“WATCH WHAT THEY SAY, WATCH WHAT THEY DO”: THE BUSH REGIME’S CAMPAIGN TO SILENCE THE MEDIA
Kenneth J. Theisen
25 Aug 2006 22:03 GMT
The author alleges that the Bush regime is out to silence the media in order to hide it crimes against the world. He details several incidents in this "war on the media."
The Bush regime has regularly attacked the media to silence exposure of its crimes. It fears the light of day being shed on its actions like any rat that prefers to operate in the dark. In Iraq and Afghanistan, reporters have become “collateral damage” in U.S. attacks because they expose the daily crimes of the regime in those wars. Aljazeera journalists have been a favorite target in those two countries. During the war in Afghanistan in 2001, Aljazeera’s Kabul office was the target of 2 U.S. “smart bombs” even though Aljazeera had specifically given the location of the office to U.S. forces so no “accident” would occur.
On April 8, 2003 the U.S. attacked journalists’ sites in Baghdad. Aljazeera correspondent Tariq Ayyoub was killed when the Aljazeera Baghdad headquarters was targeted. Immediately after, 2 cameramen, working for Reuters and Telecinco respectively, were killed when a U.S. tank fired on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel which housed more than 200 hundred foreign correspondents. These journalists were not “embedded” with U.S. forces. For those who may have forgotten, “embedding” was the idea of the Pentagon to control media coverage of the Iraq attack. Reporters were stationed with U.S. forces where they could be “controlled.”
But many reporters refused to be embedded to the consternation of the Bush regime. After Ayyoub’s death the message was made clear to non-embedded reporters by U.S. Central Command in Qatar which issued a veiled threat to the media. “Central Command has repeatedly warned media representatives that Baghdad would be a dangerous place to be if the coalition engaged the Iraqi regime in combat.”
Iraq has proven to be a dangerous place for journalists. As of this month, according to Reporters without Borders, at least 100 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war. Several of these have been victims of Coalition forces. Reporters have also been arrested by U.S. forces. In one outrageous case, CBS cameraman Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein was first shot by U.S. troops while filming a ceremony at Mosul University. He was then charged with recruiting insurgents and incarcerated at Abu Ghraib prison. After being held for a year, he was finally released when an Iraqi court found that there was no evidence against him. His release followed the earlier release of 2 Reuters’ journalists who were held for several months by Coalition forces without ever being charged.
Attempts to silence the media go all the way to the oval office. According to British newspapers, the Guardian Unlimited and the Daily Mirror, a leaked Downing Street memo put the blame where it belongs for these attacks. According to these paper’s websites, President Bush discussed with Tony Blair the idea of bombing Aljazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar at a meeting on April 16, 2004. At the time, the Bush and Blair regimes were outraged at the coverage of the Iraq war by Aljazeera which showed the real costs of war in pictures of dead civilians.
The White House response to these reports of the meeting was a one liner – “We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response.” While the White House was trying to suggest that no such conversation ever occurred, the British admitted the existence of the memo and the conversation when a Downing Street spokesman stated, “We have got nothing to say about this story. We don’t comment on leaked documents.” Another government spokesperson suggested that Bush was just being “humorous, not serious.” But a Daily Mirror source declared, “Bush was deadly serious, as was Blair. That much is absolutely clear from the language used by both men.” Another confirmation of the memo is the fact that Cabinet Office civil servant David Keough was accused of passing the secret memo and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act. To put the entire story to rest, the British Attorney General then threatened the media with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if they revealed the contents of the memo – end of story.
But war zones are not the only places where the Bush regime fears independent media coverage of its crimes. Here in the U.S. the regime has also issued warnings to the media on a regular basis. A few of the threats from the regime are highlighted here.
One of the first warnings after 9/11 occurred at a White House press briefing by Ari Fleischer, the president’s official media flak. In answer to a question about remarks made by Bill Maher on his TV show, Politically Incorrect, Fleischer warned Americans, “that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” Shortly thereafter the show, despite high ratings, was cancelled.
Perhaps the most famous case of trying to intimidate the media and those who expose Bush lies is the Joseph Wilson leak story. Wilson had an op-ed to the New York Times published on July 6, 2003. He concluded “that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” His charge carried weight as he was a former U.S. ambassador and had directed African policy for the National Security Council. He had been sent to Niger to investigate an alleged sale to or attempted purchase of uranium yellowcake by Iraq. He discredited the allegations, thus undermining one of the key charges made by the Bush regime against Iraq. Bush had even referenced it in his 2003 State of the Union speech. The White House went into full attack mode against Wilson. His wife was exposed as a CIA agent in order to discredit him. While no one has been charged with the leak, “Scooter” Libby, the right hand of Dick Cheney, was indicted for the cover-up of the leak.
In another high-level attack by the administration, on May 21, 2006, Attorney General Gonzales appeared on ABC’s This Week. He was asked if journalists could be prosecuted for publishing classified information. He responded by saying, “There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility.” He was also asked about the investigation into the leaks to the New York Times that led to the revelation of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone calls and emails. He responded, “We are engaged now in an investigation about what would be the appropriate course of action in that particular case, so I’m not going to talk about it specifically…We have an obligation to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity.” During the interview he also admitted that the Bush administration would not hesitate to track phone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leaks investigation.
The regime has also attacked the independent media. The most recent example is the case of Josh Wolf. Mr. Wolf is a San Francisco freelance journalist incarcerated in federal prison. On July 8, 2005 he was recording a video of a demonstration against a G8 conference. At some point, a burning mattress was allegedly put under a police car. According to specious argument of the Federal prosecutors, this constitutes a federal crime since the San Francisco Police Department receives some federal money.
A federal grand jury was convened and on February 1, 2006 a subpoena was issued for Mr. Wolf’s unaired videotapes of the demonstration. Wolf claims that none of his tapes show any footage of the alleged crime. He cited a reporter’s right to withhold unpublished material and refused to testify or to turn over the tapes to the federal government. Under California’s “reporter’s shield law” he may have been successful. But this case is being brought by the U.S. government, not by the state, and we know what the Bush regime thinks of the first amendment right of a free press.
On August 1, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup found Wolf in contempt of court. Josh Wolf was taken into custody and transported to prison where he could be incarcerated until July 2007 when the grand jury’s term expires unless he complies with the subpoena. Under the peculiarities of federal law a new grand jury could be convened next July and that jury could also issue a subpoena and the whole process could repeat.
Wolf is trying to protect an important right that the Bush regime has shown it despises – that of a free and independent press. Mr. Wolf is protecting the right to withhold unaired and unpublished work of journalists from the government. If reporters are compelled to turn over this material, they will not be able to report the news. Every reporter will be viewed as an arm of the government. No one will talk to a reporter as what you say or what the reporter records will in effect “belong” to the government.
In August, in recognition of the importance of this case and others where the federal government is trying to lock up reporters, the California legislature unanimously passed a resolution calling on Congress to enact a federal shield law for the protection of journalists. Forty-nine states have such laws, but there is no such federal protection.
But the Bush regime also knows what is at stake and that is why they are so aggressive in this case and others where they have jailed reporters. They want to intimidate the media and anyone who may wish to talk to the media.
(As I write this article, a news report out of New York indicates another attempt to suppress access to the media. Javed Iqbal, who runs HDTV Corp. was arrested on charges that he conspired to support a terrorist group by providing U.S. residents with access to Al-Mansar, a satellite channel allegedly run by Hezbollah. This appears to be the first time anyone has been accused of violating U.S. laws by enabling access to a news outlet.)
Fortunately the Bush regime has not been completely successful in its attempt to utilize the media to hoodwink the people of the world. One of it attempts backfired on the administration when it was exposed. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon had a contract with the Lincoln Group to disseminate U.S. propaganda in Iraqi media. (“U.S. Military Stages Media Offensive in Iraq,” 11/29/05) Lincoln Group operatives, posing as freelance reporters or advertising executives, delivered stories (secretly written by U.S. military personnel) to Iraqi media outlets which were often paid to run the stories. The same Times story claimed that the “Information Operations Task Force” under the command of Army Lt. General John R. Vines also took control of an Iraqi radio station and purchased a newspaper “and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public.”
The exposure of this attempt to disseminate U.S. propaganda followed the 2001 creation of the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). After February 2002 news reports that OSI was going to plant false news stories in the international media, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld announced the decision to close the office. But the regime was not deterred. On November 18, 2002, Rumsfeld stated in a press briefing that the OSI was closed down only in name and that the activities of the office continued. He stated, "And then there was the Office of Strategic Influence. You may recall that. And 'oh my goodness gracious isn't that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.' I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to salvage this thing, fine I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.”
Despite the attempts to silence or otherwise use the media, the crimes and outrages of the regime are so obvious that even the mainstream media is often forced to cover them. These have included the torture and murders at U.S. run prisons, Katrina, the murders of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the spying on Americans, and countless others. We have courageous journalists such as Josh Wolf and others who risk their lives, their livelihood and even their freedom to cover the news. We have the internet where virtually anyone can “report” the news. We also have the ability and opportunity to make news where even the most right-wing news outlets have to acknowledge our actions.
October 5th is one such opportunity. If enough people take concerted action on that day to take on the Bush regime, even Fox will be forced to cover it. As the call for Oct 5 states,
“Imagine if, from out of this huge reservoir of people, a great wave were unleashed, moving together on the same occasion, making, through their firm stand and their massive numbers, a powerful political statement that could not be ignored: refusing that day to work, or walking out from work, taking off from school or walking out of school -- joining together, rallying and marching, drawing forward many more with them, and in many and varied forms of creative and meaningful political protest throughout the day, letting it be known that they are determined to bring this whole disastrous course to a halt by driving out the Bush Regime through the mobilization of massive political opposition.
If that were done, then the possibility of turning things around and onto a much more favorable direction would take on a whole new dimension of reality.”
If we do this, we will be on the pages of the New York Times, on the network news broadcasts and on the internet websites. We can and must change the world. We can drive the Bush regime from power. Oct 5 is critical to this effort. The world can’t wait!
Kenneth J. Theisen, the author, is an organizer with THE WORLD CAN’T WAIT! DRIVE OUT THE BUSH REGIME! He frequently writes about the crimes of the regime. For more information on how to rid the world of the Bush regime, go to worldcantwait.org.