I still have a residual respect for the writer/faux raconteur Christopher Hitchens. Back when Dennis Miller could say fuck on his show and wasn't warped into someone else by 9/11, there was no better episode than one with Hitchens, slouched into the guest chair with a smoke and a scotch as if the interview had been moved to the green room, bantering on in a wickedly funny manner about how much he hated the Americans, but how much he preferred them to the British. I suspect I was not alone; he was on several times.
So for many of us, the bizarre reincarnation of Hitchens after 9/11 as a sort of Oscar Madison version of Andrew Sullivan*--so ardently believing in Middle East hegemony and disdainful of those who would not give President Bush the benefit of all doubt--has been something to ponder. It's not so much his general support of Bush's grandiose vision, as it is the tenacious clinging to support when it should be clear to any half-intellectual that Bush is not the right seer for the job. Someone as smart as Hitchens would have been expected to bail out on this 3rd-rate burglary of a war long ago, but rather than cut bait and put away dreams for reality, Hitchens simply insulated himself by calling cowardice on those who had the nerve (or sense) to say 'enough.'
Which is why it's more than a little flabbergasting that what Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, the Downing Street Memo, European renditions and other disgraces could not accomplish, payola to the Iraq media does:
This time, someone really does have to be fired. The revelation that Defense Department money, not even authorized by Congress for the purpose, has been outsourced to private interests and then used to plant stories in the Iraqi press is much more of a disgrace and a scandal than anyone seems so far to have said.
I mean, just picture the scene for a moment. An Iraqi family living in, say, Anbar Province, picks its way down the stoop to collect the newly delivered newspaper. This everyday operation is hazardous, but less so than going down to the corner to pick it up, because there are mad people around who do not believe that anything should be in print, save the Quran, not to mention nasty local potentates who do not like to read criticism of themselves. Further, the streets are often dark and littered with risky debris. The lead story, however, reports that all is well in the Anbar region; indeed, things are going so well that there is even a slight chance that they will one day get better. Who is supposed to be fooled by this? The immediate target is, one supposes, the long-suffering people of Iraq. But over time, the printing and dissemination of cheery reportage must have been intended to be picked up and replayed back into the American electorate. If done from state coffers, that is probably not even legal.
Digby calls this kind of agitation naive, but I find it rather more disturbing, dishonest, and blood-angering. Don't get me wrong; this is another in a long line of really dumb moves by the administration. It makes a lie and a joke out of the stated claim that we're trying to teach the Iraqis democracy, since independent and trustworthy media are a neccessary cornerstone of all democracies. I'm not arguing with the content--I'm disgusted that Hitchens has the fucking NERVE to make THIS an occassion to drop the glove and say, "That's it--heads shall roll!" I mean, you could pick from a bigger list than the fresh fish menu (pdf) at McCormick and Schmick's if you wanted to get outraged about the incompetency and mendacity of the administration on Iraq. And he picks this? This is what has put him off his morning kippers and Glenlivet?
To start with, even Hitchens agrees that the Iraqis themselves are so used to this that they're probably laughing if they read Slate. Journalist payola is not likely on the top 50 complaints of Iraqis about the way the Americans are handling things. So why Hitchens is bunged up, I cannot say.
Furthermore, in his indignance he mindlessly trounces past multiple ironies, including the manipulation of our own media in nearly the same scenario: paying off for favorable stories. Anderson Williams, hello! He's worried about insidiously cheery stories making it back to the States eventually--the stories can save the cab fare; they're being manufactured here already. And beyond the payola aspect, there's the entirely sycophantic media ass-kissing before and at the start of the war that (with the help of shadow-scared Democratic Congresspeople) made the whole thing possible. As someone directly responsible for browbeating dissenters over their reckless truths and morale-hurting caution, Hitchens shows remarkable cojones in crying over the lost spirit of free journalism NOW, after all this time. Where was he when Katie Couric was rubbing herself on the Today Show while shouting, "Marines ROCK!!" during the roll on Baghdad?
In for a pence, in for a pound, Chris. Quit making a mockery of this utter disaster of a war by getting your knickers twisted over something that yeah, sucks and hits close to home for you, but what amounts to a discarded axle on the highway of twisted metal and burned out machines that is Iraq. Take a page from Sully and finally vindicate your big brain--this isn't working.
*that is, before Sullivan himself gave up the ghost amidst so much perfidy and bufoonery from the administration...