If you will endulge me. All the fuss and feathers about how the media made a swamp-dwelling xenophobe into the Most Dangerous Man in the World for a few days fired a circuit chip in my brain. The following is an editorial I wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune of August 6, 2004. It was kind of controversial around town for a few hours. Even some folks in the newsroom thought I'd stepped over the line. But it remains one of my favorite pieces. I think it speaks for itself. With a couple of links dropped in for background.
Go Away Police have determined that a young woman reported missing a couple of weeks ago was murdered. They say her husband did it. Even the suspect's family says he has confessed. He is in jail. Hundreds of volunteers who were scouring the foothills and putting up posters have been thanked and sent home. Police are left to dig through the local landfill. Incessant national media attention no longer serves any purpose. Unlike the Elizabeth Smart case, there is no reason to hope that Lori Hacking will be spotted at a truck stop in North Platte, or a trailer park in Yakima, no point in spreading the all-points bulletin to everyone with a television set and a cell phone. So, with all due respect and thanks, we have a simple message to the national media paratroops who have parachuted into Salt Lake City for another juicy story on a missing white woman: Go away. This is a local story, involving the pain of local people, investigated and prosecuted by local officials and thoroughly covered by the local media. Further reporting of this story for any other audience, beyond short updates, is a waste of videotape, ink and, most of all, time. When this story is all over it might, in the hands of a perceptive writer, make a good magazine article. But it really appears no different than the sad tales of hundreds of other women who, each year, are killed by those they trusted the most. For Fox News, MSNBC and, most disappointing of all, CNN -- the Network of Record -- to be spending so much time hashing, rehashing and, most of all, speculating on the gory details of this single case is an excellent example of what's wrong with the mass media today. Every minute spent by Larry King or Fox News on Lori Hacking or Laci Peterson is a minute they don't spend on health care, education, environmental quality, national security, the economy or other real issues that should be the center of public attention, especially in an election year. A nation full of people who know more about Scott Peterson's defense strategy than they do about Donald Rumsfeld's is not a nation that shows much ability to govern itself. Local folks have a right and a duty to look over the shoulder of their criminal justice system as it does its job. Reporters from other media outlets can and should be available to backstop the locals whenever there is reason to believe that those closest to the story were seduced into joining either a lynch mob or a whitewash. But for so much of the talent, time and resources of our worldwide media to be spent on a story of strictly local importance displays no courage and little imagination. Instead, it is a symptom of a perverse laziness on the part of both the media and its audience. So it's time for the circus to pack up and leave town. Don't worry. If anything happens, we'll let you know.
I told you we shouldn't have let those guys from The New York Times into our Editorial Board meeting a couple of weeks ago. They must have bugged the place. How else would they have known to run their editorial take-down of Rick Lazio, the leading [for now] Republican candidate for governor, on the same day The Buffalo News Opinion page carried an Another Voice column by the self same Lazio? Viz:
- Attorney general should investigate mosque funding - Rick Lazio/Another Voice/The Buffalo News ... Given the imam’s statements and his reported ties to radical organizations, it would seem like a fair question to ask, especially when a spokesman for the imam wouldn’t rule out taking money from Iran. Furthermore, it’s also fair to ask why, exactly, Rauf has demanded that the mosque be built so close to ground zero. This is, first and foremost, a security issue. New Yorkers deserve to be safe and to feel safe, and we have a right to know who’s footing the bill for Rauf’s mega mosque.
- Mr. Lazio’s Bid for Attention - New York Times Editorial The former congressman Rick Lazio may be the front-runner in the Republican primary race for New York governor, but he lags far behind the Democratic nominee, Andrew Cuomo, in both the polls and fund-raising. That may explain, but can never excuse, his increasingly hysterical attacks on plans to build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from ground zero. At least they didn't call him Little Ricky again.
Also: - A Test of Tolerance - Christopher Hitchens/Slate Emboldened by the crass nature of the opposition to the center, its defenders have started to talk as if it represented no problem at all and as if the question were solely one of religious tolerance. It would be nice if this were true. But tolerance is one of the first and most awkward questions raised by any examination of Islamism. We are wrong to talk as if the only subject was that of terrorism. As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind. Sometimes it will be calls for censorship of anything "offensive" to Islam. Sometimes it will be demands for sexual segregation in schools and swimming pools. The script is becoming a very familiar one. And those who make such demands are of course usually quite careful to avoid any association with violence. They merely hint that, if their demands are not taken seriously, there just might be a teeny smidgeon of violence from some other unnamed quarter …
And, today's Best of Show: [More than nine minutes long. Worth. Every. Second.]
The best minds of the Buffalo News Opinion section today turned their attention to intelligence. And gardening.
- Confused intelligence - Buffalo News Editorial Board You just might remember this: "As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions." Of course, if "Mission: Impossible" leader Jim Phelps were operating in the real world of 2010, instead of the TV universe of the late '60s and early '70s, it would be more than likely that no U.S. government official would have to "disavow" anything. Officials truly might not have a clue what their own government espionage teams were up to. In an overwhelming series of reports that began Monday, the Washington Post outlines the astounding growth of the American intelligence apparatus in the years since the terrorist attacks of 2001. The Post was able to document at least 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies, scattered among at least 10,000 locations across the country, now working on some aspect of counter-terrorism, intelligence and homeland security. It was also able to count the construction of 33 top-secret building complexes -- spies always work from "complexes" -- in the Washington, D.C., area and the awarding of top-secret security clearances to 854,000 people. Didn't get yours? It's probably lost in the bureaucracy someplace.
[Photo from the new spy movie "Salt," barely related to the topic at hand. Though it does provide a way to get a photo of Angelina Jolie on my blog. Also, her father, Jon Voight, played Jim Phelps in the movie version of M:I, starring Tom Cruise, who was once slated to be the star of "Salt." It all fits.]
- The Runaway General - Michael Hastings/Rolling Stone "How'd I get screwed into going to this dinner?" demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It's a Thursday night in mid-April, and the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sitting in a four-star suite at the Hôtel Westminster in Paris. He's in France to sell his new war strategy to our NATO allies – to keep up the fiction, in essence, that we actually have allies. Since McChrystal took over a year ago, the Afghan war has become the exclusive property of the United States. Opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany's president and sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him. "The dinner comes with the position, sir," says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn. McChrystal turns sharply in his chair. "Hey, Charlie," he asks, "does this come with the position?" McChrystal gives him the middle finger.
And here is just a sampling of the pixels that have been spilled on the story about the story: