May 15, 2005

The Censorship Campaign Gets a Boost: Nothing but Good News 24/7, Please...and Don't Make Us Make You!

I'm certain that, very regrettably, there will be many more opportunities to address these issues further in the coming week, but here are a few prefatory observations. (Obligatory statement: if Newsweek made serious errors of judgment of any kind in reporting this story, then it should apologize and make any necessary corrections. But as we shall see, that it is not what the coming furor is about at all, and that is not where this game is being played.)

With regard to Newsweek's apology for errors it may have made in reporting the "Koran-flushing" story [link no longer working], let's get one basic error out of the way at the outset. Because the riots in Afghanistan came after the Newsweek piece, all the Bush-supporting advocates of "benevolent hegemony," to be brought to us courtesy of perpetual war, have already announced that Newsweek caused the riots. Little Green Footballs, which does not ever get a link here, has the most blatant assertion of this "argument": "The Jihad Newsweek Inspired." Oh, wait: I now see that Little Green Footballs has stiff competition from the usual source. Drudge has a huge headline which calls these events: "THE NEWSWEEK RIOTS." Half a point for clarity, Matt, even though you are completely, totally, unforgivably wrong.

This is an old, well-recognized logical fallacy. Read this, and that takes care of that in terms of the validity of the form of the argument.

But even with regard to the argument's substance, there are significant other factors that might have led to the riots -- particularly now, and particularly where they began. This entry identifies some of them. Most significant, in terms of the Newsweek story, is the fact that reports about the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo have been available since as early as July 2004. And here, in the Human Rights Watch report from October 2004, is the relevant passage:
Detainees also complained about the interference with their ability to pray and the lack of respect given to their religion. For example, the British detainees state that they were never given prayer mats and initially were not provided Korans. They also complained that when the Korans were provided, the guards "would kick the Koran, throw it into the toilet and generally disrespect it."
In terms of the major point of contention, Newsweek reported nothing new at all. Of course, this assumes that people had been paying attention to any of the "negative" developments in Bush's campaign to spread democracy and destruction, but the warhawks haven't been. The rest of that post identifies a few other factors that might have led to these riots at this particular moment.

Speaking of Drudge (if we must, and in this case, we must unfortunately): on his radio show this evening, he had a lengthy discussion about the gravity and perfidiousness of Newsweek's "deadly mistake" with that always objective and non-partisan gentleman, John Fund. There was the usual head-shaking and regret that anything at all should bring disgrace to the hallowed halls of journalism, and the syrup of their sincerity was notably thick this evening. There were also a couple of key phrases, repeated several times by Fund, that I'm certain we will hear many more times in the coming week or two.

Fund said several times (I paraphrase, but this is very close, and it certainly captures the essence of what he said): "Well, of course there were some abuses at one is denying that, but..." And then Fund talked about one of the terrible errors that journalism made over the last year or so: overhyping the Abu Ghraib story. How awful of The New York Times to have highlighted this story for more than 40 days! How un-American! Who knows what damage it did to our cause?! Etc.

And then Drudge chimed in, with the oldest tactic in the book -- but a tactic which is still widely used precisely because it works so well (again paraphrasing, but close to verbatim and fully capturing the substance): "Some people will say that this is the last straw for anti-Americanism in the press." Some people? Which people are those, Drudge? Of course, he's not saying it. He's just reporting what some people will say, even though they haven't said it yet apparently.

Of course, Glenn Reynolds was on the case in a heartbeat: no opportunity to bash the "mainstream media" will be ignored for longer than a second or two by our Instant Professor. Reynolds links to this, which in turns links to Michelle Malkin, who announces
Malkin has an explanatory note about her use of "lied":
Didn't think I needed to s-p-e-l-l i-t o-u-t, but some readers asked for clarification. Newsweek was reckless and sloppy and wrong. But I do not think the magazine "lied." Just thought it a very appropriate moment to do a boomerang on the moonbats' most dishonest and annoying meme.
The point is not whether Malkin meant it literally or not: the point is to inject this "meme" into the public discussion. As I write this, Drudge is reporting on his radio show that people are telling him that pickets in front of Newsweek's NY offices on Monday will carry large signs saying, "NEWSWEEK LIED! PEOPLE DIED!" Mission accomplished, Michelle.

What I want to emphasize right now is the speed and ambitiousness of the propagandists' game here. In less than a day, they have targeted all of these issues, using the Newsweek mistake (if indeed it was one) as their freshest ammunition:

-- Minimizing to the point of non-existence all abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib

-- Minimizing to the point of non-existence all abuse and torture at Guantanamo

-- Reinforcing the idea that the mainstream media is not to be trusted on matters of national security, and that it is fundamentally anti-American

-- Introducing the idea that "some people" think the media has finally gone "too far," which carries the unavoidable implication that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

So what is the logical result of all this? There are at least two major results, and two major goals: first, strengthening the idea that, whatever the United States does, it is always right and anyone who questions our policies is wrong, and anti-American -- and if we do make any mistakes, they are trivial and barely worth mentioning, thus trying yet again to shut down all debate; and second, if the Bush supporters and warhawks had their way, censorship.

Censorship is what they're after, and don't let them tell you otherwise. They announced this goal unmistakably at least a year ago. (Here's the classic, regret-filled formulation: "And here's a question: Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn't exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority -- or even a large and angry minority -- of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?") Of course, they "regret" that censorship might be necessary. It's a terrible shame and all that. But damn it, if magazines like Newsweek ARE GOING TO GET PEOPLE KILLED...well, what can we do? We obviously have to shut them up. They brought it on themselves. It's their own damned fault. Of course, we'd like to have a free press, but THEY'RE GETTING PEOPLE KILLED!

And please, please don't say it can't happen here. It did happen here -- during World War I and World War II. They want to go back to the good old days, when people got thrown in jail for reading the Bill of Rights in public.

From an earlier post which described censorship during World War I, here is author Thomas Fleming describing the actual aim of today's hawks:
Oblivious to the looming disaster in France, George Creel's Committee on Public Information was hard at work creating the war will in America. By July he had assembled a small army of writers, editors, artists, actors and speakers who were churning out patriotic pamphlets, books, films and speeches for the American public. An upper echelon of former muckrakers, all ardent progressives like Creel, were given prominent roles. The CPI's motto was: "faith in democracy--faith in fact."


[T]he centerpiece of Creel's early propaganda effort was the Official Bulletin, an eight-page daily newspaper (eventually thirty-two pages) in tabloid format, which went to every paper in the United States, as well as to government agencies, military camps and the nation's 50,000 post offices. Below its title were the words: "Published Daily Under Order of the President by the Committee on Public Information, George Creel, Chairman." Individuals could subscribe for five dollars a year, and the circulation climbed rapidly to a peak of 115, 031. The paper published nothing but good news about the U.S. war effort. Wilson considered this hybrid creature his invention--which it was in some respects. Creel had initially opposed the idea. The president gleefully told Joe Tumulty that the Official Bulletin was an immense success. He added that Creel was astonished by the way it was being lapped up and reprinted by thousands of newspapers.
Today, Creel can easily be replaced by any of the warbloggers; I'm sure Reynolds, Sullivan, the Powerline guys and any number of others would be honored by the opportunity to serve.

I fully expect the Newsweek story to be all-consuming over the next week, at the very least. It will be dissected endlessly on talk radio, on cable TV, in newspapers. And throughout all the discussions, the points identified above will be emphasized without end, so that all these ideas become more widely accepted by more and more Americans: that the riots were "caused" by the Newsweek story, that the mainstream press is basically anti-American and not to be trusted, and that something might finally have to be done. That would be terrible, but that rotten, traitorous mainstream media just didn't give us decent, patriotic Americans a choice, did it?

That's how this game is played, and those are the stakes. Meanwhile, and speaking of lies and people dying, there is one story that will continue to be entirely neglected during all of this comparatively trivial public psychosis: this one. Note this page in particular.

Now there's an outright lie that unquestionably did lead to an untold number of deaths (in fact, a very lengthy series of outright lies) -- and it continues to lead to more deaths every single day. But is the media, including the warbloggers, devoting any time and attention to that? Of course not. That might reflect badly on Saint George. ...

The coming outrage is, in one important sense, as phony as it is predictable. Among his other comments, Fund said that he was deeply, deeply concerned about the Newsweek mistake because at least 16 people are dead. "It's horrible," said Mr. Fund.

And yet the warhawks never seem to find the time or emotion to note the ongoing carnage in Iraq -- carnage which is the direct result of the policies they support so strongly. But 16 deaths are invaluable when you're in the midst of a propaganda campaign.

More to come on this in the days ahead...

UPDATE: I had meant to include this point, too: I doubt very much that the Bush administration or the hawks could achieve outright censorship at this point. The outcry (from a "large and angry minority," although not the one Reynolds depends on) would be too great. But there is a secondary, lesser goal: intimidation. The hawks hope that, by endlessly beating up Newsweek and making mainstream journalism appear to be "irresponsible" to the point of "causing" deaths, the mainstream media will be far less likely to raise uncomfortable questions or write awkward stories about the various projects of the Bush administration, both foreign and domestic.

I have to admit that I find this goal altogether laughable. Given the media's craven willingness to allow Bush, et al. to get away with anything -- even blatant, repeated lies that led to an entirely unnecessary war (to say nothing of Judith Miller's propaganda releases from Chalabi dutifully printed by the NYT, injecting fear and paralysis of thought directly into the public's arteries and gearing everyone up for war against the non-existent threat of Iraq) -- I don't see how much more craven the general media could be. But obviously the hawks' standards and mine on this question, as on so many others, are hardly the same. So I'm certain that the hawks would greatly prefer that the mainstream media assume a completely supine pose, and remove whatever tiny sliver of spine they have left while they're at it. And then Reynolds, Powerline, and the rest of the gang can simply dictate the latest war "news" for publication by all the major outlets.