ISLAMABAD - "This information cannot be independently verified." This is the new mantra on 24-hour news TV as the Slaughter Show of the world's most miserable by the world's most affluent reaches its third week - with very good ratings indeed.
Shame on CNN and BBC. Shame on Donald "Duck!" Rumsfeld. Fact: Afghan civilians are dying by the hundreds, victims of American bombing. But for Christiane "The Vulture" Amanpour, Father John Simpson, those sparkling, bubbly, fizzy CNN talking heads, and those dour, somber, frozen-cucumber BBC talking heads, "this information cannot be independently verified".
CNN and BBC are now indistinguishable from "Duck!" Rumsfeld. They behave like fundamentalists: with arrogance - in their sense of unquestionable superiority; with certainty - in their iron belief in a set of absolutely universal values; with prejudice - why would they waste their time trying to understand what is profoundly different from themselves? As BBC's Tim "Mr Righteous" Sebastian put it in referring to Pakistan, why should the West cut "shabby little deals with shabby little nations"?
The Rasool family was having breakfast in Kabul when a bomb supposed to hit a military base a mile away struck their house, killing nine members of the extended family and injuring 12. Refugees crossing the Chaman border every day tell of dozens of civilian victims in Kandahar. "Duck!" Rumsfeld would say they are nothing but liars.
Afghan civilians, for CNN and BBC, obviously do not qualify as independent. They are the only eyewitnesses of the carnage inside Afghanistan. But "independently verified" means verified by CNN or the BBC - in their arrogant, barely contained rage at not being there, inside Afghanistan. Every serious journalist now working in Pakistan is obviously on the verge of a nervous breakdown brought on by the impossibility of being in the theater of war. But it is hard enough trying to convince the Taliban that it is in their own interest to open the borders for the global print media - without having to cope with the "You're lying" shrieks of CNN and BBC.
Al Jazeera - the Qatar-based TV station - happens to be inside Afghanistan and as close to the theater of war as possible - but that is too much for the Anglo-American media giants, and Way Too Much for America itself, which does not think twice about censoring "sensitive" Al Jazeera broadcasts. Mohamad Bourini is a reporter covering the war for Al Jazeera from Peshawar. He worked for three years in Afghanistan. He said he was "never censored" by his bosses in Doha, Qatar.
The smart, high-IQ bombs of the Pentagon may not find Osama bin Laden and the evildoers of Al-Qaeda, but they are finding houses a mile away from their targets, UN mine-clearing staff, shepherds and their families, a whole village, a Red Cross compound, a school, a bus, the bazaars of Kandahar, a hospital in Herat. It is a sterling record - but of course this cannot be independently verified. One of these days the Pentagon may even "inadvertently" drop a bomb on Al Jazeera's office in Kabul - and remain mute about it. Or accuse any accusing voice of lying.
As this is an invisible war, and perception is reality, the fact is that the Pentagon can say or not say anything it wants: its barrage of disinformation cannot be independently verified.
So the major public relations lesson is this: if you are rich and poweful and Western, you can bomb whatever you like, the way you like, for as long as you like. And you disclose information - if any - about it the way you like. If you are poor and miserable and Islamic, you shut up and get bombed. Don't make any attempt to say anything about it, because your information cannot be independently verified.
The Greatest Armada in the History of the Universe took four days to secure "aerial supremacy" over a pair of ailing MiGs. Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Taliban supreme military commander, said that not a single leader or commander was killed in two weeks of American ballistic fury. He said the Taliban planes were "safe", and Osama bin Laden was "safe, sound and in good spirits". The Taliban says it downed an American helicopter: but the spare parts shown by the Taliban, says the Pentagon, were made by Bin Laden Enterprises.
So T S Eliot was wrong. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang - but with zillions of whimpers which cannot be independently verified.