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Caveat lector

KILLING THE PIG! At Fox, they’re busy stifling dissent. At the Post, a Big Scribe is affected:

MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2003

MORE DECLINE OF THE POST: How bad is the Washington Post op-ed page? This morning, William Raspberry embarrasses the page once again with his latest slumbering column.

Should debate about the war continue now that the war has actually begun? Raspberry “is inclined” to say that it shouldn’t, he says. “But what are we supposed to do,” he asks,” when we suspect that our desire for national solidarity is being exploited in quite cynical fashion?” The scribe continues: “What if we believe we are being manipulated into supporting positions we don’t believe in—positions we believe will be harmful to our long-term national interests?”

For the record, those questions would seem to answer themselves (see below). At any rate, Raspberry then makes his key points:

RASPBERRY: Maybe I read too much. I’ve just been looking at articles by Seymour Hersh in the March 17 issue of the New Yorker and by Joshua Micah Marshall in the April issue of Washington Monthly and feeling more than slightly used. Hersh’s piece, on the personal financial implications of Richard Perle’s involvement as an adviser on defense policy, is disturbing enough, though it stops short of accusing Perle of anything worse than having a tin ear for the appearance of conflict of interest.

Marshall’s piece disturbs in a quite different way. His thesis, in a nutshell, is that far from ignoring the things some of us fear will result from our venture in Iraq—radicalization of the Arab world, new waves of terrorism, transformation of the conflict into a species of religious warfare—the administration’s hawks are actually counting on such an outcome.

We’d be amazed at Raspberry’s self-admiring sloth—if we hadn’t seen it so often in the past. The scribe has “just been looking at” Hersh’s piece—a piece which hit the newsstands on March 10, three full weeks ago. And as Raspberry sums up Marshal’s piece, he considers some fundamental points—points which have been wholly ignored by “good guy” pundits for an inordinately long time:
RASPBERRY (continuing directly): “In [the hawks’] view,” [Marshal] writes, “invasion of Iraq was not merely, or even primarily, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Nor was it really about weapons of mass destruction, though their elimination [would be] an important benefit. Rather, the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East.”
Duh. It has been clear for a very long time that there is a powerful group within the Admin which may “see the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the entire Middle East.” Whatever one thinks of those policy views, they should have been examined, in great detail, long before this point. But Raspberry—praising himself for reading too much—is just now wondering what’s up with this crew. He also says that he’s “reading too much” when he thumbs Hersh’s three-week-old piece.

What do Admin insiders intend? Pundits have shown little interest in knowing. Nor have news divisions at papers like the Post dared to explore the larger aims which may lay behind our war policy. As David Broder did when Gore gave his speech (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/26/03), our major press organs have slumbered and snored as we’ve drifted into defining war. But what does the Bush Admin really intend? Many months after he should have asked, Raspberry praises himself for “reading too much” as he belatedly wonders.

HOW COWED: By the way, try to believe that an American pundit had to ask these questions:

RASPBERRY: But what are we supposed to do—what are we supposed to think—when we suspect that our desire for national solidarity is being exploited in quite cynical fashion?

To get to the point: What if we believe we are being manipulated into supporting positions we don’t believe in—positions we believe will be harmful to our long-term national interests?

Amazing, isn’t it? Incredibly, Raspberry wonders what he should do if he thinks his country is adopting positions that are harmful to its long-term interests. How cowed are the poobahs on the Post op-ed page? With conservatives trying to stifle dissent (see below), a major pundit has to persuade himself to speak up in that troubling circumstance! But all over talk radio, all over Fox—and all over insider cocktail parties—“conservatives” are trying to send the message that those who ask questions are anti-American. Raspberry—asking basic questions quite late—has to persuade himself that he has a right to perform this fundamental duty. But so it goes as the cavemen attack (see below) and as the timid fall back, deeply cowed.

The Daily update

KILLING THE PIG: On Fox, asking obvious questions about the war is “totally inappropriate” (Brit Hume), “close to disgraceful” (William Kristol), and “idiotic,” “stupid” and moronic” (Tony Snow). Meanwhile, “American liberalism and the Democratic Party” are riddled with people who comprise an “anti-American left,” who “take a certain relish in the fact when something goes badly in the war” and who “hate the Bush administration more than they love America.” Here’s a taste of the rancid discussion on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday:
MARA LIASSON: I don’t see the anti-American left, whatever it is, as being some kind of a preponderant part of the Democratic Party. Look at the guys who are running for president in the Democratic Party. Only Howard Dean, who you would hardly put in the top tier there, is against the war.

HUME: But, Mara, look at who’s getting—

LIASSON: John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, John Edwards—

HUME: Look at who’s getting all the cheers at the big Democratic events. Look at the speeches that the Democratic core faithful like most.

LIASSON: Yes. Right now.

HUME: It’s the anti-American stuff.

LIASSON: Right now—it’s not anti-American.

HUME: I mean, anti-war stuff. I won’t say “anti-American.”

Sorry, Brit—you just did. And this tone now animates American talk radio and much of the commentary coming from America’s pseudo-right pundits.

How stupid does the assault on discourse get? Here was part of Snow’s closing comment about the “idiotic war coverage:”

SNOW: Our planners probably did underestimate the understandable skepticism of Iraqi citizens, who rose up in revolt a dozen years ago, at our urging, only to have allies abandon them in their time of need.

Wars are incredibly complex things, and reporters probably have less actual military experience on average than, say, florists. This is why journalists ought to get out of the second-guessing business. Ours is not to reason why, do or die, or vainly declaim our views of what generals ought to do. Our charge is simple: just the facts. Once those become clear, so will conclusions about who was right, who was wrong, and what our mistakes and triumphs teach us.

Journalists shouldn’t state their views, Snow proclaims. They should only state “the facts,” he says. And Snow, of course, is stating his views as he makes these extremely strange proclamations.

By the way, how “idiotic” was the coverage about which the Fox Three declaimed? Not idiotic at all. Believe it or not, here are the two questions/comments from the press which produced the Fox Three’s complaints. The comments were made to Ari Fleischer on Friday. They were played on tape at the start of Sunday’s roundtable chat:

TERRY MORAN: It just seems like you’re unwilling, as a matter of policy, to acknowledge that the president and the political leadership of this government might have miscalculated—not in any fatal or even dangerous way—but might have miscalculated the response of the Iraqi army.

BILL PLANTE: —very little to lower expectations in the run-up to this. Even if you didn’t raise them yourself, you did nothing to lower what we were hearing from the Pentagon and from other outside pundits about how well, how quickly this war would go.

Believe it or not, Fox now devotes entire segments to demonizing scribes for such obvious comments. But remember—Saddamism lives in the heart of us all. At times of war, ancient messages beam from the brain, instructing us to stifle dissent (and to stifle everything that feels like dissent). At Fox, the cavemen are busy now killing the pig. And how effective is this Saddam-like behavior? Over at the Post, William Raspberry has to ask himself this—if my country is making a major mistake, should I even say so?