Mark Steyn on the GOP on the war, William Arkin’s repulsive anti-military screed, and the problems with American newspapers.
HH: Joined by Mark Steyn, columnist to the world. All of his work is available at www.steynonline.com. His book, America Alone, still bumping along near the top, and a bravura performance at the National Review summit, I’m told, Mr. Steyn.
MS: Well, I was basically just the light entertainment in between the serious stuff, so I did my best to cheer up the troops who were not happy about various aspects of the Republican leadership at all.
HH: Well, did you run into any of the Republican jellyfi…Congresspeople?
MS: I did, and I ran into quite a few people who were kind of very pleasant to share a beverage with, but have proved, as you said, the usual jelly-spined crowd in the days since, and that is a bit distressing to me.
HH: Why…I have carried on a series of conversations since we last spoke a week ago, and it’s been getting worse and worse as the week has gone on, as opposed to steadier and steadier. In the hallways in your conversations with the National Review crowd, is mine a singular opinion? Am I the only one who sees here the collapse of the Republican Congressional party?
MS: No, I think there is a big constituency that believes the leadership is out of touch, and needs to change. And they particularly resent the way the Congressional leadership, after losing in November, within about 48 hours had said okay, we lost. Well, there we are. Let’s carry on pretty much as before, and they’re completely disgusted with that. And I think they are also pretty angry at the idea that somehow, the Republican Party is now trying to detach itself from the war. I mean, basically, not many people who take the Republican side disagree with the view that Islamism is a profound challenge to the Western world, that Iran is an explicit threat, and they resent the sort of unworthy Clintonian triangulation that Republican leaders in Congress are doing at the moment.
HH: Now what about the debate that’s underway right now in the Senate on whether or not Casey ought to be confirmed as the Army Chief of Staff? I don’t know if you saw any of the clips today, John McCain hectoring him, and others coming down on him. A good idea to buffet this man who’s been in Baghdad most of the last two years, or a bad idea?
MS: Well, you know, I think people should be able to stand up to tough questioning. I mean, I find these things a little big pathetic, because essentially, they’re just bouncing off sort of rhetorical postures against people who have to deal with the real life consequences of these things. And you know, I think that’s the danger here, that somehow, you can keep sort of second guessing, splitting the difference, you cannot have a committee-run war. You know, one of the problems in Iraq, for example, is that there are often confused aspects to the chain of command, when you have American units cooperating with the Iraqi army. I mean, technically, the Iraqi army represents a sovereign government. It’s responsible to the government of Iraq. But at the same time, in practical terms, the American forces there are actually in operational control, and there have been some awkward situations that have arisen from that. Well now, we’re duplicating that back at Congress, because it’s not that General Casey has had to deal with this sort of complicated, blurred chain of command back at home, but he’s now going…over in Baghdad…he’s now getting back to Washington, and finding they want to do the same thing to him here.
HH: Yup. And it will plague his successor as well. Mark Steyn, let’s move to a couple of other subjects. We’ve got William Arkin of the Washington Post whose written a couple of excretal columns. He’s a real weasel.
HH: The question arises, does the Washington Post keep him around as their “national security and homeland security columnist?” What do you think?
MS: Well, you know, what was interesting to me about this was that he sort of published his unvarnished thoughts on the internet at the Washington Post website. And you know, I’ve never quite understood this thing that the big newspapers boast about, that their columns undergo, everything that appears in the paper undergoes six levels of editing. I’ve never felt, personally, that that improves my work. But you begin to understand what they’re up against here, because essentially, when you let these guys just sort of fire from the lip unvarnished on the internet, you realize, in fact, that whoever the six editors who are filleting the prose are actually doing their best to make these guys sound semi-sane when the paper lands on your doorstep in the morning, because unvarnished, William Arkin just sounded like a sort of stereotypical, Army-hating kook. He sounded like some of these sort of insane leftists that you heard from in the days after September 11th, who if they see a military man at an airport, sort of look at him, look on him as a kind of potential psycho-killer. They don’t see him as an honorable man in a noble cause defending the nation. They see him as a sort of man of raging violence and testosterone. And when you read what William Arkin slurs about the mercenaries and, you know, it’s not about the people supporting our troops, maybe the troops need to demonstrate their support for the people, you realize, in fact, that without those Washington Post editors, he’s just like the stereotypical, leftist kook.
HH: So do they keep him around? I mean, this is a business decision. It’s not a 1st Amendment decision. It’s a private company, it owes a duty to its shareholders, and here, they’ve got this nut, and he’s a nut, an anti-military nut.
HH: Do they keep him?
MS: And I would fire him. I personally would fire him. But you know, I don’t run the Washington Post. You know, Kay Graham, who I thought was an absurd figure, and is venerated in American journalism, don’t ask my why, as I said, I thought she was an absurd figure, but she described her formula for the Washington Post and Newsweek as mass with class. And there is absolutely no class about what William Arkin said about the American military, and there’s not likely to be much mass readership, either, if that kind of view were to become widespread in the pages of the Washington Post and Newsweek. So they do have a business decision to make here.
HH: They do, and we’ll come back to that in this program. Speaking of newspapers, the story from the AP today is that the newspaper industry has announced a $75 million dollar marketing campaign to declare its relevance in the internet age, as advertising revenues were flat in the last year. Earl Cox is the chief strategic officer of the Martin Agency. We’re going to have him on next week to talk about this. Now if you were advising the American newspaper industry on how to cover Gavin Newsom this afternoon, Mark Steyn, who’s just revealed, the Mayor of San Francisco, that he had an affair with his campaign manager’s wife, his former chief of staff, who has now quit. What would the British press do with that?
MS: Well, the British press are like…when it comes to a good sex scandal, they’re like equal opportunity guys. And I love that about it. There was a story about some really quite inconsequential conservative member of Parliament who was revealed to have shared a bed with another man in a French hotel while on holiday. And he gave this rather implausible explanation that it was strictly a budgetary call. Well, the British tabloids immediately descended on this French hotel, and you know, booked the room and photographed the bed from every angle.
MS: And at the time, the John Major conservative government was running a campaign of Back To Basics. And the Sun’s headline, I believe, was Back To Back To Basics.
HH: (laughing) Now…
MS: And the thing about this, the thing about this is when you look at the numbers for Fleet Street newspapers, they’ve actually, basically, held up over the last forty years. They’re not significantly in overall decline since 1965. Now there is…the problem here is that the American model of just being a pompous newspaper, that offends no one, but at the same time, delights no one, I think simply doesn’t work. If you take the average Gannett newspaper, monopoly newspaper in a medium sized American city, it’s boring.
MS: And it thinks its job is to be boring, because it’s got this monopoly of the classified advertising market, and I don’t think that model holds up anymore, because when people discover, as they have done, that if you’re interested in the news, the last place you want to look for it is in your morning newspaper. Then that’s basically a very poor model, because the newspaper is the equivalent of the guy who calls himself a juggler, and he can’t juggle.
MS: I mean, this is the thing. There is…its coverage of the news has atrophied over the years of consolidation. And simply put, it’s not the place you go to if you happen to live in Cleveland, or if you happen to live in San Francisco, which is a very good example. If you happen to live in San Francisco, picking up the daily newspaper is not a good way to figure out what’s going on.
HH: Do you expect that there are charter flights of British tabloid reporters heading to San Francisco? It’s an international city. Everybody loves it. It’s a good reason to go to San Francisco, to cover poor Mr. Newsom’s troubles?
MS: Well, absolutely. And in fact, that’s what…I mean, I remember Pat Buchanan saying to me about this years ago at the height of the Bill…well, no, the early days, in fact, of the Bill Clinton scandals, before Monica and all the others, it was just Paula Jones. And he, Pat had just come back from a weekend in London, and been absolutely astonished at the stuff that was in the London papers, none of which had ever appeared in any of the papers over here. It’s not a political thing. You know, as I said, these guys are equal opportunity offenders. You know, basically, if you’ve got a scandal, your instincts should tell you that that is just a great story, regardless of whether the guy has an R or a D after his name.
HH: And that’s what there is in San Francisco. I pity the poor husband who’s been put upon here, because he’s going to be in the middle of the Fleet Street armada soon. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure. America Alone still available, America, at Amazon.com, and at www.steynonline.com.
End of interview.