Dick Cheney Censors the Media During Battle I recently read a most interesting article in the American Journalism Review ("Collective Amnesia" by Jaqueline Sharkey; October 2000) about then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's censorship policy during the Panama invasion and the Persian Gulf War. I won't go into all the examples of such censorship, or the Pentagon's justifications of such a policy. I do, however, want to share a few very telling quotes that Americans should consider relative to Dick Cheney's philosophy about keeping the public informed, especially as he will likely be our next vice president.

In a nutshell (or more appropriately, a bombshell), Cheney imposed unprecedented press coverage restrictions during both the invasion of Panama, and again during the Gulf War. In an April 1991 letter signed by many prominent journalists, they accused the Pentagon of "'virtual total control...over the American Press' and enabling them to disregard 'the role of independent journalism that is...vital to our democracy.'" Both Time and CNN executives signed the impassioned letter, "complaining that Cheney's policies 'blocked, impeded or diminished' the 'flow of information to the public' during the gulf war.'"

So the $60 question is begged, Where is the media criticism of Cheney's censorship policies, now, when it would most matter? Not only did the mainstream media not complain at the time the restrictions were being imposed, but they are being completely silent about this matter in the wake of the most controversial election in recent history. Cheney's censorship policy was huge news among the media rank and file, but they are every bit as guilty for not exposing it to the public. The Alternative press, led by The Nation, brought a suit against Cheney and the Defense Department, but not a single mainstream media outlet participated. Unfortunately the suit was dismissed by a federal judge as moot because the case wasn't heard until after the conflicts had ended.

The really foul aspect of the combined conspiracy on the part of Cheney and the mainstream media is the coverage that absolutely saw airtime?the organized press conferences and briefings orchestrated by Cheney himself. His group wrote the scripts, produced the video footage, and hand fed it the to media, which in turn ran every second of the contrived coverage, actually saving the media outlets money by running somebody else's production, and the press had the unmitigated gall to not only call it news, but claim it was the best coverage of a modern day conflict ever produced! To support this self-importance, polls showed that the majority of the public felt they were informed, supported America's involvement in the operations, and believed our troops were handling it just dandy.

In truth, the screwups, the chaos, the poor strategies, the experiments on soldiers with biological weapons, and the large number of civilian casualties were being totally ignored. So much so that Americans, as a whole, are still not convinced that such things as innocent women and children being killed, Gulf War Syndrome, and babies born with defects, are associated with the Gulf War conflict. Cheney, with the help of Colin Powell, crafted videos showing missiles and weapons hitting targets with unerring precision, when in truth they were getting stuck in their own launchers, and consistently missing their targets. Cheney's briefings, which should have reported on numbers of casualties, including those caused by 'friendly fire,' routinely "minimized discussion of casualties and vastly overstated the success of some US weapons systems," Sharkey reports.

Rationalization for this kind of information manipulation lies in the military personnel's belief that the press coverage of the Vietnam War caused its widespread lack of support. Interestingly, it was the cover-ups and the suppression of the truth about the Vietnam War that caused its blackest eye with Americans. According to Sharkey's research, "Under Cheney's leadership, the Pentagon's restrictions ensured that the realities of war were once again hidden, journalists and former military officers say." Cheney's own words reflect his position on press coverage in warfare, "'I did not look on the press as an asset in doing what I had to do' as defense secretary. Frankly, I looked on it as a problem to be managed.'"

Cheney's idea was to systematically lull the public into believing that all was well, that we were kicking butt, when in fact we were not. The ironic result is that while Cheney is far more popular, the mainstream press has lost most of its credibility, and well it should. By allowing Cheney's censorship to prevail through complicity with the sanitized version of the war being literally created for American consumption, the mainstream press positioned itself on the economic food chain right above crooked telemarketers...or is it right below?

What Americans need to consider today is Newsday senior correspondent Patrick Sloyan's viewpoint (who, incidentally, won a Pulitzer Prize for his post coverage of the Gulf War), "'The military is subject to civilian control. This is a constitutional issue,' Sloyan says. He believes the restrictions during the Panama and the Persian Gulf operations reflect Cheney's 'utter contempt' for the First Amendment and 'deep hostility' toward the press, which have grave implications for the public's right to know."

The perspective of the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom Rosensteil, is summarized perfectly, "By looking into a candidate's past, voters can get a glimpse of the future. Examining the Pentagon's press restrictions during the operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf, when Cheney personally designed some of the strategies to control information, 'tells us something about how he would govern...It tells us about whether we can trust him in telling the truth."'

On a Local Battle Front

The public has borne witness to the ongoing battle between property owner Niky Bowles and the City of Davenport over the zoning of Bowles' 10 acres on Eastern Avenue, just south of 53rd Street. Bowles petitioned the city staff and council last year to zone her parcel from agriculture to commercial (C1). The staff made a recommendation to deny such zoning, claiming it should be zoned to reflect a transition from commercial to the north of Bowles and residential to the south. Bowles' 10 acres is one lot away from 53rd Street. The northern lot adjacent to hers corners Eastern and 53rd and is zoned C1. However the lot's C1 zoning has a myriad of restrictions attached to it that render it closer to C0, which allows for light commercial use, such as office space and small retail. Bowles is willing to accept the same restrictions for her property if the City agrees to zone it C1. Bowles claims the difference in value between C1 and C0 or R5 (multiple family residential use) is anywhere from $2 to $3 per square foot.

While the City's rationale for C0 or R5 makes some sense relative to a transitional scenario, it becomes moot in light of the present restrictions attached to the C1 zoning that limits the neighboring property's commercial uses, anyway. It is safe, and economically sensible, to assume that single-family residential will not locate immediately south of a commercial location, especially so near the chaos of 53rd Street, but not unlikely that small offices or apartments could. There are still two more significant parcels to the south of Bowles' acreage that separate her property from the residential development of Windsor Crest. Therefore, her request for zoning her property as C1 subject to the same restrictions as the adjacent northern property is not unreasonable. In fact, it makes economic sense.

In light of the City's desire to create a transition from light commercial to residential, imposing restrictions on C1 zoning for Bowles property would ensure that goal. At the same time, Bowles retains the value of her property while maintaining an appropriate land use that is in compliance with city goals. Everybody wins. So why is the issue still a battleground?

Good question. The solution is apparent. A win-win compromise is on the table. Bowles is agreeable to the restrictions, so now it is up to the City Council. A resolution to the ongoing conflict that rears its ugly head nearly every council meeting finally has a legitimate chance of ending, so is there anything to stop it? Bowles is asking to bring the matter before the council for reconsideration during the next cycle, at which time the council can put this entire matter to rest by voting in favor of C1 zoning with the agreed upon restrictions. This should satisfy all parties and end the feud once and for all. There is no excuse for not acting on this, especially when it reestablishes peace, maintains the integrity of land use in that area, supports the reasonable needs of a citizen, and heals the public perception that the city operates in a vacuum and is capable of vindictive governing. By voting for C1 with said restrictions, everybody wins because they found common ground upon which to agree?the City wins, the Bowles family wins, and the community wins because the battle is finally over.

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