All the President's Lies

In recent weeks, the press and some Democrats have finally taken up a critical White House deception about Iraq and uranium. What took them so long? And what about all the other lies?

"For years, Soros and his NGOs have gone about their work extending the boundaries of the "free world" so skillfully that hardly anyone noticed. Now a Texan redneck and a gang of overzealous neo-cons have blown it."

Soros is emblematic of the only kind of establishment critic Bush has had here in the U.S.: the ones who wonder if preemptive invasions are the right way to go at the thing. But they have no quarrel with his larger aims. Despite the few lonely cranks who, like Byrd, still call the U.S. Congress home, there is nothing like an anti-imperialist wing in either party or in U.S. media.

For that reason, Bush's putative opponents and watchdogs have had no place to stand, practically or philosophically, so long as what he was doing could be spun as a success on the evening news. If a majority of the people continued to think his war was a success, who was going to be first to call it a failure? But poll numbers and recent invocations of the q-word (quagmire, see: Vietnam) prove that far fewer people now deem the war a success. Bush got the briefest of news-cycle bounces from tracking down Uday and Qusay, but it won't change the situation on the ground in Iraq. The bad news will continue to dribble in. The war is not going well, which means the rules of engagement between the Bushmen, the Democrats, and the media are shifting.

Tyler J. Clements


Over half a century has passed since the last time an American president undertook to shift the whole footing of U.S. foreign policy and American empire in quite so radical a manner. When the Truman administration began the military buildup that ushered in the Cold War, it was as untroubled by facts as the Bush administration. Afterward, as Gore Vidal tells it, "[Dean] Acheson wrote, cheerfully, 'If we did make our points clearer than truth, we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise.' After all, as he noted, it was the State Department's view that the average American spent no more than 10 minutes a day brooding on foreign policy."

But Bush has it better than Truman in one regard. For purposes of managing public opinion, "the news" now means TV news, where surveys say 75-85 percent of the public gets most of its meager daily allowance of information. There are six major TV news operations in the country now--five, really, since NBC and its Microsoft-branded cable version are two of them. Control what they've got to say and you possess the equivalent of a state-run news agency with all the (rapidly diminishing) cachet of a free press.

And it's never been simpler to control what the networks have to say. And, though they matter less, the same can be said of most of the newspapers most of the time. "The press in this country," wrote James Wolcott in the June Vanity Fair, "has never identified less with the underdog and pandered more to the top pedigrees. The arrogance of the Bush administration is mirrored in the arrogance of the elite media, which preens even as it prostrates itself."

Part of the growing worthlessness of TV news derives from economic pressures, the same ones that have turned network entertainment divisions into production lines for reality TV shows, a spoon-fed and mostly spurious programming phenomenon driven mainly by the minuscule cost of these shows versus old-school sitcoms and dramas. In the broadcast news departments and at the cable networks, the age of austerity has meant cutting back on the resources devoted to newsgathering: reporters, foreign bureaus, production personnel. The change has wrought a predictable transformation in the mindset of the working broadcast journalist. As the distinction between informing and entertaining fades to the vanishing point, so does any notion that TV news might exist for purposes beyond pleasing the viewer. Gathering the news has become a matter of getting the best live shots, telling a tidy and gratifying "human" story, making the heroes look like heroes and the correspondents look like models. Critics of behemoth corporate media have always fretted about the top-down pressures on journalists to watch what they say, but it's hard to imagine that most contemporary network journalists have a single thought in their heads that might distress their bosses. (When they do, though, they are hauled straight to the woodshed, as MSNBC's Ashleigh Banfield learned after telling a campus lecture audience that TV news did a poor job of covering numerous aspects of the war.)

Money is also one reason why there is no news on the cable news networks during the evening time slots, when the greatest share of viewers tune in. It's far cheaper to lard the schedule with talking heads who earn their keep finding ways to restate what official sources have already said. The format is a great boon to the White House. It serves to do the heavy lifting required of any serious propaganda campaign, which is sheer numbing repetition. More felicitously still, the ranks of prominent opinion-makers on TV, radio, and the internet are dominated by tub-thumping carnival barkers of the right such as Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and the Fox ensemble, who set the agenda for the (also right-wing) chat-show "liberals" chasing their fumes.

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