Saturday, February 25, 2006


With Iraq burning (there was a lot more violence today, despite the curfew) and Bush refusing to reconsider the ports deal, what do you think the front-page story in the New York Post is today?

John Gotti's love child.

You might say that's just because the Post is a right-wing Murdoch paper and both the Iraq situation and the ports deal are embarrassments for Republicans -- but the Daily News also has the love child. And yesterday the big story was about some guys who ran a body-parts ring. (The News had that one on the cover, too.)

These are classic tabloid tales -- but this is New York. We took the big hit on 9/11. New Yorkers may not buy the argument that Iraq was an appropriate reaction to 9/11, but we know that's what it was meant to be. And the port story obviously is tied to 9/11.

But these stories are being downplayed in the tabs -- in the tabs, mind you, not in the Times, the paper of brunch-eating liberals who are forever being accused of having "forgotten 9/11" and having "a September 10 mentality." We're paying attention. But the editors of the tabs think Joe Sixpack isn't.

With regard to Iraq, are the editors acknowledging what Frank Rich argued last summer -- that, for the American people, the Iraq War is already over, that people began to realize it was a hopeless cause and started to tune out? Perhaps.

But I think it's also that the war on terror and Iraq could, in the past, seem like nice clean stories of good and evil, and they aren't anymore. We fought (we were told) to free the plucky Iraqis, long under Saddam's boot, and then we fought the evil insurgents -- but now the Saddamists and the anti-Saddamists, the evil insurgents and the victims of the insurgents, are killing one another, and our troops, our heroes, are doing ... what exactly? Apparently staying at middle distance, close enough to die in significant numbers, but apparently not able to do much to quell the violence. Not able to, or, perhaps more accurately, expected not to -- after all, aren't Iraqis supposed to be standing up so our troops can stand down?

And the port story must seem incomprehensible to a lot of people. If Joe Sixpack thought he could count on one thing, it's that George W. Bush would be a cowboy, a tough guy -- he might not aim at the right target, but he was always going to take a shot at somebody who looked at America crosswise. That myth has seemed nearly bulletproof -- it survived the failure to get bin Laden and it survived two years of insurgency in Iraq. I think people still believe it -- but the port story just seems to contradict it completely.

If Joe Sixpack were really ready to accept Democrats as his new John Waynes, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton on the white charger in place of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, the civil war and the ports might be choice tabloid stories. But we're not there yet, and I don't know if we ever will be. So, in the tabs, it's almost as if 9/11 and the Bush era never happened.

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