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Truth and Freedom, Slip-Sliding Away
June 30, 2004
By Sheila Samples

So, what's up with the New York Times? Looks like being publicly ridiculed for dumping the WMD crap too close to the house and then tracking it in on the rug in those critical months before attacking Iraq would have taught it something.

It's a new experience for those of us who once revered the Times as the epitome of solid journalism to read it now with a grain of salt, and even then we can't keep the truth from slip-sliding away. Does this country's "newspaper of record" not have fact checkers? Editors? Considering that nobody seems to care about the truth anymore, figuring out if Times reporters are liars or ignorant - or both - is getting to be a real head-scratcher.

For example, last week, the Senate voted on an Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, authored by New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg. The purpose of the Lautenberg Amendment was to "Express the sense of Congress on media coverage of the return to the United States of the remains of deceased members of the Armed Forces from overseas."

Sounds simple enough. However, for Times reporter Sheryl Stolberg, expressing the "sense" of the 108th Congess proved to be a formidable task. Can't fault her for that, since very little oozing out of that august body makes sense anymore.

Stolberg reported, "Two Republicans, Senators Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and John McCain of Arizona, voted in favor of permitting news photographers to have access to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where coffins containing the war dead from Iraq arrive."

If Stolberg had bothered to check, she would have discovered that there was no formal debate on whether the bodies of slain Americans would continue to be concealed from the public. The debate consisted of a couple of "cover your ass" comments made for the Senate record, such as that of John (sound-bite) McCain, who said, "These caskets that arrive at Dover are not named; we just see them." Then, before joining Snowe and the rest of his Republican cohorts in voting to keep the ban on photos of flag-draped coffins, McCain added inanely, "I think we ought to know the casualties of war."

Stolberg then went on to reveal, "The 54-to-39 vote came after little formal debate, with 7 Democrats joining 47 Republicans to defeat the provision."

Accordng to the official vote tally that evidently escaped Stolberg's attention, the shameful score was 52-38, with eight turncoat Democrats voting to censor the news and continue to hide the real cost of war from unpatriotic, prying eyes. Those eight are Evan Bayh (D-IN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), John Breaux (D-LA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Mark Pryor (D-AR). The Defense Authorization bill is a pork-fest that at least these eight noble characters could not resist. Wonder if Stolberg was the least bit interested in what might have lured them across the great idealogical divide? The $250 million for Arkansas projects is especially rank, considering that Pryor had just gotten his own amendment to "recognize the sacrifice of American military personnel injured in combat and to help families track their whereabouts" passed as part of the Defense bill.

Stolberg might have compared Pryor's interest in American soldiers from injury to death to Republicans' intense interest in American babies from conception to birth. Seems like Americans are only items of Congressional interest until the moment they arrive in this world or the moment they leave it. After that - the just-born and the just-dead seem to be on their own.

Stolberg also failed to mention that four Democrats - or three Democrats and Zell Miller (Idiot-GA) teamed up with six Republicans and chose not to vote on this crucial issue at all. Opting out with Miller were Hillary Clinton (D-NY), John Kerry (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). Dodd also had an amendment approved to reimburse troops for protective equipment purchased with personal funds. Of course, it could just be me, but it looks like if someone offered up an amendment to properly equip our men and women before we sent them onto a bloody battlefield, and to properly honor them after they were killed on that battlefield, there would be no need for either a Pryor or a Dodd Amendment.

I don't mean to ramp on Stolberg. She's but a small cog in a gargantuan propaganda machine comprised primarily of her newspaper, the Washington Post, the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, and the corporate-owned electronic media that decides what Americans believe. They get away with it because, as George Orwell said, Americans believe what they are told they believe. We are conditioned to accept without question each day's version of the news even though it contradicts what we may have seen a few days earlier.

It's baffling how easily the Bush administration manipulated the media to control public opinion in the prelude to the war on Iraq. Especially the Times, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning propagandist Judith Miller worked in tandem with now discredited Iraqi exile and Pentagon informer Ahmed Chalabi to present a blatant dis-infomercial campaign - a tangle of truth, lies and anonymous assertions about hidden WMD, impending danger and Iraqi-Al Qaeda ties - to "sell" the war to the American people. It worked. In fact, it was such a bloody, roaring success that Miller was back at her post just a month after the initial assault, digging up chemical and biological weapons under Iraqi rose bushes and elaborately quoting at length an unnamed "scientist" that she cheerfully admitted she was not allowed to interview.

In her infamous April 21, 2003 article, "Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert," Miller went into great detail about specific chemicals that "the scientist" had unearthed, as well as information "about Iraqi weapons cooperation with Syria, and with terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda..." This was a Times scoop of such magnitude that all other US media picked it up and ran with it, totally ignoring Miller's brazen admission that, "...this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials..."

But the really really good news is that Miller's military controllers "permitted" her to see the scientist from a distance, and she was able to verify the discovery of WMD by revealing that, "clad in nondescript clothes and a baseball cap, he pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried." Well, that settles it then. However, since Miller freely admits she was not allowed to talk to this it-could-be-anybody-especially-if-he-works-for-the-CIA scientist, is this not merely a case of "she said he said?"

It is a fallacy that the American people don't like to be lied to by their leaders. We love it. Thrive on it. Die for it. Remember Poppy's 1991 incubator babies - Iraqi troops amassed on the Saudi border? Remember the millions who died, not just during the war, but as a result of relentless bombing and cruel sanctions for 12 long years until Junior could get back in there and finish the job? Remember who was secretary of defense back then?

I do. I worked with the media during Poppy's war and there was no better manipulator in complete control of the media than defense secretary Dick Cheney. Cheney literally "scrubbed" the truth about that war, and the media were allowed to publish only content and photos released by the Pentagon.

If we do not consider the human cost of war, we might understand the media's position, for - unless you are Judith Miller - how can you cover a war if you are denied access? Cheney understands this and, in the lead-up to Junior's global fiasco, had improved his "system" to where journalists were required not only to attend "boot camp" to accustom them to military discipline, but to "embed" with specific units during the war. We know now that journalists routinely suppress information that casts the US conduct of the war in an unfavorable light. We know that military censors "vet" stories, and that "pooled" coverage - the same controlled story - hits the airwaves and newsstands simultaneously.

History is a stern teacher, and I'm sure Cheney shudders when he remembers the mostly unvarnished media coverage of Vietnam. Cheney was then, and remains now, determined that such "bad press" will not be repeated. So far, he's been pretty successful at forcing the media to black out reports on the slaughter of Iraqi civilians and to limit their coverage to handouts from Pentagon press briefings and stories that blame any carnage on the Iraqis themselves.

So, that's what's up with the New York Times, as well as with its battalions of mainstream wannabes. It's what's up with an immoral, power-mad administration and, sadly, with far too many members of the U.S. Congress. It's what happens to democracy when all the stops are pulled out - when checks and balances are trashed and when nothing is as cool as a coup.

It's time for Americans to stand up and, in November, go to the polls and retrieve the freedoms we so foolishly let slip away. Does anyone really believe after watching this gang in action for the last three-and-a-half years that the madness will stop itself? It should be obvious by now that - if we keep assuming the position - Bush, his corporate media buds and our self-serving Congress are gonna keep screwing us.

And - as someone who knows about these things pointed out recently - they'll do it simply because they can.


Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma freelance writer and a former US Army Public Information Officer. She will accept praise and atta-boys at: rsamples@sirinet.net. Complaints and death threats should be directed to her cousin, Junior Samples, at BR-549.

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