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'We Lie. We Decide.' | The Nation

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The Liberal Media

'We Lie. We Decide.'

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TIM RUSSERT:

But, Senator, when you testified before the Senate, you talked about some of the hearings you had observed at the Winter Soldiers meeting, and you said that people had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and on and on. A lot of those stories have been discredited, and in hindsight was your testimony...

About the Author

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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Why is the political coverage in The New York Times so lame?

Revisiting Eric Alterman's writings on The New Republic during the Marty Peretz years.

JOHN KERRY:

Actually, a lot of them have been documented.

TIM RUSSERT:

So you stand by that?

      --NBC's Meet the Press, April 18

Take a look at the exchange above and see if you can figure out what the hell is going on. Tim Russert is questioning John Kerry about his 1971 Senate testimony, in which Kerry recounted testimony he had heard of war crimes committed in Vietnam by US troops at the so-called Winter Soldier Investigation in January/February of that year. The fact that such crimes were committed by US troops is indisputable. My Lai happened. The Toledo Blade ran a Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé of the "Tiger Force" murders just days before Russert asked his question. As even Gen. Tommy Franks told an unhappy Sean Hannity, the "things Kerry said are undeniable." Indeed, Russert's question itself admitted this. For if only "a lot" of the atrocity stories were discredited, according to Russert, then at least some of them must be true. The entire exchange is therefore purposely pointless--both gratuitous and nonsensical--except as a means to try to embarrass Kerry for having had the courage to testify to uncomfortable truth more than thirty years earlier.

The exchange flashed again into my mind as I read that Russert--who, lest we forget, is one of the two or three most influential and respected journalists on network television--had reportedly told viewers that the dishonest and morally disgusting Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements that have now been fully discredited had "scored a direct hit on one of the main bases for the Kerry campaign, his war record." It did not matter to this grand pooh-bah of the punditocracy that the ads were pure mendacity from start to finish. What mattered is that they were "effective." But why were they effective? Because Russert and his colleagues had not the wherewithal to point out that they were lies. "We are not judging the credibility of Kerry or the [Swift Boat] Veterans, we just print the facts," Washington Post executive editor Len Downie explains.

The group of liars and miscreants who make up Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were able to dominate the news and possibly turn the tide of the election despite offering false information against a decorated war hero, to support two war-avoiders who let others fight and die for a cause they professed to support, for two reasons. The first is the existence of an ideological movement that masquerades as a respectable segment of the media. This mass movement is dedicated to preserving power for the combination of wealthy corporate executives, religious fundamentalists and neoconservative ideologues who make up the Bush Administration's base, with little, if any, regard for the truth of its arguments. Its members include Fox News talking heads like Brit Hume, who said, "There's a thread here that one might trace through the criticisms of John Kerry and his behavior, even in this campaign, and that is the sense of somebody who is an absolutely incorrigible opportunist"; embittered Republican politicians turned pundits like Bob Dole, who claimed, "He's got himself into this wicket now where he can't extricate himself because not every one of these people can be Republican liars"; traitorous political operatives who masquerade as pundits, like Robert Novak, who termed the Swift Boat liars "the real patriots to rise to the surface this election year"; and is rounded out by Matt Drudge, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Washington Times and other right-wing apparatchiks.

But, second, to point exclusively to the dishonest machinations of the right-wing media would be to miss the significance of the so-called liberal media (SCLM). Their willingness to treat scurrilous slander as mere "politics as usual" abdicates the most fundamental responsibility of journalism: to ascertain, as best as one can, just what the truth of a given situation may be. Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, gives almost perfect voice to this deliberately irresponsible SCLM tendency when he notes, "If Kerry doesn't like people disputing his own version of his own gallantry, then it was highly incautious of him to have made it the centerpiece of his appeal."

We must rely on Jon Stewart's fake news reports on The Daily Show to illustrate the point, as he and his bevy of crazed contributors continue to turn out comedy sketches that offer a truer picture than do the so-called journalists of the Sunday-morning gabfests and cable food fights. Here's their fake-take on the Swifties:

CORDDRY:

I'm a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called "objectivity"--might wanna look it up someday.

STEWART:

Doesn't objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence and calling out what's credible and what isn't?

CORDDRY:

Whoa-ho! Well, well, well--sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] "Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm." Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

[...]

STEWART:

So, basically, you're saying that this back-and-forth is never going to end.

CORDDRY:

No, Jon--in fact a new group has emerged, this one composed of former Bush colleagues, challenging the President's activities during the Vietnam era. That group: Drunken Stateside Sons of Privilege for Plausible Deniability...

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