Last night, while Americans sat quietly expecting to watch a video 'tribute' to victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001--John McCain took advantage of America's good will to showed a video falsely linking Iran to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
At 9:11pm (CST), the MSNBC coverage cut to a video being projected onto the main screen at the RNC. At that point, Tom Brokaw introduced the video as follows:
Tom Brokaw: OK, let's go now, Keith, if we can, down to the floor. We want to share with our viewers the 'Tribute To The Victims of 9/11.'
So, that was the introduction the networks gave to the video--no doubt lifted from a press release given to them by the RNC. Normal practice, I suppose. But here is the astoundingly immoral thing that happened next, rather than show a video 'tribute' to the victims of 9/11, the McCain team showed a video 'history' of 9/11 that began like this:
(Fade to black as ominous slow piano music plays)
(Fade in: iconic image of Iranian revolutionaries from the late 1970s holding American hostages)
Narrator: The first attack occured in Iran.
(MSNBC feed now shows picture of Iranian hostage crisis with title '9/11 Video Tribute')
Narrator: 444 days--America held hostage.
(Cut to: image of 1998 Al Qaeda bombings of Kenya and Somalia)
Narrator: Then again.
(Cut to: second image of 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of Kenya and Somalia)
Narrator: And again.
(Cut to: image of 2000 Al Qaeda bombing of USS Cole)
Narrator: At our embassies.
(Cut to: close up image of 2000 Al Qaeda bombing of USS Cole)
Narrator: Our navy.
(Cut to: image of generic crowd of Middle Eastern men waving machine guns)
Narrator: They grew ever more bold. Their call was, 'On those who believe in God, and hopes for reward--'
(Cut to: image of Osama Bin Laden firing automatic rifle)
Narrator: 'To obey God's command to kill Americans.'
(Fade to black)
(Fade in:slow motion video of smoke rising from top of WTC.)
Narrator: And kill us they did. This time on American soil. The date was September 11th--9/11.
(Violent burst of flames slashes through Tower 2--the second plane. Crash is punctuated by high-pitched flourish of music followed by slow rising fireball)
(Cut to: video images of towers burning)
Narrator: This enemy sword to our destruction has been at war with us for decades. This we now know.
(Cut to: video of Tower 1 collapsing)
The 'tribute' continued for several more minutes, showing video of firefighters and rescue workers, other scenes of destruction.
Everyone in the United States has inevitably seen dozens of actual tribute videos to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. In most cases, these videos overlay photographs of those individuals who died with the video of the burning towers. There is, one could argue, a familiar vocabulary for tributes to the victims of 9/11.
Rather than follow that standard and recognizable tribute format, however, McCain's video presented a political argument about Iran's links to 9/11.
Never before had a major broadcast video so blatantly attempted to connect the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 to the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Never before John McCain's night at the Republican National Convention.
Interestingly, Keith Olbermann responded to the imagery in the McCain video immediately after it was shown by apologizing to MSNBC viewers for imagery that could be construed as a political exploitation of the emotions of 9/11.
No doubt, showing a 9/11 video at a political convention was emotional exploitation. But it was also something much worse: it was blatant historical revisionism. It was a cynical attempt to claim attacks on Americans--1979 and 2001--were carried out by the same 'enemy.'
What Olbermann should have apologized for was MSNBC accidental transformation of their network into a mechanism of the most cynical kind of Orwellian propaganda.
John McCain did not make the link between 9/11 and Iran in his RNC speech, but we can be certain that the video 'tribute' is a sign of what is to come on the campaign trail between now and November.
The media's responsibility from this point forward is clear: either they can sit back and let McCain's historical revisionism stand or they can move quickly to debunk it.
Either way, it seems apparent that major broadcast outlets need to take a more proactive role in pre-screening for blatant historical inaccuracies any video a political party plans to show during a national broadcast--or at least preparing to immediately debunk politically motivated inaccuracies.
John McCain will no doubt continue to exploit the pain of 9/11 in some vain hope of political gain, and will continue to push historical revisionism about the links between Iran and 9/11. The media, if it does its job, can be a crucial counterweight that prevents false and militaristic propaganda from flowing freely on our public airwaves.