General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker could grab an hour of prime television time only by slinking into the safe foxhole of Fox News, where Brit Hume chaperoned them on a gloomy, bunkerlike set before an audience of merely 1.5 million true believers. Their "Briefing for America," as Fox titled it, was all too fittingly interrupted early on for a commercial promising pharmaceutical relief from erectile dysfunction.
Even if military "victory" were achievable in Iraq, America could not win a war abandoned by its own citizens. The evaporation of that support was ratified by voters last November. For that, they were rewarded with the "surge." Now their mood has turned darker. Americans have not merely abandoned the war; they don't want to hear anything that might remind them of it, or of war in general. Katie Couric's much-promoted weeklong visit to the front produced ratings matching the CBS newscast's all-time low. Angelina Jolie's movie about Daniel Pearl sank without a trace. Even Clint Eastwood's wildly acclaimed movies about World War II went begging. Over its latest season, "24" lost a third of its viewers, just as Mr. Bush did between January's prime-time address and last week's.
First of all, why does a Viagra commercial "fittingly" interrupt the broadcast? What does that even mean? And second, what the heck does 24's loss of viewers have to do with Bush or the GWOT. Or a movie about a guy killed in Pakistan before 9/11? And movies about WWII? Is it really because people are tired of war, or is it because these movies/shows weren't that great? Does Rich care? Not really; that would get in the way of writing an interesting column.
And this is what bothers me about columnists like Rich. It's not good enough to simply write about Iraq; rhetorical flourishes and clever turns of phrases are mandatory, to the extent that they distract and undermine the actual point being made (Maureen Dowd has turned this into high art, as you can see from reading any of her nearly incoherent columns.) And yes I'm touchy about this, because Rich turned his rhetorical arts on Gore in the run-up to the 2000 election, abandoning objectivity and his duty as a journalist for mockery, derision and disdain that informed no one but certainly got Rich a lot of readers.
Here's my advise to Rich. You're on our side, and we're on yours. But you've made enemies out of people who ought to be your allies, and you've done it because it was more important to be clever than it was to be right. So keep writing, but leave out the tricks. We'll keep reading you anyway, and be much appreciative for it.
UPDATE: In comments Adam admonishes me to remember Paul Krugman. In arrears for my egregious error in not mentioning him, here's a link to his brand new blog at the NY Times, "The Conscience of a Liberal" (a name I absolutely love, by the way.)