Writing in this weeks Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney catalogue the various strategies that have been deployed, charging, with its unprecedented campaign to undermine and, where possible, eliminate independent journalism, the Bush Administration has demonstrated astonishing contempt for the Constitution and considerable fear of an informed public.
But would it actually attempt to take-out media institutions and kill or otherwise silence journalists? Would it bomb a TV station? How far will this government go?
We know that other governments have shown little restraint. An Indonesian and a Russian journalist were poisoned on airplanes in high profile cases. Others have been disappeared, killed, jailed and tortured. Groups like Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of reporters compile the cases and regularly call for justice.
Why arent these companies speaking out when other media organizations like Al Jazeera are threatened and attacked? What are they doing to demand independent inquiries into the killings of journalists and media staff? The toll in Iraq now stands at 93, and the Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad says the US military poses a bigger threat to newsgathering than the insurgents. (Reuters has bravely challenged the Pentagon to tell the truth!)
And where is the ongoing investigation of the recently leaked information about President Bushs alleged desire to bomb Al Jazeera headquarters in Qatar? Al Jazeera offices had been attacked before in Afghanistan and Baghdad. One of their journalists has been killed and others jailed. Their staff and some media groups have protested but many media outlets are not following up or expressing outrage.
Is the allegation "outlandish," as the White House claims? Or was it a deadly serious option? Until a news organization or British official defies the Official Secrets Act and publishes the five-page memo, we have no way of knowing. But what we do know is that at the time of Bush's White House meeting with Blair, the Bush Administration was in the throes of a very public, high-level temper tantrum directed against Al Jazeera. The Bush-Blair summit took place on April 16, at the peak of the first US siege of Falluja, and Al Jazeera was there to witness the assault and the fierce resistance.
A day before Bush's meeting with Blair, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld slammed Al Jazeera in distinctly undiplomatic terms:
REPORTER: Can you definitively say that hundreds of women and children and innocent civilians have not been killed?
RUMSFELD: I can definitively say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.
REPORTER: Do you have a civilian casualty count?
RUMSFELD: Of course not, we're not in the city. But you know what our forces do; they don't go around killing hundreds of civilians. That's just outrageous nonsense. It's disgraceful what that station is doing.
What Al Jazeera was doing in Falluja is exactly what it was doing when the United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001 and when US forces killed Al Jazeera's Baghdad correspondent, Tareq Ayoub, during the April 2003 occupation of Baghdad. Al Jazeera was witnessing and reporting on events Washington did not want the world to see.
Al Jazeera staffers now have a blog called Dont bomb Us.
One staffer Yousef Al-Shouly writes: My mother (78 years old) used to tell me before going to work "my son take care", but yesterday she asked me "is it true that they want to bomb your TV station? Dont go to work."
He did. Here are some pictures:
Their staff staged a symbolic protest. They are aware that the Clinton Administration bombed the TV station in Belgrade and the Bush Administration did the same to the Iraq TV Headquarters in Baghdad. Al Jazeera demands that the British government disclose its secret document and confirm or deny the truth of the allegations. The Bush Administration must do the same.