03 October 2004

A Toast to the American Press

Common Sense
John Maxwell

In theory, the Constitution of the United States of America is a perfect instrument for the defence and protection of its citizens' rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Four years ago, after the process which resulted in the designation of George W. Bush as President of the U.S.A., I remarked "This presents us with several serious problems. We have discovered, if we hadn't suspected it before, that the United States is not, in fact, a democracy, as most people understand it. Second, it is now clear to some of us that the systems which are supposed to provide checks and balances against tyranny do not work and probably cannot work. Third, that no form of voting can guarantee clean elections in the absence of a national will exercisable at the most local and parochial level."

Four years after that statement was published the world has witnessed, among other things:
  • The illegal invasion of Iraq, justified by transparent lies about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction;
  • Consequent on the illegal invasion, the killing by bombing and other indiscriminate action, of more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians;
  • The illegal removal of President Aristide of Haiti on grounds which have not yet been put forward;
  • The imprisonment or deportation or 'rendering' without trial or charge of thousands of people distinguished only by the fact that they are not true blue, Americans;
  • The disappearance of at least a dozen so-called terrorists who may have been sent to other countries to be tortured and perhaps murdered on the orders of the Attorney General of the United States;
  • The torture and illegal imprisonment of an unknown number of Iraqi citizens whose only crime apparently, is that they are suspected of having tried to defend their country against an illegal aggression;
  • The rescuing, from a Panamanian jail and the release in the United States of convicted terrorists and assassins who had, in addition to their previous crimes, been preparing to kill President Castro and other heads of state as they met in conference in Panama in 2002.
In almost every one of these instances, the spirit if not the letter of the laws of the United States as well as International law and treaties were savaged.

The Fourth Estate

The American Press have long gloried in their depiction as the Fourth Estate of the realm in - the words of Lord Macaulay. Constitutional amendments were passed to protect the Freedom of the Press, without which, it is held, democracy cannot exist. In America, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press have established beachheads of privilege which give the press more protection than exists in any other country on earth.

Despite these protections, the American people are now less free than at any time in their history, including their history as British subjects.

Their wealth has been stolen by speculators, criminals in the guise of businessmen, and by the U.S. government itself, to hand over to a 'cognitive elite' who, half a century ago, would have been perfectly happy paying their excess profits taxes.

As the American citizens were led like lambs to the slaughter in the last stock market bubble, and as they were led, protesting into Iraq, the Press, privileged and protected, found it impossible to defend their societies against the ruthless predators feeding on their young and their treasure.

Today, as the Americans face one of the great watersheds in their history, the Press has found it impolitic to expose and condemn the traps and pitfalls being sedulously laid in their paths.

It has taken an 80-year old ex-president of the United States to expose the wholesale corruption of the democratic process now gathering speed in Florida. The Press has dismissed President Carter's exposure as a bagatelle, just as they have the reports which demolish the lies constructed to lead to war. The American Press seems more exercised about the threat of one journalist going to jail than it has been about more than a thousand young Americans and ten times that many Iraqis being slaughtered in Iraq.

The theory was that if all else failed, the Press would ride to the rescue of the republic. If the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary had been captured by one party with malign intentions, the press would expose, criticise and make any high crimes and misdemeanours impossible to complete.

That was then.

Then, if we look back at history, it is apparent that something has been seriously wrong with U.S. democracy for a long time. In the 1950's, President Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, former Governor Sherman Adams was disgraced for accepting an alpaca coat for doing someone a favour. The next republican Administration saw the Vice President going to jail, the forced resignation to avoid impeachment and prosecution of the President, the arrest, trial and imprisonment of the core of the White House administration (Haldeman, Erlichman and Co.) for their part in Nixon's crimes.

The next Republican Administration, Reagan's, was distinguished by the illegal invasion of Grenada, by the financing of murderous governments and death squads in Central America (Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador) and by the Iran Contra scandal the conviction of Reagan aides Michael Deaver and Lyn Nofziger and the indictment (and pardon) of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger; nor should we forget the ineffable William Casey, head of the CIA and the man who recruited Osama bin Laden and trained him in terrorism to fight against the Russians in Afghanistan. And George Bush I's Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, helped arm and advise Saddam Hussain in his war against Iran. And lawbreaking and conspiracy to defeat the aims of the constitution continued under both Bush presidencies.

Conduct Unbecoming

So it cannot surprise anyone that the Republican party of George Bush II is riddled with corruption from top to bottom. The Vice President, Mr. Cheney is obviously one of the world's most fluent liars as well as an uncouth bully. The presidential campaign has accepted the character assassination attempts of liars and con-men in an effort to destroy the reputation of the opposition candidate. It is involved in all kinds of underhand conduct, gerrymandering in Texas, intimidation In Florida and a variety of stratagems to subvert the will of the people of the United States.

And, like the band on the deck of the Titanic, the Press plays on, unmoved by any outrage, undisturbed by any abuse of the public interest, excited only by direct attacks on their most compliant stooges - flustered and upset that federal judges are threatening to send high class reporters to jail for their part in covering up an illegal conspiracy.

You will excuse me if I don't weep as the revolution begins to eat its children. Judith Miller, now threatened with jail, was an integral part of the massive conspiracy to delude the American people and the world. Last year, in April, my column "What can they be smoking?" cited one of Ms. Miller's works of art.

The New York Times last Monday came up with a prime piece of hogwash, a dispatch from Judith Miller in Iraq, which claimed that a captured Iraqi scientist to whom she had not spoken, had told unnamed American soldiers that Saddam Hussain had given orders - just before the war began- for the dismantling of all his weapons of mass destruction. The story gave other fascinating hints about Iraqi connections to Al Qaeda, and so on, a veritable rijstafel of propaganda delicacies, designed, it seemed, to confirm all the egregious lies manufactured by the U.S. to provide an excuse for blowing away Saddam. The NYT treated the item as serious news and it was picked up and distributed by all the usual suspects.

It seems to me that if a poor, superannuated journalist like me, 5000 miles from the scene of action, can detect such B-S, then other, more eminent practitioners closer to the scene should be able to detect it too.

But they did not, and it was only a few months ago that the New York Times saw fit to apologise for some of the hogwash it had been dispensing for so long.

It is a waste of time to go over all the instances in which the Press has betrayed its trust, hoodwinked its audiences and soiled the proud traditions of writers and journalsts as disparate as I.F. Stone, H.L. Mencken, Edward R. Murrow, A.J. Leibling, Upton Sinclair, and Ida Tarbell. But Woodward and Bernstein are still writing, still younger than I, but they, like the rest of the delinquent leadership of the American press are all millionaires now and so blinded by self interest, their fates yoked not to the people they are supposed to serve, but to the corporations that employ them and the stock markets that mesmerize them.

A recent study by the Los Angeles Times which has not been followed up by anyone else, as far as I can tell, has exposed the myth of the New American paradigm. The LA Times took as its starting point, a 40 year tracking study underwritten by the National Science Foundation and run by the University of Michigan. In brief, what the Times study shows is not only that the American middle class has not prospered over the last 20 years, but that their overall social and economic position has been seriously undermined.

The Chicago School of Friedman, Becker aet al coupled with the anti-social policies of Reaganism-Thatcherism, has sent middle class incomes into reverse while exposing them families to much more risk than before.

Politicians, conservative and 'liberal/left', starting with German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and continuing through Franklin Roosevelt, Clement Atlee, et al, tried to make capitalism more humane, to make it more 'civilised.' That was the purpose of the now derided Welfare State, the point of which was to contain discontent and to defuse the possibilities for revolution.

The Bush counter-revolution is moving quite openly to separate the world again into recognizable haves and have-nots, slaves and slavemasters, to place the elite within the gates and the rest outside the fence modelled in "the Bell Curve".

Which is why Haiti was invaded, and why last week, Haitian businessmen were so desperate to get Congress to pass a law which would allow them to establish Haiti as the first country in which human rights would be defined by employers' profits.

It is why the Hart Group is closing its factories in Montego Bay, laying off about 700 workers, because they cannot compete with Chinese labour whose wages would buy barely one Jamaican patty a day.

And, for all that, we can thank our protectors of the press, the eyes and ears of the public, the protectors of the poor and helpless, the upholders iof public decency, the defenders of the truth and the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you that paradigm of all the virrtues, that exemplar of best practice and sterling ethical standards, I give you: The American Press...

And God Save the Queen!


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