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The lead editorial in today's New York Times states that, four years ago this week, "as American troops made their first, triumphant entrance into Baghdad, joyous Iraqis pulled down a giant statue of Saddam Hussein." There's one problem with that statement: it's not true. "Joyous Iraqis" did not pull down the Saddam statue in Firdos Square; US marines did.
The New York Times four years ago reported that "thousands" of "ordinary Iraqis" took part in the statue-toppling. The Washington Post ran a Reuters report describing the scene at the statue-toppling as "reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989," when tens of thousands participated. Those reports also were false. The most straightforward account of the event appeared a few weeks later in The New Yorker, where John Lee Anderson described it: "in the traffic circle in front of the hotel, a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by soldiers in an armored personnel carrier." Anderson made no mention of thousands of joyous Iraqis. ("The Collapse," April 21, 2003).
On "Nightline" on ABC-TV, Robert Krulwich also provided a more realistic report two days after the statue-toppling: "On television, the crowd gathered around statue seemed, well, big. But on TV, framing is everything. Widen the frame of this scene and look. It's kind of empty in the foreground. Now, pull back further, this is about three minutes after the statue fell. And that big celebration seen all over the world wasn't really very big. Pictures on TV can deceive, same with pictures in the paper."
The three Duke University lacrosse players falsely indicted on rape charges last year deserve an apology--from the district attorney and members of the media.
The students were guilty of throwing a rowdy and idiotic party. But they are not racists nor rapists. They did not deserve the wildly unfair treatment they endured over the last year. Finally they found justice when charges against them were dropped yesterday.
District Attorney Mike Nifong should be immediately disbarred for recklessly pursuing this case to boost his own re-election prospects. And members of the media, especially TV news, should be ashamed for rushing to paint a distorted picture that bore no relation to the eventual facts.
I have no problem with NBC's decision to cancel Don Imus' show, and frankly I could care less if CBS follows suit and takes his program off the radio. Any defense of Imus' "First Amendment rights" is laughable given that corporate news and shock jock radio have never been venues of "free speech." NBC News President Steve Capus claimed on Countdown with Keith Olbermann that firing Imus flew in the face of good business practices, but let's be clear, canning Imus made perfect business sense. Not only had Staples, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline and Sprint Nextel all pulled their advertisements, but NBC's own employees were threatening open revolt. In the context of corporate media -- where profitability and good ratings depend upon shifting cultural norms -- repudiating Imus is savvy management, intended first and foremost to preserve "brand integrity" and "company morale."
But I do bristle at the self-congratulatory, self-righteous air that has accompanied the whole Imus flap. Does anyone really believe that firing Imus restores "decency" to our "national conversation on race"? Instead of one man (Imus, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson) enduring the cross-cultural tete-a-tetes and ritual apologies and emerging sufficiently rehabilitated to be profitable "talent" once again, now we have a whole network. Good for NBC for taking the bullet. But when it comes to race in America, we don't need decency. We need honesty. And good luck finding that on MSNBC or CBS Radio.
Let's take Imus' notorious slur as an example. When Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" (in comparison to Tennessee's "cute," white team) he was not just making "some idiot comment meant to be amusing" (as he now claims) or even furthering "a climate of degradation" (as Jesse Jackson puts it), he was engaging in the old, American, racist project of abjecting and regulating black woman's sexuality. "Racist slur" or "stereotype" does not quite cover it, for this ideology is not just a matter of sports banter or drive time radio, it's intrinsic to US history and public policy.
With all the bizarre behavior in Washington, it is easy to forget about the over-the-top antics of state officials around the country. But, sometimes, a governor outdoes himself.
Consider the case of Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, a former Republican congressman who was elected to his current job last November. Gibbons, who was the subject of an inquiry into whether he assaulted a woman during the gubernatorial race, is now reportedly the target of an Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into whether he steered federal contracts to a Nevada defense contractor who allegedly made secret payments to the then congressman.
The newspaper that broke the story of the Gibbons scandal was The Wall Street Journal, which is generally seen as the most political conservative and Republican friendly of America's nationally-circulated newspapers. While there is no question that the Journal's editorial page bends hard to the right, it's news pages have a good reputation for reporting responsibly on national affairs -- which should come as no surprise, as titans of industry and Wall Street traders do not like to be lied to.
[ Part 1 of "Six Crises in Search of an Author, How the Bush Administration Destabilized the Arc of Instability"-- "Bush's Absurdist Imperialism" -- appeared yesterday. Here is part 2:]
Sweeping across the region from East to West, let's briefly note the six festering or clamoring crisis spots, any one of which could end up with the major role in the epic drama George Bush and his neocons supporters thought they were writing back in their Global War on Terror glory days.
Pakistan: The Pakistani government was America's main partner, along with the Saudis, in funding, arming, and running the anti-Soviet struggle of the mujahedeen, including Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan back in the 1980s; and Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, was the godfather of the Taliban (and remains, it seems, a supporter to this day). In September 2001, the Bush administration gave the country's coup-installed military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, the basic you're-either-with-us-or-against-us choice. He chose the "with" and in the course of these last years, under constant American pressure, has lost almost complete control over Pakistan's tribal regions along the Afghan border to various tribal groups, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other foreign jihadis, who have established bases there. Now, significant parts of the country are experiencing unrest in what looks increasingly like a countdown to chaos in a nuclear-armed nation.
Want to know what happens when the wall between church and state comes tumbling down? When -- as Ted Koppel recently said -- "ideological loyalty... is allowed to substitute for competence"? Check out this take by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage on the recent Attorneygate scandal and the goings-on at the Bush DOJ and other agenciesâ€¦
This afternoon, students at University of Southern California began occupying their administration's offices. The action is part of a likely wave of sit-ins on the nation's campuses, as students are escalating a campaign for basic human rights for the workers, mostly young women, who make clothing bearing school logos. Seven years ago, a similar wave helped establish the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the oversight group that students established, in cooperation with workers' advocates here and in the developing world, as an alternative to monitors controlled by the apparel industry. (I covered those protests for the Nation, and later in a book.)
Students at USC have been trying for eight years to get their school to affiliate with the WRC. 168 colleges and universities have done this, making USC quite a holdout on this issue. The USC students are also demanding that their university adopt the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a sensible system established by the Worker Rights Consortium to determine that collegiate clothing is made under decent conditions. The USC president, Steven Sample, has refused to meet with the students. "As students we learn in the classroom about global problems," says junior Carlo Catteneo Adorno. "It's disappointing that President Sample refuses to tackle such problems in the real world."
Students at University of Michigan -- my alma mater, so I'm proud of them-- occupied their president's office last week, also demanding that the University adopt the DSP. The students began this protest after several years of attempted "dialogue" with the administration on this issue. Instead of taking action to ensure that U-M clothing is not made under sweatshop conditions, President Mary Sue Coleman had the students arrested and forcibly removed from the building. Being a huge football school, U-M is obviously a significant player in the collegiate clothing industry, and it would make a big difference if its administration would finally embrace the DSP.
Supporters of the war in Iraq, like Senator John McCain, say the "surge" is making progress. That we must give General David Petraeus, a man who can seemingly do no wrong, time to make his plan work. But are additional troops really helping? Or is Baghdad simply becoming reoccupied--with disastrous results?
The NewsHour's Margaret Warner recently posed these questions to New York Times Iraq correspondent Ed Wong, who's analyzed the escalation. His answers were illuminating.
"There's no clear picture right now on what's going on with the surge," Wong said. "Basically, the picture is still one of massive violence throughout large parts of Iraq." Overall Iraqi casualties have not dropped. And casualties for US troops in Baghdad have doubled since the operation began seven weeks ago.