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
“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
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.
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
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 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
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.
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
“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
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
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.
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,
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
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.'