Here are a couple of reactions to stuff I’ve been reading on sites and blogs.
* I’m awfully sick of the New York Times bashing that blogs seem to be on these days, and the reasons for this are very well encapsulated by Virginia Postrel in comments she made on her own site. While entirely true that the Jayson Blair reality check will be a good one for the Times, the fact of the matter is that most of the people whacking on the Times are just bloviating about things they know little about. Virginia is especially correct about the stupidity of bloggers painting reporters with the same brush they’re using for the editors; the former have very little to do with the political machinations of the latter.
I worked on a paper for a number of years and almost without exception reporters did their best to get as much of the whole story as possible under deadlines, no matter what damn fool thing was going on in the executive editor suite. I was not a reporter myself — I was a critic and a columnist, which is emphatically not the same thing — but I had a ground-eye view of the work and journalistic ethics of my co-workers. They were all proud of what they did, and they all worked to do a good job (Virginia also has positive things to say about editors, too — and once again she’s right. In my experience, most dumbassery from editors has less to do about political slantings than other, more mundane administrative issues).
As Virginia noted, although she didn’t put it in the term I am going to, most of the people whacking at the Times and journalists in general have a parasitic relationship to the newspapers and news sources, which they’ve somehow managed to confuse with a position of superiority. Listen, folks: if it weren’t for the Times and their compatriots, you’d all be blogging about your cats, 24-7. Blogs can have an interesting and vital role spot-checking the facts and the received wisdom from these news sources — be beneficial parasites, in other words. Newspapers aren’t called “the rough draft of history” for no reason, and rough drafts are often refined. But starting from the position that reporters don’t care about their work or aim to slant is both stupid and wrong. The reason for the controversy surrounding Jayson Blair is that Blair is, emphatically, a wild aberration from the norm, not just for the Times, but for any newspaper you’d care to mention.
Treat reporters with respect. They’re working hard, and they’re working hard to get it right.
(Update: NYT editors Boyd and Raines resign. I’ll be a busy day in blogdom, to be sure.)
* Likewise, I’ve been following the WMD fracas with some interest. This one’s pretty simple, people: Bush and his folks said pretty clearly that the big reason to go into Iraq were the WMDs — not only the ones that Saddam could create, but the ones he already had. The inability to find much of anything in that direction of things (so far) means that either our intelligence was grossly poor — which is bad — or that Bush, et al went a-warring’ on false pretenses, which is rather worse. Or it could be some tantalizing mixture of the two, and you can imagine how bad that would be.
Folks are countering that regardless of the reason we went in, the obvious and evident atrocities of the Saddam regime justify our presence. But I think this is crap reasoning. Prior to strapping our guns on, we all knew Saddam was killing his own people left and right. This was no big secret. Yet for some reason that was not a justifiable reason to invade. We needed another excuse to get in, and the WMD weapon was what we used. Now that we’re in, we can’t just backtrack. If the obvious humanitarian rationale wasn’t enough to start a war then, why should it be able to be used as a back door excuse now?
Mind you, my conscience is clear on this one. Longtime readers will remember that while I supported the invasion, I pretty much always thought the WMD rationale was cover, and my personal interest was in dislodging Saddam, which in itself was a perfectly laudable goal. As I wrote last October:
“Let’s get down to brass tacks. On balance, the end results of fighting this war will be (cross fingers) the removal of Saddam and the dismantling of his political state and (incidentally) a clearing out of whatever weapons capability that may exist. For those reasons, I’m not opposed to fighting a war with Iraq now. Be that as it may, even those people who fully support a war against Iraq are rather painfully aware that the stated reasons that the Dubya administration wants to gear up for war are window dressing for a revenge fantasy. It is possible to fight a just war for less than entirely just reasons. We’re about to do it.”
The point here for the Bush administration is that regardless of the substantial benefit of removing Saddam from power, especially for the Iraqi people, the fact is that the primary reason it gave for invading appears to be largely bogus, and it needs to reconcile its rationale with the facts as they exist on the ground.
Let’s all go ahead and grant that the removal of Saddam was a good thing, and Bush deserves credit for that. But let’s also grant that lying to the American public to get a war, if that’s what he did, is an extraordinarily bad thing, and Bush should get the blame for that. This isn’t a case of ticketing someone for jaywalking because he rushed across the street to pull children out a burning building. Lying to the public to get them to back a war is pretty serious stuff. If we were willing to impeach a President for lying about getting some off an intern, lying to start a war is worth at least a glance or two.