The leadership changes announced at the Wall Street Journal this week are more than another shuffle in the executive suite. The Dow Jones board of directors voted to replace journalism’s power couple — Peter Kann and his wife, Karen Elliott House, chairman and publisher respectively, with 47-year-old Richard Zannino, a senior Dow Jones executive, and a player to be named.

Peter and Karen are both journalists, very fine, Pulitizer-prize winning journalists, who were examples of Dow Jones’s long tradition of promoting journalists from the field to the front office. Mr. Zannino, who seems to be widely liked, is a businessman pure and simple. His major professional credential is his experience with Liz Claiborne, Inc. He may be exactly what the beleaguered Dow Jones needs at this difficult time in the newspaper business, and no doubt he will carry out the cost cutting and other measures that Wall Street wants to see, but something has been lost in this transition.

Having watched both Peter and Karen in the field, I have a sneaking suspicion that both were better reporters than executives. Perhaps now they will have time to get back to what they do best. They are a class act.

An Unanswered Question

An Unanswered Question

I have a problem and I need President Bush to help solve it. I still don’t understand — really understand — why we went to war in Iraq.

Even after the President’s series of speeches on Iraq, even after the apparently successful parliamentary elections in that beleaguered country, I am still left with this nagging feeling that I don’t know the whole story of why we went into Iraq in the first place. And I can’t feel any sense of confidence about the whole exercise until the President clears that up.

Originally, of course, the President told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the security of the United States. Frankly, I never understood that. Even if he did have such weapons — as most western intelligence agencies apparently believed he did — he had no means to deliver them 5,000 miles to U.S. shores. WMD’s might have threatened Saddam’s own people, possibly his neighbors and conceivably Israel, but not the United States. And with U.S. planes patrolling his skies and U.N. arms inspectors nosing about, even his neighbors had little to worry about. He was, as the saying goes, “in a box.”

Recently, President Bush conceded that the pre-war intelligence on which he based his rationale for the war was wrong. But he said he would have attacked Iraq anyway, because 9/11 changed his view of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. But how did it change his view, given that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11? The President didn’t say.

Mr. Bush still describes Iraq as the central front in the war on terrorism. That certainly wasn’t the case before we attacked Iraq. Afghanistan was the central front, Al Qaida was the enemy and Osama Bin Laden was its commander.

The President also tells us that a free, independent and Democratic Iraq will serve as a beacon for reform throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Perhaps. But it is by no means clear that a genuine democracy will in fact emerge in Iraq. History shows few examples where Democratic government has been imposed at the point of a gun.

So I am left with that nagging feeling that there were other reasons that motivated Mr. Bush and his advisers in the first place. Reasons they believed, but could not, or did not, articulate. Remember the determination with which they approached the invasion? All through the previous summer and fall, the Pentagon was shipping tens of thousands of U.S. forces per month to staging areas around Iraq. The President repeatedly said the decision to go to war had not been made, but practically it had. Were those troops really going to turn around and come home? They were there and they needed a war to fight.

So what really motivated that fateful decision? Was it a son wanting to finish a job his father had started with the first Gulf War in 1991? Was it a geopolitical move to project American power into an oil-rich region? Was it a desire by the world’s sole superpower to flex its muscles? Was it part of a grand design to impose a kind of Pax Americana? Was it to make the region safer for Israel? Or was it part of a broad, neo-conservative strategy to confront militant islamists head-on?

I don’t know. But if one or all of these factors moved the President originally to commit this nation to such a bloody and expensive enterprise, I wish he would tell us. We deserve to know.

Redskins Mania



The Washington Redskins are on a roll. After a frustrating first half of the season, they have won four games straight, the last two by big margins. If they beat the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday — and the stars are properly in alignment, meaning the New York Giants lose on Saturday — they could win the NFC east title and sail into the playoffs for the first time in six years.
This may not seem like big news beyond the Beltway. But it is. When the Redskins are winning, the nation’s capital is a different place, a better place. Top to bottom, everybody’s mood brightens. The lobbyists on K Street, the staffers on Capitol Hill, the politicians, the journalists, the cops on the beat — they all smile when the Redskins are winning.
You can hear it in conversations all over town. Iraq may still be a mess, the budget deficit as big as ever, Big Brother still listening, the Republicans still squabbling among themselves, the Democrats drifting, the weather cold, the traffic terrible, but when the Redskins are winning, actually winning, there is something else to talk about.
It is a reminder that Washington is a real place, with real people who care passionately about things beyond Congress or the White House. It isn’t simply a political Potemkin village. It is a city, like Philadelphia or Boston, a place beyond politics.
There was a comparable exciting period last spring. The Montreal Expos were reincarnated as the Washington Nationals and against all the odds, won ballgames. Lots of ballgames. For weeks they were first in their division. The town — remember, that’s cutthroat, take-no-prisoners Washington — was giddy with delight.
Far more than the Redskins, the Nationals were a great leveler for Washington. There were no luxury boxes at ramshackle old RFK stadium. Tickets were relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the Redskins, so the powerful and the proletariat sat side—by-side in the blue plastic seats and loved it.
Of course it was too good to last. The Nationals went into a swoon after the All-Star break and ended the season in the cellar. At the same time, the President’s standing in the polls was plummeting and Congress was descending into disarray. A causal relationship? Who is to say? It’s no sillier than predicting the stock market by the rise and fall of hemlines.
Might it follow, then, that if the Redskins keep winning, the President’s poll numbers will rebound? If the running back, Clinton Portis, has another 100-yard game, will sweet harmony erupt on Capitol Hill? If the Redskins make the playoffs will Judge Samuel Alito breeze onto the Supreme Court? If they get to the superbowl for the first time in 14 years, will peace break out in Iraq?
Maybe not, but why not root for the Redskins and find out?

(Commentator Terence Smith is a former media correspondent for The NewsHour on PBS who has suffered with the Redskins through good times and bad.)

Terry Smith’s Blog

Terence Smith is an award-winning journalist who has been a political reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and television analyst over the course of a four-decade career. He has written on everything from a Bedouin wedding in the Sinai to firefights in the jungles of Vietnam to presidential news conferences in the White House. This is his blog. Check back once a week to read the latest commentary and feel free to post your comments.