FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Media and the Antiwar Movement

by NORMAN SOLOMON

It’s reasonable to estimate that more than a quarter of a million people demonstrated against the Iraq war on Saturday in Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other U.S. cities. The next day, the Washington Post front-paged a decent story that described “the largest show of antiwar sentiment in the nation’s capital since the conflict in Iraq began.” But more perfunctory back-page articles were typical in daily papers across the country. And over the weekend, many TV news watchers saw little or nothing about the protests.

Hurricane Rita was clearly a factor. But even without dramatic natural disasters, the news media are ready, willing and able to downplay news about war — and the antiwar movement — for any number of reasons. Conventional wisdom on Capitol Hill or in newsrooms can tamp down media coverage of a surging movement. What’s crucial is that the movement not allow its momentum to be interrupted by media treatment.

If “journalism is the first draft of history,” the journalism of corporate media is usually the quickie top-down view of history that’s told from vantage points far removed from progressive movements. Media technologies and styles aside, what we’re experiencing now from major U.S. news outlets is not very different from the coverage of the Vietnam War.

A persistent myth is that mainstream American news outlets were tough on the war in Vietnam while boosting the antiwar movement. And these days — after a summer of plunging poll numbers for President Bush along with the profoundly important media presence of Cindy Sheehan — many people seem to think that the news media have turned against the war makers in Washington. But overall the media realities are something else. Actual history should make us wary of any assumption that the press is apt to be a counterweight to militarism.

Vietnam “was the first war in which reporters were routinely accredited to accompany military forces yet not subject to censorship,” media scholar Daniel Hallin wrote in his excellent book “The ‘Uncensored War’: The Media and Vietnam.” The authorities in Washington figured they could expect correspondents not to wander too far in terms of content; “the integration of the media into the political establishment was assumed to be secure enough that the last major vestige of direct government control — military censorship in wartime — could be lifted.”

Some reporters exercised a significant degree of independence. And, Hallin concluded, “this did matter: in 1963, when American policy in Vietnam began to fall apart, the media began to send back an image that conflicted sharply with the picture of progress officials were trying to paint. It would happen again many times before the war was over. But those reporters also went to Southeast Asia schooled in a set of journalistic practices which, among other things, ensured that the news would reflect, if not always the views of those at the very top of the American political hierarchy, at least the perspectives of American officialdom generally.”

Despite all the changes in news media since then, a systemic filtration process remains crucial. Strong economic pressures are especially significant — and combine with powerful forces for conformity at times of war. “Even if journalists, editors, and producers are not superpatriots, they know that appearing unpatriotic does not play well with many readers, viewers, and sponsors,” media analyst Michael X. Delli Carpini has commented. “Fear of alienating the public and sponsors, especially in wartime, serves as a real, often unstated tether, keeping the press tied to accepted wisdom.” Journalists in American newsrooms don’t have to worry about being taken out and shot; the constraining fears are apt to revolve around peer approval, financial security and professional advancement.

Interviewed in early November 2003, with the Iraq occupation in the midst of turning into a large-scale war against a growing insurgency, Hallin compared media treatment of the two wars and saw similar patterns. “As you begin to get a breakdown of consensus, especially among political elites in Washington, then the media begin asking more questions,” he said. In the case of the Iraq occupation, “the Democrats were mostly silent for a long time on this war, and when things began to bog down, they started asking questions. There were divisions within the Bush administration, and then the media starts playing a more independent role.”

To a notable degree, reporters seem to await signals from politicians and high-level appointees to widen the range of discourse. “They need confirmation that this issue is part of the mainstream political discussion in the U.S.,” Hallin commented. “Journalists are very keyed into what their sources are talking about. Political reporters define news worthiness in part by what’s going to affect American politics in the sense of who gets elected the next time around. But it isn’t absolutely only elites. I think it also makes a difference that polls show the public divided, and that there are problems of morale among soldiers in Iraq. But the first thing that the journalists look to is: ‘What are the elites debating in Washington?’ That’s what really sets the news agenda.”

So, with the autumn of 2005 underway, what are the elites debating in Washington? With rare exceptions, they’re debating how to continue the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

High-profile Democrats and even some Republicans like to bemoan “mistakes” and bad planning and the absence of an “exit strategy.” The prevailing version of Washington’s debate over Iraq still amounts to disputes over how to proceed with the U.S. war effort in Iraq. Top officials and politicians in Washington won’t change that. The journalists echoing them won’t change that. The antiwar movement must.

NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005

 

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail