On January 10th, 2009, America’s paper of record, The New York Times, ran this piece
I had wanted to write a response to this piece of ‘journalism’, to explore the way in which it had been put together and published on the pages of this apparently fine journalistic outlet. Instead, Chris Hedges beat me to it. I quote him, speaking about precisely this piece of reporting by Mr. Erlanger,
“In this story, unnamed Israeli intelligence officials gave us a spin on the war worthy of the White House fabrications made on the eve of the Iraq war. We learned about the perfidious and dirty tactics of Hamas fighters. Foreign journalists, barred from Gaza and unable to check the veracity of the Israeli version of the war, have abandoned their trade as reporters to become stenographers. The cynicism of conveying propaganda as truth, as long as it is well sourced, is the poison of American journalism. If this is all journalism has become, if moral outrage, the courage to defy the powerful, the commitment to tell the truth and to give a voice to those who without us would have no voice, no longer matters, our journalism schools should focus exclusively on shorthand. It seems to be the skill most ardently coveted by most senior editors.”
You can read Chris Hedge’s complete piece here: The Language of Death
We will do well to remember that our newspapers today lie. That wire agencies deliberately obfuscate and modify. That as our ‘sources’ for news diminish, the ability to control what you read and see becomes easier. The few corporations that are now in control of our ‘eyes on the world’ are increasingly skewing matters away from the struggles of the weak and, in their desperate rush to rub shoulders with the powerful, representing the views and needs of the powerful; corporations, lobbyists, politicians, demagogues and dictators.
The language and phrases being used require us to read carefully, between the lines and with a sensitive eye towards the meanings and use of words. We can no longer afford to take statements like ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ or ‘It is a terrorist organization’ at face value and have to bring to bear on these statements skepticism, a critical eye and the ability to evaluate the complete meaning and political priorities that support such statements and rely on them for pushing forward other agendas.
Mark Danner gave a commencement speech to students at the University of California, Berkeley that is worth reading today. Called ‘Humanism & Terror (What Are You Going To Do With It)’ He reminds that the power to understand language, to read critically and comprehend language may be the most powerful tools left to the individual in confronting the overwhelming power to obfuscate and confuse that the power barons of our world now possess.
We are living a Huxley-an nightmare as lies are made into truths, as the weak are made into terrorists, as state terrorism is dressed as ‘defense’, as the helpless are transformed into ‘grave threats’, as ethnic cleansing is transformed into ‘security measures’, as a massacre of innocents is represented as ‘a war’.