(in response to her article in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 2003)
Dear Ms. Saunders:
Your column appeared this morning next to John Arquilla’s argument that our focus in the "war on terrorism" ought to be on arms control, not on war as a solution to problems. I read him first, and possibly that’s why your article came across as badly as it did. The two together ought to go into a textbook as an example of the difference between good journalism and bad. You have the disadvantage, as a journalist, of being a generalist while he, as a professor of defense analysis at one of our prestige military institutions, has more substantial content to work with, but you might have done your readers a service anyway, if you had taken the high road.
Instead you presented yourself as a petty no-nothing whose chief means of communication at her disposal is name-calling and derision. "…de Villepin looked down his nez…;" " ‘Let us not be diverted from our objective,’ de Villepin sniffed;" "Saddam-ites such as de Villepin..and Blix;" "…France’s idea of serious consequences for Hussein? Not being invited to Maxim’s for dinner?"
All very cute, this derision, but it hardly contributes to the need for clarity and depth in this life-and-death question of whether to unleash the fury of a rich angry nation on people under Hussein’s thumb and unable to get out of the way. Your points are there – de Villepin makes war more likely, Iraq will not disarm as long as Hussein is in power, Hussein thumbs his nose at Resolution 1441– but you just lay them out as if your readers didn’t know them already; you don’t argue, you simply declare.
You also counter de Villepin’s appeal to justice, solidarity, morality and the law with the made-for-sophomores argument that Hussein is a bad man who has "killed his own people." If justice demands that be be driven from office for doing this, what of the question the world is asking about why justice should be applied to people sitting on oil but not elsewhere?
You have the floor, Ms. Saunders. Could you not take your responsibility a bit more seriously? Is anything at all accomplished by lashing out at the French for not eliminating their Foreign Ministry and tying their foreign policy to ours for time and all eternity because we "saved their bacon" a half century ago?
After being an embarrassment for so many years, the Chronicle is now providing its readers with very high quality news and analysis. I know the pressure of deadlines means sometimes you have to write something without giving it much thought, but lashing out at France for doing what virtually all of Europe is doing makes you look punchdrunk. The Chronicle's quality depends on people like you to offset its liberal bias. I hope find your way back to playing that role responsibly.
Alan J. McCornick