Friday, November 04, 2005

Defending Imperial Nudity

New York Times

Defending Imperial Nudity

Hans Christian Andersen understood bad rulers. "The Emperor's New
Suit" doesn't end with everyone acclaiming the little boy for telling
the truth. It ends with the emperor and his officials refusing to
admit their mistake.

I've laid my hands on additional material, which Andersen failed to
publish, describing what happened after the imperial procession was

The talk-show host Bill O'Reilly yelled, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"
at the little boy. Calling the boy a nut, he threatened to go to the
boy's house and "surprise" him.

Fox News repeatedly played up possible finds of imperial clothing,
then buried reports discrediting these stories. Months after the
naked procession, a poll found that many of those getting most of
their news from Fox believed that the emperor had in fact been clothed.

Imperial officials eventually admitted that they couldn't find any
evidence that the suit ever existed, or that there had even been an
effort to produce a suit. They insisted, however, that they had found
evidence of wardrobe-manufacturing-and-distribution-related program

After the naked procession, pro-wardrobe pundits denied that the
emperor was at fault. The blame, they said, rested with the C.I.A.,
which had provided the emperor with bad intelligence about the
potential for a suit.

Even a quick Web search shows that before the procession, those same
pundits had written articles attacking C.I.A. analysts because those
analysts had refused to support strong administration assertions
about the invisible suit.

Although the imperial administration was conservative, its wardrobe
plans drew crucial support from a group of liberal pundits. After the
emperor's nakedness was revealed, the online magazine Slate held a
symposium in which eight of these pundits were asked whether the fact
that there was no suit had led them to reconsider their views. Only
one admitted that he had been wrong - and he had changed his mind
about the suit before the procession.

Helen Thomas, the veteran palace correspondent, opposed the suit
project from the beginning. When she pointed out that the emperor's
clothes had turned out not to exist, the imperial press secretary
accused her of being "opposed to the broader war on nakedness."

Even though skeptics about the emperor's suit had been vindicated, TV
news programs continued to portray those skeptics as crazy people.
For example, the news networks showed, over and over, a clip of the
little boy shouting at a party. The clip was deeply misleading: he
had been shouting to be heard over background noise, which the
ambient microphone didn't pick up. Nonetheless, "the scream" became a
staple of political discourse.

The emperor gave many speeches in which he declared that his wardrobe
was the "central front" in the war on nakedness.

The editor of one liberal but pro-wardrobe magazine admitted that he
had known from the beginning that there were good reasons to doubt
the emperor's trustworthiness. But he said that he had put those
doubts aside because doing so made him "feel superior to the
Democrats." Unabashed, he continued to denounce those who had opposed
the suit as soft on sartorial security.

At the Radio and Television Correspondents' annual dinner, the
emperor entertained the assembled journalists with a bit of humor: he
showed slides of himself looking under furniture in his office,
searching for the nonexistent suit. Some of the guests were aghast,
but most of the audience roared with laughter.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee oversaw an inquiry
into how the government had come to believe in a nonexistent suit.
The first part focused on the mistakes made by career government
tailors. But the second part of the inquiry, on the role of the
imperial administration in promoting faulty tailoring, appeared to
vanish from the agenda.

Two and a half years after the emperor's naked procession, a majority
of citizens believed that the imperial administration had
deliberately misled the country. Several former officials had gone
public with tales of an administration obsessed with its wardrobe
from Day 1.

But apologists for the emperor continued to dismiss any suggestion
that officials had lied to the nation. It was, they said, a crazy
conspiracy theory. After all, back in 1998 Bill Clinton thought there
was a suit.

And they all lived happily ever after - in the story. Here in
reality, a large and growing number are being killed by roadside bombs.