Jewish World Review May 25, 2005/ 16 Iyar 5765


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Junk Conversation: Rich, Quindlen and Buchanan | America's social fabric, to ape a Times-worthy phrase, is such a jumble today, it's a challenge to choose which brand of political commentator is more full of malarkey. Representing the paranoid left that believes we're living in a theocracy, there's Frank Rich, the op-ed columnist who rises at the Times as the paper's credibility sinks; on the xenophobic right, Pat Buchanan roars about preparing muskets for the invasion of innocent Mexicans while suggesting maybe the U.S. should've let the Europeans get crushed by Hitler.

In his syndicated column of May 21, "Was World War II Worth It?", the aging, increasingly batty Buchanan wrestled with himself over the question of just who was the most "odious tyrant" of the 20th century. He concludes it was Stalin because while Hitler "killed his millions," the Soviet dictator topped that total. Buchanan was using President Bush's speech earlier this month in Latvia, when he suggested that FDR and Churchill were snookered by Stalin at Yalta (certainly worthy of debate) as cover to mask his strange isolationism. Ignoring Hitler's threat to the United States, Buchanan writes: "If the objective of the West was the destruction of Nazi Germany, it was a 'smashing' success. But why destroy Hitler? If to liberate Germans, it was not worth it. After all, the Germans voted Hitler in."

Rich, in last Sunday's column, achieved the somewhat remarkable feat of defending Newsweek more vehemently than the magazine itself for the since retracted May 9 brief about U.S. military guards flushing the Koran down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay. Rich says: "The [Bush] administration has been so successful at bullying the news media in order to cover up its own fictions and failings in Iraq that it now believes it can get away with pinning some 17 deaths on an errant single sentence in a 10-sentence Periscope item that few noticed until days after its publicationů In its war on the press, this hubristic administration may finally have crossed a bridge too far."

One charitably assumes that Rich is reasonably intelligent, so maybe this self-delusion is the result of not reading anything besides his own newspaper. Jonathan Alter, Newsweek's hyper-partisan Democratic columnist, doesn't quite agree with the popular (at least in Manhattan) Times columnist. In the current issue, Alter writes, "Perhaps the only thing positive that can emerge from the Newsweek-Guantanamo fiasco is better public understanding of the proper uses and destructive abuses of anonymous sourcing of information." So while Rich says that White House press secretary Scott McClellan is "fixated on destroying Newsweek," Alter admits the magazine's mistake was a "fiasco."

Another journalist who disagrees that Bush has "crossed a bridge too far," is Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler. The Post's parent company ownsNewsweek, of course, so a certain penitence is required, lest the right-wing equivalents of Rich — Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and David Horowitz, for example — drone on and on about Koran "flushing" instead of, say, demonizing Mexicans. Getler, also on May 22, stated matter-of-factly, "Now along comes Newsweek magazine with what maybe be the biggest and most comprehensive journalistic nightmare in a long time. But people emerge from nightmares, so maybe this one will wake up editors everywhere."

Meanwhile, as left wing pundits rejoice in Bush's low approval poll numbers — hovering in the mid-40s — Patrick Healy's "Week in Review" story in Sunday's Times, "Believe It: The Media's Credibility Headache Gets Worse," suggests that goofballs like Rich ought to look in the mirror. The statistic Healy reports isn't one you usually see, so take note: "In the post-Watergate 1970's, some 25 to 30 percent of Americans reported to the Harris Poll that they had a great deal of confidence in the press, more than they had in Congress, unions or corporate America. In the 2005 poll, the press ranked only ahead of law firms, with 12 percent reporting high confidence in the media." Not that Newsweek's self-flagellation — although The New Republic's Martin Peretz called editor Mark Whitaker's explanation "insultingly wan words" — has extended to the magazine's resident sociologist Anna Quindlen. The former Times op-ed columnist, novelist, moral theologian and latter-day feminist attended Columbia University's recent graduation ceremonies and came up with the conclusion that "the terrorists did win" because "since September 11, we've become more like them." I assume Quindlen is excluding herself, and it would be generous, if unexpected, if she extended the same courtesy to the vast majority of Americans.

But no, in this journalist's eyes — and, granted, she can only be trusted more than a lawyer — the country is dominated by greedy businessmen, witch-hunters, racists, homophobes, and, G-d save us, Republicans. Here's Quindlen logic: "So the young men and women who began their college years in the shadow of September 11 graduate in its shadow as well. The intolerant, the monomaniacal, the zealots driven by religious certainty engineered the worst attack on American soil, and the result has been intolerance, monomania and zealotry driven by religious certainty."

I don't think she was referring to Episcopalians.

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Here's an example of the bigoted mindset Quindlen has in mind. A U.S. senator, in a meeting at the White House, spoke about the issue of gays in the military. He said: "It will lead to same-sex marriages and homosexuals in the Boy Scouts."

Sam Brownback? Rick Santorum? George Allen? You struck out. Actually, those comments were given by West Virginia's Robert Byrd — now the revered "conscience of the Senate," a man whom Democrats rely on to preserve the sanctity of that chamber — on Jan. 28, 1993 in a discussion with newly-elected Bill Clinton. This historical nugget is found in Washington Post reporter John Harris' new book about the former president, The Survivor. Harris writes about the reincarnation of Cicero and Socrates: "[Byrd] rose from his seat to give a florid lecture about how the Roman Empire fell when it began to allow moral decay."

Finally, while I did get a kick listening to Howard Dean last Sunday telling NBC's Tim Russert on Meet the Press that Bush "wants to turn over Social Security to the same kind of people who gave us Enron," what do you make of the Carson, CA Home Depot Center taking pop group Green Day off its list of banned performers for its concert venue? As reported in the April 30 Los Angeles Times, spokesman Michael Roth, who represent the entertainment company that books acts for Home Depot, said that Green Day has "clearly" become "more mainstream and more acceptable to a great number of fans."

The band was blacklisted — apparently until the huge success of American Idiot — because of lyrics that referred to sex and drug use. I wonder if Roth has looked beyond the Billboard charts to read the words in "Homecoming": "In the crowd of pain. St. Jimmy comes without any shame/He says 'we're f***ed up'/But we're not the same/And mom and dad are the one you can blame."

It's no skin off my nose — I like Green Day, despite its angry young rich man liberal lyrics — but as Home Depot proves, Frank Rich and Pat Buchanan don't have a monopoly on addled logic.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- was the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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