May 23, 2005

The Post Blows It

A reader sent me an article by Annia Ciezadlo in the Washington Post called Lebanon’s Election: Free but Not Fair.

I thought I would like it. I wanted to like it, especially after I read the first couple of sentences.

Every week, my husband and I take a rickety old taxi to Hezbollah country. The emerald city of downtown Beirut, with its glittering luxury towers, drops away behind us; ruined buildings, their shell-shocked hulks festooned with laundry, loom ahead like ghost ships.
I took that very trip only a month ago. And I must say her description of what it’s like to arrive in Hezbollahland is just perfect.

But the rest of the piece didn’t sit right with me at all. Some stories about Lebanon have a certain, shall we say, smell to them. This story is one of them.

I forwarded it to my friend in Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal and asked for his feedback. He’s the one who drove me down to Hezbollahland when I went down there. He didn’t like it. At all. And he ripped it to pieces.

His critique is worth reading for two reasons. One, you’ll learn a lot about Lebanese history. Two, it just goes to show how utterly wrong you can be and still get published in the Washington Post.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 23, 2005 10:41 PM
Comments

12! What the fuck. Is there any way for the big man in Lebanon to correct our friends at the post?

(note to blog-readers: whowilldietoday.blogspot is a Jesus thing.)

Posted by: Mike #3or4 at May 23, 2005 11:15 PM

The Post article has a bit much of the Unreal Perfection as the unspoken alternative. Leb.Profile notes how it is at times contradictory.

And of course the ending is PC: anything that goes wrong is Bush's fault for not doing what is so easy (to talk about in the Post, even if it's contradictory).

Democracy is messy; the Leftists don't want the US to exert any influence -- except where they want the US to totally control a situation and order everybody around (like PC Leftists like to do), assuming that US words, only, will be enough.
(Leftists words in the US ARE pretty powerful--look at Larry Summers.)

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at May 24, 2005 01:58 AM

How utterly wrong you can be and still get published in the (insert name of major newspaper here). With all due respect, Michael, this is hardly a revelation.

Posted by: Zacek at May 24, 2005 05:34 AM

It's the kind of quality we've come to expect from the MSM. Without the alternative media we'd be swallowing stuff like that hook line and sinker everday.

Posted by: spaniard at May 24, 2005 06:32 AM

Michael Totten totally misunderstood me a few weeks ago when I said that the Lebanese may have more to worry about regarding the utopian liberals in the United States than the ideological thugs within their midst. It is articles like this one which cause enormous harm. Just think about the impact of the title alone, “Lebanon’s Election: Free but Not Fair.” One could easily be persuaded that nothing really good is occurring in Lebanon. Why waste more time and money? The hell with these crazies who will only end up killing each other? The rug would be pulled from under the Lebanese democracy movement. This is what happened in Vietnam. The Communists ultimately won only because of the liberal establishment in our own country.

God help any of America’s friends if they do not have a perfect government. Any financial corruption or other abuses are not placed in their proper context. Instead, the utopians argue that we must immediate abandon them. I take it for granted, for instance, that there will eventually be news stories concerning Iraqi government officials stealing money. Some might even be legitimately charged with murdering their foes. Heck, I would strongly urge you to go to Las Vegas and bet money that these outrages will be reported some time later this year! We sometimes need to take a chill pill and remind ourselves that while Utopia is not possible---we can still greatly improve the world we live in.

Posted by: David Thomson at May 24, 2005 07:27 AM

If only the Washington Post were as hard with other struggling fledling democracies:

TORONTO -- Prime Minister Paul Martin survived a confidence motion by a single vote Thursday, allowing him to retain power and easing one of Canada's most dramatic political standoffs in decades.

No mention of blatant attempts at vote buying, congenital cronyism, suppression of free speech, etc. After all, those folks up North were on the correct side of the argument about the Bush Doctrine, so they deserve some slack....

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 24, 2005 08:15 AM

Great post Michael. The author says "The consensus outside Lebanon is that Hezbollah should disarm . . ." - I would hope that the consensus INSIDE Lebanon would be the same. Regardless of what the author implies, oppressive regimes like Hezbollah need to go away. Either you believe in freedom or you don't.

"If Bush wants to help Lebanon disarm Hezbollah peacefully -- and if he wants to deserve his reputation as a liberator of the Arab world's downtrodden Shiites -- he'll encourage Lebanon's Christians to give up their special privileges." This sentence is amazing in so many ways. Say what you will about Bush, and he certainly isn't perfect, but there are millions of Shiites that have more freedom now than they did a few years back. Sounds like Keith Thompson reached his threshhold on this issue - "I choose this day for my departure because I can no longer abide the simpering voices of self-styled progressives -- people who once championed solidarity with oppressed populations everywhere - reciting all the ways Iraq's democratic experiment might yet implode." Iraq may implode. But at least the Iraqis have a good chance to live in freedom today and into the future. Lebanon may implode again. Maybe not. When did so many people decide that consistency, security and the status quo was more desirable than freedom, risk-taking, and change? Reminds me of a quote I read recently - "Most people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions."

Posted by: markytom at May 24, 2005 08:49 AM

No mention of blatant attempts at vote buying, congenital cronyism, suppression of free speech, etc. After all, those folks up North were on the correct side of the argument about the Bush Doctrine, so they deserve some slack....

Well, here's your opportunity to fill us in with the details, Mark.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 24, 2005 08:52 AM

Mark Steyn is on top of it, DPU:

Woe, woe and thrice woe. As it turns out, they didn’t even wait for the writ to drop. CTV and The Globe And Mail commissioned a poll showing that 63 per cent of Canadians do not believe Paul Martin is telling the truth when he denies any involvement in Adscam. Let’s be clear on that: they’re not saying just that they don’t believe his initial position--that he didn’t even know about any of this stuff; they’re saying they think he was actively involved in it.

A mere 63% of the population convinced the Prime Minister is personally involved in money laundering is no indication that an election should be held. Nosireebob.

As to blatant vote buying, take whichever story is sexier:

To quote Sir Thomas More from Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons : “Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?”
But for Human Resources and Skills Development? Whoa, hold up. For her first political job, Miss Stronach won’t be just any old Minister of the Crown. For, as the Prime Minister announced (and also with a straight face!), Belinda "will assume responsibilities for democratic renewal and will help guide the implementation of the recommendations that flow from the Gomery Commission’s final report." And did you notice somewhere in that characteristically sly formulation that his promise of a post-Gomery election now seems to be non-operative?

Or do you prefer audiotape?

Ottawa — Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal says he was offered a Liberal sinecure abroad or a Senate seat for his wife in return for scratching his crucial budget vote.
The Surrey, B.C. MP, whose wife Nina is also a Tory MP, alleges he made an audio recording of the offer from Liberal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh and Tim Murphy, Prime Minister Paul Martin's chief of staff.

And who knew that national Iraq policy had a direct influence on the family fortune of ... wait for it ... Canadians?

For a year, the antiwar crowd had told us it was "all about oil"--that the only reason Iraq was being "liberated" was so Bush, Cheney, Halliburton and the rest of the gang could annex in perpetuity the second biggest oil reserves in the world. But, if it was all about oil, then the fact--fact--is that the only Western leader with a direct stake in the issue was not the Texas oilpatch stooge in Washington, but Jean Chrétien: his daughter, his son-in-law and his grandchildren stood to be massively enriched by the Total-Saddam agreement. It depended on two factors: Saddam remaining in power, and the feeble UN sanctions being either weakened into meaninglessness or quietly dropped.

As to supression of free speech, there was that whole gag order on journalists reporting certain details of the whole Adscam thing, but any Canadian with an actual interest in the issue could just check out Captain's Quarters....

And yet, the Washington Post feels it's more important to throw sand in the gears of mideast democracy than to investigate the hanky-panky going on across our border....

Priorities. It's always about priorities.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 24, 2005 10:10 AM

Mark: A mere 63% of the population convinced the Prime Minister is personally involved in money laundering is no indication that an election should be held. Nosireebob.

Well, the Canadian system doesn't operate by opinion poll, Mark, otherwise we'd be holding elections every other week. And we also wait for the courts to decide on guilt. It should be noted that sponsorship scandal came to light after allegations of misuse of funds led to an audit being ordered by .... drumroll ... former Prime Minister Chretien. You left that bit out, Mark. When the auditor's report was tabled in parliament, current Prime Minister Paul Martin reacted by firing the individuals involved in the scandal. You left that out too.

In regards to the "vote buying" allegations, this is standard Canadian parliamentary procedure, there is nothing wrong with it, and it has long been a standard practice in governments that follow British parliamentary procedure. To an outsider who doesn't understand the process, the wheeling and dealing look questionable, but to imly that it's illegal or immoral is misleading. There are a lot of angry Conservatives in Canada right now, as Belinda's betrayal of their party stung pretty bad, but Conservative governments have done the same thing (rewarding MPs who cross the floor with cabinet positions). It's also common practice for minority governments to modify their policies in order to gain votes from other parties or independents.

Regarding Mark Steyn's allegations about the Chretien family making money from oil ... huh? What the hell was that article about? A rambling article drawing connections between various married family members and a bunch of subsidiaries proving what? Um, nothing.

Lastly, it is normal practice for Canadian courts to put a temporary ban on publication of information revealed in a trial or inquest in order to not prejudice potential jury members. There is nothing sinister about it. And yes, it's easy to get around the ban through the internet.

Disclaimer - I have never voted for the Liberal Party of Canada, and aside from a fond rememberence of Pierre Elliot Trudeau's entertaining personality, I have little regard for their governance, nor their leaders.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 24, 2005 10:41 AM

I have no desire to hijack this thread onto what does or does not constitute ethical behavior north of the border (although I do love the tantalizing intimation that the RCMP might be persuaded to go easy on an ethics investigation in return for an abstention on the vote of no confidence); I will say that for pure soap opera and potential ramifications to US/Canadian relations, all the stories referred to above look quite juicy to this scandal-trained eye.

So why ignore all those possibilities and instead do a hatchet job on the Lebanese body-politic?

And of course, we all know the answer, but it takes somebody really rude to come out and say it. A good story is only good if it reflects badly on a Conservative.

Lame.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 24, 2005 11:02 AM

I'm still not sure how to take the compromise on filibusters in the USA. But then I consider how bad off the Canadians and Mexicans are with their governments and I don't feel so bad.

Posted by: Pat Patterson at May 24, 2005 12:23 PM

Ah,

Now that DPU is in the house, how about that fantastic $50,000 allocated by the Canadian government for tsunami relief. Link. Absolutely puts us Americans to shame. Bet they even beat the out the EU!

Posted by: chuck at May 24, 2005 12:27 PM

Having read the fisking, I am truly astounded at the Washington Post, even though my expectations of it and the MSM as a whole have gotten lower and lower in recent years. I know that newspapers don't have fact-checkers, but this represents ignoring of the facts to a truly alarming degree. It seems that facts have become just pesky little details, too unimportant to bother about. I've been brooding on the question of why this is so commonplace in journalism today. Here's my attempt at an answer.

Posted by: neo-neocon at May 24, 2005 12:51 PM

Now that DPU is in the house, how about that fantastic $50,000 allocated by the Canadian government for tsunami relief. Link. Absolutely puts us Americans to shame. Bet they even beat the out the EU!

I can't find the source of Steyn's information on that. But is he talking about actual money spent so far? Or the amount committed to and budgeted for economic recovery? How much has the US government actually spent so far in comparison? Keep in mind that the US government pledge amount was only finalized two weeks ago. And are you talking about only government aid, or including the amount donated by individuals as well?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 24, 2005 01:13 PM

DPU,

I believe we were spending on the order of several million a day in the weeks after the Tsunami. The fleet doesn't come cheap, you know. As to what has been spent since, I don't know, although I think USAID has remained busy.

Posted by: chuck at May 24, 2005 01:43 PM

I have a question in to my MP right now about this. I do know that Canadians privately donated 150 million to aid organizations in the two weeks following the tsunami, and the Canadian government was matching those donations dollar for dollar. As I haven't heard a peep from those organizations about this, I assume the government followed through to their satisfaction.

Once I hear back from my MP, I'll post followup info.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 24, 2005 01:47 PM

Thanks DPU,

Perhaps you can set the record straight. Steyn could well have misrepresented the facts. I know that Canadians made generous donations as individuals, so no slight intended there.

Posted by: chuck at May 24, 2005 01:54 PM

neo-neocon, I liked your article, but I think you missed one critical point; I get the distinct impression that journalists have gotten in the habbit of getting their news from other journalists. And like any good feedback loop, if that's true noise can get amplified to the point that it drives out true signal.

Think about the times you've seen TV newsfolks interviewing one another at big, fast-paced breaking new events where they don't have canned content to put on the air. Who's to say that the same kind of thing doesn't happen in the print media? How much easier to get background on a story by doing Lexus/Nexus searches and reading what other reporters have written than finding a native guide. So an error made by a poorly informed writer in an obscure area can become conventional wisdom without anyone ever questioning it.

This is a hypothesis, but it would explain a lot. It doesn't even require laziness per se. (After all, finding a native guide doesn't mean you've found a trustworthy native guide. And if 20 years of news stories say the same thing, they have to be right, right?) All this hypothesis requires are maladaptive habits that haven't caused problems before, and are therefore handed down as standard operating procedure.

Any working journalists reading this, please de-bunk this speculation if its unfounded.

Posted by: Mark Poling at May 24, 2005 02:48 PM

I have never voted for the Liberal Party of Canada, and aside from a fond rememberence of Pierre Elliot Trudeau's entertaining personality, I have little regard for their governance, nor their leaders.--DPU

I must salute you,nonetheless.To go out of your way to defend the Liberal Regime despite the fact that you probably worship the quicksand they walk on,is an act of considerable dedication.

Your comments were 'on the money',and objectively described the way things are done here.It's just unfortunate that the Canadian political primer had to be focused on the actions of the Martin Liberals,who are not really anything on the political spectrum except self-serving

Posted by: dougf at May 24, 2005 03:10 PM

It's just unfortunate that the Canadian political primer had to be focused on the actions of the Martin Liberals,who are not really anything on the political spectrum except self-serving

Heh. The Left and the Right in Canada can at least agree on one thing - we aren't Liberal.

Oh well, it could be worse.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 24, 2005 03:14 PM

Mark P, I'm surprised you didn't look at Powerline on the "Terri Schiavo Memo" -- the one written by a new Rep Senator's staff and given ('unread' uh-huh) to a Dem Senator, but reported by the Post as given to all Rep Senators by the leadership with a slight weasel word, and then repeated by AP -- without weasel words. And thus wrongly; lying to the public.

No better than most bloggers, but less honest.

The Reps are politically opposing both the Dems AND the MSM -- but the lying bias of MSM might actually be a bigger problem than an asset.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at May 24, 2005 03:17 PM

MJT, the Post doesn't care much about the accuracy of little facts; I learned that when I worked in a government office that spent much time calling Post reporters to correct such things, in the hope that the paper would print material sufficient to provide informed debate among the general public. No such luck.

I believe the Post thinks it is quite enough to get a few big facts right and to quote people accurately. That's a lot more than many newspapers, but a lot less than I think is needed.

You see, Michael, you know it is a bad article because you were there and your friend knows Lebanese history a lot more accurately than the reporter. But almost all the newspaper's readership doesn't know that. Now, just think of all those articles the Post publishes that we don't know if they are right or not because we weren't there to witness events. If they published this article, how accurate can the others be?

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 24, 2005 03:33 PM

MJT, the Post doesn't care much about the accuracy of little facts; I learned that when I worked in a government office that spent much time calling Post reporters to correct such things, in the hope that the paper would print material sufficient to provide informed debate among the general public. No such luck.

Hmm. I've had the same problem with Gelnn Reynolds.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 24, 2005 03:39 PM

... and with Glenn Reynolds as well.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 24, 2005 03:40 PM

Funny thing, the Washington Post and Newsweek are both owned by the same company - and that company isn't doing very well.

According to John Podhoretz, this is just on part of a mass media meltdown:
...the collapse in newspaper circulation may simply be the result of more honest reporting on the part of publishers chastened by the public exposure last year of fraudulent numbers at papers like Newsday and the Dallas Morning News. But it can't be a coincidence that the five major pillars of the American media — movies, television, radio, recorded music and newspapers — are all suffering at the same time. And it isn't. Something major has changed over the past year, as the availability of alternative sources of information and entertainment has finally reached critical mass.

Newly empowered consumers are letting the producers, creators and managers of the nation's creative and news content know that they are dissatisfied with the product they're being peddled.

Indeed.

Posted by: mary at May 24, 2005 05:40 PM

Like the old Saturday Night Live joke, you have to fail an intelligence test to get admitted to journalism school. From there it is all downhill.
The integrity gets jettisoned somewhere along the way.

Posted by: Brent Sundstrom at May 24, 2005 06:16 PM

This is by way of a trackback, which I haven't yet found time to enable, but I've linked your post and Lebanese Political Journal as well. This discussion of the great white north and msm follows a lot of recurring themes, but what fun to have a place to comment and participate in the discussion.

Posted by: Against the Wind at May 24, 2005 06:50 PM

Double-plus-good is playing a little loose with the facts on Canada. He credits former PM Chretien with launching the probe of stolen money but neglects to mention that the Liberal Party had no choice in the matter. The auditor general discovered that over a $100 million of taxpayer's money was filched by the Liberals -- they had no choice but to launch an enquiry.

And our good man Mr. Chretien is currently filing a suit to shut the enquiry down.

The current PM, Paul Martin, is so keen to see the enquiry through that he's been caught lying about his contacts with central figures of the probe. Witness have sworn under oath that Martin knew about the stolen funds.

Finally, while cabinet positions are offered to politicians who change parties, it is illegal to offer them inducements to do so, which is what Mr. Martin's chief aide was caught doing on tape recently. Most importantly, that inducement was the suggestion that the government would call off a police probe of the politician they were seeking to bribe. Personally, the notion that the government can Liberal Party can turn police investigations on and off like a tap is far more worrying to me that the bribe itself.

The interesting thing about double-plus-good's argument is that it echoes the reporting you will find in Canada's MSM. It's glib, uninformed and wholly trusting of the governing Liberals because they conform to the established soft-left, politically correct platitudes of the day.

Posted by: chip at May 24, 2005 07:00 PM

Funny thing, the Washington Post and Newsweek are both owned by the same company - and that company isn't doing very well.

According to John Podhoretz, this is just on part of a mass media meltdown:

This "meltdown" extends to Pod's own paper- the NY Post loses millions every year.

Posted by: Stephen Silver at May 24, 2005 08:59 PM

Mark Poling, I think you are correct--that is certainly part of it, too. A sort of game of journalistic "telephone" or "follow the leader" (follow the lede?) I think there are probably dozens of small things that act in concert to create the entire phenomenon of a press spiraling out of control.

Posted by: neo-neocon at May 24, 2005 09:10 PM

DPU,
I think what has become clear about Canada is that the Westminster system is especially prone to undemocratic abuse and is in the grips of a craven party. Saddam also believed that his torture chambers and mass graves were moral and like Stalin, that the victims were enemies of the people and within the context of his govt, he was right. It's just that in a larger context of justice, he, like Stalin, was wrong.

Your handle is sort of ironic, when you are willing to suspend moral judgement, based on the particular and accidental circumstances of the arrangement of a govt. It is almost as if you have learned not to see things for what they truly are. I wouldn't go so far as to say you have learned to love big brother, but think about it.

The real reason that no other govt has chosen a US style system is that the power of the head of state is so severely limitited. Tony Blair was able to go to Iraq despite the (misguided in my view) opposition of his own people. George Bush could never do that under our system. At this point he would be impeached and removed if the same AdScam charges came out with the same level of evidence against him. What these systems do is demonize the US, so that their benighted citezenry are distracted from the thorough and daily shafting that single-minded log-rolling pluralities like the liberals and the bloc daily dish out.

BTW, if you use a handle ironically (I presume), and I find your ironic use of a handle ironic, do the ironies cancel like a negative? Or do they multiply, like powers of 2? Can I say you have no sense of irony because you don't see the ironies I see based on my beliefs, or do you get to say that because clearly, no double irony was implied by you? Hmmm....

Posted by: moptop at May 25, 2005 05:44 AM

I think what has become clear about Canada is that the Westminster system is especially prone to undemocratic abuse and is in the grips of a craven party. Saddam also believed that his torture chambers and mass graves were moral...

"Also?" Are you saying that those using the Westminster system believe that mass graves and torture are moral?

Your handle is sort of ironic...

No it isn't.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 25, 2005 09:21 AM

I know I'm late to this conversation. And I don't know much about Canadian politics.
But what I do know is that the WP failed.

Ciezadlo's is internally inconsistent. Enough said. The editors should have been able to catch that.
They didn't.
Grade: F

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 25, 2005 09:34 AM

DPU,
So you handle is not intended to be ironic? So you are calling yourself bad in Newspeak with no intention of irony? OK, well that explains a lot.

If you can get a statement of moral equivalance between Westminster and Ba'athism out of what I wrote, then furthur discussion is pointless. I was making the point that morality is a larger question than the rules of a system.

I will use another example, a few years back, Australia was up on New Zealand at Cricket by less than six runs. It was the last over, the final pitch (in American speak). The only way that New Zealand could win the game was to hit the ball over the boundry (hit for six), the Australians rolled the ball so that hitting it in the air was impossible. It may have been according to the rules, but it wasn't cricket. The Westminster system relies on a sense of fair play in the end. The tactic was legal, but not moral.

viz http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22Underarm+Bowling+Incident%22

But don't worry, whatever the question, America is worse, isn't that the tit that Martin gives you to suck on? Like Schoeder, like Chirac, Like Mubarak, I could go on and on. Whatever gets you through the night though.

Posted by: moptop at May 25, 2005 11:02 AM

I guess I could have been clearer. I should have said, "in a similar manner". Boy am I busted. Talk about ungood. You sure delivered a trenchent thrust to the point of a post.

In any event, you country is now a laughingstock, even among Canadians. I live on the border and am surrounded by them, none of them will defend the honor of Martin the way you have. Maybe they feel as you do, but they are ashamed to say it out loud.

Posted by: moptop at May 25, 2005 11:10 AM

If you can get a statement of moral equivalance between Westminster and Ba'athism out of what I wrote, then furthur discussion is pointless.

I was asking for clarification of the word "also."

But don't worry, whatever the question, America is worse, isn't that the tit that Martin gives you to suck on?

WTF? Moptop, you need to rein in on the rambling writing style, you're making some astounding jumps in logic. I mean, illustrating failure in the Westminster system by telling a story about cricket? And then the "America is worse tit"? Get a grip, man. I didn't even vote for Martin's party, much less suck on anything.

Geesh.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 25, 2005 11:11 AM

I live on the border and am surrounded by them, none of them will defend the honor of Martin the way you have.

I haven't, I clarified some points made in an earlier comment. To wit, Martin's assumed guilt by opinion poll, and some points about the Canadian parliamentary system and courts. You're reading a lot into what I said for some reason.

And that's spelled "honour".

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at May 25, 2005 11:17 AM

If you can't understand the point of the cricket comparison, even if you disagree with it, you are either completely and abusrdly literal minded, hence the disavowal of irony, or you are indulging in some kind of 4th degree irony/sarcasm. I hope it's the latter, because if it is the former, well, then I am ashamed of myself for picking on you.

Posted by: moptop at May 26, 2005 05:50 AM

Oh yeah, it's only spelled "honour" in those countries, like yours and England, who were conquered or controlled at some time by the French. Or the loyal subjects of their royal families. We speak English here with a more Anglo-Saxon bent. You would think after the corruption of Martin, Chretien, Chirac (oil for food and all of his other scandals), that you would be less proud of the vestiges of French power and thought that remain in your language.

Posted by: moptop at May 26, 2005 05:54 AM

OK, that last comment was over even my mop top.

Posted by: moptop at May 26, 2005 05:57 AM
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