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Neil Young and the Restless

"Neil Young’s “Living with War” album... has already earned more than a million Internet listeners, and on Saturday reached #3 in sales at Amazon."
Published on Monday, May 8, 2006 by Editor & Publisher

When it comes to really putting Bush and Rumsfeld on the spot, why did a comedian, a former general, a rock star, an ex-CIA analyst and an average citizen in North Carolina, go where reporters often fear to tread?
by Greg Mitchell

For centuries, The Press acted as surrogate for The People. Now, at least in regard to the Iraq war, the reverse often seems to be true.

While reporters and commentators continue to tiptoe around the question of whether Bush administration officials, right up to the president, deliberately misled the nation into the war, average and not-so-average citizens have raised the charge of “lies” and caused a stir usually reserved for reporters. Is America, or just my own head, about to explode over Iraq?

The latest example of citizen journalism occurred Thursday, with former CIA analyst Ray McGovern’s persistent questioning of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld at a forum in Atlanta. CNN’s Anderson Cooper, interviewing McGovern later, told him he had gone where most reporters had failed to tread. Whether Anderson meant this as self-criticism was impossible to tell.

This comes on the heels of satirist Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on Saturday -- publicized primarily by Web sites and blogs -- and this week’s streaming-on-line debut of Neil Young’s “Living with War” album, which proposes impeaching the president “for lying” (and “for spying”). It has already earned more than a million Internet listeners, and on Saturday reached #3 in sales at Amazon. "Don't need no more lies," Young sings repeatedly in one song.

McGovern, Colbert and Young are hardly grassroots Americans, but we also have the recent example of Harry Taylor, who on April 6 rose at a town meeting in Charlotte, N.C. and asked the president about his domestic spying program, among other things, saying he was ”ashamed” of the nation’s leader.

But this “people pressure” has been the story of the war at home all along, at least in personal probing of the engineers of the disaster. It was a U.S. soldier, after all, whose questioning of Rumsfeld in 2004 about the lack of adequate armor for personnel and vehicles in Iraq brought that issue to national attention.

Even on the editorial pages, it has required at virtually every newspaper an outside contributor to propose a radical change in direction on Iraq. Witness the op-ed on Thursday in the Los Angeles Times by retired Gen. William E. Odom, calling for the start of an American withdrawal. For more than a day it was the most e-mailed story at the paper’s Web site—just as The New York Times’ belated story on Colbert was #1 at that site for 24 hours or more.

While reporters have produced acres of tough journalism on issues related to the war, they have generally failed to ask Bush and Rumsfeld truly pointed questions (saving that experience for punching bag Scott McClellan), and refused to use the word “lie” in news stories and editorials. At the same time, the public now has many more opportunities to act as presshounds, at public forums that either did not exist, or at least were not televised, years ago.

Still, it would be nice to see reporters following ex-CIA analyst McGovern's example on Thursday, directing chapter-and-verse examples of misleading statements, or downright lies, at Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and others (beyond Tony Snow) whenever they get a chance. Certainly, every poll shows that the American public is behind them on this--or should I say, ahead of them?

Now it will be fun to watch the media reaction to the CD release of the Neil Young anti-Bush broadside next week. A Washington Post music critic has already weighed in with a pan, declaring, bizarrely, “the urgency is somewhat strange, given that the album doesn't appear to be inspired by any recent events.”

If you are a Neil Young fan -- politics aside -- you will no doubt appreciate his return to slashing guitar work and full-throated singing. The lyrics are consistently biting, always topical, and occasionally humorous, with war the focus but with side trips to American consumerism and environmentalism.

He even refers to the prohibition against the media showing pictures of coffins returning form Iraq: "Thousands of bodies in the ground/Brought home in boxes to a trumpet's sound/No one sees them coming home that way/Thousands buried in the ground." And in another song: "More boxes covered in flags/ but I can't see them on TV." Don't forget, Young is the son of a well-known newspaperman.

He closes with “America the Beautfiul” sung by 100-voice choir. It’s true, Young is a Canadian, but he has now lived in this country for four decades, which should count for something.

The best song is not “Impeach the President,” a mediocre melody highlighted by audio clips of embarrassing Bush statements (“We’ll smoke them out” etc.), but rather the blistering “Shock and Awe,” which includes not only specific antiwar lyrics but the more philosophical “history is a cruel judge of overconfidence.”

The press response will be fascinating, but, no matter what, it is not likely to top John Gibson’s gaffe on Fox News this week. On April 28, Gibson blasted Young, charging that he must be suffering from "amnesia" about the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He suggested that Young go see the new movie, "United 93," about the hijacked flight that went down in Pennsylvania that day. Gibson even offered to buy Young a ticket.

Whoops. It was Neil Young who wrote one of the highest-profile songs about 9/11, right after the tragedy -- "Let's Roll," which paid tribute to the passengers on United 93.

Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor and Publisher.


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