American foreign policy remains as interventionist now as it was during the Cold War. In our large-scale wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the media played a large role in turning public support for intervention. In June 2002, prior to the invasion, just 20% thought that we should go to war with or without UN backing. By March 2o03, after we had illegally gone to war without UN support, a whopping 72% supported the war. A similar dynamic was at play in Afghanistan, where the media consistently over-reported public support for the war.
As those wars come to a bloody end, our foreign policy continues to be disastrous and murderous, albeit less publicized. In the media’s role of “mobilizing support for the special interests that dominate government,” as Noam Chomsky presciently put it, it continues to misreport genocide.
Those who claimed just a few months ago that we have to go to war with Syria cited American intelligence reports that Assad had used chemical weapons. In fact, that intelligence came from Israel, a country that Jerusalem Post concludes, “wants the rebels to win.” Would the media have treated Russian intelligence as objective if it said that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons? Why is it that the media can clearly understand Russia’s interests in the conflict and why they “won’t give up Syria,” yet they can’t apply similar logic to Israel’s stance?
The government and the media consistently misreported intelligence reports in the Syrian conflict. As I pointed out in my piece in opposition to US military strikes in Syria, a UN investigator said that there were “strong, concrete suspicions” that the rebels used nerve gas. Why were inaccurate arguments in favor of intervention being trotted out and featured in the media? Public Accountability Initiative released a report showing that officials who came on the news advocating for intervention had financial ties with military contractors who would profit from a war. The media rarely, if ever, disclosed such blatant conflicts of interest.
For some reason, the media had great reservations in calling what happened in Egypt a few months ago a military coup. CNN, the NY Times, and the Washington Post all referred to the event as a “revolution,” manufacturing narratives that portrayed it as a democratic uprising that had gone wrong. CNN commented that “many in the Gulf will be glad to see the Muslim Brotherhood brand damaged.” When the massacre of protestors in Cairo happened, respected news outlets like the NY Times used lowball estimates for the number of civilians killed, even though Reuters counted an additional 228 bodies, while the Muslim Brotherhood reported a figure of 2,o00 dead. Some outlets, like the Washington Post, alleged that the MB had started the violence.
Why was the media reluctant to condemn the Egyptian military? Perhaps it was because we give them billions of dollars in military aid every year. American media reported that Obama would cut off military aid to Egypt, as if that would absolve us of any blame. However, the aid cuts were largely symbolic, and they won’t hurt the Egyptian military’s ability to kill dissidents. Arms keep flowing to Egypt, and money to American military contractors.
When France invaded Mali this year, respectable liberal media organizations like the NY Times reported that France was “battling Islamist militants” to “stabilize” the region. They quoted a “prominent investigative judge” from France to inform us that counterterrorism was the ultimate goal of the invasion because “the danger is not so big, perhaps, but the threat is big,” adding “this is the way terrorists win — they can win with very little.”
It didn’t help that the UN awarded French President Hollande its Peace Prize for the intervention. With the counterterrorism façade set, it wasn’t long before outlets like CNN would raise alarm about French journalists killed by the rebels. This is not to say that killing journalists should be pardoned – but to overlook the genocide being committed by France and the Malian government is simply despicable.
Al-Jazeera met with a rebel who told them, “We’ve taken up arms only to reverse a historical wrong…colonialism. And now, Mali has started an ethnic cleansing operation in the north.” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both released reports confirming that the Malian army had “seriously” abused human rights. This isn’t surprising, given that the current government of Mali was installed via military coup, which the UN Security Council condemned. It’s true that Al-Qaeda has infiltrated the rebel movement, but they’ve come to power in the region because of US and France’s covert support. Like many other invasions fought under the banner of “counterterrorism,” this one also had to do with securing natural resources – in this case, uranium. It’s disgraceful that the American news media misreported an imperialist surge supported by our own government.
The mainstream debate over Iran between liberals and conservatives in the media goes on within a narrow framework. Either the economic sanctions are “working,” and therefore have been successful in bringing Iran to the table (say liberals), a view consistent with American lawmakers, who are preparing even more sanctions. Or, the sanctions haven’t done enough, and we should take even stronger measures (maybe invade), say neoconservative hawks.
The sanctions have indeed hurt many ordinary people in Iran, as thousands go without food or medicine. Collective punishment is illegal per international law. So why is the media celebrating American war crimes? Maybe it’s because we should be happy that “the Ayatollah sees his economy being crippled,” as Joe Biden put it. Unfortunately, the Ayatollah sees nothing from his palace but his bank accounts, while the average Iranians suffer the consequences of our criminality.
Liberal media outlets like the NY Times mock Iran’s claim that they have a right to make nuclear energy. The media ignores not only that Iran isn’t even trying to build a nuclear weapon (according to American intelligence, no less), but also that Iran does have the right to nuclear power under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1968.
Israel, on the other hand, hasn’t yet signed the NPT. What if we imposed crippling sanctions on them? Surely, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would tolerate that. There is no principle behind this preposterous stance. The Pentagon knows that Iran has a military strategy of deterrence. Top American and Israeli officials know that Iran isn’t crazy enough to launch a nuclear bomb. So why is the media justifying genocidal sanctions by framing the debate in such an ignorant, hawkish manner?
Chomsky’s explanation of the media’s subservience to the government line is as accurate now as it was during the Indochina Wars. The consequence is that the media systematically misreports genocide, misleading American citizens about their country’s crimes abroad.