May 29, 2005

Newsweek Follies

I watched this last Friday and could hardly believe my ears. But the transcript wasn't out until a few days later, and what with the procrastinating... Anyway, here's Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Margaret Carlson of Time chewing the cud on Chris Matthews' Hardball. This is all history by now, but it's wonderfully illuminating, anyway:

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”: I think we weren‘t as careful as we should have been. We were following what we might have thought were routine and good journalistic procedures that turned out not to be enough to protect us from a very bad mistake that caused real injury, caused death, that we will always be responsible for and always feel badly about. It‘s because we thought we had something confirmed enough. We clearly didn‘t. And when we realized it, we eventually retracted it. ...

MATTHEWS: ...Was there a question, in your mind, that whether “Newsweek” was right - even if they had the fact right about flushing a Koran down the toilet - whether to put that in a magazine? ...

CARLSON: But flushing a Koran down the toilet is worse than Muslims killing other Muslims. ...

FINEMAN: ... It‘s a big question because we are in a conflict of civilizations. And we have to show that we‘re tough, but we have to show that we‘re respectful, as well. And to the extent that “Newsweek” didn‘t hold up its part in the American bargain, I think that‘s a shame. ... Yes, the country probably loved it. But in terms of pure spin terms inside the beltway, that ended the story. Because to all the other reporters who, you know, were wondering what we had done and why, suddenly their attention returned to the White House‘s efforts to strong-arm the press. And they didn‘t like it.

I should say also we‘re looking at the procedures we use. And I think we will tighten as necessary so this doesn‘t happen again. ...

Fineman's position on this is absolutely incoherent. He's sorry for a mistake which tragically cost people their lives (or not), he's sorry that Newsweek showed disrespect for Muslims (because nothing shows disrespect like telling people the news), but doesn't think to be concerned about disrespect shown to individual detainees in US custody. Also, he says he doesn't like the strong-arming of the press, even though he's helpfully acquiesced to it by repeating every bogus talking point that Scott McClellan could possibly have wanted him to and refused to point out that the Pentagon itself missed this issue in its review of the story. Did anyone think to bring up the question of how trustworthy government sources are? They did not.

As far as Matthews and Carlson, neither of them raised the idea that Muslims might already have been incensed about planned permanent US bases in the region, an insulting cartoon that portrayed Pakistan as America's dog, and numerous previous reports of prisoner abuse and desecration of the Koran at US detention facilities. They just repeated the standard blither, with Carlson's intimation of cultural and moral superiority, Matthews' suggestion that the fault was with telling brown people incendiary things and Fineman's clash of civilizations nonsense giving the discussion a sickening stench of Eau de White Man's Burden.

If these are the kinds of ethically and factually illiterate hacks we have to educate the hardcore news viewer, it's no wonder this country is circling the drain. So how about a little historical deja vu for our numbskull pundit brigade. Some excerpts of The Grave of a Hundred Head, by Rudyard Kipling:

There's a widow in sleepy Chester
Who weeps for her only son;
There's a grave on the Pabeng River,
A grave that the Burmans shun,
And there's Subadar Prag Tewarri
Who tells how the work was done. ...

They buried the boy by the river,
A blanket over his face--
They wept for their dead Lieutenant,
The men of an alien race--
They made a samadh in his honor,
A mark for his resting-place.

For they swore by the Holy Water,
They swore by the salt they ate,
That the soul of Lieutenant Eshmitt Sahib
Should go to his God in state;
With fifty file of Burman
To open him Heaven's gate. ...

Then a silence came to the river,
A hush fell over the shore,
And Bohs that were brave departed,
And Sniders squibbed no more;
For the Burmans said
That a kullah's head
Must be paid for with heads five score. ...

The game is the same, though I doubt if you could find many, if any, Iraqis who would lift even a finger to avenge an American soldier. We have to go take our fifty heads our own damn selves. It is high time to stop playing God in former European colonies. It's wrong, it's stupid, we don't know what we're doing, we'll make things worse, we sure the heck wouldn't want them to go following our example instead of our advice, the mystique of being pasty-skinned is long dead and, oh yes, it's wrong.

BTW - When I typed 'kullah' into Google, I wasn't sure if I'd remembered how to spell it correctly. I had, but Google still asked me if perhaps I wanted to search for 'killah.' Hah!

Posted by natasha at May 29, 2005 01:05 AM | Media | Technorati links |