Harvest of Shame II


I 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.

April 28, 2007