The media informs us - about American idols
While not focusing exclusively on the Iranian crisis, Saul Landau highlights the failure of the 'free press' to play its proper role in checking the abuse of power in decision-making on key issues of war and peace by ensuring transparency.
'Daddy,' the little boy on the bus asks, 'what park is that?'
'I don't know.'
Two blocks later. 'Who's the man in that statue?'
'What's that big building with the point on top?'
'I haven't a clue.'
'Dad, does it bother you if I keep asking questions?'
'If you don't ask questions how will you learn?'
WE once learned that a free press would protect the public from shady government and business operations. The stereotyped journalist oozed scepticism and curiosity; got in the face of the powerful with tough questions. Reporters embodied courage to provide the transparency needed for democracy.
However, rather than informing the public on what led them into war in Iraq - and maybe Iran - 'experts' analyse Gingrich's lunacy (Moon colony?) or Romney's wealth. The modern media inundates us with Angelina's problems, Jennifer's marital spats and Lindsay's addictions, while acting as stenographer for the 'national security' elite.
Lack of context
When we get 'facts' they come without proper context. On 10 January, for example, an assassin's bomb killed an Iranian nuclear scientist; three previous scientists were assassinated since 2010. Iran accused Israel's Mossad. Israeli Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai posted on Facebook: 'I don't know who settled the score with the Iranian scientist, but I certainly am not shedding a tear.' (Mehdi Hasan, Guardian, 16 January, 2012)
US media didn't press Israeli officials about moral differences between 'Palestinian terrorism' (occasional rockets landing in Israel) and Israeli government-sponsored assassinations.
Did they press Washington's elite as to whether they approved of the hit? Israeli officials and their US policy fan club dismissed the incident as ho- hum, routine counter-terrorism.
Reporters understand that applying the 't' word to Israel constitutes a bad career choice. They'd get charged with being anti-Semitic. The media breaks hot stories about athletes and actors, but actually abetted Bush when he used the WMD (weapons of mass destruction) issue to justify his invasion of Iraq. (See Judith Miller's 2002-03 New York Times 'scoop' stories.) Nor did they push President Obama on his orders to execute - no judicial process - un-indicted US citizens in Yemen last year. The media instead inures us by reprinting security prattle like 'targeted killings'. Instead of describing executive assassinations as terrorism - or, God forbid, murder - media 'experts' debate the fine points between defence and atrocity. President Obama only 'targets' enemies - Muslims who kill innocents. Well, a few mistakes were made.
Almost alone among mainstream journalists Andrew Sullivan asked: 'Is not the group or nation responsible for the murder of civilians in another country terrorists?' ('The Terrorism We Support', The Daily Beast, 11 January 2012)
Which reporter asks: 'What did Iran do to us again to merit the harsh sanctions, threats and nastiness? Did they overthrow our government as the CIA and MI6 did theirs in 1953? Did they install a King (Shah) in Washington who practised repression and torture - until Iranians overthrew him in 1979?'
Some apparent terrorism doesn't fit the Muslim mould. Christians did the 1995 Oklahoma Federal Building bombing. Indeed, army veteran Timothy McVeigh had registered Republican, belonged to the National Rifle Association and got confirmed in a Catholic church. Terrorists? No, extremists, vengeance seekers, bitter guys.
Take the case of 'freedom fighters'. 'American prosecutors presented evidence in open court that Mr [Luis] Posada [Carriles] - a man originally trained in explosives by the CIA- played a major role in carrying out bombings in Cuba.' In a 2011 trial in El Paso, 'the government presented material showing he had participated in a campaign of bombings in Cuba.' (New York Times, 11 April 2011) But prosecutors charged Posada with lying to immigration officials, not terrorism. A confused jury acquitted him.
In January, Posada keynoted a Miami ceremony honouring Jose Marti. The man identified in declassified US documents as masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane (73 died) gets feted as a Cuban 'freedom fighter'. Imagine Marti advocating bombing a civilian airliner!
Indiana Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) and Ileana Ros Lehtinen (R-FL) attended Posada's performance along with former Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso, who had pardoned Posada and cronies in a 2000 conviction for planning to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama. Moscoso would repeat the deed if she could, she said. Reporters omitted to mention that Moscoso coincidentally had also received a $4 million deposit in her offshore account. For that price lots of people would proudly repeat unethical acts.
Without media questioning, the national security elite monopolise the terrorism theme. Israel and the US accuse their enemies of terrorism, while practising assassinations and deadly drone strikes. In 2009 Ros Lehtinen said she 'would welcome anyone who wanted to assassinate Fidel Castro'. And she didn't get tossed into Guantanamo for advocating the assassination of a foreign leader - from her congressional office.
Israel fears Iran will develop a nuclear weapon via the very secret process Israel chose. Indeed, Israel bombed Syria and Iraqi nuclear installations to stop their attempts to do what Israel did.
In April 1963, President Kennedy asked Israeli Premier Shimon Peres about nuclear intentions. Peres lied: 'I can tell you forthrightly that we will not introduce atomic weapons into the region. We certainly won't be the first to do so. We have no interest in that. On the contrary, our interest is in de-escalating the armament tension, even in total disarmament.' (Barry Lando, 'The Iran Crisis: Only Half the Story', Blog, 2 February 2012)
Israel's nukes receive scant media attention. When an Iranian scientist gets whacked, the media shrugs. After all, everyone knows, Israel had to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuke. Israel only has 200 of them. Would a career-minded reporter ask about such contradictions? If he doesn't ask how will he (we) learn?
Saul Landau, Professor Emeritus at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, is an internationally known filmmaker, scholar, author and commentator, and Fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. This article is reproduced from the Progreso Weekly website.
*Third World Resurgence No. 257/258, January/February 2012, pp 33-34