Democratic Underground

They Are Lying To Us
October 26, 2001
by Jack Rabbit

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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 1968.

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 (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 "Censorship 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 reading.

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. 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 media.

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 administration's tactics.

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.