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 Day 19

Yes, these are dire political times. Many who optimistically hoped for real change have spent nearly five years under the cold downpour of political reality. Here at CounterPunch we’ve always aimed to tell it like it is, without illusions or despair. That’s why so many of you have found a refuge at CounterPunch and made us your homepage. You tell us that you love CounterPunch because the quality of the writing you find here in the original articles we offer every day and because we never flinch under fire. We appreciate the support and are prepared for the fierce battles to come.

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CounterPunch Diary

Join the 14 Per Cent Club! We Won!

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Sign here to become a member of the 14 Per Cent Club. Twenty bucks plus shipping and handling gets you the t-shirt. Credentials for membership derive from a recent study from the Pew Research Center disclosing, in the words of Katharine Seelye of the New York Times on May 9, that a recent study from the Pew Research Center found that 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing of what they read in their daily newspapers.

When specific newspapers were mentioned, The Times fared about average, with 21 percent of readers believing all or most of what they read in The Times and 14 percent believing almost nothing. Chalk up another victory for the left. We’re been at it for thirty years at least, saying that most things in the Times are distortions of reality or outright lies and here is a robust slice of the American people agreeing with us. Of course the faint hearts who believe that the left can never win anything will say that the credit should go to moles at the New York Times, boring from within, hollowing out the mighty edifice with year upon year of willful falsehoods until at last the whole ponderous structure is crumbling into dust crushing all within.

True to a point.

Heroic moles, entombed in the rubble of your own making, Judith Miller and all the others, back through to the suzerain of sappers, A.M. Rosenthal, we salute you all! As with any empire on the brink of collapse, frantic commands are issuing from the command bunker. Seelye divulges the program of proposed "reform" devised by the editors. "Encourage reporters to confirm the accuracy of articles with sources before publication and to solicit feedback from sources after publication. Set up an error-tracking system to detect patterns and trends. Encourage the development of software to detect plagiarism when accusations arise. Increase coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion. Establish a system for evaluating public attacks on The Times’s work and determining whether and how to respond."

Can there be any better evidence of the panic that has settled in? If this trend continues, they’ll be forcing Tom Friedman to install preventive software based on the works of Noam Chomsky that freezes his hard drive every time he types an untrue sentence.

The Times’s "reform" package veers between apologetic sniveling about improved coverage of the heartland (fatter slabs of patronizing nonsense about god-fearing kulaks in Iowa) and quavering barks of defiance at "the relentless public criticism of the paper…Mr. Keller [the NYT's editor] asked the committee to consider whether it was ‘any longer possible to stand silent and stoic under fire.’"

"’We need to be more assertive about explaining ourselves – our decisions, our methods, our values, how we operate,’ the committee said, acknowledging that ‘there are those who love to hate The Times’ and suggesting a focus instead on people who do not have ‘fixed’ opinions about the paper."

This is like reading a strategy memo from the dying embers of the Dukakis Campaign. I’m glad to say I have no constructive recommendations to offer to the editors of the New York Times, except maybe one suggested by my Nation intern, Mark Hatch-Miller whom I canvassed for his opinions: "Stop bringing up Jayson Blair every time you screw up. Every time the Times talks about why people don’t trust them, they have to mention Blair, but we all would have forgotten him by now if they’d shut up about him for a second. His story is only used to distract us from the real problems. at the Times." Aye to that. So far as I know, the Times has never named its reporter, Judith Miller, as a prime agent in fomenting what has become the most thoroughly discredited propaganda campaign in the entire history of war scares.

Daniel Okrent, the NYT’s ombudsman through its crisis months departs this week loosing a Parthian shot or two at his erstwhile employer. Okrent tells Salon that the NYT could have done a lot more in the way of self criticism for its role in selling Saddam’s supposed WMDs, though he says he doesn’t know whether or not the NYT actually "disciplined" Miller. Of course history has performed that function more than adequately. Her name is up there alongside Piggott, author of the famous Parnell forgeries.

On the matter of constructive versus destructive criticism, I’ll always opt for the latter. Keep things clean and simple, like "US out of Iraq now". My only quibble with Chomsky down the years has been the implication in all his trenchant criticisms of the Times that somehow the NYT should be getting things right, and that it would be better if it did so.

This has always seemed to me to be a contradiction in terms. The role devised for itself by the New York Times was to be the credible organ of capitalism ("newspaper of record"), with its reports and editorials premised on the belief that American capitalism can produce a just society in which all can enjoy the fruits of their labor in peaceful harmony with their environment and the rest of the planet.

The evidence is in. The case is proved a million different ways. American capitalism can’t do that. It’s produced an unjust society run by a tiny slice of obscenely rich people (including the real estate developers owning the New York Times) with a vested and irreversible interest in permanent war and planetary destruction.

Given those premises, how can the Times ever get it right? Why would we want the Times to get it right? It’s like a parody I wrote here a decade ago, when the Times said that henceforth it would issue corrections "for the sake of balance":

A New York Times Business Day report published two days ago quoted sources confident of America’s continued economic expansion, but the report failed to provide adequate balance to these optimistic views. The report markedly failed to represent the views of the Marxist school. According to the Marxist school, the capitalist economy of the United States will suffer increasing crises of accumulation and a falling rate of profit. These phenomena will aggravate social and economic contradictions to a degree that will be ultimately fatal to capitalism. Failure to note the theories of the German economic and social critic Karl Marx violated Times standards of fairness."

Get the idea?

We won! On the left we’ve always said that the corporate press tells lies and now, for a variety of reasons, at most people believe us. The corporate media are discredited, the same way the corporate political parties are. They have zero credibility. Newspapers are dying. The main tv networks have lost a third of their audience over the past twenty years. There’s no need for whining that the problem consists of narrowing ownership. The corporate press was just as bad when there were five hundred different newspaper owners instead of five. And, for now at least, we have the web. We’re infinitely better off than we were thirty years ago.

The only trouble is, the Left hasn’t got too many ideas. We should stop bitching about the corporate press and get with a new program. If it’s credible, then the people who don’t trust the New York Times might start trusting us.

Footnote: For "14 per cent" t-shirts, contact counterpunch@counterpunch.org or call 1-800-840-3683.


Poche’s, Only in Louisiana

I headed west out of New Orleans on I-10, warm with memories of Jazzfest, of the spinach and artichoke casserole, of the ordered crawfish etouffee (both prepared at the race track by the owner of the Jefferson Cafe in Lafayette, now sadly closed), of the softshell crab po’boy, of the cochon de lait po’boy, of Hannibal Lokumbe’s trumpet playing in an unwonted appearance at Sweet Lorraine’s on St Claude.

I-10 between Mobile and the Texas line seems to specialize in huge ads for microsurgical reversals of vasectomies. I counted at least three. Maybe the thought of approaching Huston makes guys look on the brighter side of parenthood. Then, just after the third sign, I saw a weatherbeaten billboard advertising Poche’s Sausages, two miles north of Exit 209.

This was a few miles east of Lafayette, in Breaux Bridge, a place immortalized by the great Gatemouth Brown. I swung off the Interstate in the ’82 Mercedes. Only a mile north I was on a country road, another mile through flat pastureland and then a left across a bridge and a rippling stream and there on the next corner was Poche’s Market. A real country store, also a smokehouse. I ordered crawfish etouffee and while I was waiting, asked the young woman behind the counter which sausages she liked best. She said the chaurice, because they were spicy, and so they are as I found when I cooked them back home in Petrolia. I bought smoked sausage too.

The ordered crawfish etouffee and rice came in a white Styrofoam tray and I dipped my fork into it right outside the store. The best! It happens so seldom in America, so often in Louisiana. Then, thoughts still on the glories of American cooking, I called JoAnn Wypijewski who’s been covering the torture trials of Lynddie England et al for Harpers, at Fort Hood in Killeen, north of Austin.

JoAnn said she had a day free and I urged her to drive down to the barbecue capital of Texas, Lockhart, 45 minutes south of Austin, and check out the offerings. As you’ll see in her piece which we feature here today, JoAnn, fared as well as I did at Poche’s. These are chastening times, but all is not lost.


The Case for Anarchism Proven

Here’s Christopher Hutsul in the Toronto Star:

"Imagine, for a moment, a busy downtown intersection with no traffic lights, signs or sidewalks. There are no markers on the ground, no speed bumps, no police officer conducting the flow of vehicles. There’s not even a curb. Every element of traffic _ pedestrians, bikers and drivers _ is left to fend for itself. Sounds like a recipe for chaos, right?

Wrong.

The implementation in a number of European communities of what some have dubbed "naked streets" has been hugely successful.

Urban planners in Holland, Germany and Denmark have experimented with this free-for-all approach to traffic management and have found it is safer than the traditional model, lowers trip times for drivers and is a boost for the businesses lining the roadway.

The idea is that by removing traffic lights, signage and sidewalks, drivers and pedestrians are forced to interact, make eye contact and adapt to the traffic instead of relying blindly on whether that little dot on the horizon is red or green.

Planners have found that without the conventional rules and regulations of the road in place, drivers tend to slow down, open their eyes to their environment and develop a "feel" for their surroundings.

In effect, every person using the street, be it an SUV owner or a kid with a wagon, becomes equal."

I believe it. Ever notice how the arrival of a cop at a cross roads invariably preludes gridlock? Ever try to drive in Berkeley? The traffic design there is the definitive refutation of social democracy. I sent ther bit from the Toronto Star to my friend Sainath, with whom I spent late March and early April in various cars including an Ambassador diesel, driving around northern Kerala and other parts of India. I have strong nerves in cars, particularly when I’m driving. I wouldn’t drive in India. Sainath sent back a smug note:

"I always knew we were on the right path. I like the bit about ‘In effect, every person using the street, be it an SUV owner or a kid with a wagon, becomes equal.’ All are equal. Some behind the wheel, some beneath it."


Gellhorn Award

I’m no fan of press prizes, but this one is deserved. On behalf of all you CounterPunchers who’ve read his great dispatches from Iraq on this site and in the newsletter, I hereby congratulate Patrick Cockburn who has just been given this year’s Martha Gellhorn Award, named for the famous foreign correspondent. The citation reads:

"The Martha Gellhorn Award is given every year to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told unpalatable truths, validated by powerful facts, that exposes establishment propaganda, or ‘official drivel’, as Martha called it. The work of Patrick Cockburn, The Independent’s correspondent in Iraq, fits this description perfectly … Often at great personal risk, his outstanding eyewitness and analytical journalism … has consistently made sense of the bloody invasion and occupation. He is a courageous truth-teller who, as Gellhorn wrote… ‘reports from the ground up, not the other way around’."

Footnote: the first item in this column appeared in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday. And CounterPunch newsletter subscribers, ahoy there. Wondering where the latest issue is? My Indian diary will be in a double edition, combining the two issues covering the last half of April and the first half of May, numbers 8 and 9. The 12-pager should be with you in ten days or so.