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    Critic Accuses Media of Aiding U.S. War Propaganda By David Morgan Reuters Friday 2 May 2003 PHILADELPHIA - It is one of the most famous images of the war in
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2003
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      Critic Accuses Media of Aiding U.S. War Propaganda
      By David Morgan
      Reuters

      Friday 2 May 2003

      PHILADELPHIA - It is one of the most famous images of the war in Iraq:
      a U.S. soldier scaling a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and
      draping the Stars and Stripes over the black metal visage of the
      ousted despot.

      But for Harper's magazine publisher John MacArthur, that same image of
      U.S. military victory is also indicative of a propaganda campaign
      being waged by the Bush administration.

      "It was absolutely a photo-op created for (U.S. President George W.)
      Bush's re-election campaign commercials," MacArthur, a self-appointed
      authority on U.S. government propaganda, said in an interview. "CNN,
      MSNBC and Fox swallowed it whole."

      In 1992, MacArthur wrote "Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in
      the Gulf War," a withering critique of government and media actions
      that he says misled the public after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

      In MacArthur's opinion, little has changed during the latest Iraq war,
      prompting him to begin work on an updated edition of "Second Front."
      U.S. government public relations specialists are still concocting
      bogus stories to serve government interests, he says, and credulous
      journalists stand ready to scarf up the baloney.

      "The concept of a self-governing American republic has been crippled
      by this propaganda," MacArthur said. "The whole idea that we can
      govern ourselves and have an intelligent debate, free of cant, free of
      disinformation, I think it's dead."

      White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied the existence of any
      administration propaganda campaign and predicted the American public
      would reject such notions as ridiculous.

      A Pentagon spokesman also denied high-level planning in the appearance
      of the American flag in Baghdad. "It sure looked spontaneous to me,"
      said Marine Lt. Col. Mike Humm.

      In fact, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and
      the Press found that Americans were happy with Iraq war coverage,
      though many wanted less news coverage of anti-war activism and fewer
      TV appearances by former military officers.

      But MacArthur insists that both Gulf wars have been marked by phony
      tales calculated to deceive public opinion at crucial junctures.

      BABIES AND BOMBS

      On the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, Americans were asked to believe that
      Iraqi soldiers tossed Kuwaiti infants from hospital incubators,
      leaving them to die. Not true, he says.

      This time, MacArthur says the Bush administration made false claims
      about Iraqi nuclear weapons, charging Baghdad was trying to import
      aluminum tubes to make enriched uranium and that the country was six
      months from building a warhead.

      The International Atomic Energy Agency found those tubes were for
      artillery rockets, not nuclear weapons. And MacArthur says a supposed
      IAEA report, on which the White House based claims about Iraqi
      weapons-making ability, did not exist.

      "What's changed is that there's no shame anymore in doing it
      directly," MacArthur, 46, said of what he views as blatant White House
      and Pentagon propaganda campaigns.

      Cynthia Kennard, assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School of
      Journalism, said the Bush administration has mastered the art of
      building favorable public images and shaping messages to suit its own
      interests.

      "It's put the journalism profession in somewhat of a paralysis," said
      Kennard, a former CBS correspondent who covered the 1991 Gulf War.
      "This is not a particularly glowing moment for tough questions and
      enterprise reporting."

      As Harper's publisher, MacArthur oversees a 153-year-old political and
      literary magazine he helped save from financial ruin 20 years ago with
      money from the foundation named for his billionaire grandparents, John
      D. and Catherine T. MacArthur.

      While MacArthur accuses news outlets generally of avoiding opposition
      stands, his own magazine has been vitriolic toward Bush, describing
      the president in its May issue as a leader who "counts his ignorance
      as a virtue and regards his lack of curiosity as a sign of moral
      strength."

      MURDOCH'S CIRCUS

      But MacArthur is not troubled by the thumping patriotism displayed by
      cable TV news outlets like Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel, which
      leads CNN and MSNBC in viewer ratings.

      "All that means is that Murdoch knows how to run a circus better than
      anyone else. War and jingoism always sell. But the real damage was
      done by the high-brow press," MacArthur said.

      "On the propaganda side, the New York Times is more responsible for
      making the case for war than any other newspaper or any other news
      organization."

      He blames the Times for giving credence to Bush administration claims
      about the aluminum tubes. And when Bush cited a nonexistent IAEA
      report on Iraqi nukes, he says, it was the conservative Washington
      Times -- not the New York Times or Washington Post -- that wound up
      refuting the assertion.

      The New York Times also reported an Iraqi scientist told U.S.
      officials that Saddam destroyed chemical and biological equipment and
      sent weapons to Syria just before the war.

      The only trouble, MacArthur says, is that the Times did not speak to
      or name the scientist but agreed to delay the story, submit the text
      to government scrutiny and withhold details -- facts the Times
      acknowledged in its article. "You might as well just run a press
      release. Let the government write it. That's Pravda," he said.

      Times spokesman Toby Usnik dismissed MacArthur's claims regarding the
      Times' war coverage as a whole: "We believe we have covered the story
      from all sides and all angles."

      Fox had no comment on his remarks.

      Editors across the nation also worked hard to avoid the grisly images
      of war, especially scenes of dead Iraqi civilians and Americans, while
      Europeans saw uncensored horrific images.

      The Pentagon's decision to embed journalists with U.S. forces produced
      war footage that the 1991 war sorely lacked. But the coverage rarely
      rose to the standard MacArthur wanted.

      "Ninety percent of what we got was junk ... I think probably 5 or 10
      percent of it was pretty good," he said.

      MacArthur says the character of the news media, and the government's
      attitude toward it, was best summed up by Defense Secretary Donald
      Rumsfeld at a Pentagon "town hall" meeting.

      Asked by an audience member what could be done to reverse the media's
      "overwhelmingly negative" war coverage, Rumsfeld said: "You know,
      penalize the papers and the television ... that don't give good advice
      and reward those people that do give good advice."

      MacArthur said that translated as: "You punish the critics and you
      reward your friends. That's what he means. That's the standard
      currency of Washington journalism ... To show reality becomes
      unpatriotic, in effect."

      But the Pentagon's Lt. Col. Humm said Rumsfeld had not been talking
      about unfavorable reporting but about inaccurate reporting. "It is
      Department of Defense policy with regard to working with the media
      that we do not penalize or reward for the nature of what they report
      on," he said. "The standards we demand and expect are professional
      standards of conduct."

      (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
      distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior
      interest in receiving the included information for research and
      educational purposes.)
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