Sunday, April 20, 2008

Truth From Power

Another day, another incredible revelation of the true scope of the Orwellian fantasy world that has been constructed in just a few short years in the United States.

Not that it should come as a surprise. That pundits and military analysts began selling a fallacious stock of goods in the run up to and in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq is not news. That it was the product of active collusion with the Pentagon and the Bush administration should, though, elicit more outrage than it probably will.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

It is in that last sentence that I believe the crux of our journalistic problem in the States can be found. In an effort to gain--and maintain--access to 'sources' or 'government contacts,' journalists have sacrificed skepticism. How can we expect journalists to speak truth to power when they rely as their main sources on cogs in the incarnation of that power?

Often in the media, there is a drive to present 'both sides' of a story. This is to be applauded, certainly, but only if both sides are playing fair. To have a supporter of the war who speaks glowingly of it of his or her own misguided volition is one thing. To present someone who is simply relaying the Pentagon's talking points in order to defend a policy upon which their financial standing depends is entirely another.

If the government talking points were trustworthy, journalism wouldn't be necessary. We could simply read the White House press releases and be done with it, assured that "we are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia" or "2+2=5" and move on with our lives. But that isn't so.

One of the most essential feats for a budding dictatorship is to render control of the press. There's a reason for that. There's a reason that the people of North Korea, some of the poorest and most downtrodden in the world, don't rise up against a 5-foot-tall laughingstock of a man. Military force is certainly part of that, but control of the press goes even further toward explaining how a small percentage can control the masses.

We need journalists as a check on power, not beholden to it. The press in this country presided over the marginalization of the war opposition, often holding up these financially-dependent military analysts as evidence of their folly. But the folly lies with journalists. Having spent a year graciously disseminating the government line in the run-up to the war, pleasantly granting air time to false prophets, and failing to present the slightest bit of skepticism, it is time journalists come clean.

Journalists have a duty to American citizens. A duty that lies in skepticism and truth. The White House disseminates its own line, there's no reason for the press to engage in the redundancy of doing that as well.

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