At Least They Asked
“The concern is that WikiLeaks as an organization should not be made more credible by having credible news organizations facilitate what they’re doing.”
–Col. Dave Lapan, Pentagon spokesman (with a straight face…)
The Pentagon, which devours about half of the US budget Defending our Freedom, has “asked” the news media if it would refrain from publishing the latest Wikileaks documents, ostensibly out of a sudden concern with the credibility of the media. Yes, you read that right. They’re pleading with the same media who relentlessly promoted the Iraq War, The “War on Terror,” and the “Axis of Evil,” among other stupid, misguided notions of the Bush Era, while unanimously dismissing opponents of torture, wiretapping, war, and indefinite detention as naive and unSerious, despite the fact that they were right. The same shockingly discredited media that gave us Judith Miller, Tom Friedman, Bill Kristol, Fred Hiatt, David Ignatius, Jonah Goldberg, David Gregory, and on and on is now supposed to be worried about how crossing the Pentagon, for once, might damage its credibility, and thus should keep mum. What they’re asking is kind of like asking a fish to swim, but the Pentagon’s doing it anyway. They have a lot of taxpayer-funded spokesmen to keep busy, after all.
But why bother? The media has fallen hook, line. and sinker for every cockamamie idea that has bubbled up from the bowels of the Pentagon swamp for twenty years; from the Kuwaiti Incubators to the Aluminum Tubes, from Star Wars to Suitcase nukes, no phony pretext was too ridiculous for the mainstream media to toss credibility to the wind and type up whatever some shadowy Pentagon flack said, however often such errant hogwash was initially disputed and subsequently disproven. Last time the Pentagon had this sort of Wikileaks-related Depends Moment, just this summer, all of its wild threats proved utterly false, but the media published them anyway, basically ignoring what the leaks contained. There is no evidence that they won’t do so again, but I guess if you’re the Pentagon, and your whole world is a spinning kaleidoscope of imaginary fears, even this one might sound plausible.
Trouble is, the Pentagon has achieved “full spectrum dominance” when it comes to the US media, if not in the real world, where since World War II it loses all its wars, so such dire entreaties are as silly as they are unnecessary. Nobody at the Pentagon seriously thinks that, say, the New York Times, which obligingly withheld Bush’s warrantless wiretapping until his 2004 reelection was safely past, will suddenly find something the the 400,ooo pages of documents with which to bedevil the war machine. Nobody expects the Washington Post, no further introduction necessary, to print anything that might send Halliburton or Blackwater stock plummeting. Everyone knows that on TV, war sells and peace leads to poor ratings, no matter the country/cause/pretext du jour. What, pray, is the Pentagon pretending, this time, to be afraid of?
The answer lies, I think, in the latter half of the quote above, which is unintentionally (of course) revealing…. The Pentagon has, in effect, gone all Alaska on us. Like Senate candidate Joe Miller, who had private thugs “arrest” and handcuff an impertinent reporter, and Sarah Palin, who blames the “lamestream media” for making her look like the dangerous idiot she is, the by far largest “branch” of our supposedly Democratic government is out to destroy the credibility of any media source, however tiny and inconsequential, who dares to question them. When you’re a hillbilly grifter attempting to ride a wave of corporate-funded paranoia to Washington, that’s one thing. When you’re annually gobbling up $700 billion of money we don’t have creating morally indefensible violence and resentment the world over and calling it “defense,” it’s quite another. The media have been dutifully ignoring this rather simple fact for many years; indeed, whatever “credibility” they might hope to retain depends on their willingness to cover up their many past errors, incurred mostly by believing the Pentagon, so their interests, once adversarial, have become one.
At one time, the news media felt a responsibility, however often in the breach, to dig beneath shady official pronouncements, and found it both satisfying and economically advantageous to expose official lies; in short, they had credibility, and sometimes even used it, notably during the Pentagon Papers case, when several newspaper publishers risked jail publishing what the military always calls “classified” documents about its deceitfulness and egregious crimes against humanity.
That time has passed, and someone ought to tell the Pentagon to try something else. Unlike the rest of America, they can afford to lavishly, and perhaps effectively, sell almost anything… Anything but credibility, that is.