It looks to be a hot, humid, and polluted Friday for us New Yorkers — not less depressing in the face of the usual news — killings in Iraq, false or silly statements by presidential campaign candidates, etc. Paul Krugman’s column more or less captures the idiocies of the campaign. [Not web available to non-subscribers]


Lies, Sighs and Politics

Published: June 8, 2007

In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?

Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven’t changed a bit.

You may not remember the presidential debate of Oct. 3, 2000, or how it was covered, but you should. It was one of the worst moments in an election marked by news media failure as serious, in its way, as the later failure to question Bush administration claims about Iraq.

Throughout that debate, George W. Bush made blatantly misleading statements, including some outright lies — for example, when he declared of his tax cut that “the vast majority of the help goes to the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder.” That should have told us, right then and there, that he was not a man to be trusted.

But few news reports pointed out the lie. Instead, many news analysts chose to critique the candidates’ acting skills. Al Gore was declared the loser because he sighed and rolled his eyes — failing to conceal his justified disgust at Mr. Bush’s dishonesty. And that’s how Mr. Bush got within chad-and-butterfly range of the presidency.

Now fast forward to last Tuesday. Asked whether we should have invaded Iraq, Mr. Romney said that war could only have been avoided if Saddam “had opened up his country to I.A.E.A. inspectors, and they’d come in and they’d found that there were no weapons of mass destruction.” He dismissed this as an “unreasonable hypothetical.”

Except that Saddam did, in fact, allow inspectors in. Remember Hans Blix? When those inspectors failed to find nonexistent W.M.D., Mr. Bush ordered them out so that he could invade. Mr. Romney’s remark should have been the central story in news reports about Tuesday’s debate. But it wasn’t.

There wasn’t anything comparable to Mr. Romney’s rewritten history in the Democratic debate two days earlier, which was altogether on a higher plane. Still, someone should have called Hillary Clinton on her declaration that on health care, “we’re all talking pretty much about the same things.” While the other two leading candidates have come out with plans for universal (John Edwards) or near-universal (Barack Obama) health coverage, Mrs. Clinton has so far evaded the issue. But again, this went unmentioned in most reports.

By the way, one reason I want health care specifics from Mrs. Clinton is that she’s received large contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Will that deter her from taking those industries on?

Back to the debate coverage: as far as I can tell, no major news organization did any fact-checking of either debate. And post-debate analyses tended to be horse-race stuff mingled with theater criticism: assessments not of what the candidates said, but of how they “came across.”

Thus most analysts declared Mrs. Clinton the winner in her debate, because she did the best job of delivering sound bites — including her Bush-talking-point declaration that we’re safer now than we were on 9/11, a claim her advisers later tried to explain away as not meaning what it seemed to mean.

Similarly, many analysts gave the G.O.P. debate to Rudy Giuliani not because he made sense — he didn’t — but because he sounded tough saying things like, “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror.” (Why?)

Look, debates involving 10 people are, inevitably, short on extended discussion. But news organizations should fight the shallowness of the format by providing the facts — not embrace it by reporting on a presidential race as if it were a high-school popularity contest.

For if there’s one thing I hope we’ve learned from the calamity of the last six and a half years, it’s that it matters who becomes president — and that listening to what candidates say about substantive issues offers a much better way to judge potential presidents than superficial character judgments. Mr. Bush’s tax lies, not his surface amiability, were the true guide to how he would govern.

And I don’t know if this country can survive another four years of Bush-quality leadership.


As one trained in philosophy, nothing gets to me (us) more than devious lying and deception. Plato had Socrates warn us of the con artists of their days — the sophists who used rhetoric and deception to con the naive. Hitler, Mussolini, Franco played the same games when I was a child of WW2. But while we, too, bombed civilians eventually during that terrible war, it was the Axis powers that tortured, maimed, and killed wantonly. Never would we have dreamed that the U.S. could adopt the very brutalities against which we had fought in a deadly war.

And now it is Italy that is preparing to try American criminals for crimes against humanity:


* First CIA rendition trial opens *
The first criminal trial over the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” of terror suspects opens in Italy, with 32 people accused.
Full story:


Note that it is the BBC and Reuters that are featuring this shameful cloud upon the present Bush administration — not front page stuff for the NY Times along with the names of rendered ones just disclosed or places rendered, or arrangements for proper trials of those held at Guantanamo. An author whose name I did not catch on npr this morning has just done a book on his experience torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib — he hopes to shift careers now from the military to a human rights organization.

The other principal value source for me came from my studies in theology where I learned of the compassionate concerns for all humanity — fallen women, gays, and children apparently not excepted — of a man called Jesus. When I hear our candidates — particularly those most into killing games along with Bush — claiming allegiance to this illusive Gospel figure, it is enough to make one want to . . . !

Well, time to get on with life here in the big city. Many need all the help we can muster — we have our many homeless around us and those despairing and dying because they are cut off from adequate medical care.

And so it goes today in Amerika!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

Be Sociable, Share!