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The Pentagon's media lapdogs

By Lance Selfa | December 7, 2001 | Page 9

ON THE eve of the Northern Alliance's capture of Kabul, U.S. warplanes bombed the Al Jazeera network news office. After first calling the bombing a mistake, Pentagon flacks said they attacked the offices because of intelligence indicating a link to the al-Qaeda network.

In other words, the bombing of Al Jazeera, the only major non-government-controlled television network in the Arabic-speaking world, was deliberate.

Of course, no al-Qaeda operatives were hiding in the Al Jazeera offices. But it's no secret that Al Jazeera has irritated the Pentagon. In contrast to the U.S. media's flag-festooned, pro-war coverage, Al Jazeera has aired coverage of civilian casualties and interviewed critics of the war.

So it's really not hard to see why the Pentagon might want to knock Al Jazeera off the air just as the U.S. media was broadcasting pictures of Kabul crowds celebrating the Taliban's fall.

Al Jazeera would have shown these pictures, too. But it would more likely have covered the summary executions and other atrocities that Northern Alliance troops carried out away from U.S. television cameras.

The impact of the crowd images from Kabul can't be understated. They gave the Bush administration its best press of the war, allowing it to portray itself as the Afghan people's "liberator."

Ever since the Vietnam War, the Pentagon has wanted to recapture its ability to win the "hearts and minds" of Americans. And a media campaign has always been central to this.

In the buildup to the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991, the heart-wrenching testimony of a Kuwaiti woman before the United Nations added to Papa Bush's campaign to build a "coalition" to drive Iraqi occupation forces out of Kuwait. The woman told the story of Iraqi soldiers looting a Kuwaiti hospital, tossing premature babies from their incubators. The story sparked outrage around the world.

It turned out that the story was phony, concocted by a Republican-connected public relations firm and relayed by a woman who turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S.

It's no surprise that the Pentagon and the government use every trick they can--from news management to censorship to blatant lies--to justify going to war. When you watch the current television coverage, you wonder why the Pentagon even bothers. The U.S. media are so gung ho on the war that they practically write the Pentagon's stories for it.

CBS's Dan Rather famously pledged to "line up" wherever President Bush asked him to, and the new Fox News Afghanistan war correspondent, Geraldo Rivera, said if he ran across Osama bin Laden, he'd "kick his head in, then bring it home and bronze it." So much for "objective" journalism.

U.S. journalists will no doubt say they're just "giving the people what they want." That's not the case. Three-quarters of Americans said the media should include the views of U.S. enemies in news reports and a majority said journalists should "dig hard" for facts, rather than simply trust what the government tells them, according to a late November Pew Center poll.

And while 53 percent agreed that the government should have the right to censor news about the war, that figure was less than the 58 percent who supported censorship during the Gulf War.

The myth that "liberal" news coverage undermined public support for the Vietnam War has been an article of faith for that war's apologists. But the war itself--its "unwinnability," its sacrifice of thousands of working-class soldiers' lives, and its criminal nature--convinced more Americans to turn against it than Walter Cronkite did.

The "real world" overwhelmed the Pentagon's ability to control the story. As Bush and Co. expand the "war on terrorism" to other countries, they could be in for the same rude awakening.

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