OpinionJournal – Best of the Web Today – September 28, 2007

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Best of the Web Today – September 28, 2007

    By JAMES TARANTO

    Today’s Video on WSJ.com: Bret Stephens interviews Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Burma and Iran.

    Great Moments in Higher Education
    Administrators at Rutgers University have launched a campaign of character assassination against an English professor who is a critic of the university’s emphasis on “high-stakes athletics.” William Dowding, author of a new memoir on the subject titled “Confessions of a Spoilsport,” was profiled in Wednesday’s New York Times by Samuel Freedman, a professor of journalism at Columbia. Freedman’s profile ended thus:

    While he enjoyed teaching many members of the track, swimming and crew teams in his courses, he vociferously resisted the notion that athletic scholarships offered opportunity to low-income, minority students.

    “If you were giving the scholarship to an intellectually brilliant kid who happens to play a sport, that’s fine,” he said. “But they give it to a functional illiterate who can’t read a cereal box, and then make him spend 50 hours a week on physical skills. That’s not opportunity. If you want to give financial help to minorities, go find the ones who are at the library after school.”

    The Associated Press reports on Rutgers administrators’ reaction:

    Rutgers Athletic Director Bob Mulcahy told local newspapers that Dowling’s comment was “a blatantly racist statement.”

    In a statement released by the university, Rutgers President Richard McCormick called it “inaccurate and inhumane.”

    “It also has a racist implication that has no place whatsoever in our civil discourse,” McCormick said in the statement.

    A Rutgers spokesman said Thursday he did not know if Dowling would face any sanctions. . . .

    Dowling . . . called the officials’ accusation of racism the “cheapest rhetorical ploy I’ve ever heard.”

    Mulcahy and McCormick cannot possibly be making these charges of racism in good faith. Dowding is not disparaging athletes because of their race; he is, in response to a question specifically about minorities, saying that the university should help academically promising ones rather than unpromising ones.

    Even so-called affirmative action programs, which seek to increase minority students’ numbers by holding them to a lower standard, hold them to a standard so as to favor those with the greatest likelihood of success. In the Orwellian world of higher education, those who believe that race should have nothing to do with admissions decisions are routinely branded as “racist.”

    In defending their emphasis on sports over academics, the Rutgers administrators now seek to take this one step further and claim that it is racist to hold a minority student to any standard at all.

    This, on the Other Hand, Does Sound a Bit Racist
    The lovely and talented John Edwards recently participated in an MTV forum in which a young lady asked him what he would do about inner-city violence. Before listing a predictable menu of liberal policies, he made this eyebrow-raising comment:

    We start with the president of the United States saying to America, “We cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem.” And the idea that we’re just going to keep incarcerating, keep incarcerating–pretty soon, we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison–or dead, one of the two.

    Does Edwards really mean that all young male blacks are criminals? Or is the idea that the purpose of the criminal justice system as currently constituted is to imprison young black men regardless of guilt?

    Either view is plainly false. The former would be one of the most racist statements uttered by a major American politician in the past 40 years; the latter, one of the most irresponsibly demagogic.

    The McCain-Feingold Newspaper Price Control Act
    Another newspaper has gotten mixed up in the controversy over the New York Times’s discount to MoveOn.org for its McCarthyite ad attacking David Petraeus, the Associated Press reports:

    Now the Star Tribune [of Minneapolis] is refunding about $12,000 to Al Franken, a Minnesota Democratic Senate candidate, after undercharging Sen. Norm Coleman for a full-page advertisement spawned by the one in the Times.

    Franken is one of several Democrats vying to unseat Coleman.

    The Star Tribune said it charged Coleman, R-Minn., about $20,000 for Tuesday’s ad, which criticized Franken for not condemning the MoveOn.org ad. Two months ago, according to the newspaper, it charged Franken about $32,000 for a full-page ad in the paper criticizing Coleman’s record on the Iraq war.

    Star Tribune spokesman Ben Taylor said Wednesday that a new sales representative had incorrectly quoted the Coleman campaign the local retail rate, rather than the rate charged to national advertisers.

    “The Franken campaign was charged correctly but we decided, just to make it right, to refund the Franken campaign the $12,000,” he said. “But going forward we will be charging the national rate.”

    Taylor said the paper didn’t consider going back to Coleman and asking the campaign to fork over the difference.

    “He got quoted a rate and paid the rate he was quoted,” he said. “To go back and say ‘You owe us more money’ didn’t seem to be the right way to go here. We thought, it was our mistake, and Coleman shouldn’t have to pay for our mistake.”

    That seems perfectly reasonable and honorable, but our impression is that it does not satisfy the letter of the law. If both Franken and Coleman paid less than the market rate for their ads, the two errors don’t cancel out; they amount to two illegal in-kind contributions.

    Most newspaper editorial pages (The Wall Street Journal, which publishes this Web site, being the most notable exception) support McCain-Feingold and other restrictions on campaign speech, which do not apply at least to editorial content of newspapers. One wonders if any newspapers will change their editorial line now that their publishers are facing the threat of government intervention in their own business.

    Homer Nods
    One hundred forty-six House Democrats voted to condemn MoveOn.org’s ad, not 341 as we said in an item yesterday (since corrected). The latter was the total number of House members backing the measure.

    Several readers doubted Rep. David Obey’s claim that, in the Associated Press’s words, “he left the Republican Party during the era of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.” Obey, born in 1938, was 16 when the Senate censured McCarthy in 1954 and 18 when McCarthy died in 1957. Since the voting age was 21 at the time, it is not entirely clear in what sense Obey could have “left the Republican Party.” Unless perhaps McCarthy’s era outlived the man himself.

    Suddenly Haste Makes Waste
    Reuters reports from Hanover, N.H., on this week’s Democratic debate:

    Democratic presidential candidates pounced on rival Hillary Clinton for her positions on Iraq and Iran in a debate on Wednesday as they sought to undercut her status as the campaign front-runner.

    Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a distant third place in most national polls and needing a breakthrough performance, led the attack against Clinton on the campus at Dartmouth College.

    With the Democratic left-wing demanding a hasty U.S. timetable out of Iraq, Edwards criticized the New York senator for not ruling out that U.S. troops might engage in some combat missions in Iraq if she were to win the 2008 election.

    Wait a second, all of a sudden Reuters is editorializing against the “Democratic left-wing” for being “hasty”? We’ll send a dollar to the first reader who points us to a Reuters dispatch containing such a characterization in contrast with President Bush’s position on Iraq. Until we see such a piece, though, we’re going to assume Reuters is willing to take Mrs. Clinton’s side even when she is on the right.

    Baby on Board
    “Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that every child born in the United States should get a $5,000 ‘baby bond,’ from the government to help pay for future costs of college or buying a home,” the Associated Press reports. Mrs. Clinton drew applause from at least one lawmaker:

    “I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Rep. Stephanie Stubbs [sic] Jones, an Ohio Democrat who attended the event and has already endorsed Clinton. “Every child born in the United States today owes $27,000 on the national debt, why not let them come get $5,000 to grow until their [sic] 18?”

    Uhh, maybe so they won’t owe $32,000 on the national debt?

    The Ethicist–III
    “Hank” at FederalReview.com notes that Hofstra University has changed the description of Lynne Stewart on the program for its “ethics conference.” She is now described as a “high profile radical and attorney (disbarred)”; as we noted Tuesday, the original description was “high profile radical and human rights attorney.” Although the new description is accurate, it is not complete, for it omits that she has been convicted of giving material aid to terrorists.

    Meanwhile, the Manhattan Institute’s Walter Olson notes that there may be some legal problems with the Stewart invitation:

    The brochure . . . announces that “Hofstra Law School is an accredited NYS CLE [Continuing Legal Education] provider. Continuing Legal Education credits and scholarships are available.” Yet in the discussion at Legal Ethics Blog, commenter “V. May” points to the New York regulations governing continuing legal education, which declare in one provision, Part 1500.4b (5), that “Continuing legal education courses or programs to be accredited shall comply with the following guidelines”:

    The course or program shall not be taught by a disbarred attorney, whether the disbarred attorney is the sole presenter or one of several instructors.

    The Hofstra brochure designates Lynne Stewart among “Conference Faculty,” but does not warn registrants of the danger of partial or complete loss of CLE credit. Lawyers are asked to pay $475 to attend the conference.

    Can someone sue Hofstra for educational malpractice?

    Wannabe Pundits
    This one, from Malcolm Gay of St. Louis’s Riverfront Times, almost has to be a parody:

    Why do they hate us? Intellectually flaccid. Culturally naïve. This has to be one of the more inane questions to have arisen in the frightening months after 9/11. Worse yet, the question attracted a bevy of self-serving answers.

    My personal favorite: They hate us because we’re free.

    It was the wrong question. And anyhow, anyone who really wanted to know the “answer” needed look no further than Osama bin Laden and his 2002 “Letter to America,” in which he outlined his reasons for jihad: The West’s continued support of Israel, America’s historic support of Middle Eastern dictators, the country’s penchant for establishing military bases in Islamic states and our perceived brass-knuckled approach to the global petroleum market.

    It wasn’t long before this saucer-eyed, why-do-they-hate-us line of thought vanished as daisy cutters fell on Afghanistan and later Iraq. Now, a full six years after 9/11, I recently found myself reminded of those early days and, particularly, of that silly question: Why do they hate us?

    You see, I think I know the answer. It’s not Palestine. It’s not oil. It has nothing to do with military bases in Kuwait. The House of Saud is blameless. No, it’s something closer to home. It’s Domino’s Pizza New Oreo Dessert Pizza.

    Yup, it’s a fast-food review. And he concludes: “Just as the Italians pulled out of Iraq in 2006, Domino’s Pizza claims that the Oreo Dessert Pizza will only be available for a limited time. Phew! At least they have an exit strategy.”

    Life Imitates ‘Seinfeld’

    • “Newman learns that bottles and cans can be refunded for 10 cents in Michigan (as opposed to 5 cents in many other states). Kramer tells him it’s impossible to gain a profit from depositing the bottles in Michigan due to the total gas, tollbooth and truck rental fees that would compile during the trip, but Newman tries to find a way.”–Wikipedia description of “The Bottle Deposit, Part 1,” aired May 2, 1996
    • “Authorities said they arrested 10 people and seized more than $500,000 in cash after breaking up a smuggling ring that collected millions of beverage containers in other states and cashed them in for 10 cents apiece in Michigan.”–WDIV-TV Web site (Detroit), Sept. 26, 2007

    But He Can’t Hide!
    “Pakistani Court Says Musharraf Can Run”–headline, Associated Press, Sept. 28

    But Who Can Stand Him?
    “Supreme Court Rules Musharraf Can Stand”–headline, Financial Times, Sept. 28

    Uh-Oh, Sounds Like It’s Really Hit the Fan
    “Stadium Officials Want to Shoot Down Pigeons Pooping on Fans”–headline, Dayton Daily News, Sept. 28

    Turn the Other Way!
    “Texas Facing Wild Hog Explosion”–headline, Time.com, Sept. 28

    A Heavenly Body
    “For decades, astronomers have lusted after a mission to Europa, the Jupiter moon covered in a thick layer of ice.”–Los Angeles Times, Sept. 28

    Creepy Night in a Motel Room
    “Bureau Moves Away From ‘Visitor’ “–headline, Tampa Tribune, Sept. 28

    Breaking News From 2003
    “New Light Cast on Bush’s Iraq Plans”–headline, Financial Times, Sept. 27

    News You Can Use

    • “Winter Preparation Urged: Businesses say timing is important”–headline and subheadline, Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, Sept. 28
    • “Clyde the Elk Prefers Bottle Water”–headline, Associated Press, Sept. 27

    Bottom Stories of the Day

    The Lone Reuter
    From Reuters:

    By Noor Mohammad Sherzai

    BATI KOT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – At least one U.S. soldier opened fire to scatter a crowd of civilians and police on Thursday after failed suicide bomb attacks on a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military and witnesses said. . . .

    “I saw the fire brigade vehicle rushing to the area at top speed. Somehow its brakes failed and hit one police vehicle and coalition vehicles, then the Americans started firing,” said Reuters correspondent Noor Mohammad Sherzai.

    That’s right, Noor Mohammad Sherzai is quoting himself! (Or herself, as Noor apparently is an epicene name.)

    We thought this was odd, but we wanted a second opinion. So we spoke with veteran journalist James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal. “You’re right, it is odd,” he told us. “But it’s another example of Reuters’ journalistic innovation. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter? One man’s monologue is another man’s interview. Oh wait, but who’s the other man?”

    Taranto added that Sherzai “obviously had to do some legwork for this story. He tried to get a phone interview with himself, but every time he called, the line was busy.”

    We asked Taranto if using oneself as a source entails any special ethical concerns. “There could be a tendency to quote yourself in ways that reinforce your own unconscious bias,” he said. That hadn’t occurred to us, but what a great point!

    “There are also interesting issues of confidentiality,” Taranto said. “On the one hand, you’re less likely to have misunderstandings about just what is meant by ‘off the record,’ ‘background,’ and so forth. But on the other hand, if it comes down to it, are you willing to go to jail to protect your source? And if you go to jail and your source is yourself, are you really protecting your source?”

    A source close to Taranto, speaking on condition of anonymity because he thought it would be good for a laugh, said, “I don’t think [Taranto is] entirely serious about this.”

    We concluded our chat with Taranto by telling him that we were thinking of mocking Noor Mohammad Sherzai by writing an item based on our own self-interview. Although we were the one interviewing him, Taranto replied with a question:

    “What do you mean ‘we,’ Kemo Sabe?”

    (Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to David Kimmelman, James O’Toole, David Downing, Rob Slocum, Gene Scow, Bob Sanchez, Thomas Plant, Mark Cunningham, Ken Harlow, Paul Bellamy, Michael Ellard, Jeff Cobb, Tony Gill, Merv Benson, Dirk Deardorff, Jeff Bukowski, Steve Black, Stephen Knight, Ann Johnson, Daivd Hamilton, Ellen Forshaw, Steve Sturm, Bob Fultz, Martin Heilweil, Kevin Clinch, Jon Fellows, Wally Taylor, Ned Thompson, Brian Benton, James Wittenbach, Dan O’Shea, Jeff Dobbs, John Williamson, Chris Engel, Paul Martin, Ken Leonard, Robert Koslover, Ed Jordan, Doug Black, Chris Stirewalt, Mark Davies and David Albersheim. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)

    URL for this article: http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=

    Today on OpinionJournal:

    • Review & Outlook: Democrats and Iran: Hillary outsmarts her dovish competition.
    • Peggy Noonan: Americans should not fear talking–and listening–to those whose views we loathe.
    • Fred Kagan: Why we’re winning now in Iraq.
    • The Journal Editorial Report: Tune in this weekend for discussions of Columbia’s circus, Giuliani’s phone manners and No Child Left Behind.

    And on the Taste page:

    • Naomi Riley: The college try may not get you into college.
    • Kyle Smith: Violent movies don’t sell when the heroes are racked with guilt.
    • Dave Shiflett: Religious action figures create a different kind of toy story.

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