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February 2, 2004
3:15am EST




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BY JAMES TARANTO
Wednesday, May 28, 2003 4:06 p.m. EDT

Maureen Dowd, Idealist
New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis tells Zev Chafets of the Daily News that the scandal-plagued paper is "looking into" the May 14 column by Maureen Dowd, in which Dowd misrepresented a quote from President Bush. In the aftermath of the May 12 car-bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia, Dowd wrote:

Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."

The use of ellipses in quoted material is entirely legitimate, but not when it changes the meaning. Many a blogger noted that Dowd did just that, and did so quite egregiously. Here's what Bush actually said, according to the official White House transcript, with the portion Dowd omitted in bold:

Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly, but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore.

Dowd's bowdlerization of the quote changed the antecedent of they, making it appear as if Bush had said al Qaeda as a whole was "not a problem anymore"--something no one claims--rather than that its dead and captured members are no longer a problem, something no one can deny. Spinsanity.com notes that many liberal commentators, in print and on television, picked up Dowd's misleading quote.

Blogress Joanne Jacobs points out that in today's column, Dowd, without acknowledging her previous error, uses the quote again, but this time undoctored--"a sort of hidden correction," as Jacobs calls it. In the same column, Dowd opines that "if Bush-Cheney '04's use of Sept. 11 begins to look like cynicism, then cynicism is precisely what it will produce."

So Maureen Dowd, who used the terrorist murder of 34 people as an opportunity to take a dishonest cheap shot at President Bush, is throwing around accusations of "cynicism." It's as if former Enron adviser Paul Krugman were accusing someone of being vicious and partisan. Oh wait, that already happened. Well, then, what's next? Maybe Tom Friedman will blast the Bush administration for being wishy-washy. Or maybe it'll be Nick Kristof. We can't decide!

Moonlighting
"In a devastating blow to its reputation, Al-Jazeera said yesterday that its general director has been sacked after allegations were made that he worked with Saddam Hussein's intelligence services," the Arab News reports. "Mohammed Jassem Al-Ali visited Iraq before the US-led war, meeting Saddam during an hour-long interview. Both Al-Jazeera and Ali were afterward accused by the Western media of collaborating with the former regime in Baghdad."

But there's bad news about the Saudi press. The Associated Press reports that Jamal Khashoggi has been fired from the Al-Watan newspaper. Khashoggi, one of whose articles we cited favorably last year, is a longtime critic of Wahhabi extremism. He moved to Al-Watan in March from the Arab News, which doesn't seem to have a report on his sacking. The AP reports that Riyadh's Orwellian Ministry of Information is likely behind the firing, and that "many fear the dismissal of Khashoggi, 45, will send a message to other newspapers that the government will no longer tolerate such criticism."

An AP dispatch from May 15--three days after the Riyadh attacks--reports that "Khashoggi, in an Al-Watan editorial, said the government should see Monday's attacks, which fell on the 11th of the Muslim month Rabia al-Awal, in the way Washington saw the Sept. 11 attacks: as the beginning of a new era." His firing suggests that it doesn't, and that doesn't augur well for the House of Saud.

Riyadh Nabs Five Muslims
"Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it had arrested five suspects in the deadly suicide bombings in Riyadh," Reuters reports. Among the men arrested was one believed to be (get ready) the "mastermind" of the attacks. Saudi authorities picked up the men at an Internet cafe in Medina--which proves that we were right when we disputed President Bush's contention that the attackers' "only faith is hate." Under the Saudi system of apartheid, none but Muslims are permitted to set foot in Medina.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports from Rabat that "Morocco said Wednesday it had captured the alleged mastermind"--argh!--"of suicide bombers who killed dozens of people in Casablanca this month but said he had died from chronic heart and liver disease." Ah yes, the old liver-failure-in-jail story.

Human-Rights Inversion
Ho hum, Amnesty International is at it again. "Washington's 'war on terror' has made the world more dangerous by curbing human rights, undermining international law and shielding governments from scrutiny, Amnesty International said on Wednesday," Reuters reports. (Blame the "news" service, not the "human rights" group, for those scare quotes.)

Seems to us the world was pretty damn dangerous before Washington's war on terror. Indeed, we can think of about 3,000 people who we're sure would agree--if they hadn't been murdered by Islamic fanatics. Perhaps there is merit to some of Amnesty's complaints about the conduct of the war on terror, but they are small beer compared with the human-rights violations of America's enemies and other dictatorships. By emphasizing the former at the expense of the latter, Amnesty inverts idea of human rights and discredits itself.

USA for Africa
Bob Geldof, the musician behind the well-intentioned if somewhat treacly Live Aid efforts of the '80s ("Do They Know It's Christmas?"), has high praise for President Bush, London's Guardian reports:

"You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical--in a positive sense--in its approach to Africa since Kennedy," Geldof told the Guardian.

The neo-conservatives and religious rightwingers who surrounded President George Bush were proving unexpectedly receptive to appeals for help, he said. "You can get the weirdest politicians on your side."

Former president Bill Clinton had not helped Africa much, despite his high-profile visits and apparent empathy with the downtrodden, the organiser of Live Aid, claimed. "Clinton was a good guy, but he did f--- all."

Geldof also has disdain for the European Union, whose efforts in Africa he calls "pathetic and appalling."

I, Village
Hillary Clinton relied on three ghostwriters for her forthcoming autobiography, according to the Drudge Report. "In her new book, Living History, Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledges--in opening pages--three women for their assistance and contribution to the project," says Drudge. "Clinton, who is scheduled to receive an $8 million advance for the book, thanks author Maryanne Vollers, former Clinton speechwriter Lissa Muscatine and writer Ruby Shamir, sources reveal."

Is it really an "auto"-biography if it's written by a carload of ghosts?

Homer Nods
In an item yesterday, we erroneously said that fully automatic guns are illegal in America. In fact, they are legal in most states, subject to heavy federal regulations. The Vermont Gunsmiths Web site explains the process of acquiring a machine gun, which involves paying a $200 transfer tax and undergoing a lengthy background check. In addition, possession by civilians of full-auto firearms manufactured after May 1986 is a violation of federal law.

Another item yesterday (since corrected) misstated the name of a Clinton administration Treasury official. He's Roger, not Robert, Altman.

A Kidney for a Killer
The state of Oregon, facing a budget crisis, is already spending $120,000 a year to pay for Horacio Alberto Reyes-Camarena's kidney dialysis. But it will never have to spend a dime on medical care for Maria Zetina. Reyes-Camarena murdered her 1996. Now he's on death row, and the state is considering ponying up $100,000 for a kidney transplant--which would actually save money, since it would obviate the cost of dialysis. But this "would deprive someone outside prison of a life-giving organ."

Even Reyes-Camarena seems to realize giving him the organ may not be such a great idea. "I'm on death row now," he tells Reuters by phone. "Someday, if it got allowed, I'm going to go through appeals and then the man has to do his job. Why take it with me?"

An Unappealing Brand Name
" 'Mad Cow' Dog Food Recalled"--headline, Reuters, May 27

This Seems a Bit Harsh
"Soldier Guilty for Refusing Anthrax Shot"--headline, Associated Press, May 28

This Just In
"SUMMER AHEAD"--headline, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 26

You Don't Say--I
"To Psychopathic Murderers, Violence Is Not So Bad"--headline, Reuters, May 28

You Don't Say--II
"Young Children Served Large Portions May Overeat"--headline, Reuters, May 27

You Don't Say--III
"Everest Climbers Must Weather Extreme Elements"--headline, Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, May 28

Not Too Brite--LXXIX
"Police issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for the mother of 22-month-old twin girls, who were abandoned in the middle of a highway near Fort Worth," Reuters reports.

Oddly Enough!

Metric Madness
"The kilogram is getting lighter, scientists say, sowing potential confusion over a range of scientific endeavor," the New York Times reports:

The kilogram is defined by a platinum-iridium cylinder, cast in England in 1889. No one knows why it is shedding weight, at least in comparison with other reference weights, but the change has spurred an international search for a more stable definition.

"It's certainly not helpful to have a standard that keeps changing," says Peter Becker, a scientist at the Federal Standards Laboratory here, an institution of 1,500 scientists dedicated entirely to improving the ability to measure things precisely.

Even the apparent change of 50 micrograms in the kilogram--less than the weight of a grain of salt--is enough to distort careful scientific calculations.

All we can say is, thank goodness America has resisted the pressure to adopt the insane metric system. You don't have to worry about a pound wasting away into nothingness.

Life Imitates 'Sesame Street'
Remember Oscar the Grouch? He's the "Sesame Street" Muppet who lives in a garbage can. A Web site in his honor says he likes to drink pickle juice and eat sardine-and-spinach sundaes. The Sacramento Bee reports on a group of Oscar the Grouch wannabes, 20-something weirdos who call themselves "freegans":

It's a takeoff on the word "vegan," which means someone who on principle will not eat any animal products--including dairy--so as not to harm animals. . . .

Freegans like [21-year-old Tim] Jones will eat nonvegan food if it's free--that is, if they scavenge it, so they're not supporting the nonvegan industry or creating demand for a product.

They get much of their food from dumpsters.

"Jones and other freegans realize that it's not the ultimate solution," the Bee notes. "Dumpster-diving only exists because of the system they hate. In the ideal world, Jones says, people would be as self-reliant as possible, making and growing only what they need."

In other words, these guys long for a return to a time before the Agricultural Age, or at the latest to the very beginning of that age. Jones acknowledges this isn't likely to happen: "When you look at the big picture, you get kind of jaded." Oscar may be a grouch, but even he's more cheerful than sulky Tim Jones. After all, the Muppet malcontent is known to break out into a rousing refrain of "Oh I Love Trash."

(Elizabeth Crowley helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Jerome Marcus, Bob Boxwell, Robert Sherman, Barak Moore, Joel Goldberg, James Foster, Hampton Stevens, Chip Switzer, G.E. Jewell, Jonathan Karen, Robert LeChevalier, Nancy Zimmerman, Rosslyn Smith, Judie Amsel, Darren Gold, S.E. Brenner, Michael Waldorf, Raghu Desikan, Mara Gold, C.E. Dobkin, Natalie Cohen, Alan Perlman, Aaron Rosenbaum, Mikael Nussdorf, Monty Krieger, Michael Segal, Brian Pleshek, Bruce Oakley, Ed Lasky, Erik Moy, Jennifer Ray, Tom Massey, Dave Weaver, David Svochak, Steven Weir, Elliot Ganz, Paul Siebenshuh, Jarrod Musser, Tom McLaughlin, Marie Bourgeois, Shelley Taylor, Chuck Weigel, Michael Driscoll, Tom Macke, Bill Johnson, Matt Davis, Gary McFatridge, Alan Devlin, Brian Simmons, Kevin Beswick, John Simutis, Thomas Krueger, Kris Winer, Michael Rabanus, Tim Graham, Don Rorabaugh, Thomas Smith, Drew Kelly, Mary Pinkowish, Don Burton, and Aviva Ross. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

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