They say that soon after the bombs started falling, the skies over Baghdad turned an ominous blood red in an act of divine intervention, a manifestation of God’s growing anger. Little more than a week after commencing the “shock and awe” campaign, a bomb hit a crowded Baghdad market, killing 58 civilians and injuring hundreds more. Army officials mentioned the unlikely possibility it may have been an Iraqi attack, and the American media were quick to include this disclaimer in what sparse coverage they gave the debacle.

A day earlier, two cruise missiles slammed into a residential section of Baghdad, killing more than 14 – in what Fox’s Geraldo guessed might be America’s fault – then blamed the sandstorms.

But the missile that hit a Kuwait City mall was almost certainly an Iraqi strike from a Chinese-built Silkworm, a theory that Big Media rode until it was forgotten. When questioned about evidence pointing to a U.S. cruise missile, chief Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said it was too early to speculate. Two Kuwaiti officials testified – the markings were clearly American.

Elsewhere in the news: Saddam, thought to have been killed on the first day of strikes, looked quite healthy in a televised speech days later. A much-hyped popular Shiite uprising in Basra proved to be less popular than anticipated when it was quickly crushed. Reports about 8,000 Iraqis that surrendered en masse didn’t materialize. Umm Qasr was reported as taken nine times before it was actually taken. And the chemical weapons facility that Secretary of State Colin Powell cited over a month earlier in making his case for war wasn’t quite the “smoking gun” he expected.

Long before any shots were fired, the first casualty of this war was the truth.

Over 15 such stories have recently made headlines, only to be discredited by later ones. Most have been sad attempts by the White House, the Pentagon or Big Media to dramatize, glorify or else legitimize the onslaught and undermine the large civilian death toll and friendly fire accidents incurred in just two weeks. What it all amounts to is fictitious war propaganda that has hypnotized America into believing that this liberation (though most Iraqis have shown fear of foreign invaders more than Saddam) is somehow going well.

Or so it should be, according to Pentagon advisor Dick Perle, who expected a “cakewalk” and help from defectors before Bush advised the country to prepare for a protracted war with substantial casualties. Dick, who is largely responsible for this mess we’re in, is under fire for his criminal conflicts of interest and profiteering from postwar Iraq. He resigned as chair of the Defense Policy Board last week to avoid entanglement, but amid the fireworks over Baghdad, the media avoided this issue along with the Bush administration’s several questionable corporate ties to this war.

It’s a censorship of a different kind; an implicit abrogation of the First Amendment imposed by businesses instead of the government. Even comedian Chris Rock was warned by his film studio Dreamworks to steer clear of Bush-bashing for which the Dixie Chicks have been boycotted, YellowTimes.org was pulled by its ISP for showing images of dead soldiers to add some humanity to this romanticized conflict, and al-Jazeera was booted from the New York Stock Exchange for the same. MSNBC’s highest rated show, Donahue, was cancelled due to the host’s anti-war stance, while its award-winning reporter, Peter Arnett, was fired for telling an Iraqi journalist how the Bush war plan had largely failed.

The spectrum of acceptable opinion has narrowed to this: Show support or stay quiet, and suppress diversity over the airwaves lest someone should dissent. A black TV pundit is rare, but an Asian or Latino talking head is a fantasy. Sure, they exist outside Fox News, CNN or MSNBC – but national opinion is quite polarized when you break the demographic into its minority components, and meaningful opposition is something your typical patriot would rather not hear.

In the timeless pursuit of ratings, Big Media has failed miserably to help avert an unjustified war and widely expose the administration’s clear financial interests, lack of credibility and asinine case to the public. Opting to be the White House lapdog instead of a government watchdog, major media outlets are largely responsible for dragging America feet-first into a minefield and keeping us there, kicking and screaming.

With the White House set on Iran, Syria, and North Korea next, it’s become irrelevant whether these countries harbor terrorists or weapons of mass destruction. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and he’ll manage to convince the witless so long as the networks unquestioningly bow to his whim. Godspeed America, into the global quagmire.

Sheikh can be reached at ksheikh@umich.edu.

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