Are Lying To Us
by Jack Rabbit
They are lying to us. They have told us that they would.
So why are we listening?
This isn't the first time they have lied to us. There were
the lies they told during the Vietnam War. They told us that
we had the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people - well,
the people of South Vietnam, anyway. They told us the Viet
Cong had no widespread support in the countryside. And yet,
with such a large contingency of American servicemen fighting
the war, the Viet Cong launched a major offensive in February
In the end, the Tet offensive resulted in the defeat of the
Viet Cong, but only in the sense that Bunker Hill was a defeat
for the American colonists in their war for independence.
And then we knew that they had lied to us.
They have promised us a secret war. We should believe them.
According to David Talbot, writing in Salon.com (Democracy
Held Hostage, September 29), a Pentagon official flatly
told a reporter for the Washington Post: "We're going
to lie about things." So why are we listening?
Wars have been conducted in secret or semi-secret before,
with varying degrees of success. During the Vietnam War, President
Nixon began a program of bombing Cambodia in secret in the
early days of his administration. It was a silly and clumsy
attempt at conducting a secret war. Obviously, Cambodian peasants
knew about the bombing; American planes were flying over their
heads and the bombs fell in their rice paddies. Within two
months of the start of the secret bombing, it was reported
in the New York Times. Nixon had to spend some political
capital recovering his credibility.
A much better job of military secrecy was done by the Reagan
administration in the invasion of Grenada on October 25, 1983.
According to Mark Hertsgaard in his book, On Bended Knee:
the Press and the Reagan Presidency (New York: Farrar
Straus Giroux, 1988), in order to manipulate public opinion
through the press, the Reagan administration even went so
far as to mislead its own press office. Meanwhile, even Castro
knew an invasion was imminent, and sent diplomatic messages
to Washington concerning his intentions.
Hertsgaard (pp. 214-15) quotes his fellow journalist David
Gergen as saying that the only people to whom the invasion
of Grenada was a surprise were the American press and public.
Of course, the invasion of Grenada was easy to keep secret
in that it was accomplished in a day. It wasn't until much
later that the public got hints as to what a Keystone Kops
operation it was.
Of course, the textbook example of media manipulation was
the case of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. For covering the
war, journalists were given a list of 12 rules. Most of these
were routine and sensible (for example, the prohibition of
any mention of future plans). However, along with these 12
rules, the reporters were to remain in pools and under the
supervision of an escort; the work of reporters was subject
to scrutiny by the Joint Information Bureau in Dhahran before
being released. The military escorts often censored reporters'
work or intimidated the subjects of their interviews (see
in the Gulf").
During the war, the American public was treated to glowing
reports of the success of the latest generation of high-tech
weapons like the Patriot missile; it was not until after the
war that the truth was revealed and the public found out that
these fancy, expensive weapons weren't all they were cracked
up to be. This would beg the question as to whether or not
one of the purposes of the Gulf War was to manipulate American
public opinion in favor of weapons programs that might otherwise
be viewed unfavorably. Since the success of these weapons
was exaggerated, we can conclude that they lied to us.
Running parallel to this media manipulation has been the
increasing willingness of the mainstream media to be manipulated,
especially by Republican administrations. Not surprisingly,
this willingness has coincided with increased corporate control
over the mainstream broadcast media: Viacom owns CBS, General
Electric owns NBC, Disney owns ABC and AOL/Time-Warner owns
CNN. (Fox News should be omitted from the list of news media
since it was founded with the express intent of broadcasting
rightwing propaganda; it is a news organization in name only.)
Thus, the interests of large corporations, which favor the
Republican Party, and the interests of the major networks
that sponsor newscasts watched by millions of Americans are
one and the same. In other words, they are more than they
used to be. They are not only the government and the corporations,
but they are now also the press that used to keep an eye on
them for us. They are lying to us.
Is it any wonder that in a matter of weeks an unlettered,
unaccomplished, spoiled frat boy who came to occupy the White
House through manipulation of the legal system and out-and-out
treachery has been transformed into a great wartime leader?
Meanwhile, Condoleeza Rice, the White House national security
advisor, need only call the networks with a request that they
not run any tapes featuring messages by terrorist leader Osama
bin Laden on the grounds that they may contain hidden directions
to his followers. Really?
Who would take such infantile nonsense seriously? The corporate
networks would. They consented to review any tapes before
broadcasting them next time. Of course, Ms. Rice knows how
to play the security game and if there were any real reason
to believe that bin Laden was transmitting hidden messages,
she would never have brought it up. She would not have brought
it up because she would not want bin Laden to know that we
know about his hidden code. Anybody who knows anything about
the nature of state secrets knows that. So, the inescapable
conclusion is: Condoleeza Rice is lying to us, and she wants
the network newscasts to lie to us, too.
The attempts to manipulate the news have not stopped at our
borders. Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the Emir of
Qatar, the host country of the independent Arab news channel,
al-Jazeera, to pressure the news organization to refrain from
broadcasting things that the US government does not approve,
like Osama bin Laden's videotaped messages. The Emir refused.
Of course, the Emir is part-owner of the station and knows
that its independence is what makes it so well-watched in
the region. A little enlightened self-interest on his part.
Meanwhile, al-Jazeera will continue to do what a news organization
is supposed to do: broadcast the news.
Al-Jazeera also broadcasts Mr. Bush's press conferences.
In response to a question about the intensity of Middle Eastern
hatred of the US, Mr. Bush said: "I don't understand it .
. . . I know how good we are." Al-Jazeera broadcast that,
too. Perhaps that's something else his White House handlers
would have like to have asked al-Jazeera to suppress.
When Osama bin Laden speaks, whatever one may think of him
or what he has to say, it's news. Perhaps the major American
networks have forgotten that, but al-Jazeera has not. Perhaps
Americans should start asking how an authoritarian state like
Qatar became the host of a free and independent news organization
and how at the same time in America, the proud cradle of modern
free government, news organizations cower whenever a White
House counselor sneezes.
If Americans cannot rely on the mainstream American media
to provide them with the information vital for a free people
to make choices in free elections, then where can Americans
look? First, one should suggest going to the foreign press.
The British publications, the Guardian and the Independent,
provide excellent coverage of the war in Afghanistan. Dispatches
from Robert Fisk, a journalist who has covered the Middle
East for many years and has interviewed Osama bin Laden on
three occasions, appears in the Independent. This is must
Second, try to find a balanced source of information of the
old school of journalism, where news is what happens, not
what the White House approves. Salon.com is an example of
this kind of journalism, although financial necessity has
made it for the most part a pay site. Those who can afford
it will find it worth the money.
Third, short of actually turning off our television sets
and canceling our newspaper subscriptions, balance the bland
non-objectivity of the American mainstream press with the
more lively alternative press. Granted, much of this isn't
objective, either, but it isn't intended to be. By looking
at such online sites as ZNet, The Nation, The Progressive,
the Online Journal and others, the friendly readers of this
website and other open-minded Americans might discover another
instance where they are lied to: namely, the characterizations
of the Left from the rightwing and even much of the mainstream
From reading the mainstream and rightwing media, one would
think that these sites are hotbeds of treason, fifth-column
activity and unrealistic pacifism. In reality, no one on any
of the websites named believes that Osama is a right-on guy
or that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were noble deeds.
On the contrary, there is as much indignation at the attacks
and unanimity that the perpetrators must be apprehended, tried
and punished on the Left as anywhere else.
The Left has serious reservations about the methods being
employed by the administration to accomplish these ends and
serious concerns about the world that will be posited by the
The uninitiated may also be surprised to discover that the
Left is not monolithic. The September 11 attacks have spawned
a bitter, lively and at times regrettably personal debate
between Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens that readers
might find enlightening. The contents of the dispute are found
in ZNet and The Nation.
Finally, we as Americans should remind the press, both mainstream
and alternative, that it is the first duty of the press to
inform. If the government wishes a secret war, it is the duty
of the press to subvert the secrecy and make the dark light.
To advocate is one thing, to propagate is another. Unfortunately,
as things stand now, propaganda is a word that better characterizes
television news than information.
Go out and look for some information. Somebody needs to tell
us what they are doing. They won't tell us. They are
lying to us.