Saturday, February 26, 2005
The Loose Noose
The violence came one day after the government announced the arrest of a man it described as a key figure in the country's most feared terrorist group, and a top official said the noose was tightening around the group's leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
So now it is al-Zarqawi with his neck in a noose. But he may not be feeling the constriction, if the experience of Osama bin-Laden may be taken as a guide.
Let's go back to October 2001 to see what they were reporting about bin-Laden in the Guardian—
The noose tightensWe didn't know what to think. Had Bin-Laden turned into a sick transvestite?
Bush listened intently as Cheney also told him the noose seemed to be tightening on Osama bin Laden.... Although rumours and disinformation about his whereabouts had whirled out of the barren and treacherous terrain of central Asia - some spies said he had slipped out of Afghanistan dressed as a woman and was now in Chechnya; others, that he had fled to Somalia - Cheney had enough intelligence to suggest bin Laden remained in Kabul, the Afghan capital. There were even reports that the world's most wanted man had been identified visiting his doctor for treatment for his chronic kidney problems.
A little later, in November 2001, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.—
Noose tightens on Osama bin Laden
According to the Americans, he's on the run, and with a $50 million reward for information that locates him, he's at high risk from Taliban traitors. Osama bin Laden is reportedly surrounded by British and US special forces, in a 78-square kilometre zone in southern Afghanistan. Britain's Sunday Times says he's thought to be travelling with his family, bodyguards and advisers, moving in a convoy of jeeps from one bunker to another.
Just like Bush back on the ranch.
Jump forward to July 2003. These were heady times. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, second under bin-Laden, had been captured in Pakistan. A South African news service was reporting—
"The noose has tightened after the arrest of Sheikh Mohammed who had information on bin Laden's whereabouts and bin Laden might have lost therefore the possibility of getting his message through," said [French analyst] Abidi.
By August 2003, we were treated to an event in which Senator Roberts proved that George Bush is not the only Republican with a feel for stage props and a playful sense of reality—
US: Noose Tightening Around Bin Laden in His Absence
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R. Kansas) held a much-hyped press conference on Monday. While the exact purpose of the event was not clear, photographers could clearly see Roberts holding an old-fashioned hangman's noose and standing inside a 5' x 5' taped-off area. The Senator said that American forces are closing in, and the noose is tightening around Osama Bin Laden, even if the terror mastermind doesn't happen to be there himself.
Then a year ago, we were really closing in. Zahid Hussein of the Pakistani Newsline writes—
The Noose Tightens
There has also been a marked improvement in the information-gathering by coalition forces on the Afghan side of the border. Electronic and air surveillance has restricted Al-Qaeda's options. The Pakistan military has adopted a carrot-and-stick policy in an effort in an effort to destroy Al-Qaeda's support network . In the latest operation in Waziristan, Pakistani security forces arrested several women married to the foreign fighters in the hope that they would provide leads to the possible whereabouts of bin Laden. In addition, they destroyed the houses of those tribesmen suspected of sheltering Al-Qaeda fugitives. Pakistani officials said the move has worked well towards providing some valuable information that could help them close in on one of the world's most wanted men.
Note the adoption of Israeli terror tactics—arresting family members, destroying houses. Torture isn't mentioned, but when you see the phrase "providing some valuable information," can torture be far behind?
By October of last year, leading up to the election, bin Laden was so far from the noose that it appeared he was going to vote. The media were trying to figure out which of the Presidential candidates he would choose. Gene Messick felt that Osama was unequivocally for Bush. John Kerry, he said, would draw the noose tighter on bin-Laden—
... as the new guy on the block, he [Kerry] most likely will organize a tight, effective world wide noose in many nations around bin Laden's Movement. This means bin Laden would not have Kerry cornered in Iraq, as he has Bush pinned down, depleting his forces man by man, day by day, drip by drip, with no chance to win the guerrilla war.
Unfortunately, Kerry let the noose slip from around the neck of George Bush, so we will never know how that might have turned out.
But I have to conclude that by now al-Zarqawi must have figured out that the U.S. is playing with a loose noose, and probably takes his "noose" with "a grain of salt."
The juiciest speculation yet
After reading the article, I unqualifiedly accept his bona fides. So if you've always wondered how the beau monde of the movers and shakers intersects with the demimonde of the Guckert/Gannons, this is the place to go. Then you may consider with him what all this may have to do with the Bush White House and Texas politics. Yes, this is speculation—but it is speculation from someone who knows.
Don't miss this one!
Quote of the Day
—Pat Buchanan writing in The American Conservative
Friday, February 25, 2005
DSCC refrains from using the "G" word
Her email cites the two bloggers paid by John Thune (but not the supposedly unpaid blogger and journalist intimately involved in his campaign), pundit Armstrong Williams and right-wing commentators Maggie Gallagher and Dr. Wade Horn. Not a word of Guckert/Gannon.
The DSCC website touts "A New Democratic Party"
(Feb. 10) Yesterday, thousands of you took a stand with the DSCC by answering our request to sign a petition calling on George Bush to immediately put a stop to the unwarranted, unfounded, and unfair personal attacks leveled against Harry Reid by top bosses at the RNC. I write today to tell you that you do not stand alone.
Every one of the 44 Senate Democrats has just signed a letter today demanding that George Bush "publicly halt" this "pointless and silly" name calling. This is a new Democratic Party. When they go after one of our leaders, we fight back.
They may have gotten all 44 Democratic Senators to beg George Bush to please stop beating up on poor Harry Reid, but they haven't gotten them all to sign a letter demanding an investigation of the White House press room.
There is also no mention of Guckert/Gannon in the "political news" on their site. They're simply pathetic.
Talon News retracts its claws
The site has now posted this notice—
The recent public focus on Talon News, while much of it malicious, has indeed brought some constructive elements to the surface. It has also brought many kind messages of support, and for that we are extremely grateful.
In order to better serve those readers across the country who enjoy Talon News content and look forward to receiving it each day, we feel compelled to reevaluate operations in order to provide the highest quality, most professional product possible.
Thus, Talon News will be offline while we redesign the web site, perform a top-to-bottom review of staff and volunteer contributors, and address future operational procedures.
We look forward to bringing an even better product to our readers in the future.
I think they should have posted some of the kind messages of support. What might they have been like?
Dear Talon News,
I have always enjoyed reading your reprints of White House press releases and Republican talking points. You have filled a real void in the news. I'm glad that you have had the courage to publish them.
As for Jeff Gannon, no one has pointed out that he put at risk his own small-business venture in order to cover the White House. His service to the White House and the Republican party has largely gone unrecognized.
Keep on clawing!
Yours in tooth and claw,
P.S. Would there be any photos of Jeff in a glossy? My wife asked me to try to get her one.
I am a little concerned about their "top-to-bottom review." Jeff was a "top." After he resigned, has Talon News been left with only "bottoms"?
(Thanks to E&P for calling my attention to this.)
Another press outing? (updated) (2/16/05)
Letter from Joystick re Guckert/Gannon-McClellan (2/18/05)
Guckert/Gannon on record at CNN (updated) (2/19/05)
More Guckert/Gannon questions (2/23/05)
Another official bans communication with the press
I wonder if Mayor McKelvey got the idea from Maryland Republic Governor Ehrlich.
Baltimore Sun reporters lose access to state government (2/15/05)
Quote of the Day
The Dean Scream footage that was repeatedly aired rests on a similar falsehood. It takes a man who in context was acting reasonably, and by stripping away that context transforms him into a lunatic.
—Edward Wasserman, professor of journalism ethics, writing in "Murder by media: The Dean Scream"
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Dirty propaganda in a "Dirty War" (updated)
Now my description will not likely accord with whatever else you may read about this show.
DIRTY WAR ... tells the fictional story of a radiological "dirty bomb" attack on central London. [T]his HBO Films/BBC Films production is based on extensive research by the BBC factual department and asks the questions: Are our emergency services fully prepared for a nuclear attack? How much does the public have a right to know?
If these are the questions that the film asked, let me answer them straightaway. (1) No nation is "fully prepared" for a nuclear attack and never will be. (2) The public (that's you and me) has an unlimited right to know what its government is up to—period.
The post-program discussion
Perhaps in line with a new trend in PBS programming on "controversial" topics, a 30-minute panel discussion followed the broadcast in order to help us understand what we had seen. Previously taped at George Washington University, it was hosted by Jeff Greenfield of CNN. There was former Senator Warren Rudman; Raymond Kelly, NYC Police Commissioner Richard Falkenrath, Former Homeland Security Advisor to President Bush; and Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former Assistant Secretary of HHS. Chris Schneidmiller of Global Newswire has a good synopsis of the discussion. As you may imagine, there was a great deal of clucking about "more needing to be done."
There are a number of gaps in prevention and response that need to be filled, including securing radioactive materials, improving detection and preparing health care systems for an attack, said panelist Margaret Hamburg, vice president for biological programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
Dirty War showed Londoners fleeing the fallout area, some avoiding emergency decontamination sites and many mobbing a hospital in search of care. Hospitals are not prepared to deal with a dirty bomb or other WMD event, Hamburg said.
This is all very true. But it would have been just as well to point out that our hospitals are not prepared to deal with an outbreak of a serious strain of the flu, which is far more likely than a dirty bomb and far more nationwide in impact. For that matter our hospitals are not prepared to deal with a serious outbreak of universal health care.
Missing from the panel were any participants who might have made such obvious points or who might have presented any perspective other than the "official" line. But after all, this is "public" television, which means more and more that it is a vehicle for official thought.
"Dirty War" has garnered the greater portion of the press's attention because PBS decided to censor a scene that showed for a split second a naked woman being decontaminated. Someone at PBS apparently thought she resembled Janet Jackson. The film is done in the style of many recent BBC productions in which there is a sort of audio vérité—the sort of thing where you can't hear the dialog for the sound of a dishwasher or a jackhammer in the background. Fortunately the characters often spoke in Arabic so there were subtitles.
The plot is that the Brits learn that radioactive materials have been brought into the country and they race to learn what's become of them before something terrible happens. They fail. (More on that point later.) The result is that many people are contaminated and a significant area of London must be closed for 30 years.
As PBS noted, the program was based on extensive research, but where the research really showed was in the area of high-tech spying and authoritarian behavior.
London has videocams everywhere, so you get to sit alongside the guy in a room with a gazillion monitors and actually see the van carrying the bomb explode. But wait--there's another van on the streets carrying a separate bomb. Thanks to those monitors it is possible to slaughter the drivers before they can reach their destination.
Unlike BBC productions of the past, which have been rather squeamish about showing violence and its aftermath, you see the bullet-riddled Islamic bodies up close. Of course, as an American I'm used to that sort of thing when it comes to entertainment, but I was a bit surprised by the Beeb. Perhaps HBO, their coproducer, insisted. In any case, you certainly can't walk away without concluding that cameras everywhere are a very good thing.
Then there are the "good guys," who include in their midst a "moderate" Muslim woman. The good guys are not above threatening to drown a Muslim in the bathtub if he doesn't talk. Or arresting another terrorist's wife who is uninvolved in the plot. They say his son is in an orphanage.
Perhaps the BBC's extensive research inadvertently produced another verisimilitude. There was actually a point in the plot where the tragedy could have been averted. The whereabouts of some of the group became known, but the authorities don't act quickly enough. They want to learn more.
In short, what this film is really about is a playing out of "The terrorist with an A-bomb" torture scenario in which you must decide if there aren't...well, after all...some circumstances in which torture is justified.
After watching "Dirty War," you will see and understand how vital unrestrained torture and killing are to the defense of the Homeland. You will have a newfound respect for the job the authorities do. And you will never again question their judgment.
The timing of the showing of this film indicates either that there is a malevolent God or that some PR is afoot. In a week when Tony Blair's efforts to turn Britain into a police state have had rough going in Parliament and George Bush is showing Europe just how offensive a "charm offensive" can be, it never hurts to put your best foot forward. And all indications are that most reviewers are either respectful or positively eating it up.
How perfect that on the very day of the showing of "Dirty War" Tony Blair should be quoted as having written—
We have to balance protection for the public from terrorism with safeguarding civil liberties. But there is no greater civil liberty than to live free from terrorist attack. It would be the gravest dereliction of duty to wait until we suffered a terrorist outrage here, and only then act.
The propaganda effort was apparently not wasted on one viewer (who, by the way, could be a plant to reinforce the message). Someone identified as maskirovka77 writes in a movie forum—
I also appreciated the scene that showed the Scotland Yard officer in essence torturing one of the terrorists in a desperate attempt to get information about follow-up attacks. I know that purists in the National Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, the Amnerican Civil Liberties Union would condemn such acts, but if something like this happened in real life in the USA, I would form a legal defense committee for the police officer and petition Congress to give him a medal.
The bottom line is that when the stakes are as high as shown in "Dirty War," the ends DO justify the means. I'm not happy about saying that, but if forcing a terrorist to talk would avert something so terrible, I'd enthusiastically support it. As someone once said, "The innocent have more rights than the guilty." On a final note, I did not have a problem with the "message" that there are "good Muslims" who despise al-Qaeda and everything Osama Bin Laden stands for (I just wish they'd be more outspoken). At least BBC and HBO had the guts to make a movie where the terrorists were actually cast out of reality as opposed to the fantasy neo-Nazis that Hollywood substituted for Islamic terrorists in "the Sum of All Fears."
3/1/05 Correction: "Janice Jackson" changed to "Janet Jackson." Apologies to Janice Jackson.
Ah, those wild-eyed Leftists
In my reading this morning, two instances of the press' and politician's depiction of the Left (or for that matter, anyone opposed to the Bush administration) slapped me in the face.
Michael Getler, the Washington Post's ombudsman, on Sunday wrote critically of the Post's running only a wire-service account of a recently declassified report
that documented, among other things, 52 intelligence warnings to leaders of the Federal Aviation Administration between April and September 2001 about activities, mostly overseas, by Osama bin Laden or the al Qaeda terrorist organization. Some of the reports specifically warned against airline hijackings and suicide operations.
By contrast, the NY Times had given it front-page coverage by one of their own reporters.
Getler notes that only a few readers complained about the Post's coverage, and then adds—
I'm with the readers on this one, even though there were not many complaints, and even if some of those were from critics of the Bush administration. [emphasis added]
What on earth does this mean? Is Getler only accepting criticism from readers who voted for George Bush? Does opposition to the Bush administration preclude one from criticizing news coverage at the Washington Post? I will write to ask, but am not expecting a response. Getler can be reached at email@example.com, by the way.
My dilated pupils had barely returned to homeostasis when I clicked on a link from Raw Story and read that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid was in his home state Nevada reassuring the reporters of Reno that Howard Dean is "not some wild-eyed, left-wing nut."
The leader of the Senate Democrats needs some help with his diction. While he said some reasonable things about Dean, his "not some wild-eyed, left-wing nut" phrase carried the headline.
First, the Democrats need to stop talking about what they're not. Then they need to talk about what they're for. And then they need to explain that they regret that the Republican party has become the party of wild-eyed, right-wing nuts and that they'll do what they can within the bounds of reason to work with them, but that given the nature of today's Republican party they can only go so far.
That would have produced a headline such as "Reid says Republican Party has become the party of 'wild-eyed, right-wing nuts.'" Republicans everywhere would be hopping mad and demanding an apology. But as in the courtroom dramas where counsel submits an impermissible question, only to withdraw it, the point will have been made. Reid can later say something such as "Perhaps my remarks were a bit intemperate, but I stand by my point that the views of some of my colleagues have become quite extreme."
That's the stuff to give 'em.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
More Guckert/Gannon questions
... there's two questions that don't seem like they've been answered definitively: Was Talon News actually paying a salary to Gannon? And if it wasn't, how was he earning a living for the past two years?
The latest evidence suggests Gannon started working for GOPUSA.com/Talon in January 2003.
But based on the information contained in the minutes from a Standing Committee of Correspondents meeting that took place in February 2004, it appears that Talon only started paying him after he submitted an application to get full accreditation for the Congressional press galleries: "...Talon News is an all-volunteer news service, though since Mr. Guckert's application [to the Standing Committee] was submitted, a stipend was arranged that would provide more than half of Mr. Guckerts income in an effort to comply with the gallery's requirements that correspondents be paid, full time employees of the organization for which they are applying."
Since the stipend was only for "more than half" of Gannon's income, presumably he had some other job. But what was it? The same document implies that Gannon might have been getting paid for being the Executive Director of the Free Speech Foundation, but it doesn't say that explicitly, and information on that organization is pretty much non-existent.
Also, the minutes make it clear that Talon started paying Gannon only after he applied for accreditation. Since he obviously applied sometime around February 2004 (because the meeting dealing with his request for accreditation happened in late February 2004), that suggests he was working for Talon for as long as a year before it started paying him even a "stipend."
So how was he earning his keep in 2003?
In an interview on CNN tonight, Gannon referred to Talon as his "employer." And CNN's Anderson Cooper referred to Talon as his "employer" too.
But from what I can see, it's never been established how much Talon was actually paying him. Was it an amount someone could realistically live on? And if it wasn't, did he have any other legal sources of income? [emphasis added]
First, let me point out that for IRS purposes, it really makes no difference whether the income is legal or illegal. Whether you're a hooker or a hitman, you're still supposed to report your income, and some of the really smart hookers have done just that. There's even a line on the IRS Form 1040 for "embezzled or other illegal income." (I'm not sure what the IRS's confidentiality rules are here, so you should definitely check with your attorney.)
Second, if he didn't report the income, he's got some IRS problems. (Is the IRS looking into this?)
Third, it's the mechanics of this odd method of payment that fascinates me. We don't know the time-scale of this strange income arrangement with Talon News. Was it by the week (or weekend), month or year? Did Guckert/Gannon hand Eberle his previous year's tax return and say "I'll require half of this amount plus a penny"? Or did he come back from a hot weekend (that's $1200 a pop, mind you) and submit an invoice to Talon for $1200.01?
So many questions, so little time!
But if Talon wasn't paying Gannon a salary that he could actually live on, and if he had no other verifiable sources of legal income, then things would get kind of weird, wouldn't they? Indeed, at that point I think you'd see all the people who are currently decrying the invasion of Gannon's "private life" suddenly get very interested in his private life. And they'd be trying to prove that not only was he an escort at some point, but that he was an escort the whole time he was working for Talon! Because if he wasn't earning a living from his Talon gig, and he wasn't earning a living from his escort business, then where was he getting his money from?
Guckert/Gannon says he was not paid for working on the Thune campaign against Daschle in South Dakota. And everyone seems to accept that he was not being paid by the White House.1 So whence the money?
Guckert was apparently doing quite well, thank you. On the question of whether Guckert/Gannon will be attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner this year, Joe Strupp reports—
"I have every intention of attending this year's [dinner]," Guckert, a guest at the last two dinners, told E&P today. "Don’t you think I could? I'm sure someone is going to ask me or offer me the opportunity to go. It is a great publicity event." This year's dinner will be held on April 30.
"I got a ticket each year," Guckert said, declining to name those who brought him. "I paid, and I just wanted to be there. I met John Kerry at one of them and the cast of 'The West Wing.' I met Al Franken at the first one after he'd gotten into it with the Fox News table."
Hutcheson, who covers the White House for Knight Ridder, said the association has 300 members, all of whom are allowed to purchase tables of 10 for the dinner at $175 per person. [emphasis added]
My, oh my, oh my!
Quote of the Day
—George Bush, contemplating the possibility of a visit by French President Jacques Chirac to his ranch and displaying his inimitable talent for vacheries
Chirac heard "Je cherche un bon cowboy," the translator thus furthering the corruption of French by the use of English borrowings. But then "Je cherche un bon vacher" just wouldn't have had the flavor.
Support Senate DLC call for Guckert inquiry
Religious right heady with power
There was Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Then came David Limbaugh, who would be Rush's brother and author of Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, and David Barton, said to be "listed among Time magazine's 25 most influential evangelicals." "Roy's Rock," the Commandment-carved rock belonging to defrocked Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was stationed outside in a truck for oglers. Though Alexandra Alter's article for the Miami Herald doesn't mention the refreshments, a copious quantity of Kool-Aid was likely served to the teetotaling guests.
Rob Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said—
The rhetoric used at his [Kennedy's] conference was among the most strident that I've ever heard, and I've covered the religious right for 18 years.
The group has big plans: "influencing the appointment of Supreme Court judges, opening faith-based action centers in all 435 congressional districts and, naturally, raising enough cash to accomplish the above."
"We used to be a minority and now we've got to learn how to lead," said Gary Cass, the executive director of the Center for Reclaiming America, in urging the crowd to get involved in government by lobbying Congress and starting local political action centers. "It's very ambitious, and we can't do it alone, and that's why you're here."
... Cass outlined four new initiatives in his group's fight to ban gay marriage, outlaw abortion and promote religion in schools and public life.
• Opening a lobbying office in Washington, D.C.
• Launching a "strategy institute" to study the tactics of their political opponents.
• Expanding the center's media outreach.
• Recruiting one million grass-roots activists around the country.
The group has apparently abandoned all pretense of civil government—
"We've got God-sized problems in our country and only God can solve them," Land said, drawing frequent applause and occasional gasps as he lamented the nation's divorce rate and the advancement of "the homosexual agenda."Meanwhile, the Christian Heritage folks, a new group in Virginia, celebrated President's Day. According to Gina Farthing of The News Virginian—
It was the day a call to arms went out, to Christians everywhere, to band together and fight religious persecution they encounter even today.
It was the day to recognize the perpetrator, that “enemy of the Gospel” - Jefferson, according to Christian Heritage officials.
The new religious group, which recently built a complex on a hilltop overlooking Interstate 64 at Tinkling Spring Road, pronounced Jefferson “the anti-Christian” and George Washington’s opposite.
Jefferson, they said, “feigned belief in God to achieve his own political ends and came to sever Jesus Christ from his divinity.”
So no one could miss the point, they did a little play-acting—
Each actor cited examples to suggest Jefferson was the enemy of Christians and that Washington was a model Christian, who walked the walk - even begging forgiveness from God when his prayers were not fervent enough.
“Jefferson came disguised as an angel of light by appealing to reason instead of faith - to works instead of the cross,” Humphries said.
“His purpose … was taught by Voltaire, Locke, Paine and Priestly. They become … wolves in sheep’s clothing,” he said.
Notice: The Enlightenment is hereby canceled.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
The Church of Secularism
Leo writes in his latest column for US News & World Report,
Most people realize that the news media do not just report. They frame and package the news. Stories reflect the mind-set and values of the newsroom. This packaged world is now under heavy assault, partly because different packaging is available (Fox News, talk radio), partly because a strong unpackaging industry has arisen (bloggers, bolder anti-Establishment voices in academia and traditional media).
For instance, last year the very smart political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio completely unwrapped the orthodox newsroom view of religion and politics. They described the basic media view this way: "The Christian right, having infiltrated the Republican Party, is importing its divisive religious ideas into our public life, whereas the Democratic Party is the neutral camp of tolerant and pluralistic Americans."
That seems about right to me.
Writing in First Things magazine, the authors conclude that secularists and religious people have been struggling against each other for many years, but in the newsroom accounts, one struggler (secularism) essentially disappears, leaving the religious side as oddly divisive people who want to take over the culture and "impose" (vote) their values.
I consider the division of humanity into the "Saved" and the "Unsaved" oddly divisive. Yes, I really do. And it's especially divisive (1) when being saved becomes a qualification for political office and (2) when certain religious leaders, despite their own teachings, set themselves up to decide who are among the Saved.
I cannot recall anyone—ever—remarking that he or she would have voted for a candidate except that the candidate was "saved," which is what one would expect if the "secularist" forces are "struggling" as Leo describes. But you will hardly need to step around the block before you find people who will only vote for candidates they consider to be "saved."
Leo is framing American politics as a religious struggle. The more that he and his ilk are successful in this framing, the more you will find yourself addressing the matter of your religious beliefs not just if you decide to run for public office but every time you go to vote. This is by intention.
The authors believe newsrooms have been partisan in the debate for many years, partly because so many reporters are Democrats who do not go to church and do not fully understand that secularism is basically an aggressive quasi religion now central to the core constituency of the Democratic Party. Some Democrats (i.e., Hillary Rodham Clinton) are beginning to understand this. When she said recently that believers have the right to live out their faith in the public square, she was taking dead aim at the secularist goal of banishing religion from public life. [boldface added]
Here's a fine piece of writing if I ever saw one. In the same paragraph Leo manages to claim that secularism is a "quasi-religion" and that it's the goal of that quasi-religion to ban religion from public life. If secularism is a "quasi-religion," it is behaving very strangely.
Of course, by defining secularism as a "quasi-religion" a subtext is created that will be immediately apparent to all "Believers." And that is that the secularist "forces" are in league with the Devil. You see, in the us-or-them world of John Leo and the religious right there really is only one power that opposes their vision of Christianity and that power is Satan himself. So guess where that places secularist newsrooms and the Democrats.
While unwilling to have John Leo define my alliances for me, I am ready to found the Church of Secularism so that he will not be proved a liar. In this church self-interest will rule.
It is not in my self-interest to allow other human beings—
- to go hungry or thirsty
- to suffer from illness and war
- to be deprived of information
Secularists must be allowed "to live out their faith in the public square." Any donations to the church will be tax deductible and any properties owned by the church will be excluded from taxation.
Does that accord with your framing of the issue, John?
Dominionism and the Yurica Report (7/24/04)
The descent of the Holy Ghost—the lucrative Crusade (8/29/04)
Handy Fuse ignites, defends the underdog (9/19/04)
Right prescription, wrong religion? (12/30/04)
Monday, February 21, 2005
A postcard from the edge
A friend sent me an email. Her local PBS station (WEDU-Tampa) has decided to air the "Sugartime" episode of "Postcards from Buster." Among other matters the episode reveals that some children have Lesbian moms. The problem is, the cartoon will not be shown in the normally scheduled slot. Instead it will air at 9 pm accompanied by a panel discussion. WEDU says "If they so choose, parents may record the episode and watch it with their children at another time."
My friend asked my thoughts on this, so for what it's worth, let's look at WEDU's notice—
POSTCARDS FROM BUSTER:
PARENTAL REVIEW SPECIAL
WEDU Presents an hour-long special opportunity for parents to preview the "Sugartime" episode and get input from a diverse panel discussion
WEDU will air the controversial "Sugartime" episode of the PBS children's program POSTCARDS FROM BUSTER on Thursday, February 24 at 9 p.m., followed by a panel discussion. The episode has received much national and local attention due to its controversial content of a Vermont lesbian couple and their children.
"Sugartime" is in keeping with the other episodes of the program, whose primary focus is on regional and cultural traditions throughout the United States and in which local families are used as a backdrop to the stories. The "Sugartime" episode focuses on maple sugaring in Vermont, and uses a local two- mother family as part of the setting.
WEDU has chosen the 9 p.m. air time of "Sugartime" as a courtesy to parents. If they so choose, parents may record the episode and watch it with their children at another time. Like PBS, WEDU wants the introduction of this sensitive material to be the parents' choice. PBS did not distribute this episode to stations, and no Department of Education funds will be applied toward it. PBS provided an additional episode to replace "Sugartime." Of the over 300 PBS stations nationwide, 47 have decided to air the episode.
In addition to the primetime airing, WEDU has assembled a panel, hosted by Geoff Simon, to discuss the episode. Panelists include: Carol Greenwald, Executive Producer of Postcards from Buster from producing station WGBH; David Caton, Executive Director of the Florida Family Association; Tracy Harris, one of the two mothers featured in the program; and another panelist (unconfirmed as yet).
"While we often address controversial issues in our primetime schedule, we believe the children's programming block is a more sensitive area. By airing the episode at 9 p.m., out of the children's hours, we are leaving it up to the parents to decide if and when they want to introduce these issues to their children," said Paul Grove, WEDU Vice President of Programming and Production.
First, about the decision by WEDU to show the program at all—I can only conclude that in this God-benighted country and in a State that has introduced the first "faith-based" prison, someone at the station has some courage. According to WEDU, as reported by the St. Pete Times, of 349 PBS stations only 47 have shown the episode. And the right is undoubtedly preparing a list of them for further harrassment.
That said, and notwithstanding that the CEO of WEDU says "that producers at the Boston PBS station that produces the show approved of the way WEDU is handling it," there is a great deal to be regretted both in the manner they've chosen to present the program and in their online notice.
The idea of adults watching a children's cartoon during primetime, to be followed by a panel discussion, is simply grotesque. But grotesque is what we Americans have become.
This is no longer a children's show. According to the PBS-sponsored "PBS Parents" website, "Postcards from Buster" is specifically designed for children ages 6-8. But I have to wonder how many children of that age will see it in the Tampa Bay area. And I also have to wonder if, given the context (panel discussion and all), it's even a good idea.
What is at issue here is whether gays should be acknowledged to exist. This is not an issue for debate by children, and it shouldn't be an issue for debate by adults—but it is. And that is the context into which this episode has been placed.
I would not want my child to view such a program, because I wouldn't want to suggest to a child that these people—this family—are so beyond the pale that even the adults don't know what to think of them, which is precisely what WEDU is doing.
Their parental notice is loaded with phrases such as "controversial 'Sugartime' episode," "controversial content," "sensitive material," "controversial issues" and "sensitive area." These are the sorts of descriptions you see on the box of a porno film, placed there to avoid litigation and to encourage viewing. No doubt there will be more of this sort of talk during the panel discussion.
Of course, I am referring to the point of view as presented to children living in straight households. The effect upon a child living in a gay household is nothing less than unthinkably cruel. Melanie McFarland, TV critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, expresses this well—
The saddest thing about the morality war's targeting of the "Postcards From Buster" episode "Sugartime!" isn't the way it throws mud on a nice, kindhearted cartoon bunny beloved by children everywhere. Or the way it has turned a typical half-hour of children's programming into "the lesbian episode" because a pair of lesbian couples, who appear onscreen for less than a minute, head the two Vermont families Buster visits.
It's not even in the contradictory message being sent by Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who threatened to withdraw funding from PBS's Ready-to-Learn initiative if PBS distributed the program, which it did not. The initiative is a partnership between the Department of Education and PBS that comes under a grant that, among other things, requires diversity be incorporated into the fabric of the series, "to help children understand and respect differences and learn to live in a multicultural society."
In Spellings' definition, it's fine to teach children about tolerance when it comes to race, class, culture and religion, but not sexual orientation. Quite a crime, but still, not the biggest heartbreaker.
To me, the most significant tragedy hits upon watching what should be an uncontroversial and heartwarming display of a child's unconditional love. As Buster accompanies his new friend Emma through her home, she stops to show off the family photographs, including one of Emma's mother, Karen, cheek to cheek with her partner, Gillian.
"That's a nice picture," Buster says.
"This is one of my favorite pictures," Emma replies, leading Buster to ask, "How come?"
"Because it has my mom and Gillian, the people I love a lot, and they mean a lot to me."
But when PBS shied away from distributing "Sugartime!", when Spellings went on a subsequent rampage against Boston's WGBH (which produces the program), when she disinvited executive producer Carol Greenwald from speaking at a children's television conference last week, it all delivered a stinging rebuke to everything Emma's heart treasures.
It tells her and all the other children with gay parents that their family lives and loves don't count. And it implies that something's wrong with the mission of "Buster," a show that depicts the wide variety of regional, cultural and religious lifestyles and family situations across America. It says appreciating the way other Americans live their lives is fine, up to a point.
See, Buster can visit Mormons and Pentecostal Christians, skip around with a black cowgirl and enjoy sushi in Seattle. But sharing cheesecake with lesbian families in Vermont threatens to crumble our entire moral structure.
A playpen for adults and a forum for a bigot
So WEDU has provide a pen in which the adults may play, probably not too nicely. David Caton of the Florida Family Association is a piece of work. According to their website, Caton is a hit with religious broadcasters.
David Caton has shared his testimony, ministry, and advocacy for family values on the following programs:
Dr. James Dobson's Focus On The Family radio broadcast
Pat Robertson's 700 Club
Sheila Walshes' Heart to Heart
Dr. D. James Kennedy's Truths That Transform and Coral Ridge Hour
Marlin Maddox's Point of View
Bob D'Andrea's The Good Life
Arthelene Rippyy’s Homekeepers
Herman Bailey's Action Sixties
To give you a little of the flavor of his offerings, I quote from Gay Today,
David Caton, a man whose faith in Jesus saved him from a life of addiction to pornography that had become a $300 monthly habit, and who has since emerged as a major opponent of gay and lesbian rights in Florida, plans, he says, to lead a Central Florida charge from his Tampa headquarters on Dade County in South Florida, which includes Miami and Miami Beach.
Caton's organization seeks, he says, to rescind Dade's 1998 ordinance—passed by the Miami-Dade Commission and which protects gay males and lesbians from discrimination. The Miami Herald, now under a new editorial chief who was formerly with the New York Times, spoke out vehemently against David Caton's plans.
Oh, and the children...
My guess is that most children will either see this program during its 9 pm airing or not at all. And for those who do watch it, there will probably be as many children older than the age range of the program as not. The idea that a significant number of politically correct parents are going to record this episode for later viewing by their children strikes me as improbable as Bush sending a man to Mars.
One thing's for sure. Talk of "Postcards for Buster" will be going around the primary school playgrounds, not because the children watched the show but because some kid from a family of right-wing bigots is sure to be talking about it, and not in favorable terms. And so begins the long process of acculturation into bigotry to which the children are subjected.
I still remember the joke I heard on my first day at school. And when you're older maybe I'll tell it to you.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Quote of the Day II
—The Rev. Debra Peevey in an invocation opening Friday’s Virginia House of Delegates floor session
Quote of the Day
—Digby at Hullaballo