Monday, August 01, 2005

Bad News and Worse News

The Irate Codger has not been in voice for many months, but a couple of pieces scanned today really got to him. The first is Judge Richard Posner's survey of the right-left media wars featured on the cover of the NYT Book Review, "Bad News." First, the introduction by "the editors," under the title "Up Front": "How does Richard A. Posner do it?" He's "inhumanly prolific, but he is neither formulaic nor superficial." In this review, he "weaves his way through the arguments of left and right with his predictable unpredictability, providing a surprisingly nonpolitical perspective on a very political subject."
Yeah, sure. You'd never guess that this Republican judge would have written a book finding that Bill Clinton was deservedly impeached and another making the case that the five members of the Supreme Court who made George W. Bush president in 2000 actually made the right decision, would you? Insofar as Posner bothers to notice the "Books Discussed in This Essay," here's what he has to say about them.
"It is hyperbole for Eric Alterman to claim in 'What Liberal Media?' that "liberals are fighting a nearly hopeless battle in which they are enormously outmatched by most measures' by the conservative media, or for Bill Moyers to say that 'the market place of political ideas'" is dominated by media ideologically linked to "an authoritarian administration.'"
On the other hand, "The bias in some of the reporting in the liberal media [NYT, Washington Post, CBS], acknowledged by [Daniel] Okrent, is well documented by William McGowan, as well as by Bernard Goldberg in 'Bias,' and L. Brent Bozell III in "Weapons of Mass Distortion.'"
Well documented by Bernard Goldberg. He's best known for his shrill accusation that the media almost always label conservative political figures as "conservative" while rarely describing well-known liberals as "liberal." Separate Lexis word-searches by the Daily Howler blog and Geoffrey Nunberg of Stanford revealed that Goldberg had it exactly wrong. Ted Kennedy was almost always described as "liberal," while Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, and Phil Gramm got passes. I saw an ad for Goldberg's new book, titled something like "The 100 Worst Americans," which says on the cover, "Hint: Al Franken is Number 67."
The "liberal" NY Times has a set policy in its Book Review. A book on global warming by Jared Diamond is reviewed by...that good-news global warming skeptic and hack, Gregg Easterbrook. A puff biography of George W. by David Shrum is reviewed by David Brooks. And so it goes.
The other piece that got my goat was in the Nation. David Rieff of the New York Times magazine reviews Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq by Larry Diamond (published, I notice, by Times Books). Right off, I'm suspicious. Those liberal hawks at the Times magazine who were for the war in the first place--Rieff, Michael Ignatieff, George Packer--have no credibility with me. I heard Larry Diamond last year on TOTN interviewed by that lickspittle Neal Conan. Diamond, who had been a consultant/advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority, was then earnestly hopeful that the occupation might still be pulled off if some tactical errors were rectified. He was identified by Conan as a professor of political science at Stanford. Dubious, I Googled him and found that he was a "Senior Research Fellow" or somesuch at the Hoover Institution. While the Institution is wholly independent of the University, its "fellows" are "by courtesy" listed as Stanford professors, much to the displeasure of Stanford faculty. Rieff describes Diamond as "a professor of political scence and sociology at Stanford and a leading figure in the academic subdiscipline of 'democracy building'..." Nuff said.
So how are things going in Iraq? Well, Rieff tells us, some on the right---Dick Cheney, Max Boot of the LA Times and Weekly Standard--have been wildly overconfident, while much of the "hard left, or what passes for it in the United States and Britain, has not been much better." For example, a woman writing in the New Left Review called Baghdad "Vichy on the Tigris." Hey, out of bounds! Despite the predictions of left-wing doomsayers, Rieff observes, there has as yet been no civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, "in no small measure thanks to the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani." (Rieff here seems to be in synch with Tom Friedman, who in April suggested the Ayatollah as a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. "I'm serious," Tom said. Right. "Cover thyself, sister, and get thee home to thy husband, thou whore!")
So, how are things really going in Iraq? "The fact is, no one really knows how things are going to turn out in Iraq," Rieff says. I do. It's going to be the biggest debacle of American foreing policy ever, not excluding Vietnam. There, after killing three million Vietnamese in fifteen years, we at least got out, and now, thirty years later, relations between the two states are eerily amicable. The entire Islamic world is now arrayed against us, and will be for decades as a result of this. In the end, Rieff is disquieted that although Diamond "clearly has a fine mind and has written a serious and valuable book," he seems to have overlooked "the problem of empire." Oh. Rieff nowhere addresses the central problem--well, perhaps he alludes to it in speaking of Diamond's "kind of senior common room utopianism"---which is that the premise of the book, that there was a victory in Iraq to be squandered, is rubbish. I think Katrina vanden Heuvel is going to be hearing from more than a few readers about this one.