Sunday, September 30, 2007

Press Best If It's Independent And Unpredictable

Time magazine has lost credibility by slipping too far to the left, as this week's edition demonstrates. The New York Times, wisely, runs many independent columns and articles which are not as predictable as those in Time magazine. This is helping to preserve the NYT as the nation's leading newspaper at a time of ideological fervor and bias in much of the American body politic. Yes, the New York Times has a fervently liberal, and sometimes too shrill, editorial page, but it offers other views besides -- on the Op Ed pages, in the New York Times magazine and in the news columns, among other places.

The L.A. Times could learn a lesson here. The Times has independent columnists not afraid to occasionally stray from liberal orthodoxy, such as Tim Rutten and Steve Lopez. But its new metro and investigations editors, David Lauter and Marc Duvoisin, based on their past records, might be too bland and predictable, respectively. The paper has to take care to preserve its credibility, and the best way to do that is to strengthen its dedication to independence. Since, Lauter and Duvoisin are fundamentally talented, maybe they will be more provocative, better questioners, and less inclined to conventional liberal wisdom in the future, now that they have more authority.

Columns in the L.A. Times, Time magazine, and the New York Times over the weekend led me to think about independence and its advantages.

First, Saturday morning, came an outstanding column in the L.A. Times Calendar section by Rutten, the paper's media columnist. He looked back on the trip to the United States last week of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. the president of Iran, who Rutten unreservedly depicted as "one of the world's truly dangerous men...a man who hopes to see Israel 'wiped off the face of the Earth, 'has denied the Holocaust and is defying the world community in pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Warning of the dangers of consorting with dictators, as Columbia University did in inviting Ahmadinejad to speak, and a bevy of the nation's leading media, including NBC's Brian Williams, did last week at a New York dinner with Ahmadinejad, Rutten asserted, "...the totalitarian impulse knows no accommodation with reason. You cannot change the totalitarian mind through dialogue or conversation." It was particularly useful for Rutten to go back into Columbia University's history and show how it had cuddled up next to the Fascists of the 1930s. Now, it has invited another fascist, Ahmadinejad, to appear before the student body. The fact that Columbia's president read him the riot act doesn't erase the stain of doing so.

Rutten concluded. "After being duped by the Bush administration into helping pave the way for the diastrous war in Iraq, few in the American media now are willing to take the Iran problem on because they don't want to be complicit in another military misadventure. Fair enough -- but that anxiety doesn't exempt the press from being realistic about who Ahmadinejad really is and the danger he really does pose to all around him."

Contrast this with the foolish column in this week's Time magazine by the magazine's political colunnist, Joe Klein, who railed against those who have the temerity to compare Ahmadinejad with Hitler.

"The neoconservative campaign to transform Ahmadinejad into Hitler or Stalin, to pretend that he has the ability to destroy the world, to make a hoo-ha over letting the little man speak, is a cynical attempt to plump for war," Klein wrote. He insisted that, "The Iranian President's words (last week) had no practical, only symbolic, global import. He has very little real power in Iran, none over foreign policy or the nuclear program."

But, it seems to me, since Ahmadinejad has been allowed by the Mullahs who really rule Iran to be their point man throughout the world, it may well be too sweeping to say he has "very little real power," and, before dismissing comparisons with Hitler, Klein should have considered that, if his country obtains nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad and Iran will have more actual power to disrupt the world than even Hitler ever had.

This was not the only place, where Time magazine fell into a swoon last week to the far left. The magazine introduced a new foreign affairs columnist, Samantha Power, who the Time managing editor, Richard Stengel, described surprisingly as an "unpaid adviser to Sen. Barack Obama." In her first column, Power castigated the Bush Administration on the old ground that it has failed to admit to the U.S. many refugees from the Iraq war. She began with the statement that Iraq is generating 60,000 refugees a month, who "are voting with their feet against the surge of U.S. forces by fleeing their homes."

Wrong. Iraqis are fleeing the country to escape sectarian violence generated by our enemies in Al Qaeda and other groups. The American surge, in fact, has stablized at least some Iraqi neighborhoods, and allowed people to return to their homes. In any case, after spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives on this God-forsaken country, why should we admit its citizens to this country, where they might cause trouble?

This was not an auspicious start for a new columnist. And the question arises, have they hired someone with an agenda?

Time also had a pointless piece about how Laura Bush had snubbed Ahmadinejad at the United Nations, devoted a shamefully small article to the rebellion last week in Burma, and ran another article to deploring half-heartedly that Obama is not making more headway against Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

It is sad what this magazine, thinned badly in recent years by its inability to sell advertising, has already become, and the 2008 presidential campaign has not even fairly gotten underway. At a time when journalists should be keeping their heads clear, Time is often adopting knee jerk positions in its columns and articles.

In the New York Times, by contrast this morning, the normally liberal columnist, Frank Rich, has a trenchant piece critiquing Hillary Clinton and expressing concern that a Democratic victory is by no means a sure thing next year. The headline on the column asks, "Is Hillary Clinton the New Old Al Gore?"

Rich's article follows one in the New York Times magazine recently that raised questions about Clinton's innate caution on Iraq war issues, and truthfulness about some of the positions she has taken in the past. These articles are doing a public service, exploring in depth a candidate before the primaries begin and she is thrust even more into the spotlight.

Meanwhile, the NYT's "public editor," or ombudsman, Clark Hoyt discusses reader reaction to his revealing piece last week -- see my blog of Sept. 23 -- about how the Times had undercharged the antiwar organization "" for an ad depicting General David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, as "General Betray Us," and raising the question whether this attack ad was a slander out of accord with Times policy against not accepting personal attacks in advertising.

Hoyt says frankly that most of the 350 readers who responded to his article disagreed with him and supported the ad. But he still defends the position he took.

"Many readers felt I wanted to limit a robust public debate on the war in Iraq," Hoyt writes. "Far from it, I believe deeply in free speech and that there can't be too much debate about a war that so divides the country. But there's an important distinction between the right of people or organizations to say something and what The Times is willing to accept in its pages.

"The Times has an entire manual devoted to guidelines for ad acceptability. The newspaper won't take ads from Holocaust deniers, or racist ads or even advocacy ads it deems in poor taste. Yet they're all protected speech. Another guideline bans 'attacks of a personal nature.' Did the words 'General Betray Us' in the ad violate that standard? I think they did, but many of you disagreed."

He then goes ahead in his column to run a sampling of letters, and refers readers to more of them on the Times Web site.

To carry on its pages a column reflecting negatively on a probable Democratic presidential nominee, and one the New York Times would certainly endorse, and to employ a truly independent Public Editor like Hoyt fortifies the newspaper's credibility and induces, I think, readers of all political stripes to take it more seriously.

Other papers, and Time magazine, should follow the Times example. The American people, if they do, will be better informed.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Honor And Dishonor In Burma's Saffron Revolution

It is the British newspapers which this week have been giving the most comprehensive coverage to Burma's Saffron Revolution. Two British papers, the London Times and The Scotsman, have managed to get reporters filing from Rangoon, and both had possibly significant reports this morning.

The London Times' reporter, Kenneth Denby, wrote that the United Nations emissary, Ibraham Gambari, has arrived in Burma on a mission to press the junta to cease its bloody repression of the Buddhist monks and ordinary citizens who have been marching in Burmese cities. However, Denby said the Gambari mission may founder at the beginning, because he is asking to meet with the pro-democracy leader, the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the regime won't let him. San Suu Kyi, the legitimate leader of Burma, whose election with 80% of the vote in 1990, was spurned by the junta, was moved this week from house arrest to prison. Denby said there is now an issue whether Gambari will even talk with heads of the junta unless he can see San Suu Kyi.

The Scotsman, with Aung Hla Tun reporting from Rangoon, carried the latest of a few tantalizing reports that the military junta itself is split on its response to the uprising. This report was that the No. 2 man in the junta, Brig. Gen. Maung Aye, who some regard as the eventual replacement for the aging (74) junta chief, Gen. Than Shwe, has resisted the crackdown and has met with San Suu Kyi for talks. This is their report, but it remains unconfirmed. There have also been scattered reports of individual Burmese military units refusing to fire on the crowds.

As the crackdown has confined scores of thousands of monks to monasteries, and arrested hundreds of others, and for the most part cleared the streets of demonstrators, both the New York Times and the Washington Post continue to write about developments from Bangkok. NYT correspondent Seth Mydans and Washington Post writer Edward Cody have written at length, but necessarily have had to rely on reports making their way on the Internet, telephones and shortwave radio from hundreds of miles away, communications which the junta has been trying to disrupt. The Post had an editorial today entitled, "The Saffron Olympics," which criticized China for not doing more to rein in the junta and suggested that its 2008 Olympics could be overshadowed by world revulsion at Chinese association with such corrupt tyrannies as Burma, North Korea, the Sudan and Zimbabwe. The Chinese so far have confined themselves publicly to urging "restraint" on the junta, although after opposing a condemnatory UN Security Council resolution, the Beijing government did agree to the sending of Gambari, the UN emissary. The Japanese, British and American governments have all urged China to adopt a more forthcoming position. The New York Times had a similar editorial to the Post's, and there was an Op Ed Page column in the L.A. Times extolling the value of the Buddhist monks in the Burmese developments.

The least satisfactory coverage of the events in Burma overall has come from the Los Angeles Times, which has no one closer to Rangoon than Henry Chu in New Delhi. While other newspaper Web sites have devoted tremendous space to Burmese developments, Burma has often not even been on page one of the LAT Web site, and it wasn't this morning. The editors of the Times badly need to become more supportive of democracy, both in Burma and the Middle East.

To get back to the title of this blog, let's examine who has behaved honorably and dishonorably thus far in the Saffron Revolution.

Honor certainly must go primarily to the thousands of Buddhist monks who have marched throughout the country demanding democratization. The Christian Science Monitor this week had a poignant editorial about these monks.

"Revered for self-sacrifice," the editorial began, "Buddhist monks in Burma are standing up to the guns of a selfish regime. But these holy men in saffron robes are serving more than a people's desire for freedom. The protests also serve as a reminder of religion's historic role in shaping the kind of moral concern for others that is the root of democracy."

The editorial went on to contrast the Buddhist role in Burma with the bloody terrorism of Islamic fundamentalists who represent the worst side of religion. And it concluded, "Burma's monks probably know they can't rule. Their power lies in being living examples of compassion. Ultimately, as history has shown, these individual expressions of such higher values win the day over tyranny. How else to explain the spread of democracy?"

A picture is circulating in the media today of a small boy holding a sign saying, "Stop Killing Buddhist Monks." And certainly worldwide revulsion against the beating of hundreds of monks and the barricading of their sanctuaries may ultimately influence events for the better in Burma.

And what about the thousands of Burmese civilians who marched with the monks, and held hands in lines to protect them. Honor certainly goes to them.

Honor also to San Suu Kyi. She was married in England and still has two sons living there. At any time in the last 18 years, she could have abandoned her crusade for democracy and returned to England. The junta offered her this many times. The daughter of the founder of a democratic Burma, Aung Kyi, however, has never surrendered, and she greeted the Buddhist marchers at the gateway to her home this week, wearing a yellow dress and tearfully expressing her good wishes. An NBC Nightly News clip showed her urging the Burmese people to stand up against fear. San Suu Kyi is reminiscent of the long struggle of Nelson Mandela against apartheid in South Africa. Let us hope that ultimately, she will be just as successful, and will be able to stand in the halls of the U.S. Congress as Prime Minister of a free Burma and receive the ovation she has so gloriously earned as a person, like Mandela and Abraham Lincoln, who has supreme moral authority and stands for the right.

Honor certainly must go also to the courageous reporters and ordinary people who have used the Internet and other means to inform the world of what has been happening. The Japanese photo journalist Kenji Nagai gave his life in the streets of Rangoon, gunned down by a Burmese soldier while photographing fleeing demonstrators. Certainly, his sacrifice can never be forgotten.

Dishonor to the cruel junta, which has enslaved Burma for 45 years, mismanaged its economy, massacred and imprisoned thousands, and now this week has behaved with fresh disgrace. The junta commander's chief distinction has been the diamonds which he coated his daughter with at her wedding, while most of Burma's 47 million people barely scrape by. What is wrong with this greedy scoundrel?

If the Scotsman report is right, and there are now rifts opening in the junta, that would truly be good news, and consistent with the process of most successful revolutions, the last step of which often comes when the army begins siding with the people.

Dishonor also to the countries that could help put pressure on the junta, especially China, Russia and India, but have not done so. India, a democracy itself, has provided a particularly disheartening example of insouciance. Russia's Vladimir Putin is a big disappointment. The American president, George W. Bush, has tried to put on pressure, but he is not in as strong a position to do so as the great Asian powers, if only they would.

This has been a dramatic week, and despite the crackdown, I believe the Saffron Revolution is by no means over. We can all hope and pray it will ultimately succeed. Those who bring it about will truly be inscribed on a roll of honor.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Burma Video: Japanese Photographer Murdered

A video aired on Japanese television this morning showed that Kenji Nagai, the 50-year-old Japanese photo-journalist who died in Rangoon yesterday (American time), was actually murdered, shot at point range by a Burmese soldier.

The video, which is also the subject of a headline in today's London Times and undoubtedly will be picked up throughout the world, is absolutely clear: Nagai, trying to photograph a group of demonstrators supporting Burma's "Saffron Revolution," is shoved violently to the ground by a soldier and shot dead at point-blank range. As the demonstrators flee, his body can be seen lying in the street, although in his last moments Nagai was still trying to take photographs.

The picture of Nagai in the street is the lead photograph this morning in both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Burma is no longer an obscure backwater, but world news.

The murder has sparked outrage in Japan, which dispatched a deputy foreign minister to Rangoon today to further investigate the circumstances. But a doctor at the Japanese Embassy in Burma has already confirmed that a bullet entered Nagai's body from the lower right side of his chest, pierced his heart and exited from his back.

Nagai, who had also covered violence in the Middle East, was said by his tearful mother today to have gone to Burma although she had begged him not to. She said her son had simply told her it was his job to go to places no one else would go to.

The Japanese journalist thus joins countless other journalists who have given their lives so that the truth about what is happening in wars, revolutions and other violent situations can get out to the rest of the world.

For 45 years now, Burma has been ruled by a brutal military junta which has killed thousands, imprisoned large numbers of people, mismanaged the economy, enriched itself and still gotten aid from uncaring, insensitive neighbors such as China and India. But for years this happened pretty much without the world having photographic evidence of the junta's depravity. One telling photograph, however, showed the daughter of the junta chief, laden with large diamonds at her wedding.

Now, the depredations are blatantly there for all to see. Thanks to modern technology, the Internet, text messaging, short wave radio, and a few foreign correspondents who made their way to Burma in defiance of a ban on foreign journalists, what has unfolded in Burmese cities since the uprising erupted Aug. 19 has become a worldwide sensation, and the world is beginning to react.

Of course, the junta knows that, and today the New York Times and CNN are publishing reports that the military has raided Internet cafes, broken a cable connection with the outside world, raided hotels where journalists have been staying, and is doing everything it can to keep the truth from getting out about the gallant efforts of the Buddhist monks and ordinary people to march in the streets and resist the crackdown the junta began three days ago. Its soldiers isolated the monasteries, in some cases just keeping the monks inside, in others, going n and beating and arresting them. It also imprisoned the heroic Nobel laureate and leader of the nation's democracy movement, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

Will it work? Maybe not. Not only are the citizens of Burma fighting back, with reports of a police station burning and the regime's curfew defied, but the junta's main ally, China, is coming under unprecedented pressure to pull the plug on the apoplectic generals. The leverage would, in part, be next year's Beijing Olympics. China has brutal neighbors in both North Korea and Burma, over which it could exertl perhaps decisive restraint, if it was willing. If it's not willing, maybe the 2008 Olympics ought to be moved somewhere else.

In the meantime, however, it is a tragedy that anyone must give up his or her life so that these thugs can remain in power. And the London Times correspondent on the scene, Kenneth Denby, reported Friday night that most demonstrators had disappeared from the streets and fear was taking over in Burma once again.

Japan itself has given some aid to the Burmese junta. Now, after Nagai's murder, it says that that policy is "under review." But review is not enough. Burma should be quarantined until the regime collapses and democracy is restored.


The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jareeda is carrying a report today that the former deputy defense minister of Iran, Ali Rheze Asgari, who defected to the West several months ago, provided information that led to the secretive Israeli raid Sept. 6 against a missile and nuclear facility in Syria, close to the Iraqi border.

The Kuwaiti paper also says that U.S. warplanes were in the air in Iraq near Syrian territory and were prepared to intervene in defense of the Israeli planes that carried out the reportedly successful raid had they come under attack and needed assistance.

Both President Bush and the Israeli government have been silent about many details of the raid. But it seems to show that neither the U.S. nor Israel are at all inclined to allow Iranian or North Korea nuclear technology to be exported to Syria, where it could threaten not only Israel but also U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Disquieting Comments By Hiller To "Old Farts"

I should say at the outset that David Hiller, the publisher of the L.A. Times, made a mostly sincere and informative presentation yesterday to the Old Farts, the L.A. Times retired employees association, took many questions and was kind enough to invite everybody to the Times for one of the future meetings of the group. The luncheon was at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City.

But nonetheless I found Hiller's presentation disquieting for several reasons.

Most important of these were that (1) he seems to accept a smaller Los Angeles Times, confined in circulation largely to the Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area, and (2) he stops short of committing the owners, the Tribune Co., to making some needed investments, such as a restoration of TV Guide, although he freely concedes there has been quite an adverse reaction of readers to the termination of the weekly guide.

Hiller does apparently recognize the importance of what he calls "the demographics" of the Los Angeles area. These population shifts are cutting into the Times' circulation base, since the Anglo proportion of the population, especially in Los Angeles County, is decreasing, and, according to Hiller's admission, the Times has not been faring well with Latino readers.

Hiller said that the fall in Times circulation (he said 250,000, but it has actually been closer to 350,000) in recent years since the Tribune Co. bought the newspaper is, most importantly, among younger readers, in the 18 to 34-year-old age group, and among Latinos.

His main specific prescriptions for recovering the younger readers were giving readers more celebrity news, and, vaguely, more local news, although he added that recently bringing back Sandy Banks as a columnist brought someone who writes things that are appealing to the young readers.

(In a lapse of sincerity, Hiller did not mention an idea he floated at Town Hall this week -- that he would seek younger readers by launching a free tabloid similar to the "Redeye" the Tribune Co. distributes in Chicago. I suspect the reason he did not broach this at the "Old Farts" was that he knew it would not be popular with anyone dedicated, as the retired employees are, to continued quality at the L.A. Times. A free tabloid could only prove another blow to paid circulation of the print edition of the Times. This omission demonstrates another quality evident in Hiller -- his periodic duplicity).

As for the Latinos, he talked about increasing the number of Latino editorial personnel. But he ignored the loss of such Latino columnists as Frank Del Olmo and George Ramos, who, for the most part have not been replaced. Yes, Gregory Rodriguez is writing quite a bit for the editorial pages, but he does not have the appeal that Del Olmo did. Del Olmo, who died of a tragic heart attack, was the Latino face of the L.A. Times, he was on the masthead, and as such was a celebrity in the Latino community. Despite any future intentions Hiller has in this regard, the paper seems to be making less effort to win Latino readers than it did in the era of CEO Mark Willes. Hiller also mentioned adding Armenian writers to the newsroom, which is pertinent after the unfortunate loss of the talented Mark Arax.

When the retired medical writer Harry Nelson asked about whether home delivery of the paper might be restored in Kern County, where he lives, Hiller responded that it had been necessary to pull back from some outlying areas for cost reasons. But Nelson observed that many days, not only is he unable to get home delivery, as he did until two years ago, but he can't even find the Times on the newsstands, so few are brought into his county.

Hiller did observe that the New York Times has responded to demographic changes in the New York metropolitan area by greatly expanding its national edition and thereby offsetting circulation losses in the city. He said the New York Times is no longer trying to dominate the readership of newspapers in New York, and observed it seems as interested these days in selling on the West Side of Los Angeles.

But Hiller did not seem terribly receptive to the notion that in order to compensate for demographic changes in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times should make a renewed effort to circulate the newspaper, if not nationally, at least throughout the state of California. He acknowledged the paper has terminated its San Diego edition and is no longer shipping as many papers as it once did to the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento. (He did not mention Orange County or the San Fernando Valley, both of them areas where the Times has cut way back in staffing and coverage, and dropped substantially in circulation).

Hiller devoted quite a bit of his talk to the Times Web site. He said about 100 personnel will be added to the Web site, and he projected that advertising revenues from the Web site would grow from the current $70 million a year (most importantly in classified listings) to $200 million in future years.

But he did not indicate any plan to divert revenue increases at the Web site into enhancing other parts of the paper, specifically in the print edition.

If Web site revenues are really projected to increase by $130 million, it is hard to see why $5 million of that could not be allocated to restoring TV Guide, for example. (Hiller did not mention the amalgamation of the paper's Opinion section with the Book Review, giving readers less than they had before of both, but, when someone in the audience brought up TV Guide, he remarked that this comes up where ever he goes. He said that adding a weekly grid for TV programs, possibly in Thursday's paper, is being considered, but it still would have few listings before 7 p.m. for each day).

Also, in discussing the circulation losses, Hiller never mentioned that for a period of several years, the Tribune Co. did not budget any substantial sum to promoting circulation. A study by Leo Wolinsky on declining Times circulation attributed the lack of a budget to promote sales as a large part of the reason, and even in the Willes era I can recall Willes saying that it had come as a rude surprise to him how much effort newspapers had to devote just to keeping circulation steady. Willes came in saying he had a goal of increasing daily Times circulation to two million, but had to struggle to raise it by 100,000. The Tribune ceased that struggling.

I further found it somewhat discouraging that Hiller seemed preoccupied with the notion that people who are more and more reading news on the Internet, are less interested in getting it 24 hours later in the newspaper.

This ignores the fact that articles in specific newspapers are more detailed than many Internet accounts, unless one looks deeply into Internet references to specific papers and magazines.

Hiller's observation that one way of getting around the Internet problem would be to focus more on the local news stories than the Internet does not usually give in much depth, implies he may cut back on the presentation of international and national news, which now is one of the great strengths of the Times. He did not exactly say this would be done, but he did say the presentation of foreign news was something he was mulling over.

The publisher also acknowledged he had been getting some e-mails from readers who do not like the wrap-around advertising which has necessitated getting rid of these ads before you can read the paper. But he said he had gotten zero adverse reader reaction to the advent of Page 1 advertising at the bottom of the page. There was quite a bit of sour reaction to this but only in the newsroom, he commented, and it brings in $40,000 a pop. He did not say how much of this goes toward the bonuses of the inept Tribune CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, but he did say the annual profit margins of the Times have slipped from the mid-20% range to the mid-teens.

I did agree with Hiller most when the subject of columnists in the newspaper came up. Someone at the lunch mentioned that he had enjoyed Steve Lopez's column of the day about soaring costs of the new Los Angeles police headquarters now being built across the street from the Times, but that he would rather see this in a regular news story rather than by a columnist.

Hiller did not agree with the criticism, and neither do I. I think one of the most entertaining and informative parts of the Times these days are the columnists -- particularly the ones off the editorial pages in regular sections, such as Lopez, George Skelton, Tim Rutten, David Lazarus, Al Martinez, Bill Dwyre and Bill Plaschke. (Let's leave T.J. Simers to the side). The columnists are certainly freer to express themselves than the regular reporters, who suffer from editing that is often too restrictive, not to say stodgy.

Hiller, to sum it up, came across as a man who is engaged, is trying hard, but does not really have the ambitions for the L.A. Times that Otis Chandler and Tom Johnson had when they were publishers. However, he has grown some in the job, and maybe there's hope he will either change his mind about some of these things or be permitted by his Chicago overseer, FitzSimons (Legree) to do so.


The crackdown in Burma by the military junta goes on, with the murder of demonstrators, the beating and arrest of many monks and the reported imprisonment of the heroic Nobel laureate and elected leader of the country, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. A Japanese photographer was among the dead today. The regime has shut down Internet cafes and is otherwise trying to block the sending of accounts of what is happening abroad, along with revealing pictures.

However, some foreign papers have now gotten correspondents into Burma, and the British paper, the Guardian, reported today there are the first signs of mutiny in the Burmese army, with one report that the colonel in command of the junta's forces in Rangoon has sided with the demonstrators. The L.A. Times at long last has one of its foreign correspondents, Henry Chu in New Delhi, reporting on the dramatic events.

China issued a statement of concern and plea for restraint today, and the U.S. increased its sanctions. However, the crisis cannot be resolved at this point without the ouster of the junta and the coming to power of San Suu Kyi.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pressure Must Be Put On China To Help With Burma

If there's any proof that L.A. Times foreign coverage is deteriorating under the stranglehold of the Tribune Co., it can be seen in this week's lack of coverage of the drama unfolding in Burma, where a valiant uprising by Buddhist monks supporting a return to democracy
is now threatened by a crackdown by the military junta that has abused the people of that country for 45 years.

Several deaths are being reported today from Rangoon, where monks demonstrating in the face of a broad curfew, are said to have been beaten by armed units of the junta. The London Times, the New York Times, CNN and Time magazine's Web site all cited eyewitness reports from Rangoon saying as many as seven were killed and 100 monks injured when security forces moved in. Yet, despite a curfew and a ban on assemblies of more than five persons, the marches went on, with as many as 10,000 participating in both Rangoon and Mandalay. There were also reports that the heroic leader of Burma's democracy movement, the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been moved from house arrest to prison.

(Early Thursday, Rangoon time, the New York Times reported that large groups of security personnel loyal to the junta had stormed at least two Buddhist monasteries, beating scores of monks and arresting scores of others. Also, for the first time, a Western newspaper correspondent, was reporting direct from Rangoon. Kenneth Denby, in the London Times, wrote of the first sounds of gunfire coming in the Rangoon streets).

The situation in the next few days will be critical. If the security forces are not able to restore order, and if pictures of their brutality toward demonstrators continue to circulate, Burma may be perceived to be in a revolutionary situation. Under those circumstances, rifts may develop in the junta, and even some of the security forces might shift allegiance to the monks leading the demonstrations. This has happened in other revolutions; it may well happen in Burma.

The New York Times, the London Times and the Washington Post have all given prominent coverage, often on Page 1, to recent events in Burma, either from Bangkok or London. Foreign correspondents are not permitted in Burma by the junta, but with the new means of Internet communications, many accounts of the uprising continue to make their way out of that country. There were reports today that the junta had cut off some cell phones being used to send word of what was happening, but still it was getting out on satellite television and shortwave radio.

Seth Mydans, the outstanding New York Times correspondent, and Edward Cody of the Post both have long articles from Bangkok today. Both put stress on the key role of China in all this. China sells arms to the junta and supports it. It bears moral responsibility for what happens in Burma. Were it to abandon the junta, it would not long survive. But at a UN Security Council session on the crisis Wednesday afternoon, China blocked a resolution offered by the Western powers, against the crackdown.

By contrast, the L.A. Times no longer has a Bangkok correspondent, and its reporter in nearby Indonesia, Paul Watson, has not been in evidence this week. It may be he is on vacation or is otherwise no longer functioning in Southeast Asia.

Burma, a country of 47 million people, is, under the junta, another exponent of what might be called the Admadinejad argument, just made this week at the United Nations: No matter how backward and barbarian our evil dictatorship, the more civilized nations of the West should not try to interfere. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said just yesterday the development of nuclear technology by his country is now a "closed" matter and will proceed no matter what the rest of the world says or tries to do about it).

Neither Iran nor Burma, however, could long withstand international pressure were the big powers, Russia and China, and in Burma's case, particularly China, willing to join the West in standing up against what is happening, join meaningfully in Western sanctions, stop selling arms and technology to the thugs, and close off banking resources.

The West can do all these things, as the U.S., Britain and France, have been trying for years now in relation to both Iran and Burma. But without Russia and China, they cannot require on their own anything definitive to happen.

With China, though, due to next year's Beijing Olympics, an opportunity presents itself to influence the Chinese government to adopt a more constructive policy.

Already, in the Darfur genocide in the Sudan, suggestions of an adverse impact on the Olympics have induced China to grudgingly support the West to some extent in a move to rein in the murderous Sudanese government.

I'm not exactly advocating that we directly threaten to boycott the Beijing Olympics, as we did the Moscow Games in 1980. But I do think diplomatic pressure can be exerted, that in exchange for our full support of these Games, so important to the Chinese, the Chinese should start playing a more coercive role in Burma to rein in the junta.

There already have been some reports that the Chinese have been discouraging the military dictators from embarking on the kind of bloody crackdown on dissidents that it did in 1988, when 3,000 people were killed.

This time, a similar crackdown would cause much more furor. Pictures and accounts would inflame many people in the West, arousing their moral sensibilities, much as Bull Connor's use of police dogs against desegregation demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, did with outsiders in 1963.

It is even conceivable that if there is such a crackdown, and the Chinese were seen as not doing anything to stop it, sentiment would rise for boycotting the Olympics.

In any case, in this situation, we must employ the leverage we can. The British foreign secretary said in London yesterday that San Suu Kyi must be allowed to take power in Burma, since it is so clear she is the choice of the majority. Now, more effort should be exerted in that direction.

Lenin once famously declared that the road to London went through Beijing and Calcutta. He was talking about the thankfully-halted spread of Communism. But it is clear now that the road to a free government in Burma lies through Beijing, and we cannot be shy in trying to bring that about.

We live in an interdependent world, where developments in one country can reverberate in all the others. What is happening in Burma is important, and should not be ignored (certainly not, I might add, in the pages of the Los Angeles Times).


The London Times today has a story that former President Bill Clinton was able to get the magazine GQ to kill a story that reported infighting within Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign staff, by threatening the publication with lack of access.

If there is anything to this, it would not be surprising to see the story jump the Atlantic and be widely reported in the U.S. Campaign infighting is not uncommon, even the best campaigns have it. But if it becomes widely known that Clintons are putting on effective pressure to kill stories, if could certainly have an adverse effect on Mrs. Clinton's political fortunes.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Freedom Of Speech Not Enhanced At Columbia

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times fell back editorially today on the ridiculous proposition that the appearance of the terrorist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University yesterday was in accord with what the L.A. Times called "such core American principles as academic freedom and freedom of speech."

Does that mean, however, that Columbia and its sensation-seeking president, Lee Bollinger, should now feel compelled to invite Charles Manson, or O.J. Simpson to speak at the campus?

I don't think so. I don't think "freedom of speech" is enhanced by inviting every scoundrel to waste time peddling dangerous, crazy and unsavory ideas, simply for the titillation of his audience. There has to be some honestly-held principle at stake, some good to be obtained by the frank expression of even far-out views. By the standards evoked in the two wimpy and irresolute newspapers, Columbia might as well invite the head of the military junta which has been enslaving the Burmese people to speak as the leader of the Buddhist monks protesting against him in a courageous battle for freedom.

Or, to put it another way, those who award the Novel Peace Prize shouldn't have been satisfied by just making one mistake. No, awarding the prize to Yasser Arafat was not mistake enough. In the interest of worldwide understanding, they should also have awarded it to Stalin, Hitler and "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

A classic example of the liberal, "Let's Love The Enemy" crowd is Maureen Dowd's commentary on the Admadinejad visit in the New York Times. I suggest that Ms. Dowd go to Iran herself and see how she likes the way women are treated there.

I agree with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who said, "I'm all for freedom of expression, but what happened at Columbia University gave a platform to the greatest lies in the world."

To the credit of Dana Milbank, the reporter who covered another appearance by Admadinejad yesterday, in a videoconference before the National Press Club, for the Washington Post, he put the emphasis in his lead, on how ridiculous and untruthful some of Ahmadinejad's statements were.

"For hundreds of years, we've lived in friendship and brotherhood with the people of Iraq," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the National Press Club, yesterday," Milbank began.

"That's true," he went on, "as long as you don't count the little unpleasantness of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when a million people died, some by poison gas. And you'd have to overlook 500 years of fighting during the Ottoman Empire.

"But never mind that. Ahmadinejad was on a roll.

"Our people are the freest people in the world," said the man whose government executes dissidents, jails academics and stones people to death.

"The freest women in the world are women in Iran," he continued, neglecting to mention that Iranian law treats a woman as half of a man.

"In our country," judged the man who shuts down newspapers and imprisons journalists, "freedom is flowing at its highest level."

"And if you believe that," wrote Milbank, "he has a peaceful civilian nuclear program he wants to sell you."

This was a better, more valid, approach than that used by the namby-pamby Helene Cooper, the New York Times correspondent covering Ahmadinejad's Columbia appearance, who called his statements there that there were no homosexuals in Iran or that the Nazi slaughter of the Jews in the Holocaust was not fact, but theory, an airing of "bewildering thoughts."

Erika Hayasaki was better in the L.A. Times when she, defensibly, put her accent in the lead on the confrontational aspects of the appearance at Columbia.

But neither could match Milbank, who realized that the best way to handle tyrants and guttersnipes is through ridicule.

I persist in my feeling, expressed yesterday, that Ahmadinejad played both his audiences yesterday for fools. At least at Columbia, the students did laugh and hoot when he made his statement about homosexuals, although some applauded him at other points. But at the National Press Club, as Milbank reported, he got only a mild reception.

"The reception was rather friendlier at the press club, where the sole questioner was moderator Jerry Zremsky of the Buffalo News," Milbank wrote. "He introduced Ahmadinejad as "one of the most newsworthy heads of state in the world," and chose written questions submitted by the audience such as "Do you plan on running for reelection in two years?"

Now, that's the Washington press corps that I knew as a political writer. They are always ready to besmirch the reputation of a President of the United States, but they turn into Caspar Milquetoasts when it comes to confronting a foreign tyrant.

I just wonder how this Zremsky would have introduced Stalin at the National Press Club, the man, who, while killing millions of his own people and imprisoning millions of others, proclaimed in 1936 that the Soviet Union was the greatest democracy on the face of the Earth.

Reporters often turn into shrinking violets at the wrong times. Now, when the Chicago toady, L.A. Times publisher David Hiller appears tomorrow as a speaker before the Times retired employees' association, the Old Farts, I wonder whether everyone will treat him as if he were actually respectable. This in a week in which in Monday's paper he had several wrap-around ads that had to be tossed away before you could read the paper, and a front-page ad on Page 1.

Freedom of speech as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes once said, doesn't mean that you have "freedom to yell fire in a crowded theatre." And it doesn't mean either that institutions like Columbia University must live up to it by inviting in professional liars and knaves.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Columbia U., L.A. Times Bow To Ahmadinejad

Columbia University won't let ROTC on its campus, despite a student vote in 2003 for doing so. Yet it served as a forum today for the Iranian hate monger, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to spew forth distortions, prejudices and lies, while failing to answer most of the questions asked him.

The L.A. Times, meanwhile, completely passed up reporting today on the epic demonstrations for freedom and democracy in the streets of Rangoon and other cities of Burma. But it did give copious space to a story beginning on the front page about how popular Ahmadinejad is among the Arabs of the Middle East. The story, by one of the Times' least able foreign correspondents, Jeffrey Fleishman, had a jaunty tone, describing the Iranian as "a flinty populist in a zip-up jacket whose scathing rhetoric and defiance of Washington are often caricatured in the Western media."

Caricatured is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "a picture or imitation of a person in which certain features or mannerisms are exaggerated for satirical effect," or "a likeness or imitation that is so distorted or inferior as to seem ludicrous." By this definition, Ahmadinejad has not been caricatured at all, but caught dead to rights.

No, Ahmadinejad's basic positions have not been distorted. Denying the Nazi Holocaust and calling for the extermination of both Israel and the United States, Ahmadinejad is quoted directly in an ad in the New York Times today by the Freedomwatchdog group as saying on CNN March 27, 2005, "And God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism."

Ahmadinejad was not drunk when he said that, and he has repeated it on numerous occasions. It is all just not bluff, either. Ahmadinejad's Iranian government is providing missiles and improvised explosive devices which are killing American soldiers in Iraq and, it is suggested, Afghanistan, and it supplied the missiles last summer to Hezbollah which were used to attack Haifa and other Israeli cities. At home, Ahmadinejad's police seize women and young people on the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities and fine them for wearing normal clothing or playing Western music.

To some extent, Ahmadinejad was on his best behavior today. He toned down his rhetoric on eliminating Israel. He made the ridiculous assertion there are no homosexuals in his country. And he claimed to be a man of peace. It sounded just like Hitler at Munich, promising, "I will have no further territorial demands in Europe." For Ahmadinejad the equivalent was his statement he is not planning to build an atomic bomb.

Let me say a possibly unpopular thing: Both Columbia students and the readers of the L.A. Times were made fools of today by giving this fanatic a platform. Yes, the president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, asked hard questions of the Iranian president, almost to the point of filibustering him. But, of course, he got few if any real answers. There was no good or useful point to today's dramatics, and it was hard to escape the impression the Columbia president felt he had to somehow satisfy all the critics of the Ahmadinejad invitation by being nasty to the Iranian.

A Columbia official, an acting dean, was quoted as saying that that university would have given Adolf Hitler a forum had he come to New York. But the same university recently denied the Minutemen, an American anti-immigration group, an opportunity to send a representative to speak on its campus.

Also, despite statements that the students would be free to question Ahmadinejad, it turned out today that no questions were taken directly from the floor, but were screened by officials out of written submissions. Had the Columbia president not taken so long making his advance accusatory speech, there may have been more time for lively student questions.

It is a highly selective policy, which is willing to give Nazis and Islamic fascists a forum, but denies it to both politically incorrect organizations in America, and our military recruiters. I could understand later why some Columbia graduates interviewed on TV said they will make no more contributions to Columbia. Why give the money to a place with such a muddleheaded president?

As for Fleishman's article, it is an example of what I might call "taxi cab" journalism. A certain kind of unimaginative journalist believes he can find out what's happening by asking taxi cab drivers what they think and then passing it on to their readers as fundamental wisdom.

Quite simply, the Fleishman article is a serious misapprehension. Iran is terribly distrusted among the Sunni Muslims who make up most of the Arab world. In Lebanon, a courageous government has been shedding its soldiers' blood to prevent Iranian proxies in Hezbollah from taking over the state. In Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, there is bitter resistance to the idea of Iranian dominance in the Middle East, and fear of the possibility that Iran will build an atomic bomb.

The Fleishman article and the Columbia invitation to Ahmadinejad follow in line with what and other organizations ashamed of being Americans seem often to be trying to do, which is to get America to fall to its knees before the terrorists, quit the battlefield and cede the Middle East to them.

Thank God, that's not going to happen. These people are in a minority, according to the polls, of about one fourth , of the American people who believe in an abject withdrawal not only from Iraq but the entire Middle East, and would stand by, like the British pacifists of the 1930s, while the Hitlers, Mussolinis and Ahmadinejad's take control of vast parts of the world.

What this would mean in the present day would not only be $100-a-barrel oil, but an end to our economic power and our freedoms. It cannot, and will not, be allowed to happen.

Meanwhile, perhaps Fleishman and the president of Columbia University, should fly to Rangoon. Then they could see a courageous people marching for its freedom, and maybe the L.A. Times, like the New York Times and London Times today, would be covering that consequential story on Page 1. By contrast with what is happening in Burma, Ahmadinejad at Columbia University was just hot air.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

NYT Admits It Gave Special Price

In what is one of the clearest examples of the New York Times admitting a left wing bias, members of the newspaper's staff are quoted this morning by the paper's "public editor," or ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, as confessiing that they gave the far left, antiwar group a special price for a Sept. 10 full-page ad smearing Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, as "General Betray-Us."

The ad, which ran the morning before Petraeus was to testify to Congress on the status of the U.S. effort in the Iraq war, has been roundly denounced, even by the antiwar U.S. senator John Kerry, as "over the top," and was condemned, by a vote of 72 to 25, in the whole Senate. This condemnation was supported by more than 20 Democrats. President Bush, for his part, publicly called the ad "disgusting,"

Now, it turns out, according to Hoyt's article, quoting a company spokesman, that the Times charged only $64.585 for the ad, when it should have charged it $142,063.

(Sunday, after Hoyt's article appeared, announced it would wire the difference to The Times Monday. This was seen as an attempt to reduce its embarrassment over authoring such a sleazy ad. Between the Hoyt article and the agreement to pay more, these were precedent-setting occurrences at the New York Times).

In addition, Hoyt writes, "The ad appears to fly in the face of an internal advertising acceptability manual that says, 'We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature."

Moreover, Hoyt quotes Catherine Mathis, vice president of corporate communications for the newspaper as saying, "We made a mistake," and that the advertising department representative failed to make it clear that for the rate charged, the Times could not guarantee the Monday placement, but left with the understanding that the ad would run then, as it did. Mathis added, "That was contrary to our policies."

Hoyt says that "Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher of The Times and chairman of its parent company, declined to name the salesperson (making the mistakes) or to say whether disciplinary action would be taken."

Sulzberger is the weak-kneed publisher who fired the Times' outstanding executive editor and managing editor, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, several years ago under pressure from left wingers on the Times reporting staff. And recently, the Times editorial page under Andrew Rosenthal has become more and more shrill at demanding that the U.S. withdraw its forces from Iraq.

As Hoyt writes this morning, "By the end of last week the ad appeared to have backfired on both and fellow opponents of the war in Iraq -- and on The Times. It gave the Bush administration and its allies an opportunity to change the subject from questions about an unpopular war to defense of a respected general with nine rows of ribbons on his chest, including a Bronze Star with a V for valor. And it gave fresh ammunition to a cottage industry that loves to bash The Times as a bastion of the 'liberal media.'"

Liberal is too kind a term to describe the New York Times these days. It has become a vitriolic exponent of the McGovernite left in the Democratic party, and is regularly smearing the Bush administration in its news pages. The staffers who once assailed the independent and honest Raines and Boyd are in full charge.

Hoyt reports that more than 4,000 e-mail messages have come in from "people around the country" who "raged at the Times with words like 'despicable,' 'disgrace' and 'treason.'"

The Times did run an ad from former New York Mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani assailing the ad and charged Giuliani the same low price. But, Hoyt reports, it wouldn't give the guarantee of when an another ad would be placed at the low price to a second organization which wanted to run one also opposing the ad by That second opposition ad did not run. When agreed to pay the full price for its ad, it demanded that Giuliani pay the full rate for his.

"For me," Hoyt writes, "two values collided here: the right of free speech -- even if it's abusive speech -- and a strong personal revulsion toward the name-calling and personal attacks that now pass for political dialogue, obscuring rather than illuminating important policy issues. For The Times, there is another value: the protection of its brand as a newspaper that sets a high standard for civility. Were I in Jespersen (Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad), I'd have demanded changes to eliminate 'Betray Us,' a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier."

This is Hoyt at his finest. He leads his article this morning with this damning statement: "For nearly two weeks, The New York Times has been defending a political advertisement that critics say was an unfair shot at the American commander in Iraq."


Some 20,000 persons, led by gallant Buddhist monks, marched in Rangoon today in protest against the brutal military junta which has kept Burma enslaved for 45 years. And yesterday, a few hundred of the monks were able to pass through police lines to greet the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kwi, long under house arrest, and support her opposition to the government. The London Times called the past few weeks of demonstrations "the Saffron revolution" after the monks who have led it. It was the number one story Sunday afternoon on the New York Times Web site, but, as usual, the L.A. Web site dropped the ball, not mentioning it on its front page.

San Suu Kwi, 62, winner of a massive majority in 1990 elections ignored by the junta, made her first public appearance in four years in front of her house Saturday, crying with emotion, but appearing, observers said, "fit and well."

San Suu Kwi, leader of the people of Burma, must now be brought to power and the junta deposed. She is truly, for people throughout the world, "the woman of the hour."

In one of the clearest examples of the New York Times admitting a left wing bias, the newspaper's leaders are quoted by their "public editor," or ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, this morning as confessing that they gave the far left, antiwar organization a special loaw price for its Sept. 10 ad smearing Gen. David Petraeus, comman U.S. forces in Iraq, as "General Betray us."


Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Lot On The Internet Is Fraudulent Or Menacing

Significant parts of the Internet are getting so bad there are sure to be powerful arguments made to control or censor it. And despite my love of unfettered freedom of speech, I'm not sure I'd be opposed to all of them. At least, a Code of Ethics should be enforced.

It's actually a case of good and bad. We see, in the present uprising in Burma, how the Internet can facilitate getting the truth out -- complete with photographs -- of what is happening. This is the good. But there are many features which are bad.

Why should gullible teenagers and others be subject to enticements by predators? Isn't there a way to ban dangerous people from using the Internet, on pain of imprisonment?

Why should we read three and four times a week that we've "won" the lottery in Britain, and one million pounds is waiting for us, as long as we make a deposit, of course, or turn over vital identification? Why, when it is plain there will never be payment, and that one is taking risks even in responding?

Why should "officials" and "banking managers" from Nigeria or Burkina Faso be permitted to tell us that someone we never have heard of has died, left $10 million, and we can have a large part of the money simply by agreeing to launder it?

Why should we be assured we can buy drugs without a legal prescription?

Why should we be subject to offers to fornicate with willing neighbors, otherwise unidentified?

Aren't drugs sold for penile enlargement a fraud?

What about these notices from banks or mortgage arrangers we've never dealt with that we've already been approved for a loan we don't need?

What about people pretending to be our own bank, asking us to verify our account numbers, or no more of our checks will be cashed? (My bank tells me they would never approach me over the Internet in that way, and to ignore such fraudulent warnings and requests for information).

What about online ordering procedures so difficult to navigate that you have to go through them two or three times and then call a contact number for information as to how to make a purchase? Why can't even the Amtrak Web site handle a discontinuous trip, or return you from a third city?

What about unfriendly messages through "anonymous" names, or messages from people you don't know, or obscure who it is by goofy e-mail addresses?

What about hate messages from Al Qaeda and other fanatical Web sites, at home and abroad?

It's a weird world out there, and it seems to be getting more threatening. It is nice to have services like Google and Yahoo and Wikipedia with endless answers to any question. It's even often nice to see beautiful women (although the naked pictures come mainly at a price). It is certainly nice to be able to read the world's newspapers and other publications online. And to send and receive e-mails from all one's relatives and friends, even those serving in Iraq or traveling in Southeast Asia. It's good many hotels have begun to set up free computers in their lobbies, so in many places you don't even need your own wireless. I thought it excellent when I was able to go to an Internet cafe in Buenos Aires and use a computer for four cents an hour.

But the Internet is an act that needs to be cleaned up, no mistake. The question is, who is going to do the cleaning, and will we end up as free as before? Or is freedom, God forbid, an antiquated concept?

Or will every choice we make on the Internet, everything we ask of Google, be stored electronically and sold to more fraudulent, or simply annoying advertisers?

My, my! And now I hear, even our do-not-call numbers are expiring. The rot is not being contained, but spreading, and commercial predators are nearly as bad as sexual ones.


Thanks to my friend, Shelly Sloan, here are two quotes pertinent to today's issues:

Robert E. Lee: "It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers. In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late. Accordingly, I am readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I will, in turn, do my best for the Cause by writing editorials -- after the fact."

Abraham Lincoln:"Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale or undermine the military are saboteurs, and shold be arrested, exiled, or hanged."


Friday, September 21, 2007

Vital Human Rights At Stake in Jena, La., Rangoon

The L.A. Times has an admirable editorial this morning on the troubles in the small town of Jena, La., where thousands of demonstrators marched yesterday to protest unequal justice for blacks compared to whites, and where there was a further incident this morning with nooses being found in a pickup truck driven by whites.

The L.A. Times was also correct this morning when it published the news story out of Jena on Page 1, while the national edition of the New York Times stuck it improperly way back in its Section one.

The fact is, the march of thousands of people from throughout the country in a civil rights protest in a Southern town, and the march, also yesterday, of 1,300 Buddhist monks through Rangoon, Burma, against one of the world's most horrific dictatorships, is news that is vital to humanity. Both marches deserve the most intensive coverage.

The LAT editorial tells us why. Describing in detail events of the last year which began when black high school students sat under a tree that had long been a gathering place for whites only. The next day, nooses, a symbol of the lynchings that once outrageously marked Southern life, were found hanging from the same tree, and three white teens were found to be responsible. The school principal wanted to expel them, but the school board decided to only briefly suspend them. This was the start of a series of incidents, including fights, between blacks and whites in the town of 3,000, with the authorities prosecuting black instigators, especially six young black men (the "Jena six") far more seriously than white instigators. When a white youth was beaten, initially there were charges of attempted murder against the blacks, although these were later reduced. Particularly egregious, however, was the 17-year-old black youth wrongfully charged as an adult, imprisoned for a long term, and kept there, despite a Louisiana appellate court ruling he should be freed. The incidents, thanks to bloggers and other new techniques of spreading the news, have become a cause celebre, leading to yesterday's protests by civil rights supporters from far and wide.

The Times editorial concludes, "Jena residents who think all is well in their town are fooling only themselves. Thursday's rally should mark the start of some long overdue soul-searching and political housecleaning."

The Times editorial points out properly that Jena, La., is no Selma, Ala., of the 1960s, when civil rights advocates marching for the right to vote were assaulted by police. But nonetheless it is, to some extent, a "time warp," which reminds us of past injustices and racial disparities that still lurk in our national life, a plague that still stirs to life.

In a sidebar to the main article this morning, the L.A. Times' Peter Wallsten examines the tepid response of two frontrunning Democratic candidates for President, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to the Jena situation. Both have been very careful, perhaps too careful, and one can only remember that just before he announced his presidential candidacy in 1968, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy journied to Delano to support Cesar Chavez's farm workers union in their demonstrations. By contrast, neither Clinton nor Obama showed up in Jena yesterday. It is not only the terrorists in the Middle East these candidates are leery about standing up to, now it is bigotry at home.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who joined The Rev. Jesse Jackson and others who marched in Jena, was quoted in an article by Times Southern correspondent Jenny Jarvie that appeared Thursday before the march, as saying, "We come to the South to raise new hope, not to condemn," and it is certainly true that demonstrations often do occur at a time of rising hope that old injustices can be overcome.

That is certainly true in Burma. I purposely do not use the new name of Myanmar, which is favored by a junta of military officers who have dominated Burmese lives for much too long, in defiance of a fair election in 1990 in which the Burmese people overwhelmingly elected the gallant Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, later winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to power.

As in South Vietnam in the 1960s, the Buddhist monks marching through Rangoon have come forward at a time when many people dare not to defy the illegal junta. That they can prevail, and San Suu Kyi can assume her lawful place as leader of a new Burma, is to be devoutly wished throughout the Earth whereever human rights are supported.

Jena, La., and Rangoon, Burma, are not the only places where the L.A. Times has upheld human rights this week. The pictures by the outstanding Times photographer Carolyn Cole accompanying a Darfur story in Thursday morning's paper were a poignant reminder of the terrible conflict that racks that section of the Sudan, and adjacent Chad and the Central African Republic. Her pictures, especially of Jan Eliasson, the United Nations special envoy in the Sudan, taking part in a prayer for his peace efforts at a marketplace in Nyala, Darfur, are a poignant reminder of the high stakes for freedom there too.


Tribune Co. overall revenue and advertising revenue continued to slip in August, according to a Reuters story this morning, overall revenue down by 5.2% and advertising revenue by 7.2%.

I'm afraid this trend will not be reversed until the inept Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of the company, which owns the L.A. Times, is forced to relinguish his position, and new, more able, executives take over.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why Would Dan Rather, At 75, Sue CBS?

My first thought, when I heard that the former CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, was suing CBS and its corporate heads for $70 million, was that lawsuits can be a very difficult and uncertain endeavor, and why, at 75, would Rather undertake one?

But when I talked to a few others in the news business, they made the point to me that there are real issues which should be examined in the ouster of Rather from the post of news anchor after so many years in the job. They predicted that the depositions and testimony, if the case gets to the trial stage, might be most revealing about relationships between the Bush Administration and the news network. Also, the lawsuit could tell us a lot more about whether these vaunted news anchors are powerful in their own right, or just front men reading broadcasts which are largely the responsibilities of producers scarcely known to the public.

If the suit really uncovers these things, then I doubt whether CBS will want it to go to trial. They might try to settle with Rather instead of letting all the dirty laundry be aired.

It's always a difficult situation when a longtime employee, in the eyes of his employers, has outlived his usefulness. And old age can obviously be a major factor in this. At the L.A. Times, where I worked so long, staffers reaching into their 60s were not infrequently treated with scant consideration at the end of their careers. The New York Times for a long time had a mandatory retirement age of 65, averting some such contretemps, although even the NYT had a hard and embarrassing time getting rid of A.M. Rosenthal, its former executive editor, who in his last years with the paper had become a vitriolic columnist.

"Old age," General de Gaulle once remarked, "is a ship wreck," and it's particularly sad when someone gets to his or her 70s and doesn't know when declining acuity and energy mandates retirement. On the other hand, some L.A. Times writers, like Jack Smith, Jim Murray and recently-retired sportswriter Shav Glick, contribute a great deal well beyond retirement age, and Shirley Povich wrote into his 90s for the Washington Post. Cartoonists, such as Herb Block at the Post, and Paul Conrad, retired from the L.A. Times but still drawing, often do great work in their 80s.

Rather continues to appear on television outside CBS and, in fact, will be interviewed on the Larry King show on CNN tonight about his lawsuit against CBS. (Watching the King interview Thursday night, I felt Rather made a fairly strong case for the suit. King was a little tougher on Rather than he is on most guests, and I wondered whether somebody at CNN had suggested this approach. Then, they cut Rather off at 40 minutes and went on to something else. It would have been appropriate to allow Rather to answer some viewer questions, rather than confine the viewer response to one e-mail).

But a retired editor at the Times reminded me that CNN too had a rather controversial retirement when it got rid of its longtime prize foreign correspondent, Peter Arnett.

Arnett had become controversial for some of his Iraq coverage, and Rather had long been the bugaboo of the right wing for his critical attitude toward Republicans.

One of the questions that will apparently be examined in the Rather lawsuit, if it goes ahead, is whether CBS did cave in to the Bush Administration, Karl Rove and so forth, when it maneuvered Rather into an apology for a broadcast about President Bush's record in the Texas Air National Guard, then out of his anchor's position, and then gave him little to do with the CBS show "60 Minutes," to which he had been farmed out contractually as a "full time" correspondent.

The New York Times story on the lawsuit this morning, by Jacques Steinberg, said that Rather had declined to say whether he had used private investigators to prepare the suit. But nonetheless it seems certain that in discovery proceedings Rather's attorneys would demand e-mails and other communications at the top levels of CBS pertaining to the Rather dismissal.

The Bush people flared up at the broadcast about the President's Guard service as a young man, claiming it was based on spurious documents, and so forth. Yet it does seem clear that Mr. Bush evaded the possibility he would have to serve in Vietnam by joining the Guard, and, on the face of it, it would not be surprising if he had pulled strings to get into the safe refuge which was the Guard. On the other hand, with some experience in the Army reserve, I was not surprised that months would pass, when the young Bush moved from one state to another, before the Guard caught up with him on coming to training meetings. The bureaucracy in the military frequently takes a long time to reassign people when they move.

Rather is now taking the position he had little to do with preparing the report, and merely read parts of it on the air as a front man. That too could be rigorously examined in the depositions regarding the suits.

There might be a lot of embarrassing revelations here, especially since, more and more, suggestions are being made that the news media in general was too subservient to the Bush Administration in the runup to the Iraq war and in the first years of the war. Just at retired L.A. Times editorial page editorAnthony Day's memorial service last Saturday, the pastor emeritus of All Saint's Episcopal Church in Pasadena, John Rivas, suggested forcefully that the media had sold out to the Administration.

In that sense, the Rather lawsuit could fuel a witch hunt as to just who in the media was responsible for "caving in" to the Administration.

On the other hand, lawsuits can take many unexpected twists and turns. It is not unlikely that CBS has material that could embarrass Rather. Certainly, it would do his longtime reputation as a crusading television reporter no good to have it revealed for a certainty that he was just a front man.

The L.A. Times, by the way, in light of the serious issues involved, was smart this morning in running its story, by Matea Gold, out on Page 1 of the news section, and the New York Times dropped the ball in running the story in its Business section. The most interesting news should be placed on Page 1.


For the third time this month, Al-Qaeda has released a tape, this one of Osama bin Laden calling for a jihadist uprising against the Pakistani regime of Pervez Musharraf.

With all these tapes, I just wonder whether the focus of the hunt for bin Laden should not revolve around Al Jazeera, and the means by which his recordings come inro its possession to be used. Many criminals' whereabouts are ultimately traced through communications they have somehow released publicly, and it would be wonderful if U.S. intelligence could find bin Laden through careful explorations of how his venomous words are reaching the public. Jazeera executatives may know where bin Laden is, and, if they did, it would be worthwhile kidnapping them and questioning them until they revealed his whereabouts.

Fundamentalist Islam is not black magic. There should be some way of finding, and destroying or capturing, this bloodthirsty guttersnipe.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fox, Police Must Not Censor Freedom of Speech

Neither the Fox Television Network nor the University of Florida police in my view acted properly in recent days when they silenced free speech, either by censoring out a swear word used by Sally Field at the Emmy awards, nor by using a Taser electric stun gun on a student who asked Sen. John Kerry unfriendly questions on the Florida campus.

The Founding Fathers mandated freedom of speech in the Bill of Rights, and in the USA, the correct judge as to the validity of what someone says is public opinion, not the police or a politically biased television network. That is all the more important to remember as we head into the 2008 presidential campaign, during which a great many uncivil things have already been said, and it is clear many more will be said.

The Fox network is bound to be an issue in that campaign, because it blatantly sides with the Bush Administration and the Republican party, while castigating the antiwar movement and giving Democratic candidates far less time than Republicans.

Fox can say what it pleases, subject to possible restraints of public opinion and perhaps to the TV ratings, but it should not take it onto itself to practice outright censorship, as it did against Field and two other entertainment personalities who spoke at the Emmy awards.

The network cut off Field when she used the word "goddamn" in an antiwar remark. It was hypocritical in doing so, because, as the New York Times pointed out, when a federal appeals court ruled last summer that broadcast networks were not responsible for censoring "fleeting expletives" uttered on television, Fox had hailed the ruling as a victory for viewers.

Also, the network censored comments by Ray Romano and even a remark that could not be heard away from the microphone by Katherine Heigl, on the grounds that some viewers might be able to lip read her remark.

All of this was contrary to the Bill of Rights and raises questions whether Fox, owned by the reactionary Rupert Murdoch, is respectful of bedrock American principles.

Then, Tuesday, at the University of Florida, Andrew Meyer, a 21-year-old student known as radical, was ushered away from the microphone and Tasered in the back of the room in full view of those attending the event after asking Sen. Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, why he had not challenged the result in Ohio, why he was not supporting the impeachment of President Bush, and whether he was, like Mr. Bush, a member of the Skull and Bones secret society at Yale University, which both Mr. Bush and Sen. Kerry attended.

As the police stopped Meyer from speaking, Kerry exclaimed, "That's all right. Let me answer the questions." Later, Kerry reiterated that he, not the police, could have taken care of the situation, and the chancellor of the University of Florida suspended the two campus policemen involved in the incident, pending an investigation.

While reporting on the 1972 presidential primary campaign in Florida, I was present one day at North Dade Community College when a scantily-clad young woman leaped on the stage while former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was speaking and exclaimed that everything he said was "bullshit." She was not arrested, and Humphrey, in his subsequent remarks, acknowledged she had a point. That was a more appropriate defusing of a challenging situation than we saw at the University of Florida this week.

It is, as a Supreme Court justice once pointed out, not a permissible use of freedom of speech "to yell fire in a crowded theater," but it is permissible to say almost anything political, even blasphemously, and then, in the end, it is up to the electorate to decide what they think about it.

This also is pertinent to the recent exchanges involving the anti-Iraq war organization,, and the former mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

Perhaps, both sides of this dispute exhibited questionable taste in running full-page ads in the New York Times regarding the testimony last week of the U.S. Army commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus. But it was certainly correct for the New York Times to run the ads once purchasers wanted to pay for them. may not have done its cause any service when it renamed Gen. Petraeus "Gen. Betray Us." Among other Democrats, Kerry, who is strongly against the war, called the ad "over the top," and it came in for much criticism on all sides. It may well have been a demonstration that the antiwar people, can easily, in the current environment, become too shrill for their own good. But, again, that is a judgment for the electorate.

A few days after the ad, the Giuliani campaign took its own full page ad, castigating the attack on Petraeus and warning bluntly that if Giuliani is elected president, he will be a "nightmare" for

Again, this is arguably "over the top," and, in the long run, might not do Giuliani any good. Many moderates and independents already have expressed concern about the tone of his campaign.
But this too, is ultimately the judgment of the electorate, and the New York Times should be commended, not criticized, for running the Giuliani rebuttal to

Finally, I want to draw a distinction between the incidents above, and the arrest of antiwar demonstrators in Washington over the weekend, when they ignored police orders and crossed a security barrier protecting the U.S. Capitol. This was not freedom of speech, but a violation of property boundaries, and I think it was correct for the police to move in.


The greatest demonstrations for freedom in the world today are the marches going on in Rangoon and other cities of Burma by Buddhist monks against an abomination, the Burmese military junta which has ruled that country against the clearly expressed will of the country's electorate for many years.

In 1990, the Nobel Prize winner and daughter of the founder of an independent Burma, Daw Aung San Suu Kwi, won, with a massive majority, an election to replace the junta. The military rulers ignored that result and have kept her under house arrest for years, even while continuing to follow policies which are abhorrent to the Burmese people.

In August, without any prior announcement or public debate, this vile bunch of thugs suddenly raised fuel prices by a large amount, and, even in the repressive atmosphere, citizens began to demonstrate against them. There have been many arrests, but the demonstrations have not been squelched, and recently the monks, as revered a group as the country has, have joined the marches, thousands of them participating.

No one knows whether they can be successful in the short run, but freedom-loving people everywhere should support them in their demands that the junta give up power. Free elections, if held again today, would unquestionably elect the heroic San Suu Kwi as prime minister.


A bomb in Beirut this morning killed another Christian Maronite member of the Lebanese Parliament, Antoine Ghanem, and six others. Ghanem is the eighth political victim of an alleged campaign directed by the Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, against democracy in Lebanon, beginning with the 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri after a direct threat by Assad.

The Syrian regime, accused in the last few days of inviting North Korean nuclear engineers into the country to assemble a weapons system, and an ally of the worst elements of the Iranian government, is increasingly a menace to the world. Assassination is a crime, by no means a reflection of freedom of speech or opinion, and it would be proper to subdue this regime by any means necessary, including force.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NYT Internet To Be Free To Everyone

In a move toward the Internet future, the New York Times announced today that henceforth its Web site will be free to all who look at it, with the exception of some archives prior to 1986. The NYT has been making about $10 million a year from 227,000 of its readers who were willing to pay to read Times columnists.

But in a Business section story today by Richard Perez-Pena, Times spokesmen said it had been determined the Web site would be more lucrative simply by opening it to everyone for free, and selling more advertising.

This very much follows the Google and Yahoo examples. Oftentimes, subscribers get those Web
search vehicles free of charge, but Google and Yahoo earn very large amounts simply from selling ads, and that is their main revenue base. It has also become evident, even by studying where readers are coming from on a blog as small as this one, that a sizable proportion of readers come from Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, spreading the influence of both blogs and newspapers far and wide.

The New York Times Web site, by far the best read of any newspaper, is already drawing 13 million hits a month, many of them references from Google, Yahoo and other Web sites through links. Regular Times subscribers were allowed to read everything for free, but only those non subscribers to the print edition who paid could read the columnists. This, as the article says today, was satisfactory neither to the non-payers nor to the columnists (who were losing millions of readers).

The Times article this morning notes that the Wall Street Journal currently has nearly a million subscribers to its Web site, and is drawing revenue of $65 million a year. However, the new WSJ owner, Rupert Murdoch, has declared he is considering making that Web site free too, and for the same reasons, that he believes it may draw many additional readers and be able to sell advertising far exceeding the $65 million.

The L.A. Times for a short while charged Web site visitors to view articles in its Calendar sections, but dropped the practice and went free when it noticed a sharp drop off in viewers. The lackluster L.A. Times Web site managers have managed so far to sell comparatively little advertising for the Web.

It is increasingly clear that a large proportion of a newspaper's total revenue can be obtained through selling online advertising of all kinds. This could even revive total Classified sales. The decline of Classified, or its siphoning off to various other Web sites, has been one of the factors leading to a decline in overall newspaper revenue across the country.

Despite statements earlier this year by L.A. Times publisher David Hiller that the L.A. Times was going to invest more in an improved Web site, so far the L.A. Times site has been improving only slowly. It trails far behind the New York Times site both in the number of stories featured on its home page, and the frequency of changes of news presentations made on it. The New York Times is thus far more proficient at showing the latest news, and it has many more opportunities for readers to comment and give their own views than the skittish L.A. Times editors provide.

Just Tuesday night, the L.A. Times Web site was still running a headline that the Los Angeles Dodgers had lost the first game of a doubleheader to the Colorado Rockies, two hours after they had also dropped the second game. The story referred to said the doubleheader had been swept by the Rockies, but not the headline that reefered to it. It has long been clear that the LAT Web site does not have enough employees to put out a consistent product.

In addition to subscribing to the New York Times, I look at that newspaper's Web site five or six times a day, and also have become fond of looking at the Web sites of the Jerusalem Post, the London Times and the Washington Post. It has allowed me to partake of a much greater range of public opinion and what the press is doing. Also, I frequently look at Yahoo, which has links to many European publications.

It does take a sizable staff devoted to that purpose to have a good Web site, and, so far, the Tribune Co., owners of the L.A. Times, has been unwilling to invest any substantial funds into improving the L.A. Times product. This is similar to the Tribune's reluctance to spend money on promoting circulation for the print edition.

Altogether, it is high time that the L.A. Times put the thought, money and effort into the newspaper's Web site that the New York Times does, rather than just talk about doing so. This may well be a substantial portion of tomorrow's newspaper business.

In another ambitious step toward the future, two Murdoch-owned publications, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, have announced plans for weekly magazines at a time when the L.A. Times has been sharply cutting back the frequency of its West magazine.

Murdoch may be politically reactionary, but he does appear to be a far better businessman than the inept Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of the Tribune Co. He appears to recognize much more clearly than the Tribune executive just what a glossy Sunday magazine can do for a newspaper.

Only occasionally now, not weekly, the L.A. Times is running West magazine. There was one on Sunday featuring exotic travel that was quite good. But West has never had the lengthy perceptive political pieces that the highly successful New York Times magazine has had, including splendid recent analyses of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

The New York Times editors, unfortunately, are better thinkers than the L.A. Times editors, and their Tribune owners. But that does not have to be a permanent condition. The prospective new owner of Tribune, Sam Zell, could assert himself by firing FitzSimons and Times publisher David Hiller, a Chicago transplant, and hiring new, intelligent leadership.


If there is any ray of light at all in the tragic air crash at Phuket, Thailand, it comes in a report on Associated Press today that Iranian and Israeli forensic experts and diplomatic envoys have met and are cooperating in identifying the victims, of which there were at least six Israelis and 18 Iranians.

The best news the whole world could get these days would be of any overtures for any reason between Iran and Israel..


Monday, September 17, 2007

Weak Hand At Fed Compounds Mortgage Crisis

Back in July, Tom Petruno, a writer for the L.A. Times Business section, had a strong Page 1 article warning that the sub-prime mortgage crisis was metastasizing into other parts of the economy and would only get worse.

That has certainly come true, and as the crisis has spread, popping up in unexpected places like, this past week, Britain's Northern Rock mortgage lender, the fifth largest in that country, with multi-billion dollar runs on its deposits and a catastrophic decline in its stock price, the crisis is only being compounded by the uncertainty in regulatory quarters as to how to deal with it.

It is a crisis that is not easily containable, as this blog said on July 23. If anything, the outlook since then has certainly grown more somber.

One of the problems, very frankly, is weakness, continued temporizing, at the Federal Reserve Board by its new chairman, Ben S. Bernanke. It could well be that Bernanke's predecessor, Alan Greenspan, bears a share of the responsibility for letting sub-prime mortgages get out of hand years ago, going to borrowers who would never be able to repay them. But at least Greenspan was decisive. When economic trouble reared its ugly head, he took strong and definite action to squelch it and to reassure the markets.

Bernanke has not, thus far, been so decisive. He reminds me of the Carter Administration economists who allowed inflation to soar as high as 20%, while saying all the time that any proposed step to lessen it would only spin the economy into greater difficulties. Their uncertainty as to what to do contributed to the unraveling of the Carter Administration and helped bring Ronald Reagan to the Presidency. Reagan was a figure who inspired more confidence, and as soon as he took over, the inflation rate began dropping.

Bernanke first downgraded the mortgage crisis as not having critical importance. Then, when he realized it did, he resisted lowering the discount rate on grounds partially that this might further weaken the dollar abroad and encourage inflation. Then, he lowered one rate and now is caught up in the issue as to whether to lower the discount rate by one quarter or one-half a point. His uncertainty has roiled the stock market and, in fact, made a bad situation worse.

In a situation like this, those in authority have to choose, often between bad alternatives. If they let the situation drift, it becomes even more of a crisis.

One of the most difficult things about the situation is continued uncertainty as to just who is exposed to the weakness in the housing markets both here and abroad. There have been so many strange investments in exotic securities, borrowings between banks, involvement of less-than-stable hedge funds and so on that not even the experts can be sure about what is happening or what will happen next.

But in the background is the failure of the regulatory authorities to exert their control early enough to be sure that things don't run off the tracks. That was true in the events leading up to the great depression, it was true with the savings and loan crisis, assorted currency crises in Asia and South America, and it is certainly true with the sub-prime mortgages. There has, historically, not been enough control, and it is apt to take a stronger hand than Bernanke's to aright matters.


Ron Brownstein is the latest well-known journalist to leave the L.A. Times, although there are reports this morning his column will continue to run in the paper. His departure, however, as a full time employee cannot be much of a surprise, because Brownstein was forced by the editors to leave regular political writing by his wife's employment in the McCain presidential campaign, and his subsequent Op Ed page and Opinion columns in the Times have been serviceable at best. Clearly, he had been placed in a difficult situation, and has now decided to move on.
He will now write principally for the National Journal, its allied publications, and the Atlantic magazine.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Iraq Ennui Settling In, But Will Events Dispel It?

I don't often agree with New York Times columnist Frank Rich, but his column this Sunday morning makes one or two points I do agree with.

Rich thinks the "great debate" over future Iraq war policy in Washington last week was a fizzle. The public is so turned off on the war that no one was really listening, and all the parties made the expected points.

"Little of this registered in or beyond the Beltway," Rich writes.

"General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker could grab an hour of prime television time only by slinking into the safe foxhole of Fox News, where Brit Hume chaperoned them on a gloomy bunkerlike set before an audience of merely 1.5 million true believers...

"Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it, or of war in general. Katie Couric's much-promoted week long visit to the front produced ratings matching the CBS newscast's all-time low. Angelina Jolie's movie about Daniel Pearl sank without a trace. Even Clint Eastwood's wildly acclaimed movies about World War II went begging. Over its latest season, '24' lost a third of its viewers, just as Mr. Bush did between January's prime-time address and last week's."

Rich attributes the ennui to a spreading feeling that the Democrats can't block continuation of the war, and the Bush Administration can't win it.

He certainly has a point. We are on dead center, fighting on in a conflict that is seemingly without end.

But Rich also makes the point, toward the end of his column, that war is two-sided, and it is not only what we are unable to do, but what the enemy does, that may greatly influence the scene before the end of the Bush Administration.

He states rather ambiguously: "The enemy votes too. Cataclysmic events on the ground in Iraq, including Thursday's murder of the Sunni tribal leader Mr. Bush embraced two weeks ago as a symbol of hope, have never arrived according to this administration's optimistic timetable. Nor have major Qaeda attacks in the West. It's national suicide to entertain the daydream that they will start doing so now."

In other words, Rich seems to be saying, there could be a strike from the enemy side that would have more to do with the eventual outcome than the plodding American efforts. Maybe, one day, one of these planned terror attacks that did not come off, such as the purported attempt to down 10 airliners over the Atlantic last summer, or the aborted attack on the Ramstein Air Force Base and the Frankfurt Airport in Germany, or the allegedly conspiracy to bomb the John F. Kennedy Airport, may succeed, with incalculable effects.

It is also the case that the tension over Iran's plans, nuclear and otherwise, and North Korea's, could suddenly escalate. Just this morning, Secretary of Defense Gates is quoted as confirming that the U.S. is deeply concerned over reports that the North Koreans may be building a nuclear facility in Syria, which may have been attacked by the Israelis two weeks ago. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today that there are signs of a rising dispute within the Bush Administration as to how to react to Iranian and other nuclear developments in the Middle East, with Condoleeza Rice opting for diplomacy, Vice President Cheney arguing for U.S. action, and President Bush seeming to lean Cheney's way, as he has in the past.

Le Figaro, the French newspaper, has an interview today with the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, in which he says that the tension with Iran over its nuclear efforts "force us to prepare for the worst," which "is war." Kouchner also declares, "Iran does whatever it pleases in Iraq...One cannot find in the entire world a crisis greater than this one." Kouchner's remarks paralleled to a large extent those made by the French President, Nikolas Sarkozy, after his recent luncheon with President Bush.

Also, the London Times this morning has a lengthy article containing further speculation about Israeli action in Syria the week before last. That newspaper, a Rupert Murdoch-owned publication which sometimes is alarmist about Middle East developments, says that the Israelis landed Air Force commandos near a North Korean-Syrian base 50 miles from the Iraqi border, that they lit up the base with laser beams and that Israeli Air Force planes, long range F151 bombers, then were able to destroy it. Supposedly, the American government was fully informed beforehand.

The frustration in the Administration with the course of events in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and elsewhere in the region must, behind the scenes, be enormous. As time passes, and there is no conclusion, the chances apparently grow of a sweeping Democratic victory in next year's elections, even if the Democrats aren't able to effectively oppose the Administration right now.

Under all these circumstances, the ennui in America may be broken unexpected, either by enemy action, or our own, either directly or through the Israelis.


Somebody at the L.A. Times Sports Section certainly dropped the ball this morning when it came to the feature,"How The Top 25 (College Football Teams) Fared."

The feature has a key below which shows that teams that won will be marked on the left margin in white, while those that lost will be marked in dark.

But for eight of the 25 teams listed, the key had it wrong.

According to the key, both LSU and Texas were defeated. But they won.

And according to the key, Louisville, UCLA, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Arkansas and Tennessee all won. But, actually, they lost.

I wonder who was responsible for this lulu.