Subject THE PROPAGANDA WAR AT HOME Written 225 pm Feb 19, 1991 by fair in cdpgen.newslette

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Subject: THE PROPAGANDA WAR AT HOME ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Written 2:25 pm Feb 19, 1991 by fair in cdp:gen.newsletter THE PROPAGANDA WAR AT HOME By Norman Solomon The day after hundreds of Iraqi civilians died in the U.S. bombing of a Baghdad shelter, the Los Angeles Times began a front-page article this way: "In the shadow war of the Persian Gulf -- the battle for public sentiment -- Iraq on Wednesday delivered the equivalent of a fuel-air explosive through the images of charred Iraqi women and children." Combatants posing as observers in the fierce propaganda wars, the U.S. news media swiftly recoiled from the heavy impact of those "images." The gory TV footage from the Baghdad shelter stimulated a quick barrage of spin control -- denial masquerading as sober analysis and punditry. That evening, on PBS, the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour presented a five-man panel which unanimously discounted the importance of the massacre. By the next night, MacNeil-Lehrer, like the rest of the major network news shows, had largely redirected the uproar to center on whether U.S. journalists covering the Baghdad slaughter were tools of Iraqi propaganda. In its editorial about the massacre, the New York Times expressed no grief for the victims or reproach for the killers. Instead the newspaper focused on "the public opinion damage," and gave advice about the optimum military moves "at this point in the air war." The Times concluded: "Civilian casualties hurt the allied cause; it seems reasonable to ask, why not stop bombing cities?" Under a magnifying glass, such prestigious comment might have seemed to indicate a departure from the prior mass media consensus on the war. But the objections were tactical; instead of questioning the war, they merely called for a revision of strategy. Far from weakening the American propaganda system, such variations within the big media enhance its strength. "Controversies" flare, but remain in the war parade. The biggest news outlets may not always march precisely in step with the Pentagon's ideal formation, but they are careful not to go A.W.O.L. from the U.S. war effort. While the mega-media aren't exactly monolithic, they don't have to be. The dominant interests are well served by a narrow range of views, with occasional dissent thrown in. Mass media function to re-adjust public perceptions -- implementing mid-course corrections more effectively than a rigidly slavish press could. Thus, two days after the shelter massacre, the main headline on the Times front page dutifully provided salve to a sudden P.R. sore spot: "Allies Study New Steps to Avoid Civilians in Bombing." Meanwhile, the guile of a country under murderous air attack required acute journalistic vigilance. Reporting from Saudi Arabia on Feb. 17 amid talk of an imminent ground war, CBS anchor Dan Rather explained to viewers that when inevitable civilian casualties occur, "Saddam Hussein makes the most of it with propaganda." As key enlistees in the war drive, major media prefer to discuss the horrors of war as anything but human realities. Behind Iraqi civilians killed by "coalition" bombs, editors and anchors back home are inclined to see little more than enemy plots. Similarly, the U.S. press had no more use for Iraq's Feb. 15 peace offer than the White House did. "Saddam Hussein could be trying to arouse false and divisive hope," the New York Times editorialized the next day. "By moving now, he could also be trying to capitalize on widespread sympathy over civilian casualties." News accounts stayed within similar bounds. The offer to withdraw from Kuwait as part of an overall settlement "was a public relations ploy by Iraq aimed at casting the allies as warmongers and searching out potential weak links in the multinational coalition ranged against it," the Los Angeles Times declared in a news article. (A few days earlier the New York Times had begun its lead page-one article by stating that Saddam Hussein was "displaying little readiness for peace." The same could have been said -- but of course wasn't -- about George Bush.) The U.S. media's constant war footing has given rise to routinely slanted wording that is likely to go unnoted. So, for instance, Iraqi soldiers -- alluded to as abstract extensions of Iraq's much-demonized dictator -- are frequently referred to as "Saddam's troops." But the same media never refer to American soldiers as "Bush's troops." Constantly pressuring people's minds, news media portray and mold public opinion within manipulative confines. A front-paged pie chart, depicting the results of a New York Times/CBS News Poll on Feb. 15, proclaimed that 79 percent of the U.S. public wanted to "continue bombing from air" while 11 percent wanted to "start ground war." People who did not favor either activity were reduced to non-existence; the poll listed the remaining 10 percent as "don't know" or "no answer." As outrageous as they are routine, such methods for discounting and discouraging anti-war views have caused deep alarm among peace activists. No one wants to be "marginalized." But in efforts to avoid such a fate, we may be tempted by false pragmatism. "The simple slogan 'Bring the troops home now' will not do," the Nation magazine editorialized Feb. 18, "for how can any President possibly do that, especially if he has the apparent authorization of both the world community of nations and his own Congress? He cannot, and will not, drop millions of tons of bombs on a foreign people to force their surrender, or to prepare the way for a counterattack into Kuwait, and then simply say it was all a mistake and call the whole thing off." But if we avoid making demands that President Bush "cannot" and "will not" meet, we have bought into a definition of politics as the art of the seemingly possible. Amidst the ongoing calamity of this war, however, our politics must become the art of the imperative. It is not the responsibility of the peace movement to finesse its way into the pseudo-logic propagated by the Bush administration and mass media. It is our task to unequivocally challenge the U.S. government's claim that it has a right to intervene militarily in the Persian Gulf. By striving to fit within the media-approved range of respectable discourse, we may end up shooting the peace movement in the foot while inadvertently giving the war propagandists a shot in the arm. "For the first time since the end of World War II, the United States is in a position to 'negotiate from strength' in the true meaning of that phrase," the Nation contended. "We have demonstrated our strength beyond all doubt; we need not fear to negotiate. Superior strength can produce magnanimity, even or especially toward those who seem least to deserve it." Coming near the close of an often-eloquent editorial denouncing the war, these words gave back to the war makers much of their ground. One of the most insidious effects of how mass media frame this war's "issues" is that we are encouraged to accept -- or at least pretend to accept -- dubious premises of those who are making a killing, literally and figuratively, from business as usual. But it is not truly pragmatic to accede to the mindsets of the military-industrial-media complex. If, in our eagerness to become players, we mouth the counterfeit lingo of mass media and politicians, we may be permitted to join in a game that the anti-war movement should not be playing. The news media's cues and inducements notwithstanding, we have better things to do. Norman Solomon is co-author of "Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media." Norman Solomon via PeaceNet: fair via phone: (408) 338-4341 Reprinting of this article is welcome. End of text from cdp:gen.newsletter Source: Peacenet Via New York Transfer News 718-448-2358, 718-448-2683 --- [ This file has travelled through the Socialism OnLine! BBS at +1-719-392-7781, 24 hours, 300-9600 bps HST/MNP/V42bis, on its way to you, the reader of this file. Please share any information you have about "big brother." Venceremos! ]


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