How does the US News Media end up towing the line?
Absence of useful dissent in the mainstream
America isn't a totalitarian nation, the press is indeed free to print whatever it wants. If one were to deliberately ask them to not publish something or even mention censorship, they will likely go ahead and print it out of sheer indignation, because they all labor under the presumption of a free press. Then how is the American readership the most clueless in the world? How does that work? Perennial gadfly Noam Chomsky has written a lot on this subject in his “Manufacturing Consent”.*1
Here however, I am going to share with the reader my own humble and much less profound experience and observations of the American news media based on empirical reality. Some interesting aspects of its manifest coverage have already been examined in earlier chapters. This chapter briefly explains its DNA imprint as I perceive it.
The elephant in the bedroom, so to speak, that all must be able to commonsensically see and yet don't, is the private profit-making ownership of almost all American news media by mega corporations. A national public service intended to keep the public informed as an essential pillar of its democracy entirely in the profit making hands of the ruling elite which also just happens to be part of the same “military-industrial complex” of the nation? How can that ever work when the interests of the ruling elite become aligned with those whom the news media is supposed to watchdog over?
Just as there is a theoretical separation of power into three independent branches of the Government, the same co-optation that aligns them all “United We Stand” in this fiction of “war on terrorism”, also co-opts the supposed independent public watchdogs upon the democratic process so all in the system can efficaciously “United We Stand”! Let's see how the latter comes about so darn efficiently.
The single most visible process that enables it, is the immense consolidation of news media from several dozen just 30-50 years ago, into five dominant corporate controlled hands who are now the giant conglomerate parents of: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and FOX, along with more than 1200 local radio stations being owned by the single company: Clear Channel.
Clear Channel's holdings amount to approx. 9% of all radio stations in America, and they are also large donors to the political parties (it is not clear if only to Republicans or also to Democrats, but invariably, most corporations, like special interest groups such as AIPAC, “payoff” both sides as evidenced by public records of their donations to election campaigns and the political aspirants obsequies before the key power-brokers of high office, wherefore, the politicians subsequently serve primarily the interests of those who paid for their ticket and who will also only do so in the future elections if the illustrious democratically elected leaders of the Republic go along in the present).
During this “war on terrorism”, in response to grass-roots antiwar protests erupting all across America, Clear Channel organized pro war rallies and sent its reporters to cover these support marches as news, giving all new meaning to “manufacturing news” (see the movie 1984 for a reminder).
It used to be “manufacturing consent” through subtle power pyramid structures of ownership and cross pollination of corporate interests where the board of directors of the TV news corp., the printed press, and the magazines, may all have had many common members or common parent corporate ownership that disproportionately increased the influence of like minded people controlling the mass media and thus enabling the preclusion of dissent in a self censorship sort of way, as perhaps the erudite academic pundits might argue, is now evolved to the next step up to active synthesis of “news”.
The biggest beneficiaries of the pending FCC ruling to approve further news media mergers – whose chairman, Michael Powell, is the industrious son of US Secretary of State Colin Powell – will be FOX and Clear Channel. And perhaps you might have noticed that the biggest cheerleader for this “war on terrorism” is also FOX TV news, with the others not too far behind! Despite public uproar in opposition to further privatization and consolidation of public airwaves, the White House is adamant that it should pass.
Please reflect on why this is being pushed so hard. What happens when the news media, the essential watch dogs for the proper functioning of a “populist democracy”, is not only held in the cheer leading profit making hands of corporations that are an integral part of the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned us about, but also in very few corporate hands. Essentially a state run media without the need for a totalitarian system? You can judge for yourself too!
The media barons are really a key part of the same military industrial complex whose surplus power needs exuding into the rest of the world. The latter has been demonstrated in the earlier chapters in the words of the hectoring hegemons themselves. Well, the media turns out to be a part of the same infrastructure. Thus it isn't just a coincidence that the parent companies of the mainstream media giants are also defense and military equipment contractor super-giants. It is not necessary that the chief editor or lead anchor be told what to do. He or she automatically knows what to do! Or else they would not have been in those positions!
Dan Rather, the distinguished news anchor of CBS for over 40 years, is a living empirical proof of this statement. He openly admitted the fear of being “neck-laced”, and golden silence as “patriotism” (as asking the commonsensical questions he conscionably wished to ask in order to perform his duty as a journalist would have been “unpatriotic”). *2
How about all those other honest reporters who put their lives on the line to cover the war, and who are not so cowardly or so easily co-opted by board rooms and million dollar salaries?
The military quite wised up to the power of battle field reporting after the Vietnam War, the images and reporting of by a few courageous journalists were a crucial galvanizer of the anti war movement that ultimately brought a halt to that ideological atrocity. Hear Daniel Ellsberg speak of the Pentagon Papers and the Nixon White House and you might also wonder, as Ellsberg did recently in an antiwar speech, whether there are similar scenes being played out in the current Bush White House as they were in the Nixon White House not too long ago?*3
Hence now we have the Pentagon invention of directly “embedded” news media whose access to the battle field is strictly controlled by the military. This does not need any further elaboration, as the “reporter pools” and “embedded reporters” are self describing. Talk of a cozy relationship. So we don't get to see either the body bags, nor the death and destruction of the “fictitious” enemy, nor the blood of the real civilians, real peoples, real men, women, children, babies, and wedding parties. Much easier now than it was in the Vietnam war era where the sights and sounds of war had become uncontrolled through independent reporters!
To understand the mindset of the types of journalists who willingly become party to the “reporter pools” and become “embedded” pentagon stenographers (EPS), the testimony of a non-embedded US journalist who reported from Iraq is very telling.
May Ying Welch, an independent reporter and videographer, upon her return from Baghdad after the fighting had ended, stated the following in an interview that I heard on Pacifica: She had gone with an embedded reporter on a visit to the local hospital in Baghdad. The embedded reporter was wearing the army fatigues even though the fighting had ended for at least three days. In the hospital, he seemed the least bit interested in the visible agonies and the heart wrenching stories of the women and children in the hospital, all suffering from the “Shock and Awe” gift from the US Secretary of State. He suddenly seemed to latch onto a small baby who was born the day the American army entered Baghdad. While there, some bombs went off outside and the windows shattered, and the mother of that new baby started screaming uncontrollably.
The reporter looked startled as he had for the first time it seems, witnessed from the inside, the hell being experienced by the citizens of Iraq, and this was just the tiniest exposure as the major war had already ended. But he soon seemed to get over it, and not a word of anything he saw in that hospital made it into his article which he solely focussed on the first liberation baby of Iraq, a fluff piece for the US mainstream public consumption. Later May Ying Welch saw him riding atop a an American tank in the streets of Baghdad, and when he saw her, he waved at her and shouted: “welcome to my country” in harmonic resonance with the inadvertent moment of truth from Tom Brokaw, the earnest news anchor at NBC when he candidly let it slip ~“one of the things we don't want to do is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, because in a few days we will own that country.”
I will leave the analysis of this story to the intelligence of the astute reader, who having made it this far in this long essay, must surely possess a fair degree of critical thinking skills to be able to judge the value of such “journalism” to the expanding empire as their own private eagerly willing and obliging spokespersons!
Well what about the independent and foreign reporters, won't they let the cat out of the bag? These guys have been a real nuisance for the military. How dare they show coverage of death and destruction, of civilian casualties, of US POWs, and hurt the sensibilities of the American audience and interfere with the war effort? Well just bomb and kill them in cold blood and make an example of them. On April 8, 2003, the Al-Jazeera and AbuDhabi TV reporters in Baghdad were bombed by the US military, killing 3 foreign reporters and shutting off their TV coverage. The description of how it occurred is again quite telling.
The entire world is condemning it as a deliberate act of murder for the purpose of intimidating journalists to stop reporting the truth. But the coverage in the US is the usual denial, that the military responded in self defense as someone was shooting at them from inside, whereas all foreign eye witness accounts testify that this was not the case, and the US military very well knew who was inside the buildings because they had been given the information ahead of time.
In fact the exact GPS coordinates had been provided to the commanding US officers in triplicate by the head of Al-Jazeera for the static building location of its reporters, and the AbuDhabi TV station had very large visibly marked signs on its walls and on its roof that we are journalists. After their experience in Kabul, they had perhaps felt that this might protect them from the American missiles. Those very same coordinates were later hit to the utmost guilt and horror of the senior staff who had provided this information to the US army. But the erstwhile guests on NPR (some say it is National Pentagon Radio while others suggest that the acronym stands for National Public radio) argued that the reporters knew that it was a war zone, and hence their death was a calculated risk that they took – not our fault. This is what the US public is seeing and hearing.
Is this an isolated incidence? Al-Jazeera TV was bombed 3 times in Kabul. Oh the precision guided weapons aren't so precise after all? 10 land in Iran, several in Syria, and of the more than 12000 missiles and rockets and bombs dropped on Iraq, how many hit Sadaam? How many innocent people were maimed and killed, and civilian homes and infrastructure destroyed by the “Shock and Awe” bombings? And who is reporting this? Al-Jazeera of course.
Similarly, of the 224000 similar munitions dropped on Afghanistan, more than 50% missed their targets. Did they even get the “Osama Bin Laden” or “Mulla Omar”? How many innocent civilians paid the price in the destruction of their nation, their homes, their children, their wedding parties, their environment polluted for billions of years from Depleted Uranium which the US has no plans to cleanup? And even if they tried, they could not clean it up, nor ever bring back the pre-1991 Iraq despite all their claims of reconstruction, which is another way for their corporate interests to make money from Iraqi oil. Who showed this devastation? Al-Jazeera did. The whole world saw it. Except the Americans!
Let's digress briefly to look for Sadaam's body, the only man who supposedly inhabited Iraq given the fury of the indiscriminate bombings in the hope that one of the precision guided bombs might get him. Where is he? There is speculation that perhaps Sadaam cut a deal with the US and was squirreled away somewhere, perhaps into Russia with the last departing Russian convoy. The US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's visit to Moscow just days before Baghdad fell bespeaks of the Baathist mercifully having cut a secret deal with the Americans that surely prevented the massive civilian casualties that were expected by the US war planners if it got down to street fighting in Baghdad. How else would the heavily defended Baghdad collapse so suddenly without a major fight, when other cities, even the lowly Om Qasr, put up such a spirited defense?
It should not surprise anyone if many members of the old Baathist regime resurface in a new uniform to regain their effective control of the Iraqi population, this time in the service of their new masters! Impossible? The history of United States weapons program after the end of WWII is an undeniable testimony of it, where many of the Nazi scientists were gainfully re-employed in the service of the victors to continue making their killing machines. This is where their now famous remark comes from: ~“our job is to send it up, what do we care where it comes down”! The Japanese soldiers after the surrender of Japan in WWII were also re-employed by the victorious Allies to quell the native rebellions for independence in some Asian territories that the Japanese military had been familiar with during their rampage and plunder of that region. “[D]eal in straight power concepts” as George Kennan had advocated in 1948. America today is doing just that.
Bombing the journalists and disrupting their coverage is an essential part of this war effort. Another example of preventing the truth from leaking out, is when on April 14, 2003, large demonstrations broke out in Nassiriya protesting the US convening its “invitation only” conference for deciding on the future leadership of Iraq under the auspices of General J. Garner, with crowds chanting “No to Sadaam, No to US”, the US military tried to stop the TV reporters from filming the protests, as reported on Pacifica. Geez, why should they try to stop a free press? As of April 15, 2003, 13 journalists had been killed in Iraq, as reported by Amy Goodman. Or perhaps Pacifica, Al-Jazeera, and all the other foreign and independent correspondents only report lies and misrepresentations? You be the judge!
With this kind of fear and intimidation campaign through the killing of the independent and foreign reporters on the front-line, few may dare to venture. But some still do. May Ying Welch and Robert Fisk, the Indy media, and many others from several different countries, all bearing witness to the crimes against humanity being perpetrated in our names. However, ZB's fear of mass media spilling the guts on television and encouraging democracy to take action, has indeed been mitigated to a certain extent, at least for the moment. Occasional truth may still leak out here and there, but the well trained audience with a child's attention span can take care of it with some assistance from the media spin doctors.
A case for indicting the news media for treason
It would be interesting to hear what the distinguished TV anchors and other 'star' mainstream American media and press personalities like: Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel, Jim Leherer, Barbara Walters, Charlie Rose, Tim Russert, Cokie Roberts, and many others like them would have to say about this analysis.
When trying to refute it, as they should indeed try, or else they must accept it and resign – “times up” as Michael Moore might say, would they think of their colleague and mentor I.F. Stone, who taught journalists the importance of questioning powerful governments, by always assuming they lied and having them prove they were telling the truth, rather than the reverse we see now?
Or would they think of one of their own respected colleagues from the New York Times, Chris Hedges, explain in his autobiographical musings “War is a Force that gives us Meaning”, the horrors and depravation of war that leaves everyone a ravaged victim, both soldier and civilian, that there is no clean surgical war, that war in the modern times indeed cannot be, and must not be fought, because the overwhelming majority of its victims have been, and will always be, the innocent civilians?
Or would they continue to fear being neck-laced with burning tires of lack of patriotism put around their necks and think only of their million dollar careers?
Perhaps there ought to be a reckoning day for the press and media too!
The good people of the press and television media, those who are chartered with the responsibility of keeping the citizenry informed, and to allow them to do this unhindered, they have been given the explicit protection of “freedom of the press” in the constitution, what should be their punishment when they fail to do their jobs? Their deliberate or contrived silence from monitoring the centers of power, and thus contributing to the death and destruction of millions that they could have put a stop to had they reported honestly to the public, is inexcusable – because the functioning of a populist democracy fundamentally relies on the watchful eyes of the press. Ask any constitutional or political science expert and he will agree.
Then if it can be proven in a court of law that the news media has shirked it's responsibilities – either through fear and intimidation, cowardice, greed, or simply ignorance, all being equivalent because there can be no excuse for “I did not know” when they could have known – wouldn't that prove that they have willfully subverted democracy?
Isn't that a treasonable offense for a US citizen? Perhaps the USA Patriot Act might get invoked here? Why should this be any different than John Walker Lindh's case?
One fought against his own government, the other fights against their own peoples!
Should the members of the press and news media be brought before war crimes tribunal for the crime of deliberately keeping the good public misinformed, especially in times of war, that allowed further war crimes to be perpetuated on innocent civilians? Who would preside over such a trial? Perhaps a civil or class action law suit in US federal courts against all US embedded journalists might be a good place to start, because the evidence incriminating them is readily available. The defendants would have to prove that they were following orders, as otherwise they would surely hang by default as the evidence against them speaks volumes.
And thus we can see how their superiors could be roped in as those who issued the orders, until we reach the Pentagon, and the White House. Did Al Capone pay for his murders or for his tax evasions? In either case, he sat his life out in jail!
Where are the strategists for peace and justice? It is indeed a grand chessboard similar to ZB's, only the prizes are different. Both require looking ahead many moves, and employing both strategies and tactics to gain control of the ever evolving and changing Chessboard.
But you be the judge! Being a judge however does entail passing judgment you know – sooner or later.
Sigh! Whence the day of reckoning? When people wake up and charge the gates of Bastille!
So now we arrive at the next stage in this analysis – wake up strategies. How to empower the sleeping public and have the proverbial pawns finally gain control of the entire Chessboard?
Footnotes Chapter 6
*1 See Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, co-authored with Ed Herman.
*2 See pages 95-96 of Best Democracy Money can Buy by Greg Palast.
*3 See Daniel Ellsberg's autobiographical account of those war years in his new book Secrets – A Memoir Of Vietnam And The Pentagon Papers. I had the privilege of meeting this courageous gadfly and talking to him about the “war on terror”. He graciously signed my first edition copy of his book and dedicated it to my kids upon my request! He unfortunately never got the time to review an earlier manuscript of this humble book that I gave him in exchange. See Chapter 8 for more on our interaction.