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
MoveOn.org 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.
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 email@example.com.