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Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Capitalist media and imperialist foreign policy

This article was recently published on the website PSLweb.org. It's largely a summary of material which has appeared on this blog recently, pulled together into a coherent thread.

“All The News That’s Fit To Print.” It is the slogan that has been printed in the upper left-hand corner of the front page of The New York Times since 1896. But what news is fit to print (and broadcast)? It is the answer to that question that is at the heart of understanding the role played by not just The New York Times, but all of the major corporate media in advancing the interests of the U.S. ruling class. This should not be surprising, since the media corporations are themselves a part of the ruling class. Nevertheless, many people, perceiving the news as an objective truth, fail to see the extent to which “all the news that's fit to print” comes into play with a class bias, and not just in what the media does print (and broadcast), but in what they do not print (and broadcast) as well.

Nations in the crosshairs of U.S. foreign policy like Cuba are a perfect example of this phenomenon. Virtually every country in the world, including the United States, has political prisoners. Yet with the exception of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, political prisoners are rarely if ever in the news, unless it concerns Cuba, where every development regarding so-called political prisoners is dutifully reported by the U.S. media. Yet a story that has a very direct impact on millions of Americans—that Cuba is building a major new plant to increase production of its important anti-cancer drug called Nimotuzumab goes unreported by the U.S. corporate media. What is "fit to print" or not has nothing to do with the interests of the readers and viewers. It has everything to do with the interests of the U.S. ruling class.

In the case of Cuba, the media are printing actual news even while slanting it by accepting the U.S. government's designation of certain individuals in Cuba as “political prisoners.” In other cases, however, the "news" they print is very much not fit to print, and becomes fit to print by virtue of being “leaked” by the U.S. government. Such an example is a series of articles published in The New York Times during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There were stories about tubes that were alleged to be intended for use as centrifuges for enriching nuclear fuel. The articles, many written by Judith Miller, are examples of articles for which no evidence worthy of a serious journalist was available.. The articles were printed anyway because they served the needs of the ruling class in pushing the people in the United States into a state of fear and preparing them for war. Today, similar stories asserting as fact the existence of an unproven Iranian nuclear weapons program serve the same role.

Very often, and far more difficult to recognize, are the stories deemed by the media as not "fit to print," like the news about the Cuban anti-cancer drug. They are harder to recognize because it is their very absence that must be noticed, rather than simply the bias in what does appear.

Some recent stories illustrate this phenomenon. On Sept. 27, a fact-finding commission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission issued a scathing report about the Israeli assault on the aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in May. Among the damning conclusions of the report were that six of the nine dead activists were killed execution-style by Israeli soldiers. The activists were shot at close range, in most cases after they were already wounded. Two of the nine were killed while videoing the Israeli assault. The one American citizen who was killed, Furkan Dogan, was in both categories‑shot while holding a video camera and then, while "lying on the deck in a conscious or semi-conscious state,” executed, according to the U.N. report.

Several days before that report was issued, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published the first-hand account of former U.S. Marine Kenneth O'Keefe, who personally witnessed the first death. O’Keefe testified that the man, a Turkish photographer, was killed before there was a single soldier on the ship.

There we have a U.N. report describing an American citizen being executed, in international waters by the Israeli military. We have another report describing an American citizen who witnessed that same Israeli military killing a man who clearly posed no threat to them whatsoever. These should be big news stories. As should be the fact that a few days later the full UNHRC voted to endorse the report of its fact-finding commission.

They are big stories, but evidently not “fit to print.” Because not a single word has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, or indeed any major U.S. corporate news source about the U.N.report. If one does a Google News search for “Furkan Dogan,”you will find stories in various alternative sources like Truthout, Salon.com, and PSLweb.org, but not a single mention in any corporate source. Both Reuters and Associated Press ran exactly one sentence mentioning the adoption by the UNHRC of the fact-finding commission’s report, but only went so far as to describe the report as “fiercely critical” [of Israel’s actions], but without actually mentioning a single one of the damning conclusions.

It is instructive to compare the media coverage of the death of Furkan Dogan to that of Neda Soltan. Furkan Dogan was an American citizen, killed in international waters by the troops of a U.S.-backed, U.S.-armed military. Neda Soltan, was an Iranian woman killed in Iran by an unknown person during the unrest following the last Iranian elections.

Searching The New York Times website for Dogan yields seven “hits”, with only one actual news story at the time of his funeral. Astonishingly, his name has never appeared in a Washington Post article.

By contrast, searches for Neda Soltan yield 649 hits at the Times and 24 at the Post. The reporting of Soltan’s death very much served the interests of U.S. foreign policy.

There was another U.S. citizen murdered by the Israeli military—Rachel Corrie. A trial is taking place in Israel in which Corrie’s parents are suing the State of Israel, charging it with criminal negligence and the intentional killing of their daughter. If you want to learn about that trial, you’ll need to read Electronic Intifada or other progressive media sources, or in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, but you will not read or hear much about it in the U.S. corporate media, where there has been very little coverage.

The upcoming Haitian elections provide us another example of news that isn’t “fit to print.” As reported by pslweb.org, the Fanmi Lavalas party has been banned from participating in the upcoming elections. FL, led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, their presidential candidate, won the last democratic election it was allowed to participate in by an overwhelming margin.

The Miami Herald did run an op-ed on the subject written by Ira Kurzban, who was general counsel for Haiti during the Aristide presidency. The Christian Science Monitor has also covered the story, but from such “media of record” like the Times, the Post, or CNN, not a word about the Lavalas banning. All of them featured multiple stories about the potential candidacy of Wyclef Jean, illustrating that it was not news about the Haitian election that was not “fit to print,” only the news about Lavalas—the party representing the working people of Haiti, whose interests are not that of the U.S. ruling class.

Most people in the United States do not actually read The New York Times or the Washington Post, yet the reporting done by those large newspapers very much shapes the news seen and read by people all over the country. Smaller local papers have virtually done away not only with any foreign reporting staff, to the extent they ever had any, but with locally based reporters writing about such topics as well. These media simply reprint articles from the Times, the Post, or AP and confine their actual reporting to local events. If the print media can not find time to report on stories such as the ones described above, it is no surprise that the broadcast media do even less, with their reporting typically confined to the material you might find in the first few paragraphs of a print story.

The advent of the Internet, and its increasing availability not just on personal computers but now on cell phones, offers working people at least the opportunity to find out what is really happening in the world, and read the stories the corporate media deems not "fit to print." Websites like PSLweb.org (and written publications like Liberation newspaper) are essential tools to break the information blockade, along with other progressive websites like Electronic Intifada, blogs like Left I on the News, and news directly from foreign sources independent of the U.S. corporations, such as Al Jazeera, Press TV, Prensa Latina, and CubaDebate. Exposing more and more people to the full reality of U.S. foreign policy, something they will never get in the U.S. corporate media, is an essential component of putting an end to U.S. imperialism.

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