Friday, January 14, 2005


The dead rise!

Richard Cohen grows a new pair!
Hollow Accountability

By Richard Cohen

It took no less a sage than President Bush to put the firing of four high-level CBS News employees in perspective: "CBS said they would act. They did. And I hope their actions are such that this doesn't happen again." This from the man who fired not a single person in his entire administration for getting nearly everything wrong about Iraq and taking the nation to war for reasons that did not exist or were downright specious. Lucky for Bush he's only the president of the United States and not the head of CBS.

Bush's observation to the Wall Street Journal is the deepest wisdom of a man who has always been protected from his own mistakes and failures, whether it's the oil business gone bust or a wayward youth rescued by equal measures of religion and family connections. His is the privileged view of privilege itself -- that others should do what he would not. For all his pretense of aw-shucks ordinariness, Bush's inner Yale sometimes oozes out. Some people should pay for their mistakes. Some people never have to.

Those who paid at CBS happen to be some of that network's best people. They made a mistake, no doubt about it. They had professional lapses. Again, no doubt about it. But most of them had long and distinguished careers. One of them, in fact, helped break the story about abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. They deserved to be reprimanded for putting an apparently bogus (at least the documents were) report on the air. They did not deserve to be fired.

Liars get fired. None of the CBS four lied. Plagiarists get fired. None of the four plagiarized. Incompetents get fired -- and one mistake over the course of an entire career is not proof of incompetence. All these people deserved another chance. Bush would understand that. He always gets another chance.

"60 Minutes" killed a report about whether the Bush administration had relied on false documents in making the case that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger. A CBS spokesman said it would have been "inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election" -- a statement just plain stunning in its implications. First of all, it was late September -- a full month before the election -- and, second, isn't affecting elections what can happen when journalists do their jobs? I mean, are we supposed to withhold the truth because, in addition to making you free, it might make you change your vote? This was a dark day for CBS and for all journalism.

Now it is even darker. The capitulation to Bush and the GOP is nearly complete. After the firings, the White House voiced its approval. So did Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, who, keeping a firm grip on his emotions, did not suggest President Bush take note and do some firings himself. All over this great country, wherever right-wing pundits pund and bloggers blog, a chorus of gleeful approval was raised to the heavens. But in praising accountability, they were unaccountably silent about -- and here let me quote from the CBS report about what went wrong -- the "myopic zeal" of administration figures who got everything wrong, still do and have never been called to account for it. They had everything wrong but the target. It wasn't Iraq that was the pushover; it was CBS.
I am well and truly baffled by the way so many hard-working, decent people endlessly excuse AWOL-in-Chief no matter what he does. People who honestly believe in earning what you get and taking responsibility for what you do and owning up to your mistakes and learning from them - and they fervently support a spoiled brat who never did any of that at any single moment in his pampered life.

This is not a question of politics or ideology. John McCain is every bit as conservative as George W. Bush - but he has courage and integrity (except when campaigning for Bush last year...) and principles.

In their science fiction novel The Return of the Emperor, Alan Cole and Chris Bunch presented the concept of "The Dummy," a presidential candidate with little personality or platform of his own but who looked and sounded good and could be and was willing to be used by conspiratorial backroom plotters and fixers to advance their secret plans. A front-man, a stooge, a patsy, a beard. A Dummy. George W. Bush is the perfect Dummy. All kinds of conservatives believe in him because he is the front for their plots.

That's understandable. He's affable, he jokes around, he seems like a regular guy. The corporate interests, the movement conservatives, the fundies, can all use him to put a nice human face on their barbaric atrocities.

But why do so many other Americans go along with this foul charade? Why do so many otherwise decent Americans turn off their brains and throw away their morals and support this schmuck? George W. Bush, however much he pretends to be a "Christian," spits on their values - like hard work and really being a good parent and telling the truth and fighting for the little guy. And 51% voted for them anyway.

And although Richard Cohen has never bought into all of Bush's crap, he has not been a strong enough shoveler of the stables. This is a good start, but he has a lot to atone for. As does the rest of the press - and the country.
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