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Context of 'November 3, 2004: Poor Poll Question Leads to False Claims that ‘Moral Values’ Drove Votes over Iraq, Terrorism, Economy'

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Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh dismisses photos taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib over the course of several broadcasts. The excerpts are collected by Newsweek, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters. On May 3, he tells his listeners, “You know, if you look at—if you really look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do onstage—maybe I’m, yeah—and get an NEA [National Education Association] grant for something like this” (see October 2003, October 17-22, 2003, October 24, 2003, Evening October 25, 2003, November 4, 2003, November 4-December 2, 2003, and Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003, among others). On May 4, he says: “You know, those [US soldiers in Iraq] are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time. These people—you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? … It is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” On May 5, he says: “I think a lot of the American culture is being feminized. I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” On May 6: he says, “The thing, though, that continually amazes—here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever.… I mean, this is something that you can see onstage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex and the City.” In that same broadcast, he praises the torturers by saying: “And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it’s pretty thoughtful.… Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured.… Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.” And on May 11, he says, “If you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win an award from the pornography industry.” [Media Matters, 5/6/2004; Newsweek, 5/13/2004; Boehlert, 2006, pp. 118; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 160]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Britney Spears, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Madonna, Media Matters, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda

Charles Graner gets the longest Abu Ghraib-related sentence: ten years in prison.Charles Graner gets the longest Abu Ghraib-related sentence: ten years in prison. [Source: US Army]Between May 19, 2004, and March 22, 2006, a series of low ranking US soldiers are convicted in military trials for abuses of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:
bullet Specialist Jeremy Sivits. He pleads guilty to four charges on May 19, 2004. He is demoted, discharged, and sentenced to one year in prison.
bullet Specialist Armin Cruz. He pleads guilty to two charges on September 11, 2004. He is demoted, discharged, and sentenced to eight months in prison.
bullet Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick. He pleads guilty to eight counts on October 21, 2004. He is demoted, forfeits pay, and sentenced to eight years in prison.
bullet Specialist Megan Ambuhl. She pleads guilty to one charge on October 30, 2004. She is demoted.
bullet Specialist Charles Graner. He is found guilty to a number of charges on January 15, 2005. He is demoted, dishonorably discharged, and sentenced to ten years in prison.
bullet Specialist Roman Krol. He pleads guilty to two charges on February 1, 2005. He is sentences to ten months in prison.
bullet Sergeant Javal Davis. He pleads guilty to three charges on February 4, 2005. He is demoted, discharged, and sentenced to six months in prison.
bullet Specialist Sabrina Harman. She is found guilty of three charges on May 19, 2005. She is discharged and sentenced to six months in prison.
bullet Private first class Lynndie England. She is found guilty of three charges on September 27, 2005. She is dishonorably discharged and sentenced to three years in prison.
bullet Sergeant Michael Smith. He is found guilty of five charges. His is demoted, discharged, and sentenced to three months in prison.
So far no officers have been convicted for any Abu Ghraib related abuses. [New York Times, 3/23/2006]

Entity Tags: Roman Krol, Michael J. Smith, Megan Ambuhl, Sabrina Harman, Jeremy C. Sivits, Lynndie England, Charles Graner, Ivan L. Frederick II, Javal Davis, Armin J. Cruz

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The day after President Bush’s presidential election victory over Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an Associated Press exit poll indicates that 22 percent of voters made their choice because of “moral values”—a higher ranked criterion than the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism, or the economy. The mainstream media seizes on the poll as an indication of a new focus on morality among American voters. “It really is Michael Moore versus Mel Gibson,” says former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, comparing the liberal documentary maker to the actor who has wooed conservatives with his recent film, The Passion of the Christ. News analysts say that singer Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” where she showed her right breast for a moment during the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, was “the socio-political event of the past year.” Bush campaign manager and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says, “I think it’s people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak uses the poll to claim that “the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is transcendant.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that the interpretation of the poll is transparently false. First, he will point out, if one adds together the 19 percent who chose terrorism and the 15 percent who chose Iraq as the issues that most drove their vote, then it is “clear that national security was of greater concern to Americans than ‘moral values.’” Moreover, the poll itself is suspect: the category of “moral values” is so general as to mean anything from, as Rich will write, “abortion to aiding the poor to being nice to your mother.” According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the over-generalized category of “moral values” is an easy way for voters to choose “none of the above” instead of choosing a specific issue as their single motivator. According to Rich, Pew will find that “when voters were given no menu of suggestions to choose from, Iraq, the economy, and terrorism led by far, and issues that might be labeled as ‘values’ polled in the low single digits.” Worse for the conservative “moral values” argument, 60 percent of those polled actually favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions, and 55 percent support abortion in one form or another. ABC News polling director Greg Langer later notes that the erroneous “moral values” claim “created a deep distortion—one that threatens to misinform the political discourse for years to come.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 150-151] One effect of the new “moral values” perception is the decision by 66 ABC affiliates not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan over Memorial Day over fears that the profanity and violence portrayed in the film might result in fines from the Federal Communications Commission (see November 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, ABC, Associated Press, Frank Rich, Pew Research Center, Robert Novak, Greg Langer, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Studio poster for ‘Saving Private Ryan.’Studio poster for ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ [Source: Little Golden Guy (.com)]Sixty-six of ABC’s 225 affiliated stations choose not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day. ABC aired the film, widely considered a homage to American soldiers, on Veterans Day in 2001 and 2002 without complaint. But with new concerns that the Bush administration, and the American electorate, is energized by a passion for “moral values” (see November 3, 2004), the stations’ executives believe they may risk fines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The film opens with a graphic depiction of the famous D-Day invasion of Normandy by US, British, and Canadian forces, and the entire film contains a significant amount of profanity. The FCC could impose fines of up to $32,500 on a station if it finds the film violates moral and ethical standards. The FCC says it has received complaints, but has not yet decided to mount any sort of investigation. Many stations choosing not to air the film say that if their viewers are angry at the decision, they should call the FCC themselves. ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell says the “overwhelming majority” of viewers are comfortable with their decision to broadcast the film. Some of the stations choosing not to air the film point to a recent FCC decision to fine CBS stations up to $500,000 for airing a Super Bowl halftime show in which entertainer Janet Jackson exposed her right breast for a moment. ABC’s contract with DreamWorks, the film studio who produced Saving Private Ryan, does not allow the network or its stations to edit the film. ABC shows an introduction by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, says that he cannot imagine the FCC fining any station for showing the film: “I think that this planet would collide with Saturn before that happens.” [Associated Press, 11/12/2004; BBC, 11/13/2004] In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write that “merely the fear of reprisals was enough to push television stations… onto the slippery slope of self-censorship before anyone in Washington even bothered to act.” Rich asks if such self-censorship might extend into these stations’, and networks’, coverage of the Iraq war: “If these media outlets were afraid to show a graphic Hollywood treatment of a 60-year old war starring the beloved Tom Hanks because the feds might fine them, toy with their licenses, or deny them regulatory permission to expand their empires, might they curry favor with Washington by softening their news divisions’ efforts to present the ugly facts of an ongoing war? The pressure groups that were incensed by both Saving Private Ryan and risque programming were often the same ones who campaigned against any news organization that was not toeing the administration political line in lockstep with Fox [News].” [Rich, 2006, pp. 153-154]

Entity Tags: Janet Jackson, CBS, ABC, DreamWorks, Jack Valenti, Susan Sewell, Federal Communications Commission, John McCain

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The US television news media virtually ignores the court-martial of Specialist Charles Graner, who is charged with abusing and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005), according to author and media critic Frank Rich. “[I]f a story isn’t on TV in America, it’s MIA in the culture,” Rich will write. Much of the broadcast coverage is focused on stories about President Bush’s upcoming inauguration and on Britain’s Prince Harry, who had dressed up in Nazi regalia for a costume party. The network and cable news stations grant Graner’s trial only “brief, mechanical” summations “when it was broadcast at all.” The usual claims that television news only focuses on lurid, scandal-ridden news stories do not apply here, Rich writes: “It surely didn’t lack for drama; the Graner trial was Judgment at Nuremberg turned upside down.” Viewers do not learn of defense lawyer Guy Womack’s claim during his closing argument that “In Nuremberg, it was the government being prosecuted. We were going after the order-givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers.” Rich will later write that if the American public could not be exposed to fictional films about World War II (see November 11, 2004), then it “certainly… could not be exposed to real-life stories involving forced group masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners’ ears, involuntary enemas, and beatings that ended in death (see May 3-11, 2004). When one detainee witness at the Graner trial testified… that he had been forced to eat out of a toilet, his story was routinely cited in newspaper accounts but left unmentioned on network TV newscasts.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 155]

Entity Tags: Guy Womack, Charles Graner, Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda

Army Specialist Charles Graner is sentenced to 10 years in prison. In a military court-martial, Graner was convicted of crimes related to the torture and abuse of prisoners in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison (see October 2003), October 17-22, 2003), November 4-December 2, 2003, and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003), including charges of battery, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts, and dereliction of duty. Graner admitted some of his actions were criminal, and told jurors, “I didn’t enjoy what I did there” before he was found guilty. Asked if he felt remorse over his actions, Graner says simply: “There’s a war on. Bad things happen.” After Graner completes his sentence, he will be dishonorably discharged. He has forfeited all of his pay and benefits. Defense lawyer Guy Womack says that Graner and his six fellow Abu Ghraib guards also facing trials (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006) are being used as scapegoats by the Defense Department. Graner and his lawyers were unable to effectively discuss orders being handed down from superior officers during the trial, as the judge in the court-martial, Colonel James Pohl, refused to let witnesses say the names of officers who gave the orders or what orders might have been given, in effect constraining the trial to point to Graner and his colleagues as independent, “rogue” agents operating outside the chain of command. Graner did not testify during his trial, but during sentencing said that he had done what he was ordered to do by US intelligence agents, in order to “soften up” prisoners for interrogation. According to Graner, a lieutenant in his unit told him: “If [military intelligence] asks you to do this, it needs to be done. They’re in charge, follow their orders.” He believed the orders to torture and abuse prisoners were lawful, he claims. [Associated Press, 1/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 155] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note that while the print media coverage of Graner’s trial is relatively extensive, the broadcast media virtually ignores it in favor of celebrating the inauguration of President Bush (see January 11-16, 2005). [Rich, 2006, pp. 155]

Entity Tags: Guy Womack, US Department of Defense, Charles Graner, James L. Pohl, Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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