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Published: Saturday, 2/12/2005

A deafening silence

WHEN the web logger Laer (Cheat Seeking Missiles) called to cancel his 25-year subscription to the Los Angeles Times last Monday, he was made an extraordinary offer. The circulation service rep, detecting that he was fed up with the paper's liberal bias, offered to sell him the newspaper without the news sections. Laer was thunderstruck.

"How often must the beleaguered circulation department be dealing with calls like mine, for them to come up with a special like this?" he wrote. (On Wednesday, an L.A. Times exec wrote back, denying that the Times offers to sell partial copies of the paper, but thanking Laer "for bringing this to our attention.")

Hundreds of readers canceled their subscriptions to the Philadelphia Inquirer during the election campaign, and the circulation department there is making its editors call to try to lure them back.

Since the primary reason given for the cancellations was the Inquirer's 21 straight days of editorials praising John Kerry and attacking President Bush, it's doubtful those who wrote the editorials will be effective wooers.

A controversy you've probably heard about, and one that many people haven't, illustrate why readers cancel subscriptions.

"It's fun to shoot some people," Lt. Gen. James Mattis said at a conference in San Diego Feb. 1. "You go into Afghanistan, you've got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. Guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway, so it's a helluva lot of fun to shoot them."

General Mattis' remarks caused conniption fits throughout the news media. Typical was the Miami Herald, which said General Mattis should have been given a tougher punishment than the verbal reprimand he received from the commandant of the Marine Corps. "His callous remarks make light of the terrible toll of war," the Herald whined.

General Mattis - arguably our most effective combat leader - already has been ably defended by my friends Ralph Peters and Mac Owens. But I enthusiastically second his sentiment. If I were still a young Marine, I would take enormous pleasure in personally sending Islamofascists to hell.

Journalists who got their panties twisted over General Mattis apparently see nothing newsworthy about having the head of news for CNN accuse the U.S. military of deliberately killing journalists.

CNN's Eason Jordan told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that "he knew of about 12 journalists who had not only been killed by American troops, but had been targeted as a matter of policy," said Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), who was there, and demanded proof, which Mr. Jordan could not supply.

The Davos confab ended Jan. 30. Many journalists were there. Yet in a column published Feb. 5, I became the first "mainstream" journalist to mention Mr. Jordan's remarks.

The silence is puzzling. If what Mr. Jordan said were true, it would be a bigger scandal than Abu Ghraib, about which we in the media have made sure you have heard. And if CNN's top news executive slandered U.S. troops, that also is - or ought to be - news.

Washington Post media analyst Howard Kurtz finally wrote something on Feb. 7. Mr. Kurtz omitted eyewitness testimony from Mr. Frank and Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn); reported panel moderator David Gergen as saying something quite different from what he told columnist Michelle Malkin, and skipped over suppression of a videotape of the discussion.

Mr. Kurtz also failed to mention he has a show on CNN. "If a PR agent or damage control spinner produced a piece designed to try and save CNN exec Eason Jordan's job, it would be the piece Kurtz wrote," said web logger and former Democratic political operative Mickey Kaus.

It goes without saying that CNN has yet to report on the controversy. ABC, CBS, and NBC have so far ignored it, too.

The editor of the Post-Gazette recently held a discussion with staff about the future of the news business, and the topic of web logs naturally emerged. The consensus seemed to be that we needn't worry much about them, because we report the news and bloggers only offer their opinions. But the Eason Jordan story was brought to our attention by a web logger, and it was other bloggers who uncovered earlier remarks by Mr. Jordan in the same vein. Seems like reporting to me.

The earth rumbles, and we think it's our big feet, stomping the Lilliputians. But what if it's an earthquake about to swallow us up?

Jack Kelly is national security writer for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.



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