Freelancer’s “Greatest Hits” Package on Iraq Shows Up Corporate Media
Exposing administration deceit is easy — if you have the will
By: Dennis Hans - 06/07/03
Good to hear that elements of the mainstream media are raising questions, however gingerly, about whether or not the Bush administration may have deceived the public to garner support for the war in Iraq.
Heck, even I — a nobody with no expertise on Iraq — was able to document the deceit long before the war began, as the essay links and excerpts below demonstrate. While I’m happy to toot my own horn — and to remind publishers I’ve got more than enough sizzling material here for a Chomsky- or Michael Moore-style bestseller — I really didn’t appreciate having to take time away from what I was supposed to be doing so I could do for free the “watchdog” work that should have been done by well-paid professional journalists.
To do their job, I had to cut back on the hours I was putting in on a forthcoming book about the unscrupulous marketing practices of alcohol companies and my combo book-instructional video on “Free-Throw Routines that Work — and Why.” (I’m what’s known in the basketball trade as a “shooting guru” — or at least an aspiring one.) I also had to place on hold my work on behalf of lefthanders’ rights http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=9750 . Worst of all, for many weeks I kept dozens of St. Petersburg women in a state of perpetual frustration, wondering when if ever we’d swing dance once more on a crowded floor.
Alas, life can’t proceed as normal when it’s crystal clear your government is lying the country into an unnecessary war, and you know you could expose the lies, prevent the war and save U.S. and Iraqi lives in the process — if only the corporate media would give you a bullhorn or a byline.
Granted, not every mainstream journalist was asleep at the switch. For example, not long after Bush’s October 7 national address on Iraq, Dana Millbank of the Washington Post exposed several presidential lies (though he either chose not to use the word “lie” or his editors would not let him). Around the same time, reporters at Knight-Ridder and the Los Angeles Times revealed deep resentment among analysts within the national-security bureaucracies over the president and other senior officials consistently misrepresenting their findings so as to bolster the case for war.
The efforts of Millbank and a few others in the establishment press, while noble, were sporadic and limited rather than systematic and comprehensive. Their combined output represented, I’d guess, about three percent of what was produced by a single British researcher, the incomparable Glen Rangwala, a Cambridge University professor who worked with Labor Party foes of Tony Blair. (Click here — http://middleeastreference.org.uk/writings.html — to access Rangwala’s airtight analyses.)
By September, Rangwala had already co-authored with MP Alan Simpson “The Dishonest Case for War” (http://middleeastreference.org.uk/latw020916.html), a “counter dossier” released a week before Tony Blair published the official British “Dossier” on Iraq. Days after the “Dossier” was released, Rangwala posted the first edition of his “Counter-Dossier II,” which evolved into a regularly updated and voluminous evaluation of the U.S. and U.K. claims about Iraqi WMD (http://middleeastreference.org.uk/iraqweapons.html). He exposed in great detail in September what are finally coming to be recognized as the trademarks of the Blair and Bush administrations: willful distortion of the available evidence, including even the public sources they cite to buttress their case. Rest assured, no administration would engage in such brazen deceit unless it was quite confident the so-called news media “watchdogs” would let them get away with it.
I wish I had stumbled upon Rangwala’s website in September rather than January. It’s a blot on American journalism that he didn’t become a household name last fall, with his work widely disseminated and discussed and his face a fixture on the Sunday morning shows.
Getting back to Millbank and the other solid U.S. reporters referred to above, their editors chose not to turn them loose on what should have been the important story of their careers. Nor did Millbank’s revelations receive a boost from the Post’s editorial pages, home to a fleet of reactionary, shoot-first columnists and a jingoistic, pro-war editorial board that doesn’t know what “balance” means.
Last fall it became clear that our leading newspapers and the useless network news teams weren’t going to make a big deal about administration deceit — nor even acknowledge it in any meaningful way. With few exceptions, they were unwilling or unable to see what was obvious to me and quite a few other folk.
Bush was a polished, persuasive liar. He radiated conviction both when he spoke the truth and when he lied, and he had already done a good deal of the latter in his short political career. To cite a few non-Iraq lies, in response to a question from a Dallas Morning News reporter in 1998, he said he hadn’t had a brush with the law since a college caper in the sixties — a lie that kept the lid on a drunk driving conviction in the seventies. Throughout Campaign 2000 he misrepresented his own economic plan in ways advantageous to himself. And don’t try to tell me that a guy with an Ivy League MBA doesn’t understand fractions. He wasn’t confused and he’s not stupid. He was lying, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wanted to say at the time but was prevented from doing so by his editor, Howell Raines. There were more than enough examples from Bush’s Texas career, the presidential campaign and his early presidency to make clear that the “straight shooter” act was just that: an act.
Millbank wasn’t the only one to take a close look at Bush’s October speech. Norman Solomon and Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy posted at their website a careful parsing by several experts, including Stephen Zunes, Phyllis Bennis, Rahul Mahajan and As’ad Abukhalil (http://www.accuracy.org/bush/). They showed that the administration was distorting, exaggerating, cheating and lying in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, they had no way to reach a mass audience with their devastating critique, even though they were far more qualified to comment than any of the Top 100 syndicated columnists.
My Greatest Hits
Not wanting to re-invent the IPA’s wheel, my first effort that fall focused on the media’s role in the “process” by which the administration garners support for war. Not till early February would I be sufficiently up to snuff to expose in mind-numbing detail the many methods the Bush team was employing to deceive the public.
This first essay, like every subsequent one, generated zero interest from mainstream, large-circulation outlets. While I was grateful to the many online outlets that did post the pieces, in each case I was preaching to and providing arguments for the converted.
Here’s the link for the first essay, followed by an excerpt: Grifter-in-Chief Bush Aided by Media’s Wusses of Mass Credulity (Oct 19, 2002) http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/02/10/19_grifter.html
The process of building popular support goes like this:
The president and his top advisors issue, over several weeks, a steady stream of half-truths and lies, knowing that these will be reported as straight “news” by the media’s WMC. That’s “Wusses of Mass Credulity,” who you may know as Brokaw, Rather, Jennings, Koppel, Lehrer, Hume, Chung, Zahn, Blitzer, Dobbs, Van Susteren, Williams, Rose and O’Reilly. (Granted, some wusses are tigers when the topic is Gary Condit or Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, but when it comes to challenging a popular president’s justifications for going to war, they’re pussycats.) Most of the public will then follow the WMC lead in taking Bush administration assertions at face value. And why shouldn’t we? After all, we’ve been told for ages that the news media lean left and have an adversarial relationship with the government. Thus, they would seem predisposed to expose serial distorters, publicly brand them as untrustworthy, and place their subsequent pronouncements in the context of a pattern of deceit. That is, present the pronouncements not as “news” but as dubious assertions by dubious characters. Since that hasn’t happened, who can blame busy citizens for presuming that the Saddam threat the Bush team paints is accurate?
In the days (Oct. 2-6) preceding the president’s speech, but following a prolonged drumbeat from the administration, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press polled a representative cross-section of Americans.
It found (as paraphrased by the Reuters newswire) that “66 percent believed [Saddam] was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.”
Yes, two-thirds of Americans believe a horrible thing about Saddam that the CIA and FBI would swear on a stack of Bibles is false. No one in the administration who’s not clinically insane believes Saddam was involved in 9-11, but that hasn’t prevented Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and others from repeatedly suggesting otherwise, often selecting their words with care so they can convince themselves that, technically speaking, their statements aren’t outright lies. It’s not a matter of what their definition of “is” is, but their definition of “reports” and “credible.”
Next, I penned a satire, inspired by the U.S. call for interviews of Iraqi scientists outside of Iraq and beyond Saddam’s reach. Such interviews were fine by me, but in my view we needed the same for the intimidated U.S. bureaucrats afraid to say publicly what they were telling journalists privately: The administration is distorting intelligence to build a case for war. Their private warnings carried minimal weight because they were private. What if Sweden were to provide a safe haven where they could speak publicly, thus enlightening the misled American people? I pretended Sweden was doing just that:
Sweden Providing Platform for U.S. Officials Cowed by Bush (Dec. 13, 2002)
Next, I tried to catch fire with a catch phrase: Bush Is Racking Up “Frequent Liar Miles” (Jan 18, 2003) http://democraticunderground.com/articles/03/01/18_liar.html
Not familiar with “frequent liar miles”? I coined the expression to pay tribute to the staying power of Bush’s lies. After all, a lie is of no use to the teller if it is promptly branded a lie and the teller a liar.
Not only does he not benefit from the lie, his now-tarnished image makes it more difficult to get anyone to believe subsequent lies.
Call it the Saddam Syndrome: A guy gets caught in a few lies and before you know it nothing he says is taken at face value. All the good will is gone, as if Saddam never shook hands with Donald Rumsfeld or made common cause with Ronald Reagan against evil Iran. These days, reporters shout “Show me the weapons!” and pundits deride him as Mr. Cheat and Retreat.
Our news media — without the imprimatur of a formal U.N. resolution — have even erected a “no lie” zone over Iraq and shoot down Hussein’s howlers before they can infect international audiences.
In stunning contrast, Bush’s lies are broadcast as truth. They originate at the White House and are transmitted to network amplification centers in New York and Washington, at which point the lie leaves the president’s control. He then must rely on men named Brokaw, Jennings, Rather and Lehrer to treat the presidential lie with respect and deliver it to every nook and cranny in America via “the people’s airwaves.” The longer and farther the lie flies, the more “frequent liar miles” the president accumulates.
The next piece was built around a Rummy quote that cried out for ridicule, but none of his groupies were up to the task:
Rumsfeld Offers Media Good Advice on How to Protect Viewers From Leaders’ Lies (Jan 25, 2003) http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/01/25_rumsfeld.html
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is deeply concerned that the American people may be taken in by smooth-talking Saddam Hussein, and he wants the news media to take pre-emptive action. On the January 19 edition of the ABC News show "This Week," Rumsfeld told George Stephanopoulos:
"Well, first, Saddam Hussein is a liar. He lies every single day. . . . He is still claiming that he won the war. His people are being told every day that they won. It was a great victory in 1991 when he was thrown out of Kuwait and chased back to Baghdad. Now, it seems to me that almost every time you quote something from him, you should preface it by saying 'here's a man who has lied all the time and consistently.'" . . .
Rather than present administration lies as truth, network news anchors and interviewers should show some backbone and preface the lies with a variation on Rumsfeld's proposed disclaimer for Saddam:
"Here is a president [or secretary of defense] who, when it comes to Iraq, repeatedly lies, exaggerates, misrepresents, deletes crucial context, or states actual facts in a manner cleverly designed to leave a false impression. Viewers beware."
For those not yet convinced of the need for such drastic measures, consider what David Wessel reported in the December 12 Wall Street Journal:
The Bush administration "seems particularly proud of its skill in misleading the press, the public and Congress, when convenient. . . . A White House aide who had told me one thing on the record a few weeks ago tried to persuade me over the weekend, not for attribution, that the opposite was true. I protested. His reply: 'Why would I lie? Because that's what I'm supposed to do. Lying to the press doesn't prick anyone's conscience.'"
That attitude starts at the top. It's high time the major media explained to viewers the difference between a real straight shooter and a president who plays one on TV.
Up next, I turned on its head the ridiculous yet widespread notion that the administration was withholding oodles of incriminating evidence. Recall that during the buildup to Powell’s Feb. 5 U.N. presentation, there was talk of just how much he would dare to reveal, given the necessity of protecting intelligence “sources and methods.”
The Evidence Bush is Withholding Weakens, Not Strengthens the Case for War (Jan 28, 2003) http://commondreams.org/views03/0128-08.htm
A detailed report in the January 24 Washington Post by Joby Warrick, headlined “U.S. Claim on Iraqi Nuclear Program Is Called Into Question” adds to a growing body of evidence that the Bush administration is hoarding intelligence information that disproves or weakens the case against Saddam Hussein with respect to banned WMD activities as well as collaboration with al Qaeda on 9-11 and other terrorist activities. That’s right: disproves or weakens, not strengthens.
Warrick shows that there was plenty of disagreement amongst the experts in the national-security bureaucracies last summer over the purpose of Iraqi attempts to purchase thousands of aluminum tubes. Was it part of an effort to regenerate its nuclear-weapons program, or did it have some non-WMD purpose — perhaps in support of the two-decades old “well-documented 81mm conventional rocket program” for which, Warrick reports, the tubes were “a perfect fit”?
Now it is an absolute necessity for those who are charged with protecting our national security to assume and prepare for the worst. But it’s another thing for the president — who presents himself as Mr. Integrity — to assume that the most dire interpretation is the incontrovertible truth when he’s pretending to give an honest, here-are-the-facts-as-we-know-them speech.
“When President Bush traveled to the United Nations in September to make his case against Iraq,” Warrick reports, “he brought along a rare piece of evidence for what he called Iraq’s ‘continued appetite’ for nuclear bombs. The finding: Iraq had tried to buy thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes, which Bush said were ‘used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.’ Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice both repeated the claim, with Rice describing the tubes as ‘only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.’”
For a host of reasons (the dimensions of the tubes, the unsuitability of aluminum for uranium enrichment, the fact that Iraq apparently had made no effort to purchase a number of other items necessary for uranium enrichment), some of which were obvious prior to Bush’s U.N. address, the International Atomic Energy Agency is growing ever more certain that the tubes were destined for use in a technical process to reverse-engineer conventional, 81mm artillery rockets to replace Iraq’s corroding stockpile. Today, the IAEA finds the alibi of the lying, cheat-and-retreat Iraqis far more convincing than the accusation of the plain-spoken, straight-shooting Texan. …
In contrast to the diligent digging of the Post's Warrick, many in the news media are filing lame stories on the alleged dilemma facing the president - should he risk exposing intelligence "sources and methods" to make the smoking-gun case against Saddam Hussein, or should he protect sources and methods even if it weakens his case. Such reporters are operating from a preposterous premise: This is an honest president in an honest dilemma, rather than a president who, when it comes to Iraqi policy, has never hesitated to misrepresent, exaggerate and lie.
Kudos to Warrick. But he or someone else should have — and could have — published most of that story months earlier, when the administration first started pretending the only possible use for the tubes was nuclear.
This next piece tabulates who got to comment on TV before and after Bush’s State of the Union address. It provides a good idea of what national news organizations consider “diversity” and “balance”: 95 percent white and overwhelmingly pro-war.
It’s a White, White, White, White Media World (Jan 30, 2003) http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0301/S00165.htm
The next offering sought to prepare the Security Council for the dishonest presentation they were about to here. It also reviews Powell’s record of dissembling on Colombia and other aspects of his long, sordid career.
An Open Letter to the U.N. About Colin Powell (Feb 4, 2003 — pre-U.N. presentation) http://hnn.us/comments/7993.html
Judging from the following excerpt of an article in Sunday’s Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12652-2003Feb1.html), European diplomats in particular have far too rosy a view of Powell’s character and credibility:
“Any hope of an agreement, a European diplomat said, rests with Powell. He is widely trusted by council governments, and many said his words this week will have a heavy impact. ‘You are lucky to have a representative for this administration that is as credible as he is,’ the European diplomat said. ‘If you didn’t have him, you’d really have much, much greater difficulties working with a whole lot of Europeans.’”
Secretary Powell is a brilliant man, but I ask that you leave open the question of trust and credibility. For starters, you might ask Hans Blix to expound on this portion of a recent New York Times article: “Mr. Blix took issue with what he said were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents” (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/31/international/middleeast/31BLIX.html).
If Blix is correct, this suggests that Powell is willing to deceive on matters that are easily checked. What would such a man be capable of when presenting “evidence” that is not subject to verification? . . .
Powell’s presentation will be in the form of “here is the unvarnished truth as we understand it.” But his will be a case for the prosecution and should be viewed as such. He will present only those tidbits that strengthen his case while suppressing tidbits that undermine it — and he will have a great advantage over a prosecutor in an American court.
You see, that prosecutor would earlier have taken part in what is called the “discovery” phase. The rules differ by state and by type of case, but the idea is that both sides in a trial get access to just about all the information and evidence the other side has gathered. You, on the other hand, will not be privy to the mountain of evidence from which Powell has selected his damning tidbits. You won’t have access to the material that places each accusation in its proper context, or the material that weakens or directly contradicts each accusation.
Next came a 5,000-word tour de force:
Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His “Techniques of Deceit” (Feb 10, 2003) http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=3024
In that essay, I illustrate with one or more Iraq-related examples 15 distinct methods the Bush administration employed to deceive the citizenry. Many of the statements I dissect are from the 2003 State of the Union address. Here are the techniques:
1) Stating as fact what are allegations — often highly dubious ones
2) Withholding the key fact that destroys the moral underpinning of an argument
4) Delegated lying/Team lying
5) Straw man
6) Withholding the key fact that would alert viewers that the purported grave threat is non-existent
7) Using mistranslation, misquotation and context-stripping to plant a frightening impression in the minds of trusting citizens that is the exact opposite of what you know to be true
8) Putting the most frightening interpretation on a piece of evidence while pretending that no other interpretation exists
9) Withholding highly relevant information that would weaken your case, because what you really want to obtain from the citizenry is “the UNINFORMED consent of the governed”
10) Bold declarations of hot air
11) Creating in the public mind an intense but unfounded fear
12) Citing old news as if it’s relevant today, while leaving out the reason it’s not
14) Hallucinatory lying
15) Withholding the key fact that would show your principled pose is a pose devoid of principle
Next, an advice column:
I’m Calling You Out: Marching Orders for Journalists, Officials and Celebrities Who Believe in “Informed Consent of the Governed” (Feb 19, 2003) http://www.takebackthemedia.com/com-hans-2-20.html
Bob Woodward: Go back and read pp. 124-29 of your 1987 book “Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987.” Then write a front-page story about the precise parallels between the corruption of the intelligence process in 1981 under Reagan-Casey and today under Bush-Tenet. Then go on Meet the Press, Larry King Live and ABC's This Week and tell the world that Bush and Powell have been knowingly, systematically lying to the American people in an attempt to gain our support for an attack on Iraq.
All journalists: Never use the verbs "think" or "believe" when reporting what Bush administration officials "say" about Iraq or Saddam. You do not know what these officials "think" or "believe"; you only know what they SAY they think and believe. Powell - the most credible administration official in the eyes of Americans and the world - almost certainly didn't "believe" that Osama had formed a "partnership" with Saddam when Powell went before the Senate and selectively quoted from Osama's latest message, leaving out the part where Osama calls Saddam an "infidel" whose "jurisdiction . . . has fallen." If the most credible Bush administration official will deceive so brazenly - he knew that within hours the complete Osama transcript would be available worldwide - imagine what the "less credible" members of this administration are capable of.
Here, I skewer two useless columnists:
With “Liberals” Like These, Who Needs Conservatives: How Powell wowed Mary McGrory and Richard Cohen, the crème of the Washington Post’s credulous crop (Feb 23, 2003) http://www.takebackthemedia.com/com-hans-2-23.html
Powell did not present his "evidence" in a vacuum. He presented it amidst a background of war fever, Saddam menace and Powell worship. In the days leading up to his performance he was lauded for his brilliance and integrity by everyone with access to the mainstream media. If McGrory was watching, it may not have dawned on her that this is less a commentary on Powell than on who our media moguls allow to speak out on the so-called "people's airwaves." . . .
The fact that McGrory and her dimwitted, ultra-credulous colleague, fake liberal Richard Cohen (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A32571-2003Feb5?language=printer), wrote rave reviews for the very-next-morning's Post points to another absurdity: Powell was in New York, but he wasn't starring in a Broadway play. He was making a case for the prosecution on matters of war and peace. McGrory and Cohen are the equivalent of jurors who hand down a verdict after listening to the prosecutor's opening statement!
It's debatable whether McGrory and Cohen would be capable of evaluating Powell's claims a year from now, let alone hours after he made them.
They're not experts on Iraq's WMD programs and the extent to which they still function, if at all. They're not experts on weapons inspections and inspectors. They're not experts on al Qaeda, Osama, Saddam or Zarqawi and thus are in no position to render snap judgments on "links" based on bits of "evidence" selected by Powell and the sinister neoconservative hawks who helped him assemble his case. And they're too lazy to do the necessary research to develop even a smidgen of expertise on any of those matters.
Most importantly, McGrory and Cohen aren't experts on U.S. disinformation operations, even though they've lived through, and been victimized by, quite a few. You'd think these columnists would realize their own limitations - they've been grown-ups for quite a few years now - and that if they didn't, an editor would clue them in. But we're not talking about a real newspaper; we're talking about the Washington Post.
Readers who are curious as to how an actual expert initially reacted to Powell's presentation can turn to Glen Rangwala, Lecturer in Politics at Cambridge University, who works with the Labor Party opposition to Tony Blair. Here is his hastily assembled "first response": http://www.traprockpeace.org/firstresponse.html
Next, another look at who gets to talk:
Public’s Pro-Inspections Posture Mostly M.I.A. on Talking-Heads TV (Feb 28, 2003) http://www.takebackthemedia.com/com-hans-2-28.html
One reason for the near-unanimity of talking-head opinion is that TV-show “bookers” often turn to a veteran of Bill Clinton’s foreign-policy team for an “alternative” perspective from the Bush administration. Makes sense, right? Bring on someone who supports the Republican president, and counter him or her with a former official of the recent Democratic administration.
But remember, Clinton is a self-described “new Democrat,” positioned halfway between Republicans and “old Democrats” like Ted Kennedy and John Conyers. As president, he was moderately liberal on some domestic issues but leaned right on international issues. His domestic team included genuine liberals such as Robert Reich and Peter Edelman (both of whom grew weary of losing policy battles with administration conservatives), while his foreign-policy players ranged from establishment centrists and conservatives to hard-right ideologues.
Here, in broad terms, are the Iraq-policy positions of the Clinton veterans who appear regularly on TV:
Unilateral superhawks: CIA director James Woolsey, drug czar and former SouthCom commander General Barry McCaffrey, Dr. Laurie Mylroie.
More-the-merrier multilateral hawks (Let’s at least try to get the U.N. on our side, even though we already have all the authorization we need. If the U.N. climbs on board, great. If not, let’s attack anyway, as a “coalition of the willing.”): Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her deputy, Jamie Rubin; National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and his deputy, P.J. Crowley; U.N. Ambassadors Bill Richardson and Richard Holbrooke, Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, NSC official Philip Bobbitt, CIA analyst Ken Pollack.
Smooth-feathered multilateral hawks (same basic view as the multilateral hawks in a kinder, gentler package): Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Michael O’Hanlon, Nancy Soderberg, Ivo Daalder.
Those who see diplomacy as a means of peacefully resolving the Iraq crisis, rather than as a means to bully and bribe other nations to support a military solution: Nobody.
You hear that, bookers? Nobody.
As far as I know, the only high-profile Clinton veteran who’s in synch with the thinking of the great majority of the world’s citizens on Iraq is Paul Begala, the CNN “Crossfire” host who was a communications adviser in the Clinton White House and not part of the foreign-policy loop. Begala regularly reminds viewers that military “containment” of Iraq has worked like a charm for 12 years and, with beefed-up inspections, can work indefinitely. He rightly argues that al Qaeda and the unmentionable Osama are completely unrelated to Saddam and should be Priority Number One.
Next, a follow-up to “Lying Us Into War,” with these additional techniques of deceit:
1) Telling with a straight face the “Mother of All Lies,” so as to lend credence to a bunch of small ones
2) Pot calling the kettle black
3) Pot calling the WHITE kettle black
4) Intentional ignorance
5) Passive lying (doing nothing to prevent what you know to be a vile slander from lodging in the brains of unsuspecting citizens as truth)
6) Bait and switch
7) Generalized and specific “certitude”
8) Projecting sincerity that is fraudulent and espousing values you don’t cherish
9) Talking out of both sides of your mouth 10) Trumpeting the testimony of defectors who you know or highly suspect aren’t credible
The Disinformation Age: How George W. Bush and Saint Colin of Powell are lying America into an unnecessary war — and what honest journalists can do about it (March 4, 2003) http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0303/S00011.htm
Not being privy to the brains of individual journalists, I can’t say why any particular one behaves as he or she does. Clearly, many factors, both institutional and personal, help to explain why Bob Woodward, Wolf Blitzer and John McWethy are war-team toadies while Dana Millbank and Glenn Kessler are solid reporters. I don’t know why columnists Nicholas Kristof and Richard Cohen continue to believe that Bush is an honest man, or why Paul Krugman has done more than all of the network and cable “news” operations combined to expose the president as a brazen serial liar. I do know, however, that the current ratio, which I estimate at 100 gullible Woodwards for every competent Krugman, is disastrous for democracy.
What I can explain are five media tendencies that “enable” administration lying and enhance its effectiveness:
• Bestowing unwarranted credibility. When you routinely present a liar as a truth-teller, you become that liar’s accomplice. Viewers — particularly those under the ridiculous impression that network anchors are feisty, fiercely independent and maybe even left-leaning — will place greater credence in an unchallenged lie than a challenged one.
• Demonstrating real or feigned gullibility. The first indicates journalistic incompetence, the second journalistic corruption. Either should be a firing offense, but in our twisted media world it’s a ticket to the top. Self-respecting “news” organizations don’t retain, let alone promote, people such as Bob Woodward and Ted Koppel, or any of the Rumsfeld groupies “covering” the Pentagon.
• Failure to keep a lying score. A number of administration lies have been exposed, though the exposure is brief and often comes weeks after the lie has racked up millions of “frequent liar miles.” A reputable editor, publisher, anchor or producer would be troubled by this and would rectify the situation by regularly publishing or airing a running tally of administration lies.
• Failure to impose a penalty for lying. Why does Bush systematically lie? Because the lies help him to win support for his policies — on economic and other issues as well as Iraq — and the media impose no penalties on those rare occasions they belatedly catch him. Imagine how much robbery we’d have if the only “penalty” for getting caught was a brief mention you were caught. Just as Bush can keep telling the lie, you get to keep the TV or SUV you stole. Not much of a “deterrent.”
• No institutional memory BY DESIGN. In a healthy media environment, experts on the patterns, techniques and history of foreign-policy disinformation campaigns would be valued assets. In our present media environment, such people are shunned and staffers are discouraged from developing their own expertise. TV can hire scores of generals to provide expert analysis, but they won’t hire experienced disinformation exposers Robert Parry, Peter Kornbluh, Norman Solomon, Edward Herman or Noam Chomsky.
By now, the war seemed inevitable. I cranked out several pieces — some straight and some bent — in the weeks that followed, including these:
How to Deter Bush’s Fibbing and Hoopsters’ Flopping (March 14, 2003)
Bush’s Gut Is a No-Brainer (March 17, 2003) http://www.democraticunderground.com/articles/03/03/18_gut.html
Wednesday Night Warfare (March 20, 2003)
IAEA labels Bush “fake,” Powell “inauthentic” (March 29, 2003) http://www.takebackthemedia.com/com-hans-3-29.html
Embedded super-reporter Judith Miller reveals Raiders won 2003 Super Bowl (April 26, 2003) http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0304/S00210.htm
Many thanks to the good folks at the various websites that posted my work. Curses to the mainstream outlets that refused to run even watered-down versions. Apologies to the dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, regardless of nationality, for my ineffectiveness. A tip of the hat to everyone around the world who worked so hard to try to prevent the war.
The silver lining
Maybe some good will come out of the war. The cruel sanctions have been lifted, so let’s hope the social indicators improve rapidly for the long-suffering Iraqis, and let’s hope that a reasonable government not imposed from without emerges in time.
We’re starting to see some good news at home in that the lying, cheat-and-advance Bush administration is slowly being exposed for what it is, which could lead to Bush getting his butt kicked in the next election. The war also exposed our news media for the jokes that they are. It will be interesting to see if they can get the public to believe that they (the media) were duped by the administration rather than willing accomplices in the duping of the public. Take my word for it, folks, it’s mostly the latter.
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com, Slate and The Black World Today (tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. Dennis is a contributing writer for Liberal Slant and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu
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