and Afghanistan How to Understand Media Spin
has accompanied the majority of wars, as a precursor, during the
war, and then as official history after the dust has settled and
the conquerors (aka peacekeepers) move in. From Cato and Carthage
down to Kuwaiti incubator babies, truth is indeed the first casualty.
Arguably, the first defeat for the US military in the propaganda
war was Vietnam. Being in the business of winning wars, the U.S.
military concocted new ways to control the media, and has adapted
new strategies for an increasingly connected world. The first
test, and so far greatest victory for the New World Order spin-masters,
was the Persian Gulf War. We saw the daily press briefing evolve
into its current form as a carefully crafted propaganda session
designed to give the media the good news about how well the war
is going, and how the evil-doers are being punished. We saw the
media assigned to specific press liaison officers, and trucked
around from location to location under constant supervision. The
press, as usual, ate it up.
military employs multiple strategies (and a PR firm or two) to
shape public perception of the news by controlling the information
released to the media. Jared
Israel wrote an excellent article describing how these techniques
are used in print (and sometimes on TV). Words are chosen
carefully based on the emotional response they elicit. Certain
facts are referred to again and again, while others are completely
ignored. Other "facts" are manufactured out of whole cloth, usually
with the tag "unsubstantiated" attached to allow weasel room later.
events are scripted into a master storyline designed to paint
the conflict as one of good against evil. The side of righteous
America is pitted against the twisted Taliban, or Milosevic, or
Iraq, or Noriega, etc.
(ha ha!), we have a very recent military engagement to compare
to our current situation. The "humanitarian intervention" in Kosovo
gives us something to compare the selective use of images, interviews,
and facts to understand how the military and the media shape opinion.
Let me restate: the government and military use the media to shape
your opinion, and they are very good at it. The current bombing
of Afghanistan and the 1999 bombing of Kosovo have a common element
that exposes the hypocrisy and selective reporting endemic to
any war effort. In both situations, military activity caused a
massive refugee crisis, but the way the refugees are portrayed
is vastly different between the two wars.
aside whether the refugees were the result of ethnic cleansing
or people fleeing a bombing zone. In Kosovo, close to two million
refugees fled the province after the Nato bombing campaign started.
The media broadcast the suffering of hundreds of thousands of
refugees in the camps setup in neighboring Macedonia, Albania,
and Montenegro. Countless interviews, non-stop coverage of refugee
columns, and an appeal to send food and money to help the innocents
driven out by war were the common themes across all networks.
Endless coverage of the refugees on TV made the war for "humanitarian
intervention" seem like a noble goal. Americans were told that
Slobodan Milosevic was carrying out his "final solution" on Kosovo
Albanians. Never mind that the refugees started leaving Kosovo
AFTER the bombs started falling.
the bombing, the talking heads in the media chattered about how
the evil Serbs had caused such misery. It was assumed that there
was a deliberate program of ethnic cleansing. This was easy to
do with CIA
trained KLA fighters providing all the translation services,
which invariably sounded like "They rounded us up and told us
to leave. They took our papers." These reports were taken at face
value. So, blame for the refugee crisis was placed squarely on
the Serbs. There's plenty of evidence that the refugee crisis
in Kosovo was the result of bombing, and scant little that it
was an organized program. The Germans admitted as much when a
general came clean about how his spies faked "Operation Horseshoe".
That and the fact that the body count on all sides has amounted
to 3,200 instead of the 100,000 that James Rubin claimed. That's
after the bombing, and includes military and civilian casualties
on both sides. That's a forensics debate for another day, however.
For this article, we can even assume (for the sake of all the
Serb haters out there) that there was a program of ethnic cleansing.
the non-stop coverage of the Kosovo refugee crisis to the coverage
refugees. It's estimated that over 80,000 refugees have made
it into Pakistan since the bombing started. The Red Cross states
that over 2 million refugees are inside Afghanistan, mostly headed
for friendly Pakistan, but many have been turned away. Two million
Afghan refugees already live in Pakistani refugee camps. Where
are the camera crews in Pakistani refugee camps? I had to dig
to turn up this Reuters
photo. You won't find the same kind of non-stop film coverage
of an even larger refugee crisis in Pakistan than the Kosovo refugees.
Where is the non-stop CNNBCBSMSNBCABC coverage, complete with
clucking tongue commentary on the cruelty of war? When the families
of the dead are interviewed, or give accounts of being bombed
in their sleep, the Pentagon instructed media flacks are quick
to chime in with "those numbers of civilian casualties can't be
independently verified," a phrase seldom heard in the Kosovo conflict.
compare the government's handling of refugees in the Kosovo war
with the current bombing of Afghanistan. When the refugees started
leaving Kosovo, the U.S. government asked Macedonia, Montenegro,
and (obviously) Albania to allow them across the border. In this
war, the U.S. has aided a willing Pakistani regime in keeping
the borders closed, and the refugees out. If too many refugees
enter Pakistan, the U.S. will be unable to convince the world,
and more importantly, the Pakistani government will be unable
to convince their people, that this is a war of
"targeted strikes against terrorists, and not a humanitarian
catastrophe in the making. The war planners knew this and started
dropping food packages early on. The
Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the UNHCR agree that the
food is more for public relations than relieving hunger. We
are scattering water drops on a raging inferno of starvation,
while blocking the fire trucks.
my question for the mass media is this. Where are the CNN camera
crews, pressed in around the refugees? Where is Christiane Amanpore
with her righteous indignation? Images are powerful things. Americans
see people suffering on TV, and they don't like it. The military
knows this. When it suited their purpose in Kosovo, they made
sure to pack the airwaves with images of the displaced and hungry.
"See. We're fighting to help save these people from oppression."
When the story is obviously one of suffering CAUSED by our military,
the story gets reported in print, if at all, and camera coverage
is downplayed or outright spiked. No spin in the world can hide
that fact that our military has caused a massive refugee crisis
in Afghanistan. Will
George W. Bush sit in the Hague kangaroo court with Slobodan Milosevic
to answer charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing? Not very
I finish proofreading this article, CNN
manages to illustrate my point perfectly by calling for more "balance"
in reporting. Stop and think for a moment if you heard a call
to limit the amount of coverage given to civilian casualties in
the Kosovo war? Not for a second, because the Nato
spin masters could pin it on the Hitler de Jour, Mr. Milosevic.
war isn't going all that well. Americans are watching it while
sitting in comfortable living rooms a few feet from the refrigerator.
If they see enough images of
Afghan refugees fleeing U.S. cluster bombs or digging for
dead relatives in the remains
of a hospital hit by a "Bunker Buster" bomb, they might realize
that this war is not just. Don't be fooled by the media spin.
Read for fact, verify facts, avoid the biased words, and draw
your own conclusions.
Keller [send him mail]
owns an Internet consulting
firm specializing in small businesses.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com
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