Solidarity Versus Indifference — Part 4

When citizens of foreign countries are denied their democratic rights, when they become the victims of human rights abuses by their own states, and when their actions to secure their rights are met with even greater abuse, the likelihood that the establishment U.S. media will inform us about their fate is much greater when the state causing them harm ranks among the "enemies" of the United States, than when it is the United States itself, an ally of the United States, or a client doing its bidding.


What follows is an exploration of how this establishment pattern was replicated by segments of American left and liberal opinion over the past 18 months, as excerpted from something that Edward S. Herman and I have just completed: "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System: How the Left Climbed Aboard the Establishment's Bandwagon" (ZCommunications, December 15, 2010).  (Also see David Peterson, "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System,"  ZCommunications, October 24, 2010. As well as "Solidarity Versus Indifference," Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)  


— David Peterson
    Chicago, USA


As we stressed in both Part 1 and Part 2 of our "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System,"[1] there is no better test of the independence and integrity of the establishment U.S. media than in their comparative treatment of Iran and Honduras in 2009 and 2010.  But there is also no better test of the critical independence and integrity of the political left, locally, nationally, or globally, than in whether its members aligned with the U.S. government and media's dichotomous treatment of the victims of the Iranian and Honduran regimes, or were able to break-free of this establishment pattern of solidarity-versus-indifference, and overturn its priorities.


What makes the IranHonduras comparison so telling are two sets of facts. The first, regarding Iran, is that Iran has been, and remains, under threat of a major military assault by the United States and Israel; that Iran has not advanced beyond its borders in the last century and beyond, and poses no threat of an offensive attack on the two countries that threaten it; and that while Iran's clerical regime is without question repressive, Iran is nowhere near as oppressed and  closed a society as are the U.S. allies in nearby Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  Furthermore, Iran held a presidential election in June 2009 that was seriously contested, even though the results were disputed and the belief that the presidency was stolen from the true victor triggered massive protests on a scale unseen since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. 


Honduras, on the other hand, was subjected to a coup d'état in June 2009 that ended a working democracy in that country; popular protests against the coup regime have been repressed more harshly than those in Iran, and death-squad terror and assassination of activists are common.[2]  The democratic movement in Honduras is so widespread and vibrant that approximately one-in-five Hondurans has signed onto the call for a rewriting of the Constitution (the demand that triggered the coup in the first place) and for the restoration of the deposed President José Manuel Zelaya, now living in exile.[3]  And the coup regime held a demonstration election in November 2009 under conditions of state-terror and a popular boycott in which the presidency was not contested by any candidate who did not also support the coup.


However, in contrast to Iran's clerical regime and the presidential election it held in June 2009, both the coup in Honduras and the election carried out under the coup regime just five months later were supported by the United States.


It is clear why the establishment U.S. media would focus with great indignation on Iran’s election and the protests against it, and downplay and issue apologetics for the developments in Honduras, as this pattern follows the demands and interests of the imperial state.  In these cases as in scores of others, the media observe what we may call a State Department-needs model.[4]  In this model, whereas the leaders of the targeted state are bad and menacing, and will be demonized, leaders in an allied or client state will at worst be chided for regrettable misbehavior, their misdeeds ignored, played down, and placed in a context of extenuating circumstances—they respond to provocations, retaliate to terrorism, suffer "birth pangs" on their way to creating a "new Middle East," and the like.

That substantial segments of the left in the United States and its allies also wound up closely following the State Department-needs model in treating recent developments in Iran and Honduras was troubling, as any resistance to great-power imperialism requires a well-informed, critical opposition by left intellectuals and the left media living and working within these powers.  But what we witnessed instead was the disarming of the left, as the left's attention, passions, and moral indignation were channeled towards the regime in Iran and away from the regime in Honduras (and in the United States), so that left intellectuals and media followed a party-line on Iran and Honduras almost as obediently as did the establishment media, with the death-dealing potential of the United States greatly facilitated.

Such channeling already was dramatically evident in the wars that dismantled Yugoslavia (1991-) and finally led to the U.S. and NATO conquest-by-force of the Serbian province of Kosovo (1999-), as the liberal and much of the left intellectual establishment accepted that these were cases of "humanitarian intervention" (if too late and insufficiently violent), so righteously proclaimed by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Madeleine Albright, and scores of left and liberal intellectuals.[5]  Over the past 20 years, many left-liberal spokespersons climbed aboard various other bandwagons, all of which aligned with what the U.S. government was advocating from Afghanistan to Iraq to Darfur and to Iran.  But many of these same left-liberal spokespersons have remained eerily silent on the repression of the popular forces in post-coup Honduras (June 28, 2009-), just as they have on the recent disclosures that were added to the huge backlog of evidence implicating Rwanda's dictator Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front's two-decade-long bloodbaths, first in seizing state-power within Rwanda (1990-1994), and then across the Democratic Republic of Congo (1996-).[6]  And they remained very quiet even after Madeline Albright’s 1996 statement on CBS-TV's 60 Minutes that the massive death toll in Iraq, specifically the 500,000 children whose lives were taken by the “sanctions of mass destruction,” was “worth it.”  


Concluding Note: Solidarity Versus Indifference

Throughout this three-part series, we have focused on events inside Iran and Honduras during 2009 and 2010, and on the dichotomous treatment meted out by the U.S. media to each country's ruling regimes and to the protesters struggling against them.  We have shown that where the fate of Iran's and Honduras' protesters are concerned, a pattern of solidarity-versus-indifference, with great levels of attention and indignation devoted to the plight of Iran's protesters, but almost none to those in Honduras, was true of the New York Times, true of MSNBC's Countdown and Rachel Maddow shows, true of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy's activism, true of the work of one "liberal internationalist" and one "Unrepentant Marxist"—and true of the establishment U.S. media overall.  Indeed, this pattern has proven to be so ubiquitous that we are tempted to use the term hegemonic to characterize the sense of reality that it defines for the social actors whose work we have analyzed.  

Based on the long-term demonization of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the high-profile enemy-status fashioned around its clerical regime since the United States named it a member of the "Axis of Evil" in early 2002 and placed its nuclear program on the agenda of the "international community" in 2003, a State Department-needs model predicts that any report which conforms with the biases and expectations of a solid U.S. official line about the evil tyranny trampling upon the rights of its citizens or developing nuclear weapons and threatening the peace of the world will be "newsworthy" and circulate widely.  In June 2009, a consensus quickly solidified around Iran that the democrats were not the Iranians who voted in the presidential election and abided by the official result, whether they voted for the winner or one of the other three candidates; rather, the true democrats, the Iranians behind whom the Western political, intellectual, and media establishment rallied, were whoever rejected the official result and expressed their disfavor by turning up at post-election protests or by protesting it via some other medium—blogs and blog-knock-offs such as Facebook, Twitter, video uploaded to YouTube, and the like, all re-circulating throughout the West.

Turning to Honduras, no demonization campaign had ever been directed at its oligarchy, government, and military before the coup—and after the coup, the United States took steps to deny the reality of the coup[61] and to demonstrate the legitimacy of the coup regime via staged elections and a regime-supportive propaganda campaign.[62]  As the Honduran oligarchy and coup regime enjoy U.S. ally- and client-status, a State Department-needs model predicts that any report which is incompatible with or that contradicts the biases and expectations of a solid U.S. official line on the deposed president's alleged desire to become a Honduran Hugo Chavez, or about the need to stop him before he rewrote the Constitution and made himself president-for-life, will not be "newsworthy" and will receive little or no circulation. 


In both cases, a wealth of empirical data confirms the predictions of the State Department-needs model, as the five tables on differential media interests and word-usage that we developed and analyzed in Part 1 and Part 2 illustrate with striking clarity. 


Leftist confusion also prevailed in both cases, and the voices of left-confusion-sowing specialists were amplified.  The left was lectured that it ought to focus on the threat that Iran's clerical regime poses to its domestic opposition (a non-trivial percentage of which is the product of the U.S. wars and destabilization campaigns across this entire region of the world, and the impact these have had on life inside Iran), rather than on the threat that the United States poses to Iran as an historical entity (as well as to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and beyond).  At the same time, the left paid little attention to the Honduran coup and to U.S. efforts to build legitimacy for the coup regime, and it largely ignored the real class war, with its hemispheric dimensions, that the coup regime inflicted upon Honduras' democratic, anti-maquiladora, and land-reform movements (all of which are opposed by the United States and under severe attack by the U.S.-supported coup regime).  As we noted earlier, it is not that there haven't been many solid accounts of the abuses and serious human rights violations carried out by the coup regime.  Rather, these stories were about victims within a U.S. client-state.  Hence, the stories were not newsworthy.        


It might seem counter-intuitive that a State Department-needs model could predict not only how the New York Times responds to political upheavals in foreign countries, but also how the Western left responded to a pair of upheavals such as those which transpired in Iran and Honduras 2009-2010—but it does.  Nothing provides clearer evidence of the collapse of the left (coupled with a lot of opportunistic selling-out) within the U.S.-led NATO countries over the past two decades, as the world's reigning imperial superpower re-branded its age-old conquest of territories and peoples in a language that is far more to the left's liking, even if the substance of the actual policies is completely familiar and more frightening than ever before.


 [1] See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System, Part 1:  Neda Agha-Soltan Versus Isis Obed Murillo," MRZine, October 5, 2010; and Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Iran and Honduras in the Propaganda System, Part 2: The 2009 Iranian and Honduran Elections," MRZine, October 24, 2010.

 [2] See, e.g., "Five Peasants Massacred in Tumbador, Honduras," as posted to the Upside Down World website, November 16, 2010.  Denouncing the "terrible assassination of Ignacio Reyes (50), Teodoro Acosta (40), Siriaco Muños (56), Raúl Castillo (45), and José Luis Sauceda (32), members of the Campesino Movement of Aguan (MCA)…in the early hours of Monday November 15th, 2010…by the hired killers of Miguel Facusse," one sentence captures best the nature of this struggle: "[T]he army doesn't defend the interests of the people but instead defends the powerful groups in the country."   For more on the level of violence in Honduras today, overwhelmingly directed against human rights activists and labor organizers, see "A State of Siege in Northern Honduras: Land, Palm Oil, and Media," Resistencia, December 2, 2010; "State-led Terrorism Attempts to Stop Landless Peasants Claims in Honduras," Resistencia, December 3, 2010;  "International Appeal from the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained – Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH)," Resistencia, December 4, 2010; and Stephen Lendman, "Honduras: Latin America's Murder Capital," CounterCurrents, December 5, 2010.

 [3] For the Sovereign Declaration for the Popular and Participatory Constituent Assembly, see Adrienne Pine, "1,250,000 signatures for the refounding of Honduras," Resistencia, September 14, 2010.  According to Pine (personal communication), as of the last reported count, the total number of signatures had reached 1,342,876.

 [4] In this phrase, "State Department" is to be taken as a metonymy for the totality of the U.S. and allied foreign-policy establishment, along with the recognition that if the United States doesn't throw the massive weight of its military, political, and cultural resources behind a policy, the policy isn't likely to go very far within the so-called "international community."  Thus when this interrelated foreign policy establishment with Washington at its center and NATO and beyond as its umbrella coalesces against an official "enemy" regime and targets it with destabilization and a demonization campaign, a State Department-needs model suggests that many suppliers will provide the policymakers with material acts of destabilization (isolation, sanctions, sponsorship of terrorism and groups with the capacity to pressure and discredit the government, all the way to military intervention and regime-change) as well as propagandistic acts of delegitimation and negative-publicity campaigns against the regime.  In other words, what the U.S. foreign policy establishment and its allies demand, governments, organizations, and individuals rush-in to supply.  With the current state of information technology in our day, the number of providers able to supply propaganda and to participate in negative publicity campaigns against a demonized "enemy" has grown exponentially. 

 [5] See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Morality's Avenging Angels," in David Chandler, Ed., Rethinking Human Rights: Critical Approaches to International Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 196-216; Diana Johnstone, Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002); and Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "The Dismantling of Yugoslavia," Monthly Review, October, 2007.

 [6] For critical treatments of Rwanda's dictator, Paul Kagame, and his Rwandan Patriotic Front, see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Propaganda System,"  Monthly Review, May, 2010; and Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, "Paul Kagame: 'Our Kind of Guy'," Z Magazine, October, 2010.

 [61] See Robert Naiman, "WikiLeaks Honduras: State Department Busted on Support of Coup," Truthout, November 30, 2010; Manuel Zelaya, "Wikileaks confirms US knowledge of coup and puts Obama in a bind," Resistencia, December 2, 2010; and Charles II, "The arc of the Honduran coup begins at Ford #cablegate," Daily Kos, December 10, 2010.

 [62] See Ian Kelly, "Honduran Election" (Press Statement), U.S. Department of State, November 29, 2010; Arturo Valenzuela, "Briefing on the Honduran Elections" (Special Briefing), U.S. Department of State, November 30, 2010; "Three Senior Administration Officials on Recent Developments in Honduras" (Special Briefing), U.S. Department of State, December 3, 2010; and Hillary Rodham Clinton, "Remarks with Honduran Foreign Minister Mario Canahuati Before Their Meeting," U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., April 28, 2010.  In U.S. Secretary of State Clinton's words: "I think that the steps that President Lobo and his government have taken deserve our support, and we want to work with the government and the people of Honduras to get them back fully on the path of democracy, the rule of law, good governance."


Leave a comment