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U.S. Media March to Beat of White House War Drum
Published on Sunday, October 13, 2002 in the Toronto Star
Tail Wags the Dog, Rolls It Over
U.S. Media March to Beat of White House War Drum
by Antonia Zerbisias
 

OKAY, SO IT'S cynical to suggest that the White House is playing politics with its talk of Saddam's "nuke-u-lure capabilities," "weapons of mass destruction," "links to Al Qaeda" and having "gassed his own people."

So what if these phrases sound like slogans, ready-made to fit a TV graphic alongside "Showdown: Saddam?"

Maybe U.S. President George Bush the Younger really does believe it when he says, echoing a line first used by his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

Forget how that statement makes plain that there is no "final proof" of that aforementioned "nuke-u-lure" capability which is exactly what an alarming number of unnamed intelligence types are telling The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and other reputable publications. After all, they are anonymous.

Perhaps Bush really isn't marching to the war drums being beaten by his top political strategist Karl Rove and his chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. to keep the spotlight off the economy, health care, education, the deficit and other domestic disasters until the mid-term elections Nov. 5.

Even though U.S. unemployment and poverty are up, consumer confidence is down, record numbers of bankruptcies are being filed while mortgage foreclosures are at an all-time high, not even the Democrats are talking much about the economy, at least not on my TV.

Sure, let's give Rove and Card the benefit of the doubt, even if they're the guys who seem to be packaging this war thing more slickly than Coke launched that vanilla concoction. After all, Rove's the guy whose accidentally-made-public election strategy said "Focus on war," while Card's the man who told The New York Times that the reason all this Iraq talk escalated after Labour Day just in time for the Sept. 11 anniversary was because "from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

Maybe these guys know something we don't and, for some truly important security reason, they really, really, really can't share because, if they do tell, the world will blow up.

So how come last Monday in primetime, when Bush was calling Saddam a "murderous tyrant," the White House did not ask the main networks to clear airtime for his speech?

Was that not weird?

Turned out that Rove and Co. balked in order to prevent fears that the president was about to push the button. As press secretary Ari Fleischer put it, "The rumour-mongering would have become uncontrollable and it would suggest that war is imminent."

Well, isn't it imminent?

Otherwise, what's this all about?

You'd think war was just around the corner considering this rumour-mongering about an "arsenal of terror," not to mention how the news nets have fallen into step, showcasing military experts in TV "situation rooms."

If war isn't imminent, then how long will MSNBC be "counting down" to Iraq? Weeks? Months? Or until Nov. 5?

The White House insists it isn't "wagging the dog" to divert attention from domestic issues, an accusation that Fleischer and Vice President Dick Cheney have both pooh-poohed as "reprehensible." But still, much of the mainstream media is chasing the war ball. After all, it's a lot sexier than discussing how 41 million Americans have no health insurance.

The media dog has not only been wagged, it's rolled over at Bush's feet.

On Friday, a Pew Research Center For The People & The Press Poll, conducted with the Council on Foreign Relations, revealed that, although nobody has ever proved an Iraq-9/11 link, two-thirds of those surveyed agree that "Saddam Hussein helped the terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks." The poll also shows that 79 per cent believe Iraq has nukes or is close to having nukes.

Alarming but not surprising. After all, that's the message put out by most of the mainstream media most of the time.

Meanwhile, you'd be hard pressed to know that U.S. protests are getting bigger and more frequent by watching TV. When CNN shows a march, it's always overseas and always slugged as an "anti-American demonstration."

And what about the human cost of war?

Never mind how, as many military and terrorism experts not on the TV payroll have predicted, an attack on Iraq will unleash a rain of terror on Americans. Don't even think about how many Iraqi civilian casualties there might be. The media don't or won't even bother grappling with the death toll for the U.S. military with the bad luck to end up fighting in the streets of Baghdad.

As syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington noted last week, "Not a single reporter has stood up ... and asked, `Mr. President, how many young Americans are going to die?'"

Are they so cowed by the White House that they don't dare? Are they so onside that they don't care? Are they dumb? Or are they convinced that, once the votes are counted next month, the war drums will stop beating?

No matter what the answer, they have served their constituents very poorly indeed.

azerbis@thestar.ca

Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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