December 31, 2004
The Duplicity of the Media – Iraq vs. Tsunami
by MIKE WHITNEY
The American media has descended on the Asian tsunami with all the fervor of feral animals in a meat locker. The newspapers and TV's are plastered with bodies drifting out to sea, battered carcasses strewn along the beach and bloated babies lying in rows. Every aspect of the suffering is being scrutinized with microscopic intensity by the predatory lens of the media.
This is where the western press really excels; in the celebratory atmosphere of human catastrophe. Their penchant for misery is only surpassed by their appetite for profits.
Where was this "free press" in Iraq when the death toll was skyrocketing towards 100,000? So far, we we,ve seen nothing of the devastation in Falluja where more than 6,000 were killed and where corpses were lined along the city's streets for weeks on end. Is death less photogenic in Iraq? Or, are there political motives behind the coverage?
Wasn't Ted Koppel commenting just days ago, that the media was restricting its coverage of Iraq to show sensitivity for the squeamishness of its audience? He reiterated the mantra that filming dead Iraqis was "in bad taste" and that his American audience would be repelled by such images? How many times have we heard the same rubbish from Brokaw, Jennings and the rest of their ilk?
Well, it looks like Koppel and the others have quickly switched directions. The tsunami has turned into a 24 hour-a-day media frenzy of carnage and ruin; exploring every facet of human misery in agonizing detail. The festival of bloodshed is chugging ahead at full-throttle and it's bumping up ratings in the process.
Corporate media never fails to astound even the most jaded viewer. Just when it appears that they've hit rock-bottom, they manage to slip even deeper into the morass of sensationalism. The manipulation of calamity is particularly disturbing, especially when disaster is translated into a revenue windfall. Koppel may disparage "bad taste", but his boardroom bosses are more focused on the bottom line. Simply put, tragedy is good for business.
When it comes to Iraq, however, the whole paradigm shifts to the right. The dead and maimed are faithfully hidden from view. No station would dare show a dead Marine or even an Iraqi national mutilated by an errant American bomb. That might undermine the patriotic objectives of our mission; to democratize the natives and enter them into the global economic system. Besides, if Iraq was covered like the tsunami, public support would erode more quickly than the Thai coastline, and Americans would have to buy their oil rather than extracting it at gunpoint. What good would that do?
Looks like the media's got it right; carnage IS different in Iraq than Thailand, Indonesia or India. The Iraqi butchery is part of a much grander schema; a plan for conquest, subjugation and the theft of vital resources, the foundation blocks for maintaining white privilege into the next century.
The Iraq conflict is an illustration of how the media is governed by the political agenda of ownership. The media cherry-picks the news according to the requirements of the investor class; dumping footage (like dead American soldiers) that doesn't support their policies. That way, information can be fit into the appropriate doctrinal package; one that serves corporate interests. It's a matter of selectively excluding anything that compromises the broader, imperial objectives. Alternatively, the coverage of the Asian tsunami allows the media to whet the public's appetite for tragedy and feed the macabre preoccupation with misfortune. Both tendencies are an affront to honest journalism and to any reasonable commitment to an informed citizenry. The uneven coverage (of Iraq and the tsunami) highlights an industry in meltdown.
Today's privately owned media may bury one story, and yet, manipulate another to boost ratings. They are just as likely to exploit the suffering of Asians, while ignoring the pain of Iraqis. Neither brings us closer to the truth. It's simply impossible to derive a coherent world view from the purveyors of soap suds and dog food. They're more devoted to creating a compatible atmosphere for consumerism than conveying an objective account of events.
We need a media that is dedicated to straightforward standards of impartiality and excellence, not one that's rooted in commercialism, exploitation and hyperbole.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org