Sunday, January 21, 2007

LA Times: At Least He Didn't Have Sex!

The Los Angeles Times has suffered these last three months a precipitous drop in quality. We now awaken each morning to garish fonts and tabloid fare. The front page, once the near-exclusive domain of international news, is awash with anecdotal “human interest” stories. The news is laced with editorial. The editorials seem designed more to shock than enlighten.

Today (21 Jan 2006) brings an editorial so morally strange that you need to read the entire piece to be sure it is not intended ironically. Titled Bush's fourth quarter, the Times argues: “As the president prepares for the State of the Union, the biggest issue facing the U.S. is his own credibility.”

Leaving aside the absurd subtitle that George Bush's personal credibility is somehow more important to Americans than the fact that our soldiers are dying in an unpopular war in Iraq, the paragraph below (clearly meant without irony) is a moral scandal:

To be fair, this is never an easy time for a second-term president. Bush is in the uncomfortable position of having to rely on the likes of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to define his legacy. But then, at least he's not spending his days forced to deny having sex with "that woman," dealing with allegations that he illegally funneled arms to a Central American insurgency or fending off efforts to get at his incriminating tapes.

No sex for President Bush? Our country has lost over a trillion dollars (yes, that's about $10,000 for every tax-paying American) on George W. Bush's Iraq adventure. For that amount of money, I would have slept with him myself!

But not for the 3000+ troops who have died so far. That price would be much too high for me to live with. “When Clinton lied, no one died” started as a cute bumper sticker a few years ago. It doesn't seem so cute anymore.

That President Clinton was impeached and President Bush has not (yet) been is says a lot about American politics. That the Los Angeles Times editorial board has favorably compared the staggering and ongoing loss of blood and treasure with an Oval Office escapade by President Clinton says a lot about the L.A. Times.

Perhaps they should have put the editorial in all capital letters, like ‘DEVIL WINDS’ STOKE FATAL FIRE. It would have had a lot more credibility.


bjkeefe said...

I feel your pain about the decline of the LA Times. Be thankful for the Internet.

I disagree with your assessment about the editorial, especially when considering the whole thing.

Of course it's irritating to have Clinton's peccadillo compared, ad infinitum, to the myriad of Bush's much more serious misdeeds. However, I don't think that's the point that the editorial was trying to make. As trivial as getting an extramarital blowjob should have been, and as irresponsibly obsessed as the media became about it, the fact remains that we are a twisted country regarding sex, and the consequent hubbub truly did stand in the way of Clinton getting things done.

I agree that the editorial's subtitle was hyperbolic, but I do think that Bush's credibility is important. Obviously, half of the country, myself included, has written him off completely as a worthwhile human being, and the disapproving fraction is closer to three quarters or four fifths on particular issues like the war. It's fun to conjure up the image of Bush and Cheney being dragged off to Guantanamo Bay, with President Pelosi saying, "Our long national nightmare is over." But that's a fantasy. Bush will be in office for another two years, and there's little to do except make the best of it. For better or worse (granted, likely the latter), he remains our representative to the rest of the world.

To that end, we can hope that Bush's desire to salvage his legacy might push him to do something constructive in, say, on global warming. We can also hope that the country's distaste for his war becomes so ferocious that it precludes his desire to stall long enough to dump it in the lap of his successor, or at least, prevents him from invading Iran.

I'd like nothing finer than a series of rigorous hearings and investigations into all of the extralegal and probably downright criminal behavior of the Bush Administration. But if the jury selection process in Scooter Libby's trial is any indication, trying to bring to light all of the nefarious doings will be a long and hard fight. It also risks the possibility of a backlash among the droolers who get their news from Fox News and talk radio. So, speaking pragmatically, I think our country might be better off if we don't spend all of the next two years only talking about what a cobag Bush is. He is one, to be sure, but meanwhile, there are other things that demand our attention.

I think this is the main point that the editorial was trying to make.

Unknown said...

First, rereading my post, I forgot to credit Wikipedia for the tabloid headline about the "Devil Wind".

Second, I blundered rhetorically in losing focus (maybe if I were George Bush I could have stayed on topic better). My post was supposed to about the LA Times, not George Bush.

Third, in fairness to the Tribune stockholders, the LA Times is supposed to make money, after all. The sad truth about our non-reading society is that nothing the Times writes (short of porn) will make money in the long run. The written word is a niche market, and LA doesn't have the critical mass of intellectuals to hold that market (frankly, neither does SF).

Nonetheless, I stand by my assessment that the editorial is logically incoherent and does not establish its central premise: the US (and the world) are in greater danger from a US credibility gap than from a US so cash- and moral-strapped that it withdraws from world affairs for a whole decade (such as after Vietnam). After all, the credibility gap will be gone in two years with Dubya, but we won't get our trillion dollars back.

The restated premise at the end:

"Regardless of the issue, the most worrisome aspect of the Bush administration at this point is
the president's lack of stature."

is merely justification through repetition.

But I'm losing my focus again. The point I really wanted to make is that the LA Times is no longer a guiding light but a pandering follower that has absorbed the ambient smugness that it's all about us, how we look to the world, how we will suffer if others think our President is weak and foolish... opposed to the fact that our elected (?) leader has triggered a civil war in another country, stretched our own society to the brink, and charged it all on our children's credit card. I don't think Iraqis care much about George Bush's credibility gap (I certainly don't). The major damage in Iraq is already done. Pulling out now just affects the speed of what is to come, not the eventual outcome.

Compared to all that, two more years of Bush seems almost too trivial to worry about.

Unless he starts another war in the meantime. Wagging the dog in Iran is a very real danger. Now that would be an editorial I would have liked to have read.

Unknown said...

It appears I am not the only one outraged by the comparison between Iraq and Monica Lewinski:

There were 3 letters to the Editors published in the LA Times (23 Jan 07) subtitled The scandal is in the comparison.

The first letter expresses my feelings (much better and more succinctly than my blog did). I wish I had written it. I reproduce it here for reference:

Your editorial contains some remarkable comments. You write that President Bush "believes (rightly, in our view) that it would be disastrous for the United States to walk blithely away from the mess it created." I have not heard or read in any of the many proposals for withdrawing from this atrocious war even a hint of what could be characterized as blitheness. Your diction constitutes a patently tendentious attempt to manufacture a nonexistent, callous "straw man" in order to buttress your support for Bush's intransigence.

You also write: "At least he's not spending his days forced to deny having sex with 'that woman.' " The clear implication is that your sensibilities are more offended by Bill Clinton's isolated sexual peccadillo than by the unnecessary death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of Americans and Iraqis.

FRANKLIN STRIER, Rolling Hills Estates

Well said!

Unknown said...

I am encouraged by the LA Times' prominent display of adverse criticism to its editorial failings. Perhaps I was too harsh in my assessment of the Times.

I hope so, anyway.