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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Has Seymour Hersh landed the big one? The veteran investigative reporter's recent New Yorker piece on Richard Perle began a chain of events that led to Perle's resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. (Slate's Jack Shafer has a good summary, including Perle's sleazy labeling of Hersh as a "terrorist.")

Now Drudge is linking to a Reuters report that next week's New Yorker will include a Hersh bombshell: that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld consistently rejected requests for more troops in Iraq. One of Hersh's sources is quoted as saying, "They've got no resources. He [Rumsfeld] was so intent on proving his point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart."

Rumsfeld seems like so much a part of the post-9/11 landscape that it's easy to forget that, before the terrorist attacks, his demise was so widely assumed that Slate actually ran a regular feature called the "Rummy Death Watch." (Here's one from September 7, 2001, just before everything changed.)

As is clear from Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War, Rumsfeld has absolutely infuriated the generals with his insistence on smaller, lighter, and more flexible fighting forces -- something that sounds good in theory, but in practice has put our fighting men and women at unnecessary risk.

We shouldn't have gone in there in the first place -- not without the sort of real international support that would have come by setting disarmament milestones for Iraq that it would have had to meet. But having gone in, it is reprehensible to risk American lives unnecessarily.

Sometime after this war has been won, and everyone -- Americans, Brits, and Iraqis -- starts to recover from this misbegotten adventure, I'm sure we can look forward to Rumsfeld's finally deciding to spend more time with his family. And Paul Wolfowitz makes three.

posted at 7:26 PM | link

Shades of Kurt Vonnegut and sunscreen. SB tells me that John Cleese didn't really write that great riff on the Axis of Evil. She sends along this link, which explains that it is written by someone named Andrew Marlatt. He does a great John Cleese imitation. Manuel!

posted at 3:41 PM | link

Demonizing a critic. Helen Thomas has never been a giant of her trade. However, she is dogged and dedicated, and deserves a lot of respect for being one of the first women to rise to the top of Washington political reportage. She is also absolutely fearless in asking questions -- a quality in short supply these days.

But here's how it works. A few months ago she called George W. Bush "the worst president ever." She immediately became a target of the right-wing attack machine, although its insults were hampered by the fact that Thomas, now with the Hearst newspapers, no longer works for a national media outlet.

Then, at Bush's March 6 news conference, Thomas was not called on, even though the 82-year-old columnist, as the dean of the White House press corps, traditionally gets the first question. Few complained; many cackled. The Fox News Channel's Brit Hume tarnished his reputation as one of that operation's few real pros by calling Thomas "the nutty aunt in the attic of the Washington press corps."

Now every time Thomas asks a question, she gets hammered. The latest entry: a column by right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, who calls Thomas a "crusty ex-journalist-turned-White House heckler" for having the audacity to press smarmy White House spokesman Ari Fleischer about the conditions at Guantánamo Bay. (The column is in today's Boston Herald, but it's not online on the paper's website. Click here instead; or if it has been replaced with something new, try clicking here.)

According to Malkin, Thomas has no right even to ask such a thing at a time when American and British soldiers are being treated brutally by Iraqi forces. (And yes, they are being treated brutally, but that doesn't negate our obligation to treat prisoners humanely, or a journalist's right to ask about it.) Malkin writes:

I admire Fleischer's super-human restraint in the face of this disgusting display of moral equivalence masquerading as journalism. Thomas sees pictures of dead American soldiers being molested by cackling Iraqi assassins, she sees video of dazed and wounded young American soldiers in captivity, and all she can do is harangue the Bush administration for not giving Guantanamo Bay terror detainees enough "rights?"

Let there be no doubt about where Helen Thomas's heart lies.

Let there be no doubt about where Michelle Malkin's heart lies -- in advancing her career by acting as a toady for the White House, attacking and denigrating anyone who has the temerity even to ask a tough question.

This is really vile, because the effect is not just to hold Helen Thomas up to undeserved mockery, but to intimidate anyone who dares follow in her footsteps.

posted at 11:33 AM | link

Silent scream. The Boston Globe today didn't run The Boondocks. It didn't replace it with another cartoon, either -- just a lame quote of the day or some such thing. And yes, today's Boondocks is a pointed antiwar cartoon, expessing "outrage and disappointment at the situation in the Middle East." Click here to see it. And here's an AP story on some of the controversies that Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder has found himself in since 9/11.

No such controversy over the stupid right-wing comic strip Mallard Fillmore, which the Globe runs every day without protest (except the occasional letter to the editor) and, I'm sure, without readers. Here's a nice one from March 3 (select date when you get there), which refers to "the ungrateful, hypocritical Franch pansies who call themselves our 'allies.'"

Thinking I might have missed some quantum leap in linguistic evolution, I decided to look up pansy in the American Heritage Dictionary, which defines it as "a disparaging term for a man or boy who is considered effeminate" or "a disparaging term for a homosexual man." Yup, it still means what it did in the seventh grade.

So did the dog eat today's Boondocks or did the Globe chicken out? An explanation awaits. (Thanks to AQ for pointing this one out.)

posted at 11:28 AM | link

Secretary of Sanity John Cleese. JB sends along the link to a hilarious John Cleese essay on the "Axis of Evil." If you want to learn more about the "Axis of Not So Much Evil Really as Just Generally Disagreeable" and the "Axis of Countries That Aren't the Worst But Certainly Won't Be Asked to Host the Olympics," then click here.

posted at 11:27 AM | link

Sometimes violence is the only answer. My laptop is working much better since I discovered that I can usually unfreeze it when I rap it hard on the case, just on top of the battery.

posted at 11:27 AM | link

Friday, March 28, 2003

Maybe Bush will try to blame it on Clinton. A friend sent me a headline from the editorial page of the local daily yesterday: "No One Said War Would Be Easy." We laughed ruefully, if it's possible to do such a thing by e-mail. A more accurate headline would have read: "Everyone Said War Would Be Easy."

Now the prowar folks are trying to rewrite history as fast as they can. Yesterday, a conservative correspondent took me to task for writing that "some of the war's most ardent supporters" were promoting the idea of "a 72-hour, casualty-free victory." As evidence, he cited the transcript of a recent program on the Fox News Channel in which Bill Clinton said a rapid victory was virtually assured, while guest commentator William Kristol, a leading advocate of the war against Iraq, criticized Clinton for being irresponsible. Gee, it always comes down to Clinton, doesn't it?

Well, score one for Kristol. Would that his fellow-travelers on the prowar side be as responsible as he is. In fact, they have been just the opposite.

In Slate, former Boston Globe reporter Fred Kaplan observes that quick victory was "the premise underlying the whole war plan," and he's got the evidence to prove it: on-the-record quotes from top military officials that the US attack would be so overwhelming (I'm trying not to say "shock and awe" ... whoops, I just did) that a ground battle might not even be necessary.

In today's Boston Globe, John Donnelly notes that on March 16, Vice-President Dick Cheney, on NBC's Meet the Press, predicted the war would last "weeks rather than months" (still a possibility, obviously), and added: "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

In today's Boston Herald, Thomas Caywood reports that the small US force in Iraq is entirely consistent with the notion of a quick, relatively painless victory. He quotes Matthew Baker, a private military analyst, as saying, "The US is in a real pickle here. We don't have enough forces for Plan B, and Plan A didn't work."

And these stories merely amplify scores of similar pieces in the national press in recent days.

Want more? Here's a synopsis of a Newsweek article, published before the war, reporting that "US commanders believe a war against Iraq could be virtually won in just 48 hours." And here's a Q&A with Rear Admiral Stephen Baker (retired), a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, that was published on Newsweek's website on March 19 in which he says: "I'm not sure people realize the size of the hammer we have lowered on Iraq. We want to decapitate Saddam's ability to function whatsoever. Within 72 hours, we will try to neutralize and isolate Saddam and the Republican Guard."

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, the president blames the media. According to Dan Balz and Mike Allen, writing in today's Washington Post: "One adviser said Bush is irritated at the media for setting 'phony expectations' about how quickly the US-led forces would be able to subdue the Iraqi military and drive President Saddam Hussein from power." The phony expectations, of course, are entirely the White House's doing.

If this were a just war, it wouldn't matter. President Bush could use some "pay any price, bear any burden" rhetoric and rally the American people, as he inarticulately attempted to do yesterday, coming off more Edward G. Robinson than John F. Kennedy. ("It isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people have got to know that, see?")

But the truth is that this is a war of dubious legality being waged for ever-shifting reasons, with shallow support at home and almost universal condemnation abroad. Bush attempted to thread the needle, hoping that rapid victory and the grateful thanks of a liberated Iraqi nation would silence his critics and buy him after-the-fact legitimacy. He gambled and lost.

Of course we're going to win -- relatively quickly as these things go. But now it's clear that we're going to win ugly, and that though the Kurds and possibly some Shia elements will greet us as liberators, at least as many Iraqis will meet our presence with sullen resentment, or worse.

posted at 8:00 AM | link

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Who the hell are the Fedayeen Saddam? Let's see. We knew about the Iraqi army. Those guys won't fight, we were assured. We knew about the Republican Guard. Those guys might fight, we were told. But did we know about the Fedayeen Saddam -- between maybe 25,000 to 40,000 stone-cold killers, fanatical supporters of Saddam Hussein? Well, uh, no, not really. It might have been helpful if we did.

I did a quick Nexis search this morning and found that, during the past two years, there have been 423 references to the Fedayeen Saddam in the past two years. But wait! Exactly 310 of those references are from the past week. We just didn't know about these guys. And judging from the way the US and British troops appear to have been caught off guard, it seems that our overconfident leaders didn't know much about them either.

Not that they were completely unknown. Here's a 1998 story from, which describes a crackdown on internal dissidents led by the fedayeen -- "a 40,000-strong paramilitary force run by Odai Hussein," more commonly spelled "Uday," Saddam's sadistic older son.

But I think it's safe to say that for most of us, this week is the first time we've heard of them, as in this piece in today's Washington Post headlined "Analysts Say Threat Warnings Toned Down." It appears that the White House didn't want to hear the bad news before the war, since it would interfere with the spin of a 72-hour, casualty-free victory being promoted by some of the war's most ardent supporters.

Well, the Bushies are certainly hearing the bad news now.

posted at 7:47 AM | link

Dean dodges. So Mr. Straight Shooter, Howard Dean, doesn't want to be pinned down on whether we should pull out of Iraq. Of course not. Dean got a lot of early buzz for his staunch antiwar stand, but he knows as well as anyone that we can't pull out now that we're in. The best that can be hoped for is a quick victory with minimal loss of life -- a vision that, sadly, is already fading. But Dean doesn't want to give up his standing as the most antiwar of the Democratic presidential candidates.

While John Kerry has been ripped apart for his complicated stance on the war, Dean has gotten a free pass for his supposed candor. Maybe now people will begin to see that he, too, is hustling for votes. That's what these people do, you know. I love the description of Dean by Ryan Lizza in the current New Republic: "He doesn't just speak off-the-cuff; he reminds you that he's the guy who speaks off-the-cuff and explains that his off-the-cuffness is the reason people like him."

posted at 7:47 AM | link

The face of evil. Here's a horrifying story from today's New York Times. It seems that Iraqi army soldiers are facing fire from two directions: from US and British troops in front of them and from fanatical Saddam supporters behind them. One Iraqi soldier is described as dying from a head wound inflicted by a Saddam loyalist. Another wounded soldier says, "I have four children at home, and they threatened to hurt them if I did not fight. I had no choice."

posted at 7:47 AM | link

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Atrocities and hypocrisy. A somber, downbeat day. Even though I opposed the US invasion of Iraq, I nevertheless thought I might be wrong. Now it's clear that even if this is wrapped up quickly, it's going to be some time before we can extricate ourselves from the muck of hypocrisy and moralism that has infected our ruling circles.

Donald Rumsfeld prattles on that Iraq's decision to videotape American prisoners-of-war was a violation of the Geneva Conventions -- that they're not supposed to be publicly shown because that would be "humiliating." Well, here is a Reuters photo of Iraqi prisoners. (Scroll down and select "An Iraqi boy tosses a cigarette ...") About a half-dozen of them are clearly identifiable, and you'll also find it reproduced on page B7 of today's New York Times.

The US rightly condemns the Iraqis for videotaping the bodies of dead American soldiers, and evidence is mounting that at least some of those soldiers tried to surrender and were executed. That is savage, horrifying behavior if true. Yet in a front-page story in the Times, we learn that in the battle for Basra yesterday, "British commandos seized the 'most senior' official of the governing Baath Party in Basra and killed 20 of his aides and security guards." Killed? Were they fighting, or were they merely inconvenient? The story doesn't say. I hope this was just unfortunate wording, but as we all know, terrible things can happen in a war.

As for putting dead bodies on television, the Boston Globe today quotes an official of ABC News explaining why it was different to broadcast footage of the bodies of dead Iraqi soldiers: the video was shot "at a distance, so you couldn't identify their faces." Perhaps the Geneva Conventions can be updated to specify how far away you have to be in order to shoot video of dead soldiers, complete with a handy metric-conversion chart. And by the way, the Globe story documents some other things you're not seeing on American television that is regular fare for Arab viewers: "bloodied bodies of young children ... trips to the hospital, grieving parents ... the scalp of a child that reporters said had been blown off in a bombing."

At this point, we can't pull out. Saudi Arabia is reportedly backing way from the tepid peace plan it proposed yesterday. In any case, to leave Saddam in place now would be the worst of all possible scenarios. The Times story on the battle for Basra also reports that a "woman who waved to British forces on the outskirts of the city was later found hanged." Multiply that by a thousand times if we quit now.

But American and British moralizing is sickening to listen to right now. You can't fight a war without entering hell. We entered this hell voluntarily. There will be much accounting to do later.

posted at 12:57 PM | link

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

"War and Peace" on The Boston Phoenix has begun a warblog. Check it out here.

posted at 5:04 PM | link

Not just wrong, but against our best interests. The New York Review of Books has published the resignation letter of career diplomat John Brady Kiesling. It is powerful stuff. Kiesling writes:

The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.

posted at 1:13 PM | link

Images of death. The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott today has a piece on the media dilemma of whether to publish photos or run video of dead American soldiers. Among those interviewed is Boston Phoenix editor Peter Kadzis, who discusses the Phoenix's decision to put up a link on its website to the video of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's last, horrifying moments.

Kadzis tells Kennicott: "I think that war is and of itself full of brutal acts, but that nevertheless there are levels of brutality and callousness. Anything that helps those of us who are far removed from a conflict to understand the degree of force applied, or the degree of brutality enacted, anything that seriously contributes to that understanding, is valid."

posted at 11:36 AM | link

Media Log suspends daily e-mails. Because of a serious computer problem, I'm going to have to suspend daily e-mails of Media Log for the time being. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can even get an e-mail out to subscribers, since my list is on the computer that's giving me trouble. But if you're an e-mail reader who's visiting, please check in for regular updates.

posted at 9:35 AM | link

War and truth. Who can make sense of all this? Who can possibly sift through the torrent of information and come away with any hope of knowing what's going on?

Last night, CNN was reporting that Saddam Hussein, in his televised address, heaped praise upon an Iraqi unit that was among the first to surrender, lending credence to the notion that he'd taped it before the war actually began. On Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, kept referring to 57 edits to the videotape, which means it could have been just a cut-and-paste job from an old speech.

Yet in this morning's New York Times, John Burns plays it straight, writing:

After some American officials had suggested Mr. Hussein might have been seriously injured or killed in the airstrikes that began the war, his appearance had the effect of steadying the government, at least for now. After the speech, officials who had worried privately about a possible collapse of authority began talking as if the capture of the city could be held off for weeks or even months.

The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid doesn't question the authenticity of Saddam's speech, either. But the Post's Walter Pincus and Dana Priest analyze it here.

Today's Times also had a media roundup, showing how the press shifted from unrealistic optimism on Saturday to (probably) unrealistic pessimism on Monday. But before you start whining about the feckless press, keep in mind that the Washington Post this morning reports that Gulf War generals -- led by Barry McCaffrey -- are complaining that the US invaded Iraq with insufficient force to get the job done.

So what's going on? Is this a debacle? A quagmire, to use that old Vietnam phrase? Of course not. The US and Britain are going to win quickly and easily. But that's not the issue.

This was sold -- and that is exactly the right word (Remember White House chief-of-staff Andrew Card's comment about not rolling out a new product until after Labor Day?) -- as a quick campaign of liberation. Saddam would fall in days and Iraqi citizens would be dancing in the streets. This vision was intended to warm the hearts of George W. Bush's pro-war supporters and stifle the fears of antiwar critics.

That's not happening. Instead, we are seeing images of protracted fighting, dead and wounded civilians, terrified American POWs, a looming humanitarian catastrophe, and Iraqi citizens who, no matter how much they may hate Saddam, do not appreciate being invaded by a foreign power.

The war will succeed. But in a larger sense, it may have already failed.

posted at 9:35 AM | link

Monday, March 24, 2003

A historian's verdict. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is filled with "deep gloom" over the war in Iraq, arguing that a preventive war is essentially what the Japanese thought they were waging when they attacked Pearl Harbor.

In a Q&A with Newsweek (online only), Schlesinger analyzes George W. Bush's "fatal mistake," and criticizes the Bush administration's lack of historical knowledge, Donald Rumsfeld's insulting demeanor toward US allies, and Bush's grandiose sense of mission. Say Schlesinger:

They're ideologues. Bush seems to feel that he's been appointed by the almighty to go to war with Iraq. But Iraq is far less of a clear and present danger than North Korea. North Korea has nuclear weapons. The difference in our treatment between Iraq and North Korea is strong incentive for other countries, other rogue states, to develop their own nuclear arsenal.

posted at 12:51 PM | link

On second thought, Saddam is probably still dead. Blogger Ken Layne makes a good point: if Saddam's speech were current, and not taped prior to last Wednesday's bombing raid, he certainly would have mentioned the captured American troops. Good point. (Via InstaPundit.)

posted at 10:31 AM | link

Spectral leadership. Check out this exchange yesterday between Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Full transcript here.)

RUSSERT: Let me show you the latest pictures from Iraqi TV of Saddam Hussein. They show him there in a rather jovial -- that's Tariq Aziz, the deputy foreign minister, enjoying a laugh, sitting around a table. The Iraqis are saying that these pictures were taken yesterday, more released today. What can you tell us about Saddam Hussein?

RUMSFELD: There are reports in Baghdad and in Iraq that he may be dead. There are reports that he may have been injured. There are clearly reports that the leadership is in some disarray, if he's alive. And until time passes and ground truth is learned, we'll just have to assume that he's alive and well. Those photographs, video pictures, appear to some people who watch them to have been prerecorded, and we do have intelligence saying that they prerecorded a number of events like that so that they would have them available in case they were either killed or were not in a position where they could be accessible to the kinds of cameras and communication devices that would enable them to do that.

RUSSERT: If you knew Saddam Hussein was dead, is it something that you would make public or try to prevent from being made public in order to make sure Iraq did not break down in disarray?

RUMSFELD: It wouldn't matter what we tried to do. We have so many press people, hundreds, hundreds of people that are right there. There are people on the ground in Baghdad. My personal view is if someone asked me that question, which no one ever has, I would say the truth is the truth. Just tell the truth, and if he's dead, he's dead. But we can't say that.

RUSSERT: Is Saddam Hussein directing the Iraqi military at this time?

RUMSFELD: It's not knowable....

Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, is Saddam dead or alive? A: We don't know. Q: Okay, what did he have for dinner last night?

Not knowable? I should say not.

By the way, it now appears that Saddam is probably alive.

posted at 8:11 AM | link

They like us, they really like us. Don't they? No, they don't. Two stories today call into question the very underlying principles of this operation. On the front page of the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid -- formerly of the Boston Globe -- reports on a formerly middle-class Bagdhad family under siege. (The story was also carried on the front of the Globe's special war section.) They're anti-Saddam, they bravely talk about how glad they'll be to see him go, but they have no use for the Americans. Shadid writes:

When it came to the cause of Iraq's predicament, family members pointed to Hussein, describing him as rash. He invaded Iran, trapping them in an eight-year war. He seized Kuwait, bringing on the Persian Gulf War and the devastation of sanctions that largely wiped out Iraq's middle class. After that war, they were ready to overthrow him themselves.

But they bitterly denounced the war the United States has launched. Iraq, perhaps more than any other Arab country, dwells on traditions -- of pride, honor and dignity. To this family, the assault is an insult. It is not Hussein under attack, but Iraq, they said. It is hard to gauge if this is a common sentiment, although it is one heard more often as the war progresses.

"We complain about things, but complaining doesn't mean cooperating with foreign governments," the father said. "When somebody comes to attack Iraq, we stand up for Iraq. That doesn't mean we love Saddam Hussein, but there are priorities."

A friend of the family interrupted. "Bombing for peace?" he asked, shaking his head.

On the front page of the Globe, Charles Radin reports that Saddam is an increasingly popular icon on the West Bank, just as he was during the first Gulf War, and that he is certainly more popular than Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The comments of the uninformed are frightening enough, but even the well-educated and reasonable -- such as Dr. Randa Nabulsi -- find Saddam preferable to an invasion by US forces. Radin writes:

''My children asked me, 'Why are you weeping?' and I said it was because we are all Iraqis,'' Nabulsi said. ''My 12-year-old daughter asked me, 'Do you like Saddam Hussein?' and I didn't know how to answer.

''I told her he was a disaster, he killed all those people in Halabja, and my daughter said, 'Are you with Saddam Hussein or not?' and I said I am with Iraq.''

Even though she tries to level with her children, this was not quite the whole truth, she said later.

''I am against Saddam Hussein. He is terrible, not a human being,'' Nabulsi said. ''But in this moment, I am with Saddam Hussein.''

The problem with this war is not that it is immoral but, rather, excessively moralistic and naive, driven by a view that we can make Iraq -- and, eventually, the rest of the Arab world -- just like Middle America. So how does stirring up such hatred serve our national interest? It would be a good question to ask Rumsfeld at his next briefing.

At this point, of course, there's no retreating. We have to win this as quickly, and with as little loss of life on both sides, as possible. But making this look like anything other than a mistake during the postwar aftermath is obviously going to be a monumental task.

posted at 8:11 AM | link

"The right war at the wrong time." Kennedy School of Government dean Joseph Nye gets every nuance right in an op-ed piece for today's Globe.

posted at 8:10 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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