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UNCLE CHUTZPAH AND HIS MEDIA MINIONS ON THE YUGOSLAV AND OTHER ELECTIONS


Edward S. Herman

There

is no better place than foreign elections to observe the brazenness of U.S.

interventionism abroad, its crude double standard as between targets and client

states, and the mainstream media’s propaganda service in support of their

country’s imperial policies. One feature of this service is the media’s rush to

focus attention on elections that officials declare important. Thus when the

Reagan administration was trying to validate its intervention in El Salvador by

an election to demonstrate that Salvadorans approved our local political

instrument, some 700 journalists attended that election in 1982; and attention

to Salvadoran elections only ended after the United States had accomplished its

purpose there of ending a radical threat and installing a neoliberal regime.

With the leadership of Yugoslavia now a target of U.S. destabilization policies,

once again the media jump to attention.

Of

critical importance, also, is the fact that not only is the direction of

attention determined by the official agenda, that agenda also dictates the

character and specific content of media coverage. As their government assumes

the right to intervene in foreign elections, the media also take this as a

given, and rarely if ever mention the fact that foreign money pumped into U.S.

election campaigns is prohibited by U.S. law. This was never discussed during

the intensive U.S. intervention in the Nicaraguan elections in the 1980s, nor

has it been mentioned in connection with the open expenditure of at least $77

million in the Yugoslavian election this month. This silence represents a media

internalization of official imperial arrogance and privelege.

Both

the EU and United States have promised that sanctions would be eliminated if

Slobodan Milosevic is ousted by Yugoslav voters. The United States and Nato have

also engaged in sabre rattling, with reinforcement of military forces in the

Mediterranean and troop exercises in neighboring states like Croatia. This is

justified on the ground of the threat of an unlevel playing field and possible

fraud by Milosevic, but of course these interventions could be said to make the

playing field unlevel, and the policy of conditioning the removal of sanctions

on a specific election result is a form of blackmail. When George Bush did the

same in 1990, promising to lift sanctions and call off the contras only if

Nicaraguan voters voted the Sandinistas out of office in favor of the U.S.

choice, the mainstream media never once suggested that this threat was blackmail

and perhaps immoral and vicious. And here again in the case of the Yugoslavian

election, a blackmail threat and other forms of intervention are seen as

perfectly reasonable.

In

covering the Yugoslavian election the U.S. mainstream media have repeatedly

voiced the fear of U.S. officials and opponents of Milosevic that the election

was being rigged and that the demonized leader threatened to steal the election

by fraud (e.g., Erlanger, "Fears Deepen Milosevic Will Rig Vote," NYT,

Sept. 24; Fleishman, "Under the world’s scrutiny, Yugoslavs go to the

polls: Some fear Milosevic will try stealing the election," Phila.

Inquirer, Sept. 24). This is a possibility, but was based on no evidence offered

in the media or on the scene in Yugoslavia. Two Canadian observer delegates

found the electoral conditions there as open and free of any police interference

as in any Western elections, and delegate observers were free to visit any

polling places and representatives of all parties were active at such polling

places. The basic conditions of a free election were much more closely met in

Yugoslavia than in El Salvador in 1982 or 1984 or in Russia in 1996 and 2000. In

El Salvador, transparent voting boxes and the need to sign in for numbered

ballots compromised ballot secrecy in a society where the army was killing 800

civilians a month, and the left was off the ballot by virtue of straightforward

state terror and death threats–but the U.S. mainstream media never noticed, and

found these elections a "step toward democracy."

The

case of Russia is equally revealing. The Yeltsin victory of 1996 was

accomplished by serious violations of the rules on campaign spending, bribery of

journalists, media bias and one- sidedness favoring the incumbent far more

serious than anything in Yugoslavia, and possible fraud in counting. But in this

case Western intervention was on the side of the incumbent, so the mainstream

media here never spoke of fraud and rigging and found once again that this was

"A Victory for Russian Democracy" (NYT ed., July 6, 1996). The same

happened in Putin’s election in 2000. As the appointed heir of Yeltsin and a

"reformer" (in the special Western meaning–favoring market openings

and privatization at whatever social cost) he was approved by the United States

and its allies. The fact that he was a former KGB operative and had achieved his

popularity by killing many more Chechen civilians than Milosevic did Albanians

in Kosovo was therefore irrelevant. Once again, therefore, the U.S. media did

not get agitated over either the ethnic cleansing or the dubious features of the

electoral process–no headlines about the threat of rigging or fraud. This was a

"reformer"!

On

September 9, 2000, the Moscow Times published a massive expose of the Putin

election triumph based on a six-month investigative effort ("And the Winner

Is?"). Their reporters traveled through the provinces talking to officials

and comparing official voting figures with those released by the federal

government. In a number of cases this yielded solid prima facie evidence of

fraud, which was supplemented by much anecdotal evidence of stuffed and

destroyed ballots. They noted a 1.3 million inflation of voters within a few

months just prior to the election, a set of voters they termed "Dead

Souls" after Gogol’s famous story, but they noted that Gogol’s were real

though dead people, whereas Putin’s were just imaginery. This sensational

article was reported only in the Los Angeles Times, which did so under the

revealing title "Russia Election Chief Rejects Fraud Claims in Presidential

Vote." In other words, the paper does not put the findings of this detailed

study first, it gives priority to an official Russian disclaimer. But this was

the relatively honest paper–the others that had found Putin’s election another

step toward democracy preferred the black hole treatment for this inconvenient

news.

As

one relevant sidelight, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

(OSCE) had sent several hundred observers to watch both the Yeltsin victory of

1996 and the Putin election contest, both of which they declared free and fair,

although imperfect, and in the case of the Putin election they asked Russian

authorities to look into the possible flaws! The Russian media the OSCE found

"pluralistic and diverse." Matt Taibbi points out in his "OSCE–The

Organization for Sanctioning Corrupt Elections" (The Exile, Issue #18/99,

Sept. 14-28, 2000), that the OSCE even issued apologetics for the December 1999

Uzbeck parliamentary election, with its 93 percent vote in favor of the state

parties, a 98 percent turnout, and a "genuinely Soviet statistical

profile" (Taibbi), but which OSCE found "fell short" (not

"fell far short") of democratic standards.

On

the other hand, the OSCE found that the Serb election of 1997 was

"fundamentally flawed," and that State TV there showed a "clear

and consistent bias," although "there was a commendable effort to

provide all the candidates with free political advertising, in proportion with

their representation in parliament," and an opposition radio and TV

stations did exist. On the OSCE contention that "the media in the Russian

federation remain pluralistic and diverse," Taibbi comments that "If

you lived here in Russia during the past year and a half or so, you know that

state television and radio programming not only campaigned exclusively in favor

of the Putin regime, but actively assassinated its political opponents…"

Furthermore, "there was no ‘commendable effort’ of any kind to provide

other candidates with free political advertising." In fact, these

candidates were kept hidden. And outside of the big cities "the press in

the Russian regions could hardly be farther from being ‘diverse and

pluralistic.’"

Taibbi

notes also that in discussing the Serb election of 1997, OSCE was much focused

on discrepancies in the vote count. No such concern was displayed in its report

on the Putin election, and the numerous obvious fraudulent elements disclosed in

the Moscow Times report entirely escaped them. Looking at their treatment of the

1997 Serb election and Putin’s election, Taibbi says "it’s hard to come to

any conclusion that does not involve a conscious effort on the OSCE’s part to

whitewash a dirty election."

In

short, the pattern of systematic bias and propaganda service applicable to the

U.S. mainstream media in dealing with foreign elections like those in Yugoslavia

and Russia also characterizes the U.S. and Nato dominated OSCE, which with the

aid of William Walker, the U.S.-appointed head of the Kosovo Verification

Mission, who in early 1999 helped create the ground for the Nato bombing war and

arranged for KLA-Nato liaison and cooperative operations during the bombing that

ensued.  

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