Oh, so you mean Anthony Quinn wasn’t Cesar Romero? Jeez. Sorry. I don’t know how that happened. Forgive me.

And now I rest. Sorry – I had many things to discuss, but at the end of the day they all seem obvious. Terrorists = bad. People who think the arrests were a PR move = foolish. Likelihood substantial portions of the business fliers will subconsciously adopt the nuke ‘em from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure posture after learning they can’t take their laptops on the flight = high. Seriously, when I learned that they were confiscating books today, I had a vision of a plane full of people all staring straight ahead, hands in their laps, waiting, waiting, waiting for it all to be over. No books. Because, you know, they might overwhelm the cockpit crew with a dramatic reading.

I had a long bolus planned on the media. Shorter me: the media –

No, I can’t do the shorter version. I have to back up. Warning: it’s late, and I have to get up early, and I have no intention of editing this for clarity. The only other thing I can promise you today is a humiliating photo of me from 1976, so if you don’t want to hear my thoughts – and I couldn’t blame you in the least – drop to the bottom, have a larf on my behalf, and hit the Quirk.

It’s that old “generalization” bugaboo that annoys. I try not to generalize in long-form stuff, because too many crass reductive accusations don’t help to persuade. On the other hand, persuasion is overrated. A good friend broke with me, apparently forever, because I had Changed; I once sought consensus as the ultimate goal, and always argued everyone towards the middle, and now I had become Hard and Adamantine in my views. (I tried to find a middle ground in her evaluation, but failed.) That’s partly true; in the past I valued the middle ground, and ended up temporizing over crucial issues in order to reach a false consensus. Or a genuine consensus that meant nothing. “So we both agree that the USSR and the United States ended World War Two with distinct spheres of influence in Europe. Bravo! Well, then, let’s build on this breakthrough, and see if we can agree that there were differences in the political composition of these spheres, eh?” Jaysus. What a waste of time. As a bar exercise, as a way of whiling away the hours, it’s fun to play the middle against the extreme, and see if an unrepentant hard leftie will admit there were actually Communists in the US in the fifties, but in the end the Rosenbergs will matter more than 10 million starved Ukranians. So I’ve come to subscribe to Pragerism: clarity matters more than agreement.

Anyway. That said, generalizations can be useful, or not. Depends.
The statement that “Democrats have a national-security image problem with many swing voters” is reasonable; saying “Democrats want to negotiate with terrorists” less so, but not entirely unmoored from reality, since you could make the case that the Democrats seem to be adopting a posture of mediation, international conclaves, and addressing the root causes of modern Muslim rage, which can be traced to either the invasion of Iraq by the US or the invasion of Lebanon by Israel or the Palestine by Romans, depending on who you talk to. It’s a partisan statement, but a smart Democrat can bat it back in a way that makes for a good argument, if everyone agrees to operate in good faith. Saying that all Democrats are cut-and-run surrender gibbons who want to leave the field so they can fine-tune the National Compulsory Sodomy Act is patently false, and not exactly helpful to the overall debate. Of course, sometimes unfair and cruel exaggeration can be used to make a point, but a steady diet is as intellectually nutritious as a bag of Doritos. It gets tiresome to have to point out that not all Democrats believe what Howard Dean says, just as few Republicans are gung-ho about some of President Bush’s more regrettable utterances. But in the end you go to war with the party you have, and you have to make a few generalizations based on what the luminaries and theoreticians of a party are saying.

While this works with political parties, however, it doesn’t work with the media.  I had an interesting argument on the Hewitt show with his fill-in host, the estimable and tenacious Jed Babbin, over the media’s performance in the war. I ended up defending the media – and it seems almost absurd to use a single word to describe so many people in so many places in so many organizations – because I don’t believe they are consciously, willingly, aiding the Dark Side to achieve the defeat of Bush. I think Mike Wallace gave a post-interview tongue bath to the Iranian President because Mr. Wallace is a vain old fool who has soaked his brain for decades in the holy water of Objectivity, and believes that putting a nice gloss on a fellow who’s been castigated in some quarters makes Mike Wallace look like the smart, canny iconoclast he knows he is.

And has always been, of course.

Well, that was unfair. Let those of us who haven’t been paid spokesmen for Fluffo cast the first stone. Anyway. It’s possible some CBS editors decided it was necessary to send Mike to Iran to get the Real Iranian President and calm everyone down, because the editors think that too many Americans believe he spends his mornings kicking puppies with steel-toed boots, and therefore we must invade. I don’t know.  There’s a certain historical value in interviewing these guys. If some pro-Nazi group in the 30s had sent a camera crew to follow Adolph around for a week, and the footage surfaced tomorrow, CBS would bid for it – and not because they thought he was a swell fellow. Bottom line: it’s possible that the CBS producers believe that the Iranian president is a great guy, misunderstood, and that Iran’s government is made up of genial humane hirsute guys who behave as they do because of American pressure. But I doubt it. More likely they subscribe the usual notions common to the class – contempt for the mullahs, brusquely stated to establish their bonafides, followed by a reminder of US meddling, so no one thinks they don’t see the Whole Picture. They’re all about the Whole Picture.

The trouble is that the Whole Picture obscures the particulars of the moment, and those particulars are crucial. Earth, viewed from space, is united. Zoom in a bit, and the story gets complicated. What irritates me about many in the media isn’t some imagined desire to DESTROY THE WEST, because that’s nonsense. It’s the disinclination to acknowledge that they have a pervasive mindset whose underlying preconceptions are subjective, not objective. That’s all. Hell, that’s enough. Look: I’ve been in newsrooms for thirty years. I’ve been to enough meetings, enough editorial conferences, enough planning sessions, enough news huddles. People who think that the editors and writers get together to figure out how to twist the news and hide the inconvenient truths would be greatly disappointed. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t have to. No one at Reuters, I am sure, hired a Middle Eastern stringer to cover the Israel – Hezbollah War and asked him to make Israel look bad. When the pictures were bad – or even worse, poignant – they fit the mindset: war is bad, and its badness trumps all, including the causes. Hezbollah may have been wrong to send rockets into Israel, but look at this picture of a child’s toy in the rubble and tell me you still the war. Any war.

If anyone in Reuters wondered whether the photographer might have sympathies that would make his work worth a second look, they kept it to themselves. I’m not saying that they should have refrained from hiring the lousy photoshopper because he was apparently a Middle Eastern Muslim. I’m saying that the fact he was a Middle Eastern Muslim provided him automatic insulation, because the idea that there was anything about those characteristics that might affect his objectivity is anathema to some newsroom cultures.

I know this seems like hair-splitting, but it’s important to me. Clarity, and all that. (He said, after writing 1200 lugubrious words.) If I was still in consensus mode, I’d try to get some editors to agree that it was highly unlikely they’d ever have a reporter stuck in a Mossad dungeon with a knife to their throat while the interrogator demanded to know if they were a goy. And it was not impossible that some reporter might find himself on the brink of a tracheal shave while an angry man demanded to know if he was a Jew. Right? So perhaps that the other side sees things differently, and hence our entire script of “cycles of violence” and youths “radicalized” to militant Islam by the deposition of a secular butcher might, perhaps, be insufficient to explain why young men want to blow up planes over the Atlantic?

Can we agree on that?

Well, good. Consensus.

Hush- don’t spoil it with a “but.” Let’s just enjoy the moment.


Well, since I posted an old photo of Mike Wallace, I’d better do the same for me. Only fair. I’m scanning old photos for various projects, and ran across this classic of your humble narrator as The Author, c. 1976 at Middlebrook Dorm:

Robe, pipe, ale, a diptych of Rock Gods: perfect. Thanks for enduring the drivel, and have a fine weekend. (No Diner - bandwidth problems have made it a fortnightly event.)


c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.