Monday, June 27, 2005

Re: More Media Mistakes. And Worse

June 27, 2005

[[[audio]]] [[[audio pt2]]]

Re: More Media Mistakes. And Worse.
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

On Sunday, June 19th the new ombudsman of The New York Times defended something that required no defense. To defend it was a sign of tragic weakness, a sign of inherent capitulation to the right wing sentiments that rule America today. It also exposed journalistic conduct inconsistent with the duty -- the duty -- of a free press to inform Americans about the misconduct of their leaders. And this in a time when the press has so extensively failed to live up to the responsibility arising, in the words of Justice Black in the Pentagon Papers case, from the fact that it "was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people," has failed to live up to its "paramount . . . . responsibilit[y] . . . . to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of . . . foreign shot and shell."

The June 19th column by the ombudsman, Byron Calame, defended a page one article of May 31st that reported on the CIA’s creation of new "proprietary" airlines to carry out its projects. These new airlines have replaced the CIA’s infamous proprietary Air America of Viet Nam days, and have been used extensively in order to render individuals to foreign countries so that they can be interrogated by torture. Much of the May 31st article discussed the use of the proprietary airlines in the rendering process (a use which violates international law, one gathers, and which plainly is a felony under American law although the news media uniformly chooses never -- never -- to mention this fact).

As part of reporting on the existence and use of these new Bushian era successors to the infamous Air America, The Times discussed, among other things, who the CIA front men were, or are, who started or operate these lines or who front for the CIA, the airports they have flown to all over the world, the kinds of sophisticated jets being used, the small rural airport in North Carolina where one of the main "proprietaries" is based, and where its headquarters are on the airport grounds.

In reporting on the use of CIA proprietary airlines to accomplish such actions as rendering (and other bad acts too, by the way), The Times’ articles of May 31st, one of whose authors was reporter Scott Shane, was both rehashing and further elaborating matters that had been exposed previously in the media (and that have been mentioned here). The article, like its predecessors, was carrying out rather precisely the responsibility of "bar[ing] the secrets of government" and "preventing it from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die . . . of foreign shot and shell."

Why, then, did Calame feel a need to defend the article? It was because "A striking number of readers have denounced" The Times for the article in "generally strident email messages demand[ing] to know why [it] had decided to publish information that the readers believe will aid terrorists and make life in the United States less safe for everyone -- especially the people carrying out the operations." Of course, most of these outraged people, said Calame, "didn’t seem to be aware that the once-secret air operations had been mentioned in earlier articles and broadcasts elsewhere." In other words, most of them were strident but ignorant individuals who had no idea of what had been reported. In this way they were reflections of two widespread phenomena: the kind of ignorant uninformed mindset, hoped for and encouraged by George Bush and company, that still believes Saddam was behind 9/11, and the fact that ignorance of facts and consequent hatred of those who know or report them is an endemic human characteristic of overwhelming percentages of people.

But though the outraged writers were ignorant and uninformed, the ombudsman, like reporter Scott Shane, whose previous letter to one of the outraged was quoted by Calame, thought it important to prove to the right wingers that The Times had acted responsibly (as if anything but non-publication could satisfy those kinds of people). Why did the ombudsman and the reporter feel it necessary to justify the May 31st article to the ignorant? It was, one deeply suspects, because they are scared to death of being considered unpatriotic by the wacked-out right wing, from George Bush on down. Patriotism, it is often said, is the last refuge of scoundrels, but it nonetheless is simultaneously a refuge to which more reasonable people, like The Times, like even this liberal blogger, feel a need to make obeisance. This, in a way, is really too bad, since the patriotism to which obeisance is made is too often, as now, the cry of persons who want us all to support and defend horrendous conduct. As someone recently said, it is the right wing that is un-American these days -- as almost always is shown by history to be the case. The situation reminds me of Samuel Johnson’s anti-colonialist comment during the Revolutionary War of, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes," i.e., the drivers of slaves? -- a comment on which he put his finger on the fundamental American disconnect that would bedevil the nation for the next 85 years, tear it apart in a horrendous Civil War, and is with us still, albeit in altered form. My point here is: how is it that the loudest cries for patriotism came from those who act and/or speak contrary to the best values of the nation? Yet, to steal from, while altering, Willy Loman, it seems that obeisance must be made.

So the personnel of The Times felt a need to reply respectfully to the right wing wackos in a fruitless effort to placate them. I have to nevertheless say that, based on both experience and observation, it is hard to imagine The Times or The Post or other media feeling such a need to respond to the liberal left. Not impossible to imagine: even as this is written the major media increasingly feels some need to respond to the liberals’ criticism of its arrogant refusal to carry or discuss, its arrogant put-down of, the Downing Street Memos. Of course, this increasingly felt need to explain about ignoring the Downing Street Memos comes after an amazing firestorm of criticism was launched on the Internet, with astonishing numbers of blogs and emails devoted to the Downing Street matter, whole organizations arising with reference to it, and major politicians taking up the cause. Whereas mere emails to The Times were sufficient to prompt Calame and others at the newspaper to respond to the right wingers.

But, as I say, respond they did. What they said in response, however, seems to me to sometimes be dubious, even inept. One major point was that, as reporter Scott Shane said, "‘if reporters using public information can penetrate these air operations, I suspect foreign intelligence services, or Al Qaeda operatives, would have little difficulty doing so.

Our story was based on information from public F.A.A. and corporate records and F.A.A. flight plan data available to all from commercial vendors. Before our story was published, the tail numbers, and photographs, of several of the rendition planes could be found easily via a Google search on the Web.

Not so fast, Mr. Shane. It is true that much of the May 31st article was based on public sources. But much wasn’t. The article repeatedly referenced and/or quoted comments by, and the reporters got information from, former CIA officers, CIA pilots, board members and employees of the proprietaries, airport personnel, and law and history professors. These people may, they sometimes to some extent will and here did, talk to someone who called them or called upon them and identified himself or herself (believably) as a reporter for The New York Times. Are they going to talk if someone calls them and says, "I’m from Al Qaeda and I’d like to talk to you about the proprietary airlines and renditions?" Or "I’m from the Iranian intelligence service and I’d like to talk to you about, etc., etc." Or "I won’t tell you who I represent but I’d like to talk, etc., etc.?" Shane’s argument that the information is publicly available is only partly true, and to some extent it is sleight of hand. Of it one might say, "By mir bist du nicht shane." Or "Don’t come back, Shane." (Not to mention, by the way, that someone in charge of relevant FAA or corporate records might report it if they got wind that a person of unknown or suspicious affiliation is nosing around in public records relating to the proprietaries.)

Another major defense offered by Calame – one that raises really important questions -- was that The Times continuously vetted the story with the CIA to give it "a chance to alert the paper to dangers the article could pose for intelligence sources or methods." "Shane," said Calame, "told the C.I.A. public affairs department in several conversations over the course of a month that The Times was pursuing the story." As well, Shane said that "‘On the afternoon of Thursday, May 26, I sent them an e-mail of several hundred words that included virtually all the facts we were planning to print (all corporate names, details on the history of [one of the proprietaries], details of arrests of Al Qaeda figures coinciding with flights, criticism of their ‘bad tradecraft’). On Friday afternoon, May 27, the chief spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise gave me a no comment, while assuring me that the information had been seen by all the relevant officials.’"

Calame then commented that "Sending a detailed written summary of an article is a slightly unusual step" which he nonetheless thought alright here lest lives otherwise be unknowingly endangered, plus "it didn’t give the CIA any veto power over the story," which was not published until fully five days later. During the five days, "the C.I.A. never made even a ‘request to discuss’ the article before it was published," according to Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson. The CIA and other agencies do indeed "approach The Times with concerns." Abramson said. She "estimated", said Calame, that "[s]ince 9/11 ‘deep concerns’ about Times story projects have been raised by intelligence agencies about a dozen times," with the government "argu[ing] that ‘too much detail’ about sources and methods is something that can endanger lives." "Times editors are willing to reconsider and re-evaluate whether details in stories serve a ‘compelling public need or are just details for detail’s sake,’ she said. These pre-publication discussions have led to some changes in some of the articles since 9/11, she said, declining to be more specific."

Now, one understands that the people at The Times do not want to endanger lives. This is a matter of human decency, not merely fear of the wacked out right wing. (In the latter regard, one can just imagine the outcry by George Bush and his cronies and supporters if they felt able to accuse the media of costing lives in some specific case; look what happened to Newsweek for making an alleged mistake -- that for realistic purposes was not a mistake -- about mistreatment of the Koran at Gitmo, a non-mistake that was paltry in comparison to costing lives.) And, because of the humanly decent desire not to endanger lives, if it were me who had been making the decision, I probably would not have mentioned the North Carolina airport where one of the proprietaries is based, or where on the grounds its headquarters are. Nor would I have mentioned the names of people involved with the proprietaries. It would have been enough to call the people A, B, C, and D, or, if some further detail were thought necessary to show authenticity, to provide background but non-identifying detail (e.g., a small rural airport in the South, a man who flew for Air America in Indo China, a mid-Atlantic businessman, etc., etc.). That is what this writer would have done (and what I sometimes in fact do when posting comments from people who have sent me perspicacious responses to blogs but do not wish to be identified). But I would have done it without talking to the CIA.

Why? Why might it be desirable, even very important, not to talk to the CIA (or the Pentagon, or Rumshead, or Ricehead or Busher, etc., etc.), even while taking steps oneself to ensure, as much as possible, that lives or military operations are not endangered.

The simple answer might be encapsulated in eight words: Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam, Pentagon Papers, Watergate. (Yes, Virginia, Viet Nam, properly spelled, is two words, not one, like South Carolina is two words not one (not Southcarolina). Spelling it "Vietnam" is a disrespectful American corruption, as if, say, the French were to disrespectfully call our country Theunitedstatesofamerica).

Before the Bay of Pigs invasion, The Times got wind of the invasion, even of its exact date. But after talking to Allen Dulles of the C.I.A., The Times vastly toned down the story. The invasion went forward and met disaster. Later Kennedy said that he wished The Times had written everything about the planned invasion. That could have saved us a disaster.

Viet Nam: The Kennedy administration asked The Times to withdraw David Halberstam, whose reportage was painting a bleak picture. The Times refused. Does anyone today think it should have acceded? (There are other examples, too, of The Times playing ball with the government, to the ultimate serious detriment of the country. They can be found in The Trust, by Susan Tifft and Alex Jones (Little, Brown & Co., 1999.) See particularly the story about Sydney Gruson and Guatemala.)

Pentagon Papers: The government tried to enjoin their publication, making numerous claims of "national security" -- the claim it always makes. The government, claims of national security risks were crapola in the Pentagon Papers case, and years later the Solicitor General who argued the government’s case, Erwin Griswold, admitted the lack of risk arising from publication of the Papers.

Watergate: Does anyone today think that Woodward and Bernstein should have gotten the government’s okay before publishing their articles? We know that Nixon was trying to block investigations on the phony ground of "national security." The government would have used this or other phony crapola to block Woodward and Bernstein had they tried to clear it with the government before publishing.

The lesson is too obvious. When a newspaper starts clearing it with Sidney, to use FDR’s phrase referring to Sidney Hillman, it is inviting negative responses and/or invented reasons as to why its stories are dangerous and should be killed, negative responses and invented reasons which the newspaper may very well lack the information or courage to refute or ignore. (Indeed, if it had courage, it wouldn’t ask for an okay in the first place.) It may, therefore, not publish stories that should be published, may not publish information it is important for people to learn.

One wonders in this regard, just what stories were the ones about which, as Jill Abramson said, The Times spoke with the government in advance, and what facts or details were it that The Times kept out of those stories? Abramson won’t disclose any of this. For all we know, the excluded facts or details could be ones of enormous importance for the public to know. The possibilities will not bear mention; the mind reels at some of them.

Before turning away from The Times, let me say that one Timesman continues to write the unvarnished truth about this war. That, of course, is Bob Herbert. In a column of June 20th, poignantly entitled Someone Else’s Child, Herbert said this:

"You can still find plenty of folks arguing that we have to stay the course, or even raise the stakes by sending more troops to the war zone. But from the very start of this war the loudest of the flag-waving hawks were those who were safely beyond military age themselves and were unwilling to send their own children off to fight.

It’s easy to be macho when you have nothing at risk. The hawks want the war to be fought with other people’s children, while their own children go safely off to college, or to the mall. The number of influential American officials who have children in uniform in Iraq is minuscule.
* * * * *
The president and these home-front warriors got us into this war and now they don’t know how to get us out. Nor do they have a satisfactory answer to the important ethical question: how do you justify sending other people’s children off to fight while keeping a cloak of protection around your own kids?"
Herbert speaks truth. As said here many times, wars will continue until the children of those responsible for starting and continuing them -- leaders like Johnson, Rusk, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz – have to participate in the fighting and risk the dying, and unless and until the culprits themselves are tried, convicted and put in cells with the keys thrown away when they act criminally, as the foregoing leaders did and are.

But Herbert’s column also presents once again another issue or phenomenon. With the probable exception of individuals who appear on Air America, which for various reasons I have no opportunity to listen to, there seem to be only five figures in the major media who have spoken the unvarnished truth about this war. They are Herbert, who does it regularly, Maureen Dowd of The Times, Paul Krugman of The Times, Eugene Robinson of The Post, and Derek Jackson of The Globe. At least those are the only five whom this writer personally is regularly able to read or hear, and nobody else on their newspapers speaks the unvarnished truth as far as I know. Three of the five, of course, are African-Americans. It says something about this country -- it says something very bad about it -- when three of the only five columnists on three major newspapers who are willing to say the truth are members of a single racial or ethnic group, which was subjected to over 200 years of slavery. It says something very bad about this nation when the vast, vast preponderance of prominent media members of any and all groups that did not have to go through the experience of slavery cannot, or refuse, to see and speak the truth about what this country does.

* * * * *

The Times, in the judgment of this writer and others, adheres to the ideology of the center, a tenet of which is the spurious but honestly believed idea that the center has no ideology. The major reason Bernard Goldberg had it wrong, one supposes, is that he claimed that various major media are controlled by those of a liberal philosophy. No they’re not. They’re controlled by those of a centrist philosophy, who are often wrong on issues and who instinctually give far too much credibility to the false claims of government, as The Times and The Washington Post did, and as The Times has breast beatingly admitted it did, with regard to the Bushers’ false claims regarding the reasons to begin the current war. The centrist ideology also is often shallow in thought and in extent of argument, and, as again was true of major media in 2002 and for a long time before that, has been arrogant, cynical and self professedly "superior" about politics, policy, what constitutes news, and honesty (to which I shall return below in connection with the Downing Street Memo).

But at least those of the centrist ideology usually prove willing to learn from facts and experience, and to ultimately correct their mistakes, albeit this can take a long time and there may be lots of disasters or deaths in the meanwhile. Not so the right wing and its media.

I recently had an experience which illustrates that, in service to ideology, the right wing and its media, the followers of the Busher philosophy, is impervious to facts. The experience was an exchange of email correspondence with an editorialist of a major, right wing, highly pro-Busher arm of the media. I feel it would be unfair to name the individual, or even to name his or her media outlet lest this promote easy identification of the particular person. For the email correspondence was private and the person could hardly have anticipated that his or her words would be made public. But -- shades of prior comments about The Times’ article on proprietaries -- the pertinent ideas can be gotten across without identifying the exact person or media outlet.

The matter began when the individual made public comments that included some generalized, highly critical remarks about torture and the mindset of torturers. Those remarks could hardly be read or heard without recognizing that they are applicable to what Americans have been doing and without wondering, therefore, whether they were intended to be an implicit criticism of what Americans have been doing. Yet, on the other hand, it is not to be believed that a person from this media outlet would publicly criticize, even merely implicitly, anything America has done in this war, or, for that matter, would even believe that anything we’ve done was wrong.

Because even an implicit criticism of American actions by an editorialist of the media outlet involved would be a major development, I emailed the person, asking whether his or her statement was an intended implicit criticism of American torture, which is not believable, or, on the other hand, were the person’s words not intended to mean what they inevitably implied?
The response I received by email was preposterous. The individual said (in part quoting my own email), "I’m at a loss to account for how you [interpret his or her remarks] as ‘an implicit attack on the torture committed by the United States.’ If you could enlighten me on this point, I’d be in a better position to respond."

This person, in the course of a long statement, had made significant extensive remarks deeply antagonistic to the process of torture and the mindset of torturers, yet was "at a loss to account for how" his or her remarks could be construed "as ‘an implicit attack’" on American torture? Are you kidding me? And if he or she was not putting me on, as seemed apparently true, is this person -- an editorialist for a major arm of the media, no less -- utterly blind to the meaning of words, to their inevitable implications, to the freight they carry? Boy oh boy.

I wrote back, saying, as was obvious, that "[y]our email necessarily provides the answer to my question." But I did then set forth the relevant language of the person’s remarks, which had been preserved by appropriate means, be they primitive or technologically advanced.

The person then sent me a doozy of a response by email. It is quoted almost entirely below, since the quoted parts provide no hint of the individual’s identity.

I'm puzzled. As best as I can understand your meaning, you seem to think that because I oppose torture I therefore oppose the interrogation policies of the U.S. This assumes that our interrogation policies are tantamount to or indistinguishable from torture. Yet I know of no serious evidence to suggest this is true. (I emphasize the word policies to distinguish it from individual actions by U.S. service members, such as what we saw at Abu Ghraib. . . .)
* * * * *
Needless to say, I and all my colleagues completely oppose the practice of torture. In keeping with that view, we also oppose expanding the definition of "torture" to interrogation practices that do not constitute torture in any meaningful sense and therefore debase the currency of language. I trust you do not seriously believe, as Amnesty International . . . [does], that U.S. practices are on a par with those of the Soviet gulag or of the North Korean regime.

This response was spurious from beginning to end. I can explain no more briefly than by quoting my return email:
The mind reels at the notion that Americans have not committed torture -- is waterboarding by the CIA just everyday fun and games? Nor can one hide behind the word "policies" when actions have gone on regularly, thus showing that the actions are our policies. (Not to mention that the policies were cleared by Department of Justice memoranda and high ranking interagency committees.) In regard to the existence of policies, moreover, it is remarkable to have sophisticated minds . . . claim at this late date that all we have are the actions of a few individuals.

Please do not try to tar me with the Gulag business as a way of eliding the issue, since I have never spoken of the Gulag in connection with our actions.

At that point my correspondent suggested, quite rightly one thinks, that we break off our correspondence because "I get the sense we are on the verge of a long, fruitless and, probably, increasingly rancorous exchange of notes. I see no reason for that: Both of us surely have better uses for our time."

The point of this story is what was said before: the right wing, even the right wing media, even the more prominent and highly thought of right wing media, is impervious to facts (as the Bushers and the Foxites show every day in a host of ways). Unlike the centrist ideology of The New York Times, the right wing doesn’t want to hear from facts; it has its ideology and facts are irrelevant except when, in a now famous phrase, they can be fixed around the policy.

Consider what my correspondent said. He or she was (supposedly?) unable to understand how words highly antagonistic to torture and the mindset of its practitioners could be regarded as an implicit attack on torture by Americans. He or she denies that we use torture, as if waterboarding, beatings, electric shocks, dogs, and deaths are baseball or frisbee, not torture. He or she denies that it is American policy to use torture, though the evidence to the contrary -- memoranda, inter-agency meetings, instructions from generals, instructions from Rumshead, and constant actions -- is conclusive, or is beyond conclusive if something can be beyond conclusive. He or she tries to pin the blame solely on low level turkeys (who, incidentally, rarely do anything in the military unless they believe it is authorized and/or desired -- and who rarely or ever do things they know are not in accordance with desire and policy). He or she claims to oppose expanding the definition of torture to cover practices that "do not constitute torture in any meaningful sense and therefore debase the . . . . language -- as if, once again, waterboarding, beatings, electric shocks and use of dogs do not constitute torture and contrary views "debase the . . . language." Finally, he or she tries, Busher-like, to pin blame on the other party by implying, with no reason I know of, that his or her interlocutor may believe American practices equal the gulag or North Korean practices.

Is there any respect for facts there? Any respect for them at all? One thinks not. And life has taught that this is typical of the right wing.

* * * * *

On the basis of regular observation of, plus some (albeit not extensive) experience with, the big time media, it has seemed to me for many years that many, many members of the Washington and New York media -- and probably of other large city media too, like the media of Los Angeles, Boston, etc. -- share particular characteristics that are not present in most of the population, particularly people in small towns (where I prefer to live) and in rural areas. Members of the big time media, members of the Washington and New York media, are, I think, arrogant, cynical, egotistical, enamored of and dazzled by power and money, and, if I may put it this way, celebrity sniffers. Enamored of power, they do not care nearly as much about honesty as lots of more ordinary citizens do, and the media has scant regard for persons who do what they think is right even when there is little or no chance of success. Indeed the media scorn and mock such people as powerless, naive, dumb, idealistic, even dangerous. Enamored of power, celebrity sniffing and personally egotistical, members of the big time media do not believe that common people have much that is worthwhile to say and that should be covered.

These characteristics shared by many members of the big time media are, one thinks, rather typical of those in the media holding centrist and rightist ideologies, and, it seems almost certain, are true as well of those holding leftist ideology. To the extent it might not be as true of leftists, one suspects this is only because the leftists are hammered so much that some of them -- not all -- become a little humble. There is nothing like continuous beatings, physical or intellectual, to destroy arrogance. If the left ever gets back on top, the humbleness, if there is any, will disappear.

The recent Downing Street Memo has provided a pluperfect example of what is being said here.

A close parsing of the language of the Downing Street Memo indicates that it does not conclusively, definitively, beyond any peradventure of doubt say that the Bush administration had decided upon war in 2002 at a time when Bush was claiming he had not made such a decision yet. But a more normal, more logical reading indicates that the decision for war had indeed been made, and that the facts were "being fixed around the policy." So the Downing Street Papers whose authenticity as minutes of a British cabinet meeting has been admitted by the British government, is the first official document to confirm that Bush and the rest of his Bushers were lying to the American people, Congress, and the media when he and his henchpeople kept claiming he had not decided on war, and when he got Congress to authorize a possible war.

To the average guy in the street, I would hazard, as well as to those on the left, official confirmation of British cabinet documents showing that Bush was lying is a very big deal, precisely because it is a form of official confirmation of what previously could only be suspected. Was it suspected? Yes, for a long time now. By some, even at the time. But there never was any official confirmation -- no American governmental document has surfaced to confirm it, nor has any official with direct knowledge (like Bush or Cheney) said it, although one suspects it will be shown by papers or emails that will become available fifty years from now unless destroyed by the Bushers first, and that memoirs and biographies appearing twenty to fifty years from now will likewise show it.

But now there is official confirmation from British cabinet documents that we were all lied to. To people who deeply value honesty -- to "nonsophisticates" who are not in, and do not share, the jaded views of "big media" -- it is a terrible thing to learn beyond any true doubt, to have it confirmed in official papers of our major ally, that we were lied to.

The major media, however, hardly deigned to cover the Downing Street Memo. The major reason seems to have been that the memo was said to be old news. After all, sophisticates had suspected all along that we were being lied to, and some people had even written this. So the media’s attitude was: what’s the big deal about the fact that now the Downing Street Memo shows it?

One might just as well say there was no point in making a big deal of the Pentagon Papers because millions of us had suspected for years, even had known for years, that from the beginning the government had been lying through its eye teeth about almost everything connected with Viet Nam. Or, albeit perhaps less plausibly, one might say there was no point in making a big deal over the Watergate stories of Woodward and Bernstein, since millions had thought or known for 20 years that Nixon was a liar, was immoral, and would stop at nothing.

Like the Pentagon papers and the Watergate stories, the Downing Street Memo has immense practical importance because it confirms truth, refutes lies, and persuades some who did not previously believe what it shows. Yet most of the "sophisticated," jaded members of the major media largely ignored it and even still do. Even worse, they make fun of us nonsophisticates who think it important.

The worst single example of this mocking that I know of is by a reporter/columnist for the centrist-ideology Washington Post named Dana Milbank. I had thought (mistakenly?) that Milbank was a pretty decent journalist. Indeed, in a June 19th column dealing with a piece written by Milbank on June 8th, The Post’s ombudsman called him "one of the paper’s most talented and observant reporters." But on June 19th, Milbank wrote a piece that was simply a disgrace, a true disgrace. It was devoted to mocking, making fun of, and slandering some people who are greatly opposed to the war and believe that the Downing Street Memo is a smoking gun, but who have no way of expressing themselves through Congress because Congress is controlled by Republicans -- by Bushers -- who absolutely refuse to investigate the conduct of the administration. (There are no Republican Fulbrights.)

Because these people, led by Representative John Conyers, have no way of expressing themselves through a Congress controlled by Bushers, on June 16th they held a simulated hearing. It was conducted in a small conference room in the basement of the Capitol, it was chaired by Conyers, and there were witnesses. Well! This certainly set off Mr. Milbank, who mocked and made fun of the participants. In a piece published on June 17th, mockingly entitled Democrats Play House To Rally Against The War, Milbank opened by saying "In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe." His next sentence said, "They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room . . . ." He then mocked Conyers, saying he "banged a large wooden gavel and got the other lawmakers to call him ‘Mr. Chairman.’" He referred to "Conyers and his hearty band of playmates." And so on. Conyers subsequently wrote a letter very appropriately excoriating Milbanks’s mocking statements, saying Milbank had made up various facts out of whole cloth (which more likely than not is so, I estimate after reading Conyers’ letter), and rightly criticizing Milbank for not telling readers that the reason the small basement conference room had to be used was that the Republicans would not let Conyers and company use any of several appropriate rooms that were available in the Capitol and the House Office Building.

The foregoing was some of what was said by dramatis personnae. This writer would say that Milbank’s piece despicably made fun of people who hold serious views. And, instead of criticizing the Republican leadership for trying to stifle inquiry into and discussion of the crucial question of how it was that we entered this war, Milbank mocked people who were doing what they could to overcome this barrier. How rotten is that? Milbank reflected the disdain for those without power, the cynicism, and the personal arrogance so typical of so many members of the Washington media crowd. Of course, Milbank went to Yale, which is not known for inculcating humility, and worked for eight years (from 1990 to1998) at The Wall Street Journal, which is not known for treating liberals fairly. So perhaps his disgraceful article of June 17th should not come as a total surprise.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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