Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Blame and Responsibility

We applaud the President of the United States for accepting responsibility for lapses in the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Similarly, we also applaud the teen driver who accepts responsibility for crashing dad's car into a tree. We applaud the dry cleaner who accepts responsibility for burning a hole in a customer's sport jacket. We applaud the pet owner who accepts responsibility for his dog dropping a turd on the neighbor's lawn.

What sort of topsy-turvy world is it when the most earth-shattering announcement following a life-shattering hurricane is that the commander in chief of the federal government takes responsibility for federal screw-ups?

Don't answer that; it's a rhetorical question.

Don't get us wrong. We actually are impressed that President Bush said what he said -- and it certainly trumps Mayor Ray Nagin's refusal to admit shortcomings -- but we're not quite ready to wet ourselves like some in the mainstream media, such as ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, who called the statement an "extraordinary admission." We respectfully disagree. An extraordinary admission would be, say, "I led the nation into war based on bad intelligence." An extraordinary admission would be "I made a mistake in hiring an Arabian horse-show judge to head FEMA." An extraordinary admission would be "My name is Rumpelstiltskin."

By contrast, this is a decidedly nuanced admission. Ever the dutiful Air National Guard pilot, Dumbya knows the value of a good parachute: " ... To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."

But don't mistake taking responsibility for taking the blame. We can't help but recall an old Watergate-era political parody record by David Frye called Richard Nixon: A Fantasy. In it, Frye, portraying Tricky Dick, drew the distinction that people who take the blame lose their jobs; people who take responsibility do not.


At 5:17 PM, Blogger Larry Mondello said...

Chase, get down off your high horse. When I hear Gov. Blanko (that's right, Blanko) accept some responsibility, then we've gotten somewhere. As for GWB, forgive him. He is new to the "maybe we screwed up" game. Allow him some baby steps.

At 9:21 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

Did Chase just use the term, "mainstream media"?

That coming from a guy who professes a soft spot for Keith Olbermann and the New York Times ... I'd say we're making real progress here.

There's hope yet....

At 6:20 AM, Blogger OKPartisan said...

He used the phrase, "some in the mainstream media." What were you hoping for, Red Dirt? A condemnation of Olbermann and the NY Times? Why do you despise them? Because they speak a part of the truth that doesn't conform to the narrow right-wing view of the world?
And besides, isn't "mainstream media" a term used to describe traditional media, as opposed to blogs and other sources of information?

At 6:03 PM, Anonymous Red Dirt said...

Yes, you've hit the nail on the head OkPartisan -- that's it, exactly so, I "despise" Olbermann and NYT because they don't conform to the corporatist-Rethuglican-fascist line.

Is that what you were hoping for?

No, I was gigging Chase and he knows it.

Now the reality is that Olbermann is a nutball with too much airtime. A cursory glance at his blog, various commentary and constant conspiracy-mongering on his show will reveal that pretty quickly. The liberal viewpoint deserves a better spokesman. Even James Carville would be an improvement.

The NYT, on the other hand, used to be a favorite of mine -- I did receive the Sunday NYT at home for a long time and read it faithfully -- until they were exposed for having terrible journalistic standards (a la Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg) and a worse axe-grinding propagandistic approach to the news than the Oklahoman did when the old man ran things (for just a few anecdotal examples, and let us note there are many, many more -- I could cite the NYT's obsession with Augusta golf course "controversy" flogged on the front page for months or the annual NYT story we've all come to expect that professes surprise that crime rates have dropped nationally at the same time that incarceration rates have risen; the editors always seemed puzzled by that, while the rest of us immediately understand the connection.)

I "despise" the new NYT for the same reasons that so many other former readers now do. In one case a former Times afficianado wrote a book about it: "Journalistic Fraud" by Bob Kohn.

Having cleaned up its act in the middle part of the 20th century and making up for past sins (such as willfully ignoring Stalin's crimes against humanity) it turned around its reputation and became the paper of record for many conservatives, including me.

Now it's just another in a sea of partisan house newsletters -- conservative or liberal, take your pick.

What's more, NYT editor Bill Keller conceded this problem in a memo writing that, "even sophisticated readers of The New York Times sometimes find it hard to distinguish between news coverage and commentary in our pages."

In a recent example of the NYT's clever bias, which I label willful sophistry, Houston's ABC affiliate exposed how the paper ran two different stories about Houston's response to Katrina crisis. The domestic version praised Houston's free enterprise response. The International Herald Tribune version of the story contained lots of snide slights against the city, and could have been written by Karl Marx.

This isn't just my opinion -- it was reported by a respected affiliate in a very large metropolitan TV market and a graphic on the TV station's website showed the differences between the two stories in black and white.

Olbermann is hopeless - the Times is not. They can turn things around, and I sincerely hope they do. If and when they do, I'll go back to delving into the adventure of reading that Sunday edition as a weekly ritual.

Until then, I'm afraid, I've gone Timeless.


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