The Patriotism Police

April 23, 2007 at 1:32 pm | Posted in American politics, Bush Administration, Iraq, Media, War | 1 Comment

Over at the Carpetbagger Report we read about a new PBS special called “Buying the War” on the way the media ran things from 2001 to 2003. Yet another example of how our media was overrun by the White House and the Pentagon into accepting war with Iraq.

Walter Isaacson is pushed hard by Moyers and finally admits, “We didn’t question our sources enough.” But why? Isaacson notes there was “almost a patriotism police” after 9/11 and when the network showed civilian casualties it would get phone calls from advertisers and the administration and “big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’”

Moyers then mentions that Isaacson had sent a memo to staff, leaked to the Washington Post, in which he declared, “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan” and ordered them to balance any such images with reminders of 9/11. Moyers also asserts that editors at the Panama City (Fla.) News-Herald received an order from above, “Do not use photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties. Our sister paper has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening emails.”

Moyers asked CBS’s Bob Simon, who had strong doubts about the evidence for war, if he pushed any of the top brass at CBS to “dig deeper,” and he replies, “No, in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas….nope, I don’t think we followed up on this.”

Instead he covered the marketing of the war in a “softer” way, explaining to Moyers: “I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it, in a way, almost light — if that doesn’t seem ridiculous.”

It’s a war. It does seem ridiculous.

Phil Donahue recalls that he was told he could not feature war dissenters alone on his MSNBC talk show and always had to have “two conservatives for every liberal.” Moyers resurrects a leaked NBC memo about Donahue’s firing that claimed he “presents a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. At the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”

Moyers also throws some stats around: In the year before the invasion William Safire (who predicted a “quick war” with Iraqis cheering their liberators) wrote “a total of 27 opinion pieces fanning the sparks of war.” The Washington Post carried at least 140 front-page stories in that same period making the administration’s case for attack. In the six months leading to the invasion the Post would “editorialize in favor of the war at least 27 times.”

Of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news in the six months before the war, almost all could be traced back to sources solely in the White House, Pentagon or State Dept., Moyers tells Russert, who offers no coherent reply.

The program closes on a sad note, with Moyers pointing out that “so many of the advocates and apologists for the war are still flourishing in the media.” He then runs a pre-war clip of President Bush declaring, “We cannot wait for the final proof: the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Then he explains: “The man who came up with it was Michael Gerson, President Bush’s top speechwriter.

“He has left the White House and has been hired by the Washington Post as a columnist.”

Granted, noting the media’s negligence in its pre-war coverage is hardly new, but Moyers’ report seems to have some unreported details. For example, I’d never heard about MSNBC instructing Phil Donahue to intentionally feature “two conservatives for every liberal.” I’d also not heard about CNN’s Isaacson backing down to the “big people in corporations” who didn’t want the network to broadcast news on civilian casualties.

Even with all this bombardment (no pun intended) on the airwaves for war WAR WAR! there were still enough reports out there to show the evidence was against Bush’s assertions.

So sad. The worst part, I don’t think Americans overall have yet learned the lesson well enough for this not to happen again. I fear it will happen again in the future. So sad.

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  1. I think this is what Noam Chomsky would call “manufacturing consent”.

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