Subject THE PROPAGANDA WAR AT HOME Written 225 pm Feb 19, 1991 by fair in cdpgen.newslette
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
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)
Reprinting of this article is welcome.
End of text from cdp:gen.newsletter
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