• Court rulings allow the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s heir to own and control his “I Have a Dream” speech to the 1963 march. Anyone wanting to use more than a few words must pay. My first reaction was “WTF? It was a public event in a public place and a public speech to the public. That can be ‘owned’? Yup.
• Stenographic reporting of the so-called debate over whether to bomb Syria back into the Stone Age helps build acceptance for a new war. Similarly, assertions that Assad’s forces gassed civilians are repeatedly reported as evidence or proof.
As of this writing, reporters have quoted no top Obama administration official willing to offer evidence or proof. Instead, as evidence, we have unverified videos online and interpretations of what the images show. Reporters don’t tell us who provided death figures or who provided information that White House is using the claim Sarin gas was used.
• Meanwhile, the constitutional expectation that only Congress can declare war has suffered the same fate as the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable seizures and searches; dying if not dead.
Germany and Japan attacked us. Congress responded for the most recent time: 1942. Russia’s surrogate attacked our dictator across the 38th Parallel in 1950 and triggered the still-unresolved Korean police action. LBJ was conned or knowingly lied about reported 1964 attacks on American warships in the Tonkin Gulf and moved us into the undeclared Vietnam War. Luckily, Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in1990 and started Gulf War I. The CIA’s totally mistaken 2002 “slam dunk” assurance about Weapons of Mass Destruction was used by Bush to justify undeclared Gulf War II. After 9/11, Afghans sheltered Osama bin Laden before our allies in Pakistan sheltered him and that was used to justify our unfinished and undeclared war against the Taliban in both countries although the Taliban never attacked us. Let’s not even get into the invasion of Panama or Grenada or fiasco in Somalia. All that’s missing in this latest rush to bash a hornets nest is a repeat of the New York Times sycophantic reporting that Saddam Hussein had and would use weapons of mass destruction.
• If you want a weapon of mass destruction, how about the AK-47, the totemic Soviet assault rifle that is ubiquitous on every continent or the simple machete/panga with which millions have been and are being murdered and/or mutilated. No chemical, biological or nuclear weapon has killed so many people.
• When will some national reporter ask, “What’s surgical about a surgical strike?” Nothing unless we’re comparing it to carpet bombing a la Germany, Japan, Laos or Vietnam.
Other than assassinating Assad with a drone-launched guided missile — good enough for Americans in Yemen — any attack on Syria will create “collateral” damage. They used to be called innocent victims, sort of like French civilians killed by Allies’ D-Day bombing.
“Surgical strike” is a debasement of the language. I’m surprised that surgeons — whose marketing mavens constantly promote ever-smaller and more precise bodily invasions — don’t ask the Pentagon to abandon the phrase, “surgical strike.”
However, it’s no mystery why news media are willing, even eager to echo this desensitizing insider language.
It recalls “RPG,” “IED,” “smart bombs,” “boots on the ground” and similar military language embraced by civilian reporters for their civilian audiences. Except those buzz words weren’t for civilian audiences; it was how reporters assured military sources that journalists were savvy and sympathetic listeners.
“Surgical strikes” serves us as badly as reporting unsupported assertions and assumptions as fact. Accurately reported bullshit is still bullshit.
• Accurate reporting requires context. Why is gassing hundreds of Syrian civilians in Damascus worse than shooting and killing as many or more civilians about in and around Cairo? Why is the killing and wounding of thousands in Cairo worse than endlessly raping, wounding, mutilating and killing millions of civilians in the horribly misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo?
• Our selective condemnation of poison gas recalls the 11th-century papal ban of the cross bow; peasant crossbowmen could kill armored knights from an unmanly and impersonal distance. That also was bad for the social order. Welsh bowmen faced no such opprobrium although their arrows killed far more mounted knights.
Jump ahead almost a millennium. There is debate on what is a chemical weapon and not all gasses — think tear gas — are poisonous. Poison gas was used infrequently but without sanction during the past 100 years.
Germans and the British gassed each other during World War I. Communists were accused of using poison gas during Russian Civil War. Italians gassed native troops in Ethiopia in the 1930s in years when colonial powers were suspected/accused of gassing rebellious native troops. Japanese gassed Chinese during early World War II. Egyptians gassed Yemeni forces in the 1960s but Americans denied using toxic/blister gasses in Vietnam and Laos. Iraq deployed lethal gas against its own people and Iranian forces in the insane Iraq-Iran 1980s war. Politicians and UN officials fulminate against gassing civilians but they only remind us how selective agony and journalism can be.
• No less authority than President Obama relegated the comparative to the dustbin of grammar. His speech at the Lincoln Memorial last week praised King and other civil rights activists, saying “Because they marched, America became more free and more fair.” True, but I’ll bet King would have said, “freer and fairer.”
• Everyone’s lauding David Frost’s evocative interviews with disgraced Richard Nixon after he resigned the presidency. He died after a heart attack on Saturday.
My memory of Frost is different: TW3, the original That Was the Week that Was on BBC TV. It was as irreverent as posh Brits from Oxbridge could be and Frost was a central figure in its creation in 1962 and weekly broadcasts until it was cancelled to avoid criticism as the 1964 general election neared. Two skits stand out in my memory, in part because my Saturday night duties at UPI included watching and filing a story on anything newsworthy that TW3 did/said.
The first showed an otherwise empty set with seemingly naked Millicent Martin, then young and drop-dead lovely, astride and leaning over the back of a curvy, modern Arne Jacobsen chair. It was the same pose call girl Christine Keeler used when photographed during the scandal over her affair with government minister John Profumo. You can see the original Keeler image at www.vam.ac.uk. Martin resembled Keeler just as Tina Fey looked like Sarah Palin. Martin looked straight at the camera and said something like, “John told me I was sitting on a fortune.” That was it. Perfect lampoon but there was no way to use that skit on UPI’s wire.
The second memorable skit followed the apparent TW3 and BBC late night sign-off. A De Gaulle look alike, right down the uniform and kepi on his head, addressed the Brits contemptuously over some strategic or diplomatic blunder. Then the broadcast ended. That skit was newsworthy. BBC said its switchboard operators — remember, this was the early 1960s — were overwhelmed. Seemed the perfect jab at the Establishment by its children fooled a lot of Brits; they thought BBC really had broadcast a De Gaulle speech.
• On a celebratory note, authorities dropped charges against Tim Funk, religion reporter for the Charlotte Observer, who arrested while he interviewed “Moral Monday” demonstrators at the Statehouse in Raleigh, NC. He was charged with second-degree trespass and failure to disperse.
Tim’s a Northern Kentuckian and among the ablest of decades of my undergraduate students. After the local prosecutor came to his senses, Tim told the AP, “It was clear to everyone there that I was a news reporter just doing my job interviewing Charlotte-area clergy about how they felt about being arrested. The reporter’s job is to be the eyes and ears of the public who can’t be present at important public events like this protest. That’s all I was doing.”
When his June 10 arrest was reported, at least one respondent noted that Tim was among the first detained, stopping him from seeing how police handled demonstrators.
His editor, Rick Thames, told AP, “This is clearly the right result, and we congratulate the district attorney for making the right decision. Tim Funk was working as a journalist inside the most obvious public building in our state. The videotape of Tim’s arrest demonstrates clearly that his only purpose in being there was to provide our readers a vivid firsthand account. He was clearly not obstructing the police. It’s hard to understand why he was arrested in the first place.”
• Cincinnati taxpayers need to know more about competing — and inescapably costly — plans to overcome years of city council shortchanging the city pension fund. The news isn’t good. As the Enquirer’s James Pilcher put it Sunday, “if every man,woman and child living in the city of Cincinnati contributed $2,000 apiece, it still wouldn’t be enough to fill the plan’s current $870 million gap.”
There’s a timeline with his explanatory story that screams for elaboration: What, if any, roles did mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley play in council decisions to deepen the pension debt?
And I howled at the quote from state auditor Dave Yost: “ . . . the city is in a fork in the road . . . And I’m concerned Cincinnati is not doing enough to avoid going down that fork in the road.”
Don’t try this at home. Sort of like standing with a foot on each side of a barbed wire fence. Reminds me of a friend who’d look right, point left and say, “Go this way.”
Maybe with Yost’s sense of direction, Cincinnati should consider the road not taken.
CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: email@example.com