I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Richard Cohen: Administration Lies are for the Greater Good

Defenders of the Bush Administration’s pre-war WMD claims have argued that: (1) the Administration genuinely thought that Iraq had WMD’s and therefore did nothing wrong even though no WMD’s were found, and/or (2) Iraq really did have WMD’s which were hidden/smuggled/turned-invisible before the War began. The craziest of the crazies will even argue that (3) we did, in fact, find WMD’s in Iraq but the anti-Bush media just won't admit it.

But nobody -- not even the most slavishly reverent Bush loyalists -- has argued that it would be acceptable if the Administration really did lie about WMD’s in order to lure the nation into war.

At least nobody argued that until today -- when "liberal" Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen made exactly that depraved point. Writing from his vacation investigative reporting excursion to Amman, Jordan, he spat out this gem:

One could almost forgive President Bush for waging war under false or mistaken pretenses had a better, more democratic Middle East come out of it. But just as the 1991 Persian Gulf War introduced an element of instability in the region -- the rise of al Qaeda in response to the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia -- so might this one do something similar.

The gaping voids of logic, rationality and ethics illustrated by that first sentence are staggering to behold. Cohen is actually arguing that it is tolerable for the Government to lie to its citizens about the reasons a war is necessary as long as the war produces some other good result once it’s all said and done.

He even goes out of his way to make clear that he is not merely willing to forgive the Administration for being "mistaken" about its pre-war WMD claims, but is also willing to forgive them for making "false" claims that were the by-product of something other than mistakes, i.e., which were knowing, deliberate lies ("One could almost forgive President Bush for waging war under false or mistaken pretenses").

If it is not entirely unforgivable for a Government to knowingly lie in order to trick its citizens into supporting a dangerous, deadly war, what would Cohen consider to be unforgivable?

At its core, this radical "ends-justifies-the-means" view spat out by Cohen today – that it's fine for the Government to lie as long as it is getting us to act in our own Good -- is illustrative of the perverse Government-worshiping disease plaguing our media elites. This disease has radically eviscerated, even reversed, the media’s intended role: to constitute a Fourth Estate instinctively working against Government power, not as a Pravda-like weapon serving as a cozy, friendly ally providing an outlet for Government propaganda.

And Cohen is excusing Government lies in the very same newspaper which, only 30 years ago, tenanciously exposed and brought down an Administration for lying about a much less serious matter (a hotel break-in versus a vicious, endless war).

Could the media have fallen any further away from its central mandate? After all, here is Cohen, a purported pundit of the "opposition" party, now endorsing the Administration's lies as long as they are for our own Good.

And so it goes among our punditry: It is the elevated, glistening media and government elites ensconced in their Washington, DC palaces and working in revolting tandem – the ones who attend those great parties with Cohen and who sit near him at the Kennedy Center galas – who know best. And if they, in their Elegant, Informed Wisdom, have to lie to the masses in order to convince them to do what is good for them, so be it. After all, it’s for our own Good.

Isn't that mindset a substantial reason why the establishment media has basically overlooked, excused, and (now with Cohen’s tour de force today) affirmatively justified the Administration's pre-war dishonesty designed to lure Americans into supporting this war?

Unlike us, they know the good public servants in the Administration, they see them at parties, they chat with them at galas. These officials are smart and nice, they mean well, and they know what's good for us. So if they lie, it's only because they are protecting us and doing what's best for us.

We shouldn't be angry and we definitely shouldn't try to punish them for that, even when they break the law. No, says Cohen, we must understand that these magnanimous officials do what they do, whether lying or law-breaking, with good intentions, for our own Good.

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