Norman Solomon's Journalism of Conscience Hits Home
by Tony Palmeri
from the September, 2005 issue of The Valley Scene
[click here for a note from Norman Solomon]
Of all the propaganda, misinformation, and claptrap thrown at the public to mobilize support for the preemptive strike on Iraq, a William Safire op-ed in the New York Times of March 6th, 2003 stands out for me as especially grotesque. More than two years after its publication, Safire’s “kill first, ask questions later” approach to the invasion serves as a classic example of the degeneration of establishment punditry into a kind of crass, Soviet-style apparatchik agitprop of the Cold War era. Impatient with those who dared question the wisdom of a war of choice, Safire wrote:
"Nor should we indulge in placing second thoughts first: How much will it cost? How many will be killed? How long will it take? Will it kill the snake of terror or only poke it? Will everybody thank us afterward? Where's the guarantee of total success? Too cautious to oppose, these questioners delay action by demanding to know what they know is unknowable."
Almost 200 billion dollars later, with the war resulting in humanitarian and political catastrophes of epic proportions, one wonders if Safire now wishes there had been more reflection on the “second thoughts.”
In contrast to apparatchik agitprop, Norman Solomon in his new book presents us with a journalism of conscience. War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning us to Death (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) chronicles in often painful detail the myriad ways in which politicians, pundits, and a lapdog press preach war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. Solomon, the founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, writes with a moral fervor that calls to mind the best work of George Orwell, I.F. Stone, and Noam Chomsky. Like these principled critics of state power, Solomon has a knack for discovering and exposing the debasement of the English language as it occurs in an official government pronouncement and the punditry that promotes it.
War Made Easy is organized around 17 chapters bearing titles that literally come from the pro-war spin machine: (1) “America is a Fair and Noble Superpower;” (2) “Our Leaders Will Do Everything They Can to Avoid War;” (3) “Our Leaders Would Never Tell Us Outright Lies;” (4) “This Guy Is a Modern-Day Hitler;” (5) “This Is About Human Rights;” (6) “This Is Not at All About Oil or Corporate Profits;” (7) They Are The Aggressors, Not Us;” (8) If This War Is Wrong, Congress Will Stop It;” (9) “If This War Is Wrong, the Media Will Tell Us;” (10) “Media Coverage Brings War into Our Living Rooms;” (11) “Opposing the War Means Siding with the Enemy;” (12) “This Is a Necessary Battle in the War on Terrorism;” (13) “What the U.S. Government Needs Most Is Better P.R.;” (14) “The Pentagon Fights Wars as Humanely as Possible;” (15) “Our Soldiers Are Heroes, Theirs Are Inhuman;” (16) “America Needs the Resolve to Kick the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’;” (17) “Withdrawal Would Cripple U.S. Credibility”. Significantly, these pro-war commonplaces are trotted out not just on Fox News, but also on all establishment media, especially broadcast. Summarizing a Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting study of 1,617 on-camera sources appearing on the evening newscasts of six U.S. television networks during the first three weeks following the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq, Solomon writes: “Nearly two-thirds of all sources, 64 percent, were prowar, while 71 percent of U.S. guests favored the war. Antiwar voices were 10 percent of all sources, but just 6 percent of non-Iraqi sources and only 3 percent of U.S. sources. Thus viewers were more than six times as likely to see a prowar source as one who was antiwar; counting only U.S. guests, the ratio increases to 25 to 1.”
The book closes with a plea for citizen activism rooted in conscience: “Conscience is not on the military’s radar screen, and it’s not on our television screen. But government officials and media messages do not define the limits and possibilities of conscience. We do.”
Right here in the Fox Valley, a new politics of conscience is emerging as citizens try to get an Iraq War troop withdrawal referendum placed on the April, 2006 ballot. In Oshkosh, activists associated with the Winnebago Peace and Justice Center, the Lake Winnebago Green Party, and other organizations in late August launched a signature gathering drive to get this referendum question on the ballot: "Should the United States begin an immediate withdrawal of its troops from Iraq, beginning with the National Guard and Reserves?"
True to form, Gannett’s Oshkosh Northwestern bashed the referendum drive even before it started. They argued that last November’s elections somehow already represented a referendum on the war, and that “the referendum question is a somewhat clunky way to persuade people of a point.” In contrast, referendum activists believe that the Iraq War is a clunky (and catastrophic) way of persuading people that the doctrine of preemption as practiced by the current administration has a place in American foreign policy.
Citizens seeking more information about the referendum drive should contact Bob Poeschl of the Winnebago Peace and Justice Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ron Hardy of the Lake Winnebago Green Party at email@example.com.
For more Norman Solomon essays, go to his website http://www.normansolomon.com/
Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.
This Sunday night, the cable TV channel C-SPAN 2 will air a talk that I gave about the themes of my new book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”
The program -- including Q&A -- lasts about 90 minutes. Audio from the event (which was a benefit for Global Exchange and Media Alliance) has been posted at: http://alternet.org/multimedia/24486
“War Made Easy” was published last month and has gone into a second printing. The book is doing well, despite the fact that only one daily newspaper in the country has reviewed it (the Los Angeles Times, review posted at <http://www.coldtype.net/war3.html>). Whatever you could do to let others know about the book would be very helpful. Excerpts and other information are posted at: www.WarMadeEasy.com