January 17, 2007

Scott Ritter and the critical politics of truth

Filed under: politics — ubikcan @ 8:30 am


I could call this post simply “truth and politics” (along with pretty much all my others) but that might imply something I don’t mean: that truth is opposed to or contrasted to politics. And where they meet, they change one another (ie there’s truth but when it touches politics it gets changed).

Perhaps it’s better to simply state that all truth is political. This came to mind reading this entry by Glenn Greenwald who provides an entry from his forthcoming book on the Bush presidency. He focuses on Scott Ritter:

In exactly the way that few people were as consistently wrong as Krauthammer, few people were as right about the Iraq war as Scott Ritter was. Back in September, 2002, Ritter was trying to tell anyone who would listen that Iraq had no WMD’s. Ritter is a former U.S. Marine officer, was a top aide to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War against Iraq, and built a reputation as a tenacious weapons inspector working inside Iraq for the U.N. It is difficult to imagine someone with greater credentials and credibility who ought to have been listened to on those issues.

In fact I heard Ritter present on September 17, 2002 (this was before the Iraq invasion) and was as impressed as Greenwald by Ritter’s passion and commitment to the truth. As he pointed out, the evidence for WMD just wasn’t there. I think we all knew that Fall that an invasion would occur, and so Ritter’s talk concentrated on the nature of the evidence, that the investigatory process should continue and be public and that international law be abided. He took a lot of questions afterwards, for more than an hour, and answered them all extremely credibly even if you didn’t agree with him. At the same time (as I personally remember), in the media he was traduced and subject to attack while his arguments went not only unrefuted but unaddressed:

Ritter’s extremely prescient warnings were all but ignored in the mainstream American press, except when television panels were convened to smear his character and attack his credibility.

On January 26, 2003, Wolf Blitzer held a panel discussion on CNN to discuss Ritter’s war opposition. Ritter was not present, but Peter Beinert, the pro-war Editor of The New Republic, and Jonah Goldberg, the pro-war pundit from National Review, were invited to urge the invasion of Iraq, mock Ritter’s anti-war arguments, and smear him with a series of personal attacks.

This goes to what I was saying yesterday about the media. Their strength–in theory, as a commenter emphasized–is fact-checking and sustained I-journalism (investigative journalism).

Their weakness, however, is a fatal attraction to power. We’ve heard a lot over the last decade or so about journalism’s subservience to the GOP agenda and the Whitehouse. (Yes, I know about Clinton and Lewinsky, but what the MSM loves more than power is occasional scandal.)

Now with the Dems in power we might see a sort of attenuated version of that (nice if you’re a Dem of course). But it’s still an uncritical attitude due inevitably to corporate ownership of news. This is where blogs come in: they have that critical attitude and are, largely, uncorporatized (this will change and some blogs will be sucked into the media, viz. Wonkette writing for Time or whatever)

We have this moment then when blogging is able to achieve something, much like peer-to-peer file sharing created a moment (and notice that Napster was bought out by media companies and made legal!). Either that or blogging will constantly have to reinvent itself and overturn itself as blogs float to the top and are skimmed off.

So it’s not that blogs are accessing a truth that is unpoliticized, or politicized in the way their readers happen to agree with, and the media is not, but rather an attitude to truth: a critical attitude.

The truth is, well, what’s true, and that’s a very political thing. Blogs can ask: yes but how did it become true?

So back to Scott Ritter: he was at that moment the voice that democracies better not lose, the voice of a critical politics of truth.


This post by Atrios also captures what I was getting at:

Lots of people imagine themselves to be, somehow, above the fray. The most obvious group which does this is journalists and their brethren. They fail to see themselves as actors on the political stage, instead of detached observers.


I’ve also seen it in academics, who for all their supposed liberalness, to a great degree really see themselves outside of this grand messy business called politics. It’s dirty, somehow.


1 Comment »

  1. […] 2nd, 2007 · No Comments As I blogged before, Scott Ritter was one of the few voices of authority and experience prior to the Iraq war (a former […]

    Pingback by Latest piece by Scott Ritter « ubikcan — February 2, 2007 @ 9:15 am

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