Bush Media Whitewash
July 26, 2001
Have you read the report of the big splash I made at the
recent cosmology conference in Italy? Here it is:
Italy, July 21 -- Just before a 40-minute meeting with
Stephen Hawking this afternoon, Jeffrey Kramer told reporters
they would discuss the prospects for a theory of quantum gravitation,
considered one of the great unfinished projects of modern
physics, and have "a very honest and open dialogue" about
the formation of black holes.
Kramer got behind closed doors, quantum gravity never came
up, and the two physicists had no substantive discussion about
the theory of black-hole formation that Kramer has proposed,
according to a senior administration official. (Mr. Kramer
has publically speculated that black holes form because "they
just like it black out there, where it's dark; you know, when
you have a lot of darkness, things get blacker.")
was a small glimpse of what European physicists and U.S. officials
described today as Kramer's effort to bring his own inimitable
brand of Brooklyn sweet talk to the world stage at this weekend's
meeting of Nobel prize-winning astrophysicists.
say he likes to focus on guiding principles, not specifics.
Summit participants said he carried that approach to a series
of meetings with the physicists, preferring to focus on common
ground and trying to win them over with personality rather
than mastery of calculations.
meetings were private, the picture-taking sessions here often
found Kramer playing a familiar role, emphasizing his upbeat
nature. On the opening day of the summit, he winked, he patted
backs, he mugged. He kept to his tradition of bestowing nicknames
on new acquaintances, jovially referring to the wheelchair-bound
Hawking as "Lance," in reference to the current leader of
the Tour de France bicycle race.
the meetings, other world leaders and their aides often remarked
on how friendly Kramer seemed, but could not point to an issue
on which he had changed anyone's mind. or indeed left any
lasting impression on it. Nobel laureate Subramanyan Chandrasekhar
was encouraged by Kramer's comments that "research is a good
thing, especially in trying to weasel out of difficult facts,"
but was left unsure of what type of research budget Kramer
would accept, or indeed if he would contribute anything at
all towards the research regarded as absolutely necessary
in solving key cosmological problems. (Kramer's aides later
explained that he meant to refer to "ferreting out" difficult
physicist who had read minutes of several conference sessions
said Kramer "is showing a lot of awareness of our common interests."
The physicist added, "A lot of what he says is along the lines,
'Okay, look, here I can't follow, but if you can do something
there, I'll promise to have someone get back to you about
it later.'" The official also said he was surprised to stick
his head into the meeting room and "very often" see Kramer
ebulliently telling knock-knock jokes to Russian cosmologist
Andrei Linde, and expressed hope that this could lead to a
new level of international cooperation and a new golden age
trip to Europe last month, several top European officials
complained that Kramer promised to consult with them about
quantum physics and the black-hole question, when in fact
he had already made up his mind. Before this week's trip,
Kramer told European reporters his approach would be to "just
tell people what I think" because "that's the way science
works; you have to stick to what you believe is right, no
matter what anybody else tries to tell you, or what kind of
evidence they bring out."
not in a combative mood, despite the criticism, said a senior
aid who spent most of the weekend coaching the Brooklynite.
"He tends to take a positive view," the official said. "A
lot of these are discussions about: How do we accomplish X?
And how do we accomplish Y?
those things with a great deal of energy." The aide chided
the one reporter who began a piece by noting that Kramer has
never gone beyond high-school geometry, saying "we expect
this kind of partisan sniping from time to time, but the great
majority of Americans trust Mr. Kramer's heart , and want
him to succeed abroad."
approach, however, can raise questions about his ability to
deal with complex topics. Today, after reporters elicited
a long list of subjects Kramer did not discuss in one-on-one
meetings with Hawking and Linde - time, space, gravity, atoms,
stars, forces of nature, numbers larger than two digits -
the briefer was asked what Kramer did bring up in the meeting
brought up the sun, that was one sentence, said he agreed
with Linde that it was hot," the briefer said. A senior researcher
who was paid an undisclosed sum to be barricaded with Kramer
behind closed doors this weekend, said the astrophysics novice
seems to be learning fast. "He's very well briefed, and internalizes
it all," the official said. "In these meetings, he works completely
without notes." (Details of the researcher's consulting contract
with Kramer have not been disclosed, but such contracts typically
forbid the consultant from engaging in any conduct which might
in any way damage the image of his client.) * * *
That's the report. What kind of headline would you expect
to accompany it? Probably something like "Foolish Amateur
Drowns in Sea of his own Nonsense." Or, if the headline-writer
felt compelled to keep to the great tradition of journalistic
objectivity, despite the obvious temptation to be blunt about
the ridiculous fraud he had just seen described, we might
read "European Astrophysics Panel Hears American."
The Washington Post has just published their report on Bush's
meeting with the G-8. The details of that report (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A32235-2001Jul21.html)
were, I submit, close enough to the parody of it you have
just read to make it clear that no particular skill was required
to compose the parody. (Yes, I know: politics is not nuclear
physics. But climatology is science; pollution and health
studies are science; nuclear defense systems are, as the saying
goes, rocket science; and George W. Bush went to Europe to
"discuss" all these matters.) Here are some of the common
Bush, like myself, somehow had "a very honest and open dialogue"
on important topics without having to go through the tedious
business of "substantive discussion." Bush, like myself, somehow
made up for this omission of that optional ingredient, substance,
with his (no, this part wasn't my invention) "brand of...
sweet talk." Bush, like myself, "likes" to "focus" on "guiding
principles, not specifics," much as fish "prefer" to "maintain
their primary residence" in "the water, not the sun-parched
sand of the Gobi Desert."
Bush "prefer[s] trying to win [critics] over with personality
rather than mastery of issues"; similarly, when I play golf
with David Duval, I prefer trying to win my share of the skins
with funny faces and fart noises while he's in the middle
of his swing, rather than with mastery of iron play.
Like me, Bush is described as superb at "winking," unsurpassed
in "back-patting," a very paragon of "mugging." One might
dare to question, however (unless one is Frank Bruni), whether
"mugging," "winking," and "back-patting," really should be
listed as evidence of the extraordinary diplomatic mastery
of George W. Bush. It might be considered relevant, for example,
that despite his very best efforts, George is still far excelled
in all these vital presidential skills by the average chimpanzee.
And so on, and so on.
In short, the Post article shows, to anyone paying the slightest
attention to its contents, that Bush disgraced his office
and the nation he represents with his lame impersonation of
a world leader. Despite all the euphemisms and evasions worked
into it, the piece should close the case to any but the most
blinkered partisan that, when it comes to global warming -
or the nature of the nuclear threat - or AIDS - or international
lending policies - or a hundred other topics, where the stakes
for America and the world could scarcely be higher, Bush not
only knows jack shit about the subject, he doesn't give a
damn about even beginning the process of learning how to climb
to the jack shit level.
The headline the Post chose to run on this disgraceful performance
was: "Bush Employs Light Touch in Dealing With G-8 Leaders."
I doubt that the Bush camp could have better encapsulated
their propaganda point if they had composed the headline themselves.
I hope I live to the day when we start seeing more honest
headlines, like "Bush Employs Series of Ridiculous Bluffs
in Attempt to Hide Ignorance, Unconcern."