Canadian Arab News
September 21, 2006
Those of us of a certain age remember this rant from Network, the great 1976 satire about the lurid, ratings-driven world of network news. The movie is memorable for many reasons, not the least of which is Peter Finch’s portrayal of deranged newsman Howard Beale, whose iconoclastic fulminations changed him from a suicidal ratings failure into a champion of the masses and a ratings gold mine for the station—for a while, at least.
The movie is told from the normal point of view of the smarmy network executives. I say “normal’ because their speech, behaviour and attire are consistent with our standards of modern Western society. Beale, on the other hand, screams, gesticulates wildly and is dishevelled, yet he represent truth. Herein lies the film’s genius.
In a world where reason is the handmaid of corruption, and honest anger is the only appropriate response, one man spoke for millions. Beale’s anger is honest because it is devoid of pretense. It is visceral, primal and human.
Anger is nature’s way of telling you that a danger has become so serious that a “polite” response is inadequate; in fact, this politeness gives the danger a patina of acceptability. Unless truths are packaged like this, they tend to be ignored. Vigorous, aggressive speech is often shouted down, denigrated or dismissed as the ravings of a radical—or worse, a “leftist”—whereas calm, rational speech, no matter how dishonest, is implicitly respected. Yet who could deny the truth behind Beale’s condemnation of television, which should be applied to all media:
“Right now, there is a whole generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube! This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation; his tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people....”
Woe is us, indeed. Our media is owned by people who give us the same homogenized, sanitized, propagandized “nyuze,” yet we consume it because it comes from the polite, decorous “mainstream” media and is presented by professional journalists. We are supposed to believe what we are given and what their sources tell us because we expect that some degree of investigation, research and honesty has gone into the “nyuze.” This expectation, though, is unwarranted.
In “The Disinformation Age,” the mainstream media abounds with rumour, warmongering, stereotyping, planted news, misquotes, fabricated quotes, lies and half-truths. These errors are brought to the attention of the offending parties, but their response is enough to make...you...SCREAM!
First, here’s part of a polite letter to the London Free Press concerning the paper’s stereotypical, anti-Muslim coverage of the Sept. 11 attack: “Dear Sir: If you do not have solid proof of Muslim culpability, then, may I humbly ask that you desist from publishing columns, news reports and editorials perpetuating this myth. I am not asking you to exercise censorship, but to ensure the reports are factual.” —Meer Sahib, engineer.
Unfortunately, the letter-writer assumes the paper is interested in facts. Facts regarding the Sept. 11 attack are to be avoided. The anti-Muslim message is all that matters, and what undermines the message doesn’t get reported, or if it does, it’s set up to be rubbished.
Sahib’s letter didn’t get published, a fate that befalls countless polite letters that demand an end to gross misrepresentations of Muslims. The media serve the private interest of their owners, not the public interest, and don’t have to care about such things as facts and honesty.
On Sept. 2, Toronto Sun columnist Michael Coren wrote a monstrosity of mendacity that should never have run:
“It is surely obvious now to anybody with even a basic understanding of history, politics and the nature of fascism that something revolutionary has to be done within months—if not weeks—if we are to preserve world peace. Put boldly and simply, we have to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran.…Diplomacy, kindness and compromise have failed and the Iranian leadership is still obsessed with all-out war against anybody it considers an enemy.…
Comparisons to the Nazis in the 1930s are unfair—to the Nazis. Hitler had the French army, the largest in Europe, on his border and millions of Soviet infantry just a few hours march away. Iran has no aggressive enemies in the region. Its fanatical leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, controls a brutal police state, finances international terror and provokes bloody wars in foreign countries.”
To demonize Iran as a fascist, warmongering, state by allusion to Nazi Germany is not only historically indefensible, but it amounts to a libel against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The description of a “fanatical leader [that] controls a brutal police state, finances international terror and provokes bloody wars in foreign countries,” applies perfectly to George W. Bush, especially since Ahmadinejad does not finance international terror (?) and has not provoked a single, bloody war.
|“Right now, there is a whole generation that never knew anything that didn’t
come out of this tube! This tube is
the gospel, the ultimate revelation;
this tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands
of the wrong people....”
Eric Margolis,who also happens to be a Sun columnist, earlier demolished the anti-Muslim fascist libel: “There is nothing in any part of the Muslim World that resembles the corporate fascist states of Western history. In fact, clan and tribal-based traditional Islamic society, with its fragmented power structures, local loyalties, and consensus decision-making, is about as far as possible from Western industrial state fascism.”*
I called Sun editorial page editor Linda Williamson to ask how she could allow Coren to distort history and advocate nuclear genocide, based on nothing more than overheated rhetoric and prejudice. Her response was typical:
“Michael is neither hatemongering nor, as you argue, advocating genocide in any way. His column quite specifically argues for a tactical nuclear strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and nuclear arsenal. He makes it clear that he is not advocating war against the Persian people.”
“In any way?!”—I informed her that Coren did advocate genocide according to the Canadian Criminal Code and the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court. It didn’t even register.
Williamson said the Sun welcomes debate on this subject, and to show its commitment to fairness said the paper would run response columns from two Muslims, but these corrections would not have been necessary if she demanded Coren adhere to a minimum standard of honesty. Furthermore, these two columns won’t address Coren’s frothing.
Williamson said that as a freelance columnist Michael has the right to make such an argument. Problem is, he didn’t make an argument. An argument presupposes intelligence, logic, and reason, none of which is remotely evident in Coren’s screed. Then I posed the question:
“Could a columnist at the Sun be allowed to advocate a tactical nuclear strike on Israel?”—a brutal police state that commits crimes against humanity as a matter of national policy and provokes bloody wars in foreign countries.
“I won’t answer a hypothetical question,” said Williamson.
What’s hypothetical about my question? By her logic and the Sun’s vaunted belief in debate, she should have answered “yes,” without thinking.
But of course, she can’t. Israel’s self-interest comes first, and her dissembling for Coren amounts to a polite dismissal. At the Sun, like all media, anyone can say whatever they want about Iran or the Arab world and rest assured that the mantle of “freedom of speech” will protect them. The same right is not available to those who want to point out uncomfortable facts about Israel, assuming they can get into print or on the air.
Somewhere, one would think, an editor is so sick of serving a double standard, bastardizing his ethics, and publishing untutored zionist prattle that he will dare print an article or run an editorial decrying the cruel truth of Israel, castigating those who lie for its sake, or defending someone who has been smeared as an “anti-Semite.”
Somewhere, perhaps, citizens sick of being manipulated and lied to are prepared to cancel their subscriptions and march en masse, to the local daily newspaper office to dump their old copies.
Canadians have to stop being polite and start demanding accountability. This country should be seething with rage because the media has fallen into the hands of the wrong people, but it isn't. What will it take?
Say it with me: “I’m as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”
* Eric S. Margolis The Big Lie About ‘Islamic Fascism,’” www.ericmargolis.com, Aug. 28, 2006.