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Charles Lewis has been an investigative producer for ABC News and the CBS news program 60 Minutes. He founded The Center for Public Integrity. He is executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication. And he is the author of 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity. We discuss his book.
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When New York Times reporter James Risen published his previous book, State of War, the Times ended its delay of over a year and published his article on warrantless spying rather than be scooped by the book. The Times claimed it hadn't wanted to influence the 2004 presidential election by informing the public of what the President was doing. But this week a Times editor said on 60 Minutes that the White House had warned him that a terrorist attack on the United States would be blamed on the Times if one followed publication -- so it may be that the Times' claim of contempt for democracy was a cover story for fear and patriotism. The Times never did report various other important stories in Risen's book.
One of those stories, found in the last chapter, was that of Operation Merlin -- possibly named because only reliance on magic could have made it work -- in which the CIA gave nuclear weapon plans to Iran with a few obvious changes in them. This was supposedly supposed to somehow slow down Iran's nonexistent efforts to build nuclear weapons. Risen explained Operation Merlin on Democracy Now this week and was interviewed about it by 60 Minutes which managed to leave out any explanation of what it was. The U.S. government is prosecuting Jeffrey Sterling for allegedly being the whistleblower who served as a source for Risen, and subpoenaing Risen to demand that he reveal his source(s).
The Risen media blitz this week accompanies the publication of his new book, Pay Any Price. Risen clearly will not back down. This time he's made his dumbest-thing-the-CIA-did-lately story the second chapter rather than the last, and even the New York Times has already mentioned it. We're talking about a "torture works," "Iraq has WMDs," "let's all stare at goats" level of dumbness here. We're talking about the sort of thing that would lead the Obama administration to try to put somebody in prison. But it's not clear there's a secret source to blame this time, and the Department of So-Called Justice is already after Sterling and Risen.
Sterling, by the way, is unheard of by comparison with Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden or the other whistleblowers Risen reports on in his new book. The public, it seems, doesn't make a hero of a whistleblower until after the corporate media has made the person famous as an alleged traitor. Sterling, interestingly, is a whistleblower who could only be called a "traitor" if it were treason to expose treason, since people who think in those terms almost universally will view handing nuclear plans to Iran as treason. In other words, he's immune from the usual attack, but stuck at the first-they-ignore-you stage because there's no corporate interest in telling the Merlin story.
So what's the new dumbness from Langley? Only this: a gambling-addicted computer hack named Dennis Montgomery who couldn't sell Hollywood or Las Vegas on his software scams, such as his ability to see content in videotape not visible to the naked eye, sold the CIA on the completely fraudulent claim that he could spot secret al Qaeda messages in broadcasts of the Al Jazeera television network. To be fair, Montgomery says the CIA pushed the idea on him and he ran with it. And not only did the CIA swallow his hooey, but so did the principals committee, the membership of which was, at least for a time: Vice President Dick Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, So-Called Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet plays his usual role as dumber-than-a-post bureaucrat in Risen's account, but John Brennan is noted as having been involved in the Dennis Montgomery lunacy as well. The Bush White House grounded international flights as a result of Montgomery's secret warnings of doom, and seriously considered shooting planes out of the sky.
When France demanded to see the basis for grounding planes, it quickly spotted a steaming pile of crottin de cheval and let the U.S. know. So, the CIA moved on from Montgomery. And Montgomery moved on to other contracts working on other horse droppings for the Pentagon. And nothing shocking there. "A 2011 study by the Pentagon," Risen points out, "found that during the ten years after 9/11, the Defense Department had given more than $400 billion to contractors who had previously been sanctioned in cases involving $1 million or more in fraud." And Montgomery was not sanctioned. And we the people who enriched him with millions weren't told he existed. Nothing unusual there either. Secrecy and fraud are the new normal in the story Risen tells, detailing the fraudulent nature of drone murder profiteers, torture profiteers, mercenary profiteers, and even fear profiteers -- companies hired to generate hysteria. So forcefully has the dumping of money into militarism been divorced in public discourse from the financial burden it entails that Risen is able to quote Linden Blue, vice chairman of General Atomics, criticizing people who take money from the government. He means poor people who take tiny amounts of money for their basic needs, not drone makers who get filthy rich off the pretense that drones make the world safer.
The root of the problem, as Risen sees it, is that the military and the homeland security complex have been given more money than they can reasonably figure out what to do with. So, they unreasonably figure out what to do with it. This is compounded, Risen writes, by fear so extreme that people don't want to say no to anything that might possibly work even in their wildest dreams -- or what Dick Cheney called the obligation to invest in anything with a 1% chance. Risen told Democracy Now that military spending reminded him of the Wall Street banks. In his book he argues that the big war profiteers have been deemed too big to fail.
Risen tells several stories in Pay Any Price, including the story of the pallets of cash. Of $20 billion shipped to Iraq in $100 bills, he writes, $11.7 billion is unaccounted for -- lost, stolen, misused, or dumped into a failed attempt to buy an election for Ayad Allawi. Risen reports that some $2 billion of the missing money is actually known to be sitting in a pile in Lebanon, but the U.S. government has no interest in recovering it. After all, it's just $2 billion, and the military industrial complex is sucking down $1 trillion a year from the U.S. treasury.
When Risen, like everyone else, cites the cost of recent U.S. wars ($4 trillion over a decade, he says), I'm always surprised that nobody notices that it is the wars that justify the "regular" "base" military spending of another $10 trillion each decade at the current pace. I also can't believe Risen actually writes that "to most of America, war has become not only tolerable but profitable." What? Of course it's extremely profitable for certain people who exert inordinate influence on the government. But "most of America"? Many (not most) people in the U.S. have jobs in the war industry, so it's common to imagine that spending on war and preparations for war benefits an economy. In reality, spending those same dollars on peaceful industries, on education, on infrastructure, or even on tax cuts for working people would produce more jobs and in most cases better paying jobs -- with enough savings to help everyone make the transition from war work to peace work. Military spending radically increases inequality and diverts funding from services that people in many less-militarized nations have. I also wish that Risen had managed to include a story or two from that group making up 95% of U.S. war victims: the people of the places where the wars are waged.
But Risen does a great job on veterans of U.S. torture suffering moral injury, on the extensiveness of waterboarding's use, and on a sometimes comical tale of the U.S. government's infiltration of a lawsuit by 9/11 families against possible Saudi funders of 9/11 -- a story, part of which is given more context in terms of its impact in Afghanistan in Anand Gopal's recent book. There's even a story with some similarity to Merlin regarding the possible sale of U.S.-made drones to U.S. enemies abroad.
These SNAFU collection books have to be read with an eye on the complete forest, of course, to avoid the conclusion that what we need is war done right or -- for that matter -- Wall Street done right. We don't need a better CIA but a government free of the CIA. That the problems described are not essentially new is brought to mind, for me, in reading Risen's book, by the repeated references to Dulles Airport. Still, it is beginning to look as if the Dulles brothers aren't just a secretive corner of the government anymore, but the patron saints of all Good Americans. And that's frightening. Secrecy is allowing insanity, and greater secrecy is being employed to keep the insanity secret. How can it be a "State Secret" that the CIA fell for a scam artist who pretended to see magical messages on Al Jazeera? If Obama's prosecution of whistleblowers doesn't alert people to the danger, at least it is helping sell Jim Risen's books, which in turn ought to wake people up better than a middle-of-the-night visit in the hospital from Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card.
There's still a thin facade of decency to be found in U.S. political culture. Corrupt Iraqi politicians, in Risen's book, excuse themselves by saying that the early days of the occupation in 2003 were difficult. A New York Times editor told 60 Minutes that the first few years after 9/11 were just not a good time for U.S. journalism. These should not be treated as acceptable excuses for misconduct. As the earth's climate begins more and more to resemble a CIA operation, we're going to have nothing but difficult moments. Already the U.S. military is preparing to address climate change with the same thing it uses to address Ebola or terrorism or outbreaks of democracy. If we don't find people able to think on their feet, as Risen does while staring down the barrel of a U.S. prison sentence, we're going to be in for some real ugliness.
Brad Friedman is the investigative blogger, journalist, broadcaster, trouble-maker and muckraker from BradBlog.com. He is a regular contributor to Salon.com and elsewhere; host of KPFK/Pacifica Radio's BradCast and the nationally-syndicated Green News Report with co-host Desi Doyen. We discuss war and peace, the environment and its destruction, and voting and everything done to prevent it. As Michael Moore says: It's a comedy!
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Pacifica stations can also download from AudioPort.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
ISIS has created a movie preview for the coming war, a war it eagerly wants Washington to take part in. The White House and Congress would like to oblige, as long as the movie can be a short one, on the model of Libya. Here's the plot: Evil force arises out of nowhere; United States destroys it; credits roll. If Libya-The-Movie had begun with years of support for Gadaffi or ended with the disaster left behind, the critics would have hated it. Framing is everything.
Kathy Kelly published an article on Wednesday describing her visit some years back to a U.S. prison camp in Iraq where Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai spent four years under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before becoming the leader of ISIS.
Imagine a Hollywood-like movie that began in that camp. An opening scene might show Baghdadi and his fellow prisoners paraded naked in front of female soldiers and forced to say "I love George Bush" before they could get their food rations. We'd see them sleeping on the ground in the cold, cursing their captors and swearing every last drop of energy and instant of remaining life to that highest of all Hollywood values: violent revenge.
Cut to the present and a scene in a small house in Iraq with 500-pound U.S. bombs exploding just outside. Baghdadi and his gang of loveable heroes look horrified, but -- with a twinkle in his eye -- Baghdadi gathers the others to him and begins to smile. Then he begins to laugh. His comrades look bewildered. Then they start to catch on. "You wanted this, didn't you?" exclaims Sexy Female Rebel. "This was your plan, wasn't it!"
"Hand me the ultimate weapon," Baghdadi says, turning to a future nominee for best male supporting actor. BMSA grins and pulls out a video camera. Baghdadi raises the camera over his head with one hand. Turning to Sexy Female Rebel he says "Go on the roof and look north. Tell me what you see coming."
Cut to view through binoculars as music swells to high enthusiasm. Countless oceans of people on foot are making their way over the land with burning U.S. flags on sticks leading the way.
Of course, even Hollywood, which made Avatar, wouldn't make exactly THIS movie. The White House is going to have to make it. But who's directing? President Obama is hunting around for a name for this war, while ISIS has already released one in its video preview. Even the U.S. public seems increasingly interested in the full-length feature. "How does this end?" they want to know. "This was begun by Bush" they say, depending on their partisanship.
What if the script were flipped, not to portray the Iraqi as protagonist, but to abandon the religion of violent revenge? What if Washington were to say to ISIS this:
We see that you want a war with us. We understand that you would gain local support because of how deeply we are hated. We're tired of being hated. We're tired of taking direction from criminals like you. We're not going to play along. We're going to make ourselves loved rather than hated. We're going to apologize for our occupations and bombings and prisons and torture. We're going to make restitution. We're going to provide aid to the entire region. It'll cost us a lot less to do that than to keep dropping bombs on you, so you can forget the plan to bankrupt us. We're going to save trillions of dollars in fact by ceasing to arm ourselves and the rest of the world to the teeth. We're going to announce a ban on shipping weapons to the Middle East. And since we ship 80% of them, not even counting our own military's, we're already off to a huge start. We're going to prosecute any oil company or country that does business with your organization. But we're going to hold no grudges against anyone who abandons your organization and seeks peace, just as we ask you to do what you can toward overcoming grudges against our past barbarity.
What would happen? You might be surprised. Gandhi-The-Movie brought in over $50 million in 1982.
To the extent that the U.S. public is newly, and probably momentarily, accepting of war -- an extent that is wildly exaggerated, but still real -- it is because of videos of beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
When 9-11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9-11, some of the victims' relatives pushed back.
Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.
Here is video of Foley talking about the lies that are needed to launch wars, including the manipulation of people into thinking of foreigners as less than human. Foley's killers may have thought of him as less than human. He may not have viewed them the same way.
The video shows Foley in Chicago helping Haskell Wexler with his film Four Days in Chicago -- a film about the last NATO protest before the recent one in Wales. I was there in Chicago for the march and rally against NATO and war. And I've met Wexler who has tried unsuccessfully to find funding for a film version of my book War Is A Lie.
Watch Foley in the video discussing the limitations of embedded reporting, the power of veteran resistance, veterans he met at Occupy, the absence of a good justification for the wars, the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage -- watch all of that and then try to imagine James Foley cheering like a weapons-maker or a Congress member for President Obama's announcement of more war. Try to imagine Foley accepting the use of his killing as propaganda for more fighting.
You can't do it. He's not an ad for war any more than the WMDs were a justification for war. His absence as a war justification has been exposed even faster than the absence of the WMDs was.
While ISIS may have purchased Sotloff, if not Foley, from another group, when Foley's mother sought to ransom him, the U.S. government repeatedly threatened her with prosecution. So, instead of Foley's mother paying a relatively small amount and possibly saving her son, ISIS goes on getting its funding from oil sales and supporters in the Gulf and free weapons from, among elsewhere, the United States and its allies. And we're going to collectively spend millions, probably billions, and likely trillions of dollars furthering the cycle of violence that Foley risked his life to expose.
The Coalition of the Willing is already crumbling. What if people in the United States were to watch the video of Foley when he was alive and speaking and laughing, not the one when he was a prop in a piece of propaganda almost certainly aimed at provoking the violence that Obama has just obligingly announced?
Foley said he believed his responsibility was to the truth. It didn't set him free. Is it perhaps not too late for the rest of us?
How did they imagine they'd get away with it, claiming that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and even nuclear weapons?
Defectors had made clear the chemical and biological weapons (some of them provided by the United States) had been destroyed. Inspectors had searched almost every inch of Iraq and said they'd get to the last few inches if given a few more days. Iraq was screaming that it had no such weapons. Numerous nations around the world were agreeing with Iraq. Colin Powell's own staff warned him that his claims would not be deemed plausible.
And yet, they got away with it to such an extent that most well-intentioned people in the United States to this day maintain that nobody can possibly be sure that Bush, Cheney, et alia, knew their statements were false when they made them.
"All this was inspired by the principle -- which is quite true within itself -- that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods." —Adolf Hitler
The U.S. media has repeatedly been claiming that Russia has invaded Ukraine. They claim it for a while, and there's obviously been no invasion, so they pause. Then they claim it again. Or they claim that a convoy of aid trucks constitutes an invasion. But the aid trucks look like aid trucks in all the photographs, and yet nobody has taken similar photographs of any invasion. When Ukrainian tanks rolled into eastern Ukraine and were surrounded by civilians, we saw photographs and videos. Now there's just a Colin-Powellesque satellite photo from NATO supposedly showing Russian artillery in Ukraine.
The major Russian invasion that apparently comes complete with some sort of muggle-and-photographer-repellant charm is said to consist of 1,000 troops -- or roughly as many troops as the U.S. has now sent back into Iraq in no sort of invasion to worry about whatsoever.
But where are the 1,000 Russian troops invading Ukraine? Ukraine claims to have captured 10 of them, but the captured troops don't seem to have agreed to the story. And what happened to the other 990? How did someone get close enough to capture 10 but not photograph the other 990?
Meanwhile Russia says it's all lies and publicly urges the United States to engage with Ukraine diplomatically and urge the Ukrainian government to stop bombing its own citizens and work out a federalist system that represents everyone within its borders.
But NATO is busy announcing a counter-invasion to the invisible Russian invasion.
How do they imagine they'll get away with it? Well, let's see. Not a single individual responsible for the lies that launched the destruction of Iraq and the death of some million people and the predictable and predicted chaos now tormenting Iraq's whole region has been held accountable in any way.
The lie that Gadaffi was about to slaughter innocents, the lie that facilitated the attack on Libya and the hell that has now been established there -- No one has been held accountable for that lie in any way whatsoever.
The lie that the White House had proof that Assad had used chemical weapons -- No one has been held accountable. No one has even had to recant as they switch targets and propose bombing Assad's enemies.
The lie that drone strikes don't kill innocents and don't kill those who could easily have been arrested instead -- No one has been held accountable.
The lie that the United States had proof Russia had shot down an airplane over Ukraine -- No one has been held accountable, and the United States is opposing an independent investigation.
The lie that torture makes us safe, a lie that led to the United States torturing some folks -- No one at the level of air-conditioned office work has been held responsible at all.
Why do they think they can get away with it?
Because you let them. Because you don't want to believe they commit such atrocities. Because you don't want to believe they tell big lies.
You know, some people feel like idiots for having believed the Iraq lies. Imagine how they're going to feel when they find out they believed a nation had been invaded when it hadn't.
David Swanson is author of War Is A Lie.
John Oliver is what I always wished Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert would be. In fact, he's what I always wished Ted Koppel or Jim Lehrer would be.
With so many people getting their news from comedians, the distinction between fake news and real news doesn't seem very useful. There's news that pushes corporate propaganda with a straight face and endless respect for those in power. And there's news that cracks jokes and mocks and ridicules those most deserving of scorn.
But most comedy news up until now, as far as I have seen, has mocked everyone from the powerful and corrupt to the sincere and righteous. Jon Stewart has had his brilliant moments, but -- even setting aside his weak, fawning interviews -- his attitude is one of mockery for all and contempt for any serious engagement with the world. He held a rally for people too smart to attend any other rallies -- and too dumb to realize they were volunteer participants in an advertisement.
Solemn news and humorous news thus far have both tended to be reactions to events. Both have told us what a horrible bill was passed by Congress yesterday, never what we might want to actively demand or resist with an eye on tomorrow. Both have been disempowering. Both have told us to stay home. And both have focused on the agenda of the status quo, as the serious news covers the day's disasters, and the funny news covers how absurdly the serious news covered the day's disasters. Neither has contributed much historical perspective or background; neither has been especially educational.
Now, watch John Oliver on nukes:
If you knew and were outraged by what he said, you're probably thrilled that he's said it. If you didn't know, you're importantly better informed. Here's news that's intended for a government of, by, and for the people, encouraging people to get active around an issue of the greatest importance and about which most people have lost interest.
Watch John Oliver on prisons: (Yes, there's singing.)
Watch John Oliver on income inequality:
Watch John Oliver on net neutrality:
Watch John Oliver on climate change:
That is five more times than I have ever before told anyone to watch television. Don't overdo it.
In this latest assault on Gaza, Israel had by Thursday already killed 69 Palestinians including 22 children and 13 women, plus 469 wounded including 166 children and 85 women, and 70 houses destroyed. These numbers have since increased significantly.
In this video from Thursday on CNN, Jake Tapper interviews Diana Buttu, a former advisor to the PLO. After failing to persuade her of Israel's complete innocence, he tells her that Hamas is instructing women and children to remain in their homes to die as Israel bombs them. She responds by expressing doubt that people want to die. Oh no, says Tapper, Palestinians live in a culture of martyrdom; they want to die.
William Westmoreland once remarked on Vietnam, where the United States killed 4 million men, women, children, and infants: "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."
Banastre Tarleton stood up in Parliament and defended the slave trade on the grounds that Africans did not object to being slaves.
President William McKinley said little brown Filipinos appreciated being conquered and dominated.
The view that the people you are abusing don't mind it has a long history of being employed to distract from the evil being done.
Just as powerful, if not more so, is the view that no evil is being done at all.
ABC News' Diane Sawyer told her viewers that scenes of destruction in Gaza were actually in Israel, and was later forced to apologize, but did not note that scenes like those she'd shown do not exist in Israel, rather leaving the impression that a simple mistake had swapped out similar scenes from one country for the other.
Polls have found that people in the United States believe Iraq benefitted from the war that destroyed it and that Iraqis are grateful, while the United States itself suffered.
If people cannot be depicted as evil, because we see images of them, and they are 3 years old and have their limbs ripped off, and if our cruelty cannot be depicted as for their own good, then the cruelty must itself be denied. We must completely avert our eyes or invert the facts. Or we must blame someone else for it. Blame Israel for getting a bit carried away after so many years of innocent suffering.
But it is with billions of dollars of weaponry provided free of cost courtesy of U.S. taxpayers that the Israeli military is bombing civilian neighborhoods in occupied Gaza. The ongoing occupation is at the root of the crisis, but this new turn to large-scale violence was produced by fraud. The Israeli government learned that three Israelis had been killed, falsely blamed Hamas, and falsely claimed to believe the young men might still be alive. This fraud was used to justify a search-and-rescue operation that left numerous dead and hundreds under arrest.
Small-scale violence by Palestinians is not justified by Israel's ongoing brutality. It is deeply immoral as well as absurdly counterproductive. But if individual murders justified the mass killing of war, the United States would have to launch a full-scale war on itself every day of the year. And it is the United States' weaponry, provided under the euphemism of "aid," that is pounding the homes of the people of Gaza.
Jewish Voice for Peace says, in an open letter that you too can sign:
"In this time of tremendous suffering and fear, from Jerusalem to Gaza, and from Hebron to Be’er Sheva, we reaffirm that all Israelis and Palestinians deserve security, justice, and equality, and we mourn all those who have died.
"Our unshakeable commitment to freedom and justice for all compels us to acknowledge that this violence has fallen overwhelmingly on Palestinians. And it compels us to affirm that this violence has a root cause: Israel's illegal occupation.
"We are united in our belief that:
"The denial of Palestinian human rights must end.
Illegal settlements must end.
Bombing civilians must end.
Killing children must end.
Valuing Jewish lives at the expense of others must end.
"Only by embracing equality for all peoples can this terrible bloodshed end."
Michael Arria's new book Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC is a nice summary of how a liberal corporate or liberal partisan television network falls short -- something of an update from Jeff Cohen's Cable News Confidential and the bad old days when MSNBC dumped Cohen and Phil Donahue for being anti-war. It turns out the good new days of MSNBC-gone-liberal are seriously flawed as well.
The flaws do a disservice to a large section of the population, many majority perspectives, and large numbers of people whose opinions would improve if their information did.
Yes, of course, it's nice to have a 24/7 channel that everybody receives making fun of Republicans. But the Comedy Channel (Comedy Central) does that too. The comedy fake news shows also make fun of Democrats and anyone else they can identify; they build cynicism and disgust without offering any better course of action than a mass Rally-for-Nothing to give people too smart to attend other rallies a chance to rally ironically.
But what does MSNBC offer? Beyond its mocking of Republicans, it gives a significant pass to Democrats, resulting in dishonest presentations of facts and a proposed course of action that's doomed to fail. There are many exceptions, of course, and MSNBC easily soars over the low bar of producing more honest and useful commentary than CNN or Fox. In fact, a book that collected the highlights of MSNBC would be quite interesting as well. It would feature a good bit of Chris Hayes, of honesty about climate, even a bit of reckoning with Israel. (In fact, I make no claim to know what all it would include, which is why I'd find it useful.) Such a collection might encourage networks, including MSNBC, to realize what can be done without the sky falling. But the lowlights, and the lines of limitation that are not crossed without corporate penalty are crucial and are the focus of Arria's book.
MSNBC gives voice to one side in a series of narrow debates, the side previously represented by the likes of Alan Colmes. But the change is basically one to a larger microphone, rather than to a wider range of opinion. The debate remains framed within the same limitations. A prime example is war and militarism. MSNBC is in favor of wars with a different wrapper, rather than of eliminating wars from U.S. foreign policy.
Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Chris Hayes (not at first, but he came around), and other MSNBC voices were all in favor of bombing Libya, and as far as I know are not particularly focused on the horrendous results.
Maddow declares Iran a dictatorship, and dates that dictatorship to 1979, never 1953. She's lied that Ahmadinejad was known for publicly defending Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons." And she grotesquely distorts the history of Palestine and Israel, claiming that Israel innocently declared independence and was attacked the next day by five nations. As Obama pushed for missile strikes on Syria, Maddow did a story on how many nations she believed a President John McCain would have attacked.
Ezra Klein finally turned against the war on Iraq, years too late, because "the odds were high we couldn't do it right" -- using "we" in the usual way for a media outlet that identifies with the government, and maintaining the important pretense that attacking foreign nations can be done correctly or incorrectly.
Touré defended the drone murder of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki. Martin Bashir insisted that a guest not doubt the integrity of "a senior military officer." Adam Serwer demanded that "service members" all be "supported" "unconditionally."
Are these unfairly handpicked examples of military-worship on MSNBC? I doubt it. When Chris Hayes questioned whether every dead U.S. soldier is necessarily a hero, he was then apparently faced with the choice of taking a stand and losing his job or doing what he did instead: apologize for the outburst of honesty. Cenk Uygur, in contrast, took a stand for critical coverage of the Obama administration and was fired by MSNBC President Phil Griffin, who told him, "We're insiders. We're the establishment."
Was Hayes right to apologize in order to maintain his voice on the air, a voice that's better than some of the other ones? I don't have a strong opinion on that question. My interest here is in pointing out, along with Arria, that a voice willing to question whether every hired killer in every popular and unpopular and illegal war is without question a hero is not permitted on MSNBC.
When I say that the best of MSNBC is its coverage of Republicans, I don't mean to give a blanket endorsement to all such coverage. The over-obsession with the right wing gives prominence to much that would better be treated with silence -- silence that instead is reserved for the left.
MSNBC follows the lead of the party and politicians it has given its loyalty to. And it doesn't just follow their lead. MSNBC has hired Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod, among others who can bring the Obama line straight to the viewers of a network that has more than once debated whether Obama should be added to Mount Rushmore. "My President Obama? Is he your President too?" Ed Schultz demanded of a guest while insisting that Libya be bombed as Obama desired.
Schultz even ignorantly claimed that Obama couldn't have been elected if he'd campaigned on increasing troops in Afghanistan -- as of course Obama had very prominently done. But think about Schultz's defense of Obama, rather than his ignorance of basic facts. Schultz is claiming that Obama lied about ending a war in order to get elected, and then escalated the war once in office. That's the good Obama of Schultz's imagination. That's Obama on the model of Wilson and Roosevelt. There's a reason Bill Clinton calls MSNBC "our version of Fox."
I said MSNBC promotes a program of action that Comedy Central does not. But its program of action is not principled issue-based nonviolent engagement; it's voting for one political party as a path to progress. Anything else is unrealistic, MSNBC ridiculously maintains. Melissa Harris-Perry claims that supporting Obama despite any failings is "realist." She says that critics of Obama from the left are, in fact, not just unrealistic but racist. She dismissed the Chicago teachers' strike and proposed that they solve their problems by voting in public elections. She also insisted that Edward Snowden should have worked within the system. How realistic is that, exactly?
The MSNBC worldview generally pretends that everything was good in 1999 and easily can be again. Says Rachel Maddow: "I'm in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-Era Republican Party platform." So, maybe a bit earlier than 1999.
The perspective that MSNBC believes its viewers hold, and which it relentlessly instructs them to hold was exemplified by a recent comment that Chris Hayes made to Glenn Greenwald: "People feel they have to choose between Barack Obama and Glenn Greenwald and there are millions of people in this country who are like if that is a choice I choose Barack Obama." Hayes then gave reasons to choose Obama. No doubt Hayes believes he was simply articulating the spontaneously generated view of the masses, of which a good organizer must be aware for better or worse. But he never suggested the slightest critique of the way of thinking that he was in fact modeling on national TV. He demanded that Greenwald alter his "tone" to accommodate such a idiotic perspective, but he never hinted at the possibility that people might alter their idiocy, that they might stop choosing between personalities and deal with facts, that they might vote for politicians and simultaneously critique their failings, that they might view elected officials as representatives rather than deities.
Of course, Hayes wasn't just referring to the unknown unwashed masses when he claimed that millions of people place loyalty to a president above their duty to know what their government is doing and hold it accountable for its abuses; he was referring to his colleagues and the official policy of his employer. And that is the limit of a partisan, corporate, insider media outlet of any flavor.
Now, we have alternatives, including Democracy Now, Free Speech TV, Dennis Trainor, the RealNews.com, RT, Youtube, etc., and the written word. We may manage to replace MSNBC or circumvent it. We may manage to come up with media outlet(s) that will produce an Occupy movement and sustain it. But I think it's an open question whether improving MSNBC would actually be bad for its profitability. For years, TV executives seemed to believe that creating a Democratic Fox would not succeed as well as creating a second lesser Fox. They eventually proved themselves wrong. Now, they are clearly convinced that creating an independent populist challenge to a government that 80% of the country believes is broken wouldn't succeed outside of Comedy Central.
It's possible they're wrong. It's possible that going where the majority is on corporate trade pacts and single-payer healthcare and wars would increase viewership. It's possible that access to such viewers would attract politicians and advertisers as well or nearly as well as softball interviews and corporate friendly views. We'll never know unless someone gives it a try.