Toby Keith, Country Star and Demagogue - September 11, 2003

Times Watch for September 11, 2003

Toby Keith, Country Star and Demagogue

Ben Ratliff reviews a concert by country superstar Toby Keith for Wednesdays Arts section thats headlined: Keepin the Nation Strong, the Gals Quiet.

Ratliff seems uncomfortable with Keiths assertive patriotism. His review of Keiths Holmdel, NJ, concert begins: Toby Keith's country-music persona surrounds him like welded steel: a beefy, rakish farm boy who lives by intuitive certainties. And in his remarkably well written songs, which have improved as he gets deeper into his 40's, he keeps introducing himself by telling you what he likes and what he dislikes. Thumbs up: slow-going living, his country and its armed forces, his favorite bar, the memory of his father, freedom (a key word in the lexicon) and women whose words are consistent with their actions. Thumbs down: fast and complicated living, most other countries, women who send mixed messages and women who talk too much. (What is it with the Times insistence on putting the word freedom in contemptuous quotation marks?)

Ratliff continues: He spread his retributive politics thick, invoking his country in between-song asides where it wasn't strictly necessary. Of course, Times reviewers hardly complain when left-leaning bands spread redistributive, as opposed to retributive, politics. Echoing the maxim that Theres a sucker born every minute, Ratliff writes, [Keith] has grasped that an entertainer seldom goes broke by playing Captain America. Toward the end of the show he switched to a stars-and-stripes guitar to play Merle Haggard's Fightin' Side of Me, a dove-baiting song that fits perfectly in Mr. Keith's repertory, and his own Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American), easily the most belligerent popular song to have been written after Sept. 11.

Finally, Ratliff notes with relief that Keith dedicates one song to the potency of Willie Nelsons marijuana: That one was relieving, in a way: it reminded you that Mr. Keith, despite all his demagoguery, is just a musician.

For the rest of Ben Ratliffs review of the Toby Keith concert, click here.

The Times Gets Standards

On Wednesday the Times announced the appointment of Assistant Managing Editor Allan Siegal as the paper's first standards editor. Reporter Jacques Steinberg explains: Mr. Siegal will organize training sessions for new reporters and editors in fact-checking, overall accuracy and ethics, as well as oversee the writing of new guidelines on using unidentified sources and on byline and dateline policies. In addition, he will follow up on complaints that are received or initiated by the newspaper's public editor, or reader representative, soon to be appointed. The creation of the standards editor is a response to issues raised last May, when The Times acknowledged that one of its reporters, Jayson Blair, had committed acts of journalistic fraud, including plagiarism and the fabrication of quotations, in at least three dozen articles.

For more on Siegals appointment and the Times new standards editor position, click here.

Everyone Hates Us, And Its All Bushs Fault

Thursdays front-page story by Richard Bernstein is headlined Foreign Views of U.S. Darken After Sept. 11. Guess whose fault it is?

The story, written by Bernstein with contributions from ten (countem, ten) other Times reporters, opens: In the two years since Sept. 11, 2001, the view of the United States as a victim of terrorism that deserved the world's sympathy and support has given way to a widespread vision of America as an imperial power that has defied world opinion through unjustified and unilateral use of military force.In interviews by Times correspondents from Africa to Europe to Southeast Asia, one point emerged clearly: The war in Iraq has had a major impact on public opinion, which has moved generally from post-9/11 sympathy to post-Iraq antipathy, or at least to disappointment over what is seen as the sole superpower's inclination to act pre-emptively, without either persuasive reasons or United Nations approval. To some degree, the resentment is centered on the person of President Bush, who is seen by many of those interviewed, at best, as an ineffective spokesman for American interests and, at worst, as a gunslinging cowboy knocking over international treaties and bent on controlling the world's oil, if not the entire world.

Among the several anti-Americans quoted is a Frenchman, Jean-Charles Pogram, 45, a computer technician, who says: The United States can't see beyond the axiom that force can solve everything, but Europe, because of two world wars, knows the price of blood. (For a country that knows nothing about the price of blood, the U.S. certainly shed a lot on Frances behalf during World War II.)

Later Bernstein writes: Gone are the days, two years ago, when 200,000 Germans marched in Berlin to show solidarity with their American allies, or when Le Monde, the most prestigious French newspaper, could publish a large headline, We Are All Americans.

But as Fouad Ajami notes in Foreign Policy (in a useful corrective to the Times credulous acceptance of foreign criticism), such sympathy was exaggerated: But even Colombani's column, written on so searing a day, was not the unalloyed message of sympathy suggested by the title. Ajami goes on to note how by December, There was nothing to admire in Colombani's United States, which had run roughshod in the world and had been indifferent to the rule of law. Colombani described the U.S. republic as a fundamentalist Christian enterprise, its magistrates too deeply attached to the death penalty, its police cruel to its black population.

Twice the Times suggests that going to the United Nations would boost the opinion of the U.S. overseas: The subject of America in the world is of course complicated, and the nation's battered international image could improve quickly in response to events. The Bush administration's recent turn to the United Nations for help in postwar Iraq may represent such an event. Even at this low point, millions of people still see the United States as a beacon and support its policies, including the war in Iraq, and would, given the chance, be happy to become Americans themselves.

Later, Bernstein writes the possible UN move indicates Bush may finally see the need for restraint: We would love to see America as a self-limiting superpower, said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a former Polish defense minister. Perhaps the administration's decision to turn to the United Nations to seek a mandate for an international force in Iraq reflects a new readiness to exercise such restraint. The administration appears to have learned that using its power in isolation can get very expensive very quickly.

For the rest of Richard Bernsteins story on how everyone hates the U.S., click here.

Next Week: A Plague of Locusts

Thursdays follow-up story by David Halbfinger on Alabamas anti-tax vote, With Tax Plan Rejected, Alabama Braces for Cuts, sees grim tidings in voters rejection of Gov. Bob Rileys huge tax hike: Today, as legislative leaders emerged ashen-faced from a meeting with Mr. Riley on the extent of the fiscal crisis, it appeared that his dire forecasts would come about: prisoners turned loose, nursing-home patients turned out and schoolchildren denied textbooks.

For more of the anti-tax aftermath from Alabama, click here.