[Marxism] Robert Fisk on the USA media

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jan 1 05:33:18 MST 2006

 From the Los Angeles Times
Telling it like it isn't
By Robert Fisk

ROBERT FISK is Middle East correspondent for the London Independent and the 
author, most recently, of "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of 
the Middle East," published last month by Knopf.

December 27, 2005

I FIRST REALIZED the enormous pressures on American journalists in the 
Middle East when I went some years ago to say goodbye to a colleague from 
the Boston Globe. I expressed my sorrow that he was leaving a region where 
he had obviously enjoyed reporting. I could save my sorrows for someone 
else, he said. One of the joys of leaving was that he would no longer have 
to alter the truth to suit his paper's more vociferous readers.

"I used to call the Israeli Likud Party 'right wing,' " he said. "But 
recently, my editors have been telling me not to use the phrase. A lot of 
our readers objected." And so now, I asked? "We just don't call it 'right 
wing' anymore."

Ouch. I knew at once that these "readers" were viewed at his newspaper as 
Israel's friends, but I also knew that the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu 
was as right wing as it had ever been.

This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American 
journalism in the Middle East. Illegal Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews 
only on Arab land are clearly "colonies," and we used to call them that. I 
cannot trace the moment when we started using the word "settlements." But I 
can remember the moment around two years ago when the word "settlements" 
was replaced by "Jewish neighborhoods" — or even, in some cases, "outposts."

Similarly, "occupied" Palestinian land was softened in many American media 
reports into "disputed" Palestinian land — just after then-Secretary of 
State Colin Powell, in 2001, instructed U.S. embassies in the Middle East 
to refer to the West Bank as "disputed" rather than "occupied" territory.

Then there is the "wall," the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, 
according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide 
bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some 
success. But it does not follow the line of Israel's 1967 border and cuts 
deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a 
"fence" rather than a "wall." Or a "security barrier," which is what Israel 
prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall 
at all — so we cannot call it a "wall," even though the vast snake of 
concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old 
Berlin Wall.

The semantic effect of this journalistic obfuscation is clear. If 
Palestinian land is not occupied but merely part of a legal dispute that 
might be resolved in law courts or discussions over tea, then a Palestinian 
child who throws a stone at an Israeli soldier in this territory is clearly 
acting insanely.

If a Jewish colony built illegally on Arab land is simply a nice friendly 
"neighborhood," then any Palestinian who attacks it must be carrying out a 
mindless terrorist act.

And surely there is no reason to protest a "fence" or a "security barrier" 
— words that conjure up the fence around a garden or the gate arm at the 
entrance to a private housing complex.

For Palestinians to object violently to any of these phenomena thus marks 
them as a generically vicious people. By our use of language, we condemn them.

We follow these unwritten rules elsewhere in the region. American 
journalists frequently used the words of U.S. officials in the early days 
of the Iraqi insurgency — referring to those who attacked American troops 
as "rebels" or "terrorists" or "remnants" of the former regime. The 
language of the second U.S. pro-consul in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, was 
taken up obediently — and grotesquely — by American journalists.

American television, meanwhile, continues to present war as a bloodless 
sandpit in which the horrors of conflict — the mutilated bodies of the 
victims of aerial bombing, torn apart in the desert by wild dogs — are kept 
off the screen. Editors in New York and London make sure that viewers' 
"sensitivities" don't suffer, that we don't indulge in the "pornography" of 
death (which is exactly what war is) or "dishonor" the dead whom we have 
just killed.

Our prudish video coverage makes war easier to support, and journalists 
long ago became complicit with governments in making conflict and death 
more acceptable to viewers. Television journalism has thus become a lethal 
adjunct to war.

Back in the old days, we used to believe — did we not? — that journalists 
should "tell it how it is." Read the great journalism of World War II and 
you'll see what I mean. The Ed Murrows and Richard Dimblebys, the Howard K. 
Smiths and Alan Moorheads didn't mince their words or change their 
descriptions or run mealy-mouthed from the truth because listeners or 
readers didn't want to know or preferred a different version.

So let's call a colony a colony, let's call occupation what it is, let's 
call a wall a wall. And maybe express the reality of war by showing that it 
represents not, primarily, victory or defeat, but the total failure of the 
human spirit.

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