Thursday, March 29, 2007

Not Switzerland

“Once upon a time, journalists … considered themselves Americans first and journalists second.”

So begins a chapter in the new book “How to Raise an American” by best-selling author Myrna Blyth, the longtime editor in chief of the Ladies’ Home Journal, and Chriss Winston, the first woman to head the White House Office of Speechwriting, under former President Bush.

They recall how Christopher Daly, formerly of The Washington Post and now a journalism professor at Boston University, wrote wistfully in the Columbia Journalism Review about the reporters who covered World War II.

“He noted that back then, most journalists used the first-person plural (‘We took the hill’ or the ‘Germans gave us heavy fire’) in obvious solidarity with the troops they were covering,” the women write.

Since September 11, however, press organizations have stood aside, with ABC News going so far as to prohibit its anchors and reporters from wearing American-flag pins in their lapels. Explained ABC News president David Westin to the New York Times: “It was important for … journalists to maintain their neutrality in times of war.”

One exception was Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel, and formerly of ABC, who told USA Today: “Our flag is not the symbol of the Bush administration, and Fox News is not located in Switzerland.”

Cruel reporting

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada went from elated to upset in the space of seconds on Tuesday when learning about the medical condition of White House press secretary Tony Snow.

That morning, he’d been handed what turned out to be erroneous news clipping reporting that Mr. Snow “had a tumor removed and the cancer had not returned,” Mr. Reid recalled.

At that point, the majority leader sat down and wrote an upbeat note to Mr. Snow, sharing in his good news “and signed it.” The letter would never be mailed.

“A few minutes later, my secretary brought in a news clipping that Tony Snow’s cancer has returned,” Mr. Reid said. In other words, one reporter’s rush to report on the press secretary’s condition was cruelly sloppy, at best.

Still, Mr. Reid stresses that he’s confident Mr. Snow, who beat cancer once, will do so again.

Oh, Henry

Political observer Peter Weeks came across a Web site purportedly set up by California Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman when he sat in the minority. It contains “a searchable collection of 237 specific misleading statements made by Bush administration officials about the threat posed by Iraq.”

Says Mr. Weeks: “I can’t remember another case of a member of Congress directing creation of a site such as this.”

Where’s the beef?

There was much reaction from readers surrounding the item that the next stop for former Vice President Al Gore in his campaign to save the planet from climate change ought to be the countless cattle farms in his home state of Tennessee.

Methane gas produced by cows, we noted, is responsible for 4 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions. And with meat consumption growing, that percentage is set to rise even further. Enter scientists, who have invented a fist-sized, plant-based pill to cut down on “bovine burping.”

One reader, Richard Horton of The Villages, Fla., writes: “If cows are causing global warming, and I ate a Big Mac or similar hamburger, could I claim carbon credits for helping eliminate a cow, the major cause of global warming?”

Stay on topic

A Catholic priest who regularly prays outside an abortion clinic wrote of his positions in a newspaper column, to which two letter-writers responded.They dismissed the church’s teaching against abortion on the grounds of the recent sex scandals — in which church officials covered up accusations of sexual abuse, mostly by homosexual priests against teenage boys.

Catholic blogger Jay Anderson reacted by proposing a Catholic equivalent to the Internet rule known as Godwin’s Law “for invocations of ‘the Scandal’ as a rhetorical device.”

“It would go something like this: ‘As a debate involving the Catholic Church (either a discussion about the Church specifically, or a discussion in which the Church is taking a position) grows longer, the probability of someone mentioning the sex scandal approaches one.’

“And then there’s its corollary: ‘Once such reference to the Scandal is made, whoever mentioned the Scandal has automatically “lost” whatever debate was in progress,’ ” writes Mr. Anderson, a former mayor of Columbia, Va.

“Perhaps the Scandal is still too recent,” he concludes. “But surely, at some point in time, such ad hominem argumentation against the Church and its teachings needs to be consigned to similar status as inappropriate Nazi comparisons.”

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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