Affluent Professionals vs. Fundamentalist Backwaters - September 2, 2003

Times Watch for September 2, 2003

Affluent Professionals vs. Fundamentalist Backwaters

In anticipation of the Labor Day weekend, Times movie critic Stephen Holden profiles some acclaimed summer movie fare, including Andrew Jarecki's documentary "Capturing the Friedmans," on how a child pornography scandal ruined a Long Island family. In the process, Holden reveals some art-house snobbery.

Capturing the Friedmans pointedly leaves things open-ended, letting the audience work out what really happened. But Holden knows where to point the finger of blame: at fundamentalist-style hysteria over sex: What's most disturbing about the film is what it says about the hysteria surrounding sex and children in American culture. Great Neck, where the events took place in the 1980's, is a town of affluent professionals, not a fundamentalist backwater cowering in fear of Satan. Yet the community uproar surrounding the Friedmans smacks of a witch hunt, and its consequences are tragic.

Thereve been many well-documented cases of witch-hunts based on false allegations of sex abuse, documented most notably by Dorothy Rabinowitz, as in her article about the Amirault family titled Only in Massachusetts. (Is Massachusetts a fundamentalist backwater too?) But despite Holdens snotty dismissal, one doesnt have to be a fundamentalist hysteric to be concerned about pedophilia.

For the rest of Holdens review, click here.

Having Words With Bush

Mondays story by Warren Hoge, datelined London, provides a good rundown on the row between Prime Minister Tony Blairs Labour government and the BBC. BBC defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan is under fire for a story accusing the government of publishing dubious claims about Iraqi capability over the objections of intelligence chiefs.

Hoge sets the scene: The BBC, the world's largest and best known public service broadcaster, sends out millions of words daily, but its long-nurtured reputation for accuracy, fairness and objectivity is being challenged for just 20 of them. On May 29, the defense correspondent of its morning radio news show, Andrew Gilligan, said that the government had inserted into its dossier of intelligence on Iraqi arms the claim that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons that were deployable within 45 minutes. Mr. Gilligan went on to say that actually the government probably knew that that 45-minute figure was wrong, even before it decided to put it in. The phrase took only seconds to utter, at 6:07 a.m., but the effect has been long lasting.

Hoge seems to find it ironic that a reputable news organization like the BBC would be hammered so hard over 20 words. Yet that didnt stop Times columnists, editorial writers and reporters from assailing Bush over the 16 words in his State of the Union speech regarding Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Africa. (For the record, here are Bushs words: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.)

On July 12, the Times editorial page found Bushs words on Africa and uranium quite significant as a symptom of a deeper rot: Much more went into this affair than the failure of the C.I.A. to pounce on the offending 16 words in Mr. Bush's speech. A good deal of information already points to a willful effort by the war camp in the administration to pump up an accusation that seemed shaky from the outset and that was pretty well discredited long before Mr. Bush stepped into the well of the House of Representatives last January.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof followed up July 15 in a piece titled 16 Words, And Counting. Kristof wrote, the problem is not those 16 words, by themselves, but the larger pattern of abuse of intelligence.

Christopher Marquis July 20 piece puffed it into a Watergate-sized scandal: Today, those 16 words haunt the administration. They are the best-remembered flourish in a portrait of Iraq that today seems unrecognizable. They are a leading rationale for a war that has resulted in the death of 224 Americans. And they are either unsubstantiated or based on a lie.

Finally, a July 27 James Risen story on CIA director George Tenet carried this baleful headline: Those 16 Words Threaten the Tenure of the Long-Serving C.I.A. Chief. Sometimes a few words do mean a lot at the Times.

For the rest of Warren Hoges story on the BBC, click here.