War Coverage and the Obama Cult

There was a time when Cindy Sheehan couldn’t go anywhere without having a microphone and a TV camera stuck in front of her. As she camped out in front of George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch, mourning the death of her son Casey in Iraq and calling attention to an unjust, unnecessary, and unwinnable war, the media created in her a symbolic figure whose public agony epitomized a growing backlash against the militarism and unmitigated arrogance of the Bush administration. It was a powerful image: a lone woman standing up to the most powerful man on earth in memory of her fallen son.

Touting "an exclusive interview with Cindy Sheehan" on Good Morning America, four years ago ABC anchorman Charles Gibson intoned: "Standing her ground. She lost her son in Iraq, she opposes the war, now she’s camped out at President Bush’s ranch and says she won’t leave until he meets with her."

The level of coverage only increased in the coming days and weeks. As Cindy continued her vigil, Gibson enthused:

"All across the country protests against the war in Iraq, inspired by the mother standing her ground at President Bush’s ranch."

Flashing across their television screens, viewers saw the headline “MOM ON A MISSION: IS ANTIWAR MOVEMENT GROWING?” as Gibson averred:

“This morning a war of words. All across the country protests against the war in Iraq, inspired by the mother standing her ground at President Bush’s ranch. But is anyone in the White House feeling the heat?”

That was then. This is now: in an interview [.mp3] with Chicago’s WLS radio on Aug. 18, Gibson was asked whether his network planned to cover Sheehan’s plans to travel to Martha’s Vineyard, where she is protesting the escalation of the war in Afghanistan while President Obama is vacationing there. Gibson’s answer:

"Enough already."

It is one thing to decide war protests aren’t newsworthy, that they’re just the irrelevant emanations of a fringe element radically out of step with the 99 percent of the country that’s marching happily off to war. That, however, is very far from being the case. Back in 2005, Cindy represented a minority that was on its way to becoming a majority. Today, she starts off her renewed vigil with over half of the American people agreeing with her that the Afghan war isn’t worth it.

Yet Gibson’s announced news blackout is being observed well nigh universally: aside from Rush Limbaugh, only the generally conservative Boston Herald, the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette, a daytime MSNBC news show, and a few blogs bothered noticing Sheehan’s determination to be "an equal opportunity vacation disruption," as the Herald writer put it. The bitterness of conservatives over the obvious double standard is expressed by Limbaugh in terms of the usual partisan rhetoric:

"When she’s out there revving up people against George W. Bush, it’s, let’s cover her 24/7, let’s make sure we have our cameras out there outside Bush’s ranch when she’s there, whatever she’s saying, whatever she’s doing, if she goes down and meets with Hugo Chavez, our cameras will be there. They could not get enough of her. Now that she’s headed to Martha’s Vineyard, the State-Controlled Media, Charlie Gibson, State-Controlled Anchor, ABC: ‘Enough already.’ Cindy, leave it alone, get out, we’re not interested, we’re not going to cover you going to Martha’s Vineyard because our guy is president now and you’re just a hassle. You’re just a problem. To these people, they never had any true, genuine emotional interest in her. She was just a pawn. She was just a woman to be used and then thrown overboard once they’re through with her and they’re through with her. They don’t want any part of Cindy Sheehan protesting against any war when Obama happens to be president."

While Cindy is nobody’s pawn – as she is proving by her actions – the general point Limbaugh is making seems all too true. So why isn’t he cheering?

After all, what did this pro-war blowhard have to say about Cindy back when Gibson was breathlessly broadcasting her every utterance? Well, he basically said she was a traitor and a fraud, comparing her to Bill Burkett, who provided CBS with phony "evidence" purporting to show Bush’s failure to show up for National Guard training. "Her story," he said, "is nothing more than forged documents." Sheehan’s crusade, he claimed, was all part of a "coordinated" plan by the "far Left," which he seemed to equate with the Democratic Party.

In the beginning of this year, when a caller asked "where are all the … Cindy Sheehans, the Code Pink Tuscaderos [sic] of the Democratic Party" now that Obama is in the White House, Limbaugh replied:

"Well, frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I had enough of Cindy Sheehan to last me a lifetime. She was always a nonfactor anyway. I mean, Cindy Sheehan, this is a poor woman who’s lost her mind, and then that fact was used by the Drive-By Media to further drive her crazy into making everybody and her think that she was relevant, only because she was willing to accept enough money from a California PR film to build and occupy a little shack across the road from Bush’s house down in Crawford, Texas."

Aside from the fact that he has no idea whether or not she has the same media handlers – the True Majority group, founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, hired Fenton Communications to handle Cindy’s media relations and thanked her when she (prematurely) announced her "retirement" from peace activism – one has to wonder what Rush is complaining about. Gibson is doing just what the bombastic radio commentator always wanted him to do: ignoring Cindy’s antiwar protest.

Can’t we all just get along? On the higher levels of the commentariat, the "Left" and the "Right" are slow-dancing in perfect harmony whenever Obama plays a martial tune. Now that the Obamaite think-tanks, such as the Center for a New American Security and the Center for American Progress, are holding joint conferences with Rush’s neocon buddies – Bill Kristol and his Foreign Policy Initiative – hailing Obama’s Afghan "surge" and proffering advice on how best to go about it, Rush ought to relax. He and Keith Olbermann can now march together, arm in arm, into the glorious war-torn future, united in steadfastly ignoring the Cindy Sheehans of this world.

We, of course, are not ignoring her passionate protest, including in our news section – but, then again, we don’t fit into the Left/Right dichotomy that the "mainstream" media is stuck in and has a financial interest in promoting. With Keith Olbermann capturing the self-described "left-wing" pro-Obama demographic, and Limbaugh/Hannity/O’Reilly going after the anti-Obama crowd, they’re divvying up the demographic pie, with Fox News settling for the older crowd, and MSNBC going for the younger and more "hip" set.

Here at Antiwar.com it isn’t about demographics or Obama, and it certainly isn’t about the two major parties, both of which now accept the central premise of America’s wars: that the U.S. has both the right and means to police the world.

In rejecting that onerous principle, we stand outside the bipartisan "consensus" and the whole ersatz Left/Right division of American opinion – whose proponents exhibit a curious unity when it comes to the vital question of foreign policy.

As much as Limbaugh and his right-wing brothers and sisters railed against the "liberal" media for undermining the war effort, they never really questioned the factual basis of the administration’s case for invading Iraq: that Saddam Hussein possessed "weapons of mass destruction," that he was on the verge of attacking his neighbors, and that he had proven links to the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Instead, they reported these claims uncritically – even as they were being debunked right here on this Web site.

The lesson of all this is simple: the "mainstream" media simply can’t be trusted. That’s why newspapers are losing circulation at a rapid clip, and television news is fading in importance. It’s not the Internet that’s killing off the sainted mandarins of the "mainstream" – it’s their role as transmission belts for official propaganda, whether it be from the government or the partisan opposition. They’re shills, and everybody knows it.

That’s why Antiwar.com is more important than ever – and isn’t it ironic that we’re clinging to life by a very thin thread, just at the moment when we’re needed the most?

Oh, well, life is like that, you know. I never expected it to be easy. Yet even I have to admit that this fundraising campaign is beginning to scare me: we’re way behind where we were at this point last time around, to say nothing of last year. The number of contributors is equivalent, and even shows signs of increasing, but the amounts are smaller by as much as half. We all are facing some hard economic times. It just means we’ll have to extend our fundraising campaign by as much as a week – hopefully not more. But we’ll do what we have to do to stay afloat.

If you haven’t given, or even if you have, I want to extend this appeal to all my readers, even the ones who don’t agree with some (or much) of what I have to say in this space. You may love Obama or you may bitterly oppose him: whatever. You need to realize, however, that this isn’t about him. It’s about maintaining a skeptical approach to the foreign policy currently being conducted by those geniuses in Washington, who think they know all there is to know to bring order to a disorderly world.

It’s about maintaining a wonderfully complete source of hard news, as well as an outlet for dissenting opinions – often colorfully expressed – in an age of ideological conformity and bland "pragmatism."

It’s about maintaining the tradition of independent journalism in a world where "journalists" are bought and sold like the ladies of Amsterdam’s red-light district and events are viewed through a partisan prism.

Antiwar.com has stood like a rock against the War Party, resisting and opposing the pressure that is brought to bear on any popular media outlet these days, and we’ve been doing it since 1995. Don’t let this be our final year – which, I’m sad to say, is a very real possibility. Please make your tax-deductible contribution today.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].