Another day in the nation our fathers fought and died for

Newly reported this day in The Country Formerly Known As The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:

  • There is a growing mountain of evidence to suggest that the anthrax attacks that followed on the heels of 9/11 were orchestrated from within our own government to cement the public’s fear and distrust of Islam and propagandize for war with Iraq.
  • We are prisoners within our national borders, except for those willing to surrender their privacy, their property, and their right to due process.

Just one day in Bush country. (Another recent day.)

About the anthrax attacks: Glenn Greenwald (the superb reporter whose column I linked to above) points out that the anthrax/Iraq propaganda campaign — which is fact, not surmise; the falsehoods involved have been exposed and not refuted — was carried out by multiple “well-placed sources” feeding misinformation to ABC News, which repeated the talking points so faithfully that it became ingrained in the national discourse.

This put me in mind of a story that Larry Flynt told in an interview a few years ago (coincidentally also in — or not so coincidentally, considering how few good, independent news outlets there are):

In 2000, I got a call from a lawyer in Houston. He told me that his client, “Susan,” could prove that George W. Bush arranged for his girlfriend to have an abortion back in the early 1970s. Her boyfriend at the time, “Clyde,” was pals with Bush and set up the procedure. We checked up and found that indeed “Clyde” was responsible for keeping Bush out of trouble. Bush had knocked up a girl named “Rayette.” We talked to the doctor that performed the abortion. We felt we really had a blockbuster story, but about two months before we were going to break the story, “Susan” disappeared. We finally found her. She was living in a half-million-dollar home in Corpus Christi, Texas. Before that she was living in a small apartment working for $13,000 a year as a cocktail waitress. I’m not saying Bush bought her off, but I’m confident that one or more of his cronies did. The only thing that interested me in this story is — I’m pro-choice, but to have a guy who is running on a pro-life platform… and this procedure was committed in 1971, two years before Roe vs. Wade, which would have made it a crime.

I went to two members of the national press (during the 2000 presidential campaign) and said, “Look. I don’t have anyone out on the stump. You guys do. At least ask Bush the question.” You know what? They refused to. One of them had the nerve to tell me that the election was too close. “We don’t want to be the ones to tip it in any direction.”

“We don’t want to be the ones to tip it in any direction” — as if by withholding the news they somehow weren’t doing exactly that.

I can almost identify with what that reporter told Flynt. Early in my career as a computer programmer I occasionally soliloquized about my unwillingness to work on anything much more mission-critical than e-mail software. “I could never write medical software,” I’d say, “or flight-control software, or anything like that. If there’s a bad bug in my code, the worst that happens is that someone loses some personal data. They don’t die.” I found the very idea of that much responsibility appalling.

But guess what? Someone’s gotta write the mission-critical code. If I’ve got the knowledge and the access, it’s my responsibility to do it, because otherwise someone not as qualified might do it in my place and then I would share some of the blame for any critical failures anyway. On the flip side, who’s to say what’s mission-critical and what isn’t, even when it comes to e-mail software? It’s remotely conceivable that the loss of the just the wrong data at just the wrong time could cost someone his or her life — especially if some unscrupulous person (a war profiteer, say) had figured out a way to “game the system,” taking advantage of my desire to avoid responsibility in order to create a certain outcome.

The reporter who talked to Flynt was exhibiting the same fear of responsibility and was being gamed in just that way. But my (somewhat strained) point is that you’ve got responsibility whether you like it or not. You can’t avoid it; the best you can do is to refuse to acknowledge it.

I write software that people rely on; it’s my responsibility to make it reliable, whether or not it’s a matter of life and death. Those reporters in 2000 were part of a system on which a healthy democracy relies: keeping the citizenry well-informed, letting them decide whether a news item should tip a race one way or another. That was their responsibility; they blew it.

The same fear of responsibility is what leads modern news operations to present two sides of every issue as equal, when it’s perfectly obvious that they seldom are. It’s their responsibility to treat propaganda skeptically rather than presenting it on the same footing as legitimate news. When it’s decisively exposed as propaganda, it’s their responsibility to report on that.

That’s the responsibility that ABC News can now deny but cannot avoid: to disclose the identities of the propagandists who manipulated them and to shine a light on the whole operation. Until it does, ABC can deny, but cannot avoid, its responsibility for launching a war that has killed thousands, decimated our military, and bankrupted our nation.

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