A Case Study of Power and Media: The Washington Post

Last week’s unilateral attack on Syria and the subsequent coverage of the events by the mainstream US media give us an impeccable illustration of the prevailing ideologies that dictate how news is received, composed, and understood by respectable journalists and reporters.

In fact, considering all of the variables surrounding the recent US attack, this single case could not be a more perfect example to evaluate for the sake of gaining a clear understanding not only of the rationale behind US foreign policy, but the ideological constraints that shackle our “free” press.

As most of the mainstream and establishment newspapers follow a reasonably similar framework of news reporting, there is no need to use excessive space critiquing all of them. In this brief examination, I will use the report and coverage put forth by the Washington Post on Tuesday, October 28th, entitled, “U.S. Calls Raid a Warning to Syria.”

On October 26th, four US helicopters flew from US-occupied Iraq into Syria. Upon landing, US ground troops attacked a civilian center, which was under construction, killing at least seven civilians and wounding several more. According to multiple sources, such as Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moualem, all those killed were civilians, including “a father, his three children, and wife.”

The reasons provided for the US military strike in Syria were very explicit, as told to the Washington Post by several official US military sources.Military sources include an unnamed “senior US official,” US military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, the “Combating Terrorism Center” at West Point Military Academy, and other unidentified “US officers” or “officials.” The justifications cited for the attack are as follows:

   1) The attack was orchestrated and intended to “send a warning to the Syrian government.”

   2) The attack was intended to kill an “insurgent” who is allegedly responsible for the presence of “hundreds of foreign fighters” stationed in Iraq, who have killed “thousands of Iraqis.”

   3) The attack was intended to pressure Syrian officials to “clean up the global threat in [their] backyard,” and if they do not “clean up” their “backyard” to the satisfaction of the US, then the US will “be left with no choice but to take these matters into [its] own hands.”

   4) The attack, according to US officials, has the advantage and purpose of “goading such countries into action.” US military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, added that such strikes and “operations” like the US killings in Syria are “the only way you can deal with” countries like Syria.

   5) The attack was also hinted at potentially falling under the recent US claims of “self-defense” in its unprovoked military strikes in Pakistan which have killed many children and other civilians.

All of these justifications were given to Washington Post journalists and were simply restated for the readership without a hint of criticism. The report in the Washington Post for all intensive purposes served most literally as a government statement issued by the Ministry of Truth.The term “Ministry of Truth” is originally from George Orwell’s novel on totalitarianism, 1984. In the novel, “The Ministry of Truth” was a sector of the government in charge of spreading lies and propaganda to glorify the state. If the reasons for the attack, as noted above, truly deserved any further investigation, commentary, or thought, the Washington Post report presumably would have covered it. Therefore, the proper conclusion readers are supposed to reach is that the talking heads of the State department are reasonable, within their rights, and unchallenged in their assertions and cause.

If the Washington Post had any commitment to serious journalism or the principle of universality, meaning that moral and legal norms apply equally to everyone, the justifications given by the US State department spokesmen for the attack on Syria would have been treated with ridicule, assuming that readers have a basic respect for human rights and international law.

To put the US attack and the respective justifications for the attack into a universal context, we should judge the situation using official US laws and standards of conduct. According to Section 2331 under Title 18 of the US Code,

“Violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or by [using force] or violence to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” constitute “international terrorism.”The US Code consists of “laws made by the United States Congress, which is legislation that passes both the Senate and the House of Representatives.” The entire US code can be accessed here.

Because the US military strike, as proclaimed by its orchestrators, was explicitly intended to “goad” or “coerce” Syria’s government into “action” and serve as a “warning” to “intimidate” the government and population, the US assault was a textbook case of “international terrorism” by its own standards. The violent US action, clearly not only “dangerous to human life,” but indeed, intended to destroy human life, was by definition a terrorist attack.

We might pause to ask had the attackers been an part of an occupying army in Mexico and the target had been a civilian center in California, if the Washington Post and its friends in the State department would’ve then called it a “terrorist attack.”

One might then inquire about the “foreign fighters” crossing the Syrian border into Iraq—a topic which the Washington Post dedicated substantial space to in their de facto government statement release. Whether this is true, or significant, is a matter that could be discussed in academic circles. Incidentally, it has absolutely no bearing on the moral or legal status of the US military assault in Syria. Based on the accepted understanding of terrorism under US law (similar to most states and the UN) the US attack can not be described as anything other than terrorism, or perhaps even worse, aggression.

This brings us to yet another interesting ideological constraint present in the Washington Post’s coverage. The authors of the report continually quoted at length, terrorism experts, analysts, and senior officials talking about the horror of “hundreds of foreign fighters” being “smuggled” into Iraq and killing “thousands of Iraqis” without so much as a bat of the eye. A pertinent response to such hypocritical lamenting would be to ask what one would call over 130,000 US troops and tens of thousands of privately contracted US mercenary troops? Are they foreign? Were they “smuggled” into Iraq?

The Washington Post cited the US Treasury in noting that al-Mazidih, (an alleged “target” of the US raid) was a “key facilitator of the transfer of money, weapons, and fighters into Iraq” by implication, making him a legitimate target for assassination. Is Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates or even the Democratic-led US senate “key facilitators” of these crimes of carrying out extensive violence against the Iraqi people? Are they legitimate assassination targets for Iraqis, Syrians, Pakistanis or Afghans?

Clearly, fighters are only “foreign” if they do not serve US power. The assumption therefore teaches us that American soldiers cannot be considered foreign in a land that belongs to America, a land that has been subject to American conquest. The “facilitators” of war money, weapons, and fighters from America are not subject to the same standards either, for the same reasons mentioned above.

By entertaining these assertions handed down by the lords of state power and propaganda, the Washington Post is, by presupposition, giving the discredited and utterly illegal US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a stamp of legitimacy. This sort of ratification of illegal and immoral state terror and aggression is a serious barrier to peace. It reinforces deeply entrenched imperial beliefs and assumptions that guarantee the continued suffering of millions of victims of US crimes, not only in the Middle East, but worldwide.

Speaking of the world, “senior US officials” seem to have an interesting conception of what is “global.” Again, restated in the Washington Post unremarkably and without question, US officials pointed to the “global threat” in Syria’s “backyard,” (a reference to “foreign fighters” crossing Syrian/Iraqi border) as one of its justifications for the assault.

Coincidentally, the leading global polls consistently show that a majority of the world sees American involvement in Iraq, not Syrian, as the leading source of instability in the world. Even in Europe, the area of the world most sympathetic to the US, the US was cited as the greatest threat to peace and stability.A 2007 survey conducted by Harris Research for the Financial Times showed that Europeans saw America as the greatest threat to global stability. The 2006 Pew Research Center Poll, which surveyed 15 different countries, showed that the presence of the US in Iraq was understood to be the greatest danger to world peace. To allow such a blatantly misleading and false statement go unchallenged and unchecked is simply more evidence of the Washington Post’s role as a platform for state propaganda glorifying and rationalizing US global domination through force and violence.

US terror such as the recent attack on Syria is regrettably, not an unfamiliar scene, but more so, the official US policy for decades. The dismal and propagandistic coverage and reporting of such events in mainstream newspapers such as the Washington Post is also an old and powerful institution in American life.

However, the casual extension of US terror and aggression in the region to two additional sovereign nations in less than a month, (Syria and Pakistan) signal, even by Washington’s grim standards, a new sort of bold, reckless, and systematic disregard for global and national conventions such as US law, international law, (binding) UN resolutions, and human rights accords. The open declarations of US terrorism as reported respectably and unchallenged in mainstream publications are telling as to the boundless nature of the US crusade for global domination and the lengths that media outlets will stretch themselves to in order to conform to the dictates of elite interest and state power.

So long as the American mind is held hostage by a system of thought control which adheres to the doctrine that textbook international terrorism is “the only way [the US] can deal with” independent and sovereign nations, the power structure will continue to do as it pleases no matter how many people it slaughters along the way.The quoted words are those of military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, as quoted in the Washington Post, advocating state terror as a reasonable way of “dealing” with nations not subservient enough to the US.

Max Kantar is an undergraduate at Ferris State University. He can be reached for comment at: maxkantar@gmail.com. Read other articles by Max, or visit Max's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 1st, 2008 at 12:45pm #

    is media is lesser of greater evils? of all the great evils in US, which is the greatest?
    is it military? people who manufacture ever more powerful bombs/missiles? uncle sam? war planners/pentagon?
    ‘scientists’ who invent weapons?
    95% of amers who look on w. approval? thnx

  2. Brian Koontz said on November 1st, 2008 at 9:18pm #

    Greed and delusion ties all of the evil together. Greed is the logic of acquisition, of stealing from the world and pulling it into oneself, leaving oneself stuffed and the world barren. Delusion is the convolutions necessary to believe what one is doing is right.

    ALL Americans and quite possibly all civilized people are greedy and deluded – and the entire system, from the peasant to the CEO, works together.

    The function of the civilized ruling class from a consensual perspective is to say that they are the best ones to lead the rest of the people to wealth. The poor accept the power of the wealthy out of greed – the same motivation the wealthy themselves have.

  3. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 2nd, 2008 at 7:00am #

    yes, the greed is a panhuman phenomenon. but it does not exist per se and by itself.
    it is connected w. our hopes, thinking, all our emotions and thus can be influenced to remain in proper balance.
    there is nothing wrong w. ‘greed’ (single quotes indicate that it is not elementalistic;ie existing in isolation).
    it’s works of nature just like awe, respect, anger, hope, etc.
    i’v said this before: let’s not run us dwn. we’r ok; there is nothing wrong w. us.
    but there is much, too much wrong w. our institutions and master-serf relationship. thnx

  4. UNK said on November 9th, 2008 at 6:36pm #

    Do you seriously believe that US soldiers went to Syria to kill a family? That is preposterous. It is standard operating procedure for all mid-east countries to claim the casualties to be women and children. They do this because they know how easy it is to manipulate liberals and Europeans. You haven’t seen the Palestinian fake news broadcasts? “Dead” women and children suddenly get up after they yell “cut.” I have seen staged events in Iraq myself.
    Also, the raid was not unilateral, Iraqi forces were involved also.
    To equate what foreign fighters do in Iraq to what our soldiers do there is, to put it mildly, stupid. Foreign fighters (again this is all what I have witnessed) target women for not adhering to Muslim dress, priests, perceived American sympathizers, Iraqi government employees, and lastly, occasionally, American soldiers. They are cowards and murderers. Most of their time in Iraq is spent kidnapping completely innocent Iraqis for ransom to pay for their war. Most of their victims are tortured (and not in the waterboarding sense) and many are beheaded.
    American soldiers never use deadly force against non-threats. There is, unfortunately, civilian deaths; they are accidental and unforgivable, but not intentional.