Book Review: Fog Facts (2005)

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.

Supposedly, the book’s theme is that there are certain facts or significant news stories that tend 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 time to Bush’s business background and Cheney’s relationship and actions relating to Halliburton. Virtually all of this has been covered in detail elsewhere. Whether the American public notices or cares is, sadly, a separate issue. Moreover, Beinhart also tends to stretch some contentions almost to the breaking point. 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” contributes to the fog and really helps find truth has some merit (although you do pause when he quotes his own work of fiction — The Librarian — as support for part of the argument). He also does a good job of trying to actually examine the Bush administration’s actions and position on torture in light of 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, you have to wonder about any book that makes it into print where the term “principal” as in principal payments on a debt appears properly spelled and then is spelled “principle” in the very next sentence. It isn’t like the editors or proofreaders had time to forget the spelling or the subject.

Such a large number of mistakes raises questions about whether things are typos or flat out errors. Thus, Beinhart says torture is forbidden “by the Constitution of the United States Code, sections 2340 and 2340A.” There is no such thing as the Constitution of the United States Code. 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 this reference 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 does have an irritating habit. Sentence fragments. Used a lot. Once in a while? Not so bad. Nearly every chapter? Distracting and annoying.

At bottom, I agree with much of what Beinhart says. Yet stronger works exist. Joe Conason’s Big Lies, Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud, and the more contemporaneous The Truth (with jokes) by Al Franken come to mind. In the final analysis, readers are better served by such books than this one.

Commercial news, especially television news, is to real news what McDonald’s is to food.

Larry Beinhart, Fog Facts

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