I’m going to follow a thread linking the weapons of mass destruction to the FCC’s move to relax the media-ownership rules, and—trust me—through to Tina Brown.
First, the weapons: The Bush guys obviously played Saddam for a fool. He wanted to have those weapons. He was a broken man without them. The Bushies, by their wild accusations, conceded to him the very illusion of power that they knew he would happily and fiercely cling to and that they could then set out with appropriate fervor to protect us from and to take away from him.
Saddam had a get-out-of-jail-free card: He just had to reveal to the world that he was bereft of resources, spent as a force, bankrupt as a ruler. But Rummy and Wolfowitz and Perle, and everybody else in the Bush administration who has been obsessing about Saddam for fifteen years, understood that it would be at least as difficult for him to admit to not having such power as to get tarred for having it.
He needed to appear threatening. We needed him to appear threatening.
We needed him to dissemble. He needed to dissemble.
Everybody was party to the creation of an alternate—and, likely, entirely false—reality.
There was even a neat moral justification for letting Saddam hang himself: While the Bush people surely had an extensive understanding of the truly dismal nature of the Iraqi military resources, Saddam’s squirreliness allowed them to maintain an iota of less-than-absolute certainty (and then, of course, Wolfowitz and company couldn’t help throwing in a little bogus intelligence). Indeed, North Korea, threatening to blow up the world in the middle of this, turned out to be helpful. Here was a down-on-its-luck regime apparently producing serious offensive weapons—so it could happen. (But since we weren’t running to the barricades on this, it probably meant that the weapons produced by a down-on-its-luck regime were of limited usefulness; or, on the other hand, it means that if we do really fear that a rogue regime has them, we tread carefully.)
Even in the aftermath of the war—where looking for the weapons has become something of a Monty Python routine—the Potemkin-village logic continues:
If we can’t find them, they still must be here—or they must have been here—because Saddam could have avoided all this if he had just admitted he didn’t have them (and while he did say he didn’t have them, he didn’t say it as convincingly as he would have said it if he really didn’t have them).
The logic of the war is the logic of the Jesuitical-style arguments popular on right-wing television and radio. It’s been war by syllogism.
We settled—and continue to settle—for an abstract deduction over actual proof.
Still, this deduction was not so ironclad, or brilliant, or irrefutable, that it could not be—indeed, it has been—disassembled.
And yet this low-rent logic remains, in the public mind, largely unassailable, because nobody—certainly not with any concerted attention—has assailed it.
Why not? It was a setup. A ruse. A cheat. Hello?
How come the Bushies are getting away with it? Sheesh.
Now the FCC:
Every news organization from CNN to Fox to the networks to the big newspaper chains to the New York Times (although, heroically, not the Washington Post) was eagerly petitioning the Bush FCC (led by the secretary of State’s son, Michael Powell) for the freedom to substantially alter the economics of the news business. And as the war got under way, everybody knew the decision would come soon after the war ended.
It’s important to understand how much this FCC ruling means to these companies. News (especially old-fashioned headline news) is a sick business, if not a dying game. For newspaper companies, the goal is to get out of the newspaper business and into the television business (under the old rules, it’s a no-no to own newspapers and television stations in the same market). For networks with big news operations, the goal is to buy more stations, which is where the real cash flows from. The whole point here is to move away from news, to downgrade it, to amortize it, to minimize it.
Anyway, you’ve got all of these media organizations that want something for the most basic reason up-against-the-wall companies can want something: because they think this is what will save them (and transform them). There’s almost nothing—really—they won’t do for this. They’ve already spent many years and millions of dollars trying to make the FCC change the rules. What’s more, all of these companies are in lockstep (save for the Washington Post)—nobody’s breaking ranks.
All right then. The media knows what it wants, and the media knows what the Bush people want.
So is it a conspiracy? Is that what I’m saying? That the media—acting in concert—took a dive on the war for the sake of getting an improved position with regard to the ownership rules? Certainly, every big media company was a cheerleader, as gullible and as empty-headed—or as accommodating—on the subject of WMDs as, well, Saddam himself.