The Byrne Report
By Peter Byrne
Last month, I had the pleasure of chatting with media critic Norman Solomon at the Pine Cone Diner near his home in Point Reyes Station. We exchanged pleasantries about how lucky we are to be living in the ecologically buxom North Bay. Then we got down to discussing the matter at hand: exactly how our federal government uses public-relations techniques to sell state-sanctioned murder and war-for-profit to the American people decade after decade after decade.
Solomon, 55, is a slightly built man with piercing eyes and a gentle demeanor. Since the mid-1980s, he has been dogging the game of mainstream journalism. As a leading press critic, he writes a national Media Beat column and hosts a radio show. He speaks to audiences around the country about war, truth, government lies and the science of spin. And he has written a dozen books that should be required reading in journalism classes. They should also be penitential reading for the Fox News, CNN, NPR and New York Times propagandists while they serve prison sentences imposed by people's courts under the Nuremburg Principles for aiding and abetting crimes committed by what Solomon calls the "warfare state."
To comprehend how and why the prevaricating, incompetent, buccaneering Bush-Cheney administration remains in power, we must detoxify our media-poisoned brains. Truth to tell: from Hiroshima to Baghdad, we have been psychologically conditioned to accept unpardonable acts of violence as moral imperatives. A succession of "elected" spokespeople for the corporativist agenda, including hot-war presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush I, Bill Clinton and George Bush II, have employed the words "peace," "freedom," "democracy" and "liberation" as the warp and woof of propaganda invented to cloak in moral terms a series of brutal, sadistic, terroristic, high-tech wars waged primarily against Third World civilians and their environments.
On April 21, a rough cut of a film based on Solomon's most recent book, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, will premiere at the College of Marin in Kentfield. The activist-writer hopes the movie, which is narrated by Sean Penn, will help people to see through the fog of media and work to unravel the military-media complex. The tightly directed movie is packed with snippets of presidents lying through their eyeballs as they manufacture excuses for aggressing, such as Johnson's phony Gulf of Tonkin ploy and Bush II's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Solomon shows how, for 50 years, chief executives from both political parties have cynically extolled the benefits of "peace and freedom" while simultaneously ordering the slaughter of populations of noncombatants in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and back to Iraq, to name but a few instances of for whom the bell of our national shame ceaselessly tolls.
As Solomon observes, "War becomes perpetual when used as a rationale for peace."
War Made Easy shows generations of interchangeable reporters dutifully recording sanctimonious bullshit preached by generations of interchangeable politicians claiming that industrialized violence is the path to peace. Oblivious, or uncaring, about how they are being used by the war machine, the scribblers mechanically jot down simplistic explanations for the commission of unspeakable acts that are done for complex geopolitical reasons to which neither the scribes not the public is privy.
Today, they are paid to amplify professionally designed fear memes such as "Islamo-fascism," "dirty bombs" and "biowarfare" while demonizing the enemy of the week as a "little Hitler." Solomon points out that we are trained to view our wars through the eyes of the invaders (us) and not the bleeding eyes of our victims. Political dissenters and war protesters are easily portrayed by the entertainment news "hosts" as traitors or ne'er-do-wells. Meanwhile, platoons of intellectually shallow journalists seldom ask tough questions about the power elite's motives until American troops are defeated in battle. And then they blame the leaders of the moment and never a socioeconomic system that thrives upon and lusts for endless war.
The worst of the journalistic lot, says Solomon, are the "embeds." They willingly embrace and allow themselves to be smothered by the invading apparatus as they bond with soldiers. Public relations is now a weapon.
Solomon corrects a misperception that, on the whole, television news coverage of the Vietnam War was more truthful than today's coverage of Iraq. It is true the CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite declared on the air in 1968 that the Vietnam War was a "cosmic disaster." But, for many years, Cronkite casually promoted the outright murder of 2 million Vietnamese. Wearing a flack jacket, he laughingly flew along on bombing missions over North Vietnam. He gloried in the ability of our machines to incinerate unarmed peasants. And when he finally critiqued the leadership, it was for losing the war--not for waging it in the first place.