News Fit to Print But Not Printed, Part Two

IIn Part 1, I began with a case where the New York Times belatedly acknowledged that it had failed to print news fit to print, news which, not coincidentally, contradicted a party-line theme the editors had enthusiastically and uncritically supported five years earlier (ed., “The Lie That Wasn’t Shot Down,” NYT, January 18, 1988). There have been many such cases, but they are only rarely admitted years later to have been propaganda-supportive lies. An even more common form of unprinted fit-to-print news is information that challenges a firmed up party line and is simply permanently buried, except for mentions in a few marginalized media and blogs.

One of my favorite cases is the mainstream and Western official party line reference to “8,000 men and boys” allegedly executed by the Serbs at Srebrenica in July 1995. This number has resurfaced in March 2016 with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY, or Tribunal) handing down a guilty verdict and 40-year sentence to the former wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for his role in the “genocide.” The 8,000 number was first put forward by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in September 1995 and was based on the ICRC’s estimate of Bosnian Muslim soldiers reportedly captured by the Bosnian Serb army (3,000) plus those reported missing (5,000). It was never intended by the ICRC to stand for a death total, and this estimate preceded any findings of bodies. After a search for bodies finally did get rolling from 1996 on, only 2,028 had been uncovered by 2001, when the ICTY found the Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic guilty of “genocide.” But by then the “8,000” figure had long been institutionalized, and has remained intact in the mainstream up till today.

This was a strange “genocide” in which the Serbs admittedly had bused all the women, children, and elderly out of the Srebrenica enclave to safety, and treated and then released quite a few injured Bosnian Muslim soldiers. The 2,028 grave-site bodies that provided a primary basis for the prosecutors, ICTY and media claim of 8,000 executions included a large number of combat victims. These have been simply disregarded or played down in the propaganda system (which includes the ICTY). The ICTY dealt with this matter by simply asserting that the “results of the forensic investigations suggest that the majority of the bodies exhumed were not killed in combat; they were killed in mass executions” (Krstic Judgment, August 2, 2001, para. 75). But a majority of 2,028 is far from 8,000. And can a criminal case be based on evidence that only “suggests” executions? Moreover, a careful analysis of the ICTY’s forensic reports by pathologist Dr. Ljubisa Simic found that, while in a majority of cases the forensic evidence is unclear, for the rest a slightly greater number of the identifiable cases point to combat deaths rather than executions (for example, showing death by high velocity projectiles or shrapnel rather than by ordinary bullets). Simic’s analyses are in Deconstruction Of A Virtual Genocide: An Intelligent Person’s Guide To Srebrenica (Srebrenica Historical Project, 2011). This dissident view has never been mentioned in the New York Times or mainstream media in general.

Witness evidence of executions, heavily and gullibly relied on by the ICTY and media, also falls far short of vindicating 8,000 executions. The most intensively used witness, Drazen Erdemovic, a Croatian mercenary who claimed to have participated in executing some 1,200 Bosnian Muslim prisoners, gave testimony that was implausible, not supported by the evidence of execution/gravesite searches, and not confirmed by any of the seven named co-murderers from his unit (who the ICTY failed to bring to trial or even question throughout the major trials). A crushing analysis of Erdemovic’s background and claims, and the ICTY’s prosecutorial role, was written by the Bulgarian analyst Germinal Civikov under the title Srebrenica: The Star Witness (Srebrenica Historical Project, 2010). A copy was sent to Marlise Simons of the New York Times but was never mentioned by her or any other source in the mainstream (I reviewed the book in Z Magazine).

Marlise Simons’s account of the Karadzic verdict does not challenge the 8,000 number in any way. She writes of Karadzic leading “a campaign of terror against civilians,” although even the prosecution and its leading witnesses acknowledge that virtually all the “genocide” victims were military-aged men (and no “boys”). (“Bosnian Serb Leader Karadzic Convicted of Genocide and War Crimes,” NYT, March 25, 2016.) She even asserts that the massacre aimed to “systematically exterminate the Bosnian Muslim population there” (in Srebrenica), although this is contradicted by the treatment of women and children, and even the prosecutors and ICTY never went that far. In her long article she does not cite a single critic of the decision or standard model. This is a long-standing Simons and Times tradition. (See Herman and Peterson, “The New York Times on the Yugoslavia Tribunal. A Study in Total Propaganda Service,” Cold Type, 2004.)

The Times has a photo on its front page of March 25, 2016, showing a woman weeping before a cemetery and memorial of Srebrenca victims, with the title “Justice for Genocide Victims in Bosnia.” And the paper’s editorial of March 25 also features “Accountability, at Last, for the Agony of Bosnia.” But the civil wars in Bosnia were at least three-sided, with large numbers of Serbs and Croats also killed. Between 1992 and 1995, the Serbs pleaded with Western governments and the ICTY to do something about massacres in Serb villages near Srebrenica. The Serb researcher Milivoje Ivanisevic put up a list with 2,382 named Serb civilians slaughtered by Bosnian Muslim soldiers and paramilitary forces between 1992 and July 1995 (Srebrenica July 1995: “In Search of Truth,” Institute for Research on Suffering of the Serbs, 2007, p. 4). The Serbs could get no response from the ICTY or Western governments and media. Many of these killers were based in Srebrenica, and the former UN Sarajevo commander General Philippe Morillon testified before a French Parliamentary inquiry in 2001 that the Serbs’ motive was their “accumulated hatred” of their Bosnian Muslim tormentors, noting specifically “abominable massacres committed by the forces of Naser Oric [a Bosnian Muslim military commander based in Srebrenica] in all the neighboring villages.” This would make the July 1995 Serb executions at Srebrenica vengeance killings, with the 1992-1995 Bosnian Muslim killings of Serbs near Srebrenica the true case of “ethnic cleansing.” This viewpoint has been carefully kept out of Western accounts in the New York Times and mainstream media in general, and has been without influence on the ICTY, all in accordance with an overwhelming bias which makes Serb targets “worthy victims” and Bosnian Muslim, NATO and ICTY targets “unworthy.”

This remarkable case illustrates a Free World propaganda system working in high gear, with the  mainstream media swallowing a piece—and even an entire structure—of disinformation pushed by the U.S. government and its local allies in the war of dismantlement of the too-independent Yugoslavia. The Serbs were the local target and anything could (and can) be said to their disadvantage without supportive evidence. This helped destroy Yugoslavia and provided a demonstration that “humanitarian intervention” was a good thing and could be used down the road, as in Iraq and Libya. (For more on Srebrenica, the ICTY and media’s role, see Herman, ed., The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context, Politics, Alphabet Soup, 2011; John Laughland, Travesty, Pluto Press, 2007; Peter Brock, Media Cleansing, Dirty Reporting: Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia, GM Books, 2005; Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder, Pluto Press, 2004.)

Another dramatic case of politically-based propaganda combined with suppression of politically inconvenient news took place in 2009 at the time of the June 12 presidential election in Iran of that year, and the coup in Honduras just a few weeks later. The United States was of course hostile to post-Shah Iran and had for years been trying to bring about a regime change there. Toward this end it strove to discredit the Iran election, and did this effectively, with the enthusiastic cooperation of Western media (including “social media”), human rights groups, and even liberal-left individuals and organizations. (See Herman and Peterson, “Riding the ‘Green Wave’ at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond,” MRZine, July 24, 2009.) In contrast, when the Honduran armed forces overthrew a democratically elected and reformist government in Honduras on June 28, 2009, the U.S. government supported the coup and has aided and protected the right-wing and terrorist governments that followed to this very day. For this undemocratic episode and sequence, the U.S. mainstream and social media, the human rights organizations, and even the liberal-left that had climbed aboard the Iran denigration bandwagon just a few weeks earlier, lapsed into an almost complete silence.

David Peterson and I have described in detail the enormous difference in media attention and indignation in the two cases, but here I want to pull out just one dramatic contrast that points up the huge double standard. An Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, was shot dead while participating in a peaceful street demonstration in Teheran on June 20, 2009. This crime was captured on video; its images went “viral,” and media coverage and indignation were massive. Just 15 days later, the Honduran armed forces shot and killed 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo at a protest rally at the Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa. This killing was also captured on video, was digitally recorded and posted to YouTube, but unlike the Neda case it never went “viral” and the media coverage of this crime was minimal.

The ratio of differential coverage in a large sample of English language media was 107 to 1. (See tables) The New York Times never once mentioned the Murillo killing from July 5, 2009 through March 31, 2016, but it had notices of the Neda case no fewer than 57 times from June 20, 2009 through the same closing date. Peterson and I found that newspaper coverage of the Neda killing was 34 times as great as the grand total of coverage for 24 Honduran deaths, including 7 protesters, 7 journalists and 10 human rights organization workers. This is another and dramatic illustration of the political basis of media selection of worthy and unworthy victims and it marks a truly outstanding propaganda system in action.

The Honduran case represents a throwback of U.S. policy to the earlier years of U.S. support and sponsorship of a string of torture- and disappearance-prone national security states. It is of interest that such a regression and change for the worse should take place in the years of the Barack Obama presidency and Hillary Clinton’s position as Secretary of State. She was definitely part of the decision-making group that carved out this anti-democratic and anti-human rights policy. (Robert Naiman, “Didn’t Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Enable the Coup in Honduras?,” Just Foreign Policy, February 16, 2016.) This should be front and center in discussions of her qualifications for the presidency, but it hasn’t been in the mainstream media.

This is surely because her record up-and-down the line is felt by the business/financial/military/hardline-Israel-support-faction to be as good as can be hoped for in the U.S. presidential election campaign in 2016. Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney, Madeleine Albright, Haim Saban, Lloyd Blankfein, and even a group of well over 100 neocons led by Robert Kagan, all find her to be a worthy candidate.

This elite and right-wing support feeds into mainstream media treatment, which is quite positive on Hillary Clinton, stressing her favorable position in the horse-race, putting down her leading rivals (Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump), not pressing her for details on her funding sources and their likely impact on her policy positions, and largely ignoring her record of performance in office.

A notable illustration of media bias in dealing with Hillary Clinton can be seen in a front page New York Times article by Amy Chozick and David Sanger, “Clinton Dismisses Rivals for ‘Reckless Actions’ in Foreign Policy” (March 24, 2016). The most remarkable feature of this 1,230-word piece is that not once does it mention Honduras or Libya or discuss Clinton’s actual foreign policy performance. They state that this speech at Stanford University was intended “to highlight her own foreign policy credentials,” and they quote her saying that “if we’ve learned anything from Iraq and Afghanistan it’s that people and nations have to secure their own communities.”

But Chozick and Sanger never ask, if we should leave it to peoples to “secure their own communities,” why then has Clinton supported massive violent interventions in the Iraq, Syrian, Libyan and Afghanistan communities? They never ask whether her support of an undemocratic coup in Honduras was not preventing the people of Honduras from “securing their communities,” and in fact unsecuring them in favor of rule by an armed oligarchy. It is widely recognized that the flight of women and children from Honduras is a result of the repressive environment that flowed from the coup. Wouldn’t an honest news report raise this issue and perhaps even ask how Clinton can reconcile it and her unwelcoming stance on the treatment of such migrants with her alleged devotion to women and children’s welfare?

She is, in fact, a dedicated hawk, and a failed one at that, and she seems capable of living with and tolerating lots of collateral damage. (For two of many critiques of Clinton’s pro-interventionist and pro-violence record in office, see Marjorie Cohn, “Hillary Clinton’s Hawkish Record,” ConsortiumNews, February 2, 2016; Stephen Zunes, “Hillary the Hawk,” Cairo Review, February 20, 2016.)

In sum, the propaganda system is in fine running order, even if it has to cope with the challenges of unfavored and elite control-threatening political candidates, rumbles from the underlying population and a foreign policy in disarray. Future developments should be full of surprises. (I will address other suppressions and surprises in Part 3.)


Edward S. Herman is an economist, media critic, and author of numerous articles and books focusing on the economy, media criticism, and U.S. foreign policy.