Monday, May 16, 2011

(Of Course I Did)

From The Skipping Record Dept.   

The headline, the photograph, the predictable narrative of futility, the matter-of-fact brevity.  The level of accuracy with which the various elements of the article compliment each other is uncanny.  The hallmark nondescript style of the photography, with its deceptively understated, slightly
 cockeyed composition bolsters its black-and-white color scheme's tendency to focus the viewer on the content. 

The setting and the scene is a journalism standard hardly worthy of note: the President of the United States standing outside the Oval Office flanked by any number of administration officials.  This time there were two.  In the middle, gesturing from behind a podium and in mid-sentence, is President Obama.  To his right stands Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton; to his left, newly former U.S. Chief Envoy to the Middle East, George J. Mitchell.  While progressing through Steven Lee Myers' recent New York Times article, "Amid Impasse in Peace Negotiations, America's Chief Middle East Envoy Resigns", occasional glances at the accompanying picture make the relative states of mind behind the facial expressions in it increasingly obvious.  Despite the seriousness of the subject at hand, its perpetually frustrating quality becomes undeniably, sadly comical.  From left to right, here's what the faces secretly reveal--Clinton: exasperated, maybe even a little despondent; Obama: concerned, but resolute; Mitchell: stupefied.  The tragically ho-hum frustration of the piece is underscored by its sub-headline, "For George J. Mitchell Jr., shuttling between the Palestinians and Israelis went nowhere." 

Myers didn't waste time hinting at the significance of Mitchell's decision to vacate the position, leading with a couple of impressive highlights from the former Senator's resume: brokering a peace agreement in Northern Island, and leading the congressional investigation of steroid-use in Major League Baseball.  Not bad, right?  To help illustrate my point, I'd like to provide a summary of the major points in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but attempting to do so in a sensible way would be just as frustrating as the ongoing attempts to solve it.  Let it suffice to say that solving a problem requires logic, something that is by nature at odds with the issue so close to the root of the problem: religion. 

Starting with a quote by Obama situated about midway through the piece and lasting until the final paragraph, I found it difficult to suppress an increasingly audible laugh born of frustration with the sadly routine quality of the event and sympathy for the subjects of the photo.  Said the president,  "We remain committed to peace in the Middle East and to building on George's hard work and progress toward achieving this goal."  (Of course we do.)  Myers wrapped things up by pointing out that Israeli and Palestinian officials blamed each other for Mitchell's resignation.  (Of course they did.)  As venerable New York Yankee alum, Yogi Bera would say, "It's like deja-vu all over again."  (Of course it is.)

It's because of sharp, tight pieces of journalism like this that I love to read The New York Times.  It's the level of writing I aspire to.  The different elements of the article combine to actually illustrate the underlying frustration hidden not so far between the lines of the narrative.  It's a literary multi-dimensional bull's-eye; the journalistic equivalent of not a Derek Jeter inside-out-swing, solo-shot that barely clears the little league right field wall at Yankee Stadium, but rather a Mickey Mantle 3-run blast that finally falls on pavement.  I don't mean to imply that the Times is the only news outlet doing such quality work, but I see samples of this kind of multi-level effective communication more in it than anywhere else.  Someone mentioned to me once that when she sees someone with copy of the Times, she assumes of them an air of pomposity--just another piece of institutionalized, run-away rhetoric eroding the industry inch by inch.  The Times is a source of in-depth coverage delivered at a level of consistency matched by few others, and that has nothing to do with any perceived political slant.  (Just skip the Op/Ed page and "Politics" section--like I do.)  It's one of the few remaining levees of integrity standing against a rushing flood of attacks on the journalism industry.  I urge you to try it.  It's a little deep at first, but once you're treading water, I promise, you'll love it.

I don't mean to suggest the U.S. should stop attempting to bring peace to the Gaza Strip.  Nor do I mean to make light of the highly contentious and hostile situation there, or of anyone who is devoutly religious.  But, since two years of trying to resolve the differences between Palestine and Israel was enough to perplex a diplomatic heavy-hitter the likes of Mitchell, maybe the President should take a different approach when considering a replacement.  How about Joe Torre?  Anybody who can handle a team of multi-millionaires possessing as great a collective amount of sheer talent as Torre's Yankee teams did, without weekly clubhouse fistfights breaking out, must be a pretty good people person.  Toss in four World Series wins and two other appearances, and dealing with George Steinbrenner, and dealing the New York media, and it's easy to see Torre's probably as well qualified as anyone. 

I considered including a summary of Mitchell's predecessors and their tenures, here, so I did a Google search for an itemized history of U.S. Chief Envoys to the Middle East.  I couldn't find one.  (Of course I couldn't.)
Bravo, Steven. 


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