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 Day 19

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Misspeaking, Lying and Complicit Reporting

Condi Under Oath

by JOHN L. HESS

So Condy will take the oath, after all, to tell the truth so help her god. Right out in public. When she met privately with the commission, not under oath, she said nobody ever warned her that airliners might be hijacked and turned into bombs. She’s had to admit that she "misspoke." That doesn’t mean we can believe her, at last. The Bush gang includes several men who’ve been convicted of lying under oath.

Lies got our country into a criminal and disastrous war–and nobody takes the blame. The main headline in the Times Review of the Week asked, "Where Does the Buck Stop?" and it answered, "Not Here." It mourned that presidents rarely accept responsibility any more, and it’s getting worse, "as a national culture of shifting blame permeates American politics. It slips in a phrase — "at least in the opinion of some .. experts" –which is a Times way of avoiding responsibility.

The article is by an old colleague of mine, Michael Oreskes. He happens to have been in charge of the Times’s Washington coverage–and he proves his point by saying not a word about the Times’s own enormous role in repeating deadly falsehood. The national culture is not all corrupt and hypocritical — good Americans have been sounding off all along, but as Mike knows very well, the Times does not like outsiders. It was encouraging to read in Editor and Publisher a column by a reporter who covered the war for three small-town papers, and is saddened at the failure of the big influential media–of the Times and the Washington Post–ever to tell their readers –"We are sorry."

 

Roger Altman Rides Again

John Kerry took a few days off to go skiing, and did just fine, while the Bushies went into panic mode. Then he came back and set out to blow his lead. The old Clinton gang from Wall Street, led by Robert Altman, fed him a plan to createing jobs: Cut taxes on corporations and give more breaks to businesses that don’t ship all their work abroad. Sound familiar? Yep, it’s Bush lite.

Politicians love tax breaks because they don’t sem to cost anything. They are the most expensive way to accomplish any public purpose, and the least efficient. A current example is the program to move jobs into zones that are hard up. An audit in New York State found that most of the breaks went to plants well outside the needy neighborhoods. It was hard to prove that any new jobs had been created–though it was suggested that some poor folks might commute from the slums to mop floors in the new gated office communities.

The Bushes didn’t invent this. It goes way back to the Kennedy years; when the government began to turn programs like public housing over to private developers, while cutting taxes like mad. The Altman group–which often met for breakfast at the Carlyle Hotel–made out like thieves. They ran economic policy for Bill Clinton, and now they’ve taken over John Kerry.

Easily, because union leaders and what Ralph Nader calls the liberal intelligentsia gave the Democrats a blank check. But can they deliver the votes? Can Kerry bring them out by flipping and fudging on Iraq, taxes and Nafta? That’s hardly sure. Now tune in on Nader, spinning out a pure progressive line — something to fight for, with pride. At every campaign stop, large numbers volunteer. In November, many will likely go for the lesser evil, but on the way they’re trying to make it less evil. Stay tuned.

 

To Survive Is Victory

This time of year, I always recite–"Wal, I got through that winter, and ain’t died a summer yet." It gets less funny as life goes on–so little time, so much to say.

Among the latest follies, I’ve got to mention that video of Bush on hands and knees, pretending to be looking for weapons of mass destruction under the rug in the Oval Office. Invited guests who lost kinfolk on 9/11 or in the Iraq war were not amused.

The Times gives what it calls that nimble twister Ahmed Chalabi credit for peddling those weapons to the Pentagon — without mentioning that the Times itself was his most effective shill.

The Times also, I think, should mention its own part in another big story–Social Security and Medicare. So should I. I just got a notice from the .Guild-Times welfare fund that it will cut me and my wife off benefits unless we sign up for insurance that will cost us $150 a month and will charge us more out of pocket for each prescription. It points out that the Times company contributes nothing for retiree benefits. They all have to come out of what we put by during our working careers. The funds were invested in the market, which is a whole ‘nother story. I should add that the Times has not in ages adjusted our pensions for inflation. Not only as a large, profitable corporation but also as a powerful newspaper, it has campaigned against cost-of-living adjustments, Social Security, Medicare and welfare, except for corporations.

I’ve sounded off about this for decades, and written about it in my latest book. It’s an insider’s picture of the Times–which is a hot news topic these days. It’s just been reviewed very kindly in the Times Literary Supplement of London, but not at all in the Times of New York..

Ah, well. I got through that winter, and ain’t died a summer yet.

(P.S. The April issue of CJR carries my reply to its review of "My Times.")

JOHN L. HESS is a former writer for the New York Times, a career he chronicles in his excellent new book My Times: a Memoir of Dissent. Hess is now a political commentator for WBAI.