Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I keep trying to ignore Mickey Kaus, but his idiocy keeps pulling me... back... in...

Goldberg vs. Kurtz: Jonah Goldberg argues that CBS' 60 Minutes II shouldn't have broadcast those photos of Americans abusing Iraqi prisoners... I'm with Goldberg.

Goldberg, Kurtz and Kaus. It's the pundit equivalent of midget wrestling. Tag me in, Howie! I'm ready!

Anyway, here are Little Mickey's arguments against releasing the pics:

You don't have to print everything. I wouldn't print the identities of CIA agents.

Cute. Mickey Kaus: "I'm not as despicable as Novak!" Rummy: "We're not as bad as Saddam!" Great minds think alike.

I wouldn't print private information (e.g. outing someone as gay, or twisted) if it would cause them to commit suicide. I wouldn't publish the sailing dates of troop ships, to use the classic court hypothetical. Would you? Forget whether the government should be able to stop you from printing them--would it be a moral thing to do to print information that would very likely result in hundreds of deaths? The Abu Ghraib photo situation is very close to that one, except that the deaths are likely to be measured in the thousands and tens of thousands--once all the Arabs and others who are enraged enough by the pictures to become (or support) anti-U.S. terrorists are finished with their careers. That's if we're lucky.

It's nice to know that Mickey would out someone if he didn't think they were a suicide risk.

As for the "releasing the photos is tantamount to giving away troop movement" argument... can someone please bitch-slap him? Handing military intelligence to an active enemy is not the same as releasing information that could aid in the recruitment efforts of an active enemy. Equating the two is the moral equivalent of suing a gun manufacturer for gun-related deaths. They may have helped make the weapon, but someone else still has to pull the trigger.

"What would be the alternative: covering it up?" No. As Goldberg and others have suggested, CBS could have produced a story--even a TV story--that didn't display the pictures. If the Pentagon dragged its feet about stopping the abuse and disciplining those responsible, CBS (or whoever had the pictures) could have threatened to publish at least some of the photos as a spur to justice. But if the only alternative were covering it up--then yes, covering up is sometimes the right thing to do.

Mickey's apparently too important to bother with things like research. The Pentagon was already dragging its feet; they asked CBS to delay the story for two weeks, which CBS did.

Time to hit Slate up for an intern, Mickey, to save you from these little embarassments.

"Why not suppress all negative news and just salute?" That's a silly argument. Just because you don't publish something doesn't mean you don't publish anything. As they say, Mississippi's a hard word to spell--you never know when to stop. But you've got to stop somwhere. Editors draw lines all the time. (Did we see, for example, all the grisly photos of Nicole Simpson's mutilated corpse? I think I'd remember it, and it would have gotten big ratings.) Given that the purposes of publishing the photos could have been largely accomplished without publishing them, I'm not sure this case was even close to any line.

The pics were shocking, therefore no one should see them? Excuse me, asshat, it's precisely because they are so shocking that the American public needed to see them. These horrible, appalling things were being done in our name, and on our dime. To even compare them to the Simpson killing -- which had no public policy implications, but was just more grist for the celebrity-industrial complex's mill -- betrays an inability to see issues in any but the shallowest of terms.

Nicole Simpson's death was awful, but had no bearing on my life whatsoever. What happened at Abu Ghraib does. Moron.

A basic debate over the war against terrorism has been between two models. In one model, there is a finite number of bad guys who want to kill us, and who need to be defeated, deterred, overawed or killed. In the other model, there is a large amorphous group of "swing voter" Arabs who might support terrorism but who might also be persuaded to live in peace with the encroaching forces of globalization. Model #1 is associated mainly with proponents of aggressive military action. Model #2 is largely associated with liberals who worry about "blowback," root causes and the Palestinians (though some neocon idealists envision spreading democracy winning over the "swing voters"). If you buy model #2, as do many of Donald Rumsfeld's critics on the left, and as do I, then you really didn't want these photos published, because they are what will lose us the swing voters and produce the blowback--if not in Iraq then elsewhere in the Arab world. Not only does it follow that the photos are best left unpublished; it also follows that the Pentagon was doing the right thing when it attempted to keep them secret. And it follows that the revered Senator McCain, who has been declaring that he wants all the remaining photos released, is acting like a posturing, media-mad fool. ""We need to assure the American people this won't happen again," McCain says. Huh? The current crop of stomach-churners isn't enough to do that? We need to make a few hundred million more people want to kill us!

Mickey only seems capable of comprehending simplistic, either/or choices, so here's one for him:

You've done a very bad thing, and evidence exists to prove that you did it. Do you:

a) try to hide the evidence and hope nobody ever sees it?
b) come forward and try to pro-actively minimize the damage by 'fessing up?

Most four-year-olds know the right answer to that one. But not Little Mickey.

When you make Howard Kurtz look good, it's time to hang them up. Or up the dosage. Maybe both.

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