God knows who’s surprised that the Pentagon has been subtly controlling TV commentary on the Iraq war. A huge story in the NY Times today documents the way in which retired military officers, appearing as consultants on the remorseless 24 feed of the TV news networks, have been basically run by the American military — mostly willingly, but with any dissension dealt with by the threat of being cut off from the juicy tidbits of genuine info that the newstubes occasionally flavour the propaganda with. There was nothing subtle about these briefings — the retired generals, admirals etc were often pulled in at short notice, sometimes having to fly across country, for explicit briefings on the latest line.

These were in no way official spokespeople mind you — their value was as gritty independent types, who purportedly knew enough about how wars happen to be able to cut through the official propaganda.

But really, the moment you see these jokers in a headshot, ramrod straight, like Forrest Gump without the quick wit, what are you supposed to think? American TV has a dual character, thanks to the provision of public access TV channels in the basic cable packages that practically everybody has. Flick through the list and it’s a roll-call of lumpy people in cheap clothes sitting in a classroom somewhere and talking about school board issues in a perfectly reasonable way. Flick further through to the news networks and it’s like the Nazis won the war. Shiny, shiny people with hard edges and ultraviolet teeth, swapping fifteen-second soundbites in a parody of debate. Who ever believed that Gen Blopfiss (Retd) (Retarded) was going to say anything disloyal to the service he gave thirty years of his life to:

You cannot hope to bribe or twist
Thank God, the American reservist
But given what the man will do
Unbribed, there’s no occasion to

In Oz and the UK they tend to rely on strategic studies academics – also funny cos these guys are usually postmodern Baudrillardian hypermarxists, or look like they are, like that Aldo something guy who used to appear on the ABC, and who any self-respecting counter-insurgency commander would have shot before he got out of the Humvee.

The soundbite culture has been the last bulwark between the American public and a full understanding of the Iraq disaster, since even its mildest critics barely get the chance to finish a sentence. The exception, funnily enough, is an Australian journo Michael Ware, who gets an extended run on whatever show he’s talking to, if only because he makes the late Steve Irwin sound like Dame Leonie Kramer. Ware gives a more excoriating take on Iraq and Afghanistan than just about anyone, but I suspect that like cats watching TV, his interlocutors are just watching the moving shapes and forget to cut him off . It could also be because Ware is an advocate of staying in Iraq (on “you broke it, you fix it” grounds), which may be as close to an antiwar opinion as you’re allowed to get.

The whole thing is set up for gotcha moments, and these would appear to be accumulating at such a rate that they are seriously affecting Barack Obama, the Teflon man with the plan.

Last week’s debate has already been sharply criticised for being overly dominated by scandal and gaffes, though to this viewer it seemed only a difference of degree and style from earlier debates, plus the interruption of fifteen different ads for stool-softener medication.

Nevertheless, its Obama-Weatherman 60s bombers links are being followed up by McCain, who suggested that these things, even if they happened decades back, should be remembered, before answering a question on his numerous temper outbursts with the testy remark that that was a long time 15, 20 years – ago.

As a public figure at the moment, Obama is on the ropes. Looking back at the debate you can see that a lot of its sense of futile torpor is Bama’s lack of energy and his distractedness. Hillary can always draw on some last reserve of energy, no matter if it’s the eighth Local 254 Slurrygroovers Hall appearance of the day, throwing down the hoagies for fuel, while Barack is like a supermodel at an airport bar, wilting between cigarettes and vodka.

In a week when former UK deputy prime-minister John Prescott has announced that he, all 320 pounds of him, suffers from bulimia (or to use the exact term, big fatty greedy boom-bah) why should not Obama have the other one? He never eats apparently, and it hasn’t occurred to anyone that the man performs so badly cos he’s having a hypo.

With Camp Clinton joining McCain in raising the weatherman issue in mailers, and a big vet, patriot, g- well, you saw The Deer Hunter, that was set in Pennsylvania, the brotherly love state won’t have much love for the brother, I am betting. Barring revelations that one of Hillary’s advisors runs the Mahdi Army in his off-hours, I think Hills will take the state by 8% and stay in the race. But she’ll need more than a 10% win — and really a 15% grand slam — to be seen as anything other than a walking corpse.

At which point she can always get work on TV…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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