We Need to Be Told: When Journalists Report Propaganda Instead of the Truth, the Consequences Can Be Catastrophic-As One Largely Forgotten Instance Demonstrates

By Pilger, John | New Statesman (1996), October 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

We Need to Be Told: When Journalists Report Propaganda Instead of the Truth, the Consequences Can Be Catastrophic-As One Largely Forgotten Instance Demonstrates


Pilger, John, New Statesman (1996)


"The propagandist's purpose," wrote Aldous Huxley, "is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human." The British, who invented modern war propaganda and inspired Joseph Goebbels, were specialists in the field. At the height of the slaughter known as the First World War, the prime minister, David Lloyd George, confided to C P Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: "If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don't know, and can't know."

What has changed?

"If we had all known then what we know now," said the New York Times on 24 August, "the invasion [of Iraq] would have been stopped by a popular outcry." The admission was saying, in effect, that powerful newspapers, like powerful broadcasting organisations, had betrayed their readers and viewers and listeners by not finding out--by amplifying the lies of Bush and Blair instead of challenging and exposing them. The direct consequences were a criminal invasion called "Shock and Awe" and the dehumanising of a whole nation.

This remains largely an unspoken shame in Britain, especially at the BBC, which continues to boast about its rigour and objectivity while echoing a corrupt and lying government, as it did before the invasion. For evidence of this, there are two academic studies available--though the capitulation of broadcast journalism ought to be obvious to any discerning viewer, night after night, as "embedded" reporting justifies murderous attacks on Iraqi towns and villages as "rooting out insurgents" and swallows British army propaganda designed to distract from its disaster, while preparing us for attacks on Iran and Syria. Like the New York Times and most of the American media, had the BBC done its job, many thousands of innocent people almost certainly would be alive today.

When will important journalists cease to be establishment managers and analyse and confront the critical part they play in the violence of rapacious governments? An anniversary provides an opportunity. Forty years ago this month, Major General Suharto began a seizure of power in Indonesia by unleashing a wave of killings that the CIA described as "the worst mass murders of the second half of the 20th century". Much of this episode was never reported and remains secret. None of the reports of recent terror attacks against tourists in Bali mentioned the fact that near the major hotels were the mass graves of some of an estimated 80,000 people killed by mobs orchestrated by Suharto and backed by the American and British governments.

Indeed, the collaboration of western governments, together with the role of western business, laid the pattern for subsequent Anglo-American violence across the world: such as Chile in 1973, when Augusto Pinochet's bloody coup was backed in Washington and London; the arming of the shah of Iran and the creation of his secret police; and the lavish and meticulous backing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, including black propaganda by the Foreign Office which sought to discredit press reports that he had used nerve gas against the Kurdish village of Halabja.

In 1965, in Indonesia, the American embassy furnished General Suharto with roughly 5,000 names. These were people for assassination, and a senior American diplomat checked off the names as they were killed or captured. Most were members of the PKI, the Indonesian Communist Party. Having already armed and equipped Suharto's army, Washington secretly flew in state-of-the-art communication equipment whose high frequencies were known to the CIA and the National Security Council advising the president, Lyndon B Johnson. Not only did this allow Suharto's generals to co-ordinate the massacres, it meant that the highest echelons of the US administration were listening in.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Americans worked closely with the British. The British ambassador in Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, cabled the Foreign Office: "I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change. …

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We Need to Be Told: When Journalists Report Propaganda Instead of the Truth, the Consequences Can Be Catastrophic-As One Largely Forgotten Instance Demonstrates
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