Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday with McKenna: The Big Lie

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In our culture, we have long suffered from a cult of war-as-entertainment. It is embodied in much of the military's terminology: they speak of "war games" and "theaters" of war. This consciousness affects the media covering war, to the point where we find ourselves with a situation such as we had five years ago: a mass media greedily lapping up the lies of tyrants. Why? Because, to quote George Steinbrenner, it puts fannies in the seats. Fear sells.

One fellow I know who has never been sold on that bill of goods is my co-writer Terry McKenna. From his very first post here at DR, he has repeatedly delivered the admonition about war's unexpected human, material, psychological, and social costs. My point is not to aggrandize this blog, which remains virtually anonymous in its genre after nearly three years. My point is rather that we can't afford to wait through four years of disaster, bloodshed, and irremediable human and economic loss for voices like Terry McKenna's to begin creeping into the opinion pages of newspapers and the punditry stables of the major TV studios. For the next time this is allowed to happen, this nation and its democracy will be toast.

So here's another serving of the insight of Terry McKenna. (Alex R. Thomas & Co)

The phrase the Big Lie comes with some baggage. It was first used in the West to characterize Hitler’s propaganda. Hitler himself used it to describe what he considered Jewish propaganda. His propaganda minister, Goebbels, used the phrase to describe the Brits. Be that as it may, the BIG LIE has passed into common currency as a way to characterize the manipulation of truth by the powerful, be they one of our large corporations, or a political machine.

For the purposes of this essay, I’m interested in George Bush’s Big Lies. There have been a number of excellent articles about them—one from The Nation, another from Common Dreams. By the way, after you read the Nation’s piece, please subscribe!

Still, when used to describe others, the BIG LIE does have its baggage; much less than it did when I was in college. But it is still a phrase fraught with dark undertones - like a fine wine, or aged cheese.

So let me first point out the lies our corporations tell. Cigarette makers spent decades pretending that smoking wasn’t harmful; when they gave up on that lie, they moved on to lying about the addictiveness of nicotine. And then there is big energy. Exxon spent much of the past 10 years funding false research about climate change. They’ve backed off a little this past year, but they remain part of the problem. Pharmaceutical companies make unconscionable profits by convincing people to buy new drugs that are no better than much cheaper drugs that are already on the market.

And then we have one especially dark undertone, the Big Lie’s Nazi past. Many of Bush’s liars come from a close-knit group of Neo-cons, and many of these are Jewish by heritage. So what to do? For me, I think the phrase has been cleansed enough to allow for its use, even if the subject is one of our Neo-cons. If I blame William Kristol or Richard Perle for helping the Bush team craft their Big Lies (and I do), I don’t mean to imply that they are also Nazis. If you remember the run up to the Iraq war, you’ll see an effort to use lies to create war fever that would have done any dictator proud. Also any demagogue.

What worries me is how our major news outlets have been unable to defend the American people against the Big Lie. Instead, they are enablers. Whether it is members of the White House press corps, or the managing editors at the Sunday morning talk fests (shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press) the press is in bed with the powerful. Yes, Tim Russert or Bob Schieffer may make their subjects squirm, but after all is said and done, the politician is the winner (with a few notable exceptions). His or her lies are taken at face value and allowed their place on the nation’s biggest stage.

What should be done? Well, not much with the live Sunday broadcasts, but most news interviews are not live. And even with live broadcasts, the footage can be re-edited and deconstructed. Here is an example of a way to edit down a long interview into a forceful presentation. The raw material was a straight up interview of Condoleezza Rice by Charlie Rose. Charlie tried his best to get Condi to admit the truth, but the talking points were too embedded to catch all of them. Think Progress did an edit, which makes the point much better. (And the point is that these folks are unrepentant, and mean never to leave Iraq). Bill Moyers’ Journal also did an excellent job, with Marilyn B. Young providing useful commentary.

Now I don’t expect Charlie Rose to edit all of his interviews, but presenting our leader straight up does a disservice to all of us. Bush only has a year and a half left, but there is still time for big media to begin the process of deconstruction.

Let’s do a bit of our own. Here is a fresh passage from the White House website:

“As we have surged our forces, al Qaeda is responding with their own surge. Al Qaeda is ratcheting up its campaign of high-profile attacks, including deadly suicide bombings carried out by foreign terrorists. America responded, along with coalition forces, to help this young democracy, and a brutal enemy has responded, as well. These attacks are part of a calculated campaign to reignite sectarian violence in Baghdad, and to convince the people here in America that the effort can't succeed. We're also seeing high levels of violence because our forces are entering areas where terrorists and militia once has sanctuary. As they continue to do so, our commanders have made clear that our troops will face more fighting and increased risks in the weeks and months ahead.

As we help Iraqis bring security to their own country, we're also working with Iraqi leaders to secure greater international support for their young democracy. And last week, Secretary Rice attended an international meeting on Iraq and Egypt, and she briefed me and she briefed Secretary Gates...”

If we take the sentences apart, we can break out the lies and evasions. The very word “surge” is a way to avoid admitting that we really don’t have the numbers of available troops that we need. In both WW2 and Viet Nam, the Army was enlarged in order to carry out its mission. That our leaders failed to do so with the Iraq war, AND that this failure is not a full blown scandal, should give us pause!

And what about the continued characterization of the Iraq struggle as being with al-Qaeda? The majority of fighters in Iraq are dissatisfied locals – this is especially true of those fighting in Baghdad. Yet Bush still hopes to sell his Iraq surge by invoking the afterglow of September 11.

"Coalition forces" is another evasion. And so is “young democracy.”

And then there is this phrase “convince the people here in America” … America’s disgust with the Iraq debacle is a valid reaction to a military failure THAT HAS ALREADY OCCURRED.

America is at a crossroads. The stories our teachers told us about America were never completely true, but America’s goal of creating peace around the world, and attaining good government at home, have been genuine. Remember these myths:

  • American soldiers treat their prisoners of war fairly.

  • Americans don’t torture.

  • America don’t start wars.

  • I don’t see how we can say these things any longer.

    Who is at fault? Well, the Bush machine. But we also have our fourth estate, who fiddled while the Bush machine attempted to burn out the gentle soul of the American civilization.

    That’s it. The Big Lie.

    Do you still worry about the Nazi reference? Well think of this. Our shock and awe tactics are very much as frightening as the Blitzkrieg ever was. If we are to prevent comparing the use of American power to something as dark as the Blitzkrieg, then we must make every effort to maintain the moral underpinnings of our civility. But have we?

    —T. McKenna

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