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Antiwar.com, January 5, 2011
The complete phoniness of the
toppling of Saddam’s statue was exposed by this web site and others when it occurred, but now Peter Maass, writing in the New Yorker, is calling
the stage-managed nature of that operation into question. While not
contesting that the narrative symbolized by the imagery was misleading,
Maass avers it wasn’t the US government, but the Western media that
– without much prompting – obligingly created and broadcast a carefully-cropped
image of a nearly empty square to give the impression that US soldiers
were being greeted by the Iraqis as "liberators." As Maass puts it,
the real significance of the statue toppling was that the Americans
had taken central Baghdad, and yet:
"Everything else the toppling
was said to represent during repeated replays on television—victory
for America, the end of the war, joy throughout Iraq—was a disservice
to the truth. Yet the skeptics were wrong in some ways, too, because
the event was not planned in advance by the military."
As for whose idea it was to bring down the statue, Maass traces it to
a lowly sergeant who, out of the blue, came up with the bright idea
all by his lonesome, but there are several holes in Maass’s story.
To begin with, long shots of
the square show the area around the statue completely blocked
off by US tanks, and yet, according to Maass’s
own account, "a handful of Iraqis had slipped into the square" – at
precisely the moment the sergeant asked permission to take the statue
Who were these Iraqis? Reading
Maass, one would simply assume they were random residents of Baghdad,
curiosity seekers out on a lark, but a look at these photos disabuses us of this notion. They
were members of the Iraqi National Congress – those now-infamous "heroes
in error" – who had played a key role in the "weapons of mass
destruction" deception and were being groomed by the neocons to take
power in post-Saddam Iraq. Along with their leader, the wanted embezzler and suspected Iranian agent Ahmed Chalabi, 700 INC "fighters" were flown into Nasiriyah by the Pentagon a few days before, and were whisked to Baghdad, where they arrived just in time for their Big Media Moment.
In short, these Iraqis were on the
American payroll – and simply doing their job.
That the English-speaking media
were also doing their job – which is, as we all know,
to parrot the line their governments were putting out – comes
as no surprise. As Glenn Greenwald has noted, the links between our government
and the "mainstream" media have become so intimate that one can can fairly speak of an informal "merger." Yet we ought not to disappear
the governmental aspect of this untoward symbiosis. We need to ask:
how is it that practically the entire membership of the Iraqi National
Congress wound up in that square, on that day, while ordinary Iraqis
were being blocked by US tanks?
I have no doubt that both aspects
of the Government-Media Complex were acting in perfect tandem on that
occasion, and certainly Maass emphasizes this in his piece. That some
journalists on the scene who saw what was happening, and protested to their editors that
the statue-toppling imagery projected the wrong story, were told to
shut up and fix their cameras on the fallen idol will shock the naïve,
and amuse the realists among us. Mainstream media organizations didn’t need to wait for
orders from Washington: they did it all on their own. Yet we don’t
need to read a WikiLeaked cable detailing the mechanics of the deception
to understand how the occupiers set the stage for a successful bit of
This merger of Big Media and
Big Government is not anything new, at least to libertarians. As Murray
Rothbard, the founder of the modern libertarian movement, put it:
are governed by a ruling class that is a minority of the population,
and which subsists as a parasitic and exploitative burden upon the rest
of society. Since its rule is exploitative and parasitic, the State
must purchase the alliance of a group of "Court Intellectuals,"
whose task is to bamboozle the public into accepting and celebrating
the rule of its particular State. The Court Intellectuals have their
work cut out for them. In exchange for their continuing work of apologetics
and bamboozlement, the Court Intellectuals win their place as junior
partners in the power, prestige, and loot extracted by the State apparatus
from the deluded public."
Even a dictatorship requires
the implicit consent of the majority, which puts up with its depredations
until the weight of tyranny presses down so hard that the impetus to
rebel is inevitably provoked. What keeps the spirit of rebellion in
check are the blandishments of the Court Intellectuals, among whom the
mandarins of the "mainstream" media figure prominently.
Rothbard, in the essay cited
above, was discussing historical revisionism – the practice of revising
the accepted or "official" (i.e. government-generated) history of
an event, such as a war, in light of new and often deliberately overlooked
or suppressed data. The term entered common usage in the period following
World War I, when it was revealed that, far from being a glorious and
heroic crusade to "make the world safe for democracy," the conflict
was all about making the world safe for European imperialism, for the
arms trade, and for American banking interests whose loans to the Allies
were guaranteed by US entry into the war. As Rothbard notes:
"The noble task of Revisionism
is to de-bamboozle: to penetrate the fog of lies and deception of the
State and its Court Intellectuals, and to present to the public the
true history of the motivation, the nature, and the consequences of
State activity. By working past the fog of State deception to penetrate
to the truth, to the reality behind the false appearances, the Revisionist
works to delegitimize, to desanctify, the State in the eyes of the previously
deceived public. By doing so, the Revisionist, even if he is not a libertarian
personally, performs a vitally important libertarian service."
The task of Revisionism looks
very much like the alleged role of Journalism in a free society,
and so it is. Yet as we’ve lost our freedoms, down through the years,
ceding them to government at every critical turn, our "free" media,
instead of "working past the fog of State deception to penetrate to
the truth," has acted like a fog machine, generating and legitimizing
deception rather than exposing it.
This is why WikiLeaks was inevitable:
the death of investigative journalism has created a void, which Julian
Assange and his collaborators have filled – much to the chagrin and
outrage of our alleged "journalists," who, as semi-official Court
Intellectuals, are concerned not with exposing but with protecting the
regime. This is why the journalistic profession has not risen as one
in defense of WikiLeaks: indeed, far from it, they’ve been in the
vanguard of the anti-WikiLeaks lynch mob.
In what Greenwald calls an "unintentionally hilarious"
piece in Newsweek, we are told the answer to the question "why haven’t
journalists been defending WikiLeaks?" is because they are fearful
of "advocacy." Gee, is that what all those post-9/11 flag
lapel pins were about? The idea that the media is averse to advocacy
is a half-truth: certain kinds of advocacy are verboten, while others
are assumed. When it comes to cheerleading the
national security state, the US media has historically been ahead of
the general populace in ginning up wars and inciting war hysteria.
When William Randolph Hearst
sent his "journalists" to Cuba, just before the outbreak of the Spanish-American war,
he instructed them: "You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war." Nothing has changed in the interim, except that the government-media
partnership has gotten tighter. This marriage was going along swimmingly,
until that harlot known as the worldwide web threatened to come between
the happy couple.
The Internet blew apart the
media monopoly, and destroyed the role of the journalist as semi-official
gatekeeper. That’s why our rulers have been so eager to regulate it,
tax it, and rein it in – and if they succeed in the case of WikiLeaks,
they will have won a decisive victory. In doing all in their power to
obstruct and destroy WikiLeaks, and imprison Julian Assange, Washington
and its journalistic Praetorian Guard have a much broader goal in mind:
neutralize the internet.
Already, legal scholars – some of whom lamely
protest that they’re only trying to preserve the First Amendment –
are busily constructing arguments to accomplish this task, by coming
up with novel arguments, e.g. the concept of "low value" speech,
and such statements as "society needs not an absence of 'chill,’
but an optimal level." And, yes, our old "friend" Cass Sunstein is in on this one.
Liberals, conservatives, Democrats,
and Republicans – all are united on the alleged necessity of reining
in the internet. Their motivations may vary, but their goals converge
– and freedom’s only defenders are those liberals who remember what
true liberalism means, those (few) conservatives who value individual
liberty over and above the State, and, of course, all libertarians (with
the exception of Michael Moynihan and the editors of Reason magazine).
Liberty, besieged, is hanging
by a thread – a very narrow and swiftly unraveling thread that looks
just about to give way. The only hope is a grassroots rebellion as the
Powers That Be get ready to throw the "kill switch" – or are the
American people so domesticated that they have lost the power to resist,
or even care? I don’t believe it, I can’t
believe it, and surely don’t want to believe it – but time will tell.