By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Condoleezza Rice

A morally repugnant ban against a journalist

Hollman Morris

This past March, Media Nation celebrated when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reversed a Bush-era ban on South African scholar Adam Habib, who had been prevented from traveling to the United States on unproven and undocumented charges that he was somehow tied to terrorism.

Now the Obama administration — and Clinton’s State Department — are doing what appears to be exactly the same thing to Hollman Morris, a Colombian journalist. Morris, the Washington Post reports, was recently denied a visa to enter the United States so that he could spend a year at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow.

Morris is not exactly a favorite of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a right-wing strongman with a miserable human-rights record. The Uribe government has accused Morris of playing nice with the FARC, a left-wing guerrilla movement whose viciousness is beyond question, and which the U.S. government regards as a terrorist organization. By most accounts, though, Morris is guilty of nothing but practicing journalism — which, in Uribe’s eyes, is bad enough.

Not to get all conspiratorial, but it should be noted that the Clintons have longstanding ties to Uribe. In fact, when then-presidential candidate Clinton’s chief political strategist, Mark Penn, was thrown overboard in April 2008, it was over his own unsavory dealings with the Uribe government.

What makes the ban against Morris especially repugnant is that, according to the Spanish news agency EFE, his and his family’s safety has been threatened, and he has been living “under protection” for quite some time. Now the Obama White House has placed him in even greater peril. Fortunately, Morris is currently traveling in Europe, and it sounds like he has no plans to return home anytime soon.

The ban against Habib appeared to be based on nothing more than his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq — hardly a novel view. The exclusion prevented Habib from speaking at an academic conference in Boston, a circumstance that led to a 2008 Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award for Condoleezza Rice and Michael Chertoff, then the secretaries of state and homeland security, respectively.

Likewise, in the absence of any evidence from the Obama administration, it appears that the ban against Morris is motivated by nothing more than a desire not to offend Uribe and the incoming president, Uribe protégé Juan Manuel Santos. Needless to say, Hillary Clinton is an early contender for a 2011 Muzzle.

More coverage: Nieman Foundation curator Robert Giles recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times on Morris’ behalf. The Boston Globe editorialized against the ban. Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab has a good round-up of other coverage. And we discussed the Morris case last Friday on “Beat the Press,” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

David Brooks almost gets it right

David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times is smart and useful in its treatment of the similarities between the national-security policies of President Obama and those of George W. Bush after 2003 (though I think a more reasonable date to pick would be 2005), and of the differences between the Bush team and Dick Cheney during the waning years of the Bush White House.

But Brooks misses entirely why Obama has been more successful in selling those policies. It’s not just that Obama is more skillful at it, and understands public leadership better than Bush ever did. More than anything, it’s that when Bush finally moved away from the abject failures of the Bush-Cheney years, they were his failures.

Bush may have begun doing the right thing — or, at least, he may have begun doing the wrong thing less often — but he no longer had any credibility. Thus, by the time Condoleezza Rice had begun moving foreign policy in a less-insane direction, Bush had already irretrievably cast himself as a malleable tool.

Nor are the choices Obama is making today — on Guantánamo, on torture photos, on military tribunals — the sorts of things that will gain any real support on their own merits. Rather, most reasonable people see them as the least-bad decisions he could make given the “mess” that he inherited from Bush, as he put it yesterday.

Again, not an argument Bush could have made.

David Gregory grooves one for Rice

Could David Gregory have possibly done a worse job in his interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on “Meet the Press” Sunday? More than anything, what stood out was the moment when he made her own false point for her, sparing her the trouble of having to do it herself:

GREGORY: Let’s talk about Iraq. The president’s final visit there as president happening just a week ago today, and what became, obviously, the most noticed image of that trip was this press conference with the prime minister and a member of the press throwing his shoes. As the president pointed out, as you’ve pointed out, certainly a sign of freedom in Iraq.

RICE: Yes.

GREGORY: You got a press corps that can speak its mind and act the way it wants to act.

Notice that the Gregory quotes contain several English-like phrases, but that he is not actually speaking English. But to my point: Gregory cites the shoe-throwing incident as “a sign of freedom in Iraq,” following up with: “You got [sic] a press corps that can speak its mind and act the way it wants to act.”

Well, yes, for those members of the press who are willing to pay the consequences. The reporter who threw his shoes at Bush, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, was reportedly beaten so badly after the incident that there was blood on the floor.

Al-Zeidi was then hauled off to jail, where he sits to this day. He is scheduled to go on trial on Dec. 31, and could face as much as 15 years in prison, although such a harsh sentence is reportedly not likely.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. You can’t assault the head of state from another country, standing next to your prime minister, and face no consequences. For that matter, if an American reporter had stood up at a White House news conference and thrown his shoes at the president, he’d be in trouble, too.

But Gregory, rather than make those common-sense observations, chose instead to say something completely untrue, making the interview even easier for Rice than it otherwise would have been.

Then again, Gregory had scored the first major interview with the secretary of state since Vice President Dick Cheney publicly bragged about his role in promoting torture and in going to war regardless of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And Gregory didn’t ask Rice about Cheney’s statements, either.

Gregory is not off to a good start in his new role.

The conservative case against Palin

Charles Krauthammer makes it cogently. And I’ll add this: If McCain had, say, talked Condoleezza Rice into being his running mate, don’t you think McCain could spend the rest of the campaign writing his inaugural address? Even despite her deep involvement in Bush’s failures?

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