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Silence of the (MSM) Lambs | The Nation

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The Liberal Media

Silence of the (MSM) Lambs

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The past few weeks have been thrilling politically. Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic primary offers our country not merely the opportunity to turn the page on America's most destructive presidency but also to open up as exciting and promising a new chapter in our history as any since the birth of the New Deal. Alas, one of the myriad roadblocks standing in the way of this hopeful new direction are the members of our mainstream media.

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Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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For instance, when Scott McClellan--following Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, John DiIulio and Matthew Dowd--reconfirmed virtually all the significant charges leveled by Bush critics against this corrupt, extreme and incompetent Administration, the reactions of the MSM were difficult to distinguish from those of the Bushites. Sadly typical was that of Mike Allen, chief political writer of the allegedly nonpartisan Politico, who complained that McClellan had adopted "the vocabulary, rhetoric of the left wing haters," demonstrating once again that anyone who tells the truth about this Administration--even someone with impeccable insider credentials--will be called a "hater" for doing so.

No less disturbing was the sight of ABC News nightly anchor Charles Gibson actually praising the MSM for their mindless (and spineless) credulity. Gibson, speaking with Katie Couric and Brian Williams on the occasion of the release of McClellan's book, insisted, "I think the questions were asked," before adding, "It was just a drumbeat of support from the Administration. It is not our job to debate them. It is our job to ask the questions."

And so the man who holds the most prestigious and influential position at ABC News does not think it the job of a "journalist" to engage in a "debate" over the facts with an Administration bent on misleading the public into war. Apparently the job description requires nothing more than to "ask questions," accept the answers and salute smartly.

To make matters worse, Gibson does not appear much interested in getting his facts straight, either. Recall his repeated badgering of the candidates during the debates of the party of the working class to embrace tax policies designed to benefit rich folk like multimillion-dollar network anchors and their friends. He cited statistics apparently snatched wholesale from the ether and easily disproved by ten minutes of Googling (see my May 19 "Liberal Media" column, titled "Mickey Mouse Media"). This time around, Gibson picked the coverage of Colin Powell's now-infamous February 2003 United Nations speech as an example of the allegedly tough-minded coverage he believed common.

As it happens, Charles Hanley, an Associated Press reporter, subjected Powell's claims to detailed scrutiny in light of what was known at the time as well as later revelations and found that many of Powell's controversial assertions could have been easily challenged by reporters who refused to swallow the propaganda Gibson and his colleagues were so disinclined to "debate."

Meanwhile, Gilbert Cranberg, former editorial page editor of the Des Moines Register, examined the media reaction to Powell's UN presentation, pointing out that while Powell "cited almost no verifiable sources," his address was met with little but full-throated cheerleading from Gibson and his colleagues. Examine, for instance, Gibson himself (as Salon's Glenn Greenwald did). On February 6, 2003, Gibson's guests were former CIA Director James Woolsey and Terence Taylor of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Gibson uttered not a syllable of skepticism about Powell's misleading presentation. (Typical query: "Of all the biological and chemical weapons that he outlined, and the means of delivery, what's the most frightening?")

Gibson further misleads in his defense of himself and his colleagues when he speaks of the difficulty of covering a debate about war in which there was nothing but "a drumbeat of support from the Administration." This is simply false. On September 27, 2002, Ted Kennedy gave a speech at Johns Hopkins University in which he demolished every argument then extant. Kennedy received a total of thirty-one words that night from Gibson on ABC World News Tonight. A similar fate--involving condescension, mockery or silence--met the prophetic statements of the likes of former Vice President Al Gore, former Chief of Central Command Gen. Anthony Zinni, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter and director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, to say nothing of the twenty-three Senators and 133 Representatives who voted against Bush's bullying war resolution and the millions of Americans who joined the Dean campaign, MoveOn.org and other antiwar organizations. (Watch Bill Moyers's documentary Buying the War, should you have any doubt about any of the above.)

On June 6, after years of delay and denial amounting to the functional equivalent of a concerted cover-up, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence finally released its 170-page report on the Bush Administration's deliberate perversion of prewar intelligence to justify its calamitous rush to war. The committee's chair, Jay Rockefeller, said the campaign was "fundamentally misleading and led the nation to war on false premises."

Aided by a campaign composed of Bush Administration lies, the cheerleading of the liberal hawks and the complicity and cowardice of the media corporations--who decide most of what we read, see and hear--Gibson and company helped enable the catastrophe we are mired in today in Iraq. With evidence of their collective failure mounting daily, they attempt to respond with a falsely self-flattering narrative to justify this moral, professional and intellectual dereliction of duty. Don't believe a word of it. And Senator Obama: know thine enemies...

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