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from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Is it Woodward? Or us? 

That is the thrust of an op ed in today’s Boston Globe by James Carroll. Entitled The fall of Bob Woodward it is as much about our naiveté and gullibility as it is about the famous “reporter” (something I think he ceased being at least several books ago). And while I will offer snippets with my commentary below, I strong recommend reading the entire piece, as well as the editorial Stonewalling Guantanamo in which the editors argue that the decision to deny Geneva Convention rights ta Gitmo
laid the groundwork for all the abuse of detainees, including the 31 deaths that the military has found were confirmed or suspected homicides. Now the administration has compounded the shame by denying access to prisoners by investigators from the UN Human Rights Commission. The decision will only strengthen the view of US critics that this country has placed itself above international law.
.

And now to Carroll.


Carroll begins with a rather blunt question:
AT WHAT point does naiveté become something to be ashamed of?


And if that first sentence is not enough, the rest of the opening paragraph should absolutely slap you across the face:
The revelation last week that Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward abetted the Bush administration's program of lies and character assassination left you feeling as if you, too, have been a coconspirator in the sleaze. Not that you were under any illusion about the turn Woodward's career took when he became a justifying megaphone for ''Washington insiders." Nor is it a surprise to find the dean of investigative journalism acting like every other self-protecting member of the establishment, since journalism itself has become a pillar of the governing power structure. But Woodward represented something more than all of this, and his quite American fall from grace (''The bigger they come") presents a challenge to your conscience.


Carroll goes on to describe Watergate as the most familiar word in the political lexicon. He describes the horrors of the Nixon administration we so associate with that word, but adds a second meaning for the term
But Watergate also became code for the most dramatic reiteration of national redemption, when diligent truth-seekers brought to light the methods and purposes of Nixon's band. The myth of American goodness depends on the conviction that, when the truth is finally apparent, the nation will act upon it. Watergate was the morality tale that made it so, and Bob Woodward, with his partner Carl Bernstein, was the moral hero. It is not too much to say that Woodward rescued your ability to believe in your country again.


He then devotes a paragraph to the expectations we should have of the press. The last sentence of that paragraph is worth noting as a summation of why he has written the paragraph, and also of why he has written this op ed:
The news media do for democracy what liturgy does for religion; what poetry does for experience; what gesture does for feeling. With words out of silence, the press tells you who you are.


He describes the Plame affair as parallel to Watergate, this about war in Iraq as much as that was about war in Vietnam. He goes on to describe the press as paralyzed by fear since 9-11, with the fear exacerbated when the press itself became a(n anthrax) target.

Carroll describes the news media as unable to write critically about those protecting them, with the result being that
the news media, with rare exceptions, simply embraced and passed along Bush's purposes and justifications, not matter how palpably dishonest. Judith Miller was the public captain of this enterprise, but Woodward was her secret co-captain. This time, he was his own Deep Throat.


Carroll is not the first to make that “Deep Throat” reference, to be sure. The context in which he places it was to me quite interesting. That the press failed to do its job, and that Woodward did little real reporting in his work (primarily the book) on the buildup to the war is now beyond doubt. The reference can be read as sarcastic, or as representing disappointment about how far he has fallen. That to me is not clear.

I am going to push the limits of fair use by quoting in their entirety the final two paragraphs, and then offering a few comments of my own.
Your naiveté consisted in the belief that, after Vietnam, your nation would never again embark on a criminal and unnecessary war. After a popular movement, inspired by tribunes of the free press, stopped the Vietnam War, you believed that the government would be responsive to the will of the people, forgetting that the people can surrender that will.

The finger-pointing in Washington now -- who voted for what, when and why -- is truly pointless. The merest glance back at the prewar debates shows that the justifications for war were all made of tissue. If the press treated them as substantial, that is because the nation itself, which still includes you, needed the tissue to cover its shame. The tissue of lies is yours.



In the first of these two final paragraphs, Carroll makes an argument that I wish were true, but to my mind have not been true since the election of Reagan. We saw then the beginning of a concerted effort by many on the Right to overcome what they called the Vietnam Syndrome. By then we saw things in popular culture like the rise of Chuck Norris and lines like Stallone’s to Richard Crenna asking if this time the military would be allowed to win. We saw and heard people in the Bush 41 administration bragging after the first Gulf War that they had finally overcome the Vietnam syndrome. Remember the big parade here in DC after Desert Storm. Where I live in Arlington was at the end of the flyover of all the aircraft used in the conflict - it was loud, and very nation-glorifying. Perhaps here at least Carroll would have been better off saying that many of us who had opposed the Vietnam adventure hoped that we would not have to go through such things again, but such felling was to my mind was clearly not universally held.

The final paragraph is, however, right on. Far too many were willing to accept the jingoism of our press, its unwillingness to raise hard questions. To be fair, many who will read this in the places I will post it did raise questions. If nothing else, those of us who supported Howard Dean questioned the direction by that alone. But the Dean phenomenon did not take off until after the decision to go to war had already been made, and to a large degree only after the actual fighting had begun.

There are many reasons which can be posited for this administration’s rush to war. One clearly is to deny the inspectors opportunity to disprove any claims about WMD - I think that is now evident. Another was the real fear that major fighting might last into the Iraqi summer, which can be brutal on both personnel and equipment. But clearly one motivation was to deny any opportunity for the development of a political significant opposition in the country. That opposition could only come about with the help of a press willing to serve its function to question authority and to serve as eyes and ears of the nation. Instead we got far too many in the media willing to serve as the mouthpiece of this administration, which would plant things with friendly people like Judy Miller (and apparently Bob Woodward) and then quote what they had written as proof that the nation agreed with them.

This brings me to the real reason why I am posting this piece. Many here have been very active at digging far more than did the press originally. Many also have consistently taken the so-called MSM to task for the poor performance in the buildup to the war, and during its unfortunate continuation. If we wish to save what is left of our democratic republic, we must intensify our efforts. While it is somewhat gratifying to see that the critical mass in the press is now willing to be somewhat critical, there are still far too many willing to continue with such false verbiage as repeating the administration’s claims that the Congress had the same intelligence as did the administration. The Goebbels ( and I am sorry Godwin, the Nazi reference is deliberate) of repetition to implant a big lie in the consciousness of the nation is still ongoing, as are the obvious character assassinations of anyone who would dare question.

We must challenge press and politicians not to again give this criminal administration the benefit of the doubt. It has forfeited that right unless and until it admits its patent dishonesty in the buildup to the war, and its incompetence in prosecuting the war and its aftermath (that is, if we are in aftermath and not still in the war).

If we who understand do not continue with all of our intellect and strength to oppose, then truly we will become responsible. We have the power, as Howard Dean used to tell us, to make a difference in this ongoing struggle. We can force press and politicians to act responsibly. If we do not use that power, then Carroll will be right, and “the tissue of lies” that has been destroying our democratic republic will be ours.




Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
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