Whistling past the libel graveyard.

A mostly political Weblog.
July 17 2004 1:49 PM

No Caterpillar, No Cocoon?

Plus--Whistling past the libel graveyard.

(Continued from Page 6)

1) Ten days ago theLos Angeles Times printed a front-page lead story ("Iraq Insurgency Showing Signs of Momentum") asserting, without backup, that "some U.S. commanders say it could be too late to reverse the wave of violence." ...

2) On July 4, an LAT front page piece reported that our civilian administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer

left without even giving a final speech to the country — almost as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled for more than a year

when in fact Bremer did give a farewell speech, which was well-received by at least some Iraqis. ...

3) Yesterday, the Times ran another dramatically downbeat Iraq story as its front-page lead. This one--"U.S. Response to Insurgency Called a Failure"--said "some top Bush administration officials" were criticizing the Pentagon for "failing to develop a coherent, winning strategy against the insurgency." Again, there are no quotes--even blind quotes, even blind paraphrased opinions--from "top Bush administration officials" backing up the story's dramatic initial assertion. The only administration official whose sentiments might conceivably be interpreted to fit the bill is a "senior official of the now-dissolved Coalition Provisional Authority" who says:

It's disappointing that we haven't been able to have better insight into the command and control of the insurgents ...And you've got to have that if you're going to have effective military operations.

That's it!  Is this person (who hardly sounds like a top Bush official) saying the Pentagon's response to the insurgency was "a failure"--or is he or she saying we should have much better intelligence, something the Bush administration clearly hopes the new Iraqi government will now be able to obtain? ...

Maybe the U.S. response to the Iraq insurgency is a failure, and maybe "top Bush officials" are tearing their hair out over it, but yesterday's Times story does nothing to convince its readers that this is the case.

There's a pattern here! It seems like an institutional pattern (each of these three embarrrassing front-page LAT stories was written by a different reporter). Someone might call it pseudojournalism. ... [Link for example #2 via Instapundit3:27 A.M.

The downside: Doctrinaire Shrumian populism is back. Those powerful interests are standing in your way  again in the first Kerry-Edwards ads. ... Click here  and here  for why I think this is a deeply flawed approach. Two caveats: a) Paul Glastris argues that some powerful interests do stand in the way of developing two new job-producing sectors  of the economy--broadband and biotech; b) If HMOs really are now effectively insulated against lawsuits  over their failure to pay for needed services, that gives Edwards a profusely-bleeding, slow-moving "powerful interest" target. ...2:14 A.M.

Kerry managed to choose John Edwards Tuesday without getting the traditional money shot of the both of them holding their hands aloft. NBC's Tim Russert told Brian Williams this was "very deliberate"--a carefully planned "rollout" designed to dominate the news for most of the week. They'll hold hands tomorrow! ... Aren't Kerry's strategists severely overestimating the excitement surrounding this ticket? They're also failing to take into account the public's increased ability to swiftly process  a less-than-shocking story which will be yesterday's news--an hour and a half ago, actually. Today, the Kerry-Edwards money shot would surely have led all the networks. Tomorrow it might well air after the commercial break in a quotidian campaign story covering both sides. ... When do they kiss? This isn't Friends, where the suspense can be dragged out as the nation wonders when Joey and Rachel will hook up! ... Update: There's another possibility of course, which is that the Stealth Strategy is alive, alive!  1:48 A.M.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

It's not nice to scam Deborah Orin! Inspector Ellis is on the case  of how the N.Y. Post may have been misled into printing its now-famous cover of Kerry and Gephardt. ... P.S.: For a moment I thought it was the Weekly World News: "Kerry Picks Space Alien As Running Mate!" [Apologies to Rick Hertzberg ]... Update: Alert reader G. suggests that the story's lack of a byline means that neither Orin--nor anybody else at the paper--was comfortable putting their name on it. Maybe it wasn't a deliberate Kerry feint after all,  but just somebody running into a source (e.g., a Kerry fundraiser) who swears up and down that Gephardt's the man. ... 3:36 P.M.

Winning Kerry Message Revealed: Kerry has no message, it's commonly conceded (even, on occasion, by Kerry aides who nevertheless exude that  "eerie confidence"). But what would be a winning message--one that spoke to the subconscious mood of the moment? I think Peggy Noonan has done the Democrats a big favor  by coming up with it. The message is that America wants a respite from all the headstrong history-making of the past four years. Bush isn't responsible for 9/11, but he's still responsible for a lot of the sense that history's being forced. Even before 9/11, as a second-place vote-getter aided by a questionable court decision, he somehow leveraged his weak victory into an unexpectedly uncompromised Republican tax cut. Post 9/11, he leveraged the country into the Iraq War--a war in which we'll prevail, if we do, by the skin of our teeth. Next he'll try to abolish the estate tax, with potentially dramatic consequences for the social structure. It's all too morally complicated, strained, force-fed, disruptive, overheated.

We need a break--to steady ourselves at home and rebuild our standing abroad, to calm down the Islamic world's seething resentment, to prevent the "global war on terror" from becoming an all-consuming lifelong West/East conflagration. To digest the history we've just made.

As Noonan notes, you don't need to hate Bush or blame Bush to share in this desire for a respite. You can even applaud what he's done--and then take the ball from him (thanks, Pedro!) and bring in a reliever.

The American people may come to feel that George W. Bush did the job history sent him to do. He handled 9/11, turned the economy around, went into Afghanistan, captured and removed Saddam Hussein. And now let's hire someone who'll just by his presence function as an emollient. A big greasy one but an emollient nonetheless.

The idea that Kerry will be a do-nothing waffler, she notes, plays right into this approach. It's not a bug, it's a feature!

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