Whenever I get asked to speak
about the media and its role in our world, I always remember
something that happened to me in the fall of 2002. My book
on Iraq had been out for a few weeks, I was writing for
truthout, and I was also carrying a full teaching slate
of high school classes. Needless to say, I was busy.
I was driving home from a
long day of teaching back in the fall of 2002, and my cell
phone rings. Now, and this is kind of a funny aside, I had
always resisted getting a cell phone. Didn't like them,
didn't want them. But all of a sudden I had all these radio
interviews to do because of the Iraq book, and I did not
want to do those interviews on the school phone for obvious
reasons. So I went down to the phone store and got the cheapest
one there. That meant, of course, that the phone was huge.
So the phone rings and I
answered it while trying to navigate Memorial Drive in Cambridge
- yes, at that moment I was the jerk on his cell phone who
almost kills you with his car - and on the line is a producer
from MSNBC who wanted me on the Connie Chung show. Hot damn,
I thought. This is getting serious. The producer wanted
me on the show to talk about Hans Blix and the weapons inspections
taking place in Iraq. Great, I said. Yeah, she went on,
we want you to talk about how the inspectors are doing a
really bad job.
picture this moment. There I was, trying to drive down one
of the worst roads in Cambridge with a cell phone the size
of a gallon of milk stuck to my ear, and I have this MSNBC
producer telling me that if I go on the show, I have to
dump all over the inspectors who at that time had been in-country
about a week. Coincidentally, that was exactly the same
line of rhetoric being pushed by the White House at exactly
that time. I'm sure the look on my face was priceless, and
I'm lucky me, the car and the giant cell phone didn't wind
up in the Charles River.
asked her if she knew who she was talking to. She didn't
understand. My book, I told her, says there are no weapons
of mass destruction and therefore no reason to go to war
there. I'm the last person on the planet, therefore, who
is going to haul water for the idea that there are weapons
in Iraq. Furthermore, I said, I don't know where you get
off trying to gin up resentment against the inspectors.
They just got there, and if they can finish their work without
getting derailed by nonsense like this, it'll hopefully
keep a lot of people from getting killed. The MSNBC producer
laughed quietly - that's the part I will never forget, how
she laughed - and hung up.
me, that's it in a nutshell. That's what ails us as a nation.
The corporate media does not report the news anymore. They
create consensus, they manufacture the common fictions under
which we are expected to live. With the TV media, this behavior
is all the more insidious because TV reaches everyone.
is the most extraordinarily effective tool of mass control
that has ever been invented by anyone anywhere.
this MSNBC producer is an appropriate example - and I think
she is, because she was asking me to basically be yet another
Bush administration mouthpiece - the fictions they create
do not merely soothe and placate the populace. They kill.
They kill in large numbers, and a few people (who coincidentally
own large chunks of the corporate news media) get paid handsomely
for that killing.
print media is not in any way immune to this. Their disinformation
does not have the reach of television news, simply because
nobody reads anymore, but it is there all the same. My most
recent brain cramp actually came up this morning, and has
to do with the venerable New York Times. It was the Times
that allowed the Bush talking-point about weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq to be broadbanded across the media spectrum.
reporter Judy Miller hunkered with convicted embezzler and
alleged Iranian spy Ahmad Chalabi, and reported on the pages
of the Times that Iraq was absolutely covered with weapons
of mass destruction. This helped Chalabi, you see, because
he had been chosen by the Bush folks to run Iraq after the
war. So far, he has only gotten to be the Oil Minister...yes,
the embezzler is now the Oil Minister, but that's a whole
point is that like it or lump it, the Times is the flagship
of American journalism. If they say it, it must be true,
and so when Miller reported that Iraq was covered with weapons,
it became axiomatic. Then the TV outlets felt safe in saying
it, and we were off to the races.
my brain cramp today came when I read the Times' response
to the fallout from this situation. They were duped by a
Bush administration lackey, the published gross fabrications,
they empowered the war rhetoric...and in response to criticism,
they have decided to move their perspective farther to the
right. Yes, you heard me, and welcome to my brain cramp.
frustration I feel personally knowing that I and everyone
else are being deliberately deceived and misdirected is
topped by only one thing: The rage, horror and sorrow I
feel when I finally do manage to carve through the crap
and get to the truth. Because the truth, friends and neighbors,
is so much worse than you can possibly imagine.
this mean and meager time of pre-packaged, pre-processed,
corporate-controlled infotainment that passes itself off
as 'news,' it is a rare and refreshing experience to see
and hear a true journalist reporting the facts. I was privileged
a couple of weeks ago to share a stage in Boston with Dahr
Jamail, the reporter who could not stomach the biased non-news
coming out of Iraq after the invasion, and went over there
to see and report on what was happening himself.
spoke in a calm and precise manner on what he had seen while
in Iraq. His words carried the weight of witness, but more
devastating than what he said was what he showed the crowd.
For an hour, Jamail flashed photograph after photograph
from Iraq on a large screen. It is one thing to hear the
truth. It is another again to see it, in slide after slide,
through the eyes of a man who was there and returned to
tell the tale.
photo essay described the current situation in the starkest
of terms. Buildings that had been bombed out during the
invasion remain today blasted and unusable piles of rubble.
One photo showed a blown-out supermarket with a collapsed
roof. He took the picture in 2003, but showed it on Monday
night because it looks the same today as it did when the
bomb first fell. There are many times many such damaged
buildings. The ones that remain standing are often pockmarked
from machine gun fire.
a nation with the second largest proven stores of petroleum
on earth, there are today gas lines that make the American
gas-line experience of the 1970s seem a picnic by comparison.
Iraqis must spend two days in their cars, sleeping in them
overnight, to get a rationed 7.5 liters of gasoline, provided
the station does not run out before they get to the pump.
Jamail interviewed a high-ranking member of the Petroleum
Ministry, who reported that the oil infrastructure is stable
enough to provide gas to the country. That gas is not being
provided, said the Minister, because the Americans are not
pumping it, but sitting on it.
in Iraq are in utterly deplorable condition, with few specialists
to treat common illnesses and the wounds inflicted on civilians
by the bomb and the bullet, and almost no medicine. Almost
all the best-trained and highest-ranking medical professionals
have fled the country because they are targeted by criminal
gangs seeking to extort money from them, leaving undertrained
residents to handle the load. A Health Minister interviewed
by Jamail said Coalition officials had promised $1 billion
in medical aid. To date, almost none of that has been provided.
sanitary conditions are almost beyond description; one photo
showed a hospital bathroom that was filled from wall to
wall with urine and feces, because the plumbing does not
work. To make matters worse, ambulances are targeted by
American forces because they fear the vehicles are being
used by resistance fighters. Jamail showed a photo of one
such targeted ambulance that looked as though it had been
driven through a blast furnace.
the best Iraqi neighborhoods, there is electricity available
for eight hours a day. The rest of the nation gets electricity
for perhaps three hours a day, if at all. At least two car
bombs a day can be heard and felt, and the supposedly-safe
Green Zone constantly comes under bombardment. Dead and
bloated cattle line the roads, said roads existing in profoundly
70% of the population is unemployed, leaving a great deal
of spare time for despair and rage to take root. A good
portion of the violent resistance, reported Jamail, is being
carried out by foreign fighters, Baathist holdouts and former
Iraqi military personnel. But more and more, everyday Iraqis
are picking up guns, he said, because conditions are so
heavy-handed tactics of the American occupation force, reported
Jamail, have also fed that rage. Jamail stated that the
Americans have taken to using 'collective punishment' against
large segments of the population to try and dampen the violence.
In one instance, a road leading out of a remote farm community
was blown up and blocked to punish the residents, and the
only nearby gas station was machine-gunned and blasted by
most glaring example of collective punishment took place
within the city of Fallujah. You will clearly recall the
events of March 31, 2004, when three mercenary contractors
from Blackwater were pulled from their car, butchered, burned
and hung from a bridge in that town. The American corporate
news media carefully described these four repeatedly as
'American civilians, failing to note that some 30,000 highly-paid
military mercenaries just like these four are operating
in Iraq, beyond the laws and rules of American military
justice. These mercenaries stand accused by the Iraqi populace
of a variety of crimes including rape and theft.
was a despicable and horrifying act of violence, to be sure.
Yet the American populace was left with the impression,
reinforced by the media, that these 'civilians' were targeted
by the entire city of Fallujah. In fact, the act was committed
by perhaps 50 people, and the Imams in the mosques spoke
with one outraged voice against what was done to those four.
did not matter. The collective punishment of Fallujah began
days later. Civilians were targeted by snipers. Helicopters
and bombers rained fire and steel indiscriminately on the
city. After a while, a truce was called so the city could
bury its dead, and so medical supplies could be brought
in. No supplies made it into the city, but the casualties
were entombed in soccer fields that were renamed 'Martyr's
Graveyards.' Jamail photographed the fields of burial mounds,
and translated the names on many of the headstones. A majority
of those stones bore the names of women and children.
the lull between attacks, the citizens of Fallujah flooded
the streets in a massive victory celebration, unaware that
the worst was yet to come. The rage they vented on the Fallujah
streets was proof enough that American tactics are manufacturing
resistance fighters every day.
long after, the second phase of the punishment of Fallujah
began, this time as an aerial bombardment of the city that
left thousands dead and wounded. Bodies remained unburied
in the streets to bloat in the sun and be gnawed by dogs.
One Jamail photo from Fallujah showed the shattered, rotting
corpse of a man lying next to his prosthetic leg. It seems
this one-legged man was an enemy of freedom, a feast for
dogs in the hot Iraqi sun.
Pentagon has a phrase for the photos and reports Dahr Jamail
was able to bring back to us from his time in Iraq. They
call it 'Hostile Information,' otherwise known as unassailable
facts that cut violently against the pretty portrait and
non-news the American people have been spoon-fed about our
occupation of that country.
you believed the situation there was bad, it's worse than
you can imagine, a war crime writ large, a grinding of a
civilian population that was no threat to America and is
now caught between hot steel and a cold grave. 'Horror'
is not a strong enough word to describe what Dahr Jamail
showed us that night, what he saw with his own eyes, what
almost no American has been allowed to see because 'Hostile
Information' is not permitted. It does not fit into the
consensus contrived by the media. It is not part of the
pleasant fiction. But it is happening, every day, right
now, it is happening.
of the pleasant fiction, have you heard about that leaked
secret British intelligence memo? Have you seen it covered
on the TV news? I haven't. I haven't even seen mention of
it in the print realm. It must not be important.
document almost reads like satire. "Bush wanted to remove
Saddam," reads the leaked secret British intelligence memo
dated 23 July 2002, "through military action, justified
by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence
and facts were being fixed around the policy." The intelligence
and facts were being fixed around the policy? You don't
say. Some tasty tidbits from this memo:
seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military
action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the
case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors,
and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North
Korea or Iran."
the fact that Hussein was considered less of a threat than
Iran, North Korea and even Libya, Bush had made up his mind
to invade. Wrapping this around the flatly-declared statement
that the intelligence and facts were being framed around
the 'policy,' i.e. the invasion, is damning.
Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change
was not a legal base for military action. There were three
possible legal bases: self-defense, humanitarian intervention,
or UNSC authorization. The first and second could not be
the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years
ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change."
British Attorney General made it clear that the war plan
as constituted was illegal. Therefore, other justifications
for war were required. "The situation might of course change,"
reads the text. It did. They fabricated WMD evidence to
Prime Minister said that it would make a big difference
politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the
UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the
sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD.
There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and
Iran. If the political context were right, people would
support regime change. The two key issues were whether the
military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy
to give the military plan the space to work."
many ways, this is the worst of the three, and brings to
mind again my conversation with that MSNBC producer. Hans
Blix and his inspectors went into Iraq and found no weapons
of mass destruction in their searches. Ergo, there was no
self-defense justification and no legal basis for war. Yet
in order to create the legal and political justification
of self-defense, as stated in the memo, Hussein had to be
seen as blocking those inspections. He didn't. In fact,
it was the Bush administration (with a little help from
the media) that thwarted Blix while stacking hundreds of
thousands of troops on the border. At one point, Bush even
went so far as to declare that Hussein had actually not
allowed the inspectors in, even as Blix and his people were
shaking the Iraqi dust off their boots.
of people have been bellowing about this for years now,
often risking their own well-being and that of their families
in the process. Richard Clarke, former White House Counter-Terrorism
Czar, spent a lot of time talking about how the books were
being cooked to justify an invasion of Iraq. Tom Maertens,
who was National Security Council director for nuclear non-proliferation
for both the Clinton and Bush White House, backed up Clarke's
story with his own eyewitness testimony.
Cressey, Clarke's former deputy, witnessed one of the most
damning charges that has been leveled against the administration
by Clarke: They blew past al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks,
focusing instead on Iraq. Donald Kerrick, a three-star General
who served as deputy National Security Advisor under Clinton
and stayed for several months in the Bush White House, likewise
saw this happening.
O'Neill, former Treasury Secretary for George W. Bush, was
afforded a position on the National Security Council because
of his job as Treasury Secretary, and sat in on the Iraq
invasion planning sessions which were taking place months
before the attacks of September 11. Those planning sessions
kicked into high gear when the Towers came down.
Thielmann, former Director of the Office of Strategic, Proliferation,
and Military Issues in the State Department, watched with
shock and awe as the White House rolled out the 'uranium
from Niger' war justifications that had been so thoroughly
debunked. Joseph Wilson, former ambassador and career diplomat,
was the one who debunked it.
Wilson described what he didn't see in Niger in the New
York Times, the White House reached out and crushed his
wife's career. His wife, Valerie Plame, was a deep-cover
CIA agent running a network dedicated to tracking any person,
group or nation that would give weapons of mass destruction
to terrorists. The White House torpedoed her career and
her network as a warning to Wilson, and to any other whistleblower
who might come forward.
most damning testimony regarding "fixing intelligence and
facts around the policy" came from Air Force Lt. Colonel
Karen Kwiatkowski. Kwiatkowski worked in the office of Undersecretary
for Policy Douglas Feith, and worked specifically with a
secretive outfit called the Office of Special Plans. Kwiatkowski's
own words tell her story: "From May 2002 until February
2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon's
Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of
the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus
in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq."
saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy," continued Kwiatkowski,
"favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used
to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship
between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence
agencies. I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within
OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments,
and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis
promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress
and the executive office of the president." In other words,
they fixed the intelligence and facts around the policy.
The policy, of course, was invasion.
of these people, and others like them who reported similar
intelligence book-cooking, were brushed off by the White
House, dismissed out of hand as liars, or worse, Democrats.
Most of them were likewise totally ignored by the media.
With the leaking of the secret British intelligence memo,
however, their reports have been confirmed.
McGovern, a 27-year veteran CIA analyst, nails it to the
door. "It has been a hard learning - that folks tend to
believe what they want to believe," wrote McGovern in an
essay regarding this leaked memo. "As long as our evidence,
however abundant and persuasive, remained circumstantial,
it could not compel belief. It simply is much easier on
the psyche to assent to the White House spin machine blaming
the Iraq fiasco on bad intelligence than to entertain the
notion that we were sold a bill of goods. Well, you can
butcher's bill to date: 1,610 American soldiers dead, times
ten grievously wounded; well over 100,000 Iraqi citizens
dead, uncounted more wounded, with a recent upsurge of violence
claiming more than 300 lives in the last week alone; a twelve-figure
price tag that spirals ever-upwards by the day, mortgaging
our children's future for the profits of the few; no weapons
of mass destruction anywhere in Iraq.
my humble opinion, we need two exit strategies: one to get
our forces out of Iraq, and another to get George W. Bush
out of the White House and into a cellblock in The Hague.
Save a bunk for Mr. Blair, too. Criminals belong in prison.
this doesn't fit the fiction, it grates against the consensus,
and it also by the way would cut significantly into media
profits if they were no longer able to sell fear and war.
CNN's viewership went up 500% after September 11. Have you
any idea the advertising dollar-value a ratings boost like
that brings along? They aren't dumb. Fear sells. Soul-scorching
fear sells really well.
ask me for solutions to this, and I don't have any that
will improve things in the near term. The media needs to
be re-regulated, and the fairness doctrine needs to be put
back into place. In order to do this, however, we have to
win a whole bunch of elections, and we have to do so by
beating candidates who are supremely well-funded by these
media giants. Somewhere in there we have to fix that whole
pesky thing about rigged corporate-owned electronic voting
machines and the end of participatory democracy as we have
known it. One thing at a time, right?
solution I have been advocating has to do with the alternative
media, the online media. While it is great that websites
like truthout, alternet, common dreams and the others have
been churning out hard facts and good analysis, the problem
is that this information is not getting to the people it
needs to get to. I give talks like this to people who love
truthout, and what happens is that I spend an hour in a
room telling people basically what they already know.
we in the alternate media need to do, and what you media
activists need to do, is advocate hard in your own communities
for the providing of computers and internet access to poor
and rural communities. In other words, we need to wire up
the people who need this information, who get lied to by
their televisions every day, who send their sons and daughters
off to die so Halliburton and Exxon can line their pockets.
I know this stuff, you know it, but too many others don't
even have access to it. That has to change.
other solution isn't really workable in the real world.
During a book tour I did a couple of years ago, I went to
a whole bunch of red states: Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Montana,
Orange County California (yes, that counts as a red state),
North Carolina and the recently blueified New Hampshire.
I would talk like this about the TV news media, and then
I would ask the people in the crowd if any of them owned
guns. These were red states, so a fair number of hands went
up. Good, I said. Excellent. Go home and shoot your television.
They laughed, but I was totally serious.
have this dream. In my dream, I turn on my TV and CNN is
on. Some talking head is there to do the top of the hour
report. In my dream, the talking head says, "Today in Iraq,
the 26,000 liters of anthrax, the 38,000 liters of botulinum
toxin, the 500 tons which is one million pounds of sarin,
mustard and VX gas, the 30,000 munitions to deliver these
agents, the mobile biological weapons labs, the uranium
from Niger and the robust nuclear weapons program that George
W. Bush told us about in his January 2003 State of the Union
address were, once again, not found anywhere. Now here's
Flappy with the weather."
Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally
bestselling author of two books: War
on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know
Greatest Sedition Is Silence.