Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix V Segment 9/33
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While the Times was fully aware of the CIA role in the 1953 coup within a year, Dorman and Farhang conclude, seventeen years went by before the fact received passing mention. "Clearly Mossadeq was the single most popular leader until the rise of Khomaini," they observe, but for the U.S. press, it was clear that "the great majority of Iranians all but worship" the Shah (Washington Post). While strikes in Poland received enthusiastic applause, Dorman and Farhang could find not "a single editorial or column" that "commented favorably on the strikes" in Iran at the same time in the course of the popular uprising against the Shah.53
The fall of the Shah elicited the first serious concern in twenty-five years for civil and human rights in Iran, with impassioned congressional and media commentary and the first Senate resolution condemning repression; "longtime apologists for the shah and his government" such as Senators Jacob Javits and Henry Jackson were particularly outspoken in condemnation of human rights violations -- after the brutal tyrant was deposed.54 The media reaction was the same.
In these respects, the pattern is virtually identical to Nicaragua. From 1960 through 1977, the New York Times had three editorials on Nicaragua (1963, 1967), and even the final paroxysm of terror in 1978-79 received little comment. Other media coverage was similar, as we have seen. Through the 1980s, the pattern changed dramatically as "for the first time" Nicaragua came to have "a government that cares for its people," in the words of the unreportable José Figueres in 1986. In accordance with the dictates of the State Department Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy, the Sandinistas are totalitarian monsters who must be removed or at least "contained," as we "restore democracy" and defend human rights in fulfillment of our mission -- miraculously activated on July 19, 1979.
The pattern is characteristic. These quick transitions and their obvious cause scarcely arouse a second thought, another illustration of the effectiveness of indoctrination among the educated classes.
The sudden discovery of human rights problems in Iran in 1979, as the U.S. client was displaced, had other consequences. Reviewing media coverage of the Kurds, Vera Beaudin Saeedpour observes that "beginning in 1979, the Kurds of Iran captured the attention of the Times" as they took up arms against the Khomeini regime.55 Subsequent press coverage treated the Kurdish problem as "a variable in the power struggle." The basic question was whether whether U.S. interests would benefit or suffer if Iran were to be dismembered; coverage of the rights and travail of the Kurdish people rose or fell according to this criterion.
There is, however, another condition under which repression of the Kurds becomes a legitimate issue of concern: if it can be exploited to support Israeli power. Thus, Times columnist William Safire has written favorably of Kurdish aspirations for autonomy and respect for their culture, then coming to the point: "PLO leader, Yasir Arafat, who wants not only sovereignty in the West Bank but claims all of Israel, has embraced the Ayatollah in Iran" and does not defend the Kurds; and the "Soviet-backed" Iraqis are equally hypocritical, attacking the "non-Arab Kurds" but calling for independence for Palestinian Arabs. "Kurdish rights are ignored wherever PLO supporters are lionized," Safire concludes, also a common theme in the New Republic and other publications of the Israeli lobby.
Safire "championed the Kurds of Iraq" from 1976, Saeedpour observes, writing of the betrayal of the "non-Arab Kurds" and the hypocrisy of Arabs who "talk of `legitimate rights' of Palestinians" but "fall silent at the mention of the Kurds." In 1980, he advocated arming the Kurds against the regime in Iran. Even Israel has done nothing for the suffering Kurds in Iran and Iraq, he protests. "Yet to this day," Saeedpour continues, "Mr. Safire has produced not a single essay on the Kurds in Turkey," where they have been subject to extreme repression under the U.S.-backed regime (and Israeli ally). Only their fate in enemy Iran and Arab Iraq evokes indignation and humanitarian concern.
Coverage of the Kurds in Iraq received brief notice in 1975 when the cynical manipulation of their struggle by Nixon and Kissinger, and their abandonment to Iraqi terror when they were no longer needed, was revealed in the leaked secret report of the House Pike Committee. Since then, Iraqi terror against the Kurds has been an intermittent theme, largely insofar as their plight can be exploited as an anti-Arab weapon. And the repression of Kurds in Iran occasionally arises as an issue in the context of U.S. strategic interests.
Harsh treatment of the Kurds in Turkey, a U.S. ally, has no such value or utility. Coverage is therefore markedly different, as Saeed-pour shows. In Turkey, Kurdish separatism is not to be advocated; indeed there are no Kurds, our Turkish ally alleges, and even use of the language is criminal. The media adhere closely to the Turkish government perspective. Though there was some limited notice of anti-Kurdish repression after the U.S.-backed military coup of 1980, subsequently the Kurds were denounced as "Marxist and terrorist" while the brutal Turkish state was presented as a "secular democracy" beleaguered by terrorism. The tales spun about the KGB-Bulgarian plot to kill the Pope, using a Turkish fascist transmuted by the propaganda system into a Communist agent, helped establish this image. The "acquiescence of the American press in the Turkish interpretations of events," Saeedpour writes, is shown in the reports on Turkish attacks against Kurds in Iraq in cross-border raids, allegedly in retaliation against "unidentified aggressors." Similar reports on violence in Kurdish areas of Turkey, based on Turkish news agencies, imply that Kurds are killing Turks. The press, echoed by some scholars, alleges that the Kurds in Turkey do not support the "militants," a claim that "borders on the absurd," Saeedpour comments, since for a Turkish Kurd to avow such support would be "tantamount to committing suicide." Kurdish opinion cannot even be sampled in a country where their ethnic identity is illegal.
In short, atrocities against the Kurds, and their search for self-determination, are proper themes -- but only when they are useful for other ends.
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53 U.S. Press and Iran, 33ff., 123, 164, 91f., 120, 54, 148, 157. For an insider's account of how the Times looked the other way on the CIA role in the coup, and on "sanitizing" copy on Vietnam in which he was personally involved as a senior rewrite editor, see John Hess, Grand Street, Winter 1989. Hess's interesting comments reveal illusions of their own, however. Thus he writes that while Times correspondents David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan originally criticized the conduct of the U.S. war in Vietnam on tactical grounds, they "gradually<193>came to see the war as evil in itself, and they helped to persuade many fellow Americans that it was." In reality, they were far behind not only the peace movement (which did the work that they failed to do) but even the majority of their fellow Americans in this regard, and at least their published criticism remained well within the dove-hawk consensus that adopted unquestioningly the basic doctrines of the propaganda system.
54 Bill, op. cit., 283-84.
55 Saeedpour, "Kurdish Times and the New York Times," Kurdish Times (Brooklyn), published by Cultural Survival, Summer 1988. Other journals are also sampled.