Public Comment

Commentary: War Programming II By H. SCOTT PROSTERMAN

Tuesday March 28, 2006

When Bush Jr. first launched the Iraq war three years ago, I published an article titled “War Programming,” which took him to task for the timing of it.” I argued: 

“The timing of this war is all wrong. By programming the war against the NCAA basketball tournament, Bush, Jr. really cut into the war ratings . . . You think people will be paying full attention to the war when they’ve got their attention focused on Pittsburgh and Wagner?” 

Three years later, Pittsburgh got eliminated in the second round and Wagner didn’t even make the big dance. But we’ve still got the same war. 

I thought Bush Jr. was really stupid for programming the war against NCAA basketball. But now I get it. Who’s going to go to an anti-war rally when they can stay home and watch the University of Memphis State and Oral Roberts?  

For a lot of folks, it was a tough choice: enjoy the exciting new war programming live all the way from On-The-Road-To-Baghdad, or zone out to the annual March ritual of college hoops. They’re both games, but one is for the glory of March Madness, prestige, recruiting and corporate lucre, and the other is for keeps. 

Pat Tillman was a great recruiting chit for the war: a star football player who gave it all up to serve in Bush Jr.’s vanity war. He was a perfect poster boy for the political right: rugged, handsome, heroic and willing to follow Bush Jr.’s lead. When poor Pat died by “friendly fire,” Bush Jr. made him out to be a martyr. That was the cover for having made Pat into a stooge, and a dead one at that. Since then, Bush Jr. has managed to make Pat’s poor mother into a stooge, because she has the audacity to inquire into the details of her son’s tragic death 

At the time, I wondered why Pat didn’t just stay in Tempe or San Jose, enjoy the hoops tournament and get ready for football camp. What happened was this: 

Pat bought into the programming and the program. Bush Jr. said that our country was under attack and Pat bought it. Bush Jr. said that we needed real live American heroes to go over there and stand up to Saddam, so Pat volunteered.  

In hindsight, I can understand why Pat got swept up in the wrong kind of March Madness. How could a fine, upstanding American guy not resist the siren call to fight, when all the early reporting on the war seemed so glamorous and seductive. 

Let’s review those halcyon days of three years ago: 

Fox News, CNBC, CNN and the major networks kept us super-informed and super-patriotic that week. CNN had their screen split into four segments, replete with banners, graphics and a news blurb streamer. Fox News kept us primed with a big “WAR ALERT” bordered in orange, along with a ticker at the bottom with the latest sound bites in type. Fox also had a constant reminder that the “Terror Alert” was “High,” along with the ongoing “WAR ALERT.” Do you think they were trying to scare us, or just recruit brave guys like Pat Tillman? 

We had live cameras on the battlefields with announcers talking about what the troops were doing, saying, and thinking. Like the basketball announcers, they filled the airwaves with a lot of speculative prattle. I quickly found that following that new kind of war was exhausting, so I channel-surfed back to Pittsburgh and Wagner. 

I never did figure out what defined a WAR ALERT, and why Fox was able to scoop all the other networks on it. I guess Fox had the scoop thanks to their White House connections. 

Wall Street got in on the action too and gave Bush Jr. props for igniting the whole, delicious thing. On Day 2, Wall Street announced that this new war was great for business and trading. They were some of the cheerleaders saying, “Go Pat Go.” Other cheerleaders egging Pat on took the form of “embedded reporters” right in our living rooms. They didn’t just report the war—they sold it!  

I wondered if there was a conflict between their “embedded interests” and honest reporting, but I was repeatedly assured that this was just another liberal myth. We got live action of buildings blowing up and explosions in the background, with the added attraction of announcers commenting on “the awesome display of military power.” And they said it with a real sense of awe and deference in their voices. How could a red-blooded boy like Pat Tillman, and others like him, not swoon over that stuff? 

However, on the third day of the new war, I got a little worried when Fox reported that the troops had not yet reached Baghdad, but they were already tired. They were also concerned about having enough fuel left to fight the battle once they got to Baghdad, and sleep deprivation among the troops. A shocking thought occurred to me: what if Rummy had accidentally underestimated a thing or two. It made me wonder if they were going to schedule a “rest day” before the invasion of Baghdad. I got worried that someone might try to sneak up on us on rest day. That wouldn’t be fair, but nothing is in love and war. I began to worry, “I hope these young troops realize that they’re stuck with the army they have and not the one they want.” Then that crook Rummy stole my material without attribution. 

I don’t understand why nobody else calls him Bush Jr.? It seems to be a perfectly good way to distinguish him from Bush Sr. Now we know why Bush Sr. chose Dan Quayle as his vice president? Because he’s so much like Jr. 

What Bush Jr., Cheney and Rummy gave us three years ago was the ultimate boy movie that just won’t end. We had at least five networks of “All War, All The Time,” complete with split screens and live-action cheerleaders. All those news anchorwomen were really pretty, more so than usual during the original War Week, and they made great cheerleaders for that real life boy movie. Television news is all about packaging. Content is a throw-in once in a while. 

At first I thought that Bush Jr. was really stupid for underestimating the popularity of basketball. But this year, when I didn’t make the annual demonstration so I could watch Memphis and Oral Roberts, I realized I’d been snookered. Now I understand the strategy all along was to program the war anniversary against the NCAA basketball tournament, in order to keep the crowds down at the demonstrations. All of this illustrates that there is a huge silent majority who would rather watch basketball than demonstrate against anything—even a war. 

I have sacrificed important basketball-viewing time in order to offer these observations. So like the troops, I too have made a sacrifice for the war effort. Or maybe it’s because of the war effort. In any case, there are other things I’d rather be doing than writing about a war. Heck, three years ago, I missed almost all of the Pitt-Wagner game, and the word “heck” wasn’t even in my vocabulary. That Bush Jr., he’s one smart cracker—don’t let the Gentlemen’s C fool you. 


H. Scott Prosterman holds an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. He frequently publishes humor and political commentary in a variety of publications and websites.