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E Haribus Rectum

by Matt Taibbi (, 26 Dec 2001


NEW YORK -- There are new names for everything in the United States now. The World Trade Center is called Ground Zero, that shadow government that used to be just an idea in conspiracy theory literature is now officially called the Office for Homeland Security, the Grizzlies are in Memphis, it's all a big mess now. Oh, and The New York Times now has a new Sunday section, to go along with Arts and Entertainment and Real Estate -- it's called `A Nation Challenged.'

`A Nation Challenged' is like a cross between a classic `focus/editorial' section and a special news insert, and functions as both -- a long-running special editorial insert section devoted to 9/11-related issues.

I had heard that The New York Times had performed more efficiently than usual lately, but I was completely unprepared for the effect of the actual paper in print. It features wartime propaganda so bald that it would not be out of place on leaflets dropped by C-130 onto enemy territory. It probably makes sense to raise the question of how much the government really distinguishes between winning those faraway hearts and minds, and winning ours back here. Probably not much. The only difference is that as an American, as opposed to as a member of a future subject race, you have to pay $2.50 for the pleasure of reading your Times -- although I did enjoy mine with a free Meal-Ready-to-Eat, Beef with Mushrooms, that my father brought back from Afghanistan as a gift.

You can get the gist of `A Nation Challenged' fairly easily from the headlines alone. Here they are:

On Tora Bora, Horror Rained on Al Qaeda:
Hospital Wounded Say Bombs Broke Their Spirit

(A thrilling account of what it's like to be on the `business end' of an American attack: captured belligerents recount their awe before American military might. Indistinguishable from gleeful St. Louis newspaper accounts of the `vaunted Ram offense,' told from the standpoint of a Carolina Panther defensive back)

In Kandahar, a Top School Reopens, and Girls Are Welcome
(Self-explanatory feel-good `after' feature)

Port of Entry Now Means Point of Anxiety
(Classic `Ring-around-your-collar' feature about terrorist threat. Ominous pictures of container ships. What in the world is on those things? The Coast Guard is shown to need more funds, as its budget is `stretched thin')

Afghan Leader is Sworn In, Asking for Help to Rebuild
(The legitimacy process begins. Shots of elders busily passing around Karzai's speech)

At a New Dawning,
Afghans Look Back in Anger and Ahead in Hope

(When you have headline cliches left over from last week, throw them together and make a soup. Describes the `feeling of pride and satisfaction' among the Afghanis at the installation of their new West-friendly regime)

Back to the Old Bathhouse; Free to Laugh Once Again
(By old friend Carlotta Gall, who I have never once seen laughing at anything except another Chechnya reporter who got less column space than she did. About the U.S.-mandated return of laughter to public bathhouses in Afghanistan.)

In a Wild Land, British-Led International
Security Force Takes on a Narrow Role

(The p.r. bone thrown to the Brits. Succeeds also in making us feel large in comparison. With photo of thin-lipped British commando in camouflage.)

Wartime Forges United Front
for President Bush's Inner Circle of Aides

(With photo of peacefully coexisting Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice. Features unnamed sources who insist: `The venom is gone')

Hollywood to Enlist Muhammad Ali's Help
in Explaining War to Muslims

(No mention in this piece of Ali's former refusal to fight in Vietnam, except in one section which cites that fact as a reason Ali's image might be `acceptable' to Muslims abroad).

After these pieces there are two whole newspaper pages of bios of victims, small capsules next to head-shot photographs. The whole section is under the headline:

The Victims: A Mr. Fix-It in Brooklyn,
A Dedicated Traveler, a Model of Self-Discipline

The actual bios featured their own headlines, and each one of them, in their own way, are revolting enough to make one begin to understand the 9/11 bombers. Take this excerpt from the bio of one Joseph McDonald, who is called `Brainy, Brawny, Balanced' in his mini-headline:

A perennial captain, he had the generosity of soul to pick the dorky kids for his team.

Nice of somebody to pick those darn dorky kids.

Or there was this bio of Elkin Yuen, a broker for Carr Brothers, who was called `Creative Vacationer.' In general these victim bios tend to accentuate the most positive aspect of the victim's personality, so that if he was a three-time felon who knew macrame, the headline would read, Pattern of Goodness.

But about this Mr. Yuen, a young Asian financial worker, the Times apparently couldn't find anything good to say except that he often went on expensive vacations:

Even when his wife had the urge to save money more quickly to buy a house, `he'd rather spend a few thousand dollars going away for a week than save the money.'


Tora Bora or Bust!

The eXile is leaving to join the hunt for Bin Laden. We won't quit till we've kicked that raghead's smelly ass to death, and fed his entrails to the pig pen at Kolkhoz Im. Lenin #4 in Ulyanovsk. We figure we need a couple of weeks to assist our slow-working friends in the U.S. Marines to complete this simple task. See ya in Moscow Jan. 24th!


The Times, probably sensing that this didn't tug at the heartstrings enough, dragged out Yuen's daughter at the end of the piece. `I want Daddy to come home,' little Nicole says. `Daddy used to take me to Chucky Cheese.'

No comment... Probably the most amazing article in the section, however, was the smallest and least conspicuous; an entry on page b8, the rear page of the section, entitled A Go-Alone Democrat Who's Seeking Company.

This article, about Wisconsin Democrat Russell Feingold, profiles the Man Who Embarrassed America by being the lone Senator to vote against Bush's incredible anti-terrorism act. This law, which essentially revokes the attorney-client privilege (giving the government the right to listen in to conversations between suspects and their attorneys), was voted in by even the most liberal Senators, the Kennedys and the Kerrys, without a blink: only Feingold flinched. And in this piece, the Times, in the person of reporter Robin Toner, slyly explains why.

It was the kind of against-the-grain positioning that cemented Mr. Feingold's reputation this year as one of the Senate's leading mavericks -- and as a man who was reaching for broader influence in his national party.

The Times goes on:

It is . . . a useful niche in the broader market of national politics, to which Mr. Feingold is clearly drawn. As one Democratic strategist put it, `lone man of conscience' is `not a bad place to position yourself in the Democratic primary.'

This article does not even entertain the idea that Feingold might have actually thought Bush's bill to be wrong. It sees his nay vote purely as political posturing, an attempt to claim the `lone man of conscience' banner within his own party, whose constituents have a sentimental attachment to that kind of politicking. Worse, the article actually applauds Feingold's clever politics, suggesting that he really is ready for `the next level.'

In other words, it is not okay to vote against the anti-terrorism bill, if you're acting according to your conscience. But it is okay to do so if you think it will help you become president. Welcome to `A Nation Challenged.'

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