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As evidence mounts of the Bush administration’s gross prevarications regarding evidence of so-called "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, and of a never-demonstrated link between Hussein and Al Qaeda, the New York Times has taken the lead in the media at damage control.
Instead of trying to deny the lying, which would be a hopeless venture, the Times in the lead story of this past Sunday’s "Week in Review" section written by David E. Rosenbaum, went with the argument that Bush "exaggerated" and that in any event, many presidents have lied.
Rosenbaum selectively examines some Bush whoppers–his claim on Oct. 7, 2002 that Iraq had "a massive stockpile of biological weapons" and "thousands of tons of chemical agents," and that it was "reconstituting its nuclear weapons program," and his claim on March 17 that "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Rosenbaum concludes that the president may have "believed what he was saying," and adds for effect that that most reliable of sources, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, says the intelligence briefings she received a week ago "justified Mr. Bush’s statements." (He didn’t mention that Sen. Clinton has good reason to say this, having voted for giving Bush the authority to go to war last fall.)
For good measure, Rosenbaum also cites Bush’s claim, made in his last State of the Union address and on later occasions, that his latest tax cut would benefit "everyone who pays income taxes." Here, Rosenbaum concedes that the claim is factually incorrect–some 8.1 million taxpayers will get no break in the tax cut as designed by the administration and passed by Congress in May. But Rosenbaum goes on to say that since 90 percent of taxpayers will get at least some minimal tax break, the president would have been correct had he said "almost all" people who pay taxes would get a cut.
But Rosenbaum only scratches the surface of Bush’s and his subordinates’ lies. He doesn’t mention that the president, his defense secretary, and his secretary of state lied blatantly in citing evidence of Iraqi purchases of uranium from Niger–evidence that the government knew to have been a gross forgery. He doesn’t mention Bush’s false claim that an economic study showed that his tax cut would produce a 3 percent growth rate in the U.S. economy, when in fact no such study exists. He didn’t mention the lie put forward by the Bush administration that the reason the president had vanished on 9/11 was because of a terrorist threat to Air Force One–a total fabrication. Nor did he mention literally dozens of other documented lies.
It’s true that there are lies, and there are evasions and distortions.
The effort to white-wash the latest Environmental Protection Agency report on the environment by censoring comments about global warming was not a lie. It was a distortion and evasion. Likewise many of the administration’s claims about Iraq–for example the many claims that the Pentagon and the White House had planned ahead for the post-war situation in Iraq.
It is also true that other presidents have lied, and lied grotesquely.
But in the end, the real point is not whether what the Bush administration has done is a lie, or whether Bush and his cronies have been slick enough to toss in weasel words that can allow them to later claim that what they said was "just an exaggeration."
Thousands of people have died and continue to die because of these distortions, in the case of the war in Iraq. Millions will end up losing vital services because of the lies about the tax cut. This administration’s lies about health policy, education policy, about environmental policy, about labor policy, about its judicial appointments, about communications regulatory policy, business regulatory policy, etc., etc., will have profound negative consequences on the lives of tens of millions of real people.
None, or little, of this, has been or will be subject to any real democratic debate.
But don’t blame the White House, though. If is, after all, true that there is nothing new, except perhaps in terms of quantity and audacity, about the Bush administration’s lies.
What’s new is the acquiescence of the media in the lies and distortions by government.
Granted that the American media have never been the noble Fourth Estate of popular mythology, but there was always, in the past, at least a kind of "gotcha" mentality. Even if they shied away from challenging the underpinnings of empire, reporters and editors–and readers–thrived on the excitement of catching politicians in a lie. Now, there seems to be little stomach for, or even interest in doing this kind of thing at the big media conglomerates. Instead, we have the Times–the self-styled national "newspaper of record"– offering an appalling apologia for Bush Administration deception and lying, an apologia made all the more grotesque because the Times sets a tone that is widely followed, lemming like, by smaller newspapers across the nation. (The Philadelphia Inquirer, in my community, ran an almost identical analysis in its "Sunday Review" section the same day as Rosenbaum’s "Week in Review" piece, headlined "Truth is, presidents have often bent facts." (At least the Inquirer mentioned the citing of forged evidence with regard to the uranium purchase, and a few other blatant lies.)
What’s also new is the timidity of the political opposition. Not only are few Democrats openly challenging this administration’s lies and distortions; those that do, like Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, are then dismissed by the media as inconsequential "dark horses". Even Vermont Governor Howard Dean, by any standard a leading contender at this point for the Democratic nomination, and a Democrat who has accused the president of lying about the war, is now being savaged by the media, most recently by Meet the Press, which sandbagged him with questions about inconsequential minutia (such as the number of U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan), questions which the current famously ill-informed and inattentive president would never be able to answer.
The best hope for American democracy is that the public will not be satisfied with the ongoing cover-up of Bush administration lying and distortion.
That may seem a vain hope, but I’m not so sure. As long as the president remains the subject of ridicule on the comedy circuit, it suggests the public is onto what’s really going down.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html