Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Michael Totten Needs His Real Friends. NOW.  

(Links added, content slightly revised.)

Michael Totten is, to be sure, not a man I either like or whose judgment I respect. But now, he is about to do something incredibly stupid and his clueless supporters are more than prepared to let him go ahead and do it.

According to his blog, Michael intends to move to Beirut soon, ignore State Department warnings, see what he can see amongst the Hezbollah and the Palestinians, go inside Syria, and tell us all about it on Tech Central Station. I kid you not. Needless to say, Michael has no real experience as a foreign correspondent, no real knowledge of the area outside his reading of neocon fantasies, and no idea of how to judge the character of the people he encounters.

Michael's real friends need to talk sense to him. Immediately.

Let's be up front about this. Michael Totten is trying to get himself killed. Why, I have no idea. While I don't like Michael's politics in the slightest, I have no desire to wish him personally ill. No way should he go to Beirut.

It is difficult to paraphrase the sheer madness of Michael's plans, so here is some of what he wrote:
The first places I’m going to visit after I secure my apartment are the very places the State Department tells me not to go anywhere near: Hezbollah’s militarized state-within-a-state in Beirut’s southern suburbs, and the wretched Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. Then I’m going to Damascus so I can experience a real live Baath Party police state up close and in person.
A "real live Baath Party police state..." What the hell is he thinking? This is not how a knowledgeable man describes his interest in observing up close a dangerously repressive government.

Perhaps Michael believes he is 10 years old and he's going to the circus and he'll get to hold a real live boa constrictor which will provide a suitably controlled frisson of danger. Or maybe he's consciously echoing Tom Friedman's notoriously idiotic lede from a column penned in the early months of the Iraq fiasco: "It isn’t often you get to see a live political science experiment." Did Michael think he was being cute, or funny, or maybe hip and cynical when he wrote this? Whatever, dude. What he lets slip, as Friedman did, is that he has no idea whatsoever what he is fantasizing about.

Michael continues:
I am not an unbiased observer, and I have no intention to write bloodlessly neutral 'he said, she said' AP-style wire pieces.
Indeed he won't. There very well will be plenty of blood around. His own.

Why on earth is Michael doing this? He explains:
I’ve had enough of opinionated bloviating for a while...
In other words, he's going off to get himself killed because he's tired of talking. That is simply nuts.

And then he immediately continues:
... and I’m looking forward to adding to the world’s knowledge, even if ever so slightly, rather than merely adding to the world’s noise. "

As if a blogger, with no experience as a foreign reporter in a war zone, with no deep knowledge of the area he will be covering, a man who cannot speak the languages he encounters, who knows almost no one in the area, is in a position to impart anything resembling knowledge. That is equally deluded.

Now here's what will happen to poor Michael if someone he respects doesn't shake some sense into him.

The best case scenario is that Michael lands in Beirut and, using connections from his neo-con online buddies (and who knows, maybe a CIA agent or two), merrily goes about interviewing third rate bureaucrats and attending embassy parties, naively reporting middle east propaganda as if it is really deep insight into a country's soul. Occasionally, he'll exchange deeply felt passionate expressions of peace with those ubiquitous paragons of street wisdom, the cabbies who drive him back and forth to his flat. Michael will learn nothing he couldn't learn from a trip to the local library, see nothing dangerous, and come back to the US with exotic stories, some great hummus recipes and little else to mark his time in the Middle East except perhaps a bad case of the runs.

But if Michael actually decides to do what he says - ignore State Department warnings, and go about his biased ways into the heart of the Hezbollah - even money says he will end like poor Danny Pearl. Because let's not forget, Pearl was smart as a whip, talented, knew what he was doing, had experience, and while a committed reporter, was no idealistic fool. Michael Totten has none of Pearl's obvious advantages. And Michael is going into an area just as dangerous as Pakistan.

Perhaps Michael thinks he can pull off a cynical career breakthrough, reasoning that if he can hobnob with mediocrities and merely appear to do something bold and dangerous rather than actually do it, he will come back to the US with a rep that he can parlay into a role as a genuine expert, a true TV-ready pundit. He can't. His chances of meeting anyone important, unless he has serious connections, are zero. Even if he has those connections, the chances that anyone important will tell him, a total novice, anything interesting are also zero.

But really, I hear the romantics riposte, who knows? Maybe Michael's naivete will work to his advantage and he will really do something important to help advance our knowledge of the Middle East,

Well, I know. And I am telling you that if you are a friend of Michael Totten's, you should stop reading this, call him up, and talk some sense into him.

If Michael wants to learn something and do some good, he should go to school, learn Arabic or Persian, get a degree in poli-sci, and join State. Or join the Army. Or just simply keep on blogging.

Okay, I've done my bit. I urged Michael in his comments to his post to stop his foolishness. He deleted my comments. I sent him a letter urging him to find an excuse and not go. No response.

I repeat, I don't like him very much, but I see no reason why he should go blithely off in search of some faux-Hemingway epiphany, urged on by brain-dead sycophants. If you are his friend, please contact him and talk him out of this incredibly bad idea.

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