Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A VERY LARGE BOSTON NEWSPAPER. Two examples of an odd journalistic practice in today's edition of Boston's largest daily newspaper.

- Columnist Joan Vennochi writes about an exchange that took place on the radio between MassINC executive director Ian Bowles and Peter Blute. Bowles, Vennochi semi-informs us, was "on the radio yesterday morning" with Blute, a "radio host and former congressman." Why not just say that Bowles was a guest host on WRKO Radio (AM 680)? [Update: Whoops. Bowles was interviewed by 'RKO, but he was not a guest host.]

- In a feature on mixed martial arts, Jack Encarnacao writes, "A series of recent local media reports about the Roxy event lumped the sport together with 'Tough Man' contests and professional wrestling, two spectacles in which deaths have occurred, usually as a result of amateurs taking risks." Substitute "Boston Herald" for "local media," and you now know one more thing than Encarnacao told you.

Not to single out either writer. This is so ingrained that it's got to be some bizarre copy-desk rule. But I don't get it.

GET YOUR PHOENIX. And send the Tracksters a couple of T-shirts.

TOO EASY. Once or twice a month, I get a nasty e-mail from a Mark Steyn fan, which always leads me to wonder what the glib faker has been up to lately. The answer: taking utterly predictable shots at Senator Dick Durbin, and - of course! - stacking the deck besides.

God bless Steyn - he's always good for an item.

As I've said before, Durbin's remarks comparing American soldiers at Guantánamo to Nazis, Soviet guards, and the Khmer Rouge were stupid and offensive - every bit as stupid and offensive as Senator Rick Santorum's comparing the filibustering Democrats to Nazis.

But I want to draw attention to how Steyn sets up Durbin's remarks. Steyn writes:

Last Tuesday, Senator Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, quoted a report of U.S. "atrocities" at Guantanamo and then added:

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings."

Er, well, your average low-wattage senator might. But I wouldn't. The "atrocities" he enumerated - "Not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room" - are not characteristic of the Nazis, the Soviets or Pol Pot, and, at the end, the body count in Gitmo was a lot lower. That's to say, it was zero, which would have been counted a poor day's work in Auschwitz or Siberia or the killing fields of Cambodia.

That's the extent of it in Steynworld: the prisoners had to listen to Snoop Dogg, and it was hot. But here is what Durbin actually said before making his unfortunate Nazi/Soviet/Pol Pot comparison:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here - I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold.... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If Steyn wants to beat up on Durbin, that's fine. Frankly, Durbin deserves it. But by glossing over - and making fun of - what has actually happened at Guantánamo, as documented by US government officials, Steyn demonstrates once again that he's nothing but a Republican cheerleader with scant regard for the facts.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Would it be anti-semitic to ask why Steyn spells his name that way? Its pronounced: "Stein" and you can hear him on Hugh Hewitt's show. I've always wondered about the spelling, but it seems so impolitic to raise the issue. Just curious, that's all.

Chairman v. 2.2 said...

Another conservative with more intellectual honesty than Dan Kennedy -- John Cole at Red State.org:

Senator Durbin made a long speech (and for Durbin, an uncharacteristically cautious one considering his current position on our detention facilities) and a portion of it contained remarks that some are choosing to believe are deeply offensive. However, he most assuredly did not call American troops Nazis...

Are Durbin's remarks really that offensive? Do you honestly hear descriptions like that [in the FBI report] and think to yourself- "Gee, American troops do that all the time."

Of course you don't, and I don't either. I think of some third world dictator, some tin-pot despot who brutalizes not only his enemy but his own people. Someone like, for example, Saddam Hussein. Or Pol Pot. And that was Durbin's point- not that we are Nazis, but that we are better than Nazis by an order of magnitude, and that such acts of abuse, while rare, are beneath us.

What should offend you is not what Durbin said, but the possibility that what Durbin said regarding the abuse may be accurate -even if it happened only once. And spare me the false bravado and the tough-guy attitudes about how this doesn't sound so tough, and they deserve what they get. I am all in favor of stern measures and tough interrogation practices, but there are lines that should not be crossed
.

Dan Kennedy said...

Mr. Chairman! I am shocked by your Steyn-like behavior. You have left out Cole's characterization of Durbin's remarks as "profoundly stupid" and his criticism of Durbin's "careless rhetoric." I don't think Cole and I are that far apart. Have you seen me call for Durbin's censure and/or resignation? No you haven't.

Anonymous said...

There's been a ridiculous glossing-over of who is actually being kept at Gitmo: people taken *off the battlefield* in Afghanistan, Taliban and jihadists.

I suppose I'm horribly callous, but I don't give a damn if those folks are subjected to ill-treatment falling far short of beheadings, or amputations.

It seems that some of the folks we have in fact released were later recaptured fighting our troops in Iraq.

Now, some reasonable method should be in place, with the weight of law, to assure that Gitmo prisoners weren't just folks in the wrong place at the wrong time, but assuming some kind of reasonable evidence they were members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda, they were aligned with absolutely atrocious organizations and should be thankful they are allowed freedom of religion, 3 square sa day, and healthcare, which is much more than they would be willing to give us infidels.

And political dialogue and commentary is at a very low point when both sides are reduced to arguing that the other team's analogizin to the Nazis is slightly more ridiculous than their own....

Unanimous said...

Ja wohl, self-anointed panjandrum.

efg said...

I strrongly suggest you read Andrew Sullivan, the two entried from today headlined "DURBIN, AGAIN" and "ONE ACT AT A TIME."

http://www.andrewsullivan.com/index.php?dish_inc=archives/2005_06_19_dish_archive.html#111936758855476867

He expresses it much better than I can. He is also a conservatve, and has been a supporter of the war.

Chairman v. 2.2 said...

Dan, Dan, Dan... sure Cole calls Durbin's remarks politically "stupid" -- while demanding folks pay attention to the real issue here: Durbin's remarks were accurate, not really that offensive, and... Durbin certainly never compared American troops to Nazis nor Gitmo to the Holocaust.

That's called intellectual honesty.

Here's what you wrote Friday in response to a poster who defended Durbin:

"Can this be compared murdering six million Jews in the Nazi death camps? Uh, I don't think so.

Can this be compared with starving political prisoners to death in forced labor camps, as the Soviets did? Ditto."


Looks like you Steyned your readers again...

Anonymous said...

Dan,
being called a "shill" by The Track Gals is like being called ugly by a warthog. (For once, their lips weren't sealed)! Real issue is The Paper of Record's pretentious premise that naming other media somehow imbues them with added credibility. Talk about delusions of grandeur!
Rick

John Farrell said...

This just follows up, Dan, on your earlier points about Steyn (and Ann Coulter--who I find far more offensive). And it's the punch-line. Why let another paragraph of actual quotes get in the way of a funny one-liner...

lou said...

The problem, anonymous, is that many of the people being held at Guantanamo were "people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time." A reporter covered one of the hearings where an illiterate Afghani described how the Taliban came to his village, rounded up all the men, and held them at gunpoint to serve as cannon fodder. When the Americans invaded, the Taliban melted away and the Afghan villager is now thousands of miles from his home. Where does that serve our war on terror? He doesn't sound like someone who deserves to be held in limbo indefinitely and possibly abused and tortured. Or you've heard about the taxi driver who drove by the wrong facility and was detained and died in detention, right? And how a corrupt warlord is responsible for rounding up many of the men now in Gitmo.
We're recruiting terrorists with our Gitmo activities. Whatever happened to winning hearts and minds?

Anonymous said...

...As I've said before, Durbin's remarks comparing American soldiers at Guantánamo to Nazis, Soviet guards, and the Khmer Rouge were stupid and offensive...David Kennedy
That is not what Durban said. You are pulling the typical Bushista trick of misquoting a Democrat and then contemning him for your misquote. Learn to READ.
Mike

John Galt said...

A VERY LARGE NEWSPAPER has consigned wiki to the wicker basket. Where it belongs.

JvE said...

Two items:

1} Durbin's comments on their face were not accurate because they were hyperbolic. Simply because one has a particular viewpoint one is not entitled to 'switch' the presumed intent of a comment from the plain meaning of the comment. Less abstrusely - Durbin would have done well to compare Gitmo tactics with those of the East German police circa 1971 or so. Personally, I'll have more respect for leftish critics of Gitmo when they devote as much energy to condemning the treatment of prisoners of the "insurgents" and the resurgent Taliban. While on a human level, there's no compelling argument for torture, ever - spending so much time worrying about relatively mild mistreatment of the 95+% of Gitmo prisoners who were Taliban or Al Qaeda and no one else begins to smack of partisan politicking.

2: "Win their hearts and minds" was a slogan from the Viet Nam war. I presume I may skip a synopsis of how well that went, but I would venture to add that the Viet Cong weren't intent on establishing a world-wide repressive theocracy and blowing up innocent people.


I take it that it is wrong to kill or mistreat people without very compelling reasons [e.g. self-defense, prevention of highly probably suffering, etc.] - everything beyond that [in my view, that is] is political rhetoric tending to obfuscate both pragmatics and compassion.