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I misremember Iraq

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Everyone misremembers something. We mostly draw our lives’ meaning from the private world, so we tend to misremember sex: doing it better than we did, with somebody sexier than they were. Many of my own mismemories involve the media. I’ve a vivid visual memory, for instance, of walking down a car-free Fifth Avenue around 10:15 on a Tuesday morning in September 2001, eyes numbly fixed on an billowing void at the tip of Manhattan where the south tower of the World Trade Center had been (somebody running past told me it had gone down, but I didn’t believe it); the north tower was burning alongside and then I watched it collapse, thundering down slowly while dust and smoke blossomed like a flower on fire. Except I didn’t watch that. Just before it crumbled, I turned onto 27th Street, to a hotel where some of my employees visiting town were staying; that’s why I was on the avenue — racing to make sure they were all right; and a girl rushed into the lobby and gasped that the south tower had fallen. The image of the collapse, replayed on TV for weeks, imposed itself on what I actually witnessed like a double exposure; something a camera saw for me, scrawled in a palimpsest over what I saw.


Things like this give me sympathy for Brian Williams. You all know: the newsman claimed repeatedly that, during the Iraq invasion in 2003, enemy fire downed his helicopter. “We landed very quickly and hard and we put down and we were stuck, four birds in the middle of the desert and we were north out ahead of the other Americans. … Our captain took a purple heart injury to his ear in the cockpit, but we were alone.” So vivid; such grunty language; not a word true. His helicopter wasn’t hit, one way ahead of him was. Williams was safe and sound.

I feel for his confusion. If my own memories get mixed up with what the media tells me, then what about the media’s own memories? Those talking heads are conduits for all the stories the public knows. So don’t all the stories become theirs, part not just of their talk but of their heads too? Don’t American anchormen contain multitudes, like Walt Whitman— their lives absorbing by imperial osmosis all the unused experience around them, trivial and forgettable until filmed and told? I remember (I think) a story about Lyndon Johnson, Caesar of another of our imperial wars. Setting off to Camp David, striding the White House lawn toward a line of helicopters, he headed for the wrong one. A nervous Marine intercepted him: “Mr. President, that’s not your helicopter.” Johnson draped his arm around the soldier’s shoulder. “They’re all my helicopters, son.”

Authorized American history of the Iraq war.

Authorized American history of the Iraq war.

What I don’t get is why this is an issue. Williams made up a story. But he was in the middle of the most fantastic made-up story in American history. The Iraq war, written by Bush with a little help from Tony Blair and Micronesia and Poland, was a gigantic fiction, as beautifully told and expressive of the moment’s cultural mythology as The Adventures of Baron Munchausenor A Million Little Pieces, or Three Cups of Tea. The reasons were fake, the goals were fake, the triumph was fake. Nothing was true except the dead people, who aren’t talking. The war countered imaginary threats and villainies with imaginary victories and valor. Williams added his embroidery in the spirit of invention. Why are the other tale-spinners turning on him now?

The story of Williams’ little story is all personal now, background blacked out: it’s not about the war or the news business, it’s about Brian Williams. This is consistent with Williams’ career, built on the purely personal trust you can repose in words escaping that imposing lower jaw. The New York Times says he 

long had been considered one of the most trusted people in not only in [sic] the news business but in the country as a whole. He was trusted by about three-quarters of consumers, making him the 23rd-most-trusted person in the country.

But where does that confidence come from? I remember (I think) reading a terrifying linguistic analysis of Iraq war TV coverage, terrifying because its prose made the analysis sound like a high-tech military campaign. (“Activating the partition, that parameter becomes the pivot from which further exploration can move, that is, we can make comparisons within the corpus on the basis of the selected parameter” …) One chapter was: “The news presenter as socio-cultural construct.” Here I brightened. My sexuality and gender are already social constructs; will Katie Couric join them? Alas, all this means is that “the news presenter creates a socially acceptable persona.” But buried in that bland description is the reality. Williams, like the modern news business, is a construct of his audience. He challenges nobody: he sensitively serves up fictions they long to see and hear.

Why is it a scandal when Williams admits misrepresenting himself, but not when NBC admits misrepresenting the world? Why isn’t the scandal that NBC’s Tim Russert said, before the Iraq war, ‘‘I’m a journalist, but first, I’m an American. Our country is at war with the terrorists, and as an American, I support the effort wholeheartedly’’?  Why isn’t the scandal that CBS’s Dan Rather promised, ‘‘George Bush is the president. As just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where’’? The belief that war journalism was about fealty, not fact, came to infect every sentence said on air. The same linguistic study analyzed CBS broadcasts during the Iraq invasion, and here are snippets to set the mood:

They [US soldiers] gave the last full measure of devotion to their country. We honour their memories and send our condolences to their families … (March 21, 2003 CBS)

Just ahead on the CBS evening news, ties that bind: fathers and sons, duty, honour, country and war … (April 1, 2003)

When President Bush sent American servicemen and women to war, the entire nation went with them … (April 4, 2003)

We dedicate this broadcast to our fellow Americans who have died fighting in the war so far … (April 7, 2003)

The scandal is journalism’s complete submission, as the “war on terror” raged, to the fantasies of patriotic allegiance.

Dan Rather doing his duty.

Dan Rather doing his duty.

Some of us remember this capitulation (or think we do) and we’re likely to blame government pressure. And the Bush administration did lean hard on the press. Just a month after 9/11, they reprimanded TV networks that had dared to air videos from Al-Qaeda. David Dadge, in The War in Iraq and Why the Media Failed Us, writes that Condoleezza Rice

placed a conference call with the media executives of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News Channel, and NBC. Rice told the executives that security personnel were worried at the inflammatory language of the videotapes and feared that they might contain hidden codes with which to direct other attacks on American soil. … At that point, Rice withdrew from the conference call allowing the media executives to discuss the matter on their own.

In their discussion, the media executives agreed that, in future, the videotapes would be heavily edited and greater context would be provided. … The President of CBS News, Andrew Heyward, said, ‘‘This is a new situation, a new war, and a new kind of enemy. Given the historic events we are enmeshed in, it’s appropriate to explore new ways of fulfilling our responsibilities to the public.’’

New ways! … Meanwhile, the administration had its own propaganda machine, untraceably intricate. According to James Bamford’s book on Bush-era abuses of intelligence, “a shadowy American company, the Rendon Group” was “paid close to $200 million by the CIA and Pentagon to spread anti-Saddam propaganda worldwide.”

Soon after the attacks of September 11, the company received a $100,000-a-month contract from the Pentagon to offer media strategy advice. Among the agencies to whom it provided recommendations was the Orwellian-sounding Office of Strategic Influence … apparently intended to be a massive disinformation factory.

In the 1990s, Rendon had helped create the Iraqi National Congress, the front for con-man Ahmed Chalabi to promote himself as Saddam’s successor. Come 2001, Chalabi called on a former Rendon employee — Australian journalist Paul Moran — to generate bogus news stories about “bunkers for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons research hidden throughout Iraq.” Chalabi wielded these stories to push any wavering Bush officials toward war. In other words, the administration was paying for propaganda to lobby itself.

Ahmed Chalabi, with completely inexplicable object.

Ahmed Chalabi, with completely inexplicable object.

Yet it’s a mistake to suppose state pressure was the main factor corrupting US media. The internal logic of news as business was what shut down their critical functions.

I remember (I think) a brief, brief window after 9/11 when some on-air independence was possible. I remember (I think) a broadcast on CBS, probably September 13 or 14, where an Afghan civilian displayed some of the devastation Clinton’s 1998 missile strikes caused. The message was that a history of violent action and reaction underlay the attacks; the implication, that Americans should also examine what their own government had done. I remember (I think) remarks on TV suggesting that the President’s September 11 speech, where he faced the camera panicked as a rabbit being fucked by a howitzer, displayed a lamentable default of leadership. These glimmers of critique shut down after Bush bestrode the ruins of Ground Zero with a bullhorn, hugging firefighters and walking tall. They shut down mainly because the proprietors of news saw, in that image of rejuvenated manhood, what sold.

Bullshit, with bullhorn: Bush in New York City, September 14, 2001.

Bullshit, with bullhorn: Bush in New York City, September 14, 2001.

They needed to sell. Broadcast media were besieged by the increasing popularity of cable news outlets, Fox first among them. Print media were beleaguered by the Internet and the near-impossibility of making web platforms pay. Competition didn’t cause better news-gathering. In keeping with the pattern of corporate restructuring in the neoliberal era, it prodded cost-cutting, not product improvement. Foreign news suffered most. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber write, “The time devoted to foreign coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC fell from 4,032 minutes in 1989 to 1,382 in 2000, rebounding only slightly following the 9/11 attacks to 2,103 minutes in 2002.” Cable news was even worse.

CNN by 1995 had a news-gathering network worldwide of only 20 bureaus, with 35 correspondents outside the United States—“only half of what the BBC has had for a long time to cover world events on radio and television” and “only a fraction of what the three largest international newswire services maintain on a permanent basis.”

But if behemoths like Fox News were one kind of competition, there was rivalry from below. I remember (I think) all the laudatory screeds proclaiming blogs the new frontier of Truth — faster, fresher, interactive, untrammelled by editorial control. For “citizen media,” the citizen media told us back in 2004,

News is a conversation, not just a lecture. The story doesn’t end when it’s published, but rather just gets started as the public begins to do its part — discussing the story, adding to it, and correcting it.

The participatory ideal meant, of course, the blogger didn’t have to do her own checking or correcting. Fake facts would flood the world.

Dodging more imaginary bullets: The Village Voice on the right-wing blogosphere, 2008

Dodging more imaginary bullets: The Village Voice on the right-wing blogosphere, 2008

Back then, blogs were novel. Michael Massing wrote with astonishment in 2005 about a “technological innovation that, along with the rise of talk radio and cable news, has made the conservative attack on the press particularly damaging …. Internet Web logs, which allow users to beam their innermost thoughts throughout the world, take no longer than a few minutes to set up.… many of them are by adolescent girls writing their diaries on-line.” But some were influential, and most were conservative. One pro-blog blog speculated:

Imagine, say, the coverage of Watergate being treated in part this way. Rather than Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward being the sole storytellers, blog-influenced journalism would have had them in part leading a conversation about the scandal … I suspect that a Watergate investigation in the blog era would have come to a conclusion faster.

I remember (I think) the Nixon administration in its conceit and power, and I doubt a “conversation” would have done the trick. Unpaid bloggers would have given up, discredited or ignored. Citizen journalism didn’t usually fight the status quo. More typical was Andrew Sullivan, who thanked God for giving us George W, and famously inveighed against “terrorist fellow-travellers” and “the decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts.” Blogs denigrated dissent with glib, factitious certainty, while forcing a cornered mainstream media to come up with low-cost, easy stories to tell.

“A disciplined and well-organized news and opinion campaign” brought the press to heel, Massing declared, “directed by conservatives and the Christian right.” Paul Krugman, in 2004, pointed to “the role of intimidation” in silencing criticism. “If you were thinking of saying anything negative about the president, you had to be prepared for an avalanche of hate mail. You had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation.”  I remember (I think) a short essay by Susan Sontag in late September 2001 that asserted simply:

This was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions … A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened.

Sullivan answered by calling her “contemptible” and a “pretentious buffoon”; others dubbed her “moral idiot” and “traitor.” The New Republic asked, “What do Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Susan Sontag have in common?” Historical awareness was an orphan in the new permanent now.

Terror threesome: Osama, Saddam, and Susan

Terror threesome: Osama, Saddam, and Susan

No one idealizes the hierarchical old media, but the faux-democracy of new media, where a thousand schools of thought supposedly contend, is in fact even more malleable to the market’s mandates. As war impended, the press ignored unpopular voices:

From Steve Rendall and Tara Broughel, “Amplifying Officials, Squelching Dissent,” Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), October 2003

From Steve Rendall and Tara Broughel, “Amplifying Officials, Squelching Dissent,” Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), October 2003

While Williams dodged imaginary bullets in Iraq, his employers axed Phil Donahue’s talk show because, an internal network report warned, he presented a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. . . . He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” The show risked becoming “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” Meanwhile, the US dropped murderous cluster bombs, and laced munitions with poisonous depleted uranium. “These important stories,” writesNorman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy, “became known to many news watchers on several continents. But not in the United States.”

When CBS obtained the infamous Abu Ghraib torture photos, the Pentagon asked them to spike or delay the story; the network complied for weeks. A CBS executive later explained, “We are like every other American. We want to win this war. We believe in the country.’’ When the pictures finally aired, right-wing media bayed in fury. ‘‘CBS should be ashamed for running the photos,” National Review’s Jonah Goldberg wrote: “What was gained by releasing these images now? CBS could have reported the story without the pictures.’’ (A decade later, the identical Goldberg complained that news outlets were not publishing the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons. “Running satirical pictures of Mohammed,” he intoned, “is now a requirement of news reporting — because those images are central to the story.”)

TV viewers got plenty of patriotic music, though.

MSNBC joined Fox in using the Pentagon’s own code name for the war—“Operation Iraqi Freedom.” The logos featured fluttering American flags or motifs involving red, white and blue. … Promos for MSNBC featured a photo montage of soldiers accompanied by a piano rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Then there was “embedding,” cementing friendly journalists in military units. Thrilling as Space Mountain, it kept reporters secure in the propaganda cocoon. Michael Massing devastatingly dissected the work of one embeddee, the Washington Post’s Pamela Constable. “I quickly became part of an all-American military microcosm” in Fallujah, Constable wrote, with the Iraqi enemy “invisible” and the residents “frustratingly beyond our reach.”

Local informant: Constable cradles Apache, a dog she rescued while embedded with Marines in Fallujah. Photo by Chris Borouncle

Local informant: Constable cradles Apache, a dog she rescued while embedded with Marines in Fallujah. Photo by Chris Borouncle

I strained to listen for signs of humanity in the darkened city. I imagined holocaust—city blocks in flames, families running and screaming. But the only sounds were the baying of frightened dogs and the indecipherable chanting of muezzins, filling the air with a soft cacophony of Koranic verse. … We knew people were running out of food, and we heard rumors of clinics flooded with the dead and wounded. But the few Fallujans we encountered were either prisoners with handcuffed wrists and hooded heads, or homeowners waiting sullenly for their houses to be searched, or refugees timidly approaching military checkpoints with white flags … Sometimes on patrols, people approached us reporters and pleaded for help in Arabic, but there was nothing we could do.

Massing commented:

Al-Jazeera, by contrast, had a correspondent and crew inside the city, and several times a day they were filing dramatic reports of the fighting. According to their accounts, the US bombing was causing hundreds of civilian casualties plus extensive physical destruction. As for what Constable took to be the Koranic chantings of the muezzin, Arabic speakers could tell that these were actually urgent appeals for ambulances and calls on the local population to rise up and fight the Americans. So while Arab viewers were getting independent (if somewhat sensationalized) reports from the field, Americans were getting their news filtered through the Marines.

Embedded, of course, is what Brian Williams was during his fantasy brush with death. This illumines the last key tool in the propagandization of US press: personal melodrama replaced analysis. If Al-Jazeera sensationalized the situation, US media sensationalized the individual story. There was no big picture. The war was a pointillistic canvas of feel-good or feel-frightened tales, politics and context painted over.

Still from video of special forces “rescuing” Private Jessica Lynch. Image: Associated Press

Still from video of special forces “rescuing” Private Jessica Lynch. Image: Associated Press

One story is still emblematic. In March 2003, Iraqi troops captured Private Jessica Lynch, a 19 year-old from Palestine, West Virginia. American officials claimed she was wounded in a heroic fight, firing her weapon down to the last bullet. US special forces rescued her two weeks later from a hospital in Nasriyah; dramatic footage of the mission was broadcast worldwide.

Except, as David Dadge writes, “Lynch had not been wounded, she had not been tortured, and the raid by the Navy Seals was staged for the cameras. Indeed, her injuries were entirely consistent with a road traffic incident.” It took the BBC, not US media, to unravel the story: “one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.”

Witnesses told us that the special forces knew that the Iraqi military had fled a day before they swooped on the hospital. “We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital,” said Dr Anmar Uday, who worked at the hospital. … “They cried ‘go, go, go’, with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital — action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan.” …

The Pentagon had been influenced by Hollywood producers of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer advised the Pentagon on the primetime television series “Profiles from the Front Line”, that followed US forces in Afghanistan in 2001. That approached [sic] was taken on and developed on the field of battle in Iraq.

Surreally, the movie that became news became another movie. Networks besieged Lynch to buy the rights to her story. CBS came in for especially harsh criticism for chasing a film deal while seeking a news interview — giving them a vested interest in not unearthing the truth. The onetime sacrosanct news division shrank to an extension of the entertainment arm. Even Lynch’s hometown newspaper objected: “The need for journalistic independence should be self-evident. Reporters have a hard enough time trying to get to the truth without having to worry about spoiling a book deal.” The military version, debunked, still became an NBC TV movie: Saving Jessica Lynch.

Based on the not-true story

Based on the not-true story

All the elements of  Brian Williams’ fable are there: danger, rescue, rhetoric. It’s as if Williams took Lynch as a pattern for his lie.

Williams himself has been central to transforming news into personal narrative. He’s expert at making himself the story, assiduously chasing celebrity. He’s vital to NBC’s brand, even the entertainment division – think his cameos on 30 Rock. The “ultra-viral supercuts of Williams’s newscasts” that his pal Jimmy Fallon sets to hip-hop tracks have “viewer metrics that rival Williams’s marquee hard news interview with Edward Snowden.” Walter Cronkite polled as the most trusted man in America (22 notches above Williams) back in the 1970s. But it’s hard to imagine him playing himself on Family Guy.

Then and now. L: Walter Cronkite reports on space exploration in the 1960s. R: Brian Williams reports on Peter Griffin’s accidental space shuttle launch.

Then and now. L: Walter Cronkite reports on space exploration in the 1960s. R: Brian Williams reports on Peter Griffin’s accidental space shuttle launch.

Williams is a Jay Gatsby for our condition, taking over a self and story nobody else was using, to compensate for the vacancy of his own. But precisely because of that you mustn’t make his fable his personal fault. What matters isn’t the man but the environment that made him, where news isn’t fact but a superior sort of fiction, a compound of inflated personalities and imagined stories, a mirror to reality TV. That should be the scandal.

The Iraq war was a turning point, when news dropped even the pretense of informing people. In fact, news about the war left them even less informed than before. In late 2003, for instance, a study found that 69% of the mainstream media audience believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11; 57% believed Iraq was closely tied to Al-Qaeda; 22% percent believed weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. And these delusions couldn’t just be blamed on liberals’ usual bogeymen. 71% of CBS viewers held one or more of these fictions as gospel — only slightly behind Fox News viewers, at 80%.

Writing this, I’ve immersed myself again in the non-events, the fake history, between 9/11 and the fall of Baghdad, and I find it horrible anew. The years were a delirium when hardly anything you heard was true. The war was like those lost seasons of Dallas or Roseanne; like Pam, we dreamed it all, and Williams’ dream was only a segment in the greater reverie. Yet while we were dreaming, others were dying. Why aren’t we scandalized by that? They died because we could not endure opening our eyes. Estimates of “excess deaths” among Iraqis in the war years range from 100,000 (for the war’s first 18 months) to 650,000 (by 2006). Those include deaths from disease and deprivation; one figure for those who died by violence alone is 150,000. That is thirty times the mortality of U.S. troops in our violent dreamtime. Our dreams had no responsibilities. Are we awake yet? “Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?”

US patrol in Fallujah, 2004. Photo by Anja Niedringhaus, AP

US patrol in Fallujah, 2004. Photo by Anja Niedringhaus, AP

I didn’t watch US news often during the 2003 war. During the months of buildup and the war itself, I remember (I think) being in Cairo, working for Human Rights Watch. I remember (I think) going to weekly demonstrations, at Sayyeda Zeinab or Cairo University, where a few hundred brave people protested the wars: students, leftists, Nasserists, Islamists. I remember (I think) cordons of Central Security police and intelligence officers around the demonstrations, helmeted, black-clad, armed, outnumbering the protesters ten to one. I remember (I think) the day the war broke out; I remember seeing Edward Said in the garden of the Marriott Hotel, gaunt and sick, amid an atmosphere too grim for me to dare approach. I remember (I think) the smell of tear gas drifting across the garden. I remember (I think) how forty thousand people gathered against the war in Midan Tahrir that afternoon, a presage of the revolution eight years later; I remember (I think) how Mubarak’s police beat them back, broke bodies, arrested thousands of leftists and tortured them. I remember (I think) spending the next week with lawyers day and night, going to police stations, collecting names and testimonies, documenting the brutality of America’s Egyptian proconsul. I remember (I think) the night that Baghdad fell. I was in the Greek Club, the ancient gathering place of Cairo’s intellectuals; a funereal somberness hung over the place, because the dictator had fled, and that should be an reason for rejoicing, but no one could see anything to come of the manner of his overthrow but violence, vengeance, division, death.

I remember they were right.

I remember something that did not happen. Late in 2002, while war talk crescendoed, I had a dream. I dreamed I was in a house somewhere on the American coast, I think in South Carolina (one of the most militarized states in the Union, fat with factories and military bases). There was a highway between the house and the grey ocean. In the dream, I heard a rumble as of something monstrous on the move; I looked out and the road was thick with a long convoy of tanks, of armored personnel carriers, of trucks loaded with anti-aircraft guns and missiles, with armaments I couldn’t even name; they thundered by endlessly, more and more and more. I asked what they were and a disembodied voice said, “They are going to Iraq.” They spent hours passing while I tried to sleep, an incessant cavalcade, as if all the destruction the world was capable of were amassing somewhere and could not be stopped. They drowned the surf under the grind of wheels. I huddled in bed, terrified. When I say that didn’t happen, I mean it was a dream; it wasn’t true. But it was more real than any of the news I saw over the long years since.

A version of this post originally appeared on Scott Long’s website A Paper Bird

Scott Long

Scott Long, a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, served as founding director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. He has been a human rights activist campaigning for sexual rights for over twenty years, working in countries including Albania, Egypt, Hungary, Iraq, Jamaica, Romania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and the United States. He blogs on human rights issues at

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57 Responses

  1. just on February 9, 2015, 2:48 pm

    Scott Long~ huge thanks for this brilliant essay, exposé, and analysis.

    I remember knowing I was being lied to. The MSM is still doing it. Brian is simply the fall guy.

    (Where is Judy Miller anyway? Still shilling for the neocons at the Manhatten Institute?)

  2. Bumblebye on February 9, 2015, 3:22 pm

    Scott’s last para, of his dream, reminds me of my real memory – here it was hours and hours of military planes flying overhead on the way to the ‘war’ theatre. It was grim listening to them, knowing that Blair(who’s eyes might just have wellhave had pound signs in ’em, they gleamed so with sheer avarice – I knew then he’d got his ducks in a row for life post-premiership) & co had totally ignored the will of probably the majority of the UK’s population.

    My “not dream”, don’t really know what to call it, began in August ’01 a full month before 9/11. First, I was waiting for a bus in town, my eye kept being drawn to the office building nearby that is about a dozen floors tall – and every damn time I kept seeing a passenger plane flying at it! I felt I was going nuts! I had a while to wait and eventually had to turn around and face the wrong way (sod the fact that I probably looked daft to others waiting!) in order to not keep seeing it. Also from that day until 9/11, I had a compulsion to doodle five pointed stars, erase the points, build up the remaining five sides with further lines, then erase one of them. On the evil day itself I felt a need to be at my sister’s house (her other half is American), and quit work early to go on the bus – and my first news of events was a fellow passenger receiving it via his mobile phone.

  3. amigo on February 9, 2015, 3:23 pm

    “Ahmed Chalabi, with completely inexplicable object”

    Should read,

    Statuette with completely inexplicable object.

    • eljay on February 9, 2015, 3:38 pm

      || amigo: Should read, Statuette with completely inexplicable object. ||

      Funny. :-)

  4. pabelmont on February 9, 2015, 3:31 pm

    Brilliant, indeed.

    Maybe this ties in with the question of why so many Americans don’t believe (some, selective) stuff that scientists tell them. Vaccines will help not harm. Global Warming is our fault and there’s still time to prevent the worst. You should fluoridate your town’s drinking water. Men landed on the moon.

    I mean why not, “It’s all lies anyhow? I’ll believe what I want. F**k ’em.”

    • Mooser on February 9, 2015, 7:43 pm

      I learned one thing from 9-11. Those sky-scrapers are built out of pre-stressed concrete. They stress it so much that one good blow in the wrong spot and it literally blows itself to pieces. All that dust, and pieces of the building being blown away in the picture? That’s all the stress going out of the concrete.
      I haven’t been up in one of those damn skyscrapers things since. I may be wrong about the explanation, but they obviously have some grievous fault in their design.

      • lysias on February 10, 2015, 5:45 pm

        If the building codes have been changed to reflect what it is alleged happened to those skyscrapers, I would like to be shown the documentation.

      • Mooser on February 10, 2015, 8:24 pm

        ” I would like to be shown the documentation.”

        Shortly after the Towers blew, uh, down, the regulations were changed, and the use of cyclonite in manufacturing concrete was discontinued. And it was common industry practice to install detonators in electrical panels in place of fuses, also. All that was, of course, prohibited.

      • Mooser on February 10, 2015, 8:42 pm

        “Lysias” didn’t a heavy bomber ( a B-29?) fly right into the side of the Empire State building once?
        But of course, the ESB is built of good old bricks, not that flimsy modern stuff.

      • Kris on February 10, 2015, 10:17 pm

        Mooser, it was a 10-ton bomber. I don’t know why the Empire State Building sustained damage to only four floors, while the WTO buildings collapsed, even the one that wasn’t hit by a plane! I guess they just don’t make buildings like they used to. Excerpts:

        “At 9:49 a.m, in the middle of a desperate, climbing turn, the ten-ton B-25 slammed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building.

        “Inside, workers for the War Relief Services of the National Catholic Welfare Conference had already started work when their offices were suddenly engulfed an an explosion of flaming, high-octane fuel. The burning gasoline traveled through hallways, stairwells, and elevator shafts, reaching as far as four floors below the point of impact as the building shook. A publicist working in the offices was propelled out of a window from the explosion, and ten others were caught in the inferno.

        “Fire and debris rained upon the surrounding area, mostly onto nearby structures. One of the bomber’s engines completely penetrated the Empire State Building, and fell from the opposite side. The other engine flew into an elevator shaft and severed the cable of an elevator car carrying two women, sending it into free fall.”


        “The impact left a hole in the north face of the Empire State Building eighteen feet wide by twenty feet high. Photographer Ernie Sisto captured this incredible image from the 90th floor, where he had two other newsmen dangle him out the window by his legs so he could get the shot past the ledge. Later in the day, a news broadcast by Mutual Broadcasting Company included interviews with eyewitnesses, as well as an audio recording of the crash which had been accidentally captured by a nearby recording studio.

        “Investigation showed that the structural integrity of the Empire State Building was not compromised by this accident, but the cost to repair the damage was on the order of a million dollars. For more information, you might check your local library for old copies of New York daily newspapers on microfilm; this was front page news in New York City on July 29, 1945.”

      • Philemon on February 11, 2015, 9:07 pm

        “Nelson also stepped in when the Word Trade Center seemed about to become a costly white elephant. Though the Port Authority had floated $850 million in bonds to build it, and David and the Downtown Association had pressured the city into taking some major planning decisions to make it possible, as it neared completion it was finding it difficult to attract tenants. Nelson helped out by moving more than two dozen state offices into the Center buildings, taking out a 40-year state lease on 60 full floors of one of its 110-story twin towers. By 1974, the state was paying $18.3 million a year in rent to the Port Authority, and an investigation by the Comptroller’s Office was already under way into why the state was paying $4 million more annually on its 2.3 million square feet of rented space than private tenants were paying for comparable footage.” [my emphasis]

        The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty, Peter Collier and David Horowitz, 1976.

        Yeah, white elephant. Major insurance scam.

      • Mooser on February 13, 2015, 3:23 pm

        BTW, that is not a picture of the jet plane impact. The picture above is what happened, well after. For a building which is “collapsing” or “crumbling” an awful lot of it is going up!

        See all that powdered concrete. Ever try to powder concrete? To break it into smaller fragments than the stuff it’s made of?
        And in a country full of engineers, physics professors, architects, construction workers and forensic specialists? Oh well.

    • RoHa on February 11, 2015, 12:29 am

      Healthy natural scepticism. (And it is a basic requirement of scientific method.) It is frequently reinforced by “scientific” claims that contradict previous claims or that run counter to experience.

      Anyone who completely believes something because “scientists say” is naive, and that’s if they are working from the original reports from the scientists.

      Believing something because newspapers, etc., say “scientists say” requires deep, principled, gullibility.

      The history of science shows that major scientific progress mostly comes from showing that the standard, well-established, belief was wrong.

      (I would give examples, but I don’t think the moderators really like science.)

  5. Brewer on February 9, 2015, 3:37 pm

    The reasons were fake, the goals were fake, the triumph was fake.

    Oh no. The triumph was real.

    The key to understanding is one simple, unavoidable fact, one that we resist because it is hard to even imagine the depth of depravity that could create it.

    What you see in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria – the total annihilation of civil society, the destruction of millions of lives and the degradation of of formerly developing states into anarchy was the object, the goal.

    Mission accomplished.

    • just on February 9, 2015, 3:42 pm

      “What you see in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria – the total annihilation of civil society, the destruction of millions of lives and the degradation of of formerly developing states into anarchy was the object, the goal.

      Mission accomplished.”

      There is that. (PNAC, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, etc)

      (and it’s not limited to those countries that you cite of course.)

      And then comes along “American Sniper”………

    • Brewer on February 9, 2015, 4:07 pm

      “Cook looks back to the seminal essay by Israeli foreign affairs official Oded Yinon, which was published by the World Zionist Organisation in 1982, advocating the transformation of Israel into a regional imperial power by fragmenting the Arab world “into a mosaic of ethnic and confessional groupings that could be more easily manipulated”. (p. 107)
      Not least of the benefits to be derived from dissolving the existing Arab states was that Israel could more easily proceed with its ethnic cleansing policy in the occupied Palestinian territories.
      At this time, however, US administrations were pursuing a status quo policy, bolstering compliant regimes and harassing the non-compliant. Also Israeli officials’ vision of their empire was based primarily on ensuring regional stability.
      It was not until the rise of the neocons and their exploitation of the post-September 11 climate that US policy decisively shifted in the direction charted by Yinon and increasingly adopted by Israeli strategists in the interim period.”

      • just on February 9, 2015, 4:24 pm

        Thanks for that piece and link, Brewer.

        Jonathan Cook has been truth- telling for a long while. I learned much from and about him here.

      • seafoid on February 9, 2015, 4:41 pm

        The notion that Israel can play the Middle East like a puppet show indefinitely is deluded.
        The main lesson from history is that everything comes to an end at some stage and Israelis DO NOT understand this. Gd doesn’t care either.

      • just on February 9, 2015, 4:45 pm

        Spot- on!

        They’re not going to be able to play the West or the rest of the world forever, either.

      • Brewer on February 9, 2015, 4:54 pm

        The Yinon thing (“A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties” ) has invaded a lot of my thinking on these matters since I first heard of it. Israel Shahak revealed it in his pamphlet “Zionist Plan for the Middle East “. Previously it had been published by “Kivinum”in Hebrew only.
        Full text here (published by The Association of Arab-American University Graduates):

        I don’t know how influential Yinon was. He is a shadowy figure, reputed to be a Sharon adviser who, after the “Strategy”, disappeared into academia. His bio is difficult to find. Here is a picture alleging to be him with Sharon:×217.jpg

  6. Mooser on February 9, 2015, 3:38 pm

    Gosh, who woulda thunk it?
    I mean, didn’t Desert Storm, Gulf War 1, go so well, so splendidly? Everybody thought OIF would be a glorious finish to the job, culminating in the successful re-making of Iraq.

  7. amigo on February 9, 2015, 3:47 pm

    I was still in America for the George Bush snr war , desert Storm.I recall stating openly , that I opposed the war and got the ire of several of my best friends They told me , if you are not with us , you are against us.I lost three good friends (I thought they were) after that.These people were not uneducated folks .They were successful business people and professionals.I often wonder how many I would have lost after the slaughter in the second Iraq war.I would have been far more critical but by then I was back in Ireland and marched with 100,000 other anti war peaceniks in Dublin.

    The photos and images in this report serve to remind me why I was there.Most especially the last image.

  8. Citizen on February 9, 2015, 3:54 pm

    Iraq? Is that a new hamburger grill?

  9. seafoid on February 9, 2015, 4:43 pm

    That Falluja picture implies that the Americans won. But the Iraqi died and suffered no longer. For the American soldiers who saw Falluja the trauma goes on and on

    Fuck Dick Cheney and his fellow travelers

    • Citizen on February 10, 2015, 6:45 am

      I watched the 1946 film, The Best Years Of Our Lives, last night. I wondered if anyone will ever redo it, dramatizing our troops coming home from the Iraqi/Afghanistan wars, their struggle of readjustment when maimed and/or traumatized, and that interaction with family, lovers, those who stayed behind. Instead we got American Sniper.

  10. DaveS on February 9, 2015, 4:57 pm

    This is a very thoughtful and inspiring essay, but ultimately I disagree with one of its main points. All of the worthy analysis here could have been made a month ago before the Brian Williams affair began. In fact, over the years, many people did make these points, and while Scott Long’s discussion of the insane lies of our government and nauseating fealty of the media in the post 9/11 world is extremely valuable and deserves repetition over and over again, it really has nothing to do with Williams. I’m glad that these recent events prompted Long to remind us of something we should never forget, but IMO they do nothing to exculpate Williams from his rather shameful behavior.

    I completely understand Long’s recollection of something he did not witness on 9/11. I have a close friend who was in his office a block away and told his wife that day that he saw people jump to their death, but some time later claimed that he never witnessed such horrors. I get that. But my office also was a block away and I would never imagine that I was there with them because I was not. People who were in the office know they were there, terrified, but they do not imagine that they actually were in the WTC buildings for some reason. Williams’s concoction is of another order entirely from Long’s illusory remembrance of seeing the tower fall from a distance. Moreover, Williams’s apology refused to acknowledge incontrovertible facts and offered insincere excuses for his “error.”

    Long of course is absolutely right that the government’s lies and the media’s subservience are incomparably greater sins than Williams’s. But murder is a much worse crime than burglary of an empty home or shoplifting for that matter, and that comparison is not a defense to either of those lesser crimes.

    The article as a whole is a must-read, but Williams should be shown the door. There no doubt are many others in the media who deserve to be shamed and fired for worse offenses, but this is simply inexcusable.

    • just on February 9, 2015, 5:06 pm

      “The article as a whole is a must-read, but Williams should be shown the door. There no doubt are many others in the media who deserve to be shamed and fired for worse offenses, but this is simply inexcusable.”

      Thanks David. Many others in the administration(s), the executives in the MSM and elsewhere, too.

      (Phil Donahue should be offered his vacant spot)

    • Pixel on February 9, 2015, 5:43 pm


      I concur with everything you have written.

    • philadelphialawyer on February 9, 2015, 7:01 pm

      I agree in substance. All of the contents of the essay have been known for a long time by anyone with an ounce of curiosity and a willingness to question the official story. That doesn’t make them any less powerful, accurate or important, but:

      None of them make Williams any less of a liar and a fraud.

      And they are not really comparable, anyway. There actually can be a policy debate about Iraq, the response to 9/11, etc, and there are two, or more, sides that can be presented. And all the fudging and bad arguments and so on used by the US Establishment are, still, not quite the same thing as just making up stuff. Now, admittedly, “just making stuff up” was PART of the propaganda used to sell the war, used to stifle dissent about 9/11, and so on. And each of those actual lies can be, and should be, pointed out and unpacked. But doing so does nothing to rehabilitate Williams, and a complete response to the Establishment propaganda about Iraq, 9/11, etc consists of more than merely debunking outright lies.

      As for misremembered events in our own lives, meh. Personally, I don’t really experience this phenomenon, but, in any event, a newsman has to be more careful in what he says on the air than what the Average Joe says in his daily life. Moreover, a newsman should verify even his own memories, before he reports them as fact. And, in this case, the self valorization element is pretty strong too. Furthermore, additional revelations have come forward calling into question some of Williams’ other claims.

      I never liked the guy, but always considered him no more, but no less either, than the typical BS pretty boy masquerading as a “journalist” for network TV news. The reality, apparently, is that he is lying phony besides. And that is a bridge too far, even for network news.

  11. Pixel on February 9, 2015, 5:55 pm

    “But he was in the middle of the most fantastic made-up story in American history.”

    No, the most fantastic made-up story in American history is still believed to be true.

    • Mooser on February 10, 2015, 8:35 pm

      “No, the most fantastic made-up story in American history is still believed to be true.”

      And in a country full of engineers, construction people, and some of the best forensic labs and investigators in the world. And with the event filmed, for the most part.

      • Philemon on February 12, 2015, 8:39 pm

        Mooser, a lot of the “filming” might not have been on the up and up, either.

        Unlike philadephialawyer, I don’t think Williams is “a bridge too far” for network TV news.

      • Mooser on February 13, 2015, 3:27 pm

        “Mooser, a lot of the “filming” might not have been on the up and up, either.”

        The news filming is fine. I don’t think they edited in the charges going off and the building collapsing, at nearly free-fall speed, and the concrete dust, and the remains of thermite.

      • Philemon on February 14, 2015, 8:10 pm

        Well, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din, or Mooser, as the case may be.

  12. joemowrey on February 9, 2015, 5:58 pm

    Thanks to Mondoweiss for posting this excellent analysis. The responses to this article so far give us an opportunity to see that many of the commenters here at Mondoweiss are just as well informed about the machinations of U.S. Empire as they are about the lies and deceptions inherent in the Zionist movement.

    Now, if only the masses of asses here in the U.S. would learn from their own history. But noooo….Libya, Syria, Ukraine. All examples of Iraq 101 being replayed to the willfully ignorant citizens of our lost nation. And once again our co-conspiritorial corporate media rises to the occasion by parroting and amplifying everything the warmongers spew out.

    The voices here at Mondoweiss provide a glimmer of hope in an absurd, Orwellian world.

  13. John Douglas on February 9, 2015, 6:30 pm

    This is a brilliant and informative essay by Scott Long. Thank you!

    My questioned memory is this. I remember (I think) shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing a local reporter was interviewing a college friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. This was after Tsarnaev had been identified from the tapes, but before he was captured. The friend reported calling Tsarnaev on his cell asking him what was going on and telling him that the President had condemned the bombing. The friend reported that Tsarnaev responded that the President had killed many more people with drone attacks. I have never again seen this report of Tsarnaev’s possible motivation discussed. This reminds me of the pre-emptive response to the question of why 9-11 happened, “Because they hate our freedom.” God forbid that, as Susan Sontag suggested, they had legitimate grievances.

  14. piotr on February 9, 2015, 7:18 pm

    “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” Aesop

    • just on February 9, 2015, 7:28 pm

      One of the truest and best quotes ever. Unfortunately, I use it often.

  15. Kay24 on February 9, 2015, 9:56 pm

    I used to have respect for Brian WIlliams, and thought he was a good journalist, but this has changed my good impression of him. Misremembering what one wore that day, is acceptable, or how many shots were fired, but for someone of his stature to misremember an entire incident that did not happen to him, is very unacceptable, and not professional, to say the least. This is sheer fabrication that went on and on. How can anyone have faith in him from now on? This is exactly what turned me off Hillary Clinton, and her imaginary tale of ducking bullets. To be a good journalist one must have tremendous credibility, and that unfortunately WIlliams seems to have lost. Does one have to make up stories to become a good journalist/news anchor, or get better ratings?

    • seafoid on February 10, 2015, 2:27 am

      I don’t have much respect for David Icke but this insight of his is quite good

      “A second group, the so-called “sheeple” – the vast majority of humanity – have what Icke calls “back seat consciousness.” They are conscious, but they do whatever they are told … They include the “repeaters,” the people in positions of influence who simply repeat what other people have told them. Doctors repeat what they are told in medical school and by drug companies, teachers repeat what they learned at teacher training college, and journalists are the greatest repeaters of all. “

    • Rashid.M on February 10, 2015, 4:22 am

      “This is exactly what turned me off Hillary Clinton, and her imaginary tale of ducking bullets”

      “I remember landing under sniper fire..There was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” – Hillary Clinton, 1996.

      “I think that, a minor blip, you know, if I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things – millions of words a day – so if I misspoke it was just a misstatement” – Hillary Clinton, 2008.

      The qualitative difference being therefore that Clinton ‘misspoke’ rather than ‘misremembered’. Sort of like an innocent slip of a busy tongue, versus the more serious charge of deliberately substituting imagination in place of reality – i.e. lying.

      Before pointing an accusing finger, you try saying “millions of words a day” without accidentally embellishing your own credentials. ;)

    • piotr on February 10, 2015, 1:43 pm

      “I used to have respect”

      More philosophically, recollections from hunting, fishing and war are not particularly reliable.

  16. just on February 9, 2015, 10:51 pm

    A somewhat related article about MSM reporting on the US military and that other ‘third rail’~ it profiles Rania Khalek.

  17. Walid on February 10, 2015, 3:07 am

    ” … a shadowy American company, the Rendon Group” was “paid close to $200 million by the CIA and Pentagon to spread anti-Saddam propaganda worldwide.” (from James Bamford book)

    In influence peddling, $200 million is not a very high cost to spread propaganda worldwide, The US, according to a State Dept official, spent $500 million over 4 years trying to sway Lebanon’s few hundred thousand youths away from Hizbullah.

    The bulk of the US contribution most probably happened just before the 2009 general elections for which it was rumoured that SA also contributed $600 million and Iran $400 million. That was a lot of money for about a million actual voters. None of these monies substantially altered the final results; the pro-US faction won by a very thin margin.

    • seafoid on February 10, 2015, 3:34 am

      That PR horseshit is specifically effective in settler colonial territories,. I think.
      It’s easier to fool Americans, IMO. I am still working on the theory.

      I remember watching a Hollywood move about good Americans and evil Arabs in Cairo and the crowd reaction. Compartmentalising fantasy and reality. I’m sure how Yanks and Masris saw the film was very different. When people have choices like in Lebanon the stuff fails.

      And this of course

      Why did the Iraq war fail- it’s all linked to this- trying to create a reality that can’t work

      Khalaas ya’ni.

  18. Steve Macklevore on February 10, 2015, 3:59 am

    This is a wonderful essay!

    I remember (I think) gradually realising early in 2002 that the American ruling elite had collectively gone insane. They remained insane for another two or three years before the Iraqi resistance gradually brought them back to their senses. It was a miserable time for America but a horrifying one for Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.

  19. RobertB on February 10, 2015, 11:45 am

    New doubts over Brian Williams’ account of being ‘lucky to survive’ chopper flight – but he never mentioned Hezbollah rockets ‘that flew just under him’ at the time

    Beleaguered NBC anchor Brian Williams could have exaggerated another near-death story involving himself – this time from a stint covering Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah.

    Williams seemingly embellished an account of a helicopter ride with Israeli Defense Force officials to imply he was almost hit by a rocket, when in fact he was nowhere near enemy fire.

    The potentially pumped-up claims came a little more than a year after the event, when Williams recounted a slew of now-doubtful anecdotes about his time in the midst of mortal danger.”

  20. scott9854958 on February 10, 2015, 3:13 pm

    I see AIPAC’s grubby fingerprints all over this Brian Williams villification campaign. Think back to last summer, late July, early August. Israel was shelling schools and hospitals in Gaza and killing kids. Lots of ’em. Who was the best U.S. network reporter there? His name was Richard Engel, and he was the only one countering the Israeli narrative that the kids were pretty much asking for it, and those shells fired from Israeli guns were really the fault of the Palestinians! (Still trying to work out the logic there)

    Anyway, AIPAC and their media lapdogs couldn’t very well fire Richard Engel…but they could mount a campaign against the fellow he works for. And get him fired. Couldn’t they? Maybe I’m being too conspiratorial, but when it comes to Israel’s crazed partisans, I’ve learned there is no such thing.

    • annie on February 10, 2015, 5:03 pm

      scott, i too wonder why this is happening now. i had never heard of this investigation until now but it surprised me. everyone knows the whole msm lined up in cahoots to fabricate a narrative for that war. i can’t help but wonder what the agenda is at this point, to take him out so dramatically over a decade later. seems radical, albeit i am not arguing he doesn’t deserve it. i’m not really a fan and don’t watch mainstream news. but heck, it does beg the question what’s driving it and that was my first reaction to the news.

  21. lysias on February 10, 2015, 5:49 pm

    It’s not just American journalists who have become fundamentally dishonest. The book Gekaufte Journalisten [Bought Journalists] I just finished reading shows the situation is just as bad in the German-speaking world.

    • seafoid on February 10, 2015, 5:56 pm

      Journalists with very few honorable exceptions are repeaters. They just repeat what they are told.
      The level of shared insight on this blog goes way beyond anything you can get in a newspaper up to and including the New York Review.

  22. Brewer on February 10, 2015, 6:40 pm

    Nothing has changed:

    Wretched US Journalism on Ukraine
    February 9, 2015

    Exclusive: The U.S. news media has failed the American people often in recent years by not challenging U.S. government falsehoods, as with Iraq’s WMD. But the most dangerous violation of journalistic principles has occurred in the Ukraine crisis, which has the potential of a nuclear war, writes Robert Parry.

  23. RoHa on February 11, 2015, 12:40 am

    We knew that CNN was lying in 1991 when they called Arnett “the only Western journalist in Baghdad” because we saw the reports from Alfonso Rojo in our newspapers.

  24. Qualtrough on February 11, 2015, 12:48 am

    I am American but don’t live in the US so I don’t watch much US news. So, not having watched him, I have to assume that in the US context Brian Williams must be considered a liberal because it seems only liberal journalists are held to account when they exaggerate, embellish, or fail to fully document stories. Dan Rather and Gary Webb are just two that come to mind. Are there any examples of conservative reporters/newscasters being held to the same standard? Did Brian Williams fail to toe the line recently? Why are his shortcomings only now gaining attention?

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