Look Forward, Except at Nuremberg-Style Rallies

The mainstream media (MSM) love something like the “9/11 ten-years-after” memorialization. It is an opportunity for a patriotic orgy, allowing a wallowing in sorrow at the human losses on September 11, 2001 and permitting editors and journalists to honor once more our fighting troops who have been out there pursuing the bad guys and protecting our security—which they will be doing in distant lands into the indefinite future. The joint remembering and celebrating takes a lot of newspaper, TV, and radio space, time, and words, with minimal cost, no flak or protest, and with PR benefits to the generals and contractors competing so successfully for national security state resources.

Of course, patriotic orgies don’t speak well for the state of public understanding, the role of the mainstream media, and the trajectory of the badly compromised democracy in which this takes place. It calls too quickly to mind the Nuremberg rallies held by the Nazis for so many years (1923-1939) to bring Germans together to support the Party, but also calling for faith, freedom, honor, will, a Greater Germany, and “unity and strength.” Neither the rallies of the Nazis, nor those of 9/11 ten-years-later have focused on truth.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, which had saturation coverage of 9/11 ten-years-later for days on end, featuring a huge headline on 9/11/11 itself: “We Remember” (the Inquirer’s follow-up headline on 9/12/11 was “Sorrow And Strength,” a bit reminiscent of the Nazi’s “unity and strength”). But the editors-journalists’ memories are extremely selective and they do not remember many facts that would be salient in coverage that was not “rally adjusted” and surely not designed to improve understanding. Among others, we may note the following omitted possibilities:

  • That the 9/11 atrocities represented a huge national security failure, which happened despite the very large U.S. expenditure on intelligence and arms. Bush-Cheney had been in office for eight months. They had had warnings of the al Qaeda threat by the prior Administration and explicit advisories of a threatened “spectacular” terrorist action provided by the intelligence agencies of half-a-dozen allied countries. Bush had received a warning on August 6 of impending plans for a terrorist attack by Bin Laden’s forces. That morning’s Presidential Daily Briefing by a CIA officer was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” Yet no alerts were issued, no special airport security measures were installed, flight training by suspicious outsiders was ignored, and counter-intelligence funds were cut on 9/10/01 (Adam Clymer, “How Sept. 11 Changed Goals Of Justice Dept.,” New York Times, February 28, 2002). Heads should have rolled for this failure, especially those of Bush and Cheney, but they suffered no major criticisms or sustained attacks. Ten-years-later, the media certainly didn’t remember this disastrous failure and the responsible parties.
  • That Bin Laden gave a list of reasons for the attack from at least 1996, which related clearly to U.S. foreign policy actions, including its military occupation of Saudi Arabia (embodied in his August 23, 1996 Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Mosques), and U.S. support of the Israeli occupation and attacks on Lebanon. As regards the last, he made an explicit analogy of the New York attack of 9/11 with the Israeli war on Lebanon: “And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children. And that day, it was confirmed to me that oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy. Destruction is freedom and democracy while resistance is terrorism and intolerance. This means the oppressing and embargoing to death of millions as Bush Sr. did in Iraq in the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known” (Bin Laden is referring to the “sanctions of mass destruction” whose 500,000 child toll was “worth it” according to Madeline Albright. His quotes are from an October 29, 2004 Video Statement, ABC News, November 1, 2004, abcnews.go.com). Bin Laden certainly never mentions U.S. freedom as objectionable and a source of hostility, as in the repeated Bush formulation of Bin Laden’s motives. For the mainstream media it plainly would not do to mention Bin Laden’s explicit bases of action in the wake of the recent U.S. tolerance and support of Saudi aid to Bahrain in crushing any Arab Spring tendencies there and in the context of the joint U.S.-Israeli campaign to prevent any UN approval of a Palestinian state whose creation might interfere with the Orwellian “peace process”—a cover for Israeli ethnic cleansing. Accordingly, this was not a subject that the patriotic MSM chose to remember ten-years-after.
  • That well before 9/11 the Bush-Cheney-neocon faction had expressed a determination to oust Saddam Hussein (i.e., attack and conquer Iraq) and openly yearned for a new “Pearl Harbor” that would give them the excuse to move against Iraq and more generally apply a policy of “power projection”: “[T]he process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor” (Thomas Donnelly et al., Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century, Project for the New American Century, September 2000, www.newamericancentury.org). The MSM can remember Pearl Harbor on December 7 of each year, though it has greatly faded as a memorable occasion, but they surely don’t intend to remember the Bush team’s yearning for a new one, provided by 9/11.
  • The mainstream media also don’t remember Benjamin Netanyahu’s pleasure at hearing of the events of 9/11, followed by his quick recollection that he should be pained at this loss of life in his patron state. Thus, when asked on the evening of 9/11 “what the attack meant for relations between the United States and Israel,” the New York Times reported that Netanyahu “replied, ‘It’s very good’. Then he edited himself: ‘Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy’” (James Bennet, “The Israelis; Spilled Blood Is Seen as Bond That Draws 2 Nations Closer,” September 12, 2001, www.nytimes.com). Similarly, the MSM can barely remember that 9/11 not only led us into an extended war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, but was also the fear-propaganda basis for the steady enlargement of NATO, the military budget, the “war on terror,” and the eventual transformation of the entire planet into a free fire zone.
  • The MSM also do not remember that such products of 9/11 as the U.S. PATRIOT Act, including suspension of the right of habeas corpus, the growth of the surveillance state and many other violations of civil liberties, the use of torture as official policy, and the policy of extraordinary renditions of prisoners to foreign venues for interrogation and torture.
  • The MSM do not remember that, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration and New York City officials assured the thousands of first responding fire- fighters, police, and medical personnel, as well as the local inhabitants in the 9/11 vicinity, that the potential health effects of the smoke and particles in which they had been steeped were not serious and that the immediate symptoms were transitory. The MSM swallowed these official claims that turned out to be unjustified. As with returning war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, the belated official acknowledgement of underestimated damage and injury and slow rectification of lagged medical aid was rarely featured in the MSM and was not remembered in the ten-years-later memorials.
  • In the late phases of the Clinton era, there was a budget surplus and talk of the eventual complete elimination of the national debt. This vision, of course, was soon wiped out by the Bush tax cuts. These, and those that followed, and the arms buildup and wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, and “terror” were built heavily on the intellectual, media, and political environment established by 9/11 and its exploitation. The mainstream media have certainly not featured the key role of 9/11 in the growth of deficits, the national debt, and the anticipated future deficit threats in their retrospectives ten-years-later.
  • The MSM also do not mention that these economic difficulties represent a triumph for Bin Laden—the successful carrying out of his policy of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy” that he envisaged from the beginning. He wanted the United States to get bogged down in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to allow the military-industrial-complex and pro- Israel forces to push the United States into spending more than it could afford, just “as we, alongside the Mujahedin, bled Russia for 10 years until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.” The Bush administration was easy to “provoke and bait”: “one cannot say that al Qaeda is the sole factor in achieving these spectacular gains…. All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies. This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers” (October 29, 2004 video statement).
  • The media have frequently referred to the New York site of the 9/11 attack as “ground zero.” But “ground zero” has usually referred to Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, where an atomic bomb dropped by the United States killed somewhere between 80,000 and 140,000 Japanese, mainly civilians. Isn’t this conflation of two events where the difference in casualties is between 25-1 and 40-1 a form of racist-patriotic belittling of the historic mass killing of Japanese? Is it not also of interest that the author of the lesser mass killing (Bin Laden) was recently assassinated and his body dumped into the ocean, whereas the author of the far greater one (Harry Truman) died in his bed and is honored as a great and even model leader of the Democratic Party that some of its less forceful representatives would do well to emulate?

Concluding Note

The formula “look forward, not back” is a crude propaganda tool, the adoption of which is almost mandatory for any regime that seeks to maintain continuity in the policies of its predecessor. It is a handy cover for politicians who want to avoid confronting illegal and immoral policies —assassinations, torture, renditions, surveillance, imprisonment without charge, trial or time limit, bombings and invasions without legal sanction—that they had promised to terminate, but continue and even enlarge. As these constitute institutionalized policies, the mainstream media mainly look the other way, giving the policies implicit and sometimes explicit support. When looking back, they air-brush the nasties, focusing on the inexplicable suffering of the citizens of the pitiful giant generously serving the world as it seeks national security.


Edward S. Herman is an economist, media critic, and author of numerous articles and books. His latest is The Politics of Genocide (with David Peterson).