Many things have changed
in this country since Sept. 11, but not
the brazen distortions of the right-wing media nor the craven failure of
"mainstream" journalists to confront them. The result is a decadent national
press unwilling to stand up for the ethical standards that supposedly govern
the "profession" of journalism, and a steep decline in the quality of public
discourse in our democracy.
Last week saw yet another
ludicrous, but ugly controversy stirred up
by journalistic fraud. As usual, the malefactors were the Washington Times,
the National Review, Fox News, Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh and his army of
talk radio imitators. The hyperventilating shills of the World Wrestling Federation
have nothing on this bunch. Even a normally skeptical Democrat-Gazette columnist
got taken for a ride. Also as usual, the immediate target was Bill Clinton.
Next time you're flabbergasted
by some preposterous lie in the gutter press
of Baghdad or Cairo, remember that this bunch duped millions of credulous boobs
into believing that Wicked Bill told a college audience, as one outraged letter to
the Washington Times put it, that "America got what it deserves" at the hands of
Arab terrorists. Or, as the Democrat-Gazette columnist wrote, that he delivered
a "rant of justifiable homicide" which "vindicated" Osama bin Laden. The fierce
intellectuals of the National Review declared that having "pardoned the unpardonable,
now [Clinton] has justified the unjustifiable."
Remember too that hardly
anybody in our vigilant national media pointed out
what an alert golden retriever would have suspected, that the whole flap was caused
by a comically grotesque distortion of what Clinton actually said.
Here's how it happened: on November 7, Clinton spoke at his alma mater, Georgetown
University. A next day front page account in the Washington Times was misleadingly
headlined "Clinton says U.S. is paying for its past." The article, written by one Joseph
Curl, turned his speech upside down, insinuating that an inconsequential (and factually
indisputable) aside he'd made about 19th century mistreatment of slaves and native
Americans constituted an excuse for terrorism.
Almost the direct opposite
is true. "I am just a citizen," Clinton said at the outset,
"and as a citizen I support the efforts of President Bush, the national security team,
and our allies in fighting the current terrorist threat. I believe we all should." Clinton
brought up past atrocities only to illustrate his point that terrorism is morally abhorrent
and militarily futile. "The killing of noncombatants for economic, political, or religious
reasons," he observed "has a very long history, as long as organized combat itself,
and yet, it has never succeeded as a military strategy."
At no point, did Clinton
suggest any causal or moral connection whatsoever
between America's ancient sins and contemporary terrorist acts. He did say that this
country is "still paying a price" for its past. Who can deny it? But he also said that
"the people who died represent, in my view, not only the best of America, but the
best of the world. The terrorists killed people who came to America not to die,
but dream, from every continent, from dozens of countries, most every religion on
the face of the earth, including Islam. They, those that died in New York, the
Pentagon, and Pennsylvania are part of a very different world and a very different
worldview than those who killed them." He described the campaign against Osama
bin Laden and Al Qaeda as a "struggle for the soul of the 21st century."
In a pungent essay on his
Daily Howler website, Bob Somerby has shown that
the phony claim that Clinton "basically said we are getting what we deserve in the
terrorist attack," as a GOP spokesman parroted on CNN later that day, was created
by techniques journalists profess to abhor: yanking partial quotes out of context and
the dark art of malicious paraphrase. (Anybody who doubts me and wants to fight
about it can find Clinton's entire speech online at Salon.com or the Georgetown
University website. The rest of you can stick to the time-honored "Voices" tactic
of name-calling. "Clinton apologist," with its heady whiff of Stalinist orthodoxy, is the
one Washington professionals prefer.)
Even the Clinton-phobic pundit Andrew
Sullivan, after denouncing the former
president before troubling himself to read the speech, subsequently admitted that
the Washington Times account was "appallingly slanted."
Yet nary a syllable was emitted
by the so-called "liberal Establishment" press.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz produced a bemused item about the
right's obsession with Bad Bill, but nowhere hinted at the Times' unethical methods.
It's simply not done. Two reasons: first, it's seen as futile, like starting a campaign
to convince 20 million morons that pro wrestling is fixed. Second, fear.
The crack-pot ideologues of the far right are shameless, relentless, and well-funded.
Why provoke them merely to defend democratic values?