James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes

Posted by James McPherson on March 29, 2009

Those of us who believe that the Bush administration should be convicted of war crimes might be heartened by a Spanish judge’s order to investigate whether Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo and others should face charges, especially since the judge in question is the same one who issued an arrest warrant for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet more than a decade ago.

Unfortunately, though Pinochet was arrested, he died without being convicted of any crimes, still a millionaire from the proceeds of his evildoing. I suspect the same–though without the arrests–will be true of senior Bush administration officials. After all, I can’t see Barack Obama–who has already been following too much of the Bush strategy (including the use of independent contractors to supplement American troops) in international affairs–endorsing the Spanish judge’s actions.

Obama likely will ignore the issue, just as he has been creatively ignoring tough press questions while pretending to provide unprecedenced access, even if an investigation finds what already seems to be obvious–that actions at Guantanamo and much of the rest of the Bush administration “war on terrorism” violated international laws.

Since as a nation we selectively concern ourselves with human rights abuses in countries that we see some reason to demonize or invade (Iraq, perhaps Iran, sometimes Libya), but ignore those abuses elsewhere (Saudi Arabia, China, Darfur, sometimes Libya), I doubt that the Bush/Cheney underlings will be called to account.

Even less likely is that Bush and Cheney themselves will be held accountable for their crimes. Congress, mindful of how the Clinton impeachment circus went over–while forgetting that important investigations such as Watergate and the Church Committee actually increased respect for Congress–remains largely gutless and clueless.

The one hope for justice might be if a declining press suddenly figured out that a way to save themselves might be to somehow make themselves relevant again by serving as a voice and guardian for the American people (and people elsewhere, for that matter). By bringing enough attention to the issue, and investigating the Bush administration’s false claims in a way that they failed to do before the Iraq War began, the media might bring enough pressure to prompt the sort of  investigation that would send the weasels to jail–or at least scurrying to countries from which they couldn’t be retrieved.

In other words,  if those in charge of news media–along with those of us who care about democracy–would do more in the words of Poynter’s Roy Peter Clarke to “feed the watchdog, euthenize the lapdog.” But I suspect the media will continue to mostly roll over and play dead–until they’re no longer playing.

The one bright potential bright spot: As mainstream media continue to abdicate their watchdog role until most of them finally sink largely unnoticed beneath the waves, perhaps more people will find their way to sources such as the Nation and Mother Jones.

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4 Responses to “Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes”

  1. zelda said

    Yikes…………well personally I want to see Cheney,G.W., and Carl Rove pay big time.
    They literally DEFINE the term war crimes.OMG!!!!!

    No one should be exempt…….none of these criminals……..! I am so sick of all the dang excuses and blah blah blahs………….OMG!

    Benedict Arnold is probably rolling in his grave wailing “Why MEEEEEEEEEE and not them”?????????

  2. Gabrielle said

    “In other words, if those in charge of news media–along with those of us who care about democracy–would do more in the words of Poynter’s Roy Peter Clarke to “feed the watchdog, euthenize the lapdog.” But I suspect the media will continue to mostly roll over and play dead–until they’re no longer playing.”

    i love how your blog entries play with writing, puns, & epigrams ❤

    and YES. ELIMINATE THE LAPDOG. at least in regards to the media.

    also, zelda: LOL. great benedict arnold reference 😀 my history major boyfriend would approve…as do I!

  3. hkyson said

    Your analysis of war crimes and the Bush administration is excellent. I doubt that the war criminals of his administration will be called to account unless they travel to Europe (Henry Kissinger was almost arrested for war crimes once while traveling in England).

    Unfortunately, all countries insist that their own war crimes are legitimate exercises in defense while the war crimes of other countries are instances of vicious criminal aggression.

    Noam Chomsky, who thinks very clearly about war crimes, once said that if we were to apply to ourselves the same standards we applied to the Nazis during the Nuremberg trials, than all our post-war presidents would have to be hanged.

    Harleigh Kyson Jr.

  4. […] Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes […]

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