The Media's Strong Right Hand
conservative right. Murdoch, a billionaire who clearly falls into the top tax bracket which the Republican Party so eagerly seeks to endorse, is an enthusiastic proponent of the Bush administration. On April 9, 2003, The New York Times reported: “The war has illuminated anew the exceptional power in the hands of Murdoch, 72, the chairman of News Corp… In the last several months, the editorial policies of almost all his English-language news organizations have hewn very closely to Murdoch's own stridently hawkish political views, making his voice among the loudest in the Anglophone world in the international debate over the American-led war with Iraq.” On February 12, 2003, The Guardian reported that Murdoch gave “his full backing to war, praising George Bush as acting ‘morally’ and ‘correctly’ and describing Tony Blair as ‘full of guts’ for his
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Thereafter followed the War in Iraq. And once again, the images of the mainstream media were meticulously controlled and heavily censored before being presented to the American public. The death and destruction which appeared on foreign television stations and web sites through media sources such as Al Jazeera remained conveniently out of sight on American mainstream news sources such as CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. The image of war was once again contained to the face of our president crying out against the “haters of freedom,” and American tanks rolling stoically across the sandy Iraqi desert in a noble search for “the enemy.”
All of this cleverly developed propaganda was designed with the intention of maintaining public support for the war and suppressing public outcry against injustice. The right-wing corporate sponsors of mainstream media in the United States were clearly geared toward supporting the agenda of the Bush administration. Rupert Murdoch, chief executive officer of News Corp, which owns FOX News, as well as over 175 newspapers and thirty-five television stations, is undoubtedly an avid supporter of the
The mainstream media sources of the United States hold a great deal of power in the scope of the world. The undeniable relationship between politics and the media is a universal condition, and this relationship in the US is currently stronger than ever. Jill Bolstridge examines the corruption of public news sources in the US and discusses the absence of objectivity in the mainstream media sources of the world’s most dominant super power.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the mainstream media in America thoroughly covered the devastation of the attacks: the horrific site of New York City in shambles, the destruction at the Pentagon, the sight of the crashed plane near Camp David. Video footage of the collapse of the Twin Towers played over and over again. Grief-stricken Americans searching desperately for missing family members, heroic firefighters pouring through wreckage for survivors, Red Cross workers tending to the wounded, and citizens waving American flags at the sight of the destruction personified these events for the millions watching at home. The images entering American homes through the mainstream media were clearly those of a country in a state of shock, and, moreover, a state of tragedy. Yet, these images were almost always juxtaposed by a different type of image: one of so-called “terror,” from the images of the Al Quaida training camps to the images of Arabic children dancing in the streets in celebration of the falling towers.
It wasn’t long before President Bush declared “The War on Terror,” much to the approval of the majority of the American public. The headlines quickly adapted this term and served in rallying the American public in support of this alleged war. Yet, despite the fact that the war had been named, no one really knew just who this war was being waged against. It didn’t matter though. At first, no media source dared to criticize the War on Terror for fear of being considered unpatriotic. Yet, as time passed, the answer slowly unfolded; the War on Terror was a sweeping indictment, an umbrella-like term which could serve to justify any US policy, be it domestic or foreign. From the ultra-rightist US Patriot Act to the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration took full advantage of the situation, expecting complacency from its own citizens and the rest of the world. The War on Terror was a just cause, and cursed be anyone who should question it.
Thus ensued the US attack on Afghanistan. The mainstream media cried out against the country for “harboring terrorists.” Yet the images of this war appeared to be very different images than those of the violence that had taken place on America’s own soil. Instead of working from the frontline, as the mainstream journalists had in the wake of 9/11, the media took a large step back and managed to de-personify the US attacks on Afghanistan. As opposed to the horrific images of death and destruction that were portrayed at the sight of the World Trade Center, the images that blared across television screens and emblazoned the front page of mainstream newspapers took on a much more noble stance: America fighting in the name of freedom as orange flashes of light littered the Middle Eastern skyline. Images of the Afghani sky under siege by US bombers appeared on America’s television screens more like a fireworks display than an image of death.
support of the war. Murdoch said just before the war, ‘We can't back down now – I think Bush is acting very morally, very correctly.’” Clearly, these personal beliefs have not been contained to Murdoch’s own social and political circle, but rather, have saturated the news stations over which he dominates, resulting in a network of mainstream media sources in the United States which adhere to and vehemently propagate the agenda of the conservative right.
This network of media manipulates the American public, appealing not to their logic or even to their humanity, but rather to their unfaltering desire to adhere to “good Christian values.” What is “right” and what is “just” is masqueraded to
the American public not in the form of sharing our wealth with the impoverished people of the so-called Third World, but, rather, in the form of teaching our children modesty and abstinence. Nothing proved this more than the dominating headlines throughout much of February, 2005; while wars were being waged, diseases were being spread, and 1.3 billion of the world’s citizens thirsted for a glass of clean drinking water, the mainstream media chose instead to focus on the image of Janet Jackson’s exposed breast at Super Bowl XXXVIII, which dominated newspapers, magazines, and television for weeks. This catastrophe served as a firm reminder of the values we Americans, supposedly, hold so dear. It’s not a coincidence that on February 24, 2004, less than a month after the public display which allegedly perverted the eyes of America’s children, President George W. Bush called for a constitutional amendment protecting the sanctity of marriage by keeping same-sex marriages illegal.
This biased manipulation is not exclusive to mainstream news coverage. The agenda is a firm one, and is carried out through an even more sinister plan of attack. The importance of “good Christian values” and American patriotism is built from the ground up, shown daily through the way in which the entertainment industry is presented to American youth. MTV and BET (Black Entertainment Television), for example, are forever labeled as “gangsta” television, a “bad influence” on America’s youth. Rappers and hip hop artists receive noteworthy mainstream media attention when there is a shooting or a drug deal involved. But where was the mainstream media when popular rappers gathered together to support BET’s “Rock the Vote,” a benefit concert which encouraged young Americans to vote in the 2004 presidential election? Where was the mainstream media when a long list of popular hip hop artists such as Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Fat Joe, Outkast, and Jay Z, formed Musicians United to Win Without War, a coalition whose purpose was to rally America’s youth into questioning and speaking out against the real motivations behind the War in Iraq? The mainstream media is ready with a trigger finger to discuss the powerful voice of hip hop artists when there is blame to be placed; Tupac Shakur’s name covered more headlines in the wake of the 1998 massacre at Columbine High School than it did immediately following the rapper’s untimely death two years prior. Influence over teenage murderers? Crack cocaine? Club shootings? Sure, blame the rappers! But anything political? Forget it! Why? Perhaps because the ideal of rappers as articulate voices against social injustice pose too great a threat to the agenda of the conservative right.
In contrast, FOX television produces a program which provides “idols” for the American youth. FOX’s American Idol is currently in its fifth season and brings a generation to its feet with clean-cut singers, witty commentary, the promise of “the American Dream,” and a voting system in which viewers choose “the next American Idol,” instilling in the audience a sense of democracy. Yet amidst the throng of fans of all ages and the undeniable popularity of the show, the agenda of the conservative right still takes precedence. Despite the fact that American Idol is a singing competition, contestants can be disqualified from the show for even the slightest infraction. This season, the twin brothers, Terrell and Derrell Brittenum, who arguably had a chance at becoming two of this season’s finalists, were booted from the show after it was discovered that the twins had been arrested on charges of forgery, theft by deception, and financial identity fraud. The twins had not yet been convicted of the charges, yet FOX still made the decision to cut them from the running. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? The producers of American Idol have explicitly stated that contestants with legal problems have, in the past, been allowed to participate in the competition, provided that they were honest about the issues from the beginning. Whatever happened to a citizen’s right to privacy? The Brittenum twins are not the first to be removed from the popular competition due to legal issues. In 2003, finalist Corey Clark was booted from the competition after the show’s producers discovered that he had misdemeanor charges of battery and resisting arrest on his record. Despite the fact that these charges appeared on his record long before the start of the competition, Clark was immediately removed from his position in the top nine. Yet FOX does not only discriminate against contestants for their legal records; apparently contestants are subject to moral persecution as well. In 2002, 23-year-old singer Frenchie Davis was disqualified from American Idol II when it was discovered that she had posed topless for pornographic web sites five years prior to her audition. Despite her immense talent and overwhelming popularity amongst the throng of American Idol fans, Davis was removed from the competition indefinitely. This type of moral policing defines the social conventions through which mainstream media sources appeal to the American public. Patriotism also plays a direct role in the show’s popularity; the 2003 release of the American Idol II finalists’ cover of God Bless the USA was cleverly released to coincide with the government’s attempt at rallying support to “bring democracy to Iraq.”
The hypocrisy of the US government and its incestuous relationship with the mainstream media seemingly knows no bounds. When looking at the current situation in Iraq, the objective mind can not help but ask the question: is a forced democracy really a democracy at all? With all of the violence and injustice at hand, how is Operation Iraqi Freedom deserving of its name? And how can a country where freedom of speech and freedom of the press are held so dear impose such blatant injustice against the free presses of the rest of the world? The Bush Administration has been very critical of Al Jazeera’s coverage of events in the Middle East since 9/11. Why? Perhaps because Al Jazeera destroys the image of de-personification that the US seeks so desperately to uphold. The images of war coming from the Al Jazeera offices are telling a much different story than those of FOX or CNN. Al Jazeera has exposed the raw inhumanity and violence taking place in the Middle East, often showing dead bodies, wounded civilians, and even, in many cases, the sad remains of a child unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle of a bombing. The US knows from experience that images such as these can be devastating to public support for a war. The image of “the Napalm Girl” in 1972 presented a grotesque picture of The Vietnam War: a child mutilated by a US attack, running through the streets, nude and screaming as the US-manufactured chemicals tore through her flesh. This image generated public outrage and an immediate active response. Protests and rallies occurred all over the country. Public support for the War in Vietnam dropped even lower than it had been. Naturally, the US government does not want a recurrence of the “the Napalm Girl.” So harsh criticism of Al Jazeera’s reports were no surprise.
What was surprising, however, were the attacks that followed. During a US assault on Afghanistan in 2001, bombs struck the Kabul office of Al Jazeera. In 2003, an Al Jazeera office in Baghdad was attacked during a US air strike, killing a reporter and wounding three other employees. In November, 2005, rumors began to leak that the US had had earlier plans to attack Al Jazeera in Iraq, but was later talked out of the plans by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This information allegedly leaked through some British officials who were later charged with violating British secrecy acts. Naturally, the White House denied the accusations. According to CNN.com on November 23, 2005, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the allegations “outrageous nonsense” and “vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable.”
But those who follow international news know that these allegations may not be so far from the truth. This would not be the first time the US targeted a media source in response to its reporting. In 1999, the US attacked Yugoslavia’s state television network, killing at least sixteen civilian workers at the station and wounding dozens of others. NATO later argued that the station was, indeed, a legitimate target, as it served as the “arm of propaganda” for the Yugoslavian government. According to The Guardian on April 24, 1999: “Tony Blair, in Washington for NATO’s 50th anniversary summit, insisted that bombing television stations was ‘entirely justified’ since they were part of the ‘apparatus of dictatorship and power of Milosevic.’”
The legality of these actions remains highly debatable. On the one hand, freedom of the press is a value held in the highest regard by Americans, and a violent attack against a media source for exercising that liberty seems nothing short of hypocritical and inhumane. Yet the question remains: had someone been able to stop Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic propaganda machine in 1930’s Germany, would the Holocaust have been as widespread and as devastating? Either way, these attacks justify the assertion of the powerful relationship between politics and the media: a relationship which has a severe impact on the world and its citizens.
America is currently faced with a multitude of severe problems, including, but not limited to, domestic issues stripping away personal freedoms such as women’s reproductive rights and a citizen’s right to privacy, the horrific inhumanity of the corporate world’s exploitation of people in less developed countries, and entrapment in a fruitless war justified only by the obscure argument of the Bush Administration. Through image control and bias in the media, the American public is being spoon-fed by the strong arm of the deep-pocketed, conservative right. The issues of social injustice and inhumanity are daily eclipsed by one of the most powerful forces in the history of the world: the media.
1st March 2006