It didn’t take long for the Beltway’s windbag geniuses to prove anew how brilliant they are, by devising instant conventional wisdom about the unprecedented dump of classified Afghanistan war documents by the double-secret online cult called WikiLeaks.
From the condescending Anne Applebaum (“these documents just don’t matter that much”) to the first class blowhard Doyle McManus (“The most surprising thing about WikiLeaks’ released trove of officially secret documents is how few surprises it contains”) and the tiresome Richard Cohen (“the news…is that there is no news at all”) the message was nearly unanimous from the opinion shapers who spend their days mainlining self-importance: Evvveryone worth knowing already knew all this.
Call us disconnected from the One True Reality of Washington, D.C., but we missed the prime time presidential addresses when Bush and Obama looked straight into the camera and said: “We’ve poured $876 gazillion down a rat hole and all we got show for it is a hyena pack of back-stabbing double dealing so-called allies, an uncounted number of massacred civilians and our own, deeply bruised well-kicked asses.”
Among the allegedly elite East Coast journos who populate cable TV like termites, only the level-headed Jim Fallows, a true insider with an outsider’s mind, had the common sense God gave him to opine that “information that may be old news to insiders may seem a revelation to the broader public.”
Media massages: We don’t claim to understand the complexities and nuances of AfPak policy, but the Calbuzz Department of Pioneering New Technologies and Sensitive New Age Guys does know a world-class media story when we see one, and the startling coup pulled off by Julian Assange, the Mr. Weirdo Orville Schell lookalike who runs WikiLeaks (Rafti Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile remains the defining piece about him) was extraordinary, game-changing and historic.
Not only did Assange imagine and build an unheard-of digital and security infrastructure to solicit, obtain and channel a steady stream of official and corporate secrets offered up by conscience-stricken whistleblowers around the globe, but, in the instant case, he enlisted the managements and resources of three of the leading MSM operations in the world to help.
If that’s not some kind of milestone of what you like to call your still-emerging radical transformation of the global news business, well then, Dr. P.J. Hackenflack ain’t from Vienna.
Amid the reams of dead tree and puny-minded analysis, NYU’s Jay Rosen, our favorite Big Think Media Guy, seemed best to grasp the sweeping scope and implications of the event:
If you go to the WikiLeaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: “Everywhere.” Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that…WikiLeaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, “They didn’t even contact us!”
Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what WikiLeaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But WikiLeaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does WikiLeaks.
Whew. Pass the smelling salts, please, it’s the fainting couch for us.
Silver lining dep’t: Happy to say, all was not a lost cause this week amid the teeming ranks of opinion mongers resident in Our Nation’s Capital.
In truth, it appeared at times that someone had spiked the coffee in the op-ed offices of the WashPost, where scribblers Ruth Marcus and E.J. Dionne put on a clinic about the logic and rhetoric of expression, with a couple of finely crafted columns of high political import that put the Applebaum/Cohen ilk to shame.
Both pieces came in the wake of the stomach-churning Brietbart/Sherrod scandal. Although neither focused on the particulars of that matter, both seemed somehow birthed by the industry-wide whirlwind of post-mortem self-critical navel gazing, which resulted in solemn declarations of renewal and re-commitment to the kind of upright truth-telling that was soiled by the sordid episode, as if the writers had had a bellyful of punditry parsing, mushy language and false equivalencies, and decided simply to announce that the Emperor had no clothes.
First up was Marcus. Tackling the issue of whether the Bush tax cuts should be extended, she noted that Republicans always make exactly the same argument, whether the federal government has a surplus or a deficit, whether the economy is growing or sinking and regardless of the facts. Offering a neat, quick stroke sketch of GOP cant, she had us saying, “we wish we’d said that.”
The modern Republican argument about taxes seems to boil down to two principles, both misguided: Taxes can be reduced, but they can never be allowed to go up. And whatever level taxes are at, they are too high.
Next came our old friend E.J., unburdening himself in a well-reported column called “The Politics of Stupidity,” in which he bashed the absurdities of the U.S. Senate, surgically dispatched pig-headed arguments about the stimulus and worked the same rich vein of tax policy as Marcus, beginning with a contrast between the fact-based tax-and-cuts deficit strategy of British P.M. David Cameron and “the fairy tale of supply-side economics (which) insists that taxes are always too high, especially on the rich.”
The simple truth is that the wealthy in the United States — the people who have made almost all the income gains in recent years — are undertaxed compared with everyone else.
Consider two reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. One, issued last month, highlighted findings from the Congressional Budget Office showing that “the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled between 1979 and 2007″…
The other, from February, used Internal Revenue Service data to show that the effective federal income tax rate for the 400 taxpayers with the very highest incomes declined by nearly half in just over a decade, even as their pre-tax incomes have grown five times larger.
The study found that the top 400 households “paid 16.6 percent of their income in federal individual income taxes in 2007, down from 30 percent in 1995.” We are talking here about truly rich people: Using 2007 dollars, it took an adjusted gross income of at least $35 million to get into the top 400 in 1992, and $139 million in 2007.
The notion that when we are fighting two wars, we’re not supposed to consider raising taxes on such Americans is one sign of a country that’s no longer serious…
What say you, Meg and Carly?
Today’s sign civilization is getting better all the time: Man’s best friend.