by Philip Greenspan
(Swans - May 23, 2005) Show several people a painting. Then ask each out of the presence of the others to describe what he has seen. It is improbable that any two will give similar reports; personal predilections will unknowingly slant their explanations.
Every moment of every day an infinite number of incidents occur. Some are related; most are not. Various clusters of related facts make up what gets reported in the media. If only verifiable facts accurately described an incident could there be any question of its truth? Wouldn't it prevent the unrealized bias of an honest reporter from tailoring those facts? The selection process by itself -- which facts are chosen, which are not -- skews the report.
The location of the reporter who only sees one view is another factor creating a bias. Why does the U.S. embed journalists with its troops? So they will view war from the perspective of the home team. Viewing the war from the enemy side would provide a radically different perspective.
Nature provides us with two eyes, although one gives an accurate view. But those eyes give two slightly different views that together provide perspective; a rounded; three dimensional rather than flat picture of what is seen. Similarly, an accurate well-rounded view of the news and history requires views from varying perspectives.
Many young journalists are honest and conscientious. They have chosen and entered their profession with noble ideals. But they soon learn that to succeed, which in time may be no more than maintaining a job that will keep bread on the family's table, requires satisfying the boss. How? By compromising stories that might antagonize him, major advertisers, a sizeable number of the readers, or important sources.
Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, a husband-wife team of investigative reporters at the Fox-owned TV station WTVT in Tampa, Florida, produced a hard hitting exposé of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone (BGH). Because they were unwilling to compromise their story to the satisfaction of the powers that be they were canned. A jury of their peers found that FOX had "acted intentionally and deliberately to falsify or distort the plaintiffs' news reporting" and unanimously awarded Akre $425,000 for the wrongful firing. But a Florida appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that there is no law against lying on the air, and the plaintiffs must reimburse Fox about $80,000 for some legal fees. Can you imagine that? The courts condone lying by the media, the very watchdogs we should be relying on! YES, RELY; in this context the definition of RELY must be to lie again! "60 Minutes," the famous and popular television program, should have found this story right up its alley, but disparaging other news organizations on media issues is a NO-NO, and to hit such big guns as Fox and Monsanto is a dangerous game. So this sensational story got no major media coverage.
It does prove that news reports not only give an unbalanced, one-sided view but are punctuated with lies and half-truths that distort the picture. In time those lies are exposed but the consequences of those lies have already done their damage. The unwise and wrongful actions that resulted can no longer be undone.
Journalism is often referred to as the first draft of history. Panoramas of those drafts extending over time generate history. Most journalistic and historic views concern the activities, decisions and consequences of the rulers, leaders and elites; and establishments in every society present them in a favorable light. The lies, half truths and distortions of the day may eventually become, if interesting and intriguing, the myths of history that are repeated and repeated from generation to generation.
Howard Zinn broke tradition by looking at history from the bottom up instead of from the top down; that is, from the perspective of the ordinary people, those often adversely affected by the decisions and activities of their betters. He acknowledges that the other view is valid, and he does not dispute it. By enlightening his readers with another side they are accorded a truer picture of history.
How does one learn the truth? Certainly not by relying on the establishment. They are primarily interested in advancing and maintaining their power and wealth. Accordingly, they will use whatever means are available to accomplish their objective. The lies that have been revealed about the war in Iraq are testaments to that. Did the major media expose any? Weren't there many reliable and knowledgeable sources, whom the media ignored, screaming to be heard? Where oh where were those highly paid and highly respected pundits and columnists? And what were they doing? Why, they were gobbling up whatever the administration dished out, knowing full well that governments consistently lie, and they regurgitated it to their readers and listeners.
To learn the truth requires effort to search out the Howard Zinns of journalism and history. Where? On the Internet; in the alternate press; in books that the major media does not review; and in documentaries that rarely get exposure in theatres or on the major TV channels.
Within those sources, however, there is a mass of junk interspersed with a few jewels. With discernment, experience, and diligence the few jewels can be uncovered.
Over time some sources have consistently been proven correct and can be relied upon. They could be positioned anywhere on the political spectrum -- conservative, liberal, reactionary, or radical. If their reports are accurate they should not be dismissed by ad hominem accusations.
A few that I would put my money on to come up right are Amy Goodman, John Pilger, and Bill Moyers. For answers on the Middle East, Robert Fisk stands alone; for an accurate portrait of the Palestinians, the Israeli reporter Amira Haas, who lives with those about whom she writes. Dahr Jamail* reports from outside the Green Zone of Iraq, the unembedded area. US military experts include Seymour Hersh, who uncovers scandals and dirty linen; Scott Ritter has particular insight into WMD and Iraq; retired Gen. Anthony Zinni is the military's most knowledgeable Middle East specialist.
Every society indoctrinates its citizens from their earliest age to respect, believe, and be loyal to its established institutions -- the family, the church, the school, the community, the government. Before they understand the meanings of the words in their pledge to the flag or the national anthem, they have learned them by rote and repeat them regularly. As they grow older their loyalty is reinforced through the church, the media, at work, and even in such innocuous settings as a sports stadium where the national anthem may be sung before the game and woe to the recreant who does not stand and sing.
Proudly backing a county's leader becomes natural for the loyal, patriotic citizen who will not be swayed, particularly during stressful periods like wars. Many brainwashed people have done it, still do it, and many more will continue to do it! Perhaps this is an answer to how those "Good Germans" could support a monster like Adolph Hitler?
It is extremely difficult to overcome inculcated biases that have built up over the years. Yet I flipped many such beliefs over the years. I suspect that most who have similarly taken a 180 degree turn reacted as I did. It was not easy to change and it took quite a while before I saw the light. For a long time my mind was frozen to any thought that might in some way tarnish the approving image I had of certain esteemed individuals, organizations, and countries. But sometime in the past I was stunned when one of them was disparaged by a story published by one of my most highly-regarded news sources. While I steadfastly held my belief, a chip was made in my armor. Later another reliable source disclosed other unconscionable activities. As more and more chips struck my armor, first one and then more rays of light penetrated my consciousness. I then did some independent research and found a treasure trove of horrors that changed my beliefs completely.
Some who changed had personally lived through experiences that very quickly caused the change. Many veterans of my acquaintance have said they had entered the military services all "gung ho" to fight for Uncle Sam. But what they experienced while in service was so shocking that their metamorphosis was rapid.
I think both processes are occurring today. Supposedly honest and capable leaders have been proven to be liars and incompetents. What goes through the minds of the loyal citizens when each lie that brought the country to war is disclosed? What goes through the minds of the patriots when the optimistic predictions -- "cakewalk," "mission accomplished," "welcomed with flowers" -- never occur? Does each lie and each bad prediction chip their loyalty armor?
The warriors on the front lines in Iraq are discovering that their government has very little regard for them and the burdens they must carry. Is the John Wayne enthusiasm wearing thin? How long will they remain loyal and patriotic?
Signs that the chipping process has affected the perceptions of the citizenry may be inferred by their increasing skepticism of the administration's version of news that the major media has been disseminating. On May 9, 2005, the New York Times cited a recent Pew Research Center report that 45 percent believe little or nothing of what they read in their newspapers. The prestigious Times was about average with only 21 percent of readers believing all or most and 14 percent believing nothing at all. The Times is tentatively taking steps to reverse the deterioration and regain credibility with its readers.
Although the chipping has now hit the media, it is doubtful that the Bush gang will modify its devil-may-care tactics. Their urgent desire to achieve their nefarious objectives, which can never be revealed, compels them to continue with more lies and ridiculous predictions.
I suspect that more exposed lies and unfulfilled predictions will continue and conditions will deteriorate further until a sufficient mass of discontent will cause a major eruption. What happens next -- your guess is as good as mine -- but I think the consequences will cause the U.S. to join the list of ex-superpowers.
* An aside: I smiled as I read Jamail's May 16 article stating that Iraqis refer to the US occupation as a "bloodocracy." This adds an additional -ocracy to the many I listed in "Put '-ocracy' On The Proper Prefix."