When are the American people going to stand up and demand fact-based media reportage and honesty from our leaders? Nothing is as it seems these days, whether it’s coverage of events leading up to 9/11, ethics investigations in Congress, the budget process or the future of Social Security. Whatever our political affiliation might be, most of would agree that fair treatment and honesty are basic to our way of life and our willingness to accept the governance of those in power.
How astonishing, for instance, to hear Speaker Hastert suggest that Democrats are trying to politicize the Ethics Committee in The House when it was the Speaker who removed its chairman, Joel Hefley, because he acted responsibly and allowed questions about Tom DeLay to be raised. And since then political operatives in Texas have been attempting to derail legal challenges to DeLay’s activities with respect to fund raising and redistricting in that state. But despite this obvious political maneuvering on the part of Republicans, the Speaker turns the facts inside out and accuses Democrats of the very thing his party is doing.
More unsettling, however, is the manipulation of the media in ways that are starting to come to light. Three sometime reporters, Armstrong Williams, Michael McManus and Maggie Gallagher have been identified as having been paid by the administration to publicize and support, in print, radio or TV, administration policies. Explanations and excuses abound, but do not satisfy. Exploitation of media resources in this manner is a betrayal of the nation’s trust. A free and honest press is one of our most treasured institutions and our best protection against those who would be tyrants.
This past week came the discovery that Jeff Gannon is really a pseudonym for a man who, despite questionable press credentials, nonetheless, gained entrée to White House briefings and presidential press conferences. In a striking departure from the usual media decorum Gannon asked the president at his recent press conference how he was able to work with the Democrats who seem to be so divorced from reality. The loaded query caused some to wonder about the legitimacy of Gannon’s press credentials, suggestions casually dismissed by Press Secretary McClellan who said ‘it’s hard to vet media reps; so many come and go all the time.’ Well this may be true in a White House that couldn’t even vet Homeland Security candidate Kerik effectively, but gosh this was a person who might have posed a security risk except it’s ever so obvious he was known and accepted as a dependable partisan plant, no matter what excuses are trotted out now.
Then there are those presidential convenings where only supporters are allowed to attend and where softball questions are asked by attendees. ‘Tell me, Mr. President, why is your plan for Social Security best for America?’ is the kind of stuff that gets asked at these events. The president then lobs out an answer, and confusing as it sometimes is, people nod and clap, and everyone goes away happy. One wonders why anyone from the press even bothers to report about occasions that seem so programmed, and the same goes for the press conferences. If there are no real questions and no real answers what exactly is the point? Aren’t people getting tired of the charade this one-sided political discourse has become?
But perhaps the most egregious and upsetting factual lapses of all concern the 9/11 hearings. All blame for security failures is being attributed to the FAA and surely that body should have been more alert; however, more unsettling, was the weakness at the national security and presidential level. Richard Clarke testified that he had called for a “principals meeting” to discuss terrorist threats already in evidence when the new administration took office, only to be put off by Condoleezza Rice and told to start at a lower level of functionaries. And at the hearings Dr. Rice testified that there were no concrete plans passed along by the Clinton administration even though the Clarke testimony and recently declassified documents indicate there were specific recommendations made not only by Secretary of Defense Sandy Berger but in files provided to the incoming administration.
With publication of the fact that as many as 52 intelligence warnings regarding possible airliner hijackings had been virtually ignored prior to the events of 9/11 and that this information remained classified until after the November election it is impossible to explain away the seeming partisan manipulation of the electorate. We have been led to believe that our intelligence services were incompetent when in fact there were many warnings and many calls for action either arrogantly or ignorantly dismissed, but this grossly negligent response to imminent danger was hidden from the public who have been consistently led to believe that everyone but the administration and its representatives were at fault.
It’s difficult to get past the feeling with all the reports from the CIA, Richard Clarke and, finally, the Osama-bin-Laden-determined-to-attack-in-the-U.S. intelligence brief in August 2001 that a person with the title of National Security Advisor should indeed have called a “principals meeting”. Such a coming together might have led to better security measures at airports and delivered information throughout the national intelligence network regarding individuals already on watch lists.
What happened, happened, and questions will continue to be asked, and perhaps never answered, as to why the country’s security was so badly mishandled. Today we are involved in a war posited on dubious grounds, but in which we must somehow prevail. What we do need to know and what our discredited media and others need to get back to reporting is how we are going to reach that goal and how much it is going to cost in lives and capital. What, for example, ever became of the Iraqi oil revenue that was supposed to finance the war effort? And what are we doing to employ Iraqis in rebuilding their country instead of employing our companies and our nationals over there? We would do well to recall the words, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Not just the press but all of us need to be paying closer attention to what our government saying and what it is actually doing.

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