avatar
OBSTINATE MEMORY AND PURSUIT OF THE PRESENT


Norman Solomon

Henry

Kissinger usually has an easy time defending the  indefensible on national

television. But he faced some pointed questions  during a recent interview

with the PBS "NewsHour" about the U.S. role in  bringing a

military dictatorship to Chile. When his comments aired on Feb.  20, the

famous American diplomat made a chilling spectacle of himself.

Nearly

three years after the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the  elected

socialist president Salvador Allende in September 1973 and brought  Augusto

Pinochet to power, Kissinger huddled with the general in Chile. A 

declassified memo says that Kissinger told Pinochet: "We are

sympathetic  with what you are trying to do here."

While

interviewing Kissinger, "NewsHour" correspondent Elizabeth 

Farnsworth asked him point-blank about the discussion with Pinochet.

"Why  did you not say to him, ‘You’re violating human rights. You’re

killing  people. Stop it.’?"

Kissinger

replied: "First of all, human rights were not an  international issue

at the time, the way they have become since. That was  not what diplomats

and secretaries of states and presidents were saying to  anybody in those

days."

Right.

Back then, we didn’t know that it was wrong to kidnap  people; to hold them

as political prisoners; to torture them; to murder them.

Kissinger

added that at the June 1976 meeting with Pinochet, "I  spent half my

time telling him that he should improve his human rights  performance in

any number of ways." But the American envoy’s concern was  tactical.

As Farnsworth noted in her reporting: "Kissinger did bring up  human

rights violations, saying they were making it difficult for him to  get aid

for Chile from Congress."

In

Chile, the victims of Kissinger’s great skills numbered into  the

thousands; in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, into the hundreds of  thousands

and more. Seymour Hersh’s 1983 book "The Price of Power:  Kissinger in

the Nixon White House" documented his remarkable record as a 

prodigious liar and prolific killer. But the most influential news outlets 

continued to treat Kissinger with near-reverence. In 1989, he was elected 

to the board of directors of CBS. The autobiography of Katharine Graham, 

the owner of the Washington Post Co., praises Kissinger as a dear friend 

and all-around wonderful person.

Kissinger

is still commonly touted by news media as Dr. Statesman  Emeritus. On Feb.

16 of this year, CNN interviewed him live a few hours  after the United

States and Britain fired missiles at sites near Baghdad.  Anchor Bernard

Shaw asked about the sanctions against Iraq, but neither man  said anything

about the human toll — although an estimated half-million  Iraqi children

have died as a result of sanctions since the early 1990s.  Kissinger

offered his wisdom: "The United States has absolutely nothing to  gain

abandoning sanctions."

Today,

as in the early 1970s, tactical concerns loom large in  Washington’s

corridors of power — and in much of the news media. On the  networks,

routine assumptions confine the discourse to exploring how the  U.S.

government can effectively get its way in the world — not whether it  has

a right to do so. For the present, moral dimensions are pushed to the 

margins.

Napoleon

observed that it’s not necessary to censor the news, it’s  sufficient to

delay the news until it no longer matters. That might be a  bit of an

overstatement; truthful information about the past is valuable  even if it

comes late. But when lives are in the balance, truth is vital  sooner

rather than later.

In

the present tense, with foreign-policy stakes high, media  professionals

routinely defer to official sources. Most U.S. journalists  are inclined to

swallow the deceptions fed from high levels in Washington.  Months or years

or decades later, big news outlets may report more  difficult truths. But

by then, the blood has been shed.

No

wonder so many high-ranking foreign policy officials are eager  to visit

network TV studios, especially in times of U.S. military actions.  If the

questions get prickly, they’re apt to be of a tactical nature: Will  this

missile attack be effective? Will it hurt relations with allies or 

backfire in world opinion? Did the targets get hit?

We

don’t hear much fundamental questioning of top officials from  the White

House or State Department or Pentagon about intervention abroad.  Nor do we

get much assertive journalism that challenges ongoing support for 

repressive American allies such as Indonesia, Turkey, Israel, Egypt and 

Saudi Arabia. On the "NewsHour" and other major network programs, when

the  subject is current policies, I don’t recall questions along the lines

of:  "You’re violating human rights. You’re killing people. Why don’t

you stop it?"

The

recent superb "NewsHour" report on U.S. policies toward Chile 

was titled "Pursuing the Past." In truth, that’s a very tough endeavor

for  mainstream journalists. And pursuing the present is even more

difficult.

Norman

Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits

of  Highly Deceptive Media."

 

 

Leave a comment