Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix I Segment 11/15
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As discussed in the text, the physical destruction of the independent media in El Salvador by government terror was ignored by the media, literally not mentioned in news reports or editorials in the Times. The "censorship" exercised by government-backed death squads in the U.S. dependencies also received little notice. Nothing remotely comparable happened in Nicaragua, which has, throughout, been the prime focus of charges of government repression. The tribulations of La Prensa have been virtually the sole concern of alleged defenders of freedom of the press in Central America, and have received very extensive coverage. It is a considerable understatement to say that Weinstein's contentions are false. Whatever his motives may be, plainly concern for freedom of the press is not among them, and truth is not his business.

But again, falsehood -- even sheer absurdity -- is not the issue here. Rather, the point is that the documents collected, like the colloquy, remain entirely within the bounds predicted by the propaganda model: condemnation of the media for their adversarial stance and anti-U.S. bias, defense of the media as fair and balanced. This case of literally 100 percent conformity is particularly remarkable in the light of the overwhelming evidence of media submissiveness to the basic doctrines of the Reaganite propaganda system on the matter of Central America (with at most tactical debate), and of their suppression of the mounting atrocities as the Carter administration drew to its close.

The second subject investigated is what the editors of the New York Times hailed as the "liberation" of the Lebanese from the yoke of Syria and the PLO; or, to use the words introducing the discussion here, "the incursion of Israeli forces into South Lebanon" followed by the bombing and siege of Beirut. The discussion is opened by Ben Wattenberg -- like Daniel James, an extreme hawk -- who denounces the media for their "double standard" as they defamed Israel. The media, he continues, had "inflicted" the same double standard upon ourselves in Vietnam, and are doing so again in Central America, where they have turned "American public opinion, in terms of further Congressional aid and so on, against what I regarded as a relatively moderate and moral response on the part of the United States." Wattenberg's "relatively moderate and moral response" is what even Daniel James concedes to be a record of "unheard-of brutality" in El Salvador by the forces organized, trained, and supplied by the United States. Furthermore, contrary to what Wattenberg appears to believe, the unheard-of brutality for which he voices his approval proceeded with no lapse in congressional aid and aroused only limited public concern. This concern developed despite the apologetics and evasion of the media, relying on other channels of information: human rights groups, church sources, the alternative media, and so on. It is worthy of note that these apologetics for hideous atrocities are treated with respect on all sides, a fact that tells us a good deal about the prevailing moral climate and intellectual culture.

Milton Viorst, a dove, responds to Wattenberg's allegations about coverage of the Lebanon war, largely in agreement. One reason for the anti-Israel double standard, he suggests, is that "the Israelis have a reputation of not manipulating the press either as effectively or as deliberately as other nations" -- a perception that will surprise journalists and others familiar with the sophisticated operations of the Israeli hasbara ("explanation") apparatus, which easily surpasses any competitors.41 Viorst does not indicate which "other nations" are more effective in press manipulation. Presumably, he does not mean the Arab states. The double standard, he continues, also results from our higher expectations with regard to Israel. He does not explain how this accounts for the immense outrage over PLO terrorism and the muted response, or total silence, in the face of vastly greater terror by the state that remains "the symbol of human decency."

The twenty-three pages of colloquy that follow keep to the same terms: condemnation of the media for their alleged double standard, and responses to the charge of anti-Israel bias. The division is roughly fifty-fifty, with virtually nothing to suggest that the opposite charge is far more to the point, or even that it is conceivable.

The spectrum of discussion extends from Wattenberg and New Republic editor Morton Kondracke at the jingoist extreme to Viorst and Nick Thimmesch of the American Enterprise Institute at the outer reaches of dissidence. Kondracke condemns the "adversarial relationships which we are used to applying to our own government -- by which we rip our own society to shreds as best we can, believing it our professional duty," an attitude now applied to Israel as well. To illustrate, he offers two examples: "the Bulgarian/KGB involvement in the shooting of the Pope," which, he claims, "received very little attention in the American press" apart from NBC news; and the State Department "yellow rain" charges, which the press sought to undermine. These are interesting choices. The "yellow rain" charges, widely relayed by the media when they were produced by the State Department, are now generally conceded to have little merit. As for the Bulgarian/KGB connection, it received extensive and largely uncritical media coverage, far beyond the Marvin Kalb NBC documentary that Kondracke presumably has in mind. Furthermore, the line put forth by Claire Sterling, former CIA official Paul Henze, and Marvin Kalb has been thoroughly undermined, after having dominated coverage in a most effective government-media operation.42 That Kondracke should offer these two examples to illustrate the anti-establishment bias of the media reveals clearly the intellectual bankruptcy of the position he represents.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Nick Thimmesch questions Kondracke's judgment that "the American press somehow succeeded in ripping this country apart." He believes that

we've now come through a long metamorphosis from one-sided coverage to two-sided coverage. We now have a very honest and legitimate debate of crucial issues in an enlightened manner. For that we can be thankful for the more aggressive and more intelligent press.

In the colloquy, there is one limited departure from this spectrum. William Ringle of Gannett Newspapers agrees that "some people are accepting everything unquestioningly that comes from Arafat"; it would be intriguing to know just whom he had in mind. But, he adds, in the past there were "a number of reporters who accepted unquestioningly and ingenuously everything that Israel put out, or what they had been shown on government-sponsored tours of Israel." Apart from this last sentence, there is no suggestion in the colloquy that an alternative perspective might be considered.

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41 For an account of some of its exploits, see Robert I. Friedman, "Selling Israel to America: the Hasbara Project Targets the U.S. Media," Mother Jones, Feb./March 1987.

42 See Edward S. Herman and Frank Brodhead, The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection (Sheridan Square Publications, 1986); Manufacturing Consent, chapter 4.