1. IT’S THE (CORPORATE) MEDIA, STUPID.
“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening.”
That’s the late English playwright Harold Pinter, describing the inability of the mainstream media to challenge the US-sponsored secret wars of aggression in Central America in the Reagan-ite 80’s. Pinter was speaking in 2005, and alluding to how the same corporate media had failed to do anything but be embedded cheerleaders for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Most of the media across the spectrum in the US is owned by ten corporations, whose prime focus is to make profit for their shareholders. Project Censored points out that “from these ten organizations … there are 118 people who sit on 288 different American and international corporate boards proving a close on-going interlock between big media and corporate America.” A newspaper, for example, makes 75% of its profit from advertising, ie space paid for by corporations, and upsetting the sponsors is just not good business sense.
Further: “Professional journalism places a premium on legitimate news stories based upon what people in power say and do [my emphasis]… [giving] journalism a very conventional feel, as those in power have a great deal of control over what gets covered and what does not. Reporting often turns into dictation as journalists are loathe to antagonize their sources, depending upon them as they do for stories.”
— McChesney & Nichols Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy
In other words, establishment bias is hardwired into the essential make-up of the mass media. In this context it is no longer so incredible that the New York Times and the Washington Post would so readily take the narratives of the Bush government at face value during the countdown to the invasion of Iraq.
In parallel the Media Lens writers Edwards & Cromwell, in their book Guardians of Power – The Myth of the Liberal Media (2006), state with good reason that “the ultimate betrayal” is the failure of the mass media to do anything other than amplify the fossil fuel complex’s 23-year-and-counting campaign to obfuscate the science of global warming. Thus, the failure of the corporate media “to challenge the centralized mechanisms of both political power and monopolized power generation represents the mother of all silences, because the fossil fuel economy is the mother of all vested interests.” In other words the corporatization of the mass media has rendered it useless as a means of articulating dissent, and rather a means by which real democracy is programmed to fail again and again and again.
2. THE SMART LIE
During the first Gulf War, President Bush Sr.’s news management teams invented a whole array of language to obfuscate the reality of the world’s sole superpower and its friends bombing Iraq. Perhaps most memorably is the smart lie of the “smart” bomb, accompanied by computer game like video of said bombs hitting their targets. Along with the audacity of this inherent perversion of language — from a human point of view, how can a device that rips apart flesh and blood and feeling people ever be conceived of as smart — the actual accuracy of these bombs remains an outright lie. As Michael Puttré pointed out in Scientific American in February 2003: “GPS-aided systems help to guide the most common of these precision munitions to within a radius of 40 feet of a designated aim point 50 percent of the time.”
So if the bomb was targeted to hit a specific house, as it is regularly advertised as being capable of doing, it may hit the house next door only half the time, and still be declared to be successfully on target. In truth, bombing from the air, as is the case with Obama’s drone war on Pakistan —emulating Donald Rumsfeld’s wet dream of fighting wars from space with nil risk to US personnel—regularly kills civilians, and terrorizes a civilian population. It is intended to do this, to demoralize an enemy, and stir up resentment, and to justify yet more bombing. To get away with this spectacular disconnection requires a whole catalogue of smart lies repeated by the corporate media a million-fold, both enabling and then sanitizing war.
The smart lie builds a narrative specifically designed and manicured by a whole industry of perception-management specialists whose specific aim is to advance the preferred agenda of their clients, be they corporations or politicians, whilst at the same time, excluding and subduing contrary points of view. Smart lies are the constituent particles that make up the fog that is carefully crafted to prevent us connecting the real political dots, ensuring the continued protection of power.
Systematically stripped of damaging historical context, reconfigured, reimagined and reassembled to ruthlessly promote a preferred version of “truth,” smart lies combine to bolster or advance the establishment’s narrative that the rich deserve to be rich and the powerful deserve to be powerful and everyone else can go to hell.
Overconfident, pushy and attention-seeking, smart lies assume the guise of “universal truths” that are then projected as the only “reasonable” means of viewing a particular situation. In so doing, smart lies displace dissenting voices by the sheer overwhelming force with which they are deployed. Professionally delivered in an authoritative voice, beamed around the world on primetime news and replicated more or less verbatim by the world’s mainstream press, on a daily basis, smart lies create the disconnection in favor of a preferred version of the “truth” over the actual reality.
Infamously, the Bush Jr. and Blair governments created a firewall of smart lies, which achieved the clear objective of public support for the invasion of Iraq. Likewise, the fossil fuel complex, by manufacturing an ocean of doubt, have since 1989—when it became clear that the world was on a globally warm trajectory—avoided any legislation which would undermine its ability to make excessive profit from carrying on its business as usual.
3. WHEN IS A WAR NOT A WAR?
An act of war is described as an aggressive action, by one country against another, employing military force, which constitutes an immediate threat to peace
In the wake of the first Gulf War, Bush Sr. was instrumental in overseeing the establishment of the “no-fly” zone over Iraq. Stripped of the smart lie, this was actually a license for the US and its British allies to “bomb at will,” and they did so on a semi-regular basis for over ten years, continuing through the two Clinton terms, in a low-grade secret war, flying out of Saudi Arabia and giving the US a concocted reason to be in the Middle East, obfuscating its real strategic imperative of having its military firepower on hand to police Persian Gulf oil.
How does ten years of bombing another country, using the world’s most sophisticated aircraft and weapons, not amount to a war? Had it been Iraq bombing the US, then it would have been no secret. Every organ of the mass media would have the words “acts of war” emblazoned across it in letters ten feet high.
So when is a war not a war? When the corporate media reporting it create and reinforce the disconnection in the public’s perception of it, by echoing the narrative of the people in power, who deny that war is happening, whilst simultaneously being actively engaged in war.
Between June 2002 and March 2003, this secret war on Iraq was intensified by a degree of several notches—and given the spectacularly disarming name of Operation Southern Focus—as a prelude to the “shock and awe” bombing and invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
From a safe distance, a year after the fact, in July 2003, when the damage was done, Lt. General T. Mike Mosley, the US’s chief allied war commander, confirmed that the intensified bombing of Iraq had begun in June 2002.
That is, using the smart lie cover of patrolling the “no-fly zones,” US and British warplanes stepped up the bombing of Iraq, with the specific aim of “softening up” the country for invasion, described in the military smarlance by Mosley as “provid[ing] a set of opportunities and options to General Tommy Franks.”
Mosely went on to describe the protocol for such bombing raids: “Air war commanders were required to obtain the approval of the Defense Secretary Donald. L. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was thought likely to result in the deaths of more than 30 civilians. More than 50 such strikes were proposed, and all of them approved.”
So the US government approved 1500 plus civilian deaths, plus whatever deaths fall under the arbitrary measure of acceptable limit of 30 deaths, reflecting its own awareness of the actual lack of accuracy of the so-called smart bomb.
Remember during this same time frame the aforementioned firewall of smart lies put out by Bush Jr. et al that was beamed around the world. On the one hand designed to cajole us into thinking that there was still some debate as to whether war on Iraq would happen or not; on the other, using the authoritative voices of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice to convince us that Saddam could hit the US with weapons of mass destruction, whilst the self-styled rear end of Bush’s pantomime horse, Tony Blair, pulled a similar stunt in Britain.
Taking a very specific example at the highest level, where the mass media could have changed the course of events leading up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: Bob Woodward, the so called ‘white knight of the forth estate.’
After Watergate, Woodward built a career on being first to get the dirt and detail of presidential decision-making, and at relative lightning speed in the context of writing history books. Traditionally, Western governments have been protected from having the lies they told their public exposed, by keeping contentious documents under lock and key for thirty or more years, after which the fear of any legal repercussions or damage to reputations is minimal or nonexistent.
Woodward has found a loophole to short cut the thirty-year rule. His reputation enables him to cultivate sources, including presidents and those most closely surrounding them. He egotistically has referred to himself as a player, and he is, but as a solid team player for the establishment version of the story, rather than a hero of the people.
Joan Didion, in an essay in the New York Review of Books in 1996, said Woodward’s post-Watergate books were notable for “a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.”
Woodward’s god-like status at the Washington Post means that he has the power to hold back stories of vital public interest, saving them for the next book, rather than publishing them contemporaneously in the newspaper. This is exactly what he did with regard to the Iraq War, repeating and elevating the essence of Bush’s manufactured narrative, over the reality—which, had he aired it at the time, could have produced outcomes not conducive to the aims of power.
In the epilogue of his first book on Bush Jr. —Bush At War (published in November 2002), on the subject of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan —Woodward mulls over the prospect of Bush going to war with Iraq. Crucially, Woodward interviewed President Bush on August 20, 2002, and was told by the president that “the blueprint or model for decision making in any war against Iraq” could be found in the primary story that Woodward was telling in that book about the war on Afghanistan. Despite this telegraphing of the situation, and the undercurrents of secret war against Iraq then evident, Woodward could only come to the lame conclusion that whilst Bush “wanted Saddam out,” the president was only “leaning toward an attack on Iraq.” In actual fact — and a fact that Woodward could not have been unaware of— US and British bombers had hit targets in Iraq that very same day, August 20, 2002, as part of Southern Focus.
Woodward’s second book on the Bush, Plan of Attack (published in August 2004), made clear that the president was committed to invading Iraq within weeks of 9/11. Woodward went on to detail the secret planning against Iraq, which had begun in earnest in November 2001. The idea that Woodward only learned of these machinations after his August 2002 meeting with Bush, as we are invited to believe, is ludicrous.
In researching Bush At War during this same time frame, it is hard to believe that some of Woodward’s secret sources did not also fill him in on what was going down regarding Iraq, especially since when Plan of Attack came out, it was rife with detail regarding the secret war on Iraq. When Bush told Woodward on August 20, 2002, that he had in Woodward’s words “not yet seen a successful (military) plan for Iraq,” Bush was lying, and Woodward must have known he was lying, because the military plan was already at Level Orange on that very same day, in the form of the Southern Focus bombing of Iraq.
At the very least, Woodward must have known by August 2002 that the invasion of Iraq was unstoppable…barring a tsunami of opposition which existed, and which could have been catalyzed to ‘tipping point’ by the revelations of a high-profile journalist, had he chosen to report there and then in the Washington Post that the war was already in full illegal swing.
It was not random that public opinion could be portrayed as supporting Bush and Blair, even in the face of the biggest anti-war demonstrations the world has ever seen. The secret war was reported in the fringes of the mainstream press, in equal measures to the opposition to war, and I blogged about both at the time, but crucially the shock and awe deployment of smart lies created in favor of the establishment intention to invade Iraq ensured that the invasion was not derailed.
Woodard picked his side. In subordinating his public duty as a journalist to expose the truth to a symbiotic need to shield his White House sources, Woodward did the world a disservice, which eclipses his earlier role in exposing Nixon. In protecting the crimes of government instead of blowing the whistle on them, Woodward supremely exemplifies the complicity of the corporate media.
In the modern era of instantaneous “news,” Western war-mongers have avoided any consequences for their actions, because in the context of the tried and tested mechanisms of the system, the checks and balances of democracy give them the benefit of the doubt. In short, the firm support of the corporate media enabled Bush and Blair to wage secret war on Iraq and then invade it, sending thousands of their own soldiers to die and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraq is in the process, precisely because they knew they could get away with it—before, during and after— absolutely scot-free!
The fossil fuel polluters have continued to get away with driving the planet to destruction, but as reported last week, after decades of perception management to the contrary, “71% of Americans Now Link Extreme Weather to Global Warming.” After the weather events of summer 2012, the Planet Earth has cleared her throat and raised her voice. For try as they might, the corporate media cannot control the weather which speaks directly to the people.
Hoping, or asking nicely, that the human instruments of entrenched corporate power change their ways has a long history of failure. If we do not bring about some unprecedented political revolution, the earth will continue to react with increasing violence to the way corporate power has exploited it. Neither option will be easy on us —the regular dissenting people who simply want a fairer, sustainable world, who simply want a world period, that is habitable for our children— but it becomes clearer every day that something has to give. Some huge shift will happen and probably sooner this century rather than later.
NEXT WEEK: Rogue commentary from the globally-warmed world of 2025