Tuesday, March 18

The Press Corps We Deserve.

Richard Cohen: "How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I THOUGHT WE HAD A CHANCE TO STABILIZE AN UNSTABLE REGION, AND—I ADMIT IT—I WANTED TO STRIKE BACK."Slate March 18 [shouting in original]

I wonder if anyone wading through the swamp of forced-faux-contrarian warflogging five years back had any idea they were witnessing the birth of a franchise. I know I didn't. (The faux-contrarianism--they were a little more subtle with it in those days, as the preferred instrument was the trowel, not the skip-loader--was a little tough to pull off at a time when no newscast, network or cable, lacked a ribbon of bunting, but they still managed to act as though Liberal Vietnam Syndrome was the dominant position around the country, the better to bravely face it down.)

So the fifth anniversary is the opportunity for "Liberal" Hawks Do-Over Vol. 2: Stupid Is Forever, in which the painfully obvious is revealed all over again. Today, the deep thoughts of Richard Cohen:
Anthrax. Remember anthrax? It seems no one does anymore—at least it's never mentioned. But right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, letters laced with anthrax were received at the New York Post and Tom Brokaw's office at NBC. In the following days, more anthrax-contaminated letters were received by other news organizations—CBS News and, presumably, ABC, where traces of anthrax were found in the newsroom. Weirdly, even the Sun, a supermarket tabloid, also got a letter, and a photo editor, Bob Stevens, was fatally infected. Other letters were sent to Sen. Tom Daschle's Capitol Hill office, and in Washington, D.C., a postal worker, Thomas L. Morris Jr., died. There was ample reason to be afraid.

Y'know what else there was ample reason to do? Follow the story.

Not long afterwards there was ample reason to do something else: doubt that it had anything to do with 9/11, Saddam Hussein, or International Islamofascism, Inc. The text of the letters in and of itself was reason for suspicion bordering on dismissal; they could have been written by my A-rab hatin' brother-in-law.

[Left: to the New York Post. Right: to Senator Daschle's office]

Then came the reason to believe the FBI was fogging the case, at least publicly; the understanding that the anthrax used in the later attacks had come from US chemical weapon stocks we had previously claimed had been destroyed, developed in a lab we claimed hadn't done that sort of thing in thirty years; a reasonable certainty that the President of the United States was lying about it at least in part for partisan political gain; and the realization that The Washington Post and the New York Times, whose chemical weapons beat reporter was one Judith Miller, were intent on flogging the It Could Have Been Saddam angle regardless of the baldness of that lie.

Personally, I found it fairly easy to control my desire to get even with Saddam Hussein for the anthrax attacks by that point.

And all this came to me, a guy who had to rely on media reports and a few scientific papers readily available on the internets, and it was all pretty solidly understood by that December. But not to a guy with Cohen's insider status:
The attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it.

Interesting, no? Of course, "news" gathering organizations were a focus of the attacks, and anthrax a rather well-known agent of Scaring the Shit Out of People, with the added benefit of it being the one you can be immunized for. Then again, scaring the shit out of people who own precious inches of journalistic real estate in Our Nation's Capitol might have its benefits, however obscure, even if we want to dismiss the coincidence as  tin-foil hat territory.  You'd think this might have occurred to Cohen himself, but if so he ain't talking. We wonder when's the next time he scheduled to take questions online? Such as:

• Where'd you get the Cipro?

• Did you clue in any of the people at WaPo who might, y'know, actually handle mail?

• Why, after all this time and its role in the establishment of your reputation as a public dipshit* is the "high government official" still anonymous, especially if it came to you as it circled a roundabout?


* meaning "by your own lights".  The rest of us already knew.


James Stripes said...

the birth of a franchise

I should post this on my own blog, as it really is a page out of my notebook. But your tremendous effort day after day to set your readers and the media straight with your your rare gift of wisdom deserves a gift or two.

Here's a personal story exactly as I wrote it five years ago:

There’s a war on TV

Day 1.
There’s a war on the television again, but this time CNN promises live coverage from the front lines. Blood and gore, if we really get that, will be a relief after six months of Stormin’ Norman’s press conferences in the last one.

George Bush, playing the western role that was scripted for him, gave Saddam 48 hours to get out of town. Now, it is near sundown in Hollywood, and Saddam’s time has passed. I make a quick trip over to the liquor store to refresh my supply of good bourbon, turn on the TV, and prepare for war. I have to feed my family first, of course, so I do that. After dinner I pour a glass of Wild Turkey and settle in. I don’t have to wait long before the bombs begin falling on Baghdad.

These bombs don’t really fall, however. They are precisely targeted. The live coverage of anti-aircraft fire in this ancient capital is dramatic. Then, a thin sliver of information comes into the newsrooms about where some of the bombs seem to be hitting. The news reporters in their hotel in Baghdad offer their best guesses as to where the explosions seem to be located. CNN then turns to retired General Wesley Clark for analysis of their interpretation of the likely targets.

Two hours before the deadline set by el Presidente, I told my lover that they (we) ought to send in some special forces, or shoot one of those “smart” bombs in an effort to take out Iraq’s dictator. By the end of the evening, the military analysts who have examined the camera eye’s keen perspective and the reporter’s best guesses in great detail have convinced the press corps that the first attack was some kind of decapitation strike. Many are surprised at how the war begins.

Harry Cheddar said...

Yeah, the anthrax story just kinda dropped through the cracks. Another under reported story that still bothers me is the massive airline stock shorting just before 9-11. There has to be a paper trail to follow, but it fell off the radar with barely a mention.

In the lead up to the Iraq war I maintained a small hope that the whole thing was some canny game of brinksmanship. The lefty blogs presented a solid case that the WMD claims were unfounded well before the bombs fell. I figured the folks in charge were just working some hardline sabre-rattling.

The night it started I was at a Pacers game with my last wingnut friend. As the war images appeared on the overhead monitors in the mezzanine hallway, I turned to my friend and said, "Great, so now were fascists." The friendship ended not too long after that.

bidziliba said...

George Bush, playing the western role that was scripted for him, gave Saddam 48 hours to get out of town.

Yeah, except at the same time the ultimatum was given, Bush let slip that the US was going to invade even if Hussein left the country before the deadline.

The problem I have with both the mainstream press and the majority of politicians is they expect me to believe I understand more about what's going down than they do. Cohen knows very well that the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan both were planned well before the convenient excuse arrived. There is no remotely plausible excuse for the continued ignorance of the press nor the congress as to the motives of Bush's puppet masters then or now.

It was clear to me even before the invasion that the known lack of WMDs was itself the compelling factor in favor of war. The inspectors couldn't be allowed to complete their survey and come up empty. On the other hand the Straussians saw Iraq as virtually defenseless, Hussein controlled only a third of his own country, had no air defenses, we'd been softening the population up with embargoes and virtually continuous bombing for a decade. It was going to be a cakewalk. Of course the resulting chaos serves the same endgame as would have an easy victory. Post-Vietnam War imperialism rears its head only against the most perceptibly weak targets. There was a time when my money would have been on Liechtenstein as next in the gunsights.

It hasn't cracked the US news so far as I know, but the former president of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, who had previously exposed the activities of Gladio, including his own role in setting up the Italian version, has said that the September 11th attacks were a CIA / Mossad operation designed to garner support for pre-ordained policies, and that this was perfectly well known by all the world's intelligence services. Take that as you like but Cossiga's not easily dismissed as a crank. He was proven right about the far right paramilitaries behind the terrorist violence of the 70's, which at the time had been blamed on so-called Marxists cells. It was intended, he said, to scare the people into relinquishing their liberties for an illusion of security. If nothing else that should give us all a little shiver of deja vu.

LittlePig said...

• Did you clue in any of the people at WaPo who might, y'know, actually handle mail?

Cohen, brilliant deductionist that he is, probably still hasn't grasped why his office coffee always tastes of urine....