Last week’s decision by CBS to shuffle its expensive mini-series on former President Reagan to an obscure cable channel bodes ill for the nation’s future. Why? Because the network made the shift only after it received significant pressure from Republican Party operatives who didn’t like the way Reagan was portrayed. It would be one thing if such political strangling of America’s much-vaunted “free” press was an aberration, but unfortunately it has become the norm, not the exception, since Bush and company commandeered our country.
President Reagan, for those of us who lived through his administration during the decade of the ’80s, was no great leader. He was a Grade B movie actor who took his lines from 3 x 5 cards and delivered them with grandfatherly sincerity that some found loveable. The truth, however, is that his administration began in corruption and ended the same way.
Early on, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior James Watt and EPA head Ann Gorsuch decided they would turn America over to the polluters—and laws to the contrary be damned. Here in Montana, that meant putting the newly enacted Superfund law in neutral. Eventually, Watt was driven out and Gorsuch wound up going to prison—but not before the toxins they were supposed to be cleaning up took their deadly toll on humans and the environment.
A little later in Reagan’s term, a particularly nasty episode took place wherein our military was caught illicitly trading arms to Iran and using the money to fuel armed insurgencies in Central America. This scummy little operation, which came to be known as the Iran-Contra Scandal, eventually took out top-level operatives and threatened Reagan’s presidency. But then the Soviet Union collapsed, bankrupted by its half-century arms race with the U.S., and all the Republicans want us to remember about Ronald Reagan is that he was in the White House when the Berlin Wall came down. In their version of history, Reagan, the “Great Communicator,” won the Cold War.
A decade and a half later, CBS dumps millions into researching, writing, and producing a mini-series, only to have the big Repub thumb come down and crush it into obscurity. Given the lessons of the past, it shouldn’t be surprising that many of the same hawks associated with the Iran-Contra Scandal during Reagan’s presidency are now running the Bush presidency, and now, as then, have no problems whatsoever with strangling freedom under the ironic guise of protecting it.
This week, America will get to watch the Jessica Lynch story on the tube and pick up her ghost-written biography in book stores. Here again, a truly free press would toss the entire episode out the window for the manufactured military propaganda that it is. We all remember those graphic scenes, captured for us on camera in night-vision green, of brave soldiers kicking in doors to “rescue” young Jessica. Only later did we learn, and not from our military or government, that the whole thing was staged. There were no hostile Iraqis there during the “rescue,” Jessica Lynch did not “go down fighting,” shooting to her last bullet, and she was not stabbed or shot. Her injuries, according to the Iraqi doctors who undoubtedly saved her life, were consistent with a vehicle accident.
Her claims to the contrary, the doctors who treated Lynch say she came in fully clothed and without any sign or evidence of having been raped. Yet even now, you would be hard-pressed to discern the truth of the matter. America, it seems, needs heroes to maintain our current military insanity—even if we have to manufacture them from the ground up.
Some pundits are calling this latest round of mass-marketed fiction a clear sign of the military takeover of our media. And indeed, there is much to bolster their claims. In Vietnam, the war correspondents and photographers were out in the field with the soldiers, ducking bullets and portraying the ugly reality as they saw it. Today, the media is “embedded” within (or is that “in-bed-with”) the military, kept conveniently away from what the generals and politicians don’t want shown, and force-fed those images and stories the same manipulators think best suit their purposes.
The difference is astounding. Today, we would never see the famous picture of the tiny Vietnamese girl, running down the street naked and screaming from the napalm burns covering her body. That image would never have made it through today’s military censorship; it would never have been taken. You can rest assured that embedded photographers and correspondents would have been kept far from the scene.
The same goes for the other grim realities of war—the dead and the maimed. During the Vietnam War, the dead and wounded were reported on and shown to the American public. The dead in body bags and wounded soldiers in bloody stretchers were shown being loaded into choppers on television every night. The long lines of caskets being unloaded from transport planes likewise gave us a very real picture of the cost in human lives and suffering of that misbegotten war.
Today, the new Pentagon policy bans all such reportage. Although more than 7,500 soldiers have suffered grievous wounds in Iraq, few Americans are aware of the fact because our “free” press is banned from the areas and military hospitals where they are unloaded and treated. When the caskets come back, no one is allowed to film the grim finality. Unlike his predecessors in the White House, President Bush has refused to personally face the results of his ugly little war, preferring to stay hidden deep in his protective bubble of political and military fantasy.
They say “history is written by the victors,” and it will be interesting to see who writes the history of this benighted era in American politics. I have a hunch the truth, when it is written, will have to come from somewhere else—because our once-free press has been strangled by Bush’s military and political directives.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.