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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Nancy Kruh

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Nancy Kruh

Last Build Date: Wed, 03 May 2006 12:06:36 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Bob Herbert's Single Note

Wed, 03 May 2006 12:06:36 -0600

We all know about the drumbeat of war. Well, this is the drumbeat of Bob Herbert's war commentary: war bad, Bush bad, war bad, Bush bad. As my mother said five minutes into watching a performance of cloggers, "I think I get the idea." I wouldn't hold Herbert up for such criticism - it's unrealistic not to expect some repetition in any columnist dealing with an ongoing issue - except for the fact that, he has written so often, he almost can't avoid repeating himself. Of his 290 bylines since March 2004, 128 (about 44 percent) have included a substantial portion devoted to some aspect of the war and its ancillary issues (what he refers to religiously as "the so-called war on terror"). This figure doesn't include the columns that mentioned the war or Bush's handling of it simply in passing (of which there are many), and I also threw out columns that only glanced off the issue, such as his Dec. 15 tribute to anti-war icon Eugene McCarthy. How extraordinary is this amount? For comparison's sake, I took a look at two other columnists, Herbert's New York Times colleague Thomas L. Friedman and The Washington Post's Richard Cohen. Friedman, of course, specializes in foreign affairs, and both journalists keep the war and terrorism on their short list of go-to topics. Here's how the three match up for the 12 months of 2005: Friedman wrote 33 of his 86 columns, or 38 percent, on the war and terrorism (though I excluded his columns that dealt with Middle East politics in general). Cohen - who has flagellated himself many times over for his early support of the war - wrote 29 out of 95 columns, or 30 percent. Herbert wrote 49 out of 95, or 51 percent. In June and August 2005, six out of his nine columns were Iraq-related; in May '05, six out of eight. During these 12 months, Friedman actually traveled to Iraq (and, for that matter, published The World is Flat). Though Herbert has staked out the military's role as a major topic of interest, he has never reported from the battle zone. More recently, it seemed Herbert was pulling himself away from the topic during the first three months of 2006 (only six out of 23 columns), but after coming off a two-week vacation in early April, he's brought his numbers back up. As of Monday, May 1, four of his past five columns are on Iraq. Maybe, you could argue, the man has simply carved out a speciality. The war and terrorism are complicated topics. There's a lot to cover. True, but if that were the case, why does he keep covering the same ground? Yes, most of the columns are off some news development - the 2000th military casualty, Rep. John Murtha's opposition to the war, Abu Ghraib - but to a troubling degree, they seem to disintegrate into the same tired refrains. To truly appreciate the redundancies, you have to read the columns in their entirety. And if you do, you'll start to notice the patterns - his fixations on Condi Rice's specter of "mushroom clouds," on Gen. Eric Shinseki's questionable departure, on Dick Cheney's promise the troops would be "greeted as liberators," but most of all on Bush's "campaign of deceit," his arrogance, his questionable grasp on reality, his lack of an exit strategy. Here's just a glimpse of his obsession with Bush's swagger: May 8, 2003: "While our 'What, me worry?' president is having a great time with his high approval ratings and his 'Top Gun' fantasies, the economy remains in the tank." July 31, 2003: "For the Bushes and the Rumsfelds, this is a grand imperial adventure, with press-conference posturing and wonderful photo-ops, like the president's 'Top Gun' moment on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln." Sept. 19, 2003: "Republicans are not eager to have the general's career contrasted with the military misadventures of George W. Bush, who ... celebrated the alleged end to major combat in Iraq by staging his very own 'Top Gun' fantasy aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln." April 2, 2004: "The president's giddily choreographed 'Top Gun' spectacle was designed to take full public relations advantage of his triumphant an[...]