One of the biggest problems clogging and clotting our political discourse has been the near-total merging of the media and political classes over the last few decades. Or rather, the completely false and fatuous fantasy on the part of big-time journalists that they are actually part of the same clubby circle as politicians who operate the levers of power. The politicians have made good use of this collective, self-serving delusion, of course, demeaning themselves now and then with chummy repartee and private get-togethers with the hacks they despise, in exchange for puff-ball treatment in print and on air. The late Tim Russert was the greatest exemplar of this pernicious development, of course; he became a veritable sewage pipe for the Beltway barons to pump out their bilgewater to the public at large by virtue of his weirdly inverted journalistic philosophy: every thing any poobah ever said to him was strictly off-the-record, unless they gave him specific permission to transmit their sacred utterances.
But this crippling condition is rife throughout the media industry. I’ve always remembered a particularly flaming example speared from the pages of the Washington Post (another of the great sewage pipes of our time) by the ever-howling Bob Somerby:
Ted Koppel had purchased his latest fast car. And he wanted to show this new “baby” off. And then he had it! He knew what he’d do! He’d show it off to one of the world’s most powerful men—one of the men he allegedly “covers.” Indeed, we’ll let Colin Powell take the story from there. Powell was speaking at a roast Thursday night. His remarks were transcribed and presented in Saturday’s Post. Every American should read them and ponder their meaning:
POWELL (10/14/04): Every couple of years, Ted will come by my house on the spur of the moment and we’ll sit in the back yard and have a cup of coffee. And he’s usually driving one of his hot cars. He always has a fast car of some kind. And so about, oh, four or five years ago, he came by the house and he had this real muscle car, and after we had a cup of coffee and chatted for a while, he says, “You’ve got to take it out and drive it, Colin. You’ve just got to drive this thing. I want you to feel that power.”
I said, “Okay, Ted. You want to go with me?”
“No, you go. I’ll just wait right here in front of the house.”
And so I go out and up 123 in McLean. I will not tell anyone how fast I was going by the time I hit the CIA turnoff, but it didn’t take me long to get there. And I came back around, pulled up in front of my driveway, and felt something go boom. And I got out of the car and the right rear tire was flat. There must have been about two inches of air left in it.
I said, “Oh, my gosh, Ted. I’m so sorry. I messed up your car.”
And he comes back, “Oh, it’s okay, it’s okay. I’ve got to go now.”
So I went to the back of the car and I looked at the tire. There was no tread on it. The wires were coming through. This guy had sent me out to speed up and down 123 with this car that had no tires on it. And I said, “Ted, how much are they paying you at ABC, man? Surely you can do better than this.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Everyone laughed at the fatuous story, because the tale had been told by a powerful man. And by the way, in answer to Powell’s question, how much are they paying Koppel at ABC? They’re paying him millions of dollars—and he makes a joke of his responsibilities by driving around in his fast muscle cars, playing best buddy with the powerful people whom he allegedly “covers.”…What makes it amazing is the way these people discuss this conduct right out in public! … Over the course of the past few years, we’ve discussed Bob Schieffer playing golf with George Bush; Gwen Ifill giving home-cooked meals to Condi Rice; and Tim Russert off at Don Rumsfeld’s Christmas party, loudly telling all in attendance about his dreams of the previous night. All of these people then go on the air and pretend to “cover” the people they pal with. Are you really surprised when a flunkee like Ifill goes on the air and rolls over for Condi? Or when all the rest of her compromised cohort pretend that the session was boffo?
No, Bob, we weren’t surprised back in 2004, and we aren’t surprised today. Take for example the piece below by Salon.com’s own Joan Walsh, who would certainly consider herself one of the fiercest critics of the Bush Administration around. Yet here she is, deeply stirred by Condi Rice’s tribute to the historical significance of Barack Obama’s election:
Am I a total sap to find Condoleezza Rice’s reaction to Barack Obama’s victory moving? She looked like a little girl on Christmas. She looked 20 years younger, at least. That grim mask of determination and repression was gone.
Asked about the election results, she made unsurprising but pleasant remarks about the greatness of this country: “You just know that Americans will not be satisfied until they do form that perfect union.” Then she added: “I just want to close on a personal note: As an African-American, I’m especially proud, because this is a country that’s been through a long journey, in terms of overcoming wounds … That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward.”
It wasn’t really what she said, but the look on her face as she said it. A genuine grin kept breaking through the mask. Her eyes were glistening. She couldn’t contain her excitement, though she was trying.
Walsh then goes to relate this rather boilerplatish enconium — which differed very little from the sumptuous rhetoric that George W. Bush was given to read acknowledging the racial breakthrough of the vote — to Rice’s personal history, noting that the Secretary of State had been raised in Birmingham, that bastion of segregation, and had been friends with one of the four young girls killed by the racist bombing of a Baptist Church there in 1963. Of course, a young African-American girl in such circumstances would have been traumatized by the incident, and by the whole experience of growing up in that poisonous atmosphere (in a place that would have very much been considered “the real America” by the Sarah Palins of that day — and of this day as well). And yes, one can see that such an experience might cause someone to react not by opposing the prevailing power structure but by identifying with it, clinging to it for protection, as Rice has done throughout her career.
That’s an understandable human story. But Rice did not stop there, did not simply become a right-wing academic or corporate boarder, etc. She kept on going, right into the very inner circle of power. And there, she became — and remains — a very direct accomplice and perpetrator of mass murder, with the blood of a million innocent human beings on her hands. No one and nothing on earth forced her to do this. She has done it willingly and proudly, with eyes wide open. She has not shown the slightest remorse for the unspeakably horrific human cost of the war that she helped bring about and perpetuate. In any remotely just world, she would already be standing in the dock for war crimes.
And remarkably, Walsh seems to be aware of the fact that Rice is a mass murderer — but she refuses to let this unseemly truth interfere with the cozy emotional moment she thinks she is sharing with a fellow member of the media-political club:
I know, plenty of people who grew up where and when she did were radicalized by it instead, and devoted their lives to civil rights and social justice. I know, she bears enormous responsibility for the nightmare of the Iraq war. But since this is a day to appreciate the opening to change that Obama’s election creates, I think it’s a day to be happy to see Condi Rice happy, and to hope she puts her experience and intelligence to work undoing the wrongs of the Bush administration.
My word, yes! Let’s be happy that Condi is happy! Let’s not put Condi on trial for war crimes, or bother her with investigations and tribunals. Let’s not take her to Fallujah and put her in front of, say, a woman who has seen her own children blown to bits just like the four little girls in Birmingham. Why would we do that? In fact, what would be the point of raking up all that old dirt again on anybody? We don’t need trials and investigations. We don’t need justice. What we really need is for Condi Rice to “put her experience and intelligence to work” for us. Maybe she could join Obama’s team, just like her partner in mass murder, Colin Powell. Wouldn’t that be an opening to change that we can believe in?
Powell, then Condi — hey, what about Dick Cheney? Sure, he “bears enormous responsibility for the nightmare of the Iraq war” — but he’s still got a lot of “experience and intelligence” that we could draw on. Imagine old Dick — the greatest bureaucratic infighter of our time — clearing away the red tape for Obama’s programs!
So this is how it’s going to be. Not only is Obama not going to pursue any kind of criminal investigation of war crimes, torture, concentration camps, warrantless spying and the innumerable other high crimes of the past eight years — he is not even going to be pressured to do so, not even tepidly, by the leading lights of the “progressive” movement.
I’ll bet that makes Condi really happy! And we’re all happy for her, of course.