Media

The Cartoonish State of the Media

Banning cartoons in France? Rumsfeld propagandizing our own citizens? World media gone mad.
When it comes to matters of free speech and sound journalism, it's getting increasingly difficult to determine who is worse: the present rulers of the United States or the Islamo-fascists they're now at war with. When they're not busy attacking one another, each side in the current conflict keeps busy attacking journalists (more already dead in Iraq than in the entire Vietnam era), journalism and the very concept of freedom of the press.

In the midst of the ongoing controversy over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, and the pusillanimous reaction by scared outlets such as CNN and France Soir (of which more later), it was particularly sad to see U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lobbing yet another round of verbal grenades at the media last week.

Claiming that press criticism has made "our people … chilled and reticent and uncomfortable," Rumsfeld resurrected the silly, shopworn shibboleth that the media will be to blame if the United States "loses" the global war on terrorism.

"We're not going to lose wars or battles out there. The only place we can lose is if the country loses its will," Rumsfeld said. "And the determinant of that is what is played in the media."

The terrorists, Rumsfeld noted, "manipulate and manage to influence what the media carries throughout the world. And they do it very successfully. They're good at it."

Meanwhile, U.S. military personnel "get penalized because there's bad press, there's bad news, someone doesn't like it, there's a congressional hearing, the newspaper has it on the front page because it's about the media, and the media likes to write about the media," Rumsfeld said. "How do we compete in this struggle in a way that can counter the ability of the enemy to lie, which we can't do, [and] the ability of the enemy to not have a free media criticizing them? You don't see much criticizing of them."

Rummy spoke just a few days after a Freedom of Information Act request by the redoubtable National Security Archive, a research institution based at George Washington University, compelled the release of the previously secret "Information Operations road map" he signed in 2003.

The newly declassified 74-page document details the U.S. military's plans for "information dominance" -- from influencing public opinion through media to designing "computer network attack" weapons -- and notes that information is "critical to military success." The "road map" calls for a far-reaching overhaul of the military's ability to conduct information operations and electronic warfare.

The document was written to set out policy guidelines and establish the Pentagon's rationale for making information operations a "core" mission for the U.S. military. It says, "Information, always important in warfare, is now critical to military success and will only become more so in the foreseeable future."

The operations described in the document include a range of military activities, the most disturbing of which is the acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military's psychological operations, or psyops, is finding its way to the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.

"Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience," it reads. "Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public."

The document's authors agree that American news media should not unwittingly broadcast military propaganda, and say, "Specific boundaries should be established," but don't bother to explain how.

But the National Security Archive calls this 'psyops' what it really is: propaganda planted overseas that will inevitably make its way back to the United States. "In this day and age it is impossible to prevent stories that are fed abroad as part of psychological operations propaganda from blowing back into the United States -- even though they were directed abroad," said Kristin Adair, a representative of the group.

The road map portrays the internet as the equivalent of an enemy weapons system. The slogan "fight the net" appears several times throughout the road map, and it forthrightly states, "Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will 'fight the net' as it would an enemy weapons system."

Despite the release of the "road map," the real direction of the Pentagon's information operations remains unclear. The document does, however, provide at least an inkling of the DOD's Info War planning -- and its global scale. It recommends, for example, that the United States should be able to "disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum." In plain English, that means the U.S. military seeks the capability to knock out, among other things, every telephone and every networked computer on the planet.

While our fundamentally undemocratic defense secretary is busy blaming the media for his own repeated failures, fundamentalists on the other side of the world are in a tizzy over European media that have published cartoon drawings of Mohammad. Although the Islamo-fascists preface the Prophet's name with the standard phrase "peace be unto him," their protests have been typically far from peaceful, including a rampage in a building housing the Danish embassy in Jakarta, the seizure by Palestinian gunmen of an innocent German citizen, and a hand grenade thrown into the compound of the French Cultural Centre in Gaza -- not to mention the 25 death threats and thousands of hate messages sent to the editor of a Norwegian magazine that reprinted the cartoons.

Faced with the threat of such attacks, many in the media have courageously followed the example of the besieged Norwegian editor and supported the bedrock principle of free expression. But others have not, and instead have shamefully retreated. In Paris, the managing editor of the daily newspaper, France Soir, published the cartoons under the headline, "Yes, one has the right to caricature God" -- and was promptly fired. And CNN chose not to show the cartoons "in respect for Islam." It said nothing about concern for the commercial interests of its parent conglomerate Time Warner or respect for the Bill of Rights.

When it comes to the First Amendment, I'm a strict constructionist. Censorship is censorship, no matter what its provenance, and once you start down that slippery slope, there's no stopping. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, for example, was quoted by the state Anatolian news agency as saying the cartoons -- one depicting the founder of Islam wearing a turban resembling a bomb -- showed "There should be a limit to press freedom."

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw apparently concurs with that sentiment. Straw praised Britan's normally unfettered newspapers, which have so far refused to publish the cartoons, saying "I believe the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong." He added, "I place on record my regard for the British media, which has shown considerable responsibility and sensitivity."

But Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen had it right when he said the issue has gone beyond a feud between Copenhagen and the Muslim world and is now centered on Western free speech versus taboos in Islam.

To which I can only add: "And taboos in the U.S. Department of Defense."

More of the controversial cartoons can be seen here: mediachannel.org
This and other articles by Rory O'Connor are available on his blog.
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