BUILDING A MEDIA AGENDA FOR WAR
By Norman Solomon / Creators Syndicate
WASHINGTON -- Listen up, future leaders of America. If you want to
develop the necessary skills for promoting a war agenda in our country's
news media, recent events are instructive.
Going to war is not simply a matter of ordering soldiers to fire
missiles and drop bombs. There's a lot more involved. The public must be
induced to accept and even cheer the bloodshed. That requires some
Consider the steps taken by our leaders before missiles began to
explode in Yugoslavia on March 24. Prior groundwork was needed. Top U.S.
officials deserve a lot of credit -- but they couldn't have gotten the
job done without assists from reporters in Washington and their
Oh yes, there were exceptions -- some skeptical journalists raised
pointed questions about the harm done by launching a military assault on
Yugoslavia -- but they mostly served to underscore that dissent can be
properly subsumed by a war agenda.
Anyone who wants to wield the national-security apparatus of this
great nation must learn to steer the mass media in the right direction.
It's a matter of sustained guidance rather than turning on a dime.
Let's face it: The world is filled with countries run by governments
that abuse human rights. (Yugoslavia is one of many.) But the USA has to
be very selective. After all, a lot of those governments are closely
allied with Washington. And you can't exactly bomb a government while
you're sending it millions of dollars every week!
An evenhanded approach to human rights would seriously damage the
capacity of the United States to launch attacks across the globe. If
you're going to demonize certain leaders -- and that's just about a
prerequisite for building a war agenda -- then you've got to pick and choose.
To create the proper conditions for war, leave as little to chance
as possible. Certain criteria must be met in order to exercise
appropriate leadership for war:
* If you're going to bomb a country, it may as well be one that
arrogantly refuses to allow U.S. troops to be stationed on its soil.
(European countries are wonderfully hospitable in this regard, but
Yugoslavia is a notable exception.)
* Steadily vilify the leader of the country you're interested in
bombing. Repeatedly emphasize his evil deeds so that reporters, editorial
writers and pundits will relay the message.
* Meanwhile, to avoid distractions, be careful to downplay or ignore
the evil deeds of the governments of countries you're not interested in
bombing. If a regime is allied with Washington, you'll want to ignore its
human rights violations as much as possible.
* Don't even think about applying a single standard for human
rights. The Pentagon would sure look silly firing cruise missiles at
countries that receive massive amounts of U.S. aid, such as Egypt, Israel
and Turkey. Get it straight: Some torture is deplorable, some is fundable.
Most skills must be learned, so don't hesitate to sit at the feet of
the masters of war. You can appreciate -- and emulate -- their
achievements. The Clinton administration has put its dazzling media
acumen behind the NATO forces dropping 2,000-pound bombs on a sovereign
nation, in tandem with cooperative American news outlets.
About an hour before the first missiles struck Yugoslavia, viewers
heard a Fox News Channel anchor make an understandable slip: "Let's bring
in our Pentagon spokesman -- excuse me, our Pentagon correspondent." The
fact that it's so often difficult to tell the difference is a triumph for
effective perception management.
Soon, all the networks were filled with exciting footage of U.S.
planes taking off from bases in Italy and England. And, across television
screens, a parade of former military officers began. A retired Marine
Corps general named Richard Neal -- now a "CNN military analyst" --
bedazzled a fawning anchor with euphemisms like "neutralize," "take out"
and "collateral damage." Just what the spin doctors ordered.
State-of-the-art TV graphics continued to enhance the war-viewing
experience for a large nationwide audience of Americans who could see
their tax dollars at work -- dramatically underscoring President
Clinton's longtime assertion that the government can do some things very
well. More than one Pentagon spokesman -- er, Pentagon correspondent --
hailed the "combat debut" of the B-2 stealth bomber.
The war was off to a fine start. The Fourth Estate functioned
smoothly as a fourth branch of government. Let that be a lesson to you.
Norman Solomon's book "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media" will be
published in April.
You can subscribe to his weekly column "Media Beat"
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