MEDIA LINGUICIDE & CLASS WARS
By Norman Solomon

     The new world order came to U.S. mass media with a vengeance.
     It is not necessary to kill the First Amendment to smother free
speech. Corporate America can choke the national windpipe by paying
the piper and calling the tune.
     Nor is it necessary for propaganda to be 100 percent unanimous to
be effective. In fact, democratic pretensions are enhanced by the
spice of controversies.
     Much media attention, for instance, focused on Pentagon press
restrictions. "The new guidelines guarantee pack journalism
-- the worst form of reporting -- and allow the military to
orchestrate and control the news before it reaches the American
people," CBS News president Eric W. Ober complained at the outset of
the war.
     But, despite such rhetoric, neither CBS nor any other major media
institution joined in the lawsuit filed in mid-January by some small
media outlets and a few journalists to overturn the Pentagon rules. In
reality, the big media went along to get along with the war makers.
     In a typical mainstream riff, the Washington Post's deputy
managing editor Robert Kaiser argued for more openness as a boost for
the war effort: "Any attempt to withhold bad news, or put a false
shine on it, will diminish the public support the military wants and
needs."
     The Wall Street Journal's TV columnist, Dorothy Rabinowitz, saw a
need for the press to serve its masters more directly.  Bemoaning two
decades of the media's supposed "extreme adversarial relationship with
government," she urged that the press eschew any semblance of
neutrality in wartime.
     Such center-right debates have involved differences more apparent
than real. "The system of providing information on the war has worked
reasonably well," Kaiser concluded after two weeks of massive
bloodshed. Rabinowitz wrote that U.S. media "are in fact doing
extremely well under the circumstances."
     Most editors and reporters didn't like the Defense Department's
rules for war coverage from Saudi Arabia and the front. Along with
imposing a media pool system and requiring approval from U.S.
officials for dispatches, the regulations insisted that a military
escort be present during interviews with troops.
     But the press focus on Pentagon censorship served as a lightning
rod to draw attention away from the media's self- censorship. The
government did not force the news media to rely on the narrow range of
pro-war analysts that dominated the network airwaves and news pages.
No federal agency forced the mass media to cheerlead the war.
     Beneath the surface, the war makers and war reporters have plenty
in common.
     "Deep down, you're a good bunch of guys," three-star Army general
Thomas Kelly told journalists at the Pentagon in early March. As USA
Today put it, "despite some flare-ups during the daily give-and-take,"
Kelly "was popular among reporters."
     With the war over, Kelly retired with a fond farewell: "I'd just
like to say that, believe it or not, I've enjoyed this little
interlude. I got a lot of letters from people who really don't
understand the hurly-burly and give-and-take of a press briefing, and
at no time were you ever impolite to me and at no time did I ever
become offended."
     Makes sense. With thousands of Iraqis being incinerated by U.S.
bombs each day, why should the press be impolite or offensive to a
Pentagon briefer?
     In the wake of the war, we have more reasons than ever to deflate
illusions about the U.S. mass media.
     To justify unconscionable priorities that favor wealth and
centralized power over human life and social justice, the news media
routinely engage in what might be called "linguicide" -- the steady
destruction of language as an instrument of meaning.
     When the slaughter of civilians is called "collateral damage,"
that's linguicide.
     When a dictatorship like Saudi Arabia, routinely torturing
political dissenters, is called a "moderate" government, that's
linguicide.
     When a few missiles fired at Tel Aviv are called weapons of
terrorism while thousands of missiles fired at Baghdad and Basra are
called technological marvels, that's linguicide.
     War news coverage was not a departure from the usual media
pattern. It was an intensification. Amid the daily onslaught of
mediocrity, we are conditioned to lower our standards, to be grateful
for the less-bad.
     Those who were shocked by National Public Radio's blatant pro-war
propaganda, for example, should listen more critically in the future.
With few exceptions, they will find foreign policy reports on a short
leash from the White House, State Department and Capitol Hill. Instead
of contributing money to NPR affiliates dutifully airing "All Things
Considered" and "Morning Edition," we should be providing funds and
energies to support authentic community-based radio stations that draw
on such sources as Pacifica News.
     This year, via dominant channels of mass communication, we have
seen breath-taking dedication to deceit. We live in a society so sick
that it cannot begin to acknowledge the depths of its own sickness.
     In communities across the United States, we keep hearing how
there is no more money to fight AIDS or educate children. The
powers-that-be withhold funds to provide health care, housing and jobs
for people who lack them. Billions could be found for going to war,
but at home it's the same old story. "A nation that continues year
after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of
social uplift," Martin Luther King Jr.  pointed out, "is approaching
spiritual death."
     A key aspect of the USA's military rampage in the Middle East has
been virtually taboo as a subject for mass media discussion in this
country: The war was a class war.
     The U.S. news media abhor class war...from the bottom up.  But
the ways that the rich impose their will and sustain their privilege
are commonly depicted as mechanisms for stability and progress.
     Soon after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait last August, the New York
Times provided a "news analysis" by staff reporter Andrew Rosenthal
>from Washington: "President Hussein of Iraq has been trying to drive a
wedge between the region's ordinary citizen and the oligarchies, like
those of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which have thrived on oil profits
for decades and enjoyed American support."
     Saddam Hussein's unpardonable crime was his threat to the ruling
elites in the Middle East that provide huge profits for Western
corporations -- and not only oil companies. Kuwait holds stock in
nearly all of the 70 biggest firms in the New York Stock Exchange.
Estimates of Kuwaiti investments in the U.S. and British economies
range up to $250 billion.
     Apt symbols of the war were the grisly corpses of Iraqis strafed
and burned along the highway north of Kuwait City:  massacred while in
retreat, carrying VCRs and the like, Third World soldiers looting a
sheikdom. The news media brought us those images, but avoided the
class-war implications.
     Mass media evade links between foreign and domestic policies. But
the same U.S. power structure, with the same priorities, shapes both
-- and never calls a cease-fire in its class war.
     On the weekend of March 9-10, the New York Times saw fit to
feature two black men in page-one above-the-fold photos. The Saturday
picture showed a sergeant hugging his daughter at a New York air base
homecoming. The Sunday front page carried a picture of three
African-American boys looking at their father's flag- draped coffin.
     But 45 percent of the black children in this country are living
below the official poverty line, for reasons that have everything to
do with government policies. No amount of flag- waving can change such
grim facts.
     Media often ascribe the White House's weaknesses on domestic
issues to a lack of vision. But actually George Bush faces the problem
that politicians and mass media have difficulty fogging up the real
conditions that people face in their day-to-day lives.
     With an economy based on extreme inequities, U.S. society is a
cauldron of unexpressed anger. As attention shifts closer to home, the
Bush adminstration and the mass media may have trouble keeping the lid
on.
          ____________________________________________

     Norman Solomon, co-author of "Unreliable Sources: A Guide to
Detecting Bias in News Media," is on the advisory board of the
media watch group FAIR.
          ____________________________________________

[Reprinting of the above article is welcome.]

Norman Solomon
PeaceNet: fair
Phone: (408) 338-4341
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