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.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Lucy, Charlie Brown & the Football

As amazing as it is, there is no question that exactly the same political segment which led us into the Iraq disaster really is in full-on, coordinated war-mongering mode with regard to Iran. What's most startling about it is that they are not even attempting to do anything differently. It's all exactly the same.

Thus, we have Weekly Standard and National Review prattling on about all sorts of scary stories showing that Iran is an uncontainable danger (invariably as a result of hostile overtures towards Israel, but that doesn't seem to matter, just like it didn't last time); we have New Republic publishing a cover story, complete with all-too-familiar cartoons showing demonic Iranian leaders, which enable people like Jonah Goldberg, on simplistic script, to recite: "Don't let anyone tell you that it's the American right which is trying to "demonize" Ahmadinejad" (yes, what a revealing shock it is that even The New Republic has jumped on the War-Against-Iran craze); and all of the tough-guy bloggers are beating their chest in manly unison, proclaiming their bravery and strength to the world as they stand tall against the Hitlerian-Persian Threat.

But what is really most alarming -- although, I know, it shouldn't be surprising at all -- is that the American media seems not just willing, but tongue-waggingly pleased, to be exploited and used again, in the best tradition of Pravda, as the principal mechanism for venerating governmental claims as though they constitute "news," without even pretending to subject those claims to the slightest bit of skepticism or scrutiny. This Washington Post article by John Pomfret, entitled "Iran Has Raised Efforts to Obtain U.S. Arms Illegally, Official Says," is really a museum-worthy model for the type of mindlessly trustworthy "journalism"which convinced most Americans that Saddam had WMDs (and even that he personally participated in the planning of the 9/11 attacks), which, in turn, led us right into the invasion of Iraq.

The article is long and gives the appearance of being detailed and substantive, but in reality, it does nothing but slavishly print the uncorroborated statements of Bush officials claiming that Iran is engaged in all sorts of nefarious weapons-procuring activities, and has intensified (!) these activities of late. Thus, we "learn":

The Iranian government has intensified efforts to illegally obtain weapons technology from the United States, contracting with dealers across the country for spare parts to maintain its aging American-made air force planes, its missile forces and its alleged nuclear weapons program, according to federal law enforcement authorities.

Over the past two years, arms dealers have exported or attempted to export to Iran experimental aircraft; machines used for measuring the strength of steel, which is critical in the development of nuclear weapons; assembly kits for F-14 Tomcat fighter jets; and a range of components used in missile systems and fighter-jet engines.

"Iran's weapons acquisition program is becoming more organized," said Stephen Bogni, acting chief of the Arms and Strategic Technology Investigations Unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "They are looking for more varied and sophisticated technology. Night-vision equipment, unmanned aircraft, missile technology" and weapons of mass destruction.

I love the "and weapons of mass destruction" oh-so-inconspicuously tacked onto the quote at the end. The next two paragraphs begin, respectively, with these two phrases: "Federal agents say" and "The Bush administration says," and the rest of the article is composed of nothing more than uncorroborated information and statements fed to the reporter by the government.

The reporter's sole effort to "investigate" the claims? "Calls for comment to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations were not returned." Gosh, that's hard-hitting; I hope he didn't strain himself.

Of all the dysfunctional aspects of our governmental system, this is, by far, the most dangerous. This is how most journalism works now. The Government wants to implant certain claims as "facts" into the public discourse. It then contacts the most slavish reporters, promises them exclusivity, and then feeds them a bunch of highly dubious claims which the reporter then dutifully and mindlessly publishes as though it is fact, without any corroboration, investigation, or anything else that distinguishes journalism from other fields such as, say, government propaganda, public relations, or stenography.

There are no critical faculties exercised, no investigation, no skepticism of any kind. In short, there is nothing adversarial between the government and the media -- which was supposed to characterize how this watchdog relationship was to function. The founders didn't guarantee a free press in order to ensure that it could publish government claims without interference. The idea was that the press would be adversarial to the Government, serve as a Fourth Estate when other checks on government power failed. The press has, of course, become the opposite -- it now exists only to amplify and lend credence to even the most suspect and manipulative government claims.

The press simply does not perform its central function. In 2002 and 2003, that core failure led us into an invasion of another country based on pretenses which turned out, in almost every respect, to be false, and clearly they have learned no lessons from that humiliating exploitation. Why did we need this Post article? What is the difference between it and a Bush administration press release? Nothing. It is difficult to be optimistic about much of anything when the longest articles in our nation's largest newspapers about the most pressing public affairs are indistinguishable -- literally -- from government press releases.

As for the geniuses at New Republic, Weekly Standard, National Review, etc., who were wrong about basically everything when it came to Iraq -- how is it possible to be rational and do anything other than disregard everything which this exact crowd says about everything? But more importantly, the media was fed all sorts of fictitious garbage from the Bush administration in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion which they gullibly published, to their eternal embarrassment. How can they possibly not be exercising more caution with regard to statements of this type?

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