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Media Beat

Media historically ignores the consequences of going to war



As the political turmoil over the Iraq war escalates in Washington, it is a faint shadow of the horrendous violence that was unleashed on people in Iraq starting with the invasion more than 50 months ago. But in mid-July 2007, as is often the case, the USA’s front pages and primetime newscasts are focusing on the politics of American warmaking more than its human consequences.

The tensions between Congress and the White House will grow more pronounced in the weeks and months ahead. Many psychodramas – some, for the first time, pitting Republicans against their leader in the Oval Office – are sure to make for dramatic journalistic storylines. Along the way, developments will often be dubiously reported as surprising if not downright astonishing.

Many events cannot be predicted, but – in the light of history – the progression of recent pro-war maneuvers in American politics has been predictable. Not because history simplistically repeats itself, but because so many of the same basic elements of Americana now in place were also the basis for what transpired in U.S. media and political realms during the Vietnam War. History is not a closed loop, but it tends to be a spiral.

The historical record gives more than ample reason to conclude that willingness to serve as accessories to a war based on mendacity is not the aberration of one particular party, administration, or coterie of journalists.

Blame Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, or George W. Bush, all you want, but they did not invent the depraved and murderous gambits that manipulated the news media and plunged the country evermore deeply into war. Blame the credulous press of 1964, or the credulous press of 2002, all you want – but the reputedly top journalists of each era did not invent their techniques of serving the powerful any more than they laid those techniques to rest.

If “Rip Van Nam” woke up today after a 38-year sleep, the dynamic along Pennsylvania Avenue in July 2007 would be familiar – with the president under enormous pressure to show “progress” in a war that should never have been started in the first place. The shortcomings of an illegitimate host regime (in Saigon then, Baghdad now), reliant on the occupying forces, are the whipping boys of countless officials and pundits who have to cast the blame somewhere for the U.S. military’s inability to subdue the resistance to the imperial carnage being inflicted in the land of the resisting.

Almost 40 years ago, President Richard Nixon proclaimed that the U.S. government had previously “Americanized the war in Vietnam” but that “we are Vietnamizing the search for peace.” It wasn’t much more than an echo of the same idea when President George W. Bush learned to recite the line: “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”

And, there was a certain venerable motif of demagoguery at work when Nixon’s upwardly mobile butler-like vice president, Spiro Agnew, told a group of upper-crust Republican diners feasting on his words: “In the United States today we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Taking his turn in the longterm spiral, Vice President Dick Cheney told another wealthdrenched audience of war enthusiasts at a formal gathering: “The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone, but we’re not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.”

And so the spiral has gone, with some critical media coverage but a great deal more media assistance. Long after establishing massive records of duplicity, people in very high Washington places have benefited from journalistic co-dependence so extreme as to border on the pathological. Day by day, year by year, reporters have conflated intimidation with respect, cowardice with professionalism, conformity with objectivity and boat-rocking with bias. The warfare state and its few bloated beneficiaries have been the winners. The rest of us have already lost far more than the mainline press can ever say.

©2007 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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