The Washington Post in the Dock?

by MARK HAND

One of the best things I read in 2003 was Matt Taibbi’s piece in the New York Press in which he spanked the Washington press corps for its vulgar behavior at the press conference farce held by Bush Jr. during the early days of the American invasion of Iraq.

"After watching George W. Bush’s press conference last Thursday night, I’m more convinced than ever: The entire White House press corps should be herded into a cargo plane, flown to an altitude of 30,000 feet, and pushed out, kicking and screaming, over the North Atlantic," Taibbi wrote.

He didn’t stop there. With resolute facetiousness, Taibbi proposed that any remaining staff at the Washington media bureaus should be rounded up for summary justice. "The Russians used to use bakery trucks, big gray panel trucks marked ‘Bread’ on the sides; victims would be rounded up in the middle of the night and taken for one last ride through the darkened streets," he said.

Taibbi definitely was onto something. Press critics are often too restrained in their prescription for dealing with the on-bended-knee syndrome that afflicts almost the entire press corps in its coverage of the political elite in Washington, especially when the establishment is committing murder and mayhem around the world through its surrogates in the military.

Earlier this month, an international court took off its restraints when it produced a verdict against certain members of a nation’s media who, like the American mainstream press, served as cheerleaders for atrocious crimes against humanity. That trial took place in Rwanda.

If our nascent international justice system wanted to prove its evenhandedness, the next great media war crimes trial would take place in Washington, with the top officials and editors of the leading U.S. news organizations escorted into the dock. The first round of official legal proceedings by the International Criminal Tribunal for the United States, once it’s formally established, could target the honchos at my local newspaper, the Washington Post, for incitement to mass murder and crimes against journalistic decency.

Following the lead of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the ICTUS could charge Washington Post Chairman Donald Graham, editor Len Downie and editorial page editor Fred Hiatt with fanning the flames of war and actively promoting the U.S. political elite’s campaign of murder around the world. The precedent was set in Rwanda when two former Rwandan media officials – a radio executive and a newspaper editor were jailed for life and a third defendant, an executive with a radio station, received a 35-year prison term after the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found them guilty of genocide, incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity within their own country.

For the sake of time, the ICTUS could choose to prosecute only the crimes of the U.S. government committed since the administration of George Bush I. Although arbitrary, this abbreviated timeframe would still keep tribunal officials busy, given the U.S. government’s resume of violence during the past 15 years: Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on.

Throughout its history, the Washington Post has been a loyal supporter of the War Party’s actions around the world. The past 15 years have been no exception. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the top executives and editors at the Post have amplified their support for the U.S. government’s consolidation of its global military supremacy.

Writing in The Progressive magazine in 2001, former Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy chronicled how the Post’s op-ed page always can be counted on to rally around the Washington elite. "In the 1980s and 1990s, the paper supported aid to the contras, the nomination of Edwin Meese to be Attorney General, NAFTA, and U.S. military bombings in Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia," McCarthy said.

In the lead-up to this year’s U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Washington Post’s op-ed page beat the drum for war as loudly as any daily U.S. newspaper. It published editorials on a weekly basis promoting a military assault on Iraq. At the same time, it published on a daily basis the gung-ho columns of such rightwing and neoconservative luminaries as Charles Krauthammer, David Ignatius, George Will, Jim Hoagland and Michael Kelly (who was killed earlier this year while in bed with the U.S. military in Iraq).

"What Katharine Graham warned against 26 years ago has already come to pass," Bill Vann wrote last March on the World Socialist Web Site. "The Post has moved considerably to the right of its readership base, which finds itself alienated from and revolted by the paper’s robotic echoing of the administration’s war propaganda."

The drumbeat for war exhibited by the major U.S. media is a notorious trait of super-militaristic and aggressive states. But perhaps prosecuting the U.S. government’s propaganda organs, masquerading as a free press, for aiding and abetting the crimes of the government is unnecessary. The International Criminal Tribunal for the United States, given its likely limited budget, probably should stick with prosecuting the authors of the murder playbooks, not their cheerleaders in the press.

What then should be done about all of the War Party puppets that dominate the major media? Taibbi had one suggestion that he said would make Bush’s Iraq adventure a little easier to swallow: "The war would almost be worth it just to see Wolf Blitzer pounding away at the inside of a Pepperidge Farm truck, tearfully confessing and vowing to ‘take it all back.’"

MARK HAND is editor of Arlington, Va.-based Press Action. He can be reached at: mark@pressaction.com.


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