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By Erin Niemela
U.S.-led coalition airstrikes targeting the Islamic State (ISIL) have opened the floodgates of war journalism reporting by corporate mainstream media – to the detriment of American democracy and peace. This has been recently evident in a traditionally democratic tool used by American press: public opinion polls. These war polls, as they should be called during wartime, are an affront to both respectable journalism and an informed civil society. They’re byproducts of rally-round-the-flag war journalism and without constant scrutiny, war polls results make public opinion look a lot more pro-war than it actually is.
Public polling is meant to signify and reinforce the role of media in a democracy as reflecting or representing mass opinion. Corporate mainstream media are considered credible in providing this reflection based on assumptions of objectivity and balance, and politicians have been known to consider polls in their policy decisions. In some cases, polls may be useful in engaging the feedback loop between political elites, media and the public.
The trouble comes when public polling meets war journalism; internal newsroom goals of fairness and balance may transform temporarily into advocacy and persuasion – intentional or not – in favor of war and violence.
War journalism, first identified in the 1970s by peace and conflict scholar Johan Galtung, is characterized by several core components, all of which tend to privilege elite voices and interests. But one of its hallmarks is a pro-violence bias. War journalism presupposes that violence is the only reasonable conflict management option. Engagement is necessary, violence is engagement, anything else is inaction and, for the most part, inaction is wrong.
Peace journalism, in contrast, takes a pro-peace approach, and assumes that there are an infinite number of nonviolent conflict management options. The standard definition of peace journalismis “when editors and reporters make choices – about what to report, and how to report it – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value non-violent responses to conflict.” Journalists taking a pro-violence stance also make choices about what to report and how to report it, but instead of emphasizing (or even including) nonviolent options, they often move straight to “last resort” treatment recommendations and stay put until told otherwise. Like a guard dog.
Public opinion war polls reflect war journalism’s pro-violence bias in the way questions are worded and the number and type of options provided as answers. "Do you support or oppose U.S. air strikes against the Sunni insurgents in Iraq?" "Do you support or oppose expanding U.S. air strikes against the Sunni insurgents into Syria?" Both questions come from a Washington Post war poll in early September 2014in response to President Obama’s strategy to defeat ISIL. The first question showed 71 percent in support. The second showed 65 percent in support.
The use of “Sunni insurgents” should be discussed another time, but one problem with these either/or war poll questions is that they assume that violence and inaction are the only available options – airstrikes or nothing, support or oppose. No question in the Washington Post’s war poll asked if Americans might support pressuring Saudi Arabia to stop arming and funding ISILor halting our own arms transfers into the Middle East. And yet, these nonviolent options, among many, many others, do exist.
Another example is the widely cited Wall Street Journal/NBC News war poll from mid-September 2014 in which 60 percent of participants agreed that military action against ISIL is in the national interest of the US. But that war poll failed to ask whether Americans agreed that peacebuilding action in response to ISIL is in our national interest.
Since war journalism already assumes there’s only one kind of action – military action – the WSJ/NBC war poll options narrowed: Should military action be limited to airstrikes or include combat? Violent option A or violent option B? If you’re unsure or unwilling to choose, war journalism says you simply “have no opinion.”
War poll results are published, circulated and repeated as fact until the other 30-35 percent, those of us unwilling to choose between violent options A and B or informed about alternative, empirically supported peace building options, have been pushed aside. “Americans want bombs and boots, see, and majority rules,” they’ll say. But, war polls don’t really reflect or measure public opinion. They encourage and cement opinion in favor of one thing: war.
Peace journalism recognizes and spotlights the many nonviolent options often neglected by war journalists and political hawks. A peace journalism “peace poll” would give citizens the opportunity to question and contextualize the use of violence in response to conflict and consider and value nonviolent options by asking questions like, “how concerned are you that bombing parts of Syria and Iraq will promote cohesion among anti-Western terrorist groups?” Or, “do you support the U.S. following international law in its response to the Islamic State’s actions?” Or maybe, “How strongly would you support a multilateral arms embargo in the region where the Islamic State operates?” When will a poll ask, “Do you believe military attacks will tend to aid recruitment of new terrorists?” What would these poll results look like?
The credibility of journalists, political elites and unelected opinion leaders should be called into question with any use of war polling or war poll results where the efficacy or morality of violence is assumed. Opponents of violence should not humor the use of war poll results in debate and should actively ask for the results of polls about peacebuilding alternatives, instead. If the one structure meant to keep us informed as a democratic society ignores or silences the vast majority of possible response options beyond violence, we cannot make truly informed decisions as democratic citizens. We need more peace journalism – journalists, editors, commentators and certainly polls – to offer more than violence A and B. If we’re going to make good decisions about conflict, we need nonviolence A through Z.
Erin Niemela is a Master’s Candidate in the Conflict Resolution program at Portland State University and Editor for PeaceVoice.
Wall Street is fertile ground for a movement: Liberals and Liberation on a Weekend of Climate Action in New York
By Dave Lindorff
By Michael Caddell
North Jefferson County, Kansas -- The Sept. 6, 2014 Kansas State Fair debates in Hutchinson, with a maximum arena crowd of 2500, had satellite trucks linked to MSNBC, CNN and reporters from as far away as New York. Certainly proof something was happening in Kansas, but for too many in the state that “something” remains unknown.
If members of the U.S. public were ever to wonder what the other 95% of humanity thinks about them, would it be better to break that harsh truth to them gently or just to blurt it out?
I'm going to go with the latter.
Here's Frankie Boyle explaining the advantages of Scottish independence: "Scotland would no longer have to invade places like Afghanistan for American interests. . . . I don't support America's wars. I don't even think they are wars. They're one-way traffic, mass-murder. There's never been a time when a shepherd has beaten a helicopter. You never switch on the news to see 'A shock result in Afghanistan today when a missile was destroyed by a wedding.' Because not only will America go into your country and kill all your people. But what's worse I think is they'll come back twenty years later and make a movie about how killing your people made their soldiers feel sad. Oh boo hoo hoo. Americans making a movie about what Vietnam did to the soldiers is like a serial killer telling you what stopping suddenly for hitchhikers did to his clutch."
If you don't think people find such remarks acceptable, listen to this laughter:
Living in the United States we've been trained to appreciate the fact that the wars do in fact make the soldiers feel sad. In fact they significantly increase rates of depression and violence and suicide. We tell each other not to blame the soldiers, rather to blame the top politicians. But then we don't really do that, do we? Bush is off painting himself in the bathtub and otherwise doing his imitation of the original King George III during his blue urine period. Obama is cheered by his fans because his wars make him sad and he declares them with such heartfelt reluctance. But from the point of view of people who are told about non-American deaths in their newspapers and on their televisions and radios (that is, from the point of view of 95% of humanity) U.S. wars are mass-slaughter of innocents. Ninety percent of the deaths are on one side. Ninety percent of those deaths are civilians by every definition. When the U.S. says it's going to launch another war because it opposes genocide, the rest of the world responds "We what the f%^$^! do you call your wars?"
Think the rest of the world is crazy? Think it's just bad jokes that miss the serious complicated facts of the matter. Watch how an intelligent Englishman watches an Obama speech:
Or you can watch how an American views Lindsey Graham's speeches:
Or how an American comedian views U.S. foreign policy:
When an American gets honest about U.S. warmongering it has to be a joke. It has to sneak in. We don't want to hear it. But we shouldn't keep imagining the rest of the world doesn't know what's going on.
To the extent that the U.S. public is newly, and probably momentarily, accepting of war -- an extent that is wildly exaggerated, but still real -- it is because of videos of beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
When 9-11 victims were used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9-11, some of the victims' relatives pushed back.
Now James Foley is pushing back from the grave.
Here is video of Foley talking about the lies that are needed to launch wars, including the manipulation of people into thinking of foreigners as less than human. Foley's killers may have thought of him as less than human. He may not have viewed them the same way.
The video shows Foley in Chicago helping Haskell Wexler with his film Four Days in Chicago -- a film about the last NATO protest before the recent one in Wales. I was there in Chicago for the march and rally against NATO and war. And I've met Wexler who has tried unsuccessfully to find funding for a film version of my book War Is A Lie.
Watch Foley in the video discussing the limitations of embedded reporting, the power of veteran resistance, veterans he met at Occupy, the absence of a good justification for the wars, the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage -- watch all of that and then try to imagine James Foley cheering like a weapons-maker or a Congress member for President Obama's announcement of more war. Try to imagine Foley accepting the use of his killing as propaganda for more fighting.
You can't do it. He's not an ad for war any more than the WMDs were a justification for war. His absence as a war justification has been exposed even faster than the absence of the WMDs was.
While ISIS may have purchased Sotloff, if not Foley, from another group, when Foley's mother sought to ransom him, the U.S. government repeatedly threatened her with prosecution. So, instead of Foley's mother paying a relatively small amount and possibly saving her son, ISIS goes on getting its funding from oil sales and supporters in the Gulf and free weapons from, among elsewhere, the United States and its allies. And we're going to collectively spend millions, probably billions, and likely trillions of dollars furthering the cycle of violence that Foley risked his life to expose.
The Coalition of the Willing is already crumbling. What if people in the United States were to watch the video of Foley when he was alive and speaking and laughing, not the one when he was a prop in a piece of propaganda almost certainly aimed at provoking the violence that Obama has just obligingly announced?
Foley said he believed his responsibility was to the truth. It didn't set him free. Is it perhaps not too late for the rest of us?
By John Grant
To do nothing is to send a message to the wrongdoer, and the general public, that the victim has no self-worth and will not marshal the internal resources necessary to reclaim his or her honor. Shattered dignity is not beyond repair, but no elevating and equalizing of dignity can occur without the personal satisfaction of revenge.
-Thane Rosenbaum, Payback: The Case For Revenge
By Norman Solomon
The editorial board of the New York Times has an Orwellian knack for war. Sixteen months ago, when President Obama gave oratorical lip service to ending “perpetual war,” the newspaper quickly touted that end as a democratic necessity. But now -- in response to Obama’s speech Wednesday night announcing escalation of war without plausible end -- the Times editorial voice is with the endless war program.
Under the headline “The End of the Perpetual War,” published on May 23, 2013, the Times was vehement, calling a new Obama speech “the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks, a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America.” The editorial added: “For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future.”
The Times editorial board was sweeping in its conclusion: “Mr. Obama told the world that the United States must return to a state in which counterterrorism is handled, as it always was before 2001, primarily by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies. That shift is essential to preserving the democratic system and rule of law for which the United States is fighting, and for repairing its badly damaged global image.”
But the “essential” shift is now dispensable and forgettable, judging from the New York Times editorial that appeared hours after Obama’s pivotal speech Wednesday night. The newspaper’s editorial board has ditched the concept that the state of perpetual war is unsustainable for democracy.
Under the headline “The Attack on ISIS Expands to Syria,” the Times editorial offers only equivocal misgivings without opposition “as President Obama moves the nation back onto a war footing.” Without a fine point on the matter, we are to understand that war must be perpetuated without any foreseeable end.
The concluding paragraph of the New York Times editorial in the Sept. 11, 2014 edition is already historic and tragic. It sums up a liberal style of murmuring reservations while deferring to the essence of U.S. policies for perpetual war: “The American military’s actions in the Middle East has (sic) often fueled Arab anger, even when the United States was spending billions of dollars on beneficial programs, including health and education. Mr. Obama expressed confidence that the plan against ISIS will work and, at the moment, seems aware of the risks he takes.”
Like the vast bulk of the rest of U.S. mass media, when push comes to militaristic shove, the New York Times refuses to make a break from the madness of perpetual war. In fact, with rare exceptions, the dominant media outlets end up fueling that madness. A strong challenge to it will have to come from elsewhere. From us.
Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.
Making the news fit the politics: NY Times Finds Conclusions Where None Exist in Dutch Flight 17 Downing Report
By Dave Lindorff
The New York Times, which has been misreporting on, and misleading its readers about the downing of Malaysian Flight 17 since the plane was downed last July 17, continues its sorry track record of flogging anti-Russian sentiment in the US and of supporting the post-putsch Ukrainian government in Kiev.
By Dave Lindorff
The separatist rebels of eastern Ukraine and the government in Kiev that controls the Ukrainian army have reached a cease-fire in place that leaves the separatists largely in control of the Russian-majority regions of the eastern part of that country.
By John Grant
I just thank God I’m out of this place.
- Henry Lee McCollum
First there was Ferguson, Missouri and the gunning down of an unarmed black youth and the ad-nauseum follow-up emphasizing over-and-over the shooting officer’s fear. Now it’s the release of two half brothers in North Carolina clearly railroaded into convictions and death sentences by a notoriously remorseless, good-'ol-boy district attorney.
By Alfredo Lopez
One sensationally reported incident this week exposes a dual threat: your data isn't safe on a corporate-controlled "cloud" and spying software made for police and government agencies makes it completely accessible.
By Dave Lindorff
Flash! The US has re-invaded Iraq!
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
By Alfredo Lopez
Are you a Time-Warner Internet customer? Have you ever experienced an outage? Have you called the company for a reimbursement? Most people would probably answer "no" to that last question. In fact, most company customers don't realize that these companies aren't required to reimburse and, in Time Warner's case, they usually don't. You have to call them.
Maybe it's time to make this sensitive movement for Time Warner a bit more sensitive.
By Dave Lindorff
The US corporate media are awash in fevered articles and news stories about a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine, as though it was 1938, with German troops marching into Sedetenland and Austria. But let’s step back and look at what’s going on, calmly and rationally.
By John Grant
Back in June 2011, James Foley gave an hour-long interview to an auditorium of students from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he had graduated three years earlier with a Master’s degree in journalism. It was 15 days after he had been released from 45 rough days of captivity in Libya. He was a handsome young hero returning to his alma-mater.
A BBC audio podcast from the show "Four Thought" (go here and click on the date "13 8 14") includes a talk by Italian journalist Mara Oliva. She grew up in the same Italy infatuated with the U.S. that I lived in as an exchange student -- an Italy that has largely fallen out of love with the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.
Oliva makes a case that the U.S. public is not nearly as pro-war as its government.
As early as 1954 the U.S. public opposed a U.S. war in Vietnam, and favored diplomacy with China, according to polls commissioned by President Eisenhower. Nixon finally went to China decades after the public had begun favoring that move.
In January 2003, two-thirds of the U.S. public wanted U.N. inspections to be allowed to continue in Iraq. In February 2003, a majority still wanted to see more evidence and wanted U.N. inspections to continue.
In September 2013, 80% in the U.S. were against attacking Syria. (Let's hope that holds now that Obomber wants to attack the other side in that war.)
So, it remains possible to be fond of the United States if one looks away from what we allow our government to do and focuses instead on what we tell pollsters we'd like.
But our expressing good opinions and then sitting on our hands is perhaps not the height of good world citizenship.
By John Grant
There was a moment during MSNBC's live coverage of Ferguson, Missouri, Monday night through 2AM Tuesday morning when Chris Hayes and one of his guests conceded the police (now augmented by National Guard troops said to be guarding a police command center) begrudgingly deserved a good grade because -- unlike riots in Newark and Los Angeles -- no one had been killed. This was after cops had "barked" at Hayes and threatened him with macing if he and his camera crew dared again venture "in front of" the police.
By John Grant
On Monday, I decided to spend my evenings flipping back-and-forth between Fox News and MSNBC as the two cable channels dealt with the dueling stories of the United States tiptoeing into a third war in Iraq and the sudden appearance of what appeared to be a police state in a little town outside St Louis. From Monday to Friday, the Ferguson, Missouri story has gone from that of a bizarre and dangerous war zone to one of a relief-filled carnival in the streets.
By Robert J. Gould
During the Vietnam War, my mother, an otherwise sweet and compassionate person, said “they” (Vietnamese) don’t value human life like we do, suggesting that I be more comfortable killing them. I never was comfortable with the idea of killing them, and so I didn’t.
However, I still hear some people say that an “enemy” doesn’t value human life like we do. Over the years, the enemy changes, but the refrain is the same: some people on "our" side believe that enemies think life is cheap and therefore expendable, to be easily sacrificed. These same people in our society believe that we, and probably our allies, think life is sacred, and only sacrificed in freely chosen heroic acts.
Whenever mass violence and war breaks out, the mainstream media decides (most often with the help of government spokespeople) who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, who is the enemy and who are the allies. Once this occurs, and media footage and commentary follow the script, it is surprising how many members of the public become comfortable with the killing of “enemy” people, especially when they are of another race, nationality, or religion.
Suddenly the term “enemy” expands to the whole population of people (civilians, children, the elderly) and they collectively become evil, treacherous, and targetable. We can justify our hard-heartedness towards this enemy by saying they do not value human life like we do.
We look at what the enemy has done to us, or our allies, and ignore what we, or our allies, have done to them. Through the entire news cycle, the mainstream media, selected public officials, and commentators continually feed this mismatch of perceptions. The psychological term for perceiving the enemy to be inhuman is called “enmification.” Perversely, then, life becomes cheap for us, as long as it's lives of the enemy. Falsely seeing the enemy as evil, and then doing evil to them, is deeply ironic and doubly unethical.
This enemy-making process reminds me of figuring out which team to cheer for, and which team to hate. We can come up with the flimsiest of reasons to support our choice. I cheer for Green Bay and disfavor that team from Texas for no good reason. But I don’t want any players of the Texas team to be killed, certainly not at the hands of the Green Bay players. It’s just a game, a bit of friendly competition.
But in so many ways (sports, justice, neighbors, celebrities, to name a few categories), we judge who is better, and who is lesser. I call this our tendency to take the judgmental view—very popular now in the world of quick-take, Internet opinions.
What would the world look like if we took a compassionate view? It would look like the world that my international students in conflict resolution tell me about, a world where every culture has a spectrum of good, caring people who just want to live their lives in peace, and extremes of people who have been driven to use violence out of fear or the evils of oppression.
Across the globe, we all similarly value life, but security fears, and campaigns for self-rule, often drive people to violence. They resort to violence because they have yet to learn the power and effectiveness of nonviolence, which has now been thoroughly studied to show how it has become much more effective than violence in creating security and democracy. Excusing violence against people by claiming that they don't value life is one of the greatest ethical oxymorons of our time. This practice should be abandoned forever.
Robert J. Gould, Ph.D., an ethicist syndicated by PeaceVoice, directs the Conflict Resolution Graduate and Undergraduate Programs at Portland State University.
By John Grant
All we are saying is give peace a chance
By Alfredo Lopez
The recent news that Russian hackers have the usernames and passwords for over a billion users as well as a half billion email accounts wraps up a week of Internet craziness.
By John Grant
At a birthday dinner with friends last night, the Israeli assault on Gaza came up. One friend said having to helplessly watch the violence infuriated him and made him ill. Another said it made him want to cry.
John Oliver is what I always wished Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert would be. In fact, he's what I always wished Ted Koppel or Jim Lehrer would be.
With so many people getting their news from comedians, the distinction between fake news and real news doesn't seem very useful. There's news that pushes corporate propaganda with a straight face and endless respect for those in power. And there's news that cracks jokes and mocks and ridicules those most deserving of scorn.
But most comedy news up until now, as far as I have seen, has mocked everyone from the powerful and corrupt to the sincere and righteous. Jon Stewart has had his brilliant moments, but -- even setting aside his weak, fawning interviews -- his attitude is one of mockery for all and contempt for any serious engagement with the world. He held a rally for people too smart to attend any other rallies -- and too dumb to realize they were volunteer participants in an advertisement.
Solemn news and humorous news thus far have both tended to be reactions to events. Both have told us what a horrible bill was passed by Congress yesterday, never what we might want to actively demand or resist with an eye on tomorrow. Both have been disempowering. Both have told us to stay home. And both have focused on the agenda of the status quo, as the serious news covers the day's disasters, and the funny news covers how absurdly the serious news covered the day's disasters. Neither has contributed much historical perspective or background; neither has been especially educational.
Now, watch John Oliver on nukes:
If you knew and were outraged by what he said, you're probably thrilled that he's said it. If you didn't know, you're importantly better informed. Here's news that's intended for a government of, by, and for the people, encouraging people to get active around an issue of the greatest importance and about which most people have lost interest.
Watch John Oliver on prisons: (Yes, there's singing.)
Watch John Oliver on income inequality:
Watch John Oliver on net neutrality:
Watch John Oliver on climate change:
That is five more times than I have ever before told anyone to watch television. Don't overdo it.
Kerry, Kerry pants on fire!: If You Believed the Secretary of State’s Poison Gas Lie, You’ll Love His Latest One
By Dave Lindorff
If the best the US can do to pin the blame for the Malaysia Flight 17 downing on Russia is to have Secretary of State John Kerry say that “circumstantial evidence” points to Moscow being behind it, we can be pretty certain it was not Russia at all.
‘Strident’ reporting at the Times: Already Abused by Cop, DA and Court, Occupy Protester Now Trashed by NY’s Leading Paper
By Dave Lindorff
When a journalist in a news article refers to a woman as “strident,” you know what you’re reading is a hit piece, not a dispassionate report, and that’s what the New York Times offered up to readers in today’s piece about a court appearance yesterday by Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan.
What’s a little espionage among friends?: Station Chief Ousted as CIA Spies Found in German Parliament and Spy Agency
By Dave Lindorff
Munich -- You have to wonder how much more the German public will take of the country’s ongoing humiliation by the United States and its extensive program of secretly spying on what nominally is one of America’s most reliable allies.
On KPFA's 'Project Censored' program: Discussing Homeland Security's Labeling of ThisCantBeHappening! as a 'Threat'
By Dave Lindorff
Dave Lindorff is interviewed by Mickey Huff and Peter Phillips of Project Censored on their June 27 program on San Francisco public radio station KPFA. Lindorff tells Huff and Phillips about how TCBH! learned, from a Department of Homeland Security document obtained recently thanks to a Freedom of Information Act filing by the Partnership for Civil Justice, that ThisCantBeHappening! had been labeled a "threat" by the DHS.