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Made for TV

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"At approximately 11:45 a.m. today, Gov. Mike Easley brushed a retaining wall in turn two at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte."

-- Press release from the governor's office after he totaled the #48 Lowe's race car owned by Jeff Gordon.

"The car skidded out of Turn 2 and toward the retaining wall. The left-front end of the car made contact with the inside wall, and the car bounced off the wall and then struck again on its left-rear side. The impact heavily damaged the car, crushing its engine."

--The News & Observer's description of the accident.

"There was not a firefight inside of the building, I will tell you, but there were fire fights outside of the building, getting in and getting out."

-- Brigadier Gen. Vincent Brooks, at a CENTCOM press conference after the rescue of Jessica Lynch.

"The American strategy was to ensure the right television footage by using embedded reporters and images from their own cameras, editing the film themselves. The Pentagon had been influenced by Hollywood producers of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer."

--A BBC report last week that found the U.S. military knew there were no Iraqi troops guarding Jessica Lynch, but went in shooting what appeared to be blanks for the sake of military cameras. (See p. 9 for more.)

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Truth has always been elusive for government mouthpieces. The problem is, the media are less and less willing to call them on it.

So the governor didn't just brush the wall, he crashed into it. His image soared when the truth about the NASCAR escapade came out. ("Easley basks in good PR"--N&O, May 16). But if the press had paid as much attention to his lack of leadership on the state budget, would he have had the same PR bounce?

We had to save Jessica Lynch, a soldier caught behind enemy lines. But the operation became an orchestrated production number to help the Pentagon sell the war. It's just one in a series of lies the Bush Administration presented as fact (false findings of chemical weapons, overstated nuclear capability, and on and on), lies most of the media passed along without examination.

No one has made that point better than John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper's magazine and author of Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, an expose of the way the U.S. used public relations to sell the public on that war. He's been busy lately exposing how it's still true. MacArthur's an old friend of mine, and reminded me of a key point made by the late political writer, Walter Karp: Without aggressive political opposition to push them, the media won't criticize those practices on their own.

"Unless the Democrats sign off on an opposition, then the media won't do it, because they need the politicians to tell them how to think and where to look," he says. "You cannot expect the media in this country to behave in an oppositional way without organized opposition."

In Raleigh, that means a Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. In Washington, it means any Democrat at all.

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