Not Good

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Mar 31 11:11:27 PST 1999

Max Sawicky wrote:

>A useful aspect of all this is seeing how a variety of left
>viewpoints develop and are expressed -- all the varieties of
>rhetorical excess, credulous cross-posting of obviously biased
>and sometimes wacky sources, resort to ad hominem argument,
>resurrection of hackneyed revolutionary doctrines, etc.

Max, I see the same sort of shit in the New York Times every morning. Rhetorical excess? Hitler parallels. Credulous cross-posting? See Financial Times article below. Ad hominem argument? Distilling hundreds of years of regional history into a single demon, Milosevic. Hackneyed doctrines? The arsenal of democracy, killing for peace, etc. Fact is that very few people on any side of the issue know the region's history or politics very well, much less have any idea what to do about the situation. Me, I'm just relying on a prejudice that anything involving B-52s is very bad business.



Financial Times - March 31 1999

MEDIA: With the truth unverifiable, propaganda triumphs

Nato is exploiting the jingoism of the western media while Belgrade relies on the state-controlled broadcaster, writes Guy Dinmore

As a media event, the war over Kosovo is a sterile, faceless affair. The citizens of the Nato alliance cannot see the Serbs that their aircraft have killed. Serbia's state-run television, while showing ruined civilian homes, shields its viewers from bloodied corpses that might spread panic among an already highly-strung population.

Along with the bombs and missiles, a propaganda war is developing between the two sides. Nato is exploiting the jingoistic tendencies of western broadcasters, while Belgrade relies, as it always has, on the tightly controlled Radio, Television Serbia (RTS).

Few Serbs are aware of the scale of the refugee crisis in Kosovo province because RTS shows no images. In occasional references to displaced ethnic Albanians, it explains that they are fleeing Nato bombing raids.

Both sides are able to exploit the absence of foreign reporters in Kosovo. Perhaps only one is still there after most fled or were expelled last week when the Nato bombings began. Government leaders, such as Britain's Tony Blair, can talk freely in parliament about the "massacres" of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, as recounted by refugees, because no one is able to confirm or deny them independently. Similarly, Nato claimed on Monday that Fehmi Agani was among five prominent ethnic Albanians executed by Serbs on Sunday, although one close colleague of Mr Agani in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, told the FT he had seen the respected ethnic Albanian leader alive and well on Monday morning.

In Belgrade, the 20 or so foreign reporters who ignored an expulsion order issued by an ultra-nationalist information minister last week have been barred from visiting bomb sites or denied information from hospitals when trying to verify Serbian claims that many civilians have been killed.

RTS has shown plenty of heart-wrenching images of crying women and children outside the ruins of their homes but no independent confirmation of this has been possible. Officials claimed on Tuesday that many people had been killed in bombing raids in Pristina the night before, but no corpses were displayed.

Similarly, a Serb general claimed on Tuesday that Serbia's armed forces had downed seven Nato aircraft and three helicopters. Many Serbs believe this, especially after the confirmed shooting down on Saturday of a US F-117 Nighthawk "stealth bomber", although no evidence has been shown of other hits.

Most of the world's media have been reduced to reporting from the borders of Serbia or relying on briefings by Nato commanders in Brussels or US officials in Washington. The result may be an unjustifiably easy ride for Nato.

Distortion of important background by western broadcasters, whether intentional or not, has also helped Nato's cause. Britain's Sky TV, for example, mentioned the 1,400 international monitors who were, it said, "expelled" from Kosovo and unable to verify what was really going on. In fact, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, under pressure from the head of mission, William Walker, US ambassador, ordered its own monitors to leave. Their departure, say many of the unarmed observers privately, was a disastrous decision that propelled Kosovo towards further violence.

The stated aims of Nato's bombing campaign have also been muddied, by both heads of government and the western media. A common phrase heard on the lips of correspondents of CNN, the US network, is "forcing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to return to the negotiating table". Yet Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state, and Robin Cook, British foreign secretary, made it clear after the breakdown of peace talks in Paris this month that the autonomy deal offered by the west - and signed by the Kosovo Albanians - was no longer negotiable. There was in reality no table to return to.

Emotive language used by both sides is remarkably similar. Bill Clinton, US president, drew parallels between the "ethnic cleansing" committed by Serbs and the mass killings by Germany's Nazis in the second world war. George Robertson, British defence secretary, has accused the Serbian regime of waging "genocide", although as one US commentator has claimed, the death toll from a year of war in Kosovo - around 2,000 or so from a population of 2m - amounted to less than the murder rate in Washington DC in 1994.

For the Serbs, whose families were exterminated in their hundreds of thousands (the real figure is still hotly disputed by historians) in Nazi and Croatian death camps, allegations of "genocide" touch a raw nerve. In return, RTS routinely compares Mr Clinton with Hitler and the most common graffiti daubed on western embassies in Belgrade are swastikas.

RTS ignores all evidence presented over the past year of village-burning carried out by Serbian security forces, claiming instead that the ethnic Albanians were torching their own homes, or even that fires were lit close to their farms to give a false impression of mass destruction when viewed by western television crews from afar.

More subtle is the choice of Hollywood movies shown on Serbian channels this week: Wag the Dog, about an American president who fabricates a war in Albania to detract attention from his personal problems; Apocalypse Now, a Vietnam epic exposing the brutality and contradictions of war; and yesterday, what else could it be but Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator.

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