Profile: Russell Mokhiber
Russell Mokhiber was a participant or observer in the following events:
Joost Hiltermann. [Source: Representational Pictures]Reporter Russell Mokhiber attempts to pin down White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on the Bush administration’s condemnations of Iraq over its gassing of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja, when the US at the time tried to protect Iraq from international criticism (see January 17, 2003). Mokhiber says, “You and the president have repeatedly said that Saddam Hussein gassed his own people. The biggest such attack was in Halabja in March 1988, where some 6,800 Kurds were killed. Last week, in an article in the International Herald Tribune, Joost Hiltermann writes that while it was Iraq that carried out the attack, the United States at the time, fully aware that it was Iraq, accused Iran. This was apparently part of the US tilt toward Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. The tilt included billions of dollars in loan guarantees. Sensing he had carte blanche, Saddam escalated his resort to gas warfare—graduating to ever more lethal agents. So, you and the president have said that Saddam has repeatedly gassed his own people. Why do you leave out the part that the United States in effect gave Saddam the green light?” Fleischer responds that Mokhiber needs to ask someone “other than the White House,” and claims he has no idea whether those charges are accurate. Mokhiber presses forward, saying that recent media reports show “a number of major American corporations—including Hewlett-Packard and Bechtel—helped Saddam Hussein beef up its military in the 1980s [and] supplied Iraq with cluster bombs, intelligence and chemical and biological agents.” Mokhiber notes that the same articles report the current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, “went to Baghdad in December 1983 and met with Saddam Hussein, and this was at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons almost on a daily basis in defiance of international conventions. So there are some specifics, and the question is—if Iraq is part of the axis of evil, why aren’t the United States and these American corporations part of the axis of evil for helping him out during his time of need?” Fleischer again refuses to answer directly, saying, “I think that you have to make a distinction between chemical and biological. And, clearly, in a previous era, following the fall of the Shah of Iran, when there was a focus on the risks that were underway in the region as a result of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, different administrations, beginning with President Carter, reached different conclusions about the level of military cooperation vis-a-vis Iraq. Obviously, Saddam Hussein since that time has used whatever material he had for the purpose therefore of attacking Kuwait, attacking Saudi Arabia, attacking Israel. And, obviously, as circumstances warrant, we have an approach that requires now the world to focus on the threat that Saddam Hussein presents and that he presents this threat because of his desire to continue to acquire weapons and his willingness to use those weapons against others.” Fleischer attempts to brush off any follow-up, refusing to admit that the US had any part in Hussein’s acquisition or use of chemical weapons, and saying, “I think that he gassed his own people as a result of his decisions to use his weapons to gas his own people.” When Mokhiber presses the point, Fleischer retorts, “… I think the suggestion that you blame America for Iraq’s actions is way beyond the pale.” [White House, 1/21/2003]
Several journalists question a recent White House press conference that was entirely scripted and orchestrated by the White House with the knowing complicity of the reporters present (see March 6, 2003). Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who attends the conference, later says it “might have been the most controlled presidential news conference in recent memory.… The president had a list of 17 reporters who he was going to call on. He didn’t take any questions from reporters raising their hands.” White House communications director Dan Bartlett later retorts, “If you have a message you’re trying to deliver, a news conference can go in a different direction.” However, “In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]
'Deferential Reporters' - ABC political reporter and commentator Sam Donaldson, a fixture of the White House press corps during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations, later recalls “wincing” as he watched “deferential reporters” questioning President Bush during the “scripted” conference. Donaldson will say: “People ask me, ‘Do you wish you were back at the White House?’ And I say, ‘No, not really.’ [But] there are moments like Thursday night when—yeah—I want to be there!” Veteran White House reporter Larry McQuillan of USA Today says Bush’s “call sheet” of preselected reporters “demeaned the reporters who were called on as much as those who weren’t.” Another correspondent at the conference later says: “They completely played us. What’s the point of having a press conference if you’re not going to answer questions? It was calculated on so many different levels.” New York Observer commentator Michael Crowley notes that the press corps itself must share some of the blame: “Although some asked reasonably pointed questions, most did with a tone of extreme deference… that suggested a skittishness, to which they will admit, about being seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful of a commander in chief on the eve of war. Few made any effort to follow up their questions after Mr. Bush’s recitation of arguments that were more speech-like than extemporaneous: Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, Iraq has not disarmed, Sept. 11 must never happen again.… The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music.” ABC’s Terry Moran reflects that he and the rest of the press corps shirked their duty: “The point is to get [the president] to answer questions, not just to stand up there and use all the majesty of the presidency to amplify his image.” [New York Observer, 3/16/2003]
'Kabuki' Conference - Salon’s Eric Boehlert will later write: “The entire press conference performance was a farce—the staging, the seating, the questions, the order, and the answers. Nothing about it was real or truly informative. It was, nonetheless, unintentionally revealing. Not revealing about the war, Bush’s rationale, or about the bloody, sustained conflict that was about to be unleashed inside Iraq. Reporters helped shed virtually no light on those key issues. Instead, the calculated kabuki press conference, stage-managed by the White House employing the nation’s most elite reporters as high-profile extras, did reveal what viewers needed to know about the mind-set of the [mainstream media] on the eve of war.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Journalist Russell Mokhiber asks White House press secretary Ari Fleischer: “You said in April that the war was about weapons of mass destruction (see April 10, 2003). The war resulted in thousands of innocent civilian deaths.… Do you personally feel any remorse given the public case that is being made that this war was based on that false pretext?” Fleischer responds with an assertion about Iraq being safer because of the removal of a brutal tyrant: “Number one, you have no basis to say that it is a false pretext. Number two, when you take a look at the mass graves that have been discovered all around Iraq, I think that world breathes a sign of relief that the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, with no regard to human rights, was removed from power so that the Iraqi people can at long last have a life to build a future that is based on freedom and opportunity and not on tyranny.” Mokhiber redirects Fleischer back onto the topic of WMD, noting, “But you said the war was based on weapons of mass destruction.” Fleischer says, “That still stands, per earlier in the conversation.” [US Department of State, 6/9/2003; CommonDreams, 6/9/2003]
Russell Mokhiber. [Source: Democracy Now!]White House Press secretary Scott McClellan is asked by journalist Russell Mokhiber about the likelihood of White House political chief Karl Rove’s possible involvement in the Plame Wilson leak. McClellan will call Mokhiber “a Ralph Nader associate and liberal White House critic… interested in gotcha reporting, plain and simple, to damage an administration he held in low regard.” Mokhiber notes that Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson believes Rove leaked her name to Robert Novak (see August 21, 2003), and adds, “[T]his is apparently a federal offense, to burn the cover of a CIA operative.” McClellan will write that he has not discussed the matter with Rove as yet, and is somewhat taken aback by Mokhiber’s “emotionally offputting” phrasing. He “confidently” tells Mokhiber, “That’s just ridiculous.” He will continue denying any involvement by Rove, and will later write, “It was the stance I would maintain as the scandal blossomed.” [White House, 9/16/2003; McClellan, 2008, pp. 179]
The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), holds a series of hearings about health care reform, on April 21, May 5, and May 12. In all, 41 experts testify, but none of them advocate the so-called “single-payer” form of health care, a system which essentially has the government providing health care insurance instead of private insurers—“Medicare for all Americans,” as some characterize it. [Politico, 5/5/2009; Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009] The experts are from organizations like America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health industry’s largest lobbying firm, and health insurers Blue Cross and Aetna. Some of the invited organizations employ former Baucus staff members. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009] Baucus says that single-payer is “off the table,” and will not be considered. [TPM Cafe, 5/5/2009]
Health Industry Heavy Donors to Baucus - The nonpartisan organization Consumer Watchdog has reported that Baucus, one of the Senate’s most important architects of Congressional health reform, has accepted more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate. During the last two election cycles, he received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies. [Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009]
Protesters Disrupt Hearings - Protesters disrupt the hearings by standing up and shouting criticisms of the committee over its failure to bring single-payer into the discussion. Eight protesters are led out of the hearing room and later arrested. At one point, Baucus asks for more police officers to enforce security. The protests are organized by Healthcare Now, Physicians for a National Health Program, and Single Payer Action, all of whom support a single-payer, government-run health care system. One protester calls the hearings nothing more than “political theater.” For his part, Baucus assures the audience, “I want you to know I care deeply about your views.” [Politico, 5/5/2009] The eight protesters spend around seven hours in jail. One, Dr. Margaret Flowers, later recalls: “It’s funny, the policemen were all telling us their horror stories about health care. One was telling us about his mother who was 62 and lost her job and was uninsured, waiting to get Medicare when she was 65.” The protesters are sentenced to six months’ probation. Baucus later admits that not allowing single-payer advocates to participate in the hearings was a mistake; he will eventually agree to meet with a group of those advocates (see June 3, 2009).
Single-Payer Never Considered - In September, Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi will note that Baucus, like President Obama and other prominent Democrats, has supported single-payer insurance in theory, but asserts such a proposal would never get through Congress. Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who advocates for single-payer as a member of Single Payer Action, later says that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats made an agreement with health industry leaders months before considering legislation for health care reform that single-payer would not be part of their proposals. In return, Mokhiber will say, they asked the industry not to oppose their reform efforts, a request that the industry has generally not honored. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Aetna, Healthcare Now, Consumer Watchdog, Barack Obama, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Single Payer Action, Blue Cross, Russell Mokhiber, Margaret Flowers, Matt Taibbi, Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Obama administration, Physicians for a National Health Program
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
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