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April 24, 2003

From the Guardian:

Washington's battle to win public support in the Arab world has begun in earnest with the first broadcasts of what officials say will become a 24-hour satellite television network aimed at changing minds throughout the region by American-style morning chat-shows, sports, news and children's programmes.
...A full-service version should be broadcasting 24 hours a day to 22 countries in the Middle East by the end of the year..."

"We don't do propaganda," says Norman Pattiz, who will be overseeing the channel's development.

Of course, what he means, I think, is that they won't be doing clumsy, ineffective propaganda. But I can't imagine our government is putting up $66 million just to create additional syndication opportunities for American news channels. Clearly, we want to influence opinion in the Arab world with this project.

So how best to do that? If you were creating a 24-hour TV channel to make the Middle East like us more, or at least hate us less, what programming would you offer? And, perhaps most importantly, is there a way to involve Ahmet Zappa? For example, wouldn't it be great if the Bush Administration decided to bring back Happy Hour?

One other question: I read that only about 10% of Iraqis have TVs, but haven't been able to find much out about what kind of programming was available to them during the Saddam era. If you have any info to share about this, please do.

Posted by Greg Beato at 01:26 PM
April 23, 2003
The Streak Continues

On tonight's episode of Scarborough Country, MSNBC's Great Right Hope highlighted another Congressional boondoggle: this time, it was a grant of $90,000 to the National Cowgirl Museum in Hereford, Texas.

Once again, Joe Scarborough failed to mention that the funding was requested by a Republican - Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Texas.

I didn't see anyone who looked like Granger in any of the segment's accompanying video imagery, but the segment did open with a shot of a woman who I'm pretty sure was Ann Richards, former governer of Texas, and of course, a prominent Democrat.

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:16 PM
April 22, 2003
Nuttin' But Lies

Joe "I Can't Believe It's Not O'Reilly" Scarborough, MSNBC's latest Great Right Hope, does a segment on his show each night called Capitol Offense, wherein he highlights instances of government pork.

In tonight's segment, Scarborough explained how Congress recently granted $202,500 to the National Peanut Festival in Dothan, Alabama. As he ridiculed such wasteful expenditures, a visual medley of various peanut-celebration scenes played. Then, as Scarborough neared his money line, there was a sudden segue from peanut festival fun to an inexplicable shot of a red, white, and blue Jimmy Carter sign. "How much are taxpayers paying for [the Peanut Festival]?" Scarborough asked, as this shot dissolved into one of Jimmy Carter waving happily to presumed peanut-lovers. "Over $200,000!"

Left unsaid by Scarborough: the $200,000 request was made by Rep. Terry Everett, a Republican from Alabama.

Why use imagery of a Democrat from Georgia to illustrate the dubious deeds of a Republican from Alabama? I guess the maps in "Scarborough Country" are drawn a little differently than in places where people still value the truth.

Posted by Greg Beato at 08:26 PM
April 21, 2003
Pundit, Heal Thyself

On April 9th, the day that coalition forces were turning Baghdad into a Saddam-free zone and jubilant Iraqis (or at least one jubilant Iraqi) were kissing soldiers, some professors at Yale held a teach-in. According to the Yale Daily News, "five anti-war faculty members criticized American war policy and alleged bias in the media" at the teach-in, which was sponsored by the Yale Coalition for Peace and other student organizations.

Along with the Yale Daily News piece, the teach-in inspired at least one other article. It appeared in FrontPage Magazine and was written by Yale students Eliana Johnson and Jamie Kirchick.

Their article was extremely critical of the teach-in; here's how it began:

"On the evening of the historic day that Baghdad fell, Yale held a forum of professorial invective against the statesmanship that brought it about. Without skipping a beat, Yale's anti-war professors, who yesterday claimed to oppose war in the interests of the Iraqi people, have now moved on to expressing lunatic conspiracy theories...

The article singled out two Yale professors in particular - Dimitri Gutas and Glenda Gilmore - and charged them with "promulgating vicious conspiracy theories aimed at their intellectual opponents."

Eventually, another Yale lecturer named Jim Sleeper published an op-ed in the Yale Daily News decrying the lack of civility in campus debate about the war. At one point in his piece, Sleeper cited Johnson's and Kirchick's FrontPage article and referred to the "freshmen" who wrote it, without actually mentioning the two by name.

Sleeper's piece attracted the attention of talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt, who subsequently wrote a condemnation of Sleeper for the Weekly Standard. That piece began in the following fashion:

JIM SLEEPER is a lecturer in political science at Yale, and an author and former columnist at the New York Daily News. He wrote a column for the Yale Daily News on April 14. We can assume he knows about the need to choose words carefully, and we can assume he chose his words below carefully.

Eliana Johnson and Jamie Kirchick are freshmen at Yale. They are members of Yale Students for Democracy...

Hewitt goes on for a while, and then eventually issues the following humorous query:

Where are the Women's Studies professors to note that an old white male is using verbal brickbats to silence young women seeking to be heard?

Why humorous? Because Jamie Kirchick, as the endnote of the article he co-authored makes clear, is male.

But that's just one of many nice touches Hewitt includes in the piece. For example, Hewitt maintains that "specifically, Sleeper brands the two freshmen and another group, Campus Watch, as neo-Stalinists and, even more incredibly, the 'Fedayeen Uncle Sams.'"

But here's what Sleeper actually wrote:

You haven't had to support it by serving in it -- and I note that none of the Fedayeen Uncle Sams who've intimidated people here has enlisted, as did many Yalies whose names and dreams outlasted their 20s only on those icy, marble walls.

Note that Sleeper doesn't refer specifically to Johnson or Kirchick, or to the group Campus Watch when making his "Fedayeen" statement. So how does Hewitt, who cannot even tell a male from a female when the male's gender is explicitly referenced, divine that Sleeper was talking about Johnson and Kirchick in that instance?

Earlier in his essay, Sleeper did note that pro-war advocates at Yale had been "barging into people's rooms, spitting on them, or defacing property." For whatever reasons, Hewitt makes no mention of such incidents, like the one where "several male students brandishing a wooden plank" reportedly entered a female Yale student's dorm suite after midnight and wrote "inflammatory messages" on her whiteboard. My guess is that the people who committed these acts were the ones Sleeper was labeling "Fedayeen Uncle Sams."

The real Fedayeens were vicious murderers, so one might call it moral equivalence to apply the "Fedayeen Uncle Sams" label to a gang of plank-brandishing whiteboard scribblers. Me, I'd say it's just the sort of rhetorical tactic that is the coin of the realm of punditry.

Take, for example, this passage from the article that Eliana Johnson and Jamie Kirchick wrote:

Indeed, the conspiracy theories espoused by [Yale professors] Gutas and Gilmore are a symptom of the hateful bitterness that characterizes the campus left in the face of American success. As Wednesdays' panel demonstrated, vicious prevarication has become a substitute for honest argumentation.

In the wake of such statements, Gilmore posted the text of her speech at History News Network.

Read it and ask yourself where the "conspiracy theories" and the "vicious prevarication" are.

Here's the most provocative statement that Gilmore makes in her speech:

What I did not know when I wrote that op ed is that I would walk straight into a preplanned campaign aimed at antiwar university professors in an attempt to cut them off from their students, to endanger their jobs, and to shut them up.

What "pre-planned campaign" is she talking about? In part, she's referring to Campus Watch, the organization that Daniel Pipes created in order to monitor Middle Eastern studies programs and professors at college campuses, and an entity that Gilmore later refers to specifically in her speech.

In its "About" page, Campus Watch carefully explains that it "fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds."

But Campus Watch also makes it clear that its mandate goes beyond mere commentary. Instead, its purpose is to:

Alert university stakeholders (administrators, alumni, trustees, regents, parents of students, state/provincial and federal legislators) to the problems in Middle East studies and encourage them to address existing problems. We challenge these stakeholders to take back their universities, and not passively to accept the mistakes, extremism, intolerance, apologetics, and abuse when these occur.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, another group that Gilmore cites, has a similar, albeit slightly less overt, mandate:

Today, however, the threat to academic freedom comes from within. The barbarians are not at the gates; they are inside the walls...ACTA believes the internal threat to academic freedom must be challenged both practically and philosophically. At the practical level, we must find ways to defend those professors, as well as students, whose academic freedom is threatened by other professors or administrations that disagree with their views. ACTA is working to engage alumni and donors, trustees, and state leaders in this fight.

Groups like Campus Watch and ACTA certainly have the right to criticize professors. And they also have the right to encourage university stakeholders to "take back their universities" through "practical" means. But given that that's the case, how is it a "conspiracy theory" or "vicious prevarication" to point out that these groups are indeed trying to fulfill their publicly stated mandates?

In a New York Post editorial published last fall, Daniel Pipes wrote the following:

The time has come for adult supervision of the faculty and administrators at many American campuses. Especially as we are at war, the goal must be for universities to resume their civic responsibilities. This can be achieved if outsiders (alumni, state legislators, non-university specialists, parents of students and others) take steps to create a politically balanced atmosphere, critique failed scholarship, establish standards for media statements by faculty and broaden the range of campus discourse.

"Establish standards for media statements by faculty"? How else can that goal be characterized as anything other than an attempt to limit faculty discourse, or as Glenda Gilmore put it, to "shut them up"?

Was the specific right-wing response to Gilmore's op-ed coordinated in advance, with memos passed out to all the players in the chain of command? That's highly doubtful, of course, but Gilmore never makes any such claims. Instead, she simply says that she walked into "a preplanned campaign aimed at antiwar university professors..." And if Campus Watch, with its mission statements, mailing lists, and mandate to "monitor Middle East studies on campus" is not a "pre-planned campaign," what exactly is it then? Ultimately, Gilmore's speech was not "vicious prevarication" or a "conspiracy theory," but rather an accurate assessment of institutions and tactics that do exist.

Alas, Hugh Hewitt has said nothing about the rhetorical excess of Eliana Johnson's and Jamie Kirchick's article, nor has he counseled them to choose their words carefully. Why not? Apparently when you're playing for the same team as Hewitt, you get a pass.

UPDATE: Jim Sleeper has more to say in another Yale Daily News piece.

Posted by Greg Beato at 02:27 PM