Lies of Our Times,
State Media - American Style,
In Bed with the Military
excerpted from the book
The Exception to the Rulers
Exposing Oily Politicians,
War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them
by Amy Goodman with David
Mother Jones article by David Goodman: No Child Unrecruited ...
" ... the No Child Left Behind Act,
President Bush's sweeping education law passed in 2002. There,
deep within the law's 670 pages, is a provision requiring public
secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with
access to facilities but also with contact information for every
student - or face a cutoff of federal aid. . . . The military
complained that up to 15 percent of the nation's high schools
are "problem schools ."
Could It Happen Here?
Chilean author Ariel Dorfman narrowly
escaped death on September 11, 1973, when a last-minute change
kept him from his work at the Presidential Palace in Santiago,
where he was a cultural adviser to Chilean President Salvador
Allende. Allende died that day when Chilean troops stormed the
palace, and Dorfman was forced into exile. On the second anniversary
of the September 11 attacks in the United States, he wrote an
essay, "Lessons of a Catastrophe "I from which this
It can't happen here.
Thirty years ago that is what we chanted,
that is what we sang, on the streets of Santiago de Chile.
It can't happen here. There can never
be a dictatorship in this country we proclaimed to the winds of
history that were about to furiously descend on us; our democracy
is too solid, our armed forces too committed to popular sovereignty,
our people too much in love with freedom.
But it did happen.
The bombing by the air force of the Presidential
Palace on September 11, 1973] started a dictatorship that was
to last seventeen years and that, today, even after we have recovered
democracy, continues to haunt and corrode my country.
... In the coming years, could something
similar befall those nations with apparently stable democracies?
Could the erosion of freedom that so many in Chile accepted as
necessary find a perverse recurrence in the United States or India
or Brazil, in France or Spain or Britain?
What has transpired thus far, in the
two years since the disastrous attacks on New York and Washington,
is far from encouraging ...
We also thought, we also shouted, we
also assured the planet:
It cannot happen here.
We also thought, on those not-so-remote
streets of Santiago, that we could shut our eyes to the terrors
that were awaiting us tomorrow.
The Prison-industrial Complex
We need to know what is happening inside
prisons because the prison population is exploding at an unprecedented
rate. In 2002, the number of prisoners in the United States exceeded
2 million for the first time in history-up from 200,000 in 1970.1
The rate of incarceration in the United States-701 inmates per
100,000 population (in 2002)-is the highest reported rate in the
Racial disparities in prison are startling.
Forty-five percent of prisoners in 2002 were black; 18 percent
were Hispanic. According to the Department of justice, black males
have about a one in three chance of landing in prison at some
point in their lives. Draconian drug laws have taken a particularly
high toll: 57 percent of federal prisoners are incarcerated for
drug-related offenses; a fifth of state prisoners are there for
All this has helped the booming prison
industry. Corrections is now a $ 5 0 -billion -a-year business.
Due partially to immigrant lockups and harsh drug laws, prisons,
like weapons manufacturing, are a growth industry. From 1994 to
2002, the number of people in state prisons increased by 30 percent.
During the same period, the number held in federal BCIS (Bureau
of Customs and Immigration Services) and ICE (Immigration and
Customs Enforcement) custody increased by 275 percent. The explosion
in immigrant prisoners follows the special registrations for immigrants
from twenty-five countries that started in November 2002 and ran
to January 2004. The federal government's 2003 budget for locking
up immigrants was $672 million.
Nobody is cashing in on the immigrant
lockdown like the private for-profit corporations that run prisons.
The $3-billion-a-year private prison industry profits handsomely
when immigrants end up in their cells. The federal government
pays county jails $35 a day for murderers, rapists, and white-collar
thieves, but the jails get from $ 7 5 to $ 100 a day for immigrant
detainees. 7 And it's certainly not because the immigrant prisoners
are getting more services.
"It is clear that since September
11, there's a heightened focus on detention, [and] more people
are gonna get caught," Steve Logan, the chairman of Cornell
Corrections, a private corrections company, cheerfully informed
his shareholders. "So I would say that's positive. The federal
business is the best business for us, and September 11 is increasing
America's death rows have also been busy
places. The United States has executed over 885 people since 1976.
Over 3,500 men and women are currently on death row.
Death row is a monument to racial injustice.
As a U.S. General Accounting Office study confirms , The single
most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to
death is the race of the victim.'" Over So percent of people
executed were convicted of killing whites, even though half the
homicide victims in this country are people of color. And a Justice
Department study revealed that "80 percent of the cases submitted
by federal prosecutors for death penalty review in the past five
years have involved racial minorities as defendants. In more than
half of those cases, the defendant was African -American."
In Oklahoma and North Carolina, killers
of white victims are four times more likely to get the death penalty
than are killers of black victims. In Mississippi, they are five
times more likely; in Maryland, seven times. Forty percent of
the people on death row are black-yet African-Americans make up
just 12 percent of the population. In Pennsylvania alone, more
than two-thirds of the people on death row are African-American.
The most disturbing fact may be this:
Since 1977, 140 death row prisoners (as of January 2004) have
been exonerated. Were it not for the relentless work of families,
activists, attorneys, and reporters who cared, these innocent
people would have been executed.
Dan rather on Late Night with David Letterman, Sept. 17, 2001
George Bush is the president.... Wherever
he wants me to line up, just tell me where and he'll make the
Tom Brokaw, NBC Nightly News, March 19, 2003
One of the things that we don't want to
do is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days
we're going to own that country.
Why does the corporate media cheerlead for war? One answer lies
in the corporations themselves-the ones that own the major news
outlets. At the time of the first Persian Gulf War, CBS was owned
by Westinghouse and NBC by General Electric. Two of the major
nuclear weapons manufacturers owned two of the major networks.
Westinghouse and GE made most of the parts for many of the weapons
in the Persian Gulf War. It was no surprise, then, that much of
the coverage on those networks looked like a military hardware
show. We see reporters in the cockpits of war planes, interviewing
pilots about how it feels to be at the controls. We almost never
see journalists at the target end, asking people huddled in their
homes what it feels like not to know what the next moment will
The media have a responsibility to show
the true face of war. It is bloody. It is brutal. Real people
die. Women and children are killed. Families are wiped out; villages
"The coverage of war by the press
has one consistent and pernicious theme-the worship of our weapons
and our military might," writes Chris Hedges, a veteran war
correspondent for The New York Times and the author of "What
Every Person Should Know About War. "Retired officers, breathless
reporters, somber news anchors, can barely hold back their excitement,
which is perverse and-frankly, to those who do not delight in
watching us obliterate other human beings-disgusting. We are folding
in on ourselves, losing touch with the outside world, shredding
our own humanity and turning war into entertainment and a way
to empower ourselves as a nation and individuals.
"None of us are untainted,"
adds Hedges. "It is the dirty thrill people used to get from
watching a public execution. We are hangmen. And the excitement
we feel is in direct proportion to the rage and anger we generate
around the globe., We will pay for every bomb we drop on Iraq."
Since the first Gulf War, the media have
become even more homogenized-and the news more uniform and gung
ho. Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert
Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post,
DirecTV, and 34 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC,
Telemundo, Bravo, and 13 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN,
Warner Bros., Time, and its 130 magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney
Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 29 radio stations and Hyperion, our publisher)
Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon &
Schuster, and 185 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random
House and its more than 100 imprints, and Gruner + Jahr and its
The lack of diversity behind the news
helps explain the lack of diversity in the news. In 2001, the
media watchers Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looked
at who appeared on the evening news on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Ninety-two
percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were white, 85 percent
were male, and where party affiliation was identifiable, 75 percent
were Republican .
On radio, it's even worse. In most towns
and cities in the United States, there are many radio stations,
but only one rightwing viewpoint. Take the case of Albany, Georgia.
Cumulus Media owns 8 of the 15 radio stations in the city; it
owns 260 stations nationwide. 1 During the invasion, you couldn't
hear the Dixie Chicks on most stations in Albany because Cumulus
Media banned the group from its airwaves after lead singer Natalie
Maines told a London audience that she was ashamed President George
W. Bush was from her home state of Texas. Cumulus even sponsored
an event in Louisiana in which a 33,000-pound tractor obliterated
a collection of Dixie Chicks CDs, tapes, and other fan memorabilia.
It was just like a good ol'-fashioned
Then there's radio behemoth Clear Channel
Communications. The company went from one radio station in San
Antonio, Texas, in 1972 to owning 1,200 radio stations, 36 television
stations, and 776,000 advertising displays in 66 countries. The
company I s explosive expansion occurred in the wake of the Telecommunications
Act of 1996, a Clinton/Gore-sponsored giveaway of our airwaves
that removed long-standing restrictions on how many stations a
single company could own in one listening area.
Clear Channel is hardwired into the Bush
political machine. The company co-chair is Tom Hicks, who purchased
the Texas Rangers from George W. Bush in 1998, a deal that made
Bush a multimillionaire .6 During the war on Iraq, Clear Channel
stations sponsored prowar Rallies for America around the country.
After promoting these contrived events, stations reported on them
on their news shows as if they were somehow a spontaneous outpouring
of support for George W. Bush. One Clear Channel talk show host,
who had been named South Carolina Broadcaster of the Year, was
forced to attend a prowar rally. She was subsequently fired when
she made antiwar statements on the air.
Shortly after 9/11, filmmaker Michael
Moore wrote about an e-mail he had received from a radio station
manager in Michigan. The manager forwarded Moore a confidential
memo from the radio conglomerate that owns his station: Clear
Channel. "The company," Moore wrote, "has ordered
its stations not to play a list of 150 songs during this national
emergency.' The list, incredibly, includes 'Bridge Over Troubled
Water,' 'Peace Train,' and John Lennon's 'Imagine.'
"Rah-rah war songs, though, are OK,"
Moore continued. "And then there was this troubling instruction:
'No songs by Rage Against the Machine should be aired.' The entire
works of a band are banned? Is this the freedom we fight for?
Or does this sound like one of those repressive dictatorships
we are told is our new enemy?"
Former FOX News Channel (FNC) producer Charlie Reina recently
revealed that every morning, the staff of the FOX newsroom gets
their marching orders. It comes in the form of an executive memo.
"The Memo is the Bible. If, on any given day, you notice
that the Fox anchors seem to be trying to drive a particular point
home, you can bet The Memo is behind it," wrote Reina in
a damning letter to the journalism website Poynter Online.
"The Memo was born with the Bush
administration, early in 2001, and, intentionally or not, has
ensured that the administration's point of view consistently comes
across on FNC. This year, of course, the war in Iraq became a
constant subject of The Memo." Reina explained, "One
day this past spring, just after the U.S. invaded Iraq, The Memo
warned us that antiwar protesters would be 'whining' about U.S.
bombs killing Iraqi civilians, and suggested they could tell that
to the families of American soldiers dying there. Editing copy
that morning, I was not surprised when an eager young producer
killed a correspondent's report on the day's fighting-simply because
it included a brief shot of children in an Iraqi hospital."'
Reina says that during the buildup to
the invasion, an 11 eager to-please newsroom chief ordered the
removal of a graphic quoting UN weapons inspector Hans Blix as
saying his team had not yet found WMDs in Iraq. Fortunately, the
electronic equipment was quicker on the uptake (and less susceptible
to office politics) than the toady and displayed the graphic before
his order could be obeyed."
Reina notes, "Virtually no one of
authority in the newsroom makes a move unmeasured against management's
politics, actual or perceived. At the Fair and Balanced network,
everyone knows management's point of view, and in case they're
not sure how to get it on air, The Memo is there to remind them."
But it's not just the newsroom that gets
FOYs executive memos. In the days following 9/11, FOX news chief
Roger Ailes wrote a secret letter to President Bush's senior political
adviser Karl Rove, saying of the decision to go to war, "The
American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but
only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest
measures possible. Support would dissipate if the public did not
see Bush acting harshly."
Ailes is used to doling out advice to
the Bushes-he was the chief media consultant for Bush 1. He also
worked for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. As Reina put it, "Everyone
at FOX] understands that FNC is, to a large extent, 'Roger's Revenge'-against
what he considers a liberal, pro-Democrat media establishment
that has shunned him for decades."
Expecting FOX News to report real news
is about as silly as waiting for George Bush and Dick Cheney to
tell the truth.
We've heard a lot about the victims of 9/11, as we should. But
the lives taken in retaliation for theirs are blank spaces in
our collective consciousness. The more the lives of victims are
valued, the less killing there will be. Because people rise up
and object when they know that someone innocent has died. They
don't ask about a person's political party or religious persuasion.
Americans care, but it's tough to care
when you don't know what's going on. That ignorance is what the
warmakers count on and what the corporate media delivers.
Let's let Dan speak for himself. On BBC Newsnight on May 16, 2002,
Rather talked candidly about how he and other journalists censor
themselves. "There was a time in South Africa that people
would put flaming tires around people's necks if they dissented,"
he said. "And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced
here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around
your neck. Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking
the toughest of the tough questions, and to continue to bore in
on the tough questions so often. And again, I am humbled to say,
I do not except myself from this criticism."
Rather went on to talk about how the self-censorship
of journalists occurs. "It starts with a feeling of patriotism
within oneself.... And one finds oneself saying: 'I know the right
question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time
to ask it."'
Flacking for the Pentagon
The major evening news shows (ABC, CBS,
NBC, CNN, FOX, and PBS) during the first three weeks of the Iraq
Sources who were prowar 64%
Sources who were antiwar 10%
U.S. sources who were prowar 71%
U.S. sources who were antiwar 3%
U.S. sources who were military 47%
Sources who were current or former government employees 63%
Sources from academia, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations
U.S. government sources from the military 68%
Number of current or former government officials on TV 840
Number of those who were antiwar 4 Sources on FOX News who were
Source: "Amplifying Officials, Squelching
Dissent," by Steve Randall and Tara Broughel, Extra!, May/June
General William Westmoreland, US Military Commander in Vietnam
Without censorship, things can get terribly
confused in the public mind.
It was about to happen. People start sleeping together, and the
next thing you know, they're talking commitment.
That was the basic theme underlying most
of the embedded reporting during the invasion of Iraq. As reporters
rode shotgun on tanks and Humvees and slept alongside soldiers
in Iraq, what journalistic distance there ever was vanished into
the sands of the desert.
Don't take it from me. Take it from Gordon
Dillow of The Orange County Register, who wrote: "The biggest
problem I faced as an embed with the Marine grunts was that I
found myself doing what journalists are warned from J-school not
to do: I found myself falling in love with my subject. I fell
in love with my' Marines."
And CBS's Jim Axelrod, who was embedded
with-I would say in bed with-the 3rd Infantry Division, echoed:
"This will sound like I've drunk the Kool-Aid, but I found
embedding to be an extremely positive experience.... We got great
stories and they got very positive coverage."
From the Pentagon's point of view, this
one-sided reporting worked like a charm. "Americans and people
around the world are seeing firsthand the wonderful dedication
and discipline of the coalition forces," declared Pentagon
spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.
For Clarke, a former top executive with
Hill & Knowlton, the world's largest public relations firm,
nothing was left to chance. "We put the same planning and
preparation into this [embed program] as military planners put
into the war effort," she said .
The embed program for the invasion of
Iraq was the culmination of years of effort and experimentation
by the Pentagon to control the media during war. In World War
11 and Vietnam, many reporters were in the field alongside soldiers.
But as the Southeast Asian quagmire deepened, the Pentagon became
exasperated with journalists who reported the increasingly grim
realities that they saw: dispirited troops, futile efforts by
the United States to win the "hearts and minds" of the
Vietnamese through carpet bombing, and even occasional dispatches
about war crimes. It became an article of faith that "the
media lost Vietnam"-as if the American public would otherwise
have gladly accepted the staggering toll of 58,000 Americans killed,
300,000 wounded, and at least 2 million Vietnamese killed in a
For the 1983 invasion of Grenada, the
military tried a different approach. There would be no journalists
at all. No photos of civilian casualties, no pictures of dead
or wounded Americans, at least in the short term. Reporters who
tried to reach the Caribbean island by boat were turned back at
When U.S. troops invaded Panama in 1989,
the military promised greater access, but on terms of its choosing.
During the initial bloody assault, hundreds of frustrated reporters
were left to wait on planes in Costa Rica and Miami. Reporters
were not allowed in during the first day or two, when 23 American
soldiers died and 265 were wounded.
"About one hundred fifty reporters
were held in Miami," said Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez,
who was one of the reporters held hostage by the U.S. military.
"After much protest, we were flown to Panama, where we were
held at Howard Air Force Base. They wouldn't let us off the base.
But after we protested, they agreed to send reporters at our own
risk. At that point, El Chorillo had been destroyed." El
Chorillo was the poor neighborhood in Panama City that the U.S.
military bombed and burned to the ground, killing hundreds of
Panamanians and leaving thousands homeless.
In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon
took media control to new levels. During the initial assault,
a news blackout was declared. On one aircraft carrier, reporters
were actually rounded up and detained in a special room at the
start of the fighting. The Pentagon permitted only pool coverage,
with a handful of reporters allowed onto the battlefield. Frontline
dispatches were subject to censorship and delays. Reporters who
defied Pentagon restrictions and ventured out on their own to
report on the war were subject to arrest. Nearly fifty reporters
were detained and some arrested for attempting to report on the
The large corporate media did complain loudly about their treatment
in the 1991 war-after the war was over. By and large, they acquiesced
to the heavy-handed Pentagon restrictions prior to the first shot
being fired. During the Gulf War, the Pentagon managed not only
to protect itself, but also its friend Saudi Arabia, telling media
outlets they had to apply to the Saudi government for approval
to cover U.S. troops there.
And a lot of good it did to go along to
get along. As former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines
said of the press after the war, "We lost. They managed us
completely. If it were an athletic contest, the score would be
100 to 1 "
A committee of representatives of some
of the largest U.S.. news organizations came to the same conclusion
in a 1991 review of Gulf War coverage: "In the end, the combination
of security review, the use of the pool system as a form of censorship
made the Gulf War the most undercovered major conflict in modern
American history. In a free society, there is simply no place
for such overwhelming control by the government.... Television,
print, and radio alike start with one sobering realization: There
was virtually no coverage of the Gulf ground war until it was
The program of embedded reporting was
the logical next step for the Pentagon. The idea was for the Pentagon
to give the appearance of access during the invasion of Iraq,
but to maintain total control. The wild card was the press. The
Pentagon was counting on reporters to be awed and compliant. The
generals were not disappointed.
Not surprisingly, most of the "in-beds"
were simply a megaphone for the views of the military who were
keeping them alive. The fawning reports became a grand display
of the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages come to identify and
sympathize with their captors. "These journalists do not
have access to their own transportation noted New York Times war
correspondent Chris Hedges. "They depend on the military
for everything, from food to a place to sleep. They look to the
soldiers around them for protection. When they feel the fear of
hostile fire, they identify and seek to protect those who protect
them. They become part of the team. It is a natural reaction.
I have felt it."
The embeds were supposedly there to offer
frontline coverage. But what can you cover from the turret of
a tank? You can cover what it feels like to shoot people. Then
you can get the gunner's response and the commander's spin. That
is one narrow slice of the war experience.
What about the victims? Shouldn't reporters
be embedded in Iraqi communities and hospitals? Shouldn't there
be reporters embedded in the peace movement to give us an intimate
understanding of what catalyzed the largest coordinated international
protest in history, when 30 million people around the globe marched
against war on February 15, 2003.
A few reporters were honest about what
was going on-off camera, overseas, in private, and talking and
writing among colleagues. That's where journalists told the real
story of how embedding worked.
Like Dan Rather. He understood the Pentagon
program for what it was: spin control. In an unusually candid
interview about the "war on terror" with the BBC, he
said, "There has never been an American war, small or large,
in which access has been so limited as this one. Limiting access,
limiting information to cover the backsides of those who are in
charge of the war, is extremely dangerous and cannot and should
not be accepted." Unfortunately, he added, "it has been
accepted by the American people. And the current administration
revels in that, they relish that, and they take refuge in that."
Rather leaves out a key participant as
he doles out blame here: the media themselves. Networks and newspapers
didn't just go along passively with the Pentagon's rules of journalistic
engagement. They actively helped to limit our perspective on what
was happening in Iraq.
Journalism was a respectable profession. journalists are supposed
to expand our understanding, taking risks to provide an independent
view of the world. We trust reporters to speak truth to power,
to ask the uncomfortable questions. In war, journalists should
offer a nuanced mosaic, telling stories of everybody from the
troops to civilians to victims to families back home. You form
your opinions based on the full range of views that you hear.
But you've got to hear from all sides, and that was what was so
deeply compromised by what happened with the embedding of reporters
during the invasion of Iraq.
John Donovan of ABC News
We never show you how horrible [war] really
The impact of Iraq coverage -was huge-for all the wrong reasons.
On September 10, 2003, CNN's top war correspondent, Christiane
Amanpour, discussed why on CNBC's Topic A With Tina Brown: "I
think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled.
I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a
certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration
and its foot soldiers at FOX News. And it did, in fact, put a
climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the
kind of broadcast work we did."
Amanpour, who appeared on the show with
former Pentagon spinmistress Victoria Clarke and author Al Franken,
was asked if there were stories that she didn't report. "It's
not a question of couldn't do it, it's a question of tone,"
she said. "It's a question of being rigorous. It's really
a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body
politic in my view, whether it's the administration, the intelligence,
the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance,
about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this
was disinformation at the highest levels."