Bomb the NYT

and David Peterson

NATO spokespersons have justified the bombing of Serbian TV and radio on the grounds

that these broadcasters are an "instrument of state propaganda," tell lies, spew

forth hatred, provide no "balance" in their offerings, and thus help prolong the

war. In an April 8th news briefing NATO Air Commodore David Wilby explained: "Serb

radio is an instrument of propaganda and repression. It has filled the airwaves with hate

and with lies over the years, and especially now. It is therefore a legitimate target in

this campaign. If President Milosevic would provide equal time for Western news broadcasts

in his programs without censorship…then his TV would become an acceptable instrument of

public information."

The mainstream U.S. media have accepted this NATO rationale for silencing the Serbian

media, viewing themselves as truth-tellers and supporters of just policies against the

evil enemy. But this is the long-standing self-deception of people whose propaganda

service is as complete as that of Serbian state broadcasters. Just as they did during the

Persian Gulf war, the mainstream media once again serve as cheer-leaders and propagandists

for "our" side. And as the brief review below shows, on NATO principles the Times

et al. are eminently bombable.

  • Balance. The Serbian media is bombable, says Wilby, because it has not

    provided "equal time" to western broadcasters. This ludicrous criterion is far

    better met by the Serbian media than by those of the U.S. (or Britain). An estimated

    one-third or more of Belgrade residents watch western TV news broadcasts (including CNN,

    BBC, and Britain’s Sky News), and many Serbs watch CNN for advance warning of bombing

    raids. This greatly exceeds the proportion of U.S. citizens who have access to dissident

    foreign messages, and domestic dissent here is marginalized. FAIR’s May 5 study

    "Slanted Sources in Newshour and Nightline Kosovo Coverage" showed that only 8

    percent of its participants were critical of the bombing campaign, far below the Wilby

    standard for Serbia.

  • Spewing hatred. The demonization of Milosevic, the shameless use of of

    the plight of Albanian refugees to stoke hatred and justify NATO violence, and the

    near-reflexive use of words like "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing"

    surely competes with anything that the "state-controlled" Serbian media have

    served up. As with the earlier demonization of Saddam Hussein, Newsweek placed

    Milosevic on its cover titled "The Face of Evil" (April 19), while Time

    showed the demon’s face with an assassin’s crosshairs centered between his eyes (April 5).

    A State Department official has acknowledged that "the demonization of Milosevic is

    necessary to maintain the air attacks" (San Francisco Chronicle, March 30,

    1999), and the media have responded.

    Times Foreign Affairs columnist Thomas Friedman has repeatedly called for the direct

    killing of Serbian civilians–"less than surgical bombing" and "sustained

    unreasonable bombing"–as a means of putting pressure on the Yugoslavian government

    (April 6, 9, 23, May 4 and 11), which amounts to urging NATO to commit war crimes. If Serb

    broadcasters were openly calling for slaughtering Kosovo Albanians the media would surely

    regard this as proving Serb barbarism.

  • Evading or suppressing inconvenient facts and issues. Because the NATO

    attack is in violation of the UN Charter, the mainstream media have set this issue aside,

    although in 1990, when George Bush could mobilize a Security Council vote for his war, he

    stated that he acted on behalf of a world "where the rule of law supplants the rule

    of the jungle." In 1990 it was awkward that Bush had appeased Saddam Hussein before

    his invasion of Kuwait, so the media buried that fact; in 1999 the media rarely mention

    that Clinton supported the massive Croatian ethnic cleansing of Serbs in 1995 or that he

    has consistently ignored Turkey’s repression of Kurds (with Turkey actually providing

    bases for NATO bombing attacks on Yugoslavia).

  • The Big Lie of NATO’s humanitarian aim. That this is a lie is

    demonstrated by the terrible effects of NATO policy on the purported beneficiaries; by the

    fact that these negative consequences were seen as likely by intelligence and military

    officials, which didn’t affect their willingness to "take a chance"; by NATO’s

    continuation of the policy even as evidence of its catastrophic effects mounted; by NATO’s

    methods, which have included the destruction of the Serb’s civilian infrastructure and the

    use of delayed action cluster bombs and depleted uranium shells that could make Kosovo

    uninhabitable; and by NATO’s failure to prepare for the induced refugee crisis and its

    unwillingness to accept more than nominal numbers of refugees.

NATO’s offical responses to repeated civilian casualties from its bombing attacks have

been notably lacking in human sympathy. British journalist Robert Fisk was appalled by a

NATO press conference of May 14, the day after 87 ethnic Albanians were "ripped

apart" by NATO bombs at Korisa. NATO spokesmen Jamie Shea and Major-General Walter

Jertz "informed us ‘It was another very effective day of operations’." There was

"not a single bloody word of astonishment or compassion." (The Independent

[London], May 15, 1999). This response of NATO officials was not mentioned, let alone

featured, in the U.S. media.

Thanks to the scale of the refugee crisis, the U.S. media have been unable to avoid

reporting that the NATO bombing has been followed by catastrophic effects. But while some

commentators have declared the policy a failure and have castigated the administration for

it, most have followed the official line of blaming all of these nasty developments on

Milosevic. They have focused intently and uncritically on alleged Serb abuses, all

allegedly "deliberate," whereas NATO killings and damage are slighted, and when

unavoidably reported are allowed to be "errors."

  • The Big Lie about the "failure" of diplomacy. As with Kosovo,

    during the Persian Gulf war experience the media accepted that the enemy has refused to

    negotiate, thus compelling military action. Although Bush himself stated repeatedly that

    there would be no negotiations–"no reward for aggression"–and that Iraq must

    surrender, the media pretended that the U.S. was laboring to "go the extra mile for

    peace," while they suppressed information on numerous rejected peace offers. Thomas

    Friedman, after acknowledging that Bush strove to block off diplomacy lest negotiations

    "defuse the crisis" (Aug. 22, 1990), subsequently reported that "diplomacy

    has failed and it has come to war" (Jan. 20, 1991), without mentioning that the

    diplomatic failure was intentional.

In the case of the NATO war on Yugoslavia, the official position is that Yugoslavia

refused NATO’s reasonable offer at Rambouillet, and that Milosevic’s intransigence thus

forced NATO to bomb. This is a Big Lie–NATO’s offer was never reasonable, requiring

Yugoslavia to accept not only full occupying power rights by NATO in Kosovo–a part of

Yugoslavia–but also NATO’s right to "free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded

access" throughout Yugoslavia. The Serbs had indicated a definite willingness to

allow a military presence in Kosovo, but not by NATO and certainly not with NATO authority

to occupy all of Yugoslavia. NATO would not negotiate on these matters and issued an

ultimatum to Yugoslavia that no sovereign state could accept.

As in the Persian Gulf war case, however, the mainstream U.S. media accepted the

official line that the bombing resulted from a Serbian refusal of a reasonable offer after

"extensive and repeated efforts to obtain a peaceful solution" (Clinton). The

Serb position and the continued Serb willingness to negotiate on who would be included in

the occupying forces was essentially ignored or deemed unreasonable; the ultimatum aspect

of the process was considered of no importance; and the fact that the ultimatum required

Yugoslavia to agree to virtual occupation of the entire state by NATO was suppressed. The

NATO position, as the Bush position in the Persian Gulf war, was surrender, not negotiate.

And the media today, as then, pretend that we are eager to negotiate with a mulish enemy.

In sum, the propaganda service of the mainstream U.S. media to the Kosovo war would be

hard to surpass, and on NATO principles the New York Times and its confreres are

eminently bombable. But as usual, for the U.S. and NATO powers international law and moral

principles apply only to others. To the Godfather and his flunkies, an entirely different

set of principles applies.


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