America’s In-Bedded Journalism


As expected, the sacking of Baghdad by victorious coalition forces–that is America, Great Britain and a handful of Australian and Danish troops–has moved pro-war commentators to lyrical flights of fancy not witnessed since, say, the liberation of Afghanistan. No more so in the US, where internet websites like Media Research Center and Town Hall provide a welcoming home to some of America’s more radical conservative commentators and writers. Like Ann Coulter, for example. Coulter is the poster girl of choice for America’s more discerning conservatives. Sometime lawyer and author of not one but two New York Times bestsellers (“High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton” and “Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right”), Ms. Coulter wages a semi-permanent war against the mores of American Liberalism and acts as a tireless champion of the war on terrorism from the rarified confines of

When not lamenting the shortage of available dates within her coterie of Washington policy wonks, Ms. Coulter can be found directing her own particular brand of splattergun conservatism to the great issues of the day. “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” she wrote of alleged terrorist threat Muslim nations way back in 2001. She was subsequently sacked by the National Review when editors spiked a follow-up piece which proposed tighter passport security checks for “suspicious swarthy looking males.”

Writing in Town Hall, Coulter’s regular syndicated column proudly boasts “Shock and Awe Campaign Routs Liberals” (10/04/03):

“Liberals are no longer a threat to the nation. The new media have defeated them with free speech–the very freedom these fifth columnists hide behind whenever their speech gets them in hot water with the American people. Today, the truth is instantly available on the Internet, talk radio and Fox News Channel. No wonder liberals accuse Matt Drudge of absurd sodomic acts, call Rush Limbaugh a “big fat idiot,” and say “really stupid people” watch Fox News Channel–as anti-war actress Janeane Garofalo said between assuring us that Saddam Hussein has no weapons of mass destruction. “

Yes, you heard it here: the truth is instantly available on the internet, talk radio and–yes, that’s right–Fox News Channel. And what exactly is the truth according to Coulter’s political and spiritual comrades in arms? runk on a cheap but potent mix of “told you so” sanctimony and post-war chest-beating bravura, the darlings of America’s right wing media have been moved to pen triumphalist eulogies by the score. WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah reclaims and gives new meaning to the “Shock and Awe” phrase in a gratuitous display of “aw, shucks!” hokum not normally seen outwith the gushy prose of Hallmark greetings cards. “Victory is so sweet” he crows in his “Liberation!” headlined column of 10 April, before taking a swift and unexpected detour into rhetorical profundity (or should that be profanity?):

“Isn’t it ironic that in courageously defending our own country from terrorist attack we serve to liberate others. That’s the way it always works.”

A veritable cottage industry of right-wing punditry has sprung up in America post 9/11, of which the likes of Coulter and Farah are but the tip of a very substantial iceberg. Moreover, anybody can join this club. The Media Research Centre (“America’s Media Watchdog” and “The Leader in Documenting, Exposing and Neutralizing Liberal Media Bias”) boasts a “Special Gloat and Quote Edition” (10/04/03) which highlights the erroneous war predictions made by the liberal–that is, by American standards–media. Likewise, the National Review saw fit to engage in a little gloating with its own “Hall of Shame–Media Recriminations after VB Day” (10/04/03) opinion piece which pours scorn on the naysaying efforts of Peter “The first war plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance” Arnett, Maureen “Ideology should not shape facts when lives are at stake” of the New York Times and retired US Army General Barry McCaffrey who rather unsportingly told the BBC’s Newsnight programme (24/03/03) that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had misjudged the nature of the conflict.

Issuing the equivalent of a republican fatwa on the not-so-great and good of media lah-lah land in the Washington Dispatch, Patrick Rooney (Director of Special Projects at the crazily titled “Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny” tree-hugging group dedicated to “rebuilding the family by rebuilding the man”) writes:

“Some of these media people still don’t get it. The anti-Bush Katie Couric still thinks we’re buying her phony “sweet as pie” persona. She’s going to be in for a rude awakening. Even the idiotic Michael Moore, he of Oscar’s peech infamy, will see his comeuppance. So will Madonna, who recently had to pull back her video showing the aging entertainer tossing a grenade into the lap of a President Bush look-alike. The negative blowback from this outrageous and desperate act will likely catch her unawares and unprepared.”

Showing all of the absolutist fundamentalist symptoms so readily despised in peoples of an Arab or swarthy tint, Rooney witheringly re-invents veteran Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Peter Arnett as the “Goebbels of Baghdad”; but not before employing a few choice Bush cheerleading military similes in support of the just cause. “George Bush” he writes, “has done something remarkable–his relentless prosecution of the war on terrorism has had the effect of a hand grenade, tossed into the collective minds of the world’s doubters. A spiritual equation has been proven–good is stronger than evil, and will always win when it is fully employed.”

Once a Doubting Thomas ,who felt that “victory on a worldwide scale for the forces of good seemed impossible”, the proud and patriotic “crisis of masculinity” pundit’s faith in the overwhelming power of good over evil has been re-affirmed by Saddam’s capitulation to American military might. Moved almost to song, Rooney’s column reads as a love letter to God’s own country: “For the greatest force for good in the world is embodied in the United States of America. We have the wisest leader; and the strongest, best equipped military in the world. Most important of all, we have the American people, much more resilient and powerful than their enemies–or even they themselves–may have previously realized.”

David Horowitz, editor-in-chief of <> and lapsed libertarian (the progeny of two lifelong communists and one-time radical left trailblazer best known for “his lifelong intellectual and political journey”), also steps up to bat for the winning team. A 1990 recipient of the Teach Freedom Award from Ronald Reagan, Horowitz eschews originality in deference to the triumphalist spirit of the times. Using the “Liberation!” headline to similarly dazzling if hyperbolic effect as Farah, Horowitz comes, not to bury Caesar, but to praise him:

“Baghdad is liberated. In the days to come let us not forget that if it was not for one man, and one man alone–George Bush–the people of Iraq would not be celebrating in the streets and pulling down Saddam’s statues today. Instead the jails would still be full and the torture chambers still operating and the weapons mills still turning out the instruments of future destruction.”

Messrs Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz might just want to take issue with Horowitz on that particular assertion. Like Coulter and Farah before him, Horowitz pooh-poohs the idea of a recalcitrant left waking up to the error of its ant-war protesting ways. “Should we now get ready for apologies?” he asks. “Don’t hold your breath. In The Nation today, Medea Benjamin, head of Global Exchange, pro-Castro communist and leader of the anti-American anti-war left [that’s a truckload of antis], calls for a worldwide effort to send human shields to North Korea, Syria and Iran, the pillars of terrorist power, to give aid and comfort to the enemy” he concludes. Employing sections of the George W Bush Speechwriters Handbook to dizzying effect, Horowitz gleefully looks forward to the battle ahead:

“We have come to a post-Cold War historic turning point. We have entered the era of a new civil war between the forces of freedom and the powers of Islamo-fascist and communist darkness, and once again the left is clearly etemined to take its stand on the other side. The good news is that America is back. Our military has performed superlatively. Our leadership has stood tall. We ourselves can celebrate over this and look confidently towards what lies ahead.”

What lies ahead indeed. The Thursday 10 April Fox News (you know, where the truth is instantly available) broadcast Hannity and Colmes show–co-hosted by “Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism” author Sean Hannity and liberal counterpoint Alan Colmes–provides what might well be a glimpse of things to come. “Should Germany and France be punished for their actions in the months leading up to the war in Iraq?” (answers on a postcard please to “The Commander in Chief, The White House…”). Writing two days prior to what will be remembered in the history books as VB Day, Dennis Prager asks, “Dear Germany: Have You Learned Anything?”. Germany’s refusal to become involved in military operations in Iraq is tastelessly posited as a timely reminder of the national stain that won’t go away:

“How could you have produced a Hitler and not recognize another one just one generation later? How could you know firsthand about torture chambers and children’s screams and not ache to end them in another country? How could you side with amoral France against your friend America? There is, it would seem, only one answer. Nazism taught you nothing. Instead of learning that evil must be fought, you learned that fighting is evil.”

To think, this is how a nation thanks a man who tirelessly argued that Jews should not boycott German products because Volkswagen and Mercedes did business with Israel. Prager glibly signs off his J’Accuse by facetiously thanking Germany for at least giving the world the music of Bach. Prominent radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is similarly intrigued by the fall-out and wider ramifications of Operation Iraqi Freedom (why, it even sounds like a sequel). “Folks”, he begins his “The Battle to Interpret the War Begins” Truth Detector opinion piece of 9 April, “the battle to interpret the war is going to be a big deal. Things are already being said by people out there who want to cast aspersions on the achievement that has taken place. And while it’s going to be frustrating, and you might even get a little bit mad at it, I would urge you to put it in the same context as all of the other whining that the left has been engaging in for the last year and five months.”

Exercising a fondness for militaristic metaphor and simile that has become something of a defining characteristic of his conservative cohorts, Limbaugh asserts that “The next battle is to interpret this war, to define it. The nti-American crowd, the blame-America-first crowd is not going to go away. They’re going to be louder than ever before. They’re going to be busy as little bees trying to turn this victory into defeat. They’re going to turn this liberation into conquest. They are going to turn what is obviously vindication into failure. They’re going to try to do all this particularly as it relates to the president.” Administering the last rites to the anti-war lobby, he concurs that the left are “so enraged and embittered because our vision of the world is being vindicated, and their vision, fortunately, is nowhere to be seen. So the intellectual battle will go on, and just as we won the battle to liberate Iraq, so will we win the battle to liberate America from the hearts and the minds of the blame-America-first crowd.”

There are so many lessons to be learned from the Iraqi experience according to Farah, uppermost among these being the loosening of bothersome UN shackles and the tedious search for international political consensus . “We don’t need the United Nations to act decisively in our national interest and in the others of others desperate for liberation” he boasts, before questionably asserting that “We [America] don’t need to beg and bribe other nations to join our coaltions.” So, let’s hear it for the trriumph of good over evil. Farah proposes a toast to the greatest force in the world for freedom today: “Congratulations, America. You have done it again. Your hard work your sacrifice, your determination has won the day…Celebrate! Praise God! This is a great day in our history and a great day in the history of the Middle East and the people of the world. It’s a day reminsicent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s a day reminiscent of the liberation of Paris. It’s a day reminiscent of the toppling of the Taliban.”

Substitute Allah for God and you’ve got yourself a Jihad. Whipping himself up into an almighty fervour, Farah continues to plough his barren furrow:

“God bless those brave fighting men who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom in Iraq. God bless them for having courage and faith. God bless them for carrying out this righteous mission. Today, there is fear and trepidation in Damascus and Tehran. Today, the enemies of freedom from Pyongyang to Beirut have something to think about.”

Perhaps he means brave fighting men like the American soldier who, asked to explain why marines shot up a bus killing a whole family at a US checkpoint just outside Baghdad, replied: “‘We didn’t know what was in that bus. It may sound bad, but I’d rather see more of them dead than any of my friends. Everyone understands the word ‘stop’, right?” Or perhaps he’s thinking about the US marine sergeant who boasted “We had a great day–We killed a lot of people. We dropped a few civillians, but what do you do?” That, as veteran Australian journalist John Pilger ruefully points out (Crimes Against Humanity, 10/04/03) is the cost of liberation accepted by the mainstream media in both London and Washington: “The Moment Young Omar Discovered the Price of War” ran The Observer page three of Sunday 6th April, accompanying a picture of an orphaned 15 year old Iraqi boy being comforted by an American marine whose presence in Iraq cost Omar the greatest price payable.

Writing in The Independent (12/04/03), Robert Fisk notes that “Wars have a habit of turning normally sane people into cheerleaders, of transforming rational journalists into nastly little puffed-up fantasy colonels.” Certainly, the rabbit-caught-in-the-headlights look of wonderment of so many embedded journalists would suggest Fisk is onto something. That’s as may be, but how to explain the righteous evangelical rantings of right wing talking heads whose version of events in Iraq has more to do with staged photo opportunities afforded by toppled Saddam statues than it does with the plights of children like 12 year old Ali Ismaeel Abbas–the subject of a Daily Mirror campaign to raise funds to treat his potentially life threatening burns–who lost both his family and his arms when his home was bombed. But no, the most evocative image of the liberation of Baghdad, according to the Washington Times’ Diana West (“Free at Last”, 11/04/03), is of “the young man, dressed in a denim jacket, holding a homemade poster celebrating the ‘Hero of the Peace’–George W. Bush–and kissing the president’s faintly smiling photo.”

Displaying what would be considered a faintly disturbing penchant for fairytale endings in even the most weak-kneed of romantics, West muses, “Maybe it’s the kiss itself, reminiscent of all the fairytale kisses that break evil spells, or maybe it’s the expressive face of Iraqi gratitude towards an American president who has awakened a nation from a nightmare of brutality and repression.” Convicted Iran-Contral scandal liar Oliver North, now earning a crust as an internet radio host (“Bringing common sense to the…internet”) and Fox News embedded reporter, chimes in with a vivid description of the US Marines march into Baghdad which bodes well for his fledgeling thriller writing career:

“I was with the 5th and 7th Marines as they entered Baghdad and were greeted by little kids walking up to them and handing them flowers. It is one of the most moving things I’ve seen so far in this war–children greeting their liberators with flowers and homemade American flags. We’ve seen it several times, and it’s the kind of thing that gets you choked up because the people are so thrilled to get rid of this brutal regime.”

Tomorrow’s generation of American political columnists and journalists primed on a diet of Fox News reports and “embedded” reporting may do well to dispense with the journalistic principles and tenets which created giants of the calibre of Ed Murrow and James Cameron. Much easier instead to adhere to a stale diet of old lies, half truths and appeals to popular prejudice like San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders, who trots out the old line that the “UN Security Council allowed Hussein essentially to chase weapons inspectors out of Iraq in 1998. The United Nations oversaw the Oil for Food program that allowed Hussein to siphon off funds meant to feed his people. Despite more than 250 U.N. workers overseeing the program at various times, Hussein still managed to funnel Food for Oil money into his propaganda and palaces. In Israel, posters of suicide bombers have popped up in U.N. Relief and Works Agency schools for Palestinian refugees. ”

Dissenting American voices have been silenced to such an extent that the conflict in Iraq has been reduced to the dumbed down revisionism of pro-American films like Black Hawk Down; with the usual supporting cast of freedom threatening bad guys. Who needs embedded journalism when you can have in-bedded journalism? Substitute Rudolf Rocker’s “citizens” with “journalists” and the picture becomes clearer still:

“It is certainly dangerous for a state when its citizens have a conscience; what it needs is men without conscience, or, better still, men whose conscience is quite in conformity with reasons of state, men in whom the feeling of personal responsibility has been replaced by the automatic impulse to act in the interests of the state.”

Read it and weep.

WILLIAM MacDOUGALL can be reached at: