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June 6 1999


By Edward S. Herman and David Peterson

NATO spokespersons have justified the bombing of Serbian TV and radio
on the grounds that these broadcasters are an "instrument of state
propaganda," tell lies, spew forth hatred, provide no "balance" in
their offerings, and thus help prolong the war. In an April 8th news
briefing NATO Air Commodore David Wilby explained: "Serb radio is an
instrument of propaganda and repression. It has filled the airwaves
with hate and with lies over the years, and especially now. It is
therefore a legitimate target in this campaign. If President Milosevic
would provide equal time for Western news broadcasts in his programs
without censorship...then his TV would become an acceptable instrument
of public information."

The mainstream U.S. media have accepted this NATO rationale for
silencing the Serbian media, viewing themselves as truth-tellers and
supporters of just policies against the evil enemy. But this is the
long-standing self-deception of people whose propaganda service is as
complete as that of Serbian state broadcasters. Just as they did during
the Persian Gulf war, the mainstream media once again serve as
cheer-leaders and propagandists for "our" side. And as the brief review
below shows, on NATO principles the Times et al. are eminently

--Balance. The Serbian media is bombable, says Wilby, because it has
not provided "equal time" to western broadcasters. This ludicrous
criterion is far better met by the Serbian media than by those of the
U.S. (or Britain). An estimated one-third or more of Belgrade residents
watch western TV news broadcasts (including CNN, BBC, and Britain's Sky
News), and many Serbs watch CNN for advance warning of bombing raids.
This greatly exceeds the proportion of U.S. citizens who have access to
dissident foreign messages, and domestic dissent here is marginalized.
FAIR's May 5 study "Slanted Sources in Newshour and Nightline Kosovo
Coverage" showed that only 8 percent of its participants were critical
of the bombing campaign, far below the Wilby standard for Serbia.

--Spewing hatred. The demonization of Milosevic, the shameless use of
of the plight of Albanian refugees to stoke hatred and justify NATO
violence, and the near-reflexive use of words like "genocide" and
"ethnic cleansing" surely competes with anything that the
"state-controlled" Serbian media have served up. As with the earlier
demonization of Saddam Hussein, Newsweek placed Milosevic on its cover
titled "The Face of Evil" (April 19), while Time showed the demon's
face with an assassin's crosshairs centered between his eyes (April 5).
A State Department official has acknowledged that "the demonization of
Milosevic is necessary to maintain the air attacks" (San Francisco
Chronicle, March 30, 1999), and the media have responded. Times Foreign
Affairs columnist Thomas Friedman has repeatedly called for the direct
killing of Serbian civilians--"less than surgical bombing" and
"sustained unreasonable bombing"--as a means of putting pressure on the
Yugoslavian government (April 6, 9, 23, May 4 and 11), which amounts to
urging NATO to commit war crimes. If Serb broadcasters were openly
calling for slaughtering Kosovo Albanians the media would surely regard
this as proving Serb barbarism.

--Evading or suppressing inconvenient facts and issues. Because the
NATO attack is in violation of the UN Charter, the mainstream media
have set this issue aside, although in 1990, when George Bush could
mobilize a Security Council vote for his war, he stated that he acted
on behalf of a world "where the rule of law supplants the rule of the
jungle." In 1990 it was awkward that Bush had appeased Saddam Hussein
before his invasion of Kuwait, so the media buried that fact; in 1999
the media rarely mention that Clinton supported the massive Croatian
ethnic cleansing of Serbs in 1995 or that he has consistently ignored
Turkey's repression of Kurds (with Turkey actually providing bases for
NATO bombing attacks on Yugoslavia).

--The Big Lie of NATO's humanitarian aim. That this is a lie is
demonstrated by the terrible effects of NATO policy on the purported
beneficiaries; by the fact that these negative consequences were seen
as likely by intelligence and military officials, which didn't affect
their willingness to "take a chance"; by NATO's continuation of the
policy even as evidence of its catastrophic effects mounted; by NATO's
methods, which have included the destruction of the Serb's civilian
infrastructure and the use of delayed action cluster bombs and depleted
uranium shells that could make Kosovo uninhabitable; and by NATO's
failure to prepare for the induced refugee crisis and its unwillingness
to accept more than nominal numbers of refugees.

NATO's offical responses to repeated civilian casualties from its
bombing attacks have been notably lacking in human sympathy.

British journalist Robert Fisk was appalled by a NATO press conference
of May 14, the day after 87 ethnic Albanians were "ripped apart" by
NATO bombs at Korisa. NATO spokesmen Jamie Shea and Major-General
Walter Jertz "informed us 'It was another very effective day of
operations'." There was "not a single bloody word of astonishment or
compassion." (The Independent [London], May 15, 1999). This response of
NATO officials was not mentioned, let alone featured, in the U.S.

Thanks to the scale of the refugee crisis, the U.S. media have been
unable to avoid reporting that the NATO bombing has been followed by
catastrophic effects. But while some commentators have declared the
policy a failure and have castigated the administration for it, most
have followed the official line of blaming all of these nasty
developments on Milosevic. They have focused intently and uncritically
on alleged Serb abuses, all allegedly "deliberate," whereas NATO
killings and damage are slighted, and when unavoidably reported are
allowed to be "errors."

--The Big Lie about the "failure" of diplomacy. As with Kosovo, during
the Persian Gulf war experience the media accepted that the enemy has
refused to negotiate, thus compelling military action.

Although Bush himself stated repeatedly that there would be no
negotiations--"no reward for aggression"--and that Iraq must surrender,
the media pretended that the U.S. was laboring to "go the extra mile
for peace," while they suppressed information on numerous rejected
peace offers. Thomas Friedman, after acknowledging that Bush strove to
block off diplomacy lest negotiations "defuse the crisis" (Aug. 22,
1990), subsequently reported that "diplomacy has failed and it has come
to war" (Jan.  20, 1991), without mentioning that the diplomatic
failure was intentional.

In the case of the NATO war on Yugoslavia, the official position is
that Yugoslavia refused NATO's reasonable offer at Rambouillet, and
that Milosevic's intransigence thus forced NATO to bomb. This is a Big
Lie--NATO's offer was never reasonable, requiring Yugoslavia to accept
not only full occupying power rights by NATO in Kosovo--a part of
Yugoslavia--but also NATO's right to "free and unrestricted passage and
unimpeded access" throughout Yugoslavia. The Serbs had indicated a
definite willingness to allow a military presence in Kosovo, but not by
NATO and certainly not with NATO authority to occupy all of Yugoslavia.
NATO would not negotiate on these matters and issued an ultimatum to
Yugoslavia that no sovereign state could accept.

As in the Persian Gulf war case, however, the mainstream U.S.

media accepted the official line that the bombing resulted from a
Serbian refusal of a reasonable offer after "extensive and repeated
efforts to obtain a peaceful solution" (Clinton). The Serb position and
the continued Serb willingness to negotiate on who would be included in
the occupying forces was essentially ignored or deemed unreasonable;
the ultimatum aspect of the process was considered of no importance;
and the fact that the ultimatum required Yugoslavia to agree to virtual
occupation of the entire state by NATO was suppressed. The NATO
position, as the Bush position in the Persian Gulf war, was surrender,
not negotiate. And the media today, as then, pretend that we are eager
to negotiate with a mulish enemy.

In sum, the propaganda service of the mainstream U.S. media to the
Kosovo war would be hard to surpass, and on NATO principles the New
York Times and its confreres are eminently bombable. But as usual, for
the U.S. and NATO powers international law and moral principles apply
only to others. To the Godfather and his flunkies, an entirely
different set of principles applies.

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