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Manufacturing Consent December 29, 2009

Posted by Dwight and Lynn Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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In 2001, Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman working in Afghanistan for the Arab news organization Al-Jazeera ,was imprisoned by the U.S., tortured at Bagram Air Force Base, and sent to Guantanamo where he languished for seven years before his release last year. He was never charged with a crime and his interrogation consisted largely of questions, not about terrorism, but about Al Jazeera.

The United States thus engaged in the illegal abduction and torture of a journalist.

This story had received little attention in the U.S. media until last week when Brian Stelter of the New York Times profiled al-Hajj, now a correspondent for Al Jazeera.

But Stelter’s story contains a “tell” that reveals the dark side of American journalism. Via Glenn Greenwald:

Among Al Jazeera’s viewers in the Arab world since the 9/11 attacks, perhaps nothing has damaged perceptions of America more than Guantánamo Bay. For that reason, Mr. Hajj, who did a six-part series on the prison after his release, is a potent weapon for the network, which does not always strive for journalistic objectivity on the subject of his treatment. In an interview, Ahmed Sheikh, the editor in chief of Al Jazeera, called Mr. Hajj “one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-U.S. administration.”

As Greenwald points out:

It’s amazing that the NYT would claim that Al Jazeera’s description of the Bush administration’s conduct as it concerns al-Hajj and other detainees — “one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-U.S. administration” — departs from precepts of “journalistic objectivity.”  How can the lawless detention, brutal torture, numerous detainee deaths, obvious targeting of unfriendly media outlets, and explicit renunciation of the Gevena Conventions be described in any other way?  The breach of “journalistic objectivity” comes not from calling this conduct what it is, but from refusing to do so — from obfuscating what took place by using soothing euphemisms and according equal deference to the plainly false denials of those who did it…

Of course the Pentagon denies that al-Hajj was mistreated. Who is right, the Pentagon or al-Hajj? The Times doesn’t say. And here we see why the Times thinks Al Jazeera lacks objectivity. Greenwald’s analysis is right:

Using the standard definition of American journalism, resolving conflicting claims and stating the actual truth is a violation of “journalistic objectivity.”  Journalists only neutrally pass on claims, not report which ones are true.  That’s why Al Jazeera’s doing so with regard to the Bush administration’s conduct is so offensive to The New York Times.

This despite the fact that the Times routinely accuses other nations of engaging in the human rights atrocities. It seems that such reports lack objectivity only when the perpetrator is the U.S.

Here is Greenwald again:

Americans love to believe that the differences in perception between themselves and the Muslim world are due to the fact that Americans are rational, well-informed, free and advanced, while those in predominantly Arab or Muslim countries are propagandized, irrational, primitive, conspiratorial, and misled….

Yet the al-Hajj case shows how often exactly the opposite is true.  That the U.S. Government imprisoned Muslim journalists without any charges of any kind is, as Stelter says, very well known in the Muslim world.  Indeed, as Rachel Morris wrote in her superb piece for the Columbia Journalism Review about this case, “al-Haj has become a cause celebre in the Arab world.”  The Muslim world is very well-informed about what the U.S. Government did — and continues to do — with regard to the due-process-free imprisonment of Muslim journalists.

By stark contrast, the American public is, as Stelter notes, almost completely ignorant of what our government has done in this regard.  And why is that?  Because the same media that fixates endlessly on the imprisonment of American journalists by other countries all but blacked out any reporting on what we did to al-Hajj (again, other than columnist Nicholas Kristof, who is commendably as concerned by the American imprisonment of foreign journalists as he is when other government do it to ours).

This episode is further evidence that the job of corporate media in this country is to manufacture consent for policies that serve the interests of big business and the Pentagon, policies that brought us the Iraq war and the meltdown of our financial system.

The world would be a better place without corporate media.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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