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May 11, 2004

It's Reality, Stupid

At Newsweek and MSNBC, Jonathan Alter throws out some nice, sane image theory regarding Washington's top image warriors:

The assumption last week in Washington was that the damage from this fiasco in the Arab world will last for 50 years, as Sen. Jack Reed put it. For all the power of the humiliating images to confirm the worst assumptions about the United States and strip away its moral authority, this seems exaggerated. Pictures play powerfully on emotions, but emotions—when they don't involve immediate family—are not often enduring. They can change depending on the next pictures and the next sequence of decisions and events. The images from Vietnam—searing as they were—were ultimately a reflection of the policy failures, not the cause of them, and the hatred expressed by Vietnamese toward the Americans who bombed them lasted only a few years. The same goes for Iraq and the Middle East. Just because the damage is done doesn't mean that it cannot, over time, be undone. The problem is whether we have the right leadership to undo it.
Take one Donald Rumsfeld. First, he and President Bush and the rest of the war cabinet ignored Colin Powell's presentation of the Red Cross's evidence of abuses in Iraqi prisons. Then Rumsfeld went on the "Today" show to say he didn't have time to read the long report on Abu Ghraib (what else was so important?) but that "anyone who sees the photographs does, in fact, apologize." Anyone? Who is "anyone"? It wasn't until his job was on the line and he bothered to finally view the pictures that he delivered a proper apology before Congress. Rumsfeld said that it was the pictures that made him realize the seriousness of the reported behavior—the "words [in Pentagon reports] don't do it." But high-level government officials should be capable of responding to horrible abuses under their authority without audio-visual aids. They're paid to make decisions on words and facts and right and wrong, not just on the emotional punch of pictures—or how something might look if it came out. Character, we know, is what you do when you think no one is watching.

"It's Reality, Stupid"
Posted by Dan at 12:11 AM

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Referenced in this post:

Newsweek: The Picture the World Sees—Jonathan Alter