There are two boys in Washington crying wolf as they look toward the Iran-Iraq border – the president and the press. And because communication has been so manipulated and the truth so maimed by these boys before, we don’t know if we should roll our eyes or be rightfully alarmed.
The new bad guys on the media stage are the Quds Force – something out of Star Wars by way of Wag the Dog. The Iranian Quds are doing horrible things, this self-lamed president tells us as he turns his bow-legged swagger toward Iran.
Probably these Quds are bad people – the world is dreadfully full of those – but this administration folds, spindles and mutilates information so flagrantly (global warming reports redacted, Douglas Feith creating alternate realities) that we’re now skeptical if the president says the sky is blue.
“And the newspapers they all went along for the ride,” Bob Dylan sings in the story of Hurricane Carter’s framing for murder.
I read the New York Times front-page story on the Quds today and I think of Judith Miller and so many other reporters getting back-alley whispers from the little darkling lords of this administration (FeithRoveLibbyChalabiFleischer) and breathlessly slopping them on the front page – Saddam has WMDs, we gotta get ‘im.
The administration creates it, the media reports it, and it becomes true, or true enough to act upon. It’s not just Bush or Republicans – LBJ and his crowd were master twisters on Vietnam (read David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, the best book ever on media manipulation and reporters’ courage).
In war, the first casualty is truth, many have observed. Harm truth, and the casualties are legion – countless dead and crippled; our nation’s reputation; our ability as citizens to make informed decisions; democracy; freedom.
I.F.Stone, the fabled independent journalist, railed brilliantly against the kept reporters and private briefings that allow government to too-easily pawn its version of the truth off on the public.
By the time real reporting catches up with the leaks, we’re at war and tens of thousands are dead. “A lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is getting its shoes on,” Mark Twain said — and that was before electronic broadcasting.
A dear colleague and friend, John Gaterud, and my wife Lisa and I call a documentary about I.F. Stone “the bible,” because its words and truths apply to all situations at all times. Grab a copy of this perceptive documentary about government and media and casualties: I.F. Stone’s Weekly from 1973.
And read and listen to reporters you trust, reporters who report rather than just lay pipe for leaks.