The intention of these "current events" reviews, trying to sift the real news from the sham news - stuff that doesn't matter much to anyone (news for the nosy and easily amused) - with commentary. It's an attempt to find out what's going on that may make a difference in this sorry world. Of course, secondarily it's always amazing to see what matters to people - last year the Michael Jackson trial and the missing girl in Aruba, this year the gay cowboys and, at present, the fellow who seems to have murdered his wife and child and fled to England (he's on his way back to face charges). Thus it's a sort of anti-journalism, as mainstream American corporate journalism has settled into a joust for market share and a guessing game - what will keep the "news consumer reading, listening or watching long enough for them to tolerate the advertising that pays for it all? There is a niche market for "serious news" - those big stories about who we are and where the country is heading. But it really is a niche market. For the most part those who market the news know what big swaths of the public what to know, and the sensational is not "sham" to that massive demographic. One big story Wednesday, February 15, was this - Willie Nelson Releases A Song About Gay Cowboys. It's what people want to know. That's the service they provide. This is a service to the elitist niche market.
Of sometimes the "serious" melds with the mainstream news. Constitution law and international law, the issues underlying the NSA spying business and most everything to do with the war and how we conduct it - torture or enhanced interrogation for example - may be arcane and dreary to "big target" demographic, and New Orleans wiped out and the Muslim furor over the Dutch cartoons maybe be just old news now. But when perhaps the prime architect of the Iraq war, and the driving force behind all administration policy, the Vice President, shoots a man with a shotgun, the two join in an odd way.
Mid-week, Wednesday, February 15th, that was the news, most all of it, in the domestic media. That was the day, four full days after the hunting accident, the Vice President broke his silence and decided to explain himself, to one reporter, Brit Hume, on one network, Fox. Otherwise he's saying nothing.
That's juicy - the man is strange in so many ways - but not exactly "serious" policy stuff that will get us in or out of this war or those to come in Iran and Syria and wherever else, and it doesn't have a whit to do with the current claim the administration has the inherent right to ignore quite explicit laws and disregard court decisions, and can conduct warrantless wire taps on citizens, ignore treaties and recent statutes regarding torture and that sort of thing, and disregard court decisions about arresting citizen without charges and holding them incommunicado for years on end without any right to challenge the arrest in any way. But for the nosy and easily amused the man had a beer (just one he says) and shot an old guy, then said nothing for four days. Good stuff. Great story.
Important? The Just Above Sunset email group wrestled with that.
Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, from Paris, said this -
Well, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, disagrees, and he was one of the folks who started CNN twenty-five years ago - back when CNN did news and didn't dump "news guys" for "warm personalities: like Anderson Cooper. Rick sees this as "serious" news -
If you ask me I would say the United States has gotten hysterical.
Guy out hunting shoots another hunter. It's a really stupid thing to do, either shoot or get shot, but it happens all the time. Ask the NRA.
So the shooter is the Vice President of the United States, Nothing sinister in it.
If there was they could have said the other guy got shot cleaning his gun. If Cheney wanted the guy offed he could have made a phone call.
This is another Michael Jackson story. It is part of the 'stuff' of the United States; the 'stuff' that doesn't mean much, except to the 'news' industry and all of its satellites. It's this week's missing bride story.
Isn't there some other more serious, urgent business? Lies, robbery, bribes, corruption, deception, torture, kidnapping, war, death.
What's a cure for hysteria?
Then Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, sent a second email to the group -
Okay, yeah, it's hysteria, just like all the other "stuff" in this country - American "stuff" like leftist hysteria about the Iraqi war, and right-wing hysteria about 9/11, loud complaints about huge budget deficits fueled by huge tax cuts that benefit rich Republicans and the cutting of Democratic programs most Americans think we need, public hysteria about the government acting like a hurricane that wipes out New Orleans is just a local problem, state and local school boards chipping away at the wall between church and state, conservatives railroading justices onto the highest court in hopes they will eventually do what most Americans want them not to do, and worries from both sides of the aisle that our president truly believes he can ignore the Constitution he swore an oath to uphold and defend.
So other than the obligatory jokes, why does anyone have reason to care about this veep shooting thing?
First of all, it does say something about the way these people mishandle our public business. Rather than feeling a responsibility to keep the American public informed, they had meetings and decided to leave getting the word out up to the property owner (a lobbyist, by the way - isn't it always the case that these people turn over their responsibilities to lobbyists?) - so if this Armstrong woman had decided to keep this whole thing to herself, would any of us ever even have heard about it? And doesn't that matter?
Maybe in Europe, this is played as Americans thinking Cheney might really have been trying to off the guy, but that's not what people here think. In this country, a large number of citizens think they have a right to know what the political leadership is up to, and right now, they're wondering why the leadership seems to think it's none of our business.
Second of all, imagine if Al Gore had done this ten years ago, and the White House trying to keep it quiet. With the Republicans holding Congress? No question about it, he would have been impeached! Not that that matters so much, but it does help put this all in perspective.
This whole thing is about feeling helpless within a democracy. The group in power is so arrogant that it doesn't care what the opposition thinks, knowing full well that the people who voted them into power are too stupid to care about anything other than Michael Jackson and runaway brides.
Although folks living in Europe never can be convinced of this, their perspective about what goes on over here is always a bit out of kilter. I remember vacationing in the UK during the early days of Watergate and reading in the tabloids that it was just a matter of days before mobs would be invading White House grounds to eject Nixon from office, something that dismayed them because they couldn't understand what all that anti-Nixon hysteria was about, especially since it appeared to be a totally sexless scandal, unlike their scandals usually involving photos of some Chancellor of the Exchequer patronizing the same call girl that once had relations with a Soviet Ambassador, prompting the whole cabinet to resign and the queen to ask someone or other to form a new government. Now THAT'S a proper scandal, to be sure!
So you think this whole thing is just a concern of the "news business and its satellites"? Then so be it. Somebody's got to give a shit about what goes on in the halls of power, even if American voters don't.
The reply from Paris? This -
Having just re-read this after having sent it, it certainly sounds much harsher than I meant it to sound. I'm not really that angry at all.
I was just expressing a difference of opinion with you, Ric, so please, don't come gunning for me. Thanks.
Well, you can read about that old French aircraft carrier full of asbestos here - Chirac Orders Return of Ship Over Asbestos Concerns (New York Times) but the conflict is clear. It the "Vice President Cheney Shoots Man and Says Nothing for Four Days" an important story? And, if it is, why is it important?
But wait! You do sound angry with these louts. Let it out.
Everybody except the crazies is too polite. Besides, I haven't any BB's.
Compared to the United States' other problems a couple of Repubs shooting each other is pretty small spuds. But you are right - they can't even get this straight. So Cheney was bombed with a loaded gun - let a lobbyist take care of it! It's how all business in the United States is handled these days. It's not something new, like a runaway bride.
Here, in Froglando, the incident got its 30 seconds' worth on TV Tuesday. That's it, no more, all done. There was the New York snow pile to report. And fires - isn't LA burning again? [Editor's Note: No, not today.]
The French were sending an old aircraft carrier to India to get rid of it. Before, they were supposed to take all the asbestos out of it. But there's lots left in, says Greenpeace, and now the Indian Supreme Court says, hmmmm? Today France decides to give up and recall the wretched thing, but it's got to go by way of Good Hope because the Egyptians don't want it going through Suez again. Anybody could see this coming, but it'll take the navy three months to drag the thing back - and then? And then there'll be a big fight about it being too dangerous to take apart in France, in Europe, in the whole world. You know what TV-news showed us? The Americans took their aircraft carrier, USS America, out to some nice deep place lost in the middle of the ocean owned by the whole world, and pulled its plug. Glug, glug, no more 80,000-ton carrier full of asbestos. Can do!
European perspective about what is going on in America is slightly out-of-kilter because the United States is slightly out-of-kilter. French hunters shoot each other all the time. An unwritten rule here is, don't go in the woods from September until February unless you are crazy. It's too dangerous. Worse - 'they' won't even tell us how many hunters get bumped off every year. Statistics, if any, about innocent dead civilians are just thrown away.
So, you see, getting shot while hunting is as easy as breathing.
That the Vice President does it too just proves that it's a popular pastime on both sides of the Atlantic.
Out here in Hollywood late in the afternoon you could watch Tony Blankley, the pleasant fellow in charge of the Op-Ed page of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican Washington Times and a Fox News mainstay. He had the new line - this is a non-story, it's no big deal. He was on a panel on Chris Matthews' Hardball on MSNBC with Byron York of the conservative National Review, who was actually amazed at that idea. Blankley trotted out the concept that the whole thing was in the news because the Washington reporters, the White House press contingent, got scooped by a tiny Texas paper, felt the White House was mocking them, and they were angry and jealous, so they were making a big deal about what was really nothing. That concept (would-be meme) has been bouncing around on the right side of the web for a few days. Right now it's just a talking point, and hasn't snowballed into a meme. In any event, York and Matthews looked dumfounded. They may not agree with all that
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, said above, but they seemed to agree with a large part of it.
How about a counter-meme, one from the land of tin-foil hats? There's this - something about the big confession (or whatever it was) about the shooting, this hunting accident, is too convenient. The administration knew this bad week was coming - the nasty hearings on this and that that would make them look very bad, the cartoon wars raging, Iraq still and mess and the Iran bomb thing getting even more tense - and the Abu Ghraib torture photos. Good day for Cheney to drop by Fox News and chat with Brit. Keep the rubes for attending to the other stuff. (Not advanced - was the shooting itself planned as a distraction for all the hits the administration was taking and those that might come? That's too far out.)
But what got short shrift was this - Senate Republicans Criticize Rice on Iraq. Yes, while the nation wanted to know if Vice President Cheney would say, yes, he shot the guy while buzzed on Jack Daniels and his heart medications (he did have two drunken driving arrests many years ago, here), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was facing a bunch of Republican Senators asking here what was going on, as Iraq was is chaos and thing were getting worse and not better. Photos show her looking angry and defensive.
This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative.
The very same day Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff faced another group of senators, who wanted to go over the just-released nearly six hundred page report on how the response to Hurricane Katrina was so messed up. The report explicitly said he and the president were "disengaged" (putting it kindly), and pretty much asleep at the switch and ignoring the incoming facts on the ground, and people dies because of their incompetence. They weren't prepared, and then reacted stupidly. Reuters covered the report itself here. ABC covered the basics of the hearing here - it was nasty. Chertoff said they did do some good things but yes, they messed up badly, and said he takes responsibility, and he will fix things.
This would have been big news on another day. Not this day. Cheney looked a tad sad and thoughtful on Fox News, mellow and contemplative. (And Fox News covered the hearing with this - Everybody and Kitchen Sink Faulted for Katrina Response - as they thought everyone misinterpreted what was in the report and said in the hearing - both really showed everyone messed up and the feds did fine, considering.)
Would this be news on another day? UN Urges Haiti Poll 'Fraud' Probe - we arranged that the previously elected ruler there was removed, and urged elections to bring "democracy" (better outcome), and that's falling apart. Not news this day.
Go southeast a few hundred miles. Iran Open To Helping Venezuela Nuclear Program. What? The game Iran is playing these days just got local. This is a major in-your-face challenge. How will we react? Would this be news on another day?
ABC chose the day for this - airing tapes of Saddam Hussein himself back in the mid-nineties saying some terrorists were sure to attack America but they'd obviously not be associated with any state. It was inevitable. Interesting. Would this be news on another day?
Would this - Vice President Cheney won't say a word about the CIA leak scandal because now it seems he will actually be called as a witness in the trial of Scooter Libby? The VP will take the stand? My, my. At least the trial has been postponed until after the fall elections. This will be hot, but not cost seats in the senate or house.
What about this? Congress back in 1978 passed the FISA law to specify the precise conditions under which the executive branch could secretly wiretap and generally spy on American citizen in America, and amended it in 1995 or so, and again with the first version of the Patriot Act. You can do that. Just get a warrant. We'll make it easy. The president ignores the law and says no law congress applies to him if he thinks what's he's doing is in any way related to terrorism. They can pass anything they'd like. He can decide to ignore it. And even the Republicans in the senate call him out - the Senate Intelligence Committee calls for hearings on the whole NSA business. Explain yourself, sir! While Dick is chatting with Brit in the shadows on Fox News, the American Bar Association, across party lines, announces that, damn it, you have to get warrants - that's the law. (See this.) And the Washington Post reports this - the White House, led by Rove and Cheney, will soon get the Senate to cancel the hearings and effectively admit the president has the authority to ignore whatever laws they pass he judges tiresome and inappropriate. That changes the nature of our government. After two hundred and thirty years things change suddenly. But the story is a sidebar.
Is this news? No one was shot. 325,000 Names on Terrorism List - "The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials." That's a lot of names, and a four-fold increase means what? The war has created four times the number of terrorists in the last three years? Things are worse? Or are they better - our intelligence efforts are finally paying off and we know more? Or did they just add Americans who don't care much for what the president has down in the last three years? Hard to tell.
Oh well, while the Vice President was reliving his personal agony on Fox News the world was attending to this -
This is trouble, and our reaction is to say someone should do something about all these leaks, as reported here - these could "further inflame and cause unnecessary violence" and we already took care of the low-level people who did this stuff, so everything is fine now. Excpet the rest of the would snickers when we say such things. This would be a big story another day.
New images showing Iraqis abused by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib prison three years ago threatened Wednesday to enflame public anger already running high over footage of British soldiers beating youths in southern Iraq.
Images of naked prisoners, some bloodied and lying on the floor, were taken about the same time as earlier photos that triggered a worldwide scandal and led to military trials and prison sentences for several lower-ranking American soldiers.
Many of the pictures broadcast Wednesday by Australia's Special Broadcasting Service, including some that appear to show corpses, were more graphic than those previously published. One of the video clips depicted a group of naked men with bags over their heads standing together and masturbating. The network said they were forced to participate.
There's complete review of the situation here with links to all the photos. They aren't new. They're part of the original batch but withheld as they were too rough. The ACLU has been fighting to get them released, with the idea we should know what really happened. That's still in litigation. The world gets more dangerous.
And the Cartoon Wars rage on, the third week - Three Killed in Massive Cartoon Protests.
The odd thing is that whole matter has been discussed in these pages, but Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, where nothing has been said, has received these two messages -
Done, for what it's worth.
It is a very sorrowful and painful incident that cartoon has been published in the western newspapers without caring the dignity of holy prophet of God. This is a serious matter. Such bad and criminal act cannot be tolerated. Such a criminal and vulgar act can destroy the harmony and peace of world. Those who dared to draw and publish such cartoons must be punished. Doing such will not only satisfy the Muslims but the criminals will also be taught a lesson. No law of the world allows doing such. The holy prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was a man who led his life very cleanly. He is a true prophet of God who preached to worship only one God. His attitudes are exemplary for the mankind in every field of life. He gave the mankind the lessons of justice, respect, tolerance, peace and human dignity. During his life he conveyed the message of God and never harmed any one. Then why European newspapers tried to publish such cartoons. If the criminals were not punished it will only show that Europeans does not have any rule of human dignity and going to put an end the harmony and peace of world.
M. K. MALIK
Islamabad, PAKISTAN February 15, 2006
Note: Convey my aspirations to your public and government
Important Matter Of Respect For Holy Prophets
Yes making cartoon is not a crime but making such like insulting cartoons about holy prophet is a crime and vulgar action. The editors of Jyllans Posten have committed a crime. So the must be punished. They have hurt millions of Muslims of the world. Will they like to make such like insulting cartoon about their beloved leader? I want to ask you what will be your feelings and expressions if some one may dare to draw and publish such like cartoon about Holy Jesus or Holy Christ. Will not you denounce it? We being Muslims strongly condemn such like vulgar and criminal action. Being Muslim we believe that all the prophets of God are most respectable and sacred personalities. It is the part of our faith.
There must be a respect for these holy and sacred personalities such as prophets.
M. K. MALIK
Islamabad, PAKISTAN February 15, 2006
Note: Convey my and Muslims' aspirations to your public and government by publishing my mail. Thanks
On the other hand, considering the real news today - "Look! Something bright and sparkly! - if you want to deal with the hunting accident,
this is good, Bruce Reed at SLATE.COM
He gets off some good lines -
The main idea is Cheney is just following the crisis management guidelines the president established during Katrina: Blame everyone else for three days, and if that doesn't work, agree to take the fall. "Bush and Cheney have kept that campaign promise about ushering in 'the responsibility era'; they just forgot to mention the tape delay."
Even in his darkest hour, Vice President Cheney must have taken some perverse pleasure in watching the press corps whine for two days that the White House withheld information. The more reporters complain about secrecy, the more Cheney must be thinking, "Stop Me Before I Shoot Again."
But after Republican leaders put a gun to his head, the vice president couldn't hide out any longer, and agreed to be interviewed by Brit Hume for this evening. Tonight on Fox: "I Shot the Lawyer, But I Did Not Shoot the Deputy."
Sigh. Well, it is the news story of the day, and somehow emblematic.
The rivalry between the networks for what is the news story of the day produces some neat stuff, like this exchange on the CNN Crossfire show - Wolf Blitzer host, Jack Cafferty commentator and resident curmudgeon. From Media Matters, what was said -
Jack Cafferty is onto something here. It was carefully managed.
BLITZER: First of all, Jack, what did you make of Dick Cheney's interview today?
CAFFERTY: Well, I obviously didn't see it 'cause it hasn't been released in its entirety yet, but I - I would guess it didn't exactly represent a profile in courage for the vice president to wander over there to the F-word network for a sit down with Brit Hume. I mean, that's a little like Bonnie interviewing Clyde, ain't it? I mean, where was the news conference? Where was the - where was the access to all of the members of the media? I don't know. You know? Whatever.
BLITZER: You still think he needs to do a full-scale news conference in front of all of the cameras, all of the reporters, and ask whatever they want?
CAFFERTY: That's never going to happen. But, I mean, running over there to the Fox network to - I mean that's - talk about seeking a safe haven. He's not going to get any high, hard ones from anybody at the F-word network. I think we know that.
And this has been cited in the pages before -
Where do you go for news?
Vice President Cheney endorsed the Fox News Channel during a conference call last night with tens of thousands of Republicans who were gathered across the country to celebrate a National Party for the President Day organized by the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Fox News styles its coverage as "fair and balanced," but it has a heavy stable of conservative commentators that makes it a favorite around the White House. It is unusual for a president or vice president to single out a commercial enterprise for public praise.
The comment came as Cheney took questions from supporters at 5,245 parties that were held in 50 states to energize grass-roots volunteers building a precinct-by-precinct army for President Bush's campaign.
"It's easy to complain about the press - I've been doing it for a good part of my career," Cheney said. "It's part of what goes with a free society. What I do is try to focus upon those elements of the press that I think do an effective job and try to be accurate in their portrayal of events. For example, I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they're more accurate in my experience, in those events that I'm personally involved in, than many of the other outlets."