September 21, 2003
MIAMI, FLORIDA - I've long considered CNN's Christiane Amanpour an outstanding journalist.
Last week my opinion of her rose further when she ignited a storm of controversy when asked by a TV interviewer about US media's coverage of the Iraq War. Breaking a taboo of silence in mainstream media, Amanpour courageously replied, `I think the press was muzzled and I think the press self-muzzled. Television…was intimidated by the Administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News.'
Right on cue, faithful to Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering's advice to slander all dissenting views as treason, Fox accused Amanpour of being a `spokeswoman for al-Qaida.' I felt for Ms Amanpour, having myself been slandered by the US neo-conservative media as `a friend of Saddam' for disputing White House claims about Iraq whose secret police had threatened to hang me on my last visit to Baghdad.
The pro-war, neo-conservative `National Review,' whose flaccid mama's boys never seem to have served in their own nation's armed forces, actually had the nerve to call me, who volunteered for the US Army during the Vietnam War, `un-patriotic.'
Christiane Amanpour is absolutely right, the US media was muzzled and censored itself. I experienced this firsthand on US TV, radio, and in print. Never in my twenty years in media have I seen such unconscionable pressure exerted on journalists to conform to the government's party line.
Criticism of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, photos of dead American soldiers or civilians killed by bombing, were forbidden. The tone of reporting had to be strongly positive, filled with uplifting stories about liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and women freed from Taliban repression. Criticism, sharp questions, and doubt about US policy were hushed up.
The bloated corporations dominating US media feared antagonizing the White House, which was pushing for the bill just rejected by the Senate to allow them to grow even larger. Reporters who failed to toe the line were barred from access to the military and government officials, ending their careers. `Embedded' reporters in Iraq and Afghanistan became little more than public relations auxiliaries.
Critics of Administration policies in Iraq and Afghanistan were systematically excluded from media commentary, particularly on national TV. Night after night, networks featured `experts' who droned on about Iraq's fearsome weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat to the US, about Iraq's links to al-Qaida, the urgency to invade Iraq before it could strike at America, and a raft of other fabrications.
Such `experts' echoed the White House party line and all were dead wrong. Yet amazingly, many are still on air, continuing to misinform the public, using convoluted Talmudic arguments to explain why they were not really wrong even when they were wrong.
I do not exaggerate when I say that much of the US media from 9/11 to the present closely resembled the old Soviet media that I knew and disrespected during my stays in the USSR during the 1980's.
The American media, notably the sycophantic White House press corps and flag-wavers at Fox TV, treated President Bush and his entourage with the same sucrose adulation and fawning servility that Soviet state media lavished on Comrade Chairman Leonid Brezhnev.
When dimwitted Brezhnev made the calamitous blunder of invading Afghanistan, the Moscow media rapturously described the brazen aggression as `liberation' that recalled the glories of World War II. The US media indulged in the same frenzied foot-kissing, and the same silly WWII comparisons over Bush's foolhardy invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
President Bush and his neo-conservative handlers led America into these twin disasters precisely because two of the key organs of democracy an independent, inquiring media, and assertive legislature(Congress) failed miserably to perform their duty. They allowed themselves to be cowed into subservience. They failed to expose and vigorously oppose the sinister, proto-totalitarian Patriot Act that now so endangers America's basic liberties.
Or, like Fox, they eagerly served as White House mouthpieces, stoking war fever and national hysteria, retailing to the public all the Administration's wholesale disinformation about Iraq.
In a shocking attempt to silence dissenting voices, US forces bombed the news offices of the outspoken al-Jazeera TV in Baghdad, Basra, and Kabul, killing and wounding some if its staff. Independent reporters in Baghdad's Palestine Hotel were attacked and killed by US forces.
A leading Al-Jazeera's correspondent, Tayseer Alouni, has been arrested in Spain and charged with aiding terrorism by interviewing Osama bin Laden. The US previously accused Alouni of being pro-Iraqi; Iraq expelled him for being `anti-Iraqi.' In my book, that makes him an honest, courageous journalist, just like Ms Amanpour.
So long as Bush was riding high in the polls, the media fawned on him. The media always follows power. But now that many Americans are beginning to sense they were lied to or misled by the White House, Bush's popularity is dropping, and the media's mood is becoming edgy and more aggressive. Perhaps even vengeful. The muzzles may soon be coming off.