TERRORISM, TV AND THE RAGE FOR VENGEANCE
by Norman Solomon
American Reporter Correspondent
WASHINGTON -- We stare at television screens and try to comprehend the s= uffering in the aftermath of terrorism. Much of what we see is ghastly and = all too real: terrible anguish and sorrow.
At the same time, we're witnessing an onslaught of media deception. "The= greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing somet= hing, but by refraining from doing," Aldous Huxley observed long ago. "Grea= t is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence a= bout truth."
Silence, rigorously selective, pervades the media coverage of recent day= s. For policy-makers in Washington, the practical utility of that silence i= s enormous. In response to the mass murder committed by hijackers, the righ= teousness of U.S. military action is clear -- as long as double standards g= o unmentioned.
While rescue crews braved intense smoke and grisly rubble, ABC News anal= yst Vincent Cannistraro helped to put it all in perspective for millions of= tv viewers. Cannistraro is a former high-ranking official of the Central I= ntelligence Agency who was in charge of the CIA's work with the contras in = Nicaragua during the early 1980s. After moving to the National Security Cou= ncil in 1984, he became a supervisor of covert aid to Afghan guerrillas.
= In other words, Cannistraro has a long history of assisting terrorists -- f= irst, contra soldiers who routinely killed Nicaraguan civilians; then, muja= hedeen rebels in Afghanistan ... like Osama bin Laden.
How can a longtime= associate of terrorists now be credibly denouncing "terrorism"? It's easy.= All that's required is for media coverage to remain in a kind of history-f= ree zone that has no use for any facets of reality that are not presently c= onvenient to acknowledge.
In his book "1984," George Orwell described the mental dynamics: "The pr= ocess has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient p= recision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a fe= eling of falsity and hence of guilt... . To tell deliberate lies while genu= inely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, a= nd then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for= just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality a= nd all the while to take account of the reality which one denies -- all thi= s is indispensably necessary."
Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced "people who feel that with the= destruction of buildings, with the murder of people, they can somehow achi= eve a political purpose." He was describing the terrorists who had struck h= is country hours earlier. But Powell was also aptly describing a long line = of top officials in Washington.
It would be very unusual to hear a comment about that sort of hypocrisy = on any major tv network in the United States. Yet surely U.S. policy-makers= have believed that they could "achieve a political purpose" -- with "the d= estruction of buildings, with the murder of people" -- when launching missi= les at Baghdad or Belgrade.
Nor are key national media outlets now doing much to shed light on Ameri= can assaults that were touted as anti-terrorist "retaliation" -- such as th= e firing of 13 cruise missiles, one day in August 1998, at the Al Shifa pha= rmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. That attack, depriving an impoverishe= d country of desperately needed medical drugs, was an atrocity committed (i= n the words of political analyst Noam Chomsky) "with no credible pretext, d= estroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of tho= usands of people."
No one knows the exact number of lives lost due to the= severe disruption of Sudan's meager drug supply, Chomsky adds, "because th= e U.S. blocked an inquiry at the United Nations and no one cares to pursue = it."
Media scrutiny of atrocities committed by the U.S. government is rare. O= nly some cruelties merit the spotlight. Only some victims deserve empathy. = Only certain crimes against humanity are worth our tears.
"This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil," President Bush= proclaimed. The media reactions to such rhetoric have been overwhelmingly = favorable.
But the heart-wrenching voices now on the U.S.A's airwaves are no less or = more important than voices that we have never heard. Today, the victims of = terrorism in America deserve our deep compassion. So do the faraway victims= of America -- human beings whose humanity has gone unrecognized by U.S. me= dia.
Underlying that lack of recognition is a nationalistic arrogance shared = by press and state. Few eyebrows went up when Time magazine declared in its= Sept. 10 edition: "The U.S. is at one of those fortunate -- and rare -- mo= ments in history when it can shape the world." That attitude can only bring= us a succession of disasters.
Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Ha= bits of Highly Deceptive Media." His syndicated column focuses on media and= politics.