Betreff: Democracy and the New American Censorship
Von: Peter Phillips
Datum: Tue, 11 Jan 2005 11:23:01 -0800

Democracy and the New American Censorship

By Peter Phillips

Election 2004 was a serious test of democracy in the US. Perhaps we failed the test. At no other time since the 1930s have we been so dangerously close to institutionalized totalitarianism. No-fly lists, prison torture, domestic spying, mega-homeland security agencies, suspension of habeas corpus, global unilateralism, and military adventurism interlocked with corporate profit taking are all spurred on by a media-induced citizen paranoia.
Corporate media is in the entertainment business and fails to cover important news stories voters need to make election decisions. We need information about our country's leaders. These are the people making decisions that impact all of our lives. We need to know who our leaders are and what they are doing. What are their backgrounds, their motivations? What policies and laws are they enacting? What actions are they undertaking, with or against our consent? We don't need to like them, but we do need to know about them.
A participatory democracy needs people to be aware of issues in order to have active engaged voters.
The real winners on November 2, 2004 were the military industrial complex, which will continue to feed at the 500 billion-dollar military trough, and the corporate media, whose coffers were filled with billions of dollars for campaign ads.
And can we be sure we actually had a fair election among those who did vote? Election Systems & Software (ES&S), Diebold, and Sequoia are the companies primarily involved in implementing the new voting stations throughout the country. All three have strong ties to the Bush Administration. The largest investors in ES&S, Sequoia, and Diebold are government defense contractors Northrup-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and Accenture. Diebold hired Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC) of San Diego to develop the software security in their voting machines. A majority of officials on SAIC's board are former members of either the Pentagon or the CIA including: (Lewellen-Biddle 04)
- Army Gen. Wayne Downing, formerly on the National Security Council
- Bobby Ray Inman; former CIA Director
- Retired Adm. William Owens, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Robert Gates, another former director of the CIA.
Might the 50 million voters who will cast their ballot on an electronic voting machine be concerned that the major investors in the voting machine companies are some of the top defense contractors in the US and that the firm that developed the security software for electronic voting is made up of former CIA and NSA directors? They will never know unless the mass corporate-media tells them.
Might many Americans be more willing to vote if they knew that a conservative right-wing organization has replaced the American Bar Association as the main vetting group for federal judge appointments? Or would there be concern for our returning military vets if it were widely known that many are permanently contaminated with high levels of radioactive depleted uranium (DU). Might this concern increase among young people if they knew the extent of government plans to reinstate the military draft in the US?
These news stories and hundreds like them are ignored or dismissed by the corporate media in the United States.
The First Amendment of the US constitution, guaranteeing freedom of the press, was established to maximize citizen cognition of critical issues in society. It was understood clearly by the founders that Democracy could only be maintained through an informed electorate.
A daily newspaper, along with the three major TV networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, as well as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, are the major sources of news and information for most Americans. News stories and the invidious entertainment segments from these corporate sources generally have similar themes and common frames of understanding. This concentration of access to media sources leaves most Americans with very narrow parameters of news awareness and an almost complete lack of competing opinions.
Democracy in the United States is only a shadow in a corporate media cave of deceit, lies and incomplete information. We stand ignorant of what the powerful are doing in our name and how the corporate media ignores key issues affecting us all.
Democracy is the people making decisions about the important issues in their lives. Freedom is the ability to act on these decisions. Without an electoral choice democracy is non-existent and freedom only means the right to choose your own brand of toothpaste. Without an active independent media informing on the powerful, we lack both freedom and democracy.
The corporate media agenda of maximum profits undermines the public purpose of a free press by creating the fiscal necessity for cutting costs and increasing the entertainment content. Ratings and audience share translate to higher advertising value and higher profits. This structural arrangement of corporate media results in what Robert McChesney calls Rich Media Poor Democracy. (Copy editor: Put note here: McChesney, Robert, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, University of Illinois Press, 1999
The US is involved in global empire building at a level which most people in the country are uninformed. The United States intervene daily in the internal affairs of other countries around the world and the corporate media seldom reports on our activities.
On February 29, 2004, Richard Boucher from the U.S. Department of State released a press report claiming that Jean Bertrand Aristide had resigned as president of Haiti and that the United State facilitated his safe departure. Within hours the major broadcast news stations in the United States including CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, and NPR were reporting that Aristide had fled Haiti. An Associated Press release that evening said "Aristide resigns, flees into exile." The next day headlines in the major newspapers across the country, including the Washington Post, USA Today, New York Times, and Atlanta Journal Constitution, all announced "Aristide Flees Haiti." The Baltimore Sun reported, "Haiti's first democratically-elected president was forced to flee his country yesterday like despots before him."
However on Sunday afternoon February 29, Dennis Bernstein with Pacifica News Network was interviewing reporters live in Port-au-Prince Haiti who were claiming that Aristide was forced to resign by the US and taken out of the Presidential palace by armed US marines. On Monday morning Amy Goodman with Democracy Now! news show interviewed Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Waters said she had received a phone call from Aristide at 9:00 AM EST March 1, in which Aristide emphatically denied that he had resigned and said that he had been kidnapped by US and French forces. Aristide made calls to others, including TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, who verified Congresswoman Waters' report.
    With this situation, mainstream corporate media was faced with a dilemma. Confirmed contradictions to headlines reports were being openly revealed to hundreds of thousands of Pacifica listeners nationwide. By Monday afternoon March 1, mainstream corporate media began to respond to charges. Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News voiced, "Haiti in crisis. Armed rebels sweep into the capital as Aristide claims US troops kidnapped him; forced him out. The US calls that nonsense." Brit Hume with Fox News Network reported Colin Powell's comments; "He was not kidnapped. We did not force him on to the airplane. He went on to the airplane willingly, and that's the truth. Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call added, "Aristide, Šwas a thug and a leader of thugs and ran his country into the ground." The New York Times in a story buried on page 10 reported that "President Jean-Bertrand Aristide asserted Monday that he had been driven from power in Haiti by the United States in "a coup," an allegation dismissed by the White House as "complete nonsense."
Still, mainstream/corporate media had a credibility problem. Their original story was openly contradicted. The kidnap story could be ignored or back-paged as was done by many newspapers in the US. Or it could be framed within the context of a US denial and dismissed. Unfortunately, the corporate media seemed not at all interested in conducting an investigation into the charges, seeking witnesses, or verifying contradictions. Nor was the mainstream media asking or answering the question of why they fully accept the State Department's version of the coup in the first place. Corporate media certainly had enough pre-warning to determine that Aristide was not going to willingly leave the country. Aristide had been saying exactly that for the past month during the armed attacks in the north of Haiti. When Aristide was interviewed on CNN February 26, he explained that the terrorists and criminal drug dealers were former members of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which had led the coup in 1991, killing 5,000 people. Aristide believed they would kill even more people if a coup was allowed to happen. It was also well known in media circles that the US Undersecretary of State for Latin America, Roger Noriega, had been senior aide to former Senator Jesse Helms, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee was a longtime backer of Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier and an opponent of Aristide. These facts alone should have been a red flag regarding the State Department's version of Aristide's departure. Weeks later most news stories on Haiti published in the US still claimed that Aristide "fled" Haiti while reporting the on-going civil unrest in the country.
The corporate media's recent coverage of Haiti is how the new American censorship works. If news stories contradict the official sources of news they tend to be downplayed or ignored. Corporate/mainstream media has become dependent upon the press releases and inside sources from government and major corporations for their 24 hour news content and are increasingly unwilling to broadcast or publish news that would threaten ongoing relationships with official sources.
This means that freedom of information and citizen access to objective news is fading in the United States. In its place is a complex entertainment-oriented news system, which protects its own bottom-line by servicing the most powerful military-industrial complex in the world. Corporate media today is interlocked and dependent on government sources for news content. Gone are the days of deep investigative reporting teams challenging the powerful. Media consolidation has downsized newsrooms to the point where reporters serve more as stenographers than researchers. (Barsamian1992)
The 24-hour news shows on MSNBC, Fox, and CNN are closely interconnected with various governmental and corporate sources of news. Maintenance of continuous news shows requires a constant feed and an ever-entertaining supply of stimulating events and breaking news bites. Advertisement for mass consumption drives the system and pre-packaged sources of news are vital within this global news process. Ratings demand continued cooperation from multiple-sources for on-going weather reports, war stories, sports scores, business news, and regional headlines. Print, radio, and TV news also engages in this constant interchange with news sources.
The preparation for and following of ongoing wars and terrorism fits well into the visual kaleidoscope of pre-planned news. Government public relations specialists and media experts from private commercial interests provide on-going news feeds to the national media distribution systems. The result is an emerging macro-symbiotic relationship between news dispensers and news suppliers. Perfect examples of this relationship are the Iraq War press pools organized by the Pentagon both in the Middle-East and in Washington D.C., which give pre-scheduled reports on the war to selected groups of news collectors (journalists) for distribution through their respective corporate media organizations. The Pentagon's management of the news has become increasingly sophisticated with restrictions and controls being cumulatively added to each new military action or invasion in which the US is involved. (Andersen, 2003)
During the Iraq War, embedded reporters (news collectors) working directly with military units in the field were required to maintain cooperative working relationships with unit commanders as they fed breaking news back to the U.S. public. Cooperative reporting was vital to continued access to government news sources. In addition, rows of news story reviewers back at corporate media headquarters were used to rewrite, soften, or spike news stories from the field that threaten the symbiotics of global news management or might be perceived by the Pentagon as too critical.
Journalists working outside of this approved mass media system faced ever-increasing dangers from "accidents" of war and corporate-media dismissal of their news reports. Massive civilian casualties caused by U.S. troops, extensive damage to private homes and businesses, and reports that contradict the official public relations line were downplayed, deleted, or ignored by corporate media, while content was analyzed by experts (retired generals and other approved collaborators) from within the symbiotic global news structure.
Symbiotic global news distribution is a conscious and deliberate attempt by the powerful to control news and information in society. It is the overt manifestation of censorship in our society. The Homeland Security Act Title II Section 201(d)(5) specifically asks the directorate to "develop a comprehensive plan for securing the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States includingŠinformation technology and telecommunications systems (including satellites)Š emergency preparedness communications systems." Corporate media's cooperation with these directives insures an on-going transition to inevitably tighter controls over news content in the United States. From a Homeland Security agency perspective, total information control would be the ideal state of maximized security for the media systems in the US.
Corporate media today is perhaps too vast to enforce complete control over all content 24 hours a day. However, the government's goal and many multinational corporations' desires are for the eventual operationalization of a highly controlled news system in the US. The degree to which corporate media is hastening moves in this direction is directly related to the high level embeddedness of the media elite within the corporate power structure in the United States.
This new American censorship is facilitated by the continuing consolidation of the corporate media. Since the passage of the Telecommunications act of 1996, a gold rush of media mergers and takeovers has been occurring in the U.S. Over half of all radio stations have been sold in the past eight years, and the repeatedly merged AOL-Time-Warner- (CNN) is the largest media organization in the world. Less then a handful of major media corporations now dominates the U.S. news and information systems. Clear Channel owns over 1,200 radio stations. Ninety-eight percent of all cities have only one daily newspaper and huge chains like Gannett and Knight Ridder increasingly own these. (Bagdikian, 2004)
Media corporations have been under-going a massive merging and buy-out process that is realigning the sources of information in America. Conglomeration changes traditional media corporate cultures. Values such as freedom of information and belief in the responsibility of keeping the public informed are adjusted to reflect policies created by bottom-line oriented CEOs. These structural arrangements facilitate the new censorship in America today. It is not yet deliberate killing of stories by official censors, but a rather subtle system of information suppression in the name of corporate profit and self-interest.
The big corporations that now dominate media in America are principally in the entertainment business. The corporate media is narrowing its content with news reports often looking very much the same. Between media consolidation, the primacy of bottom line considerations, and the ignoring of important but complex political issues, it is now believed that Americans are the best-entertained, least informed people in the world. (Postman, 1986)
Media owners and managers are economically motivated to please advertisers and upper middle class readers and viewers. Journalists and editors are not immune to management influence. Journalists want to see their stories approved for print or broadcast, and editors come to know the limits of their freedom to diverge from the bottom line view of owners and managers. The results are an expansion of entertainment news, infomercials, and synergistic news all aimed at increased profit taking.
Corporate media are multinational corporations in their own right, with all the vested interests in free-market capitalism and top down control of society. In 1997 eleven largest or most influential media corporations in the United States were General Electric Company (NBC), Viacom Inc. (cable), The Walt Disney Company (ABC), Time Warner Inc. (CNN), Westinghouse Electric Corporation (CBS), The News Corporation Ltd. (Fox), Gannett Co. Inc., Knight-Ridder Inc., New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., and the Times Mirror Co. Collectively, these eleven major media corporations had 155 directors in 1996. These 155 directors also held 144 directorships on the boards of Fortune 1,000 corporations in the United States. These eleven media organizations have interlocking directorships with each other through 36 other Fortune 1,000 corporations creating a solid network of overlapping interests and affiliations. All eleven media corporations have direct links with at least two of the other top media organizations. General Electric, owner of NBC, has the highest rate of shared affiliations with 17 direct corporate links to nine of the 10 other media corporations. (Phillips, 1998)
These directors are the media elite of the world. While they may not agree on abortion and other domestic issues, they do represent the collective vested interests of a significant portion of corporate America and share a common commitment to free market capitalism, economic growth, internationally protected copyrights, and a government dedicated to protecting their interests.
 Given this interlocked media network, it is more than safe to say that major media in the United States effectively represents the interests of corporate America, and that the media elite are the watchdogs of acceptable ideological messages, parameters of news content, and general use of media resources.
Corporate media promote free market capitalism as the unquestioned American ideological truth. The decline of communism opened the door for unrestrained free marketers to boldly espouse market competition as the final solution for global harmony. Accordingly, corporate media have become the mouthpiece of free market ideology by uncritically supporting the underlying assumption that the marketplace will solve all evils, and that we will enjoy economic expansion, individual freedom, and unlimited bliss by fully deregulating and privatizing society's socio-economic institutions.
The corporate media have been fully supportive of the US policy of undermining socialist or nationalist leaning governments and pressuring them into ideological compliance. The full force of U.S. dominated global institutions -WTO, World Bank, IMF, and NAFTA-focus on maximizing free market circumstances and corporate access to every region of the world. Economic safety nets, environmental regulations, labor unions, and human rights take second place to the free flow of capital and investments. The corporate media elites are in the forefront of this global capital movement with an unrelenting propaganda agenda that gives lip service to democracy while refusing to address the contradictions and hypocrisies of US global policies.
 A closer examination of this American media supported ideology reveals that "free market" essentially means constant international U.S. government intervention on behalf of American corporations. This public-private partnership utilizes U.S. embassies, the CIA, FBI, NSA, U.S. Military, Department of Commerce, USAID, and every other U.S government institution to protect, sustain, and directly support our vital interest-U.S. business.
This ideological mantra affects the U.S. population as well. We are still riding on the betterments from the first three/quarters of the 20th century and have not faced the full impacts of the economic bifurcation that has occurred in the past 30 years. Poverty levels are rising, the numbers of working poor expanding, and homelessness one pay check away for many. In the last quarter century economic conditions have declined for the bottom 60 million Americans, and most of the next 100 million have barely held their own, while the corporate and media elites have socked away fortunes. (Sklar 2002)
In the past few years, corporate media outlets, under pressure from powerful corporate/government officials, have fired or disciplined journalists for writing critical stories about the powerful in the United States. These terminations have sent a chilling message to journalists throughout the U.S. - If you attack the sacred cows of powerful corporate/governmental institutions your career is on the line. Journalists who fail to recognize their role as cooperative news collectors are disciplined in the field or barred from reporting, as in the Iraq War II celebrity cases of Geraldo Rivera and Peter Arnett.
     In a well known case of pressure by powerful institutions, Fox TV news reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were fired by WTVT in Tampa for refusing to change their story on the dangers of Monsanto's bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in the Florida milk supply. Scientific research has shown that rBGH when injected into cows to expand milk production results in the increase of insulin-like growth factor IGF-I in milk. IGF-I has been linked to breast and prostate cancer. Monsanto claims that the milk is safe, but new scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Monsanto put pressure on Fox Television in New York, WTVT's parent company, threatening dire consequences if the story ran. When Wilson and Akre refused to say the milk was unchanged, they were fired by the Fox station general manager who was quoted as saying, "We paid $3 billion for these stations: we'll decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is." (Wilson and Akre, 2000 )
Perhaps the most infamous case of media willingly succumbing to external pressures by the government is the retraction by CNN of the story about U.S. Military's use of sarin gas in 1970 in Laos during the Vietnam War. CNN producers April Oliver and Jack Smith, after an eight-month investigation, reported on CNN June 7, 1998 and later in Time magazine that sarin gas was used in operation Tailwind in Laos and that American defectors were targeted. The story was based on eyewitness accounts and high military command collaboration.
Under tremendous pressure from the Pentagon, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and Richard Helms, CNN and Time retracted the story saying that, "the allegations about the use of nerve gas and the killing of defectors are not supported by the evidence," and fired Oliver and Smith. Columnists and pundits across the nation attacked Oliver and Smith for their alleged unprofessional journalism. Newsweek even wrote on July 20, 1998 that the allegations were "proven wrong". Oliver and Smith have steadfastly stood by their original story as accurate and substantiated. What is troubling about this issue is the speed with which CNN/Time withdrew their support for Oliver and Smith, after having fully approved the release of the story only weeks before.
Tailwind can perhaps best be understood better in the context of the new Vietnam War revelations published in the Toledo Blade October 2003 and widely ignored by the corporate media. The Toledo Blade story discloses the unrestricted savaging of hundreds of civilians in the Central Highlands by an elite American Tiger Force during a several month period in 1967. This free-fire force was given authority to massacre at will anyone found in the region. Newly available government documents disclose how an Army war crimes investigation in 1971 encouraged solders to keep quiet and how the case was closed in 1975.
The eight-month investigation by Michael Sallah, Joe Mahr, and Mitch Weiss for the Toledo Blade is similar to the investigation of the Tailwind story by CNN reporters April Oliver and Jack Smith in 1997-98. Both stories reveal deadly illegal war crimes by US forces in Southeast Asia, both stories were covered up by higher authorities in the Pentagon, and both stories challenge the fictionalized storyline of average GI's caught up in a lousy misunderstood war, who in isolated incidents made low-level field decisions that resulted in My Lai-type mistakes. The Tailwind and Tiger Force stories reveal much higher-level policies of a vicious win-at-any-cost war officiated by Pentagon and high-level government officials. It is the revelation of these policies that the Pentagon seems strongly motivated to suppress.
For the Tailwind story, April Oliver and Jack Smith conducted an eight-month investigation into the use of sarin gas in Laos during the Vietnam War. As Oliver states in Censored 1999, (Oliver 1999), "We stand by the story. We are not novices at news-gatheringŠThe Tailwind story was carefully researched and reported over eight months, with our bosses' [CNN] approval of each interview request and each line of the story's script. It was based on multiple sources, [six eyewitnesses] from senior military officials to firsthand participantsŠin addition to half a dozen on camera sources more than a dozen pilots told us of the availability or use of a special "last resort" gasŠgb (the military name for sarin), or cbu-15 (a sarin cluster bomb)."
      After the airing of the Tailwind story in June of 1998, CNN came under a firestorm of pressure from the Pentagon, veteran groups, and other media to retract the story. CNN president Rick Kaplan told Oliver and Smith that CNN did not want to end up in congressional hearings across from Colin Powell and that the story had become a "public relations problem." A CNN investigation into Oliver and Smith's story by attorney Floyd Abrams and CNN's vice-president David Kohler resulted in a recommendation for retraction claiming that the evidence did not support the use of sarin gas. On July 10, 1998 Ted Turner made a public apology for airing the Tailwind story before the Television Critics Association. Oliver and Smith were fired and CNN retracted the story.
        Anyone who actually reads CNN's investigative report can see the overwhelming evidence that supports the original version of the story. (CNN 98) However, the CNN report uses a new standard of absolute proof by saying that the ability to stand up in a court of law is the criteria for airing stories. Such a standard, if enforced, would essentially eliminate investigative journalism and stories like Watergate would never have been published. It is the responsibility of media to stand firm on solid evidence and tell the truth about important social issues, not journalistically feasible to research each story as if it were to be presented in a court of law. The fact that CNN failed to uphold a commitment to the First Amendment speaks more about the symbiotic relationship between corporate media and sources of news than it does about erroneous reporting.
Oliver eventually won a large settlement from her lawsuit for wrongful termination. Numerous media critics including Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Alexander Cockburn, Project Censored, Democracy Now! and Media Channel reported her side of the story, including how CNN caved in to pressure from the Pentagon. (McLaughlin, 1998) CNN officials clearly understood that they might not be invited to the next war unless a retraction occurred. CNN faced more than a public relations problem, they faced a bottom-line profitability problem if they were refused access to military cooperation on future broadcasts. Kohler and Turner knew full well the necessity of cooperation with official sources.
Corporate media has also ignored many important questions related to 9-11, which would offend their sources of news in the government. Corporate news star Dan Rather in a interview with Matthew Engel for The Guardian admitted that the surge of patriotism after 9-11 resulted in journalists failing to ask the tough questions. Rather stated, "It starts with a feeling of patriotism within oneself. I know the right question, but you know what? This is not exactly the right time to ask it." (Engel, 2002)
When was the right time to question the levels and intensity of civilian deaths during and after the bombings of Afghanistan? According to CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson there was never a good time. In a memo to his CNN correspondents overseas Isaacson wrote, "We're entering a period in which there's a lot more reporting and video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. You must make sure people [Americans] understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it's in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States." Isaacson later told the Washington Post, "Šit seems perverse to focus too much on the causalities of hardship in Afghanistan." This is the same Walter Isaacson, who when assuming the Chairmanship of CNN in August 2001, claimed that news needed to be re-defined: "There would be a greater focus on entertainment, technology, health and fitness, he said. "The goal should be to make the news smart, but also fun and fascinating." (Engel, 2002)
Marc Herold, an economics professor at the University of New Hampshire compiled a summation of the death toll in Afghanistan-concluding that over 4,000 civilians died from U.S. bombs-more than died at the World Trade Center. Yet only a handful of newspapers covered his story. Time magazine reviewed Herold's report but dismissed it stating, "In compiling the figures, Herold drew mostly on world press reports of questionable reliability." Time went on to cite the Pentagon's unsubstantiated claim that civilian casualties in Afghanistan were the lowest in the history of war. (Herold, 2002)
At times the corporate media starts in on a story and realizes that it may lead into areas of concern to their sources of news. Numerous papers in the country including the San Francisco Chronicle on September 29, 2001 reported how millions of dollars were made buying pre-9-11 put-options on United & American Airlines stocks. Yet by mid-October nothing else was ever printed on the subject. The Director of the Chicago Office of the FBI, Tom Kneir, admitted on August 17, 2002 at the American Sociological meetings that the FBI conducted an investigation into the pre-9-11 stock options, but he refused to disclose who bought the stock, and the corporate media has never asked.
At times the hypocrisy of corporate media news coverage is overwhelming. During the first week of December, 2003, US corporate media reported that American forensic teams were working to document some 41 mass graves in Iraq to support future war crime tribunals in that country. Broadly covered in the media as well, was the conviction of General Stanislav Galic by a UN tribunal for war crimes committed by Bosnian Serb troops under his command during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992-94.
These stories show how corporate media likes to give the impression that the US government is working diligently to root out evil doers around the world and to build democracy and freedom. This theme is part of a core ideological message in support of our recent wars on Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Governmental spin transmitted by a willing US media establishes simplistic mythologies of good vs. evil, often leaving out historical context, special transnational corporate interests, and prior strategic relationships with the dreaded evil ones. (Solomon, 2003)
The hypocrisy of US policy and corporate media complicity is evident in the coverage of Donald Rumsfeld's stop over in Mazar-e Sharif Afghanistan December 4, 2003 to meet with regional warlord and mass killer General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his rival General Ustad Atta Mohammed. Rumsfeld was there to finalize a deal with the warlords to begin the decommissioning of their military forces in exchange for millions of dollars in international aid and increased power in the central Afghan government.
  Few people in the US know that General Abdul Rashid Dostum fought alongside the Russians in the 1980s, commanding a 20,000-man army. He switched sides in 1992 and joined the Mujahidin when they took power in Kabul. For over a decade, Dostum was a regional warlord in charge of six northern provinces, which he ran like a private fiefdom making millions by collecting taxes on regional trade and international drug sales. Forced into exile in Turkey by the Taliban in 1998, he came back into power as a military proxy of the US during the invasion of Afghanistan.
      Charged with mass murder of prisoners of war in the mid-90s by the UN, Dostum is known to use torture and assassinations to retain power. Described by the Chicago Sun Times (10/21/01) as a "cruel and cunning warlord," he is reported to use tanks to rip apart political opponents or crush them to death. Dostum, a seventh grade dropout, likes to put up huge pictures of himself in the regions he controls, drinks Johnnie Walker Blue Label, and rides in an armor-plated Cadillac.
A documentary entitled Massacre at Mazar released in 2002 by Scottish film producer, Jamie Doran, exposes how Dostum, in cooperation with U.S. special forces, was responsible for the torturing and deaths of approximately 3,000 Taliban prisoners-of-war in November of 2001. In Doran's documentary, two witnesses report on camera how they were forced to drive into the desert with hundreds of Taliban prisoners held in sealed cargo containers. Most of the prisoners suffocated to death in the vans and Dostum's soldiers shot the few prisoners left alive. One witness told the London Guardian that a US Special Forces vehicle was parked at the scene as bulldozers buried the dead. A soldier told Doran that U.S. troops masterminded a cover-up. He said the Americans ordered Dostum's people to get rid of the bodies before satellite pictures could be taken.
Dostum admits that a few hundred prisoners died, but asserts that it was a mistake or that they died from previous wounds. He has kept thousands of Taliban as prisoners-of-war since 2001 and continues to ransom them to their families for ten to twenty thousand dollars each.
Doran's documentary was shown widely in Europe, prompting an attempt by the UN to investigate, but Dostum has prevented any inspection by saying that he could not guarantee safety for forensic teams in the area.
During the recent meeting with Dostum, Donald Rumsfeld was quoted as saying, "I spent many weeks in the Pentagon following closely your activities, I should say your successful activities."(Washington Post 12/5/03) The Post reported that General Dostum was instrumental in routing Taliban forces from Northern Afghanistan in the early weeks of the war two years ago, but said nothing about General Dostum's brutal past. Nor has US broadcast media aired Doran's documentary.
A number of other questions remain unasked and unresolved regarding events surrounding 9-11 attacks. Both the BBC and the Times of India published reports several months before 9-11 that the U.S. was then planning an invasion of Afghanistan. The Unocal oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea region was to be built through Afghanistan and the U.S. needed a cooperative government in power. Agence France-Press in March 2002 reported that the U.S.-installed interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, had worked with the CIA since the 1980s and was once a paid consultant for Unocal.
A report from France, still unacknowledged by the US press, informs how the Bush administration, shortly after assuming office, slowed down FBI investigations of al-Qaeda and terrorist networks in Afghanistan in order to deal with the Taliban on oil. The ordered slowdown resulted in the resignation of FBI Deputy Director John O'Neill, expert in the al-Qaeda network and in charge of the investigation. O'Neill later took a job as chief of security at the World Trade Center where he died "helping with rescue efforts." (Brisard 2002)
A October 31, 2002 report in the French daily Le Figaro disclosed that Osama bin Laden had met with a top CIA official while in the American Hospital in the United Arab Emirates to receive treatment for a kidney infection earlier that summer. CBS news reported one time on January 28, 2002 that Osama bin Laden was in a Pakistani military hospital on September 10, 2001.
On 9-11, four planes are hijacked and deviate from their flight plans, all the while on FAA radar. The planes are all hijacked between 7:45 and 8:10 am Eastern Time. It is a full hour before the first plane hits the World Trade Center. But it is an hour and 20 minutes later- after the second plane hits - that the President becomes officially informed. Then, he gives no orders. He continues to listen to a student talk about her pet goat. It's another 25 minutes until he makes a statement. (Griffin, 2004)
Because of corporate media's failure to investigate questions around 9-11 conspiracy theories abound in America. Corporate media chooses instead to offer mindless entertainment in place of deeper investigations into important national questions. The result is that the general public knows more about Winona Ryder's shop lifting trial and the Peterson murder case then they do about the history of US involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The First Amendment provides for freedom of the press and was established to protect our democratic process by guaranteeing an informed electorate. Yet we hold national elections in which millions of voters refused to participate. We denigrated and blamed non-voters for being uncaring citizens, yet the corporate media has failed to address core issues affecting most people in this country. Voter participation levels are directly related to issues that the citizenry feels are important. Many people no longer trust the corporate media to provide the full truth. This opens people's susceptibility to believing in conspiracies and plots to explain unanswered questions. Cynicism has deterred voting for many.
How can we free ourselves from this dilemma? We can advocate strongly for corporate media to invest in democracy by supporting deep investigative reporting on key national issues. We can advocate for full and clear reporting on the policies and plans emerging from the public and private policy circles of the American corporate and governmental elites. Full analysis and disclosure of the published plans of the Trilateral Commission, The Council on Foreign Relations, The Hoover Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute, The World Bank, and the Project for the New American Century, would go a long way in showing the roadmaps that the policy elites are building for the world. We don't need macro-conspiracy theories to understand that powerful people sit in rooms and plan global change with private advantage in mind.
If open debate on socio-political policies were offered nationwide it would certainly draw wider voter participation. Imagine a Silicon Valley computer programmer thinking about social policies that would prevent outsourcing of his job to foreign firms. Imagine his enthusiasm voting for representatives that would work to protect his livelihood.
Recognition of corporate media compliance with sources of news is an important step in understanding our new American censorship. A full media reform movement that challenges continued corporate media consolidation is underway in the US, and tens of thousands of people are involved (McChesney 2004)
Knowing the importance of the role of media in the continuation of democracy, we have a huge task before us. We must mobilize our resources to redevelop our own news and information systems from the bottom up, while at the same time attempting reform at the top. We can expand distribution of news via small independent newspapers; local magazines, independent radio, and cable access TV. By using the internet we can interconnect with like-minded grassroots news organizations to share important stories globally.
Emerging in the corporate media news vacuum are hundreds of independent news sources. Independent newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and TV are becoming more widely available. Independent media centers ( have sprung up in over 200 cities in the past five years. Thousands of alternative news organizations already exist and are listed in Project Censored's Guide to Independent Media and Activism. (Phillips, 2003)
There is a compelling need to encourage activists and concerned citizens to avoid the propaganda of corporate news, and to focus instead on news from independent sources. The more corporate news you watch the less you really know. (Schechter, 1997)
Imagine "Real News" as media information that contributes to the lives and socio-political understandings of working people. Such Real News informs, balances, and awakens the less powerful in society. Real News speaks truth to power and challenges the hegemonic top-down corporate entertainment news systems. Real news empowers and keeps key segments of working people in America tuned in, informed and active. Real News cannot be measured with Arbitron ratings. It is not there for the selling of materialism, or capitalist propaganda. It is not there for nationalistic grandioseness. Nor is it there to provide entertaining stimulation to the alienated suburbs. Real News can only be measured through its success in building democracy, stimulating grassroots activism, and motivating resistance to top-down institutions.
         Real News builds movements for social change. It keeps the 5% radical vanguard aware of our power and our collective ability to influence positive change. Real News is about stimulating social activism in our daily lives, and making each act deliberate and heart centered. Real News reports to the center of self, and helps us find the collective for shared action. Real News organizes movement towards betterment, shapes policy for equality, and stands in the faces of the robber-baron corporate power brokers.

Peter Phillips is Department Chair and Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University and Director of Project Censored a media research program.


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Peter Phillips Ph.D.
Sociology Department/Project Censored
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, CA 94928