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Who watches the Watchmen?

Tour tackles White House and mainstream press

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For an activist more used to throwing musical firebombs at elected officials with his former band Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello sure sounds an awful lot like a politician. Speaking in soundbites, frequently veering off-topic to go back to well-rehearsed talking points, Morello eerily echoes the mechanical weariness of a presidential aspirant on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.

The Tell Us the Truth Tour aims to "draw connections between bad policies and bad journalism," he says. He then reiterates, verbatim, the quote that greets visitors to the tour's website: "When presidents and politicians lie, it's the job of the press to expose and challenge those lies. When the press fails, the lies become laws. The point of the tour is to help other people make these connections, and to show them that activism can change the policies of this country."

The aforementioned lies are those that Morello -- along with tourmates Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, Lester Chambers (of the Chambers Brothers) and, on some dates (including Atlanta's), Mike Mills of R.E.M. -- contends the Bush White House sold to the American people to justify the war in Iraq. And the press's failure, he asserts, is one of passivity. "Were it not for the complicity of media outlets, it would have been more difficult to go to war. The media reported that everyone in the country supported the war, and it reported that everything George Bush said was true. And both of those things turned out to be fallacies."

His passion for his subject surfacing, Morello presses forward. "The Bush administration has done tremendous favors for those who favor media consolidation," he says. "We're down to only about six owners of corporate media outlets in this country, and that has made a few men a lot of money. So when [Bush] gets on television and lies to the people about foreign and domestic policy, media outlets have a conflict of interest. And they've chosen not to blast their primary sponsor. Clearly, we've been getting a distorted view of what's been going on."

While Bush is a primary target of his rants, identifying specific media outlets that irk Morello might be helpful in getting to the truth. Morello once told Rolling Stone, "We need to provide an alternative worldview to the one that is squeezed through the very narrow blinders of Fox News."

But the Fox News channel is widely seen as a propaganda arm for the far right. How about some less-obvious culprits? "Fox News is just an extreme, sort of a garish, clown-like example," he concedes. But "I think anywhere on the dial, it's the same; reporting is played the same way."

Does that include Fox's arch-rival, Atlanta's own CNN? "Absolutely!" he exclaims. "Don't you think so? Have you watched it lately? If I have to hear one more retired general's view of the war in Iraq, I'm gonna lose my ever-loving mind!"

With the very next breath, Morello the campaigner deftly steers back to his main point: "The problem is a simple one: the back-scratching of the Bush administration and media conglomerates."

Now that the offenders have been labeled, are there any news outlets helping the cause -- maybe National Public Radio, or, say, alternative weeklies?

"There are certainly ways to find the truth," he admits. "But you've gotta dig for it. We're gonna be doing onstage what the media's been neglecting to do, which is to tell the truth. The message we're carrying crosses party, ethnic, gender, demographic and geographical lines. It's simply that all people want and deserve to hear the truth. That," the rock star continues, again warming to his rhetoric, "is what fuels democracy."

music@creativeloafing.com

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