Wag the Turkey: Surprise Thanksgiving Dinner at 6 AM?
Yes folks, we are now all bit players in a real-life version
of the movie "Wag the Dog." President Bush and his GOP advisers are
ecstatic that the president made a secret trip to Baghdad to be with
U.S. troops for a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner. His polling numbers
-- which I contend are as fixed as a Florida election -- will
undoubtedly receive a huge boost.
I may be a bit naive, and it has been a while since I served on
active duty, but I can't recall ever sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner
at 6:00 AM. Air Force One touched down at Baghdad International Airport,
under cover of darkness, at 5:20 AM Baghdad time. Bush was on the ground
for two and a half hours, his plane departing Baghdad at around 7:50 AM.
Considering that it likely took some 30 minutes for Bush to disembark
from Air Force One and travel by a heavily secured motorcade to the
hangar where the troops were assembled, that means our military men and
women were downing turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and
non-alcoholic beer at a time when most people would be eating eggs,
bacon, grits, home fries, and toast.
But there on national television, when most Americans were preparing
to sit down to their own traditional Thanksgiving dinners, we saw a tape
of President Bush serving mashed potatoes and corn to American troops at
a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal in the early hours of the morning.
What's more, when a clearly exhausted Bush strode around a curtain --
after a "What's My Line" mystery guest routine by Iraq proconsul L. Paul
Bremer -- 600 American troops were said to be "shocked and awed" by
Bush's surprise appearance. I would have thought most of the troops,
many of whom are support personnel who work relatively normal working
hours, would have been more surprised when they were ordered to get up
before sunrise to eat Thanksgiving dinner between 6:00 and 7:30 A.M.
And the abysmal and sycophantic Washington and New York press corps
seems to have completely missed the Thanksgiving "breakfast dinner."
Chalk that up to the fact that most people in the media never saw a
military chow line or experienced reveille in their lives. So it would
certainly go over their heads that troops would be ordered out of bed to
eat turkey and stuffing before the crack of dawn.
Democratic presidential candidates will be scurrying to regain ground
from Bush's surprise trip and previous indicators that the economy is on
a rebound. Of course, economic indicators emanate from public and
private institutions controlled by GOP political operatives. With an all
time high of 4000 people in Washington, DC having their Thanksgiving
dinners courtesy of DC's Central Kitchen for the homeless, those
economic indicators seem as phony as Florida's vote totals. And you will
never see Bush serving meals to the homeless. What would Bush's handlers
do? Have the homeless applaud him? Bush's handlers could have propaganda
signs in the background that proclaim: "Fighting homelessness through
tax cuts for billionaires."
We should not be surprised or even "shocked and awed" that the Bush
administration would resort to yet another manipulation of the media to
craft public opinion. We all remember Bush's landing on the USS Abraham
Lincoln with the banner "Mission Accomplished." We were told Bush had to
fly to the carrier because the ship was too far off shore for a
helicopter trip. Yes, the Lincoln was so far off shore that if the
camera angles were different, viewers could have seen the San Diego
skyline and the top of the Coronado Bridge.
Then there was Bush's State of the Union address in which he cited
Iraq's desire to purchase uranium from Africa. We now know that
allegation was based on bogus documents laundered by the intelligence
service of the Italian proto-fascist prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
As political handlers like Karl Rove continue to remold Bush like a
lump of Playdough, first from a Texas rancher, then to a Navy fighter
pilot complete with a corresponding action figure, and now to a globe
hopping "James Bond," let us not forget that the war against Iraq was a
violation of international law. Even arch-neoconservative war hawk
Richard Perle has conceded that point. Rove and company will be pulling
more tricks out of their bags as the 2004 presidential campaign
approaches. Intelligent Americans everywhere -- and there are many of
them -- should pause and think about what they are hearing and seeing on
Meanwhile, anyone care for eggs and bacon with their turkey?
Wagging the Media: Bush's Cherry-picked Reporters
The consequence of the Bush White House's cutting a secret
deal with cherry picked reporters in the White House press pool was
predictable. By cutting out editors and bureau chiefs from the reporting
process, one of the first news reports about President Bush's secret
trip to Baghdad, by Mike Allen of The Washington Post, one of the
few reporters invited to fly on board Air Force One and with the strict
provision he could not tell his editor or bureau chief in Washington,
muddied the waters for people anxious for details about the trip.
Allen's report, titled, "Flight to Baghdad: Untold Story," stated, "A
little after 5 am Baghdad time, about 10 hours after takeoff from
Andrews, the cabin lights were turned off and all the shades were down.
Twenty minutes later, we touched down in Baghdad." The story was run in
the Friday, November 29 print edition of the Post, on the Post's web
site, and by the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post wire service.
Soon, the 5 am arrival time was being carried in print editions and on
the web around the world and the United States in such papers as the
Buffalo News, Tacoma News Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Sydney Morning
Herald, Melbourne Age, and The Telegraph of Calcutta. The
"Untold Story" that the plane landed at 5:20 am and not pm, as now seems
to be the case, was the first record of events hundreds of thousands of
Americans and those abroad would initially read.
Preliminary details from Air Force concerning the trip were spotty at
best, with no mention made on Thanksgiving Day about various takeoff and
landing times. All we knew was that Bush quickly snuck in and out of
Baghdad for a meal with the troops without being detected by Iraqi
insurgents armed with portable surface-to-air missiles. Allen's report
was the first to give any details about the itinerary but he gave the
false impression that Air Force One touched down in Baghdad at o'dark
thirty in the morning, an hour and a half before sunrise in the Iraqi
capital. Allen later told CNN that none of the on-board pool reporters
were able to file their stories until Air Force One got above 10,000
feet. In the same interview, he stated that the reporters were not
permitted to file until Air Force One had cleared "airspace." If he
meant Iraqi airspace, it is doubtful that the aircraft would have been
flying in Iraqi airspace at 10,000 feet and then ascended over Syria or
Turkey. More inconsistencies in a story so full of holes it could pass
for a piece of Swiss cheese.
In an age of instantaneous news from the Internet and cable TV, the
public and the media are more reliant on first hand accounts of events.
The fact that the Post's editors were cut out from the secret trip to
Baghdad practically guaranteed that an erroneous 5:20 am Baghdad time
account would have crept into the Post's early morning edition. A
number of people who read the Post print edition Friday morning were
also given the impression that there was an early morning landing and
that Bush was serving Thanksgiving dinner to the troops in the morning.
And they would stay confused. Outrageously, by Sunday, November 30, the
Post still had not corrected its error.
The only correction it published in its Sunday, November 30 edition
was the following less-than-critical one: "The headline "Carving the
Bird" was inadvertently omitted from the crossword puzzle in the Nov. 23
Magazine." But the bird carving that the Post first indicated
took place in the wee hours of the morning at the Bob Hope Dining
Facility at Baghdad airport went uncorrected.
Phil Taubman, the New York Time's Washington bureau chief,
expressed the distaste for this kind of White House stealth reporting
when he told the Post's media critic, Howard Kurtz, that when the White
House "decided to do a stealth trip, they bought into a whole series of
things that are questionable." Indeed, including corrupted information
in initial filings.
That kind of reporting is a far cry from what Bush told his hand
selected press agents on board Air Force One during the trip back from
Baghdad, "You're a credit to your nation, a credit to your profession."
Then there is the very odd time line for the visit that CNN, which
was not included on the press pool manifest, filed on Wednesday,
November 26, the day before the actual landing in Baghdad. The time
line, retrieved from Nexis, with a load date of November 28, contains
the departure times from Waco, Texas and Andrews Air Force Base. Fair
enough. That could have been filed on the 26th, although it would have
been rather late, 11:06 pm EST. But the CNN report also contains the
landing time in Baghdad (5:31 pm Baghdad time) and the departure time
(8:00 pm Baghdad time). Was the White House visit so carefully scripted,
the arrival and departure times in Baghdad were known a day in advance?
Was it another typo on the date? Did the White House advance planners
provide the time line to CNN? A day before when the actual arrival and
departure times would not have been easily known? Maybe. But the
following cannot be explained so easily. In the CNN report filed on
November 26, the president is quoted telling the reporters on Thursday
night, November 27, after takeoff from Baghdad, "I was fully prepared to
turn this baby around and come home," he says. "Three hours out, I
checked with our Secret Service and checked with the people on the
ground. They assured me that we still had a tight hold on the
information." Incredible, CNN was told the day before what the President
would tell reporters the next day? More inconsistencies. Or possibly,
clairvoyants are once again employed by the White House staff.
Fox News, the only TV news crew permitted to fly with Bush, initially
reported on Thanksgiving Day that Air Force One flew across the Atlantic
and Europe during total darkness and in total radio silence. Of course,
that also gave the impression that the plane must have left Washington
much earlier than later reported in order to give it the cover of
darkness over the normally busy daytime air corridors of Europe. It was
later reported that a British Airways pilot radioed Air Force One and
asked whether he was, in fact, seeing the presidential plane whizzing
by. We were told that Air Force One responded to the pilot by claiming
it was a much smaller Gulfstream 5 executive jet, to which the British
pilot replied, "Oh." Of course, by radioing the British plane, which now
appears to have been a phantom, the Air Force One broke the radio
silence originally reported by Fox News. But Fox reports and you'll have
According to a Reuters report from Crawford, Texas, British Airways
later denied any such encounter with one of its planes, stating that if
it occurred, company regulations required a report be filed. No such
report was filed.
A 5:30 pm landing in Baghdad would have put Air Force One over very
crowded air corridors in Europe at the height of the evening business
"rush hour" into such busy airports as Heathrow, Frankfurt and Charles
DeGaulle. But we were told by the White House that only a British
Airways pilot saw the plane, either during total darkness or during
daylight hours, maybe over the Atlantic or maybe not. No one has come
forward to report the encounter as required by British Airway's own
regulations. On the other hand, no Lufthansa, Air France, Aeroflot,
Sabena, Olympia, or Turkish Airlines pilots saw the plane with its
military escort. Perhaps only the airlines of the "coalition of the
willing" countries were trustworthy enough to spot the plane. Now it
appears that no other pilot saw Air Force One en route to Iraq.
Agence France Presse also reported from Crawford that hours after
Air Force One landed in Texas, a local tourist shop was selling pins
depicting the encounter between Air Force One and a British Airways
plane. Ironically, the image of Air Force One, according to the French
wire service, is shown flying into the sunset, something that only
happened if it flew west, not east. Unless it was flying into sunrise.
Did Allen make a typo in his report of a morning landing? Not if the
crack souvenir makers in Crawford are to be believed.
The American public was also told that Air Force One made a difficult
"cork screw" landing in Baghdad. The Post's Allen later reported
that the plane "touched down in swift abrupt landing." He later reported
the plane made "a dramatic corkscrew landing." The Dallas Morning News
Matt Stiles reported, "The plane made an abrupt descent into Baghdad
International Airport." An abrupt descent is not the same as a
complicated corkscrew landing. More inconsistencies.
We all saw the press being co-opted by providing "embedded" reporters
with military units during the invasion of Iraq. And we were treated to
a real life Hollywood-style rendition of "Saving Private Lynch," the
Special Forces "rescue" of Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital where
she was taken after she was injured in a vehicle accident. Lynch later
told ABC News that she felt "used" by the administration and refuted
earlier U.S. military reports that she was tortured. The Central
Command's press center in Qatar was designed by a Hollywood set designer
giving the false impression that the interior of a warehouse was a
desert command tent on the battlefront. It would appear that the Bush
White House is a real life version of the movie, "Wag the Dog."
According to a Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, before Bush
landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, he was authorized to have locked up
in the brig any sailor deemed "unstable" during the duration of the
presidential visit. Were the troops Bush served dinner to on
Thanksgiving Day similarly vetted?
Bush's emcee for the Baghdad stopover, L. Paul Bremer, who had been
saying for months that the security situation in Baghdad was improving,
was criticized by his predecessor as Iraqi pro-consul, retired General
Jay Garner. The general told the BBC it was a mistake for Bremer to
disband the Iraqi army and he indicated that his warnings about future
destabilization in Iraq caused problems for him with the highest levels
in the administration, meaning either Bush or Vice President Dick
Cheney. More proof of Bush's smoke and mirrors tactics.
After all the Bush administration's tall tales about Saddam's weapons
of mass destruction, his links to Al Qaeda, Iraq's desire to purchase
yellowcake uranium from Niger, Britain's "dodgy dossier," the "suicides"
of Dr. David Kelly and State Department intelligence analyst John Kokal,
Jessica Lynch's dramatic "rescue," "Mission Accomplished" carrier
landings, Valerie Plame Wilson's "non-importance" to the CIA's covert
operations, Cuba's biological weapons, Syria's support for Iraqi
insurgents, the threat of Iran's nuclear arsenal, North Korea's
"non-threatening" nuclear arsenal, Saudi Arabia's support in the war on
terrorism, Pakistan's assistance in stamping out the Taliban and Al
Qaeda, and the "coalition of the willing," everyone, including Mike
Allen, his and other newspaper editors and bureau chiefs, broadcast news
anchors, can be forgiven if they are confused about what they are being
fed by the White House on a daily basis.
The most germane quote is from Morpheus in The Matrix:
"You take the blue pill--the story ends, you wake up in your bed and
believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill--you stay in
Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. "
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist
and columnist. He wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth. He is the
co-author, with John Stanton, of "America's Nightmare: The Presidency of
George Bush II."