The president of the Associated Press (AP) was spewing venom
at the Bush�Cheney administration for having turned the Department of Defense
into a propaganda machine.
Americans �expect honest answers about what�s happening to
their sons and daughters,� Tom Curley told journalism students and faculty at
the University of Kansas. Listing innumerable ways the Pentagon had advocated
Bush-Cheney political beliefs, Curley questioned if the United States should
�be trying to influence public opinion through subterfuge, both here and
An AP investigation had just revealed that the Pentagon
budget for �influence operations� this fiscal year is at least $4.8 billion,
with about 27,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to information
The penalty for failing to agree to the Pentagon�s terms of
reporting, said Curley, was that he was told by top commanders that �if I stood
and the AP stood by its journalistic principles, the AP and I would be ruined.�
With a new administration, �now is the time to resist the
propaganda the Pentagon produces and live up to our obligation to question
authority and thereby help protect our democracy,� said Curley.
Brave words, but words that would have had more impact had
they been said publicly four years ago instead of a month after Bush and Cheney
left office, and a more transparent administration was elected.
Although the Bush-Cheney administration put propaganda ahead
of truth, the media, like Congress, were willing accomplices.
Most media were far too deferential to the Bush-Cheney
administration following 9/11, perhaps believing it was unpatriotic, or at
least detrimental to their revenue, to oppose the tools the president said he
needed to fight the �war on terrorism.�
When the Bush-Cheney administration, aided by a compliant
Congress, pushed through the USAPATRIOT Act, with severe constitutional
violations, the media barely raised a voice to protest. Reporters who wrote
against the USAPATRIOT Act were often ostracized by the establishment press. It
was the nation�s librarians, not the nation�s journalists, who led protests of
First Amendment free speech/free press violations during most of the eight
years of the Bush-Cheney administration.
When the Bush-Cheney administration established �free speech
zones,� as much as a mile from any presidential or vice-presidential speech or
rally, whether official or political, the media ignored the dissidents and, for
the most part, the blatant constitutional violation of the First Amendment.
When the Bush-Cheney administration laid out lies that
Saddam Hussein was tied to 9/11, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and
then launched an invasion of a sovereign nation, the media saluted and reported
what they were told.
When the Bush-Cheney administration rewrote the rules of
press coverage in combat to compromise independent reporting, the press didn�t
challenge their new restrictions. They grumbled over beers, but didn�t push
back. By their failure, the press allowed themselves to become part of a propaganda
machine, spewing good news from their tunnel vision.
When the Bush-Cheney administration, trying to find �good
news� in Iraq, fed information to the Washington Post that Army PFC
Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, was a hero whose Humvee was ambushed,
that she fought a heroic battle, killed some attackers, was herself shot, was
tortured in an Iraqi hospital, and that Army Rangers and Navy SEALS made a
heroic rescue, no one at the Post or most other media questioned the
Defense Department�s statements, pleased to have been given a human interest
scoop. But the story was a phony. Lynch herself confirmed suspicions raised in
the alternative media that she didn�t wield a gun, that her injuries were
sustained when she was pinned under the Humvee, and that she was treated well
by Iraqi physicians, who had even given the American �rescuers� the hospital�s
When the Bush-Cheney administration tried to cover up that
former NFL star Pat Tillman, an Army Ranger, was killed by friendly fire and not
playing John Wayne, and that the Army delayed and then lied to Tillman�s
parents, the press just went along with what they were told.
When the Bush-Cheney administration made sure that retired
military officers, favorable to the administration, got choice TV network
assignments, hardly anyone protested until it became so obvious that the
commentaries were skewed to Bush-Cheney policies.
When the Bush-Cheney administration lied about massive
spying upon Americans, the environment, public health, and hundreds of other
areas, the media yawned and swallowed what they were told.
When the Bush-Cheney administration said the U.S. was not in
a recession, that the economy was doing just fine, while all around them the
subprime crisis and Wall Street greed was eating up the fabric of America, the
media reported the latest pop-celeb�s tryst, movie deal, drinking or drug
Even when the Bush-Cheney administration blocked attempts by
reporters to get public information through the Freedom of Information laws,
their bosses usually didn�t back them up, content to save the financial and
manpower resources that were necessary to break down the barriers.
When the Bush-Cheney administration moved Helen Thomas, dean
of the White House press corps, from the first row to the back row at press
conferences, and refused to call on her to ask a question, most of the
establishment media barely protested, lest they would also be banished to the
back of the press bus, denied �face time� on Air Force One, or not invited to
exclusive black tie parties.
The New York Times and Washington Post, which eventually redeemed themselves
as Bush�s popularity sank, each published lengthy apologies for failing to
adequately question administration claims, and doing little more than recycle
Americans have every reason to complain about the Bush-Cheney
administration. But, the nation�s news media, by abandoning their journalistic
credibility and principles, had willingly become an extension of the propaganda
machine that Tom Curley complained about.
NEXT WEEK: Media and reporters who
challenged authority and tried to fulfill their responsibilities as watchdogs
upon the government.
Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist,
continually challenged Bush�Cheney claims about Iraq and weapons of mass
destruction. He wrote about the shredding of civil rights under the SAPATRIOT
Act, including violations of free speech, due process, and the rights of
privacy. He and Rosemary Brasch, two years before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast,
wrote about disaster preparedness and concluded that the U.S., because of
political incompetence and the deployment of troops and resources to Iraq,
wasn�t prepared to deal with a natural disaster. The establishment media
ignored their reporting. Dr. Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg
University. His books about the Bush-Cheney administration are �America�s Unpatriotic Act: The Federal
Government�s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights�; ��Unacceptable�:
The Federal Government�s Response to Hurricane Katrina�; and �Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency
of George W. Bush.�