The image above can function as a Rorschach test of sorts. Some will see in it the slightly discombobulated face of a WASP who spent his gilded teenage years blowing up frogs with firecrackers. Others, like the senior editorial staff at the Guardian, behold an elder statesman.
Our leading ‘left-leaning’ paper of record plumbed new depths of abjection last week with a filthy little piece on George Bush II. In just a dozen sentences it managed to encapsulate the cravenness and pitiful corruption of the corporate media when it comes to speaking truth to power.
Entitled ‘[t]he Guardian view on George W Bush: a welcome return’, the editorial was published in response to some fairly tepid remarks the former president made about the Trump administration on a talk show. It began as follows:
During his time in the White House, George W Bush was regarded as a warmonger and hardline conservative.
There are at least four problems with this opening statement, and all but one of them turn on the weasel word ‘regarded’. Firstly, Bush the Younger’s belligerence is presented as a matter of debate, when the reality is that having initiated a brutal war in Afghanistan — at the time the poorest country in the world — he launched a crime of aggression against Iraq that has cost the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of people and maimed and dislocated millions more. To cower behind supposedly neutral language in the face of these facts is devious in the extreme.
Secondly, it is worth noting that the Guardian and its sister paper the Observer were not exactly prominent among those who ‘regarded’ Bush as a ‘warmonger’ during his time in office. Two months before the invasion of Iraq they were holding forth on the ‘laudable motivations’ behind the case for war and on the ‘courage and clarity’ of its proponents; four weeks afterwards, they were gushing that ‘Iraq now looks like vindication on an astounding scale.’ All this was no more than a hop, skip and a jump away from the view of the New York Times, which had declared in December 2001 — as the United States was carpet-bombing Afghan hospitals — that ‘Mr. Bush… has proved himself a strong wartime leader who gives the nation a sense of security during a period of crisis.’
Thirdly, the Guardian‘s use of the past tense — ‘was regarded’ — creates the false impression that such atrocities as Bush may have visited upon Iraq are mythically distant now and at any rate settled (the past is a foreign country and all that). In fact, the consequences of the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq have not ceased to reverberate around the Middle East and beyond since the 43rd President issued that fateful ultimatum to Saddam Hussein on 17 March 2003. If Bush & Co had not sown the dragon’s teeth in Mesopotamia, suicide attacks would not have taken place later in London, Madrid and elsewhere, nor would the Captagon-popping butchers of Daesh have risen to heap yet more misery upon Iraqis and Syrians alike.
Fourthly, by more or less acknowledging that Bush might have been a warmonger but choosing to rehabilitate him anyway, the Guardian has made clear its final position on Iraq: all is forgiven and forgotten, if it ever mattered.
The leader went on with its impasto of weasel words:
As president he did an awful lot to polarise the country and was viewed as such a threat to world peace that when he left office the Nobel committee handed his successor the peace prize – for not being him.
The tone here is one of jaunty understatement. To say that Bush ‘did an awful lot to polarise the country’ is to say nothing much at all, and to reduce the worst crime of this century to the level of a ‘threat’ is to spit on and disparage the millions of brown-skinned people for whose slaughter and displacement Bush is ultimately responsible. In light of the Guardian‘s own role in helping to beat the war drums 15 years ago, it is also mightily self-serving to gloss over the particulars of Bush’s bloodlust in this way.
Turning to the present — with reference to last week’s interview on The Today Show — our premier source of ‘quality, independent journalism’ opined that
it says a lot about the United States that Mr Bush can be seen now as a paragon of virtue. He sounds a lot better out of office than in it.
Of course, no action or course of action — however horrific — undertaken by the Trump regime can serve to absolve the former torturer-in-chief of the very grave crimes he committed, and so it says much more about the Guardian than about ‘the United States’ that the Guardian now sees Dubya as a ‘paragon of virtue’.
As to whether or not he sounds ‘a lot better out of office than in it’, one need only watch a snippet — any snippet — of the interview in question to recognise the same slack-jawed gibbering that once upon a time did dazzle us with gems like, ‘[r]arely is the question asked: Is our children learning?’ and, ‘[o]ur enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.’
The leader did proceed to flesh out its appreciation for Bush the Younger, whose
defence today of a free press (“indispensable”), his call for a “lawful, welcoming” immigration policy and his preference for “answers” in the scandal engulfing Donald Trump’s team over Moscow’s meddling in the presidential election may mark a turning point for Republicans. We certainly hope so.
It is not in the least surprising that Bush should have spoken so fondly of the press when one remembers how supine it was before his administration on the subject of Iraq. But of course, what is most irksome here — at least to anyone familiar with Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model — is the self-serving assumption, blithely made, that players in the news industry are ‘free’ in any meaningful sense. Thanks to the five filters and to the media’s selection for ideological conformity, the freedom enjoyed by corporate journalists — including those at the Guardian — rather resembles that which exists under Colonel Korn’s rule in Catch-22: ‘the only people permitted to ask questions were those who never did.’ Indeed, the closest any hack ever came to holding Dubya to account was in Baghdad in 2008, when Muntadhar al-Zaidi joined Tank Man and the stone-throwing children of Palestine in the very highest order of moral courage.
It is also curious that the Guardian should seek to portray as pro-immigrant a former Republican POTUS who, during his own time in office, bragged of welcoming ‘illegals’ with ‘motion sensors, infrared cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles’; ramped up funding for immigrant detention centres; doubled the national budget for ‘border security’; and signed into law the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which supercharged construction of a wall along the Mexican border before Donald Trump was even a malevolent twinkle in the polity’s eye.
As for the conspiracy theory which claims that Moscow procured victory for Trump in the presidential election, the world at large is ‘just collapsing in laughter’. Until such time as credible evidence for the claim emerges, it will carry on laughing. (Predictably enough, evidence requirements are in vogue again among the press now that it is Barack Obama who has been accused of unconscionable intrusions.)
The second half of the editorial began loftily by declaring that
the Grand Old Party is trading its principles for power.
This is noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, the Guardian routinely castigates Jeremy Corbyn for doing what it believes to be the very opposite, so its senior editors can hardly object to such trading per se. Secondly, what principles? After all, the last time a Republican acted meritoriously in the public sphere must have been about a hundred years ago, when the leonine senator Robert La Follette denounced with great force and passion the entry of the United States into World War I. (And of course, La Follette was to leave the party soon enough.) Thus the statement is suspiciously, startlingly lenient on the GOP if not wholly devoid of meaning.
Then again, the next sentence appears to illuminate for us what our finest fount of ‘fearless’ journalism takes those principles to be:
Instead of dousing incendiary language, probing Russian interference and promoting inclusive policies, Republicans are nodding along to populist tunes.
It speaks volumes about the Guardian that its controlling minds believe that the party of Pence and Reagan, Cruz and Romney — ‘Christ and Mammon’ — is capable of ‘dousing incendiary language’ and ‘promoting inclusive policies’. Do the words ‘racialised mass incarceration’ mean nothing to our favourite muck-rakers? Have they ever heard of Reaganomics, with its prescriptions of corporate welfare and tax cuts for the wealthy? Are they aware that their man Bush bailed out Wall Street crooks to the tune of $700 billion at around the same time that he was battling valiantly to privatise Social Security? This is beyond parody from an institution ostensibly concerned with ‘keeping the powerful honest’ and ‘telling [its] readers the truth’.
Two non-sequiturs later, the leader, seemingly at long last, strides towards its grand conclusion:
Republicans should be talking down the threat from Islam and champion immigration reform, as Mr Bush once did. In reminding us of that, the 43rd US president should be applauded.
Strictly speaking, it’s not incorrect to assert that Bush II ‘championed immigration reform’; it’s just that he did so from his position on the hard right. But to claim that the jailer of Guantanamo ‘talked down the threat from Islam’ is to be contemptuous of the truth with regard to his oppression of Muslims both at home and abroad. In the domestic sphere alone, among other things, Bush Junior
perpetrated a wide array of radical abuses aimed at Muslims in the wake of 9/11. In the weeks after the attack, more than 1,000 Muslims and Arabs were swept up by the FBI and detained without charge, often by abusing the powers allowing for detention of “material witnesses.” Thousands of Muslim immigrants were deported from the U.S. in the months following the attack. Bush quickly and secretly implemented an illegal scheme of warrantless domestic eavesdropping aimed largely at Muslims.
And so on and so forth. The fact is that without Bush’s War on Terror — really a war on Islam — and the narrative at its heart — that of a ‘clash of civilisations’ — the stage would not have been set for Donald Trump and his supporters to aggravate the persecution of Muslims, who are seen by too many as having a monopoly on ‘terrorism’, which in turn is widely regarded as nothing less than the primum movens of all the evil in the world. In other words, we must not forget as we ‘applaud’ him that Bush and his neocon handlers did more to normalise the scourge of Islamophobia in the West than anybody else.
It can be seen, then, that virtually every sentence of the Guardian‘s leader gives off a stench as fetid as that which clings to Bush and Tony Blair themselves. That this rag should implore us to ‘applaud’ a right-wing war criminal at the same time as it works to destroy the most progressive Labour Party leader in history is nothing short of disgusting. That it should solicit money from us all the while simply takes the piss. One is left to question the sincerity of the paper’s Trump-hatred, knowing as one does that the possibility of Père Ubu’s rehabilitation occurring a few years from now can no longer be safely ruled out.
At any rate, what pieces like this one make clear is not just the importance but the necessity of looking askance at the output of media corporations, which market themselves as adversarial to power but which are in fact structured and perform in such a way as to protect the status quo in this, the mad militarised age of monopoly-finance capital. To modify a famous phrase, for too long ‘the limits of the corporate media have meant the limits of our world.’ We must burst free of these limits.
It is said that George W. Bush is in the middle of a publicity tour for his new book, the making of which required him to look into the souls of some of the veterans he sent overseas to be maimed and traumatised. Let us leave the Guardian, our leading ‘left-leaning’ newspaper of record, to accompany him on his Dantean wanderings alone.