Tag Archives: Newsbusters

The Idea That There Are Sexual Images On MTV Is Shocking… Shocking

Brian Stelter at NYT:

MTV executives have a new hit drama on their hands, featuring the sexual and drug-fueled exploits of misfit teenagers. They also have something else — a fear that coming episodes of the show may break the law.

In recent days, executives at the cable channel became concerned that some scenes from the provocative new show “Skins” may violate federal child pornography statutes.

The executives ordered the producers to make changes to tone down some of the most explicit content.

They are particularly concerned about the third episode of the series, which is to be broadcast Jan. 31. In an early version, a naked 17-year-old actor is shown from behind as he runs down a street. The actor, Jesse Carere, plays Chris, a high school student whose erection — assisted by erectile dysfunction pills — is a punch line throughout the episode.

The planned changes indicate that MTV, which has been pushing the envelope for decades, may be concerned that it pushed too far this time.

“Skins” is a calculated risk by MTV which is eager to get into the scripted programming business. The channel, a unit of Viacom, has long tested American standards for sexuality and obscenity on television with shows like “The Real World” and “Jersey Shore.”

Those reality shows have generally involved adults, but for “Skins,” the producers purposefully cast actors ages 15 to 19, most of whom had never acted before.

MTV’s president and other executives declined interview requests on Wednesday. An MTV spokeswoman, Jeannie Kedas, insisted that the future episodes of “Skins” were still works in progress. She would not confirm that MTV executives were fearful of running afoul of child pornography laws.

Jon Bershad at Mediaite:

According to the article, some MTV executive watched a cut of the show and suddenly freaked out because they were afraid that they had broken child pornography laws. They rushed to have the episode in question edited. And then…just for kicks I suppose…they decided to call up The New York Times to have them report on the whole thing. If you believe that, well, you’re probably pretty naive (no offense!). While I’m sure there’s a possibility that MTV edited a scene from the show after standards and practices got a look at it, I have pretty high doubts anyone was legitimately worried about getting hauled off to jail. No, this seems like nothing but a rumor designed to get a new show some press.

But what does that mean? Basically it means that MTV is now marketing their show with the promise of potential child pornography and the media is helping them. Not only did The New York Times cover this “story” (on the front page!), but a bunch of other media outlets picked it up. Morning Joe did a whole segment this morning that began with Joe Scarborough asking “Why should I be afraid of Skins?” You know there were some good high fives all around the MTV offices when that sentence got uttered.

Shows like Skins have always gotten by on their controversy and the promise of scandalous content. A few years ago, the show Gossip Girl used a brilliant ad campaign that quoted negative and outraged reviews from the likes of the Parents Television Council. However, actually going out and saying the phrase “child pornography” is just so damned cynical. MTV is basically betting that they will get more viewers if people think there are actual naked 15 year olds on this show. They may be right but, God, is it a creepy way to run your business.

So, no, Skins is not child pornography. In fact, it’s a neutered version of the original British show (which, by the way, was actually pretty darn good for two seasons) since MTV isn’t able to feature profanity or nudity.* People are going to say MTV should be ashamed and they certainly should. Not for airing an edgy show, but for trying to profit off the demand for child porn. And anyone who reports this nonsense should feel ashamed for believing it.

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Of course, the main reason MTV’s target audience will continue to tune into this lackluster remake of the British version is because of its purported edginess. (Tuesday’s premier boasted solid numbers.) And herein lies the problem: How do you make a super-edgy teen drama while simultaneously reassuring some suit back at Viacom that he won’t be carted off as a kiddie pornographer?

Here’s our suggestion: gratuitous violence. Have one of the kids mow down a bunch of pedestrians in an SUV or something—just make sure she’s fully-clothed while doing it.

Erin Brown at Newsbusters:

“Skins” is hypocritical programming for MTV, which has been praised for its portrayalof the reality of teen pregnancy with the hit show “16 and pregnant” and its follow up series “Teen Mom.” The platform of casual sex and living life without consequences as appears in “Skins” stands in direct contrast to the harsh realities that actual teen mothers face and as Michael Inbar for the “Today” show put it, “the often painful resultsof youthful hookups.”

To further entice indecent behavior among teens, the MTV website for “Skins” has launched a new section called, “Where it went down.” Readers are encouraged to anonymously post on a mapof the world where “every kind of trouble” occurred. The website whereitwentdown.com actually encourages posters to “Browse and share the places where memories were made – and the scattered pieces of nights you can’t really remember. Post the truth about the biggest parties, heartbreak, friends, sex, and every kind of trouble.”

Despite the nasty content, one media critic still found a way to praise the show. “‘Skins’ feels raw and gritty… Only the show’s target audience will know how true its portrayal of adolescence is, but it should make many parents pay closer attention to what’s going on in their teenagers’ lives” wrote Amy Amatangelo of the Boston Herald.

Despite its success, the media need to accurately report the consequence-free filth that this show and this network are promoting. Truthful reviews such as this onefrom James Poniewozik from Time magazine can go a long way in exposing the muck of this program.

“There’s far more flesh, swearing and toking on Skins than on the edgiest CW soap, but what may be most shocking to an American audience is how insouciantly it defies teen TV’s unwritten mandate of consequences. On U.S. teen dramas, you can titillate the audience with bad behavior so long as, at some point, there’s a pregnancy scare or a cautionary drug overdose…Skins, like the movies Superbad and Dazed and Confused, instead admits that teenagers seek out sex and drugs because they feel good.”

Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair:

Given MTV’s history of publicity stunts, the network spokeswoman’s claims of Skins’s legality seem convincing. Recall Snooki’s globe-squatting kerfuffle: the Jersey Shore employee was supposedly going to be dropped in a ball over Times Square at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. At the last minute, though, sphere-ensconced Snooki was relocated to New Jersey, as MTV never received permission to conduct the event in Times Square. The ordeal engendered weeks of press coverage.

For other instances of MTV publicity stunts, look no further than nearly every annual iteration of the Video Music Awards, a broadcast that inevitably includes an unforeseen act of animosity (cf. Bruno and Eminem) or adoration (cf. Britney and Madonna).

James Poniewozik at Time:

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but the concerns seem to stem from the fact that many of the actors who play teens on the show (as in the original British version) are under 18. So while there’s not live sex on camera—having seen four episodes in advance, I actually found the series’ depictions of drugs more unusual for American TV than its sex scenes—the definition of pornography is trickier when underage actors are involved.

As Stelter notes, a picture of a naked minor can itself be ruled child porn if it’s sufficiently sexualized. But the one scene the piece describes executives specifically being concerned about—a male character shown running down the street naked—is not, as I recall, a sex-charged scene. (It’s played, like a lot of scenes in Skins, for a combination of drama and slapstick.)

It raises scads of definitional questions: Does the fact that the actor is shown (but not shown naked) in other sexual scenes therefore make this scene more sexualized? Does the presence of other sex scenes involving other characters elsewhere in the episodes make the scene more sexual? Would the scene constitute pornography if it were, say, an underage actor running naked down a street in a war movie? Are depictions of teen characters in sexual situations inherently pornographic, or does the use of teen actors drive it over the line? What’s dirtier: two adult actors playing teens having sex, or a teenage actor shown naked in a scene that doesn’t involve sex?

Again, not a lawyer. (And I haven’t seen every episode shot, so it’s possible there is other, unmentioned material they’re nervous about.) But I have to wonder, if MTV’s executives are suddenly concerned about the legal liability, how could it not have occurred to them earlier in the process—especially since the use of teen actors has been one of the show’s best-publicized aspects, and since the show was very directly adapted from a British show that already exists for comparison?

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Filed under Families, TV

Forgive The Blog Post

Brent Baker at Newsbusters:

“I was at – forgive the expression – a Christmas party,” NPR reporter Nina Totenberg interjected on Inside Washington in the weekend’s oddest cautionary separation from a common description for a common event, seemingly embarrassed to invoke any religious terminology for Christmas. She didn’t say what she’d prefer for parties this time of the year to be named. “Winter solstice party”? Just plain old “holiday party”? Or a “seasonal gathering”?

Ed Morrissey:

Via Newsbusters, Nina Totenberg offers another data point for the “war on Christmas” with this odd, offhand remark about attending a Christmas party. What’s to forgive in that expression?  Christmas gets celebrated as both a religious and secular holiday, and a “Christmas” party is about as offensive as eggnog.  Totenberg seems more interested in apologizing to the PC crowd for even mentioning Christmas rather than using a more generic term, such as holiday celebration.

Matt Schneider at Mediaite:

On Sunday’s Inside Washington, NPR’s Nina Totenberg apologized for using the words “Christmas party” in a discussion about budgets. It’s unclear why she became as red in the face as the red Christmas flowers behind her when she mistakenly allowed the “offensive” words to escape from her lips. Yet she does regret that no alternative expression was available to describe the party she attended.

[…]

And please forgive the above-mentioned description of the flowers, I should have referred to them as red poinsettias.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Aren’t you just thrilled that your tax dollars – forgive the expression – are paying this loon’s salary?

Don Suber:

Don’t worry. She only insulted Christians, not Muslims so she will keep her job.

Ann Althouse:

Nina Totenberg: “I Was At – Forgive the Expression – a Christmas Party at the Department of Justice….”

Brent Baker at NewsBusters does not understand why Totenberg said “forgive the expression.” In his headline, he uses the same quote I’ve used in my headline, but he puts the ellipsis 5 words before I’ve put mine.

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Piss Christ, Part II: Antz

Penny Starr at Newsbusters:

The federally funded National Portrait Gallery, one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, is currently showing an exhibition that features images of an ant-covered Jesus, male genitals, naked brothers kissing, men in chains, Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, and a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show’s catalog as “homoerotic.”

The exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” opened on Oct. 30 and will run throughout the Christmas Season, closing on Feb. 13.

“This is an exhibition that displays masterpieces of American portraiture and we wanted to illustrate how questions of biography and identity went into the making of images that are canonical,” David C. Ward, a National Portrait Gallery (NGP) historian who is also co-curator of the exhibit, told CNSNews.com.

crucifix 3  npg

A plaque fixed to the wall at the entrance to the exhibit says that the National Portrait Gallery is “committed to showing how a major theme in American history has been the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America’s promise of equality, inclusion, and social dignity. As America’s museum of national biography, the NPG is also vitally interested in the art of portrayal and how portraiture reflects our ideas about ourselves and others.

crucifix 4

An ant-covered Jesus/crucifix in “A Fire in My Belly” video, part of the ‘Hide/Seek’ exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

Victor Davis Hanson at Pajamas Media:

Its title is coyly encrypted in postmodern bipolarity: “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” And the exhibition apparently is full of Mapplethorpe-inspired gay-related imagery and offers us an image of Jesus being swarmed over by ants. Clever, brave, bold, shocking. Or in the words of the overseers of the federally-subsidized National Portrait Gallery, such artistic courage proves how the gallery is now “committed to showing how a major theme in American history has been the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America’s promise of equality, inclusion, and social dignity.”

But once more all that verbiage turns out to be just Sixties-ish lingo for about the same old, same old:

  1. Abject cowardice—since if a theme were really religious intolerance, why not portray Mohammed in lieu of Christ, inasmuch as contemporary Islam is far more intolerant of gays and liberated women than the so-called Christian West. Such a video might better exhibit just how “committed” these federal artistic bureaucrats were to “equality, inclusion, and social justice.”
  2. Mediocrity—dressing up talentless soft-core pornographic expression with federal catch-phrases and subsidies ensures a venue for junk art that most otherwise would neither pay to see nor ever exhibit.
  3. Politics—all this is supposedly sort of revolutionary, full of neat phrases like “committed”, “struggle for justice”, “full inheritance”, “equality”, “inclusion”, and “social dignity”, and all the empty vocabulary that mostly upscale white nerds like a Bill Ayers employ when they want to tweak and embarrass the gullible liberals who support and pay for their nonsense.

The Jawa Report:

If these “artists” really wanted to be daring and controversial, they’d create an ant-covered Quran exhibit. But the cowards take the path of least resistance and then applaud their own courage in the face of minuscule risk.

Don Suber

Ann Althouse:

“If they’ve got money to squander like this – of a crucifix being eaten by ants, of Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts, men in chains, naked brothers kissing…”

“… then I think we should look at their budget,” said Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, scaring the Smithsonian Institution into taking down the ants-on-Jesus video. Cowed, the Institution nevertheless defended the artist, whose “intention was to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim.” The museum assures us it had no “intention to offend.”

John Nolte at Big Hollywood:

Another turn in this story, again via CNS News, and in my opinion a hollow threat from John Boehner and Eric Cantor:

House Speaker-to-be John Boehner (R-Ohio) is telling the Smithsonian Institution to pull an exhibit that features images of an ant-covered Jesus or else face tough scrutiny when the new Republican majority takes control of the House in January. House Majority Leader-to-be Eric Cantor (R.-Va.), meanwhile, is calling on the Smithsonian to pull the exhibit and warning the federally funded institution that it will face serious questions when Congress considers the next budget.

CNSNews.com had asked both congressional leaders if the exhibit should continue or be cancelled and both indicated it should be cancelled. …

“Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake and correct it, or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January when the new majority in the House moves to end the job-killing spending spree in Washington,” Smith said.

When asked to clarify what exactly Boehner meant by calling on the Smithsonian to “correct” their mistake with the exhibit, Smith said Boehner wanted the exhibit “cancelled.”

Cantor, meanwhile, said the exhibit should be “pulled.”

I’m sure some on the Left will scream censorship, but this is what happens when an institution takes money from the government, or anyone else. If the Smithsonian depended on big private donors to fund this junk, those big private donors would likely demand a say in what their money’s used for. Same with Congress, and not just in the arts. Whether you’re on welfare or a big corporation receiving subsidies, all taxpayer money comes with certain conditions.

The problem is that there’s no teeth behind this threat. The time to end the grossly immoral practice of funding the arts (and PBS) in every shape, manner and form was sometime between 2002 and 2006 when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. Pardon my cynicism, but if the Republicans didn’t have the sand to do it then, they sure don’t now with even less power; so you can bet the Smithsonian isn’t exactly shaking in their boots.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

Update:

That didn’t take too long. The ant-covered Jesus is now gone. From TBD.com:

The National Portrait Gallery has removed a work of art from a GLBT-themed exhibition after it attracted conservative and religious ire for its images of homosexuality and Christianity. Director Martin Sullivan announced the removal of A Fire in My Belly by artist David Wojnarowicz after conservative news service CNS wrote yesterday that the “Christmas-season exhibit,” which opened in October, used taxpayer money to indirectly fund an exhibition that includes imagery of genitalia, homoerotic situations, and Christ covered in ants.

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Filed under Art, Politics, Religion

What’s The Frequency, Katie?

Conservatives4Palin:

As you can see, the video shows Katie Couric preparing to go on the air on the day John McCain announced Governor Palin as his running mate. It shows some tantalizing hints of Couric’s attitude toward the Governor–when talking about first Trig, then Track, Couric says “where the hell do they get these [names]?…” At that point the producer running the sound board shut off the sound because he or she didn’t want to have Couric’s disdainful and contemptuous view of Governor Palin’s children captured on even an internal CBS tape that they never expected would see the light of day. You can tell this by the “OMG!” reaction of the CBS news employees who were in the control room as Couric said that about the Governor’s kids. This video also shows Couric taking a shot at female basketball players and at Governor Palin’s hometown, one of the fastest growing areas in the country, and the fifth largest city in Alaska.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

In July we found out that hundreds of leftist media members on Journolist were conspiring to alter the results of the 2008 elections in favor of far left radical Barack Obama. Now comes explosive video that Katie Couric was mocking Sarah Palin on the day she was announced as John McCain’s running mate.

Jeff Poor at Newsbusters:

Highlights include the following:

  • Couric mocking Palin’s oldest son’s name:  “Her oldest son, 19-year-old Track-Where the hell do they get these [names]?” [laughter] (1:09)
  • “She hunts, fishes and eats moose burgers. Her parents, Sally and Chuck Heath, were out hunting caribou when they got the news. You can’t make this up – OK hold on a second. [laughter]” (1:43)
  • “I’m saying I’m glad you took out the feminine side because you can be feminine and play basketball, right Jerry?” (1:59)
  • Struggles with the pronunciation of the name of the town Wasilla. (4:05)

This isn’t the first time Couric has been caught on camera and the footage leaked out. In 2007, footage of Couric openly mocking her predecessor Dan Rather found its way on the Internet.

I am not surprised by this clip and Miss Couric comes off as rather small. Apparently it is common for Couric to espouse such views as the soundman repeatedly turns off the sound in mid-snark. We are not witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime act of professional indiscretion.

Lori Ziganto at Redstate:

Note the contempt dripping from her voice when talking about Sarah Palin’s town of Wasilla – one of those pesky bitterly clinging small towns, I suppose. She also mocks the names of the Palin children. You see, politicians’ children are only off limits if you dig their sweet, sweet liberal policy. And, if you don’t think their mom is icky, in which case it is then totally cool to mock children and make them the butt of jokes. She then continues in her oh-so-professional way, perhaps learned from JournoList members, to insult female basketball players. She’s heard jeeringly asking someone off camera “you can be feminine and play basketball, right Jerry?” Perhaps she’s projecting her own insecurities, what with Couric’s own unfortunate hairdo and all. Even her own staff seems to have been taken aback by the volume of her disdain and you can hear someone gasping off camera and another staffer appears to have cut off her sound.

The final product actually wasn’t much better. While it wasn’t outright cattiness, like in the above video, it was still full of veiled disdain. Palin’s professional achievements were only mentioned in a cursory manner and the piece focused more on moose-burgers, beauty pageants and Vogue covers. As usual, that’s an attempt to push the not serious, dum-dum narrative that the press wants people to believe about Sarah Palin. From Day One, the media strove to demean and diminish Palin and it never stopped. We also know that some members of the Press, those in on the infamous JournoList, actually conspired and colluded to do so.

Ed Morrissey:

Couric was hardly the only person to make a snide comment about the tradition of names in Palin’s family, and Sarah Palin herself talked about their efforts to find unique names for their children during the campaign. Couric may have been first, however, even if it was in a presumably off-air moment. People make similar comments about Hollywood celebrities and the names they select for their children, but that usually doesn’t extend to major network news anchors. The comments themselves aren’t an indictment as much as they are a window into the first biases that formed in Couric’s mind, to such an extent that she felt it necessary to share them with her co-workers — and why the McCain campaign bet badly on having Palin give her first major interview to CBS News.

In the wake of the Sherrod disaster, it’s also worth pointing out that this is an edited clip; there is at least one cut in this video, and quite obviously we don’t have everything Couric said off air for context.  It’s entirely possible that Couric also made approving comments about Palin at other moments on that day, which either didn’t get captured or were cut out.  Likely?  Well

We have contacted both CBS and Governor Palin’s staff for comment on this tape, and will update if we receive any statements.

Update: CBS has an official non-statement statement on the clip through a CBS News spokesperson:  “It must be a slow news day for this video to be getting so much attention.”  We’re hearing from other sourcing that CBS isn’t disputing that this is Couric in an off-air setting, and that they won’t pursue how it got out.

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Filed under Mainstream, Political Figures

What Happens If We Publish This On Our Cover

Richard Stengel at Time:

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival. (See pictures of Afghan women and the return of the Taliban.)

I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of TIME. First, I wanted to make sure of Aisha’s safety and that she understood what it would mean to be on the cover. She knows that she will become a symbol of the price Afghan women have had to pay for the repressive ideology of the Taliban. We also confirmed that she is in a secret location protected by armed guards and sponsored by the NGO Women for Afghan Women. Aisha will head to the U.S. for reconstructive surgery sponsored by the Grossman Burn Foundation, a humanitarian organization in California. We are supporting that effort. (Watch TIME’s video on photographing Aisha for the cover.)

I’m acutely aware that this image will be seen by children, who will undoubtedly find it distressing. We have consulted with a number of child psychologists about its potential impact. Some think children are so used to seeing violence in the media that the image will have little effect, but others believe that children will find it very scary and distressing — that they will see it, as Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, said, as “a symbol of bad things that can happen to people.” I showed it to my two young sons, 9 and 12, who both immediately felt sorry for Aisha and asked why anyone would have done such harm to her. I apologize to readers who find the image too strong, and I invite you to comment on the image’s impact. (Comment on this cover.)

But bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them. In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening — and what can happen — in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban’s treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.

Meenal Vamburkar at Mediaite:

This reasoning follows what many might agree is the definition and purpose of good journalism. The things that are hard to look at are often the things that are most necessary to look at. Whether readers think the cover is bold or too graphic, the shock value cannot be denied. Without diminishing the value of telling a difficult story about a seemingly endless war, it’s hard not to wonder how the shock value will translate in terms of newsstand sales.

Mark Finkelstein at Newsbusters:

The risk that Afghanistan might once again become a staging ground for al Qaeda attacks on the US?  Meh.

The danger of cross-border raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan that could lead to nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists?  Yawn.

But a US withdrawal from Afghanistan that would lead to a setback for women’s liberation there?  Now you’ve got the liberal media concerned!  Rick Stengel of Time gave a perfect illustration of the phenomenon on today’s Morning Joe.  As is his Friday wont, he unveiled the new Time cover, which portrays the heart-rending image of a young Afghani woman who had her nose and ears cut off for fleeing an abusive family and husband.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up

Choire Sicha at The Awl:

The story contains this: “As the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year, the need for an exit strategy weighs on the minds of U.S. policymakers. Such an outcome, it is assumed, would involve reconciliation with the Taliban. But Afghan women fear that in the quest for a quick peace, their progress may be sidelined…. For Afghanistan’s women, an early withdrawal of international forces could be disastrous.” So… which is it? That sure sounds like an argument—and, you know, a very moving and affecting one!—for something like a permanent or at least extended occupation. Making things a little more complicated? The new issue also has an article by expert-without-portfolio Joe Klein, which goes: “Afghanistan is really a sideshow here. Pakistan is the primary U.S. national-security concern in the region.” So now what am I supposed to think while I’m not going on summer vacation because it makes our children stupider?

Irin Carmon at Jezebel:

Such stories are obscene, not at all uncommon, and need to be told. But there is an elision here between these women’s oppression and what the U.S. military presence can and should do about it, which in turn simplifies the complexities of the debate and turns it into, “Well, do you want to help Aisha or not?”

While Aryn Baker’s story features the voices of many Afghan women who worry that the likely compromise with the Taliban vis a vis a possible U.S. exit will curtail their new freedoms, it doesn’t actually forcefully make the case that American military presence is the only solution to their problems. (That’s probably because Baker is a reporter, not a commentator, and it’s the job of headline writers to grab readers at almost any cost.)

There are, however, conflicting signals about how seriously committed U.S. officials are, in the context of an exist plan, to pushing back at the resurgence of the Taliban as it affects women in the country. One anonymous diplomat tells Baker, “You have to be realistic. We are not going to be sending troops and spending money forever. There will have to be a compromise, and sacrifices will have to be made.” On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told reporters that women’s rights are a “red line” that won’t be crossed: “I don’t think there is such a political solution, one that would be a lasting, sustainable one, that would turn the clock back on women,” she said, after relative quiet on the issue last year.

As David Petraeus put it in his remarks upon assuming command in Afghanistan: “We must demonstrate to the Afghan people, and to the world, that Al Qaeda and its network of extremist allies will not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on freedom-loving nations around the world.” That doesn’t say anything about what happens to young girls who flee from their in-laws. Protecting them was not among the things he exhorted his troops to do. And when he addressed himself to the people of Afghanistan he didn’t mention anything along these lines either:

Finally, to the people of Afghanistan: it is a great honor to be in your country and to lead ISAF. I want to emphasize what a number of our country’s leaders recently affirmed – that our commitment to Afghanistan is an enduring one and that we are committed to a sustained effort to help the people of this country over the long-term. Neither you nor the insurgents nor our partners in the region should doubt that. Certainly the character of our commitment will change over time. Indeed, Afghans and the citizens of ISAF countries look forward to the day when conditions will permit the transition of further tasks to Afghan forces. In the meantime, all of us at ISAF pledge our full commitment to help you protect your nation from militants who allowed Al Qaeda sanctuary when they ruled the country. Moreover, we see it as our solemn duty to protect the innocent people of Afghanistan from all violence, whether intended by the enemy or unintended by those of us pursuing that enemy. And we stand with you as we all work to defeat the enemies of the new Afghanistan and to help create a better future for you and your families.

Defend Afghan allies from being targeted by the Taliban. Check. Avoid accidental killing of Afghans by NATO forces. Check. Women’s rights? Not so much.

And you can see this time and again if you look at statements about US policy in Afghanistan from George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates, Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, etc. We are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Thus, emphasizing that the Taliban is a group of bad people is often a rhetorical point of emphasis. The Taliban’s poor treatment of women often comes up as a sub-point here to illustrate the theme that the Taliban are bad. But actually altering social conditions in southern and eastern Afghanistan isn’t on the list of war aims.

Greg Mitchell at The Nation:

I  have to ask:  In Time‘s mission to really “illuminate what is actually happening on the ground” has it ever put on its cover close-up images of  1) a badly wounded or dead U.S. soldier  2)  an Afghan killed in a NATO missile strike  3) an Afghan official, police officer or military commander accepting a bribe from a Taliban war lord.  Alison Kilkenny has her own examples here.

No one makes light of the plight of women and children in Afghanistan under the Taliban–and, contrary to Stengel’s claim, many Americans do know about it.  Indeed, liberal women’s groups in the U.S. have raised the issue often and expressed mixed feelings about staying (or even escalating) in Afghanistan because of it.  It’s a serious issue.  And please see the response to Time by the Feminist Peace Network.  Jezebel with another good take here.

But I’d propose here a few alternative, or at least additional,  cover images, all showing Americans here at home,  that Time might go with an upcoming cover on “What Happens If We LEAVE Afghanistan.”  Please supply your own ideas  in the Comments section below.

— A student in a high-tech classroom.

— Workers streaming into a newly re-opened factory.

— A poor black or Hispanic  woman examined by a doctor in a first-class facility.

— A returning soldier embraced by his wife and two kids.

— Solar panels being erected on a huge office building.

Well, you get the idea.  Contribute or take issue below.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Mainstream

“Are You Ready For Some Futbol?!?”

TNR’s world cup blog

Jonathan Last:

It’s happening again.

The most puzzling part of anti-American soccer obsession is that it’s not like Americans don’t like the game of soccer. We all play it at the youth level and–for the most part–have a good time. It’s just that we graduate up to other sports and don’t have much of an appetite for soccer played at the elite level.

And what’s wrong with that? Our interest level in soccer is the mirror image of our interest level in football, which, comparatively few people play at the youth level, but which has great popularity at the professional level.

But the thing is, you never hear football–or baseball, or ultimate frisbee, or tennis, or cycling, or hockey, or curling–or any other kind of fans railing against people who don’t share their passion as if there’s something morally and politically wrong with them. Why is it that soccer fans care so much about what American’s don’t care about?

We’ll never know.

Will at The League:

But despite the thoroughly artificial media blitz surrounding the World Cup and the obnoxious social signaling that goes into American soccer fandom, I’m really looking forward to the tournament. So I thought I’d take a stab at explaining how soccer differs from American sports and why I find its distinctiveness so enjoyable.

Lumping team sports together is a chancy business, but I think there is one important commonality between football, baseball and, to a lesser extent, basketball that distinguishes them from soccer. All three American sports are characterized by short, action-packed intervals followed or preceded by pauses – an inbounds pass that leads to an easy dunk; a pitch that results in a strike that ends an inning; an end-zone reception immediately following a thirty second pause. This is not to say there aren’t fluid sequences in American sports – witness fast-break basketball or baseball’s hallowed triple play. But American teams usually see action in short, frenetic bursts instead of the slower build-up of a good soccer match.

To an outsider, the notion that a two hour football game only consists of 11 minutes of televised action must seem absurd. At its best, however, the pauses accentuate tension and allow for more elaborate plays, more back-and-forth adjustments between the teams’ respective coaches, and a level of athletic execution that would be impossible in a less controlled, faster-paced environment. For the most part, this is a trade-off I can accept. To take another example from American sports, good pitching duels include plenty of pregnant pauses. I don’t think this detracts from the action so much as it heightens the tension of athletic competition.

Soccer has fewer pauses, fewer substitutions, and no timeouts. As a consequence, the manager (coach) has very little opportunity to pause or direct in-game play. Soccer also tends to be more spontaneous, more dynamic, and less scripted. While physical contact or bad execution will sometimes slow the game down to an unbearable pace, the rules of soccer allow for a level of fluidity that would be impossible in an American context (transition-oriented basketball is the only exception I can think of, but that’s  still broken up by frequent timeouts, inbound passes, and the tempo of the opposing team). The build-up to the first Dutch goal in the 1974 World Cup final is a classic example of soccer’s distinctive style – despite a slow start, the Dutch control the ball for over a minute before Johan Cruyf streaks through the defense to draw a penalty kick.

Maybe the contrast between the short, frenetic play of American athletes and the fluid build-up of a European soccer match offers some insight into our respective cultural psyches. But I suspect a more fluid style of play already appeals to American sports audiences. Fast-paced, transition-oriented basketball was the calling card of Magic Johnson and the Showtime-era Lakers. A quarterback-directed hurry-up offense is often the most exciting part of a football match. So if you like fast-paced team competition, give soccer a try. But if the World Cup isn’t your thing, I won’t hold it against you.

Daniel Gross at Slate:

Being a soccer fan at World Cup time in America is a little like being Jewish in December in a small town in the Midwest. You sense that something big is going on around you, but you’re not really a part of it. And the thing you’re celebrating and enjoying is either ignored or misunderstood by your friends, peers, and neighbors. It can be a lonely time. But the World Cup is much bigger than Christmas. After all, only a couple of billion people in the world celebrate Christmas; the World Cup is likely to garner the attention of a much larger audience. Yet in the world’s largest and most important sports competition, the American team, and the American audience, is a marginal, bit player. And for those of us who love the game of soccer and the World Cup, and for the few of us who followed the ups and downs of Landon Donovan’s career, these next couple weeks are likely to be bittersweet.

[…]

Oh, sure, you can find other enthusiasts. A few Slate colleagues pass around YouTube links to the latest sick goal. Urban hipsters are obliged to show some interest in the game, the same way they do in CSAs, and facial hair (for men) and yoga (for women). On the Internet, there’s the high-brow crew over at the New Republic, (which features an ad for a book from Cornell University press on Spartak Moscow), the fine blogs No Short Corners and Yanks Abroad, and a rising volume of press coverage. But there’s nothing like the volume and sophistication of stuff our frères at Slate.fr are doing. If you want to follow the game, wince with every missed shot, and question coach Bob Bradley’s personnel choices, you’ll have to venture into the fever swamps of BigSoccer.com. There you will find some people who live and die with status updates of defender Oguchi Onyewu’s knee. But they’re only avatars.

Following the U.S. national team in the World Cup is a somewhat solitary endeavor in part because the scheduling doesn’t lend itself to social or family watching. Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup is not scheduled or televised according to U.S. preferences—the last time the quadrennial tournament was staged in the Western hemisphere was 1994. To watch the United States’ opening game in the 2002 World Cup, I had to go to the Irish pub across from my New York apartment at 4 a.m. This year the schedule is only slightly better: this Saturday against England at 2:30 p.m. ET, Friday, June 18, against Slovenia at 10 a.m. ET, then Wednesday, June 23, at 10 a.m. ET, against Algeria. Yes, pubs and sports bars will be showing the games. But how many people will leave work, or take the day off, or skip the Little League game or pool party, to sit indoors and watch a soccer match? My guess is that when the U.S. plays England, the bars in New York and Los Angeles will be like Condé Nast in the 1990s—overrun with Brits.

I won’t be there. On Saturday afternoon, I’ll be at a family gathering, one at which I’m confident nobody will be checking scores or talking about the potentially epic matchup with England. I’ll have to tape it and watch it later, most likely alone. At least I’m confident none of my close friends or family members will call, e-mail, or text me with scores or updates, and that I can safely listen to the radio without the result intruding. On the other hand, I might have to shut off my Twitter feed. I follow a few foreigners.

Matthew Philbin at Newsbusters:

Time magazine is leading the “Ole’s” for soccer this year, putting the World Cup on its cover and dedicating 10 articles to the sport in its June 14 issue.

One of those articles proclaimed in the headline, “Yes, Soccer Is America’s Game.” Author Bill Saporito argued that “soccer has become a big and growing sport.”

“What’s changed is that this sport and this World Cup matter to Americans,” Saporito asserted. “These fans have already made the transition from soccer pioneers to soccer-literate and are gradually heading down the road to soccer-passionate.”

Soccer is even in the White House, Saporito pointed out. President George W. Bush was a former co-owner of a baseball team. And although President Obama played basketball, his daughters play little league soccer, and current White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs played soccer in high school and college.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on June 3, host Joe Scarborough noted the importance of the World Cup to other countries, but explained that Americans just don’t understand “what a huge sport this is.” Still, he said hopefully, “It is a growing sport in America as well, isn’t it?”

Growing, but not “huge” by any standard. The final game of the 2006 World Cup drew 16.9 million viewers in the United States. While that number may seem respectable, it pales in comparison with the 106 million viewers that tuned in to watch the 2010 Super Bowl. The final 2009 World Series game drew 22.3 million viewers, and 48.1 million tuned in to watch Duke beat Butler in the 2010 NCAA men’s college basketball championship.

A look at game attendance figures is instructive, as well. According to Major League Soccer’s MLS Daily, as of June 7, 2010, the highest drawing pro soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, averaged 36,146 attendees over seven home games. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners baseball team has averaged 25,314 over 32 home games.

The Mariners are dead last in the American League West division, and 24th in the league in batting average, 30th in home runs, 27th in RBIs and 25th in number of hits. In short, they’re horrible. With a record of 4-5-3, the Sounders aren’t very good either, but they play in a very liberal city, are currently benefiting from World Cup year interest in their sport, and they play a schedule that allows far fewer opportunities for fans to attend.

Another number is Hollywood box office. John Horn of The Los Angeles Times contemplated on June 6 about Hollywood’s lack of a mainstream movie about soccer. In “Why is There No Great Hollywood Soccer Movie?” Horn pointed out that each sport has its own hit movie except soccer.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

When it comes to soccer, I’ll quote Churchill: America, it seems, still has “sublime disinterestedness.”

Michael Agovino at The Atlantic:

During this World Cup, I know there will be kids like me from the Bronx—a soccer wasteland in 1980s; a wasteland period, to some—watching this strange new game and devouring it. Where is Valladolid? Vigo? Bilbao? Cameroon? El Salvador? Algeria? Why does Algeria wear green, Italy blue? Why is it Glasgow Celtic and not the Celtics? Where’s this team Flamengo? Or Corinthians? Why is that skinny man with the beard named Socrates?

They’ll be some curious 14-year-old or 12-year-old or 10-year-old (kids seem so much smarter these days) and maybe they’ll start by bugging their parents for a Kaizer Chiefs jersey. Then, better still, they’ll get the atlas off the shelf, or more likely online, and trace their finger on the computer screen and look for Polokwane and Bloemfontein and Tshwane. Maybe it will take them to the photography of David Goldblatt or to the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (no room for him at the concert last night I suppose), or of the late Lion of Soweto himself, Mahlathini. (Don’t laugh, my first encounter with Joan Miro and Antoni Tapies were from 1982 World Cup posters.) Maybe they’ll learn that the “word,” long ago, was “Johannesburg!”

And they’ll ask questions—why is this stadium named for Peter Mokaba, that one for Moses Mabhida, and who is Nelson Mandela? And they’ll learn and they’ll be obsessed for life.

And that makes me do one thing: smile. Now, may the games begin.

UPDATE: Dave Zirin at NPR

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Daniel Drezner

UPDATE #3: Stefan Fatsis at Slate

Jonathan Chait at TNR

UPDATE #4: Marc Thiessen at Enterprise Blog

Matt Yglesias on Thiessen

UPDATE $5: Bryan Curtis and Eve Fairbanks at Bloggingheads

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She Was There For The Original J’Accuse

Sam Stein at The Huffington Post:

Longtime White House scribe Helen Thomas caused more than a few eyebrows to perk up when video surfaced on Friday of her declaring that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland.

Captured by Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com, the footage made the rounds on mostly conservative and neoconservative sites, with some private complaints that her comments weren’t getting wider play.

Thomas on Friday apologized in a written statement, saying she deeply regretted the comments — which were offered, ironically, during the White House’s Jewish Heritage Celebration.

But even as she was trying to walk back the remarks, calls for her firing mounted. Among the more vocal was former Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who claimed to have a close relationship with Thomas when he was manning the daily briefings.

“She should lose her job over this,” Fleischer said in an email. “As someone who is Jewish, and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling.”

“She is advocating religious cleansing. How can Hearst stand by her? If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs.”

Tim Graham at Newsbusters

Allah Pundit:

It must be sincere. She’s never betrayed any anti-Israel sentiment before, has she?

Helen Thomas issued the following statement today: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

I’m satisfied. Who among us hasn’t innocently stumbled into a statement of support for ethnic cleansing when we didn’t really mean it? In fact, that might explain Jake Knotts’s slur on Nikki Haley. He meant to say, “I welcome followers of the Sikh faith to South Carolina,” and it came out “f***ing raghead.” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, my friends. (Just make sure to cast it at a Jew!)

Rep. Michele Bachmann at Big Government:

Once again the liberal media has shown its true colors! The White House media dinosaur, also known as Helen Thomas has called on Jews to leave Israel and move back to Poland and Germany. This anti-Semitic sentiment has no place in our public discourse. I call upon her employer, Heart Corporation to dismiss her at once! The White House needs to revoke her press credentials immediately.

Her apology is not sufficient, considering her many previous negative sentiments against Israel. Her language is offensive, vulgar and intolerant.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Helen Thomas has been a White House correspondent for decades; how many decades, I can’t even guess. She is a hard-core left-winger who thinks Barack Obama is nowhere near radical enough. She is also, frankly, an idiot, and has been humored by White House press secretaries for about as long as I have been alive.

Thomas revealed her lunacy once again last week, when she confided that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go “home” to Germany and Poland. Here is the clip; as usual, Thomas gives hags a bad name[…]

The apology is insincere, of course. Like so many left-wingers, Thomas has a long history of Israel-bashing. Her astonishing historical ignorance is also par for the course on the Left.

I read a news story a year or two ago to the effect that someone was going to make a movie about Helen Thomas’s life. I don’t think it’s ever happened, thank goodness, but here is the funny part: who do you suppose was signed to play the hideous Ms. Thomas? Michelle Pfeiffer. Being a liberal means, I guess, getting your fantasies indulged forever.

UPDATE: A reader writes, “I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t manage to use the word ‘hagiography’ anywhere.” Touche.

Gateway Pundit

Jason Arvak at Moderate Voice:

When Trent Lott was caught saying things that implied admiration for the racist past of Strom Thurmond, he quickly apologized and began the normal ritual of damage control. Nonetheless, critics hounded him out of office, his apologies ignored.

But now when Helen Thomas is caught saying things that imply the crudest kind of anti-Semitism, her apologies are quickly accepted by some of the same people who refused to even consider apologies from Lott. And the same people who kept pointing out that Lott had apologized now mock it from Thomas.

Why the different treatment? The obvious answer is that Helen Thomas is a heroine of the same side of the ideological divide that loathed Lott. The same pattern can be found over and over in political debates — the same statements or actions that get Republicans harshly condemned get a pass when done by Democrats. If the partisan dominance of the media and blogosphere were reversed to favor Republicans, there is no doubt that the same double standards would run in that direction as well. And what that does is bring into sharp relief the continuing role that double standards have in corrupting and debasing political and social debates.

I suggest a thought experiment. Imagine that Sarah Palin had said exactly the same thing that Helen Thomas did. Would you accept Palin’s apology? Do you think those that are accepting Thomas’ apology would accept Palin’s? Do you think those that are demanding Thomas’ head would demand Palin’s?

The answer to the first question differentiates the principled from the unprincipled. And the answers to the last two show the total lack of accountability from many of those who set themselves up as today’s opinion leaders.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Helen Thomas’s front-row presence in the White House press room is an honor bestowed by her colleagues, in recognition of her long-time service. She retired as a reporter about a decade ago–and now, at the age of 89, she writes a column for Hearst Newspapers. She is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants and her general views on the Middle East have long been known. Her specific views about Jews became a bit better known last week, when she told them to leave Israel and go back to Europe. This is odious, obviously.

Thomas is a vestigial member of the White House Correspondents Association, an organization that mostly consists of those who cover the White House on a daily basis; most columnists–people like me, for example–are not members, although a smattering of opinion-mongers, even from obscure publications, have somehow managed to get themselves credentialed over the years. So it’s not unprecedented for journalists with odious views to have access to the press room. What is unprecedented is for such a journalist to have a front-row center seat. Thomas should no longer have that privilege. The front row should be occupied by working reporters, not columnists. The WHCA should sanction Thomas by sending her back to the cheap seats. This would accurately reflect her current status as a journalist while preserving her First Amendment right to be as obnoxious as she wants.

UPDATE: Craig Crawford at CQ Politics

Patrick Gavin at Politico

More Stein

UPDATE #2: Helen Thomas retires. Sam Youngman and Emily Goodin at The Hill

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Matt Welch at Reason

UPDATE #3: Mark Kleiman

Dana Milbank in WaPo

Roger Cohen in WaPo

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Filed under Israel/Palestine, Mainstream, Religion