the world can become an American by applying for citizenship.

What makes America special is exactly what the Bush administration is trying to destroy. They’re the rights specified by the Constitution and the laws based on those rights. Those are the real heart and soul of America.