It’s getting to the point where that old saw — believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you read — may need to be revamped. Perhaps to: Believe nothing of what you hear, read or see, and only half of what you think you’ve discerned through rational thought based purely on the facts of a matter. (Not including this spasm of lucidity, of course.) At any rate, when it comes to undermining this country’s allegedly free press with disingenuous propaganda disguised as objective news and independent opinion, the Bush administration has plunged to previously unplumbed depths in that cesspool we know as politics.
Over the past few months there have been several disclosures that demonstrate the far-reaching agenda of the president’s puppetmasters to manage the news and information upon which we citizens rely for some semblance of reality.
Video press releases produced and paid for by various Cabinet-level departments – Justice, Defense, Education, to name a few — are being supplied to TV stations to run as hard news stories, without identifying the source, but complete with a “reporter” (actually an administration-hired PR specialist) wrapping it up by saying, “This is (fill in fake name) in Washington.”
But rather than a traditional two-, three- or four-sided story where opposing forces and differing views are exposed to scrutiny, these Big Brother releases focus only on the alleged wonderful impacts of various Bush policies. The government watchdog General Accounting Office recently ruled the fake news videos are illegal expenditures because they amount to partisan sales pitches intended to promote Bush’s political ends. But Bush says “ his” Justice Department believes otherwise, so the spending will continue.
It should be noted that this practice began during the Clinton administration. But Bush’s people have extended their efforts to control the news into realms never dreamed of by Slick Willy.
Public-relations firms hired by Bush’s administration — with tax dollars, of course — have also been secretly paying purportedly free-thinking columnists to champion a variety of mean-spirited policies dear to what passes for the hearts of the president’s minions. (Cut 100,000 poor kids from the Medicaid rolls, for instance, while grandstanding about the great worth of one “life” represented by a brain-dead woman.)
First, there was the revelation that Armstrong Williams, a right-wing newspaper columnist and talk-show host, had been paid $241,000 by the U.S. Department of Education to hype Bush’s No Child Left Behind education agenda by, for instance, interviewing former Education Secretary Rod Paige on his TV show and writing glowingly of NCLB in his newspaper column. Williams never mentioned he was a “ paid spokesperson,” as they say, until this was revealed through a Freedom of Information request.
He feebly tried to defend the bribery by saying he actually believed in NCLB, so he would have said the same things, paid or not. (Maybe not so vigorously or so often, but oh well.) Particulary valuable to the Republican spin machine because he is a black conservative, the shameless blowhard finally conceded it might have been a good idea to reveal his handsome reward for trumpeting Bush’s greatness to the unwashed and gullible.
Then there was syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher, paid more than $20,000 by the Department of Health and Human Services to promote heterosexual marriage through such means as a brochure entitled, “The Top Ten Reasons Marriage Matters.” But in her own opinion pieces, Gallagher also championed the $300 million “Bush marriage initiative.” Once exposed as a paid administration flack, she, too, admitted it might have been better to be upfront about the payola.
Asked about this practice in February at one of his rare press conferences, Bush blandly said, “There needs to be a nice, independent relationship between the White House and the press.”
Then an odd thing happened. Obviously wanting to end that topic, the president quickly called on another questioner. But it wasn’t just anyone from the legitimate reporters who faithfully cover his tortured remarks that Bush recognized next.
No, it was a phony reporter going by the phony name of Jeff Gannon (real name James Guckert), a Republican plant who had no journalistic bona fides other than writing phony stories for a Texas company known as Talon News, which is funded by GOPUSA, one of the many propaganda arms of our neo-conservative masters.
During the two years Guckert was given daily passes to White House briefings as well as passes to presidential news conferences, his “stories” included a piece opining that John Kerry might be remembered as “the first gay president” if elected, because of his support for gay rights. Then there was another fabrication claiming that Kerry had had an affair with an intern, just like you-know-who. (No points for originality there, but the lie touched off a brief slime storm among right-wing talk-radio hosts.)
But even though Bush’s go-to guy wasn’t actually a reporter. he did have a real occupation, mind you — it was later revealed. Guckert/ Gannon openly touted his services as a gay prostitute on several web sites — such as hotmilitarystud. com, MeetLocalMen.com and so on — that included lots of suggestive nude pictures of the White House regular. For only $200 an hour he’d “ escort” men through a garden of sexual pleasures; for $1,200, he was yours for the weekend. (With apologies to Dave Berry, I am not making this up.)
So here’s what the “gentleman of the night” asked the president:
“Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy,” the silver-tongued courtesan began. “Yet they say that Social Security is rock-solid and there’s no crisis there . . . how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Never mind that Guckert’s assertions were falsehoods he’d apparently gleaned from right-wing talk shows.)
Guckert was also a favorite of Bush spokesman Scott McClellan, who often called on the bogus scribe during daily briefings to defuse any questioning from real reporters. “Jeff Gannon” often posed no real questions, but rather used the briefing as a platform to denounce Bush detractors.
Still, McClellan defended Guckert to Editor and Publisher magazine, observing that “peope use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.”
Especially if they sell both their bodies and souls, and want to keep this fine distinction clear.
Hey, I could do that if the money was right. How about, “Clark Kent from the Daily Planet, Mr. President. Why is it you’re so good and Christian, and your liberal Democratic enemies are so godless and evil?”
No, I guess I couldn’t do that.
David Grant Long has never posed nude for any Internet web sites.