It’s that glorious time of the week – Friday. So, here’s my recommendations of some interesting reads for this weekend that came up this past week…
- There were a number of excellent obituaries of Robert McNamara published upon his death. But what I would recommend would be reading this speech given in 1966 at the height of his power.
- Another speech worth reading is Mario Cuomo’s “Our Lady of the Law” speech from November 2007 which was published for the first time on this blog earlier in the week.
- Roger Cohen in the New York Times tries to express the insufficiency of online reporting aggregating news and media – as Andrew Sullivan and Nico Pitney did so usefully did during the Iranian protests. As these two journalists amassed tweets, photos, videos, news stories and every other bit of information about what was going on in Iran, Roger Cohen himself was in Tehran having evaded the Iranian censors. He went to the protests, interviewed the protesters, ran from basij with them. What I could see then was that while what Sullivan and Pitney were doing was new and unique – and extremely useful for understanding what was happening, it was missing a certain urgency that Cohen was able to provide with his bylines from Tehran. So he writes here about the “actual responsibility” of the journalist – to “bear witness:
“Not everyone realizes,” Weber told students, “that to write a really good piece of journalism is at least as demanding intellectually as the achievement of any scholar. This is particularly true when we recollect that it has to be written on the spot, to order, and that it must create an immediate effect, even though it is produced under completely different conditions from that of scholarly research. It is generally overlooked that a journalist’s actual responsibility is far greater than the scholar’s.”
Yes, journalism is a matter of gravity. It’s more fashionable to denigrate than praise the media these days. In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.
The rest is no more than ornamentation.
To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.
No news aggregator tells of the ravaged city exhaling in the dusk, nor summons the defiant cries that rise into the night. No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt.
- Robert Patterson in Foreign Policy brings some measured historical analysis to what would happen if Iran got the bomb.
- Robert Kaplan in The Atlantic explains how the Sri Lankan government was able to achieve a monumental victory over a terrorist group – and also why America should not imitate its methods in any way. He concludes bleakly:
So is there any lesson here? Only a chilling one. The ruthlessness and brutality to which the Sri Lankan government was reduced in order to defeat the Tigers points up just how nasty and intractable the problem of insurgency is. The Sri Lankan government made no progress against the insurgents for nearly a quarter century, until they turned to extreme and unsavory methods.
- David Brooks wrote about dignity:
In so doing, [George Washington] turned himself into a new kind of hero. He wasn’t primarily a military hero or a political hero. As the historian Gordon Wood has written, “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”