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Emily Zurrer Comm 264 Paper #1 Wenrui Chen

When Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine argued that democracy must trump inequality, they had the viewpoint in mind that America should forever remain a democratic country. While some may argue that this holds true, there have been many growing trends in American society that tell otherwise. The average citizen may not recognize the cover-ups, lies, distorted information and authoritative actions by the US government over the past two decades. Like many American citizens, I was ill-informed about a multitude of actions by our socalled “Democratic” leaders, that is, until I did some research to prove otherwise. I have become one of the ardent believers that America is not the constitutional government that our forefathers denounced, and that there most definitely is an “anti-democratic” trend in this country which the media sometimes fails to portray, commonly due to the misuse of power by the very people in which we have entrusted to lead us. According to “Nemesis,” a book by Chalmers Johnson, statistics compiled by the Federation of American Scientists states that there has been 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and September 11, 2001. When referring to war, chief author of the Constitution, James Madison, states, “The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.” (Johnson, p.18) Since 1947, the US has used our military power against a long list of countries. But was this an act of peace, or was it the avarice and vanity of our Nation’s past leaders that led us into these acts of war?

Maybe we should ask the families of the soldiers that were killed in these malicious attempts to gain power. Chalmers Johnson says, “No one questions the need to raise a citizens’ army and the obligation of able-bodied men and women to serve in it in order to defend the nation from foreign aggression. But the wars listed above are virtually all ones that we entered by choice rather than out of necessity. In many cases, they were shrouded in secrecy, while our political leaders lied to Congress and the public about the need to fight them.” (Johnson, p.20) Since when does lying to Congress and the public coincide with a democratic government? When the presidents are inaugurated, they recite the oath of office- “I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (Johnson, p.254) In my opinion, defending the Constitution and withholding a democratic government does not consist of lying to Congress and the public. James Madison considered “the people’s access to information the basic right upon which all other rights depend.” (Johnson, p.244) If this is true, then why do all of our presidential leaders seem so reluctant to withhold information from the media and the public? Obviously there are topics, perhaps even scandals that they intend to cover up. Take for instance the 1972 Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan’s illegal funding of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky (one that he blatantly lied to the American people about before he was proven guilty) and the most recent act involving current president George W. Bush, where he ordered the National Security Agency to illegally eavesdrop on the private communications of American citizens following the 9/11 attack.

On July 4, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson reluctantly signed the Freedom of Information Act, expressing “a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society in which the people’s right to know is cherished and guarded.” (Johnson, p.245) It was later reported by Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary that he had to be “dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony.” (Johnson, p.245) Apparently, he hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government closets. Perhaps Johnson, along with a number of other US presidents had a few skeletons to hide. As Benjamin Franklin states “An enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive of the Common Happiness, of Mankind; and therefore every free State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Possession of such Property.” (McChesney, p. 22) Late British foreign secretary Robin Cook proved that the Bush administration was doing just the opposite of what Franklin stated, during the invasion of Iraq. Cook made accusations about the false reasoning behind the war on Iraq when he told American people, “Instead of using intelligence as evidence on which to base a decision about policy, we used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled.” (Johnson, p.100) Cook felt so strongly about these accusations, he stepped down as leader of the House of Commons in 2003 to protest the invasion. In July of that year, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson was asked by the CIA to go to the Saharan nation of Niger to investigate allegations that it had secretly sold uranium to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Bush claimed that these allegations were proven to be true, with his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003. Afterwards, Wilson went public with the fact that the Bush administration had forged these claims. “Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war,” he wrote in the New

York Times, “I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” (Johnson, p.100) When Bush decided to go to war after the 9/11 attack, Johnson states that the “focus shifted from ignoring unwanted intelligence to actively creating false intelligence that would support its regime-change war of choice.” This anti-democratic implication was downplayed by an NIE on October 1, 2002 which was entitled “Iraq’s Continuing Program for Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Vice President Dick Cheney vehemently stated to the public in August of that year, “We know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” Directly opposing Cheney, CIA veteran analyst Ray McGovern stated that not only was the intelligence process undermined, but so was the Constitution. Part of what he wrote says this: “Various drafts of the NIE were used to deceive congressmen and senators into ceding to the executive their prerogative to declare war-- the all-important prerogative that the framers of the Constitution took great care to reserve exclusively to our elected representatives in Congress.” (Johnson, p.99) In months following, many more reports suggested that many of this intelligence had been “manufactured by neoconservative officials in the Pentagon long eager to invade Iraq.” (Johnson, p.99) With so many accusations that the war on Iraq was an anti-democratic decision based on false and forged information, it is difficult to decide which one describes it the best. A quote by 2005 Nobel Prize Lecture in Literature winner, Harold Pinter brilliantly dissects the acts of war on Iraq, which led by our supposed ‘truth-telling’ leaders, were knowingly acted upon by opposing the Constitution and going against everything our country stands for. On December 7, 2005 in the Guardian, he quotes, “The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion

was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading—as a last resort—all other justifications having failed to justify themselves—as liberation…We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it “bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East.” (Johnson, p.243) Personally, I don’t agree that bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East involves the deaths of over 73,000 innocent Iraqi civilians, and that is only so far. ( In 2001, Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the transfer of the war power to the president for the invasion of Afghanistan. She stood up against Bush’s notion that he was “the ultimate decision-maker for this country”—something he said in a press conference farther into his presidency. After she made the vote, Lee made a statement in the San Francisco Chronicle--“Last week, filled with grief and sorrow for those killed and injured and with anger at those who had done this, I confronted the solemn responsibility of voting to authorize the country to go to war. I could not ignore that it provided explicit authority, under the War Powers Resolution and the Constitution, to go to war.” She talked about giving the president a “blank check” to attack anyone in the country, without regards to our foreign policy and economic and national security interests. “In granting these overly broad powers, the Congress failed its responsibility to understand the dimensions of its declaration. I could not support such a grant of war-making authority to the president; I believe it would put more innocent lives at risk.” (Johnson, p.13) During this time, Lee was the only member of Congress willing to address the pole position of power they were about to hand over to the president.

I believe that the US foreign policies concerning war as well as the media coverage (or lack thereof), especially among the most recent years, has the most evidence and depicts the antidemocratic trends greater than any other topic. Yet, there are a considerable amount of distinctive political topics that should be touched upon as well, such as the media coverage of our nation’s economic standing and the less than mediocre healthcare system, both of which have also placed threats on American democracy. From an economic standpoint, the media in the US is failing to acknowledge the problems for the future of this country, which economists are predicting. Dean Baker, author of The United States Since 1980, states that, “The path pursued by the United States in this quarter century is not sustainable on economic, political, and environmental grounds. The political system in the United States is largely structured so that it can be oblivious to the long-term costs of public policies.” (Baker, p.238) If there is a problem emerging in the future of our country, it seems as though we should be addressing it in order to prepare for what may come. Baker also says, “Those who try to raise such concerns are systematically excluded from public debate.” (Baker, p.238) If our media system were less driven by rich corporate owners and less regulated by the government, perhaps we would have more information about our nation’s path for the future. As the gap in healthcare continues to grow and our trade deficit steadily increases at the rapid pace it is now, we are on a straight track for a large decrease in economy and a burdening recession that has the power to leave a lasting mark on our country. The average person may not know that we spend more than twice per person on healthcare as the average for other rich countries, yet we rank at the bottom in terms of life expectancy as well as other healthcare outcomes. Since people older than age sixty-five have

much higher health care costs than younger people, when the baby boom era reaches its retirement years, the costs of the health care system will place a large burden on the country, even more so then it is now. “The media opts to ignore any long-term problems, and those who control the media justify their neglect by saying that there is little public interest in them,” says Baker. “Since most of the public is almost completely ignorant of these problems (because they are not mentioned in the news reports), it is in fact true that there is little public interest. As a result, many of the most important problems facing this country are almost never discussed.” (Baker, p.239) According to Media Society, a book by David Croteau and William Hoynes, agenda setting is defined as, the “ability to direct people’s attention toward certain issues.” The book also states that the term “highlights the important role that journalists play in selecting and shaping the news.” (Croteau and Hoynes, p. 234) Media Society also says that the public agenda is operated almost solely by the news media. For some, myself included, this is part of the antidemocratic issue that we believe the US media consists of. It is no secret that the vast majority of media is owned by few giant corporate companies, all of whom relay issues and opinions according to their own discretion One political economy approach dubbed the “propaganda model” states “The media’s agenda is set by a combination of government and corporate forces intent on protecting the interests of the rich and powerful.” It also states that the model allows government and dominant private interests get their messages across to the public. I believe that the news media in its agenda setting role most definitely influenced the public opinion about the war. As the public, we rely on the media to inform us of information regarding our country. Unfortunately, a lot of the time the information we are getting is biased, and is directed towards one-sided opinions of those

current issues. After the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, President George Bush declared a “war on terrorism.” Major media companies such as FOX and MSNBC took sides with Bush, and produced only biased information that coincided with the public agenda that the president was promoting. The Fox News Network, for example, was one of the giant media industries that supported the war in Iraq. On the program, The O’Reilly Factor, which is self-proclaimed to be “fair and balanced,” interviewer Bill O’Reilly openly attacks Jeremy Glick, a man whose father died in the 9/11 attacks. Glick, who is opposed to Bush’s presidential views and the war in Iraq, tries to explain the reasoning for his opinions. Apparently, O’Reilly had a different agenda in mind, as he belittled Glick’s opinions and wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise, saying things

like, “You have a warped view of this world and a warped view of this country.” Fox says, “We report, you decide,” but when there is only one side of the story being shown, we are forced to take the only side we know. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” It is uncertain who spoke these famous words, but the concept holds true. As we examine the rulings of our governments over the past two decades, we find that the distorted information and authoritative actions of our leaders happen more frequently then the media ever portrays. The structure of our government in Washington today bears little resemblance to what was outlined in the Constitution of 1787, and our antidemocratic ways seem to be getting worse as time goes on. The major media conglomerates are not helping this cause by any means, as they are dictated by the wealthy and influenced by the government. Historian Kevin Baker feared that America is no longer far from the day when, like

the Roman Senate in 27 BC, our Congress will take its last meaningful vote and turn over power to a military dictator. As people of America, we can only hope that Baker is wrong, and our Government will discontinue their anti-democratic ways and lead this country to a climbing level of equality and prosperity.

1) Baker, Dean. The United States Since 1980. New York: Cambridge UP, 2007.

2) Croteau, David, and William Hoynes. Media Society. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge P, 2003.

3) Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: the Politcal Economy of the Mass Media. 1988. 4) Johnson, Chalmers. Nemesis. New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2006.

5) McChesney, Robert W. The Problem of the Media. New York: Monthly Review P.

6) Rampton, Sheldon, and John Stauber. Weapons of Mass Destruction. New York: Penguin Group.

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