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Mark Steyn on the speed the world is changing.

Thursday, July 27, 2006
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HH: We being as we do most Thursdays with columnist to the world, Mark Steyn. You can read most of this work at Steynonline.com. Except, Mark, your Canadian Post really makes people pay for it, don’t they? Can you imagine that?

MS: (laughing) Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, we’ve still got to figure out a way in this new age of technology to make a living at some of this, so…

HH: I know. World Magazine has begun to put me behind a firewall, and I kind of begrudge it, but I guess they do have a make a buck once in a while.

MS: Well, the thing about that is that these…we really have to find a model by which people can still stay in business doing this. I don’t particularly…I mean, the New York Times thing has been a disaster. I mean, at least people used to hammer Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman and Frank Rich a few months ago. Now, you have to subscribe to them. Nobody talks about them anymore.

HH: You know, I really do believe the model is going to be a relatively low fee for everything. But the last thing you want to charge for is opinion, I think. But nevertheless, it’s not by business. I don’t have to worry about it. Mark Steyn, we published a little graph of the Los Angeles Times circulation, relative to the population over at Radioblogger.com. I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to see that?

MS: Yes, I did see it. It’s a very interesting graph, because the Los Angeles Times is a very particular case. Los Angeles is one of the great cities of the world. It’s a critical city to the world. It’s…in terms of the popular culture, and generating news and activity. I mean, for example, in Britain, most British newspapers have a correspondent in Washington, a correspondent in New York, and a correspondent in Los Angeles. And yet, it is a dead newspaper town. The fact of the matter is that that newspaper is not the newspaper of a great city. It would be a perfectly acceptable, dull newspaper, if it was in some third-rate town in the middle of nowhere. But it’s not a newspaper for a great city, and that’s why its circulation is falling faster, even granted the problems in the industry as a whole.

HH: Now do you think that these papers could be saved with editorial energy and vision?

MS: Yes, I think so, because I think in a sense, this is beyond politics. Yes, there is bias in American newspapers. But beyond the bias, they’re unreadable. I love the English language. No one who loves the English language could enjoy reading the Los Angeles Times or the Boston Globe, never mind a lot of the smaller newspapers that you see when you travel around the country, the worst aspect of which is they’re all trying to sound like mini New York Times and mini Boston Globes, and mini Los Angeles Times. It’s just unreadable. And nobody who enjoys the vigor of language is going to want to ploy through that stuff.

HH: You know, that’s a lost value. I was listening last night to Birkenhead’s biography of Kipling, and how between the ages of 22-25, he basically put out newspapers by himself. And it was throw whatever you can in there, including poetry and fiction and whatever else to fill it up. But a lot of great writing, if perhaps over the top, sometimes. That is gone. But does the guild…I interview Peter Baker next hour, Washington Post White House correspondent. And I challenge him at the end of that, I recorded it already, that the guild has taken over, and the guild never self-criticizes, and as a result, I don’t think they’ve got any fresh air in journalism.

MS: No, I think it’s a very closed…it’s an unusually closed world, compared with media groups and media cultures in other countries. I think that’s what I find so shocking about it. I mean, I don’t think journalism is a profession. A young lady, a neighbor in my town in New Hampshire, she wanted some career advice. She wanted to go and do a master’s degree at, I think it was Columbia Journalism School, or maybe at Berekeley, because she wanted to be an editor of the Atlantic Monthly. And her parents were going to literally mortgage the farm and bankrupt themselves to do this for her. And I said well, what…I said you don’t need a master’s degree to edit me. I said I’m a columnist at the Atlantic Monthly, and I haven’t got any fancy degree in journalism. It’s not a profession. And professionalizing it has in America made it essentially this sort of effete, desiccated, upper-middle class, closed profession, that I think has done readers a terrible disservice.

HH: Except the sports pages, which remain…

MS: (laughing) Except the sports pages, which still have something like the old character that you used to have…I mean, if you…what’s interesting, I think, is if…you were talking about Kipling. If you go back to American newspapers a century ago, there is a tremendous kind of…they reflect the great rough and tumble of America at the turn of the century. They don’t reflect America at the turn of the 21st Century.

HH: Mark Steyn, what do you read in the morning? I mean, how do you go about sort of easing into the information river?

MS: Well, one of the things I like to do, and I find this an interesting thing since the internet came along, is I’m like a lot of people. I like to read tomorrow’s newspapers the day before, as it were…

HH: Exactly.

MS: …before I go to bed at night. I find it…I don’t think this is a left-right thing. I’m always interested that when you…when people like Tim Robbins in Hollywood are interviewed, they don’t even…they’re not even that big a fan of the Los Angeles Times. They read the tomorrow morning’s editions of the left-wing papers in London, the Guardian and the Independent online. And I particularly like to read the Pakistani newspapers, which are written in that slightly ornate Indian English, which I enjoy reading. But they’re also a very…to me, they’re a very interesting glimpse into some of the kind of corners of what’s going on in this war. They’re just little stories that you somehow have to decode, but actually have very useful insight into what’s going on.

HH: I enjoy Ha’aretz, too. I’ve now become…commentary within Israel is just hammer throwing at ten yards, and it’s a very vibrant newspaper business as a result. Before we get too far away from the subjects, I want to go back to the animus of all this, and that is your column in the New York Sun, in which you quote a man whose name is simply just unpronounceable to me, who wrote, “See my pageant passing,” a Parisian dramatist. And it really did sum up what is underway right now. It’s a carnival of violence, the like of which we haven’t seen.

MS: Yes, and what I was very struck by is the fact that people are turned on by it. What is so weird to me about groups like Hezbollah is that there’s a sort of little frisson that people in the civilized world get out of it. You know, the Democrats were hammering the Iraqi prime minister this week, because he does not support, apparently, as they say, does not support Israel’s right to defend itself. And they say that on that basis, he should not be allowed to address the United States Congress. Well, fair enough. But on that basis, Kofi Annan, and Jacques Chirac, and Vladimir Putin, and the average prime minister of all the European Union countries should also not be allowed to address the United States Congress. And we know the situation the Iraqi prime minister finds himself in. He’s a guy who lives under threat of death 24 hours a day, and it is not exactly going to take the pressure off him if he was to give a ringing endorsement of Israel while he’s on full view in the United States. But what’s Jacques Chirac’s excuse? What is the excuse of the extraordinary level, and extraordinary investment in this pretense that we should somehow be honest brokers between this terrorist group and a functioning democracy like Israel. And I was very struck by this quote. It’s from a fellow called Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, who just recounted this incident of the Parisian playwright looking at the mob rampaging through the streets of Paris below, and saying, “See my pageant passing.” And I think that’s what you get from a lot of the European class. For years, they’ve looked at this thing, these suicide bombers, the intifada, the schoolgirl bombers going into pizza parlors, and it’s been a turn-on for them.

HH: And I watched last…I was stunned to see in Beirut, none other than Michael Ware. And he’s a fine war correspondent. But there is a group in the international media, and at CNN, that go to these places, and feast on this kind of chaos without ever giving it any kind of context, or trying to explain what’s at stake, because I think, Mark Steyn, it’s good for ratings.

MS: Yes, and I think there is a kind of a story that seems at a superficial level, to be telling you what’s going on, and in fact, is not telling you anything at all. And that’s when you have these things which now turns out to be this Nic Robertson report we talked about last week on CNN.

HH: He’s apologizing…

MS: And it turns out he was basically there as Hezbollah’s press agent…

HH: Right.

MS: …that they controlled…he’s conceded the fact that they basically controlled where he went, what he saw, and all the rest of it. So in fact, the story is absolutely worthless. And similarly, this whole level of this stuff has just the kind of humanitarian disaster on one side only, prevents you from looking at the strategic consequences of it.

Mark, as we went to break, we talked about how news coverage out of the Israel-Hezbollah war does not present the strategic situation. If you go to page A-3 in the Washington Post today, Peter Baker, whom I interview at the beginning of the next hour, their White House correspondent for the WaPo, basically presents, not in his own voice, but clearly with an endorsement, the idea that the Bush administration is rudderless at sea, maybe close to ruins, an uses a classic Brookings Institution individual to channel the Council on Foreign Relations. I actually think that Bush has a strategy, and it pursuing it. But what did you make of that piece?

MS: Well, I think that was the laziest kind of analysis. I don’t know what the particular correspondent in question thinks, but the idea of relying on the kind of permanent striped pants class, the foreign policy professionals, these are basically the stability facists, and their whole thing is that they don’t want to update their rolodex more than once of twice every third of a century, and that international relations are best managed by the same group of people talking to each other, professionals to professionals, nation to nation, across the decades. The problem with that there is, there is no stability. We’re in a race against time, against very seriously and fast-lengthening demographic, economic, geopolitical and technological odds. And you know, any one of those are serious. Demographic…the Islamification of Europe means you’re not going to be getting any useful support ten or twenty years down the line from France and the Netherlands, and these countries. The technological thing is where we’re in a world where an immensely powerful, dangerous technology is going freelance. And in a sense, Hezbollah is the wave of the future, non-state actors that in fact have more military might than most state actors do. And so I feel this kind of bland kind of foreign policy establishment, basically 21st Century Congress of Vienna routine, is absurd.

HH: And it strikes me as not just sort of very dangerous, because it continues to obscure those critical elements you just mentioned, including, I think, the near certainty that in a very short period of time, a WMD is going to be used somewhere in this world. And the theater most likely is probably against Israel, because of the freelancing of terror, and the freelancing and the portability of WMD. Mark Steyn, are you surprised by what we’ve found about Hezbollah’s capacities?

MS: Yes, and I think what’s interesting is that Israel was surprised, too, that in fact, a nation that has no illusions, compared to most of North America and Europe and the rest of the civilized world, has no illusions about the enemy that it faces. Even they didn’t have up to date information on what had been managed in a very small corner of the world, to be smuggled through to them. And I think this is really the reality that you’re talking now about…and nobody’s saying that 1.3 billion Muslims all want to fly planes into buildings, or nuke Chicago, or anything. But what we are saying is that there is a pan-Islamist identity that is impervious to normal immigration assimilation techniques, and spreads beyond the borders, is very good at taking over failing states, whether we’re talking about Afghanistan, Somalia, or Southern Lebanon, and that this is a situation where the old complacency, the sort of Joe Wilson go to, fly in, sip mint tea with the guys in your address book, that whole approach is not going to…is only going to make things worse five or ten years down the road.

HH: If we get five or ten years. Now you mentioned Joe Wilson. I want to throw four data points at you. There’s Joe Wilson’s lawsuit, there are the SWIFT revelations, there’s John Murtha, who John Campbell on this program yesterday said walked out on Malaki…maybe it was a call of nature, but you never know, and John didn’t think so. He said it was timed to sort of turn his back on him. And then today’s hearings about Bolton, and the already announced opposition to him. It’s almost crazy how the silly is elevated to the serious, and the serious is downgraded to almost nonsensical.

MS: Yes, well John Bolton is a September 11th man at a September 10th institution. And that is what we need. I mean, we’re still wedded to these…my country, Canada, invented U.N. peacekeeping. And I don’t think it was a good…and Lester Pearson, who did it in 1956, they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize for it. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think it peddles this illusion of stability, that you can just send some people in and preserve an artificial status quo. John Bolton recognizes that in a sense, the U.N. is a September 10th institution, and he’s absolutely critical to American foreign policy.

HH: Now when Kofi Annan heard about the deaths of the four U.N. observers, without any serious investigation, he pronounced it an intentional act, which he subsequently walked backwards from. What did that tell you about Kofi Annan, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I think it tells you that for a start, I regard Kofi Annan as a contemptible man. And I understand that there are cynical reasons for keeping him there. He’s run, even by U.N. standards…I’ve never had a high regard for the U.N. But even by their standards of a notably incompetent predecessor, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, he has run a corrupt, degrading and disgusting administration over that organization. And the only good reason for keeping him there is that he’s now so discredited, the odds being that Washington can prevail upon him to be more pliant than a cleaner hand would be. But even on those terms, I think his automatic presumption of guilt of Israel is actually very revealing. What’s at flaw here is the fact that basically, these guys, these U.N. peacekeepers, are basically human shields used by Hezbollah, who are basically firing from U.N. facilities at Israel. That’s what’s disgusting.

HH: Now is there any hope, in your estimate, for a replacement in January, who would really make a difference, a 9/11 Secretary-General. Is that possible, Mark Steyn?

MS: There is no such thing. When people talk about reform of the U.N., what they mean is a reform that would make it more effectively anti-American. If you look at the votes in the U.N. general assembly, from any corner of the world, they are basically 85% against the United States. So when they talk about reforming the U.N. to make it more efficient, they mean it would be more efficiently anti-American. It’s a September 10th institution. Serious countries don’t think that…whether or not you go into Darfur should not depend on whether the Russian or Chinese guy holds up his hand at the round table meeting. It’s either a good thing to do or it’s not a good thing to do. But it’s not a good thing to do because the Chinese guy decides to go along with it. This is just a ridiculous way of looking at the world.

HH: Well, we close out where we begin. As you read the Pakistani papers in the morning, are they paying attention to Somalia? Are they paying attention to whatever Kim…observers, Kim Jung-Il is inviting? Do they see it in a way that our media and our commentariate doesn’t?

MS: Well, I think what I find interesting, and in particular about some of the Indian newspapers, for example, is that they have a much…because they’re really in the cockpit of where a lot of this is happening, they have a much more serious take on the speed at which events are moving. And that’s what that Washington Post story fails to grasp. The speed at which the world is changing.

HH: Mark Steyn, it’s always a pleasure. Last question. Is Israel getting serious? They’ve called up 30,000 reservists. Do you think they’re girding up the loins at this point?

MS: Well, I have a few concerns. When they said they weren’t going to take any action against Syria, in a strange way, toppling Assad would be a lot easier to do than finishing off Hezbollah. And it would be…and in a sense, it would be very comforting if they would just do that, just to shake things up a bit.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a great pleasure. Steynonline.com.

End of interview.

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