the faithful a September 11 photo taken as President Bush spoke
on a phone aboard Air Force One. At the Democratic National Committee,
rainmaker- in-chief Terry McAuliffe called the move “grotesque”
and declared: “We know it’s the Republicans’ strategy
to use the war for political gain, but I would hope that even the
most cynical partisan operative would have cowered at the notion
of exploiting the September 11 tragedy in this way.”
Republican spokesperson quickly defended hawking the September 11
picture, which is part of a “limited edition series” that
includes a pair of photos from Bush’s inaugural and his speech
to the joint session of Congress soon after 9-11. “These pictures
are of historic moments from the president’s first year and
are living testimony of his courage under fire, and leadership,”
said Carl Forti. “It is frankly offensive that anyone would
both parties properly offended, a genuine media flap ensued. The
displays of tender sensibilities could hardly have been more contrived,
but the sniping was significant as an opening skirmish in a protracted
media battle ahead—to define the boundaries of political uses
for 9-11 imagery in upcoming congressional races and the struggle
for the White House in 2004.
yearn to set tight limits on the inevitable attempts to cloak GOP
candidates with hallowed September 11 symbols. But Republicans are
determined to retain the valuable political finery.
shock on September 11 did nothing to displace the ongoing processes
of political calculation. That day’s tragic events made it
possible to drastically reduce the number of Americans who were
apt to see George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as no more statesmanlike
or compassionate than Howdy Doody and Phineas T. Bluster. For a
president who’d finished second in popular votes, any hard-nosed
calculus could grasp that the September 11 tragedy, while horrific,
was a political godsend.
month after month, the loyal opposition in Washington largely confined
itself to loyalty. Democratic Party tacticians abetted Bush’s
key post-9-11 policies. Keep hundreds of people behind bars while
tossing the precious right of habeas corpus on the junk heap? No
big deal. Kill a few thousand Afghan civilians with Pentagon firepower
in the name of “the war on terrorism?” Not a problem.
Support the Israeli government as it mimics the apartheid-era South
African regime with new heights of deadly repression? Sure. Launch
the biggest long-term upsurge of U.S. military spending in decades?
God bless America.
as the November elections draw near, top Democrats cannot stand
idly by and let the Bush administration play its political hand
with September 11 imagery. “While most pictures are worth a
thousand words,” said Al Gore, “a photo that seeks to
capitalize on one of the most tragic moments in our nation’s
history is worth only one—disgraceful.”
to condemning Al Capone for jaywalking, the controversy over Bush’s
9-11 photograph reflects the alignment of both major parties within
the wingspan of the establishment media. And vice versa.
few exceptions, political journalists don’t perceive an issue
as worth covering unless there’s a split within or between
the two parties. When such a split exists, then reporters devote
appreciable coverage to the matter, and pundits are pleased to choose
that the Republicans are marketing the set of 9-11 photos for a
minimal $150 contribution, New York Times columnist
Maureen Dowd complained bitterly: “With all the class of a
1:30 AM infomercial for an electronic ab stimulator, the GOP pitched
donors, for a bargain price, a pictorial triptych of W.’s ‘defining
much of the media backlash seems due to sentiment that exploitation
of September 11 should be less tacky and more subtle. The photo
fund-raising gambit lacks the sort of propagandistic refinement
that graces numerous Bush speeches, which continue to gain Democratic
nods and media plaudits while invoking 9-11 to back up visions of
an ever-mightier Pentagon as a pivotal solution to the world’s
new stage is underway in a bait-and-switch process that began more
than eight months ago, with fervent praise from news media. First
came a glut of patriotic imagery and simplistic presidential oratory,
all touted as wondrous expressions of sorrow, caring and human solidarity.
The star-spangled visual images and carefully crafted Bush applause
lines were soon affixed to missiles that shattered Afghan lives
as innocent and numerous as those lost at the World Trade Center.
the bait-and-switch is turning into an election-year sales pitch.
To the extent that partisan strategists see any advantage, 9-11
imagery will be plastered onto campaign machinery. You may not like
it, but you’ll probably get used to it.
Still Not Good Enough— From Barbie To Botox
a twist of fate, obituaries appeared for the inventor of the Barbie
doll just as a $50 million advertising campaign got underway for
an anti-wrinkle drug with a name that memorably combines the words
“botulism” and “toxin.” Expensive injections
of Botox are already popular among women eager to remove lines from
their faces. The ad blitz of mid-2002 is certain to boost the practice.
women between the ages of 30 and 64 are the prime targets, and 90
percent of them will be hit with Botox pitches a minimum of 10 times.
Launched with a paid layout in People magazine the first
week of May (“It’s not magic, it’s Botox Cosmetic”),
the print ads use before-and-after pictures. Network TV commercials
are part of the campaign.
April 29 edition, looking ahead to “Companies of the Future”
and “The Office of Tomorrow,” featured one woman on the
cover. Wielding some kind of futuristic gadget, this proto- typical
office worker was ultra-thin and wore several-inch spike heels as
she sat in a transparent chair with a distinct resemblance to a
all the progress for women’s rights and against rigid gender
roles during the last few decades, it’s chilling to take a
fresh look at routine depictions of women in mass media. Beauty-is-
skin-deep renditions of what it means to be female help to explain
the allure of Botox shots that cost about $500 and lose effect within
we think about loved ones, we probably aren’t very concerned
about their wrinkles. But acculturation runs deep and begins early.
In a society seemingly at war with nature—while consequences
range from ozone depletion to water pollution to pesticide-laced
crops—it stands to reason that such hostilities would extend
to our own bodies.
85-year-old Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie, died in late April,
some news stories noted that Barbie’s plasticized, idealized
proportions were impossible for girls to live up to. The New
York Times reported, “If the 11 1/2-inch doll were
5-foot-6, her measurements would be 39-21-33.” London’s
Daily Telegraph put the figure at 39-18-33.
change. And for the past third of a century, new waves of feminism
have effectively critiq- ued a lot of such destructive role-modeling.
We may prefer to think that Barbie-like absurdities have been left
behind by oh-so- sophisticated 21st century media sensibilities.
But to thumb through the current Cosmopolitan is to visit
a matrix of “content” and advertising that incessantly
inflames—and cashes in on—obsessions with seeking to measure
up to media-driven images.
1985, legendary Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown made a candid
statement about the relationship between her magazine’s articles
and its ad revenue: “Having come from the advertising world
myself, I think ‘Who needs somebody you’re paying millions
of dollars a year to come back and bite you on the ankle?’”
At the time, Cosmopolitan was under fire for printing cigarette
ads while staying away from articles about the terrible health impacts
Brown’s comment still applies more generally to mainstream
media—particularly television and magazines—in relation
to countless ads. Large amounts of dollars pour in from advertisers
hell-bent on stoking women’s unhappiness with their bodies
and promising relief if only the female is willing to part with
some cash. Meanwhile, media outlets rarely challenge the unspoken
assumptions and manipulations behind advertising.
anti-ads in the latest issue of Adbusters magazine include
a full page filled with close-ups of two sets of lips along with
the words “Perfectionism is a malignant force in our society.”
That tagline begs for probing the question of what we mean by perfection.
Ads that saturate pervasive media keep claiming to offer perfectly
marvelous products; they’re functional as surrogates and substitutes
for the wondrous complexities of nature.
veneers frequently sparkle with apparent high regard for women.
Yet indications abound that much of the advertising industry’s
idealization of fabricated female images is based on contempt for
real women, who, like nature as a whole, must lack the sort of mass-produced
uniformity that can be readily packaged and sold.
media messages convey the stubborn presumption that women can never
be good enough, but should live and buy—and ultimately die—trying.
First Barbie, then Botox.
Media And Political Faith
before the 20th century ended, the pundit Michael Kinsley was uncommonly
direct in a Time
essay that defended the virtues of the World Trade Organization
with these words: “But really, the WTO is OK. Do the math.
Or take it on faith.” Delivered by the flagship magazine of
the Time Warner conglomerate (soon to merge with AOL), the message
was more overt than usual: We should devoutly accept certain pronouncements
rigid faith is dangerous. It undermines critical thinking. It’s
wide open for manipulation by mainstream news outlets, as well as
by some who present themselves as anti-establishment.
before the invention of television, the American historian Henry
Adams was essentially correct when he wrote about the dominant media
of the day: “The press is the hired agent of a monied system,
and set up for no other purpose than to tell lies where their interests
are involved.” In substance, there is much truth to that observation
those who, with good reason, refuse to trust the corporate media
are scarcely better off when they lower their standards to buy into
dubious claims from alternative sources. If we’re going to
be tough critics of mainline news outlets, then we should refuse
to suspend our critical faculties when we consider reports and claims
case in point is the story —much ballyhooed via the Internet—that
a man behind bars in Toronto wrote a “warning note” before
the September 11 events. We’re told that Delmart “Mike”
Vreeland is a U.S. Navy intelligence officer who penned the note
and gave it to his Canadian jailers back in August.
Vreeland’s notations, introduced into evidence in a Toronto
court last October, amount to an ambiguous mish-mash. The phrase
“water supplies” appears in an unexplained list of landmarks
and cities, including not only the World Trade Center, White House,
and Pentagon but also sites in Chicago, Ottawa, Toronto, and Malaysia.
“Let one happen, stop the rest,” Vreeland scrawled. Below
are first names and random words like “Vladivostok” and
“bilateral.” The only dates are 2007 and 2009. To call
it a “warning note” about the events of September 11 is
years ago, a Detroit newspaper reported that Vreeland was on the
run after leaving behind a prodigious array of scams including identity
theft, bogus credit card use and large check fraud. The story quoted
a Troy, Michigan police sergeant: “Wherever he goes there seems
to be a trail of fraud, deceit, and crime.”
called Mike Martindale, the Detroit News reporter who wrote
the April 27, 2000 story. Has there ever been any sort of correction
or retraction to the article? “Not at all,” he said.
former Los Angeles cop named Michael Ruppert has been proclaiming
that Vreeland “was able to write a detailed warning of the
attacks before they occurred” on September 11. Ruppert has
attracted a loyal following, but he’s likely to lose all but
the most faithful adherents if they look at the actual “warning
note” or find out more about Vreeland’s background.
Ruppert is an expert at combining facts with unreliable reports
and wild leaps of illogic. Last fall, he began declaring that the
CIA had “foreknowledge” of the September 11 attacks. More
recently, he has boosted this rhetoric to claim, “the Bush
administration had complete foreknowledge of the attacks.”
excels at a selective vacuum cleaner approach—sucking in whatever
supports his conclusions while excluding context and information
that would undermine them. Meanwhile, he’s apt to tout unsubstantiated
tales as revelatory. For instance, while citing an Indian press
report that India’s intelligence service linked a Pakistani
government agency to the September 11 hijackers, it won’t do
to point out that India would have a strong motivation for pinning
terrorism on arch-rival Pakistan.
technique is to imply that exploitation of events after they occur
indicates direct involvement beforehand. So, the fact that the Bush
administration has done all it can to take advantage of September
11 events is presented by Ruppert as backing up his claim of its
“foreknowledge” and “complicity.”
appropriate to demand a thorough congressional investigation of
events surrounding September 11. But it’s something else to
make sweeping pronouncements without credible evidence.
people keenly aware that presidents have often lied about foreign
policy, it may be tempting to assume that just about any claim of
governmental deception has the ring of truth. But eagerness to believe
is no substitute for willingness to think critically.
genres of conspiracy -huckstering represent a kind of non-politics,
encouraging Ameri- cans to fixate on secret teams and a few evildoers
rather than challenge the basic institutional forces behind social
injustice and war. But the well-documented actions of the U.S. government
and powerful corporations should be enough to rouse us into sustained
attention, outrage, and activism. Z
Solomon is author of The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media.
His syndicated column focuses on media and politics.