|Man Without Qualities|
Thursday, December 26, 2002
The Washington Post at least finds Senator Murray's comments worth reporting - if only on Christmas Day and only to be decked out with an all-forgiving apology.
But the Post's report of Senator Murray's comments is astonishing. The Post says:
What did Patty Murray actually say? According to the Columbian, she said that Osama bin Laden has "been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. . . . How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
This seriously misquotes the Senator. What she actually said was:
[Ossama Bin Laden's] been out in these [third-world] countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that ... How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
In the eyes of the Washington Post, the denial by a United States Senator of the efforts of thousands of American aid workers and the expenditure of many billions of American aid dollars over many decades, is just a detail to suppress under some marks of ellipsis.
And that suppression allows the Post to present Senator Murray's bizarre rant as just the imperfect articulation of a new and perfectly useful idea: image management. Where Senator Murray just outright denied that the United States had provided infrastructure foreign aid, the Post erroneously recasts her comments as focusing on a mere need to get get the message of such good works out:
[I]t ought to be possible to discuss America's image in the Islamic world, and the kinds of mistakes the United States has made there. For decades, American governments have spent remarkable amounts of money in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, relatively little of which is visible on the ground. Yet if successive American administrations had identified the United States more closely with good works in the Middle East and had tried more assiduously to explain American values, then American relations with the Islamic world might look different today.
Contrary to the Post assertions, Senator Murray didn't say that our problems come from a public relations failure, she simply falsely denied that we have provided substantive foreign aid to build infrastructure. And the Post is also wrong to suggest that the differentiation of substantive aid from image management was "a deeper point that Sen. Murray, with extraordinary ineptitude, seemed to be trying to make." In fact, there is nothing in Senator Murray's remarks that suggests that she was thinking that the United States' (or al Qaeda's) doing good foreign aid work in some Third World country does not lead automatically to the people in that country understanding that the United States (or al Qaeda) has done the good.
The Post itself is remarkably obtuse for a media outlet in understanding the difficulty in making people understand the good the United States does when the paper editorializes "Yet if successive American administrations had identified the United States more closely with good works in the Middle East and had tried more assiduously to explain American values, then American relations with the Islamic world might look different today." Just how is the United States suppose to do all that in countries in which the media is largely state controlled and openlly hostile to American and Israeli interests, and in which the local government has every incentive to claim all of the good that comes of a project for itself, while blaming the neo-imperialist Americans for anything negative? Is the Post suggesting some large scale "Voice of America" type project accompany each World Bank and/or United States financed project in the Third World? If so, that's a lot to leave unsaid in the editorial. How would other members of the World Bank react to such behavior, for example? In fact, the difficulties in making the local population understand the benefits bestowed by foreign aid is one very good reason why most foreign aid is not an effective means of cultivating international good will.
But it gets weirder. The Post goes on to claim:
Sen. Murray got a few things very wrong. Osama bin Laden spent a lot more money on terrorist training camps than on day-care centers; the senator appears to have confused him with the fundamentalist charities that have won so much support for the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas on the West Bank.
So the Post seems to think that Senator Murray's big error was in thinking that it was Osama bin Laden who built all those day-care centers when it was really Islamic fundamentalist charities who built them. The Post thinks that Islamic fundamentalist charities build day-care centers. That's nice. As Best of the Web put it, an Islamic man and all four of his wives can then drive by the day-care center and drop off the kids on the way to work - perhaps as government officers striving to re-create the Islamic theocratic societies of the middle ages!
But, wait! This can't be right. As Maureen Dowd has pointed out - women aren't allowed to drive in a fundamentalist Islamic society.
Details, details. Nothing a few marks of ellipsis can't handle.
But this weird Washington Post squib gives the clearest evidence yet that the liberal Old Media are not coming down hard on Senator Murray for one basic reason: THEY LARGELY AGREE WITH HER. The agreement is with her larger premises and with her willingness to distort whatever facts it takes and can be gotten away with to support and advance those premises. They agree with her "deeper" belief that it was a failure on the part of the United States (not enough foreign aid in her case, image maintenance in the Post's) that should be the focus of our concern, that the military should not be a component of the measures taken to address terrorism, and, most importantly, that there is some low budget magical thinking that will allow the United States to have all the Pell Grants and other federally paid public programs it wants - while simultaneously inducing the the world's terrorists to love us on the cheap.
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