The Talking Dog

February 28, 2008, R.I.P. William F. Buckley

Conservative icon William F. Buckley passed away at 82. Author of numerous mediocre novels, lots of non-fictions and decades worth of regular columns, founder of the National Review, and host of the long, long, long time t.v. staple "Firing Line" (one of TD's all time fave shows, btw) Buckley did what (IMHO) virtually no other conservative managed to do. With his perpetual Locust Valley Lockjaw (or perhaps an accent worthy of the "Aryan from Darien", although Buckley was Catholic from nearby Sharon, CT), Buckley came off as both smart and amusing, not to mention perpetually affable . Would, say, our current President (and Buckley's fellow Yale alum) come off as any of those three, let alone all of them.

Which is the point, is it not? He put a happy face on what, let's face it, is ostensibly a hateful movement largely powered thanks to the support of racists. Don't get me wrong: there is, for example, much interesting stuff going on over at the National Review, or its online version, a staple of our sidebar here. But then again, there were and are Jonah Goldberg legacy s***head hires over there too (such as... Jonah Goldberg!) spouting the sort of tripe that hints at what is so problematic about Buckley's movement ... while Buckley himself had some degree of intellectual integrity, much of his movement... simply doesn't.

As a historical matter, for example, Buckley settled first on Barry Goldwater in the 60's, a "live free or die" guy based in the "rugged individualist" West (just so long as those liberal faggots from New York sent along massive taxpayer funded subsidies for federal water projects, of course, eh?), and later, he settled on America's ultimate used car salesman, St. Ronald of Santa Barbara (who liked big government as much as anyone, just so long as it wasn't paid for).

Don't get me wrong; I always liked Buckley (hey, I liked Reagan too... used car salesmen are often likeable!). See above. Frankly, to quote Normal Mailer cited in the Grey Lady's obit:

“No other act can project simultaneous hints that he is in the act of playing Commodore of the Yacht Club, Joseph Goebbels, Robert Mitchum, Maverick, Savonarola, the nice prep school kid next door and the snows of yesteryear,” Mr. Mailer said in an interview with Harper’s Magazine in 1967.

How could one not like such an act [except for the Goebbels part, I guess; see above]? R.I.P., Mr. Buckley. And given how frenetic Mr. Buckley's life had been, rest indeed.

February 25, 2008, Who knows what they'll drudge up next...

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Apparently, the Clinton camp has sensed that it's third and long (and has been... for some time!) And, as time keeps ticking off the clock, the play is... go for the bomb!

Anyway, while this Buzzflash piece observes that today's bomb is the Clinton camp releasing pictures of Obama in traditional Somali attire during his visit to Kenya in 2006... to the Drudge Report of all places... and one wonders. Thus far, any and all attacks of this nature have only reminded us why so many of us can't stand the (ruthless, self-serving) Clintons... and have tended to backfire. But in some sense, what does Hillary really have to lose by going right to the racist gutter, and right now? Neither Texas nor Ohio have gone for Democrats in the general election for some time, so, if the wells there are poisoned, so what?

The Clinton team's response-- that other leaders are pictured as attired in local garb all the time-- only highlights their gall in trying to depict Barack Hussein Osama Obama as African or Middle Eastern... or does it? One of Obama's selling points is that he spent time growing up in a Muslim country, and is a personal embodiment of the welcoming diversity that makes America great. Which, naturally, the Clinton campaign is trying to use as a last-second wedge issue, in hope against hope that Hillary's 10 plus losing streak can come to an abrupt end in the Buckeye and Lone Star States.

Don't know. Let's just say that tomorrow's debate in Ohio should be... interesting.

February 24, 2008, Vox Parvi Populi

This week, I decided to be all "convtroversial", and pick a teeny-bopper icon that has... problems. So I give you Jamie Lynn Spiers, who I read recently was nice enough to visit her big sister Britney in the mental home... what a nice sister!

Meanwhile, Daddy says that Ralph Nader (who?) is running for President, so check out "He's Baaaaack!" over at American Street. Daddy says at 74, Ralph is even older than McCain. That seems really old to me... that's as old as some of my grandparents!

Well, it's back to school this week... so, what else can I say? This has been... Vox Parvi Populi.

February 23, 2008, Life in Hell

I was surprised to see that WaPo put up this op ed from not just one, but both of the only two Guantanamo detainee attorneys whose interviews were so extensive that they took two days, Brent Mickum, whose interview is posted here, and Joseph Margulies, whose interview has not been published. Brent and Joe happened to be among the earliest attorneys ever to visit detainees at Guantanamo, and have been at the forefront of the Guantanamo litigation since its earliest days.

The subject of the WaPo op-ed concerns their representation of Abu Zubaydah, one of the "high value" detainees at GTMO, an alleged 9-11 mastermind, who, after years of torture at the hands of our government (no other word for it), is probably beyond the point of being able to assist in his defense, if not beyond any semblance of sanity.

While it was Dostoevsky who quipped that a society's degree of civilization can best be found in its prisons, in the case of how we have treated everyone detained in our so-called war on terror, whether Taliban footsoldier, wrong-place-wrong-time taxi driver, or actual "worst of the worst"... we have not acquitted ourselves well. The whole point of being the world's mightiest constitutional republic is that we are governed not by the passion of mob-rule and desire for revenge, but by the rule of law. And we have just not done that with GTMO... our government officials have behaved much more in the tradition of Soviet commisars than what we would have expected of American officials.

Apropos, Bruce the Veep sends along this note about the kerfuffle likely caused by the testimony on behalf of detainees by former Guantanamo prosecutor Col. Morris "Moe" Davis. There's just no telling what Davis will testify about, particularly about what the goal of "100% convictions" apparently imposed by his commanders might have led to.

Just part of the ongoing mockery of justice and everything that this country standsd for, about which only m'self and a few other crackpots seem to be concerned with. One hopes that it's not as few as I fear it is.

February 22, 2008, McCain Tripleheader

Bruce the Veep has come up with a three-fer, on the subject of Sen. McCain and his... troubles.

First, we learn that in the ultimate "hoist on your own petard" situation, McCain may be locked into too-low federal funding limits (limits he himself opposed raising!) and may open himself to charges of at best hypocrisy (McCain-Feingold was after all, his idea!) and at worst criminality (up to five years in jail and stiff fines!) if he tries to opt out, though if he is stuck with the federal spending limits... he can't spend money til' August! Part of the problem is that the Federal Election Commission has no quorum, as Bush insists on a notorious vote-suppresser on the commission (and the Senate charge to stop this is led by... wait for it... Sen. Barack Obama... swwwwweeeeeet!)

Meanwhile, McCain's denials of the substance of the smear in the Times associated with a possible relationship and/or favors with lobbyist Vicki Iseman... it turns out that McCain's denials are in conflict with earlier sworn statements he gave... oops...

And finally, it looks like the scandal is cramping McCain's campaign style in troubling ways for him.

Time will tell. For Rudy, the combination sex/financial scandal of cooking City books to cover-up giving police chauffeur services to his paramour ended it for The-Hero-of-9/11(TM). While the aforementioned scandals will certainly undermine the pretense of "maverickness" and "reformer" for Sen. McCain... the fact is, Barack Obama could probably do that on his own. Ultimately, we will see if there is any substance to these problems, or if McCain can proceed in stride...

February 21, 2008, Call to action

Candace is asking her friends to make a call to action, specifically, as enumerated on her blog here, she's asking for letters of support for her client, Al-Ghizzawi, now resident of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who is evidently dying of medical neglect at the hands of our government, despite our government's inability to even say exactly why it is we are holding him in the first place.

Candace has brought an emergency motion before U.S. District Court Judge John Bates with respect to medical treatment, and at this point... is looking for your help. (As usual, since Candace often lets me look at these things while they are being drafted, I have more than a rooting interest in this.)

We'll see if we can keep up the Gitmo-mentum following Steve Truitt and Charlie Carpenter's victory in their case where they served the CIA director with a court order to preserve evidence, an order apparently violated when the famous torture tapes were intentionally destroyed. District Court Judge Roberts... is not impressed with the government's double-talk "explanations."

In the long road toward restoring the rule of law in this country, hopefully a welcome sign... In the meantime... consider answering Candace's call to action.

February 20, 2008, A question of ethics?

The Unseen Editor sends along this Grey Lady hit-piece on Republican Presidential nominee (if we can't say it now... then when?) Sen. John McCain, weaving in vague and unproven allegations of improprieties (including not so vague innuendo of a possible romantic relationship between the now 71 year old Sen. McCain and 40 year old telecom lobbyist Vicki Iseman). Supposedly, as he did with the Keating Five scandal in the 80's, it seems McCain used his clout to try to lobby regulators for the benefit of some of Ms. Iseman's clients.

One can draw their own conclusions as to what this says about McCain's ethics. People of good will and decent sense should be far, far more troubled about his sudden expedient reversal on the one issue for which his integrity is supposedly sacrosanct, that being his opposition to mistreatment of prisoners of war because he himself was famously mistreated as a prisoner of war... opposition he has abruptly abandoned to secure the GOP nomination (causing Bruce the Veep to quip that when McCain sells out, he does so on an Olympian scale!) To my view... the Times story seems small beer, thin gruel, etc.... especially when measured against McCain's actual sell-out on his supposed strong-suit (which a smart opponent will read as a self Swift-boating... that, and show this picture a lot!) Who knows? Maybe, as TNR suspects, there is a huge story brewing which may finish off McCain's presidential aspirations the way... pretty much everything finished off Rudy Giuliani's... Or not.

The other question concerns the Grey Lady itself, which, while it may be blowing up a minor story out of proportion, or may be working on something huge (no way to tell, just yet) has still not ever come close to atoning for its own complicity in war crimes (see Miller, Judith, for example) and its own role in advancing the irrational run-up to the Iraq war in 2003... for reasons still unstated. A huge issue was made about the timing of the release of this story last December, supposedly so as not to damage McCain's candidacy... of course, now that he's the nominee... it's an o.k. time, I suppose!

I just note that, Judith Miller (and that other bastion of journalistic integrity, Michael R. Gordon) merrily trotted out thinly (or non-existently) sourced stories that emerged from Karl Rove's fax machine about Iraqi WMDs and other non-existent threats, utterly unvetted by the mighty Times... even though the consequences literally were a matter of war and peace... and yet TD friend (it's always about me, remember?) Andy Worthington [Andy is interviewed here] warranted a front-page "disclaimer" by the Times for his having "an opinion"... that "opinion" being that Guantanamo is a cruel and misguided policy! See also... here.

And so... we come to the latest "reporting" on Sen. McCain's supposed "ethical lapses". I don't know... cliches one thinks of... glass houses? casting the first stone? Who knows? Maybe having the Times do hit pieces on him is just the thing McCain needs to improve his troubled relationship with Rush and Ann...

February 20, 2008, Hawaii Five-OBAMA!

First, happy birthday to TD Mom.

And then... it's his tenth win in a row, but TD college classmate (people, on this blog, it's always about me) Barack Obama has won his home state of Hawaii's Democratic caucuses to add to his huge win in the Wisconsin primary making ten in a row. This forces former inevitable dynastic front-runner Hillary Clinton to not only win the Ohio and Texas primaries in two weeks' time, at a time when Gallup is polling that she is losing support among Latinos and older women, but win them decisively to turn back the avalanche of O-mentum that ten wins in a row is building.

The formerly-sainted John McCain-- who has positioned himself as unelectable-except-against-Hillary-Clinton (he sold us out on torture-- TORTURE-- for God's sake... while he can live with his own conscience-- or lack thereof-- the rest of us may not want to live with such a compromised soul as a tortured POW condoning the practice upon others out of political expedience to a bloodthirsty and truly base "base")-- immediately attacked Obama on "experience" (hey, is he stealing lines from Derval Patrick Hillary too?)... and Obama's team shot back about the old "politics of fear". [For those interested in comparing "substance", here are Obama's and Clinton's campaign web-sites... do your own due diligence on the "substance" of their campaigns.]

The national campaigns seem to be forming the battle lines (Obama vs. McCain) already... Which means that the battle of ideas we should have had in 2004 and would again be screwed out of should Hillary be the nominee-- i.e., a war opponent vs. a war supporter-- can play itself out, once and for all, and the voters may yet finally get a legitimate choice not on nonsensical crap like "experience" but on the most compelling issue in the national consciousness (it's the war, stupid).

And domestic issues will matter too. This was going to be historic for Democrats no matter what-- either the first female or first Black candidate to lead its ticket (against the inevitable old White male on the Republcan side). It's looking like the latter.

February 17, 2008, Vox Parvi Populi

Daddy has said that as long as traffic from the bubblegum set keeps showing up here just to look at pictures of their favorite teeny-bopper heroes, I can keep writing this feature on Sundays. (He also says I am obliged to link to his weekly Sunday American Street post, this week's being "It's legal because the Spanish Inquisition was worse!")

Enough about Daddy. Now let's talk about Vanessa. I don't like her that much. Of course, because of that, I don't have too much to say about her. I wonder what Zac sees in her. Then again, I don't care too much, because I don't like him very much either. (Daddy, of course, is delighted that I keep mentioning their names-- though he points out I need to say "Zac EFRON" and "Vanessa HUDGENS" to really get those hits coming. What is he TALKING about?)

This has been "Vox Parvi Populi".

February 15, 2008, Broken record

The broken record paradigm of the Bush Administration has a number of variations, suich as a record of breaking nearly 800 continuous years of the Magna Carta, or his record budget deficits, or his record numbers of "signing statements" or record attendance at protests against he and his policies or American lawlessness and universal derision...

But in this case, it's that Bush sounds like a broken record, when chiming in that "Congress is endangering America". Man, how often have we heard that? Ever since 9-11, he has asserted continuously that the Democrats threaten our safety, unless they cave to his dictatorial whims; ah, the old politics of fear, as someone might say.

The President's current stated point is that Congress (the lower house, that is) refused to pass his version of "the protect America act", or whatever Orwellian term he has for retroactive immunity for private telecom companies that cooperated in unconstitutional invasions of our freedoms and privacy.

The irony, of course, is that the President is absolutely right on this. Congress continues to endanger this nation each and every minute that it refuses to entertain his impeachment and conduct ongoing investigations of the rampant lawlessness that the executive branch has subjected us to over these last seven years and change. Just over 340 days until, presumably, someone else gets to start cleaning up his mess.

February 12, 2008, Let the games continue

Given that some point in the next few months, the Supreme Court is extremely likely to hand the Bush Administration its third loss (in a row) with respect to issues associated with its warehousing of overwhelmingly innocent men it is holding at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, one continues to be amazed (disappointed but not surprised, actually) at the Bush Administration's refusal to back down with respect to its favorite gulag. Now, we learn that the Administration intends to use its time machine to pretend that it never tortured anyone, and, relying on magically "clean evidence" obtained by the FBI years after all of the relevant suspects (who have now been moved from CIA torture chambers and dungeons to GTMO) have been abused in ways that would have made Torquemada a bit squeamish, plans on relying on these new and improved and magically certified organic and "clean" confessions to... wait for it... seek the death penalty against half a dozen men.

Notwithstanding the extraordinarily flawed and controversial nature of the kangaroo military commissions that have been made up as it goes along, the Bush Administration presses on with efforts to use yon kangaroo kommissions to impose the death penalty. And the timing of this seems (naturally) designed to sway the electorate at a key moment-- or at least, to sway some key portions of it. Specifically, the tactic concerns Obama. Not only is the Democratic front-runner a Black man (and the Republicans will benefit greatly from the Clinton team's efforts to tell us-- falsely-- that Obama is himself a Muslim-- though he is not) but this announcement seems clearly packaged to convey to us that Sen. Obama is somehow "soft on terror", because Obama will likely point out that he has "problems" with the Bush Administration's approach, seeing as it countenances torture and all (whether he announces that he does...or not). Sen. McCain, himself a torture victim, might be vociferously against this as well... but he has already sold his soul just to get the nomination, so I wouldn't expect much from him on this... and as to Sen. Clinton... just don't get me started.

And so the Bush Administration goes back to its old tricks of cynical button pushing. The fake terror alerts don't seem to be working much this cycle. Even the rhetorical bomb throwing re: Iran... isn't going well. And no one buys that the SurgeTM has been working (other than people who support Republicans, period, facts be damned, i.e. around 30-40% of the electorate)... who, right now, aren't all that psyched about the once-Sainted John McCain. Sure, he's campaigning as an almost parody of a psychotic Republican warmongering tax-cutting abortion-banning maniac... but his own party's people, at least, don't think he is enough of those things to energetically support him!

And hence, the Bush Administration goes back to the drawing board that one might have expected to engage in, say, in the '06 cycle, had its heart been in it. We needs us a good public execution, we does. Even if, other than David Hicks' kangaroo konfession and 9 month sentence notwithstanding, the majority of the GTMO "worst of the worst" have been sent home, 5 are dead (1 of medical neglect, 1 likely of medical neglect and called "suicide", and three of "asymmetrical warfare" self-hangings)... in six years of holding hundreds, no more than a dozen have ever been formally charged, and none ever tried to verdict (if you can call these kangaroo kommissions "verdicts" in any sense other than the Alice in Wonderland one).

Will enough of the media and the American people buy this outrage anyway for it to serve its ultimate purpose (to wit, undermining Obama's campaign, either in the primaries or the general, and of course, its other purpose of diverting attention from "the Bush legacy" of leaving bin Laden and Zawahiri and A.Q. central by and large still out there, uncaptured, while instead we are bogged down in Iraq)? One is not particularly optimistic on this point, given the general levels of intelligence and goodwill of many Americans... and most especially, that of their media.

This has been "Let the games continue."

February 10, 2008, Vox Parvi Populi

It's Sunday, and my Daddy is very tired after finishing the "Bronx Half" this morning... so tired, that he once again doesn't have the energy to prevent me from taking over his blog. [Bwa ha ha.]

Now you might be thinking that I'm a little too young to be obsessed with celebrities and their goings on and all (like whether Zach and Vanessa are still going out). Well, I have to tell you... I don't care at all, but other kids I know do, a great deal ("oh, that old canard" says my Daddy). I say "what's a canard"? and Daddy says "it's French for duck". Then he says kind of like "Arbusto is Spanish for shrub (or Bush)"... and I say "what are you talking about?"

Well, there's Zach. I don't like him too much. But Daddy says gratuitous postings of teeny-bopper celebrities have been the best thing for his site traffic since Andrew Sullivan linked to his Rumsfeld interview (what is he TALKING about?)

This has been "Vox Parvi Populi". Happy Sunday to you all.

February 9, 2008, TD Blog Interview with John Byrne Cooke

John Byrne Cooke, a graduate of Harvard College and son of legendary
journalist Alistair Cooke, is the author of a number of historical novels, articles and other media. His latest book is Reporting the War: Freedom of the Press from the American Revolution to the War on Terrorism. Reporting the War was described by former Cox Newspapers war correspondent Joseph Albright as "a definitive and compelling account of the evolving struggle between a free press and censorious officialdom," and documents the issue of press freedom and press performance over wars ranging from the American Revolution to the "War on Terror". On January 21, 2008, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Cooke by telephone; what follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Mr. Cooke.

The Talking Dog: My usual first question is where were you on September 11th?" [I ask because my office then was, and now is (they are different offices, btw) about one city block from the WTC; the 9-11 question is certainly relevant to the subject matter of your book.]

John Byrne Cooke: I was at home in Jackson Hole, WY. I came downstairs just before 8:00 a.m. and turned on the radio, which was set to NPR's Morning Edition. There was something odd in the announcer's tone -- He was talking about the "situation in New York City," when he should have been wrapping up to prepare for news on the hour.

I turned on the television, just in time to either see the first tower fall, or possibly the very first replay of the first tower falling, and from then on I was glued to the television. Because I was so far from New York and my calls
weren't being routed through switching exchanges near the city, I could call my father in Manhattan and my stepmother in Long Island, but they couldn't reach each other, so I was acting as a messenger between them, and my sister in Montpelier in Vermont. My father was in New York, at 96th and 5th Avenue.

We all remember the events of that day vividly, the way those old enough remember about JFK's assassination, or where they were when they first
heard about Pearl Harbor. Although I saw it on television, as a New Yorker, it was certainly something that hit me as very real and personal. I was in New York within three weeks, and we visited "Ground Zero", when the fences were covered with pictures of "the missing", who were not, of course, missing, but just gone.

This was a magnitude of shock to the United States that I don't believe we ever experienced before. In my view, this was much more like the JFK assassination than like Pearl Harbor -- a big part of the shock was that it happened here, within the United States proper, like the JFK Assassination. Somehow we were attacked here, in downtown New York, and Washington. Three thousand people gone, in a matter of an hour or so. Nothing quite like it had ever happened before.

The Talking Dog: Your book takes a fascinating historical journey at American journalism in wartime, from the Revolution, through the Mexican American War, Civil War, Spanish American War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, and then the second and current Iraq war and the "war on terror". Aside from wondering why you left out the War of 1812, my question is whether there were any common threads you observed in the practice of American journalism over all of those conflicts -- both that you regard as salutory (or perhaps "best practices"), and any common threads you regard as... not so good?

John Byrne Cooke: The common thread I had hoped to find when I set out writing was that in times of great stress to the nation, especially military conflicts, when the threats to civil liberties would be most acute, that the press would step up... and my hopes were realized. The press almost invariably stepped up and invoked the Constitution to protest threats to thos liberties. In particular, in any kind of crisis, freedom of the press is asserted, because it seems that it is always threatened.

Freedom of the press is arguably even more important than freedom of speech, because it is the only way to ensure that the speech of the citizenry can be meaningfully informed. So I was actually gratified to find that I didn't have to dig deeply to find what I was looking for. For the most part I found the stories in the headlines and on the front pages, or the editorial pages. In the dozen wars that I examined, the the press went back to constitutional principles and asserted them-- and one hopes that the press would continue to be equal to the challenge.

The unfortunate exceptions I found were in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, and the failure of the press in World War I, after having helped defeat a censorship provision in the 1917 Espionage Act, which was proposed by the Wilson Administration, which would have given it blanket censorship powers over the press, to speak against an amendment to the Espionage Act that the Administration put forward the following year, which the press called "the sedition bill," and is sometimes referred to as the Sedition Act, but it was really an amendment to the Espionage Act of the year before. The amendment mentioned printing as well as saying things critical
of the government or the military, but it was understood that the press wouldn't be targeted -- it was really about going after political agitation. And the press really fell down on the job; it failed to voice concern or opposition to the sedition amendment, and so in the end, thousands of Americans were convicted and jailed for speech -- for nothing more than voicing their opinion in opposition to the government's policies. This was the single most repressive measure on speech restriction passed by an American administration.

The Talking Dog: Let me ask you about Fort Lafayette -- I suppose arguably, my home borough of Brooklyn's own version of Guantanamo -- a former island fortress off of Bay Ridge (now home to a piling of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge)... Fort Lafayette was used as a detention facility for Civil War objectors by the Lincoln Administration... how did you come across it as a historical matter, who were the types of people confined there (and for how long), and how did the press of the day address it -- and the other excesses of the Lincoln Administration -- then in the name of "national security"? Can you describe what qualities were shown by Benjamin Wood (i.e. as a "journalistic hero"), and if there are any analogous reporters to current similar abuses of rights by the current governments (Jane Mayer, Charlie Savage, Dana Priest, Murray Waas, Sy Hersh, etc.) that you believe worthy of mention? Also... do you observe anything about Wood's being brother of Fernando Wood, then mayor of NYC, perhaps reminiscent of our current mayor Mike Bloomberg, himself a media mogul?

John Byrne Cooke: I came across references to Fort Lafayette in the [New York] Daily News editorials of Benjamin Wood. I went to the Encyclopedia Britannica and other references to look up more details. I'm fascinated by all these historical sidebars, but I had to stay I stayed focused on the topic of my book, on the issue of press freedom and government actions. For example, until I saw your question, I didn't actually know the exact location of the fort. In the context of finding the voices of the press in response to government abuses, Wood was eloquent -- he protested that people were taken off the streets of New York City and jailed in Fort Lafayette, and that President Lincoln did this without proposing special legislation -- he simply declared that he could expand the powers of the presidency -- this was quite a step forward in presidential power.

When you lock someone up -- quite literally throwing them in a stony dungeon, with the walls dripping, and the realities of a dungeon with no access to courts, including the right to file a writ of habeas corpus (habeas corpus simply be
ing the right of a person detained to demand that the detaining authority legally justify the detention in court)... you have gone quite far. The Constitution is clear that habeas corpus can only be suspended in cases of invasion or insurrection. So Lincoln was techically justified, because the Civil War was certainly an insurrection. But Lincoln also imposed martial law far from the field of battle, and he tried civilians before military tribunals, and after Lincoln's death, the Supreme Court issued a decision that said he was wrong to declare martial law far from the field of battle, and that he was wrong to try civilians before military tribunals where the civil courts were still functioning. The decision [Ex parte Milligan] was a severe rebuke to those wartime policies and to Lincoln, post mortem.

The term "journalistic hero" is a reasonable term -- of course, it is somewhat of an oversimplification to designate a "hero of the free press". I was looking for articulate voices sounding the alarm about persistent government abuses -- particularly when the government expanded its powers during war, and when the press was most likely to be suppressed.

As for Benjamin Wood, he's a difficult case. (By the way, the Woods' Daily News is not a direct ancestor of the current New York Daily News.) The victors get to write history, and Wood and his brother Fernando, were "Copperheads" -- the term for peace Democrats sympathetic to the South. But Woods' accounts of the war referred to rebels as "them," and "the enemy", "the rebels" and so forth, while the Union troops were "our boys". Wood and others like him were not advocating the victory of Southern arms, but they were willing to tolerate the conditions of slavery. They believed that the North should let the South go in peace rather than fight a war to prevent the separation, and that the North and South could live as sister republics.

To read Wood's editorials, he was a good writer, and quite eloquent as to what the Constitution is for, and what principles in it, such as freedom of the press and limitations on executive power, that were built into the Constitution by the Founders, should be defended. A student of history, looking back, and looking at his record on this, will likely judge him better than the simple label "Copperhead" suggests.

The Talking Dog: Your book starts off with an account of colonial Massachusetts' publisher Isaiah Thomas (presumably no relation to the coach of the N.Y. Knicks), back in a day when publications were weekly local affairs, featuring a lot of what we would call op-eds... almost comparable to blogs these days. Thomas and others realized, for example, that their anti-crown stances might well have gotten them hanged for treason had the American Revolution failed. I note the numbers of journalists in Russia and in Iraq who have been killed (indeed, the current Iraq war seems to be one of the bloodiest conflicts ever-- for journalists). While I don't blame American journalists for being afraid of going into Iraq as too dangerous-- I personally wouldn't either-- I do wonder about a comparable lack of courage in, say, asking tough questions of the President... it shouldn't really come down to 89 year old Helen Thomas (who never gets called on anyway, and who presumably is also not related to the Knicks' coach) to have to carry everyone on this... it's one thing while editorial boards may pontificate in favor of wars or other government policies... but do you find it historically anomolous in how
rank and file journalists these days seem more willing to defer to government spokespersons, rather than try to ask the tough questions... or am I mistaken in that view... and is there historical precedent for this?

John Byrne Cooke: At the beginning of the revolution in 1775, there were about two dozen papers in the 13 colonies. However, they weren't strictly as local as your question implies. Thomas started the Massachusetts Spy in 1770, and it fairly quickly became the most popular newspaper in New England, but by 1775, it was influential throughout the colonies. For example, a letter in the Massachusetts Spy in Boston criticized the governor of North Carolina for an armed clash where a hour's truce had been arranged in a skirmish between the militia and some colonists, but the militia attacked the colonists before the end of the truce; the letter called the governor a tyrant, and the Massachusetts Spy was burned in North Carolina, and Isaiah Thomas was burned in efigy. So his weekly newspaper, a "mere" 4
sheet weekly, was influential throughout the colonies.

I certainly agree with the premise that these days there aren't enough tough questions asked of the President, and particularly of the current President, who engages in an awful lot of unconstitutional actions, without tough questions being asked. Certainly, Helen Thomas has shown courage, for which she was edged out of her position of seniority in the White House Press Corps, so she is no longer called on for the first question, but one tough questioner isn't enough. There is no equivalent of Sam Donaldson (who dogged Richard Nixon with his questions)... no equivalent at all, today.

You know, on the occasion of his retirement, Dan Rather said something I found very surprising. He said that when the President says something, you tend to believe him. Well, in my view, the prevailing attitude in the press should be skepticism of pronouncements by the President, or anyone else in the Government. The press needs to be more willing to challenge the President
-- especially one such as the current one, who is willing to threaten the balance of powers in so many ways.

The Talking Dog: Let's talk about the Spanish American War, and the famous dueling jingoism of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, well, especially Hearst anyway, which arguably helped incite public opinion towards that conflict. First, were there other papers sounding a more moderate (or at least nuanced) position (vis a vis American aggression, anyway)? Second, do you find any analogs to the current times, i.e. the run-up to the Iraq War, and in particular, say, CNN, the Washington Post editorial page and so forth... or does the analogy break down? (And where do the "alternative press"... the Phoenix, the Voice, etc.... blogs? ... fit into this?)

John Byrne Cooke: Of course there were more moderate views than Hearst-- Hearst was the extreme example! Then, Hearst had only two papers -- the New York Journal and the San Francisco Examiner. New York papers had no comparable analogs in papers of comparable importance elsewhere -- even in Washington. Hearst was out front -- he was in a battle for circuulation with Pulitzer's New York World. Pulitzer was one step more cautious than Hearst. The New York Evening Post was much more cautious still. It was strongly opposed to the war, and to "yellow journalism" as well.

With respect to the Spanish American War, two naval battles ended the war with Spain rather quickly. Admiral Dewey sailed into Manila and wiped out the Spanish fleet in May of 1898. A couple of months later, with the Spanish fleet bottled up at Santiago de Cuba, the commander of the Spanish fleet decided to get out of the harbor, as American forces approached Santiago overland, and
his fleet was promptly decimated by the U.S. Navy. This battle decided that war, and ended Spain's 400 years of colonial rule in the Americas. At that point, the issue arose of what to do with the Philippines. Pulitzer was of the view that we shouldn't keep them. President McKinley agonized over this... but he decided the US should keep the Philippines. Now, Hearst supported the war against Spain, and he was in tune with the public on this. There were real abuses by Spain in Cuba. It had set up concentration camps, not just for captured insurgents, but for whole villages, thousands of people, and in these camps, there was not adequate food, water and so forth, and people were dropping like flies. Sen. Redfield Proctor of Vermont, who visited Spain, was no warmonger. He came back and gave a very sober speech in the Senate about what he had seen, which convinced many people that we should go to war with Spain. But when it came to the Philippines, Hearst was wholly in favor of expanding the American economic empire into the Pacific; he wanted California to build ships for trade with the Orient; he favored annexation of Hawaii, which had been discussed for 50 years and was accomplished around this time. Hearst was all for Hawaii and the Philippines as naval bases for American ships, but he did not believe we should rule Philippines by force. He editorialized against the war in the Philippines. The San Francisco Examiner said President McKinley's representatives were "ruling by arbitrary power, without regard for the Constitution."

As to current analogs, certainly the alternative press was out front on both the first Iraq War and the current Iraq War in pointing out problems in the "case" for those wars. There were, of course, lots of stories in the mainstream press
as well doing this, as well as shouting for war. By the 1990s and now in the first decade of the 21st century, the voices in the press are not so concentrated as they were earlier. In the Vietnam era, we only had three commercial television networks dominating the landscape. The importance of their evening newscasts is almost impossible for anyone who grew up since then to imagine. There is no single source today with that kind of authority.

With the current Middle East War, there have been quite a few analyses done, by now. But certainly, in the 2002 and 2003 period leading up to the war, there were wild claims about Saddam Husein being made by this Administration, and we now know they were false. There were no weapons of mass destruction, no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda or the events of September 11th. While there was no dominant voice in the media before the Iraq War comparable to Hearst before the Spanish American War, there was, arguably, a better balance of opinion among the press, at least before entry into the war in 1898, than there was prior to the current Iraq War.

The Talking Dog: In World War I, your book notes that by and large, journalists (at least Americans) were not really permitted near the actual fronts, so that the true horrors of trench warfare would not be known by and large until we read first hand accounts, in the form of books written by the soldiers themselves, after the war. To some degree, this is true in all wars, but I don't believe we saw this again to this degree until the First Gulf War, when again, journalists were not really permitted near the front, and such reports as there were were subject to military censorship, so a lot of the "reporting" ended up being broadcasts of military briefings (including a perception of war as video-game, as military briefings showed neat moving diagrams of perfect explosions, missiles hitting targets, etc.). To some extent, this is how the Afghan conflict was covered, though with the current Iraq war, we have that "coverage" and we also have the ingenious "embedding" that still makes reporters dependent on the military with somewhat more subtle control of content. First, have I put this accurately, and second, if so, should (and can) the press be more demanding of actual access to the theater of combat, and in your view, is there a qualitative difference in the press's ability to actually cover the conflict in such a way as to actually mislead the public into believing, say, the wars are more antiseptic than they are, or indeed, going better than they are?

John Byrne Cooke: Before the Civil War, there had not been that many journalists actually in the field, covering wars. In the Civil War, however, the New York Herald alone had 60 reporters out covering the fighting. The Civil War was kind of an exception to American war coverage, because it was being fought at home. In the Spanish American War, Cuba was only 90 miles from Florida, but the access wasn't so easy. Hearst hired Richard Hardng Davis to write and sent Frederick Remington along to illustrate Harding's pieces from Cuba, and he got them there on a private yacht, but let's just say the military wasn't encouraging others to come and cover the fighting.

In the First World War, it was not that hard to get across the Atlantic (despite the unrestricted submarine warfare, convoys and so forth). But the French and English kept journalists away from the front. At the outbreak of war, Richard Harding Davis was in Brussels when the Germans marched through, and sent back a vivid report on passage of the German army, but soon, there was no more of that kind of reporting.

The next time a similar thing happened was the first Gulf War-- in the intervening wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam) the press had more access.

In the 1991 Gulf War, the system the Pentagon put in place was "press pools." The journalists hated them. A small group of people, usually a print journalist, a still photographer, and a two or three-man television crew five, traveled together and sent everything back to be shared; there was no exclusivity in the reporting. The correspondents hated this, and there was a very limited number of journalists in the war zone under this arrangement. Some American correspondents-- for example, Forrest Sawyer of ABC News, traveled with Saudi units, to escape the control of the US military. Sawyer had a satellite uplink, but there were very few of those. In those days they required a vehicle to carry the thing and it took a couple of hours to set up. By 2003, satellite uplink technology was much, much lighter.

The other thing that limited journalists' access to the fighting was the short duration-- the ground combat lasted only 4 days. Some of reports from the front never got back during the fighting -- some because the war was so short, others because the military censors simply discarded entire dispatches, rather than taking the time to censor only sensitive information. There was some heavy handed censorship, so the WWI analogy is somewhat valid, although in 1991 the press at least had some access to the actual fighting.

As to your other question on access, yes, the press should certainly be more demanding of access. In 1991, Walter Cronkite, who was then retired from CBS News, spoke to the issue of censorship. The difference was that in World War II, and early Vietnam, anyway, there was a cooperative relationship between the press and the military. But things were more adversarial by the first Gulf War. Cronkite suggested that with rational censorship, journalists shold be able to go where they wanted and to report what they wanted -- not to endanger the troops or reveal operations before they are under way, of course, but otherwise, journalists should be able to report whatever they wanted. And he said the press the press should demand this kind of access, "to the point of insolence."

The Talking Dog: World War II seems to have a unique place in the American mind (you call it "the Good War"); I'm wondering if you observed something qualitatively different in the reporting that came out of that conflict?

John Byrne Cooke: That's an interesting question, and I would give a qualified yes to it. First, the war was huge, in terms of millions of Americans involved in it, and a high number of correspondents involved in all theaters of war all over the globe. Every aspect of the Pacific, European and North African War was covered, and with such a large number of correspondents in the field, there was a greater likelihood of exceptional writing. So we have exceptional quality from a number of sources, like a Ernie Pyle, or Bill Malden or a Homer Bigart, from the New York Herald Tribune, reporting from the Pacific, and others. It was inevitable, thanks to the sheer number of reporters covering the war.

So far as the press was concerned, the most important aspect of the war-- which was exceptional-- is that the relationship between the press and military was so cooperative. We all agreed that the war had to be fought. The Nazis were clearly bad guys. They were the Dark Side, to use George Lucas's term, from the Star Wars movies... there was no question that the war was necessary and right. The press was just as convinced as the military commanders. There may have been disagreement over a specific policy, such as how long to fight in North Africa, when to invade Italy and so forth... but those policies were argued between Churchill, FDR and Stalin -- and a bit in the press -- but overall, what stands out is the cooperation and sense of unity and common purpose. This is why I, and many others, call it "the good war".

The Talking Dog: Arguably, the Afghan conflict in 2001 had that characteristic, did it not?

John Byrne Cooke: I would agree that the Afghan conflict-- and to a great extent the 1991 Gulf War-- had aspects of being well-supported domestically. Certainly, in 1991, some people were experessing concern with the consequences of engaging US forces in the Middle East, but of course, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, evoking the 1950 North Korean attack on South Korea, which began the Korean War. There was a lot of support for getting Saddam out of Kuwait. There were many who favored giving sanctions and diplomacy more time, and warned against the rush to war... but almost everyone favored getting Saddam out of Kuwait.

Afghanistan was different. In the fall of 2001, the Taliban were known to be sheltering al Qaeda, and it was quickly establihsed that al Qaeda was behind 9/11. There was a strong majority, if not near unanimity in the public, about
entering the Afghan conflict. Now, the press access to the conflict was very limited, in part, because of unique aspects of small numbers of Americans literally dropping in and sneakingup on targets. There was no room for correspondents in these operations. Later in the conflict, there was reasonably good press access, but it\rquote s always been a difficult theater to cover, because of its remoteness.

The Talking Dog: Let's talk about the Walters-- Lippmann and Cronkite... both of whom had outsized influence, Lippmann of course in print, and Cronkite as a broadcaster, in their ability to sway decision makers and the public vis a vis war policies. To what do you attribute their singular influence, particularly with decision makers? Is there anyone on the scene now with anything approaching that influence (and given how vapid the people I'm thinking of who might qualify are... is that a bad thing)?

John Byrne Cooke: Walter Lippmann was an unusual case. He was a Harvard graduate, and was one of the founders of the New Republic. He was asked by President Wilson to help draft what became Wilson's "14 Points" speech. But Lippmann was disappointed with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and he returned to journalism.

Lippman began his column in the New York Herald Tribune, for which he was best known, in 1931. By 1950, he was the dean of American columnists, and by his knowledge and experience he was uniquely qualified to comment on American global strategy and policies and positions. It was extraordinary to go back and read Lippmann's columns. Literally on the third day of the war in Korea, he wrote that best we could hope for by military action would be to restore the stalemate and partition of Korea that had existed since 1945. And of course, that's what ultimately happened after three years of war and thousands of lives lost. By the 8th day of the war, a week into the three year conflict that would take over 30,000 American lives, Lippmann wrote that it should be a rule of US policy, as long as Soviet forces were not committed beyond Russia's borders, that "we should retain our mobility and freedom for our own military forces. We must remember that our power is on the sea and in the air, and that
we must not commit our meager infantry forces on distant beachheads, thus engaging large elements of our not of our own chosing where no decision can ever be had."

To read this at that time, early in the Korean War, and then to remember that Vietnam, Kuwait and Iraq were to follow... it certainly looks as if we would be better off listening to our journalists (at least if they're Lippmann!) than our Presidents! Lippmann looked at the big picture -- the Asian landmass and its much larger population, and he realized that we be very careful about extending our land forces that far from home. Even the British realized that they couldn't t maintain supply lines to fight a hostile people across an ocean, which is why they settled both the Revolutionary and 1812 Wars. Lippmann was wary of American engagement on the Asian land mass. And when the Korean War became a stalemate at, roughly, the 38th parallel, he wrote another line that resonates with Vietnam, and today in Iraq. He wrote, "A stalemate without prospect of victory or defeat, and with no end in sight, is not the kind of activity to which Americans are by temperament well suited. We do not like getting nowhere at great trouble." Lippmann was, to say the least, exceptional.

Walter Cronkite's influence is easier to explain. In the 1960s, there were only the three commercial networks plus public television, and PBS did not then do a daily newscast. The men who reported for the three networks as on camera anchors were all experienced journalists, with foreign reporting experience, and were dedicated to their jobs. They were not entertainers or part timers -- they reported the news. Walter Cronkite became known as "the most trusted man in America."

When he went to Vietnam during the Tet offensive and came back and said he believed the Vietnam War was a lost cause, it had a huge effect. Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, said if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the nation. And he had. Just over a month later, he withdrew from the presidential race.

Now, of course, we're no longer limited to three newscasts. There is a proliferation of broadcast outlets, and the Internet, and no single voice has can have anything like the impact that Cronkite had then. It seems that the more polarized we become, as has been the case in the George W. Bush era, people tend to go to sources they believe will agree with the opinions they already hold, rather than seeking a variety of opinions. But I have some optimism. I think we may have passed the point of greatest polarization, and if we do enter a less polarized time, the proliferation of sources will inure to our benefit in making a better informed public (or so we hope).

The Talking Dog: How would you characterize the current American conflicts (Afghanistan, Iraq, the nebulous universal "war on terror") as compared to prior conflicts, and I'm talking specifically about the fact that now we have the potential for instantaneous access vis a vis the Internet and 24-7 cable and satellites... and yet, I get the feeling we are seeing (at least through the American media lens) a heavily filtered presentation of current conflicts colored by the tint our government and military wants to put on it-- and much moreso than in prior "familiar conflicts", say Vietnam. Aside from learning Arabic and watching al-Jazeera and other local broadcasts and reading the local press in conflict zones... how would you suggest an "eager news consumer" cut through the dross and chaff that is presented to us in the guise of "news" and find actual coverage of the kind (I think) we once had... or should we?

John Byrne Cooke: What is different about these conflicts from earlier wars is somewhat obvious insofar as in the ongoing wars in Iraq and the war on terrorism, we're not fighing a nation state with an organized army. Even in Vietnam, where we often had to look hard to find battle lines, the irregular Viet Cong were backed by a nation state, North Vietnam. In the current war.... what is al Qaeda? Al Qaeda is not so coherent as we'd like to believe. We'd like to
have a definitive enemy to focus on... but that's very hard now, and that's a significant difference from prior conflicts.

As far as the current coverage, we have an enormous number of broadcast and cable channels, and the Internet of course, so there are numerous sources of information out there, of varying quality. We need to recognize that as citizens of a free society we need to seek out that information, and not just to switch around from the football game to the basketball game and say "you're not reaching me." It is the citizens' JOB to seek out that valuable information. It is not that hard to find information in the kind of detail necessary to make informed decisions as citizens with the options that we now have at hand.

The Talking Dog: How do you view the seeming obsession with getting "a comment from the other side" and passing off "we presented both sides" as "news"? How does this fit in historically?

John Byrne Cooke: I'm not the first to criticize the media for this, noting that the dueling comment model is not the same thing as reporting. Reporting means evaluating, providing context, and seeking out the actual truth.

Just presenting two opposing opinions is not reporting -- it's abdicating the journalist's responsibility. The press has an obligation to try to determine where the truth lies -- because there is such a thing as the truth.

The Talking Dog: My traditional lawyer's weasel question is "Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else that the public and my readers need to know on these vitally important subjects?
I will also throw in... any particular people of note that we haven't discussed whom you think merit special comment?

John Byrne Cooke: I've been implying this, but I'd like to say it explicitly: what the founders protected in the First Amendment is the ability of the press to question, criticize and oppose, when necessary, our own government. But we have to remember that the job of the press is not to right all the wrongs the world -- it quotes the job of the press to sound the alarm for the rest of us.

The very last line of my book is a quote from longtime CBS journalist Eric Severeid, who said on the CBS Evening News, on the day before he retired, "Democracy is not a free ride. It demands more of
each and everyone of us than any other arrangement". It is our responsibility, as citizens, to get the news, and keep ourselves meaningfully informed.

The Talking Dog: I join all of my readers in thanking Mr. Cooke for that facinating interview, and commending interested readers to take a look at "Reporting the War: Freedom of the Press from the American Revolution to the War on Terrorism".

February 9, 2008, College Daze

Your talking dog has had a tough week workwise, which has led to reticence here on the blog. But the affairs of state now allow me to resume... regular... blogging.

The Grey Lady treats us to this account of Sen. Barack Obama (then known as Barry) and his two years at Occidental College in Los Angeles (1979-1981)... the Grey Lady seems to be implying that Obama may have overstated his youthful drug use! The Times, of course, fails to note your talking dog's three years at New York's Columbia College (1980-1983), even though the last two of them were, interestingly, shared by Sen. Obama.

Whatever the reason, it seems that Sen. Obama-- who I have told you I support for the Presidential nomination, and will continue to do so as long as he is running [unless the Sainted Al Gore comes in somehow]-- kept an infinitely lower profile during the two years he shared not only in my small college (graduating class of around 800 men-- Columbia's last all male one), but my political science major and my international politics concentration... and I have no memory of his presence, whatsoever (let alone his drug use). This year will be our 25th reunion, so it's been awhile... but neither I nor anyone else I know knew him.

Which, to me, means that he is the kind of guy who is not the American ideal... the used car salesman. Even the Sainted Al Gore and John Kerry (and God knows both Bill and Hillary Clinton) were running for President shortly after emerging from their cribs... but it seems, Barack was actually in school for some other reason... to learn perhaps, rather than to demonstrate his alpha male (or female) prowess and make future networking connections? That the first Black President of the Harvard Law Review, who could have clerked for any Supreme Court Justice and gotten super-bucks at any corporate firm instead chose to be a community activist, state senator and law professor, may say something about his character? Understand... may, not necessarily does, but still...

Anyway... my point is that Barack may (not necessarily is, but may) be the real deal: a genuine long term thinker, capable of learning, insisting on a non-sound-bite campaign because unlike those he is running against, he is not fundamentally a used-car salesman. A guy who, in his developmental era, looked around and learned, and developed, and may well (unlike the current Used-Car-Salesman-in-Chief) not just "know in his gut" what the right decision is, but may actually study things to get to the right answer (rather than the expedient or popular one). Maybe he has long term principles beyond self-aggrandizement.

Maybe I'm missing something, and Barack is another DLC whore in the mode of Schumer, H. and B. Clinton and Joe Lieberman... but... maybe the reticence of the young Barry tells us something about the man. And right now, until proven otherwise... that's going to be good enough for me.

February 3, 2008, Vox Parvi Populi

Hi everybody! I'm back-- and hijacking my Daddy's blog again! My Daddy says he doesn't mind too much, as long as I suggest you check out his American Street post this week, "I'm 'thtill relevant, and thocial programth are thtill dethpicable!". Also, my Daddy told me that since its "blogroll amnesty day", you can e-mail him ( and he'll happily trade links with you-- btw, Daddy says he always did that, unless you advocated human sacrifice or stuff like that or were selling condominiums or something.

Just wanted to say "hi" again, and say I'm really excited because my Mommy is taking me to see the Hanna Montana movie.

February 2, 2008, Happy Groundhog Day

The groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, predicts six more weeks of winter.

Of course, for those of us who don't believe that the Attorney General of the United States-- the highest law enforcement officer in the country-- should ever say that the ends justify the means and that somehow torture is permissible if the torturer decides "it will save lives"... there's around 11 1/2 more months of winter.