No, I don’t mean its financial coffers are empty, but only an emergency cash infusion from the wonderfully Ian Fleming-named Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim staved that off. But emotionally, the culture that pervades its newsroom is utterly exhausted.
”I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said. ”I feel we didn’t do enough.” Mr. Ayers, who spent the 1970’s as a fugitive in the Weather Underground, was sitting in the kitchen of his big turn-of-the-19th-century stone house in the Hyde Park district of Chicago. The long curly locks in his Wanted poster are shorn, though he wears earrings. He still has tattooed on his neck the rainbow-and-lightning Weathermen logo that appeared on letters taking responsibility for bombings. And he still has the ebullient, ingratiating manner, the apparently intense interest in other people, that made him a charismatic figure in the radical student movement.
Now he has written a book, ”Fugitive Days” (Beacon Press, September). Mr. Ayers, who is 56, calls it a memoir, somewhat coyly perhaps, since he also says some of it is fiction. He writes that he participated in the bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, the Pentagon in 1972. But Mr. Ayers also seems to want to have it both ways, taking responsibility for daring acts in his youth, then deflecting it.
‘Is this, then, the truth?,” he writes. ”Not exactly. Although it feels entirely honest to me.”
But why would someone want to read a memoir parts of which are admittedly not true? Mr. Ayers was asked.
”Obviously, the point is it’s a reflection on memory,” he answered. ”It’s true as I remember it.”
Mr. Ayers is probably safe from prosecution anyway. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said there was a five-year statute of limitations on Federal crimes except in cases of murder or when a person has been indicted.
Mr. Ayers, who in 1970 was said to have summed up the Weatherman philosophy as: ”Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at,” is today distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. And he says he doesn’t actually remember suggesting that rich people be killed or that people kill their parents, but ”it’s been quoted so many times I’m beginning to think I did,” he said. ”It was a joke about the distribution of wealth.”
He went underground in 1970, after his girlfriend, Diana Oughton, and two other people were killed when bombs they were making exploded in a Greenwich Village town house. With him in the Weather Underground was Bernardine Dohrn, who was put on the F.B.I.’s 10 Most Wanted List. J. Edgar Hoover called her ”the most dangerous woman in America” and ”la Pasionara of the Lunatic Left.” Mr. Ayers and Ms. Dohrn later married.
In his book Mr. Ayers describes the Weathermen descending into a ”whirlpool of violence.”
”Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon,” he writes. But then comes a disclaimer: ”Even though I didn’t actually bomb the Pentagon — we bombed it, in the sense that Weathermen organized it and claimed it.” He goes on to provide details about the manufacture of the bomb and how a woman he calls Anna placed the bomb in a restroom. No one was killed or injured, though damage was extensive.
Between 1970 and 1974 the Weathermen took responsibility for 12 bombings, Mr. Ayers writes, and also helped spring Timothy Leary (sentenced on marijuana charges) from jail.
Today, Mr. Ayers and Ms. Dohrn, 59, who is director of the Legal Clinic’s Children and Family Justice Center of Northwestern University, seem like typical baby boomers, caring for aging parents, suffering the empty-nest syndrome. Their son, Malik, 21, is at the University of California, San Diego; Zayd, 24, teaches at Boston University. They have also brought up Chesa Boudin, 21, the son of David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, who are serving prison terms for a 1981 robbery of a Brinks truck in Rockland County, N.Y., that left four people dead. Last month, Ms. Boudin’s application for parole was rejected.
So, would Mr. Ayers do it all again, he is asked? ”I don’t want to discount the possibility,” he said.
Note the dispassionate tone of that piece, as if it were a boilerplate People magazine profile covering the latest movie from an Armani-clad Hollywood celebrity. Presumably multiple editors signed off on the article, and saw nothing wrong with its tone or its subject. The author typed it up, sent it off to the editors, who calmly passed it around the office LAN for fine-tuning, and then laid out the text to run the next day on the Times’ Website and in the morning edition of the paper.
Only, by sheer coincidence, that morning happened to be September 11th, 2001, when another man who didn’t regret using bombs — in this case, aircraft as bombs — and also felt his band of revolutionaries didn’t do enough again attacked the Pentagon, along with the World Trade Center.
Yesterday, the following editorial by the Times’ Joe Nocera ran in the paper. The text in bold was highlighted by Nat Brown of National Review’s Media Blog:
You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them.
These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took.
[. . .]
As has been explained ad nauseam, the threat of defense cuts is supposed to give the Republicans an incentive to play fair with the Democrats in the negotiations. But with our soldiers still fighting in Afghanistan, which side is going to blink if the proposed cuts threaten to damage national security? Just as they did with the much-loathed bank bailout, which most Republicans spurned even though financial calamity loomed, the Democrats will do the responsible thing. Apparently, that’s their problem.
For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.
In response, Jonah Goldberg is succinct. “To Hell with You People:”
Look, I am past exhausted talking about liberal media bias. It’s real, we all know it, and people who deny it aren’t even fooling themselves. But some things just have to be pointed out. This morning I watched the first 15 minutes of the Today Show. I don’t particularly love or even like the program, but I find it useful to see what the producers think is the big news of the day. And sometimes Chuck Todd is on, and I like him. If I sound defensive about watching the show it’s only because I am.
Anyway, the first ten minutes was about Gabby Giffords’ return to the House yesterday. I’m not sure it merited the full ten minutes or trumped the hard news that later followed, but it’s a great story and everyone is rooting for the lady, so I’m fine with it.
But think about this for a second. The Giffords shooting sent the media elite in this country into a bout of St. Vitus’s dance that would have warranted an army of exorcists in previous ages. Sarah Palin’s Facebook map was an evil totem that forced some guy to go on a shooting spree. The New York Times, the Washington Post, all three broadcast networks — particularly NBC whose senior foreign-affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, devotes, by my rough reckoning, ten times as much air time to whining about Sarah Palin as she does about anything having to do with foreign affairs — flooded the zone with “Have you no shame” finger wagging. A memo went forth demanding that everyone at MSNBC get their dresses over their heads about the evil “tone” from the right. Media Matters went into overdrive working the interns 24/7 to “prove” that Republicans deliberately foment violence with their evil targets on their evil congressional maps.
Everyone “knew” the shooter was a tea partier. Except he wasn’t. He wasn’t even a conservative. He was a sick, demented, nutball. And it still didn’t matter! More bleating and caterwauling about the “tone” followed. More chin stroking and tut-tutting from Meet the Press roundtables and “very special segments” on the Today Show. More pizzas were ordered for the Media Matters galley slaves.
Finally, president Obama, our national-healer, gives a speech. It was a good speech. Indeed it was one of the first speeches in a long while that got anything like bipartisan support. Civility. New tone. No more martial metaphors. These were the takeaways.
So flashforward to this week. Tom Friedman — who knows a bit about Hezbollah — calls the tea partiers the “Hezbollah faction” of the GOP bent on taking the country on a “suicide mission.” All over the place, conservative Republicans are “hostage takers” and “terrorists,” “terrorists” and “traitors.” They want to “end life as we know it on this planet,” says Nancy Pelosi. They are betraying the Founders, too. Chris Matthews all but signs up for the “Make an Ass of Yourself” contest at the State Fair. Joe Nocera writes today that “the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests.” Lord knows what Krugman and Olbermann have said.
Then last night, on the very day Gabby Giffords heroically returns to cast her first vote since that tragic attack seven months ago, the vice president of the United States calls the Republican party a bunch of terrorists.
Four decades run between the actions of Bill Ayers, his fawning Times profile that appeared with grim irony on 9/11/01, and this week, that paper’s embracing the JournoList-style talking points du jour that describes fiscal conservatives as terrorists. Barack Obama may very well win in 2012; Dick Morris assuring his slam-dunk defeat next year, the political equivalent of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx, is certainly a bad omen for whoever Obama’s opposition will be. But the culture that inculcated Obama’s worldview — and created his mythological aura, comparing a junior senator who hadn’t yet completed his first term in office to alternately JFK, FDR, Lincoln, and God himself is officially running on fumes.
But what happens to the rest of the nation in the process?
Update: Much more from Ed Morrissey, including a link to a withering video response from Charles Krauthammer. Ed quotes from a post from Guy Benson of Townhall.com, who notes that in addition to the above quoted piece from Nocera, the much better known columnists Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Friedman, and Maureen Dowd all played the conservatives=terrorists card in the past week at the Times.
More: “’If we were really domestic terrorists, shoot, President Obama would be wanting to pal around with us, wouldn’t he?’ Palin told Fox News host Sean Hannity last night.” Not to mention getting better PR in the Times, to boot.
Finally, who said it? “If you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.”