Norman Solomon: Corporate media is not questioning the agenda-setting for a possible attack on Iran
NORMAN SOLOMON, JOURNALIST AND MEDIA CRITIC: The revelation that the US National Security Agency had targeted half a dozen delegations to the UN Security Council for surveillance was very big news in Britain in early March of 2003, of course front page in The Observer newspaper, which broke the story. Some major ripple effects in British media. Picked up within a matter of hours on several different continents in terms of coverage of what were called the middle-six delegations, rotating members of the rotating Security Council whose votes were being sought for a second and presumably definitive resolution that would in that case call for support of an invasion of Iraq. And the fact that the United States was engaged in what it called a surge in this NSA memo of surveillance of those members of the Security Council, and that the help of British security agencies was being sought and evidently obtained, that had major implications at the time in real time. As Daniel Ellsberg was to say, this was potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers, because this was actually before the war began. But it was noticeable to me as a journalist, an activist, a media critic in the United States, that the US media were not really picking up on the story. Most notably, The New York Times did not cover the revelations at all prior to the invasion of Iraq. And so that, I think, says a lot about the national security sort of press mentality in the United States in the big corporate media. The real-time coverage, for instance, of the agenda-setting for a possible attack on Iran is no better. In other words, there’s a lag time where, if journalism is in fact the first draft of history, then the reliance on official sources is so routine that it’s only in retrospect that we get these kind of sort of apologies or mea culpas or acknowledgments that the coverage should have been better, less attuned to official sources, much more independent, rigorous, and tough-minded. The real responsibility is to function independently, to have a multiplicity of sources, to dig for information, to search for truth, to flip over every rock that can be flipped over as soon as possible. But what we get in contravention of that principle is the extreme reliance on official sources. Here we are in Washington, DC, where the press corps is mostly following itself to breathlessly report the range of opinion that exists along Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Congress, with the State Department and Pentagon and corporate think tanks and so forth thrown in. So we really don’t have the fruition of journalism; we have sort of an abrogation of journalism. And that’s how, that is the context by which this story, which was broken in The Observer, got such little traction on this side of the Atlantic. There are whistle blowers, and then there’s the media terrain that we all live in in the United States. And it’s a disincentive to potential whistleblowers to share information, perhaps at appreciable personal risk, if the news media are either so fearful that they won’t report it with any substance, or they’ll report it in a context that relies on the received supposed wisdom of official sources that will put it in a context that is favorable to those who are policymakers in the first place. There’s also the reality that some of the most esteemed journalists in this city, like Bob Woodward, are in general the most compromised, because they have been able to attain a level of access, frankly, through services rendered to elite, powerful individuals and institutions. And, in other words, with some exceptions, the secretary of state or secretary of defense or the president of the United States will not continue to grant you interviews year after year after year if they feel that they’ve been burned by the results of the previous interview. So there’s sort of an insidious process there of currying favor, sort of a court journalism, and the sovereigns are people in powerful positions. And we see the results of this. That’s how we got the invasion of Iraq; that’s how a lot of the spin for continuation of the occupation of Iraq continues in the mass media. The news media are not monolithic, and we have some exceptions in corporate media, but those exceptions are, unfortunately, exceptional. And it’s the routine drumbeat and the exclusion of other perspectives and information that really constitute effective propaganda. Well, new media are potentially very important, and we’re communicating through The Real News, which is a fruition of people’s efforts to use new technology to challenge the centralization of power through media and politics. A caveat, though, is that technology never liberated anybody, and there’s nothing about technology inherently that will democratize, that will challenge concentrated power. And we’re encouraged by corporate media forces, actually, to be so enamored with the digital technology that the content issues are sometimes downplayed. So we have to be critical about our own work and the work of others and try to get the discourse to a sharper picture and a higher level.
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