Susan Sontag, the Times' Anti-American Essayist -- May 24, 2004 --
By: Clay Waters

Times Watch for May 24, 2004

Susan Sontag, the Times' Anti-American Essayist

The stark white cover of the Times Sunday magazine's features these words in small black print: "The Photographs Are Us." Inside is an essay by radical intellectual Susan Sontag on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, with the leading headline "Regarding the Torture of Others."

A photo of the inside of Abu Ghraib is accompanied by a caption that links the prison abuse to Hussein-era torture: "Between tortures: Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, shortly after U.S. forces rebuilt and refitted it as a facility for the detention and interrogation of Iraqis. Once one of Saddam Hussein's most infamous jails, it has become newly notorious for what Americans have done there."

Sontag apparently believes Bush is responsible for the abuse: "The Bush administration and its defenders have chiefly sought to limit a public-relations disaster--the dissemination of the photographs--rather than deal with the complex crimes of leadership and of policy revealed by the pictures."

Then she compares it to lynching: "If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880's and 1930's, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib."

Next it's on to bad sociology: "Violent crime is down, yet the easy delight taken in violence seems to have grown. From the harsh torments inflicted on incoming students in many American suburban high schools--depicted in Richard Linklater's 1993 film, 'Dazed and Confused'--to the hazing rituals of physical brutality and sexual humiliation in college fraternities and on sports teams, America has become a country in which the fantasies and the practice of violence are seen as good entertainment, fun."

But this bit of stale left-wing symbolism isn't even internally consistent: Hazing has long been in decline on college campuses, a trend that preceded the mid-90s decline in violent crime. It's also hypocritical: This is the same paper that devotes the front cover of its book review to dissecting its own right-of-center columnist, David Brooks, for "fearless generalizing." Isn't what's good for Brooks good for the left-wing Sontag?

Sontag bluntly labels the Abu Ghraib abuse "torture," and again blames Bush: "The torture of prisoners is not an aberration. It is a direct consequence of the with-us-or-against-us doctrines of world struggle with which the Bush administration has sought to change, change radically, the international stance of the United States and to recast many domestic institutions and prerogatives."

Not long after 9-11, Sontag wrote in the New Yorker: "Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word 'cowardly' is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others."

This is the person the Times feels has something worthwhile to say about Iraq?

For the rest of Sontag's essay, click here.

" Abu Ghraib | Iraq War | Susan Sontag | Terrorism

Rich Pets Michael Moore's "Goat"

Frank Rich's latest column is devoted to praise of "Fahrenheit 9-11," left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore's Bush-hating "documentary Rich notes approvingly: "Instead of recycling images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11 once again, Mr. Moore can revel in extended new close-ups of the president continuing to read 'My Pet Goat' to elementary school students in Florida for nearly seven long minutes after learning of the attack."

Times Watch questions Rich's priorities: What's the more significant image, the planes hitting the WTC or Bush reading a book to schoolchildren? More important, did Bush really "learn of the attack" by Al Qaeda right then and there--or did he, like the rest of the world, know only that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, whether intentionally or not? Rich, like Moore, makes far too many loaded assumptions in his quest to make Bush look clueless.

Then Rich chortles at Moore's cheap-shot techniques, the type Moore uses to make public figures he doesn't like appear foolish (not exactly hard to do): "In Mr. Moore's candid-camera portraits, a particularly unappetizing spectacle is provided by Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of both the administration's Iraqi fixation and its doctrine of 'preventive' war. We watch him stick his comb in his mouth until it is wet with spit, after which he runs it through his hair. This is not the image we usually see of the deputy defense secretary, who has been ritualistically presented in the press as the most refined of intellectuals--a guy with, as Barbara Bush would have it, a beautiful mind."

Times Watch wouldn't want to witness Frank Rich's grooming habits either--but we wouldn't pretend there was some political point to be made there.

For the rest of Rich on Michael Moore, click here.

" Columnists | Iraq War | Michael Moore | Frank Rich | Paul Wolfowitz

More Victims of the Israeli Occupation

Alan Cowell's Saturday story from Gaza is headlined "In Gaza, Bodies, Rubble and a Lost Zoo."

Cowell notes: "Muhammad Juma was pondering what had happened to his zoo. Reflecting on what may have been one of the more bizarre engagements in a four-day Israeli incursion that has so far left some 40 Palestinians dead, Mr. Juma waved an expansive arm across a moonscape of bumpy sand, twisted cages, dead ducks, even a dead ostrich. 'I didn't expect the tanks to come to the zoo,' he said. The Israeli Army announced Friday that it was redeploying some of the forces it had sent here on Tuesday in a major operation it said was intended to sever weapons-smuggling routes in tunnels from Egypt. The incursion, the biggest in years, followed the killing of 13 Israeli soldiers in Gaza last week."

The story is accompanied by two large photos, one of a one-legged ostrich-type bird, the other of a woman in front of her destroyed apartment. The caption to that photo claims: "40 Palestinians were killed during a four-day Israeli incursion" but doesn't note the killing of 13 Israeli soldiers last week in an assault that instigated the incursion.

So why would Israeli forces plow through a zoo anyway? Cowell finally tells us, three-fourths of the way through the story, if only as a prelude to more sympathizing for the zoo owner's loss: "Maj. Sharon Feingold, an Israeli Army spokeswoman, acknowledged that Israeli forces had pushed through the zoo, but only because their initial route had been blocked by explosive charges laid by Palestinians. Rather than leave the animals caged in a combat zone, she said, the troops had released them. That was not quite how Mr. Juma saw the loss of what he called a $300,000 investment. He produced from his home a gaudy macaw parrot in shades of turquoise, red and bright green plumage. Several of those were lost, he said. In fact, of 80 animals only 7 remained. One of the two pythons was gone, as well as two of three ostriches, the jaguars, foxes and wolves, he said."

This actually marks the Times' second foray into the plight of Palestinian zoo animals under Israeli occupation. Back in March 2003, James Bennet lamented that a "giraffe died when he collapsed in terror during a burst of gunfire" at the Palestinian territory's largest zoo.

Perhaps one day the Times can pen an equally sympathetic story on a human victim of Palestinian terrorism.

For the full Cowell story on the Palestinian zoo, click here.

" Alan Cowell | Israel | Palestinians

Kristof's Anti-War "Scream" Fest

Nicholas Kristof sticks it to Bush in "Sticking Up For Rumsfeld." His Saturday column starts: "Donald Rumsfeld has presided over the most foolish conflict since the War of Jenkins' Ear in the 18th century, and he is at the top of a military force that tortured prisoners. So Washington is humming with widespread calls, including one from this newspaper, for him to be fired."

Then Kristof makes a backhanded defense of Rumsfeld, but insists on calling what happens at Abu Ghraib prison "torture" and dredges up the Q-word from Vietnam: "The central point is that we have no proof that Mr. Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the torture".The better argument for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster is that he led us, poorly prepared and clutching the hands of a charlatan, Ahmad Chalabi, into a quagmire."

He descends into bashing the "neocons," writing: "Mr. Rumsfeld is not a neo-conservative hawk. He is an old-fashioned conservative, a realist like the first President Bush, and he did not particularly press for war with Iraq. The real culprits are the neo-con ideologues who screamed for war: people like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby and the current President Bush himself. Mr. Rumsfeld did not display the wisdom of Colin Powell, who pushed back against Mr. Bush in the run-up to war. But neither was he a jingoist."

The difference between a "neo-conservative hawk" and a plain old "conservative hawk" is, as usual, left unaddressed--but the liberal point is made: "Neocons" are bad news.

Kristof concludes on a note that leaves little room for doubt his opinion of Bush: "The person who charted the course into Iraq and who bears ultimate responsibility is not Mr. Rumsfeld but Mr. Bush--and his bosses will get a chance to fire him in November. "

For the rest of Kristof on Rumsfeld and Bush, click here.

" Abu Ghraib | George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Columnists | Iraq War | Nicholas Kristof | Donald Rumsfeld

"Inflammatory" Bill Cosby

It's hard for a liberal to offend the Times, but entertainer Bill Cosby's remarks in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education certainly "inflamed" Felicia Lee.

In her Saturday story, "Cosby Defends His Remarks About Poor Blacks' Values," Lee writes: "Bill Cosby, known mostly as a genial father figure who contributes to a wide range of black philanthropic causes, found himself immersed in controversy this week. After making inflammatory remarks on Monday about the behavior and values of some poor black people, Mr. Cosby said yesterday that he had made the comments out of concern and because of his belief that fighting racial injustice must also include accepting personal responsibility."

Among Cosby's "inflammatory" remarks, made at a gala at Constitution Hall in Washington: "Lower-economic people are not holding up their end in this deal".These people are not parenting. They are buying things for their kids--$500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.'".They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English."

Lee frets: "Still others said they feared that his remarks would become fodder for racists or conservatives who believe that blacks alone avoid personal responsibility."

In December 1991, Cosby told the New York Post that AIDS was "started by human beings to get after certain people they don't like." A search of Nexis indicates the Times had no comment back then on that truly inflammatory bit of conspiracy-mongering.

For the rest of Lee on Cosby's "inflammatory" remarks, click here.

" Civil Rights | Bill Cosby | Felicia Lee

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