January 07, 2004

"The unholy marriage of conglomerate press and government is the Achilles' heel of our democracy..."

"It's the Media, Stupid."

Ray McGovern: The unholy marriage of conglomerate
press and government is the Achilles' heel of our
democracy—and a fillip to fascism. We are inching
closer to the modus operandi of Nazi propaganda
minister Josef Goebbels than to Edmund Burke's ideal
of a press as watchdog, holding the barbarians at the

Break Up the Corporatist Stranglehold on the News
Media, Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush


Intoxicated With Power

Ray McGovern, a 27-year career analyst with the CIA,
is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals
for Sanity and co-director of the Servant Leadership
School, an outreach ministry in the inner city of
Washington, DC.

It came at the very end of a long New York Times
report of Jan. 2 regarding the havoc caused at Dulles
airport in Washington, D.C. because of heightened
concern there of a terrorist attack.

"In a footnote, the director of security at Dulles
airport was arrested Thursday on suspicion of drunk

Dulles airport's director of security, former Secret
Service agent Charles Brady, was pulled over on
suspicion of being drunk at the wheel at the very
height of the emergency! What a telling metaphor for
malfeasance at a more senior level, I thought to
myself. While President George W. Bush may no longer
be drinking, the year 2003 showed him to be DWI in a
far more dangerous sense-driving while intoxicated
with power.

Worse still, unlike Brady and other drivers for whom
the police provide disincentive to full-speed-ahead,
the president sees no reason to apply the
brakes—surrounded as he is with swift SUVs and with
televangelist Pat Robertson riding shotgun.

The top story of 2003, in my view, deals with official
malfeasance, the difference between Brady and Bush,
and the reasons why the latter has not yet been pulled
over for reckless endangerment on an international

In our system of government, checks and balances were
designed to serve, in effect, as speed traps. While
the judiciary is beginning to limit some of the more
egregious abuses attending the "war on terror," the
legislative branch in its current coloration is little
more than a patsy for the administration.

Congress, which in 2002 was tricked into ceding to the
executive its constitutional prerogative to declare
war, is now under even tighter control by the
president's party. And with trustees like Sen. Pat
Roberts (R-Kan.) and Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) keeping
tight rein on the intelligence committees, you can
forget about an impartial investigation into the still
missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and
the wider question as to whether the war was launched
under false pretences.

"Washington Democrats" and presidential aspirants such
as Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. Joe Lieberman
of Connecticut, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts,
who voted for the war, are still lending a helping
hand. Rather than admit that they were hoodwinked and
thereby risk qualifying for the George W. Romney
memorial prize for naÏveté, they remain co-opted. (You
may remember the caricatures after Romeny claimed in
1968 to have been brainwashed on Vietnam; remember how
the soapsuds dripping from Romney's head washed away
his presidential aspirations?)

How else to explain Gephardt's tortured response on
Dec. 31, 2003, when he was asked for the umpteenth
time to explain why, as minority leader in the House,
he threw his support to Bush on the war. Gephardt told
The Washington Post he was persuaded by the
administration's insistence that Saddam Hussein had
weapons of mass destruction.

Was he lied to? Gephardt: "I do not feel deceived."
Despite the Post's consistent cheerleading for the
war, I will still somewhat surprised to see that on
Jan. 4 the editorial folks there began a major piece
with strong applause for Gephardt's "consistent and
responsible position on the war in Iraq." It would
appear that consistency is considered the supreme
value at the Post.

The president has little to fear from speed traps or
even speed bumps at the hands of our representatives
in Congress—on either side of the aisle. What about
the United Nations and international law? No braking
effect there either. Any doubts about the contempt in
which the United Nations is held by the U.S. officials
running our policy toward Iraq were laid to rest in
2003. And leading U.N.-phobe, Pentagon adviser Richard
Perle, conceded publicly on Nov. 19, 2003 that the
invasion of Iraq was illegal but added, "I think in
this case international law stood in the way of doing
the right thing."

Moreover the deterrent effect once exerted by a
militarily robust U.S.S.R. is no more. Tiresome as the
mantra has become that the United States is the "sole
remaining world superpower," it happens to be true. A
short decade ago one would have been considered quite
the spoilsport to predict that this would turn out to
be a very mixed blessing.

Is there, then, no disincentive at all? No antidote to
driving the country while intoxicated with power? Who
will pull the president over and give him a summons?

The extraordinary performance of the U.S. press on
Iraq is the most telling part of 2003's top story.
Inimitable commentator Jimmy Breslin describes that
performance as "the worst failure to inform the public
that we have seen; the Pekingese of the press run
clip-clop along the hall to the next government press
conference." Commenting on the prevailing practice of
reciting the official line, another pundit has branded
journalists and broadcasters alike little more than
"ventriloquists' dummies."

The 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke coined
"fourth estate" in circumstances similar to those of
today here in this former British colony. It was
before we rebelled against the ruling George of the
time—George III, whom Burke castigated for trying to
enlarge the power of the crown.

In his pamphlet "Thoughts on the Cause of the Present
Discontents" (1770), Burke argued that although King
George's actions were legal in the sense that they
were not against the letter of the constitution, they
were all the more against its spirit. As for the
American colonies, Burke argued strongly for a more
flexible approach, one enlightened by "moral
principle," but British imperial policy ignored him
and lost America. And that, as our own George I
(George H. W. Bush) would say, is history.

"I think in this case international law stood in the
way of doing the right thing."

Burke said there were three estates in parliament (two
chambers in the House of Lords of the time and one in
Commons). But the fourth estate, "more important far
than they all, sat in the Reporters Gallery."

How far we have come since then?

Indeed, perhaps you need to have been around for
Vietnam and for Watergate to have some sense of how
the media have deteriorated in one brief generation.
The mainstream press is now giving our imperial
president, our "George II," a free pass.

Among other shortcomings, American journalists and
talking heads simply do not do their homework. Had not
Australian documentary producer John Pilger shown due
diligence in reviewing video footage of what Secretary
of State Colin Powell and national security adviser
Condolleeza Rice had been saying about weapons of mass
destruction, we would not know that on Feb. 24, 2001,
Powell said:

" He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any
significant capability with respect to weapons of mass
destruction. He is unable to project conventional
power against his neighbors."

Or that two months later Condoleezza Rice said:

"We are able to keep his arms from him. His military
forces have not been rebuilt."

But must we depend on Australian journalists to slow
down the presidential motorcade? Was it simply
laziness or perhaps something worse that prevented
U.S. journalists from doing a computer run on past
statements, when Powell and Rice later changed their

The unholy marriage of conglomerate press and
government is the Achilles' heel of our democracy—and
a fillip to fascism. We are inching closer to the
modus operandi of Nazi propaganda minister Josef
Goebbels than to Edmund Burke's ideal of a press as
watchdog, holding the barbarians at the gates.

As freelance journalist and press observer Ron Callari
has noted, U.S. media are now populated by "well-paid
conformists" whose voices are owned by the major
corporations that pay them so well. Callari decries
the "dumbing down" of the media and asks whether a
people can be truly free if Big Brother can spoon-feed
them what to believe.

Sadly, there is no lack of examples that can be
adduced. How can it be, for instance, that the press
has completely missed recent signs that the
administration plans to stretch out the quest for
Iraqi weapons of mass destruction beyond next

The most recent hint of this came in a last sentence
buried in an unnoticed Christmas Eve story by The
Washington Post's Walter Pincus (who actually was
writing about something else). Pincus merely noted in
passing that the WMD search in Iraq "is expected to
continue for at least another year, according to
administration sources."

Like until after the election? Transparent, no? And
yet, if the recent past is precedent, the mainstream
press will let the administration get away with it.

Or consider that the Post on Sept. 18, 2003 buried on
page A18 President Bush's admission the previous day
that "there has been no evidence that Saddam Hussein
was involved with September the 11th." This admission
came after many months of artful White House rhetoric
that strongly implied just the opposite—with
remarkable success in getting a large majority of the
American people to believe it. And on Dec. 23, 2003,
the Post kept out of its news section altogether
retired Marine General Anthony Zinni's biting critique
of the U.S. policy on Iraq, relegating it to the
"Style" section. Until he retired in 2000, Zinni
commanded all U.S. troops in the area of the Persian

Lest we begin the New Year thoroughly depressed, we
shall call a halt after one more example. Recall the
initial press reporting on Jessica Lynch: ambushed by
the Iraqis, courageously firing her weapon until her
ammunition ran out, shot, stabbed, raped and then
rescued in a daring nighttime raid videotaped for
showing around the world.

But U.S. media dropped Jessica Lynch as soon as it
became clear that she was not going to cooperate with
Pentagon yarn spinners. Good for Private Lynch. This
young woman from rural West Virginia knows the
difference between the truth and a lie.

If only that were so in the case of our president, who
asks, without a trace of shame, "What's the
difference?"—the question this time being the
difference between whether Iraq possessed weapons of
mass destruction last year or not; i. e., whether the
ostensible justification for attacking Iraq was real
or was manufactured out of whole cloth.

What's the difference? I believe most Americans can
see the difference.

The key question for 2004 is whether the
administration's stranglehold on the media can be
loosened to the point where the electorate can wake
up, take away the president's driver's license and put
an end to the reckless endangerment.

For that we shall need to resurrect the spirit of
Thomas Paine and show a lot more Common Sense.

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Published: Jan 06 2004

Posted by richard at January 7, 2004 09:00 AM