Making Stuff Up

When reality isn’t good enough, fantasy takes over

by , April 19, 2013

The Boston Marathon bombing has brought out our worst – and best – instincts. On the one hand, we have the response from ordinary people – an outpouring not only of support for the people of Boston but impressive online efforts to identify the bomber(s) on 4chan and Reddit. On the other hand, we have the media and assorted axe-grinders (or do I repeat myself), deciding in advance who did it and why, and then “reporting” their largely imaginary version of the “facts.”

The Muslim-bashers immediately latched on to reports that a young Saudi national had been tackled by an onlooker and supposedly detained by police – it turns out, however, that this individual was merely fleeing the scene along with everyone else, and was being treated as a witness rather than a suspect. Now there are reports he’s being deported – and this, along with reports of an alleged unscheduled meeting between President Obama and the Saudi ambassador has the “false flag” crowd in an uproar, along with the Muslim-haters.

Evidence? Facts? People who have already decided what to believe need neither. They just make it up as they go along.

Speaking of making stuff up: a recent story in Politico – “Ron Paul Institute Opens Amid Split With Rand” – is a textbook example. The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity is one of the more hopeful signs that things are turning around: dedicated to educating the American people on the dangers of our interventionist foreign policy, it is headed up by the very able Dan McAdams, who served as a foreign policy analyst in Rep. Paul’s office. The Institute will offer a summer school for students, publications, a very nice-looking web site, and – importantly – will grade members of Congress on their foreign policy-related votes. But the Politico reporter who came to the ribbon-cutting press conference showed up with his own agenda and snarkily asked if the Institute was hoping to “abolish war.” That’s Washington for you. There are no new facts to back up the provocative headline: Sen. Rand Paul’s absence from the event denoted nothing but the fact that the Senator was busy that day. At the conference, Institute supporters, including Ron, expressed their horror at the situation in Gitmo, where prisoners who have been cleared of any wrongdoing are on hunger strike. Politico “reports” that Rand had expressed his opposition to closing Gitmo “hours earlier,” but in reality this has been the Kentucky Senator’s position all along: it’s nothing new. From the headline, you’d think Rand and Ron aren’t on speaking terms: when you read the text, however, the truth comes out – which is that Politico has its own agenda.

Speaking of not-so-hidden agendas: the Obama administration is refusing to recognize the validity of Venezuela’s recent election, won by the Chavista candidate, Vice President Nicolas Maduro by a less than 2 percent margin. The opposition is led by Henrique Capriles Radonski, a business leader and governor of the state of Miranda, who positions himself as “center-left.” The opposition is claiming the results are fraudulent, and their complaints are echoed in this piece by Reason‘s Ed Krayewski. According to Capriles, the Maduro camp occupied several voting sites, chasing out the opposition poll watchers, a report that has yet to be confirmed. Capriles also claims outright vote stealing: a credible counter-argument can be found here. Krayewski’s own agenda comes out of the closet when he writes:

“The government has blamed violence during protests that erupted in the country after Sunday’s election on the opposition, with Maduro promising to come down on the country with a ‘hard hand‘ and accusing Capriles of trying to plan a coup (Maduro’s predecessor, Chavez, led a hilariously disastrous coup attempt in the 90s).”

Krayewski somehow forgets to mention the 2002 US-backed coup against Chavez, who came out of it a hero, returning to power in triumph on the strength of massive popular protests. As with all US government programs, foreign as well as domestic, Washington’s ham-handed attempt to intervene had the exact opposite of its intended result. The failed ’02 coup, I might add, was supported and carried out by many of the same people and organizations that figure prominently in the Capriles camp.

Krayewski characterizes Chavez’s 1992 attempted putsch as “hilariously disastrous,” yet it made him a national hero. Then-President Carlos Andres Perez – later impeached for embezzlement – was enormously unpopular: having been elected on a platform of opposing demands by the International Monetary Fund to cut social programs and allow foreign capital to penetrate the country, upon his inauguration he turned on a dime and caved in to the IMF ultimatum. The country was in crisis: crime was rampant, business was fleeing, corruption was rife – precisely the list of complaints enumerated by critics of Chavismo today.

In any case, as I detailed here, the “hilarious” coup attempt forced the government to allow Chavez to address the country on national television (where he insisted on wearing his military uniform). The authorities were also forced to move him to a new, less accessible prison when huge crowds gathered daily demanding his immediate release. A popular movie was made about the affair, and the next president won election partly on the strength of a promise to free him. If not for that “disaster,” Chavez might never have achieved power.

Say what you like about Chavez – in my own view, he wasn’t a commie, but a nationalist who implemented rather run-of-the-mill social democratic policies when in power – he wasn’t a “dictator,” as the headline accompanying Krayewski’s piece suggests, (nor is the uncharismatic Maduro likely to become one). Chavez’s party, after all, won no less than nine national elections during the strongman’s lifetime. And given the ’02 coup, Maduro’s contention that Capriles is fronting for a repeat can hardly be dismissed out of hand.

Krayewski is hostile to the supposedly “socialist” Maduro, and his ire clearly colors his account, but Washington’s interest in all this has nothing to do with Chavez’s domestic agenda, which is in reality very similar to the Obama administration’s – social uplift, government-as-provider, and especially in its appeal to Venezuela’s poor mestizo peasant population. Washington is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong – in the midst of the Venezuelan election – because the Chavistas oppose the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Capriles dutifully echoes the US State Department’s sallies against Caracas for daring to have relations with such “rogue” regimes as Iran and Belarus. Yet most of the world’s governments recognize and maintain embassies in Tehran: the US is the exception.

Chavez’s demonstrative support for Iran, in particular, angered Washington – and led to a campaign by the Israel lobby to label the Venezuelan leader an anti-Semite. In this version of the Chavismo-is-a-menace narrative, Chavez the left-wing ally of Fidel Castro was turned into a Hitlerite with murky connections to a sinister far-right theorist, Norberto Ceresole. What this leaves out is the part where Ceresole was forced to depart Venezuela for his native Argentina at the behest of Foreign Minister Jose Vincente Rangel.

My point – and, yes, there is one – is that we all have our agendas. Especially me. Yet I try to stick with the known facts, and leave the unknown facts to soothsayers like Donald Rumsfeld.

Come to think of it, that’s why we started Antiwar.com to begin with – to separate fact from fiction in the War Party’s propaganda. In the process of unraveling all the lies, half-truths, and outright forgeries that made the Iraq (and Balkan) wars possible, it became – for me – a methodological as well as ideological cause to ferret out the often hidden truth from the mythology we’re inundated with on a daily basis. Which is why I’ve been known to subject my own “side” to the same unforgiving gaze.

The Boston marathon massacre has brought out the worst in American journalism, as reporters jostle with one another in a frantic rush to get the story first (rather than get it right) – and as opinionators rush into print with opinions based on little else but pure speculation. The “sides” are already drawn up, with the usual suspects playing their tried-and-tired roles: we have the Muslim-baiters, the lefties convinced it was right-wing gun nuts, and “truthers” hoisting the “false flag” story up the flagpole in hopes the usual types will dutifully salute. The reality is that, as of this writing [Thursday, 2:37 pm PST] we know next to nothing about the perpetrator(s), and less than that about his/their motive. We’ll just have to wait and see – an admonition that, in the Land of Instant Gratification, is bound to fall on deaf ears.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I should note that, in praising the efforts of amateur detectives ferreting out overlooked evidence of the bombers’ identity, there is also the danger of this. Over-eagerness leads to sloppiness, and the innocent can easily be victimized.

I’m having great fun on Twitter these days, and I urge you to join me on this wonderfully interactive site: you can do so by going here.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy my biography of the great libertarian thinker, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), here.

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