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9/11's Dark Window to the Future

By Robert Parry
September 11, 2006

As the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks unfolds, it has come to look less like a sad remembrance of the past and more like a troubling glimpse into the future, a window to a new-age totalitarianism that looms before the United States, where a powerful right-wing government tells lies aided and abetted by friendly media corporations.

So, even as the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee finally acknowledge some of the many Iraq War falsehoods told by George W. Bush and his senior advisers, Bush’s misfeasance and malfeasance are obscured by Disney’s ABC-TV “docu-drama” pinning most of the blame for the 9/11 catastrophe not on Bush, but on Democrats.

With Disney’s selection of a right-wing director and with the secrecy that surrounded the project – that gave Democrats little time to react – “The Path to 9/11” also had the sickening feel of a collaboration between a giant corporation and the Republican government in power.

So, less than two months before a pivotal national election, with Americans increasingly wondering how the nation got into the mess it faces today, this joint project of Disney and pro-Bush operatives provides a narrative that focuses not on Bush blowing off CIA warnings of an impending attacks in 2001 but on events dating back to 1993.

“The Path to 9/11,” which ABC touted as a public service shown “with no commercial interruptions,” makes some of its right-wing judgments with sneering asides from characters, such as wondering if Attorney General Janet Reno had “any balls,” and others by mixing real and fabricated events to put Democrats in the worst possible light.

When the mysterious project finally was unveiled to mainstream media reviewers and when Democrats started complaining about fabricated scenes, the right-wing media responded with a counter-attack accusing the protesting Democrats of threatening the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

In other words, at a time when Republicans control the White House, the Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and increasingly the American media, the Democrats still get transformed into the ones threatening free speech, for protesting their harsh and at times false depiction in events that led to the deaths of almost 3,000 people.

Looking Forward

Media manipulation also appears likely to play a major part in the Republican strategy for beating back Democratic challenges in the Nov. 7 election. In the eight weeks ahead, Republicans can be expected to exploit their financial and media advantages to wage personal attacks against Democratic challengers, district by district, state by state.

About four months ago, a Republican political operative told me about this strategy to “disqualify” Democratic candidates through a combination of negative research, called “oppo,” and the timely dissemination of attack lines to conservative allies in the local and national media. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Democrats Lose.]

The pattern first surfaced in a special congressional election near San Diego, where Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham had resigned over a lobbying-bribery scandal and gone to prison.

To succeed Cunningham, the Republicans boldly put up a professional lobbyist, Brian Bilbray, while Democrats chose Francine Busby, who was counseled by Democratic consultants to avoid controversial Democratic positions in a traditionally Republican district. Democrats felt that Cunningham's disgrace would be enough to guarantee success.

Indeed, despite a lackluster campaign, Busby appeared headed for victory. But then she blurted out to a mostly Latino audience that “you don’t need papers for voting,” hastily clarifying her meaning to say “you don’t need to be a registered voter to help.”

Conservative radio and TV talk show hosts across southern California seized on Busby’s verbal slip and began accusing her of urging illegal immigrants to vote. Busby then spent the last several days of the campaign apologizing and backtracking before losing by about four percentage points. [Washington Post, June 7, 2006]

In explaining Busby’s defeat, some Democratic activists raised suspicions that the election had been stolen by Republican vote fraud (though no hard evidence materialized). National Democratic consultants also pointed to the fact that the Republican Congressional Committee pumped more than $4.5 million into the district.

But whatever the truth, the Republicans had tested out their 2006 model for victory – and for continued one-party rule in Washington. They would exploit their advantages in finances, media and campaign tactics to prevent the Democrats from achieving a majority in either the House or Senate.

'Defining' Democrats

In a front-page article on Sept. 10, 2006, the Washington Post added more details about this Republican strategy: “Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest over the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.”

The Post reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee had earmarked more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget to negative advertising that would disseminate the findings of researchers who have been combing through tax and legal records searching for exploitable themes against Democrats.

“The hope is that a vigorous effort to ‘define’ opponents, in the parlance of GOP operatives, can help Republicans shift the midterm debate away from Iraq and limit losses this fall,” the Post wrote.

An early example of the strategy has been a Republican ad directed against physician Steve Kagen, a Democratic congressional candidate in Wisconsin who is being labeled “Dr. Millionaire” because over the years his allergy clinic has sued 80 patients, mostly for unpaid bills.

Against inexperienced or little-known Democratic candidates, “it will take one or two punches to fold them up like a cheap suit,” Republican strategist Matt Keelen told the Post. [Washington Post, Sept. 19, 2006]

The Republicans also have a huge advantage because their negative themes reverberate through a giant right-wing media megaphone that extends from the national level down to the states and districts, where Republicans have identified specific hosts on local right-wing radio stations and friendly newspaper editors.

I was told that Republican operatives have an apparatus to electronically communicate instantaneous talking points to these local media outlets, promoting “bad votes” or exploitable quotes from individual Democratic candidates. Republicans will be putting negative spins on Democratic candidates before the Democrats can even reach a microphone.

The Left's Failure

By contrast, the Democratic response mechanism – concentrated mostly on personal Internet sites and under-funded Air America Radio stations – is amateurish and relatively slow. Much of it depends on volunteers with day jobs finding time to do a little blogging.

While the Right has built up its media machinery over three decades, spending billions of dollars and integrating its media with its political operations, the Left has invested sparingly on media and focused mostly on “grassroots organizing.”

In effect, the Left counted on the mainstream news media to provide the necessary information and thus ceded control of the national narrative, while the Right created its own narrative and aggressively pressured the mainstream media to go along, labeling any out-of-step journalists as “liberal.”

The consequences of these two competing strategies cannot be overstated. Beyond enabling the Right to build a political following with consistent messages day in and day out, its media machine gives the Right enormous advantages at key moments, such as during a run-up to war or in the weeks before an election.

Increasingly, too, the mainstream media finds itself under the influence of the Right’s narrative and under pressure to accept the Right’s “facts.” Individual journalists may first bend their coverage to the Right to avoid the career-threatening “liberal” label but often even that doesn’t work.

Eventually, targeted news personalities, such as Dan Rather, get weeded out and replaced with unthreatening ciphers, like Katie Couric, who, in turn, put opinion segments on the CBS Evening News that range from Thomas L. Friedman, an Iraq War hawk with some second thoughts, to Rush Limbaugh, an Iraq War hawk with no second thoughts.

In another sign of the times, Disney, which has faced right-wing attacks for supposed tolerance of homosexuality and for some executives who have contributed to Democrats, turned to a Limbaugh friend, Cyrus Nowrasteh, to direct its docu-drama on 9/11.

Disney saw little downside in promoting a favorite right-wing theme – blaming the 9/11 attacks on Democratic President Bill Clinton – despite the evidence that Clinton took the al-Qaeda threat much more seriously than did Bush, who famously brushed aside warnings from the CIA and downplayed terrorism in his first eight months in office.

As another favor to the Right – and as proof that the motive wasn’t financial – Disney’s ABC-TV presented its anti-Clinton mini-series without commercial breaks. It is inconceivable that Disney or any media corporation would give similar treatment to a TV special that worked as hard to put Bush in an unfavorable light.

Fake Testimony

On a smaller scale but also instructive, right-wing operatives continue to spread a disinformation campaign that has doctored Iran-Contra testimony to have former White House aide Oliver North prophetically describing his concerns about terrorist Osama bin Laden in 1987 – while Democrats, supposedly including then-Sen. Al Gore, behave cluelessly.

Over the past five years, I have been asked about this supposed North testimony at least a dozen times. Heading into the 9/11 anniversary, the North “testimony” was circulating again, distributed widely across the Internet as further “evidence” of Republican farsightedness and Democratic fecklessness.

But North did not cite concerns about bin Laden in 1987, when bin Laden was actually a U.S. ally receiving military assistance from the Reagan administration to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. North’s concerns were about another terrorist, named Abu Nidal. Sen. Gore also wasn’t on the Iran-Contra committee.

Yet, this bogus history – much like the Disney docu-drama and Bush’s longstanding lies about Iraq – are combining in big ways and small to create an Orwellian future for the American people.

Internationally, Bush has outlined an endless war against the vague concept of “Islamic fascists” with the underlying reality that the United States is committing itself to a bloody “World War III” against many of the world’s one billion Muslims.

At home, Karl Rove and other Republican strategists project what effectively will be a one-party state, with the Republicans controlling all branches of government, using the federal courts to redefine the Constitution and keeping Democrats around as foils and boogey men to stir up the conservative base with warnings about the enemy within.

On this fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush and his Republican supporters are trying hard to revive the lost sentimental unity that followed the attacks. But the saddest legacy of that tragic day may be that it marked the path toward the end of the noble American Republic and the start of a new totalitarianism.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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