OK, perhaps the headline stretches the truth a bit. But being a good American, Iâ€™m simply following the lead of my president.
Hereâ€™s what actually happened: On Saturday I gave a talk on the news coverage of current President Bush and the Iraq War at a conference on presidential rhetoric at Texas A&M University in College Station. One of the conference co-sponsors was the Bush Presidential Library Foundation, and the honorarium I received came from â€œThe Associates of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.â€
So, it was sort of like former President George H.W. Bush paid me for my talk, kind of.
When I returned to Austin, I signed the check over as a donation to the Third Coast Activist Resource Center (www.thirdcoastactivist.org), a local group I work with. At Third Coast we consider ourselves part of the growing movement to dismantle the U.S. empire, focusing on efforts to resist war, militarism, racism, and corporate domination. Many consider such groups to be, if not terrorists, perhaps fronts for terrorists, or at least sympathetic to terrorists.
Thatâ€™s what Attorney General John Ashcroft seems to think. In December 2001 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he addressed people who criticized the U.S. governmentâ€™s response to 9/11: â€œYour tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to Americaâ€™s enemies, and pause to Americaâ€™s friends.â€
So, Third Coast is sort of like a terrorist group, kind of.
Therefore, George H.W. Bush was involved with a donation to a group with terrorist connections. Sort of, kind of.
Now, some may want to criticize me for contorting the facts to fit a political agenda. That is, some might want to accuse me of lying. But I donâ€™t think it is fair to criticize me for simply adopting the standards of our highest officials in Washington. The headline doesnâ€™t distort the truth to any greater degree than the pronouncements of Bush administration officials, as they try to squirm their way out of pre-war lies that are becoming more difficult to dodge given post-war problems in Iraq.
First, let me explain that much of the information on which I based my statements came from our intelligence agencies. If I was wrong, it was an intelligence failure. Iâ€™ve appointed an independent commission to investigate. The report will be out in a year or so.
Second, letâ€™s be precise about my statement: I didnâ€™t say George H.W. Bush gave a donation to a terrorist group. All I said is that he was involved with a donation. He certainly was involved; if he hadnâ€™t been president, there would be no presidential library with his name on it and no Associates of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation — and that was the name on the check I received.
I also didnâ€™t say Third Coast was a terrorist group. All I said is that they have terrorist connections. Itâ€™s certainly true that people involved in Third Coast oppose the U.S. wars and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we know the terrorists also oppose those wars and occupations — thatâ€™s a connection of some kind.
Now, you may want to press me, suggesting that Iâ€™m just trying to weasel out of responsibility for a lie, looking for technicalities to cover my nefarious intentions. My response?
Letâ€™s look back at President Bushâ€™s December 2003 interview with ABC Primetimeâ€™s Diane Sawyer, who questioned him about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Sawyer reminded the president that administration officials before the war had said they knew Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime had weapons — not just the intent to acquire them or programs to produce them, but actual prohibited unconventional weapons.
Bushâ€™s response? He avoided the question.
Sawyer tried again: â€œBut stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still â€¦â€
Bush: â€œSo whatâ€™s the difference?â€
Sawyer continued to try to get Bush to address her question, but he refused.
â€œDiane, you can keep asking the question. Iâ€™m telling you I made the right decision for America,â€ Bush said.
So, Iâ€™m taking my cue from our Glorious Leader. To those who want to claim that my headline was not the real truth but a carefully crafted statement that shamelessly manipulated some small kernel of truth to create a false impression, I say: Whatâ€™s the difference?
My goal was to highlight that the people running this country have taken the art of creative lying and propaganda to new heights. If we are going to be something more than spectators in a political spectacle — if we are going to be real citizens in a functioning democracy — itâ€™s important for us to come to terms with that, and to learn to combat it.
If I had to be a little, well, letâ€™s say creative with the facts to do that, Iâ€™m telling you I made the right decision for America.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of â€œCitizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanityâ€ (www.citylights.com). The text of his talk — â€œGetting away with murder (literally): Presidential lying, journalistic malfeasance, and the manipulation of public opinionâ€ — will be available in a few days on www.nowarcollective.com. He can be reached at [email protected]