Thursday, March 17, 2011

La Belle Vie: Embedded, Tenured, and Intellectually Lazy – or - Why My Contempt for Corporate Media Continues to Sprout Like a Weed

Review of Essay of the Following Titles:

Myra MacPherson. “All Governments Lie”: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone. New York: Scribner, 2006 [On order for Burling Library]

Ahmed Mansour. Inside Fallujah: The Unembedded Story. Northampton Massachusetts: Olive Branch Books, 2009. [On order for Burling Library]

Nir Rosen. Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World. New York: Nation Books, 2010. [On order for Burling Library]

Chris Hedges.  Death of the Liberal Class. New York: Nation Books, 2010. [On order for Burling Library]. (WikiLeaks)

Reviewed by T. Hatch

Teddy Roosevelt coined the term “muckraker” as a pejorative way of referring to troublesome reporters.  I.F. Stone was firmly from this tradition and was proud to be nudnik number one pestering those exercising power inside the establishment. Myra MacPherson's "All Governments Lie”: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone, chronicles his career which spanned from the 1920s until 1989.  Unlike the majority of journalists, both then and now, Stone was uncorrupted by an unchaste desire for access (as well as celebrity and fortune) that continues to plague the fourth estate. 

Stone was a mainstream member of the press until he was blacklisted in 1950.  He responded to forced unemployment by becoming an entrepreneur and publishing  I.F. Stone's Weekly for the next twenty-three years. In a sense, Stone was the godfather of alternative U.S. media. It is tempting then to play a game of what would Izzy do (WWID) when viewing the behavior of mainstream media types in our own time.  It seems unlikely, for example, that Stone would have said “I just want you to know I think Navy SEALS rock” like Katie Couric did, nor would he have been paid $15 million dollars a year to say it.  And, certainly no one would have ever referred to him as “America's sweetheart.”

I.F. Stone spent the better part of his career as a determined critic of mainstream media support of the Cold War and later as one who condemned the Vietnam War as an example of the tragic consequences of the arrogance of power in both the government and the media.  Stone was always about journalism from below. He once opined that “Establishment reporters undoubtedly know a lot of things I don't. But a lot of what they know isn't true.” Yet even he would be shocked by the servile nature of corporate media today.

Al Franken in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (2003) answers the charge that the media in this country has a liberal bias by arguing that sure the media suffers from being biased but most notably from the biases of making a lot of money and being lazy. While celebrity embedded journalists where holed up in Baghdad's green zone spending their evenings over cocktails there were actually journalists in the field not acting as government propagandists doing the real work of journalism. 

Ahmed Mansour of al-Jazeera has written of his experiences covering the U.S. assaults (there were actually two separate battles) on Fallujah.  In Inside Fallujah: The Unembedded Story, he recounts how the televised murder of four Blackwater mercenaries on April 2,  2004 outraged the Bush administration to the point that they ordered that revenge be exacted against the city of Fallujah in the Anbar province of Iraq. While the killing of the Blackwater operatives was not an isolated incident the problem was that it was broadcast globally.  The U.S.'s global image had been tarnished and only an act of retribution could restore American honor. “This revenge would be exacted not only on the insurgents who committed the murder, but also on the 300,000 civilian residents of Fallujah.”

Mansour and his al-Jazeera satellite news team remained in Fallujah during the entire battle known as Operation Vigilant Resolve.  The U.S. Marines surrounded the city and set up speakers that could be heard inside the city calling for handing over the “evil doers.”  Mansour and his crew reported live on the campaign that the Marines conducted against the cultural and religious identity of Fallujah by directly targeting mosques.  They recounted how after occupying Fallujah's public hospital and banning its staff and doctors from the premises, the U.S. forces then bombed the emergency hospital that had been established.  They also related stories of Fallujans being shot by snipers as they attempted to bury their dead.  If all of this was not annoying enough to Donald Rumsfeld and L. Paul Bremer, the final straw was al-Jazeera exposing in filmed coverage the lie American officials told when they proclaimed to the world that they had declared a unilateral cease-fire effective at noon April 9, 2004. 

Mansour was accused of propagating lies, cooperating with the insurgents, and actively supporting Saddam Hussein.  As we learned later, George W. Bush went as far as to propose bombing al-Jazeera's headquarter in Doha Qatar to Tony Blair.  When this story broke on November 22, 2004 in the U.K.'s Daily Mirror the headline read “EXCLUSIVE: BUSH PLOT TO BOMB HIS ARAB ALLIES.”  In August of 2004, the compliant Ayad Allawi issued orders to close al-Jazeera's Baghdad bureau.  Meanwhile al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was being tortured at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility refusing to bend to U.S. pressure to implicate al-Jazeera as being connected to al-Qaeda. 
The U.S. vendetta against al-Jazeera went as far as to demand that one of the conditions of Sami al-Haj's release from Guantanamo was that the news agency could not be present at the airport when he arrived May 2, 2008 after six plus years in captivity with no charges ever filed replete with “enhanced interrogations.”

On November 7, 2004, days after George W. Bush's re-election, the second attack on Fallujah a.k.a. Operation Phantom fury was launched. With no al-Jazeera to contend with, the Marines attacked a city of 300,000 inhabitants to root out fewer than 2,000 belligerents if fresh recruits and locals with shotguns are included in the total.  The big lie to this operation was that the infamous al-Zarqawi and his al-Qaeda in Iraq forces were present in the city.  Although al-Jazeera was not there, the truth still leaked out (see Italy's RAI network's documentary Fallujah: The Hidden Massacre).

Nir Rosen In Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World has provided us with the gold standard of independent unembedded reportage.  This book is really about the Bush legacy in the Middle East. The war in Iraq has indeed changed everything in the Muslim World.   Instead of the neoconservative fantasy of democracy spreading throughout the Middle East it was radical Islam that had washed over the region. Aftermath is also the story of the Iraqi diaspora which as a refugee crisis surpasses even 1948. Iraqis fled to anyplace they could: Kurdistan, other neighborhoods in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and even Denmark among other places.

Rosen is remarkable for an American journalist in that he mingles among the people he covers and is actually curious enough to learn their language and something about their culture [essentially] operating without a safety net in an Arab country where people get shot on a regular basis. He is rightfully critical of the Iraq and terrorism “experts” who are largely pundits who have catered to the American administration and the occupation while never bothering to learn how to speak or read Arabic.  Many of the “experts” have never set foot in Iraq and if they have they derive lessons such as Thomas L. Friedman's comment that the American occupation of Iraq was actually “a million acts of kindness.”

This may be one of the most comprehensive and important books on the U.S. in the Middle East to date. The reader gets a view of how Nouri Maliki has now firmly established Iraqi independence albeit in an authoritarian way and at a tremendous cost.  Maybe the most valuable thing this book does is to expose the mainstream media myth that the General David Petraeus led surge was a victory.  Rosen, in graphic detail, describes the deeply flawed naked emperor of counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN). What is truly dangerous about the lessons derived by the corporate media is that COIN was not the decisive factor in Iraq they erroneously believed it to be.  Further, the mistake is compounded when the doctrine is mindlessly applied to an entirely different situation in Afghanistan.  If one is interested, Rosen did an hour and fifteen-minute program on C Span Book TV recently, which discusses this particular issue.

Chris Hedges has given us an explanation of why the media has failed so ignominiously in Death of the Liberal Class.  The media, like the other liberal institutions of the church, university, arts, labor unions, and Democratic Party, have sold their souls to cling to what little privilege is still left to them.  Because liberalism refuses to acknowledge the corporate domination of politics, a weakened liberal class seeks comfort in denouncing Islamic radicalism, just as they did communism, rather than fight the structural abuses of the corporate state.  In Hedges' view if one is not actively resisting the corporate domination of the economy and the culture of permanent war then one is part of the problem and not the solution.

Hedges argues that the beginning of the end for moribund liberalism came during the First World War. It was then that modernity in war first reared its ugly head.  Industrial production and vast wartime bureaucracies were in play and mass propaganda was utilized.  More importantly the template for the next century was set as intellectuals, seduced by war, eagerly embraced the original sin of crushing radicals so as not to be labeled unpatriotic.  After a century of corporate Uncle Tomism the liberal class defends the power elite because “it is a full member of the club.”  Hedges, following C. Wright Mills, concludes that this is so because the commercial media faithfully plays their part as essential tools for conformity in society.

The most encouraging development in the alternative media, doing their part to subvert conformity, has been the massive release of government documents through WikiLeaks. Julian Assange has angered the government and mainstream media in the U.S. in the same way al-Jazeera has infuriated the Mubarak regime in Egypt.  In both instances the veracity of what is being reported is not questioned but the messenger is attacked and smeared.  Maybe it should not come as a surprise but the most aggrieved party in the recent wave of WikiLeaks releases seems to be the corporate media itself.  Rather than rightfully hanging their heads in shame at being massively outperformed by a small group of journalistic anarchists operating on meager funding, the response instead is one of indignation.  The recent 60 minutes interview of Julian Assange is an example of this phenomenon.  Steve Kroft seemed personally offended by Assange's temerity in exposing the falsehoods of the powerful with whom Kroft – allegedly an investigative journalist himself – rubs shoulders in a world of celebrity access.

The recent WikiLeaks release of over 250,000 documents makes for fascinating reading.  Despite the authorities initially attempting to prevent the reading of this material by forcing WikiLeaks to change servers a couple of times, the address is on my bookmarks. Reading these is like swimming against a swift current because there is never an end to it.  But two themes come up over and over again.  In the first instance the contempt that those in power have for those whom they supposedly serve is immense.  Secondly, considering the nature of their sleazy business it is understandable that they wish to operate under the veil of secrecy.

When Daniel Ellsberg spoke at Grinnell College in 2005 he proposed then that events like the invasion of Iraq might be stopped by providing a place on the Internet where somebody – such as Colin Powell for instance – could leak documents.  It seemed far-fetched to me at the time, and now as well, that the Secretary of State leaking documents to an Internet site would derail an imperial war. Ellsberg took the position that while seemingly futile it is was still worth a try. Better to have blown the whistle and lost than to never have blown the whistle at all was his position.  In retrospect the Internet might be the proper medium, but the leaks are going to have to come from below, e.g., the case of PFC Bradley Manning. 

I. F. Stone worked as a journalist in the days before the Internet.  But the fundamental guiding principles are the same now as they were then.  Real journalism and real change in society occur when those from below refuse to be corrupted and play along any further.     


1 comment:

T. Hatch said...

In the category of "it was actually worse than we thought":
"Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman, was detained in Pakistan after working for the network in Afghanistan after 9/11, and flown to the prison camp where he was allegedly beaten and sexually assaulted.

His file makes clear that one of the reasons he was sent to Guantánamo was "to provide information on ... the al-Jazeera news network's training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network's acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL".

The file shows that the camp authorities were convinced that al-Hajj was an al-Qaida courier who had provided funds for a charity in Chechnya suspected of having links with Bin Laden.

However, the contents of the file also appear to support complaints made by al-Hajj to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that during his first 100-plus interrogations he was never once questioned about the allegations he faced, and that he eventually demanded that he be questioned about what he was supposed to have done wrong.

Stafford Smith believes the US military authorities were attempting to force al-Hajj to become an informer against his employers.

Al-Hajj was finally released in May 2008."

The above was published in the Guardian 4-25-11