This letter to the doyenne of US reporters continues yesterday's critical
look at today's American media.
The introduction also makes a lot of sense. And, do maximize the image for
decent reading (big square on
the upper right.) -Ed
I apologize for the length of the following forward, but sometimes I
think that it takes a good piece of journalism to demonstrate what is
needed by Pacifica. We are discussing what journalistic or ideological
"stance" should be adopted by Pacifica. To me, this article says it
all. It demonstrates the wide swath of critical journalism that is left
almost completely fallow by the pusillanimous corporately-owned and
monopolized media. It is here that Pacifica should be plowing the
ground. It is left to us, and we continue to ignore it for the most
part, with a few well-known exceptions. I do not exaggerate when I say
that devoting at least half of Pacifica's drive-time (daytime)
programming to these issues would not be too much. If we did so, we
could pull in a dedicated listening public who are currently stuck with
right-wing talk shows that only tease them about these issues. We could
go for the jugular. We COULD openly challenge the official US version
of 911, of the need for the "Patriot Act" and the continued detention
without due process of over 1,000 Muslims on the East Coast, and the
legal gutting of Muslim charitable organizations here in Texas and
elsewhere by the Feds. All of this demands our highest concern,
attention and airtime. It is for Pacfica to probe and challenge where
the mainstream media fear to tread. What is stopping us? That is what I
would like to hear some discussion about. That is where, despite our
vaunted victory, we seem to have made so little progress since the days
of the hijacked PNB.
'Open Letter To Helen Thomas - Where Are Those AWOL Skeptics?
By George Lewandowski Content Director
June 22, 2002
Helen Thomas is a syndicated columnist for the Hearst chain of
newspapers. She served fifty-nine years as a UPI reporter and a White
House correspondent. She recently published a column in which she
referenced the 1972 Watergate scandal that toppled President Nixon and
she claimed, among other things, that "There is much more skepticism
today, not only from journalists, but also from the American people, who
desperately want to believe in their leaders. That is the sad legacy of
the Watergate scandal."
Dear Ms. Thomas:
You recently wrote a column ("30-year-old scandal still affects us") in
which you make the puzzling assertion that Nixon's fall from grace "was
a wake-up call for journalists. Never again would they take a
president's word at face value."
I won't divulge a lady's age Ms. Thomas, but any journalist who has
attended the press conferences of eight different presidents, is old
enough to know better. A skeptical, questioning, suspicious press corps,
if it existed today, would be a healthy change, not a "sad legacy."
Pardon me for speaking frankly, but I was alive and well, devouring
daily newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times
during the days before and after Watergate. I remember the days when the
Gulf of Tonkin incident, which of course we now know to have been faked,
was reported as fact, without question, by a most gullible and
cooperative press corps.
I also remember when our president, sweating under the hot lights of the
TV cameras, could see the "light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam,
and no reporter questioned his vision or asked him to define "light."
I remember when every Vietnamese villager who was instantly converted
into a running, screaming human torch by U.S. napalm was later
identified as a "dead Communist." The press adopted this simplistic
labeling system, as if they had interviewed each of the dead Vietnamese
concerning his or her understanding of Marxist-Leninist philosophy. Such
interviews would have been tricky since so many of the incinerated
bodies belonged to infants too young to have mastered any language.
For some reason, the bodies of 50,000 dead GIs were identified, not by
their presumed ideology (capitalists), but by their nationality -
American. Perhaps U.P.I. reporters found it emotionally difficult to
interview fatally wounded GIs about their personal allegiance to various
theories presented in Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." Anyway, the
Nixon years were not a high water mark in U.S. journalistic standards.
They were days of insidious double standards, employed by compliant
writers to create mind-numbing propaganda.
Nixon's faithful press corps never exhibited any skepticism about the
sanity of sending an army of uniformed soldiers, armed with bullets but
with no consistent set of principles, to kill an ideology. In
retrospect, the "war on Communism" looks downright cerebral compared to
our present "War on Terrorism." At least in the late 1960's there
actually were some foreign demons who identified themselves as
"Communists." Who, among our rapidly expanding list of current villains
identifies himself as a "terrorist"? The arbitrary labeling is left up
to our chief executive, and the press never asks for any working
Please explain what has changed since Watergate. What has changed since
those days when the Fifth Estate repeatedly demonstrated a cowardly lack
of integrity in order to appear docile and patriotic?
Which particular "presidential word" is no longer "taken at face value"
as you assert in your column? It certainly is not the word "terrorist."
Nor is it the word "extremist," nor "radical," nor "fundamentalist," nor
"religious cult," nor "defend," nor "war," nor "rogue state," nor
"evil," nor "terrorist infrastructure," nor "security alert," nor
"self-defense," nor "smaller government," nor "smart sanctions," nor
"patriotism," nor "freedom and democracy," nor "weapons of mass
destruction," nor "peaceful," nor "right to life," nor "the rule of
law," nor "security," nor "conservation," nor "pollution," nor "private
enterprise," nor any of the other thousands of words which perform
forced labor in Bush's Orwellian propaganda factory.
These words are all being tortured to death by politicians and
journalists who pretend to be ignorant of their historical and literal
Bush uses words in bizarre new ways every day but the dewy eyed White
House correspondents never get inquisitive enough to ask him, "what do
you mean when you use that word in that way?"
They never ask,"What do you mean, for instance, when you call Ariel
Sharon a man of peace? What is the meaning of the word 'peace' when used
to describe a man who turns his rifles and fires upon BBC journalists
who dared to photograph and report some details of his armored assaults
against civilian populations?"
By the way, why is it no longer permissible for the press to call a
bloody assault against unarmed civilians a "massacre"? Instead, all
reporters have agreed to refer to such mechanized homicide as
"incursions" or "mopping up." The latter phrase probably originated in
the South Pacific where the enemy was actually armed and capable of
fighting back. This term from some Tidy Bowl commercial is currently
pressed into duty to help the propaganda team sprinkle a fresh clean
fragrance over piles of rotting corpses in Jenin.
Words do matter, Helen, and a real journalist would ask for precise
meanings. Words describe our intentions and enable us to evaluate our
The current ruler of the "free world" (whatever that phrase means) has
used volumes of unchallenged "presidential words" to declare his war
against some vague notion of "evil" without offering any definitions or
explaining any principles by which we grownups could measure the
consistency of his policies or the morality of his actions.
We can't possibly criticize his results because he describes his goals
in such childish and simplistic terms that any action, even the
obliteration of a peasant village, can be construed as fitting the
objective of "destroying evil." Any village so reduced to rubble might
easily have once contained a naughty something or someone who could
conveniently be called "evil," if an excuse for the slaughter of
civilians was ever requested by the press.
Of course New York City is also a village where bad people have been
known to set up residence from time to time. Some of New York's drug
lords and organized gangsters could even be called "evil" by polite
society. Does New York City thus fit the new presidential definition of
"terrorist infrastructure" and "evil"?
There was a very low level of skepticism in 1972, but that level has
dropped even lower today. If Nixon were still alive and if he called for
an unending war against an unnamed "bad ideology," located in some
unnamed "bad place," today's reporters would politely decline to even
ask for the name of the target country! Richard must be rolling in his
grave, jealous of the press latitude now afforded his successor in word
So, dearest Helen, Grand Dame of the White House press corps, veteran of
so many presidential briefings, where is the "skeptical press" that you
assure us is our legacy from Watergate? Are these wonderfully skeptical
reporters hidden deep inside Mystery Mountain with Bush's "Shadow
Government," scouring their notebooks for evidence of presidentially
The private muttering that takes place among reporters and columnists,
in their favorite watering holes, hardly qualifies as professional
When I survey the current crop of journalists, I see a fawning herd of
patriotic but stupid stenographers, decorating White House Press
Secretary Ari Fleischer's fantasy prose with red white and blue bunting.
The pressroom flag flappers dutifully report the Generalissimo's "great
victory over evil" in Afghanistan, as if something had actually been
accomplished, something besides the replacement of one gang of warlords
with a more pipeline friendly team of tyrants.
The press casually refers to this "victory in Afghanistan" as if that
new oil pipeline had always been the publicly declared justification for
Bush's war, and therefore it is the only appropriate measure of his
On June 15th, the New York Times published the following report:
"Classified investigations of the Qaeda threat now under way at the
F.B.I. and C.I.A. have concluded that the war in Afghanistan failed to
diminish the threat to the United States, the officials said. Instead,
the war might have complicated counterterrorism efforts by dispersing
potential attackers across a wider geographic area."
Nevertheless, no major newspaper, not even the New York Times, which
carried this candid confession, is about to cease and desist from making
repetitious references to the "victory in Afghanistan," as if it were a
reality that had been observed, measured, and verified by objective
reporters. The big lie gets endless front-page repetition while the
truth is only an occasional footnote at the bottom of page ten.
Please Helen, why don't your skeptical comrades question any of what
Norman Solomon calls the unspoken "underlying assumptions" of the
pabulum that sleepy stenographers are spoon-fed every morning in Ari's
Day Care Center? "Open wide," says Uncle Ari. "Here comes another
whopper." Here come "pre-emptive strikes," and "nuclear first strike
options," and "unlawful combatants".
If Watergate left the press corps overly skeptical, as you claim, then
why do they not fly overseas, like real reporters, like British writer
Robert Fisk for instance, to see for themselves, and to ask other people
what they see when they look toward the West? Do foreign victims of
oppression and starvation see an America that is poised to lead the
world out of its present darkness or do they only see a giant bully,
blinded by irrational rage, flailing against noises in the night with
his nuclear tipped sword?
Why do your skeptical colleagues not ask our Commander in Chief to
reveal his universal standards for measuring moral behavior? What is the
moral yardstick by which the president of Iraq was once measured and
declared to be a valuable ally to the "free world," while he was gassing
Kurds and killing Iranians? Later, when that same murderous cretin
became an "evil doer who killed his own people," was this because the
man had changed, or was it because the yardstick had changed?
What are the undefined universal standards by which all men are to be
judged, and some, like Saddam, are found to be "evil," condemned to die
at the hands of American might, while other butchers, like those in
Bogotá receive a presidential pat on the back and a fresh shipment of
What about the once evil Nelson Mandela? How did he redefine himself,
after years of official condemnation as a "terrorist," an "extremist,"
and a "radical" into a national hero? He was convicted, by America's
apartheid ally, of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government
by force. Now he is a "freedom fighter." When will the enemies of our
other apartheid allies become "freedom fighters"? What definitive
dictionary does the press corps use for reference, when slapping on such
Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs think tank in
Washington, says, "What is dangerous now is that the anti-terrorist war
has no standards and no criteria. It is whatever the Bush administration
says it is at any given moment." (The Guardian, May 7th 2002) Why aren't
our own reporters asking any questions about these standards, Helen?
How can we possibly go to war against "evil" without even attempting to
pin down the constantly shifting standard of official morality? Only a
skeptical press corps can pose such questions to our Commander. I never
hear them trying.
Why are nuclear bombs labeled as "weapons of mass destruction" only
until they have been decorated with stars and stripes, or with the
bright blue Star of David? Why is anthrax a "defensive weapon" when the
spores are cultivated in a lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland, but the very
same spores become "weapons of mass destruction" if they turn up in Cuba
These are the types of questions that would be asked by a Watergate
savvy press corps. I never hear them being asked by our "skeptical"
In September 1939, Adolf Hitler took to the airwaves to declare
Germany's "right to defend herself," then he sent the Luftwaffe to
"strike back" against my Polish ancestors who were still on horseback.
With tanks and planes, he struck "pre-emptively" against the Polish
cavalry. Now we have a president who talks of "pre-emptive" wars and
incarcerations. Can you and your colleagues really think of no skeptical
questions to pose to our president about this vague notion of
Like Bush, Hitler also enjoyed the pleasant company of an adoring German
press corps which never questioned words like "striking back" or
"terrorist." In return, Adolf, who incidentally loved his obedient dog,
always provided his patriotic journalists with good theater, with "good
visuals" as Uncle Ari would put it.
Where are those post Watergate newspapers which dare to ask basic
questions about international morality? All I see are shallow debates
about tactics. Your colleagues love to hold round table discussions
about what methods would represent the most efficient use of American
military hardware to further suppress the Columbians, and the
Palestinians, or to wipe out the Cubans and the Iraqis.
Reporters think it impolite to ask their president why the mightiest
nation on Earth needs to finance the destruction of such impoverished
and oppressed people. This is like German papers debating how best to
beat down the Poles. Should the Luftwaffe waste precious ammunition on
the horses, or just use "smart bullets" to neatly behead the riders?
The unquestioned assumption behind such silly debates is that might
makes right. Our current crop of post Watergate sycophants loves to
debate the "how" but never dares to ask "why."
"The sad legacy of the Watergate scandal," as you called it, is not a
skeptical press, but a paralyzed press. Having accidentally exposed one
petty tyrant for the amoral fraud that he was, today's timid press
doesn't want to make that mistake again. "For the good of the nation"
they bite their lip. Thirty years after Watergate, America is
desperately in need of a healthy dose of skepticism.
Please tell us where we can find some, Helen.
George Lewandowski encourages your comments:
YellowTimes.org encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or
broadcast provided that any such reproduction must identify the original
Internet web links to http://www.YellowTimes.org
(See also this excellent story:
Have you heard
about this on Pacifica? Why not???)
"Amongst the fascistic layers that dominate within Likud, any prospect
not founded on a campaign to annihilate immediately the Palestinians is
tantamount to treachery."
-"What the Likud vote reveals about Israel's real intentions" By
Chris Marsden 18 May 2002