The American Matrix grew, too, with the altering of U.S. intelligence to buttress the case for war against Iraq.
As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh discovered, a small group of neo-conservative ideologues, calling themselves the Cabal and stationed at the Pentagon 's Office of Special Plans, reworked U.S. intelligence on Iraq 's weapons of mass destruction to help justify a U.S. invasion. The Cabal was organized by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of Bush 's policy of pre-emptive attack against perceived American enemies, Hersh wrote in an article for The New Yorker.
"Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true that Saddam Hussein had close ties to al-Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States, " Hersh wrote, citing a Pentagon adviser who supported the Cabal 's work.
Hersh also quoted a former Bush administration intelligence official as saying he quit because "they were using the intelligence from the CIA and other agencies only when it fit their agenda. They didn 't like the intelligence they were getting, and so they brought in people to write the stuff. They were so crazed and so far out and so difficult to reason with to the point of being bizarre. Dogmatic, as if they were on a mission from God. "
Hersh found, too, that Wolfowitz and other key neo-conservatives at the Pentagon were disciples of the late political philosopher Leo Strauss, who believed that some deception of the population is necessary in statecraft. "The whole story is complicated by Strauss 's idea actually Plato 's that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians, " said Stephen Holmes, a law professor at New York University. [The New Yorker, May 12, 2003]
While the post-Sept. 11 period was creating these new openings for the Pentagon 's Straussians to manipulate the American people, it was also offering enticing opportunities for the U.S. cable news networks to "brand " themselves in red, white and blue.
While unapologetic flag-waving journalism on cable news had been pioneered by Rupert Murdoch 's conservative Fox News network, third-ranked MSNBC seized the new opportunity with the most obvious zeal. The network, a Microsoft-General Electric collaboration, dumped war critic Phil Donahue, adopted the administration 's title for the war "Operation Iraqi Freedom " and emblazoned an American flag on the corner of its screens, just like Fox.
During the war, MSNBC flooded its programming with sentimental salutes to the troops, including mini-profiles of U.S. soldiers in a feature called "America 's Bravest. " The network also broadcast Madison Avenue-style promos of the war that featured images of heroic U.S. troops and happy Iraqis, without any blood-stained images of overflowing hospitals, terrified children or grieving mothers. The promos carried messages, such as "Home of the Brave " and "Let Freedom Ring. "
Reporting about U.S. military reversals during the early days of the war also brought swift reprisals. When veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett observed accurately to an Iraqi TV interviewer that Iraqi military resistance was stiffer than U.S. military planners had expected, he was fired by NBC and kicked off its MSNBC affiliate.
Web sites, such as this one, were hit with angry e-mails from readers furious at any suggestion that the war was not a total success or that the Bush administration had colored its war-fighting scenarios with dangerous wishful thinking. Even taking note of obvious facts, such as the failure of the administration 's initial "shock and awe " bombing strategy, was controversial.
Ironically, while telling these truths real-time could bring reprisals, Bush himself acknowledged their accuracy later.
"Shock and awe said to many people that all we 've got to do is unleash some might and people will crumble, " Bush said in an interview with NBC 's Tom Brokaw. "And it turns out the fighters were a lot fiercer than we thought. ...The resistance for our troops moving south and north was significant resistance. " [NBC Nightly News interview, released April 25, 2003]
As craven as the U.S. media 's behavior may have been, flag-waving journalism worked where it counted in the ratings race. While MSNBC remained in third place among U.S. cable news outlets, it posted the highest ratings growth in the lead-up to war and during the actual fighting, up 124 percent compared with a year earlier. Fox News, the industry leader, racked up a 102 percent gain and No. 2 CNN rose 91 percent. [WSJ, April 21, 2003]