Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Too Little. Too Late.

It was a coincidence that I started reading “State of War” the very same week that the “Senate Select Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program” was released to the public (Dec. 2014), providing the most comprehensive public accounting of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA after the terrorist attacks in New York on 9/11. In light of that report, most everything in Risen’s book, published in 2006, is all well known by now and extremely documented and expanded upon by other writers, journalists, reporters and confidential “unnamed” sources. But Risen’s book is still a good addition and complement to any serious student’s library of books on war history, US spying programs, surveillance, intelligence and foreign policy. It creates context.

Incidentally, perhaps the most interesting footnote to this book is the legal case the US government brought against Risen because he refused to disclose his sources for parts of the book. Fortunately, as of Dec. 13, 2014, US Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to subpoena Risen in an effort to force him to reveal the sources for his book, “State of War”. Risen has been battling for years to stop prosecutors from forcing him to name his source revealing the CIA’s efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Risen was facing the difficult decision between revealing a source or jail time for contempt of court.

In Risen’s last chapter, he writes about “checks and balances” to weaken the Bush Administration's lawless use of warrantless wire taps, unlawful imprisonment, torture, executive orders that circumvented the US Constitution, etc. However, eight years after Risen’s book was published, these so-called “checks and balances” are laughable and absurd! Since “State of War” was published, Edward Snowden has exposed the vast and powerful NSA program that dwarfs anything Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld knew about; the CIA torture report has been released and confirms everything and more that the country thought about CIA torture programs; Osama bin Laden is dead but now ISIS and other home-grown terrorists are on the scene fighting harder than ever and using Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan as staging areas; and America “ended” the war in Iraq only to send more troops back in 2014.

Risen’s book has significance and importance as a reporter’s true account of history and an attempt to offer an explanation. But in the final analysis, this so-called “explosive book on the abuse of power of the Bush Administration” was back in 2006 and is now, in 2014, too little, too late. 

Chasing the Jazz Bus Nashville 12.17.14

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Roses on the Grave

Any way you look at it, this is a very sad story. The commentary Matt Bai makes on our society is even more pathetic because it’s factually true and yet philosophically inadequate. There’s really no upside to it. Everybody loses, nobody wins. Having said that, the book is packed with little jewels of insights, gems of self-illumination that can, and should, stimulate conversation and self-examination. It’s written and researched extremely well, there are some b&w photos and besides that, an unexpected value are the other books footnoted and recommended by Bai, books on the subject of journalism, ethics, morality, the marketing of presidential candidates; books I’ve ordered and can’t wait to read. So, thank you for that!

It wasn’t until the last couple chapters that it hit me what was going on in this story…. you know, why was I reading it? That was the question being asked in 1987 when the scandal between presidential candidate Gary Hart and model Donna Rice first appeared on the political scene. The subject of Bai’s book isn’t just about the turning point when politics went tabloid, as it says in the subtitle; it’s also about the turning point when journalism became a bully, when bullying established itself as a legitimate method to get “the story” and if you have to destroy everything in its path, so be it, only – be the first to get the story! As Bai tells it, the moment when the nation and its media took a hard turn toward abject triviality was hastened by Hart’s personal collapse, which made it easier for journalists to sneer at him, to proclaim him unfit and to blame him for all the tabloid scandals which were yet to come.

As I was nearing the end of the book, I got the distinct feeling that I was reading a eulogy, or attending a funeral, or looking over the guest list at a memorial service. The book, from beginning to end, is really a story about brick layers disguised as serious journalists who mixed tabloid gossip, politics and advertising revenue in a wheelbarrow of public opinion, laying cement at a tomb marking the spot where journalism and politics became little more than performance art. By the time scrutiny and scandal ran themselves into the ground, journalism and politics would be forever despised as entertainment and scorned for not being entertaining enough! 

Matt Bai’s book is a touching tribute to Ideas, buried like a corpse in a society needing ideas, a society which never had the chance to say goodbye. This book may be an attempt to place a few flowers on the grave.

12.11.14 Nashville TN