Posted by: N.S. Palmer | August 29, 2010

Censorship, War, and Bad Manners

By N.S. Palmer

I’m reading the Sunday New York Times and drinking coffee at McDonalds while I procrastinate about doing the real work of the day.

The Sunday print edition of The Times is about half the size that it used to be. The pages are smaller, there are fewer of them, and whole sections have been eliminated. Partly, it’s because of the recession. Mostly, it’s because there are fewer readers and thus lower advertising revenue. But it’s still a substantial newspaper, one of the few remaining examples of the species.

It’s also, as Churchill said of Russia, a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

During the Bush-Cheney nightmare, The Times slavishly suppressed any stories that the administration wanted to keep secret, such as torture, illegal wiretapping, and anomalies in the official story of the 9/11 attacks. At the same time, it enthusiastically front-paged administration propaganda that it knew, or should have known, was false, such as the myth of Iraqi WMDs and various provocateur-fabricated “terror plots.”

Now, however, The Times is printing secrets all over the place. Partly, it might be because Executive Editor Bill Keller is ashamed of his actions during the Bush-Cheney years. Partly, it’s probably because he isn’t as afraid of the Obama administration as he was of Bush and Cheney.

Machiavelli, Nixon, and Obama

The Bush-Cheney regime asked a simple question to get people’s cooperation: “If you cross us, would you prefer to have your back broken or your neck broken?”

The Obama administration, however, wants to sit down and reason with you. If progressives say that white is white and Wall Street Republicans say that white is black, Obama’s instinct is to split the difference and say that white is gray. But as soon as he makes that concession, Wall Street Republicans insist that gray is black, and the negotiations begin again. Inch by inch, compromise by compromise, working Americans get scr*wed.

It’s not for nothing that Machiavelli said it’s better for a prince to be feared than to be loved.

We can see the difference not only in news media but in Congress, where obstructionist Republicans and spineless Democrats blocked or weakened legislation vitally needed by working and unemployed Americans. They’re not afraid of crossing the Obama administration as they were of Bush-Cheney. They’re more afraid of Wall Street, Fox News, and Glenn Beck.

Another brilliant political thinker, less admired than Machiavelli, was — believe it or not — disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon. As president, he tried to make people think he was slightly crazy, so that they believed his actions were not rationally predictable: “If you set him off, Heaven knows what he’d do: he might start a nuclear war!” Nixon called it his “madman theory.” Of course, it was a variation on Machiavelli, whose work Nixon had read.

Obama suffers from the opposite fault. He seems very calm and rational, so his actions and reactions are quite predictable. It enables his adversaries to play him like a violin.

Reporters Sneak Facts Past Censorship

The Times still carries water for the government, if less consistently than it did during the Bush-Cheney era. Having worked as a newspaper reporter in Washington DC, I can see that Times reporters often try to “sneak” forbidden facts past management censorship.

One news story about the collapse of the World Trade Center towers after the 9/11 attacks noted, far down toward the end of the article, that (a) in addition to the two towers, WTC Building 7 collapsed but hadn’t been hit by anything; and (b) no comparable buildings before or since 9/11 have ever collapsed due to fire or airplane impacts. The reporter knew.

Another news story about the recent Wikileaks release of Afghan war documents dutifully parroted the government’s line that Wikileaks had not sought the Pentagon’s help in redacting potentially harmful information. But further down in the article, near the bottom, it recounted how Wikileaks  contacted the Pentagon and sought its help to do exactly what the same article earlier said Wikileaks had not done. The reporter knew.

It’s how things work sometimes. When I was a reporter, I once wrote an important article about government security measures that was accurate and had no classified information. The newspaper’s editor re-wrote the first two paragraphs to say exactly the opposite of what the rest of the article documented. The theory was that most people wouldn’t read the entire article, which still had my byline. Anyone who read the whole article must have thought I was nuts.

Bringing Democracy to Iraq

On the other side, there’s still plenty of propaganda in The Times.  A “Week in Review” article about “Winning, Losing, and War” states:

As the last officially designated American combat forces left Iraq, television cameras caught the exultation of a soldier finally heading home.

“We won!” he yelled. “It’s over! America, we brought democracy to Iraq!”

When I first read that, I thought of the incident years earlier when news media reported that Iraqis had spontaneously pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Of course, the whole thing was staged by the Bush-Cheney administration for propaganda purposes, and many of the people pulling down the statue weren’t even Iraqis, having been flown in as actors for the “unreality TV” show.

Did a soldier really yell that nonsense about bringing democracy to Iraq? Possibly. Was the soldier instructed to say it, and was the incident staged for propaganda purposes? Almost certainly, and the reporter had to know it.

Fearless Leader Bush

But of course, we all remember how Fearless Leader Bush called Americans to arms in 2001-2002, saying that “it’s time we brought democracy to Iraq.”

Oops. He didn’t say that. He said that dat debbil Saddam Hussein, whose only difference from Bush and Cheney was that they dress better, had nookular bombs and anthrax-spraying aerial drones that he was going to unleash on American cities. Darth Cheney went on TV to say that “we know where the weapons labs are.”

General Colin “Uncle Tom” Powell went before the United Nations with a faked slide show purporting to prove that Iraq was bristling with illegal WMDs. Administration officials and surrogates also peddled the false story that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 9/11 attacks, thereby to provide a fig leaf of legality to an otherwise naked act of aggression.

The Bush-Cheney regime didn’t invade Iraq to make it into a democracy. Bush and Cheney lied and frightened Americans into supporting the war:

  • Because they wanted to conquer and loot the country.
  • Because Dubya wanted the glory of being a “war prezadent.”
  • Because they wanted to enrich their friends and military contractors.
  • Because they wanted to regain control of Iraqi oil resources for themselves and their friends in the oil industry.
  • Because they wanted to satisfy their perverse lust for murder and destruction.
  • Because they wanted to increase the threat of terrorist attacks, real and imaginary, so that they could destroy the tattered remains of Constitutional protections for ordinary Americans.

Saddam Hussein is dead. Bush and Cheney are still walking around free, and they will be supported in luxury by taxpayers for the rest of their evil lives. You couldn’t write this stuff as fiction. Nobody would believe it.

Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.

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