Who wants to know about a war?
By Michael R. Allen
While the print and on-line media, as well as foreign outlets, have often reported the cold, hard truth within minutes of an event's happening, the television set still is home to sound-bites and interpretations of government spin. Even all-news channels provide no real fresh insight; they merely are aggrandized versions of the pap emanating from the non-cable networks.
As technology increases the Internet's speed, those looking for uncensored facts can get them hours before television anchors read the edited versions to the audience. Since most people lack the inclination to find the truth, the television media has the ability to mold opinion, and it does so at every turn. Most of its manipulation lies in what facts it refuses to mention, as it shows repeatedly.
We must remember that in 1998, when the United States bombed a pharmaceuticals plant in Sudan and some dwellings in Afghanistan, there were no interruptions on major networks. These stories barely made the ten o'clock news. When the stories were reported, the stories contained no mention of the fact that only innocent property had been destroyed. Only through so-called alternative media sources did the facts emerge -- though one suspects most Americans have yet to read of the Pentagon's blunders.
On December 16th, 1998, when the United States attacked Iraq, the networks did better by actually intruding into prime time to inform viewers of the bombings. Viewers briefly saw lights flashing across a green-tinted sky as our brave reporters told us of Iraq's evil ways. If any thinking person did fall for the American media's portrayal of the event, he ought to be declassified as "thinking." The media never explained the inconvenient facts that Iraq had not provoked the US military in any way, that the United Nations had been lagging in its inspections of Iraq until only recently, and that the attacks were largely directed by the United States (with only Britain coming to aid).
The slant of coverage in this attack was horribly one-sided. But what would one expect? The media were allowed to broadcast from Iraq at the behest of the US military. Americans are not allowed to visit Iraq for any reason, unless it's to help the US government disseminate its propaganda.
Though the public saw the start of the bombings live on television, within an hour live coverage ceased on non-cable outlets -- and was never resumed, though the US bombed Iraq as recently as last month! Of course, a new diversion came immediately after this: the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States of America (unfortunately, not for his damned air strikes and bombings).
I will credit the networks with some extended coverage of the House debate. However, C-SPAN was still better, since it didn't feature voice-overs of talking heads who said exactly what one expected. The Senate's trial a month later was not covered even half as well, though. The debate was closed to the public, but when the public vote was taken, the networks yawned as their talking heads spoke over the voting. When the Senate finished both votes, live coverage ended.
The impeachment trial's outcome was not a surprise to me, but it deserved to be covered in toto. After all, how many presidents have been impeached in the lifetime of anyone alive today? Events such as impeachment of the president and bombing Iraq are of much greater importance to American citizens than the death of a famous citizen. It is only with knowledge of what is really going on that Americans can hold their government to account, which is precisely why the television media (and more timid print outlets) strive to keep the facts from the public.
When NATO intervened in Kosovo with American backing, there was extensive coverage -- of NATO press conferences. Never were viewers brought in to see the sham brokering of a "peace agreement" at Rambouillet. Never did viewers learn that NATO lost over eighty soldiers. Never were viewers shown dead children who had played with unexploded NATO cluster bombs. All viewers were shown was stock footage of destroyed homes in Kosovo said to belong to Albanians. The media did not present any facts that would result in their loss of favor by the government.
What accounts for the constant coverage of the Kennedy plane crash in July? There is the obvious reason why it was covered to the extreme, and that is the popular status of John Kennedy, Jr. A popular person like Kennedy will draw viewers to their screens. However, there is another reason the media would feature hours of analysis and news of one story: it is a story about a member of a family to which are attributed imperial qualities. The media, established in such a close relationship with the government, has an interest in honoring the Kennedys and not talking too much about war.
US television media is populated by men and women like Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters, who are descendants of journalists or politicians or lawyers or other handmaidens to the state. It is rather predictable that these journalists would fawn over Kennedy-related stories. It is also predictable that they would laud good, old Cold War-style military actions. After all, the two go hand in hand.
For many uninformed citizens watching television, there is little questioning of what they see. Those who want the truth are already not watching network news. Those who have yet to learn the truth don't want bad news. Who wants to know about a war? What one doesn't know cannot hurt, right?
Michael R. Allen is editor in chief of the monthly SpinTech Magazine and a contributor to many other on-line publications.
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