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Sunday, February 15, 2004

Mark Steyn: A Tale of Two Tales

I missed this column from Mark Steyn last night, but fortunately The Big Trunk at Power Line didn't. Steyn notes the hypocrisy and blatant bias in American media in how they responded to two poorly-sourced scandal stories, and how only one of them actually pans out -- and that's the one they're not covering:

Now let's consider the Kerry scandal: If you read the British newspapers, you'll know all about it. It's not about whether he was Absent Without Leave, but the more familiar political failing of being Absent Without Pants. It concerns a 24-year old woman - ie, 41 years younger than Mrs Kerry - and, with their usual efficiency, the Fleet Street lads have already interviewed her dad, who's called Kerry a "sleazeball". But if you read the US newspapers or watch the news shows there's not a word about the Senator's scandal. Though it seems to have a somewhat sounder factual basis, and at least one witness more relevant to this situation than the loose-lipped Gen Turniphead was to Mr Bush's, it's the media that's gone Awol. In this case, it seems it would hurt to ask. So Mr Bush has been unable to do the John Kerry routine, declining to comment but adding that "it's not my marital record that's at issue". We have two flimsy "scandals" tangentially related to character, but only one of them's all over the networks.

I'm not going to make a case for covering the John Kerry adultery scandal, although I may be in a minority on the right (see comments) in my belief that marital infidelity doesn't disqualify one for political office. However, that story has better sourcing and more verification than does anything about Bush's National Guard service and file-shredding accusations. People can certainly argue about relevance, but truth is an absolute defense anyway, and the truth is that Bush was honorably discharged in 1973, which means that the Defense Department concluded that Bush's service was both honorable and complete.

Nor does Steyn argue for more bimbo eruptions in American politics; he, like myself, wants journalists to practice the same thresholds for publication whether the target of allegations is Democrat or Republican. And in the case of John Kerry, it's the media that's gone AWOL, as Steyn says, and he continues:

By contrast, the Kerry narrative is almost impenetrable. If Vietnam bitterly divided a nation, split communities, tore apart families, etc, etc, Sen Kerry somehow managed to wind up on both sides of the fence: in the 1960s, he was John Wayne taking out the gooks in 'Nam; in the 1970s, he was Hanoi Jane Fonda, leading the protest movement; now, after two decades in Congress opposing every new weapons system for America's military, he's campaigning like Bob Hope on a USO tour flanked by wall-to-wall veterans. What story accounts for Senator Flip-Flop these past 40 years?

If character is the issue, Bush can relax. And, if doing your bit for national security is the issue, then John Kerry's been AWOL for two decades.

Read the entire article; as always, Steyn is a delight to read.

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Friday, January 23, 2004

Power Line Dissects the Washington Post

Here in the Twin Cities, we are accustomed to our leading newspaper's overt and covert anti-Republican bias, especially when the subject is the Bush administration. Other major broadsheets have similar problems, especially the Los Angeles Times (covered brilliantly by Patterico's Pontifications) and the New York Times. Editorial page preferences don't bother me; the op-ed section is where editors are supposed to take sides. These newspapers allow their editorial bias to inform their supposedly straight news reporting, and that serves no one well.

One newspaper that had been fairly good at separating news from opinion was the Washington Post, which has been fairly straightforward during the Iraq war. Unfortunately, that seems to be changing now that the primary season is in full swing. Hindrocket at Power Line writes a devastatingly detailed critique on the work of the Post's Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus, two reporters whose bias had been at issue in the past as well. Hindrocket provides a first-class look at how reporters, even in the top-line mainstream media, will twist wording and ignore facts in order to write their articles based on their preconceived notions. Usually, reporters are more subtle about it than Milbank and Pincus, especially in this example. You have to wonder what the Post's editors were thinking when they ran this article.

Read the entire thing. It's easily the most worthwhile blog post on the media so far this month.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Dead Scientist Believed Iraq Had WMDs

Months after the suicide of a British government scientist threw into doubt Anglo-American claims of WMD possession by the Iraqis and touched off accusations of a murder conspiracy to silence the analyst, the BBC admits that it has an unbroadcast interview with the late David Kelly in which he insists that Iraq had WMDs and posed an immediate threat:

The weapons expert slashed his wrists near his home in Oxfordshire, southern England, in July 2003 after being exposed as the source of a claim by a BBC reporter that the prime minister's team inflated the threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, to justify war.

One week before senior judge Lord Hutton delivers his report on Kelly's death -- a judgment that could be critical of ministers -- the BBC said it would broadcast later Wednesday an interview it recorded with Kelly in October 2002, which it has never shown. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said in September 2002 that Iraq's weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes.

In one excerpt of the interview seen by CNN, Kelly was asked if "they" posed an "immediate threat." It was not entirely clear if the reporter was referring to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

Kelly replied: "Yes they are. Even if they are not actually filled and deployed today the capability exists to get them filled and deployed within a matter of days or weeks. So yes, they are a real threat."

The BBC had this interview for fifteen months and never released it until now, while the British news service printed allegations of fraudulent intelligence analysis. Don't you think that knowing Kelly's position on WMDs before the start of the war might have some bearing on the hysterical interpretations of his suicide? It certainly establishes that Blair and his government were honestly given and used the specific intelligence on which they publicly based their arguments for military action and didn't make it up out of thin air.

So now do we get to hear an apology for the past several months of protesters making Kelly out to be a martyr who was killed by the Bush/Blair crime family for threatening the omerta of warmongers? Nah. You see, even though the Tinfoil Hat Brigade was wrong this time, it doesn't mean that Bush and Blair aren't still evil incarnate.

Addendum: The BBC notes that this will not shower glory on Auntie Beeb:

BBC correspondent Nicholas Witchell said the programme made "very uncomfortable" viewing for the BBC.

"What the BBC will be hoping is that the best way to demonstrate the strength, and it would say the integrity, of its journalism, is to be seen to be reporting very robustly, very fully and very candidly, on a story which does in some respects reflect badly on it," he told BBC News at 10.

UPDATE: Sullivan had it first, which I just found out.

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Sunday, January 18, 2004

Media and Political Notes

A few items from the media that probably don't measure up to a full post on their own, but still seem interesting ...

First this story from the AP regarding comments by Dan Rather on coverage for nominating conventions:

CBS anchor Dan Rather says the day is coming soon when there will be virtually no live coverage of political conventions on television networks. The Democrats and Republicans are to blame for scheduling four-day conventions that do little except advertise their established positions and candidates, he said.

This actually makes sense and it's one of the few times I'll agree with Rather. Modern nominating conventions only serve to anoint predetermined winners and so generate very little in terms of real news. Only the keynote and acceptance speeches have any significance, and networks generally still carry those live (and should continue to do so). They also fail miserably as entertainment, making them even less suitable for wall-to-wall live coverage. How often do you need to hear state delegations announce themselves in the manner of "From the great state of North Slobokodia, home of the largest fossilized bat-dung ball in North America"?

If for some reason no one candidate goes into the convention with a majority of delegates, you can expect the networks to give plenty of live coverage to the real drama as it plays out, and they'll be more than willing to juggle their schedules to do so. Until then, catch them on C-SPAN.

Next comes two separate blurbs from IMDB's Movie & TV News section regarding election issues. First is a report that Howard Dean is getting a much tougher time with the networks than other Democrats:

According to the CMPA, only 49 percent of stories about Dean have been positive versus some 78 percent about his rivals. The study also found that NBC was harder on the Democratic candidates than the other networks, while ABC presented the most positive assessments of them.

While Dean and his supporters will use this report to argue against liberal media bias, the truth lies in Dean's front-runner status and has less to do with anti-Dean sentiment at the networks than with the greater scrutiny that comes with being the one in front. The ABC slant towards the Democrats should surprise no one who has to watch Peter Jennings.

The second item may be even more interesting -- apparently CBS turned down a MoveOn ad during the Super Bowl:

CBS has turned down a request from the liberal group MoveOn to buy a 30-second commercial during this year's Super Bowl that is critical of President George W. Bush. The network said that the ad violated a CBS policy that bars the broadcasting of "issue" ads. A 60-second version of the ad, which is critical of the Bush administration, is due to begin running on CNN beginning Jan. 17.

It's the same rationale CBS used to deny an ad slot to PETA, which lead them to complain that CBS was arbitrary in its decision-making, since CBS has run anti-smoking PSAs during past Super Bowls and run other ads "advocating the consumption of meat". However, CBS is under no obligation to sell ad space to anyone and everyone with money; they can exercise their own editorial control outside of elections, where they have to meet legal standards for equal access. If PETA doesn't like that, they can organize a boycott of the Super Bowl, but seeing as how vegetarians probably don't comprise a significant part of its audience, I doubt it will have much impact.

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A Bit of Journalistic Irony

As I read over the main web page of today's Minneapolis Star Tribune, I noticed a link titled "Editor's Note: Why we pulled USA Weekend from Sunday's Paper." Certainly a provocative invitation, I began to wonder why: Financial disagreement? Offensive material? A Bush endorsement?

When I clicked on the link, however, I found that even the explanation had been pulled from the paper. It looks like some sort of conspiracy! I'm sure that a portion of the blogosphere will assign deep and sinister intent to this, just like they do every time a 404 comes up on the White House web site. Those of us who live here will just continue to be amused by the parochial nature of our largest hometown daily.

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Friday, January 16, 2004

Tekela Will Get Another Shot

Local prosecutors resolved a tragic and infuriating case yesterday by virtually guaranteeing a vicious murderer gets out of prison in less than 20 years:

Tekela L. Richardson, accused of beating a 79-year-old St. Paul woman to death June 17 while stealing her vehicle, pleaded guilty Thursday to intentional second-degree murder. ... Under a plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend that Richardson receive a 25 1/2-year prison term as called for by state sentencing guidelines. That would require her to serve at least 17 years.

However, District Judge M. Michael Monahan reminded Richardson that he is not bound by the plea agreement, and that she cannot withdraw her guilty plea if he decides to give her a longer sentence. She will be sentenced March 15.

In my native California, murder during a robbery is automatically first-degree murder, and the only two options are death or life without parole. California has many issues, but lightweight sentencing is no longer one of them. I am constantly astounded that Minnesotans abide these sentencing trends of mercy towards the criminal at the expense of law-abiding citizens. According to this article, Tekela has been arrested at least four previous times, although no information on their nature or resulting convictions was available.

Shirley Shepherd was bound, kidnapped, and beaten to death by Tekela Richardson so that Richardson could get an old woman's car. Richardson should be spending the rest of her life in prison to ensure it doesn't happen again. A seventeen-year sentence is an insult to the victim and her family, and it serves notice that the State of Minnesota does not hold the lives of its citizens in very high regard.

As an aside, notice how the Strib mentions that Shepherd's car is an SUV twice during the article, but declines to provide any detail on the defendant's prior offenses. Is the type of car critical to understanding the story -- or is the Strib attempting to imply that the victim may have been at fault because she drove a vehicle that the reporter or the editor doesn't like? It's eerily familiar to this story and appears to be an editorial preference of the newspaper. Editorial bias comes in many, many flavors ...

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Monday, January 12, 2004

Sympathy For The Devils

I'm puzzled by this piece in tomorrow's Washington Post that tells the story of former Ba'athists in Iraq and how difficult life has become, now that their privileges have been revoked:

Less than a year ago, Ismael Mohammed Juwara lived high in the food chain of President Saddam Hussein's Iraq. He was a secret policeman feared and respected among his comrades and in his hometown, enjoying a cornucopia of privileges from the government. ... Now, as he scrapes out a living by selling diesel fuel illegally, he is a pariah in the new Iraq. "We were on top of the system. We had dreams," said Juwara, a former member of the Mukhabarat, the intelligence service that reported directly to the now-deposed president. "Now we are the losers. We lost our positions, our status, the security of our families, stability. Curse the Americans. Curse them."

The entire article consists of several long whines from former Saddam loyalists who used to hold positions of power and privilege before Saddam's departure, and who now have become pariahs among their victims. Juwara decries treatment like this:

Besides his economic woes, Juwara expressed deep feelings of humiliation. He told of a trip to the Central Bank in Baghdad on a quest for records of his account in Thuluiya. He said the bank records were looted after the war. "You know what they told me? 'You are from Thuluiya. You are a dog. Go and ask Saddam for the money,' " he recalled. "A few months ago, they would never have treated me like that. They wouldn't dare."

Ah, yes -- they wouldn't dare. Why not? Because Juwara likely would have arrested them on the spot and tortured them for the crime of not respecting him. Williams paints this picture to scold the Coalition for mistreating this poor Gestapo agent secret policeman by not employing him in the new security forces. However, by detailing his former side benefits over four paragraphs, it's clear that Juwara isn't motivated by a love of his fellow Iraqis but by the free land, free construction, superior health care, higher rations, discounted appliances, liberal traveling policies, and the fear he could see in the eyes of those whom he dominated. Would author Daniel Williams want this man to be his local policeman -- a man who tortured people for a living and who still thirsts to dominate them?

Not once does Williams give any context to this story, preferring to equate Juwara to an Everyman instead. Would Williams have written this story from the perspective of a former Gestapo agent after the fall of Berlin in 1945 or 1946, sympathetically telling about all of the lost perks and marks of respect that poor Klaus has to endure, without ever mentioning the fact that the people who treat him like a pariah are the same ones he terrorized on behalf of a genocidal madman? How about talking about former secret policemen in Serbia under Milosevic, or in South Africa under apartheid? If there is a difference between these, it's only because the torture and genocide under these latter two examples were less heinous than in Iraq.

Both Williams and the Post had an obligation to inject a little context into poor Juwara's griping and "bellowing" about his comeuppance. Their failure to do so makes this article tremendously unbalanced and, in its quest for sympathy for sadists and murderers, morally bankrupt.

UPDATE: Welcome to Instapundit readers!

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Friday, January 09, 2004

Hell, I'll Take the Job

Glenn Reynolds, the indispensable Instapundit, writes in his MS-NBC column that the New York Times needs an editorial transfusion:

And if you read the Times oped page regularly, as fewer and fewer people seem to do these days, you'll notice a distinct staleness about many of the columnists. The Times oped page needs turnover -- either permanent, or temporary, with columnists sent off to do actual reporting, or something, for six months or a year while they regain their edge. But who would fill the gaps?

Reynolds then discusses a couple of options available to the Gray Lady, including giving occasional guest columnist Dan Savage a regular run while Dowd and Krugman go on an extended vacation. (Maybe Krugman can write another book to follow up The Great Unraveling? He can write about trying to unravel during a record growth period.) Reynolds notes that Savage isn't even outside of the Times' mainstream, which should make the interval relatively pain-free.

I have a few suggestions for NYT's managing editor. Look around the blogosphere for some fresh meat. Glenn notes that writing a column isn't equivalent to blogging:

I write a lot more words than Krugman, but it's mostly blogging -- and the difference between writing blog entries and writing a full-up newspaper column is the difference between improvising jazz and composing a symphony. The composing may or may not be better, on some cosmic scheme of things, but it's definitely a lot harder.

Maybe so, but Glenn also writes columns, and pretty good ones, for MS-NBC and Slate. I could definitely see Glenn writing something that at least matches the quality of Dowd and Krugman, although matching their quality is hardly Glenn's point, I readily concede. I could see people like Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost or Steven den Beste being able to come up with two columns a week. Perhaps a better approach would be to ask a rotating group of solid-writing bloggers to contribute a column once a week, or once every two weeks. Enable trackback pinging while they're at it, too, in order to energize their blogosphere readership.

I'd love to see a major daily take this kind of risk with a few bloggers and build a bridge between the media and their most involved customers. Perhaps sometime soon ...

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Clues For The Clueless

The AP and the Star-Tribune provides another example of the mass media's cluelessness in dealing with matters of religion. Today's entry involves a study of sexual practices in urban areas from the University of Chicago. For the most part, the story remains mildly interesting, as much as it can be when it's mostly telling us what we already know about sexual relations these days -- people wait longer to get married and have more sexual partners than they did before, men have more partners than women, women want "relational" sex and men want "transactional" sex regardless of sexual orientation. (In fact, it sounds to me like they haven't changed much in 20 years.)

Towards the end, reporter Martha Irvine makes the following statement:

Still, Laumann and his staff found that social services, the church and law enforcement have been slow to address this latest sexual revolution. ... And most churches they examined were not good at "giving guidance about how you manage a stable, but non-married relationship,'' Laumann says.

Here's a clue for both Laumann and Irvine, who felt it necessary to print this revelation -- churches that prohibit extramarital sex do not exist to give "guidance" about how to maintain sexual relationships outside of marriage. Singletons who show up with their significant others at a Catholic or Protestant church requesting relationship counseling while sharing a bed will be told to stop doing either the former or the latter. Churches believe it to be a sin, and assisting people in perpetuating the sin makes them a party to it.

No one has to join a church, or follow it once they've joined; each person has a free-will choice to make. What Laumann and Irvine suggest is that churches must be co-opted to the relativist values of the day instead of devoting themselves to eternal truths (or their belief about eternal truths). Religions that preach moral relativism cease being religions at all and start becoming new-age encounter groups. The attitude expressed in this article betrays the condescension and disdain the media and academics hold for religious values and organizations. To scold them for not supporting practices that they find not only destructive but in opposition to the core values they cherish is to belittle them. The Strib's editors need to look at these pieces a little more carefully in the future.

UPDATE: A big welcome to readers of Evangelical Outpost, one of my favorite blogs!

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Monday, January 05, 2004

Seattle P-I: Stupid Is as Stupid Does

What a relief to quit writing about the Strib! Fortunately, as I wrote last week, I've discovered an even bigger example of the Tinfoil-Hat Brigade in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. As I saw on Blogs for Bush today, their Opinion section continues to attract the oddities. Today's exercise in Looneyvision comes to us via the P-I from guest columnist Neal Starkman, who claims to have discovered the reason George Bush remains popular with the electorate:

The answer, I'm afraid, is the factor that dare not speak its name. It's the factor that no one talks about. The pollsters don't ask it, the media don't report it, the voters don't discuss it. I, however, will blare out its name so that at last people can address the issue and perhaps adopt strategies to overcome it. It's the "Stupid factor," the S factor: Some people -- sometimes through no fault of their own -- are just not very bright.

Starkman reaches this conclusion by determining that people of normal intelligence couldn't possibly be satisfied with George Bush's approach to the economy (which grew 8.2% in the last quarter, the best in 20 years), or the fact that he freed almost 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq by deposing two of the worst dictatorships in the world at a minimal cost of life, or in how he has refused to appease terrorists and the dictatorships that produce them. In fact, he carps about the loss of freedom that the Patriot Act has meant for Americans, and then suggests the following solutions for the excessive stupidity that he's discovered in America:

I don't have a solution to this problem. To claim I did would belie my previous arguments. But I do have some modest suggestions that might provide a start for discussion: an intelligence test to earn the right to vote; a three-significantly-stupid-behaviors-and-you're-out law; fines for politicians who pander to the lowest common denominator and deportation of media representatives who perpetuate such actions.

I have a better solution: taking education out of the hands of the unions that have used schools for everything but learning over the past 50 years, passing school voucher programs to inject competition into primary education, and thereby empowering parents to take charge of their children's education, instead of being subjected to various diktats from the academia elite. Said elite and union power structure, of course, consists mainly of leftists on university campuses and their intellectual progeny.

Stupid people can be easily identified, says Starkman:

You know these people; they're all around you (they're not you, else you would not be reading this article this far). They're the ones who keep the puerile shows on TV, who appear as regular recipients of the Darwin Awards, who raise our insurance rates by doing dumb things, who generally make life much more miserable for all of us than it ought to be. Sad to say, they comprise a substantial minority -- perhaps even a majority -- of the populace.

If Starkman is too dense to understand that the Darwin Awards are 90% urban legend material, then I think we've found at least one member of the Stupid Society already.

UPDATE: The Swanky Conservative gives this a thorough fisking, too. (via Zygote Design)

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