Watching the pathetic,
lie-on-its-back frightened labrador of the American media changing
overnight into a vicious rottweiler is one of the enduring pleasures of
society in the United States. I have been experiencing this phenomenon
over the past two weeks, as both victim and beneficiary.
In New York and Los
condemnation of the American presidency and Israel’s continued
settlement-building in the West Bank was originally treated with the
disdain all great papers reserve for those who dare to question proud
and democratic projects of state. In The New York Times, that ancient
luminary Ethan Bonner managed to chide me for attacking American
journalists who - he furiously quoted my own words - "report in so
craven a fashion from the Middle East - so fearful of Israeli criticism
that they turn Israeli murder into ’targeted attacks’ and illegal
settlements into ’Jewish neighbourhoods’."
It was remarkable that
Bonner should be
so out of touch with his readers that he did not know that "craven" is
the very word so many Americans apply to their grovelling newspapers
(and quite probably one reason why newspaper circulations are falling
But the moment that a
Democratic congressman and Vietnam war veteran in Washington dared to
suggest that the war in Iraq was lost, that US troops should be brought
home now - and when the Republican response was so brutal it had to be
disowned - the old media dog sniffed the air, realised that power was
moving away from the White House, and began to drool.
On live television in San
could continue my critique of America’s folly in Iraq uninterrupted.
Ex-Mayor Willie Brown - who allowed me to have my picture taken in his
brand new pale blue Stetson - exuded warmth towards this pesky Brit
(though he claimed on air that I was an American) who tore into his
country’s policies in the Middle East. It was enough to make you feel
the teeniest bit sorry - though only for a millisecond, mark you - for
the guy in the White House.
All this wasn’t caused by
transition from Newark to Los Angeles International, where the terror
of al-Qa’ida attacks is replaced by fear of the ozone layer. On the
east coast, too, the editorials thundered away at the Bush
administration. Seymour Hersh, that blessing to American journalism who
broke the Abu Ghraib torture story, produced another black rabbit out
of his Iraqi hat with revelations that US commanders in Iraq believe
the insurgency is now out of control.
When those same Iraqi
gunmen this week
again took control of the entire city of Ramadi (already "liberated"
four times by US troops since 2003), the story shared equal billing on
prime time television with Bush’s latest and infinitely wearying
insistence that Iraqi forces - who in reality are so infiltrated by
insurgents that they are a knife in America’s back - will soon be able
to take over security duties from the occupation forces.
Even in Hollywood - and
schedules prove that the rot must have set in more than a year ago -
hitherto taboo subjects are being dredged to the surface of the
political mire. Jarhead, produced by Universal Pictures, depicts a
brutal, traumatised Marine unit during the 1991 Gulf War.
production of Good
Night, and Good Luck, a devastating black-and-white account of Second
World War correspondent Ed Murrow’s heroic battle with Senator McCarthy
in the 1950s - its theme is the management and crushing of all dissent
- has already paid for its production costs twice over. Murrow is
played by an actor but McCarthy appears only in real archive footage.
Incredibly, a test audience in New York complained that the man
"playing" McCarthy was "overacting". Will we say this about Messrs Bush
and Cheney and Rumsfeld in years to come? I suspect so.
And then there’s Syriana,
epic of the oil trade which combines suicide bombers, maverick CIA
agents (one of them played by Clooney himself), feuding Middle East
Arab potentates - one of whom wants real democracy and wealth for his
people and control of his own country’s resources - along with a slew
of disreputable businessmen and east coast lawyers. The CIA eventually
assassinates the Arab prince who wants to take control of his own
country’s oil (so much for democracy) - this is accomplished with a
pilotless aerial bomb guided by men in a room in Virginia - while a
Pakistani fired from his job in the oil fields because an American
conglomerate has downsized for its shareholders’ profits destroys one
of the company’s tankers in a suicide attack.
"People seem less afraid
told an interviewer in Entertainment magazine. "Lots of people are
starting to ask questions. It’s becoming hard to avoid the questions."
Of course, these questions are being asked because of America’s more
than 2,000 fatalities in Iraq rather than out of compassion for Iraq’s
tens of thousands of fatalities. They are being pondered because the
whole illegal invasion of Iraq is ending in calamity rather than
Yet still they avoid the
question. The Arab princes in Syriana - who in real life would be
obsessed with the occupation of the West Bank - do not murmur a word
about Israel. The Arab al-Qa’ida operative who persuades the young
Pakistani to attack an oil tanker makes no reference to Israel - as
every one of bin Laden’s acolytes assuredly would. It was instructive
that Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 did not mention Israel once.
So one key issue of the
remains to be confronted. Amy Goodman, whom I used to enrage by
claiming that her leftist Democracy Now programme - broadcast from a
former Brooklyn fire station - had only three listeners (one of whom
was Amy Goodman), is bravely raising this unmentionable subject. Partly
as a result, her "alternative" radio and television station - how I
hate that prissy word "alternative" - is slowly moving into the
Americans are ready to
United States’ relationship with Israel. And America’s injustices
towards the Arabs. As usual, ordinary Americans are way out in front of
their largely tamed press and television reporters. Now we have to wait
and see if the media boys and girls will catch up with their own people.