Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Finally! Finally! Finally! As regular readers know, Talking Points' usual MO is slashing or biting political criticism and satire, which is, needless to say, entirely inappropriate at the moment.

(Note: I will be getting back to some constructive criticism momentarily; but more of that in a moment.)

In any case, in such a moment of national crisis it's hard to find people who are easily skewered and entirely appropriate to skewer. But I think I've found one.

As you may remember, during impeachment a law professor with a specialty in environmental law named Jonathan Turley became one of the most ubiquitous faces on chat shows high and low. He became the impeachment maven even though he had no clear expertise related to the questions at hand.

Well, now it turns out that there's no end to Turley's expertise! When I stopped by the website of The Hill -- the Capitol Hill newspaper -- today I noticed that today at 3 PM Hill editor Al "Eisele's guest will be terrorism expert Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University Law School."

Who woulda guessed?!?!?!

Now obviously when I saw this the first thing that came to my mind was, hey, I haven't had a good post in days, and this could be it! But I didn't want to let my cynicism get the better of me. So I did a Nexis search of how many times Turley's name has shown up within 25 words of the word "terrorism."

Answer? Ten Times. Ever. And seven of those came after last Tuesday. Turley's website doesn't seem to mention the terrorism expertise either.

Now the old cynical Talking Points would have accused Turley of being a self-promoting hack. But that was then. And this is now. What I am thinking now is that it's possible this expertise may have been based on undercover work Turley has been doing since impeachment. Perhaps even work undercover amongst the mujahids of Afghanistan. This would after all explain his absence from the airwaves since not too long after Bill Clinton sicced the CIA on bin Laden back in late 1998. It's either that or Turley is shamelessly repackaging himself as a "terrorism expert" to grab a bit more TV face time.

Say it ain't so, Jonathan!

Just a thought. Quite a bit is being made of the fact that Pakistan is one of only three countries to have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. But you don't hear so much about the fact that the other two are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The cable nets have been widely reporting Osama bin Laden's purported denial of involvement in the horrific attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. Now obviously there's no reason to believe anything bin Laden says for any number of reasons.

But, in context, the denial isn't even a denial. The key line is "I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks."

But according to many area experts and ex-intelligence types I've spoken to recently bin Laden's role is seldom to "plan" these events, as in exerting operational control. It's more a matter of funding them, okaying them, training the perpetrators, and so forth.

I mean, not like we're going to get into parsing with this #$%&@$*. But, you know, just FYI.

Alack! TPM has a rep for indicting others for being pitiful and lame. But this will have to be a TPM self-denunciation. Once before, a breakdown in the complex protocols used to update the Talking Points website resulted in the tragic loss of a week's worth of postings. Regrettably, it has happened again! That would explain the lack of a link in the archive below for the week of September 8th-14th.

Now in the earlier incident last June I discovered, to my great surprise and gratification, that quite a few readers had either saved the page in question or had it cached on their machines. A few committed Poinsters sent these copies in and this led to the eventual recovery of said Points. (hint, hint ...)

We'll see if that happens again.

With the horror and trauma unfolding in our midst it may seem too trivial or crass to venture some media criticism. But allow me this. Huge events often bring new reporters or commentators to the fore. In this case, I think it's an anchor: CNN's Aaron Brown.

Brown's not a new face. He's been around for a couple decades and mainly at ABC as far as I know. He recently got hired by CNN and he was the first person on the air for the network within minutes of the original WTC attack.

(This may make it seem like I'm sort of Aaron Brown watcher. But actually I just got this info from this page. When I saw him on Tuesday morning I only had the vaguest sense of ever having seen the guy before.)

In any case, he's just really, really good. In his TV manner he has an ingenuousness that feels, well ... quite genuine and elicits or explicates new information that more stuffy or programmed questioners and anchors would never arrive at. He's got this way of thinking aloud on air which, for me at least, really works.

In short, he rocks.

Many highbrow news commentators cultivate a rep for insight, wisdom and perspective but actually put out a product you might call 'insightfulism' - not insight, but a stylized way of talking about the obvious so that it seems penetrating, a way of packaging decent points with oblique language so that they seem like grand pronouncements.

Come to think of it, I think Brown's got one of these characters as a new colleague. But let's not go there.

The point is that CNN made a dynamite pick when they hired Brown.

This TPM post will likely be more undirected or unfocused than usual. Let me try to get out a few thoughts, though.

First are the video feeds (now wall-to-wall on the cable nets) of these family members with hastily pasted together xeroxes of their loved ones -- a picture, a name, a few vital measurements -- straining to get these images in front of TV cameras to spread the word -- and always with the word "missing."

I must say this was more than I could take. I don't mean that this as the accustomed phrase or as a euphemism. I mean it was more than I could take. Partly out of personal concern and also because I now have to write about this awfulness, I have like many of you been watching this coverage almost non-stop since Tuesday morning. But these images were too much. I found myself repeatedly, literally, lurching to grab my remote control and turning the television off.

What is it about these images? I guess it's the pure desperation of these people. And their human and terribly understandable unwillingness to come to fully recognize that desperation. It's their denial. There is just something (and I mean this in the most sympathetic sense of the word) pitiful about them, for those of us who are at least insulated from immediate personal loss in this case can immediately recognize that these people are "missing" only in the most grave and technical sense. They're dead. They're all dead.

Certainly there will be a few miraculous stories with grieving families who find a relative is one of the few John or Jane Does in a New York hospital. But only a very, very few.

And it's this denial, this desperation that just makes this stuff so unbearable because it is a pain beyond grieving. When you see families in full grief you have the sense that they have at least passed a first threshold, and in some unfathomable sense their grief has begun to find its way into graspable proportions. But these family members with these pictures have ... well it's just too much to describe. Hope against hope, at a certain point, becomes too searingly painful to watch, because the disconnect between the glimmer of hope and the inevitable grief is just too dissonant. And the presence of false hope just makes the true hopelessness more difficult to defeat or overcome.

For us, the rest of us, all these pictures just bring the awfulness of this to life in a way that goes completely beyond the numbers. And there are so, so many. They overwhelm you in the watching.

I thought I'd be less fatigued than it turns out I am. So the rest will come later this morning. Next up, the international reaction. And a few comments from politicians that make you wonder.

As it happens, when this horror began I had been doing reporting for a piece about Osama bin Laden for a couple months. A bit of this went into an article I wrote about bin Laden in Salon.com this afternoon. The following, though, is a combination of information from a number of sources I spoke with today and just thinking the matter through myself.

It's been commonly stated over the last forty-eight hours that the twin attacks on the the WTC and the Pentagon were of sufficient sophistication that they necessarily required state support or the backing of a large and extremely sophisticated terrorist organization.

But is this really true? Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying there aren't state sponsors of terrorism or that one wasn't involved in this tragedy. But was it necessary? I'm not so sure.

What was really needed. As nearly as I can figure, that would be ...

a) perhaps a dozen people with the ability to fly a commercial jetliner

b) some crude and easily obtainable weapons

c) detailed schedules and flight plans of commercial airlines

d) $500,000 or $1,000,000 to pay for miscellaneous expenses primarily including housing and board for a few dozen individuals

e) sophisticated organizational skills to coordinate the activities of a few dozen people while presumably keeping many of them unaware of the activities of the others

Of course, one could easily argue that the real issue is what superintending authority could bring all these people together. That's an extremely good question. And the point of bringing this up is not to exonerate anyone, of course. But I think it's worth noting that at least from what we've heard what was really needed here was not so much complex infrastructure, facilities, or resources as several knowledgeable, experienced individuals and lots and lots of time.

I've gotten a few critical letters calling me out for praising our president too fulsomely, or rather too reflexively in the last post, particularly when I said he "came through with flying colors" in his Tuesday night address to the nation.

There's probably something to this. It's probably more honest to say, simply, that he didn't disappoint. And that's really no mean thing.

In any case, in moments like this (if one can use that phrase) I try to adopt what I call the Clinton rule. If Bill Clinton were being attacked in such and such a way would I think it was fair? I find this an instructive rule in cases, for instance, like the time it took for President Bush to make his way back to Washington.

The White House's cryptic (but conspicuously open) announcement that the White House and Air Force One were targeted seemed like a pretty transparent effort to knock down criticism of how long the president staid outside DC.

On the other, give the guy a *$#@%& break.

I mean, I'm sure whatever thinking went into keeping the president hopping around the country wasn't something that started with him or Karl Rove, but rather the Secret Service and the military. But if this were Clinton in this situation, I think I'd consider this sort of criticism crass overkill. And it's seems the same to me in this case.

Coming up next: if this is 'war', what could this require from us, and what must it require of us? And perhaps most importantly, how should our response differ -- not quantitatively but qualitatively -- from earlier retaliations to terrorist attacks?

I'm not accustomed to watching George W. Bush give a speech and hoping he hits it out of the park. But that was certainly my feeling last night as the president addressed the nation about yesterday's bombing. And on balance I'd say he came through with flying colors.

And for all his faults -- and, yes, he certainly has them -- you can't have watched Rudy Giuliani over the last 36 hours without thinking that in many important ways he has been a truly great Mayor of New York -- something many Dems like myself have long thought. And certainly moments of stress and tragedy, which require steel and grit, are his best moments.

And it's been pleasing to see how many Republicans and Democrats -- all of them as nearly as I can tell -- have focused only on the requirements of the moment, and resisted every opportunity to push even peripheral partisan advantages.

Regrettably, though, there seem to be at least a few examples of the cheapest, most craven opportunism. In this column in National Review Online, Larry Kudlow says that rising to the challenge of the moment will cost of "hundreds of billions of dollars" in new defense expenditures.

That may be debatable but certainly the impulse is legitimate and understandable. And you can even cut Kudlow some slack for the cheap shot implied by his charge that "terrorist invasion of the U.S. mainland underscores the urgent need to rebuild the defense and national security structure that has slowly but steadily eroded in recent years."

This is after all a man with the vision and integrity of a double-breasted suit.

But, according to Kudlow, this tragedy also means busting the lockbox, ditching debt reduction, and having another round of massive tax cuts!

Phony lockboxes must be thrown out the window. Unnecessary obsessions over debt retirement must be driven away. Now is the time for aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus to promote growth and finance freedom. Substantial tax cuts on individuals, businesses, capital investment, and equipment depreciation should be immediately put into place ... Steps to promote energy production must be taken aggressively.
In other words, the only patriotic response to this horror is to enact the complete Bush legislative agenda!

What a shameless gambit.

David Horowitz trots out some similar crap. ("It's time for those on the political left to rethink their alliances with anti-American radicals at home and abroad.") But he's unworthy of mention; beneath contempt.

Nothing real to report beyond the obvious, horrifying tragedy unfolding on your TV screen or computer monitor. My immediate observations from DC have been posted here at Salon.com toward the bottom of the page.

TPM, of course, is normally all about arguments among us, among Americans. But all of that falls deep into the background now. And my support, and I'm sure yours too, is with our president, our armed services, and all of those struggling mightily to save those who can still be saved.