December 20, 2005
The Times Watch 'Quotes of Note Worst of 2005'
The Deaniac Award for Iraq War Defeatism
"And in the shadow of the bleak and often horrific news emerging from Iraq nearly every day, historians and political experts are finding at least a wan hope in those imperfect historical analogies. Even in the absence of a sudden and dramatic shift on the battlefield toward a definitive victory, there may still be a slight opening, as narrow as the eye of a needle, for the United States to slip through and leave Iraq in the near future in a way that will not be remembered as a national embarrassment." - From reporter James Glanz's November 27 story for the Week in Review section.
"The poetry of C. K. Williams is the antidote to patriotic jingoism, moral smugness and the imbecility of the easily amused. His fierce, unrelenting moral spotlight, turned unflinchingly on himself and the world around him, however, has intensified with war and terrorism." - From reporter Chris Hedges' "Public Lives" profile of radical anti-war poet C.K. Williams, January 13.
"To many Democrats, images of Republicans in sequined gowns and designer tuxedos nibbling roast quail and twirling the Texas two-step in last week's $40 million-plus inaugural extravaganza seemed inappropriate, unseemly, even unpatriotic, when American soldiers are dying in Iraq." - James Dao in a January 23 Week in Review story headlined " 'Don't They Know There's a War On?' "
"A nostalgic insider turned outsider can still offer insights, however, and the most useful is that cable news outlets were ludicrously rah-rah during the invasion of Iraq and that embedded reporters felt a credibility-damaging kinship with soldiers." - From Ned Martel's February 4 review of a documentary by left-wing media critic Danny Schechter.
"[Hollywood activists] were willing to accept - in fact, they recognized almost viscerally - that the president's story about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was too richly timed and too tightly wrapped, and they understood that once a storyteller began to tinker with facts, there was no end to the scenarios he might invent that he might dubiously claim to be 'based on a true story.'" - Contributing writer Matt Bai, writing about the Hollywood left in the November 13 New York Times Magazine.
"From bases in Iraq and across the United States to the Pentagon and the military's war colleges, officers and enlisted personnel quietly raise a question for political leaders: if America is truly on a war footing, why is so little sacrifice asked of the nation at large? There is no serious talk of a draft to share the burden of fighting across the broad citizenry, and neither Republicans nor Democrats are pressing for a tax increase to force Americans to cover the $5 billion a month in costs from Iraq, Afghanistan and new counterterrorism missions. There are not even concerted efforts like the savings-bond drives or gasoline rationing that helped to unite the country behind its fighting forces in wars past." - Reporter Thom Shanker, July 24.
Keeping Bush Down
"By most measures, the economy appears to be doing fine. No, scratch that, it appears to be booming. But as always with the United States economy, it is not quite that simple.It all means the economy is likely to end the year with a splash. But before you splurge on a new car, consider this: Many economists do not expect the party to continue, especially if the Federal Reserve continues taking the punchbowl away and raises interest rates. That could further slow the housing market, damp consumer spending and crimp corporate profits." - Economics reporter Vikas Bajaj in a November 30 front-page story.
"In a few instances - most notably the centerpiece of his second-term agenda, his call to reshape Social Security - [President Bush] is dangerously close to a fiery wreck that could have lasting consequences for his standing and for the Republican Party." - White House reporter Richard Stevenson, June 20.
"When President Bush declared on May 7 in Latvia that the 1945 Yalta agreement led to 'one of the greatest wrongs of history,' he reignited an ideological debate from the era of Joseph McCarthy.Mr. Bush has criticized Yalta at least six other times publicly, usually in Eastern Europe, but never so harshly. In the dust kicked up by the quarreling, the central questions for White House watchers are these: How did the unexpected attack on Yalta get in the president's speech? What drove his thinking? Did the White House expect the fallout?" - White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, May 16.
"Nonetheless, [Bush campaign strategist Mark] McKinnon said that Mr. Bush had not gone so far as to include on his playlist 'Fortunate Son,' the angry anti-Vietnam war song about who has to go to war that [John] Fogerty sang when he was with Creedence Clearwater Revival. ('I ain't no senator's son....Some folks are born silver spoon in hand.') As the son of a two-term congressman and a United States Senate candidate, Mr. Bush won a coveted spot with the Texas Air National Guard to avoid combat in Vietnam." - Elisabeth Bumiller's April 11 "White House Letter" on the songs on Bush's iPod.
"The 1,130 soup kitchen guests, as they're respectfully called, began gathering outside the church doors an hour early, curling around the corner in a long line to await a free main meal - their safety-net highlight in another day of being down and out, part of the working poor, or surviving somewhere in between.And even more arrive as unemployment and other government programs run out. Much as the diners at Holy Apostles peered ahead to see what was being dished up at the steam tables, soup kitchen administrators across the country are currently eying governments' trilevel budget season and wincing at all the politicians' economizing vows. They know that 'budget tightening' eventually means longer lines outside their doors." - Editorial board member and former White House correspondent Francis X. Clines, April 9.
"The view among a number of White House officials was that the big news would come on Monday, when the president is to unveil a budget described as brutal in its cuts in domestic programs." - Elisabeth Bumiller and Anne Kornblut, February 3.
"The focus on money over grooming makes sense. The economy may be rebounding slightly, but American confidence does not seem to be quite as buoyant - other factors, like the war, the deficit, and a President intent on altering Social Security, keep chipping away at inner peace. Why else would poker and casino gambling have such explosive appeal right now?" - Alessandra Stanley reviewing the new crop of reality shows in the January 30 Week in Review.
Murderous Communism "Not All Bad"
"My own sense is that Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China.But Maos legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Maos entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the worlds new economic dragon.In the same way, I think, Mao's ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book - and yet there's more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber." - Foreign policy reporter turned columnist Nicholas Kristof reviewing a new Mao biography in the October 23 Book Review.
In 1955 a clean-shaven young man in a spiffy suit came to New York with the wild notion of raising money to finance a revolution in his homeland, Cuba. Even then Fidel Castro knew the value of a good photo-op, so he was glad to meet a countryman, Osvaldo Salas, who lived with his family in the Bronx and made a living as a photographer. - Annette Grant, June 12.
"It is the kind of public adoration that brings to mind another Latin American leader, Fidel Castro, who for more than 45 years has drawn accolades wherever he has gone, much to Washington's chagrin. Now, it seems, the torch is being passed, and it is [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chvez who is emerging as this generation's Castro - a charismatic figure and self-styled revolutionary who bearhugs his counterparts on state visits, inspires populist left-wing movements and draws out fervent well-wishers from Havana to Buenos Aires." - Juan Forero, June 1.
"The [Amnesty International] report, released May 25, placed the United States at the heart of its list of human rights offenders, citing indefinite detentions of prisoners at Guantnamo Bay, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and secret renditions of prisoners to countries that practice torture. But it is the use of the word gulag, a reference to the complex of labor camps where Stalin sent thousands of dissidents, that has drawn the most attention." - Lizette Alvarez, June 4. It's estimated some 2.7 million perished in Stalin's slave labor camps.
"The larger-than-life actor and activist Paul Robeson is a tall order for any play - or for that matter actor - to capture. Robeson was a dazzling polymath (not to mention a stunning physical presence): a star athlete and valedictorian at Rutgers; a lawyer; a world-famous singer and actor; and a celebrated defender of civil rights, social justice and Soviet socialism, who was ultimately blacklisted and had his passport revoked." - Critic Phoebe Hoban on Stalinist actor Paul Robeson, in an April 26 review of a play about Robeson's life.
"A tangled tale of a slick operator, the first couple and dogged Clinton haters." - Text box of a February 9 story from Raymond Hernandez and Ian Urbina on a fundraising investigation involving Hillary Clinton. The "haters" reference is to Judicial Watch, an ethics watchdog group that has lodged complaints against both political parties.
"In fact, [Sen. Hillary] Clinton has defied simple ideological labeling since joining the Senate, ending up in the political center on issues like health care, welfare, abortion, morality and values, and national defense, to name just a few." - Raymond Hernandez and Patrick Healy, July 13.
"Conservatives have long caricatured Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York's junior senator, as the sort of Democrat whose positions on social issues are out of step with Americans deeply concerned about religious and moral values. But while Mrs. Clinton has been strongly identified with polarizing issues like abortion rights, the picture that conservative Republicans paint of her is at odds with a side of herself she has lately displayed as she enters a new phase of her public life.A churchgoer for years, Mrs. Clinton also joined a prayer group led by Republicans when she took office in the Senate in 2001, her associates and aides note." - From a February 1 profile of Sen. Hillary Clinton by Raymond Hernandez.
"It would be nave to think that Clinton doesn't have a national campaign very much in mind as she stacks up one centrist credential after another.As first lady, it was Clinton's job to placate the party's base, even if that meant obscuring some of her more socially conservative instincts.Assuming that Clinton is serious about a 2008 campaign, it's never too early to begin redefining her image in the minds of independent and conservative voters. And the thinking among her closest advisers holds that unlike other prospective candidates with conservative leanings, like Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana or Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, Clinton doesn't have to worry about winning over more liberal base voters." - Contributing writer Matt Bai, October 2.
"Remember Hillary Rodham Clinton and the conventional wisdom about how polarizing a figure she is? Well, think again. Recent polls have shown that Mrs. Clinton, the junior senator from New York, may have turned a corner politically, sharply reducing the number of voters in the state who harbor negative views of her. Pollsters say the change is remarkable for a woman who has long been shadowed by a seemingly implacable group of voters - commonly referred to as Hillary haters - who dislike her, no matter what she does, and who pose a potential obstacle to any presidential ambitions she may harbor.The result of these comments has been an emerging image of Senator Clinton that is far different from the caricature that Republicans have painted of her: that of a secular liberal whose stances are largely at odds with a public that they say is concerned about the nation's moral direction." - Raymond Hernandez, February 22.
Reality Check: The American Conservative Union gives Sen. Hillary Clinton a lifetime rating of 9 (with 100 being the most conservative), the same as liberal Sen. Tom Harkin.
All Wet on Hurricane Katrina
"We have repeatedly been reminded in recent weeks of how Congress rejected a proposal in the late 1990's to shore up the city's levees and wetlands. And the crisis only deepened later as the government continued to reduce the corps's budget. This represents more than a loss of nerve. It is an outgrowth of the campaign against 'big government' that helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency 25 years ago. And it was fueled by uglier motives, including a latent fear of cities, a myth of the city as a breeding ground for immorality." - Critic Nicholas Ouroussoff on the New Orleans flooding, October 9.
"An orphan, Oliver lands first in a workhouse (its resemblance to a concentration camp is hardly accidental), and before long finds himself apprenticed to a weak-willed coffin maker. At every turn he is menaced by adults whose grotesqueness, while comical, is also a measure of their moral deformity, and of the ugliness of the society that makes them possible. The worst thing about these villains, who tend to occupy positions of at least relative power, is that they believe their sadism and lack of compassion to be the highest expressions of benevolence. Like Barbara Bush after seeing the 'underprivileged' citizens of New Orleans exiled to the Astrodome, they insist on telling Oliver that things are working out pretty well for him." - From A.O. Scott's review of director Roman Polanski's "Oliver Twist," September 23.
"The populism of Huey Long was financially corrupt, but when it came to the welfare of people, it was caring. The churchgoing cultural populism of George Bush has given the United States an administration that worries about the House of Saud and the welfare of oil companies while the poor drown in their attics and their sons and daughters die in foreign deserts." - Former Times Executive Editor Howell Raines in a column for the September 1 edition of the Los Angeles Times.
"Until Friday, Mr. Bush had all but invited the torrent of criticism that he was out of touch with the scale of the human tragedy unfolding in Louisiana, often sounding off-key in the context of what may prove to be the worst natural disaster the nation has suffered." - White House reporter Richard Stevenson, September 3.
"Mr. Bush did not go into the heart of the city's devastation, where thousands of largely poor, black refugees have raged at the government's response to one of the worst natural disasters in American history. The White House cited security concerns and worries about causing more chaos as the reasons for keeping Mr. Bush away from the streets and the New Orleans Superdome, where refugees have lived in squalor and lawlessness for days.Throughout his day, Mr. Bush did not address the shocking images of the desperate and dying on television, even when he was asked by a reporter in Biloxi 'why the richest nation on earth can't get food and water to those people that need it.'" - White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, September 3.
"In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats. 'The way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials," Mr. Chertoff said in his television interview. 'The federal government comes in and supports those officials.' That line of argument was echoed throughout the day, in harsher language, by Republicans reflecting the White House line." - Adam Nagourney and Anne Kornblut, September 5.
"Most of those left behind in New Orleans are black." - Text box to a September 2 story by David Gonzalez.
"Other Democrats cast Mr. Bush's first survey of the damage, from his window on Air Force One two days after the hurricane hit, as an imperial act removed from the suffering of the people below." - Elisabeth Bumiller, September 2.
""Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?" - Editorial page, September 1.
"Anyone who cares about responsible budgeting and the health of America's rivers and wetlands should pay attention to a bill now before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The bill would shovel $17 billion at the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and other water-related projects - this at a time when President Bush is asking for major cuts in Medicaid and other important domestic programs. Among these projects is a $2.7 billion boondoggle on the Mississippi River that has twice flunked inspection by the National Academy of Sciences. The Government Accountability Office and other watchdogs accuse the corps of routinely inflating the economic benefits of its projects. And environmentalists blame it for turning free-flowing rivers into lifeless canals and destroying millions of acres of wetlands - usually in the name of flood control and navigation but mostly to satisfy Congress's appetite for pork. This is a bad piece of legislation." - Editorial page, April 13.
"Between Terri Schiavo and the pope, we've feasted on decomposing bodies for almost a solid month now. The carefully edited, three-year-old video loops of Ms. Schiavo may have been worthless as medical evidence but as necro-porn their ubiquity rivaled that of TV's top entertainment franchise, the all-forensics-all-the-time 'CSI.'" - Arts Editor/columnist Frank Rich, April 10.
"Someone is sure to complain that the world doesn't really work the way it does in 'Syriana': that oil companies, law firms and Middle Eastern regimes are not really engaged in semiclandestine collusion, to control the global oil supply and thus influence the destinies of millions of people. O.K., maybe. Call me nave - or paranoid, or liberal, or whatever the favored epithet is this week - but I'm inclined to give [writer-director Stephen] Gaghan the benefit of the doubt. And even if the picture's rendering of current events turns out to be entirely off base, the energy, care and intelligence with which it makes its points are hard to dismiss." - Movie critic A.O. Scott in his November 23 review of "Syriana."
"It is very conceivable that the gap-toothed [team cosponsor] David Letterman understands what revs a woman's engine more than the gender-gapped George W. Bush. Besides, knowing what women want is not the expertise of the Bush administration." - Sports columnist Selena Roberts May 30, using female Indy 500 driver Danica Patrick to rant against Bush and in favor of Title IX, mandating parity in funding for school-based male and female sports.
"Sitcoms are the television equivalent of the ozone layer: almost all indicators suggest that both are imperiled, yet there is just enough evidence to allow stubborn contrarians to hold out hope." - Television-beat reporter Alessandra Stanley, May 18.
"Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve chairman, did recently warn of 'froth' in the market. Was that, perhaps, a polite way of suggesting 'irrational exuberance,' as he did about stocks before that market tumbled in 2001?" - Business writer Mark Stein on the potential real estate "bubble," May 28. The stock market began tumbling in 2000 (not 2001), four years after Greenspan made his "irrational exuberance" claim.
"The four counties usually visible from the ocean-hugging slopes above Santa Monica have been to the clean air struggle what the Deep South was to the civil rights movement." - Felicity Barringer on the impact of environmental regulations on southern California, August 3.
"[Star Wars creator George] Lucas is clearly jabbing his light saber in the direction of some real-world political leaders. At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, 'If you're not with me, you're my enemy.' Obi-Wan's response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: 'Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.' You may applaud this editorializing, or you may find it overwrought, but give Mr. Lucas his due. For decades he has been blamed (unjustly) for helping to lead American movies away from their early-70's engagement with political matters, and he deserves credit for trying to bring them back." - Movie critic A.O. Scott on "Revenge of the Sith," May 16.
"Wie Knows How to Play, And She Knows the Rules." - Headline to an October 15 sports story on 16-year-old golf phenom Michelle Wie.
"Infraction Costs Wie First Payday." - Headline to an October 17 story on Wie, who was disqualified for a rule infraction the previous day.
"But many in the crowd were openly and greatly distressed by the choice of the new pope - widely regarded as an extreme conservative on a wide variety of social issues. This included many Catholics who said he would take the church in the wrong direction." - Elisabeth Rosenthal, in the online version of her story on the choice of Cardinal Ratzinger as pope, April 19.
"The Bush family omert demands silence and loyalty from all the president's retinue, so Mrs. Whitman's decision to speak out is in itself an outrage.What Mrs. Whitman will find out in the coming months is this: With Republicans ascendant, and Washington awash with conservative hubris, is anyone in power willing to listen?" - From a January 26 profile by New Jersey Bureau Chief David Kocieniewski of "moderate" Republican Christie Whitman, whose book "It's My Party, Too" is critical of conservative Republicans.
"And as ultraconservatives and bottom liners circle, PBS appears to be too accommodating in response. When conservatives attacked the respected Bill Moyers, labeling him a dangerous liberal, PBS offered Tucker Carlson and Paul Gigot. Whatever slight liberal flavor might be dug out of the Moyers broadcasts, those are openly ideological conservative editorialists. Will they do investigations like Mr. Moyers?" - From a February 21 editorial defending PBS.
"The entire federal government - the Congress, the executive, the courts - is united behind a right-wing agenda for which George W. Bush believes he now has a mandate. That agenda includes the power of the state to force pregnant women to surrender control over their own lives. It includes using the taxing power to transfer wealth from working people to the rich. It includes giving corporations a free hand to eviscerate the environment and control the regulatory agencies meant to hold them accountable. And it includes secrecy on a scale you cannot imagine.And if you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture." - Some "slight liberal flavor" from Bill Moyers from the November 8, 2002 edition of his old PBS show, "Now."
"Hamas, the Islamic group that combines philanthropy and militancy, confirmed publicly on Saturday that it would take part in Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for July 17, ending a 10-year boycott of the Palestinian Authority." - Israel-based reporter Steven Erlanger, March 13.
"[Israeli leader Ariel] Sharon has been handcuffed, too, by a struggle with the more extreme elements of his own party, the right-wing Likud." - From Steven Erlanger's October 14 story. Erlanger does not label the Palestinian terror group Hamas as "extreme," only elements of the Israeli political party Likud.
"[Palestinian candidate Mahmoud] Abbas, with no heroic history like that of his predecessor as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasir Arafat, has been campaigning in Mr. Arafat's footsteps if not in his clothes." - Steven Erlanger reporting from the Gaza Strip, January 6.
"Pataki Takes His Lumps, From the (Far) Right" - The "jump page" headline to a Michael Cooper story on conservative disaffection with New York Gov. George Pataki (which cited, among other Pataki critics, the magazine National Review), February 12.
"You could call a fight for the hearts and minds of the far right in New Jersey - a state that voted convincingly for John Kerry last November - something of a Pyrrhic victory." - New Jersey reporter Josh Benson on former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler's battle for the Republican nomination for New Jersey governor, March 13.
"Germany's Far Right Tries to Put On a Normal Face." - Headline to a March 14 report from Richard Bernstein about neo-Nazis in Germany.
"An Advocate for the Right." - Front-page headline on Bush Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, July 28, 2005.
"Balanced Jurist at Home in the Middle." - Headline on Clinton Supreme Court nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg, June 27, 1993.
"An ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was 'appropriate' for Congress to 'get involved' in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans." - Arts editor/columnist Frank Rich, March 27.
Then Again, What Do We Know?
"Indeed, one of the favorite mantras of the current Bush White House and its conservative allies is that the media suffer from a 'liberal bias' - a constantly repeated accusation designed to drill this notion into the public consciousness while putting the press on the defensive. Recent history flies in the face of this assertion." - Chief book critic Michiko Kakutani promoting an anti-Bush book by Congressional Quarterly writer Craig Crawford, November 11.