New York Minutes

Nobody here but us good cops

On most channels, the Republican funfest shines forth as a genial display of red-white-and-blue, on-message sincerity. Everyone is so earnest, everyone exudes optimism, all virtues are on parade. Only good cops pass through these pearly gates. When Senator Lindsey Graham introduced John McCain, saying that McCain had always respected other veterans (wink wink), no august commentator was heard to say that this was a dig at John Kerry.

Laurels, however, to the ABC World News Tonight and CNN for noting that Virginia delegate Morton Blackwell was passing out Band-Aids adorned with Purple Hearts on the convention floor Monday night. Among those spotted wearing these adorable emblems of Republican compassion were the secretary of the Oregon Republican Party and delegates from Dick Cheney's own Wyoming.

Where are the historians when you need them?

When Rudy Giuliani spoke of Winston Churchill and George W. Bush in the same breath, Monday night, all the house historians went mute. None arose -- on TV or in print -- to make the elementary point that Churchill warned for years that Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany meant war, while Bush came to office denying the danger of Islamist fundamentalists. Bush ignored urgent threats (and still claims that the CIA's warning of August 6, 2001, was merely "historical"). Bush failed to take precautions. Bush demoted the White House's chief counterterrorism official, Richard Clarke.

On television, but not only there, the historians were detained by convention trivia. Whole squads of historians on NewsHour failed to comment.

May I shake my head sadly and wisely? To coin a sentence, I knew Winston Churchill, Mr. Bush, and you are not he.

More on recent history, falsification, and ineptitude

Speaking of recent history and the negation thereof, Jim Lehrer displayed extraordinary generosity when, in a Tuesday interview with Laura Bush, he referred to the president's 24-hour flip-flop on whether the war on terrorism can be won (no it can't, yes it can) as a “clarification.”

But of course it would be unseemly to suggest that the president of the United States is so incapable of substantive reason that he doesn't know what he says. This might have uncomfortable ramifications.

Meanwhile, in a potentially refreshing though awkward vocabulary move, The New York Times on Saturday wrote in a headline that Donald Rumsfeld “Mischaracterizes” the Pentagon report on Abu Ghraib. Mischaracterizes. Not your garden-variety headline word, and a lot longer than “Errs” (let alone “Lies”), but a start.

Expertise on the heart's location

Who needs Comedy Central? On NewsHour Tuesday night, David Brooks graced us with the observation that compassionate conservatism “is where Bush's heart is.” I suppose he knows. I suppose that war must be where the president's spleen is. But never mind.

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of Letters to a Young Activist.

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