Breaking the Press
   by Alan Bisbort

My wife called me from work the other day. In a hushed voice, she said, "Did you hear about Halliburton?"

My first thought was, "What now? What could Halliburton possibly have done that would be so bad, given all its other well-documented sleaziness, as to elicit a hushed phone call from my wife?" I hesitated to ask, though. I've gotten into too many heated discussions with my wife about politics these past three years, and the one place I want peace and serenity during these dark Bush days, is in my own home.

My wife still holds out a candle, if not a torch, for the Fourth Estate. She's an award-winning journalist with unimpeachable integrity and peerless talent, and she toils honorably for a daily newspaper that one could fairly describe as "mainstream." Though my wife can't wait to vote against Bush and Cheney, she will not broach any suggestion-which I am all too ready to make-that the American press has failed miserably, terribly, disgracefully in covering their administration. And yet it is demonstrably true: The American mainstream press (print, radio, television) has given these backroom criminals a free pass that was not offered Clinton and Gore. Or Nixon and Agnew, for that matter. The Fourth Estate is, as Bartcop has dubbed it, "the good puppy press."

So I bit my tongue and said, "No...what?"

Perhaps hoping to show me that the mainstream press does hold the Bushies' feet to the fire, my wife then tells me about an item she found in the Wall Street Journal. It seems two Halliburton officials took kickbacks to hire a Kuwaiti company for Iraqi contract work.

"That surprises you?" I ask, thinking she's going to hit me with a punchline. Two corporate sleazebags taking millions in kickbacks is such small beer for Halliburton, it barely warrants mentioning. "That's all the story reported?"

I could hear my wife sighing.

I instantly recalled a story that appeared in this same Wall Street Journal the month before the November 2000 election. It, too, was about Halliburton and it detailed how the company, when Dick Cheney was its CEO, brokered oil pipeline deals with the military dictatorship of Myanmar, against an order from Pres. Clinton asking American companies not to have financial dealing with the junta. Furthermore, those Myanmar deals utilized slave labor.
Slave labor! Illegal deals! Tyrants as business partners! Sounded like SOP for the GOP to me!

As it happened, I was at a Society of Professional Journalists convention when this Myanmar story broke in the WSJ. Though I pointed it out to some of the other convention goers-copies of the paper were distributed free to all comers-I was greeted with stony silence, dismissive and hostile stares. Furthermore, my attempts to inject a note of skepticism among these shakers and movers of the Fourth Estate about a potential Bush-Cheney administration-citing a lengthy piece by another of their colleagues about Cheney's legacy of press muzzling, published in American Journalism Review, also distributed free at the convention-was seen as bad manners. Bush, they seemed to want to believe, would never stoop to such things.

I'll never forget, in particular, the looks of a fresh scrubbed bunch of people from a public radio affiliate who were seated at my table during the awards banquet (full disclosure: my wife was there to pick up an award for her writing). They weren't openly hostile to me when I, rather passionately, argued that Bush and Cheney would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to a free press in the United States. They just didn't seem to have room in their minds to ponder such a possibility. I was bumming them out, frankly.

More than two years later, I experienced this same profound sense of disconnect from mainstream media at a Connecticut Forum the day after Bush declared war on Iraq. The event, called "A Nobel Evening," featured a panel of three Nobel Peace Prize recipients (Jody Williams, Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias) and was moderated by Juan Williams, the slick former Washington Post reporter who now plays "moderate" on NPR and PBS, among other venues.

When Oscar Arias suggested to Williams that the American press was biased and its coverage of George W. Bush was completely one-sided, the terminally suave moderator was ruffled. Williams gasped and sputtered, "What....what do you mean?!," as if he had never heard such a view expressed, though it's one widely shared by millions of Americans and drew one of the most sustained ovations at the forum that night.

A little background on Juan Williams is in order. Lest I be accused of maligning the great moderator, I defer to the Columbia Journalism Review for the following reality check on Mr. Williams:

"On Thursday, October 10, 1991-- a day before testimony by Anita Hill had even begun, the [Washington Post] carried across the top of its op-ed page a six-column piece headed OPEN SEASON ON CLARENCE THOMAS in which staff writer Juan Williams vented his moral outrage over the liberals' 'mob action' and 'indiscriminate... smear,' and asserted, with seemingly authoritative dismissiveness, that '[Hill] had no credible evidence of Thomas's involvement in any sexual harassment, but she was prompted to say he had asked her out and mentioned pornographic movies to her.' Unbeknownst to readers of Williams's piece; and unbeknownst to viewers who on the following day (Friday, October 11) happened to catch him expounding his views in conversations with Peter Jennings on ABC...Williams himself had two weeks earlier become the subject of an internal inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment by several female colleagues. What's more, Williams's personal interest in the issue of sexual harassment would be unbeknownst to us still, if newly appointed Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., had had his way: upon learning that media writer Howard Kurtz (who had been alerted to the rage among women in the newsroom) was preparing to write a story, he ordered Kurtz to stop."

As a side note, those who think the Washington Post's rightward tilt began with George W. Bush, I remind you that this above episode occurred one year before Bill Clinton was elected to his first term.

Which is why, on that March night last year, the sanctimonious, supercilious look that Juan Williams gave Oscar Arias, a man of inspiration and courage who prevailed over Ronald Reagan in Central America without having to fire a shot in anger, quite nearly sent me over the edge of the balcony.

"Yes, Mr. Arias is correct and you know it, Don Juan!" I wanted to shout, but I bit my tongue.

Flash forward to this week. Only seconds before my wife called with the latest Halliburton horror, I had received an email from someone with a piece pasted in it critically documenting three recent softball interviews conducted by Juan Williams for NPR with Condi Rice, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove regarding the war in Iraq. No other voices were allowed to disrupt Williams' shameless whoring for the White House.

That was followed by another email from a former U.S. Army intelligence officer now living in Europe. In his message, he'd pasted an article by a real journalist named Chris Floyd, published in the Moscow Times, the feistiest English-language daily in Russia.

Floyd's piece suggested that Halliburton may be involved in transporting weapons of mass destruction INTO Iraq. Yes, you heard correctly.

Quoting Floyd: "Last week, Pentagon auditors called for a formal investigation of 'overcharges' by Cheney's Halliburton hirelings. The well-connected accused of skimming $61 million in excess cream from a shady deal to import Kuwaiti gasoline into the conquered land. To carry out this choice bit of war profiteering, Halliburton hooked up with Altanmia Marketing of Kuwait. Altanmia was given exclusive rights to ship Kuwaiti gasoline to Iraq - 'even though it had no prior experience transporting fuel,' U.S. Congressional investigators report. So what is the firm's actual expertise? Investments, real estate -- and acting as 'representative agents for companies trading in military and nuclear, biological and chemical equipment,' The Wall Street Journal reports." [There's that radical leftist WSJ rag again !]

Further: "Strangely enough, Kuwaiti energy officials had never heard of Altanmia before the Halliburton deal. They had recommended several experienced distributors -- with far cheaper rates -- to the Americans, but were told that Altanmia was the only choice, The Wall Street Journal reports."

Along with this article, my intelligence friend appended a message: "Could it be that this shady Kuwaiti company that was hired by Cheney's Halliburton to transport petrol from Kuwait to Iraq at twice the going rate -- a company, mind you, that has no prior experience in tranporting petrol, but is really a company that specialises in representing companies that trade in military, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons equipment -- is charging so much to do something else? Such as transporting and planting WMD into Iraq that we can than 'discover' and say, 'see, we told you all along, the weapons of WMD are there! Saddam had them.'? Could it be? You can bet that this "discovery" -- and it will have to be a whopper! -- will occur before election day."

Sinister, yes. Beyond the realm of possibility? Not in the least. In fact, given what we've learned about the Bushies-mostly from sources other than our own mainstream press and from Paul O'Neill-I would say it's a distinct possibility. Every other revelation that originated outside the mainstream press-dismissed by the "serious journalists"-has turned out to be true. Why not this one, too?

My wife would hear none of it, though. When I told her about the article regarding the gas-hauling company-documented by Wall Street Journal!-she found a pretext to get off the phone quickly, lest she be subjected to another one of my admittedly tiresome (but truth-filled) diatribe about Bush, Cheney and the neutering of the American mainstream press.


Alan Bisbort is a columnist for the Hartford Advocate.

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