Larry Beinhart’s Fog Facts never quite settles on whether it wants to be a Bush-bashing book, a book on the failings of the mainstream media or both. Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter because there are better efforts out there in each category.
The book’s theme is there are certain facts or significant news stories that the mainstream or establishment media tend to allow to disappear in the fog. Beinhart, a novelist who wrote Wag the Dog and last year’s acclaimed The Librarian, tends to cover a lot of ground already plowed. For example, this slim volume devotes a significant amount of space to Bush’s business background and Cheney’s relationship and actions relating to Halliburton. Much of this has been covered in detail elsewhere. Whether the American public notices or cares is, sadly, a separate issue. Beinhart also tends to stretch some contentions. One example is the proposition that perhaps the true reason behind Bush’s economic policies is to intentionally bankrupt the federal government.
There are good elements to the work. His discussion of where the money to rebuild Iraq has gone is an example of a story the media has tended to overlook. His analysis of the arguments regarding whether “objective journalism” actually contributes to the fog has some merit (although you do pause when he quotes his own work of fiction — The Librarian — as authority). He also does a good job trying to actually examine the Bush administration’s actions and position on torture in light of existing international and federal law. Yet this discussion also reveals one of the core weaknesses of the work.
The book is littered with typographical errors. This isn’t just the occasional misspelled or omitted word. For example, no book should make it to the shelf where the term “principal” (as in principal payments on a debt) appears properly spelled and then as “principle” in the next sentence. While Beinhart notes the publisher gave him only a three months to write the book, the editors or proofreaders should not forget the spelling or subject from one sentence to the next.
Other mistakes raise questions about whether things are typos or errors. Thus, Beinhart says torture is forbidden by two sections of “the Constitution of the United States Code.” There is no such thing. There is the Constitution. There is the United States Code. They are separate and distinct sources of law. This error, whether typographical or not, led me to look at the code sections cited. The text Beinhart quotes after his reference to these sections appears in the Geneva Convention Against Torture. It does not, however, appear in those code sections. Small errors lead anyone to suspect larger errors and when larger errors exist, it undercuts the credibility of the balance of the book and the arguments it advances.
Beinhart’s skills as a novelist make this a fairly readable book. At the same time, he seems to love sentence fragments. Uses them a lot. Once in a while? Not so bad. Making up almost entire paragraphs? In several different chapters? Distracting and annoying.
At bottom, Beinhart raises a number of topics worthy of discussion that often get most of their coverage in the so-called alternative media (such as Media Matters, Democracy Now or Mother Jones). I also tend to agree philosophically with much of what he says. Yet stronger works exist. Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud and the more contemporaneous The Truth (with jokes) by Al Franken come to mind. Granted, they do not cover all the same topics but, in the final analysis, readers may be better served by such books and the alternative media. And that may also ultimately prove the point of Beinhart’s book. Modern politics and media overload mean excellent sources of information are swallowed in a fog most Americans ignore or into which they refuse to peer.