Lurking beneath the solemn commemoration of 9/11 this week was the looming reality of a midterm Congressional election. It also happened, coincidentally, at the tail end of a major administration PR push to hype its “terror” policies via the McCarthyite charge of “appeasement” against its adversaries.
Given the fact that both Election Day and September 11, 2006 appear on calendars everywhere—and are therefore perfectly predictable events—we can assume that the administration’s timing was no mere coincidence. Yet many in the mainstream media covered the propaganda offensive as it were its exact opposite.
To kick things off, the president’s visit to New York on Sunday prompted The Washington Post’s Michael A. Fletcher to write that Bush “left aside the partisan rancor” during the wreath-laying ceremony at the footprint of the World Trade Center, while Reuters noted that the president “will strive to put aside partisan acrimony” during his visits to the three 9/11 crash sites. If that were the case, why weren’t all the politicians from both sides of the aisle invited to join the president at the somber occasion? Where were New York senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton? Where was Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Elliot Spitzer?
While perhaps it is not so odd Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post failed to note that Schumer and Clinton attended a ceremony at St. Paul’s chapel after the flower-laying ceremony, how can we explain the fact that Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s New York Times account of the visit did the same thing? Are reporters so accustomed to playing by the Bush administration script that they no longer notice when they are following it? Also missing from most of the coverage was even a passing familiarity with the historical context of the administration’s efforts to politicize the events of five years ago. When the United States fought actual fascism—after Germany declared war on the United States—President Roosevelt did not require tortured, intellectually indefensible twists of the tongue to make the case that our nation’s security was at stake.
As the staff at Media Matters demonstrated , this administration has been reduced to making one incredible claim after another in desperate attempts to defend its failed foreign policy by emphasizing phantom threats and lying about the alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda connection even after the phony link was discredited by Senate investigators in a report signed by the majority of the committee.
One happy exception to the above were The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Michael Abramowitz, who pointed out Tuesday that, “Three previous times in the past 18 months, as public opinion has slipped, White House officials have announced that Bush would embark on a renewed effort to explain and defend his Iraq and anti-terrorism policies. None produced a lasting positive effect on how Americans view either the president or his policies.” If only all coverage of the president’s speech would take the time to unpack the obvious rhetorical gambits the White House uses in attacking its political opponents and muddying the waters of debate. Americans could then have the discussion of a fundamental national strategy worthy of a great democracy. Alas, far more common are articles like that of what Los Angeles Times‘ Peter Wallsten wrote on Wednesday, headlined “Bush Politicized a Solemn Day, Democrats Say,” together with The New York Times‘ Jim Rutenberg and Carl Hulse’s “In the Debate on Security, Perhaps a Misstep or Two.”
Readers receive the usual “he said, she said” reporting that claims objectivity but offers little in the way of truthful illumination. While the authors keep close track of the ephemeral “who’s up, who’s down,” beltway battle, they make little effort to help the reader determine which politicians are trying to tell the truth and which ones seek merely to elaborate on a deliberate deception—one that is poll-tested to trump an opponent in an election season where truth has taken a back seat to the exploitation of a national tragedy.
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His popular blog, “Altercation” moves from MSNBC.com to Media Matters on Monday September 18. The new URL will be http://mediamatters.org/altercation/index.