The Business of Manipulation, From Baghdad to Belgrade
by Gilles d'Aymery
February 20, 2000
February 20, 2000 - Note from the Editor: According to Helen Thorpe, the editors of the Webzine, Salon, understand "that if the word 'breasts' is used in a cover link, traffic will go off the charts, and that articles about foreign news go virtually unread." Hmm, that does not bode well for our zine, does it? She says, "The tabloidy stuff almost always score high." Looks like strike 2 to me. One more and Swans is out for good. Or is it? David Talbot, Salon's chairman and editor says, "What I want Salon to be is a smart tabloid. I don't want to be publishing a highbrow zine for the literati." Oh, ok, we are not talking about the same audience after all. I breathe better! I read these quotes in an article from today's New York Times Magazine. The New York Times, the epitome of quality and thoughfulness in American journalism, a paper read by leaders, opinion makers and would-be informed people (I confess to reading it everyday!) all around the world, a paper whose motto is "All the News That's Fit to Print." Really? Fit for whom? And who defines 'Fit' anyway? Is it just "all the news" that counts? Or is it its selection, editing, and placement within the paper that tell the story? As you'll see, I make great use of this great daily!
February 8, 2000 - The New York Times publishes a 1,250-word article, written by Barbara Crossette, with this headline: Iraq Suspected of Secret Germ War Effort - Experts Say Baghdad May Be Trying to Develop New Viral Agent. Ms. Crossette expands on "at least one more secret project still to be uncovered." Experts talk, experts are suspicious. It may be a new virus or a bacterial agent. No one knows for certain. But, certainly, the infamous Iraqi regime -- Saddam Hussein, you know -- is hiding and developing yet another monstrous weapon of mass destruction. "Arms control experts contend that the list of conditions for suspending sanctions must be left open-ended so inspectors can add to it if necessary." 1,250 words that are only printed as a supporting cast for the headline. There is not one inch of hard information. Nothing. The headline is the story. Iraq is up to no good as usual.
The next three days, blips appeared in the paper.
February 9, 2000 - The New York Times, in its World Briefing section; sub-section Middle East, publishes a short 50-word news item from Reuters that reads: "Iraq: Allied Bombing. American and British aircraft bombed civilian targets in northern Iraq, damaging a farm, an Iraqi military spokesman said. He said the planes returned into Turkish airspace after coming under fire from antiaircraft units. American and British planes patrol no-flight zones over northern and southern Iraq nearly every day."
February 10, 2000 - Same paper, same section, same sub-section, another short 50-word news item, this time from the Associated Press. It reads: "Iraq: 3 Bomb Deaths Reported. American and British jets killed three people in an attack on Southern Iraq, state-run television reported. A United States Central Command spokesman confirmed the strike, calling it a 'measured response' against radar, artillery and missile sites to reduce the threat to allied aircraft."
February 11, 2000 - A 30-word news item from the Associated Press simply reads: "Iraq: U.S. Attacks. Responding to Iraqi fire, American jets bombed Iraq's air defense system in the northern no-flight zone, near Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, the United States military said. All planes left the area safely, the statement said.
Four days later, on February 15, again in the World Briefing, a short news item from the same Barbara Crossette who had written over 1,200 words a week earlier about germ warfare allegations, writes laconically (about 80 words): "Iraq: U.N. Aide Quits. The director of the oil-for-food program in Iraq resigned effective March 31, saying he had lost hope of being able to help Iraqis living under an embargo imposed in 1990. Hans van Sponeck, a German, has been sharply criticized by the United States and Britain for his opposition to the sanctions and to the linking of resumed arms inspections to the program that allows Iraq to sell oil to buy civilian goods. Another director who was critical of the sanctions, Denis Halliday of Ireland, quit in 1998.
The following day, February 16, it's back to a news item from Reuters, still in the World Briefing of the Times, that informs: "Iraq: 2nd U.N. Aide quits. A second United Nations agency chief, Jutta Purghart, head of the World Food Program in Iraq, has quit to protest against what she regards as the failure of relief programs in Iraq, Western diplomatic officials said. Her resignation follows that of Hans van Sponeck, the top United Nations official in Iraq, who said he had stepped down for the same reason.
Contrast the big bold headline of February 8 -- what most readers scan in their morning reading, Iraq Suspected of Secret Germ War Effort -- and the hard news buried in small blips. Practically every week, the U.S. Air Force, at times seconded by its British counterpart, strikes Iraq. For almost a decade now, crippling sanctions have been destroying the Iraqi people, killing thousands of children every month. The sanctions have been denounced time and again for their insanity, harshness, and inefficiency. Top officials have resigned in protest to no avail.
This is not news.
We bomb and cripple a nation.
This is not news.
Baghdad May Be Trying to Develop New Viral Agent.
This is news.
It does not matter whether it may only be, that it may only be an attempt, an attempt at developing a viral agent or a bacterial agent. It does not matter whether it's an allegation. It does not matter that Iraq is in no position to threaten Europe or the United States or Israel.
This is news.
News in the form of a justification to keep the sanctions and the strikes in place ad infinitum. Big headline, small headlines. 1,250 word article, 50-word briefs.
Which headline made the evening news?
The inhabitants of Belgrade, Serbia, know the answer.
Let the News be Fit! Read Swans.
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