Harvest of Shame II

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have never really believed the old saying from the 1960s that the
"medium is the message." But there can be no doubt that
some media is better than others for driving home certain points.

What I am
referring to is the influence good television documentaries can
have in general and the overwhelming power, in particular, of the
Bill Moyers' piece called "Buying
the War
" that aired on PBS last Wednesday night. This is
a long overdue look at the way the main street media bought with
virtually no reservations the "case" for war that was
sold through them to the American people by the Bush administration
beginning soon after September 11, 2001.

Moyers and
his production team brilliantly retell the story of Bush's push
for a war on Iraq. They mix well-known footage from the days, weeks
and months leading up to "shock and awe" with tales of
how the establishment media accepted the awful schlock they were
being sold with no questions asked on their part.

It is all
there to painfully remind us of how the sale was orchestrated:

  1. References
    to Richard Clarke's recollections in Against
    All Enemies
    of Bush pressing him to review the "intelligence"
    regarding Iraq's involvement in the terrorist attacks on New
    York and Washington.

  2. A copy
    of the internal defense department memo of the same time ordering
    personnel to "sweep it all up" and "go massive"
    with searches for ties between Iraq, weapons of mass destruction
    and terrorist groups.

  3. Excerpts
    from Dick Cheney's August of 2002 speech before a veterans'
    group declaring that Iraq was near to reconstituting its nuclear
    weapons program.

  4. Notation
    of Andy Card's famous remark that "you don't start selling"
    a new product in a big way until after Labor Day.

  5. The appearances
    of Bush administration officials on the Sunday talk shows the
    very morning that Judith Miller's exclusive investigative report
    on Iraq's search for aluminum tubes and uranium with which to
    manufacture nuclear bombs was published in the New York Times.

  6. Clips
    of Condi Rice, Bush and others warning that the "smoking
    gun could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

  7. The recitation
    of (what now can only be called the laughable) arguments Colin
    Powell made before the United Nations just weeks prior to our
    invasion of Iraq.

  8. Excerpts
    from Bush's last press conference before the war which include
    his constant references to its scripted nature.

But these
elements of the documentary manufacture only singles, doubles and
triples. The home runs (some of them grand slams) come when Moyers
interviews media heavyweights about their role in this tragic matter.

Two players,
Dan Rather and Tim Russert, come off as tremendously diminished
and even pathetic under the lights Moyers shines on them. Russert
laments that none of his renowned sources had called him to warn
him off the claim that the aluminum tubes constantly sited by the
administration were suitable for use in the production of nuclear
weapons. Moyers then refers to Bob Simon of CBS News and comments
that he didn't wait for such calls to come in from his sources but
made inquiries on his own. Simon goes on to relate how simple it
was to uncover the hoax.

Rather talks
about the tremendous — largely unnamed — new pressures that journalists
(as compared, say, to those patrolling the streets of Baghdad?)
face today. He also talks about how very, very hard the work of
being a journalist is but fails to mention how large the rewards,
both financial and otherwise, have been for Russert, him and others
of their ilk. Rather sounds like Bush when he talks about how hard
the jobs needing to be done by them are to do. To him given much,
apparently, little or nothing can be expected.

But at least
Rather and Russert were willing to appear on the show. The same
can not be said for Judith Miller, Bill Kristol, Roger Ailes and
many other journalists who beat the drums for war but refused Moyers'
invitations to defend their work that led to the catastrophe that
is Iraq today.

Another highlight
of the documentary is the interviews Moyer conducted with Knight-Ridder's
wonderful journalists and independent thinkers like Norman Solomon.
The latter is the author of War
Made Easy
which is a very important book on related subjects
that was reviewed on this web site over a year ago.

Missing, however,
from Moyers' discussion was much or any reference to the work that
could have been found on the Internet prior to the invasion of Iraq.
This web site, antiwar.com and other important venues should have
been recognized for the work that they did and the information that
they made available — much of it from the foreign press — to their
readers at the time. If viewers of Fox News were and still are the
most likely to believe Iraq was involved in some way with the events
of 9-11, regular users of the Internet sites listed above were and
are the most skeptical of Bush administration claims regarding American
foreign policy in general and the war on terrorism in particular.
And, I might add, good for us and God Bless these nontraditional
sources of information regarding current affairs.

Decades ago
CBS News did a documentary called "Harvest of Shame" about
the terrible living conditions faced by migrant farm workers in
the United States. One can only wish it were true that shame was
the lone harvest to come from the war on Iraq. Unfortunately, the
shame reaped by the main street media and others in this instance
was a product of and is in addition to the senseless death and relentless
destruction that has followed in this war's shockingly awful wake.

28, 2007

W. Tofte [send him mail] is
the manager of the BWIA Private Investment Fund and the author of
Principled and Grow Rich: Your Guide to Investing Successfully in
Both Bull and Bear Markets
. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

W. Tofte Archives

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