Monday, October 18, 2004
Demonizing believers: When I saw Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine piece "Without a Doubt" come over the wires last week, two thoughts came to mind.
First, it makes Public Editor Daniel Okrent's piece the previous week claiming that the Times plays it pretty straight when it comes to covering the presidential campaign look pretty laughable. The same day that piece ran, the magazine ran a fawning article on Sen. John Kerry -- which did contain a few gems. A week later, we get a hit piece from Suskind. Mr. Okrent -- irony alert!
No bias? The Times has Suskind do a piece on President Bush 2 1/2 weeks before the election and there's nary a peep from the liberal media watchdog groups that are screaming bloody murder about Sinclair Broadcasting's plan to air an anti-Kerry documentary. Would the Times consider having John O'Neill write a piece on Kerry for next Sunday? I don't think so, and liberals would be apoplectic if he did.
Second, this is a typical Times piece dealing with religious belief. If there's an evangelical Christian in the Times newsroom, they must appear to all of the editors and reporters to be some sort of three-headed, antennaed, green-hued space alien. Editorial columnist Nick Kristof is the only person who occasionally manages to look a little deeper and with a little bit more of an open mind than his colleagues -- but at least he tries.
Suskind paints President Bush, because of his Christian faith, as closeminded, intolerant and demanding of "yes men" as his closest advisers.
Suskind starts out the piece using conservative/libertarian economist Bruce Bartlett to whack Bush, but as National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru has noted, Suskind colors Bartlett's words to get exactly what he wants.
He neither remembers specifically nor disputes the quotes Suskind attributes to him. He does think Suskind got the context wrong a few times. Suskind quotes Bartlett as predicting a “civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3” and then says that Bartlett sees it as “the same [conflict] raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.” Bartlett says that “civil war” may have been hyperbolic. He adds, “My discussion of the civil war within the republican party had absolutely nothing to do with religion.” He meant only that conservatives upset with Bush’s record on, say, spending but not eager to hurt him before the election would feel freer to complain on Nov. 3—and that the presidential contest for 2008 would also bring out complaints from people to Bush’s right.
What about the quote about Bush’s being “just like” the enemy in the war on terrorism? “When I was talking about how Bush was like Al Qaeda, I didn’t mean that in a negative sense.” [I’ll let him continue, but you have to admit it’s a pretty funny line standing alone—RP.] “I think it is a source of strength to have a leader who understands his enemy so well. What I mean is that—someone who is of a secular nature, their inclination is to believe everyone can be reasoned with. For somebody who has deep faith, they understand that you cannot reason with some people. I mean, you cannot be reasoned with about your [own] faith. Knowing your enemy is an important part of defeating them and if you understand that these people cannot be reasoned with because his faith is as deep as your faith, the only thing to do is to kill them.”
The quote in the magazine makes it sound as though Bartlett thinks that Bush, like “Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalists,” is an “extremist,” “driven by a dark vision.” I don’t believe that the argument he made to me is sound. I think he is exaggerating the unreasonableness of faith, and I think plenty of secular people are capable of seeing religious people as unreasonable—all too capable, in some cases. If the quote is accurate, he could have found a better way to say what he meant (but remember, he didn’t think he was going to be quoted). But I do think that what he told me is what he meant.
There was one other thing that I saw in Suskind's hit-job that had me scratching my head.
Looking back at the months directly following 9/11, virtually every leading military analyst seems to believe that rather than using Afghan proxies, we should have used more American troops, deployed more quickly, to pursue Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora.
"Virtually every"? Mr. Suskind, name one (who didn't run for the democratic nomination for president last fall). As Kerry's brought up this very same talking point in recent weeks, virtually every leading military analyst I've heard has said that sending tons of American troops into the mountains of Tora Bora would've been a mistake -- the Soviets sent several divisions into those mountains in the 1980s and got their butts kicked.
Mr. Suskind, you're good at dropping names. Drop a couple.