The 24-hour-a-day “Pope-a-thon” shows the dramatic shift in the way that news is covered. If a story is inoffensive to the political establishment or if it serves their greater interests (like Schiavo) then it becomes an immediate mega-story that swallows up most of the front page and consumes the majority of TV time. In this way, the national dialogue is controlled by PR firms working closely with Washington to decide what information is suitable for public consumption. It’s perception management pure and simple but, so far, it looks like a winning strategy. As many have already noticed, the Iraqi bloodbath has been knocked out of the headlines and consigned to page 14 next to the women’s lingerie adverts. In its place, American’s are provided with diversionary Uber-stories of vegetative housewives and dead Popes. There’s no chance that the four Marines who died in insurgent attacks last Tuesday will appear on page one anymore, nor will the 300,000 disgruntled Iraqis who paraded through Baghdad yesterday calling for an end to the Occupation while burning Bush in effigy. These are the unfortunate victims of the new media regime; a system that dismisses inconvenient facts for the fairy-tales that support the status quo. The new game plan is to sweep Iraq from the collective consciousness and slow the steady erosion of public support for the war.
The changes in news coverage can be traced to a poll that ran three months ago in the Washington Post that showed in stark terms how unpopular Bush’s war in Iraq has become in just two short years. 56% of the people polled said the war “wasn’t worth it” and a whopping 70% concluded that the loss of 1,500 American servicemen “was an unacceptable cost.”
The results of that poll sent tremors through the political establishment, and their trepidation is reflected in the way that the news is now presented. Ballplayers on steroids, Schiavo and a dead Pope are just the first of what will certainly be many similar entertaining distractions. Next week we will undoubtedly discover that Schiavo was carrying Jacko’s love child.
For the most part, Iraq has been buried by the media, a tacit admission that even supporters are now experiencing both doubt about the wisdom of the war and overall fatigue from the constant flow of bad news from the front. The casualties, the chaos, the lack of reconstruction, and the demoralizing stories of torture are slowly grinding down even the most ardent Bush fan. Beyond the legal and moral questions, the war is starting to look like it was simply a stupid idea conjured up by fanatics. This perception is not likely to change. Once public support evaporates, that’s it. There’s no second chance.
The Bush team has a serious problem and limited options. There’s no light in the Iraqi tunnel, so the only choice is to manage the information. This explains why the media would rather provide a front page pictorial of Bush performing his ablutions in front of the velvet-encrusted Pope than show a close up of the helicopter that went down in Afghanistan killing 18 American servicemen. Bush’s Vatican junket is just more-of-the-same photo op claptrap designed to keep the lens off the mountain of carrion building up in Iraq. It’s all part of the imperial narrative dressed up in regal accoutrements and presented as real news. Absent from the coverage were the thousands of incensed Italians on the streets of Rome who were aghast that the world’s foremost war criminal would be allowed to partake in the funereal ceremonies. Americans never saw the angry masses that protested Bush’s visit. Instead, they got the predictable pabulum from media operatives like Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post who faithfully chronicled the pious nostrums from the simpleton-and-chief.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that there is a living God. And, no doubt in my mind that Lord, Jesus Christ was sent by the Almighty. No doubt in my mind about that,” Bush said.
Or this: “The tides of moral relativism kind of washed around the Pope, but he stood strong as a rock.”
Imagine someone who just killed 100,000 human beings and authorized the use of torture on prisoners palavering about “moral relativism”?
Nevertheless, the fable-making media can be expected to maintain its present tack, inventing a narrative from whole cloth and exploiting whatever novelty appears in real-time to steer the public away Bush’s ruinous war. It’s what they do best.
The Streetwalking Media
The press is the only institution in American life that is protected by an Amendment. The founders wisely understood that safeguarding the free flow of information was imperative to the preservation of democracy. No one is so naïve to believe in the myth of a free press anymore. The entire institution is like an aging hooker locked in a conjugal embrace with her corporate bedfellow. The media jettisoned whatever freedom or credibility it had years ago, choosing instead to serve the narrow interests of its boardroom bosses. Now the news is tailored to meet the needs of its clientele, shaping events to spread the good news about free markets, consumerism and preemptive war. Whatever news cannot be packaged and presented in a manner that serves the objectives of its sponsors is simply left on the cutting room floor. What we see now when we turn on the evening news isn’t a free press, but the front lines of information warfare: “Who owns the news, who controls what you know?”
Information has been weaponized to rob Americans of their personal liberty, plunder the treasury and dupe the people into foreign adventures. The ideal of an “informed public” actively engaged in the democratic process by exposure to a broad variety of viewpoints is pure baloney. The daily news increasingly aims for uniformity in their storyline to promote conformity of thought among its readership. Diversity is a threat to the system. This being the case, we shouldn’t be surprised that Rumsfeld is deliberately targeting reporters; it is the logical extension of the prevailing political ethos. Information is power, and now that power is the exclusive province of seven media giants who are inextricably linked to the White House.
See No Evil
Don’t talk about a “free press.” The American media showed their true colors in their handling of the decimation of Falluja. The entire media stood by with their hands over their mouths while a city of 250,000 was bombed to the ground in the greatest single war crime in the last decade. The story of Falluja is a tale of cluster bombs, napalm, depleted uranium, banned weapons, families crushed in their homes, dogs devouring dead citizens on the city streets, and masses of displaced people victimized by a vengeful and implacable enemy. It’s a story of unspeakable crimes, of absolute impunity, and unfathomable cynicism.
Even today, a full six months after the siege, the story of Falluja cannot be revised enough to fit into the imperial register, so the silence continues.
This is the reality of America’s “free press”, the collaborative handmaiden of the US war machine, partners in the destruction of entire civilizations. Eventually, it will have to be chopped down to the root before anything worthwhile can grow up in its place.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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