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War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death

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Protests against the Bush administration and the Iraq War continued across the country over the Memorial Day weekend. Today we spend the hour looking at how presidents from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush sold wars to the American public. Media critic Norman Solomon and the Media Education Foundation have released a documentary titled, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” The film is based on Solomon’s book of the same name. The film features extended commentary by Solomon and is narrated by Sean Penn. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Protests against the Bush administration and the Iraq War continued across the country over Memorial Day weekend.

In New York City, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War re-enacted scenes from occupied Iraq in a series of street theater actions. The veterans wore camouflage fatigues and pointed imaginary guns at a crowd of protesters playing Iraqi civilians.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in upstate New York to demonstrate against Vice President Cheney, who delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The activists were forced to rally outside the gates of West Point after a federal judge ruled antiwar protesters could not march on campus.

Meanwhile, there were also protests Friday at the commencement ceremony at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, when President Bush’s former chief of staff, Andrew Card, was given an honorary degree. Hundreds of students pinned anti-Card messages on their gowns and held yellow signs protesting his presence. When Card was introduced, a thunderous round of boos filled the stadium.

CHARLENA SEYMOUR: It’s an honor to present to you the degree of Doctor of Public Service Honoris Causa, Andrew Card —


AMY GOODMAN: Faculty members who were on stage with Andrew Card joined in the protest. Several professors unfurled large signs that read “War Criminal Go Home” and “No Honor, No Degree.” Much of the criticism of Card centered on his role as head of White House Iraq Group which helped sell the Iraq War to the American people

Well, today, we’re going to spend the hour looking at how presidents from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush sold wars to the American public. The media critic Norman Solomon and the Media Education Foundation have released a documentary called War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. The film is based on Norman Solomon’s book of the same name. The film features extended commentary by Solomon and is narrated by Sean Penn.

In a few minutes, we’ll be joined by Norman Solomon in San Francisco, but first, an excerpt of the film.

NORMAN SOLOMON: So, first, the public has to be sold on the need to attack. Then, after the war’s underway, withdrawal needs to be put forward as an unacceptable option.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam would be a disaster.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Vietnam would bring an end to conflict.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re not leaving, so long as I’m the president. That would be a huge mistake.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Our allies would lose confidence in America.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: To yield to force in Vietnam would weaken that confidence.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Any sign that says we’re going to leave before the job is done simply emboldens terrorists.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: A retreat of the United States from Vietnam would be a communist victory, a victory of massive proportions and would lead to World War III.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: If this little nation goes down the drain and can’t maintain independence, ask yourself what’s going to happen to all the other little nations.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: It would not bring peace. It would bring more war.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And many propaganda lines become stock and trade of those who started the war in the first place.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of “cut and run.”

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: The American people will not stand for surrender.

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT: Cowards cut and run.

REP. PATRICK McHENRY: They’re advocating a policy called “cut and run.”

KARL ROVE: That party’s old pattern of cutting and running.

REP. CHARLIE NORWOOD: If we high-tailed it and cut and run —

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We won’t cut and run.

Cut and run.

Cut and run.

We will not cut and run.

Cut and run.

ANDERSON COOPER: Cut and run. Cut and run. How do you respond?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We will stay the course.

We must stay the course.

We stay the course.

We will stay the course.

And we’re not going to cut and run, if I’m in the Oval Office.

NORMAN SOLOMON: All a president has to do is start a war, and these arguments kick in that you can’t stop it. So it’s a real incentive for a president to lie, to deceive, to manipulate sufficiently to get the war started. And then they’ve got a long way to go without any sort of substantive challenge that says, hey, this war has to end.

NEWS ANCHOR: Then appealing for public support for his peace policy, Mr. Nixon said, “The enemy cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans,” he said, “can do that.”

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: The peacemakers are out there on the field. The soldier and the statesman need and welcome the sincere and the responsible assistance of concerned Americans. But they need reason much more than they need emotion. They must have a practical solution and not a concoction of wishful thinking and false hopes, however well-intentioned and well-meaning they may be. It must be a solution that does not call for surrender or for cutting and running now. Those fantasies hold the nightmare of World War III and a much larger war tomorrow.

AMY GOODMAN: President Lyndon Baines Johnson. An excerpt from the new documentary, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, the film based on Norman Solomon’s book of the same name. He joins us now in San Francisco.

Norman, this film comes out at a key moment, when the Democrats have just — well, how did you put it in your article? — caved to the Republican President George Bush on the issue of war.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah, we’re at a crucial moment, where the political system is serving very well what we might call the “warfare state,” and we’re in a part of the spin cycle for war where the messages come out conflating the policy of the president with supporting the troops. So we have these sort of preposterous, yet accepted, media messages from people, such as Nancy Pelosi and others in Congress, that even though they say they oppose the war and want it to end, they refuse to stop paying for it. They refuse to stop funneling billions every week from the U.S. Treasury to subsidize the slaughter, the sending and the deployment and the maintenance of U.S. troops and armaments to kill and be killed. And the message is that, well, we’ve got our military forces in the field, so we can’t stop paying for them. Well, that’s a perpetual argument for more war and against withdrawal from a war based on absolute deception.

AMY GOODMAN: And we have Cindy Sheehan in this Memorial Day letter saying she’s going home and that, well, she expected the attack from the Republicans. It was the Democrats that hurt her the most as she criticized them.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, she’s undergone and shouldered, of course, a huge burden on so many levels of human existence, and the best tribute to Cindy Sheehan is for us to find ways to work harder and more effectively to end this war, to prevent an attack on Iran, which is certainly what is in the wind from what we might call the military-industrial-media complex. There is a spin cycle that happens simultaneously to try to support and perpetuate this horrific war, even though, paradoxically, most people, according to opinion polls, are very much against it in this country. So we’re in the “you can’t withdraw, you can’t cut and run” sort of argument of that phase of the spin cycle, but meanwhile, revving up the agenda setting for an attack on Iran. And I think that goes to the point, we can’t just try to build alliances with leadership in the Democratic Party in Congress. What we have to do is build a grassroots opposition that’s opposed to what Martin Luther King called “the madness of militarism,” the entire militarization of our society.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon, we just have 10 seconds, and that’s how you end your documentary, with Martin Luther King. How are you using this film?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, the film’s going to be used for hundreds and hopefully thousands of house parties and organizing around the country. People can get hold of the film by going to or going to, get hold of the DVD, use it to organize.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon, thank you for being with us, author of the book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. When we come back, a large excerpt of his film. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn to this new documentary, War Made Easy, produced by the Media Education Foundation. It is narrated by Sean Penn. It includes interviews with Norman Solomon and begins with the words of President Lyndon Johnson in 1965.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: We want nothing for ourselves, only that the people of South Vietnam be allowed to guide their own country in their own way.

NORMAN SOLOMON: The rhetoric of democracy is part of the process of convincing people that even though unpleasant things must be done sometimes in its name, like bombing other countries, democracy is really what it’s about.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: The United States has been engaged in an effort to stop the advance of communism in Central America by doing what we do best: by supporting democracy.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And it’s almost as though repeating it enough times makes it so.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: Our cause of liberty, our cause of freedom, our cause of compassion and understanding.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: People want democracy, peace, and the chance for a better life and dignity and freedom.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We want to lift lives around the world, not take them.

NORMAN SOLOMON: These are forms of propaganda that are insidious, because they tug at our heartstrings.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We must get the Kosovo refugees home safely. Mine fields will have to be cleared. Homes destroyed by Serb forces have to be rebuilt. Homeless people in need of food and medicine —

NORMAN SOLOMON: Of course, we want to help other people. These are propaganda messages that say, don’t just think of yourself, America can’t just be selfish. It makes bombing other people ultimately seem like an act of kindness, of altruism.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Today, our armed forces joined our NATO allies in airstrikes against Serbian forces responsible for the brutality in Kosovo.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It was another devastating hit against Yugoslavia’s capital.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We are upholding our values, protecting our interests and advancing the cause of peace.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Belgrade’s largest heating plant up in flames.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: And even as planes of the multinational forces attack Iraq, I prefer to think of peace, not war.

NORMAN SOLOMON: If my motives are pure, then the fact that I’m killing people may not be too upsetting. As a matter of fact, it may indicate that I’m killing people for very good reasons.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And so, you have kind of the high-ground president with the lofty motives being proclaimed. We’re told that peace is being sought, alternatives to war are being explored. And that’s kind of, you know, the official story.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: And I am continuing and I am increasing the search for every possible path to peace.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Whether we’re talking about President Johnson or President Nixon or the president today, you have one chief executive after another in the White House saying how much they love peace and hate war.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression, to preserve freedom and peace.

PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No one, friend or foe, should doubt our desire for peace.

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: The United States wants peace.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We seek peace. We strive for peace.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Every president of the last half-century has gone out of his way to say that he wanted peace and wanted to avoid war.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I pledged in my campaign for the presidency to end the war in a way that we could win the peace.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Even while ordering military action.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?

HENRY KISSINGER: That would drown about 200,000 people.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Well, no, no, no. I’d rather use the nuclear bomb.

HENRY KISSINGER: That, I think, would just be too much.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: The nuclear bomb? Does that bother you?

HENRY KISSINGER: [inaudible]

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christ’s sake.

NORMAN SOLOMON: So you have this paradox, in a way, of the president, who has just ordered massive military violence and lethal action by the Pentagon, turning around and saying, “I want to oppose violence and promote peace.”

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I respect your idealism. I share your concern for peace. I want peace as much as you do.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Actually, war becomes perpetual when it’s used as a rationale for peace.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

NORMAN SOLOMON: As Americans, we like to think that we’re not subjected to propaganda from our own government, certainly that we’re not subjected to propaganda that’s trying to drag the country into war, as in the case of setting the stage for the invasion of Iraq.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Weapons of mass destruction.

ARI FLEISCHER: Botulin, VX, Sarin, nerve agent.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq and al-Qaeda.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq and al-Qaeda.


DONALD RUMSFELD: Cyber-attacks.

ARI FLEISCHER: Nuclear program.

COLIN POWELL: Biological weapons.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Cruise missiles, ballistic missiles.

ARI FLEISCHER: Chemical and biological weapons.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

ARI FLEISCHER: President Bush has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Donald Rumsfeld has said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Richard Butler has said they do. The United Nations has said they do. The experts have said they do. Iraq says they don’t. You can choose who you want to believe.

NORMAN SOLOMON: The war propaganda function in the United States is finely tuned, it’s sophisticated, and most of all, it blends into the media terrain.

SHEPARD SMITH: The White House says it can prove that Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction, claiming it has solid evidence.

DAN RATHER: The White House insisted again today it does have solid evidence that Saddam Hussein is hiding an arsenal of prohibited weapons.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It’s necessary to provide a drumbeat media echo effect.

JOHN GIBSON: They might fight dirty, using weapons of mass destruction — chemical, biological or radioactive.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: There are ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda —

BILL O’REILLY: Anthrax, smallpox.

TOM BROKAW: Dirty bomb.


BRIT HUME: Iraq-al-Qaeda connection.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda share the same goal: They want to see — both of them — both of them want to see Americans dead.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And I was very struck by the acceptance, the tone of most of the media coverage, as the sabers were rattled, as the invasion of Iraq gradually went from possible to probable to almost certain.

DAVID LEE MILLER: The president essentially giving Saddam 48 hours to get out of Dodge. War now seems all but inevitable.

GREGG JARRETT: Short of a bullet to the back of his head or he leaves the country, war is inexorable.

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, I think that’s exactly right. War is inevitable, and it is approaching inexorably.

WOLF BLITZER: Is war with Iraq inevitable right now?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER: I think it’s 95 percent inevitable.

CHRIS BURY: You, at this point, right now tonight, don’t see any other option but war.


CHRIS BURY: I’m asking you, Ambassador.

WESLEY CLARK: I agree. I don’t think there’s a viable option for the administration at this point. We’re way too far out front in this.

MAJOR BOB BEVELACQUA: Send us over there, guys. Let’s get on with it. Let’s get it over with.

MSNBC AD: Showdown Iraq. If America goes to war, turn to MSNBC and “The Experts.”

NORMAN SOLOMON: And in many ways, the U.S. news media were equal partners with the officials in Washington and on Capitol Hill in setting the agenda for war.

MSNBC AD: We’ll take you there.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And although it’s called the liberal media, one has a great deal of difficulty finding an example of major media outlets, in their reporting, challenging the way in which the agenda setting for war is well underway. And when that reporting is so much a hostage of official sources, that’s when you have a problem.

CNN: U.S. officials tell CNN

CNN REPORTER: Bush official says —

CNN REPORTER: Analysts say —

AARON BROWN: Pentagon officials tell us —

DAVID MARTIN: According to U.S. intelligence —

NORMAN SOLOMON: Often, we’re encouraged to believe that officials are the ones who make news.

JOHN KING: U.S. officials say —

U.S. officials say that —

U.S. officials here say —

Officials here at the White House tell us —

NORMAN SOLOMON: They are the ones who should be consulted to understand the situation.

COLIN POWELL: I just pull these two things out — I’ve laundered them, so you can’t really tell what I’m talking about, because I don’t want the Iraqis to know what I’m talking about, but trust me. Trust me.

NORMAN SOLOMON: If history is any guide, the opposite is the case: the officials blow smoke and cloud reality, rather than clarify.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: The notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq are wildly off the mark.

DONALD RUMSFELD: So the money’s going to come from Iraqi oil revenue, as everyone has said. They think it’s going to be something like $2 billion this year. They think it might be something like $15, $12 [billion] next year.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: A country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.

TOM BROKAW: National Security Advisers Ken Adelman and Richard Perle, early advocates of the war, said the war would be a cakewalk.

NORMAN SOLOMON: The sources that have deceived us so constantly don’t deserve our trust, and to the extent that we give them our trust, we set ourselves up to be scammed again and again.

REPORTER: There are reports that there is no evidence of a direct link between Baghdad and some of these terrorist organizations.

DONALD RUMSFELD: There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

REPORTER: Excuse me, but is this an “unknown unknown”?


REPORTER: Just several unknowns, and I’m wondering if this is an unknown unknown.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m not going to say which it is.

REPORTER: But, Mr. Secretary, do you believe —

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m right here.

REPORTER: If you believe something —

SEAN PENN: In the run-up to the war in Iraq, the failure of mainstream news organizations to raise legitimate questions about the government’s rush to war was compounded by the networks’ deliberate decision to stress military perspectives before any fighting had even begun.

AARON BROWN: We’ve got generals and, if you ask them about the prospects for war with Iraq, they think it is almost certain.

SEAN PENN: CNN’s use of retired generals as supposedly independent experts reinforced a decidedly military mindset, even as serious questions remained about the wisdom and necessity of going to war.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Often journalists blame the government for the failure of the journalists themselves to do independent reporting. But nobody forced the major networks like CNN to do so much commentary from retired generals and admirals and all the rest of it. You had a top CNN official named Eason Jordan going on the air of his network and boasting that he had visited the Pentagon with a list of possible military commentators, and he asked officials at the Defense Department whether that was a good list of people to hire.

EASON JORDAN: Oh, I think it’s important to have experts explain the war and to describe the military hardware, describe the tactics, talk about the strategy behind the conflict. I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war, and we got a big thumbs up on all of them. That was important.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It wasn’t even something to hide, ultimately. It was something to say to the American people on its own network, “See, we’re team players. We may be the news media, but we’re on the same side and the same page as the Pentagon.” And that really runs directly counter to the idea of an independent press, and that suggests that we have some deep patterns of media avoidance when the U.S. is involved in a war based on lies.


SEAN PENN: In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson falsely claimed that an attack on U.S. gunships by North Vietnamese forces in the Gulf of Tonkin gave him no choice but to escalate the war in Vietnam.

PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: …that renewed hostile actions against United States ships on the high seas in the Gulf of Tonkin have today required me to order the military forces of the United States to take action and reply.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Routinely, the official story is a lie or a deception or a partial bit of information that leaves out key facts.

U.S. NAVY FILM, 1964: In international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin, destroyers of the United States Navy are assigned routine patrols from time to time. Sunday, August the 2nd, 1964, the destroyer Maddox was on such a patrol. Shortly after noon, the calm of the day is broken as general quarters sound. In a deliberate and unprovoked action, three North Vietnam PT boats unleash a torpedo attack against the Maddox.

NORMAN SOLOMON: The official story about the Gulf of Tonkin was a lie.

UNIDENTIFIED: The destroyer was carrying out a mission of patrol in those waters, in international waters, when it was attacked.

NORMAN SOLOMON: But it quickly became accepted as the absolute truth by the news media, and because of the press’s refusal to challenge that story, it was much easier for Congress to quickly pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was pivotal, because it opened the floodgates to the Vietnam War.

SEN. WILLIAM FULBRIGHT: I think it’s a very clear demonstration of the unity of the country behind the policies that are being followed by the president in South Vietnam and, more specifically, of the action that was taken in response to the attack upon our destroyers.

NORMAN SOLOMON: At that point, the facts were secondary. In the case of The Washington Post reporting, I asked more than three decades later whether there had ever been a Post retraction of its reporting on the Gulf of Tonkin events, and I called the newspaper and eventually reached the man who had been the chief diplomatic correspondent for the paper at the time, Murray Marder, and I said, “Mr. Marder, has there ever been a retraction by The Washington Post of its fallacious reporting on the Gulf of Tonkin?” And he said, “I can assure you it never happened. There was never any retraction.” And I asked why. And he said, “Well, if the news media were going to retract its reporting on the Gulf of Tonkin, it would have to retract its reporting on virtually the entire Vietnam War.”

Fast-forward a few decades, you have President George W. Bush saying that to an absolute certainty there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that intelligence sources told him that clearly, which was not at all the case.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors and its links to terrorist groups.

SEAN PENN: The failure of American news media to check government distortion reached new heights when, on the eve of war, the highly respected Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations to make the case that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

COLIN POWELL: Saddam Hussein’s intentions have never changed. He is not developing the missiles for self-defense. These are missiles that Iraq wants in order to project power, to threaten and to deliver chemical, biological and, if we let him, nuclear warheads.

AARON BROWN: Today, Secretary of State Powell brought the United Nations Security Council, the administration’s best evidence so far.

NORMAN SOLOMON: After Colin Powell’s speech to the U.N., immediately the U.S. press applauded with great enthusiasm.

AARON BROWN: Did Colin Powell close the deal today, in your mind, for anyone who has yet objectively to make up their mind?

HENRY KISSINGER: I think for anybody who analyzes the situation, he has closed the deal.

SEAN HANNITY: This irrefutable, undeniable, incontrovertible evidence today, Colin Powell brilliantly delivered that smoking gun today. Colin Powell was outstanding today. I mean, it was lockstep — it was so compelling, I don’t see how anybody, at this point, cannot support this effort.

ALAN COLMES: He made a wonderful presentation. I thought he made a great case for the purpose of disarmament.

MORT KONDRACKE: It was devastating, I mean, and overwhelming. Overwhelming abundance of the evidence. Point after point after point with — he just flooded the terrain with data.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: It’s the end of the argument phase. America has made its case.

FOX NEWS: The Powell speech has moved the ball.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: I think the case is closed.

NORMAN SOLOMON: But at the time, it was quite possible to analyze and debunk what he was saying.

SEAN PENN: Whereas the British press and other international news sources immediately raised legitimate questions about the accuracy of Powell’s presentation. the major U.S. news media were virtually silent about the factual basis of his claims and near unanimous in their praise.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: Even the purportedly antiwar New York Times editorialized the next day that Colin Powell had made a sober case, a factual case. One of the great myths and part of the war propaganda cycle is, way after the fact, to claim that it couldn’t have been known at the time that US officials were lying us into war. And in point of fact, it was known at the time and said by many people who were not allowed on the networks, by and large.

AMY GOODMAN: Media critic Norman Solomon in his film, War Made Easy. We’ll be back with the film in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to the film War Made Easy, based on interviews with Norman Solomon, narrated by Sean Penn.

SEAN PENN: One such critical voice belonged to MSNBC’s Phil Donahue, one of the few mainstream media commentators who consistently challenged the official storyline coming out of Washington.

PHIL DONAHUE: And, you know, we’re all now — everybody’s righteous, what a terrible Hitler this is. We were mute when he was doing that. He was our SOB, and now we’re sending our sons and daughters to war to fix that mistake. It doesn’t seem fair to me.

SEAN PENN: Despite being the highest-rated program on MSNBC, Donahue’s show was abruptly canceled by the network just three weeks before the start of the war.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Phil Donahue was an antiwar voice on MSNBC, one of the cable news channels, and a memo that was leaked as the Donahue show was canceled is very explicit. It said, we don’t want this to be a face of NBC as the United States goes into war. This guy puts antiwar voices on our network.

JIM JENNINGS: The American people need to know there is no just cause for this war.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: But there’s no evidence that there is even a weapon that exists in that country yet.

JEFF COHEN: Journalists, too many of them — some quite explicitly — have said that they see their mission as helping the war effort. And if you define your mission that way, you’ll end up suppressing news that might be important, accurate, but maybe isn’t helpful to the war effort.

NORMAN SOLOMON: We don’t want to have that kind of public persona, when then we’d be vulnerable to charges that we’re unpatriotic. It will make it more difficult to keep pace with the flag wavers at Fox or CNN, or whatever. And more broadly, news media are very worried, not only government pressure, but advertiser pressure, criticism from readers, listeners and viewers. “Gee, our soldiers are in the field. You got to support them. Don’t raise these tough questions.”

PAT BUCHANAN: It seems to me that the right thing to do for patriots when American lives are at risk and Americans are dying is to unite behind the troops until victory is won. Now, on this show, Buchanan and Press, we’ve had a good debate for eight months on this conflict, but now it seems when the war comes, the debate ends. I think unity, Bill, is essential at this time, or at least when the guns begin to fire.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It’s a very effective tactic, at least in the short run, to a large extent, to say, look, you’ve got to support the troops.

PRO-WAR COUNTER-PROTESTER: You’re killing the troops!

NORMAN SOLOMON: And that’s an effort to conflate supporting the troops with supporting the president’s policies.

BILL O’REILLY: Once the war against Saddam begins, we expect every American to support our military, and if they can’t do that, to shut up.

SEAN PENN: In addition to Phil Donahue, many other journalists have been silenced for crossing the mythical line known as objectivity.

BRIT HUME: Today, NBC fired journalist Peter Arnett this morning for participating in an interview on Iraqi state-controlled television.

PETER JENNINGS: Arnett criticized American war planning and said his reports about civilian casualties in the Iraqi resistance were encouraging to antiwar protesters in America.

NORMAN SOLOMON: If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re antiwar, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.

TED KOPPEL: I must say, I was trying to think of — I was trying to think of something that would be appropriate to say on an occasion like this, and as is often the case, the best you can come up with is something that Shakespeare wrote for Henry V, “Wreak havoc and unleash the dogs of war.”

NORMAN SOLOMON: And that is a tip-off to just how skewed the media terrain is. We should keep in mind that CNN, which many believe to be a liberal network, had a memo from their top news executive, Walter Isaacson, in the fall of 2001, as the missiles were falling in Afghanistan, telling the anchors and the reporters, “You need to remind people, any time you show images on the screen of the people who are dying in Afghanistan, you’ve got to remind the American viewers that it’s in the context of what happened on 9/11,” as though people could forget 9/11.

NIC ROBERTSON: We talked to several people who told us that various friends and relatives had died in the bombing there in that collateral damage. Nic Robertson, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we would just remind you, as we always do now with these reports from inside the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, that you’re seeing only one side of the story, that these U.S. military actions that Nic Robertson was talking about are in response to a terrorist attack that killed 5,000 and more innocent people inside the United States.

CNN: And we juxtapose what we’re hearing from the Taliban with a live picture of the clean-up that continues in Lower Manhattan, Ground Zero, again, a 24-hour operation that has not ebbed. Five thousand killed that day back on Tuesday, September 11, their biggest crime, as civilians, going to work that day.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And yet, we know statistically — the best estimates tell us — that more civilians were killed by that bombing in Afghanistan than those who died in the twin towers in New York. And the moral objections that could be raised to slaughtering civilians in the name of retaliation against 9/11, those objections were muted by the phrase “war on terror,” by the way in which it was used by the White House and Congress and also by the news media.

SEAN PENN: Free flows of information have been further blocked by a more general atmosphere of contempt for antiwar voices.

MICHELLE MALKIN: Among them are a group called CODEPINK, which is headed by Medea Benjamin, who’s a terrorist sympathizer, dictator-worshiping propagandist.

BILL O’REILLY: The far-left element in America is a destructive force that must be confronted.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: Some Americans, sadly, not interested in victory, and yet they want us to believe that their behavior is patriotic. Well, it’s not.

UNIDENTIFIED: To call the president stupid, he doesn’t know much about anything, that’s just great. Go with Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon. You fit in perfect.

NEWT GINGRICH: To in any way be defending a torturer, a killer, a dictator — he used chemical weapons against his own people — is pretty remarkable, but it’s a very long tradition in the Democratic Party.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Pay no heed to the peaceniks and the left-wing rock stars. They’ve had their 15 minutes of fame.

JONAH GOLDBERG: These people are essentially useless. They are reflexively opposed to war. It’s a principled position, but it’s the wrong position, and you can’t take them seriously as a strategic voice.

WOLF BLITZER: Millions and millions of useful people out there?

NORMAN SOLOMON: If you want to have democracy, you’ve got to have the free flow of information through the body politic. You can’t have these blockages. You can’t have the manipulation.

SEAN PENN: While mainstream journalists have rarely called attention in real time to failure of news media to provide necessary information and real debate, they have repeatedly pointed to their own failures well after wars have been launched.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: During the course of this war, there was a lot of snap-to in press coverage: we’re at war, the world’s changed, we have to root for the country to some extent. And yet, it seems something missing from this debate was a critical analysis of where it was taking us.

JIM LEHRER: Those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.


JIM LEHRER: Because it just didn’t occur to us. We weren’t smart enough. You’d have had to gone against the grain.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Right. You’d also come off as kind of a pointy head trying to figure out some obscure issue here —

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: — when it’s good guys and bad guys.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, negative. Negativism.

NORMAN SOLOMON: News media, down the road, will point out that there were lies about the Gulf of Tonkin or about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: I’m sorry to say, but certainly television, and perhaps to an extent my station, was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News.

WOLF BLITZER: We should have been more skeptical.

NORMAN SOLOMON: But that doesn’t bring back any of the people who have died, who were killed in their own country or sent over by the president of the United States to kill in that country. So, after the fact, it’s all well and good to say, “Well, the system worked” or “The truth comes out.” But when it comes to life and death, the truth comes out too late.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

[news montage]

SEAN PENN: Once public support is in place and war is finally underway, the news media necessarily turned from covering the rationales for war to covering war itself.

NORMAN SOLOMON: When the president decides he wants the U.S. to go to war, then the war becomes the product.

Particularly in the early stages, news coverage of war is much more like PR about war.

SEAN PENN: Influencing the nature of this war coverage has been a priority of one administration after another since Vietnam. Conventional wisdom held that it was negative media coverage that turned the American people against the war and forced U.S. withdrawal. Since that time, and beginning with new urgency during the 1991 Gulf War, the Pentagon has worked with increasing sophistication to shape media coverage of war. As then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney noted about the importance of public perceptions during the first Iraq War, “Frankly, I looked on it as a problem to be managed. The information function was extraordinarily important. I did not have a lot of confidence that I could leave it to the press.”

NORMAN SOLOMON: So for the invasion of Grenada and invasion of Panama in ’83 and ’89, then the Gulf War in early 1991, it was like a produced TV show, and the main producers were at the Pentagon. They decided, in the case of the Gulf War, exactly what footage would be made available to the TV stations. They did nonstop briefings, utilizing the increasing importance of cable television. They named it Operation Desert Storm.

DAN RATHER: Breaking news of what’s now officially called Operation Desert Storm.

TOM BROKAW: Good evening. Operation Desert Storm rages on.

NORMAN SOLOMON: All that sort of stuff was very calculated, so you could look at that as an era of media war manipulation from the standpoint of the U.S. government. Then you had a different era. You had the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

DAN RATHER: Scores of American reporters have now joined U.S. military units in Kuwait as part of the Pentagon’s effort to make any war with Iraq what the Pentagon calls a media-friendly campaign. Another part that effort is on display at the U.S. Military Command Center in Qatar. A Hollywood set designer was brought in to create a $200,000 backdrop for official war briefings.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And tied in with that is the worship of Pentagon technology.

HANSON HOSEIN: I’ve fallen almost in love with the F/A-18 Super Hornet, because it’s quite a versatile plane.

BRIAN WILSON: I’ve got to tell you, my favorite aircraft, the A-10 Wart Hog, I love the Wart Hogs.

JOHN ELLIOTT: This morning, around 4:00 a.m. local time, the first three took off. And when you’re 300 feet away from them, when they do it, you hear it in your shoes and feel it in your gut.

SEAN PENN: The Pentagon’s influence on war coverage has also been evident in the news media’s tendency to focus on the technical sophistication of the latest weaponry.

GREGG JARRETT: Should they have used more? Should they, you know, use a MOAB, the mother of all bombs, and new daisy cutters? And, you know, let’s not just stop at a couple of cruise missiles.

JAMIE McINTYRE: The newest, biggest, baddest U.S. bomb —

UNIDENTIFIED: We’ll pound them with 2,000-pound bombs and then go in —

MSNBC INTERVIEWER: Two-thousand-pound bombs in urban areas?


MSNBC: I’m holding in my hand here the F-117 Stealth Fighter, was used in these attacks significantly —

FOX NEWS REPORTER: How do you steer this thing? I mean, there’s no — you have a stick, is that right?

PILOT: Sure. Both of us have a matching silver stick with left throttles. You can do every —

NORMAN SOLOMON: Every war, we have U.S. news media that have praised the latest in the state-of-the-art killing technology, from the present moment to the war in Vietnam.

WALTER CRONKITE: B-57s — the British call them Canberra jets — we’re using them very effectively here in this war in Vietnam to dive-bomb the Vietcong in these jungles beyond Da Nang here. Colonel, what’s our mission we’re about to embark on?

AIR FORCE COLONEL: Well, our mission today, sir, is to report down to the site of the ambush 70 miles south of here and attempt to kill the VC.

WALTER CRONKITE: The colonel has just advised me that that is our target area right over there. One, two, three, four, we dropped our bomb, but now a tremendous G-load as we pull out of that dive. Oh, I know something of what those astronauts must go through.

Well, colonel.


WALTER CRONKITE: It’s a great way to go to war.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And there’s a kind of idolatry there. Some might see it as worship of the gods of metal.


UNIDENTIFIED: That’s the JDAM. It is a 2,000-pound bomb that is deadly accurate, and that is the thing that is allowing us — allowed us in Afghanistan and will allow us in this next conflict to be terribly accurate, terribly precise and terribly destructive.

SEAN PENN: In fact, even as U.S. military technology has become increasingly sophisticated with the development of so-called smart bombs and other forms of precision-guided weaponry, civilian casualties now greatly outnumber military deaths, a grim toll that has steadily increased since World War I.

CAPTION: During World War I, 10 percent of all casualties were civilians. During World War II, the number of civilian deaths rose to 50 percent. During the Vietnam War 70 percent of all casualties were civilians. In the war in Iraq, civilians account for 90 percent of all deaths.

UNIDENTIFIED: This is the beginning of the shock-and-awe campaign, according to one official. This is going to be the entire nine yards.

UNIDENTIFIED: It was a breathtaking display of firepower.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It’s kind of an acculturated callousness towards what happens at the other end of U.S. weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED: Behind the flight deck, the weapons officer who goes by the call sign Oasis, will never see the ground or the target, for that matter. The airfield is simply a fuzzy image on his radar.

NORMAN SOLOMON: And this is another very insidious aspect of war propaganda. There’s a bias involved, where, because the United States has access to high-tech military weaponry, that somehow to slaughter people from 30,000 feet in the air or a thousand feet in the air from high-tech machinery is somehow moral, whereas strapping on a suicide belt and blowing people up is seen as the exact opposite.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting to see that the precise targets are struck and that other targets are not struck is as impressive as anything anyone could see. The care that goes into it, the humanity that goes into it, to see that military targets are destroyed to be sure, but that it’s done in a way and in a manner and in a direction and with a weapon that is appropriate to that very particularized target. The weapons that are being used today have a degree of precision that no one ever dreamt of.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a documentary, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, produced by the Media Education Foundation, narrated by Sean Penn, based on interviews with author Norman Solomon, who wrote the book on which the film is based. The website,

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