Exposing and Resisting Empire and War Media in the Age of Obama*
We are today* one week and two days out from the forty-second anniversary of the execution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a killing that took place exactly one year – almost down to the hour – after his famous “Break the Silence” speech against the U.S. War on Vietnam at the Riverside Church in New York City.
“The black revolution,” King wrote before his death, “is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that the radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”
The changes we needed to avert catastrophe and build a human civilization, King felt, could not be limited to the periodic re-shuffling of the names and faces and parties in nominal power. It had to go deeper than replacing one brand or shape or color of corporate- and military-captive office-holders with another such brand once every two, four or eight years.
The democratic socialist Dr. King was calling for deep change, for systemic change, for radical reform, and even for revolution from the bottom up beneath and beyond the quadrennial, top-down big money mass marketed corporate-crafted, candidate-centered “electoral extravaganzas” that pass for the only politics that matter in the United States.
The Persistence of the Old Killing Regime
As the title of my next book (The Empire’s New Clothes”) suggests, I see more continuity than change in the transition from Republican and Bush to Democrats and Obama. Beneath the Great Re-Branding, beyond shifts in style and partisan rule and behind the symbolically powerful color-change in the oval office there lives on the same unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire….the same parasitic and bipartisan corporate state, the same deadly bipartisan planetary militarism, the same globally unmatched and racially disparate mass incarceration state which puts 2.3 million Americans behind bars and saddling one in three black adult males with the lifelong mark of a felony record, the same rigged and narrow elections and policy system whereby nobody reaches and stays long in higher office unless they please the top 1 percent that owns more than a third of the nation’s wealth, the same right wing and so-called mainstream media railing against big government and deficits though not against the vastly expensive $50 billion a year prison state, not against the $1 trillion a year Pentagon budget, not against the trillions of dollars worth of federal corporate subsidies that make the rich yet richer and not against the regressive tax structure that feeds government debt by letting the Few off the hook ……all of this along with persistent gender oppression, the continuing and ever-more deadly, soon perhaps to be irreversible corporate assault on livable ecology, the same deadening and soulless dehumanization of work in alienating hyper-authoritarian workplaces; the same contingency of employment for the Many on the profit prospects of the Few; the same persistent demonization and misunderstanding of immigrants and the same far-from-post-racial world where blacks and Native Americans and Latinos continue to live under harshly separate and unequal circumstances while white folks in Northbrook watch Oprah and Tiger and vote for Obama.
Speaking of Empire and the persistence of old substance beneath the style change in the White House, I hope that some of you saw the courageous left journalist Allan Nairn assessing Obama’s first year in power on the left television show Democracy Now! last January. “Once he became president, by virtue of his actions, just like every
Strong words. Actually, “kept the machine set on kill” may be an understatement. As the radical
“…The U.S. collabora[ed] in the overthrow of the elected, populist government of Honduras,” Herman notes, adding that “Bush could hardly have surpassed Obama's atrocious performance in Haiti, where the U.S. response to their devastating earthquake was almost completely military—a lagged occupation, with minimal food-water-medical-shelter aid, and even obstruction to aid as airports were preempted for the U.S. military occupation forces and the landing of Hillary Clinton.”
“Elsewhere in Latin America,” Herman notes, “Obama's policies have been regressive, with more open hostility to left regimes in the region, collaboration in the Honduras coup, and acquisition of seven new military bases in Colombia that all send a message of ‘change’ for the worse.”
“Across the globe,” Herman writes, “
Yikes. As John Pilger noted last October, “Like Bush’s
The dominant corporate mass media’s coverage of
There is some space for criticism of
Dominant media routinely repeats and disseminates Uncle Sam’s charges against governments and groups that
People who die or are otherwise harmed by the
By contrast, the tribulations of those who suffer at the hands of officially designated enemy regimes and forces are a source of great media focus and concern. They are “Worthy Victims.”
Along the way, those who criticize and (more than that) those who experience
(By the way I never call it “mainstream media.” Back in the Cold War era, we didn’t call Soviet state television and the official state Soviet newspapers Pravda and Izvestia “mainstream Russian media.” I will not extend the term “mainstream” to “official state corporate war and entertainment media firms like NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and NBC, all part of a communications empire wherein six giant multinational corporations own more than half of all U.S. media print and electronic.)
Killing Afghan Civilians v. Scaring New Yorkers
None of this has ended simply because the president happens now to be an eloquent black Democrat from
Dominant mass media persists in deceptively portraying
Sometimes the callousness of it all just numbs your soul. Here’s one horrific example among many under Obama. In the first of May last year,
The initial response of the Obama Pentagon to this appalling incident – one of many mass civilian-butchering
The matter was quickly dropped and forgotten, sent down George Orwell’s memory hole, with deep media complicity, as the Pentagon wrote checks to the Afghan government to give families a couple thousand dollars per child corpse to compensate them for the blasting apart of their little ones. The
By contrast around the same time last year, there was a brief media frenzy over a very different occurrence, enough to elicit a full apology and to fire a White House official. The problem was that the White House had scared New Yorkers with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of
The sickening irony was quite remarkable. Scaring some New Yorkers was a big deal that led to a full presidential apology and the discharge of a White House staffer. Killing more than 100 Afghan civilians was a minor matter that did not require any apology. Nobody had to be fired. Nobody in the dominant media sought to comment on the perversity of it all.
Invisible Experience, Invisible Commentary
Seven months after the Bola Boluk and
She was heard, that is, on the Arab media outlet Al Jazeera. Her comments never made the CBS or NBC or ABC Evening News or CNN or MSNBC or the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post, where they belonged.
Neither did the comments of a young Pashtun man who spoke to Al Jazeera on December 10, 2009 - the day that Obama was ridiculously gifted with the Nobel. ”Peace Prize? He’s a killer,” the man said. “Obama,” the man added, “has only brought war to our country.” This man spoke from the
It was a powerful observation form an angle of experience that cannot be taken seriously in dominant U.S, mass media.
“A Fog of War Moment”
Thanks in no small part to that empire’s service to state power, America’s crimes go down “the memory hole” even as they occur, Thinking about Obama’s Nobel award earlier this year, I reflected back on some remarkable comments that the British playwright Harold Pinter made while accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005. In his brilliant and courageous speech, Pinter noted that while “the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, and the ruthless suppression of independent thought” in the former Soviet Union were widely known in the West, the United States’ imperial crimes were hidden beneath “a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.” Rapacious “
Still true! The systematic media disappearance and mystification of
Last Wednesday, The New York Time way back on page nine referred to the U.S. helicopter murders as a, quote “fog of war moment…on the streets of Baghdad.” No it was a one-sided imperial murder moment, consistent with the homicidal and deeply racist military training and beliefs that the American armed forces bring to the
Bob Herbert Still Doesn’t Hear Him (Dr. King)
Two Saturdays ago, the New York Times’ liberal black columnist Bob Herbert marked the forty-second anniversary of the assassination Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. by noting that “it took great courage for Dr. King to speak out as he did” against the Vietnam War. “His bold stand,” Herbert wrote, “seems all the more striking in today’s atmosphere, in which moral courage among the …prominent seems…to have disappeared. …More than 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq and more than 1,000 in Afghanistan,” Herbert noted, “where the Obama administration has chosen to escalate rather than to begin a careful withdrawal. Those two wars will ultimately cost us more than $3 trillion. And yet,” Herbert concluded, “the voices in search of peace, in search of an end to the ‘madness,’ in search of the nation-building so desperately needed here in the
As one of my Facebook friends wrote me, “[that’s] about the far extreme level of acceptable ‘dissent’ within the mainstream, of which the NYT is the best example.”
The key phrase in Herbert’s column was “cost us.” Cost us? Hello? Herbert’s eloquent column itself does NOT fully HEAR Dr. King’s antiwar stance. King wrote and spoke not only against the Vietnam War’s terrible impact on Americans but also and equally against the terrible crimes that the
“They languish” King said, “under our bombs and consider us – not their fellow Vietnamese – the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers and into concentration camps where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they most move or be destroyed by our bombs…they watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their land. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy he precious trees….They wander into the towns and see thousands of children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our solders as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our solders, soliciting for their mothers." [6A]
That’s the kind of serious and substantive, principled and moral criticism of
“They Have Seen Their Sons and Daughters Killed in Fallujah”
According to the respected international journalist Nir Rosen in December 2007, “
Rosen was more right than wrong in this assessment. The invasion of
Rosen’s comment was relegated to the margins in a monthly journal called Current History. It would never have appeared in The New York Times or the Washington Post, on the front page where it belonged. Doctrinal rules would not have permitted that.
I wonder what Nir Rosen would have had to say about the following comment offered by Barack Obama to autoworkers assembled at the General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin on February 13, 2008, just before that state’s Democratic primary: “It's time to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together.” For those who knew the depth and degree of the destruction inflicted on
I wonder what Rosen would have made of the following comment that Obama made to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs in November of 2006. “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved” in support of the war in
This was a spine-chilling selection of locales. Fallujah was the site for colossal
Nobody who did any serious left due-diligence research on U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama has any business being “surprised” and “disappointed” by his death-dealing performance as “commander in chief.”
The Enemy at Home
I have a lot more to say about the role that media plays, especially when it comes to so-called “entertainment media” and related to that about why the media’s role may actually be worse than what Noam Chomsky and Anthony
Dimaggio let on. I also of course want and expect to talk about what we can do, which is the biggest question of all. But I’m running out of time so let’s get into all that in the Q and A.
I want to conclude with two very different statements made by two very different Americans last Christmas holiday season. The first statement comes from The Empire’s New Clothes Barack Obama in his New Years’ Radio Address, where he spoke about the successful attack that had just been made against seven
After praising the dead CIA drone killers as “brave Americans in
What a bunch of bullshit. Let me finish with a very different take on who are real adversaries are from a young Iraq War veteran named Mike Prysner, a fellow who had been forced to actually risk his life in service to the “machine set to kill” – something very different than being like Obama and ordering other people to kill and die while you enjoy the privileges of empire in the corridors of power like other masters of war past and present.
After relating his inability to participate any further in the deeply racist and de-humanizing conduct of
"I threw families on to the street in Iraq,” Prysner said, “only to come home and see families thrown on to the street in this county in this tragic and unnecessary foreclosure crisis.” Reflecting on how the invasion of
In the 128 self-composed words I just read, young working class Mike Prysner spoke more truth than the Great 49 year old Harvard Law graduate and bourgeois Speechifier Barack Obama has spoken in the many hundreds of all-knowing, fake-progressive and (in fact) deeply conservative orations he has given over the last eight years..
“Our enemy is right here at home.” Exactly. It prominently includes the corporate masters of Empire, who profit from endless one-sided conflicts that put Americans at risk while providing cover for an ever-deepening assault on civil liberties and sucking up resources that need to be invested in addressing the growing mountain of unmet social needs at home and abroad. It includes the Masters of War Media who lie and deceive and delete and distort and “hide in their mansions while young people’s blood flows out of their bodies and gets buried in the mud.”
Thank you very much.
* This is an extended and merged version of shorter comments given at two recent and separate speaking engagements: “Holding Up the Mirror to Empire” (University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, April 11, 2010 sponsored by AWARE [Alliance Against War and Racism] and the International Socialist Oranization [ISO], panel shared with Kathy Kelly) and “Collective Irresponsibility: Examining Our Relationships to Distant Conflict” (Columbia College,Chicago,IL, April 13, 2010, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, Art Activists at Columbia College, and Critical Encounters: Fact and Faith, panel shared with Anthony Dimaggio)
1. Edward S. Herman, “Obama and the Steady Drift to the Right,” Z Magazine (March 2010), p. 9.
2. John Pilger, “Media Lies and the War Drive Against Iran,” Pakistan Daily, October 15, 2009, read at http://www.daily.pk/media-lies-and-the-war-drive-against-iran-12189/
3. Carlotta Gall and Taimoor Shah, "Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War," New York Times, May 6, 2009.
4. Gall and Shah, “Civilian Deaths;”
5. Christina Boyle, "President Obama Calls Air Force One Flyover ‘Mistake' After Low-Flying Plane Terrifies New York," New York Daily News, April 28, 2009; Michel Muskai, "Presidential Plane's Photo-Op Over New York Coast as Much as $357,000," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2009; Peter Nicholas, "Louis Caldera Resigns Over Air Force One Flyover Fiasco," Los Angeles Time, May 9, 2009.
6. Aljazeera English, "Afghans Anger at Obama's Nobel Peace Prize," YouTube (December 10, 2009) qt www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBHrnQTinGY&feature=related
6A. Martin, Luther King, Jr., "A Time to Break Silence," New York City, April 4, 1967, read text at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2564.htm
7. Nir Rosen, “The Death of
8. WIFR Television, CBS 23,
9. Barack Obama, “A Way Forward in
10. Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire (
11. Author of two recent important books on the propagandistic pro-war/pro-empire content of dominant
12. Mike Prysner, “Speech to Iraq Veterans Against the War,” December 20, 2009, view and hear at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akm3nYN8aG8