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Reese Erlich vilifies mainstream media for shoddy war coverage

Bad News

Veteran journalist Reese Erlich vilifies mainstream media for shoddy war coverage

by John Malkin

CNN, MSNBC and a boatload of imbedded reporters gave us the battlefield blow-by-blow. We sat glued to our TVs, watching the war in Iraq unfold as the Marines marched toward Baghdad. We chewed our fingernails as we awaited news about the American POWs. We cried when helicopters went down. We also cried when Iraqi civilians died. But perhaps they didn’t die from our formidable weaponry; it was Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, wasn’t it?

But the stories that should have outraged us—falsified documents of Iraq’s nuclear capability, Richard Perle’s gig lobbying the Pentagon for WorldCom—amounted to a flash in the pan and barely created a whimper. Why? Because, says journalist Reese Erlich, the media let those stories die.

Erlich, a 35-year veteran reporter, is co-author of “Target Iraq: What The News Media Didn’t Tell You,? with Norman Solomon. He traveled to Iraq on assignment for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio, The World (Public Radio International), Common Ground Radio, the St. Petersburg Times and the Dallas Morning News.

Erlich is scheduled to appear in Santa Cruz on Friday for two speaking engagements. He speaks at 5:30 p.m at UC Santa Cruz, in the Red Room at College Eight and 7:30 p.m. at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave. Erlich spoke with Santa Cruz reporter John Malkin last week.

John Malkin: What is your perspective on the media coverage of the war in Iraq?

Reese Erlich: It has been poor, if you’re talking about the mainstream U.S. media. It has been so bad that you can clearly tell the difference between that and the BBC. The Europeans are appalled, frankly, by the amount of bias. Fox News runs the logo-slogan of the U.S. military “Operation Iraqi Freedom? as the logo for their show. It is pretty blatant. Every time some new weapon of mass destruction has supposedly been discovered, they hype it all over the place, whether it be CNN or MSNBC or The New York Times. And then a couple days later, of course, it turns out to be completely false, with no story correcting it, no story saying, “Whoops, we’re sorry, we misreported that,? or, “We fell for the line coming out of the Pentagon.?

JM: There are a couple of things that seem to me should be headline news. One is the fact that the last swing votes needed from Congress for approval of this recent war were gained by showing apparent evidence that Iraq had nuclear weapons components. That turned out to be false. And, it was revealed that the U.S. used the United Nations weapons inspectors to spy on Iraq, and also spied on UN Security Council members who were in opposition to the war. What are your feelings about all of that?

RE: Everything that you mention has come out in one form or another, in mainstream media in the U.S. These are not secrets. What is interesting about it is that they are one-day stories. They came out and they are shown to be true and then they die. The reason that that happens is that there are no consequences to it. They (the government) can lie and cheat and start wars, as long as you win the war and it appears to be successful.

The mainstream media in this country are not interested in pursuing the truth, per se. They are interested in pursuing the truth as seen though the eyes of the top leaders of the country, mainly the top leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties. The top Democrats have made absolutely no comment, and have no interest in pursuing things like the U.S. spying on the French, German and the other UN offices, or the fact that the U.S. was using as its central component of the whole argument about the Iraqis having nuclear weapons was the supposed purchase of nuclear components from Niger, in Africa, which turned out, once the independent sources looked at the documents, turned out to be blatant forgeries.

There is no follow-up on that in the media, because nobody in power, no Democrat, is willing to make it an issue. So, if the upper levels of the economy and political structure of our society don’t disagree [with each other], then the media are not willing, in most cases, to take on an issue to point out hypocrisy no matter how true it may be, no matter how much interest there might be, because there is no political cover for them. There is certainly no economic incentive for them. In fact, it is quite the opposite. So, those stories die. They are willing to publish it once, in some cases, and then the story dies.

JM: How does the war in Iraq compare with other conflicts in terms of how war is perceived at home?

RE: The U.S. government wants above all else, to make sure that support for the war at home remains strong. That is the lesson they learned from Vietnam. If people at home start opposing the war, then you have lost the war. So, they spend as much time worrying about propaganda and maintaining political and other support for war at home as they do for making out a battlefield plan. So, part of that this time was a calculated risk to use the “imbedded? reporters to allow the use of video television cameras, which they can’t completely control. But, they took a calculated risk that the reporters would be patriotic and generally pro-war, which they were. They didn’t have to overtly censor in most cases, although there were some cases where they did. So, the result is that it appears on television as though this were some kind of a new video game.

JM: You wrote a chapter called “Depleted Uranium: America’s Dirty Secret.? Tell me about depleted uranium and its use in this most recent war on Iraq.

RE: Depleted uranium ammunition is tank rounds, machine gun bullets and other ordnance that makes use of depleted uranium (DU). DU is a metal that is left over after the processing of uranium for making nuclear weapons or nuclear power. It is less radioactive then plutonium, but it is considered a low-level radioactive waste. And in this country, after the processing is done it has to be disposed of under very strict conditions, as would be the same with any other low-level nuclear waste. You can’t just stick it in somebody’s backyard.

But, the military figured out some years back that this stuff is really good for military uses. Not because it is radioactive, per se, but because it is more dense than lead. It is 1.7 times denser than lead, which means that if you put it in the core of a bullet, it slices through the enemy armor. It also has an explosive impact when it hits because it basically creates a low-level radioactive fireball. Then it settles into the dirt and then it can seep down into the water table and over time, in a period of five to 10 years, you start to see extraordinarily high rates of cancer, of malformed births and other problems that are directly related to DU being both a toxic heavy metal and it being radioactive.

JM: What about corporations involved in reconstructing Iraq?

RE: I think the most interesting thing to watch for is how the oil industries are going to run in Iraq. The latest information from the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times is that the U.S. plans include Jay Garner having ultimate decision-making power in what happens to the oil. Well, so much for the idea that Iraqi oil will be for the Iraqi people. We see a former U.S. general and former board member of a huge defense contractor who are going to be making the final decisions. There will also be an advisory board. Who will be heading the board? The former head of Shell Oil.

The U.S. corporations certainly will be coming into lucrative contracts to rebuild infrastructure, rebuild the oil fields and get them up and pumping again. U.S. oil companies will play some role in either the pumping or the distribution of the oil, freezing out U.S. rivals from France, Germany and Russia. It is just this incredible money-grab going on under the guise of helping the Iraqi people. And if the Iraqi people don’t like how their oil money is being spent, then, I don’t know, write your congressperson? Who do you complain to exactly?

This interview aired last week on Free Radio Santa Cruz, 96.3 FM.

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