Iphigen Sloe | October 17, 2002
Before we can speak of the political aspects of the “war on terrorism”, or of the state of civil rights, freedom of speech, or even political accountability for all of the above, we must first discuss the window through which we are able to know these things. The media are our eyes and ears in the dark where our government functions; without the press we are blind and deaf to what our representatives would have with us. The Press, as an objective observer detached from that which it observes, ought to be recognized as a fragile state — and one can easily imagine the immense interest of the subject in controlling, even partially, the gaze and language of the press which communicates its activities to the public. This is not altogether unlike combing one’s hair and tucking in one’s shirt for the camera, except that within the domain of politics, the commerce is not an affable refined appearance but the very substance of our most general reality; commerce between appearance and reality is precisely the greatest danger to objectivity. Thus, it is here in the space between the press and the state that one had better find no strings. A relationship of coercion, or even mutual benefit, between the observer and the subject undermines the very notion of objective observation.
Recently, RAND (a contraction of the term research and development), a think tank for the US Government, published the visionary and frighteningly ubiquitous strategic study “The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy”. Every political analyst and military strategist knew immediately that this war would be waged through radically new methods — primarily in the realm of information. The term information has now strategically entered the realm of metaphysics and political strategy, made subject to further division, classification, and a continuing invention of a new discourse to appropriate it. RAND divides information into three realms; the first, the cybersphere, refers to “the global system of systems of internetted computers”;65 the second, the infosphere, engulfs the cybersphere with the additions of the mediasphere (television, print, broadcast, etc.) and non-electronic libraries; the third, the noosphere, contains the first two, with the epic unearthly realm of the global mind, a “thinking circuit” and “planetary consciousness”.66 Eric Raymond vaguely deems the noosphere “the territory of ideas, the space of all thoughts”.67 It is not difficult to conjure an image in association with cyberspace or the infosphere, but the noosphere is, by definition, formless and abstract, ideas and discourse itself, “an idea floating in a cultural ether”.68 This all-encompassing noosphere includes cyberspace and the infosphere — and, in short, is the prioritized battle ground to conquer.
I will not critique the metaphysics of the RAND report, nor the classification of information — it is not necessary to judge the particulars of the theory; what is more interesting is simply the existence of the report itself. The US Government is no longer dealing in just the primitive currency of commercialized images and internet GoArmy pop-up ads, or even just within the infosphere’s limited realm of command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance of the “military information environment”;69 now, apparently, thoughts and ideas themselves are targets of control and therefore are at stake. The RAND report blithely predicts that “[b]efore long, a synthesis will occur in which peoples of different nations, races, and cultures will develop consciousness and mental activity that are planetary in scope, without losing their personal identities.”70 The US Government hopes not to miss the big parade, but to be there from the beginning in shaping this collective global consciousness. “However,” the report notes, “the transition may not be smooth; a global tremor and possibly an apocalypse may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere.”71 This claim is not altogether justified, but I find it oddly thrown in — largely unsupported and falsely prophetic perhaps, but the diviners and sages in Washington perhaps possess a galeropia in their prophecies as unabashed as their will to conquer. Calmly, the report even includes a brief comment by the French philosopher Paul Virilio:
I think that the infosphere — the sphere of information — is going to impose itself on the geosphere. We are going to be living in a reduced world. The capacity of interactivity is going to reduce the world to nearly nothing. In fact, there is already a speed pollution, which reduces the world to nothing. In the near future, people will feel enclosed in a small environment. They will have a feeling of confinement in the world, which will certainly be at the limit of tolerability, by virtue of the speed of information. If I were to offer you a last thought — interactivity is to real space what radioactivity is to the atmosphere.72
Apocalyptic in tone, this report is almost intentionally foreboding; however, this confusing noosphere is not yet conquered. In fact, the organizational exemplars, according to RAND, are primarily Peace Non-governmental Organizations and Universities. Here ideas are fostered and shared in mediums outside, and inclusive of, cyberspace and broadcast, where ideas are forged in a transnational context.
I will return to this noosphere later; I only introduce it now to example the US Government’s over-apparent, and quite frank, admitting of media and information control, how wide the scope of their power is, how wide their vision such that they invade metaphysics itself, abuse Foucault (whom is cited frequently), and in the ironical sense of applying the French post-modernist thinker’s thorough analysis of the ubiquitous controls of power structure’s production of our beliefs, thoughts, actions — to perfecting an increasingly Orwellian mastery of all domains, public, private, informational, metaphysical.
On this note, I turn to the profound relation between the US Government and media. The Government’s influence upon mainstream media is diverse and manifold, but I can think of no other general ways for the discursive activity of an institution to be controlled than through either the restriction and censoring of information or through the manipulation of the information itself, or through some combination of the two.73 I will deal with the former, first.
CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson sent a memo to all of the network’s international correspondents: “As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people.”74
In an interview with the Washington Post, he said: “I want to make sure we’re not used as a propaganda platform ... [it] seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.
“We’re entering a period in which there’s a lot more reporting and video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it’s in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States.”75
And Rick Davis, CNN’s head of standards and practices, sent a memo (leaked to the Post) expressing concern about reports on the bombing of Afghanistan filed by on-the-spot reporters. It “may be hard for the correspondent in these dangerous areas to make the points clearly”76 about the reasons for the US bombing. Davis even mandated specific language referring to US bombings as “in response”.
Why, it should be asked, is CNN so actively compliant with the objectives of that which it reports on, namely the workings of the US Government? Why, from the top, is CNN obtusely and directly skewing the news and purposely derailing an objective covering of the war? This instance of the unprecedented marriage between press and state was perhaps foreseeable in 1998 when CNN broadcast an investigative report titled “Valley of Death” which, with abundant evidence, concluded that the US military used sarin, a deadly nerve gas, in Laos in 1970 during the Vietnam War. This story, at the time, undermined the series of US provocations against Iraq over Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons. In short, CNN “threatened to cut across a major objective of American foreign policy”.77 Colin Powell and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger denounced the report. Within a year Peter Arnett (who narrated the report), the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was fired, and Ted Turner fired the two producers, apologizing formally to the Pentagon. This can be interpreted in no other way than mass media being subjugated to the derivative position of apparatchik to the US government.
And more recently, Condoleeza Rice, Bush Jr.’s then-active national security adviser, called the five television networks asking them to limit coverage of statements made by bin Laden, with the poor excuse of possible secret coded instructions for terrorists, when the Internet is profuse with these very videos. The networks immediately issued a pledge of cooperation. It was “the first time in memory that the networks had agreed to a joint arrangement to limit their prospective news coverage.”78
At a Columbia University forum, David Westin, the top executive at ABC News, responded to the question of whether the Pentagon was a legitimate military target: “The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don’t have an opinion on that and it’s important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. The way I conceive my job running a news organization, and the way I would like all the journalists at ABC News to perceive it, is there is a big difference between a normative position and a positive position. Our job is to determine what is, not what ought to be and when we get into the job of what ought to be I think we’re not doing a service to the American people. I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that’s perhaps for me in my private life, perhaps it’s for me dealing with my loved ones, perhaps it’s for my minister at church. But as a journalist I feel strongly that’s something that I should not be taking a position on. I’m supposed to figure out what is and what is not, not what ought to be.”79 This is what reporters ought to say to themself when they get up in the morning, but right-wing condemnation from Rush Limbaugh, the New York Post, and Matt Drudge’s vicious and foolish headline: ABC NEWS HEAD DECLARES: JOURNALISTS SHOULD HAVE ‘NO OPINION’ IF TERROR ATTACKS WERE ‘RIGHT OR WRONG’,80 which forced a public statement from Westin in response: “I apologize for any harm that my misstatement may have caused.”81
Dan Rather, too is subject to the blind patriotic fervor that has swept the nation in the post–Sep. 11 aftermath. In a Sep. 22 CNN interview, he said: “I’m not afraid of backlash. What I want to do, I want to fulfill my role as a decent human member of the community and a decent and patriotic American. And therefore, I am willing to give the government, the president and the military the benefit of any doubt here in the beginning. I’m going to fulfill my role as a journalist, and that is ask the questions, when necessary ask the tough questions. But I have no excuse for, particularly when there is a national crisis such as this, as saying — you know, the president says do your job, whatever you are and whomever you are, Mr. and Mrs. America.
“I’m going to do my job as a journalist, but at the same time I will give them the benefit of the doubt, whenever possible in this kind of crisis, emergency situation. Not because I am concerned about any backlash. I’m not. But because I want to be a patriotic American without apology.”82
No one said it is easy to be an objective journalist, but to assert that one can do his or her job as a journalist, and yet also “give the government, the president and the military the benefit of any doubt” is contradictory. Dan Rather sings twice “America the Beautiful” — once on David Letterman, and again in the CNN interview with Howard Kurtz; his network personality is now permeated with patriotic subjectivity. How can we truly know what is going on when Dan Rather admits that he is favoring the US Government? Isn’t it his job to tell us, as David Westin said, “what is and what is not, not what ought to be”? Give us the bare facts, and let we the people form our own subjective opinions. Rather’s capitulation to wearing patriotism on the sleeve is a mere piece of the emerging puzzle of consistent mass media surrendering to US Government objectives. News corporation magnate Rupert Murdoch, spoke for Fox in a similar vein: “We’ll do whatever is our patriotic duty.”83
Why is CNN censoring objective coverage of American bombings in Afghanistan? Why is Rick Davis imposing a pro-American language on alleged impartial coverage? Why cannot mass media choose objectivity over the objectives of American foreign policy? Why do all the networks comply with Condoleeza Rice’s demands for censorship? Why must David Westin be forced to take back the very creed of journalism — detachment from the object on which it reports? And why, finally, are the subject and the object confounded?
This confounding of the object and the subject observing it should come as no surprise perversion; it is the ideal relationship for the power structure being monitored. Richard Reeves, a veteran liberal journalist, cites in “Truth in the Packaging of War News” a 1982 Naval War College advisory on press treatment: “Sanitize the visual images of war, control media access to theaters, censor information that could upset readers and viewers, exclude journalists who would not write favorable stories.”84
As Normon Solomon, the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, says, the networks are now “serving as amplification systems”85 for Washington. With this veil of legitimacy and objectivity, is not the mass media more and more a bugle Washington sounds for war, to which the public hears only the spoken grafted truth, altered, manufactured for mass digestion?
Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, claims the “government’s attempts to pressure media regarding the airing of bin Laden’s statements are totally illegitimate. Government directives like this, especially to a regulated industry like broadcast and cable, carry the force of coercion, if not the force of law.”86 It is certain that the media are capitulating to the US government’s objectives, but the question, of course, is why? The motives of the few dominant media corporations are overt and largely economic. In seeking deregulation to assist with mergers and boost market share, the federal government’s “requests” are not hard to comply with. Colin Powell’s son, Michael Powell, is the Federal Communications Commission chair — and sits farther to the right than his father.
The days of Bernsteins, Woodwards, and Deep Throats are not over, but the publication of such subversive truths is at a standstill. Katherine Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post unabashedly admits that “[t]here have been instances in which secrets have been leaked to us which we thought were so dangerous that we went to them [U.S. officials] and told them that they had been leaked to us and did not print them.”87 And in Langley, Virginia in Nov. 1988 she said to CIA officials: “There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.”88
A whole plethora of questions arise in response. If news significant to the fundamental structures of the public’s belief systems, our very conception of the world, is to be censored, manipulated, or altered, then who is to have this great power of controlling the discourse delivered to the public, the central source of the public’s knowledge of all things political? Who or what institution is to have the power to keep secrets, or perhaps worse, to alter them in their telling, and for the very accommodation of the secret itself? Is not imbuing an institution with the power to censor press, to directly manipulate the public’s understanding — is not this worse than the secret itself? Are corporate news magnates — the Katherine Grahams, the Rick Davises, the Walter Isaacsons — the ones to bear this power? No, for no one can.
Few exploit the fact of independent media, the endless multitude of non-corporate news. In this realm of largely internet-based media, the government-mandated controls on mainstream media do not bear. Extensive measures are taken by the US Government to prevent access to images of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. On Oct. 17, the Guardian reported: “The Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing highly accurate civilian satellite pictures of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan.”89 The high resolution of the purchased Ikonos satellite photos display even the bodies of the dead lying on the ground. Rather than seeking a legal ban, the US Government instead simply bought the exclusive rights to all Ikonos satellite images of Afghanistan. Since the images of carnage show nothing of US positions and in no way compromise military security, a proposed legal ban would have been messy, a direct challenge to the First Amendment.
This is perhaps the most indirect form of American media blackout; more direct is the media response (or lack thereof) to the series of horrible events following the Nov. 21, 2001, fall of Kunduz, the Taliban’s last significant stronghold in northern Afghanistan. Little or nothing has been said by way of the networks regarding the US torturing and slaughtering of 3,000 prisoners who were driven to a desert area and massacred — more victims than the WTC attack. The manipulation of information following this massacre near Mazar-i-Sharif blankets all major media outlets; the language itself I will return to later, but first I will deal with media response to civilian outrage and investigation.
In June 2002, Massacre in Mazar, a documentary by Irish director Jamie Doran, was screened before select audiences in Europe. The film presents powerful corroborated evidence — from numerous Afghan witnesses to physical evidence — showing prisoners whose hands had been tied and their heads shot. Massacre in Mazar sparked enormous press attention in Europe, as well as international commission of inquiry on war crimes in Afghanistan. Search for yourself — the networks, cable, and most US newspapers don’t even mention the story, or the overwhelming evidence of the massacre. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, and the Miami Herald all make no reference to the documentary. Websites for the five major networks carry nothing as well. “How is it possible that not a single major US media outlet chose to cover such an important news event? There is no innocent or journalistic explanation.”90
The most ready objection to this fact appeals to the aspect of “newsworthiness” — but in Europe, where the film was paid media attention, an uproar and even a massive political response ensued. Two screenings in Germany prompted “calls by a number of European parliamentary deputies and human rights advocates for an independent investigation into the atrocities exposed by the film.”91 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, amongst others, called for an inquiry into the events at the Qala-i-Janghi fortress by Mazar-i-Sharif — and Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights then joined the call for inquiry. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), an organization of health professionals, scientists, and concerned citizens using medical and forensic means to investigate and prevent violations of humanitarian law, published a thorough and image-documented report titled “Preliminary Assessment of Alleged Mass Gravesites in the Area of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan”.92 Everyone else seems to consider this “news” but America does not; and though nearly every human rights organization has called the major networks and asked why, there has been no response.
Largely due to a freer press, the American violations of the Geneva Convention and the atrocious transgressions of human rights are well known to the European public — and such an opinion is founded enough to warrant massive political pressure from not only Europe but from the World for the US to be subject to possible future investigations. The BBC reports: “The US wants American peacekeepers to be exempt from prosecution by the new international war crimes court, but campaigners say such a move would set a dangerous precedent.”93 Sixty-nine nations, including all of the European Union, have ratified the treaty (and 139 have signed it) which empowers the Hague-based court to try war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”94 A coalition of more than 1,000 groups, in support of the International Criminal Court, has urged the security council to reject America’s unilateral demands. Richard Williamson, the American ambassador to the UN for political affairs, instead demands “that current and former officials and personnel from a contributing state ... shall enjoy, except in the territory of the contributing state, immunity from arrest, detention and prosecution with respect to all acts arising out of such operations and that this immunity shall continue after termination of their participation for all such acts.”95 Everyone is on to the US, the only nation refusing to abide by an internationally accepted logical international law, law itself and the appropriate investigation of transgressions. Amnesty International remarked: “The US government is proposing wording which would sabotage the achievements of those who had fought so strongly to obtain justice for victims of human rights violations.“96
Everyone but the American public, it seems, is aware of US war crimes and the damning credibility of Massacre in Mazar. The Pentagon and US State Department, well aware of this uproar, were compelled within days of the film’s screening to issue statements denying allegations of war crimes. So the question remains: “If the US government is so concerned over the implications of what the documentary exposes, why has the US media chosen not to report on it?”97
The American media blackout of war crime allegations, war crime evidence, and even war images does not mean that this information is inaccessible. The on-the-spot images of war journalists that do get taken are indeed censored by the very networks and newspapers that send them — they are too incompatible with the American “context”, as Walter Isaacson and Rick Davis made clear in their memos, but these images often slip through the cracks. During the Battle of Jenin, CNN and AP reporters, while being shot at by the Israeli Defense Force, managed to “pass on” information and images to the New Media, while their employers lulled in complicity to the US Government. In the May 6 issue of The Nation, Edward Said explains that “[d]espite Israel’s effort to restrict coverage of its destructive invasion of the West Bank’s Palestinian towns and refugee camps, information and images have nevertheless seeped through. The internet has provided hundreds of verbal as well as pictorial eyewitness reports most of it unavailable or blocked or spun out of existence from the mainstream U.S. media.”98
All the bin Laden videos, allegedly censored in fear of secret codes, are abundantly available on the Internet; the network-rejected images and information can be accessed with ease, but maybe the terrorists don’t know this. They do; they have their own sites, where one can view their propaganda and form conclusions of one’s own. Where mass media fails, the New Media excels; censorship and restriction are virtually absent from the New Media. The Independent Media Center, or www.indymedia.org hosts a site of praised departure from “the docile and complicit media” of corporate networks.99 They recently opened a Jerusalem bureau where millions of people receive first hand reports from families and victims of the Israeli offensive. The radio program Democracy Now!, nationally syndicated, features Amy Goodman, who has teamed up with the International Solidarity Movement in challenging mainstream media. And of course our own site why-war.com features daily postings of diverse perspectives on the war, right-wing and left, a spectrum of vantage points — and constant postings of academic and non-academic position papers.
The proof of the rising effect of the New Media was perhaps most apparent in the Seattle Nov. 1999 and Washington, D.C. Apr. 2002 interventions. The voices present were diverse and the interventionists a multitude of largely surveyors of the New Media. In Washington, D.C. 70,000 — 100,000 marched in intervention, myself included, of the US Government’s “war on terrorism” and the IMF/World Bank Conference — and most had been organized through the medium of the expanding New Media.
New Media, the term itself, is ambiguous. Alex Lynch, of the University of South Florida newspaper The Shanachie, argues it might just be “Product Media”, a reaction to “mainstream media’s defense of status quo and security of the state”.100 This is, in one sense, precisely what is needed — a reaction to what Robert Fisk refers to as the “rhetorical fog” of war enveloping the White House and the mainstream press. Though certainly not objective — and one would be hard pressed to find an objective source — the New Media does not pretend to be; the priority, as Adbusters magazine and the Culture Jammers demand, is a plurality of perspective, airwaves and broadcast open to the public. Opposing views need to be heard. Lynch argues the next logical step of the New Media is a nationally circulated daily newspaper, producing a “balance of American opinion”.101
Press and state are here sown at the hip in union, incomplete but immensely significant. The point must be made that the press is not a direct branch or control of the US Government, but the soldiered silent, and perhaps even reluctant, accomplice. I have spoken mostly of the restriction and censorship of information, but now I turn to the second form of information control, the manipulation of the information itself, a practice of power often more effective than the suspicious withholding of information. In this realm of discursive control, language itself, tone, the most basic elements of the information are disturbed and controlled for an end other than truth.
The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) published the study “In U.S. Media, Palestinians Attack, Israel Retaliates”, an investigation of the language of “retaliation.” “From the start of the Intifada in September 2000 through March 17, 2002, the three major networks’ nightly shows used some variation of the word “retaliation” (retaliated, will retaliate, etc.) 150 times to describe attacks in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. About 79 percent of those references were to Israeli “retaliation” against Palestinians. Only 9 percent referred to Palestinian “retaliation” against Israelis. (Approximately 12 percent were ambiguous or referred to both sides simultaneously.)”102
ABC’s World News Tonight, the most fair of the three, uses “retaliation” in reference to Israeli actions 64 percent of the time, and 21 percent of the time refers to Palestinian actions as retaliation.
CBS Evening News uses “retaliation” in reference to Israeli actions 79 percent of the time, and in reference to Palestinian actions only 7 percent.
NBC Nightly News, astoundingly, not once referred to Palestinian actions as “retaliation”.
These brutal facts are intolerable. The significance is explained by FAIR: “Both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict routinely present their attacks as being retaliation for previous attacks or actions. Both sides portray their struggle as essentially defensive. Whether one regards these justifications as credible explanations or self-serving rhetoric, the fact is that reporters make choices about whether to report them. The network news shows have characterized Israeli violence as “retaliation” almost nine times more often than Palestinian violence.”103
“The disparity is meaningful. The term “retaliation” suggests a defensive stance undertaken in response to someone else’s aggression. It also lays responsibility for the cycle of violence at the doorstep of the party being “retaliated” against, since they presumably initiated the conflict.”104
Language control is, by necessity, a secret. Controlling, by internal directives, the word selection of a report is the most rudimentary method of controlling information. The Israel Broadcasting Authority has banned editorial departments from using the terms “settlers” or “settlements” on radio and TV.105 It is not clear if this order will be followed by editors to perfection, but the directive carries weight. The same issue, strangely, has arisen in the US, especially around “Gilo, an Israeli settlement that some pro-settler groups have used as a focal point for their campaigns to eliminate the term “settlements” in favor of neighborhoods.”106
In September 2001, CNN suddenly changed its policy on characterizing Gilo: “We refer to Gilo as ‘a Jewish neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, built on land occupied by Israel in 1967.’ We don’t refer to it as a settlement,”107 said a CNN headquarters order. There are obvious reasons why, politically, Israel and the US would prefer the term “neighborhood” to “settlement”; the former suggests impermanence and potential illegitimacy — it denotes and infinitely reminds us of 1967, the military conquest, colonization, terms and connotations not nearly as positive, legitimate, and permanent as the latter term, “neighborhood”. This particular language control effectively manipulates the public conception of Gilo as legal territory of a state.
It is not only CNN that has made this change. Ali Abunimah, the media critic, in a Jun. 20 letter to NPR, corrected their mistake of referring to Palestinian suicide bombings in Gilo and French Hill as attacks in Jerusalem. He explains that “while absolutely nothing can justify such attacks ... geographical accuracy in reporting remains supremely important.”108 It is not clear whether NPR’s error was the consequence of a directive from the top, or whether it was an honest mistake, but this error is frequent, and indicative of both a conscious and unconscious media favoring of Israel, for why is not the converse “error” frequent — say, mistaking Palestinian refugee camps for neighborhoods.
John Kifner of the New York Times, in his May 29 article on Palestinian attacks on Israelis, too, frequently refers to Gilo as a “Jerusalem neighborhood”. And when he does use the term “settlement”, as in his May 30 article, the tone and perspective regarding the legality issue are far from circumspect. He fails, in both, in properly contextualizing the issue of settlements in a framework of international law.109
This mixture of unconscious tendency and intentional bias is simply inappropriate, especially when, legally, Gilo is a settlement. U.N. Security Council Resolution 446 clearly states that Israeli settlements built on land occupied since 1967 “have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”110 Furthermore, the Fourth Geneva Convention states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”111 The U.N., ever since the 1979 Resolution 446, has repeatedly declared opposition to Israel’s failure to comply with International Law.
FAIR, in their report “Euphemisms for Israeli Settlements Confuse Coverage” states that “[f]or new outlets to report on Gilo simply as a Jerusalem neighborhood under attack, without explaining its legal status, is a gross distortion — especially since the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which has claimed so many thousands of lives, is at bottom about who should control the land. Settlements have been a central point of contention throughout.”112 This should strike one as odd that the U.S./Israeli position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is presupposed in the discourse allegedly objectively monitoring the events of the conflict and the motivations behind them.
Foucault articulated three relevant domains of any discourse, and though he does not elaborate on their overlap and distinction — the domains of validity, normativity, and actuality reflect decipherable distinctions in the discourse of the media. The first, validity, is formed “according to what criteria one may discuss the truth or falsehood of a proposition”; the second, normativity, is formed “according to what criteria one may exclude certain statements as being irrelevant to the discourse, or as inessential and marginal, or as non-scientific”; the third, actuality, is formed by “comprising acquired solutions, defining present problems, situating concepts and affirmations that have fallen into disuse.”113 The divisions of domains are general and cross in relations of dependence; normativity and actuality can only be achieved through the exclusion of statements and through the inclusion of others, which requires a criteria of both relevance and truth, and vice versa. The last example, for instance, of Israeli illegitimate territory, bears a concept (with a truth value determined by International Law) marked in the word “settlement” that is consciously falling into disuse, an act of exclusion which necessarily forms a domain of normativity in mass media discourse that did not previously exist in this instance. A concept and perspective are literally being eliminated from mainstream media texts and broadcasts and in turn from the consciousness of those who rely on the media for their perception of the world.
This is a classic example of the elimination of not only truth from a text, but the elimination of “plurality” from the media; the construction of a semantic “rule” where one did not previously exist limits the possibilities of discourse in articulating the meaning of an event. As a normative domain, mass media discourse has, and will continue to, exclude these very ideas, perspectives, critiques, and statements as either irrelevant, inessential, marginal, or even as self-evident foolery. This does not suggest at all that these statements are ignored, unrecognized, or even unknown to the power structures. In fact, a whole variety of multifaceted strategies anticipate, check, disempower, eliminate, and even subvert the subverters themselves.
The incorrigible fact that mass media has special political structures modifying, controlling, and, in multiple ways, wedding its discourse to its own — this fact, in conjunction with the essential condition of excluding statements (that deviate from, and oppose, the normative discourse) from its own discourse — suggests a certain distinction of mass media’s method of validation from the New Media’s; in short, the criteria by which mass media determines the truth or falsehood of a proposition is unique. To elaborate on this last point, I will analyze, particularly, the language of American mass media in response to the massacre in Mazar-i-Sharif, a moment in the Press of startling political defense, cover-up, and general quieting.
The Dec. 1, 2002, Guardian interviewed Amir Jan, the anti-Taliban commander who negotiated the Taliban surrender at Kunduz, who said: “The foreigners thought that after surrendering to the Northern Alliance they would be free. They didn’t think they would be put in jail.”114 The Afghan Taliban had already been set free and returned to their villages after the Nov. 23–24 surrender. Only the foreign-born Taliban were imprisoned, and were to be held at a Mazar-i-Sharif airport, but as Amir Jan explained, American “advisers” intervened and sent them to the Qala-i-Janghi fortress. General confusion spread through the prisoners; several POW’s blew themselves up, taking a couple Northern Alliance aides with them. Two hundred and fifty of them were tied up when two CIA agents arrived. “The prisoners suspected they were about to be shot,” Amir Jan said;115 a fight broke out, killing one of the agents. The other fled and called in military forces via satellite phone.
Over the next couple days US forces oversaw the extermination of every prisoner. Northern Alliance troops were instructed to pour diesel fuel into a basement where prisoners were hiding, and ignite it. An AP photographer saw the corpses of 50 Taliban with their hands bound laid out on a field in the fortress. The Times of London on Nov. 28 and the BBC on Nov. 29 both reported US special forces firing down in the compound, and marksmen efficiently killing the prisoners who possessed, according to the Times of London, only two anti-tank weapons, two grenade launchers, and 30 guns.
These are the events constructed from various cross-referenced sources, all from eye-witness reports and non-American media sources. American media, on the other hand, has subsumed these events and their significance with subtle twists of language, gross distortions of context, and general categorical errors; altogether different events are described. For instance, the Nov. 29 New York Times article by Carlotta Gall portrays the uprising as unprovoked. She described the event as “an uprising against their captors” by prisoners who had “plunged into a desperate battle to the death.”116 She continues in her ornate and garrulous language riddled with excessive verbs and superfluous adjectives, as if the news were a novel; when she at last departs from qualifying the exotic barbarism of “the other”, she formally understates the role of the US, only briefly noting the “American and British troops who assisted the Northern Alliance in their defense of the fort.” The uprising was, in fact, provoked by US intervention, their imprisonment and location were US directed, and the attack and bombardment were US led. Carlotta Gall suggests the prisoners were bent on mass suicide, an implication directly opposed by the fact that they had surrendered to their enemies to avoid such a futile battle.
Subtle misimplication, strategic under- and over-statement, tonal bias, and the general manipulation of events are just a few of the various forms of discursive misinforming. The Nov. 30 New York Times article by Serge Schmemann employs another form — an elusive and inconclusive summoning of an impregnable and formalized language of law. He writes of the events at the fortress: “It was not even clear whether the Geneva Convention applied ... the rules are different for international conflict — for which the Geneva Conventions were written and under which the United States would be directly responsible for the treatment of POW’s — and internal conflicts. The fighting in Afghanistan is the sort of internationalized civil war that has become increasingly common, but legally complex.”117
Schmemann surrenders the possibility of solution or conclusion to perpetually reiterating the question, where the default is surely giving the US the benefit of the doubt. He even alludes to the Geneva Conventions where, if the events at the fortress were subject to it, then and only then the US might be responsible. As this cannot be determined by so legally complex an issue, the US is innocent until proven guilty, a default position coincidentally imposing innocence on the US; strange too that within the obscurity of International Law the benefit of the doubt is given to the US rather than the prisoners — this selection of innocence alone requires the affirmation of some secret principle Schmemann does not reveal. A sharp point in the text opens what Foucault would term a field of concomitance, an opening by reference to whole other fields of objects and discourse — in this instance, a complex formal language of law the author will not breech, only invoke for legitimacy. The reader is provoked to agree though these legal complexities are not demonstrated, only mentioned, referenced.
In direct opposition to this faulty method of validation one can employ the obvious method of validation of breeching this field of concomitance, where, in fact, a response is readily found without much deciphering or wading through legal complexity. Article 3 of the Geneva Convention clearly states that in “the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions ... [proscribing] (a) violence to life and person, in particular, murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture ... (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”118 This is perfectly clear — not just to myself but also to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the agency authorized by the Convention to monitor the implementation of its provisions. On Nov. 23, the day before the surrender at Kunduz, Catherine Deman, the legal adviser to the legal division of the ICRC said, “Article three applies to anybody — the Northern Alliance, the Taliban, al Qaeda, anybody fighting in the territory.”119
These are merely a sample of forms of discursive manifestations of power structures — though the point must be made that these very power structures are not distinct from, nor the cause and/or effect of, discursive activity reflecting the structures of power. Through more forms, strategies, and methods than discussed here, mass media discourse and the politics of power they monitor are proportional to, and mutually dependent on, each other. The US Government would not be the dispersed and far-reaching structure of power it is without the Press to favor them, nor would the mass media Press be the dispersed and far-reaching monopoly of news and information that it is without the US Government to economically favor them. The history of such a profound and mutually beneficial relation, discursive and non-discursive, between the US Government and American mass media requires not only a more thorough investigation of their histories, but also investigations of the Economics that unite them, their various non-discursive incentives and manifold strings that one finds between them — and these strings no doubt lead not always directly to each other but perhaps meet halfway in corporate and financial structures.
We the public experience only the output of any given mass media institution; the input, on the other hand, the massive reserve of informational income, far exceeds the size and capacity of the output; a whole variety of divisions and systems within mass media institutions sift, select, and disperse a small amount of information, excluding more information than including.
Journalism wears a veil of objectivity and legitimacy, often impersonal and, like the nameless articles of the Associated Press, bears an initial tone of authority. All the workings of any news outlet are affected and modified by various extrinsic factors, which ought to be isolated and condemned.
Coercion and capitulation, voluntary and involuntary, characterize the mutual breeching of press and state, but such a developing relation, discursive and non-discursive, is much the conjunct and partner of a shift to a global informational society. The RAND report states: “Societies, the United States in particular, are undergoing a “loss of insulating space” as conditions and events in one place are quickly, demandingly, transmitted to other places. Political systems are becoming more permeable to destabilizing events, and people are more able to respond directly and immediately ... this raises the likelihood not of a vital community but of contagious mass reactions and mobilizations that may allow rulers to tighten their grip.”120 Though the RAND report is startlingly perceptive at moments, optimistic at others, and at times even humanitarian in utilizing information strategy — still, the appropriating of “the role of soft power in expressing ideas, values, norms, and ethics through all manner of media”121 is invasive, ubiquitous in the hands of a powerful government, and inevitably manipulative to further the ends of US foreign, and domestic, policy; this has been demonstrated.
Analytic frameworks must be determined to counter these discursive power plays; the reader must be active. Cross-reference sources, trust nothing at a glance — not even the above analyses. Perhaps my words too are deceptive nodes in a construct of some normative and exclusive narrative, so test them, verify them, modify them. I am a piece of media; respond, counter, open limitless arenas of discourse and debate. This is the only way for truth not to be a casualty. Such is the creed of the New Media, the creed of Why War, and it ought to be the creed of the future nationally circulated independent newspaper, when it comes.
American mass media, the networks especially, can no longer be wholly distinguished from the US Government; political accountability rests no longer on just the state when “Meet the Press” is now not unlike the heavyweight boxer issuing mantras to the locker-room mirror, flexing, testing the image of his power. If public demonstrations and interventions are geared towards intervening in government affairs by taking the streets, by seizing federal buildings, by disrupting economic forums, then so should interventions target the loci of mass media, the various buildings and centers of nationally syndicated rhetoric that, without rest, blind and deafen us with politically-motivated lies, intentional bias, and perversions of reality.