The US media's uncritical reporting on the Bush Administration's reasons for seeking conflict in Iraq has sparked soul-searching and embarrassment in many American newsrooms, as journalists struggle to understand how the fourth estate could have so thoroughly failed in its duty to hold government machinations up to the highest level of scrutiny.
The role of the media as an uncritical reporter of the official government line in the lead up to the war is well-covered terrain, but Norman Solomon's War Made Easy, based on a book of the same name, takes the inquiry a step further by placing it in a historical context that illuminates the manner in which the US government has long "sold" military operations to the public.
As Solomon says: "Rarely, if ever, does a war just kind of fall down from the sky. The foundation needs to be laid and the case built, often with deception."
From Vietnam, to Nicaragua, Panama, Gulf Wars I and II, and all the armed interventions in between, US leaders have employed a similar narrative structure to justify and maintain support for military action.
First comes the villainization of the offending regime, which usually includes a comparison to Hitler and unverified stories of extreme barbarity shocking to the American public conscience. Simultaneously, US citizens are reminded of the great humanitarian ideals they support, the supposed reluctance of the nation to go to war, and America's history of struggling to advance democratic principles.
"It makes bombing people ultimately seem like an act of kindness and altruism," Solomon points out.
One of the film's strongest points is its use of archival footage to illustrate the US government's well-tested rhetoric. In a matter of moments, the film can flash through 40+ years worth of Presidents and top advisers echoing the same sentiment to justify different endeavors.
Lacking access to alternate streams of information, major media came to rely on US officials for information and context on the looming conflict, making the critical error of assuming the government sources would not misrepresent the facts.
"If history is any guide, the opposite is the case," according to Solomon. "Officials blow smoke and cloud reality, rather than clarify.... The sources that have deceived us constantly don't deserve our trust, and to the extent that we give them our trust we set ourselves up to be scammed again and again."
While there's no doubt that journalistic laziness contributed to the uncritical re-broadcasting of the Bush Administration's official line, Solomon takes it a little too far in trying to make the case that all of the cable networks were actively complicit in promoting the war.
Solomon bases his reasoning primarily on one choice quote from Eason Jordan, former CNN news chief and current CEO of IraqSlogger's parent company, Praedict. I was particularly entertained by Solomon's portrayal of Jordan as an active foot soldier in the government's march to war, considering how he has more often been wrongly characterized as a chief demon of the "liberal" media, wrongly excoriated by conservatives for being an anti-military, anti-war, anti-government propagandist.
In Jordan, however, Solomon sees a willing ally to the Pentagon because he sought an opinion on the retired military officers the network planned to use as expert commentators. Solomon assumes that Jordan was seeking the blessing of Pentagon officials on the propriety of his choices, when in fact he was just doing a boss's duty.
"Employers routinely vet prospective employees with their previous employers," Jordan explains. "In these cases, we vetted retired generals to ensure they were experts in specific military and geographic areas. The generals were not vetted for political views."
Solomon should have realized that if the Pentagon had been permitted to cull CNN's military talking head list, Gen. Wesley Clark likely would not have made it on air.
Despite that one error in judgment, Solomon's War Made Easy is an eye-opening account of the US government's method of "selling" war.
War Made Easy Trailer