"On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts’ desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.''
"On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts’ desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.''– H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Sun
LIES OF OMISSION
Liarsville Camp, Skagway AK, September 8, 2005: A reader acquainted me with the above H.L. Mencken quote. And how very prophetic an observation it has proven to be: a reporter predicting a downright moron adorning the White House, a moron insinuated therein by the perfect democratic actions of the "plain folks of the land," and foreseeing it all some eighty odd years before it came to pass.
Mencken wrote the words in 1920 as part of a larger piece. Here’s the passage in context:
The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.
The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
What Mencken the newspaper man had no way of foreseeing, however, was the irony – the profound yet unintended irony - in his observation.
For today we see a White House not merely adorned by a singular if spectacularly qualified moron in the person of its current homesteader, but a seat of government that is in fact overrun by morons.
To Mencken’s probable delight, most of the unanticipated morons have not taken up residence in the West Wing, nor do they work in the Oval Office. Numerically speaking, neither would most of the morons be the confused if adamant legion of incompetent liberals turned neo-conservatives with whom he’s surrounded himself, nor would they be the Dominionist sociopaths to whom the moron-in-chief has abdicated what remains of his mind. Though strident and vile, even they comprise but a handful.
No. The vast majority of White House morons – the vast majority – are those who slouch toward the press room every working day. Therein lies the cruel irony. These sorry successors to the independent thinking that is the journalistic legacy of an H.L. Mencken take mindlessly-simple dictation and swallow whatever momma news hawk Scott McClellan regurgitates into their gaping and eager little beaks.
So, every day for nearly five years running the majority of them have proceeded to (perhaps deliberately) miss the point, make their (possibly willful) ignorance mass-manifest with the sophomoric drivel they call writing, and tell us nothing. Day in and day out they tell us nothing, nothing, and more nothing and get paid to do so. It’s small wonder the English call newsprint "foolscap."
Upon what do I base this seemingly cruel and unfounded exaggeration, you might ask. Well, that Mencken, a reporter himself, would arrive at his prescient observation some eighty years before it actually came to pass, while the sorry gaggle of obedient stenographers who’ve succeeded him remain either silent or blissfully unaware that the Great and Powerful Oz is a moron to be sure, but also an unindicted criminal, a military derelict, an incompetent, a liar, an irrational psychpath, and a character history will prove a traitor to his country’s founding principles as well as its first unelected dictator seems a worthy start. It also endorses my proximate point. They call him president.
But there’s better – much better – evidence that the White House press corps is not one neuron smarter than the dull-normal White House squatter upon whom they continue to dote. The only question is whether their apparent stupidity is genuine or the product of something else.
Credulity, sycophancy, and fear are anathema to competent journalism. Yet they are the only plausible possibilities other than stupidity evident in the reportage that has come from this White House press corps. Thus, calling such people morons is hardly cruel. Better that than the alternatives.
On December 16, 2000, the representative government of the United States of America was overthrown.
In a coup d’etat like none before it, the weighted votes of the "plain people of the land" and their subsequent endorsements of the evident abuse of those votes was used to elevate a moron to the White House thus bringing an end to their (and our) own representation in the government of America. These "plain people of the land" got most of their insight to the moron’s past performance through the mainstream press. As is consistent with plainness, the "plain people of the land" never saw fit to challenge or question the viability of the information. Content to be influential, they simply believed it, as plain people are prone to believe so many questionable precepts.
Plain and simple. The two words do not go together by accident. Neither was that lost on H.L. Mencken.
The bloodless coup that proceeded from incompetent and illicitly chosen "leadership" also brought an end to constitutional checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches, an end to voter equity, an end to citizen rights of privacy, a sapping of the treasury that exceeds its contents by 5.4 trillion dollars, an end to burden of proof, an abandonment of national security, a failure of national defense, and an unavenged and deadly attack upon the US sovereign mainland by foreigners for the first time in living memory.
In short order, the junta turned their armies - the most powerful in all of history - to foreign plunder while preoccupying the plain people of the land with fear, nationalism, and religion. Despite the historical monotony of such behavior, the press along with the plain people they not only serve, but apparently comprise, missed the point.
But perhaps the most heinous oversight is manifest as the White House press corps’ failure to report on the criminal elimination of the not-so-plain people’s ability to legally and peacefully replace the criminal usurpers who caused it ALL to happen, and caused it to happen on the citizenry’s collective nickel.
Simply stated, the overthrow of the United States began, proceeded apace, and is now complete without its ever being reported by the constitutionally-protected free press. It is the primary reason the founders demanded a free press. The fourth estate failed to carry out its constitutional responsibility. Again, it’s plain and simple.
Unfortunately, the Constitution cannot provide courage or insight, only protection.
Still incredulous? Well, as Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."
Okay, consider these hypotheses:
There are four pillars of representative democracy in American governance. Each is intended to provide a check and balance on the others. They comprise the executive, judicial, and legislative branches, and a free public press – a 4th Estate – answerable to none of the previous three.
If your answer to any of these is No, then you tacitly agree that the government of our nation’s founders has been overthrown. If you are familiar with the first 10 and 14th amendments of the US Constitution and your answer to any of these questions is No, then you agree definitively that America has been overthrown.
That said, have you read about the government’s overthrow in your morning paper? Of course not. Have any of the strong-jawed, weak-minded dunderheads on the television "news" told the tale? No. After all, since neither Michael Jackson, the Runaway bride, or a baseball player were behind the coup how would they even know it was a story?
The story has simply not been reported anywhere in the American mainstream press. Perhaps that’s because America fell with no shots being fired by the revolutionaries.
But let’s be realistic. If you were to overthrow the most financially and militarily powerful empire in all of history would you endeavor to do so by shooting it out with them? No. Not even the Neo-Cons are stupid enough to expect a violent overthrow to succeed against the U.S. Only the White House press is that stupid – they and the "plain folks of the land" who still believe these hacks are reporting the news, are that stupid.
So, conditioned to expect shots to be fired in an opposition coup, the White House press corps and their credulous supporters sat out the overthrow in blissful ignorance. There they remain. Plain and simple.
That this is easily the biggest story in the history of the languaged world remains irrefutable. It’s bigger than the Crusades, the War Of Independence, the Civil War, Krakatoa, WW-I, WW-II, Watergate, and the Moon landing combined. Name it. This is a bigger story.
In writerspeak the horrors of September 11th were but a red herring in this plot, New Orleans but a foreshadow of the self-imposed tragedies to come should we further abide a political leadership content to foul our common nest as would so many gorillas.
The overthrow is the story. It is the only story and it is a story even bigger than the semen stain on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress! The overthrow of America is simply the biggest story ever, and it has gone entirely unreported and apparently unrecognized by the country’s mainstream news organizations. So what else then, what else but morons does one call the White House press corps? Traitors? No, that requires awareness. Journalists? Gimme a break. Morons it must be. Morons it is - morons until proven otherwise.
There is still time for that to happen, though. That they are morons can yet be proven otherwise.
But proving otherwise will require that the people of the White House press corps come to terms with something worse than personal stupidity and incompetence. They will have to overcome their cowardice, and act against their petty fears. For what has inhibited these people is petty fear. That is especially so when considered in the context of a profession whose viability is based upon the courage and intellect of its practitioners.
When one acquiesces to such fears yet continues to write, he is no longer a journalist, but a common hack – or worse – a propagandist.
This capitulation to fear did not happen by accident.
When the dean of White House correspondents, Helen Thomas was relegated to a silent place in the back row for asking relevant questions of this administration, her colleagues took notice. What they saw frightened the otherwise objective journalists in the room.
That was intended.
When the administration’s leading cheerleader for war, Pulitzer laureate Judith Miller of the New York Times, was awarded Helen’s place and the lead "stories," she gained an undeserved place for her indiscriminate warmongering garbage on the front pages of the newspaper of record. This was a clear instruction to the ambitious wage slaves posing as journalists in the 2nd through last rows of the press room.
That too was intended.
The White House press room has been little more than a Skinner box under the paralyzing glare of Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Scott McClellan, Karen Hughes, Scooter Libby.
Then there were the other carrots, those dangled at the corporate level.
When the administration continued to imply that under Michael Powell’s FCC there would be a relaxation if not total elimination of the ownership caps on TV and newspapers, the media moguls drooled. The people they drooled upon were their obedient employees of the White House press corps. They wanted Bush returned to office that he would make their avaricious cross-ownership dreams come true. Their minions behaved as expected- not as reporters but as frightened corporate hacks.
America’s fourth estate should not be a copying machine for Bush administration press releases. The self-described federalists of this White House seem to consider the U.S. Constitution a convenience, so do its "reporters." We deserve better from both.
However, so conditioned, the remainder of the press corps have chosen to sit silently, or ask inane and sycophantic questions, unaware – as they are of so many things - that there is no safe place for a coward, not even in a coven of cowards.
For five long years now they’ve silently squatted at the top of their field, making money they did not earn, while others, others such as Paul Krugman the New York Times economics editor, or Tim Rutten and Steve Lopez writing in the local sections of the Los Angeles Times do a far better job of covering national politics than their terrified Washington beat counterparts without half trying.
For example, the front pages of America’s newspapers give me the good news of a slight rise in U.S. manufacturing jobs. But when I turn to the British press I learn that the White House has secretly decided to include the kitchen staffs at McDonalds in that statistic because they manufacture sandwiches.
Forget it. The best reportage in America comes today from either the foreign press or from courageous local and freelance journalists speaking their mind. For analysis one must turn to magazines like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Harpers, or to academics willing to speak out. All of them toil in the relative obscurity of genre and place.
But there is change upon the wind. I can smell it. There are those in the Washington press who are saying, Enough! In fact, there seem to be those at the Washington Post who are saying enough! Other papers have followed suit. This week there were lead stories, well researched stories in both the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe concerning the complicity of Karl Rove in the Plame affair. Taking a note from their magazine counterparts, these were thoughtful and probing pieces of journalism, the sort of in-depth reportage the big, resource-rich organizations can do so well. Though both stories they were compilations, reported in retrospect, thus implying their under-coverage prior, this sort of reportage will keep such events in the forefront, allowing the public to focus on what is important. This is just what happened in the Seventies. The press kept Watergate in front of an otherwise bored and oblivious public, offering positive feedback, information-reinforcement, until the story’s implications became too profound to be ignored by the plain people of the land any longer. To see this emerging again perhaps, well it’s an encouraging sign.
As so often happens, with time and abuse, cowardice often turns into simple, understandable fright. When that fright is forged in outrage, in time it turns into anger, and anger can turn into action. Professionals trained in analytical and objective critical thought, cannot forever feign irrationality and ignorance. Professional skeptics cannot remain credulous and expect to remain relevant – if not to their bosses, then to themselves.
Add to these personal-professional dichotomies that the press, like everyone else who deals with this administration, have now been double crossed. They are at last coming to that realization.
When Bush was returned to office and little Powell quit the FCC, there was no more mention of deregulation. The ownership carrot remained on the stick, still out of reach.
When a White House flack posing as a reporter, was revealed as a fraud and sexual predator, it identified the lengths to which this administration will go when given free reign. It also illustrated the boundaries beyond which no ethical journalist will venture to get what will only be a phony story after all.
When apologist Judith Miller was sold out by the very administration whose lies she parroted and was sent to jail for not revealing the administration source of those lies, it becomes evident that there is no safe place for a coward. Her beloved White House left her to twist in the wind. Twisting she remains. But not before the lies she retold killed and maimed people.3 The killing continues. The pen is also deadlier than the sword.
These events, unlike most others, were not lost on the self-interested press. So finally, there are stirrings. They are ever so few, but there are stories appearing now, and they are appearing in the big papers, stories reminiscent of a free press finding its way back into the mainstream. The stories are rare and banal to be sure, but every day a bit more prominent, a bit more edgy, a bit more common.
The question is, do these first cautious steps represent the stirrings of a free American press awakening after a too-long slumber or just a testing of the winds by an opportunistic fair weather corporate press simply frightened of finding itself on the wrong side of its future?
I want very much to believe that they are the former. But more than that, I want to believe that these are the first stirrings of courage as well, and of an anger forged in outrage. From this anger perhaps will follow the return to truthful reportage.
Summary: Journalists invented the concept of headlines. It is their way of giving weight to that which they consider important - and by omission or font size, that which they incrementally do not.
These stories – which I consider the most important in America’s history - have not been granted headline status. Ever. Instead they have been written with little or biased analysis and buried just deep enough to allow the press a plausible out when accused of right-wing bias, but still not prominent enough to raise the public’s awareness of their import. It’s a journalistic trick I’ve learned of from my children: small compensation for their expensive private college degrees in journalism. Both chose other professions.
But every profession has its tricks. Those tricks are inherent to their end product.
But as a consumer, if I want tricks, I’ll see a magic show. What I want from my newspaper is news.
In journalism, ignoring a story is tantamount to lying. A lie of omission is no less a lie. Truth is a commodity too long abused in the mainstream American press, especially so in its treatment of the human catastrophe that is the Bush presidency.
Now comes Katrina. A cataclism predicted almost to the level of street address by scientists, climatologists and environmentalists for five years running and an event too big to ignore. Yet, despite the certainty of its occurance, the Bush administration (as reported in the foreign press) saw fit to impose an 80% budget cut against the already dismally under funded program to maintain New Orleans’ antiquated levee system. Instead, and as usual, the money went to the oil war in Iraq.4 While this paltry sum alone would not have prevented the tragedy, its diversion to war use offers an interesting insight to this government’s complicity and priorities in the face of an innevitable and prevetable "homeland" dissaster. Has that detail been reported in the mainstream U.S. media’s wall-to wall coverage of Katarina, or have they been too busy talking about rescued puppies? I do not know. I’ve been in the Yukon for the past 10 days and have happily not seen an American newspaper. But the Canadian Globe And Mail has served me well. This morning it reported that the best Katrina coverage came from the BBC. That alone is a disgrace that speaks volumes.
Conclusion: In this media age, unlike in H.L. Mencken’s time, we feel as if we actually know our government "leaders." I endure the sight of George W Bush’s arrogant smirk every day, while I might see my daughter’s lovely smile but once or twice a week, and she lives a mere ten miles distant.
But see them or not, we don’t know our "leaders." In fact today an American citizen is less likely to actually see or meet George W. Bush than he would have been to "Shake the hand that shook the hand of Abraham" Lincoln, had he lived in the 19th Century. No. What we see is just the media’s portrayal of the president today. This media – today’s American popular media - has portrayed a fabrication. The president we see is no more real than Batman. The president we don’t see is havoc made manifest.
So they are liars these White House scribes. Their lies have very probably helped destroy our American way of life to say nothing of the quality of life on Earth for future generations of humanity. As President Bush himself so wisely said, "Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… you can't get fooled again."
That’s why this American is far from certain that these first discernable changes in reportage that I’ve described portend a return to ethical journalism in America. Truthful and intelligent political and world affairs reportage remains the exception rather than the rule in the popular news media. That must change, and I for one expect it will. That’s a personal opinion, nothing more. But that it must change radically is not opinion but fact.
Our press must return to its blood-won foundations if this nation and its equally hard won principles – its real principles, its learned and founding and social principles, not the baseless psychotic fantasies of the far Right - are to survive us and be our children’s real inheritance. There’s never been a "death tax" on liberty. Our generation must not pose one on our descendants by following the leadership of fools and scoundrels all dressed up as Americans by their stooges of the press.
So for now, the main section of my daily paper, replete with its front page, will continue to find that its only rightful place in my home remains that malodorous space between the basement floor and the business end of my cat.
An engineer, Dom Stasi is Chief Technology Officer for an international media network. A pilot, Air Force veteran, and member of both the Planetary Society, and Center For Inquiry, he is a widely published science and technology writer. A father of two, Mr. Stasi lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 38 years. He has no cat.
2/ Vincent Bugliosi, The Betrayal Of America, P – 68, Nation Books, New York 2001