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The Red-Handed Media

This Week in the Narrative 76

Nigel Clarke

A friend of mine used to work at the local sports talk-radio station. He did the morning show. He occasionally worked with a person, the guy who did the night show, who in both his on-air persona and personal life was something of a noted asshole. There were stories of the audible sighs which followed his departure from any room.

My problem with the guy, such as it was, was not so much that he was an asshole, though I didn’t have to work with him, but more so how he did his job.

He had moved to our modest town from across the country specifically for the job at the radio station, and writing for the local paper. From day one he made it clear he saw the arrangement as a temporary stop on the ladder up to bigger and better things, pursuing this goal by becoming an Olympic-level shill.

Many times, he forcefully argued a position on the air in a monologue which later was shown to display curious word-for-word similarities to pre-prepared media releases by the local team or business development committee. He was a man at every stage willing to forgo integrity.

In his defense, he was successful in his quest, having recently obtained a higher-profile job in a bigger market. Congrats.

I was thinking about this old curmudgeonly antagonist this week after news broke that Senators Bob Corker and Tim Kaine, a Republican and a Democrat from the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, had brought forward legislation for a new version of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

You remember the original AUMF don’t you, actually two pieces of legislation from 2001 and 2002? They authorized President Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Since its inception, the legislation has been used to avoid constitutional necessity by three Presidents for no less than 37 military excursions across at least 11 countries — including the war in Afghanistan, still going on, regime change in Libya, the current conflict in Syria, and, the civilian-smashing drone-bombing taking place in so many countries.

As it is at odds with a fundamental precept of the country — that the executive branch should relinquish the power to declare war to Congress because the President, as Founding Father George Mason put it, “is not safely to be trusted with it” — AUMF seems like a relatively major loophole.

Enter Kaine and Corker with their AUMF revision, one so well-received by mainstream media.

CNN called it a “major rewrite” by a “bipartisan group.” The Washington Post announced, “Congress shows some might on military authority after years of inertia.” Fox News spoke of the legislation’s appeal to voters “hungry for a check on executive power.” And so on.

If your only interaction with the story was through mainstream media you would likely come away with the impression that a heroic reach across the aisle had set the wheels in motion towards eliminating a dirty Bush-era loophole.

Tim Kaine himself said, “For too long, Congress has given presidents a blank check to wage war. …Our proposal finally repeals those authorizations and makes Congress do its job by weighing in on where, when and with who we are at war.”

Except… examine alternative and more serious journalistic sources, examine the opinions of experts who in days past may have been consulted by purportedly serious journalists before they submitted a story, examine, god forbid, the actual document, and what is revealed is something completely different.

As The Intercept reported: “the actual language of the Corker-Kaine bill appears to do almost the opposite of what its authors claim.”

The legislation, in its own words, “provides uninterrupted authority to use all necessary and appropriate force in the current and continuing armed conflict against the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS, and associated forces.”

“Associated forces” are described as those who are “co-belligerents” with enemies of the United States, and can be anyone “the President determines.” This excludes “sovereign nations,” though the legitimacy of the governments in countries deemed enemies is often questioned by the U.S. when it is convenient. See: Syria.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the bill “a monumental shift that will amp up war everywhere.” Steven Vladeck, a national security law professor, said it was “a blank check to this and future Presidents to wage offensive war.” Matthew Waxman, who served on the National Security Council during the Bush administration, proclaimed that it “entrenches an indefinite war.”

Sen. Rand Paul wrote a letter to his colleagues accusing the bill of giving “nearly unlimited power to this or any President to be at war anywhere, anytime and against anyone, with minimal justification and no prior specific authority.”

It is particularly concerning that terms like “associated forces” and “co-belligerents” are being thrown around, vague and subject to the President’s interpretation, considering other ongoing storylines playing out.

Earlier this week, China conducted live-fire military exercises in the waters surrounding Taiwan, in what Chinese state media called “a loud and clear warning to Taipei and Washington.”

Iran, responding to Trump’s threats to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, promised “unexpected” reactions.

The U.S., doing its part, labeled China and Russia alongside Iran and North Korea as “morally reprehensible” and “forces of instability.”

Elsewhere, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a lawsuit against Wikileaks, presumably for their journalistic zeal in releasing information the DNC didn’t like. This after former CIA Director and Trump’s current nomination for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Wikileaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service.”

Language is important. Look only at the evolution of the term “terrorism” over just the last two decades and how wide a net it now casts. Terms like “associated forces” and “co-belligerents,” which I’m assuming are intentionally vague, cast a similarly wide net.

Work it through in any direction: Wikileaks is a “non-state hostile.” Is a synonym for hostile “belligerent”? Does their alleged association with Russia mean they are both “co-belligerents”? If not, what about if Wikileaks releases something Trump doesn’t like? Russia is certainly an “associated force” in the conflict in Syria. Is China? Maybe not, but they are to North Korea. And just how much perceived aggression in the South China Sea would make someone a “belligerent”? Is Iran’s government a government or a terrorist organization?

Hypotheticals aside, the point is this: More and more people have a negative opinion of mainstream media at this juncture, and with good reason. “Fake news” accusations are lobbed around like grenades and personal attacks are common. Most important to recognize though is that regardless of the characters doing the presenting, what is being presented is, as if from a small-town sports radio host, an unfiltered and unapologetic advertisement for the agenda of the power structure around them. This is true, perhaps especially so, when the mainstream news story is, as in the case of Kaine and Corker’s new AUMF, the complete and total opposite of reality.

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Written by Nigel Clarke

Nigel Clarke

Writer and notorious vagabond. From the frozen north. Follow Nigel on Twitter @Nig_Clarke.

Nigel Clarke is a Writer for Progressive Army.

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