Standing before a German cameraman in Biloxi,
Miss., Christine Adelhardt, spoke
to her countrymen:
"Two minutes ago, the president drove past in his convoy. But what has happened
in Biloxi all day long is truly unbelievable. Suddenly recovery units appeared,
suddenly bulldozers were there, those hadn't been seen here all the days before,
and this in an area, in which it really wouldn't be necessary to do a big clean-up,
because far and wide nobody lives here anymore, the people are more inland in
the city. The president travels with a press baggage [big crew]. This press
baggage got very beautiful pictures, which are supposed to say that the president
was here and help is on the way, too. The extent of the natural disaster shocked
me, but the extent of the staging is shocking me at least the same way. With
that, back to Hamburg."
But this German report contrasts sharply with press coverage in America, where
a complicit media routinely assesses such image manipulation to be less than
newsworthy. It is, as Yogi Berra would say, "déjà vu all over
Flashback to April 9, 2003: Saddam's statue topples in Fardus Square, Baghdad.
Hours of American television time are devoted to showing purportedly spontaneous
celebrations by masses of jubilant
and enthusiastic Iraqis. Donald Rumsfeld pronounces the scene "breathtaking."
The press agrees. CNN labels a highly
cropped photograph, "Crowds cheer as statue of Saddam Hussein falls."
not shown by mainstream media is the uncropped
photograph of Fardus Square, which reveals the notably dissimilar scene
of a stage-managed media event. It remains for alternative media both to release
the photo and to report
that the staged event features, instead of indigenous Baghdad residents (as
the mainstream media reports), members of Ahmed Chalabi's Free Iraqi Forces
Militia who have been flown into Iraq by the Pentagon. (Chalabi was the scandal-plagued
London banker favored by Washington to head the new Iraqi government until he
was discredited as both a major source of false WMD "intelligence" and a spy
Day in and day out, as in both of these staged
photo-ops, members of the allegedly liberal media establishment in America dutifully
dispense manipulated and misleading images to a believing public. At Fardus
Square, this occurred despite the fact that most American journalists were staying
in the Palestine Hotel, directly across the square from Saddam's statue, with
a clear view of the proceedings. If the average American is to see these exploited
events for what they are, he must rely on information sources other than the
mainstream American media.
Notwithstanding incessant protestations of "liberal media bias" by Bush supporters,
the American media has been an indispensable
ally in disseminating the administration's public relations narrative. The
reality of the (much maligned) New York Times and Washington Post
administration prewar claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and the
detested "liberal media" dutifully beating
the drums of war and mocking
valiant congressional efforts to expose
the "fixing" of prewar "intelligence" have yet to register with the Bush
The remarkable aspect of the misleading photo-ops described above is not, in
fact, the administration's duplicity. Rather, it is the casual, business-as-usual
state of acquiescence and indisputable collaboration with the powers that be
to which the "liberal media" has descended. It is no coincidence that
we only know of the events in Biloxi because of the serendipitous presence of
an incredulous German TV crew.
Of what consequence is such an unquestioning and
complicit American media?
One could, of course, complain of the diversion of scarce resources to public
relations purposes during a time of crisis, but the damage to our republic is
much more fundamental than the inefficient utilization of a few bulldozers in
Media complicity is a necessary daily component of the Karl Rove/Frank Luntz
This most effective of modern political hegemonies does not control the framing
of public discourse only through the efforts of unabashed administration partisans
in talk radio, Fox News, and the endless stream of commentators and wannabe
empire-builders hatched at incestuous neoconservative think tanks.
Control of the framing of the issues of public discourse is only possible
if aided by the silence and the active complicity of an intimidated
and fearful media.
In Iraq, misrepresentation by the media of the staged celebrations at the
toppling of Saddam's statue reinforced the unrealistic prewar "they'll welcome
us with flowers" mindset. This in turn reinforced a misinformed American bullishness
that was oblivious to the extent of Iraqi ambivalence about a foreign military
presence. Unquestionably, most Iraqis were delighted to be rid of Saddam. But
this gratitude was, in fact, tempered by the fear that America coveted her resources,
desired a controlling presence in the Middle East, and that American forces
would be in Iraq permanently.
With America thus disconnected from Iraqi sentiments, the opportunity for the
Bush administration to allay Iraqi fears was squandered in subsequent months.
By not moving quickly to transfer power to Iraqis, and by not disclaiming the
intent for a permanent military presence in Iraq, administration actions unfortunately
confirmed rather than calmed Iraqi fears.
Iraqi public opinion polls give clear confirmation of this squandered opportunity.
that while 43 percent of Iraqis said they had viewed Americans as "liberators"
at the time of the invasion, one year later this number had declined to 19 percent.
Polls commissioned by the U.S.-backed Coalition
Provisional Authority were even more grim: by May 2004, only
2 percent of Iraqis identified Americans as "liberators." Forty-one
percent favored immediate withdrawal, 45 percent wanted withdrawal after the
election of a permanent government, and 6
percent favored our staying as long as coalition forces thought necessary
Despite the president's repeated
promises of "no
territorial ambitions," "no
desire to dominate," statements that "the
occupation will end," and beguiling talk of "bringing home our troops,"
the undeniable reality of the unabated construction of untold millions of dollars
worth of permanent
bases is the proverbial "elephant in the living room."
With the overwhelming majority of both Sunnis and Shi'ites opposed to a permanent
American military presence, and with the fear of an unending occupation fueling
an intractable insurgency, W.
Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute
– and the top Iraq expert there – summarizes
"I don't think that you can kill the insurgency. … We have a growing, maturing
insurgency group. … We see larger and more coordinated military attacks. They
are getting better and they can self-regenerate. The idea there are x number
of insurgents, and that when they're all dead we can get out is wrong. The insurgency
has shown an ability to regenerate itself because there are people willing to
fill the ranks of those who are killed. The political culture is more hostile
to the U.S. presence. The longer we stay, the more they are confirmed in that
In the face of the dissonance between the president's "no occupation" rhetoric
and the reality of continued construction of permanent bases, burdened with
an intractable insurgency with no discernible end, we must progress with the
additional encumbrance of an intimidated and compliant press that will not challenge
these presidential contradictions.
A press that collaborates in routine image manipulation and disingenuous photo-ops
is not a press that will demand answers to grave discrepancies between rhetoric
Our second president, John Adams, warned,
"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people."
And our fourth, James Madison, advised,
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their
own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
An American public detached from reality is not a public that will compel a
necessary correction of our national course.
And an American public detached from reality is the most damaging consequence
of our servile and complicit media.