Commentary Magazine


Topic: press spokesman

Judgment Calls and the Muslim Brotherhood

On Monday, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs said that any new government in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.” In Egypt, that would mean the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the New York Times today, we’re told, “Significantly, during the meeting [on Monday], White House staff members ‘made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,’ according to one attendee.”

This report comes after a June 2, 2009, report in the New Republic by Michael Crowley that “in an unexpected bit of diplomatic choreography, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been invited to attend Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo tomorrow.”

Now what is it about the Obama administration that would lead it to be mostly silent during the uprising against the Islamic theocracy in Iran, fearful to offend the regime in power, and yet go out of its way to try to secure a seat at the table for the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

I understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda. But I also understand that the Muslim Brotherhood will never be confused with Madisonian reformers. The motto of the Brotherhood — “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” — hardly rivals “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I appreciate the fact that when you’re serving in the White House during an unfolding foreign-policy crisis, there are hard, close calls to make. But whether to strengthen and legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t one of them.

(h/t: Charles Krauthammer)

On Monday, White House press spokesman Robert Gibbs said that any new government in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important non-secular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.” In Egypt, that would mean the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the New York Times today, we’re told, “Significantly, during the meeting [on Monday], White House staff members ‘made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,’ according to one attendee.”

This report comes after a June 2, 2009, report in the New Republic by Michael Crowley that “in an unexpected bit of diplomatic choreography, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been invited to attend Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo tomorrow.”

Now what is it about the Obama administration that would lead it to be mostly silent during the uprising against the Islamic theocracy in Iran, fearful to offend the regime in power, and yet go out of its way to try to secure a seat at the table for the Muslim Brotherhood in a post-Mubarak Egypt?

I understand that the Muslim Brotherhood is not al-Qaeda. But I also understand that the Muslim Brotherhood will never be confused with Madisonian reformers. The motto of the Brotherhood — “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!” — hardly rivals “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

I appreciate the fact that when you’re serving in the White House during an unfolding foreign-policy crisis, there are hard, close calls to make. But whether to strengthen and legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t one of them.

(h/t: Charles Krauthammer)

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The White House Sort of Speaks

Robert Gibbs, the outgoing White House press spokesman, is not covering his departing head with glory as he speaks about the Egypt crisis. It’s certainly not Gibbs’s fault that the administration finds itself unable to speak with a moment’s clarity about the crisis, and keeps repeating the weasel word “restraint.” Gibbs says contingencies are being discussed, but also says Obama hasn’t spoken to foreign leaders. The U.S. is reviewing its aid posture — maybe. And everybody should refrain from violence. Certainly the White House doesn’t want to handcuff itself. But that is not the impression one gets from this press briefing. What one gets from this press briefing is that an administration in office for a little more than two years is entirely at sea when it comes to dealing with this crisis, which has been a possibility on the horizon for weeks. There’s something extraordinarily amateurish about this conduct.

Robert Gibbs, the outgoing White House press spokesman, is not covering his departing head with glory as he speaks about the Egypt crisis. It’s certainly not Gibbs’s fault that the administration finds itself unable to speak with a moment’s clarity about the crisis, and keeps repeating the weasel word “restraint.” Gibbs says contingencies are being discussed, but also says Obama hasn’t spoken to foreign leaders. The U.S. is reviewing its aid posture — maybe. And everybody should refrain from violence. Certainly the White House doesn’t want to handcuff itself. But that is not the impression one gets from this press briefing. What one gets from this press briefing is that an administration in office for a little more than two years is entirely at sea when it comes to dealing with this crisis, which has been a possibility on the horizon for weeks. There’s something extraordinarily amateurish about this conduct.

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This Is What Happens When You Get Engulfed by a Wave

Today on Capitol Hill, the Democratic Party appears to have gone somewhat insane. The House Democratic Caucus voted to oppose the tax-cut deal struck between Barack Obama and Senate Republicans; it’s a non-binding vote, but an embarrassing one for the president. It’s not nuts — the bill is obviously problematic for liberals — but its practical political effect is negligible, and it seems more like a tantrum than anything else. Roll Call even reports that someone at the meeting shouted “—- the president”; imagine if such a thing had been reported out of a Republican caucus meeting.

In the Senate, a complicated procedural maneuver to pass the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” failed, apparently due to as-yet incomprehensible machinations by Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had some deal struck with moderate Republican Susan Collins that he decided to renege on and hold a vote anyway. Nobody understood what was happening, the vote (not to repeal, but to end debate)  failed, and Collins voted with Reid anyway.

There was more chaos relating to other legislation as well. Meanwhile, Obama press spokesman Robert Gibbs told Democrats that if they have better ideas, they should make like The Price Is Right and “come on down.”

The machinery of the Democratic Party in Washington is in desperate need of overhaul. The November 2 tsunami shorted everything out.

Today on Capitol Hill, the Democratic Party appears to have gone somewhat insane. The House Democratic Caucus voted to oppose the tax-cut deal struck between Barack Obama and Senate Republicans; it’s a non-binding vote, but an embarrassing one for the president. It’s not nuts — the bill is obviously problematic for liberals — but its practical political effect is negligible, and it seems more like a tantrum than anything else. Roll Call even reports that someone at the meeting shouted “—- the president”; imagine if such a thing had been reported out of a Republican caucus meeting.

In the Senate, a complicated procedural maneuver to pass the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” failed, apparently due to as-yet incomprehensible machinations by Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had some deal struck with moderate Republican Susan Collins that he decided to renege on and hold a vote anyway. Nobody understood what was happening, the vote (not to repeal, but to end debate)  failed, and Collins voted with Reid anyway.

There was more chaos relating to other legislation as well. Meanwhile, Obama press spokesman Robert Gibbs told Democrats that if they have better ideas, they should make like The Price Is Right and “come on down.”

The machinery of the Democratic Party in Washington is in desperate need of overhaul. The November 2 tsunami shorted everything out.

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Obama’s Blame Game

“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, speaking on background to Politico. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left. … And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”

Let’s see if we can follow the bouncing ball.

First, the White House blamed Obama’s predecessor and the Republicans for everything that is wrong with America, from unemployment to profligate spending to diaper rash. Last November, David Axelrod felt he had to remind people that the president is “not a magician. You don’t with a wave of a wand make everything different.” This past June, President Obama offered the American people this piercing insight: “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless.” And now, we are told by top Obama aides that they are frustrated because Obama isn’t getting his proper due. The problem doesn’t have to do with their policies, you see; it has to do with “the culture of immediate gratification.”

How difficult it must be for a demigod to be walking among mere mortals. And how frustrating it must be for Barack the Great to have done so many things so well, for the country to be prospering so much under his stewardship — and yet he doesn’t seem to get any credit for it. The world can be such a thankless and ungrateful place.

The truth is that this is all getting rather pathetic. The Democratic Party is heading for a historical repudiation in November. The White House and the Democrats on Capitol Hill are turning on each other. Obama’s press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, admits that there is “no doubt” the Republicans could regain control of the House, while former Clinton adviser William Galston is predicting that the Democrats may well lose the Senate. “If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” said Galston.

What we are seeing is a president and a White House of unusual — and very nearly otherworldly — hubris being beaten down by events. Reality is slowly crushing the Obama presidency. Its policies are failing, its popularity is sinking, its excuses aren’t working, and its incompetence is showing. Yet the administration appears incapable of admitting – even to itself, even in quiet moments – that it has made mistakes, that it may be wrong, that it may be on the wrong track.

All of this, in turn, is creating considerable cognitive dissonance among Obama, his advisers, and many of his supporters. They cannot deny they are in trouble; but they continue to deny they are responsible for causing any of it. So the fault lies with Bush, or the Republicans, or the ridiculously high expectations of the public, or divisions within the Democratic Party, or with the “culture of immediate gratification.”

What President Obama desperately needs is someone with standing in his life to intervene – to say to him that the fault, dear Barack, lies not with our stars but rather with yourself and with your policies.

I rather doubt this will happen; and even if it did, I rather doubt Obama would accept any part of the critique. He is a man, after all, who sees himself as a world historical figure, as America’s philosopher-king, as Socrates on the Potomac. It is not simply that he doesn’t seem able to see his own flaws and shortcomings; it is as if he could not even process the possibility that they exist.

This is not going to end well.

“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, speaking on background to Politico. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left. … And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”

Let’s see if we can follow the bouncing ball.

First, the White House blamed Obama’s predecessor and the Republicans for everything that is wrong with America, from unemployment to profligate spending to diaper rash. Last November, David Axelrod felt he had to remind people that the president is “not a magician. You don’t with a wave of a wand make everything different.” This past June, President Obama offered the American people this piercing insight: “Even though I’m president of the United States, my power is not limitless.” And now, we are told by top Obama aides that they are frustrated because Obama isn’t getting his proper due. The problem doesn’t have to do with their policies, you see; it has to do with “the culture of immediate gratification.”

How difficult it must be for a demigod to be walking among mere mortals. And how frustrating it must be for Barack the Great to have done so many things so well, for the country to be prospering so much under his stewardship — and yet he doesn’t seem to get any credit for it. The world can be such a thankless and ungrateful place.

The truth is that this is all getting rather pathetic. The Democratic Party is heading for a historical repudiation in November. The White House and the Democrats on Capitol Hill are turning on each other. Obama’s press spokesman, Robert Gibbs, admits that there is “no doubt” the Republicans could regain control of the House, while former Clinton adviser William Galston is predicting that the Democrats may well lose the Senate. “If you ask me where the silver lining is for President Obama, I have to say I cannot see one,” said Galston.

What we are seeing is a president and a White House of unusual — and very nearly otherworldly — hubris being beaten down by events. Reality is slowly crushing the Obama presidency. Its policies are failing, its popularity is sinking, its excuses aren’t working, and its incompetence is showing. Yet the administration appears incapable of admitting – even to itself, even in quiet moments – that it has made mistakes, that it may be wrong, that it may be on the wrong track.

All of this, in turn, is creating considerable cognitive dissonance among Obama, his advisers, and many of his supporters. They cannot deny they are in trouble; but they continue to deny they are responsible for causing any of it. So the fault lies with Bush, or the Republicans, or the ridiculously high expectations of the public, or divisions within the Democratic Party, or with the “culture of immediate gratification.”

What President Obama desperately needs is someone with standing in his life to intervene – to say to him that the fault, dear Barack, lies not with our stars but rather with yourself and with your policies.

I rather doubt this will happen; and even if it did, I rather doubt Obama would accept any part of the critique. He is a man, after all, who sees himself as a world historical figure, as America’s philosopher-king, as Socrates on the Potomac. It is not simply that he doesn’t seem able to see his own flaws and shortcomings; it is as if he could not even process the possibility that they exist.

This is not going to end well.

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The Palestinian “Condemnation”

Yesterday afternoon, Jake Tapper interviewed Vice President Biden, who recalled a condemnation that did not actually occur:

TAPPER: … Some supporters of Israel say the same week that you were there, on Thursday I believe, a square in the Palestinian territories was named after a woman who led a terrorist [attack] against Israeli civilians that killed civilians, children, and one American photojournalist. Where was the condemnation of that?

BIDEN: Well, they did not name square when I was there.  So that didn’t happen –

TAPPER: They waited until you left.

BIDEN: They waited till I left.  But — and one of the things I said while I was there to the Palestinians, Abbas and Fayyed, I would condemn that, they should not do that. Subsequently, since I got home and they did that, not only did we condemn that, we also condemned the violence used by the Palestinians that recently occurred in Jerusalem. …

When, exactly, did we “condemn” that? We didn’t. We didn’t even use the word, much less accompany it with what went with a condemnation of Israel for approving housing units in a Jewish area of its capital.

Did the secretary of state personally call Abbas and Fayyed and tell them the issue wasn’t the timing but the substance? Did she tell them that it would destroy the confidence of Israelis in their “peace partner”? Did she demand they take “specific actions” to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and “American interests”? Did she require they establish a process to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again? Did she demand a public apology? Did she call the establishment of a public square to honor a terrorist who murdered an American an “insult” and an “affront” to the United States? Did she direct her press spokesman to call a press conference to announce her call and relay to the world what she had said? Did she send anyone out to the Sunday talk shows to repeat the condemnation? Did she demand a prompt call-back to inform her of what they had decided to do in response to her condemnation?

Did she insist on a condemnation of the Palestinian action in the “Joint Statement by the Quartet” issued late last night — in which she joined in still another condemnation of Israel? No, she did not.

Yesterday afternoon, Jake Tapper interviewed Vice President Biden, who recalled a condemnation that did not actually occur:

TAPPER: … Some supporters of Israel say the same week that you were there, on Thursday I believe, a square in the Palestinian territories was named after a woman who led a terrorist [attack] against Israeli civilians that killed civilians, children, and one American photojournalist. Where was the condemnation of that?

BIDEN: Well, they did not name square when I was there.  So that didn’t happen –

TAPPER: They waited until you left.

BIDEN: They waited till I left.  But — and one of the things I said while I was there to the Palestinians, Abbas and Fayyed, I would condemn that, they should not do that. Subsequently, since I got home and they did that, not only did we condemn that, we also condemned the violence used by the Palestinians that recently occurred in Jerusalem. …

When, exactly, did we “condemn” that? We didn’t. We didn’t even use the word, much less accompany it with what went with a condemnation of Israel for approving housing units in a Jewish area of its capital.

Did the secretary of state personally call Abbas and Fayyed and tell them the issue wasn’t the timing but the substance? Did she tell them that it would destroy the confidence of Israelis in their “peace partner”? Did she demand they take “specific actions” to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and “American interests”? Did she require they establish a process to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again? Did she demand a public apology? Did she call the establishment of a public square to honor a terrorist who murdered an American an “insult” and an “affront” to the United States? Did she direct her press spokesman to call a press conference to announce her call and relay to the world what she had said? Did she send anyone out to the Sunday talk shows to repeat the condemnation? Did she demand a prompt call-back to inform her of what they had decided to do in response to her condemnation?

Did she insist on a condemnation of the Palestinian action in the “Joint Statement by the Quartet” issued late last night — in which she joined in still another condemnation of Israel? No, she did not.

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Squandering Mr. Obama’s Teachable Moment

In his interview with George Stephanopoulos yesterday, President Obama said this:

The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

He went on to say this as well:

If there’s one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values. And that I do think is a mistake of mine. I think the assumption was, if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on the, you know this provision, or that law, or are we making a good, rational decision here … that people will get it. … What they’ve ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there’s these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions. … I think that I can do a better job of that and partly because I do believe that we’re in a stronger position now than we were in a year ago. That also means, by the way, that we can spread out what we do so it’s not so cram-packed. It doesn’t mean I back off the agenda of health care, or energy, or education, or financial regulatory reform, or dealing with our deficits. But it does mean that it doesn’t have to be all on top of the other piled on. And we’ve got a lot more time to explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing. We have a lot more time to answer critics who argue that we’re not doing the right thing.

What a shame; the election in Massachusetts was a wonderful teachable moment for Mr. Obama — and he seems to have drawn all the wrong lessons from it.

First, the president is still engaged in whining and finger-pointing, an act that long ago became tiresome. Unable to master events, he increasingly looks for ways to scapegoat them. Blaming everything under the sun on the “last eight years” won’t cut it (especially since one of the last eight years now covers Obama’s tenure). It simply makes Mr. Obama look petty and small-minded.

Second, Mr. Obama and his press spokesman Robert Gibbs and his top aide David Axelrod are practicing psychiatry without a license. They speak about the need to “understand” the public’s “anger,” as if it was a rooted in something other than a reasonable verdict on Mr. Obama’s agenda so far. The polling data shows that what is costing the Democrats isn’t some kind of free-floating anger that has gripped voters in need of therapy; it is opposition to what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do to the nation.

Third, the president’s “mistake” is that he and his administration were just so busy doing so much good stuff for so many people that, well, they plainly forgot to explain to simple-minded Americans just how much good stuff the Obama administration is doing for them. I guess Rahm Emanuel needs to add “remind people how great I am” to the presidential “to do” list.

Fourth, Obama and his acolytes believe they have a “communications problem” when in fact they have a substance and competence problem. They are pushing proposals that are counterproductive and highly unpopular; that is why the American people are rising up against the president and his agenda.

Mr. Obama’s words are so laughably out of touch I’m not sure he really believes them. If he does, he is more self-deluded than I imagined. And his administration is in more trouble than I thought.

In his interview with George Stephanopoulos yesterday, President Obama said this:

The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years.

He went on to say this as well:

If there’s one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values. And that I do think is a mistake of mine. I think the assumption was, if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on the, you know this provision, or that law, or are we making a good, rational decision here … that people will get it. … What they’ve ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there’s these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions. … I think that I can do a better job of that and partly because I do believe that we’re in a stronger position now than we were in a year ago. That also means, by the way, that we can spread out what we do so it’s not so cram-packed. It doesn’t mean I back off the agenda of health care, or energy, or education, or financial regulatory reform, or dealing with our deficits. But it does mean that it doesn’t have to be all on top of the other piled on. And we’ve got a lot more time to explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing. We have a lot more time to answer critics who argue that we’re not doing the right thing.

What a shame; the election in Massachusetts was a wonderful teachable moment for Mr. Obama — and he seems to have drawn all the wrong lessons from it.

First, the president is still engaged in whining and finger-pointing, an act that long ago became tiresome. Unable to master events, he increasingly looks for ways to scapegoat them. Blaming everything under the sun on the “last eight years” won’t cut it (especially since one of the last eight years now covers Obama’s tenure). It simply makes Mr. Obama look petty and small-minded.

Second, Mr. Obama and his press spokesman Robert Gibbs and his top aide David Axelrod are practicing psychiatry without a license. They speak about the need to “understand” the public’s “anger,” as if it was a rooted in something other than a reasonable verdict on Mr. Obama’s agenda so far. The polling data shows that what is costing the Democrats isn’t some kind of free-floating anger that has gripped voters in need of therapy; it is opposition to what Obama and the Democrats are trying to do to the nation.

Third, the president’s “mistake” is that he and his administration were just so busy doing so much good stuff for so many people that, well, they plainly forgot to explain to simple-minded Americans just how much good stuff the Obama administration is doing for them. I guess Rahm Emanuel needs to add “remind people how great I am” to the presidential “to do” list.

Fourth, Obama and his acolytes believe they have a “communications problem” when in fact they have a substance and competence problem. They are pushing proposals that are counterproductive and highly unpopular; that is why the American people are rising up against the president and his agenda.

Mr. Obama’s words are so laughably out of touch I’m not sure he really believes them. If he does, he is more self-deluded than I imagined. And his administration is in more trouble than I thought.

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“Shameful”?

In an article today, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post cites various media figures–from Tom Shales of the Post to Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher to Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann–who are outraged at the performance of George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson during Wednesday’s Democratic debate. The ABC News duo’s performance, we are told, was “despicable,” “shameful,” and “disgraced democracy itself.”

And what did Stephanopoulos and Gibson do to earn this scorn? Why, they asked Barack Obama some probing questions, including one about his past relationships with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and a former leader of the Weather Underground, William Ayers.

Consider this thought experiment: Assume that a conservative candidate for the GOP nomination spent two decades at a church whose senior pastor was a white supremacist who uttered ugly racial (as well as anti-American) epithets from the pulpit. Assume, too, that this minister wasn’t just the candidate’s pastor but also a close friend, the man who married the candidate and his wife, baptized his two daughters, and inspired the title of his best-selling book.

In addition, assume that this GOP candidate, in preparing for his entry into politics, attended an early organizing meeting at the home of a man who, years before, was involved in blowing up multiple abortion clinics and today was unrepentant, stating his wish that he had bombed even more clinics. And let’s say that the GOP candidate’s press spokesman described the relationship between the two men as “friendly.”

Do you think that if those moderating a debate asked the GOP candidate about these relationships for the first time, after 22 previous debates had been held, that other journalists would become apoplectic at the moderators for merely asking about the relationships? Not only would there be a near-universal consensus that those questions should be asked; there would be a moral urgency in pressing for answers. We would, I predict, be seeing an unprecedented media “feeding frenzy.”

The truth is that a close relationship with a white supremacist pastor and a friendly relationship with an abortion clinic bomber would, by themselves, torpedo a conservative candidate running for president. There is an enormous double standard at play here, one rooted in the fawning regard many journalists have for Barack Obama. They have a deep, even emotional, investment in his candidacy. And, as we are seeing, they will turn on anyone, even their colleagues, who dare raise appropriate and searching questions–the kind journalists are supposed to ask. The reaction to Stephanopoulos and Gibson is a revealing and depressing glimpse into the state of modern journalism.

In an article today, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post cites various media figures–from Tom Shales of the Post to Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher to Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News to MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann–who are outraged at the performance of George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson during Wednesday’s Democratic debate. The ABC News duo’s performance, we are told, was “despicable,” “shameful,” and “disgraced democracy itself.”

And what did Stephanopoulos and Gibson do to earn this scorn? Why, they asked Barack Obama some probing questions, including one about his past relationships with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and a former leader of the Weather Underground, William Ayers.

Consider this thought experiment: Assume that a conservative candidate for the GOP nomination spent two decades at a church whose senior pastor was a white supremacist who uttered ugly racial (as well as anti-American) epithets from the pulpit. Assume, too, that this minister wasn’t just the candidate’s pastor but also a close friend, the man who married the candidate and his wife, baptized his two daughters, and inspired the title of his best-selling book.

In addition, assume that this GOP candidate, in preparing for his entry into politics, attended an early organizing meeting at the home of a man who, years before, was involved in blowing up multiple abortion clinics and today was unrepentant, stating his wish that he had bombed even more clinics. And let’s say that the GOP candidate’s press spokesman described the relationship between the two men as “friendly.”

Do you think that if those moderating a debate asked the GOP candidate about these relationships for the first time, after 22 previous debates had been held, that other journalists would become apoplectic at the moderators for merely asking about the relationships? Not only would there be a near-universal consensus that those questions should be asked; there would be a moral urgency in pressing for answers. We would, I predict, be seeing an unprecedented media “feeding frenzy.”

The truth is that a close relationship with a white supremacist pastor and a friendly relationship with an abortion clinic bomber would, by themselves, torpedo a conservative candidate running for president. There is an enormous double standard at play here, one rooted in the fawning regard many journalists have for Barack Obama. They have a deep, even emotional, investment in his candidacy. And, as we are seeing, they will turn on anyone, even their colleagues, who dare raise appropriate and searching questions–the kind journalists are supposed to ask. The reaction to Stephanopoulos and Gibson is a revealing and depressing glimpse into the state of modern journalism.

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Assuring Assad

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to Damascus in defiance of the express wishes of President Bush. In response, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s spokesman praised her “courageous position” and expressed the hope that it would inaugurate a dialogue between “the people of the United States” and the Syrian regime, despite President Bush’s efforts to isolate it. Pelosi explained her unusual action by saying that she was trying to “build some confidence” between Americans and the Assad government.

Apparently she has succeeded, after a fashion. Assad, at least, seems to have gained confidence that he can behave as brutally as he wishes without incurring too much international opprobrium. In the month since Pelosi’s visit, he has ratcheted up repression, all but snuffing out the lingering embers of the “Damascus spring” that followed his accession to power seven years ago. Six prominent dissidents were packed off to prison for sentences ranging from three to twelve years, the longest term being given to Kamal Labwani for “communicating with a foreign country,” i.e., the United States. “It’s back to the 1980′s, to the worst days of his father’s rule,” commented the exiled dissident Ammar Abdulhamid.

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Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation to Damascus in defiance of the express wishes of President Bush. In response, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s spokesman praised her “courageous position” and expressed the hope that it would inaugurate a dialogue between “the people of the United States” and the Syrian regime, despite President Bush’s efforts to isolate it. Pelosi explained her unusual action by saying that she was trying to “build some confidence” between Americans and the Assad government.

Apparently she has succeeded, after a fashion. Assad, at least, seems to have gained confidence that he can behave as brutally as he wishes without incurring too much international opprobrium. In the month since Pelosi’s visit, he has ratcheted up repression, all but snuffing out the lingering embers of the “Damascus spring” that followed his accession to power seven years ago. Six prominent dissidents were packed off to prison for sentences ranging from three to twelve years, the longest term being given to Kamal Labwani for “communicating with a foreign country,” i.e., the United States. “It’s back to the 1980′s, to the worst days of his father’s rule,” commented the exiled dissident Ammar Abdulhamid.

Pelosi reportedly raised Labwani’s case, specifically, with Syrian authorities during her visit. His crime, after all, consisted solely of talking to Americans, and here she was to promote dialogue. The specially long sentence now slapped on him amounts to a direct rebuff of her appeal, an expression of disdain. So how has she reacted?

Not at all. There is nothing about Labwani’s sentencing, or about any of the other dissidents, on her website. So I put in a call to her press spokesman, Brendan Daly, asking if the Speaker had commented on these events. I received a call back from a deputy of his who assured me that Assad’s actions were in “the opposite direction” from the course she had urged on him when she was there. In view of that, I asked, what was her reaction? She had not addressed it yet, he said, but he promised to get me a statement from her by the end of the next business day. That was ten days ago, and I am still waiting. Meanwhile, she has left the country yet again, this time leading a congressional delegation to Greenland, Germany, and Belgium to discuss global warming. Presumably this will build Assad’s confidence even further.

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