One Big Sham


Three cheers for Maureen Dowd for exposing the sham of President’ Bush’s Jackson Square speech to the nation announcing his “recovery plan” for New Orleans, and a big fat raspberry for the electronic media-and for Dowd’s own New York Times-for failing to mention it in their “hard-news” coverage of the speech.

For those who missed it, Bush, dressed in a pressed, blue, open-collar dress shirt (not “badly tailored” this time), was backed by a beautifully blue-lit St. Louis Cathedral. What Dowd pointed out in her 9/17 column, was that the lighting was flown in by the White House advance team, along with generators (most of New Orleans is still without power). To spare the American public from seeing the darkened ghost town of the surrounding French Quarter, the Bush advance team also flew in military camouflage netting, which was strung up behind the president to block out all buildings but the cathedral.

As Dowd pointed out, the setting, on TV screens, resembled nothing so much as the Disney castle-an appropriate metaphor for the whole Bush presidency, with its focus on imagery, stagecraft and hocus-pocus.

What boggles the mind is how our national media has become so inured to this kind of manipulation that reporters don’t even bother to mention it. Viewers are left in the dark about the way they are being deceived.

Really, how hard would it have been for a print reporter, writing about the speech, to mention the effort that went into setting up the stage for the president’s address? (The Times did mention the charade in a reporters notebook filed by White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, but the information should have appeared in the lead hard-news report on the address.) How hard would it have been for a TV reporter to have the camera crew cut to some of the scenes of blacked-out buildings behind the netting, or to the generator roaring away to provide the backlighting? After all, given the incredible ineptness displayed by the White House in getting rescuers to the scene of the flood, it is surely relevant to show how efficient the same White House’s PR operation could be at getting crucial equipment like lights and generators into the battered city.

At this point, I’d be interested in hearing what happened to those generators. Having schlepped them all the way into the ravaged city, id the White House donate them to the relief effort, or did they pack them up and fly them out again, the way they did with the fake “relief supplies” that were set up for a staged earlier visit by the president to flood victims in Mississippi (a bit of information that was also left out of American coverage but reported by a German TV reporter)?

My own guess is that this fakery is all of a piece with a much larger sham. Just as the White House is faking the backdrops in the president’s public appearances, most of his major public initiatives are also just smoke and mirrors. No Child Left Behind was a classic of the genre, as were announcements of federal aid to New York City after 9-11.

It should come as no surprise when the latest promises for major federal support for the rebuilding of New Orleans turn out to be hollow too.

After all, having thoroughly blown the budget on the $300-billion-and-counting Iraq War, the president really has no money to offer. He’s already said that there will be no rescinding of the mammoth tax giveaways to the rich and corporations to fund the rebuilding program, which could cost as much as $200 billion. In fact, he’s still pushing for more tax cuts. And much of the money for rebuilding the drowned city, the president says, will have to come from cuts in other federal programs (read poverty programs), which means that what one hand gives to New Orleans-one of the poorest cities in America-will be taken away from its residents by the other. Note, for example, a planned 13-percent increase in Medicare outlays by individual recipients.

What Dowd showed us in her excellent column was a Potemkin president. What the president announced in his carefully staged address from New Orleans was a Potemkin recovery program.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at

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We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

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August 17, 2005


CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.