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Press Review January 24, 2002
 
In Da Times
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
Page 13 of 15
 
Today's headlines:

AL QAEDA TRAINED BOMBING SUSPECT, INDICTMENT SAYS

Al Qaeda to be blamed -- convincingly -- for tooth decay next.

TRIBES BALKING AT CAVE HUNT, PENTAGON SAYS

Ignorant foreigners impeding the cause of justice.

NEW MAYOR, NEW FOCUS

Bloomberg in dangerous flirtation with social liberalism.

ENRON AVOIDED INCOME TAXES IN 4 OF 5 YEARS

Not that this happens all the time or anything.

AUDITOR RECEIVED WARNING ON ENRON FIVE MONTHS AGO

Keep it out of the White House.

4 FORMER RADICALS ARE CHARGED IN 1975 KILLING IN BANK ROBBERY

They ran out of elderly Black Panthers to hunt down.

CITY WELFARE ROLLS RISE

Something must be done.

TINIEST BABIES SHOW SUCCESS AS YOUTHS IN SPITE OF HURDLES

Put something on the front page for women to read.

There was a great passage in the Richard Reid story:

"Law enforcement officials said they were still investigating how deeply Al Qaeda was involved in Mr. Reid's plan. But Mr. Ashcroft made it clear that he believed that Al Qaeda was fully responsible for the attempted show bombing and represented a significant threat in the United States."

I was going to worry for a moment that the U.S. had no evidence in this matter. But since "Mr. Ashcroft" has "made it clear" that "he believed" Al Qaeda was responsible -- well, that's good enough for me. I mean, as long as he's made it clear.

On to the Metro page, which in my case is drenched with vomit after my reading of Joyce Purnick's "Metro Matters" column ("Thanks, CNN, Mr. Pretzel and Jennifer", B1).

The crux of this asinine piece of commentary is that David Letterman's picking on George Bush for choking on a pretzel is proof that we as a country have returned to full Civil Libertarian health following 9/11, as it is now "alright to poke fun at anyone" again. Here's how she put it; note the classically Timesian phrase, "esophageal superiority":

"Then came the pretzel plop and by Monday night, David Letterman was nibbling at his own pretzel supply, thereby demonstrating not only his full esophageal superiority but the happy fact that, since he's teasing George Bush again, it must be all right to poke fun at anyone, must be alright to rag and disagree with everyone else."

First of all, let's just say this: if the President had choked on a pretzel and our leading "humorist" had not made a joke about it, that would have been evidence of extreme collective mental illness. And it's not as though Letterman's joke was particularly funny; even George Bush might have laughed at it.

If Letterman had said something like, "Too bad Bush wasn't snacking on a goddamn couch pillow," well, that might have been something. But this was not exactly daring satire.

This is pretty chilling stuff, saying that if we joke about our idiot President choking on a pretzel, that's proof that we can say anything. Exactly the opposite is true. Bush himself came out last week and announced that even espousing a "terrorist philosophy" was soon going to be criminal.

And when was the last time that you read anywhere anything along the lines of, "Well, you can see why the Muslims were angry", or, "Maybe 9/11 was a sign that there's something wrong with us", or even, "Are we really sure bin Laden did it?" You can't even think those things in public here, much less put them on television or in print. Our whole public discourse about what the war means has been reduced to a series of flags waving in our SUV windows. But we get to joke about the President's pretzel incident, so that's okay.

Purnick goes on to describe another incident that shows that, since frivolity has returned, things must be all right again. This particular story involves Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's remarks about a group of portraits in Brooklyn's Borough Hall being a bunch of "old white men." Turns out one of those old white men was George Washington, and Markowitz's comments inspired a mild rebuke from Mayor Bloomberg about disrespecting our history. This in turn led to Markowitz to (in Purnick's words) nearly "cry in frustration," protesting, "I love our founding father," that Washington will always be in prominent display in Borough Hall, etc., etc.


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