Monday, February 25, 2008

Patriot Games

The AP committed an astonishing act of fake journalism this weekend. It's a topsy-turvy world when the self-proclaimed "fake journalists" of the Daily Show are among our best truth-tellers, while a "serious" institution like the AP hawks innuendoes and just plain bullshit.

AP "journalist" Nedra Pickler made herself a tool of the right-wing machine that's ramping up to smear Obama every which way. She quotes Republican consultant Roger Stone:
"Many Americans will find the three things offensive. Barack Obama is out of the McGovern wing of the party, and he is part of the blame America first crowd."
[If you're having trouble counting past two, apparently so did Pickler, because the third "offensive" thing never appears in her article.]
She quotes Steve Doocy of Fox News:
"First he kicked his American flag pin to the curb. Now Barack Obama has a new round of patriotism problems. Wait until you hear what the White House hopeful didn't do during the singing of the national anthem."
She quotes former radio host Mark Williams, who was also speaking on Fox:
"He felt it OK to come out of the closet as the domestic insurgent he is."
Pickler does debunk the rumor
based on the Internet that falsely suggests he's a Muslim intent on destroying the United States. Obama is a Christian and has been fighting the e-mail hoax, which also claims he doesn't put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, and he's been trying to correct the misinformation.
If asked to defend herself, Pickler would probably point out that she devoted more lines to responses from Obama and his surrogates than to his attackers. It's a classic example of he-said, she-said journalism that Jon Swift has skewered just beautifully.

But that defense would be missing the point: This slime should never have become news in the first place. The conventional media still has the power to set the agenda for politicians and journalists alike. Those who propagate innuendo and lies are almost as blameworthy as those who invent the lies in the first place. Folks, this is not journalism; it's propaganda.

Glenn Greenwald describes how the process works:
This is a "news article." And Pickler and AP wrote it by sitting in front of Fox News, writing down the most baseless and reckless accusations from the worst morons, and then turning it into a "news story" along the lines of: "Conservatives accuse Obama of X." That's how Drudge rules their world. He posts some completely irresponsible and scurrilous rumor; they then write a news story about how the rumors are circulating, and it then becomes mainstreamed.
(Read his whole post here.)
Greenwald is surprisingly sanguine about the effects of this, mostly because Obama is going on the offense – not just rebutting the lies but actively redefining patriotism. He thinks this robust offense might just redefine the terms of the debate. He contrasts Obama's reaction to the standard Democratic backbone-of-cooked-spaghetti approach:
* Even though I am kind of against the war and a little bit against the new FISA bill for now, I love my country and want to protect Americans, too, just like the Republicans do -- honest (the standard Democratic response); and,
* If anyone's patriotism should be considered suspect, it's those who want to send Americans off to die in a worthless and destructive war and those who want to eviscerate our basic political values by torturing, detaining people with no rights, and spying on American citizens with no warrants (the gist of Obama's response here).
(Read his whole analysis here.)
I'm not quite as sanguine as Greenwald about this. The reeking garbage that Pickler circulated is only the beginning, of course, and we can expect it'll get a lot more odious if (when!) Obama wins the nomination. Then again, maybe the Republicans will be flummoxed by someone who stands up to bullies.

We could sorely use a redefinition of patriotism – one that sees human worth, and not militarism, as its raison d'etre. The costs of equating militarism with strength have been astronomical, and they keep rising.

The Political Cat reported last week on one case of truly horrific fallout from the Iraq War: A 27-year-old veteran returned from Iraq, only to physically and sexually assault his very own three-month-old daughter. TPC writes:
This is the end of his life, which is sad enough. Because he will be proved to be a sex offender, regardless of whether he is convicted of this particular crime. Sadder still, it is the end of the life of a three-month-old girl, who suffered bleeding on the brain because her own father assaulted her. Her mental capacity will always be affected. Who knows what these assaults have done to her emotional development. That her physical well-being is no more is a given.
(More details are included in TPC's post. Fair warning: The whole story is deeply disturbing.)
We don't know what problems he may have had prior to deployment. But he clearly returned to civilian life in a profoundly fucked-up state. Statistically, we know that PTSD is widespread among returning veterans. And we know that the military's mental health services have been woefully inadequate.

I'm reminded of the first student I ever taught who was a Iraq veteran. Reynolds (obviously not his real name) was a few years older than my other students, affable and active in class discussion. He was also a bit of a fuck-up, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. (I have a soft spot for students who are interesting and original but don't quite have their act together. Note to any of my current who may be reading this: I am so not giving you license to screw up.)

Reynolds got in trouble for DUI and I found out because he had to go to court during my class. But that's one of the reasons I liked him; it wouldn't have occurred to him to lie to me or give me a snow job. He missed one day due to a hangover. He skipped class on the day we were scheduled to discuss gender and militarism and later apologized, saying he just couldn't handle the memories. That's when he told me he still couldn't sleep for fear the air might explode around him at any moment.

The quarter after that, I happened across a brief story in the online version of one of the local papers about a fight that had broken out at a bar, not in itself an unusual event in this town. A patron and a bouncer had mixed it up, and the bouncer literally tossed the patron out of the bar and onto the sidewalk. The story made the paper because the patron had to be transported to Columbus with head injuries.

The patron was my sweet, funny former student, Reynolds.

Will he ever show up in the official casualty stats? Not bloody likely. I tried emailing him, with no response. Since I was in Germany at the time I never did find out what happened next. He doesn't seem to be enrolled anymore.

I want a patriotism that doesn't wantonly squander young lives; that respects the Constitution; that embraces constructive dissent; and that isn't afraid to admit mistakes and make amends. That's worth more to me than any number of flag pins. Although it'd be nice if the flag could stand for my flavor of patriotism once again.

"High-Flying Flag" by Flickr user GeneC55, used under a Creative Commons license.

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