is it okay for the press to lie?
to right itself after stumbling in hurricane Katrina’s wake,
the Bush administration is relying on what it does best:
lying. Lying about easily researched and refuted subjects.
It seems stupid, but it has worked well in the past for
get me wrong; I know politicians lie. Just never this much,
or this obviously. Right now, the mantra on millions of
lips is that the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of
Louisiana are primarily responsible for the mess. The federal
government, we are told, did not have the authority to act.
It’s the local officials who stonewalled and dragged this
just isn’t true. In fact it is a lie—a clear, non-debatable
lie. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Governor Blanco
requested that Bush declare a federal emergency days before
the hurricane landed, on August 26th, which he
did—three days later. The rules from there are very clear:
once it’s a federal emergency, it’s under federal jurisdiction.
the Washington Post claimed Blanco hadn’t declared a state
of emergency until September 3rd – a week later
than when she did. Newsweek made a similar claim. Both have
since been corrected, but it’s too late for that to matter.
Fox News’ Brit Hume said that Bush convinced Blanco to start
evacuating residents. Rush Limbaugh said he begged
her to do it.
are all lies. Not mistakes. Lies in the service of power.
Obviously, this isn’t anything new. The only difference
is that this time, so far, they don’t seem to be working.
Bush’s poll numbers are just as bad as when he started smearing
Blanco and N.O. Mayor Nagin, whose 2 or 300 school buses,
without drivers, turned into thousands overnight.
time, the bullshit is too smelly. Nobody’s buying, except
for the most loyal buffoons. Even some members of the press
are asking hard questions, and asking them again when they
don’t get answers.
administration seems to be so out of touch that they are
actually astounded to be challenged, even when telling obvious
lies. And why wouldn’t they be shocked? It must seem really
strange, when they’ve been telling such huge whoppers for
so long, to suddenly get called on it. These guys have made
careers out of lying; the have told so many lies of such
magnitude for so long, and the press has swallowed it whole
and rarely bothered to correct itself. They have no clue
how full of shit they sound, because there’s no one to tell
them. According to Newsweek, Bush’s staff had to put together
a DVD of television news coverage of New Orleans, so the
president could understand why his poll numbers were dropping.
after all the lies about Iraq, the deficit, lies about reducing
mercury emissions, about global warming, prisoner abuse,
Joe Wilson, John Kerry, and a thousand other things, is
it any wonder that the last thing they would expect would
be skepticism from Wolf Blitzer? Even now, the crisis subsides,
and once again we hear the lies.
is no greater example of the media’s tendency to cradle
Bush as they criticize him than the soulless hacks at Time
magazine. In Mike Allen’s recent piece on the bungled disaster
response and “Bush’s plan to show he isn’t isolated,” he’s
too busy fluffing the president to really swipe at him much.
It’s clear from reading articles like this that the press
really do live in their own world—a world where Bush “banks
on his image as a straight shooter,” where his month-long
vacations are alarming because it gives his opponents “an
opening for capturing the news agenda.” But by far my favorite
quote from this piece is this: “Louisiana officials say
it took hours for Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to
reach Bush (although when she did, he talked to her soothingly,
according to White House officials).”
Isn’t that cute? Doesn’t that just make it all better?
detailing the many systemic problems within his administration
which led to Bush’s oblivious non-response, Allen reports
of Bush’s “three-part comeback plan,” which includes, as
part 2: “The White House has sent delegates to meetings
in Washington of outside Republican groups who have plans
to blame the Democrats and state and local officials.”
is simply reported as part of this “comeback” plan, with
no hint of judgment, no acknowledgment of the fact that
it’s a despicable, unethical course of action. This is their
plan. This is what they’re thinking about—deflecting blame.
And Time is here to help. Now that most of the dying is
over, this disaster, like everything else, is a ‘political
football,’ another match to be played between the two parties.
Reality has nothing to do with it; the match is played in
your mind, through the press, and control of your perceptions
is the prize. And you are used to it by now.
why it doesn’t sound completely fucking bonkers that Bush
can “respond” to the Katrina crisis with a week-late speech,
and get big points, at least on the right, for doing so.
There he was, all lit up (with power from generators that
could have gone to better use) in kindler gentler blue,
a few hundred feet away from the rotting, bloated corpses
of the people he’d let down, and making promises, “taking
responsibility,” as if that means anything to an unimpeachable
rather than reacting like any normal person would to a guy
who has lied to them on a daily basis for 5 years, the press
gets excited, even before it happens—leading to insanely
horrid headlines like “Bush Plans Speech; Death Toll Rises”
at the L.A. Times.
if you’re okay with that, you should not be okay with the
lies. When Bush said nobody could have predicted the levees
would break, it was a lie and everybody knew it…but nobody
cared. When Tom Delay said there was no fat left to trim
in the congressional budget, well, you just keep waiting
for him to slough off an entire layer of skin at once, or
swallow a live rabbit whole, don’t you?
look at recent statistical pocket-pool on the poverty rate
further illuminates the unfettering of the bullshit process.
Since team Bush’s PR disaster following Katrina, the administration’s
been hemorrhaging points in opinion polls and scrambling
to alter public perceptions that Bush doesn’t care about
the poor. Unfortunately for them, the numbers aren’t good.
Poverty decreased every year under Clinton, from 15.1 percent
to 11.3 percent. Since Bush took office, it has increased
every year, to 12.7 percent so far. This wouldn’t seem like
something Republicans could spin to their advantage.
why let the truth get in the way? Amazingly, people have
been using these very numbers to make the case that Bush
has reduced poverty. On CNN, the shameless Joe Watkins
compared the poverty rate when Clinton took office—in
other words, the rate handed him by Bush’s dad—to the rate
today: “under Bill Clinton, 15.1 percent of the population
was poor; under President Bush, 12.7 percent of the population
is poor. That's a reduction, that's a good thing.” Again,
this is a lie—there is no other word for it.
it’s a lie that comes from the top, apparently, because
Watkins was not alone. At least Bill O’Reilly was kind enough
to take a number from later on in the Clinton years, but
still early enough to maintain the fantasy that Bush had
reduced poverty: “Halfway through President Clinton's tenure
in office in 1996, the poverty rate was 13.7 percent. Halfway
through President Bush's tenure, the rate is 12.7 percent,
a full point lower.” This isn’t exactly a lie, it’s just
that picking the “halfway” point in Clinton’s stay in office
is meaningless, except as a method of obscuring the truth.
an editorial in the “liberal” Washington Post echoed the
lie: “Since 1999, the [poverty] rate has been edging steadily,
and disturbingly, upward,” an editorial claimed. But hey,
at least they were only off by two years.
the worst thing about this media complicity is that it seems
almost unnecessary at this point: Republican voters seem
unworried about the lies, perfectly willing to believe them
without the help of obsequious media outlets like Time,
Fox, and CNN. They are happy to be lied to, and trained
to lie to themselves. Any item that criticizes Bush, or
even presents facts which reflect poorly on him, is “politically
motivated” and “liberally biased,” and dismissed out of
been a lot of talk of what a great job the media, even cable
outlets, did covering the first few days after Katrina struck
the Gulf Coast. It’s been called a high point, where the
media actually prodded the government into action. But what
made those first three days or so special? Reporting. There
was no spin alley in New Orleans. Nobody’s cell phones worked.
No one was crafting the message. Isolated, all the correspondents
could do was actually report what they saw. And what they
saw was horror, and they told of it. The results were undeniably
compelling, and sometimes amusing—watching Sean Hannity
and Bill O’Reilly try to control a dangerously off-message
Shepard Smith on Fox News, for instance, or Anderson Cooper
telling Senator Mary Landrieu that it was difficult to hear
her congratulate politicians on what a great job they were
doing when rats were devouring corpses in the street.
kind of news – not padded, not spun, just the truth – should
not be considered exceptional. It’s what the press is supposed
to be for, and it’s what they should do every day. Just
here in Crawford, watching the president cut wood, and I
have to say, it’s totally disgusting. He’s been here four
and a half weeks now, and I don’t think I’ve seen him so
much as read a comic book. He gave a speech today, but—you
know, ‘blah blah blah freedom liberty 9-11,’ same old crap.
We’re left to wonder, what the hell does this guy do, anyway?
Do Bush and the terrorists have a gentleman’s agreement
to call a ceasefire during August? Back to you, Wolf.
Anderson. Meanwhile, in congress, Senate Republicans voted
unanimously against an effort to set up an independent investigation
into what went wrong with the federal response to the Katrina
disaster. Since the only possible motive the GOP would have
to squash such an investigation is that they have something
to hide, we can really only draw one conclusion: these people
are fucking douchebags.
a guy can dream, can’t he?