May 13, 2003
Smoke, Mirrors and Conspiracy Kooks
by Maureen Farrell
The U.S. version of the Jessica Lynch saga features a damsel, distress, evil Iraqis, and heroic soldiers saving the day. "The real 'Saving Pte. Lynch,' the Toronto Star counters, exposes this scenario as a "grand myth." Citing testimony from doctors, nurses and Nasiriya locals, the Star refutes America's official story, reporting that rather than being shot, stabbed and tortured before being rescued from the clutches of brutal captors, Private Lynch was actually injured in an auto mishap and was saved from the nurturing care of an attending nurse. "It was so scary for her," Lynch's nurse Khalida Shinah said. "Not only was she badly hurt, but she was in a strange country. I felt more like a mother than a nurse. . .And at nights, I would sing her to sleep."
Upset by U.S. government assertions that Lynch was abused during her time at the hospital, a teary-eyed Shinah said, "This is a lie. But why ask me? Why don't you ask Jessica what kind of treatment she received?" But unfortunately, Army spokesman Lt.-Col. Ryan Yantis warned that, "Until such time as [Lynch] wants to talk - and that's going to be no time soon, and it may be never at all - the press is simply going to have to wait." The same day, FOX News reported, "Sources Say Jessica Lynch Has Amnesia."
While Jessica Lynch may have amnesia and Lt.-Col.Yantis might simply be protecting her, history suggests it's best to approach the Pentagon's Rambo rescue story with skepticism. Thirty-six years ago, crewmen on the U.S.S. Liberty faced a similar predicament when their surveillance ship was attacked by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats. Controversy regarding the June 8, 1967 assault on the Liberty rages to this day -- and the truth about what happened is still hotly disputed.
Though 34 Americans were killed and 171 wounded, the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty remains the only major U.S. maritime event never investigated by Congress. Israel deemed the incident, "a tragic mistake," and within three weeks, the Navy issued a 700-page report, exonerating the Israelis. All was right with the world -- except that the surviving crewmen still insist that Israel knew full well that they were pummeling an American ship. Saying that Israeli aircraft repeatedly circled the ship at low altitude, crewmembers report that the U.S.S. Liberty was clearly marked and the ship, which was sailing in international waters, flew an American flag. (Even in the midst of the attack, they say, a second, oversized flag was raised immediately after the first was shot down).
The crew was threatened with court martial if they talked about the incident. According to Lt. Cmdr. James Ennes, the Liberty's deck officer during the attack, soon after the battle-scarred ship hobbled into port in Malta, Isaac Kid, who headed the Liberty's court of inquiry, told crewmen, "This is classified stuff. You're not allowed to talk about this to anybody." At the time, CBS news' Frank Kearns reported, "The Liberty is still shrouded in secrecy. Newsmen are not allowed onboard. Sailors onboard are not allowed to talk to newsmen."
the subsequent Navy court of inquiry "a farce," the
silenced crewmen began speaking out once they retired. In 1979, Ennes
authored Assault on the Liberty, which told the story from the crew's
point of view. Since then, he has consistently maintained that there "is
no question that this attack on a U.S. Navy ship was deliberate."
Detractors, however, say such testimony is nothing more than a malicious attempt to smear Israel. Liberty Incident author A. Jay Cristol, referring to the "36 different conspiracy stories" that surround the event, contends that Israel believed it was attacking an Egyptian or possibly a Russian ship. The Israeli government launched four separate investigations into the incident, and though Liberty crewmen have found contradictions in every report, as far as Cristol is concerned, the attack was simply a tragic accident. (To hear a debate between Cristol and Ennes, click http://ussliberty.org/ and scroll down).
In 2001, Body of Secrets author James Bamford added another crinkle. What the Israelis didn't realize, Bamford asserts, is that the National Security Agency had a surveillance plane flying above the Liberty that day. Though these NSA intercepts remain secret, Bamford's sources say that communications deciphered by a Hebrew-English linguist aboard the plane reveal that the Israelis saw an American flag, substantiating crewmen's claims. http://www.cnn.com/2001/US/04/23/liberty.attack/index.html
Throughout it all, surviving crew members have been frustrated in attempts to expose and understand the government's duplicity. Interviewed for the History Channel's COVER UP: Attack on the Liberty, they are haunted by memories of pleading for help and awaiting rescue planes, which were launched, but rescinded on direct order from Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara. "Over the last 30 years [the crewmen] have continued to suffer countless insults and indignities from their own government," narrator Arthur Kent asserted, later adding, "They have tried to find anyone who will listen to them." Six crewmen were buried in a mass grave, with no mention of the Liberty on their headstone; the ship's commanding officer was given the Congressional Medal of Honor, in secret rather than in the White House; and crew members have largely been ignored. "To me, the biggest mystery is why our government is still trying to cover it up. . . Or why they refuse to talk to the crew. Nobody has ever seriously talked to the crew," Ennes revealed.
The secrecy and betrayal took its toll. "Some men are still undergoing psychiatric treatment," crewman Joe Lentini explained. "Some of them are on various drug rehabilitation programs. Some have nightmares and some never think about it -- they pushed it the furthest part of their mind." According to columnist Charley Reese, "When the survivors of the Liberty finished their service in the Navy and were thus free to talk, they became targets of a campaign of vilification and have been called drunks, anti-Semites, and incompetents." http://ussliberty.org/reese.htm
Ex-CBS producer Kristina Borjesson is all too familiar with this tact. Like the crew of the U.S.S Liberty, she experienced life-altering trauma after treading into taboo territory. "You don't chose to have the kind of experience I had while trying to report on the demise of TWA Flight 800," Borjesson wrote. "It happens to you." Characterizing her ordeal as "walking into the buzzsaw," she reveals why and how Americans are shielded from certain truths.
The buzzsaw, Borjesson asserts, is "what can rip through you when you try to investigate or expose anything this country's large institutions -- be they corporate or government -- want to keep under wraps. The system fights back with official lies, disinformation, and stonewalling. Your phone starts acting funny . . .Your car is broken into and the thief takes your computer and your reporter's notebook and leaves everything else behind ...It gets harder and harder to distinguish truth and reality from falsehood and fiction. The sense of fear and paranoia is, at times, overwhelming."
Borjesson complied similar stories from other journalists and her book, INTO THE BUZZSAW: Leading Journalists Expose The Myth Of a Free Press, exposes how this scenario has been replayed repeatedly. Between Greg Palast's account of the deliberate disenfranchisement of black voters during the 2000 election; Mark Levine's expose on the Drug War scam; and Jane Akre's attempt to warn the public of the dangers of Monsanto's Bovine Growth Hormone, a picture emerges, not only of how truth is suppressed, but why. Akre's boss at the Fox-owned WTVT-TV in Tampa put it this way: "We paid $3 billion dollars for these television stations. We'll tell you what the news is. The news is what we say it is!"
This attitude is widespread and the disillusionment it foments in earnest journalists is palpable. "If we had met five years ago, you wouldn't have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me," contributor Gary Webb revealed. "I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn't work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I'd enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn't been, as I'd assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job ... The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn't written anything important enough to suppress."
Webb's investigative report on the CIA's role in the crack epidemic was enough to catapult him into the buzzsaw. Trashed by the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angles Times, his story was retracted by his own paper, and he was vilified in others. "From the savage assaults on Webb by other members of his profession," Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair reported, "those unfamiliar with the series might have assumed that Webb had made a series of wild and unsubstantiated charges, long on dramatic speculation and short of specific data or sourcing. In fact, Webb's series was succinct and narrowly focused."
Part of the entire process involves the absolute shattering of old perspectives. "Walk into the buzzsaw," Borjesson explains, and "you will feel a deep sense of loss and betrayal. A shocking shift in paradigm. Anyone who hasn't experienced it will call you crazy. Those who don't know the truth, or are covering it up, will call you a conspiracy nut."
Borjesson also convincingly argues that the word "conspiracy" is a highly effective tool used "to malign those who raise unpopular questions about sensitive issues," including the hundreds of eyewitnesses who disputed the official TWA 800 crash story. A proposed Oliver Stone investigative series on the crash was ridiculed before production on the pilot even began. Newsweek deemed Stone the "latest conspiracy crank to delve into the mysterious crash," while Time discredited the entire production by with the headline, "The Conspiracy Channel?" Greta Van Susteren used a similar ploy, calling those who refuted the government's take on TWA 800, "conspiracy theorists" implying usual slurs such as "goofball," "nutcases," and "bottom feeders." (Frustrated eyewitnesses took out a full page ad in the Washington Times in August, 2000, but, chances are, they too come off as "conspiracy kooks" to most. http://twa800.com/images/times-8-15-00.gif )
Increasingly, media critics and others who step outside Disneyfied versions of news and history are marginalized and truth is subverted. But Borjesson warns, "If there is ever a time when disseminating disinformation via official sources, when uncritical, uniformed and inane reporting were dangerous, it's now." But given that the Karl Rove has perfected slight of hand media manipulation and the Straussians forging U.S. policy fib as matter of principle, sorting through the deception is tougher than ever. (According to the New York Times, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol and others at the influential Project for a New American Century are disciples of Leo Strauss. And according to Leo Strauss and the American Right author Shadia Drury, "Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in Strauss's view) because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them." http://www.ipsnews.net/print.asp?idnews=18038
Which brings us back to 'Saving Private Lynch.' Hopefully, government officials are trying to protect Jessica and not themselves. Hopefully, the U.S. didn't once again concoct and conceal babies-in-incubator-type propaganda. But, given the state of the media, they wouldn't have to work very hard to do so. When ABC reported on inconsistencies in the Jessica Lynch story, the Media Research Center, a self-proclaimed "leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias" ran the headline, "ABC Belittles Lynch Rescue," while World Net Daily's Joseph Farah appeared on MSNBC's Buchanan and Press, armed with an alternate spin. "Well, you know, I'm not surprised that there are some people in this country who would try to make more of the Jessica Lynch story than there really is," he said, adding, "look, there's an agenda, Pat, out there. . . the agenda is to try to convince the American people that it's a good thing to have women in combat, and let's face it, it's not a good thing." Talk about agendas!
Some day, Americans might realize how deeply and often they are lied to. Then perhaps the buzzsaw can be dismantled and its victims vindicated. But for now, we're living in an age when our draft-dodging AWOL Commander in Chief dresses in military garb, while pundits provide inane and insane insight. "Would any of the [Democratic presidential hopefuls] have turned down a chance to look that heroic as that guy [President Bush]?" Chris Matthews inquired. "In other words, isn't that the reason why they're not trashing him? Because they all want to be him and it's obvious?" he continued. "Well, sometimes you ask questions that answer themselves, Chris," Howard Fineman gushed back. "That's probably one of them."
Those who are starting to see past the smoke and mirrors (can you even imagine anyone getting Dixie Chicked for criticizing Clinton?) can take comfort that others do, too -- even if reassurance is found in unlikely places. The wildly popular, intriguingly Jungian movie, The Matrix, for example, tapped into our collective unconscious in 1999, just as Star Wars did two decades before. "What you know you can't explain, but you feel it," Morpheus told the archetypal Neo. "You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. But what is it? . . . It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."
The U.S.S. Liberty crewmen, TWA 800 eyewitnesses and Buzzsaw authors understand this all to well. Someday, perhaps, the America public will too. In the meantime, it's important to pay attention to the philosophies driving the Bush administration. According to Professor Drury, neo-con muse Leo Strauss also believed that ''those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior'. Which makes Kristina Borjesson's warning even more poignant. "In my view," she wrote, "journalists are the nation's last line of defense for keeping all of us from becoming a nation of expendable cockroaches."
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2003, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original