What should America's news media be providing?
The American press is reporting the ignorance and lack of information the Afghanistani and Pakistani people suffer from. American TV and newspaper reporters condemn the Taliban leaders for taking away all radios and television sets from the people and they denouce the Afghani leaders for deliberately keeping information about world events from the the masses.
In many respects the American people are almost equally ignorant of world events. Their news media have given them no hint of what their leaders have been doing around the world to bring about this horrible "blowback" retribution. Even now, the media are focusing on "filler" programs: documentaries on Bin Laden or Afghanistan or Pakistan or world terrorism.
Media MonopoliesControlling What News American Citizens Receive
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The CNN showing of English Channel 4's documentary on Afghanistan filmed by Saira Shah is a good example of how American news media are using any footage which furthers their aim to demonize the Taliban regime or any other on Bush's list of newly-discovered enemies. Fortunately, the documentary graphically displays the horror of the Taliban's repression of all Afghani citizens' rights--in particular those of women. But the American press never provides equal coverage of the horrors which American leaders have perpetrated around the world.
CNN nearly doubled its usual Sunday night "CNN Presents" audience when it aired the documentary in August. Saira Shah says her e-mails indicate that the film "seems to have struck some sort of chord with people," which pleases her because "I care desperately about Afghanistan and I wanted to explain to people why they should care."
Her other fear, Shah says, is that the U.S. will try a quick-fix type of military retribution, with no long-term economic infrastructure follow-up, and if so, "I can absolutely guarantee that there will be another Islamic terror network in two years . . . The most important thing is to take away the vacuum in which Islamic terror can flourish, and I am slightly despairing because I don't think that will happen."
The original showing of the film in August would have been in a more favorable emotional atmosphere when American audiences could have gained an understanding of the depravity of the Taliban regime. Shown at this time of jingoistic furor, American audiences will have to work more strenuously to distinguish the undeniable truth of the documentary from the militaristic propaganda purposes for which CNN is now using it.
Why was it that the American media didn't report the 1998 Taliban atrocity in which they massacred up to 8,000 people in the town of Mazar-i-Sharif. They were killed because they were of the Hazara ethnicity. Some were shot in the streets or in their homes or in hospital beds; others were boiled or asphyxiated, crammed into metal containers and abandoned in the relentless August sun. The dead were left in the streets to be eaten by dogs. (reported By William Shawcross in a September 23 commentary in the Los Angeles Times, "U.S. Still Beacon of Hope").
The reason these things weren't reported is that the Bush administration was still supporting the Taliban regime politically and financially up till September 11th when the terrorist attacks took place.
The best example of a courageous documentary of American leaders' terrorist attacks against foreign people is the film "The Panama Deception." Produced by the Empowerment Project and narrated by Elizabeth Montgomery, the documentary outlines in stark detail how Bush, Sr. used the U.S. military, beginning on Dec. 20, 1989, to invade a foreign country, without the American press, the American Congress, or the American people raising their voice in protest at such an atrocity.
Americans are unaware that wherever they get their news, it is the result of a spin put on it by the agents of corporations, government agencies, and special interest groups. These groups spend 30 billion dollars annually to make you think and do what they choose. The 200,000 agents who do this spinning of myths called news work in the public relations industry. Their mission is to help clients manage issues by influencing--in the right combination--public attitude, public perceptions, public behavior and public policy.
Let's hope that extremist conservative news sources such as WorldNetDaily, ConWeb, NewsMax, Media Research Center, etc. will go unheeded by most thinking Americans.
There are encouraging bright spots in the American media's reporting on issues surrounding the terrorist attacks:
In general, the actions of the news media during this terrorist crisis period further prove the contention of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky set out in their book Manufacturing Consent: "the mass media of the United States . . . serve to mobiize support for the special interests that dominate the state and private activity."
"The democratic postulate is that the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived. Leaders of the media claim that their news choices rest on unbiased professional and objective criteria, and they have support for this contention in the intellectual community. If, however, the powerful are able to fix the premises of discourse, to decide what the general populace is allowed to see, hear, and think about, and to 'manage' public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns, the standard view of how the system works is at serious odds with reality."
The recent performance of the media bears out Herman and Chomsky's view of a controlled press. This leads to an uninformed citizenry and in turn to the election (or acceptance of a coup d'etat as in 2000) of demagogues.
Orville Schell, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, in a September 23 Los Angeles Times commentary, enthused:
"That it took a national tragedy of such epic proportions to shake the broadcast media loose from its market servitude and allow it to perform so commendably is disheartening, but nonetheless revelatory."
Schell is one of the members of the "intellectual community" Herman and Chomsky refer to who try to support the media's claim of objectivity and fairness. Here, he is mistaking more time given to news as somehow releasing the broadcast media loose from its market servitude. On the contrary, during a time of crisis nothing increases the revenue stream like pulling in those viewers with non-stop news--interrupted by higher-priced commercials because of a larger market share. More news, Mr. Schell, is not necessarily better news--news which serves the public interest.
Even Mr. Schell had to admit that there were still a few shortcomings in news reporting.
"One waited in vain for any real discussion of how, after the most impressive period of global economic expansion in history, the world has come to be wracked by so much paralyzing global anger and hatred toward the U.S. Where were the voices analyzing how the miracle of 'globalization' seems to have turned spaceship earth not into a global community of rising expectations, but into badly divided camps of winners and losers? Where was a convincing discussion of why Islamic fundamentalists are so hostile to all of our vaunted entrepreneurial notions of 'progress,' 'winning,' 'being #1.' Why the resentment of America unilaterally appointing itself as the world's peace keeper?"
Correct! Where, indeed, have the real questions been asked on television or radio? Mr. Schell is quite right that "commercial media outlets are held as private rather than public trusts whose primary imperative is profit and shareholder value rather than good journalism." We can agree with Mr. Schell that there is a contradiction at the heart of our whole media structure between the public's right and need to know and a media corporation's need to maximize profits. And with Schell we can begin to search for solutions.
"Is it not time to begin considering whether or not a far larger share of the U.S. broadcast media--besides PBS and NPR--should be held in some sort of public trust? After all, are not the public airwaves public?"
Unfortunately, Schell's idea is no solution; we already have so-called "public" media (PBS TV and radio, for example) and they're no more objective or fair or probing than the regular media. What it's going to take is a loud public demand for our media to raise genuine questions and carry out authentic probing of issues and a willingness on the part of the public to find the causes of our present problems even if it means coming to "politically incorrect" answers, such as realizing that our leaders' past political and military actions have led to this present terrorist attack on American citizens.
Original article: 9/23/01 Updated: 2/17/02