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Dear Commenter: I Dredge Through The New York Times for More Than Pageviews

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Yesterday a commenter accused me of dredging through The New York Times every morning to find a pretext for some kind of inflammatory ditty here on Lawn whose only purpose is to stir up a hornet's nest of clicks. Yeah, I can see how somebody could get that impression. But, what do you want me to do? Certainly not give up my morning Times!

Here's the problem. I happen to think The Dallas Morning News, for all my ragging, is probably one of the nation's better dailies. I might change that to possibly, just to make it a shade more irritatingly patronizing, because I do enjoy irritating them (and it's soooo easy). But the News is a good paper. I read it every day. Takes me about four minutes.

The difference between the Times and the rest of them is that every day in the Times there is some arresting, well-done story or op-ed piece or editorial that takes you down two or three levels deeper into the news than what you're going to get anywhere else. What do I mean deeper? Smarter.

Today, for example, the Times offers an op-ed piece by two academics, Asli U. Bali, an acting professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Aziz F. Rana, an assistant professor of law at Cornell, arguing that military intervention in Syria is probably the worst of all possible choices.

They provide a kind of cursory sketch of the ethnic, religious and tribal divisions in Syria to make the case that all of the players there want to leap for each other's throats. No matter who may emerge on top with the help of foreign guns and money, as opposed to negotiation, the outcome will be some form of annihilation.

Right now, the United States is pledged to help raise $100 million in aid for the rebels. Aid being fungible and rebels being desperate, we should think of that money as $100 million worth of guns.

But guns for whom? What outcome do we think we'll be buying with our bullets, or God forbid, our blood?

This stuff has been on my mind since a recent phone conversation with an old newspaper buddy, Rone Tempest, a retired foreign correspondent with lots of shoe-leather experience in the Middle East and Asia. Tempest said he had been talking to other fellow former foreign correspondents who were bemoaning the tendency of most American media to portray Syria as a cowboy tableau of white hats versus black hats, completely ignoring the complicated interplay of tribal and religious factors actually driving events there.

In particular, almost no one covering Syria wants to talk about the fact that President Bashar al-Assad is leader of a minority within a minority, an Alawite among Shias in a nation that is 74 percent Sunni.

If you watch Anderson Cooper every night, Assad is just some kind of totally incomprehensible nut-case son-of-a-bitch who loves to kill people. And, by the way, he may be all of that. But he is also the leader of a tiny subgroup that knows it is going to get scrubbed off the face of the planet the moment it loses power.

This is the OK Corral for Assad, because it's the OK Corral. His choices are 1) Shoot first, or 2) throw down your gun and say, "Shoot me."

The authors of today's op-ed piece wind up saying that diplomacy and negotiation -- which means dealing directly with Assad -- are the only tools that can pull Syria back from a bottomless blood bath:

If we are really interested in protecting the civilian population -- rather than using this as a strategic opportunity to flip regional alliances -- the benefits of a negotiated transition are clear. It may not reinforce our geopolitical position, but it will help safeguard ordinary Syrians caught in the cross-fire.

It's a tough one for those of us who lack the shoe leather, the personal connection or the academic expertise to understand it in a more intimate way. All I know is this: I watch Anderson Cooper's personal posturing on global geopolitics -- a lot of people are getting hurt in a lot of places, and I, Anderson Cooper, am going to stamp my foot right to make it stop -- and I come away wanting to take a shower. It's sleazy exploitative theater.

Why do I watch him? Funny. I hadn't asked myself that question. I guess there must a moment in every day when I'm in the mood for sleazy exploitative theater.

I don't think The Dallas Morning News is sleazy exploitative theater. It just isn't enough. It's he-said she-said -- superficiality masquerading as objectivity.

Either way, a simplistic construction of what's going on in Syria -- Assad is Bad Bad Leroy Brown and the rebels are Robin Hood's Merry Band -- is a siren song that will lure this country into another stupid, stupid war. We've just done two of those. We need another one?

The Times. Sorry, commenter. Gotta have it. Gotta have it all, I guess.

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