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A Quarter Century of Disinformation

Commentary by Greg Lewis / WashingtonDispatch.com
March 2, 2004

One thing John Kerry's insistence on focusing attention on his and George W. Bush's military records has done is to give us the opportunity to revisit the Vietnam War era, if not to have it practically shoved down our throats. And among the things that has accomplished is to bring to light the perpetuation of a campaign of lies and disinformation that has been waged in and by print and broadcast media.

It's a methodology which has a long history but which has been particularly effective in the U.S. since the late 1960s. It turns out that the media versions of many important events for more than a quarter century have often borne very little relation to the events themselves. John Kerry's involvement in those events, particularly in the aftermath of the War in Vietnam, is one of the elements of that story.

A few weeks ago in a column about Kerry, I referred to what has turned out to be an "urban legend." Specifically, based on a "news" item that appeared on NewsMax.com, I repeated a reference to a volume of memoirs supposedly published by North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap in 1985 as the source of an assertion by Colonel Oliver North. After a reader requested a reference to Giap's 1985 "Memoirs," I did research that convinced me no such volume exists. For that matter, I haven't been able to verify through Fox News that Colonel North actually made the comments he is said to have made and which I repeated. My apologies to Colonel North and to WashingtonDispatch.com readers for including inadequately verified material in my piece on Kerry.

What has emerged for me from all this, however, is something truly bizarre having to do with verifiable and unverifiable reportage and commentary. On the one hand, the current President of the United States (with the backing — depending on which week's polls you refer to and how the poll questions are loaded — of anywhere from just above half to well over 70 percent of the American people) has conducted enormously successful and necessary wars and subsequent police actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The same was true in the late 1960s and early '70s: Popular support in America for the War in Vietnam held consistently above 50 percent through the end of the war.

On the other hand, as in the Vietnam era, U.S. tactical and strategic successes in Iraq are barely even mentioned in most of the media. The print and broadcast headlines represent such a disconnect from reality that, in the words of comedian Lewis Black, "It makes you want to stick a pencil in your ear!" This is the understandable response of someone encountering truly schizophrenic behavior just before realizing that the behavior is actually psychotic and is comprehensible only as such.

And the behavior of the media is at best borderline psychotic, at worst certifiable. News headlines and Op Eds veritably scream out the "fact" that the President duped the country into going to war in Iraq on the false pretense of trying to prevent the spread (and the use against the United States) of weapons of mass destruction, which weapons obviously didn't exist, since we haven't been able to sift through every grain of desert sand in Iraq in the past eight months and actually find them. Those same headlines then turn around and announce the story of talks in North Korea aimed at forestalling that dictatorship's further development and deployment of, you guessed it, weapons of mass destruction.

In Pakistan the story is even scarier. The founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has admitted to transferring nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Wonder if Khan had any dealings with Saddam Hussein or members of his regime? I know it sounds preposterous, but people who sell the secrets of how to make nuclear weapons on the black market don't much care who they sell them to. Not everyone believes this, but guys like Khan are bad guys, and their intentions and those of the people who now possess nuclear weapons capability because of them, are not honorable nor beneficent toward the United States.

The point is that you often don't read stories like this in the papers or see them on TV. And if you do, they'll be right alongside other stories bludgeoning you over the head in order to get you to believe that the threat of weapons of mass destruction was not sufficient grounds for going to war with Iraq. Makes you want to stick a pencil in your ear!

Now, what does this have to do with John Kerry and George Bush and Vietnam and the Air National Guard? The same schizophrenia prevails with regard to that story. To repeat: As in the late 1960s and early '70s, media reportage of today's events often has very little to do with the events themselves. Let's see . . . George W. Bush was in the National Guard, flew planes, and at least took the risk that he might be called up for service in Vietnam; more than a thousand reservists and national guardsmen were killed in that conflict, although one gets the idea that for John Kerry and the press corps they were somehow not really soldiers, since they weren't "regular army." During the same period, after his discharge from the service (and even during the time he was on active duty), Kerry was a principal in one of the most virulent antiwar groups this country has ever known, and he gave testimony about supposed atrocities committed by our troops in Vietnam.

The media bought it hook, line, and sinker at the time. And while lapping up Kerry's witness about American atrocities, they all but ignored the Hue massacre committed by the North Vietnamese against the South. The Hue massacre of more than 3,500 Vietnamese civilians, you'll recall — wait, you probably won't recall, because Walter Cronkite et al. hushed it up — was perpetrated when the battle for the town of Hue turned against the Vietcong, who proceeded to slaughter the men, women, and children of several villages surrounding the besieged city when they discovered that South Vietnamese support for their cause was less than expected. After the Hue massacre it was understood among the South Vietnamese that, as local provincial chief Le Van Than said at the time, "the Vietcong would kill them, regardless of their political belief."

America never suffered a military defeat in Vietnam. The infamous 1968 Tet Offensive resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of enemy troops (for those of you who don't remember, "enemy" refers to North Vietnamese troops and not, as Kerry and the media of the time tried to convince us, American troops). As Victor Davis Hansen has recounted in The American Legion Magazine (September, 2003) North Vietnamese Commander General Vo Nguyen Giap told a French television interviewer that "his most important guerrilla ally during the war was the America press."

George W. Bush is the person who, by his courageous and undaunted response to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States (a jetliner loaded with fuel qualifies as such a weapon if it's crashed into a building with the intent to kill thousands of people) has uncovered a viper's nest of WMD traffickers of heretofore unimagined proportions and complexity. I know that we can trust President Bush not to turn on his country and somehow declare that we are the ones guilty of atrocities in the current conflict. The President's patriotism is definitely not the issue.

The kicker is, however, that, aided and abetted by journalistic media, this message is not getting delivered.

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