Inside Solomon’s mind
Syndicated columnist tells Chico to question the corporate media’s message
Here’s something to worry about: The United States has become a perpetual “warfare state.”
That grim observation comes from nationally syndicated columnist Norman Solomon, who spoke last week at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s Big Room.
Solomon, executive director of the media watchdog organization Institute for Public Accuracy, proved to be a critic of more than just the media. Solomon lashed out at what he calls the “military-media-industrial complex” that promotes military interventions based on falsehoods.
Solomon, a writer and radio commentator, spoke at the Chico Peace & Justice Center’s 10th annual fund-raising dinner. About 260 people attended, having bought $40 tickets for a program that included a Sierra Nevada buffet dinner, Solomon and passionate folksinger David Rovics. Solomon was promoting his latest book on his “Stop the Wars” tour.
In his book, War Made Easy – how presidents and pundits keep spinning us to death, Solomon looks at how the U.S. government has used the media as part of its propaganda machine to help win public support not only for the war in Iraq but for military interventions during the past 40 years.
“Every war I looked at was based on lies,” Solomon said, “and the news media was part of the apparatus. Deception almost inevitably goes with wars in this country.”
Solomon spoke for almost an hour, warning that Americans opposed to the Bush Administration’s Iraq war could find themselves complaining about the same kinds of hawkish policies long after Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have left the White House.
“Yes, this is an extreme administration,” Solomon said. “Yes, its mendacity is breathtaking. But long after Dick Cheney seems like an expired dream we’ll be stuck with the same problems.”
Our dilemma, said Solomon, stems from a “structural issue of militarism” and an “elite media” that fail to challenge the government and yet determine what stories get aired. Solomon frequently compares government propaganda used to justify both the Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq.
Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 that gave President Lyndon Johnson the authority to escalate the Vietnam War, but it’s now clear the resolution was based on false information—including a report of a North Vietnamese torpedo attack that never happened. Solomon noted that media outlets not only allowed suspect statements to go unchallenged, major newspaper editorials urged support for a more aggressive approach to the Vietnam conflict.
More recently, Solomon points out, the media failed to challenge officials who claimed that Iraq had weapons that could be used in a major attack on this country.
“American journalists assumed that Iraqi officials were lying about weapons of mass destruction,” he writes in his book, “and also assumed that officials such as George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and especially Colin Powell were being truthful.”
Solomon acknowledges there’s a market for mainstream news.
“How do we see those who come back with their bodies and spirits shattered?” he said, adding later that “we crave the insulation news outlets offer.” Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was successful in getting press attention because she “broke through the numbing,” he said.
Solomon said it’s possible to challenge “corporate media power” and the public should demand that outlets provide access to a wider range of viewpoints. He urged audience members to sign up for e-mail alerts about “media atrocities” through his institute at www.accuracy.org, or through fair.org.
It was the first time the Chico Peace & Justice center has brought a person of his stature for its annual fund-raiser, said center Coordinator Rachel Morones Black.
“This was a big step for us,” she said, noting that the program attracted people not usually seen at Peace Center events.