August 28, 2011

Inside the U.S. Propaganda Machine

The Obama administration recently conjured another storm of verbal barrage against Bashar al-Assad, and with it came a volley of U.S. media reports applauding or criticizing the White House’s choice of words.

Only days before the August 18th assault, led by President Barack Obama and featuring several side-briefings, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned against rhetoric that cannot be backed up in reality. Her rational advice was negated when she joined a chorus that didn’t sound qualitatively different from before - except Saudi Arabia has suddenly become an American hero in Syria’s revolution. Considering how Ali Abdullah Saleh is pulling Yemen’s strings from Riyadh, “stepping aside” and “getting out of the way” are incomplete phrases without mentioning where al-Assad is supposed to go.

Many reports and editorial boards, including The New York Times, hedged their praise of Obama’s demand for al-Assad’s resignation: “It took too long, but President Obama has finally - and unequivocally - called for the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to step down and end his murderous war against the Syrian people. In another belated but welcome move, Mr. Obama also ordered a stiff new array of sanctions, including freezing all Syrian government assets in the United States and banning American citizens and corporations from doing business with the Syrian government.”

Fortunately the U.S. media’s own silence and inaction during the Arab revolutions have helped lay bare its servile relationship with Washington’s establishment. Of course many Americans and non-Americans realized the media’s contribution to an unsustainable status quo before the 2010s, but accumulation of proof aids the scientific pursuit. A simple examination of the Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reveals how little difference exists between these “different” organizations, and how coordinated their responses are in tone and frequency.

Syria and Libya’s revolutionaries are making history through their resistance and certainly must be covered. However America’s major papers are also over-reporting where the Obama administration points its collective finger, silencing national debate where U.S. policy plunges to its lowest depths.

For instance, the Times has allocated eight editorials for Syria’s revolution and 15 to Libya, all urging the administration to do more without dragging America into war. Conversely, minimal focus is allocated to the administration's diplomatic inaction or ongoing military action in Yemen. Although Libya and Syria’s uprisings started after Yemen’s, the latter revolution has received two mentions in seven months of peaceful protesting and a massive security crackdown. The first came on March 26th, when the Times cautioned that protesters “have little reason to trust him [Saleh]” - only to “talk of a deal... with Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s patron.”

Again mixing technically sound advice on April 4th - “Yemen needs to move ahead without President Saleh” - with government speak - “a swift, smooth transition is in everyone’s interest” - the Times has since turned its lights out.

The Times developed a clear, quiet pattern from the start of Yemen’s revolution. An April “shift” against Saleh and a “concerned Obama,” products of White House insider David Sanger, exposed total coordination with the White House, to be followed by shallow reporting on the popular revolutionaries and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), non-coverage of brutalities and promotion of terror “threats.” Washington and Riyadh continue to guard Saleh in relative peace, free to suppress Yemen’s revolutionaries through the GCC’s initiative. All the Times has to do is publish the White House’s occasional ricin bomb.

A similar skew against Bahrain’s uprising has been accompanied by an open admission of the administration’s double-standard. In a March 15th editorial on Yemen and Bahrain, the Times concedes that, “Bahrain and Yemen are both important to American strategic interests. The former is home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet; the latter is battling, with Washington’s frequent participation, one of Al Qaeda’s stronger affiliates.” Then comes the double-speak: “For those reasons, the Obama administration has chosen quiet diplomacy to try to persuade their rulers to respond peacefully and credibly to popular demands for change. Rulers in both countries have chosen repression over reform. Washington needs another plan.”

Without any change to report three months later, the Times issued its usual “common sense” in warning, “Bahrain is home port to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the Obama administration has been too cautious in its criticism of the government. It must speak out more forcefully. If Bahrain continues to abuse its citizens, it will face more instability. And resentment of the United States will only grow.”

The Times has yet to respond since Bahrain’s “National Dialogue” collapsed in July.

The Times isn’t alone in its actions, but synchronized with the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and network news to manipulate U.S. impressions of the Arab revolutions. When combined they provide a reliable barometer of control between the government and mainstream media. The Washington Post has run over 10 editorials involving Syria and an equal amount in Libya, many criticizing the administration’s lack of public effort and diplomatic ingenuity. In the first of two editorials on Yemen, dated May 23rd, the Post “sensibly” advises, “Any remaining U.S. aid and support to Mr. Saleh and his forces should be ended, and the strongman should be told that he will be subject to sanctions and criminal prosecution unless he immediately accepts the transition agreement.”

Hours earlier Saleh had aborted a third signing ceremony of the GCC’s unpopular proposal, besieging the UAE embassy with loyalists and "trapping" U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, who would leave by helicopter.

Despite rising bloodshed against peaceful protesters, the Post’s double-speak continued to advocate the GCC’s initiative in order to preserve influence with the former - and future - regime. On June 8th, days after a still-undisclosed attack on Saleh’s presidential mosque forced him to Riyadh, the Post explicitly comments, “The best available policy nevertheless appears to be that being pursued by the Obama administration, which is pressing for acceptance of the deal brokered this spring by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council.”

This is state policy, not the work of real journalism, and the Post doesn’t seem concerned that U.S. military support continues despite a total political breakdown. Worse still, the Post advises enslaving Yemenis economically: “Already dirt poor, Yemen will desperately need economic resuscitation when and if the current crisis can be overcome. That should provide the United States a means of leverage with a new regime.”

Because open security access isn’t enough control.

As an overriding matter, the Post published a February 2nd editorial warning against “the Arab reform dodge,” then dodged the U.S.-sponsored dictators that didn’t reform. Yet the art of the cover-up recommends a shaded profile over a full blackout. The Post’s three responses to Bahrain’s uprising appear to have come down hard on the administration, with titles like “The U.S. silence on Bahrain’s crackdown.”

Except double-speak is omnipresent: “The Obama administration opposes the crackdown; it has tried to strengthen the regime’s reformists and has pushed for a return to negotiations. But apart from an initial critique of the use of force by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and one statement about the arrest of a blogger, the administration has remained silent.”

A month later and no progress to be seen, the Post again supplied an apparent voice of reason: “The administration clearly is trying to protect the strategic relationship with Bahrain. But by tolerating the repression it is endangering long-term U.S. interests, since the crackdown is likely to boomerang, sooner or later, against both the Bahraini and Saudi ruling families. The best way to protect American interests is to tell both regimes that a continued security relationship with the United States depends on an end to policies of sectarian repression and on the implementation of moderate reforms.”

Two months later the Post hailed Bahrain’s “National Dialogue” despite an ongoing crackdown, echoing the White House’s rhetorical footsteps. Like the administration and New York Times, the Washington Post has yet to comment on the dialogue's breakdown in July.

Demonstrating how the liberal, “neutral” and conservation media have aligned behind the Obama administration's response to the Arab revolution, the Wall Street Journal posted seven editorials on Syria since the end of May. Only a single editorial on Yemen surfaced in May, where the Wall Street Journal frames the entire revolution around al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and how to control Yemen’s next government. “The deal negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was flawed but worth a try,” the Journal argues in blatant double-speak.

“The best that the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states can probably do is to help resolve the political deadlock and ensure that whatever follows Mr. Saleh doesn't see the country break up and turn into an even bigger terrorist haven."

As with the Times and Post, the Wall Street Journal carried its editorial imbalance into its general reporting on Yemen and Bahrain, the latter having received only one “outlook” since February. In vintage double-speak, the Journal warns that “Bahrain’s ruling family shouldn’t be given a pass,” but mainly because the Shia opposition’s gains could embolden Iran. The Journal has instead taken to publishing sponsored trips and direct statements from the Bahrain government.

Ultimately The Wall Street Journal is willing to say what the rest of mainstream media is thinking: “Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, we have argued that the Obama Administration needs to distinguish between its friends and enemies in the region, urging reforms on the former and encouraging regime change with the latter. By this measure, Bahrain falls into the camp of friends.”

The informal tally is some 50+ editorials devoted to Libya and Syria, with only 13 marked for Yemen and Bahrain. That some of these areas are difficult to cover is taken into consideration; Western media is technically banned in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. U.S. officials aren’t giving the media much to report on either. However the press’s job (theoretically) is to speak out when the government doesn’t - to uncover the truth when its not being reported - and Yemen and Bahrain’s revolutionaries have been dimmed accordingly.

A trickle-down effect into the lower media and think tanks further erodes the possibility of accurate reporting during the Arab revolutions, and precise coordination can only be interpreted one of several ways. In addition to maintaining the status quo abroad, a lack of domestic political awareness has generated no pressure for the Obama administration to support Yemenis or Bahrainis (or Egyptians and Tunisians), concealing a militarily-dominated policy. It’s difficult to conclude whether mainstream media is partially or fully controlled by the government - whether news groups simply desire the best access or are taking direct orders - but neither outcome provides any comfort.

The entire machine appears to be working from one blueprint, programmed to minimize the revolutions’ effects and the loss of U.S. influence in the Eastern Hemisphere.

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