November 16, 2001

Speaking of the media, the amazing events of this past week have created a situation strangely similar, yet opposite, to what happened two months ago. In the days after September 11 it was painful for me to look at a newsstand or open my mailbox to see the magazines produced before the 11th. They seemed to mock me with their ignorance and smiling celebrities, making me feel ridiculous for reminding me that just a few days ago I would have cared about such things. During those first few 24-hour news-watching days, I kept those new, yet somehow ancient, documents out of my sight.

Well, the vagaries of the publishing cycle are striking again, as the New York Observer and other assorted magazines reach my mailbox and the newsstand, once again helpless and ignorant about the events that took place between its creation and public appearance. Nicholas von Hoffman's article in this week's New York Observer has received the most attention, due to its timing (it reached the newsstands earlier this week) and because of Andrew Sullivan's implementation of the Von Hoffman Awards (for "the most prophetically challenged pieces of media war-wisdom so far"). Some choice bits:

"The war in Afghanistan, the one he should never have declared, has run into trouble. Just a few weeks into it and it’s obvious that the United States is fighting blind. The enemy is unknown, and the enemy’s country is terra incognita. We have virtually no one we can trust who can speak the languages of the people involved. With all our firepower and our technical assets and our spy satellites, it looks like we don’t know if we’re coming or going.

[…]

Even with the timid and occasionally treacherous help of the Pakistanis, we are flying in fog. We go to the right, we go to the left; statements are issued and then modified. It’s nuts. No sooner had Congress and the President gone to war against Osama bin Laden than we broadened the fight to include the Taliban. Next there was the talk that the citizens of Afghanistan, the land of the woebegone and woebegotten, would turn against their masters, accept Christian baptism and embrace Americanism. Our lunacy has reached the point of scattering sheets of paper around Taliban installations on which is printed a picture of firemen raising the American flag with the legend "Freedom Endures."

We are mapless, we are lost, and we are distracted by gusts of wishful thinking. That our high command could believe the Afghani peasantry or even the Taliban would change sides after a few weeks of bombing! This is fantasizing in high places. In the history of aerial bombardment, can you think of a single instance of the bombed embracing the bombers? Bombing always unites the bombees against the bombers, and—duh!—guess what the reaction has been in Afghanistan? You don’t need to speak Urdu to figure it out, which is good since none of us does."

And so on, and so on. Perfect reading material to enjoy this week while watching footage from Kabul.

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