Tuesday, September 11, 2007



Bush Catapulting Propaganda

Listen to audio clip of this Bushism

Fox and Brit Hume take propaganda to a new level

Just as George Bush and Dick Cheney have done on politically important occasions, Gen. David Petraeus (along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker) last night selected Fox News' Brit Hume as the "journalist" rewarded with an exclusive "interview." Whereas Hume, in the past, at least has pretended to play the role of journalist when interviewing high Bush officials -- doing things like asking (extremely respectful) questions about sensitive areas (with no follow up) -- he dispensed entirely with the pretense here. This "interview" took government propaganda to a whole new level, and really has to be seen to be believed (the full video is here).

The whole production was such transparent propaganda that one doubts that Pravda would have been shameless enough to present it. Even the title of the program was creepy. Fox did not even bother to call it an "interview," but rather hailed it as a "Briefing for America."

The model for the entire hour was not a journalist asking questions of government leaders, but instead, a direct examination at a trial, where a friendly lawyer gently leads his own witness to present claims in the most persuasive manner possible, with the lawyer interrupting only to clarify the witness' statements and to provide helpful suggestions as to how the witness can make his case even more effectively.

Amazingly, the first ten minutes or so of the program consisted of Petraeus unilaterally presenting his case, uninterrupted, as to all the ways in which we have made Great Progress in Iraq since the Surge began. Fox News set up a huge flat screen television next to Petraeus, and already plugged into that screen were all of the U.S. military's own charts and graphs designed to visually depict Iraq as becoming better and safer since the Surge began.

Like a professor lecturing his class, Petraeus held a pointer, and had notes in front of him indicating the sequence of the screens. When he was done explaining one happy Good News screen, the next one popped up, and he proceeded that way -- with no challenge whatsoever -- to present his "Briefing for America." Hume sat by quietly and reverently, opening his mouth only to add information to make Petraeus' point clearer. The "interview" was engineered and scripted by the U.S. military, with Hume playing the role of Master of Ceremonies.

The second segment was with Ambassador Crocker, and it proceeded exactly the same way. With virtually no interruption, Crocker delivered prepared remarks, hailing one exciting improvement after the next on the political and diplomatic front. Not only did Hume not challenge a single point, but he again spoke only in order to bolster the points Crocker was making.

The remainder of the interview was designed to elicit the points which both Fox and Petraeus are most eager to make, focusing particularly on the alleged acts of war Iran is directing against U.S. forces. At Hume's prodding, Petraeus strongly implied that it would soon be necessary to obtain authorization to take action against Iran within its borders, rather than only in Iraq. After Petreaus made sweeping accusations against Iran, this exchange ensued:

HUME: Do the rules of engagement that you're operating under allow you do to what you think you need to do to suppress this activity on the part of Iran, or perhaps do you need assistance from military not under your command to do this?

PETRAEUS: They allow us to do what we need to do inside Iraq.

HUME:Is that enough in your view?

PETRAEUS: Well, that's what I'm responsible for, and again, when I have concerns about something beyond that, I take them to my boss . . . and in fact, we have shared our concerns with him and with the chain of command, and there is a pretty hard look ongoing at that particular situation.

HUME: That sounds pretty disturbing, Ambassador Crocker -- that we are confronting with Iran now a situation where it doesn't appear that we have any diplomatic possibilities to suppress this activity by Iran, or do we?

The rest of the "interview" was filled with unbelievable exchanges like this one:
HUME: Would you say that we wouldn't be in the situation we are in today in terms of sectarian violence in Iraq generally had not Al Qaeda not been present and active there?

PETRAEUS: That's correct.

HUME: Has this, in an ultimate sense, turned out to be, more than anything else, a war with Al Qaeda?

PETRAEUS: Well, it is Al Qaeda and associated movements, I think, or affiliates, if you would.

Obviously, Fox News is free to say whatever it wants, and to give the government as much of a platform as it wants. But the fact that other journalists would sit meekly by and quietly accept the announcement that Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker would grant an "exclusive interview" to a propaganda network -- and that they all continue to pretend that Brit Hume is a "journalist" -- is inexcusable. I defy anyone to watch this hour-long program and identify anything at all that would be different if the interview had been conducted with a Soviet General by Pravda, or if the interview had been conducted by a U.S. military spokesman. There are no differences, except that -- with a Pravda interview or one conducted by one of Petraeus' subordinates -- the deceit would be less.

Yet our media class continues to treat Fox News, and especially Brit Hume, as though they are some type of legitimate journalists. That says more about the state of our political press and the true role it plays than it does about Fox and Hume. Here, for instance, is just part of a worshipful profile written last year by Howard Kurtz, "media critic" for The Washington Post, in which he and several other "journalists" praised Hume for his superb journalistic integrity:

There is a formal bearing about Hume that transcends his suspenders and American flag lapel pin. He speaks deliberately, unhurriedly, making his points with logic rather than passion. On a network filled with flamboyant personalities, he gave his nightly program the bland title "Special Report." . . .

Hume is no partisan brawler in the mold of some of Fox's high-decibel hosts. By virtue of his investigative background, his understated style and his management role, he represents a hybrid strain: conservatives who believe in news, not bloviation, but news that passes through a different lens, filtered through a different set of assumptions. . . .

"He has a wonderful style which makes you want to hear what Brit has to say, in an age when so many people are in your face," [Charlie] Gibson says.

Even before this obscene propaganda show last night, the very idea that Hume could be considered a "journalist," and that there is nothing deemed improper about Gen. Petraeus choosing him for an exclusive interview, speaks volumes about the broken and corrupt state of our media. Hume is an outspoken proponent of the war, having called Jack Murtha senile for advocating withdrawal and proclaiming the Democrats untrustworthy on national security for opposing the war.

A country with a functioning political press would never pretend that the pro-war, Bush-worshipping Hume could conduct an actual interview with Petraeus, let alone be the only journalist allowed to do so. And a government subject even to minimal levels of accountability would be too embarrassed, or at least deterred, from decreeing that its top general, burdened by a dubious record and making highly precarious claims about an ongoing war, would sit for a television interview with only one "journalist," and that journalist would be Brit Hume.

Yet not only does all of that happen with not a word of protest from our media, but they proceed to produce the most astonishingly transparent propaganda spectacle one can imagine, knowing that there is no cost to doing so. What a sad commentary on the state of our country's political culture.

When David Halberstam died earlier this year, all of our media stars solemnly paid homage to this "true journalist." But as I have noted many times, Halberstam -- in a speech to the Columbia School of Journalism shortly before he died -- recounted the proudest moment of his career: When he was a young reporter in Saigon, already disliked by the U.S. military for his adversarial reporting, he stood up in a military press briefing and demanded that he be allowed access to the battlefield so that he could see for himself what was happening and not have to rely blindly on the Generals' claims:

And in the back, and outside, some 40 military officers, all of them big time brass. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.

General Stilwell tried to take the intimidation a step further. He began by saying that Neil and I had bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge and other VIPs, and we were not to do it again. Period.

And I stood up, my heart beating wildly -- and told him that we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense.

I said that we knew that 30 American helicopters and perhaps 150 American soldiers had gone into battle, and the American people had a right to know what happened. I went on to say that we would continue to press to go on missions and call Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, but he could, if he chose, write to our editors telling them that we were being too aggressive, and were pushing much too hard to go into battle. That was certainly his right.

Now, our "journalists" conduct "interviews" with Generals from their knees, allow them to script the entire program in advance, and -- with some isolated and noble exceptions -- see their role as giving a platform to and uncritically amplifying every assertion made by the U.S. military. Last night's perfectly scripted Fox pageant demonstrates that they don't even bother to pretend otherwise anymore. That hour-long "interview" last night with Petraeus and Crocker would fit quite comfortably on North Korean state television. It also now fits quite comfortably within the American media landscape.

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