Chicago, America’s most underrated metropolis, is the capital of flyover country. So unless
you grab one or both of its major dailies while changing planes at O’Hare (or you’re a news junkie
Web surfer), you’re missing out on some entertaining columns. Here’s one by Debra Pickett, of
the Chicago Sun-Times, headlined “Freedom’s just another word for dodging tough
On Friday, wrapping up the news from Washington, Pickett compared it to “a bad Broadway
show, the kind that promises to make you laugh and cry and be better than ‘Cats.'”
The comedy came first. On Monday, President Bush stood beside Afghan
President Hamid Karzai for a “Joint Press Availability.” Asked if the Iraqi insurgency was getting
more difficult to defeat militarily, Bush answered with a classic
Dubya-ism. “No, I don’t think so,” he said, “I think they’re being
defeated. And that’s why they continue to fight.”
It’s the sort of answer that makes you pause and scratch your head for just long enough to
give him a chance to change the subject. … But Bush’s Orwellian logic — good for only a cynical
chuckle — was definitely not the comic high point of the afternoon. Instead, for sheer free
press-thwarting brilliance, Karzai easily won the day.
After the two men made some opening remarks, talking about the glories of bringing
democracy to Afghanistan, Bush announced, “And in the
spirit of the free press, we’ll answer a couple of questions.
All two of them?
The first question dealt with the military’s treatment of Afghan prisoners of
war. It was full of facts and details and built-in follow-ups, so you could tell the reporter asking it
would probably never get called on again. And, after this rocky start, Bush decided to let the
American reporters cool their heels for a while. “Somebody from the Afghan press?” he asked
There was an awkward silence, which Karzai gamely tried to fill in by asking, “Anybody from
the Afghan press? Do we have an Afghan press?” Then he spotted the single reporter his
government had permitted to travel outside Afghanistan. “Oh, here he is,” Karzai said, as the
room filled with the not-quite-warm laughter of people who suspect they might actually be the
butt of a joke but aren’t sure.
Which of course they were, if only because “nine other Afghan reporters who were to have
followed Karzai on his U.S. visit” couldn’t come because “at the last minute, the Karzai
government decided to withhold their travel permits for fear the journalists might try to escape
their troubled homeland.”
Bush seemed genuinely surprised that the Afghan reporters weren’t there —
American journalists had been asked to fill in their empty seats — so it seems that Karzai forgot to
mention to his good friend that the whole free press thing has a slightly different meaning in the
burgeoning democracy that is Afghanistan.
Since I favor comedy over tragedy when it comes to appreciating Dear Leader’s maneuvers,
you’ll have to click to the rest of Pickett’s column for the
crying side of the news (if you haven’t already), or as Picket writes, “wringing tears from those
who would dare dissent.”