?

Log in

 

Myths_Americana

About Recent Entries

McKinley's Disputed Quote: "uplift and civilize and Christianize them" Mar. 9th, 2007 @ 03:27 pm
In our most recent posting on "Pretexts for War," we used a widely cited quotation from President William McKinley. George Mason University has posted it with this framing note, followed by its canonical source citation. "In an interview with a visiting church delegation published in 1903, President William McKinley defends his decision to support the annexation of the Philippines in the wake of the U.S. war in that country.

When I next realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. . . And one night late it came to me this way. . .1) That we could not give them back to Spain- that would be cowardly and dishonorable; 2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany-our commercial rivals in the Orient-that would be bad business and discreditable; 3) that we not leave them to themselves-they are unfit for self-government-and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's wars; and 4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.
Source: General James Rusling, “Interview with President William McKinley,” The Christian Advocate 22 January 1903. The meeting had occurred on November 21, 1899.

A passerby to Myths_Americana observed that Lewis Gould's The Presidency of William McKinley (Lawrence: The Regents Press of Kansas, 1980) disputes the accuracy of the religious portion of this quotation (p. 141), expressing suspicion toward James F. Rusling. Wikipedia has popularized this doubt with a section labeled Disputed Quotation. Its authenticity is important to history writing, because it has been cited in this form so often on nothing more than Rusling's authority. While I can't really prove that McKinley said it, I believe that there are persuasive circumstances surrounding it and an independent confirmation that Gould ignored. I divide the issue into (a) the contestability of the "president on his knees" report, and (b) the evidence regarding the the quote's language.

Two Presidents on their Knees in Prayer?. Gould is rightly suspicious that Rusling would print stories of two different presidents--Lincoln and McKinley--praying for divine guidance about their wars and then reporting it to Rusling. Rusling, who had risen to Brigadier General during the Civil War before he became a historian, wrote about Lincoln in the first chapter of his Men and Things I Saw in Civil War Days (1899). This book is now, but Google's project has rescued Men and Things, so that we can study what Gould found to be the source of suspicious parallels. Rusling does not in fact assert that Lincoln made the disclosure to him alone, but to General Dan Sickles, whose leg was shatered by a cannon ball at the Battle of Gettsyburg. It was Sickles himself, recovering from his amputation, who posed a question to Lincoln about his thought process during the Gettysburg ordeal. Rusling happened to be present. Since Sickles was a famous/notorious person, the story likely circulated often after the 1863 hospital encounter. Sickles later became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, living until 1914. As regards the authenticity of the account, Rusling's Men and Things includes an Appendix relating to , and it includes correspondence with Sickles himself, who cannot confirm that Rusling had the exact words right. Sickles after all, was still suffering from the recent amputation of his leg in 1863, and Rusling's initial published account in 1892 came 25 years after the event. (See pages 355ff for the various confirmations that Rusling offers as well as the earlier published version.) In an important qualificaton to his skepticism, Gould notices that McKinley himself had used the Lincoln-on-his-knees-in-prayer story in a speech he gave in 1892 (note 36, p. 266). Could it be that McKinley had received his version from Rusling, enjoyed it, liked its effect on his audience--and then used the heart of the story later to give a religious stamp to to his account of meditation on the Philippines. In seeing the matter that way, McKinley leans on Rusling, rather than Rusling leaning on his earlier story to recast McKinley.

The Religious Context. Gould's book is not attentive to religion or to the significant role of the Methodist Church in McKinley's life. In this regard, Gary Scott Smith's essay "William McKinley: America as God's Instrument" is far more instructive because he pays attention to McKinley's life a man solidly grounded in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Beyond quoting Rusling's Christian Advocate article to call it into question, Gould did not include the Methodists' own history of their relationships with McKinley as president. J. Tremayne Copplestone's History of Methodist Missions, Vol. IV: Twentieth Century Perspectives (The Methodist Episcopal Church, 1896-1986 (New York: The Board of Global Ministries/The United Methodist Church, 1973) tells a decisive story here. The Methodists, like other groups in American society, experienced the expansionist/imperial fever. Matthew T. Herbst has described how one Annual Conference acted in the heat of the imperial moment in his well documented essay "Michigan Methodism and Aggressive Christianity." Once the war with Spain was underway, Methodist foreign mission advocates saw the Philippines as both fertile target and a kind of beachhead that could be used for more effective launches of evangelism into Asia. The Methodists began to lobby McKinley early and often for the right to missionize the Philippines, which was dominated by the Catholics prior to its annexation by the United States. As the Methodists put it, they wanted "complete religious toleration" (Copplestone, 174, citing a Sept. 6, 1898 letter from the Missionary Society of the Methodist Church ) and the freedom for competition with the Catholics, who were linked in their minds with heathen superstition, idolatry, and political tyranny. As relates to the authenticity of the quotation, Bishop James M. Thoburn, prior to the famous August 21, 1899 meeting of the Missionary Comittee with McKinley, had a private audience with the president to plead the Methodist case for permission to evangelize. and this session supplemented a White House reception for the Committee in the Blue Room with Admirals Dewey and Schley. (Copplestone, p. 187) Three days later the delegation from the Missionary Committee, which included Rusling, came to the White House to thank the president for the encouragement given to Bishop Thoburn for their ventures. In that session the Committee members read to McKinley a statement saying: "The Methodist Episcopal Church believes in the dignity, the dignity and the destiny of this Great Republic as a Providential institution among men--to uplift, and civilize, and christianize our fellow men." (Copplestone, p. 188) This written statement and details surrounding the meeting appeared in the "Minutes, General Missionary Committee" for November 9, 10, 15, 18, 21--the last being the exact date of the meeting with McKinley. (Copplestone's source notes, p. 1217) It has often been observed that no member of the committee ever contradicted Rusling's account. Why would they, since McKinley was simply repeating the language read to him? They were all Methodists with a shared missionary purpose and spoke the same language to one another. It's true that McKinley in his public rhetoric spoke more vaguely about "the duties of civilization" and that is doubtless why Gould could not believe that McKinley would have spoken so fervently about a world religious mission for America. McKinley was sensitive about his public audiences and could politically tune the level of secularity/religiosity in his rhetoric. In this case of the disputed quote, with documentary evidence that he was merely repeating the language brought to his private chamber by his religious peers, there seems little reason to question it.

In my opinion, it is not the quotation that should now be disputed, but the doubt about its authenticity. One could go to those same archives that Copplestone drew upon as he wrote the history for the Methodist Church. It is always possible to learn something new from a second look.

John Shelton Lawrence March 8, 2007

A Brief History of Wars-by-Pretext Feb. 21st, 2007 @ 09:33 am
REIGNING IN WAR BY PRETEXT
by Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence
(1/23/2007)

Recent signals from President Bush suggest a willingness to expand the Iraq War into Iran. The movement of aircraft carrier groups and Patriot missiles suggest both air attacks and the protection of American allies from possible Iranian retaliation. Walter B. Jones (R, NC), suspicious about a drift toward pre-emptive attack on Iran, introduced House Joint Resolution 14 on January 12, stipulating that there was no prior authorization for it and that any such action would only be justified in the event of an “attack” or a “demonstrably imminent attack by Iran.” Other sponsors from both parties quickly joined him. While it is easy to focus on the president-of-the-moment, official scrutiny is also warranted by a tradition of public permissiveness toward American presidents who manipulate situations and information to launch new wars or to expand old ones.
Consider James Polk’s Mexican War, William McKinley’s Spanish American War, and LBJ’s use of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. In each of these episodes, crusading features of what we call the "Captain America Complex" were factors. Threatening circumstances were viewed as conspiracies centered in enemy nations stereotyped as evil. An opposing stereotype of America’s perfect innocence led to visions of "unprovoked attacks" that justified violent responses. And in contrast to the illegitimate violence of others, American violence was considered redemptive, making the world "safe for democracy." Victory was to be assured because our motivations were allegedly pure and, of course, because God was supposedly on our side.
I
James Polk was President in a period when many citizens were eager to see the country expand. Attempts to purchase Texas had been rebuffed so Polk, without congressional or other public discussion, set a course of action that would eventually bring both Texas and California under U.S. control. He secretly sent John Slidell to Mexico with a diplomatic mission of purchasing the two territories. As backup to the anticipated rejection of his offer, he secretly dispatched General Zachary Taylor to a zone in the Texas territory that he could confidently predict that Mexico would treat as a challenge to its sovereignty. Colonel Ethan Hitchcock, one of Taylor’s officers, immediately saw the point: “It looks as if the government sent a small force to bring on a war, so as to have a pretext for taking California and as much of the country as it chooses.” However, in his account of how the military engagements in Texas had begun in May of 1846, Polk presented a picture of complete innocence and self-defensiveness. “We have tried every effort at reconciliation. The cup of forbearance had been exhausted.”
Congressman Abraham Lincoln exposed Polk’s deceptions in a precise speech on January 12, 1848—eighteen months after the beginning of that advertised-as-easy war. While Lincoln had logic, law, and a nose for hypocrisy on his side, Polk played to America’s sense of “manifest destiny” and its crusading zeal to civilize adjacent parts of the world. Like a neoconservative ideologue offering millennial promises for democracy in Iraq, the New York Sun opined that Mexico “is accustomed to being conquered and the only new lesson that we will teach is that our victories will give liberty, safety, and prosperity to the vanquished.” The public followed Polk and at the next election, threw Lincoln out of office. The results satisfied the hunger of many Americans for a larger and more connected nation. Masking this vast and expensive grab as a defensive action sweetened the victory.
II
By the end of the 19th century, the U.S. looked on impatiently as Europeans powers enlarged their imperial holdings. An inviting pretext to enter the colonial game came from the nearby Cuba. An insurgency against Spain was being promoted by Cuban Americans who lived in the United States. President McKinley quietly schemed to enter a war that would give America parity with its imperial rivals. He pre-positioned Commodore Dewey’s fleet in Hong Kong so that the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay could be quickly destroyed. As agitation increased to fight Spain in Cuba over the issue of autonomy, he sent the battleship Maine to Havana Harbor, where it sat for two weeks until it exploded—most likely as the result of coal dust.
Hoping to avoid war, Spain began to make concessions, but McKinley continued to ratchet his demands so that Spain could not meet them in time to evade losing big chunks of its wobbly empire to the U.S. Rather than asking congress for a declaration of war, McKinley asked them “to declare that, since Spain had broken off diplomatic relations, a state of war already existed.” He sent the message to Dewey for an attack on the fleet in Manila Bay, a task accomplished easily two days later. Hundreds of Spaniards were killed or injured without a single combat loss among Dewey’s forces. Then McKinley quickly demanded annexation of Hawaii—needed as a service bridge to our new Philippines--and the seizure of Puerto Rico, since it was a Spanish possession. Although the U.S. had liberated the Philippines from Spain, taking assistance from the insurgents led by General Emilio Aguinaldo, it ended up fighting an anti-American counterinsurgency that eventually claimed several hundred thousand Philippine lives. Aguinaldo himself became a prisoner of war held by the Americans. Ultimately the U.S. used the same tactics followed earlier by Spain in Cuba: burning villages and forcing survivors to live in concentration areas where they could be separated from the guerillas that depended upon them. When a group of Methodist clergy came to remonstrate, the President presented a pious form of the Captain America Complex that is worth quoting at length:
Before you go I would like to say just a word about the Philippine business. …The truth is I didn't want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them. . . . I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me ….that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.
McKinley was rewarded for his pious work in the increase of American empire. He was relected to a second term. As much as any American president, McKinley illustrated the power of cloaking material intentions while creating the circumstances for popular military action. Moving beyond Polk, he merged God, the claim to civilize barbarians, and U.S. material interests.

IV
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is a classic episode of using a minor military event as a pretext for a larger war. By 1969 Joseph C. Goulden had written Truth is the First Casualty, the Gulf of Tonkin Affair; and many other books have continued to explore the deceptive pretexts that allowed Lyndon B. Johnson to widen the war. At the time of the Tonkin Incident in August, 1964, President Johnson’s reelection campaign faced a belligerent Barry Goldwater, who was proposing to use tactical nuclear weapons against adversaries in Vietnam—even delegating to field commanders discretion about whether to use them. While most voters were repelled by Goldwater’s bellicose rhetoric, Johnson felt urgency about creating a reputation as a defender of America’s national security—even if the danger to it came from a very distant location. To Doris Kearns, he remarked that “if I left the war and let the Communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser, we would both find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe.”
Johnson chose an incident in the Tonkin Gulf as his pretext. The United States, collaborating with South Vietnam, was running several types of operations above the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in North Vietnam’s coastal waters. The South Vietnamese were raiding coastal facilities while the U.S. navy’s destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy were conducted electronic surveillance. The North Vietnamese concluded from the proximity of the navy’s destroyers that they played a supporting role for the attacks, which were a violation of the Geneva Agreements of 1954. There is consensus that the North Vietnamese made a retaliatory attack on the Maddox in international waters on August 2, firing torpedoes that missed their targets.
Johnson’s team sensed an opportunity to “assert the right of freedom on the seas” and ordered the destroyers to return to the North Vietnamese waters in concert with additional raids by South Vietnamese commandoes. On August 4, in the midst of a storm at night, Maddox sonar readings led it to believe itself under attack. Some 22 torpedoes were counted on its sonar, leading it to fire at three attacking boats, which were presumed destroyed.
Reports went to fleet command and were conveyed to Washington. However, by daylight the Maddox crew had second thoughts about the presumed attack. They found no debris from the attacking vessels they thought they had destroyed. Captain John Herrick, suspecting sonar distortion, hesitated to launch retaliatory attacks. Alexander Haig, Robert McNamara’s Assistant, indicates that the Pentagon decided within two weeks that nothing had happened on the night of August 4—except confusion about what had actually happened. But the White House machinery for the manufacture of pretext had already been flipped into production.
LBJ spoke to the American people on television and announced the first aerial raids by the United States on North Vietnam. Although characterized as “limited,” there were 64 sorties that destroyed 24 patrol boats and an oil depot. He also sought a congressional resolution “expressing the unity and determination of the United States in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in Southeast Asia.” That resolution, without indicating the provocative circumstances leading to the real attack of August 2 and with no hesitation about the phantom attack, assigned all the blame to the communist side. The Tonkin Gulf Resolution passed with an overwhelming majority on August 10, 1964, and it uncritically mirrored the president’s construction of what happened:
Whereas these attacks are part of a deliberate and systematic campaign of aggression that the Communist regime in North Vietnam has been waging against its neighbors and the nations joined with them in the collective defense of their freedom.
Displaying the kind of trust in the president that surfaced again in the congressional authorization for war in Iraq, the resolution stated that “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President, as Commander in Chief, to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” The measure passed the house unanimously and the senate with only two dissenting votes. As Stanley Karnow describes the congressional manipulation by Johnson, “It had not been deliberately faked, but Johnson and his staff, desperately seeking a pretext to act vigorously, had seized on a fuzzy set of circumstances to fulfill a contingency plan.” The Tonkin Gulf Resolution stood until 1970, when it was officially revoked by a congress that was furious about Nixon’s expansion of the war into Cambodia. But the war continued—under Nixon’s mantle of “peace with honor”—until 1973.

V
Since the pretexts that led to the Iraq War are so widely known, it suffices to point out that their rhetoric conformed to the crusading paradigm evident in these earlier episodes and that the level of congressional and public support was commensurate. The war was clearly part of the campaign against terrorism, ordered by the president shortly after the 9/11 attack, and later justified on the basis of suspected WMD and involvement in terrorism, as the president’s own words reveal in Bob Woodward’s recent book. Only as the pretexts have been exposed has support begun to diminish, unfortunately too late to avoid the deadly quagmire that a more realistic public could have prevented. But it is not too late to look ahead, however, and to contemplate how to avoid the next mad rush to judgment. If the Jones Resolution passes, Congress and the public will need to exercise vigilance, because the history of pretexts tends to repeat itself.
Fantasies are not limited to those who support a continuing or widening war in Iraq. Demoralized people in the peace movement may be quietly hoping that the war will collapse in a mess of lies, atrocities, and spiraling costs that the country will no longer tolerate. In this scenario, the blood-stained bills for military overreach will restore prudence and a sense of obligation to international law and opinion. Others may be motivated to take more direct action to shock the country into a precipitous withdrawal.
In this precarious season, when so many have idealistic motivations to employ undemocratic means to achieve goals that they present as democratic, it is appropriate to mobilize the peaceful resources in our culture, to trust in the slow process of inquiry and public debate, and to respect the sanctity of the law—both domestic and international. Having been burned repeatedly by propagandistic employment of pretexts for war, it is time we became more wary and used our common sense.
These historical incidents help us to give up the crude stereotype that we are pure while our enemies are “dastardly,” and may encourage us to remain under the equal jurisdiction of our constitution and its larger framework of international law. Perhaps it is time to sustain Lincoln's hope in the wisdom of the democratic public conveyed in these words attributed to him: “You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time..”
Robert Jewett, of Heidelberg, Germany and John Shelton Lawrence, of Berkeley, have coauthored Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil (2003), and The Myth of the American Superhero (2002).
==================
ENDNOTES
1. House Joint Resolution 14, “Requirements Concerning the Use of Military Force against Iran,” 12 January 17, 2007
2. The treatment of the topics in this article draws upon Jewett & Lawrence's books, The Myth of the American Superhero (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) and Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)..
3. Barnet 196.
4. “Message of President Polk,” May 11, 1846.
5. Quoted in Richard J. Barnett, The Rocket’s Red Glare—When America Goes to War: the Presidents and the People. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 102.
6. Walter Karp, The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered Forever the Life of the American Republic (1890-1920). New York: Harper & Row, 1979. 98.
7. From Rusting, J. F. "Interview with President McKinley." As reproduced in The Christian Advocate, vol. 78 (New York: T. Carlton & J. Porter, 1903), 137-38.
8. Theodore H. White, The Making of the President: 1964 (New York: Athenaeum Publishers, 1965), 311.
Stanley Karnow, Vietnam: A History (New York: Viking, 1983), 311.
9. Karnow, Vietnam, 368.
Karnow, Vietnam, 369.
10. Alexander Haig, Inner Circles (New York: Warner, 1992), 122-23.
11. Karnow, Vietnam, 373..
12. Robert Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 1-4.; see also the interviews with Woodward in the Washington Post (Sunday, April 18, 2004), A01.
13. Cited in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 4th ed. (CD Rom version) from Alexander K. McClure Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories (1904); also attributed to Phineas Barnum.

Why I Wrote a Fair Use Bill of Rights (B. Timberg) Apr. 10th, 2006 @ 11:10 am
Why I Wrote A Fair Use Bill of Rights—and Sent it Into the Blogosphere–by Bernard Timberg

“When it comes to profound technological interventions—whether by steam or steel, books or bytes, electricity or elections—we consistently overestimate their transformative power in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. Only when a new technology is mature enough to be almost completely invisible to the majority does it really start to alter society.”

John Perry Barlow, California Magazine of the California Alumni Magazine, March-April, 2006arch/April 2006 | VOLUME 117, NO. 2


As someone who struggled with, and would not give up, a long and ultimately unsuccessful effort to get clarification and support for my own fair use (it comes under item 8 in the brand new “Fair Use Bill of Rights” that I will begin to cite, even though—and especially because—it is my own creation) I can safely say that I learned the difference between having a “right” theoretically and being able to practice it. I know, I know, we all have our own sad stories of our copyright struggles. Some of us give up. Some of us get angry. Some of us write statements.

I went to lawyers, of course, but looking back, I feel it is long past the moment when we can rely upon lawyers to do what needs to be done--even the kindest, gentlest, wisest, and most progressive among them.

As a product of the sixties and feel the need of being involved with something larger than myself, you know, change that obdurate world out there.

And so for my part I am directing my efforts toward words. I am trying to re-direct words like “defense,” “privilege,” and “loophole” that have been applied to fair use, and spin them (yes, we too can spin) in another direction. I say, and will act as if, fair use and free speech are one phrase and one word, and that they both together, these days, form the basis of our rights to quote words and images—discuss them, take them apart, mock them, and re-combine them in parody and tribute.

“Fair Use” by itself is, of course, eminently reasonable. It refers to a “rule of reason” in the law. Dry. Boring. Now the “First Amendment” has a certain ring to it. A “free press” and “free speech”? Noble emblems of a bygone time and arching, aching dreams toward “democratic expression.” But “fair use”? How do we make a dry and worn out legal phrase, a “rule of reason,” a little more “wet”?

And another problem. We have inherited the rather clogged pipes of copyright legal education, such as it has been. Despite some very enlightening and exhilarating conferences and statements, for many, inside and outside the university and legal community, a great deal of confusion, uncertainty, and fear that has been generated in recent years, and “rather successfully,” as Edward R. Murrow might add. We see the “piracy” spots in our movie theaters. No “fair use” spots balance them.

But what if the issue itself were not so complicated? What if it could be communicated in a clear and even entertaining fashion? What if we decided, jointly, with many like-minded others, that the pendulum of copyright law had swung too far?

In the first decade of the Digitial Millennium Copyright Act, some of us, a lot of us, have begun to feel a kind of weirdness in the pit of our stomach when we read or hear about efforts to “lock down” the images. And we get a feeling of surrealism, or a little shudder down our backs, when serious trademark actions are taken to limit the use of phrases like “fair and balanced” in the news (Fox Television), or “super hero” (Marvel Comics, pursuing to limits the use of this phrase through its trademark of 1937). Or when we hear that documentary filmmakers are forced to pay for the privilege of using a commercial logo from a public billboard in a public place that appears in part of a frame of a film. Or when a documentary filmmaker is required to pay $5000 to the owners of the “Happy Birthday” song for the “privilege” of recording a Happy Birthday at a family gathering.

And so, with this kind of reduction ad absurdum at my side, I launch my own “Fair Use Bill of Rights” into the blogosphere. There it joins John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” 1996, and many other statements and manifestos. And I have decided to “publish” my own commentary montage, with or without lawyers, in that same blogosphere.

I have to believe that these expressions, and actions, add up. That though it will take time, all of us, samplers and re-mix parodists, teachers and researchers, moving image artists and the kid next door, will at some point feel free to say whatever we have to say about the media imagery that bombards us daily, in words, in moving images, and not feel it is a “cause,” simply what comes to hand in the modern world in which we live.

Bernard Timberg for Myths_Americana, April 7, 2006

A Statement of Rights for Scholars of the Moving Image Apr. 4th, 2006 @ 10:09 am
[Yesterday Bernard discussed a couple of stupid corporate tricks--Marvel/DC trying to nail down the use of the words "super" and "hero" when they appear in any competing commercial context and Fox's attempt to copyright the words "fair and balanced." Here's a follow up on the rights to discuss moving images along with a call for action and a more detailed rationale for it. A more extensive statement of rationale is available by request from Bernard.--JSL]

A Proposed Bill of Rights for Fair Use by Teachers, Scholars, Librarians and Artists of the Moving Image--
by Bernard Timberg


Draft of April 4, 2006 for Review And Comment (264 words)

We the undersigned reaffirm our rights to the fair use of moving images under Section 107 of the Copyright Law of 1976.

These rights refer ultimately to the fair use of all images, copyrighted, uncopyrighted, public domain or “orphaned.”

Though we speak as individuals, we urge our places of employment and professional associations to publish best practices statements that clarify these basic rights.

We refer here specifically to the right to:

I. Play back or screen clips in a classroom or educational setting.

II. Play back or exchange clips in a distance education extension of a classroom setting.

III. Exchange clips with a colleague in a complementary process of teaching, scholarship or research.

IV. Copy a moving image document to preserve it for future study.

V. Screen clips at scholarly conferences or presentations.

VII. Disseminate clips to publicize or inform the public about an exhibit in a museum or educational presentation.

VIII. Combine clips to disseminate or publish a commentary montage that makes a thematic or critical point to further discussion.

IX. Disseminate clips to inform the public about the holdings of a permanent moving image collection, a specific part of a collection, or a theme from the collection presented as a commentary montage.

X. Combine clips to share with others in personal or artistic experiments that have no ascertainable commercial purpose or value.

These are basic rights as scholars, teachers, researchers, writers, moving image artists, documentarians, and consumers of media images in our modern world. We pledge to support these rights in whatever ways we can--for ourselves and for others.


for suggestions, follow through–>

Bernard Timberg
508 North Tryon Street, Apt 305
Charlotte, NC 28202
Phone (cell): 704-965-5342
Email: btimberg@carolina.rr.com

Owning the Words "Super Hero"--Can you really do it? Apr. 3rd, 2006 @ 11:24 am

(a Guest Appearance by Bernard Timberg) 

Last week the LA Times (March 26, 2006) published an editorial entitled “Set Our Superheroes Free.”


Well, we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again.  Emboldened by their successes, legal representatives of entertainment copyright holders are, well, over-reaching?  My first awareness of this goes back some forty years now when I learned that an obscure popular culture scholar named John Shelton Lawrence (now more well known in the field of popular culture studies) was being denied access to a photographic image of the Lone Ranger because, in the manuscript of the book he and Robert Jewett were writing, which had been requested by the Lone Ranger copyright holder estate, they had described the our culture’s revered masked rider as a, gulp, “vigilante”  That certainly would not do, the Lone Ranger’s legal representatives decided, and the request was denied until the message about “the Lone Ranger” property was massaged a bit. A $500 fee—about 1500-2000 in inflation adjusted dollars--had to be paid to reproduce a single comic book frame.

More recently, in a well publicized case, the lawyers for Fox Television filed papers asking for an injunction against Al Franken for using Fox’s trademarked phrase, “fair and balanced” in the title of his book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”  Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly later squared off at Book-Expo America, an annual convention for booksellers and publishers where, as USA Today put it in its article on the event on June 1, 2003, “authors are not known for shouting insults at each other.”  Backstage, before the main event (which was later broadcast for the edification of audiences around the country on CSPAN-2), O'Reilly said his photo was used without permission. Franken said it was in the public domain. Later, O'Reilly said, "Fox lawyers will handle this."  The result: Franken’s book shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.  And Fox lawyers retreated to their lairs to refine their strategies for the next time…

Kleenex, linoleum, cellophane, bandaids, the Lone Ranger, superheroes… Same difference.  For a new breed of entertainment lawyers, the words we use, pictures of news celebrities we might put in books or articles, the very cultural air we breathe, is ready to be staked out for exclusivity and market domination.

I have just completed a “bill of rights” of fair use for teachers, scholars, librarians, and moving image artists who might possibly want to use words like “super hero” and “fair and balanced” in their critiques or exchanges—maybe even (gasp) images plucked from their TV sets or off the Internet—in their critiques.  It is based on the work John Lawrence and I did two decades ago on the problems scholars, archivists and creative artists have had “quoting” popular culture imagery in their work.  The problems have of course, increased, and in the cases cited above reached the “reduction ad absurdum” state.

Do we need a new “bill of rights” to quote the images that bombard us daily and surfeit our culture.  Sadly, yes.  It will appear as a “premiere exclusive” in a future issue of Myths_Americana.  Watch for it.

Bernard Timberg


This Just In - Edward R. Murrow’s Spirit Alive and Well at the Academy Awards--with John Stewart Mar. 3rd, 2006 @ 10:41 am
[This is a guest piece by Bernard Timberg, an old friend of mine with whom I have written articles and edited books.--JSL]

Journalist – one whose business it is to edit or write for a public journal. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English, 5th ed.).

It is fashionable today to lament the loss of Edward R. Murrow and his legendary team at CBS. But the spirit of Edward R. Murrow remains with us alive and well today, I would suggest, and in even more places. We just need to know where to look for it.

At the 2006 Academy Awards, for example--example—with, of all people, Jon Stewart, the dean of faux news, presiding. It’s no accident, I think, that the Academy Awards went with a cable television star who has a limited audience but critical reputation to handle the hosting duties of this year’s ceremony.

Issues tackled this year by nominated films include: Murrow’s own battles with the broadcasting establishment during the height of McCarthyism (Good Night and Good Luck); state terrorism and targeted assassination (Munich); gay love as an enduring value (Brokeback Mountain); transgender transformation as a human right (Transamerica); the sexual harassment of mine workers in Minnesota (North Country); the brutality and boredom of war (Jarhead); stereotypes of race and crime turned on their head (Hustle and Flow and Crash); international pharmaceutical companies testing deadly drugs on Africans (The Constant Gardener); and finally, in one of the more complex films of the year, an examination of a celebrated writer and a cold-blooded killer locked in a strange embrace within the truly American fascination with murder, violence, capital punishment, and 15 seconds of fame (Capote). Nor have critics failed to notice that the three of the leading films at his year’s Academy Awards feature “non-traditional” gender roles (Capote, Brokeback Mountain, and Transamerica--Transamerica—last year’s Mrs. ) as churches and civil society has been divided by “gay marriage” and abortion and right to life issues, and the borders between entertainment, news and politics on television have been so constantly bridged recently as to become, after a while, almost meaningless).

These Hollywood films come at a time when the "straight news" daily journalism itself has been severely compromised. Each week a new revelation occurs about how the news we receive is shaped by the carefully managed photo opportunity, the skillful publicity plant (the equivalent of a “product placement” or “product integration” into film story lines), the staged press conferences, the audience-stacked public speaking event, and the authoritative news release carefully timed to knock other, more disconcerting news, from the front page. The old guard of TV News has gone now. Cronkite, of course, but even the “young men” two generations down from Murrows’ boys: Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel. Dan Rather hangs on, bruised after attempting to deliver a Murrow-like piece, soon after the groundbreaking Abu Ghraib story on Sixty Minutes II, on a CBS that no longer has Murrow as protector and shield.

No, the straight news on television may continue to exist, seeming to gain new impetus with 24-hour news channels, but it may also be going the way of the hard copy letter as email gains more and more adherents, or celluloid film in the digital age. A more precious and prized and also less frequently used commodity.

Yes, I think Murrow would see this, note the decline of network news and the new emergence of social issue journalism in Hollywood film.

But Hollywood films, however well researched and however powerful the actor’s performance, are still fiction. The true legacy of Edward R. Murrow the news man, echoing in a program like See It Now’s “The Case of Milo Radulovich” or his classic documentary, Harvest of Shame, has come to us through the independently produced feature documentary.

Among last year's hard-hitting news analyses and investigative reports were: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, The Control Room, The Corporation, Outfoxed, Why We Fight, and Street Fight.and The Death of Kevin Carter: Casualty of the Bang Bang Club, God Sleeps in Rwanda, and The Murshroom Club. Some of the new documentaries don’t have convenient news pegs. They deal with cultural rather than political issues: Grizzly Man, Murderball,Penguins Spellbound, Rize, and Mad Hot Ballroom, to name five of the most distinguished. These films get theatrical releases, but also play on television and are distributed on VHS and DVD. Some did not get much exposure at the Academy Awards, but played repeatedly on cable (as Grizzly Man did on the Discover channel). But they invariably probe, deeply, the human condition. I think Murrow would have celebrated them all.

And Murrow, who had a good sense of humor and infectious chuckle, would also have been watching the late night news parodists on television as well? How would Murrow have reacted favorably to the comedy journalism of Al Franken and Dennis Miller, Janeanne Garafola and Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Larry David, Wanda Sykes, Dave Chappelle, and, of course, the dean of “faux news,” Jon Stewart? Would he have enjoyed it or lamented it?

Though he would lament the slow demise of the network news, he would I think Murrow would have understood and commented upon the rise of the more recent forms that bridge the entertainment/news divide and attempt to explore the truths of our times.

He would have reminded us, however, that being aware of social problems is not enough, however we come to that awareness. There is a limit to what Hollywood liberalism and hard-hitting documentaries can do. The quote that most forcefully expresses Murrow’s conviction in this regard occurred in hist last documentary for CBS, Who Speaks for Birmingham? 1961. It was completed just at the time the freedom riders were coming to town, and a number of them were visciously beaten to a bloody pulp as the Birmingham police conveniently absented themselves from the scene. With the elections of 2006 and 2008 approaching, Murrow would say, as Howard K. Smith did quoting Edmund Burke and speaking as Murrow’s surrogate, ended by saying, of the nonviolent civil rights struggle that had just so explosively begun, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Something to remember in our own times. Good night and good luck to us all.

Biographical Note: The author is a freelance media critic and journalist living in Charlotte, North Carolina, who has taught film, television and media studies for over twenty years. His book, Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show (University of Texas Press) won the American Library Association’s CHOICE award in 2004. Next year he joins the journalism/documentary faculty in the College of Communication at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.

Reading Americas's Classics--and Deriving Timely Wisdom Mar. 1st, 2006 @ 01:56 pm
Lynne Cheney and her husband Dick are quite a political item. She doesn't quietly stand by her man as Laura Bush does but often gets out there and yells at people. Before 9/11 drew her into monitoring subversive academics, one of her long time projects was to turn America's school back to the classics and away from intellectually frivolous and politically noxious themes like multi-culturalism.

I thought of her and the veep when I sat down this week and re-read Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac (1949). It's a great book on the ecological world vision that ranks with Thoreau's Walden (1854). Measuring him by Cheney type standards, Leopold had pretty good conservative credentials. Like the veep, Leopold had Yale U. degrees under his belt, graduating with a Master's in Forestry. And his book is filled with clues that he's a guy's guy--no latte, limousine transported liberal he. He smokes cigarettes, shoots wolves, ducks. grouse, deer, and other moving critters. And he has that conservative bias that older is better, and that civilization is on its way to hell.

But does have some remarks about hunting (p. 176) that may speak to the character issue.

"The disquieting thing in the modern picture is the trophy-hunter who never grows up, in whom the capacity for isolation, perception and husbandry is undeveloped, or perhaps lost. He is the motorized ant who swarms the continents before learning to see his own back yard, who consumes but never creates outdoor satisfactions. For him the recreational engineer dilutes the wilderness and artificializes it trophies in the fond belief that he is rendering a public service.The trophy-recreationist has peculiarities that contribute in subtle ways to his own undoing. To enjoy he must possess, invade, appropriate. Hence the wilderness which he cannot personally see has no value to him. Hence the universal assumption that an unused hinterland is rendering no service to society. To those devoid of imagination, a blank place on the map is useless waste: to other, the most valuable part."

Cheney's errant pellets, had they hit their targets, probably would have fallen on penned animals released just for the killing pleasure of portly old men who have to be wheeled around with their guns. The Humane Society complained about his style of the kill several years ago. This may be the deeper issue embedded in this event--after we have separated out the rights of hostile journalists to know all the most embarrassing news instantly.--JSL

Interests, and No Principles OR Principles, and No Interests? Feb. 26th, 2006 @ 04:39 pm

In the matter of the Dubai Ports World controversy, George W. Bush has taken the position that it's all about security and competence and that Dubai has been a trusted partner of the U.S. since 9/11. As for the self-interested stakes of anyone in his administration, it would be outrageous to even acknowledge such a possibility. The high ground of Bush here is like a helicopter fluttering over the deep waters of Katrina. Do you remember the disaster that NOBODY could have anticipated--except all the people who did? And the efforts to clamp down on what the administration actually knew because that was a pretty big fib?

In addition to listening to GWB's well crafted and seemingly sincere speeches, a good supplementary rule is to follow the smell of corporate money. David Lazarus is just one Beagle-nosed journalist who has done it for the San Francisco Chronicle. His article "It's just another blurry line" takes us through the money trail at the Treasury Department, which gave the green flag. CSX, whose former CEO is John Snow (Secretary of Treasury) sold its port management operation to Dubai Ports for 1.15 billion$ a year after Snow came to Treasury. Although Snow divested himself to the tune of 33 million$, he picked up 8 million$ in deferred compensation and still picks up a 78,000$ per year pension from CSX. I don't know what kind of equity stake, if any, CSX preserved when it sold its operation to Dubai. But Snow of course brought some CSX people to Treasury, and we don't what their stake is.

You'd have to be pretty cynical to think that government officials would allow their personal interests and that of their economic class to influence their judgments about national security. You would also have to cynical to think that Condi Rice as National Security Adviser had a weapons corporation interest bias when, prior to 9/11, she downplayed the urgency and up-played the vagueness of Richard Clarke's warnings about a terrorist attack by bin Laden. Let's give her this thought bubble: "Thinking about stateless threats doesn't cost enough. Let's start doing contracts that pay back the people that helped put us in office." (I plead guilty. Invented quote. Bob Woodward does and he gets paid big money. I have a Paypal account.)

Anyhow, if Bush finally exercises a veto over legislation to prevent Dubai Ports from operating in our big transportation centers, the money angle is another way to think about what he will say about his principles.--JSL


Behavior Therapy for VP Cheney Feb. 14th, 2006 @ 05:30 pm
Jeff Greenfield has already discounted much of what's been said/will be said about the Veep's hunting episode in his "A Political Rorschach test" at CNN.com. Agreed. In evaluating Cheney, we will likely see his behavior as one more confirmation of what we already thought.

Cheney-despisers (ouch, that's me) will see the delay as one more performance of  Cheney's shtick. Do what you do, get out of there and claim "executive privilege, national security" if any one wants to know more. Cheney despiser-haters will focus on the media scene and call it feeding frenzy. I'll have to concede that you could have stuck some of those reporters biting Scott McLellan yesterday in the shark tank at Marine World and they would earn their sardines. So I can see both sides. I am qualified to behaviorally reshape Cheney's by giving him a speech for prime time TV. I promise--

I will be constructive.
I will give him a new character if he will only be sincere.
I will restore the dignity of the office for the duration of his tenure.

Vice President Cheney. Do you hear me? Repeat these words!

I carelessly shot my friend. Guns don't kill people, people kill people as that truthful bumper slogan says, and I almost did.
I pray for my friend's reocovery with genuine caring for him--despite the fact that I will benefit greatly if he doesn't die and never shows the face that I defaced with my bird shot.
I did not buy my Texas hunting stamp because I thought I was special.
I did not take my NRA hunter training because I thought I was pretty old and smart. I am merely old, arrogant, dumb and seemingly nasty to many.
Please forgive me. I will only last a few more years in the role that so many of you have come to loathe.
God bless my friend, God bless America, and dear Lordy, please bless me more than I deserve!

That felt good, didn't it. We need more leaders who will take the character cure--JSL

The Bad Reporter and the Art of the Insult Feb. 4th, 2006 @ 08:09 pm
Insults to Islam are in the air now, as is the smoke from the burnt Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria. Looking at it opportunistically, I wish there were an outrage futures market, where I could buy shares and profit from the indignant angers of the future. Because the desire to offend is so prevalent and the tendency to respond hypocritically (how often has the official Islamic press defiled Judaism?), you can probably count on mor fury than reconciliation. Rather than speculating about the economics of harms that arise out of intercultural religious insults, I would like to call your attention to an American master of the sly cartoonic insult--Don Asmussen of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Saying that someone has a manic imagination is a cliche'. So I'll just have to say that Don is more-than-manic. He takes on everything. And rather than being thunderously self-righteous like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly--even after being exposed, convicted and successfully litigated), Asmussen doesn't take himself so seriously. He calls himself "the Bad Peporter" just to prepare you for his rendition of the news: "The LIES behind the TRUTH, and the TRUTH behind the LIES that are behind the TRUTH." Got that!! He never said which parts are true.

A sample? His most recent is a series of panels, appropriately, about lying. In the first frame we have a sweaty man facing "Enron's Books" and the headline is: "SKILLING ADMITS ENRON'S BOOKS WERE ONLY 'INSPIRED BY REAL EVENTS'" THEN "WE NEVER CLAIMED THIS WAS AN ACCOUNTING MEMOIR." From there he riffs to Bechtel and Exxon.

If you look, you get the idea. Like most good cartoonists, he weaves together what's hot in culture at the moment (Jeff Skilling, Oprah, James Frey) and tosses a wonderful omlet. And he didn't really say it, so the Chronicle is off the hook and so is he. So much more soothing than having Rush shouting in your ear. He's worth a bookmark in your browser--JSL
Top of Page Powered by LiveJournal.com