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Blog Watch

Blog Watch

Issue: "Why the long face, Fidel?," May 1, 2004

Disappointed Democrats

President Bush may have taken a licking in the press, with questions surfacing about his management of Iraq and pre-9/11 intelligence, but recent poll numbers show him recapturing the lead. Joshua Micah Marshall (talkingpointsmemo.com) offered hope for disappointed Democrats: "If I could capture the mood in a sentence, it is, 'If this doesn't sink the guy, nothing will.' I must say that it surprises me too. But, as I said, this is a close race that has bounced back and forth a couple times-and often for reasons which are not as clearly tied to the current news cycle as we're inclined to think. In short, don't change your view of the race based on the president popping up a few points into the lead."

It doesn't look like veteran journalist Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, will have much of an effect on the race-see p. 17-but it could have an effect on CIA head George Tenet, who is said to have told President Bush that the question of Iraq's possession of WMDs was a "slam dunk." Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.com) agreed with Mr. Tenet's critics: "Tenet misjudged the intelligence ... and he failed to ensure that no one stretched the case. The president asked the right questions. Tenet gave the wrong answers. It was on his watch that 9/11 took place. He still argues it will take another five years to get the bureaucracy in shape. Until he is fired, no one should have ultimate confidence that the Bush administration can win the war on terror."

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Say what you will

Should blogs have a right to libel? Bloggers were proud and envious about a recent article on Wonkette (wonkette.com) in The New York Times, but Mickey Kaus (kausfiles.com) worried that humor-before-accuracy Wonkette might run into trouble with libel laws: "Blogs can and should be like spoken conversations at, say, a cocktail party. We don't in practice hold those conversations to the 'reckless disregard' standard of New York Times vs. Sullivan, and we shouldn't hold blogs to that standard.... It's a good thing to have a widely-accessible medium that can do what conversation does, letting ordinary readers in on what those in the know are actually talking about, including rumors of scandals about public figures (as long as they are potentially correctable rumors)."

The question of correction-speedy, full, highly publicized, and with appropriate apology-is key. Mr. Kaus writes, "We shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that U.S. libel law, as it now stands, securely protects blogs that do this sort of thing." But we need some definition about what "this sort of thing" is, and how it should be corrected.

Revolutionary cells

One of the first blogs out of Saudi Arabia, "The Religious Policeman" (muttawa.blogspot.com), is attacking Saudi Arabia's corrupt theocracy. The blog is dedicated to the "memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter." The blog's writer, Alhamedi, predicts that "When the Saudi people finally rise up in revolt and throw out the House of Saud, it won't be for democratic reform, and it won't be for an Islamic republic. It'll be about mobile phones."

Say what? Hear out Alhamedi: "Mobile phones are legal. Camera phones are not.... In 5 to 10 years time, all phones will be camera phones, it'll be the standard. So will the muttawa try and ban all phones in Saudi Arabia? It'd be like trying to take an American's gun, or an Englishman's dog. Arabs in general, and Saudis in particular, live for their mobile phones, in a way that other parts of the world would not understand.... When the day dawns that all phones are camera phones, and the Muttawa try to confiscate them, that'll be the day that the revolution starts."

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