What can and cannot be spoken on television

Americans are subjected to a narrow and highly controlled range of opinion regarding Iraq and the U.S. occupation.


Glenn Greenwald
March 26, 2008 7:07PM (UTC)

(updated below)

I'm going to re-post the segment I posted yesterday, from Charlie Rose's fifth anniversary Iraq show, because I want to encourage as many people as possible to watch it. If I could recommend one article or segment for Americans to read or watch regarding the current Iraq debate, it would be this interview -- the entire interview -- with Sinan Antoon and Ali Fadhil, an Iraqi professor and journalist, respectively, currently living in the U.S.:



The significance of the interview lies as much in what it says about the American occupation of Iraq as it what it illustrates about the American media. In the American media's discussions of Iraq, when are the perspectives expressed here about our ongoing occupation -- views extremely common among Iraqis of all types and grounded in clear, indisputable facts -- ever heard by the average American news consumer? The answer is: "virtually never."

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Rose was as adversarial and argumentative -- angry, even -- as he ever gets with anyone, because he plainly did not anticipate, and did not like, that he was being exposed to such hostility towards our Freedom-spreading, Liberty-loving Liberation of the grateful, lucky (dead and displaced) Iraqi people.

To see how scripted and narrow the American media's discussion of Iraq continues to be -- as Americans are told that it is a matter of mandated orthodoxy that they believe that the Surge is Working (so much so that John McCain actually demanded yesterday that Hillary Clinton "apologize" for daring to question the pronouncements of the High, Honorable Commanding General, David H. Petraeus) -- watch the entire interview and consider how those views are never heard. For those who do not watch, I will excerpt just a few of the illustrative exchanges, beginning with this opening exchange:

ROSE: And obviously, what we want to accomplish on this fifth anniversary of the American invasion, or the coalition invasion of Iraq, is how they see it as Iraqis, five years later.

Give me an assessment.

ALI FADHIL: That's a big question, assessment. Well, basically, probably, I`ll kind of sum it in a few words.

It's -- we have a country where the government is not functioning after five years. We have too many internal problems. And we have the violence increasing day after day.

We have a huge crisis of refugees inside and outside Iraq. We have a total failure of the -- of the civilian -- the civilian structure and what's happening inside. We have the sectarian divisions increasing. We didn't have that before. Now we have it.

So, basically, my assessment is we have a whole nation called Iraq, now it's wiped out.

CHARLIE ROSE: And Iraq is worse off because the United States came?

ALI FADHIL: It's worse off because the United States came to Iraq, definitely, and because the United States did all these mistakes in Iraq.

And:

CHARLIE ROSE: So where do we go from here? Five years after the invasion of Iraq, what is a wise American policy?

ALI FADHIL: Let me start with telling you what is happening right now, what is the American policy right now in Iraq.

It's so shame to say that America is in Iraq right now, and particularly the State Department and also the Pentagon as well, the U.S. Army in Iraq. They're going back to Saddam's policies in everything. . . . If you, you know, name it, name the most successful project of the surge -- outcome of the surge, the (INAUDIBLE) councils. You know, these insurgents, the Sunnis, even Shiites.

CHARLIE ROSE: The so-called awakening.

ALI FADHIL: Awakening council, exactly. They're giving them money to protect their own neighborhoods. Isn't that the same what happened under Saddam? . . .

Anything [Americans] do -- probably even in good intentions -- is bad for us, everything they do, everything. There's nothing they're doing is right.

And that's what is going to happen. It's just prolonging the diaspora of the Iraqis. We're suffering more and more every day. We need, you know, to start the salvation (ph). . .

SINAN ANTOON: The president today said something really obscene to my mind. He said Iraq is witnessing the first Arab uprising against al Qaeda.

We did not have al Qaeda in Iraq before.We had a ruthless dictatorship.

I've posted similar, equally revealing excerpts here.

One can undoubtedly voice reasonable objections to some of these points. But they have long been the views of a huge portion of Iraqis -- on whose behalf Americans are constantly told they must keep fighting -- and they are grounded in personal knowledge, expertise and demonstrable facts. Yet they are virtually never heard by most Americans, and are excluded almost entirely from establishment press discussions.

The reason for this is clear. The American media has a script to which they loyally adhere. The U.S. can make mistakes and government leaders can be criticized for incompetence, but we can never do anything that is actually destructive or evil or which justifiably provokes hatred towards us by people in other countries -- not even bombing them and occupying them for years and imprisoning tens of thousands of them with no charges and replicating the behavior of their hated dictator. Any views that suggest such a thing are simply not heard.

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After I posted this Charlie Rose segment yesterday, Wired's Ryan Singel emailed me about this amazing ABC News broadcast, the transcript of which he posted, from the night in March, 2003 when we began dropping our loving, liberating Freedom Bombs on Baghdad. Jennings' entire broadcast that night -- as was true for virtually every establishment press outlet -- was dedicated to the storyline that we were marching into Iraq to depose the Evil Dictator, Saddam Hussein, to rid him of his wicked weapons and finally free the Iraqi People and give them Freedom and Democracy. Freedom was on the march -- and still is.

But on ABC that night, something disrupted the script. In the frenzy of the evening, ABC producers were desperately trying to get Iraqis to go on the air and say how grateful they were for our Freedom Bombs, but a couple of them ending up saying the opposite -- quite angrily -- just as the two Iraqi interviewees disrupted Charlie Rose's script. As Singel wrote:

Cracks in television media facade are so rare. Absurdities, on the other hand, can be found aplenty -- but the machinery is usually very finely tuned and rarely breaks down like this.

The relevant sections, which do not do justice to Jennings's palpable discomfort and his disbelief that his producers would actually put him on the phone with Iraqis who did not support the American invasion . . . .

Singel is unable to find the video, so if anyone can help with that, that would be appreciated. The script deviation that night produced extremely uncomfortable exchanges like this:

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) How nice to hear your voice. I'll ask you the dumbest question in the world. How are things?

DOCTOR WAMIZ OMAR NAZMI [critic of the Saddam regime]

Well, they are, you know, the bombardment of Baghdad has been taking place over the night, and, you know, people are angry at the destruction of the, their house, this very ancient or long history city. They see no point in all this destruction and American bombardment of this old city. . . .

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) That's a, that's a very good point, sir. I, I raise it because I've just been handed a note which says that you're a former member of the Baath party, but more than 40 years ago, and that you are interested in more democracy and an end to the repression by the regime of the Shiites and the Kurds. And so I wondered whether or not you think that the targets which have been hit represent the regime or represent Iraqis as a whole?

DOCTOR WAMIZ OMAR NAZMI

Well, I will ask you a question. If, if somebody bombarded the Pentagon, would you say it is a targeted for the American regime or just a target against all Americans?

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) I think most Americans, the overwhelming number of Americans, sir, would say for all Americans. And is that your answer, vis-...- vis, what has been attacked in Baghdad tonight?

DOCTOR WAMIZ OMAR NAZMI

Yes, and what you have referred about me is quite the truth. But I don't think that war and destruction will bring democracy to the Iraqi people and the necessary civilized for the Kurds and for the Shiites and for all the population of Iraq. In fact, what the Americans are doing are destroying the whole country and I don't think at all that democracy and political reforms will appear for this war.

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) You're also described to me as someone who has openly criticized the Baath party, and the regime. Do you believe that the United States is arriving in your country to liberate you from the Baath regime?

DOCTOR WAMIZ OMAR NAZMI

Well, when the United States choose someone who has drawn us to be an international thief for the job of being a prime minister in Iraq, you call this liberation or subjugation of the Iraqi and Arab people for the will of Mr. Bush and his clique?

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) I did not know, sir, that the United States had chosen anybody to be the prime minister of Iraq. In fact, the Bush Administration says almost on an hourly, if not a daily, basis that it's up to the Iraqi people to choose their own leaders.

DOCTOR WAMIZ OMAR NAZMI

How, by, by killing the Iraqis and destroying their cities and ruining their lines of communication? Is this is the way you bring democracy to other countries?

At the end, Jennings asked Dr. Nazim if he knew how the interview was arranged, and when he replied that he didn't know, Jennings observed -- apologetically to the viewers: "I don't either. . . . I don't know how that happened to be perfectly honest."

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A second interview went exactly the same way:

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) And do you believe that the United States has come to your country to save the country or to harm the country?

DR. MOHAMMED MOTAFFER ADHAMI [Ba'athist Party member]

Well, is this saving the country, bombing every city in Iraq? Killing the people? For no reason? Only to occupy the country?

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) Do you believe, . . .

DR. MOHAMMED MOTAFFER ADHAMI

This is, you know, this is actually, I believe now, this is a crime. And they are behaving, the American Administration is behaving according to the law of jungle.

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) Doctor Adhami, you, . . .

DR. MOHAMMED MOTAFFER ADHAMI

So the people are dying.

PETER JENNINGS

(Voice Over) Doctor Adhami, again, I apologize for interrupting. I think Americans believe that there are millions of Iraqis who would be free, who would be happy to live free from the leadership of President Saddam Hussein. Do you believe that to be the case?

DR. MOHAMMED MOTAFFER ADHAMI

Well, let me tell you something, that the only period that Iraq shows development was in these 30 years we live. Before that, during the British occupation, Iraqis were suffering. And the British were stealing our oil. It seem that now, the Americans want to do the same. So I think, you know, that's why, that's why now if you go to the street, you won't find any disturbance. All the people stick together and all the people saying, Allah Akbar, when they saw the rockets hitting their city.

A rattled Jennings again observed:

To be honest, sitting in this newsroom for the last many hours, I'm not quite sure how we get people on the phone. But we've had two phone calls like that tonight and the very least they are an admonition that if Americans end up in Baghdad, perhaps not everybody is going to welcome them. We'll continue with "Nightline" in just a minute.

Whenever things of this sort slip through, it illustrates just how narrow and controlled the standard script is. As Singel said in his email: "The Rose video and the Jennings moment are such clear ruptures of what can and cannot be spoken on television." And the most amazing part of all of it is that the conventional wisdom holds -- and the establishment press even believes -- that they are the "liberal media," meaning they are insufficiently reverent of our wars, our Republican leaders, and our military exploits. Imagine what it would look like if the media weren't "liberal."

UPDATE: Several people in comments and via email disagree with my characterization of Rose's behavior during the interview, which is somewhat amusing because, yesterday, when I gave credit to Rose for conducting the interview, many people objected to say that Rose didn't deserve credit because he was condescending, snide and disrespectful. Obviously, it's a subjective assessment and thus opinions can vary.

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I think the behavior I describe is subtle and, as I said, relative to how Rose treats most of his guests. He interrupts far more than normal, persists in trying to impose the narrative that the invasion would have been a positive act for Iraqis in the absence of "mistakes," and generally controls the conversation far more than he does with other guests. Compare his respectful, one could even say reverent, treatment of Fred Kagan, Richard Perle, Leslie Gelb and George Packer.

In any event, that's a minor point. The far more important point is that such perspectives on Iraq are virtually never heard in the establishment press, and are heard even more rarely still when coming from actual Iraqis. Instead, when Americans hear about what is allegedly happening in Iraq, it is most often happy talk from the likes of Joe Klein, Fred Hiatt and Michael O'Hanlon -- people whose knowledge of Iraq consists, at most, of what Gen. Petraeus, other government officials and hand-picked pro-American Iraqis told them during a short trip during which they gullibly ingest what Sen. Jim Webb called the U.S. military's "dog and pony show."


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Washington, D.c.



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