Julien Assange, the man behind the Wikileaks release of hundreds of thousands of internal Pentagon documents detailing incidents of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, is interviewed by Larry King. Daniel Ellsberg, who was behind the Vietnam-era release of the Pentagon Papers, steps in as well.
Larry King: Why did you walk off the set in the earlier interview?
Assange: Why was CNN more interested in talking about rumors than in addressing the import of public access to largest cache of war details in human history, as well as the insight behind the 109,000 deaths discussed in them? [Assange has been accused of date rape by some Swedish girls he was partying with]
Larry King: But isn’t it important to understand and evaluate the “messenger”?
Larry King: But…
Assange: And you should be ashamed for pretending it is.
It is important to call out the media for diverting attention from what matters. Daniel Ellsberg makes a great point by suggesting that the media is participating in a smear campaign of Assange, in the same way the Watergate “plumbers” were infamously sent to break into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s clinic looking for dirt to smear him with.
Assange battles with Larry King:
The Pentagon, as well as the current administration, was hugely embarrassed by the leaking of hundreds of thousands of documents to the press. The main reason is that the public can now see behind the pretty pictures the generals and defense secretaries like to paint for us.
The main game in town these days in politics is control over the image and narrative. Vietnam taught us that in a big way. With new technologies, reporters had gone out into the field and delivered the horrors of war on your front doorstep or in your living room. The myths and platitudes about glory and honor in the battlefield turn out to be all blood and gore and traumatized kids sent to death. The war instantly became a whole lot harder to justify to the public.
When the Pentagon Papers were released, the sham of war became even more massively apparent. The government was caught in bald-faced lies and its rhetoric exposed as full of machiavellian deception.
Publically it was saying “we’re winning, we’re making progress,” privately they were saying the exact opposite. Lyndon Johnson had run on a campaign of ending the war, but had actually been drawing up plans for an escalation the whole time. It was all a sham, designed to control public perception of the war, and thus guarantee support and funding. After all, these wars are only paid for out of our pockets through taxes. And if public sentiment went south…and congress stopped supporting the war funding…then it would end.
Here is the trailer to the recent documentary about Daniel Ellsberg, The Most Dangerous Man in America (as he was described by Henry Kissinger)
The lessons from Vietnam were well learned. A direct line can be drawn from those lessons to the government’s conduct in today’s war. How do you give the impression of information while simultaneously controlling the narrative and images?
1. embedded journalists. they only see the war through the eyes of the Pentagon and its indoctrinated soldiers. they end up making every story about “our boys in the field.” civilians don’t exist, because you’re stuck embedded. the bigger picture doesn’t exist, because you too busy making human interest stories about “our boys in combat.” the public goes wild, you have plenty of material to make the media mill run, and nobody ever really understands a bloody thing. it’s kinda like the movie that won the academy award, the Hurt Locker. no lessons to be learned here, we’re too busy entertaining.
2. no images of the dead. make it impossible to show death, dying, or blood on the screen. in vietnam, this was a huge turn-off to war. but we’re after a turn-on this time, so none of that. it became “disrespectful” to show an injured, dying, or dead soldier, so their images no longer exist. to the public spectacle, death dying and injuring only become some statistics; images are gone. it is telling how far we’ve come in this vein since the media only recently got government permission to show images of coffins. so at best, death dying and injury are seen as the well-groomed, opaque image of a flag-draped coffin. contrast this with the images from the incredibly powerful documentary Hearts and Minds (see for example at 29:00, 40:00, 42:00, and 47:24, 1:02:00 (very disturbing, as war always is).
3. Pay off hordes of retired generals to give positive reports on the war. the Pentagon was exposed for having directly given cash, private contracts, and special access to teams of retired civilian generals in return for a positive account of the war. they were briefed on what, precisely to say, and they all repeated each other perfectly. thus, the Pentagon had total control over the narrative and the public had the perception of a variety of perspectives. the NYTimes finally broke open the deceit in 2008, when it didn’t really matter any more.
How about some examples from today? The gulf between the government-sponsored media representation and the realities on the ground is detailed in this interview of two “non-embedded” reporters just returned from Afghanistan.
What they have to say is mind-blowing. More accurately, it is the perfect inverse of what the administration says. We’re not winning the war, we’re not winning hearts and minds, we’re not even gaining ground. We’re mostly killing civilians. We’re losing local support by the day because of our black-ops night raids and the bad intelligence that brings them to kill random people; the Taliban are getting more and more popular by the day (today’s news includes a story that an Afghan police unit that just defected to the Taliban); we’re assassinating all of the old-school Taliban leaders and leaving the young crazies in their place to take up the resistance movement, making things worse than ever.