Nov 23, 2004

Fallujah: The Best Is Yet To Come


Because the major trend lines for Bush's second term are still developing, it's hard to know, right now, exactly how and where the major whitewash will be applied. However, just as we knew early on in the first term about the Saddam agenda and the manipulation of intelligence, we know (or should) that the Iraq engagement couldn't be more heavily stage managed.

That being the case, I find it very sad that so little is being made about the politics of the Fallujah mission. Something is definitely wrong when the military is pointing out more potential red flags than the reporters are. Having been likened to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, this story is still awaiting the media's more critical eyes and sharper voices.

I guess what really bothered me was this article in Sunday's LA Times ("A Battle for Hearts, Minds and Electricity") that seemed to read more like a military pr bulletin. I have replicated it in its entirety, adding my interpretations (in red) as to tone and validity.


The next invasion of this battered city has begun. (HYPERBOLE)

Teams of reconstruction experts have set up shop in the municipal government complex downtown, having commandeered a former youth sports complex to serve as their headquarters. There, they have launched a crucial, large-scale effort aimed at rebuilding a city that was devastated during the U.S.-led offensive to take control of the longtime rebel stronghold.

"It's not something that is going to be completed in the next few days," Marine Col. John Ballard acknowledged Saturday as he left a briefing for commanders and dignitaries. "This is weeks and months of effort." (UNDERSTATEMENT)

Ballard, 46, should know. He is on leave from the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., where he teaches post-hostilities reconstruction. He heads the 4th Civil Affairs Group, the Washington-based reserve unit that is overseeing the rebuilding effort.

With much of the world watching each development, Fallouja is due to undergo a complete makeover under the direction of U.S. officials and their allies in the Iraqi interim government. (IDEALIZATION/WISHFUL THINKING)

Although initial work is underway, much of the ambitious effort in Fallouja cannot begin until security improves. (UNDERSTATEMENT) Despite coalition control of the city, snipers' bullets whiz through the air and explosions are heard throughout the day. (MINIMIZATION) It also remains unclear when residents will be allowed to return to their homes and businesses, many of which have suffered extensive damage. (TRIVIALIZATION)

On Friday, William Taylor, director of the reconstruction office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said small projects in Fallouja could start within a week or two if rebel activity came to a halt. (HYPOTHETICAL)

Fallouja has served as an inspiration and a military nerve center for the insurgency, but U.S. officials are banking on turning the city into a showcase for the new Iraq. (IDEALIZATION/WISHFUL THINKING)

On Saturday, top U.S. and Iraqi functionaries surveyed the civic hub and made an obligatory stop at the former sports building that now houses the Civil Military Operations Center, the planning headquarters for the project. A boxing ring and weight-training gym are still part of the facility, but not for long because the rebuilders plan to revamp and add on to the building. (PROPOSED ACTION)

A Tab Estimated at $100 Million

Outside, bulldozers made way for new structures. Almost all of Fallouja's infrastructure has to be restored or built from scratch. "This is going to be a challenge — politically as well as from the reconstruction standpoint," said Taylor, who was visiting Saturday from Baghdad. (MINIMIZATION/UNDERSTATEMENT)

The initial cost estimate is at least $100 million, which will come from U.S. and Iraqi coffers. Officials emphasize that Iraqis will be hired for the hands-on construction (PROPOSED ACTION/WISHFUL THINKING?), a public works mega-project that is certain to help spur the economy. (IDEALIZATION) The estimate includes compensation to the many residents whose homes and businesses were damaged in the fighting.

"Falloujans will do the work," (PROPOSED ACTION/WISHFUL THINKING?) pledged Taylor, whose office is charged with dispensing billions of dollars for rebuilding efforts nationwide.

One huge obstacle: winning the Falloujans over. (UNDERSTATEMENT) They have been persistently hostile to the U.S. presence in Iraq, even though U.S. commanders say the offensive to expel insurgents was undertaken in their name. Many residents may have resented the rebels, but it is unclear that they welcome U.S. troops or Iraq's central government. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

"How can we know if life will be better now?" asked Riad Jassim, 29, who came to one of the humanitarian assistance sites set up by U.S. troops. "We really don't know what will happen next."

Fallouja sits in the middle of the nation's Arab Sunni Muslim heartland, where feelings of disenfranchisement after the ouster of Saddam Hussein have stoked the fervent insurgency. As residents return, the scope of the destruction of livelihoods and homes is sure to anger many. (UNDERSTATEMENT)

However, U.S. officials are encouraged by their plans to improve Falloujans' lives. (IDEALIZATION)

"It goes to the old cliche: winning the hearts and minds," said Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division, who checks the status of reconstruction frequently. "We hope that by our good deeds, we will show them." (IDEALIZATION/ OVERSIMPLIFICATION/ WISHFUL THINKING)

Compensation for Damage and Casualties

The U.S. has promised to compensate residents for property damage, deaths and injuries. "This place is going to get very busy very quickly," (WISHFUL THINKING) said Maj. James Orbock, who works in civil affairs at the center. "It's just like in America. If someone is handing you money, you're going to go there." (ASSUMPTION / CULTURAL IGNORANCE? / OVERSIMPLIFICATION)

But a similar compensation plan in the Shiite Muslim city of Najaf — where the destruction wrought by a Marine-led offensive in August was much less extensive — has run into delays and other problems. (CONTRAVENING FACT)

A looming question is when residents will return to Fallouja, once home to nearly 300,000 people. There is no timetable, U.S. and Iraqi officials say.

The vast majority fled before the invasion. Today, Fallouja is under strict military occupation: U.S. tanks, troops and convoys control the major roads. Sporadic combat continues — two Marines were killed Friday when a man holding a white flag ducked into a courtyard, grabbed his Kalashnikov and fired, the military said.

Thunderous explosions punctuate the hours, though most are controlled blasts of the vast stores of munitions that have been found here. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

Only occasionally do terrified civilians emerge onto the debris-strewn streets, inevitably with white flags. They are usually seeking food, water or medical aid. U.S. and Iraqi troops control the city's entrances and exits. Many hazards remain inside, including snipers, buildings close to collapse, dangling power lines, and pools of sewage and corpses, which can breed disease. There is no running water or electricity. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

"We are absolutely not trying to rush anything," said Brig. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, assistant commander of the 1st Marine Division. "We want to be sure we do this very deliberately and very completely — and very safely." (LOWERING EXPECTATIONS)

Once the decision is made to allow people to come back, officials say, the process will be gradual, perhaps neighborhood by neighborhood as they are deemed safe. (HYPOTHETICAL) First, Marines plan to finish going through every house, Natonski said, a daunting task in itself. A priority is ensuring that the guerrillas do not filter back in. (IDEALIZATION)

For U.S. commanders, the nightmare scenario is that Fallouja will become a version in miniature of the entire Iraq operation — a spectacularly successful initial invasion followed by a guerrilla campaign that thwarts reconstruction plans.

"Did we get each and every insurgent? No," acknowledged Lt. Col. George Bristol, intelligence officer for the 1st Marine Division. "Some could come back. But this is a place that the insurgents thought would remain their stronghold. Now we're giving it back to the Iraqi people." (IDEALIZATION)

Ballard is the point man for this phase of the battle. He knows the military way of doing things. His wife, Rose, is a brigade commander at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. His daughter, Renee, is an Army captain serving in South Korea.

"We've looked at the banks, the water treatment plant, the sewage plant, the electricity, the hospitals and the medical clinics," Ballard said as he inspected the mayor's offices, where city officials will work after the Iraqi government appoints a mayor. "We've been to the railway station…. We could be facing a much bigger problem if we don't make sure the city is cleared before the population returns." (BELABORING THE OBVIOUS)

A computer program has been developed that uses satellite images of Fallouja to provide daily updates on the condition of the city's infrastructure. Military and civilian officials will be able to log on to the secure site and see exactly where matters stand. (OVERSIMPLIFICATION)

At the moment, many water lines are broken. Until they are fixed, Ballard said, tanker trucks will probably be used to provide water to returning civilians at central distribution points.

He is hopeful that the electrical grid can be repaired with some dispatch. (IDEALIZATION) "They had electricity here, and it worked fairly well," Ballard said.

Many lines are down, however, posing a danger when the power is restored. "We need to get all the electrical lines up off the ground," he added. (OVERSIMPLIFICATION)

As Ballard headed to the mayor's office one recent morning, a bullet flew past, one of the occasional sniper rounds that continue to hit the complex. He pointed to a pile of orange crates scattered outside, part of an aborted plan to collect trash in the city. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

"It appears they just bought a new trash system," Ballard said to an aide. "If we could just find a truck that goes with them." (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

Inside, Navy Seabees and other engineers were working feverishly to restore what passes for Fallouja's City Hall. A meeting room had been cleared of debris; a large carpet covered the floor, and roomy chairs lined the walls.

"We want the mayor to have an appropriate place to conduct his business," Ballard explained. "A kind of government hub." (IDEALIZATION)

Another challenge is explaining how people should interact with government. Fallouja has been through several administrations since U.S. forces toppled Hussein and his Baathist regime. But none has provided much stability. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

The mayor's office and various police stations were often attacked after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The city fell under the sway of insurgents last April, after Marines pulled out following an offensive that provoked outrage because of reports of large-scale civilian casualties. This time, most civilians had fled by the time U.S. forces swooped down from the north. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

Tough Task of Building Police Force

Fallouja needs a government, and it needs a police force. A brigade of the U.S.-trained Iraqi army will probably be brought in as a temporary police force, Ballard said. But local police will be hired and trained, he added. (HYPOTHETICAL)

Ballard acknowledged the difficulties of fielding a force in a country where hundreds of police officers have been slain as collaborators with U.S. troops. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

Citizens of Fallouja may join the new police force, Ballard said. (HYPOTHETICAL)

Some observers believe, however, that residents will be subject to too much intimidation to maintain an effective force. (CONTRAVENING FACTS)

Insurgents and former officers allied with the guerrillas will be excluded, Ballard said. Fallouja's men will be willing to serve, he said. (HYPOTHETICAL/ WISHFUL THINKING?)

"It would be difficult to have a police force completely made up of people who are not from Fallouja," he noted. (BELABORING THE OBVIOUS)

Like other U.S. officers on the ground here, Ballard is optimistic that the gargantuan task will succeed. (IDEALIZATION)

"The fighting part was the first part," Ballard said, leaving yet another briefing on where things stand in Fallouja. "That was the most dangerous part. But the critical part is putting this all back together." (OVERSIMPLIFICATION)

(image: Iraqi men survey the damage after an air strike in Fallujah, Iraq, Sunday, November 7, 2004. --Bilal Hussein, AP)

Nov 23, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Nov 08, 2004

Presidential Make Over


Just as fast as you can call an election without counting provisional votes or looking into voting irregularities, America and the press seem to have fallen prey again to the power of the Bush PR machine. Remember when Bush was first elected, and speculation was rampant over whether he would be moderate or conservative. What do they say about deja vu coming again?

As I spelled out in my post about Bush's press conference, this (seemingly now elected) President is nothing if not masterful at the art of intimidation.

After effectively putting the White House press corps on notice that challenging the President will now be judged as a challenge to the will of the American people, Bush sent his "boy genius" Karl Rove around to the Sunday news shows to propagate the "mandate" scenario. The NYTimes must have been feeling a little intimidated, because they promptly came out today with a fluff piece about how we're probably looking at "a new Bush."

To be fair, there were a couple paragraphs referring to "the chip on Bush's shoulder" and his inability "to turn the other cheek." Overall, however, the picture painted was one of an impending metamorphosis. Most disappointingly, the photo caption accompanying the on-line story ("A re-elected President Bush is already showing more confidence") virtually endorsed the theory.

Here are some select phrases from Elisabeth Bumiller's article:

re-election has already had a powerful effect on his psyche, his friends and advisers say.

They say Mr. Bush's governing style may change as well

One adviser said that Mr. Bush was showing more confidence

Mr. Bush's conservative supporters continue to believe that he will emerge as the political heir of Ronald Reagan

"There's a different mindset as you enter the second term" (Bartlett)

"I do think that in the second term, there is a greater likelihood that some of the needless partisanship is going to drop away, and the president is going to do everything he can to encourage that...." (Rove)

As a shrink, I can reasonably say that there is nothing less amenable to quick change than personality -- especially in someone as thin-skinned as George Bush.

Keep an eye on the media over the next days and weeks to see if and how the images and words suddenly support the narrative of a "confident" and more "compassionate" Bush. (Feel free to post links if you see good examples, or else email me about particularly good images.)

Nov 08, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Bush Presses On


Legendary mime Marcel Marceau waves to photographers after a press conference Wednesday Nov. 3, 2004, in Mexico City.


Legendary mime President George W. Bush waves to photographers during a press conference at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Thursday Nov. 4, 2004.

I just finished reading Newsweek's special "behind the scenes" account of the presidential campaign. One thing it brought into sharp focus was how obstinate, irritable and unapproachable Bush was throughout.

Now, the administration is propagating the fantasy notion that Bush intends to "reach out." As if this compassionate mumbo-jumbo held any water at all, Bush basically proved otherwise in a bully session (disguised as a press conference) with reporters on Friday.

With Bush's response to the first question ("Now that I've got the will of the people at my back, I'm going to start enforcing the one-question rule"), he not only sought to impose a seemingly arbitrary restriction on the reporters, but seemed to do so for the need to show who's boss. (As if the election victory didn't seem to do the trick!)

On the immediate next question, Bush kept up the pettiness, taking the reporter to task:

"Again, he violated the one-question rule right off the bat. Obviously, you didn't listen to the will of the people."

A few moments later, Bush was asked about his Social Security agenda. In framing the question, the reporter mentioned accusations that Bush might try and privatize the system. Strangely, Bush proceeded to defend himself against a criticism that wasn't made. With a couple bitter comments about whether people, including the press, had been paying attention to him on the subject, Bush seemed to telegraph a concern that his interest in reforming Social Security was a recent development.

"Well, first, I made Social Security an issue -- for those of you who had to suffer through my speeches on a daily basis; for those of you who actually listened to my speeches on a daily basis -- you might remember, every speech I talked about the duty of an American President to lead."

Then, there was more skirmishing about violating the new "no follow-up question" rule. Bush emphasized to a reporter who tried to ask a follow up question that the previous reporter was "a sensitive guy" and it might hurt his feelings if the current reporter was allowed a second question.

(Could Bush have been projecting his own propensity for hurt feelings and oversensitivity to perceived slight?)

Then, Bush was asked about possible changes in the White House staff. As if second term turnover wasn't a completely routine phenomenon, Bush took the question as some kind of invasion. Bush answered:

"The post-election euphoria did not last very long here at the press conference."

In a protracted answer, basically saying he hadn't decided what he was going to do, Bush seemed a little too interested (and, a bit paranoid) about keeping White House business private. In a strange passage, he referred to cautioning his staff about speculating about personnel changes. He then restated that caution by saying he had actually warned them on it.

"And I fully understand we're about to head into the period of intense speculation as to who's going to stay and who's not going to stay, and I assured them that -- today I warned them of the speculative period."

Strangely satisfied that he had answered the question without being tricked into tipping his hand, Bush complementing the reporter for "a nice try."

But Bush still couldn't let the subject go. He then launched into a long passage about the kind of people he has surrounded himself with, emphasizing that he had chosen staff people who had not been intimidated in confronting him. (This is in contrast to statements from his staff, just before the election, saying that most of them wouldn't dare tell Bush something he wouldn't want to hear. ) He then mentioned that his staff had often engaged in vigorous debates on the issues, seemingly adding the segue just to throw in a jab about how the press has seemingly taken "delight in reporting (those debates)."

Bush was then asked about whether he would try and act in a bipartisan manner. Here, he immediately became defensive. With a slight air of contempt, he asked the reporter: "Do you remember the No Child Left Behind Act?"

Then, as if instructing the newsperson on how he needed to think about Bush's bipartisan intentions, Bush added: "(T)hat's the model I'd look at, if I were you".

As the meeting wore on (as the Newsweek report also noted), Bush demonstrated less energy and patience to enforce his better behavior. When he was asked a second time about his willingness to work with the Democrats in Congress, his reply was sort of weird. (The more threatening or accusatory comments are in bold.)

I'm optimistic. You covered me when I was the governor of Texas. I told you that I was going to do that as a governor. There was probably skepticism in your beady eyes there. (Laughter.) But you might remember -- you might remember, we did -- we were able to accomplish a lot by -- and Washington is different from Austin, no question about it. Washington -- one of the disappointments of being here in Washington is how bitter this town can become and how divisive. I'm not blaming one party or the other. It's just the reality of Washington, D.C., sometimes exacerbated by you, because it's great sport. It's really -- it's entertaining for some. It also makes is difficult to govern at times.

It has been noted over and over during Bush's first term that he has shaped (or suppressed) press coverage through intimidation. When discussed in general, there has been a healthy debate as to whether Bush has done so. In a close reading of one press conference, however, Bush's parting words are illuminating. Before walking away, Bush added the following:

Listen, thank you all. I look forward to working with you. ...I've got a question for you. How many of you are going to be here for a second term? Please raise your hand. (Laughter.) ... Good. Gosh, we're going to have a lot of fun, then.

Now, you could say Bush was simply affirming that he and the press corp would be sharing one boat for the next four years. On the other hand, you could say the President was also warning each reporter in the room not to automatically count on being around for the duration.

(image source: YahooNews --AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
(image source: YahooNews --AFP/Stephen Jaffe)

Nov 08, 2004 in In A Word, BAGnews/Most Recent | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Oct 19, 2004

Where The Buck Never Stops: More Media Bias


This lead for Newsweek's on-line campaign coverage is a good example of how the media gives Bush a free pass.

In presenting two articles comparing the candidates qualifications, it contrasts Bush the CEO with Kerry the Senator. Whether or not anyone has thought it through, juxtaposing Kerry's twenty year Senate history alongside Bush's White House tenure has the consequence of of implying equivalency. That's interesting because Bush has had little or no background managing a business -- especially in comparison to how long Kerry has been a senator. (And that's even with credit for a term as governor of Texas.)

However, that's just the beginning.

The Kerry heading accuses the Senator of a gross problem with his professional competency. If the intention of the magazine was to critically evaluate the Senator's record, that's fine. As an article featured as a companion piece to the Bush story, however, the Kerry charge is made with no offsetting question about the President's capabilities. If Newsweek were subjecting the President to equivalent scrutiny, the Bush lead would have to deal with whether the American shareholders felt Bush deserved rehiring. Instead, Kerry is being judged for his actions while the decision on Bush is completely random.

Given what's going on in the text, the choice of picture is interesting. For people who watched the debates, Bush was revealed as someone more inexperienced and seemingly less qualified than Kerry. That being so, you'd never know from this. The photo completely recasts Bush as the dominant figure. He's firmly in charge, holding down the center, shifting Kerry leftward. (Imagine that!) With the extended jaw, the forceful, squared up stance, and his arm and hand controlling Kerry's hand, once again, Bush is the portrait of strength.

And, of course, he's having no trouble doing the talking.

Oct 19, 2004 in In A Word, In A Picture/Campaign '04 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Oct 12, 2004

It's Undebatable: Bush Angry, Defensive and Going Down


Perhaps the best analogy for this exhaustingly long Presidential campaign is that of a boxing match--each man mercilessly attacking, and then fighting to get off the ropes. Following this logic, you could say that the man most likely to fall is the one on defense in the late rounds.

Going by this standard, clearly the President is in a lot of trouble. Despite the perception that Bush came up in the second debate, in terms of "defensiveness," I would suggest he actually fell further. You might not reach that conclusion by reading Bush's face. If you read his language, however, that's where the picture looked bad.

Again, taking advantage of's tool, the Debate Spotter (allowing you to count each candidate's specific words and phrases ...and the means by which I did an analysis of the Vice Presidential Debate), I wanted to get a sense of how defensive the President was in his second match up with John Kerry.

Without getting too scientific, I decided to measure how often Bush used five different words that might typically be used when making rationalizations or justifications -- especially about the wisdom or popularity of one's actions. The five words were: mistake; sure; decision; popular and unpopular. (Granted, these words could be applied in a variety of contexts. In comparing their occurrence across debates, however, the differences would tend to balance out.)

What I found was, in the first debate (when the President was more anxious than anything else), Bush used these "defensive" terms 21 times. In the second debate, however, when the Bush seemed more angry and retaliatory, he used the five words 65 times.

By the way, it's also interesting to compare Bush with Cheney on defensiveness. (After all, a lot of people would argue that Cheney is more accountable for the administration's problems than Bush is.) As it turns out, In the Vice Presidential debate, Dick Cheney--whose self-assuredness is considered his fatal flaw -- only used these "defensive" terms a total of 7 times.

Oct 12, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oct 11, 2004

In Which The NYTimes Public Editor Has A Meltdown, And We Consider Whether BAGnewsNotes Caused Him To Lose It


In my previous post, I described how my Guest Blogger, Karen, complained to the NYTimes about their photo coverage of George Bush and John Kerry.

This morning, we got his reply, and all I can say is "ouch!"

First of all, I can't claim credit for any of Mr. Okrent's comments about complaints he's received about articles. He does say, however, that he got two complaints about photo coverage. Given the message my Guest Blogger received, I'm assuming she was one of them. If that's true, I wanted to respond specifically to several of the points/charges Mr. Okrent makes in his article. (Full text here.)

1.) First of all, the headline: "How Would Jackson Pollock Cover This Campaign?"

Besides the sarcasm, what's the point? Are you saying that it's not fair game to read into a picture? Are you saying that the interpretation of images is so imprecise as to absolve the Times from any bias? I think it's a cheap move to hide behind the point that photographs are some kind of abstract expression.

2.) Mr. Okrent writes: "A Bush-hater will see a front-page picture of the confident president greeting enthusiastic crowds and shout "Bias!" much more quickly than he will remember the nearly identical photo of Kerry that ran the day before."

I'm not saying that the political slant in the photo coverage doesn't go both ways. Of course it does. But that fact doesn't mean that there isn't a regular and systematic pattern of coverage that casts Mr. Kerry in a particular context in comparison to President Bush. What is more disturbing than anything else is that fact that Mr. Okrent refuses to cop to this possibility. What he also doesn't address is the extent to which the Times, and other big media, have been complicit with the Administration's spin. The paper recently took the step of admitting they were pacified by the administration on Iraq. Why wouldn't it follow that their photo coverage could be similarly colored by the Administration's propaganda/intimidation campaign?

3.) Mr. Okrent writes: "If there's a commissariat at The Times ordering up coverage to help or hurt a specific candidate, it's doing a lousy job."

Who's talking about a conspiracy, or even a conscious effort at bias? I happen to think that the depiction of Bush as strong, and Kerry as weak (or indecisive, or isolated) is more unconscious than anything else. To the extent these perceptions have been skillfully executed by the Administration in the same way the advertising industry imparts messages (through a combination of overt repetition and surreptitious subliminal techniques), I would hope the Times would be that much more vigilant to guard against their perpetuation.

4. ) Mr. Okrent writes: "Conservatives thought Cheney won the vice-presidential debate; liberals thought Edwards did. I can look at pictures of my children and see that they are flawless; you will see them differently (even though they are, of course, flawless)." He then goes on to say: Unquestionably, individual articles, headlines or photographs do cast one or another candidate in a colored light, either rosy or dark.

In one paragraph, he's emphasizing the point that pictures are entirely subjective. In the next paragraph, he makes the argument that bias is natural, and it all balances out ("...bruises administered to each..."). Which is it?

5.) Mr. Okrent writes: "Show me an interesting photograph, and I'll show you an opinion. (I can't wait to hear what readers think of the Kerry portrait today on the cover The New York Times Magazine, much less the article itself.) (Check that: Yes, I can.)"

Me thinks he doth protest too much! Citing the photograph of John Kerry on the cover of the NYTimes Magazine completely misses the point. As an accompaniment to an opinion piece, that image is irrelevant to this argument. The issue I'm talking about is the tendency to present systematic bias, or to reinforce biased characterizations, through supposedly (more) objective news photos.

6.) Mr. Okrent writes: "I ... don't wish to discourage readers who in good faith find errors, misrepresentations or unfair characterizations. They may occur randomly, but their frequency is disappointing, and I'll continue to forward meritorious complaints to the appropriate editors and reporters. Many will find expression in the corrections column, or in this one."

I'm happy to hear this. If my guest blogger's tone or level of frustration detracted from the point she was making, I hope that this commentary; the examples I've presented in previous posts (linked above); as well as the examples that follow this post, might be considered a more reasoned challenge/critique.. I will email Mr. Okrent and the Times tomorrow with a link to these entries, and ask for a response to the issues I've raised.

7.) Mr. Okrent ends his article by citing a threatening letter recently sent to Times correspondent Adam Nagourney. Besides the questionable practice of naming the writer and calling him a coward, Mr. Okrent goes on a rant about how much flack the Times has received from the left-wing lately, especially from the blogosphere. I won't repeat his comments because I believe he probably would rather have them back.

I just have these comments in reply: a.) Be careful about painting all blogs with one brush. b.) The rule we live by in the blogosphere is this: expect everything you say to be scrutinized; be ready to defend what is justifiable; be prepared to capitulate on what's not. If you can't get past your pretensions, you can't advance the discourse. And that, ultimately, is what the blogosphere is about. c.) The days of the "free pass" from the left wing are over. So are the days of a (more) passive readership. Get used to it. d.) The other thing that you get used to pretty quickly in the blogosphere are comments and communications that are hateful and hurtful. I get plenty of this crap. It was harder to take when I first started blogging. These days, I ignore most of it. However, it's still hard to digest stinging attacks that are on the borderline of propriety. I think Mr. Okrent has no choice but to get a thicker skin. It's just part of the price of a more open and participatory journalism -- Ivory Tower, not withstanding.

Oct 11, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Oct 06, 2004

The Surprise of the Veep Debate: Cheney Defeats Bush!


At, Cameron Marlow (a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab) created a clever utility, called the Debate Spotter, to reveal recurrent themes emphasized by the candidates in the Presidential and the Vice-Presidential debate. Specifically, the tool can identify the most popular phrases from the official transcript. In the Presidential debate, for example, one of Bush's most popular phrases was "hard work" -- which he used thirteen times. (Here's the link to the Bush-Kerry analysis.)

When looking at the results from the Vice Presidential debate, what jumps out immediately is the fact Edwards used the phrase "John Kerry" a whopping 36 times. When I saw that, it made me wonder how many times Cheney referred to President Bush. Curiously, in Marlow's summary of Cheney's top phrases (above), the President doesn't merit a reference.

Using the Debate Spotter myself, I was only able to find 10 instances in which Cheney mentions George Bush or President Bush" or "the President" (independent of himself). It's not just that Cheney makes fewer references to the top of the ticket, however. According to the Debate Spotter, Cheney has a tendency to put himself on equal footing with Bush or highlight himself alone. (I counted 3 instances in which Cheney refers to himself and the President in partnership--"The President and I "; "the President and myself"; and "working alongside the President"). And, as Marlow indicates, Dick Cheney makes an impressive 7 references to Dick Cheney (through the use of the phrase "Vice President").

It goes even beyond that, though. What also pops up are references suggesting Cheney either supersedes the President, or is actually calling his own shots. For example, he refers to himself as a top man twice in the same sentence ("Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of the Senate, the presiding officer"). At another point, he points out the most important criteria in a Vice-President is "somebody who could take over."

Also, he consistently refers to White House policy and decisions, not so much as Bush's decisions, but decisions and policies "we" have executed. Most revealingly, there is one point -- referring to the decision to go to war -- where he actually drops the "we" and speaks as if the decision were his alone. He says:

"What we did in Iraq was exactly the right thing to do. If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the same course of action." (Italics mine.)

There was also one other speech act worth mentioning. Of course, it might have just been a slip, but it also might have been a Freudian slip. When discussing tax policy, Cheney meant to say that he and the President have a fundamental difference with Kerry-Edwards. Instead, what he said was: "(T)here's a fundamental philosophical difference here between the president and myself."

In considering this data, what I'm thinking is that the guy who lost the Vice-Presidential debate Tuesday night was actually George Bush. On the Democratic side, Kerry and Edwards have both demonstrated they belong in the big leagues. On the Republican side, however, you have a President who's stumbling, and a heavyweight second-in-command who seems to be crowding him out.

Oct 06, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Oct 05, 2004

In A Word: Poor Colin Powell Is Delegated To Hype Final 1,500 Page Iraqi Arms Inspector's Report. (We Offer a Mark-Up.)


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Sep 27, 2004

In the Groves of Baal

(Who/What/Where -- Posted one year after 9/11)

A friend of mine, who happens to be a Rabbi, introduced me -- this Yom Kippur week -- to a poet named A.M. Klein.

Reading Klein, you would think that he was alive and well. Instead, the pieces I read -- railing about the current regime-- we're written while Hitler was in power. The illusion of timelessness and the clarity of opposition in Klein's words directly contradicts the more fashionable understanding of that time. As my Rabbi friend points out, people wanted (and, apparently, still want) to believe nobody knew what was going on.

Klein has one piece that speaks directly to the failure of "the knowing" to challenge the prevailing account of things. It is called "A Psalm of Abraham, When He Harkened To a Voice, and There Was None."

I only quote the last two stanzas:

O, these are the days of scorpions and whips
When all the seers have had their eyes put out,
And all the prophets burned upon the lips!

There is noise only in the groves of Baal.
Only the painted heathen dance and sing,
With frenzied clamoring.
Among the holy ones, however, is no sound at all.

These words stir the utter disappointment I've felt in the press (our alleged "seers") and the Congress (supposed "prophets," I guess) over the past three years.

Sep 27, 2004 in BAGnews/War On tErrorism, In A Word | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Aug 31, 2004

Winning Or Not Winning The So-Called War Thing


Certainly, the world has gone crazy to be batting around the phrase "war on terrorism" with no sense that it's just a metaphor. Do you notice that the press uses it now without quotation or qualification? God help us; someday we will look back on this period of time, scratch our heads, and wonder what the operational definition of that thing was.

That being said, President Bush does refer to it as a concrete, literal thing -- and he's been all over the place this week trying to decide if he can actually win it or not. In my "Political Orbits" post earlier this week, I suggested that Bush was undertaking an intentional strategy (in advance of the debates) of lowering expectations. My first take on his comments about not winning the war was that he was either dropping the bar a little bit, or he was actually and finally ready to address this thingamajig in more real terms. (Both could be true).

At the expense of greater sanity and clarity, however, Bush got nailed for the flip-flop (another despicable, logic-reducing metaphor I hate), and so that was that. With John Edwards nipping at his heels, Bush quickly recommitted to defeating that thing which has no form.

Aug 31, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Jun 27, 2004

White House Still Working Out "Torture" Definition

In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the administration's definition of torture. The law recognizes torture as the infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”

However, Jay S. Bybee, then a government lawyer, established in an August 2002 memorandum that only physical pain "as intense as that accompanying organ failure or death" qualified as torture. He further asserted that "the infliction of pain" must also be "the offender's specific objective."

With their tendency to just make things up, we anticipate the White House will soon release another revision of the term.

Jun 27, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jun 15, 2004

The Almighty Sleeve

--Ron Reagan Jr. comparing father's faith to that of "other politicians" in memorial eulogy.

Jun 15, 2004 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jun 14, 2004

Doubters 3, Evil 2

One thing Reagan Week highlighted is how profoundly dark and pessimistic Bush is. Compared to Reagan--who was terminally optimistic and hopeful in his allusions--Bush's speech stands out as consistently apocalyptic and paranoid.

Take Bush's eulogy for Reagan. Bush completely missed the nostalgic, celebratory tone of the ceremony. Even with the intention to be positive, he could only do so in the context of oppressiveness. The paragraph that got the most airplay, for example, is filled with allusions to torture and conniving. (Perhaps that Abu Ghraib thing is still rattling around in his consciousness?)

Anyway, in that single paragraph, I counted three "doubters," two "evil's" and one "hated."

Jun 14, 2004 in In A Word, Worthy Links: Illustration | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sep 11, 2003

W "Gung-Ho" At Quantico


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Aug 26, 2003

NY Times Iraqi Police Story: Reading Between The Lines


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Jul 25, 2003

More Direct Quotes From The Bush Who Goes Line For Line And Word For Word

The media hasn't gotten around to it, and may never, but... The 9/11 Report, issued yesterday, says there was no link between "What's His Name" and "You Know Who."


Jul 25, 2003 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jul 19, 2003

A Further Look At The President's Justifications For War


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Jul 14, 2003

You Can Have Your (Yellow) Cake And Eat It Too


--Condoleezza Rice on Fox News Sunday (7.13.03) trying (badly) to explain how: a) the President's statement in his State Of The Union Message, regarding the Iraqi's attempt to purchase uranium from the Nigerians, was true, and b) the assertion was not true.

Jul 14, 2003 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jul 10, 2003

New White House Word Of The Week


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Jul 04, 2003

How She Said What She Said (Rice On Eve Of Bush Africa Trip)


Jul 04, 2003 in In A Word | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack