I vaguely remember – at about the time of the September 11 attack as part of the ‘everything has changed’ meme, a lot of invitations to the left to apologise for all the things they’d done wrong. All their naivite, all the things they stuffed up, all the things they didn’t understand. Am I imagining this? If not can some friendly reader please point me towards some relevant links. (I’ll monitor the spam checker carefully, but it may help if you provide one or at most two links per comment and if you have more links then make more than one comment.)
For a while now I’ve been thinking that maybe someone who called for apologies then while supporting the Bush Administration’s bizarre adventure in Iraq, might like to apologise and say they were wrong. I think they should tell us what they think of the President of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen lobbying Capitol Hill for powers to torture people in secret – having already done so in any event.
I was reminded of this idle thought reading this great post by Brad DeLong on “the history of the shrill” – or (I would have subtitled it) how ‘he-said she-said’ reporting reduces everything – EVERYTHING – to spin.
DeLong quotes Richard Cohen an often excellent columnist for the Washington Post saying this.
I was only briefly enamored of George W. Bush… who went to war in Iraq for stated reasons that turned out to be baseless and for unstated reasons that have yet to be publicly acknowledged… neoconservative foreign policy agenda in which violence plays too prominent and casual a role…. chilled by assertions of near-royal power… choice of judges, his energy policy, his unilateralism or the manner in which he has intruded religion into politics…. I nevertheless cannot bring myself to hate Bush…. In fact, Bush haters go so far they wind up adding a dash of red to my blue…
Now look at what Cohen actually says Bush has done and then read what he says – not thta he doesn’t hate him, but that those who are too shrill about it tend to make him more sympathetic to him. So there you go – there’s no real bottom to how bad the guy is, but try to be nice about him. A month later this is what Cohen wrote.
Not since the Spanish-American War has the United States gone off to war so casually, so half-cocked and so ineptly…. Yet from Bush comes not a bleep of regret, not to mention apology. It is all “steady as she goes” — although we have lost our bearings and we no longer know our destination. (Don’t tell me it’s a democratic Middle East.) If the man were commanding a ship, he would be relieved of command. If he were the CEO of some big company, the board would offer him a golden parachute — and force him to jump…
In fact I found my way to the post I’m quoting by reading DeLong’s post today on Bob Woodward’s most recent book.
Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: What’s The Deal With… Bob Woodward? His new book:
[Quoting the NYT review] In Bob Woodward’s highly anticipated new book, State of Denial, President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war. It’s a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in Bush at War, his 2002 book, which depicted the president — in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed — as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the “vision thing” his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state.
Why were the earlier books so different? Did [Woodward] somehow not notice this stuff before? It’s a serious problem for the most prominent people in the journalism world to be merely lagging indicators, praising leaders when they’re popular and then pointing out that, in fact, they suck only after a whole series of disasters discredit them.
You see it all gets down to spin and journalists are there to participate in and amplify the endless self-reflexive developments that occur under the rule of ‘he said – she said’ reporting, not to figure things out according to some broadly agreed set of values and report and opinionate accordingly.
I was reminded of this when listening to an excellent set of speakers at the George Munster awards for excellence in journalism. They had engaged with their subject – the winner of the prize was Olivia Rousset, who in Lifting the Hood – Prisoners of Abu Ghraib; Abu Ghraib Revisited and A Torturer’s Tale had actually had the journalistic curiosity to report on those tortured – on their view of things. She was surprised to find no-one had done it before her.
If you read Steven Poole’s triffic blog unspeak on the term “questioned by experts” you’ll see that it describes ‘procedures’ which are similar in spirit to many of the things that were captured in the photos at Abu Ghraib. In what way is ‘waterboarding’ for instance in any way less extreme than what we saw in the pictures?
Then it was a shock. A scandal. Now things are different. The worm has turned. The spin has spun.