This Sunday, the BBC’s Correspondent programme reveals the inside story of the rescue that may not have been as heroic as portrayed, and of divisions at the heart of the allies’ media operation.
“In reality we had two different styles of news media management,” says Group Captain Al Lockwood, the British army spokesman at central command. “I feel fortunate to have been part of the UK one.” . . .
That American approach — to skim over the details — focusing instead on the broad message, led to tension behind the scenes with the British. Downing Street’s man in Doha, Simon Wren, was furious that on the first few days of the war the Americans refused to give any information at Centcom. The British were put in the difficult position of having to fill in the gaps, off the record. . .
Towards the end of the conflict, Wren wrote a confidential five-page letter to Alastair Campbell complaining that the American briefers weren’t up to the job. He described the Lynch presentation as embarrassing.
Wren yesterday described the Lynch incident as “hugely overblown” and symptomatic of a bigger problem. “The Americans never got out there and explained what was going on in the war,” he said. “All they needed to be was open and honest. They were too vague, too scared of engaging with the media.” He said US journalists “did not put them under pressure” . . . “The American media didn’t put them under pressure so they were allowed to get away with it,” Wren said. “They didn’t feel they needed to change.”
In the wake of the BBC report, Time Magazine — which did absolutely nothing to investigate the Jessica Lynch deceit nor attempt to discover who was responsible for it — helpfully jumped in to defend the Bush administration by proclaiming that “the British network may be guilty of exaggeration itself, with its claim that the Pentagon manipulated information to produce ‘one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.’”
Identically, the American media did virtually nothing to investigate the Bush administration’s absolute falsehoods about how Pat Tillman died. We know about it solely by virtue of the heroic relentlessness of the Tillman family — led by his mother and brother, Kevin — in doing the job which our press and Congress so profoundly failed to do.
And finally, we have the hordes of cowardly warmongers — beginning with the President and Vice President — who constantly hide behind the troops and crassly exploit them as props in service of their political agenda, even though their “concern” for the troops could not be any more exploitative and insincere.
Just look at this repulsive post by Powerline’s John Hinderaker yesterday as he tries (needless to say) to defend the Government’s conduct in the Tillman case by telling his readers they need not listen to Kevin Tillman’s accusations because he is “an antiwar activist who has posted on far-left web sites.”
What does Hinderaker omit from that description? That Kevin Tillman was in Afghanistan along with his brother, having volunteered to risk his life to fight for the U.S. Army in the wake of 9/11. But because he came to conclude that the invasion of Iraq was wrong — and because he has persistently demanded that the truth about the Bush administration’s conduct in his brother’s case be exposed — he is subjected to discrediting smears from smarmy little chest-beating play-acting warriors like John Hinderaker.
The “troops” are nothing but cheap and empty props to them. Before it was revealed that Pat Tillman was both an atheist and against the war in Iraq, he was paraded around after his death as though he, standing alone, was the Symbol and Justification for the warmongering Bush movement. Ann Coulter said that “Tillman was an American original: virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be.” Sean Hannity constantly invoked his name with antiwar guests.
Yet once it was revealed what Tillman’s actual political views were, they both simply declared that they “do not believe” it. What mattered to them was not who he really was — they could not care less about that — but his use to them in service of their twisted political propaganda.
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This is the sad and wretched process which has propelled our political system during the entire Bush presidency. The Bush administration creates falsehoods to manipulate public opinion and then feeds them to influential and prestigious media outlets.
Eager to be used, our most prominent journalists then repeat those falsehoods mindlessly and uncritically. Worse, when it is revealed that what they were fed was false, they say nothing and continue to protect the identity of those responsible, in the hope that their “sources” will continue to use them.
Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans blocked any efforts to investigate any of these matters, while right-wing uber-patriot cowards and smear artists discredited those who sought to disrupt or expose any of this. Most significant political events in our country over the last six years have been the by-product of this rancid machine. The Tillman and Lynch cases are merely vivid illustrations of how that process has worked.
UPDATE: This passage from 1984 really is extraordinary in light of yesterday’s hearing. It describes Winston Smith’s drafting of a government propaganda speech (h/t Alan Lloyd):
He might turn the speech into the usual denunciation of traitors and thought-criminals, but that was a little too obvious, while to invent a victory at the front, or some triumph of over-production in the Ninth Three-Year Plan, might complicate the records too much.
What was needed was a piece of pure fantasy. Suddenly there sprang into his mind, ready-made as it were, the image of a certain Comrade Ogilvy, who had recently died in battle, in heroic circumstances. There were occasions when Big Brother devoted his Order for the Day to commemorating some humble, rank-and-file Party member whose life and death he held up as an example worthy to be followed.
Today he should commemorate Comrade Ogilvy. It was true that there was no such person as Comrade Ogilvy, but a few lines of print and a couple of faked photographs would soon bring him into existence.
That is what the press passed along — the same press about which Newsweek‘s Senior White House Correspondent Richard Wolffe said, chatting with Tony Snow: “the press here does a fantastic job of adhering to journalistic standards and covering politics in general.” Fantastic.
UPDATE II: Actual Journalist Bill Moyers has a 90-minute PBS documentary tonight, entitled “Buying the War,” which airs at 9:00 pm Eastern. Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher — in an informative preview — calls it “the most powerful indictment of the news media for falling down in its duties in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” Moyers is a superb journalist and documentarian and I have no doubt that it will be a well-spent (if not depressing and infuriating) 90 mintues. In addition to PBS stations, the program can be viewed here.