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, October 30, 2006

Wolf Blitzer's shock over Lynne Cheney's attack

One of the most revealing incidents in some time is Wolf Blitzer's reaction this weekend to Lynne Cheney's questioning of his patriotism. "Questioning someone's patriotism" is an overused and even trite phrase, but no other characterization exists to describe her attack (L. Cheney: "Running terrorist tape of terrorists shooting Americans. I mean, I thought Duncan Hunter asked you a very good question and you didn't answer it. Do you want us to win?").

During the interview itself, Blitzer rather sadly, even pathetically, sought to assure Cheney that he was a Good American, as though she is the Arbiter of Patriotism: "The answer of course is we want the United States to win. We are Americans. There's no doubt about that. Do you think we want terrorists to win?" But he presumably thought about it more overnight, returned to the subject yesterday when she wasn't there, and said this:

Still, I was frankly surprised when she came out swinging on Friday, surprised by what she said about CNN's "Broken Government" series, specifically the excellent one-hour report by our chief national correspondent, John King, one of the most precise and respected journalists in Washington, and CNN's decision to air sniper video provided to our intrepid Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware by insurgents in Iraq, which Anderson Cooper specifically branded, and I'm quoting now, "a single propaganda tape;" surprised at her sniping at my patriotism.

No sentient person could be "surprised" when Bush followers attack someone's patriotism and accuse them of wanting The Terrorists to win. That is what they do. It is who they are. They have been doing exactly that for five years now and one could quite reasonably suggest that this has been their principal political tactic.

As Lynne Cheney noted, her attack on CNN's patriotism was preceded by an identical attack from GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter. And just this week, Bill O'Reilly went on David Letterman's show to promote his book, and when Letterman expressed opposition to the war in Iraq and questioned its worth, O'Reilly demanded to know, in language almost verbatim to that used by Hunter and Lynne Cheney: "And this is a serious question. Do you want the United Sates to win in Iraq?"

But Wolf Blitzer isn't surprised and upset over Lynne Cheney's use of this "ally-of-the-terrorist" weapon. He's surprised and upset that she used it against him. He thought he was exempt, that he has proven to them through many years of obsequious and mindlessly glorifying "journalism" that he is a Good Boy, that he is one of them. It's one thing to label as "pro-terrorist" most national Democratic politicians, American citizens who oppose the war in Iraq, or anyone who criticizes the Commander-in-Chief in any meaningful way. To Blitzer, that is all fine and acceptable and to be expected.

But Blitzer is different. The Cheneys know him and know that he has shown his Loyalty. Why are they doing this to him?:

First, though, some history. I've been covering the Cheneys for many years, including on a day-to-day basis, when he was the defense secretary during the first Gulf War and I was CNN's Pentagon correspondent.

Mrs. Cheney has been a frequent guest on my programs. In recent years, I've often invited her to discuss her new children's books, but she always is open to discussing the news of the day.

The Wall St. Journal published an Op-Ed yesterday, ostensibly by a pseudonymous Iranian journalist (who claims to be prohibited from writing in Iran). The column details the way in which the Iranian upper class is perfectly tolerant of the increasing religious repression by Iranian mullahs, because they believe that their coddled, privileged status immunizes them from real repression, and that, in turn, renders them more or less indifferent to extreme abridgments of civil liberties and basic freedoms:

In other words, the well-to-do Iranian drinks and reads and watches what he wishes. He does as he pleases behind the walls of his private mansions and villas. In return for his private comforts, the affluent Iranian is happy to sacrifice freedom of speech, most of his civil rights, and his freedom of association. The upper-middle class has been bought off by this pact, which makes a virtue of hypocrisy.

The Iranian elites know that there is extreme oppression and a denial of virtually all liberties in their country, but their bloated comforts convince them that there is no real or serious threat, that things might not be perfect but there is no real reason to take any action or complain.

That dynamic, as much as anything, accounts for the neutered, mindless national media we have. Most national media figures -- like Blitzer -- are wealthy, coddled, privileged, and enjoy the material fruits of their elite status. They are a central and highly rewarded component of the country's power structure, duly admitted to the king's court and bestowed with all sorts of comforts and rewards for the role they play.

As long as that is the case, they will be the last ones to feel dissatisfaction, to be moved by a passionate sense that something is going terribly wrong with our country and its government. They are happy and satisfied with their personal situation -- and the ones who enable these rewards are the very political figures they cover -- and they thus perceive little grounds to complain or object. For the same reason, national journalists perceive those who criticize the Government too strenuously and aggressively as being shrill, radical, irresponsible, overwrought, and too mean. After all, things are good. What is there to be so upset about?

It is certainly true that journalists now have multiple incentives to avoid genuine or effective criticisms of the government, and that this incentive scheme causes them actively to downplay or even help conceal governmental deceit, corruption and abuses of power -- even when they are aware of it. But it is also the case that journalists, by virtue of their coddled and satisfied state, are likely to be the last people who even recognize true abuse, corruption and extremism. Why would they be able to see a system that bestows such lavish rewards on them as being anything other than good and just?

Of course, as noted in the post below, attacking and demonizing journalists for political gain is a staple of the Bush movement, but it's not usually as personal as Cheney made it with Blitzer. Blitzer's comfort and coddled status was disrupted -- an extremely rare event -- and it was that fact, and that fact alone, that caused him to take notice and to object.

UPDATE: Dave Neiwert has more on the absurdity of Wolf Blitzer's "surprise."

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