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“Vanity, Vanity”: Neo-Cons Learn How Far You Can Trust Mainstream Media

What they found out is, not very far. I had to learn this lesson myself, I regret, as I’ve dealt with the evolution issue in the past couple of years. When the MSM have an agenda, you either agree to validate it or you stay away from them. They are not going to let you represent your own views responsibly.

Unfortunately, some foreign policy neo-conservatives who probably think themselves sophisticates just got taken in by Vanity Fair in a pre-election hit piece on the Iraq War. As soon as I heard about it on NPR Saturday (where it was presented with breathless urgency, of course) I figured out that the neo-cons in question (Richard Perle, Ken Adelman and David Frum, among others) had been bamboozled into doing interviews on the war with the the understanding (now betrayed) that the Vanity Fair issue with the resulting article wouldn’t come out until January. In monthly magazine scheduling, that normally means issues with the “January” article would not hit newsstands and mailboxes until early December. But this is early November, isn’t it?

Why would the magazine do a promotional story a full month ahead of time? Well, because it was a way to influence the election and get the magazine’s name some major publicity, that’s why. It really is funny, in a sad way, that men as well-schooled in politics and media as Perle and Frum were taken in by bogus promises made to them by the magazine. But, the magazine editors probably are saying (tongue in cheek): We only said the January issue wouldn’t be out until December, we didn’t say we wouldn’t publicize it before then! Ha, ha, ha! Gotcha!

The neo-cons should have anticipated as much. Now their reported criticisms of Iraq war tactics are not being treated as constructive, but as crass political desertion that can be used to defeat candidates they themselves probably favor in Tuesday’s election. They are now protesting in National Review Online that they not only were misrepresented, but also taken out of context by the Vanity Fair leak. And they seem to have a case. But, again, they should have thought about this ahead of time. Vanity Fair HATES conservatives and has no scruples at all about abusing the trust of such people. Why should the interviewees have expected otherwise?

I do sympathize with the neo-cons who inadvertently lent themselves to this bit of election campaign trickery. They thought they were contributing to a deliberative review of Iraq policy that is probably not only desirable but inevitable before the new Congress takes office–regardless of how the election comes out. The trouble is, the review needs to be conducted with clear eyes, and not in the political fog of political war that exists up to the closure of the polls.

America cannot abandon Iraq any more than it can abandon the war on terror as a whole. Of course people feel tired of it all. The terrorists may even feel tired, some of them. But reality is not about feelings.

Politics sometimes is about feelings, however. And the media are almost entirely about feelings these days.

There has been some amazing political journalistic chicanery in election coverage and some truly inspired political public relations activities on the left. The conservatives in general are not up to the game.

I close with John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (1678):

“When they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. At this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures….lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.”

What were the nice neo-con gentlemen doing in a place like that, anyhow?

Mr. Chapman is president of Discovery Institute.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.