a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The “Zero Dark Thirty” interbranch torture propaganda war

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th December 2012

…followed by the highest-grossing propaganda effort in history?

The makers of “Zero Dark Thirty” may have just learned that there is such a thing as bad publicity.  Peter Bergen (CNN) reports:

On Wednesday, three senior U.S. senators sent Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures, a letter about “Zero Dark Thirty,” the much-discussed new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which described the film as “grossly inaccurate and misleading.”

The letter, co-signed by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and John McCain (R-AZ), states:

…We understand that the film is fiction, but it opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events” and there has been significant media coverage of the CIA’s cooperation with the screenwriters. As you know, the film graphically depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees and then credits these detainees with providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the Usama Bin Laden. Regardless of what message the filmmakers intended to convey, the movie clearly implies that the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Usama Bin Laden. We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect.

Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Usama Bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative….

LA Times reporters Zeitchik and Keegan cut to the chase as far as Hollywood is concerned:

…a bipartisan thumbs-down from Washington may dim the once-bright Oscar chances for Kathryn Bigelow‘s fact-based thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden“You believe when watching this movie that waterboarding and torture leads to information that leads then to the elimination of Osama bin Laden. That’s not the case,” McCain said on CNN’s “The Situation Room,” adding that torture had yielded false information from detainees. The former prisoner of war explained that he was speaking out because “movies, particularly by very highly credentialed producers, directors and cast, [do] have an effect on public opinion — not only in the United States but around the world.”

Zeitchik and Keegan continue, apparently not ironically,

The slam — and on a subject as provocative as torture — is part of a public relations nightmare in an industry where perception often trumps reality.

…by which they seem to mean criticisms from the news cycle trumping box office receipts and cinematographic artistry.  If so, karma may be a bitch in this case, given that “perception trumping reality” is what the movie makers (arguably) did to position their movie as an Oscar-bait, kinda-sorta-documentary “based on first-hand accounts of actual events,” mainly-sorta-blockbuster in the first place.

Yet there’s something that doesn’t sit well about the senators’ position here either.  I don’t agree with the Washington Post’s  David Ignatius, who clutches at his pearls and calls  the senators’ letter “intemperate” and suggests the senators’ position “sounds like censorship.”  As to the former: good grief, who cares?  But as to the latter: first, “sounds like” ain’t “is.”  Second, it doesn’t even sound like it: the senators suggest setting the record straight — no more — about the movie’s lack of veracity, as they rightly (I suspect*) see it, on the subject of the paltry role that CIA depravity ultimately played in locating Bin Laden.

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Zero Dark de Triomphe

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 14th December 2012

Roy Edroso takes on Glenn Greenwald’s recent piece on the upcoming “Zero Dark Thirty” movie, and rightly identifies several passages undermining Greenwald’s claim as “disingenuous” that his piece is all about critical reactions, and not about the movie itself.  Personally I feel like “so what?”   I think Greenwald’s basic point remains valid: many critics essentially said both “whoa, whutta movie! must see!” and “but ya know, it glorifies torture.” And that is indeed another data point for cultural Nate Silvers to add to their estimate of where our national handbasket is headed.

But yeah,  maybe Greenwald jumped the gun a bit by foolishly taking many reviewers at their word instead of waiting to see the movie for himself.  So did I, maybe: I set up a “Boycott Zero Dark Thirty” Facebook page before learning that Spencer Ackerman — a reporter for Wired who has seemed like a straight shooter over the years — argues the movie says that torture wasn’t the “silver bullet” but “the ignorant alternative”  to the kind of detective work that actually did find Bin Laden.

But this is the part of Roy’s piece I want to discuss:

“This is still more proof — as if more were needed — that you shouldn’t bring your political obsessions to the temple of art. It is both more personally edifying and more pleasing to the Muses to approach a work of art as a work of art, however obnoxious it may be to you on other grounds, than to approach it as a political phenomenon.”

Honestly, Roy, I’m sorry: baloney. I don’t have to see Zero Dark Thirty to know — OK, very, very strongly suspect — that it’s “art” the way the Roman Colosseum is art, or the Arc de Triomphe is art, or “Triumph of the Will” is art.

That is to say, OK, sure, it’s a kind of art — but it’s a kind serving to glorify the victories and rulers of the day and validate their people’s faith in them, and it’s fully intended to do so. Such art, unlike, say, “Little Miss Sunshine,” is therefore a political phenomenon too, and is completely fair game for political discussion. For that matter, so is a hell of a lot of the rest of the uplifting artstuff hanging on museum walls or flickering on screens for that matter: it’s what those who are good at saying well-compensated uplifting stuff say or have the power to say.

What is it Bigelow and Boal have the well-compensated power to say? E.g., how do Bigelow and Boal know what they think they know, how does it get that authentic, documentarian feel cinematic art consumers today crave?   Not just “the illusion of real time” in exciting night time raids but the ‘ripped from the headlines’ faithful[ness] to the material’?  Oh, right: they got it spoon fed to them — back when the prospective opening date was apparently advertised as October 12, not December 14.  Do the math.

Greenwald (and I for that matter) may have swung early and missed as far as ZD30 goes, but I’m betting there’s plenty there to hit. One way or the other, we’re on the cusp of our “pass the popcorn” phase of our national dialogue, such as it is, on torture.  Not every story at the intersection of art and politics is “Piss Christ” revisited, or about whether government should pay for controversial art or monitor its content.  Bigelow and ZD30 chose the kitchen, they can’t complain about the heat.  As long as the word “disingenuous” is floating around, it also seems a little disingenuous to claim the most highly anticipated political snuff movie ever is in the  “temple of art,” so leave it aloooooone.

On the other hand, though, I’m not sure about boycotting the thing any more.  It’s probably best to go ahead and see it if you’ve got to scratch that itch, or just to judge what, if anything, is wrong with it exactly.  I guess I do hope many, many Americans don’t enjoy it.

Screening the rushes for Zero Dark Thirty (and making sure there was a group photo).

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Plame and Wilson: still “Fair Game” for the Washington Post

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 6th December 2010

This weekend I saw the movie “Fair Game,” and I highly recommend it.  I also highly recommend you read the Washington Post editorial condemning the movie, which might be titled “Who ya gonna believe — us or your lying eyes?”  It should become Exhibit A for evidence of the true function of the Washington Post: not so much a newspaper as the lying mouthpiece of the permanent government of the United States.

The online version of the Post will tell you online that a Saturday, December 4 editorial in that paper was headlined “Hollywood myth-making on Valerie Plame controversy.” But that’s just the first lie you’ll encounter in this hit piece, which was actually titled “Dirty ‘Game’” in the print edition.  The piece begins, “WE’RE NOT in the habit of writing movie reviews. But the recently released film “Fair Game” – which covers a poisonous Washington controversy during the war in Iraq – deserves some editorial page comment, if only because of what its promoters are saying about it,” and continues:

…Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions – not to mention outright inventions. To start with the most sensational: The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false. In reality, as The Post’s Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby reported, Ms. Plame did not work directly on the program, and it was not shut down because of her identification.

That’s interesting, because what Pincus and Leiby actually reported was this:

As reporters who covered the Plame CIA leak affair, as it came to be known, we compared the reality of what unfolded in Washington in that era against the events that the screenwriters and director of “Fair Game” boiled into their narrative. The movie holds up as a thoroughly researched and essentially accurate account — albeit with caveats.

Moreover, the “caveats” amount to quibbles — mainly about the centrality of Plame’s precise role in the Iraqi scientist program, and this: “[a]lthough the film suggests that the blowing of Valerie’s cover led directly to the shutdown of the Iraqi scientist exfiltration, an intelligence insider told us: “Something like this, if it was going on, wouldn’t have been canceled for this reason.” Well, say no more!  Any anonymous intelligence insider’s word should do for a Washington Post reader.

But even if you take the ‘agency officials’ and ‘insiders’ at their word and grant the accuracy of their estimates,

(1) whether or not the exfiltration was canceled because Plame’s cover was blown by Novak’s article doesn’t change that the blown cover put the Iraqis at greater risk, and
(2), Plame’s fundamental connection to the pre-war CIA Iraq WMD investigation — whether her spot in some CIA org chart was ‘central,’ ‘direct,’ ‘lateral,’ or ‘upside down’  — is actually substantiated by the Pincus/Leib report.

As the reporters write, “The movie effectively dispenses with the canard that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert operative” – rebutting a frequent suggestion at the time that no real crime had been committed in revealing her CIA connection.

The editorial also revives the myth that Bush’s famous sixteen words in his 2003 State of the Union speech — “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — were in fact “well founded,” citing the Butler Report and the Roberts Senate Foreign Affairs Committee report. Setting aside the metaphysics of whether believing something happened when it clearly didn’t could ever be ‘well founded’, Steve Benen points out that’s not so: the White House knew the claims were dubious at the time… as the Washington Post’s own Peter Eisner reported 3 years ago:

Dozens of interviews with current and former intelligence officials and policymakers in the United States, Britain, France and Italy show that the Bush administration disregarded key information available at the time showing that the Iraq-Niger claim was highly questionable.*

The editorial also more or less baldly recycles the innuendo that Joe Wilson was recruited by his wife, as some kind of gift to a failing career, to go to Niger and look in to claims of a huge yellowcake shipment to Iraq (“it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth – not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife.”).  But the movie shows very successfully, how that was always an intentional distraction: as Wilson asks a student forum, “How many of you know the sixteen words Bush said about uranium in Africa? ”  None raise their hands.  “How many of you know my wife’s name?”  Everyone raises their hands.

Meanwhile the Post hosts foaming-at-the-mouth neocons like Charles Krauthammer — delicately tiptoeing (as it were) to the brink of calling for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s assassination in a “might someone wield a poison umbrella and rid us of this meddlesome hacker” kind of way.  (This for publishing leaked material Assange first offered to the State Department for vetting for dangerous information.  Clearly, the Brezhnev-era KGB could have used Krauthammer, he’s their kind of guy.)  Earlier this year, after the similarly harmless Iraq leaks, Marc Thiessen called for development of a computer virus that would destroy computers accessing the Wikileaks site.    Don’t get me wrong: it’s Krauthammer’s and Thiessen’s perfect right to say whatever authoritarian, borderline insane notion crawls into their minds, and it’s the Post’s right and apparent duty to provide them with a lucrative platform to do so.  It’s also mine to despise them for wanting to actively and destructively reduce the information available to citizens of the United States.  (For its part, the Post editorial board has merely tut-tutted about lax security in the Pentagon that allowed the leaks.)

But back to “Fair Game” and Iraq.  Had the Washington Post not been an active party to the disastrous war fever that swept Washington and the country (and me along with it) back in 2002 and 2003, this might be merely pathetic, or perhaps darkly comical.  After all, we have here the Washington Post editorial board (presumably Fred Hiatt) twisting its own reporting and the facts in eerily precise analogy to the Bush White House twisting its intelligence findings or lack thereof.  There’s also evidence of learning from the Rovian master in how the Post piously decries the film as evidence of a “troubling trend of political debates in Washington in which established facts are willfully ignored” — a charge more sensibly leveled at Cheney, Bush, Rove …and the Washington Post, for that matter.   Good boy Freddy! — here’s a cocktail party invitation.

But the Post was a party to that war — as eager and willing to beat the drums then and now as Hearst’s yellow journalism was in other bad old days.  So it’s not pathetic and it’s not funny — it’s disgusting and it’s outrageous.  Almost worse — given its role as a newspaper of record in a republic allegedly professing democratic ideals and a distrust of power — it’s an active party to an ongoing propaganda campaign to twist and rewrite the history of that war.

The masthead of the Post’s editorial page reads “The Washington Post: An Independent Newspaper.”  Would that it were so.

* Moreover, as ThinkProgress’s Matt Duss points out, what the Butler report actually says is that British intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection was seriously flawed, ignoring important caveats and relying on third hand reports to arrive at its conclusion.

NOTE: Something I first learned from the movie — and not disputed by Pincus/Leib or the editorial —  was that Wilson ascertained that the “sixteen words” in fact referred to the Niger claim he had debunked, and not some other corner of Africa.  I mention this because my initial reaction to the Wilson article in July 2003 — during my regrettable support for the Iraq War — was a rather technical view that the “sixteen words” were, at least on their face, carefully and plainly chosen enough not to be a lie: someone else made the claim and I thought it might not have been about Niger. That becomes unsupportable with this added piece of information.

UPDATE, 12/7: Peter Eisner leaves a comment (see below), and David Corn — author of Hubris, and editor at Mother Jones — weighs in (“Washington Post: Still Spinning the CIA Leak Case): “…it’s the Post editorial board that is ignoring key facts and selectively citing evidence to manufacture a narrative of its own liking: Joe Wilson lied, and Bush & Cheney did not (with an assist from the Post editorial page) mislead the nation into war. The difference between the editorialists and the filmmakers, though, is that Hiatt and his colleagues, as journalists, cannot claim dramatic license.”

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How many more “Our Virginia” textbooks are there?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th October 2010

Last week, the Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff reported that William and Mary professor Carol Sheriff had discovered a blatant, “Lost Cause” Civil War lie in her daughter’s 4th grade history textbook written by one Joy Masoff:*

In its short lesson on the roles that whites, African Americans and Indians played in the Civil War, “Our Virginia” says, “Thousands of Southern blacks fought in the Confederate ranks, including two black battalions under the command of Stonewall Jackson.” […]

No they didn’t
The assertion is patently false, Sheriff told the Virginia Gazette:

There is no credible evidence that two battalions of African American soldiers fought under the command of Stonewall Jackson. After consulting with three of my William and Mary colleagues who also teach and research Civil War history, who also had never encountered any such evidence, I wrote to James I. Robertson, a Virginia Tech professor who is the foremost scholar of Stonewall Jackson, and asked him if he had ever seen any evidence to corroborate this point. He stated categorically that no such evidence existed. Prof. Robertson explained to me, “Had there been Confederate black units surely some officer in an official report would have mentioned it. Yet the 128 volumes of the mammoth Official Records [of the War of the Rebellion] are completely silent on the subject.” I also contacted Prof. Joseph Glatthaar, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor, who has written a highly claimed book called General Lee’s Army. He declared the claim “simply wrong.”

The “blacks fought for the South” claim has obvious attractions for Confederate apologists, eager to advance the claim that antebellum and wartime relations between slaves and masters were amicable and mutually loyal.  “Lost Cause” loyalists seem to have inflated the mere consideration of the idea of arming Southern slaves — and isolated incidents of slaves protecting themselves or their masters — as proof that a policy was actually implemented.

Not surprisingly, these will o’ the wisp notions were never implemented in any scope even resembling Masoff’s claim — drawn, it turned out, from a “Sons of Confederate Veterans” website — and never could have been. According to Bruce Levine‘s “Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War,” it ran afoul of reality — both among blacks, who preferred to flee to Union lines whenever possible, and among whites who were loathe to release slaves to service and contended (rightly) that the war was about keeping slaves, not freeing them or detailing them off to battle.  In his review of the book, Yale professor David Blight explains:

The most revealing feature of Levine’s argument is his analysis of motivation among the advocates of a black soldier policy. Davis and Lee, he contends, were never the enlightened advocates of emancipation their Lost Cause defenders, as well as some distinguished biographers, have fashioned. They were staunch Confederate nationalists, determined to do whatever it took to win a war of southern independence, and in so doing, preserve ultimate control over blacks in the post-war South. […] …as Levine makes clear, those Confederates who supported black enlistment coupled with emancipation did so in the hope of controlling the lives, prospects, and especially the labor of the people they would free. Their best intentions were thwarted by both their own caution and by African Americans themselves, who chose by the hundreds of thousands to flee to and join the armies in blue rather than gray.

What “contributions” black Americans did make to the Confederate cause were, as one might expect, by dint of involuntary slave labor: digging trenchworks, laying rails, and continuing to tend the cotton fields of the South.

So how did this textbook make it into Virginia schools?
Masoff —  who also owns the Five Ponds Press publishing company that published the book — says “It’s just one sentence. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. If the historians had contacted me and asked me to take it out, I would have.” For her part, Sheriff was at pains to note that “To my knowledge, there is no evidence that would suggest a coordinated effort by state educational officials to rewrite history for the purpose of instilling in children pro-Confederate sympathies, or to confuse them deliberately.”

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The white supremacist roots of Glenn Beck’s ideology

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th October 2010

Last weekend I went to the “One Nation” march — a rally designed at least in part as a rebuke to Glenn Beck’s 8/27 event at the Lincoln Memorial, hijacking the date and meaning of the March on Washington 47 years earlier.  At least one “Tea Party” advocate stood alone (and unmolested) among the swirling crowd near the Washington Monument on their way towards the event.  His sign had words to the effect “I’m with the Tea Party .  But I’m not racist, I don’t hate.”

Maybe not.  Few people like to think they’re racist.  Many people try not to be.  But we’re not usually the most objective judges of whether we’ve succeeded.

More to the point here, when their leaders — by intent, by ignorance, or by intentional ignorance — misrepresent the history of race in America that they claim to be explaining, the practical effect is racist.  Listen to the ‘MediaMatters’ tape excerpt of the October 1 Glenn Beck show, starting at 2:14:

…I would like to propose that the president is exactly right when he said “Slaves sitting around the campfire didn’t know when slavery was going to end, but they knew that it would.” And it took a long time to end slavery. Yes it did. But it also took a long time to start slavery. And it started small, and it started with seemingly innocent ideas. And then a little court order here and a court order there, and a little more regulation here and a little more regulation there, and before we knew it, America had slavery. It didn’t come over on a ship to begin with as an evil slave trade, the government began to regulate things because the people needed answers, they needed solutions. It started in a courtroom, and then it went to the legislatures. That’s how slavery began. And it took a long time to enslave an entire race of people and convince another race of people that they were somehow or another “less” than them. But it can be done. I would ask you to decide: are we freeing slaves, or are we creating slaves? That’s a question that must be answered.

Hokaaay.  There’s a whole discussion one might have about how all this is delivered — the weary would-be freedom rider’s ‘yes it did,’ the oddly mocking, skeptical ‘evil slave trade.’  But it’s the content that concerns me here: where in God’s name does Beck come up with this stuff?

W.C. Skousen and the Lost Cause
The answer appears to be that ‘in God’s name’ is about right: it may be largely from one Willard Cleon Skousen (1913-2006).  National Review Online’s Mark Hemingway described him as “by turns an FBI employee, the police chief of Salt Lake City, a Brigham Young University professor, consigliore to former secretary of agriculture and Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson and, well, all-around nutjob.” (emphasis added)

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Four legs good…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th May 2007

…two legs bad:

White House criticizes Pelosi’s planned Syria visit (CNN, 3/30/2007):

Four legs good…
…two legs BETTER:

U.S. and Syria discuss foreign fighters in Iraq (CNN, 5/3/2007)

In “Animal Farm,” there’s a defining moment when the farm’s pig overlords finally begin walking on their hind legs, in brazen defiance of the old “four legs good, two legs bad” slogan — with the top pig even holding a whip:

There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched the long line of pigs march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside-down. Then there came a moment when the first shock had worn off and when, in spite of everything-in spite of their terror of the dogs, and of the habit, developed through long years, of never complaining, never criticising, no matter what happened–they might have uttered some word of protest. But just at that moment, as though at a signal, all the sheep burst out into a tremendous bleating of–

“Four legs good, two legs BETTER! Four legs good, two legs BETTER! Four legs good, two legs BETTER!”

It went on for five minutes without stopping. And by the time the sheep had quieted down, the chance to utter any protest had passed, for the pigs had marched back into the farmhouse.

To be clear: in the present context, I welcome the Bush administration being willing to talk with Syria. It’s common sense. But so was Pelosi talking with Syria. What’s a little scary is the administrations’s ability to just turn on a dime and do exactly what they’d condemned a month ago — with a chorus of sheep called CNN, FOX, Drudge, etcetera accompanying them.

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Then why deny it?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th October 2005

Writing about the staged soldier teleconference with the President last week, Stryker (“digitalwarfighter”) argues “Of course it was staged“:

The press has played along with these charades for just as long without ever showing the general public the Man Behind the Curtain, so I’m trying to figure out what the big deal is supposed to be. […]

It’s a fairly symbiotic relationship whose inner-workings are rarely revealed to the general public, but those who’ve had the opportunity to take a peak behind the curtain get to see just how cozy the relationship between the allegedly free press and our government really is, which is why the shock expressed by the press with this latest bit of PR seems a bit feigned.

And of course he’s right, as far as the press goes. But while it may not be news to bloggers or daily news readers — let alone the press corps — that the Bush administration stages its little events with the president, the illusion of “spontaneity” and “reality” is clearly important to the stagers. Otherwise why would Allison Barber (the PR flack from the Pentagon who coached the soldiers) and Scott McClellan deny the event was staged?

In one sense, yes, it’s old news; White House creates fake photo op or an illusory meeting with carefully selected voters. Even the president calls it “catapulting the propaganda.” What’s different this time isn’t just the feigned press shock, but the response it got from the fakers. The illusion of reality really matters to the White House — more than the reality of reality does, and even when the illusion is proven for all to see.

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Du bist Deutschland

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 1st October 2005

Barcelona Olympics and 'Du Bist Deutschland' logos
Du bist geklaut (“You’re ripped off”)
Originally uploaded by Tobi Bauer.

It means “You are Germany,” and it’s a rather odd, pointless, 30 million Euro media campaign — complete with its own cute little logo — that’s just kicked off in Germany.

The campaign’s organizers — a consortium of “over 20 German media enterprises… together with advertising and public relations agencies”explain:

The message: every individual needs confidence in his own strength and capabilities.

A positive self image is an important prerequisite for our economic and cultural development. The campaign invites you and everyone else in Germany to dare something new and to participate with fresh elan.

This ostensibly puts the media organizations in the vanguard of those “working for Standort Deutschland” — Business Location: Germany. One ad series says “You are [famous German]”, from Goethe to Helmut Newton to … wait for it … Albert Einstein — who had to leave Germany for the U.S! So much for “Standort Deutschland.”

I suppose this is all kind of harmless, but I would find it more than a little patronizing, too. Apparently, some German bloggers agree; Tobias Schwarz (“almost a diary,” “Fistful of Euros”) has even started another blog about it (this one in German), and Johnny of Spreeblick has developed a Photoshop countertemplate. One of his own sendups features former chancellor Helmut Kohl musing about his stubborn refusal to go with the crowd and obey election finance laws.

In “You are complaints: mixed echo“, Schwarz googled around German blogs to try to gauge reaction. He found ample criticism, but also considerable support for the campaign: “enthusiastic … it was high time,” “touching,” “really impressed.”

Elsewhere, Anke Groener says that “a new name can give a bar new life,” citing the Clinton 1992 campaign as an example of a successful campaign that was as much about intangible atmospherics as it was about policy. I think that campaign was a teensy bit more policy oriented than that — but even if the atmospherics were important, at least it culminated in the tangible outcome of electing someone who then measurably did the job. This campaign, on the other hand, seems mainly designed to say “buck up, Deutschland! If things suck, maybe it’s your fault.”

It’s a little disconcerting to see Germany heading down the PR/self help/motivational route that’s always seemed one of the phoniest parts of American life to me. Not that PR and what not are all that foreign to Germany, but I can’t recall a campaign quite like this one.

But relax, America! If Germans want to pull even with us when it comes to empty public relations schtick, they’ve got some catching up to do. Exhibit A: Karen Hughes on tour in the Middle East. They’ve got nothin’.

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My 9/11 Freedom Perp Walk

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th September 2005

Reporting on the “Freedom Walk” yesterday from the Pentagon to the Mall, the New York Times’ Glen Justice and John Files noticed a few notes of discord. One lady had her anti-war sign taken away, and a protester along the march route held up a “Bush is a liar” sign, to be met by “USA” chants — coached by Allison Barber, a Rumsfeld aide. And there was also this:

One man who registered for the walk was detained by a Pentagon police officer after he slipped a black hood over his head and produced a sign that read, ‘Freedom?’

The other side said:

For Them, For Us, For Our Troops: Never Again
Support the McCain and Levin Amendments

I know, because that’s the side I displayed first. Just as I had done at the inauguration, I was wearing a black poncho along with the hood the reporter noticed, an allusion to the infamous Abu Ghraib photo. My single alteration was to cut a couple of eyeholes in the pillowcase, a decision for safety over verisimilitude — I wanted to be able to maybe avoid a punch.

I had registered for the march soon after noticing it, but was frankly apprehensive about the whole thing. I gathered my equipment — poncho, file clips and twine for the sign — in the hood and carried it on my shoulder into the staging area for the march, the south parking lot of the Pentagon, arriving around 9 AM. While my bag was searched, there was obviously nothing of concern in it.

The scene that greeted me was fairly strange. A prominent sign declared “Signs and banners prohibited” — which may or may not have seemed like a non sequitur to the other “freedom walkers,” but I didn’t talk with any of the walkers to find out. Everyone was issued a “Freedom Walk” t-shirt and required to wear it — a signal, along with a tape wristband, that one had been processed and deemed safe. Along with people bearing large organizational signs — “AOL,” “HUD,” “Justice,” and so forth, so groups could find to each other — the whole thing looked homogeneous, hyperorganized and somehow infantilized. I found myself thinking of the old TV series “The Prisoner.” On a small stage, an Air Force band played tunes, with a pretty good female vocalist singing country and other favorites, in dress blues.

I went over to a booth describing the Pentagon 9/11 memorial, which does look like it will be quite nice. There was an inscription book, where after a bit of thought I wrote “The best memorial to the 9/11 victims will be an America that preserves its freedoms.” (In case anyone is ever bored enough to check, this may not be the precise wording, but it’s close — I jotted down some notes on that and other things, but eventually lost that scrap of paper).

As the start time approached, a pastor in uniform (I think, I wasn’t close enough to the stage) led the crowd in prayer, which I did not join. Then Undersecretary of Defense Gordon Something gave a brief speech, in which he recalled Bush’s first visit to the Pentagon, and the (perforce) unforgettable moment when Bush looked at all the generals in the room and said “Never forget.” This was presumably inspirational.

A large gateway had been built, with “Freedom Walk” painted on the arch, under which walkers were to file out of the parking lot and on to the walk. Barricades to either side of the gateway funneled the walkers under the gate. Out of some concern for my safety from gung-ho types, I decided to stand behind those barricades and wait until the march had just begun to don my costume and hold up my sign. It didn’t hurt that it was near a photographer and a TV man, and within a short distance of some uniformed police officers.

I was shaking a bit as I put on the poncho and hood and slung the sign around my neck. I first showed the “For them, for us…” side. Within maybe 15 or 20 seconds, an officer approached and told me that I would need to go to a designated protest area. I flipped the sign around at that point and said I didn’t see why, I had a right to say what I was saying. Without further ado, I was handcuffed and marched off. The vocalist was actually singing the refrain “freedom” to some syrupy song at that moment. The crowd of walkers cheered for the police.

I was treated professionally by the Pentagon police. Frisked, put in a car, watch your head, latched behind a safety belt, out of the car, pockets emptied, transfer to a van, drive to a holding facility in a nondescript warehouse near the Pentagon City Metro stop, 13th and Fern or so if I recall correctly. Stood around for a while there — they weren’t sure which door was the entrance — and once inside, there was more standing around. Finally some more officers appeared. We sat down at a table, and they began doing the paperwork for the arrest. It was hot, and one of the fellows at the table asked for a portable fan to be pointed more directly at them. “You sure? It’s going to blow the papers all over the place.” “Yeah.” Papers blew all over the place.

I was eventually read my rights, and then the arresting officer got on the phone with a DA to see whether to add a charge because of the hood — I learned that wearing a mask is potentially a “class 6 felony.” But they decided not to press that charge.

Instead, I was cited for “failure to obey a lawful order,” and will have a court date in early January in Alexandria. I was fingerprinted, photographed, and then, finally, released. It was around noon.

I did this to to remind people of the wrongs that have been committed in this so-called war on terror, to counter an organized, regimented official demonstration with a real demonstration of my own, and basically to rain on Rumsfeld’s little parade in my own small way.

I do not at all disrespect the impulse to memorialize the victims of 9/11. I do object to using that impulse as a blatant political rallying tool by people who have botched so very much of the response to that attack, abused that attack to start another war to botch, and brought so much dishonor on this country in the process. I don’t feel especially noble about my protest, and I was distressed about the possible felony charge. But not so much that I would have regretted anything.

NOTE: In the interests of complete disclosure, I should say that I also added a small “” to the “For them” side of the sign. I wouldn’t do that again, since I’m not affiliated with the group and didn’t discuss this with them, let alone get their approval. It was a blogger’s impulse: give onlookers a place to look stuff up.

For more of my own discussion of the McCain and Levin amendments, see Three Senate detainee abuse debates , Torture commission, detainee treatment votes expected soon, Independent torture commission vote expected soon. See also Look pretty similar to me (re the Durbin flap this summer). If you would like to read even more of my incomparable discussions of Abu Ghraib and the wider topic of prisoner abuse and torture at Baghram, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, use the search box at the upper [right] of this page.

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German TV: Photo op rescue/relief work in Biloxi

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th September 2005

Laura Rozen (“War and Piece”) posts this comment by a reader about German TV network’s coverage of the event Senator Landrieu is complaining about:

ZDF News reported that the president’s visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of ‘news people’ had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.

The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF.

(via Kevin Drum) This apparently wasn’t the only “Potemkin” rescue effort noted by ZDF. Asked about residents’ reactions to Bush’s visit to Biloxi, Mississippi — characterized as a “Stippvisite” (perfunctory visit) by the moderator — German ZDF-TV reporter Claudia Rueggeberg said they differed; while one resident said that one such symbolic visit was better than nothing, but that another became very angry and said, “such a staged visit didn’t help.” The reporter continued:

Indeed, this morning there were suddenly rescue teams [Hilfstrupps], people who cleared debris and looked for corpses in the houses, but only along the route of the president. About two hours ago, the president left Biloxi again — and with him, all the rescue teams.*

I’ve also found another ZDF clip** referring to Bush speaking with “surprisingly calm victims,” and viewing a “hastily set up aid station.”

* Her part of the clip begins at about 3:00 minutes.
** Beginning at about minute 4:50.
UPDATE, 9/4: Rozen readers FD and DZ point to the same clip I found; also, she writes that a Daily Kos reader notes a similar clip about Biloxi at ARD, another German TV network. Thus, neither that post or this one specifically confirm her first reader’s “fake open air food distribution” story yet, but both point to a similar one.
NOTE, 9/4: The literal translation for “Hilfstrupps” is “help troops”; I chose the phrase “rescue team.”
UPDATE, 9/6: The translation of Christine Adelhardt’s Biloxi report on ARD by dKos reader ‘vanguardia’ is basically accurate. The “press baggage” translation for “Pressetross” looks odd, but the word “Tross” translates to “baggage”– in a military sense, where it means the supply train and whores accompanying an army. “Press entourage” would be the usual English phrase, but reviving this particular usage of “baggage” does not seem so far off the mark.

UPDATE, 9/7: I largely agree with this analysis by Rivka (“Respectful of Otters”) which is crossposted at her “Idealistic Pragmatist” colleague’s blog: the original claim hasn’t panned out yet, and Laura Rozen’s Dutch correspondent, Frank Tiggelaar, may have gotten the Biloxi report and a second one mixed up. I think the best candidate for what Mr. Tiggelaar saw is the second ZDF clipI mention above (“Menschen warten auf Rettung” — “People wait for rescue”), where Bush is said to speak with “surprisingly calm” victims in a “hastily built aid station” (around minute 4:50 of the clip). That does rather imply something fishy is going on without coming right out and saying so; however, no mention is made of tearing down the station immediately after Bush’s departure. It’s possible, though, that Mr. Tiggelar heard a stronger claim made in a different version of this report, or of the particular “aid station” part of that report. I’ve got a query in to ZDF asking whether there is a report precisely like what Mr. Tiggelaar remembered, but have not received an answer.

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