It is good news that the Iraqi election went as well as it did and that so many Iraqis voted. The success showed that, if security is stringent enough, certain areas can be kept reasonably safe which may suggest future strategies. In any case, the election, albeit of mostly anonymous candidates, was a first step in advancing a democratic framework. In terms of how effective the process ultimately becomes, much will depend on the ability of the general population to participate in establishing a representative government. In the meantime, it would be worth knowing if the vote totals include ex-patriots in the U.S. and other countries where voters went to polling places outside Iraq. The success of any political outcome will depend in the end on members of the indigenous population.
In the meantime here at home, press freedoms and other forms of free media expression are becoming increasingly problematic. Whether it is propaganda masquerading as news, or scripted language from the administration, or attempts by some to dictate what is appropriate for the rest of us to see and hear, our news and entertainment resources are coming under heavy pressure to conform in ways that are not encouraging signs for our democracy. In a recent survey of over 100,000 high school students nearly a third of them thought the press had too much freedom and that newspapers should get government approval before the publication of stories. (USA Today, 1/31) To think that coming generations might fail to grasp the significance of first-amendment rights and a free press is disheartening indeed.
And when we are told that Vice President Cheney says Fox News (the most biased of all media resources) is his favorite news service we can be sure that Fox is sticking to ‘the party line.’ Or when we learn that the U.S. is pressuring Qatar to stop sponsoring AlJazeera because it is a biased news organization very popular with the Arab public, we have to wonder if it is more biased than the reportage supporting the administration viewpoint here. As one American official put it, since it has also angered countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt for exposing problems in those countries, “they must be doing something right.”(NY Times 1/30)
Where are our latter-day Woodwards and Bernsteins to expose governmental transgressions? A press source recently exposed “news people” who were paid to advance the administration’s agenda. That was an encouraging sign, but most of the time the press is propagandized, minimalized, disrespected – – presented with “the truth” and how to describe it. Take Social Security, for instance, and what we are told must now be called “personal accounts” rather than “private accounts”. Most of us know what the term personal accounts means if we have a checking or savings account, but that’s not what is meant when privatizing Social Security is the subject.
At his latest press conference the president took a question from a Texas reporter who suggested that, as Governor, he had talked about a crisis only to have his tax plan “go down in flames.” The president responded that his billion dollar tax relief in Texas had provided a permanent property-tax reduction for senior citizens adding “since you weren’t a senior citizen, perhaps that’s your definition of flame.” The reporter said he hadn’t gotten his billion yet and the president replied “cause you’re not a senior citizen yet,” … “Acting like one, however,”…”faulty memory.”(Official Transcript) Ever the preppy retort so oddly dissonant coming from the leader of the free world and managing to disparage not only the reporter but senior citizens as well and, at the same time, sidestep what must have been the larger question of his Texas tax plan the reporter was trying to reference. Laughter during this exchange indicates the degree to which journalistic judgment has become jaded. After all if the answer as to why we haven’t found Osama bin Laden was “he’s hiding” and that satisfied the reporter who asked the question, the press is wasting a lot of time interviewing this president.
And today, in reference to his recent cabinet addition, Condoleezza Rice – -She’s “smart, capable and a lot of fun to be around.” That latter qualification must have been what put her over the top. Come to think of it, though, maybe that bulge on his back during the debates was some kind of device to keep him from saying really stupid stuff.

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