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Propaganda and... Iraq (2)
[ 2007-06-29 15:06 ]

Continuing from our discussion from Tuesday, here's Greenwald (hit this link for story in full, http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/06/23/al_qaeda/index.htmlbeginning his story (Everyone we fight in Iraq is now 'al-Qaida') with a quote of an observant reader:

Josh Marshall (www.talkingpointsmemo.com - Xin) publishes an e-mail from a reader who identifies what is one of the most astonishing instances of mindless, pro-government "reporting" yet:

It's a curious thing that, over the past 10 - 12 days, the news from Iraq refers to the combatants there as 'al-Qaida' fighters. When did that happen?

Until a few days ago, the combatants in Iraq were 'insurgents' or they were referred to as 'Sunni' or 'Shia'a' fighters in the Iraq Civil War. Suddenly, without evidence, without proof, without any semblance of fact, the US military command is referring to these combatants as 'al-Qaida'.

Welcome to the latest in Iraq propaganda.

This reader, who identified himself as SM, is the hope of democracy in America. I mean, you can't ask politicians to always be telling the truth, can you?

Nor can you trust the media. Even those who claim to be "free" and "independent" are only independent to a degree - independent to major news networks, that is. They are not "independent" from presenting (their own equally) subjective views and are certainly not "free" from making errors, typo, editorial or judgmental.

Nor can you trust anyone (you and me) for that matter - we lie through our teeth whenever we think the circumstance calls for it - though this last point is not up for debate here.

We just can't trust politicians and the media to a T.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this column is not to question governments and bureaucrats for not doing their job - I fully trust they are doing their job. Nor do I ask the public not to listen to the mainstream media. No, that is too unrealistic and impractical an advice to suggest because mainstream media are probably the only ones most people are exposed to anyway, such is the rate of concentration of media ownership in America and elsewhere. Instead, the purpose of this column is to encourage readers to take everything they read with a pinch of salt.

And a big pinch of it in the case of Iraq. You recall, I am sure, that when the Bush Administration first ventured to prepare for war against the Saddam Hussein, they were fighting for discovering and eliminating "WMDs" (weapons of mass destruction). When no trace of WMDs was found months into the invasion, they began to say they were fighting for "freedom" (don't let it be lost on you that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers are now permanently free from the so-called "freedom"). Then they fought against "insurgents" who are vying for power in a "civil war" (don't let it be lost on you either that America remains the principle party in this so-called "civil war"). Apparently things continue to get out of hand and now the administration comes up with this latest propaganda gimmick: to identify all resistance fighters as "al-Qaida" - the very terrorist group responsible for flying airplanes into the Twin Towers on 9/11.

As Greenwald points out, who could argue with that? It's the same logic Bush used from Day One: We're fighting terrorism and you're either with us or against us.

Again, this is not to say that governments or the media they control (or fail to control) are wrong to do what they are doing. They are not wrong. Society is divided into many various interest groups and it will be quite unreasonable to ask governments or the media to represent your interests ahead of the interests of other people all the time, not to say that it is impossible of accomplishment.

It's especially tough to ask much from the media, whose working classes (journalists) are getting paid to say what the employer wants be said or get lost. Asked to give a toast before the New York Press Club in 1880, John Swinton, formerly Chief of Staff at the New York Times, put it bluntly:

There is no such thing, at this date of the world's history, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.

If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell the country for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.

Well, actually, things are not so grim. There's always been a counterbalance and that is a questioning readership, such as SM and readers like him. Whenever politicians understand that the public know what they are up to, they stop doing something bad. Or at least they stop doing it so wantonly, brazenly and blatantly.

So then, the lesson from Iraq?

Order a large quantity of salt, figuratively speaking. Have a large measure of it in reserve any time you open a broadsheet.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

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