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News Media Last Updated: Dec 31st, 2005 - 13:52:10

Media keeps Americans in the dark about massive foreign policy failure
By Kristina M. Gronquist
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 27, 2005, 14:57

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The dismal failure of U.S. mass media to challenge Washington over its early decision and unsubstantiated reasons for going to war, combined with the media�s incomplete coverage since the invasion, create a continual challenge for those of us who want to expose the truth about what is really happening. The success of the antiwar movement lies in its ability to disseminate information and provide a clear, truthful message about the need to end this war now.

U.S. media reporting since 9/11 has been, for the most part, excruciatingly shallow and jingoistic. Believing that 50 percent of voters support the current administration, the media feels the need to play to the �winners,� the Bush clientele who want only upbeat assessments from Iraq. War news that does surface is sanitized, wrung through official channels, and presented in such a manner as to deceive American viewers into believing everything in Iraq will still be okay.

The basic truth�which is obvious to many but unreported�is that the spiraling violence in Iraq is symptomatic of a country in which there is mass opposition to the occupation and no government recognized as legitimate. Kenneth Katzman, an expert on the Persian Gulf region with the U.S. Congressional Research Service says, "We are approaching a situation that is unstable, of a war of all against all, complete chaos, where the government is ineffective, the security is ineffective, and anybody can be killed at any time by anybody."

Recently I logged on to Juan Cole�s popular blog, �Informed Comment.� After reporting a long list of attacks on that particularly bloody day in Iraq (May 8) Cole observed the following: �Few commentators, when they mention such news, point out the obvious. The United States military does not control Baghdad. It doesn�t control the major roads leading out of the capital. It does not control the downtown area except possibly the heavily barricaded �green zone.� It does not control the capital. The guerillas strike at will, even at Iraqi notables who can afford American security guards (many of them, e.g., ex-Navy Seals). If the U.S. military does not control the capital of a country it conquered, then it controls nothing of importance. Ipso facto, Iraq is a failed state.�

Few Americans have a true sense of how profoundly botched and bloody things actually are in Iraq. Nor are people cognizant of the level of human suffering that exists in a failed state. As in all situations of war, women and children suffer the most; they face a continual lack of security, electricity, clean water, medicine, and food. The reality that the war has claimed tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq is never mentioned in any mass media news reports, not on CNN, not on the Lehrer News Hour, not even on NPR. Civilian casualties are only reported in conjunction with resistance attacks. According to a study published in the Lancet, the most highly regarded medical journal in the world with stringent peer-review procedures, "at least" 100,000 civilians had died violently, the great majority of them at the hands of coalition troops." The study also described how American military doctors had found that 14 percent of soldiers and 28 percent of marines had killed a civilian: a huge, unreported massacre.

Marla Ruzicka, the human rights worker who was recently killed on a dangerous road in Iraq, had been working on a case where a family, to save their toddler, threw her out the window when they saw a U.S. missile heading toward the minibus they were in. The riders perished. Marla was trying to secure compensation for the surviving child. These horrific stories are all too common, but they do not get much coverage in the U.S. Even in light of incontrovertible evidence, the reporting cadre keeps suggesting that the �liberation� of Iraq is a success, and we have to stay to �finish the job.�

Lamenting the corrupt corporate-run media is one thing, doing something about it is quite another. Building alternative media channels that reach the masses is a genuine challenge, and one that takes more money than time. Activists have time to give, but not much money, so we focus on grassroots organizing. This means we are always swimming upstream fighting the steady tide of propaganda. Attempts to compete with the big guys, like Al Franken�s radio effort Air America are laudable, and many believe we should keep building in that direction.

Alternative media�hard-hitting blogs, peace and justice websites, and many foreign press outlets�are sources which are not subject to U.S. corporate control. Media stripped of the profit motive or corporate sponsorship can help provide accurate information about our nation�s many wars and occupations. Independent media coverage stands in stark contrast to the dumbed-down dribble of television anchors and all those �news� talk show formats featuring the usual suspects: white men talking to white men, usually about problems they themselves have created.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that U.S. media�on whatever side of the spectrum�does not and will not define success or failure for people abroad who are fighting global oppression and occupation. An enlightened media would help educate Americans to the true costs of war that affect our lives and communities, a worthy project, no doubt. However, the driving force for ending occupations is a given, because these are movements that can neither be stopped nor improved by changes that occur in the extraneous domain of the U.S. media.

When I see those white male talking head �experts� on Sunday mornings discussing Iraq, I can tune them out instantly, because I know that all their huffing and puffing about how to create a �new� Iraq is meaningless; their words can�t change a thing on the ground, where it counts.

The point is that while it is important to critique mass media and support alternative and independent media, it has to be recognized that people fighting against occupation in Palestine, torture in Abu Ghraib, and permanent bases in Afghanistan are not forming responses to the op-eds of David Brooks or Thomas Friedman. (Nor are they checking their e-mail for the latest bulletin.) What is acknowledged on a global level�apparent when one examines Middle Eastern media�is the positive impact of solidarity that the antiwar movement offers when protestors in Western countries hit the streets to make a stand against U.S. interventionist foreign policy.

While U.S. corporate media exists in a vacuum, our work connects us with millions on a worldwide basis. We must continue to get the message out about the failure of militarism and occupation, and we can do it on our own terms, without mass media but with respect and integrity, understanding that the forces of change that are most effective reside first and foremost in the Middle East.

Kristina M. Gronquist is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and specializes in foreign policy analysis. She can be reached at

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