Victoria Clarke terrifies me.
This revelation struck yesterday afternoon
as the Pentagon spokesperson appeared on television for her daily press briefing. (Disclaimer: In the previous sentence, I've
used "press briefing" the way one might refer to an auction as an "exercise in democratic capitalism.")
Anyway, there was Clarke at the lectern,
wisps of hair framing a face so rigid it looked like it might suddenly explode all over her hot-pink blazer.
On the day after Saddam Hussein and sons
were targeted by a sudden bombing attack, and a day when three more journalists were killed by coalition fire, the media naturally
had several questions. Is Saddam dead or alive? Did he perish with his sons in that obliterated restaurant? How could U.S.
forces fire a tank shell into the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad? Didn't the ground troops know the hotel was occupied by more
than 200 reporters?
And, oh right, did anybody come across any
weapons of mass destruction today?
If you were jotting down some of Clarke's
responses, your notepad would contain these random statements: 1) "War is a dangerous, dangerous business." 2) "We have had
example after example after example reported by the media of coalition forces going to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian
casualties." 3) "That is the practice, that is the policy." 4) "Baghdad, in particular, we believe, is a dangerous place."
5) "We have made considerable progress." 6) "There are still orders being given by somebody." 7) "I wouldn't put a time frame
on it." 8) "Emotions have a way of swinging." 9) "There could still be some tough times ahead." 10) "We certainly wouldn't
want to talk about how we're doing something because we might want to do something similar, going forward."
And, going forward, truth will no longer
be the first casualty of war truth will now be detained, tortured, and force-fed a survival diet of inane avowals and fatuous
declarations until people lose interest and change channels to American Idol.
It's not just the U.S. Listening to Mohammed
Saeed al-Sahhaf these days, one might wonder what war Iraq's information minister is actually following. So far there hasn't
been much to support histrionic reflections such as, "We are killing them!" and "They are being slaughtered!" Unless what
he really means is, "We're doomed!" and "Quick, take off your uniforms and swim across the Tigris!"
Yes, propaganda is as old as civilization
itself. But, with Clarke, persuasion has ascended to the next dehumanizing level. Her disingenuous manipulations seem more
nefarious than Sahhaf's anachronistic threats because she embodies that emerging nexus between corporate public relations
and an omnipotent military machine. It's a sanitized gray zone where language is butchered as bombs fall, where euphemisms
sprout like mushrooms, and pre-determined "key messages" replace real information.
This nexus, it turns out, is perfect for
"preventive" wars and other pre-emptive conflicts that tend to violate international law. So yesterday, there wasn't much
forthcoming about the shelling that killed Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, and Jose Couso, a 37-year-old Spanish cameraman,
in the Palestine Hotel.
Nor was there much to explain why Tareq Ayyoub,
an Al-Jazeera cameraman, was killed when a bomb hit the Arab satellite television station's Baghdad office. (Al-Jazeera, which
saw its office bombed in a U.S. "mistake" during the Afghanistan war, said they believed yesterday's attack was deliberate.)
Nobody really asked about the civilians who
were surely killed when the U.S. dropped 900-kilogram bunker-busting bombs on a restaurant and apartment complex in an "upscale"
Baghdad suburb believing Saddam had stopped in for a bite.
"The mood of this city has changed completely,"
freelance journalist May Ying Welsh told CBC Newsworld yesterday.
"I think, only a week ago, people were still
almost in a kind of denial of how close U.S. troops were or how quickly the situation could escalate to the level it is at
As she spoke, the roar of fighter jets could
be heard. She glanced up at the skies: "I think the mood has gone from one of denial to one of terror."
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