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Tuesday, April 27, 2004 | The current mood of DuctapeFatwa
War and the Fog of News

Between cover bans and closed military zones, and embeds and spin and business considerations, how can anyone claim to know what is happening halfway around the world?

It is one of the great ironies of the age that in an era of 24 hour satellite TV news, and the internet that empowers anybody with a computer and a modem to talk in real time to anybody else with those things, assuming they can scrape together enough of a common language to do so, in a world where we should be over-informed, ultra-informed, if a duck shits in Zanzibar we should, in theory know within minutes on whose petunia it shat, and with which rude phrases it was shooed from the garden, those of us who have an interest in news seem to spend an unreasonable amount of time gathering it, and debating whether it is true.

War has never made newsgathering easy, and the adversarial relationship between government and press is legendary. It is especially frustrating for people in the US who have been repeatedly told since infancy that America has a "free press," unlike thoe other nefarious nations where the government tells the newspaper what to write, to discover that their own press has, while their back was turned, morphed into something more closely resembling Pravda in Soviet days than the model of independent journalism cum dependable global town crier that forms an integral part of the fabled American sense of entitlement.

The press in the US is first and foremost, a business, a profit-making enterprise controlled by a dwindling number of expanding mega-corporations, whose mission is less about informing and more about making money. Since the government has undergone a similar transformation, the relationship between state and press has become less adversarial and more incestuous, giving rise to incidents such as Condi Rice's famous "request" to the press that they not show Osama bin Laden speeches in their entirety, lest any secret coded messages embedded in the English translation of same might be communicated to "sleeper cells" of Arabic speakers who are watching Al Jazeera anyway.

A more recent state vs. press startle involves the prohibition on showing the return to US soil of flag-draped coffins of American war dead.

Some months ago, Israel banned video or photos "identifiable" of the faces of Israeli gunmen, after discovering that a rights group was documenting atrocities for the purposes of seeking legal redress via international courts.

Banning the media from "zones" shortly before "operations" involving the slaughter of civilians, as well as from "interrogation and detention facilities" has become as standard for the US and Israel as it has long been for North Korea.

How then, is a news junkie to get his/her fix? And how to tell if the stuff is any good?

Some Suggestions

Read it all. Read government press releases, papers from everywhere, raw wires, independent media, blogs.

Comparing the raw wires alone to what you see on CNN can be very informative.

Use common sense. If the US says 1 soldier died, and the guy from the little paper in Pashtunistan says 50 died, assume that about 25 soldiers died.

Take advantage of the internet. One of the greatest and most under-utilized advantages of the net is that if CNN says it is raining in Paris, you can go to #paris and ask "Are y'all wet?" Granted, 3 people will say no, 2 will say they are drowning, 1 will tell you that Frenchmen are never wet, but be patient and you will find 9 or 10 who will tell you that either they are carrying umbrellas, or that they are not.

Learn to distinguish between deliberate bias and perspective. For example, if Malaysia invaded the US, would Canadian TV be more likely to show cute Malaysian toddlers lisping about daddy going off to kill the bad guys, or footage of destroyed homes in a suburb of Chicago and wounded American children in the emergency room.

Some Americans especially seem to find this a challenge. A good first step is to realize that while to you, Iraqis, for example, may be an exotic strange breed of creature, seen only on TV, to people in the region, Iraqis are regular folks, people they know through marriage, business, sporting events.

Some do not realize that when they speak of news from other places being "biased," what they really mean is that quoting a Syrian source without immediately following it with the White House approved line on the nation, individual and/or the situation is something they are so unaccustomed to that they are unable to process the basic information contained in the quote!

The typical complaint about Al Jazeera is that they report on civilian casualties and humanize the victims, not unlike the way US channels personalize Israeli victims of suicide bombings.

To western eyes, humanizing Arabs seems so strange that they perceive it as "anti-American." In reality, it is empirical evidence of the effectiveness of decades of indoctrination with the belief that Arabs, nor for that matter, other groups from the Majority World, are not human.

A flood in India can kill 3000 people and if mentioned at all, it is a throwaway line before the commercial break, in the "world news briefs," but if one American is among the dead, you can count on at least one network having a camera crew out in front of the home of the deceased, interviewing old school chums. To an extent this is natural. Stories that hit close to home will logically be of greater interest than events that occur in far-flung lands. But just as it is important to recognize that, it is equally important to recognize when it is taken to such an extreme that it becomes an unconscious self-parody.

In matters of war, especially wars involving the US, as most do, directly or indirectly, the parody becomes even more exaggerated, with gandaclature that would make Orwell blush: a gang of gunmen, armed to the teeth kicking in doors, backed up by aerial bombardment of a residential neighborhood is a "peacekeeping operation." Crimes against humanity are "pacification." A Berlin-wall type prison enclosement is a "peace fence." Mercenaries are "civilian contractors," people defending their homes and homeland from a foreign aggressor are "insurgents," "rebels," "militants," or "terrorists." Children of seven or eight are "youths."

If the US seizes its own citizens or those of another country, for any reason, the victims are "detainees," to be held without charges or rights, forever if the US so pleases, but any US combatants captured by Iraqis are "hostages."

This ruse, on its face transparent to the point of absurdity, seems harmless enough, until you notice that the same terminology is used, automatically, unconsciously, by people who OPPOSE the policies and actions described, effectively turning their most eloquent arguments into a concession of defeat, a homage to the superior power of those who have successfully infiltrated their very thoughts.

Words are powerful things, and though news may appear to consist of words, until you have removed the words, you cannot know what happened.


posted at 5:17 AM

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Actions like Sep 11 do not happen in a vaccuum. Long before those hijackers ever stepped foot on the planes the damage had been done. They were brainwashed with the same type of garbage propaganda that is spewed from Fatwa's weblog.
Middle Eastern countries are so much more barbaric today and preAmercia than America can ever hope to be...America has only been around 230 years...who did you blame for everything before that Ductape? I am calling a Fatwa on your bullshit!
IMO - terrorist plain and simple. He is an Al queda operative who should be put in a cage on gitmo
My favorite..."In Defense of Holocaust Deniers"
I always thought that "The Enemy Within" was just a metaphore for liberalism, that is, until I encountered Ductape Fatwa. He should be in an orange jumpsuit for sure.
ductape is either a commie, al queda, or a deep cover mole
Tells you something about this asshole doesn't it. He's really serious.
I believe that DF is nothing but a Republican plant...
Ductape is a commie, a terrorist, and he drinks blood too. He drinks Capitalist blood. He eats unborn babies too
Give me your address and I'll send you $20 and a thank-you note for taking your hatred elsewhere.
A terrorist with a sense of humor!
He ain't nuthin' but shit
Jim Sagle

inadequate, halfway house bullshit
Arthur Gilroy
You are a dumbass. Fuck you and your condescension about us "benighted sheeple."
Untruthful, damaging bullshit
John Locke
no better than the neocons and no different than Timothy McVeigh space
a turd in the punchbowl...if DF were Joe Hill he probably would have killed himself rather than get put to death.
A compost pile of fecundity
despicable and literally mentally ill