Archives: August 2005
The extent of the Katrina-wrought devastation is enough to render anyone speechless, but the correspondents in the field who are seeing it all firsthand don’t have that luxury. What’s amazing is that after literally weathering the storm and covering the massive fallout over two long days, so many of these people are actually making time to blog, delivering their raw impressions in a way that will surely change the paradigm. I came upon David Shuster’s first-person accounts on NBC’s The Peacock when I was rounding up quotes for the previous post and I just couldn’t stop reading. Here is an excerpt:
Now I’m about a quarter-mile from the beach. Everything from here back down to shore is utter destruction. All the beachside houses are destroyed. There’s nothing left. The people in this neighborhood who did survive did so because they were on the second story or on rooftops of buildings that were farther inland…
One of the most horrifying stories in Biloxi is with an apartment building along the beach. This morning, I talked to a homeowner whose house was right next door to the complex. The homeowner came back and saw that his house was totally destroyed. He says the people in the complex tried to ride out the storm and haven’t been heard from again.
Read more here…
Yesterday, the LAT announced it had hired Village Voice-er Charles McNulty to fill the long-vacant lead drama critic position, and today Nikki Finke reports on why the paper took so long to find someone. In summary, the paper wanted a big name, but big names in the theater criticism world don’t want to move to LA, because they want to be able to cover New York / London. The long wait for a new critic has left the Los Angeles theater community feeling alienated from the paper– and believe me, theater people are easy to alienate. Finke describes McNulty as a “safe but pretty uninspired choice.” Well, he should be a perfect match for covering all those safe-but-uninspired Taper productions.
What the fuck?!?! People need to be informed about this situation. This is quite possibly the worst disaster to ever occur in the history of this country, maybe not in terms of loss of life, but easily in terms of economic impact…It’s bad, people. Get Tommy Lee off the fucking television.
(NB I’m wondering where the ABC staffers are keeping their little blue wristbands; surely “According To Jim” isn’t the right answer to “What Would Peter do?”)
We drove over power lines, past a flipped van, and a giant fuel tank sitting by itself on the highway, blocking two of the three lanes. When we arrived at the beach, the sight staggered us all. Much of Biloxi was leveled.
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I mean, I was in — we found a hotel in Philadelphia, Mississippi, about four hours north of here last night. We ran out of gas. We found some gas at a Wal-Mart. We got a little bit of food at that Wal-Mart, some, like, potato chips. We drove down here. I don’t know where we’re going to go tonight. We’ll find something. Maybe we’ll sleep in the truck and wake up and, you know, start working again tomorrow.
There’s so many communities here, and people are so desperate for information. You know, the last thing we’re thinking about is, like, where we’re going to sleep or how we’re feeling. That doesn’t matter. There’s so many people in need right now, and information is so important.
The Jon Stewart-Christopher Hitchens dust-up from last Thursday has become something of a blogosphere cause celèbre, and plus Jon’s on vacation again so yes, we’re weighing in, albeit without our usual obsessive transcribing. Honey, sometimes we just can’t.
But also, sometimes we don’t want to; because, though it was a mesmerizing segment in which yes, Jon did kind of hand Hitchens his heinie, it nonetheless wasn’t the kind of segment I like to see. Why? Because it’s supposed to be a dialogue and Hitch and Jon kept talking over each other! It irrirtated me that Hitch was being all Mary Poppins-patronizing with long intros and quips, and irritated me that Jon wouldn’t let him speak, dammit – especially after imploring him to “help me understand why I am wrong about Iraq” – and then not letting him. Because Hitch had a lot to say, and Jon should have let him say it, even if it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
But, you go to air with the debate you have (HA) and this was obviously a good one, even if it wasn’t conducted in accordance with the Robert’s Rules for which I yearn. And though Hitch was indeed very authoritative, particularly about pointing out that Iraq had legitimately satisfied the four possible justifiable conditions under which a state’s sovreignty may be challenged:
“One is repeated aggression against neighboring states. One is fooling around with a non-proliferation treaty. One is harboring gangsters and known international terrorists. And one is genocide, which if you signed the convention means you have to act (Ed. – not that it’s enforced in reality, obviously). Iraq had broken all four, more than once.”
…that is nonetheless a separate issue from what is going on now – and it was right that Jon addressed that. Because there’s why the war was started, and then there’s how it’s been executed. And it’s on this front that the administration loves to obfuscate and wave around September 11th so that we won’t see the tinfoil-plated humvees. Here’s a bit more transcript, from an unusually moved Wonkette:
Stewart: You hear people saying a lot of stupid [bleep]… But there are reasonable disagreements in this country about the way this war has been conducted, that has nothing to do with people believing we should cut and run from the terrorists, or we should show weakness in the face of terrorism, or that we believe that we have in some way brought this upon ourselves…[cuts Hitch off] They believe that this war is being conducted without transparency, without credibility, and without competence.
Hitch: I’m sorry, sunshine… I just watched you ridicule the president for saying he wouldn’t give –
Stewart: No. You misunderstood why… That’s not why I ridiculed the president. He refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults and falls back upon platitudes and phrases and talking points that does a disservice to the goals that he himself shares with the very people needs to convince.
Hitch: You want me to believe you’re really secretly on the side of the Bush administration…
Stewart: I secretly need to believe he’s on my side. He’s too important and powerful a man not to be.
Hitch found out here that, at least when you’re on his set, it helps to have Jon on your side too. But I’d rather he be on my side and let me hear Hitch out so I could shoot him down myself. I know, I hold Jon up to ridiculously high standards. Is it my fault that he meets them so often?
The storm may have passed but the aftermath may be even more daunting – this picture from this morning’s NYT homepage says it all. Romenesko reports that the Times-Picayune staffers have finally been forced off the beat due to rising water; TVNewser, with typically thorough coverage, writes at length about CNN’s Jeanne Meserve phoning in from the field and breaking down on the air in the midst of a litany of horrors:
It’s been horrible. As I left tonight, darkness, of course, had fallen. And you can hear people yelling for help. You can hear the dogs yelping, all of them stranded, all of them hoping someone will come.
Meserve’s descriptions are far more graphic and horrifyingly detailed, but I couldn’t bring myself to post them. The transcript is here; his post prompted a huge response and Brian has since posted an MP3 version. If you start reading or listening, you won’t be able to stop. It is horrifying, and gripping.
My choice of title for this post was not flip; there could not be a more ironic association for all of this than the song “Walking on Sunshine” by the above-referenced band; trust me, it hasn’t stopped going through my head. It is, though, one of the most upbeat and optimistic songs I could probably ever think of, so hopefully the time will come, soon, when it will be appropriate to link it.
I feel a little dirty right now because I’m listening to an online radio show called ‘Hoist the Black Flag’ available here. But I’m doing it for you, reader, because Greg Gutfield is on, talking about the Huffington Post. Sample quote from Gutfield: “Most of the [writers] just suck.” He goes on to compare the Huffington Post to a cocktail party at which everyone is talking to themselves.
Now they’re making fun of poor old David Crosby. I’d keep listening, but the mailman just showed up with my New Republic.
As discussed yesterday, Defamer has now received two letters from Bert Fields regarding supposedly legally-questionable coverage of his client Tom Cruise. I’ve heard since then that Fields is, in the words of a well-placed source, ‘carpet-bombing’ publications, both on- and offline, with similar cease-and-desist missives. And frankly, I don’t get much mail. I want a letter from Bert. So I’m posting this image of a young dragged-out Cruise (originally published in the Sun) in the hopes of getting one. With my traffic, it might take a couple of days. Meanwhile, Anonymous Tips box is on the right if anyone has Fields letters to report.
Just because the book‘s been out for ages doesn’t mean that the stories our embeds get from the front lines are any less compelling. In today’s NYT, Michiko Kakutani uses her own voice to praise that of the Chris Ayres’s in “War Reporting for Cowards,” his memoir of a soft, neurotic, coddled reporter suddenly roughing it in Iraq (which reminds us of the story of a similarly-unprepared reporter being up and sent to Iraq – but the Times didn’t cover that one). Kakutani is clearly impressed with Ayre’s self-deprecating humor but also with his rendering of the realities of service; it’s pretty powerful to juxtapose the survival tip he picks up in his “Surviving Dangerous Countries” training course (“carry a Ziploc bag in our backpacks, for severed fingers or toes”) with his appreciation of the simplest, simplest luxuries back home (” I sang in the shower this morning because the water was hot and because no one was trying to kill me”). Powerful stuff.
Over at WWD, Sara James reports that Vaity Fair scribe and Dever City Magazine 5280 exec editor Maximillian Potter has returned from his two-and-a-half week embed in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, travelling with (and protected by) “the selfless men of the Marines’ Detachment 4 of the 5th Civil Affairs Group,” a unit that included his childhood friend Tim McMenamin, chief warrant officer second class.
Sounds like Potter’s pieces will be gritty must-reads (and possibly controversial since he cops to a more hawk-like stance now, telling James that “I am convinced that regardless of how the U. S. got to where it is in Iraq, we absolutely must stay until we get the training wheels of civilization screwed on that place”).
Whatever the conclusions, the important thing is for the stories to keep coming out – between the constitutional crisis, Saddam’s upcoming trial, the continued insurgency and the reality of the U.S. presence there, there’s really nothing about Iraq to be fatigued about, actually.
It’s worth remembering, too, especially now that we’ve officially reached a milestone, of sorts: more journalists killed in two years of the Iraq war than during the entire conflict in Vietnam.
We’re glad Potter and Ayres are back safely and are sharing their experiences – here’s hoping for the safe return of our other colleagues over there.
UPDATE: And while we’re worrying about them over there they’re worrying about things over here: Newsweek just sent out a story by correspondent Michael Hastings in Baghdad who reports on a batallion of National Guardmen from Louisiana, anxiously trying to get information on their Katrina-ravaged homes and families from Iraq (not surprisingly, they’re watching Fox). The men have only eight days remaining in their tour of duty – but who knows if they will even have homes to go to. It’s an interesting perspective on life over there, and over here; Hastings quotes a soldier with as good a closing line as any: “It’s the perfect f–ked-up ending to a perfect f–ked-up war.”