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America's Matrix, Revisited

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"U.S. television coverage ranged from respectful to gushing, " observed New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. "Nobody seemed bothered that Mr. Bush, who appears to have skipped more than a year of the National Guard service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying experience. " [NYT, May 6, 2003]

Indeed, the likes of MSNBC 's Chris Matthews used the occasion of Bush strutting about the carrier 's deck to praise Bush 's manliness in contrast to Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. John Kerry who earned a Silver Star in Vietnam.

"Imagine Joe Lieberman in this costume, or even John Kerry, " Matthews said on MSNBC on May 1. "Nobody looks right in the role Bush has set for the presidency-commander-in-chief, medium height, medium build, looks good in a jet pilot 's costume or uniform, rather has a certain swagger, not too literary, certainly not too verbal, but a guy who speaks plainly and wins wars. I think that job definition is hard to match for the Dems. "

Mount Rushmore

Bush got the images he wanted in his carrier landing while his aides mounted a mini-cover-up of the facts. In the days after the photo op, the White House first lied about the reasons for the jet flight, insisting that it was necessary because the ship was outside helicopter range. That story fell apart when it became clear that the ship was only 30 miles offshore and slowing up to give Bush an excuse to use the jet.

A later New York Times article revealed that Bush had personally collaborated on the jet landing idea and that the imagery was choreographed by a White House advance team led by communications specialist Scott Sforza, who arrived on the carrier days earlier. The carrier landing was just one scene in a deliberate pattern of images sought by the White House, the article said.

At an economic speech in Indianapolis, people sitting behind Bush were told to take off their ties so they 'd look more like ordinary folks, WISH-TV reported. At a speech at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, cameramen were given a platform that offered up Bush 's profile as if he were already carved into the mountain with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. [NYT, May 16, 2003]

But the TV media and the American people shrugged off concerns about whether Bush had used the USS Abraham Lincoln and its crew as a political prop. A New York Times/CBS News poll found 59 percent of the American people agreeing that use of the carrier was appropriate and saying that Bush was not seeking political gain.
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So how did the American people reach this point where a majority didn 't mind being manipulated no matter how obvious or absurd the trickery?

Part of the answer, of course, relates to the trauma of Sept. 11 when the nation felt victimized and concluded that "united we stand " was the right strategy even if that meant giving Bush a blank check to do whatever he wanted, no matter how reckless.

The Matrix's Origin

But a fuller explanation for this American Matrix goes back much farther and like the Matrix in the movie we know some but not all the facts.

The American Matrix grew out of Republican anger in the 1970s. That anger followed the leaking of the Pentagon Papers which described the secret the history of the Vietnam War and the revelations about President Richard Nixon 's political abuses known as Watergate. Those two disclosures helped force U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and drove Nixon from office.
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For leading Republicans, the trauma was extreme as the party was pummeled in congressional elections in 1974 and lost the White House in 1976. An influential core of wealthy conservatives decided that they needed to assert tighter control over what information reached and influenced the people.

Led by former Treasury Secretary Bill Simon and enlisting the likes of right-wing philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife, these Republicans began pouring tens of millions of dollars into building a conservative media infrastructure to challenge the mainstream press, which the conservatives labeled "liberal. " [For more background, see Consortiumnews.com's "Democrats' Dilemma. "]

This political/media strategy gained momentum in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan 's image-savvy team worked closely with the emerging conservative media, such as Rev. Sun Myung Moon 's Washington Times which Reagan called his "favorite " newspaper. Meanwhile, a host of conservative attack groups, such as Accuracy in Media, went after journalists who exposed embarrassing facts about Reagan 's secret operations, such as the Iran-Contra scandal and drug-trafficking by the Nicaraguan contras, Reagan's beloved "freedom fighters. "

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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