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Monday, January 20, 2003

 
--- Inept but Entitled ---

The Washington Post sticks it to Senator Patty Murray, and CP sticks it to the Post. In their defense, it's only fair to note that the editorial below was filed Christmas Eve, and the responsible editorialist may have handed it off to an intern, who may already have had a drink or two in the course of office merriment, and was probably in a hurry to get on to the next party.

Inept but Entitled to Her Say (Wednesday, December 25, 2002; Page A28)
THERE IS POLITICAL criticism, there is political attack, and then there is political political correctness: the massive overreaction to perfectly useful ideas that have been badly stated or misinterpreted. We could devote the whole blog to this sentence alone. What is it that warrants reaction, or even overreaction, but not "massive overreaction" -- bad ideas, badly stated ideas, innocent misinterpretation, or deliberate misrepresentation? One branch of the parse tree reads "overreaction to misinterpreted ideas is political P.C." Something's evidently wrong with P.P.C., but what? The "correctness" part, or the "political" part? And which "political", the first or the second? What is the right-sized overreaction to a misinterpretation of "perfectly useful ideas"?

Playing dumb, the Post concedes scalp-for-scalp equivalence with the Trent Lott matter.

There is a danger, for instance, that people will become afraid to criticize any aspect of American foreign policy, lest they be branded "anti-American." Hmmm. There is a danger, for instance, that the Post will become afraid to call McCarthyism "McCarthyism".

That, at any rate, is the conclusion many will reach after reading of Sen. Patty Murray's experience. That, at any rate, is the editorial voice lurking behind an overgrown hedge of presumptive vicarious passive-case indirection. But the editorial is built on a classic formula: tell 'em what you're gonna insinuate, insinuate it, and tell 'em what you insinuated.

Sen. Murray's (D-Wash.) crime, it seems, was to make an ill-worded and rather silly
When building a case for "extraordinary ineptitude" (as below), choose your words and facts with all the eptitude you can muster. No "rather", no "seems" about it, the whole editorial is ill-worded.
speech
An ill-facted assumption. No, not a speech ... just extemporaneous remarks in small-group Q&A. What's the diff? Critical standards for brief impromptu utterances are necessarily looser than for set piece composition (a prepared speech, for instance, or a published editorial).
last week to a high school in Vancouver, Wash., that was then excerpted by the Columbian, a newspaper in Vancouver, Canada.
The Post ill's the facts again. A local daily like the Post might extend more professional courtesy to a local daily like the Columbian (the "Daily Columbian") in Vancouver ("the other Vancouver") Washington ("the other Washington"). Vancouver Washington lies opposite Portland Oregon ("the other Portland"?), across the Columbia River (far from the District of), about 300 miles south of Vancouver British Columbia (Canada).
The Post may have an alibi, since New Westminster's British Columbian is sometimes dubbed the "Daily Columbian" ... though that usage declined sharply after the masthead change in 1910. Cincinnati OH had its own Daily Columbian back in the '50s (the 1850s), and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (the "Columbian Exposition") published yet another "Daily Columbian" on site.
In a normal week, the Columbian's Web site receives 60,000 to 70,000 visitors. The day following the paper's story about Sen. Murray's speech, it had 230,000 visitors. As the Web site put it, "There are top stories, and then there is Patty Murray." Other Web sites, Web logs and talk shows picked up the story, Another classic "top story" formula: fabrication, repetition, repetition. When the Mighty Wurlitzer wheezes, the Post gets the fever. and by the weekend, the chairman of the Republican Party in Washington state had publicly questioned Sen. Murray's patriotism.
Great, Chris Vance impugns Patty Murray's patriotism. Whatever happened to the "dog bites man" rule?

What did Patty Murray actually say?
The Post doesn't actually know, exactly. Low fidelity audio samples are wafting about the web. The Columbian's transcript begins (and ends?) in mid-passage, marked by missing connectives, qualifiers and possibly whole phrases (without the usual "[inaudible]" notations). The surrounding thread of discussion is not on record, so we don't actually know what issue Murray calls "very highly debatable" when she says "I don't know which way I fall on it. But I want you to think about it."

According to the Columbian, she said that Osama bin Laden has "been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful.
Subject matter experts agree, excepting the term "day care" (which might more appropriately read "child care"). [Extra credit if you spotted the transcript discrepancy.]

. . . How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
No doubt, bin Laden stole a march on us in the battle for hearts and minds. For perspective, we spent twenty-some years in Vietnam before it occurred to us that hearts and minds mattered. [And BTW, what are these ellipses doing . . . here?]

Sen. Murray got a few things very wrong. And the Post is going to tell us what these wrong things are, isn't it? Or is it? I'll be so disappointed if they forget.

Osama bin Laden spent a lot more money on terrorist training camps than on day-care centers; Behold, the power of Glennuendo! Yes, of course ... Murray must be a naif, since she most certainly would have raised this point if she was aware of it -- even though training camp budgets have no bearing on the "hearts and minds" problem. So is Murray "wrong" in the sense that she should have chosen a different topic ... or "wrong" in the sense that she should have interjected talking points irrelevant to her defined topic?
the senator appears to have confused him with the fundamentalist charities that have won so much support for the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas on the West Bank. The Post demonstrates the mind-reading skills for which it is so justly famous! No such confusion is evident. Full-time expert first-person accounts support Murray's view.

Nor did she seem to have considered the possibility that the "bombing" of Afghanistan and Iraq might also, in the long term, be in the interest of the Afghans and the Iraqis. More mind-reading, of a deeper sort, since Murray said nothing at all about bombing Afghanistan ... but the Post knows she was thinking it, and they know that she did so heedless of the Afghans' long term interests, too. Afghans were heedless, too, in decades past when bin Laden was winning "hearts and minds" ... which seems to be the theme of Murray's remarks.

Nevertheless, there is a deeper point that Sen. Murray, with extraordinary ineptitude, seemed to be trying to make -- a point that is worth preserving: One last chance WaPo: identify Murray's point, and discuss.
At the very least, it ought to be possible to discuss America's image in the Islamic world, and the kinds of mistakes the United States has made there. There's no indication Murray -- or her young audience -- ever doubted or debated whether such discussion "ought to be possible". So her point was ...

For decades, American governments have spent remarkable amounts of money in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, relatively little of which is visible on the ground. No, that's not her point ... that's not even true, and she says as much. The US spends remarkably little on direct foreign aid, and little of that on direct humanitarian development. Debate can be educational but, as we were saying, Murray's deeper point was ...

Yet if successive American administrations had identified the United States more closely with good works in the Middle East and had tried more assiduously to explain American values, then American relations with the Islamic world might look different today. No, that's not it! Murray was talking about reality, not perception (though we neglected perception, too), and primarily about reality in Al Qaeda strongholds, not the Middle East, and about how it might cost more to spend more, and how this might also, in the long term, be in the interest of the Americans.

Or they might not. Outstanding! A bank-shot editorial hedge fund diversifies its holdings against political currency risk. Or not.

Either way, this is a point worth debating, Which point? That our policy mix is debatable? That money can buy off unhappiness? That things might look different today if things were done different yesterday, or they might not? C'mon, Posties! If, for instance, the editors have, it seems, a deeper point ... they should, at any rate, have, at the very least, seemed to be trying to make it. Or they might not.
and no one should be called "unpatriotic" for bringing it up. The "liberal" Post lowers their picayune boom on Murray's critics, after compulsively filling the column with misdirected swipes at her ... an ironic bid for credibility, paid for in small-denomination counterfeits. "Turnabout is fair play, because we're, y'know, balanced". In doing so they fed the even-the-liberal-Washington-Post-says beast of a million bleating e-mails, and helped the Right negotiate a hostage exchange -- Lott's radical race-baiting (with abundant supporting history of consistent sentiment) for their radical "Patty Loves Osama" distortion of Murray's remarks (with no supporting history).

The Portland Oregonian rendered mixed commentary. On one hand, she "brought it on herself". On the other hand (in a column essentially apologizing for not raising a bigger stink) "we need to think about and debate such matters".

In more enlightened commentary, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Joel Connelly invokes Sun Tzu ("If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat") and Central Asia Institute founder Greg Mortenson, who actually funds and develops schools in the affected areas ("Senator Murray has not stuck her foot in her mouth," Mortenson responded. "She has placed Uncle Sam's shoe in his mouth. Lots of talk, but no action.").