Sometimes I think I’m pretty smart. I admit it. I think I know a lot about a lot of things, especially the media, and am therefore a good choice to host a program like FOX News Watch and write a column like this one for Foxnews.com.
Other times, I can’t quite figure out what I’m doing here.
This is one of the latter occasions.
I can’t be all that smart, that knowledgeable, that wise in the ways of journalism, I say to myself. Otherwise, I would understand why the American press has been paying so much attention to President Bush’s "axis of evil" phrase. It was on Jan. 29, during his State of the Union address, that the president so categorized Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and the media have been foaming at the mouth ever since. Just a few days ago, in fact, the CNN website referred to the comment and then asked the question, "What’s [President Bush] doing to make things right?"
A real expert on the Fourth Estate would understand this kind of thing. He would plop himself behind his computer keyboard and explain it to you calmly and thoroughly and probably not even have to resort to a second draft. Me? I’m sitting here at my keyboard shaking my head.
Part of the reason for the media’s foam, of course, is that a fair number of public figures have reacted negatively to the president’s comment. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it was "a big mistake." But then, she’s a political enemy of President Bush. North Korea’s Central News Agency said, "The remarks were merely US shenanigans aimed at continuing with its policy of aggression against us." But then, North Korea is even more of a political enemy of President Bush. And Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov of Russia said he does not think there is enough evidence to call Iran, Iraq and North Korea an "axis of evil." But then, as rebukes go, that’s a pretty mild one.
Another part of the reason, of course, lies in the president’s specific choice of words. "Axis" calls to mind the Axis powers of World War II, in particular the unspeakable brutality of Nazi Germany. And "evil" is a term similarly extreme, one that means to condemn utterly, to admit no possibility of forgiveness. Perhaps the phrase was a little strong.
But we live in a world of harsh actions; are not harsh words an appropriate response? Or, at the very worst, a forgivable lapse? In the wake of Sept. 11, is it appropriate for journalists to treat the president’s words as if they, too, were some kind of terrorists’ deed?
Was it appropriate for Elizabeth Bumiller to write in The New York Times that the president had "succeeded in keeping Americans fearful"?
Was it appropriate for the Orange County [California] Register to plead for "a toning down of the administration’s war language"?
Was it appropriate for a headline on the op-ed page of the Boston Globe to read: "Bush’s Rhetoric on Iran Likely to Backfire"?
Is it not true, in fact, even though Iran, Iraq and North Korea are not formally allied, that their opposition to the United States unites them in a kind of axis? Is it not true that the behavior of their governments is sometimes deserving of an epithet like "evil"? Or at least its anagram, "vile"? Is it not true that all three nations harbor terrorists, or are sympathetic to some of terrorism’s goals?
And is it not true, therefore, that much of the American media’s criticism of the "axis of evil" is, in reality, a criticism of the man who spoke the words, an excuse for journalists who dislike George Bush to brand him an unworthy leader, an unsophisticated thinker, an accidental president?
Or perhaps not. As I admitted several paragraphs back, I cannot figure out what the media are doing when it comes to this story. For next week’s column, I’ll have to pick a topic that makes me seem a little more intelligent.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .