Release Date: June 15, 2003
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

U.S. Media Caved In To The Bush Agenda

by Eric Margolis

Why, readers in the U.S. keep asking me, are so many Americans unconcerned their government appears to have misled them and Congress over Iraq, and then waged a war with no basis in law or fact?

Why is there growing outrage in Britain over Tony Blair's equally exaggerated or patently false warnings over Iraq, while middle America couldn't seem to care less about George Bush's "Weaponsgate."

One answer is found in an old joke.

Greenberg is sitting in a bar. He goes up to Woo, a Chinese gentleman, and punches him.

"Why'd you do that?" cries Woo.

"Because of Pearl Harbor," snarls Greenberg.

"But I had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor, I'm Chinese!" says Woo.

"Chinese, Japanese, it's all the same to me," answers Greenberg.

A month later, Greenberg sees Woo in the bar and apologizes to him. The Chinese gentleman smiles, then punches Greenberg.

"Why did you do that?" cries Greenberg?

"Because of the Titanic."

"What do I have to do with the Titanic?" asks Greenberg.

"Greenberg, iceberg, it's all the same to me."

Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis, Saudis, Taliban, al-Qaida ... it's all too much for many geographically challenged Americans. Don't bother us with the details and strange names, they say, kill 'em all, God will sort 'em out. The Muslim 'A-rabs' did 9/11 and we got revenge. Whacking those I-raqis made us feel a whole lot better. So what if Saddam didn't really have the weapons of mass destruction good ol' George W. Bush said endangered the entire world? All politicians lie. So what?"

First, venting national outrage over 9/11 was one factor that helped form this group-think.

Second, starting with Afghanistan, the Bush White House threatened big corporate media it would be held "unpatriotic" and occasionally hinted at unspecified reprisals if coverage did not actively support the war effort there and in Iraq.

Big media too often caved in, sometimes sounding like a public relations arm of the administration.

Third, there was near total domination of Iraq media commentary by the special interest groups that helped to engineer this phony war. Almost all of it in the lead-up to war was done by self-serving Iraqi exiles, uninformed generals and neo-conservatives from Washington think-tanks sometimes echoing the views of Israel's Likud party. In short, a media lynch mob developed, endlessly repeating that Baghdad's terrifying killer weapons were about to blitz the U.S.

I scanned the major U.S. networks for voices challenging the distortions and bunkum coming from the White House and neo-cons. There was virtually none.

Group-think and the big lie prevailed. The British and Canadian media carried both pro- and anti-war views; as a result, there was far more healthy skepticism in both nations about the war than in America.

By contrast, much of the U.S. mainstream media muffled criticism, became part of the war effort and devoted itself to patriotic flag-waving. Americans would have been totally misled had it not been for such Internet sites as, Bigeye and LewRockwell, and incisive magazines such as American Conservative and Harpers.

Even the august New York Times allowed itself to be used. Right now, the Times is hand-wringing about two cases of plagiarism and phony reporting by staffers. It should instead be anguishing that its pages trumpeted phony reports about Iraqi weapons and links to al-Qaida that came from anti-Saddam exile groups and the pro-war cabal in the Pentagon.

Most so-called Iraqi "experts" on TV, including some colleagues of mine, merely regurgitated what they had read in the morning's Times. The Times and much of the major media were duped, to put it politely, abandoning their vital role in our democratic system as tribune and questioner of the politicians.

So, too, the Democratic party, which, as war fever was being stoked by the Bush administration and the press, shamefully rolled over and played dead - with the exception of that great American, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who long ago denounced Bush's Iraq misadventure, and who now demands a full investigation of how Americans and their Congress were misled.

Absurd exaggerations

The black comedy continues:

Bush citing what turned out to be crudely forged documents in his state of the union address.

"Drones of death" that turned out to be rickety model airplanes.

The "decontamination" trucks cited by Colin Powell that turned out to be fire trucks when inspected by the UN.

The notorious "mobile germ labs" the British press now reports were for inflating artillery balloons and, in fact, were sold to Iraq by the U.K.

Some British and American intelligence officers are accusing their governments of outright lies or absurd exaggerations.

Maybe Americans have become brain-dead from too much TV. Maybe they don't care terrorism is surging, or that recent polls show the U.S. is reviled, hated, or distrusted around the globe thanks to this administration and its neo-con mentors. Maybe they don't understand that over 288 Americans and an estimated 26,300 Iraqi civilians and soldiers have so far died in a totally unnecessary conflict. Or that the U.S. in now stuck in an ugly little colonial war in Iraq, its very own West Bank and Gaza.

(Note to American hate-mailers: spare Canada, I'm a New Yorker.)

Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author of War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000

Don Melvin, "BBC Questions U.S. Version of Lynch Rescue ," Toronto Star, May 17, 2003

Robert Fisk, "Saddam Statue Scene Staged," Independent, April 11, 2003

Ian Burrell, "BBC Chief: 'Shocking' and 'Gung-ho' Coverage of Iraq War," Independent, April 25, 2003

[If the government must re-examine whether data may have been "manipulated" to support the war, surely the New York Times should conduct a similar postwar inventory of its primary WMD reporter, Judith Miller. In the months running up to the war, Miller painted as grave a picture of Iraq's WMD potential as any U.S. intelligence agency, a take that often directly mirrored the Bush administration's view.--Jack Shafer, "Reassessing Miller," Slate, May 29, 2003]

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, " Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq," J. P. Tarcher, July 2003

G¿rill Hus and Guri Wiggen, "Pilger & Fisk on Iraq Coverage: The Real Danger Lies Within," Inter Press Service, July 3, 2003

[It is context, background and interpretation that give information meaning. When that is missing, as it often is, so is understanding.--Danny Schechter, " News media abandon historic role--and public suffers," Salt Lake Tribune, July 6, 2003]

[Susan J. Douglas, writing for In These Times , asserts: "It would hardly be an overstatement to say that the late spring and early summer of 2003 have been one of the lowest points in US media history . She talks about the Jayson Blair scandal, but says the "real disgrace" is the way the media seems to be reading a script handed out by "Team Bush."--Sara B. Miller, "Media feels the press," Christian Science Monitor, July 10, 2003]

[A recently published book looking at a shadowy outfit with close CIA links suggests truth is a continuing casualty of wars, including Iraq, writes Tony Stephens.--"War on words deception," Sydney Morning Herald, July 23, 2003]

Jack Shafer, "The Times Scoops That Melted: Cataloging the wretched reporting of Judith Miller," Slate, July 25, 2003

[The verboten truth is that the unprovoked attack on Iraq and the looting of its resources is America's 73rd colonial intervention. These, together with hundreds of bloody covert operations, have been covered up by a system and a veritable tradition of state-sponsored lies that reach back to the genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and the attendant frontier myths; and the Spanish-American war, which broke out after Spain was falsely accused of sinking an American warship, the Maine, and war fever was whipped up by the Hearst newspapers; and the non-existent "missile gap" between the US and the Soviet Union, which was based on fake documents given to journalists in 1960 and served to accelerate the nuclear arms race; and four years later, the non-existent Vietnamese attack on two American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin for which the media demanded reprisals, giving President Johnson the pretext he wanted to bomb North Vietnam.--John Pilger, "The War on Truth," ZNet, July 31, 2003]

Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, "How To Sell a War: The Rendon Group deploys 'perception management' in the war on Iraq," InTheseTimes, August 4, 2003

Jonathan Turley, "Hollywood Isn't Holding Its Lines Against the Pentagon," Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2003

Neil Clark, "The return of Arabophobia," Guardian, October 20, 2003

[The Los Angeles Times has ordered its journalists to stop describing anti-American forces in Iraq as resistance fighters, saying the term romanticises them and evokes World War II-era heroism.--" War declared on resistance," Reuters, November 7, 2003]


Nicholas Rufford, "Revealed: how MI6 sold the Iraq war," Sunday Times, December 20, 2003

[The precedent was set in Rwanda when two former Rwandan media officials - a radio executive and a newspaper editor were jailed for life and a third defendant, an executive with a radio station, received a 35-year prison term after the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found them guilty of genocide, incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity--Mark Hand, "Prosecuting the War Party Press: The Washington Post in the Dock?," Press Action, December 29, 2003]

Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror (2003)

Norman Solomon, "George Will's Ethics," CounterPunch, January 2, 2004

William E. Jackson Jr, "'NY Times' Fails to Acknowledge Its Role in WMD Hype," Editor & Publisher, February 18, 2004

Scott Sherman, "Press Watch: Floating With the Tide," The Nation, February 26, 2004

Eric Alterman, "Think Again: Never Apologize, Never Explain," Center for American Progress, March 4, 2004

"U.S. Media Performance on Iraq Slammed in Report," Reuters, March 9, 2004

Antony Loewenstein, "Engineering consent: The New York Times' role in promoting war on Iraq," Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2004

Marvin Kalb, "A quest for more sensation is killing journalism," Financial Times, April 1, 2004

Andrea Berry, "Study: U.S. and British reporters reinforced Bush's pro-war rhetoric with loaded language,", April 21, 2004

Jon Stewart, "Iraq reporting under fire again," Toronto Star, April 2, 2004

Ayisha Yahya, "Esteemed journalist lectures on ethics," Oregon Daily Emerald, May 7, 2004

[But we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged Ñ or failed to emerge."The Times and Iraq," New York Times, May 26, 2004]

Stephen Marshall, "Scott Ritter's war,", May 26, 2004

James Moore, "How Chalabi and the White House held the front page: The New York Times has burned its reputation on a pyre of lies about Iraq," Guardian, May 29, 2004

Jude Wanniski, "Journalistic Standards,", May 30, 2004

[Across the country, "the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones," Downie said. "We didn't pay enough attention to the minority."--Howard Kurtz, "The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story," Washington Post, August 12, 2004]

[Thirteen months ago, a Washington Post poll found that 69 percent of Americans believed that Saddam was "personally involved" in Sept. 11 and 82 percent thought Saddam "provided assistance to Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network." This overwhelming agreement was a natural result of an overwhelming public relations assault by the White House.

The assault was most noted by Cheney's televised assertion back then that Iraq is part of the "continuing operation on the war on terror." Cheney said victory in Iraq "will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."

The assault is still working. Despite the findings of the 9/11 Commission and a general decline in support for the war, the percentage of Americans who still believe that Saddam was involved in Sept. 11 or provided aid to Al Qaeda remains significant. In a Newsweek poll last week, 42 percent of Americans still think Saddam was "directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks." Only 44 percent say he was not directly involved, and 14 percent remain unsure.--Derrick Z. Jackson, "As war toll climbs, Bush still deceives," Boston Globe, September 10, 2004

[One in four Americans holds a negative stereotype of Muslims, and almost one-third respond with a negative image when they hear the word "Muslim,"--Caryle Murphy, " Distrust of Muslims Common in U.S., Poll Finds," Washington Post, October 5, 2004]

Suzanne Presto, "Poll Finds Most Americans Have Neutral View of Muslims," Voice of America, October 6, 2004

Michael Massing, "The Press: The Enemy Within," New York Review of Books, December 15, 2005

Copyright © 2003 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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