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Helping the Romans to Oppose the Empire
Remarks for International Peace Conference in London, England, December 10
By David Swanson
When the Downing Street Minutes (which documented Bush and Blair's plans to lie about the reasons for war) were made into a major news story in England in early May, a bunch of us got together and formed a large coalition in the United States (and with key partners in the UK, including the Stop the War Coalition and Military Families Against the War). Our goal was to pressure both the media corporations operating in the US and the congress members who usually obey them to report on and investigate the story. After all, if Tony Blair was going to feel heat for having caved in to the plans of the gangsters who occupy the White House, then – we thought – the gang leaders should bear a little responsibility as well. We called our coalition and our website After Downing Street. I want to talk a little about the media right now, and save Congress for another time.
Back in May we very quickly developed a highly trafficked website and a community of hundreds of bloggers, led by the Big Brass Alliance, intent on pressuring the corporate media to acknowledge the existence of the Downing Street Memos and report on their significance. By mid-June 2005, we had made the Downing Street Memos a front page story and a topic of conversation on the cable news shows. Some publications, notably the Washington Post, ran front page stories just days after editorializing that they would refuse to do so. Numerous media outlets, notably the USA Today, printed lists of excuses for their belated coverage. Others began coverage as if they had been covering the matter for weeks; an NBC talk show referred to "the famous Downing Street Memo" in that network's first mention of the matter.
By the end of June, though, the Downing Street Minutes were not a hot story any more. We have yet to achieve the level of endlessly repeated coverage that our media gives to a celebrity scandal involving sex. Although we came close in August when Cindy Sheehan corralled a herd of political reporters in Texas and refused to let them out to pasture until they'd bleated out a little bit of truth.
What Cindy did, and what we are all trying to do, is a tricky proposition. It amounts to helping the Romans to oppose the empire. Many of the Romans are not very clear on the concept of the empire's existence, and many others have been trained to believe it is a good thing. To persuade Americans to oppose the war on Iraq would seem to require persuading them that it is an act of great cruelty bringing horrible suffering to people, and that no greater good justifies it. On the first point, Americans have now largely grasped the idea that the war is bringing great suffering to military families in America. But they have yet to grasp that the war is causing great suffering to Iraqis and that Iraqis are human beings just the same as Californians or Pennsylvanians. (The tour of the US by Iraqi labor leaders helped, but not enough.) On the second point, a majority of Americans have now come to recognize that the justifications Bush gave for the war were lies, and relatively few Americans have accepted various new justifications for continuing the war.
A few weeks ago, the Christian Science Monitor published an article with the headline "Why Iraq War Support Fell So Fast," which speaks to how the work of exposing the lies and demanding accountability is key to ending the war. After some historical background, the article comes to the point: "John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University, links today's lower tolerance of casualties to a weaker public commitment to the cause than was felt during the two previous, cold war-era conflicts. The discounting of the main justifications for the Iraq war - alleged weapons of mass destruction and support for international terrorism - has left many Americans skeptical of the entire enterprise."
In partial defense of Americans, but not of our President, it is important to understand that we are more ignorant than cruel, and that the media makes us ever more so. And while we engage in the same sort of cruelty at home that we export, many of us know not what we do. The United States has the greatest disparity of wealth among the wealthy nations, and as a result the most violent crime. But there is almost no coverage of poverty on our televisions, much less of its causes. Instead there is regular coverage of stock prices. And there are no images of murdered Iraqi children.
Even so, Americans are aware enough of the horrors of war, that we have to be lied to every time our government starts one.
In a survey of voters last November, the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, found that most Americans who got their news from the commercial TV networks held at least 1 of 3 fundamental "misperceptions" about the war in Iraq (and some held 2 or 3 of them):
-- that Iraq had been directly linked to 9/11
-- that WMDs had been found in Iraq
-- that world opinion supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Viewers of Fox News were the most misled. But strong majorities of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN viewers were also confused on at least one of these points. Among those informed on all 3 questions, only 23 percent supported Bush's war.
You'll recall that we had an election last November that was close enough to steal. It would have helped for the Democrats to run an anti-war candidate. But we also now know that the Vice President's Chief of Staff blocked an investigation that would likely have led to White House indictments prior to the election for crimes related to covering up war lies. He's been charged with Obstruction of Justice.
Between mid-March and late June of this year, according to ABC News and the Washington Post, the percentage of Americans who believe that the Bush Administration lied about the reasons for war jumped from 43 percent to 52, and later 55 percent. NBC News and the Wall Street Journal say 57 percent. As these numbers have risen, opposition to the war has followed a similar trajectory.
And various hot stories in the news, including Cindy Sheehan, Valerie Plame, and actions in Congress have brought the Downing Street Memos and other evidence of lies back in front of people again and again. While we originally argued that the US media needed to cover this matter because the British media was doing so, I've lately seen British activists and columnists arguing that the British media needs to cover the Downing Street Memo as well as the media in the US has done. Of course, neither nation's media outlets have done an adequate job, but I hope that we activists can continue this mutually beneficial tag-teaming in working the refs.
That's what the neocons in the US call their phony howling about the "liberal media." They're "working the referees" to push the media further and further to the right.
The US Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld this week accused news organizations of focusing on the deaths of U.S. troops while offering little context about the cause for which they died. But Rummy didn't explain what that cause was, and his remarks must have sounded coherent only to that dwindling minority of Americans who still believe in a 9-11 connection or weapons of mass destruction. (Even Fox News is only claiming that 19 percent of Americans now believe there are WMDs in Iraq. More Americans believe in space aliens.)
While we do not have the reach of television, we have tried to make the After Downing Street website a source of news about the war as well as about the lies that launched it. Some of the best material that we have posted has come from bloggers in Iraq and from Iraqi Americans and other Americans who have visited the country and learned from Iraqis what was really happening.
We would never have gotten anywhere were it not for our allies in the UK. When we persuaded the Democrats in Congress to hold hearings on the Downing Street Minutes, Reg Keys came over to speak. We owe a great debt to whistleblowers and reporters here. It may be that we even should be thanking your prime minister for preventing the bombing of Al Jazeera.
But where we are now looking to you most for leadership is in your efforts to impeach your prime minister for his role in the war.
Polls show that a majority of Americans want Bush impeached for lying about the war, and we have created a Political Action Committee that is funding congressional candidates who promise to support impeachment of Bush and Cheney. But the topic is taboo in the U.S. media and not a single current member of congress will say the word "impeachment."
We need an international alliance to work for the impeachment of not just Tweedledee but Tweedledum as well. Bush knowingly lied to congress about the gravest matter imaginable, with horrific results. The proper course of action in response to the commission of such a felony, as laid out by our Constitution, is impeachment. And impeachment proceedings will create a high-profile serious investigation that will eliminate any remaining credibility for the war, and with it any remaining resistance to ending it.
We could spend hours reading through Bush and Cheney's lies, but let me just take 10 more seconds to read a comment that Cheney made on a program called "Meet the Press." He was speaking about IAEA Director-
General Mohammed El-Baradei , who today is receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace:
"I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong," said Cheney, " . . . I think, if you look at the track record of the [IAEA] and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past."
That's what we want all Americans to say every time Bush or Cheney opens his mouth.