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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.

Friday, November 07, 2003

More on that so-called Iraqi peace offer. New York Times reporter James Risen and Iraq expert Ken Pollack were on CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown last night, chewing over Risen's story on a last-minute peace overture that appeared to have Saddam Hussein's blessing.

Maybe there's more to tell, but it sounds like this is going nowhere. Pollack -- a prowar ex-Clinton official -- was dubious in the extreme, saying, "There is no reason to believe that Iraqi intelligence had any intention of delivering on any of the promises that they were dangling in front of the United States. Far more likely what they were trying to do was to derail the US war effort without actually giving up anything."

And Risen himself made no great claims for his story, other than to assert that it was accurate. For instance:

I think, as Ken said, you know, you can't get into the mind of Saddam Hussein very easily. It's quite possible this was all, that he wasn't really serious about this. All I'm saying in my reporting is that this happened. This channel happened....

So, I'm convinced that Habbush met with Hage, that Hage then met with Richard Perle, that Perle then talked to the CIA. I'm not trying to say that this was real or that Saddam Hussein was serious. I'm just saying this channel happened.

Josh Marshall has a different take on the whole thing, arguing that the story was a setup by the neocons to help one of their own -- Michael Maloof, who also figures in the story, and who lost his security clearance earlier this year.

Marshall is very astute, but also a bit too cynical for Media Log's tastes, given that he seems to think that if you can speculate on the motive, you can dismiss the story.

On the other hand, Pollack's and Risen's comments were pretty convincing that there is a wisp of smoke here, but no fire.

Divide and conquer. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today reminds us of how the Republicans have used the Confederate flag to advance their interests in the South.

And the Boston Globe's Mary Leonard reports that the GOP is salivating over the prospect of making same-sex marriage an issue in the 2004 campaign.

posted at 12:07 PM | comment or permalink

Thursday, November 06, 2003

"At least they could have talked to them." As Bob Somerby might say, I have no idea how serious Iraq's last-minute attempt to avoid war really was. Nor do I have any idea how US officials were supposed to differentiate this one from the dozens of other back-channel communications they claim they were receiving.

But the account of this approach, by James Risen in today's New York Times, is depressing nevertheless. Because the one thing we do know is that Saddam's go-betweens were telling the truth when they claimed Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction.

Read these two paragraphs and weep. Hassan al-Obeidi was a top Iraqi intelligence official, and Imad Hage was a Lebanese-American businessman who met with him, and who tried to persuade the Americans to take the initiative seriously.

Mr. Obeidi told Mr. Hage that Iraq would make deals to avoid war, including helping in the Mideast peace process. "He said, if this is about oil, we will talk about U.S. oil concessions," Mr. Hage recalled. "If it is about the peace process, then we can talk. If this is about weapons of mass destruction, let the Americans send over their people. There are no weapons of mass destruction."

Mr. Obeidi said the "Americans could send 2,000 F.B.I. agents to look wherever they wanted," Mr. Hage recalled.

But no. All of this had to be ignored, because the White House had already decided that the invasion would take place.

Not to denigrate what has been accomplished. Though Saddam's WMD capability -- pumped up by Bush-administration lies -- has been disproven, can we all agree that we've learned the savagery of Saddam's government was even worse than we knew?

Still, we're in a mess, and we don't know how to get out of it. As if to emphasize the poignancy of the lost opportunity Risen describes, three more pieces in today's Times report that 43,000 reserves and National Guard troops are to be called up; that a soldier has been accused of cowardice -- not good if true, but you can't help but feel sympathetic for the guy; and on GIs wounded in last weekend's helicopter attack.

War is horrible even when necessary. It is an unspeakable crime when it can be avoided.

Cash and carry. Howard Dean is probably doing what's necessary if he walks away from the broken public-financing system. If he doesn't, and if he then wins the nomination, he's going to get creamed by George W. Bush.

That's why even pro-reform groups such as Common Cause appear ready to give Dean a pass, as Dan Balz and Thomas Edsall report in today's Washington Post.

Still, this is treacherous territory for Dean. How do you make the case that you're a different kind of Democrat, and then turn around and raise money like Bill Clinton? (Clinton, who did abide by public financing, raised zillions in soft money through a loophole that was closed by McCain-Feingold.)

An editorial in today's Albany Times-Union is indicative of what Dean can look forward to:

Going for broke also would further expose one of Mr. Dean's glaring weaknesses. It would be perhaps his most serious contradiction of a prior position yet. For Mr. Dean, the self-proclaimed advocate of campaign finance reform, running for president as a big money candidate would amount to hypocrisy.

For Democrats, the most appealing aspect of Dean's candidacy is that he appears to be willing to do whatever it takes to win. But he can't afford to look like a hypocrite.

New in this week's Phoenix. Meet Dr. Bill Siroty: physician, Dean supporter, and New Hampshire indispensable media activist.

posted at 10:28 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Stars, bars, and Howard Dean. I taped last night's "Rock the Vote" debate while I was out. Naturally, I screwed up somehow, and missed the first half-hour, when all the fireworks took place over Howard Dean's earlier comment that he "want[s] to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."

But I caught the exchange between him and Al Sharpton in the post-debate wrap-up. In any case, that particular dust-up now appears to have been chewed over sufficiently.

Here is the Boston Globe report, by Patrick Healy and Joanna Weiss. Chris Suellentrop has a good analysis in Slate this morning on how Dean boneheadedly turned this into a bigger deal than it should have been. And the Boston Herald's David Guarino caught up with Sekou Dilday, who initially popped the question, and who now says he's decided not to support Dean.

So here's what I'm mad about. At one point, a 20-year-old student asked the candidates to describe who they were when they were 20. It was a good question, the sort that I'd have liked to hear all eight candidates answer.

But moderator Anderson Cooper, who must have been told to keep things moving no matter what, cut it off after only Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark, Dean, and Joe Lieberman had answered. (John Kerry must have been eating his heart out, but he managed to work in the Vietnam stuff later.)

Good move, Coop! The next question was from a Tufts kid, who asked Carol Moseley Braun about -- AmeriCorps. "I think AmeriCorps is important. I think public service is important," Moseley Braun began, sucking all semblance of life out of my TV set.

And so it went. There were moments when the debate veered toward being the best Democratic forum yet. But it was too disjointed, and Cooper -- a white-haired 36-year-old whom CNN has designated as its youth magnet -- was all too eager to contribute to the disjointedness.

For instance, Kerry -- criticized for that photo of him hunting pheasants the other day -- joked, "It's a tough economy now, and it's amazing what you have to do to put food on the table." He then turned it around, blasting Dean for wooing and winning the support of the National Rifle Association. "You want an assault weapon? Join the Army," Kerry said.

Dean responded by saying he supports the assault-weapons ban. But when Kerry tried to challenge him, Cooper wouldn't let him.

Kerry's most idiotic moment came when he was asked about polls that show Hillary Clinton would lead the entire pack of Democrats by a wide margin if she were to jump into the race. "I saw a poll the other day that showed me 15 points ahead of her," Kerry replied. Citation, Senator?

The weirdest performance of the evening came from Kucinich, but that was no surprise. He and Clark looked like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in their black ensembles; perhaps they're auditioning for MiB III. Kucinich was wearing orange make-up, and toward the end -- waving his arms and shouting out a five-point plan for something or other -- he looked positively bug-eyed and unhinged. Kucinich's video did have the best music, though.

Clark seemed sharper and more assertive than he has since his shaky start, but he still can't answer a simple question. Asked about lesbian and gay rights, he seemed to support letting homosexuals serve openly in the military, but then backed away. Afterwards, CNN's Paula Zahn asked him to clarify his "blurred line" on don't ask/don't tell.

"I don't think there are any lines blurred there, Paula," he replied, and then blurred things even more: "We have a policy that may be working or may not be working." The rest of his answer continued in a similar vein.

The funniest line of the evening (also no surprise) came from the Reverend Al Sharpton. When asked what his first thought would be upon moving into the White House, he replied, "Well, I think the first thing going through my head will be to make sure that Bush has all his stuff out."

But maybe the most effective line -- to get back to the Confederate-flag flap -- was from John Edwards, the Southerner who's trying to appeal to the Bubba vote. "I drive a pickup truck," he told Zahn, "but I've got an American flag in the back."

Presidential pix online. NPR's All Things Considered yesterday had a nice piece on Diana Walker, a former Time magazine photographer who photographed presidents and their families for more than two decades.

If, like me, you heard the piece and wanted to see the photos, click here.

You say "art," I say, "So what?" Q: What do you call a docu-drama that gets canceled? A: A step in the right direction.

I simply cannot get excited over the fact that CBS has decide to yank its controversial, fictitious treatment of the Reagans. Yes, it's disturbing -- as the New York Times reports today -- that CBS knuckled under to a concerted campaign by top-level Republicans. I have no doubt that Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazin were, uh, gently reminded of regulatory and legislative issues that could have a serious effect on their immensely profitable enterprise.

But then I saw this quote from Barbra Streisand, wife of faux-Reagan James Brolin: "Indeed, today marks a sad day for artistic freedom -- one of the most important elements of an open and democratic society."

Good grief. As Madonna once explained to Ted Koppel, "It's like my art, ya know?"

Come on down. I'll be reading from Little People today at noon in The Studio, in Northeastern University's Curry Student Center. If you're in the neighborhood, stop on by.

posted at 9:02 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

"Fair and balanced" debunked -- by a conservative. Fox News fans who actually buy into Roger Ailes's "fair and balanced" crapola ought to get themselves over to the Wall Street Journal's

Yesterday the site republished a long piece from City Journal written by one Brian C. Anderson, who glowingly sings the praises of the Fox News Channel because -- get this, Roger -- it's unapologetically conservative.

Writes Anderson: "Watch Fox for just a few hours and you encounter a conservative presence unlike anything on TV." Naturally, Anderson thinks this enables Fox to do better journalism than its so-called liberal competitors, which is a dubious proposition. But it's refreshing to see someone on the other side acknowledge simple reality.

Anderson doesn't stop there. He praises South Park for its allegedly conservative sensibility -- he's absolutely rhapsodic over segments that depict the rain forest as smelling "like ass," and that make fun of Native Americans.

And he engages in the absolutely loathsome practice of attributing to liberals views that are held only by a few seriously demented extremists.

For instance, he points to a South Park encounter with the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) as somehow saying something important -- importantly bad, that is -- about liberals. He writes of NAMBLA:

One of the contemporary left's most extreme (and, to conservatives, objectionable) strategies is its effort to draw the mantle of civil liberties over behavior once deemed criminal, pathological or immoral ...

Of course, Anderson offers not a whit of proof that any real liberal would "draw the mantle of civil liberties" over the behavior that NAMBLA advocates, as opposed to letting the organization simply talk about it, which is a very different thing. Then again, the First Amendment isn't all that big with the right these days, so it's perhaps too much to expect Anderson to make such fine distinctions.

Anderson also lets Matt Welch assert, without challenge, that he started his weblog right after 9/11 "in direct response to reading five days' worth of outrageous bullshit in the media from people like Noam Chomsky and Robert Jensen."

Yes, it's true that Chomsky and Jensen are members of the hard left. Like virtually every liberal I know, I was deeply offended by Chomsky's blithe blame-it-on-the-US attitude following the terrorist attacks.

But Welch -- and, by extension, Anderson -- would lead one to believe that Chomsky was perched at the right (okay, left) hand of Howell Raines during those days and weeks of 24/7 coverage. In fact, you'd have to scour the websites of, say, CounterPunch and the Nation to find any unmediated Chomsky. And even the Nation's editors felt compelled to balance Chomsky with erstwhile lefty war hawk Christopher Hitchens. For the most part, the public was introduced to Chomsky's views by pundits who quoted him for the sole purpose of attacking him.

As for Jensen, I couldn't even remember who he was until I Googled him this morning. Here is his home page. As I recall, he nearly lost his job for speaking out, and was saved only by an old-fashioned idea called academic freedom.

Toward the end, Anderson cites Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam's attack on bloggers last year (sorry, can't find it online) as an example of elite liberal bias. Beam is certainly an elitist, as I'm sure he would be the first to attest; but he's actually a conservative, in an elitist, old-fashioned sort of way.

Ultimately Anderson's piece is well-written, well-argued, and silly. It sounds good, but it falls apart when you examine the faulty premises on which it rests.

But he's right about one thing: Fox News is as fair and balanced as the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

posted at 9:18 AM | comment or permalink


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

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