by Walter Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
February 20, 2009
'TOOTHLESS:' HOW THE WATCHDOG PRESS BECAME A GOVERNMENT LAPDOG
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- The president of the Associated Press (AP) was spewing venom at the Bush-Cheney Administration for having turned the Dept. of Defense into a propaganda machine.
Americans "expect honest answers about what's happening to their sons and daughters," Tom Curley told journalism students and faculty at the University of Kansas.
Listing innumerable ways the Pentagon had advocated Bush-Cheney political beliefs, Curley questioned if the United States should "be trying to influence public opinion through subterfuge, both here and abroad,"
An AP investigation had just revealed that the Pentagon budget for "influence operations" this fiscal year is at least $4.8 billion, with about 27,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to information dissemination.
The penalty for failing to agree to the Pentagon's terms of reporting, said Curley, was that he was told by top commanders that "if I stood and the AP stood by its journalistic principles, the AP and I would be ruined."
With a new Administration, "now is the time to resist the propaganda the Pentagon produces and live up to our obligation to question authority and thereby help protect our democracy," said Curley.
Brave words, but ones that would have had more impact had they been said publicly four years ago, instead of a month after Bush and Cheney left office, and a more transparent Administration was elected.
Although the Bush-Cheney Administration put propaganda ahead of truth, like Congress, the media were willing accomplices.
Major media were far too deferential to the Bush-Cheney Administration following 9/11, perhaps believing it was unpatriotic, or at least detrimental to their ad revenues, to oppose what the President said he needed to fight the war on terrorism.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration, aided by a compliant Congress, pushed through the severe constitutional violations of the PATRIOT Act, the media barely raised a voice to protest. Reporters who wrote against the PATRIOT Act were often ostracized by the establishment press.
It was the nation's librarians, not the nation's journalists, that led protests of First Amendment free speech and free press violations during most of the eight years of the Bush-Cheney Administration.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration established "free speech zones" a mile or more from presidential and vice-presidential speeches and rallies, whether official or political, the media compliantly ignored the dissidents and, for the most part, the blatant constitutional violation of the First Amendment rights of free and peaceful assembly.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration put out lies that Saddam Hussein was tied into 9/11, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and then launched an invasion of a sovereign nation, the media saluted and reported what they were told.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration rewrote the rules of press coverage in combat to compromise independent reporting, the press didn't challenge their new restrictions. They grumbled over beers, but didn't push back. By their failure, the press allowed themselves to become part of a propaganda machine, spewing good news from their tunnel vision.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration, trying to find "good news" in Iraq, fed information to the Washington Post that Army PFC Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, was a hero who, when her Humvee was ambushed, fought a heroic battle, killed some attackers, was shot, and then tortured in an Iraqi hospital until Army Rangers and Navy SEALs rescued her, no one at the Post = pleased to have been given a human interest scoop - questioned the Defense Dept.'s statements.
But the story was a phony. Lynch confirmed suspicions raised in the alternative media that she didn't wield a gun, that her injuries were sustained when she was pinned under the Humvee, and that she was treated well by Iraqi physicians, who had even given the American "rescuers" the hospital's master key.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration tried to cover up that former NFL star Pat Tillman, an Army Ranger, was killed by friendly fire, and that the Army delayed and then lied to Tillman's parents, the press went along with what they were told.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration made sure that retired military officers with opinions favorable to the Administration got choice tv network "talking head" assignments, few protested until it became obvious that theor commentaries were skewed toward White House policies.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration lied about massive spying upon Americans, about the environment, public health, and other areas, the media yawned and swallowed what they were told.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration said the U.S. economy was not in a recession but doing just fine, while all around them the sub-prime crisis and Wall Street greed ate up the fabric of American life, the media concentrated on the latest pop-celeb's trysts, movie deals, drinking and drug problems.
Even when the Bush-Cheney Administration blocked reporters' attempts to get public information via the Freedom of Information Act, their bosses often didn't back them up, but instead hoarded the financial and manpower resources necessary to break down the official barriers.
When the Bush-Cheney Administration moved Helen Thomas, dean of the White House press corps, from her first row seat back to the last row at press conferences and rarely called on her for questions, the major media barely protested, lest they be banished to the back of the press bus and denied "face time" on Air Force One.
The New York Times and Washington Post, which eventually redeemed themselves as Bush's popularity sank, each published lengthy apologies for failing to adequately question Administration claims, and doing little but recycle the lies.
Americans have every reason to complain about the Bush-Cheney Administration. But the nation's news media, by abandoning their credibility and principles, had became an extension of the propaganda machine that Tom Curley complained about.
Next Week: Some in the media challenged authority and tried to fulfill their responsibilities as government watchdogs.Dr. Brasch, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, continuouly challenged claims about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction in journalism and books about the Bush-Cheney Administration, including America's Unpatriotic Act: The Federal Government's Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights, 'Unacceptable': The Federal Government's Response to Hurricane Katrina, and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush.