Thursday, October 21, 2010

American Media by Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1965 he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, and later became active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. In October 1967 Erlich and others organized Stop the Draft Week They were arrested and became known as the "Oakland Seven." In their trial they were acquitted of all charges.

Erlich first worked as a staff writer and research editor for Ramparts, a national investigative reporting magazine published in San Francisco from 1963 to 1975. His magazine articles have appeared in San Francisco Magazine, California Monthly, Mother Jones, The Progressive, The Nation, and AARP's Segunda Juventud.
Erlich's book, Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You, co-authored with Norman Solomon, became a best seller in 2003. His book, The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis, was published in October 2007

Why are stories so similar from a media supposedly in fierce competition with one another? If all the media run variations of the same story [which all omit important data and perspectives], isn't there a conspiracy at the highest levels? I wish it were that simple.

The fact is, U.S. politicians impact media coverage in a number of pernicious ways without having to resort to secret meetings in parking garages. The first line of defense is ideological. Mainstream foreign correspondents receive top salaries and garner lots of prestige. As I described in Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You, anyone who writes too critically of U.S. foreign policy doesn't stay employed. You don't win a Pulitzer Prize for questioning the basic assumptions of empire. You do advance your career, however, by cultivating high-level diplomatic, military, and intelligence sources.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration pushed all the right media buttons. It appealed to patriotism and reporters' fears that they might be out of sync with public opinion.

The mainstream media followed the administration's line that the United States was under assault by a vicious enemy at home and abroad. When the CIA and other agencies leaked [phony] classified documents suggesting that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda, almost all the mainstream media ran the story without deeper investigation.

When reporters occasionally run major stories highly unpopular in Washington, they feel the full wrath of the empire. When CBS TV aired a story questioning President George W. Bush's service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, even someone with the prestige of Dan Rather came under attack. Eventually Rather was hounded into leaving CBS. As the major media consolidate into fewer and fewer oligopolies, companies cut back newsroom staff and eliminate bureaus. Foreign correspondents, including those who might consider themselves politically liberal, fear causing too much controversy. They keep their heads down and their hands outstretched for a paycheck.

Editors also use sharply different criteria for evaluating the validity of information critical of U.S. power. No reporter gets fired for accurately reporting statements from high American officials, even if they are outright lies. But you may lose your job if you write a story too critical of those same high officials, unless your source is some other high-level official [though when Admiral William Fallon called General Petraeus an “ass-kissing chickenshit' this received no coverage in mainstream media].

I've written articles about the Afghan drug trade only to have editors cut sections naming Karzai ministers and their links to the U.S. Government. That information would be included in the story, I was told, only if confirmed by the DEA, CIA, or a similar Washington source. That, of course, gives the government virtual censorship power over controversial stories.

The dominant narrative on any given story trickles down to local media as well. After my 2002 trip to Afghanistan and publication in a local magazine of an article about the U.S.- allied warlord's involvement in the drug trade, I was contacted by a local TV reporter. She did a long interview and aired a story about the growing danger of the heroin trade. She systematically edited out every comment I made about pro- U.S. warlords, however, and inserted her own opinion that the Taliban was was at fault. And she had a lot of editing to do, because I mentioned it in almost every other sentence.

The degree to which the American people are deceived by the cozy relationship between the press and government in the United States was clearly evidenced in my interview with with Mohammad Nizami, formerly the head of the Taliban's radio and TV network and now a member of the Karzai regime. He expressed his support for an Islamic government of Afghanistan ruled by strict Sharia law. He opposed equal rights for women and wanted to see foreign troops withdrawn. Only his timetable had changed. As a Taliban leader he had called for an immediate withdrawal. As a Karzai supporter he thought they should wait until the Afghan Army could stand on its own.

That tolerance for the continued presence of U.S. Troops was sufficient to make him an ally in the view of the United States and Karzai. The dirty secret you will never see exposed in the mainline media is that the Taliban's ideology and political views on the future of Afghanistan are quite similar to many of Karzai's top supporters, including members of his cabinet. They, too, want a fundamentalist-ruled Afghanistan and have nothing but contempt for democratic elections. The war pits two sets of fundamentalists against one another, the difference being one side has U.S. support and the other doesn't.

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