Origin CHANNEL1 - 1396 - activism.prog To ALL Date 10/12/93 Re THE GULF WAR AND THE U.S.

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Origin: CHANNEL1 - 1396 - activism.prog From: RICH WINKEL To: ALL Date: 10/12/93 Re: THE GULF WAR AND THE U.S. ------------------------------------------------------------------- @FROM :RICH@PENCIL.CS.MISSOURI.EDU @SUBJECT:THE GULF WAR AND THE U.S. CENSORSHIP MACHINE Message-ID: <1993Oct13.001138.4152@mont.cs.missouri.edu> Newsgroup: misc.activism.progressive Organization: PACH /** reg.elsalvador: 138.6 **/ ** Written 10:01 am Oct 10, 1993 by peg:jgutierrez in cdp:reg.elsalvador ** ************************************************************** * RADIO FARABUNDO MARTI * * La Farabundo * * AUSTRALIAN MEDIA UNIT * ************************************************************** THE GULF WAR AND THE U.S. CENSORSHIP MACHINE Revolutionary Worker, October 20, 1991 Recently the Pentagon admitted that during the February ground war in the Persian Gulf, US troops had buried Iraqi soldiers alive. Tanks plowed up over 70 miles of desert trenches, suffocating hundreds, perhaps thousands of soldiers who had been unable or unwilling to surrender under tons of sand. US officials kept this brutal atrocity hushed up for over seven months. Reports of the time filed by journalists assigned to this operation didn't even mention the live burials and claimed that only "a few" Iraqi dead could be seen in the trenches. How many other war crimes remain buried, covered up by layers of lies and censorship? Pro-government lies, censorship and propaganda blitz played a major role in shaping public opinion in support of the war. Many people watched this massive coverup and were outraged. Some were shocked that this could happen in a country that boasts of "the world's freest press." The hard truth is that in a capitalist/imperialist country like the US the "free press" is a myth actively pushed by the ruling class and institutions. It is a myth during "normal times" and is all the more so during wartime. The mass media is used as a tool for shaping opinion on the "home front". The causes and goals, the strategy and tactics, the results and long-term consequences of imperialist wars are systematically hidden from public knowledge and discussion. According to Harvard scholar William Kovach, serious planning for military control of the press during wartime began in 1970 during the Vietnam War. New elements have been added with each military aggression since then. But not until the Gulf War were all the elements combined in one coordinated effort, in a way that took many people by surprise. In the Gulf War, the US tested not only a generation of high-tech weaponry, but also a new generation of high-tech propaganda machinery. It is important to know how this war propaganda machine operated and the techniques and strategies used. HIGH LEVEL PLANNING AND DIRECTION The control of media coverage of the war was planned and directed by the highest levels of government and military. According to a May 4 _New York Times_ article by Jason de Parle, "early in the troop buildup" President Bush met with his top military advisors to review past mistakes in policy on media coverage of war stories. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney was given overall command of press policy at this meeting. The President and his advisors reviewed the performance of every military briefer who appeared on TV. (Air Force generals now take a course in "briefing style," in which they are videotaped and their performance critiqued.) Cheney was blunt: "Military needs had to take precedence over journalistic rights." According to one source who attended the White House meeting, there was a quick decission to set up a mechanism to control battlefield reporting: "Nobody dwelled on it. The sense was, `Set it up over here, pay attention to it-- don't have things happen by accident, take control of it'." Through a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the RW recently obtained several documents from the U.S. Department of Defence (Dod) concerning procedures and guidelines for war reporters in Saudi Arabia. These documents indicate, among other things, that the Pentagon began plans for a higher degree of military control over battlefield reporting many months before the Persian Gulf War--in fact, before Iraqi forces had entered Kuwait. One memo, dated Jan.9, 1991, from the U.S. Army colonel heading the Joint Information Bureau (JIB) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, stresses that the "seven- member quick reaction pools" of journalists must be strictly enforced as the only way that reporters could report from the battlefield. It also mentions that planning along these lines began back in May 1990 "with significant input and compromise from both the media and the military." Other DoD documents received by the RW detail how "pool products (news stories and images) will be subject to review release to determine if they contain sensitive information about military plans, capabilities, operations, or vulnerabilities." Some 12 categories of information were labeled "nonreleaseable"--in other words, banned from news reports--and dozens of other rules were set down governing the conduct of reporters in the conflict. CENSORSHIP IN THE BATTLEFIELD The "Pool" System Reporters who might file stories critical of the military or the war effort were tagged by the "pool" system. The pool system in the Gulf conflict was designed by Ron Wildermuth, a Navy captain and aide of General Norman Schwarzkoft, and named "Annex Foxtrot." There were over 100 reporters trying to cover the war from Saudi Arabia. All reporters were required to be accompanied by a military "handler" or escort at all times. (The "handlers" even allowed one woman reporter from CNN to the toilet on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy). There were only 13 pools, with even media people in each. This meant that at any given time there were less than 100 people out of the total media corps of 100 doing actual reporting. To be eligible for pool reporting, journalists had to be: (1) nominated by a news organization, (2) approved by the JIB in Dhahran in coordination with the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command, and (3) accredited by the Saudi Government. Most of the pools were taken to places like bases for AWAC radar planes where there was no action to report. Due to a supposed "shortage" of handlers, only a few pools were ever in the field at a given time. All the other reporters had to sit in their hotel rooms in Dhahran or Riyadh and interview each other "live." This aspect of control had been tested out in Panama and Grenada. However, one of the originators of the pool system in the mid-1980s, Fred S. Hoffman, has said that the pools in the Gulf were "far more restrictive than anything we'd ever tried to do." Direct Satellite Feed to the Troops One of the lesser known, but most effective, means of media control during the Gulf War was the fact that network news broadcasts taken off the transmission satellites were shown directly to the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. In other words, the same news footage that went out to civilian viewers in the U.S. went out to troops in the field. There was no separate military news network. This was a way of exerting more pressure on the networks to filter out any "inappropiate" news that might "demoralize" the troops and hurt the war effort--and it also provided the networks with justification to self-censor its own coverage. Military Propaganda Corps All dispatches from correspondents and reporters in and out of pools were subject to military censorship. News stories, photos, and video and audio tapes filed by reporters in Saudi Arabia had to be cleared by the JIB director in Dhahran, in "consultation" with a representative of the news media. Veteran war correspondent Malcolm Browne of the _New York Times_ commented one week into the Gulf War, "I've never seen anything that can be compared to it, in the degree of surveillance and control the military has over the correspondents. When the entire environment is controlled, a journalist ceases to be a reporter in the American or Anglo- Saxon tradition. He works a lot like the PK. "PK" refers to the Nazi propaganda corps (Propaganda companien) that operated under Hitler. Delaying Tactic One tactic of the military censors was to hold up the release of dispatches until they were no longer news. A number of instances have been documented where journalists had their reports from the Gulf War delayed until their contents were released later in the military press briefings. The U.S. government and military were very afraid that military difficulties or setbacks might affect the morale of the troops as well as the mood of the people back in the U.S. A 48-hour news blackout was imposed at the start of the ground war--this was canceled when it became clear that the US was going to achieve a quick victory with small casualties on its side. Intimidation of the Press There was also straight-up threats and intimidation of the media by the military. The DoD documents received by the RW claim that military censorship was instituted purely for security reasons. For example, a memo from Pentagon spokesperson Pete Williams stated: "Material will be examined solely for its conformance to the attached ground rules, not for its potential to express criticism or cause embarrassment." However, James Le Moyne of the _New York Times_ confirms that Pentagon press officials analyzed reporters' past stories and used this openly to intimidate reporters in the field. The military keeps a file on every reporter and researched her/his past articles. Reporters who asked hard questions were warned that "they were seen as `anti-military' and that their requests for interviews with senior commanders and visits to the field were in jeopardy." Le Moyne had an interview with Commander Schwarzkoft canceled after he was told that the article he wrote was "not liked." Reporters were also kept in line by threats to turn them over to Saudi authorities to have their visas revoked. Journalists who tried to cover combat from outside the pool system were specially targeted with threats. A photographer for a news wire trying to work on his own was detained by Marines for six hours. They told him, "We have orders from above to make this pool system work," and threatened to shoot him if he left his car! When British reporter Robert Fisk of the _Independent_ tried to cover the battle of Khafji without official permission, an NBC correspondent told him, "You asshole, you'll prevent us from working. You're not allowed here. Get out. Go back to Dhahran." The NBC correspondent then ratted on him to the Marines. Also at Khafji, where US led units faced stiff combat from Iraqi troops, the Marines forced a French TV crew at gunpoint to turn over his footage of US soldiers wounded in the battle. Gagging of Soldiers Intimidation was not limited to reporters. The brass put pressure on the soldiers to "say the right things." Le Moyne in the _New York Times_ reported some complaints from ordinary military people critical of Bush and the military. Later, some of the people quoted in the article were criticised in a letter to the editor. Le Moyne's request for permission to revisit the unit was denied. Eventually he learned that the unit was called on the carpet and an explanation demanded by higher-ups. The reporter's escort were held personally responsible for what had been printed. At another point, Commander Schwarzkoft himself called a general and demanded explanation of how a private was allowed to say something critical of the war to a reporter. Ron Nessen, former press secretary to President Ford pointed out: "When a reporter has an officer standing over his shoulder at all times, what soldier being interviewed will spill his guts and speak his personal truth?" "Hometown News Program" A major innovation in news control in the Gulf was the active fostering of favourable propaganda stories by the military PR people. This took the form of the Hometown News Program, headed by AF Lt. Col. Michael Cox. It consisted of handpicking 960 journalists from mostly small-town newspapers and TV stations (most of them near the home bases of units stationed in the Gulf) and flying them free on military aircraft to the Gulf. When asked why these reporters weren't subjected to the pool system, Cox replied, "There was just a safer feeling. if they know that they're getting a free ride, and they can't afford the $2,000 ticket, there's probably going to be a tendency to say, "We'll do good stuff here." CENSORSHIP ON THE HOMEFRONT Ignoring the Opposition There was almost a total blackout of activities opposing the war. Anti-war demonstrations and anti-war spokes-persons were simply and effectively shut out by the mass media. The Jan. 26 march on Washington, drawing a quarter of a million people to the largest demonstration ever held in D.C. in wintertime, was given less that four seconds of coverage by CBS. A survey of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) revealed that only about 1.5 percent of TV sources of information who received network time were people protesting the war--"about the same number of sources asked about the war had affected their travel plans." FAIR found that of 878 on-air "experts," only one was a representative of a national peace organization (Physicians Against Nuclear War). FAIR sampled 2,855 minutes of network news coverage of the Gulf Crisis from the crucial period Aug.8-Jan.3, before the shooting war started; only 29 minutes of this (about 1 percent) reported on popular dissent, even though roughly half the country's population opposed going to war. Especially important to the ruling class was to suprpress general knowledge of GI resistance. A few cases of resistance made it into the media, but the wide extent of opposition in the military was covered up. Groups like the War Resisters League pointed out that thousands GIs and reservists had applied for conscientious observer status. Many GIs stationed in Germany there simply went AWOL and were helped by an underground network of German supporters. Some GIs were taken in chains to the battle front. None of this was taken up by the media. The networks even suppressed spokespersons who offered to pay for air time to oppose the war. Television station WJLA, the ABC Washington affiliate, turned down a spot from the Military Family Support Network, a group of relatives of servicemen opposed to the war. At the same time, the station accepted a pro-war spot from the Freedom Task Force, a group headed by a former Reagan functionary with ties to the reactionary religious figure Rev. Sun Myung Moon. When the media did cover anti-war actions, they often gave "equal time" to the handful of pro-war counter-demonstrators. Such was the case in Berkeley, California where 600 demonstrated against the war while several Young Republicans came out for the war. The _San Francisco Chronicle_ gave the headline to the reactionaries: "War Backers March on UC Protest." Ignoring the Iraqi Casualties Any news of the horrendous death and suffering caused by U.S. bombs in Iraq was heavily suppressed by the media. When the Iraqi government brought out stories of civilians killed and hurt by the bombing, the media tried to paint them as "propaganda ploys" by the Hussein regime. FAIR in its publication EXTRA!, gav eone example: "NBC's Dennis Murphy (1/27/91), concluding a segment on video evidence of victims by the Iraqi government, took a tone that was widespread throughout the media: "Until we get some Western reporters and photographers in there to vouch for it, I think we'll have to call it propaganda." It's a name that the media gave to dead Iraqis again and again." While the heavy destruction in Iraq was ignored, every SCUD missile launched by Iraq that landed in Israel or Saudi Arabia made headline news. On January 21, when U.S.-led forces launched some 2,000 air sorties over Kuwait and Iraq, Ted Koppell on ABC's _Nightline_ commented, "All is quiet tonight in the Middle East; only one SCUD missile landed in Tel Aviv." There were even callous and cold-blooded "jokes" about Iraqi casualties. _Time_ magazine at one point defined "collateral damage" (a phrase used by the military to refer to Iraqi casualties) as "a term meaning dead or wounded civilians who should have picked a safer neighbourhood." People in the anti- war movement who tried to bring out what had happened to the Iraqi people were locked out of the major media. The TV networks made commitments to air "No Place to Hide," a documentary narrated by Ramsey Clark, a former US attorney general who is now a prominent anti-war activist. But the networks went back on the promise after viewing the tape, which showed the ravaged bodies of Iraqi civilians killed by the bombings. Fired for Not Going Along with the Program Some reporters who managed to elude the military censors and smuggle out real stories out of the Gulf met a worse fate at the hands of their bosses back home. When Jon Alpert, an NBC stringer, came home with footage of the devastation of the bombing of Basra, NBC News president Michael Gartner, who never saw the footage refused to allow it to go on air. Gartner then ended Alpert's relationship with NBC News. Alpert took the film to CBS, but that network also refused to run it. Editors and columnists who went against the tide and came out in opposition to the war were often punished or axed. When _San Francisco Examiner_ columnist Warren Hinckle wrote a column titled "If Sadam is Hitler, Bush is Tojo," publisher William Randolph Hearts III killed the item and sentenced Hinckle to a three-month "vacation." FAIR has publicized a number of simmilar incidents. The management of the Round Rock, _Texas Leader_ fired its own editor for publishing a Palestinian-American's charge that Bush "is the biggest liar in the United States." The move was explained in an editorial that said, "We hope that flag flying from our office and the yellow ribbob on our tree will remove any doubt about our loyalty to the President and our men and women in uniform." The Kutztown, Pennsylvania _Patriot_ fired its editor for his item, "How about a little PEACE?" and the management of Spanish-language radio station WADO in New York fired a talk show host for supposedly having "an unbalanced view of the war." ROLE OF THE MEDIA UNDER THIS SYSTEM What can people learn from all this? During the Gulf war there was rather blatant all-around control by the ruling powers in this society of the propagation of news and opinions. There was strict censorship exerted jointly by the government, the military, the media and other leading institutions. This control was complex and multifaceted, extending from the battle field to the home front. Government and military control over battle field news reporting, which was tigthtened for the Grenada and Panama invasions, was jacked up even tighter in the Gulf War. But this is not an "aberration" of the "free press" under the bourgeois democratic system in the US. It is a concentration of the role of the media under this system, of how bourgeois democracy actually works and what the "free press" actually amounts to. The media is an important instrument of the ruling class in putting over its point of view and discrediting or simply supressing views opposed to it. It molds people's ideas and opinions, and is an important part of the overall bourgeois dictatorship. The U.S. rulers have no "Ministry of Propaganda" and no formal government control of the mass media. But control is exercised in other ways. First, the media is controlled by big capitalists. The major media have boards of directors with ties directly to the government, military and industry. For example, NBC is owned by General Electric, a big weapons industry contractor. Among NBC's board members are Gen. David Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Reagan. But there is a more important, deeply concealed, way that the media serves the needs of the ruling class. As Bob Avakian points out in _Democracy: Can't we Do Better Than That_: "it remains a fact that on any really significant issue (and for that matter, most not very significant ones) the men (and the few women) of the media put forward the same viewpoint--and to a great degree seem to be reading from the same prepared text. Where they to disagree--with each other, or with a particular government policy at any given time--this too is from the point of view of the general interests of the ruling class and the established order as a whole. In part, this occurs more or less "spontaneously"; that is, these people--specially those who have climbed up the ladder to any position of real influence--can overwhelmingly be counted on to know what the basic interests of the ruling class are and how to present them as effectively as possible. But on any ocassion where the system and its rules are put to a severe test or find their interest threatened, then there is a marked "pulling together" around and orchestrated official line--whichis often all the more insidious because it is done without the acknowledgment that it is an official line--and generally with the denial that such an official line even exists." This "pulling together" could be seen clearly in how the media operated during the Gulf War. Lu Hsum, a revolutionary writer in China during the 1920s and '30s, wrote, "Lies written in ink can never disguise facts written in blood." The ruling class and its propaganda machine can obscure the reality partially and temporarily. But the crimes committed by the US imperialists in Iraq will never be forgotten and forgiven by the people of the world. And a system that must suppress the truth, lie to the people and stifle news of opposition is a system that is weak and vulnerable to the core. DEATH AND DESTRUCTION CAUSED BY U.S. BOMBS Through the media, the military pushed the lie that the war against Iraq was "clean and surgical". Images of guided missiles hitting buildings filled TV news, while pictures of Iraqis killed and civilian areas damaged by the bombing were blacked out. Photographer Ken Jarecke, working with a news "pool" set up by the US military, came upon a Iraqi soldier burned beyond recognition on a bombed-out truck 25 miles inside Iraq. His military escorts tried to forbid any photos. The picture was taken anyway and was put on the wires back to the States. But the Associated Press pulled it off the wires "because it was too grim." The _New York Times_ had a copy of the photo but never used it. The TV networks also had a video of the same scene, but it was never put on air. One producer declined to use the image of the man "because it was too gruesome" and instead just showed the burned-out truck. ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE The US war against Iraq left massive ecological disaster in the Gulf. US officials blamed all the damage on Iraq, and this was faithfully echoed by the media. One of the claims by the US government on this question was that IRaq had purposely dumped oil into the Gulf, causing the largest oil spill in history. But the New York aternative weekly _Village Voice_ reported on March 5: "Allied military officials now admit that as much as one-third of the oild spilled in the Gulf is the result of coalition bombing, not Iraqi sabotage." POST-WAR CATASTROPHE IN IRAQ After the war the U.S. media remained silent about the conditions facing the Iraqi people. After a few months some articles even claimed that things were beginning to go "back to normal" in Iraq. But the real situation has been far from "normal". The media was part of the post-war New World Order hype to encourage celebrations of the bloody "victory" over Iraq. Greenpeace estimates that at the same time as these celebrations were going on, between 49,000 and 76,000 Iraqi civilians died from the effects of the war. Journalists and other who have travelled to Iraq after the war tell of extreme hardships Iraqi people are suffering. In a current series in this paper based on a two week trip to Iraq, RW correspondent Larry Everest reports that the conscious decision by the US and its allies to bomb Iraq's electrical power stations (which goes against the Geneva convention for war conduct) has resulted in disaster for the people. The lack of electricity to run sewage treatment facilities and water purification plants has led to epidemics of intestinal diseases, especially affecting children. As one Iraqi relief official told Everest, "Since the war, Iraqi children have been exposed to biological warfare. When you destroy the infrastructure of a country, sewage with all its germs will flow into the streets; you stop pure water from reaching the children; you give them malnutrition; you prevent medicines from reaching the country. So it's an excellent environment for death and disease." ** End of text from cdp:reg.elsalvador ** <*>


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank