From Susan Sontag to Texas City


We live in strange and scary times, which is one way of explaining how it happened that we turned on the television the other night and managed to catch an usual pairing of guests on Ted Koppel’s Nightline: author Susan Sontag and Tom Gutting, formerly of the Texas City Sun. Sontag, who lived in Sarajevo for several years during the Bosnian war, kept trying to interject that she is “NOT a pacifist.” But she has indeed been catching–you should pardon the expression–Holy Hell ever since she penned a 473-word piece in the New Yorker, suggesting that something was awry in the coverage of the attacks of September 11: “The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?”

Meanwhile, Gutting, who penned a column critical of President Bush’s performance on September 11 (see “Political Intelligence”) told Koppel that he is now out of a job.

We can only begin to imagine what will happen between the time that we dot the last “i” and cross the last “t”, send this issue to our printer and out to you, our wonderful, loyal and feisty readers. And we’re not talking about what happens to individual journalists. In the aftermath of the horror of September 11, we raised what we called “The Why Question.” So, let’s be clear about one thing: We will continue to raise the why question as often as we can. To do otherwise would be to betray our reason for being. This is and always will be a journal of free voices.

Keeping up with an unprecedented global crisis–a global economic crisis as well as a tinderbox in Central Asia and an ongoing threat of additional attacks here in the United States–is a huge responsibility and an unprecedented challenge for all of us. Along with millions of people around the planet, we have also been struck with another “Why Question”: Why are we here? What is our role?

So, what is our role here on West 7th Street? We will continue to do what we have always done best–to cover the way we live in what we like to call the most unusual state in the Union. We will continue to cover the machinations of the corporate world and a badly skewed economic agenda. We were disheartened to read, for example, in the New York Times of October 2, that UAL Corporation, the parent corporation of United Airlines, has ordered a fleet of 30 business jets at $20 million each, “part of a new business for UAL, that of selling shares of business aircraft to corporations, celebrities and other wealthy individuals.” But wait–didn’t the taxpayers just bail them out? How could they afford $600 million worth of luxury jets? As Gabriela Bocagrande reports from Washington this issue, a lot of other peculiar stuff has been sliding through without scrutiny while the press has been focused on the Big Story (and too often has been muzzled at that).

As for the Observer, we’ll be keeping our eyes on the big picture through our trademark sharp reporting here in Texas, through our columnists in Austin and elsewhere, through the distinct voices of our Afterword writers, and through reviews of the best insightful books we can find on Central Asia and the Middle East. We are also launching a new feature, beginning with this issue: an occasional guest column that we are calling “Open Forum.” The opinions expressed will not necessarily be our own. We hope that they will inspire a larger debate and more Dialogue. So keep those cards and letters coming. We need to hear from you, whether you’re in New York or Texas City, now more than ever.