April 2006, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
This Diagram of Mary McCarthy's Connections will grow, if not at this site, at another. But it is already pretty interesting.
- 3:45 PM, 24 April 2006 [link]
Well, They Would Say That, Wouldn't They? Near the end of this Washington Post story on the firing of CIA officer Mary McCarthy is this little paragraph:
The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials.Anonymous intelligence officials, with no motives that the Post wants to share with us. Let's be just a little more curious than the Post reporters, R. Jeffrey Smith and Dafna Linzer. Who in the CIA would tell this story, and why? Those who have followed the CIA war on President Bush more closely than I have might be able to guess at the names, but anyone can guess that the story came from enemies of the president. And their motives are obvious enough, too, The anonymous "senior intelligence officials" are trying to undermine the investigation of the leaks in the CIA.
That's so easy that even Washington Post reporters should be able to figure it out — if they wanted to. In fact, they probably didn't have to figure it out; they know that these anonymous officials were enemies of Bush and that they were trying to undermine the investigation — and the reporters wanted to help those officials undermine the investigation.
Let's rewrite that paragraph, adding those perfectly obvious inferences:
CIA officials opposed to President Bush claimed that the investigation into leaks at the CIA included questions about political affiliations. The anonymous officials hope to delay and discredit the investigation of leaks at the CIA. The officials produced no evidence that such questions had, in fact, been asked.I don't know whether the investigators asked about political affiliations. But neither does the Washington Post, nor the lefty bloggers who grabbed on to this paragraph like drowning men grabbing for a life preserver. (For examples, see these posts by David Corn, Kevin Drum, and Josh Marshall.) But I do know this: That's just what the CIA officials who have been at war with President Bush would say, whether or not anyone actually asked about political affiliations during this investigation.
(There is, of course, nothing illegitimate about asking about poltical affiliations. In fact, if an allegiance to the left wing of the Democratic party is the main motive for these leaks, as it appears, then an investigator would not be doing his job if he did not inquire into political affiliations. Granted, this may be more obvious to those who do not belong to the Democratic party, but it should be obvious even to Democrats, if they think about the problem for a bit.
If the quote I used for the title of this post seems vaguely familiar, that's because I borrowed the thought from Mandy Rice-Davies, though not her exact words.)
- 7:57 AM, 24 April 2006 [link]
In A Modern Democracy, elected officials make policy, and appointed officials, usually bureaucrats, execute policy. Is that concept too complicated? I hope not, because it it is fundamental. Nonetheless, there are those who do not (or perhaps pretend they do not) understand it. For examples, see this post by journalist Joe Gandelman, or this post by extremist professor, Juan Cole. (Cole is not just any professor; he is also the current president of the Middle East Studies Association, which would be hilarious, if we did not so desperately need good academic studies of the Middle East.)
Gandelman and Cole both argue that the Bush administration is using leaks for its own ends, while attacking those who use them against the administration. They neglect the fundamental point I just stated above: Elected officials have every right to decide which information to declassify; bureaucrats do not. In particular, when President Bush declassified part of an intelligence document in order to reply to the false charges being made by Joseph Wilson, he was acting legally and prudently. When CIA bureaucrat Mary O. McCarthy disclosed secrets to Dana Priest of the Washington Post, she was breaking the law. And, she was undermining a fundamental principle of any modern democracy. If McCarthy wants to make policy, she should run for office.
It really is that simple. So why don't Gandelman and Cole understand this simple concept? I have no idea, but I do think they ought to explain.
Finally, Gandelman, Cole, and others on the left ought to think about the long term consequences of backing bureaucrats against elected officials. Some time, though hopefully not soon, there will be a Democrat in the White House. Undoubtedly, a few Republican bureaucrats will try to undermine that president, as, for example, Defense Department bureaucrats undermined President Clinton. I was appalled by that, even though I did not vote for Clinton in 1992 or 1996, and generally agreed with the Pentagon bureaucrats on policy. If you believe in elections, you should have shared my disgust then, and share it now, regardless of the rest of your political views.
(If you compare the two posts, you'll see that Gandelman's post is more honest than Cole's. The journalist is careful to say that some leaks are "alleged"; the professor does not bother with that essential qualification. I'll just add that every administration "leak" that Cole cites has been denied, a point that an honest journalist, or even an honest academic, would want to include in any discussion of this issue.)
- 9:01 AM, 23 April 2006 [link]
Porter Goss Catches A Big One: When Porter Goss was named head of the CIA, everyone knew that part of his job would be to root out the cabal there that believed that their principal enemy was the elected president of the United States, George W. Bush, not some unimportant terrorists. (Which is why, of course, there was so much resistance to Goss taking the job, from some.)
The firing of Mary McCarthy shows that Goss hasn't lost all his skills from his previous time in the CIA. I'll have much more on this, including some proper links tomorrow or Monday, but, for now, just contemplate some of these facts: McCarthy was favored during the Clinton administration and pushed far higher than seems reasonable, given her credentials and time of service. She has close ties to many open Bush critics, including some who have been completely discredited. The story she leaked to Dana Priest of the Washington Post may have been false — which should delight the Pulitzer folks, since they just gave Priest one of their big reprimands. McCarthy and her husband, who do not appear to be exceptionally wealthy, gave about $10,000 to the Democrats during the 2004 campaign. Just from what we have learned so far, McCarthy may be facing significant time in prison. There are many other open leak investigations, so Goss is just getting started.
Those who think that the alliance between anti-Bush people in the CIA, the "mainstream" media, and the left wing of the Democratic party needs discrediting could hardly have asked for a better beginning. It is going to be fun to watch this scandal grow. And it is going to be amusing to watch news organizations that are a central part of this story try to cover it.
Oh, and one more point. So far, I have read nothing, I repeat nothing, that even suggests that she had great success as a CIA analyst and manager. Now that may be because her successes must be kept secret. But it is also possible that she is one of those people who are adept at playing the bureaucratic game, but never produce anything worthwhile.
- 2:44 PM, 22 April 2006 [link]
Declassification During The Clinton Administration: While looking for material on Richard Blum, I found this amusing story:
On July 31 , the U.S. News & World Report published a classified diagram of America's W-87 nuclear warhead. Allegedly, a reporter for the magazine obtained the document from Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary during an interview. According to Rep. Curt Weldon (Republican-Pennsylvania), O'Leary "opened up a ledger of classified documents sitting on her desk and proceeded to show the reporter a diagram of the W-87 warhead in order to prove a point. She then handed the classified diagram of the nuclear warhead to the reporter. Her staff attempted to protest, pointing out that the document was classified. O'Leary hesitated a moment, took the document back from the reporter, crossed out the word 'classified' and promptly gave it back to the U.S. News staffer."Not that anyone should worry about such trivia being declassified. (Though to be fair, let me note the "Allegedly".)
Whatever the truth of this story, the timeline it forms a small part of should make it clear to anyone that the Chines government sought to obtain our military secrets by bribery during Clinton's time in office — and to some extent succeeded.
- 2:38 PM, 21 April 2006 [link]
Senator Feinstein And Richard Blum: California's senior senator surprised some with this declaration:
In remarks certain to please visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Thursday told a gathering of Chinese-American business and cultural leaders in San Francisco that the United States has no obligation to defend Taiwan if it provokes China into a military confrontation.Here's the context for that declaration:
Feinstein, who in 1979 as mayor of San Francisco brokered a sister-city relationship between San Francisco and Shanghai, blasted Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian in her speech. Chen, she said, has taken what she characterized as a provocative and belligerent stance toward mainland China, all for his personal political gain, in hopes that he can be hailed as the savior who stands up to Communist China.So, as I understand it, what Feinstein was saying was that we would not protect Taiwan if, for instance, they were to unilaterally declare their independence. (They are independent, of course; they just can't say so. And I don't know whether Feinstein's interpretation of the treaty we have with Taiwan is correct. It might depend on the meaning of "provoke".)
But her views on the treaty are not what concern me here. Instead, I want to point out a longstanding conflict of interest. Her husband is Richard Blum, who is, among other things, co-chairman of Newbridge Capital, which invests in Asian companies. Here are the companies they choose to highlight: Advanced Internet Technologies (Indonesia), Hanaro Telecom (Korea), HiChina (China). Japan Telecom (Japan), Korea First Bank Korea), Lenovo (China), Matrix Laboratories Limited (India), Parkway Holdings Limited (Asia), Raffles (Singapore), Shenzhen development Bank (China), and Zoom Networks (China). You'll notice that Newbridge has three significant investments in China, and none in Taiwan.
Do her husband's investments affect her views on China? I don't know of any evidence that they do — or any evidence that they don't, for that matter. But his immense investments in a nation that very much wants to influence our policies do make for a clear conflict of interest, though one that the voters of California have, so far, been willing to accept.
(We are going to have more of these conflicts of interest if dual-career couples become even more common. For instance, suppose one spouse works for the Democratic party and the other works for a news organization covering national politics. Will the second be tempted to help the first? Certainly. And some will succumb to the temptation.
Some readers will wonder whether Richard Blum was involved in the "Chinagate" scandal. Possibly, given that he attended an important meeting at the White House.)
- 11:09 AM, 21 April 2006 [link]
Worth Reading: Jack Shafer shows us how the New York Times failed in its coverage, especially its initial coverage, of a sensational case.
The fairness of a trial-by-newspaper, of course, depends on how closely a news organization apes the practices of official courts. Fairness requires it to consider not only the statements and evidence of the accuser, but that of the accused, no matter how heinous the charge. By that measure, the New York Times has failed the two Duke University lacrosse players who were indicted Tuesday of raping a woman during a party in an off-campus house on March 13.The New York Times wasn't the only news organization to fail on this case, though they may have been worse than most.
- 7:23 AM, 21 April 2006 [link]
If You Like Terrible Puns, or if you dislike Tom Cruise, you will like the headline on this article: Yes Suri, the baby's fine, but Tom Cruise is saying little else.
(I love terrible puns, and barely know who Tom Cruise is.)
- 3:04 PM, 20 April 2006 [link]
Worth A Look: This graph showing the relationship between Bush's popularity and gasoline prices. They are inversely related, as you might expect. But you might be surprised, as I was, by how strong the relationship appears to be.
(By way of Orrin Judd.)
- 1:41 PM, 20 April 2006 [link]
Everyday Miracles: On my desk is an ad from a regional chain, Fred Meyer. Among other things, Fred Meyer is offering to sell me chicken breasts at 98 cents a pound, and oranges at 48 cents a pound. It is easy to forget just how miraculous those two offers are. When Henri IV said that even the poorest working man (or perhaps peasant*) in France should be able to eat chicken every Sunday, he was thought extravagant by some. Now, an American can work at the minimum wage for an hour, and buy enough chicken to have it every day of the week.
Equally miraculous is that offer to sell me oranges, which are not grown commercially anywhere near here. (I suppose that a few people grow them in greenhouses.) Somehow the farmers can grow and pick the oranges, the shippers can move them from California, and Fred Meyer can sell them to me, all for less than fifty cents a pound. Granted, the usual prices are higher, and sometimes hit three dollars a pound in this area, but this is still miraculous.
We live in an age of miracles, most of them so common, we don't even notice them.
(*My Oxford Dictionary of Quotations says poor peasant (pauvre paysan), which is the version I have usually heard.)
- 9:20 AM, 20 April 2006 [link]
What Did You learn In School Today? If you were studying to be an iman in London, you might have learned this:
Muslim students training to be imams at a British college with strong Iranian links have complained that they are being taught fundamentalist doctrines which describe nonMuslims as "filth".Be interesting to know what those conditions are, but the Times article doesn't get into that.
Some observations: It is good that some of the students complained. And I can't criticize them for doing so anonymously, since students all over the world generally prefer not to criticize their teachers in public. That point about the "sister" institution makes it appear that the British government may be, indirectly, subsidizing this. Finally, if I were to give a political description of Hawza Ilmiyya, I'd call it an Iranian front organization.
(Here's Middlesex University, if you are curious about the institution. Among other things, they say:
Where possible, we work in partnership with other outstanding institutions to offer the very best and widest higher education opportunities.Having looked at a list of their partners, I would have to say that I would not consider all of them "outstanding", though I might agree with them on the "widest". Maybe I am just too picky.)
- 8:34 AM, 20 April 2006 [link]
I Blame Bush for this, too.
In what appears to be an amazing success for American medicine, preliminary government figures released Wednesday showed that the annual number of deaths in the U.S. dropped by nearly 50,000 in 2004 — the biggest decline in nearly 70 years.Bush and the evil drug companies. And possibly the evil HMOs.
If the decrease is real, it will be fascinating to learn the explanation, or explanations, for this unexpected drop. And I was not entirely joking when I suggested that the drug companies and the HMOs might have something to do with the decrease, assuming it's real.
- 3:40 PM, 19 April 2006 [link]
Few Men will find these results surprising.
Catching sight of a pretty woman really is enough to throw a man's decision-making skills into disarray, a study suggests.At least if they are honest with themselves. (I suspect most women know this, too.)
- 3:23 PM, 19 April 2006 [link]
William Bayard Hale: For years, I have wondered whether some Western journalists have been corrupted by our enemies. One reason for that worry is what I have learned over the years about what this journalist did for Imperial Germany before World War I. Here are the essential facts from Barbara Tuchman's book, The Zimmerman Telegram.
At Zimmerman's press conference, just before the fatal words were spoken, William Bayard Hale, who was in Berlin as Hearst correspondent, tried to head him off. Hale was at this time and had been for two years a paid German agent, under actual contract to the German government at $15,000 a year as a propaganda advisor to the German embassy in America, but this status was not known at the time and did not become known until much later. (p. 183)William Bayard Hale was not an ordinary American journalist. He had written a campaign biography of Woodrow Wilson, and had gone on a mission to Mexico for the president, a foolish mission, as it happens. But his sympathy for the German cause was so great that he willingly worked as their agent. (And I don't suppose the cash hurt.)
He was not the only American journalist to work for the Kaiser during that time, as you can see from this review of British and German propaganda efforts in the United States before we entered World War I.
Is there any reason to believe that modern journalists have higher standards than those of a century ago? Perhaps, on the average, they do. And modern journalists may be watched more carefully by their editors. But it seems entirely plausible to me that at least a few Western journalists, out of sympathy with our enemies, or a desire for cash, or both, have done what William Bayard Hale did, and sold out to our enemies.
(If you need a historical review on the Zimmerman telegram, you can find one here.
By the way, The Zimmerman Telegram is one of the three Barbara Tuchman books I can recommend without reservation; the other two are The Proud Tower and The Guns of August. They were, I believe, her first three books.)
- 1:15 PM, 19 April 2006 [link]
Will The Republicans Lose The House This Fall? I have not done an analysis yet on that question, but others are beginning to think they might. The betters were giving the Democrats a 45 percent chance, when last I looked. That's about the same odds that the oddsmaker for Campaigns and Elections, Ron Faucheux, is giving. Michael Barone thinks a Democratic takeover is possible, but not likely, as he explains in this column. Jay Cost has the most interesting analysis that I have seen, which you can find here and here. He gives the Democrats less chance to control the House than most observers.
But what about the House? To take the House, the Democrats would have to net 15 seats. Can they do this? As readers of my previous work have undoubtedly noted, I believe the answer is no, and the firmness with which I hold this opinion stands as an exception to the current consensus.So it does. I'll have to study the question more before I decide whether I agree with his analysis. I would add one tentative point that supports it, though I will admit that I have never seen a formal analysis on this. I believe that, everything else being equal, the party that is out of favor with the media tends to gain during the campaign, simply because some voters get to hear the other side of the argument. In the United States, that would mean that the Republicans would gain in most campaigns. But there is another factor that may hurt the Republicans, also media related. During 2004, as the economy improved, the voters' perception of the economy got worse, something I discussed at length, here. Whatever caused that divergence between reality and perception — my guess is the Democratic primary campaign and the echoing of the charges made in that campaign by the media — might still be operating, and hurting the Republican chances.
- 7:20 AM, 19 April 2006 [link]
I Blame Bush.
Stocks soared Tuesday on news that Federal Reserve policymakers believed their run of interest rate hikes is likely nearing an end, propelling the Dow Jones industrials up nearly 200 points. The report helped offset the effects of oil prices that passed $71 a barrel.Specifically, his economic policies.
And, if I may return to being serious for a moment, it is a fact that, when Clinton took office, the economy was in a recovery; when Clinton left office, it was sliding into a mild recession. One can argue about how much presidents should be blamed, or credited, for the performance of the economy while they are in office, but the timing of that recovery and that recession does suggest that Clinton may deserve less credit for the economy during the 1990s than he likes to claim.
- 3:51 PM, 18 April 2006 [link]
What Do The Privates Think? In the last few weeks, six retired generals have called for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign. Why? That's less clear than one would like.
Six retired generals have now called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the grounds that . . . well, just what has the Secretary done, or not done, that justifies his removal from the Pentagon in the middle of a war?How representative these six generals are is hard to say. There are thousands of retired generals, but many of them may believe they should stay out of politics, regardless of their views on Rumsfeld, positive or negative.
But we do have a good measure of what the enlisted troops, the privates, the corporals, and the sergeants, believe. They are re-enlisting at record rates. Those with the most direct experience of Rumsfeld's decisions are choosing to stay in the services. If the privates, corporals, and sergeants think that Rumsfeld is mismanaging the Defense Department, they have picked a bizarre way to show their discontent.
- 3:36 PM, 18 April 2006 [link]
Cheap Web Hosting Services: I have put up fewer posts here recently because I have been looking for a cheap web hosting company. One possibility is 1and1, which offers very cheap packages, but has a reputation for mediocre support. Another possibility is Lunarpages, which offers cheap packages, and has a reputation for good support. My needs are simple, so the Home package from 1and1, or the Basic package from Lunarpages, should be more than enough. If, by any chance, you know something about either of these companies — or have an alternative that you think I should consider, please let me know.
(If, like me, you are a novice in these matters, you may be surprised at just how cheap these services are. After some thought, I decided that what you buy from these companies is some rented space on disk drives, a tiny share of their internet connection, and possibly a little support from their technicians. The first two are quite cheap, and the third can be, if they provide you with good web site tools.)
- 1:47 PM, 18 April 2006 [link]
Two More Victims Of Bush Derangement Syndrome: First, from the Washington Post, Maryscott O'Connor.
In the angry life of Maryscott O'Connor, the rage begins as soon as she opens her eyes and realizes that her president is still George W. Bush. The sun has yet to rise and her family is asleep, but no matter; as soon as the realization kicks in, O'Connor, 37, is out of bed and heading toward her computer.Second, from the northwest Indiana Post-Tribune, Vikram Buddhi.
A Purdue University graduate student was arrested and charged with threatening to kill President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.Is is unfair to link these two together? Perhaps a little. But suppose that you agreed with O'Connor that Bush is the "Antichrist". Would not killing him be appropriate? (Assuming that was possible.) And, although O'Connor would not, I assume, favor raping and mutilating British and American women, it is hard not to believe that she would favor something terrible happening to those who lead the Catholic church.
Here is what I would say to O'Connor, if she were to listen to me, which seems unlikely. Your messages of hate may inspire someone to act on them. Is that what you really want? If not, shouldn't you stop the hate? All of us who write, even on modest blogs, should think about how others might act after reading what we write.
(There's a bit of irony in the Post piece. O'Connor decides to start her hate posts with one on Darfur. Here's what Nat Hentoff, a man of the left, says about which world leader has been clearest on Darfur.
On March 25, at Freedom House in Washington, D.C., George W. Bush — who has been more outspoken on the mass murders in Darfur than any world leader — said: "When we say genocide, we mean genocide must be stopped!" The African Union's small force, he added, is not enough. "There should be a NATO overlay" of support.But the rest of NATO doesn't agree with Bush, and neither does the UN.)
- 11:37 AM, 18 April 2006 [link]
Marianne Jennings agrees with my point that Katie Couric will face hostility from conservatives as the new CBS anchor. But that is just a part of her argument that Couric does not match the job.
But, the mismatches had only begun. Then Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright" showed up in Little Friskies ads. Not that cats dancing to Joe Cocker wasn't a common thing in the 60s. They danced in many an hallucination, just not on television commercials. Then Bob Dylan allowed Victoria's Secret to use his "Love Sick" as the backdrop for its ads. Who would have thought capitalism and royalties for lingerie ads were the answers blowin' in the wind, my friends?Anyone who wants more from the news than fluff and bias will not miss Couric, when she does join that quartet.
(I had missed the Dylan-Victoria Secret connection, which shows you how little I watch television, or listen to Dylan's later works.)
- 7:10 AM, 18 April 2006 [link]
Verizon's Left Bureaucracy doesn't know what its right bureaucracy is doing. As I mentioned in this post, when I first tried to sign up for DSL with my local phone company, I was told there was no room on their lines. (Most likely they had run out of capacity on their local DSLAM.) But I didn't have to wait long before they could sign me up.
When I was told to wait, Verizon, naturally, offered to tell me when they could give me the service. Today I received a postcard telling me that they were ready to set up DSL — at their lowest speed. One would think that before the computer program sends out these postcards, it would check the recipients against their DSL subscriber list — but one would be wrong.
To be fair, I should add that, so far, I have had zero problems with the connection, and that it has operated at about 90 percent of the promised speed (3 mbps down and 768 kbps up), which is as good as one can expect. And the price is reasonable. (I have yet to try out their email service.)
- 12:54 PM, 17 April 2006 [link]
Kevin Drum Joins The Republicans: Just on one issue, granted, but an important issue, nuclear energy. After reading a pro-nuclear energy piece by Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, the chief blogger at the liberal Washington Monthly concluded:
This is something that I've struggled with too, but Moore's case is persuasive. There aren't any other realistic alternatives for replacing coal-fired facilities, and the issues of safety, waste, and terrorism, though genuine, are manageable.Welcome aboard, Kevin. Here's what the 2004 Republican party platform had to say on the subject:
Nuclear power provides America with affordable, emissions-free energy. We believe nuclear power can help reduce our dependence on foreign energy and play an invaluable role in addressing global climate change. President Bush supports construction of new nuclear power plants through the Nuclear Power 2010 initiative, and continues to move forward on creating an environmentally sound nuclear waste repository. (p. 52)In contrast, here's what the 2004 Democratic party platform has to say:
We will protect Nevada and its communities from the high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca mountain which has not been proven to be safe by sound science.And that's all the Democrats have to say about nuclear energy.
Drum may feel better about this if I add that he is also joining the vast majority of nuclear scientists. For decades, the opposition to commercial nuclear energy has come, mostly, from superstitious environmentalists on the left, while the strongest support has come from scientists who actually know something about the subject. On this issue, the Republicans have (mostly) sided with the scientists and the Democrats have (mostly) sided with the superstitious.
(Nuclear energy is one of the subjects that our news organizations habitually botch. If you wonder why I am less worried about safety than most journalists, consider these facts. The Three Mile Island meltdown was by far the worst nuclear accident in the United States. How many deaths resulted?
No identifiable injuries due to radiation occurred (a government report concluded that "the projected number of excess fatal cancers due to the accident ... is approximately one."), . . .It is true that the Chernobyl meltdown was much worse, though far from as bad as first thought. But it is also true that the Chernobyl reactor had a crazy design and no containment building. To understand just how crazy the design was, imagine a reverse thermostat that increased heat as the temperature went up. As engineers would say, the system had positive feedback, which is a very bad thing in such systems.
And Chernobyl was atypical.
The Chernobyl accident was a unique event, on a scale by itself. It was the first time in the history of commercial nuclear electricity generation that radiation-related fatalities occurred, and was for a long time the only such incident (since then an accident at the Japanese Tokaimura nuclear fuel reprocessing plant on September 30, 1999, resulted in the radiation related death of one worker on December 22 of that same year and another on April 27, 2000).The best argument that nuclear power can be generated safely is the record. It has been safe for decades, and is far safer now than it once was. (And, as I understand it, can be made even safer with new reactor designs.)
Finally, here's a rule of thumb that I have found invaluable. If someone argues that nuclear waste is an unsolved technical problem, or even a serious technical problem, they are either lying, or ignorant. It is, like many other NIMBY problems, a difficult political problem.)
- 10:44 AM, 17 April 2006 [link]
Did Your Newspaper Ignore Easter? About one third of the world's population, or 2.1 billion people, are Christians. Nearly all Christians consider Easter the most important religious holiday, though there are a few small sects that do not. One would think that a holiday observed by 2 billion people would draw a little attention from the press. But the newspapers that I saw yesterday mostly ignored Easter. There was no mention of the holiday on the front page of the New York Times. The Seattle Times put an awkward "Easter Greetings" on their front page, making me suspect that they really wanted to say "Seasons Greetings" and skip the religious part entirely. Their big Easter story, "Peeptacular", was on a candy chick. (Confession: I can't recall ever having eaten a Peep, though I suppose I must have, at one time.) The King County Journal did put a straightforward "Happy Easter" on their front page, but did no more than that.
The exception was the Seattle PI, or to be more specific, the editorial pages of the Seattle PI, which published two pieces on Easter. (As part of their joint operating agreement, the two Seattle papers publish a single paper on Sunday. The Sunday news is done entirely by the Seattle Times, but there is an editorial section divided between the two papers.) Granted, the two pieces were done by a liberal Protestant and a liberal Catholic, but they did appear, and on Easter. For that, the PI editorial page editor, Mark Trahant, deserves more than a little credit.
Why don't the newspapers cover Easter, a holiday celebrated by 2 billion people? The explanation seems obvious enough. Nearly all journalists, at least in the West, are, as the Adherents calls them, "nonreligious", atheists, agnostics, and the like. They don't believe, and are uncomfortable with those who do. (I won't go so far as to say that they are bigoted, though at least a few of them are.) So journalists minimize their coverage of Easter and other religious stories, even though many of their readers want more coverage of those stories. This strikes me as both poor journalism, and bad for the newspapers' circulation.
(Our local NPR station, KUOW, also took note of Easter, in its own way. On Weekend Edition, Liane Hansen broadcast a long piece on a group of feminists who are claiming that the early church was more accepting of women in authority than the modern Catholic church. The piece was interesting, though I would liked to have heard other views on their claims, but it was an odd piece to broadcast on Easter — unless you work for NPR.
This is a good time to repeat advice I have given to my friends at our newspapers before: In general, the civil rights laws in the United States protect those of different religions against discrimination in the same way they protect those of different races. The lack of religious believers in our newsrooms will result in a successful lawsuit against a major news organization within the next decade, I would predict. An expensive, embarrassing, damaging lawsuit. A newspaper that has no one on its staff that can cover Easter is simply asking for trouble.)
- 8:06 AM, 17 April 2006 [link]