Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Washington Tradition: Letting Bushes Off the Hook 

Susan Madrak of Suburban Guerrilla links to a new BuzzFlash interview with Robert Parry, whose latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. Bush 41 is the subject of Part I, while Part II deals with Bush 43 (and special guest star Sun Myung Moon):
Robert Parry: During the '80s and into the early '90s, the Republican conservative machine was largely built for defensive reasons. It was to prevent another Watergate. It was to protect Ronald Reagan and, to a degree, George H.W. Bush. And despite all the efforts that they had made, there were still scandals that managed to break out.

It was hard to get them out. I was involved as a reporter, as you know, in Iran-Contra. The Associated Press, where I was working at the time, came under a lot of pressure not to run my stories. But we got a lot of stories out including the first story on the operations -- the first stories about some of the contra units being caught up with drug traffickers. These were stories that were not welcomed at the White House. And when the Iran-Contra scandal finally broke in the fall of '86, there were efforts immediately to contain the damage -- to essentially shift the blame to relatively low-level people like Colonel Oliver North or even John Poindexter, the National Security Advisor. Again, all of this to protect Reagan and Bush, from evidence that they were directly involved in many of the key points of these scandals.

BuzzFlash: Would you say at all costs?

Robert Parry: All costs -- it was a huge priority. We now know, based on the work later that Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh conducted, that there was a major cover-up put into place -- a criminal cover-up. Meanwhile, there also were elements of the news media that didn’t want to pursue this because it was too complicated, and because they discounted it in the first place.

These combined factors led to a willingness to accept a lesser version of the story. And the Democrats -- the accommodation Democrats -- decided that they would simply agree that Oliver North did it, Reagan was just inattentive, and Bush really wasn’t involved. They kind of bought the cover story. And that cover story basically held for quite a while, until Lawrence Walsh was able to break through and find out that there had been this major cover-up, which doesn’t occur really until 1991 or so . . . .

But after Clinton won in 1992, he and other winning Democrats basically decided to not help or shelve those investigations. At that point, we forget that Lawrence Walsh, the Independent Counsel who was a Republican, wanted to pursue George H.W. Bush because he had found out that George H.W. Bush had been withholding documents that had been long requested for the investigation. Bush also refused to submit to a second interview, which Walsh had postponed until after the '92 election, so Bush would not be distracted. But then after Bush got voted out, he issued pardons for six of the Iran-Contra defendants, which effectively crippled Walsh’s investigation.

Bush was allowed essentially to walk off into the sunset with his reputation intact-- when there was a potential from all four of these investigations to have implicated the Senior Bush in misconduct -- his alleged involvement in the October surprise, his involvement in Iran-Contra, his involvement in Iraqgate, and his involvement in the Passportgate affair. But Clinton and other Democrats felt that it was important to try not to stir things up, to see if they could work with the Republicans cooperatively and with the new Administration coming in. It turned out to be a gross misunderstanding of the situation . . . .

[T]he real problem here is that we have essentially a false history that has been created for the American people. And it's somewhat a reassuring history, but it's not real. It's a history that has the United States seem like it was always doing the right thing during this era. It has whitewashed the very bloody, horrible experiences that people in Central America went through. It has tried to justify everything by supposedly winning the Cold War. The reality was that the Soviet Union was heading toward collapse according to folks inside the CIA, which I think is now historically proven.

Robert Parry: There's been a phenomenon in Washington for a number of years -- I talk about it in terms of decades -- of letting the Bush family off the hook. It's a phenomenon that I think, from a historical point, is hard to explain, and you have to go into the details of how this situation developed. In large part, it developed because the conservatives built this powerful infrastructure of media, think tanks, attack groups, and over time produced timidity within the Washington establishment press corps. Reporters basically were afraid for their jobs . . . .

So after the recount in 2000, there was a palpable feeling within the Washington press corps to rally behind Bush for the good of the country -- that was sort of the excuse. There was no reason for divisiveness any more. Let's move ahead. Forget about the close election. Yeah, Bush may have really lost, but it was close enough. Don't worry about those things.

There was always this impetus not to challenge these folks. When we got to September 11, when there was this terrible attack, the press corps didn't want to raise serious questions. The feeling was that it would make them really out of step with an American public that was rallying behind the president. They saw the poll numbers. So instead of doing their jobs, which would be to hold politicians accountable and tell the story as honestly and fairly as you can, the tendency was to go soft on Bush. That's why we didn’t really know that he had frozen for seven minutes after being told the nation was under attack. It took Michael Moore and "Fahrenheit 9/11" to really drive that point home. The Washington press corps didn't want to do that kind of story . . . .

So we ended up with this twisted view of what it was to be responsible in journalism. Instead of it being responsible to do the hard stories, even when the outcomes aren’t pleasant -- or in politics, doing investigations even when the outcomes weren’t pleasant -- the rewards were unbalanced. If you took a dive and didn't really challenge the Bush family or the Republicans, you were rewarded. Your career would be enhanced. You'd live an easier life. I think that explains a lot of why, when it comes to making tough judgments based on the facts, we often don't see that happening anymore.
Visit Parry's website, Consortium News, to read his entertaining piece on the emergence of "dissident media," entitled "Jon Stewart v. 'Perception Management.'"

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