Indie media strikes back 

Every policy failure of the Bush administration has been preceded by an equally visible, even more demoralizing collapse of media responsibility
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Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back
Amy Goodman and David Goodman
New York: $23.95
338 pages
Every policy failure of the Bush administration has been preceded by an equally visible, even more demoralizing collapse of media responsibility. As Amy Goodman and David Goodman point out in their latest book, Static, it’s not just the partisan hacks like Fox News who let us down. It’s the major networks, public-television stations, and even the so-called papers of record.

During the buildup to the Iraq War, for instance, The New York Times eagerly ran the front-page stories of Judith Miller, who gave top billing to the fabricated yarns of Ahmad Chalabi, who was on the Pentagon payroll at the time. Years later, the same outlet sat on news about the NSA’s wiretaps; holding the story allowed the White House to dodge a dangerous reelection bullet.

The Goodmans believe these breakdowns are symptoms of a larger crisis. The media has not just been failing to inform us; it is misinforming us. “Instead of learning from the media what is really going on,” they write, “we get static — a veil of distortion, lies, omissions, and half truths that obscure reality.”

These sound like harsh partisan words, but the Goodmans’ compendium of the Bush White House’s role in this breakdown is damning from every angle. The Goodmans argue it’s not just the lies which are worrisome, but the methods. The Bush Administration has quelled debate by attacking the media, and even paying columnists to parrot its views.

In one well-known, but still unexplained, scenario, they allowed a former male escort posing as a reporter into the White House press corps more than 100 times. Meanwhile, New York Times columnist and administration critic Maureen Dowd has had trouble getting a press pass.

These shenanigans are not new to Washington. The Goodmans wisely go out of their way to show how disinformation and propaganda have been a part of the White House playbook for years. Between the 1950s and 1970s, they remind us, “more than 400 American journalists secretly carried out assignments for the CIA.” Collaborators ran the gamut from CBS head Walter Paley all the way down to stringers looking for cash.

The difference now — and the reason why this book is important – is the Bush team has used disinformation to cover up policies that are not only unpopular: they’re illegal. From “extraordinary rendition” to torture to unwarranted wire tapping, the Bush White House has decided that it can decide which laws it obeys and which it does not.

It does not require a great deal of imagination to see where this slippery slope could lead. As Static powerfully reminds us, in order to stop ourselves from sliding, we need facts to grab onto. But to get real news we need media we can trust. After reading this book, Amy Goodman’s radio show, Democracy Now! looks like a good place to start.

John Freeman is president of the National Book Critics Circle.

More by John Freeman



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