Death By Public Relations

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War
Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death

By Norman Soloman, $24.95, 314 pages, John Wiley & Sons.

In
War Made Easy Norman Solomon demolishes the myth of an independent
American press zealously guarding sacred values of free expression.
Although strictly focusing on the shameless history of media cheerleading
for the principal post-World War II American wars, invasions and
interventions, he calls into question by implication the idea of
the press as some kind of institutional counterforce to government
and corporate power.

The
utter idiocy of many of the examples he has compiled in this impeccably
documented historical review will be familiar to readers who follow
the news on the Internet. They achieve fresh impact because of the
way Solomon has organized and analyzed them. Each chapter is devoted
to a single warhawk strategy (“America Is a Fair and Noble Superpower,”
“Opposing the War Means Siding with the Enemy,” “Our Soldiers Are
Heroes, Theirs Are Inhuman”) illustrated with historical examples
for the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama,
Kosovo, both Iraq wars, and other miscellaneous conflicts in which
the media were almost universally enthusiastic accomplices.

War
Made Easy should really be subtitled “War reporting doesn’t
just suck, it kills.” It makes you feel like demanding a special
war crimes tribunal for corporate media executives and owners who
joined the roll-up to Shock and Awe as non-uniformed psywar ops.
To be sure, this would raise the issue of whether or not following
orders might suffice for the defense of obedient slaves such as
Mary McGrory and Richard Cohen who performed above and beyond the
call of duty.

“He
persuaded me,” she gushed the morning after Powell spoke at the
United Nations. “The cumulative effect was stunning.” In the same
Washington Post edition Richard Cohen wrote, “The evidence
he presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial,
some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to
prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons
of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only
a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.”

Solomon
demonstrates how this kind of peppy pre-war warm-up degenerates
into drooling and heavy breathing once the killing begins. As if
observing a heavy metal computer game, the pornographers of death
concentrate on the exquisite craftsmanship and visual design of
the murder machines, and the magnificence of the fiery explosions
they produce.

“When
the Gulf War’s massive bombardment began,” he writes, “a CNN correspondent
remarked on the ‘sweet beautiful sight’ of bombers leaving runways
in Saudi Arabia. CBS correspondent Jim Stewart told viewers about
‘two days of almost picture-perfect assaults.’”

Los
Angeles Times reporter Jacques Leslie was invited onto a helicopter
to watch a B-52 strike in Vietnam. “Suddenly gray clouds took shape
on the ground in front of us and billowed to a height of a thousand
feet or more,” Leslie later wrote in a memoir. “I was surprised
to feel so little: no horror, no pain, just marvel at the dubious
wonders of technology. Had men been killed beneath the smoke? Did
they mean anything to me? I knew I should be appalled, but I felt
only numbness: it was like watching people die on television.”

Skepticism
only emerges when it is clear that a given war is not going well,
Solomon observes. Otherwise, the media mostly report the war the
way the government tells it. They become, in effect, merely another
psychological warfare asset. The authorities not only employ public
relations firms to assist them, but also discuss the information
management strategies in public sessions at think tanks and academic
institutions.

War
Made Easy is a definitive historical text that belongs in every
serious library as an indispensable record of the real relationships
among government authorities and media outlets. The book should
be required reading for journalists and journalism students. It
will dispel many illusions about the true reach of freedom of the
press and replace them with a much more appropriate and healthier
professional cynicism.

Perhaps
if Gary Webb had somehow been made aware of all this before writing
Dark
Alliance
, he might not have committed suicide in the sodden
ashes of his ruined career, because he would have known in advance
what he was really up against.

August
26, 2005

Jules
Siegel’s [send him
mail
] writings have been published in Playboy, Rolling
Stone, the Village Voice, and many other publications. His latest
book, Mad Laughter, Fragments of a Life in Progress is now
available at http://www.lulu.com/jules.

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