by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
September 11, 2005
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S 'GONG SHOW' NEEDS ITS STAR
HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 11, 2005 -- Maybe the nation at large is indeed getting a wake-up call from the media - just in case the hurricane wind chimeS in Louisiana didn't do it.
Note, for example, Nora Gallagher's Friday article in the Los Angeles Times, "Waking from a sound sleep," and the story subhead: "Raw images of Katrina's devastation blew away tv's business-as-usual gloss and showed us what is really happening in the U.S."
From New Orleans, Gallagher writes, "... We got the story , of how poor people live and are treated in this country by watching them suffer and die. We got the story because it happened so fast, and right in front of our faces, and no one could put a spin on it quickly enough. We got the story because television reporters were openly outraged on camera. We got the story because reporters asked real questions and demanded real answers, rather than throwing softballs and settling for the fluff and the spin that pass for news. It was raw, it was awful, and it slid under the skin of our sleepy, numb, feel-good lives."
Did we ever. I heard a commentator on the radio who sounded something like the Peter Finch chracter in "Network." You know: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Indeed, the guy almost lost it. There were plenty of good reasons, not least after Katrina, to be mad as hell.
It's like with Nixon, when the press and media congratulated itself on the role it played in uncovering Watergate. If it hadn't been for a few lucky breaks, the appearance of "Deep Throat" (Deputy FBI Director Mark Felt), Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, a few other eager-beaver reporters, and stand-up people at The Washington Post, the media would have slumbered right through Watergate.
We may never know about other scandals that we have slumbered through. Only a handful of publications in those days focused heavily on Watergate; others, slowly yawned, opened their eyes and finally - weeks or months or years later - rose to the occasion. Just so, many in the mainstream media, especially television, have slumbered during these past recent years without ever thinking of a regime change - get those guys out of there! - for the current Bush Administration.
Even the often-alert New York Times, which first published the Pentagon Papers, was slow on the take. Even with the Pentagon Papers, which opened our eyes to the central lies about Vietnam, Times staffer James Reston threatened to publish them anyway in his own small paper, if the New York Times didn't.
But, as the paper has acknowledged, "this time" they were too slow to challenge the Bush Administration's desperately assembled evidence to support the invasion of Iraq.
So the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and other nationwide publications, and millions of us Americans, simply bought an ill-conceived, poorly-planned, irrational, surely deceptive and fear-hyped bill of goods about our unilateral invasion of Iraq, an American move at odds with the whole world, allies included.
Of course, even the best of us make mistakes. It happens. But blatantly? And again and again and again? Watching the political arena during these current years of the second Bush Administration has been - there's almost no other way to put it - like watching The Gong Show.
This time, there's a new twist: the gong invariably gets clanged plenty hard (though softly enough so the general public doesn't hear it) on the whistle blowers and the real talent: those who gave accurate warnings about Mohammed Atta's cell, about there being no WMDs, about Osama bin Laden being the real culprit behind 9/11, about Osama being in Afghanistan, not Iraq, about Saddam Hussein and Osama actually being hated enemies and not allied terrorists, about the lack of connections between Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, about the non-existent plutonium - on and on and on, right up to serious warnings, recent and not so recent, about the need for money to strengthen the levees in New Orleans.
In short, we gonged the experienced engineers who were so desperate for help worked without pay after the Bush Administration reallocated some of the money for levees to Iraq. We gonged Richard Clarke, the anti-terrorism czar (well, actually Clarke quit in disgust after more than fifty warnings were ignored by the Bush Administration and others. And we gonged so many good people.
In Iraq, we gonged them all the way up to former Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinsky. She's now a lieutenant colonel and the highest-ranking scapegoat for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, though higher-ups hadn't even allowed her to investigate.
In New Orleans, we gonged the weather prognosticators who accurately predicted a Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane. We gonged the mayor, even after he screamed for days for help. And we repeatedly gonged the levee engineers.
In turn, of course, we've kept on all of the others who have been consistently wrong in the Bush Administration, while millions of us - all-too-often including the mainstream media - have for more than four years been watching President Bush's amateur hour at home and abroad with indifference.
Hey! Maybe there's some kind of story there!
So, you never know. There could be a strange batch of news (even on prime-time tv) worth checking out on this fourth anniversary of the attacks. For example, someone got gonged good this time - "Brownie." Now if they would just gong some of the other deaf-and-dumb loyalists.
* * *
So once you know what it's really like out there in New Orleans - even if FEMA does prevent us from seeing more bodies float around on the city's streets - or in Iraq, even if we don't see the flag-draped coffins, you become a little wiser.
It's a little like that now. You put your hand up against the window and rub out that little clearing and you get a much different sense of things - in fact, almost a new American paradigm.
Wow! You realize the car window needs to be wiped, and that we don't need that Administration's spin and fog. We don't have to settle for the Bush Administration's blurred, simplistic, militaristic view of the world where the hype of fear - the same fear hype that helped get him elected - makes us take money for a threatened levee and use it for a simple-minded War on Terror which has yielded more violent terrorist acts in Iraq, and worldwide, than ever before.
And all this was so that we could further destabilize the Middle East and turn Iraq, as Ambassador Peter Galbraith saw, into a kind of Iranian puppet state, the exact opposite of the intent of United States foreign policy for decades.
Talk about amateur hour - undoubtedly the single greatest accomplishment abroad of the neocon-led Bush Administration (let's not blame everything on religious extremists) has been to spin Iran and Iraq into each other's welcoming arms (leaving the Sunnis and others to plot) and to spin China and Russia (recently holding war games together) into each other's somewhat welcoming arms.
And there's the vast neo-con and Bush Administration hubris of trying to run a war on the cheap, although the generals warned against it, of overreaching and weakening our preparedness. Nor should we overlook, of course, that - helped along by an extremely high minority jobless rate - Louisiana served as the state with one of the highest number of National Guard members deployed to Iraq, men and women who might have come in handy for the hurricane, as well as for Iraq.
If it wasn't so tragicomic, gonging the professionals and retaining the amateurs could become one of the great reality shows of all time.
Perhaps millions of us did know better all along, but it was just too painful to watch, the way we used plead for someone to hit the gong to get some bonehead act off the stage.
But this time - Gong! - we do seem to be looking a little more sharply through the curtain of the Washington Wizard of Oz, and it won't be easy to patch that curtain. We see, through the eyes of Norah Gallagher, "the raw image of Katrina's devastation" and "we got the story of what is really happening in the United States right between the eyes."
Bill Maher reported things all too clearly in a most impressive column, Also in Friday's Los Angeles Times, headlined "Why don't we all have a recall," with the subhead: "C'mon, Mr. President. It's time for you to quit while you're far behind."
Millions of us have been mesmerized, tolerating the neocons and other extremists clowns for years, fooled by the most curious of magic tricks; each absurdity of the Bush administratuion somehow disappears from focus because another absurdity comes along to cover it up. As long as things keep spinning, you'd think you could do no wrong - at least none that remained visible for very long, barely time for any details to sink in.
With a few more wake-up calls, it's a little more discomforting to realize that despite our "patriotic" War on Terror we're now clearly, irrefutably far worse off than we were before - with or without Katrina.
Remember the War on Poverty? It got underway with great hopes during President Lyndon Johnson's halycon days in 1964, but through a succession of Administrations hasn't done much good for the many impoverished minority and other poor citizens of Louisiana in part because money that might have gone to them went to Vietnam instead, just as levee money goes to Iraq now.
Then there was the War on Drugs, in which we arrest small-time drug dealers and watch two more aspiring dealers shoot it out for the newly available corner. The War on This and the War on That - each one has typically been a bigger disaster than the last. And all of these failures are helped along by a consistent failure, especially in the Bush Administration, to realize that our problems won't be solved by bullets alone. Nor will they end, if our houses are underwater, when we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Downsizing until we're left with an anorexic society and a scandalously unfit government with emasculated, under-funded federal agencies that get overridden by the amateurs up top who are supposedly watching out for us - that's not a future we can love.
Not even shooting the looters in Louisiana (many of them no doubt desperate for water or diapers and the like) will solve our problems; not when, as few in the media have observed, some of the biggest crooks are going free - looting hundreds of millions of dollars via highly questionable single-source contracts; the contract administrator who tried to gong Halliburton on its sole-source contract for Iraq got gonged herself. Clearly there's been a whole spectrum of looting on a far grander scale, from Washington taking money from the poor to give to the very rich in tax cuts, to Enron taking retirement money from its workers, to hundreds of millions of dollars disappearing in Iraq with near-zero accountability.
As Maher put it excruciatingly well in his plea to Bush to step down, "You've performed so poorly you should give yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. On your watch we've lost almost all of our allies, the budget surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the city of New Orleans.
Maybe you're just not lucky.
"I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse iyt could be if you were on the other side. Yes, God does speak to you. And he's saying, 'Take a hint.'"
We could add many more to the reality gong show, but these little clearings in the window may remind us for now of the many clear failures of this Administration.
Thus, Paul Krugman's column in Friday's New York Times was titled, "Point Those Fingers," and even the moderate-conservative The Economist this week headlined its cover "The shaming of America."
As Krugman noted, "It might make sense to hold off on the criticism if this were the first big disaster on Mr. Bush's watch or if the chain of mistakes in handling Hurricane Katrina were out of character. But even with the most generous possible assessment, this is the Administration's second big policy disaster, after Iraq. And the chain of mistakes was perfectly in character - there are striking parallels between the errors the Administration made in Iraq and the errors it made last week... .
"All that's missing from the Katrina story is an expensive reconstruction effort, with lucrative deals for politically connected companies, that fails to deliver essential services. But give it time - they're working on that, too... .
Can the Administration escape accountability again? Some of the tactics it has used to obscure its failure in Iraq won't be available this time. The reality of the catastrophe was right there on our tv's (even on Fox) although FEMA is now trying to prevent the media from showing pictures of the dead. And people who ask hard questions can't be accused of undermining the troops."
Despite some other wonderful columns by the likes of Bob Herbert and other wide-awake writers, the mainstream media has largely missed its chance during the Bush years to provide some serious wake-up calls on a full range of disasters.
An anniversary like today's is always a good excuse, without seeming to preach, to slip a little thought and insight into the news.
So, too, with our four-year 9/11 anniversary today, let's hope the media and the general public - including millions of Republicans more moderate and sensible than the Bushies - won't be dissuaded by suggestions that the "blame game" and "finger pointing" are somehow unpatriotic.
Then, along with watching the gracious outpouring of charity from millions of fellow citizens and American companies to those in need, and the generous help offered by the rest of the world, we can remind ourselves that many tens of millions of American citizens have less in common with George Bush and than Saddam Hussein had in common with most Iraqis.
Let's turn our backs on Patriotism Lite and go for the real thing - giving the Bush Administration our resounding gong.
Ron Kenner is a former Metro staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, the co-author of a well received books in the U.S. and abroad, and a longtime correspondent for the American Reporter. He is currently a freelance book editor who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.