ON REALITY AND BITTER TRUTHS
I’m often asked what I mean by “real news” or “reality”. I receive a decidedly skeptical “Do you think you have the ‘real’ truth?”
I don’t think there’s an absolute truth. But I do think there’s an objective world and there are facts. I know we will always have a partial understanding of things. But we can strive to base our opinions on evidence, or we can just say things that seem to be in our interest. Or just make stuff up to sound worldly and worthy of being booked on a talk show.
That’s the problem with most news these days. Journalists know that people with power publicly say things that are in their interests, and often not what they really think or want. Journalists understand there is an economic and political elite and when they say “for the good of the nation”, they mean themselves. That we live in a class society is a fact everyone knows but few journalists acknowledge in their work.
There are great economic and social pressures brought to bear on journalists to go along with the official narrative. We saw this in the extreme in American newsrooms after 9/11 and in coverage of the Iraq war. Dan Rather and Tom Fenton of CBS have both talked about the fear in US newsrooms of being called unpatriotic if they criticized the Bush administration.
Canadian news coverage of our role in the Afghan war has only been a little better. With a few notable exceptions, most reporting and commentary has avoided the fundamental question of what the mission is and why are we there. A policy of aligning with war criminals and narco-war lords as the basis of building a “democracy” was surely doomed, yet under US pressure that’s what Canada bought into.
I interviewed General Lewis MacKenzie in 2004 and he answered the question “why are we there?” in a very straightforward way. He said because we didn’t go to Iraq and we had to pay to keep the US border open to our goods. He could have added, we had to pay in blood. Of course, here we get back to the issue that not much of that blood is blue.
Sometimes it’s more about providing necessary context to make sense of information that’s reported. Take the reports a few weeks ago when WikiLeaks released a 2007 graphic video of US troops in an Apache helicopter shooting a group of men on the streets of Baghdad they thought might have weapons. Two Reuters journalists were killed in the attack (apparently the soldiers thought a camera was a gun). Most press reports questioned whether the US soldiers had made a mistake about seeing weapons in the hands of the Iraqis. Of course it’s a consideration, but the contextual question that must be asked is if there is a culture in the US army that allows the killing of civilians.
A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Josh Stieber on The Real News Network. He’s a former US soldier who was a member of the company that was involved in the WikiLeaks video. He told me that in basic training they marched to the following song:
“I went down to the market where all the women shop/I pulled out my machete and I begin to chop/I went down to the park where all the children play/I pulled out my machine gun and I began to spray.”
He told me that if soldiers didn’t accept the need for shooting civilians and psychologically prepare themselves for it, they would be punished. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan are not accidental “collateral damage”; they are part of the deliberate strategy of modern warfare.
When I say ‘reality asserts itself’, it also means understanding the global anger against US military policy and increasingly, Canada’s role in it.
You can watch the WikiLeaks video and Josh Stieber interview here.