In watching television news, I find myself experiencing more and more frequently a moment of stunned silence.
Just now, while getting ready to pick up my son at school, I turned on CNN and watched a senior correspondent report that government officials had been saying that the besieged Syrian city of Kobani was of no importance. It was, she quoted them as saying, "just a spot on the map." But now all that has changed, she went on to say, "because ISIS wants it, and we don't want them to have it."
(The ellipsis represents my moment of stunned silence.)
It is the fact that the enemy wants a city or town or bridge or anything that makes it important! Gettysburg was just a spot on the map, until the enemy wanted it. Passchendaele was just a spot on the map until the enemy wanted it. El Alamein was just a spot on the map until the enemy wanted it. It is not the place, but the enemy's intention to occupy that place that makes it a military objective.
Yet the senior CNN reporter dutifully recounted the inane proposition that Kobani, which has been under attack for weeks, is only now of military importance "because the enemy wants it."
Does anybody know anything anymore? Will public officials and media personalities say anything, no matter how stupid and pointless and misleading, as long as someone in authority has said it to them first? Where has this vapidity come from?
Recently, the head of the Centers for Disease control, a respected physician, was asked by a Congressional panel whether it was possible to contract Ebola from someone sitting next to you on a bus. He replied, No, you can't get Ebola from someone on a bus. He then went on to add that, if you are sick with Ebola, you should not get on a bus, because you could give it to someone else.
You can't get Ebola from someone on a bus, but you can give Ebola to someone on a bus?! And the media dutifully reported this. Not dismissed it, not laughed at it, but passed it on to the public. It makes you want to scream.
We didn't used to be this way. As I recall, public officials and news people used to say things that actually contained some truth, or at least some common sense. Or perhaps I'm just mis-remembering or being romantically nostalgic. But wasn't making patently false and contradictory statements what got Richard Nixon fired? Wasn't that what Watergate was all about: the fact that our leaders could not just look us in the eye and lie or say something transparently stupid, and get away with it? When did that change?
As always, I think, it comes from the top. President Obama has lied about so many things so many times and gotten away with it so often, that everyone who works for him or reports on him simply falls into line. Another lie? Go on, they'll buy it. Another contradictory declaration? Why not? They're not smart enough to know the difference.
The president's most recent statement on Ebola made it clear to me at least that he has no idea what he is talking about, and, to my relief, at least one national news commentator had the courage to say so publicly. While insisting that he would not impose a travel ban on people from the affected countries, Obama repeated the inane assertion that doing so would just make things worse. For whom? For us?! Keeping a deadly disease for which there is no vaccine out of the US will help protect us, not threaten us! A six year old could tell you that. We do not allow health care workers who have had contact with an Ebola patient to get on an airplane and travel anywhere. Why should we allow foreign nationals from the affected countries to get on airplanes and come here?
But Obama mouthed what is now the party line (a line written for him, no doubt, by some aide) that a travel ban would make it harder to get medical personnel and supplies into West Africa. Let me put this in capital letters so no one can misunderstand: NOBODY IS SAYING BAN MEDICAL AID FLIGHTS! That would be foolish, and would make things worse. Simply stop issuing visas for the US to people living in the affected countries. That way, no matter what country they travel to on the way, they would not be able to get from there to here. Is that clear enough, Mr. President?
It is insane, even criminal, for the State Department to continue to issue visas to people from countries which are experiencing an Ebola epidemic. But John Kerry, bumbler that he has proved to be as Secretary, is no doubt merely following the line spouted by Obama, who, himself, has doubtless not even examined the stupidity of it, just as he did not read his intelligence summaries on ISIS.
And what of the 3600 US service members who are being sent to West Africa? They have been given four hours of training in infectious disease (which is four more than the new Ebola Czar has), and yesterday, a government official hinted that they might come into contact with infected people, contradicting previous assertions. What happens when they come back? They will be quarantined for twenty-one days, yet the World Health Organization says that the incubation period may in fact be sixty-one days. So we may have dozens, perhaps hundreds of at-risk people being released into the population with forty days of incubation period left. And from the president on this critical question? Nothing. Because he does not know; because he cannot lead; because he is clueless.
Meanwhile, America is, apparently, just a spot on the map, which the enemy - either or ISIS or Ebola, or both - wants. That makes us a target. And I for one do not want them to have it.