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Regarding Media

To Err Is Human, but to Think Out Loud ...

June 21, 2002|TIM RUTTEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can lead people in the media to facts, but you can't make them think.

Consider the case of Ted Turner, the audacious entrepreneur who helped change the face of global news and entertainment as a visionary leader in the then-revolutionary technology of cable television.

It is a bit difficult to conceive a creative mind so fecund that it gave rise to CNN, Turner Classic Movies and the Cartoon Network. But it is harder still to imagine how a person in Turner's position, now vice chairman of AOL Time Warner, can say so many willfully ignorant and wickedly mistaken things.

Over the years, Turner has insulted Catholics, evangelical Christians and Holocaust survivors--among others--with various intemperate and crude remarks. Only a centipede could put more feet in its mouth. But this week, in one stunningly clueless sequence, he managed to simultaneously affront both the Israelis and the British--no mean feat.

In an interview published in Tuesday's editions of Britain's Guardian newspaper, Turner blundered onto the topic of Mideast terrorism. "Right now, aren't the Israelis and the Palestinians both terrorizing each other?" he rhetorically inquired of reporter Oliver Burkeman.

"It looks to me like they're both doing it. When the Brits retaliated for the Germans, for the Krauts ... for the Nazis bombing London by bombing Berlin, weren't you both terrorizing each other? The rich and the powerful, they don't need to resort to terrorism. The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers; that's all they have. The Israelis, they've got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are involved in terrorism."

Mark Regev, one of Israel's diplomatic spokesmen in Washington, called Turner's "moral comparison ... both flawed and problematic." To compare suicide bombers who target innocent civilians and acts of national self-defense by "an army that makes a maximum effort not to kill civilians is fundamentally not true."

On the very morning Turner's foolishness hit the streets of London, a fanatic committed murder-suicide by exploding a nail-filled bomb on a Jerusalem bus crammed with commuters and schoolchildren.

The sort of mind unable to distinguish between that atrocity and the Israeli government's response to it is exactly the sort of mind that morally conflates Nazi aggression and the heroic British resistance that probably saved Western civilization. If it wasn't for the RAF, Josef Goebbels' grandson might well have a talk show on CNN. Actually, the way things are going with the cable news operations, somebody like him probably will have one soon.

Turner, of course, has apologized for his remarks--again.

However, the real problem with Ted Turner is not that he says what he thinks; it's that he obviously thinks the things he says.

The Truth About Blogging

Now, just to demonstrate that folly is constant from medium to medium, consider another of this week's examples--the blogger Mickey Kaus.

Bloggers, in case you have been spending the irreplaceable moments of your one and only life reading serious newspapers and good books, are people who maintain Internet logs of their personal analysis and reflections. It's sort of old wine in new skins, since the bloggers are basically a narcissistic throwback to an easily recognizable American type, the 19th century cranks who turned out mountains of self-published pamphlets.

The cranks had all sorts of idiosyncratic preoccupations--single tax schemes, silver-backed currency, vegetarianism and the metaphysical benefits of healthy bowels, for example. Bloggers tend to dabble in politics, media and vendetta.

Wednesday, for instance, Kaus posted an item on his personal site (www.kausfiles.com) praising former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee for allowing reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to publish their articles on Watergate at a rapid pace, even though that "sometimes meant revealing unsubstantiated or simply wrong information."

According to Kaus, "Bradlee instinctively understood--you keep the story going, with hit after little hit, which gets people talking, which panics sources into coming forward, which gets other papers into the hunt and ultimately brings much more information to light, even if this means you occasionally get something wrong....This virtue of Bradlee's editorship, it seems to me, is also a virtue of blogging as a form of journalism. The Web really does put a premium on speed and spontaneity over painstaking accuracy. Bloggers instantly print what they learn, and what they believe to be true. They sometimes--often, actually--get it wrong. But even those errors prompt swift corrections that take the story asymptotically closer to the truth."

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