Buzzwords that buy over US media
NEW YORK - The mainstream American news media, currently under fire for being cheerleaders for US military forces in Iraq, are traditionally known to go along with buzzwords defined by successive US administrations to suit their own sinister political motives.

When most US newspapers describe a foreign head of state as "a military strongman", he is invariably a "dictator" who is on a White House political hit-list. Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iraq's Saddam Hussein were two military strongmen virtually every US administration loved to hate.

And when a head of state is labelled "a military ruler", he is obviously a White House favourite-- no matter how politically repressive he is at home. The late Shah of Iran and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines were prime examples of leaders who were mollycoddled by Washington while they clung onto power armed with US weapons and backed by their American-trained military forces.

The mainstream media in the US, more often than not, are suckered into accepting these highly politicised definitions, say Martin Lee and Normon Solomon, co-authors of "Unreliable Sources -A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media."

In 1989, when the former Panamanian General Manuel Noriega was a "bad guy" by US standards, he was dubbed "a military strongman". But a few years later when he was on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Noriega was transformed into a "military leader".

"As with ad jingles, the drumbeat of repeated news lingo stays with us and takes a life of its own," the authors of the book say. "In the long run, what's repeated endlessly becomes a social reality."

And so was most of the slanted reporting of the recent war on Iraq, Tony Jenkins, president of the UN Correspondents' Association (UNCA), told a seminar on "The Media and Armed Conflict".

Jenkins decried the laziness in journalists accepting White House terminology such as "coalition forces" when in real fact the US force attacking Iraq was only an "Anglo-American" force, with marginal support from Australia.

Every single report in the mainstream media gave the mistaken impression that the predominantly US military force attacking Iraq included the 49 so-called "coalition" members, including tiny island nations such as Palau, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Tonga. But this was far from the truth. And at times, even the lie was far off the mark.
Just before the war began, the US State Department released a list of 49 countries, including Slovenia which was to receive $4.5 million as additional American aid for lending its name to the coalition list.

But the announcement was followed by street demonstrations in the capital of Ljubljana by Slovenians protesting their country's participation in the war. However, there was one small problem. The Prime Minister of Slovenia Anton Rop told reporters: "We're part of no such coalition. We are part of a coalition for peace."

So when he asked the State Department for an explanation as to why his country was added onto the list, he was told it was a mistake. The US had got two countries mixed up. The coalition partner was not Slovenia, but Slovakia, the second half of the former Czechoslovakia. As the Washington Post said rather sarcastically: At least they got the "Slov" part right.

Abderrahim Foukara of the Qatar-based Arab television network Al-Jazeera said that if one took a critical look of the war coverage, there was an interesting paradox in the behaviour of the American and Arab media.

Although the US was supposed to be a leading democracy, and the Arab world was supposedly deficient in democracy, the American and Arab media had mirrored each other, he said.

The Arabs were more free to report what they saw than the Americans who virtually abandoned the concept of a free press in favour of Pentagon handouts. In its coverage of the war, most US newspapers and TV networks were not only manipulated by the Pentagon but also filtered the news given to the American public.

As Jenkins pointed out American television networks refrained from showing most of the civilian killings and casualties of war. "If more blood had been shown, people might have felt less triumphant," he added.

Defending coverage of the war by his own news organisation last month, the director general of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) said that US broadcasters had swapped impartiality for patriotism.

He said that the proliferation of US TV networks had also weakened coverage of the war. "The effect of this fragmentation is to make government-- the White House and the Pentagon-- all-powerful with no news operation strong enough or brave enough to stand up against it".

He said BBC cannot afford to mix patriotism and journalism. But regrettably, this is happening in the US, and if it continues it will undermine the credibility of the US electronic media, he warned.

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.