FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Decline of America’s Moral Integrity

by

Charles Lewis’s chilling account of the mendacity of our leaders (beginning during the Vietnam War and concluding with the Bush/Cheney elective war in Iraq) will come as no revelation to readers of CounterPunch, though some of the surprising details he uncovers—along with his overview of the time involved—make 935 Lies required reading. Lewis’s title refers to something at the end of the sequence, not the beginning. One of the “Real-Time Truth Charts” at the conclusion of the book is limited to a two-year period, from September 2001 to September 2003, and sub-titled “Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War,” i.e., “935: False Statements by Top Bush Administration Officials on Iraq’s Possession of WMD and Links to Al Qaeda.”

The winner is George Bush, with a whopping 260 lies; followed by Powell, with 254; Rumsfeld, with 109; Fleischer, at 109; Wolfowitz, 85; Rice, 56; Cheney, 48; and McClellan, 14. The only surprise here is Cheney’s low number, but it is clear that if the chart were continued until today, Cheney would be the winner. Bush has learned to keep his mouth shut since he stepped down from office; Cheney continues to step in it, smearing himself with the excrement that comes from his mouth every time he speaks. Lewis provides an interesting question. Are these people so delusional that they actually believe what they say? If so, why do Americans keep electing madmen as their leaders?  You could say, then, as long as these people continue to be elected, that 935 Lies is as much an indictment of the country’s voters as their leaders. A second truth chart shows just how many times during the past seventy-five years it took forever to get action about issues that were harming all of us—asbestos, lead paint poisoning, black lung disease, tobacco, agent orange, to mention only five.

To turn to the beginning of Lewis’s book, it is worth quoting a brief passage in the prologue: “truth today is under siege.”  Then, chapter-by-chapter, the litany of distortions our leaders have employed to thwart their maniacal decisions (mostly for war and related issues). The Vietnam War began with “lies based on false intelligence,” and the news media failed in its watchdog role.  Nixon’s systematic smearing of Daniel Ellsberg, followed by Watergate. Then Lewis devotes a chapter to race in America, reminding us that it was an outsider, Gunner Myrdal (in his powerful book An American Dilemma) who had to shake the tree to get that on-going horror story into the news.  Oddly, Lewis’s discussion of Martin Luther King’s assassination does not bring up FBI orchestration, though that has been written about by others.

In an illuminating chapter called “America’s Secret Foreign Policy and the Arrogance of Power,” Lewis provides a timetable of recent clandestine operations, beginning his chapter with the following remark: “Since the 1890s, the United States has deposed or helped to depose more than a dozen foreign governments, often for the benefit of US commercial interests operating in those countries.” Allende’s overthrow, Letelier’s assassination (in Washington, D.C., for God’s 935-lies-nonfiction-book-lewissake!), Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador. And the way these surgical procedures can be continued? Deny, cover-up, obfuscate and when nothing else works, attack journalists.  Couldn’t be more damning about our leaders’ hidden foreign policy decisions and what they continue to do.

Lewis’s take on journalists and their reluctance to pursue corporate malfeasance is particularly hopeless.  Big corporations have so much money that they can undertake massive lawsuits against newspapers, knowing quite well that the newspapers cannot afford to fight back. There’s the additional conflict of lost revenue from corporate advertising that further compromises what gets published in the first place. Thus, few newspapers are willing to enter into what may be a prolonged battle against unlimited corporate money.  He cites, however, the Readers’ Digest as an interesting exception to anti-smoking articles. For years (until it ran into its own financial limitations), the Readers’ Digest printed no advertising, so there was no worry about lost income from the tobacco companies. This revealing chapter also includes an overview of the corporate smear campaign against Rachel Carson before and after the publication of Silent Spring.

I praise this chapter, though it omits any reference to the automobile industry’s lengthy smear campaign against Ralph Nader.

Investigative reporting has clearly suffered ever since the arrival of the Internet, with the steady deterioration of newspaper circulation. Lewis cites the heyday of this reporting with Edward R. Morrow (slowly cut down in size by CBS), Woodward and Bernstein’s exposé of Watergate, and his own first-hand experience in the field before he became an academic. (Note that although Charles Lewis teaches at American University, where I taught more than four decades, we never met.)  In addition to the other positions he held, Lewis was once a 60 Minutes producer. “Over the years, those unhappy with my investigations have tried just about everything to discourage me. They have issued subpoenas, stalked my hotel rooms, escorted me off military bases, threatened me with arrest or with being thrown from a second-story window, hired shills to pose as reporters asking disruptive questions at nationally televised news conferences, and even arranged to have death threats delivered by concerned state troopers who urged me to leave town immediately.” That’s quite a sentence.

Surprisingly, Lewis is optimistic about the future of getting to the truth, in spite of the “idiot culture” that shapes reporting as the nightly-news.  Thus, what the media ignores (almost everything important) has largely been left to the non-profits to bring into public awareness. He praises some of the genuine think-tanks (such as Human Rights Watch), not the propaganda tanks (Americans for Prosperity). He can also rightly be proud for forming the Center for Public Integrity and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Even “The ‘ground truth’ of the Iraq War itself eventually forced the president to backpedal, albeit grudgingly.” I’m less sanguine about that because by the time the truth finally leaks out, the damage has mostly been done.

Still, 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity is a major book, a guide for the future if we read it carefully and keep our eyes open.

Charles Lewis: 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity

PublicAffairs, 364 pp., $28.99

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail