The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, February 27, 2005
 

The contemptible media: 1950 vintage


Again, from Master of the Senate - the gift that keeps giving: one of the rungs in Johnson's stairway to the stars was the 'Preparedness Investigating' subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee that he finagled into existence, with him as chairman (p304ff).

His way with the press (p325) involved leaking of proof copies of subcommittee reports to select members of that guild, who were given to understand that they were getting the Crown Jewels, when, usually, it was just tat: warmed over material from other official sources.

The journos, ever happy to hump an important leg, lapped it up. Thus, Time's Frank McNaughton sent a wire to his New York bosses that sounds as if he was is mid-hump when he drafted it:
NOT FOR USE, WE HAVE READ THE PRELIMINARY DRAFTS OF LYNDON JOHNSON'S COMMITTEE REPORTS ON MILITARY PROCUREMENT, WHICH WILL START ISSUING IN ANOTHER TWO WEEKS, POSSIBLY TEN DAYS. THEY SHOW UP GLARING DELAYS IN PROCURING 3.5 BAZOOKAS.

Whilst the hacks were in this tumescent state, Johnson had
an opportunity to "explain" [the report's] significance, and the fact that the report would remain secret until the journalist printed it meant that an evaluation of the explanation could not be obtained from anyone else.

Often the bombshell turned out to be a damp squib. But - as if you hadn't guessed - Johnson had a way of dealing with such glitches:
He had been privately promising James L McConaughy [of Time] major revelations about lagging defense deliveries; when the revelations proved less than major, he told McConaughy, as McConaughy reported in his weekly memo to his editors: "Trouble is, the committee can't figure out a way to tell the public just how bad the situation is without revealing information damaging to security."

Were the hacks - or their editors and managers - really fooled by Johnson's self-serving shenanigans? (One detects a cynical note in that McConaughy quote, for instance.) It hardly matters: they were happy to play with the nice toys Uncle Lyndon gave them because it served their economic interests to do so.

And the public, who, from press coverage, might well have conceived the notion their interests were being served by LBJ's circus, were utterly misled.

(Part of the fraud consisted in the comparison, assiduously urged by Johnson, between his subcommittee and the committee chaired by Harry Truman during World War 2. My understanding is that Truman's committee actually helped the war effort - as well as Truman's career: Johnson's seems to have helped only Johnson.)

In peddling Ahmed Chalabi's lies about Iraqi WMD, Judith Miller, Howell Raines and Arthur Sulzberger were following a well-trodden path. (And, to be fair to LBJ, he didn't help to start the Korean War...)


MORE

A gem from Ochs Towers on Is it a bird? Johnson (MotS p342):
In the New York Times Magazine [June 17 1951], there was "JOHNSON OF THE WATCHDOG COMMITTEE" ("He is interested in results, not headlines," the subhead said) "He is tall, dark and handsome," Eliot Janeway wrote. "He inhabits an oral universe of discourse...and from 6.30 am to the small hours of the next day, he ranges across it, arguing, listening, 'needling', explaining, compromising, chain-smoking and chain-telephoning. Yet out of this whirl of extroverted activity Johnson has distilled the seemingly contradictory virtues of patience and tolerance." The subcommittee's unanimity reflects his "placing of patriotism above party", Janeway said.

That strikes me as a guy writing fiction by the yard. It has the equivalent of the sob in the voice that Humphrey Bogart tells Mary Astor is giving her away in The Maltese Falcon. Or an actor winking aside to the audience: Washington a freemasonry, in which the suckers are the object of common ridicule.

Or, perhaps I'm wrong, and Janeway was a shmuck.


STILL MORE

Johnson's house of cards tumbled, it seems, when he finagled a Newsweek cover story (December 3 1951) based on a leak of one of his phoney reports (MotS p343).

This, when it became apparent that Newsweek had been sold a bill of goods (the Pentagon decided to scream blue murder this time), was an indignity too far for the hacks, and the Washington Post put Alfred Friendly, one of its top men (apparently), to do a seven part series on the subject-matter of Johnson's subcommittee, which arrived at very different conclusions.

They couldn't take back the publicity Johnson had received, though, and, it seems, though journos dissented from his conclusions, they did not finger his methods.

I wonder why that might have been...


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