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Sunday, June 12, 2005 

Mike Kinsley is just plain wrong

.
Sometimes your best friend can be your worst enemy.

For instance, this morning John Fund on CNN's Reliable Sources dismissed the DSM because it is (after all) three years old. Of course, 3 yr old = contemporaneous with the secret events it describes, and were it 1 year or 2 years or 2 years 9 months old, Fund would dismiss it as anachronistic, because to Fund nothing that challenges the purity of the administration can be tolerated. We live with that, and we laugh it off.

Michael Kinsley would seem to be a different problem. He is, or should be, a friend of the truth. But here is his take:

C's focus on the dog that didn't bark -- the lack of discussion about the aftermath of war -- was smart and prescient. But even on its face, the memo is not proof that Bush had decided on war. It says that war is "now seen as inevitable" by "Washington." That is, people other than Bush had concluded, based on observation, that he was determined to go to war. There is no claim of even fourth-hand knowledge that he had actually declared this intention. Even if "Washington" meant actual administration decision makers, rather than the usual freelance chatterboxes, C is saying only that these people believe that war is how events will play out.

That's pretty heavy, isn't it?

Now imagine the universe that is required to make MK's description valid. A top-secret meeting has been called for the British Government's highest-level policy-makers to hear the report of the head of their foreign intelligence service on his official trip to Washington. Solemnly C relates the gossip of 'the usual freelance chatterboxes' he has encountered in Washington restaurants; his listeners gravely nod their heads, accepting that British troops must die and there is nothing to be done. Nobody asks C if he could possibly be wrong, and nobody suggests American decision-makers be queried about this 'inevitability'. Is that the 'reality-based' universe you and I and MK inhabit? I don't think so.

This, it seems to me, suggests another dog that did not bark. If, as it appears, nobody raised the obvious questions, it must be because everyone accepted that C resides in the same universe as they - and we - and that he was reporting what he had excellent reason to believe to be true. If the participants wondered what were the possibilities, they had only - as Kinsley somewhat laughably points out, cutting the legs from under his own argument - to read the American press, wherein speculation on WH intentions was rampant; there was no need to send C or anyone for consultations. And nobody suggested that Blair pick up the phone and inform the US President what his minions were saying because they accepted that those minions were indeed expressing what the American policy was. C had been sent to get the facts and he was reporting fact.

But, says Kinsley, maybe everyone in the meeting just concluded that the state of affairs was such as to suggest to any rational actor 'that war is how events will play out'. Again, let's imagine that universe. The group is anticipating the state of the world 6 to 12 months hence, during which time each side - of 4 or 5 sides - will be making multiple moves, and while certainly one or more of the thousands of potential paths must lead to a resolution short of war, none of these intelligent and powerful and patriotic men raises a question about probability. There is no discussion of how diplomacy might be used to reach a resolution short of war, to preserve the lives of the troops for whom they were responsible. Instead, the discussion moves on to consider how to prepare for the coming war.

That's not the world I live in. Is it yours? On my planet, the only way the discussion could have proceeded as it did is if the actor they knew best - not the devious dictator in Baghdad, but the ally in Washington - was guaranteeing that no path that precluded war would be accessible. C had just told them so, and if they didn't trust him they wouldn't have sent him on the mission, would they?

Why has Michael Kinsley chosen to live in a cartoon universe this day? We've known him a long time, since he was Buckley's protege, and many times he has stunned us with the incisive question, the bold analysis, that has allowed us to see something in a completely different way. We have also known him as a contrarian. And we have all turned our heads aside in embarrassment on the not infrequent occasions when he has danced around a stage grinning and preening that 'I am the smartest man in the room! Nyah nyah!' I will assume this is another of those times. He has indeed been smarter than I many times in the past. This time, that's not the case.

Maybe Mike has just made one trip too many to that well . . . .
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 posted by Clem Yeobright  # 8:45 PM  
Comments:
Clem, very nice commentary... glad you are on the team!
 
Well, Kinsley might be splitting hairs or not, but I don't see the 'proof' of anything but the opinion of a roomful of Brits.

I would love to see Bush impeached, convicted, and run out of town on a rail straight to prison.

But, not to put too fine a point on it, the DSM isn't proof of anything on this side of the Atlantic. It documents the perspective of some British officials who might be using Bush as an excuse for their own perfidy.

Not that I mind...
 
I'm glad I found this site. I just sent the following letter to the Times (LA), well, it speaks for itself.

Dear Reader Representative and Letters Dept:

Kinsley's opinion piece last Sunday, July 9th, was so sloppy it was worse than negligence; it indicates dereliction, and in journalism that rises the deed to some class of offense. After all, he is the opinion editor of the LA Times. If he just cranks out pieces without any standards for his own opinions, what does that say about the other opinions he lets on the back page?


I felt slightly assuaged by the other letters that protested his opinion, but not enough to prevent me from writing you. In the best light, his opinion's thrust is that it is no news that the Bush administration is fixing facts to fit policy, that many have known that all along. What a minimal opinion! Tell me, what is he arguing for? His journalistic crime is that his opinion conflates fixing with planning for war, which no one could argue against; it is perfectly natural for a nation to make plans in the event war is determined to be the best course.

His opinion also seems to be saying that it is no news because other sources are covering it. Well, excuse me, but that is ridiculous coming from a journalist. Journalists and opinion editors make content decisions every day; it is their job to prioritize.

But the memo IS NEWS because it indicates the sort of deception that a democracy can never tolerate -- regardless of where the reader sits on the political spectrum. The sort of evidence that ought to lead to Congress to conduct investigations into executive abuse. Yet Kinsley implies the memo only concerns extremists, not rational centrists like himself. Kinsley has probably been walking on sifting political ground for so long he cannot recognize something firm; I suppose it is a professional hazard of being too close to the stories for so long.

As I reread his opinion, I guess I am affronted by the unavoidable inference that he just assumed that "two hundred strangers' letters" were all without merit. (Another hazard of the job?) By the by, I was not one of those strangers.) Let me get to the nub: Kinsley slickly glossed over the language of "fixing." How could a "journalist" NOT understand the implications of such language? How could a journalist not do further research into some of the other language in other memos now circulating? Kinsley should have his licence to work with language suspended. Let alone with the facts, which perhaps is not a jounalistic requirement anymore in an opinion section. An opinion is only as good as the holder's grasp of the facts on which the opinion is based. I would have thought that would be clear to the Opinion Editor of the LA Times.

Until now I liked Kinsley's work, but his opinions and his work of sifting through opinions will never carry the credibility that the LA Times needs and deserves. Whoever is his superior should reprimand him. (Who's editing Kinsley's words?) Kinsley should write a mea culpa in his next column. I can't think of a good excuse for this type of laziness. Do the powers that be at the LA times think no one is noticing or that it can be managed because it has not reached some tipping point?

You know what I'd like? I'd like to read the letters that were written in response to his lame editorial, the ones that were not published. You can redact or delete any reader identifying information. I bet they were not that different from my complaint.
 
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