by Eric Margolis
Why, readers in the U.S. keep asking me, are so many Americans unconcerned their government appears to have misled them and Congress over Iraq, and then waged a war with no basis in law or fact?
Why is there growing outrage in Britain over Tony Blair's equally exaggerated or patently false warnings over Iraq, while middle America couldn't seem to care less about George Bush's "Weaponsgate."
One answer is found in an old joke.
Greenberg is sitting in a bar. He goes up to Woo, a Chinese gentleman, and punches him.
"Why'd you do that?" cries Woo.
"Because of Pearl Harbor," snarls Greenberg.
"But I had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, I'm Chinese!" says Woo.
"Chinese, Japanese, it's all the same to me," answers Greenberg.
A month later, Greenberg sees Woo in the bar and apologizes to him. The Chinese gentleman smiles, then punches Greenberg.
"Why did you do that?" cries Greenberg?
"Because of the Titanic."
"What do I have to do with the Titanic?" asks Greenberg.
"Greenberg, iceberg, it's all the same to me."
Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis, Saudis, Taliban, al-Qaida ... it's all too much for many geographically challenged Americans. Don't bother us with the details and strange names, they say, kill 'em all, God will sort 'em out. The Muslim 'A-rabs' did 9/11 and we got revenge. Whacking those I-raqis made us feel a whole lot better. So what if Saddam didn't really have the weapons of mass destruction good ol' George W. Bush said endangered the entire world? All politicians lie. So what?"
First, venting national outrage over 9/11 was one factor that helped form this group-think.
Second, starting with Afghanistan, the Bush White House threatened big corporate media it would be held "unpatriotic" and occasionally hinted at unspecified reprisals if coverage did not actively support the war effort there and in Iraq.
Big media too often caved in, sometimes sounding like a public relations arm of the administration.
Third, there was near total domination of Iraq media commentary by the special interest groups that helped to engineer this phony war. Almost all of it in the lead-up to war was done by self-serving Iraqi exiles, uninformed generals and neo-conservatives from Washington think-tanks sometimes echoing the views of Israel's Likud party. In short, a media lynch mob developed, endlessly repeating that Baghdad's terrifying killer weapons were about to blitz the U.S.
I scanned the major U.S. networks for voices challenging the distortions and bunkum coming from the White House and neo-cons. There was virtually none.
Group-think and the big lie prevailed. The British and Canadian media carried both pro- and anti-war views; as a result, there was far more healthy skepticism in both nations about the war than in America.
By contrast, much of the U.S. mainstream media muffled criticism, became part of the war effort and devoted itself to patriotic flag-waving. Americans would have been totally misled had it not been for such Internet sites as Antiwar.com, Bigeye and LewRockwell, and incisive magazines such as American Conservative and Harpers.
Even the august New York Times allowed itself to be used. Right now, the Times is hand-wringing about two cases of plagiarism and phony reporting by staffers. It should instead be anguishing that its pages trumpeted phony reports about Iraqi weapons and links to al-Qaida that came from anti-Saddam exile groups and the pro-war cabal in the Pentagon.
Most so-called Iraqi "experts" on TV, including some colleagues of mine, merely regurgitated what they had read in the morning's Times. The Times and much of the major media were duped, to put it politely, abandoning their vital role in our democratic system as tribune and questioner of the politicians.
So, too, the Democratic party, which, as war fever was being stoked by the Bush administration and the press, shamefully rolled over and played dead - with the exception of that great American, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who long ago denounced Bush's Iraq misadventure, and who now demands a full investigation of how Americans and their Congress were misled.
The black comedy continues:
Bush citing what turned out to be crudely forged documents in his state of the union address.
"Drones of death" that turned out to be rickety model airplanes.
The "decontamination" trucks cited by Colin Powell that turned out to be fire trucks when inspected by the UN.
The notorious "mobile germ labs" the British press now reports were for inflating artillery balloons and, in fact, were sold to Iraq by the U.K.
Some British and American intelligence officers are accusing their governments of outright lies or absurd exaggerations.
Maybe Americans have become brain-dead from too much TV. Maybe they don't care terrorism is surging, or that recent polls show the U.S. is reviled, hated, or distrusted around the globe thanks to this administration and its neo-con mentors. Maybe they don't understand that over 288 Americans and an estimated 26,300 Iraqi civilians and soldiers have so far died in a totally unnecessary conflict. Or that the U.S. in now stuck in an ugly little colonial war in Iraq, its very own West Bank and Gaza.
(Note to American hate-mailers: spare Canada, I'm a New Yorker.)
Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and
broadcaster, and author of War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for
Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The
Economist, May 13, 2000
Don Melvin, "BBC Questions U.S. Version
of Lynch Rescue ," Toronto Star, May 17, 2003
Robert Fisk, "Saddam Statue Scene
Staged," Independent, April 11, 2003
Ian Burrell, "BBC Chief: 'Shocking' and
'Gung-ho' Coverage of Iraq War," Independent, April 25, 2003
[If the government must re-examine whether data may have been
"manipulated" to support the war, surely the New York Times should
conduct a similar postwar inventory of its primary WMD reporter,
Judith Miller. In the months running up to the war, Miller painted
as grave a picture of Iraq's WMD potential as any U.S. intelligence
agency, a take that often directly mirrored the Bush
administration's view.--Jack Shafer, "Reassessing Miller,"
Slate, May 29, 2003]
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, "
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on
Iraq," J. P. Tarcher, July 2003
G¿rill Hus and Guri Wiggen, "Pilger & Fisk on
Iraq Coverage: The Real Danger Lies Within," Inter Press Service, July
[It is context, background and interpretation that give information
meaning. When that is missing, as it often is, so is
understanding.--Danny Schechter, "
News media abandon historic role--and public suffers," Salt Lake
Tribune, July 6, 2003]
[Susan J. Douglas, writing for In These Times , asserts: "It would
hardly be an overstatement to say that the late spring and early
summer of 2003 have been one of the lowest points in US media
history . She talks about the Jayson Blair scandal, but says the
"real disgrace" is the way the
media seems to be reading a script handed out by "Team
Bush."--Sara B. Miller, "Media feels the press," Christian
Science Monitor, July 10, 2003]
[A recently published book looking at a shadowy outfit with close
CIA links suggests truth is a continuing casualty of wars, including
Iraq, writes Tony Stephens.--"War
on words deception," Sydney Morning Herald, July 23, 2003]
Jack Shafer, "The Times
Scoops That Melted: Cataloging the wretched reporting of Judith
Miller," Slate, July 25, 2003
[The verboten truth is that the unprovoked attack on Iraq and the
looting of its resources is America's 73rd colonial intervention.
These, together with hundreds of bloody covert operations, have been
covered up by a system and a veritable tradition of state-sponsored
lies that reach back to the genocidal campaigns against Native
Americans and the attendant frontier myths; and the Spanish-American
war, which broke out after Spain was falsely accused of sinking an
American warship, the Maine, and war fever was whipped up by the
Hearst newspapers; and the non-existent "missile gap" between the US
and the Soviet Union, which was based on fake documents given to
journalists in 1960 and served to accelerate the nuclear arms race;
and four years later, the non-existent Vietnamese attack on two
American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin for which the media
demanded reprisals, giving President Johnson the pretext he wanted
to bomb North Vietnam.--John Pilger, "The War on Truth,"
ZNet, July 31, 2003]
Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, "How
To Sell a War: The Rendon Group deploys 'perception management' in
the war on Iraq," InTheseTimes, August 4, 2003
Jonathan Turley, "Hollywood Isn't Holding Its Lines Against the Pentagon," Los
Angeles Times, August 19, 2003
Neil Clark, "The
return of Arabophobia," Guardian, October 20, 2003
[The Los Angeles Times has ordered its journalists to stop
describing anti-American forces in Iraq as resistance fighters,
saying the term romanticises them and evokes World War II-era
War declared on resistance," Reuters, November 7, 2003]
Anthony Arnove, "INTERVIEW
WITH JOHN PILGER ON 'BREAKING THE SILENCE'," December 1, 2003
Nicholas Rufford, "Revealed:
how MI6 sold the Iraq war," Sunday Times, December 20, 2003
[The precedent was set in Rwanda when two former Rwandan media officials - a
radio executive and a newspaper editor were jailed for life and a third
defendant, an executive with a radio station, received a 35-year prison term
after the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found them guilty of
genocide, incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity--Mark Hand, "Prosecuting
the War Party Press: The Washington Post in the Dock?," Press Action,
December 29, 2003]
Norman Solomon, "George
Will's Ethics," CounterPunch, January 2, 2004
William E. Jackson Jr, "'NY Times' Fails to Acknowledge Its Role in WMD
Hype," Editor & Publisher, February 18, 2004
Scott Sherman, "Press Watch:
Floating With the Tide," The Nation, February 26, 2004
Eric Alterman, "Think
Again: Never Apologize, Never Explain," Center for American Progress, March 4, 2004
"U.S. Media Performance on Iraq Slammed in Report," Reuters,
March 9, 2004
Antony Loewenstein, "Engineering
consent: The New York Times' role in promoting war on Iraq," Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2004
Marvin Kalb, "A quest for more
sensation is killing journalism," Financial Times, April 1, 2004
Andrea Berry, "Study: U.S. and British reporters reinforced Bush's pro-war rhetoric
with loaded language," DiamondbackOnline.com, April 21, 2004
Jon Stewart, "Iraq reporting under fire again," Toronto Star, April 2,
Ayisha Yahya, "Esteemed journalist lectures on ethics," Oregon Daily
Emerald, May 7, 2004
[But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as
rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was
controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified
or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more
aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged Ñ or failed to
emerge."The Times and Iraq," New York Times, May 26, 2004]
Stephen Marshall, "Scott
Ritter's war," guerrillanews.com, May 26, 2004
James Moore, "How
Chalabi and the White House held the front page: The New York Times has
burned its reputation on a pyre of lies about Iraq," Guardian, May 29, 2004
Jude Wanniski, "Journalistic
Standards," Wanniski.com, May 30, 2004
[Across the country, "the voices raising questions about the war were lonely
ones," Downie said. "We didn't pay enough attention to the
minority."--Howard Kurtz, "The
Post on WMDs: An Inside Story," Washington Post, August 12, 2004]
[Thirteen months ago, a Washington Post poll found that 69 percent of
Americans believed that Saddam was "personally involved" in Sept. 11 and 82
percent thought Saddam "provided assistance to Osama bin Laden and his
terrorist network." This overwhelming agreement was a natural result of an
overwhelming public relations assault by the White House.
The assault was most noted by Cheney's televised assertion back then that
Iraq is part of the "continuing operation on the war on terror." Cheney said
victory in Iraq "will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the
base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under
assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."
The assault is still working. Despite the findings of the 9/11 Commission
and a general decline in support for the war, the percentage of Americans
who still believe that Saddam was involved in Sept. 11 or provided aid to Al
Qaeda remains significant. In a Newsweek poll last week, 42 percent of
Americans still think Saddam was "directly involved in planning, financing,
or carrying out the terrorist attacks." Only 44 percent say he was not
directly involved, and 14 percent remain unsure.--Derrick Z. Jackson, "As war toll climbs, Bush
still deceives," Boston Globe, September 10, 2004
[One in four Americans holds a negative stereotype of Muslims, and almost
one-third respond with a negative image when they hear the word
"Muslim,"--Caryle Murphy, "
Distrust of Muslims Common in U.S., Poll Finds," Washington Post,
October 5, 2004]
Suzanne Presto, "Poll Finds Most Americans Have Neutral
View of Muslims," Voice of America, October 6, 2004
Michael Massing, "The Press:
The Enemy Within," New York Review of Books, December 15, 2005
Copyright © 2003 Eric Margolis - All Rights