"It is very interesting," Senator William Fulbright observed in Senate hearings on government and the media in 1966, "that so many of our prominent newspapers have become almost agents or adjuncts of the government; that they do not contest or even raise questions about government policy."1 These remarks are not precisely accurate: the media do contest and raise questions about government policy, but they do so almost exclusively within the framework determined by the essentially shared interests of state-corporate power. Divisions among elites are reflected in media debate,2 but departure from their narrow consensus is rare. It is true that the incumbent state managers commonly set the media agenda. But if policy fails, or is perceived to be harmful to powerful interests, the media will often "contest government policy" and urge different means to achieve goals that remain beyond challenge or, quite often, even awareness.
To illustrate, I have reviewed a few samples of the media's contributions to the government project of "demonizing the Sandinistas" while praising the violent terror states backed or directly installed by the United States in the region. With all the skepticism I have personally developed through studying media performance over many years, I had not expected that they would rise to this challenge. When writing in 1985 about the Reaganite disinformation programs concerning Central America, I did not compare Nicaragua to El Salvador and Guatemala to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the charges (where they were not outright lies); that seemed an insult to the reader's intelligence. Instead, I compared the allegations concerning Nicaragua with the behavior of the "model democracy" of Israel during the same period and that of the United States itself in wartime conditions, showing that the Sandinista record was respectable by these -- admittedly, not very impressive -- standards.3 But my assessment of the media was naive. Within a year they had succeeded in portraying the murderous U.S. clients as progressive if flawed democracies, while the Sandinistas, guilty of no crime that even begins to approach those of Washington's favorites, had become the very embodiment of evil.
The review in the last chapter of two periods of intense debate over U.S. policy towards Nicaragua kept to the spectrum of expressible opinion. News reporting conforms to the same implicit premises. The dichotomous treatment of the elections in El Salvador and Nicaragua provides one example, studied in detail elsewhere. The periods reviewed in the last chapter provide another. Political scientist Jack Spence studied 181 New York Times articles on Nicaragua during the first six months of 1986; the conclusions are similar to those drawn from the editorial and opinion columns.4
Spence observes that Central America was virtually ignored until U.S. control faced a challenge in 1978. From 1969 through 1977, the TV networks devoted a total of one hour to Nicaragua, all on the 1972 earthquake. They ignored the 1972 election in El Salvador, when the apparent victory of the Duarte-Ungo reformist ticket was overturned by blatant fraud and intervention by the U.S. clients in Nicaragua and Guatemala, guaranteeing the military rule that continues until the present. There being no challenge to U.S. domination, the problem of establishing "democracy" did not arise, just as it did not arise in 1984 in Panama when the notorious drug dealer General Noriega, then still a U.S. favorite, ran a fraudulent election legitimized by the attendance of George Shultz at the inauguration, where he "praised the vote as a triumph for democracy, taunting Nicaragua to do the same," after having been briefed by the CIA and the U.S. ambassador "that Noriega had stolen upwards of 50,000 ballots in order to ensure the election" of his candidates.5
Through the 1970s, the media ignored the growing crisis of access to land in Central America that lies at the roots of the current turmoil.6 In the first six months of 1986, Spence observes, the "crucial issue" of "access to land and land ownership patterns" in Nicaragua received one sentence in the 181 articles, and agrarian policy was also virtually ignored in coverage of El Salvador, except for occasional mention of El Salvador's "progressive" reforms without serious analysis. Similarly, "Nicaraguan issues such as the effects of the war on Nicaragua, Sandinista programs, popularity, and support were not part of the news agenda." Most of the stories "emanated from Washington" and presented Reagan administration doctrine without challenge or analysis, including the laments about freedom fighters forced to fight with only "boots and bandages" against advanced Soviet armaments and Cuban-piloted helicopters, brutal repression in this "cancer, right here on our land mass" (George Shultz), guns to Colombian terrorists and subversion from Chile to Guatemala, Cuban troops "swarming the streets of Managua by the scores" in this terrorism sanctuary two days' drive from Texas, a second Libya, and so on through the familiar litany. In its news columns, Spence observes, "the Times tacitly accepted [the Reaganite] views, seeking out no others, thus contributing to a drastic narrowing for public debate." "Regarding the charges leveled against the Sandinistas, almost no contrary view could be found in the Times [and]...supporting evidence was never present." "Four times the Nicaraguan Embassy was given a buried line or two," and in a few stories "the reporter added a background balance line": "it was as if the Times had a software program that, at rare and odd intervals, automatically kicked in a boilerplate `balancing' graf beyond that story's halfway point." Critics of Reaganite tactics were cited, but virtually nothing beyond these limits.
As is well known, choice of sources can shield extreme bias behind a façade of objectivity. A study organized by media specialist Lance Bennett of the University of Washington investigated the distribution of attributed news sources for the month of September 1985 in the New York Times and the Seattle press. In Times coverage of El Salvador, over 80 percent of the sources were supportive of the government of El Salvador; 10 percent were drawn from the opposition. In Times coverage of Nicaragua, the pattern was reversed: more than two-thirds of sources selected were hostile to the government of Nicaragua, under 20 percent were from that government. The local media were similar. In fact, despite the apparent difference, the two patterns reflect the same criterion of source selection: in both cases, the primary sources were the U.S. government and its allies and clients (the government of El Salvador, the Nicaraguan political opposition and the contras). The study observes that in both countries, "the vast majority of Central Americans, the ordinary peasants, urban dwellers, workers and merchants, are virtually mute in U.S. news coverage of their lives." They account for 9 percent of attributed news sources, of which one-third are "U.S. individuals."
The study suggests that the reasons for these discrepancies may lie in the tendency to rely on "easily available `official' sources" and other such "institutional factors." That is plausible, but one should not be misled. Opposition sources are, of course, easy to find in Nicaragua, where they operate freely and openly despite government harassment, while in El Salvador and Guatemala, most were murdered by the U.S.-backed security forces or fled; a nontrivial distinction that the media manage to suppress, indeed to reverse. In coverage of Afghanistan, the Kremlin is a more "easily available" source than guerrillas in the hills, but coverage is radically biased in the other direction (as it should be). Similarly, great efforts have been made to report the war in Nicaragua from the point of view of the contras. Reporting from the point of view of the Salvadoran or Guatemalan guerrillas, or the Viet Cong, has been next to nonexistent, and important sources that exist are often simply suppressed.7 The same is true of publication of refugee studies, which typically reflects political priorities, not ease of access.8 The "institutional factors" are doubtless real, but throughout there are conscious choices that flow from doctrinal needs.9
Spence found the same tendencies in his study of news reporting on Nicaragua in early 1986. Top priority was given to the U.S. government. Ranking second were the U.S. proxy forces. The contras received 727 column inches as compared to 417 for the Nicaraguan government, a discrepancy that was increased by 109 inches devoted to the U.S.-backed internal opposition in Nicaragua, overwhelmingly those who had refused to participate in the 1984 elections as the U.S. government had demanded. There were extensive reports of the concerns of the businessmen's association COSEP, harassment of the U.S.-funded journal La Prensa, one of whose owners was issuing thinly veiled calls for contra aid in Washington at the time, and other abuses. Coverage of the U.S. clients was largely favorable; only one of thirty-three stories on the contras focused on human rights abuses, and there were a few other references to atrocities that were by then reaching a remarkable scale. Like the State Department and Congress, the media preferred what human rights investigators described as "intentional ignorance."10
Turning to El Salvador, we find that the pattern is sharply reversed. Here, the guerrillas were castigated as Marxist terrorists, and the official line, as laid forth in New York Times editorials, was that things were improving under the democratic government of "the honorable Mr. Duarte," "the honest, reform-minded Christian Democrat," who is desperately trying to lead his people to a better life while "beset by implacable extremes," though he may have been "less than rigorous in bringing death squad operatives to judicial account" (in translation: he has done nothing to curb the security forces he praises for their "valiant service alongside the people against subversion" while conceding quietly that "the masses were with the guerrillas" when he assumed the role of front man for the war against the population). News reporting was similar in style. Duarte was portrayed in the major media as a victim, not as the willing agent whose role was to ensure adequate congressional funding for the state terrorists whom he protected. Analyzing over 800 articles in the major dailies from March 1984 through October 1985, journalist Marc Cooper found a consistent pattern of suppressing massive atrocities and "singing the praise of Administration policy." There were hundreds of column inches lauding Duarte's promises to end the rampant state terror conducted under his aegis, but virtually nothing on his actual record of apologetics for state terror and service to it, and not a single article "analyzing the nature of Duarte's alliance with the military establishment," the effective rulers.11
In the editorials reviewed over six and a half years, the Times never mentioned such matters as the assassination of Archbishop Romero or the raid by the security forces on the legal aid office of the archbishopric to destroy evidence implicating them in the assassination; the destruction and closure of the university by the army, with many killed; the physical destruction of the independent media and the murder and expulsion of their editors and publishers; or the Salvadoran state of siege from March 1980 when Duarte joined the junta, under which the atrocities were conducted with his backing and constant apologetics. In contrast, when Nicaragua declared a state of siege on October 15, 1985, the Times bitterly condemned this demonstration of Nicaragua's lack of "respect for democracy and human rights," dismissing with contempt "President Ortega's claim that the crackdown is the fault of `the brutal aggression by North America and its internal allies'"; the renewal of El Salvador's far more draconian state of siege two days later received no mention. The events ignored in the editorials were also largely suppressed or falsified in the news columns.
There was no hint or concern in the editorials, and little (if any) reporting, about the fact that "since 1981 the Salvadoran press has either supported the government or criticized it from a right-wing perspective," avoiding "stories critical of government forces from a human rights standpoint," as observed in an Americas Watch review of freedom of the press. The political opposition had been murdered by Duarte's security forces or had fled the country, so there was no need to report or comment on their problems.12 Similarly, no second thoughts were aroused by the fact that one of the leading murderers was selected to be Duarte's Minister of Defense, having completed his service as director of the National Guard. Earlier, he had coolly explained that "the armed forces are prepared to kill 200,000-300,000, if that's what it takes to stop a Communist takeover," and he had acted accordingly as the Guard under his command administered its "pedagogy of terror." When he was named Defense Minister, this mass murderer and torturer was described by the New York Times as "a soft-spoken, amiable man who has a reputation as an excellent administrator." Conceding that the Guard under his command had been responsible for horrible atrocities, including the rape and murder of four American churchwomen and the assassination of two U.S. labor advisors, the Times adds that "in his defense, others contend that under his command the National Guard's reputation has improved to the point where it is no longer considered the most abusive of Salvador's three security forces" -- an impressive achievement, doubtless.13
With regard to Nicaragua, in contrast, the typical pattern was for the state propaganda services to concoct some charge that the media would then prominently and uncritically relay. Occasionally, when the charges were recognized to be too outlandish, a mild disclaimer might appear on the inside pages. Often the charges persisted even when they were acknowledged to be groundless or even sheer fabrication, a pattern that has also been well documented in the case of other official enemies.14
To fully appreciate the dichotomous treatment, we must bear in mind what had been happening in Nicaragua and El Salvador during these years, facts that I presume are familiar and so will not review here.15 The disgrace of the Free Press could hardly be more dramatic.
It is worth stressing that far more is at issue here than dereliction of duty, incompetence, or service to power. The protection afforded to state terrorists in the "fledgling democracies" provides a veil behind which they can pursue their atrocities with crucial U.S. support, while the indignant focus on far lesser abuses in Nicaragua has facilitated the Reagan programs of terror and economic warfare that reversed social and economic progress in Nicaragua and reduced the economy to ruins, permitting regular media gloating over "Sandinista incompetence" and malevolence. The media were willing accomplices in an extraordinary outburst of violence and repression.
The point is more general. The U.S. government has been able to provide crucial support for mass slaughter by its Indonesian client in Timor (with the help of other Western powers) because the media simply refused to investigate the facts or report what they knew. The same was true of the destruction of the peasant societies of northern Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam, among many other cases. To mention only one current example, Israel has been emboldened to conduct its pogroms in the occupied territories by the same indulgence, knowing that all would be explained away as regrettable exceptions by its U.S. apologists: the editorial staff of the New York Times, the U.S. labor bureaucracy, or Elie Wiesel, the noted apostle of the obligation of silence in the face of atrocities by the state one loves, among many others.16
To raise the level of public understanding of Central American affairs during the critical early 1986 period, the Times devoted the cover story in the Sunday Magazine to an analysis by James LeMoyne of the deeper issues behind the rise of the "guerrilla network."17 LeMoyne observes that "virtually every study of the region...has concluded that the revolutions of Central America primarily have been caused by decades of poverty, bloody repression and frustrated efforts at bringing about political reform." Furthermore, every serious study has concluded that the United States bears a certain responsibility for these conditions, hence for the rise of "the guerrilla network," but no hint of that will be discovered in LeMoyne's discussion. He considers the role of Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea, the PLO, Vietnam, and so on, but one participant in the drama is missing, except for the statement that in El Salvador, "the United States bolstered the Salvadoran Army, insisted on elections and called for some reforms." Also missing is the fact that the army we "bolstered" conducted a program of slaughter and torture to destroy "the people's organizations fighting to defend their most fundamental human rights," to borrow the words of Archbishop Romero shortly before his assassination as he vainly pleaded with President Carter not to "bolster" these forces, which "know only how to repress the people and defend the interests of the Salvadorean oligarchy."
This combination of convenient historical ignorance and praise for the benevolence of our intentions is typical of media and other commentary. To cite only one more example, in an earlier Times Magazine cover story, Tad Szulc discussed the "radical winds of the Caribbean," noting that "the roots of the Caribbean problems are not entirely Cuban"; the "Soviet offensive" is also to blame along with the consequences of "colonial greed and mismanagement" by European powers. The United States is blamed only for "indifference" to the brewing problems. Few seem willing to comprehend the observation by former Costa Rican president Daniel Oduber that the "thugs" who threaten "the lives of Central Americans and their families...are not the Leninist commissars but the armed sergeants trained in the United States."18
Spence observes that "the obviously relevant pending World Court decision was not mentioned in the 171 [news] stories that preceded the World Court decision itself" on June 27, 1986. In this decision, the court condemned the United States for its support for the contras and illegal economic warfare and ordered it to desist from its violations of international law and valid treaties and to pay reparations. The decision was reported, but dismissed as a minor annoyance. Its contents were suppressed or falsified, the World Court -- not the United States -- was portrayed as the criminal, and the rule of law was held inapplicable to the United States.
In its editorial response on July 1, the Times dismissed the court as a "hostile forum"; the editors had voiced no criticism when this same "hostile forum" ruled in favor of the United States in the matter of the Iran hostage crisis. They stated that "even the majority [of the court] acknowledged that prior attacks against El Salvador from Nicaragua made `collective defense' a possible justification for America's retaliation." The editors assumed without comment that the United States was "retaliating" against Nicaraguan aggression and failed to mention that the court had explicitly rejected the claim of "collective self-defense" as a justification, even if the United States could establish the charges against Nicaragua that the court rejected as groundless after examining the evidence in official U.S. government documents; the court also noted, rather sardonically, that El Salvador had not even charged "armed attack" until August 1984, four months after Nicaragua had brought its claim to the court. In a July 17 op-ed, Thomas Franck of New York University Law School, a noted advocate of world order, argued that the United States should dismiss the World Court ruling because "America -- acting alone or with its allies -- still needs the freedom to protect freedom"; as in Nicaragua, for example.19
The U.S. government and the media are surpassed by none in their appeals to the august rule of law and the call for diplomacy rather than violence -- when the derelictions of official enemies are at issue. Hence the events of summer 1986 called for some careful "perception management." Until June, Nicaragua's failure to accept the Contadora treaty draft was a major story. In May, the New York Times published a lengthy report by Stephen Kinzer headlined "Nica¨ragua Balks at Latin Peace Accord," criticizing Ortega for his unwillingness to sign the agreement without some commitment from the United States. "Nicaragua appears to be the only Central American nation reluctant to sign the draft agreement," Kinzer wrote.20 A few weeks later, Contadora was off the agenda. In mid-June the U.S. client states rejected the treaty draft under U.S. pressure. This fact was excluded from the national press, though reported abroad. Nicaragua declared its readiness to sign the treaty on June 21. The Washington Post ignored the unwelcome fact, but it received oblique mention in two tiny items in the New York Times under the headings "Nicaragua Makes Offer to Limit Some Weapons" and "U.S. Condemns Offer by Nicaragua on Treaty" (June 22, 23), focusing on the Reagan administration rejection of the move as "propagandistic." Both items appeared in the "Around the World" roundup of marginal news.
For adjuncts of government, news value is determined by utility for ideological warfare.
A few days after Nicaragua's acceptance of the treaty draft blocked by the United States and its clients, the World Court condemned the United States for its "unlawful use of force" and called for termination of U.S. aid to the contras. Congress responded by voting $100 million of military aid to implement the unlawful use of force, while government officials commented happily, "This is for real. This is a real war."21
Still pursuing the peaceful means that all states are obliged to follow under international (and U.S.) law, Nicaragua brought the matter to the U.N. Security Council, where the United States vetoed a resolution (11 to 1, 3 abstentions) calling on all states to observe international law. Nicaragua then turned to the General Assembly, which passed a resolution 94 to 3 calling for compliance with the World Court ruling. Two client states, Israel and El Salvador, joined the United States in opposition. The Security Council vote merited a brief note in the Newspaper of Record, but the General Assembly endorsement passed unmentioned; the Times U.N. correspondent preferred a story that day on overly high U.N. salaries. At the same session, Nicaragua called upon the U.N. to send an independent fact-finding mission to the border after a conflict there; the proposal was rejected by Honduras with U.S. backing, and was unreported, the general fate of Nicaraguan efforts to secure international monitoring of the borders -- which would, of course, curb the Sandinista aggression that so terrifies U.S. leaders and ideological managers. A year later, on November 12, 1987, the General Assembly again called for "full and immediate compliance" with the World Court decision. This time only Israel joined the United States in opposing adherence to international law, another blow to the Central American accords, which had been signed in August much to the discomfiture of Washington. The vote was not reported by the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the three TV networks. Subsequent World Court proceedings on the matter of reparations to Nicaragua for U.S. crimes have also rarely reached the threshold; thus the August 1988 World Court announcement that the United States had failed to meet the court's deadline on determining war reparations passed virtually without notice.22
Not all U.N. resolutions are ignored. The day before the unreported 1987 General Assembly resolution again calling on the United States to comply with international law, the Times ran a substantial story headlined "U.N. Urges Soviet to Pull Forces from Afghanistan," reporting that the General Assembly voted "overwhelmingly today for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, brushing aside Moscow's first concerted attempt to deflect such criticism from the United Nations" in this "annual resolution." A Times review of the General Assembly session on December 26 is headlined "General Assembly delivers setbacks to U.S. and Soviet," subheaded "Washington Loses on Budget, Moscow on Afghanistan and Cambodia issues." The report mentioned nothing about the 94-to-2 vote on the World Court decision, in which the majority included U.S. allies Australia, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Spain, as well as major Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela), along with Sweden, Finland, and others.23
The reaction of the U.S. government and the media to world opinion as expressed through international institutions deserves closer attention. The same U.N. session provides a number of interesting examples. While all eyes were focused on the Washington summit, the INF treaty, and Reagan's achievements as a peacemaker,24 the U.N. voted on a series of disarmament resolutions. The General Assembly voted 154 to 1, with no abstentions, opposing the buildup of weapons in outer space, a resolution clearly aimed at Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). It voted 135 to 1 against developing new weapons of mass destruction. In both cases, the United States was alone in opposition. The United States was joined by France in opposing a resolution, passed 143 to 2, calling for a comprehensive test ban treaty. Another vote calling for a halt to all nuclear test explosions passed by a vote of 137 to 3, with the United States joined by France and Britain in opposition. A week later, the New York Times Magazine published a review of the Star Wars program by its correspondent William Broad, observing that "since the dawn of the space age, many people have felt that man's final frontier, the edge of the universe, should be a preserve used exclusively for peaceful purposes" and raising the question of whether space "should be armed." But the expression of opinion on the matter by the world community merited no comment. All of these votes were unreported, and unmentioned in the review of "Setbacks to U.S. and Soviet" at the United Nations.25
Other New York Times reports on the same U.N. session provide further insight into the style of coverage of world opinion. Two days after the overwhelming U.N. votes in favor of the unreported disarmament resolutions that the United States opposed virtually alone, a Times story reported a vote on a resolution that "reaffirms the United Nations' previous strong condemnation of international terrorism in all its forms," calls "on all countries to cooperate in eradicating terrorism," and "invites the Secretary General to seek the views of member states on terrorism and on `the ways and means' of combating it." The resolution passed 128 to 1, Israel alone in opposition, with the United States abstaining and "the other 128 members present vot[ing] in favor." The headline reads: "Syria, Isolated at U.N., Drops Terrorism Plan."26
Five days later, the General Assembly passed a resolution condemning "Terrorism Wherever and by Whomever Committed." The vote was 153 to 2, with Israel and the United States opposed and Honduras alone abstaining. In particular, all NATO countries voted for it. This vote was unreported, and unmentioned in the December 26 review of the session. The U.S.-Israeli objection was presumably based on the statement that "nothing in the resolution would prejudice the right of peoples, particularly those under colonial or racist regimes, or under foreign occupation or other forms of domination, to struggle for self-determination, freedom and independence, or to seek and receive support for that end."27
Media refusal to report the isolation of the United States and Israel on these matters is of no small importance, as was illustrated a year later, when the Palestine National Council met in Algiers in November 1988 and passed an important political resolution which centered upon a declaration of Palestinian independence, issued on November 15. The resolution opened by stating that "This session [of the PNC] was crowned by the declaration of a Palestinian state on our Palestinian territory." This, however, was not to the taste of U.S. policymakers so that the matter quickly moved to the margins of media discussion. The PNC resolution went on to suggest modalities for implementing a political settlement that would include an independent national state for the Palestinians and "arrangements of security and peace for all the states of the region." Here we enter into areas that the U.S. government is willing to consider, so these issues quickly became the focus of media attention.28
The PNC resolution called for an international conference "on the basis of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the assurance of the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people and, first and foremost, their right to self-determination." In its statement the PNC "again declares its rejection of terror in all its forms, including state terror," and "renews its commitment to the United Nations resolutions that affirm the right of peoples to resist foreign occupation, colonialism and racial discrimination and their right to struggle for their independence." The latter phrases reiterate the content and wording of the unreported General Assembly resolution on terrorism. The rejection and denunciation of terrorism was nothing new. Thus, the PLO journal Shu'un Filastiniyya, May-June 1986, presents the text of a PLO proposal which calls for an international conference including "the Israeli government" and aimed at reaching "a peaceful settlement of the Palestinian problem on the basis of the pertinent United Nations resolutions including Security Council resolutions 242 and 338." The text continues: "The PLO declares its rejection and denunciation of terrorism, which had been assured in the Cairo Declaration of November, 1985."29
The U.S. government declared the PNC declaration unacceptable. The "crowning" achievement was of course dismissed. Turning to matters that Washington was willing to take seriously, first, the PNC acceptance of U.N. 242 was too "ambiguous," because it was accompanied by a call for recognition of the rights of the Palestinians alongside of those of Israel, and therefore failed to meet the demands of U.S.-Israeli rejectionism, in which the two countries are largely isolated.30 Second, the PNC did not meet U.S. conditions on renunciation of terror; that is, the PNC adopted the position of the international community, which the United States and Israel alone reject.
One can imagine two ways in which these events might be presented in the media. One would be to report that the highest Palestinian authority has issued a declaration of independence, officially accepting the principle of partition. Furthermore, the PNC has, even more clearly than before, expressed PLO support for the broad international consensus in favor of a political settlement that recognizes the rights of Israel and the Palestinians to self-determination and security, and has officially reaffirmed its support for the stand of the international community, including the NATO powers, on the matter of terrorism. Meanwhile, the United States and Israel remain largely isolated on the first issue, keeping to their rejectionist position and again barring the peace process, and are entirely isolated in their opposition to the right of people to struggle for freedom and self-determination against racist and colonial regimes and foreign occupation. And Israel alone refuses to accept U.N. 242; see below.
A second alternative would be to dismiss the declaration of independence as an irrelevance, to ignore completely the isolation of the United States and Israel on the other issues, and to accept the U.S. position as by definition correct, as the "moderate stance" and the basis for any further discussion. Then we conduct a debate over whether the Palestinians should be encouraged to progress further towards moderation now that, under our tutelage, they have taken these halting steps, or whether their stern mentor should simply dismiss these moves and demand that the PLO begin to be serious, or disappear.
The first version, which would have the merit of truth, is not to be found in the U.S. media. The second alternative not only prevailed, but was close to exceptionless. In the New York Times, the editors quoted the statement on terrorism, describing it as "the old Arafat hedge" and failing to note that it reiterates the U.N. resolutions that the United States and Israel alone reject. Anthony Lewis, who is virtually alone in the mainstream in his efforts to escape the bounds of dogma on these issues, deplored the failure to reward the PLO for its progress towards the U.S. stand, adding that it still must become more "clear" in its political pronouncements and that "the United States says correctly that the PLO must unambiguously renounce all terrorism before it can take part in negotiations." He raises no question about the "clarity" of the rejectionist U.S. stance, and holds that the United States is right not to be fooled by "the old Arafat hedge," that is, the position accepted by the entire world community apart from the United States and Israel (and, of course, South Africa). If Arafat does not join us off the spectrum of world opinion, plainly he cannot be taken seriously. Elsewhere, the same bounds were observed, often even more narrowly.31
In short, the world does not agree with us, so it follows, by simple logic, that the world is wrong; that is all there is to the matter. No alternative possibility can be discussed, even conceived. Still more strikingly, even the fact that the world does not agree with us cannot be acknowledged. Since it fails to see the light, the world outside our borders does not exist (Israel aside). We see here the grip of doctrine in a form that would have deeply impressed the medieval Church, or the mullahs in Qum today.
Once again, the consequences should not be disregarded. Media self-censorship over many years has enabled the United States and Israel to block what has long been a possible political settlement of one of the world's most explosive and threatening issues. That continued to be the case as the United States changed its increasingly untenable position on discussions with the PLO under a fraudulent pretext while maintaining its commitment to obstruct the peace process.32 Senator Fulbright's observation is both pertinent and of much significance.
Returning to coverage of the United Nations, a March 1988 story, headlined "U.N. to Study Rights in Cuba: U.S. Sees Diplomatic Victory," reported Cuba's invitation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission for an on-the-scene investigation, undercutting a U.S. campaign for a resolution condemning Cuba. The first thirteen paragraphs present Washington's point of view, turning the failure into a great triumph of U.S. diplomacy; the last paragraph quotes a Cuban official stating that "the outcome shows our continent's growing political unity" in rejecting the U.S. effort. Another Times article reports a visit of American human rights specialists to Cuban prisons, with a line in the final paragraph noting, with no comment, that the State Department has denied visas to Cuban officials for a reciprocal visit to U.S. prisons, just as Reagan launched his human rights drive in Moscow.33
Unreported is a resolution on the Middle East passed by the Human Rights Commission on the same day as its rejection of the U.S. initiative on Cuba. The resolution, passed 26 to 1 with the United States alone in opposition, expressed grave concern at "the continuation of acts of aggression and the arbitrary practices of the Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon which constitute a flagrant violation" of international law, and called upon Israel's allies to pressure it to end "its aggressive and expansionist policy in southern Lebanon."34
World opinion must pass through the same filters that set the bounds of respectability at home. Failing to meet these standards, it is ignored, or subjected to puzzled inquiry as to just why the world is out of step. The pattern, again, is pervasive.35
The government-media campaign to "demonize the Sandinistas" faced a new challenge when the Central American presidents reached a peace agreement in August 1987. The Reagan administration had long sought to undercut diplomatic initiatives. After bitterly condemning the Sandinistas for refusing to sign the Contadora draft of 1984, the administration quickly changed its tune when Nicaragua unexpectedly announced that it would sign, at which point the draft became a deception and a fraud and the United States proceeded to undermine it with further denunciations of the treacherous Sandinistas. "Washington tried by all means available to block the signing of the Contadora Peace Act," Costa Rican vice-foreign affairs minister Gerardo Trejos Salas observed in an unreported interview, reviewing how the United States "strongly pressured" Costa Rica and its client states during 1985-86 when he was "a first-hand witness."36 Events followed the same course in June 1986, as we have seen.
The Arias initiatives of 1987 were also most unwelcome to the Reagan administration. In June its "peace emissary," Philip Habib, informed "high ranking Senators" that "if the administration felt its views and interests were not reflected in the regional arrangements it would continue to fund the Nicaraguan contra rebels despite agreements reached by the [Central American] leaders," an advance notice that elicited little attention. In the same month, the administration pressured President Duarte to block a scheduled meeting of Central American presidents in Guatemala. A Guatemalan official reported that Duarte "personally told Guatemala's president the reason he asked for the postponement was because of US pressure," applied by Habib.37 The Guatemalan and Honduran press published the dialogue between Habib and Duarte, as reported by Salvadoran officials to the Guatemalan government (then to the Guatemalan Congress). In the talks, Habib pressed Duarte to reject the Arias peace plan, informing him that the requirement that El Salvador negotiate with the unarmed opposition would destroy "democracy in El Salvador." Duarte acceded and insisted upon postponement of the June meeting.38
The U.S. media were uninterested. Habib is regularly depicted as a forthright advocate of diplomacy and peace.
In a last-ditch effort to undermine the peace agreement, Washington put forth the Reagan-Wright plan on August 5, calling for dismantling the political system in Nicaragua, an end to arms aid to Nicaragua, and demobilization of Sandinista forces. In return the United States would pledge to halt shipments of arms to the contras. This proposal received wide media acclaim as fair and just; the Iran-contra hearings that had concluded two days earlier had passed into ancient history, along with their suggestion that a U.S. pledge might be worth less than gold. Nevertheless, to the surprise and annoyance of the administration, the Central American presidents reached an agreement on August 7.
Government propaganda then shifted, predictably, to the demolition of the unacceptable accords. The media followed faithfully along. I have reviewed the details elsewhere, so I will only summarize this most remarkable campaign.39
The problem to be addressed was a familiar one: a great power has been unable to impose its will and finds itself confronted with conditions and circumstances that it refuses to accept. A state that commands unusual power, such as the United States, has a variety of ways to deal with the problem. One is to pretend that the adversary has capitulated, accepting the U.S. stand. This option can be pursued only if the information system can be trusted to fall into line, presenting the U.S. government version as if it were true, however outlandish the pretense. If the media meet their responsibilities in this way, then the adversary must indeed accept U.S. terms, or else suffer retribution for violating the alleged solemn commitment to adhere to them.
One striking example of this technique was the treatment of the Paris peace treaty of January 1973, which the United States was compelled to sign after the failure of its attempt to bludgeon North Vietnam into submission by the Christmas B-52 bombings of populated areas. The U.S. government at once offered a version of the treaty that was diametrically opposed to its terms on every crucial point. This version was uniformly accepted and promulgated by the media, so that the actual terms of the peace treaty had been dismissed to the memory hole literally within a few days. The United States and its South Vietnamese client then proceeded with massive violations of the actual treaty in an effort to attain their long-sought goals by violence, and when the Vietnamese adversaries finally responded in kind, they were universally denounced for the breakdown of the agreements and compelled to suffer for their crime.40 The case of the Central America peace accords was similar. It was necessary to refashion them to conform to U.S. dictates, a task that was accomplished with the anticipated cooperation of the media, though it took a little longer than the overnight victory at the time of the Paris peace accords -- perhaps an indication that the media really have become more "adversarial" than in the past.
The first requirement of the demolition campaign was to establish that it was U.S. support for the contras that had forced the Sandinistas to negotiate. This is always an important doctrine, since it can be exploited to justify subsequent resort to armed force and terror. The thesis hardly withstands the evidence of history: Nicaragua's effort to pursue the peaceful means required by international law through the World Court, the United Nations, and the Contadora process, and Washington's success in "trumping" these initiatives.41 Such problems were readily overcome by dismissal of the facts to the memory hole. The required doctrinal truth then became the merest cliché. The New York Times editors could therefore criticize Michael Dukakis during the 1988 election campaign because he "undervalues the role of force in bringing the Sandinistas to the bargaining table."42 It would be unreasonable to expect troublesome facts to stand in the way of a principle that authorizes continued reliance on violence as the necessary means for bringing peace. More generally, what is useful is True. Period.
The first task was accomplished with dispatch. The next problem was to dismantle the accords themselves. Their first phase ran from the signing in August 1987 to January 1988, when the Central American presidents were to receive the report of the International Verification Commission (CIVS), which was charged with monitoring the accords. The goal of the Reagan administration was to focus all attention on the Sandinistas, thus ensuring that the United States could maintain the attack by its proxy forces and exclude the U.S. client states from the provisions of the accords. The media at once dedicated themselves to these further tasks, and by January the last shreds of the original accords disappeared, replaced by the initial U.S. terms. Henceforth, the irrelevant facts become of interest only to archivists. It is the necessary illusions that prevail.
The peace plan specified one "indispensable element" for peace, namely, a termination of open or covert aid of any form ("military, logistical, financial, propagandistic") to "irregular forces" (the contras) or "insurrectionist movements" (indigenous guerrillas). In response, the United States at once stepped up its illegal CIA supply flights, which had already reached the phenomenal level of one a day in an effort to keep the proxy forces in the field. These doubled in September and virtually tripled in the months that followed. Surveillance flights also increased. Successes were immediately evident as contra attacks on civilians doubled in intensity, including ambushes, murders, attacks on farm cooperatives, and kidnappings.43 The CIA also offered bribes to Miskito leaders to prevent them from joining the peace process.
The peace agreements were thus effectively dead from the first moment. These were, by far, the most significant developments during the August-January phase of the accords.
The media responded to these unacceptable facts by suppressing them. The United States was of course not a signatory, so technically speaking it could not "violate" the accords. An honest accounting, however, would have noted -- indeed, emphasized -- that the United States acted at once to render the accords nugatory. Nothing of the sort is to be found. Apart from marginal groups with access to alternative media, not subject to the code of discipline, even the most assiduous media addict could hardly have been more than minimally aware of these crucial facts. The behavior of the New York Times was particularly remarkable, including outright falsification along with scrupulous suppression.
Suppression of evidence concerning U.S. supply flights persisted after the accords were finally demolished in January 1988. Nicaraguan reports, which had been accurate and ignored in the past, continued to be ignored by the media, as inconsistent with the images they seek to convey. In December 1988, Defense Minister Humberto Ortega alleged that the Reagan administration was continuing supply flights to contras inside Nicaragua in violation of the congressional ban (not to speak of the forgotten peace accords and the even more profoundly irrelevant terms of international law). He claimed that Nicaraguan radar detected ten clandestine supply flights into Nicaragua from Ilopango air base near San Salvador in November -- the "Hasenfus route" -- adding that "We are talking about CIA flights; we do not know if they have the approval of the Salvadoran government." Apart from faith in the doctrine of miraculous "change of course," there was little reason to doubt that the report might be true. It was as usual ignored, and no investigation, commentary, or conclusions followed. These quite significant reports from Nicaragua were available to readers of the English language Barricada Interna-cional (Managua), but not those of the New York Times, or elsewhere to my knowledge. Attacks by the U.S.-run terrorist forces on civilians also continued, unreported, in accordance with the general pattern for years.44
The accords called for "justice, freedom and democracy" and guarantees for "the inviolability of all forms of life and liberty" and "the safety of the people," for "an authentic pluralistic and participatory democratic process to promote social justice" and "respect for human rights." These provisions were also unacceptable to the United States, because they plainly could not be met or even approached in the U.S. client states without the dismantling of the governmental structure, dominated by the armed forces and security services. Having eliminated the provisions applying to the United States, the media therefore faced a second task: to remove the practices of the client states from the agenda. This problem was readily overcome by the same means: simple refusal to report the facts, or marginalization and distortion when they were too visible to ignore entirely. State terror in the U.S. client states escalated, but no matter. The laser-like focus of the media was on Nicaragua, which received far more coverage than the other countries combined -- virtually all of it concentrating on departures from the accords as interpreted in Washington.
Another unacceptable feature of the accords was the role given to international monitors, the CIVS. The United States brooks no interference in its domains; hence the longstanding U.S. opposition to the peace efforts of the Latin American democracies, and now to the CIVS as well. Furthermore, the CIVS presence would inhibit violation of the accords, thus interfering with U.S. intentions. The first phase of the accords ended in January with a report by the CIVS, which had the bad taste to condemn the United States and its clients while praising steps taken by Nicaragua. Obviously it had to go. The Times cooperated by virtually suppressing the CIVS report, and under U.S. pressure the monitoring commission was abolished.
The victory was complete: not a shred of the original agreements remained. Nicaragua responded by announcing that it would satisfy the terms of the former accords unilaterally, requesting international supervision to monitor its agreement alone. The loyal media responded by announcing that finally Nicaragua had agreed to comply with the peace accords, though of course Communists cannot be trusted.
Meanwhile state terror escalated in the client states, without, however, influencing the judgment that Nicaragua bore prime responsibility for violating the accords; the correct response, given that the United States and its clients were now exempt, by Washington-media edict. In the Times, the terror was barely noted, apart from guerrilla terror in El Salvador, to which the government sometimes "responded," James LeMoyne commented with regret. In October 1988, Amnesty International released a report on the sharp increase in death squad killings, abduction, torture, and mutilation, tracing the terror to the government security forces. The Times ignored the story, while the Senate passed a resolution warning Nicaragua that new military aid would be sent to the contras if the Sandinistas continued to violate the peace accords.45
Returning to January 1988, with the accords now restricted to the question of Nicaraguan compliance with Washington's dictates, the crucial issue became the willingness of the Sandinistas to negotiate with the CIA-established civilian front for Washington's proxy forces. The accords themselves required no such negotiations, as was occasionally noted in the small print, but they had long since been dismissed to oblivion. In early 1988, Nicaragua did agree to this U.S. condition, reaching an unexpected cease-fire agreement with the contras. Meanwhile the indigenous guerrillas in El Salvador and Guatemala were consistently rebuffed in their efforts to negotiate, but these facts were suppressed as irrelevant, in conformity with the Washington-media version of the accords. Where not suppressed, the facts were simply denied, as when Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote in June that "Duarte has seen his generous offers of amnesty and negotiations rejected by the FMLN [guerrillas], one by one." This pronouncement followed Duarte's rejection of a series of efforts by the FMLN, the political opposition, and the Church to arrange negotiations; the generous offer of amnesty, as Kirkpatrick fully understands, would be an offer to be slaughtered by the death squads, quite apart from the fact that the Duarte government -- unlike the Sandinistas -- was refusing amnesty for guerrilla leaders.46
The Nicaraguan cease-fire was signed on March 23. The agreement stated that "only humanitarian aid will be negotiated and accepted in accordance with article 5" of the August 1987 accords, to "be channeled through neutral organizations." Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Joo Clemente Baena Soares was entrusted with ensuring compliance with the agreement. Congress responded by voting overwhelmingly to violate the terms of the cease-fire, approving $47.9 million in aid to the contras, to be administered by the State Department through the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). The aid would be delivered in Honduras and within Nicaragua by a "private company," James LeMoyne reported, quoting contra leader Alfredo César; the phrase "private company" is a euphemism for the CIA, for which AID has admittedly served as a front in the past. Contra leader Aldolfo Calero stated that the cease-fire agreement allowed for delivery of aid to the Nicaraguan border by the CIA, and Democratic Congressperson David Bonior added that the rebels would select "the private carrier." By no stretch of the imagination can AID be considered a "neutral organization."47
The congressional legislation stipulated that all aid must be administered in a manner consistent with the March 23 cease-fire agreement and in accord with the decisions of the Verification Commission established by that agreement, for which Secretary General Soares was the responsible authority. In a letter to George Shultz on April 25, Soares drew his attention to this passage of the congressional legislation and stated that reliance on AID was in clear violation of the cease-fire agreement, expressing his "deep concern about this whole situation." He emphasized further that article 5 of the peace accords, which determines how aid shall be delivered under the cease-fire agreement, quite explicitly rules out any assistance whatsoever to the contras except for repatriation or resettlement. Aid can be sent to contras within Nicaragua by means agreed by both sides, as a means towards their "reintegration into normal life," but for no other end. The objections of the official in charge of monitoring the agreement were disregarded -- in fact unreported to my knowledge -- and the illegal operations continued.48
It would be interesting to learn whether any reference appeared in the U.S. media to the decision of the World Court concerning "humanitarian aid" (paragraph 243). If such aid is "to escape condemnation" as illegal intervention, the court declared, "not only must it be limited to the purposes hallowed in the practice of the Red Cross, namely, `to prevent and alleviate human suffering', and `to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being'; it must also, and above all, be given without discrimination to all in need in Nicaragua, not merely to the contras and their dependents." "An essential feature of truly humanitarian aid is that it is given `without discrimination' of any kind." Even the most imaginative commentator would have some difficulty rendering that judgment compatible with the congressional legislation. Best, then, to suppress the matter, an easy matter in an intellectual culture that disdains the rule of law as a childish absurdity (when it applies to us) and that conforms to the requirements of the powerful virtually as a reflex.
The Times report on the decision of Congress to fund the contras in violation of the cease-fire agreement, the peace accords, and international law cited views ranging from hawks who condemned the sellout of the contras "as a low point in United States history" (Senator John McCain), to Senator Brock Adams, who voted against the aid proposal on the grounds that "the United States attempt to create a government through the contras is a historic mistake, similar to our trying to create a government in Southeast Asia. We are in a position again of supporting military force without victory." These two quotes also appeared in "Quotations of the Day."49 Appropriately, the highlighted opinion falls well within the acceptable bounds of mere tactical disagreement.
AID head Alan Woods said that the aid would have to be delivered by "private American aircraft" and that there was no assurance that the Sandinistas would permit such airdrops to the contras within Nicaragua -- in violation of the cease-fire agreement, as Secretary General Soares had determined. The Times article reporting this is headed "Official Sees Problems on Contra Aid: The big hurdle is Sandinista mistrust." AID then began delivering supplies to contras in Honduras, violating the congressional legislation that stipulated that the aid was to be delivered "in cease-fire zones," all of which are in Nicaragua, and violating the cease-fire agreement for the reasons already spelled out; for one, because "AID, a U.S. agency, clearly is not...[a] neutral organization," the Council on Hemispheric Affairs pointed out, noting the protest by Soares, and the Nicaraguan complaint "that weapons originating from the CIA base at Swan Island, Honduras, had been concealed in the banned shipments." Wire services reported that Nicaragua had offered to have supplies sent to the contras through the Red Cross or other neutral agencies and that representatives of rebel Indian groups "agreed with the government that the International Red Cross should handle distribution of humanitarian aid to them," offers rejected or ignored by the U.S. government and its proxies.50
The Democratic Study Group of Congress issued a report condemning the administration for numerous violations of the cease-fire agreement and the congressional legislation. It noted that the Sandinistas had proposed the Red Cross, UNICEF, and other recognized relief agencies as delivery agents, but that all but one of them had been rejected by AID, which proposed several organizations with right-wing political ties and no experience in Latin America. The Study Group reported also that the Sandinistas had "invited the contras to propose another agency," receiving no response from the contras -- not surprisingly, since they were being supplied in violation of the cease-fire agreement. The report also noted that while sending aid illegally to the contras, the administration had refused to provide assistance to the families of Indian rebels and would only supply fighters based in Honduras, using a company that had carried supplies to the contras.51
The facts were largely ignored by the Times, which offered a different version. James LeMoyne reported that "because the Sandinistas have managed to obstruct efforts to resupply the rebels, as called for under the cease-fire terms, they may attack them at a moment of maximum weakness when the cease-fire ends." Robert Pear alleged that President Ortega "has blocked deliveries" of the aid authorized by Congress on grounds "that the deliveries would violate the cease-fire agreement." Unmentioned was the fact that this was also the conclusion of the official in charge of monitoring the agreement; his name did appear in the article, but only in the context of the Reagan administration decision that he had not met their financial "accountability standards," so they had not disbursed the $10 million provided by Congress for the commission to verify compliance with the cease-fire agreement -- an understandable reaction to verification mechanisms when the U.S. government is intent on violating agreements and international law with the protection of the media.52
In further violation of both the cease-fire agreement and the congressional legislation, the Reagan administration sent funds to the contras to spend as they wished, a method "regarded by AID as sufficient accounting," congressperson Tony Coelho commented sardonically. AID officials announced that in addition to food aid, "more than $1 million in materiel -- military equipment and supplies -- also was delivered," though not weapons and ammunition, the Washington Times reported. Congress had legislated the delivery of aid to Nicaraguan children, stipulating, however, that "no assistance may be provided to or through the government of Nicaragua," which operates most medical facilities and hospitals. AID predictably gave the condition the narrowest interpretation, thus effectively restricting this rather cynical gesture on the part of those funding the "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua. AID also rejected offers by nonpartisan humanitarian organizations to deliver aid to Nicaraguan children. A letter from Brown University Medical School offering to submit a detailed proposal to distribute this aid was not even acknowledged. The Nicaraguan government later refused all such aid as long as the United States supports the contras, on grounds that "it makes no sense to receive aid for children from the same body that is responsible for their injuries," the Embassy press officer said. "It's like someone giving you a beating and then, to relieve his conscience, he gives you a Band-Aid. Then he gives you another beating."53
The national media remained unperturbed throughout, in accordance with the doctrine that the United States stands above any law or international agreement -- and needless to say, above any moral principle.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a new ruling that barred import of Nicaraguan coffee processed in a third country, which "will not be considered sufficiently transformed to lose its Nicaraguan identity." It suffices to replace "Nicaraguan" with "Jewish" to know to which phase of history this edict belongs. "The language echoes definitions of ethnic purity in the Third Reich," the Boston Globe observed.54
During the same months, negotiations on a political settlement broke down through the device of demand escalation by the contras, no doubt following the State Department script. Each new government agreement, going far beyond the terms of the long-forgotten peace accords, simply led to new demands. In their final effort to prevent an agreement, the contras submitted a new list of demands on June 9, 1988, including: immediate freeing of all people imprisoned for political or related common crimes; the right of draftees to leave the army as they choose; forced resignation of the Supreme Court Justices (to be replaced by decision of the contras, the opposition, and the government, thus ensuring Washington's clients a 2-to-1 majority); restoration of or compensation for seized contra property distributed to smallholders and cooperatives (benefiting mainly Somoza supporters); suspension of government military recruitment; opening of contra offices in Managua and licensing of "independent" television stations (which means, in effect, stations run by the United States, which will quickly dominate the airwaves for obvious reasons of resource access). All of these actions, some unconstitutional, were to be taken by the government while the contra forces remain armed and in the field. Reviewing the record, the Center for International Policy observed that the goal could only have been "to torpedo the negotiations and throw the issue back once more to a divided U.S. Congress." Julia Preston commented that "the contras' six-page proposal appeared to be a farewell gesture rather than a negotiating document," with its "sweeping new demands" followed by their quick departure from Managua before negotiations were possible.55
The government of Nicaragua urged resumption of the talks, receiving no response from Washington or the contras, who added new demands. Even Cardinal Obando, who barely conceals his sympathy for the contras, urged them to return to the talks, to no avail. There followed what the Council on Hemispheric Affairs described as "a CIA-managed campaign of provocation and internal disruption inside Nicaragua," which "established a false crisis atmosphere" in which Congress could turn to new aid for the contras. Congressional doves implemented legislation providing renewed aid, while warning the Sandinistas that military aid would follow if Nicaragua continued to stand alone in the way of peace and democracy or attacked the contra forces, who reject negotiations and carry out atrocities in Nicaragua.56 The media trailed happily along.
As the Reagan administration drew to a close, it was becoming less realistic, and less necessary, to rely on contra terror as an instrument to punish Nicaragua for its efforts to direct resources to the poor majority, to improve health and welfare standards, and to pursue the path of independent development and neutralism. Despite levels and forms of military support unheard of in authentic insurgencies and domination of large areas of Nicaragua by U.S. propaganda, the United States had failed to create a viable guerrilla force, quite a remarkable fact. A new administration, less intent on punishing disobedience by sheer terror, would be likely to join the elite consensus of the preceding years, which recognized that there are more cost-effective ways to strangle and destroy a small country in a region so dependent on relations with the United States for survival. They are capable of understanding the assessment of a World Bank Mission in October 1980, which concluded that economic disaster might ensue if Nicaragua did not receive extensive foreign assistance to overcome the effects of the destruction and robbery of the last Somoza years: "Per capita income levels of 1977 will not be attained, in the best of circumstances, until the 1990s. 57 With private enterprise wrecked and the economy ruined probably beyond repair by U.S. economic warfare, the resort to violence -- costly to the United States in world opinion and disruptive at home -- had lost much of its appeal for those who do not see inflicting pain and suffering as ends in themselves. There are, surely, other and more efficient ways to eliminate the danger of successful independent development in a weak and tiny country.
We can, then, become a "kinder, gentler nation" pursuing more "pragmatic" policies to attain our ends.
Furthermore, although the government-media campaign succeeded in wrecking the peace accords of 1987 and their promise, nevertheless forces were set in motion that the administration could not control. Illegal clandestine support for the contras became more difficult after the partial exposures during the Iran-contra affair, and it was no longer possible to organize overt congressional support for the contras at the extraordinary level required to keep them in the field. As the level of supply flights reduced in early 1988 along with prospects for renewed official aid, the proxy forces fled to Honduras and might well have been wiped out had it not been for the dispatch of elite U.S. military units -- the "invasion" of Honduras by the United States, as the mainstream media there described it, the defense of Honduras from Sandinista aggression in the terms of U.S. discourse.
Elements of the contras can and presumably will be maintained within Nicaragua as a terrorist force, to ensure that Nicaragua cannot demobilize and divert its pitifully limited resources to reconstruction from the ruins left by Somoza and Reagan. A persistent U.S. threat of invasion can also be maintained to guarantee that Nicaragua must keep up its guard, at great cost, while commentators ridicule Sandinista paranoia, Jeane Kirkpatrick-style. But it will no longer be necessary to depict the contras as the people, united, rising against their tormentors, sturdy peasants struggling against Soviet "hegemonism," as the media's favorite experts had soberly explained. By early 1989, we read that "Sandinista claims that the contras were merely U.S. mercenaries gained new credence among Nicaraguans... The contras are viewed as an army of Nicaraguans who thought they would get well-paid, secure jobs from the United States but guessed wrong."58 Low-level terror, "perception management," and "containment" will compel the Nicaraguan government to maintain a high level of military preparation and internal controls, and along with economic and ideological warfare, should suffice to secure the achievements of Reaganite violence, even if the further goal of restoring Nicaragua to the "Central American mode" must be ruefully abandoned. That is what the future holds, if the domestic population of the United States permits it. The task of the media is to ensure that they do.
The devastating hurricane of October 1988, with its welcome prospects of mass starvation and vast long-term ecological damage, reinforced this understanding. The United States naturally refused any aid. Even the inhabitants of the demolished town of Bluefields on the Atlantic Coast, with longstanding links to the United States and deep resentment over Sandinista methods of extending Nicaraguan sovereignty over the region, must be deprived of sustenance or building materials; they must starve without roofs to shield them from the rain, to punish the Sandinistas. At the outer reaches of mainstream criticism of Reagan administration policies, the Boston Globe explained in a Christmas message why the United States is sending no assistance after the hurricane. Under a picture of Daniel Ortega, the caption reads: "Nicaragua has received little US humanitarian aid because of policies of President Daniel Ortega."59 The U.S. allies, intimidated by the global enforcer and far more subject to U.S. propaganda than they like to believe, also refused to send more than very limited aid. Some professed distaste for Sandinista repression, pure hypocrisy, as we see at once from the fact that the far more brutal regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala do not offend their sensibilities.
Under these circumstances, the task for the media is clear. First, they must apply the standard technique of historical amnesia and "change of course," which obliterates all memory of U.S. policies and their effects. Virtually a reflex, this device can be applied instantaneously. With the record and effects of U.S. violence removed from consciousness, along with the nature and consequences of U.S. economic warfare that have always been downplayed, we turn to the next phase. All suffering, discontent, and disruption are now plainly attributable to the evil Sandinistas. It is also useful to imply that Nicaraguans see the matter the same way, by careful selection of sources or misinterpretation of polls, for example.60 A fine model is presented in a three-part series on Nicaragua by Edward Sheehan in the liberal Boston Globe, headlined "A country still in agony." The three lengthy articles, bitterly denouncing the Sandinistas throughout, contain exactly one phrase that notes in passing that "the United States is partially to blame for Nicaragua's sorrow and the wrecked economy."61 For Nicaragua's agony, the Sandinistas are responsible. Apart from all else, the moral cowardice remains astonishing, however often the record is replayed.
For intelligent U.S. planners, it would be sensible to avoid the total destruction of Nicaragua or even its reincorporation within the "Central American mode," as liberal opinion prefers. It can then serve as "an object lesson" to poor countries that might be tempted to "[go] berserk with fanatical nationalism," as the New York Times editors thundered when the CIA successfully overthrew the parliamentary regime in Iran.62 In a conflict with a Third World country, a violent superpower with only limited internal constraints can hardly fail to achieve the goal of destroying any hope.
The U.S. achievements in Central America in the past decade are a major tragedy, not only because of the appalling human cost, but because a decade ago there were incipient and promising steps throughout the region towards popular organization and confronting basic human needs, with early successes that might have taught useful lessons to others plagued with similar problems -- exactly the fear of U.S. planners. These steps have been successfully aborted, and may never be attempted again.
The achievements of the Reagan administration in Nicaragua, revealed in the cold statistics of corpses, malnutrition, childhood epidemics, and the like, take on a more human cast in the occasional glimpse at the lives of the victims. Julia Preston provides one of the rare examples in the mainstream media under the headline: "In Jalapa, War-Induced Hardships Are Bolstering the Sandinista Cause." Jalapa, Preston writes, is a tiny town in "a vulnerable finger of land poking into hostile Honduras," an area readily accessible to the "Sons of Reagan" in their Honduran bases and largely dominated by hostile propaganda from powerful U.S.-run radio stations in Honduras. Here, if anywhere, the contras could apply the lessons imparted to them by their CIA trainers and exhibit the "growing self-confidence and skill" that so impressed A.M. Rosenthal as he read "James LeMoyne's carefully reported, sensitive accounts."63
In Jalapa, the contras are an object of contempt, Preston writes, mercenaries who "guessed wrong" about the "well-paid, secure jobs" they would get from the United States (see above). But "the contra war has left Jalapans enduring penury far worse than any they have ever known before." Severe hunger is rampant. The hospital, built in 1982 as "a symbol of the Sandinistas' commitment to improving social conditions" is nearly empty because people doubt it "will have the means to take care of them," thanks to the diversion of resources to the war and "away from this kind of social project" -- an achievement of which U.S. citizens can feel proud. Nevertheless, "the immense hardship has not turned Jalapa against the Sandinista revolution." Even anti-Sandinista townspeople "view the war as a new stage in a history of U.S. bullying of everyday Nicaraguans, of which the Somoza family dynasty was an indelible example." The literacy campaigns and "educational explosion," sharply curtailed by U.S. violence, "attract abiding loyalty" in Jalapa, if not in the United States, where they have been much derided as an instrument of totalitarianism. Many residents of the town see "a more informal, egalitarian society today." Peasants are no longer "servile" and landowners "superior," as under the Somoza regime and the U.S. model generally. "The Sandinistas made bank credit available for the first time to small farmers," and today, "everyone shares the same poverty," though with "a cry of frustration" over Reagan's success in having "delayed the revolution," a "gaunt peasant farmer says."
The long-term goals of the Reagan administration for Central America were clear from the outset. While Shultz, Abrams, Kirkpatrick, and company occupy an extreme position on the political spectrum in their enthusiasm for terror and violence, the general policy goals are conventional and deeply rooted in U.S. tradition, policy planning, and institutions, which is why they have received little attention or criticism within the mainstream. For the same reasons, they can be expected to persist. It is necessary to demolish "the people's organizations fighting to defend their most fundamental human rights" (Archbishop Romero) and to eliminate any threat of "ultranationalism" in the "fledgling democracies." As for Nicaragua, if it cannot be restored by violence to the "Central American mode" of repression and exploitation, then at least the United States must implement the reported boast of a State Department insider in 1981: to "`turn Nicaragua into the Albania of Central America,' that is, poor, isolated, and radical." The U.S. government must ensure that Nicaragua will "become a sort of Latin American Albania," so that "the Sandinista dream of creating a new, more exemplary political model for Latin America would be in ruins" (British journalist John Carlin).64
The goals have for the most part been achieved. The independent media deserve a large share of the credit, serving as adjuncts of government.
1 Hearings of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, August 31, 1966; cited by Aronson, The Press and the Cold War, 226.
2 There are exceptions when interfering factors distort the operation of the system. Even powerful segments of the corporate world may be barred from ready access to the public forum; for one case, see the next chapter.
3 Turning the Tide, 72f., and my article in Walker, Reagan versus the Sandinistas. See also Michael Parenti, "Afterword," in Morley and Petras, The Reagan Administration in Nicaragua, and Michael Linfield, Human Rights in Times of War, ms., 1988.
4 Spence, "The U.S. Media: Covering (Over) Nicaragua," in Walker, Reagan vs. the Sandinistas. On the election coverage, see
appendix I, section 1, and sources cited.
5 Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), "News and Analysis," Feb. 29, 1988.
6 More generally, it would be very difficult to find in the media any discussion of the impact of the Alliance for Progress in intensifying the crisis, with its emphasis on development programs that increased both GNP and human suffering (for example, by shifting production from subsistence crops to beef for export), led to serious ecological damage, and in general were a human catastrophe even where they were a statistical success.
7 For example, Katsuichi Honda published in the Japanese press extensive studies of life in villages controlled by South Vietnamese resistance forces and under U.S. attack, but the English translation found no takers. Cambodia specialist Serge Thion reported his visit to Cambodian guerrillas in 1972 in Le Monde, but the Washington Post turned it down. Le Monde southeast Asia specialist Jacques Decornoy published first-hand reports of the devastating U.S. bombing of Laos in 1968, but despite repeated efforts, no U.S. journal was willing to reprint his articles or even to mention the facts. Reports on the atrocities of U.S.-backed Salvadoran forces by foreign journalists and even direct testimony by House members were ignored. See For Reasons of State, Towards a New Cold War, Manufacturing Consent, on these and other examples.
8 Cambodian refugees on the Thai border in the late 1970s were not more accessible than Cambodia refugees in Phnom Penh a few years earlier, but the former had a useful tale to tell and the latter did not, and were therefore ignored. The Thai border camps were also not more accessible than Lisbon or Australia despite some remarkable claims by journalists who surely know better, but what the Timorese refugees had to say conflicted with the requirements of U.S. power, as distinct from those who fled Pol Pot atrocities. See Political Economy of Human Rights and Manufacturing Consent for discussion and details, in these and other cases.
9 Seattle Central America Media Project, Out of Balance, n.d. See also
appendix V, section 6, on Times choice of sources within Nicaragua.
10 Donald Fox and Michael J. Glennon, "Report to the International Human Rights Law Group and the Washington Office on Latin America," Washington D.C., April 1985, 21, referring to the State Department reaction to their revelation of contra atrocities. Most studies were, like this one, ignored or dismissed.
11 For a review of New York Times editorials on El Salvador and Nicaragua from 1980 through mid-1986, see my article in Walker, Reagan vs. the Sandinistas. For comparison of the image of Duarte here and in Latin America, including El Salvador, see Culture of Terrorism, 101f. On Duarte's record and media appreciation for it, see Turning the Tide, chapter 3, sec. 5.2; Cooper, "Whitewashing Duarte," U.S. Reporting on El Salvador, NACLA Report on the Americas, Jan./March 1986.
12 See sources cited above for explicit references and further detail, here and below;
appendix V, section 6, on the Central American media.
13 Lydia Chavez, NYT, April 24, 1983. Defense Minister Gen. Vides Casanova cited by Ray Bonner, Weakness and Deceit (Times Books, 1984, 106).
appendix IV, section 1, for a few of the many examples. For many other cases, see Political Economy of Human Rights and other sources cited earlier.
15 For a review of media performance in El Salvador as the terror mounted in 1980 and early 1981, see Towards a New Cold War, introduction; reprinted in part in The Chomsky Reader. For more on the refusal of the media to report government atrocities, see Ed Harriman, Hack: Home Truths about Foreign News (Zed, 1987); Harriman covered El Salvador for British media. There followed a brief period of serious reporting as atrocities reached extreme levels, but when it seemed that U.S.-organized terror might well succeed and demonstration elections were held, the pattern returned to the earlier norm of apologetics and neglect, with sporadic exceptions. The withdrawal of Ray Bonner by the Times was also important. "U.S. embassy officials boasted in 1982 that they had forced [Bonner] out of the country because of his unfavorable [and accurate] reporting on the Salvadoran government," Parry and Kornbluh report (op. cit.).
appendix IV, section 2.
17 NYT Magazine, April 6, 1986.
18 NYT Magazine, May 25, 1980. Oduber, in Kenneth M. Coleman and George C. Herring, eds., The Central American Crisis (Scholarly Resources Inc., 1985, 196).
19 There were exceptions, but the media reaction was generally similar, sometimes reaching surprising extremes. Thus the Washington Post turned for comment to contra lobbyist Robert Leiken, who "blamed the court, which he said suffers from the `increasing perception' of having close ties to the Soviet Union"; the Soviet judge had withdrawn from the case, but evidently his subjects performed their assigned tasks (Jonathan Karp, WP, June 28, 1986). For more on the appeal of Leiken's Maoist line and his interesting media role as the Latin American specialists largely refused to join the cause, see Culture of Terrorism, 205f.
20 NYT, May 12, 1986.
21 NYT, June 29, 1986.
22 Extra!, journal of the press monitoring organization FAIR, Dec. 1987. World Court announcement, AP, WP, Aug. 4, 1988, a brief item; Boston Globe, 29 words.
23 U.N. Press Release GA/7572, Nov. 12; AP, Nov. 12; Paul Lewis, NYT, Nov. 11, 13, Dec. 26, 1987.
24 On coverage of the December 1987 and June 1988 summit meetings, see
appendix IV, section 3.
25 U.N. Press Release GA/7591, 30 November; AP, Nov. 30; William Broad, "Star Wars is Coming, but Where is it Going?," NYT Magazine, Dec. 6, 1987.
26 Paul Lewis, NYT, Dec. 2, 1987.
27 U.N. Press release GA/7603, Dec. 7, 1987.
28 Excerpts from the U.S. Government translation appear in the New York Times, Nov. 17, 1988.
29 Yehoshafat Harkabi, Israel's Fateful Hour (Harper and Row, 1988, 31).
appendix V, section 4.
31 Editorial, NYT, Nov. 16; Lewis, NYT, Dec. 1, 1988. In the liberal Boston Globe, for example, when the U.S. government agreed to talk to the PLO on the pretense that they had accepted U.S. demands, two columns appeared to reveal the diversity of opinion on the topic, under the heading "Taking Arafat's `yes' for an answer" (BG, Dec. 24, 1988). The hawks were represented by a leader of the Boston Jewish community, Philip Perlmutter, warning of Arafat's deception and duplicity; the doves, by former Israeli ambassador Benno Weiser Varon, who declared "I am no peacenik, and disliked viscerally `Breira,' `The New Agenda' and `Peace Now'" -- but Israel's interests require recognition of reality (Breira and the New Jewish Agenda are dovish Zionist groups, the former driven out of existence by effective defamation; Peace Now has ambiguous credentials as an Israeli peace group). See next chapter and
appendix V, section 4, for further detail.
appendix V, section 4, for further comment.
33 Paul Lewis, NYT, March 11; Joseph Treaster, NYT, May 31, 1988. See Karen Wald, Z Magazine, July-August 1988, for a different view on the U.N. Cuba debate.
34 AP, March 11, 1988.
35 For further comment, see
appendix IV, section 4.
36 See Culture of Terrorism, chapter 7, for a longer excerpt, and further details on the diplomatic maneuverings and the peace plan, through October 1987. See my articles in Z Magazine, January and March 1988, for discussion of the events and the services of the media through February 1988. See these sources for references, where not cited below.
37 Dennis Volman, Christian Science Monitor, June 26, 1987.
38 El Tiempo, July 3, 1987, citing the journal of the Guatemalan Latinamerican Agency of Special Information Services (ALASEI).
appendix IV, section 5, for further documentation and references. For reasons of space, I will largely keep to the Newspaper of Record. For further details, see the references of note 36, including some exceptions to the general pattern, primarily in the Christian Science Monitor and Los Angeles Times, and editorials in the Boston Globe.
40 See Manufacturing Consent, chapter 5, and sources cited. A variant of this diplomatic strategy was called "the Trollope ploy" by the Kennedy intellectuals during the Cuban missile crisis, when they sought to evade a proposal by Khrushchev that they recognized would be regarded generally as a reasonable way to terminate the crisis; the "ploy" was to attribute to Khrushchev a different and more acceptable stand, just as the heroine of a Trollope novel interprets a meaningless gesture as an offer of marriage. The December 1988 reversal on speaking to the PLO is another example; see
appendix V, section 4.
41 A classified background paper for the National Security Council after the U.S. had scuttled the 1984 opportunities exulted that "we have trumped the latest Nicaraguan/Mexican effort to rush signature of an unsatisfactory Contadora agreement," namely the one that the U.S. had been vigorously advocating until Nicaragua announced its support for it. See Kornbluh, Nicaragua, 181f.
42 A further Dukakis flaw is that he "would now deny the Nicaraguan rebels even economic aid" (as required by the 1987 peace accords, the editors neglect to add; these accords they constantly applaud -- when they can be employed as an anti-Sandinista weapon). Editorial, NYT, Aug. 28, 1988.
43 AP, Jan. 29, 1988, reporting a Witness for Peace study. There is a mention by Julia Preston, WP, Feb. 4.
44 Ortega, Barricada Internacional, Dec. 22, 1988, Review of 1988 (POB 410150, San Francisco CA 94103); also AP, Dec. 15, 1988 (since the information was on the wires, it was readily available to every segment of the mass media). On one contra attack in November, see Ellen V.P. Wells, letter, NYT, Dec. 31, 1988. Commenting on a Times report that the contras had passed into history, Wells reports her experience as a Witness for Peace observer living with farmers in Jinotega province. On November 18, contras raided their cooperative, killing two, destroying houses, supplies, harvested coffee, and a health clinic (a prime target for many years). In an August 17 raid, four children had been killed.
appendix IV, section 5, for further details on these matters.
46 Kirkpatrick, WP, June 6, 1988. See
appendix IV, section 5, for details.
47 LeMoyne, NYT, March 26; Susan Rasky, NYT, March 29, 30, 1988.
48 Letter of the Secretary General of the OAS to George Shultz, April 25, 1988.
49 NYT, April 1. Susan Rasky reported that Adams also "said that even humanitarian aid for the rebels amounted to support of a fighting force," perhaps an oblique reference to the World Court decision.
50 Robert Pear, NYT, April 6; COHA Washington Report on the Hemisphere, May 11; AP, May 12, 11; Reuters, BG, May 13, 1988.
51 "Special Report," DSG, May 16, 1988.
52 LeMoyne, NYT, May 12; Pear, NYT, May 10, 1988.
53 John Goshko, WP, May 14; John McCaslin, WT, June 14, 1988; COHA press release, May 12, 1988; Don Podesta, WP, Sept. 21, 1988.
54 NYT, Peter Kilborn, April 5; editorial, BG, April 17, 1988.
55 Center for International Policy, "The Nicaraguan Cease-Fire Talks: a Documentary Survey," June 13, 1988; see also Cease-Fire Primer, International Policy Report, CIP; Julia Preston, WP, June 10, 1988.
56 COHA, "A Critique of the Dole Amendment," Aug. 1, 1988, referring to the events of July; see
appendix IV, section 5, also chapter 3.
57 Cited by Michael Conroy, in Thomas Walker, ed., Nicaragua: The First Years (Praeger, 1985, 232f).
58 Julia Preston, WP Weekly, Jan. 2-8, 1989; the latter comment referring to Jalapa in the far north. On the curious amalgam of Maoism and right-wing jingoism that was concocted in the early 1980s when authentic Latin America specialists refused to perform the services expected of them by government and media, see Culture of Terrorism, 205f. On Kirkpatrick's psychiatric insights into Sandinista paranoia as she spun a web of lies about U.S. policies, see Holly Sklar, Washington's War on Nicaragua (South End, 1988, 114f.).
59 BG, Dec. 25, 1988.
60 See chapter 3, note 47.
61 BG, Oct. 30, 31, Nov. 1, 1988. The series also contains many distortions and outright lies, for example, the claim that in December 1987 Defense Minister Ortega "announced his objective of military forces of 600,000 men by 1995," which will add to those "legions of troops [that] produce nothing." As Sheehan and the editors know full well, Ortega announced a planned reduction of the military forces, with light arms to be distributed to the general working population. Useful propaganda fabrications are not readily abandoned.
appendix V, section 3, for reference and background.
63 Preston, WP Weekly, Jan. 2-8, 1989. On U.S. dominance of the information system in large areas of Nicaragua, see Howard Frederick, "Electronic Penetration," in Walker, Reagan vs. the Sandinistas.
64 Thomas Walker, in Coleman and Herring, The Central American Crisis; Carlin, Independent (London), Feb. 1, 1988.