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Tragedy of a Complicit Media

by William Frey

Standing before a German cameraman in Biloxi, Miss., Christine Adelhardt, spoke to her countrymen:

"Two minutes ago, the president drove past in his convoy. But what has happened in Biloxi all day long is truly unbelievable. Suddenly recovery units appeared, suddenly bulldozers were there, those hadn't been seen here all the days before, and this in an area, in which it really wouldn't be necessary to do a big clean-up, because far and wide nobody lives here anymore, the people are more inland in the city. The president travels with a press baggage [big crew]. This press baggage got very beautiful pictures, which are supposed to say that the president was here and help is on the way, too. The extent of the natural disaster shocked me, but the extent of the staging is shocking me at least the same way. With that, back to Hamburg."

But this German report contrasts sharply with press coverage in America, where a complicit media routinely assesses such image manipulation to be less than newsworthy. It is, as Yogi Berra would say, "déjà vu all over again."

Flashback to April 9, 2003: Saddam's statue topples in Fardus Square, Baghdad. Hours of American television time are devoted to showing purportedly spontaneous celebrations by masses of jubilant and enthusiastic Iraqis. Donald Rumsfeld pronounces the scene "breathtaking." The press agrees. CNN labels a highly cropped photograph, "Crowds cheer as statue of Saddam Hussein falls."

What is not shown by mainstream media is the uncropped photograph of Fardus Square, which reveals the notably dissimilar scene of a stage-managed media event. It remains for alternative media both to release the photo and to report that the staged event features, instead of indigenous Baghdad residents (as the mainstream media reports), members of Ahmed Chalabi's Free Iraqi Forces Militia who have been flown into Iraq by the Pentagon. (Chalabi was the scandal-plagued London banker favored by Washington to head the new Iraqi government until he was discredited as both a major source of false WMD "intelligence" and a spy for Iran.)

Day in and day out, as in both of these staged photo-ops, members of the allegedly liberal media establishment in America dutifully dispense manipulated and misleading images to a believing public. At Fardus Square, this occurred despite the fact that most American journalists were staying in the Palestine Hotel, directly across the square from Saddam's statue, with a clear view of the proceedings. If the average American is to see these exploited events for what they are, he must rely on information sources other than the mainstream American media.

Notwithstanding incessant protestations of "liberal media bias" by Bush supporters, the American media has been an indispensable ally in disseminating the administration's public relations narrative. The reality of the (much maligned) New York Times and Washington Post faithfully propagating administration prewar claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and the detested "liberal media" dutifully beating the drums of war and mocking valiant congressional efforts to expose the "fixing" of prewar "intelligence" have yet to register with the Bush faithful.

The remarkable aspect of the misleading photo-ops described above is not, in fact, the administration's duplicity. Rather, it is the casual, business-as-usual state of acquiescence and indisputable collaboration with the powers that be to which the "liberal media" has descended. It is no coincidence that we only know of the events in Biloxi because of the serendipitous presence of an incredulous German TV crew.

Of what consequence is such an unquestioning and complicit American media?

One could, of course, complain of the diversion of scarce resources to public relations purposes during a time of crisis, but the damage to our republic is much more fundamental than the inefficient utilization of a few bulldozers in Mississippi.

Media complicity is a necessary daily component of the Karl Rove/Frank Luntz spin machine. This most effective of modern political hegemonies does not control the framing of public discourse only through the efforts of unabashed administration partisans in talk radio, Fox News, and the endless stream of commentators and wannabe empire-builders hatched at incestuous neoconservative think tanks.

Control of the framing of the issues of public discourse is only possible if aided by the silence and the active complicity of an intimidated and fearful media. In Iraq, misrepresentation by the media of the staged celebrations at the toppling of Saddam's statue reinforced the unrealistic prewar "they'll welcome us with flowers" mindset. This in turn reinforced a misinformed American bullishness that was oblivious to the extent of Iraqi ambivalence about a foreign military presence. Unquestionably, most Iraqis were delighted to be rid of Saddam. But this gratitude was, in fact, tempered by the fear that America coveted her resources, desired a controlling presence in the Middle East, and that American forces would be in Iraq permanently.

With America thus disconnected from Iraqi sentiments, the opportunity for the Bush administration to allay Iraqi fears was squandered in subsequent months. By not moving quickly to transfer power to Iraqis, and by not disclaiming the intent for a permanent military presence in Iraq, administration actions unfortunately confirmed rather than calmed Iraqi fears.

Iraqi public opinion polls give clear confirmation of this squandered opportunity. Gallup reports that while 43 percent of Iraqis said they had viewed Americans as "liberators" at the time of the invasion, one year later this number had declined to 19 percent. Polls commissioned by the U.S.-backed Coalition Provisional Authority were even more grim: by May 2004, only 2 percent of Iraqis identified Americans as "liberators." Forty-one percent favored immediate withdrawal, 45 percent wanted withdrawal after the election of a permanent government, and 6 percent favored our staying as long as coalition forces thought necessary for stability.

Despite the president's repeated promises of "no occupation," "no territorial ambitions," "no desire to dominate," statements that "the occupation will end," and beguiling talk of "bringing home our troops," the undeniable reality of the unabated construction of untold millions of dollars worth of permanent bases is the proverbial "elephant in the living room."

With the overwhelming majority of both Sunnis and Shi'ites opposed to a permanent American military presence, and with the fear of an unending occupation fueling an intractable insurgency, W. Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute – and the top Iraq expert there – summarizes our plight:

"I don't think that you can kill the insurgency. … We have a growing, maturing insurgency group. … We see larger and more coordinated military attacks. They are getting better and they can self-regenerate. The idea there are x number of insurgents, and that when they're all dead we can get out is wrong. The insurgency has shown an ability to regenerate itself because there are people willing to fill the ranks of those who are killed. The political culture is more hostile to the U.S. presence. The longer we stay, the more they are confirmed in that view."

In the face of the dissonance between the president's "no occupation" rhetoric and the reality of continued construction of permanent bases, burdened with an intractable insurgency with no discernible end, we must progress with the additional encumbrance of an intimidated and compliant press that will not challenge these presidential contradictions.

A press that collaborates in routine image manipulation and disingenuous photo-ops is not a press that will demand answers to grave discrepancies between rhetoric and actions.

Our second president, John Adams, warned,

"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people."

And our fourth, James Madison, advised,

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

An American public detached from reality is not a public that will compel a necessary correction of our national course.

And an American public detached from reality is the most damaging consequence of our servile and complicit media.


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move to Germany?

that doctors take, only its the similar one for journalists. Does anyone know what the journalists' oath supposedly is?

Keep writing to the media to complain, there was a mention of the members of the press who were prosecuted at Nurenburg on the World Tribunal on Iraq that met last summer and they have a website. Bill Moyers is involved in a group to bring truth back to the media.

Leave paragraphs and URLs on "neutral" AOL or Yahoo Messageboards for the people who are beginning to distrust the media and even conservatives, esp. Christians are livid at witnessing Bush's genocide in NOLA and are looking for the truth. That's how I found the alternate media. Don't have to spend long just post 2 or 3 messages a day with URLs to After Downing Street, Daily Kos, and Democratic Underground with a few paragraphs.

Write a few paragraphs from this story with URL to ADS and the German newspaper that published this expose of bush's complete inhumanity.

Be the media, leave printed out TRUTH articles and flyers in you grocery basket when finished shopping, in restrooms, in malls on benches, anywhere.
Bush had some nerve to show up in New Orleans after all the living had finally been evacuated.

I wonder how many times he had to practice that confident stroll across the lawn in Jackson Square with the cathedral lighted for his debut. I wonder if the smell of all the dead who were left there made the bastard feel guilt for not showing up at their time of need. Probably not, he thought himself too "good" to set foot on the ground when the astrodome was filled with hungry, thirsty people and others were dying inside water filled attics.

Like his mother, he sees "these people" as beneath him and he looks down on them even when he is not in his airplane flying over their disaster. He had such a lack of compassion that he relied on other people to write his words for him and a teleprompter to roll words he mouthed that night in a dead city.

Finally the dirty, black, "little" people had been removed or had died, and it was now safe for Bush to walk the grounds. There would be no plea of help from those floating in the merky rancid waters, no harsh criticism in a city of the dead.

What a fine scene for a coward too pompous to face the situation when he was needed. Had it not been for microphones and televisions, no human soul would have known he existed that night in New Orleans. He spoke words written by someone else, like he was still reading the goat book in Sarasota, with no thought of the reality.

My compliments to the lighting crew, the grips who assisted, and most
of all the producers of this piece of fiction. They did a fine job of making something ugly appear to be quite beautiful.

This post hits the nail on the head about the Bush family pomposity. Mom's utterance that the evacuees in the Astrodome had it better in Texas because they were "under privileged anyway" should be enough for any American's blood to boil.

Well Babs, I got one for you. You, your husband, your son, the dictator of this nation, and your entire family are OVER PRIVILEGED!

Your are disgusting, over bearing, lying hypocrites! You and your son's photo ops are all such staged PR. Windowdressing to entice the shrinking gullible support base for the dictator into believing the dictator is doing something.

One more word: IMPEACH

We say: If there was ever a time for investigative reporting, it is now!

Here's what you can do to help:

Sign the MediaChannel petition to Keep the Light on Injustice and help us bring this message to every news outlet in America.

Write and call your local media outlets and prominent journalists. Tell them about this campaign and demand to know whether they will pursue these issues or return to focusing on cheery features about babies born during the disaster and good Samaritans.

Invite political leaders to join this call for continued media responsibility.In a time when moral atrophy and complicity in injustice constitute political business as usual, we need a caring and aggressive press. We need the press to press the government to act. We need to press the press and move the media. We need to
Keep the Light on Injustice.


Dear MediaChannel reader and Media for Democracy member:

MediaChannel was happy to find one silver lining to Hurricane Katrina, and that was the performance of some prominent journalists and TV anchors. After years of bowing to power, members of the mainstream news media seemed to return to their roots with "born again" fervor ? challenging government ineptitude, reporting on warnings that went unheeded, and even expressing outrage over the situation.

It's about time!

We who have been so disillusioned by the recent decline of the mainstream media were heartened to see how some news outlets dissected government spin and exposed the depths of the poverty and despair in New Orleans. We were pleased to watch and read reporting on race and class issues that had all but disappeared from contemporary journalism.

However, with tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes, and the threat of a toxic nightmare blanketing the region, this crisis is far from over. Rescue workers are still counting the bodies as new storms threaten. We must encourage media outlets to stay on the case and keep probing. This is not a one-day or one-week story; it is an ongoing situation, and it is the follow-up that counts.


We're happy to give credit where it's due, and MediaChannel's new campaign acknowledges that the light of media responsibility has been switched on again. And we applaud that. But we need to make sure that light stays on and gets brighter. And we need your help to do it. Join us as we press journalists and news outlets to continue to:

the delivery of relief efforts and funds, and tell us if they are getting to the people most in need. How well are agencies like the Red Cross and the military performing? How much of the money and goods donated are actually reaching the victims?

the process for reconstruction and renewal. The people who are most affected must be included in the planning efforts. Citizen journalism must be encouraged to help prevent more injustice.

whether the real victims will be compensated for their loss and pain and suffering.

whether the foreign aid coming into America is being well-spent. Which organizations, countries and agencies are being turned away and why? Who is profiting from this disaster? Let's find out now not in five years.

who should be held accountable. It is time to clean house of all the officials and bureaucrats guilty of criminal neglect and complicity in this shameful performance. President Bush has announced that he will lead an investigation into what went wrong. There are already too many foxes guarding the chicken coops. We need a hard-hitting and sustained independent media investigation, not another cover-up, not
another exercise in blame, not more spin. Blue-ribbon panels make for nice political photo-ops, but they are not trustworthy. Americans want the media to stand up for us and tell us the truth. We need more digging and vigilance.

We say: If there was ever a time for investigative reporting, it is now!

What You Can Do:

If you agree, please sign this call for media responsibility and help us bring this message to every media outlet in America.In a time when moral atrophy and complicity in injustice constitute political business s usual, we need a caring and aggressive press. We need the press to press the government to act. We need to press the press and move the media. We need to Keep the Light on Injustice.

Also consider doing the following:

Write and call media outlets and prominent journalists. Tell them about this campaign and ask them to tell you whether they will pursue these issues or melt away into focusing on cheery upbeat features. Invite political leaders to join this call for continued media responsibility

We need to explore the possibility of charging media executives who aid this right-wing coup with treason. Convictions aren't necessary; just the fact that an organization is exploring the possibility will have a deterrent effect on these propaganda sources.

As a first step, publicly collect the names of media executives who knowingly disseminate lies and propaganda from the administration and right-wing think tanks. Collect testimony about specific actions done from eyewitnesses. Even if this is as far as it goes, it will have a chilling effect on these executives, who up until now, thought themselves immune from any consequences from their lies.

The damage they are doing is real, and is destroying our democracy. Often in life, as in chess, the threat is far stronger that its execution. A simple project like this (call it the Media Treason Project) may have a dramatic effect on the propaganda uncontrollably spewing from our corporate media.

To try to blame the Public's detachment from reality on the media is not fair or entirely accurate. The media has never been completely trustworthy and as usual, willingly supports massive government deception and lies. People in this country have been hearing what they want to hear, and this is why so many went along with all of this Bush/Cheney BS. Its only now that they are beginning to feel the pain of what it all means, that we see signs of life among the formerly "detached from reality" public. We have never been compelled to rely on the mainstream media as our only news source. The alternative and internet media is a far better news source, if one really wants to know the truth! The problem with most Americans is that they have become too comfortable with lies and BS due to their preference for denial over reality. Difficult truths abound today, but the Public would rather hear something that makes them feel good as opposed to the ugly truths!

The public will want to stop wars a whole lot sooner that way.

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