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“The average Washington correspondent is content to write what he is spoon-fed by the government’s press officers.”
— I. F. Stone, 1953.
“When the government lies, must the press fib?”
— I. F. Stone, May 3, 1961
The government routinely lies and misleads. The mass media rarely checks government statements for facts or contradictions especially when the “good” guy (USA) attacks a “bad” guy (Cuba).
On July 14, for example, we reported Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Jews to support Alan Gross’ “humanitarian effort” to help the Jewish community improve communication technology.
Gross, arrested in Cuba last December, worked for a company paid by AID (part of the State Department), but used a tourist visa for five consecutive visits to disguise his intention: distribute forbidden satellite phones to government opponents. Several Jewish organizations already provide their Cuban brethren with modern communication technology. Most media failed to report that fact, which would have raised another obvious question: why did Gross distribute expensive satellite technology to a well-supplied community?
Jewish leaders in Havana interviewed by non-Cuban Juan Tamayo of the Miami Herald don’t remember meeting Alan Gross. Perhaps only dissident Jews got his goodies, those who don’t associate with the mainstream Jewish community!Ironically, as Hillary defended Gross’ technology-sharing mission, U.S. Homeland Security seized computers bound for Cuba from U.S. religious groups also claiming desires to upgrade communication technology for non-Jewish religious groups. Did some U.S. government official choose Jews (the “chosen” people) to receive high-tech equipment?Mainstream journalists didn’t catch this obvious contradiction. Indeed, the media routinely fails to check official government assertions. Sometimes they feast on their own failures to check, as when scandal erupted over the recent Shirley Sherrod firing by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack followed by “oops, we didn’t check, but can now squeeze this story for weeks.”
How about squeezing facts and applying them to reporting foreign policy? Reporters might recall Congress passed laws from the 1990s authorizing the “promotion of democracy” in Cuba (meaning overthrow Cuba’s government).
Radio Marti promoted the U.S. way of life, then TV Marti, albeit Cubans have yet to watch it (Cuba jams its signal). The Gross case represents a digital equivalent: Satellite phones, computers, Facebook and Twitter to undermine Cuba’s government.
Media often ignores context (history), especially when high U.S. officials present good (us) v. evil (them) scenarios. In the 1980s, Iran’s theocratic government, now Washington’s maximum enemy and Israel’s nemesis, (Teheran’s nuclear enrichment program could lead to weapons-making) received U.S. missiles from high Reagan officials (the Iran-Contra scandal).
In 2002, Saddam Hussein invited UN Weapons Inspectors to return to prove Iraq had no WMD. The Bush White House sneered, claiming Saddam had evicted the same inspectors in 1998. The major media like White House stenographers reported this “fact.” Four years earlier the very same media organs had correctly reported: the UN had prudently withdrawn the inspectors after President Clinton announced plans to launch missile strikes against Iraq. The effect of the report as fact and the false Bush narrative reinforced the “evil Saddam” image (convenient for mobilizing support for the invasion of Iraq).
Similarly, in July, Hillary lectured Vietnam on its human right failures. There was no mention in the major media of how U.S. armed forces (U.S. military advisers first entered Vietnam in 1950 and the war ended in 1975) had killed several million Vietnamese civilians, many in carpet bombings, which deprived them of all human rights. The media also ignored the fact that Washington does not turn Vietnamese — or Chinese — human rights abuses into pretexts to impose embargos and travel bans, as it does with Cuba. OK, consistency is the product of small minds!
U.S. officials condemn North Korea for its alleged sinking of South Korea’s ship, Cheonan, in March as if Pyongyang occupied a uniquely sinister place in the list of human rights’ abusers. Did no reporter read Bruce Cummings’ recent book revealing that U.S. forces killed millions of civilians in the Korean War? (The Korean War: A History, Modern Library, 2010)
U.S. “news” media apparently accept as unwritten law that a powerful empire can waive standards for itself that it applies to “lesser” nations, like Cuba. Declassified documents from the early 1960s onward show the CIA supervising 3,000 plus attacks against Cuba, including dozens of assassination attempts. Yet, State has placed Cuba on its terrorist list.
Evidence? Washington has not accused Havana of directing terrorist acts against U.S. targets. Paradoxically, in 1984 Cuban UN diplomat Nestor Garcia told Secret Service officials details of an assassination plot against President Reagan. As a result of the information, Garcia said, the FBI arrested some men, thanked Cuba for its help and “continued business as usual.”
Empires scoff at double standards. So what? U.S. leaders act on the first three words of the old Christian dictum: “Do unto others,” and haven’t absorbed Mark Twain’s wisdom. “There are 869 different forms of lying, but only one of them has been squarely forbidden. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Twain didn’t say “obedient neighbor!”
Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. CounterPunch published his A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD.
Nelson Valdés is Professor Emeritus, University of New Mexico.