Here's what I don't get.
CBS News sets off a worldwide furor by airing those horrible, shocking pictures of American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners--people engaging in conduct so utterly despicable that it's hard to fathom how they could be so cruel, and appear to be having such a good time at it.
President Bush, and the American public, and the rest of the world are revolted. Every time I look at those pictures--and cable is showing them every 12 minutes, with Janet Jackson-like intensity--I cringe. Several investigations are under way.
And yet some people are questioning whether "60 Minutes II" should have done this.
What would be the alternative: covering it up?
Sitting on the story so the U.S. military wouldn't look bad?
Why not suppress all negative news and just salute?
Stories have consequences. That's the way journalism works.
CBS executives did hold up the story for two weeks after Gen. Richard Myers, worried about the explosive situation in Fallujah, called Dan Rather. Executive producer Jeff Fager told the AP he felt "terrible" about the delay. "It's hard to just make those kinds of decisions. It's not natural for us; the natural thing is to put it on the air. But the circumstances were quite unusual and I think you have to consider that."
But if this conduct is as terrible as the civilized world obviously believes, how could CBS have looked the other way? Especially once it had the photos, which lifted the story from the miasma of mere "allegations"?
Fox's Bill O'Reilly wrestles with the issue:
"Now what would you do if you were running CBS News? No question it's a big story. And you have exclusive shocking pictures. But you know your country will be hurt when those pictures get out. You also know somebody else will most likely get the story and the pictures. So what would you do?
"I would run the story but not the pictures. I'd describe them using vivid words. But I could not put my fellow countrymen, I should say, in even more danger than they are now by running the photographs. I'm not condemning CBS News. I'm just telling you what I'd do.
"It's true the people abroad who hate us would hate us with or without the story. The foreign press has been generally disgraceful on its coverage of America...The end zone here is that the American media have to be very careful about what we give our enemies."
Rush Limbaugh | http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_050304/content/truth_detector.guest.html manages to tie it to Jayson Blair, Jack Kelley--and John Kerry:
"About as many soldiers are said to be involved in these outrageous acts of torture against the Iraqi prisoners as there have been plagiarizing and fabricating reporters working for the New York Times, USA Today, and other papers around the country. We have as many indecent acts by these soldiers as we have plagiarist reporters working for mainstream media, partisan media institutions here. I mean it's awful when it happens, don't you just hate it when it happens? But it doesn't mean the entire institution is disreputable. It doesn't mean the military is all bad and it doesn't mean that the media is all bad just because you've got some plagiarists out there making things up, making up quotes, making up people, saying they were places where they weren't. You know, torture is torture. Plagiarism is plagiarism.
"But I think that we need somebody with expertise to get to the bottom of this. And I think we should send Kerry over there. John Kerry, who has lots of experience in war atrocities. He admitted to committing them. He came back from Vietnam, and he's testifying there before the Senate, he says I did this, and I did that, and what Kerry said he did, is far worse than what's depicted in these pictures. I mean can we be honest here? What Kerry said he did, and what Kerry said other people, other soldiers did in Vietnam -- and, by the way, we need to point out again that he did not report these atrocities when he saw them."
Slate's Mickey Kaus | http://slate.msn.com/id/2099881/ wonders whether Bush gets it:
"Does President Bush--as opposed to his State Department--understand the extent to which the photos of Iraqi prisoner abuse have made America palpably less safe by encouraging some non-trivial number angry Muslims (and others) to become anti-U.S. terrorists? The real events themselves are bad enough; magnified by the highly efficient Arab anti-American propaganda machine they become a huge defeat in the war on terror....
"The abuse scandal isn't the sort of bad publicity that will be countered by a sound bite here or there, or press conference answer by Secretary Powell, or a stern letter to Donald Rumsfeld, or anything that happens on Larry King Live. It's not a responsibility President Bush should delegate--to distance himself from the bad news, the way Clinton did with Waco. It won't be cured by accepting bids for another PR contract, and it's not something that can be confidently dealt with in the chain of command--if the chain of command worked to get information to the top, the problem wouldn't have arisen in the first place, right?...
"Some grand gesture would seem to be required. Why doesn't President Bush ask for three minutes on the U.S. networks, plus CNN and Al Jazeera and the other international satellite channels. He could look directly into the camera; and a) condemn and apologize; b) explain why this isn't what America is about; c) give his personal pledge to punish the perpetrators, describing those Americans already punished; and d) ask to be judged on the results. Keep the righteousness and self-congratulation about how Saddam wouldn't have taken corrective action to a minimum, and he might begin to turn this defeat around."
The prez must have gotten the memo:
"President Bush will give interviews to two Arab TV networks today to denounce the abuse of Iraqi detainees...White House spokesman Scott McClellan said last night on Air Force One that Mr. Bush will conduct 10-minute interviews, one with the U.S.-sponsored Al Hurra television and the other with the network Al Arabiya," says the Washington Times | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20040505-122416-2049r.htm.
Rummy is promising a crackdown, says the Los Angeles Times: | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/la-050404prison_lat,1,1874441.story?coll=la-home-headlines
"Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld today denounced members of the American military responsible for abusing Iraqi prisoners, promising that the Pentagon would take swift action against those involved.
"As photographs of the abuse elicited worldwide condemnation, Rumsfeld promised to hold responsible the U.S. soldiers whose actions 'are totally unacceptable and un-American.'...
"The defense secretary also said that since December 2002 there had been 35 investigations of misconduct involving the treatment of detainees and that 25 of them were investigations involving deaths."
Wonder how the news is playing in Baghdad? The Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0405050265may05,1,5460137.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed tells us:
"As the Pentagon investigates abuses at an Army-run prison in Iraq, local newspaper headlines here are filled with what Iraqis see as American hypocrisy. "'This is how the messengers of democracy treat Iraqi prisoners,' blared a headline in one of the country's many flashy tabloids.
"By Tuesday, the news had spawned no riots or demonstrations. So far, more Iraqis have protested the country's proposed blue-striped flag, saying it looks too much like Israel's banner. But the unfolding Abu Ghraib scandal has sown far deeper ill will than the flap over the flag and confirmed for many Iraqis the popular view here that American soldiers welcomed as liberators a year ago have become unwanted occupiers."
The Baltimore Sun | http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/iraq/bal-to.media05may05,0,5789343.column?coll=bal-home-headlines has more on how CBS held up the program at the request of the Joint Chiefs chairman:
"CBS officials say they were given this message: 'You're risking their lives by showing it right now.' That risk was said to exist in two ways: It could further inflame uprisings in those Iraqi cities, and it could imperil the two Americans believed to be held captive by Iraqis. (One, a civilian contractor, escaped on Sunday.)
"'We held off what we thought was a reasonable amount of time, especially with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking,' says Jeff Fager, executive producer of '60 Minutes II.' 'We told them we would take it one day at a time.'
"Asked last Sunday why he had asked CBS to delay a second time, Myers said that the U.S.-led coalition needed to get Iraqis more involved in maintaining order in Najaf and Fallujah, where violence had flared against the occupation. 'You can't keep this out of the news, clearly, but I thought it was - would be - particularly inflammatory at that time,' Myers said on ABC News' 'This Week.'
"By the start of last week, however, famed investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh was working on the same story; he had also obtained photographs that appeared to document the abuse, along with the classified report that condemned a systemic breakdown in leadership for the abuses at the American-run prison. And CBS knew it. 'That Monday, we knew we had to go,' Fager says."
Here's a profile in corporate courage:
"The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday," the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2004/05/05/national/05DISN.html?hp reports.
"The film, 'Fahrenheit 911,' links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis -- including the family of Osama bin Laden -- and criticizes Mr. Bush's actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."
Why? "Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said that Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor."
Pretty Mickey Mouse.
The NYT's Michiko Kakutani | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/04/books/04KAKU.html is out with her review of that Boston Globe book on Kerry:
"The book draws a carefully shaded portrait of Mr. Kerry as a man of many contradictions: a diplomat's son who grew up around a world of wealth and privilege but always felt like an outsider ('part of a landless aristocracy that one might find in a Jane Austen novel'); a politician who 'often proved himself to be a crusading and articulate investigator and lawmaker willing to stand up to prevailing winds' but who was also 'trailed by a reputation for political opportunism'; a man who was known for his diffident, aristocratic manner but who also showed unusual daring in war and sports.
"Some of Mr. Kerry's traits, cited in this book, eerily recall those of Al Gore: cautious, competitive and frequently accused of self-promotion, zigzagging on the issues and embellishing his accomplishments."
That's not a compliment, I take it.
From the National Review | http://nationalreview.com/york/york200405031513.asp online:
"Democratic 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey made an early departure from the commission's long-anticipated session with President Bush and Vice President Cheney only to find himself waiting for what turned out to be a late, and very brief, meeting on Capitol Hill. Now, Kerrey says that if he had it do over again, he would not have left the White House in the first place.
"Kerrey had scheduled a meeting at noon Thursday with New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici, a member of the Appropriations Committee, at Domenici's office in the Hart Senate Office Building (the two were to discuss an issue related to the New School, of which Kerrey is president). To make the meeting, Kerry left the White House at about 11:40 A.M., missing the last hour of the commission's questioning of Bush and Cheney.
"But when Kerrey arrived at the Hart Building, he was told that Domenici was busy on the Senate floor, voting on a series of amendments. Noon came and went. Instead of meeting in the office, Kerrey went to an area just off the Senate floor, where, at about 12:30 P.M., he was finally able to have a quick word with Domenici.
"In the end, Kerrey says, he would have done things differently. 'If I had known that there were votes in the Senate at the time, and Sen. Domenici was not in his office, and I would not be able to see him until later, and I would only get 30 seconds or a minute with him, then yes, I would have stayed at the White House,' Kerrey told NRO."
There's been a spate of stories beating up on an Indiana senator lately, and The New Republic's Michael Crowley | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&s=crowley050404 joins the fray:
"Richard Lugar has always been a model senator. The kind of senator your college political science professor would gush over....
"Alas, the quality that makes Lugar so admirable--that he's a statesman and not a scheming pol--is also his Achilles heel. Just when he should be a roaring lion in the public debate, he has been a squeaky mouse. As yesterday's New York Times points out, Lugar has been almost completely ignored--slighted, even--by the Bush White House, which rarely consults him and won't even send witnesses to his hearings. Yet he has proved either unable or unwilling to attract the kind of media attention that would allow him to be heard more clearly, choosing instead to be excessively deferential to the president. He has, in short, wimped out.
"For instance, Lugar says he hasn't spoken to Bush since last September, during a 90-minute flight to Indiana. 'The president can't talk to everybody, every day,' Lugar explained lamely."
As if the chairman of Foreign Relations is chopped liver?
Finally, the New York Post looks | http://nypost.com/news/nationalnews/20183.htm at Stern's revenge:
"Faithful fans of Howard Stern are washing Oprah Winfrey's mouth out with soap - they've filed 1,900 letters with the FCC complaining that the Queen of Daytime Talk is filthier than the King of All Media.
"The angry missives, which demand Winfrey be fined or banished from TV for a sexually explicit show aired March 18, represent the second-largest number of complaints the FCC has received against a single program...
"Stern's anti-Oprah campaign began six weeks ago, after he complained on his national radio show and Web site that the FCC is guilty of hypocrisy for hitting stations that air his show with multiple obscenity fines while letting Oprah slide."
How exactly does this help Howard?