things I felt like writing

the book

Let the Spin Begin
28 October, 2001

Now I'm getting really angry.
      Yesterday, I read a Los Angles Times article titled "New Sense of Impatience is Emerging," by Ronald Brownstein, identified as a political writer. The article was not on the editorial page; it was on page A11. I point that out because it began this way:
      Patience. That was the plaintive word Friday from Bush administration officials on all fronts as they sought to explain disappointing developments in the struggle against anthrax at home and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
      The article was studded with phrases like "increasingly skeptical questions"; "patience seems to be eroding"; "sharpening concern"; "new revelations"; and "officials plainly scrambled to catch up." There was an "unidentified Democratic senator" who was quoted as saying, "There are some questions lurking around for certain." Reporters were said to have asked a defense department spokesperson if the United States was "bogged down" in Afghanistan. The article ended by pointing out that while we the American public are still willing to be patient, our "patience won't be limitless."
      Don't speak for me, Mr. Brownstein, okay? I'm willing to wait as long as it takes. My patience is limitless. Oh, and by the way, as of this writing, the American military campaign has been underway for THREE WEEKS, you bozo. You jerk. It's a little early to be trying to stir up hysteria.
      See, I always forget that hysteria sells. When you have a ratings-driven media, the reporters are going to spin everything to crank up the most fear because that sells newspapers and encourages people to watch news shows. The article by Mr. Brownstein was written to make the readers think one thing and one thing only--We're fucking up again! We're botching it! Oh dear oh dear!
      Look at the words he chose: "plaintive"; "revelations"; "scrambled." It makes the president and his administration seem like a bunch of lying, scuttling rats, doesn't it? Reporters and commentators are spinning this crisis to make you think that Bush lied to us by telling us that it was going to be a breeze to destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network and punish the Taliban for supporting them. Well, I have a good memory. I remember perfectly well that Bush and Dick Chaney and Colin Powell and everybody else said that this would take a long, long time. Years, maybe. They were also very clear that it would be a very hard campaign. So I'm not swayed by the spin. I'm just angry that people are adding to the overall sense of uncertainty in order to make money.
      Another thing that absolutely disgusts me about the current state of reporting is the agendas that warp everything. I'm not referring to the so-called liberal bias that conservatives are always whining and thundering about; I mean the knee-jerk adversarial position that self-important journalists take to demonstrate their nonexistent "objectivity." I'm sorry, but I don't see objectivity, not when a major newspaper prints articles that use such loaded words as "plaintive" and "scrambled." That's not reporting; that's editorializing. We depend on the media for our information, but we can't trust it. Since we can't really trust the government either, we're in a bind.
      In today's L. A. Times, there's a piece about the "growing" peace movement centered around colleges in Massachusetts. The writer, Elizabeth Mehren, tells us that Vietnam War era peace organizations such as The War Resisters League and the Fellowship of Reconciliation are back in the spotlight because they're relevant again, and a draft counseling center has opened in Northampton, I guess to help the kids get their bottoms to Canada if they're called to serve. It doesn't surprise me. I spent some time in Northampton and Amherst, and I was shocked by the conformity of thought implied by the clothes, posted flyers, and scheduled events. After September 11, the faculty and students of the schools I'd visited took exactly the position that I predicted they would.
      The thing is, what in God's name does the current crisis have to do with the Vietnam War? It's like comparing a Big Mac to a cuckoo clock. I suppose that since a lot of activists and their mentors are absolutists, all war is the same to them. War is bad. The spin in Massachusetts is that while everybody there condemns the September 11 terrorist attacks, they equally condemn the American military campaign in Afghanistan. This is utter garbage to me. Equating what happened at the World Trade Center to what's being done in Afghanistan shows a breathtaking inability to reason. I've heard a lot of people say that dissent is to be applauded because that's the American way, it proves what a great country we are, but dissent for dissent's own sake isn't anything except a trendy pose. It's group-think.
      In yesterday's Times, there's a quote from a Pakistani Muslim on his way to Afghanistan to help the Taliban:
      "We are obligated to kill everyone who obeys Jews and Christians and disregards Muslims[.]"
      Here's some graffiti seen near the Afghan-Pakistani border:
      "It is your duty to kill."
      "Arms are the jewelry of pious Muslims."
      What more do these people have to do or say to convince you that they're serious about destroying the West? I'm going to say something very harsh here: I believe that a lot of the peace activists are so patronizing of non-Caucasians that they don't see the terrorists as a threat, they see little brown-skinned men wearing funny turbans and nightgowns and screeching "Al-ham balla maba al-halam!" They see them as poor little harmless doe-eyed victims of the terrible white oppressors. That's the spin. Because of it, the mostly well-intentioned youngsters out there are now protesting the very actions that are intended to save their lives. I don't see antiwar protesters as "traitors." I think most of them are idealistic but woefully ignorant, and I believe that they're being manipulated by older people who have personal, political, and social agendas.
      When I was in Northampton, I had dinner with a college professor and his wife and daughter. The daughter was a student at the university where her father taught. She and I ended up discussing the recent presidential election, in which she had voted for Ralph Nader. I almost never discuss politics because I'm apolitical, but since she asked me, I told her that I'd voted for Al Gore.
      "But he voted against women!" she said.
      "What do you mean, voted against women?"
      "He voted against women!"
      "When? How? In what way?"
      "I read an article that said he voted against women, so I could never vote for someone like that."
      "Where'd you read that?"
      "In an American Socialist Party newsletter."
      I tried to explain that there's something called a "stealth rider" that's sometimes attached to bills being presented to Congress. If you want to vote to give money to flood victims, for example, somebody in the opposing political party might then amend the flood relief bill to include money for the antiballistic missile system or abstinence-only programs in high schools or funding for perverted performance artists or whatever. It's great for your political opponents because if you vote to pass the flood relief bill, you'll also be voting to fund programs with which you disagree. If you disagree strongly enough with those programs, you might not vote for the flood relief bill until it's amended again to get rid of the stealth rider, but now your opponents can announce that you voted against providing relief funds for flood victims.
      This young woman had never heard of such a thing, and she didn't care. All she knew was that Gore voted against women. And her college professor father just sat there and stared out the window as if he were waiting for her to shut up. So I'm not surprised that people in Massachusetts are chanting, "One, two, three, four, we don't want your racist war" and "George Bush, you can't hide, we charge you with genocide." I'm not surprised that people let their brains get addled. People want to belong. They want purpose in their lives. Plus, it's too hard to try and think things through when they're as complicated and awful as this. It's much easier to shout "Racism! Genocide!" The problem is those words have been tossed around so much that they barely carry any currency anymore. The fact that they're being applied to the American military campaign in Afghanistan proves my point. The present-day peace protesters are not only ill-informed, they're too late. I don't think people are really bothered if you call them racists. They sort of laugh at it now because it usually comes from a cartoonishly stereotypical granola muncher or screamy "community activist" with a shady background.
      When you spin things long and hard enough, you lose track of what you said and what's really going on. You get confused. The same people who decried our involvement in the Gulf War against Iraq are now saying that we didn't go far enough and take Saddam Hussein out. Of course, they won't tell you that we we were worried that his removal from power would destabilize the region by encouraging the Kurds in northern Iraq to try and declare an independent Kurdistan with the Kurds in Turkey, and the Shiites in southern Iraq would try to merge with Shiite Iran, which could lead to a region-wide war in which Turkey, the rump state of Iraq, and Iran would be involved, and then somebody would use the chaos as an excuse to attack Israel, and Israel has nukes, so the body count would be astronomical. Letting Saddam stay in power was seen as the only real choice. Maybe it was the wrong decision, but it made sense at the time. It didn't happen in a vacuum.
      Also, the same people who are quoting Ghandi's "an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" are also saying that Islamic fundamentalist terrorists become suicide bombers because they have no other way to get their point across. Once again, the bar of human decency is set lower for Muslims and Arabs. How many children did Ghandi's followers blow up in pizza parlors and discos? Why do some people continue to expect the worst from Muslims and Arabs? It has to be because they don't see Muslims and Arabs as civilized humans quite capable of choosing alternatives to mass murder.
      Spin is dishonest and dangerous. It's propaganda. What I'm reading in American newspapers is no different from the crap that the Egyptian, Pakistani, Sudanese, Syrian, Jordanian, and Saudi newspapers are spreading about how Jews destroyed the World Trade Center to blame it on Muslims and launch a global war against Islam. People react to spin. That's why thousands of Pakistani teenagers with rifles are heading into Afghanistan, where they'll end up dead. That's why some Americans still refuse to believe how much danger we're in; they might end up dead too. That's why ethnic strife, class warfare, misogyny, and religious persecution go on and on and on and on and on and on.
      Propaganda and spin--lies--got us into this mess in the first place, so all you reporters and professors and talk show hosts and commentators and news analysts with your little agendas should be ashamed of yourselves. That's a quaint phrase almost never used anymore, but I don't care.
      You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You make me sick.
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