Spin cycles are supposed to last little longer than 24 hours, especially when it’s bad news for Bush & Co. That is, perhaps, one reason why the Downing Street Memos (DSM) are causing such consternation in journalistic circles. A recent column by Newsday editorialist James Klurfeld, “Downing St. memos: Been there, knew that” (6-24-05), is of particular interest to me, since I live on Long Island, and because it is a fascinating window into the thought processes of an influential member of the Mainstream Media (MSM), a man who plays an important role in creating storylines about George Bush. The entire interest of the piece is in watching Klurfeld frame the issues, beginning with his opening shot: “Somebody needs to explain to me all this furor over the Downing Street memos” -- from which I conclude that he’s furious.
According to Klurfeld, the proper way to understand the DSM is in terms of partisan politics, the eternal clash between the extreme right wing and the center-right. “Bush, say the critics, misled everybody because he said war was a last resort when, in reality, it was his first choice.”
“Hello? Anybody who was paying attention in the summer of 2002 had to understand that the Bush administration was beating the drums of war and if an actual decision had not been made (what is the actual decision?) the mind-set was clear.”
I love that parenthetical, existential aside, which to me is the heart of Klurfeld’s argument, “What is the actual decision?” It says so much about the MSM’s mind-set. The MSM have been so gradually corrupted from their true mission that there is no one moment when they made a conscious decision to betray the public trust -- and that, to them, constitutes innocence. In that sense -- in that betrayal is instinctive rather than plotted -- I believe Klurfeld unconsciously identifies with George Bush; it is his basis forgiving Bush the professional benefit of the doubt.
It is, of course, also pure self-serving horseshit, right up there with Pontius Pilate washing his hands, symbolical man, and asking, “What is truth?”
But then the argument takes a hairpin turn as Mr. Klurfeld, who has been insisting that anyone not comatose knew exactly what was happening in 2002, gives us two very significant “pieces of evidence” to prove that Bush’s intentions were crystal clear. The first is a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Brent Scowcroft, in which Scowcroft, who had been in Bush Senior’s cabinet, argues against pre-emptive war, thereby proving that pre-emptive war was on the table. Uh huh. That was big news.
Secondly, Dick Cheney made a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in which he explicitly advocated a pre-emptive-strike policy. “Was there anybody who believed Cheney was off the reservation, speaking on his own? Give me a break.”
Notice Mr. Klurfeld has framed the entire discussion around the question of whether or not Bush’s intentions were clear, citing two wonky speeches where administration officials used the word “pre-emptive” as conclusive evidence. What the average reader of Mr. Klurfeld’s paper saw, though, was not a debate about pre-emptive war as a policy, but a steadily darkening picture of Iraq as a terrorist country, part of an “Axis of Evil,” with weapons of mass destruction capable of reaching the civilized world within 45 minutes.
The press, which, apparently, was not at all fooled by George Bush’s constant references to ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, nevertheless treated official claims about weapons of mass destruction with unquestioning respect, passing on administration press releases as if they were the result of investigative reporting and independent verification.
“Does this mean the administration had made a final, irrevocable decision?” Klurfeld asks himself. “That just gets into a semantic game....” Well, actually, Klurfeld has just boxed himself into semantics, by once again ignoring the elephant in the room: the Bush administration’s essential bad faith. Like the waiter whose attention you can’t get, the press has made an art of refusing to connect the dots about George Bush. Every new disinformation campaign is passed along with a patriotic snap salute, even now, as the GOP slowly winds up its spin about Iran. While certain stories do get press, like Scowcroft’s opinion piece and Cheney’s speech at the VFW, they receive only peripheral attention. The smoking gun and the mushroom cloud are always and forever front and center.
Klurfeld mentions, as the press dutifully reported back then, that George Bush did go to the UN, “as it turned out” -- as if that buttresses Bush’s sincerity. In fact, the DSM state that Blair’s people advised Bush’s people that they needed the UN for political cover. The Brits, you see, unlike the Bushies, were worried about war crimes. As usual, Bush made a half-assed hash of his end of the bargain, but Blair accepted it.
And, oh, yes, “[t]he memos also say there had not been adequate planning for the postwar period. That is a more telling point but also not new information.” Why is that a more telling point, I wonder? Because the war was such an obviously foregone conclusion? There is no mention whatsoever about the air strikes on strategic war targets inside Iraq a full year before George Bush received any congressional authorization to use force -- which is a very telling point.
No, the real story here, Klurfeld informs us, is the bellyaching Democrats, who made a political miscalculation by not opposing the war. “Were they so naďve they didn’t understand the administration’s mind-set?” Klurfeld believes they were testing the political winds, especially John Kerry. “Bad decision. He’s one of the Democrats bleating over the memos now. Some people never learn.”
In all fairness, I will say here that Newsday narrowly endorsed Kerry in 2004, and even then they found his main flaw to be that he had supported the war. I will also say that prior to the invasion, Newsday and Klurfeld very often criticized plans for war. But early in 2003, Newsday’s position became that the naysayers should just shut up, since, like it or not, we were about to go to war. I bitterly resented that opinion.
But the dead center of the column is what Klurfeld leaves out: shockingly, he never once mentions the bombshell line, “the intelligence and facts will be fixed around the policy.” It may very well be that John Kerry and others knew that Junior wanted war. But it may also be that they believed the thoroughly bogus intelligence briefings they were receiving. Certainly many wavering Democrats were tipped in Bush’s favor by Colin Powell’s brandishing of a vial of powdered sugar.
Untroubled by any of that, Klurfeld concludes with a flourish: “The furor over the Downing Street memos is nonsense. It will take historians to figure out whether the invasion of Iraq was wisdom or folly.” (That has a nice sound to it, but I have to say Klurfeld is in a coma if he thinks the folly of this venture is not already abundantly clear.) “And that will depend on what Iraq looks like in 20 years.” (That’s looking ahead, alright; he’s a patient man -- with other people’s lives.)
“Meanwhile, this irrelevant debate is diverting the nation from a discussion of the critical issue before us: How much treasure, in lives and money, will we and should we continue to spend on Iraq? What will it take to make Iraq a stable, secure nation? And are we willing to pay it?”
“This irrelevant debate,” as Mr. Jimmy calls it, is the closest we’ve come to really discussing what went on in the months leading up to the war -- and, frankly, it casts a very harsh light on the venality, incompetence, and plain old double dealing of the MSM.
The main frame Klurfeld relies on, in dismissing the DSM, is the same one he used to silence dissent before the war, namely, that the die has already been cast and only questions about the next step are valid. Another neat little box in which to contain and stifle debate, a box that removes George Bush from any possibility of wrongdoing and hence from accountability.
I, on the other hand, believe that the issue of burning importance now is how to remove this criminal junta from power before they become too entrenched to stop.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She is also a frequent contributor to MandateTHIS.org. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent Related Articles
Conspiracy: The Downing Street Memo by Media Lens
Other Articles by Patricia Goldsmith