Will They Ever Trust Us Again? is the latest book from prevaricating propagandist Michael Moore. As usual, the millionaire “muckracker” disguises his misanthropy behind a façade of concern for the downtrodden—this time, soldiers in Iraq, whose letters of despair and disillusionment Moore reveals in order to discredit the war.
But enough of that. Bush’s re-election has rendered the populist gasbag about as significant as one of those advertising blimps that hover over major cities. (The soldiers’ complaints are a different matter.) Rather, as campaign 2004 fades into memory, this might be a good time to consider “trust” by reversing Moore’s question: will we, the American people, ever trust them again?
By “them”, I mean once-admirable people and institutions that have of late proven alarmingly untrustworthy. Chief among them, I suppose—if only because the nation’s safety hinges upon their dependability--are our intelligence services, particularly in light of assessments about Saddam’s WMDs. How could so many experienced, intelligent people go wrong? While we’re at it, let us include the Defense Department and Pentagon—not only for botching the reconstruction of Iraq, but also for allowing a semi-delusional dictator to snooker us into unconventional-style conflict. Reverses in war occur, of course—but if we’re going to invade an Islamic nation with a minimum of international support, our leaders better get the details right.
Still, the election shows most American’s trust Bush’s stewardship of the land. What should concern us now are those segments of society beyond the reach of the electorate that no longer merit admiration or respect. I nominate as Number One in this category the mainstream media, whose fecklessness rivals only the French in arrogance and audacity. To take but one example, news organizations regularly refuse to identify the Islamic identity of terrorists who, in the name of Islam, fly jets into skyscrapers, detonate suicide bombs and behead prisoners. Yet this same media incessantly reminds us of the “holy” cities of Najaf and Karbala, the “holy” season of Ramadan—“holy,” of course, only to Muslims. (Will they also speak of the “holy” day of Christmas, or the “holy” cities of Rome and Jerusalem? Don’t bet on it.)
Worse, the MSM helps legitimize the Islamofascists murdering G.I.s and civilians in Iraq by calling them “guerillas” and “the resistance”—as if they were the Communist jungle fighters so dear to Boomer hearts. But when it describes the same sort of reactionary insurgents operating in Africa or Latin America, the press uses less appealing appellations like “paramilitaries” and “right-wing death squads.” Same killers, different designations. One yearns for the harder-nosed journalists of the mid-20th century who would have called the Iraqi gunmen as they are: “fascists”—and who would have recognized that in this current war, pro-government Iraqis comprise the “Resistance,” not bearded jihadists slaughtering innocents in the name of Saddam and Allah.
Further renouncing our trust, the MSM opted this election season to become political operatives: viz., Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas’ admission that the “media wants Kerry to win.” The Center for Media and Public Affairs determined that the senator received “the most favorable network news coverage of any presidential candidate in the past quarter century.” This pro-Kerry slant expressed itself in multiple ways. Some were small, such as the AP’s September 3rd report that people attending a Bush rally in Wisconsin booed when the President wished Bill Clinton a “speedy recovery” from his heart operation, adding that “Bush did nothing” to stop the disgraceful behavior. Tapes of the event, however, revealed the audience cheering Bush’s remarks about Clinton—and when exposed for its falsified account, the AP deleted reporter Tom Hays’ by-line from subsequent versions of the story and changed the word “boos” to “oohs.”
Others examples were more notorious. Kitty Kelley’s poorly-sourced Bush biography merited three days coverage on ABC’s “Today” show while the networks avoided the Swift Boat vets like they were lepers. There was the New York Times-Sixty Minutes ambush over the Al-Quaqaa munitions site—an October surprise upstaged only by Osama himself. But the most memorable case of journalistic malfeasance, of course, was Dan Rather’s attempt to unseat Bush through the use of forged documents. The partisanship and sloppy reporting exhibited by CBS in l’affaire Burkett were outrageous, eclipsing even the BBC’s “sexed-up” exposé of Tony Blair’s supposed deceptions involving Saddam’s WMDs.
The registry of shame goes on. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s embarrassing diatribe against the Bush Administration entitled What We’ve Lost—and his statement in the December, 2003, Vanity Fair that the U.S. deficit totals $6.84 quadrillion, rather than trillion (what’s a few powers of 10 when it comes to attacking Bush?) Paleoliberal Lewis Lapham’s Harper’s article denouncing speeches given at the Republican Convention—written before the convention took place. Maureen Dowd doctoring—or “dowdifying”—a Bush statement to imply that the President believed that Al Qaeda is “not a problem anymore.” (What he actually said was “jailed or dead” Al Qaeda members are not a problem.) Nor should we overlook ABC News political editor Mark Halperin’s exhortations to his staff to help the Kerry Campaign fend off “distortions” from the Bush/Rove team--adding, for good measure, that the press “by and large, does not accept President Bush’s justifications for the Iraq war.”
It’s not just journalists who abrogated our trust, of course, it’s also our hysterical celebrity class. Future generations will wonder what possessed people whose professional lives involve reading sentiments written by other people to regale the public with their own political views. (E.g., Cameron Diaz: “If you think rape should be legal, then don’t vote!”) They will question exactly when comedians—people paid not to take matters seriously—became respected news pundits. They will puzzle over the spectacle of singers like Linda Ronstadt, John Mellencamp and Eminem putting their vocal chords in service of the Kerry Campaign. And what they will make of rapper P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die!” campaign?
Given the Democrats defeat, most Americans, it seems, didn’t take activist-performers seriously—or, observing foul-mouthed celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Al Franken, decided to vote for Bush. Indeed, shockjock Howard Stern vowed to bring his audience to Kerry: according to Franklog.com, in nearly every state where Stern’s radio show is heard, Bush gained votes since the 2000 election. And how many supporters did Kerry lose, one wonders, when he stated that Hollywood is the “heart and soul of America?”
But that’s not the point. Celebrities gain stature through show-biz popularity—to take that popularity into the political realm is an act of bad faith with their audiences: we pay them to entertain us, not to shoot their mouths off about issues they know nothing about. (Let them run for office if they wish to be “heard.”) Alas, intoxicated by mass adoration, some stars apparently believe they are smarter than their fans. What else explains Harry Belafonte’s comment likening Colin Powell to a “house slave?” When Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt issue press statements calling for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, it’s clear the harmless narcissism of Celebrityland is morphing into something grandiose, self-righteous and just plain awful.
Which returns us to trust. We now live in a world where government officials misinterpret intelligence data; journalists knowingly convey false information and entertainers hold our intelligence in contempt. The betrayals of trust don’t end there, of course: many corporate executives and clergymen and the United Nations have also lost our faith. Once the finger of distrust starts pointing, it seems, the blame never ends.
But is this such a bad thing? In truth, there’s plenty of trust around: we trust our spouses, friends, strangers on the roadway, city health inspectors—let alone airline pilots and maintenance crews. What’s wrong with distrusting our political and cultural elites? Only an immature person maintains trust in adults unalloyed by the acknowledgement of human frailty. Paradoxically, in the left’s shriller denunciations of America, one detects a child’s disappointment with parents who fail to fulfill expectations of all-knowing perfection. Such expectations are dangerous, tending toward demagoguery and dictatorship. I, for one, like my leaders fallible, and prefer to view them with skepticism and mistrust. Lest we forget, it’s what popular sovereignty and democracy is all about. Still, though, it is a shame about Bruce Springsteen—I used to be such a fan.