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Covert Propaganda
September 30, 2005 7:54 PM   Subscribe

Ethicsgate continues: Today, the bipartisan Government Accountability Office declared that the Bush administration broke the law by paying Armstrong Williams to write favorable columns about the No Child Left Behind Act, funneling public funds to a PR firm to sift through news stories and gauge media perception of Bush policies, and financing phony TV news reports giving the President's education policies "an A-plus," creating what the GAO called "covert propaganda." [Williams et. al. previously discussed here.]
posted by digaman (59 comments total)

 
Williams, so far, has expressed nothing but indignation. And he was such a dickweed on "America's Black Forum," too, which I used to watch on Sunday nights here on AFKN.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:58 PM on September 30, 2005


So, can someone be thrown in jail for this shit? Please?
posted by papakwanz at 7:59 PM on September 30, 2005


Those unscheduled accountability moments just keep coming.
posted by digaman at 8:03 PM on September 30, 2005


It's good that this is finally being done, but still unsettling how much they let Bush get away with before he became unpopular. Now watch all the the republicans pull an "I'm not with him" in 2008.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:18 PM on September 30, 2005


Well, yeah, sure. But no interns were involved in compromising positions, so clearly impeachment is out of the question.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:22 PM on September 30, 2005


Those prison chains, they jingle-jangle-jingle!
posted by Balisong at 8:29 PM on September 30, 2005


still unsettling how much they let Bush get away with before he became unpopular

I couldn't agree more, es, but I think 9/11 put America into a state that future historians will recognize as something like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder -- many people wanted simple answers (thus the disdain for "nuance") and the appearance of a strong fatherly hand to lead them away from the horror of Ground Zero. It's taken some people a while to realize that the hand was plundering the national till, and that the security it seemed to offer was a total sham.
posted by digaman at 8:31 PM on September 30, 2005


They announce the law was broken, yet no indictments, arrests, or even rebukes? nice--not. a "blistering indictment"--oooh! Show us a suit to reclaim our money. Show us even a low-level Education Dept. staffer removed from office. Anything.
posted by amberglow at 8:33 PM on September 30, 2005


Plenty of rebuke in the GAO report, amberglow. And I'd like to see Tom DeLay try to dismiss it as "partisan zealotry" -- but he's, uhm, busy.
posted by digaman at 8:40 PM on September 30, 2005


I can only deal with one scandal at a time please. Unless you can tie this to the mishandling of Katrina or Rita, I won't be able to pay attention.

Iraq what?
posted by thefreek at 8:42 PM on September 30, 2005


but rebuke with what consequences? where's the teeth to the rebuke?
posted by amberglow at 8:43 PM on September 30, 2005


Strangely enough I find myself agreeing with amberglow for the first time in like, a year. Where's the consequences? I'm OK with the idea that the GAO can't discipline people (can it?) but why doesn't the reporter include any info about what happens next?
posted by Happydaz at 8:46 PM on September 30, 2005


There are never teeth to the GOP self rebukes. "Shame, shame, ooh sorry, we didn't mean to do that, won't happen again."
posted by caddis at 8:47 PM on September 30, 2005


You've been hearing "shame?" You've been hearing "sorry?" I must be watching the wrong press conferences.
posted by digaman at 8:51 PM on September 30, 2005


I assume the report says what laws were broken, but I can't find the actual report online. I guess it was just leaked today.
posted by smackfu at 8:54 PM on September 30, 2005


so clearly impeachment is out of the question.

I wonder, is there any mechanism in place for impeaching an entire administration? If not, then just what options do we have in the unlikely event of a broadly corrupt administration taking power, exploiting its powers to shield itself from legal accountability? I mean, hypothetically, of course...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:55 PM on September 30, 2005


All-seeing eye dog made a great comment in another thread about the GOP machine. That thread is getting long in the tooth and I doubt many people will see this comment. It relates to this issue as well so I am pasting it in here (I hope you are OK with that ASD):

Over the last few decades, the Republican party has transformed itself into one of the most ruthlessly efficient and terrifyingly anti-democratic political machines American democracy has ever seen, rivaling the Communist Party in both the sheer scale of its political influence and in terms of the lock-step unity of its constituency. Viewed from the perspective of a beleaguered believer in the egalitarian, pluralist ideals of early American democracy, the dominance of the Republican Party seems to represent one of the most frighteningly anti-democratic trends in American history.

The contemporary Rebublican Party is monolithic: It operates more like the mafia than like a political party, monomaniacally pursuing political gain at all costs. In my line of work (I've worked as a consultant for a variety of state governmental entities), I've been in a position to catch glimpses of how this machinery operates, and it's scary: It's like some nightmarish vending machine made of self-deluded people, that dispenses candy (in the form of political favors--e.g., government contracts, lucrative consulting gigs, real estate opportunities, etc.) in return for financial contributions from wealthy benefactors.

Please understand, as much as you might hope I'm exaggerating, I'm not: It really is bad. Many who see it happening don't make a fuss about it because they expect to be able to cash in themselves one day, if they play their cards right (it's a sucker's bet in most cases, but that's how all con-games work, right?). But the pay-for-play, victory-at-all-costs political anti-idealogy of the Republican Party runs exactly counter to how many of us feel a democracy should work.

So Bloomberg may only be guilty by association--although it's a good bet he's not squeaky-clean either--but in some cases, guilt by association is enough.

(Now don't even get me started on the Democrats... My only hope is that, now that the Republicans have completely razed the old Democratic establishment, a new crop of good Democratic leaders--good men [and women]--will spring up to rebuild the party. No matter what anyone says to the contrary, I think Dean actually cares, and that's a hell of an improvement over the previous status quo. Of course, viable third, fourth and fifth parties would be an even bigger improvement, but we've gotta get someone from either the tweedle-dee or the tweedle-dum party to push the right reforms through before we'll ever see that.)
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:30 PM EST on September 30 [!]

posted by caddis at 9:01 PM on September 30, 2005


It's good that this is finally being done, but still unsettling how much they let Bush get away with before he became unpopular. Now watch all the the republicans pull an "I'm not with him" in 2008.

Uh... they're already starting for the 2006 election. Distancing themselves from DeLay and Bush.
posted by SirOmega at 9:01 PM on September 30, 2005


Afghanistan!
posted by slater at 9:02 PM on September 30, 2005


so wait a minute, the bush administration liedbroke the law, now i'm pissed, yada yada
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:02 PM on September 30, 2005


I love that these reports are always released on Friday or Saturday.
posted by bas67 at 9:02 PM on September 30, 2005


No problem at all, caddis. Thanks again for the kind words!
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:06 PM on September 30, 2005


...although I'd also include this addendum...

oops. boy is my face red. of course I meant to say "--good men and women--"... (please don't hurt me too much.)
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 8:33 PM PST on September 30 [!]

posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:13 PM on September 30, 2005


oops. missed your bracketed correction (again, not so all-seeing, eh?)...
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 9:20 PM on September 30, 2005


The real question here is: where the fuck is Bin Laden?
posted by signal at 9:29 PM on September 30, 2005


is there any mechanism in place for impeaching an entire administration?

yeah, there is, but it only comes along every 4 years, and America, well, ~400k Floridians and/or ~100k Ohioans, blew the call last time...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:32 PM on September 30, 2005


The real question here is: where the fuck is Bin Laden?

And who sent all that Anthrax?
posted by Balisong at 9:33 PM on September 30, 2005


I shocked. The GAO hasn't been stocked with extreme-right Republicans? *waits*
posted by my sock puppet account at 9:44 PM on September 30, 2005


The U.S. had a nice run. Now the Republicans own it and I don't see anybody stopping them.
posted by mrhappy at 10:14 PM on September 30, 2005


Top Republicans have been quietly raising money to expand the minimum security prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi, CNN has learned. A new wing will be built to house members of the Bush Administration.

Each cell in the so-called Freedom Wing will feature an ornate cot with sheets made from 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton, a whisper-quiet flush toilet, and a 42-inch plasma TV pre-programmed to Fox News and the 700 Club.

“We’re trying to make their transition to incarceration as painless as possible,” said one fundraiser who asked to remain anonymous. ...

posted by amberglow at 10:37 PM on September 30, 2005


George Bush dosn't care about America.
posted by delmoi at 11:13 PM on September 30, 2005


Seriously though, I was operating under the "stupid" hypothesis for the longest time. Now it really does seem like they simply want to loot the country for all its worth before leaving office in 2008. Plunder it like a New Orleans Rite-Aid and burn it down when they're done. Empty the coffer sand give the money back to the familial rich and their crony buddies.

Oh well. America will survive them, I think. Dubya will only go down in history as the Teapot Dome of the 21st century.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 PM on September 30, 2005


"is there any mechanism in place for impeaching an entire administration?

yeah, there is, but it only comes along every 4 years, and America, well, ~400k Floridians and/or ~100k Ohioans, blew the call last time..."


Oh, Heywood... there is another way. But it's very, very messy. And unfortunately, sometimes necessary.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:04 AM on October 1, 2005


Thanks, digaman, for the P.S. on this year-old story. The GAO has spoken. They really are the heroes of the fed. gov't. I suspect that they get away with exposing the truth, about all aspects of gov't operations, irrespective of party or ideology, only BECAUSE they're "toothless" -- they pose no literal, concrete threat. Long may they thrive.

The even more insidious stuff in admin. PR is the routine review of TV ENTERTAINMENT scripts by the drug warriors, ensuring that drugs are literally no laughing matter. They have quotas for appropriately negative context when drugs are mentioned. They screen the content, and make their displeasure known if a sitcom script has a joke about drugs. (If I had an ounce of initiative, I'd dig up a link and put it right about here.)

Also good point re the national psychosis post 9/11/01. You've nailed it. Bush learned the wrong lesson (surprised?) from 9/11. Apart from retaliating against an uninvolved country I mean.

We now know about the numerous and clear warnings from all corners that Bush blithely ignored in advance of 9/11: Intelligence from the previous administration ignored, the memo headed "BIN LADEN DETERMINED TO ATTACK IN THE U.S." dismissed as a "historical document" by Condy Rice, deaf ears for the CIA director as he pounded the table every day, sounding the alarm with his "hair on fire," Richard Clark's annoyingly insistent warnings resolved--not by preparing for the threat he foresaw, but by kicking Clark out of the way--etc.

Yet somehow Bush came out of it looking strong and popular and ballsy; nobody asked too loudly why he hadn't lifted a finger to prevent it. Understandably, he concluded that he could keep his cranium comfortably ensconced in his posterior, conversing with Jeeeesus, and if calamities happened, he could go stand on the rubble and be all heroic.

This time, people ARE asking rudely and loudly about his AWOL status, and you can see, under his usual befuddled vacant affect, a sort of kicked-puppy what-did-I-do look; the poor man doesn't have a clue why the same strategy that paid off so handsomely in NYC has been so badly received in New Orleans.

Tell ya the truth, I don't either.

Um, amberglow, you do know that the "story" you cited was from a blog that describes its content thus: "Some of it is satire, some isn't. You get to figure out which." I trust you figured out which, though you posted it as gospel. (The last paragraph pounded it home with a big mallet if there was any doubt.)
posted by clicktosubmit at 4:06 AM on October 1, 2005


digaman writes "I think 9/11 put America into a state that future historians will recognize as something like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder"

I think "battered wife syndrome" actually fits the bill much better.
posted by clevershark at 5:18 AM on October 1, 2005


clicktosubmit writes "the poor man doesn't have a clue why the same strategy that paid off so handsomely in NYC has been so badly received in New Orleans.

"Tell ya the truth, I don't either. "


It was easy to point the finger at some bogeyman for what happened in New York -- not so easy to generate such anger and hatred for what was, after all, an "act of God".
posted by clevershark at 5:27 AM on October 1, 2005


Why does God hate our freedom?
posted by digaman at 6:02 AM on October 1, 2005


Gore would have found Bin Laden. Gore would also have put Lt. Col. Dr. Philip Zack on trial for the anthrax attacks, which he assisted in.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:20 AM on October 1, 2005


Ethicsgate? I got nothin' but respect for you digaman, and it may be I ask this because I am 100% out of the american traditional-media loop, but what the?

If ethics were the issue, discussions of ethics that assumed anything but the shortest of short term memory would include torture and rape at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, illegal warmaking, election fixing, enriching the already rich, lining halliburtonian pockets; we'd be talking about Bush rushing to mollify the necropoliticos drooling and masturbating in a circle around that braindead Schiavo woman but vacationing while corpses floated down in Titty City, we'd be talking about that and more before this.

Doesn't paying attention to this kind of flyshit pedestrian evil specktackularity distract from transgressions more worthy of the shaking of fists, at least for the 5 minutes or so that we've been trained to give before we move on to something shiny?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:40 AM on October 1, 2005


Nixon in '73!
posted by klangklangston at 7:06 AM on October 1, 2005


Nixon in '73!

Yeah, good point. It's the seemingly minor points of goddamn order that end up tipping the jenga-pile over.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:09 AM on October 1, 2005


Stavros, your comment above just about made my head explode. And I mean that as a compliment.
posted by nyterrant at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2005


Notice the difference between the headline on NYT article and the first sentence?

"Audit Assails the White House for Public Relations Spending" vs. "Federal auditors said today that the Bush administration had violated the law..."

Why doesn't the headline mention law-breaking?
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:34 AM on October 1, 2005


Top Republicans have been quietly raising money to expand the minimum security prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi, CNN has learned. A new wing will be built to house members of the Bush Administration.

I dunno if the fact that it took me a very long time to realize this was a joke reflects more poorly on me or the bush administration. this was the line the did it for me:

“Except of course for Karl, who likes that sort of thing.”
posted by mcsweetie at 8:41 AM on October 1, 2005


I love that these reports are always released on Friday or Saturday.
posted by bas67 at 12:02 AM EST on October 1 [!]


My sentiments exactly. Reading the Times article on this latest Bush White House media manipulation was an act of deep helplessness. Nothing about accountability or repercussions of any kind. "Hey kids...your President and his administration has once again given you the finger in the most heartfelt and grotesque manner. What? You say your accustomed to it by now and it doesn't hurt as much? Tsk tsk tsk...in other news.."

RE: Nixon '73, I recently read All the Presidents Men and it's brought home for me how much Karl Rove is a probably the pre-eminent student and scholar of that event. Because it reveals not only the folly and miscalculations of a flawed leader, but the weaknesses and Achilles heel of a "free" press.

It will be difficult to get past him. Great power can only be undone slowly and with unceasing exactitude and patience building on solid ground every step of the way . One weak link and it will squash you like a bug with it's many headed self protective mechanisms. It very nearly happened to Bernstein, Woodward, Bradley and the Washington Post when they assumed a bit too much in a statement made to them by Hugh Sloan, a former aid to Haldeman and former Treasurer of the Nixon's committee to Re-elect the President (CRP).

It can clearly be seen by what happened to Dan Rather/CBS with Memogate. In a reverse playbook move right out of All the President's Men, you can see how Rove is a virtuosic strategist. It seems like a genius set up and whether it was or not I don't know, but considering Rather's much vaunted confrontation with Nixon I wouldn't be surprised.

At any rate keep the faith. You can always count on vanity, ego and self preservation to perform the political hygiene that our cherished notions of democracy and justice cannot. I guess I'm an optimist.
posted by Skygazer at 9:38 AM on October 1, 2005


stavros, I hear ya buddy, but as a journalist myself, I don't consider the government using tax dollars to create a Ministry of Domestic Disinformation, pumping out false "news" stories that are then run on television without attribution, and hiring columnists, to be a "flyspeck" issue. When news organizations are secretly replaced by GOP PR flacks -- which, I'll grant is happening in a milliion ways -- the chances of getting more incisive coverage of the bigger issues you mention become moot.
posted by digaman at 10:45 AM on October 1, 2005


Hey, government run news organizations are perfectly fine. The people in Russia love 'em. Simply love 'em!

In Russia, the news makes you!
posted by Atreides at 10:53 AM on October 1, 2005


clicktosubmit, amberglow assumed anyone reading the story he linked to would know it is satire. He didn't post it as gospel; he just posted it.
posted by wsg at 11:02 AM on October 1, 2005


it's somewhat disturbing how much stavrosthewonderchicken rules. if I was into bestiality I would blow you.
posted by mr.marx at 11:25 AM on October 1, 2005


if I was into bestiality I would blow you.
posted by mr.marx


Okay--with that, I can tell that it is officially time for me to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head. Wake me when the world is normal again, okay?
posted by leftcoastbob at 12:02 PM on October 1, 2005


The ordinary citizens of the USA don't stand a chance so long as they effectively have the choice of electing only a right-wing party. The Democrats are not left-wing in comparison to the left-wing parties of the G8.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:16 PM on October 1, 2005


I would have agreed with you before Bush, five.
posted by digaman at 12:28 PM on October 1, 2005


You think the next batch of Democrats are going to do you any good? Hardly. And take an honest look at Clinton's record: for as much good as he did for the country in term of reducing debt and taking steps toward greater equality and opportunity for ordinary citizens, he didn't leave the job having implemented the one thing all other leading countries hold dear: socialized medicine in a form that ensures everyone has access to quality health care regardless of income.

He did fuck-all for the truly impoverished, for gay rights, for sensible drug laws, for reducing dependence on foreign oil, for reducing dependence on third world slave labour, for preparing for the Ogallala aquifer "slow disaster", etcetera.

There are a lot of problems left in the G8 nations, but the USA seems to be particularly unwilling to begin addressing them.

I don't even begin to broach the subject of the USA's participation as a nation-citizen here. Ye gods, that's an even worse disaster.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:59 PM on October 1, 2005


I don't consider the government using tax dollars to create a Ministry of Domestic Disinformation, pumping out false "news" stories that are then run on television without attribution, and hiring columnists, to be a "flyspeck" issue.

I agree, of course. Sometimes it just feels like farting into the hurricane, though.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:00 PM on October 1, 2005


Sometimes it just feels like farting into the hurricane, though.

I believe that in his testimony in the Senate, Michael Brown listed that as one of his innovations while at FEMA.
posted by papakwanz at 9:10 PM on October 1, 2005


Five - there is a growing progressive movement within the Democratic party that wholeheartedly agrees with you, that a DNC inspired Democratic nominee is just putting a nicer face on service of the same interests that Dubya did.


We need you and anyone else who is tired of business as usual corporate interest politics to join the Democratic party and help us say no to the DLC, and YES to a true progressive voice for responsibility, decency, and a focus on the issues that really matter.
posted by stenseng at 9:24 AM on October 2, 2005


I am unlikely to join the Dem party, Stenseng: I'm one of the lucky people who lives in a properly civilized G8 nation, not the USA.

Further, were I living in the USA, I wouldn't join the Dem party anyway: it will never properly represent the common people.

The USA is proving to be an experiment that failed. The interests of the common citizen are continuously being eroded in favour of enriching the already-wealthy and empowering the already-powerful.

I believe the USA is the only post-democracy country that has encountered such a breadth and depth of failure in its system. The rest of the modern world -- Canada, Australia, various Euro countries, etc -- seem to have functional democracies in which elections are perceived as honest, politicians are perceived as somewhat concerned with the needs of the majority, and checks and balances are mostly working.

The advantage these working modern government have is this: their constitutions have been written from scratch within recent history. They took what they'd learned previously and wrote a new constitution or largely amended their existing constitution, to better represent the realities of a modern society.

I think it's called "growing up." It's bloody well time for the USA to quit its teenaged years, and join the rest of us adults on the world stage.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2005


Well stated, five fresh fish.

Thomas Jefferson famously weighed in on that very issue back in his day:

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
posted by gigawhat? at 2:56 PM on October 3, 2005


The advantage these working modern government have is this: their constitutions have been written from scratch within recent history. They took what they'd learned previously and wrote a new constitution or largely amended their existing constitution, to better represent the realities of a modern society.

This is what I have been saying we need to do, but of course I haven't been able to find anyone who agrees with me. It seems so obvious to do this that it shouldn't need to even be said, but in this country you start saying things like this and then you'll probably get branded as a seditious traitor and soon enough the label "terrorist" will get slapped on you.
posted by beth at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2005


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