Bemused Scorn Will Do

Okay – CNN is in trouble. It was no surprise that Jim Walton, the president of CNN Worldwide, abruptly resigned after ten years of running the place, rather well, actually. But something had to change. Yes, he turned the place around and they were making good money, but they also were getting killed in the ratings. It was no longer enough to be “the most trusted name in news.” The world had changed in those ten years and there is this McClatchy item explaining it all:

The television remote control has become a de facto ballot in today’s hyper-polarized world of politics.

Turn the dial to the left to watch MSNBC and it’s more likely you lean left. Turn it to the right to tune in Fox, and it’s more likely you lean right. Which cable news channel people watch has become a bona fide indicator of what they think about taxes, health care, immigration and the size and scope of the federal government, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

That’s followed by some snappy graphics – how you feel about the awful job Obama is doing, or about how regulation of any kind is simply ruining all American businesses, about how the worthless poor are getting a free ride and really ought to pay a whole lot more in taxes, determines where you get your news. You go to Fox News for that stuff, or you watch MSNBC if you don’t agree. There’s not much new here, but Steve Benen digs deeper – within a statistical margin of error, those who watch CNN aren’t buying those three premises at all. Fox News is the outlier. That means CNN reports the news much as MSNBC does, but perhaps reports these particular things without the attitude. That would mean Jim Walton’s problem was that he just didn’t have an attitude, or he couldn’t assemble one, or he chose not to, choosing to offer the news itself, as is. It would seem he’s journalistic traditionalist. Now, like the Geneva Conventions on Torture, that’s merely quaint – so he’s gone.

It’s just as well Walton is gone. Politics and journalism are now necessarily intertwined – you have to get all buddy-buddy with your sources to get the scoop, the real inside story. You have to sleep with the enemy. CNN’s media critic Howard Kurtz is married to a woman who is a Republican operative who has worked for both Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain – although Kurtz tries, often successfully, to be fair about things. CNN’s Erin Burnett started out as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs and is now engaged to a to Citigroup executive, which might account for her giggly and dismissive reporting on the Occupy Wall Street stuff last year. She’s still working on that objectivity thing. CNN’s Campbell Brown married Dan Senor – the guy who was chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, forever telling us the war was going swimmingly and that Bush had been wise all along – the Iraq War had been a brilliant idea – and really, no one had ever lied about anything.

So it is a small world. There’s hardly anyone on the outside looking in. Walton was fighting a losing battle. Campbell Brown did the right thing, however. In 2010 she quit CNN. She had been up against Bill O’Reilly and Nancy Grace and Keith Olbermann – a tough time slot – and she said she refused to cop an attitude like them. She had been married to Senor for four years by then, but perhaps he didn’t figure in this. She didn’t like what cable news had turned into. She was out of there.

But it is a small world, as Dan Senor has popped up again:

An adviser’s vague remark to reporters here left the press scrambling for nearly three hours this morning to determine whether Romney had promised to commit American forces or other support to a hypothetical Israel strike on Iran.

In fact, Romney appears to be stopping a step short of such commitment, promising only to respect – but not necessarily support or agree with – an Israeli move.

Romney foreign policy advisor Dan Senor briefed the press on Sunday morning, saying, “if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

The headline that hit news outlets across the globe by the Associated Press was: “Adviser: Romney would back strike against Iran,” implying, perhaps, that the U.S. could contribute forces to such a strike.

It’s a good thing his wife didn’t have to report that story. Her husband, now one of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisors, had scared the shit out of the world. Mitt Romney keeps saying that Barack Obama is stunningly bad at diplomacy, so the idea was that Romney would show Obama, and the world, and American voters, how these things are done. He would charm our allies, not piss them off, and reassure them, not alarm them, and prove that he should be president starting next January. He would do the opposite of Obama, in all things. Yes, London had been a disaster – he managed to insult the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London and the British people, and they all mocked him in return – but Israel was next, and Dan Senor was just saying that Romney is not Obama, that wimp who thinks any attempt by Israel to wipe Iran off the map would be disastrous. Senor had to say something.

But Reuters reported that “Romney backs Israel if needs to strike Iran” and Bloomberg ran “Romney says he’d back unilateral Israeli strike on Iran” and so on. This was a mess:

That news remained on the wires for nearly three hours, as local and international press struggled with the meaning of Senor’s remark.

The Romney campaign, meanwhile, went dark, with much of his top staff asleep in Boston or in meetings with Israeli leaders, as an international firestorm built over how Senor’s comments were being interpreted.

About three hours later, however, aides distributed a comment by Senor clarifying his remarks.

“Gov. Romney believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so,” Senor said in the new statement. “In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. Gov. Romney recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it.”

Does that clarify things? Not exactly – it seems purposely obscure, now. And why did Romney hire the guy who had been the chief spokesperson for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq? The world isn’t THAT small. There really was no need for Romney to staff-up with pretty much the whole Bush Iraq team – at least eight key players including John Bolton. But even if views on the Iraq War have changed over time, the Project for the New American Century is back. That seems odd, but if Obama promised Hope and Change perhaps you do have to offer the opposite, on principle. Obama maintains that another major war in the Middle East would be calamitous, for the whole world, so you have your guy say it might be just fine.

Needless to say, this is not how diplomacy is done, but then it got worse:

Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. Romney’s campaign later said his remarks were mischaracterized.

No, they weren’t:

“As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,” the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.

Romney said some economic histories have theorized that “culture makes all the difference.”

“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.

The Associated Press is just reporting what Romney said. Some people are just better than others, because of their culture, or because God likes them more – just like Americans are simply better than Mexicans. He said that, and in New York Magazine, Dan Amira puts this in perspective:

Mitt Romney is now two-for-two in insulting large swaths of people during his international tour. After he enraged the British by suggesting that their Olympics might not be as awesome as his Olympics, Romney moved on to Israel, where he appeared to blame Palestinian poverty in part on “providence” and the territory’s inferior culture during a fund-raiser with American citizens in Jerusalem today. After noting that Israel’s GDP-per-capita income is $21,000 while Palestine’s is a paltry $10,000 (it’s actually more like $31,000 and $1,500, respectively, according to the AP) …

A senior aide to the Palestinian prime minister was not a happy camper – “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation. It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people.”


Is this actually a bad controversy for Romney, politically? On the one hand, Romney wants his trip to give him foreign policy credibility and to make voters comfortable with the idea of him serving as the country’s chief diplomat, and a constant stream of headlines about him pissing off one country after another doesn’t really communicate that. On the other hand, if he’s going to infuriate someone, it might as well be the Palestinians. You probably don’t need any proof that American voters don’t have an overly fond opinion of Palestinians…

And Amira adds this:

As for the substance of Romney’s remarks, the World Bank, for one, seems to agree… at least on the question of Israel’s role in depressing the Palestinian economy. In a recent report on the economies of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it concludes that the “major constraints to private sector activity are the tight Israeli restrictions, and growth will not be sustainable until Palestinians have access to resources and are allowed to move freely.”

Ignoring Israel’s role is a major omission if one is actually trying to explain the differences in GDP-per-capita between Israel and Palestine. Of course, an accurate and thorough analysis was not Mitt’s goal.

The New York Times was not kind at all:

On Monday afternoon, Romney campaign officials did not respond to a query about whether Mr. Romney believes that the blockade of Gaza or trade restrictions in the West Bank have had any dampening effect on economic activity in those areas.

Someone has some explaining to do. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be:

The White House weighed in on Romney’s remarks that angered the Palestinians.

“One of the challenges of being an actor on the international stage, particularly when you’re traveling to such a sensitive part of the world, is that your comments are very closely scrutinized for meaning, for nuance, for motivation,” Obama Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said today in the White House briefing.

“And it is clear that there are some people who have taken a look at those comments and are scratching their heads a little bit.”

Senior Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod weighed in on Twitter: “Is there anything about Romney’s Rolling Ruckus that would inspire confidence in his ability to lead US foreign policy?”

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog sees it this way:

Romney knows that, in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Americans’ sympathies are overwhelmingly with Israel. This is a freebie. You want to talk about the last acceptable prejudice? This is a serious contender.

His policies notwithstanding, George W. Bush personally shied away from overt racism toward blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims. Romney, by contrast, will eagerly exploit bigotry when he thinks he can get away with it. In this case, he knows he can not only get away with it but benefit from it, because so many Americans will cheer the dog whistle and so few will be outraged. He showed in prep school that he won’t refrain from hate if hatred has no negative consequences.

Steve M is referring to this:

Mitt Romney … spotted something he thought did not belong at a school where the boys wore ties and carried briefcases. John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend…

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors….

Maybe it is the same sort of thing, but this is odd:

Standing on Israeli soil, U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Sunday declared Jerusalem to be the capital of the Jewish state and said the United States has “a solemn duty and a moral imperative” to block Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.

“Make no mistake – the ayatollahs in Iran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object and who will look the other way,” he said. “We will not look away nor will our country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.”

The presidential election hovered over the speech. The Old City formed a made-for-television backdrop behind Romney, while some of his campaign donors listened in the audience.

Romney’s declaration that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital was matter-of-fact and in keeping with claims made by Israeli governments for decades, even though the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.

There’s a reason for that – Israel grabbed the city in 1967 when they won that Six Day War, but the status of the city, and especially its holy places, is at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli government approved building plans in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and Islamic leaders have made claims that Jews have no historical connection to Jerusalem – the old Western Wall was constructed as part of a mosque in the first place, and Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state – and the city’s borders have been the subject of bilateral talks for a long time. The world considers it an international city and Israel says not any more it isn’t. It complicated, and a potential flashpoint for another war. Someone should have told Mitt. You just don’t say these things – unless you’re itching to start a war. He does have the staff for that, whispering in his ear. They did give us the Iraq War. Maybe you do say these things, simply to prove you’re not Obama and you’re also not like anyone else in the world.

But this is just bizarre:

During a trip to Israel, Mitt Romney hailed the nation’s health care system for holding down costs and broadening coverage more effectively than the U.S.

The irony: Israel contains costs by adopting a very centralized, government-run health care system – anathema to Romney’s Republican Party.

“Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? Eight percent. You spend eight percent of GDP on health care. You’re a pretty healthy nation,” he said Monday at a breakfast fundraiser, according to the New York Times. “We spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care, 10 percentage points more. That gap – that 10 percent cost – compare that with the size of our military – our military which is 4 percent, 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways – not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to fund and manage our health care costs.”

Israel’s health care system is an instructive exercise in all that rankles American conservatives – replete with government mandates, price controls and centralized payments funded mostly by high taxes.

Does this man even know what he’s saying? Digby adds this:

Shhh. Don’t tell Mitt but it’s funded with a progressive health care tax.

What in the world is Mitt doing praising a buncha commies like this? Oh wait, it’s Israel. I’m confused…

It’s no wonder. But at least Romney has won over all of the Israelis, or maybe not:

Both President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak highlighted, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the relationship the Obama administration has kept with Israel…

Peres: “When I look at the record of President Obama concerning the major issues, security, I think it’s a highly satisfactory record, from an Israeli point of view.”

Barak: “I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past. … In terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of sorts in a very open way even when there are differences.”

That’s cold. That hardly seemed fair. The trip to Israel didn’t go much better than the trip to London.

At least there was the next stop, the last stop, Poland, where Nobel Prize laureate Lech Walesa pretty much endorsed Romney to become the next president of the United States. Our conservatives are assuming Walesa is implying that Romney is another heroic global freedom fighter battling socialism, even if Walesa led a workers’ union, which muddies the waters a bit. But after London and Jerusalem you take what you can get.

But there’s a problem. Philip Sherwell and Bruce Konviser in the very conservative British paper, the Telegraph, had this to say about the guy back in 2000, when Walesa mounted a comeback campaign for the Polish presidency:

What Mr Walesa’s loyal aides at the offices of the Lech Walesa Institute – a think-tank he established after losing office – dare not tell him as they bring him his papers and execute his barked orders is that he will do well to win five per cent of the vote.

Like the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Mr Walesa is much more popular abroad than at home. It is hard to find a Pole who will criticize his role in defeating communism, and just as hard to find one who has a word of praise for his five-year presidency – a period that was characterized by his intransigence, belligerence and paralyzing disputes with parliament.

A Western diplomat in Warsaw said: “Walesa is in the odd position of being an unpopular hero. He is a hero for taking on and defeating the old regime, but his presidency left him a deeply unpopular politician. People think he should retire from public life with grace now.”

Oh well, at least the guy is now a Catholic social conservative – an opponent of legalized abortion and of same-sex marriage and so on. That’ll have to do. And no one here follows Polish politics anyway.

And thus ends Mitt Romney’s amazing adventures in foreign policy, and Jim Walton left CNN for a reason. There may be no way to cover any of this without an attitude. Bemused scorn will do, even if that’s not very journalistic.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in America and Israel, Foreign Policy, Israel and the Palestinians, Israel's Survival, Mitt Romney and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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