Jewish World Review March 19, 2003/ 15 Adar II 5763

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Consumer Reports

Bush and Blair go to war: The mainstream media's all shook up


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Now that the "phony war," as some have described the farcical United Nations circle-jerk that's clogged the news for several months, is over and the invasion of Iraq is days away, let's clear the decks.

As anti-Semitism continues to foul the United States--Pat Buchanan's the American Conservative and Chris Matthews' MSNBC tirades against Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz are just the most obvious examples--why hasn't the New York Times run an editorial condemning Rep. Jim Moran's comments at a Reston, VA, antiwar gathering on March 3? As readers of most other daily newspaper editorial pages know, Moran said: "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should."

Moran was correctly pilloried by the Washington Post as well as Democrats like Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi and Terry McAuliffe, and was stripped of a minor leadership position. Several House Democrats have urged Moran not to seek reelection next year: I think that's up to his constituents, who one hopes will toss him out on his ear.

Isn't it appalling that the Times, which showed no reluctance to slam Trent Lott repeatedly after his dumb comments about segregation, hasn't lent its influential voice to the outrage over Moran? Never mind that the "Jewish community" is hardly unified on the question of an Iraq war, the tone-deaf Virginian's statement was a reflection of a rapidly growing conspiracy theory, on both the left and right wings, that deserves comment from New York's largest newspaper.

But then I've always considered the Times to be anti-Semitic itself.

No less nauseating was the City Council's passing an antiwar resolution condemning President Bush's Iraq policy. The measure passed by a 31-17 margin, with the Bronx's Oliver Koppel speaking for the majority: "Killing people should always be a last resort." Thanks for the soundbite, Mr. Ten Commandments, but as a New Yorker you'd think 9/11 might still be etched in your memory. Oh, that's right, Saddam had nothing to do with al Qaeda's attack. That's believable. Koppel ought to lobby that the dictator's image be placed on boxes of Wheaties.

Meanwhile, it's a close call in determining which group of professionals whine more, baseball players or journalists. When David Wells' candid Perfect I'm Not was leaked to the press, former buddies of the Yankees pitcher stood on line to either refute comments in the book or, like choir boys, claim that it was "bad for the game." Wells' implication that Barry Bonds is pumped by steroids is hardly a bulletin, and his descriptions of rampant drug and alcohol abuse and beanball fights merit a yawn. Most New York sportswriters turned against Wells because they don't want to be blacklisted in the locker room by the likes of Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter and Mo Vaughn.

Ages ago, before Marvin Miller and Curt Flood changed the economics of the game, generally for the better (aside from the union's strength), beat reporters and ballplayers had a different relationship. They drew similar salaries and catted around together after games, and less sterile stories appeared. Now, with the tax bracket gulf so enormous, athletes can tell the press to shove it (like Boston's Manny Ramirez) if they don't like critical questions. Hard cheese, fellas.

But Washington-based reporters are far worse if only for the obvious reason that what they're covering is more significant than a baseball game. So for days after President Bush's March 6 press conference there was griping galore in the media, mostly because Bush evaded questions, called on those he wanted and scheduled the prime-time gathering just hours before it occurred. Big deal: Presidents and the political press have had an adversarial relationship for as long as any American can remember. The reporter attempts to trip up the chief executive, who, in turn, tries to bypass the assembled and speak directly to the American public.

In last week's New York Press, Matt Taibbi wrote an entertaining article about how the DC press corps got hosed by Bush, making the absurd assertion that each question was approved by the White House. Not that he had a shred of evidence to back up that charge. He opined that the eunuchs in the room, fearing retribution from the administration, were unable to tell the truth, which to Taibbi was this line: "President Bush, looking like a demented retard on the eve of war..." I find this pretty silly, but it'd be a hoot if Taibbi replaced Newsweek's house suck-up Howard Fineman (along with Jonathan Alter), whom he correctly describes as "one of the worst monsters in the business."

Taibbi continued, in a passage that would fit perfectly in the Nation's editorials: "In his best moments, Bush was deranged and uncommunicative, and in his worst moments, which were most of the press conference, he was swaying side to side like a punch-drunk fighter, at times slurring his words and seemingly clinging for dear life to the verbal oases of phrases like Śtotal disarmament,' Śregime change,' and Śmass destruction.'"

Michael Crowley, writing in this week's New York Observer, had a more studious take on the press conference, agreeing that the media was timid, but concluding that Bush, rather than being "deranged," simply won the battle. He wrote: "The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music."

Crowley, like numerous scolds, objected to Bush's breaking with Beltway Establishment protocol by not allowing 82-year-old Helen Thomas to ask the first question, a perk she's received since JFK's brief administration.

Horrors. Why would Bush, who was described by Thomas as the worst president in American history, give her the time of day? Some self-consumed reporters probably thought the snub of Thomas was even worse than Bush's scuttling the ABM Treaty or advocating the necessary overhaul of Social Security, an entitlement that was enacted in the 1930s, when the United States was an entirely different country.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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