A favorite line of discussion for me when I’m talking to security hawks is to ask: So, what are you afraid of?
That I recognize that they are often motivated by fear gives them pause and they quickly try to put forth some other rational for why they believe what they believe, but I don’t let go: I keep asking, So, what are you afraid of?
They’re trying to scare the pants off the American people that we need these things.When [former head of Homeland Security Michael] Chertoff goes on TV, he is basically promoting his clients and exploiting that fear to make money. Fear is a commodity and they’re selling it. The more they can sell it, the more we buy into it. When American people are afraid, they will accept anything.’”
That was in 2010, and the fear mongering hasn’t slackened.
Hayden has a clear financial stake in the very NSA debates he’s put on television to adjudicate. And while he’s sometimes identified as a principal of the Chertoff Group, what that means – the conflicts of interest it creates in the very debates in which he’s participating – is almost never mentioned. That’s because one inviolable rule for establishment TV hosts like Bob Schieffer is that US military officials must be treated with the greatest reverence and must never be meaningfully challenged (contrast that with what actual journalist David Halberstam described as the “proudest moment” of his career: when he stood up in press conferences in 1963 in Vietnam to make clear he knew US generals were lying, to the point that the Pentagon demanded that his New York Times editors remove him from covering the war).
That political figures have undisclosed financial stakes in the policy positions they pretend to favor is so common in Washington that it has become normalized, something its mavens barely recognize as noteworthy. The same is true of former national security officials who exploit their credentials, their connections, and – especially – the Fear of Terrorism to generate massive profits for themselves. But that this manipulation is incredibly common in sleazy Washington does not justify having TV-journalists conceal those conflicts when presenting these officials as authorities and experts. When it comes to people like Michael Hayden, the profoundly unhealthy reverence harbored by TV journalists means that they would never dare utter any such facts. We are thus subjected to “journalism” in which those least qualified to opine, and those with the greatest personal interests in the outcome of debates, are presented as objective experts, while viewers remain entirely uninformed about all of this.
Greenwald noted one telling tweet:
@ggreenwald inviting Hayden to comment on regulation of surveillance is like having Bernie Madoff comment on regulation of Wall Street
When the foxes are sitting on both sides of the desk, the chickens need to be really, really scared.
I, for one, am much more afraid of financial interests run amok in Washington than I am of a criminal taking my life in the name of their personal agenda.
That’s what I fear.