Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Nothing to See Here, Move Along

After lying dormant for six or seven years, the topic of Anthrax has assumed the role of Lazarus and again forced itself into the national discourse, though most likely for just as brief a stay as the first. To understand just why it has been away for so long is not difficult, as one need only recognize that the perpetrator of the 2001 attacks is most likely home-grown, and therefore of no use to an administration in dire need of a them.

That is not to say they didn't try, of course.

When the anthrax attacks occurred, Iraq was immediately fingered by some experts and many neoconservative hawks as a possible source; ABC News quoted three unnamed government sources as saying the powder in the letters matched the type produced in Iraq.

Even though most serious analysts were highly skeptical that the tainted letters came from Hussein, the mere possibility that Iraq could have maintained a stockpile of anthrax was enough to convince many people that it was a looming threat.

ABC's ineptitude in this case is par-for-the-course in American journalism, where the government leaks things to the media it thinks will help its cause and the media dutifully act as stenographers for those in power. Totalitarianism has its bludgeons and gulags. America has its complicit press.

Afghanistan, though by this time was assuredly the source of the WTC attacks, was simply not sexy enough a target. One of the most backward and poorest countries in the world, the pot at the end of the rainbow would surely not be filled with gold. Most of Bush's top aides had been praying for a disaster to link to Iraq since the late 90s under the umbrella of the PNAC, and thought for sure they could manufacture one in the Anthrax attacks, helpfully guided by gullible journalists with an unquenchable thirst for access to government sources.

Unfortunately for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, facts presented at least a fleeting obstacle, though one in its waning days of influence. Once the attacks were believed to be of US origin, they were duly forgotten and discarded, as though domestic terror is not in fact terror at all, at least not terror that can be used to propagate fallacies about foreign nemeses. The people that died, however, remain dead to this day, comforted little by the lack of utility found in their deaths.

Seven years later, 'unnamed government sources' are back, slowly sowing the seeds for another disappearance of the topic, this time in the form of a dead scientist. Completely ignoring their previous credulity in the public prosecution of Steven Hatfill, the media bandwagon is once again taking passengers, destination to be determined by the US government. Journalistic timing couldn't be more impeccable, as it was only late June of this year that the government settled with Hatfill for its propagation of lies about him in the initial phase of the story. No bother, all the more reason to blindly jump after the next government target without question.

I don't pretend to know the guilt or innocence of Bruce Ivins, no one does, but the story reads to me like so many we've read before, with endings well known. There was Hatfill. Richard Jewell in the Atlanta Olympics bombings. The constant rehashing of the Jon Benet case. And of course, the story of the pretty, affluent, blond girl in Aruba that insists on keeping Nancy Grace compelling me to throw a blunt object at my television on a nightly basis. Aesop was no more proficient in providing ample guides on how to proceed, but reason-be-damned, sensationalism must rule the day.

Others have examined the details of the FBI's shaky case in much more detail than I wish to, and they are worth reading, but in doing so, they seem to be placing the verdict in the hands of the outcome. The final fate of the case, however, has no bearing on the lack of integrity involved all around.

Journalists are widely being used as tools of the FBI in the case, waiting patiently to write unquestioningly the next tidbit of information passed onto them by the government, and in that way are no better than journalists used to perform their patriotic duty a century ago by printing stories of bombed American ships in order to instigate war with Spain, though the ships were done in by the US itself for precisely that function. The tale, though the players are different, is well-worn and remains transparent.

The argument over the state of journalism in America shouldn't be over liberal versus conservative, but rather over competency versus sheer ineptitude, the latter a defining characteristic of all but a select few American journalists. Whether Ivins is proven in some way guilty at the end of this parody is unimportant. It will do nothing to obfuscate the fact that there has been no actual reporting on the case at all, merely rote repetition of unnamed government sources weaving the tale most beneficial to their cause.

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