Saturday, October 27, 2007

Justin Raimondo on the Mythmakers

In creating new realities, these Great Men of History are basically telling us a story that is mostly about themselves: about their role in history, and their will to shape it. They are weaving a narrative in which they are the heroes, and the rest of us are just spear-carriers, waiting for direction. As they cavort about on the world stage – invading countries on various pretexts, and changing regimes at will – they mesmerize their audience and draw them into a shared illusion. Their last performance was quite a success, at least for a while, one that so dazzled the media that hardly anyone who mattered dared challenge the administration's imaginative narrative – until it was too late….

Instead of stepping outside the box, reporters preferred to stay inside the echo chamber so skillfully constructed by the War Party, where it was warm, and safe, rather than go outside and face the scorn of what former CNN chief executive Walter Isaacson calls the "patriotism police." The efforts of the media vigilantes had an effect: even a hint that news anchors didn't share in the Bushian belligerence that swept the nation after 9/11 provoked a storm of outraged emails and phone calls. Isaacson sent out a memo soon after the invasion of Afghanistan telling his staff to "balance" reporting of civilian casualties with reminders of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As the administration began ginning up the invasion of Iraq, not a lot of intimidation was required to make the media malleable. As Howard Kurtz puts it in his recent book, Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War,

"For [Brian] Williams, it all went back to 9/11. As a citizen, he had thought on that fateful day, thank God that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell were on this team. How together we all seemed. In Williams's view, there was something about the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that, in the eyes of the White House press corps, gave Bush a stature that could not be violated."

No wonder Williams does "not enjoy looking back on the run-up to war," as Kurtz puts it. And when he did look back, in an interview with the President in late summer of last year, the President's stature, at least in his eyes, was apparently still inviolate. When Bush stubbornly insisted that pre-war Iraq had "the capacity" to build WMD, Williams failed to challenge him. When Bush denied making a direct connection between Iraq and 9/11, Williams sat there similarly dumbstruck – although he might have cited the President's March 18, 2003 letter to Congress in which he contended that war with Iraq constituted "continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Williams's deference to the President and his policies persists, as Kurtz shows: " Every day, Williams asked the question: Did Baghdad correspondent Richard Engel have any news other than another twenty Iraqi civilians killed when an IED detonated, leaving the same smoking carcasses and pathetic scenes of loved ones crying?" Kurtz also reports that "No one in their right mind, [Williams] believed, would want America to pull out tomorrow. He did not want America to withdraw from Iraq," although he did recognize "how deeply the war had divided the country."


There is, by Matthews's account, a concerted effort to exclude alternative voices, especially when it comes to the war issue: "There's a lot going on among our producers, our young bookers, now that I never noticed before. There is an almost menacing call that you get whenever someone hears something they don't like – their people call up and threaten, or challenge, and get very nasty. That's now become the norm."


In order to maintain even minimal support, the War Party must create an alternate reality, a Bizarro World where failure is success, civil war is civil society, and a theocracy is, in Bush's phrase, a "free Iraq." If they can project that impression to the American people, via the media, History's Actors can continue their bloody drama, "creating other new realities" in a looming confrontation with Iran.


In a free society, it is the media's duty to expose the deceptions routinely practiced by government officials, especially when the lives of American soldiers and innocent civilians are at stake. In the run-up to the Iraq war, when mainstream "news" outlets became nothing more than transmission belts for government propaganda, American journalists went AWOL. Whether they will redeem themselves in the precis to the next war remains to be seen.

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