On March 19, 2003, U.S. forces began military operations in Iraq. Addressing the nation about the purpose of the war on the day the bombing began, President Bush stated: “The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.” One year later, many doubts have been raised regarding the Administration’s assertions about the threat posed by Iraq.
Prepared at the direction of Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the Iraq on the Record Database is a searchable collection of 237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by the five Administration officials most responsible for providing public information and shaping public opinion on Iraq: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Powell, and National Security Advisor Rice.The Iraq on the Record Report is a comprehensive examination of these statements.
Go to the Iraq on the Record Database now!
Credits: Thanks to The S.N.A.F.U. Principle who sent in Frank Rich’s article ‘Operation Iraqi Infoganda’
March 28, 2004
Operation Iraqi Infoganda
Real journalism may be reeling, but faux journalism rocks. As an entertainment category in the cultural marketplace, it may soon rival reality TV and porn. Television is increasingly awash in fake anchors delivering fake news, some of them far more trenchant than real anchors delivering real news. Even CNBC, a financial news network, is chasing after the success of Jon Stewart; its new nightly fake newscast, presided over by a formerly funny “Saturday Night Live” fake anchor, Dennis Miller, is being promoted with far more zeal than was ever lavished on CNBC’s real “News With Brian Williams.”
Turn on real news shows like “Dateline NBC” and “Larry King Live,” meanwhile, and you’re all too likely to find Jayson Blair, the lying former reporter of The New York Times, continuing to play a reporter on TV as he fabricates earnest blather about his concern for journalistic standards. Elsewhere on the dial you’ll learn that a fake news show (“The Daily Show”) has been in a booking war with a real news show (“Hardball”) over who would first be able to interview the real (I think) Desmond Tutu. At such absurd moments, and they are countless these days in our 24/7 information miasma, real journalism and its evil twin merge into a mind-bending mutant that would defy a polygraph’s ability to sort out the lies from the truth.
This phenomenon has been good news for the Bush administration, which has responded to the growing national appetite for fictionalized news by producing a steady supply of its own. Of late it has gone so far as to field its own pair of Jayson Blairs, hired at taxpayers’ expense: Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, the “reporters” who appeared in TV “news” videos distributed by the Department of Health and Human Services to local news shows around the country. The point of these spots — which were broadcast whole or in part as actual news by more than 50 stations in 40 states — was to hype the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit as an unalloyed Godsend to elderly voters. They are part of a year-plus p.r. campaign, which, with its $124 million budget, would dwarf in size most actual news organizations.
When one real reporter, Robert Pear of The Times, blew the whistle on these TV “news” stories this month, a government spokesman defended them with pure Orwell-speak: “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” The government also informed us that Ms. Ryan was no impostor but an actual “freelance journalist.” The Columbia Journalism Review, investigating further, found that Ms. Ryan’s past assignments included serving as a TV shill for pharmaceutical companies in infomercials plugging FluMist and Excedrin. Given that drug companies may also be the principal beneficiaries of the new Medicare law, she is nothing if not consistent in her journalistic patrons. But she is a freelance reporter only in the sense that Mike Ditka would qualify as one when appearing in Levitra ads.
As for the mystery of Alberto Garcia’s journalistic bonafides, it remains at this writing unresolved. His reporting career has not left a trace on any data bank. Perhaps he is the creation of Stephen Glass, the serial fantasist who once ruled the pages of The New Republic.
Back at Comedy Central, Jon Stewart was ambivalent about the government’s foray into his own specialty, musing aloud about whether he should be outraged or flattered. One of his faux correspondents, though, was outright faux despondent. “They created a whole new category of fake news — infoganda,” Rob Corddry said. “We’ll never be able to keep up!” But Mr. Corddry’s joke is not really a joke. The more real journalism declines, the easier it is for such government infoganda to fill the vacuum.
George W. Bush tries to facilitate this process by shutting out the real news media as much as possible. By the start of this year, he had held only 11 solo press conferences, as opposed to his father’s count of 71 by the same point in his presidency. (Even the criminally secretive Richard Nixon had held 23.) Mr. Bush has declared that he rarely reads newspapers and that he prefers to “go over the heads of the filter” — as he calls the news media — and “speak directly to the people.” To this end, he gave a series of interviews to regional broadcasters last fall — a holding action, no doubt, until Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia could be hired to fill that role. When the president made a rare exception last month and took questions from an actual front-line journalist, NBC’s Tim Russert, his performance was so maladroit that the experiment is unlikely to be repeated anytime too soon.
There’s no point in bothering with actual news people anyway, when you can make up your own story and make it stick, whatever the filter might have to say about it. No fake news story has become more embedded in our culture than the administration’s account of its actions on 9/11. As The Wall Street Journal reported on its front page this week — just as the former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke was going public with his parallel account — many of this story’s most familiar details are utter fiction. Mr. Bush’s repeated claim that one of his “first acts” of that morning was to put the military on alert is false. So are the president’s claims that he watched the first airplane hit the World Trade Center on TV that morning. (No such video yet existed.) Nor was Air Force One under threat as Mr. Bush flew around the country, delaying his return to Washington.
Yet the fake narrative of 9/11 has been scrupulously maintained by the White House for more than two years. Although the administration has tried at every juncture to stonewall the 9/11 investigative commission, its personnel, including the president, had all the time in the world for the producer of a TV movie, Showtime’s “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis.” The result was a scenario that further rewrote the history of that day, stirring steroids into false tales of presidential derring-do. Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow, characterized one of the movie’s many elisions in Salon. To show the president continuing to sit and read with elementary school kids “while people like my husband were burning alive inside the World Trade Center towers,” she wrote, “would run counter to Karl Rove’s art direction and grand vision.”
To shore up the Rove version of 9/11 once Richard Clarke went public with his alternative tale on last Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” the White House placed Condoleezza Rice on all five morning news shows the next day. The administration is confident that it can reinstate its bogus scenario — particularly given that Ms. Rice, unlike Mr. Clarke, is refusing to take the risk of reciting it under oath to the 9/11 commission.
After 9/11, similar fake-news techniques helped speed us into “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The run-up to the war was falsified by a barrage of those “modern public information tools,” including 16 words of Tom Clancy-style fiction in the State of the Union. John Burns of The Times, speaking by phone from Iraq to a postmortem on war coverage sponsored by the University of California journalism school in Berkeley this month, said of the real press back then: “We failed the American public by being insufficiently
critical about elements of the administration’s plan to go to war.” What few journalistic efforts were made to penetrate the trumped-up rationales for war were easily defeated by the administration’s false news reports of impending biological attacks and mushroom clouds. To see how the faux journalism sausage was made, go to http://www.reform.house.gov/min , where a searchable database posted by Representative Henry Waxman identifies “237 specific misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq made by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell and National Security Adviser Rice in 125 separate public appearances.”
Once the war began, the Defense Department turned a warehouse in Qatar into a TV studio, where it installed a $250,000 Central Command briefing stage, shipped from Chicago by FedEx for an additional $47,000. The set was lent authority by a real-news set designer, whose previous credits included ABC’s “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America.” As for the embedded journalists who filled in the rest of the story, a candid assessment was delivered by Lt. Col. Rick Long, the former head of media relations for the
Marine Corps, also speaking at Berkeley 10 days ago: “Frankly, our job is to win the war. Part of that is information warfare. So we are going to attempt to dominate the information environment. . . . Overall, we were very happy with the outcome.”
The “news” of the war included its fictionalized Rambo, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, and its fictionalized conclusion, the “Mission Accomplished” celebration led by the president on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. (Mr. Bush said that the premature victory banner was the handiwork of the ship’s crew when in fact it was the product of the White House scenic shop.) But for all that fake news, we still don’t know such real news as how many Iraqi civilians were killed as we gave them their freedom. We are still shielded from images of
American casualties, before or after they are placed in coffins.
Now that the breakdown in pre-9/11 security is threatening to dominate the real news, the administration is working overtime to overwhelm it with its latest, thematically related fake story line. Time magazine reports that employees of the Department of Homeland Security have been given the goal of providing the president “with one homeland-security photo-op a month.” The Associated Press reports that the department is also hiring a “liaison to the entertainment industry” — with a salary as high as $136,000, plus benefits — “to make sure that dramatic portrayals of it are as accurate as possible.” (The deadline for applications, do note, is tomorrow.) Of course “accurate” in that job description should be read as “inaccurate,” since the liaison’s real task, like that of the intrepid reporter Karen Ryan, will be to make sure that any actual news of our homeland security’s many holes is
kept on the q.t. According to E! entertainment news, we can even expect a new TV show, “D.H.S. — the Series,” to which both Mr. Bush and Tom Ridge will contribute endorsements and sound bites.
When it comes to homeland security, you can be sure that the administration’s faux news will always be good news — though this is the one story in which the real news can sometimes become just too intrusive to ignore.