I offer my apologies to my devoted readers (both of them – well, OK, maybe there are more than two out there) for my extended absence. No, I wasn’t actually enjoying a six-week vacation; it’s just that when one is self-employed and is away for a couple of weeks, there’s no one else to take care of the work in one’s absence. That, and I suppose I’ve been waiting to find something stirring enough to comment on it.
Guess what? I found something. This AP article (as found in the NY Times) cites a recent Harris Poll that 50 percent of U.S. respondents still believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in March 2003. What’s worse, that figure has actually increased from 36 percent last year.
These opinion findings fly in the face of the facts, including the Iraq Survey Group’s (a fact-finding mission comprised mostly of American experts, with some Britons and Australians also) comprehensive report that took 16 months and over $900 million to complete. That report declared that Iraq had dismantled its NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) weaponry programs in 1991, and it had no such WMDs as of March 2003. Naturally, Saddam wanted to restart those programs if at all possible, but as of the beginning of the U.S. invasion there were no such weapons arsenals in Iraq.
Why does the American public persist in believing this concocted story? Perhaps it’s because American politicians and media outlets persist in pushing it. A couple of weeks before the survey, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) released a report stating that 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since 2003. What the press release failed to note was that these munitions were abandoned shells, almost all of which were 15 years old or older, and their degraded chemical contents rendered them utterly unusable as weapons. It’s sort of like finding some old Civil War era Confederate shells and concluding that the South has an actively armed conspiracy to rise up in rebellion against the North again.
Various media outlets such as Fox News, talk radio, and bloggers latched onto this report and trumpeted its supposed findings in screaming headlines. Could it be that these simplistic, misleading headlines led devotees of such right-wing media outlets to believe the implied conclusions, without a critical examination of the underlying facts? Is the American public (or at least half of it) that easily misled? Michael Massing, a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, a graduate of Harvard College and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a 1992 MacArthur Fellowship recipient, describes himself as “flabbergasted” at these poll numbers, saying that “This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence”.
Is this true? Have we finally entered into such an Orwellian society that large segments of the American public are unable to distinguish fact from fiction, truth from spin? By limiting themselves to their preferred slanted media outlets (left and right), are Americans willingly complicit in their ignorance? Has the proliferation of specialized media made it no longer possible to inform the American electorate in any reliably objective manner? If you only get your news from Fox News and talk radio, how can you ever have a doubt in your mind as to the propriety of the current war in Iraq? Similarly, if you only get your news from The Nation and other left-leaning outlets, how can you ever approve of the use of American military force? And if you get your news only from the major networks, well, how can you have any informed grasp on reality regardless of political slant?
Which brings me to today’s word (with apologies to Stephen Colbert): sycophant. Merriam and Webster define this as a servile self-seeking flatterer. Remember the old children’s story about the emperor who has no clothes? The sycophants would be the ones who told him he looked absolutely fabulous in his new outfit, even though he was actually butt-naked. So I ask you, can’t we at least arrest these media outlets for public indecency when they walk around butt-naked in their sycophantic ravings? How about politicians? Bill Clinton got in a world of trouble for exposing himself to only one intern (and he’d probably call it “butt-nekkid”). Yet here are all these naked wanna-be emperors parading around on the national stage – where are the cries of public indecency against them? I tell you this, if we’re going to return America to its time-honored sense of old fashioned morality and decency, we have to do something about all of these naked politicians and media personalities. So I say to America, stand up for traditional morality, and put some clothes on those emperors!