Politics & Policy

Journalism’S Standards, Clark’S Standards, Hope For The Future–and More

May I begin with a brief comment on journalism? Won’t be too boring, I promise. A Reuters report out of Washington yesterday began, “Looking to draw more Hispanics behind his re-election bid, President Bush on Wednesday will propose a temporary worker program to help millions of immigrants work legally in the United States, officials said.”

Notice that the very first words of this news report are commentary: “Looking to draw more Hispanics behind his re-election bid . . .” That is sheer speculation, or analysis, if you like. It may be perfectly correct. But it is the lead in a news item.

The next sentence begins, “Facing a possibly close election next November, Bush is reviving an issue put on hold . . .”

More commentary–in the news story of a wire service! Journalism is becoming badly degraded, when we can hardly tell the difference between straight newsies and opinionists (like me). There should be a great, great, great gulf between Reuters and Impromptus. But there is much less of one than there should be.

And does this commentary-within-reporting ever slant the conservative way? Not ever, that I can tell. It’s a one-way street. But whether it’s one- or two-, it’s still wrong, and dismaying. As someone who loves the world of media, I lament the crumbling of the wall ‘tween news and opinion.

‐Speaking of media, I was tickled with the way London’s Daily Mirror began its recent big story: “Prince Charles is the person Princess Diana claimed in a letter wanted to kill her, the Mirror sensationally reveals today.” Sensationally reveals! That’s the Mirror itself talking, of course! It should be up to someone else to call the story sensational (which it certainly was)–but sensationally reveals!

I love it, really. Then again, I have no standards for the Brits.

‐Note to itchy-fingers: Yes, I realize that Reuters is a British agency. But it does plenty of American work, and is in the same basic camp as the Associated Press. A London tabloid–that’s a little different.

‐Word is that Donald Rumsfeld asked not to be Time’s Person of the Year, preferring that the honor go to the American serviceman. Personally, I could never imagine Rumsfeld as Person of the Year–Man of the Year, yes.

‐Friends, I have a piece in the upcoming issue–available in our Digital version as early as tomorrow–on Gen. Wesley Clark, about whom I’ve written a fair amount in this column. He is more appalling than most people know, I think: utterly scoundrelly on the stump. We think of Kucinich, Sharpton, and Moseley Braun as the fringe candidates. But have you gotten a strong whiff of Wes Clark? Pretty fringy, actually.

In a recent column, I attributed the following comment to him: that President Bush “is more concerned about the success of Halliburton than having a success strategy in Iraq.” The Associated Press reported that Clark had said it; Reuters reported that his spokesman, Chris Lehane, had said it. It seems that it was Lehane. Either way, the remark is in perfect harmony with current Clarkian rhetoric.

The general has told us, “I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in occupying countries to extract their natural resources. I think you buy them on the world market.” Because, as you all know, the United States is in Iraq to extract their oil, and not buy it on the world market. You did know that, didn’t you? Haven’t you read your Noam Chomsky, or the speeches of Wesley Clark?

Clark is almost never “credited” with being as flaky and offensive as he is. He repeatedly charges President Bush with personal culpability in the death of 3,000 people on September 11. He completely exonerates the Clinton administration, saying that it had no time to do anything about al Qaeda (seriously). He claims that the Iraq war was a great diversion from our alleged failures against al Qaeda, and that this diversion was the trick of “neocons.” (The general has gotten with the lingo.)

Check out Clark: “I suspect [Bush’s] advisers said, ‘Now, Mr. President, you know, there’s no guarantee we could ever get [bin Laden]. You know, it’s, you know, you ought to go somewhere, you know, go somewhere easy, do something easy like taking care of Saddam Hussein, and he’s probably connected . . .’”

Wait a second: Saddam was supposed to be easy? What happened to quagmire?

But that’s another point altogether.

I give you some more Clark, from just the other day, with Chris Matthews: “Ultimately, all of this was passed through a political filter. Karl Rove–he passed judgment on it. He even sent out, apparently, a memo back in early 2002, saying ‘George W. Bush is going to run on his war record.’” Asked whether the president was spilling American blood for electoral advantage, Clark answered, “I can’t say that. I can’t prove it.”

“I can’t prove it”? Whatever kind of campaign Clark is running, it is not honorable, in my view.

And, by the way, why should a senseless war be popular–give a president electoral advantage, instead of disadvantage?

In his few months as a candidate, Clark has become famous, or infamous, for his stunning about-faces. Examples abound. For instance, he once praised Bush and his national-security team in lavish terms. When Bush tabbed Donald Rumsfeld to be SecDef, Clark said, “I think it’s an inspired choice. He’s got great experience. He’s got great international stature. He knows the issues.” Etc. But as a candidate, Clark pronounced Rumsfeld a horrible choice. Why? Because the secretary is not “up to speed on the way the world has changed since the end of the Cold War.”

That’s a funny criticism to make, given that Rumsfeld has been in the forefront of military reform (whether he is correct in his views or not–and I think he is). Usually he’s scored for going too fast or too incautiously–for upsetting existing Pentagon structures.

What’s more, Rumsfeld favors a radically different approach to terror and its state sponsors–different from the policies and attitudes of decades. In this, he is at one with Bush. Those two are faulted for being all too “up to speed on the way the world has changed” since the Cold War!

For good measure, Clark maintained that Rumsfeld “had to leak his own memo.” This refers to the celebrated memorandum in which the secretary challenged his lieutenants on war strategy. When asked how he knew that the author himself had leaked the memo–which would have been monumentally uncharacteristic–Clark replied, “Well, that’s what the rumor is, and it’s been talked about on the Sunday talk shows.”

Great.

Once upon a time, General Clark was a great fan and advocate of preemptive defense (as I explain in the magazine piece). But, boy, has he changed his tune, as a candidate. He admonished the Dem leadership in Congress: “Let’s see you take apart that doctrine of preemption now! I don’t think we can wait until November of 2004 to change the administration on this threat. We’re marching into another military campaign in the Middle East. We need to stop it.”

Hang on–what does that last part mean? “Another military campaign” that “we need to stop”? Ah, that’s a further piece of Clarkian darkness. The general has spoken of a secret list–drawn up by “neocons,” of course–spelling out countries to be invaded. As our careful and honorable general says, “You only have to listen to the gossip around Washington and to hear what the neoconservatives are saying, and you will get a flavor of this.”

In September ‘02–when Clark was in what seemed like support-the-war mode–he said the following about Saddam Hussein: “He is not only malevolent and violent, but also unpredictable. He retains his chemical- and biological-warfare capabilities and is actively pursuing nuclear capabilities.” As a candidate, a year later, he said, “What I was calling for at the time, to justify the urgency the president felt, was a smoking gun.”

But preemptive action is in conflict with a smoking gun. The whole idea–as Clark once grasped and articulated–is that you strike before your enemy’s gun goes off.

It should shock no one that a general (or a presidential contender) is a bit vain. But General Clark seems to sort of abuse the privilege. There’s stuff like, “If I’d been president, I would have had Osama bin Laden by this time.” And his arrogance is clumsy. For example, in a television interview, when he was acknowledging a previous “bobble,” he said, “I don’t want to give any excuses for this. A Rhodes scholar is not ever supposed to make a mistake.”

Uh, did you know he was a Rhodes scholar? Now you do!

In my opinion, the worst thing Clark has done is accuse President Bush of dishonoring–yes, you heard that right–dishonoring fallen American soldiers. Said Clark, “[The administration] is trying to dishonor the very Americans who are over there serving and fighting and dying by not letting us welcome the remains back home.”

Now, this refers to the fact that the administration is continuing a 14-year-old policy of not permitting media coverage at Dover Air Base, when soldiers’ coffins arrive from abroad. You may disagree with this policy, but there are reasons for it, and no one–least of all the President of the United States–is “trying to dishonor” our dead.

And no American is prohibited from “welcoming the remains back home.” People in cities, towns, and hamlets all across the country have. Families can decide for themselves whether they want TV cameras graveside. I imagine some do, some don’t.

Clark has also said, “We’ve got a president who will go halfway around the world for a photo opportunity [this presumably refers to Bush’s visit with the troops at Thanksgiving] but won’t go halfway across town for a funeral for an American serviceman.” Also: “We have an American president who visits the families of bereaved Britons [while in England] and won’t visit our own families in this country.”

Bush has met with families privately–but he refuses to make a show of it, respecting the gravity of our situation, and his duties as commander-in-chief.

Look: Even if you think George W. Bush is dead wrong about the War on Terror, and about Iraq in particular, you should know that his motives are sincere–and that he has the deepest respect for the men and women who serve. Anyone awake must see that. It takes a real ignoramus or creep to miss it. And Wesley Clark gives me the heebie-jeebies.

I mind it less from Dennis Kucinich, or from some campus paranoid and blowhard. But from a decorated general like Clark–very hard to take.

He might have brought sobriety, clear-headedness, and honor to the Democratic race. He did not. We already had a Kucinich–or several. Who needed Clark?

‐Friends, this has not been a very happy Impromptus. And it’s about to get worse. Oscar Biscet, the great Cuban dissident and political prisoner, seems to be in very bad shape. (A Miami Herald editorial, for your reference.) The torture is taking its toll; his friends and family fear for his life.

But I want to share with you a gladdening letter, received a few weeks ago. Drink it in:

“Dear Jay: Like all of us, I am on the Dickensian treadmill that is Christmas. But I wanted to take a moment to share the ray of hope my nephew has shone on the future.

“Will is 13 and attends a Montessori school. While the basics of mathematics, science, and English are tremendous, the politics are dubious at best.

“Yesterday a classmate made his ‘My Hero’ presentation on Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. In the Q&A session, my nephew had the courage and self-confidence to call his classmate on lionizing a killer and a despot. Will asked when the last group of Americans built a boat to escape to Havana and if Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet would share the classmate’s enthusiasm for the warm and wonderful world of Fidel. Will wound up by saying that if his classmate planned to have a two-hour speech by an aging Communist dictator featured at his birthday party, Will would just as soon stay home. See, not everyone’s forgotten Elian!

“Suffice to say his teacher was less than thrilled, but free expression is the order of the day. I guess I just wanted to share my pride and hope for the future. FYI, Will’s a routine reader of NRO, as is his sister, a 16-year-old Clare Booth Luce in training!

“The future looks brighter from here. Merry Christmas and every wish for a wonderful New Year!”

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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