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9.11 investigation

Faux Journalism is the White House's New Ally

No fake news story has become more embedded in our culture than the administration's account of its actions on Sept. 11. As The Wall Street Journal reported on its front page this week - just as the former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke was going public with his parallel account - many of this story's most familiar details are utter fiction. Bush's repeated claim that one of his "first acts" of that morning was to put the military on alert is false. So are the president's claims that he watched the first airplane hit the World Trade Center on television that morning. (No such video yet existed.) Nor was Air Force One under threat as Bush flew around the country, delaying his return to Washington.

Yet the fake narrative of Sept. 11 has been scrupulously maintained by the White House for more than two years. Although the administration has tried at every juncture to stonewall the Sept. 11 investigative commission, its personnel, including the president, had all the time in the world for the producer of a TV movie, Showtime's "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis" The result was a scenario that further rewrote the history of that day, stirring steroids into false tales of presidential derring-do. To shore up the Karl Rove version of Sept. 11 once Richard Clarke went public with his alternative tale on last Sunday's "60 Minutes," the White House placed Condoleezza Rice on all five morning news shows the next day. The administration is confident that it can reinstate its bogus scenario - particularly given that Rice, unlike Clarke, is refusing to take the risk of reciting it under oath to the Sept. 11 commission.
Faux journalism is the White House's new ally

By Frank Rich (NYT)
Saturday, March 27, 2004

NEW YORK -- Real journalism may be reeling, but faux journalism rocks. As an entertainment category in the cultural marketplace, it may soon rival reality TV and porn. American television is increasingly awash in fake anchors delivering fake news, some of them far more trenchant than real anchors delivering real news. Even CNBC, a financial news network, is chasing after the success of the faux-anchor Jon Stewart; its new nightly fake newscast, presided over by a formerly funny "Saturday Night Live" fake anchor, Dennis Miller, is being promoted with far more zeal than was ever lavished on CNBC's real "News With Brian Williams."

Turn on real news shows like "Dateline NBC" and "Larry King Live," meanwhile, and you are all too likely to find Jayson Blair, the lying former reporter of The New York Times, continuing to play a reporter on television as he fabricates earnest blather about his concern for journalistic standards.

Elsewhere on the dial you'll learn that a fake news show (Stewart's "The Daily Show") has been in a booking war with a real news show ("Hardball") over who would first be able to interview the real (I think) Desmond Tutu. At such absurd moments, real journalism and its evil twin merge into a mind-bending mutant that would defy a polygraph's ability to sort out the lies from the truth.

This phenomenon has been good news for the Bush administration, which has responded to the growing national appetite for fictionalized news by producing a steady supply of its own. Of late it has gone so far as to field its own pair of Jayson Blairs, hired at taxpayers' expense: Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, the "reporters" who appeared in television "news" videos distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services to local news shows. The point of these spots - which were broadcast whole or in part as actual news by more than 50 stations in 40 states - was to hype the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit as an unalloyed godsend to elderly voters. They are part of a public relations campaign, which, with its $124 million budget, would dwarf most actual news organizations.

When one real reporter, Robert Pear of The New York Times, blew the whistle on these television "news" stories this month, a government spokesman defended them with pure Orwell-speak: "Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools." The government also informed us that Ryan was no impostor but an actual "freelance journalist." The Columbia Journalism Review, investigating further, found that Ryan's past assignments included serving as a television shill for pharmaceutical companies in infomercials plugging FluMist and Excedrin.

Given that drug companies may also be the principal beneficiaries of the United States' new Medicare law, she is nothing if not consistent in her journalistic patrons. But she is a freelance reporter only in the sense that Mike Ditka would qualify as one when appearing in Levitra ads. As for the mystery of Alberto Garcia's journalistic bonafides, it remains at this writing unresolved. His reporting career has not left a trace on any data bank. Perhaps he is the creation of Stephen Glass, the serial fantasist who once ruled the pages of The New Republic.

The more real journalism declines, the easier it is for such government "infoganda" (as The Daily Show's Rob Corddry calls it) to fill the vacuum. President George W. Bush tries to facilitate this process by shutting out the real news media as much as possible. By the start of this year, he had held only 11 solo press conferences, as opposed to his father's count of 71 by the same point in his presidency. (Even the criminally secretive Richard Nixon had held 23.) Bush has declared that he rarely reads newspapers and that he prefers to "go over the heads of the filter" - as he calls the news media - and "speak directly to the people." To this end, he gave a series of interviews to regional broadcasters last autumn - a holding action, no doubt, until Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia could be hired to fill that role. When the president made an exception last month and took questions from an actual frontline journalist, NBC television's Tim Russert, his performance was so maladroit that the experiment is unlikely to be repeated soon.

There is no point in bothering with actual news people anyway, when you can make up your own story and make it stick. No fake news story has become more embedded in our culture than the administration's account of its actions on Sept. 11. As The Wall Street Journal reported on its front page this week - just as the former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke was going public with his parallel account - many of this story's most familiar details are utter fiction. Bush's repeated claim that one of his "first acts" of that morning was to put the military on alert is false. So are the president's claims that he watched the first airplane hit the World Trade Center on television that morning. (No such video yet existed.) Nor was Air Force One under threat as Bush flew around the country, delaying his return to Washington.

Yet the fake narrative of Sept. 11 has been scrupulously maintained by the White House for more than two years. Although the administration has tried at every juncture to stonewall the Sept. 11 investigative commission, its personnel, including the president, had all the time in the world for the producer of a TV movie, Showtime's "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis" The result was a scenario that further rewrote the history of that day, stirring steroids into false tales of presidential derring-do. To shore up the Karl Rove version of Sept. 11 once Richard Clarke went public with his alternative tale on last Sunday's "60 Minutes," the White House placed Condoleezza Rice on all five morning news shows the next day. The administration is confident that it can reinstate its bogus scenario - particularly given that Rice, unlike Clarke, is refusing to take the risk of reciting it under oath to the Sept. 11 commission.

After Sept. 11, similar fake-news techniques helped speed us into "Operation Iraqi Freedom." The runup to the war was falsified by a barrage of those "modern public information tools," including 16 words of Tom Clancy-style fiction in the State of the Union address. John Burns of The New York Times, speaking by phone from Iraq to a postmortem on war coverage sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley's journalism school this month, said of the real press back then: "We failed the American public by being insufficiently critical about elements of the administration's plan to go to war."

What few journalistic efforts were made to penetrate the trumped-up rationales for war were easily defeated by the administration's false news reports of impending biological attacks and mushroom clouds. To see how the faux journalism sausage was made, go to www.reform.house.gov/min, where a searchable database posted by Representative Henry Waxman identifies "237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq" made by Bush and members of his administration.

As for the embedded journalists who filled in the rest of the story, a candid assessment was delivered by Lieutenant Colonel Rick Long, the former head of media relations for the Marine Corps, speaking at the Berkeley symposium: "Frankly, our job is to win the war. Part of that is information warfare." He added: "So we are going to attempt to dominate the information environment...Overall, we were very happy with the outcome."

homepage: homepage: http://www.iht.com/articles/512235.html
address: address: The New York Times via The International Herald Tribune


funny, I thought he said "Hardball" was a real news show 31.Mar.2004 06:21

let me get this straight

"Hardball" is a "real" news show? And the Daily Show is not? And the New York Times claims the former as its peer and the latter as an inferior species?

Maybe, 31.Mar.2004 07:32

Tony Blair's dog

"...is false. So are the president's claims that he watched the first airplane hit the World Trade Center on television that morning. (No such video yet existed.)"

he was shown a "special" broadcast of the events unfolding,
the kind of broadcast that doesn't reach people not involved.

What I am still amazed at is one "little detail" that is not
brought up very much...

When Bush said that he saw that first plane crash into the
tower he made that lame joke about "there's one terrible pilot",
then immediately went on saying "and I said it musta been
a horrible accident".

Now, tell me, if you as "president" were shown an "accident"
of that magnitude - airliner crashing into the world trade center,
the very "economic hub" of the western world - what would be
your first reaction? What would you immediately do?
What would any sound, "real" leader do?