Friday, October 14, 2005

Shocked, Just Shocked! The MSM Makes Note of Bush Stagecraft

Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged announces ABC News online, along with enough other online news outlets that it made Google News Top Stories for the second day now. The only thing newsworthy here is that this is now news.

Flashback to the 2004 elections. Each of Bush’s campaign stops were carefully staged events with closely vetted participants. Protesters were herded off to “Free Speech Zones”. I recall from the time shouting in my head “But I thought the whole country was supposed to be a ‘Free Speech Zone’!” as I read about it in The Nation, one of the few publications to report on what surely ABC News et al knew about.

Nor was this a new phenomenon.

Bush Zones Go National
[from the August 16, 2004 issue of The Nation]

At the 2000 GOP nominating convention in Philadelphia, candidate Bush created a fenced-in, out-of-sight protest zone that could only hold barely 1,500 people at a time. So citizens who wished to give voice to their many grievances with the Powers That Be had to:

(1) Schedule their exercise of First Amendment rights with the decidedly unsympathetic authorities.

(2) Report like cattle to the protest pen at their designated time, and only in the numbers authorized.

(3) Then, under the recorded surveillance of the authorities, feel free to let loose with all the speech they could utter within their allotted minutes (although no one--not Bush, not convention delegates, not the preening members of Congress, not the limousine-gliding corporate sponsors and certainly not the mass media--would be anywhere nearby to hear a single word of what they had to say).

Nor was this to be confined to campaigns.

“Free-Speech Zone”
The administration quarantines dissent.
By James Bovard
December 15, 2003 issue
The American Conservative

When Bush travels around the United States, the Secret Service visits the location ahead of time and orders local police to set up “free speech zones” or “protest zones” where people opposed to Bush policies (and sometimes sign-carrying supporters) are quarantined. These zones routinely succeed in keeping protesters out of presidential sight and outside the view of media covering the event.

Nor is this the first time that an event was staged involving soldiers.

So why all the hullabaloo now? And can we really treat credibly journalists who are now shocked, just shocked, to discover that Bush & Co are less than honest and forthright?

One of these days I post my long promised dissertation on why the mainstream media isn’t conservative or liberal, just corporate and will publish or broadcast (nearly) whatever sells, as well as on the curious feedback loop between public opinion and news reporting. For now, let it suffice to say we should all disabuse ourselves of any false hope that the MSM is finally snapping out of the Bush spell. They were never under it. We were, generally speaking. If the staging of events by the Bush Administration is “news” now, it’s only because the MSM now believes that we will buy it, literally and figuratively.

Testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001, John Ashcroft (remember him?) opined:
To those who pit Americans against immigrants, and citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil. Our efforts have been crafted carefully to avoid infringing on constitutional rights while saving American lives.

And for a long time, a lot of us were willing to believe that, or at least suspend our disbelief if it made us safer. Perhaps less so than the ongoing War on Competence in Iraq, the failure of the Bush Administration to respond to Katrina seems to have given America the cold shower it needed to snap back into reality. Oh, sure, Limbaugh and his clones have explained why it wasn’t really George’s fault to the die-hard believers. But for millions of others, Bush defaulted on his end the agreement. They agreed to ignore the skyrocketing deficits, failed domestic policies, realities of the Iraq War and the disconnect between Bush and integrity in exchange for basic safety. Responding well to emergencies like Katrina was exactly what Bush promised in return.

We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, once again, this blow to Bush’s image has come with a great cost in human suffering and physical capital. And among the lessons we need to draw from that is the value of dissent is not the self satisfied feeling of having vented one’s concerns. It is, at times, the only thing holding our political leaders accountable. And without that accountability, when we suspend or curtail dissent, when our press fails to examine administration claims critically, we get the track record of monumental failures and the attendant human suffering of a Bush Administration. No, I am not blaming Bush for Katrina. But the fact that they were not prepared to adequately respond to a major national disaster came as no surprise to anyone paying attention.

And paying attention is now what more of us are apparently willing to do. Too bad it came at such a high cost. It’s shocking really, just shocking.

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