The week (April 27, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

With full credit to New York newspaper legend Jimmy Cannon for the phrase: Nobody asked me, but…

WILL 9/11 CONSPIRACY THEORISTS LOOK AT THE CURT SCHILLING “BLOODY SOCK” CONTROVERSY and see the “evil hand” of the Bush Administration in this “false flag,” uh, “false sock” operation? Here are the particulars: Baltimore Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne claimed that when Schilling defeated the Yankees in the American League Championship Game 6 thriller in 2004— despite sutures in his damaged left ankle—that it was not blood on the sock, but paint—a public relations stunt! Thorne said he had learned that the bloody sock was staged from Red Sox player Doug Mirabelli.

In Red Sox Nation, the idea that Schilling had faked his heroism represents the worst sort of heresy. Mirabelli quickly denied the story, Thorne backed away, and the legend of Schilling’s grittiness appears restored. (Schilling has offered $1 million to anyone who can prove that it isn’t blood on the sock). The bloody sock is now behind glass in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Conspiracy theorists will not rest easy, however, sensing a Bush conspiracy connection. After all, Schilling campaigned for Bush in New Hampshire in the days just before the 2004 election. So the link is clear: the Bush White House must have sent in the Black Ops team to paint Schilling’s sock so he would look heroic and that hero status could be leveraged with an endorsement of the President. Makes sense, right?

A QUESTION FOR DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE JOHN EDWARDS: did you talk over your $400 haircuts and consultancy for a big-time New York City hedge fund with your political advisors? If you did, and they didn’t see the contradiction with your populist “two Americas” campaign theme, fire them.

THE NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL, ROY COOPER, HAS RELEASED his report on the Duke lacrosse case, and the bottom line is that Durham County DA’s Mike Nifong prosecution was baseless. (K.C. Johnson of Durham in Wonderland has a full explication of the report here.) Meanwhile, some are apologizing for their part in assuming the guilt of the three Duke lacrosse players involved: the rapper Common has made a public apology, as has staff writer Ruth Sheehan of the Raleigh News & Observer. The Washington Post’s Deborah Howell has admitted that the Post‘s coverage, like that of much of the mainstream media, wasn’t fair to the accused, relying too much on Nifong’s version of events.

IS IT REALLY “IDENTITY THEFT” WHEN SOMEONE USES your Social Security number or name? Or “identity borrowing”? Aren’t they borrowing signifiers of your identity, not stealing them? Is there a doctoral thesis here someplace?

SINGER, SONGWRITER AND PERFORMER JULIE FLANDERS, best known for her October Project connection, will take to the stage at Club Passim in Cambridge, Mass. next Saturday, May 5th. (File under shameless family promotion).

THE WORDS OF THE WEEK from English novelist Anthony Trollope: “It’s dogged as does it. It ain’t thinking about it.”

A NOTE TO READERS:

“Nobody asked me, but…” will appear on a monthly basis beginning in May 2007. The column will be be posted on, or slightly after, the last Friday of the month.

Decreasing the frequency of “Nobody asked me, but…” will allow more time for more specific topic posts, reportage, book and movie reviews, and journalism criticism on Neither Red nor Blue.


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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Why 9/11 conspiracy theories should be challenged

On Friday night, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly briefly debated David Corn of the Nation magazine and Newsday‘s Ellis Henican about the dangers of home-grown anti-Americanism and its export overseas; O’Reilly focused on Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban’s plans to fund the overseas distribution of Loose Change, a film which suggests that the attacks on 9/11 were an inside job by the U.S. government.

O’Reilly’s liberal guests discounted any significant impact of anti-American screeds from the far Left, arguing that they represented only voices from the fringe. Henican brushed aside any concerns when O’Reilly questioned him about the potential danger of showing Loose Change in the Middle East.

What I found fascinating about the conversation was how Corn and Henican assumed that viewers would see through the patent absurdities of Loose Change. (To his credit Corn has debunked 9/11 conspiracy claims). The reality is that a shockingly high percentage of Americans are suspicious about U.S. government complicity in 9/11 (36 percent suspect the U.S. government promoted the attacks or intentionally sat on its hands, according to a Scripps Howards/Ohio University survey) ; a BBC poll in September 2006 found 16% of Britons believed there was a wider 9/11 conspiracy involving the American government while 20% said they did not know.

Why wouldn’t wide-spread distribution of Loose Change, financed by a billionaire (Cuban) with an added narration by an American movie star (Charlie Sheen), and the attendant publicity, further influence public opinion here and overseas? And doesn’t that matter?

The U.S. 9/11 “Truth Movement” is mirrored in Europe by similar groups. Don’t forget there were 9/11 conspiracy best-sellers in France and Germany in the first several years after the attacks. Former German government minister Andreas von Bülow argued that 9/11 was part of a neoconservative conspiracy (including Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency) to give the Bush Administration justification to attack Iraq in his book “The CIA and September 11.” French author Thierry Meyssan in his “The Big Lie” (versions in 28 languages) claimed that it was a U.S. missile that hit the Pentagon on that September day, not a hijacked American Airlines 757, again as part of an dark, elaborate plot to create “an hegemonic military regime.”

Why does challenging the conspiracists matter? Why should Cuban and Sheen be publicly confronted over their complicity in advancing these noxious theories?

It should be deeply disturbing that a third of the U.S. populace would question whether its own government could be involved in mass murder—because that is the ugly charge actually being made. If you believe that 9/11 was part of a Bush Administration conspiracy, you believe American government officials killed nearly 3,000 of their fellow citizens in cold blood. (I’ve also written before how the false “Bush lied on WMD” meme unfortunately fuels this paranoia.)

Who would argue that is healthy for the democratic political process? The acceptance of conspiracy theories makes political debate difficult, if not impossible. It creates an atmosphere of enmity and suspicion. It encourages the growth of extremism, since a government that would murder its own people can hardly be trusted on anything, could it? The 9/11 “Truth Movement” and “docugandas” like Loose Change represent the equivalent of a political virus—challenging their fabrications publicly is a way to help inoculate Americans against infection.

Many of the 9/11 conspiracy groups embrace theories tinged by anti-Semitism. The European branches of the 9/11 “Truth Movement” are more open in arguing Israeli involvement in the attacks, including as the BBC puts it, that “the Jews were forewarned about the attack,” a libel the U.S. State Department, among others, has addressed and debunked on its website.

This is particularly of concern if Mark Cuban plans to underwrite the distribution of Loose Change in the Middle East, where 9/11 Denial has always had a receptive audience. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 many Arabs denied that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were behind the attacks, but over time, as bin Laden publicly accepted responsibility, the idea that the Mossad and CIA plotted 9/11 has faded. It would be a tragic irony if an American-produced and financed film resuscitates this discredited propaganda.

So O’Reilly has it right. Sunlight is the best disinfectant—and the 9/11 “Truth Movement” needs to be challenged with the facts. While the truth may seem self-evident or obvious to the mainstream media, the opinion poll numbers suggest that isn’t the case for a dismayingly large number of people in America and the wider world. More exposure of the shabby 9/11 fabrications is needed. As George Orwell once wrote, sometimes the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent people.


9/11 Conspiracies and the Facts

A full debunking of “Loose Change” can be found here.

The Popular Mechanics debunking of common 9/11 conspiracy theories can be found here.

An extended commentary on the 9/11 “Truth Movement” can be found at “Exposing the 9/11 conspiracy fantasies.”


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Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (April 20th, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

With a tip of a Yankees (or Red Sox) cap to New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

IS DAVID AXELROD THE NEW POLITICAL GEPPETO for Democrats and is Barack Obama his latest Pinocchio? Two intriguing newspaper pieces—Ben Wallace-Wells’s profile of Axelrod in the New York Times Magazine, “Obama’s Narrator,” and a Scott Helman article in the Boston Globe—suggest that Axelrod, a Chicago political strategist, hand-picked Obama as a presidential candidate and has been grooming him for the run for years.

Axelrod field-tested the themes of personal biography and political hope Obama is currently employing with another successful African-American candidate, Deval Patrick, who won Massachusett’s governor’s seat with an aspirational, issue-free campaign. Sound familiar? The Globe ran side-by-side excerpts of Patrick’s and Obama’s political rhetoric to show the thematic similarities.

And the key evidence of Axlerod’s patient strategy? Wallace-Wells learned that:

For four years Axelrod has had camera crews tracking virtually everything Obama has done in public — chatting up World War II vets in southern Illinois, visiting his father’s ancestral village in western Kenya — and there were days when the camera crews have outnumbered the civilians.

Has any other first-term U.S. Senator had film crews trailing for years capturing footage for future use? Axelrod has been packaging Obama for bigger and better things for quite some time. That isn’t to take anything away from Obama’s accomplishments, only to suggest that his vagueness on issues and stress on uplifting rhetoric and personal biography isn’t as artless as you might think. So the next time a talking head starts praising Obama’s authenticity, think of two words: David Axelrod.

COULDN’T WE SEND ROSIE O’DONNELL TO IRAN as a special ambassador tasked to negotiate an end to Tehran’s nuclear program? After a few days of full-strength Roise, the Iranians would agree to anything just to get her on the plane back to the U.S.

SHOULD AWFUL PUBLIC ARCHITECTURE be preserved? The Boston Globe editorial board apparently thinks so—it recently raved over Boston’s City Hall—”there can be no question that City Hall is a landmark of 20th century architecture”—and worried about Mayor Tom Menino’s plans to raze the building, designed by the architectural firm of Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood, and sell the prime real estate the massive structure sits on.

A case can be made, I imagine, for preserving a given building because its design is a prime example of the architecture of its historical period. Boston’s City Hall—which looks like a Soviet maximum detention facility sited in desolate Siberia—may be representative of modernist architecture, but there are other awful structures elsewhere in the Athens of America that could be preserved. I think Menino’s idea of moving City Hall to the waterfront is loopy—tearing City Hall down and rebuilding with something graceful in the same location is a better way to go.

SORRY, BUT COMEDIAN WILL FARRELL just isn’t as funny as he thinks he is. Jerry Lewis doesn’t make me laugh, either.

LOTS OF EXCITEMENT OVER RED SOX PITCHER DAISUKE MATSUZAKA’S recent performances in American’s national pastime. The Japanese hurler is off to a great start and Red Sox Nation is hoping he is the new pitching Messiach. But, as Bill Parcells would say, hold off on the anointing oil and a reserved space in the Baseball Hall of Fame—Dice-K hasn’t been through the league twice. It’s the second time through, after hitters have had a chance to study the videotape and make adjustments from their initial experience, that tells you what sort of player you have.

BILL O’REILLY AND DENNIS MILLER endorsed waiting periods for gun purchasers the other night on “The O’Reilly Factor.” After Miller noted that it took longer for him to get his Starbuck’s coffee than it did for Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui to purchase one of his weapons, O’Reilly agreed: “ I’m with you on that one. I can’t get my dry cleaning back for seven days, and you know, you get a Glock in ten minutes.” Could the tide be turning against the National Rifle Association? The Washington Post reports that the NRA “has begun negotiations with senior Democrats over legislation to bolster the national background-check system and potentially block gun purchases by the mentally ill.”

NEWSDAY’S WALT HANDELSMAN HAS WON THE 2007 PULITZER PRIZE for editorial cartooning. Handelsman took a year to teach himself computer animation—and his brief Web cartoon shorts are very funny (he does all of the voices himself). You can find them here.

Cormac McCarthy was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer in fiction for his novel “The Road.” It must say something about the rest of the field, because it’s not his best work. Perhaps fiction is like wine, in which case 2006 will not rank as the best of literary vintages.

THE KNICKERBOCKER BAR AND GRILL makes great scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. The 100-year old marble bar in the New York eatery is the one on which “Charles Lindbergh signed his contract to fly across the Atlantic.”

THE WORDS FOR THE WEEK COME FROM ROBERT F. KENNEDY: “… Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily—whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence— whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.”


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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What’s wrong with the NRA

In the aftermath of the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech, there have been renewed calls for a consideration of America’s ragged quilt of federal and state gun laws.

No one disputes that the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, a troubled student with a history of mental health problems, apparently acquired his weapons—a Walther .22-caliber pistol and a Glock 9 mm pistol—legally. Cho purchased, and used, a 15-round ammunition magazine, which was prohibited under the federal assault-weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004. Such magazines allow rapid firing without reloading.

Some of the questions being asked include: did Virginia’s notoriously lax gun laws make it too easy for Cho, (who wasn’t even an American citizen!), to get the guns? Is it time to think anew about restrictions on semi-automatic weapons and those with high-capacity ammunition magazines before another massacre occurs? Why shouldn’t sensible gun control become a national priority?

These are questions the National Rifle Association, the NRA, the chief lobby in this country for unchecked gun ownership, doesn’t want asked. And that’s what wrong with the NRA.

The NRA has taken an absolutist position on the Second Amendment, fighting any meaningful regulation of guns, despite the fact that Americans support stricter gun laws (a Washington Post/ABC News survey in October 2006 found 61 percent favoring tighter restrictions, while 37 percent opposed them.)

The NRA has decided that the Second Amendment trumps all other rights. Again, that’s what is wrong with the NRA. The organization’s refusal to compromise, and accept common-sense gun controls such as the assault weapons ban, dooms efforts to curb gun violence.

Let’s remember: the “right to bear arms” is not absolute. Our lawmakers have decided that some weapons—bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons—shouldn’t be in the hands of civilians, (and rightly so). That Second Amendment right is curtailed if you are a felon or mentally ill. Many states have laws about carrying concealed weapons (you may need a permit) or regulating the sale of guns.

All of these restrictions on gun ownership have held up in the courts. So it is not a Constitutional debate we should be having, but a debate about what sorts of limits a civilized society should place on firearms.

Here are some of the questions Congress should be considering.

  • Why should non-U.S. citizens, like Cho, be granted the right to purchase or own firearms?
  • Why shouldn’t there be a mandatory waiting period when someone purchases a gun?
  • Why shouldn’t we regulate gun shows, dubbed “arms bazaars for criminals and terrorists” where you can buy and sell guns on “a cash-and-carry, no-questions-asked basis”?
  • Why shouldn’t we require gun safety training and ask owners to pass a safety test? (Would we let someone drive a car without training and testing?)
  • Why shouldn’t we ban weapons primarily designed for military use (such as semi-automatic assault rifles) that are designed for rapid-fire?
  • Why shouldn’t we ban the high-capacity clips for semi-automatic weapons which allow the firing of multiple rounds in seconds?
  • Why shouldn’t we mandate traceable ammunition, allowing police another tool in fighting crime?

None of these reforms should trouble any law-abiding gun owner. Firearms for self-defense and hunting would remain available. (There are already some 250 million privately-owned guns in the United States). These stricter regulations would serve to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and would make it harder to acquire and use a gun impulsively.

It is not just the specter of Virgnia Tech that should move us to action. Urban violence in cities across the nation is fueled by easy access to weapons and, as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will testify, tough gun laws can make a difference in the crime rate.

Sadly it looks like the Democratic Congress, fearful of political backlash in rural states, will sit on its hands when it comes to meaningful gun control, and the presidential candidates of both parties will also shy away (or bow before the gun lobby), concerned about the influence of the NRA with swing state voters.

And that is just wrong.


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Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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Journalists and the Duke lacrosse case

With North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper declaring the innocence of the three Duke lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting an exotic dancer at a March 2006 team party, it’s not too soon to consider the way journalists, columnists, and editorialists handled the high-profile case.

What the coverage of the Duke lacrosse case says about American journalism isn’t particularly appetizing. For the most part, the mainstream media joined in a ratings-driven rush to judgment, presuming guilt on the part of the Duke Three. Too many news organizations, from the Durham Herald-Sun to CNN’s Headline News, were eager to embrace a narrative of white privilege (entitled lacrosse players, the “almost perfect offenders” in the words of leftish Duke associate professor Wahneema Lubiano, assaulting a single black mother and student), even as the prosecution case began crumbling within days of the initial accusation.

The continuing national interest in the story, as I noted in June 2006, made sense because the Duke lacrosse case raised “submerged questions of race, class disparity, campus cultural and sexual mores, and the workings of our criminal justice system.”

But those issues, while intriguing, should never have been overwhelmed the underlying, and simple, question: did prosecutor Mike Nifong have a credible rape case against the three Duke players—David Evans, Reade Seligmann and Collin Finnerty—and why did he pursue their prosecution when DNA evidence of their guilt did not materialize?

At the same time, there were a small number of journalists who “got it right,” largely because they focused on the facts of the case, not on the surrounding political and racial theatrics. Among them were the late Ed Bradley of CBS and “60 Minutes,” history professor and blogger K.C. Johnson (whose Durham-in-Wonderland site offered detailed coverage), MSNBC’s Dan Abrams, Peter Applebome of the New York Times, and National Journal senior writer and columnist Stuart Taylor, Jr.

Who got it wrong?

There’s a long list of journalists and commentators who too easily accepted prosecutor Mike Nifong’s framing of the case and clung to the notion of the Duke players as villains and the accuser as victim. As David Broder of the Washington Post noted, “… reporters and commentators who accepted the allegations as if they were facts and held those young men out for ridicule and abuse have a lot to answer for.”

To their credit, some who initially accepted the prosecution narrative, like columnist Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post and Fox News contributor Susan Estrich, admitted they had been misled and argued, in the words of Marcus that “the more evidence that has emerged in the case, the more it appears that there is way more than reasonable doubt that the three accused committed rape.”

Perhaps the most biased “coverage” of the case came from Headline News’ Nancy Grace (“I’m so glad they didn’t miss a lacrosse game over a little thing like gang rape.”), although Grace is one of the new cable news network celebrity hosts who are performers, not journalists.

Some of the more distorted coverage came from mainstream outlets, however. Newsweek ran a cover story in its May 1st issue (which hit the newsstands in late April) entitled “Sex, Lies & Duke,” that included mug shots of the then two indicted players Finnerty and Seligmann and trumpeted: “Inside the mystery that has roiled a campus and riveted the country.” While Newsweek softened its coverage as the case collapsed under the weight of the facts, running a story in June 2006 sharply questioning Nifong’s prosecution, to date there has been no apology for the misleading cover.

The New York Times coverage

The country’s leading newspaper, the New York Times, was also guilty of misplaying the Duke case, its failings chronicled over the past year by critics like Slate‘s Jack Shafer and New York magazine’s Kurt Anderson.

Two of the Times’ sports columnists, Harvey Araton and Selena Roberts, hammered away at the Duke lacrosse team, with Araton criticizing the Duke women’s lacrosse team for wearing wrist-bands in support of the accused players and Roberts wrongly claiming that the Duke players had refused to cooperate with the police.

While editorial page columnists David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof did write calling for a fairness in the Duke case, reporter Duff Wilson filed a front-page story on August 25, 2006 that concluded:

By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to the defendants, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution in the four months after the accusation yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong’s case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury.

Those journalists closely following the Duke case were highly critical of the Wilson story; as Kurt Anderson wrote shortly afterwords:

…In a single dismissive boilerplate sentence, the piece attributes all criticism of the prosecution to defense lawyers, Duke alumni, and obsessive bloggers. What about Brooks, Kristof, and just about every other major national and local journalist and legal expert who’s looked closely at the case? Forget them. Thus the Times’ front-page news-hole takeaway: It isn’t a witch hunt, Nifong’s not so bad, these aren’t the Scottsboro Boys, the accuser may well have been raped, these Duke guys might have done it, the case deserves to go to trial.

K.C. Johnson’s criticism of the Wilson story has focused on the “body of evidence” argument; Johnson says he looked at the same 1,850 pages and concluded there were no grounds for prosecution. He further notes that in Roy Cooper’s exoneration of the Duke players the Attorney General stated “no credible evidence” ever existed to back the accuser’s claims, which, in Johnson’s words “gives the lie to the claim in Wilson’s article.”

Lessons learned?

What can journalists learn from the coverage of the Duke case?

Some of the mistakes, especially in the early stages of coverage, were quite natural ones to make. Like all of us, journalists start with assumptions about the present that are largely based on the past.

Alpha male jock culture (as I wrote after the rape allegations first surfaced) is “notorious for incidents of misogyny and violence against women ( vide scandals at Nebraska, Colorado, St. John’s).” Prosecutor Nifong seemed confident that a rape had occured. It was easy, as Ruth Marcus wrote “… to imagine that a bunch of rowdy, hard-drinking players could have crossed the line from watching a paid dancer to sexually assaulting her.”

Imagining, however, is different than concluding. No matter how unsavory or boorish the scene at that Duke lacrosse team party may have been, it proved nothing about the accuser’s claims. That point was lost as many print and broadcast journalists focused on the ugly details of the party and a vile e-mail sent by one of the players afterwords as if they somehow corroborated the prosecution story.

Only forensic evidence and/or credible witness testimony could prove whether a rape had occurred or not. Gaping holes in the case against the lacrosse players surfaced early on. Skepticism seemed to be in order when the DNA tests showed no matches with any of the Duke players on April 10. When the grand jury indicted Seligmann and Finnerty a week later on rape and other charges and Seligmann’s attorney offered a fairly convincing alibi for his client, even more doubts were raised about the accuser’s credibility.

Would Nifong have pursued the Duke players if he had confronted critical questioning from more reporters in the early stages of the investigation? If newspaper columnists and cable news personalities hadn’t cast the story as a morality tale of rich white preppies exploiting a vulnerable black woman, would Nifong have felt less emboldened to indict the Duke Three?

Had America’s news organizations approached the Duke case with fewer preconceptions and more attention to basic reporting and the sort of journalistic digging done by Abrams, Taylor and Johnson, it’s possible the travesty of the last year could have been avoided. Or perhaps not, but at least there would be a lot less embarrassment in American newsrooms today.


NOTE: For readers interested in assessing my commentary on the Duke lacrosse case over time, please see the following:


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Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (April 13th, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

In the words of legendary New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, Nobody asked me, but…

I WROTE “ALGER HISS, WILDER FOOTE, AND THE VERDICT OF HISTORY,” after author Kai Bird’s NYU presentation on April 5 which argued that U.S. diplomat Wilder Foote, not Alger Hiss, was the Soviet spy codenamed ALES. At the time, I did not have access to the complete text of the crucial NKGB cable of March 5, 1945 on which Bird largely based his conclusions, but even with the partial information that was available, it was clear that the evidence still pointed to Hiss as the spy.

Historian John Earl Haynes of the Library of Congress has since included the text of the cable in his article “Ales: Hiss, Foote, Stettinius?“, along with an insightful analysis, thoroughly demolishing Bird’s argument, and demonstrating that with the available clues only Hiss, one of the more controversial figures in Cold War history, could have been ALES.

It was the news coverage of Bird’s talk, given at NYU’s “Alger Hiss in History” Conference, that initially prompted me to address the topic. The stories filed by Richard Pyle of the Associated Press had repeated Bird’s claims without context or comment by historians who could have quickly pointed out the holes in Bird’s thesis; Pyle failed to get direct comment from the Wilder Foote family (who have vehemently denied Bird’s charge) before filing the initial story; and Pyle suggested that claims at the NYU Conference could lead to the “posthumous vindication of Hiss,” a very dubious conclusion, to say the least.

“Scholars Skeptical of Alger Hiss Exoneration Claims” is not as sexy a headline as “New data may vindicate Alger Hiss” or “Author Suggests Alger Hiss Wasn’t a Spy” or “New claims support Alger Hiss” (headlines which all appeared in newspapers around the country) but it has the benefit of being accurate. It’s a shame that Pyle’s story didn’t mirror that reality.

Mark Twain once wrote that “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” and the AP coverage of Kai Bird’s Wilder Foote spy accusation proves his point—the debunking of Bird’s claim made by historians of the period (such as the article “The New McCarthyism” by Haynes and Harvey Klehr at Washington DeCoded) will never receive the widespread coverage that the NYU Conference story did. I can only imagine how the Foote family feels about that.

WE LIVE IN A GOLDEN AGE COMPARED TO THE NOT-SO-DISTANT PAST argues Anatole Kaletsky in “You think our age is turbulent? What nonsense,” an op-ed published in The Times of London. Kaltesky thinks that “the challenges we face today — whether as families and individuals or as societies and nations — are almost laughably trivial” compared to those of the 20th century.

Kaletsky questions those who “honestly speak of terrorism today in the same breath as the threat from Communists and Nazis to previous generations” believing that such comparisons insult “our intelligence, as well as our courageous forebears.”

There is some merit to Kaletsky’s argument—he is right that contemporary observers exaggerate how much change we are experiencing—but his thesis depends on a continuance of the relative global peace and prosperity we enjoy today. That’s a tough wager to take.

A GOOD “CAMPAIGN 101” COURSE TEACHES THAT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES must know the price of household staples—a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, and a dozen eggs—before they venture out on the campaign trail. Otherwise, they are unprepared for those reporters who delight in “pop quizzes” designed to make candidates appear elitist and out-of-touch with the average American family struggling to make ends meet.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani flunked this test—for both Manhattan, where he lives, and Montgomery, Alabama, where he was being questioned. Giuliani thought bread cost $1.30 a loaf (actual: NYC, $2.99-$3.99; Montgomery, $2) and milk $1.50 a gallon (actual: NYC, $4.19; Montgomery, $3.39).

The Guiliani campaign, in response, noted that “that the national average for bread is $1.17 per pound, as listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government agency also lists milk as costing, on average, $1.60 per half-gallon.”

Note to Giuliani staff: the next ambush quiz will be on the names of foreign leaders, one that candidate George W. Bush failed miserably back in 1999, when he was unable to name the leaders of Chechnya, Pakistan or India.

COLUMNIST ROBERT NOVAK HAS LAUNCHED A BLISTERING ATTACK ON CIA HEAD MICHAEL HAYDEN, questioning his basic integrity. Novak claims that Hayden denied authorizing Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman to say Valerie Plame Wilson had been a “covert” CIA employee (only that Waxman could say she was “undercover”) and that Hayden later recanted.

According to Novak, Hayden maintained that he had described Plame as “undercover” but not “covert” to Waxman; Hayden repeated this claim to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican, Republican lawyer Victoria Toensing and White House Counsel Fred Fielding in conversations at the annual Washington Gridiron dinner.

But then, according to Novak, Hayden reversed himself:

Yet, 10 days later, the CIA and its director asserted to me that the wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson indeed had been “covert.” The designation could strengthen erroneous claims that she came under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

Nobody ever will be prosecuted under the act for revealing Mrs. Wilson worked for the CIA. But Hayden has raised Republican suspicions that he is angling to become intelligence czar — director of national intelligence — under a Democratic president. While Hayden proclaims himself free of politics, his handling of the Valerie Plame case is puzzling.

Critics of ousted CIA Director Porter Goss had claimed that he had tried to “politicize” the Agency on behalf of the Bush Administration, (an impression Hayden endorsed by suggesting that he was “restoring” professionalism at Langley). Now Hayden appears to be the political operative, embracing the CIA career bureaucrats whose competence, after 9/11 and the WMD debacle, is questionable, and gladly providing House Democrats dubious ammunition in the Plame case.

THE WORDS FOR THE WEEK come from the Christian mystic Thomas Merton: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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The week (April 6th, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

As Jimmy Cannon used to say, Nobody asked me, but…

AN ADDITIONAL DELAY FOR THE CAPE WIND project, caused by a slower-than-expected review by the federal Minerals Management Service, means America’s first offshore wind farm can’t expect approval until at least 2008. Cape Wind Associates wants to construct 130 wind turbines in a 25 mile-area of Nantucket Sound, but has faced opposition from local residents who fear the windmills will kill wildlife (birds) and ruin the natural seascape. Some of the resistance, however, is NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard), plain and simple. The company claims its project could produce about 79 percent of the daily electrical energy needs of the Cape and Islands.

All things considered, offshore wind power appears to offer the least-environmentally damaging source of energy—it’s renewable, clean and, according to some estimates, capable of providing significant amounts of energy for the Northeast and West Coast. Wind sure beats coal and nuclear, and Denmark has relied on offshore wind power farms without significant environmental downsides, so it’s not completely untested. if any project ever deserved regulatory fast-tracking, Cape Wind would seem to be it.

IS THE UNITED STATES A GREATER THREAT TO WORLD PEACE THAN IRAN? Apparently 48 percent of Germans think so, if you believe the latest polls there. Claus Christian Malzahn, Spiegel Online’s Berlin bureau chief, calls the current anti-Americanism the “wonder drug of German politics.” He adds:

Not a day passes in Germany when someone isn’t making the wildest claims, hurling the vilest insults or spreading the most outlandish conspiracy theories about the United States. But there’s no risk involved and it all serves mainly to boost the German feeling of self-righteousness.

Malzahn also sees hypocrisy at work: “You can call the American president a mass murderer and book a flight to New York the next day. You can lament the average American’s supposed lack of culture and savvy and meanwhile send off for the documents for the Green Card lottery.”

The strange popularity of David Hasselhoff in Germany now becomes more explicable. The Hoff is now starring in a production of Mel Brooks'”The Producers” in Las Vegas.

IT’S OK WHEN AN AUTHOR DEMONSTRATES INSIDER KNOWLEDGE, but only when he or she shares that with the reader. Lawrence Downes did just that on the New York Times editorial page when he recently wrote about Senator Barack Obama’s Hawaiian upbringing, “For Obama, Estranged in a Strange Land, Aloha Had Its Limits.” Downes also grew up in Hawaii and in discussing the many cultures and races who came to the island tells us that “…A pidgin English field guide would list buk-buks, pakes, buddaheads, katonks, mokes, titas, popolos, yobos, blalahs, haoles and portagees.” But then Downes doesn’t translate the terms for us! Too precious by half.

Here are the translations of these terms (some of which are derogatory), drawn largely from e-Hawaii’s Pidgin English Dictionary: buk-buks (Filipinos), pakes (chinese ), buddaheads (Japanese from Hawaii), katonks (Japanese from mainland U.S.), mokes (large, tough Hawaiian males), titas (female mokes), popolos (African Americans), yobos (Koreans), blalahs (large Hawaiian males), haoles (Caucasians) and portagees (Portuguese).

THE NEW, QUIETER SINGLE FROM COUNTRY DUO BIG AND RICH, “Lost In This Moment” features John Rich’s smooth, distinctive voice; Rich sang lead occasionally for Lonestar, so he knows his way around a ballad.

THE WORDS FOR THE WEEK FROM DWIGHT EISENHOWER, whose intelligence, wit, and insight were underestimated by many: “Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels — men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
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