May 2, 2003 6:15 AM
Media accused of aiding U.S.
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - It is one
of the most famous images of the war in Iraq --
a U.S. soldier scaling a statue of Saddam
Baghdad and draping the Stars and
Stripes over the black metal visage of the
But for Harper's magazine
publisher John MacArthur, that same image of
U.S. military victory is also indicative of a
being waged by the Bush
"It was absolutely a
photo-op created for (U.S. President George W.)
Bush's re-election campaign commercials,"
MacArthur said in an
interview. "CNN, MSNBC
and Fox swallowed it whole."
MacArthur wrote "Second Front: Censorship and
Propaganda in the Gulf War," a withering
critique of government and media
he says misled the public after Iraq's 1990
invasion of Kuwait.
opinion, little has changed during the latest
Iraq war, prompting him to begin work on an
updated edition of "Second Front".
government public relations specialists are
still concocting bogus stories to serve
government interests, he says, and
journalists stand ready to swallow
"The concept of a self-governing
American republic has been crippled by this
propaganda," MacArthur said. "The whole idea
that we can
govern ourselves and have an
intelligent debate, free of cant, free of
disinformation, I think it's dead."
House spokesman Scott McClellan denied the
existence of any administration propaganda
campaign and predicted the American
would reject such notions as
A Pentagon spokesman also
denied high-level planning in the appearance of
the American flag in Baghdad. "It sure looked
me," said Marine Lieutenant
Colonel Mike Humm.
In fact, a survey by
the Pew Research Center for the People and the
Press found that Americans were happy with Iraq
though many wanted less news
coverage of anti-war activism and fewer
television appearances by former military
But MacArthur insists that both
Gulf wars have been marked by phoney tales
calculated to deceive public opinion at crucial
BABIES AND BOMBS
eve of the 1991 Gulf War, Americans were asked
to believe that Iraqi soldiers tossed Kuwaiti
infants from hospital incubators,
them to die. Not true, he says.
time, MacArthur says the Bush administration
made false claims about Iraqi nuclear weapons,
charging Baghdad was trying to
aluminium tubes to make enriched
uranium and that the country was six months from
building a warhead.
Atomic Energy Agency found those tubes were for
artillery rockets, not nuclear weapons. And
MacArthur says a supposed
IAEA report, on
which the White House based claims about Iraqi
weapons-making ability, did not
"What's changed is that there's no
shame anymore in doing it directly," MacArthur,
46, said of what he views as blatant White House
Cynthia Kennard, assistant
professor at the USC Annenberg School of
Journalism, said the Bush administration has
mastered the art of
public images and shaping messages to suit its
"It's put the journalism
profession in somewhat of a paralysis," said
Kennard, a former CBS correspondent who covered
the 1991 Gulf War.
"This is not a
particularly glowing moment for tough questions
and enterprise reporting."
publisher, MacArthur oversees a 153-year-old
political and literary magazine he helped save
from financial ruin 20 years ago
from the foundation named after his billionaire
grandparents, John D. and Catherine T.
While MacArthur accuses news
outlets generally of avoiding opposition stands,
his own magazine has been vitriolic towards
describing the president in its May
issue as a leader who "counts his ignorance as a
virtue and regards his lack of curiosity as a
sign of moral
But MacArthur is not troubled by
the thumping patriotism displayed by cable
television news outlets like Rupert Murdoch's
Channel, which leads CNN and MSNBC
in viewer ratings.
"All that means is
that Murdoch knows how to run a circus better
than anyone else. War and jingoism always sell.
But the real damage was
done by the high-brow
press," MacArthur said.
propaganda side, the New York Times is more
responsible for making the case for war than any
other newspaper or any other
He blames the Times for
giving credence to Bush administration claims
about the aluminium tubes. And when Bush cited a
IAEA report on Iraqi nukes, he
says, it was the conservative Washington Times
-- not the New York Times or Washington Post --
up disproving the
The New York Times also
reported that an Iraqi scientist told U.S.
officials Saddam had destroyed chemical and
biological equipment and
sent weapons to
Syria just before the war.
trouble, MacArthur says, is that the Times did
not speak to or name the scientist but agreed to
delay the story, submit the text
government scrutiny and withhold details
-- facts the Times acknowledged in its article.
"You might as well just run a press release. Let
government write it. That's Pravda," he
New York Times spokesman Toby Usnik
dismissed MacArthur's claims regarding the
newspaper's war coverage as a whole: "We
we have covered the story from all
sides and all angles."
Fox had no comment
on his remarks.
Editors across the nation
also worked hard to avoid the grisly images of
war, especially scenes of dead Iraqi civilians
and Americans, while
Europeans saw uncensored
The Pentagon's decision
to embed journalists with U.S. forces produced
war footage that the 1991 war sorely lacked. But
rarely rose to the standard
"Ninety percent of what
we got was junk...I think probably five or 10
percent of it was pretty good," he
MacArthur says the character of the
news media, and the government's attitude toward
it, was best summed up by Defense
Donald Rumsfeld at a Pentagon "town
Asked by an audience
member what could be done to reverse the media's
"overwhelmingly negative" war coverage, Rumsfeld
know, penalise the papers and the
television...that don't give good advice and
reward those people that do give good
MacArthur said that translated
as: "You punish the critics and you reward your
friends. That's what he means. That's the
journalism...To show reality becomes
unpatriotic, in effect."
Humm said Rumsfeld had not been talking about
unfavourable reporting but about inaccurate