The Bush Family of Secrets: Truth or Reconciliation?      
Russ Baker

They are really coming. Official investigations of the George W. Bush  administration are on the way. Karl Rove and Harriet Miers have just  agreed to limited testimony before the House Judiciary Committee,   which is looking into the seemingly politically-motivated firings of  seven U.S. Attorneys. Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and  Patrick Leahy, his senate counterpart, have additional potential  improprieties in their sights, and they are not alone. The Senate 
Intelligence Committee has already declared its intent to scrutinize  CIA practices related to terrorism suspects. And that’s just for  starters. We may soon become accustomed to powerful figures squirming  as cameras flash, being asked about everything from war to Wall Street.

Politicians will appear heroic. The media will get a hot story they  won’t have to do a bit of digging for.  And the rest of us? Some  insight, perhaps, into the power-grabbing, lies and greed of the last  eight years.

But beyond that, the historical record of official inquiries, is not,  on balance, reassuring. Think of the 9/11 panel, the Iraq inquiry,  the Warren Commission, the interminable and confusing Iran-Contra   hearings. Only rarely does such a probe produce useful results. More  often the public is benumbed by an unfathomable depth of detail and a  perplexing array of claims. The best material often is withheld for  one reason or another.  The recommendations typically end up watered 
down or ignored.

Worst of all, the public gets a vague sense that the problem has been  taken care of because – well, weren’t there those big hearings?

By all means there should be hearings.  But for the media,  commissions can too easily become a cop-out – an excuse for sitting  in the audience and serving as stenographer for other peoples’  accusations. The "news" becomes what someone says, rather than  whether what they say is true or not. And the criteria for  
newsworthiness becomes whether there are sensational revelations—which often are not accompanied by broader context.

And thus we likely would see more of the appalling journalistic  performance we witnessed during the presidency of George W. Bush –  the reluctance to question the official story in case after case,   from Weapons of Mass Destruction to the neutering of regulators  charged with keeping an eye on bankers and brokers.   (We’ve seen how  well the deregulation of the financiers worked out.)

Why did the media perform so badly? Recently, budgets for inquisitive  journalism have been slashed. But for years, news organizations were  producing huge profits, and even then, genuine reporting – as opposed  to high level stenography – got short shrift. Digging to the root  cause of problems requires a commitment of time and resources that  taxes the bottom line and angers the influential.   There’s a natural  tendency to leave it to someone else – and hope a Congressional 
commission comes along to fill the void.

The most frustrating thing is that we never seem to get around to  asking the bigger questions about how we got into this mess in the  first place. The very idea that we would even need Leahy’s proposed  Truth and Reconciliation Commission for a president we elected twice  is on its face absurd. It also suggests that there may be more to the  story. And in fact, there is. George W. Bush and his astonishing  performance cannot be understood as an isolated occurrence. In truth,  he was less the bumptious rebel we cathartically laugh at in Oliver  Stone’s W. and Will Ferrell’s Broadway hit than a leading man in a  much grimmer, long-running  saga.

It is not insignificant that someone named George Bush has been  president or vice president for 20 of the last 28 years. Even before  that we saw George the elder serve as UN ambassador, envoy to China,   and CIA director. Prior to that, came George W.’s grandfather,  investment banker and two-time senator Prescott Bush. All three   generations labored assiduously to skew public policy toward the  interests of America’s wealthiest people and their allies among  oilmen, defense contractors, and bankers. Two of those generations’  agendas were obscured by a veneer of patrician civility. Only George  W.’s transparent indifference to the harm he caused has forced us to  begin peeking behind the curtain.

This pervasive enterprise has been a barely-buried dimension in our  national life: the big picture that somehow never quite makes it to  the front page or to TV and computer screens. It should have informed  the daily reporting of the last eight years, not been consigned to a  special commission process that will flit briefly across America’s  collective consciousness and then be forgotten.

Official inquiries are not, in and of themselves, a bad thing. But  Congressional committees, or commissions, are unlikely to produce the  kind of in-depth revelations, and bracing public discussion, that we  so desperately need. Getting to the bottom of what ails our democracy  requires the exposure of long-hidden facts in meaningful historical  context, and for this we need a new commitment to journalism that  matters, that tells people the way things really are and how they got 
that way.

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Russ Baker is an award-winning investigative reporter. He has written  for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Nation, the New York Times, the  Washington Post, the Village Voice and Esquire. He has also served as  a contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. He is the  founder of WhoWhatWhy/the Real News Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit   investigative news organization, operating at   Information on his new book, Family of Secrets: the Bush Dynasty, the   Powerful Forces That Put it in the White House, and What Their   Influence Means for America, may be found at

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