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Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca

Posted: May 29, 2008 04:21 PM

Scott McClellan and No War For Barbeque


I've been trying to wrap my head around the very serious corporate media's reaction to Scott McClellan's book, so let me know if I've got this straight.

• The Bush administration lied about the justifications for the invasion of Iraq, and each lie was obfuscated by an active propaganda apparatus and a willingly narcoleptic corporate news media.

• Further, many Americans recognized this nefarious plot from the start, but were mostly shouted down as unpatriotic crazies by the far-right talkers and bloggers -- not to mention the aforementioned narcoleptic corporate news media. Thoughtful Americans like Phil Donahue, the presently-named McClatchy news service, then-State Senator Barack Obama and most liberal bloggers at the time were categorically marginalized as being moonbat zealots for questioning the administration's motives and methods.

• It wasn't until around September of 2005 when a hurricane and several breached levees washed the sleep out of the eyes of those who had previously guarded the administration's crimes and incompetence. You know... all of those Bush supporters in the "liberal" media.

• And this week Scott McClellan has confirmed all of it. And it's big news. That is, if you ignore previous works by other administration insiders like Christine Todd Whitman, Paul O'Neill, Paul Bremer and, of course, Brownie.

Yet what are we seeing from certain players in the very serious corporate media? Well naturally they're stampeding in the direction of the nearest camera in an effort to self-pardon their obvious and utter failure to engage in a critical investigation and interrogation of the administration prior to- and during the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

And worse: they're continuing to ignore the herd of screaming, exploding elephants in the room.

The game isn't over, news people. The occupation is still on. More wars are being planned. The administration remains mostly intact and all of the players are out there somewhere. Some own telephones. Others have e-mail. But rather than scrambling into an angry, betrayed frenzy and demanding answers of everyone with a very serious haircut and West Wing credentials, all we're hearing are excuses -- sorry ones at that -- from our very serious newsies when, in fact, reporters like David Gregory ought to be digging in and saying, We're sorry. We, the press, the only private industry explicitly protected by the Constitution, failed you. Now we're gonna get the bastards!

Instead, we hear this:

MATTHEWS (reading McClellan's text): "The 'liberal media' didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served." David...


GREGORY: I think he's wrong. Uh, he makes the same kind of argument a lot of people on the left have made. Uh, I tried not to be defensive about it. I've thought a lot about this over a number of years. And I disagree with that assessment. I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed, I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president... If there wasn't a debate in this country, the American people should think about 'why not.' Where was Congress, where was the House, where was the Senate, where was public opinion about the war. What did the former-president believe about the pre-war intelligence... The right questions were asked.

Yarp? Really?

Okay, let's say that the tough questions were asked. Of whom? David Gregory was tasked with questioning Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan (after the invasion had already started), and the President himself. But it goes without saying that the White House spokespersons who stood before that blue curtain famously repeated the same predictably lockstep responses. So bully for you, Mr. Gregory. You asked a series of blue curtain people "the tough questions." (If you recall, Helen Thomas did, too, but she was shoved to the back of the room.) Regardless, why didn't your network spend more time asking tough questions of people who actually might have had something revealing to say? Why didn't your network spend more time reporting about all of the evidence that disproved the administration's case -- evidence which was being actively reported by Knight-Ridder/McClatchy and others?

The answer was previously revealed by Andrea Mitchell in 2005.

"I think there has been self-censorship since 9/11 or after 9/11 -- there was sort of a rallying around -- an understandably patriotic effect and I think that reporters were less challenging." NBC News' Andrea Mitchell on "Real Time with Bill Maher" -- 9/23/05

Meanwhile, CNN's Jessica Yellin reported today that network executives killed stories that were critical of the administration.

And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives -- and I was not at this network at the time -- but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.

Jason Linkins reported that Yellin worked at MSNBC prior to the invasion. Shocker. So we can't help but to wonder out loud: did David Gregory and his colleagues do everything they could to make sure the serious business of war wasn't entered into lightly? Or did they -- both willingly and via professional coercion -- take a nap?

Which was it, Mr. Gregory? You have special access to the White House. We don't. You have special access to very serious people with very serious Texas accents. We don't. The American people counted on you and your colleagues, Mr. Gregory, to discover if these very serious people in the White House were lying about a very serious war. And, when it was time to earn your credentials, you failed to do your job because -- why again?

And if you and your colleagues had broadcast to the American people -- in prime time and with as much ferocity as others possessed when reporting about Monica or shark attacks -- that the administration's case was false, most of the American people might have ultimately believed you. So don't thrust the burden of your failure onto the people with, "If there wasn't a debate in this country, the American people should think about 'why not.'...where was public opinion?" Sadly, too many Americans were hysterically-blinded by patriotism and the fog of September 11th at that time. Yes. But it's the press/media's responsibility to cut through the hysteria and to present the objective reality -- so we don't eventually have to confront the failure and the guilt. As we all are right now.

Even in 2004 when the President was up for re-election, very few of the so-called "liberal" cable news hosts made the argument that four more years of George Bush meant four more years of war. But, oh well. Senator Kerry was an elitist who asked for Swiss on his cheesesteak, so... No White House for him! Concurrently, no-one seemed to care that the Pentagon was feeding military propagandists to the cable news networks in order to positively spin the war. What about that, Mr. Gregory? Can these trespasses be blamed on the people -- the opinion polls?

So what happens now?

Well, of course there's the BBQ! (cue banjo music)

The Republican candidate for president of the United States wants to bomb Iran. He wants to continue the occupation of Iraq. He declared that he would be Hamas' worst nightmare (whatever that means). But... Senator McCain has a killer recipe for goddamn dry rub, so step up to the coleslaw and ice-cold Busch beer -- it's time to ignore more Republican justifications for war! Why? Because Senator McCain is awesome.

Yes, while many of the top-shelf cable news reporters are making excuses, the Bush administration and the McCain campaign are making plans for more wars. But they're also making ribs for all the very serious reporters! So never mind all that. Pass the sauce.

Hell, Senator Clinton threatened that she would "obliterate" Iran, but our very serious corporate media at the time was busy scaring white hillbillies with continuous coverage of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons.

And as of this writing, I can't seem to track down a single cable news clip in which one of these very serious reporters pivots the direction of the McClellan debate and asks the very appropriate question (the screaming, exploding elephant): what happens to the administration now? What ought to be the legal consequences of lying a nation into war? Who ought to be held accountable and when? Other than the climate/energy crisis, I can't think of an issue more crucial at this moment in our nation's history.

But instead, it's a week-long roundelay of mea culpas from our very serious corporate media. And the drumbeat for endless war continues...now with the zesty aroma of pulled pork and slaw. Delicious.

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Cliff Schecter will be speaking at the AFL-CIO this Friday evening. More info here.