The August 26, 2004 New York Daily News headline blared: ANARCHY, INC. The idea, of course, was to paint the upcoming RNC protests with the broad brush of corporate media propaganda. An influential ingredient of wartime spin is shaping public perception of the anti-war movement. As a result, coverage of demonstrations is usually a tepid combination of low crowd estimates and footage of police arresting “unruly” protestors.
“War, and the threat of war, sells newspapers,” says media analyst Danny Schechter. “Peace does not. The ‘action’ of war builds TV ratings. In contrast, the quieter work of diplomacy and negotiations is boring and not highly visual. War gives journalists a chance to show how brave they are in a macho sport where only the strong survive. Peace is far headier, an intellectual’s vocation, a game for lawyers, softies and sissies.”
Protest for peace also suggests the turbulence of the 1960s…turbulence that led Lyndon Johnson to conclude, “The weakest link in our armor is American public opinion. Our people won’t stand firm in the face of heavy losses, and they can bring down the government.” The protests didn’t end with the Sixties. At a 1971 anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC, 14,000 protestors were arrested. As author H. Bruce Franklin notes, 14,000 would have been considered a “good size march in 1965.”
Clearly, our “memories” of that era must be purified.
“The antiwar movement has been so thoroughly discredited,” says Franklin. “One would never be able to guess from public discourse that for every American veteran of combat in Vietnam, there must be twenty veterans of the antiwar movement.”
One reason for this is the media distortion of who opposes war. Protest is portrayed as a hobby for affluent white college students…a slight detour on the road to Yuppiedom. Not true, says Franklin: “A Gallup poll in January 1971 showed that 60 percent of those with a college education favored withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, 75 percent of those with a high school education favored withdrawal, and 80 percent of those with only a grade school education favored withdrawal.”
Context like this may not be ready for primetime, but retired generals are.
When Schechter says, “Hawks rule the TV studios even as doves line the streets,” he referring to the growing number of men in uniform embedded on the nightly news-especially during U.S. military interventions. It’s difficult to discover much of anything about the peace movement from a corporate media that relies almost entirely on retired military men as wartime commentators. While such veterans may have obvious advantages in discussing military strategy, it’s vital to remember that few if any anti-war “experts” are paid by networks and granted a national audience.
During the 1999 U.S./NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, one of CNN’s military analysts, Lt. Gen. Dan Benton, U.S. Army (Ret.), gave us an illustrative example of what the networks are paying for:
“I don’t know what our countrymen that are questioning why we’re involved in this conflict are thinking about. As I listened to this press conference this morning, with reports of rapes, villages being burned, and this particularly incredible report of blood banks, of blood being harvested from young boys for the use of Yugoslav forces, I just got madder and madder. The United States has a responsibility as the only superpower in the world, and when we learn about these things, somebody has got to stand up and say, ‘That’s enough, stop it, we aren’t going to put up with this.'”
Such analysis ignores (deliberately or otherwise) the existence of wartime spin.
As the bombardment of Yugoslavia continued, Pacifica’s Amy Goodman posed this question to CNN’s senior vice president for political coverage Frank Sesno: “If you support the practice of putting ex-military men-generals-on the payroll to share their opinion during a time of war, would you also support putting peace activists on the payroll to give a different opinion during a time of war?”
“We bring the generals in because of their expertise in a particular area,” Sesno replied. “We call them analysts. We don’t bring them in as advocates. In fact, we actually talk to them about that-they’re not there as advocates.”
From January 30, 2003 to February 12, 2003, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) examined such “analysts,” the “on-camera sources who appeared in nightly news stories about Iraq on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” FAIR found 267 of the 393 on-camera sources were from the U.S. and 75 percent (199) were either current or former government or military officials. “Only one of the official U.S. sources-Sen. Edward Kennedy-expressed skepticism or opposition to the war,” says FAIR, but the best Kennedy could muster was self-interest masked by vagueness. “Once we get in there, how are we going to get out?” he asked on NBC Nightly News on February 5, 2003…conveniently neglecting any mention of the legality of such an intervention.
Consistent with the media military invasion described above, of the 393 sources, 297 were either current or retired officials and only four were skeptics or opponents of war. “Such a predominance of official sources virtually assures that independent and grassroots perspectives will be underrepresented,” FAIR concluded.
Where’s “Anarchy, Inc.” when you need it?
This article is excerpted from MICKEY Z.’s book, “The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda” (Common Courage Press). For more information, please visit http://www.mickeyz.net.