Monday, January 24, 2005

John L. Hess, a voice The Common Ills never highlighted (but should have)

Democracy Now! noted the passing of John Hess today:

John Hess 1917-2005: Veteran Journalist and Radio Commentator Dies at 87
Longtime journalist and radio commentator John Hess also died at the age of 87. For 24 years he worked at the New York Times. He was best known for his 1968 coverage of the Paris Peace talks, a major expose on nursing home corruption and for his writings as a food critic. We hear one of his radio commentaries on Pacifica station WBAI. [includes rush transcript]

The New York Times ran an obit on John Hess by Douglas Martin.

I'd love to tell you I was familiar with John Hess' writing, but I wasn't. Besides doing commentaries on WBAI, he also had started in his own blog in 2004: John L. Hess Dissents.
Hess called it the way he saw it and it was a pleasure to read his straight forward commentaries.
I'm going to provide a sample below because he dealt with a number of topics that have been brought up in e-mails.

On Judith Miller:

Yasir Arafat had a lot to answer for, but he did not deserve to be buried by the Times in an obituary by Judith Miller. It is as loaded with lies and distortions as her revelations about weapons of mass destruction. For a more balanced picture, check out Shimon Peres, the hawkish leader of Israel’s Labor party, in the Washington Post, or my own reporting, for the Times during the summer of 1970, which ended in what Palestinians call Black September.
In New York, by the way, the word Palestinian was not quite kosher. It implied that another ethnic group might claim a share of the land that Jehovah had awarded in perpetuity to William Safire. If you had to mention them, the preferred term was Arab -- pronounced Ay-rab in the red states. I shocked readers one day by calling Arafat a moderate in the Palestinian resistance. A blowhard, bossy, a terrible manager -- Texans might find the type familiar -- except that he was no draft dodger. As I relate, when he dithered his way into disaster in Amman, he grabbed a rocket launcher, tipped a car over and faced down a Jordanian tank. But contrary to Judith Miller, he did not target civilians, or take hostages, or hijack airliners. In fact, he expelled from the PLO the factions that committed those deeds. But he was an icon -- with that kaffiya over that Semitic cartoon of a face - so they blamed him for everything.
A myth repeated so often that it couldn’t be beaten to death with a stick is the legend that Arafat turned down an offer of nearly everything the Palestinians were asking for. He was offered nothing. Bill Clinton invited him to agree in advance to a plan that included a map that looked like fly-paper, with hundreds of settlements crisscrossed by highways and checkpoints reserved for settlers. Arafat wanted to negotiate -- like buying a rug. But all the pressure was put on his side.
So now many world leaders are in Cairo, attending the funeral of the president of a state that we and Israel have never recognized. Millions of Moslems around the world are in mourning. And tomorrow, he will be laid to rest -- for now -- in the courtyard at Ramallah ringed by Israeli armor. Ariel Sharon has chuckled at this arrangement. It is nothing to laugh at.

A number of you e-mailed noting that Janeane Garofalo, Amy Goodman and Laura Flanders were among the few voices you heard attempting to address Arafat's history as opposed to the myth. Here was one more voice.

His coverage of the campaign raised issues that most of you felt were only raised only Democracy Now! and in Matthew Rothschild's "This Just In" (from The Progressive web site).
Hess was addressing those same topics. Here he is on August 19, 2004:

Here’s Bush proposing to bring some troops home -- and Kerry saying that’s reckless. Here’s a key Republican in the House saying he wouldn’t have voted for the war if he knew what he knows now, and here’s Kerry saying HE would have -- and what’s more, if he’s elected, he may send MORE troops to Iraq.
You’d think the Republicans would want to forget about Vietnam, but they’re making an uproar over Kerry’s record there. They say five medals are too many. Somebody asked Dick Cheney about his five draft deferments. He said he had other priorities. And guess who got the bigger hand from the Veterans of Foreign Wars?
Play the reel backward. We’re on high alert for a terrorist attack here, so the FBI and the police are going around taking names of pacifists. They say Ted Kennedy turned up on a no-fly list. He got aboard but a lot of grandmas have run into trouble at airports.
Our mayor is terribly concerned about the damage they might do to the grass, especially when the Republicans come to town. He offers us a discount on admission to the zoo if we behave.And talk about reeling backward, the Times replaced the great Barbara Eherenreich from her guest spot on the Op-Ed page and turned it over to one Dahlia Lithwick -- who claims to be a Democrat and says we lose votes by making fun of George Dubya. takes her column apart today in a most entertaining way. Yes, we can laugh at the news, if we reel it backward.

Here he is on September 8, 2004 discussing the rising body count and the Kerry campaign:

For those of us who were around then, the current debate is like a replay fast-forward. Great demonstrations, thousands finding imaginative ways to dramatize their cause, despite police repression. Already, some veterans home from Iraq are reaching out to one another to form a peace movement like the one John Kerry led on his return from Vietnam.
It was his golden moment. He has tried to live it down - play the war hero over again. That’s been a disaster for him, and a disappointment for us -- but we’ve lived through that, too -- two national elections before the Vietnam war came to an end. This one should require only one.

On the Democratic Convention, July 28, 2004:

Dan Rather explained why the ratings were low -- the convention was a four-day infomercial. Every minute was scripted - every line vetted to peddle the product. So there would be no division, no contest. The only surprise was how disciplined the performance would turn out. There was Howard Dean, declaring that the whole party was now one Democratic wing -- a strange bird indeed. There was the party platform, calling for guns and SUV’s and war without end. There was the keynote speaker -- no, the real keynote speaker was Bill Clinton, who directed the show. There was the designated keynoter, denying that he was an African-American, saying there were no Afro or Latino or Asian Americans any more - only Americans. That of course is an argument against affirmative action. Barack Obama came close to making that argument -- calling on poor mothers to bring their kids up right. He’s an attractive figure, already being talked of as a rising star, which reminds me of Colin Powell -- no overriding passion for peace and justice.
The infomercial was heavily infused with tributes to our brave warriors, beginning with Kerry himself. Again and again we were reminded of their heroism -- never about the crimes of even a few bad apples. The word torture was never heard -- nor did anybody count the Iraqi dead. But the real war continued to make the evening news, if not the convention.
It should be said that there was one departure from the Clinton script. That was by Ted Kennedy, reminding us that the New Deal gave us minimum wage, overtime pay, Social Security, the right to organize, public housing and much more -- all things now under fire -- all things that people will continue to fight for.

Also on July 28, 2004:

Look, the seizure of power by Bush has brought so much grief that we simply have to defeat him. But let’s not glorify what went before. Clinton and Gore came to New York 12 years ago as New Democrats, pledged to end welfare as we knew it and cut out that taxing and spending, and to be tough on crime. On the way, the governor stopped in Little Rock to execute a man with half a brain, who asked a keeper to save his pie for breakfast. Clinton also found a pretext to insult Jesse Jackson on his home turf. The myth says he won by pitching to the Reagan Democrats, but in truth he ran quite badly -- worse in fact than Michael Dukakis. He squeaked through only because late in the campaign he picked up the cause of universal health care. Then he turned it over to Hillary, and it was goodbye care, hello HMO’s. The Democrats promptly lost Congress, and state houses and city halls across the land.

A number of you have e-mailed asking whether I personally thought the press did a better job in 2004 than they did in 2000? I think they did a poor job both times. To focus on 2004, if a candidate (any, including third party candidates) spoke about health care, social security, living wage, etc., the mainstream press reported it as "Candidate X gave a speech on issues. The term ___ was used 17 times in the speech . . ." The issue itself was rarely noted and, when it was noted, the plan for addressing it was absent from the coverage. (Matt Taibbi's has addressed this at length.)

Did the press get in their cackles at John Kerry's expense the way they did Al Gore? That's open to debate. Gore's character and statements were questioned and ridiculed. Kerry's character, statments and past actions were questioned and ridiculed. I'll personally call it a draw. (But allow that "concern" was the entry way for "examining" Kerry, whereas "snide" was just acceptable when "reporting" on Gore. I believe it was Margaret Carlson -- then with Time magazine, now with the LA Times -- who explained it best when she stated that it was just so much fun to glom on Al Gore.)

If someone's claiming Kerry had it easier than Gore, they're judging by a different set of standards than I am. (Which is their right.) And, my opinion, they're forgetting how the mainstream allowed the administration to repeatedly shape the message.

Which goes to this post by Hess on August 4, 2004:

The Democrats were making a big deal about John Kerry’s pluck in Vietnam, while Dubya Bush was playing hookie back home. So somebody dug up an old laptop that belonged to one of Osama bin Laden’s pack. Four years ago, he put these five buildings down as possible targets. No further mention has been found, but the White House turned it into a delayed action bomb -- serving Osama well because it cost us millions in police measures, and serving Dubya well because it transferred voters’attention from Kerry’s pluck to ours. David Brooks makes a further point: He writes in the Times that being plucky in the field doesn’t make a man a good commander -- that after all, nearly all the men who led us into war with Iraq were chicken hawks, like Brooks himself. Case closed.

While Gore was the subject of personal character attacks started by the RNC and enforced by the media, he wasn't dealing with an administration shaping the "news." To claim that 2004 was better than 2000 is (in my opinion) a gross misunderstanding of the way the mainstream media abdicated their role of analysis. (Paul Krugman's addressed this topic much better than I can.)

Hess on August 12, 2004:

Does this mean that they’re both [the New York Times and the Washington Post] going straight? Don’t hold your breath. Here’s a Times editorial that scolds protesters for refusing to be penned up like cattle behind barbed wire during the Republican convention. It says, heck, the Mayor even offered to water them. You can look it up.
The Times also reports that Rudy Giuliani is taking a big role in the campaign. He’s there to downplay the loopy conduct of George Bush and company on September 11th. We’re supposed to think instead of an heroic Republican mayor -- America’s mayor -- taking charge at Ground Zero. In all of its soul-searching, the Times has never seriously examined how Giuliani’s conduct really affected what happened on that awful day. So now he’s playing hero again.

On August 25, 2004:

John Kerry is still trying to live down his condemnation of our war in Vietnam. At Cooper Union last night, where Abe Lincoln once condemned our aggression against Mexico, Kerry said “I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president.” But he did not defend this country in Vietnam. After all, we lost that war. The Communists won, and they haven’t given us a bit of trouble since. So what was he defending?That’s a point being made by pacifists, who are coming to town in large numbers. They oppose violence even in self-defense. Their movement began as a faith-based doctrine - “turn the other cheek.” Now our home security forces have been mobilized in record numbers to keep this germ from infecting the celebration of war at the Garden.
The Times, in its inimitable way, gently scolds both sides - the mayor, for not letting peace-lovers march past the Garden or assemble on the Great Lawn , and the peace lovers for refusing to let him pin them up over by the Hudson. It said they should “accept whatever disappointments come their way with dignity.”Well no, I think they will respond with indignation, determination and imagination. Think about Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, and the Selma bus boycott, and the sitdowns at lunch counters. A word of warning, though. Any large crowd will draw some trouble-makers. This one is likely to be penetrated by provocateurs. We know from long experience that the dirty tricksters will stop at nothing. Peace demonstrators must do all they can to isolate them, get in their way if need be, and try to persuade the media ihat we are not there to break windows or hurt anybody. On the contrary, peace is what we’re about..

On August 31, 2004:

Last weekend, Dubya blurted another truth in an interview in which he said "I don’t think you can win the war on terror." It flatly contradicted what he‘d been reciting on the campaign trail all along. The interview was held for release over the weekend, but there was not a peep from the White House until Sunday night, when it babbled that he was misquoted or quoted out of context. By now, they’re saying he doesn’t mean that at all. Talk about your flip-flops.They remind me of another old line, about the fellow who complains to his shopmates that he caught his wife and a stranger in a compromising situation. So then what happened? "Aw, she lied out of it." With our media, they can lie their way out of anything.

On CBS' 60 Minutes II and where the emphasis of the press should be (September 17, 2004):

Just so, the media is stomping all over Dan Rather for a crime committed by Dubya Bush. Somebody seems to have slipped. Rather a doctored copy of a memo that seems actually to have existed. The secretary of the Texas National Guard says its commander actually did write memos like that to cover his backside. They said Bush jumped the line to get into the Guard and avoid serving in Vietnam, and then took off for Alabama where he never showed up for drill or the required medical exam. So he was playing hookey from playing hookey, and never did earn an honorable discharge. But it’s poor Dan Rather who’ll be taking the heat from the media this weekend -- while news from Dubya’s war front continues to be catastrophic.

On what the media chose to emphasize (September 13, 2004):

The Bushies, who have a lot of experience with fakery, claim this one was done on a typewriter that did not exist. Experts consulted by Dan Rather found that the army did so have lots of machines that used that type face. In any case, what the memo said was obviously true -- Dubya played hooky from playing hooky -- that is, not only did he wangle his way into the Texas National Guard to dodge serving in Vietnam but he also dodged months of flight training and a required physical. So his alleged honorable discharge is a phony. And what were the media chattering about? Whether John Kerry’s war medals were phony.There’s worse. Dick Cheney warned us that to elect John Kerry would invite even worse atrocities in this country than 9-11. And that came in for serious discussion, too.

On covering the debates (October 4, 2004):

Four days gone by and still the Times couldn’t bring itself to say Bush lost the first round. They cut down whole forests to cover the story, but it was with a blanket of gray ink.
The Times Bushman David Brooks spent a whole column blowing up smoke. Every paragraph contradicted the one before it and the one after it -- if they meant anything (it’s not always clear). He ended by suggesting that our moral nation may embrace a candidate who may not dominate every argument, but who can show a shared cast of mind.

On Iraq (September 14, 2004):

Our pundits keep talking about our dilemma, but a dilemma implies two choices. We don’t have two choices. There is no way that an occupied country can be turned into an obedient colony or a happy democracy. Those who lied us into this war know that. They just can’t figure out a way to get out. Besides, they’re making money out of it. So they hang on for the next election, the next four years; some have talked of staying the course for the next 20 years.

On Iraq (September 21, 2004):

The Times says hurrah! -- we’ve now had "the start of the kind of serious and useful debate the American people deserve." Well, goody, but how did the two opponents differ?We’ve been here before, in another war that everybody now admits to have been -- to put it kindly -- a mistake. In 1968 the contender, Richard Nixon, implied that he had a plan to get out. Four years later, he said he WAS getting out, by degrees. Today, neither guy has any plan but to stay the course.

On Iraq (November 22, 2004):

It was a nice bit of timing. Our troops were getting bad publicity around the world again, over the killing of unaarmed Iraqis -- so a Times man embedded with those marines, got off a dithyramb about their courage and dedication. They’d occupied this famous mosque and shot it full of holes. Then a marine began to climb the minaret and was fatally wounded. Did they leave him there? Not our heroes. A buddy came from behind and carried him out of there. Now, up in that minaret was a man without a helmet, without body armor, with only an AK-47 . Call him what you like -- an insurgent, a terrorist, a suicidal -maniac -- he’s surely dead by now, but his fate got no mention at all.

Hess is referring, in the passage above, to a report by Dexter Filkens (we weighed in on Filkens' report in "It's Just Another Day, Another Episode").

On the "values" nonsense (November 30, 2004):

What is troubling is how progressives have bought the complaint tbat we’ve been mean to believers. In truth, we’ve been happy to fight alongside movements like Witness for Peace -- and shared jail cells with them. It is a grave mistake to believe that we should imitate the Brookses and pretend we sympathize with churchgoers who hold, like Stott and Dubya, that to abort a pregnancy is an act of murder. That is not the way we’re going to win elections, and not the way we want to win. That is -- hypocrisy -- not our party at all.

On Nader (September 27, 2004):

Now, Nader can be recognized anywhere in the world as the man who fought the big corporations and saved tens of thousands of lives, perhaps hundreds of thousands, on car safety alone. [Alexander] Cockburn suggests that he fly to the Middle East and call for an end to killing and torture and hostage taking on all sides. And in this country, he should continue to show up wherever jobs are being outsourced under treaties that Nader long opposed. That way, Nader can take part in the presidential debates, even if he must do it from the sidewalk outside. Where he should be joined by many other Americans whose interests are not represented by the men on stage. Which is to say the mass of America’s working people.

There is so much strong writing, so much straight talk, to be found here. He writes on the Times' coverage of Venezuela many times. Here's one example from July 22, 2004:

One more merit badge for the Times today. It apologizes for saying that Venezuela’s leftwing president, Hugo Chavez, faced a recall because he was accused of electoral fraud. It admits that a commission headed by Jimmy Carter cleared his election. Chavez won by an overwhelming majority, but the Bush administration, which did not, has never let up on its effort to overthrow him. Neither has the Times. The story is one of the darker chapters in its history. Today’s confession offers at least a glimmer of light.

The Common Ills is a resource/review for our community. Ideally, we should be highlighting voices that aren't being heard or aren't being heard as loudly over the chattering gatekeepers. Finding Nancy Chang's book Silencing Dissent was a big moment for me. Going online and finding sites like Media Whores Online, Bartcop, BuzzFlash, The Daily Howler and Media Channel exposed very important voices to me. (And still can and do except for MWO which is no more.)

Two members bailed a few weeks back. They repeated in their final e-mails their feelings that
I pushed Democracy Now! and David Corn (I'm still trying to figure out when I'd pushed David Corn in the early months, I've never found anything on him on the site until I noted that I didn't believe I'd pushed him) . I do push Democracy Now! and other than those two members, there's been only positive feedback about the fine work that Democracy Now! does. (As Marcia notes, it's "always worth watching.") Others have felt I've pushed Air America Radio. (Though no one has left over that.) When a number of you felt Al Franken was attacking Arafat, a flood of e-mails came in but no one wanted to be quoted. If you had wanted to be quoted, your voice would have been heard. (I can't weigh in on what I don't listen to. I did note that Joe Conason did a great job when he co-hosted and filled in for Franken.)

This is our community and we're open to voices of the left. That means your voice (if you're comfortable with being quoting) and the voices of people who are speaking to you. All you have to do is e-mail it in.

I didn't know about John L. Hess until today. Reading his blog today, I realized that there was a voice we should have been recognizing and that his death is a great loss. Let's work together to make sure that we're aware of other voices while they're with us.

And please take the time to check out John L. Hess: Dissents because I've highlighted based on topics that the e-mails generally revolve around. I didn't find a post that bored me. Each one was a joy to read.

I'll take all the blame for never highlighting the fine work of John L. Hess. His was a voice I'd never known of. There are many such voices, so please weigh in when you read something or hear something (or even see it on TV) so that we can all share it. If it's a voice that speaks to someone, great. If it doesn't, well at least that person is now aware the voice is out there.

I'm honestly ashamed that I didn't know of Hess and that I'm writing this entry to praise his work after he's dead. If we leave it up to me to choose whom to highlight, that's a mistake that will happen often. So please e-mail anytime you come across a voice who speaks to you. (The e-mail address is