Illusions Of War

Knut Rognes (
Fri, 02 Apr 1999 22:53:50 +0200


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TV Screens Offer Us Illusions Of War By Norman Solomon
from FAIR - Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting [4/2/99]

TV Screens Offer Us Illusions Of War
By Norman Solomon
While bombs keep exploding in Yugoslavia, a fierce media war is raging on
The real war has little to do with the images squeezed into the TV frame.
On the ground, in Yugoslavia, the situation is all about terror, anguish
and death. On the screen, the coverage is far from traumatic for the
viewing public -- despite the myth that television brings the horrors of
war into our living rooms.
A war "is among the biggest things that can ever happen to a nation or
people, devastating families, blasting away the roofs and walls," media
critic Mark Crispin Miller wrote many years ago. But TV viewers "see it
compressed and miniaturized on a sturdy little piece of furniture, which
stands and shines at the very center of our household."
TV news programs sometimes claim to be showing us what war is all about,
but that's an absurd pretense. While television "may confront us with the
facts of death, bereavement, mutilation," Miller commented, "it immediately
cancels out the memory of that suffering, replacing its own pictures of
despair with a commercial, upbeat and inexhaustibly bright."
In the all-out propaganda war now underway, the Clinton administration's
strategists have played catch-up. "The problem is they didn't start the
communications until the bombs started falling," says Marlin Fitzwater, who
spoke for President Bush during the Gulf War. "That's not enough time to
convince the nation of a course of action."
Top U.S. officials have made up for lost time -- blitzing the media with
endless briefings, grainy bomb-site videos and live TV interviews as the
missiles continue to fly. Even after it became clear that the NATO
bombardment was greatly intensifying the humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo
decried by the White House, the warriors in Washington were sticking to
their very big guns. As the second week of bombing began, just about the
only worry they seemed willing to acknowledge involved a possible shortage
of cruise missiles.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported last Wednesday, both the U.S. and
Yugoslav governments have a stake in downplaying the carnage from the
bombing. "The citizens of the NATO alliance cannot see the Serbs that their
aircraft have killed," the British newspaper noted. "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
Traditionally, American television networks like to show U.S. bombers
taking off but decline to show what the bombs on board end up doing to
human beings. So, American firepower appears to be wondrous but fairly
As for history, ancient and recent, it is usually rendered murky by the TV
networks. The latest coverage has run true to form. "Distortion of
important background by Western broadcasters, whether intentional or not,
has also helped NATO's cause," the Financial Times observed.
"The stated aims of NATO's bombing campaign have also been muddied, by both
heads of government and the Western media," the newspaper added. "A common
phrase heard on the lips of correspondents of CNN ... is `forcing Yugoslav
President Slobodan Milosevic to return to the negotiating table.' Yet
Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state, and Robin Cook, British
foreign minster, made it clear after the breakdown of peace talks ... 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."
Skewed facts and selected images on television make it easier to accept --
or even applaud -- the bombs funded by our tax dollars and dropped in our
The bombing has brought about the collapse of internal opposition to the
Yugoslav regime, opposition that was previously quite strong. NATO has done
what Milosevic had been unable to accomplish on his own -- decimate the
ranks of Serbians resisting his tyranny. Even now, the tragic realities of
that process are getting little mention in American news media.

Norman Solomon's book "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media" will be
published in April by Common Courage Press.
[More Media Beat] [FAIR Home] [Look for Solomon's work at the FAIR