The Masher Returns

Media Mash Returns

Yo, long time no contact. But the Masher hasn't been in hibernation. First it was a long trip to Europe, then stranded in Amsterdam because of the events of 9/11 (for which the Masher received virtually no sympathy), then an avalanche of work to keep pace with the events that have transformed our lives and threatened all things progressive and liberty-oriented. This is an unprecedented crisis, but has brought huge numbers of people together in common experience and hope for collaboration.

Three cheers for AlterNet, which reached new heights this past month -- receiving more than 250,000 unique visitors a week, syndicating hundreds of stories in more than 60 newspapers, and creating four new topic sites related to 9/11 (Terrorism and Counter-terrorism; U.S. Policy in the Mid East & Central Asia; The Anti-War Movement; Understanding the Mid East & Central Asia). We also produced terrific, informative background primers on all four of these topic sites.

These articles and topic sites were designed to help readers grapple with the dilemmas and complexities of a country traumatized. In contrast, the mainstream media tends to frame the situation in black and white: 90 percent of the public wants war, they trumpeted, and 10 percent are peaceniks.

But we know that's far from the truth. Many of us, maybe even a majority of the population, believe some kind of intervention is required but also know the devil is in the details. Terrorism must be contained. However, we do not want to make things worse by killing innocent people, destabilizing countries and ignoring an underlying motivation for intervention theme: vast oil reserves in Central Asia.

This is a complex and long-term struggle; we need to stay informed and stick to our principles. Fortunately, some great analysis and writing is being produced by smart and caring journalists and intellectuals. In particular Geov Parrish, David Corn, Stephen Zunes and Mark LeVine on AlterNet, Richard Falk and Edward Said in The Nation and Robert Fisk in the UK’s Independent have been tremendously enlightening. But ...

We Need to Hear More From the Women

As Richard Goldstein writes in the Village Voice, "In the spectrum of opinion following this awful event, women were barely heard from, so we were deprived of their perspectives on the crisis ... Female writers showed a far greater willingness to come to complex conclusions than their more powerful male colleagues. If women were more included in the national dialogue it wouldn't be such a monologue."

The gender gap also appears in reactions to and ways of dealing with terrorism. In a controversial column, Arianna Huffington writes about conversations at a recent dinner party with Hollywood executives: "The alpha males ... kept pooh-poohing the idea of preparing for chemical or germ warfare. It seemed that none of these masters of the universe could allow themselves to even imagine being in a situation over which they had so little power and control." The women, meanwhile "were busy setting up crisis networks, discussing the proper way set up a safe room and trading tidbits on the best antibiotics to stock up on."

"For the good of the country," Huffington closes, "the Alpha male leaders we've entrusted with our national security should all have a long talk with the women in their lives (if, in fact, there are any still speaking to them)."

There are some noteworthy exceptions to the male domination of 9/11 coverage. In The Nation, Ellen Willis upbraided the social commentators who view war as another purification of our national soul. Salon’s Laura Miller interviewed an expert on courage, who explains why suicide hijackers are not heroic, and her colleague Joan Walsh grappled with Osama bin Laden's creepy charisma, almost mythic status, speculating about whether his penis size has anything to do with his murderous ways.

There has been some female writing, mostly in the alternative press, about the Taliban's brutality against woman (see "Afghan Women Speak from Behind the Media Veil," by Laura Flanders) but very little information about how adulterous women have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, our "reliable" ally. Herein lies an unsettling contradiction: to criticize the awful consequences of the male supremacy in virtually every fundamentalist culture -- including our so-called "moderate" Arab allies (moderate only in the fact that they are friendly to the U.S.) -- is seen as being disloyal to the U.S.'s war efforts.

The one woman who did speak out most forcefully was Susan Sontag, who questioned whether a mature nation must rush to unquestioning unity and chided Bush for being robotic in insisting "Americans have to stand tall." Sontag became one of the original "unpatriotic pariahs," along with the sad sack Bill Maher, who rightly questioned the then-prevailing Bush line that the terrorists were cowards, but when criticized ran so far and fast with his tail between his legs that he should just have kept running.

Sontag, on the other hand, was the target of some vicious rhetoric from self-appointed patriotic guardians like the New York Post's John Podhoretz. As part of a long diatribe, Podhoretz ranted, "the Hate America crowd is still here." As the Voice's Goldstein points out, "Such philistine posturing comes with a crisis. It also comes with a price. By demonizing intellectuals who question common values, we dismiss their ability to make us see beyond our reflexes. In the current situation, that could be a deadly error."

It also could be why many women writers are holding their tongue, or many male editors are not assigning them to the story -- a possible collusion to avoid grappling with the tough questions in a time so fraught with emotion and complexity.

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