In "America's New War" the first U.S. casualty may be the First Amendment. The military, Bush administration propaganda and the media itself have squelched news in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Asked at a press conference whether he would lie to the media about the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quoted Winston Churchill about disinformation around the D-Day invasion. "Sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies." Rumsfeld is about the only source the U.S. media has for covering the Afghan war. The military has refused to allow journalists to accompany troops and pilots fighting in Afghanistan or even interview them after their missions.
"They plan to fight the war and then tell the press and the public how it turned out afterwards," the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) quoted CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre. The military spin is that pinpoint smart bombings will keep civilian casualties to a minimum, international investigative reporter Phillip Knightley wrote in a CPI commentary. "Bloody TV footage or grim still photographs of civilian bomb victims would threaten this most outrageous piece of propaganda, so an essential part of the Western alliance's strategy has been not only to bomb in the dark but, as far as possible, to keep the public in the dark as well." John Barry, Newsweek's Pentagon reporter, told The New York Times that the military is restricting coverage, that "might not be consonant with their basic message that they're making inexorable progress toward inevitable victory." The media blackout is the culmination of a long trend toward military censorship. After Vietnam, the military blamed the media for turning public opinion against the war.
The British managed to successfully keep the media away from directly covering their Falklands War. A U.S. Naval War College publication reported on the Falkland lessons. To maintain public support, the article said, a government should sanitize the visual images of war; control media access; censor information that could upset readers or viewers; and exclude journalists who would not write favorable stories, according to CPI. The U.S. applied the Falklands model in Grenada and Panama. The biggest application was in the Gulf War. A CPI report on Gulf War coverage noted gross exaggerations of the effectiveness of Patriot missiles and smart bombs and success rates for bombing missions. The 1991 report concluded, "information about Defense Department activities ... [was] restricted or manipulated not for national security purposes, but for political purposes -- to protect the image and priorities of the Defense Department and its civilian leaders, including the president." Media groups complained after the Gulf War, and the Pentagon promised to allow more access next time. But that hasn't happened and media groups are complaining again.
The presidents of a group of 20 journalism organizations issued a statement expressing concern "over the increasing restrictions by the United States government that limit news gathering and inhibit the free flow of information in the wake of the September 11 attack. ... We believe that these restrictions pose dangers to American democracy and prevent American citizens from obtaining the information they need." But the Pentagon has not budged. With patriotism running high, the military may reason that the public isn't likely to complain. A recent Pew Research Center poll showed 59 percent of respondents want more military control over reporting the war. Only 28 percent want more media control, the Times reported. That has left journalists trying to cover the Afghan war from Pakistan. Masood Anwar of the News International in Pakistan describes the coverage from Quetta as "mainly cooked up and rubbish, as the journalists themselves are hostages to circumstances and strict security concerns" and must have Pakistani military escorts.
When a reporter in Pakistan does manage to report news, they can be kicked out. The London Telegraph reported that its correspondent was deported from Pakistan after uncovering evidence of a covert operation by rogue elements of Pakistan's military intelligence service to smuggle arms to the Taliban.
UO Prof. Anita Weiss, author of several books on Pakistan, reads Pakistani and other Arabic newspapers and is "appalled" by the local interviews and perspectives U.S. media are missing. "We're being fed a line," she said. A free press "is a civil liberty we've quickly lost."
Reporting on the domestic war on terrorism has also been severely curtailed. After the media complained that the Justice Department refused to provide the names and charges for 1,200 people it detained after the terrorist attacks, the department announced that it would no longer release even the total number of detainees. Now, President Bush has signed an order allowing an unknown number of present and future accused terrorists to be tried and potentially executed in secret by military courts.
Government censorship has moved onto the Internet, with information being removed from dozens of government web sites on the theory that terrorists might use it, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has removed information about nuclear reactors, the Environmental Protection Agency pulled information about chemical plant accidents and the Federal Aviation Administration removed information about airport security violations. The public now must trust that the government will make nuclear plants, chemical plants and airports safe.
Government censorship has even moved into space. The Pentagon has bought exclusive rights to commercial satellite imagery of Afghanistan, blocking media from using the images, the Times reported.
The censorship is producing growing mistrust. Variety reported that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings wrote about his misgivings in an e-mail to viewers: "We have been given to understand that the Taliban forces had been 'eviscerated,' that its ranks had been severely depleted by defections, and that the United States had bombed so heavily it was running out of targets. ... Today, as bombing enters week four, those claims appear questionable.'' A Frankfurt, Germany newspaper has warned readers about disinformation, the Times reported. "Substantial amounts of information about current military actions and their consequences is subject to censorship by parties to the conflict," the warning said. "In many cases, an independent confirmation of such information is not possible for this newspaper." UO political science professor Jerry Medler said the military censorship has been successful in limiting opposition to the war. "No one has stood up to say, 'wait a minute...' and the reason is we have very little information." But the military may be shooting itself in the leg in the long run. The New York Times held back from reporting on the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba under pressure from President John F. Kennedy. Later, after the disastrous invasion, Kennedy told the paper's editor that he wished the paper had printed everything. "If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake," the Times reported.
"There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and that this is not a time for remarks like that," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer in response to comments from ABC comedian Bill Maher questioning whether terrorists on suicide missions should be called "cowardly." In its propaganda war against Al Qaeda, the Bush administration is pushing the media to watch what it says and does on many fronts.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told network news executives that they shouldn't broadcast taped messages from Osama bin Laden. The networks now paraphrase or air only snippets of the tapes.
"We Americans ... are now the only people in the whole developed world who can't actually hear what our enemy is saying about us," lamented New York University media professor Mark Crispin Miller in a Mother Jones column. Censoring bin Laden's anti-American rants is actually counter-productive, according to Robert Giles, of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. The violent bin Laden statements would only support the need for the war, he wrote in a Times op-ed, "which makes it especially odd that the administration would want to keep it from the American public." The bin Laden videos come to U.S. media through the Al-Jazeera Arabic news channel.
Bush sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to press Qatar to censor the independent media outlet that U.S. officials have criticized as anti-American. Recently, the U.S. bombed the station's Kabul office. The Bush Administration would likely be secretive and anti-media even without the war. Journalists have complained about administration efforts to fight Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoena the phone records of a reporter, and withhold presidential records from George Bush senior's administration that could prove embarrassing to officials in junior's White House.
After Sept. 11, the Bush Administration came down hard on leaks. Bush even threatened to end security briefings for many members of Congress before the Republican and Democratic officials complained bitterly. There's so little information from the U.S. government that Americans have come to rely on the British government for news about their country. Prime Minister Tony Blair was the first to release details of the legal case against bin Laden, and British military officials were the first to discuss the likely need for ground troops to catch bin Laden.
The Bush administration is now asking Hollywood to contribute to the propaganda war. Moviemakers are reportedly willing to do their part.
Bush's moves to sacrifice civil liberties in the war on terrorism has been chilling, the Village Voice reported. Paul McMasters, of the Freedom Forum, said that "In such an atmosphere, voices of dissent grow silent, probing questions by the press are viewed as unpatriotic and subversive, and whistle-blowers within the government are quieted." With public opinion polls registering a patriotic 80 percent or more support for Bush, the President is seeing few limits to his power to bend the First Amendment and other rights to his will. Tim Lynch, of the conservative Cato Institute, told The Washington Post that the high polling numbers have fostered "an arrogance at the White House." He said officials believe they can take presidential power "farther than it's gone before."
The Bush administration doesn't need to do anything to censor many media outlets; they do it themselves. CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson ordered news staff to limit reports of Afghan war casualties and use World Trade Center deaths to justify the killings, the Washington Post reported. After the deaths in the U.S., it "seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan," Isaacson wrote in a memo.
Other U.S. networks have taken a similar approach, according to the Times. "In the United States television images of Afghan bombing victims are fleeting, cushioned between anchors or American officials explaining that such sights are only one side of the story," the Times reported. In other countries, however, "images of wounded Afghan children curled in hospital beds or women rocking in despair over a baby's corpse" are "more frequent and lingering." Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) called CNN's casualty coverage policy itself "perverse." "One of the world's most powerful news outlets has instructed its journalists not to report Afghan civilian casualties without attempting to justify those deaths." San Francisco Chronicle columnist Stephanie Salter wrote, "Between the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the so-called war in Afghanistan, a once-great news operation seems to be morphing into the Atlanta-based annex of the West Wing." Salter quoted from a New York Times report that "after two months, American television's cautious approach has turned into knee-jerk pandering to the public, reflecting a mood of patriotism rather than informing viewers of the complex, sometimes harsh realities they need to know." Too many journalists view themselves as part of the military. CBS's Dan Rather said of the commander in chief, "Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call," reported media commentator Norman Solomon.
Brit Hume, anchor for the conservative Fox News Channel, said that neutrality isn't appropriate in coverage for this war because the enemy are "murderous barbarians," WorkingForChange reported.
But ABC President David Westin warned in a speech that "unless we are diligent our enemy could use our own patriotism against us by encouraging us to shut down independent thinking and open mindedness."
Many media outlets appear to be shutting down reporting for fear of negative reaction from patriotic zealots. FAIR quotes from a warning memo from the chief copy editor of the Panama City, Florida News Herald. "DO NOT USE photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. Our sister paper in Fort Walton Beach has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening e-mails and the like. ... DO NOT USE wire stories which lead with civilian casualties from the U.S. war on Afghanistan. They should be mentioned further down in the story. If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties, DO IT." Organized right-wing "patriot police" have hounded network executives, according to FAIR. ABC's Westin said his network got a "torrent of complaints" when it aired an interview with a PLO spokesman. Some media outlets don't need prompting to toe the popular line. "If you get on the wrong side of public opinion, you are going to get into trouble," CNN's Isaacson said, according to WorkingForChange. Newspaper columnists have felt the heat. Columnists for the Texas City Sun and Oregon's Grants Pass Daily Courier were fired after they criticized Bush for cowardice in not immediately returning to Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks.
At a University of Oregon peace conference last month, UO journalism Prof. Carl Bybee held up a copy of The Register-Guard coverage of the conference that he said was skewed. The story reported that a keynote speaker favored a police action to apprehend bin Laden. "Even peace activists want revenge," began the R-G story.
In the atmosphere of self-censorship, FAIR has complained that peace protests have been undercovered and peace opinions are given little room on op-ed pages.
Rallying around the president in war time may have even skewed the reported results of the media consortium recount of the Florida presidential vote. The Nation notes that the recount showed that Al Gore would have narrowly won if all ballots in the state were accurately counted. But CNN declared, "Florida recount study: Bush still wins." With the U.S. media censored and waving flags on the air, more aggressive British reporters have repeatedly scooped American journalists. The Brits were first to report on a new video in which bin Laden justifies Sept. 11th, first to find documents abandoned by retreating Al Qaeda forces hinting at efforts to build nuclear bombs, and first with an interview of Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Times reported.
Recently, the BBC gave far more detailed and prominent coverage of alleged atrocities by Northern Alliance troops in Mazar-i-Sharif than did CNN or The New York Times.
America cannot risk losing the First Amendment to war, said NYU Prof. Crispin. "If we allow the government and media to keep us all in nervous ignorance, American democracy will not prevail against the terrorists; it will have been destroyed regardless of the outcome of this latest war."
After Nike CEO Phil Knight angrily withdrew a planned $30 million donation to the University of Oregon, UO President Dave Frohnmayer fell over himself trying to get back on the irascible billionaire's good side.
In interviews, Frohnmayer repeatedly described Nike as a "world leader" in promoting fair labor.
Nike isn't a leader in reforming sweatshops, says Trim Bissell, national coordinator for the Campaign for Labor Rights (CLR). But, he says, the corporation "is a world leader in issuing press releases declaring it's a world leader."
Bissell notes that activists struggled for years to get Nike to even admit that it had any control over working conditions at the 700 third world factories where the $10 billion corporation contracts to make clothes and shoes. It took years more to get the corporation to even give the names of the factories where its products were made. "Any progress they've made, we've dragged them kicking and screaming every inch of the way," says Bissell.
Nike public relations executives have long derided their critics as ignorant or malicious or both. The company says it does far better than its competitors in providing safe and fair working conditions for the half-million third-world factory workers that make its products in factories scattered around the globe.
Jeff Ballinger, director of Press for Change and a Nike watchdog for the past decade, dismisses the company's fair labor claims as "a lot of PR spinning."
For example, Nike recently claimed that it had dramatically increased wages at its Indonesian factories. But Ballinger points out the wage increases fell below what was needed to keep up with massive inflation in the country.
The crash of the Indonesian rupiah versus the dollar meant that Indonesian workers went from earning $2.46 a day to about $1 a day, according to Bissell.
Given that exchange rate, Nike's labor costs in Indonesia actually fell by tens of millions of dollars, even with the new wage increases. Knight, who's personally made an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion off Nike's sweatshops, could have afforded to pay his workers more than 13 cents an hour, Bissell and Ballinger say.
In another example, Nike recently said it would replace toxic glues in its factories with water-soluble adhesives. Labor rights groups had said for years that poorly ventilated factories thick with toluene fumes were putting the company's young women workers at high risk of liver, kidney and central nervous system damage as well as birth defects.
At first, Nike vehemently denied the toxic air charges. But a leaked report from the corporation's accountant Ernst & Young revealed that Chinese workers at one plant were exposed to carcinogens that exceeded local legal standards by 177 times. More than three-fourths of the factory's workers suffered from respiratory problems.
Nike is now trying to take PR credit for clearing the air in its factories, but Ballinger says "it's something they never should have done in the first place."
In a new PR thrust, Nike has also started posting internal audit reports of its factories on its web site. But Ballinger says the reports are "bogus" and "laughable." The reports aren't independent inspections, don't even reveal the identity of the specific plants inspected, and are completely unverifiable, he says. Also, the reports focus on nit-picking regulatory details such as failure to post regulations, but ignore larger issues such as whether or not the workers have been harassed or fired for trying to unionize or for failing to meet harsh production quotas.
In recent independent studies of Nike factories, researchers found workers still have "lots of complaints," Ballinger says.
In April, a coalition of fair labor groups released a report documenting ongoing labor abuses at Nike contract factories in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, and China. A survey of 3,500 workers producing for Nike in Indonesia found serious labor abuses. Punishment for minor infractions included pulling workers' ears, slapping, fining, and forcing workers to stand in the sun or run laps around the factory.
The report found forced overtime in Nike's Chinese factories. Some work weeks were as long as 12 hours a day for seven days in a row. Other interviews with workers in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia revealed anti-union crackdowns, low pay and extreme exhaustion from brutal production quotas.
Nike issued a press release denouncing the latest research by labor monitors as "simply not credible." The corporation claimed "no one can dispute" its leadership for fair labor.
Nike's spin on its sweatshops in third-world dictatorships has long claimed that the corporation isn't exploiting workers, but helping foster economic development that will lead to better living standards and a move to democracy. In its 1996 annual report Nike described itself as "U.S. foreign policy in action."
But Ballinger and Bissell say Nike has opened factories in dictatorships to maximize profits with cheap labor and government suppression. They point to a letter last year by a Nike executive to the Vietnamese dictatorship as an example of the corporation's true views of democracy. Nike Vice President Joseph Ha wrote that fair labor activists at the company's factories and abroad are attacking Nike as "the first step for their political goal, which is to create a so-called democratic society on the U.S. model."
A broad spectrum of human rights groups denounced the letter as anti-democratic and authoritarian, and Nike PR people appeared to back away from Ha's claims. But Bissell says Ha was not disciplined by the company. Thirty years ago, Nike pioneered the corporate model of seeking out the world's lowest-wage dictatorships to produce products, says Bissell. "It was Nike that set the standard. They created this mode of corporation -- the virtual corporation that produces image instead of shoes."
Nike first set up shop in Taiwan and South Korea. But soon left for cheaper labor. "When these countries started to democratize, Nike put on its running shoes," Bissell says.
Nike is now in the process of moving its factories from Vietnam and Indonesia to even cheaper labor and harsher dictators in China. The April report by fair labor activists reported that Nike has increased its sneaker production in China from 10 percent to 40 percent in recent years. In China, the corporation can exploit labor for as little as 11 cents an hour and enjoy the support of a repressive government, the report notes. The Chinese will insure little information leaks out about bad working conditions at Nike factories, and the dictatorship has a history of severe repression of independent unions including torturing and imprisoning workers' rights activists, according to the report.
Years of pressure by student and fair labor activists have had an impact on Nike, Ballinger says. The corporation has found from marketing research and falling sales that the brand name it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to create is now soiled by its sweatshops.
But the corporation has reacted more with spin than with actual reforms, fair labor activists charge. The corporation's new director of labor practices is a former corporate PR executive, they note.
The new Worker Rights Consortium has great promise for using pro-labor sweatshop monitoring to increase pressure on Nike in the media and on campuses to reform, Ballinger says. But after a decade trying to push the Swoosh in the right direction, he says he doesn't expect quick results.
"The progress is so glacial," Ballinger says. "I don't see this company turning around any time soon."
Nike's Track Record
- Newspaper of Indonesian trade union publishes investigative report exposing poor working conditions at a South Korea-based shoe company producing for Nike.
- Articles appear in Indonesian newspapers about wage protests at Nike contractors, Tae Hwa and Pratama Abadi. (Wage at the time, 86 cents a day -- most shoe factories paying illegal "training wage.")
- Rise of Setia Kawan (Solidarity) independent trade union -- subsequently crushed by Indonesian authorities after less than a year.
- Strikes at Hardaya Aneka and Pratama Abadi factories in Indonesia.
- Indonesian daily Media Indonesia runs three-day report on abuses at shoe factories. Headline second day: "World Shoe Giants Rape Worker Rights."
- Thames TV (UK),The Economist and Knight Ridder report on poor working conditions at Nike contractors in Indonesia.
- The Oregonian prints lengthy article on Nike's Indonesia operations -- Phil Knight (Nike CEO) writes angry denunciation.
- U.S. State Department report to Congress on Human Rights highlights shoe factories' refusal to pay Indonesia's minimum wage.
- Nike formulates "Code of Conduct and Memorandum of Understanding" for contractors.
- Sung Hwa protest leaders fired after 10-week investigation by local security forces -- included intimidation and interrogations.
- Critical reports in New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Economist and Jakarta Post.
- Sneaker campaigns undertaken in Holland, Italy and Germany
- Strike at Pou Chen Indonesian factory.
- CBS-TV (US) broadcasts highly critical report on Nike-contractors' labor practices in Indonesia.
- Extensive Indonesia sweatshop report in The Rolling Stone.
- Nike hires accounting firm, Ernst and Young to do "social audits" at Indonesia-based contract factories.
- Donald Katz' book Just Do It characterizes Indonesian operations as "management by terror and browbeating." CEO Knight appears with Katz for Portland book-signing.
- Press for Change study in Indonesia documents wage cheating by employers.
- Strikes at Pou Chen, Pratama Abadi, Nagasakiti Paramshoes and Tae Hwa factories in Indonesia.
- Major investigative reports in Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune expose poor working conditions at Nike's Indonesia factories.
- Manager at Pratama Abadi factory making Nike shoes lines up and slaps 15 women from quality control section.
- U.S. A.I.D.-sponsored research finds that more than 500 workers at Nike-producing factory in Majalaya, W. Java report problems such as forced overtime and illegal wage deductions.
- Strike leads to dismissal of 13 activists at Pou Chen.
- Washington-based Multinational Monitor names Nike to annual "Ten Worst" list.
- Portland organization, Justice, Do It Nike, begins regular protests at Nike store.
- New research by Press for Change in Indonesia uncovers widespread violations of Nike's own "Code of Conduct."
- Fair labor advocates submit "anti-sweat" resolution to Nike shareholders meeting.
- Kathie Lee Gifford controversy brings unprecedented media attention to sweatshop issue.
- White House forms "Apparel Industry Partnership" to deal with sweatshop issues. Fired worker from Nike-producing factory in Indonesia is denied chance to speak at AIP's founding conference.
- The Rev. Jesse Jackson is refused visit to Nike-producing factory while in Indonesia.
- Canadians and French send hundreds of thousands of protest post cards to Nike.
- Brutal political and labor union crackdown in Indonesia.
- Nike sends five-page letter to universities across North America to "explain" child labor controversy.
- Phil Knight, Nike CEO becomes sixth richest person in U.S. with $5.3 billion (all from shoes/apparel).
- Several Nike shoe contractors in Indonesia apply for exemptions from paying new minimum wage in Indonesia. Increase is from $2.25 to $2.46 a day.
- Strikes by thousands of Nike-producing workers in Vietnam.
- Portland's Jobs With Justice helps to organize big May Day protest at Nike store.
- Nike hires former UN Ambassador Andrew Young to tour Asian factories. Young uses Nike translators and his report is viewed by fair labor advocates as shallow and unhelpful.
- Protests conducted at new Nike store openings in Seattle, San Francisco and Boston.
- Massive protest and three-day strike at Garuda Indawa factory in Indonesia.
- Asian economic crisis and crash of Indonesian currency brings Nike contractors' per-day labor cost down from $2.50 a day to $.70 per worker.
- Campaign for Labor Rights organizes world-wide day of protest concerning Nike's labor practices. Actions in 50 cities.
- Berkeley-based Transnational Resource Action Center releases report documenting severe health problems at Nike shoe factory in Vietnam.
- Student protests against Nike links with universities erupt at University of Illinois, Penn State, University of North Carolina, Colorado, Florida State, Michigan and others.
- Phil Knight vows to eliminate hazardous chemicals from shoe production.
- Unions leave White House panel on sweatshops due to irreconcilable differences on monitoring and reporting compliance. Filmmaker Michael Moore interviews Phil Knight for movie, "The Big One."
- Nike announces pay increase (25 percent) for Indonesian shoe workers, but adjusting for high inflation, worker wages are still 30% behind mid-1997 figure.
- Michael Jordan, Nike's premier endorser, makes the first of several promises to visit Asian production facilities.
- Julia, a worker at Nike-producing "Formosa" factory in El Salvador, is beaten and fired for taking a day off to care for her sick child.
- Hero of E. Timor independence struggle, Jose Ramos Horta, likens Nike contractors' operations in Indonesia to Japanese occupation of the archipelago.
- Joseph Ha, a top advisor to Phil Knight, sends letter to highest-ranking labor official in Vietnam portraying "anti-sweat" activists as enemies of the state with a "political" agenda.
- Government survey of 175 businesses in Vietnam shows that shoe factories have largest wage/salary disparities (line workers compared to management).
- Under pressure from students, Nike agrees to disclose factory locations where university-licensed apparel is being produced. Vietnam survey shows that worst manufacturing pay rates are in footwear sector.
- Nike increases advertising spending by 53 percent for coming year.
- Nike factory in Vietnam was scene of country's largest food-poisoning incident of the year.
- Indonesian official links bribe-taking by police and military to low wages paid to factory workers.
- UO joins the Worker Rights Consortium, a sweatshop monitoring group started by labor and student activists.
- Phil Knight angrily cancels planned $30 million gift to UO.