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It was just laying there--a scoop in broad daylight

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It was just laying there. So I picked it up and stuck it in my column. OK, it belonged to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who admitted in televised hearings April 10, that 9/11 was in no small measure the result of failed U.S. foreign policy. Seems to me he tried giving it to Big Media, but in Googling around to see who else was running with this, I couldn't believe my eyes. No one else had it. That was Friday, April 11, a full 24-hour news cycle after I watched his testimony. Either I had a scoop, or else I was crazy. On Wednesday, April 16, I posted my column here and it led the page.

By Friday, April 18, 116,000 people and counting had clicked onto the OpEd News version, making it the first or second most-read story at this famously brimming website over those three days. (It placed 2nd for the calendar week, despite joining the fray mid-week). Last I checked, it had been posted at, Media With Conscience (,,,,,, Digg, Reddit, and too many others, large and small, to list here. How many clicks those represent is anybody's guess. In case you missed it, here's the headline, a teaser and a link to the OpEd News version.

Bush Defense Secretary Admits 9/11 Was Blowback

You won’t find the above headline anywhere else. Believe me, I've tried. Still, it's true. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 10, 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the following jaw-dropping statement:

“We were attacked from Afghanistan in 2001, and we are at war in Afghanistan today, in no small measure because of mistakes this government made--mistakes I among others made in the end game of the anti-Soviet war there some 20 years ago.”

That’s an astonishing confession, even if mine was the only jaw that dropped. Gates is the first high official in the Bush administration to acknowledge what war critics have been lambasted for even suggesting. OK, he didn’t use the word “blowback,” but by definition, that’s what he’s talking about...

I refer skeptics to Chalmers Johnson, author of the book, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, who wrote:

"Blowback is a CIA term first used in March 1954 in a recently declassified report on the 1953 operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. It is a metaphor for the unintended consequences of the US government's international activities that have been kept secret from the American people...." (my bold)
Certainly by that definition, Gates' admission is one of blowback. When Gates says, "We were attacked from Afghanistan in 2001, and we are at war in Afghanistan today, in no small measure because of mistakes this government made–mistakes I among others made in the end game of the anti-Soviet war there some 20 years ago,” that's textbook.

Yes, it's come to this. Big Media have grown so used to covering their backsides that it's possible simply to watch C-span and scoop BM. They let the Downing Street memos lie there. They ignored the use of banned weapons in Iraq, basically ignored Dubya's draft-dodging ways. Media in other countries scooped up such stories and ran with them. The list is nearly limitless.

Gates' confession might've been played any number of newsy ways by those interested in making a scoop. One could say Defense Chief Agrees with Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Moore and Jeremiah Wright That 9/11 Was Blowback. Or you could take the human interest angle. Robert Gates, Seeking Absolution for Wrecking Middle East Under Reagan and Bush 41, Unloads.

Playing it straight worked well enough, as it so often does. This isn't the first time li'l ole me has been first with something by taking Hemingway's advice and writing down the truest and most obvious thing I know. For instance, all the evidence cited by the White House in our lead up to bombing, invading and occupying Iraq originated with three stooges one could say--a tortured man (Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi), a mentally deranged man (code-name Curveball) and a con-man with ties to Iran (Ahmad Chalibi) . Similarly I beat the Washington Post by a couple of weeks in pointing out at least 10 obvious conflicts of interest plaguing Dick Cheney. (Part II of that is here.) OK, I was wrong in predicting Cheney would resign as a result, but that's only because BM refused to run with this obvious story. Likewise I'm the only one I know who gathered the pieces together and chronicled Dubya's systematic and pathological cruelty, starting as a boy who enjoyed stuffing firecrackers in frog's mouths and setting them off, his record-setting performance as executioner in chief in Texas, his attempt to grant waivers to allow the Navy to blast sonar that causes death and destruction to migratory whales and so on. Like Gates' testimony, the pieces were lying around in plain sight. I gave other journalists credit for each of their paint-by-number contributions, then painted the big picture myself because no one else was inclined to do it.

It's baffling. I beat the BM in pointing out how Shiites consolidated their power in one eventful week in Iraq. And what a laugh it was that B ush was coming to Tennessee, of all places, to celebrate Earth Day, with our mountains as a backdrop, while his policies were being used to blow beautiful ridge tops clean off other mountains in Tennessee, adding to Mother Earth's carbon load, while also ramping up nuclear activity in Oak Ridge National Laboratory and using TVA in the process.

Still, those weren't scoops per se. The Gates thing is a scoop. No one else got it, unless you count C-span aiming a running camera on Gates' mouth. I say all this not to brag--well not entirely--it was too easy for that. Rather, I say it to point out the sad state of American journalism, if measured in daily leavings by BM.

What makes it sad is that BM missed this salient point: Robert Gates evidently believes the lesson of Afghanistan is that we just got things wrong at the very end, not that we helped establish camps and facilities and recruiting infrastructure for the enemies we face today in Afghanistan, just as many believe the lesson of Vietnam is that we just didn't stay long enough and drop more bombs. From such delusional readings of history is our next foreign disaster conjured.

By reporting Gates' sad confession, BM might've sparked an honest debate on such topics--a debate the Bushites and other operators from the shadows cannot win in the light of honest and attentive Big Media.

Sadly, that's precisely what we don't have.

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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)
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