Monthly Archives: July 2008

“Playing the Race Card”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is annoyed by the phrase, “playing the race card.” Today, the McCain campaign is accusing Barack Obama of using — what conventional wisdom calls — one of the most vile cards in the politics deck.

The idea of playing the race card is just a silly catch-all phrase that is designed to elicit some sort of negative response about the cardholder. Really, what does playing the race card mean? First of all, race is something that will be in this campaign no matter what. There have been 43 white male presidents in U.S. history. Here we have the first black major-party candidate with a real shot of becoming president, do you think that white males will just sit back and let that happen without reminding voters, “uh, excuse me, but he’s black.”

Of course not. There is too much history here. The unfinished business of slavery and its legacy continues to this very day because it was never dealt with fully, and Americans like to pretend that “we have moved beyond that.” So, until we actually deal with our history, race will be a part of the conversation.

Second, what journalists should be doing — instead of hyperventilating over who is “playing the race card” — is having real discussion about the content, or substance, of what is being called “playing the race card.” Most importantly, journalists should ask, who is actually benefiting from the focus of race in the campaign?

In this case, it’s the McCain campaign that will benefit. Their narrative so far about Obama (and amplified by the series of viral smear emails going around) has been all about Obama not being American enough, not patriotic enough, not putting his country first (see McCain’s new tagline), being the quintessential “other” (read: too black, or a Muslim which he is not — not that either of these should preclude one from becoming president).

And one last thing: the notion that the Obama campaign is playing the race card is just ridiculous. Why? Because, when you look at Obama, he is clearly black, or at least not white (though he is half, yet identifies as black; but more on identity/race/perception in the U.S. at some other time). So in a way, I guess Obama is a “walking race card.” Please. Look at history. It does not benefit him to be black when running for the presidency, and even if it did, he would maybe only be on equal ground with a white male at that point.

Late Update: I just want to re-emphasize the new McCain tagline, “COUNTRY FIRST” (refer to why a few paragraphs above), because there is a big kick-off (and free) “Country First” Concert tonight 8/1/08 in Panama City, Florida. This, combined with the negative ads this week, combined with the viral smear emails, is clearly the new unified message strategy. Everyone, repeat after me. The new tagline says it all. Check the screenshot below of the campaign website with the tagline blazed across the top.

"Obama is not quite American enough"

"Country First" -- read: "Obama is not quite American enough"

Later Update: The “Country First” Concert with John McCain last night only draws several hundred people, which is only a fraction of what country music star John Rich normally gets at his concerts — usually in the thousands — and remember, this concert was free.

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McCain Far from Straight Talk on Iraq

The good folks over at TPM Election Central have put together what they are calling “The Definitive McCain Iraq Timeline.” The timeline finds many inconsistencies in Senator McCain’s public statements on Iraq.

No matter how many times I watch old video of TV interviews with political figures (largely culled from cable news channels and C-SPAN, edited by motivated citizen journalists and now available on YouTube), I am always amazed when I actually watch the footage. To see all the things people said publicly, edited in rapid montage, really blows my mind sometimes. It makes the inconsistencies stand out that much more.

Jed Lewison of Jedreport.com has edited one such piece on McCain’s Iraq inconsistent statements that really stands out. Check it out, particularly if you think that McCain is truly a straight-talker.

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A Picture Worth One-Thousand Words

The U.S. and the World after almost 8 years of the Bush Presidency?

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The Sanitized War Disconnect

The New York Times has a front-page article today by Michael Kamber and Tim Arango about the increasing difficulty photojournalists are having with an American military that is attempting to control graphic images from the war in Iraq. One of the photojournalists featured in the Times’ article is Zoriah Miller, who was recently interviewed on Democracy Now! after he was barred from the Marine Corps for publishing graphic photos showing Marines killed in a suicide attack last month. In the Times’ article, Miller says:

“The fact that the images I took of the suicide bombing — which are just photographs of something that happens every day all across the country — the fact that these photos have been so incredibly shocking to people, says that whatever they are doing to limit this type of photo getting out, it is working.”

The Times’ article says that “searches and interviews turned up fewer than a half-dozen graphic photographs of dead American soldiers,” and, by a recent count, only a handful of Western photographers are covering the war today.

One is forced to wonder, as Miller implies above, if the public saw more of these photos — which in reality show the true nature of war and the consequences of violence — would there be the same amount of passivity regarding the ongoing unpopular war?

Very Late Update: The New York Times’ Public Editor weighs in on the details of the Times’ decisions to publish war photographs.

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On the Definition of “Success”

Due to Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s trip to Iraq early this past week, there’s been a lot of seeming consensus in the news media again around the idea that the so-called “surge” has succeeded. The campaign of Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain has been aggressively pushing this narrative mostly because it’s virtually the only thing McCain is running on now (i.e. saying he was right about the surge). However, early in the week the New York Times rejected McCain’s op-ed piece (which was a rebuttal to Obama’s op-ed piece a week earlier) on the grounds that it offered no new information (in terms of overall strategy with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan) and that it did not define “victory” (read: success) in Iraq.

Let’s have a look at the definition of “success”:

success: (noun) the accomplishment of an aim or purpose

While on his whirlwind international tour this week, Obama was interviewed by CBS News anchor Katie Couric. She asked him three different times, within a few minutes, some variation of the McCain Campaign talking point: “Why don’t you admit that the surge has succeeded?” Obama said there was no doubt that the work U.S. troops did was one of the things that had helped to reduce violence (see below for more info on what the other things were). Obama has consistently said the aim or purpose of the Bush surge strategy was to reduce violence enough to enable significant political progress between different Iraqi factions and interests; and to bring an end to the de facto civil war which had engulfed the nation in sectarian violence.

So has this aim or purpose been met? If adding tens of thousands of additional troops wasn’t the only thing that contributed to a reduction in violence, what were the other things? Can we actually, in all honesty, say that the surge has succeeded? Was the only goal of the surge to reduce violence? And if so, now what?

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail was interviewed on Democracy Now! back in January right after President Bush touted the surge as a success in his SOTU address. Jamail emphasized that we understand the surge (or more appropriately termed, escalation) in the context of a then almost five-year war.

JAMAIL: Well, the surge—and what’s very interesting, too, is not only do we have a US surge, according to Mr. Bush, we have an Iraqi surge—two Iraqi surges, actually, the first of which he mentioned in his talk last night, the concerned citizens or the awakening groups. Well, it’s really interesting that the same time last year, as Mr. Bush was happily doing during his speech, comparing where were we last year to this year, well, last year, these same people, these concerned local citizens, according to the US military, were called al-Qaeda or insurgents or terrorists. And now that there’s 80,000 of them on the US payroll, they’re concerned citizens and they’re an Iraqi surge. And these same people, as we look at the situation on the ground, this is causing deep, deep—a deepening of the political divisions in the country. The US-backed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been vehemently opposed to this concerned citizens group backed by the US military in Iraq, these people, most of which are former resistance fighters, because they’re now a threat to the Iraqi government forces. So that’s causing huge problems on the ground in Iraq today. And if we look at the situation, the military recently announced within the last month that there was a sevenfold increase in the use of air power last year. So these are some of the reasons why right now there are fewer US troops dying, but the reality is they’re paying off resistance fighters to stand down. And Muqtada al-Sadr, who commands the largest militia in the country, has his militia on stand-down until next month, where that stand-down might end and things would change dramatically.

The current debate between the presidential candidates about who was right about the surge (and moderated by the news media) would, I think, like Jamail, be better understood in terms of the broader context of the Iraq War as a whole. Not to mention framing it using clear defintions of words like “success.” You would think that the news media that did so poorly in covering the rush to war in 2002-03 would try a little harder to get this part of the story right. Or maybe not.

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Setting Sail

Greetings to outer space and to the virtual world. Today, I am setting sail, so to speak, out towards the vast open sea of the Web, what some may call the wild west of the future. Others call it the future of citizen journalism. Many just call it blogging.

To be honest, I’ve been quite afraid of blogging. And yes, I’ve been a hater as well, silently thinking to myself, “Blogs are for people with huge egos. Why do they think the whole world cares what they think? You’ve got to be pretty damn self-absorbed to start one of those.” And maybe I’m uneasy with my relationship with computers and technology in general. The Internet and computers, they seem to suck you in, your eyes bulging as you stare at your screen, mindlessly clicking on the next link, and then the next, scrolling down to read just one more comment…. and as your posture worsens, you remain motionless, hypnotized by the words and images onscreen, unable to pull away…  and then, fywhhhhhewwwwww, you take a deep breath and think, “wow, I was lost out there for a minute.”

In reality, I’ve just been afraid of posting. Cause secretly, I love to read blogs. Especially blogs focused on news. Yes I am a news junkie and a political junkie. And so far, I’ve been perfectly content remaining on the sidelines, as a reader, a quiet observer. Let me tell you, there are some very intelligent people out there leaving comments. But man, there is a TON of content, so much to read, so much junk to sift through. Who has time to do this? Is this the life I want? All day at a computer, or addicted to my RSS news feeds on my BlackBerry? Who has time to leave comments, or posts? And who wants an unedited track record out there, all tee’d up for Google searches, stalkers and backstabbers?

For quite some time, my friends and family have told me I should start a blog and have often asked how come you don’t write more often? They seem genuinely interested in what I have to say. Maybe I’m too modest: I don’t believe I’m a very good writer. I’m too much of a perfectionist, too meticulous, to make writing an effective use of my time. Next month, I begin classes at the brand new CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (after not feeling Columbia’s J-school during the admitted students open house– as opposed to CUNY’s J-school admitted students open house where I felt very welcomed, but more on that some other time) where I will be a proud member of the third graduating class. So now, I figured it’s finally time to join the fray. I’ll try to do my best. I’ll probably start pretty slowly, and write way too much (like this post), but remember, all these thoughts have been building up for some time now. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

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