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(DV) Berkowitz: The Politics of Slander







The Politics of Slander
by Bill Berkowitz
August 27, 2005

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Late in the evening of Wednesday, August 24, the Drudge Report featured the headline -- "ANTI-WAR PROTESTERS TARGET WOUNDED AT ARMY HOSPITAL" -- followed by this text:

"Anti-war protestors besieged wounded and disabled soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C, a new web report will claim!

" (Cybercast News Service) is planning to run an expose on Thursday featuring interviews with both protestors and veterans, as well as shots of protest signs with slogans like 'Maimed for a Lie.'

"The conservative outlet will post video evidence of the wounded veterans being taunted by protesters, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned. (Anti-war Protesters Target Wounded at Army Hospital)"

The following day, Cybercast News Service issued its report stating that, "Code Pink Women for Peace, one of the groups backing anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford Texas, organizes the protests at Walter Reed as well."

According to, supporters of Bush's War on Iraq "call the protests, which have been ignored by the establishment media, 'shameless' and have taken to conducting counter-demonstrations at Walter Reed."

"The [anti-war protesters] should not be demonstrating at a hospital. A hospital is not a suitable location for an anti-war demonstration," Bill Floyd of the D.C. chapter of told "I believe they are tormenting our wounded soldiers and they should just leave them alone," Floyd added. also pointed out that, "Code Pink, the group organizing the anti-war demonstrations in front of the Walter Reed hospital, has a controversial leader and affiliations...Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin has expressed support for the Communist Viet Cong in Vietnam and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas."

According to the website of Code Pink, their weekly vigils at Walter Reed Hospital -- which began in March -- actually bring together peace activists, soldiers, military families and neighbors," and are aimed at "remind[ing the public] that physically and psychologically wounded soldiers are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan every night."

Seriously wounded soldiers arrive at the hospital "under the cover of darkness," and Code Pink maintains that it believes that "the nighttime arrivals are scheduled on purpose so as to prevent the public from knowing about the numbers of soldiers wounded and the severity of their injuries."

On March 31, Stars and Stripes, which describes itself as a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community, reported on a Code Pink vigil: "When we first heard about this [the night-time return of injured soliders], we were appalled," Code Pink organizer Gael Murphy, told the newspaper. "Why are they bringing them in only at night? Is it because they don't want the media to cover it? Is it because they don't want Americans to see the real cost of this war?"

The Stars and Stripes story makes no mention of the wounded being "taunted" or "besieged."

"These are not protests, they are vigils calling for more support for the veterans. We always do them with military families and we get extremely positive responses from the families of the wounded soldiers. In my first DC vigil, the wife of a wounded soldier took me inside to meet her husband," Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink, told MediaTransparency.

"In the past few weeks, however, new people have shown up and have tried to change the tone and be more confrontational. We asked them to remove signs that we found objectionable. While we aren't certain as to who these people are, we think they may be related to the FreeRepublic people who are demonstrating across the street."

"They are trying to create a confrontation and make us look as if we are not supporting the soldiers. It is a smear tactic and is totally untrue. We are only there to say that these soldiers deserve the best possible treatment when they come home."

For the full report by, see here.

Cybercast News Service (originally called Conservative News Service) is a subsidiary of the Media Research Center -- whose website bills itself as “America’s Media Watchdog.” MRC is a right wing group monitoring the media, headed by L. Brent Bozell III. According to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media & Democracy, “CNS was launched on July 16, 1998... as an ‘alternative news service’ to mainstream news sources which reports by MRC claim have a ‘liberal bias.’"

On August 22, featured a story headlined "Backlash Against Cindy Sheehan Gains Momentum," which reported that Move America Forward, the right wing group that led the recent so-called Truth Tour to Iraq, was set to begin a "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour to counter Sheehan's vigil at President Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch.

"For the past few weeks, this nation has heard from those voices in America who advocate surrender in the war against terrorism," Melanie Morgan, the host of a morning talk show on KSFO 560 AM in San Francisco who also serves as chairman of Move America Forward, told "Now, it's time to hear from the other side of this debate.

"We are going to rally Americans together to show the terrorists overseas that our nation has not lost its resolve nor its nerve to prevail in the fight against their violent, extremist agenda," Morgan added.

According to, the group is expected to “begin airing a 60-second television commercial promoting the ‘Support Our Troops & Their Mission' rally in Crawford, Tex. The ad [prepared by the Sacramento, California-based public relations firms Russo Marsh & Rogers] is expected to air nationwide on cable news networks or can see seen at the group's website [at].”

Whatever one thinks about comparing the chaotic occupation of Iraq with the situation during the war in Vietnam one element is consistent: As the occupation of Iraq continues to slide into chaos, pro-war advocates are getting more vigorous and vituperative with their criticisms of the anti-war movement.

When the going gets tough for supporters of President Bush's war on Iraq, they go on the attack. Typical targets have been liberal academics on America's college campuses, Hollywood celebrities who have dared speak out against the war, liberal talk show hosts, and of course, the anti-war movement. Radical filmmaker Michael Moore was the right's whipping boy for most of 2004, and Cindy Sheehan has become its target of choice this summer.

In the months leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, millions of people in cities around the world demonstrated against the impending war. Despite that outpouring of sentiment, during the pre-invasion debate, Bush Administration supporters went after the anti-war movement with gusto. Moreover, after the invasion began, those who spoke out against the war were quickly labeled unpatriotic, anti-American or sympathizers of the brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Now, shaken by the actions of and nationwide support for Sheehan, Bush Administration surrogates are once again focusing on the anti-war movement. As Sheehan has continued her vigil outside President Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch the president’s poll numbers related to Iraq have tumbled. The growing anti-war sentiment in this country is exemplified by the spirited crowd of more than 2,000 protesters who showed up in Salt Lake City, Utah, as a response to President Bush’s visit to the city to address the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

On Tuesday, August 30, 2005 the Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation, the premier think tank of the conservative movement, will turn its sights toward the anti-war movement in an event entitled, “The Politics of Peace: What's Behind the Anti-War Movement?”

The main speaker at the event is John J. Tierney, whose book, The Politics of Peace, was published this year by the Capital Research Center. According to the Heritage Foundation’s promotional materials, the book is an examination of the “current anti-war protest” against the Iraq War, and the Bush Administration “reveals a pedigree going back at least to the Vietnam era and beyond to the ‘progressive’ and protest politics of earlier decades.” Tierney argues that, “The leaders of the ‘anti-war’ movement today are leftists in ideology,” and they “almost all oppose capitalism and believe in socialism.” In addition, “many are Communists.”

In the Introduction to the book, Tierney argues that "The irony of the modern 'peace' movement is that it has very little to do with peace -- either as a moral concept or as a political ideal ... The leaders of anti-war groups are modern-day Leninists ... street revolutionaries [attempting] to use reactions to the war on Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein as a way to foment radical political change at home."

"This appears like a real attempt to smear the peace movement," Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, told Media Transparency via telephone from her San Francisco office. "It is interesting that it is coming at a time when the peace movement is beginning to represent the feelings of the majority of the American people."

"In reality, this is the first time since the war began that the right is on the defensive. To claim that the anti-war movement is anti-American is a move fueled by desperation, and I don't think it is going to resonate with the American people who now feel that this war isn't worth fighting."

Benjamin also told Media Transparency that the attack on the anti-movement is coming at a time when more Republicans are seriously questioning the war.

John Tierney has a long and impressive resume. He is currently Faculty Chairman and Walter Kohler Professor of International Relations at The Institute of World Politics; he has served as Special Assistant and Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1981 to 1993; he participated in various national security negotiations for the U.S. Government; was Executive Director of the Congressional Caucus on National Defense and the National Security Research Group at the U.S. House of Representatives; and he was Chairman of the Politics Department at the Catholic University of America.

Back in 1995, when Tierney was a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, he wrote one Executive Memorandum entitled "Abolish the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency," and another entitled "The U.S. Still Needs Military Bases In Panama."

Founded in 1990, the Washington, DC-based Institute for World Politics describes itself as an "independent graduate school of statecraft and national security affairs." Between 1993 and 2003, the Institute received nearly $3 million from such conservative foundations as the Earhart Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation and the Charlotte and Walter Kohler Charitable Trust.

It is significant that Tierney’s book was published by the Capital Research Center (CRC), a Washington, DC-based outfit, which for the past 20 years has steadfastly dedicated itself to defunding and disempowering the progressive non-profit sector and “exposing” the foundations that fund them. Through its four flagship publications: Organization Trends, a monthly analyzing the activities of advocacy organizations; Labor Watch, a monthly tracking “the increasing activism of labor unions that are trying to achieve through political coalition-building the goals they have failed to achieve at the bargaining table”; Foundation Watch, a monthly “examin[ing] the grantmaking of private foundations"; and Compassion & Culture, a monthly "highlighting the work of small, locally based charities that help the needy,” CRC staff does some of the research work of the right wing movement.

In an introduction to an excerpt of The Politics of Peace published in the March issue of Organization Trends, Robert Huberty, the Executive Vice President and Director of Research at CRC, maintained that, "Many leaders of the principal anti-war organizations today are members of Communist splinter groups. They have ties to North Korea, Cuba and Maoist China. Some have political roots in radical anti-Vietnam war groups like Students for a Democratic Society ... Others trace their origins to the heyday of the U.S. Communist Party. Huberty argues that these facts "have been obscured by in false media depictions of a grassroots and idealistic anti-war movement."

"On the face of it," Benjamin said, "it is ridiculous to characterize United for Peace and Justice as anti-American. This is an organization that is comprised of more than 1,000 local organizations, and whose membership includes a fair share of religious leaders, military families, and veterans."

"The way they tried to smear Cindy Sheehan was despicable and didn't work very well; the way they are trying to position politicians calling for an exit strategy also reflects that. We in the peace movement feel like we are turning a corner and that we have greater possibilities of reaching and convincing the American people."

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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