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The Hedonists of Power

Posted on Jun 23, 2008
AP photo / Charles Dharapak, file

Tim Russert is shown speaking last year at the 60th anniversary celebration of NBC’s “Meet the Press” in Washington. Russert, 58, collapsed and died this month while at work at NBC’s Washington bureau.

By Chris Hedges

Washington has become Versailles. We are ruled, entertained and informed by courtiers. The popular media are courtiers. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are courtiers. Our pundits and experts are courtiers. We are captivated by the hollow stagecraft of political theater as we are ruthlessly stripped of power. It is smoke and mirrors, tricks and con games. We are being had.

The past week was a good one if you were a courtier. We were instructed by the high priests on television over the past few days to mourn a Sunday morning talk show host, who made $5 million a year and who gave a platform to the powerful and the famous so they could spin, equivocate and lie to the nation. We were repeatedly told by these television courtiers, people like Tom Brokaw and Wolf Blitzer, that this talk show host was one of our nation’s greatest journalists, as if sitting in a studio, putting on makeup and chatting with Dick Cheney or George W. Bush have much to do with journalism.

No journalist makes $5 million a year. No journalist has a comfortable, cozy relationship with the powerful. No journalist believes that acting as a conduit, or a stenographer, for the powerful is a primary part of his or her calling. Those in power fear and dislike real journalists. Ask Seymour Hersh and Amy Goodman how often Bush or Cheney has invited them to dinner at the White House or offered them an interview.

All governments lie, as I.F. Stone pointed out, and it is the job of the journalist to do the hard, tedious reporting to shine a light on these lies. It is the job of courtiers, those on television playing the role of journalists, to feed off the scraps tossed to them by the powerful and never question the system. In the slang of the profession, these television courtiers are “throats.” These courtiers, including the late Tim Russert, never gave a voice to credible critics in the buildup to the war against Iraq. They were too busy playing their roles as red-blooded American patriots. They never fought back in their public forums against the steady erosion of our civil liberties and the trashing of our Constitution. These courtiers blindly accept the administration’s current propaganda to justify an attack on Iran. They parrot this propaganda. They dare not defy the corporate state. The corporations that employ them make them famous and rich. It is their Faustian pact. No class of courtiers, from the eunuchs behind Manchus in the 19th century to the Baghdad caliphs of the Abbasid caliphate, has ever transformed itself into a responsible elite. Courtiers are hedonists of power.

Our Versailles was busy this past week. The Democrats passed the FISA bill, which provides immunity for the telecoms that cooperated with the National Security Agency’s illegal surveillance over the past six years. This bill, which when signed means we will never know the extent of the Bush White House’s violation of our civil liberties, is expected to be adopted by the Senate. Barack Obama has promised to sign it in the name of national security. The bill gives the U.S. government a license to eavesdrop on our phone calls and e-mails. It demolishes our right to privacy. It endangers the work of journalists, human rights workers, crusading lawyers and whistle-blowers who attempt to expose abuses the government seeks to hide. These private communications can be stored indefinitely and disseminated, not just to the U.S. government but to other governments as well. The bill, once signed into law, will make it possible for those in power to identify and silence anyone who dares to make public information that defies the official narrative.


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Being a courtier, and Obama is one of the best, requires agility and eloquence. The most talented of them can be lauded as persuasive actors. They entertain us. They make us feel good. They convince us they are our friends. We would like to have dinner with them. They are the smiley faces of a corporate state that has hijacked the government and is raping the nation. When the corporations make their iron demands, these courtiers drop to their knees, whether to placate the telecommunications companies that fund their campaigns and want to be protected from lawsuits, or to permit oil and gas companies to rake in obscene profits and keep in place the vast subsidies of corporate welfare doled out by the state.

We cannot differentiate between illusion and reality. We trust courtiers wearing face powder who deceive us in the name of journalism. We trust courtiers in our political parties who promise to fight for our interests and then pass bill after bill to further corporate fraud and abuse. We confuse how we feel about courtiers like Obama and Russert with real information, facts and knowledge. We chant in unison with Obama that we want change, we yell “yes we can,” and then stand dumbly by as he coldly votes away our civil liberties. The Democratic Party, including Obama, continues to fund the war. It refuses to impeach Bush and Cheney. It allows the government to spy on us without warrants or cause. And then it tells us it is our salvation. This is a form of collective domestic abuse. And, as so often happens in the weird pathology of victim and victimizer, we keep coming back for more. 

Chris Hedges, who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times, says he will vote for Ralph Nader for president.

Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, By Chris Hedges, Truthdig Columnist and Winner of the Pulitzer Prize -- Get Your Autographed Copy Today Also Available! Truthdig Exclusive DVD of Chris Hedges' Wages of Rebellion Lecture The World As It Is: 
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By blueshift, June 23, 2008 at 8:57 am Link to this comment

With Obama’s cynical capitulation on the FISA bill, he’s completed - in just two weeks - my utter disillusionment, and it’s more than likely I won’t vote at all in November because it simply doesn’t matter who wins. (I might waste my time and vote for Nader, but in the meantime I should probably look into relocating to a free country. If there IS one.)

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By GA Walker, June 23, 2008 at 8:43 am Link to this comment
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Until this erudite(as always from Mr Hedges)piece of-I dare say- journalism, no one in the media has pointed out Meet The Press’(as well as many others’)complicity in selling this war to the American people. Those that have failed to so are however, the afore mentioned ‘and many others’. It makes me ask the question once again; What the fuck would we do without the internet and sites like Truthdig? The answer is; we would suffer only newspeak and doublethink. Thank you Mr. Hedges and  
Truthdig, once again, for saying and publishing what no one at the ‘Ministry of Truth’(the main stream liars) ever would.

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By CorkExaminer, June 23, 2008 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

Thanks Chris; it is really important that people wake up to our mediated stupor.  I am an enthusiatic supporter of Obama’s.  Whether he is making the correct call here is truly not obvious.  There would be a great cost for him to make a stand on this: we forget how things the fog is.  He has signaled that he doesn’t like the bill and consistently that he disagrees with current extra-legal view of government, but he isn’t going to make trouble on this issue.

I have written some more on this here.

Bottom line: we need to avoid letting our judgment become swamped by a single example.

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By samosamo, June 23, 2008 at 7:09 am Link to this comment

What else can be said? Maybe vote Nader? I don’t understand the ‘obama said he would sign it’ part when it appears little w will have that dubious honor to add to his list of subversions before he leaves if he leaves at all. Might be a really BIG October surprise again. Just like the October surprise in 2006 the cabal mentioned was the dems becoming the majority in the house and senate but nothing changed, complete support of w & dick’s agendas and pelosi hidding w & dick behind her skirt, oops pants suit.

A truly major major major turn over in congress is about the best answer for the easy way, because taking to the streets seems to be the only alternative. OR, accept what they do to us.

Something else, as bad as our economy is turning, there has to be some hidden agenda for these crooks to have their cake and eat too, meaning are these pricks actually converting their ill gotten gains into euros or are they planning the amero to become the world currency. Something is up and I haven’t found the thread as to where this is going because these ‘elites’ don’t seem too concerned with the economy other than they don’t have to pay for a goddamn thing.

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By KISS, June 23, 2008 at 6:40 am Link to this comment

“And, as so often happens in the weird pathology of victim and victimizer, we keep coming back for more.” 
Corporate shenanigans will go on and on, and the people will relish their courtiers with impunity.These hedonistic bastards will spin their webs of deceit and the gullible will cheer and fight for them. Truth sayers will be booed and persecuted for exposing them for what they are. Tim Russert was a giant in the spinning deceit and lies and the public adored him. I thank you Chris Hedges for telling the truth.

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By AT, June 23, 2008 at 6:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“When corporate is more powerful than the government, then it’s fascism (FDR). Mussolini agreed. So would Cheney, Perle etc… Tim Russert was paid 5 millions to speak for the corporate state. Not only the corporate state ignored all rules of laws, instead of fixing the ballot boxes like Cheney-Bush did, it fixed the law makers.

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By jackpine savage, June 23, 2008 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

So the answer to the rhetorical question contained in Mr. Hedges’ post is what?  Pitchforks and torches?

It should be noted that television one of the main culprits.  Would Russert have become a famed print journalist?  And i refer you to the words of one Mr. Francis Zappa:

I am gross and perverted.  I’m obsessed and deranged.  I have existed for years, but very little has changed.  I’m the tool of the government and industry too.  For I am destined to rule and regulate you.  I may be vile and pernicious, but you can’t look away.  I make you think i’m delicious with the stuff that i say.  I’m the best you can get.  Have you guessed me yet?  I’m the slime oozing out of your TV set.

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By Conservative Yankee, June 23, 2008 at 5:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If I hear the words “liberal media” one more time, I’m likely to go postal!!

Media isn’t “liberal” this (in today’s world) would be an impossible feat. Media is money, connections, power, and “the fourth estate. just think for a minute what that means. “Meet the press” is on the air through the good graces of government, the FCC, and large corporate sponsors.

Media isn’t “conservative” either. conservative is boring, sameness, and leave-it-to-Beaverish” Who would buy a paper whit the Headlines; “Everything’s going Great….just like yesterday” who would listen to a talk show where every one of the talking heads agreed with Clarence Thomas?

Once there was a paper, here in New England “The Manchester (New Hampshire) Union Leader. It was published, owned, and edited by Teddy Roosevelt’s God son, William Loeb. He was a conservative, bitch-slapping folks of all political parties and ideologies. Folks from Kennedy to Kissinger felt the sting of his front-page editorials. He dethroned front-runners, and enconsed New Hampshire’s primary as “first in the Nation.”

He was feared, hated, and lacked anything remotely resembling journalistic skill… BUT he printed ALL letters sent to his paper. and people far and wide read the Union Leader. 

I was often shocked by the things he did (like calling Kissinger a “Kike”) But to this day, the Union Leader was the only non-partisan paper I ever read.

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By jpbreeze, June 23, 2008 at 4:48 am Link to this comment


As usual you wrote a very informative column, and were able to reveal in an eloquent way just how broken our system is, without degrading Mr. Russert, but pointing out the true inadequicies of the “liberal Media”.

Keep up the great work!

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By elwood p.dowd, June 23, 2008 at 3:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Absolutely right. D.C. is one big cocktail party circuit where the rich and powerful cozy up to supposed journalists. Presidential press conferences are a joke; first of all the White House acts like they are a privilege they may or may not feel like bestowing.Bull. Being informed is every citizen’s right. And the media has to stop acting like they are being “favored” by being allowed to appear at one- it is not only their right to get the information to us, it is their duty. H.L. Mencken put it best-  ” The purpose of a reporter is to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.”

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