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Frank Rich, the War Diaries and the “Fractionalized Media”

2:54 pm in Uncategorized by earlofhuntingdon

Young Afghan Girl and Her Brother

Frank Rich often gets it right, as he does in today’s column on the Afghan War and the comparison between the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks’ publication of the Afghan War Diaries. His zingers, however, can derail an entire column. (Unlike, say, David Brooks or Ross Douthat, whose zingers make up their columns.) First, what Rich gets right.

Although written as letters from the front rather than as considered history, the Afghan War diaries are not old news. They confirm through firsthand sources some of what we already knew. In the old days, a story didn’t warrant publication unless it could be confirmed, corroborated, a tradition that Andrew Breitbart and Fox Noise are doing their best to gut. And although often poorly written in jargon, as Rich notes, the diary items have much to say. In common with the Pentagon Papers, they come at a time when the public has given up on the purposes of the war and the president’s running of it.

Most importantly, they disclose sytematic government lies about how well the war has gone. The president and his advisers already know this information, the Afghans already know much of it; our NATO allies already know much of it and are getting out. It’s the American public that either hasn’t seen this material or seen it in context. To the extent these logs correct that, they imperil political will for another losing war in Afghanistan more than they threaten any other interest.

Here’s an example, however, of where Mr. Rich goes off the rails, seemingly on tangential issues and seemingly owing to the Times’ demand that if a commentator finds fault, he must find it on the left and right, and deem those two imposters just the same. In getting this wrong, he illustrates why WikiLeaks’ work and responsible blogs have become so important:

The public’s reaction to the Afghanistan war logs has largely been a shrug — and not just because they shared their Times front page with an article about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. President Obama is, to put it mildly, no Nixon, and his no-drama reaction to the leaks robbed their publication of the constitutional cliffhanger of their historical antecedent.

If the American public’s reaction to the Afghan War diaries is apathy, it is due, in part, to the Times’ choice to play down its coverage. It is due to the Times’ decision largely to ignore evidence that civilian casualties are more brutal, more frequent and more commonplace than the government admits.

If the diaries include elements of "the constitutional cliffhanger," I think they do, that ought to be the Times lede. Failing to cover it because this president shows more restraint than Mr. Nixon is no excuse. The diaries have constitutional import not because Mr. Obama has formed his own White House plumbers – he needn’t, he can achieve the same effect with the Patriot [sic] Act and a few national security letters – but because they disclose serial lying.

As a further aside, Mr. Rich says that Mr. Obama is no Nixon. True, and neither is he George Bush, not in his intelligence, thought, speech, or depth. But he adheres to or expands upon many of George Bush’s worst legal, military and surveillance excesses. Mr. Rich continues with his most pungent mischaracterization:

Another factor in the logs’ shortfall as public spectacle is the fractionalization of the news media, to the point where even a stunt packaged as “news” can trump journalistic enterprise. (Witness how the bogus Shirley Sherrod video upstaged The Washington Post’s blockbuster investigation of the American intelligence bureaucracy two weeks ago.)

One would think that to qualify as news, an event had to be important, not be a spectacle. And the public abuse of Shirley Sherrod did not happen owing to the "fractionalization" of the news media (a euphemism for blogs) or to the anonymous bloggers that CNN screamed about. Mr. Breitbart blogs under his own name; his story took off via Fox and the MSM. No, l’Affaire Sherrod was an outgrowth of the power of the Right to manufacture propaganda and to publish it as if it were news across the MSM. (Fox, despite its claim of being "fair and balanced", is already on record as claiming that it can lie with impunity to pursue its corporate goals.)

The public abuse of Ms. Sherrod did not do more damage because she fought back, as she has her whole life, constructively and with a gusto rarely seen in this administration. Breitbart and his backers’ campaign of abuse also failed to do more harm because of the growing power of responsible blogs to correct the facts, and misinterpretations or lies about them, in the MSM and on other blogs. That’s also true about the Afghan War and about the import of the Afghan War Logs, the latter success helped by how much better the UK Guardian and der Spiegel covered the diaries than did Mr. Rich’s New York Times. Fortunately, that coverage includes commentary by Mr. Rich, who gets the last word:

As the president conducts his scheduled reappraisal of his war policy this December, a re-examination of 1971 might lead him to question his own certitude of what he is fond of calling “the long view.” The Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its 1971 Pentagon Papers coup. But another of the Pulitzers that year went to the columnist Jack Anderson, who also earned Nixon’s ire by mining other leaks to expose the White House’s tilt to Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War. The one thing no one imagined back then was that four decades later it would be South Asia, not Southeast Asia, that would still be beckoning America into a quagmire.

Agreed, but I’d be careful with that phrase, "No one could have imagined…."

Poised for Recovery?

1:45 pm in Uncategorized by earlofhuntingdon

Frank Rich captures America’s angst and anger at government and corporate financial elites in his Bernie Madoff is No John Dillinger. Madoff was a genteel but noxious racketeer who stole $65 billion dollars. Dillinger was a charismatic but homicidal bank robber who became a Robin Hood because the banksters he was robbing were first perceived as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Mr. Rich echoes Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz by encouraging Mr. Obama to rethink the tentativeness of his economic recovery package and his legal reforms, which do too little, and his Wall Street bail-outs, which reward the behavior he claims to punish. This comment from Joe Stiglitz captures how the developing world, and in Rich’s view, how many people here and abroad, view Mr. Obama’s economic stewardship:

[P]eople look at Washington and see a system of government that allowed Wall Street to write self-serving rules which put at risk the entire global economy — and then, when the day of reckoning came, turned to Wall Street to manage the recovery. They see continued re-distributions of wealth to the top of the pyramid, transparently at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Mr. Rich notes that banks are jacking up checking account fees and interest rates (even for good Read the rest of this entry →

Our Town – Can We Get There from Here? by Frank Rich

3:38 pm in Uncategorized by earlofhuntingdon

If Paul Krugman’s writing is a breath of fresh facts compared to the stale propaganda of David Brooks, Frank Rich’s is a mighty wind. For starters, he understands basic economics, unlike the admittedly ignorant Mr. Brooks. He writes about real people and problems, not Randian fantasies or the tortured misapplication of Edmund Burke’s eighteenth century oratory. As a former film critic, his power to deconstruct political theatricality is nearly unrivaled, as is his respect for the power of metaphor to drive home essential truths:

[A] chastened Warren Buffett likened our financial institutions’ recklessness to venereal disease. Even the innocent were infected because “it’s not just whom you sleep with” but also “whom they” — unnamed huge financial institutions — “are sleeping with,” he wrote. Indeed, our government is in the morally untenable position of rewarding the most promiscuous carrier of them all, A.I.G., with as much as $180 billion in taxpayers’ cash transfusions (so far) precisely because it can’t be disentangled from all the careless (and unidentified) trading partners sharing its infection.


[T]he CNBC carnival barkers are now…assailing the president as a radical saboteur of capitalism. It’s particularly rich to hear Cramer tar Obama (or anyone else) for “wealth destruction” when he followed up his bum steer to viewers on Bear Stearns with oleaginous on-camera salesmanship for Wachovia…two weeks before it, too, collapsed. What should really terrify Read the rest of this entry →

The World According to Howard Kurtz? Or Frank Rich?

5:00 am in Uncategorized by earlofhuntingdon

Enough of David Brooks. How about a social commentator who understands the theatricality essential to good politics, but doesn’t confuse it with reality? Would that be The New York Times‘ Frank Rich or The Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz?

Mr. Rich struggled through Harvard College, top ten percent, edited The Crimson, founded his own weekly in Richmond, VA, worked for The New York Post and Time Magazine. He then made do with a gig at The New York Times for twenty-eight years, first as chief drama critic, then on the Op-Ed page. He’s written several books, including The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina.

The Washington Post doesn’t list Mr. Kurtz’s accomplishments, in imitation of Mr. Cheney’s never telling the taxpayers about the OVP and "Senate" staffers of his they paid for. According to the ever accurate Wikipedia, Mr., Kurtz hails from SUNY Buffalo and Columbia’s graduate school of journalism. He’s written for the Post since 1990. In addition to his gig as chief media critic for the Post, Mr. Kurtz freelances and receives compensation from sources as diverse as CNN, Time and Conde Nast, whose work he also "criticizes" for the Post. Read the rest of this entry →