Sunday, September 25, 2016

How Media Sells Us Wars of Choice

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The mainstream "for-profit" media, which are owned by a handful of wealthy global corporations,  have become intentional sharpers of our public opinion on issues of war and peace. These corporations don't work for us. They work for the invisible government that Mike Lofgren identifies as the "Deep State" in his essay called Anatomy of the Deep State.

What follows below are excerpts from a paper by James George Jatra which builds on Lofgren's 2014 analyse.  The paper details the ways in which mainstream American media have become a tool to gain public support for US military actions and foreign policies that satisfy the ambitions of entrenched power.

The report is lengthy, so I created an excerpted version which I divided into two parts. Below is part-one, focused on what American news media has become. Part-two will focus more in the Deep State itself.

How American Media Serves as a Transmission Belt 

for Wars of Choice [Part 1]

by James George Jatra September 2016 

The propaganda of war is almost as old as war itself. But with the advent of modern communications, and especially in the digital age, war propaganda has reached an unprecedented level of sophistication and influence, primarily with regard to the international behavior of the United States. The formal end of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War in 1991 left the U.S. with no serious military or geopolitical opponent just at a time when the role of global media was undergoing a significant shift. Earlier that same year, the First Gulf War had featured the debut of CNN as a provider of ubiquitous, real-time, 24-hour conflict coverage, setting a standard for later hostilities. Also that same year, the Internet went public. The decades following 1991 saw a qualitative evolution in the role of media as not just a reporter of events but as an active participant. 

Belligerence of the Post-Cold War America Media 

The First Gulf War of 1991 marked a watershed both for America‘s propensity for military action and for the media‘s role in it. Claims of legality and righteousness from the administration of President George H. W. Bush regarding its decision to expel the Iraqi forces of erstwhile American client Saddam Hussein from Kuwait met with little dissent, least of all from major American news organizations. A similar media chorus of approval if not outright encouragement characterized Bill Clinton‘s interventions in Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), and Kosovo (1999), as well as those of George W. Bush in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) after the 9/11 attacks. Even President Barack Obama‘s regime change operation in Libya (2011) benefitted from the same pattern.

In each of these episodes the media‘s uncritical repetition of government-issued ―information‖ and opinions was a key factor in setting the stage for war. In none of these enterprises was the territorial integrity or independence of the United States at stake. Each can be regarded as a “war of choice” requiring the creation and selling of a rationale not directly based on American national defense.

Deficiency of knowledge as the American norm

• Americans are poorly informed about events in the outside world, and younger Americans appear to be even more ignorant than their elders. This means that when policymakers cite the need for action in a given country and news feeds shift to “crisis” coverage, few people have a contextual reservoir of knowledge that may run counter to the official In none of these enterprises was the territorial integrity or independence of the United States at stake. Each can be regarded as a “war of choice” requiring the creation and selling of a rationale not directly based on American national defense. 3 narrative. This largely nullifies the target audience's capacity for critical evaluation.

• One feature of American TV news programming is a notable scarceness of substantive international news stories. It is not uncommon that an entire half-hour evening network news program will not feature a single event outside the United States.

Reliance on government sources,“ventriloquism,” and information incest

• The official media are less a watchdog over government than themselves part of the governing structure, a bulletin board for government propaganda.

• A vivid illustration of how government influence takes the form of a kind of ―ventriloquism,‖ with poorly informed, mostly young Washington-based journalists playing the role of puppet was given in a candid interview of Ben Rhodes, Obama‘s White House ―Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting. Rhodes [said]:
“All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus. . . . Now they don't. They call us to explain to them what's happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That's a sea change. They literally know nothing.” 

[Use of alternate media shills?]
"But then there are sort of these force multipliers," he said, adding, "We have our compadres, I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn‘t want to name them – " . . . "And I‘ll give them some color," Price continued, "and the next thing I know, lots of these guys are in the dotcom publishing space, and have huge Twitter followings, and they‘ll be putting this message out on their own." 

• Content of information used in the formulation of American global policy is dominated by a few hundred certified “experts” sharing a remarkable uniformity of opinion regardless of party affiliation. These experts, who inhabit a closed loop of Executive Branch departments and agencies, Congress, media, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are responsible for the generation of policy initiatives and their implementation. Centralized corporate ownership

• Corporate consolidation feeds the tendency toward ratings-based sensationalism, not critical public-interest programming. The large majority of American media are owned by six conglomerates:

• That‘s down from 50 companies that controlled that same share as recently as 1983. This also applies to online media: ―In raw numbers, 80 percent of the top 20 online news sites are owned by the 100 largest media companies. Time Warner owns two of the most visited sites: and AOL News, while Gannett, which is the twelfth largest media company, owns along with many local online newspapers.‖ The average viewer ingests some 10 hours of programming daily from a seeming variety of outlets that the consumer may not realize have the same corporate owners.

Para-journalism,” “infotainment,” and “atrocity porn” as a war trigger 

• The major media‟s function as a conduit for government-generated content dovetails with chasing advertising dollars. Consumers are less informed than entertained with prurient images and messages that serve both Caesar and Mammon. The most important new form is the 'tabloid‘ news magazine, . . . They are not news shows that borrow conventions from entertainment television, but the other way around: entertainment programs that borrow the aura of news.

• The trends “are toward the sensational, the hype, the hyperactive, the tabloid values to drive out the serious.” The ultimate expression of sensationalized, entertainment content in the context of global conflict is known as “atrocity porn,” (especially, and obviously, in the case of stories describing rape and other sexual abuse) appeals to prurient interests to manipulate base impulses. . . . Authors of atrocity porn also cynically exploit the predictable reactions it will provoke from decent people.

• Atrocity porn has been essential for selling military action: incubator babies (Kuwait/Iraq); the Racak massacre (Kosovo); the Markale marketplace bombings, Omarska ―living skeletons,‖ and the Srebrenica massacre (Bosnia); rape as calculated instrument of war (Bosnia, Libya); and poison gas in Ghouta and ―Aleppo Boy‖ (Syria). Moreover, as blogger Julia Gorin has noted, the recycling of victim memes has begun, including prodding from governments:

[Example from Boznia the 1990's]
"The Clinton Administration made it clear: give us a ”trigger” in the form of a suitable atrocity, we‟ll give you a war. In due course, the “Racak Massacre” took place in Kosovo. That is when Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic followed through on Bill Clinton‘s suggestion that he needed to cough up at least 5,000 dead bodies if he wanted a NATO intervention on his side of a turf war against Serbs." 

Demonization “Hitler” memes

• Demonizing the intended target neutralizes objections to his removal. How can any decent person oppose getting rid of Hitler? Russia's Vladimir Putin has been characterized by name as another Hitler by Hillary Clinton and others. Among the prominent “Hitlers” since 1991 have been Saddam Hussein (Iraq), Slobodan Milosevic (Yugoslavia/Serbia), Radovan Karadzic (Republika Srpska), Moammar Qaddafi (Libya), and Bashar al-Assad (Syria). “

Weaponization” of media

• In weaponized media, information does not exist to provide insight into objective reality. Rather it is a tool that has meaning only with reference to its subjective purpose. Demonization of targeted countries and leaders fits into a broader narrative of conflict that builds upon the American penchant for understanding all conflicts as pitting the ―good guys‖ in white hats vs. ―bad guys‖ in black hats. Similar events can have a totally different moral character depending whether they are caused by the good side or bad side. Thus, U.S. airstrikes are “humanitarian,” our “collateral damage” is excusable, while others‟ strikes are criminal.

America and the “international community,” the “Free World,” and “American exceptionalism” and “leadership” 

• America, like any country, has its own distinctive history, culture, and traditions. Additionally, America's unique founding principles – consent of the governed, due process, division of powers, constitutional limited government – justly have been an inspiration to much of the world for over two centuries and are a valid point of American pride. However, neither of these venerable “exceptional” qualities has much connection to the much-used and abused bastard term (usually capitalized as “American Exceptionalism”) that describes contemporary U.S. global behavior, by which policymakers in Washington assert both an exclusive “leadership” privilege and unsupportable obligation to undertake open-ended, international missions in the name of the “Free World” and the “international community.”

• As noted by British journalist and academic Martin Jacques: “We all know what is meant by the term 'international community,'‟ don't we? It's the west, of course.” Indeed, more precisely than the simply “the west,” the “international community” means the geopolitical bloc of countries led (or less charitably, controlled) by Washington.

• You are either with us or against us: our actions are absolutely good by definition, not relatively good in comparison to the actions of other powers, which on some level are at best only conditionally legitimate to the extent the U.S. President regards them as such.

Disregarding “alternative” media, American samizdat

• As we will see at the end of this analysis, “alternative” media may be part of the eventual breakdown of the system we are describing. But currently the major media operating in concert with their government and corporate sponsors still are in a position to validate what appears in alternative sources by repeating it or to relegate it to a politically powerless realm by ignoring it.

•  Alternative information becomes reliable only when picked up and disseminated by the MSM, thus validating the information and its ostensibly “alternative” source. Unless and until that happens, alternative information and opinion is ignored and relegated to “conspiracy theory,” “internet chatter,” or even the dread label of “denier” of some established, obligatory truth.

“We never make mistakes,” “stay the course,” and “MoveOn-ism”

• American policy evidently has no rear-view mirror, no lessons are ever learned. Being right bestows no credit, giving birth to catastrophes incurs no costs.

• President Obama, in answer to the question of what was his biggest mistake as president, replied “not having done enough” in Libya after overthrowing Qaddafi. That “regime change” might have been a bad idea in the first place was not even a point of consideration.

• Even in the midst of an action abroad, it is difficult for American policymakers to readjust to mistaken assumptions. Instead, the preferred course is simply to redouble our efforts (William Astore, citing Professor Andrew Bacevich):
"Whether [under] a Clinton or a Bush or an Obama matters little. The U.S. can‘t help but meddle, using its powerful military as a more or less blunt instrument, at incredible President Obama, in answer to the question of what was his biggest mistake as president, replied “not having done enough” in Libya after overthrowing Qaddafi. That 'regime change' might have been a bad idea in the first place was not even a point of consideration. 17 expense to our country, and at a staggering cost in foreign lives lost or damaged by incessant warfare. And no matter how catastrophic the results, that national security state can‘t help but find reasons, no matter how discredited by events, to 'stay the course.‘"

[End of Part 1]

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