[Ed’s note: On Tuesday, September 11, the writer lost his brother, James Potorti, at the World Trade Center. James worked on the 96th Floor of the first tower for a company called Marsh & McLennan.>
On October 8th, as most Americans rose concerned and curious about the military action taking place on the other side of the globe, NPR’s Morning Edition host Bob Edwards asked Cokie Roberts to weigh in. “Leaders of Congress were quick to issue a statement in support of the military action in Afghanistan,” he said. “Were there any dissenters?”
“None that matter,” she replied.
It’s a jaw-dropping statement when you think about it, one that says nothing and yet says everything. There was opposition to the bombing. But how much? From whom? But before you go demanding simple facts or objective reportage, let’s cut to the chase: it doesn’t matter.
It’s an opinion unlikely to be shared by California Representative Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress brave enough to vote her conscience in declining to authorize the use of military force. Or to other members of Congress who expressed similar concerns. Do they matter? To countless Americans who share their concerns, they do.
But in a larger sense, of course, Roberts is right. In a media universe where you’re likely to find right-wing conservatives on ABC, Fox, or NPR, the facts don’t matter; only the framing. And in the hands of biased pundits posing as objective journalists, the framing is always going to be the same: pro-military, pro-government, and pro-war.
Still, Roberts may have done us a favor with her comment. Those three little words tell us worlds about the values informing the operation of U.S. intelligence, the State Department, and the Pentagon. Understanding those words may bring us some much-needed clarity on U.S. policies seemingly at odds with U.S. values.
Have sanctions against Iraq have killed more than 500,000 innocent children? None that matter. Did bombing Yugoslavia kill more civilians than soldiers? None that matter. Did lobbing cruise missiles at a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory result in the deaths of medicine-starved civilians? None that matter.
The phrase is useful for understanding domestic policies as well. At the Koyoto summit, did any significant criticisms of U.S. energy policies emerge? None that matter. Has the U.S. stance on eliminating the ABM treaty produced any significant concerns from the rest of the civilized world? None that matter. Has U.S. reliance on the death penalty inflicted any damages on our moral authority? None that matter.
It’s equally handy at explaining our current crisis. Are the militaristic responses to the terrorist attacks likely to endanger the lives of more American civilians? None that matter. Will the war on terrorism endanger the civil liberties of Americans at home? None that matter. Will bombing Afghanistan cause any significant improvements in the lot of the innocent Afghan people? None that matter.
And let’s not forget: it’s a handy phrase you can use at home as well. Will network news divisions, owned by defense contractors, give us any useful insights into the workings of the U.S. military? None that matter. Will you hear any coherent news reports from outside of a narrow, statist perspective? None that matter. And are there any mainstream media outlets willing to criticize U.S. foreign policy? None that matter.
Thanks, Cokie. By telling us it doesn’t matter, you’ve done more than express your biased political opinion. You’ve explained the arrogant, provincial, and value-free attitudes at work behind American foreign policy. And you’ve also given us valuable insight into the mindset of the terrorists behind the events of September 11.
Won’t innocent American civilians die in the attacks? None that matter. Won’t Islam be defamed in the eyes of other nations? None that matter. And, in the end, are the attacks likely to achieve much-needed changes in U.S. foreign policy?
None that matter.