Monday, August 15, 2005

It's about accountability

The Cindy Sheehan matter has produced more than its fair share of dumbassery from the usual suspects: i.e., right-wing bloggers for whom fealty to the Bush agenda is the chief gauge of a person's worth. You know the type.

But I've seen an inordinate amount coming from ostensibly mainstream media folks, too. However, considering what Sheehan's campaign is really all about, maybe there's a reason for that, too.

The most prominent local instance of this came from P-I columnist Robert Jamieson, who has of late been doing his best to enhance a "maverick" reputation. But his attack on Sheehan was so fluffy that it also, unfortunately, revealed a real shallowness to Jamieson's work (which, I've noted a couple of times in the past, has also exhibited problems regarding source checks).

Jamieson avers -- without any substantiation whatsoever -- that Sheehan is not sincere in her desire to meet with President Bush. He regurgitates the now well-trodden (and largely debunked) GOP/Drudge talking points claiming that Sheehan "changed her story."

He misses a key point regarding Sheehan's earlier meeting with Bush: It occurred in June 2004. The Duelfer Report -- which made clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction -- was released in September 2004. Note now, if you will, that Sheehan's main line of criticism of Bush is that "he lied to us."

You can bet that, if she had been so bold as to make that claim in June 2004, guys like Robert Jamieson (or some Fox News talking head) would have criticized her for it.

I was especially struck by these passages:
If Sheehan wants sober war policy answers, I have a one-word suggestion for her: Google.

She can read up on Bush's shifting justifications for the Iraq debacle. She won't get solid answers, but she will read a lot about a Bush administration that misrepresents facts and lies as a matter of habit.

She also will come across accounts of our "heartless" president crying with families of dead soldiers.

Sure. And she will also -- rather more to the point -- read many accounts of what happens when anyone chooses not to let themselves merely be a photo op for Bush's propaganda, a prop for his agenda. They get shut out or shouted down, accused of being anti-American traitors.

She'll be able to find any number of stories that make clear that the only way to you even get be in an audience for an appearance by the president is by swearing to be a supporter. And that the easiest way to get tossed from a Bush event is to express support for anything resembling a liberal idea. How weird -- how totalitarian -- is that?

This is a president who lives in a bubble, who refuses to be held to account. By anyone.

Indeed, if Cindy Sheehan were to Google around a bit, she could find plenty of stories about what happens to anyone who tries to hold this president to account. Paul O'Neill. Richard Clarke. Joe Wilson. All tried to expose the lies he used to lead us into this war, all were smeared. Wilson's wife saw her career as a CIA specialist in weapons of mass destruction end.

What's remarkable about all this is that Bush has succeeded. He has not yet been called to account for misleading the nation into war. The primary reason: the watchdogs of our national discourse, the mainstream media, have refused to hold him responsible.

I mean, just how is it that the nation isn't really aware of the contents of the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing? How is it that, nearly a year after both the 9/11 Commission Report and the Duelfer Report, most Americans still believe Iraq was connected to 9/11? How did it happen that a guy who certifiably skipped out on his military commitment was able to run a campaign that slandered his war-hero opponent's record? How is it that the Downing Street Memo is still just a rumor for most Americans?

I'll tell you how: Because the traditional media have completely fallen down on the job. The public isn't getting this information because guys like Robert Jamieson and his editors have decided they have, um, "other priorities."

Sure. While the threat of terrorism was building both at home and abroad in the late 1990s, these are the same folks who thought it worth the public's while to devote most of our attention to prurient allegations regarding the president's private life. Some priorities.

The song and dance continues: Michael Jackson. Scott and Laci Peterson. Robert Blake. Terri Schiavo. An endless circus of freak shows, bread and circus for the masses. Let's not be bothered by the inescapable reality that the United States invaded another nation under false pretenses, and almost certainly in violation of international law. Oh, and don't look over there at those photos from Abu Ghraib, either, or the reports out of Gitmo.

But then what happens? Someone comes along and reminds everyone that soldiers are dying daily in Iraq, and that this president still hasn't been called to account for misleading the nation into war, and in so doing, dishonoring the memories of those people who have died there. Someone tries to do what the media have failed to do: Hold this man to account.

And, well, the media poobahs huff and they puff. How dare she? Who does she think she is?

Well, Robert Jamieson may not like it, but she is someone who is speaking for a lot of us. We're people who are opposed to the war on principled grounds, and who have not been taken seriously because our motives, too, have been discounted and smeared.

You find wonderment that the antiwar movement has coalesced behind her? It shouldn't be a surprise, because everyone else who has demanded this accountability has been called an anti-American traitor, sideline carpers who won't make the necessary sacrifices. It's false, it's a smear. And it sticks -- mostly because the charge is made so freely in today's "mainstream media" environment. Right, Ann Coulter?

But it's harder to pin that on Cindy Sheehan. A lot harder.

So she's become a spokesperson for a lot of people. Including a lot of those other mothers and fathers of dead soldiers for whom Jamieson seems to have so much sympathy -- the ones who don't have the luxury of spending the time and energy to force some kind of accountability from this president. She speaks for many thousands of them, even if not all of them.

She speaks for a lot of people who feel passionately about this war, that the killing must stop. No doubt, Robert Jamieson will have heard from a lot of them.

And just as night will follow day, Jamieson will produce, for his next column, a quaint piece -- based around the doubtless barrage of phone calls and e-mails he's received -- exposing just how nasty those people on the left could be. (If he expedites it to Michelle Malkin, she can use it as fodder for her next book.) So much for tolerance! And blah blah blah.

To which it is always useful to point out two things:

-- When judging, as a journalist, whether an extreme reaction to something you've produced has merit, it's always useful to weigh the source of the public ire. The right gets all worked up about blow jobs; the left about body counts. There's a difference there.

-- Sometimes, you get screamed at by ninnies because you've earned it.

That's something our Fearless Leader could stand to learn, too.

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