Notes on a time of crisis

September 29, 2001

On the same day that the President goes on a p.r. offensive to convince Americans that it's safe to fly, he gives two generals authority to shoot down civilian airliners if necessary.

Can you say "mixed signals"?

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Disturbing incidents, as related in today's New York Times:

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Community reaction was swift and furious when the newspaper columnists in Texas City, Tex., and Grants Pass, Ore., criticized the president's actions the day of the attacks.

Tom Gutting, the columnist for The Texas City Sun, wrote that the president was "flying around the country like a scared child, seeking refuge in his mother's bed after having a nightmare."

The paper received scores of letters and phone calls. Les Daughtry Jr., the publisher of The Sun, later apologized on the front page saying, the column had made him sick. "The opinion piece which I refer to was not appropriate to publish during this time our country and our leaders find themselves in." Mr. Gutting lost his job...

In Oregon, Dan Guthrie, 61, said that on Monday he was called into the office of Dennis Mack, publisher of The Daily Courier in Grants Pass, and fired for a column criticizing the president, saying he "skedaddled" after the attacks.

Mr. Mack said in a telephone interview of the offending column, "we felt it turned into a personal attack as opposed to expanding the concept of the president being on the front line."

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Fired for criticizing the president. Jesus Christ. And so begins the kneejerk wartime assault on freedom of speech. You either bite your tongue or you lose your job. We don't need censorship mandated from above, we're all too happy to impose it on ourselves-- at precisely the moment we can least afford it.

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My work is syndicated to many newspapers, so there's no one editor who can "fire" me. I can, and probably will, lose papers--even the weeklies are vulnerable to advertiser boycotts and so on--but that's just an occupational hazard. It will not affect the content of my work. As long as I am allowed to speak my mind, I will continue to do so--and if you think that's overly dramatic, go back and re-read the preceding paragraphs.

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There was a sense over the last few years that politics just weren't all that important, that everyone was too busy pursuing their dot-com dreams to pay attention to those tedious political types in Washington. Meaningless self-referentiality became the flavor of the month. The world would take care of itself, the only common frame of reference we needed were old Brady Bunch episodes.

Well, gosh, you know what? Politics matter. And anyone who doesn't get that now needs to have a friend grasp them firmly by the shoulders and try to pull their head out of their ass.

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Sorry this one's so short. It's been a long week. I'm taking a few days off next week--a vacation delayed by the attack--so posting may be sporadic.

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