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How to Market a Siege

The US Media and Fallujah

by MIKE WHITNEY

Two weeks before the invasion of Falluja a car bomb was set off in front of the Al Arabiyya news facility in downtown Baghdad; 7 people were killed. The evening news dismissed the incident as a warning by insurgents to the Arab news channel to change the "pro-occupation" tone of their coverage.

Obviously, insurgents had nothing to do with the bombing. It was a "gangland-style hit" intended to put fear in the hearts of the Al Arabiyya reporters who would soon be covering the siege of Falluja. There’s no doubt that anyone misunderstood the message that was being conveyed. The Allawi government has repeatedly scolded reporters for stories that have been critical of the occupation; threatening to punish or exile those who continue to offend. In the case of Al Aribiyya, this was just the first shot fired over the bow. Two weeks later their reporter was arrested in Falluja and hasn’t been seen since.

Three months earlier, Al Jazeera was exiled from Iraq because its coverage did not follow a narrative that was acceptable to occupation authorities. Al Jazeera had already been bombed twice by US forces in both Baghdad and Kabul, so they knew the risks of providing a view of the conflict that was at variance to the one being seen on American TVs. Free speech is as unwelcome in today’s Iraq as it was under Saddam, and its consequences are just as dire.

Last week two Sunni Clerics, members of the AMS, (Association of Muslim Clerics) were gunned down as they left their homes.(in separate incidents) The story has been successfully buried in western newspapers and it hasn’t drawn much attention. In Iraq, however, the message is clear; anyone who speaks out against the occupation or the upcoming elections will be killed. The US is now using Mafia-style hit-teams to establish order and quash dissent.

No one in the western press has been reprimanded for their coverage, nor should they be. The concept of "embedding" reporters has worked like a charm. In fact, American journalists have demonstrated that they are not journalists at all, but an essential component of the military apparatus. They have merged seamlessly with their army units, presenting a story-line that is consistent with the objectives of the American occupation. The Pentagon believes that the role of "embedded" reporters is vital to winning the "information war"; a battle that’s geared to sustain the support of the American people. Many of Rumsfeld’s cadres still think that the Vietnam War was lost by the media. They argue that the presentation of the campaign in all its bloody aspects was intentionally tilted against American goals by a "liberal press". It’s understandable then, that they would try to micro-manage every bit of information emerging from Iraq. In many ways, they have succeeded.

CBS coverage of the siege of Falluja proves this point. In the last week CBS has run numerous headline stories on Falluja; presenting the battle from different angles, but always the same perspective. The reports are always framed in a way that demonizes the Iraqi people and extols the worthiness of the American occupation. For example:

Day 1: large swaths of the city have been laid to waste and bodies are strewed in the streets. Rather than show details of the destruction, CBS focuses on a lone Backhoe slowly edging along a road scooping up rubble followed by 6 or 7 Marines with shovels. The subtext of the segment was "reconstruction in Falluja".

Day 2: CBS films an enormous weapons cache that Marines have uncovered.

Day 3: CBS provides footage of an "alleged" torture room, complete with blood-stained walls, and implements of abuse.

Day 4: CBS films "alleged" Terrorist safehouse (al Zarqawi?) replete with computer files of suspected terrorists and Al Qaida flag on the wall

Day 5: Segment covers an "alleged" chemical weapons lab, and alludes to the possibility of anthrax production. (Hans Blix later dismissed the report as "unlikely")

Day 6: Thanksgiving Day; plenty of heartwarming pictures of American warriors, relaxing after a hard week and reminiscing on home.

Day 7: CBS shows remains of 60 dead Iraqi Guardsman disinterred in the Mosul area.

CBS depiction of the war is no different than ABC, CNN, NBC or FOX. We can see from this brief summary of one week’s news that American media is little more than the "information arm" of the US military. In every case, the events are shaped to create a favorable impression of our involvement. The allusions to weapons caches, anthrax labs and torture rooms are invoked to feed ethnic and racial hatred and to rationalize the horrific punishment we are visiting on the innocent civilians of Falluja.

The real story of Falluja is nowhere to be found in American media. 300,000 people were expelled from the city so that the military could exact its revenge against the killers of four mercenaries. By all accounts, the city is in ruins; bodies left on the streets are bloated and some are being devoured by dogs. Those who chose to stay (many because they were invalid or afraid that their homes would be looted) were left for two weeks without food, water or electricity. Even now, the relief efforts of the Red Crescent have been stymied by the Marines; leaving many of the wounded without medical attention. Half of the city’s mosques have been damaged or destroyed; roads and infrastructure have been laid to waste, and upwards of 2,000 people have been killed. This is the real picture of Falluja; a picture that is scrupulously omitted from any mainstream newspaper or TV station in the country.

It’s impossible to know when the American media morphed into the corporate-friendly bullhorn for aggression that it is today. But, we can say with certainty that the main outlets speak with one voice on the war in Iraq. Everything down to the labeling of the siege ("The Battle for Falluja") has been focus-group tested and picked up by all the main stations. In fact, there was no "Battle for Falluja"; it was a brutal siege in the same tradition as Germany’s assault on Stalingrad.

Fortunately, many Americans have already begun to see through the smoke screen of media fabrications and deceptions. (55% of the American people now believe the war was a mistake.) Some of them surely realize that the battering of Falluja was an illegal and ruthless act of collective punishment condemned under international law and the Geneva Conventions. Already the question of "war crimes" is appearing with more and more frequency. Those crimes against humanity won’t be mitigated by the "upbeat" footage from CBS or the "cheerful" record of military activities provided by America’s "embedded" journalists.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com