All the News That’s Fit To Print … and Then There’s the US Government
by Karen Kwiatkowski
"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges.I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"
~ Gold Hat, as played by Alfonso Bedoya
"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948)
The Jayson Blair plagiarism project is fascinating, and the New York Times is taking steps to prevent future occurrences. Not born yesterday, so are the Times’ peers and competitors in the news business, including even (gasp) Fox News.
The published corrections to Jayson’s stories and the many mea culpas from the Times, at great expense in column inches and reputation, speak to a kind of accountability that makes a newspaper great, and keeps it vibrant. Yes, it also hurts and is embarrassing. As we used to say in Washington, mistakes were made.
Of course, this kind of accountability only applies in some places. When the pronouncements from our public servants inside the beltway are shown to be incorrect, false, plagiarized, and in all opposition to basic truth, one might expect retractions and corrections, and vilification of the liars.
Well, one might expect it, but one mustn’t hold one’s breath.
President Bush – when he finally settled on a reason for the invasion of Iraq (and he certainly gave that a lot of thought, didn’t he!) – finally told everyone that Saddam’s WMD stockpiles were threatening the United States. This was compounded by the second favorite reason for the takeover, Saddam’s alliance with Osama bin Laden.
Well, our special WMD search teams just returned home because they couldn’t find squat. And we won’t allow the UN inspectors back in, just in case they make us look bad for not finding squat. Making us look bad is apparently worse than proving we were right about the stockpiles. Note: truth has no place in this syllogism.
Same goes for Osama and the rest of the terrorist connection. Oh well, never mind.
Iraqis of all persuasions are confused about US colonial intentions, with the firing of the governors, continual mixed messages, and the strange behavior of the US handpicked Iraqi leadership. As in Afghanistan, lawlessness and violence seem to be the order of the day. Just this morning, CNN reported live from Baghdad that not only were families keeping their children and young women home from school, work and shopping, even the middle-aged women – who in the secular state of Iraq actually worked outside the home, in businesses, in science, marketing, and education (what a concept – sure glad we put an end to that!) – were staying behind locked doors for their own protection.
Did a Talibani hitchhiker ride into Baghdad with US forces? We were in a rush, you know! Maybe we missed the little bastard!
Yet not even thirty minutes later I listened to George W. Bush give a speech where he talked about the grand and glorious liberation of both places, and how soon the electricity will be back on, and how everything’s going to be getting back to normal, any day now. He forgot to mention what planet he is from, but I didn’t get to watch the whole speech.
Wasn’t "normal" what we were determined to disrupt and destroy with our regime changes? Never mind. It is clearer than ever that Lord Byron had the right idea when he said, "Who would be free themselves must strike the blow." I’ve no doubt the Iraqis and Afghanis have their own version of this maxim, and it’s probably sinking in about now. Heck, we may even have to send more troops over!
We plagiarized and falsified intelligence, we lied blatantly to the American public, and the formerly respected Rumsfeld earned, with repeated hard squints and my goodnesses, his new nickname of Shifty. We casually ignored evidence of our lies, even after wide exposure, and whenever possible, we attacked the messenger. Interestingly, recent firings of Bush appointees were preceded by rare instances of honesty.
Not long ago, Army Secretary White publicly backed up Army Chief of Staff, General Shinseki, when the latter disagreed with the Shifty/Bush team’s estimate of forces required to "do" Iraq. Shinseki was already retiring and White could have easily lied for the big boys. But White chose truth in this case, and while his job security was always debatable, it was only after this instance of honesty that he was fired.
Retired Army Lt General Jay Garner told reporters, including a Christian Science Monitor reporter who used it in a 25 April piece, that he did not feel Ahmed Chalabi – ex-pat banking felon with close ties to Wolfowitz and Perle – would be the Iraqi people’s choice, or his personal choice. Garner has been replaced.
US Army Lt General William Scott Wallace, Commander of 5th Corps, made an honest statement contradicting another one of Shifty’s lies from the Pentagon, relating to Pentagon preparedness. He refused to apologize for telling the truth. Wallace has been relieved of command.
There are other examples of the lying – publicity of amateurishly forged "intelligence" gathered in Niger, Tony Blair’s presentation of "Saddam as threat to the West" lifted word for word from a graduate student’s paper written a decade ago. The list is legion.
As the Jayson Blair case shows, the media are willing to spend significant capital to publish the "truth" and preserve reputations for being accurate and honest. In fighting lies, the New York Times is showing us the way.
Meanwhile, when White House and Pentagon lies are exposed, the response is inverted. It ignores, denies, attacks, or fires anyone who tells the truth. Like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, these old men in Washington sneer at a fresh-faced America and say "Truth? You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!"
The latest Pentagon gambit is a classic. Shifty has denied Congressmen and women the right to conduct fact-finding visits to Iraq.
Gold Hat must have been smiling when Shifty got the Congressional requests for the visits. Squinting, his wiry frame tense and itching for a fight, Shifty says, "Facts? We ain't got no facts. We don't need no facts. I don't have to show you any stinking facts!"
Most Americans are watching the Jayson Blair plagiarism project with some satisfaction. They nod to each other, and condemn the lying. These same Americans have memorized famous favorite movie lines, those lines with shared cultural meaning, those that remind us of our reverence for courage and honesty and independence. Yet strangely, we do not hold the state responsible for even occasional courage or honesty or independence, and we happily listen to fantastic bedtime stories of statist imperialism, foreign and domestic, and beg for more.
Getting more truth out of Washington is about as likely as Jayson getting his job back with the New York Times. But the news isn’t all bad. Maybe Jayson Blair can get one of those positions that seem to be opening up every day at the Pentagon and the White House. He’d be perfect!
May 15, 2003
Karen Kwiatkowski [send her mail] is a recently retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent her final four and a half years in uniform working at the Pentagon. She now lives with her freedom-loving family in the Shenandoah Valley.
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