Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bill Moyers, Iraq, a complacent & bullied press, and the WHIG

Look, I know it's TV Turnoff Week, but how could I resist watching a show on Channel 13 last night that started off with these opening paragraphs from Bill Moyers?

BILL MOYERS: Four years ago this spring the Bush administration took leave of reality and plunged our country into a war so poorly planned it soon turned into a disaster. The story of how high officials misled the country has been told. But they couldn't have done it on their own; they needed a compliant press, to pass on their propaganda as news and cheer them on.

Since then thousands of people have died, and many are dying to this day. Yet the story of how the media bought what the White House was selling has not been told in depth on television. As the war rages into its fifth year, we look back at those months leading up to the invasion, when our press largely surrendered its independence and skepticism to join with our government in marching to war.

This 90-minute special edition of Bill Moyers' Journal from April 25, 2007 "Buying the War", which has a full transcript online here, was a good introduction or review for anyone interested in how and why the leading lights of the mainstream press were either dupes or collaborators in the march to invade Iraq. He did not (like the New York Times) ignore the group that gave WHIGgate Update its raison d'ĂȘtre.

BILL MOYERS: As the WASHINGTON POST'S veteran reporter Walter Pincus would later report, the propaganda machine was run by the president's inner circle — officials who called themselves the White House Iraq Group, or WHIG..... You wrote that WHIG included Karl Rove, the chief of staff, Andrew Card, Mary Matalin, Condi Rice, Steven Hadley, Lewis Libby and they were in charge of
selling the war.

WALTER PINCUS: Selling the war. Yeah.

PRESIDENT BUSH (9/11/02): Good evening. A long year has passed since enemies attacked our country.

BILL MOYERS: Their chief salesman had the best props at his disposal [spoken over a clip of Bush with the Statue of Liberty behind him on the 1st anniversary of 9/11/01]

PRESIDENT BUSH (9/11/02): …and we will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder.

WALTER PINCUS: They created that link.

BILL MOYERS: The marketing group?

WALTER PINCUS: The marketing group. And the link was a twofold link. One, he had weapons of mass destruction. And two, he supported terrorists. And they repeated it everyday. anybody who watches-- television these days knows you sell a product, not just by saying it once, by saying it over and over again with new spokesmen two, three times a day and it sinks into the public.

BILL MOYERS: But is there anything unusual about an administration marketing its policy?

WALTER PINCUS: It's, I think each administration has learned from the other, and with this group is just the cleverest I've ever seen-- and took it to new heights.

NORM SOLOMON: The TV, radio, print, other media outlets are as crucial to going to war as the bombs and the bullets and the planes. They're part of the arsenal, the propaganda weaponry, if you will. And that's totally understood across the board, at the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department.

COLIN POWELL (9/26/02): A proven menace like Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction

PRESIDENT BUSH (Discussion with Congressional Leaders, 9/26/02): The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons

DONALD RUMSFELD (DOD Press Briefing 9/26/02): We do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members.

PRESIDENT BUSH: The regime has long standing and continuing ties to terrorist organizations.

BOB SIMON: Just repeat it and repeat it and repeat it. Repeat Al Qaeda, Iraq. Al Qaeda, Iraq. Al Qaeda, Iraq. Just keep it going. Keep that drum beat going. And it was effective because long after it was well established that there was no link between Al Qaeda and the government of Iraq and the Saddam regime, the polls showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans believed that Al Qaeda-- that Iraq was responsible for September 11th.

The Times, the Washington Post, and the major broadcast networks all come under fire in this show (as do the easy targets of the flag-waving cable news networks and saber-rattling pundits). The only heroes are two reporters for Knight Ridder (Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay) who saw the holes in the government's stories with basic fact checking rather than high-level cocktail party access to the lies of Scooter Libby and Karl Rove.
The New York Times STILL has not mentioned "WHIG" or the "White House Iraq Group" in its news pages even though one of their reporters, Judith Miller, has been exposed as their chief tool (or maybe even an honorary member of the Group). When the White House Iran Group starts feeding their reporters information from "Important High Level Administration Sources" (i.e., Liars), maybe the Times editors should think about the following quotation from a Knight Ridder editor before uncritically printing government "information" about Iranian WMDs on their influential front page.

BILL MOYERS: Knight Ridder's early skepticism was a rarity inside the beltway bubble…..

JOHN WALCOTT: A decision to go to war, even against an eighth-rate power such as Iraq, is the most serious decision that a government can ever make. And it deserves the most serious kind of scrutiny that we in the media can give it. Is this really necessary? Is it necessary to send our young men and women to go kill somebody else's young men and women?

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