When the US marches to war, the media march with it. And within the media the generals generally are heavily armed with microphones. The din of collateral language is rising to cacophonous levels. The mobilization and ubiquity of present and past brass on the airwaves is an essential component of manufacturing consent for war. Perhaps we need no-air zones for them. That’s unlikely to happen when ABC/TV and NPR’s Cokie Roberts gushes, “I am, I will just confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff and they say it’s true and I’m ready to believe it.”
Just look at one three-day period in early January. On PBS’ “The NewsHour” on Thursday, January 2 with Ray Suarez as host, the lead story was Iraq. The guests were Patrick Lang, US Army and John Warden US Air Force. They were joined by Geoffrey Kemp, a war hawk and ex-Reagan NSC staffer. The discussion totally focused on strategies and tactics.
How many troops would be needed to “do the job? ” What would the bombing campaign look like? And the inevitable, When will the war begin? It’s kind of like placing bets on a bowl game. Suarez, formally of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” played the classic role of the unctuous and compliant questioner.
There were no uncomfortable inquiries about the UN weapons inspection process, casualty figures, international law, the UN Charter or the notorious US practice of double standards on Security Council resolutions. Instead, the pundits pontificated on troop deployments, carrier battle groups and heavy infantry forces such as the 3rd Mechanized Division.
Warden wondered aloud if “we need those ground forces in place before we initiate hostilities?” Then he interestingly added that there is “no Iraqi offensive capability outside their borders.” This went right by Suarez always the smiling and polite host.
The next day, CNN scored a general trifecta. Aaron Brown, anchor of “News Night” had on General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and now on the CNN payroll, Army Brig. General David Grange and Air Force Major General G. Don Shepperd. With the banner of “Showdown Iraq” on the screen, Clark said, “The US is going to do it,” meaning attack Iraq. Then Brown, ever sedate, opined “It’s going to happen mid-Feburary-ish.”
On Saturday January 4, Scott Simon, host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition” had retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor on. Trainor is now Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Displaying his vast linguistic skills, and indeed mimicking network anchors, Trainor twice referred to “Sodom Hussein.” Simon then mentioned the enforcement of no-fly zones. without saying they are unilaterally imposed by the US and have no standing in international law. Then without any sense of irony or history, the two did a back and forth on the possibility of the Iraqi military being charged with war crimes.
Trainor said that the Iraqis “all know about the Nuremberg trials.” Again, this demonstrates the amnesiac quality of the media. A central part of the indictment against the Nazis, and for which they were hung, was the “planning and waging of aggressive war.” In 1991, the US deliberately targeted water purification plants, sewage treatment facilities and power plants knowing that it would produce widespread disease and death. That cannot be a topic for polite discussion.
And it isn’t. War crimes are “their” crimes not ours. Trainor closed by saying that the US military buildup in the Gulf is “so important” because “all of this is to convince the enemy they’d better think twice about trying to defend a bankrupt regime.” There you’ve got it from liberal NPR. If Iraqis try to defend themselves against attack, they face war crime tribunals. Simon: “General, thank you very much.” Trainor: “All right Scott. It’s been a pleasure.”
Short of having UN inspectors coming in to the US and monitoring the airwaves and destroying all weapons of mass distraction, what is to be done? That is the crucial question. While applying pressure-can anyone say boycott?-on the corporate media and their advertisers, progressives need to vigorously support existing independent media and go about creating and funding new media.
Media projects must be at the center of any progressive movement’s agenda. I am happy to report that as I travel around the country as part of my USA (United States of Amnesia) tour, I see signs everywhere of young people in particular producing media.
David Barsamian is Director of Alternative Radio, the Boulder-based award-winning weekly series. He is the author of “The Decline & Fall of Public Broadcasting” (South End Press)