My Rights, Ably Defended

It’s sort of like Mao said: Free speech grows out of the barrel of a gun. The latest reminder comes from General David Petraeus (a.k.a., the Lafayette of Iraq), who responded to a negative ad from this way:

“I’m not so sure the infamous MoveOn ad was smartly done, but I found Petraeus’s reaction today interesting: “Needless to say, to state the obvious, I disagree with the message of those who are exercising the First Amendment right that generations of soldiers have sought to preserve for Americans.”

A friend puts it better than me: “I grow so weary of that refrain, heard from the military any time any civilian even hints at criticizing these sainted men and women. If this stunningly stupid war had ANYTHING to do with preserving my right to free speech, I’d be a little more forgiving of the rhetorical ploy. But please, General, don’t insult me and don’t embarrass yourself.”

And the same also sends this, from Slate — “Lost Voices“:

“On Monday, while Gen. David Petraeus prepared to testify before two House committees about the successes of the surge, seven of his soldiers died when their transport vehicle overturned in a highway accident west of Baghdad.

“Two of those soldiers, Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, and Sgt. Omar Mora, 28, were part of another group of seven—the seven noncommissioned officers of the 82nd Airborne Division who wrote a brave, well-reasoned op-ed in the Aug. 19 New York Times, calling the prospect of victory ‘far-fetched’ and appraisals of progress ‘surreal.’ ”

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U.S. Americans, Helping the Iraq

So by now everyone has seen or at least heard about our national dunce of the week: Lauren Caitlin Upton, the South Carolina beauty queen whose brain shut down when she was asked to weigh in on why so many Americans can’t find the United States on a map.

The transcript: “I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because … ah some … people out there in our nation don’t have maps and … ah … I believe that e-education such as in South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they should … our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or, or should help south Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future. … ” (YouTube video here.)

Sure, it’s kind of a funny moment, though less so when you realize that Upton nearly won anyway (she still looked great in her bathing suit) and that when she was brought on NBC’s “Today” show — NBC’s parent company also owns the Miss Teen USA pageant — to talk about the faux pas, she was smothered with treacly understanding for her moment of difficulty. With three or four days to think about it, Upton came up with this answer: “”Well personally, my friends and I, we know exactly where the United States is on our map. I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t. And if the statistics are correct, I believe there should be more emphasis on geography.”

Yeah, finding your native country on a map — that’s a real geographical triumph. And on top of that, she’s heard of Iraq and South Africa and wants to help them. She’s practically ready for a cabinet position. Or a network news anchor’s job.

That thought occurs after witnessing Katie Couric’s performance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” this morning. Couric, who has piloted the “The CBS Evening News” into a death spiral, is in Iraq to a) cover the big story — the upcoming report on the effectiveness of the troop buildup and b) to prove she and her show are heavyweights.

Tragically, serious news consumers no longer expect the the major TV networks or their cable counterparts to be sources for more than the quickest, sloppiest (and in the case of Fox News, grotesquely spun) sketches of a story. On Sunday, Couric demonstrated the state of the art: With the obligatory Baghdad skyline shot in the background, she began with an overly general background statement about the state of affairs in Iraq, including a badly flawed summary of the history of the conflict in Fallujuah (she skipped over entirely the battle for the city in November 2004, probably the bloodiest single engagement of the war so far).

Then, she got to the meat of her report: She essentially parroted everything our commanding general and his briefers told her and showed her during her “reporting.” The lack of skepticism — not the political kind, but the natural journalistic kind that would demand to know what one isn’t being shown, what facts the general and his staff don’t want us to see — was breathtaking. To her minor credit, Couric allowed that she was seeing “what the U.S. military wants her to see.” But that didn’t stop her from concluding that “there are definitely areas where the situation is improving.” ( has a post on Couric’s performance, complete with video clip).

Me, I’ll take the South Carolina Fumbler over the make-believe newswoman. The Fumbler will do no damage in the end, unlike the faux journalist who drops in to tell us that things are looking up in Iraq without even the pretense of some independent fact-finding.

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