Political Animal

Viral Journalism

VIRAL JOURNALISM….This week brings yet another example of the bold, creative, and freespirited approach to journalism of our major newsweeklies: not only do they all have the same cover story ? not unreasonable under the circumstances ? but their art departments all had exactly the same idea for their cover pictures. I guess the Economist gets a modest bit of extra credit for using Mao’s picture underneath the mask, but you really have to wonder what’s going on when not one of them managed to come up with a unique way of illustrating this story.

The big news of the day, of course, is the SARS riot in Chagugang, brought on by residents fearful that a local junior high school would be turned into a ward for urban SARS patients (fears that appear to have been well founded, despite the spin of Chinese officials that “The villagers are unscientific, and trusted rumors.”)

The New York Times reports that Chagugang is a “rural town,” and Matt Yglesias remarks that “The fact that this is taking place in rural China rather than the urban/student/intellectual crowd strikes me as significant.”

Take this with a grain of salt, however. Chagugang is a small town, but it’s only a few miles north of Tianjin, a city of 10 million, and is home to the “Liudaokou lndustrial Zone,” which somehow doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing you’d find in a pastoral little village. (Not coincidentally, I’m sure, it’s also only about 40 miles from Beijing.)

Overall, SARS news is mostly bad. It’s peaked in a few places, but still expanding in China, and possibly also in India and Indonesia. The crisis is far from over.

North Korea

NORTH KOREA….What does North Korea want? Colin Powell says “something considerable” but declined to elaborate. The Chinese, however, in an apparently unusual gesture, briefed Western diplomats about the talks:

One envoy quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s top North Korea expert as saying North Korea had sought “credible security assurances” from the United States during the talks.

….The first diplomat quoted the Chinese official as saying Pyongyang had demanded Washington negotiate “on the basis of equality and mutual sovereignty.”

North Korea also sought compensation for a delay in the completion of light water reactors under a 1994 pact in which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for them, they said.

Publicly, at least, these negotiations always seem to get down to two things: money and security. Money, I assume, is not really a problem, which means the big issue now and always has been security.

I quite realize that nothing is what it seems when it come to negotiating with North Korea, but I sure wish I understood a little more about what they’re really after. Are they truly afraid we might attack them? Perhaps. People certainly talk about it often enough in the United States. So what would reassure them on this score? A final treaty? Withdrawal of troops from the DMZ? What?

A final peace treaty combined with diplomatic recognition seems pretty trivial to me if it were linked to some kind of genuine, verifiable dismantling of their nuclear program, so there must be a lot more to it than that. But what?

Marketing Rule #1: Know Your Audience

MARKETING RULE #1: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE….Yet another WMD find turns out to be bogus. By itself, of course, this is perfectly understandable: you would expect that lots of places would be searched, preliminary analysis ? designed to be “better safe than sorry” ? would indicate some suspects, and that more thorough analysis would narrow it down even further. The fact that preliminary analysis is ultra cautious and doesn’t usually pan out is perfectly normal.

Given that this is normal, however, the real question is quite different: why is the Pentagon releasing these preliminary results every time one pops up? Take this latest one, for example:

The mobile labs were definitely “not labs,” Captain Cutchin said. The vehicles MET Bravo found were “probably for decontamination or some kind of fuel filling, consistent with the rockets found at the site,” he said.

This was the latest example of a recurring pattern in efforts to track down unconventional weapons in Iraq….By the time MET Bravo arrived at Bayji, for example, journalists who had already been briefed about the findings were already at the site.

(Emphasis mine.)

Why had reporters “already been briefed” before the MET team even showed up? Doesn’t the Pentagon realize that this is eroding their credibility daily?

Of course they do, but these reports aren’t aimed at journalists or news junkies like blog readers. Rather, they are designed to build up a vague impression among casual news consumers that we’ve been finding WMD all over the place. Say it often enough, and everyone starts to get foggy about which reports panned out and which didn’t ? or even whether any of them did. Most people are simply left with the idea that we have lots of busy teams spread out all over Iraq and they keep finding stuff.

Like any good marketing organization, the Pentagon knows its audience. And it isn’t anyone reading this blog.

Mike Hawash

MIKE HAWASH….Via Emma Goldman of Notes on the Atrocities, there’s a “Free Mike Hawash” rally planned for tomorrow at 8:30 AM at the U.S. courthouse in Portland. If you live in the area, you might want to think about attending.

Like everyone, I have no idea of whether Hawash is guilty or innocent of anything. What we do know, however, is that he is a U.S. citizen, he is being held practically incommunicado as a “material witness,” he is not charged with a crime, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he’s a flight risk, and all proceedings in his case are secret. It’s a disgrace.

UPDATE: Via TalkLeft, Hawash has now finally been charged:

The Justice Department said Hawash was part of a Portland-based group of six other suspects who have already been charged in the alleged plan [to support al-Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11].

”In a nutshell, Hawash was charged as a co-conspirator with the other six,” said U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones, who is handling the case.

More to come, I’m sure.