Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Idiot of the Day

A number of bloggers offer weekly awards to the liberal politician, Hollywood celebrity, or MSM twit who offers the most idiotic or absurd comment during a specified period of time.

Given the hysertia that currently engulfs the American left and its media wing, there is never a shortage of worthy candidates for an idiot award. Indeed, it is tempting to annoint Howard Dean as all-time champ, and simply retire the trophy.

But such action would be premature, and deny recognition to others that should be ridiculed and scorned for making statements that have no basis in fact.

Case-in-point: CNN's Carol Costello, who anchors the early-morning news on that network. If you're among the dozen or so folks still watching CNN, you might have caught today's exchange between Ms. Costello's and Republican Congressman Robin Smith. During an interview on President Bush's speech at Ft Bragg, Ms. Costello managed to regurgitate most of the Democratic talking points, while demonstrating an appalling ignorance of actual events in Iraq. Among her whoppers:

"There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was connected in any way to Al Qaida."

Have you read the 9-11 Commission Report, Ms. Costello? I'm guessing you haven't (more on that in a bit). The Commission provides extensive detail on Saddam's efforts to contact Al Qaida in the late 1990s. More recently, press reporting indicates that Al Qaida's #2 man journeyed to Iraq for a conference before Saddam's fall from power. In a police state like Saddam's Iraq, it is logical to assume that the Iraqi dictator knew a senior terrorist leader was in his country. Want more evidence? Here's a 2004 article by the NRO's Andrew McCarthy, detailing Iraq's links to Al Qaida.

But it doesn't end there...a few seconds later, Ms. Costello came back with this knee-slapper:

"I know of no evidence connecting Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda, and also there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

We've already discussed the "non-existent" ties between Saddam and Al Qaida. Regarding the WMD issue. True, we found no WMD in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom--and we probably won't, until there's a regime change in Syria. But Ms. Costello's assertion begs an obvious question: if there were no WMDs in Iraq, what did Saddam use to kill those Iranian soldiers during the Iran-Iraq War, or the thousands of Kurds that were gassed in northern Iraq? How about Saddam's efforts to retain a WMD knowledge base and technical expertise, detailed in the report by former UN arms inspector David Kay? Does Ms. Costello remember the technical drawings and extensive documentation that were ordered hidden by Saddam before the invasion and later discovered by U.S. troops? Or how about Mr. Kay's assertion that Saddam preserved enough of his program to allow a quick reconstitution, once economic and military sanctions were eased?

Sadly, the broadcast news business is filled with empty-headed libs whose job skills consist of little more than an attractive appearence, and an ability to parrrot questions provided through their earpiece. If you have any doubt that Ms. Costello falls
into that category, consider this annecdote, relayed by a former CNN producer. When she filled in on the network's American Morning program, Ms. Costello--and the show's other hosts--received a copy of The New York Times and other morning papers, placed on their anchor desk for review.

According to the producer, Co-host Jack Cafferty--who correctly sized up Ms. Costello as a lightweight-- played a running joke on his fellow anchor, placing quarters inside various sections of the newspapers. Had she actually bothered to pick up a paper and read it, the quarters would have fallen out, alerting everyone on the set that a major CNN anchor had actually decided to look at something besides the teleprompter. The former CNN staffer reports that Cafferty's quarters remained neatly inside Ms. Costello's newspapers; so much for the restless intellect of a self-styled "investigative reporter."

But here at In From the Cold, we think this wholesale lack of intellectual heft and gravitas should not go unrewarded. For confirming our worst suspicions about the MSM and the twinkies behind the anchor desk, we proudly recogize Carol Costello as our first "Idiot of the Day."

Putting Reform in Motion

After months of debate, and investigations by several independent panels, the intelligence reform process is now moving toward the implementation stage. This morning, President Bush endorsed a major shake-up of the intelligence community, endorsing 70 of the 74 recommendations from the Robb-Silberman Commission, which investigated intel failures surrounding WMD in Iraq.

Some of the recommended changes have already been revealed, and more will follow in the coming days. Among the expected reforms:

-- Putting the CIA in charge of all overseas human intelligence (HUMINT). While much of that work is already performed by the CIA, other organizations are also involved in HUMINT, notably the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the military services.

-- Forming a new Counterproliferation Center to coordinate collection and analysis of information on weapons of mass destruction.

-- Consolidating the Justice Department's counter-terrorism, espionage and intelligence units under an assistant attorney general with responsiblity for those particular functions.

-- Implementing new procedures for allowing "dissenting" analysis to reach policy makers, providing alternate points of view.

Perhaps the most interesting reform is in the area of Congressional oversight. The Administration--and the Commission--have asked Congress to change the way it handles intel oversight functions. That may provoke turf wars and budget battles, but it is a reform that is long overdue. As I've noted in the past, Congress (or, at least, key members of Congress) were aware of serious problems in the intel community long before 9-11, but failed to offer reforms, or whithhold money from agencies that refused to fix festering problems.

We'll know more about the intel reform plan next week, when DNI John Negroponte weighs in. Executed properly, the reform plan could go a long way toward correcting current deficiencies in the intel community. But the devil's always in the details, and our intelligence agencies have a long, almost "perfect" record of resisting change. Given those realities, Mr. Negroponte has his work cut out for him...

June 6, 1944--As Reported by Today's MSM

This item has been making the rounds on the internet for a few weeks; I found it most recently on Neal Boortz's site, so props to the Talkmaster printing it again. It's a newspaper article on the D-Day invasion of 1944, as written by a member of today's MSM.

NORMANDY, FRANCE (June 6, 1944) Three hundred French civilians were killed and thousands more were wounded today in the first hours of America's invasion of continental Europe. Casualties were heaviest among women and children. Most of the French casualties were the result of artillery fire from American ships attempting to knock out German fortifications prior to the landing of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops.

Reports from a makeshift hospital in the French town of St. Mere Eglise said the carnage was far worse than the French had anticipated, and that reaction against the American invasion was running high. "We are dying for no reason, "said a Frenchman speaking on condition of anonymity. "Americans can't even shoot straight. I never thought I'd say this, but life was better under Adolph Hitler."

The invasion also caused severe environmental damage. American troops, tanks, trucks and machinery destroyed miles of pristine shoreline and thousands of acres of ecologically sensitive wetlands. It was believed that the habitat of the spineless French crab was completely wiped out, thus threatening the species with extinction. A representative of Greenpeace said his organization, which had tried to stall the invasion for over a year, was appalled at the destruction, but not surprised. "This is just another example of how the military destroys the environment without a second thought," said Christine Moanmore. "And it's all about corporate greed."

Contacted at his Manhattan condo, a member of the French government-in-exile who abandoned Paris when Hitler invaded, said the invasion was based solely on American financial interests. "Everyone knows that President Roosevelt has ties to 'big beer'," said Pierre LeWimp. "Once the German beer industry is conquered, Roosevelt's beer cronies will control the world market and make a fortune."

Administration supporters said America's aggressive actions were based in part on the assertions of controversial scientist Albert Einstein, who sent a letter to Roosevelt speculating that the Germans were developing a secret weapon -- a so-called "atomic bomb". Such a weapon could produce casualties on a scale never seen before, and cause environmental damage that could last for thousands of years. Hitler has denied having such a weapon and international inspectors were unable to locate such weapons even after spending two long weekends in Germany.

Shortly after the invasion began, reports surfaced that German prisoners had been abused by American soldiers. Mistreatment of Jews by Germans at their so-called "concentration camps" has been rumored, but so far this remains unproven. Several thousand Americans died during the first hours of the invasion, and French officials are concerned that the uncollected corpses will pose a public-health risk. "The Americans should have planned for this in advance," they said. "It's their mess, and we don't intend to help clean it up."

Had today's MSM covered World War II, the war might have lasted a lot longer, and produced a different outcome. We should be thankful that the correspondents who covered the Second World War--men like Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith, William L. Shirer and others--understood the potential consequences of the conflict (and their reporting). By today's standards, their dispatches from World War II might be ridiculed as jingoistic, or lacking proper context. But they did manage to get their facts straight, without excessive deference to our facist enemies.

Sadly, the standards of combat reporting established by Murrow, Smith, Richard Tregaskis and others have been all but abandoned by the MSM. If you listen closely, you may hear a faint, "whrrring" noise from the direction of Ie Shima, a small island in the Okinawa chain . It's Ernie Pyle, spinning in his grave.

The Big Announcement

Well-placed sources tell me that the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Ambassador John Negroponte, will unveil sweeping reforms for the intelligence community next week. From what I'm told, decisions about major changes in mission and organization for major agencies have already been made, and will announced during a major address. Mr. Negroponte's plan will build upon the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission and the panel that investigated intelligence on WMDs in Iraq. I haven't seen any specifics of the plan (yet), but the proposed reforms are said to be broad and far-reaching. Meanwhile, morale at those three-letter agencies in D.C. is said to be rock-bottom. I'm not sure if Negroponte's plan will make those folks any happier, but it will put intelligence reform into motion...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Misplaced Priorities

Meet Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF) Gerald A. Murray. As his title implies, Chief Murray is the senior enlisted member of the United States Air Force, charged with advising the senior defense officials--including the Air Force Secretary and USAF Chief of Staff--on matters relating to the service's enlisted force.

As you can imagine, CMSAF Murray is a busy man, but lately, he's been devoting much of his time and attention to a matter he deems critical--eliminating the "Indian symbology" that has become associated with the rank of Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force.

A little background here: Chief Master Sergeant is the highest enlisted rank (E-9) in the Air Force. By law, no more than one percent of the USAF enlisted force can hold that rank. By virture of their position, Chief Master Sergeants typically serve as superintendents of large Air Force organizations, or advisors to senior Air Force commanders, at the wing level or higher. They enjoy broad responsibilities and are respected for their leadership, advice and counsel. If the enlisted force is the backbone of the Air Force--and it is--then the "Chiefs" are the leaders who run the enlisted corps and ensure its proper function.

The rank of Chief Master Sergeant has been around since the dawn of our Air Force and (not surprisingly) the title of "Chief" became synonmyous with Indian symbols. Upon reaching the rank of E-9, it became customary to give the newly-promoted "Chief" a small bust of an Indian Chief, or a framed lithograph of an Indian leader, usually depicted in full war bonnet. Indian symbology also made its way onto coffee mugs, cermonial coins and other mementos of military service.

Under Murray's watch, that is about to change. He has banned the use of taxpayer money for business cards or stationery bearing Indian symbols, and described the use of such items as "inappropriate." Murray cited the case of one Air Force chief with no less than 38 Native American items in his office, including a 6-foot "cigar store" Indian.

"There is no official correlation between the U.S. Air Force rank of Chief Master Sergeant and Native Americans," Murray wrote in an April 15th letter to all Chiefs in the Air Force, outlining his position on the use of Indian symbols by Air Force "chiefs."

Well, duh. Pardon me, Chief Murray, but during my Air Force career I never met an E-9 who viewed him or herself as the reincarnation of Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull. As a ranking Air Force enlisted member, they viewed their position as one requiring the same qualities--courage, integrity, dignity and honor--as those found in lengendary Indian leaders. The Indian symbols were intended as a show of respect and honor.

Reaction to Murray's "crusade" has been mixed. Some Native American groups have voiced support, and a few base-level Chief's groups have banned Indian symbology, probably to avoid the wrath of the Air Force's senior enlisted member. But in Sacramento, California, a group of retired Chiefs has announced that it will continue to use Native American symbols, claiming that "Chief Murray was being overly concerned, and the letter was unfounded and unnecessary."

Is this a tempest in a teapot? Obviously. Consider the comments of Brigadier General LaRita Aragon, a Native American who is currently serving as Commander of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. General Aragon told Air Force Times that she views the Air Force Chiefs' association with Indian Chiefs as a compliment. She also noted that the logo for Oklahoma ANG is a chief's head with his bonnet, proudly displayed on the guard's F-16 and C-130 aircraft.

CMSAF Murray claims that Native American groups haven't pressured him to ban Indian symbols, but it seems clear that political correctness is driving his crusade. And that begs another question: with thousands of Air Force personnel now engaged in (or supporting) combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, why is the symbology issue so important? Hundreds of Air Force airmen and NCOs--now pulling force protection and conoy duty in the Middle East--might argue that Chief Murray's time might be better spent on more pressing issues, such as improved protective gear, better armored vehicles, and a camouflage uniform that actually blends into a desert environment. Against that backdrop, Chief Murray's efforts to banish Indian symbols among Air Force E-9s seems to be an example of wasted effort and misplaced priorities.

One final thought: before earning my commission, I spent 4 years as an Air Force enlisted member, reaching the grade of Staff Sergeant (E-5). One of the great, early mentors in my career was a Chief Master Sergeant who served as Senior Enlisted Advisor for a fighter wing at a base in South Carolina. During a conversation, he opined that Air Force leadership was determined to eliminate the post of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, and planned to accomplish that goal by appointing ineffective or mediocre Chiefs to the post. Watching Chief Murray's "crusade," I can't help but wonder if that prophecy is coming true....

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Marine's Wish List

In their weekly "Inside the Ring" column in the Washington Times, Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough printed a "wish list," from a Marine who recently returned from Iraq, Sgt. Garrett Barton. According to Sgt. Barton, a machine gunner who served in last fall's Fallujah offensive, Marines engaged in Military Operations in Urban Terain (MOUT) still lack essential training and equipment. Among his observations:

"A firefight in a MOUT environment against drugged-up insurgents is not the place to discover Pfc. Smith needs to work on his shoulder pressure and manipulation of the [testing and evaluation],"

"This is life and death. The average grunt is swamped with weight; Marines carry gear and ammunition that include flak jackets, Kevlar helmets, two ceramic plates, M-16s with seven magazines, grenades, radios, water, chow, night-vision equipment and more."

"Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain;" This is not good when Marines need to move quickly in a combat situation, and the extreme weight reduces their fluidity."

"The M-16 is prone to jams; I can personally attest that I kept my weapon properly cleaned and lubed yet within ten minutes I had two jams ... in Al Fallujah; The M-16 round is "too fast, too small and too stabilized. It cannot compete with the 7.62 fired by Warsaw Pact weapons" such as AK-47s.

Sgt. Barton said he has never seen armor-piercing rounds for his M-240G medium machine gun.

"Our current enemies like to use [car bombs]. Personally, I would feel more comfortable shooting at a vehicle laden with explosives if I had armor-piercing rounds," he said.

Troops also need more powerful hand grenades. "The insurgents in Iraq like to inject themselves with adrenaline," Sgt. Barton said. "The casualty radius of our current grenades is insufficient."

Sgt. Barton concluded his "grunt wish list," which was sent to the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va., saying he tried not to be too critical, knowing current resources are limited. But he noted: "Any improvement is a big step in our capabilities."

A few thoughts (from an ex-Air Force guy). The limitations of the M-16 are well known, and the present weapon is at the limits of its technology? It's worth asking when we will finally replace the M-16s, and give our troops a better, more reliable weapon. On the issue of armor-piercing rounds for our machine guns, this type of technology has been around for decades; it should be standard issue for our troops, particularly those trying to stop vehicle-borne suicide bombers. Congressmen obsessed with prisoner menus and "flushed" Korans at Gitmo would be better served by tackling the problems listed by Sergeant Burton.

An Ominous Sign

The votes have been counted in Iran's presidential election, and Tehran's ultra-conservative, hard-line mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has emerged victorious. Ahmadinejad waxes nostalgic for the "good ol' days" that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and has hinted that he may attempt to recreate the repressive, virulently anti-American atmosphere that characterized that era.

More ominously, Ahmadinejad remains fully committed to Iran's nuclear program, albeit for "peaceful purposes."

A number of foreign governments have condemned the Iranian vote, noting the large number of candidates that were disqualified by the government, and allegations of voting fraud. But Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimo Peres said it best:

" Neither the primaries nor the recent round of elections were free, and were contests between extremists. The candidates were pre-determined, as were the results...

The conclusion is that the dangerous combination of extremists, non-conventional weapons and isolation from the West will continue, and will generate a great deal of problems for the free world."

Ahmadinejad's election suggests that hope for genuine reform in Iran are over, at least for now. And, his projected hard-line policies put Iran on an accelerated collison course with nations threatened by Tehran's nuclear ambitions, notably Israel. The Sharon government has been weighing its military options for sometime, and Ahmadinejad's victory may increase chances for a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. There is no evidence Mr. Sharon has given his Air Force the green light, but the Iranian election may pushed the strike option from the "possible" to the "probable" category.

Inside GITMO

A Congressional delegation toured the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay over the weekend, and emerged with gruding praise for the facility, and the military personnel who run it.

"What we've seen is evidence that we're making progress," noted Texas Congressman Sheila Jackson-Lee, best known for wondering if "the Hubble Space Telescope can see the flag our astronauts left on Mars" (sorry, I couldn't resist that one). In reality, the "progess" at Gitmo was made years ago, from the day the facility opened. Since the beginning, prisoners have been treated fairly and humanely, with appropriate respect for their cultural and religious beliefs. I found it fitting that the Congressional delegation received the same food served to the prisoners on that day. No one found fault with the menu, nor with the treatment the prisoners received. The "reality" of Gitmo is far removed from the crazed rhetoric of Dick Durbin, Howard Dean and Amnesty International.

Today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune has an interesting take on conditions at Gitmo, based on the experiences of a young National Guard officer who recently served at the detention facility. Not surprisingly, his recollections of Gitmo are very similar what the Congressional delegation saw over the weekend. The column, by Katherine Kersten, is somewhat remarkable, since the Star-Tribune is the same paper that accused Senator Durbin of being "soft" in his criticism of prisoner treatment at Gitmo.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fellow Travelers

Somehow, I'm not surprised...analysts at the Investigative Project have discovered that hard-line European leftists are providing financial support for the insurgents in Iraq.

Admittedly, most of the people contributing "Euros for the insurgency" are certifiable kooks, a familiar blend of current/former radicals who previously supported various European communist parties, urban terrorist groups (such as Italy's Red Brigades and Germany's Red Army Faction) and fringe environmental parties. They are united in their virulent anti-Americanism, and gladly contribute to anyone--or any cause--battling the United States.

But there's a larger issue at work here. A sizeable number of Europeans--who aren't writing checks to the jihadists--seem convinced that we can somehow appease the Islamofacists. These are the same folks who offered unyielding support for Yasser Arafat, denounce Israel as racist, war-mongering state, and appealed for "peaceful solutions" in the wake of 9-11. More recently, this mindset has led to the election a pacifist government in Spain (in the wake of a devastating, Al Qaida-sponsored terrorist attack), and misguided efforts to negotiate an end to Iran's nuclear program. They conveniently ignore the obvious reality: the hatred of the Islamofacists extends to all westerners, and a terrorist victory in Iraq will open the door the next phase of the war, fought largely on European and American soil.

To their credit, some Europeans "get it," namely the Poles, Czechs, Bulgarians and others who lived under dictatorships for much of the last century, and (of course) stalwart allies like Great Britain and Italy. But far too many Europeans still don't get it, including those radicals giving money to a "cause" that may eventually consume them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Nailing Dickie Durbin

Less than a week after comparing our guards and interrogators to Nazis and Stalin's gulag henchmen, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has "apologized." I use that word advisedly, since it was a typical, Democratic weasel job, made only after a wave of public outrage.

The Washington Times has an account of Drubin's apology speech that was tearfully delivered in the Senate yesterday.

Durbin is obviously a callow and seditious moron, who richly deserves the scorn and indignation he has received. But I couldn't resist the tempatation to re-publish this letter, sent to me in a e-mail. It was apparently submitted to the good Senator by a retired Air Force officer, who has also experienced "torture" at the hands of the U.S. military. Enjoy.

An Open Letter to Senator Durbin

June 19, 2005

Senator Richard Durbin, D-IL
332 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Durbin:

Based on your recent comments, it seems clear that you are deeply disturbed about the alleged torture of terrorist detainees at the hands of the U.S. military. While many have condemned your remarks—and I won’t rehash them in this letter—I found them remarkable, even revelatory. Despite a 20-year military career, extensive training as an intelligence officer and a graduate degree, I had no idea that I had experienced U.S.-sanctioned torture, until hearing your speech in the Well of the Senate.

Consider my experiences: in the late summer of 1992; I was the leader of a group of military trainees who were forcibly removed from an exercise area in the Pacific Northwest. Informed that we were “war criminals,” members of my group were detained and herded into a small holding area; our hands were bound and hoods placed over our heads to prevent escape. Next, we were loaded onto buses for a 90-minute trip to a military detention facility. During our “capture” and transit, we were not allowed to communicate with other members of the group, nor with outside agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Arriving at the detention compound, we were mocked and ridiculed by prison guards, who wore the uniform of a hostile power. Members of my group were then placed in individual isolation “boxes,” that were less than six feet high, and barely 30 inches wide. There was no light inside our detention cells and ventilation was poor. We were forced to remain standing inside our boxes for almost fourteen hours; sleeping or sitting was not permitted; guards periodically banged on the boxes or flung the doors open to catch detainees attempting to sit, or catch a few winks. Offenders were summarily punished.

As you can imagine, long stretches in a small, dark, stuffy box can trigger sensory deprivation and several members of the group—myself included—experienced minor hallucinations. Our only “break” from isolation came during frequent interrogations, conducted at all hours of the day and night. Detainees were routinely mocked and harassed by interviewers and guards during these sessions. No contact was allowed with other prisoners and access to legal counsel was also denied.

Back in our cellblock, we were bombarded with incessant, mind-numbing music that sounded like a cross between a bad Ravi Shankar CD (an obvious redundancy) and chart-topping tunes from Radio Pyongyang. No insufferable pop music for us—although that would have been a noticeable improvement over the sitar-plunking and caterwauling that filled our ears for hours on end. Incidentally, this “music” provided the background for our only meal during the first stage of captivity. It was a thin gruel, as I recall, served from a gleaming steel trash can. Rice pilaf apparently wasn’t on the menu that day.

Later, members of our group were transferred to a larger facility, where detainees could interact on a limited basis. But the interrogations and psychological pressure continued; prisoners were encouraged to make videotapes, professing their war crimes in exchange for better treatment. Some incidents of physical abuse also occurred. A number of detainees were shaken like rag dolls; others were poked by guards and at least one of my troops was slapped. Others were placed in outdoor detention cells that were almost as cramped as the isolation boxes. In this intense environment, a few detainees capitulated and agreed to make propaganda tapes for their captors. Others donned the uniforms of the enemy and agreed to “guard” their fellow Americans.

After more than 36 hours of this treatment, or imprisonment ended, and we resumed our military careers. But my experience is hardly unique; in fact, the “detention facility” I described has been operated by the U.S. military for more than 30 years. You’ve probably heard of it, Senator Durbin—it’s better known as the U.S. Air Force Survival School, located at Fairchild AFB near Spokane, Washington. The “treatment” we received at Fairchild—what you might describe as torture—is referred to as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, and it’s required instruction for military personnel who are at risk for capture and confinement. Over the past for decades, thousands of military pilots, aircrew members, intelligence specialists and Special Forces troops have graduated from the Air Force school and other SERE facilities run by the DOD.

Speaking for my fellow graduates, I don’t believe any of us considered ourselves victims of maltreatment or torture at the hands of our military personnel. The instructors at Fairchild were among the most skilled and professional In encountered in my military career; the training they provided (while demanding) greatly improved our chances for evading capture in hostile territory, or—in a worst-case scenario—surviving the hell of a prisoner of war camp. We also understood that the “treatment” we received at Fairchild was mild in comparison to the experiences of actual POWs. We never equated SERE training with the Hanoi Hilton or Saddam’s torture chambers, just as you cannot equate Guantanamo Bay with the Soviet Gulag, or Pol Pot’s killing fields.

I did a cursory check of your voting record, Senator Durbin, to determine if your outrage extends to other military facilities that might meet your “torture” criteria. Not surprisingly, I cannot find a single example of your voting against appropriations for SERE training, or the schools that provide that type of instruction. Perhaps these line items are buried so deep in defense bills that you consider them unimportant, or they simply don’t catch your attention. On the other hand, as an elected representative who professes to represent our troops, I would hope that you are aware of these schools and support their critical mission—even if their training methods are appropriately harsh.

Of course, I would also hope you understand the difference between genuine torture and mild forms of sensory deprivation and physical confinement that produce intelligence information that saves American lives. However, judging from your remarks in the Senate last week, that distinction appears to be beyond your grasp, or something to be merely ignored in the interest of partisan politics.


Gary Pounder, Major, USAF (Retired)
Oxford, MS

More Dispatches from the Front

Karl Zinsmeister is the editor of The American Enterprise Online, the web publication of the American Enterprise Institute. He's also spent three tours as an embedded journalist in Iraq, most recently in April and May of this year.

Read his latest assessment of the situation on the ground, and you'll see a notable contrast to recent reporting from the MSM. Of course, it's hard to do a story or video package on construction activity in Mosul, or bustling commerce in Baghdad, when you're hot on the heels of the latest car bombing.

Enough Already

Is it just me, or is everyone else getting burned out by the non-stop coverage of Natalee Holloway, the Alabama teenager who's been missing in Aruba for the past three weeks?

A couple of caveats up front. I'm the father of three grown daughters and a son; as a parent, I can only imagine what the Holloway and Twitty families are going through right now, and I pray that I'm never in that position. A few years ago, one of my daughters was incommunicado for a few months, after a brief falling out with her mother and I. But, unlike Natalee's parents, we never had any reasons to doubt our daughter's safety during that period. Frantically searching for a child--and wondering whether they are dead or alive--is something no parent should ever face. The Holloways and the Twittys deserve our prayers and support during this difficult time.

Having said that, I cannot understand the fascination with this story. Thousands of Americans go missing every year; many are never found and they rarely receive this level of coverage. We can also speculate over whether this disappearence would receive the same level if it happened to a Hispanic kid in El Paso, a black teenager from Detroit, or the daughter of a Kentucky coal miner. In his landmark book Bias, former CBS News correpondent Bernie Goldberg quoted from a producer's manual for 48 Hours, a show he once reported for. As I recall, the manual encouraged producers to screen on-camera sources in advance, and whenever possible, use "attractive" people in interview segments. The Holloway and Twitty families, affuluent, telegenic suburbanites, certainly meet that criteria.

And, it doesn't hurt that Natalee disappeared in Aruba. If you're a network or cable news reporter or producer, where would you rather cover a story--on a beautiful Carribean island, or Podunk, Nebraska. By one estimate, both Fox News Channel and CNN have at least camera crews on Aruba, along with producers, engineers and support personnel. And I'm sure that the FNC assignment desk in New York and its CNN counterpart in Atlanta have no shortage of volunteers to join the team in Aruba.

Better yet, it's a relatively easy story to cover. Video tours of the hotel, beach, and lighthouse where Natalee was last seen; interviews with local journalists and lawyers (for Aruban perspective), and quotes from anonmyous sources on the latest interrogations of the suspects, interspersed with footage of stunning tropical vistas.

The media circus reached its zenith last night, with pilgrimage of Natalee's mother to the home of suspect Joren van der Sloot, with Greta van Susteran and a FNC crew in tow. I can appreciate Mrs. Twitty's desperate quest for information about her daughter, but the entire episode came off as a slickly-contrived media event, and not a search for answers. Had I been Mrs. Twitty, I would have left Greta at the gate, along with the rest of the Fox crew. Instead, Greta was invited inside, and became a part of the story, rather than a journalistic observer. Call me old-fashioned, but I remember the days when covering the news was a non-participatory event. And, if Greta and FNC hadn't secured this "dubious" exclusive, rest assured that Diane Sawyer, 'perky" Katie Couric (fresh from her interview with the runaway bride) or someone from CNN would have been tagging along.

I have no problem with the media covering this story--in its proper context. It would also be nice if the press would cover some of the under-reported aspects of this case, namely the shocking absence of supervision of Miss Holloway's high school group in Aruba (only seven chaperones for 120 teenagers; no curfew for the group, no bed checks and safety "discussions" only after known drug dealers approached the youngsters). To my knowledge, Bill O'Reilly of FNC is the only major journalist to explore these issues--they certainly warrant further inquiry.

For the record, I think Natalee's parents made a poor decision--allowing their 18-year-old daughter to participate in a trip with inadquate supervision, to a destination (Aruba) that offered too many temptations for high school senior. Against that backdrop, Natalee Holloway made poor decisions that may have resulted in her death. And, BTW, that does not absolve the actions of the suspects, or botched investigation being run by Aruban authorities. I believe Joran van der Sloot and his buddies are guilty as hell, and it's a shame they can't be interrogated by FBI agents, or experienced NYPD homicide detectives. Those pros would have extracted a confession days ago from van der Sloot and his buddies days ago, and (at this point) Natalee Holloway would have been returned to her parents. Instead, this young woman's relatives are being tortured by an incompetent (or corrupt) police department, which may be subject to the manipulations of van der Sloot's father, an Aruban "judge" in training.

Meanwhile, the search--and the accompanying media circus--continue. I'm praying for Miss Holloway and her family, but I won't be watching the televised spectacle from Aruba.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Home Front

As the Vietnam War illustrats, wars can be lost on the homefront, as well as the battlefield. Fueled by the anti-war movement and televised images of dead and wounded American soldiers, public support for Vietnam War eventually dissipated, leading to our military withdrawal and the ensuing bloodbath in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Will the same thing happen in Iraq? It's too early to say, but a new CNN-Gallup poll shows 59% of Americans now oppose the War in Iraq, and 47% said they were "not satisfied" with the War on Terrorism. Those numbers suggest a shift in opinion from similar polls taken earlier this year, and in 2004.

What's prompting the change? Consider those images you see on your TV--lots of blood and gore from the latest car bomb, video of insurgents seemingly operating at will, and reports of more dead Americans. Collectively, they suggest a war that isn't going well.

But is that the ground truth? Contrast the observations of Austin Bay or Michael Yon, a former Green Beret-turned-freelance journalist, who's spent the last six months in Iraq, and reporters from the New York Times or Washington Post, who cover the beat in Baghdad.

BTW, I'm looking forward to Yon's interview with Command Sergeant Major Jeffrey Mellinger, the senior Army enlisted man in Iraq. When Yon met him a few months ago, CSM Mellinger asked him point-blank: "you're not one of those journalists who sits in a Baghdad hotel room and writes about the war?" Mellinger travels around Iraq--by himself--in a HUMVEE. His thoughts on the war and our military should be a great read. Yon's interview with CSM Mellinger should be up in a few days.

According to Yon, a few MSM types have declined invitations to accompany CSM Mellinger on his travels around Iraq. Afterall, it's a lot safer to cover the war when room service is close at hand.

One final thought: our troops will win the war on the battlefield, given time and the proper resources. But to win the war on the homefront, we need to hear more from men like CSM Mellinger, and less from the retired generals and twits representing liberal think-tanks. The Bush Administration also needs to remind Americans that we have a genuine stake in winning the war in Iraq. If we cede the media war to the jihadists and the MSM, we will be forced to withdrawal from Iraq, and the War on Terrorism will return to American soil.

News from the Front

Austin Bay has one of the best military blogs, period. He's been in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf regions for the past two weeks, and has been blogging from those locations. If you want a real sense of what's going on--particularly in Iraq--you'll be far better served by reading his blog that watching some network talking head from the Pentagon.

Pay particular attention to his 19 June post about an Iraqi Army battalion that has had great success in Baghdad. That unit--led by an Iraqi officer identified as "Colonel Muhammad"--is largely responsible for evicting terrorists from Baghdad's notorious Haifa Street. According to a U.S. Army general, the situation on Haifa has improved so much that he can now have a cup of tea with his Iraqi counterparts at a streetside cafe.

As Colonel Bay notes, "even CBS understands bullets." That's why the MSM reporting tends to focus on the car bombing of the hour, while ignoring many of the real success stories from Iraq.

Mr. Kerry's SF 180, Part II

Today's New York Sun revisits the issue of Senator John Kerry, and his recently-signed SF 180, the Defense Department document authorizing release of his military records.

Kerry supporters claim the files--which were released to three "friendly" media outlets in late May and early June--provide the complete record of Kerry's Vietnam-era service in the Navy. Others have their doubts. Swift Boat leader John O'Neil has speculated that certain documents may have been expunged from the Senator's military records. For example, the records released to the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press offer no explanation as to why Senator Kerry obtained his honorable discharge in 1978--almost six years after he left the Navy. Virtually all military members know the status of their discharge at the time they leave service.

As you may recall, Senator Kerry applied for admission to Harvard Law School after leaving the Navy, but his request was denied. A member of admission committee reportedly said that Kerry was turned down, in part, because of issues with his military record that might prevent eventual admission to the bar.

More than three decades later, key portions of Mr. Kerry's service record remain as murky as elusive as ever. The New York Sun--which has pursued this story with dogged determination--has submitted its own request for a copy of the Senator's military record, and service-related medical files. Mr. Kerry has denied the Sun's request. Go figure.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Iranian Vote

Today is Election Day in Iran. Call me a pessimist, but I don't expect much improvement in our relations with Tehran, regardless of who wins the Iranian presidential election. has the best analysis I've seen so far, exposing some of the chicanery associated with Iran's electoral process. Judging from his report, it seems that the ruling mullahs would be right at home in the Democratic Party. It also appears that many Iranian voters are sitting this one out, convinced that they have no real choice among the candidates, and no real hope for democratic reform.

Predictably, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation is praising the "transparency" of the Iranian vote. She must have been equally impressed with Saddam's "democratic" elections in Iraq, where he garnered an amazing 99% of the vote.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Enemy Within (Part III)

The FBI has now arrested a fifth person in connection with that alleged Al Qaida cell in Lodi, California. Agents identified the fifth suspect as the 19-year-old son of a local Islamic iman, who once publicily criticized the 9-11 attacks, and signed a "Declaration of Peace" with other religious leaders in the Lodi area.

Earlier this week, the FBI arrested two other Lodi residents--both of Pakistani descent--for lying to investigators about their activities. Turns out that one of the men, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, recently returned from an Al Qaida training camp in Pakistan. 47-year-old Umer Hayat, the boy's father, paid for the trip.

There is some confusion surrounding this case. At least two prominent Pakistanis have the same name of the man listed as the operator of the camp. Additionally, federal prosecutors filed a second version of the affidavit that outlined key details of the case. The first version claimed that the Hayats were considering hospitals and grocery stores as targets for potential attacks; the second version ommitted that statement. It is also unclear if the camp the younger Hayat attended was actually an Al Qaida facility, or a center used to train insurgents for attacks in Kashmir.

Residents in Lodi expressed shock at the recent arrests, describing some of those detained as "good people." Others voiced concern that the town would become known as a terrorist haven.

Does anyone see a pattern here? A few years ago, similar sentiments were expressed in Lackawanna, NY, when six Yemeni-American men were arrested--and eventually convicted--for supporting Al Qaida and attending terrorist training camps. Almost to a man, the Lackawanna suspects were described as "nice" or "quiet" individuals who blended into their community. Residents seemed shocked to learn that some of those men also attended Al Qaida camps, and received terrorist training. The last of those suspects was sent to prison in 2003; they remain behind bars today.

Will the Lodi 5 wind up in prison as well? It's too early to tell, but there appear to be some striking similarities between initial reports from California, and early information on the Lackawanna 6. Almost four years after 9-11, it remains far too easy for terrorists (and their sympathizes) to operate freely, and prepare for possible attacks on our soil. There is currently no evidence the Lodi 5 were actively planning attacks, but it seems likely that some sort of terrorist capability was being developed in that California community. We can only wonder how many other terrorist training camp graduates are still at large, living quietly in our neighborhoods, and awaiting their orders.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Religious Intolerance, Part II

From today's Denver Post: after an official inquiry, the Air Force Academy has determined that a recently-graduated cadet did not violate official policy when he e-mailed a list of favorite quotes to other cadets, including 30 that mentioned God and/or the Bible.

Second Lieutenant Nicholas Jurewicz, who was commissioned as an Air Force officer after graduating from the academy last week, came under scrutiny after sending a farewell message of 300 favorite quotes to junior, sophomore and freshmen cadets. Jurewicz had served as Cadet Wing Commander, the academy's senior-ranking cadet before his graduation and commissioning. BTW, Jurewicz's list also included quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Ghandi, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Pink Floyd.

I guess we can all sleep a little bit easier, safe in the knowledge that Lieutenant didn't derive all of his inspiration from (gasp) God and his Holy Word. Had he distributed a list based solely on Christian references, Lt Jurewicz would likely be cited as another example of religious intolerance at the academy, which (according to critics) has resulted in "preferential" treatment for Evangelical Christinans.

The Jurewicz inquiry is (unfortunately) another example of the religious hysteria that currently engulfs the U.S. Air Force Academy. The Post is also reporting that an independent religious panel, which advises the military on the recruitment and training of chaplains, is preparing to conduct its own investigation of the academy's religious "atmosphere." Another group, called "Americans United for Seperation of Church and State" has already issued its own report, claiming that the academy can be a "hostile place" for non-Christians. I'll crawl out on a limb and predict that the new inquiry will express similar "concerns," and generate more, useless "sensitivity" training for academy cadets, faculty and support personnel.

I don't know of anyone that endorses an "official" faith or religious creed at the Air Force Academy or any other military institution. Beyond that, the academy already has the necessary tools to prevent forced conversions or any other intrusions on individual religious beliefs. But the current round of inquiries is not an effort to preserve religious freedom; it's an opportunity for the PC police to enforce their own beliefs on an institution--the U.S. military--that many of them openly loathe.

Incidentally, Lieutenant Jurewicz graduated from the academy with academic, military and athletic distinction. He clearly has the makings of an outstanding officer and leader. I wish him a successful career, beyond the biased scrutiny of the PC mafia.

The Rest of the Story

It's the story that simply won't die. Almost daily, the MSM has new accounts of the "alleged" abuse of Muslim prisoners at U.S. detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Just yesterday, CeCe Connally of the Washington Post, appearing on Fox News, claimed that 100 detainees have died in U.S. hands. She never offered any proof, and (disappointly) no one challenged her assertion.

Seperate hysteria from fact, and here's what we know: abuse of Muslim prisoners is extremely isolated, and appears limited to a mere handful of low-ranking military personnel. There is no apparent connection between their actions and those of senior officers and other defense officials, despite continual claims of linkage by Democratic politicians and the MSM.

But there is another side to the Gitmo story, as reported in yesterday's Washington Times. Military guards working at Guantanamo and other detention facilities are routinely subjected to attacks by Muslim prisoners. Times reporter Guy Taylor has an excellent account of the dangers faced by those guarding incarcerated terrorists.

Hat tip: Little Green Footballs.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mr. Kerry's SF 180

After refusing to release of all of his military records during the 2004 Presidential campaign, Senator John Kerry finally signed a Defense Department Special Form (SF) 180 earlier this year, granting public disclosure of those files.

Well, those long-awaited files have finally been reviewed. Today's Boston Globe, has a summary of Kerry's records, and reports little new information over what was released last year.

End of story? So, the swiftboat veterans were wrong afterall? Much ado about nothing?

Hardly. Turns out that Mr. Kerry's file remains incomplete. The records released to the Globe were apparently drawn from Navy archives, not those of National Personnel Records Center, based in St. Louis. After a military member leaves the service, the complete file is transferred to the archive in St. Louis. There may be more information in those files, which Kerry has not released, so far.

Swiftboat leader John O'Neill has weighed on Kerry's "disclosure" at Blogs for Bush. As he notes, key questions about the senator's service record remain unanswered. Ed Driscoll at Captain's Quarters has an excellent summary as well.

Second Chances

The Air Force recently released its annual list of Brigadier Generals nominated for promotion to Major General. If approved by Congress, these officers will receive their second star, and move on to higher-level military posts.

Normally, the release of a promotion list doesn't attract much attention outside service circles. But this Air Force list is unusual in at least one respect: it contains the names of two officers who suffered major setbacks in earlier jobs, but somehow managed to resurrect their careers.

The officers in question are Brigadier General Larry New, currently Deputy Commander of NATO's Combined Air Operations Center in Greece, and Brigadier General Mark Shackelford, now assigned to the Missile Defense Agency.

In late 2002, Shackelford was dismissed from his position as Director of the F-22 System Program Office (SPO), after Air Force officials learned of major cost overruns in the fighter program. He was later reassigned to the missile defense post.

New was criticized for his leadership of the 57th Operations Group at Nellis AFB, NV after a 1998 mid-air collision claimed the lives of 12 helicopter crewmembers. A formal investigation concluded that New--a career fighter pilot--failed to ensure proper training for his rescue helicopter crews, who were wornout after extensive exercises and deployments. New's projected assignment as a Wing Commander at Eglin AFB, FL was subsequently vetoed. However, he was later named commander of another wing at Tyndall AFB, FL, where he earned his first star, and assignment to the NATO post in Greece.

In fairness, Shackelford and New shouldn't bear all the blame. General Shackelford was only 9 months into his job when the overruns were discovered and General New commanded a sprawling operations group at Nellis that included a half-dozen squadrons and as many aircraft types. New could not micro-manage the training program of a single helicopter squadron, just as General Shackelford could not be blamed for years of cost overruns on the F-22.

There are two ways of looking at the promotion of Generals New and Shackelford. First, it might suggest that the Air Force has abandoned its "zero defect, no mistake" mentality, allowing officers to overcome mistakes and continue advancing. That would be a welcome change.

But sadly, that analysis would be false. Too many officers and senior NCOs still find that a single mistake--involving lesser offenses--are bonafide career-killers. Unfortunately, the promotion of New and Shackelford is simply more evidence that the Air Force's good old boy and girl (GOBAG) network is alive and well. With the right connections, it's still possible to keep moving up the military food chain, despite millions of dollars in cost overruns, or a defective training program that results in the loss of two helicopters and a dozen aircrew members. Incidents that would end the careers of other officers seem to be only minor impediments for Generals Shackelford and New.

Sadly, the nomination of these two officers suggests that double standard is alive and well in Air Force promotion circles. Congress needs to take a hard look at this list, and decide if Generals Shackelford and New are truly deserving of a second star. And, if they concur, then thousands of former officers and NCOs deserve a second chance as well.

John McCain's Crusade

For more than three years, Senator John McCain has been on a crusade against the U.S. Air Force. The service incurred the senator's wrath back in 2002, when it proposed leasing KC-767 tanker aircraft from Boeing, rather than simply purchasing them. McCain described the lease as too expensive, and claimed that the KC-767 would not meet military requirements.

McCain's opposition to the tanker lease grew more vocal when it was discovered that a Boeing executive (Michael Sears) and the Air Force's senior contracting officer (Darlene Drunyun) conspired to deliver the lease to Boeing, in violation of government acquisition and contracting regulations. In exchange for her efforts, Ms. Drunyun was given a $250,000-a-year job, along with continued employment for her daughter and son-in-law. Both Ms. Drunyun and Mr. Sears are currently serving federal prison sentences.

While taxpayers should credit Senator McCain for helping expose the fraudulent lease deal, they should also ask this question: has the senator's crusade against the Air Force and Boeing turned into a personal obsession that is now jeopardizing the day-to-day operations of the USAF? Three years into his campaign, it seems evident that McCain's crusade is as more about the senator's political ambitions and military partisanship as an effort at acquisition reform.

Consider the most recent "revelation" in the tanker scandal. Today's Washington Post has excerpts from the Pentagon's Inspector General's report on the tanker deal. The report is based, in part, on e-mail exchanges between senior defense officials involved in the tanker lease. One describes the deal as a "bailout" for Boeing. Another defense official comments that "numbers were contorted" to justify the lease. The report also concludes that four top Air Force officials and former Undersecretary of Defense Pete Aldridge violated procurement rules, failed to use "best business practices" and ignored requirements for weapons testing.

That report is expected to be Exhibit A at today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on defense procurement problems. But before Senator McCain climbs onto his soapbox, it's beneficial to put the report--and the tanker lease--in its proper context.

First of all, the Air Force has a clear need for new tanker aircraft, used to refuel other planes in flight. Most of the Air Force's KC-135 tankers were built in the late 1950s or early 1960s and despite modifications, they are reaching the end of their service life, and need to be replaced. Secondly, leasing is a common and widely accepted practice in the Defense Department and commercial aviation. In exchange for leasing the KC-767s, the Air Force would receive extensive maintenance and logistical support from Boeing, at substantially reduced costs. Over a 30 or 40-year service life, leasing might actually save the Air Force money; however, over a shorter period, the lease would be more expensive than simply purchasing the aircraft. The savings--or potential excessive costs--are largely a matter of how you crunch the numbers.

Thirdly, Senator McCain has allowed his "investigation" to evolve into contracting witch hunt, that has hampered Air Force leadership and the service's long-term operations. A few months back, Senator McCain asked the Air Force to release more than 800,000 e-mails, convinced that there was a larger conspiracy behind the tanker deal. McCain also refused to support the nomination of senior Air Force officers to new positions, including General Gregory Martin as the next commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). General Martin, who now heads the Air Force Material Command, withdrew his name from consideration after McCain hinted that Martin might somehow be involved in the tanker conspiracy.

Judging from today's report, it appears that McCain's claims were unfounded, and Martin's career was torpedoed unfairly. In fact, the only connection between Martin and Drunyun is that they once worked in the same office in the Pentagon. Would McCain now support Martin's nomination for CINCPAC? I doubt it. Will he apologize to General Martin? I rather doubt that, too. In his rush to judgement on the tanker lease, McCain was more than willing to tar anyone that popped up on his radar scope.

But the list of collateral damage from McCain's crusade doesn't end there. The appointments of several senior officers remain in limbo; a number of civilian officials, including former Air Force Secretary James Roche have been forced out because they were also tainted by the tanker scandal. And, it's important to note that none of the officials listed in the Inspector General report are facing criminal charges. In that regard, the contracting scandal resembles the Abu Ghraib affair: the actual wrong-doing was committed by a very few, while Congresssional and media critics try to implicate other officials. Meanwhile, the Air Force is facing a leadership crisis, with a number of key vacancies in its upper ranks that have not been filled, largely due to John McCain's petulance.

Sadly, there are signs that Senator McCain is prepared to fight on, like Capt Queeg's search for those missing strawberries in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny. According to Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times, Pentagon insiders view the nomination of the new Air Force Chief of Staff, General T. Michael Mosley, as a test case for McCain. In recent months, the Arizona Senator has blocked appointments for senior AF officers, in an effort to obtain more information on the cancelled tanker lease. McCain may well stonewall General Mosley's nomination as well, as he continues his obsession.

One final thought: some of the accusations in the Inspector General report seem specious and selective, at best. The lobbying for the tanker lease is, in many respects, similar to the arm-twisting that accompanies virtually every major weapons purchase. Every few years, the Navy's "carrier mafia" makes the rounds in D.C., pushing for more carriers for our fleet. The lobbyists include defense officials, senior naval officers, representatives of Newport News Shipbuilding, and other friends of the service, including folks like John McCain. It's a a little shady, but (sadly) that's the way things are done in Washington. So far, Senator McCain has been conspiciously silent on other procurement programs, including those of the Navy.

It's also worth noting that claims about the lack of testing program for the KC-767 are largely without merit. The KC-767 is hardly a "paper program;" Boeing is already building 767 airframe tankers for Japan and Italy, with first delivery to the Italian Air Force in 2006. Extensive testing has already been accomplished in support of those programs. Given that reality, it made little sense for the USAF to embark on a similar testing program for a tanker that would be virtually identical to its Italian and Japanese counterparts.

But the tanker scandal seems destined to live on, thanks to Senator McCain. The Air Force won't get the tankers it needs, but the endless round of hearings and e-mail requests will keep the Senator on the front page of the papers, demonstrate his "independence" from the White House, and score more brownie points with his friends in the press. Afterall, 2008 is just around the corner, and John McCain wouldn't be the first to use an exaggerated scandal for political purposes.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Pass the Kool-Aid

CNN is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. Judging from posts on various TV news bulletin boards and chat rooms, it's a somewhat glum birthday. And with good reason. Over the past five years, the network has been dethroned in the cable news wars by Fox News Channel; ratings are down, ad revenues are largely stagnant, and there's been constant turnover among senior managers and executives.

Against that backdrop, CNN welcomed its founder, Ted Turner, back to its Atlanta headquarters today for a speech to the network's beleaguered employees. In his remarks, Turner alluded to lofty goals he established for the fledgling news network back in 1980. "I wanted to be the New York Times of the airwaves, not the New York Post," he recalled. "That's what we set out to do, and we did it."

Turner also advocated increased coverage of international and environmental stories, with less emphasis on what he termed "the pervert of the day." When moderator Christiane Amanpour asked why sensational stories deserved less airtime, Turner observed "somebody's got to be a serious news person, somebody's got to be the most respected name in news and I wanted that position for CNN."

Of course, Ted lost control of CNN during his merger with Time Warner more than a decade ago. However, during a question-and-answer session that followed his speech, the media mogul demonstrated that he may be losing control of his mental faculties as well. At one point, he claimed partial credit for ending the cold war. When Amanpour asked if he honestly believed he had a hand in it, Ted replied "I'm absolutely certain I did."

Pass the Kool-Aid. It's one thing to wax nostalgic about your professional career, but it's quite another to distort history. Ted may believe those televised "Russian-American town hall meetings" helped end the cold war (wonder where Vladimir Pozner is these days?), but in reality, it was the leadership and vision of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II the brought down the evil empire.

One more thing: "The New York Times of the Air?" Give me a break. In its early days, CNN was ridiculed as "chicken noodle news," a low-rent outfit that was sneered at by the broadcast network's news divisions, and more than a few local stations. Ted was also criticized for using non-union crews in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., squeezing every dime to save costs. For much of its early history, CNN was awash in red ink, losing millions of dollars every year.

But to it's credit, CNN was different in those days. The network worked hard to cover breaking news and generally played it straight in terms of its editorial slant. There were only a few network TV veterans among the ranks of CNN's on-air reporters and anchors. Many came from local stations or radio networks. On many occasions, CNN simply re-broadcast local coverage of breaking stories, figuring it was cheaper, and the local stations were better equipped to report news in their own backyard.

Unfortunately, the gritty, aggressive CNN of the 1980s soon morphed into a self-absorbed clone of the broadcast networks. New reporters, producers and anchors were recruited from the major networks, and CNN soon adopted the same leftist slant in its reporting. By the mid-1990s, CNN was virtually indistinguishable for ABC, CBS, or NBC. Not that anyone at CNN cared; the network dominated cable news ratings, and the ad revenue kept pouring in.

Of course, we know what happened to CNN. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes decided there was room for a cable news network that offered a more balanced perspective, and Fox News Channel was born. Barely a decade later, FNC is the king of cable news, and CNN--and its founder- -still can't figure out why.

Happy birthday, CNN. Circle the wagons and follow Ted's advice; keep offering more of your lefttist, globalist, elitist news coverage and watch your ratings continue to implode. At this rate, you won't be around for a 50th birthday celebration in 2030.