Tuesday, August 02, 2005
TROUBLE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE
Trouble in the Land of the Free
by John Atcheson
Well, it's official; there's trouble right here in the land of the free.
Mr. Bush can not only use taxpayer's money to set up Soviet-Style propaganda events, but he can have US citizens kicked out of these public meetings by strong-armed stooges impersonating Secret Service Agents. That, at least, was the conclusion last week by the US Justice Department Attorney who said there was not enough evidence to prosecute an unnamed man who kicked three people out of one of Mr. Bush's "town hall" meetings in Denver this past March. The White House, by the way, refuses to release the mystery thug's name.
And here in the good old USA no one seems to give a damn.
Hundreds of billions of dollars and nearly two thousand American dead to bring democracy to Iraq, but no need to go overboard with that freedom stuff here at home, thank you.
Apparently, after years of government funded "Mission Accomplished," propaganda events, government-produced fake news casts, government-funded journalists/shills, and a phoney reporter planted into the White House press corps, we're just fresh out of outrage.
A series of fake town hall meetings in which First Amendment Rights are violated just isn't the stuff of headlines anymore.
So now, the Bush machine routinely sets up stages with fake props and Soviet-style backdrops, invites only registered Republicans; excludes anyone who might – just possibly might – not be an ardent supporter; pre-screens the questions; then hires goons to patrol the audience and strong-arm and illegally arrest anyone who doesn't look ... well ... right (as in Right wing), trampling the First Amendment in the process. These taxpayer-supported campaign events they call a town meeting.
The only thing missing is the Brown Shirts.
But here in the land of the free, nary a peep of protest is heard, nary a discouraging word is printed or uttered by the Democrats or the press.
For the last four years, the Democrats have been doing their best deer-in-the-headlights imitation, and the press has been chasing various White House wag-the-dog stories or faux terrorist alerts that just seem to crop up when the spotlight focuses on their lies, deceptions, or their gross incompetence -- or when an election is in the offing. In short, the American press has been either fooled or intimidated, and the Democrats have been dazed and confused.
If you want to see democracy in action these days, you've got to look to Europe.
Recently, British MP George Galloway road into town and gave Norm Coleman and his fellow neoconservative propagandists a public spanking. Coleman and the rest of the right wing whackos have had such and easy time manipulating the press and intimidating Democrats for the past four years they must have felt like they'd been mugged.
But Mr. Galloway showed the Democrats how to confront demagoguery – with a strong dose of the truth. No head down, poll driven spins, or weak-kneed attempts to appeal to both sides. No deer-in-the-headlights stares, or weeks of Bob Shrumm inspired contemplation. He called a liar a liar and he set the record straight in plain, but eloquent language. Then he called a spade a spade – the UN food for oil "scandal" has always been a smokescreen, an attempt to besmirch Kofi Anan and the UN for no other reason than that neocons hate the UN. He pointed out that our own national contribution to sleaze, corruption, mismanagement and sheer greed in Iraq dwarfs anything the UN has done.
Hopefully, the Democrats were taking notes.
Mr. Galloway isn't the only European showing how a free people act.
For example, when the White House tried to set up one of their pre-scripted propaganda events in Germany this past February the Germans would have none of it.
A "town hall" meeting with the German people in the town of Mainz was supposed to be the PR highlight of the President's February trip. The White House had spent a week talking it up, but when the Germans –a people who know a bit about the corrosive effects of propaganda – refused to allow Bush's handlers to review and screen all questions in advance, the White House quietly dropped the event, according to Spiegel.
Mr. Bush and the American people got another lesson in how a free people act on his recent trip to Europe in May to celebrate the defeat of the Nazis. A group of students in the Netherlands showed just how gloriously cantankerous a free people can be. At a meeting near Maastricht, Mr. Bush tried flying without a net, in an unscripted question and answer session with the Dutch youth. After a half hour of tough questions, worried White House aids cleared the room of reporters before allowing the session to continue. No transcript of the remaining questions was kept, no summary was released.
And it took an Irish journalist to show our spin-dried press how a real free press acts. In July of last year, Irish TV journalist Carole Coleman was granted an interview with George Bush just prior to his trip to Ireland and the US-European Summit meeting. There in the White House map room, Ms. Coleman did the unthinkable: she asked tough follow-up questions when Mr. Bush gave canned non-responses. She had the unmitigated gall to point out that "... the world has become a more dangerous place because you have taken the focus off al Qaeda and diverted [it to] Iraq," and when Mr. Bush raised the specter of WMDs she did what no American journalist has seemed able or willing to do – she interrupted him to point out there were no WMDs found in Iraq.
Imagine the nerve of this woman, expecting the leader of the free world to answer tough questions, stick to facts not fantasy, and to be accountable for his actions. Well, of course, when the interview was over, an outraged White House lodged a formal complaint with the Irish Embassy. Now, as Molly Ivins likes to say, let's pause a moment and wrap our minds around this – the leader of the free world lodged an official complaint with the Irish Embassy because ... one of their journalists asked him some tough questions, expected him to respond, and applied a standard of factual accuracy to his answers.
Apparently the White House believes this free press stuff is fine in theory, as long as it's not practiced.
Here again, contrast this with our press, who act like sheep on prozac when given the opportunity to question the President.
There is trouble here in the land of the free. It starts with a cowed opposition party that's forgotten that honesty and integrity are moral values, but spinning, poll watching and pandering aren't.
It extends to a press that's forgotten that the First Amendment Rights they were given come with a codicil – the requirement to relentlessly pursue the truth, and a commitment to tell it.
And it ends with a public content to be fed a steady diet of J-Lo/Jacko non-news, wag-the-dog wedge issues, and infotainment talk shows in lieu of the truth.
But Mr.Galloway and his European friends may have shown us that politics doesn't have to be a boring and predictable Kabuki dance – practiced with integrity on all sides, it's more engaging than the runaway bride or the latest missing damsel (whites, only please) in distress.