Living with the unthinkable

Mr. Buencamino does foreign and political affairs analysis for Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in the Yellow Pad column of BusinessWorld, 6 December 2004 edition.

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done… it is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public,” according to Edward S. Herman in The Banality of Evil.

American coverage of the attack on Falluja is disgraceful. BBC at least had the decency to add a disclaimer at the end of each “on the scene” report saying they aren’t free to report everything they see. In Iraq, all accredited television news organizations have American minders.

The practice of providing minders for, what the emasculated press calls, “embedded reporters” is not new; war coverage has always been censored. What is new is the willing cooperation of mainstream media. Connivance might be a better word.

There was a time when the American mainstream media could be trusted to report and, if need be, uncover the truth. Not anymore.

During the run-up to the war, icons like the New York Times and the Washington Post headlined stories based on information provided by
self-serving sources. Basic rules of verification were thrown out the
window. TV networks picked up stories from newspapers and invited
reporters who were feeding on handouts from dubious sources, to speak
as experts. Mainstream media competed for the same lies and the same
liars.

Honest reporting in America died when journalists started to socialize
with the very people they were supposed to keep an eye on. It went straight to hell when they hired agents to book them for speaking engagements and TV shows that paid fees equalling, if not surpassing, their salaries.

Press freedom disappeared when the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relaxed its rules on media ownership and allowed a few giant corporations to control news gathering and dissemination. All major
American networks are now owned by conglomerates whose interests are
not always on the side of unvarnished truth.

Across the industry, reporters are hired or kept on board, with political inclinations carrying greater weight than credibility. How else does one explain the continued presence of Judith Miller in the New York Times?

So, we see smoke rising at a distance and hear explosions and machinegun fire coming from afar. We see soldiers scurrying for cover or kicking down doors and then we hear reports of hundreds of insurgents and terrorists being killed or captured. We are told about smart bombs as if those bombs could distinguish between combatants and innocents, and we are treated to never-ending exhibitions of advanced weaponry and enormous firepower.

We don’t see the stray dogs feeding on mangled corpses, we don’t see
the scattered limbs of blown-up children. We don’t hear the gut wrenching wails of sorrow or the chilling screams of terror and pain, as uranium-tipped bullets and rockets smash into unprotected hovels and tear up human flesh. We don’t know how many innocents are killed because the Pentagon says, “We don’t do body counts of enemies.” We are not told Iraqis will continue to die long after the war is over because the US is using depleted uranium ordnance. We have lost all human connection with Arabs because we have accepted their demonization as monsters and subhumans fighting against civilized people who, as Bush says, “go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in the world.”

Still, Mrs. Arroyo broke bread with a war criminal and boasted about
it. The most widely read newspaper in the country fell all over itself
to write it up. We are being played for idiots – yet we do nothing.
Where is the outrage? We have grown comfortable living with unspeakable
cruelty and horror. That’s what’s truly unthinkable and unspeakable.

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