The Corporate Media in Wartime
by Amy Goodman and David Goodman
International Socialist Review,
On August 5, 2004, the U.S.-backed government
of Iraq responded to a growing insurgency in Iraq by blaming the
messenger: it shut down the Arab media networks Al Jazeera and
Al Arabiya, insisting they were inciting violence. This was hardly
surprising behavior for the Americans, or their Iraqi proxies.
When former U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer took over Iraq in 2003,
one of his early acts was to ban independent Iraqi newspapers
that he deemed too "radical."
The message was clear: In U.S.-occupied
Iraq, the press is free... to support the U.S.
Journalists that report inconvenient truths
about the U.S. occupation-such as broadcasting unsanitized footage
of war, or reporting from besieged Iraqi cities like Fallujah-have
become targets of censorship, banning, or worse. Tareq Ayyoub
learned this the hard way. Al-Jazeera's chief correspondent in
Baghdad was killed by a U.S. bomb in April 2003, despite his network
having provided the U.S. military with the precise coordinates
of its Baghdad bureau. Ayyoub's murder followed on the heels of
months of harassment of the network, including the bombing by
U.S. planes of Jazeera's offices in Basra and Kabul, Afghanistan
and the repeated arrests of its staff. Ayyoub's widow, Dima Tahboub,
has since sued the U.S. in a Belgian court, charging it with war
crimes in the murder of her husband.
The Bush administration is hoping that
Arab journalists will be as helpful as the American press has
been in acting as a megaphone for official lies. But even America's
own soldiers are increasingly unable to muster the necessary enthusiasm
for their task as the justifications for war now unravel in spectacular
That is why, on December 6, 2004, Jeremy
Hinzman, a 26-year-old soldier with the U.S. Army's elite 82nd
Airborne Division, explained to a packed hearing room in Toronto,
Canada, the reason that he fled the United States.
"When I took my oath as a soldier
it was to defend and uphold the constitution of the United States,"
he testified, as he explained why he was seeking refugee status
in Canada. "I was faced with being deployed to Iraq to do
what the infantry does, kill people, and I had no justification
for doing so."
"They said there were weapons of
mass destruction. They haven't found any," continued the
sharp-jawed, crew cut paratrooper from Rapid City, South Dakota.
"They said Iraq was linked to international terrorist organizations.
There haven't been any links." Hinzman told Canada's Immigration
and Refugee Board that the war in Iraq was illegal arid that he
would have become a war criminal by fighting in it. Hinzman's
contention was supported by Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey,
who testified as a witness at the hearing that he and his platoon
killed "30-plus" innocent civilians in one 48-hour period
"What they were doing was committing
murder," said Massey, a former Marine recruiter. It was a
devastating synopsis of the lies that have passed for truths during
the Bush administration. Hinzman and Massey are not alone: More
and more American soldiers have been speaking out and protesting
against fighting a war that was based on fraudulent claims-and
conveyed to the public by an uncritical media. By the end of 2004,
the Pentagon reported that 5,500 American servicemen and women
had deserted since the start of the war.
As President George W. Bush travels the
world lecturing other leaders about democracy and freedom, he
has made torture a centerpiece of American policy. Maher Arar
found this out the hard way. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen,
was abducted by American authorities at New York's Kennedy Airport
in September 2002 while in transit to a flight home to Canada.
He was interrogated for ten days by American officials, then secretly
flown to Syria, where he was imprisoned in an underground cell
and tortured for nearly a year. The U.S. accused him of being
a terrorist, but he was never charged with a crime because there
was no hard evidence against him. "Extraordinary rendition"
is the name the Bush administration gives to this policy of exporting
suspected terrorists-namely, Arabs-to foreign countries where
they can be tortured with impunity. Ironically, Arar was released
by Syria in 2003 in part because Bush was threatening to invade
Syria-for allegedly supporting terrorists and abusing human rights.
The corporate media has failed in its
role as a watchdog of government, and instead has acted as an
echo chamber for officialdom. No one has paid a higher price for
this failure than American servicemen and women and the long-suffering
people of Iraq. By early 2005, over 1,500 U.S. soldiers had died,
and as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in a war
that has devastated Iraq. A conflict that Bush administration
officials predicated would be "a cakewalk" is now ravaging
a new generation of soldiers. Nearly 20,000 American soldiers
have been medically evacuated from Iraq, and some 17 percent of
all returning Iraq war veterans show symptoms of posttraumatic
stress disorder. According to the New England Journal of Medicine,
more U.S. soldiers have been injured in Iraq than during the Revolutionary
War, the War of 1812, or the first five years of the Vietnam conflict.
The escalating scale of this preventable
catastrophe and the official admission that there were no weapons
of mass destruction-finally moved a few members of the American
media establishment to take a closer look at how they are doing
their jobs during the past couple of years. It's about time: With
no credible evidence to back up the spectacular prewar falsehoods
that the media so helpfully trumpeted on the front pages, a little
introspection was in order.
But those looking for a soul-searching
mea culpa from the corporate media will have to wait. Here's what
the editors of the New York Times had to say about their Iraq
War coverage in May 2004: "We have found a number of instances
of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been."
With thousands dead and dying in Iraq,
the Times confession, buried on page Al 0-in contrast to two years
of front-page treatment for bogus government claims-was an insult
to all those on both sides of the conflict who have paid with
their lives for the Bush administration's lies.
The editors of the New York Times blame
the newspaper's lapse of judgment partly on being "perhaps
too intent on rushing scoops into the paper." But the problem
goes deeper, and continues today: Official claims are considered
true until proven false, and grassroots movements-especially the
peace movement-are caricatured or ignored.
Washington Post media reporter Howard
Kurtz quantifled just how lopsided his own newspaper's prewar
tilt was. "From August 2002 through the March 19, 2003, launch
of the war, the Post ran more than 140 front-page stories that
focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq,"
wrote Kurtz in August 2004. "Some examples: 'Cheney Says
Iraqi Strike Is Justified'; 'War Cabinet Argues for Iraq Attack';
'Bush Tells United Nations It Must Stand Up to Hussein or U.S.
Will'; 'Bush Cites Urgent Iraqi Threat'; 'Bush Tells Troops: Prepare
Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward,
whose investigations once helped take down President Richard Nixon,
offered this astonishing excuse for why his newspaper failed to
challenge government falsehoods: "We had no alternative sources
Woodward might have found an alternative
view had he thought to ask any of the leading critics of war or
government dissidents. Or for a dissenting viewpoint, the Post
could have sought out any one of the millions of Americans protesting
against the war. Instead, voices for peace were once again frozen
out of the media, leaving the same group of pro-war pundits, government
officials, and retired generals to hold a one-sided debate.
Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks
was candid in explaining his newspaper's failures, "There
was an attitude among editors: 'Look, we're going to war, why
do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?"
That helps explain why half of Americans
still believed in late 2004 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
and links to al-Qaeda-notions that by then had been thoroughly
debunked by everyone from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee
to both of Bush's hand-picked weapons inspectors, Charles Duelfer
and David Kay.
Americans believe these things not because
they are stupid, but because they are good media consumers. As
the Pentagon has learned, deploying the American media as its
megaphone is more powerful than any bomb. The explosive effect
is amplified as a few pro-war media moguls consolidate their grip
over the majority of news outlets.
Going to the voting booth in November
2004, did the average American even know that the Iraq War has
been a catastrophe? Not if they rely on the corporate media, especially
TV, for news. Trotting out the same retired generals who confidently
parroted the administration line before the war, the networks
now turn to them for an assessment of how things are going. And
what a surprise: From where they sit, the war is right on track.
The only problem is that for some bewildering reason, the rest
of the world hates America. Consider this exchange on CNN, as
reported by Michael Massing in The New York Review of Books:
On October 15 [20041 former General George
Joulwan discussed with Wolf Blitzer the need for Americans to
do a better job of explaining to Muslims how much they'd done
for them over the years. Blitzer agreed: "I don't think a
lot 0f Muslims understand that over the past fifteen years, every
time the U.S. has gone to war, whether in Kuwait, or Somalia,
or Kosovo, or Bosnia, or Afghanistan or Iraq, it's to help Muslims."
Joulwan: "We've saved tens of thousands
of them. We need to understand that, and so do our Muslim friends."
During the 2004 election, where were the
Democrats on the Iraq debacle? They were crippled. Senator John
Kerry and his running mate, Senator John Edwards, and most Democrats
supported Bush's move into Iraq, even promising to send more troops
into the quagmire if elected. Kerry infuriated many of his supporters
and delighted the Republicans when he stated in August 2004 that
had he known in 2002 what he knew today, he still would have voted
to authorize Bush to use force.
The media dutifully reflected this narrow
spectrum of "debate" between Democrats and Republicans
about war and peace in 2004, and once again largely froze out
alternative voices. Kerry appealed to Bush's base, assuming that
war opponents would have no choice but to support him. He lost
on both counts: Bush's base preferred the real Republican. People
opposed to war were left with no major party candidate who spoke
for them. One result: Less than 60 percent of eligible voters
cast ballots in 2004; Bush "won" with a mere 30 percent
of the eligible votes. For a nation that equates elections with
democracy, U.S. voter turnout ranks dead last among the leading
industrialized countries. According to the International Institute
for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the United States places
139th out of 172 countries for average voter turnout, lagging
behind countries such as Italy, Albania, Namibia, and Mongolia,
all of which boast voter turnouts of over 80 percent. As for Americans
under the age of thirty, half of them chose not to vote at all
in 2004. Rather than galvanize his own base, Kerry ran away from
Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas
once warned: "As nightfall does not come at once, neither
does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything
remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we
all must be most aware of change in the air-however slight-lest
we become unwitting victims of the darkness."
America is now in that twilight zone.
But people of conscience all around the world are starting to
act. The oily politicians and the media that love them are confronting
the limits of their power. They find it in soldiers such as Jeremy
Hinzman and Jimmy Massey, who are refusing to kill or be killed
for a lie. They find it in courageous reporters such as Tareq
Ayyoub, who will never be silenced.
Democracy works only when people can fully
inform themselves and debate issues freely. When the people feel
betrayed by those they trust to tell them the truth, they rebel.
That is a good and hopeful thing: Democracy dies hard. People
are tuning out the propaganda and turning to independent media
and unembedded voices
A new generation is becoming-what the
media should be-the exception to the rulers.
Amy Goodman is the host and executive
producer of Democracy Now! She is coauthor of the national bestseller
The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers
and the Media That Love Them, written with her brother, David
Corporate Media's Threat to Democracy
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