By: Richard Brenneman
Axis of Logic
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Distinguished Australian journalist John Pilger offers a devastating critique of the news media’s slavish subservience to the military, starting — as all well-informed accounts must — with the original spinmeister of the military/industrial complex, Edward Bernays, the man who coined the phrase “public relations.”
In this 1:36:41 documentary, Pilger peers behind the curtain of the modern media machine in a series of remarkable interviews with journalists, their bosses, their critics, and those who labor mightily to ensure their stories carry the “proper spin.”
Former CIA intelligence officer Melvin Goodman offers insight on the hidden collaboration between Pentagon and press and Dan Rather describes his colleagues as “stenographers” — himself included —parroting the military’s media line in the runup to the invasion of Iraq.
Pilger lays into media “embedding,” that most pernicious of policies, one designed to create a deep sense of identity between the press and the military. One Fox report actually uses the phrase “in bed” to describe the relationship of their reporters with the Pentagon’s troops. Rageh Omar of the BBC notes that the “24-hour news” format is the most susceptible to manipulation, and acknowledges that “I don’t do my job properly.”
Watching the flagrantly biased coverage by Western reporters at the time of the invasion is certain to generate grimaces, given the way events unfolded subsequently.
The documentary also features previously unaired footage of the battle for Fallujah, where it took non-embedded reporter Dahr Jamail to reveal that U.S. aircraft had used flesh-searing white phosphorous in the attack — though the story gained little traction in this country despite the weapon’s ban internationally.
One illuminating vignette focuses on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima: While a New York Times reporter later revealed as on the Pentagon payroll wrote a widely circulated story claiming no radiation sickness had followed the blast, Australian reporter Wilfred Burchett revealed the truth, and promptly became the target of press conference denunciations.
Former Observer reporter David Rose, who wrote pre-war stories cheerleading the Iraq invasion, now acknowledges his grievous errors: “I can make no excuses,” he tells Pilger. Today he acknowledges that journalists were accomplishes in what is nothing less than a crime. Dan Rather, who famously appeared on Letterman before the war promising to “line up” with President Geroge W. Bush, acknowledges that he and fellow reporters signed on to the White House agenda, in part because fear of losing their jobs or being labeled unpatriotic.
One especially sad tale concerns the Associated Press reporter who, after the Iraq War ended, visited every site declared by Bush administration to house chemical weapons facilities still retained the unbroken seals installed by U.N. a decade before. The story received virtually no play in the American media, despite its conclusive proof that a central claim used in selling the war had been revealed as a lie.
The most unapologetic figures Pilger interviews are the BBC’s Francesca Unsworth, whose title is “Head of Newsgathering,” and a predictably unctuous Pentagon mouthpiece.
Pilger recalls his early days covering the Vietnam War, which he describes as a blueprint for the campaigns of today. One of the most sobering revelations he offers is of the shocking increase in civilian casualties during the wars of the last 100 years.
During World War I, civilians accounted for only 10 percent of wartime casualties, a number that soared to 50 percent during WWII, 70 percent during the Vietnam War, and 90 percent in the ongoing war in Iraq. Pilger does more than cite numbers: He forces viewers to confront the innocent victims.
One notable interview is with former United Nations Assistant Secretary General Denis Haliday, who resigned his post because he refused to administrer Clinton era sanctions against Iraq which had cost the lives of at least 500,000 children. Another former British diplomat, Carne Ross, describes how his government knowingly fed false stories to the media and held out access to the Foreign Secretary as a bribe to induce reporters to toe the line.
Pilger also casts a very discerning eye at Western media coverage of Israel and Palestine, and the intimidation of reporters who dare to cast a critical eye at the actions of the Israel government, and singles out Barack Obama’s hypocritical campaigning as an antiwar caniate, then signing the largest Pentagon budget in the nation’s history.
The final segment focuses on Wikileaks and includes a pre-arrest interview with Julian Assange.
In summation, Pilger reminds the journalists among us that it is on them [us] that government propagandists depend for disseminating their justifications for slaughter.