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The Medium is the Mixed Message

Crank Call


Published October 6, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

It's incredibly hard work." -- George W. Bush

"I know what you mean. I do it twice a month." -- Peter L. Kurth

No, don't ask about the "debate." I mean it -- I won't answer if you do. I'll stamp my foot and say, "I'm cross!" I'll hold my breath until I'm blue. I'll roll my eyes and pucker my lips and demand another pill, either the "Wake Up" one or the "Nighty-Night" one. I don't care which, so long as we can get this over with quick. I mean, quick.

Trust me: Ninety minutes on television is nothing next to 930 words every other week. It's hard work. It's very hard work. This is what folks don't understand. And if I were to ever say, this is the wrong column at the wrong time at the wrong place, the media would wonder, how can I follow this guy? And who would blame them? Because there's a group of folks out there who hate us.

I think what is misleading is to say you can write a column twice a month and succeed if you keep changing positions. I think it's important that writers not be distracted by grand diversions. You can't change the dynamics on the ground if you've criticized your editors. And I think that by speaking clearly and doing what we say and not sending mixed messages, we've affected the world of journalism in a positive way.

For example: Lots and lots of the Iraqi people have been killed and died just since I started writing this. That's important. That's hard work. And that's amazing, when you think about the minutes it took me to write these words and the same minutes it took for a lot of Iraqi women and children to be blown to pieces, because they weren't willing to stay in their homes, as we told them to, when we said they should do that. They should have just stayed in their homes.

Listen to me -- don't interrupt. You cannot write if you send mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong signal -- not just to our troops, but to all of Saddam's -- that is, bin Laden's -- Madhi insurgents. No, it's Saddam's, or al Sadr's, or whatever he calls himself -- I know that. And anyway mixed messages send the wrong signals. And that's my biggest concern. Because I know how the world works. And that's not my job.

See, there are too many things going on right now to worry about who busted who in Coral Gables. That ought to be "whom" -- I know that -- but I know we're not going to achieve our objective if we send mixed signals. And that's why I was brought to fructation. You know, it's like oranges in Florida -- they just hang on the tree until, you know, they fall off.

The way to make sure we succeed is to send consistent, sound messages. And that's my job. But I won't be answering questions about the debate because, well, by speaking clearly and doing what we say, sending messages that we mean what we say and not sending mixed messages, as the politics change, that's not how a columnist acts.

I don't see how you can be a columnist in this country if you say wrong column, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send to our troops? What message does that send to our allies? Who are our allies, anyway?

Other columnists at one time said, well, get me published, I'll have them off the page in six months. You can't do that and expect to keep published. I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. They're not going to follow somebody who says this is the wrong column at the wrong place at the wrong time.

You cannot write a column if you do not honor the contributions of people who are with you. They call them "coerced and the bribed." That's not how you bring people together. That's my job. And I know we're not going to achieve our objective if we send mixed signals to our readers, our friends, our troops, the coerced. Because they're not going to follow somebody who says wrong column, wrong place, wrong time, etc.

Frankly, what time is it?

Other columnists say that help is on the way, but what kind of message does it say to our troops in harm's way, wrong column, wrong place, wrong time? Not a message a columnist gives, or this is a great diversion. So, what's the message going to be? Please join us in columnizing? We're a grand diversion? Join us for a column that is the wrong column at the wrong place at the wrong time?

Yes, I understand what it means to be a columnist. And if I were to ever say... well, this is just a grand diversion. And that's my biggest concern. That's my job. It's hard, hard work.

And don't forget Poland. Poland. Because Vladimir is a good friend of mine. And it's important that we do have a good relation, because that enables me to better comment as a columnist. I sit down with these people all the time. I talk to them on the phone. And what objective can we have together if someone says this is the wrong phone call, wrong wire, wrong time?

What the hell time is it, God damn it!? It's incredibly hard work.

But we're making progress. I don't appreciate other columnists saying ... that's absurd ... I don't believe it's going to happen. That's my job.


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