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Thursday, February 15, 2007

A note on the subversion of the press in war 


I sometimes get comments or emails asking why I and other righty bloggers spend so much time flyspecking the mainstream media's coverage of irregular wars involving the United States and its allies. One reason is that there are so many examples of the media swallowing enemy propaganda hook, line, and sinker, and occasionally being complicit in its promotion. As regular blog readers know, both of these tendencies figured prominently in last summer's Hezbollah-Israeli war, and they have also been a staple of blog coverage of Iraq.

The question then becomes, why are righty bloggers so quick to assume that many mainstream reporters are acting in bad faith, or with a bias that veers so strongly in one direction that it seems like bad faith? Well, one of the reasons is that righty bloggers read a lot of history, and remember the games that the American press played in Vietnam forty years before the invention of the blog. We now know via Communist histories and other evidence that has only surfaced with the end of the Cold War that the enemy went to great lengths to subvert the Western press, which it regarded as central to the sustenance of American will. I was struck, in particular, by this passage from from Mark Moyar's outstanding revisionist history of the Vietnam war, Triumph Forsaken, in which Moyar documents subversion of the foreign press into backing the infiltrated Buddhist "reform" movement of the early 1960s that undermined the most successful government South Vietnam ever had, headed by Ngo Dinh Diem regime (detailed citations in the original):

The American press corps in Saigon seized on the Buddhist protests as evidence that the Diem government lacked public support and was hopelessly repressive and therefore deserved to be overthrown. It soon became their principal means for attacking Diem, as they were finding it harder and harder to deplore the South Vietnamese war effort. The reporters developed friendships with the militant Buddhist leadership, thanks largely to their common contempt for Diem's government. The activists gave the newsmen tips and other information in English, carried protest signs and banners written in English, and made the young men feel important, as indeed they were. In return, the correspondents penned favorable stories about the Buddhist protesters. The militant Buddhists, in fact, were so much more skillful at pandering to the Western media than almost any other Vietnamese group, then or since, that one could sensibly deduce that they were receiving guidance from their American press allies. The American correspondents, because of their hatred of the Diem government and their unfamiliarity with the Vietnamese political environment, uncritically accepted their Buddhist friends' claims about the political situation, manyu of which were fallacious. The journalists were similarly credulous in their dealings with South Vietnamese intellectuals and other English-speaking schemers who regaled them with the ominous stories of dissatisfaction with Diem and plots against him, oftentimes unaware of these individuals' own political agendas and political myopia. Halberstam later acknowledged that the individuals upon whom he and the other reporters depended for political information "were regrettably limited in their larger vision."

Two of the sources upon whom the journalists relied most heavily, Pham Ngoc Thao and Pham Xuan An, were actually Communist agents. Pham Ngoc Thao, a colonel in the South Vietnamese Army, was touted by the American media as a brilliant Young Turk who could help turn South Vietnam around. Thao regularly gave the correspondents information on dissension and intrigue against the government, which they in turn eagerly passed on to their readers. Pham Xuan An was a member of the international press itself, for he worked as a stringer for Reuters. Muoi Huong, the Communist who recruited both Pham Ngoc Thao and Pham Xuan An, later said that he had told An to become a journalist for the very purpose of influencing foreign reporters. Muoi Huong explained that he wanted An to become a journalist because "in 1945, when our people had just seized political power, a number of foreign journalists sought to speak ill of our young government. Uncle Ho always reminded our leaders to be careful in dealing with these journalists because they were the 'fourth power' whose voice was of great influence." In fulfillment of Muoi Huong's vision, Pham Xuan An brilliantly manipulated and misled the foreign press. After the war, journalist Stanley Karnow would acknowledge his heavy reliance on Pham Xuan An during the war: "We would huddle together in the Brodard or the Givral, his favorite cafes, as he chain-smoked and patiently deciphered the puzzles of Vietnam for me." Halberstam and Sheehan relied heavily on information from Pham Xuan An; Halberstam considered An to be their best source on the South Vietnamese officer corps because of his supposed contacts among the officers. The newsmen's reliance on Pham Xuan An goes a long way toward explaining why the press kept reporting dissatisfaction among the officers in 1963 that did not actually exist.

No wonder today's journalists take such great umbrage at any suggestion that they are writing down enemy propaganda points from sources that may not be as objective as they portray. They've done it before.

20 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 15, 03:17:00 PM:

As they say, perception is reality.

I agree with the points you make here, TigerHawk and I think it's important you make them. Keep up the good work.

I think it's also worth noting that WWII is a good counterpoint to your Vietnam example. Mistakes we made before, during, and after the war are forgotten and forgiven. Collectively, it is remembered as our great, unmitigated victory but if you are willing to revisit particular historical details such as military errors, the memory could be tinged with bitterness, like Vietnam and now Iraq.

It's very important how things are remembered and the media has a huge influence on this.  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Thu Feb 15, 05:32:00 PM:

I think you are being too nice to him and his cohorts, Anonymous. What it's about is power, and who/what rules. Any piece of propaganda, any untruth or advantage, is key, and if the "mainstream media" doesn't go along with the folks in power, then they are the enemy. If the media swallowed a stink baitfish in his example so be it. Fox (Ailes and Murdoch) create whole stink fishing ponds. And this feeds into the whole coordinated talking point network (termite tunnel, more accurately) on the right. Thus is the mainstream press attacked along with the Democrats for "hurting our troops," when it's apparent a damn lot of them feel more hurt by felons serving alongside them, fees and services cut, a joke of a VA, fourtours of duty, etc. Many of them joined up to protect this freedom of debate and dissent the people who despise the "mainstream media" seek to quell. Or when the media points out the waste of billions re: recontruction, or the shennigans of folks with typically GOP nicknames like "Scooter" or "Dusty." ;-)
Or how the media points out the Presidents maniacal preoccupation with all toys and things military and spy whilst our infrastructure is among the worst in the "civilized" world--as they have by the utter chaos from this East coast and Midwest snow/ice storm. From the public schools to Amtrak (the President really hates Amtrak--trains are so, well, communist. Communist is part of the word "commuter" you know!) and airports, etc. Jeez.

I am just sick and tired of this harping on the media. Maybe if folks actually sat down and re-evaluate their long standing creeds and learn to be a little more adaptive, concilliatory. That way we don't need to fight Vietnam over again and have clear minds about Iraq, not to mention our schools, our cities, our environment, etc.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Feb 15, 06:16:00 PM:

"They've done it before."

There's domestic propaganda too. Remember Chabali's mobile WMD trailers? Or Powell's vial of white powder at the UN? Or all those "orange terror alerts" based on unspecified intelligence? The media cashed in on those stories while faithfully advising us to buy plastic sheeting and duct tape. We had "slam-dunks" and WMDs "in the area around Tirkit and Bahgdad".

The media is gullible, fallible, and easily used, but I don't see "a bias that veers so strongly in one direction that it seems like bad faith". The media is wrong a lot (usually in whatever direction sells papers), and it's good to encourage a healthy skepticism.

What's not healthy is when people apply that skepticism unevenly, or adopt a martyr syndrome in order to deny anything that doesn't mesh with their worldview.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Thu Feb 15, 06:44:00 PM:

CC - "if the "mainstream media" doesn't go along with the folks in power, then they are the enemy." Back that up. Find an example where the WH made any complaint against any media source on any other basis than that it was a) factually wrong, or b)told only one side of the story. There's actually precious little of even that.

Not all criticism of the media is just about power. That marxist prism discolors everything it observes.

As to the original post, why am I quick to assume they are acting in bad faith? Easy. I used to be one. I have very good evidence from the close examination of at least one heart, and the folks I associated with sounded exactly like me.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 15, 06:50:00 PM:

Chris, what I take from your posting is that people should be open to ideas based on their merits. I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think TigerHawk's point is that influential people in the media work to control people's perception of the news at the same time they report the news. Not to be forgotten is the media's vested interest in stirring up controversy to sell more newspapers.

To be fair, this slant can be right wing as well as left wing but to me the MSM is unbearably, overwhelmingly left wing - unbearable in the sense that I avoid reading the Los Angeles and New York Times because their coverage is so slanted. When I do read I sometimes agree, sometimes disagree with the slant but either way it makes me feel dizzy and sometimes nauseated.  

By Anonymous Wonker, at Thu Feb 15, 07:18:00 PM:

As we've mentioned many times in our blog HazZzMat, the subversion you accurately detail in your post is the product of a long period during which the organized left in this country has systematically infiltrated and subverted the MSM, the educational establishment, the arts, the entertainment industry, and in many ways the Democrat-dominated government and judiciary. All of these have become propaganda arms of the organized left, which is perfectly logical. It's all about controlling the message to guarantee an outcome that's bad for the U.S.

Consciously or unconsciously, the left's blueprint for us closely tracks with the dictates of Italian Communist theoretician Antonio Gramsci. He brilliantly detailed how to operate beneath the radar to subvert a culture. This is accomplished by gradually seizing control of professions that define and promote our generally accepted national ideals (cultural hegemony). Once in control, the old message is slowly transformed a new one one that tracks more closely with Marxist dictates.

Gramsci correctly perceived that total control of the message by the Marxist left would inevitably result in the enfeeblement of a traditional culture, guaranteeing its collapse. The replacement culture, of course, would be led by leftist elites. And indeed, this already seems to have happened here.

Small wonder the left, and their flacks in the MSM, have little use for the irritating conservative blogoshpere or for George W. Bush. Both Bush and blogs like this one stand in the left's way as they attempt to build on the mythos of our Vietnam "defeat" by creating yet another "defeat" for us in Iraq by "supporting the troops."

Thanks, from Wonker at HazZzMat
http://hazzzmat.blogspot.com/  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 15, 08:18:00 PM:

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of CC's position is shown by the refusal to address: Iran's nuclear program, holocaust denial, desire to wipe Israel off the map, use of Hezbollah to provoke war with Israel and Lebanon, use of Hezbollah to kill hundreds of Argentinian Jews (so says the Argentinian Govt.), terrorist attacks against the US from 1979 through Beirut to Khobar Towers and now killing American troops.

Like all true Leftists CC pushes inconvenient facts down the memory hole. While lying about the troops feelings (they believe they are winning, and that Dems/Media are siding with the enemy).

When Diane Sawyer fawns over Ahamdnutjob and fails to ask him about Qods Force killing soldiers, it speaks volumes of the Press's deliberate decision to side with the enemy, by suppressing inconvenient facts down the memory hole and reprinting Al Qaeda talking points (or that of Iran's) without comment.  

By Anonymous BIRD OF PARIDISE, at Thu Feb 15, 11:39:00 PM:

WALTER KRONKITE is a traitor  

By Anonymous merkur, at Fri Feb 16, 11:04:00 AM:

Objectivity in the media is an ideal to be striven for, rather than a natural state that the media just occupies. The media's relationship with government has always been complicated, especially in times of war. The fact that "influential people in the media work to control people's perception of the news at the same time they report the news" isn't exactly news in itself. What is interesting is that the different parts of the political spectrum equally believe that the media is biased against them.

Of course the US has a particular problem with the quality and range of the media. I sometimes wonder if the complaints of the right in the US that the media is overwhelmingly left-wing has anything to do with the apparent right-wing veer in the US in general? I don't agree with everything "The Right Nation" says, but the overall argument seems sound and tallies with my experience in the US.  

By Anonymous merkur, at Fri Feb 16, 11:06:00 AM:

That wasn't entirely clear. What I meant was that rightwing complaints about leftwing bias in the media in the US may simply reflect the fact that most of the world is further left on the political spectrum than the US.  

By Blogger David M, at Fri Feb 16, 11:31:00 AM:

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 02/16/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Feb 16, 12:06:00 PM:

I'm all for subverting the Press:)  

By Blogger Majorajam, at Fri Feb 16, 09:48:00 PM:

Yes, the press was subverted by the commie pinkos. Diem was loved by his people, including his own airforce whose bombing of the Presidential Palace was merely a good natured prank. He had to admit- it was funny. The subsequent successful assassination was the brain child of the press and their communist fathers at the New York Times, which explains why it triggered a spontaneous outpouring of grief among the unwashed masses.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my coolaid. Eases the pain.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Feb 16, 10:33:00 PM:

I'd rather see them submerged.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sat Feb 17, 03:16:00 PM:

majorajam - unable to make your point without a false dichotomy, eh?

merkur, I partly agree. There is perhaps an attraction to journalism among those who find themselves at odds with the prevailing cultural tendencies. That would, however, suggest that there should be more center-right newspapers in Europe, rather than the middle-to-hard left that prevails (Telegraph and FAZ are exceptions).

I don't hold with the idea that if both sides think you're biased you must be okay - not that you said that, but that is a common idea related to your comment. Newspapers write very positive stories about local businesses in the business section, but that only mildly offsets a front-page and op-ed leaning against them.

I am not one who believes the MSM is very sympathetic to the far left. It is reliably mid-left, and perceives its echo-chamber position as something near the center, or at any rate the Correct view.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sat Feb 17, 11:40:00 PM:

"Thus is the mainstream press attacked along with the Democrats for "hurting our troops," when it's apparent a damn lot of them feel more hurt by felons serving alongside them, fees and services cut, a joke of a VA, fourtours of duty, etc."

At least in MI, we consider the press (the AMERICAN press) an enemy. Or at least, agents of The Enemy.

Why, you may ask?

Because they positively drool at the thought of publishing secret military information which, if known, kills us. They don't care, they got their stories. They'll seek us out, pretend to be friendly, buy us drinks, get some interesting bit of information from some poor fool whom they've liquored up (and who ought to know better), and then print/broadcast it the next day.

Because they leap upon each and every hint of military scandal anywhere and crow it at the top of their polluted, evil lungs, without considering the truthfulness of the accusations. This too, has killed people. (re: the 'Qu'ran flushing' incident which sparked fatal riots) It also makes our lives harder because our officers, paranoid about being accused of anything, strangle us in red tape and make it literally impossible to work effectively.

Because they *lie.* Routinely. They ignore stories of heroism and success in favor of rumors of defeat and failure. If they can't find such rumors, they'll make them up and speculate. Doctor photographs, alter quotations, invent sources, ('Anonymous' ones are always good for this) whatever they feel they need to do to get their spot in the light.

Fucking vultures.  

By Anonymous merkur, at Sun Feb 18, 03:28:00 AM:

AVI: "There is perhaps an attraction to journalism among those who find themselves at odds with the prevailing cultural tendencies. That would, however, suggest that there should be more center-right newspapers in Europe, rather than the middle-to-hard left that prevails (Telegraph and FAZ are exceptions)."

That's not my argument, though. I said that the relationship is complicated, not necessarily solely adversarial. Most of the war correspondents that I know are adversarial not on the basis of their political beliefs, but on the basis that they're bloody-minded and don't like being told what to do.

I don't know where you get the idea that most of the papers in "Europe" are "middle-to-hard left". I'll take the UK as an example because I'm most familiar with it: the Guardian is the only "broadsheet" that is considered left-wing; the Times, Telegraph and FT are all considered various shades of right-wing, with the Independent scrubbing about in the liberal middle. The "tabloids" generally play to a conservative (often with a small c) audience, particularly the two biggest-selling papers, the Sun and the Daily Mail. Characterising the printed press as "middle-to-hard left" is inaccurate, although broadcast media (especially the BBC) clearly has a left-wing bias.

"I don't hold with the idea that if both sides think you're biased you must be okay - not that you said that, but that is a common idea related to your comment."

Again, that's not my argument. The perception of either side isn't necessarily related to the accuracy or quality of the reporting, and I don't believe that the idea is related to my argument. The point is that any accusations of bias need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

"I am not one who believes the MSM is very sympathetic to the far left. It is reliably mid-left, and perceives its echo-chamber position as something near the center, or at any rate the Correct view."

We'll have to agree to differ then, unless you're talking about the US media; as I've pointed out, by European standards the US media is reliably mid-right.

[Incidental: I refuse to use the ridiculous and largely meaningless term "MSM".]  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Feb 19, 09:39:00 PM:

"We'll have to agree to differ then, unless you're talking about the US media; as I've pointed out, by European standards the US media is reliably mid-right."

Well then, from an American perspective wouldn't that make the European media middle to hard left, as originally stated?  

By Blogger AMac, at Mon Feb 19, 10:25:00 PM:

merkur noted,

"the Times, Telegraph and FT are all considered various shades of right-wing..."

I would be surprised if a Financial Times subscriber conversant with the American political spectrum would describe that paper as some shade of right-wing (by American standards, that is).

Indeed, its charm is that it attempts (and largely succeeds) in offering "straight" business news while supplying reliably left-of-center editorial and cultural fare.

That's the only one of the UK papers merkur lists that I am thoroughly conversant with, and it doesn't inspire confidence in his/her overall assertion. (Though the Telegraph certainly publishes righty articles online.)  

By Anonymous merkur, at Wed Feb 21, 07:09:00 AM:

Dawnfire82:"Well then, from an American perspective wouldn't that make the European media middle to hard left, as originally stated?"

That being my point.

AMac: "I would be surprised if a Financial Times subscriber conversant with the American political spectrum would describe that paper as some shade of right-wing (by American standards, that is)."

That also being my point, which was that "I sometimes wonder if the complaints of the right in the US that the media is overwhelmingly left-wing has anything to do with the apparent right-wing veer in the US in general?"

If people in the US view the FT as being "left-of-center", that tends to confirm my point. The "right-wing veer" that I referred to is in comparison to other democratic countries, rather than internal to the US.  

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