Not The Full Story
Why Won't The Networks Ask The Obvious Questions?
by Doug Ireland
March 29, 2003
"If the news articles or TV reports [on Iraq] don't have any bloodied or mangled bodies, you're not getting the full story. War is a form of state sanctioned murder and without bodies you've got no war." So wrote the veteran independent D.C. journalist Sam Smith in the March 21 edition of his excellent daily press review, Undernews.
The U.S. networks' decision over the weekend not to air the tapes of captured and killed U.S. soldiers denies televiewers the opportunity to see what war really is all about. And Smith added, "The media is deeply embedded not only in the military operations, but in the American elite's self-destructive view of the world and its role in it. It lacks the means to break free and see any other point of view."
"F--k Saddam. We're taking him out," Time quotes Bush as telling three U.S. senators at a White House meeting.
This is more true of TV than of print. Every day brings new proof of the general accuracy of this diagnosis to your television screen. Take General Tommy Franks' first press conference in the Hollywood-designed, $200,000-set built specially for him at CENTCOM headquarters on Saturday, March 22.
In the course of a rosy portrayal of the progress of the war -- which Iraqi resistance in the next 48 hours showed was premature -- Gen. Franks inadvertently had a moment of honesty. Asked whether he'd been surprised by anything in the war, Franks said he hadn't -- because the war had been planned for "at least a year." This impolitic and embarrassingly undiplomatic admission -- which made a mockery of George Bush's charade in going to the United Nations -- contradicted the president's repeated assertions that "everything possible" had been done to avoid war.
Yet not a single reporter on the scene bothered to ask a follow-up; nor did TV's talking heads, in their post-press conference analysis, pick up on this unusual (if unintended) candor. But European TV commentators -- like those on France2, the public television channel -- certainly did.
We have known for some time that Bush's decision had nothing to do with the empty claims of "evidence" against the repugnant Ba'ath regime regurgitated by the administration, thanks to enterprising reporting by a handful of journalists at The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Now, in a lengthy team report written by Michael Elliot and James Carney, Time magazine has just published more evidence that the decision for war was taken at least as early as March 2002.
"F--k Saddam. We're taking him out," Time quotes Bush as telling three U.S. senators at a White House meeting then.
The Bush crowd's brazen Big Lie technique was much in evidence in Donald Rumsfeld's "Meet the Press" appearance this past Sunday. When Tim Russert began to ask the Defense Secretary about the "bombing of Baghdad," Rummy interrupted him and exploded. "We were not bombing Baghdad," insisted the man running the war, but "greater Baghdad" and military installations around the city's periphery.
Rummy's propaganda fantasy was immediately refuted in the next segment, when Russert cut to a live interview with Peter Arnett from the Iraqi capital. The former CNN star in Gulf War I, who heard the Rummy interview in his earpiece, told Russert that "while you were talking" to Rumsfeld, several jets had flown overhead, immediately followed by explosions -- Arnett said pointedly -- "in Baghdad." But Russert didn't bother to point out the obvious contradiction between the live report and Rummy's Orwellian assertion.
There was more Newspeak in Rummy's March 21 press briefing, when he accused the assembled media of failing to grasp "the humanity that goes into" planning the bombing. The civilian victims of U.S. bombs, who were interviewed by the London Independent's Robert Fisk in a tour of Baghdad's hospitals for a report published hours before Rummy spoke, may be forgiven for not having understood "the humanity" in the bombing raids either.
Rumsfeld also told Russert he had "no information" that would support the speculations that Turkish troops had crossed the border into Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq. This, too, was immediately contradicted when, after the Arnett segment, Russert next cut to NBC's Fred Francis, reporting live from Kurdish Iraq, who unambiguously said of the Turkish army, "They have moved in. We have them here!" Once again, Russert failed to connect the dots.
History teaches us that the Big Lie usually works, at least in the short run.
If Rummy had wanted "substantiation" of the feared Turks' presence there, he could have read the first-hand report by the British correspondent Damien McElroy from Vamerni in Northern Iraq, in The Sunday Telegraph (which this conservative, pro-war paper published on the Web the night before Rummy's lie), and headlined, "Turks Hem Kurds in on Three Fronts."
Remember how Dubya's father, in Gulf War I, first called on the Kurds to rebel against Saddam Hussein and then abandoned them to be slaughtered when they did? The son has become a recidivist, selling out the hapless Kurds once again: His anti-Iraq guru, Paul Wolfowitz, had long ago guaranteed Ankara that the United States would not permit establishment of an independent Kurdish state. The turf stakes are enormous: the rich Northern oil fields.
Now, Bush is sending the Kurdish peshmurga to do most of the fighting, and dying, against the Islamist shocktroops of Ansar al-Islam in their heavily fortified mountain redout--and The Shrub (as Molly Ivins calls him) is, like Daddy, stabbing them in the back at the same time. The administration's spin-meisters' leaks saying the United States doesn't want the Turks to invest Northern Iraq is camouflage for a secret deal with the new Turkish government.
Dubya and Saddam have one thing in common: They're both willing to fight to the last drop of someone else's blood.
History teaches us that the Big Lie usually works, at least in the short run. The recent polls showing public support for the war in the United States has jumped to 70 to 75 percent are discouraging. But a cross-tabulated analysis of recent polls on Iraq by Allen Barton -- one of the parents of public opinion research and the former head of Columbia University's Bureau of Applied Social Research -- and distributed over the weekend on the list-serv of the Association of American Public Opinion Researchers -- explains those numbers. Barton's study showed "20 to 35 percent higher support of the war among those who believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 terror attack, which is clearly a false belief, and 15 to 25 percent higher support among those who believe he gave 'direct' or 'substantial' support to Al Qaeda, which is a belief for which evidence is entirely lacking." If Americans were being told the truth, public support for the war would be significantly less.
But the tube is not allowing any articulate and well-informed opponents of the war to get a serious hearing, and its portrayals of the millions of Americans protesting against this war has been snide and condescending, as when ABC's Chris Cuomo last weekend, in reporting on the massive marches, saw a debate between "flag-wavers and flag-burners." TV coverage always seizes on video of stupid actions by a handful of extremists to smear the entire anti-war movement.
In this context, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who spoke out against this war at the Academy Awards. In the last few days both The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times have reported on the campaigns of vilification and boycott against war opponents in the entertainment industry who speak out. For example, on the Boycott Hollywood Web site, one can click on an actor's name to get a catalogue of their thought crimes, and a list of companies to boycott -- shades of "Red Channels," the similar operation which motored the McCarthyite blacklisting of the 1950s. For this reason, those who defied studio and network pressure and raised their voices for peace at the Oscars displayed no little courage, for the hawks' vengeance can hit them in their wallets (as Martin Sheen has discovered) and in their careers.
All the more reason to celebrate those American artists -- from the superb actor Chris Cooper to the gentle and dignified Adrien Brody, and including the Academy's own president, Frank Pierson -- who in this dark hour affirmed life, not death.
Doug Ireland is a New York-based media critic and commentator. This article first appeared in Tom Paine.com (www.tompaine.com)