Suppose for a second that you've never heard of Gary Condit, that the arrest of a famous football player for murder had received only passing interest, and that the paramour of President Clinton was only vaguely more memorable than the extramarital love of New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. (Fascinating, how Giuliani's personal life is never considered part of his fitness for holding office. Why do you suppose that is?)
Suppose the news media had behaved responsibly in the last ten or twenty years, sticking to real stories, keeping international desks open, and maintaining budgets for investigative journalism.
Would a truly well-informed American public have supported shipping $3 billion in weapons and support to avowedly anti-American organizations aligned with opium producers and smugglers, simply because they were also anti-Soviet?
Would a truly well-informed American public have allowed the U.S. to knowingly provide massive aid to a corrupt Saudi regime supporting Osama Bin Laden, even after his declaration of war against the U.S. five years ago?
Would a truly well-informed American public have allowed the US. to enforce sanctions against Iraq which have killed over a million civilians -- including over 500,000 innocent children, realizing fully, all along, that the policy makes a) Saddam Hussein more powerful, not less, and b) America the object of passionate hate in much of the Arab world?
George W. Bush has proclaimed that "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world."
If that was indeed the reason, then why haven't terrorists targeted Canada, Sweden, Norway or the two dozen other countries with elections even more free and fair than our own?
Bush's statement may be wonderfully reassuring. But it's also simple-minded and deceptive on its face, more so once you understand the history of the situation.
Governments do not gain trust by telling unnecessary lies, any more than individuals do. Letting crap like this slide -- as most reporters did -- is not good journalism. It's willful propaganda. It feels good. But it's not doing the job.
Is it possible that merely having a memory makes one unpatriotic?
TV images fly by, their utter contradictions unnoticed, bending and blurring any sense of history. The mere act of keeping one's recall intact itself becomes a defiant act of will.
Which of the following, after the weeks just past, is even real?
The "60 Minutes II" Dan Rather who calmly explained anti-U.S. fanaticism in complex, humane, informative terms? The Dan Rather who once journeyed to Afghanistan to report on the "freedom-fighting" Mujahedeen while wearing full-blown Afghan mufti? Or the baffled, "Letterman" Dan Rather, who simplistically ascribed it all to "pure evil?
The America that admires Christa McAuliffe, Doug Flutie, and Ralph Nader, never asking their ethnic heritage? Or the America which, in two weeks, has committed hundreds (yes, hundreds) of violent acts against innocent people who merely looked Arabic?
The Oliver North who lied to Congress, armed Nicaraguan terrorists, and sold missiles to Iran? Or the Oliver North who is a trusted Fox commentator, condemns terrorism, and calls Iran a terrorist state?
The TV networks, watchdogs and defenders of truth? Or the TV networks, owned by arms contractors and conglomerates who downsized investigative reporters and shut down foreign desks to make room for more car chases and sex scandals?
The America that considers the killing of innocent people an immoral crime? Or the America whose Secretary of State once said of 500,000 dead Iraqi children, "we think the price is worth it?"
America, builder of coalitions, defender of world freedom? Or America, ignorer of treaties on global warming, biological weapons, land mines, money laundering, arms trafficking, missile defense, tobacco control, nuclear testing, and child labor?
The CIA that armed, trained, and financed Islamic radicals to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan? Or the CIA, now fighting its own progeny, thus demanding more power for covert operations -- claiming it needs even more authority to work with criminals and drug-runners.
The answer, of course, is that all of it is real. All of it.
- Bob Harris, A Big, Long Essay on The New War on Terrorism