Voice in the Wilderness

The news about the "war on terror" your local newspaper won't print.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Tickets, please

Here in the wilderness we wonder frequently about the "herd mentality" of the Washington press corps -- the stubborn insistence to say or write little else than what the competitor down the street is saying or writing.

The herd thundered to life in the coverage of George W. Bush's Fourth of July speech in Morgantown, W. Va.

Presidential Independence Day speeches are notoriously stupefying, and seldom does any news come out of them. In addition, the day usually is hot, the travel arrangements are hectic, and very few reporters really want to be standing out working in a hot, sunshiny day instead of barbecuing outside their Maryland or Virginia homes.

But the five media musketeers who covered the address -- the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Associated Press -- all missed yet another opportunity to educate and inform their readers how the White House sculpts Bush's appearance, to give everyone the impression that Americans of all shapes, sizes and persuasions love him. They stack the audience, and keep the riffraff -- the dissenters -- away, like no president has since Richard Nixon.

The 2,000 or so folks who cheered the president for his predictable remarks likening the war in Iraq to the American Revolution -- "The terrorists are coming! The terrorists are coming!" -- were not your people off the streets. And none of them heckled, carried protest signs or wore clothing sporting anti-Bush remarks. The protesters, as with every Bush event, were roped off, about 100 yards away from the general audience.

Except for the Washington Times, which has been a right-wing house organ from the moment its presses began rolling; the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which is owned by Richard Mellon Scaife, who donates freely and frequently to extreme right-wing causes; and the mainstream Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which should have known better, the papers covering the speech did note that the event was all-ticket. But only Ann E. Kornblut of the New York Times even mentioned how those tickets were made available:
About 4,300 tickets to the event were given out by the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors' Bureau, according to its executive director, Stacey Brodak, who said the occasion brought great pride to the small college town just across the Pennsylvania border. The crowd, a sea of patriotic gear and military uniforms, gathered inside the campus green at West Virginia University for hours before the president arrived. (Read the entire article here.)
Still, Kornblut missed the point. Reading her prose implies that anyone who wanted to attend the speech could simply stop in to the Morgantown CVB, pick up a ticket and just show up. Uhhh . . . not quite.

As Dave Gustafson wrote in the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, the White House would vet all applicants:
Jack Thompson of the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau said his office would take contact information from people who want free tickets to see Bush. The White House will choose about 5,000 people from that list by 1 p.m. today.

People can then call or stop by the office at 201 South High St. between 1 and 5 p.m. today and between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday to see if they got tickets. (Read the entire article here.)

So, presumably, the White House would peruse the applicants, weed out those who were terrorists, registered sex offenders and other potential dangers to the president. Like anyone who wasn't a registered Republican? We'll never know here in the wilderness, because our media watchdogs didn't tell us.

Foul Ball in News Land

If your local newspaper was like the Des Moines Register, the July Fourth edition carried some heartwarming stories relating to Independence Day ceremonies, local residents serving in Iraq, etc. If your local newspaper really was like the Des Moines Register, the lead story, occupying about 60 percent of the front page, was all about catching foul balls at baseball games. And if your local newspaper was really, really like the Des Moines register, that story occupied two whole pages of a 10-page A section, making more than one fifth of the news hole devoted to the history-making story of why we run after foul balls.

(In case you think I'm kidding, you can read the story by clicking here.)

Naturally, when one story takes up a fifth of the news hole (the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor the other day took up only an eighth of the news hole for that edition), some inconsequential stories have to be left out.

Fortunately, hey -- it's a holiday, and we know that no news happens on a holiday. But for those doomsayers and contrarians who insist on not going along with the feel-good attitude that characterizes this essential celebration, here is a digest of news that the other 6 billion people on the planet were privy to because their newspaper didn't print three pages of what it means to catch a foul ball:

US close to climate change concessions: The United States is edging towards important concessions on climate change at this week's G8 summit, it has been revealed. US President George Bush is now ready to concede that climate change has scientific basis, and that collective action is required over global warming. Until now, Mr Bush has adopted an intransigent position, insisting there is no scientific basis to conclude that there is such a phenomenon as global warming. From The Guardian, UK. Read the story here.

Key Bush aide named in row over CIA leak: President George Bush's right hand man, Karl Rove, yesterday found himself at the centre of the controversy over who revealed the name of a secret CIA agent, after Newsweek revealed that he was a source for a story that appeared in Time magazine and for which two reporters are facing prison. Read the story here.

No word from kidnappers of Egypt envoy in Baghdad: Kidnappers who seized Egypt's envoy to Baghdad over the weekend have yet to make contact with the authorities or present any demands, Egyptian and Iraqi officials said on Monday. Two days after Ihab el-Sherif was snatched by gunmen from a Baghdad street no group had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. From Reuters. Read the story here.

Israel fears Sharon assassination: Israeli President Moshe Katsav has warned that right-wing nationalists could attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mr Katsav warned that the vocal opposition of pro-settler rabbis to Israel's Gaza pullout plan could incite extremists to take "dramatic measures." From the BBC. Read the story here.

Gaylord Nelson, 1916-2005: Wisconsin giant dies: Gaylord Nelson, a former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator, died Sunday at the age of 89. He was an eloquent defender of the natural world and a man who brought skill and grace to the practice of politics. Nelson died of cardiovascular failure at his home in Kensington, Md., a Washington, D.C., suburb. He will always be known as the founder of Earth Day. From the Wisconsin State Journal. Read the story here.

Fighter Jet Intercepts Plane Near Camp David: A small plane entered restricted airspace Saturday night around Camp David, where President Bush was spending the weekend, prompting federal officials to dispatch a fighter jet to intercept it and track it until it landed at an airport in Frederick. Authorities questioned the pilot of the Cessna 172 and released him. From the Washington Post. Read the story here.

Increase in the Number of Documents Classified by the Government: Driven in part by fears of terrorism, government secrecy has reached a historic high by several measures, with federal departments classifying documents at the rate of 125 a minute as they create new categories of semi-secrets bearing vague labels like "sensitive security information. A record 15.6 million documents were classified last year, nearly double the number in 2001, according to the federal Information Security Oversight Office. From the New York Times. Read the story here.

Why we chase foul balls: A foul ball is essentially an error, a miss, a strike. Players don't intend to hit them; they're a grass-smudged prize for fans, who are suddenly, magically, part of the game. From the Des Moines Register. Read the story here.

Plausible Deniability on Systematic Torture

Plausible deniability is a political doctrine originally developed in the United States in the 1950s and applied to operations by the then newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency. Many people consider the doctrine to be a form of hypocrisy. Plausible deniability involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary. The idea was that the CIA (and, later, other bodies) could be given controversial instructions by powerful figures -- up to and including the President himselfÂ?but that the existence and true source of those instructions could be denied if necessary; if, for example, an operation went disastrously wrong and it was necessary for the administration to disclaim responsibility. --Wikipedia
Wonderful thing, that plausible deniability. If someone else sticks his neck out for you and ultimately takes the blame for whatever goes wrong, you have nothing to worry about. In The Godfather Part II they even paid off the family of the wise guy who took the fall for Michael Corleone.

Something similar seems to be happening in Iraq, where the latest eye-opener is a report coming from the London Observer. Seems that millions of dollars that have been earmarked to train and equip Iraq's police force -- one of the linchpins in the Iraqification of the war -- actually have been used to fund a vast unofficial interrogation system that has resulted in the brutal deaths by torture of numerous prisoners.

Write Peter Beaumont and Martin Wright:
The allegations follow a wide-ranging investigation by this paper into serious human rights abuses being conducted by anti-insurgency forces in Iraq. The Observer has seen photographic evidence of post-mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle which demonstrate serious abuse of suspects including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and - in one case - the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee-capping. (Read the entire story.)
(The Observer also published an article detailing the extent of this torture. Parts of it are very graphic. You can read the entire article by clicking here.)

Now this has been given nary a hoot of exposure throughout most of the United States because all this money apparently is in sterling, not greenbacks -- twenty million pounds, according to the newspaper. But here's where plausible deniability comes in: Our hands are clean! It's the British who are at fault on all this! Can't blame it on us! Nyaaah, nyaaah!

And until the smoking gun is revealed, which is to say a definite link is established to American aid, the American press will pooh-pooh this as just another Brit problem and have nothing to do with the story.

It's the same premise as the administration's attempt to weasel out of the Downing Street memos: "Huh! Those Brits! That's what they thought about the talks they had with us! Thought we'd already planned on going to war, huh! That's what you get when you drink warm beer and your favorite sport is played by wusses who can't use their hands!"

Just have someone else do your dirty work and your hands are clean. Michael Corleone could tell you.