Refusing to buy The Wall Street Journal, I sometimes sneak a look at copies that are left behind by other people.
So it was last month when a friendly couple dumped their paper on the train seat opposite me. And bingo, it was as bad as ever. "Defence Officials Predict Slow Afghan Progress." And the sourcing for this hardly unexpected headline? "Senior US military officials", "military officials", "a senior US military official", "Obama administration officials", "defence officials", "the senior military official", "military leaders", "the official", "military officials", "the officials", "many in the military", "military officials" (again), "officials" (again), "military officials" (yet again) and "officials" (yet again).
Why do our scribes write this horseshit? My old mate Alexander Cockburn calls it "selling the Brooklyn Bridge" and claims that Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent of The New York Times, is always ready to buy it. True. In 2002, Mike was banging the gong about aluminium tubes in Iraq being part of Saddam's nuclear programme. Then in 2007, "American officials" – of course – briefed Mike on how Iran was providing Iraqi insurgents with "explosive formed penetrators" for use against American troops in Iraq; the fact that most of the insurgents killing US forces there were Sunni and wouldn't have anything to do with Iran failed to make it into Mike's story. Oh yes, and the Iranians were also supplying their Hizbollah allies in Lebanon with the weapon to use against the Israelis. Well at least the Hizbollah, who are Shia, are armed by Iran, though we'll have to wait for the next Lebanon war to see if these mysterious "penetrators" make their appearance.
The real problem, of course, is that we are sold the Brooklyn Bridge over and over again. Now here's a good quote. "Iran is the centre of terrorism, fundamentalism and subversion and is in my view more dangerous than Nazism, because Hitler did not possess a nuclear bomb, where the Iranians are trying to perfect a nuclear option." This prediction was not made by Benjamin Netanyahu but – and thank God for Roger Cohen who spotted this particular Brooklyn Bridge – by then prime minister Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, in 1996. And four years earlier, the very same Peres predicted that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999.
In other words, Iran – if Peres's preposterous statement was true – acquired a nuclear bomb 11 years ago. By 2007, "American officials" said it would be another six years before Iran acquired a bomb, and last year Israel said it could take less than two years. So let's remember 2013. Or 2011. Or 1999 for all I care. It was, indeed, the very same Peres, who bleated out this year that Hizbollah had acquired Scud missiles from Syria – presumably fitted with a few of Mike's explosive formed penetrators – to use against Israel. Now I rather think Hizbollah has a lot more sophisticated weapons than these antiquated old Russian rockets that Saddam used against Israel in the 1991 Gulf War; Hizbollah has been playing around with pilotless drone aircraft and even sent one on a trial flight over Israel – it returned safely to Lebanon. But Scuds?
Well, of course, that was the story that caught fire. The Americans stepped in with an oblique warning to Syria, even though there was not a grain of evidence that the lumbering old Scuds had been trucked into Lebanon. The Brooklyn Bridge was bought again. Then this very week, it was Netanyahu's turn. "The security problem," quoth he, "is not just the new (sic) rockets that will (sic) enter the area and will threaten city centres. I don't know if you know this, but today we are struggling to fly near Gaza because they have anti-aircraft missiles there." Now Hamas is so inefficient and corrupt that I doubt if it's found a way of bringing such a weapon through the tunnels from Egypt, unless it's got hold of some of the shoulder-fired rockets that proved so militarily lamentable when the Palestinians tried to use them in 1982 over Beirut.
But the Brooklyn Bridge was quickly bought again. The Associated Press wrote from its Jerusalem bureau that Netanyahu's claim was "a potentially game-changing development that could threaten the Israeli air force's ability to strike at the Islamic militant group". Funny, that. So why didn't Hamas use these wonder weapons in January of last year when the Israelis were bashing the hell out of Gaza? Or why didn't the Israelis find them when they occupied Gaza? But then again, why didn't they find their missing soldier, Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas more than four years ago, when they smashed their way into Gaza?
But, of course, it's not just the Americans and Israelis who sell us the Brooklyn Bridge. When the outrageous Iranian president, visiting southern Lebanon last week, told the Israelis their country was doomed – Yasser Arafat used to sell this old bridge at almost the same spot in southern Lebanon 33 years ago – the world's headlines trumpeted this latest threat to Israel as if he had arrived in Beirut with one of his famous nukes in his baggage. And bingo, Israel denounced Lebanon as "a new centre of regional terror". Then that went round the world too. Having lived in Lebanon for 34 years, I remember the Israelis used exactly the same phrase in 1978, 1981, 1982, 1993, 1996 and 2006. I guess those danged Lebanese just go on rebuilding new centres of regional terror every time Israel's enormously successful elite army rampages over their land.
Any more Brooklyn Bridges on the way? You bet there are. It is, after all, only a few months since that great bridge-seller Daniel Pipes was advising the US government in the Jerusalem Post under the headline: "How to save the Obama presidency: Bomb Iran." I suppose, given such widespread domestic opposition inside Iran, that some of the top man's retinue there might switch it round: "How to save the Ahmadinejad presidency: Bomb Israel." And our scribes would buy that bridge as well.