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By: Linda S. Heard

  "Don't believe everything you read in the paper" is a very old and eminently sensible adage.  However, a growing number of Americans have taken this saying one step further and no longer believe anything they read, hear or see that is put out by the corporate U.S. media.

  A post on a U.S. talk-board colourfully sums up the jaundiced view of many Americans: "Fake news and opinion in the corporate-owned media has poisoned public debate on the issues to the point where I no longer watch the television, listen to radio news or read U.S. newspapers…"

  Instead, the poster prefers to tune into overseas media outlets for news that is "more comprehensive and honest, showing both sides of the issues".

  And going by the many emails I receive on the subject, many Americans now rely entirely on the Internet for their news gathering often visiting alternative and outspoken websites such as CounterPunch, Online Journal and Alternet, which receive millions of hits each month.

  The question here is: does the US public have solid grounds for disenchantment with its media?

  Veteran Lebanese-American journalist and columnist Helen Thomas long dubbed "Dean of the White House Press Corps" believes it does. She says when it comes to challenging President George W. Bush concerning his foreign policy the U.S. press "has rolled over and is playing dead".

  Furthermore, she believes the news is being managed by the White House. "President Lyndon Johnson once said, after he left office, 'I lost the people's confidence because Vietnam came into their living rooms every night'.

  "This administration has not allowed that to happen. There are no pictures of bloody Iraq babies like there were from the recent Russian tragedy," she said referring to the Beslan School siege. "This war has become so sterile".

  Thomas, who used to sit regally in the front row during White House press conferences has now been relegated to the back and complains that Bush's aides hand pick questioners.

  During an interview conducted last May by Alternet, Thomas explains how some reporters were intimidated by a post-9-11 politics of fear. "Everybody, even reporters, started wearing flags after 9-11.

  "At these White House briefings, there was an atmosphere among the reporters that you would be considered unpatriotic or un-American if you were asking any tough questions. Then it segued into a war where you'd be seen as jeopardizing the troops if you asked certain questions."

  Indeed, certain major newspapers were later driven to admit their failings in the lead up to Iraq's invasion. The Washington Post went as far as to publish a 3000 word front page apology on how the paper systematically downplayed Iraq war critics.

  Its executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. admitted mistakes were made, saying, "Across the country, the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones. We didn't pay enough attention to the minority".

  The Post's Pentagon correspondent complained about important newsworthy pieces that were killed off by editors or consigned to tiny columns in the back pages. "There was an attitude among editors: Look we're going to war. Why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?"

  New York Times' editors issued a similar self-flagellating editorial while blaming much of their reporting errors and omissions upon disinformation from self-interested Iraqi exiles with much to gain by going to war.

  Its most gung ho reporter Judith Miller, who has been accused of having a cozy relationship with not only former Iraqi dissidents but also the White House, is today in jail for refusing to name the whistler-blower in the Valerie Plame (a CIA agent whose cover was leaked by a top White House official) case. Loyalty to the principles of her profession or loyalty to her masters is the question on the lips of many.

  Michael Massing, author of "Now they tell us" a book on the press coverage in the lead up to war has been scathing in his criticisms of the media and in particular on the incestuous relationship between the Bush administration and journalists.

  Massing maintains there are "dinner parties going on where high officials go to the houses of journalists," and, further, that Pentagon correspondents are often reluctant to criticize in case they are excluded from a flight carrying Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq or Afghanistan.

  The author also describes a climate of intimidation with journalists who dare put their head about the parapet being targeted by right-wing Fox News anchors and radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh when careers risk being destroyed.

Embedded reporters

  Within the U.S., editors and journalists were unwittingly or wittingly acting as administration propaganda mouthpieces, while those on the battlefield were mostly embedded with the troops. Indeed, independent journalism was actively discouraged with non-embeds being banned from Fallujah during its virtual leveling by U.S. troops. 

  A 2003 academic study of television reports produced by 'embedded' correspondents found that embedding had led to a sanitized picture of war, one which avoided graphic or disturbing images.

  Other detractors of the system, devised by the Pentagon, say embedded reporters become too friendly with one side of the equation and relied upon the troops as protectors in which event impartial reporting was near to impossible. Moreover, they say, reports from embeds were closely monitored by the US military and often censored in the name of security.

  One embedded reporter who didn't play by the unwritten Pentagon rules paid a heavy price.

  Freelance NBC News correspondent and media pool reporter Kevil Sites filmed a marine shooting dead an unarmed injured Iraq on the floor of a Fallujah mosque. And although he broadcast the piece with a host of caveats as to the amount of stress under which the marines were working, Sites was vilified as unpatriotic by much of the U.S. broadcast media and was subjected to hate mail and death threats.

  On the other hand, the marine was generally hailed as a hero, and although investigated by the military, was ultimately given the all clear.

  A clear proponent of the 'shoot the messenger' philosophy was David M. Huntwork, who wrote an article titled: Embedded Reporters: a Bad Idea. "When it come to blaming someone for what we saw in Fallujah, blame not the marine but those who filmed and released such footage to the world," he writes in all seriousness. 

  As a result of such skewed reporting, many of those Americans who do not have either the time or the inclination to search out alternate news sources still live under the illusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the intention of using them and believe that Saddam Hussein was not only linked to Osama bin Laden but also involved with the attacks on 9-11.

  Moreover, they have no idea that more than 100,000 civilians have been killed at the hands of allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq or that proscribed weaponry, such as depleted uranium tank shells, cluster bombs and napalm were used by U.S. forces.

  Among those who have woken up to the fact that there were no WMD or links to Al Qaeda, are many who have, with the aid of the media, swallowed 'propaganda plan B': the invasion was to liberate Iraq from a cruel dictator and bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. For those souls enjoying blissful ignorance the 'oil' word is banned from their vocabulary.

  Today, as Iraq is in deep crisis, still occupied and fighting a strengthening insurgency, causing its brightest and best too sadly pack their bags, phrases such as 'freedom and democracy' never ring as hollow.

  But the U.S. media for all its apologizing remains in deep denial. Iraq's invasion will go down in history as a terrible and cruel blunder. It's a failure of massive proportions. It has no redeeming feature, not one. Yet the American media still cannot bring itself to admit that and go some way to redeeming itself.

Pro-Israeli bias

  When it comes to Israel-Palestine coverage, the US media is notorious for its blatant pro-Israel bias resulting in many Americans believing that Palestinians are the occupiers of Israel and not the other way around.

  According to Palestine Media Watch (PMW), the New York Times is a main culprit. When at the end of June, Israel settlers attacked a Palestinian youth with stones as he lay on the ground unconscious, the story was covered by all major foreign and US media outlets with the exception of the Times.

  PMW further accuses the Times of over-reporting the deaths of Israeli children and under-reporting the deaths of Palestinian children, as documented by a study "If Americans Knew".

  The study, conducted by a non-profit organization and released last April, showed that in 2004 "at a time when eight Israeli children and 176 Palestinian children were killed – a ratio of one to 22 – Times headlines and lead paragraphs reported on Israeli children's deaths at a rate 6.8 times greater than Palestinian children's deaths."

  Moreover PMW highlights the Times' repeated omissions to inform its readers that the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have been held under illegal military occupation since 1967.

  Accused variously of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine bias is CNN. Israelis have written letters to the editor accusing CNN of referring to what they insist as 'rocks' thrown at tanks by Palestinian children as mere 'stones'.

  The Israeli government has also weighed in to oust CNN's correspondent Rula Amin. Israeli spokesman Nachman Shai told a group of US pro-Israel supporters: "We are putting real pressure on the heads of CNN to have [Amin and others] replaced with more objective pro-Israel reporters that are willing to tell our side of the story."

  Robert Fisk, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who writes for the Independent has long chastised US reports for their pro-Israel bias, accusing some of them as actually 'lying' about realities on the ground.

  During a series of US lectures, Fisk talked about a February 2001 Newsweek article "Terror goes global" that depicted a Palestinian man in a threatening pose with a gun. Fisk recounted how he later learned that the Palestinian in question was peacefully attending the funeral of a friend.

  "Regularly we hear that Palestinians are killed in 'clashes' as opposed to being killed by Israeli soldiers," said Fisk before speculating out loud why Palestinians are considered terrorists, Arabs are considered terrorists while Israelis are seemingly exempt from that label.

  It's interesting to note that the recent attack by a right-wing Jewish Israeli on Arab-Israeli passengers travelling on a bus was reported by the US and British press as having been carried out by "an Israeli youth" or "an Israeli extremist" or merely "an Israeli". However, the Israeli press and the Israeli government were quick to give the young man his apt title of "terrorist".

  Needless to say, Fisk's lectures went almost ignored by the US media but they made a big impression on his American audiences who were told: "You are the victims more than we are. You don't know what's really going on."

Payola from above

  Perhaps the most damning indictment on the relationship between some Conservative journalists and the Bush administration are reports confirming three syndicated columnists – Michael McManus, Maggie Gallagher and Armstrong Williams - were paid to promote the government's agenda. In other words, the administration used taxpayer's dollars to pay writers to come up with 'opinions' in order to indoctrinate those same taxpayers into following the party line.

  Fisk was right when he said the US public doesn't know what is going on but one thing is for sure, thanks mainly to the Internet and satellite television, it is slowly but surely awakening to that fact. Hopefully, when the tipping point arrives - as it surely will - the US media will have little choice but to return to the basics of honest and ethical reporting. In the interests of global stability and justice for all of us sharing this one beautiful planet, that day can't come quickly enough.


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