About Al Gore’s sale of his TV network to al-Jazeera, you could say many things, and people have. For instance: Gore sold out to Big Oil! Al-Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar. Gore has spent his life demonizing Big Oil.
I’d like to make just a couple of points. Al-Jazeera is not all bad. For example, it has done important work in Cuba. I swear. Why, I don’t know. But they have.
Yet they’re mostly bad. A poisonous network. A few years ago, I was asked by al-Jazeera to participate in a piece they were doing on MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute. This was a little documentary. I said sure.
A wise man warned me that I had made a mistake. “They will never be fair,” he said. “It will come out poison.” I thought he was being unreasonable. “Come on,” I said. “Better a voice like mine be in the piece than no voice like mine be in the piece.” He said, “You’ll see.”
I did. Al-Jazeera produced a piece of poison. I doubt I’ll go near the network again.
One more thing: The statement Gore made after his sale nauseated me, and gnawed at me. He said that he and al-Jazeera shared the same mission: “to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling.”
Yeah, right — eye rolls to all of that. But let me tell you something about this word “independent.” Be wary of it, in a context like this.
The journalist I. F. Stone was always called “independent.” No, fiercely independent. That was the cliché about him: “the fiercely independent I. F. Stone.” He was, of course, an agent of the Soviet Union. Even if he hadn’t been — he would have written like one.
Oh, and here’s a point made by my colleague Mona Charen: Al-Jazeera is independent? Independent of what? Not of the government of Qatar, surely. Al-Jazeera is a state-owned network. And in the Arab world, you tend not to have the same leeway that, say, PBS does.
Just a final thing, if you don’t mind: Al Gore. Al-Jazeera. Two Als.
That was funnier in my head than it is in writing, I now see . . .
Was it Grover Norquist who came up with the phrase “leave-us-alone coalition”? Every so often, I’ll think, “Leave us alone,” or “Leave me alone,” or “Leave them alone.” I thought it the other day, when reading this news story.
It began, “Owners of an old-school soda shop in St. Paul, Minn., are being warned to kick the habit and stop stocking novelty candy cigarettes. City inspectors threatened a misdemeanor citation and $500 fine if Lynden’s Soda Fountain is caught selling the fake smokes again.”
I’m no apologist for smoking — but my (semi-) libertarian juices cry out, “Leave them alone!”
Earlier, I mentioned a Mona point about al-Jazeera. She made it in our latest podcast, found here.
At the beginning of December, Associated Press reporters in China did something amazing. They visited Liu Xia, apparently after her guards had slipped away for lunch. The resulting news story was one of the most jolting and admirable I have ever read. I did a blogpost about it here.
Here is something else to read, from the last day of December: “Chinese activists defy guards to visit Nobel wife.”
Liu Xia is the wife of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese democrat and political prisoner who won the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago. (He could not collect, of course.) Liu is one of the bravest men in China — a land of brave men, and women. Liu Xia is brave too: enduring a brutal house arrest, isolated, disoriented.
Maybe the 2009 Nobel peace laureate, Barack Obama, should speak up for the 2010 peace laureate, Liu Xiaobo, and his wife.
I couldn’t bring myself to read this news story, not all of it — but I got the gist. Every once in a while, you should read something that makes your blood boil. Here’s the first paragraph:
Administrators let offenders at one of Iowa’s most dangerous prison units watch violent and sexually explicit movies and TV shows for years, despite repeated complaints from a female officer who said it encouraged inmates to sexually harass her.
I’ll do another half a paragraph, then leave the rest to you, if you have the stomach:
Murderers, sexual predators and other men housed at a unit for mentally ill inmates at the maximum-security state prison in Fort Madison were allowed to watch movies such as “Deranged,” a horror film that includes a scene in which a woman is beaten, raped, hung upside down and skinned.
Has America lost its mind, or its soul? Or both, simultaneously?
After his third debate with Obama, some people chuckled at Mitt Romney, because he repeatedly mentioned Mali. I think I was one of the chucklers — or chiders. Well, maybe we should chuckle and chide less. I thought of Romney when reading this headline: “Al-Qaida carves out own country in Mali.”
Do you remember something I said about Daniel Hannan in my cruise journal? That was in November, after National Review’s post-election cruise. Cheeky of me to assume you keep up with my every jotting, I realize.
In the first installment of that journal, I spoke of Hannan, one of our guests: He is the English writer and member of the European Parliament. He was talking about how Americans often treasure British history more than Brits do. He offered the example of Runnymede, which is in his constituency.
The Magna Carta, as we Americans say — Brits say merely “Magna Carta” — was sealed there in 1215. Not until 742 years later, in 1957, was there a monument marking the event: and it was put there by the American Bar Association.
I thought of this when reading this column in the Telegraph. Philip Johnston writes,
On a recent trip to Lincoln, ostensibly to visit the magnificent medieval cathedral, I found myself alone in a room in the nearby castle where one of only four original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta is kept. There was no queue to get in, no crush of people jostling for a view.
Yet in 1939, when this very document was put on show for just six months in the British Pavilion at the World Fair in New York, an estimated 14 million people went to see it. When war broke out, it stayed in America, locked away in Fort Knox for safe-keeping.
Speaking of remembering what I’ve written: From about 2003 to about 2010, I had a constant theme — no one appreciates what an Iraqi politician goes through. No one appreciates how far he sticks his neck out. It’s not like running in some comfy-cozy Western democracy. Iraqi politicians face kidnapping, maiming, murder, etc. And they expose their family, bodyguards, friends, and associates to those things too.
In the decade of the 2000s, I met many Iraqi politicians, and I tended to admire them a great deal. They were constantly dumped on (sometimes fairly). Again, no one, or too few, appreciated the risks and horrors they put up with.
It all came back when I read a piece last week by Colin Freeman: here. It’s called “Gunfire and a stone-throwing mob — a day in the life of an Iraqi politician.” I’m so glad he wrote it. These things are too little said.
A little language? Actually, this is more politics than language. I was reading this AP story about the fiscal cliff, tooling along, when I came to this sentence: “Despite bitter battling over taxes in the campaign, even die-hard conservatives endorsed the measure . . .”
Okay. But would a “mainstream media” story ever refer to “die-hard liberals,” or “die-hard leftists”? Maybe. But I would be surprised.
A little more music? I was in St. Louis the other day. Down by the arch — and the Mississippi River. And damned if that song from Showboat didn’t enter my head. The Mississippi wasn’t really rolling that day. If it was, it was rolling slowly.
I guess that’s the point of the song, one of them . . .
While in St. Louis, I walked around Lafayette Park, a beautiful thing, certainly in freezing but bright winter. I saw a statue of George Washington — one of the best I have seen, actually (small in size). And a statue of Thomas Hart Benton (bigger).
Oddly, I did not see one of Lafayette. Maybe I didn’t have my head screwed on right.
If you ever check into the DoubleTree Hotel at Union Station, take a tip: Try the ice cream — vanilla, I think — with chocolate-chip cookies crumbled into it. Holy Moses. That may be the best ever (along with Ben & Jerry’s S’mores). (Look, can I help it if the Communists, some of them, make good ice cream?)
Perhaps this is available at all DoubleTree Hotels, I don’t know.
In Union Station, I saw a stained-glass window, kind of touching: It showed Grecian figures — can I say that, as in “urn”? — and three names underneath: San Francisco, St. Louis, and New York. This was apparently meant to signify the major cities from west to east. They were sisters, linked. St. Louis thought of itself as the central great city.
At least, that was my interpretation (seat of the pants).
Last month, Galina Vishnevskaya died. She was a formidable soprano and the wife of Rostropovich. Actually, she was a formidable everything — just plain formidable. I would see her now and then in concert halls. (She was attending, not performing — this was long after she had retired.) I would tremble a bit, steer clear.
Let me tell a story I have told in this column before — I suspect it’s been years. I was having a conversation with my friend Paul once. We found out we were in complete agreement on something.
I said, “You know, Vishnevskaya’s memoir is one of the best memoirs by a musician I have ever read.” In 1984, she wrote Galina: A Russian Story. Paul said, “Me too.” I then said, “Frankly, it’s one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read — by anyone, in any field.” He said, “Me too.”
I continued, “You know something? I mean this, and I’ve read many, many of them: It’s one of the best books about the Soviet Union I have ever read.” He said, “Me too.”
Finally, I said, “Hell, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.” Laughingly, he agreed. Maybe you would too. I haven’t read it since the 1980s, I bet, but I would probably be as impressed with it today. If you have the time and inclination, go here.
And I’ll see you.
To order Jay Nordlinger’s book Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.