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Can You Feel the Silence?

For saying on Iraqi TV what everyone from grunt to general had been saying to anyone who would listen, Peter Arnett has been effectively silenced, summarily fired from his job at MSNBC and National Geographic.

The same news cycle had not begun to cool when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, called for some more silencing, lashing out at critics of The Plan, mainly from officers both active and retired whom he was too cowardly to name. Such criticism, stammered Gen. Myers, is misinformed, inaccurate and harmful to American forces in combat.

Casualty figures of how many soldiers had been killed or wounded by criticism of Rumsfeld, Myers and Bush were not made available.

Rumsfeld himself could not comment on the frustration expressed by the “coalition” field commander, Lt. Gen. William Wallace, who says the enemy he’s fighting is “not the one we war-gamed against.” How could Rumsfeld be expected to have an opinion on this? He “hasn’t had a chance to read the reports.” Besides, The Plan was the property of Tommy Franks.

In trying to portray people like retired general Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Infantry Division during the first gulf war, as candidates for membership in the Dixie Chicks, Gen. Myers’ remarks were as predictable as they were despicable.

It’s not as though McCaffrey is vying for a spot on the Green Party ticket. Clinton’s former drug czar has made it clear that in his view there’s nothing wrong with what Bush and company are doing, they’re just doing it wrong. Imagine the righteous indignation of Myers and Rumsfeld if voices actually opposed to the invasion of Iraq were allowed to be heard on American television.

When the closest thing to a dissenting opinion on network or cable TV during a war is the voice of a retired general who declares repeatedly that he supports the president and believes he is doing the right thing, and when even that general has his patriotism questioned when he dares to question the administration’s tactics, do I have to tell you how much trouble we are in?

Here’s the real story: the number of voices that had already been silenced, long before Peter Arnett was “neutralized.” How many voices were silenced when marketing experts told the networks that viewers were “turned off” by the mere sight of protesters? Think of the voices that were silenced when the White House cancelled Laura Bush’s poetry festival. Thousands of voices are silenced whenever the president leaves Camp David to attend one of his by-invitation-only Potemkin events.

How many voices representing anything resembling your own point of view have you heard on network or cable TV? As someone said days ago, even NPR has become National Pentagon Radio.

Speaking of the Dixie Chicks, all of Nashville has fallen strangely silent. You would think at least one or two fellow artists would want to “grab their back.” Veteran music writer Chet Flippo has warned artists to “shut up and sing” if they know what’s good for them.

With its English web site shut down by a Denial of Service attack, Al-Jazeera has been partially silenced, except when American TV chooses to run borrowed footage, which happens about every three seconds.

Even voices in the Administration have been strangely silenced. Did anyone at the White House go publicly ballistic at the report that the Reverend Franklin Graham is threatening to descend on Iraq and baptize anything that moves?

How many voices were silenced by something as benign as the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch? All of us were delighted by her deliverance. So much so, alas, that suddenly all other war news was more or less drowned out by the feel-good reporting. The rescue palpably changed the tone of nearly everyone reporting the war. Bad news is “boring,” this was exciting. Lynch has left the building, Lynch has left the theater, Lynch has landed in Germany, etc. Suddenly the day was full of “dramatic developments.” Which got more coverage, the rescue of one American or the killing of an entire Iraqi family who failed to stop at a checkpoint?

Which story was deemed more likely to “bring this thing home to people”? You may have noticed that TV reporters didn’t hasten to camp in the yard and interview family members of the soldier who shot the car full of women and children.

You can also hear a lot of silence in some of America’s proud “coalition” partners, such as Eritrea, a classic one-party state where no opposition is tolerated. A funny kind of partner for overthrowing a dictatorship, if you ask me.

Look, all Peter Arnett did, besides photograph himself running around his hotel room, looking out the window from time to time and stating the obvious when asked his opinion, was to thank his Iraq hosts for their hospitality.

For this, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., thinks firing isn’t enough. Arnett should be met at the border and arrested for treason should he come back to America, says the former baseball player who made a career of intimidating the opposition with high heat. Reporters for the New York Times, Washington Post and other papers have also been accused of behavior “bordering on treason” by right-wing commentators.

To make these charges is to assert that the mainstream press should be nothing more than a corporate rag, an in-house news organ that knows better than to print anything the company deems not in its best interests. It’s like sitting around and waiting for the Enron company magazine to break the Enron scandal.

I was interviewed for Romanian radio in 1980, back during the Ceausescu years. I had been instructed by representatives of the State Department to avoid at all cost making any kind of political pronouncements and to refrain from commenting on anything that could remotely be construed as controversial. Otherwise I was encouraged to do the interview. What was there left to talk about? I complimented the Romanians for their lovely landscape, told them I was enjoying my visit to their fair land and thanked them for their hospitality. Was that disloyal of me?

Did Donald Rumsfeld thank Saddam for his hospitality when they were photographed hugging like schoolgirls in Baghdad in 1983? You bet he did.

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch.

He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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