Lies, Lies, and More Lies
Mudslinging season has arrived. With an election year looming, an avalanche of new books bashing George W. Bush is pouring into bookstores.
Leading the mudslide is Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (E.P. Dutton, $25), written by former Saturday Night Live writer Al Franken and a team of 14 Harvard students he hired to do research. Team Franken systematically skewers the exaggerations of conservative commentators like Ann Coulter ("the reigning diva of the hysterical right") or Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly (who falsely claimed that he'd won two prestigious journalism awards). And 'Lies' debuted near the top of the bestseller charts thanks to massive pre-release publicity generated by one of the book's primary targets: Fox News. In a stunningly stupid move, Fox sued to stop release of the book, thereby attracting attention to it. Publisher E.P. Dutton promptly upped both the press run and release date.
A more insightful examination of much the same issues is New York Observer columnist Joe Conason's Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martin's, $25). Conason greets his readers with a thought-provoking introductory chapter that asks: "Is the United States of America liberal or conservative?" He then presents a series of 10 short debates. Each begins with a thesis question, such as "Who relates better to the little guy, Republicans or Democrats?" or "Are liberals less patriotic than their conservative counterparts?" Conason presents the neoconservative conventional wisdom on each thesis, then refutes with his own well-researched rebuttal. By challenging Republican rhetoric on its own terms, 'Big Lies' ventures beyond the propaganda and begins to explore the societal presumptions that have made right-wing rhetoric so successful.
David Corn focuses on one big liar in The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown, $24). Longtime Washington editor of The Nation, Corn brings the patience of an investigative reporter to his examination of Bush's business, gubernatorial, campaign and executive lies. Among Corn's well-researched conclusions: Bush deliberately misrepresented the provisions and effects of his tax cuts; lied about his ties to corporate criminals; and presented deceptive claims to sell controversial policies on stem cell research, missile defense, abortion, energy, health care, education and the environment.
The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Seven Stories Press, $10) narrows its sights even further, asserting that every major claim the U.S. government put forward to justify the conquest of Iraq has been proven false. Written by the father and son team of Robert and Christopher Scheer, along with AlterNet.org senior editor Lakshmi Chaudhry, 'Five Biggest Lies' unflinchingly asserts Bush knew he was lying: "...we are not dealing here with misconceptions, overblown rhetoric, government spin, political games or any of the other essentially non-threatening phrases that have come to excuse official chicanery as the business-as-usual propaganda in which all governments indulge," the Scheers write. "...but rather... an alarming but deliberate method of governing."
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq (J. P. Tarcher, $12) explores the way Bush used public relations tactics to marshal support for the invasion of Iraq. Coauthors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber argue that in the looking-glass world of political PR, the U.S. is perceived as a brand (like Coca-Cola), and foreign-policy initiatives are rolled out like new products.
Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America (Random House, $25) demonstrates how Bush runs the United States using the same flawed strategies he applied in governing Texas. Columnist Molly Ivins and former Texas Observer editor Lou Dubose ask the core question of Texican jurisprudence: "Who's getting screwed, and who's doing the screwing?"
Fellow Texan Jim Hightower expands on that question in Thieves in High Places (Viking, $25), which colorfully argues that liberal "Wobblycrats" deserve just as much blame as "Bushites" for assisting wealthy corporate "Kleptocrats" in stealing money and power from the people. "Our democracy is being dismantled right in front of our eyes," Hightower warns, "not by crazed foreign terrorists, but by our own ruling elites."
Rabblerousing filmmaker Michael Moore follows up on his bestselling 'Stupid White Men' with Dude, Where's My Country? (Warner Books, $25). The director of 'Roger and Me' promises to violate the Patriot Act on every page and directs much of his screed at the "robber barons of corporate America" -- in a book for which AOL Time Warner reportedly paid Moore $1.5 million.
Also expected in time for the Iowa Caucuses are The Buying of the President 2004 by Charles Lewis and The Center for Public Integrity (Perennial, January), and The Book on Bush: Truth and Consequences for our Forty-Third President (Viking, February) by former New York mayoral candidate Mark Green along with journalist Eric Alterman.
"The Bush-is-a-liar bandwagon is getting crowded," David Corn conceded in a recent interview. Corn promises to continue updating his Lettermanesque website (www.bushlies.com) as new falsehoods are uttered, and MoveOn.org has launched a similar service (www.misleader.org).
"It is depressing but apparently necessary to state... that in a democracy, it matters a great deal whether or not our leaders tell us the truth," asserts 'The Five Biggest Lies.' "The sad fact is that our nation in the past few years has revealed itself to be all too capable of absorbing jingoistic stupidity as national wisdom; of easily parlaying its obligations as the citizens of the world's most powerful society for the cheap rewards of patriotic fervor."
Monte Paulsen is editor of The Dragonfly Review of Books, which publishes as part of Common Ground, Whole Life Times, and other Dragonfly magazines.