Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Treason of the Truth

The War on the Press
For those keeping score, James Bamford's December 1 article "The Man Who Sold the War" has sparked a battle of its own -- between the investigative journalist who penned the piece and its subject, John Rendon, founder of the Rendon Group.

The Rolling Stone exposé, which ranks among 2005's best investigative pieces, presents an iron-clad case that the Bush administration -- working hand in glove with Rendon's propaganda machinery -- knowingly misled the American public in the run up to the War in Iraq. While this deception now seems obvious to a majority of Americans, no single article sets forth the particulars in such devastating detail.

In response the Rendon Group has unleashed a fusillade of PR aimed to tear down the credibility of the messenger. In a follow up letter to the editor of Rolling Stone, they claim Bamford relied on "false information and mischaracterization to create his story."

Rendon then attempts to dismantle Bamford’s credibility by highlighting eight problems in his Rolling Stone report. None of these problems speak to the main thrust of the story. Rather the Rendon Group reply is a well honed piece of misdirection, which goes to great lengths to cast doubt about the man who wrote the piece, without disputing the essential facts therein.

The Rendon Group even claims that Bamford got the meal ticket wrong. Describing a dinner interview between him and company founder John Rendon, they claim: "Mr. Bamford ordered the French wine and lamb chops. Mr. Rendon had seafood," and not otherwise, as reported in the story. Strange. Rendon seeks to impugn Bamford by offering up as evidence their CEO’s preference for fish.

Bamford's response cuts through Rendon's smoke. "The job of the Rendon Group was to use 'perception management' techniques -- propaganda," he writes. Their creation of the Iraqi National Congress and installation of Ahmad Chalabi as its head formed the basis of Bush's faulty case for going to war.

Bamford quotes ex-CIA official Robert Baer who said Rendon "was responsible for selling this war." To cap it off, Bamford produces the bill from their restaurant interview: "According to the receipt, Mr. Rendon ordered 'sate lamb chops' -- I never eat lamb chops. And just for the record, I also paid for Mr. Rendon's apple tart dessert and his coffee -- decaf black."

While plates are still spinning between these two, one thing seems clear. Rendon's assault on Bamford follows a pattern of obfuscation that’s become the MO of the chicken hawk set: By throwing a fit you can sow enough uncertainty about any media that challenge the administration’s version of the War. The facts of the reports in question often become lost in the dust up over the messenger.

Media 'Saboteurs'

Many leveling these charges against the press are now taking their critique one further. Not only are the media untrustworthy, they state, but they also are treasonous for not marching in lock-step with President Bush’s version of the war. The Rendon story plays a small part in this larger pattern.

During his December 21 show, radio siren Rush Limbaugh blasted the media for aligning with the left wing to create propaganda and "sabotage" the war effort. "These people are sabotaging our ability to wage war on this enemy," Limbaugh crowed:
The major concern is stopping these people from sabotaging our ability to wage war on this enemy because that's what the media and that's what the Democratic Party and the far left of this country have become -- saboteurs. You call them traitors if you want. You can use the word "treason". Go ahead.
Limbaugh's diatribe fits snuggly into the fabric of efforts to bully skeptical media back into line with the official view. Former Army intelligence officer Lt. Col. Ralph Peters writes in his book, "New Glory: Expanding America’s Global Supremacy," that in wartime the media "can no longer sustain their pretenses of being aloof, objective observers dispassionately recording events. The media are combatants."

According to Peters' critique, the media should act more as foot soldiers for the White House, and less as defenders of accuracy in the public interest. The Lt. Colonel repeated this theory on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" earlier this month, accusing an ABC news report – which revealed that the CIA removed detainees from "secret prisons" in Europe prior to Secretary of State Rice’s visit – of "killing American soldiers."

"When ABC or any other outlet gives away our national secrets, or verifies them, and underscores them by repeating what others have said, and seems to verify for the world, look, they are putting Americans at risk," Peters said, adding, "Bill, it's killing American soldiers."

To which O'Reilly added: "I do feel that the press has a responsibility to help the government in the war on terror."

And I thought the press' responsibility was to report the truth.

Not so, according to Todd Manzi of TownHall.com, a popular right-wing site that was recently spun-off from the Heritage Foundation: "The Associated Press has caused some U.S. soldiers to lose their lives," Manzi writes. "The irresponsible, antiwar-biased reporting from the Associated Press over the last four months can only have encouraged our enemy to keep trying. Terrorists may have been given the false hope that all is not lost for them. . . [AP reporters] have allowed themselves to become a pawn of our enemy."

Cliff Kincaid, the editor of the right-wing media watchdog Accuracy in Media believes that the terrorists are using domestic forces to fight the war. Their chief American allies are the media, he writes in a December 20 editorial carried by several right-wing news sites. "That's because the [Washington] Post and other media are part of the movement to undermine our resolve at home."

The Glass White House

Ironically, the effort to tar investigative reporting as treason emanates from those under investigation for a similar crime – the leaking of information about Valerie Plame’s covert identity.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's ongoing investigation points a steady finger not at the so called "liberal media" but within the corridors of the White House itself, at Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney and others -- the self same architects of the assault on journalism. Not surprisingly, Libby -- the sole member of the cabal to be indicted thus far -- has turned his case on its head, to, again, cast stones at the media as the sources revealing the name of the undercover CIA operative.

Time -- and Fitzgerald’s ongoing investigation -- will tell whether his convenient defense will help Libby and others to slip their manacles.

But if recent history is a guide, it's a tactic that has proven successful in throwing up enough sand and smoke to cover the tracks of those fully responsible for the mess that we're all in.

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