[A-List] Fwd: Fisk -- Fighting talk: The new propaganda

Suzanne de Kuyper suzannedk at gmail.com
Fri Jul 9 07:54:19 MDT 2010

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <kcourtenay at aol.com>
Date: Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 5:41 PM
Subject: Re: Fisk -- Fighting talk: The new propaganda
To: suzannedk at gmail.com

Yes, it's good, this article.  We had it when it came out....

-----Original Message-----
From: Suzanne de Kuyper <suzannedk at gmail.com>
To: kcourtenay at aol.com <KCourtenay at aol.com>
Sent: Thu, Jul 8, 2010 10:10 am
Subject: Fwd: Fisk -- Fighting talk: The new propaganda

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Suzanne de Kuyper <suzannedk at gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 4:10 PM
Subject: Fwd: Fisk -- Fighting talk: The new propaganda
To: The A-List <a-list at lists.econ.utah.edu>

 This is why I use bare words that have developed over hundreds of years and
more to have precise meaning, such as genocide.   Total annihalation of an
ethnic group.   Effective communication is one of the crowns of human
civilizations....it is allowed to be systematicly debased only to the
debasement of those very civilizations.  I cannot join such an effort.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sid Shniad <shniad at gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Jul 8, 2010 at 2:02 AM
Subject: Fisk -- Fighting talk: The new propaganda

 Fighting talk: The new propaganda
Journalism has become a linguistic battleground – and when reporters use
terms such ‘spike in violence’ or ‘surge’ or ‘settler’, they are playing
along with a pernicious game, argues Robert Fisk
  *Monday, 21 June 2010*
  [image: Botch and learn: the world's media await the arrival of the Gaza
flotilla that was stormed by the Israeli Navy]
Botch and learn: the world's media await the arrival of the Gaza flotilla
that was stormed by the Israeli Navy
    Following the latest in semantics on the news? Journalism and the
Israeli government are in love again. It's Islamic terror, Turkish terror,
Hamas terror, Islamic Jihad terror, Hezbollah terror, activist terror, war
on terror, Palestinian terror, Muslim terror, Iranian terror, Syrian terror,
anti-Semitic terror...
 But I am doing the Israelis an injustice. Their lexicon, and that of the
White House – most of the time – and our reporters' lexicon, is the same.
Yes, let's be fair to the Israelis. Their lexicon goes like this: Terror,
terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror,
terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror,
 How many times did I just use the word "terror"? Twenty. But it might as
well be 60, or 100, or 1,000, or a million. We are in love with the word,
seduced by it, fixated by it, attacked by it, assaulted by it, raped by it,
committed to it. It is love and sadism and death in one double syllable, the
prime time-theme song, the opening of every television symphony, the
headline of every page, a punctuation mark in our journalism, a semicolon, a
comma, our most powerful full stop. "Terror, terror, terror, terror". Each
repetition justifies its predecessor.
 Most of all, it's about the terror of power and the power of terror. Power
and terror have become interchangeable. We journalists have let this happen.
Our language has become not just a debased ally, but a full verbal partner
in the language of governments and armies and generals and weapons. Remember
the "bunker buster" and the "Scud buster" and the "target-rich environment"
in the Gulf War (Part One)? Forget about "weapons of mass destruction". Too
obviously silly. But "WMD" in the Gulf War (Part Two) had a power of its
own, a secret code – genetic, perhaps, like DNA – for something that would
reap terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. "45 Minutes to Terror".
 Power and the media are not just about cosy relationships between
journalists and political leaders, between editors and presidents. They are
not just about the parasitic-osmotic relationship between supposedly
honourable reporters and the nexus of power that runs between White House
and State Department and Pentagon, between Downing Street and the Foreign
Office and the Ministry of Defence, between America and Israel.
 In the Western context, power and the media is about words – and the use of
words. It is about semantics. It is about the employment of phrases and
their origins. And it is about the misuse of history, and about our
ignorance of history. More and more today, we journalists have become
prisoners of the language of power. Is this because we no longer care about
linguistics or semantics? Is this because laptops "correct" our spelling,
"trim" our grammar so that our sentences so often turn out to be identical
to those of our rulers? Is this why newspaper editorials today often sound
like political speeches?
 For two decades now, the US and British – and Israeli and Palestinian –
leaderships have used the words "peace process" to define the hopeless,
inadequate, dishonourable agreement that allowed the US and Israel to
dominate whatever slivers of land would be given to an occupied people. I
first queried this expression, and its provenance, at the time of Oslo –
although how easily we forget that the secret surrenders at Oslo were
themselves a conspiracy without any legal basis.
 Poor old Oslo, I always think. What did Oslo ever do to deserve this? It
was the White House agreement that sealed this preposterous and dubious
treaty – in which refugees, borders, Israeli colonies, even timetables –
were to be delayed until they could no longer be negotiated.
 And how easily we forget the White House lawn – though, yes, we remember
the images – upon which it was Clinton who quoted from the Koran, and Arafat
who chose to say: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr President." And what
did we call this nonsense afterwards? Yes, it was "a moment of history"! Was
it? Was it so?
 Do you remember what Arafat called it? "The peace of the brave". But I
don't remember any of us pointing out that "the peace of the brave" was used
by General de Gaulle about the end of the Algerian war. The French lost the
war in Algeria. We did not spot this extraordinary irony.
 Same again today. We Western journalists – used yet again by our masters –
have been reporting our jolly generals in Afghanistan, as saying their war
can only be won with a "hearts and minds" campaign. No one asked them the
obvious question: Wasn't this the very same phrase used about Vietnamese
civilians in the Vietnam War? And didn't we – didn't the West – lose the war
in Vietnam? Yet now we Western journalists are using – about Afghanistan –
the phrase "hearts and minds" in our reports as if it is a new dictionary
definition, rather than a symbol of defeat for the second time in four
 Just look at the individual words we have recently co-opted from the US
military. When we Westerners find that "our" enemies – al-Qa'ida, for
example, or the Taliban – have set off more bombs and staged more attacks
than usual, we call it "a spike in violence".
 Ah yes, a "spike"! A "spike" is a word first used in this context,
according to my files, by a brigadier general in the Baghdad Green Zone in
2004. Yet now we use that phrase, we extemporise on it, we relay it on the
air as our phrase, our journalistic invention. We are using, quite
literally, an expression created for us by the Pentagon. A spike, of course,
goes sharply up then sharply downwards. A "spike in violence" therefore
avoids the ominous use of the words "increase in violence" – for an
increase, of course, might not go down again afterwards.
 Now again, when US generals refer to a sudden increase in their forces for
an assault on Fallujah or central Baghdad or Kandahar – a mass movement of
soldiers brought into Muslim countries by the tens of thousands – they call
this a "surge". And a surge, like a tsunami, or any other natural phenomena,
can be devastating in its effects. What these "surges" really are – to use
the real words of serious journalism – are reinforcements. And
reinforcements are sent to conflicts when armies are losing those wars. But
our television and newspaper boys and girls are still talking about "surges"
without any attribution at all. The Pentagon wins again.
 Meanwhile the "peace process" collapsed. Therefore our leaders – or "key
players" as we like to call them – tried to make it work again. The process
had to be put "back on track". It was a train, you see. The carriages had
come off the line. The Clinton administration first used this phrase, then
the Israelis, then the BBC. But there was a problem when the "peace process"
had repeatedly been put "back on track" – but still came off the line. So we
produced a "road map" – run by a Quartet and led by our old Friend of God,
Tony Blair, who – in an obscenity of history – we now refer to as a "peace
envoy". But the "road map" isn't working. And now, I notice, the old "peace
process" is back in our newspapers and on our television screens. And
earlier this month, on CNN, one of those boring old fogies whom the TV boys
and girls call "experts" told us again that the "peace process" was being
put "back on track" because of the opening of "indirect talks" between
Israelis and Palestinians. This isn't just about clichés – this is
preposterous journalism. There is no battle between the media and power;
through language, we, the media, have become them.
 Here's another piece of media cowardice that makes my 63-year-old teeth
grind together after 34 years of eating humus and tahina in the Middle East.
We are told, in many analysis features, that what we have to deal with in
the Middle East are "competing narratives". How very cosy. There's no
justice, no injustice, just a couple of people who tell different history
stories. "Competing narratives" now regularly pop up in the British press.
 The phrase, from the false language of anthropology, deletes the
possibility that one group of people – in the Middle East, for example – is
occupied, while another is doing the occupying. Again, no justice, no
injustice, no oppression or oppressing, just some friendly "competing
narratives", a football match, if you like, a level playing field because
the two sides are – are they not? – "in competition". And two sides have to
be given equal time in every story.
 So an "occupation" becomes a "dispute". Thus a "wall" becomes a "fence" or
"security barrier". Thus Israeli acts of colonisation of Arab land, contrary
to all international law, become "settlements" or "outposts" or "Jewish
neighbourhoods". It was Colin Powell, in his starring, powerless appearance
as Secretary of State to George W Bush, who told US diplomats to refer to
occupied Palestinian land as "disputed land" – and that was good enough for
most of the US media. There are no "competing narratives", of course,
between the US military and the Taliban. When there are, you'll know the
West has lost.
 But I'll give you an example of how "competing narratives" come undone. In
April, I gave a lecture in Toronto to mark the 95th anniversary of the 1915
Armenian genocide, the deliberate mass murder of 1.5 million Armenian
Christians by the Ottoman Turkish army and militia. Before my talk, I was
interviewed on Canadian Television, CTV, which also owns Toronto's Globe and
Mail newspaper. And from the start, I could see that the interviewer had a
problem. Canada has a large Armenian community. But Toronto also has a large
Turkish community. And the Turks, as the Globe and Mail always tell us,
"hotly dispute" that this was a genocide.
 So the interviewer called the genocide "deadly massacres". Of course, I
spotted her specific problem straight away. She couldn't call the massacres
a "genocide", because the Turkish community would be outraged. But she
sensed that "massacres" on its own – especially with the gruesome studio
background photographs of dead Armenians – was not quite up to defining a
million and a half murdered human beings. Hence the "deadly massacres". How
odd! If there are "deadly" massacres, are there some massacres which are not
"deadly", from which the victims walk away alive? It was a ludicrous
 Yet the use of the language of power – of its beacon words and its beacon
phrases – goes on among us still. How many times have I heard Western
reporters talking about "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan? They are
referring, of course, to the various Arab groups supposedly helping the
Taliban. We heard the same story from Iraq. Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinian,
Chechen fighters, of course. The generals called them "foreign fighters".
Immediately, we Western reporters did the same. Calling them "foreign
fighters" meant they were an invading force. But not once – ever – have I
heard a mainstream Western television station refer to the fact that there
are at least 150,000 "foreign fighters" in Afghanistan, and that all of them
happen to be wearing American, British and other NATO uniforms. It is "we"
who are the real "foreign fighters".
 Similarly, the pernicious phrase "Af-Pak" – as racist as it is politically
dishonest – is now used by reporters, although it was originally a creation
of the US State Department on the day Richard Holbrooke was appointed
special US representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the phrase avoids
the use of the word "India" – whose influence in Afghanistan and whose
presence in Afghanistan, is a vital part of the story. Furthermore, "Af-Pak"
– by deleting India – effectively deleted the whole Kashmir crisis from the
conflict in south-east Asia. It thus deprived Pakistan of any say in US
local policy on Kashmir – after all, Holbrooke was made the "Af-Pak" envoy,
specifically forbidden from discussing Kashmir. Thus the phrase "Af-Pak",
which completely avoids the tragedy of Kashmir – too many "competing
narratives", perhaps? – means that when we journalists use the same phrase,
"Af-Pak", which was surely created for us journalists, we are doing the
State Department's work.
 Now let's look at history. Our leaders love history. Most of all, they love
the Second World War. In 2003, George W Bush thought he was Churchill. True,
Bush had spent the Vietnam War protecting the skies of Texas from the
Vietcong. But now, in 2003, he was standing up to the "appeasers" who did
not want a war with Saddam who was, of course, "the Hitler of the Tigris".
The appeasers were the British who didn't want to fight Nazi Germany in
1938. Blair, of course, also tried on Churchill's waistcoat and jacket for
size. No "appeaser" he. America was Britain's oldest ally, he proclaimed –
and both Bush and Blair reminded journalists that the US had stood
shoulder-to-shoulder with Britain in her hour of need in 1940.
 But none of this was true. Britain's oldest ally was not the United States.
It was Portugal, a neutral fascist state during the Second World War, which
flew its national flags at half-mast when Hitler died (even the Irish didn't
do that).
 Nor did America fight alongside Britain in her hour of need in 1940, when
Hitler threatened invasion and the Luftwaffe blitzed London. No, in 1940
America was enjoying a very profitable period of neutrality, and did not
join Britain in the war until Japan attacked the US naval base at Pearl
Harbour in December 1941. Similarly, back in 1956, Eden called Nasser the
"Mussolini of the Nile". A bad mistake. Nasser was loved by the Arabs, not
hated as Mussolini was by the majority of Africans, especially the Arab
Libyans. The Mussolini parallel was not challenged or questioned by the
British press. And we all know what happened at Suez in 1956. When it comes
to history, we journalists let the presidents and prime ministers take us
for a ride.
 Yet the most dangerous side of our new semantic war, our use of the words
of power – though it is not a war, since we have largely surrendered – is
that it isolates us from our viewers and readers. They are not stupid. They
understand words in many cases – I fear – better than we do. History, too.
They know that we are drawing our vocabulary from the language of generals
and presidents, from the so-called elites, from the arrogance of the
Brookings Institute experts, or those of those of the Rand Corporation. Thus
we have become part of this language.
 Over the past two weeks, as foreigners – humanitarians or "activist
terrorists" – tried to take food and medicines by sea to the hungry
Palestinians of Gaza, we journalists should have been reminding our viewers
and listeners of a long-ago day when America and Britain went to the aid of
a surrounded people, bringing food and fuel – our own servicemen dying as
they did so – to help a starving population. That population had been
surrounded by a fence erected by a brutal army which wished to starve the
people into submission. The army was Russian. The city was Berlin. The wall
was to come later. The people had been our enemies only three years earlier.
Yet we flew the Berlin airlift to save them. Now look at Gaza today: which
Western journalist – since we love historical parallels – has even mentioned
1948 Berlin in the context of Gaza?
 Instead, what did we get? "Activists" who turned into "armed activists" the
moment they opposed the Israeli army's boarding parties. How dare these men
upset the lexicon? Their punishment was obvious. They became "terrorists".
And the Israeli raids – in which "activists" were killed (another proof of
their "terrorism") – then became "deadly" raids. In this case, "deadly" was
more excusable than it had been on CTV – nine dead men of Turkish origin
being slightly fewer than a million and a half murdered Armenians in 1915.
But it was interesting that the Israelis – who for their own political
reasons had hitherto shamefully gone along with the Turkish denial – now
suddenly wanted to inform the world of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This
provoked an understandable frisson among many of our colleagues. Journalists
who have regularly ducked all mention of the 20th century's first Holocaust
– unless they could also refer to the way in which the Turks "hotly dispute"
the genocide label (ergo the Toronto Globe and Mail) – could suddenly refer
to it. Israel's new-found historical interest made the subject legitimate,
though almost all reports managed to avoid any explanation of what actually
happened in 1915.
 And what did the Israeli seaborne raid become? It became a "botched" raid.
Botched is a lovely word. It began as a German-origin Middle English word,
"bocchen", which meant to "repair badly". And we more or less kept to that
definition until our journalistic lexicon advisors changed its meaning.
Schoolchildren "botch" an exam. We could "botch" a piece of sewing, an
attempt to repair a piece of material. We could even botch an attempt to
persuade our boss to give us a raise. But now we "botch" a military
operation. It wasn't a disaster. It wasn't a catastrophe. It just killed
some Turks.
 So, given the bad publicity, the Israelis just "botched" the raid. Weirdly,
the last time reporters and governments utilised this particular word
followed Israel's attempt to kill the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, in the
streets of Amman. In this case, Israel's professional assassins were caught
after trying to poison Meshaal, and King Hussain forced the then Israeli
prime minister (a certain B Netanyahu) to provide the antidote (and to let a
lot of Hamas "terrorists" out of jail). Meshaal's life was saved.
 But for Israel and its obedient Western journalists this became a "botched
attempt" on Meshaal's life. Not because he wasn't meant to die, but because
Israel failed to kill him. You can thus "botch" an operation by killing
Turks – or you can "botch" an operation by not killing a Palestinian.
 How do we break with the language of power? It is certainly killing us.
That, I suspect, is one reason why readers have turned away from the
"mainstream" press to the internet. Not because the net is free, but because
readers know they have been lied to and conned; they know that what they
watch and what they read in newspapers is an extension of what they hear
from the Pentagon or the Israeli government, that our words have become
synonymous with the language of a government-approved, careful middle
ground, which obscures the truth as surely as it makes us political – and
military – allies of all major Western governments.
 Many of my colleagues on various Western newspapers would ultimately risk
their jobs if they were constantly to challenge the false reality of news
journalism, the nexus of media-government power. How many news organisations
thought to run footage, at the time of the Gaza disaster, of the airlift to
break the blockade of Berlin? Did the BBC?
 The hell they did! We prefer "competing narratives". Politicians didn't
want – I told the Doha meeting on 11 May – the Gaza voyage to reach its
destination, "be its end successful, farcical or tragic". We believe in the
"peace process", the "road map". Keep the "fence" around the Palestinians.
Let the "key players" sort it out. And remember what this is all about:
"Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror."
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