Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, and other right-wing mouthpieces are trying to frame future debates while they reinvent the George W. Bush years. Their eerie falsehoods, half-truths, revisions, and lies are given added weight because they sit atop a bed of chatter and static, often called the “echo chamber,” of Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Everything that comes out of Cheney’s mouth (or Rove’s or Fleischer’s) is carefully calculated and designed to cast doubt about the current president while whitewashing the disasters of the previous one. Their dire warnings about how President Barack Obama is not “keeping us safe” from terrorists, and their repeated claim that Bush “kept us safe,” starkly reveal their propaganda goals. Cheney’s take on 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, and the budget deficits of the Bush years should send shivers up any rational observer’s spine.
In 2004, Cheney said the same thing about John Kerry: a vote for Kerry meant a vote for a heightened chance of terrorist attack and more dead Americans. Disgusting. It is even more sickening since Cheney is the one with the blood of 4,500 Americans and 200,000 Iraqi civilians on his hands. He’s in no position to lecture us on how to prevent American deaths. Yet there is CNN’s John King or NBC’s David Gregory or ABC’s George Stephanopoulos sitting across a table nodding and giving these monsters a platform to shamelessly propagandize the American people.
Cheney, Rove, and Fleischer (the same people who lied us into going to war in Iraq) appear on our television screens with two principal aims: 1). To lay down a base of rhetorical fire, through repetition, that might frame the larger political debate as the Obama Administration moves forward and unexpected events challenge the Democratic leadership; and 2). To re-write the legacy of the George W. Bush years.
Back in the 1980s, the Republican Party had the upper hand with the first computerized donor lists, “soft money” (a Reagan campaign creation), and “direct mail” operations (where Karl Rove got his start), while the left and the progressives were still relying largely on 19th century techniques such as distributing leaflets and organizing demonstrations. During the Clinton years it looked like the GOP might control the Internet when the Drudge Report dominated the 24-hour news cycle and right-wing websites had astounding “synergies” with talk radio, cable news, and whatever party line the Newt Gingrich Congress was pushing. One of the greatest achievements of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was its domination of Internet communications, which fused Netroots connectivity with Grassroots political organizing. The Huffington Post and other progressive news and information sites, along with MoveOn.org and other Internet organizing networks, played a key role in this dramatic shift in communications technology away from the Right and toward progressive social change.
We need to lock in this advantage.
A chunk of the Obama Administration’s stimulus money is aimed at laying down Internet connections in areas that are underserved. This expansion and upgrading of the nation’s Internet cable system should make it possible for millions of people to by-pass the filter of giant media corporations and access alternative information that undermines the Cheney-Rove-Fleischer revisionist narrative of the George W. Bush legacy. We have a very rare opportunity right now to lock in a progressive advantage in Internet communications, information sharing, and Netroots mobilizing.
With Democratic majorities in Congress and a liberal Democratic administration we can blunt the political influence of media conglomerates and the Right. That is why the Republicans and their corporate media sponsors want to destroy Net Neutrality. They know from their experience with talk radio and the creation of Fox News that corporate absorption of the Internet and ending net neutrality would be a propaganda coup.
The Obama Administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a revivified Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice could pursue all sorts of reforms that would open up the nation’s political discourse. A few minor changes in the rules and regulations governing the public airwaves and corporate media consolidation could transform the political economy of the media sector. Such reforms would make it more difficult for networks to shove people like Cheney, Rove, and Fleischer down our throats because enhanced competition would mean that rivals might be broadcasting more attractive fare. Breaking up Rupert Murdoch’s empire (starting with revoking the waiver that allows him to own the New York Post), and busting up Clear Channel’s monopoly of radio would be a good place to start. Congress, working with the Obama Administration, could then revisit the odious Telecommunications Act of 1996 and remove or rework its worst provisions. Look at what the media monopolies did during the Bush years. The Bush Administration never could have lied us into going to war in Iraq if it were not for the duplicity of the corporate media.
Without some fundamental changes to our media environment the Cheneys and Roves and Fleischers (or their trained cadres) will be back in power. These calculating neo-cons want to claw their way back into power because they believe they’re entitled to hold power. Forever. I thought I had seen the last of unelected hacks like Richard Perle and Elliot Abrams after their disgraceful exits from the Reagan Administration but they came roaring back as soon as W. was in power. They don’t need any new ideas because the “ideas” they promulgate serve power.
We need as many non-elite, outside the Beltway voices as possible. We don’t need to hear more aristocratic propaganda about the benefits of unfettered capitalism; we don’t need to hear more authoritarian scare tactics that justify torture, false imprisonment, and war; we don’t need to hear more Kulturkampf designed to divide working people through exploiting wedge issues and to control women’s bodies and lay claim to the flag, the military, mom and apple pie. It’s time to take steps to open up our media system.
by Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).