April 22, 2008

There's Something about Basra: Part 2

Implicit in my last post about US narratives of the Iraq War was the assumption that, at least up until now, there has been some kind of agreement between the US media, the US government and the US military to stay on message with their versions of the war. I found the situation in Basra as being particularly interesting because it marks for me the first time that I've seen major news organizations creating narratives that haven't been spoon fed to them by the Bush administration. Another piece of evidence to this effect surfaced on Sunday in the form of a New York Times article questioning the role that supposed independent military analysts had in disseminating Bush administration spin into the media. I want to draw attention to this article because it demonstrates possible change in the media's behavior by drawing attention to the extent of collusion between the administration, the military and the media. One must admit that there's a problem before steps can be taken to solve it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the article, it basically describes how the Pentagon used techniques ranging from financial leverage to a "carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo" designed to influence the military analysts used by the media into mindlessly repeating administration talking points. By wittingly or unwittingly disseminating the administration's message to the American people, these analysists an the media that hosted their opinions have become cogs in the state propaganda machine. An the message is also much more effective because it is coming from the mouth of someone who is thought to be independent. So, in other words, when Rumsfeld says the war in Iraq is going peachy most people know that he's full of crap but when retired General Murmur then agrees with Rumsfeld on CNN, people are less suspicious. The Times piece relies heavily on FOAed (Freedom of Information) documents in which these analysts are often referred to as "surrogates." The term, winning the hearts and minds, seems appropriate here.

And, all of this looks awfully familiar to the military psyops programs in Iraq that disseminated US military reports into the Iraqi press through independent Iraqi journalists. In that instance (in case you don't remember), the US military selected the most favorable from their own reports from the field, sent them on to an American private contractor who was paid a lot of money who then secretly got the reports into the hands of Iraqi journalists who would be paid good money to rewrite them and to publish them as their own. Again, don't call it propaganda, deception or government control of the press; call it winning the hearts and minds.

The modern military conducts "full spectrum warfare" which goes beyond the battlefield and aims to create a social and intellectual climate more conducive to their strategic goals. The enemy is not just the opposing army but also the minds of members of our own society who oppose military actions. There's a quote from the book "Military Science" that is quite relevant here: "The methods and aims of the new science are to create an unshakable belief in the high ethical value of war and to produce in the individual the psychological readiness for sacrifice in the cause of nation and state." Did I mention that the book was written in Germany in 1933 by Ewald Banse? I know it's cliche to talk about the Nazi's but I think their attitudes about militarism are worth examining and avoiding.

But, getting back to my first point, I have to say that while this article is far from the first time* that someone has called into question the objectivity of these analysts but it is, to my knowledge, the first time that one of the news organizations that actually uses these people has notice that there might be a problem with doing so. For a paper like the New York Times that has relied so heavily on experts of these types for information such as whether or not Iraq had WMDs, this article is a big deal. After years of crushing disappointment with our national press, I remain hopeful.

*Amy Goodman is one of the most respectable voices that has been criticising of the close ties between the media and the military from the beginning. I've been waiting to show this video for awhile now so I'll post it here instead of just linking to it. Remember while you watch it that the war was still very popular at the time when this speech was given. Goodman was seen as an fringe radical for bringing up these concerns.

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