Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne is a journalist who lives in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Balkans via Bohemia.

Recent Articles

<i>Selling</i> It Short

Joe McGinniss' classic text on presidential campaign ads is almost 40 years old now. But it still has valuable lessons for candidates and the public alike.

The original dust jacket of Joe McGinniss' The Selling of the President 1968 has Richard Nixon's face emblazoned on a package of cigarettes. To value that image at a thousand words is parsimonious. It elicits a multiplicity of responses to Nixon and to his 1968 campaign: clever, slick, amoral, dangerous, familiar, branded, and addictive. (Yes, addictive. How long was Nixon in American political life?) In sum, Richard Nixon was very, very bad for America -- and some very skilled men persuaded voters to buy him anyway. As an eight-year-old caught up in Watergate in the summer of 1974, that dust jacket induced me to pluck The Selling of the President 1968 from my parents' bookshelf. I didn't understand everything McGinniss was peddling on that first read, of course, but his brisk, energetic prose did let me get at some of what the book was about even then. It has become fashionable to dismiss The Selling of the President 1968 as a shallow and cynical book written in the breezy New...

Arresting Developments

The capture of Radovan Karadzic, a primary architect of the vicious war in Bosnia, could transform the Balkans. But the U.S. and Europe must beware of overplaying a good hand.

The arrest of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in Belgrade yesterday was another dose of welcome news in the Serbian corner of the Balkans. He was a primary architect of the vicious war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. Under his leadership, Bosnian Serb military forces shelled civilians in Sarajevo. Karadzic's government created concentration camps for Muslim men that it wanted to remove from Serb-held areas of Bosnia. And it was on his watch that the massacres at Srebrenica occurred in the summer of 1995. There are all sorts of interesting details about Karadzic 's life on the run that have been churned up over the past 24 hours or so. Karadzic was living in Belgrade, working undercover as doctor specializing in alternative medicine. He apparently disguised himself with little more than puffy white hair and a beard for the better part of 12 years. But there are larger currents at work in the arrest of one of the three remaining prime fugitives for crimes committed in the bloody wars...

Bodymore, Murdaland

“It's Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you.” -- The police commissioner to his commanders on The Wire The Baltimore Police Department's 2005 annual report is crammed with statistics that tell a story. Violent crime is down in every category measured by the department. The city witnessed 269 murders in 2005, or seven fewer than the previous year. The department's Organized Crime Division seized 618 firearms; 37 kilos of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin; and more than $10 million in cash. The narrative here is straightforward: The streets may be mean, but the cops are winning. It's the story that one expects from the city's police force -- especially in an election year that finds the city's mayor, Martin O'Malley, running for governor. American television, however, has few excuses for its consistent fealty to the same story. The crime shows that crowd our TV channels peddle straightforward morality tales in which criminals find their nefarious misdeeds unraveled (and even...

Follow The (Dear) Leader

In Team America: World Police , the puppet-film satire of the global war on terrorism made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker (of South Park fame), North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is gleefully depicted as an oddball Bond villain: outsized glasses, Elmer Fudd lisp, a streak of maudlin solipsism, and a team of lackeys including al-Qaeda and Alec Baldwin. He even lures United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix into a shark tank straight out of Thunderball . This skewering of Kim as pure evil grinding comically along its axis elicits guffaws because it spoofs what little we know about the “Dear Leader,” a vainglorious and wretched dictator who starves his nation and stockpiles nukes. North Korea's gates are kept largely shut, impeding tourism and cultural exchange. The train that the odd foreigner is permitted to take to Pyongyang has high cement walls on either side of the tracks. The barriers extend even to language. As State Department translator Tong Kim observed in The Washington Post in...

Big Wind From Ohio

Back in the lo-fi bliss of mid-1980s, the Columbus, Ohio band Great Plains wrote a song called "Letter to a Fanzine." It was a brilliantly Janus-faced take on indie rock's navel gazing, neatly encompassing satire and self-satisfaction. ("Isn't my haircut really intense / Isn't Nick Cave a genius in a sense?") Rock critics of that era rejoiced in Ron House's nasal sneer and the garage-band swirl of organ and guitar laid down by brothers Mark and Matt Wyatt. The question at the center of "Fanzine" -- "Why do punk rock guys go out with new wave girls?" -- remains the band's most-cited bon mot . But like any novelty tune, "Fanzine" was a dead end. The ultimate joke-as-epitaph. Great Plains' three records on Homestead went out of print, seemingly buried along with the other trendy labels (4AD, SST) the song name-checks. House's next band, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, found greater success than the Plains ever glimpsed. They copped a major label record with 1995's Bait and Switch (...

Pages