The Fourth Estate in Flames: On the US Media's Award-Winning War Propaganda
The Fourth Estate in Flames: On the US Media's Award-Winning War Propaganda
By Medea Benjamin / commondreams.org

A war-weary American public that a year ago resoundingly rejected US military intervention in Syria to overthrow the Assad regime now is rallying behind the use of force to destroy the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). In just three months, from June to September, support for US airstrikes in Iraq soared from 45% percent to 71%, and to 65% for airstrikes in Syria.

How did such an astounding turnabout occur? Certainly it wasn’t due to the persuasive powers of President Obama, who seems to have been reluctantly dragged into a conflict that he once acknowledged has no military solution.

The credit for selling Obama’s war on ISIS must go to the mainstream American media.

Day after day, night after night, the press relied on propaganda from both ISIS and the US government to whip up fear and a thirst for revenge in the American public. Gruesome beheading videos distributed by Isis were played over and over. The media not only regurgitated official US messages but packaged them better than the government itself ever could.

And then, as if Isis wasn’t enough to whip up public fear itself, the Khorasan Group suddenly appeared as the US media compliantly latched onto the new script leaked by anonymous officials, just a few days before Syrian air strikes were set to begin. Khorasan, they told the public on the administration’s behalf, is a group of hardened terrorists more dangerous than Isis because it plans to attack commercial planes using flammable clothing or exploding toothpaste.

The imminent Khorasan attack justified the ensuing U.S. bombing. However, it was later reported that Khorasan – if it even exists – is just a handful of militants whose plans were not so imminent. Few media bothered to follow up on that aspect of the story.

Why has the media pushed the Obama administration’s war frame instead of playing the role of skeptic by questioning official assertions, insisting for corroboration on “anonymous leaks” and seeking alternative points of view? After years of government lies – from claims of WMDs in Iraq to zero civilian casualties in drone strikes – you’d think the members of the fourth estate would have learned a lesson.

But the mainstream US media plays the role of government lapdog more than watchdog.

They sensationalized the supposed threat from ISIS even as intelligence agencies insisted that the group poses no immediate threat to the United States. A chorus of fearmongers, Republicans and Democrats alike, appeared on TV to insist that the American way of life is at stake. The hysterical Senator Lindsey Graham claimed that ISIS is out to murder each and every one of us. Senator Bill Nelson advocated cutting off the “head of the snake” before ISIS could fly its black flag over the White House. Former CIA and Pentagon chief Leon Panetta warned Americans to brace for a 30-year crusade. The media even trotted out “experts” on war – or at least war-mongering – like John McCain, Dick Cheney and even former presidential envoy to Iraq, Paul Bremer.

Obsessed with maintaining access to power, the mainstream media just keeps handing their megaphone to the powerful and self-interested. Rarely do we hear from people who opposed the disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq or rightly predicted the chaos that would result from NATO intervention in Libya. The few anti-war voices who manage to slip into the dialogue are marginalized and later silenced.

Let’s face it: fear sells, violence sells, war sells. The vicious ISIS beheadings, discussed ad infinitum, attracted large audiences. So did talk about exploding toothpaste. People whipped into a state of fear always want to know more.

Sadly, the public is not getting what it deserves: a well-rounded debate about the pros and cons of military action. Why has a decade of support for the Iraqi army and years of covert CIA support for the Syrian opposition been so fruitless? How much might this intervention cost? (So far, the bill has been more than $1bn.) How will Middle East monarchies that funded extremists suddenly become exemplars of democratic values? What is the endgame in Syria? Will Bashar Assad still be in power? What are the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East? (The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the US bombings already have attracted 6,000 more recruits to Isis.) And most important of all: what are the alternatives to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians? The voices of people proposing political solutions other than slaughter are the voices the public deserves to hear.

Wars usually start with overwhelming public approval once the White House and the national security apparatus get the media to beat the war drums. It’s only after people tire of war that the media really begin to seek answers to questions that should have been asked before the bombs were launched.

But instead, once again, the US government and the US media establishment is embracing a military policy of airstrikes to strengthen local capacity despite a regional landscape – from Yemen to Libya – littered with the wreckage of this approach. Smoldering in the detritus of war is also the fourth estate.

4.0 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
10 Provocative Quotes from Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society"
Daniel Lattier · 13,096 views today · Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking book Deschooling Society (1971) offers a radical critique of the institutionalization of education within modern societies. Illich believed that we...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 9,540 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 7,431 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 6,192 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 5,664 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Superblocks: How Barcelona Is Taking City Streets Back From Cars
5 min · 5,613 views today · Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 4,439 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 4,325 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 4,259 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 3,825 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,395 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 3,062 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Forest Man
16 min · 2,994 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
Throw (2016)
10 min · 2,761 views today · The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing ELM passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 2,129 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 1,888 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 1,805 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 1,554 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 1,545 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 1,280 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
The Fourth Estate in Flames: On the US Media's Award-Winning War Propaganda