OBSTINATE MEMORY AND PURSUIT OF THE PRESENT
Kissinger usually has an easy time defending the indefensible on national
television. But he faced some pointed questions during a recent interview
with the PBS "NewsHour" about the U.S. role in bringing a
military dictatorship to Chile. When his comments aired on Feb. 20, the
famous American diplomat made a chilling spectacle of himself.
three years after the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the elected
socialist president Salvador Allende in September 1973 and brought Augusto
Pinochet to power, Kissinger huddled with the general in Chile. A
declassified memo says that Kissinger told Pinochet: "We are
sympathetic with what you are trying to do here."
interviewing Kissinger, "NewsHour" correspondent Elizabeth
Farnsworth asked him point-blank about the discussion with Pinochet.
"Why did you not say to him, 'You're violating human rights. You're
killing people. Stop it.'?"
replied: "First of all, human rights were not an international issue
at the time, the way they have become since. That was not what diplomats
and secretaries of states and presidents were saying to anybody in those
Back then, we didn't know that it was wrong to kidnap people; to hold them
as political prisoners; to torture them; to murder them.
added that at the June 1976 meeting with Pinochet, "I spent half my
time telling him that he should improve his human rights performance in
any number of ways." But the American envoy's concern was tactical.
As Farnsworth noted in her reporting: "Kissinger did bring up human
rights violations, saying they were making it difficult for him to get aid
for Chile from Congress."
Chile, the victims of Kissinger's great skills numbered into the
thousands; in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, into the hundreds of thousands
and more. Seymour Hersh's 1983 book "The Price of Power: Kissinger in
the Nixon White House" documented his remarkable record as a
prodigious liar and prolific killer. But the most influential news outlets
continued to treat Kissinger with near-reverence. In 1989, he was elected
to the board of directors of CBS. The autobiography of Katharine Graham,
the owner of the Washington Post Co., praises Kissinger as a dear friend
and all-around wonderful person.
is still commonly touted by news media as Dr. Statesman Emeritus. On Feb.
16 of this year, CNN interviewed him live a few hours after the United
States and Britain fired missiles at sites near Baghdad. Anchor Bernard
Shaw asked about the sanctions against Iraq, but neither man said anything
about the human toll -- although an estimated half-million Iraqi children
have died as a result of sanctions since the early 1990s. Kissinger
offered his wisdom: "The United States has absolutely nothing to gain
as in the early 1970s, tactical concerns loom large in Washington's
corridors of power -- and in much of the news media. On the networks,
routine assumptions confine the discourse to exploring how the U.S.
government can effectively get its way in the world -- not whether it has
a right to do so. For the present, moral dimensions are pushed to the
observed that it's not necessary to censor the news, it's sufficient to
delay the news until it no longer matters. That might be a bit of an
overstatement; truthful information about the past is valuable even if it
comes late. But when lives are in the balance, truth is vital sooner
rather than later.
the present tense, with foreign-policy stakes high, media professionals
routinely defer to official sources. Most U.S. journalists are inclined to
swallow the deceptions fed from high levels in Washington. Months or years
or decades later, big news outlets may report more difficult truths. But
by then, the blood has been shed.
wonder so many high-ranking foreign policy officials are eager to visit
network TV studios, especially in times of U.S. military actions. If the
questions get prickly, they're apt to be of a tactical nature: Will this
missile attack be effective? Will it hurt relations with allies or
backfire in world opinion? Did the targets get hit?
don't hear much fundamental questioning of top officials from the White
House or State Department or Pentagon about intervention abroad. Nor do we
get much assertive journalism that challenges ongoing support for
repressive American allies such as Indonesia, Turkey, Israel, Egypt and
Saudi Arabia. On the "NewsHour" and other major network programs, when
the subject is current policies, I don't recall questions along the lines
of: "You're violating human rights. You're killing people. Why don't
you stop it?"
recent superb "NewsHour" report on U.S. policies toward Chile
was titled "Pursuing the Past." In truth, that's a very tough endeavor
for mainstream journalists. And pursuing the present is even more
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."