The American media establishment has launched a major offensive against the option of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
In the latest media assault, right-wing outfits like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page are secondary. The heaviest firepower is now coming from the most valuable square inches of media real estate in the USA -- the front page of the New York Times.
The present situation is grimly instructive for anyone who might wonder how the Vietnam War could continue for years while opinion polls showed that most Americans were against it. Now, in the wake of midterm elections widely seen as a rebuke to the Iraq war, powerful media institutions are feverishly spinning against a pullout of U.S. troops.
Under the headline â€œGet Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, Experts Say,â€ the Nov. 15 front page of the New York Times prominently featured a â€œMilitary Analysisâ€ by Michael Gordon. The piece reported that -- while some congressional Democrats are saying withdrawal of U.S. troops â€œshould begin within four to six monthsâ€ -- â€œthis argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administrationâ€™s Iraq policies.â€
Reporter Gordon appeared hours later on Anderson Cooperâ€™s CNN show, fully morphing into an unabashed pundit as he declared that withdrawal is â€œsimply not realistic.â€ Sounding much like a Pentagon spokesman, Gordon went on to state in no uncertain terms that he opposes a pullout.
If a New York Times military-affairs reporter went on television to advocate for withdrawal of U.S. troops as unequivocally as Gordon advocated against any such withdrawal during his Nov. 15 appearance on CNN, he or she would be quickly reprimanded -- and probably would be taken off the beat -- by the Times hierarchy. But the paperâ€™s news department eagerly fosters reporting that internalizes and promotes the basic worldviews of the countryâ€™s national security state.
Thatâ€™s how and why the Times front page was so hospitable to the work of Judith Miller during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Thatâ€™s how and why the Times is now so hospitable to the work of Michael Gordon.
At this point, categories like â€œvehement critics of the Bush administrationâ€™s Iraq policiesâ€ are virtually meaningless. The bulk of the mediaâ€™s favorite â€œvehement criticsâ€ are opposed to reduction of U.S. involvement in the Iraq carnage, and some of them are now openly urging an increase in U.S. troop levels for the occupation.
These days, media coverage of U.S. policy in Iraq often seems to be little more than a remake of how mainstream news outlets portrayed Washingtonâ€™s options during the war in Vietnam. Routine deference to inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom has turned many prominent journalists into co-producers of a â€œGroundhog Dayâ€ sequel that insists the U.S. war effort must go on.
During the years since the fall of Saddam, countless news stories and commentaries have compared the ongoing disaster in Iraq to the Vietnam War. But those comparisons have rarely illuminated the most troubling parallels between the U.S. media coverage of both wars.
Whether in 1968 or 2006, most of the Washington press corps has been at pains to portray withdrawal of U.S. troops as impractical and unrealistic.
Contrary to myths about media coverage of the Vietnam War, the American press lagged way behind grassroots antiwar sentiment in seriously contemplating a U.S. pullout from Vietnam. The lag time amounted to several years -- and meant the additional deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and perhaps 1 million more Vietnamese people.
Olbermann on Fox News BiasA survey by the Boston Globe, conducted in February 1968, found that out of 39 major daily newspapers in the United States, not one had editorialized for withdrawing American troops from Vietnam. Today -- despite the antiwar tilt of national opinion polls and the recent election -- advocacy of a U.S. pullout from Iraq seems almost as scarce among modern-day media elites.
The standard media evasions amount to kicking the bloody can down the road. Careful statements about benchmarks and getting tough with the Baghdad government (as with the Saigon government) are markers for a national media discourse that dodges instead of enlivens debate.
Many journalists are retreading the notion that the pullout option is not a real option at all. And the Democrats whoâ€™ll soon be running Congress, weâ€™re told, wouldnâ€™t -- and shouldnâ€™t -- dare to go that far if they know whatâ€™s good for them.
Implicit in such media coverage is the idea that the real legitimacy for U.S. war policymaking rests with the president, not the Congress. When I ponder that assumption, I think about 42-year-old footage of the CBS program â€œFace the Nation.â€
The showâ€™s host on that 1964 telecast was the widely esteemed journalist Peter Lisagor, who told his guest: â€œSenator, the Constitution gives to the president of the United States the sole responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy.â€
â€œCouldnâ€™t be more wrong,â€ Sen. Wayne Morse broke in with his sandpapery voice. â€œYou couldnâ€™t make a more unsound legal statement than the one you have just made. This is the promulgation of an old fallacy that foreign policy belongs to the president of the United States. Thatâ€™s nonsense.â€
Lisagor was almost taunting as he asked, â€œTo whom does it belong then, Senator?â€
Morse did not miss a beat. â€œIt belongs to the American people,â€ he shot back -- and â€œI am pleading that the American people be given the facts about foreign policy.â€
The journalist persisted: â€œYou know, Senator, that the American people cannot formulate and execute foreign policy.â€
Morseâ€™s response was indignant: â€œWhy do you say that? ... I have complete faith in the ability of the American people to follow the facts if youâ€™ll give them. And my charge against my government is, weâ€™re not giving the American people the facts.â€
Morse, the senior senator from Oregon, was passionate about the U.S. Constitution as well as international law. And, while rejecting the widely held notion that foreign policy belongs to the president, he spoke in unflinching terms about the Vietnam War. At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Feb. 27, 1968, Morse said that he did not â€œintend to put the blood of this war on my hands.â€
And, prophetically, Morse added: â€œWeâ€™re going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. Itâ€™s an ugly reality, and we Americans donâ€™t like to face up to it.â€
Norman Solomonâ€™s latest book, â€œWar Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,â€ is out in paperback. For information, go to: www.warmadeeasy.com