L. Neil Smith's
Number 361, April 2, 2006


How Our Shortsighted Media Got Us Into War
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

I like how the cool thing in pro-war circles right now is to say that Iraq is going quite well, but that it's the media's fault for focusing on the bad stuff. Maybe if journalists spent more time checking and balancing the government than ducking claims of Red or Blue bias, we wouldn't've gone to war over faulty intelligence, and there wouldn't be any bad stuff to focus on in the first place.

Three years ago, Americans were led to believe Saddam Hussein's weapons were a given—that "everyone in the world" believed he had them and planned to use them. Now we know the intelligence was wrong. But our assumptions were dead wrong, too. In fact, there were people who said Saddam didn't have weapons. And there were people who said he wasn't a threat. Not all of these people were anti-Bush liberals. Some worked for Bush's father. But you wouldn't've known that as the great snowball of war gained momentum in the media, because Fox News slapped an American flag behind their logo and turned the debate into a pep rally. Anti-war became anti-pro-war. And anti-pro-war became synonymous with anti-Bush or anti-American.

All forms of dissent were then passed off as crazy talk—like Martin Sheen stumbling down the street with tape on his mouth.

I blame Fox for drowning us in their simpleton politics. But I blame the rest of the media for going along with Fox's Red/Blue mentality. The war debate should never have been about which party you supported, or about how much you loved or hated the president. But instead of challenging Fox, many news outlets decided to compete with them. And instead of challenging the government, the press decided to help them, by turning the war into a partisan issue—instead of a program that proposed to kill people (which is what war ultimately is).

As far as I'm concerned, the media are to blame for what we're seeing in Iraq right now. But not for showing us beheadings and bombings. For failing to stop them.

I blame the media for failing to ask any questions. I blame them for failing to let us know whether the war was well researched, so we could make an educated decision whether or not to support it.

I blame the media for putting ratings and commercial success ahead of their role within the country.

I blame them for being shortsighted. And I blame them for being dumb.

If the media were doing their job—if they had any self-respect whatsoever—they would go back and address the WMD issue. They would dissect Colin Powell's U.N. speech. And they would draw some kind of connection between those post-9/11 anthrax letters and the fact that they landed in the laps of major newsmen who sat back as we marched into a WMD-inspired war.

If the media were doing their job, Washington would never get away with dramatically altering our constitutional republic. If they were doing their job, domestic spying wouldn't magically become "terrorist surveillance." The New York Times wouldn't be cowed into covering up warrantless searches before an election. And war supporters wouldn't get away with pounding their chests every time they discover new, unitary powers in their literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

Over the last few years, Washington has churned out fable after fable about soldiers like Jessica Lynch and NFL superhero Pat Tillman. They've passed PR pieces off as legitimate news stories. They've paid Op-Ed writers. They've slapped "Made in the USA" labels on Chinese boxes at press conferences. And the press hasn't connected the dots on any of this.

America has introduced itself to something called Free Speech Zones. We've seen political speech suppressed in the name of campaign finance reform. And the press hasn't tied any of that into the big picture, either.

Torture, rendition, and the suspension of due process have all been inserted into public discourse, as if they have any reasonable place being there. A war has been launched against a country that never attacked us, that had no plans to attack us, that didn't even have the means to attack us, while Usama bin Laden—like OJ's real killers—got away. And still the media act as if this is perfectly normal. Still they fail to connect the dots, still they fail to question the changing war motives, and still they fail to wonder how this war made us safer when Saddam didn't even have weapons to hurt us with.

Yeah, I blame the media, all right. I blame the media for being completely and utterly clueless. I blame them for giving Bush a pass on the stuff he's actually done wrong while harassing him over a hurricane that wouldn't've been so damaging if New Orleans' idiot mayor had bussed his subjects out of town before the busses were covered in water.

I blame the media for letting Republicans squander our goodwill after 9/11. I blame them for letting Democrats roll over and wait for a belly rub. And I blame them for marginalizing any third party whose candidates aren't already entrenched in the two-party system.

I blame the media for letting Ann Coulter get away with writing a book called Treason. I blame them for letting Michael Savage call people who disagree with him "enemies." And I blame them for letting third-rate, me-too pundits like Ben Shapiro say we should try Al Gore for "sedition."

Twenty-one percent of Americans think the First Amendment guarantees them the right to own pets, and, meanwhile, no one sees anything wrong with bulldozing Dixie Chicks CDs, tape recording teachers, and using stupid, entirely empty phrases like "undermining the president" and "hiding behind free speech." These things just scream The Greatest Hits of Joseph Goebbels, and if the media hadn't spent the last 12 years covering white Ford Broncos and mildly attractive missing white females, none of these things would have happened, because none of them would've gone unchallenged.

You want to blame this stuff on George Bush? You want to blame it on some left- or right-wing conspiracy? Go ahead. But the media are the enablers here. The media are the ones who waste your time telling you about Red States and Blue States and Ben Affleck's love life. The media are the ones who glorify political shenanigans with their fair and balanced, good guy/bad guy, world-championship-of-professional-wrestling "news" coverage. And the media are the ones who have thoroughly failed you and consistently let you down.

As long as Americans still believe journalism's job is to defend their favorite candidates—and make no mistake: liberals and conservatives alike do—the media will continue being good for nothing but Breaking News alerts and poorly constructed, he-said-this, she-said-that political soap operas. This might be interesting if you've only got two brain cells. But if you've got any interest in stopping the parties from raping our wallets and dismantling our system of government, it's time to ditch the old media guards, and time for some major change.

Jonathan David Morris writes from Philadelphia. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.


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