Jewish World Review August 7, 2002/ 29 Menachem-Av 5762


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Consumer Reports

You weren't there | It started about two months after the Sept. 11 massacre in Lower Manhattan. Acquaintances, and even friends, after an immediate round of e-mails and phone calls expressing concern for my family's safety, suddenly expressed another sentiment: "Get over it!"

Not surprisingly, most of these people live in California. n New Yorkers, numbed by the horrific death, destruction, stench and chaos caused by anti-religious fanatics, shrugged off such dopey comments; living in a world turned upside down required all the stamina anyone could muster.

Nonetheless, the callousness of those who saw the Trade Center leveled on television was fairly startling. Granted, no one would expect Americans who don't live in the Northeast to dwell on the mayhem in this city or Washington, DC. It's not as if those unaffected by, say, fires, hurricanes or floods in distant regions of the country can empathize with the victims beyond the first set of newspaper headlines. But after Oklahoma City was bombed in '95 I couldn't imagine ever telling anyone involved in that terrorist attack to "Get over it."

I don't mean to cast aspersions on the vast majority of U.S. citizens; the continuing support of New York City, the outpouring of charitable contributions and the surge of patriotism were all inspiring. But here's an example of a nitwit who's had his fill of New York. Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN), a toothless trade organization (of which New York Press and the Village Voice are members), wrote a letter to Jim Romenesko's media website last Friday. Karpel said: "In yesterday's NY Times, the head of the United Artists film unit, discussing his reasons for moving the division to New York, says, 'It really felt so much more right, especially after Sept. 11.' And today on your Web site, Laurence Jarvik claims that the simple act of choosing to reside in Manhattan constitutes 'physical bravery.' When can we expect a respite from New York's post-Sept. 11 sanctimoniousness."


While I wouldn't argue that living here is especially "brave," or noble, ostriches like Karpel (who works in DC) refuse to understand how the city has changed. People continue to live in New York because it's their home and it's just not an option for many to uproot their families. Nevertheless, I wonder if Karpel and similar cretins realize that New Yorkers live with the sword of Hamas, Al Qaeda, Saddam, etc., over their heads. Downtown, there are daily bomb threats that aren't even reported in the papers because they're so routine. Many kids who witnessed the carnage of that September morning and were then relocated to other public schools still have nightmares. Residents of Battery Park City and parts of Tribeca are still recovering from months of evacuation. The number of bankruptcies among small-business owners mounts daily. And in 20 years, when there's an outbreak of disease, and more death, caused by the combination of contaminated air, distribution of asbestos and other poisons, I wonder if Karpel will remember his offhand remark about New York's "sanctimoniousness."

Inevitably, the next major attacks will be in New York-while destroying an historical landmark in DC, Philly or Boston, or a mall in the Midwest, is also likely, it's in this city where the most damage, economically and in terms of loss of life, can be maximized. The New York Sun, on July 31, ran a chilling front-page story by Benjamin Smith about possible plans to shut off lower Broadway. He wrote: "Security fears at the main federal building in Lower Manhattan have prompted talks between city and federal governments about closing Broadway and three other streets. But in the meantime, federal agents who work behind the 42-story tower's checkerboard facade are so worried about the risk of a truck bomb they joke about setting up a $10 pool to pick the date they will be attacked."


Michael Kelly, a superb JWR columnist and the editor who has retooled The Atlantic within a mere 18 months to make it the most vital magazine in the U.S., wrote an odd essay (perhaps ironic, but I doubt it) in the monthly's September issue. He begins: "There is nothing so comforting as reverting to form. It has been about a year since the day that changed everything, and we are back to normal again."

Kelly then catalogs the admittedly "normal" nonterrorist events of 2002: President Bush fumbling before partisan reporters when asked about the nonstory of Harken Energy; Tom Daschle blaming Bush for everything amiss in the country except the possible baseball strike; fundraisers by both parties raking in as much "soft money" as possible before the unconstitutional McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform rules go into effect; corporate executives attempting to justify their fraudulent actions that go back to the boom years of the Clinton-era; and Al Gore shedding his skin for the 118th time in his checkered political career, claiming that if he could rerun his inept 2000 presidential campaign he'd eschew polls, consultants and political strategy.

Kelly concludes: "As I said, it is about a year since the day that changed everything, and we are back to normal. Which, actually, is wonderful."

On second thought, maybe Kelly was being facetious. Nothing in this country is normal-except election-year demagoguery by politicians either fearful for their jobs or hoping to challenge Bush in 2004-and this valued journalist knows it. The escalation of violence in the Mideast, aimed at destroying Israel, is not "normal." The upcoming invasion of Iraq is not "normal." The craven posturing by personal injury lawyer-turned senator John Edwards is not "normal." Strike that: Edwards' transparent ambition and quest for any and all photo-ops is par for the course. The fear of airline passengers is not "normal." Congress' refusal to compel former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to testify about his Enron/Citigroup knowledge is not "normal." Even The New York Times' rapid acceleration of biased, and misleading, reporting and editorializing, is not "normal."

And the jittery atmosphere in New York City, the world's capital, is not "normal." correspondent who's worked for the Baltimore Sun, New York Times (youthful indiscretion), The New Yorker, The New Republic, National Journal and now The Atlantic. As opposed to a Paul Begala-like hack such as Eric Alterman who, while Kelly was covering the Gulf War, was writing a book criticizing the "punditocracy." In short time, no doubt by design, Alterman became a pundit himself, as well as Bruce Springsteen's stenographer. (Alterman's allegiance to "The Boss" is so self-serving that in the Oct. 29 Nation last year he wrote this whopper: "My patriotism is not about government and armies; it's about unions, civil rights marches and the '69 Mets. It's not Kate Smith singing 'God Bless America'; it's Bruce Springsteen singing 'This Land Is Your Land.'" Hey, Eric, whatever happened to Woody Guthrie?)

But Alterman's a bit player compared to the throng of college professors who poison young minds almost daily. Examples abound, but an Aug. 3 Star-Tribune op-ed piece by Donald E. Winters, a humanities prof at the exalted Minneapolis Community and Technical College, is typical of the recruits The New York Times is having no trouble collecting with its daily smears of the Bush administration and ongoing campaign against an invasion of Iraq. If you read only the Times, it would be unavoidable to believe that the current president and vice president are Ivan Boesky and Marc Rich.

Winters, who could probably use a refresher course in history, came up with this remarkably original thought: "[B]y continuously waving the flag of Sept. 11, Bush hopes that Americans will forget the shadowy means by which he became president in the first place. Under the facade of being a hero in times of peril, Bush can take a light hand with polluters and corporate wrongdoers like Enron while taking a heavy hand to all dissenters and anti-globalization radicals...

"It is the responsibility of all of us to move out of the Orwellian shadow that Bush has cast upon the country with his talk of 'War on Terror' and 'Axis of Evil,' and begin to question the political legitimacy of the president and stand up for our First Amendment rights to dissent and question. The painful memory of Sept. 11 must leave us not quivering with fear and manipulated by jingoistic jargon, but motivated by a renewed commitment to democratic rights."

Pardon me, Professor, but with this high-school quality essay you have successfully exercised your First Amendment rights. As have thousands upon thousands of writers, protesters, elite media editors, reporters and columnists and fellow academics since the events of last fall. Can you name one of these people who has been jailed for voicing an opinion? Of course not.

I don't like being repetitious, but it's tough getting through to blind zealots such as Winters that Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln, both revered patriots, regularly incarcerated dissidents during wartime. And FDR condemned Japanese-Americans to internment camps. Has George W. Bush (or the left's house nigger John Ashcroft) even come close to that sort of policy?

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

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© 2002, Russ Smith