"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Media and US Foreign Policy

Sustained criticism of fundamental U.S. foreign policy has not been a mark of the mainstream U.S. media for decades. Positions that appear too critical of entrenched economic power or offer sustained criticism of basic social and economic policies can create problems for journalists. After Islamic terrorists attacked buildings in Washington and New York on September 11, 2001, the mainstream media did very little to help people understand why the Al Qaeda terrorists were so anxious to murder Americans. Critics of US policies such as Edward Said, Edward Herman, and Noam Chomsky were not interviewed. Henry Kissinger appeared many times even though it had recently been revealed that he had approved the assassination of Rene Schneider, head of Chile’s military, because he would not have backed a proposed coup against Salvadore Allende.

With more than a little justification, Eric Alterman has claimed “the mainstream media almost always allow the Bush Administration to lie without consequence.” Press treatment of George W. Bush’s May 6, 2003 press conference illustrates how the press has come to backstop this president. The chief executive came with a prearranged list of reporters who would be called upon and he even mentioned that the conference had been scripted. Nevertheless, the reporters went through the motions of jumping from their chairs, acting as though they were struggling to be recognized so they could offer softball questions. In that press conference on Iraq, he mentioned September 11 or Al Qaeda fourteen times, but no reporter challenged him on whether he was saying that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attack It is no wonder a vast majority of Americans came to believe this.

At the beginning of the conference Helen Thomas was deprived of her customary front row seat, and Bush refused to call on her, though it was customary that she offer the first question and close the conference with a “Thank You, Mr. President.” She was being punished for saying Bush was the worst president in US history. The GOP national committee also sent out instructions to pundits in its stable to attack her. Many had the decency to ignore these instructions. Jim Rosen of Fox noted that the conference went much smoother without her asking questions, and Brit Hume called her to: a nutty aunt in the attic.” John Podhorentz said Thomas was an “ancient White House pseudo-reporter,’ and Michelle Malkin intoned “Shame, shame, shame, on Helen Thomas.” The Bush administration had also blacklisted Mike Allen of the Washington Post. Walter Cronkite, another journalist in his eighties, was the only major commentator to join Thomas in seriously questioning Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Bill O’Reilly denounced Cronkite as an “internationalist,” a Bushian term of derision. Andrew Sullivan also denounced the BBC for offering some unfavorable news about the war by calling it the ally of Saddam Hussein. For a variety of reasons, the press almost gave Bush a free pass since the campaign. His elevation of warrior/president after 9/11 made it more difficult to criticize him. Moreover, the administration was extremely effective in controlling news and not giving information to journalists who seemed hostile. Even a respected journalist Howard Fineman has taken to offering undiluted praise of Bush on his television appearances and praising the president’s gunslinger approach to diplomacy.

When President George W. Bush was beating the drum for war against Iraq in 2002, the desire to control oil resources as a motivation for war was much more a subject of interest in the foreign press than in the US media. The French and Germans took a leading role in opposing the war, but much of the media, particularly CNN and Fox, portrayed them as “isolated.” As Le Monde editor Alain Frachon noted, “European criticism of Bush’s position on Iraq ‘doesn’t cross the ocean well ‘“ People knew Europeans questioned Bush’s views but had no access to their arguments.

In time, it became clear France and Germany spoke for almost all of Europe. The British press, particularly the BBC, provided much information to debunk the Blair and Bush administrations claims about Saddam’s weapons programs and holdings, but the US press showed great deference to the administration and failed to go beyond reporting the claims of the Defense Department and White house. During the war, the press minimized data on US casualties even though Defense Department data demonstrated that they were far greater than reported. Paul Krugman suggested that CNN and Fox cable networks “have taken it as their assignment to sell the war, not to present a mix of information that might call the justification for war into question.” He thought Americans seemed mystified and stunned by foreign opposition to the war because they were mainly exposed to a one-sided approach and noted that the two main cable operations were dismissive in their coverage of the worldwide anti-war demonstrations on February 15, 2003. Hans Blix, in his February 14 report to the Security Council, refuted some of Secretary of State Powell’s charges. However, CNN deleted those 750 words from its transcript of the weapons’ inspector’s report on its web site.

On January 26, 2003 White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card appeared on “Meet the Press” to warn that there would be a holocaust against the US or its friends if there were not a war with Iraq. Tim Russert asked Card if the White House still stood behind Bush’s claims that some aluminum rods imported by Iraq were intended for plutonium processing. When Card responded with a lengthy affirmative answer, the usually tough Russert did not follow up with information from a very recent International Atomic Energy Administration report that dismissed this charge with considerable scientific evidence. To question Bush’s claims came too close to appear to be an apologist for Saddam Hussein. During the war itself, the media often performed more as cheerleaders than as objective reporters of events. John Pilger of the New Statesman reported that British troops “put on protective suits to recover dead and wounded in vehicles American [hit with]‘friendly fire’” because “the Americans are using solid uranium coated missiles and tank shells.” This was also reported in al-Jazerra, but not elsewhere.

There are many examples of the reluctance of The New York Times and The Washington Post to print information that could undermine fundamental foreign policy or dominant social and economic institutions and power structures are not meant to suggest that these are poor newspapers. They are two of the nation’s best papers and provide far more information critical of U.S. foreign policy and economic structures than other mainstream outlets. They usually push the envelope as far as possible consistent with their own profitability and continued access to important news sources. Enough solid information appears in their pages to make it possible to piece together a revealing but inadequate view. They present much that is not even mentioned in most other media outlets. Because these papers do print much invaluable information that others will not provide, conservatives angrily insist that the Times and Post provide biased, liberal coverage. If they printed only the news that appeared in conservative newspapers, they would pass the right’s fairness and balance tests with flying colors.

The staffs of less powerful and prestigious papers would be likely to encounter insuperable problems if they decided that good journalism required them to go very far against the grain in selecting topics or providing information that would be genuinely damaging to powerful interests. By the 1990s, the news departments of the major networks were facing enormous pressures for good ratings in a declining market. In 1981, the evening news broadcasts together had 84% of the viewers in their time slots; by 2002 they could claim only 43%, and those viewers had a median range in the upper fifties. To improve their positions, they reported less hard news and offered more material that was essentially justified by its entertainment value. These news departments began to reduce their payrolls to meet the new circumstances. Under these circumstances, reporters found it difficult to offer up highly controversial material.

Some of Bush’s foreign policy appointments should have raised more than a few eyebrows in the press. The younger Bush became the first president to appoint a pardoned criminal to a high White House post. President Bush the Elder had pardoned Elliott Abrams, who had been convicted of two counts of lying to Congress. Abrams had been involved in the Iran Contra scandal, channeling illegal funds to the right-wing death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. This misguided policy produced 70,000 dead in El Salvador and 100,000 in Guatemala. Abrams denied the validity of reports about the El Mozote massacre, which claimed the lives of 700 unarmed people, including children, and was highly critical of reports of the UN truth commissions and Catholic human rights committees about the bloody results of U.S. policy in El Salvador and Guatemala. Bush the Younger appointed Abrams senior director of the office for democracy, human rights, and international operations at the National Security Council. A halfway vigilant press would have publicized this case, and editors would have insisted that the price of rehabilitation should be providing a full and truthful account of all of his dealings with Lt. Colonel Oliver North in sending Iranian arms money to the Contra rebels in El Salvador.

Two other Bush nominations should have raised questions about the administration’s intentions toward Latin America and concern for human rights. Otto Reich, who was head of the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1980s, returned to that department to deal with Latin American affairs. Reich, teacher at the School of the Americans and another Cuban-American, took his orders from Lt. Colonel Oliver North in the National Security Council. Reich’s task was to plant materials in the press that would discredit the opponents of Ronald Reagan’s policies in El Salvador. The General Accounting Office reported in 1987 that Reich’s office had “engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities.” He was never prosecuted. John Negroponte was nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations. He was U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 when Battalion 3-16, a U.S. trained death squad, was on the loose. Negroponte, had at his disposal a briefing book by his predecessor on Honduran military’s human rights violations. There were hundreds of stories about their bloody activities in the Honduran papers. Nevertheless, he quashed reports about their abuses and denied he had any information about these matters. Negroponte also helped arm Nicaraguan Contras who were working out of Honduras. The Los Angeles Times investigated his activities when Bush the Younger nominated him, but few other newspapers pursued the matter

The Bush administration did not discuss its previous dealings with the Taliban, even though the foreign press covered them these matters in detail. Moreover, these matters were not explored in the American mainline press. The information available through the foreign press would have prompted some Americans to wonder if Bush’s dealings with the Taliban could have triggered the attacks. Some of this information also raised serious questions about how the administration handled investigative efforts to detect terrorist plots. The Village Voice reported on the visits of Taliban leaders to Bush’s Washington. These have been verified, but there is no way of knowing if the Village Voice report that the Taliban offered to hold Bin Laden until we could track his movements is true. It is clear that the administration was divided into three factions on what to do in Afghanistan, with many NeoCons wanting to deal with the Taliban. Apparently the State Department was opposed to dealing with the Northern Alliance, which is what the US ended up doing. Most of the press was content simply relying on administration handouts.

The disastrous events of September 11 clearly indicated there had been an intelligence failure of massive proportions. There was surprisingly little discussion of why the intelligence community had failed to detect such a large plot. When Congress began to look into this intelligence failure, delaying and obfuscating tactics by the Justice Department and CIA frustrated its efforts. Even Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, expressed frustration about the difficulties encountered in obtaining information.

Some might consider it a serious failure that the mainstream press did not look at reports that the Bush administration had shut down investigations of suspicious Saudi activities, In late 2001, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, a French intelligence expert and a journalist, published a book that revealed the United States’ secret negotiations with the Taliban and suggested that US concerns for the sensibilities of the Saudis seriously thwarted efforts of the FBI to investigate Afghanistan-based terrorism. It was given the provocative title The Forbidden Truth because it included material on how one of Bin Laden’s brothers managed to have it banned in Sweden. The assertion about frustrating the FBI’s investigation of terrorism was controversial and not fully proven. The book was widely discussed in Europe, but by late January 2001 received little attention in the United States.
The New York Daily News and Paula Zahn on CNN gave it considerable coverage. The two French writers have charged it had been standing U.S. policy to require the security agencies to tread carefully when investigating terrorists and terrorist organizations that had Saudi connections. They talked to John O’ Neill who had been a key FBI anti-terrorist investigator and had complained that Barbara Bodine, Clinton's ‘ambassador to Yemen, had tied the FBI's ‘ hands in its investigation of the bombing of the Cole. He complained that “ the FBI was even more politically engaged” after the election of George W. Bush.

O’Neill resigned in August and became head of security at the Twin Trade Towers and died there September 11. An intelligence source told a British journalist the same thing: the FBI was long required to handle people and organizations with Saudi ties with kid gloves. He too heard that the situation became worse when young Bush took power. O’ Neill told the Frenchmen, “All of the answers, all of the clues allowing us to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s organization, can be found in Saudi Arabia.” O’Neill was extremely frustrated by the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism, but his resignation was prompted by internal FBI politics. He had been denied a promotion, was on poor terms with the director and deputy director, and he faced an internal investigation. He had violated rules by letting a mistress use a bathroom in safe house and had apparently lost a laptop computer and briefcase with sensitive information while attending a meeting in Atlanta with 175 other agents. He left the conference room to take a telephone call and the briefcase and laptop somehow disappeared. O’ Neill had too high a profile for the agency, and his abrasiveness and great intelligence earned many enemies. When Louis Freeh told him he was sure the Saudis would help in the investigation of the Khobar Towers bombing, O’Neill responded, “They were just shining sunlight up your ass.” The director consistently defended O’Neill against his critics up to that point, but was wary of him thereafter.

After the bombing of the USS Cole, he temporarily led the investigation in Yemen, where he sought to break up key Al Qaeda operations. He and his team were ultimately barred from operating there by an ambassador who thought he endangered US relations with that country. He resigned because his career advancement was blocked, but his criticisms of Bush’s negligence on the anti-terrorism effort could be accurate. The truth of O ‘Neill’s claims about the Bush administration’s quashing of anti-terrorist activities may have gone to the grave with him.

However, a US intelligence source told two London Guardian journalists that “There were always constraints on investigating the Saudis,” but that these were considerably tightened after Bush became president. One reason, the Guardian was told, was that the “hands off” order was necessary to prevent it from becoming public that some Saudis were paying protection money to bin Laden. According to Greg Palast, an American journalist working in London, “A group of well-placed sources -- not-all-too-savory spooks and arms dealers--told my BBC team that before September 11 the U.S. government had turned away evidence of Saudi billionaires funding Osama bin Laden’s network --.we got our hands on documents that backed up the story that FBI and CIA investigations had been slowed by the Clinton administration, then killed by Bush Jr.’s when those inquiries might upset Saudi interests.” Another reason was allegedly “Arbusto” and “Carlyle”, terms that refer to the Bush business ties with Saudis. Palast and The Guardian later learned that the George W. Bush administration ordered the intelligence agencies to “back-off” Clinton’s investigation of Khan’s nuclear operations in Pakistan. Perhaps this was because Saudi money trails might turn up.

John Loftus claimed that Vice President Cheney ordered the FBI and intelligence Al Qaeda activities because such activities might interfere with efforts to negotiate a twin pipeline deal with Iraq. Apparently Enron was then taking the lead in the proposed deal. The gas pipeline was to terminate in a Pakistani port city and a line was to connect it to the Enron power plant in northern India.

The Guardian team that reported on the Bush administration’s negotiations with the Taliban concluded that the attacks of September 11 were a preemptive strike on the part of Al-Qaeda. In view of the fact that these strikes were long planned actions, a better conclusion would be that the threats made by American negotiators might have had some influence on the timing of these tragic events. They probably would have occurred anyhow. One wonders what might have occurred if the FBI investigators had not been ordered not to pursue some aspects of potential terrorist activity.

The Guardian obtained FBI documents that indicated there were restrictions on investigating possible terrorist plots. Shown on the BBC television program Newsnight, the file was coded A199,” which was a designation for national security cases. The material indicated the FBI could not investigate two of bin Laden’s relatives who lived in Falls Church, Virginia. Abdullah and Omar bin Laden were associated with a suspected terrorist organization, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) that had an office there. Abdullah was the director of the US branch of WAMY. Two of the September 11 hijackers used a false address several blocks away from the office. Apparently under Saudi pressure, the Clinton administration had limited the investigation of this organization. FBI sources disclosed that the restrictions became much worse under the Bush administration and that several investigations were effectively shut down. The restrictions were lifted after September 11. The French investigators Brisard and Dasquie claimed that powerful elements in the Saudi royal family support bin Laden and were able to pressure the US into shutting down the FBI investigation.

The San Francisco Chronicle forced Warren Hinckle to take a three-month “vacation”, and Dr. Orlando Garcia lost his talk show on WADO in New York City. Both had criticized the war against the Taliban. The editor of the Kutztown, Pa. Patriot was fired for writing an anti-war editorial. In September and October 2002, there here huge demonstrations abroad against George W. Bush’s proposed war against Iraq. About 1.5 million demonstrated in Rome, and several hundred thousands turned out in London. There were much smaller demonstrations in the United States, but none of these received much coverage.

The administration’s view of how the war should be reported can be seen in its view of al-Jazeera, the Islamic network that sometimes let itself be used by Al Qaeda for propaganda purposes. This network provided the best coverage of the loss of civilian lives and massive physical damage done during the second Battle of Falluja. The network claimed to have been targeted at least twice targeted there by US jets, and the US did not accept a cease-fire until al-Jazeera pulled its people out of the ruined city. Later an April 2004, a memo surfaced in which Bush suggested to Blair that its headquarters be bombed. The British Official Secrets Act was invoked against the two journalists who printed the story. Frank Gaffney, a Neo Conservative intellectual, quickly defended Bush’s suggestion.

The Canadian and European press explored the Second Bush administration’s meetings with Taliban officials before the attack of September 11, but these questions were not discussed in the mainstream American press. In the first seven months after 9-11, the American press did not investigate what the administration might have known about potential terrorism before 9-11. Dan Rather of CBS News explained on a BBC broadcast, “In some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions and to continue to bore in on the tough questions so often.” In this extraordinarily frank televised interview, Rather added “One finds one’self saying ‘ know the right question, but you know what, this is not exactly the right time to ask it’.” Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney suggested an investigation of Bush policies toward the Taliban and restrictions on watching suspicious Saudi nationals in the United States, and the press accused her of saying that Bush knew about 9/11 before it occurred—a claim she did not make. She had earlier looked into Choice Point, the Atlanta Company that had scrubbed black voters from the Florida voter rolls. Rather had urged her not to ask for a thorough investigation of 9/11 in order to avoid a necklacing. Conservative Democratic Senator Zell Miller led in her political lynching.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

No comments:

Blog Archive

About Me

Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!