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BEYOND THE CALL TO SURGE, THE NEED TO PURGE OUR MEDIA


New York, New York: In the aftermath of President Bush’s prime-time war cry for escalation from the White House Library, the network newscasters were skeptical about his chances for success but seemed to be impressed by his willingness to stand up for what they think he believes,  like some lone but gutsy hero on the prairie.

 

Much of the commentary deals with him as the beleaguered leader standing strong against public opinion but doing what he feels he had to do. The subtext was you just have to admire that man This is the very positioning his image managers cultivated.

 

The focus was on one man speaking to one camera, standing alone in a library, a White House room you had a sense with which he was unfamiliar, speaking to the teleprompter, reading someone else’s words with as much well-practiced conviction as he could muster. The tone was reasonable because of his many claims of having listened to advice from his team and even his critics.

 

There was no analysis of who wrote the speech or the attitudes of his many Generals and advisors who disagreed with its thrust. There was no reminder that the Iraqi military actually opposed it.  He positively cited the Iraq Survey Group whose recommendations he had actually rejected, as in, “in keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units ­and partner a Coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division.” He dropped Joe Lieberman’s name, a democrat rejected by the Democratic base who is now aligned with Republican John McCain.

 

The chutzpah (and cynicism) dripped from one sentence to the next.

 

For the newscasters, this war debate is now only between the Congress and the White House.  PBS ran the Democratic response by Senator Charles Durbin who explained why his plan can’t work and won’t work. No one else did. Most of the networks offered only one side as usual.

 

As for the public and the anti-war movement they were briefly heard chanting slogans outside the White House but not seen on CBS. The anti-war activists are always marginalized in the debate.

 

The substance of the speech–its assumptions, claims and policy direction was  not subjected to any scrutiny. There was no analysis  of  likely consequences especially the threats to attack Syria and Iran. In short, there was no reporting. How is this possible on an event that had been hyped for a week and whose key tenets were well known BEFORE it was delivered?

 

Activist David Swanson commented:

 

“Bush just claimed he was making Americans more safe with his occupation of Iraq. The media will not contrast this claim with any studies of the actual effects of the Iraq War.

 

Bush just claimed he cared about U.S. service men and women. The media will not ask our troops what they think. Veteran and military family organizations opposing the war will not be asked to comment for the morning headlines.

 

The media WILL report on Bush’s posture, tone of voice, tie color, and attitude. The trivial will be made into the gargantuan. The important will be slipped in sideways, quietly, in the form of an unstated assumption that the “surge” is already underway and out of Congress’s hands to stop–an action that would be indecent anyway.

 

The media will not ask or try to answer what Bush means when he says “victory.” The media will not raise the question of what this war is being fought for. The media will depict the anti-war movement as striving ultimately only for a rejection of the “surge.” No mention will be made of efforts to de-escalate and end the war. And the media will continue to call the “surge” a surge, gradually dropping the quotation marks.

 

The media will not show us the Iraqi people killed and injured by our war.”

 

So there you have it. Bushaganda again! We are in the year 2007 in a war that has lasted longer than World War 2. This outrage has been underway since 2002–before the first cruise missiles were fired–when the Congress shamefully rubberstamped Bush’s demand for authority to make war. And yet, there is almost no context offered.

 

Everyone in the media knows its not working, that we are losing, that its implementation has been, in the words of the title of Washington Post military writer Tom Ricks book “a fiasco.”  Everyone knows that the contractors are ripping us off, and that men and women are dying for nothing. Everyone knows that this war is shaming America from the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib to the despicable lynching of Saddam Hussein.

 

There is no sense of decency this war does not offend.

 

The public has defected. The world has turned against us. The Iraqis want us gone. All the wisest policy wonks who have studied it agree that the only sensible recourse is to get out fast as we can.

 

And yet two institutions seem stuck in this big muddy. One is the White House, desperate to hang on and achieve something, anything, it can use to justify the most mismanaged war in history and call it “victory.” George Bush increasingly resembles Captain Ahab in this drama.

 

The words continue to pour out along with his assurances that more will die, and that carnage is the likely initial; response. As Tom Engelhard explained:

 

“[L]ast night’s “surge” was mainly a surge of words, twenty-minutes worth, 2,898 of them. In the build-up to the speech, as almost every last detail of it was leaked to the media, untold hundreds of thousands of words surged onto news pages, onto the TV news, into talk radio chatter, and on-line — and so many hundreds of thousands more, these included, will follow in the days to come.”

 

He quotes the Christian Science Monitor that the likely response to these words will be more words from Congress—but little more. The first polls show the people oppose it–but many pols are willing to give “THE PLAN”  a chance even though no one thinks it has any chance of suceeding. Most don’t want the responsibility of coming up with a plan of their own.

 

The other party to the bloodletting to come is the media, which can’t and won’t learn from its mistakes, which can’t and won’t refuse to  stop reinforcing this crime against our constitution and humanity. It is the media which collectively lacks the guts and gumption to refuse to carry more White House propaganda, to scrutinize the options and give more air time to the critics. It is stuck in the business of legitimizing institutions that have lost all credibility. In Britian, in contrast, Channel 4 will be airing a program on the crimes of Tony Blair.

 

I wrote two books about these media crimes and made the film WMD about the fusion of news and propaganda. Unfortunately, they  remain all too relevant. I continue to add what thoughts and little passion I have to rail against the media war,  what my former  colleague David Degraw now labels the “Art of Mental Warfare” in a bold new  book vivisecting the ways public opinion is moulded by invisible rulers.

 

The problem is that many of those rulers and their operatives are well known to us, well “branded” in our brains, recognized by their logos and mediagenic personalities. We know who they are, but are we ready to do what we have to do about them–turn them off, tune them out, and build an oppositional media word that we can support and learn from? Are we ready to realize that the media is part of the war and has to be taken to task.

 

 

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org. His book WHEN NEWS LIES includes the DVD of WMD. See wmdthefilm.com. To comment, write: [email protected]

 

  

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