A Whiff of Fascism

by Carla Binion Online Journal Contributing Editor

Online Journal, April 7, 2003



During election 2000, Bush paid campaign operatives posing as ordinary voters shoved people and banged on doors at the Miami-Dade canvassing offices in an effort to stop the Florida vote recount. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said he detected a whiff of fascism'in their tactics.
Some people criticized Nadler for drawing the comparison, but, of course, not all forms of fascism have to equate precisely to the classic form represented by Hitler or Mussolini. Fascism doesnt have to involve mass genocidal slaughter, nor does it have to be equal in degree to the fascism practiced by members of the Axis powers. Traits of classic fascism include: strong nationalism, expansionism, belligerent militarism, meshing of big business and government with a corporate/government oligarchy, subversion of democracy and human rights, disinformation spread by constant propaganda and tight corporate/government control of the press.

Today all of those conditions exist in our country to a degree.

Lets focus on corporate/government control of the pressspecifically corporate control of U.S. television news networks. According to a March 24 article, Protests Turn Off Viewers'by Harry A. Jessell, 45 percent of Americans rely on cable channels as their primary source of news, and 22 percent get most of their news from broadcast networks evening newscasts. Only 11 percent rely on other forms of media as their principle source of war news.

Our corporate controlled TV networks might as well be state controlled, because they promote the war and Bush policies fairly consistently and have virtually eliminated all dissenting voices. NBC fired Phil Donahue despite his good ratings, saying in an internal network memo they didnt want to air Donahues antiwar views. Peter Arnett was fired for giving an interview to Iraqi TV and merely stating the obvious on a number of issues. For example, Arnett said media reports of civilian casualties had helped the growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war.

According to William Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Ballantine Books, 1950), the Reich Press Law of October 4, 1933, ordered editors not to publish (among other things) anything which tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich . . . or offends the honor and dignity of Germany.'The Nazis forced dissenting journalists out of business and consolidated the press under party control.

U.S. television news networks have been consolidated under the control of a handful of corporations. America doesn't need a press law'prohibiting the airing of anything which might weaken the strength of Bush's war policies, because the corporate owners of todays television networks are in total agreement with the state.

It is irrefutable that corporate owners of American television networks want only pro-Bush, pro-war opinions aired, because those are virtually the only views that are in fact aired. The Phil Donahue and Peter Arnett firings, especially when coupled with the NBC internal memo explaining the Donahue firing, also indicate this is true.

Do the various TV networks do a good job of informing the public, or do they more often propagandize? Propaganda is aimed at the emotions, while news sources that disseminate factual information aim toward reason.

In Nazi Germany: A New History (Continuum Publishing, 1995), Klaus P. Fischer says Hitler promoted a system of prejudices rather than a philosophy based on well-warranted premises, objective truth-testing, and logically derived conclusions. Since propaganda aims at persuasion rather than instruction, it is far more effective to appeal to the emotions than to the rational capacities of crowds.

If youve spent much time watching the pro-Bush, pro-war cable television news programs, you cant help but notice they manipulate (whether deliberately or not) the viewing audiences emotions rather than appealing to viewers' logic.

That is, instead of providing the American public with a broad range of necessary facts and varied viewpoints about the war, the TV networks exploit emotions by urging the audience to focus on and identify with the day-to-day plight of individual soldiers and their families.

There's nothing inherently wrong with empathizing with the troops. However, when that aspect of war news is heavily emphasized at the expense of hard facts and varied debate, the networks serve the purpose of managing the public mood rather than informing the public mind.

According to Klaus Fisher, the Nazis eliminated from state media any ideas that clashed with official views. He writes that permissible media topics for public consumption included war itself and the Nazi movement; support of Nazi soldiers; praise for Hitler and celebrating the thrill of combat and the sacredness of death when it is in the service of the fatherland.

Todays Bush-friendly TV networks have also deemed only certain subjects permissible,'as evidenced by the irrefutable fact that they only cover a narrow range of subjects. Coincidentally, the proverbial network list'would read virtually the same as the list in the paragraph above. Permissible topics include praise for the war;'praise for the administrations policies; support for our soldiers; praise for Bush and the celebrating the thrill of combat and the sacredness of death when it is in the service of'(in this case) the homeland, even though there is no rational link between attacking Iraq and defending our soil.

Of course, who needs rationality or facts from TV news when the American public already has enough information about world events? In a March 26 article for Editor and Publisher, Polls Suggest Media Failure in Pre-War Coverage,'reporter Ari Berman refers to a Knight Ridder/Princeton Research poll. This poll showed 44 percent of respondents believed most'or some'of the September 11 hijackers were Iraqis. Only 17 percent gave the correct answer: none.

In the same poll, 41 percent said they believed Iraq definitely has nuclear weapons. As Berman points out, not even the Bush administration has claimed that.

Berman also refers to a Pew Research Center/Council on Foreign Relations survey showing that almost two-thirds of people polled believed U. N. weapons inspectors had found proof that Iraq is trying to hide weapons of mass destruction.'This claim was never made by Hans Blix or Mohammed ElBaradei.

The same survey found 57 percent of those polled falsely believed Saddam Hussein assisted the 9/11 terrorists, and a March 79 New York Times/CBS News Poll revealed that 45 percent of respondents believed Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks.

TV news reporters have done little to correct the publics misconceptions. On the contrary, network reporters and their guests have often helped bolster the false impressions by mentioning September 11, or the threat of terrorism by al Qaeda, and the threat'posed by Saddam in the same breath.

Individual TV reporters aren't always free to choose the information they pass along to the public. CNN now has a relatively new script approval'system, whereby journalists send their copy in to CNN chiefs for sanitizing. In his article, Guess who will be calling the shots at CNN,'British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk quotes a relatively new CNN document (dated Jan. 27), Reminder of Script Approval Policy.

The policy says, All reporters preparing package scripts must submit the scripts for approval . . . Packages may not be edited until the scripts are approved . . . All packages originating outside Washington, LA or NY, including all international bureaus, must come to the ROW [a group of script editors] in Atlanta for approval.

William Shirer comments on the Nazi party's control of press, radio and film, Every morning the editors of the Berlin daily newspapers and the correspondents of those published elsewhere in the Reich gathered at the Propaganda Ministry to be told by Dr. Goebbels or by one of his aides what news to print and suppress, how to write the news and headline it, what campaigns to call off or institute and what editorials were desired for the day. In case of any misunderstanding, a daily directive was furnished along with the oral instructions.

In an interview with TomPaine.com, Janine Jackson of the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), said that the group examined two weeks of nightly television news coverage. FAIR found that 76 percent of all news sources or guests on ABC, NBC, CBS and PBSs NewsHour were current or former government officials,'leaving little room for other diverse voices.

In addition, FAIR found that only 6 percent of those sources were skeptical about the war. Jackson noted that on television news at night, there's virtually no debate about the need to go to war.'It would further public understanding if the TV networks would offer substantial debate on the following:

The Bush administration's invasion of Iraq has alienated many world leaders and lost this country the respect of millions of citizens around the globe. The Bush team has created instability in the Middle East and risked retaliation. They've undercut the U.S. economy with the financial cost of this endeavor. Theyve increased the likelihood that worldwide nuclear weapons proliferation will increase. And, according to a recent Red Cross report, they have likely helped create a horrifying number of human casualties and a rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The content of television news lacks range and diversity, but the way the news is presented is also disturbing. Television reporters often deliver news of the war'with apparent breathless excitement, as if they're giving play-by-play descriptions of football games. People are dying in this conflict. Civilians are caught in the middle, being blown to pieces or losing loved ones. Children are left behind when their soldier-parents are killed. Instead of presenting news of this war'with giddiness, wouldnt it be more appropriate, more human, for network reporters to take a somber, respectful approach?

On TV, we see bombs dropping from a distance. Network commentators seldom offer the public close-ups. In his article, Military precision versus moral precision,'Robert Higgs, writes that the much-used JDAM bombs dropped in Iraq kill most people within 120 meters of the blast. According to Higgs, such a bomb releases a crushing shock wave and showers jagged, white-hot metal fragments at supersonic speed, shattering concrete, shredding flesh, crushing cells, rupturing lungs, bursting sinus cavities and ripping away limbs in a maelstrom of destruction.

Just yesterday I heard a TV reporter describe certain casualties with the sterile phrase, This is what war does.'Well, it isnt war'that bursts sinus cavities and rips away limbsnothing as nebulous as that. George W. Bush and his administration have done these things. They have directly ordered that these things be done. The bombs' shredding of flesh and crushing of human cells didnt just passively happen.

In an April 5 article for The Mirror, The saddest story of all,'reporter Anton Antonowicz describes an Iraqi family's loss of their daughter. Nadia was lying on a stretcher beside the stone mortuary slab. Her heart lay on her chest, ripped from her body by a missile which smashed through the bedroom window of the family's flat nearby in Palestine Street.

Nadias father said, My daughter had just completed her PhD in psychology and was waiting for her first job. She was born in 1970. She was 33. She was very clever. Everyone said I have a fabulous daughter. She spent all her time studying. Her head buried in books.

Nadias sister Alia said, I don't know what humanity Bush is calling for. Is this the humanity which lost my sister? It is war which has done this. And that war was started by Bush.

Today we're again getting a whiff of fascism from the Bush administration. This isn't the equivalent of Hitler or Mussolinijust sort of a creeping fascism lightand the corporate controlled television news networks are only one example of the way even light fascism undermines American values.

With the Bush administration and television networks currently fixated on the high melodrama of winning'the war'and sprucing up its aftermath, they don't have much time to reflect on whether winning at any cost is a good idea. Whether the slaughter in Iraq and its aftermath go well,'the war'has already destroyed many lives in Iraq and the U.S. and damaged the American character and democracy at home. For thoughtful people in this country, the question has never been will we win,'but at what cost?

Fascism watch

Corporate Media's Threat to Democracy

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