BOOKS/Alvena Bieri

Greatest Story Ever Sold

Truth is always the first casualty of war. The Iraq War has been no exception. Journalist Frank Rich in The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina [New York: Penguin 2006] gives us an encyclopedic look at how the Bush administration has botched the war in Iraq as well as the crisis in New Orleans caused by the hurricane.

Actually most of his book is about Iraq with only a few pages on Katrina, so the title is a little misleading. But I like how he has named the two main parts, first, Making the Sale and second, Buyer's Remorse.

The first part describes the propaganda put out by the government about Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction it supposedly had. The second is what we're living every day -- a long-lasting quaqmire that probably isn't going to be changed by Bush's latest plan.

So the information here is nearly all related to George W. Bush and his policies. Now many people make fun of him, of his mispronunciations and word use, and many other things. Rich says that Bush is not too well-read, citing a story about a school child who asked him, "What was your favorite book when you were growing up?" Bush replied, "I can't remember any titles." But the author holds that Bush is not stupid, but he thinks everyone else is.

Add to that his strong sense of "entitlement." That is, he's out of touch with most of America's citizens because he has led a very privileged life. Say, maybe he's trying to be more ordinary by having that ranch at Crawford, Texas. I do wish he would replace the little old tattered building we see in the background when he has a news conference there. I bet he could afford it!

Also coming in for a lot of criticism are Bush's strange procrastinations after the Trade Center attack and the hurricane. He was in a grade school in Sarasota, Fla., reading to schoolchildren when the first happened. He flew to Louisiana and then to Omaha before he finally got back to Washington late that night. And he didn't really get involved with the hurricane disaster for a couple of days. Then there was his compliment to Michael Brown of FEMA: "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie!"

Rich is hard on John Ashcroft and the USA Patriot Act, as well as most of the other people in the Bush administration. The Patriot Act, like many other measures, has an Orwellian ring to it -- a kind of opposite meaning as in "War Is Peace." Where is the truth then? Writer Ron Suskind in the New York Times reports speaking to a presidential aide who talked contemptuously about journalists and the "reality-based community." To study reality, he said, "is just not the way the world really works any more," since the United States is now an empire.

The press may be trying to keep us informed of the truth, but Rich thinks we have just as good a chance at understanding current events from watching Comedy Central.

There is a timeline, at the end of the book, packed with strong statements by different people about all these issues. So whether you want to think again about Bush's "Mission Accomplished!" gestures, Dick Cheney's statements on the issue of uranium supposedly bought by Iraq from Niger, and countless other familiar events of the past five years, it's all there.

The old saying is that "all governments lie." That's sad to think about. What Rich doesn't discuss is why we are so naive and gullible. It makes me long for another Emerson to set us straight and then to encourage us to think for ourselves and trust ourselves.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2007

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