Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A modest proposal...

...that we all stop frothing at the mouth over the cover of the latest The New Yorker. I'm with Jack Shafer on this one:

Calling on the press to protect the common man from the potential corruptions of satire is a strange, paternalistic assignment for any journalist to give his peers, but that appears to be what The New Yorker's detractors desire. I don't know whether to be crushed by that realization or elated by the notion that one of the most elite journals in the land has faith that Joe Sixpack can figure out a damned picture for himself.

Yes, I understand why some people are taking offense, and as an Obama supporter I certainly understand the danger the cartoon poses. Satire can be easily misinterpreted or taken at face value. My grandmother, I'm sorry to say, was one of the most bigoted people I've ever known (rest her soul), yet she loved "All in the Family." And I'm sure she wasn't the only one. That doesn't mean that Norman Lear or Carol O'Connor should have been pilloried for lampooning racism.

What I find depressing about this episode is that it reinforces the stereotype that liberals are humorless, politically correct scolds. Some have even gone as far as to call The New Yorker "gutless" for failing, on its cover, to criticize John McCain for benefitting from the ugly rumors being floated about Obama.

Come on. Few mainstream media outlets have been as aggressive in covering the Bush administration as The New Yorker. They don't have to prove their chops to anyone. Besides, the Internet echo chamber aside, if Obama needs to rely on a magazine whose readers probably already support him, then he's got problems.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Wait -- which football team plays here?"

John McCain told Jon Delano that the Pittsburgh Steelers helped him endure torture at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors:

"When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting lineup -- defensive line -- of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates!"

There's just one problem with that story:

...the Steelers aren't the team whose defensive line McCain named for his Vietnamese tormentors. The Green Bay Packers are. At least according to every previous time McCain has told this story. And the McCain campaign just told ABC News that the senator made a mistake -- it was, indeed, the Packers.

In McCain's best-selling 1999 memoir “Faith of My Fathers,” McCain writes:

“Once my condition had stabilized, my interrogators resumed their work. Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate. Eventually, I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant. Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line, and said they were members of my squadron. When asked to identify future targets, I simply recited the names of a number of North Vietnamese cities that had already been bombed.”

In 2005, A&E ran a movie version of "Faith of My Fathers."

And McCain discussed that precise clip on CNN.

The actor playing McCain, asked to name the men in his squadron, says: "Starr; Greg; McGee; Davis; Adderly; Brown; Ringo; Wood."

Cut back to real life. The CNN anchor asks McCain: "For those who don't know the story, were those NFL football players?"

"That was the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, the first Super Bowl champions, yes," McCain responded. But it's -- it was the best I could think of at the time."

The movie actually shows this act of defiance twice.

INTERROGATOR: The names of your squadron...
MCCAIN: Starr, Gregg...McGee, Davis...Adderley, Brown, Ringo, Wood.

INTERROGATOR: Ten points, McCain.
Ray Nitschke, our C.O.

The Packers anecdote is not only a key part of the McCain biography, it's part of his argument against torture.

Explaining why he thinks torture can result in erroneous information, McCain wrote in Newsweek in 2005, "In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear--whether it is true or false--if he believes it will relieve his suffering. I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse."

McCain's valor as a P.O.W. is beyond admirable, but this business of substituting the Steelers for the Packers is odd, though as I said, the McCain campaign says this was an honest mistake.

Yes, a mistake he just happened to make while he was in Pittsburgh, a town with a singular devotion to its football team and the second largest city in a critical swing state.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

What? Nothing about Brookline?

Our problems are solved: The New York Times digs Pittsburgh.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Not in his lifetime

I'm sad that Jesse Helms is dead. Had he hung on for a few more months, he might have witnessed the election of the first black president -- and he would have gone to his grave realizing that much of his life's work had been for naught.

It's worth noting that a White House spokesman called Helms "a great public servant and true patriot" and Bob Dole called him a "good, decent human being." I understand that it's bad form to speak ill of the dead, but perhaps a more appropriate, yet tasteful statement, would have gone like this:

"We extend our sympathies to the family of Jesse Helms. We understand that Jesse did what he believed was right, but it is tragic that he wasted so much time, talent and energy toward dividing Americans, and to denying African-Americans the liberties guaranteed them under the U.S. Constitution. His death should not make us forget that much of what he stood for was wrong. "

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