Charlie Rose and the Mask of Respectability

Rose imparts the signature of respectability to all his guests—for better or worse

There are few things more harmful to the public discourse than the cloak of false respectability. Especially on a nationally or globally disseminated news network or newspaper. Which is why mass media, when it broadcasts propaganda, is so effective at duping a benighted public into believing the twaddle of stark raving mad political ideologues, as though they were the very words of Socrates by satellite. The mainstream’s reach and influence is staggering, and when unchallenged, fatal. Take, for instance, the estimable Republican Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan. Let’s consider for a moment the aura of respectability that enveloped, like a hot towel on a transatlantic flight, the mindless bluster Rogers so thoughtfully aired for the nation last week.

The Rogers, who should probably never see the audible side of a microphone, was interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show. Charlie Rose, for better or worse, commands a high station in the china shop of American respectability, somewhere above the delicate porcelain of Frontline and PBS and slightly beneath the glittering chandelier of The New York Times. Rose has an impressive array of interviewees on his lengthy resume, and this doubtless adds to the gravitas of the man, as he peers across an oaken table at his terrified guest, his long and rugged face and watery eyes outlined against a pitiless backdrop of black.

Dignified and Decorous

Beyond the matchless imprimatur of Charlie Rose, Rogers is preceded by his own titles, which unfurl like royal insignia across the screen: Rep. [R] Mich. Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee. Most of us haven’t the slightest notion of the “Permanent Select Committee” is, or what is does. Nor does anyone on air explain its significance. We know only that it has the ring of authority to it. (It is, in fact, a committee tasked with providing oversight of the intelligence community.)

Next is Rogers’ personal demeanor, which itself suggests everything fine and decent about the state of Michigan. He is white, middle-aged, modestly overfed (perhaps on Wisconsin cheeses smuggled across the border, like American arms into Qum). His hair pleases with its bland and faded side parting, and he assumes a look of kindly and good-humored politesse.

Rogers is beamed in from the beltway, where all things of significance and import occur. He is said to be in the “Russell Rotunda”. He stands or sits, flanked by a few impressive Dorian columns, which signify decorum and justice and tradition, of which, presumably, Rogers humbly partakes. On the other side of the camera sits Rose, his left hand, like a satyr’s mangled claw, carving new grooves into his line-saturated brow. Charlie is distraught over something. What might it be? After expressing his consternation through purely visual means, Rose stammers himself toward a coherent question: What do you make of this deal with Iran?

Cut to Rogers, his manly, Midwestern, and homely smile, for a moment untroubled, suddenly drops off his face as the most fearsome four letters in the idiom surge through his earpiece. Inside Washington, the phrase, “Iran” serves like a Pavlovian on-switch for beltway fearmongerers. Rogers begins to drone through his talking points: Iran has gotten everything it wanted from this deal; namely, the ability to continue enriching uranium; America did not get what it wanted; namely, the eternal cessation of all Iranian nuclear activities; Rogers himself is “worried” and “concerned” and clearly afraid for the fine people of Michigan that Iran will continue its “nuclear weapons program”. Rose, picking up that Rogers is more or less savaging the Obama administration in his drubbing of the temporary pact with Iran, breaks in and forces Rogers to admit that the cessation of fuel-related work at the Arak facility is a good thing, since it will prevent Iran from pursuing a bomb via plutonium, as against its supposed present pursuit via uranium. Briefly derailed, Rogers recovers and paints a few more worrisome images for the edification of the trusting viewer; namely, an “arms race in the Middle East”. In this he parrots Shimon Peres, who touts the idea that Iran achieving a nuclear bomb would cause all other Middle Eastern countries to crave one. Rose, his visage now curdling into a painful clutch of arched wrinkles, attempts to interrupt, but Rogers cuts him off three times (with all the forcefulness of Peter denying Christ). Finally, with the utmost decorum and courtesy, Rose bids Rogers adieu, thanking him for gracing the American public with his matchless sagacity.

Rose then breaks for commercial, presumably a horrifically tepid message from Arthur Daniels Midland Company, one of the world’s leading food monopolies, much to the chagrin of numberless third world subsistence farmers; or perhaps a thoughtful piece of mendacity from BP, one of the world’s leading thieves of Iraqi oil, much to the bootless anxiety of the Iraqi people.

Sins of Omission

Millions of viewers were exposed to this dialogue yesterday, and millions more will see it in syndication. As they watch, few will be aware of some damning omissions.

First, Iran is fully within its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA). It has the right, as do all signatories, to develop peaceful nuclear energy (as contrasted with non-peaceful nuclear energy of the kind being perpetually pursued by the United States).

Second, there isn’t a shred of evidence that suggests Iran is trying to develop a nuclear warhead. Not if you believe successive National Intelligence Estimates of the United States. Perhaps Rogers has overlooked these fine reports. After all, he repeatedly misrepresents Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program, calling it a “nuclear weapons program”. He would deserve censure for this, were not his voice drowned in the din of his Republican and Democratic colleagues rehearsing the same lie.

Third, Iran made concessions in this agreement. It agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to five percent, a level from which, perhaps, a dirty bomb might be cobbled together, were Iranian leadership of a mind to pursue collective suicide by building and using one. It also agreed to halt fuel production at the Arak site. An additional facility would likely have to be built there to reprocess spent fuel into plutonium, like enriched uranium a fissile material usable in a nuclear weapon. It also agreed to convert all its existing 20 percent enriched uranium into unusable formulae. Lastly, it agreed to grant the IAEA regular access to its enrichment facilities. For this, a mere four billion of its rightful monies was unfrozen by the U.S. and its allies. The remaining tens of billions in sanctions on the Iranian economy and money tied up in foreign banks have been left in place, frozen, and untouched. No matter that these sanctions have had “devastating” effects on the Iranian economy and society.

Fourth, the United States’ attempt to sharply curtail Iran’s nuclear program is hypocritical, to put it mildly. Not only did the U.S. support civilian nuclear energy in Iran during the Shah’s reign decades ago, but America can hardly be regarded seriously when it suggests that other nations don’t have the right to pursue nuclear weapons. The United States possesses thousands of nuclear weapons, and its viciously aggressive and perennially aggrieved Middle Eastern proxy Israel has an additional 80 nuclear weapons—and a total monopoly of weaponized uranium in the Middle East. Rogers seems to think Iran has an interest in not only pursuing a weapon, but in launching a pointless and suicidal arms race against the two most powerful nuclear states in the world. Not to mention his conjuring of a certifiable former Israeli prime minister whose own histrionic notions—that Iran would instantly bomb Israel if only it could—has been contradicted by saner members of the Israeli military who have admitted that Iran poses no “existential threat” to its statehood, including former defense minister Ehud Barak.

Thanks to Charlie Rose, Rogers’ ceaseless fatuities have been aired and absorbed by countless Americans, while none of his lies have been challenged, countered, or discredited. We only got to witness Rose and Rogers exchanging pleasantries at the conclusion of the dialogue, as though they had just finished a highly erudite tete a tete on the Higgs Boson particle.

Now, when the viewer turns to CNN or FOX News, he or she will sooner or later be served images of some Arab Imam (perhaps Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah) frothing with fury, his trembling turbaned head and well-fingered beard striking fear into the heart of clean-shaven, well-meaning Americans, who prefer the easy decorum of the Rose-Rogers dialogue to the visceral anger of an aggrieved party. What they won’t see or hear is what Nasrallah may be saying, possibly condemning American interference in Syria—not an unreasonable critique. Having heard gentlemanly Mike Rogers, and having seen Nasrallah, they might readily conclude that one is sane and reasonable and the other a madman of historic proportions. This invidious conclusion, equal parts ignorance, misinformation, and xenophobia, is what you get when you treat the unreasonable as respectable and the unfamiliar as threatening. On its face, the mainstream media seems rather inconsequential, with its grim-faced interlocutors soft-peddling questions to tendentious Congressional lightweights. But as Hannah Arendt once said, even evil can be banal.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.