The local paper’s Business section headlined (2/16/23): “Study shows ‘striking’ number who believe news misinforms.” Clutching my pearls, I read—— “Half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they believe national news organizations intend to mislead, misinform, or persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting.”
The task of turning what began as an agrarian republic into a globe-straddling Imperial Power bent on international “force-projection” takes time. Over many decades it has required the ceaseless toil of political and cultural managers, barrels of ink, thousands of teleprompter-dependent “personalities,” and trillions of propaganda pixels.
The project seems complete. During my life the US has been constantly at war—— overtly— covertly—— and always preparing for war at overwhelming public expense.
In 1953 newly-elected President Dwight Eisenhower spoke to the National Society of Newspaper Editors. He announced;
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies….. A THEFT from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
“The cost on one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is: two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000…. It is: two fine fully equipped hospitals….”
“This is not a way of life at all…. It is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Presidents don’t talk like that anymore. And if they did they would be impugned as “soft” or even “treasonous.” When Mr. Biden finally ordered withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of one-sided blood-letting, the media generally bemoaned the decision.
Despite being the world’s lethality-leader the United States is routinely presented in domestic media as haplessly under threat from foreign (and sometimes swarthy) “evil doers.” You know the story: “They hate us for our freedom.” Foreign “autocrats” and “dictators” reputedly scheme against “freedom”/ “markets,” the kind of human rights rumored to exist here, and routinely observed in soup-kitchen/homeless-encampment America.
Lately, the public is instructed to get wound up about Chinese “spy balloons.” F-22-launched Sidewinder missiles costing $400,000 each have lately been volleyed at a variety of balloons apparently including civilian hobbyist types valued at $12 (see Aviation Week, 2/16/23).
Panic in officialdom and media is palpable.
But in all the fear-mongering about the Yellow-Peril of snoopy Chinese balloons there’s scant mention of Francis Gary Powers and the U-2 incident. That strikes me as …. convenient.
President Eisenhower had begun his term (1953-1961) trying to tamp down media enthusiasm for militarism and war. But by the late 1950s he was being attacked for creating a “missile gap” and not building enough nuclear bombs. The dreaded Soviets might be getting ahead of us in the race to extinction. So the Lockheed Corporation was paid to produce the U-2, an aluminum plane fitted with 3000 pounds of “intelligence-gathering” spy-gear and capable of flying for hours above 70,000 feet. Eisenhower was told that it was undetectable by Soviet radar and flew too high to be shot down.
On May 1, 1960 CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was on a U-2 spy flight across the USSR equipped with high-tech spook gadgets, the plane’s self-destruct mechanism, and the usual suicide device. He was shot down. But the plane was not destroyed. He did not use the “suicide pin.” He was captured.
“The US quickly concocted a cover story claiming that Powers had been studying weather patterns for NASA and had merely strayed off-course. The cover-up even went so far as to present the US media with a U-2 plane painted with fake NASA logos and serial numbers.” (BBC, 1/3/16)
Unaware that the KGB had the largely intact wreckage and the pilot, Eisenhower was trotted out to deny-deny-deny. “Who…. us???!!!” Media obliged until they couldn’t.
Powers pleaded guilty to espionage. After 2 years in prison he was returned to the US in a prisoner swap. (This isn’t obscure. The swap was featured in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” movie.) Despite media pretense to fairness and balance I have searched largely in vain for acknowledgment of the U-2 incident: A hint of adult context in the cartoonish hysteria over the “spy balloon” saga.
The timing of the U-2 fiasco was …… “unfortunate.” A disarmament summit with the USSR was scuttled. “Eisenhower’s cover-up in the face of the facts was embarrassing. More than that, Eisenhower the man of truth and dignity, the man who …. had been hailed as the’ prince of peace’ had lied. And then he defiantly said it was his right, his duty to invade the airspace of a sovereign nation.” (See Blanche Wiesen Cook, The Declassified Eisenhower,)