Tag Archives: Lies

Whatever Happened to Basic Standards at Newspapers?

It’s just like the Ukraine story that failed to impeach Donald Trump. Anonymous sources tell major newspapers that second hand or thirdhand source is based in the intelligence community, which is tasked with lying, that Russia may be paying bounties to the Taliban in order to kill United States troops in occupied Afghanistan. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but why pay attention to a story that has no evidence or sourcing?

The Media Is down in the Gutter with Trump

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            How you respond to an attack defines you. Keep your cool, remain civil and others will respect the way you handle yourself, even if they disagree with you. Lower yourself to your assailant’s level and—at best—spectators will dismiss your dispute as a he-said-she-said between two jerks.

            So much has been written about Donald Trump’s debasement of rhetorical norms and his gleeful contempt for truth that there is no need to cite examples or quote studies that count the prolificacy of his lies. Trump’s attacks on journalists—“fake news,” mocking a disabled reporter’s body movements—are contemptible. They undermine citizens’ trust in news media, a serious menace to democracy and civil society.

            Less noticed is how major news organizations, incensed by the president’s trolling, have debased themselves to Trump’s moral level.

            American journalism used to adhere to strict standards. Though impossible to achieve, objectivity was paramount. At bare minimum, reporters were expected to project an appearance of political neutrality.

            Truth only derived from facts—verifiable facts. Not conjecture and never wishful thinking. Sources who wanted to be quoted had to go on the record. Anonymous sources could flesh out background but could not be the entire basis for a story.

            From the start of Trump’s run for president—before the start—Democratic-leaning media outlets abandoned their own long-cherished standards to declare war on him. Every day during the 2016 campaign The New York Times led its coverage with its forecast of Hillary Clinton’s supposed odds of defeating Trump. Setting aside the fact of the Times’ embarrassing wrongness—the day before Election Day they gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning—it cited odds rather than polls. Maximizing a sense of Clintonian inevitability was intended to demoralize Republicans so they wouldn’t turn out to vote. The two figures might suggest the same thing. But 85-15 odds look worse than a 51-49 poll.

            It’s downright truthy. And when truthiness goes sideways it makes you look really, really dumb. 51-49 could go either way. 85-15, not so much.

            The impeachment battle marks a new low in partisanship among media outlets.

            After Trump’s surprise-to-those-who’d-never-been-to-the-Rust-Belt win, outlets like the Times declared themselves members of a so-called “Resistance.” Opinion columnists like Charles M. Blow pledged never to “normalize” Trumpism; what this has meant, ironically, is that Blow’s essays amount to rote recitations on the same topic: normally, about the argument that Trump sucks. Which he does. There are, however, other issues to write about, such as the fact that we are all doomed. It would be nice to hear Blow’s opinions about taxes, militarism and abortion.

            Next came years—years!—of Robert Muellerpalooza. Russia, corporate media outlets said repeatedly, had “meddled” in the 2016 election. Vladimir Putin installed Trump; Hillary Clinton’s snubbing of her party’s 72%-progressive base had nothing to do with the loss of the most qualified person blah blah blah to an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame.

            Whatever happened to the journalistic chestnut: if your mother says she loves you, check it out? Russiagate wasn’t a news report. It was religious faith. Russia fixed the election because we, the media, say so, we say so because we were told to say so by politicians, who were told to say so by CIA people, whose job is to lie and keep secrets. No one checked out anything.

            What we knew and still know is that a Russia-based troll farm spent either $100,000 or $200,000 on Facebook ads to generate clickbait. Most of those ads were apolitical. Many were pro-Clinton. The company has no ties to the Russian government. It was a $6.8 billion election; $200,000 couldn’t have and didn’t move the needle.

            Anonymous Congressional sources told reporters that anonymous intelligence agents told them that there was more. The Mueller Report implies as much. But no one went on the record. No original or verifiable copies of documentary evidence has been leaked. The report’s numerous citations are devoid of supporting material. By pre-Trump journalistic standards Russiagate wasn’t a story any experienced editor would print.

            It was barely an idea for a story.

            Russiagate fell apart so decisively that Democratic impeachers now act like the Mueller Report—a media obsession for three years—never even happened.

            Speaking of impeachment, mainstream media gatekeepers are so eager to see Trump removed from office that they’re violating another cardinal rule of journalism: if it’s news, print it. The identity of the CIA “whistleblower” (scare quotes because actual whistleblowers reveal truths that hurt their bosses) who triggered impeachment over Trump’s menacing phone call to the president of Ukraine has been known in Washington, and elsewhere if you know where to look, for months.

            Federal law prohibits the government from revealing his identity, and rightly so. But it has leaked. It’s out. It’s news. Nothing in the law or journalistic custom prevents a media organization from publishing it. News outlets felt no compulsion to similarly protect the identity of Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden. So why aren’t newspapers and broadcast networks talking about it?

            “I’m not convinced his identity is important at this point, or at least important enough to put him at any risk, or to unmask someone who doesn’t want to be identified,” New York Times editor Dean Baquet said. So much for the people’s right to know. Why should subscribers buy a newspaper that doesn’t print the news?

            There is a because-Trump change in media ethics that I welcome. What’s suspect is the timing.

            Trump is the first president to get called out for his lies right in the news section. Great! Imagine how many lives could have been saved by a headline like “Bush Repeats Debunked Falsehood That Iraq Has WMDs.” A headline like “Slurring Sanders’ Numerous Female Supporters as ‘Bros,’ Hillary Clinton Lies About Medicare-for-All” could have nominated and elected Bernie and saved many Americans from medical bankruptcy.

            But all presidents lie. Why pick on Trump? His lies are (perhaps) more numerous. But they’re no bigger than his predecessors (see Iraq WMDs, above). Yet discussion of former presidents remains respectful and slavish as ever.

            I say, give coverage of Obama and other ex-presidents the same tone and treatment as the current occupant of the White House gets from the news media:

            “Wallowing in Corrupt Wall Street Cash, Obama Drops $11.75 Million on Gaudy Martha’s Vineyard Mansion Estate”

            “Ellen DeGeneres Sucks Up to Mass Murderer George W. Bush”

            “Jimmy Carter, First Democratic President to Not Even Bother to Propose an Anti-Poverty Program, Dead at TK”

            (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Impeachable/Not Impeachable

Democrats who allowed Republican presidents latitude on war crimes have decided to draw the line on defending Joe Biden from Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate the former vice president and his son.

Blue No Matter Who

Some Democrats say that they are “blue no matter who.” Trump, they say, is such an existential threat that they will vote for anyone who winds up as the Democratic nominee for president. But is it really wise to extend such a blank check to a party that has disappointed us so many times before?

If Politicians Don’t Promise Anything, They Can’t Be Accused of Breaking Their Promises

Some of the major Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential nomination still haven’t bothered to articulate cohesive policy promises, yet are receiving significant support and campaign contributions. Remember the old days, when politicians had enough respect for voters to lie to them?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: L.A. Times Lawyer to Court: “This is Not a Case About Quote/Unquote Truth”

Every defendant is entitled to a vigorous defense. That’s a basic principle of Western jurisprudence.

My belief in that precept was sorely tested by oral arguments in my defamation and wrongful termination case against The Los Angeles Times. It’s one thing for a lawyer to represent a distasteful client like the Times, whose crooked top management sold out its readers to the Los Angeles Police Department in a secret backroom deal. But when framing facts turns into outright lying in court, count me out.

I have great new lawyers. On July 14th, however, I was “between lawyers” because my previous ones had just dumped me and the scorched-earth Times defense team refused to grant me a delay so my new attorneys could get up to speed. So I was forced to represent myself pro se against a senior partner with three decades of experience as a courtroom litigator.

“Since the beginning of this case,” I opened, “the defense has tried to make this a complicated case about technicalities. In fact, it’s actually a very simple case.”

I went on to explain how, after a spotless six-year record as the paper’s cartoonist, the Times received a static-filled audio recording of unknown provenance from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Beck claimed the CD-R showed I’d lied in a blog post when I wrote that I was mistreated by a LAPD cop who’d arrested me for jaywalking.

I continued: “In fact, the audio did not show anything of the kind. In fact, the audio was obviously never listened to, because if they had, even if nothing else had happened, they would have been able to, in a quiet room with headphones, they would have been able to hear people arguing with the police officer. They would have heard phrases along the lines of, ‘Take them off. Take off his handcuffs,’ that sort of thing. The Times rushed to judgment. They operated extremely recklessly, negligently. They did not investigate the audio. They did not give me any benefit of the doubt whatsoever even though the doubt was 100 percent.”

Times lawyer Kelli Sager was unimpressed.

She is paid to be unimpressed.

“So Mr. Rall has repeated a lot of the stuff that’s in the [filing] papers. But as we said in our reply [motion] and as the court ruled on the individual defendants’ motion already, this is not a case about, quote/unquote, ‘truth.’”

Um…what?

I am so naïve. We were in a courtroom. If the truth — sorry, the quote/unquote ‘truth’ — doesn’t matter in a court, what does?

The Times’ answer: technicalities. Bear in mind, the Times is a newspaper. Their job is to print the truth.
“That’s not the argument that we made in the SLAPP motion [stet], whether or not the statements that he’s complaining about were true or not,” Sager continued. “The Fair Report Privilege doesn’t need the court to adjudicate the truth. The Fair Report Privilege looks at whether the gist and sting of what the articles reported were from records of the LAPD statements made by people in the LAPD that were official statements and so forth.”

Translation of the Times’ defense: It doesn’t matter if the Times published lies and refused to retract. Under California’s anti-SLAPP law — which is abused by deep-pocketed corporations so they can libel poor individuals with impunity — the Times can write whatever it wants as long as it generalizes about something a policeman said in a police record. This, of course, ignores the existence of defamation and libel statutes.

Sager went on: “Whether the Times had a good motive or bad motive is irrelevant under the law.”

Not really. The Times claims that I am a public figure. If the court agrees, Sullivan v. New York Times, the 1964 case that redefined defamation law, would be pertinent: “The Court held that the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity).” When the Times published its two pieces about me, they knew that what they were publishing (that their audio showed I was a liar) was false and they didn’t care. Motive matters.

Oh, the lies! Like when Sager said: “So there is no dispute that the records came from the LAPD.”

An hour earlier, in the same hearing, in front of Sager, I had said:

“I dispute that these records were officially released by the LAPD. There is a declaration by the investigative reporter Greg Palast in that giant pile of paper next to you in which he says that he contacted the public information office of the LAPD and in no uncertain terms they denied ever having released the documents and the audio. And in fact, that they’re still in the evidence room over at the LAPD. So what we have here is a case of conflation; a cases of many lies of omission, some lies of commission. But one of the big lies of omission is that the L.A. Times is trying to pretend that Chief Beck is the LAPD. And that is no more true than President Trump is the United States government. The official records have never been released.”

How could she say there was no dispute?

Sager couldn’t argue the facts. So she pretended the facts didn’t exist.

You can read the whole transcript here.
You can support my fight for free speech here.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Donald Trump’s Other Lies: His Campaign Promises

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This week’s political coverage — probably next week’s too — will likely be dominated by deposed FBI director James Comey’s incendiary testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Trump’s “lies, pure and simple” are limited neither to the president’s claim that Comey’s FBI was “in disarray, that it was poorly led” nor his litany of falsehoods — most recently, that the mayor of London doesn’t care about terrorism and that Trump’s First 100 Days were the most productive of any president in history.

Comey’s lucid, Hemingway-tight testimony feels like the beginning of the end for this administration. Anything could happen, of course. But it feels overly optimistic to imagine this circus lasting another year.

If and when the obituary for Trump’s political career is written, his admirers will record his historic, meteoric rise. Indeed, Donald Trump was the most effective presidential campaigner of my lifetime: repeated what lines worked, ditched the ones that didn’t, mastered social media, ignored outdated dogma, tapped into voters’ long-ignored resentments, nailed the electoral college map, and did it all for pennies on the Hillary Clinton donor dollar.

True, the brilliant campaigner can’t govern. But that’s a story for another time.

His critics’ postmortems will emphasize that Trump’s brightly burning campaign rallies were fueled by lies: Obama was Muslim, Obama wasn’t born here, global warming is a Chinese hoax, illegal immigrants are streaming across the border (years ago they were, no longer), police officers are the real victims (as opposed to the numerous black men they shoot).

These lies are scandalous. They ought to be remembered. But we shouldn’t let them overshadow Trump’s biggest lie of all: that he would be different, outside the ideological box of the two parties.

“Trump meets the textbook definition of an ideological moderate,” Doug Ahler and David Broockman wrote in the Washington Post last December. “Trump has the exact ‘moderate’ qualities that many pundits and political reformers yearn for in politicians: Many of Trump’s positions spurn party orthodoxy, yet are popular among voters. And like most voters — but unlike most party politicians — his positions don’t consistently hew to a familiar left-right philosophy.”

Whiff!

Trump promised a hodgepodge ideology, a “pick one from column D, pick one from column R” Chinese menu that appealed to many voters whose own values don’t neatly adhere to either major party platform. Who cares about doctrine? Let’s do what works.

As president, however, that turned out to be a lie.

Trump has governed to the far right. In fact, on just about every issue you can think of, Donald Trump has governed as the most extreme far-right politician of our lifetimes, and possibly in the history of the Republican Party.

Candidate Trump criticized North Carolina’s “bathroom law” and said Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. President Trump rescinded the right of transgender students to use the school restroom of their choice.

Flip, flop, from somewhat to right-wing conservative, over and over and over again.

Candidate Trump lit up the GOP (and relieved not a few Democrats) by criticizing the stupid Iraq War and promising to put America First. President Trump’s cabinet of generals is bombing the crap out of Syria and asking Congress for a 10% increase in Pentagon spending.

Candidate Trump was all over the place on abortion rights. President Trump is trying to defund Planned Parenthood and appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing extremist who will likely cast the decisive vote against Roe v. Wade.

Candidate Trump promised bigger, better and cheaper healthcare for all Americans. Trumpcare will leave tens of millions of patients with no insurance whatsoever.

He even welched on his most controversial promise: to improve relations with Russia. Within a few months, he allowed that U.S.-Russian relations “may be at an all-time low.”

“Trumpism was never a coherent worldview, much less a moral code that anchors the president,” Graham Vyse wrote in The New Republic.

#Wrong!

Trumpism is extremely coherent and consistently extremist. Donald Trump turns out to be Ronald Reagan times ten, minus charm.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Long Before Trump, News Media Wallowed in “Alternative Facts”

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Most of the news media is at war with Donald Trump, and rightly so. First, journalists should always be at war with the governments they cover. Nonadversarial journalism isn’t journalism — it’s stenography. Second, Trump Administration officials’ refusal to even pretend to be interested in the truth, immortalized by Kellyanne Conway’s notorious praise of “alternative facts,” demands highly caffeinated contempt.

But let’s not forget an inconvenient truth. Pre-Trump, the watchdogs of democracy were mostly lapdogs, gently licking the blood-soaked hands of those who fed them: America’s political and corporate elites.

Media malpractice has been so sustained and widespread that it’s hard to know where to start. Opinion pages and cable news panel shows where no one to the left of Hillary Clinton is allowed? The abandonment of local news coverage? Massive social and economic upheavals ignored because they only afflict the poor and the middle-class-en-route-to-poor: the rusting of the Rust Belt, the meth and opioid epidemics, the replacement of good jobs by bad ones, the faking of low unemployment and inflation rates?

Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.

August publications like The New York Times have finally begun reporting that the president lied when he, you know, lied ­— as opposed to some weasel word like “misspoke” or counterquoting from an opposing politician. They’re even using “torture” to describe torture (instead of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). But that’s new, and it’s only because they’re corporate liberal and Trump is blogosphere crazy right-wing. Give them another Obama and it’ll be back to giving the people the business as usual.

The high body counts of war spotlight the staggering moral failures of a press that, day after day, fail to remind readers of fundamental truths that usually get suppressed from the outset.

For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.

Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.

After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.

Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan (the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.

Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.

That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.

Alternative facts abounded under Obama.

Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…?

The president called out as a liar? Better 240 years late than never.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Clinton Attacks Trump’s Lies…with Lies

Hillary Clinton’s strategists have identified Donald Trump’s innumerable lies as a major weakness in his campaign for president. They’re smart. Trump does lie a lot. He often gets caught lying. Voters want their next president to be trustworthy.

What the Clintonites and their allies in the media don’t seem to understand, however, is that if your attacks on your rival’s truthfulness are themselves based on lies, your efforts are doomed to failure.

In a recent op-ed column for the New York Times, Charles M. Blow wrote that Trump “is prone to making up his own set of false facts.” (Let’s leave aside the fact that, by definition, facts are true.)

“[Trump] wildly exaggerated the number of immigrants in this country illegally and ‘inner city’ crime rates,” Blow wrote. “He said President Obama founded ISIS and that the Obama administration was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that became the Islamic State.”

I like Blow and often agree with him — though, for the life of me, I will never understand why he was so hard on Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries and so willing to excuse Hillary Clinton’s dismal record on issues of concern to African-Americans and LGBTQ people. Now he appears to have embraced the two-party trap, using his platform to bash Trump. That’s his right, of course. What I find fascinating is Blow’s willingness to resort to untruth to make his case for Hillary. Is it really so difficult to focus on Trump and his well-documented lies?

Consider the above quote, for example. It’s true that Trump said that there were 30 million illegal immigrants in the United States. (The real number is closer to 11 million.) Follow Blow’s link, however, and you find that he said that in July 2015 – well over a year ago. Nowadays, he acknowledges the widely accepted 11 million figure, albeit with the caveat that government statistics shouldn’t be trusted because they are compiled by incompetents. “Our government has no idea. It could be three million. It could be 30 million,” he said recently.

Trump is right. It’s impossible to know for sure, although the range is probably narrower than his example. The point is, the Times and Charles Blow willfully misrepresented Trump’s position by dragging up an ancient quote, since corrected. It’s the kind of thing Trump does, and it’s sleazy.

Similarly, it’s a stretch to say that Trump “wildly exaggerated” inner-city crime rates. Politifact has backed away from their previous assessment that he had lied about an uptick in urban crime. It’s pretty clear that Trump was referring to the widely reported rise in crime in cities like Chicago. The media has seized upon his use of the modifier “record” in the phrase “record high”; while crime has indeed been higher historically, shootings have spiked in places like Chicago.

The Islamic State claim is particularly unworthy of a storied newspaper like the New York Times. When Donald Trump called President Obama “the founder of ISIS,” it’s obvious to everyone what he meant. He was being colloquial. He was speaking like a normal person. Obviously Obama wasn’t literally at the founding of ISIS. Trump meant that Obama’s policies – namely his financing and arming of the radical Islamic fundamentalists in Syria’s civil war, a faction of which became ISIS, and the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq which created a vacuum of power — effectively created the group as the monster that we know it as today. Many Middle East experts agree with this assessment, as do mainstream political observers, including some who oppose Trump. Blow’s nitpicking is unbecoming, inaccurate and so transparent as to be totally ineffectual.

Another Times columnist, Frank Bruni, recently repeated the oft-cited claim that Trump treasonously “encouraged” Russian hackers to steal U.S. government records and interfere with the election when he sarcastically suggested: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton State Department] emails that are missing.”

Give me a break. I’m not going to vote for The Donald. I think he’s dangerous. But everyone knows exactly what he meant. He wasn’t encouraging Russian hacking. He was making a point in a humorous way: that it’s ridiculous and frustrating that Secretary Clinton got away with deleting so many public records.

Why are Hillary’s people resorting to the exact same style of lying that they claim to criticize? I don’t know if it’s because the truth of some claim is of little concern to them compared to it possible effectiveness, or if it’s because they believe that the numerous legitimate criticisms of Trump — his breathtaking ignorance of history and politics, his glib encouragement of violence at his rallies, his inexperience in government, his authoritarian tendencies — are unlikely to get much traction.

What I do know is that, unlike Trump, they aren’t fooling anyone.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form.)

 

Bill O’Reilly and VA Head Macdonald: Poor Victims of Brian Williams Disease

Originally Published by ANewDomain:

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an essay for BreakingModern about the Brian Williams scandal, and how it reflects the sick cult of militarism that has ruled America and its media since 9/11. “You can tell a lot about a society’s values from its lies,” I said.

Williams’ attempt to portray himself as some kind of bad-ass journo-soldier was preceded by Hillary Clinton’s false claim of dodging enemy fire in Bosnia and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal’s lie that he had served in Vietnam.

Now two more public figures are being accused of ginning up accounts of courage in war zones.

FOXNews host Bill O’Reilly is fending off charges that he repeatedly bragged about dodging bullets during the Falklands war though he never came close to the war zone, having been confined by Argentine authorities to the capital of Buenos Aires. He is attempting to defend himself by saying he was caught in a riot there, where he was shot at by police or soldiers, but most of his fellow CBS veterans remember it differently.

O’Reilly, characteristically aggressive, threatened a reporter for the New York Times that he would retaliate if they weren’t fair to him: “I am coming after you with everything I have,” he said. “You can take it as a threat.”

Disclosure: I have appeared several times on “The O’Reilly Factor.” A statement by one of O’Reilly’s accusers sums up my experience: “Nobody gets a fair shake. just wants to beat them up, call them names.” I didn’t care about that, but I’m still annoyed about the fact that, when I went on his show at the beginning of the occupation of Afghanistan to predict that the war would go badly for the United States, he promised on the air — after mocking me and questioning my patriotism — to have me back later to see who was right.

I sure would have liked to have performed my little victory dance.

And now there is another apparent case of an armchair warrior pretending to have served in the military:  US Department of Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert MacDonald. He apologized yesterday for saying that he had served in the Army’s elite Special Forces.

In fact, MacDonald graduated from West Point in 1975 and served in the 82nd Airborne Division – hardly the resume of a wimpy pacifist unqualified to attempt to unravel the hot mess that his department has become.

As I wrote about Brian Williams, the O’Reilly and MacDonald cases tell us a lot more about contemporary American culture and the cult of militarism than they do about these two guys.

If it matters, Williams has been in harm’s way in war zones. O’Reilly has an enviable career as a successful TV and radio host, best-selling author and yes, a prehistory as a real journalist.

MacDonald really was a soldier, if not the exact kind of bad-ass super trooper he was compelled to present himself as.

The point is, why do these people, who are incredibly accomplished professionally and in some cases have demonstrated real courage under fire, feel tempted to puff themselves up in this particular way?

We have developed a martial culture to the exclusion of all else. You don’t see teachers thanked for their service on television – hell, you don’t really see teachers on television much at all. Nor nurses. Nor musicians. Nor playwrights. Nor artists. In the United States in 2015, the way that you get people to show you deference is to claim to have fought in one of America’s many optional wars of aggression or, failing that, to have gotten caught in the line of fire as a journalist, or perhaps a former hostage.

If you don’t see that there is something terribly wrong with that, odds are you are either part of the problem or one of its victims.