“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, October 30, 2005

the gods come down to earth, a high ranking official said

One would have hoped that the Plame case would be a wake up call… to the press. Alas, business goes on as usual. The D.C. journalism that pours out is of such poor quality that one’s only hope is in the declining numbers reading this gruel.

Two examples, one merely of idiocy – Adam Nagourney’s specialty – and the other of D.C. cliquespeak, punctuating an otherwise comprehensive article in the Washington Post.

Nagourney is almost on LI’s informal list of people not to make fun of or pay attention to – people like Ann Coulter and the like. But his political analysis of the Republican Party’s problems is such a typical paste whatever job, the usual stuff he turns in, that one wants to wring some kind of example from it, if only to compensate for the minimal degradation reading it brings to the old retina.

So notice, first the article gives us a banal overview of the Bush and Rove plan to “overhaul the nation’s political architecture.” This is a use of language in which language has faded to blanks; otherwise a writer would ask himself what overhauling architecture could possibly mean. What, in fact, is overhauling, and has Nagourney ever been in its neighborhood? Most dictionaries – my webster’s, for instance – defines it as making needed repairs. This is of course not what Nagourney means – he means, pretty simply, change. They came to Washington to change the relation between the Republican and Democratic party. But change is, of course, not fleshy enough, doesn’t have a journalistic bite. It is simply butter, and what Nagourney is trying to do is pour sugar over his graf. Hence the awkward and senseless overhauling of political architecture that is going on – as if Rove and Bush are out there with their rulers, measuring the Lincoln memorial.

The second paragraph contains the journalistic “some” – which is the way a journalist can emit his own view and pretend like he is reporting somebody else’s: “… some Republicans were suggesting this White House would be lucky to revive the ambitious legislative agenda Mr. Bush presented 10 months ago…” Surely, the some means some Republicans are suggesting something else. This little Republican went to the fair, this little Republican went wee wee wee all the way home.

Then we come to a quote from a Republican, Richard A. Viguerie. Viguerie thinks that Bush hasn’t been confrontational enough. Fair enough, that is what Viguerie thinks. But why the hell should we care? The comment is plastered into the piece with all the logic of an amateur surrealist gluing a picture of his cat to a painting of a triangle. There’s no attempt to see if the comment even makes any sense. Is it true that the Bush administration has been non-confrontational? To LI’s mind, that comment is wrong on many points, but surely, the one salient point is that Naguerney is writing this article in the wake of the Libby indictment. That indictment is not about a can’t we all get along attitude that has been dogging our friendly commander in chief. However, to confront Viguerie would require, well, non-triangulation. Or at least intelligent triangulation…

So okay, let’s waste no more time on AN. Turn, instead, to a really good reporter: Barton Gellman. His Washington Post piece is perhaps the best summary of all the currents in the case so far. I emailed it to a usually non-political friend, who doesn’t really want to wade through a lot of detritus to find out what is happening.

But the piece is riddled with anonymous citations even as it gives us the infamous Miller episode in which she agrees to allow Libby to anonymously comment as a House Staffer. Somehow, it has not yet sunk in: we simply can’t be confident that this isn’t happening all the time. For instance, this:

“The chain of events that led to Friday's indictment can be traced as far back as 1991, when an unremarkable burglary took place at the embassy of Niger in Rome. All that turned up missing was a quantity of official letterhead with "Republique du Niger" at its top.
More than 10 years later, according to a retired high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, a businessman named Rocco Martino approached the CIA station chief in Rome. An occasional informant for U.S., British, French and Italian intelligence services, Martino brought documents on Niger government letterhead describing secret plans for the sale of uranium to Iraq.”

What is this retired high-ranking U.S. intelligence official doing here? What is the purpose of this cut out? Does it really tell us that something happened 10 years later? Why not quote the Italian paper La Repubblica about this? Or why not demand that the high ranking retired U.S. intelligence official give his name? Why should we believe him at all? What does high-ranking mean? The whole thing stinks of what the Washington press has become – a venue for D.C. cliques to battle each other. That would be fine with me, if only the power of these cliques was proportionate to their intelligence. They would all be dog catching, if this were true, and we would all be better off. But unfortunately, they can cause great mischief in the Republic and the world. For instance, they can collectively cause the death of 35 to 60 thousand Iraqis in three years.

So LI went and counted the anonymous sources. There’s the retired spook. There’s the “top official, a longtime ally of Libby's.” There’s the “senior official who worked with [Libby].” There’s the “senior intelligence officer who knew of Libby's inquiries about Wilson and Plame.” There’s the slothful “Republican officials expressed the hope at that time that Ashcroft's recusal would provide political cover for the White House if no indictment resulted. One said the move would "depoliticize" the case on the eve of presidential campaign season.” The latter is particularly funny – a quote from a “one” who is a “Republican official” – in other words, a quote from a something that isn’t even clear what it is. A Republican politician? A lobbyist? A what? Gellman obviously wanted to simply say that Bush tried to depoliticize the investigation, but to say that and satisfy the compulsive habits of the journalist, he had to find a way of saying it "objectively" -- but it was fine to use a fictitious personage to satisfy that need. These are the kind of paradoxes that are shot through the current state of American journalism.

In essence, the newspaper business is giving us cut-outs who have less reality than the gods who would materialize in the Iliad, aiding or hindering the Greeks. They do this, they say, to put a brake on government abuses. Really? What abuses are those? Like, say, going to war as a vanity project for a dimwitted president? Right, they really put a brake on that one. The lifeless, meaningless language, the inability to explain anything clearly, since all explanations have to be triangulated – and not a clue, in the news business, that anything is wrong.

Amazing.

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