Prosecute US Corporate Media
For War Crimes
The presentation of an illegal
invasion of a foreign country as a "preventative" or
pre-emptive war did not originate with Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld.
by David Walsh
Information Times - http://www.Informationtimes.com,
April 22, 2003
The ongoing US aggression in the Middle
East raises the most serious questions about the role of the mass
media in modern society. In the period leading up to the invasion,
the American [corporate] media uncritically advanced the Bush
Administration's arguments, rooted in lies, distortions and half-truths,
for an attack on Iraq. It virtually excluded all critical viewpoints,
to the point of blacking out news of mass anti-war demonstrations
and any other facts that contradicted the propaganda from the
White House and Pentagon.
The obvious aim was to misinform and manipulate
public opinion, and convince the tens of millions within the US
who were opposed to the Administration's war policy that they
constituted a small and helpless minority.
Now, as if on cue, the US media has obediently
turned its attention to Syria, evidently the next target of the
US military. If the focus of the White House and Pentagon should
shift to North Korea or Iran, the appropriate items will begin
to appear about the dire threat represented by those regimes to
the security of the American people.
In the American media, there is barely
a trace of serious analysis concerning the political and social
realities of the Middle East. It long ago abandoned any sense
of responsibility for educating and informing the public or carrying
out the critical democratic function traditionally assigned to
the "Fourth Estate," i.e., serving as a watchdog and
check on government abuses and falsifications. Instead it slavishly
carries out the function assigned it by the ruling elite: to confuse,
terrorize and intimidate the American public, rendering it less
able to resist the reactionary program of the right- wing clique
The television networks and leading newspapers
are the prime source of news and information for tens of millions
of people in the US. However, these public resources are in the
hands of giant firms, controlled by fabulously wealthy individuals
who will stop at nothing to defend their profits and property.
The corpses of thousands, or, if necessary, millions of Iraqis,
[Afghans], Syrians, Iranians and others are a small price to pay,
as far as the media billionaires are concerned, for achieving
American military and economic domination of the globe.
This makes the US media an accessory before
and after the fact to crimes carried out in Iraq and future crimes
against other peoples in the region and around the world. Sitting
far from the ravaged Iraqi cities, in well-appointed boardrooms,
the media moguls may believe they will never face such charges.
There are, however, historical parallels and precedents to the
The Nuremberg Precedent
The role of propaganda and propagandists
figured prominently at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, convened
to render judgment on the Nazi leaders following World War II.
The tribunal was an institution organized by the victorious Allied
governments, serving in the final analysis the ruling classes
of those countries.
Nonetheless, in their arguments US prosecutors
set forth a democratic legal principle derived from the international
experience of a half- century of carnage: that planning and launching
an aggressive war constituted a criminal act and that those who
helped prepare such a war through their propaganda efforts were
as culpable as those who drew up the battle plans or manufactured
The case made against Hans Fritzsche,
one of the individuals chiefly responsible for Nazi newspaper
and radio propaganda, is particularly significant. Fritzsche,
born in Bochum, Westphalia in 1900, served in the German Army
in World War I and studied liberal arts at university, but left
without a degree. He began a career as a journalist working for
the Hugenberg Press, a newspaper chain that supported the right-wing
"national" parties, including the Nazis.
Fritzsche began commenting on radio in
September 1932, discussing political events on his own weekly
program, "Hans Fritzsche Speaks." That same year the
regime of Franz von Papen appointed him head of the Wireless (Radio)
News Department, a government agency. Fritzsche was generally
sympathetic to the Nazi cause, but not a member of the party.
Underlining the importance with which
the Hitlerites viewed radio as an instrument of propaganda, on
the evening that the Nazis came to power, January 30, 1933, two
emissaries of Joseph Goebbels, soon to be minister of propaganda
and enlightenment, paid Fritzsche a visit. The latter was allowed
to stay on as head of the Wireless Radio Department despite his
rejection of certain conditions set by Goebbels, including the
immediate firing of all Jews and all those who refused to join
the Nazi Party.
The Nuremberg prosecution case against
Fritzsche notes: "Fritzsche continued to make radio broadcasts
during this period in which he supported the National Socialist
[Nazi] coalition government then still existing."
In April 1933, Goebbels paid Fritzsche
a personal visit and informed him of the decision to place the
Wireless News Service under the jurisdiction of the newly created
Propaganda Ministry as of May 1, 1933. Apparently satisfied with
the results of the first meeting, Goebbels arranged a second at
which Fritzsche informed the propaganda minister of the steps
he had taken to "reorganize and modernize" the agency,
including ridding it of Jewish employees.
"Goebbels thereupon informed Fritzsche
that he would like to have him reorganize and modernize the entire
news services of Germany within the control of the Propaganda
Ministry. ... He [Fritzsche] proceeded to conclude the Goebbels-inspired
reorganization of the Wireless News Service and, on 1 May 1933,
together with the remaining members of his staff, he joined the
Propaganda Ministry. On this same day he joined the NSDAP [Nazi
Party] and took the customary oath of unconditional loyalty to
After entering the Propaganda Ministry,
Fritzsche went to work for its "German Press Division."
From 1933 to 1942 Fritzsche held various positions in that department,
heading it for the four years during which the Nazi regime launched
its invasions of neighboring countries. The Nuremberg prosecution
argued: "By virtue of its functions, the German Press Division
became an important and unique instrument of the Nazi conspirators,
not only in dominating the minds and psychology of Germans, but
also as an instrument of foreign policy and psychological warfare
against other nations."
According to Fritzsche's own affidavit:
"During the whole period from 1933 to 1945 it was the task
of the German Press Division to supervise the entire domestic
press and to provide it with directives by which this division
became an efficient instrument in the hands of the German State
leadership. More than 2,300 German daily newspapers were subject
to this control. ... The head of the German Press Division held
daily press conferences in the Ministry for the representatives
of all German newspapers. Hereby all instructions were given to
the representatives of the press."
The Prosecution Case: Propaganda as an
Instrument of Aggression
The prosecution case, argued by Drexel
Sprecher, an American, placed considerable stress on the role
of media propaganda in enabling the Hitler regime to prepare and
carry out aggressive wars. "The use made by the Nazi conspirators
of psychological warfare is well known. Before each major aggression,
with some few exceptions based on expediency, they initiated a
press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare
the German people psychologically for the attack. They used the
press, after their earlier conquests, as a means for further influencing
foreign politics and in maneuvering for the following aggression."
Fritzsche was named head of the German
Press Division in 1938 after the "primitive military-like"
methods of his predecessor, Alfred Ingemar Berndt, created "a
noticeable crisis in confidence of the German people in the trustworthiness
of its press," in Fritzsche's words.
The Nuremberg prosecutor detailed the
propaganda campaigns taken up by the German media, under Fritzsche's
immediate supervision, in relation to various acts of foreign
aggression, including the incorporation of Bohemia and Moravia
(1939) and the invasions of Poland (1939) and Yugoslavia and the
The Nazi press propaganda campaign preceding
the invasion of Poland involved manufacturing or manipulating
complaints of the German minority in that country. Fritzsche explains:
"Concerning this the leading German newspapers, upon the
basis of directions given out in the so-called 'daily parole,'
brought out the following publicity with great emphasis: (1) cruelty
and terror against Germans and the extermination of Germans in
Poland; (2) forced labor of thousands of German men and women
in Poland; (3) Poland, land of servitude and disorder; the desertion
of Polish soldiers; the increased inflation in Poland; (4) provocation
of frontier clashes upon direction of the Polish Government; the
Polish lust to conquer; (5) persecution of Czechs and Ukrainians
In regard to the Nazi propaganda surrounding
the Yugoslav events, the prosecutor noted the "customary
definitions, lies, incitement and threats, and the usual attempt
to divide and weaken the victim."
Fritzsche describes how he received instructions
on the eve of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941: "[Foreign
Minister Joachim von] Ribbentrop informed us that the war against
the Soviet Union would start that same day and asked the German
press to present the war against the Soviet Union as a preventative
war for the defense of the Fatherland, as a war which was forced
upon us through the immediate danger of an attack of the Soviet
Union against Germany. The claim that this was a preventative
war was later repeated by the newspapers which received their
instructions from me during the usual daily parole of the Reich
Press Chief. I, myself, have also given this presentation of the
cause of the war in my regular broadcasts."
Thus, the presentation of an illegal invasion
of a foreign country as a "preventative" or pre-emptive
war did not originate with Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld.
The prosecution in the Fritzsche case
raised an issue that is of the greatest relevance today: the role
of Nazi media propaganda in inuring the German population to the
sufferings of other peoples and, indeed, urging Germans to commit
war crimes. It argued: "Fritzsche incited atrocities and
encouraged a ruthless occupation policy. The results of propaganda
as a weapon of the Nazi conspirators reaches into every aspect
of this conspiracy, including the atrocities and ruthless exploitation
in occupied countries. It is likely that many ordinary Germans
would never have participated in or tolerated the atrocities committed
throughout Europe, had they not been conditioned and goaded by
the constant Nazi propaganda. The callousness and zeal of the
people who actually committed the atrocities was in large part
due to the constant and corrosive propaganda of Fritzsche and
his official associates."
The American media today reports poll
results indicating that 60 or 70 percent of the population supports
the war against Iraq. Such polls are not conducted by disinterested
bodies for the purpose of advancing sociological knowledge. The
manner in which the interviewees are selected and the questions
formulated has a considerable impact on the results obtained.
The powers that be in America have every interest in maintaining
the fiction of a nation united behind its president and armed
forces. In reality, there is widespread hostility and opposition
to the war and to the Bush administration, which finds no expression
in the media, the Democratic Party or any other official American
Nonetheless, there is a constituency for
war among the more backward layers of the population. Aside from
the relatively small number of right-wing fanatics, who would
be in favor of war against almost anyone, including a good section
of their fellow Americans, those in favor of the assault on Iraq
believe a) that the Saddam Hussein regime had a hand in the September
11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City and Washington; b)
that the Iraqis possessed "weapons of mass destruction,"
which they intended to use against their neighbors or the US at
some future point; and/or c) that the Iraqi population desired
"liberation" at the hands of the US military.
While it is outside the scope of this
article to expound on this, all three claims have been proven
to be lies by the events of the war itself and will be further
exposed by future developments. If many Americans, however, believe
these arguments, with all the tragic consequences for the Iraqi
and other peoples, how is that to be accounted for? Clearly, by
"the constant and corrosive propaganda" of the US media
over the course of months and even years, dating back to the first
Gulf war. The media's very success in manipulating public opinion
is one of the strongest proofs of its culpability in the commission
of war crimes.
It is worth quoting extensively from the
Fritzsche prosecutor's conclusion, for it sheds considerable light
on the role of the media in the modern age, as well as the democratic
sensibilities of those pursuing the Nazi war criminals, sensibilities
that no longer carry any weight within US ruling circles.
"Fritzsche was not the type of conspirator
who signed decrees, or who sat in the inner councils planning
the overall grand strategy. The function of propaganda is, for
the most part, apart from the field of such planning. The function
of a propaganda agency is somewhat more analogous to an advertising
agency or public relations department, the job of which is to
sell the product and to win the market for the enterprise in question.
Here the enterprise was the Nazi conspiracy. In a conspiracy which
depends upon fraud as a means, the salesmen of the conspiratorial
group are quite as essential and culpable as the master planners,
even though they may not have contributed substantially to the
formulation of all the basic strategy, but rather concentrated
on making the execution of this strategy possible. In this case,
propaganda was a weapon of tremendous importance to this conspiracy.
Furthermore, the leading propagandists were major accomplices
in this conspiracy, and Fritzsche was one of them...
"Fritzsche learned a lesson from
his predecessor, Berndt, who fell from the leadership of the German
Press Division partly because he over-played his hand by blunt
and excessive manipulation of the Sudetenland propaganda. Fritzsche
stepped into the gap caused by the loss of confidence of both
the editors and the German people, and did his job with more skill
and subtlety. His shrewdness and ability to be more assuring and
'to find,' as Goebbels said, `willing ears of the whole nation,'--these
things made him the more useful accomplice of the conspirators...
"Fritzsche is not in the dock as
a free journalist but as a propagandist who helped substantially
to tighten the Nazi stranglehold over the German people, who made
the excesses of the conspirators palatable to the German people,
who goaded the German nation to fury and crime against people
they were told by him were subhuman.
"Without the propaganda apparatus
of the Nazi State, the world would not have suffered the catastrophe
of these years, and it is because of Fritzsche's role in behalf
of the Nazi conspirators, and their deceitful and barbarous practices,
that he is called to account before the International Military
The tribunal found Fritzsche not guilty
on the dubious grounds that he had not had sufficient stature
to formulate or originate the propaganda campaigns undertaken
by the Nazi regime. It also asserted that the prosecution had
not proven that Fritzsche was aware of the extermination of the
Jews or had spread news he knew to be false. (Fritzsche was immediately
rearrested and charged by German courts with various crimes. He
was sentenced to nine years at hard labor, left prison in 1950
and died of cancer three years later.)
The prosecution, in its reply to the "Unfounded
Acquittal of Defendant Fritzsche," returned insistently and
pointedly to its arguments. It noted that the verdict failed to
take into account that Fritzsche was until 1942 "the Director
de facto of the Reich Press and that, according to himself, subsequent
to 1942, he became the 'Commander-in-Chief of the German radio'."
The prosecution went on: "For the
correct definition of the role of defendant Hans Fritzsche it
is necessary, firstly, to keep clearly in mind the importance
attached by Hitler and his closest associates (as Goering, for
example) to propaganda in general and to radio propaganda in particular.
This was considered one of the most important and essential factors
in the success of conducting an aggressive war."
In Hitler's Germany, the reply to the
verdict continues, "propaganda was invariably a factor in
preparing and conducting acts of aggression and in training the
German populace to accept obediently the criminal enterprises
of German fascism. ...
"The basic method of the Nazi propagandistic
activity lay in the false presentation of facts. ... The dissemination
of provocative lies and the systematic deception of public opinion
were as necessary to the Hitlerites for the realization of their
plans as were the production of armaments and the drafting of
military plans. Without propaganda, founded on the total eclipse
of the freedom of press and of speech, it would not have been
possible for German Fascism to realize its aggressive intentions,
to lay the groundwork and then to put to practice the war crimes
and the crimes against humanity. In the propaganda system of the
Hitler State it was the daily press and the radio that were the
most important weapons."
There is little to be added to this condemnation.
While all historical analogies have their limits, the indictment
of the German media chief for war crimes speaks with great force
to the role of the US media barons in contemporary world affairs.
Media's Threat to Democracy