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War Crimes

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Tom Brokaw, as you read or saw the other day, thinks that all wars begin with massive feats of propaganda. He only weakly acknowledges that the press must be in cahoots with the war party to pull off the sort of propaganda campaign of which he speaks. I have been thinking about Tom and his nonchalant attitude toward propaganda for a couple of days now and believe (with Danny Schechter) that Brokaw is dead wrong. The media do not have a pass to deceive, and that is the ultimate conclusion one must draw from Brokaw's remarks. Brokaw believes at a minimum that being "embedded" in society means that the press will reflect public attitudes and emotions. He gives virtually no credence to the notion of journalistic detachment, and apparently none to the idea of public responsibility. At worst-and Brokaw does not venture this far into the logic of his statement-news reporting should not be held to a "truth metric." It is just one level or another of somebody's propaganda, a deliberate program of deception and spin. He seems to believe the media are not intrinsically truth-tellers, but merely tale tellers, (the choice of which tale to tell residing with the owners far more than the reporters). Schechter's essay on this subject raises the consequences part of the argument. If thousands and thousands die as a result of the deliberately deceptive presentation of news, of facts and opinions, then how are the media not guilty (as well) of the crimes of war, specifically the crime of making war from inferior or irrelevant pretexts? Personally, I don't think we should let this question just evaporate in the weakening iterations of the news cycle surrounding the publication of Mr. McClellan's "revelations" about life in the first years of the George Walker Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney Presidency. I think the stick has to be far heavier than public dismay and public regret at the unconscionable corporate policies that brought us to the aggressive war in Iraq. The owners and managers of the New York Times should be made to pay with their fortunes for the disaster they have helped to perpetrate, likewise (in spades) Rupert Murdock and his empire of war-mongers, and not to exclude CNN and the three broadcast networks. Their corporate policies to promote the war to sell their corporate product is no less evil than the makers of munitions or propaganda in Germany that were brought to account in Nuremburg, Hans Fritzsche, for instance, as Dr. Goebbels had committed suicide. Any enterprise that offers its product as pure and unadulterated, be it mayonaise or hamburger or the nightly news, runs a risk that at any given moment the product might be tainted. But, to deliberately sell tainted mayo or burger or news over a protracted period is quite another thing. It rises (or descends) to the level of crime against the customer, and should be punishable. In the case of war, the Hearst jingoist line is as wrong and harmful now as it ever was and the payday on this crime is massive death. There is no escaping it: but for the propaganda deliberately sold to the unsuspecting public, the war would not have taken place and some hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans would still be alive who are not now because of the crime of deliberate deception—outright lying. I urge the general public and my fellow essayists, bloggers, and audience to carry this forward until we have redress, until the media moguls are dethroned and their enterprises put back on the path of truth ... or dissolved. JB
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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