It came at the very end of a long New York Times report of Jan. 2 regarding the havoc caused at Dulles airport in Washington, DC because of heightened concern there about a terrorist attack.
“In a footnote, the director of security at Dulles airport was arrested Thursday on suspicion of drunk driving”
Dulles airport’s director of security, former Secret Service agent Charles Brady, was pulled over on suspicion of being drunk at the wheel at the very height of the emergency! What a telling metaphor for malfeasance at a more senior level, I thought to myself. While President George W. Bush may no longer be drinking, the year 2003 showed him to be DWI in a far more dangerous sense-driving while intoxicated with power.
Worse still, unlike Brady and other drivers for whom the police provide disincentive to full-speed-ahead, the president sees no reason to apply the brakes-surrounded as he is with swift SUVs and with televangelist Pat Robertson riding shotgun.
The top story of 2003, in my view, deals with official malfeasance, the difference between Brady and Bush, and the reasons why the latter has not yet been pulled over for reckless endangerment on an international scale.
Checks and Balances?
In our system of government, checks and balances were designed to serve, in effect, as speed traps. While the judiciary is beginning to limit some of the more egregious abuses attending the “war on terror,” the legislative branch in its current coloration is little more than a patsy for the administration.
Congress, which in 2002 was tricked into ceding to the executive its constitutional prerogative to declare war, is now under even tighter control by the president’s party. And with trustees like Sen. Pat Roberts (R, Kansas) and Rep. Porter Goss (R, Florida) keeping tight rein on the intelligence committees, you can forget about an impartial investigation into the still missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the wider question as to whether the war was launched under false pretences.
“Washington Democrats” like Rep. Dick Gephardt, Sen. Joe Lieberman, and Sen. John Kerry who voted for the war are still lending a helping hand. Rather than admit that they were hoodwinked and thereby risk qualifying for the George W. Romney memorial prize for naiveté, they remain co-opted. (Remember the caricatures after Romeny claimed in 1968 to have been brainwashed on Vietnam; remember how the soapsuds dripping from Romney’s head washed away his presidential aspirations?)
How else to explain Gephardt’s tortured response on December 31. 2003 when he was asked for the umpteenth time to explain why, as minority leader in the House, he threw his support to Bush on the war. Gephardt told the Washington Post he was persuaded by the administration’s insistence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Was he lied to? Gephardt: “I do not feel deceived.” Despite the Post’s consistent cheerleading for the war, I will still somewhat surprised to see that on Jan. 4 the editorial folks at the Post began a major piece with strong applause for Gephardt’s “consistent and responsible position on the war in Iraq.” It would appear that consistency is considered the supreme value at the Post.
The president has little to fear from speed traps or even speed bumps at the hands of our representatives in Congress-on either side of the aisle. What about the United Nations and international law? No braking effect there either. Any doubts about the contempt in which the UN is held by the US officials running our policy toward Iraq were laid to rest in 2003. And leading UN-phobe, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, conceded publicly on November 19, 2003 that the invasion of Iraq was illegal but added, “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.”
Moreover the deterrent effect once exerted by a militarily robust USSR is no more. Tiresome as the mantra has become that the USA is the “sole remaining world superpower,” that happens to be true. And a short decade ago one would have been considered quite the spoilsport to predict that this would turn out to be a very mixed blessing?
Is there, then, no disincentive at all? No antidote to driving the country while intoxicated with power? Who will pull the president over and give him a summons?
The Fourth Estate? Sorry, Embedded.
The extraordinary performance of the US press on Iraq is the most telling part of 2003’s top story. Inimitable commentator Jimmy Breslin describes that performance as “the worst failure to inform the public that we have seen; the Pekingese of the press run clip-clop along the hall to the next government press conference.” Commenting on the prevailing practice of reciting the official line, another pundit has branded journalists and broadcasters alike little more than “ventriloquists’ dummies.”
The 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke coined “fourth estate” in circumstances similar to those of today here in this former British colony. It was before we rebelled against the ruling George of the time-George III, whom Burke castigated for trying to enlarge the power of the crown.
In his pamphlet “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770), Burke argued that although King George’s actions were legal in the sense that they were not against the letter of the constitution, they were all the more against its spirit. As for the American colonies, Burke argued strongly for a more flexible approach, one enlightened by “moral principle,” but British imperial policy ignored him and lost America. And that, as our own George I (George H. W. Bush) would say, is history.
Burke said there were three estates in parliament (two chambers in the House of Lords of the time and one in Commons). But the fourth estate, “more important far than they all, sat in the Reporters Gallery.”
How far we have come since then.
Indeed, perhaps you need to have been around for Vietnam and for Watergate to have some sense of how the media have deteriorated in one brief generation. The mainstream press is now giving our imperial president, our “George II,” a free pass.
The Dog Ate My Homework
Among other shortcomings, American journalists and talking heads simply do not do their homework. Had not Australian documentary producer John Pilger shown due diligence in reviewing video footage of what Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condolleeza Rice had been saying about weapons of mass destruction, we would not know that on Feb. 24, 2001 Powell said:
“He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”
Or that two months later Condoleezza Rice said:
“We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.”
As a bumper sticker might say-“If you can read this, thank a Pilger!”
But must we depend on Australian journalists to slow down the presidential motorcade? Was it simply laziness or perhaps something worse that prevented US journalists from doing a computer run on past statements, when Powell and Rice later changed their tune?
The unholy marriage of conglomerate press and government is the Achilles heel of our democracy-and a fillip to fascism. We are inching closer to the modus operandi of Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels than to Edmund Burke’s ideal of a press as watchdog, holding the barbarians at the gates.
As freelance journalist and press observer Ron Callari has noted, US media are now populated by “well-paid conformists” whose voices are owned by the major corporations that pay them so well. Callari decries the “dumbing down” of the media and asks whether a people can be truly free if Big Brother can spoon-feed them what to believe.
Sadly, there is no dearth of examples that can be adduced. How can it be, for instance, that the press has completely missed recent signs that the administration plans to stretch out the quest for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction beyond November?
Until After the Election
The most recent hint of this came in a last-sentence buried in an unnoticed Christmas Eve story by the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus (who actually was writing about something else). Pincus merely noted in passing that the WMD search in Iraq “is expected to continue for at least another year, according to administration sources.”
Like until after the election? Transparent, no? And yet, if the recent past is precedent, the mainstream press will let the administration get away with it.
Or consider that the Post on September 18, 2003 buried on page A18 President Bush’s admission the previous day that “there has been no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th.” This admission came after many months of artful White House rhetoric that strongly implied just the opposite-with remarkable success in getting a large majority of the American people to believe it. And on December 23, 2003, the Post kept out of its news section altogether retired Marine General Anthony Zinni’s biting critique of the US policy on Iraq, relegating it to the “Style” section. Until he retired in 2000, Zinni commanded all US troops in the area of the Persian Gulf.
What’s the Difference?
Lest we begin the New Year thoroughly depressed, we shall call a halt after one more example. Recall the initial press reporting on Jessica Lynch: ambushed by the Iraqis, courageously firing her weapon until her ammunition ran out, shot, stabbed, raped and then rescued in a daring nighttime raid videotaped for showing around the world.
But US media dropped Jessica Lynch as soon as it became clear that she was not going to cooperate with Pentagon yarn spinners. Good for Private Lynch. This young woman from rural West Virginia knows the difference between the truth and a lie.
Would that that were so in the case of our president, who asks, without a trace of shame, “What’s the difference?”-the question this time being the difference between whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction last year or not; i. e., whether the ostensible justification for attacking Iraq was real or was manufactured out of whole cloth.
What’s the difference? I believe most Americans can see the difference.
The Question for 2004
The key question for 2004 is whether or not the administration’s stranglehold on the media can be loosened to the point where the electorate can wake up, take away the president’s driver’s license, and put an end to the reckless endangerment.
For that we shall need to resurrect the spirit of Thomas Paine and show a lot more Common Sense.
RAY McGOVERN, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, is now co-director of the Servant Leadership School, an outreach ministry in the inner city of Washington, DC. He can be reached at: RRMcGovern@aol.com