Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Deep Throat Didn’t Change a Thing

By Paul Gessing

Much has been made about the fact that former FBI agent Mark Felt was the source that Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein used to confirm President Nixon’s direct involvement in the Watergate scandal. For years after the Watergate scandal the conventional wisdom was that the media developed a new sense of skepticism about the real intentions and truthfulness of politicians and that it was no longer possible to pull off such a major scandal under the noses of the media and the public because Watergate proved that politicians would do whatever it took to cover their own tracks.

The media’s transformation from simply reporting the news to making news was plainly illustrated throughout the Lewinsky affair. Feverish coverage on the networks and cable TV alike kept that story on the minds of the American people for more than two years. Unfortunately, while everyone remembers Clinton for lying about oral sex, far fewer remember him for bombing a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory and telling the world that it was making chemical weapons. Clinton similarly remains unaccountable for dragging us into a war in civil war in Kosovo for reasons that are still not clear to this day and while making claims of genocide that never held water.

Even the Bush Administration’s aggressive campaign of disinformation about the Iraqi War has failed to achieve the mainstream attention of Watergate or the Lewinsky affair. More importantly, it has not resulted in any impeachment actions so far (although Congressman Conyers is rumored to be starting that process). The so-called Downing Street Memo is only the latest important piece of evidence to have been swept under the carpet.

The Memo itself contains meeting minutes transcribed during the British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s meeting on July 23, 2002 – a full eight months PRIOR to the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. The Times of London printed the text of this document on Sunday, May 1, 2005. The memo and more information about it are posted at http://www.downingstreetmemo.com. The contents of the memo are shocking. The minutes detail that both the U.S. and British governments did not believe Iraq was a greater threat than other nations; explained that intelligence was being “fixed” to sell the case for war to the American public; and that the Bush Administration’s public assurances of “war as a last resort” were at odds with the Administration’s privately stated intentions.

When asked, British officials “did not dispute the document's authenticity” and a senior American official has described it as “absolutely accurate.” Yet the Bush administration continues to simultaneously sidestep the issue while attempting to cast doubt on the memo’s authenticity. Worse, the media barely reported on the Memo’s existence and the vast majority of Americans who get their information from the networks, cable, and newspapers have only the foggiest idea exactly what was revealed by the Memo.

President Bush knew that his assertions about Saddam’s WMD’s and his supposed connections to 9/11 were bogus, so as the truth has come out he has focused his rhetoric on promoting “freedom and democracy worldwide.” Unfortunately, the very long list of cases in which the U.S. government has actively opposed “democracy” in Chile, Guatemala, Vietnam, and Iran once again is unreported. More importantly, no one seems to have asked President Bush why he is basing his foreign policy on a concept of governing that the founders of this country, including James Madison, the author of our Constitution, said created “spectacles of turbulence and contention; incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and in general as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

So, why will the media pull out all the stops to turn a “petty burglary” and “sexual relations” into major scandals, but be incapable of exposing truly scandalous behavior? Why is it that more than 30 years after Nixon resigned over a “petty” crime our leaders can get away with a coordinated campaign of lies and disinformation? The reasons could fill a thesis paper, but I believe that a major distinction must be made between the systemic and pervasive lie as opposed to the “scandalous lie.” The media and Americans in general love to hear about sex and tawdry and emotional personal stories – like Terry Schiavo’s case or that of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston – but for many reasons they struggle with both moral questions and serious policy and motivational analyses.

Nationalistic pride is the primary culprit. From a young age Americans are taught that their country is special and that America is the greatest country on earth. Americans like to believe this and want the media to reinforce their self-perceptions – a big reason for Fox News’s popularity. The inability for reporters to systemically criticize American foreign policy for what it truly is – self-interested actions taken by our elected and unelected officials having little to do with America’s relative status as a nation – stems from an inability or unwillingness to differentiate between criticizing the actions of a few elites and being seen as critical of Americans in general. After a lifetime of being told that America was unequivocally the greatest nation on earth, it is undoubtedly tough for many in the media to tell the truth, especially when there are few financial or career incentives to do so.

When it comes to foreign policy, Americans inevitably would rather believe their own elected leaders and countrymen rather than foreigners or UN bureaucrats. In such cases the President could claim that the moon is made out of green cheese and as long as the only ones claiming otherwise are the French or Iraqi Prime Ministers, Americans will tend to believe the claims of their own leaders. The media, in this case, will most likely not do its own objective research on whether the moon is indeed made of green cheese, but will likely be content with covering the ongoing controversy.

The second major reason the media repeatedly fails to analyze more systemically is the over-reliance on “he said, she said” reporting styles. Rather than searching out the objective truth in any given case, it is increasingly common for reporters to simply report both sides of a given argument and let readers or listeners arrive at their own conclusions. This is mistaken for “balance” in some circles. This tendency is most likely the result of simple laziness. It is after all easier to report “both sides” than it is to go after the real truth.

There are no simple solutions to such systemic problems. Systems that have been in existence for long periods of time – easily more than 100 years in this case – tend to reinforce themselves. A healthy skepticism of one’s leaders is a necessity, but it might also be nice if we as a country stop teaching our children that America is chosen by God and that we must support “my country right or wrong.” Only then will America truly live up to its moniker “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Paul J. Gessing is a Senior Editor of the Free Liberal.