Saturday, August 23, 2008

Profile in Cowardice

Last month I wrote a post suggesting Senator Edward Kennedy as a latter-day example of a politician worthy of the title of his late brother's book, Profiles in Courage. Today the Associated Press provided us with a fascinating report about the other side of that coin:

The city manager of Golden, Colo., has decided to withdraw his invitation to let the Al-Jazeera news network broadcast from a barbecue in his backyard on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.

City manager Mike Bestor has apologized for any divisiveness he caused in the city of about 18,000, about 15 miles west of Denver.

Bestor made his decision after a City Council meeting Thursday at which residents complained the event with the English-language service of the Middle East news network would be disrespectful to veterans and active U.S. soldiers.

The first question that comes to mind is: "Was Bestor familiar with the content of Al Jazeera English-language news broadcasts?" Put another way, did he have at least a vague idea of whom he had invited beyond a generic sense of non-American-television-views-American-behavior? If Bestor had no idea at all, then it would be safe to call him stupid and reckless; and, as the old saying goes, I wouldn't vote for him for dog catcher, let alone city manager. If he was familiar with Al Jazeera, then why didn't he ask any of those complaining residents if they had ever watched an Al Jazeera news broadcast?

I have now watched several of them. I have to do it through my computer, since Comcast still refuses to allocate a channel for them; and the connection through their Web site is not always the best. Nevertheless, unless one of my Public Television channels decides to run a BBC World Service News feed, it is far better than any other televised news that I can get in San Francisco on a Saturday. Most important is that Al Jazeera tends to be much better at objectivity than any of our network news puppets (and, for that matter, many BBC reporters). So I can state categorically that I have never heard anything on Al Jazeera that "would be disrespectful to veterans and active U. S. soldiers;" and I am confident that anyone else who has watched this source can make the same claim.

Therefore, if Bestor knew about Al Jazeera's standard for television news, why did he not stick up for them? Was he too much of a coward in the face of hostile voters, or did he just not have the data to defend Al Jazeera? Either way, he seems to be representing the worst qualities of those who voted for him, rather than the ideals to which they know they can aspire. In other words he is the model of all those dangers in our political system over which the Federalists agonized so long and hard.

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