Norman Solomon

FAIR associate Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Newshour Distracted By Distraction

When the discussion went through the motions of covering the ground of Trump’s major appointees and nominees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Mike Pompeo got brief mentions—there wasn’t the slightest indication that their backgrounds included racism, anti-immigrant fervor, extreme hostility to Muslims, antisemitism and support for torture.

Deadly ‘Diplomacy’

With 223 days left in his presidency, George W. Bush laid more flagstones along a path to war on Iran. There was the usual declaration that “all options are on the table” — and, just as ominously, much talk of diplomacy. Three times on June 11, the Associated Press reports, Bush “called a diplomatic solution ‘my first choice,’ implying there are others. He said ‘we’ll give diplomacy a chance to work,’ meaning it might not.” That’s how Bush talks when he’s grooving along in his Orwellian comfort zone, eager to order a military attack. “We seek peace,” Bush said in the State of the Union address on January 28, 2003. “We strive for peace.” In that speech, less than two months before the invasion of Iraq began, Bush foreshadowed the climax of his administration’s diplomatic pantomime. “The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world,” the president said. “Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal — Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.” A week after that drum roll, Colin Powell made his now-infamous presentation to the U.N. Security Council. At the time, it served as ideal “diplomacy” for war — filled with authoritative charges and...
Over the years, once in a great while, I’ve been surprised to cross paths with a journalist at a major TV outlet who actually seems willing and able to go outside the conventional boundaries of media discourse. That’s what happened one day in the fall of 2005 at the Boston headquarters of the CN8 television network, owned and operated by the corporate media giant Comcast. I showed up for an interview about my book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” My expectations weren’t very high. After all, I was setting foot in the studios of a large commercial TV channel with wide distribution of its programming in New England and beyond. And Comcast, shall we say, has earned a reputation as a voracious media conglomerate with scant interest in the public interest. I was scheduled to appear on a prime-time nightly show hosted by Barry Nolan, a longtime TV newsman. When the cameras started rolling, it quickly became clear that he’d actually read the book — and was willing to explore its documentation and damning implications about the use of media to drag the United States into one war after another. Wow, I thought. This guy Nolan has some guts. I wonder how he gets away with it. As I later learned, Nolan — then in his late 50s — had a long...
In politics, as in so many other aspects of life, anger is a combustible fuel. Affirmed and titrated, it helps us move forward. Suppressed or self-indulged, it’s likely to blow up in our faces. With the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination coming to a close, there’s plenty of anger in the air. And the elements are distinctly flammable. As Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times on June 3, “the Clinton and Obama partisans spent months fighting bitterly on the toxic terrain of misogyny, racism and religion.” Herbert doesn’t spread the blame evenly. And, as an elected Obama delegate to the national convention, I don’t either. But at this stage in the nomination process, the returns of blame aren’t merely diminishing — they’re about to go over a cliff. The anger that’s churning among many Hillary Clinton supporters is deserving of respect. For a long time, she’s been hit by an inexhaustible arsenal of virulent sexism, whether from Tucker Carlson, Rush Limbaugh or Chris Matthews. If Barack Obama were facing defeat now, his supporters might be more inclined to dwell on the thinly veiled, and sometimes unveiled, racial bigotry that caused some Americans to tell reporters that they could never vote for a black man for president. There’s no lack of injustices, defamations and outright outrages to cite. They’re important to remember, assess, denounce. And: Now...
Gen. David Petraeus is the name. And if he didn’t exist, a media presence like him would have to be invented. Standing behind the general, of course, is a commander in chief whose highs and lows can be charted with press clippings. After mediocre reviews through most of 2001, he became the media’s genuine global-vision cowboy, guns about to blaze, atop the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center. Poll ratings spiked, and pundit accolades went into overdrive. Eight months into his presidency, George W. Bush was suddenly FDR without need of a wheelchair. He could read a Teleprompter adequately well, and if his first hours in the post-9/11 world were less than stellar, flying with evasive action from one airstrip to another, the scriptwriters and photo-op designers made President Bush a man for all ages. Media stature suddenly monumental, the president reached new heights as the Pentagon’s bombing of Afghanistan began in October 2001. People had to die for the atrocities of September 11, and — into the thousands before the year’s end — the victims would be people who had nothing to do with the crimes of that day. Then came the invasion of Iraq. And scarcely a year later, in the summer of 2004, the rising Gen. Petraeus was on the cover of Newsweek along with the question: “Can this man save Iraq?” Several years and...

NPR News

While the Iraqi government continued its large-scale military assault in Basra, the NPR reporter’s voice from Iraq was unequivocal on the morning of March 27: “There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen.” Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the U.S. media establishment. In the “War Made Easy” documentary film, I put it this way: “If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re anti-war, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.” So it goes at NPR News, where — on “Morning Edition” as well as the evening program “All Things Considered” — the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington’s prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue. Earlier in the week — a few days into the sixth year of the Iraq war — “All Things Considered” aired a discussion with a familiar guest. “To talk about the state of the war and how the U.S. military changes tactics to deal with it,” said longtime anchor Robert Siegel,...

Warfare and Healthcare

It’s kind of logical. In a pathological way. A country that devotes a vast array of resources to killing capabilities will steadily undermine its potential for healing. For social justice. For healthcare as a human right. Martin Luther King Jr. described the horrific trendline four decades ago: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” If a society keeps approaching spiritual death, it’s apt to arrive. Here’s an indicator: Nearly one in six Americans has no health insurance, and tens of millions of others are badly under-insured. Here’s another: The United States, the world’s preeminent warfare state, now spends about $2 billion per day on military pursuits. Gaining healthcare for all will require overcoming the priorities of the warfare state. That’s the genuine logic behind the new “Healthcare NOT Warfare” campaign. I remember the ferocious media debate over the proper government role in healthcare — 43 years ago. As the spring of 1965 got underway, the bombast was splattering across front pages and flying through airwaves. Many commentators warned that a proposal for a vast new program would bring “socialism” and destroy the sanctity of the free-enterprise system. The new federal program was called Medicare. These days, when speaking on campuses, I bring up current proposals for a “single payer” system — in...

The War Election

Maybe it sounded good when politicians, pundits and online fundraisers talked about American deaths as though they were the deaths that mattered most. Maybe it sounded good to taunt the Bush administration as a bunch of screw-ups who didn’t know how to run a proper occupation. And maybe it sounded good to condemn Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush for ignoring predictions that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to effectively occupy Iraq after an invasion. But when a war based on lies is opposed because too many Americans are dying, the implication is that it can be made right by reducing the American death toll. When a war that flagrantly violated international law is opposed because it was badly managed, the implication is that better management could make for an acceptable war. When the number of occupying troops is condemned as insufficient for the occupying task at hand, the White House and Pentagon may figure out how to make shrewder use of U.S. air power — in combination with private mercenaries and Iraqis who are desperate enough for jobs that they’re willing to point guns at the occupiers’ enemies. And there’s also the grisly and unanswerable reality that Iraqis who’ve been inclined to violently resist the occupation can no longer resist it after the U.S. military has killed them. If the ultimate argument against the war is that...

The last time my mother was in a hospital, an essay by Thich Nhat Hanh moved in front of my eyes. “Our mother is the teacher who first teaches us love, the most important subject in life,” he wrote. “Without my mother I could never have known how to love. Thanks to her I can love my neighbors. Thanks to her I can love all living beings.”

In recent decades, the news media have shown increasing attraction to style over substance. Under the cover of journalism, endless discussions have pumped up the public discourse with evaluations of candidates as theatrical performers rather than policy advocates. But the current presidential race has brought us to a new journalistic low. The media fascination with story angles seems to be inversely proportional to their substance. For instance, the attentive news consumer knows far more about Hillary Clinton’s quest to seem likable than about her position on nuclear weapons. We hear far more astute punditry about whether she projects an image of caring than about her eagerness to keep the profit-driven insurance industry at the center of the country’s health care. The welling of tears in Clinton’s eyes that occurred on the eve of the New Hampshire primary was the subject of relentless election-night discussion on national television. Unspoken and unsung, there was a tacit theme of her purported breakthrough moment that tracked with a well-known oldie: “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” A key dynamic is circular: Major news outlets fixate on particular images and repeat them endlessly. Then — when those recurring media images have impacts on Election Day — followup news accounts cite the images as very important to voters. The morning before the New Hampshire election, media outlets swooned when Sen. Clinton...

Channeling Suze Orman

I was near the deadline for a column when I glanced at a TV screen. “The Suze Orman Show,” airing on CNBC at prime time, exerted a powerful force in my hotel room. And the fate of this column was sealed. Orman made a big splash many years ago on public television — the incubating environment for her as a national phenom. With articulate calls for intelligent self-determination of one’s own financial future, she is a master of the long form. Humor and dramatic cadences punch up the impacts of her performances. Seeing her the other night, within a matter of seconds, I realized that the jig was up. How could a mere underachieving syndicated columnist hope to withstand the blandishments and certainties of Suze Orman, bestselling author and revered eminence from the erudite bastions of PBS to the hard-boiled financial realms of General Electric’s CNBC? To resist was pointless. What if I tried to write as a carping critic? After all, Suze Orman has already explained that such critics, particularly the males of the species, just resent a strong woman with the guts, smarts and determination to cast off the shackles of a retrograde past. “Ladies,” I could hear her say from the stage, with one of her magnificent flourishes, “don’t let that nonsense wreck your future.” So, in hopes of putting myself in sync with her redemptive...
When I picked up a ringing phone one morning in mid-December, the next thing I knew a producer was inviting me to appear on Glenn Beck’s TV show. Beck has become a national phenom with his nightly hour of polemics on CNN Headline News — urging war on Iran, denouncing “political correctness” at home, trashing immigrants who don’t speak English, mocking environmentalists as repressive zealots, and generally trying to denigrate progressive outlooks. Our segment, the producer said, would focus on a recent NBC news report praising the virtues of energy-efficient LED light bulbs without acknowledging that the network’s parent company, General Electric, sells them. I figured it was a safe bet that Beck’s enthusiasm for full disclosure from media would be selective. A few hours later, I was staring into a camera lens at the CNN bureau in San Francisco while Beck launched into his opening. What had occurred on the “NBC Nightly News,” he explained, “was at best a major breach of journalistic integrity.” And he pointed out: “The problem isn’t what NBC is promoting. It’s what they’re not disclosing.” A minute later, Beck asked his first question: “Norman, you agree with me that they should have disclosed this?” The unedited transcript tells what happened next. Solomon: “It’s a big problem when there’s not disclosure. I’m glad you opened this up. And I wouldn’t want any viewers of...

The USA’s Human Rights Daze

The chances are slim that you saw much news coverage of Human Rights Day when it blew past the media radar — as usual — on Dec. 10. Human rights may be touted as a treasured principle in the United States, but the assessed value in medialand is apt to fluctuate widely on the basis of double standards and narrow definitions. Every political system, no matter how repressive or democratic, is able to amp up public outrage over real or imagined violations of human rights. News media can easily fixate on stories of faraway injustice and cruelty. But the lofty stances end up as posturing to the extent that a single standard is not applied. When U.S.-allied governments torture political prisoners, the likelihood of U.S. media scrutiny is much lower than the probability of media righteousness against governments reviled by official Washington. But what are “human rights” anyway? In the USA, we mostly think of them as freedom to speak, assemble, worship and express opinions. Of course those are crucial rights. Yet they hardly span the broad scope that’s spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document — adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on Dec. 10, 1948 — affirms “human rights” in the ways that U.S. media outlets commonly illuminate the meaning of the term. But the Declaration of Human Rights also...

The Media and Class Warfare

A few decades ago, upwards of one-third of the American workforce was unionized. Now the figure is down around 10 percent. And news media are central to the downward spiral. As unions wither, the journalistic establishment has a rationale for giving them less ink and air time. As the media coverage diminishes, fewer Americans find much reason to believe that unions are relevant to their working lives. But the media problem for labor goes far beyond the fading of unions from newsprint, television and radio. Media outlets aren’t just giving short shrift to organized labor. The avoidance extends to unorganized labor, too. So often, when issues of workplaces and livelihoods appear in the news, they’re framed in terms of employer plights. The frequent emphasis is on the prospects and perils of companies that must compete. Well, sure, firms need to compete. And working people need to feed and clothe and house themselves and their families. And workers hope to provide adequate medical care. The issue of health insurance is a political talking-point for many candidates these days. But meanwhile, unionized workers are finding themselves in a weakened position when they try to retain whatever medical coverage they may have. And non-unionized workers often have little or none. With all the media discussion of corporate bottom-line difficulties, the human element routinely gets lost in the shuffle. In day-to-day business news...
The economic coverage was fairly typical on a recent broadcast of the radio program Day to Day, airing nationwide from NPR News. “There’s actually some good news out today about the American economy,” host Madeleine Brand announced. Then she introduced a reporter from the widely heard Marketplace show, Jill Barshay, who proceeded to offer the type of explanation that’s all too common in media accounts of economic trends. “Well, just to be clear, we’re talking about worker productivity, which is how much stuff we make every hour,” Barshay replied. “And the Labor Department reported this morning that the hourly output per worker increased 4.9 percent in the third quarter. That’s the biggest jump in labor productivity we’ve seen since 2003. Another part of the report also says that labor costs fell a bit, so we’ve got employees being more productive and costing companies less. And this is important because it shows that the economy might be able to grow without generating inflation.” Let’s unpack that narrative. From the outset, wages are described only as “labor costs” — which fell, “so we’ve got employees being more productive and costing companies less.” With that kind of setup near the top of a story, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to depicting higher income for workers as a threat to the country’s economic well-being. “Productivity is the economy’s best defense...
We keep hearing that Iraq is not Vietnam. And surely any competent geographer would agree. But the United States is the United States — still a country run by leaders who brandish, celebrate and use the massive violent capabilities of the Pentagon as a matter of course. ******************** Almost fifty years ago, during the same autumn JFK won the presidency, John Hersey came out with “The Child Buyer,” a novel written in the form of a hearing before a state senate committee. “Excuse me, Mrs., but I wonder if you know what’s at stake in this situation,” a senator says to the mother of a ten-year-old genius being sought for purchase by the United Lymphomilloid corporation. “You realize the national defense is involved here.” “This is my boy,” the mom replies. “This is my beautiful boy they want to take away from me.” A vice president of United Lymphomilloid, “in charge of materials procurement,” testifies that “my duties have an extremely high national-defense rating.” He adds: “When a commodity that you need falls in short supply, you have to get out and hustle. I buy brains. About eighteen months ago my company, United Lymphomilloid of America, Incorporated, was faced with an extremely difficult problem, a project, a long-range government contract, fifty years, highly specialized and top secret, and we needed some of the best minds in the country…” Soon,...
The Blackwater scandal has gotten plenty of media coverage, and it deserves a lot more. Taxpayer subsidies for private mercenaries are antithetical to democracy, and Blackwater’s actions in Iraq have often been murderous. But the scandal is unfolding in a U.S. media context that routinely turns criticisms of the war into demands for a better war. Many politicians are aiding this alchemy. Rhetoric from a House committee early this month audibly yearned for a better war at a highly publicized hearing that featured Erik Prince, the odious CEO of Blackwater USA. A congressman from New Hampshire, Paul Hodes, insisted on the importance of knowing “whether failures to hold Blackwater personnel accountable for misconduct undermine our efforts in Iraq.” Another Democrat on the panel, Carolyn Maloney of New York, told Blackwater’s top exec that “your actions may be undermining our mission in Iraq and really hurting the relationship and trust between the Iraqi people and the American military.” But the problem with Blackwater’s activities is not that they “undermine” the U.S. military’s “efforts” and “mission” in Iraq. The efforts and the mission shouldn’t exist. A real hazard of preoccupations with Blackwater is that it will become a scapegoat for what is profoundly and fundamentally wrong with the U.S. effort and mission. Condemnation of Blackwater, however justified, can easily be syphoned into a political whirlpool that demands a cleanup of the...

Sputnik, 50 Years Later

A story could start almost anywhere. This one begins at a moment startled by a rocket. In the autumn of 1957, America was not at war … or at peace. The threat of nuclear annihilation shadowed every day, flickering with visions of the apocalyptic. In classrooms, “duck and cover” drills were part of the curricula. Underneath any Norman Rockwell painting, the grim reaper had attained the power of an ultimate monster. Dwight Eisenhower was most of the way through his fifth year in the White House. He liked to speak reassuring words of patriotic faith, with presidential statements like: “America is the greatest force that God has ever allowed to exist on His footstool.” Such pronouncements drew a sharp distinction between the United States and the Godless Communist foe. But on October 4, 1957, the Kremlin announced the launch of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. God was supposed to be on America’s side, yet the Soviet atheists had gotten to the heavens before us. Suddenly the eagle of liberty could not fly nearly so high. Sputnik was instantly fascinating and alarming. The American press swooned at the scientific vistas and shuddered at the military implications. Under the headline “Red Moon Over the U.S.,” Time quickly explained that “a new era in history had begun, opening a bright new chapter in mankind’s conquest of the natural environment and a grim...
Contempt for the empirical that can’t be readily jiggered or spun is evident at the top of the executive branch in Washington. The country is mired in a discourse that echoes the Scopes trial dramatized in “Inherit the Wind.” Mere rationality would mean lining up on the side of “science” against the modern yahoos and political panderers waving the flag of social conservatism. (At the same time that scientific Darwinism is under renewed assault, a de facto alliance between religious fundamentalists and profit-devout corporatists has moved the country further into social Darwinism that aims to disassemble the welfare state.) Entrenched opposition to stem-cell research is part of a grim pattern that includes complacency about severe pollution and global warming — disastrous trends already dragging one species after another to the brink of extinction and beyond. Disdain for “science” is cause for political concern. Yet few Americans and no major political forces are “antiscience” across the board. The ongoing prerogative is to pick and choose. Those concerned about the ravages left by scientific civilization — the combustion engine, chemicals, fossil-fuel plants, and so much more — frequently look to science for evidence and solutions. Those least concerned about the Earth’s ecology are apt to be the greatest enthusiasts for science in the service of unfettered commerce or the Pentagon, which always seeks the most effectively “advanced” scientific know-how. Even the...
When Martin Luther King Jr. publicly referred to “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government,” he had no way of knowing that his description would ring so true 40 years later. As the autumn of 2007 begins, the reality of Uncle Sam as an unhinged mega-killer haunts a large minority of Americans. Many who can remember the horrific era of the Vietnam War are nearly incredulous that we could now be living in a time of similarly deranged official policy. Despite all the differences, the deep parallels between the two war efforts inform us that the basic madness of entrenched power in our midst is not about miscalculations or bad management or quagmires. The continuity tells us much more than we would probably like to know about the obstacles to decency that confront us every day. The incredulity and numbing, the frequent bobbing-and-weaving of our own consciousness, the hollow comforts of passivity, insulate us from hard truths and harsher realities than we might ever have expected to need to confront — about our country and about ourselves. Of all the words spewed from the Pet Crock hearings with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, maybe none were more revealing than Petraeus’s bid for a modicum of sympathy for his burdens as a commander. “This is going on three years for me, on top of...
It evokes a tragedy that marks an epoch. From the outset, the warfare state has exploited “9/11,” a label at once too facile and too laden with historic weight — giving further power to the tacit political axiom that perception is reality. Often it seems that media coverage is all about perception, especially when the underlying agendas are wired into huge profits and geopolitical leverage. If you associate a Big Mac or a Whopper with a happy meal or some other kind of great time, you’re more likely to buy it. If you connect 9/11 with a need for taking military action and curtailing civil liberties, you’re more likely to buy what the purveyors of war and authoritarian government have been selling for the past half-dozen years. “Sept. 11 changed everything” became a sudden cliche in news media. Words are supposed to mean something, and those words were — and are — preposterous. They speak of a USA enthralled with itself while reducing the rest of the world (its oceans and valleys and mountains and peoples) to little more than an extensive mirror to help us reflect on our centrality to the world. In an individual, we call that narcissism. In the nexus of media and politics, all too often, it’s called “patriotism.” What happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was extraordinary and horrible by any measure. And certainly a...

Thomas Friedman

Reading his “Letter From Baghdad” column in the New York Times on Sept. 5, you’d never know that Thomas Friedman has a history of enthusiasm for war. Now he laments that Iraq is bad for the United States — “everyone loves seeing us tied down here” — stuck in the “madness that is Iraq.” And he concludes that the good Americans who have been sent to Iraq will not be deserved by Iraqis “if they continue to hate each other more than they love their own kids.” The column, under a Baghdad dateline, is boilerplate Friedman: sprinkled with I-am-here anecdotes and breezy geopolitical nostrums. For years now, the man widely touted as America’s most influential journalist has indicated that his patience with the war in Iraq might soon run out. But, like the media establishment he embodies, Friedman can’t bring himself to renounce a war that he helped to launch and then blessed as the incarnation of virtue. On the last day of November 2003 — eight months after the invasion — Friedman gushed that “this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan.” He lauded the Iraq war as “one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” But the assumptions built into a Friedman column are murky outside the context of his worldview. “The hidden hand of the market...

Let’s Face It

The USA’s military spending is now close to $2 billion a day. This fall, the country will begin its seventh year of continuous war, with no end in sight. On the horizon is the very real threat of a massive air assault on Iran. And few in Congress seem willing or able to articulate a rejection of the warfare state. While the Bush-Cheney administration is the most dangerous of our lifetimes — and ousting Republicans from the White House is imperative — such truths are apt to smooth the way for progressive evasions. We hear that “the people must take back the government,” but how can “the people” take back what they never really had? And when rhetoric calls for “returning to a foreign policy based on human rights and democracy,” we’re encouraged to be nostalgic for good old days that never existed. The warfare state didn’t suddenly arrive in 2001, and it won’t disappear when the current lunatic in the Oval Office moves on. Born 50 years before George W. Bush became president, I have always lived in a warfare state. Each man in the Oval Office has presided over an arsenal of weapons designed to destroy human life en masse. In recent decades, our self-proclaimed protectors have been able — and willing — to destroy all of humanity. We’ve accommodated ourselves to this insanity. And I do...

Backspin for War

The man who ran CNN’s news operation during the invasion of Iraq is now doing damage control in response to a new documentary’s evidence that he kowtowed to the Pentagon on behalf of the cable network. His current denial says a lot about how “liberal media” outlets remain deeply embedded in the mindsets of pro-military conformity. In mid-August, the former CNN executive publicly defended himself against a portion of the War Made Easy film (based on my book of the same name) that has drawn much comment from viewers since the documentary’s release earlier this summer. As Inter Press Service reported, the movie shows “a news clip of Eason Jordan, a CNN News chief executive who, in an interview with CNN, boasts of the network’s cadre of professional ‘military experts.’ In fact, CNN‘s retired military generals turned war analysts were so good, Eason said, that they had all been vetted and approved by the U.S. government.” Inter Press called the vetting-and-approval process “shocking” — and added that “in a country revered for its freedom of speech and unfettered press, Eason’s comments would infuriate any veteran reporter who upholds the most basic and important tenet of the journalistic profession: independence.” But Eason Jordan doesn’t want us to see it that way. And he has now fired back via an article in IraqSlogger, which calls itself “the world’s premier Iraq-focused Web...
The problem with letting history judge is that so many officials get away with murder in the meantime — while precious few choose to face protracted vilification for pursuing truth and peace. A grand total of two people in the entire Congress were able to resist a blood-drenched blank check for the Vietnam War. Standing alone on Aug. 7, 1964, senators Ernest Gruening and Wayne Morse voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Forty-three years later, we don’t need to go back decades to find a lopsided instance of a lone voice on Capitol Hill standing against war hysteria and the expediency of violent fear. Days after 9/11, at the launch of the so-called “war on terrorism,” just one lawmaker — out of 535 — cast a vote against the gathering madness. “However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint,” she said on the floor of the House of Representatives. The date was Sept. 14, 2001. She went on: “Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, Let’s step back for a moment, let’s just pause just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control.” And, she said: “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.” With all that has...

Media Blitz for War

The U.S. media establishment is mainlining another fix for the Iraq war: It isn’t so bad after all, American military power could turn wrong into right, chronic misleaders now serve as truth-tellers. The hit is that the war must go on. When the White House chief of staff Andrew Card said five years ago that “you don’t introduce new products in August,” he was explaining the need to defer an all-out PR campaign for invading Iraq until early fall. But this year, August isn’t a bad month to launch a sales pitch for a new and improved Iraq war. Bad products must be re-marketed to counteract buyers’ remorse. “War critics” who have concentrated on decrying the lack of U.S. military progress in Iraq are now feeling the hoist from their own petards. But that’s to be expected. Those who complain that the war machine is ineffective are asking for more effective warfare even when they think they’re demanding peace. If Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack didn’t exist, they’d have to be invented. The duo’s op-ed piece on July 30 in the New York Times, under the headline “A War We Just Might Win,” was boilerplate work from elite foreign-policy technicians packaging themselves as “two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” A recent eight-day officially guided tour led them to conclude that “we are...

Media Spin on Iraq

In mid-July, a media advisory from the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer announced a new series of interviews on the PBS show that will address “what Iraq might look like when the U.S. military leaves.” A few days later, Time magazine published a cover story titled “Iraq: What will happen when we leave.” But it turns out, what will happen when we leave is that we won’t leave. Urging a course of action that’s now supported by “the best strategic minds in both parties,” the Time story calls for “an orderly withdrawal of about half the 160,000 troops currently in Iraq by the middle of 2008.” And: “A force of 50,000 to 100,000 troops would dig in for a longer stay to protect America’s most vital interests…” On Iraq policy, in Washington, the differences between Republicans and Democrats — and between the media’s war boosters and opponents — are often significant. Yet they’re apt to mask the emergence of a general formula that could gain wide support from the political and media establishment. The formula’s details and timelines are up for grabs. But there’s not a single “major” candidate for president willing to call for withdrawal of all U.S. forces — not just “combat” troops — from Iraq, or willing to call for a complete halt to U.S. bombing of that country. Those candidates know that powerful elites in this...
Former readers of Mad Magazine can remember a regular feature called “Scenes We’d Like to See.” It showed what might happen if candor replaced customary euphemisms and evasions. These days, what media scenes would we like to see? One aspect of news media that needs a different paradigm is the correction ritual. Newspapers are sometimes willing to acknowledge faulty reporting, but the “correction box” is routinely inadequate — the journalistic equivalent of self-flagellation for jaywalking in the course of serving as an accessory to deadly crimes. Some daily papers are scrupulous about correcting the smallest factual errors that have made it into print. So, we learn that a first name was misspelled or a date was wrong or a person was misidentified in a photo caption. However, we rarely encounter a correction that addresses a fundamental flaw in what passes for ongoing journalism. Here are some of the basic corrections that we’d really like to see: “Yesterday’s paper included a business section but failed to also include a labor section. Yet the vast majority of Americans work without investing for a living. They are employees rather than entrepreneurs. The failure to recognize such realities when using newsroom resources is not journalistically defensible. The Daily Bugle regrets the error.” “On Thursday, in a lengthy story about the economy, this newspaper quoted three corporate executives, two Wall Street business analysts and...
It was a chilling moment on a split-screen of history. While the Senate debated the Iraq war on the night of July 17, a long-dead senator again renounced a chronic lie about congressional options and presidential power. The Senate was in the final hours of another failure to impede the momentum of war. As the New York Times was to report, President Bush “essentially won the added time he said he needed to demonstrate that his troop buildup was succeeding.” Meanwhile, inside a movie theater on the opposite coast, the thunderous voice of Senator Wayne Morse spoke to 140 people at an event organized by the activist group Sacramento for Democracy. The extraordinary senator was speaking in May 1964 — and in July 2007. A typical dash of media conventional wisdom had set him off. The moderator of the CBS program Face the Nation, journalist Peter Lisagor, told the guest: “Senator, the Constitution gives to the president of the United States the sole responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy.” “Couldn’t be more wrong,” Morse shot back. “You couldn’t make a more unsound legal statement than the one you have just made. This is the promulgation of an old fallacy that foreign policy belongs to the president of the United States. That’s nonsense.” Lisagor sounded a bit exasperated: “To whom does it belong, then, Senator?” Again, Morse didn’t hesitate....

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