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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A civil decision

Kofi Annan thinks it might be. Matt Lauer says it already is. Who's right? Does it matter?

Two newspapers spend precious front page space this morning to discuss "it" -- whether Iraq is in a "civil war" or whether the country is merely in the middle of "sectarian violence." The New York Times weighed in the day before with a story defining civil war that makes it clear where it stands.

Naturally, the White House, which has tried to define every inch of the political debate for six years (often with astounding success) is on full alert. But deprived of Donald Rumsfeld, the Great Intimidator who would bully Pentagon reporters into accepting his world view, the second string response was not as convincing.
National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley told reporters traveling to Estonia with President Bush: "Obviously, everyone would agree things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough." Washington must find ways to "adapt," he added.
So why does this semantic battle demand so much attention? Let's call it the Uncle Walter Factor.

Lyndon Johnson knew things were over, in a political sense, when the CBS anchorman took a reporting trip to Vietnam and came back with a bleak assessment of US military success. The story goes that Johnson turned to an aide at the time and
said "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

Lauer is hardly Cronkite, but in today's media world the clout of The Today Show
rivals that of any show (look who's sitting in Cronkite's old chair after all).

More significantly, as the Globe's Bryan Bender notes, other media outlets, from the Los Angeles Times, to the Christian Science Monitor to the McClatchy Newspapers are also showing their independence from the Tony Snow spin show.

It's far from a revolution, but it is a turning point. And it's a sign the nation's media may finally be coming out of the tank in which it has resided for too many uncritical years as Americans fought and died for a cause that has never been clear, except to one man.

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