Follies July 26, 2001
By Michael I. Niman
Who’s Trashing Pigeon
The headline for Buffalo News political reporter Robert McCarthy’s July 18th story reads, “Democrats discuss new efforts to oust [Erie County Party Chair, Steve] Pigeon.” McCarthy, however, does not cite so much as a single Democrat by name. The entire story is based on a plethora of “quotes” from supposed Democrats calling for Pigeon’s demise. There are some pretty heavy condemnations of Pigeon’s leadership here, but they’re all from “anonymous” sources. McCarthy attributes his red hot anti-Pigeon barbs to “Several sources,” “The sources,” “Another party source,” “A source familiar with county government,” “Those involved in the discussions”, “top local leaders,” “several top Democratic sources,” “One top elected official,” and “Another top elected official.” McCarthy compliments his kennel of invisible top dogs with a host of passive voice constructions, using phrases like “it is believed,” “Another name mentioned,” and “Others mentioned,” to further obfuscate sources. In all, the “new efforts to oust Pigeon” cited by McCarthy are attributed to 9 nameless sources and are complimented by ideas cited, via the passive voice, to no one in particular.
In reality, assuming these 9 critics all exist, if no one is willing to step forward and allow their name to be used, there is no credible effort to oust Pigeon. There might be one in the future, but not this week. McCarthy’s story is premature. More alarming is the fact that his story builds an illusion of momentum in the anti-Pigeon crusade. Propaganda theorists call this the “band wagon effect.” Build an illusion of popular support, and popular support will follow. In the political punditry game, this is a safe move since such stories can, in the end, lead to Pigeon’s ouster, thus proving the pundit correct. The problem is that, in this scenario, the pundit is not reporting on the news. He’s creating it.
In short, while journalists from time to time have to protect the identity of their sources, this is not one of those times. There’s no whistle blower turning over the blueprints for a faulty nuclear reactor or providing an inventory of buried toxic wastes. The Buffalo News doesn’t do that kind of hard hitting investigative reporting that relies on “deep throat” sources. There’s no allegation here that can be backed up in any way with physical evidence. There’s no hard story here. There’s nothing here but rumor and innuendo without a credible source.
French Palace of Justice magistrates summoned Henry Kissinger to appear before them for questioning while on a recent visit to Paris. They’re interested in the former U.S. Secretary of State’s involvement in Operation Condor, a supposed terror network that is, according to The New York Times, responsible for political deaths and disappearances in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador and Bolivia in the 1970s. The Magistrates were particularly concerned about five French citizens who disappeared in Chile shortly after a 1973 U.S. backed coup. They never got a chance, however, to question Kissinger. He “disappeared” himself, fleeing the country.
During the three-week period following Kissinger’s return to the U.S., according to the media watchdogs at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting , he was interviewed by PBS’ Charlie Rose(6/20/01), CNN’s Wolf Blitzer(6/21/01) and Fox News’ Paula Zahn(6/13/01). None of these journalists, however, questioned Kissinger about his abrupt departure from France or the possibility that the French want to prosecute him for war crimes. While the networks may not think the possible prosecution of a former Secretary of State for war crimes is newsworthy, I certainly do.
If Kissinger can be charged for war crimes in Chile, then Clinton and Powell can be charged for allegedly ordering the bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia, Panama and the Sudan. Likewise Papa Bush can be charged for ordering the bombing of civilian infrastructure in Iraq as well as his alleged role under President Reagan in overseeing the Contra War against Nicaragua’s civilian infrastructure and the illegal invasions of Grenada and Haiti. It seems our ex-presidents and statesmen might soon be somewhat limited in their ability to travel abroad. Stay tuned to this column for more details. You certainly won’t see them on your Tee Vee.
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