The Times' Tabloid Trolling
Is there any reason on earth that can justify Matt Bai’s article in this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine? Ostensibly a profile about Scott Ritter, the well-known former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, and his present-day troubles, the piece plumbs the depths of supermarket tabloid journalism.
Ritter, you might recall, had reached a level of notoriety when he shifted in 2002 from a man certain of hidden WMDs in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to an anti-war activist assuring the world (way before he or anyone else had real evidence) of the opposite and the necessity of peace with the dictator. (You can read his bio in the Wikipedia entry about him)
Back in that early era, he told The News Hour with Jim Lehrer that “without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measured in months, reconstitute chemical and biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their developing of nuclear weapons programs.”
In protest against the UN’s do-nothing response to Hussein’s decision to suspend cooperation with inspectors, Ritter resigned. Having opposed containment Ritter suddenly shifted to favoring a policy that one might justifiably call appeasement. He embraced the role of bi-partisan critic of both the Clinton and the Bush administrations for believing the kind of argument he had himself made earlier -- that Hussein’s lack of cooperation and intransigence made his nation a very real threat to the world’s peace and stability.
Writing about Clinton, for example, he said that he had witnessed “firsthand the duplicitous Iraq policies of the administration of Bill Clinton, the implementation of which saw a President lie to the American people about a threat he knew was hyped.” Its real aim, he charged, was regime change -- trying to “remove Saddam Hussein from power.”
Soon enough, Ritter made the documentary film Shifting Sands in 2000. It was financed by an Iraqi-American later found guilty of felony charges in 2004 in the UN Oil for Food scandal.
From arguing Iraq might reconstitute weapons programs, Ritter quickly moved to claiming that no evidence for development existed at all. Thus, Ritter became a hero to the anti-war movement and, as Bai notes, was entertained and wined and dined by the likes of Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, and others of the Hollywood elite.
All of the above, however, is not the handle for Bai’s story. Rather: the salacious, tawdry portrayal of a pathetic, haunted man -- a premature pedophile, who spent his time surfing the internet in search of teenage girls he planned to meet at secret locations (such as deserted parking lots at night) where he could then masturbate in front of them! Yes, this is the theme of Bai’s articles, complete with the details we really do not need to know.
Ritter, as we learned, had an internet handle of Delmarm4fun. Bai begins his article with excerpts of an internet chat Ritter thought he was having with a teen named Emily, but who turned out to be Ryan Venneman, a police officer in Barrett Township, Pennsylvania. The following exchange between Ritter and the cop is, I kid you not, from Bai’s article:
“Age?” delmarm4fun asked.
“Aha,” came the response. “New York or Pa.?”
A graphic flirtation ensued. At one point, delmarm4fun asked “Emily” again if she was 18.
“No, I’m 15,” Venneman replied.
“Aha,” delmarm4fun said again. “My bad.”
“What’s wrong?” Venneman asked.
“Didn’t realize you were 15. . . .”
“So why u don’t like me,” Venneman typed, mimicking an adolescent’s mangled syntax.
“I do, very much. LOL. Just don’t want any trouble.”
After about an hour of this, according to logs later presented in court, the man Venneman was talking to masturbated in front of a webcam and announced he was off to take a shower.
In other words -- and there are no other words to describe Scott Ritter -- he is a sick, very sick man. So why again, I ask, did the Times run this piece, and even ask Bai, their top political journalist, to write it?
The clue is in Bai’s very obvious bias to show that this is all so sad, because Ritter should be a hero, since he was purportedly the man who exposed the perfidies of the Clinton and Bush administrations, both of whom wanted to foist regime change in Iraq and oust Hussein. Look at some of the following words in the article:
Ritter’s opponents on Iraq still aren’t willing to grant that he knew something they didn’t. The way they see it, Ritter, whose position on W.M.D.’s swung significantly after he left the country in 1998, was like the stopped clock that finally managed to tell the correct time.
And it was Ritter who then did an about-face and emerged, during the long period that led to the war, as the loudest and most credible skeptic of the Bush administration’s contention that Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. In a bizarre moment in 2002, Ritter even made the long journey back to Baghdad to address the Iraqi Parliament as a private citizen, warning that his own country was about to make a “historical mistake” and urging the Iraqis to allow inspections to resume. For this, and for his relentless insistence that the presence of hidden W.M.D.’s was nothing but a political pretense for war, Ritter was dismissed and even mocked by much of the media establishment (including writers for this magazine and The New York Times)
Was Ritter really “credible,” as Bai argues? One must remember that when Ritter started shilling for Saddam Hussein you could not find one Democrat or Republican who had any inkling that Iraq was not hiding weapons. And to whom did he speak when he went to the controlled parliament -- a rubber stamp for the totalitarian Ba'ath Party -- as a “private citizen”? Who let him do that? Would any real independent person be welcomed by Saddam to play such a role? Do those actions make Ritter any real kind of hero? Would a legitimate journalist, someone with the integrity of the late Christopher Hitchens, let us say, be welcome to speak in Iraq?
Yes, and Bai also makes it clear: “It’s fair to say that the war…produced few real heroes…In Ritter’s case, the public vindication to which he would seem entitled- and which he has never quite received-has now been replaced by a very public disgrace.” (my emphasis)
That above sentence gives you the real agenda: We should separate our disgust for Ritter's personal behavior -- which hurts no one but himself -- and pronounce him as a hero because he was always right, when no one else was. Bai even insinuates -- but does not quite say -- that it is suspicious that the charges against him emerged “just as the administration was preparing to invade Iraq,” and seemed “to indicate that his political adversaries meant to destroy his credibility.” Perhaps. But it was Ritter himself who engaged in this behavior, and his detractors did not have to invent it.
Indeed, Bai tells us that “he claims that the American government suspected him of spying for Israel; that Norman Schwarzkopf, the gulf-war general, once had him arrested; that the F.B.I. hounded [his wife] Marina for years because it suspected she was former K.G.B. You can’t help wondering how one man managed to attract so much institutional persecution.”
And yet, this is the same man of whom Bai also writes that “History will record…that Ritter was right, while those who showed him nothing but contempt were flat wrong.” Ritter, he says, was “the one with the most on-the-ground intelligence.” And Bai rationalizes his continual flip-flops, by writing that he “demonstrated a capacity to evolve in his thinking.” He was “never taken in.”
Yet, a few paragraphs before, he quotes Ritter’s boss at the UN agency, “ ‘Oh, no, he wasn’t prescient, I can’t agree with that’ said Richard Butler, who was Ritter’s boss under the United Nations in Iraq. ‘When he was the “Alpha Dog” inspector,’ Butler said, referring to Ritter’s own description of his aggressive tactics, ‘then by God, there were more weapons there, and we had to go find them — a contention for which he had inadequate evidence. When he became a peacenik, then it was all complete B.S., start to finish, and there were no weapons of mass destruction. And that also was a contention for which he had inadequate evidence.’ ” Butler should know the truth, but Bai simply disregards what he says entirely.
Then we have Bai’s strange seeming apologias for Ritter’s repulsive current behavior. Take this line from the article:
It’s not as though Ritter, who is the father of twin 19-year-old daughters, was trolling an adolescent site looking to prey on minors. Nor did he ever hint at meeting with the fictional Emily face to face.
No, he was trolling regular websites looking for minors.
As Bai writes:
In fact, the police in Colonie, N.Y., encountered Ritter twice in 2001 — and quietly arrested him once — after he contacted cops posing as under-age girls in chat rooms. (Ritter was caught using the unsubtle screen name OnExhibit.) In both cases, Ritter agreed to meet the fictional teenagers in the parking lots of fast-food joints, with the intent of masturbating in front of them, only to be confronted by cops when he got there.
Yes, Bai shows he was his own worst enemy. Ritter knows he has only himself to blame for his behavior, and for not taking the years since he was first caught, and justice was lenient with him, to get real help. Now he is going to prison.
But since anyone who wanted to know about Ritter could find the sordid details years ago when they first appeared in print, Bai cites the leftist journalist Mark Crispin Miller, who wrote of the “murky but effective charge of something like attempted pedophilia” in 2003 - what is the purpose of now dredging this up once again?
The answer is rather clear: We are supposed to sigh our collective heads and feel very, very sorry for Scott Ritter, an unsung hero whose personal problems have led him to lose the ability to earn a living, and to go to jail, instead of being praised galore and used as a pundit on CNN.
Chalk up Bai’s article as one more example of the Grey Lady’s continued efforts to get out of prison anyone who was a 60s leftist terrorist or an anti-war person who exposed the would-be lies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The only problem is that if these folks are in prison, their own behavior got them there. We may feel sorry, especially if it is the likes of Ritter who is psychologically damaged, but the politics the editors and writers of the Times approve of and which in this case Ritter holds, is no excuse for the freedom.