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.
- 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. .
- 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.
- Scooter Libby was tried and convicted. And his sentence was commuted by the White House
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 NewsBusters.org
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:
- Attack the opponent - lying is totally within the rules
- If your opponent fights back you have a couple of choices
- Attack again
- Change the subject
- 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: