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<nettime> When will media call it war?
nettime's_roving_reporter on Sat, 22 May 1999 19:35:47 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> When will media call it war?


   Star Tribune,  Monday, May 17, 1999

   News with a View: When will the media call it war?

   Norman Solomon

   Nearly two months have passed since the beginning of NATO's air war
   against Yugoslavia. After a shaky start, Washington's spin machinery
   has done much to promote a war agenda -- with crucial assistance from
   major U.S. news media.

   Early on, top officials of the Clinton administration seemed to be
   playing catch-up. "The problem is they didn't start the communications
   until the bombs started falling," said Marlin Fitzwater, who spoke for
   President George Bush during the Gulf War. "That's not enough time to
   convince the nation of a course of action."

   But overall, the White House has good reason to be pleased with the
   national media. By late April, special U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke,
   one of the key U.S. diplomats behind recent policies in the Balkans,
   was handing out compliments. "The kind of coverage we're seeing from
   the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and the
   newsmagazines lately on Kosovo has been extraordinary and exemplary."

   U.S. journalists have generally relied on official sources, with
   frequent interviews, behind-the-scenes backgrounders, briefings and
   grainy bomb-site videos. In contrast with the overt censorship forced
   on Serbian media by Slobodan Milosevic, the constraints on mainstream
   U.S. news outlets have been largely self-imposed. The media watch
   group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting studied coverage during the
   first two weeks of the bombing and found "a strong imbalance toward
   supporters of NATO air strikes."

   Examining the transcripts of two influential TV programs, ABC's
   "Nightline" and the PBS "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," FAIR found that
   only 8 percent of the 291 sources were critics of NATO's bombing.
   Forty-five percent of sources were current or former U.S. government
   and military officials, NATO representatives or NATO troops. On
   "Nightline," the study found, no U.S. sources other than
   Serbian-Americans were given air time to voice opposition.

   Throughout the spring, among Pentagon briefers and U.S. journalists, a
   popular euphemism for the continuous bombing has been "air campaign,"
   a phrase that hardly conveys what happens when bombs explode in urban
   areas. News organizations have been reluctant to use the word "war" to
   describe NATO's activities. Cable TV networks have preferred "Strike
   Against Yugoslavia" and "Crisis in Kosovo."

   On the last Sunday in April, the lead front-page article in the New
   York Times started this way: "NATO began its second month of bombing
   against Yugoslavia today with new strikes against military targets
   that disrupted civilian electrical and water supplies . . ." This is
   in sync with a remarkable concept that has been widely promoted by
   U.S. officials: While the bombing disrupts "civilian" electricity and
   water, the targets are "military."

   If cluster bombs were being used by Yugoslav army troops, one could
   expect a huge outcry in the American media. But reporters and
   commentators in this country made little fuss about NATO's widening
   use of the 1,000-pound warhead formally known as CBU-87/B, which
   shoots out thousands of jagged steel fragments at high velocity.

   A week ago, London's Sunday Telegraph published a commentary by BBC
   correspondent John Simpson, who wrote that "in Novi Sad and Nis, and
   several other places across Serbia and Kosovo where there are no
   foreign journalists, heavier bombing has brought more accidents."
   Simpson noted that cluster bombs "explode in the air and hurl shards
   of shrapnel over a wide radius." He added: "Used against human beings,
   cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons of modern warfare."

   But the U.S. media have devoted scant ink or airtime to these weapons'
   more grisly aspects. And few news accounts have explored how the
   enormous destruction of Yugoslavia's infrastructure is likely to lead
   to widespread disease and civilian deaths, as is occurring now in
   Iraq.

   TV news coverage brings war into our living rooms, but as media critic
   Mark Crispin Miller has observed, viewers "see it compressed and
   miniaturized on a sturdy little piece of furniture, which stands and
   shines at the very center of our household." The nation's TV networks
   have shown awe-inspiring file footage of U.S. bombers and missiles in
   flight. Rarely have viewers seen more than fleeting images of what
   happens to the people underneath the bombs. For the domestic audience,
   America's high-tech weaponry appears to be wondrous but fairly
   bloodless.

   As disastrous as the NATO attack has proven to be -- measured against
   its initial announced purposes -- the human catastrophe experienced by
   Albanian refugees was tremendously important in marshaling support for
   this war from Americans. Yet news media have not dwelled on the
   substantial evidence that NATO's military assault gravely worsened the
   situation for its ostensible beneficiaries.

   The media spin on the war is as much a matter of what has been left
   out as what has been covered. For instance, U.S. media outlets have
   rarely pursued tough questions such as: If humanitarian concerns are
   high on Washington's agenda, why drop bombs on Yugoslavia and give aid
   to Turkey? The righteous charges leveled by President Clinton against
   the Yugoslav government about its brutal treatment of ethnic Albanians
   could just as accurately be aimed at the Turkish government for its
   repression of Kurds. But Washington and Ankara are NATO allies, and we
   hear little about the large-scale torture and murder of Kurdish people
   inside Turkey.

   Also given short shrift has been the fact that the Rambouillet accords
   -- rejected by Slobodan Milosevic in late March just before the
   bombing began -- included provisions allowing for NATO troops to move
   into all of Yugoslavia, a provision that no sovereign nation would
   accept.

   Appendix B of the Rambouillet text includes such sections as: "NATO
   personnel shall enjoy, together with their vehicles, vessels,
   aircraft, and equipment, free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded
   access throughout the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] including
   associated air space and territorial waters."

   At the time, the U.S. news media were silent about this pivotal aspect
   of the Rambouillet accords. Now, when pressed on the matter, many
   journalists at big national media outlets say it's old news. But they
   never reported it in the first place.

   -- NormanSolomon's most recent book, ''The Habits of Highly Deceptive
   Media,'' was published this spring. He is an associate of Fairness &
   Accuracy in Reporting.

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