Watching Geraldo Rivera lead his viewers into an empty cave in Tora Bora was like Déjé vu all over again. I started thinking about Geraldo’s escapade at Al Capone’s secret vault. If you missed it, you didn’t miss a thing. Isn’t this the same media clown who couldn’t get enough of Chandra Levy just ninety days ago?
For ten years, cable news has centered on five stories; The Gulf War, Rodney King, O. J. Simpson, Lewinsky and Chandra Levy. The exact formula was perfected by Ted Turner who realized that news had become just another ‘infotainment’ commodity. The trick was to produce news that was real cheap and real fast. Chasing O. J. Simpson down a California highway just required the local weather man to keep his helicopter up in the sky for a couple of hours and then beam it ‘LIVE’ to a national and international audience who paid for the dubious privilege.
Credit for the demise in the quality of our news also needs to go to Ted Koppel and ABC. Koppel demonstrated that you could capture huge market share for a year plus with endless replays of the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. Oh yes, Koppel also needed that prop that informed the viewer that it was ‘Day 399’ of captivity for the American hostages. The radical students who took over the Embassy were also quick to appreciate that they had ‘real time’ access to the American people. It was ‘reality TV, live from Tehran.’ Americans were left with the impression that 40 million Persians spent a year and a half in one angry vigil outside their embassy. A new kind of infotainment creature was created; the ‘expert pundit.’ To this day, Night Line is a forum for experts on all manner of subjects. Did Koppel prolong the hostage ordeal? I think so and many Iranians think so and some of the hostages think so. Far from explaining anything, Night Line’s experts used their late night appearances to vent their frustrations and push their agendas. Part of any agenda was to get re–invited by Ted. Israeli leaders, like Netenyahu just give Ted a ring and arrange for an ‘interview’.
Then there was talk Radio followed by Talk TV. Experts. Experts. Experts. Some of them had a clue. Some of them looked good under the light. Note that Koppel has not changed his hair salon in two decades to ‘maintain the look.’
The Gulf war was like manna from heaven for the networks. The Pentagon released the daily tapes, gratis. They aired them, along with a couple of quips from ‘Saddam’ experts and the ratings went through the roof.
All through this long agonizing process of dumbing down America, things were happening in the world. Yes, the networks did notice the fall of the Berlin wall. They duly sent their cameras to Somalia. But they figured that covering the genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and Croatia would be too expensive. The media titans told America not to care and Americans were happy to oblige. For over a thousand days, shells rained down on innocents in Sarajevo. And CNN was working on the new news thing; “The Global Minute”.
Take one camera crew and station it outside a Los Angeles courthouse. Add a couple of ‘expert’ pundits’ and endless talking heads. That is all it took for CNN to get 24/7 content. And as TV coverage went, so did our newspapers.
So, when the vicious assault of 911 happened, all the TV Cameras available were camped outside Condit’s house waiting for a ‘scoop’. The pundits and the mass media barons laughed all the way from Chandrala to the bank. Dan Rather decided not to cover the story in what was considered a ‘daring’ move by his rivals. So they covered Dan Rather not covering the story. And Dan Rather covered the story that the competition was making a fuss over his not covering the story he promised not to cover. If you missed it, you didn’t miss a thing.
Today, we have two generations of Americans whose view of the world is informed by Jay Leno quips. This all sounds innocent enough. You can learn as much in a Jay walk as you can on CNN. The way things are, any breathing adult, preferably male and white, who sounds half way coherent on any subject, can be marketed as an expert. A major irremovable stain on American journalism is that we have plenty of experts who can tell you all about the stain on Monica’s dress, but few with the vaguest memory of Srebrinicia or Sarajevo The reason Larry King, Wolf Blitzer, Koppel, Chris Mathews and O’Reilly have such huge bully platforms is because they are great circus barkers who can lure you into their show because they have ‘expert’ white elephants who can make the clowns laugh till they cry. To impress the audience, some of these experts come with unbelievable job titles. Consider Michelle Flournoy. She is the International Security Program Senior Adviser from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. How the hell do you fit that on a business card? Is that a full time Job or a gig on the side? What makes her an Expert? She is now an ‘Osama Bin Laden’ Expert who appears on network TV and before the Senate foreign relations committee. A lot of the other ‘experts’ are Ex-State Department employees like Mr. Larry C Johnson who is the Former Deputy State Department Counter-Terrorism Coordinator. Did this guy do a really great job in his former job? He speaks without an ounce of remorse. He says stuff like “We gotta give it to Saudis straight. They need to stop the boozing and gambling in London while pretending they are so pious in front of their people.” Not a word about the strategically questionable American garrison in the Saudi desert, the anger over the treatment of the Palestinians or the murderous Anglo-American sanctions that have killed half-a-million Iraqi children. Listening to Johnson testify before the Senate was not reassuring. This guy shouldn’t even have a passport, much less be a ‘diplomat’.
As for Michelle Flournoy, she thought we should give the natives in our oil plantations more food and water and better sleeping arrangements. Both characters testified that democracy might not be appropriate for a people who they considered so culturally and politically stunted. Next thing you know, they will hold Senate hearings on whether Arab Americans should get a full vote or two-thirds of a vote.
The guy that really irks me is James Woolsey, the ex-CIA director who goes around from one cable show to the other giving his opinion on why 911 is a good reason to bomb Iraq. If this neurotic fool was Japanese, he would spend the rest of his life apologizing to the American people for being the sorriest example of ‘intelligence’ on the planet. To beef up his retirement account, he now tries to beef up his ‘pundit’ status by lacing his remarks with racist crap like how we will get respect by unleashing the full force of American military might against the Arabs. According to this moron, we should communicate with the Middle East in ‘the one language they understand’; the language of violence. I got news for Woolsey. He doesn’t deserve respect from my dog and I don’t even have a dog.
In the convoluted reasoning of these pundits, Israeli repression against the Palestinians should continue and the absolute monarchies need a life line. Because, while such repression might appear to be problematic from the distance of our shores, in the Middle East the end of repression would be a sign that America has gone soft. The pundits,Senators and ‘journalists’ seem to agree that while the Afghans needed immediate relief from six years of Taliban rule, the Palestinians should be just fine with another few decades of land thieving Israeli military occupation.
Consider the twisted reasoning of the Israeli apologists that Osama and Saddam ‘only use the Palestinian cause’. Well, why doesn’t America beat them to it? Why doesn’t George Bush ruin Saddam’s act by demonstrating that he is the genuine article who will stand straight and firm for Palestinian freedom? Why is justice for the Palestinians always so low on America’s priority list? The United States is either for collective punishment or against it. We can play games with war criminals like Sharon. Or we can issue indictments to have them show up in the Hague. We are either for the belligerent violent siege of Palestinian communities or we are against it. It is clear enough where the New York Times and CNN and the Washington Post are on these issues. An American president unwilling to stand the heat from Sulzberger’s thugs and the annexationist creeps at the Post will never be able to do what is decent and what is right and what is in America’s vital security interests.
Well, if you can’t trust CNN, FOX, CBS, NBC and ABC, who can you trust? Your search for truth might lead you to examine the ‘adult’ journalist who are supposed to be resident at the New York Times and The Washington Post media consortiums. They have experts like Thomas Friedman, Charles Krauthammer and William Safire. Just to give you a clue of what these men are like, every one of them worships at the feet of Ariel Sharon, a serial war criminal. Imagine that. The biggest journalists in the land are all card carrying members of a constituency for repression that has no qualms about the slaughter at Sabra and Shatila and Qibya. Krauthammer, a fascist to the marrow, actually considers Sharon to be rather soft. He is a bona fide expulsionist. His solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is to create more refugees so that exclusive Jewish settlements with exclusive Jewish roads can flourish.
We have a huge mass media problem in this country. One that really threatens the national interest. While the average American has no interest in the continued repression of the Palestinians, the Israel Firsters are firmly in charge of all news content on this subject. To demonstrate their power, they have made Sharon’s war record a taboo subject. Another off limits matter is the influence of the Israeli lobby, which can virtually veto any American president. How? Precisely because they have access to so much media power. Plus they can round up a few dozen Senators to confront any administration at five in the morning.
So, While the rest of us are getting our brains fried by cable TV news, the big boys are setting agendas on the pages of the New York Times and The Washington Post. Sulzberger, the Publisher of the Times, is often the biggest elephant in the room on many matters of public policy, including foreign policy. Media power begets national policies which beget taboo subjects like how these ‘foreign’ policies that serve Israeli interests earned us such enmity among the radical fringe in the Middle East. They will allow a bigot like ABC’s Bill Maher to say things like “Is there a single Arab country that deserves respect or dignity?”. This know-nothing racist degenerate tries to cozy up to Isner by regularly defaming Arabs and Muslims on his show. This crowd can convince you that Israel’s belligerent occupation is a non-issue. Rather, they would have you believe that it is Al-Ahram’s reporting of Israeli belligerence that is a problem. And if you think they only abuse their influence to monopolize the debate on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, think again. Recall how these pro-Israeli militants agitated for the last Gulf War and how they are beating the drums for yet another Gulf War.
In the ninety day journey from Chandrala to Tora Bora, the mass media lords have managed to tightly control any content that might shed light on why we were so brutally victimized on 911. I firmly believe that 911 could and should have never happened. Americans should have nothing but friends around the world. This is a major failure of policy. Where are the individual policy makers who will stand up and take responsibility for the results of their initiatives or their lack of initiatives.
The mass media pundits had no other option but to prevent a full examination of the public record. It was one story they had a major role in. Never have so many journalists worked so hard to cover up a story. That is why they compounded the problems arising from the terrorist assault with their paranoid Anthrax scare. If they are not professionally incompetent, they tend to be criminally negligent. At the minimum, they have a shoddy journalistic product that is defective by design. Ninety days from Chandrala and they have insistently refused to raise questions that should definitely be part of our national discourse. Did 911 have anything to do with the Gulf war and our conduct in the region? Does it have anything to do with our blind support for a brutal Israeli occupation? Did it have to happen? Could 911 have been avoided? How come these nuts don’t direct their criminal rage at Canada or China or Japan or Sweden? What exactly is the difference between our way of life and the Canadian way of life? Why us? Why now? Why would they pick on the one power in the planet that had the capacity to respond so effectively and so quickly?
We desperately need to be aware of who the players are in this game. The Israeli Lobby needs to be examined and studied and reported on. Any discussion of our Middle East policies without probing the influence of the Lobby is a cynical charade that we can ill afford.
America’s policies in the Middle East are common knowledge in the region. The vast majority of the people of the Middle East believe these policies are designed with the hostile intent of elements in our government. This is not because of mass delusion, cultural quirks or government propaganda. Successive United States governments, under the influence of the Israel First Lobby, have done things in the Middle East most Americans would not want to be associated with. Most Americans have simply not paid attention. Fortunately, the majority of Arabs are sensible enough to differentiate between vulgar American policies and the inherent decency of the American people. They get CNN and they understand CNN. They also know who owns and operates CNN. They understand how the Israeli lobby works. They understand how corrupt an American Senator can be. They understand the ‘domestic’ pressures on an American president. They genuinely consider American citizens to be fellow victims. They certainly understand the limitations of their own governors. To most Arabs, Bin Laden and the extremist Islamic movement represent an unattractive prospect of further repression and miserable isolation. They knew exactly what was going on under the Taliban long before the first CNN camera showed up. In much the same way that Laotians knew of the killing fields and the Poles knew of the Holocaust. In Arab newspapers, they covered the sad plight of Afghanistan long after American journalists rubbed it off the map. There was precious little they could do except withhold diplomatic recognition from the Taliban. Every time the Taliban would come up with a bizarre decree, it would be reported with amusement by CNN and genuine embarrassment in the Arab press.
The Arab street has always been an intense political scene. If we had decent diplomats doing their jobs in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the occupied territories, they would have figured out a few things long before 911. Unfortunately, even American Ambassadors serving in the Middle East had to pass the rigorous screening of the Israeli Lobby. Every career State Department employee knew the score about not messing with the Israeli lobby lest you attract the Ire of some haughty Senator who would threaten that your next posting would be Mali or Bangladesh. Part of the solution to our Middle East problems is developing a class of American diplomats who do not get their basic training in the Israeli Lobby. I need only mention the disaster caused by Clinton’s choices of Ross, Kurtzer, Indyk, Rubin, Holbrooke, Eagleburger and Albright. These were the primary actors who charted our Middle Eastern misfortunes. A number of them have already been comfortably placed back in the Israeli Lobby. This revolving door between the Israeli Lobby and the State Department is yet another subject we need to openly discuss.
In the modern American mythology we are supposed to have journalists with the courage to tell the truth like the characters on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. In reality, even in times of existential national crisis, when America needs competent journalists, it will have to import them from England. The sooner Geraldo gets back to Chandrala, the safer the world will be.
Mr. Ahmed Amr is Editor of NileMedia.com in Seattle and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).