War As A Product

The two individuals, introduced to us as ‘reporters’ for The New York Times, Helene Cooper and Adam Ferguson, and who are “…aboard the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt in the Persian Gulf.” are apparently conducting journalism. But it is near impossible to see how they could be doing anything other than producing propaganda pieces for the US war machine. Embedded with US military forces on an aircraft carrier battle group in the middle of the Persian Gulf, where access can only be achieved through careful negotiations and agreements between the highest levels of military command and the highest levels of The New York Time’s corporate command, I can’t see either one being able to produce anything else. But of course, the New York Times would have you believe otherwise. 

Militarism was thus being perpetuated at precisely the moment that it had become marginalised as a political program…[This was possible because of the]…spatial packaging of the underside of British modernity, in which Arabia figured as the last bastion of the world free from bourgeois convention, a place of honour and bravery (however mindless), of manly sportsmanship and perennial conflict…As Glubb put it, “Life in the desert is continuous guerrilla warfare,” and this meant striking hard and fast because that was the way of “Bedouin war.” “Not a moderate, but a maximum weight of bombs must be dropped” to maintain the native’s respect for airpower, insistend Flight Lieutenant Mackay. On his return home, General Haldane corroborated this truism about Arabs’ masochistic respect for “force, and force alone,” assuring audiences at the United Services Institute that though he had been “obliged t0 inflict a very severe lesson on the recalcitrant tribes, they bore me no resentment.” To them, Glubb elaborated, war was a ‘romantic excitement” whose production of “tragedies, bereavements, widows and orphans” was a “normal way of life,” “natural and inevitable.” Their taste for war was the source of their belief that they were “elites of the human race.” It would be a cultural offence not to bombard them with all the might of the empire (not least out of respect for the frequently invoked tribal principle of communal responsibility). Arnold Wilson confirmed for the Air Ministry that the problem was one of public perception, that Iraqis were used to a state of constant warfare, expected justice without kids gloves, had no patience with sentimental distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, and viewed air action as entirely “legitimate and proper.” “The natives of a lot of these tries love fighting for fighting’s sake,” Trenchard assured Parliament. “They have no objection to being killed.”  (Page 250)

Priya Satia Spies In Arabia: The Great War And The Cultural Foundations of Britian’s Covert Empire In The M.E. 


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And that is indeed what we get in this piece that emerged this week called The Pilots Fighting ISIS.

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Complete with a series of ‘beautifully’ and ‘aesthetically’ produced portraits of…er….all white, blue-eyed, true-American looking boys in ‘combat’ great, by the otherwise talented (and acquaintance) Adam Ferguson. With cute names like ‘Pickle’ and ‘Bones, and statements that reflect their ‘family’ values – one pilot apparently remembers to take his wedding ring with him when he flies, another a photo of his wife and kids, another …”Eagle Globe and Anchor that my uncle wore during his time in the Marine Corps.” This is emotional stuff. Scripted and beautifully produced with a quality that a Hollywood production team would envy. This is bracing stuff. For a minute, I was certain that I was looking at ‘Sponsored Content’ and was initially amused that the US military had to spend so much money to buy so much page space in one of the most coveted advertisement publications in the USA.

And then I realised that it wasn’t paid space at all. Nope. In fact, the New  York Times actually paid the US military to produce this blatant piece of propaganda-thinly-veiled-as-journalism to get its staff aboard the ship, entrap them there at the mercy of the military, and ask them to write and photograph fluff nonsense which would then be further funded with heavy investment in production values and people. The New York Times spent serious funds, and resource time, to produce this rubbish. This is a journalism publication that is now in the business of producing military propaganda, and doing so in ways that help you forget that you are actually speaking about a belligerent nation in an ongoing military conflict that is a direct result of a previously failed military invasion, occupation and ongoing despot-democracy.

What is even more dismaying is the fact that nothing actually happens in the article i.e. it is about nothing. It serves no purpose. It has no reason to exist, other than to act as a mouth-piece for war, and for the military. This is truly a saddening new low for a publication that until now has been at least pretending it is trying to do genuine reporting from America’s war zones. The entire piece attempts nothing at a historical background as to why we are even on this ship, or because of whose and what infantile and immoral policies an organisation like ISIS may have emerged from, and how we have spent trillions of dollars repeatedly dropping bombs in the hope of ‘disciplining’ the ‘damn A-rabs’, and despite repeated failures and pathetic defeats, we seem to have no other ideas but to drop more bombs.

In fact, as Adam Johnson of FAIR recently pointed out in a piece where The New York Times erased the huge role the USA has played in supporting and sustaining the war in Syria,

As the military build-up and posturing in Syria between Russia and the United States escalates, policy makers and influencers on this side of the Atlantic are urgently trying to portray the West’s involvement in Syria as either nonexistent or marked by good-faith incompetence. By whitewashing the West’s clandestine involvement in Syria, the media [New York Times is specifically mentioned in this article] not only portrays Russia as the sole contributor to hostilities, it absolves Europe and the United States of their own guilt in helping create a refugee crisis and fuel a civil war that has devastated so many for so long.

And so in this piece of Sponsored Content pretending to be a piece of journalism. And, as my colleague Nina Berman pointed out to me, this piece of fluff emerges just a day or so after the same New York Times, revealed that Centcom analysts had been caught falsifying intelligence data to make it look like American bombing campaigns were more effective than fact. In a piece by Mark Mazzetti and Mark Apuzzo – we are told:

Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s inspector general, confirmed that the investigation is focused on Centcom’s intelligence command. “The investigation will address whether there was any falsification, distortion, delay, suppression or improper modification of intelligence information,” she said in an email on Tuesday.

She added that the inquiry would examine any “personal accountability for any misconduct or failure to follow established processes.”

The New York Times reported last month that the investigation had begun, but the scope of the inquiry and the focus of the allegations were unclear. The officials now say that the analysts at the center of the investigation allege that their superiors within Centcom’s intelligence operation changed conclusions about a number of topics, including the readiness of Iraqi security forces and the success of the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.

The revisions presented a more positive picture to the White House, Congress and other intelligence agencies, the officials said.

Ironically, Mazzetti has been on the front lines for shilling for America’s wars. Mazzetti has offered nothing but obfuscations and misinformation about America’s militarism, including sloppy pieces on the Iran situation, and Mazzetti was the one caught colluding with the CIA to hide information! As Greenwald pointed out in a piece written back in 2012:

Here we have a New York Times reporter who covers the CIA colluding with its spokesperson to plan for the fallout from the reporting by his own newspaper (“nothing to worry about”). Beyond this, that a New York Times journalist – ostensibly devoted to bringing transparency to government institutions – is pleading with the CIA spokesperson, of all people, to conceal his actions and to delete the evidence of collusion is so richly symbolic.

The relationship between the New York Times and the US government is, as usual, anything but adversarial. Indeed, these emails read like the interactions between a PR representative and his client as they plan in anticipation of a possible crisis.

The community of photojournalists continue to avoid confronting this issue i.e. are photojournalist who are hired to work for publications deeply implicated in acts of government manipulation, lies and obfuscation, producing photojournalism? Can anyone looking at this piece – these beautiful images, tell me with a straight face that this is journalism, let alone photojournalism? Would such a story be taken seriously had it turned up in the pages of a China daily, or even a Latin American one? Would any photojournalist of repute agree to produce such a piece had it been commissioned by the government of Egypt or lets say Iran? And more over, would they not have been challenged and questioned over their choices, and asked to provide some explanations for their collusions?

For after all, here we have a publication that is well known to have not only collaborated in spreading the lies about Iraqi WMDs, but despite this, has continued to provide its pages for American military and political propaganda and rumours, even going so far as to ‘protect’ political insiders by offering them ‘anonymity’ – an act once reserved for those risking their lives and careers to reveal wrongdoing, but now on offer to any hack who has been told to spread government lies and mis-information. I am reminded of Professor Mark Herold’s piece War As An Edsel: The Marketing & Consumption Of Modern American Wars where he argued:

By the first Gulf War, reporters were confined to pools and the Pentagon distributed video-game like footage to TV channels extolling the precision of U.S. weaponry. In September/October 2001, the Bush Administration hired the public relations firm, Rendon Group1, and also Ms. Charlotte Beers, former “queen of Madison Avenue” and chairperson of both advertising giants J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather (she had successfully promoted Head & Shoulders shampoo and Uncle Ben’s Rice), to “explain” the new Bush wars to Muslims abroad (and the American consumer), creating the new post for her of the State Department’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy with a half billion dollar budget.2 According to Colin Powell, Beers was fluent with branding and she was:

“…from the advertising business. I wanted one of the world’s greatest advertising experts, because what are we doing? We’re selling. We’re selling a product. That product we are selling is democracy.”

Democracy sold abroad, war sold at home. But while the battle for minds abroad led by Beers and Rendon fared badly in Muslim lands, the battle on the home front to persuade the American public led by MIMIC succeeded eminently. The Bush Administration worked hard to encourage and benefit from a compliant mainstream domestic corporate media – led by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Time Warner’s CNN, the Clear Channel radio network, radio talk shows, and major dailies like the New York Times, the Los Angles Times, and the Washington Post and journals like Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard – which served as giant megaphones of State Department and Pentagon positions on the Bush wars… Clear Channel, the largest owner of radio stations in the country, has scrapped even any pretense of objectivity with its sponsorship of pro-war rallies in major cities throughout the U.S. The mainstream media bosses recognized – led by CNN’s coverage of Iraq in 1991 – that media flag-waving, fabricated personal story heroics, action-movie like storytelling, techno reporting could boost TV ratings and profits.

It is unbelievable the depths to which journalism, and its bed-mate, photojournalism, has collapsed. We are not even trying anymore. The very machines, institutions, prejudices, political stupidities and outright lies that led us into this fine, fine mess in the region, are re-cast, re-painted, re-furbished, and re-sold. On the beautiful pages of the New York Times. Our community of photojournalists are discussing Instagram, photoshop aesthetics, and other such trivia not worthy of more than a minute or two of discussion, and yet absolutely silent about the deepening collusions between the state and media, and the easy means by with propaganda has become reporting. From WPP to POYi, there is absolute silence about shameful rubbish like this, a lot of which may actually end up winning awards at these very same competitions! We have chosen to remain silent about the entire enterprise, and keep hoping that no one will notice. Even Visa Pour L’image has refused to utter a statement, and in fact, gleefully displayed and awarded ‘photojournalism’ based on photographers deeply embedded with French forces. There was absolutely no mention of the growing nature of these embedding / obfuscating developments in the Bronx Centre’s “Altered Images” exhibition which went so far as to scold certain photographers for their methods, but said nothing about entire editorial departments at major news publications. Do we not think that we should discuss the implications of close collusions of journalism and political power for photojournalism and our ideas for what passes for acceptable editorial imagery? I turn once again to Greenwald:


When did we set the bar so low?

It can’t be that simple. I remain flabbergasted that our community has allowed it to be this simple. To allow editors to make these choices, to design these ideas, to produce and disseminate them, all the while saying nothing to challenge their approach, question their judgement, and demand that they reconsider. I don’t even expect people to refuse to work for these publications, but I can’t believe that no one is questioning what is happening. Certainly at The New York Times, this line between overt and infantile propaganda and reporting has been crossed too many times, and with too much transparency. A newspaper with a huge global readership, and a powerful influence on American society, I would imagine that it would be – if it wants to claim that it is in fact a journalism outlet, even more determined to maintain a clear line of division between itself and power, and to produce works (editorial and photographic) that ensure readers understand that it is serving public and not power interests.

Clearly the editors – editorial and photographic, at The New York Times seem to have forgotten their job. Or they are in fact doing it really, really well. Its a question of what they believe their job is!

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