Saturday 31st of July 2021

hope...

windowwindow                               More people are becoming conscious of the Palestine issue and politicians and pundits can no longer get away with painting themselves as progressive-minded humanists without acknowledging the brutal nature of Israeli occupation.  By Caitlin Johnstone, an independent journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Her website is here and you can follow her on Twitter @caitoz  

The National Director Emeritus for the Anti-Defamation League has announced on Twitter that he is cancelling his subscription to The New York Times, claiming that a front-page story featuring the photos of children killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza this month constitutes “blood libel” against Jews.

I am cancelling my subscription to NYTimes,” tweeted Abraham Foxman. “I grew up in America on the NYT - I delivered the NYT to my classmates - I learned civics - democracy and all the news ‘fit to print’ for 65 years but no more. Today’s blood libel of Israel and the Jewish people on the front page is enough.

Foxman’s statement drew criticism from all corners, including from loyal establishment pundits like Jonathan Chait, for his ridiculous assertion that merely humanizing Palestinian children killed by Israel is the same as promoting the ancient antisemitic canard known as blood libel.

 

Supporters of Israeli apartheid and mass murder are losing control of the narrative, which has led to redoubled perception-management efforts, ranging from the cringey to the iron-fisted. In the former category we’re seeing them pen entire articles attacking Seth Rogen for tweeting a fart emoji at virulent Israel apologist Eve Barlow and claiming that putting “fart” in Barlow’s name is the same as a literal pogrom. In the latter category they’re blowing up entire press offices and arresting Palestinian journalists. This is narrative management at its least subtle.

From a new statement titled “Israel now holding 13 Palestinian journalists” by Reporters Without Borders:

Two Palestinian journalists were arrested by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem yesterday and were placed in administrative detention today, bringing the total now held administratively by the Israelis to 13. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Israel’s misuse of administrative detention to hound Palestinian reporters.

Administrative detention” is one of the many apartheid abuses which Israel has come under criticism for employing, as Israel-based +972 Magazine explained last year:

According to human rights group B’Tselem, as of September 2020, Israel is holding 376 Palestinians, including two minors, in administrative detention. Israel uses administrative detention to indefinitely detain Palestinians (and on extremely rare occasions Jewish extremists) without charge or trial. Administrative detention orders, handed down by the IDF commander in charge of the occupied West Bank, are reviewed every six months, but the detainees are not told what crimes they are being accused of, nor shown the evidence against them.

According to lawyers who defend Palestinian detainees, administrative detentions are almost always based on “confidential material” handed over ex parte to the courts by the Shin Bet, to which the detainees themselves and their lawyers have no access. As a result, it is virtually impossible to defend oneself against an administrative detention order.

Before the Gaza ceasefire last week Israel managed to deliberately blow up over 20 offices for Palestinian media outlets, as well as the tower hosting the international outlets AP and Al Jazeera.

The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement after the building was destroyed.

Which, of course, is the whole idea: for the world to know less about what happens in Gaza. The Israeli government has a decades-long history of threatening and targeting journalists in order to exert control over the public narrative about what happens under its rule, and as that narrative slips from its grip we are seeing this pattern ramp up with greater and greater aggression.

Rather than reduce the cruelty, the Israeli government keeps trying to reduce accurate news coverage,” author and activist Norman Solomon writes. “The approach is a mix of deception and brutality. Blow up the cameras so the world won’t see as many pictures of the atrocities.

 

As Alan MacLeod wrote in Mintpress News, the Overton window has shifted on Palestine. During 2014’s far more deadly Israeli attack on Gaza we saw a low-level local Democratic official sparking outrage and scandal by merely posting “Palestine <3” on Facebook, now you have words like “apartheid” being routinely used by mainstream media outlets and national US political figures to describe Israeli abuses of the Palestinian people.

People are simply becoming too conscious of the Palestine issue to tolerate its existence as a taboo subject anymore, even in the most mainstream circles of discussion. The old tactics of silencing and marginalizing Palestinian rights advocates simply do not work anymore, and politicians and pundits can no longer get away with painting themselves as progressive-minded humanists without acknowledging the brutal and unjust nature of Israeli occupation.

Palestine is simply not a third rail anymore, and it’s been this way for a while now. By the time I started doing commentary in late 2016 people were still saying you’ll be smeared as an antisemite and dragged through the mud if you criticize Israel, but my experience this entire time has been that I get a lot more vitriol and attacks coming my way by criticizing US imperialist agendas toward nations like Russia, China, Syria and Venezuela than by criticizing the Israeli government. There’s pushback to be sure, but it’s not nearly as vituperative as what I’m used to.

This last attack on Gaza was just the ignition of a powder keg in shifting public sentiment that had been building for several years, and it hasn’t been due to any top-down effort at perception-steering by the establishment narrative managers, but by ordinary people sharing ideas and information and moving the Overton window of acceptable debate through sheer force of will.

The fact that this can be done makes one wonder in what other ways we can collectively move the narrative in a way that benefits ordinary people instead of the oligarchic empire of the US and its allies. This is an exciting time to be alive.

 

 

manipulating bleeding hearts for war...

 

In an earlier piece (FAIR.org3/3/21), we explored some country case study examples of how the press helps to manufacture consent for regime change and other US actions abroad among left-leaning audiences, a traditionally conflict-skeptical group.

 

Some level of buy-in, or at least a hesitancy to resist, among the United States’ more left-leaning half is necessary to ensure that US interventions are carried out with a minimum of domestic opposition. To this end, corporate media invoke the language of human rights and humanitarianism to convince those to the left of center to accept, if not support, US actions abroad—a treatment of sorts for the country’s 50-year-long Vietnam syndrome.

What follows are some of the common tropes used by establishment outlets to convince skeptical leftists that this time, things might be different, selling  a progressive intervention everyone can get behind.

 

Think of the women! 

 

The vast majority of the world was against the US attack on Afghanistan that followed the 9/11 attacks in 2001. However, the idea had overwhelming support from the US public, including from Democrats. In fact, when Gallup (Brookings, 1/9/20) asked about the occupation in 2019, there was slightly more support for maintaining troops there among Democrats than Republicans—38% vs. 34%—and slightly less support for withdrawing troops (21% vs. 23%).

Media coverage can partially explain this phenomenon, convincing some and at the least providing cover for those in power. This was not a war of aggression, they insisted. They were not simply there to capture Osama bin Laden (whom the Taliban actually offered to hand over); this was a fight to bring freedom to the oppressed women of the country. As First Lady Laura Bush said:

 

We respect our mothers, our sisters and daughters. Fighting brutality against women and children is not the expression of a specific culture; it is the acceptance of our common humanity—a commitment shared by people of goodwill on every continent…. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.

 

Wars are not fought to liberate women (FAIR.org7/26/17), and bombing people is never a feminist activity (FAIR.org6/28/20). But the New York Times was among the chief architects in constructing the belief in a phantom feminist war. Within weeks of the invasion (12/2/01), it reported on the “joyful return” of women to college campuses, profiling one student who

 

strode up the steps tentatively at first, her body covered from face to foot by blue cotton. As she neared the door, she flipped the cloth back over her head, revealing round cheeks, dark ringlets of hair and the searching brown eyes of a student.

 

The over-the-top symbolism was hard to miss: This was a country changed, and all thanks to the invasion.

Time magazine also played heavily on this angle. Six weeks after the invasion (11/26/01), it told readers that “the greatest pageant of mass liberation since the fight for suffrage” was occurring, as “female faces, shy and bright, emerged from the dark cellars,” casting off their veils and symbolically stomping on them. If the implication was not clear enough, it directly told readers “the sight of jubilation was a holiday gift, a reminder of reasons the war was worth fighting beyond those of basic self-defense.”

 

A few days later, Time‘s cover (12/3/01) featured a portrait of a blonde, light-skinned Afghan woman, with the words, “Lifting the Veil. The shocking story of how the Taliban brutalized the women of Afghanistan. How much better will their lives be now?”

This was representative of a much wider phenomenon. A study by Carol Stabile and Deepa Kumar published in Media, Culture & Society (9/1/05) found that, in 1999, there were 29 US newspaper articles and 37 broadcast TV reports about women’s rights in Afghanistan. Between 2000 and September 11, 2001, those figures were 15 and 33, respectively. However, in the 16 weeks between September 12 and January 1, 2002, Americans were inundated with stories on the subject, with 93 newspaper articles and 628 TV reports on the subject. Once the real objectives of the war were secure, those figures fell off a cliff.

Antiwar messages were largely absent from corporate news coverage. Indeed, as FAIR founder Jeff Cohen noted in his book Cable News Confidential, CNN executives instructed their staff to constantly counter any images of civilian casualties with pro-war messages, even if “it may start sounding rote.” This sort of coverage helped to push 75% of Democratic voters into supporting the ground war.

As reality set in, it became increasingly difficult to pretend women’s rights in Afghanistan were seriously improving. Women still face the same problems as they did before. As a female Afghan member of parliament told Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies (CounterSpin2/17/21), women in Afghanistan have three principal enemies:

 

One is the Taliban. Two is this group of warlords, disguised as a government, that the US supports. And the third is the US occupation…. If you in the West could get the US occupation out, we’d only have two.

 

However, Time managed to find a way to tug on the heartstrings of left-leaning audiences to support continued occupation. Featuring a shocking image of an 18-year-old local woman who had her ear and nose cut off, a 2010 cover story (8/9/10) asked readers to wonder “what happens if we leave Afghanistan,” the clear implication being the US must stay to prevent further brutality—despite the fact that the woman’s mutilation occurred after eight years of US occupation (Extra!10/10).

 

The trick is still being used to this day. In March, Vox (3/4/21) credulously reported that Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Mark Milley made an emotional plea to Biden that he must stay in Afghanistan, otherwise women’s rights “will go back to the Stone Age.” It’s so good to know the upper echelons of the military industrial complex are filled with such passionate feminists.

In reality, nearly 20 years of occupation has only led to a situation where zero percent of Afghans considered themselves to be “thriving” while 85% are “suffering,” according to a Gallup poll. Only one in three girls goes to school, let alone university.

And all of this ignores the fact that the US supported radical Islamist groups and their takeover of the country in the first place, a move that drastically reduced women’s rights. Pre-Taliban, half of university students were women, as were 40% of the country’s doctors, 70% of its teachers and 30% of its civil servants—reflecting the reforms of the Soviet-backed government that the US dedicated massive resources to destroying.

Today, in half of the country’s provinces, fewer than 20% of teachers are female (and in many, fewer than 10% are). Only 37% of adolescent girls can read (compared to 66% of boys). Meanwhile, being a female gynecologist is now considered “one of the most dangerous jobs in the world” (New Statesman9/24/14). So much for a new golden age.

The “think of the women” trope is far from unique to Afghanistan. In fact, 19th century British imperial propagandists used the plight of Hindu women in India and Muslim women in Egypt as a pretext to invade and conquer those countries. The tactic’s longevity is perhaps testament to its effectiveness.

 

He’s attacking his own people!

 

One of the many justifications used to engineer public consent for the disastrous Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein was a monster who was a danger to his own country. ‘There’s no question that the leader of Iraq is an evil man. After all, he gassed his own people. And we know he’s been working on weapons of mass destruction,” President George W. Bush frequently said, with the media parroting his every word.

In the run up to the Iraq War, the New York Times suddenly became extremely concerned with Hussein’s crimes against civilians. Foreign correspondent John F. Burns (1/26/03), for example, compared him to Stalin and denounced him for plunging Iraq into a “bloodbath of medieval proportions.” The cornerstone of Burns’ pro-regime change argument was, ironically, the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. How did that one work out?

 

At the same time NATO was deciding to intervene in Libya to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi, corporate media were filled with passionate denunciations of his regime, most telling readers that he had attacked “his own people” (e.g., McClatchy2/21/11Washington Post3/11/11New York Times3/15/11).

The Washington Post (4/1/11), approving of the intervention, reported that “a massacre of civilians, amounting to crimes against humanity,” would likely have transpired absent NATO’s intercession. It compared the supposed imminent slaughter to the Holocaust, implying that the United States’ actions “followed reflection in the international community about the failures to prevent genocide in the 1990s.” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (3/21/11) also praised the attack as “the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention,” claiming its “humanitarian purpose” was plain for all to see.

The phrase “killing his own people” (or “gassing” them) became commonplace in media accounts of enemy wrongdoings, as it directly fed into the new Responsibility to Protectdoctrine, a legal framework that allowed military intervention in other countries under humanitarian auspices. In practice, however, it was generally invoked to overthrow adversarial states. Data from Google Trends shows only minor interest in Libyan human rights until early 2011, reaching a massive spike in March (the date of the NATO intervention) before quickly dropping down to negligible levels and staying there ever since. A majority of Democratic voters supported the intervention, almost on a par with Republicans.

The fact that talk of human rights in Libya has reduced to a trickle suggests either that the situation has drastically improved there, or that there were ulterior motives for all this human rights talk in the first place. It is clearly not the former (FAIR.org11/28/17). That media lost interest in the human rights situation  just after a successful military intervention strongly suggests their newfound passion was not genuine, and was a tool to sell war all along.

As with Libya, peak discussion of human rights in Syria coincided with the US bombing of the country in April 2017. It stayed high throughout the early period of the civil war, although it has petered out in recent years, as a victory by the government of Bashar al-Assad becomes ever more certain. To corporate media, Assad is a dictator who is “gassing his own people” (e.g., Vox4/4/17Bloomberg12/4/18New York Times6/25/18Economist 6/18/20) and so, the implication is, something must be done—that something likely involving military jets. (In a 2019 survey, far more Democrats opposed withdrawing US troops from Syria than Republicans: 66% vs. 23%—Brookings, 1/9/20.)

A prime liberal interventionist argument can be found in the Huffington Post (8/26/13), where lawyer Josh Scheinert argued that “Syria’s civilians have paid the highest price” for Obama’s hesitancy, and demanded that “that…must change.” Scheinert wrote that he wanted to “believe that as a global community, when it came to the worst atrocities, not just the really bad ones, we might have moved on from our dark history of failures.” By failures, he did not mean active US participation or leadership in coups, wars and genocides in Latin America and Southeast Asia (to name but a few), but the times when the US military did not intervene.

 

Guardian columnist Natalie Nougayrède (3/1/19) made a similar argument, maintaining that “Assad Can Still Be Brought to Justice—and Europe’s Role Is Crucial.” “Massive human rights violations must not be left unpunished,” she argued, claiming his arrest would “act as a deterrent against further slaughter.” Of course, the only realistic way to arrest Assad, as she surely understood, would be to send an invasion force into the country to overthrow the government and kidnap him. Thus, she effectively managed to couch what would be an all-out military assault on the scale of Iraq as a narrow legal response aimed at preventing human rights violations.

Sometimes atrocities will simply be made up out of whole cloth, such as Gadhafi’s Viagra-fueled rape squads, Saddam’s soldiers killingbabies in incubators, or the “Gay Girl in Damascus” hoax. President Lyndon Johnson used the imaginary “open aggression on the high seas” known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident to convince Congress to authorize the Vietnam War (FAIR.org8/5/17).

Going further back, incidents like the USS Maine explosion—the impetus for US intervention in the Cuban war of independence—and British World War I propaganda about Germans bayoneting babies, crucifying prisoners and cutting the heads of children helped whip a skeptical, pacifist public into a bloodthirsty fervor.

 

We have to save democracy!

 

This trope has been used extensively against Venezuela, as the Washington Post illustrates. The paper’s editorial board has published editorial after editorial demanding a coup (or more) in order to supposedly save democracy.

 

In fact, this “vast majority” turned out to be less than 3% of the country, as a poll taken that week by an opposition-linked firm showed. Eighty-five percent opposed the movement’s tactics, with 56% against any form of opposition action whatsoever, even if it were entirely peaceful. This continued a long trend of media invisibilizing the majority of Venezuelans, with only those agreeing with Washington’s ambitions worthy of being labeled “the Venezuelan people” (FAIR.org1/31/19).

The same editorial made a number of inflammatory predictions that if the US did not act, Maduro would “eliminate the opposition-controlled National Assembly” and “convert Venezuela into a regime modeled after Cuba’s.” None of this has proven to be true. The Postappeared bewildered by the lack of appetite for a US coup from Venezuela’s neighbors, explaining this by telling readers that they had been “bribed by Caracas with discounted oil.”

One month later, the Post’s editorial board (7/27/17) was still informing us that the violent US-backed coup attempt was actually a peaceful demonstration supported by the “vast majority of its own people,” and that “Venezuela’s lawless regime” was itself the one conducting a coup against democracy. We must act now was the message, as Maduro was about to “abolish” the National Assembly and “cancel future elections”— again, none of which actually happened.

“The response of the United States and other democracies [to Venezuela] has been consistently inadequate,” the board lamented. Given that the US was doing everything short of active military intervention in the country, the implication of what should be done was clear.

In case that was not obvious enough, however, the Post (11/15/17) also ran a column headlined “The Odds of a Military Coup in Venezuela Are Going Up. But Coups Can Sometimes Lead to Democracy.” The piece claimed that Maduro had “cracked down on dissidents by force and run roughshod over the country’s democratic institutions.” The military, it noted, will “play a key role in determining whether a country will move to real democracy.”

 

The Washington Post (8/12/16) has also claimed that action against Nicaragua was necessary to save democracy. Leftist President Daniel Ortega, the board told readers, has been “astonishingly contemptuous of democratic norms,” including overseeing “a bogus repeal of constitutional term limits, electoral fraud, intimidation of the opposition and control of major media.” How can the United States, which the Post claimed “spent so much money and political capital to promote democracy in Nicaragua during the 1980s,” sit by and offer “nothing but mild verbal opposition?”

The level of contempt displayed here for basic historical truth is staggering. In reality, the US government in the 1980s trained, armed and funded far-right death squads that wrought havoc in Nicaragua and the rest of the region, killing hundreds of thousands in genocides the area will never recover from. Quite apart from its architects being found guilty in US courts, the Reagan administration was tried and convicted by the International Court of Justice on 15 counts centering on the illegal use of force. It is these actions, presumably, that the Post described to  readers as “promoting democracy,” thereby using a mythical past to convince left-leaning audiences that further “democracy promotion” is necessary today.

The US has for years been supporting a domestic protest movement aimed at toppling Ortega. However, it has failed to get very far, primarily due to his widespread public support and the opposition’s own unpopularity.

Corporate media chided the United States, but generally only for not doing enough to ensure a change in government. “What America Must Do to Help Nicaragua Restore Democracy,” ran the Hill’s headline (1/30/20). The article advised that the US must “diversify its strategy and increase sanctions on regime insiders complicit in carrying out human rights abuses.” “Two years After Nicaragua’s Mass Uprising Started, Why Is Daniel Ortega Still in Power?” grumbled a Washington Post headline (1/5/20), disappointed that democracy™ had not been restored yet.

Unfortunately, even much of the US left media has aligned with the corporate press in condemning progressive Latin American administrations, thereby greasing the skids for US-supported attempts at regime change (FAIR.org10/12/191/22/20).

 

Who gets to talk on human rights

 

Sourcing is a key component of journalism; who the sources are will shape the tone and the argument of anything a news organization produces (Extra!1–2/06). However, there are myriad potentially suitable individuals or organizations to go to, and journalists themselves are largely in control of who they select. Media can therefore effectively decide which arguments get heard and which do not, simply by going to the people who reflect the views they wish to push.

At the beginning of the Iraq invasion, corporate media was saturated with pro-war voices, while dissent was largely squelched. A FAIR study (5/1/03) of TV news in early 2003 found that 64% of all sources favored an attack, while only one in ten voiced any opposition to the idea. As a result, viewers were effectively blitzed by voices arguing for an intervention.

Moving to the present, a search for pro-peace think tanks such as the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Economic and Policy Research elicits 86 and 53 results, respectively, in the New York Times over the past five years, going back to the beginning of 2016. Hawkish organizations are referenced far more frequently; the Center for American Progress, whose executive director Neera Tanden has called for “oil-rich countries” to pay the US for the privilege of being bombed (FAIR.org3/3/21), has featured in 432 Times articles since 2016, while conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation appears in 529 over the same period, suggesting that what we saw during the Iraq invasion is the rule rather than the exception.

If well-paid US columnists start becoming preoccupied with human rights in your country, it is a pretty good sign that you are about to get bombed. It is also remarkable how quickly those same pundits will lose their acute interest in human rights in a nation after a US intervention. Therefore, the next time you hear freedom, human rights and democracy in another country being endlessly discussed, be on your guard for ulterior motives; these cold-blooded media figures may just be crying crocodile tears in the service of empire.

 

Read more:

https://fair.org/home/support-the-tropes/

 

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