Political Asylum — October 25, 2012, 1:33 pm

Is the Media Walking Us Into Another War? (Part II)

Recently in this space, I wondered if the media was willing to walk this nation into yet another war, much as they did in meekly accepting the Bush Administration’s false allegations that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—a charge, incidentally, that many Americans still believe to this day, thanks largely to the news coverage they follow.

Now, with the press’s collective shrug over the foreign policy debate on Monday, the question becomes more urgent. Governor Romney’s amazing ignorance, indifference, and casual bellicosity on nearly every issue discussed seems to have gone largely unnoticed by our national press corps, even as it cost him the debate in the eyes of the general public.

A leading case in point was Steven Erlanger’s bizarre commentary for the New York Times. Erlanger, an experienced foreign correspondent, insisted that:

In general, there was a sense among analysts and observers outside the United States that these were two intelligent, competent candidates who do not differ overly much on the central issues of foreign policy and were actually debating with domestic constituencies in swing states foremost in mind.

In one passage, Erlanger alluded to foreign “analysts and observers” who felt Governor Romney was still an “intelligent, competent” candidate. This, despite Romney’s having proved that he didn’t know where Iran is. The passage was one of several implying that Erlanger wrote much of his dispatch before the evening’s festivities actually began. Another one was his claim that, “Not surprisingly, the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last month in Libya was an important topic . . .” In fact, quite surprisingly, it wasn’t. Romney barely mentioned it this time around.

Erlanger claimed that the two candidates said “essentially the same thing” on China—apparently missing the fact that Governor Romney clamored repeatedly that he would confront China on “day one” of his presidency by labeling it a “currency manipulator”—and that President Obama said no such thing. Erlanger wanted more about “the administration’s failed bet on former [Russian] President Dmitri A. Medvedev”—whatever that means—and chose to give heft to the Republicans’ Big Lie that the president is abandoning Israel, asserting that, “even top Obama aides concede that failing to go quickly to Israel after Cairo to make a similar speech and then calling for a ‘settlement freeze’ in East Jerusalem, instead of in the larger West Bank, were errors.”

Again, who are these “top Obama aides”? I suspect they’re as vaporous as Erlanger’s foreign “analysts and observers,” who saw no difference between the two men. What Mr. Obama also failed to do—and Erlanger failed to mention, although this did come up in the debate—was to go to Israel as part of a junket with a fabulously wealthy gaming tycoon who has been ladling money by the tens of millions into presidential campaigns because he is potentially facing indictment.

Zaniest of all was Erlanger’s assessment of the military portion of the evening, about which he wrote, “Even on the question of American military strength, there was little debate other than numbers.” Well, it would seem to me that the numbers matter a good deal when it comes to military strength. For instance, we now spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on our military budget, which has increased by nearly 34 percent since 2001. Yet Romney wants to nearly double it again, adding a ruinous $2.3 trillion over the next decade. But to Erlanger, the real problem is that the president is apparently leaving us vulnerable to our enemies:

Mr. Obama is right that the United States has more aircraft carriers than any other nation, and got off a good line about bayonets and horses and the game Battleship. But the United States is reported to have only 11 carriers, and carriers are increasingly vulnerable to more sophisticated longer-range missile attacks.

Spoken like a Romney press aide—in both its alarmism and its general ignorance.

Yes, the United States does have 11 aircraft carriers . . . in active service. Only two other nations have more than one active carrier, save for our sworn enemies . . . Spain and Italy, which for some reason each have two. We have, all in all, half of the active carriers in the world. Brazil, China, India, Russia, and Thailand each have one, and the remaining six belong to the NATO alliance. The operative word here is “active.” The United States has a total of sixty-seven carriers of the 163 that exist around the world. The United Kingdom has another forty-one, Japan has twenty. Russia has a grand total of seven, China just that one. No Arab or Islamic state has a single one.

Are carriers vulnerable to “longer-range missile attacks”? Sure. They’re vulnerable to all kinds of things. Always have been, always will be, because they’re basically just big floating landing strips. That’s why they travel in carrier groups, protected by battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and now, undoubtedly, drones and satellite surveillance.

So what would Erlanger like to see? A big debate on whether we should build or activate still more of these incredibly expensive—and highly vulnerable—ships? A debate over whether we should abandon them? Personally, I’d love to see a serious debate about what our military needs and capabilities are. But that wasn’t on the table Monday night, and that wasn’t what Romney was offering. The Republican candidate was instead repeating by rote the inane far-right talking point that “our Navy is smaller than it has been at any time since 1917.”

Whether it’s from an overwrought concern about being “objective,” or some genuine paranoia over security, the media are once again lining up behind the Republican position that no military expenditure is too large, no fear too ridiculous, no military adventure too costly. Our leading reporters owe us a more serious, good-faith effort at discerning just what threats are really out there.

Share
Single Page
is a contributing editor of <em>Harper's Magazine.</em>

More from Kevin Baker:

Context November 25, 2016, 11:26 am

A Fate Worse Than Bush

Rudolph Giuliani and the politics of personality

From the July 2014 issue

21st Century Limited

The lost glory of America’s railroads

Appreciation June 26, 2014, 8:00 am

The Twenty-Three Best Train Songs Ever Written—Maybe

From Johnny Cash to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

January 2017

The Monument Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Defectors

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Over the River

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

House Hunters Transnational

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Lords of Lambeau

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Window To The World

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
Article
Over the River·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Brian Frank
Article
A Window To The World·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
Article
The Lords of Lambeau·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
Article
With Child·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
Photograph (detail) by Lara Shipley

Months after Martin Luther King Jr. publicly called the U.S. the “world’s greatest purveyor of violence ‚” that he was killed:

2

Temporary, self-absorbed sadness makes people spend money extravagantly.

In Colombia, U.N. delegates sent to serve as impartial observers of the peace process aimed at ending the half-century-long war between the FARC and the Colombian government were chastised after they were filmed dancing and getting drunk with FARC fighters at a New Year’s Eve party.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today