Stenographers to Power:
Gulf War I as a Case Study in Media Coverage

Jeff Cohen, 1991

excerpted from the book

Stenographers to Power

media and propaganda

David Barsamian interviews

Common Courage Press, 1992, paper


JC: ... Thomas Friedman is a virtual sidekick of the man he covers, Secretary of State Jim Baker. They're very close. They bounce ideas off each other. Friedman is the guy who, shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait, said on one of these morning network TV news shows that what the CIA should consider doing is blowing up some Iraqi pipelines and then lie about having done so. That was a very rare case where a reporter actually asked the government to disinform him...

JC: ... the whole history of how the media covered Saddam Hussein: there was no coverage of his human rights abuses. There was almost nil. After the crisis began, when the invasion of Kuwait occurred, all of a sudden he was the greatest human rights abuser in the world. All of a sudden, Amnesty International reports on Iraq mattered. Those reports were released all through the 1980s, when Iraq was an ally of the United States, when the Reagan administration took Iraq off the terrorist list so they could give them billions of dollars in agricultural credits, when the Reagan-Bush administration was getting guns to Iraq through third-party states, including Jordan and Kuwait. During that whole period when the United States was helping build up the military and economic might of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the issue of his human rights abuses was off the media agenda. There was this classic in the New York Post, a tabloid in New York. After the crisis began they had a picture of Saddam Hussein patting the British kid on the head and their banner headline was "Child Abuser." That was very important to us and very ironic, because Amnesty International and other human rights groups had released studies in 1984 and 1985 which showed that Saddam Hussein's regime regularly tortured children to get information about their parents, their parents' views. That just didn't get the coverage(It shows one of the points that FAIR has made constantly that when a foreign government is in favor with the United States, with the White House, its human rights record is basically off the mainstream media agenda, and when they do something that puts them out of favor with the ,U.S. government, the foreign government's human rights abuses are, all of a sudden, major news. It was shocking to see how little self-criticism there was on the part of the mainstream media, which was suddenly outraged by this dictator Saddam Hussein, who they had virtually ignored for years. The key period in that history was the year and a half after Bush took power before the invasion of Kuwait, when there were reports in Western media, in Western Europe, that Saddam Hussein was busily trying to get a nuclear trigger and George Bush was doing everything he could to prevent economic sanctions. If we had had a foreign policy that dealt with dictators through diplomacy through the 1980s, instead of building up their economic and military might, there might not ever have been an invasion of Kuwait. Of course, the United States bears large responsibility for that, but that's off the mainstream media agenda. Pundits who have that point of view don't appear. Maybe we should talk about which pundits do appear.

DB: A series of events occurred a week before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. I would like you to talk about that.

JC: You're talking about April Glaspie. The signal that was sent to Saddam Hussein by a leading government official named Kelly. April Glaspie, the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, had a meeting with Saddam Hussein-when intelligence reports were coming in that it looked like the feud between Iraq and Kuwait was going to result in military action by Iraq against Kuwait. She said that the United States would take no position in an Arab-Arab border dispute. While I feel like emphasizing those signals were very important, they've got to be placed in a context of nine years of Reagan-Bush policy. The Reagan-Bush administration was in an alliance with Iraq and it continued during the year and a half after the Iran-Iraq war ended when there was no longer any excuse to help Iraq. George Bush was still protecting Saddam Hussein at a time when he was trying to acquire nuclear triggers. So you put the signal, the green light, that the U.S. government was giving Saddam Hussein right up until the day of the invasion of Kuwait, in the context of the nine years of policy and you will see that there is an incredible foreign policy failure that has gone down the media memory hole. The whole debate in Congress and in the media ignored the history of the issue. You can't bring up nine years of a policy failure for which there now will be a sacrifice of working-class kids. A lot of big companies made a lot of profits from the alliance with Saddam Hussein.

JC: {Gulf War I was] more like a Nintendo game. About the myth of one-hand-behind-our-back in Vietnam: the U.S. government poured every weapon imaginable into the war against the Vietnamese people, killing an estimated one million people. A heavy percentage of the people killed were civilians. It was a huge tonnage of bombs. It involved very significant chemical warfare, including Agent Orange. It involved cluster bombs and napalm. The only thing that wasn't dropped on Vietnam was a nuclear bomb. And yet the media myth, the media revisionism, and you see it every day in the paper, is that that was a limited war and that the United States isn't going to make that mistake again. I think what's significant to talk about is why these issues that you and I are discussing don't get into the mainstream media. The mainstream media operate under a code of journalism that's called "objectivity." The reporters and the anchors can't just go and give a ten-minute spiel of their own opinion. Because of objective journalism, you can't give your own opinion. You have to go to the experts. Since the news from the Persian Gulf War is being censored by every government in the region and comes back to the States in dribs and drabs, television news-and television has been the dominant medium that people turn to in a crisis-has been having expanded coverage. For a long time, the news shows on the networks have been an hour instead of a half-hour. CNN basically has been going around the clock on the Gulf War. What are these TV networks doing? They're parading a series of experts. These experts have been the most one-sided collection of experts that we have seen since we've been tracking TV's pundits and experts since 1986 at FAIR. In fact, in the first weekend, Dennis Miller, the comedic anchorperson for Saturday Night Live, got it totally right when he joked, "You know who I really feel sorry for? It's the one retired colonel who didn't get a job as a TV analyst this week." What's odd is that Tom Brokaw, the serious TV anchorperson for NBC news, was introducing two members of an expert panel. First he introduced a retired army colonel. Then he said, "Well, I have to point out that the fairness doctrine is in play here at NBC, so I now want to introduce a retired Navy admiral." This was Tom Brokaw's idea of balance. You have the Army balanced by the Navy. We have tracked who has been getting on and analyzed the real issues. Those experts are conservative think tank people; generally the Center for Strategic and International Studies has been breaking all records. You've had the retired military analysts, the retired so-called terrorism experts, and, for balance, the Democratic Party representatives, such as Steve Solarz and Les Aspin, who support the war even more strongly than George Bush does. Or, occasionally, you'll have Lee Hamilton, who since the war began said, "I support the war." Basically, you've had no dissent. There aren't any independent experts involved in these discussions. Dan Ellsberg was once invited by ABC to appear on a panel analyzing Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney's briefing of the press. He was invited by ABC. Why would Dan Ellsberg be an obvious expert if you were engaging in truly objective and balanced journalism? Because Dan Ellsberg, during the Vietnam War, used to prepare Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara for his briefings with the press. So he could give you some real insight. About a half-hour before Ellsberg was supposed to go on the air on national news, he was called and told: "That limousine isn't going to arrive. We've decided not to have you on the panel." They had two or three hawks and no dissenters. So my point is that anti-war experts, or independent or critical experts had not been invited indoors to the table where the real experts get to discuss the real issues. What has been shown of the anti-war movement is more in the nature of outdoors footage, nature footage. It's the antiwar movement, always outside in its natural habitat, the street. You would get the impression from watching hours and hours of television, as we do at FAIR, that anti-war individuals and experts are incapable of expressing themselves in anything other than a chant or a sound bite or a slogan. Why? Because they're never invited indoors to where the real issues are debated. In fact, you have this debate now-the right wing has been pushing this debate, as has the Bush administration-about whether the antiwar movement has been getting too much coverage. The coverage is always the coverage that marginalizes, that trivializes, and the experts that you've interviewed for months, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmad, Barbara Ehrenreich, Maxine Waters-the African-American Congresswoman from L.A. who has opposed this war from Day One-those people don't get invited on national TV to discuss the issues. If they're ever shown on TV it's because, like Dan Ellsberg, they've joined an anti-war march and maybe they will sing a few bars of "Give Peace a Chance." But that's the kind of national coverage of the anti-war movement we get.

DB: Your organization has issued a couple of very critical reports of MacNeil-Lehrer and Nightline. Let's be specific about the programs now. Have you detected any change in terms of the guests and the ideology that is reflected?

JC: Nightline has always been atrocious. We did a 40 month study and found that the bias of the Nightline guest list goes toward the white male conservatives of the military establishment. The four most frequent guests on Nightline were Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Elliott Abrams, and Jerry Falwell. Falwell was once asked to give his expertise about AIDS. The MacNeil-Lehrer Report,- we did a study of six months of their coverage-is almost as bad as Nightline, in some ways worse in excluding public interest experts and excluding people of color and women experts, excluding peace movement experts. Our report on MacNeil-Lehrer which was issued last year did so much damage; MacNeil-Lehrer prior to our study had an image of being thorough-they're open, they're balanced. We did this study which totally deflated that image of MacNeil-Lehrer. An interesting thing happened in the first months of the Persian Gulf crisis. MacNeil-Lehrer started sending me notices every time they brought a dissenting person on. It was more than normal. They had Noam Chomsky on for the first time in their history. He got about ten minutes all to himself with Mr. MacNeil. Then the next day they brought Edward Said on for the same treatment, one on one. It was a breakthrough for MacNeil-Lehrer. Then they started adding Erwin Knoll, from the Progressive magazine, who appeared several times in the months right after the Persian Gulf crisis began. MacNeil-Lehrer staffers were basically telling us, "Look, this is a victory for FAIR These changes that have been made are in many ways because of the constant criticism that we've been getting from you." But then the war began, and as soon as the war began MacNeil-Lehrer went into automatic war pilot. They were just like the old days. They've totally excluded dissenters. I've seen Erwin Knoll on there once. It's been atrocious coverage since January 16.

DB: Let's talk about National Public Radio. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting just issued a grant to NPR for continued war coverage. It called it "superb, exhaustive, the CNN of radio." How do you rate National Public Radio's coverage of the Persian Gulf?

JC: We've been disturbed by National Public Radio, that in fairness to NPR, sometimes they do more in-depth coverage and sometimes a dissenting voice is heard. There was a period where we were monitoring it closely. At the beginning of the war it was appalling. Daniel Schorr kept moderating panels that went from right-wing nuts from the Center for Strategic International Studies and then for balance on the left wing would be Congressperson Solarz or Congressperson Aspin, one of the Democrats who supports the war more strongly than Bush does. I remember a panel on Day Two of the war. Daniel Schorr thought it was such an important panel. He had two representatives from the right-wing think tank, the Center for Strategic International Studies and they were balanced by Senator McCain, a right-wing Republican from Arizona. Some of their panels are so bankrupt and so imbalanced that the word "public" in their title is really obscene. If you're really engaging in public broadcasting you cannot exclude from your list of experts minority and dissenting points of view ...

DB: Martin Lee and Norman Solomon in their book, Unreliable Sources, talk about journalists today as being stenographers and not really journalists, not reporters. Why is that?

JC: It's a trend that's gone on for many years since that blip in time known as Watergate, where reporters in Washington, the Washington press corps has grown closer and closer to its sources. It's to the point where Brit Hume, the ABC correspondent at the White House, plays tennis with George Bush. Tom Friedman of the New York Times is very close with Jim Baker. You find these relationships are so close that reporters don't challenge the subjects of their stories, they just tell you what the government is saying. In other words, they've become stenographers for power and not journalists. There are classic examples of this. George Bush keeps making statements, that any bush league reporter knows are one-sided, when he keeps invoking international law. Not once has a mainstream reporter on national TV said, "Well, it was a major violation of international law when Bush invaded Panama." When Bush constantly invokes the "family of nations" and that the U.N. is united against Iraq, it's not pointed out by any of these mainstream journalists (and it would be if they were acting as journalists and not stenographers) that President Bush didn't admit that the invasion of Panama was declared, in an overwhelming vote at the U.N., a grievous violation of international law. Another example of reporters acting as stenographers is the issue we talked about earlier, where Bush says that we aren't going to fight this one with one hand behind our back as we did with Vietnam. No one goes on record and says, I covered Vietnam and the only thing not dropped on Vietnam was a nuclear bomb."

DB: Let's talk about the use of pronouns, which flows out of what you were just talking about. Bob Edwards, for example, the anchor on NPR's Morning Edition, invariably invokes "we" and "our." "What are we going to do if Iraq does this?" "How shall our forces respond?" What is that reflective of?

JC: It's reflective of a media that is no longer separate from the state. One of the slogans I've heard at demonstrations outside the New York Times and the TV networks is: "Two-four-six-eight, separate the press and state." We've seen Judy Woodruff talk about "How well are we doing, our armed forces?" I didn't notice that she was wearing a Marines uniform. Independent press is supposed to talk about the Marines and the Pentagon in the third person. They aren't supposed to be speaking about the Pentagon or the U.S. armed forces as "we." We've been able to document dozens of examples where anchorpeople and national TV correspondents put questions like this: "How long is it going to take us to lick this guy? How long is it going to take us to defeat him?" Besides the "we" there's the other pronoun problem: "him." What the media have done is to pick up the lingo of the Pentagon. They've made it seem, day after day in the TV news, that we are fighting an individual. You don't fight wars against individuals. You fight boxing matches against individuals, you fight duels, but wars are fought against nations. There are thousands of civilians who have died. When you have the media constantly personifying the war. "How long is it going to take us to lick him? How uncomfortable is he?" Saddam Hussein is probably the one person in Iraq who's eating three square meals a day. He's probably the safest person in Iraq. When you have the media falling for that kind of rhetoric, that we're only hurting one person, we're punishing one person, you have them basically going for a ride with the Pentagon. You've had these other kinds of quotes from the national media, where they say how the strategy of aerial bombardment has been a strategy to keep casualties down. Tom Brokaw said that word for word. What Brokaw meant is that the massive air bombardment strategy was a way of keeping U.S. casualties down. They were trying to keep casualties down so they could keep U.S. protest down so they could keep the war going. When you have people talking about "casualties" and you look closely at their story and you realize that all they're talking about is U.S. soldiers, then you're seeing a lot of jingoism and racism. Newsweek had the most ironic cover story. It was puff piece about the high-tech weapons, in Newsweek on February 18. The cover title was: "The New Science of War. High-Tech Warfare-How Many Lives Can It Save?" Ironically, this was out on the newsstands when the U.S. bombs destroyed hundreds of Iraqi civilians in a bomb shelter. The title of the Newsweek article read "How Many Lives Can It Save?" I read the article closely and it became clear. The only lives that Newsweek was concerned about were those of U.S. soldiers. The idea that Arab civilian casualties should be of any concern to a Newsweek reader was beyond the writers of that article.

DB: In terms of the personalization that goes on in the media, you've cited examples of Saddam Hussein; what about Noriega, Qaddafi, Maurice Bishop, Ayatollah Khomeini-is there a pattern there?

JC: We used to clock Ted Koppel, the most influential TV journalist. I remember when it looked like there might threaten to be a peace with Nicaragua and a regional peace, and the contras might have to lay down their arms; I remember Ted Koppel interrogating Aronsen, the spokesperson for the Reagan-Bush administration on the contras. The question he kept asking was, "How are we going to make Daniel Ortega pay? How does this punish "Ortega?" It's typical of the news media. We didn't punish Ortega. The U.S. government is responsible for killing tens-of-thousands of Nicaraguan civilians. It's typical of the macho media elite to make it seem like wars are just fought between heads of state, because, especially in the case of Koppel, all he deals with is heads of state. One thing that we should talk about, because we talked about it earlier, about objective journalism, is how expert have these pundits have been. At FAIR we have the slogan, "the more off you are, the more on you are." In other words, the more inaccurate you are, the more television time you get. The classic case was the one question that the media was concerning itself with in January: How long is it going to take us to lick this guy? How long will the war last? You had, for example, on the McLaughlin Group, which rarely has a broad spectrum of views, but what was their spectrum of views on predicting how long the war would last? This was the first weekend after the war began. The optimists said it would take thirteen days for the war to end. The pessimists said it could last a full three weeks. That was the total spectrum. After the three weeks ended, we communicated to McLaughlin that we thought that since these five pundits had revealed themselves to be utterly inept, that maybe they should replace these five and hire five new experts who really know what they're talking about. You had a parade of experts like former CIA director William Colby, who assured us the war would be over in an afternoon. You had a right-wing Congressperson, Robert Dornan, who is a fixture on CNN; and I think CNN, like NPR, gets a lot of praise that is undeserved. They have the same narrow spectrum of experts. Robert Dornan got on CNN and said, this war will take two days. The most important figure in getting George Bush the votes he needed to start the war was Democratic Congressperson Les Aspin from Wisconsin. Les Aspin was on television networks so often during December and January that we were wondering whether he had a television union card. He was going from network to network, and what was he saying? Especially on CBS's America Tonight, the competitor show with Nightline. He said, this war will take weeks, not months; he said that over and over. He said, we may not even need a ground war. We can do this from the air. What was interesting was, a couple of weeks into the war, Associated Press had a story they sent out across the country quoting Les Aspin prominently, saying, President Bush isn't doing a good job preparing the U.S. public for the large number of casualties there will be when the ground war begins. It struck me that the Associated Press was acting as a stenographer to power. When Les Aspin was saying this war will be over in no time, he was in every media outlet to say that unquestioned. When he came on later and said this war could be very dangerous, it could bog down, it could cost thousands of U.S. troops, the stenographers in the mainstream media just put that out and never once did a reporter say to Les Aspin, well, wait a second. You're largely responsible for getting us into this war on the basis that it would take weeks and might not even need a ground war. So how can you now be saying 1 something totally different?

DB: Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming has described Peter Arnett of CNN, who is reporting from Baghdad, as an "enemy sympathizer." How do you evaluate Arnett's reporting from Iraq?

JC: Arnett's reporting has, I think, been essential. It's been one of the few bright spots. Correctly, CNN tells you that his stories are cleared by censors. What's ironic is that many of the stories that appear on CNN are cleared by censors, but it's only Arnett's stories where you get a big lead-in on how this was cleared by Iraqi censors. It's always flashed on the screen: Cleared by Iraqi censors, and then after the story ends you hear it again. I don't think that's that bad, but I'd like to see that same kind of talk about the Pentagon censorship, which is massive. Arnett, of course, has given us a window into what's happening inside Iraq. It's an important window for the U.S. public to see because, as I said, wars, despite what the media pundits say, are not fought against individuals. They kill all sorts of innocent civilians. The person who shed the best light on this is one of the best columnists in our country writing for one of the better newspapers, New York Newsday, and that's Murray Kempton. Kempton pointed out that what's really being shown by this war is that the weapons of modern warfare are just too horrible, that wars are obsolete, that there's got to be a better way. Kempton pointed out that 80 percent of the victims of wars since World War II have been civilians. It's such an obvious point. The fact that Murray Kempton is off-key saying that in a column in Newsday and that kind of point is never made in the more national media says something about how narrow the perspectives are in the national media. We've gone through this before in Panama. That was an air war, an air bombardment. All the media concerned itself with was, how many U.S. soldiers have died? Kathleen Sullivan of CBS got on TV nearly crying. "Eight U.S. soldiers have died. How long can this fighting go on?" By the point that she was grieving about the eight U.S. soldiers, it's very likely that a thousand Panamanian civilians had been baked in their homes in the E1 Chorrillo section of Panama City. The point is that it took nine months before a national network, CBS, did a Sixty Minutes story on the full range of civilian casualties. But during the time that the Panama invasion was going on, all we heard from the national media was: We are doing so well. This is one of the most successful U.S. military operations in years. I think the Pentagon, from their Panama experience, felt they could count on the ignoring of civilian casualties in the Persian Gulf War. Given the history of lies about civilian casualties in Vietnam, in Panama, the continual lying now about civilian casualties in Iraq, the way the media constantly falls for it, they almost invert the words in the song by the rock group The Who: "We Will Be Fooled Again." In the mainstream media, no matter what has gone before, they are eternally gullible when the Pentagon gives them numbers or tells them how smart and how accurate our bombs are. We., heard all about the surgical strikes in Panama and what the nurses and ambulance drivers in Panama City were saying. Surgical strikes? Those are strikes by the United States that send our people to surgery wards, that's what a surgical strike is.

DB: Clearly there's a pattern emerging here, starting with Grenada and Panama and now the Persian Gulf, of U.S. control of the news. If what you're saying is accurate, that the press is so compliant and obsequious, why do they even have to go through the machinations of censorship?

JC: That's a good question. I would argue that the worst reporting in the U. S. media is not the reporting that's been censored. Some of that reporting has been real lame. They interviewed the Marines and the pilots who are all gungho, "We kicked ass today." No soldier is going to talk candidly to a reporter in Saudi Arabia; every reporter has a military escort who's usually a higher-ranking officer than the soldier who's being interviewed. No one is going to say, "I'm scared. I wish I wasn't here." You would never say that, because of the censorship. But I would argue that even with those negatives in the reports that come from' the war theater, the worst reporting on television is the reporting from New York and Washington. That's been the most biased. That's been the steady parade of hawks" the Center for Strategic and International Studies debating another conservative think tank, American Enterprise [Institute]. I remember the Nightline panel, this had nothing to do with Pentagon censorship. They had: representing the right wing, Patrick Buchanan; representing the center Newt Gingrich; and representing the left was a Democratic party Congressman who was saying, "I'm rallying 'round the President. " I'm supporting the war. It was three war hawks. I would argue that the most bias in the U.S. media-and it's the bias that people are glued to-is the bias that comes out of the studio with the one-sided parade of experts, and the Pentagon isn't censoring that. That's journalists making a decision that they are going to censor anti-war perspectives or independent perspectives.

DB: If, as you say, truth and accuracy are taking a beating in this kind of coverage, it seems that the English language is under assault, too. You have "aircraft going out on sorties, delivering their ordnance to soften up targets, and there may be some collateral damage but a BDA (bomb damage assessment) will determine that later."

JC: Noam Chomsky has talked about this since the Vietnam War. The way the Pentagon has prostituted the English language toward its ends, when concentration camps were called "strategic hamlets" and "pacification programs" in Vietnam. The thing that I keep hearing is the "smart bombs" and the "surgical strikes." There is so much evidence to the contrary, and yet the U.S. reporters still pick up that lingo from the Pentagon.

DB: Talk if you will about polls, because polls seem to be very, very critical in the formulation and application of national policy. How are questions designed, and who asks those questions?

JC: In mid-February, for example, when the Soviets were pushing toward peace (not just the Soviets; there were other countries which wanted to avert a further war and an escalation of the war). Poll after poll-we saw this in the New York Times, in Newsday, all the Gallup polls- was asking this question: Do you think U.S. and allied forces should begin a ground attack soon to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait, or should we hold off for now and continue to rely on air power to do the job? If you are one who believes that too many civilians have died already, that we're bombing Iraq into the l9th century and there's a way for the U.S. government through diplomacy, to accomplish its goals of getting Iraq out of Kuwait without this war, you had no answer. It was one of those questions: Do you support the ground war or do you support the air war? If you're one who supports neither war, you had to add yourself to the "uninformed" or uncaring "I don't know. I don't have an opinion." We've been tracking these poll questions. People should be very suspicious of polling data. By the way, we should talk about not taking the media lying down. If you are a consumer of news and you are appalled by the steady stream of white male conservative war hawks, then it's your duty as someone who cares about democracy to pick up a phone, write a letter, fax a letter and demand that the media be balanced. When you see a poll that you're skeptical about, call the newspaper and say, can you send me the raw data. It's usually ten pages where they write up what the full questions were, what the votes were, how many the don't-know's were. I remember a doozie from the Los Angeles Times before the war started. It read: "If Hussein pulls his troops out of all Kuwait, should the United States keep a military presence in the Persian Gulf to maintain stability in the region or not?" Of course, the question assumed that U.S. military forces maintain stability in the region. By the way, the Los Angeles Times is considered very respectable. The Times-Mirror polls are always reprinted in papers across the country. If you believe that a permanent or semi-permanent U.S. presence in the Middle East would be hurtful to regional stability, you could have phrased the question: If Hussein pulls his troops out of all Kuwait, should the United States keep a military presence in the Persian Gulf or remove them in the interest of regional stability? If you frame the question that way, overwhelmingly the U.S. public would have said, no, let's get the U.S. troops out. I feel that the public is snookered by biased questions. The consuming public should be very skeptical about those questions.

DB: One of the burning issues in this whole debate has revolved around the issue of "linkage." How has that been treated in the mainstream media?

JC: It goes with the coverage of the Middle East in the mainstream media going back years. You would not know from the mainstream media that there's been an international consensus on the Middle East, including the Western European countries, that there should be two states, side by side, a Palestinian state and an Israeli state. The overwhelming weight of authority in the world, the consensus in the world, is that there should be negotiations between Israel and the PLO. You wouldn't know that from the U.S. media. You'd think that's controversial. So you've had this war starting because George Bush under no circumstances would consent to an international peace conference on the Middle East. What's interesting is that in the media, one institution, perhaps even more than the Pentagon, has risen in the mainstream media in this country as "coming back." It's getting all this propaganda. What institution is it? It's the United Nations. The mainstream media look at the United Nations very selectively. On November 29, when Bush got the authorization he wanted to have a deadline where the use of force would be possible against Iraq, that was major news. There were all these accolades for the U.N. The very next day another vote was taken. It was a vote you didn't hear much about in the mainstream media, called "Question of Palestine." It was a vote on whether there should be an international Middle East peace conference, on whether Israel should pull out of the Palestinian territories. What was the vote? 144 to 2. The dissenting votes were, as usual, the United States and Israel. So it's not known in this country how strong the international consensus is for an international peace conference, nor is it known that the U.S. public overwhelmingly supports an international peace conference on the Middle East and that the New York Times poll the day the war started was 56 percent to 37 percent in favor of such a conference. So I think it's only by excluding certain facts from the discussion that George Bush could get on TV day after day and say: "Linkage-not prudent. Won't tolerate it. Unconditional" and get away with it. The public wasn't even informed that the idea of a conference is very popular with the public. The idea that Iraq could have been gotten out of Kuwait without a war, through an international peace conference, was overwhelmingly supported by the U.S. public. Not one TV pundit raised that issue.

JC: ... What's interesting to me is the way the U.S. television networks constantly parade their one-sided propaganda, their cheerleading for the war, their boosterism for the Pentagon and all the smart bombs and high-tech technology and then they poll the public: What do you think of the war? Any time anything slips in about civilian casualties, very quickly to follow will be the word "propaganda" or "manipulation" or "propaganda windfall for Saddam Hussein. "he context of that very propagandistic coverage, they are always polling the public and saying, well, the public continues to support the war, 80 percent. Frankly, what [the media is] doing is gauging the power of their own propaganda. It's not sound to continually poll the U. S. public until you've provided them with alternative or differing points of view or wide-ranging debate.

JC: ... the mobilization to demand media balance has never been more intense. It's in a sense a new thing leading to people like Peter Jennings coming downstairs and actually meeting their critics. It's the only hope. Your track should be twofold: One, you fight the mainstream media to end the censorship and you demand balancing viewpoints; and two, you support the alternative media that goes into depth on issues that the mainstream media will glance over in a ten-second story. Those are the two tracks, and frankly I'm optimistic that both are working better than ever. I've never been more proud of the alternative media than in their coverage of the Persian Gulf. I'm talking not just radio, community radio, but the print publications and television. The Gulf Crisis TV Project, done by Deep Dish, which was sent up on satellite and pulled down by cable access stations across the country as well as some PBS stations, that was a monumental achievement in independent journalism, alternative journalism. That's going great. Then there's this new thing, where never before have media consumers-I know African Americans are complaining to the media like mad. Women's groups are circulating letters saying, why aren't there women who get to debate foreign policy? Bella Abzug has been one of these. She leads a group of women concerned about foreign policy. Never before has so much well-informed criticism been leveled at the media, the criticism taken directly to the mainstream journalists. In the past, especially public interest activists and environmentalist and peace activists, what they'd do when they saw bad media is they complained to each other, instead of taking their intelligent and serious complaints to the media who are doing the censoring, and that's changing. So I'm optimistic on both counts.

DB: So, how should people react to the media?

JC: We have found that the main message we can bring to an audience is: Don't take the media lying down. It's not enough to grumble quietly to oneself about media bias. If there's an aroused public, we have found at FAIR, you can exert an influence even on the media owned by General Electric. We've demonstrated it. We've had victories. We know that there are programs which got on PBS that never would have gotten on except for FAIR's work and the work of other activists. We know that stories have been published in the New York Times about the death squads in Honduras, for example, that they probably wouldn't have bothered with except that we were putting so much heat on them for scrutinizing minor human rights infractions in Nicaragua and placing that on the front page while ignoring major death squad activities in neighboring countries. So there are successes that FAIR can point to and we just ask people to join. We are a membership organization. All members receive our bi-monthly publication called Extra. We look at the news that's not in the news and we look at the gaffes. We talk about the themes that the media keep propounding which may be bogus themes, and mostly we talk about the issues they never talk about. We just believe that if you're going to be an informed citizen you have to look at a variety of sources. That's the key to getting the news. Don't rely on one media source, especially if it's one that's owned by a big corporation, like General Electric owning NBC when it's General Electric weaponry in part that is being used in the Gulf War. General Electric stands to gain from future wars. I would be skeptical of what I see on NBC because of GE's ownership.

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