Esquire — Blowing the Same Old War Trumpet

The July 2005 issue of Esquire celebrated “10 Men” — presumably, ideal men that other men (read: that pivotal 18-34 male demographic) can look up to. What was perhaps most shocking about this dubious fete was Thomas P.M. Barnett’s masturbatory article, “Old Man in a Hurry,” a profile that set aside any and all criticisms of the Secretary of Defense for such passages as:

RUMSFELD POPS OUT of his chair with the speed of the weekly squash player he still is at age seventy-three and strides over to shake my hand with a big, welcoming smile on his face, employing the enthusiastic, familiar tone one associates with longtime acquaintances. “Hey, how are ya? Nice to see ya!” I’m surprised by how short he is, as I can look right over his head.


This is a room you smoke cigars in and decide the fate of the free world.

and, in describing a conversation with a general

Then the general clinches the deal. “So I’ve finally figured out why we get along so well,” he says. “We’ve both run with the bulls at Pamplona!” Rumsfeld shrieks in delight and then launches into a fifteen-minute reverie about the time he ran with the bulls. And for fifteen glorious minutes, he put away the goddamn wire brush.

This cuddly avuncular approach, which makes no reference to Abu Grhaib or Guantanmo Bay, is rather astonishing for a magazine that cut its teeth in the 1960s on hard-hitting journalism that dared to expose and penetrate. And I, for one, will soon be writing a letter canceling my subscription for such a disgraceful piece of journalism.

What’s particularly interesting is that the writer of this article, Thomas P.M. Barnett, has a blog. What’s interesting is that rather than atoning for his inability to throw a baseball faster than a amicable lob, Barnett (who, no surprise, has kids to feed, making dealing with the devil more justifiable) has written a post expressing surprise that his efforts would be greeted with such outrage. He concludes, “I wanted to write up Rumsfeld in the way I saw him in history for the transformation process he has unleashed, not simply replicate the hundreds of articles that blame him for Iraq. My choice? Yes. Don’t like it? Fine. But criticize the choice without implying that the only way the man can get a profile that doesn’t crucify him is for the journalist to be fooled.”

Fair enough. But as Norman Solomon has argued, the overall questions to Rumsfeld haven’t exactly been hardball. In fact, as FAIR reports, during a September 18, 2002 interview with Donald Rumsfeld, Jim Lehrer failed to call Rumsfeld on factually inaccurate statements. And as Salon reported last December, it took ordinary soldiers to ask the tough questions that journalists typically shied away from.

It would seem to me that Barnett, far from taking the hard alternative route, settled for the same old song. And if Barnett, with his continued fatherly references to “the old man,” genuinely believes that he wasn’t fooled, why the deliberate efforts to portray this seventy-three year old man as some virile squash player? Why the continued masculine assertions? Why nothing in the way of tough questions?

There’s an old Chinese proverb: “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”

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  1. […] Subjects Discussed: The relationship between government policy and media, the U.S. government as advertising model, war as product, Charlotte Beers, the element of casualties, use of the flag, “We’re Number 1,” criticizing government without having access to national security documents, the relationship between raw war coverage and antiwar sentiment, transformation of media and propaganda over the past forty years, new media vs. old media, bloggers, Matt Drudge, journalists who face retaliation for war coverage, Laurie Garrett’s resignation letter, wild reactions to Solomon’s work, examples of good journalism, the American public’s interest in foreign affairs, Jim Hightower and Disney, Donald Rumsfeld and Esquire, 9/11 and “Fortunate Son.” […]

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