Jewish World Review Dec. 28, 2001/ 13 Teves 5762


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Consumer Reports

Skip the 50 Smackers -- A FEW items of business before the new year begins.

1. Time, People, Us: All the Same Magazine. Although I won $50 in small bets that Time wouldn't have the guts to pick Osama bin Laden as its "Person of the Year," it was small consolation. After floating, for newsstand sales and rank publicity, the possibility that the hated Saudi would fill the Dec. 31 cover, Time's editors embraced celebrity-journalism and opted for the feel-good choice of Rudy Giuliani.

The weekly's signature end-of-the-year capper ought to be scrapped. There's absolutely no doubt that bin Laden was the newsmaker of 2001; had the attacks of Sept. 11 not happened, Giuliani might have warranted a brief, and probably derisive, mention in the "Person of the Year" edition as a lame duck who was bitterly handing over Gracie Mansion to Mark Green. Likewise, President Bush (who, given Time's cowardice in ignoring bin Laden, was the logical alternative, since he's conducting an ever-increasing war against terrorism) would've been given short shrift as well.

Jim Jeffords, that "flinty Vermonter," probably would've fouled Time's cover in a non-Sept. 11 year.

This is no knock on Rudy. I don't like the man, but his round-the-clock reaction to the indescribable attacks on his city was surely his finest hour. My beef is with the wimpy Time "Person of the Year" committee. Senior editor Nancy Gibbs, writing an introduction in the issue, offered this lame reason for nixing bin Laden: "But bin Laden is too small a man to get the credit for all that has happened in America in the autumn of 2001. Imagination makes him larger than he is in order that he fit his crime; yet those who have studied his work do not elevate him to the company of history's monsters, despite the monstrousness of what he has done. It is easy to turn grievance into violence; that takes no genius, just a lack of scruple and a loaded gun."

What nonsense.

If bin Laden were such a "small man," his name wouldn't be in the newspapers every single day; his whereabouts wouldn't be debated on television every single day; and websites wouldn't be selling toilet paper with his likeness to great success. There can be reasonable debate about whether Bill Clinton could've apprehended bin Laden several years ago, instead of waging his me-myself-and-I permanent legacy campaign, but to dismiss the mastermind of America's most consciousness-altering event since Pearl Harbor as a "small mind" is evidence of Time's sanctimonious cave-in to its marketing department.

Time, which abandoned any pretense of being a serious news-gathering organization at least a decade ago, has now disgraced itself so completely that it's almost impossible to conceive just how it could regain credibility. A clean sweep of the weekly's editors would be a good start.

2. Politics as Usual. I'm usually in agreement with The Wall Street Journal's editorials, but the paper's lead piece on Dec. 26, while correct, was overkill. Headlined "Holding Bush Hostage," the writer excoriated Democratic Sens. Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Tom Daschle and Teddy Kennedy for shamelessly refusing to allow Bush nominees Eugene Scalia and Otto Reich, among others, the courtesy of an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The Journal urges President Bush to issue "recess appointments" to circumvent his political adversaries' partisan obstructionism.

Can't argue with that.

But the Journal, in leading the drumbeat against Daschle, et al., is now running the risk of aping The New York Times, which every week or so finds space to champion campaign finance reform, even though the country's citizens are probably more concerned with Winona Ryder's shoplifting spree than the elimination of soft-money fundraising. I hope that Bush does engage the Democrats in their partisan warfare; Scalia and Reich are eminently qualified men. But I think Journal readers now know where the paper stands on this issue. And although the circumstances might be different, it makes no sense to ignore the fact that the GOP-controlled Congress (hello, Jesse Helms) stifled Bill Clinton in a similar way for six years.

3. Calling Maureen Dowd. Had your fill of lazy journalists calling Donald Rumsfeld this season's "rock star"? The National Review's managing editor, Jay Nordlinger, has a splendid cover in the biweekly's current issue about the tough-as-toenails "Secretary of War," which appropriately lashes the scores of liberal pundits who dismissed Rumsfeld as a "retread" before Sept. 11.

Writing about the Beltway's "New Pin-Up," Nordlinger says: "People are trading favorite Rumsfeld comments and they're almost impossible not to repeat. Asked whether the U.S. was running out of targets in Afghanistan, he said, ŚWe aren't running out of targets; Afghanistan is.' After the Taliban crumbled, he recalled the time, days before, when Śit looked like nothing was happening, when it looked like we were in a‹all together now‹quagmire.'

"And he is almost deliriously unhesitant about using what National Review's Kate O'Beirne refers to as Śthe K-word': kill. Why, asked a reporter, are we using such heavy bombs? ŚThey are being used on frontline al-Qaeda and Taliban troops to try to kill them.' Oh. Rumsfeld even goes out of his way to use the K-word, abhorring euphemisms: ŚWe have not been able, thus far, to stop them, that is to say, kill them.'"

4. A True New World Order. One silver lining to the post-Sept. 11 world we now live in is that America's children are actually experiencing history, in, as the cliche goes, "real time." That's small comfort, I understand, considering the loss of life, business, tourism that's occurred, but in a country where sharks and birds are revered more than humans, it's a welcome change. My nine-year-old son, for example, has cut down on his MTV-viewing time to watch news shows and track the course of the war; that our family lives so close to Ground Zero has obviously heightened his interest, but I don't think his reaction is atypical.

I had a parent's swell of pride upon reading Junior's letter to the troops overseas, an exercise undertaken at his school. It read: "I'm in the third grade in New York City. I am writing to you because I wanted to thank you. You have been very brave and heroic. I hope you destroy the Taliban and capture that rat Osama bin Laden. I also hope you have enough food to last through winter. I wish you would come soon. Happy holidays."

A lot more constructive than sending fan mail to Bart Simpson.

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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© 2001, Russ Smith