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:
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail