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Saturday, December 10, 2005

January 11, 1981 A LEGACY OF WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

One perspective during the early aftermath of Lennon's murder

Speaking Personally; A LEGACY OF WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
By ELIZABETH FLYNN (NYT)
Published: January 11, 1981

I WAS 14 years old when Yoko, Anne's cat, drowned in a neighbor's swimming pool. Anne, my best friend, was heartbroken. That was 1970. Now it is 1981. John Lennon is dead. I didn't cry, and neither did Anne, although I did call her in Boston, where she now lives, to share with her my grief and disgust. We have both changed. The death of Sid Vicious and the appearance of Devo and Elvis Costello mean more to me now.

Enough of that. The papers already have related enough anecdotes to fill a book called ''Where Were You When JL Was Shot?'' The recent re-emergence of John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, into the public eye was newsworthy in itself. Articles in Playboy, The Soho News, Esquire and other publications are proof of that. Lennon was back on the road, on his way to another round in the rink.

Now I don't deny that Lennon held a ''utopian identification,'' as Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice shortly after the killing; however, I do wonder about the controversial side of him, which seemed buried in the news coverage. Let's face it: Lennon was as famous for his music as he was notorious for his bout with drugs and his bed-ins.

The New York Post called him ''the Beatles' driving force.'' President Carter said in a a statement: ''John Lennon helped to create the music and the mood of our time.''

Did anyone ever ask Lennon how he felt about the hostages in Iran? Almost more ruthless than Lennon's death was the press coverage. Banner headlines and sidebar upon sidebar flashed in front of our eyes, shoving to the back pages news about the Italian earthquake victims, Ronald Reagan's new Cabinet members, the problems in the Middle East and New Jersey's water shortage.

From the billboard-type display of photographs on the front pages of some newspapers to the more-reserved spreads in others, the news of Lennon's death gave a new aura to the press.

Before it was a week old, the day-after-the-death edition of The New York Post was selling for $2 (regular price: 25 cents), while The New York Times's ''Quotation of the Day'' for Dec. 11 read:

''I would certainly like to wish him -whatever. It's hard to know what to say.'' - DAVID CURTIS CHAPMAN, father of Mark David Chapman, the accused killer.

Even the radio and television waves broke new barriers. All-night vigils were organized on such radio stations as New York's WNEW-FM, while ABC-TV News devoted 15 prime-time minutes to Lennon.

Throughout the week, news programs added as much as half an hour to the developments pertaining to mourners and the alleged killer and to pay tribute to the dead man. The prayer vigil on Dec. 14 was televised, interrupting regularly scheduled programs on most of the major networks. The entire 10 minutes remained silent as the cameras of Channels 2, 4, 7, 13 and Cable News Network swept over the silent mourners in Central Park.

Before me are stacks of newspaper clippings that I will file under Lennon or media (I'm not sure which yet). And in all those stacks what do I have?

Well, I know that:

- Lennon was shot four times (some say they heard five shots).

- He died from a loss of blood (although I also read that it was from shock).

- The suspect, Mark David Chapman, is 25 years old, is married to a Japanese-born woman, is from Hawaii and was reading ''Catcher in the Rye'' when arrested.

- Five-year-old Sean Lennon was ''buddies'' with his pop.

- Lennon's estate is estimated at more than $30 million.

- Miss Ono is excellent as a financier.

- The accused man's first lawyer resigned from the case because of death threats. His new lawyer is not afraid.

- Beatle records sold out the morning after Lennon was killed.

- The publisher is trying to meet the demand for the Grove Press book, ''John Lennon: One Day at a Time,'' and Manor Books is planning an ''instant paperback'' about him.

- Two people committed suicide because they were so depressed about the shooting.

- Gun control has been the subject of most major columnists.

- Lennon was cremated. An outstanding number of feature articles were written to pay homage to the star. Some were confusing. Were the writers paying tribute or trying to release their anguish? Granted, it is an awful, strenuous task to sit down and compile an obituary meaningful enough to chill the memories of one man in relation to all men.

Most writings had a twinge of strength, one phrase or tangent that began to hit on the vitalness of such a loss. But the bottom always fell through. Jimmy Breslin couldn't do it, and neither did anyone else.

I've been looking for a piece that would send the chills through me, the kind I get when I sit down and actually think of the stunning reality of it all.

I think part of the difficulty was that most writers tried to go backwards. By starting from the 80's and going back to the 60's through the 70's, one cannot possibly see it all in the proper perspective.

It was lazy for so many writers to use the quotes from old Beatles' songs. That is very old news. Everyone already knows it all. Perhaps if one had really ventured into the past, a more realistic vision would have shown through. By taking words that were created in the beginning, there would have been stronger, much more identifiable feelings.

What it comes down to in the long run is: Lennon is dead and the era is dead. But the era died when the Beatles broke up. If all these people really believe that Lennon had a cause, how strong could his cause have been if his followers cannot follow it through?

The best piece I've read so far is from a very old copy of Life magazine. ''Their lyrics have provided a disarming but trenchant critique of their elders' foibles,'' an end-of-the-decade issue of 1960 said of the Beatles. And then, ''The arts intermixed frivolity and death, and the gun emerged as the all-purpose symbol.''

If all these people - writers, mourners and comrades - really believe, there is no need to bury any of the hope or the philosophy that the Beatles and Lennon have been credited with.

Let's not isolate the issue. There are others who count. Need we quote the scriptures of the Beatles infinitely? Or can we relate to the words of a more recent song, ''The Beating of Another Heart,'' by Graham Parker, who sings: ''Love takes another shot ... You can't stop the beating of another heart ... the pounding goes on forever.'' --------------------------------------------------------------------- Elizabeth Flynn lives in West Orange.

Can Mommy Know Best? by Maureen Dowd

December 10, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

Can Mommy Know Best?
By MAUREEN DOWD

Can the network nightly news anchor evolve from the Daddy chair to the Mommy chair?

Will Americans ever trust a petite, pretty woman in jewel tones to deliver the news as much as they trusted tall men with dark suits and deep voices, like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw? Can high heels match the venerable trench coat?

The network news anchor career path is laden with the same sort of gender tripwires as the one for the presidency. Who do we want to lead us through a crisis?

"Does Mommy know best?" a longtime TV industry analyst mused. "If there's a gigantically frightening news event, people want to turn on the TV and see someone guiding them through it. Will they be comfortable with Elizabeth Vargas or even Katie Couric?"

Last summer, when ABC needed a replacement for Peter Jennings, I asked a top network executive whether the 43-year-old Ms. Vargas had a shot to be the first woman to get a solo network anchor gig. Shouldn't that barrier have been broken long ago? I mean, women can read off a teleprompter as well as men.

At first he sounded optimistic: she is not a news division heavyweight, but she is a lovely, competent Hispanic woman, which could mean a more diverse audience. And she might draw in younger viewers, instead of the dinosaur evening news demographic that mostly attracts sponsors like Viagra and Depends.

Within 30 seconds, though, the executive got jittery. "I know this is going to sound really sexist," he admitted with breathtaking candor, "but if there were another 9/11, I'm not sure if she has the gravitas to hold that anchor chair. ... Maybe it's not even sex. Maybe it's age. I just think we'd need someone with a little gray in their hair." (The network pushed Ms. Vargas out of the anchor seat in favor of Charlie Gibson when terrorists bombed London twice in July 2005, even though his day job was doing fluff on "Good Morning America.")

I pointed out that Brian Williams was only three years older than Ms. Vargas, and not noticeably gray. Network executives hire babes, not old ladies with wrinkles. Now that high-definition TV makes faces with plastic surgery look so weird, the women will have to be even younger.

"He's not 50?" the exec asked about Mr. Williams. "But doesn't he have some gray? ... Maybe we could let Elizabeth do it Monday through Friday and then someone else could do it if there was a crisis."

I had to laugh. They'd allow a woman to present the news as long as there wasn't any news. If serious news breaks out, send for the guy in pants.

So this week, it all came to pass. Despite the track record of the other two women who had to co-anchor the evening news with resentful men - Barbara Walters and Connie Chung - ABC teamed Ms. Vargas with the pretty-boy android Bob Woodruff.

TV and newspaper moguls are trying a less authoritarian news format. Brian Williams, who broke out of android status with his brilliant coverage of the administration's attention deficit disorder during Katrina, blogs to show he's a man of the people. Anderson Cooper knocked off Aaron Brown by emoting during Katrina, and being fetching enough to make People's Sexiest Man Alive list.

Les Moonves, head of CBS, is looking for pizazz. "On the one hand," he told The Times's Lynn Hirschberg, "we could have a newscast like 'The Big Breakfast' in England, where women give the news in lingerie. Or there's 'Naked News,' which is on cable in England. I saw a clip of it. It's a woman giving the news as she's getting undressed. And then, on the other hand, you could have two boring people behind a desk. Our newscast has to be somewhere in between."

Mr. Moonves has been wooing Katie Couric to succeed Dan Rather - she seems itchy to move on from making eggnog with Martha Stewart. Like Barbara Walters, she'd get withering scrutiny for earning a record-breaking paycheck (even though a man probably wouldn't).

But even if Katie breaks this barrier, presumably with her clothes on, will it be an important milestone for women? She is already the most important breadwinner for her news division, with morning chat shows outearning nightly newscasts. By the time women get to take over something - like Hollywood or Bush administration diplomacy - the thing is already devalued beyond recognition.

TV evening news is so feminized and soft-focus now - brimming with features on animals, diets and new "age defying" skin treatments - that Katie may forget she's not still working the sunrise crowd.

Molly Ivins December 8, 2005

Aunt Eula wrote from Fort Worth, Texas, to inform me that in 1954, 50,000 reindeer migrated from Lapland to Finland. An interesting seasonal note, but the most interesting thing about it is that we know it. Someone counts migrating reindeer so we know if they're up, down or holding steady. Try getting an accurate count of the homeless in America.

You can find an estimate for New York City -- serendipitously enough, it is 50,000, the same as the migrating reindeer of '54. After that, we start wandering up the scale -- 250,000 across the country, 1 million, multiples of 1 million. No one actually knows. Obviously, at least some students of this problem are off in their count by at least 1 million.

Oh, no! I hear your vast collective groan -- not another Christmas Column on the Homeless! Well, you know how it is with us liberals, we just can't help ourselves -- like Dr. Strangelove, our hands rise involuntarily, despite our best intentions, and write these Christmas Columns on the Homeless, thus managing to be boring and trite simultaneously, laying our liberal guilt all over an unwilling general populace. But grit your teeth and soldier on, if you will, in seasonal goodwill.

Not only do we not know how many Americans are homeless, we don't know much about those who are. The most common form of denial about homeless people is that they deserve to be where they are. They're drunks, winos, bums, addicts. Their condition is self-inflicted and thus not our fault. We have no responsibility. It's not my fault, I'm all right, Jack.

The concept of addiction as a treatable disease has not made that much progress, despite the best efforts of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council. Many of us still think these are the Undeserving Poor. (Wouldn't you think some sociologist would have done a comparative study by now to prove, as I have always suspected, that there is a higher proportion of Undeserving Rich than Undeserving Poor?)

But we know there is an additional admixture in our homeless population now -- one there, as conservatives never tire of pointing out, because of one of those brave, new, liberal social experiments gone wrong.

Lots of nut cases are on the streets these days as a consequence of the movement in the '60s and '70s to deinstitutionalize people who are not dangerously insane. Since it was incredibly expensive as well as counterproductive to keep those folks incarcerated, it seemed like a good idea at the time to let them go home and get treatment there. And as liberals never tire of pointing out, the reason deinstitutionalization was such a failure is because the chintzy conservatives in the legislatures never appropriated enough money for community-based mental-health care.

As a result, we have nut cases on the streets getting no care, some of whom are quite dangerous because they get no care. For all our brave, new sophistication about mental illness, many of us still react to crazy people with primitive fear -- don't get close, you might catch it.

Blame and fear. The trouble is, not only have blame and fear never built a single unit of low-cost housing, they don't cover the situation anymore.

All recent studies of homeless populations show an increase of two groups out on the streets -- families and people with full-time jobs.

You may well ask why we should pay any attention to studies done by the same people who can't even get a firm count on how many people we're talking about, but the consistency of the results makes them hard to ignore.

About one-third of the homeless are now families, and about one-fourth work full-time for the minimum wage. Their problem is simple: They can't afford housing. So is the solution -- build more low-cost housing.

Perhaps it is precisely because of the studies showing that the majority of American families are only a couple of paychecks away from the street themselves that we resist thinking about this. That's how denial works: The closer we get to whatever frightens us, the more vigorously we deny that it will touch us.

In several localities, we have now reached the apogee of idiocy by trying to outlaw the homeless.

Some of our professional hand-holders of the middle-class have lately been worried about "compassion burnout." What with everything going on in the world, it is feared that the American public will wear itself to a frazzle worrying aboout others, resulting in a general concern shortage.

As I have yet to witness an overabundance of concern for our fellow citizens now freezing to death on the streets of America, compassion burnout is not high on my list of priorities.

It is not often that we have a major public problem to which there is a simple solution. During the Reagan years, about $3 billion was cut from low-income housing programs, and homelessness, amazingly enough, grew apace. Three billion is peanuts in the context of the military budget. We know what to do, we know the solution is not particularly costly, and her we are, doing what?

"Hark!" -- the traditional beginning of the Christmas message of joy -- is, according to my Aunt Eula, the start of a message that has gotten garbled in translation.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Promiser in Chief by Paul Krugman

December 9, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

The Promiser in Chief
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Sometimes reconstruction delayed is reconstruction denied.

A few months after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush promised to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and economy. He - or, at any rate, his speechwriters - understood that reconstruction was important not just for its own sake, but as a way to deprive the growing insurgency of support. In October 2003 he declared that "the more electricity is available, the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become."

But for a long time, Iraqi reconstruction was more of a public relations exercise than a real effort. Remember when visiting congressmen were taken on tours of newly painted schools?

Both supporters and opponents of the war now argue that by moving so slowly on reconstruction, the Bush administration missed a crucial window of opportunity. By the time reconstruction spending began in earnest, it was in a losing race with a deteriorating security situation.

As a result, the electricity and jobs that were supposed to make the killers desperate never arrived. Iraq produced less electricity last month than in October 2003. The Iraqi government estimates the unemployment rate at 27 percent, but the real number is probably much higher.

Now we're losing another window of opportunity for reconstruction. But this time it's at home.

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush made an elaborately staged appearance in New Orleans, where he promised big things. "The work that has begun in the Gulf Coast region," he said, "will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen."

Such an effort would be the right thing to do. We can argue about details - about which levees should be restored and how strong to make them - but it's clearly in the nation's interests as well as local residents' to rebuild much of the regional economy.

But Mr. Bush seems to have forgotten about his promise. More than three months after Katrina, a major reconstruction effort isn't even in the planning stage, let alone under way. "To an extent almost inconceivable a few months ago," a Los Angeles Times report about New Orleans says, "the only real actors in the rebuilding drama at the moment are the city's homeowners and business owners."

It's worth noting in passing that Mr. Bush hasn't even appointed a new team to fix the dysfunctional Federal Emergency Management Agency. Most of the agency's key positions, including the director's job - left vacant by the departure of Michael "heck of a job" Brown - are filled on an acting basis, by temporary place holders. The chief of staff is still a political loyalist with no prior disaster management experience.

One FEMA program has, however, been revamped. The Recovery Channel is a satellite and Internet network that used to provide practical information to disaster victims. Now it features public relations segments telling viewers what a great job FEMA and the Bush administration are doing.

But back to reconstruction. By letting the gulf region languish, Mr. Bush is allowing a window of opportunity to close, just as he did in Iraq.

To see why, you need to understand a point emphasized by that report in The Los Angeles Times: the private sector can't rebuild the region on its own. The reason goes beyond the need for flood protection and basic infrastructure, which only the government can provide. Rebuilding is also blocked by a vicious circle of uncertainty. Business owners are reluctant to return to the gulf region because they aren't sure whether their customers and workers will return, too. And families are reluctant to return because they aren't sure whether businesses will be there to provide jobs and basic amenities.

A credible reconstruction plan could turn that vicious circle into a virtuous circle, in which everyone expects a regional recovery and, by acting on that expectation, helps that recovery come to pass. But as the months go by with no plan and no money, businesses and families will make permanent decisions to relocate elsewhere, and the loss of faith in a gulf region recovery will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Funny, isn't it? Back during the 2000 campaign Mr. Bush promised to avoid "nation building." And so he has. He failed to rebuild Iraq because he waited too long to get started. And now he's doing the same thing here at home.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sharing the Sacrifice, or Ending It By BOB HERBERT

December 8, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

Sharing the Sacrifice, or Ending It
By BOB HERBERT

If it is true, as President Bush and many others have argued, that horrific consequences will result if American forces are pulled from Iraq in the near future, then how is it that we are even considering a significant drawdown of troops in advance of next fall's Congressional elections?

Opponents of a swift withdrawal speak of potential consequences that are dire in the extreme: the eruption of a wider civil war with ever more horrendous Iraqi casualties; the transformation of Iraq into a safe haven and even more of a training ground for anti-American terrorists; the involvement of neighboring countries like Iran, Syria and Turkey in a spreading conflict that could destabilize the entire Middle East.

Vice President Dick Cheney told troops at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Tuesday that in the event of a swift withdrawal of American troops, Iraq "would return to the rule of tyrants, become a massive source of instability in the Middle East and be a staging area for ever greater attacks against America and other civilized nations."

Senator John McCain, who defines "complete victory" in Iraq as the establishment of a "flawed but functioning democracy," told Tim Russert of NBC that achieving even that modest goal would be "long and hard and tough."

If the hawks are right, if all of this is so - and if this war is, indeed, still winnable - then the Bush administration has an obligation to level with the American people, explaining clearly what will be required in terms of casualties, financial costs and other sacrifices, and telling the truth about the shabby, amateurish state of the Iraqi security forces.

As it stands now, the United States is incapable of defeating the insurgency with the forces it has in Iraq. So it is beyond preposterous to think that Iraq can be pacified in a year or 18 months or two years by a fledgling, underequipped Iraqi Army and a hapless police force riddled with brutal, partisan militias.

What's more, the U.S. military itself is in danger of cracking under the strain of this endless Iraq ordeal. Troops are being sent into the war zone for their third and fourth tours, which is hideously unfair. The more times you roll the dice, the more likely snake eyes will pop up.

Even with lowered standards, the Army can't meet its recruitment goals. And the National Guard and Reserves have been all but exhausted by the war effort.

The combination of troop shortages, declining public support for the war and the Republicans' anxiety over next year's elections all but ensures some substantial reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq over the next eight to 12 months.

And yet the hawks say we must continue the fight. Well, wars fought with one eye on the polls and one eye on the political calendar get lots of people killed for nothing.

If this war is worth fighting, it's worth fighting right. And that means mobilizing not just the handful of troops who have borne the burden of this wretched conflict, but the entire nation. Taxes would have to be raised, the military expanded, the forces in Iraq bolstered and a counterinsurgency strategy developed that would have some chance of actually defeating the enemy.

To do that would require implementing a draft. It's easy to make the case for war when the fighting will be done by other people's children.

If this war is as important as the hawks insist it is, the burden should be shared by all of us. The youngsters sacrificed on the altar of Iraq should be drawn from the widest possible swath of the general population.

If most Americans are unwilling to send their children to fight in Iraq, it must mean that most Americans do not feel that winning the war is absolutely essential.

The truth is that no one knows for sure what will happen if we pull our troops out of Iraq. Many of those who insist that the sky will fall were insisting three years ago that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that invading U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators.

The public initially supported this war because the administration was very effective at promoting the canard that Iraq was somehow linked to Al Qaeda and involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now the hawks must once again bear the burden of persuasion. They must persuade the public that the U.S. should continue indefinitely fighting this war, which has embedded us in such a hellish predicament and taken such a horrendous toll.

If it's not worth fighting, then we should be preparing an orderly exit now.

The Man Behind Rosa Parks

December 7, 2005
Our Towns

The Man Behind Rosa Parks
By PETER APPLEBOME

RIDGEWOOD, N.J., Dec. 5 - Almost everyone has seen the famous study in black and white, one of those rare photographs that entered the collective memory as a snapshot not of a moment but of an era and maybe something more. It's now on almost any bus in New York City and many of its suburbs, an invitation not just to remember but to reflect.

At the front of a bus, previously reserved for white riders, is Rosa Parks, face turned to the window to her left, seemingly lost in thought as she rides through Montgomery, Ala. In the seat behind her is a young white man looking to his right, his face hard, almost expressionless. The two, the only figures visible on the bus, seem a few inches and a universe apart, each seemingly looking at and for something utterly different.

Everyone knows her. No one knows him.

Except for Catherine Chriss, his daughter. And, like his identity, hidden in plain sight, unknown even to the veterans of that era still living, what's most telling about the real story of the black woman and the white man is how much of what we think we know is what we read into the picture, not what's there.

The man on the bus, Nicholas C. Chriss, was not some irritated Alabama segregationist preserved for history but a reporter working at the time for United Press International out of Atlanta. He died of an aneurysm at 62 in 1990. Mrs. Parks died at 92 on Oct. 24, a few weeks short of the 50th anniversary of her refusal to give up her seat on the bus to a white man.

Ms. Chriss, a journalist now raising her three young daughters, wrote a poem last month about the picture and the way her father became "the white man. The angry man. The one who looks like he's a banker. But isn't."

In the last few years, she's been amazed at how visible the picture has become.

"It's everywhere," said Ms. Chriss, whose family moved to Ridgewood from California in 2004. "Apple used it in their campaign, 'Think Different.' A friend called and said she saw the poster on the bus, the whole bus. It's on the bus my daughter Alison takes to school now. When Alison was in second grade, her classroom had that border with African-American heroes and leaders and there's the picture. She told her teacher that was her granddad up there. She didn't believe her."

Mr. Chriss, who also worked for The Los Angeles Times and The Houston Chronicle, publicly disclosed his role in the picture just once. It was three paragraphs in the middle of a 2,183-word article he wrote for The Chronicle in 1986 about his experiences covering the civil rights movement.

He explained that the picture was taken on Dec. 21, 1956, the day after the United States Supreme Court ruled Montgomery's segregated bus system illegal. (Actually, the ruling had come a month earlier, but it was not until Dec. 20 that the district court entered the order putting it into effect.) He said that he boarded the bus in downtown Montgomery and that he and Mrs. Parks were the only riders up front.

He wrote: "It was a historic occasion. I was then with the United Press International wire service. A UPI photographer took a picture of Mrs. Parks on the bus. It shows a somber Mrs. Parks seated on the bus looking calmly out the window. Seated just behind her is a hard-eyed white man.

"Each anniversary of that day, this photograph is brought out of musty files and used in various publications around the world. But to this day no one has ever made clear that it was a reporter, I, covering this event and sitting behind Mrs. Parks, not some sullen white segregationist! It was a great scoop for me, but Mrs. Parks had little to say. She seemed to want to savor the event alone."

But his role in the picture was not included in his obituary, and interviews with almost a dozen veterans of that era - historians; reporters; photographers; book publishers; the Montgomery civil rights lawyer, Fred Gray, who represented Mrs. Parks in court - did not turn up a single one who knew the man's identity.

Still, if little known, the history of the picture is explored in at least one source, the biography of Rosa Parks by Douglas Brinkley, first published in 2000 as part of the Penguin Lives series of biographies.

Mr. Brinkley said Mrs. Parks told him that she had left her home at the Cleveland Courts housing project specifically for a picture on a bus, and that the idea was for her to be seated in the front of the bus with a white man behind. Similar photo opportunities were arranged for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others during the day, he said.

Mr. Chriss then agreed to sit behind her for the purpose of the picture. Mr. Brinkley does not identify Mr. Chriss in the book and says that a reporter and two photographers from Look magazine arranged for the picture. He said Mrs. Parks told him she was reluctant to take part in the picture, but both the journalists and members of the civil rights community wanted an image that would dramatize what had occurred.

"It was completely a 100 percent staged event," Mr. Brinkley said. "There was nothing random about it."

But then the images and history of that era, so stark and powerful on their own, are seldom so simple. For starters, many people assume the famous picture of Mrs. Parks captures the events of Dec. 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat on a packed bus to a white man. Not true.

The other famous images of her, a mug shot and a picture of her being fingerprinted, don't date to Dec. 1, 1955, either. They were taken on Feb. 22, 1956, after about 100 black Montgomery residents were indicted on charges that they violated a local antiboycott statute.

Mrs. Parks was not the first black bus rider in Montgomery to refuse to give up her seat. Two other women, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, had done it in previous months, but Mrs. Parks's case became the one the legal challenge was based upon. The triumphant case from Montgomery that declared the city's segregated bus system illegal was not based on her case, but on that of four other plaintiffs, including Ms. Colvin and Ms. Smith.

And rather than a simple seamstress who dared to "think different," Mrs. Parks was a longtime N.A.A.C.P. activist who went to the famous Highlander Folk School to learn about social change and lunched regularly with Mr. Gray, the civil rights lawyer.

None of that diminishes the achievement or her life, just as, perhaps, the true story of the picture need not detract from its power. It's just a reminder that history is almost always more complicated and surprising than the images that most effectively tell its story.

Mr. Gray, now 74, says the picture reflects reality even if the moment it captures wasn't entirely real.

"What it says is true," he said, "that 381 days of walking had accomplished something historic so that instead of her getting up to give a white man her seat, instead the white man was sitting behind her on the bus. It was staged, but I don't think it inaccurately represented anything."

He added: "There have been so many misstatements and inaccuracies about the whole movement, to see something staged does not bother me at all."

In the end, the reality of the picture may be a matter more for journalists than historians to ponder - staging a picture today without identifying the participants would be viewed as unethical, but it was more acceptable then.

Ms. Chriss, who said she always thought the picture was, in effect, a photo-op, said she thought her father's identity should be known, not to give him a spot in history and certainly not to detract from the picture's power, but because in the end it tells what really happened in a picture that's become a part of history in itself.

"I wanted people to know there was a story behind the man and a story behind the photograph," she said. "I don't think he'd care about being known. It's not a photo about him. But it makes me proud to know he was a big part of history. Without him, that would not be the photo that wakes everyone up to the changes in our history."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Torturing the Facts by Maureen Dowd

December 7, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

Torturing the Facts
By MAUREEN DOWD
Our secretary of state's tortuous defense of supposedly nonexistent C.I.A. torture chambers in Eastern Europe was an acid flashback to Clintonian parsing.

Just as Bill Clinton pranced around questions about marijuana use at Oxford during the '92 campaign by saying he had never broken the laws of his country, so Condoleezza Rice pranced around questions about outsourcing torture by suggesting that President Bush had never broken the laws of his country.

But in Bill's case, he was only talking about smoking a little joint, while Condi is talking about snatching people off the street and throwing them into lethal joints.

"The United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees," she said.

It all depends on what you mean by "authorize," "condone," "torture" and "detainees."

Ms. Rice also claimed that the U.S. did not transport terrorism suspects "for the purpose of interrogation using torture." But, hey, as Rummy likes to say, stuff happens.

The president said he was opposed to torture and then effectively issued regulations to allow what any normal person - and certainly a victim - would consider torture. Alberto Gonzales et al. have defined torture deviancy downward to the point where it's hard to imagine what would count as torture. Under this administration, prisoners have been hung by their wrists and had electrodes attached to their genitals; they've been waterboarded, exposed to extreme heat and cold, and threatened with death - even accidentally killed.

Does Ms. Rice think anyone is buying her loophole-riddled defense? Not with the Italians thinking of rounding up C.I.A. officers to ask them whether they abducted a cleric in Milan. And with Torquemada Cheney slouching around Capitol Hill trying to circumvent John McCain, legalizing torture at the C.I.A.'s secret prisons, by preventing Congress from requiring decent treatment for U.S. prisoners.

As The Times's Scott Shane reported today, a German man, Khaled el-Masri, says he was kidnapped, beaten and spirited away to Afghanistan by C.I.A. officers in an apparent case of mistaken identity in 2003. He is suing the former C.I.A. chief George Tenet and three companies allegedly involved in the clandestine flights.

Mr. Masri, a 42-year-old former car salesman, was refused entry to the U.S. on Saturday. He had intended to hold a news conference in Washington yesterday, but ended up talking to reporters over a video satellite link, telling how he was beaten, photographed nude and injected with drugs during five months in detention.

Mr. Masri said through an interpreter: "I don't think I'm the human being I used to be."

When Ms. Rice was a Stanford professor of international relations, she would have flunked any student who dared to present her with the sort of willfully disingenuous piffle she spouted on the eve of her European trip.

Maybe she figures that if she was able to fool people once with doubletalk about W.M.D., she can fool them again with doubletalk about rendition.

As chatter spreads about Condi as a possible presidential contender, we are left wondering, once more, who this woman really is. Is she doing this willingly, or is she hemmed in by the powerful men around her? As a former national security adviser who has had the president's ear for five years, did she try to fight the appalling attempt to shred the Geneva Conventions, or did she go along with it? Is she doing Vice's nefarious bidding on torture, just as she did on ginning up the case for invading Iraq?

As Condi used weasel words on torture, Hillary took a weaselly position on flag-burning. Trying to convince the conservatives that she's still got a bit of that Goldwater Girl in her, the woman who would be the first woman president is co-sponsoring a Republican bill making it illegal to desecrate the American flag. The red staters backing this measure are generally the ones who already can't stand Hillary, so they won't be fooled.

The senator doing Clintonian triangulating is just as transparent as the secretary doing Clintonian parsing.

Speaking of silly masquerades, who does Judge Samuel Alito Jr. think he's fooling by presenting himself as a reasonable jurist? Here's a guy whose entire career seems to be based on interfering with women's lives. He wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade, condoned the strip search of a 10-year-old girl and belonged to a conservative alumni club that resisted the admission of women to Princeton.

All in all, a bad week for women - sheer torture to watch.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Black Hole By BOB HERBERT

December 5, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

A Black Hole
By BOB HERBERT

The news last week that 10 marines had been killed in Falluja in yet another improvised bomb attack sent a familiar feeling of dread surging through Paul Shroeder.

Every morning, when Mr. Shroeder awakens, he feels normal for the first 5 or 10 seconds. And then it dawns on him that his son, Augie - Lance Cpl. Edward August Shroeder II - is no longer around. Then an awful sadness descends, like a black curtain, over the rest of the day.

Corporal Shroeder, 23, was one of 14 marines killed last August in a roadside explosion in Haditha, in western Iraq. Just two days earlier, six marines from the same reserve unit - the Ohio-based Third Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment - had been killed in an ambush.

"When you have one or two guys get killed, it's back by the truss ads," said Mr. Shroeder. "It's not on the front page. But when you have 20 killed from the same unit in the space of 48 hours, that's big news."

The deaths of the 10 marines last week generated big headlines. But there was considerably less coverage the day before, when the Defense Department announced that four other servicemen had been killed in separate incidents in Iraq. The coverage fluctuates, but the suffering and dying of young American troops in this hellish meat grinder of a war goes on day by day, without end.

(Two more soldiers were reported killed yesterday in a roadside bomb attack in southeast Baghdad.)

Mr. Shroeder (pronounced SHRAE-der) and his wife, Rosemary Palmer, who live in Cleveland, and who are facing the Christmas season with eyes swollen and raw from crying, believe enough is enough. They have gone public with their view that the war has been wasteful and foolish and not worth the lives lost.

"We have to come up with a plan to get us out of there," said Mr. Shroeder. "What we're saying is that we need a serious debate about all options to end this. We cannot have the open-ended, ongoing, stay-the-course thing, because it's killing people."

Mr. Shroeder said he and his wife are not calling for an immediate withdrawal, "just willy-nilly," of American troops. But they believe it is essential that a workable plan for an orderly withdrawal be developed - and developed quickly - because the present policy, reaffirmed by President Bush in his speech at Annapolis last week, "is not working."

In Mr. Shroeder's view, President Bush's war policies have been both tragic and futile. "Staying the course," he said, is like continuing to pour water into a hole in the sand at the beach, "a process that gets you nowhere."

"My son told us two weeks before he died that he felt the war was not worth it," Mr. Shroeder said. "His complaint was about having to go back repeatedly into the same towns, to sweep the same insurgents, or other insurgents, out of these same towns without being able to hold them, secure them. It just was not working, and that's what he wanted to get across."

Mr. Shroeder dismissed the idea that criticism of the administration and the war was evidence of a lack of support for the men and women fighting in Iraq. "You can support the troops and be critical of the policy that put them there," he said.

He took issue with the public officials who insist that his son died for a "noble cause," however comforting that might be to believe. On the contrary, he feels that Augie's life "was wasted."

Recalling his last conversation with his son, Mr. Schroeder said, "I asked him, 'Do you feel like you're protecting your family and other Americans back here?' And he said, 'No. Not at all.' "

He said Augie felt that he was not accomplishing anything. "He thought it was a waste."

Mr. Shroeder, 56, is a partner in a trading company. His wife, 58, is a high school Spanish teacher. They've started a small nonprofit organization called Families of the Fallen for Change (fofchange.org) that they hope will help push Congress to take steps to bring the U.S. involvement in the war to an end.

I asked Mr. Shroeder how life has been for him and his wife since Augie's death. He paused for a long time, then said:

"Life is not the same. The holidays are not good. We both are church people and we sing in the choir, and this is the Christmas season. So normally it's a time of great music and wonderful singing. But I can't participate this year because - well, because he's just not here."

The Joyless Economy by PAUL KRUGMAN

December 5, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

The Joyless Economy
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Falling gasoline prices have led to some improvement in consumer confidence over the past few weeks. But the public remains deeply unhappy about the state of the economy. According to the latest Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, and by 58 to 36 percent people say economic conditions are getting worse, not better.

Yet by some measures, the economy is doing reasonably well. In particular, gross domestic product is rising at a pretty fast clip. So why aren't people pleased with the economy's performance?

Like everything these days, this is a political as well as factual question. The Bush administration seems genuinely puzzled that it isn't getting more credit for what it thinks is a booming economy. So let me be helpful here and explain what's going on.

I could point out that the economic numbers, especially the job numbers, aren't as good as the Bush people imagine. President Bush made an appearance in the Rose Garden to hail the latest jobs report, yet a gain of 215,000 jobs would have been considered nothing special - in fact, a bit subpar - during the Clinton years. And because the average workweek shrank a bit, the total number of hours worked actually fell last month.

But the main explanation for economic discontent is that it's hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom. Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.

Back in August the Census bureau released family income data for 2004. The report, which was overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina, showed a remarkable disconnect between overall economic growth and the economic fortunes of most American families.

It should have been a good year for American families: the economy grew 4.2 percent, its best performance since 1999. Yet most families actually lost economic ground. Real median household income - the income of households in the middle of the income distribution, adjusted for inflation - fell for the fifth year in a row. And one key source of economic insecurity got worse, as the number of Americans without health insurance continued to rise.

We don't have comparable data for 2005 yet, but it's pretty clear that the results will be similar. G.D.P. growth has remained solid, but most families are probably losing ground as their earnings fail to keep up with inflation.

Behind the disconnect between economic growth and family incomes lies the extremely lopsided nature of the economic recovery that officially began in late 2001. The growth in corporate profits has, as I said, been spectacular. Even after adjusting for inflation, profits have risen more than 50 percent since the last quarter of 2001. But real wage and salary income is up less than 7 percent.

There are some wealthy Americans who derive a large share of their income from dividends and capital gains on stocks, and therefore benefit more or less directly from soaring profits. But these people constitute a small minority. For everyone else the sluggish growth in wages is the real story. And much of the wage and salary growth that did take place happened at the high end, in the form of rising payments to executives and other elite employees. Average hourly earnings of nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, are lower now than when the recovery began.

So there you have it. Americans don't feel good about the economy because it hasn't been good for them. Never mind the G.D.P. numbers: most people are falling behind.

It's much harder to explain why. The disconnect between G.D.P. growth and the economic fortunes of most American families can't be dismissed as a normal occurrence. Wages and median family income often lag behind profits in the early stages of an economic expansion, but not this far behind, and not for so long. Nor, I should say, is there any easy way to place more than a small fraction of the blame on Bush administration policies. At this point the joylessness of the economic expansion for most Americans is a mystery.

What's clear, however, is that advisers who believe that Mr. Bush can repair his political standing by making speeches telling the public how well the economy is doing have misunderstood the situation. The problem isn't that people don't understand how good things are. It's that they know, from personal experience, that things really aren't that good.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

All the President's Flacks by Frank Rich

December 4, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist

All the President's Flacks
By FRANK RICH
WHEN "all of the facts come out in this case," Bob Woodward told Terry Gross on NPR in July, "it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great."

Who's laughing now?

Why Mr. Woodward took more than two years to tell his editor that he had his own personal Deep Throat in the Wilson affair is a mystery best tackled by combatants in the Washington Post newsroom. (Been there, done that here at The Times.) Mr. Woodward says he wanted to avoid a subpoena, but he first learned that Joseph Wilson's wife was in the C.I.A. in mid-June 2003, more than six months before Patrick Fitzgerald or subpoenas entered the picture. Never mind. Far more disturbing is Mr. Woodward's utter failure to recognize the import of the story that fell into his lap so long ago.

The reporter who with Carl Bernstein turned a "third-rate burglary" into a key for unlocking the true character of the Nixon White House still can't quite believe that a Washington leak story unworthy of his attention has somehow become the drip-drip-drip exposing the debacle of Iraq. "I don't know how this is about the buildup to the war, the Valerie Plame Wilson issue," he said on "Larry King Live" on the eve of the Scooter Libby indictment. Everyone else does. Largely because of the revelations prompted by the marathon Fitzgerald investigation, a majority of Americans now believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country into war. The case's consequences for journalism have been nearly as traumatic, and not just because of the subpoenas. The Wilson story has ruthlessly exposed the credulousness with which most (though not all) of the press bought and disseminated the White House line that any delay in invading Iraq would bring nuclear Armageddon.

"W.M.D. - I got it totally wrong," Judy Miller said, with no exaggeration, before leaving The Times. The Woodward affair, for all its superficial similarities to the Miller drama, offers an even wider window onto the White House flimflams and the press's role in enabling them. Mr. Woodward knows more about the internal workings of this presidency than any other reporter. He has been granted access to all its top officials, including lengthy interviews with the president himself, to produce two Bush best sellers since 9/11. But he was gamed anyway by the White House, which exploited his special stature to the fullest for its own propagandistic ends.

Mr. Woodward, to his credit, is not guilty of hyping Saddam's W.M.D.'s. And his books did contain valuable news: of the Wolfowitz axis' early push to take on Iraq, of the president's messianic view of himself as God's chosen warrior, of the Powell-Rumsfeld conflicts that led to the war's catastrophic execution. Yet to reread these Woodward books today, especially the second, the 2004 "Plan of Attack," is to understand just how slickly his lofty sources deflected him from the big picture, of which the Wilson case is just one small, if illuminating, piece.

In her famous takedown of Mr. Woodward for The New York Review of Books in 1996, Joan Didion wrote that what he "chooses to leave unrecorded, or what he apparently does not think to elicit, is in many ways more instructive than what he commits to paper." She was referring to his account of Hillary Clinton's health care fiasco in his book "The Agenda," but her words also fit his account of the path to war in Iraq. This time, however, there is much more at stake than there was in Hillarycare.

What remains unrecorded in "Plan of Attack" is any inkling of the disinformation campaign built to gin up this war. While Mr. Woodward tells us about the controversial posturing of Douglas Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy, there's only an incidental, even dismissive allusion to Mr. Feith's Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. That was the secret intelligence unit established at the Pentagon to "prove" Iraq-Qaeda connections, which Vice President Dick Cheney then would trumpet in arenas like "Meet the Press." Mr. Woodward mentions in passing the White House Iraq Group, convened to market the war, but ignores the direct correlation between WHIG's inception and the accelerating hysteria in the Bush-Cheney-Rice warnings about Saddam's impending mushroom clouds in the late summer and fall of 2002. This story was broken by Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus in Mr. Woodward's own paper eight months before "Plan of Attack" was published.

Near the book's end, Mr. Woodward writes of some "troubling" tips from three sources "that the intelligence on W.M.D. was not as conclusive as the C.I.A. and the administration had suggested" and of how he helped push a Pincus story saying much the same into print just before the invasion. (It appeared on Page 17.) But Mr. Woodward never seriously investigates others' suspicions that the White House might have deliberately suppressed or ignored evidence that would contradict George Tenet's "slam-dunk" case for Saddam's W.M.D.'s. "Plan of Attack" gives greatest weight instead to the White House spin that any hyped intelligence was an innocent error or solely the result of the ineptitude of Mr. Tenet and the C.I.A.

Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby are omnipresent in the narrative, and Mr. Woodward says now that his notes show he had questions for them back then about "yellowcake" uranium and "Joe Wilson's wife." But the leak case - indeed Valerie Wilson herself - is never mentioned in the 400-plus pages, even though it had exploded more than six months before he completed the book. That's the most damning omission of all and suggests the real motive for his failure to share what he did know about this case with either his editor or his readers. If you assume, as Mr. Woodward apparently did against mounting evidence to the contrary, that the White House acted in good faith when purveying its claims of imminent doomsday and pre-9/11 Qaeda-Saddam collaborations, then there's no White House wrongdoing that needs to be covered up. So why would anyone in the administration try to do something nasty to silence a whistle-blower like Joseph Wilson? The West Wing was merely gossiping idly about the guy, Mr. Woodward now says, in perhaps an unconscious echo of the Karl Rove defense strategy.

Joan Didion was among the first to point out that Mr. Woodward's passive notion of journalistic neutrality is easily manipulated by his sources. He flatters those who give him the most access by upholding their version of events. Hence Mary Matalin, the former Cheney flack who helped shape WHIG's war propaganda, rushed to defend Mr. Woodward last week. Asked by Howard Kurtz of The Post why "an administration not known for being fond of the press put so much effort into cooperating with Woodward," Ms. Matalin responded that he does "an extraordinary job" and that "it's in the White House's interest to have a neutral source writing the history of the way Bush makes decisions." You bet it is. Sounds as if she's read Didion as well as Machiavelli.

In an analysis of Mr. Woodward written for The Huffington Post, Nora Ephron likens him to Theodore H. White, who invented the modern "inside" Washington book with "The Making of the President 1960." White eventually became such an insider himself that in "The Making of the President 1972," he missed Watergate, the story broken under his (and much of the press's) nose by Woodward and Bernstein. "They were outsiders," Ms. Ephron writes of those then-lowly beat reporters, "and their lack of top-level access was probably their greatest asset."

INDEED it's reporters who didn't have top-level access to the likes of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney who have gotten the Iraq story right. In the new book "Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11," Kristina Borjesson interviews some of them, including Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder, who heard early on from a low-level source that "the vice president is lying" and produced a story headlined "Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top U.S. Officials" on Sept. 6, 2002. That was two days before administration officials fanned out on the Sunday-morning talk shows to point ominously at the now-discredited front-page Times story about Saddam's aluminum tubes. Warren Strobel, a frequent reportorial collaborator with Mr. Landay at Knight Ridder, tells Ms. Borjesson, "The most surprising thing to us was we had the field to ourselves for so long in terms of writing stuff that was critical or questioning the administration's case for war."

Such critical stories - including those at The Post and The Times that were too often relegated to Page 17 - did not get traction until the failure to find W.M.D.'s and the Wilson affair made America take a second look. Now that the country has awakened to that history, it will take more to shock it than the latest revelation that the Defense Department has been paying Iraqi newspapers to print its propaganda. Thanks in large part to the case Mr. Woodward found so inconsequential, everyone knows that much of the American press did just the same before the war - and, unlike those Iraqi newspapers or, say, Armstrong Williams, did so gratis.