Loose lips are not likely to sink George W. Bush‘s ship of state anytime soon. From its ferocious stonewalling over the release of Dick Cheney’s Enron papers (or even revealing his post–September 11 whereabouts) to the press lock-down in Afghanistan, the White House has been about as open as any East Bloc information ministry during the Cold War. Even the past seems off-limits now, with Bush decreeing 68,000 pages of Ronald Reagan‘s White House archives too sacred for the defiling gazes of the press or electorate. Yet big media couldn’t seem more content as they doze by the Oval Office hearth, stirring now and then to produce fawning profiles of the president and his Cabinet, a la February‘s Vanity Fair cover ”exclusive“ or reporting fluffy anecdotes about Bush, such as his quip to a West Virginia official that waging war is easier than raising his twin daughters.
No surprise, then, that when the Project for Excellence in Journalism released its report on September 11Afghan-war coverage Monday, it found that ”The press heavily favored pro-Administration and official U.S. viewpoints — as high as 71 percent early on.“ Not only that, but as combat began, objective reporting shrank, and ”analysis and opinion swelled — so much so that the level of factualness declined to levels lower than those seen in the middle of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.“ But there was a payoff for the fourth estate, as it received its first positive approval-from-the-public rating in 15 years: ”More Americans suddenly considered the press accurate, professional, moral, caring about people and patriotic.“ Reporters, anchors and pundits are only human and just want to be liked, right? Perhaps that’s why, ”On talk shows, journalists often seemed to luxuriate in sounding not like knowledgeable experts on TV stages, but like anyone else standing in a barroom.“
Since September 11, this particular barroom has been open for a permanent happy hour, even though the administration‘s refusal to part with facts and access, and big media’s reluctance to gain them, only hurts the public. According to the study, ”The evidence strongly suggests that coverage is more factual when journalists have more information and becomes more interpretative, perhaps ironically, when they have less.“ Whether it‘s news about U.S. bombing of Afghan civilians (Oops! We did it again!), Saudi Arabia’s Gastarbeiter problem (our troops) or an L.A. anarchist having his home raided by the FBI (see below), mainstream news coverage has gone from the ridiculous to the supine.
NO PILLOW MINTS FOR JIHADIS
The following remarks are published or broadcast comments about the status of Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
”Now, these people are not at Club Med, they are not at the Guantanamo Hilton, they are being treated in a humane fashion, but they are being treated as suspects for acts of terrorism . . .“
–Cliff May, CNN Talkback Live, January 21
”‘Their prison quarters may not be the Havana Hilton, but they’re good enough,‘ says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.“
–Bill Press, CNN Crossfire, January 21
”. . . while Guantanamo Bay is not the Hilton, it is not much worse than any other military penitentiary . . .“
–Trevor Royle, The Herald (U.K.), January 20
”No one expects prisoners of war to be housed in a Hilton.“
–William F. Schulz, The New York Times, January 19
”. . . when you have 10 days or less to put something together, it’s not going to be the Hilton,“ Marine Brigadier General Michael Lehnert said Wednesday.
–Los Angeles Times, January 11
”This is not going to be known as the Guantanamo Hilton.“
–Bob Franken, American Morning With Paula Zahn, January 10
”So I just hope that when the government in Cuba there gets settled, that they don‘t make it a Hilton Hotel for these terrorists.“
–Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Fox News Network, January 10
”It’s going to be secure enough. It‘s not going to be a Hilton for them, that’s for sure,“ he said.
–Chief Petty Officer Richard Evans, quoted in various newspapers, January 7 and 8
”IMAGINE A BIG WHITE TRUCK WITH NO LABELS“
The residential side street in the San Fernando Valley normally doesn‘t see the kind of action that sends neighbors out to their front lawns to talk about it. Last week it did. At around 4 p.m. on January 24, members of a Joint Anti-Terrorist Task force surrounded a house with weapons drawn. They had come for an 18-year-old anarchist who runs the activist Web site www.raisethefist.com.
”I was sleeping at the time,“ says Sherman, who prefers to use only his surname. ”My sister woke me up and said there were tons of FBI and undercover people on the street. She wouldn’t answer the door.“
Sherman says that when he looked out the window he saw a couple of dozen members of the FBI, Secret Service, LAPD and Sheriff‘s deputies. ”Everyone had windbreakers and bulletproof vests,“ he says. ”Some had machine guns and shotguns. They seemed really scared or concerned that I’d give them a lot of trouble — they had the garage blocked off with a bench and a door rammer ready.“
When Sherman answered the door, he was pulled outside by two FBI agents and shown a warrant that, he claims, was filled with inaccuracies:
”I actually went through it with them, and it had all this bogus stuff about me since I was 14, to look incriminating. There were quotes from other people and stuff about me being involved with other organizations that I‘m not.“
After Sherman’s mother came home, the feds removed the eight computers, a hub and DSL modem that he used for his Web site, along with political literature, disks and CDs.
”They came in with a bunch of equipment and downloaded all my files into it and put everything into what looked like a moving van — imagine a big white truck with no labels.“
Sherman was not arrested and says that the task force finally decamped six hours later. A flurry of messages on the San Francisco Independent Media Center Website(http:sf.indymedia.orgnews200201114583.php) have speculated that Raisethefist‘s mistake was to recently include another site that discussed weaponry, but Sherman insists that his site’s log revealed government surveillance that had been going on for months.
”There was a lot of profiling of our site [targeted by] government computers [whose identities] weren‘t masked and a lot of activity coming from proxies. I was getting hits from government sites in the U.K., Finland, Belgium, Canada, Australia and Egypt. Then it suddenly stopped for a week and a half before the raid.“
Spokesman Matthew McLaughlin said 18 to 20 law-enforcement personnel participated in the raid, and all but three were FBI agents. Sherman, he said, ”had bomb-making information on his Website, which under the terms of the Patriot Act is illegal.“#
EVIL VS. WADE?
It’s been months since Jerry Falwell was universally booed for blaming the September 11 attacks on ”pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians,“ but two weeks ago a somewhat similar, if stealthier, accusation surfaced from an unexpected place — 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Visitors to the White House Web site (www.whitehouse.govnewsreleases20020120020118-10.html) were informed that President Bush had declared Sunday, January 20, National Sanctity of Human Life Day. The president‘s 542-word proclamation declared, ”On September 11, we saw clearly that evil exists in this world, and that it does not value life. The terrible events of that fateful day have given us, as a Nation, a greater understanding about the value and wonder of life . . . Now we are engaged in a fight against evil and tyranny to preserve and protect life.“
All very well and good, except that elsewhere in the proclamation, next to a photograph of Bush and the Web-photo link words ”Standing for the Flag,“ there appeared this comment on a Thomas Jefferson quote about government’s first priority being the protection of human life: ”President Jefferson‘s timeless principle obligates us to pursue a civil society that will democratically embrace its essential moral duties, including defending the elderly, strengthening the weak, protecting the defenseless, feeding the hungry, and caring for children — born and unborn . . . Unborn children should be welcomed in life and protected in law.“
This rhetorical linkage between abortion and terrorism was perhaps one of the White House’s more subtle salutes to its anti-choice supporters, but not everyone was enthusiastic about its implications. Margie Fites Seigle, CEO of L.A.‘s California Family Health Council, summed up the reaction of abortion-rights organizations when she told the Weekly, ”Using the events of September 11 to further the political agenda of the anti-abortion movement is deplorable and should be rejected by any and all free-thinking Americans. This is an example of politics at its worst.“
By the way, if the Bush proclamation’s odd phrase about the Founding Fathers having ”pledged their own lives, fortunes and honor“ to guarantee freedom has a familiar ring, it may be because a certain Cabinet member had a hand in its writing. Looking back at John Ashcroft‘s notorious 1998 interview in the white-supremacist Southern Partisan, we find the current attorney general panicking at the thought that history books will be rewritten to show that Confederate slaveholders ”were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda.“
”I want to draw your attention to the creative placement of barricades and the presence of the LAPD to heighten your theater experience. We are the safest theater in Los Angeles.“
–Tim Dang, artistic director of East West Players, addressing theater patrons, January 23