22 April 2008

With One Voice

The striking revelation on Sunday by the New York Times of the recruiting, briefing and deploying of retired military officers into the media to promulgate the Pentagon's version of the Iraq war is staggering in many respects. I would like to concentrate on one aspect of the story that stands as an example of dangers to our country that its founders warned us against. Writing in The Federalist No. 10, James Madison wrestled with the problems inherent in the natural outbreak of factions with differing interests and the inherent struggle between factions with differing views.

Madison starts with a definition of faction:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
He then goes on to state that there are two possible approaches to dealing with the difficulties inherent in factions:
There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects.

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

A strong argument can be made that George W. Bush has employed both of these approaches to removing causes of faction when enforcing his policies in the United States. The destruction of civil liberties as seen in suspension of habeas corpus, illegal warrantless wiretapping and torture, although clothed as tools in the war on terror, undoubtedly also have served to reduce open expressions of dissent.

The New York Times article, however, is an example of Bush's efforts to "give every citizen the same opinions". The drive to have only one opinion expressed is a hallmark of Bush's presidency. In October, 2005, Nick Turse, writing at TomDispatch.com, told us of "the seemingly endless and ever-growing list of beleaguered administrators, managers, and career civil servants who quit their posts in protest or were defamed, threatened, fired, forced out, demoted, or driven to retire by Bush administration strong-arming." He called this list The Fallen Legion and it can be viewed here at CommonDreams.org. That list is undoubtedly much longer now.

With the Fallen Legion as backdrop, it is interesting to look at the New York Times' description of the incident known as The Generals' Revolt:

The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.

How is it that none of these retired officers who came out against the handling of the war were employed as military analysts by the networks? Glenn Greenwald reports today that "in CNN's case, contrary to the gist of its denials to the NYT, it actually seemed to be a source of pride that the military analysts they were using were explicitly approved of by the Bush administration."

That brings us full circle to how the Bush Administration has achieved a news media that speaks with one voice. The Pentagon recruits and informs retired military officers who then are "chosen" from lists provided by the networks to be the "independent" analysts for discussion of the war. This does not explain just why the networks, or at least CNN, choose to "clear" their choices with the Pentagon. Do they fear consequences if they do not use approved analysts?

Despite these efforts by Bush to remove all dissent from his inner circle and those speaking for the Administration, we learn (via ThinkProgress) of a very interesting revelation by Tony Snow that Bush chooses his own voice over that of his advisers:

He praised Bush for increasing U.S. troop levels in Iraq despite widespread unpopularity for the war at home and abroad. He said 80 percent of Bush's advisers opposed last year's military surge in the nation, which still faces an uncertain future.

"Everybody was telling him, 'You're crazy, don't do this,'" Snow said. "You get the chills He's really unafraid to take the hits if he thinks he's doing the right thing."

I get chills for another reason. I think Madison knew that someday George W. Bush would be our president when he said (again in The Federalist No. 10) "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." Let us hope that the next person at the helm is enlightened enough to realize that the very liberties our country cherishes so much come with a diversity of voices.

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