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Pumping out propaganda

April 11, 2003 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON looks behind the propaganda being pumped out by the corporate media.

THE U.S. military has a message for journalists covering the war on Iraq. It's our way or the highway. Literally--it's the highway out of the country for journalists who have reported something the Pentagon doesn't like.

Ask the top brass, and they'll say that they are providing the public with an "unprecedented" amount of information about the war--all due to the fact that more than nearly 600 reporters are "embedded" with U.S. and British military units.

But watching the cable TV news or reading a newspaper, it's clear that the only thing "unprecedented" about the coverage of this war is the level of gung-ho military propaganda being spewed out.

Judith Matloff, who has reported on wars in Europe and Africa for the New York Times, The Economist, Newsweek and the BBC, says that she's "amazed, maybe even disgusted." "Some of the television reporters seem to be completely in love with themselves," Matloff told the Sydney Morning Herald. "They are acting as if they are part of some great adventure." Or as media columnist Normon Solomon put it, "Most public broadcasting in the United States seems to be cravenly licking the boots of Uncle Sam."

Meanwhile, for the approximately 1,600 reporters who are "unilaterals"--that is, non-embedded and working independent from the military--getting the story out is extremely difficult.

Still, despite the restrictions and self-censorship, the Bush administration couldn't keep it a secret that ordinary Iraqis were greeting U.S. soldiers not as "liberators" but invaders. That was a massive public relations blow to the U.S. military machine.

So the Pentagon tried to put reporters on an even tighter leash. Several journalists--even gung-ho, gun-toting blowhard Geraldo Rivera--were kicked out of Iraq for supposedly giving away "sensitive" information about U.S. military movements.

And last week, a group of four unilateral reporters were arrested by U.S. military police while sleeping near a U.S. unit 100 miles south of Baghdad. As one of the four, Israeli journalist Dan Scemama, told Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman: "They took away our cameras. They took away our ID cards. They took away our money…They forced us to lie down on the floor to take our shirts up to make sure we didn't have any explosives on our bodies."

When one of the four begged for soldiers to let him contact his family, "five soldiers went out of the camp, jumped on him and started to beat him and to kick him," Scemama recalled. "We ran in his direction. They all put bullets inside the cannons of their guns, and they said that if we moved forward, they would shoot at us."

The message that the U.S. officer in charge had for the four? "Don't mess with my soldiers. Don't mess with them because they are trained like dogs to kill. And they will kill you if you try again."

British reporter killed by U.S. fire

SINCE BEFORE the war began, the Pentagon had told reporters who remained "unilaterals"--that is, not "embedded" with American units and on the leash of the U.S. military--that they are putting themselves in danger. Turns out the danger wasn't from Iraqis, but from the U.S. and British military.

Terry Lloyd, a reporter for Britain's ITN television network, was killed and two members of his crew remain missing, after the car they were riding in near Basra was caught in the crosshairs of U.S. tanks that began firing on surrendering Iraqi soldiers.

"The allied tanks started heavy firing directly at us," cameraman Daniel Demoustier, who survived the attack, told the Mail on Sunday newspaper in Britain. "Rounds were coming straight at the jeep, smashing the windows and puncturing holes in the bodywork. Then the whole car was on fire. We were enveloped in flames. It was terrifying. I'm so angry that we were fired on by the allies. The Iraqis must have been their real target, but I'm sure they were surrendering."

So far, the Pentagon has failed to come up with an explanation. "We know that both U.S. and British units were on the spot," said Stewart Purvis, ITN chief executive and editor-in-chief, "but 12 days after the event, we still do not have any kind of official account. We're now clear that somebody in the American or British military knows what happened next, but they have not come forward."

Don't expect any sympathy from the Pentagon. In an interview with Irish radio, veteran BBC reporter Kate Adie said that the Pentagon threatened to fire on the satellite transmission equipment of independent journalists in Iraq. When questioned about the danger of killing reporters, a senior Pentagon officer reportedly said, "Who cares…They've been warned."

Urging on the bombers

ONLY THE U.S. media should have the right to broadcast war propaganda. That's the only conclusion you could draw from the comments of much of the mainstream U.S. media last month, as reporters seemed to cheer on an impending attack on Iraqi television.

The Geneva Convention forbids the targeting of civilian installations, including the media, state-owned or not. But that didn't stop Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly from declaring: "I think they should have taken out the television…Why haven't they taken out the Iraqi television towers?" Forrest Sawyer offered this advice: "There are operatives in there. You could go in with sabotage, take out the building, you could take out the tower."

When the Iraqi television offices in Baghdad were hit in a U.S. missile attack on March 25, several reporters seemed downright pleased. New York Times reporter Michael Gordon told CNN that the TV station "was an appropriate target." Fox's John Gibson took credit for the bombing--claiming that Fox's "criticism about allowing Saddam Hussein to talk to his citizens and lie to them has had an effect."

Parade of the ex-generals

WHILE HUNDREDS of reporters are "embedded" with the U.S. military in Iraq, the corporate media at home is in bed with dozens of retired Pentagon officials. Here's a brief look at a few of these hacks:

Gen. Barry McCaffrey
For weeks, McCaffrey has been an "expert" for NBC News. And he does know something about carrying out a blitzkrieg. As commander of the 24th Infantry Division during the first Gulf War in 1991, he was responsible for a horrifying assault against surrendering Iraqis.

On March 2, 1991 days after George Bush Sr. declared a cease-fire, McCaffrey reported that his division had come under attack from a retreating Iraqi Republican Guard tank division in Rumaila. According to journalist Seymour Hersh, McCaffrey "ordered an assault in force" that killed dozens of surrendering soldiers.

Gen. Wesley Clark
A fixture on CNN, Clark was the supreme commander of NATO during the 1999 war over Kosovo. Clark nearly managed to expand the war to Russia--when he proposed bombing Serbia's oil pipelines in Hungary, as well as Russian ships in the vicinity. And during a standoff with Russian troops over the Pristina Airport, Clark tried to have British paratroopers storm the airport.

Lt. Col. Oliver North
North was a TV celebrity long before the new war on Iraq. As part of the infamous basement White House during Ronald Reagan's presidency, North helped to coordinate the illegal sale of weapons to Iran to fuel the horrific Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s--and used the proceeds, again illegally, to fund the right-wing contra army fighting a dirty war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government.

After his flag-waving performance during congressional hearings into this scandal, North became the darling of the right-wing media. Today, he's "embedded" with his former comrades in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. "Some awful racket is going to come down in that Baghdad 'urban renewal project,'" he sneered on Fox News before the war began.

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