It's hard to choose which deserves the coarser jeer: the excited baying in the press about the non-discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the wailing in the press about the 3-2 decision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this week to allow corporate media giants to increase their domination of the market.

            Actually, they're all part of the same binding curve of nonsense, and if we meld the two, we're left with the following proposition, mostly promoted by Democrats eager to impart the impression that only greedy Republicans are serfs of the corporate media titans and that the Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996 was actually a well-intended effort to return the airwaves to Us the People.

            The proposition: Until the FCC vote this week, we the people, surfing through the TV channels or across the AM/FM radio dial, were afforded diversity of choice, the better to form those reasoned political judgments essential in the functioning of this democratic republic.

            In the run-up to the U.S./U.K. attack on Iraq we were afforded a multiplicity of analyses, not just from hole-in-the-wall operations like Pacifica or satellite-based LINKS TV. Night after night the bulk of the American people were able to enjoy well-informed reporting, suggesting that the Bush administration's accusations that Saddam Hussein had WMDs ready to use in as little as 45 minutes had no factual foundation.

            But now, after the FCC decision, these voices will be stilled. We are entering the era of Big Brother.

            You think I'm joking? Here's what one of the two Democratic FCC commissioners, Michael J. Copps, said before the vote, with his grand words now approvingly quoted by liberal editorial writers and pundits: "Today the Federal Communications Commission empowers America's new media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the ideas and information upon which our society and our democracy so heavily depend. The decision we five make today will recast our entire media landscape for years to come. At issue is whether a few corporations will be ceded enhanced gatekeeper control over the civil dialogue of our country; more content control over our music, entertainment and information; and veto power over the majority of what our families watch, hear and read."

            Now, didn't this happen, oh, 40, 50, maybe 70 years ago? Of course it did. The damage was done long, long ago, and all that happened this week is that it got slightly worse, but not to any degree instantly apparent to the long-suffering national audience. So, just as you suspected, we were getting lousy info from the corporate press before the FCC vote this week.

            The press is now happily passing the buck to the intelligence services, and quoting former analysts from CIA and DIA wailing that objectivity collapsed in the face of political pressure. We're shocked, shocked! Anyone remember how the neo-cons forced an outside posse of experts, known as Team B, into the CIA in the mid 1970s because Team A, the CIA regulars, were turning in reports saying that the Soviet Union was not quite the fearsome power the neocons supposed it to be? Anyone remember all those accusations, by the late Sam Addams and others, that the CIA fudged the numbers in the Vietnam War because of political pressure from the White House?

            Intelligence services invariably succumb in the face of political bullying. But it didn't matter that the CIA and DIA were cowed by the wild men in Rumsfeld's Department of Defense, who said Iraq was still bristling with WMDs. Any enterprising news editor could have found (and some did) plenty of solid evidence to support the claim that Saddam had destroyed his WMDs, that he had no alliance with Al Qaeda.

            In the run-up to the attack on Iraq, the worst journalistic outrages came in two publications at the supposed pinnacle of the profession: The New York Times, which recycled the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi's agenda through its reporter, Judith Miller, and The New Yorker, which printed Jeffrey Goldberg's nonsense about the Saddam-Al Qaeda "connection." That was no consequence of media concentration, or the perversion of intelligence analysis by political priorities.

            Simply on the grounds of common sense about the prejudices of her source, Howell Raines, the editor of The New York Times, could have told Miller to qualify her reports. David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, could have as easily punched holes in Goldberg's story. Instead, they delightedly hyped shoddy journalism that played a far greater role in the White House's propaganda blitz than the bullying of the CIA and DIA.

            It's easy to be right after the event. It takes real fiber to stand out against the war party when it is in full cry. The bulk of the mainstream press failed dismally in its watchdog role, and a little more forthrightness about this failure would be welcome indeed. But can we expect the hounds of war, like Tim Russert, to apologize? Of course not. Some senator will probably, sometime soon, grill the CIA's George Tenet, or others in the intelligence "community," but Russert, or Miller, or Raines or Punch Sulzberger? Never.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.