The New York Daily News, with its long tradition of lurid and stupid headlines, outdid itself in its special welcome for Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week, warning him: “If you even think of setting foot near Ground Zero, you can GO TO HELL!”
The accompanying editorial was one of the ripest specimens of yellow journalism I’ve seen in a while: “No. No. No. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can not be allowed to defile Ground Zero, must be stopped from exploiting this hallowed landmark, this tragic product of a fanaticism cousin to the demons in Ahmadinejad’s soul.”
Cousin? Is this what you call moral relativism?
I wonder how many frustrated racist-patriots out there, silenced by a disastrous war effort and hemmed in by the cruel strictures of political correctness, felt this bit of media jingoism resonate with a soul-satisfying, secret ka-ching-g-g?
This is my worry, and my purpose in refusing to let such calculated hysteria pass. With Iran in Dick Cheney’s crosshairs, the Daily News and other members of the media pile-on crowd descend to a level of moral repugnance that must not go uncensured. By exalting Ahmadinejad as the new face of evil, replacing Saddam, they once again summon forth the reptile-brain emotions of the American public and justify whatever is to come, even nuclear war. (“Go to hell” has, after all, a literal meaning these days.)
And the pretext for doing this is America’s “hallowed landmark,” Ground Zero, the spot where the Towers fell and thousands died — a spot so sacred, so respected by . . . well, the current administration, for instance, that George Bush kicked off his 2004 re-election campaign by hauling out footage of the horror, garnering this comment from a New York firefighter: “It’s as sick as people who stole things out of the place. The image of firefighters at ground zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics.”
But there’s nothing like a ghastly enemy to absolve us of our sins and make us feel good again (and maybe even swell newspaper sales). After damning Ahmadinejad to hell on page one, the Daily News had no room left to write about the unfolding Blackwater scandal and the indiscriminate firing by lawless mercenaries on Iraqi citizens.
Nor did I notice supplemental mention of former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan’s widely touted comment in his new book that the Iraq war was mostly about oil — sacred oil, of course, secured in the names of the American dead of 9/11 (it’s what they would have wanted).
Gone, vanished, also were the hideous memories and images of Abu Ghraib and American GIs torturing bad Iraqis and, of course, the war crimes and sheer slaughter (hundreds of thousands dead) and the spread of toxic, cancer-causing substances such as depleted uranium; and the EPA’s false, post-9/11 all-clear that allowed Wall Street to reopen in asbestos-rife air; and embarrassing memories of the lack of adequate protective gear for the rescue workers, some of whom (as documented by Michael Moore) can’t get health coverage today to deal with their respiratory afflictions.
Who cares about this stuff when the Beast of Iran is in town and threatening to lay a wreath at and thereby defile the hallowed landmark that gives us permission to keep fighting for God and oil?
This hallowed landmark, this Pearl (or “Perle,” as in neocon Richard) Harbor of the new millennium, is indeed God’s answer to the report that issued forth from the think tank called Project for the New American Century, whose members included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush and Paul Wolfowitz, in September 2000, yearning for a hefty increase in the military budget and U.S. hegemony in the Persian Gulf. All it would take, Lord, for this to happen in a timely manner, the report explained, is “some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.”
And voila, a year later, God and the cousins of the demons in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s soul (they all look alike, y’know?) did the dirty deed, brought down the Towers — and galvanized a nation, a presidency and a prior agenda. The press is known for its cynicism, but not about this. Here, clearly, is sacred ground that must be defended to the last copy editor.
Enough, enough. There’s cause in all this for citizens to feel pride and hope in their country, as well as to hemorrhage despair. Kudos, for instance, to the New York Times, which put things in perspective by pointing out that, in 1938, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia extended a truly American welcome to visiting Nazi officials by creating a special police squad to protect them, led by Jewish cops; and to Columbia University, for putting its faith in what truly is sacred about America: freedom of speech.
The exploitation of the tragedy of 9/11 has led this country down a dark road. Allowing an “enemy” to lay a wreath at Ground Zero might signal the way back.
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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column ator visit his Web site at commonwonders.com.