August 5, 2003
The Game Show Administration
by Maureen Farrell
"I call him the game show host. He's nothing but a G.D. game show host." This is how Gordon, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran, described our president, even before the Pentagon announced its now defunct plan to create a betting parlor to wager on (and profit from) terrorist attacks and assassinations. We were at a party, where such talk is impolite, but Gordon's premise tugged at imaginations anyway. Substitute "Bring 'Em On! for "Come on down!" and, well, you have to admit, the guy's got a point.
Gordon's anger was palpable. Not frighteningly so, mind you, but in the way that garners sympathy. When he remembers Vietnam, he speaks of the fear of losing his life and his humanity, amidst a sea of civilians who could either kill or console. He's angry now for this new batch of troops, who are experiencing that same heightened uncertainty, in lieu of the rose-strewn reception they'd been promised. Deceived like he was, they thought they'd be returning home after toppling Saddam ("The way home is through Baghdad," they were told), but the game show host played flyboy before a "mission accomplished" backdrop and fooled them once again.
"All I want to do is go home," a Third Infantry Division solider in Iraq recently told journalist Robert Fisk. "I never thought when I came here that this would happen. I tell my wife I'm OK, but we all ask ourselves, 'Who's next?'" A couple months ago, American troops were killed at a rate of one a week, a few weeks later, it was one a day. Now, in this revived edition of You Bet Your Life, attacks against American G.I.s appear to be escalating. "The reports of deaths are terrible," Paul Wolfowitz told Fox News. "Any American death is a terrible thing. But I think the American public understands that when you're fighting a war against terrorists, when you're fighting for the security of this country, that sacrifice is something that you'd have to expect."
Add these lost lives to America's lost billions [LINK] and factor in former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's claim that Bush "may resort to start another war in order to win the 2004 election," [LINK] and you've got a macabre combination of Truth or Consequences and The Price is Right.
Yep, Gordon had a point.
Semblance vs. substance is the name of the game for this game show administration, which relies on razzle dazzle to stay afloat. But blatant disinformation (see: Lynch, Jessica) and diversionary tactics (see: alerts, orange) aside, a more subtle phenomenon occurs each time a controversy arises -- and one political scandal ("16 words") is used to draw attention away from another (the president's encyclopedia of lies). While pundits either feign amazement that Bush would mislead us or downplay his deception, responsibility for this deceit is shared by all. When the president cited a nonexistent International Atomic Energy Agency report declaring that Iraq was six months from developing nukes, for example, ("I don't know what more evidence we need," he said) MSNBC's Web site reported it, under the headline "White House: Bush Misstated Report on Iraq," but within a few hours, the story disappeared -- not just from its featured position, but from the entire site. [LINK]
And while members of the media rehash hints of Saudi duplicity, the 28 pages blacked out in the Sept. 11 report shield a more explosive charge. "[I]t seems very probable that those in the White House knew much more than they have admitted, and they are covering up their failure to take action," John Dean wrote. "After pulling together the information in the 9/11 Report, it is understandable why Bush is stonewalling. It is not very difficult to deduce what the president knew, and when he knew it. And the portrait that results is devastating." [LINK]
Of course, this has all been covered before -- from the New York Post's explosive "Bush Knew!" headline to Coleen Rowley's memo [LINK] to news of President Bush's Aug. 6, 2001 briefing about Osama bin Laden's plans to hijack US planes. [LINK] But in each case, the administration and its lackeys played a game of Liar's Poker -- either distracting the masses through terror alerts or owning up to one offense, while masking a larger one. One media critic used the following examples to explain how this game is played:
While these observations might be dismissed as hyperbole, anyone who's been paying attention knows the drill. As early as Nov. 2001, Greg Palast reported on Saudi funding of terrorism, as well as Bush's financial ties to the Saudis and this administration's sabotage of terrorism investigations. "In the USA, that report earned me the title of 'conspiracy nut,' he wrote. "In America, a 'conspiracy nut' is defined as a journalist who reports the news two years before the New York Times." [LINK]
Yet, even so, the New York Times addressed the game show administration's penchant for playing Saudi Wheel of Fortune. "During the presidential campaign last year, former President George Bush took time off from his son's race to call on Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at a luxurious desert compound outside Riyadh to talk about American-Saudi business affairs," the Times reported in March, 2001, adding that Bush "went as an ambassador of sorts" in "the same way, Mr. Bush's secretary of state, James A. Baker III, recently met with a group of wealthy people at the elegant Lanesborough Hotel in London to explain the Florida vote count." [LINK]
and Baker's pre-2000 election visit with Prince Abdullah was, according
to the Times, a case of using "extensive government contacts
to further their business interests as representatives of the Carlyle
two years later, in Nov., 2002, Newsweek questioned their choice
of associates -- reporting that the FBI was investigating whether "the
Saudi Arabian government -- using the bank account of the wife of a senior
Saudi diplomat -- sent
tens of thousands of dollars to two Saudi students in the United States
who provided assistance to two of the September 11 hijackers." [LINK]
Insiders are now confirming that the Saudis "not only provided significant
money and aid to the suicide hijackers but also allowed potentially hundreds
of millions of dollars to flow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups." [LINK]
Meanwhile, recent terrorist attacks against Americans in Saudi Arabia
are downplayed, while news of Saddam's atrocities are habitually hyped.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is another Bush administration staple -- featuring assorted war profiteering capers. Soon after 9/11, the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled "Bin Laden Family Could Profit From a Jump In Defense Spending Due to Ties to U.S. Bank" (i.e. the Carlyle Group) [LINK] while the New Yorker later reported that, thanks to ties to Bechtel, "a money trail runs -- albeit rather circuitously -- from the lucrative business of rebuilding Iraq to the fortune behind Osama bin Laden." [LINK] "The idea of the President's father, an ex-president himself, doing business with a company under investigation by the FBI in the terror attacks of September 11 is horrible. President Bush should not ask, but demand, that his father pull out of the Carlyle Group," Judicial Watch's Larry Klayman wrote. [LINK] And alarmed by Halliburton's $7 billion contracts and other unseemly ties, Henry Waxman says that, if things go as projected, Iraq's oil revenues will "belong to Halliburton, Bechtel and the other large U.S. corporations."
This runaway war profiteering began, of course, with Bush's post-9/11 version of Let's Make a Deal, wherein the Taliban were told to hand over Osama else face certain demise. But as with the Quiz Show scandal from an era past, the show's producers were busy behind the scenes. The war in Afghanistan was in production beforehand [LINK], Caspian Sea resources had already been tagged [LINK] and even as the Taliban regrouped in Afghanistan, the game show host turned on the applause sign and called it a wrap. A rerun ensued in Iraq. Immediately before a pre-planned war [LINK], a "get out of Dodge" ultimatum was issued and resources were divvied up. [LINK] And, once again, "mission accomplished" was followed by mayhem.
If we had known we were embarking on forever war, however, most of would have looked at the evidence and chosen "Saudi Arabia" behind door #1, but how could we know? "News" shows were glorified versions of The Joker's Wild -- with Bush et al wheeling out tales of mass deception like a Carol Merrill display. "This war is all about 'weapons of mass destruction.' Saddam Hussein is a despicable tyrant. The Iraqi people must be freed from their shackles," the Toronto Star said of television's "astonishingly simple" wartime coverage. "Elsewhere in the world, however, discussions are entangled with more provocative theories. Never before have so many climbed into the underbelly of U.S. foreign policy and left holding their noses." [LINK] And so, the majority of Americans embraced simplistic scenarios and applauded our wars, even as a former Monty Python member lampooned our erstwhile Monty Hall. [LINK] [LINK]
From day one, Bush has played a game of What's My Line? (with the Carlyle Group filling in for Kitty Carlisle) -- and Americans are still trying to figure out ways we're being played. Avoiding the cognitive dissonance the occurs when reality doesn't mesh with belief, we still can't wrap our minds around just how profoundly things have changed since the Supreme Court added fine print to our social contract -- and we were reminded, once again, that "that the United States is not a democracy." [LINK]:
Yes, we knew things were uncomfortably different, even before a gaggle of Saudis and a couple Egyptians killed 3000 people on that sunny September day. But that's when the game show mentality really took hold, and in the polarizing aftermath, Crossfire's daily Family Feud-like rendition of "survey says," repeatedly shows how divided our nation has become. Celebrities with the "wrong views" are now our new Hollywood Squares [LINK]; General Shinseki, who gave the wrong (i.e. honest) answer regarding the number of troops needed for an Iraq occupation was the administration's Weakest Link (Goodbye); and an Oct., 2001 version of Where in the World is Al Qaeda? shows that despite this administration's claims, al-Qaeda wasn't hiding out in Iraq. [LINK]
"When are you guys starting to be honest with us?" Sen. Joseph Biden asked, trying to coax the Bush gang into a game of To Tell the Truth. But between Yellow-cake-gate, Aluminum-tube-gate, Unmanned-aerial-vehicle-gate, and G.W.'s glaring decree that we gave Saddam "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in," it looks like Biden will be playing the waiting game, instead. Interrupting these inquiries [LINK] with a message from his sponsors, Bush urged patience amid chaos -- though the Afghanistan model of liberation suggests that concern should continue unabated. [LINK]
"[A] regime change was carried out in Afghanistan, the Taliban are gone, and reports about sexual molestation of children are again cropping up in the Afghan press," Haartez reported. "According to an 'accepted custom,' children are required to sing in front of adults at family celebrations, following which some adults take the children and 'amuse themselves' with them" while "under the limited rule of President Hamid Karzai, who is protected by no fewer than 200 American soldiers, Afghanistan set a new record: It became the largest producer of opium in the world." [LINK] In the midst of all this, Bush has become the game show host from Requiem for a Dream.
Except for diehards who believe "Bring "Em On!" was part of a master plan to lure terrorists "out of the woodwork" [LINK], many now worry that we've been propelled into an endless game of Jeopardy. And hopefully, by next November, (provided the game isn't rigged [LINK]) Americans will see through our host's façade and won't request "Game Show Presidents for 2004, Alex."
"I think this is the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history," George A. Akerlof, American Nobel Prize laureate for Economics, recently said, making it clear that, though Halliburton, Bechtel and the Carlyle Group are in much better shape than they were three years ago, America isn't. And if we get stuck with this gang for four more years, chances are, the United States' gloriously successful run will come to an end far too soon.
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