Sibling Rivalry, Guantanamo, Iran and the War on the Press

Time tells us "How Your Siblings Make You Who You Are," while The New Yorker looks at offensives against both Iran and the media.

You are no doubt still thumbing through last week’s ad-thick double issues of Newsweek, New York and U.S. News. But among the weekly magazines not enjoying a post-double-issue breather this week is Time, which weighs in with a cover story titled, “How Your Siblings Make You Who You Are” — the sort of piece that has morning news show follow-up story written all over it (and a quick Nexis search confirms it: see CNN’s American Morning today and yesterday’s Today Show on NBC).

Time’s Jeffrey Kluger reports: “At research centers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere, investigators are launching a wealth of new studies into the sibling dynamic” and “from that research, scientists are gaining intriguing insights into the people we become as adults.” For example, here’s a not-exactly-shocking nugget from one Laurie Kramer, a professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Kramer “has found that, on average, sibs between 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict 3.5 times an hour.” In other words, “Getting along with a sister or brother can be a frustrating experience.” (Emphasis added.) Continues Kluger: “But as much as all the fighting can set parents’ hair on end, there’s a lot of learning going on too, specifically about how conflicts, once begun, can be settled.”

Also in this week’s Time are five suggestions for “How to Fix Guantanamo” from reporter Nathan Thornburgh. Among Thornburgh’s novel proposals is that the Bush administration should “work with Congress,” because while “it may take months to achieve the harmonic balance between good policy and good campaign agitprop … any Guantanamo policy that eventually emerges could have greater certainty and legitimacy for having been forged through the chaos of democracy.” The administration should also, Thornburgh contends, “lift the veil of secrecy,” noting that “the White House can take a huge step toward removing the discomfort about Gitmo by opening the operation to the outside world,” and “if Guantanamo is legal and effective, now is the time for the government to prove it.”

Elsewhere in the magazine, Managing Editor Richard Stengel offers “To Our Readers” his thoughts on SwiftGate. Stengel “urge[s]” readers to “listen closely” to what he calls “the bitter crossfire between the government and the press.” Why? Because “the government’s assertion that it must be unhindered in protecting our security can camouflage the desire to increase executive power, while the press’s cry of the public’s right to know can mask a quest for competitive advantage or a hidden animus.” Concludes Stengel: “Neither the need to protect our security nor the public’s right to know is a blank check. So listen carefully because, after all, you are the judge.”

For a different take (and tone) on the same topic, have a look at David Remnick’s “Talk of the Town” piece in this week’s New Yorker. Writes Remnick: “More than any other White House in history, Bush’s has tried to starve, mock, weaken, bypass, devalue, intimidate, and deceive the press, using tactics far more toxic than any prose devised in the name of Spiro Agnew. Firm in the belief that the press can be gored for easy political gain, the Bush administration has set about reducing the status of the media (specifically, what it sees as the left-wing, Eastern-establishment media) to that of a pesky yet manageable interest group, nothing more.” Remnick questions the sincerity of the White House’s war of words directed at the New York Times in particular: “The Bush administration can’t really believe that these newspaper stories have undermined the battle against al Qaeda; what’s more, it knows that over the decades papers like the Times have kept many stories and countless particulars secret when editors saw that it was in the interest of national security and military safety to do so. The Times banking story disclosed no leads, named no targets. To say that it risked lives is like saying that an article revealing that cops tap phones to monitor the activities of the Mafia is a gift to the Five Families of New York.”

Remnick wraps up as follows: “In the era of the Pentagon Papers, a war-weary White House went to the courts to stifle the press. You begin to wonder if the Bush White House, in its urgent need to find scapegoats for the myriad disasters it has inflicted, is preparing to repeat a dismal and dismaying episode of the Nixon years.”

Finally, Seymour Hersh takes New Yorker readers through “the military’s problem with the President’s Iran policy,” with some help from (largely unnamed) “active duty and retired officers and officials” as well a few (named) consultants and think tank types. The gist of Hersh’s piece? “The U.S. Strategic Command, supported by the Air Force, has been drawing up plans, at the president’s direction, for a major bombing campaign in Iran. Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the president’s plans … The generals and admirals have told the administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran’s nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States. A crucial issue in the military’s dissent, the officers said, is the fact that American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities; the war planners are not sure what to hit.”

One “Pentagon consultant” told Hersh, “There is a war about the war going on inside the building. If we go [into Iran], we have to find something.” And, in case you’re not worried yet, a “senior military official” told Hersh that “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides ‘really think they can do this on the cheap, and they underestimate the capability of the adversary.’”

Time to revisit U.S. News“Secrets to a Stress-free Summer”?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.