Information Control For Social Manipulation
by David B. Deserano
An excerpt from Nexus Magazine, Volume 11, Number 2 (February-March 2004)
It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas in disguise. —Joseph Goebbels
The United States is the most media-saturated country in the world. We are bombarded daily with thousands upon thousands of images and sounds designed to get our attention, entertain, and inform us of everything from shoes to food to celebritydom to political ideology. Its been estimated that the average American is exposed to more than 3000 advertisements every day, but on top of that, there are the news programs, sitcoms, films, radio and other forms of media that we choose to consume. All of this works to shape our opinions of the world and a great deal of time, effort, and money is spent to guide our opinions down particular avenues. This used to be called “propaganda”.
Today, with the negative, Nazi-esque connotation which comes with that word, euphemisms such as misinformation, disinformation, image consulting, political consulting, news consulting, advertising, infomercials, public relations, damage control, and the art of spin have taken its place in the English lexicon, all but concealing its true nature and omnipresence. And omnipresent, it is. The industries that deal with information control – in both the commercial and governmental sectors—work with hundreds of millions of dollars annually, for Schoolhouse Rock was right on target when it said, “Knowledge is Power!” Is it any wonder that our schools are suffering so badly while corporate CEOs and members of our government continually allot themselves raises? Uninformed, ignorant masses are far easier to manipulate then educated, thinking masses.
Who has the information? How is it being distributed? How is it contextualized?
Corporations and the US government have spent many decades and hundreds of billions of dollars researching how best to effect the American people. Much of this information is kept secret from the public (in the case of corporate research, it is their private property) and what is known has come from the more recent work done by scholars around the world – work that is dramatically under-funded by comparison. So, the information available to the average citizen – including the aforementioned academic scholars – is radically less than that which is available to the producers of media or information campaigns (i.e. advertising agencies, public relations firms, political consultants, etc.). However, an important fact that is known is that the human brain processes different mediums in different ways. Written and spoken words are put through a type of decoding process wherein the brain deciphers the words and the sentence structure in order to properly interpret what it is reading/hearing. In this process, both the conscious and unconscious mind go through an internal debate comparing what its interpreting with what it already knows to be true. With the image, however, the brain instantly processes it as truth, which means information presented in a visual format has a much greater impact on the unconscious. Over long periods of time, recurring imagery has a built-up effect on the viewer which allows for unconsciously conceived notions of truth to manifest as though from nowhere (keep this in mind as you read #69). Naturally, then, whomever has control over the mediums of communication has a tremendous amount of power over the populations who consume it.
NOTE: In no way is this intended to convince readers of any particular conspiracy theory, but rather to present a collection of facts – all of which are readily available to the average American – and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.
Media Intents, Capabilities, Practices, and Origins
Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.- Voltaire
The radio, the computer, and the Internet are all products of the military. The radio was invented by Guglielmo Marconi in the mid-1890’s and his first sale was to the British War Office in 1896 during the Boer War. Three years later, he made sales to the US Navy. During World War I, the United States put all commercial, amateur, and military (except for the Army’s) radio equipment under the control of the Navy, a monopoly pursued immediately after the war, as well. Marconi, by the way, was a staunch supporter of the Neo-Fascism which dominated Italy beginning in the 1920’s and Benito Mussolini was the best man at Marconi’s 1927 wedding. The first operational electronic computer, Colossus, was built as a part of the ULTRA project for the British Department of Communication in the Foreign Office to assist in the decoding of intercepted Nazi transmissions. The first electronic digital computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) came out of a relationship between The Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and the Ballistics Research Lab operated by the Army Ordinance Department at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. It was “designed expressly for the solution of ballistics problems and for the printing of range tables.” The grandparent of the Internet is the ARPAnet, which came about in 1969. The Defense Agency Research Projects Administrations (DARPA) of the Department of Defense wished to create a communications infrastructure for the US military that could survive a nuclear attack. “Many of the best attributes of the Internet – including its architecture, technology, and gestalt – are the children of this military prototype,” (Sussman, 1997, pp. 87, 89 and 90; Slater, 1987, pp. 16-17; Stern, 1981, pp. 1 and 15; Reid, 1997, p. xx).
It’s been noted that “violence is to a dictatorship, what propaganda is to a democracy,” and the Nazis used both. Joseph Goebbels, appointed Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda on March 14, 1933, combined the press, radio, film, theater, and propaganda into a single, large-scale organization and considered the media as “a piano…in the hands of the government” on which the government could play. Although monotony may set in if all means reported the same information, he developed a theory that the media should be “uniform in principles” but “polyform in nuances.” This is a concept that has carried over to our media today. Although we have a tremendous amount of magazines and newspapers available to us, most of them are “highly centralized outlets that proffer a remarkably homogenized fare. News services for dailies throughout the entire nation are provided by the Associated Press…The New York Times and [the] Los Angeles Times-Washington Post wire services, and several foreign wire services like Reuters. The ideological viewpoint of these news conduits are pretty much the same, ‘marked by a prefabricated standardization of news which is constricting and frightening,'” (Neale, Murphy, Mansky, Wintonick, & Achbar, 1992; Reuth, 1993, p. 174; Parenti, 1986, pp. 30-31).
Fear is a powerful means for establishing social control over a population and the negative effects of media on its consumers are doing just that, for its been widely established for decades that regular viewers of violent films and/or television programming often look upon the world as being much more frightening, dangerous, and violent than those who view the same media in much less quantities or not at all. The same, by the way, is also true of regular viewers of the evening news. Furthermore, “psychiatrist Robert Coles writes that children in some parts of America are more frightened [about the world] than children in Lebanon or Northern Ireland;” this may very well have to do with the fact that some of the most violent programming on television are cartoons aimed at very young children. The potential consequences to this are staggering. A generation brought up to fear the world may be willing to do unhealthy things in order to protect themselves from things that aren’t there, such as a readiness to sacrifice their basic civil liberties for a false sense of security (Jhally & Dinozzi, 1994; Pipher, 1994).
Its very difficult for a human being to kill a member of their own species; they have to be manipulated to do so. During World War II, its been estimated that, when left to their own devices, only 15-20% of individual riflemen would fire their weapon at an exposed enemy target. This was blamed primarily upon the training they received in which they would practice shooting at a bull’s-eye. Of course, bull’s-eyes don’t appear on the battlefield and after the war, the military switched to human-shaped targets. By the Vietnam War, 95% of the riflemen fired their weapons when the right opportunity arose. Today, the Marine Corps use a modified version of the first-person action game Doom (known as Marine Doom) as a training device, along with the traditional live ammunition range targets as a means of normalizing killing amongst their personnel. In fact, this has been so successful, the Marine Corps Combat and Development Command in Quantico, VA have evaluated more than thirty commercially available electronic games for their potential use as training tools. This brings up a very disturbing question. If the US military has acknowledged for decades the success of using human-like targets to normalize killing, what, then, is the effect of the same or similar games on kids, where the objective is the near indiscriminate killing of “the enemy” using toy guns? With this in mind, the rise of school shootings should come as no surprise (Jhally & Huntemann, 2000; Naisbitt, et al., p. 76-77).
At the forefront of White House thinking is the global command and direction of the world economy through information control. While World War II was still ongoing, “U.S. leadership recognized the centrality of information control for gaining world advantage. Well before most of the world could do much about it, U.S. groups, private and governmental, were actively promoting information and cultural primacy on all continents.” US films and television programs are “the primary fare of national systems in most countries. News programs, especially CNN, offer U.S. perspectives, sometimes the only perspective provided, to world audiences. U.S. recorded music, theme parks, and advertising now conspire a major part of the world’s cultural environment.” News consultants, a major part of US news programs, have spread their particular brand of program structure to television stations all over the world, resulting in a more Americanized style (shorter news segments, a de-emphasis on government and politics, fewer talking heads, more visual material, “warm and fuzzy” stories, etc.) and more American content. “No less remarkable is the ad hoc adoption of English as the world’s second language, facilitated by the waves of U.S. pop culture that have washed across all frontiers for forty years. And once the preeminence of English had been established, Anglo-American ideas, values, and cultural products generally have been received with familiarity and enthusiasm. All this is well known and amply documented, though the domestic media and political establishments are shy about acknowledging their de facto cultural domination of what they like to refer to as ‘the global market.’ What is of special interest here, however, is the skillful combination of information instrumentation with philosophic principle – a mix that fuels the push toward concentrated cultural power. Not the laws of chance but strategic planning, rarely identified as such, underlies this development. It has succeeded well beyond the initial expectations of its formulators,” (Schiller, 1995, pp. 18-19; Allen, 2000, pp. 87 and 89-99).
On average, individuals in industrialized nations spend three hours a day watching television – roughly half their leisure time; only to work and sleep is more time devoted. At this rate, someone who lives to be seventy-five would spend more than nine years of their life just watching TV. Why do we watch so much? In studies, subjects claimed that television was a means of relaxation, to which electroencephalograph (EEG) readings confirmed via brain waves, skin resistance and heart rates of subjects while watching television. However, even though relaxation is associated with TV by the viewers, research also has shown that passivity and a lowered level of alertness also correlate. Furthermore, once the television is turned off, the sense of relaxation dissipates rather quickly, but the passivity and lowered alertness remain for a considerable time. “Within moments of sitting or lying down and pushing the ‘power’ button, viewers report feeling more relaxed. Because the relaxation occurs quickly, people are conditioned to associate viewing with rest and lack of tension. The association is positively reinforced because viewers remain relaxed throughout viewing, and it is negatively reinforced via the stress and dysphoric rumination that occurs once the screen goes blank again. Habit forming drugs work in similar ways. A tranquilizer that leaves the body rapidly is much more likely to cause dependence than one that leaves the body slowly, precisely because the user is more aware the drug’s effects are wearing off.” Like a drug, heavy television use has long-term negative effects. Generally, heavy viewers are more easily bored, more easily distracted, have poorer attentional control, are less likely to participate in community activities or sports, and are more likely to be obese; they’re more anxious and less happy than light viewers in unstructured situations, such as doing nothing, day-dreaming, or waiting in line. “The difference widens even more when the viewer is alone.” Part of the human attraction to television has to do with our biological orienting response. “First described by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, the orienting response is our instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus. It is part of our evolutionary heritage, a built-in sensitivity to movement and potential predatory threats. Typical orienting reactions include dilation of the blood vessels to the brain, slowing of the heart, and constriction of blood vessels to major muscle groups. The brain focuses its attention on gathering more information while the rest of the body quiets…. In 1986 Byron Reeves of Stanford University, Esther Thorson of the University of Missouri and their colleagues began to study whether the simple formal features of television – cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noises – activate the orienting response, thereby keeping attention on the screen. By watching how brain waves were affected by formal features, the researchers concluded that these stylistic tricks can indeed trigger involuntary responses and ‘derive their attentional value through the evolutionary significance of detecting movement…. It is form, not the content, of television that is unique’…. Annie Lang’s research team at Indiana University has shown that heart rate decreases for four to six seconds after an orienting stimulus. In ads, action sequences and music videos, formal features frequently come at a rate of one per second, thus activating the orienting response continuously.” Perhaps its time we heeded the wisdom of Umberto Eco who once wrote, “A democratic civilization will save itself only if it makes the language of the image into a stimulus for critical reflection – not an invitation for hypnosis,” (Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002; Boihem & Emmanouilides).
In August of 1999, the US Army signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the University of Southern California, chosen because of its close proximity to Hollywood, to have the school’s movie, special-effects and other technology experts help with troop training, including battle scenarios, virtual-reality combat, and large-scale simulations creating settings similar to Operation Desert Storm. This partnership is known as the Institute for Creative Technologies (see ). “The digital world, the world of virtual reality…is going to be part of the embrace of this great, new cooperative venture,” said Jack Valenti (see 20, 26, and 77). However, according to James Der Derian, professor of international relations at Brown University, “What we’re witnessing here today is perhaps not only the announcement of a new sort of technological center, but the creation of a military-industrial-media-entertainment complex,” (“U.S. Army”, 1999 [italics mine]).
In October of 1999, the CIA held a lavish gala film premier for In the Company of Spies, the first spy thriller ever to bear the CIA’s stamp of approval. Starring Tom Berringer and Ron Silver, directed by Tim Matheson (Otter from Animal House), written by Roger Towne who wrote the screenplay for The Natural, and produced by David Madden and Robert W. Cort (who is, himself, a former CIA official), it was made directly for Showtime, a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner, the world’s largest media corporation. “Never before has the CIA so fully embraced a movie – it even allowed [the] director…to shoot inside the agency’s sprawling Langley headquarters and provided 60 off-duty employees to serve as extras.” Bill Harlow, the CIA’s director of public affairs, said “senior CIA officials realized several years back that assisting sympathetic filmmakers and authors was one way the agency could be more open and accountable to the tax-paying public without divulging operational secrets. They even persuaded Chase Brandon, a veteran paramilitary officer who has jumped out of airplanes for the CIA all over the world, to take a job in the public affairs office as the agency’s liaison to Hollywood in 1996.” This has proven most effective, “with scriptwriters even rewriting history to present an upbeat portrait of the agency.” In 2001, three new television series (The Agency [see 20], Alias, and 24) and seven films (including Bad Company, The Bourne Identity, and The Sum of All Fears) were made with the CIA’s approval (Loeb, 1999; Campbell, 2001, September 6; Patterson, 2001).
Hollywood film-makers and the Pentagon have a long history of cooperation. The Pentagon sees the film industry as an important part of public relations; according to a recently released memo, “military depictions have become more of a ‘commercial’ for us,'” which explains the Air Force’s eagerness to be a part of the short-lived 2002 CBS reality series, American Fighter Pilots, which followed three men as they trained to fly F-15s, and was executive produced by Tony Scott (director of Top Gun) and his brother Ridley Scott (director of Black Hawk Down). Due to the enormous expense of military equipment, it makes financial sense for a film-maker to get military cooperation. However, this often entails the altering of scripts to fit the needs and desires of the Pentagon (i.e. military and government personnel are to be depicted in more positive and heroic ways, American ideologies are re-enforced and not criticized, etc.). For example:
A. In Goldeneye (1995), “the original script had a US Navy admiral betraying state secrets, but this was changed to make the traitor a member of the French navy.”
B. The Jackal (1997) “received help after the marines were given a better role. Major Nancy LaLuntas had objected that the helicopter pilots had no ‘integral part in the action – they are effectively taxi drivers.’ A letter from the film’s director, Michael Caton-Jones, stated: ‘I am certain that we can address the points that you raised…and effect the appropriate changes in the screenplay that you requested.'”
C. Cooperation had been given to the production of Top Gun after the character portrayed by Kelly McGillis had been changed from an enlisted person to someone outside the military, as relationships between officers and enlisted personnel are against the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
D. Although Hearts in Atlantis (2001) had no military in the plot, the film-makers wished to use land belonging to the Army. “The Pentagon agreed and suggested that the film could include a shot of an Army recruiting booth in a carnival scene.”
E. Despite having made changes to characters in Independence Day (1996), the Department of Defense refused help because, “the military appears impotent and/or inept; all advances in stopping aliens are the result of actions by civilians.”
F. Other films to have received assistance from the Pentagon are: Air Force One (1997), A Few Good Men (1992), Armageddon (1998), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Pearl Harbor (2001), Patriot Games (1992), Windtalkers (2002), Hamburger Hill (1987), The American President (1995), Behind Enemy Lines (2001), Apollo 13 (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and A Time to Kill (1996).
G. Some films that were denied: Apocalypse Now (1979), Catch-22 (1970), Dr. Strangelove (1964), Full Metal Jacket (1987), The Last Detail (1973), Lone Star (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996), Platoon (1986), and The Thin Red Line (1998) (Campbell, 2001, August 29; Weiss, 2002).
On February 19, 2002, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) was “developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations in an effort to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries.” The OSI was created just after 9/11 “to publicize the U.S. government’s perspective in Islamic countries and to generate support for the U.S.’s ‘war on terror.’ This latest announcement raises grave concerns that far from being an honest effort to explain U.S. policy, the OSI may be a profoundly undemocratic program devoted to spreading disinformation and misleading the public, both at home and abroad….The government is barred by law from propagandizing within the U.S., but the OSI’s new plan will likely lead to disinformation planted in a foreign news reports being picked up by U.S. news outlets,” (“Media Advisory”, 2002).
Corporate Media and Content Control
Before he retired, AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin told MSNBC that his company’s Internet division had already helped terror investigators, “apparently providing access to e-mail traffic.” According to Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, “there’s an implicit quid pro quo here…the industry seems to be saying to the administration, ‘we’re patriotic, we’re supporting the war…now free us from constraints.'” Although that may or may not be true, on June 2, 2003, the FCC voted 3-2 to relax the rules on media ownership (Roberts; Kirkpatrick, 2003).
After World War II, Allied forces restricted media concentration in occupied Germany and Japan “because they noted that such concentration promoted anti-democratic, even fascist, political cultures.” In the 1950’s, the majority of the American mass media (i.e. television stations, radio stations, film studios, magazine publishers, newspaper publishers, book publishers, advertising agencies, etc.) were owned by more than 1,500 corporations. By 1981, they were owned by less then fifty. Today, that number is six; they are: AOL Time Warner, The Walt Disney Company, Bertelsmann, Viacom, News Corporation, and Vivendi Universal – with Sony, Liberty Media Corporation, and General Electric close behind (for a thorough listing of media owners and what they own, see The Columbia Journalism Review at ). In our current electoral process, “reaching audiences has become the substitute for what used to be called garnering constituencies. Just as advertisers sell products to audiences, political consultants market candidates to those same audiences. In contemporary media-driven elections, programme, advertising, and film audiences become targeted markets of voters. In the larger sense, citizens are transmuted into consumers, connecting with a media product instead of a political platform.” According to The Alliance for Better Campaigns, a non-profit co-chaired by Walter Cronkite, television broadcasters earned around $771 million from political ads in 2000 (McChesney, 2000, p. 61; Nichols & McChesney, 2000, p. 28; Bagdikian, 2000, pp. 21-22; Andersen, 2000, p. 251; Taylor, 2002).
News Corporation, the fifth largest media corporation in the world (owner of 20th Century Fox, Fox Television Broadcasting Corp. [including all subsequent Fox channels such as Fox Sports Channel, Fox Movie Channel, etc., as well as F/X and The National Geographic Channel]; magazines such as The Weekly Standard, Inside Out and TV Guide; newspapers such as The New York Post in the U.S., 22 papers in Australia and nine in England, including The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Sun; furthermore, it owns the publishing houses HarperCollins and Regan Books) is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has used his media power to nuzzle up to some of the most influential leaders of recent history, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair. Or, rather, they have nuzzled up to him. In the case of Tony Blair, in exchange for the support and endorsement of Blair in Murdoch’s publications during his campaign, once elected, Blair was able to change British policy on media ownership to Murdoch’s favor. In fact, Murdoch, himself, has been quoted as saying, “When you are the monopoly supplier, you are inclined to dictate,” (Williams, 2000; “News”, 2003; Jhally, 1997).
During the first Gulf War, each of the big three networks had profound financial ties to the war. ABC was owned by Capitol Cities (which is now owned by The Walt Disney Company), whose chair was on the board of directors of Texaco Oil. CBS, at the time owned by Westinghouse, though now owned by Viacom, also owned the RAND Corporation and the Honeywell Corporation, both of which were and are major defense contractors and stood to make a great deal of money out of the war. NBC was – and still is—”wholly owned” by General Electric, which had a $2 billion weapons contract with the US military, making both the Tomahawk and the staggeringly unsuccessful Patriot missiles, and estimated that they’d make hundreds of millions more with the rebuilding of Kuwait after the war. Also, the Kuwaiti royal family were major GE stockholders. General Electric CEO John Welch reportedly once told NBC president Lawrence Grossman “Remember, you work for GE,” (Naureckas, 1991; Williams; “Corporate Info”, 2003; Jhally, 1997).
“The simple fact is that in most traditional newsrooms the culture of journalism is to determine the basic nature of a story before assembling all, or even most of, the facts. Just as many theorists develop a working hypothesis before collecting the data, many journalists are used to formulating the angle, or frame, of a story before they interview anyone, read a document, or collect any other facts. Sometimes they are more apt to follow the adage, ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.'” Why is this? There are many reasons, but a major one continues to be that “the changing economic structure of the television networks has eroded the[ir] newsroom values… Where once a culture committed to great journalism flourished, a culture dominated by MBAs and financial accountability has taken its place. Accountability to shareholders [to make money] has replaced accountability to democracy and the citizens it serves,” (Pavlik, 2001, pp. 312-314).
Think we have free speech in this country? Not if you’re on television; just ask Bill Maher. Soon after the September 11th attacks, Maher, in response to the labeling of the hijackers as cowards, said on his late night ABC program Politically Incorrect, “We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.” Less than a week later, his show was cancelled. ABC (whose parent company is Disney) claimed the cancellation had nothing to do with Maher’s statements but was exclusively about his ratings, which had been sagging for some time. “That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Maher. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who hadn’t actually seen the broadcast, said Maher’s comments were “a terrible thing to say” and that it was a reminder that Americans “need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.” That’s a pretty extreme statement, and even one of Bush’s media consultants, Mark McKinnon, called Fleischer’s comments “Big Brother-ish,” (Armstrong, 2001, September 20; “Maher Tapes”, 2002; Armstrong, 2001, September 27; Hirsen, 2002, March).
Journalism and the Threat of the First Amendment
In 1970, Peter Dale Scott, a professor of English at UC Berkley, published The War Conspiracy, a scathing investigation of the CIA, oil companies, and their manipulation of US foreign policy in order to escalate the Vietnam War for their own ends. Before the book could be made public, however, the CIA intervened and successfully stopped its release (“The War Conspiracy”, n.d.).
Gary Webb is a very decorated journalist. In a career that spanned more than nineteen years, he was the recipient of more than thirty awards for his journalistic prowess, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1990, the H.L. Mencken Award from the Free Press Association in 1994, and the Media Hero’s Award in 1997. In 1996, he wrote a series of articles entitled Dark Alliances that revealed how a “US-backed terrorist army, the Nicaraguan Contras, had financed their activities by selling crack cocaine in the ghettos of Los Angeles to the city’s biggest crack dealer. [It] documented direct contact between drug traffickers bringing drugs into Los Angeles and two Nicaraguan CIA agents who were administering the Contras in Central America. Moreover, it revealed how elements of the US government knew about this drug ring’s activities at the time and did little, if anything, to stop it. The evidence included sworn testimony from one of the drug traffickers – a government informant – that a CIA agent specifically instructed them to raise money for the Contras in California.” His article was posted on the website of his newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News, and was quickly read by people all over the world – getting as many as 1.3 million hits in a single day (see to read all the articles in his series, including many follow-ups and related links) The fallout for this was immense, with the country’s three largest newspapers – The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times – putting out stories on Webb, rather than his article. “Never before had the three biggest papers devoted such energy to kicking the hell out of a story by another newspaper.” Why? “Primarily because the series presented dangerous ideas. It suggested that crimes of state had been committed. If the story was true, it meant the federal government bore some responsibility, however indirect, for the flood of crack that coursed through black neighborhoods in the 1980’s… The scary thing about this collusion between the press and the powerful is that it works so well. In this case, the government’s denials and promises to pursue the truth didn’t work. The public didn’t accept them, for obvious reasons, and the clamour for an independent investigation continued to grow. But, after the government’s supposed watchdogs weighed in, public opinion became divided and confused, the movement to force congressional hearings lost steam.” Once enough people came to believe that the story had been exaggerated or distorted, it could be quietly buried and forgotten. Edward S. Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, explains how this could so easily happen: “The readiness with which the media and intellectuals adapt to and serve their leaders’ rampaging surprises many who don’t grasp the extent to which the corporate media are a part of the imperial enterprise and structure, and how naturally the intellectual community accepts and works within the parameters fixed by imperial needs. If the structure of imperialism gives the United States the power to impose its will in many foreign locales, its institutions and intelligentsia will, as a matter of course, normalize and support the ensuing projection of power,” (Edwards, 2003; Webb, 2002, pp. 306 and 309).
In February of 2000, the Dutch newspaper Trouw and France’s Intelligence Newsletter reported that the US Army’s Fourth Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group at Ft. Bragg, NC, worked in the news division at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters during the end of the 1999 Kosovo War. “In the 1980’s, officers from…PSYOPS…staffed the National Security Council’s Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), a shadowy government propaganda agency that planted stories in the U.S. media supporting the Reagan Administration’s Central America policies. A senior US official described OPD as a ‘vast psychological warfare operation of the kind the military conducts to influence a population in enemy territory.’ (Miami Herald, 7/19/87) An investigation by the congressional General Accounting Office found that OPD had engaged in ‘prohibited, covert propaganda activities,” and the office was soon shut down as a result of the Iran-Contra investigations…. According to Intelligence Newsletter, Rear Admiral Thomas Steffens, a psychological warfare expert in the Special Operations Command, recently told a PSYOPS conference that the military needed to find ways to ‘gain control’ over commercial news satellites to help bring down an ‘informational cone of silence’ over regions where special operations were taking place [During the Afghanistan war, the Pentagon found a very direct way to “gain control” – it simply bought up all commercial satellite images of Afghanistan, in order to prevent media from accessing them.]… An unofficial strategy paper published by the…Naval War College [Review] in 1996 and written by an Army officer (‘Military Operations in the CNN World: Using the Media as a Force Multiplier’) urged military commanders to find ways to ‘leverage the vast resources of the fourth estate’ for the purpose of communicating the [mission’s] objective and endstate, boosting friendly morale, executing more effective psychological operations, playing a major role in deception of the enemy, and enhancing intelligence collection.'” Major Thomas Collins of the US Army Information Service has been quoted as saying that PSYOPS “personnel, soldiers and officers, have been working in CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta through our program ‘Training with Industry’. They worked as regular employees of CNN. Conceivably, they would have worked on stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in the production of news.” CNN had five interns from PSYOPS, two in television, two in radio, and one in satellite operations. This wasn’t the first time CNN has allowed government officials into their newsrooms. In 1991, Pentagon “trainees” were allowed in during Operation Desert Storm for reasons that were never made entirely clear. This follows what Colonel Christopher St. John, commander of PSYOPS, has stated. He “called for greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants” and that’s exactly what’s happened (“Action Alert”, 2000; Cockburn; “Media Advisory”, 2002; Fisk, 2003, February 25).
In an impressive collection of news reports, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) showed that in 1998, ABC World News This Morning, NBC’s Today, The Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, CNN, USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsday all reported the fact that the U.N. weapons inspection teams were removed from Iraq by order of the U.N. However, four years later, every one of those sources reported that Saddam had forced the inspectors out. Did they forget their own reporting or were they consciously assisting the United States government as outlets of propaganda by effectively re-writing history in a way that aided the Bush administration’s war aims (“What a Difference”, 2002)?
In order for reporters to become “embedded”, they must sign a contract with the government that explicitly requires them to “follow the direction and orders of the government” and prohibits them from suing for injury or death even where this “is caused or contributed to” by the military. They are almost completely controlled by the military and “agree to give up most of their autonomy in exchange for access to the fighting on military terms.” Christina Lamb of the London Times noted that “embedded” journalists are “giving a more positive side, because they’re with the troops…and they’re not out in the streets or out in the countryside seeing what’s actually happening there.” Since the war began, the British populace in general has become more supportive of the war, and of that, British Minister of Defense Geoff Hoon has said, “…the imagery they [“embedded” reporters] broadcast is at least partially responsible for the public’s change of mood.” At the end of March, 2003, Hoon stated, “One of the reasons for having journalists [“embedded”] is to prevent precisely the kind of tragedy that occurred to an ITV crew very recently when a…journalist was killed essentially because he was not part of a military organization.” ITN reporter Terry Lloyd and two of his crew (cameraman Fred Nerac and local translator Hussein Othman) were killed by “friendly fire,” (Miller, 2003, April 3; “Missing”, 2003).
Patrick J. Sloyan, who covered the 1991 Gulf War as a Newsday correspondent, recently wrote, “When the air war began in January 1991, the media was fed carefully selected footage by [General Norman] Schwarzkopf in Saudi Arabia and [General Colin] Powell in Washington, D.C. Most of it was downright misleading.” It’s happening this time, too. According to Christian Lowe of the military magazine Army Times, “embedded” journalists are being “hounded by military public affairs officers who follow their every move and look over their shoulders as they interview aviators, sailors, and maintainers for their stories,” (Solomon, 2002; Miller, 2003, April 3).
On January 27, 2003, CNN released a document to its entire reporting staff. Entitled “Reminder of Script Approval”, it relayed the fact that all stories must be submitted to an anonymous row of script editors in Atlanta who can insist upon changes. “A script is not approved for air unless it is properly marked approved by an authorized manager and duped [duplicated] to burcopy [bureau copy]…When a script is updated it must be re-approved, preferably by the originating approving authority.” This means that, although the reporter in Jordan, Baghdad, or the West Bank most assuredly understands the background and nuances of his or her story far better than the authorities in Atlanta, the anonymous CNN script editors will decide upon the spin the story should take. In other words, CNN is censoring itself, or is agreeing to be censored. According to CNN’s Aaron Brown, this is a normal part of journalism in that every respectable news organization has an editor that checks the facts and makes sure the copy written makes sense in the big scheme of things. This is true. However, what he doesn’t explain is why, since this is such a normal procedure, did CNN feel the need to remind its reporters of this fact – and in such detail—on the eve of a war deemed illegal by the United Nations (Fisk, 2003, February 25; Goodman & Rendall, 2003).
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) conducted a quantitative study from January 30, 2003, to February 12, 2003, concerning ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS. They concluded that of the 393 on-camera sources who appeared in nightly news stories about Iraq, more than two-thirds (267) of the guests were from the US and 75% of those (199) were either current or former government or military officials with only one expressing skepticism or opposition to the war. “Such a predominance of official sources virtually assures that independent and grassroots perspectives will be underrepresented.” In fact, only 20 of the 393 represented the Iraqi government and only 3 represented anti-war organizations. At a time when 61% of US respondents were telling pollsters that more time was needed for diplomacy and inspections, only 6% of US sources on the four networks were skeptics regarding the need for war, half of them were people on the street, and half of them were unnamed (“In Iraq”, 2003).
About the Author:
David B. Deserano is a recent graduate from Portland State University, Oregon, with an MS in Communication Theory. Much of his time has been spent researching and documenting the numerous links between the US government and a supposedly free media. He has turned this article (which originated as his Masters thesis) into an illustrated ‘zine. To contact Dave Deserano, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also available in: Français