The single most dishonest and propagandistic tactic of establishment journalists is to take their own opinion and assert as a fact that "most Americans" agree with them, even when that assertion is indisputably false. David Brooks is probably the single most frequent purveryor of this deceit, but the bulk of establishment pundits regularly deploy the same method -- simultaneously holding themselves out as Spokesmen for the Regular People while showing complete contempt for what they actually think by lying about their views.
Yesterday, Cokie Roberts -- while expressing scorn for the "Responsible Plan for Withdrawal" advocated by 42 Democratic Congressional candidates and numerous military experts, and described by fellow panelist Katerina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation -- said this:
VANDEN HEUVEL: It is not, but you know what, the responsible thing to do is withdraw. [you hear Cokie odiously chuckling at this point]
VANDEN HEUVEL: If we withdraw responsibly, the region would be more stable in the long term, America will be restored as a responsible global leader, and there are 42 challengers, you are absolutely right Cokie, who have a responsible plan to withdraw.
ROBERTS: Convincing the electorate of that I think would be very difficult, and I also agree that the notion that Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham you heard this morning putting forward, that Americans would prefer to win, is--
VANDEN HEUVEL: But what is winning? This war is unwinnable, there are no military solutions.
The video is also here. Roberts' claim -- that Americans agree with McCain, Graham and her that withdrawal is a bad idea and that they want to stay until we win -- is just a lie. There's no other way to put that. Poll after poll after poll demonstrates that exactly the opposite is true. It's fine for Roberts to say that McCain is right and that we should stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to occupy that country until we "win." That's an opinion. But to claim that public opinion is consistent with that view is just false.
Is there any limit on the willingness of establishment spokespeople like Cokie Roberts to lie about the state of public opinion on the war? How much more conclusive can their dishonesty be demonstrated? Here is a post I wrote just a couple of weeks ago documenting how false the claim is, after The Politico announced that the Iraq War was going to be a great asset for McCain because Americans are starting to love the war again. Just compare the statement Cokie Roberts has the audacity to make with a straight face to all of that, or to this:
From USA Today/Gallup over the past six months or so:
Compare what Roberts said to these facts. What she did is just outright lying. It would no different than if these journalists went on TV and insisted that most Americans approve of the job Bush is doing, or that they don't want health care reform, or that they want to attack Iran, or that they favored Clinton's impeachment. Public opinion is ascertainable by polling data.
Public opinion on the question of whether we should withdraw from Iraq is unambiguous and it has been for a long time. Large majorities of the public favor withdrawal regardless of whether we're "winning." To say otherwise -- as establishment journalists like Roberts continuously do -- is just rank deceit. How else can one phrase that? And why shouldn't ABC News make that clear, retract that statement the way they would any other factually false claim made by one of their journalists?
What these journalists actually do -- as they prance around as Spokespeople for the Regular Americans -- is attempt to render public opinion completely inconsequential. When it comports with what the political establishment wants, they tout it as democracy in action, as the establishment speaking for The American People. When public opinion rejects what they're doing, they just lie about it and pretend that people agree with them. The more honest establishment mavens just ignore public opinion altogether and insist that they know what's best for the People.
The snide dismissal of public opinion as irrelevant by people like The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray -- and most recently by Dick Cheney -- is far preferable to the dishonest distortions of Cokie Roberts:
WASHINGTON, D.C.: I am somewhat surprised at the debate about the surge. In October, The Post's own polling showed that 19% of voters favored an immediate withdrawal. Yesterday, CNN reported that more than 50% want an immediate or by year's end withdrawal. Still, the politicians debate more or less, not sooner or later. Why won't the politicians follow the polls when it comes to leaving Iraq? SHAILAGH MURRAY: Would you want a department store manager or orthodontist running the Pentagon? I don't think so. . . . A withdrawal by year's end carries enormous, very serious implications.
At least they're honest enough to admit that most Americans disagree with them, but since most Americans are too stupid and unserious to understand how Serious withdrawal would be, it's necessary that they be ignored. That's the same thing people like Cokie Roberts, David Brooks and most of their establishment comrades believe, but they prefer to lie about public opinion rather than admit that they think it's irrelevant.
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book "How Would a Patriot Act?," a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, "A Tragic Legacy", examines the Bush legacy.