December 30, 2015

The media and Iraq

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2002  - As we moved this year towards a broader war against Iraq one thing became clear: there was a definite need for a regime change. . . in the American media.

Through a combination of ignorance, negligence, and complicity this media has, for more than a decade, badly misled its audience through mindless quotation of official sources, major omissions, chronic lack of curiosity, and masochistic submissiveness. In the war's earlier period, the major media wouldn't even join the alternative press in a lawsuit to demand the sort of access that would have made honest war coverage possible.

A prime example of the problem is the fact that the U.S. and its allies have, over the past decade, killed more innocent Iraqi citizens than has the Butcher of Baghdad. Not just by our continuing and largely unreported bombing, but through the economic, social, environmental, and health costs of our sanctions - as much an act of war as an invasion. It matters not to the dead whether you shoot, bomb, or starve them.

Approximately 5,000 children under five have been dying each month as a direct consequence of our embargo. In one of the rare media references to this, Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes in May 1996 asked Madeleine Albright, "We have heard that a half-million children have died [because of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And - and you know - is the price worth it?" Madeleine Albright's stunning reply was: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it." This was the same woman who lectured us on the evils of Slobodan Milosevic.

And this year, even as we moved towards a new invasion, the media remained quiet. An archive check of the Washington Post for 2002, for example, finds only two references to the deaths of children in Iraq, neither by a Post reporter.

Religion writer Karen Armstrong noted, "Muslim extremists are opposed not to American freedom but to the foreign policy of the United States, which, rightly or wrongly, they have experienced as invasive and aggressive. They cite American support for despotic rulers, and Americans' apparent indifference to the plight of Muslims in Palestine or in Iraq, where thousands of children have died as a result of U.S.-led sanctions."

And in June, Paul William Roberts wrote the truth, but in a book review, one of the least read parts of the paper:

Imagine that England went to war with Russia over a long list of grievances, including Russian military assistance to the Irish Republican Army, and that the war lasted a decade before ending inconclusively, with millions dead and the economies of both nations in tatters. Then imagine that England invaded Ireland, the United States went to bat for the Irish and, when British forces refused to withdraw, launched air attacks that reduced London to rubble and the rest of the country to the pre-industrial era. Imagine next that, through the United Nations, Washington insisted that the British surrender all weapons of mass destruction and sent in teams of inspectors to every military base in the country. Unsurprisingly, these weapons inspectors would meet with little cooperation. So imagine finally that the Americans urged the UN to impose such severe trade sanctions on England that they effectively terminated the entire British economy for the next 10 years, causing widespread malnutrition, disease and the death of some 500,000 children under the age of 5.

Oh, and while all of this is happening, the rest of the world, if it thought about England at all, did not seem to notice that any great injustice had occurred.

If you can imagine this far-fetched scenario, you may be able to grasp something of the tragedy that is modern Iraq. With a few notable exceptions, the media have acted for more than a decade, and continue to act, as little more than propagandists and apologists for the largely Western-held — and U.S.-led — position that Iraq merely got what was coming to it and that Saddam Hussein is really to blame.

America has a sordid and criminal history of using its military power to excess and then declaring its actions to be blessed. And the media has long played a dirty and disreputable role in this rotten business.

Quite accidentally, your editor stumbled across a manifestation of this phenomenon a few years back. I had spoken at the first anti-war rally in DC during the Yugoslavia war. It was, I thought, a pretty good speech and was pleased the next day to turn on C-SPAN as it was re-broadcasting the rally - right at the point that a folksinger said that she was "just the warm-up act for Sam Smith." I naturally stopped my weekend chores to have a listen. But I never appeared. My speech had been cut in its entirety, the only one to be so excised. I went back to find what I might have said that so offended C-SPAN's sense of suitable Beltway discourse that they chopped me out. I have a pretty strong suspicion it was this:

By the count of author Bill Blum, since 1945 we have bombed China, Korea, Guatemala, Indonesia, Cuba, Congo, Peru, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia. . . At what point does the constant reiteration of failed and fatal policy become a war crime and reckless incompetence become grotesque cruelty and tactics of death become — to use a term used casually these days — genocide? ~ The Holocaust resulted in some six million deaths. Now here are some other figures: There were nearly two million killed during the Vietnam war, most by air attacks that dropped twice as many bombs as we did in all of World War II — nearly one 500-pound bomb per person. One million civilians were killed by our strategic bombing in Japan even before we got to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than two million civilians were killed in our bombing runs over North Korea. And one million Iraqi have died as a result of our sanctions.

Add these up and you come to the same figure as the Holocaust. . . Trace the American role in this extraordinary violence to its source and you come not upon political extremes, but to the heart of this country's establishment.

And now we're at it again, and once again the major media doesn't say a mumblin' word.

I ended my speech with words with something that seems just as applicable now: At the end of the Second World War, Albert Camus had a character write a letter to a German friend in which he said, “This is what separated us from you; we made demands. You were satisfied to serve the power of your nation and we dreamed of giving ours her truth.”

That is our business today, and every day, until those who lead us make it theirs as well — and no longer hide behind barricades celebrating mindless power, deadly weapons, and corrupt intentions. Until they turn instead to their proper business which is to join us in giving all the lands of this fragile earth their truth

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