This will be a tale of two cities: Two Washingtons, two governments, two mass medias, and two political topics that bind them.
Earlier in the month, the whistleblower organization WikiLeaks released the grisly and brutal footage from 2007 of an Apache helicopter gunning down a group of Iraqi men in New Baghdad, including two Reuters employees. The footage also revealed the helicopter firing on a rescue van which had arrived to pick up a wounded man, an attack for which the driver was killed and two children were wounded. The video appeared to show that most (though not all) of the men killed in the attack were unarmed, and none of them were engaging in hostile activity against American troops.
While there has been substantial reaction from political observers and military personnel since the video's release on April 5, there has been very little response from U.S. government officials. Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates commented that the video was "painful" to watch, but added that he did not think it would have any lasting consequences on the global image of the U.S.
In addition, to my knowledge, no Congressman or Senator has released any statements about their reaction to the video, nor has there been any signs that Congress would investigate the matter or hold hearings to determine all of the facts in the case. Even if Congress accepted the military's prior explanation that most of the men killed in the strike were insurgents, that still does not explain the rationale behind the second strike when the helicopter opened fire on a clearly wounded man and the van that came to rescue him -- an action that basically warrants a Congressional review, considering that the Rules of Engagement state that the military affords protections to those who "collect and care for the wounded, whether friend or foe." Washington's response to the WikiLeaks video has thus far been almost completely silent. This has been the reaction of Government #1.
Enter Government #2. Compare and contrast the lack of a response from Washington over the WikiLeaks video to Capitol Hill's reaction to the ACORN video controversy. Last September, James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles released several selectively edited videos designed to embarrass the community-based organization, alleging that ACORN's staff members were giving advice on tax evasion and setting up a prostitution ring. The first of these videos was released on the morning of September 10, 2009, where O'Keefe posted the video to Andrew Breitbart's right-wing website biggovernment.com. It would not be long before Congress took serious action.
Numerous conservatives soon took to the airwaves demanding that Congress strip ACORN of all federal funding based on these allegations in the videos. On September 10, Steve King (R-IA) said that the videos confirmed ACORN was operating as a "criminal enterprise," demanding a Congressional investigation of the organization. On September 14, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to block ACORN from receiving federal housing grants. On September 15, House Minority Leader John Boehner sent a letter -- co-signed by 132 House Republicans -- to President Obama requesting that he use his authority to disclose the sources of ACORN's funds and terminate them permanently. Then, on September 17, the House voted -- again, overwhelmingly -- to cut all of ACORN's federal funding.
Just think about the timeline for a second: Only seven days passed between the release of the first O'Keefe video and the votes from both chambers of Congress to strip ACORN of federal funds. There had been no formal, judicial investigation of the allegations made in the ACORN videos to that point. There had not been any Congressional hearings to determine if the charges of tax evasion and prostitution rings warranted criminal trials against ACORN employees. It didn't even matter that the O'Keefe videos were exposed as selectively edited hit pieces -- innuendo parading as "journalism" -- and that ACORN would later be cleared of criminal wrongdoing by multiple independent bodies who investigated the evidence and held it up to judicial scrutiny. None of that stopped the Republicans from waging a crusade to block ACORN from receiving federal funding -- a mission culminating in an unconstitutional bill of attainder for which a majority of elected Democrats cowardly supported.
Obviously, right-wing outrage over ACORN did not begin on September 10, 2009 -- the O'Keefe videos were a byproduct of the Republican-led war against the organization which had metastasized for years and reached a fever pitch during the 2008 campaign season. But why is it that the government moved swiftly and decisively to strip ACORN of federal funding following the release of the O'Keefe videos, yet the same government took no such steps to strip federal funding for the Iraq War following the release of the WikiLeaks video? Or, if blocking war funding based on the one WikiLeaks video would be considered too extreme, why haven't there been calls from elected officials for a full Congressional investigation of the 2007 Apache incident? It's almost as though there are two different governments at work: One where allegations and video evidence of murder in Iraq receive virtually no attention, and another where allegations and phony video evidence of ACORN's supposed involvement with prostitution rings receive excessive attention and a vote to defund the group in question without trial.
Furthermore, consider that certain figures in the traditional media also appear to be operating on two different planes with respect to these specific issues. Shortly after the WikiLeaks video was released, CNN's Wolf Blitzer showed a brief clip of the video on The Situation Room in which the network not only refused to show the footage of the helicopter firing on the group of men, but failed to even mention that the same video depicted the helicopter firing on a rescue van with two children inside it. CNN defended their choice to shield viewers from seeing the actual attacks "out of respect for the families" of the Reuters employees who were killed -- an odd rationale, given that the actual families of the victims have demanded accountability for their loved ones' deaths and, in response to seeing the video, have expressed sentiments like this:
"God has answered my prayer in revealing this tape to the world," said the photographer’s father, who taught his son how to take pictures. "I would have sold my house and all that I own in order to show this tape to the world."
Now, compare that with CNN's coverage of the ACORN video controversy. On the September 16, 2009 episode of The Situation Room, Blitzer not only showed clips of O'Keefe's edited tapes, but repeatedly pressed ACORN's CEO Bertha Lewis about the grassroots group's supposed "bad apples" and listed off numerous parties who were said to be planning an investigation of ACORN, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the FBI. On the September 16, 2009 episode of American Morning, the network aired the edited conversations with ACORN employees, with correspondent Abbie Boudreau providing analysis suggesting that the videos showed incriminating evidence among ACORN employees. The doctored footage was also shown repeatedly -- on at least three separate occasions -- on Lou Dobbs's show between September 11-17, 2009.
The message was clear: CNN had no problem airing a right-wing filmmaker's edited footage describing allegations of facilitating prostitution among ACORN employees; but steadfastly refused to air the footage from WikiLeaks describing allegations of collateral murder in Iraq. And that's to say nothing of Fox News, which published an article doubting the credibility and accuracy of the WikiLeaks video only two days after it was released -- all while their network stars repeatedly promoted O'Keefe's manufactured ACORN videos without challenge or question, and irresponsibly parroted right-wing smears about ACORN being a criminal organization, for several weeks and months.
So, to recap:
Government #1 remains extremely quiet over the killings depicted in the WikiLeaks video, with no calls for an investigation of the incident. Government #2 explodes with outrage over innuendo depicted in the O'Keefe/ACORN videos, and votes to defund ACORN without any formal investigation of the charges in court. What these two governments have in common is that powerful media interests actively seek to distort information and suppress the truth of both issues.
The important question, then, is why these seemingly disparate governments have completely contradictory reactions to these two controversies, despite the fact that both sets of videos alleged to have depicted criminal wrongdoing when they were first released. The reality is that there aren't two American governments operating in multiple universes -- it's the same government with the same players -- yet it's a power structure that treated ACORN as a witch to be burned at the stake without a trial, whereas the killing and wounding of civilians in Iraq has thus far been treated with virtual silence. Why is that?
In all probability, the long answer to that question has something to do with our elected officials' paralyzing fear of Terrorists, and the Republicans' cynical desire to exploit fear and anger among the citizenry over the threat of Terrorism for political gain. Terrorism is the all-encompassing mantra that our government uses to justify all of our nation's actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to act as a cultural barrier preventing elected officials from investigating irresponsible and brutal conduct in war out of fear that doing so would make them "soft on Terror." Similarly, it might have to do with right-wing fears that ACORN somehow stole the election for Obama, and the Republicans' cynical desire to exploit that fear among the populace.
The long answer would probably also involve a close examination of our national media's coverage of these issues, and would discuss how corporate news outlets regularly mislead and distort the facts by repeating false claims from those in power. With respect to combating Terrorism, that may explain why media networks like CNN and newspapers like The New York Times incorrectly asserted that the February 12 killing of five civilians in Afghanistan came at the hands of insurgents, when the acts were actually perpetrated by U.S. troops who then subsequently attempted to cover up the evidence. With respect to ACORN, it may explain why 55% of 647 ACORN stories in print and TV news outlets from 2007-2008 focused on allegations of voter fraud, and why 76% of news stories in October 2008 used the same framing, while most of the same stories ignored how Republicans were using these allegations to discredit the votes of mostly low-income and minority Americans -- according to a study from Peter Dreier and Christopher R. Martin.
The short answer to the question? It's simple: Hypocrisy.
Last Wednesday, the Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin expressed his own anger over Washington's silence on the WikiLeaks video, stating, "I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit." I completely agree. Our government's excessive and unconstitutional actions last September on ACORN were an absolute disgrace. That they may not give enough of a shit to take any action at all to investigate the killings in New Baghdad would be equally disgraceful.