The Bush administration has shown a willingness to do just about anything to manipulate public opinion. It paid pundits to say nice things about it. It spent lavishly to create bogus -- and, according to the comptroller general, illegal -- video news reports on the president's Medicare, education and drug policies. And it has given us Gannon/Guckert-gate.
Now the Bushies are taking things to the next level. Not content to buy their press coverage retail, they are producing and distributing their own news network. And no, I'm not talking about Fox. It's the Pentagon Channel, a 24/7 niche network brought to you by the Department of Defense.
Started last year as an internal public relations unit within the Pentagon and designed to keep U.S. soldiers and their families informed about all things military, the network is now expanding its reach to the general public. A number of cable systems, including Time Warner, already carry the Pentagon Channel -- and the Dish Network will soon begin beaming the station to its more than 11 million viewers right alongside the half-dozen porn channels the satellite giant offers.
DoD television execs (there's a new phrase) say Pentagon Channel viewers can expect programming that is "a mix between CNN and C-SPAN" -- combining military news and lifestyle shows with live coverage of military briefings, speeches by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and congressional appearances by The Man himself, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld.
So fire up those TiVos, disinformation fans; Rummy TV is coming soon to a flat screen near you. "If you hate the truth, you'll love DoD TV!"
According to the network's Web site, current Pentagon Channel programs include: "Why I Serve" ("Vignettes that allow military members to share their stories and motivation for serving"); "Korea Destinations" ("Monthly preview of some great getaway locations in and around the Korean peninsula"); and "The American Veteran" ("a half-hour video news magazine designed to inform veterans about the services and benefits they have earned through their service to America").
Which is all well and good. But, as is so often the case with the Bush administration, the Pentagon Channel's programming appears to have been prepared by -- to quote Jeff Gannon -- "people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality."
Now, if Secretary Rumsfeld were really interested in following the network's motto -- "Serving Those Who Serve" -- he might want to consider a more realistic lineup. How about:
"The Real World: Fallujah." What happens when a group of former Abu Ghraib guards, forced to share a bombed-out, camera-filled apartment in Fallujah with a collection of their former prisoners, stop being polite? Series highlights: Lynndie England hooking up at a Green Zone nightclub with a Baathist hottie who turns out to be none other than the guy she had on the leash! Then Mohammed, one of the ex-prisoners, getting wasted, prank calling new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and asking him if being sodomized with a broomstick sounds "quaint."
"Pimp My Humvee." Xzibit, Mad Mike, Big Dane and the "Pimp My Ride" crew lend a helping hand to American soldiers forced to scrounge through junkyards in an effort to outfit their vehicles with the armor the military has failed to provide -- hooking our troops up with protective plates, as well as slammin' paint jobs, state-of-the-art sound systems and spinning tire rims able to detect the roadside explosives responsible for so many U.S. casualties. The Humvees go from wimp to pimp while the soldiers go from sitting ducks to Mac Daddies.
"Desperate Military Housewives." There may be a lot of dark secrets on Wisteria Lane -- but not half as many as there are in the homes of America's military families. "DMH" peels the curtain back on the home-front havoc being caused by President Bush's stop-loss policies and the extended tours of duty that result. Don't miss the very special episode where the president promises to "support our troops" then proposes a budget that slashes veterans' benefits and leaves one in five military families needing food stamps or aid from the Women, Infants and Children program to get by. Is it drama? Is it comedy? We produce. You decide.
"Iron Chef, Iraq." It's military cooking on an unlimited budget! Watch as the master chefs at Halliburton show what kind of battlefield-mess-hall magic they can create with a noncompetitive, no-bid, cost-plus contract that allows them to overbill the Pentagon $186 million for meals that were never served. Who needs fast food when you can feed the troops phantom food? Sponsored by (who else?): "Halliburton, proud to serve our troops and even prouder of the money we rake in by not serving them!"
"Survivor: Pentagon." Forget Africa, the South Pacific and the Australian Outback. This classic reality show really gets interesting when Donald Rumsfeld is cast adrift in the halls of the Pentagon with a tribe made up of people he has clashed with and helped push out the door, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of the Army Thomas White, former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, former Secretary of the Air Force James Roche and former head of the Iraqi occupation Jay Garner. Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. Out on your ass.
Will Rummy TV be a hit? Who can say? As the Man himself once put it: "As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."