Tuesday, August 01, 2006

'The other superpower'

Dan Gillerman is the Israel’s Ambassador to the UN who has made his account of the “Qana massacre” - in which an airstike by Israeli forces buried alive innocent civilians and children while they slept - this manner: “When you sleep with a missile sometimes you don’t wake up in the morning.” He was not blushing but stoic as he went on with his speech at the emergency session of the UN Security Council and made his case. “Those children may have been killed by Israeli fire, but they were the victims of Hezbollah.”

The day after, or on July 31, Mr. Gillerman appeared as guest at MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, a political talk show. As expected, the ambassador during the interview was very eloquent in defense of his country’s cause before a cheering crowd serving as a backdrop of Mathew’s show held that night outside New York’s Rockefeller Center.

But there was something amiss with the sets: the crowd was waving American flags and Israeli flags. For what? The close-up turned out the other small placard being wagged by the happily hooting New Yorkers was in the shape of the MSNBC peacock logo - sans the distinctive peacock colors. With the blue and white hues of the logo merrily juxtaposed with the red, white and blue US flag, America looks like wholeheartedly endorsing Gillerman’s agitprop.

The images through which we are exposed to perceive people and events around us affect the way we behave or make judgment.

For example, at the turn of the last century, the yellow journalism of Randolph Heart’s Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s World exploited the Cuban crisis and inflamed public opinion by blaming the explosion of the US battleship Maine to “Spanish mine.” The gung-ho sensationalism led to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The untold agenda among corporate elites however was expansionism, which they thought would translate to overseas market.

Post-WW I, the mood was different: keep America out of future wars. A series of books about the so-called merchants of death were published and congressional investigations conducted about the activities and lobbying of Big Business for American intervention in the world war to protect banking and corporate interests in loans and weapon sales to England and France. The publications and inquiries descended the public mind. Thus, the initial response in America to developments leading to the Axis of Germany, Italy and Japan in the run-up to WW II was revulsion to yet another war. FDR, owing to anti-war sentiment, at first only urged negotiation to handle growing Hitlerism or did little against the Japanese aggression in China. Also, bowing to anti-Semitism, a joint bill in 1939 to admit on humanitarian grounds German refugees, mostly Jewish children, was opposed overwhelmingly by the Americans.

Only recently, during the last presidential election, the infamous “Swift boat” campaign ad may have changed the political behavior of some voters that affected the outcome of the closely contested election. Although quite sophisticated, the Bush propaganda may still be blatantly dirty compared to the subtlety of the mendacious images of the MSNBC logo. The images were insidiously intended to rouse public approval of the continued bombardment of Lebanon if not furtively to produce some pro-Israeli bias in America.

The art of the “power of suggestion” is continually being perfected. Were Chris Matthew, the cagey hardball-playing political pundit, and his adulating props even aware they were being used?

Award-winning novelist Arundhati Roy provides us some insight:
[I]t is almost axiomatic for thousands, possibly millions, of us that public opinion in “free market” democracies is manufactured just like any other mass market product - soap, switches, or sliced bread. We know that while, legally and constitutionally, speech may be free, the space in which that freedom can be exercised has been snatched from us and auctioned to the highest bidders.
Who are the highest bidders? Who controls the media? The public mind? Your guess is as good as mine. Google it.

What’s coming to light however is that the countervailing force to managed public opinion is the collective strength of people-powered opinion. Public outcry, not the combined force of state powers, has compelled the suspension of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon for at least 48 hours. The lessons of the Vietnam War tell us that could be improved on.

9 Comments:

Blogger manuelbuencamino said...

I can see your point very clearly. You did a great service bringing up the subject at this time.

Even more insidious than the Chris Matthews example - John Stewart's Daily Show (I'm a fan) does not escape "news"management. A few days ago, his guest was an "expert" on Hizbollah and the middle east by the name of Bin-Meier, or something similar sounding. As the guest's name suggests, his expertise was in the negative portrayal of the enemies of Israel. John Stewart played the role of explainee as in MLQ's Explainer/explainee program. The thing is John Stewart is also a Jew. So here you have two jews talking about their common enemy and pretending they are discussing indisputable facts.

Same thing happens in other shows, Larry King's show especially. Because it is an "interview" show, the bias is concealed. The viewer has to know "where the guest is coming from" so that the guest's views can be contextualized. Kingnever does not do this. The show he did after the death of Ken Lay is a good example.
The SOB Lay came out smelling of roses because all of King's guest were Lay's friends except one or two meek victims of Lat.

Biases in these types of shows are not as obvious as in those talking heads Sunday morning shows where punditry is the name of the game.

The device is simple. Experts are invited and they all belong to the same camp. They appear to disagree but never on the basic assumption i.e. Israel good - Palestine/ muslims bad. The disagreement centers only on how to deal with the enemy and how best to protect one's friends. Basic assumptions/myths are never questioned. This is how public opinion is managed in America not only with regards to the Israel/middle east but also with regards to Castro, south america, war on terror, Iran, Iraq, business vs. labor etc. etc.

August 02, 2006 3:08 AM  
Blogger manuelbuencamino said...

I can see your point very clearly. You did a great service bringing up the subject at this time.

Even more insidious than the Chris Matthews example - John Stewart's Daily Show (I'm a fan) does not escape "news"management. A few days ago, his guest was an "expert" on Hizbollah and the middle east by the name of Bin-Meier, or something similar sounding. As the guest's name suggests, his expertise was in the negative portrayal of the enemies of Israel. John Stewart played the role of explainee as in MLQ's Explainer/explainee program. The thing is John Stewart is also a Jew. So here you have two jews talking about their common enemy and pretending they are discussing indisputable facts.

Same thing happens in other shows, Larry King's show especially. Because it is an "interview" show, the bias is concealed. The viewer has to know "where the guest is coming from" so that the guest's views can be contextualized. Kingnever does not do this. The show he did after the death of Ken Lay is a good example.
The SOB Lay came out smelling of roses because all of King's guest were Lay's friends except one or two meek victims of Lat.

Biases in these types of shows are not as obvious as in those talking heads Sunday morning shows where punditry is the name of the game.

The device is simple. Experts are invited and they all belong to the same camp. They appear to disagree but never on the basic assumption i.e. Israel good - Palestine/ muslims bad. The disagreement centers only on how to deal with the enemy and how best to protect one's friends. Basic assumptions/myths are never questioned. This is how public opinion is managed in America not only with regards to the Israel/middle east but also with regards to Castro, south america, war on terror, Iran, Iraq, business vs. labor etc. etc.

August 02, 2006 3:09 AM  
Blogger cvj said...

Abe, thanks for the further clarification. Paul Krugman made a related observation to explain the divergence between America's and the rest of the world's opinion. He cites the average American's exposure to Fox, CNN and the major networks (CBS, ABC, NBC) compared to the rest of the world's exposure to more varied sources such as BBC, Al-Jazeera and the like. In one of his columns ('The China Syndrome' May 13,2003 found in http://www.pkarchive.org/), he described the insidious role that media conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch's Fox News play in this process. He concludes that in this respect, consolidation of media ownership is a danger in that the media giant will tend to 'present the news in a way that pleases the party in power'.

MB, i take it that you've read George Lakoff's book "Don't Think of an Elephant"?

August 02, 2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger manuelbuencamino said...

Haven't read the book but I've heard about it.

August 03, 2006 5:50 AM  
Blogger cvj said...

mb, i see. it's all about the frames and narratives that the Republicans have been using successfully. its message is consistent with the points you have raised on this subject.

August 03, 2006 6:30 AM  
Blogger HILLBLOGGER & Hillblogger Jr said...

Abe, cvj,

I've noticed that these last 7 days or so, BBC newscasts and commentaries on Lebanon have shifted a degree with a tiny wee bit more emphasis on damages in Israel than on Lebanon.

Their internet site on the crisis also contains more stories on human horrors in Israel.

I don't know if BBC's management is under a political pressure of some kind or if the news director has taken it upon himself to do things that way to give belleaguered Tony Blair some breathing space.

Maybe, I'll e-mail the BBC about my observation.

August 04, 2006 9:26 AM  
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