The ongoing crisis in the Middle East has caused a wide array of emotions in the body politic n elation for our eminent victory, disgust at the carnage, sympathy for the combatants.
As for me, I've almost completely stopped watching.
Before any snap judgments are made, know that my decision to switch from CNN or the so-called Fox News Channel to warmer climes is not because of some inability to stomach the images of war.
Far from it; I have sought out some of the more disturbing sights and sounds from the conflict in an attempt to place it in its proper context, rather than watching bombs rain down on Baghdad with the bliss of those who are lulled into thinking they're watching nothing more than a summer action movie with a mid-range budget.
What I can't countenance, though, is the endless parade of "news" anchors, embedded (read "heavily censored") journalists, retired generals, current generals, cabinet members and other leaders who continue to spin this conflict in their own direction. I am reminded of the Blues Traveler song "Hook," which lamented the public's inability to delve any deeper than the surface in nearly any situation, and how that can be exploited:
"It doesn't matter what I say,
So long as I sing with inflection
That makes you feel that I'll convey
Some inner truth of vast reflection?"
Truer words were never spoken about Aaron Brown or Sean Hannity, Donald Rumsfeld or President Bush. Brown and his many television news colleagues drone on mercilessly about the conflict without critical examination of the consequences of said war. "Shock and awe" was a better descriptor of news anchors' reactions to the Baghdad bombing campaign than to the campaign itself. Remarks about the spectacular weapons were legion, while little was said about the fact that 2,000-pound bombs tend to kill and maim lots of people when they miss their targets.
What seemingly heartfelt comments have been made about the effects of the war have been heavy on patriotic sacrifice and very light on the realism of war and its cost in human life on both sides. (Largely unreported: the father of a slain American soldier admonishing Bush for sending his son to die in an unnecessary conflict.) Manufactured emotions have been the norm in the news business for quite some time, but they seem to have hit their post-9/11 peak during the current conflict.
"But I've said nothing so far, And I keep it up for as long as it takes
And it don't matter who you are
If I'm doing my job then it's your resolve that breaks?"
Bush, Rumsfeld, et al., on the other hand, have played their roles as puritanical preachers whipping the flock into a frenzy to near perfection. They wax poetic on how the American people's resolve has only strengthened since the war, cementing both the righteousness of our cause and the assuredness of our victory. (Those leaders conveniently ignore, however, that the masses tend to switch to what they see as the winning side after a conflict begins.)
"These are good days in the history of freedom," Bush said Tuesday. "Today the world is safer. The terrorists have lost an ally. The Iraqi people are regaining control of their own destiny."
Bush's speech n which focused on the economy, believe it or not n was delivered to a gathering of businesspeople in the Rose Garden, but even if it had been given in front of a White House Press Corps on steroids there would have been no questioning of these dubious statements. ("Didn't most of the 9/11 terrorists come from Saudi Arabia?" "Shouldn't we be concerned that attacking an Arab country with little international support could result in a response from Islamic fundamentalists in other countries?" "If the Iraqi people are in control of their country, why are we holding meetings that will likely result in us handpicking a new leader for them?")
No such luck, hearing questions like that from the milquetoasts given air time with Bush n his nonsensical musings on our just cause go unchallenged here.
"Because the hook brings you I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely?"
Also largely un-addressed in the American media is the rapid shift of our country's aim in the war against Iraq. In a matter of hours, Bush shifted the thrust of the campaign from disarming a madman with alleged access to weapons of mass destruction (none of which have been found, though you wouldn't know from CNN's mobile weapons lab graphics) to freeing the terribly oppressed Iraqi people. Just don't ask how many of those people have to die for the country to be delivered into the open arms of freedom and American culture. (How did that work in Iran, by the way?)
"There is something amiss I am being insincere
In fact I don't mean any of this
Still my confession draws you near
To confuse the issue I refer
To familiar heroes from long ago?"
Bush's steely gaze, his hard-set jaw, his newfound ability to rise to the challenge of foreign relations, his unshakable resolve in the face of opposition from those peace-loving Europeans n these are the things focused on by most of the media. Nary a question has been asked, for instance, about the connection between Bush's religious steadfastness and plans by Christian evangelicals to proselytize in the "liberated" Iraq. The same goes for the United States' earlier connections to the Butcher of Baghdad.
"The hook brings you I ain't tellin' you no lie
The hook brings you back
On that you can rely?"
Far from questioning that lack of critical thought surrounding the war, the American public has been sucked in like a teenie bopper to the latest radio-friendly single. Bush and his swaggering foreign policy, his inability to compromise, his desire to quash anyone he wants n all of these things endear him to the masses who want to feel good about our country's future and be saved from whatever is frightening them this week. (See the duct tape and plastic sheeting debacle, or the surge of flag-waving seen during any military conflict, for examples.)
Throw some words like "almighty" and "freedom" and "safe" in a speech, and we'll keep coming back.
Justin Reedy covers county government for the News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at email@example.com.