William Rivers Pitt argues that the media is trying to rewrite history for outgoing President George W. Bush. (Photo: Michael McDonough)
We're all neocons now.
- Chris Matthews, MSNBC, 09 April 2003
Seeing as how we currently find ourselves hurtling along this downhill run towards new history - the countdown to the day America has itself a president named Obama can be measured in hours instead of days or weeks now - it seems an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on a bit of older history we've already passed through. I'm not talking about any kind of ancient history, mind you. For the purposes of this reflection, we need only take a small leap backwards in time, just six short years ago.
We all passed through the little slice of history that began to take shape in the early months of 2003, and we all remember that time in our own way. Today, however, there is a great deal of effort being expended to make sure this bit of history is remembered differently than how it really happened. An even better result for those exerting this effort would be if this bit of history were not remembered at all. That may, in fact, be their ultimate goal.
I am referring, of course, to the very beginning of another downhill run towards history, the one that began in 2003 and led us into the current Iraq debacle that is about to become another president's problem.
I am not, however, referring to anyone who works or once worked within the Bush administration. To be sure, Mr. Bush would prefer if we remembered all this differently than it happened, as would Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Powell, Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Feith, Ms. Rice, and every other one of the glorified think-tank cube-rats who ginned the whole thing up to begin with. Richard Perle, in an amusing aside, actually allowed himself to be quoted saying the neocons had nothing to do with Iraq, had no hand in the planning and implementation of same, and anyone who says differently is just wrong and dumb and should go away.
That one's a hoot, in'it?
No, I am referring to an equally large, craven and culpable body outside the official bounds of our federal governmental: the mainstream American news media. They work fist in glove with that government now, worked with them yesterday, and will likewise be working with them tomorrow. Specifically, they will be working as hard as Bush & Co. to make us remember that downhill run to Iraq differently, because they never worked more closely with our government on anything than they did on Iraq just six short years ago.
The mainstream news media did not concoct false evidence to justify a course for war, but they fobbed off that false proof as if it were holy truth. They did not lie to the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they passed on Bush administration lies to the American people with full-throated credulity. They did not browbeat the American people with dire threats of impending terrorism to cover up political liabilities, but they passed those threats on from Bush's people to the American people with the kind of breathless energy only seen whenever media types have skyrocketing ratings and ad revenues twinkling in their eyes.
The mainstream American news media is just as responsible for what has happened in Iraq as the Bush administration; they are as responsible for the lies they repeated as the ones who first told them, and are as guilty for what happened in Iraq as the Bush administration officials they enabled and covered for.
Many people, by now, may have forgotten the manner in which this gruesome symbiosis played out six years ago. An organization called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has compiled a little refresher course on the topic. Behold some of the highlights:
"Oh, it was breathtaking. I mean I was almost starting to think that we had become inured to everything that we'd seen of this war over the past three weeks, all this sort of saturation. And finally, when we saw that it was such a just true, genuine expression. It was reminiscent, I think, of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And just sort of that pure emotional expression, not choreographed, not stage-managed, the way so many things these days seem to be. Really breathtaking."
- Ceci Connolly, Washington Post reporter, on Fox News Channel on 09 April 2003
"This has been a tough war for commentators on the American left. To hope for defeat meant cheering for Saddam Hussein. To hope for victory meant cheering for President Bush. The toppling of Mr. Hussein, or at least a statue of him, has made their arguments even harder to defend. Liberal writers for ideologically driven magazines like The Nation and for less overtly political ones like The New Yorker did not predict a defeat, but the terrible consequences many warned of have not happened. Now liberal commentators must address the victory at hand and confront an ascendant conservative juggernaut that asserts United States might can set the world right."
- David Carr, New York Times reporter, 16 April 2003
"We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple. We're not like the Brits."
- Chris Matthews, MSNBC, 01 May 2003
"He looked like an alternatively commander in chief, rock star, movie star and one of the guys."
- Lou Dobbs, CNN, 01 May 2003
"We had controversial wars that divided the country. This war united the country and brought the military back."
- Howard Fineman, MSNBC, 07 May 2003
Some people may remember hearing these lines when they were uttered. A great many people can probably remember hearing or reading similar comments during that time. The sentiment was all but ubiquitous, at least within the mainstream media's echo chamber, that the weapons were there, that Bush was right, that war was necessary, so let's go.
I remember it a little differently.
In the summer of 2002, after working in concert with former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, I wrote and had published a book titled "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know." The book argued that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq, no connection between Iraq and 9/11, thus there was no reason to go to war against Iraq, and that any such war would be a disaster of vast proportions.
In short, the book was spot-on correct.
The latter half of 2002, however, saw very few people arguing these points make their way into the mainstream media conversation. I tried, believe me. I did dozens of radio interviews with every small-market, community-based radio personality in and out of America. I traveled tens of thousands of miles trying to let people know what was what. By the spring of 2003, the book became a New York Times and international best seller, and was translated into 13 languages, but my own informed perspective on the issue had failed to break into the mainstream media conversation.
Mine was not nearly the only voice shut out of the debate by the mainstream news media. From the very beginning, independent or investigative journalists were sounding the alarm, preparing the facts, and not getting heard. People like Amy Goodman, Sy Hersh, Mike Malloy, Juan Cole, Dahr Jamail, Bernard Weiner, Norman Solomon, William Greider, Joe Conason, Robert Scheer, Robert Kuttner, Molly Ivins and Naomi Klein have been horribly vindicated by the passage of time. There are many, many other voices like theirs which, had they been included in the conversation six years ago, could have perhaps saved us all from the disaster they saw coming a mile away.
Of course, not everyone in the mainstream news media participated six years ago in making sure the Iraq war happened, but so very many of them did. Those well-known personalities who actively participated in selling the war, along with their editors, producers and corporate owners, want no part of being rightly remembered for their role in the debacle that is Iraq. For the last couple of years, they've been backpedaling furiously away from the mess they were deeply involved in creating; all those once-dismissed "left-wing" talking points about the folly of this war and the absence of Iraqi WMD, seemingly overnight, were adopted by the mainstream news media with nary a hiccup.
Remember how that worked? From 2003 until around 2006, the line from the media was, "Of course everyone knows there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." But after the WMD's failure to turn up entered a fourth year, a switch got thrown. Suddenly, the line from the media was, "Of course everyone knows there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," after which came all the anti-Bush rhetoric they'd once ridiculed.
They skipped the all-important middle part. In between "Of course they have WMD" and "Of course they had no WMD" should have been a few deadly serious questions: Why did they tell us there were WMD? Why did we accept their version of the facts so easily? How responsible are we for making the American people believe all that WMD stuff was true?
They skipped all that, because media people avoid self-analysis the way cats avoid water. Now, they want us to remember things differently than how they were. Again.
The folks in the mainstream news media see themselves as the writers and crafters of the first edition of history. This is a position they monstrously abused regarding Iraq, and now, they would like to rewrite that first draft, so they can edit out their own direct involvement as major players in the drama.
Bush must be held responsible, along with all his minions and Congressional enablers, for the bloodbath of criminal wrongdoing that took place and continues in Iraq. But the media must be held accountable, as well. They'd like us to forget what they did. Don't let them let us forget. We all have skin in this particular game.