Thursday, December 02, 2010

Trying to Watch "Fair Game" with an Open Mind

[This is a long post.  Most of you won't read it all.  It's long though, because it shows step-by-step how a rightwing website neutralizes truth, in this case how they make bogus claims against the movie Fair Game - the name is so apt - to neutralize some of the most shocking known behavior of the Bush Administration.  This is probably longer than it need be, but finding the truth, despite what people say, doesn't come in bumper-sticker brevity.]

We saw the movie Fair Game last week. It tells a story* about the active undercover CIA Agent Valerie Plame who was outed by the White House in July 2003.  Her husband, former US Ambassador Joe Wilson, had been hired to determine if Niger had really supplied yellow-cake uranium to the Iraqi government to be delivered in those now infamous aluminum tubes.  (*I think we have to stop using "the" story for anything, because even without the ideological split in the US, it is ever clearer that different people relate different stories about the same events)

Contributing to my state of mind, was the fact I had just heard an NPR story called the The Great Textbook Wars that afternoon.  From NPR:
In 1974, Kanawha County, West Virginia was the first battleground in the American culture wars. Controversy erupted over newly-adopted school textbooks. School buildings were hit by dynamite and Molotov cocktails, buses were riddled with... [The full article is at WNYC]
This piece had interviews with the people who began the boycott against the new textbooks which included a more modern and diverse group of authors and ideas than the previous texts had.  A couple of people cited their 1974 protest as the beginning of the Tea Party movement.  From the piece I gathered that the protesters were generally not well educated, their world view was dominated by religion, and they were not happy about the changes in their lives being brought about by integration - which was reflected in the textbook changes.  We also heard from teachers who said they needed a curriculum which better reflected their students, that discussed more than just dead white males in literature and history and science.  BUT, it was also clear that the catalyst for the protesters was a feeling of being disrespected.  They felt these changes were being forced on them without any input from them and they weren't going to take it any more.  Perhaps they couldn't stop the national civil rights legislation of the 60s, but they could stop their local schools from imposing new texts which raised questions they didn't want their kids exposed to.

Yikes, I'm trying to explain the link between textbook wars and Fair Game without making this too lengthy.  Much of this has been sitting for a week as I let the ideas naturally rise.  I don't think I used enough yeast.  But I need to get this done.  Let's just say the textbook wars reminded me once again that people do things for reasons and when people get pushed too far, emotion blocks out any chance for reason to triumph.

Even without the textbook story in my head, my tendency is to play the devil's advocate and think about other interpretations of the story.  I can't watch anything - even something I agree with - without thinking about how someone with a different perspective would react.  

As I watched Fair Game, with the radio show fresh in my mind, I could hear the Tea Party supporters of Joe Miller shouting out "Lies, Lies!" throughout the movie.  I did wonder what they would have said about a Joe Wilson talk to college students where he warned about government becoming a tyranny and how it would get worse if they didn't pay attention and stand up and protest.

We're in a period of American history - one that is not unique in this respect - where 'truth' is limited to facts that don't challenge 'my' world view.  This affects those on all points of the political spectrum, though some are more prone to be ruled by raw emotion rather than hard facts and logic.  The key is to find a path which blends both the passion that stirs us to do things with the rationality that gets us to do them effectively.  We can't let emotion blind us to the 'truth.'

In Fair Game's portrayal of the Valerie Plame case, even recognizing that Hollywood leaves out much of the story and enhances it for dramatic effect (so do politicians and all of us, of course), a few facts can't be disputed.
  1. President George W Bush used evidence - the aluminum tubes and the non-existent yellow-cake uranium - to justify going to war with Iraq, even though the CIA was telling them couldn't be true.  In one scene Scooter Libby badgers a CIA analyst - Are you 100% sure?  99% sure?  96% sure?  If you aren't 95% sure, are you willing to risk our security?  

    Even if we accept the notion that the White House was convinced this was true - and not simply a plausible ploy for getting the American public to go along - it turns out later that they were, in fact, wrong.  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  .

  2. The White House exposed the identity of an active undercover CIA agent with open projects - and informants in different parts of the world whose lives were jeopardized and possibly lost because of the outing.  Besides being a federal crime, this also forced the resignation of an experienced agent with active, needed knowledge, and endangered CIA contacts around the world.  While the White House ran a misinformation campaign that suggested Plame was a third rate agent who didn't do anything, they do the same sort of campaign with anyone who is in their way - ie the Swift Boat campaign against Kerry.
  3. Scooter Libby was tried and convicted.  And his sentence was commuted by the White House
These 'truths' are all on the record.  You can quibble about different details of the movie - it had 90 minutes or so to present its narrative - these three things are indisputable..

Or so I thought.  While prepping this, I ran across the blog Newsbusters - a right wing blog set up to debunk liberal lies - which reviewed the movie Fair Game

Here's what Newsbusters tells us about
Welcome to NewsBusters, a project of the Media Research Center (MRC), the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias.
In August of 2005, with the assistance of Matthew Sheffield of Dialog New Media, the MRC launched the NewsBusters blog to provide immediate exposure of liberal media bias, insightful analysis, constructive criticism and timely corrections to news media reporting. [emphasis added.]

You can read the Wikipedia post on NewsBusters which emphasizes the ideological stance (and was itself attacked by Newsbusters.)   Even if you read NewsBusters itself, it is clear  that this is a site set up to promote conservative Republican causes first, and not to expose the truth.

The trend I see is this:
  1. Attack the opponent - lying is totally within the rules
  2. If your opponent fights back you have a couple of choices
    1.  Attack again
    2.  Change the subject
    3.  Say that nobody can be trusted - raise questions about the honest folks so the dishonest folks look equal.  This is what they mean by 'neutralizing'.

The point is to totally sully the water so that any sort of authentic discussion is impossible.  Then the loudest and most persistent wins.

This works to the advantage of the conservatives because their reserve of funding is deeper.  Sure, liberals can raise a lot of money too, but in part that's because the money people want everyone - people who agree with them and those who don't - to be indebted to them.  They bet on all the horses - the only sure way to win no matter who's in office.  The Republicans have also just done a much better job of spreading their message.

I go through all this because I'm pretty sure that Fair Game is reasonably accurate on the basics if not every cinematic detail.  Newsbusters attacks Fair Game's validity by making bogus claims on minor issues and distracting the reader from the really serious issues the movie raised.  Neutralizing them as Newsbusters says its goal is.   Few people will check their out-of-context quotes..  This stirs up their partisans and sows seeds of doubt among those who don't know the background and who assume that no one could lie so shamelessly.  In the end, the casual reader goes away thinking, "another biased movie.  You can't believe anyone these days." Neutralization accomplished.  But what if they are telling the truth?  Then the truth has been neutralized and lies are equal to truth.

Look at  Newsbusters' damning conclusions about Fair Game:
1. Liman [the movie's director] is being dishonest in order to push a left-wing agenda.
2. Liman is being dishonest because the factual story is far less interesting than the fictional account released Friday.
3. Liman is completely ignorant of the facts, and too lazy to do even a little research.
The message is:  it's all lies, there's nothing there, they're stupid and lazy.

How did they reach these conclusions?  They made them up.  They took several ideas from the movie and declared them to be false with the help of out-of-context quotes from the Robb-Silbermann Report on WMD's. 
The Daily Caller's Jamie Weinstein did the legwork in demonstrating just how far from the truth some of the film's central claims are. Chief among them, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and other White House officials exerted political pressure on intelligence officials to cherrypick intelligence favorable to claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
In fact, not only did Libby do no such thing, but according to the Robb-Silbermann Commission, which investigated the intelligence behind the Iraq war, "The analysts who worked Iraqi weapons issues universally agreed that in no instance did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgments."
What??!!  First, there is no contradiction.  The Robb-Silbermann Report quote does NOT say there was no pressure exerted.  It clearly says that the intelligence officials didn't "skew or alter any of their analytical judgments" because of political pressure that did exist.  

They damn Liman because he didn't read the report:
Weinstein asked "Fair Game" director Doug Liman if he had read the Robb-Silbermann report. He had not.
Liman was the director.  It was his job to take the script (not write the script) and make a movie from it.  The report is 601 pages.  Why should Liman read it?  But I'm sure the author of the book  the movie was based on read the report.  Why do am I sure?  Because the book was written by Valerie Plame and her husband Joe Wilson assisted her.  They had a huge stake in knowing every detail of this report and Wilson testified before the commission and is cited in the report. And probably the script-writer read a lot more of it than did anyone associated directly with the Newsbusters article.

Then Newsbusters proceeds with more obfuscation.
But other blatant falsehoods pervade the film that could be disproven with a simple Google search. For instance, it is near-common knowledge by now - except among politically interested Bush-bashers - that neither Libby nor then-White House advisor Karl Rove leaked Wilson's wife's name to the press. In fact, State Department official Richard Armitage dropped the name to the late columnist Robert Novak, setting off a political firestorm.
But according to Weinstein,
You wouldn’t know this by watching Liman’s “Fair Game,” since Armitage is nowhere to be found — except in script at the very end. The narrative that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby were nefarious behind-the-scenes players intent on destroying innocent reputations while pushing the nation into war on false pretenses fits too nicely into Liman and Hollywood’s leftwing vision. You can’t, after all, let facts spoil a cinematic anti-Bush diatribe.
OK,  neither Rove nor Libby contacted the media and directly told them. And the movie doesn't say they did. But it is also 'near-common knowledge' that Armitage worked closely with them both and would never have leaked the information exposing the identity of an active undercover CIA agent on his own, without their assent.   Newsbusters conveniently fails to mention that Libby was convicted and President Bush commuted his sentence because of his actions portrayed in this movie.  Here's what Fox News wrote (yes, that Fox News) about the conviction:
I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby Guilty on Four of Five Counts in CIA Leak Trial

Libby was accused of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents and the grand jury about how he learned about Valerie Plame's identity and whom he told. Plame is the CIA employee whose husband. Amb. Joe Wilson, was sent to Niger by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy yellowcake uranium.

The Newsbusters article continues with more twisted truth:
According to Weinstein, the fictional Wilson "suggests his report to the CIA definitively debunked the Iraq-Niger claim." In fact, Bush's statement was accurate: British intelligence had discovered just that. A bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee found in 2004 that Wilson's report "did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium” and "did not change any analysts’ assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal."
Wait, wait, wait.  The movie didn't dispute that the British reported this.  But the movie said that the British report was wrong.  Which it was. 

Here's the paragraph from the  Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq the first quote is lifted from:
When the former ambassador [Joe Wilson] spoke to Committee staff, his description of his findings differed from the DO intelligence report and his account of information provided to him by the CIA differed from the CIA officials' accounts in some respects. First, the former ambassador described his findings to Committee staff as more directly related to Iraq and, specifically, as refuting both the possibility that Niger could have sold uranium to Iraq and that Iraq approached Niger to purchase uranium. The intelligence report described how the structure of Niger's uranium mines would make it difficult, if not impossible, for Niger to sell uranium to rouge [sic] nations, and noted that Nigerien officials denied knowledge of any deals to sell uranium to any rogue states, but did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium
The movie didn't deny the possibility that Iraq might have approached Niger for uranium, only that if they did, Niger never sold or gave them any.  And even if this allegation about the movie were true, it's a relatively minor point compared to the ones I listed above. It's like disputing that the man had dirty fingernails and skipping the fact that he murdered someone. 

The second quote is also shown to NOT support Newsbusters contention:

(                )                                                              PARAGRAPH DELETED                                                             
(                )                                                              PARAGRAPH DELETED                                                             
(                )                                                              PARAGRAPH DELETED                                                             
(U) Conclusion 13. The report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal, but State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq.
The three paragraphs before this conclusion are deleted, so we have to go from the little that is there.  But it is clear if you read this, that analysts' assessments weren't changed because they already believed there was no uranium deal between Niger and Iraq.  His report "lent more credibility to the original" CIA reports.  The only way that could be true is if those reports said the deal didn't take place.  And the quote clearly says the INR didn't think Niger would sell the uranium to Iraq.

So everything in these two quotes is consistent with what was in the movie.  But not too many Newsbusters readers are likely to go to the original source to check on a narrative they already want to believe.

This attack on the Fair Game, in my mind, is the same as claiming Obama is a Kenyan citizen and a Muslim.  The point is to raise questions about clear, factual events that you don't want people to believe.  To destroy the good name and character of people who oppose you.  To raise questions about their message.  What don't the Newsbusters folks want people to believe?

1.  People close to Karl Rove and VP Cheney, people who would not have acted without Rove's and probably VP Cheney's approval (of course it would be given with plausible deniability) exposed an active CIA agent, a serious violation of the law and breach of US Security.  An action that the conservatives would have lynched a Democratic White House had it done the same thing. 

2.  That there was clear evidence that there was no uranium deal between Niger and Iraq and the aluminum tubes were not for rockets to launch nuclear weapons, yet President GW Bush used this as a key justification for going to war against Iraq.  In fact, Secretary of State Colin Powell knew it was false and did not mention the Niger uranium in his speech to the United Nations. (See the Robb-Silbermann report, footnote 210 on page 213 - and no, I didn't read the whole report either, I just know how to use 'search.')

3.  The attack on Valerie Plame clearly came from the White House, most probably Rove and Cheney were involved, and was in retaliation for Plame's husband publicly refuting the lies the White House was using to justify going to war against Iraq.

4.  Scooter Libby was convicted - presumably as the fall guy to protect Rove and probably Cheney - and then his sentence was commuted by President Bush.
The point of this post is NOT to have a pissing match over facts with people who don't care about seeking out truth.  You can't win a game like that against people who have unlimited resources and no shame.  The point is to illustrate where we are in the US today - nearing a dark age when truth is suppressed ruthlessly and the common good is trashed for private gain. Over and over again.  In every sector from religion to oil to banking, and yes, even in academia. 

The attack on the movie attempts to make readers think the movie is total fiction, but it doesn't acknowledge or refute these facts I've outlined that the movie clearly presents. Facts that should raise a hue and cry from anyone who believes our leaders should obey the law, be fiscally responsible, and that human life is sacred and should not be sacrificed needlessly. (The war in Iraq has killed about 100,000 Iraqi civilians.)

But we shouldn't  be surprised they would attack the movie.  If  Rove and Cheney's people were willing to expose an active undercover CIA agent in retaliation for her husband telling the truth, there's probably little they wouldn't do to defeat their perceived enemies.  Newsbusters behavior here isn't that different from what the movie is about - attack the messenger to suppress the truth. 

Their tactics to replace 'truth' with their own version of reality is working.  People who oppose them are attacked and have to 'prove' their innocence (a traditional American value, right?) and so much mud is thrown that most people throw up their hands and say, "They're all corrupt."  And that's a victory for the corrupt.  Because their corruption isn't as problematic if the voters think that the honest folks are corrupt too.

And lots of writers think twice before posting on something like this out of fear they will be attacked.  This blog is off-the-radar enough I don't think I have to worry.   I'm not pointing out the inconsistencies because I think anyone will change their mind.  I'm doing it to illustrate how public discourse has been horribly polluted so that truth becomes totally indistinguishable - for many - from fiction. 

Yes, Valerie Plame was declared by Karl Rove to be "Fair Game" for this sort of nasty, democracy destroying attack.  But Plame, thanks to her husband, didn't fold.  She did what President Obama needs to do.  They fought back.  So, put Fair Game on your movie list.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds as if our friends in power could update Goebbels textbook. But what the hell, they're all corrupt, right?

    Meanwhile, with recent Wikileaks, I'm reminded that even Democrats agree with the realpolitc view of the dangerous world: International law is lawlessness, and its correlative: Domestic law that cannot accord the first is necessarily abrogated.

    National security and all that.


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