So It's Ok to Disagree with the President Again?
Historical perspective about how government can immobilize journalists is found in a statement made by a centenarian philosopher, Scott Nearing (1883-1983):
"War offers those in power a chance to rid themselves of opposition, while covering up their designs with patriotic slogans."
Nearing was a University of Pennsylvania professor of history who lost his teaching post because he spoke out against U.S. involvement in World War I. For the rest of his years, he and his wife led a satisfying, pioneer-type existence, building their own rustic homes and raising their food in truck gardens. Until his last year, he continued to chop firewood.
As a journalist for half a century, I took pride in what I learned in school-- and later on the job-- about the vital role of the press in a democracy. Then came the stunning events of 9-11, when for the first time in modern history, our mainland was attacked. Hijacked airliners killed thousands. The effect on the mass media was not fatal, but for much of a year left it in the equivalent of an intensive care unit. Nearing's words began to be uncomfortably relevant.
We were told life would never be the same. Nowhere was the change more evident than in the news media. Their response was patriotic support, natural for all of us. But the fourth estate's responsibility for covering controversy became muted, especially when related to crusade-type actions of government.
In mid-May, reality finally began to sink in with verified reports the government had failed in its response to early warnings of the attack. A major change in attitude among previously supportive newspapers marked a long overdue shift in news media reaction to"wartime" policies of government. The Chicago Tribune, long a bastion of Republicanism, and the Madison (Wis.) Capital Times were among the first to react in a way that indicated press tolerance had come to an end.
Their editorials-- and those of many other newpapers nationwide-- marked the close of an out-of-character honeymoon most of the press has had with the Bush administration since it began using its war stance to justify extreme domestic behavior. Equally damaging was a May 16 program on National Public television that suggested government response-- for better or worse-- was orchestrated by a low-profile group of"heavy hitters" consisting of nationally known figures with a reputation for hawkishness in foreign affairs."Front Line," a respected non-partisan program, made public the identity of members of the innocuous-sounding Defense Policy Review Board.
Board members are anything but innocuous. They include Richard Nixon's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger; the leading hawk of the Reagan administration, Richard Perl, and a pair of former House speakers who left that post after being discredited: Newt Gingrich and Tom Foley, a Republican and a Democrat. The behind-the-scenes group is led by the former president who is father of the man currently in the White House, George Bush. Those who long suspected the elder Bush-- once head of the CIA--pulled policy strings when he was vice-president to Ronald Reagan find it natural that he be lead ventriloquist among those now tugging the strings to the White House.
In the 17 months since the president was appointed, I've expected some vigorous response to war policies from partisans on the losing side. There was none. Democrats went into hibernation after 9-11. That's understandable in a typical war situation where need for a united front precludes partisan infighting. This is not a typical war. The enemy is hard to identify, and even harder to find.
Selected villain is a Saudi transplant into Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden, long listed as a"terrorist." His name is heard less and less. Convenient targets were the religious fanatics who ruled the territory, the Taliban. Troops still are wandering the field. But little is heard of that war anymore. Fortunately, U.S. fatalities have been few. Unfortunately, the majority were from"friendly fire," as we unintentionally killed our own, while a wartime foe was no factor.
It's evident Democrats can't attribute their meekness to a lack of issues. A few non-political voices went after an assertive new attorney general, John Ashcroft, who landed in that sensitive post after losing his Senate race in Missouri. Some complained his policies too often reflect religious conservatism. That's trivial compared to his unprecedented assault on civil liberties.
A compliant press can't perform its essential watchdog role in a democracy. We count on it to react when an administration and its chief law officer restrict civil liberties with policies not justified by reality. Journalism forgets the words of Scott Nearing at its own risk.
If the growing list of government malfeasance charges can be adequately explained, things may calm down. If they can't, the news media must fulfill their responsibilities to history, to the public and to democracy in a way that will make Watergate seem like a cakewalk.
comments powered by Disqus
Paul Stifflemire - 10/17/2002
Ginger Mayerson's comments reflect the view of the hard left Democrat. Everything that occurs during Republican administrations is not only suspect--it is de facto evil, and responsible for all that is wrong in the world.
She states that our current predicament, that is, fighting a war on terror against a ruthless band of individuals who seek nothing less than our annhilation, and preparing to bring down a madman in Iraq who, as soon as he has the delivery system, will use weapons of mass destruction against the world, is the fault of previous Republican administrations.
Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, James Earl Carter, and William J. Clinton were, apparently, either saints or goodwill ambassadors who made the world a peaceful and good, safe place. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and now Geoge W. Bush, on the other hand, are their polar opposites, casting about for each and every opportunity to rape, pillage, murder and destroy humanity.
If one wonders why things are a mess, it is largely because people like Ginger Mayerson are empowered by the U.S. Constitution to vote, and in the process, elect real "war mongers" like Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton -- men either without the will to defeat tyranny, or, as it turns out regarding James earl Carter and William J. Clinton, are in the confidence of and provide direct support to our enemies, so long as it might keep Republicans from power.
This warped view, Democrats at any cost, defeat Republicans by any means, will lead America inevitably down a path to internal strife and cripple this country's ability to protect the rest of the world, from the real evils that are lurking out there. I wonder what Ms. Mayerson's reaction will be to the next attack by our enemies?
More drool, no doubt.
Ginger Mayerson - 5/30/2002
"Why highly experienced " heavy hitters " - and they were the men who faced the prospect of nuclear armageddon if their policies and judgements failed - like Mr. Perle and Dr. Kissinger should be disqualified from serving on a part-time presidential advisory body is a mystery to me."
Dr. Kissinger's policies might have gone short of nuclear Armageddon, but I don't know anyone who considers them successful, especially in Southeast Asia and South America. What might be called the success of opening up China (where one can now get a fresh kidney from an executed prisoner) and détente with the Soviet Union (which propped them up for another 17 stressful - including the Afghanistan campaign - years) are debatable.
"This only makes sense if one assumes a priori that service in a Republican administration makes one a member of a sinister conspiracy."
Perhaps not, but it does give them a Cold War mentality that the rest of the world has or is trying to outgrow.
"The comment about Gerorge H.W. Bush running Reagan administration foreign policy from behind the scenes only demonstrates the author's complete lack of awareness about both American foreign policy and the Reagan administration in particular."
Well, it certainly wasn't Reagan (who probably had Alzheimers even then) or Alexander Haig (whatever happened to him?) running the foreign policy show in those days. I know, it seemed like all Bush I did was go to state funerals, but he was certainly in the loop on everything else. Why else those pardons on December 24, 1991?
I'd not say it's not drivel that Dr. Kissinger has declined to answer a few polite questions Spain and France would like to ask about his role in Operation Condor while he was Secretary of State for Nixion. These countries are merely trying to discover the facts surrounding the murder of some of their nationals (Independent.co.uk on April 24, 2002 [I don't have a link to it]). In 2001, Juan Guzmán, a Chilean judge, submitted some 30 questions to Mr Kissinger about his relationship with Gen Pinochet. So far Kissinger has declined to answer. ( http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/story.jsp?story=284708 ) And then Christopher Hitchens makes a case for Dr. Kissinger being a war criminal for his direction of the Vietnam war in Laos and Cambodia while he was Secretary of State for Nixion.
George HW Bush pardoned Caspar W. Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, Duane R. Clarridge, Alan Fiers, Clair George, Robert C. McFarlane before they could possibly give up any information regarding the Iran-Contra scandal. He ordered the destruction of Panama City by US forces, which included killing civilians, to capture Manuel Noriega, who was Bush's man in Panama when he was director of the CIA and thereafter. Armed and encouraged by the US during the Reagan and Bush administrations, Saddam Hussein appears to be another former flunkey Bush could no longer control and therefore found necessary to destroy. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait might or might not have been given tacit approval by April Gillespie, Bush's ambassador to Iraq in 1991. After all, the Reagan/Bush administrations had armed him to fight Iran, why wouldn't they approve of a little territory grab? And then, in pursuit of one last tango with the Soviets, there are the Mujahideen armed and supported by the Reagan/Bush administrations. And lest we forget that Bush mourned the end of the Cold War because it robbed him of his chance to be a war president.
Much of what is wrong with the world now is the result of the policies of the Nixon, Reagan and Bush I administrations against governments they did not approve of. By using the "Evil Empire" to terrorize the American public into submission and push though the brutish agendas those administrations pursued in Southeast Asia and South America, they have left us with a legacy of death, destruction and horror generations of good government, if we are still capable of it, might not be able to repair.
Do we really want these people (Bush I, Kissinger, et al) and their creepy ideology running our military and using US resources for murder, torture and other unspeakable acts? I don't; one of the worst aspects of this illegitimate administration is that it brings the perpetrators of most of the horrors of the past 30 years back to powers were they can do it all over again.
Mark Safranski - 5/28/2002
"Board members are anything but innocuous. They include Richard Nixon's secretary of state, Henry Kissinger; the leading hawk of the Reagan administration, Richard Perl,[ sic] and a pair of former House speakers who left that post after being discredited: Newt Gingrich and Tom Foley, a Republican and a Democrat. The behind-the-scenes group is led by the former president who is father of the man currently in the White House, George Bush. Those who long suspected the elder Bush-- once head of the CIA--pulled policy strings when he was vice-president to Ronald Reagan find it natural that he be lead ventriloquist among those now tugging the strings to the White House. "
Drivel. Tom Foley was not " discrdited " unless you count losing a democratic election to be some form of disgrace. Why highly experienced " heavy hitters " - and they were the men who faced the prospect of nuclear armageddon if their policies and judgements failed - like Mr. Perle and Dr. Kissinger should be disqualified from serving on a part-time presidential advisory body is a mystery to me. This only makes sense if one assumes a priori that service in a Republican administration makes one a member of a sinister conspiracy.The comment about Gerorge H.W. Bush running Reagan administration foreign policy from behind the scenes only demonstrates the author's complete lack of awareness about both American foreign policy and the Reagan administration in particular.
- Russian historian slams Putin
- WaPo chastised for ignoring Venona Papers in obit for Allen Weinstein
- In gay marriage decision, Supreme Court turns to historians for insight
- Sam Haselby argues religion trumps politics in his new book