by Ted Rall edited by O Society
“In ten years or so, we’ll leak the truth,” the Dead Kennedys sang. “But by then it’s only so much paper.”
But it might just score you a Pulitzer Prize.
Award bait and bragging rights are no doubt the principal goals of The Washington Post’s self-congratulatory data dump, “The Afghanistan Papers.” As the headline implies, the 2000 pages that a court-ordered the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to release to Jeff Bezos’ newspaper paints a Robert McNamara-esque portrait of not-so-best-or-bright Bush and Obama Administration bozos privately admitting what they knew all along—that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was always an unwinnable, counterproductive mistake—at the same time they were telling the American people that victory in the post-9/11 “good war” was right around the corner. All we had to win was win Afghan hearts and minds.
“The [I.G.] documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting,” the Post reported. “Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul—and at the White House—to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”
“The Afghanistan Papers” is a bright, shining lie by omission. Yes, our military and civilian leaders lied to us about Afghanistan. But they could never have spread their murderous BS—thousands of U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans killed, trillions of dollars wasted—without media organizations like the Washington Post, which served as unquestioning government stenographers.
Press outlets like the Post and New York Times weren’t merely idiots used to disseminate pro-war propaganda. They actively censored people who knew we never should have gone into Afghanistan and tried to tell American voters the truth.
People like me.
I was among the tiny minority of journalists and commentators who opposed the Afghanistan war from the very beginning. Nine days after 9/11, I published the first of my cartoons pointing out that Al Qaeda was in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, so there was no moral or legal justification for invading. As the war dragged on I pointed out that the men and women in charge of the war didn’t have a clue about Afghanistan or the Afghan people. According to “The Afghanistan Papers,” those men and women knew they were screwing up, wouldn’t admit their ignorance and refused to bring in experts.
I went to Afghanistan to check things out for myself. It was obvious the U.S. didn’t stand a chance there. “The principal goal of this adventure in imperialistic vengeance, it seems obvious, should be to install a friendly government in Kabul. But we’re winning neither hearts nor minds among either the commoners or the leadership of the current regime apparent,” I wrote from Afghanistan on December 11, 2001. “And so we’ve lost this war, not because they’re good or we’re not, but because of who we are. The American Empire can’t spend the bodies or the time or the cash to fix this crazyass place, because in the final analysis, election-year W. was right—we’re not nation builders…we ought to tally our dead, write up our losses, and count ourselves lucky to still be called a superpower.” My piece, for The Village Voice, was titled “How We Lost Afghanistan.”
It was published eighteen years ago. But not in the Post. They didn’t want to hear what lefties like me had to say.
They still don’t.
Afghanistan was not a passing fancy for me. I wrote hundreds of essays and drew hundreds of cartoons urging an end to the madness. It was lonely. Even Democrats liked the Afghan war; they called it the right war while Iraq was the dumb one.
I went back to the country, traveling independently as an unembedded reporter, several times. I wrote the first book about the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the only book about oil pipeline politics in that country, a book placing Afghanistan in the context of Central Asia, and yet another book comparing the state of Afghanistan when Obama said we were pulling out—another lie—with how it was at the start of the war.
What was my reward for being right while everyone else was wrong? Hundreds of death threats. Getting fired by my client newspapers and magazines. It’s hard to believe now but back in 2004 George W. Bush was popular and being compared to Winston Churchill; that was the year that the “liberal” New York Times and Washington Post stopped running my work.
Major news outlets and book reviewers ignored my books. Editors refused to hire me. Producers wouldn’t book me. Anyone opposed to the Afghanistan war was censored from U.S. corporate media.
Not that Afghanistan was ignored. It was the subject of countless analysis pieces and opinion articles in American newspapers—all of it pro-war propaganda. There were thousands of television and radio stories about the Afghan war on radio and television. Corporate media repeatedly trotted out the same retired generals, former CIA officers, and random right-wing warmongers for quotes and analysis. Never, ever did they invite critics or opponents of U.S. interventionism in Afghanistan to share their thoughts with readers, listeners and viewers.
Nothing has changed. Whenever there is a foreign policy “crisis,” you will never read or hear or see someone completely opposed to U.S. involvement given a voice in the media. Certainly not in the Post.
So, 18 years and tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars too late, it’s nice to see the media finally shame these scumbags and their government handlers. But they ought to save a big portion of the blame for themselves.
Why is the U.S. giving money to Ukraine Nazis in the first place?
How you respond to an attack defines you. Keep your cool, remain civil and others will respect the way you handle yourself, even if they disagree with you. Lower yourself to your assailant’s level and—at best—spectators will dismiss your dispute as a he-said-she-said between two jerks.
So much has been written about Donald Trump’s debasement of rhetorical norms and his gleeful contempt for truth that there is no need to cite examples or quote studies that count the prolificacy of his lies. Trump’s attacks on journalists—“fake news,” mocking a disabled reporter’s body movements—are contemptible. They undermine citizens’ trust in news media, a serious menace to democracy and civil society.
Less noticed is how major news organizations, incensed by the president’s trolling, have debased themselves to Trump’s moral level.
American journalism used to adhere to strict standards. Though impossible to achieve, objectivity was paramount. At bare minimum, reporters were expected to project an appearance of political neutrality.
Truth only derived from facts—verifiable facts. Not conjecture and never wishful thinking. Sources who wanted to be quoted had to go on the record. Anonymous sources could flesh out background but could not be the entire basis for a story.
From the start of Trump’s run for president—before the start—Democratic-leaning media outlets abandoned their own long-cherished standards to declare war on him. Every day during the 2016 campaign The New York Times led its coverage with its forecast of Hillary Clinton’s supposed odds of defeating Trump. Setting aside the fact of the Times’ embarrassing wrongness—the day before Election Day they gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning—it cited odds rather than polls. Maximizing a sense of Clintonian inevitability was intended to demoralize Republicans so they wouldn’t turn out to vote. The two figures might mean the same thing. But 85-15 odds look worse than a 51-49 poll.
It’s downright truthy. And when truthiness goes sideways it makes you look really, really dumb. 51-49 could go either way. 85-15, not so much.
The impeachment battle marks a new low in partisanship among media outlets.
After Trump’s surprise-to-those-who’d-never-been-to-the-Rust-Belt win, outlets like the Times declared themselves members of a so-called “Resistance.” Opinion columnists like Charles M. Blow pledged never to “normalize” Trumpism; what this has meant, ironically, is that Blow’s essays amount to rote recitations on the same topic: normally, about the argument that Trump sucks. Which he does. There are, however, other issues to write about, such as the fact we are all doomed.
Climate climate change could cause human extinction by 2050.
What would the president do if he or she were in a Hollywood action thriller?
Next came years—years!—of Robert Muellerpalooza. Russia, corporate media outlets said repeatedly, “meddled” in the 2016 election. Vladimir Putin installed Trump; Hillary Clinton’s snubbing of her party’s 72%-progressive base had nothing to do with the loss of the most qualified person blah blah blah to an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Whatever happened to the journalistic chestnut: if your mother says she loves you, check it out? Russiagate wasn’t a news report. It was religious faith. Russia fixed the election because we, the media, say so, we say so because we were told to say so by politicians, who were told to say so by CIA people, whose job is to lie and keep secrets. No one checked out anything.
What we knew and still know is that a Russia-based troll farm spent either $100,000 or $200,000 on Facebook ads to generate clickbait. Most of those ads were apolitical. Many were pro-Clinton. The company has no ties to the Russian government. It was a $6.8 billion election; $200,000 couldn’t have and didn’t move the needle.
Anonymous Congressional sources told reporters that anonymous intelligence agents told them that there was more. The Mueller Report implies as much. But no one went on the record. No original or verifiable copies of documentary evidence has been leaked. The report’s numerous citations are devoid of supporting material. By pre-Trump journalistic standards Russiagate wasn’t a story any experienced editor would print.
It was barely an idea for a story.
Speaking of impeachment, mainstream media gatekeepers are so eager to see Trump removed from office that they’re violating another cardinal rule of journalism: if it’s news, print it. The identity of the CIA “whistleblower” (scare quotes because actual whistleblowers reveal truths that hurt their bosses) who triggered impeachment over Trump’s menacing phone call to the president of Ukraine has been known in Washington, and elsewhere if you know where to look, for months.
Federal law prohibits the government from revealing his identity, and rightly so. But it has leaked. It’s out. It’s news. Nothing in the law or journalistic custom prevents a media organization from publishing it. News outlets felt no compulsion to similarly protect the identity of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. So why aren’t newspapers and broadcast networks talking about it?
“I’m not convinced his identity is important at this point, or at least important enough to put him at any risk, or to unmask someone who doesn’t want to be identified,” New York Times editor Dean Baquet said. So much for the people’s right to know. Why should subscribers buy a newspaper that doesn’t print the news?
There is a because-Trump change in media ethics I welcome. What’s suspect is the timing.
Trump is the first president to get called out for his lies right in the news section. Great! Imagine how many lives could have been saved by a headline like “Bush Repeats Debunked Falsehood That Iraq Has WMDs.” A headline like “Slurring Sanders’ Numerous Female Supporters as ‘Bros,’ Hillary Clinton Lies About Medicare-for-All” could have nominated and elected Bernie and saved many Americans from medical bankruptcy.
But all presidents lie. Why pick on Trump? His lies are (perhaps) more numerous. But they’re no more bigger than his predecessors (see Iraq WMDs, above). Yet discussion of former presidents remains respectful and slavish as ever.
I say, give coverage of Obama and other presidents the same tone and treatment as the current occupant of the White House gets from the news media:
“Ellen DeGeneres Sucks Up to Mass Murderer George W. Bush”