Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Thursday, 17 June 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

The Return of Holmes

These days one finds comments like this: "... a vote for Bush is to validate his failed policies and convince the rest of the world that we truly are nation of dangerous fools. This will not increase our safety, I'm afraid. In fact, nothing could help the terrorists more than to put this rogue administration back in office."

Yeah, yeah. Heard it before. Surely there is more to say than this.

Careful readers of Just Above Sunset - if there actually are any of those - have noticed references to one Stephen Holmes. You see, small and smug Denison University, smack in the middle of Ohio, produced more than one considerable person - more than Michael Eisner, Richard Lugar and Hal Holbrook. It gave us Stephen Holmes too. He was one of a group of us that hung out together at Denison in the late sixties. Holmes was one of this crowd, the "Pit Crew" - a group that gathered daily in the basement coffee shop of Slater Hall - and bitched about the world and laughed a lot. I guess we were the token sixties counter-culture folks in sea of frat boys and future Stepford wives.

And Holmes was the one who actually became a big-time intellectual, after all. Holmes is now research director and professor at the Center for Law and Security at New York University School of Law. I guess the rest of us turned out to be poseurs, or had other things to do.

The very first issue of Just Above Sunset (Volume 1 Number 1) covered Holmes' incisive review (his penetrating disassembly, actually) of Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (Knopf, 112 pages, $18.00). See 26 May 2003 Reviews for that. In late July of 2003 Just Above Sunset covered his comments on why it was (is?) going to be so hard to defeat George Bush in this next election, as the liberals are all so morally confused about everything. See Can anyone challenge Bush in the next election? for that.

And now Holmes is all over the place again. He has a new item in SALON.COM that's all the rage. In it, among other things, Holmes dissects Machiavelli wonderfully.

The main issue addressed, however, is why everyone hates us when we only want eveyone to fear us, and they're not even fearing us any longer.

I was led to Holmes this time by a pointer at Hullabaloo - Angst and Anti-Americanism -
Even if you have to sit through ad, I urge you to read this fascinating article in Salon called "America's blankness," which was originally a prepared speech by professor Stephen Holmes.

He explores the roots and reasons for the growth in anti-Americanism and asks if it matters. (It does.) He examines how it happened and what actions the US took that precipitated this surge of ill feeling toward us. And he suggests various ways in which we might turn some of this around in a new administration.

The way he sees it, the Europeans are freaked out by Bush, but will put it behind them if we kick him out and behave in a more civilized fashion. If Kerry wins, Holmes suggests that he may robustly renew the Atlantic alliance on the basis of the shared threats faced by both Americans and Europeans: nuclear proliferation and terrorist attacks on major cities. After Madrid, we should be able to enlist the Europeans, whose security agencies have much more experience with infiltration and intelligence gathering of terrorists than we do. It would be very helpful if we could all sincerely work together on this. It's a terrible failure of foreign policy and national security that Bush has poisoned this necessary relationship.

Anti-Americanism in the mid-east, on the other hand, has morphed into hatred. And the probable consequences of that are even worse than I thought. The most obvious result is that we are creating terrorists in exponentially greater numbers than we are killing them. That is not a winning strategy.

But, we have also succeeded in doing the precise opposite of what we intended with Bush's long term democratization strategy by strengthening autocratic regimes as they borrow our rhetoric on the WOT and crack down on their own people. The region is becoming less democratic rather than more and even those that are democratic hate our guts too. This Iraq project is a huge failure on all levels. Holmes's scenario of what is likely to happen in Iraq is both depressing and scary. It was a mistake from the beginning, but the cock-up of the occupation and the lack of planning is simply unforgivable.
Now there's a recommendation.

You'll find the Holmes article here:

America's blankness
A professor explains why so many people around the world hate us and what a post-Bush foreign policy might look like.
Editor's note: This article is adapted from a speech given in Tysons Corner, Va., on May 27 to several hundred U.S. intelligence analysts from various agencies at their request.
Stephen Holmes, June 17, 2004

So what does he say?

Purpose:
Anti-Americanism has a long and complex history. But most observers agree that the Bush administration's bellicose and unilateralist foreign policy has greatly enflamed smoldering animosities and even managed to turn the United States into a universal hate object.

My aim here is to think coolly about this development, and to ask, above all, if it matters. I want to examine, in particular, what growing hostility to the U.S. will mean for democracy promotion in the Middle East, an important plank, until recently, of Bush's foreign policy, and one that resonates strongly with a tradition of U.S. messianism abroad.
Fair enough.

He spends some time saying anti-Americanism will NOT necessarily affect our national interests - only if it "galvanizes individuals and groups with the capacity to harm us, either positively, by inflicting grave injuries, or negatively, by withholding the cooperation on which we depend to solve our most urgent problems."

Well, sure. But we're there. And this "withholding the cooperation on which we depend" bothers him, this negligence, as he calls it. Other nations just shrug and let us blither along, bumbling and doing real damage, but not enough damage to hurt their national interests.

Holmes also goes into how this negligence is not just the product of choosing this war now and then doing it so very badly. Holmes cites "the many petty humiliations associated with our newly tightened and irrationally vexing visa regime" and much else. Yep, we have been a tad high-handed. We just don't much like treaties and the concept of cooperation, do we?

But the problem is, mainly, after all, the war. And the final thing that blew everything apart was those pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison. Folks may like American in general, but those pictures tore it -
... What we face here is not merely skepticism but also burning rage, a passionate antipathy that, although far from uniform, does seem ubiquitous. Even now, however, America's critics continue to distinguish between the U.S. administration, which they fear and despise, and the American people, with whom they feel sympathy.

But the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison may have finally changed that. If the American electorate, knowing what it knows and, above all, having seen what it has seen, proceeds to reelect George W. Bush in November, the moderating distinction between the American administration and the American people will be eroded or perhaps erased -- with what violent consequences no one can predict.
Yes. Now that Steve says that, it seems obvious.

So what do we do?

We turn to Machiavelli. Of course. How obvious!
... I want to pause briefly to say a word about a famous phrase of Machiavelli's, frequently cited by neoconservatives in the run-up to the Iraq war, that "it is better to be feared than loved." This quotation is interesting mostly for what it omits. For Machiavelli quickly went on to add: "It is worst of all to be hated." People who fear us, for the most part, will dare not harm us. But fear, according to Machiavelli, works too slowly on the human spirit to obstruct the effects of the searing hatred that drives men immediately and impulsively to furious action. The administration is wrong, therefore, to believe that it can easily scare people into abandoning their plots to injure Americans. U.S. shows of force invariably provoke rage; and this rage, in turn, often overrides the trepidation that our military superiority instills.

Machiavelli might well have added that "worst of all is to be hated without being feared" -- the unenviable position into which the U.S. has recklessly cast itself, with what consequences, I believe, no one can tell. Reduced fear of the U.S., in fact, may be one of the most paradoxical outcomes of the war in Iraq. By exposing, in such an eye-catching fashion, the limits of U.S. military power, the administration has unintentionally reduced anxiety in Syria and Iran. What countries will now fear an American invasion? Who will henceforth believe our bluffs?
It seems the Mayberry Machiavellians weren't Machiavellian enough. They should have read their Machiavelli more carefully.

And the consequences of this are bad? Yep.
In Europe, needless to say, America's military adventurism will not discredit the idea of democracy itself, though it has already damaged the reputation of America's democratic institutions, especially our system of checks and balances. The institutions designed to facilitate political self-correction seem to have completely broken down. This includes, first of all, our ordinary constitutional procedures for legislative and judicial oversight of executive action. But it also includes the poor performance of the celebrated American media. Even the New York Times has now confessed to having uncritically passed on disinformation provided by Iraqi exiles with strong reasons for exaggerating the real threat.

Those worried by the unraveling of the Atlantic alliance have been especially shocked by the clashing coverage of the Iraq war in the U.S. and European media. American and European television viewers have seen two different wars, making rational transatlantic discussion of the subject almost impossible. Unlike Americans, moreover, Europeans are acutely aware of the discrepancy in news coverage. They attribute it to what they see as America's post-9/11 autism, a screening out of information that clashes with a set of fixed ideas.
Did he say autism there. Yeah. And that's a good one-word explanation of the behavior of the American press.

Holmes contends, that given the 9/11 attacks, Americans really should have learned the importance, for our own security, of accurate, deep and up-to-date knowledge of political instability around the world. But we didn't like to hear that. He points out that political violence, in any possible country, is never farther than a plane ride away from any of our urban centers. Yep. What bothers Holmes is this:
... instead of creating a national appetite for knowledge about the world, 9/11 had the opposite effect. It seems to have traumatized Americans, making them even less interested than before in non-American goings-on and points of view. Our capacity to see ourselves through the eyes of others was never great. But after 9/11, Americans seem to have withdrawn even further into themselves.
But we're told all we need to know about these bad guys is that the hate us. It's quite simple. This is what Bush and his supporters call moral clarity.

Is that so bad?

Well it is a strange distortion of language.
One symptom of America's growing disconnect from the world, and especially from its former Cold War allies, is the administration's reliance on language that is unintelligible to Europeans. An example is the claim, often advanced by President Bush, that we are currently engaged in a world war between "democracy and terrorism." This is a confusing way to speak because the same terrorist network that attacked the U.S. has also attacked Saudi Arabia, a tribal monarchy that bears no resemblance to a democracy.

But the unintelligibility of Bush's formulation runs much deeper. Roughly speaking, "democracy" is a system that allows those who are directly affected by decisions to exert some influence on the decision makers, ideally by periodically reelecting them or ousting them from office. This simple definition makes clear why Europeans and others greet Bush's endless claims to be "spreading democracy" with such disbelief. Throughout the world, people who were never consulted, even casually, are profoundly affected every day by decisions made in Washington. America's blankness about the downstream effects on other countries of its actions is without question one of the principal sources of anti-Americanism in Europe and elsewhere.
Now THAT is cool. When we say democracy this democracy things can be something we shove down your throats whether you agree to it or not. And in the name of democracy we support and defend the Saudi tribal monarchy. No wonder folks find us a bit confusing, and some of them get a little angry. They have no idea what we're talking about.

I wonder if we understand what democracy is? How do I mean we? That's "we" insofar as the Bush administration is America, both de jure and de facto.

But wait! There's more!
Arguably, terrorism itself is, in part, a sick, perverted and distorted echo of the desire of powerless groups to get the attention of the sole remaining superpower. That is yet another reason why Bush's stylized "war between democracy and terrorism" seems so misleading to most non-Americans. Bush likes the democracy vs. terrorism contrast, of course, because it brings "moral clarity," that is to say, it paints one side as purely good and the other side as purely evil. The rest of the world cannot decide if this way of speaking is crude propaganda or crude propaganda mixed with self-delusion.
Looking at it dispassionately? It's one hundred percent self-delusion.

The Europeans just hope it will go away when Bush is voted out in November. And that may be a different kind of self-delusion from the other side, perhaps.

After many paragraphs on that - the Europeans and their view of Kerry - Holmes, saying things will get better one way or the other, turns to the real problem:
Anti-Americanism in the Middle East, of course, goes deeper and is less likely to die down than anti-Americanism in Europe. The minority of Arabs and Muslims who implacably loathe the U.S. is growing more influential by the day. Those who have traditionally felt friendly or neutral to the U.S. are siding more and more against us. Their hostility, moreover, is becoming less a matter of policy and more a matter of identity. Increasingly, it is impossible to make any claim to an Arab consciousness without railing against the U.S. This is a very dangerous development, since it means that anti-American attitudes are putting more Middle Easterners beyond the reach of diplomacy. Unknown numbers of young men, in particular, are becoming irreconcilable even by dramatic reversals of policy.

It is a mistake to belittle such fury by reciting the tag line, "Yankee go home and take me with you," a reflection of the ambiguity of Middle Eastern attitudes toward the U.S. Economic opportunity will always draw people away from their homes, but it will not necessarily render harmless the seething political anger of their children. ...
And that's a bad as it gets.

And we'll make it worse by doing the following:
First, in the wake of the Iraq debacle, Washington is likely to succumb, at least temporarily, to democracy-promotion fatigue. The sting of failure will presumably dampen for a time serious interest in supporting democratic reforms in the region. Grandiose talk will continue, of course. But less money will be spent, and less experienced personnel will be assigned to a project that now appears much less realistic than before.

Second, America's aggressive counterterrorism efforts have already interfered significantly with its attempts at democracy promotion. To battle terrorism, the U.S. has been lending support to the secretive and coercive apparatuses of states that are, at best, incompletely democratic. This trend will continue and, under these conditions, democratization efforts will no doubt be funded quite feebly and will be cosmetic at best.

Third, it seems to be dawning on the administration that democratization elsewhere in the world might not have the same happily pro-American consequences as democratization had in Eastern Europe. Polish democracy is pro-American because the majority of Poles have strong historical reasons for identifying with America. The same cannot be said for a majority of Iraqis. As a result, Iraqi democracy, even if we had been able to create it, probably would have been virulently anti-American and most certainly anti-Israeli.
I wish Holmes were wrong here.

He isn't.

Here is the best we can hope for -
... With extraordinary luck, Iraq could become, in a few years, something like Bosnia without the high representative of the European Union. It would have a weak central government because, given the fragmentation of the society, no all-Iraqi government can be simultaneously representative and coherent. Periodic elections would serve only to reinforce the independence of the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, and the government would constantly be in delicate negotiations with local and tribal leaders. Such a pseudo-state would be considered successful if it could protect its cabinet members from assassination, if most foreign fighters were evicted (breaking the lethal marriage of convenience between transnational terrorists and nationalist insurgents) and if neighboring powers were not driven to dispatch military forces into the country. But it would be at best a corrupt, criminalized and disorganized polity, festering, unsafe and characterized by violent weakness.
And that's what victory is Iraq looks like - best case.

Anyway, this only skims all Holmes has to say here. Click on the link. Read it.

Posted by Alan at 22:01 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
home


Topic: The Law

Pesky Lawyers

Seems someone thinks that if you don't play be the rules, you ought be asked to leave the game.

See Legal scholars say condoning abuse could be impeachable offense
Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press, Wednesday, June 16, 2004

What's up, Lolita?
WASHINGTON- More than 400 legal scholars from across the country urged Congress Wednesday to consider impeaching President Bush and any high-level administration officials who approved the Iraqi prisoner abuses.

In a letter released by two Harvard Law School professors, scholars asked Congress to identify everyone who should be held accountable for the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, and determine what sanctions are appropriate. The sanctions, they said, could include "impeachment and removal from office of any civil officer of the United States responsible."

... In the letter, scholars said the prosecution of low-level military personnel for the abuses is not enough. Harvard law professor Christine Desan said Congress would have to determine if the abuses rose to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors which would be punishable by impeachment.

... The prisoner abuse, made public in photos and video, is being investigated by military and Justice Department officials. And Congress is looking into administration memos that could have laid the legal groundwork justifying the abuse.

... The letter was signed by a host of legal notables, including former O.J. Simpson defender Alan Dershowitz and the Rev. Robert F. Drinan, a former Massachusetts Congressmanmember who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center.
Congress is urged to "consider" this?

And just which party controls both house of congress?

And presidents are impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. Not for being a tad overly zealous in their patriotic fervor to protect Americans. Mistakes were made? Perhaps, although no one in administration will allow for that possibility.

But even if mistakes were made, our intentions cannot be questioned.

And we do not break laws.

Of course Pentagon officials told NBC News that late last year, at the same time U.S. military police were allegedly abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered that one Iraqi prisoner be held "off the books" -- hidden entirely from the International Red Cross (ICRC) and anyone else -- in possible violation of international law.

But don't blame Donald Rumsfeld - George Tenet made him do it.
"I was requested by the director of central intelligence to take custody of an Iraqi national who was believed to be a high-ranking member of Ansar al-Islam, and we did so," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference.

"We were asked to not immediately register the individual and we did that," he said.

The prisoner, who was not identified, was secretly held for more than seven months at a detention facility for high value prisoners near the Baghdad International Airport until last month when a senior Pentagon official decided he should be returned to the general prisoner population, officials said.

Before that, he had been held by the Central Intelligence Agency for about four months at an undisclosed location outside of the country, an intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The prisoner was turned over to the military in Iraq following legal guidance that as an Iraqi he should be held in Iraq, the official said.
Oops.

The Geneva Conventions sort of kind of does require prompt registration of prisoners of war, as quaint as that seems.

Dan Dellorto, the Pentagon's deputy counsel is quoted as saying, well, "We should have registered him much sooner than we did."

And Rumsfeld just isn't saying why Tenet asked that the prisoner be held secretly. When asked why Tenet wanted that? "Ask him. It's a classified letter."

But Tenet has resigned and he's busy packing up his office.

As you might recall, Major General Antonio Taguba (yes, he's a Philippine-American West Point guy whose father survived the Bataan Death March) - the guy who wrote the unfortunate report on "abuses" at Abu Ghraib - reported in March that some detainees were kept off the rolls there and denounced the practice as "deceptive, contrary to army doctrine and in violation of international law." (Background at May 16, 2004 - Responsibility - Military Style... and legal issues.)

A violation of international law? That depends on how you interpret the law.

Dellorto and the dudes at the Pentagon are now arguing that a prisoner could be held for a period without being registered "for purposes of imperative military necessity." Well, there's no such exception in any law to which we've agreed and thus to which we are bound, but that is a pretty cool idea.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.

So by the direct order of the President's Secretary of Defense... this guy didn't exist. No one could see him if her didn't exist, and certainly not the ICRC which sort of takes as its job making sure people aren't tortured and abused and such.

Gee, I wonder why he was not reported, why he wasn't in the system. Duh.

But this one prisoner probably wasn't tortured. They, well, lost him.

Intelligence officials asked about the prisoner in January but were told by the military that he could not be located. AFP quotes a fellow who doesn't want his name used - "Frankly, it's a case where people lost track of him. The normal review procedures that would kick into play didn't in this instance. And it fell between the cracks."

And now they cannot find him anywhere in the system.

One suspect he's no longer alive, and Donald and George are smiling.

Nothing to see here folks. Move on.

All this legal stuff. Does it all rise to the level of impeachable offense? Don't know. It's not about sex.

--

So how about a little perspective from William Pfaff last week (11 June) over at The International Herald Tribune - and yes, that paper is owned by the New York Times (east-coast liberal monsters of course) and published in Paris (which is still in France last time anyone noticed) -
All of this is a ghastly scandal, one of the worst in American history. It is evident cause for impeachment of this president, if Congress has the courage to do it, and for prosecution of cabinet figures and certain commanders. However in view of the partisan alignment in Congress, quite possibly nothing will happen before the November election.

What then? It also is quite possible that George W. Bush will be elected to a second term. In that case, the American electorate will have made these practices its own. Now that is something for our children to think about.
If Bush wins, by a clear popular count this time, yes, we all own this.

--

Note:

Some folks are taking a stand. The Senate voted without dissent on June 17 to require the Bush administration to "issue guidelines aimed at ensuring humane treatment of prisoners at U.S. military facilities and to report any violations promptly to Congress."

Really.

But note this too. Passage of the proposal came by voice vote. Why? Because a good number of Republicans, seeing they were going to lose this one, didn't want any record with a roll call - as they didn't want their constituents, voting in November, to be able to see they were going all soft on the evil doers. They know their voters in their conservative districts rather like what has been going on - bad guys and folks who might be bad guys (one never knows) are getting it good, and some are dying from it. And these voters feel good when they know that (and of course they don't have to do any of the beating and torture themselves). Thus a voice vote in the senate - these senators who answer to these voters would like to stay in office.

It gets tricky.

Posted by Alan at 16:34 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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Wednesday, 16 June 2004

Topic: The Media

What to cover, what to discuss...

Bob Patterson, ace columnist for Just Above Sunset, sent me an email late last night. Questions I should consider as topics for this web log or the weekly issue of Just Above Sunset. These are issues that should be addressed, and events that should be covered?

Maybe.

I tackled them here.
Question - The Olympic torch goes through Los Angeles today. Is it really news? Important?

Answer - NO. IT'S PR BULLSHIT. UNLESS, WHEN TOM CRUISE IS RUNNING WITH IT, A GERBIL RUNS UP HIS ASS.

Question - What will happen to Saddam when the interim government takes over on June 30?

Answer - I HAVE NO IDEA AND CANNOT PREDICT. PERHAPS ALIENS FROM THE PLANET CLOROX-2 WILL ABDUCT HIM AND TAKE HIM AWAY IN THE STARSHIP QUAALUDE - AS A CURIOUS SPECIMEN. NO SADDAM? NO PROBLEM! FOLKS WILL BUY ALMOST ANYTHING.

Question - Will that become the "Achilles heel"? If we can't turn him over to the Iraqis does that mean the interim government can't be trusted. If we do turn him over...?

Answer - OH HELL. THAT'S EASY TO SOLVE. WE TURN HIM OVER BUT THEY ASK US TO PROVIDED CUSTODIAL CARE IN OUR IMPRESSIVE LOCAL DETENTION FACILITIES - THEY SIMPLY SUBCONTRACT HIS CARE TO US. WE GET TO KEEP HIM, AND GET TO BILL THE NEW IRAQI GOVERNMENT MONTHLY FOR HIS CARE. THE MAJOR CHANGE? ONE INVOICE.

Question - Special treatment for frequent flyers at airports?

Answer - IN THE WORKS. AND IT IS SO WILDLY EASY TO FOOL ANY REGISTRATION SYSTEM - FAKE DOCUMENTS AND SUCH - THAT THE LIST WILL PROVIDE NO BENEFITS, OTHER THAN PR FOR ASHCROFT.

Question - The June 30 turn over can't really be delayed now. Lose face. But will it work? Are we "in charge" or is it "hunker in the bunker" time for Americans in Iraq?

Answer - WE SAY IT WORKED FINE. JUST KEEP MAKING THE ASSERTION. THEN ALL OUR CIVILIANS LEAVE, QUICKLY. THE 135,000 MILITARY AND 20,000 CONTRACT FOLKS (OUR TITAN DYNCORP BLACKWATER MERCENARIES) CONTINUE AS BEFORE. CHANGE WORDS AT ALL PRESS CONFERENCES - "WE DID TODAY" BECOMES "WE WERE ASKED TODAY AND DID" - NO PROBLEM. AND GUARD ALL TECHNICIANS WORKING ON INFRASTRUCTURE - OIL PRODUCTION, ELECTRICAL POWER, WATER TREATMENT - WITH BRIGADE STRENGTH FORCES. ZONE DEFENSE, AS THEY SAY IN FOOTBALL.

Question - Are we in the "test crash" mode? I.e. strapped into a vehicle (policy) that is screaming toward a steel wall?

Answer - WE'VE BEEN IN TEST CRASH MODE SINCE DECEMBER 2000 - MAKING IT UP AS WE GO ALONG. THE REST OF THE WORLD WAS, AND IS, NOT AMUSED. BUT, HEY, THAT'S WHAT WE DO. WE ARE A PEOPLE WHO DO THINGS - WE DON'T SIT AROUND AND THINK AND TALK, LIKE THEM FRENCH WIMPS. WE DO. APPLICABLE SLOGAN: JUST DO IT. GOOD THINGS SOMETIMES HAPPEN. AND SOMETIMES THEY DON'T. BUT SOMETHING HAPPENS.

Question - Will an Iraqi disaster cost Bush the election?

Answer - NO. SEE ABOVE. "DOING" TRUMPS ALL ELSE.
Sometimes short comments are best.

Posted by Alan at 13:20 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 June 2004 13:23 PDT home

Tuesday, 15 June 2004

Topic: The Media

We like being lied to, we really do...

The most popular cable news network in the United States, Fox News, the only news outlet Dick Cheney says he trusts, has a habit of lying. Perhaps that is a little too blunt. But they keep getting called on their lies. And the keep getting slapped down.

The topic has been around a long time. You will find it covered in some detail in the pages of Just Above Sunset here: October 19, 2003 Opinion - Thoughts on nailing mashed potatoes to a wall. Or - "We report, you decide." "Disseminating Ignorance." Basically, how watching the news can actually sometimes make you dumber, and have you believe things that just aren't so.

Al Franken's book about Fox News, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, pointing this out, is the seminal work on the topic, so to speak. Fox sued over this book, and for a review of the full court transcript of the Fox-Franken hearing where Fox News was laughed out of court see the Just Above Sunset "Links and Recommendations" page, here (scroll down for the link).

In the Washington Post of June 14, 2004 you will find more of this silliness:
On his show the other day, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly apologized to Texas columnist Molly Ivins for calling her a socialist. Now liberal author Eric Alterman wants a retraction from O'Reilly, who recently labeled him a fellow traveler of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Alterman's Miami-based attorney, Sarah Clasby Engel, sent a demand letter to O'Reilly last week, saying, "We would like to take this opportunity to identify a lie you recently broadcast." On his show in early May, the conservative yakker called Alterman "another Fidel Castro confidant."

Threatening a defamation suit unless O'Reilly makes a retraction, Engel states: "We are certain that you will be unable to point us to any proof whatever of a personal relationship between Alterman, a proud anti-Communist liberal, and Fidel Castro." The letter notes that in mid-May, Alterman signed a public rebuke of Castro, assailing the "brute repression" of his dictatorship.

The lawyer gave O'Reilly five business days to respond. A Fox News spokesman told us the missive arrived only yesterday and "our legal department is reviewing it."
What's with these guys at Fox?

And over at Media Matters we find this: Bill O'Reilly, on air, comparing Michael Moore and Al Franken to Goebbels - and saying Hollywood celebrities are just like the Nazi faithful in the forties.

Well, that's just name-calling. It's not really lying. It's a comparison - not the same as saying a liberal columnist is a close friend and supporter of Castro, or another liberal columnist is a member of this or that socialist party.

But there are lies. And the British government has just censured Fox News for flat-out lying.

See Fox News censured for rant at BBC
Ofcom says Murdoch station broke programme code
Matt Wells, media correspondent, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday June 15, 2004

What's this about? It's about the British Office of Communications, the office that controls who gets on the air in the UK, saying Fox News lies:
Fox News, the US news network owned by Rupert Murdoch, has been found in breach of British broadcasting rules for an on-air tirade that accused the BBC of "frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism".

Television regulators said the broadcaster failed to show "respect for truth" in a strongly worded opinion item ... which also accused BBC executives of giving reporters a "right to lie".

Ofcom, which licenses commercial channels shown in Britain regardless of where they are based, received 24 complaints about the remarks. In a ruling published yesterday, it described the offending item as a "damning critique" but said it did not stand up to scrutiny.

It is the third ruling by British regulators against Fox News, which is available in Britain to Sky Digital customers, in the past year. It broke the rules on "undue prominence" in two previous news items which plugged beauty products and a seed manufacturer.
Ah, habitual liars.

But the rules are different over there:
The Independent Television Commission, which preceded Ofcom, responded to complaints last year that Fox did not meet its strict "due impartiality" rules by issuing a ruling that is regarded in some quarters as a fudge to avoid a standoff with Mr Murdoch: it said "due" meant "adequate or appropriate", and Fox News could justifiably claim to have achieved a level of accuracy and impartiality that was appropriate to its audience in the US, where different rules apply.
Ah yes, we Yanks expect to be lied to.

But the Brits do not seem to like rants that lack any basis in facts.

According the The Guardian -
John Gibson, said in a segment entitled My Word that the BBC had "a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism that was obsessive, irrational and dishonest"; that the BBC "felt entitled to lie and, when caught lying, felt entitled to defend its lying reporters and executives"; that the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan, in Baghdad during the US invasion, had "insisted on air that the Iraqi army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American military"; and that "the BBC, far from blaming itself, insisted its reporter had a right to lie - exaggerate - because, well, the BBC knew that the war was wrong, and anything they could say to underscore that point had to be right".
Well, yes, he said that.

The British regulators had three issues here.

Fox had failed to honor the "respect for truth" rule. They had failed to give the BBC an opportunity to respond. They failed to apply the rule that says, in a personal view section, "opinions expressed must not rest upon false evidence."

These guys simply do not understand Americans. We're used to false evidence. We love it. Think of the WMD stuff. Think of how the majority of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

These Brits are so picky about facts and truth (exclude Tony Blair here).

The official report is here, with comments.

You will find there is no objective evidence of BBC having an anti-American bias - which is explained in detail. There is no objective evidence the BBC felt "entitled to lie" - not a shred. And what John Gibson claimed the BBC reporters said on the air? They did not say what he claimed. The transcripts show John was being a tad fanciful, interpreting ... or, ah ... flat-out lying.

We're used to that. I guess the Brits aren't.

From the report - "Fox News accepted that Andrew Gilligan had not actually said the words that John Gibson appeared to attribute to him. However, Gibson was paraphrasing ..."

Close enough.

Not.

To quote the report:
We recognise how important freedom of expression is within the media. This item was part of a well-established spot, in which the presenter put forwards his own opinion in an uncompromising manner. However, such items should not make false statements by undermining facts. Fox News was unable to provide any substantial evidence to support the overall allegation that the BBC management had lied and the BBC had an anti-American obsession. It had also incorrectly attributed quotes to the reporter Andrew Gilligan.

Even taking into account that this was a 'personal view' item, the strength and number of allegations that John Gibson made against the BBC meant that Fox News should have offered the BBC an opportunity to respond.
Fox News didn't.

Busted.

At Fox News Gibson responds with this:

The U.K. Investigates John Gibson
John Gibson, Tuesday, June 15, 2004

He says he did nothing wrong.
My opinions about this major Brit media outfit are entirely buttressed by the truth, and they know it... which is what makes them so mad.

The Guardian newspaper in Britain now says this particular "My Word" from last January was so incendiary it "shocked many in the U.K."

I can't imagine that's accurate. I shocked many in the U.K.? How is that possible if they listen to and believe their major media outlet, which routinely trashes Americans, the American president, the American military and American policy?

That is what is truly shocking, and I suspect that even though 24 Brits complained, the vast majority knows that all the nasty things the major media outlet says about us cannot be true.
Get it?

Good Brits know the BBC hates Bush. And everyone, the Brits included, knows Bush, and his policies, should be loved and respected.

And lying a bit to prove that is okay.

Such is American news these days.

I ran this past my old college friend in Atlanta, Rick Brown, who worked for years for the Associated Press and then had a long career at CNN.

When he read these items, then the Gibson response? He wasn't happy.
Jesus H. Christ, he's gone and done it again!

And correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems this Gibson guy gave this response in the very same Fox News segment in which he committed his original offense! (Or is it "offence"? The offence was committed, after all, over there, where I suppose British rules ought to apply.)

I do hope they get 24-hundred, or even 24-thousand, letters this time. I wonder; does Ofcom have the power to deny Fox News permission to broadcast in that country? Or do they just have the right to levy a fine? Whichever, I would think UK public opinion will for sure be against the network on this one, which should be enough to make Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes to think twice about letting this continue.

It is interesting to see how someone can take the phrase "I'm at the centre of Baghdad ... and I don't see anything, but the Americans have a history of making these premature announcements," and, with neither shame nor explanation, paraphrase it so as to say Gilligan "insisted on air that the Iraqi Army was heroically repulsing an incompetent American Military."

Just incredible!

I know his comments are supposed to qualify as privileged opinion, but it's an opinion that contains within it a lie! Listeners or viewers who didn't know any better would think a BBC reporter actually said those things, which of course he didn't. And that's why this sort of thing is dangerous. If racism would not be allowed in its opinion pieces, why should a network allow outright lies?

If Fox were serious about its responsibilities as an information outlet, it would persuade Gibson to either straighten up or take a hike.

The irony is, if Fox doesn't do take serious action against Gibson, it is doing what Gibson falsely accused the BBC of doing: acting as if one of its on-air people has a right to lie!

And that would be reason enough for anyone, no matter what country they live in, to not trust, and therefore not patronize, a news network that willfully allows disinformation to get out, uncorrected, onto its air.
But Rick, Dick Cheney himself says Fox News in the only reliable news source out there.

A preliminary conclusion? Americans LIKE being lied to. They LIKE believing what they want to believe. Fox News has dominated the news market because they say what we WANT to think is true. We sort of know they lie. That's okay. We like that. It's patriotic.

And these Brits want to rip away our comfortable, pleasant delusions. Heck, they're getting to be as bad as the French - except for Tony, except for Tony ....

Posted by Alan at 19:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 June 2004 12:02 PDT home


Topic: Couldn't be so...

The wheels turn slowly, but they do turn... A follow-up...

In Just Above Sunset see December 21, 2003 Odds and Ends. At the end of the left column you will find this:

Enqu?te sur l'affaire Halliburton
Eric Decouty, le Fiagro, 20 d?cembre 2003
Pour la premi?re fois en France, une information judiciaire a ?t? ouverte pour ?corruption d'agent public ?tranger?. Elle vise notamment la soci?t? fran?aise Technip et l'am?ricaine Halliburton associ?es dans une op?ration au Nigeria. Une telle enqu?te internationale est possible depuis l'adoption en 1997 de la convention de l'OCDE ?sur la lutte contre la corruption d'agents publics ?trangers dans les n?gociations commerciales?, entr?e en vigueur en droit fran?ais depuis 2000. C'est donc dans ce nouveau cadre juridique que le juge Renaud Van Ruymbeke m?ne ses investigations et que le parquet de Paris envisage la mise en cause de l'actuel vice-pr?sident de Etats-Unis, Richard Cheney, en sa qualit? d'ex-PDG de Halliburton... .
And it goes on.

You get the idea.

This week you will find this:
SEC OPENS NEW INQUIRY: Halliburton this weekend announced the Securities and Exchange Commission has "commenced a formal investigation" into $180 million worth of potentially illegal payments made by the company to Nigerian officials at the time Dick Cheney was CEO of the company.

Halliburton is already undergoing a Justice Department inquiry for the same allegations, which focus on whether the company's payments were actually illegal bribes to Nigerian officials in connection with a natural gas plant in the country.

If they were, they would violate the U.S. government's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Halliburton has already admitted that a subsidiary made "improper payments" in Nigeria under Cheney.

For his part, Cheney has refused to comment.
No comment is necessary.

Posted by Alan at 10:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
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